Charles was our savior, the single most valuable member of our little family. It was he who took control early on and kept us from anarchy. Nurtured all of us equally. Loved us like a father when our natural tendencies were toward group and self-destruction. The adult among the children who didn’t have a clue. Even Mari and Jerrick before...
And now. Peter returned that morning with Charles lying in the back of the truck.
After the door to Mari's and Jerrick’s earthly retreat had opened, Peter had spit a series of half-intelligible comments into the walkie-talkie.
“She’s holding him up…Wait…Jerrick is…”
“Why did she just let him fall?”
Denise stood, with all of us pressed in around her, holding the walkie-talkie nearly at arms’ length. Like it was a poisonous snake, or a live wire that she couldn’t let loose of. Her hands shook, and she stared hard at the communication device, waiting for what Peter would say next.
Munster didn’t wait for the drama to play out. He and Cynthia piled into his half-trashed Ferrari and roared down the drive toward the gate. When they hit the highway, they turned right in a high-pitched squeal of rubber. It felt as though we stood there for hours as the roar of the Ferrari’s engine faded into the distance. And then there was this strange silence.
“C’mon,” someone finally said—I think Jude, “let’s go inside and wait. It’ll be half an hour at least until Munster and Cynthia find them and get back here.”
I gently took the walkie-talkie from Denise, looking into her vacant eyes and shaking my head.
“Let’s go Denise. She’s right. Whatever happened, Charles will be okay. I know he will. We can’t do anything here anyway. Come on.”
I’d yet to see Denise so frightened and rattled, except when Peter and I had first stumbled on her hiding in the hotel down in San Diego. Then, she was a first-class mess. Skinny as a rail, eyes that bugged out, frightened out of her wits. Once Peter and I had gotten her back to the farm; once all of us had worked so hard at re-introducing her to sanity, she responded like we knew she would. Before the fall of our civilization she’d been a teacher back in Chicago. It was only natural that she would gravitate toward wonderful Charles. I mean, she was close to his age, and I think she re-discovered in him the link to her past. At first all of us thought it was pretty much simply the regimen of the morning classes alongside him that had awakened her, but the smiles grew during the intervening summer months. The knowledge that a deeper bond had taken root between them.
It was altogether evident that morning when Peter blurted his half-sensical outbursts into the walkie-talkie they’d taken with them. No doubt she would have been upset had it been Charles talking instead of Peter, but it hadn’t been, and her breakdown was very apparent.
As I led her up the steps and into the house, I heard Lashawna curse, the gravel rattle, and then the sound of a rock hitting the side of the tower with a clank.
Bernie was sitting nonchalantly beside Celia on the couch, grinning like the imbecile he was until we entered. The smile on his face faded immediately the moment he saw us. The hand that he’d had on Celia’s thigh fell to the side of his leg. Celia continued to stare into his face in her blind, lovingly excited way.
“What the fuck's goin' on out there?” he said to me.
“Shut up. Move down, or better yet, get up and go upstairs. Both of you. Charles and Peter are in trouble. Get out of the way, Denise needs to sit down.”
Celia shot her head around. “Huh?”
“Just leave, or help me get her onto the couch!”
Bernie certainly wouldn’t, but Celia jumped to her feet and ran across to us. She lifted Denise’s arm and draped it over her own thin shoulder.
“What happened, Amelia? What do you mean they’re in trouble?” she said.
“Just be quiet and help me get her to the couch.
“Bernie, get the fuck out of the way! Go find a bottle of water for her.”
“CHARLES!” Denise escaped her semi-stupor suddenly. She struggled against Celia and me, and said, “Oh God, I’ve got to go, Amelia. How long do you think? I have to go back out. I have to go back!”
“Shh. No, Denise. Just sit. Everything will be okay, I promise.”
The rest of the gang wandered slowly in behind us, chattering amongst themselves. Bernie managed to haul his fat self up by the time we reached the couch and shuffled toward the kitchen pantry where we stored the water we’d need each day.
The sheet white of Denise's face began to fade back to what it had been an hour ago, but she gulped heavy breaths of air as though she was a fish yanked out of the water. All of us except Bernie gathered around her.
“I don’t think he’s really hurt,” Jude said to her.
“Yeah, he’s probably just knocked out or something,” Lashawna agreed, although the words came out tentatively.
“I wonder what happened?” Sammie asked.
“We’ll find out pretty soon. It won’t be long before they get back. Just everyone relax until they do,” I said as confidently as I could.
We waited. Lashawna and Jude went back outside after trying to vainly comfort and assure Denise for a few minutes.
“Let us know the second you see them,” I called after the girls.
Denise kept stammering dreadful statements, none of which we hoped were near the mark. “He’s dead.” “Jerrick did it, I know he did.” “He’s dead, he’s dead, I know he is.”
“Shh…no he isn’t,” I kept answering, but she didn’t hear me.
Hurry guys, get him back here!
“Here they are!” we all heard Lashawna scream.
