All text pertaining to this story is copyright protected. Copyright 2002 Bridgette Hayden
Running from Fate
When he awoke, it was dark outside his window. His bedside lamp had been left on, so he could see that he was back home, in his own room. Comforted by this for a few minutes, he then remembered the crowd around the car, and Mr. Croner drawing away from him, in what he assumed had been disgust.
Why had he grabbed Croner? Even he didn't know.
Lying on his back, he let his eyes trail along the tiny lines in the ceiling. Without warning, he couldn't breathe. His air passage was suddenly blocked. He sat up, coughing and gasping. The strangle in his throat did not go away immediately. Burning sinuses and lungs caused his eyes to water. By the time he finished coughing into his hand, and regained his normal breathing, he noticed a saccharine taste in the back of his throat. Strange. It tasted the way certain things smelled, but did not taste. Like almonds, or cherries. He didn't like either, but they had an affecting aroma that he felt should've been what they tasted like. It reminded him of something he could not name.
Recovered, he decided to leave his bedroom and face whatever was going on outside of it. It felt like he'd been in bed for days. Downstairs, he heard the television on in the den.
A woman looked up from the sofa, but it wasn't his mother. Delores Myers from across the street, gave Sonny an uneasy, dentured smile. People always seemed to be giving him false smiles these days, Sonny noted.
"Well how are you feeling, sleepy head?"
"Okay. Where's ..."
"Amber and Dom ran out to the grocery store and left you in my care. Just like old times."
Sonny returned her fake smile with one of his own. Maybe, he considered, they didn't trust him to be alone after all the fainting spells.
Then it hit him. He realized with a sudden pang, just how hungry he was. "Excuse me, I'm going to find something to eat. Would you like something?"
"No, honey. Just had my dinner a little while ago."
He left her grinning at him, like she was trying to prove she was happy or something. He plundered the refrigerator, looking for something appealing, simple, and instant. Lunchmeat didn't look very appetizing. Leftover spaghetti was less so. Everything else were items that had to be cooked. Bacon, pork chops, a bundle of fresh green beans from Amber's small vegetable garden, ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard.
He slammed the fridge. Shuffling along each cabinet, he hoped for something hidden among the dry and canned goods. Instant potatoes, ravioli, cereal, cookies, none of these even remotely seemed edible to him. He could remember a time when ravioli was all he wanted to eat.
He gave up on the storage and stood at the counter thinking. The emptiness in his stomach was almost nauseating, if that were possible. Back to the refrigerator, hoping to spy something he'd missed before, he crouched down and began removing the foiled and plastic containers. Then he saw them. The most delicious looking things in the world. Behind the greens, sat three bundled, ripe, red tomatoes. His mouth watered.
Right there, in front of the open fridge door, he sat down and started eating his tomatoes. This was where Amber and Dom found him when they came home.
He hadn't even heard the car pull up, so engrossed in sucking the tangy flesh and letting its seeded juice squeeze into his mouth, had he been. He was eating the last one when Amber walked into the kitchen, stopped, and was nearly hit from behind by Dom. Both stared.
The only thing Sonny could think to say when he saw them was, "Did you buy more tomatoes?"
Amber's reply was slow. "No. We have tomatoes in the garden."
"Oh. That's good." He got up off the floor and began putting the food around him back inside.
Dom moved around his wife. "Are you okay, Son? How ya feeling?"
He shrugged. "I was just hungry."
Amber sat her groceries down. "Well that's good. I hope you still have room for lasagna, your favorite."
"Sure." That wasn't quite true, but he didn't want to disappoint her. The truth was, the thought of lasagna made him wish he'd never said he was hungry.
An hour later at the dinner table, his parents watched him pick at his food. He knew they were looking, but the one bite of lasagna he had managed to put in his mouth, had to be discreetly spat into his napkin. He did eat his salad though, and not just the tomatoes. This seemed to please Amber.
"You want some more salad, Son?"
He pretended to be interested in his food for just a minute longer, before finally giving up.
"Excuse me. Think I'll see what's on television"
His parents exchanged odd looks. So odd, that Sonny stayed in his seat. "Is that okay?" He waited.
