Chapter 2: Camila, The Way Old Fairy Tree?
With Graham long behind me, I continue on my trail to the fairy tree. The closer I am, the more I realise how majestic she is. She stands like a queen-- firm on her roots upholding a trunk that stood the tests of time. She stands above everything else in her vicinity, with her branches wide like a queen on her citadel’s balcony. If she doesn’t know where Jo is, I don’t think anyone does.
I hover over the cold river, dark and deep, shielding a moon of its own. The moon underneath seems considerably closer to reach out to rather than the one in the sky. It makes me wonder why no one might have attempted the same. I hold myself from investigating the possibility right there, right then. It was bare and empty, after all. What will it change if I successfully reach out?
I am now only a few feet away from the fairy tree. And another few feet away from Jo. I bring myself to a halt when I reach a distance from where she could hear me, “Ma’am, have you seen a little girl?” The fairy tree doesn’t answer. She seems to be stargazing. I decide to ask a bit louder this time, “She is a young girl. She is missing.”
That gets her attention. Not much, though. She asks me something widely different, “Isn’t it beautiful?” I am unable to understand what she is trying to convey. “What is?” I ask. She is a wise lady. The ones with wisdom always make the simple things appear cryptic. Perhaps, it is what this is.
“The stars. The night sky. The cold wind. Look around. With your eyes open.” She says. Is this a riddle? Does she mean that I am not looking hard enough? But where is Jo? The tree continues, “Did you find what you are looking for?” Now, it’s a bit terrifying. Not terrifying. I am not terrified. But it feels weird, like a murderer asking whether their prey is happy tonight.
“I am Camila. And you?” Camila! What? Why? Camila literally means young. And she is old. Way old. Her barks seem to have wrinkles like that of Jo’s grandmother. This is hopeless. This psychic tree is not taking me anywhere. Why is everything so fruitless tonight?
I walk away from her. Some part of me still anticipates a call from behind, finally sharing the relevant details. But she doesn’t. She goes back to gazing at the blank sky the moment I take a few steps away from her. Hopeless. A small blade of grass is called Graham, and a too old fairy tree is called Camila! Who even names these people?
I know the chapter feels like a let-down after what might have seemed like a nice start. I wrote the beginning a few weeks ago, but I could never finish the chapter after that. So, this is much more of a rough effort to get things done rather than a well-written chapter. I hope you guys forgive me for that (: The chapter does follow the outline, just not good enough... I will try and make up to it with the next chapter ^-^ Hope you guys like it!
eventually, everything resurfaces
I am interested in longing,
in longing so deep it threatens to splinter a person apart
— Rachel Yoder
A few hours later.
It takes some time to convince him that I was more or less stable now and would not collapse before anyone else's welcoming feet again. Or any kind of motor engine, for that matter, If I ever decided to head outside for a whiff of some rather questionable fresh air. Safe to say, it takes me at least an hour and a lot of heavy, pressuring stares before he lets me out of his sight. Not that I could blame him. Even though that kind of hovering attitude; irritated me worse than a nasty, itchy rash. Heating my skin more than a steamy and passionate rendezvous session with a poison ivy bush would.
But still, I get it.
For some reason, he cared, and I was grateful for it. Even if I sucked at showing it. There were times when I thought of myself as an Italian matron, expressing my care and concern by bringing food. It was the best way I knew how - a small smile creeps to my lips but is quickly replaced by a deep, ulgly scowl. At that simple task of showing affection, I was more or less decent. But as the mental state goes, and communication skills when it comes to any type of feelings... Well, let's face it. In that area, I was a shipwreck. Though even I had my moments sometimes.
I think quietly, shifting between people, corridors, and eventually, the seemingly endless flights of stairs. I head to the roof, sneaking outside before anyone could notice or protest against it. Blocking the heavy door with a piece of a cardboard box, so I would not get shut out, leaving my sorry ass to potential hyperthermia and a not-so-pleasant ice statue effect. With some hesitation, I inhale deeper and then exhale very slowly. Releasing the tension in my chest a bit, letting the lungs take in as much oxygen as they wanted. Mmm, even though the air was freezing, it felt good as it expanded under the ribs, scratching almost painfully from the inside but making me feel just a little bit more human.
I close my eyes and hold back on any unwanted thoughts and feelings that could slip into the cracks, rocking the already unsteady foundation. The only thing that I do, let in, are my senses as I concentrate on all the seemingly insignificant things in between. On how the wind moves against my skin and fingers, as my hands open wide, my head lifted back, eyes closed. Or on how each sound vibrates in my eardrums and under the muscles. The street traffic blending into an unknown melody that somehow soothes my mind. With time I relax slightly, allowing myself to be in the here and now, but eventually, some time later, he finds me.
I'm not even that surprised. Somehow, he always found me, sensing when my mood would drop or when my thoughts were further away from him, from everything. Maybe he felt the notions that I had been ignoring so well. Never truly realizing how the things inside of me changed after taking out that ring a few weeks ago, that still meant so much to me. The simple silver one, forever painted in daisies and bruised time. Blurring out the longing for someone that once felt like home against the rubble and dust of the world that left her colder, quieter, somewhat defeated.
With growing tissue around the parts that she managed to stitch the best way, she knew how. Healing slowly, but with visible nylon, threads sticking out of her, reminding her how rushed she acted. Not caring about much more than to stop the open wounds from gushing deep crimson. Not taking all the time that she should have to peace herself back in the right way. Her tapestry, consisting of glue, cotton patches, and torn pieces of grey scotch tape.
Temporary solutions for the wounded ones.
Struggling, I move away slightly from the past and slowly retreat to reality, suddenly feeling very tired. I have been very moody because that little thing pressed deep into one of my drawers, hidden under the layers of the surface life. The returning memories, hitting at me, taunting my mind. And what happened today did not help my case either. Too many waves, pulling me down at once. At times I could resist my past, but my past could not do the same. And the only reason why I haven't noticed it until now was because there were so many things to handle first, ripping me constantly in all directions. And above all, ladies and gentlemen, I was a good runner, fleeing away from my problems smoothly, on instinct, not letting any more pain in.
But somehow, it regularly found its way back to me, just like he did.
I look down at the contents lightly nestled into my hand as he asks, surprised. Staring at me as if holding a pack of cigarettes was worse than what I did before. Like I should be feeling more sinful from this than actually from killing someone. From taking a life that was not mine. Yes, as if nicotine and yellow-stained fingers were my biggest problem now. Oh, how silly seemed the sins in his mind in comparison with mine. I think but then shake my head. But how could he know or even suspect my real atrocities? The filth that lingered under my fingernails, forever stained in gone powder. It wasn't his fault that I did not have enough of a backbone to let him in completely and tell him all that sit rotting inside of my darker, infected parts. I stare back and shrug my shoulders, feeling the crisp air slip past my wrists and under the sleeves of the leather jacket. It takes a lot of energy not to shrink from the chill, staying calm and poised. Yet despite it, my body remains motionless.
I watch his eyebrows furrow slowly.
Then why are you...
Holding it helps me calm down.
I don't think I follow.
You could say it's a souvenir.
Alright, you have to give me more than that.
I gaze at him for a moment, and then the words just flow out, spilling smoothly as if water over pebbles in a rushing stream.
It was my fiance's. He died, nothing more to say.
He's taken aback by my answer, his eyes growing wider as he takes an unconscious step back, probably not even realizing it. I inhale the cold air and then slowly let it out again. Letting another sharp, heavy stone fall out of my lungs. I almost hear it hitting the pavement beneath my feet with a low sound, and then I straighten my back, something both loosening and deflating in my core. Well, eventually, he would have found out anyway. So why prolong it? I gaze up at him, parts of me quietly surrendering. I was just too tired to keep up with all the secrets. I had too many of them as it was.
The way he says my name sounds more like a question than anything else. It makes me uneasy. I never liked any form of pity, and the worst kind of pity was hearing the sharpest words in the world covered in silk. I'm sorry for your loss. The only time I would let people do that to me was on the day of the funeral. And only then. And today was definitely not such a day. I cut him off abruptly before he can say anything else.
No, stop. It doesn't matter anymore. I moved on. So let's just drop it, alright? No need to dig into the past. Nothing good ever comes from it.
I step further away from him and go to the edge of the roof, knowing how bitter my voice sounded but not really caring. I look inside the paper box and stare at the three lonely cigarettes and a simple red plastic lighter. I pull it out and play with it for a moment, then sigh and hide it, putting the packet back inside my jacket. I cross my arms and lean against a low brick wall, separating me from the empty space in front of me and the twenty floors below my feet. The wind, blowing the hair around my face as I watch the stars gradually set into the deep blue ink, pink and maroon-colored sky. Wondering how much longer I would have to go through this mess. Was there even any way out? Or was it just a case of waiting for the grave end?
After a while, I turn around and see that he must have left some time ago, letting me with this moment and the memories. He left me in peace when I needed it the most. It was one of the things about him that I could easily fall in love with if there was anything in my to still love. I had doubts about that because all there seemed to be left was just a block of ice that grew bigger with every day. Thick, almost unbreakable, and wrapped around in silence. Coated over a heart that had been bruised one too many times and lost a will to feel certain empty notions. It was beating, of course, feeling, existing. Caring. Caring so much. But was that enough to feel, everything?
I walk down the staircase on stiff legs, feeling a chill in the bones. The cold banister only intensifying the sensation, causing my teeth to ring loudly against each other, the late-night and the lack of sleep taking a haul on me. Though what I was about to just do, made me feel even colder. But it was needed. I open the inside door and walk into the hallway of the building. I know Charlie's shift isn’t over yet, so I look for him without rush, eyes scanning the place, face crinkled from too many thoughts. I can feel stress and exhaustion tugging at me, the world around gently buzzing, lights a bit too bright, and noises unpleasantly heightened, my head starting to pound mercilessly. But it was nothing, just a sad, depressing part of my life now. Humans are a specific kind of creatures; they adept even to the worst things. Even though it made my skin crawl to think that I was now used to the pain. To this form of insanity. An overstretched material no longer serving its purpose.
I finally find him at the main desk, filling some patient's paperwork and setting the medication dosages. A faint smile stretches my lips; I guess I learned a stuff or two while coexisting in his complicated, medical world. And if I ever went back to stealing morphine, I would be much better at it than just a month ago. He looks up at me, distracted, and sees the barely visible smile on my face, but he’s not fooled by it.
Nora, what’s wrong?
He notices me shiver.
God, have you been up there all that time? I thought you would go to the library or to some argument session with Morgan. Not that you would actually stay on the roof. Are you insane?
Yes, in all ways. I feel like answering but then shrug, not being able to focus entirely on his words.
I need to talk to you.
Of course, yes. But only if you go to the cafeteria and get yourself something hot to drink and eat. I will meet you there, but I have some things still that need to be done.
My arms cross, and I take a demonstrative walk to the wending machine, pull out a few coins from my back pocket so he can see, and get a paper cup of tea, steam rising from it as I sit on a chair nearby.
I’m good. And can wait here for you.
Was the show necessary, Eleonore?
If it made you say my full name twice in one day, then yes.
I take small sips of the hot over-sugared liquid, never taking my stare off him. He looks like he has to deal with a spoiled five-year-old, and he’s not that far off, to be honest. But he doesn’t understand what’s going on with me and how fragile I have become. I don’t want to be far away from him, in case I might break again. I have been feeling weaker since we met. Better, more peaceful, energized at first but now more like on pain killers that worked too well. Addicting, blurring my senses, and with a hard crash, if I didn’t take the right dosage on time. Just like when I was taking drugs, better for a while, and then even worse than before. Constantly craving more. Just to stop the pain, the thoughts, the voices.
He made my life bearable, with an illusion of normality, but there was an enormous price that came with it. A falling apart car could only run so long, no matter what kind of miracles the mechanic could perform.
Don’t make me sit there alone, Charlie. Please? I would rather be here to know when you’re done.
He stares at me for a while, his expression slowly changing. It’s worried again. I tense, trying to swallow the big lump in my throat, tears starting to form unexpectedly. I take a bigger sip of tea and gaze at the cup with an empty stare, not wanting to feel anymore. He walks over until he reaches me and then crouches beside me, touching the wrists gently, the warmth filling my skin, circling in the veins, and reaching my tired mind. My eyes start to sting again, but I compose myself at the last moment.
What’s going on, Nora?
His sigh is heavy and tickles my skin.
Is it because of that seizure you had in front of doctor Sorentine?
No. Well, in a way.
He nods a few times.
I'm getting closer then. And is it also about what you told me on the roof? And the lighter that you hold on to so tightly?
Finally, I make myself look up at him and then nod, almost unnoticeably; not sure what would happen to my emotions if I tried to speak right now.
Alright. As soon as I finish up with my things, we will go to the cafeteria together and talk
about whatever you want to, deal?
I feel like a little kid again and groan, waving my hands dismissively in the air.
Yes. Now get up from your feet. You’re making a spectacle of yourself.
I watch as his face loosens the deep frown and spreads into an almost normal smile.
Why? Are you feeling embarrassed by it?
No, I wouldn’t want any of the nurses here to think you are proposing to me and then beat me up in some dark alley behind the dumpster. I hear such acts of violence are common in hospitals. Especially with attractive male nurses inhabiting the area.
He laughs out, shaking his head, and then with a bit lighter step, he heads back to his responsibilities. I watch as he disappears and then walk up to the reception, tapping on the counter until I get some proper attention. A middle-aged woman with glasses and a strong presence about her looks up and gives me an all-knowing look.