Denise bolted upright, and then jumped to her feet. The others left at dead runs. Sammie in a burst of excitement was the first out the door. I stayed beside Denise, but she was right behind them, her arms flung out sideways in an effort to help her keep her balance and not keel over.
The pickup rumbled up the drive. The Ferrari was right behind it. They pulled up to the circle below the steps, and Peter cut the engine, then flew out and ran to the rear.
Lashawna screamed with joy the minute she saw who was in the back. She leapt off the porch steps and was the first to arrive at the bed, leaping up onto the side panel and over. Jerrick was kneeling there, peering out at her as she ran. The second she clambered in, she hit him with her body, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him as if she hadn’t seen him for years.
“What’s he doing here?” Jude asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should ask. C’mon,” I answered.
We ran. All of us, almost in mad unison. We circled the bed and stared in at Charles, lying with the top of his head facing the cab. A flurry of disjointed questions from everyone rang out, which, for whatever reason, Jerrick was not inclined at the moment to answer. Charles’ eyes were closed, almost peaceful-looking, his arms dangling onto the black rubber of the bed liner bottom.
“Do you think he’s…dead?” Jude whispered to me.
“No, he can’t be.
“Jerrick,” I called out over everyone else’s talking at once, “what did you do? Explain what happened! Is Charles alive or is he dead?”
Jerrick removed Lashawna’s hands form around his neck and then turned his head to me. He smiled sheepishly.
“Yes and no. Help me get him into the house. I’ll explain everything once we’re in and he’s settled.”
Denise leapt over the side of the truck, crawled quickly to Charles’ side, and then shoved Jerrick hard.
“Get away you psycho mutant! You traitor!”
“I didn’t…” he began to explain uselessly.
“I don’t care! Get away!”
Jude was close behind Denise. “Get out of the way, Jerrick. Go back to that place. Why did you even come back?”
Munster, who was standing beside me, waved his hands at Jude.
“No, no, Jude. He’s okay. Relax.” He then unlatched the tailgate and let it fall until the cables caught with a bang. “Let’s get him into the house. Jude, grab his arms, I’ll get his legs.”
“I can help,” Jerrick said.
“No-you-WON’T,” Denise screamed at him.
By that time Lashawna was beginning to totally freak. “Leave Jerrick alone, you witch! I hate you!” She laid into Denise. Jude flipped.
The rescue of Charles was suddenly turning into a nightmare circus, half of us pleading with everyone else to calm down, Lashawna pounding on Denise’s chest and screaming. Denise screaming back. Munster trying to tug Charles’ feet out by himself.
“Get him upstairs,” I said when Peter and Munster had managed to drag Charles’ body up the front steps and into the living room. They were forced to carry him up the long flight of stairs to the second floor, now, Munster at his legs and feet, Peter grasping his shoulders, grunting low with each step.
Denise followed them, crying and wringing her hands, but the rest of us stayed where we’d gathered. Celia had gone outside with the rest of us when Peter got home, and she stood beside her sister. Bernie, of course, hadn’t bothered to lift his rear off the couch. He offered nothing at all in the way of a shocked reaction as he sat staring when we all entered. I wanted to kill him all over again.
Peter had checked Charles’ vitals, assured Denise that he was at least still breathing, but without a doctor or nurse among us, there was no way of actually telling how bad off he might be. He seemed to be in a coma similar to the one that Mari dwelt in so long ago. That was just a little more than frightening. But there was little else we could do, other than let Denise stay with him, speaking in whispers, urging him to come back.
The burning question we all asked each other was, IF he snapped out of it and came back…what would he be? Mari had survived, of course, and so had Jerrick, even though he remained conscious when the change (whatever it truly constitued) hit him when their remake was finished. Such hadn’t been the case with Mari we all knew too well.
It was the ‘unwanted’ Jerrick who brought Charles back from the dead zone he had entered. Or maybe it was Charles himself. I never really found out.
Jerrick had changed. Or maybe he had never even actually left us mere mortals fully to begin with. I say mere mortals, and that fact became more and more apparent as the months rolled on. Peter, me, Munster and Cynthia—all of us—were caged in our small, often frightening, worlds. The same as every other human who had lived and died over the centuries. Our greatest asset was, and always had been, our imaginations. When you think of it, imagination is power, but the power has always, inevitably, stopped at an invisible wall. We could push the curtain aside at times. Defy gravity, for instance, but only after a group of disparate scientists and inventors invented machines to launch us into the sky. We simply didn’t possess the body structures of birds, and try as we might, our imaginations always failed us whenever we used our own power of thought to launch ourselves heavenward.
Jerrick, and no doubt Mari, were different.
And then Charles.
When Jerrick had said, “I can help.” we assumed he meant that he could physically help Munster drag Charles’ body—alive or dead—out of the truck. That wasn’t exactly the case. It was Denise who might have been the cause in the end of Charles’ demise. She wanted to scratch Jerrick’s eyes out. She begged Munster—and cajoled innocent Sammie—to hand over a weapon to shoot Jerrick with. Munster for some unknown reason spirited them away and hid them from her.
