Hleo

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Chapter 24

I awoke in the morning with a start. I bolted upright in my bed as memories of the night before flowed through me like an electric shock. My mind raced with the implications of what seeing a moment in the past could mean. Of all the things Ethan and I had talked about last night, that was by far the most startling to me. What did it mean for all my other drawings then? Was I some sort of freak psychic, able to see moments that had actually happened? The thought of it made me want to burn my sketchbooks, and every other piece of art I had ever created. I didn’t want to be weird or abnormal; I just wanted to be Hannah Reed, the clumsy girl with a little artistic ability. I pulled the covers over my head and groaned. I was probably never going to feel normal again, unless I had a lobotomy maybe.

The sun was already up and high in the sky, and I grabbed for my phone. It was almost ten o’clock. I yelped and jumped out of bed. In my overwhelmed mental state, I had neglected to set the alarm last night, and now I had missed the first period of school. Where was Ethan? Why hadn’t he woken me up? Come on Hannah, it’s not his job to ensure you get places on time, just to keep you alive.

I threw on my clothes and hurried out of my room. “Ethan,” I called, as I came down the stairs and walked through all the rooms. He hadn’t been upstairs, and he didn’t seem to be on the main floor either. I stopped in the entryway to listen for any signs of life, but all I heard was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the living room.

Uneasiness about being alone in the house washed over me. Had he gone to school without me? I scrunched up my face. That was absurd; I was the only reason he was going to high school, so where could he be?

I ran upstairs to my room. Maybe he’d left a note to explain his disappearance, but I couldn’t find one. The only thing out of place was my sketchbook. It was gone. I chewed on my thumbnail. Was Ethan responsible for the things mysteriously being moved in my room? Had he been sneaking around my house without my knowledge in the name of my protection? I had to ask him.

I wandered slowly back down the stairs, trying to figure out where Ethan could have gone with my sketchbook and wondering when he would be back. I would hold off going to school until I knew where he was. I put on a pot of coffee and made myself a slice of toast with peanut butter as I waited for him to come back.

Katie texted, asking where I was, but I ignored her. I didn’t feel like trying to come up with a lie, and there was no way I could tell her the truth. I’d connect with her later.

I was just cleaning up from breakfast when the front door opened.

“Hannah?” Ethan came around the corner to meet me in the kitchen.

“Hey, where have you been?” I tried to sound casual while inside I was dying of curiosity.

“I was with Evelyn; we were going over your sketchbook to see if we recognized any other people from your drawings.” He set the book down on the kitchen table. He’d obviously come to the same conclusion I had at some point in the night: I had seen his sister, and his sister was a protected, which meant there was a good chance I had somehow pictured other protecteds.

“And?” I walked over to join him and ran my fingers over my sketchbook, trying not to feel like my privacy had been violated.

“I recognized two people I protected in the past from your drawings. One was a girl in 1943, and the other a man in 1976. Both had their destiny moments, and I left them to carry on with their lives.” Ethan sounded as bewildered as I was by what he had discovered.

“Which drawings were they?” I grabbed a seat at the table. What did Ethan’s other protecteds look like? He opened up the book and pulled out the top two drawings. I scrutinized one then the other, trying to picture again the way the drawings had originally looked in my mind, but nothing would come.

The first drawing I had done over two years ago of a dark-haired, twelve-year-old girl; it had been the initial one in the book. In the sketch, she wore proper riding clothes, including boots and helmet, and I’d captured her mid-jump over a beam. The smile on her face revealed confidence and obvious delight in her ability to control the animal she was riding.

I had drawn the second picture, a scene with a middle-aged man sitting on a park bench looking intently at a newspaper, only a few months after the image of the girl. He wore glasses and a baseball cap pulled down over a thick head of hair. The flannel coat he had on, and the colorful leaves scattered around him on the ground, suggested it was fall.

“What were their names?” The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I gazed at the drawings of these two people, trying to accept the fact that they had actually existed.

“Amy and Henry.” Ethan pulled out the chair across from me and sat down, looking from the pictures to my face as though trying to read my reaction. He sighed. “This is a lot to take in, Hannah, on top of everything I’ve already dumped on you. I thought maybe you could use a day to digest it all; that’s why I didn’t wake you up for school. I hope you don’t mind.”

