After speaking with Jordan's mind and determining that Jordan is alive, barely, Thommas finds himself face to face with a determined mother, who wants to know the truth about her son.
New to the story? Pick it up from the beginning. New chapters are posted in the middle and at the end of each month.
*for the record, I've had someone ask and I'm sure I did say this already, but this story is complete and I intend to continue posting until all chapters have been posted.
I woke to Brian’s anxious eyes and the harsh odor of smelling salts. I turned to Brian, ignoring the hovering nurse as I pulled myself up on my elbows. “The ties are tenuous, Bri.”
“You can bring him back…”
“Perhaps,” I said, catching the eyes of the nurse as she glared at me and grasped my wrist to check my pulse. I sighed and looked back at Brian. “He is very broken, Bri. You might want to consider—”
“No,” said Brian, shaking his head vigorously. “I didn’t bring you here just for you to let him go.”
“But you gave me the authority.”
Mrs. Blackmun stepped up to me, squatting rather gracefully in her pink skirt. “I really don’t understand what the two of you are talking about. And since it’s about my son, maybe I should.”
I leaned my head back and knocked it on the hospital floor. “Ouch! Dammit!” I sat up then, suddenly very aware again of the room, and the nurse, and the bed and of Jordan’s parents. Brian had always had a tendency to draw my focus.
I pulled myself up, rubbing the back of my head and gently pushing the nurse away as she tried to pull me down to get a look at where I’d banged my head. I turned to Mrs. Blackmun and said, “Yes, you probably should.” I looked back at Brian. “Make sure Jordan is comfortable. Talk to him. His mind may have fled, but it lingers enough that he might hear you. He needs, desperately, to know you want him to stay.”
I looked at Mrs. Blackmun. “Perhaps some coffee? I don’t go near the stuff personally, but you might feel more comfortable over a drink.”
“That sounds wonderful. He’ll be alright, won’t he?” She nodded towards Jordan.
“That’s a lot more complicated than you might think. Come, let’s get something to drink and we can talk about it.”
“Now you wait!” Mr. Blackmun shouted. “She’s staying right here.”
“No,” I said, rather curtly, not bothering to look at him. “That is your job. To run to us the very instant he gets worse. Brian will tell you when. I daren’t have Brian away from his side, he’s the only anchor we have.”
“If you think I’m going to listen to anything—”
“Sit!” I said, my voice making it very clear that he had little choice but to do just that.
“Mrs. Blackmun, if you’ll come with me, please,” I said, extending my arm.
She took it and as we left, Mr. Blackmun started to sputter at Brian, barking questions at him. I felt a little sorry for him, really. Brian really didn’t have those answers.
We walked quietly through the corridors to the cafeteria, and I let Mrs. Blackmun take a seat while I got her a coffee and myself a tall glass of soda and then took my seat across from her.
“So,” she said, as she started tearing open sugar packets and emptying their contents into her cup of coffee, “about my Jordan….”
“He’s lost, Mrs. Blackmun,” I said quietly.
“Call me Janice, dear,” she said, absently stirring the sugar into her coffee, “and tell me just what you mean by lost.”
“You know your son has been doing drugs,” I said bluntly.
“Since he was very young,” she murmured, her shame evident from the quaver in her voice, “yes, I know.”
She gulped and the quaver was worse when she finally spoke. “I know.”
She glared at me. “I knew that. But there’s more to it. If that was all there was, Brian would have fought us for control, but that would have been it. He knew something was going to happen. He knew it long enough ago to drag you into it. I’m not blind, young man. He didn’t want to drag you into this. He had to.” She finished stirring her coffee and took a small sip, dabbing her lips lightly with a napkin after. “You will tell me why.” Her eyes met and held mine. That last was not a question.
I met her stare briefly and considered before speaking, but finally I sighed softly. “The answer is complicated.”
“Until my Jordan is better, I have nothing but time.”
“You won’t believe it.”
“A little while ago, you might have been right,” she said, taking another sip of coffee, “but I just watched you draw the poison out of my son and put meat on his bones with a touch. That was no little magic trick. That was real. Just now, there’s a lot I might believe.”
I looked at her very seriously. “If I tell you, Janice, your life will change. Right now you can go back to his hospital room. You can pretend or hope or choose to believe that what happened to your son in that room is a miracle. And it will be, at least to you. But if I tell you, really tell you, you can never go back to that world, not the same.”