"Sure," they said in unison.
He washed his dinner plate, as was customary, and headed for the den. Crawling into his father's Deluxe Easy Chair, which swallowed him, he grabbed the remote and began sifting through the channels. He found a rerun of a show that was popular five years ago, and settled. Joined by Amber and Dom, the three of them watched TV, something they hadn't done together in a long time.
During the commercial break, Dom asked, "You wanna go downstairs and shoot some pool a little later, Son?"
This was affirmative enough for Dom, who grinned. When the show went off, he clapped his big hands together loudly, "How 'bout it, Son? Two out of three?"
Sonny gave an effortful sigh, wondering why Dom couldn't see how not in the mood for pool he was. The more he thought about it, the more he wished it wasn't so late, and that he could take a walk. He knew his parents would object.
He never did answer his father, and a minute later it was too late. He stared in abject horror at the TV screen in front of him. There he was, outside the hospital, hiding behind his father in the crowd. The camera had panned in, getting a close shot of his bewildered face. He didn't remember any television camera being that close to him, prying that overtly.
Everyone in the den froze.
"Tonight, Action Thirteen News gives an exclusive on the controversy surrounding eighteen year-old Sonny Preyer, and the death of his classmate, Tyler Croner. First accused of Tyler's death, without substantiated evidence, the young man further astounded the Silver Springs community when witnesses claimed that he used a laying on of hands to heal one of its citizens, Mathew Croner, Tyler's father. The incident has caused so much outrage in this quiet town that the boy's parents say they have been forced to address it publicly. Earlier today, the Preyers agreed to meet with the local press to give a brief statement on their son's behalf."
"That's enough." Dom reached for the TV.
"No!" Sonny brought the chair forward and the footrest down. "What is this?"
His father shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at the carpet. Sonny turned to his mother, who folded her hands together, two fingers at her lips, as she concentrated on her words. "We had to say something, Sonny. This town is filled with ignorant, superstitious people."
On TV, he saw himself, intimidated and exhausted, apologizing to Croner, and Croner walking away. He called to him, reaching for him. And in front of all those people, his parents, God and everybody, he saw himself closing his eyes and grasping Croner's hand to his chest. His lips murmured something the cameras did not pick up. The old man pulled out of his grasp and fell into the crowd. He saw himself drop behind the open car door, and his father reaching to the ground for him. People began helping a disheveled Croner to his feet, dusting him off.
The thin, crudely bent right arm that he had seen Croner lug around town all his life, now swung out wildly, warding off the crowd trying to help him stand. The leg that had always tagged along, with no effort of its own, now made concerted movements with the other, staggering amid the jostling as people craned to see what was going on.
The camera panned for an instant, to Dom attending matters behind the car door, then back to Croner who was feeling his body and staring at his hand and arm as if they weren't his. People spoke at once, their excitement canceling out one another's clarity. The camera swung back around to see the Preyer's car pulling off, as fast as the throng in their way would allow.
But it wasn't over. The anchorwoman continued to surmise as the screen showed the Preyer's car pulling into their driveway.
"Mr. and Mrs. Preyer declined to speak to the press at first. It wasn't until an object thrown from a circle of spectators hit Mrs. Preyer's head, that she and her husband decided it was best to speak on the matter."
Sonny caught his mother's rigid face before she turned away from him. He knew it meant that she was trying very hard not to cry.
Onscreen, the scene re-played: Dom standing in front of the rear car door, Sonny limp in his arms, and Amber closing the door behind him. His father climbed the steps of their porch, Amber following, when something crashed into the back of her head, shattering.
"The object was determined to be a common drinking glass. Amber Preyer, while shaken and appalled at her neighbors, suffered no serious injury."
Dom had quickly disappeared inside the house with Sonny. Amber, holding the back of her head, turned to face the swarm of people on her front lawn. "You ignorant trash!" She screamed. Heaving visibly, she struggled to shout out her words.
"I have lived here almost twenty years! I went to school with some of you. I've kept your kids, watched them grow up. I put my trust in this neighborhood because we looked out for each other. You all know Sonny isn't capable of hurting anyone. You have no right to treat us like this!"
