Chapter 3 : The Shadow's Embrace
As Colin approached the Jolly Roger, he immediately noticed the restaurant’s windows were dimmed. The large wooden door opened and a stream of patrons walked out. A busboy followed carrying a “closed” sign and hung it just below the wooden placard displaying the famous ship, the restaurant’s logo.
“Are you closing early?” Colin asked the employee.
“Nope, we’re done for the night. Sorry, we’re open again at eleven tomorrow.” He turned back towards the door.
“Wait, is Lane Deveroux here?” Colin took the young man’s arm.
The busboy pulled back from him. “The waitress? She went home hours ago. Excuse me.” He walked quickly to the door, opened it and slammed it shut as he went through. Colin heard a latch snapping into place.
Hours? How’d that happen? His mind raced. To him, the whole affair -- the water, the things that lurked in the waves, the shop, meeting the old man, had only, perhaps, been an hour at most. The wounds on his back still burned. It couldn’t have been that long ago. He drugged me, that old coot must have put something in the tea. But that explanation seemed flimsy, at best. He couldn’t recall ever losing consciousness, and he certainly didn’t remember hallucinating. The yellow-eyed creatures returned to his mind. Before he’d ever met the old man – he’d seen them. Potter couldn’t have made those things appear from thin air. Colin rubbed his temples. Perhaps some part of his brain had finally snapped? None of it made sense. Even now he could be dreaming. Colin looked down at the puzzle box, still in his hand. But this feels real. He slipped the artifact into his cargo pants pocket as he unlocked his bicycle from the rack. He glanced at a nearby clock mounted to an abandoned kiosk - confirming it was nearly midnight. As he pedaled out of the marina to the Pacific Coast Highway, a feeling of dread crept over him.
Mom’s going to freak, he thought as he made his way along the shoulder of the road. The ride would take at least forty-five minutes to get to their one-bedroom condo on Pelayo Avenue, bordering north San Clemente. As he pedaled, it occurred to him that she’d probably called the police. They’ll be looking for me now, or maybe, maybe she collapsed, maybe something happened to her. Night after night he had heard her wheezing in her sleep, from his makeshift bed on the couch. He had always dismissed it as a bad cold she couldn’t quite shake, and yet deep down, he knew it was something much more. Her news tonight had confirmed it. He pictured her unconscious on the floor, barely breathing, and he pedaled faster. Colin’s leg’s ached as he finally reached his street and as soon as he reached the apartment complex, he dumped his bike by the trash cans and raced to his front door.
He unlocked the door and immediately felt something was amiss as he entered their living room. The lamps were in place, the couch, TV, books, all were undisturbed and yet something . . . .
Nothing. Colin turned the corner to the small hallway and his mother’s bedroom. He opened the door. A distinct chill hung in the air. The darkness seemed tangible, conscious, and watching him. He could barely make out his mother’s form, lying deathly still on her bed. He approached and knelt.
“Mom, I’m home,” he whispered.
She didn’t move. Colin took her hand. It felt like ice.
“Mom!” He pulled on her arm. “Mom, wake up!”
A slight hiss emanated from the corner of the room where the shadows were darkest. He looked and saw a pair of eyes. The yellow vertical slits of their pupils were all too familiar.
He froze for a moment before pulling the chain of his mother’s bedside lamp, flicking the meager light on. Whatever this thing was, he had to see it.
The corner was empty, but the presence was still there. He turned back to his mother, and in the dim light saw two small punctures at the base of her neck.
He looked around, “G-Get o-out of here!” he cried and threw his arms across his mother’s body. This is a nightmare, this has to be some sort of sick dream. His mind raced. He put his ear to her mouth and felt the slightest stirring of her breath.
“Mom! Mom are you OK?” He shook her. Then saw her chest rise a little. Looking at her neck he saw the indentations were small black holes, perfectly aligned, like a snake’s bite.
“Show yourself!” he screamed as his eyes darted around the room, his anger overcoming his fear, but there was no response. Colin turned back to his mother. Shallow breaths labored from her lips. Colin ran towards the phone.
* * * * * * * *
The ambulance ride to San Clemente Memorial Hospital was a blur of sirens and tight turns. The EMT in the back of the ambulance had pushed an I.V. into Lane’s arm and was monitoring her vitals with a stethoscope. He looked across the cramped cabin to Colin and frowned.
“How long has she been unconscious?” he asked.
Colin stared down at her, his mouth agape. “I, d-don’t know.”
