We come to the end of another arc, and one more piece of the puzzle emerges. You’ll just have time for tea, too.
Debra Sorensen had watched Sherman’s exchange with that companion of his – because that’s what she, or it, really was – her heart filling with cold running dread as she watched the creature. This – thing’s – aura was still confounding to her; it looked less like a maze of fluid than an electric field, and as such what she saw when she looked at Goodman had always been meaningless. But now Didi Goodman’s shimmering aura looked malevolent, and ominously so. It’s ‘aura’ looked like a pulsing electro-magnetic field hovering over it’s skin, the field the color of a raging fire – yet the entire structure seemed lined with oozing blackish-blue plasma – and Debra simply couldn’t make sense of the shifting patterns. Even as she had spoken those chilling words — “What makes you think that you aren’t?”
Debra watched as the thing disappeared, then she turned to Sherman – and he seemed almost too stunned to think. Even as he turned to examine the wounded boy’s belly. Deb watched as, without thinking, he took a syringe of morphine and jabbed it into the boy’s arm, then she felt a sense of wonder as he ran his fingers through the boy’s hair, speaking words of comfort as the morphine broke over the boy, and as his breathing slowed.
Bud Kurzweil came back to the cockpit and looked down at the boy, the disgust in his eyes in an instant turning to displaced empathy, then compassion — and Debra watched this transubstantiation with a growing sense of understanding. Humans, she realized, were nothing more than chemical beings. They responded to the ebbs and flows of their hormones, yet they couldn’t control their reactions. When a certain kind of stimulus washed through them, a prescribed chain of responses began to take form, yet this response was – almost – impossible to stop once the reaction took hold. It was like a lightning bolt still in it’s cloud, all limitless potential before energy coalesced in branching arcs on it’s way to ground.
“What would you do, Gene,” she asked as she watched him watching the boy, “if you could change what had just happened here?”
He shook his head, then he looked at Bud Kurzweil’s pistol and Deb understood.
In the next instant they were back in the marina fairway and the boys were approaching aquaTarkus again. Bud was slow to draw his pistol this time and the boy got off a clear shot – that struck Sherman in the chest. Gene felt searing pain as he fell over the wheel and in the next instant he was back leaning over the boy in the cockpit, and it was the boy, once again, who still lay dying…
“What the fuck just happened?” Kurzweil moaned as his disorientation grew more intense.
And Sherman turned and looked at Deb. “Don’t do that again,” he growled. “You promised.”
And in the next instant Sherman and Kurzweil and Debra were on the summit of the Matterhorn, watching as Beth led Betty and Father Pete along the knife-edge back to Sherman. Yet Gene knew the massive gust was coming so he tried to yell out a warning but he watched again helplessly as they were picked up like leaves and scattered on the wind, only to begin their long fall to the rocks below – again. He saw Hans and turned away, only to find he was back in the cockpit, still leaning over the boy. Kurzweil was covered in snow and he appeared wordlessly terrified.
“Stop it, Deb,” Sherman snarled. “Now.”
“I didn’t do anything, Gene,” she whispered.
“What? What do you mean?”
“You did that, Gene,” she sighed. “Only you.”
Kurzweil’s body twitched into deep spasm as understanding fell away, and Sherman took a deep breath and stood again, but he reached out for the binnacle as if he was unsure of his footing and needed to steady himself. “What are you saying, Debra. What are you telling me?”
“You took us there, Gene.”
“I can go back?”
“I can change what happened?”
“You can. But you must learn to see before you try again.”
“To see? See what?”
She took his hand and they were back on the Matterhorn, but time was as frozen as the rocks now. Beth was suspended in the sky as the last moments of her life became clear, but Debra led Gene to her unseeing eyes and then she put his hands on the young girl’s face.
And he could see.
Like branches of a tree reaching for the sky. Like tendrils of lightning falling to earth. Memories of a life that had never taken shape formed in his mind and – he could see. All that never had been was suddenly coming to pass – but then Deb took him to another tendril and let him see inside. Endless. Infinite. Everything impossible because it had never happened — and yet it had, for how else could he have seen such things?
“This is madness!” he screamed. “Pure insanity! Get me away from here!”
And then they were both back in the cockpit, the boy still slowly bleeding to death.
“And this isn’t madness?” she said to him, her question not really a question at all. She swung around and held her arms out wide. “Your planet is burning up before your eyes, Father Sherman, and yet all your species sees is another opportunity for war. Can you explain that to me, please?”
Sherman felt as if the fabric of reality was unravelling underfoot as he turned and looked at Debra again, but now there was something very wrong with what he saw. She was more than ten feet tall and her skin was glowing from the inside with a fierce magenta-pink light, then feathers replaced skin and bright amber eyes came into sharp relief.
The creature went over to the wounded boy and placed her hand on his bloody shirt and something like an arc of electricity passed from her into the boy. She turned again and stood tall, and then huge wings unfolded from behind and she stood there basking in the sun for several minutes, while Sherman simply stood there, staring at her in disbelief.
The he heard Bud Kurzweil coming close. “Where’s Debra!” Bud shouted, drawing his pistol from the leather holster on his belt and pointing it at the tall, feathered creature. “Bring her back! Now!”
Yet the creature turned and looked at the police officer almost dispassionately, like it was regarding something completely inconsequential, then it looked at the weapon in the man’s hand before it slowly shook it’s head.
Kurzweil pulled the trigger, and the Sig P-220 roared one more time, the Winchester SilverTip bullet striking the creature in the upper chest.
And then the creature disappeared, and Debra Sorensen slowly reappeared – only now with a massive chest wound spreading across her upper chest, and as she began bleeding to death Gene and Bud ran to her as she began her falling away. Sherman caught her and cradled her head in his arms as she tried to say something, and Roscoe came up the companionway just then and he looked around until he found her, then he walked over to Debra and licked her chin. Sherman took her hand and she cried as she passed.
Roscoe curled up beside her with his nose on her neck, and then he looked up at Sherman – now very confused.
When others in the encampment spoke of the old man in the gray tent they spoke in hushed whispers, some almost reverentially, even though more often than not they simply let him be. Some in the camps even protected the old man, though few understood the reason why.
He rarely spoke to anyone, not even to the people who protected him, though every now and then he could be seen walking among the tents with an old brown dog, usually at night. He walked to the beach and listened to the breaking surf, and on cooler nights, usually in winter, he could be seen laying on the sand looking up at the stars, the old brown dog curled up by his side with its nose on his neck.
The police still checked the encampments near the beach every morning, their sad duty it was to find those who had fallen into one of the many cracks in the sidewalks and send their remains on to the crematories, and one morning the old man’s body joined those headed to the furnaces.
The officer who found the old man thought it odd, however, when she found an old brown dog curled up on the his chest – for it too had passed in the night. Funny, she thought, how often that happened.
And yet no one, or so it seemed, knew the old man’s name – but that really wasn’t so surprising, not in the end. Few people in these camps had names, after all.
© 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…and note this story is fiction, pure and simple. Image: M104, APOD. Music today by the Moody Blues; I never thought I’d live to be a hundred, I never thought I’d live to be a million, and Watching and Waiting. Again, thanks for dropping by – for a read and a listen.