Dom reappeared without Sonny, coaxing Amber. Then a dark-haired woman in a flowered housedress leapt into the frame and threw her arms around his mother. Sonny recognized Delores Myers, the woman he had woken up to find in the house. She was joined by her husband, and another woman, until the whole front steps of the house was covered.
"It's apparent that in spite of the threats and assault the Preyers have endured since their son was first accused two days ago, there is still a considerable amount of love and support for them among their neighbors."
Delores appeared on the screen. "I used to baby-sit Sonny. He's always been a quiet, withdrawn child. I guess quite shy, you might say. But he was always well-behaved."
"It's always the quiet ones," someone shouted off camera.
The scene changed to a bright room filled with long tables and folding chairs. Amber and Dom sat close, composed behind one of the tables. People on either side of them spoke at once.
"An impromptu press conference took place at the Silver Springs Community Center, where the Preyers agreed to meet with reporters shortly after the violent display which took place at their home."
He saw his mother flinch slightly at the disturbance of a flash going off in her face.
"What do you have to say about your son's involvement in the incident at the hospital?"
Dom cleared his throat, bending to the microphone. "Number one, we don't know that Mathew Croner was suddenly healed. That's just what people are saying, hearsay. And number two, it's obvious that my son was only showing compassion to Croner who was in a state of grief, understandably. Sonny has always been a compassionate person, and Tyler's death weighs heavily on his conscience simply because of the circumstances. There's no doubt in my mind that Sonny was only trying to comfort the man."
Questions continued, but he'd had enough. He turned off the TV and waited for his parents to say something. After several minutes of silence, he got the impression they were waiting on him to speak first.
"So that's where you were when I woke up?"
Dom nodded, sitting back down with his wife. She leaned forward. "We had to say something. These people were acting like village idiots. And it does look strange. I hated Tyler Croner, I'm sorry to say that. But Mathew loved his son just like we love you. He needed him, and this whole town knew that, even if they also knew how rotten the boy was. Tyler was still a child of this community, and nobody can figure out why he died like that. We agreed to that press conference hoping to let people know we're just as confused as they are, and that you are not to blame. We weren't there thirty minutes. That's all we really had to say."
Sonny sat there, feeling his whole life disintegrate.
"I think it helped," Amber continued. "No one's been back to our house. There were no nasty messages on the machine, the last time I checked. Some people have actually been nicer to us."
He wasn't listening anymore. He was sinking, and thinking about how dense and heavy the last few weeks had been. And the thought of Tyler...
"I have to get out of here." He stood. So did they.
"Just for a while. I need some fresh air. I need to move around."
Dom held up one thick hand, "Didn't you just see your mother get hit by some damn idiot?"
"I can't stay here right now." He walked out of the den. His parents followed, with his father's voice rising. "Those idiots are still out there. We can't take things for granted right now, Sonny."
He snatched a jacket from the hallway closet, glaring at Dom.
"You're not being rational, Son. Do not go out that door."
He put on the jacket. It was a rare thing in the Preyer house, but Sonny had been known to challenge his father a time or two. This was one of them.
Zipping up, he was aware that Dom's face was getting very red.
"Sonny, so help me God, I will haul your ass back in here."
"Don't make things worse, Son" Amber pleaded.
His hand on the doorknob, he looked at his parents. They couldn't understand that he was going to go crazy if he had to stay indoors another minute. From bed to bed, he felt like he'd been asleep for a week. He just wanted to wake up from what seemed like a perpetual lethargy. Sure his dad was mad as hell, but it wasn't like he was going to hit him or anything.
He had to make a run for it.
Slight, lightweight, and nimble, Sonny was sure he could move much more quickly than his heavy father. He got the door open and was out before Dom even got to it. He should've had it made. Especially when he jumped the steps and landed on the walkway. But halfway across it, he felt a firm grip on the back of his jacket.
His father could not stop the velocity of his own bulk. When he grabbed Sonny, he also crashed into him. Both hit the ground, Dom landing disastrously on top of his son.