But if Jerrick intended to stay among us, she made it very clear, she would not allow him anywhere near her beloved, comatose, Charles, despite his pleas to let him into their bedroom. Of course Jerrick insisted that he must be alone with Charles. Most of us agreed, rightly or wrongly, that such a request was impossible to allow. I did not agree.
Mari had let Charles fall after she and Jerrick appeared with him outside that horrible thing they lived in that was once a farmer’s and his family’s home. Jerrick had said something, or done something, that caused Peter to scream. The walkie-talkie had gone silent immediately afterward. Naturally we on the other end assumed Jerrick had done some terrible thing to Charles. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
This is what actually happened.
The second Mari withdrew her hands from Charles and he fell, Jerrick reacted. He fell to his knees to help his old friend. Mari glared down at him and raised her hand over her head, Peter said to me in the safety of our bedroom the next morning when I plied him for the thousandth time to go over that morning again. No one had bothered to ask him what his last exclamation meant, but there it was. Oh, he explained to everyone how he’d dashed toward Charles and Jerrick, but in the confusion of questions fired back by Lashawna and Jude and the rest of us in the midst of his telling—the almost backward and forward bent of his short narrative—the fact that Mari…well she'd intended to strike Jerrick. And on seeing this, that's when Peter had screamed, “Jerrick!”, then dropped the walkie-talkie, and run toward him.
“Amelia, she’s evil. Whatever they did to her, they didn’t do the same thing to Jerrick,” Peter said later, amidst the constant chatter as we sat together on the living room sofa.
“I sensed as much,” I told him. “Don’t try to tell Denise that, though. To her they’re both the same.”
“I wish Charles would wake. I wish he could tell us exactly what went on inside that hellhole, and that he isn’t like Mari,” Peter said low, and probably uselessly.
“Jerrick said he could help, Peter. We have to get him into their bedroom.”
“Easy enough. We just tell her she has to let him in. Really, this is our house if you think about it, not hers.”
“She’d freak again.”
“She can’t stay in there alone with Charles forever.”
“Oh, she can,” I said. “We’ll wind up bringing her food and water, unless she wants to play hermit and die.”
“She has to go to the bathroom sometime. Maybe she already has and we just haven’t noticed. Anyway, that’s not a one-time deal, you know? And the next time we see her leave, we’ll take Jerrick in and lock the door!”
“Yeah…yes. We could have Jerrick hidden across the hall, up in our bedroom.”
“That’ll be the hard part. Look how everyone is clamoring over him. We can’t have the whole house hanging around in the hall upstairs, or in our room. Denise would never come out.”
“We’ll wait. It might take a few days, but they’ll eventually settle in to the old routines they're used to, and then we can do it.”
I was right (of course). By day two following Charles’ and Jerrick’s return, we all set about the task of keeping our home functioning. Drifting slowly back to normalcy.
Munster in particular was delighted that, at least for the foreseeable future, there would be no classes to numb his brain. Alongside Cynthia, he walked the boundaries of the property twice daily to inspect the fence and the alarm wires. Sammie tagged along, maybe to keep them out of trouble—off alone as they would have been without her at their side. Jude and Lashawna scrubbed and cleaned, checked the stores in the cellar, even though Lashawna often broke the routine to mother over her beloved brother. Peter and I plotted the best way to spirit Jerrick away, though, and waited. Celia…well, more often than not, she and Bernie remained holed up in their love nest. At least they were quiet, doing whatever they were or weren't doing. Correction. Whatever they were doing. If nothing else, the old lecher was single-minded, and so, it seemed, was poor Celia.
I noticed something strange on the third day, just before all of us gathered for lunch in the kitchen. Really weird, and I had to blink and rub my eyes to make certain it was really happening. I was sweeping the boards covering the porch floor, something that seemed an impossibly useless endeavor, because the afternoon and early-evening breezes would just pick it all up again and deposit it on the boards again by morning. It hit me as I worked and looked down that it was time for Munster and Peter to bring varnish and brushes out from the garage to recoat it.
I don’t know for certain just where Munster and Cyn were. Busy, I suppose, inspecting the grounds. Maybe gathering oranges, but Sammie was sitting fifteen feet away from the tower staring at it. I stopped sweeping and gazed out at her, wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to erect a sturdy, tall fence around that hated watcher? Oh yes, just a library. Not keeping its hidden eye on us. Waiting.
I watched, certainly not hated I was pretty sure, but definitely curious. I was about to set the broom aside and go to her, just in case. Before I could move, though, Jerrick appeared almost out of nowhere in the next instant, and he quietly walked to her side. She looked up and smiled the second he neared and she noticed him. He leaned down with his hands coming to rest on his thighs at the knees and said something to her. I was too far away to hear, but she giggled and then said something back to him. He spoke again and then Sammie nodded her head. I nearly dropped the broom when I saw what came next.