I need a cigarette, really bad.
You don't smoke.
She states with authority.
No, but you do, and I am more than aware of that secret stash that you keep away from your husband. Twenty cigarettes a week, like clockwork.
You’re too observant for someone that always looks out of place, my dear.
It helps me get by and stops the wolves from eating me alive. Come on, I know you have a coffee break soon, and I'm really desperate for some nicotine.
I send her a long look, grabbing her stare, knowing that she will understand.
I need to prepare for a battle.
She sizes me up for a moment and taps against a plastic pad three times.
Fine, but next time don’t be blabbering on, letting other people know about my place behind the dumpster. Especially, mister sweeter than sugar and more bothersome than all saints behind the holy gate discussing bloody politics.
I chuckle loudly, and it makes my insides unwind until the weight on my chest gets smaller. I truly loved that woman; she could always pick me up from the gutter of my existence. And that spoke volumes.
That’s a promise.
https://theprose.com/post/230936/with-all-my-senses ( the beginning )
Previous chapters :
it’s a constant process of falling in the deep,
and telling myself everything will be okay
- Fiona Robinson
The following day.
I lean my back against the front entrance of the hospital building in a slightly distracted state. Arms crossed tightly against the late Autumn chill as my mind repeatedly attempts to analyze the last 48 hours, coming with only one disturbing conclusion. The more I tried to put some distance between me, and him, the closer somehow I ended up falling into his bright, alluring sphere. Like trying to defy the damn gravity or the laws of physics. An equally useless action. I think bitterly, then sigh, rubbing my face over and over again until I feel the judging stares prick my skin, stirring my blood. I look up at the people that pass me on the way in and shift, annoyed. What, you never saw straight-on crazy before? I feel like shouting into the cold air but then exhale slowly and unfold my arms. What’s the point, anyway, Eleonore? We’re all some levels of crazy here, no exceptions.
The only difference here was that she didn’t have a problem admitting it. And instead of moving from it, she preferred to cover herself in it like in a thick winter coat that soon she would need not to freeze in this hell hole that flamed her skin not with fires but with frost. Tiny ice shreds that never left her, and had nothing to do with the weather, that liked to kiss her bones with sticky tenderness, whispering softly of the things that were coming her way.
A little dramatic today, aren’t we now, love?
The words ring out in my head, and I flex my shoulders, trying to calm it all down. No need to bring even more negativity into the world. There was too much of it as it is. Still a bit triggered, I turn around towards the entry. Hesitating for a moment as visions of last night color my mind with swelling, chaotic feelings that vibrate through my muscles like the wrong kind of medicine. I felt so exposed and bare yesterday, so not used to someone seeing under my layers, exposing the bruises under the haggard and scarred tissue. It wasn’t meant for anyone to see. For anyone to touch. It was just hers, and there were so few things that she could say that about these days.
I shake my head and march into the building, heading for the third floor without looking back or stopping to see anything or anyone. Choosing the stairs and running up as fast as possible, and not letting myself think until I reach my destination. After a short moment, I navigate to the right corridor. And despite the blazing irrational state that I’m currently in, something still manages to attract my attention. Slowly, my eyes follow a guy with a deep frown and a displeased expression coming out of Morgan’s room. I lift my eyebrows, surprised. He fixes his glasses slightly and writes something down in a thick, leather-bound notebook. I watch him get distracted in his notes and check something on the calendar while I silently head to her room. For a moment, he catches my stare, and I hold it, not in any way intimidated, more curious what the guy was all about.
My eyes gradually take him in, the short but thick brown hair with the beginning of grays streaks showing on the sides, then the rather tall frame and the slim silhouette. He seems to be in his early forties from the look of it. Wearing dark blue jeans, a swede jacket in the shade of coffee. All questioningly pared with a vest underneath that was so multi-patterned that it made it nearly impossible to declare what color it was. Not that it mattered. Maybe he was going both for the professional and laid-back option, trying to be more approachable. Who knew.
My stare drifts back to his, and I nod politely. He does the same and gets back to his little scribbles. Mmm, there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. My eyes narrow a bit for a while, but then I leave it at rest; life was too short to waste on such things. I walk into the room and, for some reason, notice a similar frown on Morgan’s face. She groans, annoyed, crumpling pieces of paper laying on her bed with frustration, and then throws it down to the floor, coughing slightly. I try for the sudden worry not to slip into my bloodstream the way it wants to.
Hey, hey, calm down there. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not worth that kind of energy loss.
I come over and pick up the paper from the ground, smooth it out a bit and glance at it, but don’t really focus on it much.
It’s called “dealing with trauma” according to my parents.
I gaze at her questioningly and then put the documents on her nightstand. She glares at me and huffs under her breath.
Therapy. An upgrade of a guidance counselor and a lesser evil from a shrink option. I mean, what would my dad’s friends and associates think if his daughter went to a shrink, right? Can you imagine the horror and shame?
She shakes her head and sighs, not really waiting for a reply.
My mom solves problems. I’m the problem. And there is the solution; a high-notch overpaid therapist wannabe.
She points to the man still standing in the hallway and making some phone calls now. I gaze at him for a moment and then back at her. She just shrugs.
Well, that’s her opinion anyway. As if a better mood and a fake smile on my face could help the diseases go away.
I open my mouth to say something, but she stops me.
No, don’t. At least you can spare me the “positive attitude can solve all issues” crap.
I lift my hands in the air and shrug, not really bothered.
Hey, I’m just an innocent passerby here. Don’t blame me for the way, in which the world is constructed.
She groans but then nods.
Yeah, sorry. I know it’s not your fault.
My eyebrows shoot up, probably giving me a very comical expression.
Excuse me? Could you please repeat that? Because I don’t think I will have a chance to hear it again. But slowly, and focus on the pronunciation, I want to enjoy each mouthwatering, honey dripping syllable coming out of your mouth.
The pillow flies my way at an impressive speed, but I manage it catch it in the last moment before it gets too familiar with my face, though, stagger a bit in the process.
Whoa, easy. Hospital property here, and I don’t plan on being charged by it. Mmm, well then. You ever considered playing professional football? Because we could definitely use you on the national playoffs.
She shakes her head but manages to produce a real smile for me.
Yet, you still tolerate me somehow.
I smile back at her but then touch my forehead, feeling my head spin a bit, legs going slightly weaker in the knees. I throw her a quick glance to see if she caught it, but thankfully she’s already occupied, making sure the stuff she got was torn into neat, smaller, and smaller pieces of white paper snow.
Feeling in a confetti mood?
I ask, amused but then try not to notice how my voice quivers a bit, putting hands in the pockets of my jeans as they start to tremble. This really was a sickness, no matter how much I went out of my way to pretend otherwise. And it was heading for the kill.
Yeah, something like that. Maybe I will make a snow globe and give it to my therapist as an early Christmas gift.
She says in a dark tone, and I smile again, despite feeling my fragile state increase with each moment.
That’s my girl. I’m proud of you. Uhm... hey, Morgan?
She looks at me from her entertaining activity and lifts an eyebrow.
I think I will go look for the nurse man, so he doesn’t send a search party after me consisting of the Baskerville hounds and his noble attitude. And then come back here. Okay?
Do as you please. Just remember you’re behind on the product line.
She points to a plastic box filled with colorful paper and the things I already made for her, and the ones we have made together. There are roses there, tulips, and flowers made from multiple layers, resembling big balls of perfectly shaped petals. I must say, there weren’t many times when I could actually use the word perfect in any sentence that related to me personally but here, it was cutting it close. I focus even more on the box and smile at the sight of a few origami birds. I didn’t possess many positive memories from childhood, so this one I held specifically tight to my chest, remembering the time spent with my mom. I look back at her and nod.
It shall be done.
I smile faintly and walk out into the hallway, feeling my throat tighten as I try to swallow, beads of sweat appearing on my forehead. Why was my health declining so fast lately? Was my body giving up and shutting down completely, running its final course? I try to swallow again. Perhaps, I didn’t really have answers to those questions but knew that the pain and different symptoms came in waves. At times drowning me mercilessly and at others letting me simply drift on the surface. Carried with the current and giving me the allowance of a few temporary sun rays and the kindest form of warmth. I shake my head, annoyed a bit. Don’t let yourself get melodramatic again, Eleonore. Nobody really likes the sad sappy types too much. Slowly, I head forward and try to push away any dark thoughts that were pressing themselves onto me, a familiar buzz under the skull waking up and welcoming the voices. I hear them and feel the venom start to spread into my bloodstream, but don’t allow them to turn into words. Instead, shut my eyes closed for a moment, humming to myself soft melodies and drowning out the world around me.
If there is a lot of noise in the room and you blur out the actual conversations, focusing only on the sound itself... then you are left in a space full of bees. And as much as it sounds crazy, it actually not only works but can even have a soothing effect as well.
I shift forward with difficulty but somehow am able to harness a bit of the chaos that kept on attacking my mind. Detach yourself, love. It’s the only way to quiet them down. I feel the sweat drip down the lower of my back, and my jaw clenches tighter. They say you can get used to the pain, but they are wrong, very wrong. Because when it grows, it becomes a whole new Hellgate to cross under your freshly bleeding feet. I think with barely any remains of a clear mind just before my knees buckle under me, hands hitting the floor in a weak attempt to break the fall. I curse and groan through my teeth, my body rolling into a tight ball constructed of wires and iron strings. Not here, not now. Please. Not here where everyone could see. The thoughts scream at me as I have less and less energy to think straight or even try to get up to save myself from public view. Though I still try. But the sweaty hands slip against the smooth linoleum, my forehead bumping against the floor. Shit, shit, shit. Come one, get up. You can do this. You have to. The hall was still empty.
Excuse me, miss? What’s wrong, are you feeling nauseous? Let me help you.
Or apparently not. I groan again and look up as an unfamiliar voice asks, my eyes watching someone get closer with every step. Their silhouette, seeming to move towards me in almost slow motion, my perception of reality altered and distorted somehow. Time and sounds, blending and changing their pace as they pleased. As if trying to breathe underwater and stumbling through an unrehearsed nightmare. I squint my eyes and moan in frustration, not being able to usher any coherent words. It’s the guy that I saw before. The therapist. This is not good.
I mumble, silently feeling like a winner for even finding scraps of my voice through all the mayhem that was controlling my neuron system and clawing its way deeper and deeper under and shredding me from the inside out. I make myself focus slightly more and somehow manage to move up to some kind of a sitting position, balancing myself on the hands and breathing with effort. But it’s clearing just a bit. I’m able to make out more of my surroundings, but I’m also all too aware that it’s not over, just a pre-show, and it will get worse before it can get better. It comes and goes in waves. It always does.
Something in him shifts as he’s talking to Raffael, his patient, the one with an arm in a cast and some broken ribs to match. Thankfully, he was feeling better with each day, though a full recovery would still take at least a few more months. He smiles at him, but his mind is distracted, a strange itch forming under the muscles, his body tensing. What was that sensation, that feeling? He couldn’t really explain it or the source of it, but he knew something was wrong. Helplessly, he looks to the sides and into the hallway but doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
The 17-year-old looks up at him, stopping in the middle of a little story he wanted to share with him, as he was rather bored in his room. Not really having that many opportunities to talk to anyone as there weren’t that many people visiting him on a daily basis. He lifts his eyebrows.
You will have to tell me the rest later; I just remembered I forgot about something important that needs my immediate attention. So sorry.
The boy looks at him a bit surprised as he knows this isn’t usual behavior for Charlie but then just nods, understanding.
Sure, you’re the one at work here, man. I’m just on an inventorially vacation here. And I think this place is way overrated, I wouldn’t recommend it to friends. Two stars at most, and that’s if I get my jellos more regularly. Otherwise, this place is going down any day now.
He says in a light tone and grins. Charlie smiles as well but then swiftly turns around, trying not to break into a run as he gets out of the room, more tension building up in his muscles. It seems to penetrate the bones. What the hell? He wasn’t even sure what brought the state he was in right now or what direction to head. No logical explanation in sight. Yet he doesn’t ignore or disregard it, something inside pushing him forward with force. He passes the hallway and turns in the opposite direction that the reception was. Making a few turns on his way. Soon enough, he walks past the room of that girl that Nora likes to hang out with and catches his breath. His entire form, freezing for just one second, both his heart rate and the world around him, seeming to stop at exactly the same moment. He hears her pained groan and instantly breaks out of the stillness.
He moves up to her and blocks Dr. Sorenstine’s view. Bending and holding her wrist as if checking the pulse, good energy spreading through her veins gradually, like a warm compress on sore muscles. Her mind appears to relax a bit, and she gazes up at him. She looks pale, and there is sweat covering her skin. She seems to be drained, but a shy smile appears on her tired face as the body still trembles a little. Charlie smiles back as relief takes over, soothing his tensed frame. Gently, he helps her shift and stand up slowly, giving her a reassuring stare. Then he straightens his back and turns around to the doctor, his whole attitude changing and growing professional, reserved; something in him taking the shape of a stone.
She should be fine now.
From what I just experienced, she did not seem fine.
The man speaks coldly, his dark eyes inspecting his facial expression and body language. Damn psychologists, always watching you like a specimen in the worst possible moment. The doctors for the mind. Though he wasn’t that phased by it, his reactions were composed and calculated. They had to be; too much was at stake.
She’s handling a difficult illness, making her body more weak and unstable. Plus, on top of it, a post-traumatic syndrome that as you, doctor, of course, know can be very overwhelming.
