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CHAPTER 38 – Too Little Time

Matti looked at Mickey sprawled against the concrete block at stage right. He stared at the crimson spreading across the front of his shirt where Ravensclaw had struck, soaking in a pool of agony as he waited to die. Her vengeance hadn’t blunted the cruel barb that had pierced her heart at Jamal’s murder. But even if revenge changed nothing of her losses, it was still sweeter than the bitter bile of knowing Mickey laughed at the justice he was so certain could not touch him.

She sat facing him from the center of the stage where she had slumped after he squandered precious energy scrambling away from her. She could well imagine the fear that now gripped him because she shared it, a certainty that death would not be long in making its dual claims.

She wanted to get back to where Emmie and Lila waited with Ronald, but she was weak and in great pain, and she doubted if she could dredge up the energy to even turn around. Then she felt the warmth of panted breath on the back of her neck. Satan’s mighty head appeared beside hers as he gently rubbed his cheek against hers.

Matti punish bad man. Bad man go away soon. Matti pleased?

Grimacing at the pain that even a small movement caused, Matti pressed her otherwise useless left arm against the gurgling hole in her chest and reached her right hand slowly up to stroke Satan’s flews. Matti is pleased. Matti is grateful to Satan for allowing Matti to punish bad man. …Oh, Satan, I hurt so bad.

Matti want food? Satan get Matti food? Food make Matti not hurt? Food make Matti not go away?

She smiled. No. Food will not make Matti not hurt. Food will not make Matti not go away. But Matti is grateful to Satan.

She struggled to stand, using his mighty frame for support, but her legs refused to support her, and she sagged back to drape across his back. Satan take Matti to Emmie and Lila?

Moving slowly to avoid dislodging her, Satan made a wide turn and dragged her across the stage.

They passed Claire and Doreen first. A large amount of blood had pooled beneath the ghastly, gaping wounds on each of their heads, but the stuff of life no longer flowed. When she was beside Ronald, Satan settled to the floor.

Ronald started to smile at Matti, but his mouth distorted into a grimace as a spasm of pain shot through his body. Emmie peered at her with a thousand questions in her eyes, but Matti had no answers.

Lila wiped tears from her eyes and looked up. “He said we’d be safe in here. H—h—he said we had to hide, so we came in here. He said nobody w—would bother us if we stayed out of the w—w—way. He s—said w—we—” and then the sobs simply overwhelmed her.

Matti pulled Ronald’s shirt open and examined the grisly wound. It oozed blood and the contents of his punctured intestines. Matti wasn’t sure how serious it was, just that it was serious. The major difference between his wound and Mickey’s was Ravensclaw’s deeper reach.

She tried not to think of her own injuries until the torture of a brief coughing spasm produced a spray of blood that coated her hand. She knew her lung was punctured, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. Would she suddenly stop breathing because her lungs were full of blood? Was it something that would heal itself, given enough time and no infection? She didn’t think that was very likely. The other stab wound throbbed fiercely and burned at the same time, and it still seeped blood. She didn’t even try to analyze its seriousness. The possibility that it might kill her first scared her as much as the certainty of a lingering death from her punctured lung. The gashes across her face and the others on her arms burned, but they were mere annoyances in comparison.

“Emmie, how’s your head?” she asked as she looked at the trickle of clotting blood on the side of the girl’s head where Angie’s cast had struck. “Are you able to go out to look for Vonnie?”

Emmie started to ease out from under Ronald’s head, but the movement seemed to cause her almost as much pain as it did him. Grimacing, she said, “Kinda dizzy, but I think so. ”

“Okay. Just stay put,” Matti said as she placed a hand on Emmie’s shoulder. “Lila? Are you okay? Do you think you could find Vonnie? It sounds like things have pretty much calmed down out there.”

“What if we didn’t win?” Emmie cried, “What if –?”

“Okay, you’re right, but I don’t think we lost. How about if Satan goes with her? Would you like that, Lila?”

The tearful little girl forced a smile and nodded, sobs still causing her chest to heave every few seconds.

Matti looked at Satan who had glanced up at her at the mention of his name. Satan go with Lila? Satan protect Lila? Satan and Lila find Vonnie?

The dog whuffed and rose to his feet.

With the dog and girl gone, Matti tried to look closer at Ronald’s injury. The red and brown seepage was slow but constant. She tried to guess at the damage and gave it up. She had a rough idea of what was behind the abdominal wall, but not enough to picture just what was in the area of the injury. What was in there that would be damaged by a knife like Mickey’s? Stomach and liver and intestines and spleen and—but it was a fool’s game to pursue. Then she remembered Emmie’s abilities.

“Emmie, can you help Ronald? You know, like with Billy Ray?”