“That’s totally fine; I could definitely use a day off. So what did these two do?” I wanted to know why they had mattered, hoping that it would give me some sort of clue about why I was special. Although I was pretty sure my ability to picture and draw people who had lived in the past was a significant breakthrough in explaining Ethan’s presence in my life.

“Amy’s father was a high-ranking officer in the British forces. Not long after this scene in your drawing, Amy decided to sneak out of her house one night to ride her horse. She fell off and was badly injured. Her father stayed at her bedside day and night, and missed making certain decisions that would have changed the outcome of more than one battle during the war.

“Henry developed a technology to help plants grow in the harshest conditions. The moment you’ve captured in the park looks to be very close to the time he launched his technology. I was with him for two years while he tinkered with his formula, until finally he decided to go through with releasing it instead of scrapping the whole project, which he’d been just about ready to do.” Ethan’s voice sounded distant as he looked from one drawing to the other.

“Did they know who you were?” I was curious, how many people had he protected that had been privy to the real Ethan?

“Amy knew me as her riding instructor who lived in a cottage on her family’s grounds near the stables. Henry knew me as his next-door neighbor in his dingy apartment building. I turned out to be the one person he felt comfortable confiding in about his work. Every Sunday he would invite me over for breakfast. We’d compete to see who could finish the morning crossword first, and he’d talk about his latest breakthroughs.”

“So, you were friends?”

“He didn’t have the greatest social skills, so I’m not sure we could have been considered friends. He was more of an acquaintance.” Ethan ran a hand through his hair.

I tried not to smile. Knowing the truth about Ethan seemed to be a special thing. I straightened the loose papers within the book. “Hey, at least with me knowing who you really are, you don’t have to break in when you come to my house anymore.”

Ethan frowned. “I’m sorry, what?”

“If you need to check something out you can just ask me. You don’t need to sneak around here when I’m not around.”

“Hannah, until the other night when we were almost chased off the road I had never been in your house.”

“Oh.” So I was wrong about Ethan moving my stuff around.

“Why did you think I’d been sneaking around your house?”

I waved a dismissive hand. “It’s nothing. Some things in my room got moved, a picture, my computer. I thought maybe you were the one responsible. I guess it must have been my dad.” I was back to that theory.

“Are you sure?” Ethan’s posture had straightened.

“That must be it. Both instances happened before he went to England. I didn’t want to believe he would invade my privacy that way, but with everything you’ve told me, I’m questioning how well I really know him.”

Ethan clasped his hands together on the table. “Try not to think of it that way. Your dad only kept things from you to protect you.”

“I guess so.” I lifted my shoulders lightly, still feeling betrayed.

Ethan studied me for a moment then got up from the table. I wish I could read your mind, Ethan Flynn. Was he worried about my conflicted emotions towards my dad, or about the news that someone had been in my room? Who could be sure?

“So, where do we go from here?” I drew in a deep breath, trying to prepare myself for whatever earth-shattering information we were going to find out next.

“I had Evelyn upload all of the images from your sketchbook onto her computer. She is going to send out a mass communication to the different Hleo we have connections with in an effort to figure out if any of them recognize any of the people from your drawings. We’ll start there, but it would help to try to organize your drawings into chronological order; there might be some sort of pattern that emerges about who you have drawn and when, that will help us figure out what all of this means. Is this sketchbook it for drawings or are there more?” He leaned against counter.

I glanced up at him from the book and scrunched up my forehead, not sure how to break it to him. “Ethan, I’ve been drawing for years. The first flash, or whatever you want to call it, happened when I was twelve. Since then I’ve filled at least a dozen sketchbooks, not to mention all the random paintings I’ve done. There must be hundreds of pictures floating around here.”

Ethan’s eyes widened, and he nodded. “Okay well, grab as much of your material as you can and we’ll just start going through it. The first thing is to upload the drawings and send them to Evelyn so she can get them onto her computer. The sooner we get them out to other Hleo, the sooner we can track down how many people in your drawings one of us recognizes. That way we can start to figure out what you being able to draw these people means.”

I was glad that he didn’t seem annoyed at the quantity of sketches I’d drawn, and I was excited to see where this was all going to lead. For once my clumsiness paid off; who knew how long it would have taken Ethan to discover that picture of Mary if I hadn’t knocked my book onto the floor.

