How do you fight off love when you don't know what it looks like? Forbidden to Johnny, his focus must be on the ones who want to toy with him, or kill him. But when heartstrings pull Johnny within his enemies reach, how will he survive?
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Book one of the Soul Bearer trilogy
Published by Josi Wales at Smashwords
Copyright 2013 Josi Wales
Visit my blog at www.josiwales.com
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Dark clouds loomed in the heavy night air. Large drops fell, stirring up dust as they splattered the ground where a little boy, no older than eight, ran barefoot along a beaten trail. He dodged the jagged rocks and fallen tree limbs that littered his way as he ran; hot breath trailing behind him in the cold night air. He pushed his small feet and tiny lungs to the max, and they responded, carrying him as fast as they could go. But it was not fast enough. Thunderous hooves closed in from behind him in the dark.
Not wasting time to slow down, he slammed into the front door of his ramshackle home. With cold fingers in a frantic fumble for the small rope that held the door closed, he at last found the rope and yanked.
“They chose us,” his shaky voice squeaked as he burst into the room.
His mother jumped from her chair, staring into her youngest son's ashen face as the blood drained from her own. “Hurry, they're coming for us!” She wailed up the small, rickety staircase. “We have to go. . . Now!”
In reply, a gangly teenage boy climbed down. Seeing the look on his mother's face, her fear seeped into him and became his own.
“What about father?” the teenage boy asked, panic flooding his troubled eyes.
“They probably already have him,” his mother replied, fighting to hold back the burning flood of tears that threatened her ability to keep her sons safe. She clung to her youngest boy's tiny hand and followed behind her teenage son; just like they had planned if this moment ever came.
The teenage son led them through the rubbish and filth of their little house to the back door. His father had shown him the escape route many times. They were well prepared. He peeked out the back door, glanced left, then right. Nothing moved. Motioning to his mother and brother to follow quietly, the teenage boy held the door open while the other two stepped out. They waited, and he took the lead again.
A large brown horse charged from around the side of the house. The mother screamed, pulling her youngest out of the way as the horse's heaving chest rammed into her older son. Watching her oldest skitter across the rocky ground, then come to a sickening stop, the mother cried out, torn between rushing to his side and staying to protect the youngest.
The rider of the horse jumped down, grabbed the teenage boy by the ankle, and dragged him back toward the rundown shack. When he was close enough, the mother launched at him, trying to break her unconscious son from his grasp. Without a second glance, the man kicked her backward as he grabbed the younger boy by the hair, now dragging them both back into the shack.
Struggling to her feet as her littlest screamed out for her, the mother ran off toward the house, clambering up the back steps just in time to see the two still and bloody bodies on the ground. Hysterical screams escaped the woman as she fell to her knees, and crawled toward her sons. Five men surrounded the still bodies, and as the mother tried to get past them they hoisted and threw her back into the wall behind them. Now she lay still, trying, but failing, to will herself unconscious.
On the ground, just feet from the boys' bodies was a large white hand drawn circle, and from it came two straight lines, one leading to each boy. As the men watched and waited, the boys' blood ran along the gritty lines and pooled inside the circle. The dark red puddle grew until the blood stopped flowing, then the tallest of the five men stepped forward. He stood by the bloody puddle, chanting as he sprinkled a chunkier white powder across the warm blood. The pool of blood bubbled and hissed as steam escaped it.
Unable to lie still any longer, the mother rose to her feet. Then, crying out, she clutched her stomach and fell to the floor. The men looked from her pale, pleading face to each other in confusion.
“A third?” one of the five men asked.
The man closest to the mother grabbed her, dragging her closer to the tall one. Small trails of blood ran down her legs as she weakly kicked out at those closest. The man let go of her with a shove, sending her to the tall man's feet. He knelt beside her, studying her features.
“Are you with child?” he asked.
She shook her head, biting her lip against the pain.
He nodded, “We shall see.”
She cried out again as the tall man pulled out a small amount of white chalk. He touched the tip of the chalk on the ground, close to her pelvis, and then dragged the chalk toward the white ring surrounding the brutal puddle. As if a valve had opened, she watched in horror as the blood coming from her womb found the chalky line and joined the bubbling blood of her unborn child's brothers.
Too weak now to do anything but watch in agony, the mother sat motionless as the men waited for the blood to stop flowing. Then the chanting continued.
As the tall man knelt beside the bubbling puddle, a hushed silence fell over the small group. He reached into the puddle as if it had become a well, his arm disappearing all the way up to his shoulder. He moved his arm around, feeling and searching until another rough hand grabbed his. Pulling back, he carefully pulled his arm and the hand that gripped it up and out of the blood.
Then another hand broke the surface of the puddle from beneath, and one of the other men stepped forward to grab it. Just as the mother's heart beat its last few times, she saw the savagery of the bone-armored face emerge from her son's blood.
After pulling their returned master from the chalky circle, the men knelt down before him and watched in awe as his bone armor sunk beneath his wrinkled skin. Looking with disdain around him at the rundown shack and the five men surrounding him, the old man pushed past them, stepped over the bodies and out of the shack.
Hundreds of miles away, on the farthest edge of the same dark skies, a young man with curly black hair stumbles as if sleepwalking across the fine sands of an unknown beach. His mind doesn't lead him, but his soul knows it must stop and wait a few yards from the water's edge. As his lifeless eyes stare into the ocean's distant horizon, he is unaware of his surroundings or the two men waiting for him. Patiently, they watch.
Salty winds rush off the water's surface, stirring his black curls, but disturbing nothing else. The winds and clouds swirl around and above the man, and then descend to hang just over his head. As the winds grow and the clouds thicken, they form a small storm just above the young man's zombielike form. The growing storm flashes and cracks, but his body doesn't flinch. The storm condenses, pulling itself in to create a large, tight sphere. Rapid-fire flickering and flashes of light are contained within the sphere, but outside it, the air is still and the winds have calmed. The storm pressure inside the sphere continues to build, and the two men duck behind large rocks protruding from the sand just as the storm releases. A blinding lightning strike surges from the sphere crackling through the still air and rushes through the young man's body. He falls to the ground, lifeless and limp.
After the storm weakens and dissipates, the two men emerge from their hiding place. One drags a shovel behind him in the sand while the other rushes over to roll the body out of the way.
They dig a circle where the young man stood, and dig through the sand until they find it. Then, pulling from the sand the large amount of fresh lightning glass, they wrap it in the material they were carrying and put it in a padded bag. As they leave, they bring with them the body and its precious glass, never to be seen by loved ones again.
The scream filled my head, and my eyes snapped open to the blinding morning sun. I turned my head away, shutting my eyes to the blast of light. Small orbs of the sun's ghost danced behind my eyelids. I was aware now how the pounding in my head echoed every beat of my racing heart. My breath struggled to keep up.
Slowly reopening my eyes, I gave them time to adjust to the bright light piercing the slightly open blinds. I tried to slow my breathing, deep in and deep out. After a few minutes of this steady breathing, I felt my heart slow and my breath choose a more relaxed pace.
It was only then that I noticed the aching in my hands. Looking down, I wondered at the vise grip I had on my sweat-soaked sheets. A dream? A nightmare? I didn't know. It felt like more. Stretching my fingers out, I relaxed my shoulders and neck. I could feel the tension in my body easing up, but the scream continued to bounce off the grogginess of my still waking mind. Pain and anxiety flooded my brain, leaving an impression of some anxious worry like the sun's ghost on my eyelids. Was something wrong? Was there something terrifying lying in wait for me? Was there something I needed to do?
Over and over, the scream replayed itself in my mind. Closing my eyes I tried to remember what the dream was about, but the endless blackness behind my closed lids was all my mind could see. The blackness felt cold, magnifying the stress and sense of urgency. I realized I was holding my breath, so I let it out slowly, trying to release with it the inexplicable dread that was weighing me down.
I pulled up one knee and leaned it against the white wall in an attempt to feel more comfortable. This seemed to help. I relaxed my neck and rotated my head to ease out the last bit of tension from my neck and took another deep breath.
A click sounded across the room, and before I could identify it, my door slammed open into the wall with a loud bang. My body reacted, jumping halfway out of bed. My eyes once again grew wide, and my hands resumed their tight clench on my sheets. My heart returned to its crescendo, now pounding in my throat.
Then Nathan appeared in the doorway.
“Geez!!” I cried. How much more could I handle, this was not a good way to start a day. I looked at the figure now standing in my door. “Nathan, are you trying to kill me?” I was surprised by the shakiness and the harsh tone in my voice, a reflection of my nerves and emotions still in overdrive.
Nathan just stared at me as if he hadn't noticed my mood.
Then, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a little boy, Nathan said with a wide smile spreading across his face, “Johnny, he's called us! The Prophet has called everyone to the main hall. Hurry! Get up!” Nathan's voice was a bit higher than normal, excitement overwhelming him.
I blinked, and he was gone.
Nathan's interruption had allowed the dream to slip from my mind, and I couldn't help but feel some of his infectious joy. But now, just as fast as the joy had appeared, the dread crawled back out of the shadows of my mind.
Trying to shake it off, I headed for the restroom, just a few short steps away. I glanced at my clock as I stood, noticing that I had slept a little longer than expected. I hurried to dress, then splashed cold water on my face to rinse off the sticky sweat. Grabbing the towel, I paused at my reflection in the mirror, noticing a new dishevelment to my long dark curls that, by now, almost reached my nose. I shook my head to get them out of my face, revealing a pale cast to my creamy olive complexion. This made my sharp features stand out, making my green eyes seem to glow. I laughed to myself to force a lightening of my mood. The residual terror from my strange dream had made me look like an elf. Remembering the urgency of Nathan's call, I put the towel down and hurried out of my room. Out in the hall, there were only a few people left, all hurrying along with the same look of eager excitement Nathan had.
The chances of connecting with a Destined were about one hundred to one, and of those who actually connect with their Destined, only ten percent get to leave the Den. The rest end up with routine desk jobs best suited to the most fearful or timid among us. This thought slowed my pace, a reluctance surfacing. As long as we didn't know what our call would be, there was still a chance of being in that 10 percent. Once we received our assignment, it was settled. Forever.