"Son-of-a... Sonny! Are you okay?"
Out of air from having it knocked out of him, Sonny was not out of fight. As soon as Dom got off of him, he sprung to get away. Dom caught him by the arm and jerked him towards himself. He wrapped both of his arms around Sonny's shoulders and lifted him off the ground from behind.
"Jesus Christ! You been a model kid all these years. You're gonna throw a goddamn tantrum right now? At eight-goddamn-teen? I don't think so."
"Let go!" Sonny struggled, but his father's arms felt just like they did when he was little and couldn't break out of Dom's bear hugs. Like steel bars. Not only had he not inherited his father's physical stature, he hadn't even inherited the stature of a normal boy. His upper body strength was minimal. His mother was probably stronger than he was.
Dom wrestled him back onto the porch. He spotted a few people silhouetted in their doorways, wondering what was going on.
Back inside, his father didn't release him until the door was shut and locked by Amber. Then he flew from Dom's arms, letting go of a strangled cry of frustration. He had never cursed at either of his parents a day in his life. But as he fell against the doorframe, between the kitchen and the living room, he almost cursed them then. Almost said something awful. Almost.
He glared at them as hard as he could, feeling hot and humiliated. Across from him, they were a team. He was outnumbered.
Dom took a moment to catch his breath. He sat down at the kitchen table, raking his palm down his face.
Amber spoke first. "We're not the enemy, Son." Simple. Restrained.
He turned his ferocity on her, no longer sure why he was treating them this way. But he wasn't ready to let it go.
Getting up, Dom went to the sink and returned with two cold, wet paper towels. He folded both, still dripping, and placed one on the back of Sonny's neck. The other, on his forehead. Sonny's breath came in short gasps.
He hated giving in to Dom's ministrations, but the cool, makeshift compressions felt good under the weight of his father's hands.
"This is all gonna pass. It can't last." Dom's voice sounded unsteady. He figured his parents were afraid he'd pass out again. Amber left the room.
"You okay, honey?"
He nodded that he was all right, keenly aware of Dom's choice to address him as he might a daughter. Sometimes he didn't mind this kind of indulgence from him, but he chastised himself for liking it. It wasn't a very manly thing to do. But in a way, this had always been a private allowance between them. Just something that only his father could render harmless.
"I'm going to lay down."
Dom saw him to the stairs, and watched him disappear down the hall. Only when he heard the bedroom door close, did he turn away.
The last thing Sonny wanted to do was go to bed. Not that he was feeling energetic, but he was still angry. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up and something terrible has happened, something crazy.
He sat at the end of his bed for a few minutes before noticing his reflection in his bedroom window. An idea came to him.
He hadn't crawled out onto his roof since he was fourteen. It used to be a refuge, from which he could see the park and watch the other kids playing there after school. Now he wanted to go there. Just to be away from his house.
In the dead of night, the air wafted cool without its daytime humidity. He ignored the dead leaves, sticks, and other debris that littered the roof, having fallen from overhanging tree limbs. He made a mental note to help his dad clean it off, clean out the gutters too. He settled himself on the sloping tiles for a minute and looked up into the sky. How the night seemed to open. The breeze felt good.
No point in wasting time. He scooted down alongside sill. He had to be careful. It was his parent's bedroom window he had to pass. Once below it, it was just a matter of gripping the guttering long enough to swing his legs over it and reach the lattice structure supporting his mother's roses. From there, the climb down was easy.
On the ground, he looked for any signs of people. But his street looked deserted, the lampposts revealing nothing but an empty stretch of road. Only a few interior house lit the dark.
He took off, dashing across his lawn as if his father still chased him. He didn't want to chance being seen. In fact, the further down the block he got, the more he wished he'd worn the jacket he had before, and maybe a cap. Anything to make it less obvious who he was. The image of the glass breaking on his mother's head, her tearful fury, put a knot in his stomach each time it replayed itself in his mind. Guilt gnawed at him, but he put it aside and kept moving.
He reached the baseball fence out of breath. The park was just on the other side. But up ahead, he saw headlights as a car turned onto the street, headed in his direction.
