All text pertaining to this story is copyright protected. Copyright 2002 Bridgette Hayden
Who else could know that he was here?
He dared not call out. The newsreel of his mother flickered in his mind. The owner of that flashlight might not be very friendly.
But the light got steadily closer, as if the person knew exactly where he was. Shore? Doubtful. But who else knew he was here? Would the man who'd almost killed him send help?
"Sonny!" A voice called. A female voice.
He was torn between caution and hope. Still he said nothing. But he didn't have to. The beam of light angled directly at him, searing his pupils. He turned away, hearing footsteps accelerate through the brush.
"There you are. My god, what happened?"
He couldn't be sure, but at least two people had arrived with the one light. And one of them sounded very familiar. He shielded his eyes.
"Get the light out of his face."
"Are you hurt?"
The beam lowered. Faces were still lost in the shadows, but he took a chance.
"Yeah, Son. It's me. What's going on?" She came closer, turning the light towards her own face. He could've cried to see that it was really her. He didn't care who her friend was, an extremely tall and angular figure whose white face could be detected in the dark, unlike Brecca's. The figure stayed back while Brecca came forward. Her posture was uncertain as she crept up to him. But her arms reached out. Sonny sank into her hug in spite of himself. Someone in this town liked him. At least someone in this town liked him.
Brecca pulled away. "What happened? Why are you in the woods?"
"How did you know I was here?"
"We've been looking for you. Everybody's been looking for you; you've been missing for hours. You weren't in your room when your dad checked on you. With everything that's been going on, the police agreed not to wait until your missing became official. Your parents called everyone they trust to help look for you. Mr. Shore said he thought he saw you in the park. But you ran from him."
Sonny let go of her, stepping back.
"Sonny, you're bleeding. Have you been here all this time?"
Was she crazy? Was he?
"I haven't been gone from my house twenty minutes. And Shore knows exactly where I am."
Brecca frowned. She glanced over her shoulder at the quiet figure she'd brought. It seemed to Sonny that the person shook their head.
"Sonny, your father told the police that he found you were missing at one thirty-five this morning. He said you were sick and under a doctor's care. Given everything that's happened, he was afraid for you. That was almost five hours ago."
He shook his head.
"You've lost some time somewhere. The sun's coming up, Sonny."
He looked up, catching sight of the horizon. Through an opening, in branches that looked back across the field where Shore had chased him, the slightest blue-gray divided land and sky. His heart dropped to his stomach. How could it be?
"Let us take you home."
Confusion left him mute. When Brecca took his arm, he let her. Her companion now stepped forward, laying a hand on Sonny's shoulder, "Let me help you also."
He had to look almost straight up. The guy had closed in, towering over him.
"This is Elden, my cousin."
Cousin? It might've been dim, but Sonny was still certain that Elden didn't look anything like Brecca.
Elden looked about six-four, with long blond hair spilling from beneath a bandana over his head, and very fair skin to match. He looked down at Sonny as if he too were making a study.
"I'm here to help you," Elden said again.
At Brecca's car, Sonny let them deposit him in the back seat. He watched them take their places up front. Now the sky was more gray than blue. The morning was already taking on an overcast look.
Brecca started the car. "Your dad is going to be so relieved.
It just occurred to him that he really didn't know anything about Brecca. And even less about the guy who kept turning around to look at him. Cousins?
"I changed my mind. I don't want to go home."
A lurch interrupted the smooth motion of the car.
"You have to go home."
He gritted his teeth. "I am so tired of doing what everybody tells me to do. Why does everybody want me at home?"
"That's the safest place for you." This didn't come from Brecca. Elden was looking at him directly now. "Things have escalated. People are looking for you, and not all of them have friendly intentions."
Sonny huffed, more than a little stunned. His eyes narrowed. "How would you know anything about it? I've never seen you around here before."
Before Elden could answer, Brecca cut in. "He knows because it's all over the news, and all in the papers. Croner's doctors confirmed publicly that he has full use of his body again after twelve years of irreparable nerve damage and deterioration. They even showed his x-rays. Tissue that wasn't there a year ago is present and healthy today. They just keep playing the footage of you touching Croner over and over again. Even the people who supported you have started to get nervous. It looks for all the world like you healed the man after killing his son. Croner himself went to the police, demanding your investigation."