I don't want to be stuck here forever. Even though, my body looked twenty-five, I've already been in the Den for more than 300 years. And, the longer I stayed, the more trouble Nathan and I found. Almost everyone, but the frightened or dull wanted to get out of the Den.
My time to leave was way overdue. What was keeping me here? Sure, I wanted excitement and to see the unknown, but there was something else. Something quietly nagging at me from one of those small corners of my mind, one of those places everyone has but rarely visits; an unnamed void that wants something just out of my reach.
The lingering anxiety and unease from this morning's dream was still running through my system, keeping me from joining in the excited pace of the others hurrying around me. I knew I should quicken my pace. When the Prophet called, things happened fast, and he had to be accessible when that time comes, or you could lose your Destined. I sighed and worked myself up to jogging to catch up to the others, spurred with the idea of getting out.
The Den was a maze of soft tan walls, dark brown wainscoting, and dark red pathways that connect the hundreds of apartments and classrooms. I had followed this particular path and call process multiple times, enough to know that I probably had a better chance next time than now. It was a definite advantage to get there early. I rounded the final turn and skidded to a halt; my eyes bugged and my mouth dropped open at the sight of the large, ornate doors that were closed in front of me. I stared in disbelief at their intricate carvings of two large cranes. I was too late.
“What do I do?” I thought out loud. “I have never missed a calling before. Can you still connect with your Destined if you aren't actually inside the main hall? If the Call was for me and I was not in there, would my Destined go to someone else?” A sinking dread slumped my shoulders, and I turned to go back to my little room.
But as I turned to leave, the same anxious, pained-filled scream from my earlier dream flooded my senses again. I covered my ears, closed my eyes, and fell to my knees; expecting the sharp pain of meeting the concrete floor, but instead, the surface they met was cushioned and crunchy.
I leaned all the way forward, hands still on my ears, and the scream still assaulting them. When my face touched the ground, sharp points caused me to shoot back up and open my eyes. Colorful red, brown and tan leaves covered the ground. Where was I? I looked all around me for a clue, and didn't even notice that the screaming had stopped.
Trees surrounded me, it obviously was fall. As if to refine my assessment, a sharp, cold breeze swept up and chilled my body. Must be late fall, I thought. Wrapping my arms around myself, I rubbed at the rising goose bumps. Is this another dream? I reached down and grabbed a leaf. Holding it by the stem, I spun it a few times between my forefinger and thumb, and then let it fly away with the following wind. I watched as it skittered past nearby tree trunks. I have rarely been outside the Den walls, and even then the Den was always kept in view. Remembering how, moments ago I had thought about my desire to get out of the Den, I now desired even more to be back in its safety.
Panic was starting to build within me, and I knew I had to do something before it took control. Placing one hand on the dry leaves for support, I got up from my knees and began dusting off the small pieces of broken leaves still clinging to me, crushed by the weight of my fall. A few small damp spots on my pants came from the moist ground under its fall carpeting.
I did a few quick turns to look at my surroundings. I recognized nothing. Most of the thin bare trees around me had white bark that I have never seen, and there were only a few skeletal remains of small bushes or shrubs. No land marks. No bodies of water. Nothing but trees that seemed to go on forever. On my last spin, I noticed a small clearing I had overlooked at first glance. Figuring it to be my best option, I headed in that direction.
Each leaf-crunching step towards my destination seemed to call attention to me, but whose attention? Although the place seemed deserted, the crunching of each step screamed, “Look at me!” The concentration I put into quieting my steps kept me from hearing a faint approaching roar until the object itself came into view. I was almost to the clearing, but this object, I recognized from my studies as a car was advancing at a high, erratic speed. It was red, and, I was pleased to be able to recall from pictures I had seen, a station wagon. It was coming fast, but it didn't sound good, clanking a few times, and after a loud pop, swerving wildly to a stop beside the road. I ran the rest of the way to the clearing, pausing when I got there to look in the direction of the troubled vehicle.
A scream came from the car, matching just the one that had been in my head all morning. It was the only thing I recognized in this place, and I ran full speed toward it.
Reaching the car in seconds I stopped at the passenger side window. A woman was inside. She had smooth brown hair, and I caught a brief glimpse of her large brown eyes before she shut them tight, clutched her swollen belly and screamed again.
I covered my ears with my hands and took a step back from the car, keeping my eyes on this struggling creature. I had never seen a woman in person, but I had seen pictures. My first instinct was to run away, but I stood there as if frozen into place.
She was beautiful, even in her agony. As I stared at her enormous belly, a strange pulling sensation grew in my chest, drawing me closer to her. I took a small step toward the car. Then another movement caught my attention. A man with glasses and dark, close cropped hair was on a cell phone. I could see the fear in his eyes and the sweat beading on his forehead. He kept one white-knuckled hand on the steering wheel as he talked; the other gripped the phone.
“We are on South Aspen,” he said into the phone, his voice trembling. “The car broke down.” After a pause and a short worried glance at the woman next to him, he said, “My emergency? My wife is having her baby!” This last part came as a scream, partly to be heard over his wife, and partly to release his own fear and frustration. This was not how it was supposed to happen.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she screamed again. This one matched the scream from my dream exactly. The man looked at his wife, a cloud of helplessness in his eyes. Then he looked toward the window beyond her and did a double take as he saw me for the first time. His wife followed his gaze, breathing heavy, but steady now. She too, jumped in surprise when she saw me, then clenched her teeth and held her belly as the pain returned. Her eyes squeezed shut, and her hair was damp against her face. The man got out of the car and hurried around to meet me.
“She's having our first child,” he said as if this situation needed any clarification. “Who are you? Where did you come from?” He looked at his wife, then back to me, eyes pleading. “Please tell me you know something about child birth,” he said.
“I don't,” I said. I wanted to reduce his anxiety, but the truth was not only did I not know anything about childbirth, but I had no idea where I came from.
“Nothing?” he persisted. “No medical degree or experience, even with animals?”
“First aid training, maybe?”
“Lifeguard? CPR?” I shook my head. “Were you never even a freaking Boy Scout?” he asked, starting to panic. Pacing back and forth, he was absorbed in his thoughts.
“No.” I said. “Nothing.” This guy was starting to annoy me. And what the heck is a Boy Scout? “How far is it to the hospital?” I asked, looking back at the woman, now writhing in pain.
He looked, too, and I saw that he was on the verge of total freak out. What was I supposed to do? The woman in the car was in pain and danger, and her only hope was her husband, who was losing it, and me.
In the Den, we were forbidden any contact or relationship with the opposite sex. The only information I have of women came through pictures and archive movies shown to us, and this didn't happen real often. In the Den, we were sheltered from the outside world. Our entire being was focused on one purpose.
We are Soul Bearers. Our greatest responsibility, the reason we exist is to find our Destined, someone of the same sex, living somewhere in the world outside the Den. Once we find our Destined, our mission is to keep them safe until we are bonded with them in a sacred ceremony. Each of these bonded pairs then assumed its job of protecting the unknowing from the hideous Evil that lurks unseen, threatening the future of humanity's sacred balance. This Evil, which we at the Den knew all too well and based all our training on defeating, was known to us as the Bone Father.
It was determined centuries ago that it was best if we didn't have relationships with the opposite sex to distract us from our sole purpose. So, for hundreds of years, the males and females of the Den lived separate lives; though under the same roof.
Now this woman, sitting here in the car, confirmed this ancient wisdom. Even as she struggled against her pain and current situation, her beauty was distracting. It didn't help any that this pull in my chest toward her was getting stronger as if gravity had changed course and was now dragging me toward her.
Ignoring the man's response to my question, I placed one hand on the top of the car and allowed myself to give in to the pull for a few seconds. I found myself with my face against the window.
“What are you doing?” the man asked, a hint of possessiveness entering his voice.
I yanked myself upright, my face burning, and gave a nervous laugh. This was as awkward as it was confusing. The man stepped closer to the car and nudged himself between his wife and me. I stepped back to give him space.
“I thought I heard her say something,” I said, with mental thanks for one of the few times I've ever thought of a good response immediately. The man's wary expression told me he didn't quite believe me. Then another devastating scream pierced the air, and he turned to look at his wife.
“How far did you say the hospital was?” I asked.
He looked over his shoulder, caution still in his eyes. “About 20 to 25 minutes down the road still,” he said. “I already called for an ambulance. I am praying they get here soon.” His tension seemed to lessen as he thought of help on the way. He sighed and looked back at his wife.
I put a hand on his shoulder, trying to make a friendly gesture, but still it startled him. “It might help a little if we could get her more comfortable while you wait,” I suggested. I had no idea if this were true, but it was something to do besides stand there and stare at each other.
“What should we do?” he asked, now looking to me for advice.
“Maybe we should ask her,” I said, looking at her agony twisted face. “She is the one in pain, after all.”
He looked at the station wagon, hesitating for a few seconds before he opened the creaky door and knelt beside his wife. Her teeth were still clenched, her eyes were closed tight, and her face seemed even paler than before. The man placed one gentle hand on her knee, and the other on the hand she had on her belly. “Sweet heart?” he began.
She cut him off. “Don't sweet heart me, you idiot,” she snapped. “You are never getting near me again!” she screamed at him.
I took an involuntary step back. It was a good thing too because the shock of her outburst knocked him off balance and he fell back, hitting his head hard on the car door before rolling onto the ground, clutching his head.
I struggled to keep my face serious and hold back the laugh that was threatening to escape.
The man struggled back to his feet. With obvious anger on his face and in his manner, he turned aside to cuss the trees behind him.
So, I thought to myself, when he knelt beside her, he wasn't just showing his tender side, he was being cautious — and for good reason.
I walked up to the open car door, making sure to give her space and leave myself an escape route. “Excuse me ma'am,” I said softly. As she turned to me, I could see the fire of out-of-control pain in her eyes. I didn't back up this time, even though her emotion was still overwhelming. It felt as if she could reach out and snap your bones if you upset her. No nice talk, I told myself as I met her stare but didn't allow mine to overpower hers. Our locked eyes seemed to be sizing up the situation, and then her features softened, her angry glare downgrading its intensity to curious stare.