“He is my son, Mr. Ashforthe.”
“Quite,” I said, my eyes never leaving hers, “but that man in the room with Brian isn’t his father, is he?”
She took a sip of her coffee and returned my glare with an even stare of her own. “You know the answer to that.”
“No. I suspect,” I said. “That is not the same.”
“Does it matter?” she asked, her eyes finally fleeing my gaze.
“To me, no. To your son… yes, it matters.”
She sighed. “There was a man, a long time ago.”
“Tall, silvery hair, delicate features, built like a super model?”
I leaned back in the chair, as much as it would allow. “Your son is not quite human, Janice.”
“I know,” she said. “I couldn’t be with him, not like that, and not know.”
“Then why do you fight it?” I asked.
“He has to live here,” she said, her gaze steadfast on the swirl in her coffee, “in this world.”
“Then why do you fight Brian so? You have to know that Brian is your boy’s only hope against the world.”
“You really don’t know,” I said, looking away and shaking my head. “That bastard.”
“Really, Mr. Ashforthe. Just tell me what’s wrong with my son! Please!”
“Your son tried to commit suicide,” I said flatly.
“Don’t even try to tell me it’s the first time,” I snapped.
“No,” she said softly. She sighed and sipped her coffee again. “It’s not the first time. But… he was so much better. My husband hates Brian because of the gay thing. Because he doesn’t want to admit his son… that….”
I gulped down some of my soda and looked away. “He does more disservice than he knows.”
“You think I don’t know that? Brian has been good for my boy,” she said the words almost reluctantly. “I don’t know how to describe it. He’s made Jordan more grounded.”
“Brian is an anchor.”
“Yes, that’s a great metaphor!”
“It’s not just a metaphor. Brian grounds extra psychic energy and holds it down. He’s an anchor.” I looked up to meet her eyes again. “For someone like your son, for a child of that realm, he creates sanity out of a world gone mad.”
“No, Janice,” I said, cutting her off firmly. “You don’t know. The world as your son lives in it betrays all reason. It’s a small wonder your son turned to drugs.”
“And how does he see it?” she asked helplessly.
“You really want to know, don’t you?” I looked into her eyes. It was not hard to see the need written there. “I haven’t said too much, not yet. You can still pretend it was a miracle, if an incomplete one.”
“I cannot. But I will show you.” I drank down my soda, the rest of it, in a single gulp and crunched the bit of ice that came with it between my teeth. I linked my fingers and brought them joined before my face and then ran them backward over my scalp and down the back of my head and brought my head slowly to each side, cracking my neck as I reached the full turn. I closed my eyes. “You are sure?” I asked.
I slammed my hand down onto hers. To her my eyes became as the night, black and lit by tiny points of light, like the heavens with the burning light of the stars. To bring someone across required a gateway. For her it was me. “Look into my eyes, Janice Blackmun. Look and do not look away, or you will become as lost as your son.”
And she looked deeply into my eyes as the worlds spun out of control. Wind and sand and light spun in a great spiral around us, but they did not touch us. The wind screamed around us, and in those screams there were words, for those who knew when to listen, words for those who understood. And as the wind called back, I answered to it in a voice that boomed and echoed with power. Around us the winds shredded all signs of the cafeteria, of the hospital, indeed of reality itself. Mrs. Blackmun screamed then, but her eyes stayed fixed upon the night sky that was reflected in my eyes and she stared deeply into that night.
When the light had faded, we sat at the table, but it was no longer in the hospital, or rather, the hospital was not really the hospital as we had left it. Patients still walked the halls, dull dreary gray things in various states, a few with hearts that pulsed energy into them—patients with will to live. There were few colors among the dismal scene, it was like someone had painted over color with a palette made from blacks and browns and grays, and then melted the colors together instead of blending them.
Janice herself glowed with radiance that caused those patients who came too near to recoil. I held out my hand. “Come with me,” I said. Hesitantly she reached out her hand and I took it in mine. She looked at her hand and I could see tears threatening to well. “Do not cry, Janice. You must trust me.”
“But, I’m glowing!”
“Quite. It’s necessary in this place.”
“But what does it mean?”
“A lot of things, too many to explain. You must trust me,” I said, standing and lifting her to her feet as I did so. “For your own safety, keep tight hold on my hand. You do not want to become lost to this place.”