Jerrick leaned farther down and picked Sammie up. She threw her tiny arms around his neck the moment he lifted her. That’s when I had to blink. With his hands on her sides, he slowly started to rise. I mean up! A foot, and then two, and then five...up, until their faces were even with the strange script near the top. When they stopped, hanging there fifteen feet above the ground, Sammie fixed her eyes on it, her face hidden from my sight. I could see one side of Jerrick’s face, though. His lips were moving, and I knew that he was reading what it said in that strange alien language. The tip of one of Sammie’s small fingers moved along, right to left as Jerrick spoke, but one of his hands had the pointing finger of Sammie firmly grasped, in case it accidentally came into contact with the tower surface.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. No, not that Jerrick was holding Sammie, or even that he was translating the script for her. It was the rising, and then the hovering. Some new aspect of the reborn Jerrick that was unimaginable.
What else was he capable of doing that we had no knowledge of, and further, whatever other powers he might possess—were they, would they be used for our benefit?
Maybe to break free of the shock that gripped me, I had the craziest thought. Maybe he would teach us all to fly!
Back to reality, whatever that might be in this upside down existence. He wouldn’t let Sammie touch the cursed tower. That said to me that the human side of him dominated.
I glanced around—everyone else was busy elsewhere—and so I laid the broom aside quietly and went to them. Standing a few feet back and beneath them, I hesitated at first, having misgivings about calling up to them. But, I needn’t have. Jerrick turned his head and looked down on me, and then, expressionless, he turned his attention back to Sammie, and began to float down. My eyes were stretched wide, but I faked a stern impression once they touched down and he turned his head again to me. He gently lowered an excited Sammie to the grass.
She was beside herself, wanting to speak, but I cut her off.
“Sammie, go find Munster and Cynthia. Tell them Jerrick and I want to talk to them. After you find them, then find Peter and tell him the same. Hurry.”
“But Amelia! Did you see…”
“Yes. Go now, quickly.”
Sammie squeezed Jerrick’s hand, glanced up at me for an instant, and then ran off. She began to head for the drive leading to the garage at the rear, stopped as if confused, whipping her head left and right, and then turned and dashed down the lawn into the orchard.
“So what was that, Jerrick?”
He smiled at me and motioned for me to sit down.
“She wanted to see the script. She was sitting here looking up at it when I walked over, and so I took her up to get a closer look.”
“Yes, I noticed. Jerrick, how can you do that? I couldn’t believe my eyes!”
He grew excited, quickly sitting down beside me. He reached over and grabbed my hand with his long fingers. Why was I surprised when I felt warmth in them?
“I’m not certain myself just how I can, Amelia, but…well…all I know is that I can, if that makes any sense to you. It’s like you don’t even have to think about it when you want to jump, or take off running, right? The urge or necessity hits you, and you respond.”
Naturally I was stunned. It wasn’t an answer, at least one that actually did make sense, but I let it pass for the moment.
“Jerrick,” I put plainly to him, “are you with us or against us. Please tell me the truth.”
“I was never not with you, Amelia. After they gave me my sight, they told me to go to Mari…that she needed me. And so I left, but I was never, ever against any of our group of survivors. You have to believe that.”
I’d sensed it. Even when she’d smiled, Mari’s eyes were cold. Not so with Jerrick. Even if he were the world’s greatest liar…no, you can see a smile that isn’t genuine. It’s in the eyes. If you look hard enough—and I was at that second—it’s there.
“I had to leave her, Amelia. Half of them beat on her with their powerful thoughts. Constantly. Me as well, but the other half of them…I resisted. I don’t think she could. They’re sorry for the mess they made. Some of them.
“Mari is so young, even though she appears not to be. Despite what you all think, she’s just a little impressionable girl. A lot like Sammie. No matter how I tried to snap her out of it, no matter how the decent ones among them tried…well, we weren’t successful.” He hesitated and looked away. “Not yet.”
A sad, distant look grew on his face. In those deep ebony eyes that not long ago were wells of simple darkness. His fingers tightened on mine, and I felt in them an even stronger sadness.
“Jerrick, what are they doing? What are they planning to do?”
As I asked the questions, Sammie’s loud, girlish voice rang out from deep inside the orchard, calling Munster’s name.
“It’s a battle,” he said shifting his eyes toward the sound of her voice. “They aren’t killing one another, but the fight is in full swing. One or the other among the thousands that came here is going to win eventually. You really haven’t seen any of the dark ones yet.”
“Maybe I have. We…Peter and I…were inside one of those barriers they’re putting up everywhere. Did you know that?”
“No. Stay away from them, Amelia. What did you see?”
I told him how Peter and I broke through the cloud barrier; how we got separated. How frightened we were. How they appeared in the strange distance and came at us.
“You were lucky. Don’t go near those portals ever again. The next time…” His voiced trailed off.
“Amelia, Jerrick, what’s up?”
It was Peter. Thank God. I whipped my head around at the sound of his beautiful voice. Jerrick kept his hand locked on mine.
“Sit down, Peter.” I waited as Peter sat down beside me, a quizzical look on his face.
“The most important task we have right now,” I said turning my attention back to Jerrick, putting the grave danger facing us aside for the moment, “is to somehow bring Charles back. Jerrick, you said you could help him. Peter and I have a plan.”