Elden took over. "He said he felt a power coming from you. An evil power. He said that if he could, he'd give the use of his body back in return for his son. He doesn't want anything to do with such evil. No one's laughing at him, especially not the people who saw that boy die. This town is deciding what to do with you."
Brecca glanced into the rearview at him. "It's unofficial, but it's on everybody's mind. It might as well be a witch-hunt. Understand, I think most everyone knows it's bullshit. Spontaneous recoveries happen. But some people don't have to be convinced. Your dad's even thinking about getting you out of town. But that would totally convince more than a few that you have something to hide."
Again, he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
She added, "There's other things that have come out also."
He waited, keeping his hands folded between his knees. Staring down at them, he could feel Elden's eyes on him.
"Do you remember when Tyler broke his leg last fall?"
Of course. He didn't have to reply.
Brecca let out a heavy sigh. "Well, the people who were there are changing their stories. They're saying you did it on purpose."
"I didn't press that button."
"No, but you've demonstrated some ability to move objects without touching them, and everyone knows how much you hated Tyler. They're going with their assumptions.
"I wasn't even near it!"
"No one was near it. That's why it looks so strange, Sonny."
He closed his eyes and fought the rage.
"And everyone knows, or they think they do, what Tyler did to you, to deserve that broken leg."
Not going to cry. Not. He shook his head to no one but himself.
"The things Tyler said are coming back to some people. And there's a few who feel they can prove whether or not you intentionally hurt him."
Here it comes.
"He always picked on you. Almost obsessively. He made some incredible claims about you, about doing things to you. He bragged. People just thought he was an idiot, maybe touched in the head. Now they're saying that if there's any truth to what Tyler always said about you, then that would prove he really did those things, and that you had a motive for hurting him. For killing him, even if they're not sure how you did it."
Feeling nauseous was becoming a way of life for him.
"Some teachers have been questioned."
He thought of Mrs. Bay, the gym instructor. Would she tell?
"Don't worry. Legally, they can't do anything. The police aren't even interested in you, they're just trying to keep order. But there are some really stupid people in this town who don't care about the law. And that's why we have to get you home."
The outlets on Market Street passed by. What a bleak morning. How had everything gone so wrong so fast?
They pulled up in front of his house. He noticed Brecca and Elden exchanging communicative glances.
He blurted, "I think Shore wants to kill me."
Two faces turned to him.
"He pulled a knife on me this morning, last night, whatever. And he's threatened me before. Before anything happened to Tyler. Don't trust anything he says to you, Brecca. He lied about last night."
Instead of Brecca, it was Elden who responded. "He only said that you ran away from him into the woods. Are you sure that's a lie?"
Sonny's mouth fell open. "Who are you!" It was not a question, but an accusation. "This is none of your business."
At first the young man frowned. Then his smooth face softened. Pale blue eyes regarded Sonny. Prominent cheekbones and a thin, smooth mouth afforded him an unusual look. Almost delicate, if it weren't for the sharp, masculine angles of his bone structure, and something hard in his eyes, which sat beneath a stern brow. The long blond hair didn't help. It suddenly struck Sonny that the man was attractive. Very.
Then he hated the nosey, interfering stranger all the more.
Elden spoke in a low, calm tone. "I only want to help you."
Who was this guy? "You don't even know me."
"Then I shall get to know you."
Okay, that's enough. He opened his door. Brecca reached across and put her hand on his arm. "You're tired. Let us come by later on and talk. If you can't get out of the house, maybe you could use some company."
He wasn't sure. He really wouldn't have minded Brecca. But her cousin, definitely not. He tried to say as much with a sharp look at Elden, then back to her.
When he got out, so did they. They flanked him all the way to his door. It was locked, so he had to knock. Amber answered.