Her eyes didn't leave my face, but now she seemed to be searching it. “Would it help if you stood?” I asked.
She didn't answer, but continued to stare at me. I offered my hand to help her. She brought up her hand, hesitated, and then rested it in mine. Her hand was small, and her skin was soft. I noticed that her hand fit nicely in mine. Chills ran up my arm and down my back. It pooled in my chest as a soft burning. I struggled with myself for a second and then gave her a small smile.
She gave a slight smile back.
Careful not to jar her, I helped her to her feet. She swayed, and then steadied herself with a hand on the car door. I only had the opportunity to get her a few steps from the car when her husband took her hand from me, and they continued to the front of the car.
I was only able to stare at her as she left me. I didn't want to let go of her hand; it had felt so right. Now the chills and burning were gone. What was that about? I wondered. It was like tasting something so good that one piece wasn't enough. You wanted to gorge yourself on it, and no matter how much of it you had, it always left you wanting more.
I shook my head. I supposed that is why they keep us separated from the women! I laughed to myself. I looked down at my now empty hand and tried to remember how hers felt, but the feeling had already faded. I closed it into a fist as if to hang on to any remaining sensation, and made my way to the front of the car where they stood.
She was resting against the front of the car, her breathing steady and deep to help keep things under control. He stood next to her, rubbing her back a little and trying to keep her comfortable. I watched as he leaned closer to her, and then put one arm around her shoulders, pulling her to him. He pressed his lips against her forehead and a warm smile spread across her face.
She looked up at him to stare into his eyes and whispered, “I'm sorry, love.”
In answer, he cradled her chin in his hand and pulled her face toward his. Their lips pressed and moved together in a sweet embrace I could never have imagined.
Then her hand shot up, and she shoved him away, almost knocking him off the car. She turned to vomit, and then fell to her knees. She wrapped her arms around her swollen belly and screamed that scream again. The mother's breathing was shallow and rapid, and tears rolled from her eyes.
“I don't think it's waiting any longer,” she said, voice quivering. Sweat droplets mixed with the tears trailing down her cheeks. She clenched her teeth together and tried to hold back another scream.
“We need to get her comfortable,” the man said to me as he glanced up from beside his wife.
I looked around me and felt useless. Trees and leaves surrounded us. Maybe the leaves, I thought to myself. We could pile them up and create a soft bed… then a breeze picked up to remind me of its chill. She probably shouldn't be in the cold. I corrected myself. Then the back of the car caught my eye. I rushed around the car for a closer look. “I think we should try laying her down in the back of your car,” I shouted to the other end.
Now to get it open. They had shown us pictures and movies of these things in the Den, but that practice didn't show us how to use the stuff. I noticed the gap around the back edges of the car and traced them with my fingers. My fingers were trembling, as was the rest of me. This made it difficult to see what made this thing open. One thing was clear, however. My fingers were too large to get into the cracks and pull the door open.
“Lift the black handle,” the man said.
They were now standing behind me. I hadn't even noticed when they arrived. Keeping my eyes on my work, the only black anything I saw was a long rectangle with rounded edges in the center of the door. Lift, huh? I put my thumbs under the rectangle and pushed up. As if by magic, the door opened with little effort. I pushed it open the rest of the way. There were a few things in the back, so I pushed them to the side or tossed them out.
“Here,” he said as he handed his wife's hand back to me. I put my free arm around her as he had done to support her. He took off his jacket and was arranging it inside for her. She leaned into me, pressing against my side. She was warm, and though she was in pain, this was comforting to me. And the pull in my chest had come alive again, now feeling as if it were about to reach out and grab what it desired.
The thought of him pressing his lips against hers flashed in my head and brought up the desire in me to do the same. I looked at her as she watched him situating things, and wondered how one would go about doing it. Then she was out of my arms again, her warmth and the pull in my chest now fading.
As he struggled to help her to lie down in the cleared space, her breathing accelerated, and she began to moan. Then, wriggling around, she managed to find a comfy spot, or as comfy a position as the back of a station wagon could offer her.
“I think it's coming!” she squeaked. This new tone in her voice was softer but much scarier than the scream. Her face tightened as she brought up her knees. Her skirt, sliding half way up her thigh, moved to reveal more of her leg; I was starting to understand what made women distracting. I tried not to look at the smooth roundness of her feminine legs. A new chill ran through me. Wow, I thought, women have an influence over me that is… overwhelming. I shook my head and willed myself to stop staring at her as if she were the only thing that mattered.
Her husband was at her knees now. As sweat rolled down his temples, he wiped it on his shoulder. He was at a complete loss for what to do next, and he kept looking around as he tried to find something that would give him the aid or encouragement he needed to get them through this.
He started to push her skirt up further, but then, looking at me yanked it back. He turned and squared his shoulders to mine. “I think you should get in the back seats and try to comfort her,” he said.
I didn't quite understand his thoughts on this, but I figured he had some new plan for helping his wife. Turning, I walked to the side door and got in, making sure to close it behind me, so the cold breeze didn't rush through. She was lying down as well as possible, and he had taken back his place at her knees. She screamed through her teeth as she slightly sat up, and her body was tense. Her screaming stopped, and her face was pale and strained. She stayed that way for a few seconds. She wasn't breathing.
“What's going on?” I thought out loud. I looked at her husband, seeing that his confusion and worry mirrored my own.
“Honey, are you ok?” he asked softly.
She didn't answer.
He started moving toward her, but stopped as she released the breath she was holding and relaxed a little. Relieved, he relaxed too, as much as he dared, and took a deep breath.
Her breathing was steady for a few seconds and then she tensed up again. She was still, again holding her breath as she tightened her face once more. We all tensed up, holding our breath together now as we waited for her to release her hold on her lungs and relax again. When she did, her husband pulled her skirt up again. He jumped away from the car a step or two and just stared for a moment with his hands on his head. He turned away and slid his hands down to cover his face. He didn't move, and he didn't say anything. I stared at him, wondering what to do. I glanced down at the woman and startled when I saw that she was staring at me.
She was quiet now, with a soft and tender look in her eyes. She brought up one hand, placed it on my cheek, and I couldn't help but close my eyes and lean into her touch. The chills ran through me again, but this time they were different. The first time I felt it, they were no ordinary chills, but this time they burned deep in the pit of my stomach and glowed there. This new sensation pulsed through every inch of my being, and my mind felt whole for those few brief seconds. I wanted to soak it up and keep her hand there, but another painful contraction brought me back to reality.
Her hand returned to her belly, but her eyes, now filled with pain, were still on me. “I have faith in you,” she whispered, and gave a weak smile. Then another scream escaped as she tightened up.
Her husband was now coming back to the car with a resolved look, the expression of a man who had faced his inner struggles and won. “Ok, are you ready for this?” he asked with a new resolution. He was looking at his wife, but I realized he was talking to me.
“I believe so,” I said, trying hard not to reveal my concern.
“The baby isn't coming head first,” he said. “It's coming in the other direction. Oh, what is that called?” he asked the heavens. Not getting an answer, he said, “I don't know; it doesn't matter. We need to hurry this up if we can.”
I was glad to see that he had taken a few seconds to get his head on straight because I was feeling useless and worried. And why does she have faith in me? I wondered. Faith for what? I had no idea what to do, or even why I was in this situation. “What do you want me to do?” I asked. I figured I might as well follow his lead and try to be helpful.
“Umm… help her focus on steadying her breathing.”
“Uh, ok… breathing, in and out, right?” I said this more to myself than anyone, but his curious expression told me I might want to keep those thoughts to myself.
His attention went back to his wife, and he tried to get her more comfortable. Moving her an inch here and an inch there, he finally stopped when she snapped at him that it wasn't going to get any better. He took a deep breath, rubbed his hands together and set his position, squatting, hands outstretched, waiting for the baby to fly into his arms.
Did he expect the baby to shoot out of there? Is that what they do? I realized I had no idea.
“Ok honey, I want you to take a deep breath and try pushing,” he said.
She nodded as she looked at him with complete confidence in his decision.
Next, he took off his shirt.
Wow. He must really be focused, I thought. It's cold out here, and his jacket is already underneath her. “Why did you do that?” I asked him, unable to restrain my ignorance.
“I need something to wrap the baby in, don't I?” he said as if he does this all the time.
Feeling dumb, I took my shirt off, too. One thin t-shirt wasn't going to be enough to wrap the baby and keep him warm in this cold, but two might be. I looked down at her, trying not to get lost in those eyes. “Are you ready?” I asked.
Again, she answered with a nod and steady breaths.
I glanced up at her husband and nodded once.
“Alright, honey, deep breath please, and PUSH,” he said.
Now, propping herself up on her elbows, she strained.
The awkwardness of my position, leaning over from behind the seat, made it difficult to be of much help to her, but I tried to comfort her to the best of my ability. After a few seconds, she stopped to rest for a moment and fill her lungs with energy and new resolve.
“You need to push harder honey,” her husband said. I noticed the tension in his voice and wished again that I knew how to help. “The baby is coming the wrong way, and we need to get it out quick.”
“You think I don't know that?” she snapped at him. “Do you think I enjoy this?” She fell back onto her back and started to cry. “It hurts!” she wailed. Tears streamed down her temples and into her hair. “I just want it to stop,” she said. “I can't do this.” Looking at her, feeling her pain, I felt useless. There was nothing I could do to help, no way to ease her pain.
He leaned in to kiss her inner knee and place his cheek against it. “I'm sorry honey,” he said, a new warmth in his voice. “I know it hurts. I'm scared. I'm scared we might lose our baby if we don't hurry. I'm scared I could lose you.” He kissed her knee again and held his eyes closed tight as he struggled to fight back tears. “I can't lose you.”
I had never witnessed love, but I had certainly heard about it. Because my knowledge came only in the context of how dangerous it is to our purpose, I had never even considered that there might be more to it than that. Here, in the middle of theirs, raw emotion flowed everywhere, and I couldn't help but flow with it.