I walked her from the room, past many patients, each of whom recoiled as we passed by, towards the room where Brian and her husband waited by Jordan’s side. She looked at me oddly. “Where are the doctors?”
“They are too alive to see this place, or to be seen within it,” I said. “Keep close.”
“Just keep close.”
I looked ahead of us. Damn. “Janice, keep hold of my hand,” I said quietly. Ahead of us the grays and browns began to peel from the wall and circle around the dull gray of one of the patients. Each had a frightful aspect, and as it pulled itself from the wall took on shape and character and the fullness of dimension and then stalked the patient, an elderly man, whose eyes still had life in them, whose heart pumped suddenly with radiance. Dear God, he was going to fight.
The man was frightened, but he pulled himself up tall, at least for a moment. I hated to think what the real world thought of him as the demons began to play. He struggled against them, trying to push them off, and I felt Janice’s hand tighten against my own as she watched them tear at him, the death of a thousand cuts. He screamed for help, but he was too much here and too little in the real world for help to come. I looked at Janice and I could see real terror on her face.
I spoke a word then. Just a word. The world shuddered. The black and gray and brown forms that clustered around the man retreated. He had been badly wounded. I walked to him, Janice close behind me, clutching my hand so tightly it hurt. I felt the man’s chest. There was still life in him—a little. Enough. He looked at me, secrets reflecting in his eyes. He tried to speak, but there was little strength remaining in him, even for that. In my mind’s eye I looked into the world of the living and saw the doctors surrounding him and pulling out their machines to bring him to life. How little they knew. He too had seen too much. But he had fought to live, and that was worth something.
I reached out and touched their machines before they could reach the man, and in the waking world the machines began to smoke. Then I lifted the gray shell of the man up. Inside, dwelling deep, was the hint of that radiance that had pumped when he decided to fight. “Do you want to live?” I asked him, quietly. It had to be his choice.
He tried to speak, but could not, but as the last bit of radiance pumped through his chest, he nodded. His legs started to collapse from beneath him, as he exhaled and the life left him. But this was the Realm, and here that was not the end. I shifted Janice’s grip from my hand to my shoulder and caught that last bit of radiance speckled breath in my hands and cupped it there, breathing gently upon it as though breathing on embers to start a fire. And the radiance burned then, a ball of it, bright like the sun. I grasped it in my hands, and held him up, and gently blew the radiance into his face. Where it touched there ceased to be the gray dullness of his skin, and instead he glowed as Janice glowed, but the glow faded quickly until he was no longer gray, nor glowing, but merely normal.
He looked at me, and at Janice. “What are you?” he asked.
“I am the one that feels.”
“Is that supposed to make sense?”
“It might, some day.”
“Am I dead?” he asked.
“You are not dead as you would think of it. That is another journey, and one you may yet take, if you are careful. But you are no longer in that world to which you are accustomed, what people here call the real, and you will not be able to return there.”
“Why?” he stammered. “I was getting better! I thought I was getting better….”
“Because your body is dead. That is the only way I could save you. You would not want to live in the real as you are now. But dead? No, you are not dead. That is a rather different state.”
“I thought I was going to make it.”
“I know, when I asked you to live, you thought I meant as you were.”
He nodded. “How am I to live like this?”
“Much as you did before. This world has its own attractions, and its own threats. You must fight to want to live every day, sir, every day. The radiance within you is your only defense. It is fueled by emotion, by feeling. The creatures that tried to kill you are real. And they will kill you and consume that desire to live if they can. But there are wonders also in this world.”
I held my hand out to grasp his and held it as I drew upon the flesh on the back of his hand a symbol that glowed briefly and brightly and then faded, invisible. “There are those who would seek to harm you. I cannot protect you forever, and I cannot be with you, for I quest with this woman for understanding. But should you be hopeless and attacked, raise up your hand. Those who would attack you can see what I’ve drawn and it may be enough to dissuade them. Flee this building and this place, for here there lurks much that is evil, and seek out the tower of Egelbaroth. Remember that. There you may find some vestige of peace and hope, and you might remember why you sought to live at the end.”
He looked at me very oddly, then backed away, slowly, turned, and ran as fast as he could away.
I reached up to my shoulder to hold Janice’s hand. “Come,” I said. “You wished to see the world as your son sees it.”