Remain calm, went a voice in his head. It's just an innocent driver, out late like you. Not a threat.
As the car got closer to him, he put his head down, his heart pounding in his chest. There was absolutely nowhere to duck into. But he didn't have to worry. The headlights passed him. He felt silly. He looked back to see that it was a black Honda. And now it slowed down, almost stopping.
It's nothing, keep walking, he urged himself. But he did turn to look again. The car made a U-turn in the middle of the street.
He couldn't move fast enough. It was like one of his old nightmares, where his body betrayed him, and he couldn't will it to go any faster.
The end of the baseball fence looked a mile away. If he could reach it, he'd disappear into the trees lining the outskirts of the park. The car caught up with him and passed him again. But this time, it came to a complete stop about fifteen yards ahead of him. Sonny stopped, his plans shot. The car was now between himself and the park.
His mouth hung open as he watched the car door swing out, and a figure stepped from it. He couldn't see any details, just the vague outline of someone tall, and definitely masculine.
"Don't run, Sonny."
A tremor shot from the bottom of his spine up through his chest. He knew that voice. It belonged to Shore, the counselor. He took off in the opposite direction.
The last time he'd seen Shore, the man had threatened him with a knife, or a dagger or something. He wasn't about to wait around to see what Shore wanted now.
He didn't have to. When he looked back, Shore was gaining on him. Alarm propelled Sonny. He knew he didn't have enough strength to run all the way back home. Then he remembered what he'd seen the other boys do when they used to chase each other across the neighborhood. He only hoped he still had enough distance left between Shore and himself to do it. The man could run.
He threw himself onto the chain-linked fence, remembering to grip as high as he could and to find his footing quickly. He'd only tried this once before, when no one was around, just to see if he could do it like the other boys. It wasn't as easy as they made it look. It resulted in a badly sprained ankle that first and last time. The fence was only about fifteen feet high, but it was old and rickety. It swayed a little, causing his arms to shake when he reached the top and tried to throw his leg over to straddle it.
Shore hit the fence. "Sonny, you can't run from me."
He looked down into the counselor's face for one second. He wasn't sure what he saw there, but it wasn't encouraging. Wild eyes gleamed up at him under the street light. Sweat shone on the man's face as his lips stretched across clenched teeth. Shore drew back his fist and pounded the fence as hard as he could. Chain links vibrated his anger. Sonny felt it.
Something like a growl escaped Shore. "Don't do it. I swear, I will come after you."
Instead of climbing down closer to the ground, Sonny just let go. He wasn't braced for the drop. His feet hit the ground, but he fell hard to his knees, jarring his torso forward until his head hit also. For a split second, he wasn't sure he could get back up. His arms didn't seem to want to push him up. But he knew he had to. Back on his feet, he turned in time to see Shore reaching the top of the fence.
Sonny's legs were already moving before his brain registered that it wasn't over. Now he broke into an open run across the field. He knew that to glance back for even a second was too dangerous. All his might was bent on getting to the other side in time to leap the fence again. Then surely he could lose Shore in the trees. The field was just an alternate route to the only place where Sonny stood a chance of hiding. He had to make it to that fence.
Running as fast as he could, he fought all reason telling him that the field was too wide, the fence too far away, and his body already too exhausted. He felt his momentum decreasing against his will. Something broke inside his chest and poured out of his eyes. Fear. He kept running.
Never in his life had he suffered such a rise of pure dread, as he did when he felt Shore's locomotive force bearing down upon him. Everything, from Shore's rushed breath, to his body heat, to the sound of the grass crushing under his feet, infused Sonny with an utter loss of hope.
But he did make it to the fence. And so did his pursuer, simultaneously. Shore slammed into him with all of his weight, impacting the metal links and crushing Sonny between them and himself. The links dug deep into the side of Sonny's mashed face. The fence caved a little, accommodating the violent pressure. Sonny was pinned and helpless between it and Shore for what seemed like an eternity. The man's heaving chest bellowed hot bursts of air down on his neck.
Finally, Shore let go of the fence and released him. Sliding off of the steel, he was too afraid to turn around.
