Morning came way too early for Neil. He was woken by his 7 year old niece, Lucy, yelling and jumping on the bed. At breakfast, he’s talking to Dora about burning the pancakes when they were children, and flippantly blames the incident on Cliff.
“Wasn’t me. All Cliff’s doing.” He took an innocent bite, chewing as silence followed.
He’d forgotten that he and Cliff used to blame one another for everything. Even after he moved, Cliff would blame things on Neil. He, himself, had continued to blame his brother-in-law for problems, even after becoming a Marine. His buddies used to tease that he had an imaginary friend who did things just to mess him up.
Noticing the silence, Neil looked around the room. “I’m sorry.” He swallowed, setting down his knife and fork. “For me, it’s like he’s still here. He was with me every second I was gone. And I can still feel him in the wind. When I was in the desert, I could hear his voice in the sand…. More than once, he kept me sane.”
Dora hugged her brother, kissing his cheek. “He said he talked to you whenever he heard you call.” She hugged him again. “Eat your pancakes before they get cold.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He chuckled. “I remember you and Mama always telling me to eat before it got too cold, or watch it cause it was too hot. Took me a full year to realize I could judge the temperature of my own food. Not real well, as it happened. I burned myself more than once.”
His mother giggled, dabbing at her eyes. “It’s so good having you home, son. When you have a chance, pop in and say hi to Daddy. He’s got some things to tell you. You too, Chase.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they chorused.
Neil ate enough pancakes to please his mother, and carried his third cup of coffee into the den. Neil’s father, David Braxton, looked up, smiling, gesturing for his son and grandson to sit.
“Son, I hope Cynthia and Chase have brought you up to speed.”
“More or less, yes. Sounds like y’all have had a hell of a time.”
“More so than in my day. Things were pretty quiet for us. We were lucky. Your generation saw some trouble, but Chase’s—whoo, boy!” He gasped, wheezing. Doing a lot of talking was hard for him. “But there’s more coming—a storm that’s going to lay waste. Don’t ask how I know, you live long enough, you learn to feel the signs. We faced a hailstorm before. This is a full blown hurricane—of massive proportions.”
“An actual hurricane, Dad? Or a metaphor—”
“Both. Hush up and listen. I don’t have breath—for much.”
They sat down, waiting for David to speak.
“This stuff with Mr. D. and Opal, it’s just the start. Once every thousand years or so, the Dark leaps up, seeking leverage. Cause we get lazy, lax. We don’t prepare our young until we know who’s chosen.”
“You didn’t do that,” Neil said. “Neither did Dora and Cliff.”
“No, because the Earth told us and we listened. So you have a lot of what you need already. Only training you need, is stuff you didn’t have skills for before. But you do now. The Circle called you here, gave you to Cynthia, brought you home.”
“Gave me to Cynthia?” Neil chuckled, thinking his father was joking. “I gave myself to Cynthia damn near twenty-five years ago.”
“All this, and that’s what you latch onto?” His father’s laugh wheezed from him. “You two were meant to be together—all along. Even if you weren’t the chosen, the Circle had plans.”
“But I took my hurt and ran.”
“Boy, none of us here would have done different. We don’t know why the Circle picks one over another. Chase is oldest, Jordan youngest. Dora’s five minutes younger than you. Mama and I are smack in the middle. I’d say it’s random, but I imagine there’s a pattern if we look hard enough. Doesn’t matter now. You have to take your sister’s spot immediately—tonight. Because the storm that’s coming—it’s soon.”
David shook his head. “I wish I knew. I’m hoping when you join, you’ll have a sense.” He turned to his grandson. “You get things settled with your girl?”
“I think so, Papaw. We’re working on it.”
“Work faster. You need to help train Neil.”
“Me? I don’t know shit….”
“I’ll tell you both and you demonstrate. Your daddy taught you a lot, you just didn’t know it at the time. What’s the weather forecast?”
Chase glanced at the window. “Partially sunny, wind south-southeast at five miles an hour, eighty percent humidity. Eighty-six degrees with a feel of ninety-two. Rain in thirty minutes. Heavy, with thunderstorms.” His eyes grew round. “How did I know that?”
“Same way you know you could make it snow if you took a notion. Or change the tides, or halt that rain. We can do it….”
“But just because we can, should we?” Neil finished. That was one of his father’s favorite sayings.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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