Here was this woman, struggling with so much pain, clinging to her desire to have a family, to have a child that she may, in turn, shower with more love. Her husband knew she wanted that, and he wanted to share that precious dream with her, but he also didn't want to lose her. Neither of them wanted to lose this child, the manifestation of their love for one another. Even though, these weren't my feelings, I couldn't help but get swept along into the rising tide of emotion these strangers had brewed.
“Are you ready to try again?” he asked her with almost a hint of pleading.
“I have to be, don't I?” she answered, exhaustion littering her words. “It's just so hard to push in this position. I can't put enough into it.”
“Sit up,” I said with uncontrolled emotion. I was tired of feeling inadequate and helpless, and my body was working faster than my mind. Before I fully realized what I was doing, I crawled over the seat, and helped her sit up. The space was limited, but with a little maneuvering I was able to sit behind her. Putting one leg on each side of her and lifting my knees, I reached forward and carefully pulled her back against me. With me leaning my back against the painful and uncomfortable parts of the car, she could then lean back with more comfort. The pull in my chest became stronger with this new closeness, and it seemed to be drawing even more strength from the warmth in my belly. Was this pull collecting the warmth? My chest was burning, and pressure began to build up inside me.
I looked up and caught the husband's stare. I felt my face redden as we moved about to find the best place, and when we did, she eased into me. Like her hand in mine, this too, felt like a perfect fit. My heart raced at the closeness. Her heat seeped into me, and my body thirstily drank it up.
Her husband seemed a bit uneasy about the position I took and was about to protest, but I cut him off with only one question. “Do you want to trade places?”
Instead of arguing with me, he looked at her. She was keeping her breathing steady. Then she nodded and he started counting down from three. Her body went rigid as she leaned a bit forward off me and concentrated on pushing, but she had to stop when she couldn't hold her breath any longer. She leaned back to rest on me, breathing hard. Grabbing the shirt I had pulled off earlier, I pressed it against her forehead to collect the sweat rolling down into her eyes. There wasn't much I could do, so I wanted to do as much as the little things would allow me.
“Thanks,” she whispered, and they began the pushing process again.
Panic flared in me as I felt the pulling sensation flicker. I didn't know what this meant, but the fear was real. “We have to hurry,” I said abruptly. “I think something could be happening to the baby.”
I didn't want to scare them, but the fear was too overwhelming to ignore. She started to cry as she tried to keep her breathing steady, and he tried to encourage her more. He looked at her, and she pushed again.
His face lit up. “The feet are coming out!” he said. “I can almost see the butt!”
As this relief graced them, my fear escalated as the pull again weakened. Now I could barely notice it.
“HURRY!” I yelled at them. How could they be resting? Something was clearly wrong, I was convinced of that.
“Ok honey. Let's push again,” he said, calm now that things were coming along.
I knew he was wrong. They had to hurry. Right now.
He began to count down again, but I cut him off. “PUSH, PUSH, PUSH!” I screamed.
With all the passion she could muster, she pushed.
“The butt is out, and… oh my gosh, the little arms, one more push, I think, to get the head out. It's a boy!” the husband exclaimed as his fear faded into the overwhelming joy of seeing his first son.
She pushed again with all she had left within her, and the little boy was free.
Then a look of sheer horror flashed across the husband's face as he saw the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's tiny neck. “Oh, no. Oh, no. No. NO. NO!” he yelled as he tried to remove it, but with the cord still attached to both baby and the mother, it was difficult.
As I watched in horrified silence, the tiny body faded from a healthy flesh color to a sickening purple; the baby stopped moving. The mother couldn't see very well from her position, and she struggled to sit up. Her exertion had left her too weak to lift herself up, so, placing a hand under her back, I lifted her up to get a better view.
When she saw what was happening, she screamed the hysterical scream of a mother losing a child. “DO SOMETHING!”
“I'm trying!” he hollered back. With intermittent swiping at his own stream of tears so he could see what he was doing, he got his own shirt under the tiny body and laid it down. Now even more careful, he was able to slide his finger between the delicate neck and the cord to loosen it a little.
There was still no first wail from the baby. No first life sustaining breath. The father leaned over the tiny body, to feel for breath and try to find a heartbeat, but the little purple mass didn't move.
The father clasped his hands over his face and roared. Tears dripped through his fingers and fell like rain near the lifeless little body. The mother, joining his agony screamed again now, not for the pain in her own body, but for the little body that she would never be able to love and hold close. Energized by her grief, she pounded her fists on the floor of the car.
I watched this new emotional outburst with awed fascination. Their heartbreak was palpable, and if I felt useless before, this was ten times worse.
A strange sound reached my ears. I tried to turn, and look over my shoulder in the direction of this new sound, but all I could see from my cramped space were flashes of red. The wailing mechanical sound became louder, and then stopped right behind me, just outside the car door. Three men rushed around to the back of the car.
It took a little time, but they were finally able to persuade the father out of the car so they could get in. One ran off to the other vehicle and brought back a red and white bag, which he handed to the others. A few items were pulled out of the bag as they worked fast.
The umbilical cord was cut, and the baby, still wrapped in his father's shirt, was carried away by two of the men. The mother screamed her desperation, reaching her hands toward the child they took. Then her hands flew back to her belly as her scream changed again and she doubled over in a new agony.
The father paced as he watched the people now working on his wife. For some reason, he seemed more relaxed about them helping than he was with me. She screamed again and began the same strained pushing as before.
“What's going on?” I asked one of the men.
“She must have another one coming,” he said. “We'll have to deliver it here. There's not enough time to get her to the hospital.”
“How many can they have in there?” I asked him, not even trying to conceal the utter confusion on my face.
He looked at me for a second with a worried expression but didn't answer. He tried to work fast on the mother to get ready for the next one.
“What's your name?” he asked me.
“Well, Johnny, why don't you keep her comfortable? She needs your help.”
“I'm trying,” I said, also trying to ignore the shooting pain in my back. I realized it was only a fraction of the unbridled emotion swirling around us, but I couldn't help but feel frustrated at the loss of the overpowering pull I had felt in my chest. Even though, I noticed that there was still a faint echo of the original pull still there, its former strength made this sensation seem insignificant, leftover. I knew it was selfish of me, but I was feeling more pity for myself in losing that feeling than for the couple that might have lost their first baby.
“Johnny, come back to us. You need to comfort her,” the stranger said, pulling me from my wallowing reverie. She was pushing again, but not with the same enthusiasm as before, so I tried to support her back. She was groaning now, and fatigue consumed her. Hopefully there was only one more to deliver.
“You're doing a great job ma'am,” the man said. “Give me one more push like the last one and we should be good.” I handed him my own shirt. The baby was going to be cold, and we needed to do everything possible for this one. Thank goodness it was almost over. I closed my eyes as I realized how exhausted I felt.
“Johnny, are you alright?” he was trying to get my attention again, but it felt like he was far in the background. “Johnny?” I heard again. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. The lids were so heavy, and I just didn't have the strength to force them open. Why am I tired? I didn't do anything. Then I felt my mind sinking into itself, the darkness pressing in.
“Am I falling asleep?” I asked myself aloud, trying to force my eyes to open. “What about the second baby? Is the baby OK?”
“What baby?” I heard in answer to my spoken thoughts.
“Johnny?” I heard my name again, but it wasn't the same voice that last spoke my name. I tried to open my eyes again; this time I was successful. Everything was blurry, and I blinked to try and get things focused. When that didn't work, I decided to keep my eyes shut.
Cold hands moved over my chest. “Johnny, can you hear me?” the voice asked again. It was familiar, but I couldn't quite identify its owner. I tried to answer, but I couldn't make my mouth work with my brain; I gave them a weak thumbs-up instead.
Then I heard the rough, shaky laugh I knew without a doubt belonged to the Prophet. Oh, I'm back in the Den. Again I felt cold hands on my bare skin and some weight on my shoulders. I was being held down. Why were they keeping me on the floor? Fingers traced shapes on my chest, leaving a cold trail.
In vain, I tried to lift myself and get a better view. But the hands at my shoulders were like vices, and I gave up. Did something happen to me? Was I injured? I didn't feel any pain. I lowered my head back down onto the hard floor and continued blinking, but it still didn't help my vision.
I recognized the Prophet's voice again as he started a slow mumbling chant. The words and sounds all seemed to run together without any breaks. I couldn't understand any of it.
“You're OK,” another familiar voice said. “Just stay still a little bit longer.”
“Nathan?” I asked. I hoped I was right.
“Yea, it's me,” Nathan said. “We found you just lying out here,” he said. “Stop moving! He's almost done.” There was a strange excitement in his voice. Why?
“Ugh … I can't see,” I said, still blinking. “Everything is fuzzy.”
“Relax,” Nathan said. The lingering excitement in his voice made it difficult to do as he ordered.
As I tried to calm myself, I heard movement and feet shuffling all around me. Realizing that a crowd was gathered around me, and everyone was staring, made me even more nervous and uneasy. I tried to listen to the soft chant again, but it soon ended with a loud grunt. The surrounding viewers repeated this grunt in unison.
“Get him to his room,” the Prophet ordered. I felt the pressure on my shoulders ease up when hands slid under my arms to lift me, a little too fast, to my feet.
“Nathan, you are to look after him,” the Prophet commanded. “Be sure to stay right with him at all times. Someone will bring some of your things for you.”
I didn't hear a reply, and guessed that Nathan answered this demand with a nod. Still squinting, my eyes refused to bring into focus the dark blurs crowded around us. I tried focusing on just those close to us as we turned around, but soon the crowd dissipated and we headed toward the safety of my room.
We walked back to my room in silence. I knew Nathan was brimming with curiosity, but my partial blindness required my full attention, as did my feet, which right now seem to have minds of their own.
“Almost there,” Nathan announced.
As if this were a sign for my feet to react, one tripped over the other, and I fell into Nathan. I grasped for anything to steady myself, and Nathan, unprepared for this sudden assault, lost his balance. My frantic grabbing and his unsteady stance caused us to spin into each other as we fell.
I landed first, my head hitting the unyielding ground. He fell second, landing right on top of me, knocking the breath from me, the side of his head smacking me in the nose. This second collision forced my head to go for a second date with the floor.