And grief, that leaves a mark.
His head snaps back to her as she continues in a hushed tone, not looking directly at neither of them.
My doctor says it’s a long process. The physical issues are not helping either, it’s a constant struggle to stay afloat. But I’m trying. I think that counts for something.
He gazes at her, surprised. Not sure if she is speaking the truth or just making stuff up like he was. He stares closely at her face but can’t really read it. Nora’s eyes meet his, holding the stare and not looking away, her expression seeming calm and confident. She must be pretending; he would sense something otherwise. He breathes out just as the doctor decides to slip into the awkward silence.
I am sorry for your loss...
He gives her a quick nod.
Yes, Eleonore. Are you sure that you feel better? Maybe Mr. Evans should take you to the emergency room or at least examine you more thoroughly?
There is a slightly patronizing tone in the therapist’s words. But he decides to play dumb and ignore it.
That might be a good option, doctor. Come on, Nora. I will help you get there. You need to be checked; you know what happens when you don’t take your medication on time.
They walk away while James Sorenstine watches them, not in any way convinced by explanations that he just heard. What was this entire show about? He saw the symptoms and how her body reacted, all the vitals being out of order. And then just calming down almost as soon as that over helpful staff guy was near her. No one is that good. She should have not, get better so quickly. He looks as Evans walks her off, fingers still wrapped around the young woman’s wrists as he does anything in his power to block her out of view. Something was off here, and his mind would stay alert until he would find out some answers. But no rush. Shadows always catch up with us, one way or another. The doors to the elevator open, and they disappear in it. He definitely had to look more into this case. The whole situation felt rather surreal, something unexplainable still lingering in the air even after they leave. He couldn’t quite touch it yet, but it was just a matter of time before he would.
All he had to do was dig deep enough.
*The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the best known of the Sherlock Holmes novels, written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1901.
https://theprose.com/post/230936/with-all-my-senses ( the beginning )
Previous chapters :
between the corridors of fragile things
and healing only happens in the spaces
you are willing to reveal
- Dian Tinio, Thought Catalog
He knocks on the door impatiently, banging against its brown wooden surface. The golden number 9 nailed to it, seeming to almost muck his efforts and the anxious state he was in. The noise of it sounding very loud in the otherwise quiet building, the corridor that he is standing in, completely empty, a withering plant in the corner by the window, and a lonely, battered bike perched against one of the blue-greyish looking walls - the only witnesses to his actions. Finally, the lock in the door turns slowly, and someone opens it with slight hesitation. A slim, young woman with soft blond hair to her shoulders gazes at him with a tired gaze and then straightens her back, inhaling deeper.
She looks like she could be in her late 20′s and something in the way that she stares at him lets him know that there is more than meets the eye in this case. She’s wearing a deep green sleeveless t-shirt, parred with shiny black leggings. A long white and grey woolen sweater put loosely over her frame, falling down lazily to the side and exposing one of the light honey-colored shoulders. He notices her hold onto the door frame tighter, her knuckles becoming unnaturally pale. Yes, it was rather obvious that both of them were a bit strained and that this wasn’t exactly going to be a casual courtesy visit.
Hey, you must be Charlie.
All live and breathing, yes.
He hears the sharpness in his voice but is unable to take it back now. They stare at each other in awkward silence for a moment, then mercifully, the girl shifts slightly, opening the door wider and gesturing him to come in.
There, in the living room. She’s not doing too well, even if she tries to tell me otherwise. Don’t believe a thing that comes out of that mouth.
The last words sound much softer than the cold, almost razor-sharp tones she started with, a small smile appearing on her face. As if sunshine breaking through thick clouds. Instantly she seems at least a few years younger, subtle sparks twinkling in her eyes. It reminds Charlie of Nora, on her better days.
I never do when it comes to her health. I learned as much by now.
He smiles a bit and reaches out a hand; the girl lifts an eyebrow but takes it. The grip is firm and comforting somehow.
I don’t believe we did this right before. Cara, right?
All live and breathing.
She sends him an amused look after mirroring his own words, and he cannot stop and smile at that. This time it’s a bit more genuine.
Anyways, I will leave you two to it. You can find me in the kitchen if she starts throwing things. I won’t protect you, but I will take pictures of your demise and send a bill later.
She gives him a gentle look despite the not-so-subtle traces of sarcasm. Mmm, apparently, there were more creatures like Eleonore Walton roaming the world. He inhales deeper and then slowly walks past the little hall, walking into a cozy-looking living room that’s connected to a half-open kitchen. He notices a purple plastic table in the corner of the room filled with a bunch of crayons, pencils, and everything a little artistic individual could ever need or want. His stare drifts from it to an antique wooden and metal coffee table covered with glossy magazines with a few empty mugs and plates lying in the close neighborhood. Charlie’s stare moves up, and his eyes automatically smile as he looks at a sleeping child that appears to be somewhere between two or maybe three years old. Her golden curls so similar to the woman he had just met, the child’s small form nestled into the body next to it. And that’s when he sees her, feeling as though the whole world suddenly grew into focus while before it was only made from unnamed bland colors. It was a strange feeling, and he didn’t know where it came from, to begin with. He shakes his head slightly, brushing it off quickly, and looks down again. Her eyes are closed as well, like the girl next to her. Though it’s apparent that she’s awake, forehead scrunched into many lines as if the body was in some form of pain or discomfort. She’s sitting almost limply there, a burgundy, soft blanket covering the knees while her fists are on top of it, clenched tightly. She looks like she is silently repeating some incantations without using any words. Yet he can almost hear and taste them on his tongue just by looking at her twisted features.
Without saying anything, he crouches before her and then gently grabs both her wrists, rubbing his thumbs against the skin that should not be so cold. He frowns with worry, watching intently as the lines on her face very gradually smooth out. It feels that he’s waiting for an eternity before her eyes finally open, the stare a bit unfocused until their eyes meet, the awareness slowly coming back to her. Immediately she grumbles and shifts a bit. Seeming to be very stiff from being in one position for way too long. Automatically, the child next to her stirs and nestles more firmly into her left arm, quite clearly, claiming its possession. Nora gazes at the little girl and manages to give a weak smile. Then her stare returns to him, and the smile dies out, her voice raspy and scratchy when she speaks.
This was not the way I planned this.
He looks at her, confused.
What are you talking about?
It just played out differently in my head.
What did, Nora?
She sighs, and there is something bitter in the way she attempts to smile.
Your vacation time from the disaster that is me, Mrs. Evans.
He stands up abruptly and dusts away his knees automatically, his brain trying to understand the unexpected absurdity of the situation.
My... vacation time?
Oh yes. But apparently, I failed even at that. A shocker, right?
He nods several times before he can find his voice back, something inside poking him, ready to explode.
Nora. One more time. What the hell is going on? Explain, please. In slow, at least semi-rational sentences.
She deliberately sighs and then shakes her head. Then her stare turns to the child, eyes becoming softer as she slips the fingers through the girl’s delicate bright hair. He blinks fast, not sure what kind of emotions this awakes in him. Quickly he exhales, trying to brush stuff off once again. That causes her attention to drift back to him, her voice more gentle now.
I just wanted to give you a little time off from me, that’s all.
To his surprise, his voice becomes a whisper, a complicated set of emotions rising and falling under his ribs.
Because I use you, Charlie. I use you every day, and let’s be honest, you deserve better than that.
No, don’t. I know that sometimes I’m irrational, and things that I do, don’t make much sense to you but... I just don’t want to use you, and I feel like I am. Constantly.
He picks a pillow to make some room for himself at the other side of her and sits down on the sofa, gently, as to not wake up the child.
You never told me this before.
I don’t talk about a lot of stuff, Charlie. You should know that by now.
Her whole body seems to radiate a heaviness that pains him in ways he can’t even describe, not even to himself, left alone anyone else. He puts a hand on her right shoulder and rubs it a bit. She doesn’t look up; instead, stares numbly at her hands. Slowly, he inhales and speaks very gently as if to a wounded animal, that’s still bleeding red under his touch. Always be kind when the situation calls it, you never know what scars others carry underneath their brittle bones.
And what about the things that I gain?
She looks up surprised and furrows her eyebrows tightly together. It takes all of Charlie’s strength not to lift the other hand and smooth out those lines gently with his fingers.
You heard me. What about all the things I gain because of you?
She looks doubtful, and he smiles at that.
I mean it.
I always knew you were a strange one, Charlie. You just hide it well, that’s why. No one suspects the warm breeze to turn into a tornado.
He shifts a strand of hair behind her ear, and she looks up, a determination in her stare waking up to life, even though her voice is still very quiet as she speaks.
And what do you gain?
He stiffens a bit under that gaze as if she has some power over him that he’s unable to comprehend. Yet, he manages to snap out of it somehow, taking in her words.
Someone that irritates and confuses the hell out of me and hides in the bloody half-truths. Someone that drives me freaking insane every single day until I don’t know my own name and flips my whole life upside down, making me question my choices repeatedly.
Well, aren’t you sweet.
She whispers, annoyance and hurt blending in her voice into one. He smiles at that and puts a hand on her cheek.
You didn’t let me finish... I gain someone who makes my life brighter, who flips it backwards and brings back the color into it. Someone that I still don’t understand but am willing to learn as long as she will let me.
She blinks and clears her throat, shifting uncomfortably under his warm gaze. He puts down his hand and smiles at her even more.
How about that? Does that answer satisfy you?
Uhm, I don’t know. I mean... yes, I think it does.
She takes a deep breath and looks at him, eyes narrowing and prodding his chest with her finger.
But it also proves something that I have known for a while now.
It’s his turn to shift as he tries to keep the same facial expression on as before.
Oh, yes. It proves to me once again, that you are just as insane as I am. Probably even more. I bow in respect.
He exhales with a shade of relief that he cannot hide.
My master, I am nothing but a humble shadow of your reflection.
He says, mimicking her ways, and she smacks him over the arm.
Hey, don’t do that. That’s only meant for pros. And with a big sign stamped on it with the words: don’t try this at home.
He shrugs with a smile.
Charlie, I’m serious. Act nicely, or I will replace you with a newer model that soothes me pretty good too.
He furrows his eyebrows, not sure if he understood her correctly.
Her expression changes as if she just said something that she wasn’t planning to say, but somehow it slipped out anyway. Her lips part into a small “o” but then she quickly snaps out of it.
Well, uhm... You see, the thing is...
It’s apparent, that she’s trying to thread lightly for some reason.
Well, let’s just say that if you are my morphine, this little thing works like really good ibuprofen. It won’t stop the pain, but it will calm down the symptoms.
How does that even...
Work? I have no idea, Charlie. Lately, I’m learning that it all leads to the just-right kind of energy, whatever that means. We all have it, but it’s not all heaven to choose from. Honestly, a lot of people should simply have a sign on their foreheads that states “choose wisely”.
He shakes his head slowly, trying to move past her specific sense of humor and to whisk out some information that’s actually crucial at the moment.
She soothes your pain.
Her stare is tired, but then, unexpectedly, she smiles the softest smile he had ever seen on those lips, which causes a lot of reactions that he’s trying to block for his own sake and sanity.
Yes, she’s a little ADHD treasure to be around with.
The tone is gentle and loving, and it shocks him beyond compare as he has never heard her voice do such things. System overload; his mind screams, yet his body is hardly moving. System overload and the smell of wires burning. He’s no longer even sure what he should feel or think, any logical functions failing him miserably. He must be lost in his thought for a longer while because eventually, she waves a hand right in front of his face making him snap back into reality.
Charlie? You okay in there? I hear consternation and loud thoughts all the way here and all the way back to China.
No, I’m alright. Just processing. I’m... I’m really glad that she helps you, it’s just all still surprising, you know? Not all of us have such a strong personality to gulp in the supernatural like a bunch of tic-tacks as you do.
She tilts her head slightly and looks at him thoughtfully, with a defeated facial expression that somehow is very calm.
I do what I have to do, Charlie. There’s no other way around it.
Silence fills the air, so eventually, she adds as if to push it away.
I fit in with what I have, with what I have gotten myself into by all the bad choices I have made.
He doesn’t say anything to that, and she takes his hand, wrapping it around her wrist. He squeezes it automatically and gives her a tired smile. After a moment, she exhales, relieved, the lines on her face smoothing out once again.
Why didn’t you just call me? Why did I have to find about it from your best friend when there was no other option to go with it?
She looks up at him, but the eyes don’t reach his, guilt and pained notions marking her face.
Look... in my head, I felt I was doing the right thing. I thought that you needed rest from me. Because who wouldn’t, right? Eventually, I tire everyone out, Charlie. I didn’t want you to be one of those people. Not yet.
And you thought it so strongly that your friend had to steal your phone while you were sleeping? When you were so tired from exhaustion that you probably wouldn’t hear anyway?
There is sharpness in his voice again, mixing itself with hurt and the feeling of betrayal. And he knows that she can hear it as her whole body flinches from it, hands trembling as she sinks deeper into the sofa, becoming suddenly very small.
I meant well.
Her voice quivers, and then something happens, exploding like fireworks in the molasses-thick blackness. Blackness laced with ice and rusted blades, tearing her foundation piece by piece. Something he never expected from this strong, stubborn woman that wandered every day to hell and back. And yet it’s there. She breaks in front of him like a thin twig after winter, curling into a pulsating ball of everything. The quiet sobs coming straight from her chest as if her soul was howling into the air around them. As if she wanted to spit it out of her lungs, coughing out pain and loss. Without thinking he wraps his arms around her tightly, pulling the shaking body into him and never wanting to let go.