“I already tried,” Emmie wailed. “I tried, but I can’t make it work. I tried, but I can’t … my head won’t … everything just sorta spins when I …. I’m so dizzy. I’m sorry!” Sobs buried her words.

“That’s okay, Emmie. It’s okay.” Matti reached out her hand to Emmie, lightly squeezing the girl’s hand before doing the same with Ronald. “Oh, Ronald, I’m so sorry. Please be okay. Just hang in there. Vonnie’ll be here in a minute. She’ll –”

His response was a forced smile and a slow shake of his head. “She won’t be able to help,” he said after gasping for his next breath. “I’m afraid she won’t be able to help at all. Too much has been destroyed. Without surgeons and medicines …. But, there’s something else. I’ve got to tell you something that you will find hard to believe.”

“No, don’t talk now. Just –”

He shook his head faster and held up his hand to stop her words. “Matti, no, listen. I’ve got to tell you this. It’s more important than you can imagine. Listen closely, because I’m going to tell you much, and it will be very hard for you to accept, but you must. It is vital!”

Matti looked at Ronald, then at Emmie who was sitting up straighter at his insistence of importance. “Okay. If you think it’s that important, go ahead. I’ll listen.”

He grasped her hand, held it for a moment while he appeared to gather his thoughts. He said, “I’m not a human. … No, really, I’m not,” he added with a wan smile when Matti and Emmie both started to protest. “This body you see, this shape, isn’t mine; it isn’t me. I’m a glurrik, like the one Jason described that was with the kryl he fought. We are shape-shifters. We are not from Earth, but we have been here for a long time. We –”

A spasm wracked his body and he took a moment before continuing.

“There is too much to explain … to explain it all.”

“Vonnie’ll –”

With a slow shake of his head, he pushed on. “I’m going to be dead very soon. And, before anything else, I must warn you to get away from me as soon as I die. Immediately. Don’t delay. Don’t stay to grieve over me. Just move away from me, several feet, at least. I’ll try to tell you when it’s time if I can.”

“No, really, Vonnie –”

After a few moments of gasping and clenching Matti’s hand to the point of crunching knuckles, the spasm passed, and Ronald said, “You must do something. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t sure you could handle it. You’ve already shown you are a telepath. The programming of your brain has already begun opening the necessary channels. Your ability to communicate with Satan is something you will become much better at. It’s a matter of enhancing the … circuitry, with use. But, listen, now. I don’t have time to tell you the information that I have, information that you need. There is too much to – unh!”

Another spasm stole precious moments.

Matti found herself fighting to remain alert enough to listen and understand what he was saying. But what he was saying was too fantastic, too unbelievable. With her ears ringing and everything, she was sure she must have miss-heard what he had said.

“Anyway, you are a telepath. I want to communicate my information to your mind as you do with Satan. It may cause you disorientation and confusion for a period. After a short time, you will be able to relate the knowledge to others, more and more as time goes by, recalling it from your mind as though from your own memories.”

“Wait,” she interrupted him with a waving hand and shaking head. “Wait a minute. Ronald, listen, I’m not in such good shape myself, right now. I’m not sure I’m going to live any longer than you.”

A look of sudden panic energized Emmie’s face.

“We have no choice. You and the others must have this knowledge. It can make such a difference. And there is no one else. Yes, you might die. But I will, and very soon.”

“But … oh, Ronald, I am so scared. I know I’m hurt bad, and I’m scared. I don’t want to die.”

Emmie sucked in a breath and stifled a couple of sobs, but she said nothing. She just peered into Matti’s eyes.

“You must not die,” Ronald insisted. “You must … listen, when Lila returns, there is a possibility that … I have sensed … ugnnn!” His hand clenched hers and his eyes closed for a moment. “No time … must do it now.”

Matti closed her eyes and took several slow, wheezing breaths. When she opened her eyes again, she forced a smile at Emmie, turned to Ronald, and said, “Okay. Try it.”

“I don’t have time to pick and choose what to give you. I’ll open my mind to you, and what’s there is yours. I will send it to you; you won’t have to try to take it. Don’t be frightened. There is much you won’t understand, but you will process it, and, in time, you will understand most of it. I know you can handle it. Human brains have capacities you cannot imagine.”

Another spasm shook his body and he drew his legs up for a moment. After he relaxed again, he said, “You should lie down.”

Matti eased herself down until she was beside him. “I … I guess I’m ready.”