“All I need is a go-ahead,” he said.
“Yes, but we have to get you past Denise…”
“She isn’t really a problem at all,” he said. “If you give me the word, I’ll just walk in and begin.”
“She’d scratch your eyes out,” Peter said.
“No she wouldn’t. Seriously, do you really believe I couldn’t just make her take a short nap?” He laughed.
“You mean like Charles…like…”
“Oh no. Just put her to sleep for a bit. She’d wake up later.”
I threw my arms around him.
“Well why didn’t you tell us that a few days ago!!!? We’ve wracked our brains, waiting for the right moment when we could get you in there!”
“I was waiting too. We could do it right now if you want. Just say the word. You realize, don’t you, that the two of you are the de-facto rulers, the final authorities of every living human thing? The king and queen of Marysville and the farm and the world,” he said all pleased with himself, laughing with a kind of relief.
I released my hold on Jerrick, then jumped on top of Peter, knocking him backward. I kissed him!
“Peter, we are such idiots! All we had to do was ask!”
“Well,” he said smiling his gorgeous smile up at me, “it seemed kind of…more complicated a few days ago.”
Lashawna and Jude were the first to join us. From their bedroom window facing the drive, Jude had seen Jerrick in the last few seconds of his and Sammie’s descent. She was incredulous, but continued to watch for a moment as Peter, oblivious of what had happened, wandered into the scene. Lashawna was outside the bedroom eavesdropping on Charles and Denise. Of course there was no conversation, she said, only murmuring by Denise beyond the door.
Jude finally awakened from her shock and raced out of the room screaming. She grabbed Lashawna’s hand, and yanked her to the stairs. I heard their frantic footsteps on the wood floor in the living room mixed up with Jude’s excited voice, and then looked up when the old screen door banged against the outside wall of the house. Out they flew. Down the steps in two leaps.
“He flew! I saw him flying!” Jude kept yelling.
Before the two of them reached us, Sammie came scampering up the rise from the edge of the orchard, Cynthia and Munster close on her heels.
“Here he is!” Sammie called back to Munster and Cynthia. “Jerrick, Jerrick, show them!”
It was all Bedlam of a different sort. An almost joyously cacophonous rush of bodies, so unlike the gathering a few feet away on the drive three days earlier.
Peter and I were on our feet by the time Munster and Cynthia arrived. Jude had come to a halt beside Peter, but Lashawna, her eyes stretched wide in confusion, had flown to her knees directly in front of Jerrick, who remained sitting. He was smiling at her.
Sammie whisked between the bodies that had by then surrounded him, and flew into him like a lost child who’d finally found her mother in a crowded shopping mall after frightening hours alone.
“Show them, Jerrick! Take me up again!”
I laughed. “Sammie, give him a break, girl! I saw what he did, so did Jude.”
“It’s so cool!” she said with a giggle.
“True?” Cynthia said.
“Entirely. But look, aside from the…I mean, Jerrick has a plan to help Charles. Right Jerrick?”
He eased Sammie off his lap. “Anytime you’re ready.”
“What plan?” Munster asked.
“He’s going to march right into Charles’ and Denise’s bedroom, and then put Denise to sleep. Then…what will you do, Jerrick?”
“Asleep? Oh no,” Cynthia said.
“Shh,” Munster shot at her. ‘Let Jerrick…”
“Oh shush yourself!”
“I call on Mari. I’ll need her.”
“MARI? But Peter said she was about to hit you! Why would you bring her here?”
“Because…I just need her. She knows…she thinks differently than I do. They communicate with her…what? On a different level than they do with me. Don’t be frightened if some of them come with her. She’s NOT what you think, Amelia. Hopefully not what I think she is sometimes. I have to believe she’ll help. That they’ll help. If not, I think I can bring him back without her.”
“Well then, why not try alone first?”
“Thoughts. Suggestions to him on a quite different level than I might be capable of. I don’t know. Maybe I can do it.”
“You flew!” Sammie chimed. “You can do anything!”
Jerrick laughed. “Not everything, Sammie. Besides,” he said turning back to Peter, “I want to, I mean I have to believe that her condition isn’t permanent. Away from them…I don’t know. If we can convince her somehow to stay with us—to help in Charles’ recovery, and to just BE around those she once loved so much. You know?”
“But you’ll give it a shot without her, won’t you?” I pleaded with him. “Deal with Mari later. If you can bring him back alone…what is it that he’s in? Like a coma or something?”
“Oh no. He sees and hears, but Charles is far away. Just like Mari was when she first touched the tower. It’s like there are two of him. It’s hard to explain in human terms. Physical terms. The point is, the longer he’s away, the farther he’ll tend to drift, I think.”
“Well then, let’s get busy!” Peter said, ending the confusing conversation.
I don’t know if Jerrick called for Mari up in the bedroom, but they arrived. Mari wasn’t with them.
Let me back up.
We dashed up the stairs. It sounded like a herd of elephants. Munster and Cynthia and Sammie and Jude and Lashawna—all of them right on our heels, galloping and talking at once. In the hall, I saw Celia open hers and butthead’s door, poke her head out, then slam the door shut again. Jerrick, Peter and I reached Charles’ door first.