I’m s-sorry... please... you have to believe me.
She sobs into his blue woolen sweater, and he strokes her back soothingly, hoping to inhale all of her pain. Loosening the weight that she seems to carry around with her wherever she goes or does.
Hush, you know I believe you, silly creature. You know that.
He whispers the words into her hair, his lips brushing against it while he breathes in and exhales her as if oxygen that he never expected to need. Never expected to want. After a while she seems to calm down, her breathing more steady.
So, are we going to survive this?
He asks with a smile, sensing that she is more in control now. She nods against his chest, the voice muffled a bit.
Yes, we are.
He can feel her smile as she stirs and wriggles herself awkwardly from his arms, moving away a bit and wiping out her eyes in an embarrassed way.
Look at me, falling apart like some drama show heroin. All we need is now is nostalgic music in the background, and we are home. God, how do you even put up with me? Mmm, I must be a sight for sore eyes right now.
She groans and looks up to see and sighs, her eyes meeting Cara’s and battling some quiet fight with her that he wasn’t allowed to hear.
She says and huffs. Crossing her arms, then grabbing the remote control and turning the TV on. The child complains quietly, and she automatically turns the volume down without looking at anyone.
Oh, I will start whatever I want, you freeloader.
Cara crosses her arms as well and lifts an eyebrow challengingly, though her tone is light and doesn’t really match with the words.
Well, that freeloader does free babysitting, so don’t complain.
Oh? And who is exactly taking care of who in that scenario? Because it seems that my daughter is calling the shots here, wouldn’t you say, honeysuckle?
He lifts his eyebrows and watches Nora send her friend a dirty look and then shrug casually.
Hey, she can even be my keeper, for what all I care. But let’s face it, it’s giving you the free time for your art. And that’s what’s really important to me, not much else.
He watches the two women carefully, not sure if he should be amused or quietly elope at the first convenient moment. He decides to debate about it for now. Cara’s eyes soften and she nods.
As long as you are here, honeysuckle.
And do the dishes in the meantime?
Cara winks at her, making a gun gesture at her.
Bull’s eye, you get me so well, love.
Comes with years of mutual therapy, babygirl.
Yes, eloping would be the best option here. He thinks and smiles at them both until Cara’s eyes land on him, a finger pointed accusingly in his direction.
So, you’re him, the one that pulled her out of the gutter of misery. Mmm, you got some balls on you, boy. This one is a challenge. But in her favor, I will say she is pretty low maintenance, not something that you can say too often about a woman.
Charlie’s face covers heat, and he clears his throat, trying to control the sudden cough.
Aww, he’s shy. Not your usual type, huh?
If you weren’t the mother of the child I love without boundaries, you would not leave to see another day.
Well, then it’s probably a good thing that you fall in love with this particular gene pool so much.
She points to herself with a small smile.
Anyway, I’ll take it.
Her attention turns back to him.
Don’t worry, Charlie. As long as you will make sure she is well fed, she won’t chew your head off.
Yes, I have learned that by now.
Cara’s eyes smile at him.
Good, because she’s worth it.
She says, and then quickly clasps her hands with energy.
Now, I will make us some more tea, and we can get to know each other better without all the high gloom in the air and Elle’s natural gift for dramatic situations.
She disappears, and I am left without any clear thought in reach.
Ignore her. She tends to say whatever comes into her mind once she likes someone. No filter quality. Mmm, definitely not for everyone.
No, not for everyone. But durable for me. I have had plenty of experience with her kind before.
She stares at the TV and smirks, pleased.
Good, practice makes perfect.
She furrows her eyebrows and turns towards him, obviously sensing the change in the atmosphere.
Next time, before you assume again that I need time for myself. Ask me, okay? I don’t want to lose you and be too late, just because you thought you knew what I needed.
She swallows and then gazes back at the TV, nodding once.
Alright, from now, I will ask first.
He feels her walls closing in on him and takes her hand gently.
All I ask is that you communicate with me. So I can have a lot more days with you to come.
Her chest starts to rise and fall with speed, but she doesn’t say anything, just squeezes his hand very tightly, fighting her emotions but letting him know that she understands. That’s all he needs right now. All he needs.
https://theprose.com/post/230936/with-all-my-senses ( the beginning )
Previous chapters :
THE BEAST FROM THE SEA
And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea
January, 1950 - Cornwall, England.
All was quiet and as it should be, in the small, but ever so unfortunate fishing town that need not be named. To name it would mean bearing its curse. It was a dull town, seemingly untouched by the unfathomable horrors that had swept across the world only some years ago. However, though it was quiet and all but asleep, a low and dense mist was moving in from the sea.
It would not have been terribly unusual to the residents of our unfortunate town, were it not for the evil smell that it carried within. A lingering, sulphuric smell . . . the smell of strange and unsettling things.
Of course, not all in town smelt this omen at once, as the putrid mist made its steady walk through the town’s winding cobbled streets, through the windows of its motley cottages, into the quiet homes where the fireplaces burned softly through the wintry night.
Indeed, not all smelt it, but one man, whose nose was prominent on his weather-beaten face, situated boldly above a thick, dark moustache, standing sentinel between two deep and world-weary eyes. This man was John Black, who at the precise moment the mist was rolling in, spreading its evil as it went, was sitting alone at the bar of a local tavern, drinking whisky and casually smoking his pipe.
John Black, an outsider, was known to the folk in town. He was an honest man, a hard working man, a solitary man, who, with a war behind him, had long settled into life as a fisherman. He was a man without a family, and the only brothers he had ever known had died in Europe.
Nevertheless, he smelt it, disturbing the pleasant, bitter scent of his tobacco pipe, John Black smelt it and instantly felt something rise up within him. It was fear, he could tell it a mile off, something he had not felt in many years.
As the mist was creeping in through every crack and crevice of the tavern, and as the hour hand stretched slowly toward midnight, the door swung open and into the tavern stepped three strangers.
The first was the tallest, and he was indeed freakishly tall. His neck and hands, the only parts of his body not concealed by his ghostly, black leather trench-coat, were covered in strange tattoos. Also, John noticed at once, his head was completely hairless, so that his menacing red eyes appeared his only distinguishable features. The other two men, dwarfed by this hairless monolith, entered behind and loitered in the shadows.
The tall man stopped before the bar and eyed John Black with his powerful red glare. Then he spoke:
“Sergeant John Black, here, after all.” He had a strange, almost foriegn accent and a preternaturally deep voice.
“I’m no Sergeant,” replied John, taking a cool sip from his whiskey. “Who are you?”
The tall man took a pace closer to the bar, stepping under a ceiling lamp which illuminated his whole figure. There was a wicked grin on his face, as though he knew something that no one else did.
“Some call me the Dragon, but I would prefer my name to stay out of it. It’s business, John Black, that’s all.”
John saw clearly now, the markings upon the stranger’s skin. They were the winding, serpentine patterns of scales, snake’s heads and dragon’s breath. He could smell it on the man, the evil.
“I don’t want anyone’s business. Goodbye now, thanks.”
John turned back to the bar. He looked at the barman, who was nervous. John gave him a wink and he disappeared into a backroom.
“I’m sorry, John, but I have come a long way, as have you. I simply cannot take no for an answer. Besides, you haven’t even heard what I’ve got to offer.”
John gulped down the last of his whiskey, placed some change on the bar, and put his pipe in the corner of his mouth.
“I suppose it’s time I go home.”
John Black walked straight past the tall, trench-coated man, toward the door. However, the two shadowy figures, who had until then remained silent, suddenly blocked the doorway. John noticed as they stepped into the light that the two men were incredibly pale, with scars on their expressionless faces. One wore a tattered tweed jacket and a fractured monocle, while the other donned a checkered green flat cap, fingerless leather gloves and a pair of racing goggles.
“I’m afraid I cannot let you go, for your own sake, John,” said the tall man, the Dragon.
“Please, take a seat, let’s talk.”
“Very well,” said John, seeing that there was no option beside violence.
The tattooed stranger pulled a chair and John Black sat down.
“Let’s hear it then,” said John.
“Right now, I have in my possession something that needs delivering. You have a boat, do you not?”
John Black sighed impatiently.
“I’m a fisherman, I don’t deal in cargo.”
“Ah, but a boat is a boat. I am not a stickler for the rules!”
John did not want to listen anymore. He stood up and paced toward the door, where the two deathly pale and oddly dressed men remained on guard.
“If only you would listen,” implored the tattooed man, though with a hint of irony.
“There’s so much in it for you!”
John stopped and turned around.
“What might that be?” he asked.
“Life eternal,” said the man, grinning. “Wealth, of course! Money, I have plenty of that to give. Please, John Black, I’m well aware of your little side-dealings in, what would you call it, exotic cargo.”
John’s patience was razor thin. He clenched his fists. At that moment the barman reappeared from some back room clutching an old shotgun.
“Kindly tell your goons to make way, or their lives will be far from eternal!”
The hairless freak chuckled grimly in his chair, not at all perturbed by the double-barrelled antique.
“Certainly,” he said and waved his tattooed hand at the two men. “Why don’t you sleep on it John, so that you may decide in the light of day.”
John Black left the tavern and went straight home to his bed. By then the fog was as thick as paint, and was settling everywhere about the town. It was evil, John knew it. Somehow, he had always known it, for it followed him. As his head hit the pillow, the hour hand struck one. He soon fell asleep and dreamt of things he had seen in Europe, terrible and obscene things. Things, that like eerie reflections on the water, he had also seen in the mist that night.
The following morning, the morning of what would turn out to be a gray and miserable day, John was out fishing at the tip of a rickety wooden pier, watching the dark blue waves crash one atop the other in mysterious dance.
To John Black’s content, the pier was absolutely empty, not a soul in sight! Only himself, his fishing rod and the massaging sound of the sea. The previous night’s mist and its rotten smell seemed to have moved on. Indeed, so it seemed, but this was not the case, for it was at the precise moment the hour struck eight that John Black’s nose was offended for the second time. It was, there could be no doubt, that very same stench which had cast itself over town last night, within which something evil had secretly moored, concealing itself as it made its midnight crawl through the streets.
John sat up in his fold-away chair and scanned the pier with alert, soldierly regard. There was nothing there, only the faint odour and the gusting sea wind. Suddenly, his fishing line snapped taut. He had caught something! He leapt onto the rod, but was instantly pulled to and fro by it. Whatever was on the end of that line was big, far too big to be controlled. It was too much, the rod was yanked straight out of John’s hands and pulled swiftly beneath the waves.
“Bloody hell,” John Black muttered to himself, staring over the pier’s edge into the sea.
“There goes your rod,” said a gruff voice in his left ear.
“Jolly good effort though, chap,” drawled another on his right.
John nearly jumped out of his skin. Standing beside him, seeming to have materialized from nowhere, were two men that he vaguely recognised. On his left was a short man dressed like a race car driver, while to his right a man dressed in tweed was eyeing him through a broken monocle. “It’s them!” John thought to himself, catching a strong whiff of sulphur. “Those goons from the tavern last night, come to bully me into their rotten deal!” Dark and stormy clouds appeared on the horizon, like something out of a story.
“What do you two circus freaks want?”
“Well now, there’s no need for insults, old chap,” said the tweed-clad halfwit.
“Just leave me alone,” said John, sulking over his drowned fishing rod.
“Please, Mr. Black . . . May I call you Mr. Black? We wouldn’t want Codger to get upset. He’s a little slow, if you catch my drift.”
“Who in God’s name is Codger?”
Suddenly the man in racing gear, wearing his ridiculous goggles, piped up:
“I’m Codger, and I ain’t slow! I’m quick! Do you think I’m slow? Well I ain’t, I ain’t!”
“Calm down, Codger,” said the tweeded gentleman. “Let me talk to the man. So, Mr. Black, have you had any time to consider my boss’s offer? What’s the verdict? I do hope it’s positive. The boss, he can get ever so angry about the most trivial matters. And this happens to be far from trivial!”
“The answer’s no,” said John Black. “Now clear off.”
The slow midget, with supernatural swiftness, produced a switchblade from his pocket.
“Nobody says no to the Dragon,” he said, angling the blade at waist height toward John Black’s guts.
“Keep pointing that little toy at me,” said John, cooly, “and you’ll be on the deck so fast, you’d think it was the grand prix.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” implored the faux aristocrat.
However, the mad raceman started wielding the knife even more wildly, jabbing it near John’s cheek. John, acting on instinct alone, grabbed the arm which held the blade with one hand, and with his other gave the man a swift strike across the temple. The blow landed clean and he dropped to the rickety wooden deck of the pier with a thud.
“My lord, what have you done!” cried the other. “You’ve killed him! Murderer!”
“He’s not dead,” said John. “Just unconscious. He’ll come around in a little while.”
But the man in the tweed jacket was already on his knees checking the racer’s pulse. He cried out: “Dead, I say! Cold as Hell! You beast!”
John looked closely at the prostrate raceman, whom he did not hit very hard, and noticed to his utter surprise that he was in fact not breathing, that his eyes were staring dead and empty into the overcast sky. A trickle of blood then emerged from the man’s nostril.
“Oh, Christ,” John muttered. “He really is dead.”
Suddenly the tweed clad man sprang to his feet, adjusted his monocle and like a schizophrenic, assumed an oddly calm demeanor.
