Valley Of Shadow
I can’t make the car move fast enough. Weaving through the traffic, I have no idea where I’m going, but know I need to get there. Fast.
This cannot be coincidence. The SUV’s have to have something to do with the crew-cut at the hospital. I gave them my apartment address, but the nurse’s aid knew who I was with when I left. Had I known I’d be sent for, I wouldn’t have been so free with information. They must have gone to Abi’s straight from the hospital.
My mind races trying to process the bits of information and keep to the speed limit.
They weren’t following me from the hospital, but decided at some point that I’m important enough to go after. Or maybe they weren’t expecting me to run. Why start searching Abi’s place, though? If they thought I’d show up there, why not wait until I arrived? Whatever they’re looking for must be something they don’t trust me to hand over.
They’re after the wrong guy, though. I’m not the one that made the time travel possible. I don’t know what did that. The questions and phenomena race through my head creating more confusion, because I’m nobody. I know nothing. One thing is clear: I have to be careful. Think in terms of necessity and concentrate on one problem at a time.
I think of the box my dad left me and the disc from Jeanines computer. I haven’t even watched whatever is on it and my life has already changed. The very next thing on my list, right after keeping my freedom, is the DVD. Maybe whatever information it holds will provide some answers, help me decide what to do next.
The area I’m driving through is crowded with groups of pedestrians, slowing the flow of traffic. Outside my window is a crowded park. The perfect place to blend in with its large, open fields full of picnickers scattered between clusters of colorful decorations, balloons, and bouncy castles that mark children’s birthday parties.
Parking in the first available space, the sun is hot and bright. Not ideal conditions for viewing on an electronic screen. Even if I closed the sunroof, the residual light will be too much. When the road is clear, I pull away from the curb and start making the rounds, searching for a spot in the shade. After circling the long block several times, I get lucky. An ice cream truck moves from a spot beneath a sprawling Oak. I zoom into the space, cutting off a Honda and ignore the blaring horn and finger perching in the window.
Once the computer’s ready to go, I set the large shade in place to block the light from the windshield and close the sunroof. Removing the recorded DVD from over the visor, I place the disc into the tray and close it.
Exactly like before, I wait with baited breath as the screen turns from black to the same dim scene inside my father’s room. Or nearly the same; the shot is wider so his bed and the far wall are visible with a clear view of the door that leads out to the hall rather than the simple, close shot of him like the previous video. He’s sitting in his wheelchair again, with his hands folded in his lap. I notice right away he’s dressed up in a clean white shirt and a clip-on bowtie I gave him when the arthritis got bad. Over that, he’s wearing his favorite sweater vest. He combs what remains of his hair on one side with his fingers, then clears his throat.
“Is this thing on? I hope so, because I’m not doing this twice.” A dark smirk appears and fades. “Well, Gerry, it’s Thursday. The day you come back and I . . . go away.”
My dad raises one hand, rubbing it across the back of his head. At that moment, I’m doing the same thing.
He apologizes and I wish he could hear mine. His voice quivers. “I want you to know that I’m not afraid. Maybe I should be, but I know you can set things right. Whatever sounds reasonable to the rest of us, you do the opposite so that will help. Even if you’re mad at me for what I’m about to do, you have to know, there is no other choice. I like to think of it as hedging my bets. Sacrifice with purpose.”
He hobbles over to his bed and I notice the marked wrinkles in his dressy trousers. They gather again as lies down. He fidgets, resting his arms in different spots before crossing them over his chest and clasping his hands. The positioning is curious—as if he’s waiting for the casket.
“I love you, son. If you don’t want to see this, you’d better stop the tape now.”
Once satisfied, he’s very still. So am I. Is he so attuned to the presence of the Angel of Death that he knows the second his soul is required?
He jumps when Jeanine enters, holding a covered tray. He tells her he’s not hungry, so she leaves his lunch on the bedside table as he shoos her out the door. “Make sure you tell her I said ‘thank you.’”
Alone once again, he assumes the former pose and begins to hum. The resonance rises as he begins to sing. Amazing Grace, his favorite church song.
If I were the type of person with any sort of religion, I’d be losing it about half way through the second chorus, as his bedroom door opens again.