“Stay here,” Jerrick said.
“Oh no, I’m coming with you,” I shot back at him.
“I will whether you think I can or otherwise.”
“Me too,” Peter said.
Jerrick frowned. I wondered as he stood there staring at us if he might lift his hand, or glare with eyes turning fiery orange and put us to sleep? He gave in, though, and then turned and twisted the knob. Denise had locked the door, but he easily broke it, and then he pushed the door inward. I head Denise scream.
Jerrick walked forward. Denise bleated something as Jerrick neared her with one hand raised and extended. Peter and I dashed in.
“Close the door,” I told Peter.
“Why? The lock is…”
I turned back to the scene unfolding inside. Denise took a step, then two, backward, raising her arm over her face, whimpering, “No, no, please.”
Jerrick continued on, and when he reached her he said in a calm and confident voice, “It’s okay, Denise. Just rest for a moment. I’ve come to help Charles.”
He touched her with one finger, and then placed the palm of his hand onto her forehead. She bolted, but there was nowhere for her to go to get away from him. Jerrick leaned close to her face, brought both hands to her temples, and whispered something softly into her ear. She shook her head no in his grasp. It took a moment, but finally she began to collapse. He broke her fall, and then lay her limp body down onto the carpet.
Charles lay in their bed covered to his chest with a sheet and light blanket. His face was expressionless. His eyes were closed. After laying Denise carefully down, Jerrick went to the bedside and stared down at Charles for several seconds. I wondered what he was thinking. Jerrick, that is. God only knows if Charles’ brain was firing images of anything.
Peter and I padded quietly to the far side of the bed very near the lone window looking out onto the side yard and driveway. We watched and wondered what Jerrick would do. Maybe what happened next was the reason Jerrick said that he needed to be alone with Charles? He pulled the sheet and blanket downward until Charles’ bare feet appeared. I looked up at Peter standing close at my side.
Jerrick disregarded our presence and climbed onto the mattress next to Charles. He took our beloved Charles into his arms, pulled his limp body tightly against his own, and began to run both long hands up and down Charles’ sides, his hips, his shoulders, his chest and stomach.
I pushed myself hard into Peter. My mouth dropped open at the sight of it. I heard Peter mutter, “What the hell?”
Had Denise been awake, she would have gone absolutely insane at seeing what Peter and I saw.
All the while, Jerrick was speaking strange words into Charles’ ear, in a language neither Peter nor I had ever heard before.
I had to remember.
I had to remember!
There was Lashawna and Jude. Okay. Alright…no one thought much of their pairing, and after the typically Munster-uttered little snide remarks—“Shut it, Munster.”-Cynthia—their no doubt physical and emotional relationship passed into acceptance, as something quite normal in our new world, bitterly contested and unenlightened in the old. Even the despicable orbiting of that horror, Bernie, and his obsequious Celia, was, at its worst, tolerated. Each had their inner motives, drives, and needs.
Had Charles been conscious, Jerrick’s at-the-moment shocking behavior might have been different. Oh, there was nothing particularly sexual about any of it. I mean, Jerrick seemed to be running his hands along Charles’ body as one might do to someone shivering, half frozen. It was just that…well, a grown man. Two grown men, one helpless. You know.
A sudden banging on the door took us away from the strange rejuvenation efforts of Jerrick on Charles. Denise lay out like a light a few feet away from the bed. I shot my eyes to the door as it swung in, and saw Munster tumble in, Cynthia’s hands hard against his back.
Munster stumbled forward.
“What the fuck?”
Even shocked herself at seeing Jerrick and dead-to-the-world Charles in that compromising position, she slapped Munster on the back of his head.
“Don’t say another word.
“Amelia, what in the name of all that’s holy is going on?”
Holy? There was absolutely nothing holy left in our world. But she obviously needed that question answered…which I certainly couldn’t do. I glanced up at Peter for help. He shrugged. And then he brought a finger to his lips.
Lashawna, Jude, and then Sammie crowded in right behind them. Jerrick finally opened his eyes, stopped doing…well, whatever it was he was doing with his hands and body…and looked over at the gathered, stunned group. He blinked.
“I said we must be alone!” he snapped. “Get out! All of you!”
That last part he spit looking directly at Peter and me with deep anger in his eyes.
I couldn’t help myself.
“But Jerrick, what…”
“I said LEAVE!”
We shuffled off, leaving Jerrick locked with Charles on the bed. I think of all of us, Lashawna was suffering with embarrassment the most. But I didn’t get that. She, of all of us, should have understood…well, what? That her only brother was gay? Like that actually mattered anyway. And too, her relationship with Jude! But who could even say that Jerrick was?
“I don’t think it’s what it looks like,” I tried to console her as we walked downstairs. “I mean…you know.”
Munster was beside himself, of course. Nineteenth century Munster. Cynthia kept telling him to shut it, but he went on anyway.