“Now, old chap,” he said. “As it seems you have just this very instant killed a man, robbing him of life, you are now placed in something of a pickle. So, my friend, it is up to you. This can all go away, if you only agree to our business proposition. Your boat, our cargo, A to B, done and dusted! Of course, the extravagant wealth we initially offered may be a little less than extravagant, on account of our dead associate here.” A genteel smile curled around the stranger’s pallid cheeks. “What do you say, Mr. Black?”
John stared down at the lifeless body. It didn’t seem real, as though something, he could not quite place his finger on it, was gironmously off keel. It was ever since that mist had set in last night, as though it had offset the balance of the world, made it absurd, like a dream in which he was waiting to wake up. He felt too, and this unnerved him most, as if something was laughing at him from some unknowable place, some fathomless depth. What it all meant, John Black did not know. He knew only that his choices were limited, and that he was at the whim of this farce of a man with his broken monocle.
“I will make it all go away,” the man kept saying, but the voice now seemed to emanate in strange echoes inside John’s own head. “It will all disappear, old chap . . . It will all vanish.”
The pier was sunless and gray, and the fog was beginning to rise all around them, like souls from the grave.
The hour was nearing midday, and the mist had set in, thick and odorous like chemical gas. John Black was standing on the jetty beside the gangway to his small fishing boat, affectionately named, Old Blue. Standing beside him was the man in the tweed suit, whose name he did not know, but whose thumb he felt pressing down ever harder upon his head.
“Any minute now, the boss will be here.”
Then, like living voices in a dream, footsteps clicked and clacked within the mist, and there emerged on the jetty two men. The first, tyrannically tall and darkly ministerial, was the one known as the Dragon, wearing his black trench-coat. However, it was the man who accompanied him that frightened John the most. It was him, the slow little raceman, risen from the dead, donning the very same goggles, fingerless gloves and racing-green flat cap he had worn when they tossed his lifeless body into the sea. There he was, living and breathing as if nothing had happened!
It was at that point that John Black, despite being a man of notably strong nerve, fainted. When he woke up he found himself lying on the deck at the fore of his boat, rocking from side to side with the swells.
“Wakey, wakey!” said a harrowing voice.
There he was, the Dragon, squatting down beside him.
“Where the hell are we?” said John Black. “This is my bloody boat, you devil!”
“Relax,” said the Dragon, his red eyes glowing like lanterns in the fog. “You’ve bumped your head, so let the fresh sea air in. That’s it, breathe!”
“Get away from me!” said John, staggering to his feet.
The boat was crashing into the waves, throwing him off balance, despite his sealegs. However, the Dragon did not move, like a flagpole fixed to the deck. Just then a strong wind blew, and the wind was like a thousand sirens, like a satanic choir squealing in his ears. Then the sky blackened before John’s very eyes to the colour of pitch and blood, and the sea began to stir and boil, like a witch’s cauldron, like the hatred and fantasies in the hearts of men. And out of the sea there rose a second dawn.
“My God,” said John Black, who could not believe it, for he did not believe.
“Yes,” said the Dragon.
Then the beast rose out of the sea and the earth was taken as first to bear its mark, for the righteous were nil.
Chapter 45: Of Memories Lost and Made
Corpses. Lifeless things. Pale. And cold.
Until then, the morning mist had wrapped the gruesome sights beneath its haze like a blanket. But when the sun emerged beyond the hills, the images were left naked for the eyes to behold. Yet another day in history chronicled how the selfishness of a few crooked men could lay waste to hundreds of innocent lives. Little cottages brought down, children wailing for their mothers, mothers mourning for their children- it was no less than a battlefront with the combats ceased. After all, the dams would never have submitted to the reigns of chaos and anarchy. But the influence of the rich was too powerful to resist, and they never once fretted about the feeble lives living underneath their citadels.
But no, they would still walk free. The rich neither had a penalty for the crime nor held the least of repentance. The lifeless forms could no longer be of protest, and their voices will never rise again. The lands were left barren to take over, and no hands would ever rise to prevent them. Their visions began here, but no one will ever know how many dreams laid six feet beneath, never to come true.
It was not that Frank Birchard Kincade had not seen deaths before. He had seen far more horrendous and terrifying seas of lifeless frames, but somehow, this particular day felt different. The clouds were constantly competing with the sun, striving to shield it from the horrors of humankind. The water had seeped down back into the streams, but the marshy terrains clung on to one's feet as if threatening to drag them into their darkness. The daybreak seemed like twilight, and the downpour waited, aching to uncover its grief over this forsaken land.
Frank stood there, feeling more and more hopeless every moment in finding another soul alive. His crew was the closest to the incident, and being trained for something contrary was not enough of a reason to keep them away. Lives needed saving, but they all purposefully forgot that they could have saved them when they were alive.
But Frank was feeling weaker the longer he stood. His eyes blinked faster; his breath felt louder; his knees felt heavier. He had questions that needed answering, but then, he could not recall the questions. He had tasks left to do, but then, he could not recount his instincts. He felt a void growing heavier and darker within his mind. Suddenly, a single puzzle arose in his mind, sweeping everything else off like a whirlwind, "Where am I?"
Frank glanced around, but he could not recollect where he was or how he arrived there. The uncertainty tore him apart from the insides. The wails of the children seemed to reverberate within the chambers of his mind. He sealed his ears with his palms, but the voices prevailed. The eyes of the dead pierced right into his soul and invaded his memories like a plague. How did I reach here? Where is this place? What happened to all these people?
"Captain! Captain, are you alright?" The voice took Frank back to his reality if there ever was one. Captain? He was gradually able to recollect bits of his past that were caught in the mist. Am I losing my memories like my mother? But he soon realised that he could not even remember her face.
"Seems like everyone wants a piece of this chap." William uttered as he abandoned the newspaper back on the couch. Cora had previously scanned through the articles that morning. Nearly all the states had raised demands for the remains of their late President, Jefferson Davis. She held neither love nor hatred towards that man, but she could not fathom why they were all so compulsive to have his remains.
"Cora, there is something in my mind. It might sound absurd, but it hurts me not to ask." Since the two was alone on the couch for what seemed like an eternity, Cora had no idea what her uncle yearned to know. They never shared such a close bond, but she could not even imagine making them upset on their visit after such a long time. And she had absolutely no idea where her brothers were in the midst of all this. And unsurprisingly, her husband was missing as well.
"Ask away, Uncle William. Why would you even hesitate?" Cora ensured that her grin covered most of her face and attempted her best not to make it feel artificial. Though she found her grin was quite reassuring, her uncle gazed away for a moment as if pondering how to present his dilemma in the best way he could, "What does the S stand for? Harry What Truman?"
Though she had no specific answer to the question, Cora felt relieved that the response was not something that she had to develop from scratch. It was not the first time she encountered this inquiry, but she did remember that she never could provide a satisfying reply until then, "Oh, it's complicated." Cora let out a little giggle before commencing her little monologue, "John fancied his middle name to be Schipp like his father. But I really coveted it to be Solomon."
"But who is Solomon?" Although Cora did notice that question approaching from a distance, somehow, she could never convince anyone with her justifications. How could she possibly say that she loved that name so much that she aspired her husband to be of that name? And when that ended up different, she ensured that her son will be of that name, but John's parents were so desperate to name him Harry. All I am asking is for, at least, a middle name. Don't I deserve that? I am his mother.
But none of her outcries made it out of her mind, and her uncle remained in his uncertain posture. In the end, Cora gave up seeking to obtain a more plausible reason and chose to let out what she felt, "I really love that name." But before William could laugh out loud or fill the upcoming silence, she went on to describe the rest of the events, "But John and I ended up disagreeing, and it was so difficult to find common ground. So,"
From his face, it was evident that William was not impressed- not in the least- with her defence. But he did succeed in concealing his laughter and presented her with a much comforting response, "That's great! You are leaving him the privilege of choosing his own identity! He can name himself anything he wants with a S, like,"
"Shit!" It was John who proclaimed the wrong thing at the wrong time right then. He appeared at the doorway, drenched, "I am sorry. It was Harry. He made a bit of a mess." John must be feeling embarrassed from every single thing that is going on, Cora chuckled. But she never skipped her duties as a partner, though her health was not at its very best. Yes, it had been a month since Harry came out to the world, but the causes of her sickness were not solely physical.
Cora rose up from the couch, ready to take her turn in managing the infant. But before she could make it all the way to her room, inaudibly mocking her husband with her cutest gestures, her beloved uncle stood up to the cause, "Cora, you deserve a rest. I can handle one of these. I have a fair share of experience." William winked, assuring his niece that he was capable of the task.
As the two left their separate ways, Cora, once again, found herself all alone in a house that brimmed with people. The loneliness shook her every once in a while. Spending a whole forenoon on the couch beside her uncle with little to no talking helped her preserve her sanity, but the moment no one was around, Cora discovered herself beneath the dark clouds again. Ever since Harry's birth, the clouds pursued her like prey.
At times, Cora wondered why she held no intimacy with her son as any mother should. Even when she attempted to stay closer to him, she sensed a distance from her lifeblood. John might have discerned that from the beginning. He regularly found more time with his son whenever he caught Cora lost in her thoughts. She was unaware of anything that transpired around her.
As Cora made her way upstairs, she could still hear the heavy rain pattering against the weak ceiling. She needed some space, or so she believed. Cora hopelessly wanted someone to hold on to, but something told her that it was absurd, even though she was surrounded by souls who sincerely cared about her. But when she arrived at the garden on the terrace to take in a splendid view of the downpour, she noticed something way more beautiful.
Cora could see, at the other end, her mother and adopted brother sharing a tranquil moment. The two relaxed there, watching the rain- Jeremy on the rug with his mother conveniently lying back on her wooden chair. He was not even her real son, yet, he was always there for Azalea when she needed a shoulder. He dropped his Masters in Science solely because he knew his mother would feel alone with the loss of her husband. He deserved her more than any of them did.
"He does a better job than the both of us, doesn't he?" Cora was startled by the voice behind her. In such a climate when the lunchtime resembled a dreary night, her fears were not misplaced. The blues of the hanging clouds blended right in with the greens of nature- the sight beyond them was as artistic as someone could ask for. But none of it hindered her from being brought back to reality with a jumpscare from her twisted sibling, "A thousand times have I told you not to, and yet, you never change." Cora embraced her elder brother in a tight hug that prolonged forever. She could feel the void inside her shrinking the longer she squished her brother within her arms.
"Hasn't Randy returned from the stores yet?" Charles stretched himself out of the hug since there was no other way it could have come to an end. He must have very well known that Randolph might not have carried an umbrella with him and might have been waiting somewhere for the rains to come to a halt. And though she realised, Cora returned him with the exact response that he had on his mind. They stood there by the window, ensuring that their sounds never bothered the ones on the terrace.
It was only later that Cora noticed Uncle William and her husband involved in a conversation near the entrance. Storms had a peculiar way of bringing people together. John had reacquired his authority over Harry. He held him in his arms, patting his back in a way that would even shove the viewers to sleep. "What do you think those two are doing down below?" Cora asked her brother, breaking the momentary silence between them.
"Ah, it gives me enough reasons to believe that your uncle is assessing your husband." Charles replied with a giggle, impressed by his own retort. And Cora kept no reluctance at the moment to admit that his joke was not that poor, unlike their usual sibling melodrama, "Ooh, what do you think happens if he fails?" She returned with a playful smirk, one that she had not worn for a while.
"I don't know. Are you satisfied with your married life, Ms Cora? Because if you aren't, I could totally use an extra hand with chores." Charles' raised eyebrows and convincing posture precisely represented what he intended to do, and Cora was not a fool not to realise it. He had done the same ever since she could remember, and Cora was not planning to fall for his trick this time around, "Chores? I am sincerely satisfied with his care!"
The two burst out into laughter that drowned in the loudness of the rain, but the growing graveness that occupied her brother's features was something he failed to conceal, "Are you, Cora," Charles waited for a moment before proceeding, "satisfied with his care?" Having seen her brother for years on end, Cora knew in an instant that he was not joking around anymore. Did he notice what I am feeling too? But this was never about John. Even I am unable to understand what this is about.
"I am. John understands. And he loves me. Like a lot!" Cora beamed at her elder brother, and soon enough, she could perceive that he was still concerned about her. She wanted to make him feel better as much as she desired to open up, but she was still uncertain what was altered within her, "You know, if it wasn't for the rains, I would have loved to visit all our old places." She gazed away into the woods, memorising all the fun times they had together with Jeremy.
"I don't see why we still cannot." Cora had detected that tone in her brother's voice before, and it never ended up good for the siblings. But when she returned her glance towards him, she was already assured that the end of the day would be rather memorable, "You really are the worst brother." Together, they sneaked off through the kitchen doors, and sure, they required no umbrellas anymore.
The storms never came to a halt that day, and the Kincades were equally turmoiled in their insides. Another Brimford will walk the Earth in no less than an hour, and the entire family anxiously anticipated the arrival of Arthur Jr. The pangs Fiona had passed through that day had no boundaries that even Arthur felt a bit abashed of his childish desperation. If it was not for his longing for a younger variant of himself, Fiona would not have to go through all these again. But again, no one could swim against the tides of time, and the greater purpose of a new life acquitted his mind off the guilt for then.
Soon, they heard footsteps from the space where Fiona was taken into. The clinic, though the single one in the region, never possessed an overflowing crowd. And in the middle of the night, the family was fortunate to find a physician down there. But when the female doctor in her whites emerged from the doorway, it gave birth to a second of excitement followed closely by a hush of anticipation, "It's a beautiful baby girl."