He expected the biggest, angriest reproach he'd ever gotten in his life. She was really the tough one, not his father. He was just careful not to rouse that side of his mother. He had never been able to soften her wrath with looks of pitiful remorse, the way he usually could with Dom. When it came to punishment, Amber dealt her hand of cards, then walked away. Dom however, feebly dropped his around his feet, revealing all.
But the grimace on his mother's face died away when she took a good look at him. If there had been steel in her eyes, it melted, pouring down her cheeks. This confused him.
"Are you just glad I'm home? I'm okay."
"Get in here."
She pulled him in by his shoulder. "What the hell did they do to you?" Her hands combed his hair, pressed the sides of his face, his forehead. "You're so hot, Sonny. Look at you. Those bastards!"
She began wiping his face with a dishtowel. When it came away, he saw blood. He put his hand to the side of his head and felt the torn, puckered skin. It stung. Now he realized what she meant. He must've been a wreck. He stared down at his ripped shirt, the welts and scratches along his arms, and the pine needles and dirt caked into his jeans.
"I'm okay. Nobody did anything. I'm okay."
She wasn't buying it.
"I got scraped up when I slipped off the roof. That's how I got out last night. I went through my window. Just for a walk, that's all. Nothing happened."
This seemed to make a difference. She sobered, "I'll call Dom and tell him you're home. He's still out looking."
Now she looked up, finally acknowledging the two people who'd brought him home. "Brenda, is it?" she asked.
"Brecca, yes. I remember. Thank you, Brecca." Amber hesitated.
"Oh, this is my cousin Elden. He's from out of town."
Elden offered a courteous nod. Amber returned it, bewildered. "Thank you both. I'd ask you to stay, but Sonny..."
"Oh that's okay. Sonny needs to rest, we understand."
Sonny watched them go. It seemed to him that Elden lingered a second too long before following Brecca out the door. What a creepy guy.
Now his mother folded her arms. "What the hell were you thinking, Sonny?"
He knew to keep quiet.
"Do you know how many people we got out of bed to help find you? Do you know how scared we were? Do you care? I just thank God that not everybody's turned against us. There are still some decent people around here. You know, we didn't even have to ask Ronald Shore, bless his heart. He volunteered to help look for you."
He shivered. Should he tell? Would she believe him?
"In case you haven't realized it, this is a crisis for us as a family. I know things are hard on you especially. But Dom and I need you to help us out a little. Act like you know what's going on around you."
He exploded, "I don't know what's going on around me. I go to sleep, when I wake up something newsworthy has happened and everybody's pointing at me. All I hear is don't leave the house, they're after you. Or hurry up and get home. After not having a clue what's going on, I'm supposed to be okay with that? And your friend Ronald Shore is a crazy lunatic. He pulled a knife on me tonight. A knife! He knew where I was the whole time."
"Ronald did what?"
"He pulled a knife on me. And he's threatened me before."
"You just told me nothing happened."
"You just told me to act like I know what's going on."
One unreasonable turn deserved another.
Amber sat down at the table and brought her fists to her mouth. Her eyes appeared not to be focussed on anything in front of her.
"You believe me, don't you?"
Her fists unfolded, becoming hands of prayer.
Finally she turned to him. "Go clean yourself up. Take a cool shower, not a hot one. I'm gonna fix you something to eat, and then I want you to go to bed. And stay there."
Did she believe him?
"I'm telling you the truth." He tried to read her expression. Stern authority confronted him. He backed away and headed for the shower.
The water should've felt good, soothing. But it made the abrasions along his skin burn. He'd forgotten about the tear on the side of his face until soap got in it. What had been a dull tinge, easily ignored, now flared painfully.
Then it hit him. As if someone had put a live wire to the base of his spine, a jolt of spasms rushed up his body and spread down his legs simultaneously. He fell, sliding against wet fiberglass. He landed hard on his left arm, with his head near the drain. But the spasms weren't finished.
They came in waves. It was like an energy surge going through him. Its beginning, a pinpoint of tingling that expanded outward into tendrils of raw sensation. With it came a rolling heat that pushed out through the cords of his muscles. As if his nerve endings were splayed, a million tiny fingers tickled just under his skin, overloading the fibrous network. He would've screamed if he could. But he could make no sound at all.