“Jerrick said he’d help Charles. Despite all other appearances, I believe that’s exactly what he’s doing. And who cares if he…well, loves Charles? Let’s wait and see what happens,” she said to him.
I guessed that made sense. Nothing else did. Lashawna looked up at me when we reached the bottom of the stairs and smiled.
“He’s supposed to be bringing Charles back, Amelia. It just didn’t look…” She stopped, and then she shrugged. “Whatever. You’re right…Jude, she’s right, isn’t she?”
“We’ll wait it out like she says, honey. Who knows? What we do know is that Jerrick isn’t who he used to be. Let’s not question his methods at this late point.
“And Munster, shut your face!” she said turning.
We left the house and sat on the porch, our ears cocked in anticipation of hearing Jerrick shout, “Success!” Everything was normal, peaceful in an odd way. The sun was making its way beyond the trees behind the house. The air itself was warm, but a cool ocean breezed wafted in from the west. I cuddled close to Peter, thanking my lucky stars that we were still together in one piece. Whole and undamaged, even after all we’d been through together.
I flashed to the tower and wondered what grace had prevented me from being...
That's when they appeared.
Sammie saw them first, whizzing up the drive as though they’d parked their landing craft out on the highway, and were late for an urgent appointment, or a massacre-in-waiting at ground zero.
Five of them, and for sure they seemed to be in a hurry.
“Oh shit,” Cynthia said when she lifted her head and followed Sammie’s pointing finger. “What do they want, I wonder?”
“What the hell are they gonna’ do?” Munster followed up.
“Whatever it is, you can bet it has something to do with the traitor they thought they owned,” Peter answered. And that’s as far as our conjecturing went. In a flash they were on us. Those gross tentacles slithering and darting crazily every which way on top of their heads. Three of them skirted by us and flew, literally, into the house. We stood frozen for a moment, scared to death that the two in front of us would attack. They were preparing to do that, right?
Mari suddenly appeared, rushing out of the orchard off to the right. She arrived between us and the aliens, raising her hands toward them, motioning in an agitated way. They backed off slightly, but not far enough for my comfort. I don’t think far enough for hers, either.
“Mari, what the hell is going on?” Peter asked her the second she came to a halt in front of us.
“Peter, I didn’t want this…”
The creatures moved forward again. She pushed her hands at them and waved at them even more furiously. They stopped once more. She returned her attention to Peter, jerking her head back and forth between he and them. “Jerrick forced my hand, though,” she said. “They intend to drag him out…he and Charles.”
“Why?” I asked her. Mari wasn’t frowning or anything threatening. As a matter of fact she looked almost...what?...like one of us again! Sad, apologetic! And scared! Her hands were shaking just a little. She blinked once, and then sighed.
“Look,” she finally said, “you’re safe as long as I’m able to hold them off. These are the ones who have little interest in any of you… who would do you in in a heartbeat. Me too if they were allowed. But the others…” She stopped. My mouth dropped open.
Another group of aliens whisked up the drive like a gigantic storm cloud as she spoke. They gathered around the threatening-looking ugly monsters, their own gross tentacles flapping around. They seemed to be having a conversation. More like an argument.
Mari flashed her soulless eyes at them, and then stepped sideways and back. She was listening, but I could definitely see that there was fear in her face now. She glanced quickly behind her at the tower for some strange reason, and then back to us.
Sammie was clenching Munster so tightly that I thought she’d break his back. If Mari was frightened, Sammie was a hundred times worse. She was terrified by now, bleating, “Munster, do something! Shoot them!”
Munster—“Shh, Sam. Just don’t make a sudden move.”
A second later we heard the sound of feet banging on the hardwood floor inside. Jerrick cursing and pleading. Denise screaming bloody murder.
The group that had gone inside had them, dragging them screaming and kicking outside onto the porch.
We turned our heads in unison the second the noise erupted. With their shimmering appendages that passed for arms and hands, they had Jerrick and Denise firmly in hand—and I use that word loosely. One of them half-carried, half-dragged Charles, his head hanging as if he were either dead already, or still unconscious.
Mari looked to the group of creatures who’d just arrived, a forlorn, pleading in her eyes, her jaw dangling open in shock.
“What, what, Mari?” I screamed. “What are they going to do?”
“They’re going to kill them!” She turned her head quickly after that and said something in that backward foreign language to one of the shimmering things hovering close by her side. A half-second later it replied just as unintelligibly, and then it and another swooshed forward to their alien counterparts who were dragging the three humans out.
Charles’ body hit with a strange, extended thud when the thing that had him in its grasp let loose, and his limp body began its slide down the porch steps. He did this clumsy somersault before coming to rest with his legs splayed open, his arms slumped between them, and his lower back against the nose of the bottom step. Then less than a second later as we all stared, he leaned forward and sideways slowly until gravity took over completely. He collapsed in the gravel onto his side.
Even in the clutches of her own, personal, pissed-off captor, Denise managed to jump up and down, running crazily in place like some sprinter yanked straight up off the track. And contrary to the laws of physics governing sound, she somehow screamed even louder!
