Someone shakes me and I gasp loudly, my eyes flying open.
Axel is standing in front of me, wet hair clinging to his face and neck. Rain pours down in thick sheets around us, moonlight peaking out from behind darkened clouds.
I can see his breath, little clouds of fog wafting around him.
“Huh?” I mumble groggily, wiping the sleep from my eyes. “Axel? What are you doing here?”
Confusion flickers in his dark eyes. “Um, I live here. Eveline, do you have any idea where you are?”
I spin in a slow circle, actually taking in my surroundings as I finally emerge fully from the sleep induced haze I have been in. “Huh?”
We are in the woods that border the backside of a two-story brick house I recognize as belonging to the Brownings. My hair is a soaked mess, wet leaves, and mud clinging to my legs and clothes. My pajamas, which are really nothing more than a tank top and a pair of shorts, are almost translucent from the rain.
I shiver, cold right down to my very bones. “Axel, how did I get here?”
He pulls off the thick fleece cardigan he is wearing over his white shirt, draping it over my shoulders. “I don’t know. I don’t know how long you’ve been out here either but, in this weather, it is still too long. When I came outside you were already out here, pacing back and forth and talking to yourself. I just spent the past twenty minutes trying to snap you out of whatever trance you’ve been under. Is everything okay?”
“Does it look like everything is okay? I live a good three miles from here, Axel. I have no idea what I am doing here or how I even got here. That last thing I remember is crawling into my bed but, from the looks of me, I must have gotten out of bed, walked three miles in a freezing downpour, and then decided to creep around the woods behind your house like some kind of stalker. I have zero memory of doing any of this.”
“Calm down, it’s going to be okay.” He reaches for my arm, drawing his hand back once he touches me. “Jesus Christ, Eveline, you’re burning up. Come on, let’s get you inside so we can call your mother.”
My mind has already begun to wander elsewhere.
Unusual behavior, unstable emotions, violent thoughts, outbursts of rage, sleepwalking, and now memory loss? The only two symptoms missing from the list of ‘things that hinted my father was losing his shit’ are hearing things that aren’t there and vivid hallucinations but, by the time those two showed up to the party, there wasn’t anything that could be done for him.
I think I am losing my mind. Literally losing my mind.
“She’s burning up,” Lillian’s sweet voice observes, drifting into my thoughts and luring me back into the horrifying reality that I am in.
She is crouched down in front of me, the back of her hand pressed against my cheek. Worry lines run along her scrunched forehead, wisps of hair falling free from her messy bun. She grabs a blanket off the couch, adding it to the layers I already have stacked on me.
For someone who is supposed to be suffering from a super high fever, I sure do seem to be shaking a lot.
“Eveline, what is your mother’s cellphone number?” Lillian asks.
“I, uh.” I wrack my brain but all I can think about is how eerily familiar this whole situation is. All I can think of are memories of myself at seven years old, sitting downstairs wondering why my father had to be locked in his room each night. Maybe this, the wandering out of the house at night, is why. “I don’t know.”
Lillian scurries out of the room, returning moments later with a teacup of steaming liquid. “That’s okay, honey. Here, drink this. My mother always said that there was not an ailment that couldn’t be cured by the right cup of tea. She was an herbalist and, as it turns out, she was correct. This should help break the fever. Are you having any other symptoms I should know about? How long have you been feeling ill?”
“Feeling ill,” I repeat back to her with no real purpose, my head swimming with unpleasant memories of my father. There are memories of him shouting into the woods at creatures that only he could see. Memories of him breaking every mirror in the house because he said someone else was staring back at him whenever he looked. Memories of him throwing knives down the hall at invisible intruders. “I’m sick. I can’t eat. A few weeks now, maybe?”
“Mom? Is everything okay?” a half-awake Alyssa calls from the stairs right outside of the living room, her long hair braided away from her face.
“Everything is fine,” Lillian replies without looking.
Axel rushes down the stairs, taking an oddly protective stance in front of his sister as he blocks her from taking another step down them. “I told you to stay in your room. Eveline isn’t feeling well, that’s all. Go back up to your room, go to sleep, and stay out of here so you don’t catch whatever it is that she has.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
He moves so that his body is blocking her from my sight. “Yes, you can go back to your room and go back to sleep.”
She lets out a huff but doesn’t argue, shooting me a sad look as she climbs the stairs and heads towards her room.
“I was able to track down her mother’s cellphone number.” Axel hands his cellphone over to Lillian. “I already typed in the number, you just have to hit the call button.”
Lillian places the phone against her ear, urging the teacup back to my lips. “Good morning Miss Peak, this is Lillian Browning. I hate to be calling you at such a god awful hour, but it seems that Eveline is suffering from a viciously high fever and this has caused her to wander out of the house and onto our property. No, she is perfectly fine. Axel found her wandering out back and brought her inside. Her fever is quite high but it does look like it has begun to break. Oh, you are? No, no need to head back; we can take it from here. Yes, I will send her home as soon as she wakes up. Of course not, it is no bother at all. Good night.”
“Out of town.” I hug the blanket tighter to my body, wondering why it is so hard to talk. Maybe it is because of how hard my teeth are chattering together. “Grangeville for work. She coming?”
Lillian peers down sadly at the phone before handing it off to Axel. “No, dear, she isn’t. She requested that I bring you home so that, once she had finished up there she could come back and tend to you, but I offered to let you stay the night. It seems that she is chasing down some kind of lead and won’t be back till morning. Axel, please go upstairs and ready the guest room.”
“Are you sure?” He seems strangely worried for someone who never has anything nice to say to me. “Maybe we should take her to the hospital, just in case. It can’t be healthy, her having this high of a fever. Who knows how long it’s been this high? It is almost below freezing out there and, look at her, she is barely dressed. She could get pneumonia or something.”
“She will be fine. She just needs a good night’s rest and someone to keep an eye on her. Her fever has already dropped some and it should be completely gone by morning. Now, go and make sure the bed has fresh sheets on it,” she instructs, leading me out of the living room and towards the stairs.
Axel brushes past us, the sound of dressers and closets being open and closed following.
I lose track of time, closing my eye for second and finding us in the guest room the next one. Lillian eases me down onto the earthy smelling sheets, the coolness comforting my sweat-slick skin.
It doesn’t take long for exhaustion to set in and, maybe it is the fever still raging inside of me, but I swear the last thing I see is Axel standing in the doorway with a concerned look on his face.