CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY-FIVE
Seth looked up from his fishing rod and noticed dark clouds rolling in. The wind picked up on the big lake at City Park. The snow capped mountains were almost completely covered with pregnant clouds. In the distance, the rain pounded the foothills.
“Looks like it’s going to storm,” Seth said.
“Don’t worry,” his younger brother Silas said. “It gets like this sometimes.”
“If you don’t like the weather in Colorado,” Seth started.
“Wait fifteen minutes.” The boys laughed at the oft repeated saying.
A gust of wind began to whip the tree above them. Worried, Seth glanced at the branches. The old men who’d appeared to be fishing vanished into the scenery around the boys. They were alone. His older brother began pulling in his line.
“Don’t want to get it tangled,” Saul said. “Nothing’s worse than having to untangle a line.”
Mimicking Saul’s actions, Seth and Silas pulled in their lines. When they were done, Saul took the fishing poles from them and leaned them against the tree trunk. He sat back down.
Before Seth’s eyes, Saul began to age. His image shifted from a bright twelve year old boy to a worn, filthy twenty year old. His US Army uniform hung on his emaciated body. Seth turned to Silas to say something about Saul when he saw Silas had grown into his pink haired, daisy duke wearing thirty year old self. The lake in front of him transformed into the modern contours of Ferril Lake.
“I’m dying,” Seth said.
“Not quite,” Saul said.
“We’ll be here no matter what happens.”
“Like you were for us,” Saul said.
“I wasn’t with you, Saul, when you died,” Seth said. “You died a prisoner in Laos.”
“Weren’t you?” Saul began to hum a piece of the Concerto Seth had written when he’d left for Vietnam. “That tune ran through my mind all four hundred and twelve days I was in that camp. Just when I thought I’d go crazy to hear it again, I began to relish every note. The music nurtured me and led me home. Only my brother Seth could love me like that.”
“Do you remember the ragtime you wrote for me?” Silas said.
“I played it at your funeral,” Seth said.
“I followed those notes to Mom and Saul,” Silas said. “Remember how terrified I was of being alone? The music accompanied me until I found them; you accompanied me until I found them. I was never alone.”
“That’s why we’re here. We’re here to keep you from getting lost.”
“Like you kept us from getting lost,” Saul said. “No matter what.”
Saul held his hand out to Seth and Seth took it. Silas tucked his fingers into Seth’s other hand. A lightning bolt hit the lake in front of them and rain began to pound down. The tree sheltered them from the violence of the storm, but they were soon dripping wet.
“Whatever happens, we’ll be here with you,” Saul yelled over the deluge.
“Every time,” Silas yelled.
“Until whatever end,” Saul yelled.
Seth closed his eyes to say a silent prayer of thanks for his brothers. They were here. He wasn’t alone. And he wouldn’t get lost.
No matter what.
Wednesday evening — 7:10 P.M.
“Why is Katy going with Heather and Tanesha?” Jacob said.
He started Jill’s SUV and followed Mike and Valerie out of the Castle driveway. Taking an immediate left at the light, they were making their way to the 270 and the Brighton resting place of the black serpent.
“I thought we could use this time as a chance to talk,” Jill said.
“You’ve been avoiding me today,” Jill said.
“I have?” Jacob asked.
“Why is that funny?” Jacob asked.
“While I’m pregnant with your boys, I can read your mind,” Jill said. “It’s funny to hear you lie.”
“You’re the one who says random mind reading is rude.” Jacob gave her an irritated look.
“I don’t know how to control it,” Jill said. “For the record, I hate it. People’s thoughts are noisy and generally pretty stupid. School is hell. That woman I hated? Ms. Cornielle? I just feel sorry for her now. She’s really unhappy.”
“And it helps me understand you better,” Jill said. “What’s wrong, Jacob? Just tell me.”
“Do you miss Trevor?” Jacob asked.
“Trevor? No.” Surprised, Jill touched the ‘Soul Mates’ tattoo on her wrist.“Why?
“Delphie said you were being moody because the anniversary is next Saturday,” Jacob said.
“Oh,” Jill said. “Huh.”
“She’s wrong,” Jill said. “I haven’t known her to be wrong. I wonder if the babies block her.”
“She said I should figure it out myself and did I remember what happened last summer.” Jacob repeated what Delphie had said.
“Oh, that’s a little different,” Jill said.
“What happened last summer that I should remember?” Jacob asked. “I remembered meeting you at the engagement party, getting injured, Katy’s bee sting, making love for the first time, and…”
“I think I’m tired because I’m pregnant,” Jill said. “I’m moody because I almost never see my husband any more. I could really use some Jacob time. I know Katy could as well.”
“And Trevor?” Jacob pressed.
“There were a lot of things that happened at that party, Jacob,” Jill said.
“You’re really freaked out about this,” Jill smiled at him. “Okay, you tell me. What happened at that party?”
“Honey was almost killed,” he said.
“Heather got pregnant with the gorgeous Mac.”
“Valerie ‘came out’ to her friends and everyone met Mike,” he said.
“I wore an amazing red velvet dress for Claire Martins,” she said.
“You were gorgeous,” he said. “You started working for her line. Val’s been modeling the pregnancy line. Will you do that?”
“I think so but I’m not sure,” Jill said. “What else happened?”
“Trevor was killed,” he said.
“By my father,” Jill said. “Yes, that happened. And what else?”