I went upstairs to my closet and grabbed the sketchbooks I had stored there; while Ethan called Evelyn to let her know about the extra work looking at my drawings was going to be. I counted ten sketchbooks in all, each containing twenty-four sketches. Under my bed I found another book from the beginning of the year. There was one in my backpack for school, and I remembered I had left a final one in the art room. I would have to grab that later in the week.

I took the twelve sketchbooks downstairs into the dining room and added them to the one Ethan had already looked at. Running back upstairs, I grabbed some of the paintings from my closet and the guest room closet. It took me three trips to gather up the fifteen paintings and bring them downstairs. Ethan came up with me on the third trip to help carry down the remainder. We spread the paintings around the room so Ethan could take pictures of each. The dining room looked like a makeshift art gallery when we were done, with paintings propped up on windowsills, sitting on the arms of the dining room chairs, and replacing the art that had been hanging on the walls. Ethan moved the originals to the living room so we wouldn’t be confused by their presence.

We set to work. I managed to organize the sketchbooks into the order that I’d filled them up in. Then I started the task of going through each book, trying to sort the pictures from oldest to newest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the type of artist who made sure I finished one picture before moving on to the next one. I normally had three or four drawings going at once, and would go back and forth from one to another. So even though the books themselves were somewhat in order, the actual pages inside them needed to be rearranged.

Another issue I ran into, trying to remember exactly which drawings were “image flashes” and which weren’t. I had a pretty good idea; the drawings that I’d pictured in my mind were generally better than those I’d drawn from something I had seen, or come up with, but it still took some thought to separate them, and slowed the process down.

Once I had the pictures in the first book in order, Ethan went to work scanning them. The images were then sent to wherever Evelyn was stationed. Her job was to catalogue them and prepare them to be emailed out to other Hleo, and to create a database where any information that came in could be dumped and analyzed for emerging patterns. It sounded very technical and I was glad to let her do that part of the work. I was also relieved she was staying away. I didn’t know her, but somehow I knew I would find her presence intimidating. Ethan told me she preferred to stay in the background, away from protecteds.

“Do you think looking through all these old drawings is the key to solving this?” I flipped through a sketchbook from four years ago.

Ethan looked up from the scanner. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve never encountered anything like this before.”

I bit the inside of my cheek. “If only I could see one of these people in person, maybe that would unlock something in my brain and I’d understand why I’m getting these visions of the past.”

“Maybe, but I’m not really sure how I could take you to see a protected. We generally aren’t privy to other Hleo’s assignments.”

“Oh.” I stared at the drawing in front of me for a moment. “Wait.” I started rifling through the stack of books looking for a specific one from two years ago. I grabbed it and skimmed through the pages until I found the drawing I was looking for.

“Mr. Brisby.” I pointed to a sketch of an elderly man in a winter coat and navy fedora, walking a large Bernese mountain dog in the snow.

Ethan studied the image, his brow furrowing. “Who?”

“A few years ago I got a flash of this image. I always thought it looked like Mr. Brisby and his dog Baxter. Mr. Brisby was the town pharmacist, he retired after his wife passed away, and Baxter is his world. He babies that dog like no one’s business.”

“Okay.” Ethan narrowed his eyes.

“I would bet anything that this is an actual picture of Mr. Brisby. We could go talk to him, feel him out. Maybe if I can see him in person it will trigger something in here.” I tapped my temple. “And all of this will start to make sense.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. The goal is to keep protecteds in the dark about their calling and the Hleo world, not hunt them down.”

My shoulders slumped. “All right. I guess we’ll just keep going at getting these images onto the computer.” I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “Although, I could really use a break, and I do know Mr. Brisby always walks Baxter at the pier around this time of day.” I studied my fingernails intently.

“He does, does he?” Ethan cocked his head.

I bit my lip, waiting.

Ethan blew out a breath. “Fine, we’ll go look. Who knows, maybe it will help.”

I jumped up from the table. “Great, let’s go.”

Ethan grabbed the sketch and followed me out of the dining room.

I couldn’t wait to see Mr. Brisby; maybe something similar in our body chemistries would be triggered when I got near him. It sounded farfetched, but then, so did everything else I’d learned in the last few days.

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