So there we all stood. This like anthill of terrified humans being stirred up in a maelstrom of invaders, half of whom seemed maybe not to exactly like us, but intent, nonetheless, on keeping their brothers and sisters from…how did they intend to kill us? Jerk us around like little rag dolls until our brains flew out of our mouths and noses and ears? Maybe they’d just choke us with two or three of their tentacles? Bang our heads on the ground?
I know, I know, that is way gross. And they didn’t do any of those things anyway.
But, here is what the two opposing groups did do.
Mari stayed after they left.
I guess that should have surprised me, but it didn’t. It did make Munster raise his eyes in question when half of them finally got tired of scaring us to death and swirled one after another back down the drive, though. Mari watched them retreat. The other half who’d arrived in the nick of time (I still think) gathered around her and spent only a few moments wiggling their gross antennae while she shook her head yes or no, and then spoke back at them in that strange tongue in sudden little outbursts.
Of course Munster asked me what they were talking about. I looked back over my shoulder at him, not really surprised at his question. Or I should say the question only he would be dumb enough to ask me.
“They want to know if you’re okay.”
“Yes Munster, seriously.”
Cynthia helped him out.
“No Francis, it’s something much more important. Amelia has no more clue than you or me or anyone else about what they were saying.”
I smiled at her response to him. Something more important than you, Munster? Yes, like the lawn is beginning to get really shaggy crappy, and they want you to mow it. Your car in the ditch is an eyesore and they want you to tow it to a junkyard. They’re shocked and disappointed that they left someone as brilliant as you alive way back when.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Munster then, and I’m still devoted to him all these years later. It’s just that between his love affair with weapons—the bigger the better—his even greater love affair with the fastest and most expensive cars in the world, his refusal to crack a book unless Cyn ordered him to…I could go on. Between all his eccentricities and his defiance of order, he was the salt and pepper in our stew.
The half who stayed the hands—figuratively spoken—of those intent on murdering us, eventually flew out like a dozen tornados, into two ships that had suddenly appeared. I stood there in the gravel staring up into the sky where they’d been a second ago.
Two thoughts hit me after the flashes of light and rippling of the air following their disappearance. The first was how weary I was of their coming and going. The alien invaders were the angry gods of our lives, now. I couldn’t, none of us could dismiss that fact. Before their appearance, before the catastrophe, gods didn’t really exist. Not gods hiding in the clouds, anyway. In a strange way I so longed for the days when the petty creatures of the ancients’ imaginations existed only in books and B movies. When the real gods of our fates, the instigators of mayhem, dropped barrel bombs and chemical bombs on us.
At least they were us, as powerful, deceitful, and evil as they were. We knew where we stood. The better among us could fight them. Humanity had a chance.
I saw Mari communicating with Jerrick—that’s one of those things I’ll never get used to. Her eyes seemed to close when they were actually wide open. That look you see on an interrogator’s face before he…no, more intense, but missing the ugliness. She stared right through him, through Cynthia standing behind him, I swear, right through the ground! Only a brief second of this as Munster began to say something. Jerrick had turned his head and was listening to her. And then he nodded.
“Munster, help me get him back inside,” he said cutting him off.
“What’s going on, Mari?” Cynthia asked. “What did they say to you?”
Mari turned her eyes, now alive, to her.
“We need to bring him back. You can come inside or stay here,” she said walking off toward the porch. Of course Munster seemed only too happy to shove his pistol into the hem of his jeans and rush to Jerrick’s and Charles’ side. Together they lifted him by the arms, stabilized themselves, and then followed Mari.
At the top of the steps Mari turned suddenly and called back to me.
“Amelia, stay out here and watch. If any of them show up again, don’t waste a second. Get inside and tell me.”
Naturally. The nasty ones were bound to reappear.
“I’ll stay with you,” Cynthia said. She walked over to me and took hold of my hand. “I guess we sort of won this battle, huh?”
Yeah, if you call narrowly escaping getting squashed or incinerated for another day winning. This hell was never going to end…or maybe it would when the half of them who hated our presence won out.
For the first time since the invaders arrived, I shook uncontrollably. Cynthia let loose of my hand and wrapped her arms around me tightly.
“We’ll be okay, Amelia. You’ll see. Don’t you dare give up.”
“It won’t end,” I whimpered, ‘end’ dragging out of my throat, driven by swords and axes. I lost it entirely the second she took me in her arms. Amelia the strong one. Yeah, right.
“Sit with me, Amelia.”
She led me to the steps, and there she, literally, sat me down. She brushed the hair off my face gently, and then swished away the tears that had gathered at my eyes and on my cheeks. She stood above me like some Julius Caesar or Alexander, her stance steady, her jaw locked in defiance of anything those bastards could throw at us.
I threw my arms around her waist and shoved my face into her midsection and started to cry again. Cyn caressed the back of my head over and over.
“Okay, kiddo, get it out, but get over it. I’m here for you. Peter’s here for you. Now, you get back and be here for us and everyone else. We’re going to make it! Somehow we’ll figure out a way to make them leave. This is our home!”
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 05.12.2017
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