“What are you trying to do to me?” I complained as he crawled off me and I curled into myself. “Aren't you supposed to be looking after me?”
Through my pain, I heard him laughing, and I had to laugh a little too. We must have looked ridiculous. “What?” he asked, feigning innocence. “Did I get a little too close for you? Well, if you don't like how I do things, find your own way back!”
As always, Nathan's capacity for exaggeration made it difficult to be serious. “I don't need your help,” I said. “I can kill myself all on my own, thank you very much.” Then my serious face cracked, and we both laughed as we struggled to our feet and masked our pain.
“Man, you're bleeding,” he said, his laughter fading. “I hope your vision comes back fast because I sure as heck am not going to start giving you baths. With the Prophet's markings and your own blood down your front, you're a bloody mess.”
I cupped my hand over my nose and felt the warmth flow over my fingers. “Are you trying to say looks matter?” I teased.
I looked down at my hand, now coated in red. The good news was I could see a little clearer. Maybe that smack in the face helped realign things. “Let's get inside,” I said as I reached out to steady myself on a nearby wall. Nathan stood near and was ready to grab my arm to keep me from falling again, but then backed off when he saw I could handle it.
My blurry vision detected the door handle, and on the second attempt I got the door open. We entered the room, careful and slow, and I closed the door behind us. Nathan turned the light on as I eased toward the bathroom. Once there, I grabbed a towel from my hamper and placed it over my nose.
My nose was sore, but didn't seem to be swelling. Maybe, if I were lucky, it wasn't broken. Squinting to get a visual in the bathroom mirror, I saw what Nathan meant. There was a lot of blood. In addition to its scattered blotches on my face and torso, its red pathways began at the lower half of my face and ran down to follow the contours of my muscled chest. In the places where my blood intersected the green markings the Prophet must have left behind, the red and green mixed to a murky brown. Nathan was right. I was a mess.
Then, realizing what just happened, my stare turned to awe. I fumbled my way back out to Nathan. My vision now allowed me to locate his wiry frame and light orange hair from across the room, and I stopped a good distance from him, just to be on the safe side. The last thing I needed was another accident.
Still unable to speak from the shock, I pointed at my chest with my free hand.
“Did he?” I managed to ask. “Did I? Is this real? Am I still dreaming?” The words came in short bursts now. I couldn't get out a larger sentence if I tried.
“Yes, he did,” Nathan said, “but we are not sure if you did.” His laughter at my appearance and wonder now faded into uncharacteristic seriousness.
Things were starting to make sense. I continued to stare at him; hoping for more information.
“He doesn't know what happened,” Nathan said, sitting down backwards in my desk chair. “He said he was barely able to feel the Destined when we found you. He performed the binding ceremony in the belief that there is still a Destined for you.” Nathan looked down as he said that last part.
“In hope, huh?” I said, irritation rising. “Well, I feel something,” I said. “I feel it right here.” I pointed to a spot just above my sternum, right in the middle of all the mess. “I felt it the strongest when I was there,” I added. “It was almost overwhelming at one point.”
“Where were you?” Nathan asked as he leaned forward in his seat, crossing his arms over the back of the chair. His curiosity was coming back.
I looked down at the towel in my hand. I wasn't sure when I took it away from my nose, but I didn't feel any more blood coming out. “I don't know where I was,” I said in a glum voice. “I didn't recognize anything. I was out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by white trunk trees and their fallen leaves,” I smiled to myself at my little rhyme.
I wasn't sure by the way his head moved, but it's a good bet Nathan just rolled his eyes.
A sharp knock on the door interrupted us before Nathan could ask his next question. I stretched out on my bed and let Nathan answer the door. He was supposed to be taking care of me, after all. I still wasn't convinced my wobbly legs and blurry vision were ready for more walking around.
“Mr. Soto, sir,” I heard Nathan say, a bit surprised.
“Good day, Nathan.” said the familiar voice at the door. “I came to… goodness gracious! What happened to him?” Mr. Soto rushed into the room, formal greeting and pleasantries all but forgotten. He stood over me, surveying the mess, then turned to Nathan. “Aren't you supposed to be looking after him?”
Nathan began explaining, but I cut him off. “He was jealous, Mr. Soto, Sir.” That was all I needed to say.
With a look of complete appall, Mr. Soto turned to Nathan. At the same time, Nathan turned to me, an incredulous look spreading across his face. Then it dawned on him. His eyes narrowed at me for a moment, and even as he turned his attention to calming down Mr. Soto, I knew he was already plotting his revenge. I had gotten him good this time, and I could be sure he would answer full tilt.
It was our game, to set each other up and watch, amused as the other tried to get out of the bind. It was rare that I got a chance to put Nathan on his toes, so I took this one in full glory.
I lay there and watched the show, trying to keep a straight face as Mr. Soto went after Nathan. I was taller than Nathan by a few inches, but Mr. Soto was a good six inches shorter than him. He was yelling and scolding, getting literally in Nathan's face. Each time Mr. Soto advanced, Nathan would move back, but Mr. Soto stayed right with him, going on and on about duty and honor and responsibility. I laughed to myself as I watched Nathan trying to get a word edgewise into Mr. Soto's tirade.
As I watched them, I was surprised to see that things were getting clearer. My eyesight was still not one hundred percent, but at least I could see my surroundings now. Between the entertainments I created for myself, and the return of my vision, my spirits were beginning to improve.
Then Mr. Soto turned to me, the white hair at his temples stood out against the angry flush on his cheeks. “You need to get yourself cleaned up before the Prophet gets here,” he snapped.
I eased to my feet, and headed toward the bathroom to get cleaned up. Taking one last look at the repentance on Nathan's face, I shot him a smug wink and left him to his sentence.
With my vision cleared, I looked again in the mirror. The horrible image I now saw caused me to take a step back. “Whoa.” I said.
The markings the Prophet had left were simple but didn't make any real sense to me. One large horizontal oval covered the place on my chest where I felt the pull that was supposed to lead to my Destined. There was one horizontal line above the oval, and two below. Straight down, right through the middle, one vertical line traveled from the base of my throat to just above my belly button.
I looked down from my reflection and touched the green substance on my chest. It was now hard and brittle and flaked off when I touched it. Underneath, the skin retained a tinge of green. Is this permanent? I wondered.
I shrugged, and as I began stripping my pants off I wondered what happened to my shirt. Did I put it somewhere? Then I remembered the last time I saw my favorite shirt. “The baby,” I mumbled. “They wrapped the baby in my shirt.”
I gave a long disappointed sigh, turned on the shower, and stepped in. That deep red shirt was dorky, I was the first to admit, with its crumbling shooting star falling down to the side. But you can't help but love a shirt that fits just right. Now it was gone, and I didn't even know where. I tried not to think about that baby, or the other one, either. Or the distraught mother. Or the grief stricken father.
The welcome distraction of the cold water against my throbbing nose brought relief, but it was too cold to be comfortable over the rest of my body. Still, I didn't turn on the hot water. I wanted a quick shower, and a good reason not to stay in any longer than necessary. I dried off and wrapped the towel around me. Since I'm usually alone in my room, I didn't have to take my clothes into the bathroom with me; I didn't think of this before cleaning up. Another look in the mirror showed that the green shadow of the markings remained. I would ask the Prophet about that.
Nathan was stretched out on the bed with his eyes closed. When I came out of the bathroom, he opened one eye to look up at me as I grabbed my clothes. “You're still alive?” I asked with a big grin.
He closed his eye and smiled. “Of course,” he said. He paused for a moment, “I'm his favorite,” he added, chuckling to himself at the likelihood of that. I returned from the bathroom again, dressed this time, and slumped down on the floor next to the bed.
“I don't know what is worse,” Nathan said, “dealing with Soto or waiting for you to tell me what happened.”
I laughed. “What did he give you?” I wanted to see how long I could drag out this conversation before I gave in and told my story.
“A month's worth of cleaning the south bathrooms,” he said. “That isn't too bad, but…,”
“He said he had something extraordinary in mind for me, as well,” Nathan said. I couldn't help but notice the real concern in his voice. Soto had a habit of keeping “something memorable” in mind for those who displeased him.
“I bet it's good,” I said, with a smug smile aimed at distracting him from his worries about Mr. Soto's “something special.” “I will make sure to visit the south bathroom a few times very soon.”
“If you do I won't have any mercy on you next time around,” he retorted.
I knew all too well how Nathan dreaded whatever “special” thing Soto had in store for him. I was punished once by Soto for something Nathan did, and I'll never forget having to replace over ten thousand light bulbs whether they were working or not. It took me four months to finish the task. Revenge was sweet, and I was savoring its flavor.
When another knock on the door startled us, I jumped up to answer it. I opened the door, and the Prophet walked in. “Sir,” I said, greeting him with a slight bow. The Prophet walked over to the only chair in the room, sat down, and waited.
The reality of what happened was just beginning to dawn on me, and I was struggling to believe it. In my past dreams about getting out of the Den, I never felt any worry about what my future held. I only dreamed about getting out of the Den — not what I would have to do on the outside. Now, with the Prophet here, my pulse surged with a new realization. I sat on the edge of my bed as if frozen into place, waiting for the Prophet to speak.
Nathan, too, was sitting on the edge of the bed a few feet from me. The Prophet looked at us for a few tense minutes of silence, and then he narrowed his eyes at Nathan.
“He was jealous?” he asked, one eyebrow arched.
I didn't know how to respond to this question. This stunt immediately took on a different level of difficulty I hadn't planned. I bit my lip to keep from smiling.
I looked at Nathan, and, to my surprise, he was smiling. He turned to the Prophet. “Sir… I, well… we kind of… um…,”
The Prophet shook with laughter. “The two of you are not as sly as you believe yourselves to be.”
We looked at him, astonished, and then exchanged weak, embarrassed smiles and chuckles.
“Tell me of this baby,” he said, coughing a few times as he straightened up and became determined.
“There was a pregnant woman,” I started.
“A woman?” Nathan blurted out, interrupting in spite of himself. “You saw a woman?”