The ambulance pulled to a stop outside the emergency room doors and he quickly hopped out to let them wheel his mother inside. Then the waiting began. His mother had immediately been rolled down the hall and out of sight, and the nurse at the desk eyed him before handing him a clipboard with two forms attached, “Are you eighteen?”
Colin shook his head.
“If you could fill out the top form then, we’ll have to wait on the rest. Someone will speak with you soon.”
Sitting in the ER waiting room, staring at all the forms, he could barely lift the pen to paper. The clock on the wall kept time at a snail’s pace. For every tick of minute, Colin felt an eternity pass. Finally, a nurse approached him.
“We can have you fill these out later. Is your dad coming?”
Colin shook his head.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
He opened his mouth but the words didn’t come.
“It’s okay. You’re upset. I’m gonna have the doctor come out and talk with you.” The nurse turned away.
Colin let his gaze fall across the waiting room walls and dwell on a kiosk of medical pamphlets. In neat rows, the pamphlet covers displayed images of women and children smiling together as they conversed with doctors, men listening intently to positive diagnosis, and families laughing as they ran across sunny meadows. It’s all crap. Colin thought. Here and now, he was living a nightmare so surreal he could barely process it. There were no clear cut answers, no reasoning that would come close to touching what he’d witnessed and sinking below the mire of the bizarre he’d seen was his mother - now dying. Colin clutched the arms of his chair as if his body was waiting for a sudden drop. He’d be totally alone. How could anyone understand it, let alone explain it? How could God let this all happen?
The few times Colin had been to church as a child, he’d heard stories of God breaking through the heavens to save his people, pillars of fire and smoke, prophets that could wash away an army with the flick of a hand, and a savior who could lead mankind to an eternal paradise. But if God allowed for those miracles, where were they now? Maybe the man upstairs gave up on us, maybe it was all a pipe dream, brought on by some desperate wish to find meaning in all the madness. Colin’s mind veered to Potter. Madness. The old man, the damned old man! Could that stupid deal have been real? Colin realized the puzzle box Potter had given him still bulged in his pocket. He pulled it out. The ashen wood box was still closed. He said it had everything I needed. Is this what he meant? Colin again looked for some seam. Nothing. He pried at it with his hands until his fingers cramped. Nothing.
The doctor approached, a woman who’d seen too many late shifts. She sat across from Colin in another chair.
“Are you her son?” she asked.
“What’s your name, hon?”
Colin gagged as he tried to speak it, and his voice fell silent.
“No, it’s all right.” She took his hand. “I’m sorry to have to say this . . . ,”
“Sh-sh-she’s dead!” He stuttered, his eyes filling with tears.
The doctor shook her head and put her hand on his knee. “No! No. But she’s very sick. She has a severe stage four cancer. It’s spreading, spreading faster than I’ve ever seen, and it’s caused her to have an embolism – an obstruction in her heart,” the doctor continued gently.
“B-Bite on her neck,” Colin said.
The doctor paused. “No, no spider bite would cause that.” She searched his eyes. “We will do everything we can. I promise.”
He shook his head “no.” She didn’t understand. She hadn’t seen it. How could he explain what he felt to be true? What he knew to be true? Her’s was a world of empirical data, not monsters in the shadows, and deals with the devil.
“I’ll have an orderly drive you home,” she said as she took the forms in hand.
The sun had risen only an hour before, and the marina was still cloaked in fog. Colin stepped out of the car, nodding at the orderly to assure him this spot was as good as any. The car pulled away and Colin made his way down the sea walk, heading back to where the madness had begun.
Potter can have the stupid box. This deal is bullshit. Colin ran through the fog. He’d make the old man explain what was happening. The world was falling apart around him and it had all started when they had met.
Colin raced to the curio shop, pausing a few feet from the door to catch his breath. The lights were out. A closed sign hung from behind the display.
“Potter!” He yelled as he banged on the door and pulled on the handle. “Th-this is n-not...you can’t!” he tried, but the words were trapped in his throat. Colin kicked the door hard, but it held. He threw the puzzle box at the door and it bounced off, landing flat on the sidewalk. Colin turned to face the railings and the water, burying his head in his hands. The old foghorn again echoed across the bay.
I can’t stand up to anyone, I can’t save my mother, can’t even talk. The brutal truths echoed in his mind. God, if you’re there, give me something to hold on to.
The box clicked.
Colin slowly turned. Taking shaky steps, he picked it up. Something had triggered it. He traced his thumb along the lopsided “A” on the top, and with another click, the box opened.