Chapter 63: What We Carry
Colin gasped as he pulled himself onto the sandy floor of the sea cave. The water here had not warmed. As he stood, he saw sunlight crest the rocks and roll across the water to him. The tide was out and the fog had lifted.
What day is it? How long was I gone? he wondered as he carefully made his way out the side passage and onto the trail that led back to the beach. Four days maybe? Five? A week? A month? Is Mom still alive?
He paused as he rounded the last outcropping of the cliff and came to the sandy beach. Mr. Potter, sat tending a campfire. He waved Colin over.
Colin peered at him as he came closer. “It’s you. Have you been here the whole time . . . waiting for me?”
Potter smiled as he handed Colin a metal skewer, chicken, and peppers roasted on its end. He instantly felt his stomach grumble, and he sat by the fire’s edge.
“I was with you every step of the way, my boy. You never left my sight.”
Colin pulled at the sizzling food, nearly dropping it in the sand.
“Oh, now careful there,” Potter laughed as he watched Colin devour the food. “Wouldn’t want you choking after all you’ve been through. I had to take a personal hand in things to see it along from time to time, but it all turned out. It always does.”
Colin recognized his voice. The same one that had brought him the words and wisdom when he needed them most. He swallowed the last bit of chicken. “You’re more than . . . well, more than you appear to be, aren’t you?”
Potter leaned in, a gleam in his eye. “You are too, Colin. Remember that.”
“You gave me back my name, didn’t you?”
“I simply held onto it, until you could appreciate it,” Potter said and stood. Colin dusted off his jeans and got up. Potter looked down at the campfire and nodded. The glowing embers cooled instantly. Colin gazed at the old man and wondered why the sight seemed so natural. The two walked farther down the shore.
“Mr. Potter, I have to get to my mom, but I didn’t save any of the balm. I want to believe she can make it, but I’m not sure if I have the words for that. I’m not sure if I have the . . .”
“Faith?” Potter offered.
“Yeah, I guess,” Colin replied and looked down. After all he had done, he still felt like a failure.
“Faith’s a funny thing,” Potter started. “Not something you get once and then break. It’s something you have to pick up every day. Something you choose to carry, every day.”
Colin looked up and saw they had somehow traveled to the Mission Hills Medical Center parking lot.
“How?” Colin stammered.
“Go see your mom, Colin. You’ve got everything you need.” Potter’s voice lingered in Colin’s ear though the old man was nowhere to be seen.
Colin pushed through the main doors of the hospital and made his way to his mother’s room.
He paused at the doorway as he watched her frail figure, breathing. He shook in relief as he moved forward and put his arms around her neck. The bite mark was gone. Colin leaned back and studied his mother’s features.
She didn’t respond. Only the steady beeping of the medical monitors could be heard.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “You know, I had it, I had what you needed, but I had to make a choice and . . .” His vision clouded with tears. “I don’t know what to say.”
Colin sat for a time next to her, holding her frail hand. The glow of the harsh lights overhead made her skin look pale and paper-thin. Colin studied the deep creases in her palm, years of worry and sacrifice had left their scars. How often had she wanted to kneel before the onslaught of life? How many times did she stand for his sake? Colin wondered how many great battles were fought silently every day, behind every face. He concentrated. He was a soothsayer now, he had to know the words. Whatever ideas came to mind, seemed to dim from his memory within seconds. Finally, he bowed his head. Plain English would have to do.
“God, I don’t know if you can hear me. But I could really use your help right now.”
“She needs her rest,” a nurse broke Colin’s concentration. “We’ll let you know if there’s any change.”
He looked up, nodded, and stood. He turned towards the door, defeated.
The long walk home exhausted him and as he approached the front door of his apartment, he yawned. Reaching under a nearby rock he found the spare key and let himself inside. He paused and instinctively waited for some corporeal nightmare to make itself known, but there was nothing. No dark presence or Hissith lurked, only soft furniture, plush carpeting, and a hot shower that he spent half an hour enjoying.
The rest of the day he slept fitfully. The horrors he’d faced haunted his dreams, but none more than the image of himself standing alone over his mother’s grave.
He awoke the next morning, a sense of peace filled him. He had planned to return to his mother’s bedside, but he knew staring and waiting would do nothing. Life still needed to be lived, and it was a Monday. He wondered how far behind he was in his assignments. He’d check on her after school.
Colin parked his bike at San Clemente High School just as the first bell rang. Colin turned down the empty corridor towards his locker. He saw Jennifer waiting for him. She smiled as he approached.
“Colin, I was wondering if I’d see you today. Were you sick? I heard something about your mom.”
“She’s recovering, at least I hope so.”
Jennifer’s eyes widened. “Oh my God, you didn’t stutter. Colin, that’s great!”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” he said and smiled as best he could.
Suddenly Colin was pushed forward into his locker. He turned to see Red sneering at him.
“Well holy shit, the little bitch doesn’t stutter. I bet you still piss your pants and cry though.”
Colin turned to face the skinhead as Jennifer backed away. Gazing at the bully, he realized he felt absolutely no fear. After facing sea monsters, demons, and army of savage warriors, Red Arnold didn’t seem so bad at all.
“Oh, what you eye-balling me now?” Red snapped as he stepped closer. “You finally grow a spine?”
“It must have hurt,” Colin said quietly as he peered into Red’s eyes.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Red laughed.
“It must’ve hurt when your dad used his belt on you all those times.”
Red was stunned as if he’d been slapped.
Colin continued, “And when you wet yourself just last week because you were so scared, running to your mom’s room, screaming for help, but she didn’t open the door. It must have hurt.”
Red’s eyes widened and he clenched his fists.
Colin took another step forward. “She closed the door because she knows she’ll be next if she says anything. And you hate him for that, don’t you?”
“What is this? A joke?”
Colin stared at him quietly, knowing.
“Shut the hell up, man. You don’t know me!” Red screamed.
“But more than that, you hate yourself, because as much as you hate your dad, you’d do anything to get his approval. To get him to say he’s proud of you.”
“Asshole! I’ll kill you!” Red’s cheeks flared.
“They named you Reginald, but you call yourself Red because that’s all you see when you look in the mirror after he’s done with you.”
Red threw himself at Colin, but he stepped aside. Red fell to his hands and knees, paralyzed by the truth in Colin’s words.
Colin took Jennifer’s hand, “Come on, let’s go.”
Jennifer stared at Colin in awe, as they walked away. At that moment he knew who he was, and why he was alive. And like the stone he’d carried with him, he carried the faith that his mother had finally opened her eyes and awakened.