But the adorable chuckle of the gentlewoman was undermined by the tremendous roar of an aching father, "What?!" And hence, Arthur Brimford possibly declared the worst statement a father could likely deliver upon the most delightful moment of childbirth. No matter how many times Chadlynn replayed the incident in her mind, the end always made her laugh out loud wherever she was. History always tends to repeat itself, she thought to herself, recalling back to her time of birth.
"My dear cousin, are you losing your mind?" It was Fiona who appeared by the door, her entire frame leaning against the wall. It had been a few minutes since Chadlynn escaped the kitchenette, affirming Fiona of her immediate return. But here she was, laughing her brains out on the front porch with no apparent reason, "I am sure there must be a logical explanation behind that hysterical laughter, and I am more than willing to lend my ears for that." Fiona proceeded, a slight sneer then occupying her features.
However, before Fiona could sit down for once on that tiresome day, the latest entry in their family commenced her celebrations with a piercing shriek. They had all came to an agreement at the last supper that Little Artemis might be their fiercest symbol of girl power in their family, solely based on her determined outcries, "Sometimes, I just want to throw that little woman against a wall." Fiona winked, preparing for the conflict she was about to endure.
Dinners were often the times when the family embraced their love for each other. Their conversations would vary anywhere from the shallow neighbourhood gossips to enormous political controversies and philosophical confrontations. Chadlynn still remembered last night when the topics began with Artie's clamours to even the freshest Sherman Anti-Trust Act. None of them even had an actual comprehension of the subject, but the possibilities they went on to discuss seemed endless.
If Arthur and Sam returned home from their evening stroll along with all the little ones, they could have had their dinner by then. But again, Chadlynn suspected that it might have been their laziness to partake in the dinner preparations that made them late. These irresponsible men, she let out a big sigh just before she noticed her mother on the other end of their yard.
Chadlynn rose up from her father's old armchair and walked up to Etta. Her mother seemed to watch the sunset from the exterior, but Chadlynn very well knew when she looked like that- Something is troubling her mind, "I hate to break it to you, mother. But if you are staring to prevent the sun from going beneath the horizon, you probably won't be able to do that."
Etta gave out a little laughter, but Chadlynn knew that laugh very well too. "In a way, I am, Lynnie." Etta spoke after a while, "My life is approaching its sunset too." Chadlynn could see her smile, but every time she saw that smile on her mother's face, she knew that the forthcoming words could be hurtful. "And you are right. I can't stop the sun from going down its path, but if I could, I would love to revisit the best parts of the day once again."
Etta then looked at her daughter in the eyes. She told her everything she wanted to without telling her anything she prepared to. Chadlynn knew that her mother was not requesting her permission but rather letting her know her intentions. She was like the sunset- neither the words she could say nor the actions she could take would hinder her mother from going down the path. She was the most resolved lady that Chadlynn had ever come across in her life, "But mother, you are in no condition. Are you sure about this?"
Chadlynn knew her words were only worth a try, but it would have hurt her not to ask that one last time. Etta looked beautiful even at the dawn of her life; the evening sun seemed to enhance her youthfulness. The mother placed her hands below her daughter's ears, shoving her free strands of hair behind them. Etta came closer until their foreheads met each other, "You are a grown woman now. It's time to let me go. I have given you everything I can, and that part of me will always live through you. I will always be proud of you, my little fairy queen."
Chadlynn propelled herself tighter into her mother's arms, feeling her warmth as much as she could. Tears never ceased caressing her cheeks, but her arms clung around her mother like a toddler. She was never ready to let go of her, no matter how old she grew up to be. And now that she had to, she was not intending to regret any of the last moments she could spend with her. The two agreed on keeping this a secret and retired to the comfort of their home for one last supper.
those deeply rooted ways
waking up was a daily cruelty, an affront,
and she avoided it by not sleeping
― Gregory Maguire, A Lion Among Men
She tiredly rubs her face, trying to make herself seem more alive and awake, the deeper than usual bags under the eyes, a clear sign of her washed-out state. She didn’t sleep much after the shift at the bar, and to be honest, she didn’t even try, too exhausted to take in additional night terrors that could have come her way. Nightmares weren’t for everyone. She whispers into the air and closes her eyes for a moment, giving the body some rest, as there wasn’t much that she could do for her mind and thoughts.
She breathes in deeper, inhaling the cool air. It’s an early afternoon, the sun moving through naked branches on some trees and through orange and brown leaves where they still resist the passage of time and the upcoming winter. She’s sitting peacefully on a bench in the park, sipping hot dark coffee with too much sugar for any normal human being. Weary eyes, absentmindedly gazing at the pond nearby. Then after a few minutes, her stare shifts to the side as someone sits beside her. It’s a familiar presence, and she smiles a little as she gazes at the woman sitting down. Eleonore’s tired but vivid grey eyes observing her quietly as she shifts an expensive, rectangular shape handbag to her left. Then straightens the long sandy woolen coat and moves a strand of almost black hair behind her ear, a few strands of silver reflecting in the sunlight, sitting there for a moment before speaking.
I presume you got my gift?
She nods slowly and then looks ahead, thinking about one of her patterns that somehow never changed over the years, a sort of a tiny glitch in her system. When she couldn’t sleep and would be too exhausted to listen to her own, nagging thoughts, she would make phone calls. Just like she did late last tonight. And it was rather obvious that the call surprised them both equally. Yet, they talked. And no one shouted or threw any traces of guilt and resentment around. The hours just before sunrise were always the strangest to navigate. You never knew what you would gain or lose with it.
Yes, I did. Thank you.
She says politely and thinks about how long it’s been since they last talked and how awkward it felt now. And that what she really wanted to say was that she loved the little blue origami bird and that it moved strings inside of her that she forgot were even still there. Dusted by time and hidden in a box, in the furthest part of her brain with all other things that she no longer wanted to touch. Because it was safer that way, easier, less painful, compartmentalizing the memories so she could stay afloat. That was her only form of control these days; everything else seemed to be gone and out of reach. So unstable. The denial that she had kept all these years, becoming her only protection from everything that went wrong. And so much went wrong. Hasn’t it? She exhales slowly and gazes at the woman from the side, then looks down at her coffee and the steam still faintly coming from the cup.
Mom... I really liked it.
Her voice is low but soft as she speaks the words. She hears her mother take a deep breath, and a small but familiar rustling noise fills her ears. Somehow knowing that it’s the sound of her leather gloves being taken off, and confirmed as she feels gentle fingers covering and squeezing her right hand a bit as she holds the cup.
I hoped you would, sweetheart.
She blinks away the sudden moisture that threatens to escape her eyes and clears the throat, sensing the awkwardness return, her body shifting uncomfortably. Momentarily her mother moves the hand away and slips both of hers, onto her lap, the back straightening slightly.
It’s a nice weather today, but cold. You should consider wearing thicker clothes.
Eleonore shakes her head as a small smile creeps to her face, something tiny but soft growing in her chest. The other woman must sense the change in energy as she finally shifts her face to the side and gazes at her daughter with lifted eyebrows.
Don’t look at me like that, you know I’m right. Especially now that you’re only skin and bones.
I get by, mom. I’m tougher than I look.
Yes, I am aware.
Her stare becomes thoughtful as she gazes at her little girl’s body, trying not to look too intensely but noticing how slight she got. How limited space she took on the wooden bench and how loose her clothes were. And automatically, the stare grows concerned, overflowing worry slipping through the eyes that matched her daughter’s almost perfectly.
She outstretches a hand towards her mother and lays it gently on her knee while her chest rises and falls.
Mom, it’s okay. I promise. And...
She put the coffee on the ground for a moment and shifts to the other side, producing a paper bag to the other woman’s quite noticeable surprise. She opens it and passes a long shape covered in tinfoil to her mother.
There you go, a body filler coming right up.
She grins and watches her mother unfold the little wrapping, unsure, looking as if the strange package might explode at any moment in her face.
It’s a sandwich, not a bomb. So, I think you’re safe for now. It’s your favorite; lettuce, tomato, and lots of bacon. The unhealthy version that you pretend that you would never even touch with a stick.
She smirks and takes her own sandwich, which is at least twice the size.
Real size thing. For the tough people.
I see some things never change.
Her mother lifts an eyebrow slightly and gives her a subtle smile, and then starts to nibble on the bread while her daughter bites into hers with loud eagerness, making satisfied sounds as she does so.
And I can also tell that eating etiquette has stayed a faraway concept to you, as well.
Mmm, what can I say? I enjoy my food and am not afraid to manifest it. Besides...
She puts away the sandwich and moves her hand around in a sweeping movement, shifting the focus towards their surroundings.
This isn’t exactly the Ritz or Plaza, is it now? Fit in more with the scenery, mom, and you will be a much happier person.
Her mother sends her a long look but then takes a bigger bite of her food.
There you go.
She smiles at her but then inhales with some heaviness, knowing the conversation might not go so smooth for much longer. She rolls the empty now tin foil into a ball and begins to play with it, wanting to busy her fingers, welcoming any possible distractions.
So, how is dad doing?
She can sense both of them tensing up, and immediately, she squeezes the ball tighter, making the sharp edges of the foil dig into her skin.
He’s doing fine, and the business is going well.
Silence falls on them after that as none of them is exactly sure what else to say.
How is his health?
He’s healthy as a horse as always. Just stressed with all the things that have to be taken care of. The company is regularly expanding, which means there is so much more to consider and worry about. But you know him. He never slows down, no matter how many times I remind him of that. Not threats or pleads work with that man. He’s impossible sometimes.
There is a harsh tone to her mother’s words, which instantly causes her to look up. It was not like her to speak badly of her husband or even make it audible in the way that she spoke. It was on a very few, rare occasions that the respectable and always the perfectionist, Katelynn Jane Walton would let her displeased tones drift out so visibly. Hardly ever in their house, and even more rarely in public, where someone could actually hear and report it all over the whole town.
Mrs. Walton waves her hand dismissively and finishes the sandwich with one quick mouthful. Then rolls the foil and starts to torture it just like her daughter. It’s funny how we are always so sure that we are so different from our parents as children and teenagers, only with years realizing that we have more in common with them than we originally thought.
He’s being a jackass again, isn’t he?
Her mother sounds appalled, but then without warning, the corners of her mouth lift slightly into a smile before she can stop it. Well, well, well. Things have sure changed on the other side of the mirror, haven’t they, Alice? She shakes her head and gazes back at her hands, something else taking over her mind.
How can you tell that you are taking too much of someone’s time and space?
Her mother sounds surprised again; even if she is not looking at her, she senses her eyebrows furrow in slight consternation.
It’s just a question. Nevermind. I don’t even know why I asked.
There is silence for a moment, and all they hear are the birds in the background, some kids shouting in the distance, and water splashing gently in the nearby pond as the wind picks up a bit.
Mmm, I think you know very well. So, who is the person you occupy too much?
I don’t know if it’s too much. Well, maybe I do.
You didn’t answer the question.
She plays with her fingers for a moment.
A friend. He’s a good person, and he’s helping me out with things I cannot handle on my own.
So, you can guess that it’s a lot to be helping with.
Yet he sticks around. Well, there must be a reason for that.
Probably the saver complex or the babysitter’s unfulfilled dreams. Who knows.
Always so dramatic.
I’m glad I don’t disappoint.
Her mother lets out a small sigh and shifts on the bench.
Let me guess. You’re leaving him be because that will be “better for both of you”.
Eleonore looks up slowly and shifts sharply in the seat.
Isn’t that a better option? To let him rest, so he won’t realize what a waste of time I am?
Her mother doesn’t answer as the silence between them becomes thicker, and instead, she asks a question of her own.
Is that why you’re here today with me? To run away from that man and fill your time with little distractions?
Did you even warn him that you’re going to disappear from the face of the earth? Some don’t like that.
Her fingers press into the bench suddenly. All the physical symptoms that she had been ignoring since this morning (thanks to a lot of painkillers and coffee) finally catching up with her. She closes her eyes as the playful shouts of kids in the background appear to change into shrieking razors, the chirping birds seeming to drill holes into her bones. She inhales and exhales slowly as waves of nausea start to hit her. Not again, not now, please. I don’t want her to see me like this. She has already seen enough.
No, I did not.
She clenches her jaw tighter.
I will tell him later. Sometimes everyone needs a rest.
And do you really want that for him? The rest, the freedom? A peace of solitude for you as well?
Unexpectedly, she blinks faster as the inquiry breaks through her defenses, the words sinking in with power as something in her shifts, causing the symptoms to subside gently. It’s then when she realizes something. Something that overtakes her, but she doesn’t let it settle in completely, too scared to accept the truth just yet. No, too much. So instead, she focuses on the question itself. On the surface layer of all the things that had just stirred awake inside of her. Running through her as if electricity and lightning, causing the clarity that she was not yet ready for.
I thought so.
I want him to rest, mom. But I don’t need rest FROM him. Everything feels better with him around, and honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t... I don’t want to get attached again. Not after...
She feels her mother’s fingers on her jaw as she gently shifts her face towards her, making her look directly at her. Katelynn Walton gazes softly at her only child and tilts the head slightly as if wanting to see, even more, catching all the angles and reflections of light that could touch her eyes or face.
It will be alright, I promise.
But how do you know?
I just know, love. Let yourself let him in. I can sense that he’s worth the trust. You cannot stay closed up forever; particularly, when someone so special enters your life. Even if they slowly crush and crumble, all of your so well build barriers that you constructed, and that gave you the illusion of safety.
Her voice turns even softer.
