Second Dead

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Chapter 7: Anna’s room

I put my head back and closed my eyes. Part of my mind perceived voices in the living room. This part of my mind had naught to do with me. I didn’t want it. It offered nothing but pain and misery. When I opened my eyes, Chris stood in my doorway with a candle.

I cleared my throat, remained silent and stared at the carpet.

“Can I come in?”

I shrugged. He sat down next to me.

“You okay?”

I again shrugged. “What do you want?”

“Thought you could use some light.” He struck a match, and brought illumination to the gloom. He placed the candle between us.

A faint smell of cinnamon crept into the room. The flame flickered and cast shadows across the walls. He remained silent and waited for me to speak.

“I’m sorry,” I said at last.

“Can’t hear you,” he said with a grin. “Got to say it louder than that.”

I smiled, a little, then punched him on his thigh. “What’s up?”

“You know, looking for a place to hide. Mom is on about Theo again, and Dad and Susan are arguing.”

Mom fussed about Theo a lot. It wasn’t that she disliked him, quite the contrary. She felt he underachieved, should try harder and make something of himself. She still hung on to outdated concepts. Being alive long enough to digest a meal was quite an achievement these days. I knew why she was upset with him this time. Again, it was my fault.

“What are Dad and Susan arguing about?”

“Well, Susan wants to go up to the Bulger’s to see if they’re alive.”

“I’m sure they’re okay,” I replied without conviction.

“Thing is, this morning I overheard Dad tell Susan they didn’t respond when he flashed last night. After we were done with the fence, she got all excited and demanded we get up there to check on them. Dad got pretty pissed and told her if they were alive there would be no point risking a run. And if they were dead, well-- nothing we could do about that.”

“What did Susan say?”

“Nothing, Dad pretty much ended it there and then. He and Theo went to the garage right after that.”

“Hmm.”

Chris continued, “I don’t know if Dad wanted to get away from Susan or if he wanted to get Theo away from Mom.”

We sat in silence. It was obvious Chris had something on his mind. I waited, well aware of what bothered him. What he thought troubled me.

“Do you think maybe you should take it easy for a while, you know until you sort through some stuff?” he asked.

Yeah, there it was. “I know. You think I’m crazy because of my dreams. Right?” I asked, both afraid to hear, but in a way desperate to know the truth.

“No. I think you’re under a lot of stress. Maybe you should take some time off, relax a little.”

“Yeah right. We’re already shorthanded, thanks to me. If I slacked off now, I would just put everyone else at risk.”

“Well then, what about Mom and Dad, they might--”

“Might what? Dad can’t help, and it would give him something else to worry about. And Mother? Hell, Chris, I don’t need her crap. She already blames me for Chet’s death. The last thing I need is for her to accuse me of jeopardizing Nana’s soul because of dreams I can’t control.”

“Mom doesn’t--”

“Yeah, she does. And if she finds out about my dreams, I’ll get that guilt trip, too. All of us will. Have you forgotten all the shit she made us do for Chet? To make sure his soul moved on?” I asked, waving my hands in the air. “Just imagine what she would do if she found out about my dreams.”

Chris stared straight ahead. He didn’t give any indication he understood, but he knew.

“Oh yeah, now you don’t have anything to say huh? You know damn well she would accuse me of endangering Nana’s eternal soul by holding her in this realm of existence with my negative energy or whatever. Yeah, that’s just what I fucking need right now.”

“You know, many of these ancient rituals in religion can be--”

“Can be what? Where’s her Buddha, where’s your God? I don’t see any Angels walking down our street to save us. Look around, it’s all lies.”

“I was going to say, many ancient rituals serve a psychological purpose. These were used long before we knew about psychology. It might help you get past whatever troubles you.”

“You don’t get it,” I sneered. “Nothing is troubling me, except, except--”

“Except what?”

“Nothing. Tell you what; if I start to hear voices talking to me you’ll be the first to know.”

We sat in silence again. The candlelight cast long shadows along the darkened walls.

I laid my head on his shoulder, closed my eyes and let out a deep sigh.

Chris asked, “What about Theo?”

“What about Theo?” I demanded.

“You’re going to have to talk to him. He’s a little confused about things.”

“Oh, grow up,” I scoffed. “Nothing happened. He was-- there. You know?”

My cheeks flushed. I didn’t need this right now, didn’t want it. Especially him. My confused jumble of feelings bewildered me. This mental turmoil more than anything else that transpired today had me confused.