"Sonny, what did I tell you I was going to do if you fought this, if you brought anymore attention to yourself?"
Rough hands were on his shoulders, turning him around. Though Shore must've been in excellent shape to chase him down the way he did, Sonny noted that he now looked very drained, and worse for wear. Shore panted, resting his hands on his knees. His hair hung in wet strings over his brow. "Tyler was one thing," he said. "Croner is another. Wake up! You are doing harm."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You don't want to know. Your parents have not prepared you. So you hide the truth from yourself. Well, no longer. It is up to me to end this deceit."
With that, Shore opened his jacket. The silver dagger he carried caught a gleam of light and flickered at Sonny before Shore ever withdrew it. Wasting no time, Sonny surprised himself and kicked with all his remaining strength. His foot found its mark between Shore's legs. The man folded.
Sonny had just bought himself some time. He scrambled over the fence, too determined to care how it shook. By the time he was back on the ground, Shore was climbing. Shocked by such a quick recovery, Sonny was almost too stunned to run. But run he did, into the trees.
It didn't matter though. The underbrush had grown a lot more dense than he remembered it. Getting through the knurled twigs and limbs took greater effort than he expected. Shore had him on the ground and pinned before he knew what was happening.
"That was very foolish. You are dreaming. You are an Illumenae who must be kept. You must return to your world, your people. They need you there. You are hiding in this identity. You are upsetting the balance of this plane. You will attract the enemy's attention, and he will find you. He will learn how he can kill you. Then all will be lost. I have sworn by my life not to let that happen."
Sonny could hardly believe what he was hearing.
"The plan was to wait until you matured safely here. Your people could not risk another attack. Then bring you home. But your time is near. Your life force is upsetting everything. You are being rent by your resistance to what you are. You are literally spilling your energy and it affects everyone around you. Your maturation is greatly hindered by your fear, your resistance. The seal that binds you to this world must be broken. We cannot wait for it to break on its own, for you are fighting it."
Shore raised the knife.
Sonny didn't see his life flash, only the edge of the knife. It shone in the moonlight. He couldn't take his eyes off of the point aimed over his chest. When he was certain it would happen, his eyes shut tight.
He waited. And waited.
Under Shore's heavy frame, Sonny lay listening to the sound of Shore's breath straining through his teeth.
He dared to look. He saw the knife lower. But Shore's hold remained tight. He used all of his body weight to keep Sonny's arms pinned.
"Sy, it doesn't have to be this way. You are so close to maturation, to your destiny. Don't refuse it. Don't make us force you. I would sooner cut my own throat than cut into your perfect embodiment. Yet I will."
Shore's breath whispered through flared nostrils. "It comes to me that you are sleeping. You truly do not remember, in spite of your people's best efforts to awaken you, to remind you. But you are not so innocent. You resist the knowing that wants to break into your awareness. So I cannot wield this dagger in clear conscience." He returned it to his jacket.
"I say to you, that you shall be given one more chance. Only one more. The change is upon you. You are fevered right now. Stay at home. Avoid people. Anyone you need to see will come to you. Understand? When you start to hurt, help will come to you. Do not seek it. Do not draw attention to yourself. There will be no more reminders. Time is running out. If you do not come to fruition by your own doing, then you will come to it by ours. And you will not like it."
Shore let go of him, and stood. Sonny felt the blood rush back into his numb hands.
"Go home. Stay there. I should not have to speak to you again, for any reason. If I do, you may not survive it." He turned and disappeared through the trees.
Sonny remained on the ground shaking.
He knew he should be up on his feet, running for home. But the relief of not being stabbed brought with it an almost debilitating exhaustion, as if it had only been postponed. A little dizzy, he closed his eyes and listened to the crickets until the spinning stopped.
His legs trembled when he got to his feet. He leaned his back against the rough bark of a tree and prayed for the strength to get home. Now he wanted his bed. He wouldn't even have minded if Dom carried him up to it.
But something flickered through the trees. It was a light coming towards him. His skin prickled with alarm, but he still wasn't ready to leave the support of the tree.
The light came closer.
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