Just don’t cross him out just yet before you feel like running again. Alright?
She swallows again and nods lightly as her mother’s fingers still hold her face. One more smile and she lets go.
I didn’t meet with you just to have a distraction; I wanted to see you and needed it. I’ve missed you.
I know. Underneath all of our disagreements and hard times, I feel it. It’s okay.
They grow quiet again, but this time in a more peaceful manner, their eyes drifting to the body of water in front of them. Something in Eleonore’s chest feels less heavy even as the slowly pulsating pain in her head increases, the faint sun above their heads growing somehow in power. She covers her eyes and massages her temples, buzzing sounds filling her skull turning into complaints and filthy sticky words. Don’t listen, just don’t listen, and maybe she won’t see what a mess you are right now. Her mother pats her knee and slowly gets up, fixing her handbag, soft elegance and grace radiating from her posture. The perfume that she uses gently embracing her as if the finest of cashmere shawls. Sometimes she envied the peace that her mom could manifest so well. Especially when all she could do was slowly crumble into her issues, some form of nervousness and damaged parts always lurking under the skin. She smiles at her gently just before she leaves, grateful for any moments that lessened the burden she was the cause of.
Slowly she lets words fill her mind with the confidence that amazes even her.
I promised myself to fix as many misplaced pieces as I could before things got worse. Charlie gave me an opportunity for some form of redemption, and I wasn’t going to waste it. The extra time that he gifted me with was very special. And I knew that I would never be able to repay him for it, but at least I could try.
She gets up and slowly sinks deeper into the city as the evening embraces and swallows her in its hectic bloodstream of rushing people. Into uncountable waves of sounds that seemed to pulsate like a restless heartbeat, always beating, always whispering so many tales of people she would never meet. Mmm, how much more precious each second felt when you knew your time was running out. She thought she should make it count. And not just the things that she had to take care of and what called her to make amends. No, she wanted to enjoy the small, subtle fragments of life that she had left behind. Each walk under the dark sky, each gentle breeze, and sounds she wanted to keep with her. Every tiny good moment, each earned smile and piece of comfort. Every little thing that she would miss, too busy with distractions, chaos, and sorrow. She would try to live now. Even if just in the mundane things that we all tend to miss sometimes. Too caught up in the future and the past to notice the now. The now in which we breathe and live. She shakes her head and smiles a bit as the cold air hits her flushed cheeks, the passer buyers not giving her much attention, maybe only a few sending her a distracted stare. Mmm, all the hardship and chaos left her a bit melodramatic, but that was fine. No one had to know, as she kept most of it to herself. She wraps her arms tightly around her as the cold moves under the clothes, penetrating every fiber of her being.
I hope to one day tell you all about me. The entire story that you deserve to hear.
She whispers and keeps moving forward, ignoring the wind and the cold, sinking into the night completely, without hesitation.
https://theprose.com/post/230936/with-all-my-senses ( the beginning )
Previous chapters :
We call them Angels.
Who coined the term first, nobody knows, but it caught on, unexpectedly, in a time when its original meaning from the biblical lore has long been forgotten.
The word couldn’t be further from the original intent. Or too close, depending on who you talk to.
The first ones to ascend were children. Everyone under the age of eighteen who died tragically and unexpectedly in car crashes and freak accidents. They returned exactly thirty days later, well and alive in their homes, causing confusion and shock in those they left behind. But when they returned, they were different: wiser, older than their years, no longer the children that their loved ones knew. Many believed they were gifts from God, miracles, heralds of heaven on earth. Some believed they were abominations.
What happened to them, exactly, remains vague and slightly ominous to this day.
It was all peripheral to me for a while. Truth be told, even though the world was descending into an existential crisis of sorts, our day to day lives remained unchanged. Angels or not, my typical day consisted of me going to work, watching the clock strike four, then going back home to take care of my little sister and have myself a glass of wine while waiting to fall asleep to the drone of the television.
In my completely selfish little bubble, I really didn’t care one way or the other. Until, of course, my sister died, and my life was suddenly less meaningful than before.
Kristen, my little sister, was the only reason I got up in the morning, day after day. Our parents died a few years back and we only had each other. Being five years older, I was supposed to take care of her, but really, she took care of me. She was sixteen going on thirty, mature for her age, and whip smart. Much smarter than me. And stronger.
My heart splintered into pieces when I got the call from the hospital: There was an accident… She just got out of surgery. Ma’am, I’m sorry, I really can’t tell you more. But you should get here. As soon as you can.
I knew she wouldn’t come back. Not the same, anyway. Angels never do.
I wait for her return today.
I was sitting at my kitchen table with a glass of wine in my hand, watching the clock, when I heard her familiar voice. It sent a chill down my spine.
“Hey, big Sis.”
She seemed to have materialized in my kitchen. One moment I was alone, then she was there. It was uncanny.
“Kristen.” As many times as I have said her name in my life, today it felt foreign in my mouth. I was planning on a sisterly hug or maybe some tears but instead I felt an uneasy feeling in my stomach. “You’re back.”
My sister, or the girl in my kitchen who looked like her, smiled at me with her eyes crinkling at the corners. A friendly, open, beautiful smile. The only problem was that it wasn’t Kristen’s smile. Kristen usually smirked with her chin slightly jutting out. Confidently, unapologetically.
“How have you been? I hope you’ve been taking care of yourself.”
If wallowing in depression is considered taking care of myself, then I have certainly been doing that. I eyed her warily. “Where did you go?”
A chuckle bubbled out of her mouth, catching me off guard. “You never were good at small talk, Sis.”
That, at least, was true. You didn’t have to be supernatural to presume that about me though. “Kristen.”
She looked sad. “Is it not enough that I’m back?”
Is it? My heart ached. I wasn’t ready for this. It should have been enough, but it wasn’t. I felt nauseous. “I need to know. If it’s really you.”
There was a pause. A beat too long. “Of course it’s me.”
I stayed silent, swallowing what tasted like bile rising up in my throat.
I should have expected this. I did my research. The Angels were all painfully tight lipped. They all gave vague soothing answers and submitted willingly to medical tests, which came back normal. Their answers to questioning were all eerily similar and consistent, almost as if they were collectively coached. Still, nobody could deny they were all friendly, polite, perfect children.
But not the same children.
Looking at the girl in my kitchen, I felt certain of this, deep in my bones. Kristen was gone. This girl, whoever she was, was not my sister. My stomach churned and it was all I could do to keep myself together until I reached the bathroom to vomit my dinner.
Chapter 48 - New Life, Coca-Cola, and Olympic Dreams - the Kincade Legacy Continues!
September 15, 1893
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kincade, Attorneys at Law,
I hope this letter finds you both well. John and I have been plenty busy with our newest young one, John Jr. We smile thinking about how he isn’t much older than the newest baby in the news, First Lady Frances Cleveland’s daughter Esther, born on September 9. Being close to the age of the President’s baby will be quite fun to reflect on over the years. It almost feels like a sign that a president will come from our family’s lineage someday. Maybe we should ask Chadlynn, as she has quite the gift of foreseeing things to come.
Poor Harry struggles with getting along with his classmates. He complains about how his need for his spectacles alienates him, and he often speaks of common discomfort around the girls in his class. On a brighter note, He has shown a great love for reading and writing in his studies, and he talks of becoming a soldier when he grows up, showing admiration for the exploits he has heard from long ago about Chadwick and James. Personally, I hope to see him follow in Randolph’s footsteps and become a pianist. Maybe he and young Rosie could collaborate.
Congratulations again on your marriage, and your law firm you have opened together in Virginia. I look forward to hearing about your successes and adventures soon.
Virginia. January 10, 1894
Charles felt his love’s hand on his shoulder. He put down his pen and looked up at her with the same loving eyes that won her over sometime after his foot in the mouth moment back in New York City three years ago.
“Another letter to family, darling?” Kate asked affectionately.
“Indeed.” Charles replied with a grin. “This family tradition of exchanging letters has been taking place for almost a hundred years. I hope the next generation in our family line keeps it going. I even have a few letters saved that were written by family members that are no longer with us, as do my brother and cousins too. It would be amazing to have all of those letters together someday as a keepsake.”
“That would be incredible.” Kate responded thoughtfully. “So what are you writing about in this latest piece of family literature?”
“How proud of you I am, my love. How well things are going at our firm, thanks to your accomplishments especially. I also wrote about the first motion picture to gain a copyright three days ago. The one about the man named Fred Ott that sneezed. It may sound silly celebrating a motion picture about a sneeze, but imagine the content we could view later. Exciting times indeed!”
“Sure darling, but as much as I love moving pictures, I have some news that may be more interesting than a sneezing man. Since you speak of generations, I would like to tell you another contribution you are making to the future of your family, besides this letter you are authoring.”
Charles gazed at his wife in wonder, curious of the news he was about to receive.
“Mr. Kincade, I am pregnant. You sir, are going to be a father.”
Charles gave a joyful cry and offered Kate a deep embrace. His letter would definitely include this news, news that would be captured forever in the ink he was using. But first, he wanted to soak in this beautiful moment of his life, and make it last as long as he could. No writing could do justice to how he felt right now....
New Orleans. March 12, 1894
Arthur returned home with a big smile on his face and a treat for his family. Originally only sold as a fountain drink, Coca-Cola had become available for purchase in bottles for the first time. Rosie finished the song she was playing on the piano before excitedly accepting a bottle. Owen ran over while holding a copy of the short story collection “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” with James and Diana close behind. The three gleefully accepted bottles of their own. Artemis pouted when Arthur wouldn’t give her a bottle, but lightened up when her father gave her a sip from his own. Fiona approached last, laughing at the excitement from her husband and children over the beverages.
“Are you sure this is a good idea, giving the children this much sugar?” Fiona teased. “You will have to handle settling them down now, are you up to the task?”
“My love, we come from a long line of people involved in history. And with this being the first time this drink is available in this way, who am I to turn down a opportunity to be a part of history?”
“When you’re right, you’re right.” Fiona chuckled, embracing her husband before accepting the Coca-Cola he had brought back for her.
June 26, 1894
Olympic Games Revived
The first Olympic Congress was formed on June 23, 1894 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Previously banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I, the games that played a major part of ancient Greece are returning. Seventy nine delegates from nine countries have agreed to Coubertin’s idea to revive the Olympics, with the first games planned for 1896 in Athens, Greece.
Jeremy finished reading the newspaper clipping that his manager gave him, then looked at Joe Holyfield thoughtfully.
“This is interesting news and all, but why are you going out of your way to show me this?”
“Well Jeremy, now that you have left the Pinkerton agency and made boxing your livelihood, I wanted to suggest an activity that you should take up.” Joe replied coolly. “I think you should add weightlifting to your training routine.”
“That would certainly boost my strength.” Jeremy replied. “But what does this have to do with the return of the Olympics?”
“Weightlifting events are planned for the games.” Joe answered excitedly. “Now it is a big what if, but what if you became good enough at weights to compete in a worldwide event? Even if the best case scenario is that your work in the ring improves, this is a big opportunity you shouldn’t dismiss. Just think it over my friend, and I will work with you on this too.”
Virginia, October 25, 1894
Azalea held baby Hope in her arms, enjoying the newest member of the Kincade family from Charles and Kate. Jeremy had just arrived to visit as well, and walked towards the woman he called Ma.
“My favorite boxer, Jabbin’ Jerry!” Azalea said enthusiastically. “Congratulations on your winning streak!”
“Thanks Ma.” Jeremy said sheepishly. “I’m still amazed that you weren’t upset about me taking up this sport.”
“I’m not completely in love with the thought of you doing something dangerous, but you aren’t the first Kincade man to do so. You come from a long line of strong men that fight for their convictions. Surely you remember the story about your grandfather Chadwick besting that Indian Big Warrior in a fist fight, and how they wound up becoming friends. And then Big Warrior’s son Blue Snake and your uncle James meeting and sharing a history together.”
“Yes, those are tales that will help us never forget the men that came before us.” Jeremy said proudly. “I will try and live out that legacy as well. In fact, I may have another opportunity that started from my boxing. I had taken up weightlifting, and Ma, I am getting recognized for it. I am not only training to be stronger as Jabbin’ Jerry, but I am aiming for a chance to compete in the Olympic games in a couple of years. Could you imagine Ma, the Kincade name being represented in a worldwide event?”
“What I’ve learned from my years in this family, is that we can accomplish anything we work hard for.” Azalea said with a smile, then looking lovingly at the baby in her arms. “Don’t ever forget that little Hope.”
Manhattan, NY. November 6, 1895
Dear Aunt Azalea,
I hope this letter finds you well. Two days ago I played with the New York Symphony under conductor Walter Damrosch in Carnegie Hall. We played works from Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. Ignace Jan Paderewski played a piano solo that moved me, and he was even kind enough to give me some pointers for my own playing after the performance. Frank is still enjoying traveling with me on tour, and has even taken up a new venture. Frank has begun participating in target shooting tournaments in any tour areas that they occur in, and he is building a name for himself around the country. This seems to have been a good outlet for him besides the music, and I think he may have conquered the demons within him. We will be by to visit soon, we can not wait to see you and meet Charles’s wife Kate and their daughter Hope. Take care always, you are never far from our thoughts.
Wyoming. May 12, 1895
Chadlynn laid in bed next to her sleeping husband. Vivian and Violet were just put to bed, happily exhausted from their prior guest. Buffalo Bill Cody had visited that day, raving about the legend that her mother was, and telling her how proud Etta was of the life her daughter had built in Wyoming with her family. He also talked about his goals of establishing a town of his own in their state. Chadlynn thought about how she hoped he would succeed as she nodded off to sleep.