She felt something like a zephyr whisk through her mind, just a light breeze that hardly ruffled the cobwebs accumulated around the edges of her memories. With an abrupt swirl of storm clouds, it increased to a howling gale – and then the flood-gates opened. A torrent of memories of things she had never experienced swept over her, around her, through her, and became hers. She saw cities she had never visited, smelled scents and heard sounds in forests, mountains and valleys she had never encountered, and people and … others … in all modes of dress and appearance. She saw faces of old men and young men, children and mothers and grandmothers. Each one was a story whose intricate details imbedded themselves in the endless catacombs of her mind. Activities she didn’t recognize but remembered occupied persons she didn’t know but remembered. She saw both familiar and bizarre structures, and she saw vehicles of all descriptions, some whose functions she recognized and others she could never imagine. They were driven, hauled, floated and flown. She saw things flying in the air, things she recognized as terrible, great bats that brought destruction. She saw mighty chains of colossal bats – each was a ship half a mile wide – flash among fields of stars that swept past at a pace sufficient to blur their images. She saw Earth as an astronaut far out in space might see it, hovering with its tiny moon nearby before a backdrop of uncountable stars, more star fields to the sides, above, below, even behind her. But it was not as a film would be seen. No camera could capture the all-encompassing panorama, the feeling of absolute depth. More memories flooded the halls of her mind, memories of things she could not have experienced or seen or done, or even imagined. Finally, the gale abated. In the next moment it was over.

The image before her when she opened her eyes was the holed ceiling arching high overhead, at first unrecognizable and disorienting until she remembered she was lying on her back on the stage floor. She tried for a moment to recall some of the images and memories that were now hers and as real as her memory of Momma’s face. But her mind flickered and buzzed like static on a badly tuned television. She gave up and half sat up, grimacing at the deep, throbbing pain in her side, chest, face and arm. She coughed up more blood and wiped her hand on her pants leg.

She looked over at Emmie, who was bending over, trying to look into the eyes of the man lying in her lap, and new fear lined her young face.

Matti edged back around and partially rose to kneel before him. “Ronald? Ronald?”

He opened his eyes and peered back at her for a moment. He shook his head and said, “I think it will be soon, now. You and Emmie should move away from me.”

“No!” Emmie cried. “I’m not leaving!”

Reaching out with her hand, Matti took Emmie’s hand and squeezed it feebly, tears blurring the faces of both of her friends. With her now fuller understanding of Ronald and his situation, she said, “We have to go now, Emmie. Come on. I’ll need you to help me.”

Suddenly, a door at the back of the rows of seats burst open and figures streamed down the aisles, climbing over piles of ceiling rubble and to the steps onto the stage. Vonnie was first. Then came Jason and Nate. Erin, The Judge, Lila and Satan brought up the rear.

“Let me look,” Vonnie said as she dropped beside Ronald.

Jason and Nate both knelt beside Matti and began examining her injuries, applying gentle pressure against the still bleeding wounds with pieces of cloth hastily torn from shirts. With the arrival of her friends, and because her head was spinning from loss of blood, she could feel the weight of responsibility sloughing off. It felt so good to just close her eyes and let them care for her.

* * *

While Vonnie worked, Erin hung back with Lila to give both patients room to be treated. It didn’t take Vonnie long to turn her head to the others and, with a silent shake of her head, tell them all that Ronald was beyond her ability to help.

“We’ll just make him comfortable, and be with him,” she said, and then moved over to take a look at Matti.

Lila scrambled out of Erin’s embrace and threw herself toward Ronald. “But you have to fix him! You have to fix him!” she wailed.

Erin knelt beside the sobbing girl and said, “We all love him, sweetheart, but Vonnie is right. He is hurt too badly for us to help him. He needs a real doctor, and we just don’t have one.”

“But, you have to fix him! He’s my friend! You have to fix him!”

“Please, honey, try to understand.”

“No, you don’t understand!” Lila squirmed again from Erin’s arms and threw herself down beside the man who had been so kind to her. “You have to fix him. Look, all you have to do is put that back where it belongs … and put that back together, and that over there, and that goes together with –”

Vonnie gasped and lunged across from where she sat on the far side of Matti, but she couldn’t reach Lila to snatch the girl’s hand away. The tiny hand danced just inches above the open wound with its gruesome seepage, and a careless poke would cause excruciating pain to the dying man. But, after the first couple of movements, Vonnie slowed her own scramble and peered closer at the gash, as did everyone else that now hung over their friend.

The seepage stopped. The gaping wound closed, and, while Vonnie looked at it, faded away to blank, unblemished skin. When Emmie had treated Billy Ray, the wound closed only enough to stop bleeding. This was as though there had been no wound.

Ronald opened his eyes, blinked and peered about. He reached over and took Lila’s hand from where she rested it back in her lap. He forced a smile to shape his mouth, but it didn’t reach his eyes to conceal the agony his body had experienced and injury from which it yet suffered.

His quivering voice, straining to form each word, was barely loud enough to be heard. “I wondered just how deep your power went. I suspected, but I wasn’t sure.”

Vonnie’s hand was there in an instant, gingerly wiping away the viscous matter that painted his skin. With her mouth gaping wide in awe, she looked at Lila, then up at the others. Her voice was a whisper. “It’s healed – and not even a scar.”

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