A quick look from the Prophet shut him up, but he was now on the edge of the bed waiting for his moment.
The Prophet looked back to me and nodded. “Go on,” he said.
“She was pregnant, and their car had broken down on the side of the road. Her husband was looking to me for help. I have no idea…,”
“They could see you?” astonishment covered the Prophet's face as he, himself interrupted.
I gave a hesitant, “Yes.” Did I do something wrong?
Nathan asked the question I was afraid to ask —the one I feared most. “Did Johnny screw it up?” Opportunity for revenge now gleamed in his eyes.
The Prophet brought a fist up to his lips in thought. He too, was on the edge of his seat. “Interesting,” he said.
Then he was on his feet, pacing the length of my small room. We watched him as he worked through something unknown to us. Now and then he would take his fist from his lips to wag a finger in front of him. With the last shake of his finger, he abruptly stopped, sat back in his chair with eager eyes fixed on me. “Tell me the rest,” he said.
“Her husband delivered a baby boy, but we were too late. It wasn't breathing.” I paused, expecting another interruption, but the room remained silent. I dropped my face a brief second as I remembered the moment the pull slackened. I kept on. “Some other guys showed up who seemed to know what they were doing. One asked my name and took over with the delivery of the second baby. Then I was lying on the floor in front of the main Hall.”
“And they were all able to see you?” the Prophet asked, still in disbelief. He already knew the answer. “And did you give it?”
I looked at him confused, “Give what?”
“Yes, I did.”
Again we watched as he worked through the thoughts buzzing in his mind. Nobody knew what happened to those who established a connection with their Destined. We didn't know what they saw. The Prophet conversed with them shortly after the event before they disappeared. And watching him now, I couldn't help but think something was wrong. The Prophet seemed troubled.
“Sir…?” I whispered. “Is something wrong?” We both stared at him. The seed of despair was rooting itself in my gut. I was feeling sick as I started to my feet, but the Prophet stopped me with a raised hand.
“I am not sure,” he said. “Never before have I come across one who has interacted in their Destined's path, until now,” he rubbed his chin and scooted to the edge of his seat again.
We did the same, intent on soaking in what the Prophet was about to explain to us.
“When a Destined calls, you go into a dream state,” he said. Maybe the mind leaves the body or, perhaps the soul, and travels to the point in time it is being called to. That could be why the souls connect so easily. Well, in this state, the Soul Bearer, like you Johnny, sees them for the first time. They get a glimpse of the life the Destined has or lives, and this allows them to connect. It seems to be a vision from their past. Some have seen them as an infant or small child, and some have seen them as adults, but in these instances, the Soul Bearers are like ghosts to the Destined. I think the time and manner of the connection just depends on when the Destined's end of the connection clicks.
We have deliberated over this issue several times, but there isn't any information or evidence to lead us to any conclusions. We will have to keep a close watch over you to learn how this plays out.” The worry had left the Prophet's face and was replaced with curiosity. We all felt a slight breeze of relief enter the room, but the weight of the unknown still hung in the air between us.
“Sir?” I asked, a new apprehension kicking in, “If it's a dream state I went into, where's my shirt?”
“Possibly the last place you took it off, Johnny,” he said, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Clearly he didn't understand the situation.
“No… you see, Sir, I took off my shirt in my vision, and they used it to wrap up the baby.”
The Prophet's shocked expression and open mouth told me he now understood the complexity of this question.
“Before, you had it, and after… you didn't?” he asked. The question was clear, but I didn't know if I should answer, or if he was working through the shock. “So. They know your name, and they have your shirt” he said, and then, as if thinking out loud, he added, “I wonder what this all means.” He sighed. “Just when you think you know everything.”
“What happens now?” I asked with more than a little concern.
“You begin the next part of your training,” the Prophet said, glad for a question that had an answer he knew. He stood up, still sorting his thoughts. “There is still much work to be done before we are ready to let you loose on the world.”
Then we, too, stood up and followed the Prophet to the door. Opening the door, the Prophet stepped out into the hallway. Then he turned to give us a stern look. “The two of you, keep your heads down. Stay in this room and do not leave it for any reason. I will have someone bring your food.” With that, the conversation was over, and he was gone.
We watched the Prophet depart, and just as he rounded the corner, Nathan yanked me back into my room and slammed the door behind us. He punched me in the shoulder. “How come you didn't tell me?” he demanded. He tried to cover it up, but I could hear the hurt in his voice.
“Owww,” I whined and rubbed my shoulder. “You know, I think I have been beaten up enough today. I'm not so sure I can even remember what happened in my vision now, with all this pain and abuse.” I feigned a faint and fell on my bed.
Nathan is my best friend here at the Den. He arrived a hundred years or so after me. Two hundred years of friendship and playing pranks on one another is a long time. As much as we teased and taunted, we watched out for one another.
Shortly after he arrived, Nathan was brought to me. It was my job to help him settle in, to give him a friend and a familiar face in his new surroundings. Once his trouble making side shone through, a close friendship grew, and from that time until now, we have been inseparable.
When they find us, all we remember is our name and, of course, how to do all the basic functions such as, walking, reading, writing, and how to take care of ourselves. Everything else about us is lost. Our memories of families, friends, and loved ones are obliterated, never available to us again. Why does this happen? And to whom?
The story they tell us when we get to the Den is that; around the age of twenty-five or twenty-six, those few people capable of being a Soul Bearer are identified when their minds become zombielike. In this trance-like state, the body takes over and leads us like sleepwalkers to the closest beach. There we stop at the place just where the wave reaches its limit on the sand. We become like a lightning rod, so they say, as a storm forms above us. This storm hovers right over us as it condenses and strengthens to form a sphere. When it reaches its capacity, it lets loose a massive strike of energy that forces our mind into a special type of glass created just a couple inches under our feet.
Once this happens, the few Soul Bearers chosen for these events are standing by to retrieve the glass containing our mind, and bring it along with our body, here to the Den. In a special ceremony, the Prophet then brings the body and the mind back together, erased of any memory of our former life, and we begin our new life as a Soul Bearer.
Although our history before coming here was totally erased in the process of becoming a Soul Bearer, we keep our basic human instincts and personality characteristics. The Elders, like Mr. Soto, who age very slow, have more years of experience here, and their job is to teach us about the world outside. The Elders are not bonded with a Destined. The reasons for this vary: their Destined may have died, been murdered, was never found, or never called to them. To help them teach us, these empty Soul Bearers were allowed outside the Den in order to learn what each new generation is all about. They bring this information inside to us so that when our Destined calls, we will be ready to go out into whatever world we must face and be able to navigate it with success.
The biggest issue our training here stresses is to stay away from women. Because of our normal human instincts, this threat is real. If we leave here, highly trained and prepared to go out and get our Destined, but instead we fall for a woman, we can lose our Destined forever. If our Destined dies before we get the chance to bond with them, we begin to age again, and twice as fast. Even worse, and the far greater threat, is that if we are unable to find, protect, and bond with our Destined, we risk allowing the Bone Father the opportunity to snatch up another Destined.
The great evil of the Bone Father is legendary — and real. In depth studies of his ploys and tactics have educated us to his ways, but education here in the Den only goes so far. As one story goes, after years of torture and manipulation, one abandoned Destined was brutally used to provide the Bone Father's most trusted followers a bizarre control over normal human bone.
Glorifying in this terrible and repulsive power, these followers recruited others to create a massive army that went on a rampage against Soul Bearers and their Destined. More than half of the Soul Bearer sets were lost in the gruesome battles to defeat the Bone Father's army.
However, even though we know all too well the risks and dangers of associating with women, this information still doesn't keep our cravings and curiosity at bay. I looked now at Nathan. His eyes were burning with questions about what I had seen and witnessed in my dream. I was going to play this for all it was worth.
As he tried his best to look sincere and apologetic, I faked another faint, letting my head fall to the side, and my tongue hang out.
He fell to his knees at the side of the bed, hands together, “Please…,” he begged. “I will… do your assignments this week. You won't have to do anything all week.”
Wow, I thought to myself, and almost opened my eyes. Nathan is not one to plead, or to take on more than he has to. I had never been in the position before of controlling something Nathan wants so badly. I had to hold back a laugh as I realized the power I had over him at the moment.
“Aw… come on Johnny. I'll… I'll do anything. Please.”
I had to smile now. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I did have a craving for something sweet… and to see how far he would go for this information I was dangling over his head. Not many have been able to sneak in and out of the kitchen undetected. My smile grew along with my idea. Would he do it?
“What?” he asked as if reading my mind. His enthusiasm was outweighing his caution. This was going to be good.
“I…,” I whispered hoarsely and he waited, “I need… a cookie….,” I let my head fall to the side again with a release of breath for effect.
“A cookie?” he asked, confused. “Why do you need a cookie?”
I peeked at him without moving my head, but with a sly grin and at once Nathan realized this was not about the cookie, although the cookie he snatched from the kitchen would be a decided bonus.
“Alright, then,” he said, jumping to his feet with a smug, confident look, “a cookie.”
I lifted my head to watch him leave. I admit I was a little shocked on how committed he was, and I knew it was something I didn't want to miss. I hurried to the door and peeked out.
Nathan walked down the hall as if it were any other day. As soon as he rounded the corner, I slipped out and ran to the end of the hall, pressing myself against the wall. No one was coming towards me, so I leaned around the corner.
Nathan was at the end of the next passage peeking around the next corner just as I was. Then he pulled back, frantic for a place to hide. He rushed to a door a few steps away. It was unlocked. He ducked inside just as Mr. Soto rounded the corner where Nathan was just standing.
Mr. Soto was in a conversation with someone and continued on his way. A few minutes later, I heard the door open and saw Nathan backing out of the room, his hands up to protect himself.
“Sorry,” I heard him say a little uneasy, “I was so excited about Johnny connecting with his Destined. . . I just wanted to tell everyone.”
I couldn't see who it was that he walked in on, but by Nathan's actions, I knew that whoever it was, wasn't happy. I put a hand to my mouth to stifle a laugh. Nathan went back to the corner to peek again. I followed him as he slipped around that corner, then the next. He was making this too good.