In one split-second, all the scattered pieces and circumstances find their common thread. The one piece that connects the twisted chain of events. A seeming coincidence which reveals there never was one. Everything I’ve experienced has been a result of purposeful placing of carefully set pieces by a masterful player. Moves carried out by one man, a lunatic, who for his own twisted reasons has targeted me and my family.
“Nahuiollin, I’ve been waiting for you.” My dad’s still lying down with arms now folded neatly over his chest.
The bearded menace slithers like a snake to his bedside, hissing. “Where are they?”
“You’ll never find them.”
“Liar!” He spits, following with curses and a flow of words in a foreign language. His dirty hands grip around my dad’s neck. “Where are they?”
“Stop!” I’m banging on the screen as if it’s a window I can crawl through to save him.
I can’t take my eyes off Daemon’s hands wrapped around my fathers’ neck. He bares his teeth, relishing the brutality, forcing his grasp tighter and tighter. Constricting, shaking, and squeezing the life from him. My father doesn’t even seem to care. In fact, he seems determined to take the appointment lying down.
But then, Dad starts to squirm as his complexion changes.
I hear myself begging and can’t stop.
Not until his legs do.
Not until he goes still . . . so still . . .
Daemon pulls up the sheet. Neatly tucks it over his shoulders. Shuts out the lights and leaves.
All that’s left is a dark room.
No meaning to any of it.
With my sister . . . I was reliving what already happened. It was tragic and sad and I’ll always hate myself for it. But there was some consolation in that tragedy; knowing that I had not, at the very least, made things worse. I witnessed the way things were. My failure to change the past simply cemented my suspicion that her death was and is completely my fault. I have felt the loss for decades and continue trying to cope with it . . .
But this . . . this is my dad.
The weight is so profound it takes time to absorb. And when it does, it just feels worse.
I look to the monitor, staring into the darkened room until Jeanine walks in and sees my dad with his eyes closed and walks towards her computer. The screen goes black.
The man left lying so still and alone, raised me all by himself. After Mom left, there were days he couldn’t get out of bed. He started drinking and eventually lost his job. We lost our home. Then, one day he woke up, dried out, and devoted himself to taking care of me.
All the times I got into trouble, the nights when I stayed out past curfew, got caught with a girl in my room or ditching school, or when I lied about my grades, he never made me feel like any of my offenses were unforgiveable. I could confess, accept my punishment and things would go on as if nothing happened. He never treated me differently or judged me. I trusted him. He was my best friend. I told him everything that happened that morning with my sister. He said that I should forgive myself.
How can all that turn into this? How can someone do that and just leave like this was no earth shattering event? As if my father’s years on this earth meant nothing? Like his life and its’ ending weren’t important? How can Jeanine see him afterward and not know?
Just when I think there’s nothing left to take, I lose everything: my mind, my ability to reason, all sense of control.
The paradigm within me shifts.
And there is no black or white anymore.
The only thing I see—the only thing that makes sense—is red.
Alone against the wall inside the parks’ restroom, unaware of how or when I moved to this place—I’m waiting for reason to be restored, for the world to make sense again, but the answers won’t find me here.
The sky is dark now and so am I.
It’s like having an out of body experience as I move toward my BMW. The car I spent countless hours pining over, worrying about how I was going to fix it. Looking at the outside, I know that only a few hours ago I would have cared about the chips and indentions my foot made on the fender. I notice, but find nothing upsetting about the navigation screen I broke with my laptop. Before I watched that video, this car was the thing I cared most for in this world. But now, everything is different. There’s only one thing on my mind.
A led light blinks from my phone on the passenger seat. The caller ID shows Abi’s smiling face. A small part of me knows I should talk to her. But the detached part of me that’s in control right now starts the car, sets a foot on the gas and tosses the phone into the street.
Nothing is left of what used to be. There is no turning back now and nothing to go back to. No more apartment, no job, and no friends. No more girlfriend. No family. None of that matters, now.
She can’t help me. I can’t help myself.
There’s only one place I can go—the one spot on the planet where I have no known connections and no one would ever think to look for me—the first place I should’ve went because my dad asked me to. He asked me to, posthaste. I have no idea what my father wants me to do once I get there, but he never would have asked if there wasn’t a purpose. Whatever his rationale, I know it will help me get to Daemon and most importantly, make him suffer.