“Well?”

“You talk to him,” I pleaded, unexpectedly frightened. “Please?”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to him, tell him you’re crazy.” Chris grinned.

I smiled shyly.

“But still, you’re gonna have to take care of it.”

“I know. Did anyone else see it?”

“Everybody saw it.” Chris laughed. “I thought Mom was going to-- I don’t know, but she wasn’t happy.”

George wandered into the room. “It’s time to eat.”

“Oh good, I’m starving.” Chris stood up and looked down at me.

“Give me a minute,” I said, not prepared to rejoin the rest of the family yet.

“Suit yourself.” He picked up George and walked out the door. “Come on, Mr. President; let’s get something to eat.”

I stripped down to my jeans and school hoodie. I stared into Susan’s mirror. Hmm, so this is what seventeen looks like. Oddly excited, I brushed my hair and straightened my hoodie.

Mom was right. I did look a lot like Nana when she had been my age. Candle in hand, I thought; go get ’em tiger.

I didn’t make eye contact with anyone but Susan when I entered the room. I sat down between Chris and Dad. A fire in the hearth illuminated the room.

Theo wasn’t around. However, an empty bowl sat by the fireplace. Mom passed around a bowl of wrinkled and cut apples so everyone helped themselves to two slices each. When we finished, Dad collected the dishes and Susan carried them to the kitchen. He cleared his throat.

“How does it feel?” Laura blurted out.

Visions of Theo swept through my mind. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I muttered.

“Happy Birthday, Anna, is what she’s getting at,” Dad said, with a wan smile.

“Oh. Thanks, Laura.”

Susan came back with Mom’s cake pedestal and placed it on the floor. She lifted the lid.

“Happy Birthday,” everyone murmured. George spoke a trifle too loud and drew a stringent glare from Dad.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, there in front of me sat a birthday cake. “Thanks, Mom.” I struggled to hold back my tears.

“Don’t thank me. Susan and Chris thought it up.”

Susan giggled, “Yeah, but don’t go thanking us until you’ve tasted it.”

Susan lit the candles, all seventeen of them. My family commenced whisper-singing Happy Birthday. Even with my eyes misty, I couldn’t help but marvel at the cake. Less than a confectionary wonder, the cake bulged and sank in the oddest places. It didn’t matter. The effort put forth made it special.

“Make a wish,” Dad said right before I blew out the candles.

I did and blushed in the gloom.

“What did you wish for?” Mom asked while she cut the cake.

“Oh, you know, that everyone stays safe and we make it to the farm.” I lied; that’s what I should have wished, but didn’t.

Susan handed me a slice of cake. “Tell me what you think.”

Expecting the worst, I chewed on what had the appearance of a cake but didn’t come fricking close in the taste department. I swallowed. “Rice for sure. I assume the frosting is gravy?”

“Almost,” Chris said. “We mashed up canned potatoes and lima beans and mixed it in with rice and gravy.”

“Well, it’s the best cake ever. Thanks, guys.”

Dad pulled out a yellow box. “This is from all of us.”

I opened it and found tucked in green silk, a broken arrow. Not just any arrow, it was Susan’s best. I had snapped it at the fletching weeks ago when I attempted to pry it loose from a moaner’s skull.

Dad had fashioned a handle onto the broken end of the shaft. Mom attached a temple good luck charm into the handle.

Susan handed me a flashlight. “Check out the shaft.”

Miniature butterflies and birds were painted on the shaft.

“They’re beautiful, Susan,” I croaked. The arrow had been a source of friction between us. It had been her favorite, and there had been weeks of hard feelings over it.

“Me and Theo went and retrieved it from the churchyard last week,” Chris said.

“Thanks,” I said, my eyes glued to the arrow.

Dad got on his feet and gestured to Mom. “We’ll leave you kids alone now. Enjoy yourselves. You deserve it.” He paused and gazed down at his children.

“Oh yeah, Chris, I need you to take the midnight watch for me. I have something important to do in the morning.”

Dad and Mom walked into the kitchen to leave us alone. Theo joined us. He sat down next to Chris and avoided eye contact with me. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and reminisced about old times. After the fire died down, Dad came in and packed us downstairs and to bed. Poor Theo remained behind to finish his watch. Before I fell asleep, I couldn’t help but think that this had been my best birthday ever.

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