We continued on through the halls. His nervous glances, this way and that, increased, and he picked up speed as he neared the danger zone. Luck must have been on his team because we hadn't run into anyone else after Mr. Soto. He slowed down as he came to the last turn before the kitchen. Waiting there, he listened for anything that might warn him. A few more glances up to the kitchen, then back to listening; I could tell he was deciding on the right moment.
I kept peeking and pulling back, so he didn't see me. After a few more moments of looking at the kitchen doors, he was gone. I bolted to a better vantage point; I didn't want to miss anything. As I neared the corner, I waited until the last second to slow down and put up my hands to take the impact of the wall.
Just as I reached the corner, Nathan came flying, wild-eyed around it. His eyes grew even wider as I smashed into him and sent him flying across the floor. He scrambled, tripping over himself, to get back up and out of sight. Planting himself next to me against the wall, he closed his eyes. We were both out of breath, pulses racing.
“What are you doing?” he asked in a harsh whisper.
I chuckled at our new predicament. “I wanted to make sure you didn't cheat,” I said, grinning at my old friend. How many more of these opportunities would we have?
He made a quick check of the doors. “Stay here!” he hissed, and he was gone. I heard the door open and close. After a moment, I chanced a quick look around the corner. He was nowhere in sight. I tiptoed to the door and looked through the small glass window.
Closest to the doors were a few small tables for the cooks and Elders. Beyond that, a few rows of counters were lined with cupboards and drawers and topped with stainless steel. Nathan was crouched down behind the first row of counters.
Appliances lined the right and far wall, and pots, pans, and cooking utensils hung above them. To the left were the serving areas and a large pass-through window to the dining hall. I had never seen the kitchen from this view. We were not allowed in the kitchen, and I never knew why. Until now.
Movement caught my eye. Someone just walked in, and I could see Nathan trying to stay as still as possible. The new arrival was facing the other direction, busy at the counter on the farthest wall. A smile sprang to my lips as I wondered what Nathan's next move would be. As my heart raced and adrenaline charged through my veins, I wondered how Nathan could sit that still.
I heard a noise behind me, footsteps coming closer. I thought my heart would burst in my rib cage. I turned; nowhere to hide. I flattened myself against the wall and waited. The footsteps grew louder as they approached.
As two people I didn't know came into view, I tried to make myself disappear into the wall. To my relief, their attention seemed to be on the papers in their hands. They turned the other direction and rounded the opposite corner, then kept walking. I watched them, not daring to breathe until they were out of sight. I sighed, and listened a little longer to make sure no one else was headed this way, and then hurried back to the door.
Looking through the small window, my fingertips tightened onto the edge of the small window frame as I stared. A girl was in the kitchen. Why hadn't I noticed it was a girl that came in earlier? I didn't see her face, but now that I knew, it was easy to see that her figure was quite different from a guy's. Her hair was short. Maybe that threw me off, but she looked similar to those I saw in the few movies I had seen. She was moving things around on the counters, perhaps setting things up for lunch.
My eyes found Nathan and he was staring at me, startled by the shock that must be on my face.
He mouthed a single quiet word to me, “What?”
“A girl!” I whispered, taking great care to exaggerate the shape of the word. This caused the small window to fog.
Nathan looked confused. He shrugged his shoulders and frowned.
“Girl!” I mouthed.
He lifted one eyebrow, still confused. He twisted a little in his squatting position to try to get a peek at what I was so frantic over. I shook my head, hoping he would realize this was a terrible idea. He got it and squatted back down. He tried again. “What???”
“Girl!” I mouthed, moving my lips in the most exaggerated way possible. He smiled and shook his head. Then I got an idea. I brought up my open hand to my face and started kissing my palm as if making out with it. Then I pointed to the girl.
Nathan was trying his best not to laugh. I must have looked like an idiot. I wondered if he were joking with me now, trying to turn the tables. But the way he still shook his head with one eyebrow lifted told me he still didn't understand.
Not willing to give up on my desperate game of charades, I tried another idea. I brought my fingertips to the top of my head and pulled them straight down beside my face, all the way to my chest, trying to sign “long hair.” He pinched at his own hair. I nodded and made the motion again.
He wiggled the hair he pinched and mouthed "long hair?"
I nodded again with a little relief. Then he dashed my hope with the same look of confusion he had earlier. Some guys have long hair, so this didn't register.
"OK, one more time," I said in a hushed sigh and put one finger up to show him to wait.
I made the same motion for the long hair, then made out with my hand again, and then got as high as I could reach on my tip toes so he could see my next motion, both hands making a cupping motion on my chest.
Nathan stretched his neck up to see what I was doing. He furrowed his brow; I could see his mind at work trying to decipher what I was trying to tell him. He mimicked my motion for the long hair, the kissing his hand (with much less energy as I did), and then he made the same curved motions at his chest. Then he looked at me and shrugged. Still nothing clicked. Going through all the motions again, faster now, and ending with pointing once again at the girl, I was determined to make him understand.
Then I watched the horror spread over his features as he realized what danger waited nearby. He flattened himself against the counters like a lizard. I was so caught up in watching Nathan that I didn't notice the girl had now turned around. When I glanced her way I saw her staring at me with wide eyes. I froze. She was motionless too.
What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? I thought to myself over and over. What do I do? What do I do?
We stood, petrified as our eyes held each other. My heart was pounding in my throat, and my hands were shaking. She wasn't beautiful like the woman from my vision, but still, she was enchanting. She didn't run away screaming, sounding the alarm. Maybe she didn't know what to do either.
Realizing this, I softened my features. She mirrored me. Maybe they are just as curious as we are. I thought. I stole a glance at Nathan, and he mirrored my fear.
Noticing the shift of my eyes, she followed it. She took a slow step closer to us, but hesitated when I softly mouthed "no" and shook my head. I looked to Nathan; he was still flattened against the back of the cabinets, begging for guidance. He pointed to the left, I shook my head. He pointed to the right, I shook it again. Then pointing up, I shook my head more viciously. Intrigued by my charades, the girl resumed her advance.
We weren't supposed to interact with women. I knew the dangers of getting close to one, and now that I had received my calling I didn't want to ruin it. Nathan still had plenty of time for his calling. I had to save him and get him out of there.
Funny, I thought to myself, I wasn't this upset about the woman in my vision. It was just her, then, and Nathan wasn't involved. And the small remnants of the pull that remained didn't lead to this one. That unstoppable desire to be near her wasn't there at all. This one looked noticeably different, plainer and more homely but nonetheless alluring.
Nearing the corner of Nathan's hiding place, she leaned over to peer around the counter top.
"No!" I yelled and burst through the door.
Surprised, she took a quick step back and Nathan, no longer able to stay still, shot up and turned to face her. The three of us stood there, three living statues with no idea what to do or say.
Nathan broke the stillness. "Stay back," he said as he stepped closer toward me — and the doors. She and I both looked at him. He gave me a nod and an elbow in the arm as he turned to rush through the door.
As I gave her one last look, the door she had come through at the opposite side of the room opened. I turned and ran, following Nathan's lead and leaping the last few steps to go through the door. Looking over my shoulder as I cleared the doorway, I saw another woman come into the room, and I almost did a one-eighty to get a better look. This one was intoxicating. I took another step, not looking where I was going, and stepped on something uneven. My next step landed on something soft, and I fumbled to adjust my balance. No luck. I hit the floor again.
Nathan lay unmoving under me. Swiftly I got off his still body and rose to my knees.
"What happened?" I asked him. He didn't respond.
Rolling him over, I checked his breathing and his pulse. Still alive. That's a good start. Roughly patting his cheeks, I got no response. Looking around for help, the hallways were empty. I turned in the direction of the kitchen door and saw the same two women watching us, concern on the face of the first, and a narrow, wary look coming from the second. The second one turned to the first and said something I could not hear. The first nodded and backed away from the door, answering the second as she did.
"Go get him," the second one demanded, and the first one then disappeared through the kitchen. The second came and knelt on the opposite side of Nathan. She checked his vitals as I had, and as if making a small mental note, stated he was stable.
"I could have told you that," I said. My tattered emotions were right on the surface and in danger of taking over. I regretted my smart retort even as I said it.
In a flash, her hand came up and across my face. Now my cheek burned to match my throbbing nose. "Don't ever talk to your Elders that way,” she said. Her eyes flared, and her beautiful rose lips were now drawn tight.
“Please, forgive me,” I said, giving a slight bow.
She seemed taken aback by this gesture. “What's your name?” she asked, fixing me with a hard stare. I met her stare and was startled by its intensity; it was as if her eyes were trying to soak up my whole being. What was surprising to me was I wanted to be soaked into hers. I couldn't imagine looking anywhere else but into those burning eyes.
“My name is Johnny,” I said, in total submission to her request. She lifted her perfect eyebrows.
“The very same Johnny who received his call this morning?” her voice now calm.
“Yes… um… uh…,” I struggled to think of how to address her.
“Kioti,” she said, now coy, turning her head and pulling her eyes from mine. “Miss Kioti.”
No! my thoughts protested as she pulled her eyes from mine. This sensation faded, and then was gone. What was that about? With our eyes locked, I would have done anything she asked.
Reality flooded back to me. “What's wrong with Nathan?” I asked, distress in my voice. “Will he be OK?”
“He's possibly having his vision,” she said, a strange tenderness now in her voice. She reached out to brush her fingertips across Nathan's cheek.
Without a thought, my eyes closed. The memory and feeling of watching my Destined's mother perform this same gesture washed over me, and waves of emotion ran through me. I delighted in these feelings. Fondness was in the mother's eyes, very different from this woman, this Kioti. Resting my thoughts on the memorized curves of the mother's facial features, I sighed.
“What were you two doing here?” Kioti asked, bringing me out of my reverie.
“Uh…,” was all I could say before the kitchen doors burst open and the Prophet hurried through, followed by the first girl I saw in the kitchen.
“It's happening. I feel a strong pull,” the Prophet said, rushing toward us.
