Brian finally allows Jordan into bed with him, so she feels safe. She falls asleep, but he thinks he hears someone calling his name. Compelled to respond, he finds himself in the crystal room talking to a purple skull. Jackie arrives and he joins her in meditation, with the skull in his hand.
Brian did what she said. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply and waited. The skull warmed in his hand and his mind’s eye filled with images which moved jerkily, like an old silent film. Soon, the movement smoothed and Brian saw his father. Miles Casey stood on the road to the swamp, about the same place where Brian had first seen the dog. He held out his arms, palms facing the woods, and seemed to be talking. Brian couldn’t hear any sound, but his father’s lips moved rapidly.
Two dogs appeared, a female to his left, a male to his right. Brian recognized the dog who had protected him. His father knelt, greeting them like old friends. The dogs licked his face and hands, grinning and barking. Again, there was no sound, only movement.
Suddenly, the image changed. Dark clouds formed. The dogs took up defensive positions with Miles. The clouds became black birds, circling and diving at the trio. They swooped low to the ground, rising suddenly. Behind them, Mr. Deidrich appeared, forming from the flock of birds.
Brian saw the black man’s lips moving as he pointed at Miles. The birds attacked. The dogs and man fought bravely, but Brian watched his father fall. The birds flew away as soon as he quit fighting. Mr. Deidrich leaned forward, obviously taunting the downed man, before disappearing in a puff of black smoke.
Terrified, Brian didn’t want to see any more. He tried to break the connection with Jackie Barrett. She held his hand tightly and he directed his gaze back to the vision. His father rose slowly, staggering to his feet. Bruised and bloody, he spread his arms. Again, Brian saw him speaking, but couldn’t hear the words. A whirlwind sprang up, racing after the birds, catching them in the vortex. The birds were torn apart, turning to fog and leaves. A few escaped, but most were destroyed.
Brian saw his father bend over, hands on his knees, gasping and panting. The dogs circled around him, licking his wounds. The vision faded.
Brian jumped up, nearly knocking over the tall crystal. “I have to go! I have to find my dad. He needs me.”
Jackie caught his hand, tugging him back to the floor. “No, Brian. That was something that already happened. Your dad isn’t there anymore.”
“How do you know?” he yelled at her, fighting to rise.
“Think about it, Brian. It was daylight and there was no snow. It looked like early fall.”
Brian sank to the floor, sobbing. He covered his eyes, rubbing hard, fighting against the tears. Men don’t cry. Isn’t that what he’d always been told? But he had to. The pain was too deep.
Jackie held him, letting him cry. She spoke soothingly to him. After a little while, he felt better and leaned back, her hand still in his.
“This is so hard for you, but you’re strong, Brian. You can do this.”
“I can’t do it on my own.”
“No one is asking you to. There will be individual challenges, but you have friends and family. You’re not alone.”
“I’m scared,” he admitted quietly.
“Good. The fear will protect you. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Being afraid makes you careful. It’s when we don’t fear that we fail to pay attention to that inner voice—like the one that called you in here. Listen to that voice, Brian. It will tell you what to do.”
As far fetched as it sounded, Brian knew it was true. Suddenly exhausted, he said good night. He put Lester down by the crystal and headed to his room.
Jackie Barrett watched the boy close the door and sighed. He’d been given so much responsibility. It was too much to expect from a boy his age. There was no avoiding it. This was a time that he, and others, had to endure. They would learn from it and grow—or it would consume them. Quietly, she went upstairs and got back in bed with her husband.
“Hey, babe. All right now?”
“Everything’s fine. Go back to sleep.” She cuddled next to Heath and fell into a troubled sleep.
Brian noticed Jordan as he got in bed. She lay, facing him, curled on her side, with a hand tucked under her chin. She looked like a little girl when she slept, but Brian could see lines of worry in her face. Had they always been there? Or were they new? Did he have them too? He hadn’t noticed, but he hadn’t spent a lot of time looking at himself either. He lay down on his stomach, arms under the pillow, and fell soundly asleep almost immediately.
Brian woke with a start, his dreams full of unnamed horrors. Lying there, covered in a cold sweat, he wondered what time it was. There was no clock in the den and he didn’t wear a watch. He reached for his cellphone, deep in his pants pocket. 6:15. Groaning, he huddled under the covers, feeling Jordan at his back. When Brian moved, she stirred around and sat up.
© 2016 Dellani Oakes