Chadlynn dreamed of being in a stadium in Athens. Frank and Jeremy were there too. Both wore gold medals around their necks. Frank was being praised for his shooting skills, and Jeremy was being celebrated for his weight lifting talents. Back in Wyoming, a sleeping Chadlynn smiled, pleased to have a vision that she hoped would come true.
Greta stepped out onto green rocks, with purple liquid lapping across more pebbles of green, grey, and brilliantly gold crystals. The air had been confirmed as oxygen rich, more so than Earth’s. Safe to breathe, the doctor and biologists on board had insisted, but she wasn’t so sure.
The air was putrid, rotting flesh disgusting. She noted orange and brown leaves floating in the violet liquid at her feet and wondered what kind of plant life had developed on this planet. There was a carbon dioxide factor and nitrogen, in the atmosphere, but the ratios were far from E-standard.
“Bring respirators if you’re sensitive to foul odors,” she shouted back up the ramp, where Rasta was starting the electric buggy up.
“I’m alright. We’ll get used to the smell in a couple of days or so. It’ll be background to us as our noses adjust.” His long dread locks were bunched at his neck. Tied into order by a polka dotted red bandana he’d folded up to do the job.
Greta placed the test tube carrier on the ground beside the water, “I wonder what kind of life we’ll find in this water? At least I think it’s water. That’s what the astronomy scans said.”
“I wouldn’t drink any of it until we finish testing.” Rasta warned her.
“I’m not a fool, man.” She dipped the first tube under, letting liquid dribble into the sturdy glass tube.
Lifting it, she held it toward the first of two suns pulsing in the sky. The planet was the seventh in a system of fourteen orbiting the binary dwarf stars. “They’re aptly named. Romulus and Remus for the stars, and Gemini System. I hope things won’t be as turbulent as old Rome was.”
The water glowed faintly, but otherwise clear in its container. “Hmm, take a look at this, Rasta,”
He rolled his all terrain explorer down the ramp and came to a stop beside Greta.
“So, the violet is a trick of the atmospheric reflection?”
“It would seem to be. I don’t like the aura, look it’s like it has a magnetic field or perhaps some sort of radioactive properties.”
“Get more of it, and some of the pebbles too.” Rasta said, “I’m off to see if our aerial survey was accurate.”
“Be careful. I know the survey said no fauna, only plant life, but you know they can miss big time.” Greta warned him.
“I’ve got my stunner with me. If I’m not back in 60 standard minutes, get into the ship and lock up.”
“You’ve got a locator beacon?”
“Yes, mother,” he teased her, but pulled the blinking button out of his overall pocket.
“Freddie, get out here,” Greta yelled. “The water isn’t purple like we thought. It’s the strange way the two suns light the atmosphere that’s doing it. Bring a radiation meter, will you?”
Freddie came out wearing a respirator.
Greta laughed at his multifaceted eyes, over the top of the device he wore to keep the stench at bay, made him look more like an insect than ever. His limbs were stick thin, and his knees bent backward in comparison to a human. The Scilari were Earth’s first contact with an alien world. He carried a meter in his lower arms and brought a camera to record the scene in the top set.
She would never understand how Freddie could do two totally different tasks with equal precision and not end up with a mess of both. She’d barely learned to concentrate on what she was doing at the moment without letting future tasks cloud her thinking.
“Hmmm light gamma radiation from the water. Nothing that will hurt us unless we stay here for a thousand years though.”
“Then why can I see the glow from it?” Greta asked.
“Must be the same trick the atmosphere is playing with perception of water. Ultra-violet light from two directions might cause its color. I’m thinking the different angles of light from two sources are causing all sorts of visual anomalies.”
“We have much to learn.” Greta agreed
“But these gold crystals. They are like light emitting diodes. Handle them with care. They might be a life form and not a rock.” Freddie cautioned her.
“It wouldn’t be the first time. Although we haven’t convinced our allies from Eclecta to accept you fully, they’re a prime example of a non carbon based life form. Remember the pictures we’ve shown you?”
“They’re silicon based, right?” Greta reminded herself.
“Yes, but these are gold and copper. Copper is an excellent conductor, and gold is nonreactive. It could be an exoskeleton.” Freddie theorized.
“How would we communicate, if they’re a sentient life form?” Greta paused for a moment thinking, and then said, “Perhaps the Eclecta? They’re pure binary code. They might have a chance.”
“Perhaps. First we have to confirm my suspicions.” Freddie bent from his waist, as he handed Greta the meter. Comfortably on four legs, he carefully lifted each one in turn, picking the yellowish crystal like rocks out from under them and piling them together closer to his top hands. “I’m not taking a chance on bungling a first contact by not respecting the possibility.”
“Do you want to follow Rasta and record his path? He was in such a hurry to explore I doubt he turned on his camera.” Greta asked.
“Do you mind? I don’t want to leave you alone here,” Freddie could hardly keep his enthusiasm in check.
“Go follow the explorer’s tracks. I’m sure they’re obvious. You know there might be something about this theory about the yellow crystals. See how they’re almost all close to the water? Not one where Rasta took the all terrain vehicle.”
“Take a few inside. Put them in the communicator’s chamber. It might be able to decipher a language if it’s there in a form that it’s able to analyze.”
The suns were approaching zenith when a massive reflective flash blinded her. As she recovered her vision, she noted the water was deep blue. Freddie seemed to be right about angles and light waves. Did she dare to strip down and take a swim? The spectrometer showed minor traces of elements in the water, and it was H2O exactly as Earth’s was. But who knew what might lurk in the depths of the pools she’d seen as she walked the stream beds for a kilometer to each side of their landing zone?
The stream was structured. There was organization to the way the pools were constructed. Greta shivered. Was this evidence of an extinct civilization or were they still around, perhaps hidden? She peered over her shoulder at the cliff they had dropped over before landing. Where were the builders?
Checking the time, she walked toward the tracks from the explorer. Rasta was due back in five minutes, but where had Freddie disappeared to? Changing her mind, she went up the ramp to check her tracking screen. Both of them had locators. It shouldn’t be hard to see where they were.
She had a moment of terror, when the display showed nothing, then she realized it had been left on the settings screen and touched the square that allowed her to see the crew. It was only the three of them. Research Two and dropped them on their way into hyper drive to the next system. They were on their own for the next three weeks. There was only an emergency beacon to launch if they were in trouble.
It looked like they were both in the explorer and hurtling toward base. She moved through into the lab, where a clear carbonite box held almost one hundred of the gold crystals. She dumped them in there let them land in a scattered heap. There was nothing disorganized about them now. They stood in an exact grid precisely separated by exactly a centimeter. She could see there were five missing from a perfect square.
She hurried out to greet her companions. The day should be twenty six hours according to rotational measurements the satellite had noted. The suns were going down toward opposite horizons. Her brain knew what she was observing as the twin stars slipped toward sunset. Her body didn’t understand at all. Every other world she’d been on, had but one star. Habitable planets in a binary system were rare.
“I need to get five more of those crystals. You were right Freddie, there’s some sort of intelligence here. Wait till you see what happened in the lab.” Greta knelt to carefully scoop up five more pyramid shaped crystals.
“This planet is inhabited,” Rasta stated. “We’ll have first contact soon, I’m sure.”
“Yes, yes, I agree,” Freddie added. “We saw several indications of a civilization who were builders, but nothing to indicate who or what they were.”
Greta paused on the ramp, “Rasta, get the explorer aboard. We can watch the moon rise from the kitchen. I don’t want any equipment outside over night.”
The explorer which had been so speedy when they left earlier, was barely able to make it into the storage bay. Rasta hopped out and connected the massive charging cable.
“Are you going to put those crystals with the rest?” Freddie reminded her.
“Yes, and we’ll leave the camera on the box this time. I forgot and I could kick myself. I would have loved to see them move.”
“Move?” both her team members spoke at the same time.
“Yes move. I dumped them in a heap. Look at them now.”
Rasta approached the lab station. “Would you look at that?”
Freddie hurried over to stare at the rigid precise rows. Greta took the five she had in her pocket and placed them in a heap in the corner. She left them as far away from the area that needed to be filled in to complete the array as was possible. Turning on the overhead camera, she turned her back on the display, and lead the way into the crew quarters.
“Rasta get over here. Leave them alone to do what they need to.” She called.
“They’re crystals, not breathing beings,” he protested.
“Respect them and give them privacy. We’ll know soon enough what they might have to say. I left the communicator primed to receive.” Greta told him. She rarely put her authority as Captain on the line. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t sentient beings. We know from other civilizations we’ve studied group mind sharing is possible, sometimes a single being has many parts as well. Open your mind Rasta!”
“Yeah, don’t get on your high horse, Captain.”
His right fist clenched, and she could see he wanted to flip her the age old sign of contempt. His middle finger twitched, but he did control his temper. She sighed. If he hadn’t been the best ever at mapping and systematic exploration, she would have put him and his hair out to space before they ever landed.
“Come on Rasta, let’s get some food together and watch the moon rise,” Freddie prodded him.
“Reconstituted Meal. I’ll be glad if we can find something on this planet, we can use to synthesize fresh,” Rasta mumbled under his breath.
“You and me both, but this stench of rotted plant matter probably permeates every bit of organic matter too. Personally, I’m glad we have the rations,” Freddie folded his legs under the tall stool at the table in front of the diamond glass window.
“Bring water to drink, Greta,” Freddie requested.
Rasta ripped foil packages open, dumping water into a couple of pots, and used the inducer to heat everything. Serving the meals onto compartmentalized plates, he brought them over to the table.
Greta checked their water supply and made note she’d need to run the hoses into the pool. Their purifiers would the rest. It could even bring the elements together as long as the atmosphere had hydrogen and oxygen in it. Easier on the power requirements if it was just a matter of distilling it from what was already liquid.
The three of them sat, digging into their meal and watched the night spread from overhead to the horizons. No one admitted how uneasy it made them. Wrapped in their own thoughts, comfortably silent they watched as the edge of the world began to glow.
The astronomers had promised a good show. Greta had studied the planet’s moons on the way down, knowing she had to navigate between them. Six of them. The largest was innermost in orbit, but two more almost as big were on outer orbital paths. Two had faint rings. The other three were tiny and unlikely to be visible tonight. She wondered if the twin suns would give them full moons at all times or if there were phases.
Orange fire peeked into the sky and the first sliver of the big moon slid into view. The crater pocked surface reminded her of a badly carved pumpkin like her father made for fall harvest on Angora. Some traditions had carried through from Earth no matter where humans had settled. The moon rose, dominating the sky and dimming the stars vying for recognition.
“Look over there,” Rasta point to the right edge of the landscape where the cliff behind them blocked the horizon, and a smaller yellowish orb seemed to leap into view. Smoother, its pale lemony light elongated the shadow of their ship. They could track its arc as it sped across towards its zenith.
“I wondered if we would see phases. This one isn’t quite full, looks to be waxing gibbous,” Greta speculated.
“Well, that one is a crescent, and definitely waning,” Rasta pointed to the pointed arc of the third moon poking over a hill. It floated into view below and to the left of the brilliantly orange full moon.
Freddie shuddered, the exoskeleton bones of his legs rattling under his chair.
“What’s wrong?” Greta had learned to trust his instincts.
“I think we might have been very lucky to have a clear day. These moons? What are they going to do to the weather? Are we fools to be on the surface?” She could see the skin on his abdomen rippling as his whole body reacted to his statement.
“Rasta, you’re going to take the intake tubes out to the nearest pool, right now.” Greta ordered.
Training had him running out the side hatch, pulling the long hoses out from under the ship where they’d been coiled in storage. Winds buffeted him and small drifts of sand flowed over the tracks his explorer made.
As if the heavens had heard Freddie’s comment, clouds were already floating across the illuminated sky. In the communications lab, the computer pinged an emergency alert.
Greta pushed up from the table, the sinister beauty of three moons glowing behind gilt edge clouds, instantly ignored. Quick strides took her into the lab, and the message glittering in red on the screen.
“Welcome, we hope you are a heavy ship. We have had no visitors in centuries of our time. We crystals, as you call us are the early warning system for weather and surface changes. We are expecting a sonic storm. Are you sound proofed?”
Rasta slammed the hatch door closed, snapping the interlocking clamps down as she emerged into the hallway.
“Damn, it!” He hissed in disgust.
“Paradise has its draw backs,” Greta said. “Our little crystal friends have spoken.”
“They’re all gone out there. Not one left on the surface and there were thousands.”
Rasta raced up the stairs to flight command and plopped into his sculpted seat. Flipping switches and pushing a complicated sequence of buttons, his long fingers danced across controls.
“What are you doing?” Greta understood it was a response to what he’d observed when he secured the water source.
“Setting the automatic stabilizers. We’re in for a blow. We’ve got enough light reflected from those moons, and the suns are powerful enough during the day, even with cloud cover, our solar panel array is providing good energy. So, don’t worry we’re going to cut into the fuel supply,” Rasta answered her unasked questions.
The rocking bounce stopped, and Greta eased into her command center. The message on the big view screen flashed red. Communications had transferred another message from the crystals.
ORANGE MOON FULL. THREE DAYS, MEASURED IN YOUR UNITS, 84 HRS OF STORM.
IF YOU SURVIVE, DELEGATION WILL WELCOME YOU. OUR APOLOGIES FOR NOT WARNING YOU.