Kioti and I both jumped to our feet and simultaneously made a slight bow. From the corner of my eye, I watched the grace with which she executed her greeting. Taking a step away from Nathan, the Prophet came to my side. He didn't look at Kioti but kept his sights on Nathan's motionless form.
“Isn't he supposed to be watching you?” the Prophet asked and demanded at the same time.
“Yes, Sir,” I whispered. My head was as low as it could go.
“And aren't you two supposed to be in your room?”
“Then why are you watching over him in the halls?” he stated more than asked.
I didn't answer, too embarrassed by my childish antics that led to this. Because I had to push it, we were now in for a much sterner talking to than for just sneaking to the kitchen.
“Get his shirt off,” the Prophet ordered.
The two of us made feeble attempts. Every time Kioti's hands brushed against mine I would forget what I was doing. After a few tries, she shoved my hands away and removed Nathan's shirt herself.
The Prophet pulled out a small tan gourd he had tucked into an inside pocket. Close to the top of the gourd, a purple twine wrapped multiple times around it. The top had been cut off and replaced with a cork stopper. For something so significant, it was all remarkably simple and plain.
With a soft pop, the cork was out, and the Prophet plunged his finger into the gourd. He drew out a lump of paste the same color as the gourd, wiped it on his other palm and began to swirl it around with one finger.
“Hold his shoulders down, Johnny,” he said.
Kneeling at Nathan's head, I got into position.
A low, mumbled chant emanated from the Prophet. Again I couldn't understand a word of it. When I took a quick glimpse up, I gasped. The Prophet was staring straight ahead, and his eyes were pure white, not even a vein visible. I watched, mesmerized as he continued chanting.
He brought one finger down to the center of Nathan's chest and began drawing, the tan paste standing out against Nathan's pale skin. With his attention still on some distant point of the horizon, he drew three deliberate triangles, all connected at the left point and fanned out like a pinwheel. Stunned, I watched the paste change from light tan to orange.
Nathan began to move; I held him tighter.
“Hold still,” I said. Just an hour or so ago, Nathan was telling me the same thing.
“Wow… what's happening now?” I thought aloud.
Kioti, thinking I meant the question for her, answered, “The paste changes color according to one's temperament.” Her voice sounded annoyed now, all traces of sweetness vanished.
I rolled my eyes.
The Prophet gave a loud grunt and Kioti repeated it. Color was back in the Prophet's eyes, and he wore a forced smile.
“An unannounced call and two so close together,” he said in a quiet voice. “Why?”
Blinking as I had, Nathan awoke and tried to clear his vision. He struggled to speak, but only uttered a few slurred words before giving up.
“Now is it your turn to get a bloody nose, too?” I joked, a hint of my former silliness returning to my voice.
“No,” the Prophet said severely, raising his voice just enough to get his point across. “You will take him back to your room, and you will stay there.” He paused. “Do not disappoint me.”
“Yes Sir,” I said, giving him my sincere pledge.
Movement at the kitchen doors caused me, the Prophet, and Kioti to all look in that direction. The first girl was back there in the window watching us, surprised to see us all looking at her.
“Get to your room, Tor,” Kioti demanded.
Startled, the girl disappeared into the kitchen.
“Tor,” I repeated in my mind.
Nathan made meager attempts to get up, but couldn't stand on his own. I slid my hands under his arms and helped him to get his feet under him, and once he was upright, I wrapped one of his arms around my neck.
One last look at the Prophet was rewarded with a no-nonsense eye, and we were on our way. I took care not to look at Kioti. Thankful that Nathan was thinner and lighter than I was, I moved him along easily. Once we're back in my room, I laid him on my bed. He remained silent and still, staring at the ceiling. He must be in shock, I thought.
Seeing the food that had appeared on the small table next to the chair, the growling in my gut told me what to do next. I closed my eyes for a brief second in thanks for the food, and then grabbed a few grapes. Returning to Nathan, I sat down next to him. He still laid there unmoving. I wasn't sure if he were in trouble, or just in disbelief.
“So…,” I started. “I didn't get my cookie.” He closed his eyes, and his brows came together. “But, I think I can tell you now, what I saw in my vision.”
His eyes flew open and he looked at me eagerly, still rapidly blinking.
“Is it coming back yet?” I asked.
Nodding, he tried again to speak, “Wo whee.”
“Slowly?” I cleared my throat to hide my laugh. The poor guy had been through enough.
Nodding again, he narrowed his eyes at me. I laughed again, and he tried a weak punch to my shoulder. This time I couldn't stop the laughter.
I took a deep breath to enter into the story of my vision. “Like I told you before, I was in some woods,” I said. “The trees all had white bark and fall leaves were everywhere. I saw a clearing and ran toward it. Just before getting to the clearing, a car started coming up the road between me and the clearing. The car broke down on the side of the road. I heard someone screaming, and I ran to the car. A man and his wife were there in the car. Her belly was enormous,” I motioned the roundness of her belly.
Nathan now had himself propped up on an elbow, mystified. I would have laughed at his expression, but the mother's face swam in my head, and the feeling of loneliness took hold of me. Nathan nudged me.
“Well, she was about to have her babies. She was in a lot of pain. The husband was freaking out. He didn't know what to do, and neither did I. We tried to get her comfortable. I helped her out of the car,” unconsciously I slid my hand into the other, trying to remember how hers fit into mine.
Nathan grabbed my arm. “Oo dut her?” he tried to ask.
I smiled softly, “Touched her?”
He nodded, wide eyed.
“Yes, I did. A few times.”
He sat straight up, then put a hand to his head as he swayed a little. He couldn't contain his curiosity. “Wat wad it wike?” he asked, almost whispering.
I was about to laugh at him again, but the longing in his features brought the understanding back. All warnings about women aside, we were still human. It is our nature to be drawn to them.
“The first time I touched her…,” I began, softer than I meant to, and he moved in closer. “Her hand felt so soft, so perfect,” awe and reverence spread through the room and swelled in my chest. My heart sped up a notch, warmth spreading through my body. “The second time…,” I grew even quieter, “I had her against me, with my arm around her.”
“No way,” he whispered.
“Here, hand me the pillow. I'll show you.”
He reached back, grabbed the pillow, and handed it to me. Any other day I'm sure he would have pounded me with it before handing it over. Not now. He was extremely interested in what I was about to show him.
I stood up, placing the pillow against my side and one arm around it. “We were touching, from here…,” I pointed to the left side of my chest, just before my armpit. “…all the way to here.” His eyes didn't leave my finger till it stopped at my hip. Then they shot up to my face.
“No way,” he repeated himself, his words already much clearer.
I had to admit, I was enjoying this presentation, both in feeling proud because of what I held over Nathan and in the chance to relive this memory. Of course, Nathan didn't need to know that I was only supporting her while she was in pain. Just that she was touching me; against me. “The third time…,”
“More?” he asked dumbfounded.
“Yea, once more,” I paused to let his excitement grow. “We were only able to make a space for her to deliver the baby in the back of the car. Not a real comfortable arrangement,” instinctively I rubbed my back. “She was lying in the back of the car, her husband at one end and I at her head. She had trouble pushing, to get the baby out quickly. So I helped her to sit up, and I got right behind her, like this…,” I bumped his legs, and he pulled them out of the way. I pulled myself further onto the bed, so I was against the wall, spread my legs to a “V” and placed the pillow on my belly.
Nathan's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“She was leaning on me for comfort,” I continued. “I didn't know how else to support her. When she was this close to me, I felt the pull the strongest. At one point, it felt as if it would burst out of my chest.” Inside, I mourned the loss of the stronger pulling sensation. It was an empty black corner of my mind that now felt even darker than before.
I tossed the pillow back to its place, narrowly missing Nathan's head. Then, scooting off the bed, I went back to the table for more food. I grabbed a slice of bread with butter and strawberry jam and took a bite. Remembering my orders, I turned to ask if Nathan wanted something.
What I saw when I turned around was a sight I never would've imagined in my wildest dreams. On his knees, hands stretched out in front of him, Nathan was bowing to me. I roared with laughter, bringing welcome change to the atmosphere.
“Oh mighty, and glorious one… thou art the coolest,” he said, continuing his fervent bow. “Teach me your ways,” his voice wavered as he tried to keep from laughing.
“Teach you?” I said, still laughing. “So you can run away scared again?”
My pillow hit me square in the face, and I laughed harder.
“Oh, go make out with your girlfriend,” he said, huffy with the shame of his kitchen experience. “I… I didn't know what to do. I freaked.” He thought for a moment. “She was pretty though. Don't you think?”
“Pretty? Maybe, a little.” I thought back to the other two women I saw today. “The mother in my vision was beautiful. But man…,”
Nathan looked at me, waiting.
“You should have seen Miss Kioti. She was amazing. She was mind-blowing.” I paused for effect. The next thing I was going to tell him was going to blow his mind, “She even touched you on the cheek… and helped get your shirt off.” I looked at him and waited, expectant of his reaction.
Nathan's fair complexion turned bright red. He brought a hand to his chest as if realizing for the first time that he didn't have a shirt on. When his hand brushed against some of the orange crusty paste, it flaked off. He looked down to examine the markings on his chest.
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Maurinet on Smash Words wrote:
Soul Bearer gives a fresh perspective on young adult fantasy. The first book in a trilogy, we follow Johnny and Nathan as they attempt to find the people they are supposed to protect for the rest of their lives from an evil that can't die. They are unfamiliar with our world, and have no idea what to expect, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.
Set in modern times, Soul Bearer has everything needed to keep a reader guessing and wanting more. One can't help but feel for the main characters as they fumbles around in the dark, trying to complete their mission while fighting an enemy they didn't realize they had. This book has everything you could ask for, from action packed fights, to tender love scenes, and the full run of emotions to keep the reader engaged with the characters. Definitely would read again!
I loved this book. I read Soul Bearer a while back and look forward to being able to reading it again. I was very drawn in to the characters and storyline, and couldn't put the book down. I found it to be an original story with plenty of action, Romance, comedy, suspense, and all the excitement you expect in a good book, but would also feel comfortable letting my teenager read it. This is a book I will go back to and read many more times. I cant wait for a continuation of this story.