Brian was halfway through his exploration of his parent’s room, using a combination of the stud finder and tapping on the walls, when Heath called his cell.
“Come downstairs. I think I’ve found something.”
“Be right there.”
Brian gave the wall a final tap, satisfied he hadn’t discovered anything else. He and Jordan met in the kitchen. She followed him down the stairs. Brian trotted down, mindful of the low ceiling at the end of the steps. He ducked his head sideways and noticed the couch was no longer in front of the door. Wondering why Heath had moved it, he came around the end of the stairs and stopped suddenly. Jordan, who was on his heels, nearly fell over him. He caught her automatically, his eyes riveted on the sight before him.
Seated on the couch, calmly drinking a beer with Heath Barrett, was another man. The man’s face was gaunt, sallow. His hair was long, bushy and tangled, with bits of twigs braided in it. His face was covered with a thick growth of beard. He stood slowly, as if his joints were stiff, holding out his arms in greeting. His smile warmed Brian to his very core. There was no mistaking the twinkling eyes.
“Dad!” he gasped, stumbling forward.
“Hello, son,” his father said, his voice harsh and rough.
Brian rushed to his father’s embrace with a cry of anguish. It hurt to see him like that, almost a shell of himself. He hadn’t lost his strength. His arms wrapped around Brian in a crushing hug.
“Did you know he was here?” Jordan asked her father.
“I suspected when we came in. He left a few signs around and about. The twigs and leaves on the floor by the back door—oak, ash and hawthorn.”
“That’s why you took the basement. You knew he was down here.”
“Easiest place to hide out.”
“Where have you been?” Brian asked his father. “We needed you—we—I missed you so much!”
“I’ve been following Mr. D. He gave me the slip the other day when he went to Jordan’s. He’s getting smarter, laid down a false trail. Even the guardians were confused and nothing rattles them.”
They all sat on the comfortable, old basement furniture. When he sat down, Brian realized that two huge dogs were curled up on the rag rug behind the couch. He gasped with delight.
“You brought them!”
“They brought themselves,” Miles said with a chuckle. “Those two don’t do a damn thing they don’t want to. Kids, meet Zofia and Janus.”
The dogs hopped up when they heard their names. They practically tackled the teenagers in their enthusiasm to say hello. The room was full of happy yips, slurps and laughter as they all got to know one another. When the greetings were finally concluded, Heath and Miles grew solemn.
Miles scratched at his beard. “I can’t wait to shave this off. It’s driving me crazy. Been nice in the cold, though.”
“Where have you been, Dad?”
“Around and about. From Texas to Florida and everywhere in between. I’ve been tracking Mr. D.”
“Deid—?” Brian asked.
His father held up a hand in warning. “Don’t over use his name. He can track those who call him by name.”
“Sort of like Voldemort,” Jordan said with a smirk.
“Yeah, well, he’s fictional, Jordan,” her father said. “This guy’s for real and he can pull your bowels out through your nose with a thought, so keep that in mind before you make fun.”
“Sheesh, Dad. Just trying to lighten it up a little.”
“It’s okay, Heath. She’s trying to understand. Yes, like Voldemort, Jordan. If that helps you comprehend how bad he is,” Miles Casey replied.
“So this Mr. D,” Brian said quietly, trying to stay calm. “Is he the main baddie or are there others?”
“Do there need to be more?” Jordan asked. “Sounds like he has it covered.”
“He’s a scout,” Miles replied, taking a sip of his beer. “He goes ahead, tests the defenses. If a group successfully defeats him, he goes away and nothing else happens. If you fail against him, all Hell—quite literally—breaks loose. So far, he’s been defeated. But this is a pivotal year. Heath says he explained about that.”
© 2016 Dellani Oakes