Contractions intercepted all messages between his brain and his vocal cords. Being afraid was the only thing he could do, as the waves wracked his body. It lasted for several minutes. When he opened his eyes, the spray going full-force above him, he swore that if he didn't drown, he'd call Sanders as soon as he got out of the shower.
He wasn't sure if it was over, but after a minute he attempted to sit up. When he succeeded, he turned the water off. Drawn up in the tub, he lay against the side. Another minute went by, then he slowly got to his feet.
He steadied himself by holding onto the towel rack. He was going to put one foot out of the tub, but before he could, another series of lightning bolts spread through him. This time, he clung to the rack with all of his will. And there he shook at the force pushing up through him and out.
No, no. He didn't want this.
Tears spilled from sheer pressure, something rising and rising. Not physical at all, but somehow connected to his flesh from the inside.
Only when it seemed to wane, was he able to release a sound. The scream inside him was reduced to a drawn whimper. Unwilling to let go of the rack, he rejected the thought of calling for help. As foolish as it was, he would rather die than have his parents see him naked.
He waited for his body to return to normal. It did not. Unlike the first attack, the second lingered. Its effects greatly lessened, but a steady stream of charged currents rippled from his lower body throughout.
Minutes passed. He wasn't sure how long he stood there clutching the bar. A knock on the door brought him back to the present.
"Sonny? You okay? Your breakfast is getting cold."
No, I need help.
He found his voice. "I'll be right down."
He released his grip on the bar. His knuckles ached. His legs held steady enough, but they still felt like jelly. He figured this was his chance. As fast as he could, he got out of the tub and braced himself against the sink. In the small bathroom, everything was only a few steps apart, something he used to complain about. Now he was grateful for the limited space. He waited at the sink. When nothing happened, he let go.
He caught sight of his reflection. Looking back at him, was a pallid, terrified young man. His dark brown hair hung in wet clumps. The cut at his right temple wasn't that bad after all, but the bruised imprint of those steel links was clearly visible on the right side. His father will want to know what happened.
Suddenly, he found his mouth filled with the saccharine water he had tasted yesterday. He spit it into the basin, and froze. A clear, pink-tinged liquid splattered the porcelain. Staring down at it, he calmly told himself that he wasn't bleeding internally. It didn't look like blood diffused by saliva. It looked like... some kind of juice.
Hastily, he dressed. A T-shirt and shorts were more than appropriate for going to bed after sunrise.
A watery motion continued to course through his center and out to his limbs. The rippling vibration wasn't as strong, but it was still there. Hungry, he saw no way of going downstairs and moving about. His body didn't feel stable. What was happening to him?
As he stood there, changes steadily took place. A heat-rush traveled up his back. It felt like a pocket of warmth turned on itself inside his chest. It separated into two definite points, and doubled back down his sides, running slowly like two distinct streams of thick syrup.
He threw his head back and bit his lip to accommodate the shudder that came. Afraid it was another attack, he gripped the edge of the sink. But this time, no spasms came. This time, all the sensory expansion turned in on itself. What had been racing to get out of him, now flooded back into him. Sonny could only feel the concrete reality of this, the certainty, taking place. He couldn't see it or name it. The waves poured into his center, converging deep in his pelvis where they stayed, becoming a point once again. It felt as if someone had taken a large water-balloon, filled with very warm water, and wedged it right there.
His arms and legs returned to normal, mostly. A thin reverberation continued to hum through them. But they did not feel so unsteady.
He got to his room and fell on his bed, not bothering to shut his door. With his head buried in his pillow, he prayed for sleep. Food could wait. His muscles ached as if collapsed, and his lower abdomen churned, rising and swelling. And he was just plain tired.
He vaguely heard Amber when she came up to find him. He had no idea, or interest, in what she said to him. He didn't stir again until Dom sat down on the bed and placed one hand on his damp hair.
"Time for another haircut, Son."
His eyes never opened but he absorbed the touch and slept on.
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