“I don’t know,” Jacob said. “What else?”
“My baby Katy was kidnapped with her best friend Paddie,” Jill said. “I just feel like she’s been through so much. She saw Trevor get shot that night too. Then all this crap with the serial killer and evil serpent and…”
“Trevor’s parents want to spend Saturday with her,” Jill said. “They accept that she’s not Trevor’s child. But Trevor thought she was his child and that’s enough for them. They want to go to the cemetery with her.”
“Katy wants to spend the day with Paddie like they always do,” Jill said. “She doesn’t like Trevor’s parents or really understand why they want to see her. She’s also a little scared, which makes me a little scared.”
“Like are they going to kidnap her? They already tried to get full custody. What if they hold her for ransom? Which they totally would do,” Jill said. “Plus all of Trevor’s friends are going to be around.”
“We won’t let her go,” Jacob said.
“It’s not that easy,” Jill said.
“Why not? We’re her parents. We have legal custody of her. We don’t want her to go,” Jacob said. “Seems pretty simple.”
Jill turned away from him to look out the passenger side window. They lapsed into silence. Jill turned on the radio and they shifted to chatting about other things. When they turned off onto the road toward the Brighton Barn, Jacob flicked off the radio.
“Why don’t we set up a date day?” Jacob asked. “We could ask Colin and Julie if they could take Katy on Saturday. We could go for a hike or whatever. It would give us a chance to really talk.”
“You don’t have to work Saturday?” Jill asked.
“We’re closed this weekend,” Jacob said. “The employees voted to take a Saturday off every eight weeks in the summer. This is the first one.”
“That’s why Aden wants to go somewhere,” Jill said.
“It’s his last chance before coming back full time and before things start popping in the late summer,” Jacob pulled up behind MJ and Honey’s van in the circular gravel driveway. “Date day?”
“Sounds really nice,” Jill said. “But maybe we should plan a date morning. I know Katy’s been missing you too. I’ll ask Julie if Katy can sleep over. And Trevor’s parents?”
“I don’t see why we have to accommodate them,” Jacob said.
“It’s not that easy,” Jill started.
Turning to look at him, she was about to continue when she saw he wasn’t listening. His entire focus went to the barn and the adults, children, and dogs walking toward it.
“Are you all right?” Jill asked.
He jerked back to the present and turned to look at her.
“We need to do this and do it well,” Jacob said. “The creature is not happy his mate is dead and their babies destroyed.”
Jill took his hand and squeezed it. They got out of the car to face the creature together.
Wednesday evening — 7:40 P.M.
Ava stood at the end of Seth’s bed. His face was grey in color and partially obscured by the breathing tube. The monitors danced a blue rhythm that meant Seth was stable. But the tight knot in Ava’s stomach whispered another story.
She went around the bed to hold his hand. Not cold, not warm. It was as if Seth was hanging between life and death.
Updating Technician Alvin on her protocol, ICU Chief doctor rattled through the results. The surgery had been successful. The younger men were already showing improvement. Seth had stabilized. The dialysis followed by a course of steroids were also effective. The patients seemed to be clearing the toxin from their system. He felt confident that the younger men would be awake by tomorrow morning. He agreed with the team from Geneva and they would be ready with pain medication when the men woke up.
“It comes down to age,” the doctor had said. “Detective O’Malley is in excellent health, in some ways better health than the younger men.
“But?” Ava asked.
“He received twice the dose,” the doctor’s callous updating voice never wavered. “And he’s an old guy.”
The doctor picked up Seth’s chart to review it.
“And that means exactly?”
“He has sixty year old organs,” the doctor shrugged. “It’s unlikely he’ll recover fully.”
Ava must have made a noise because the doctor jerked his head up to look at her. His eyes squinted at her reaction. With a nod, he left her at the end of the bed.
“He’s an old guy.”
Hearing the doctor’s voice in her head, she plopped down in a chair and dropped her head into her hands. What had she expected? She was dating a man who was almost three times her age. At some point, she would end up in some hospital by his bedside.
“He can be a real ass,” a woman’s voice came from the edge of Seth’s bed. Ava looked up to see an ICU nurse. “He doesn’t mean it. Mostly. Or that’s what I tell myself when he acts like that.”
“The doctor?” Ava asked.
“You’re not the first family member he’s freaked out,” the nurse said. “Should I call the social worker? You can file a complaint.”
“I’m too tired to talk to anyone,” Ava said.
The nurse nodded to her. Ava picked up Seth’s hand again. It seemed warmer. Maybe that was a good thing.
“I remember you,” the nurse said.
“You do?” Ava asked
“You were just over there not too long ago,” the nurse nodded to indicate where her ICU bed had been. “We snuck him in past your father and the cameras.”
“Seth?” Ava asked.
“He was really sweet,” the nurse said. “He said he was afraid the darkness would take you. He got in bed with you and held you.”
“He did?” Ava asked.
“He stayed about an hour before your father pitched a fit about not being able to see you.” The nurse smiled. “Of course, it’s against regulations for a guest to stay that long but… A couple of us know Detective O’Malley.”
“Know?” Thinking they were old girlfriends, Ava blushed.
“He caught the drunken bastard who ran over my nephew,” the nurse said. “Brought peace and justice to my sister and our whole family. A couple other girls have similar stories.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Ava said.
“See, I knew if he loved you so much, you must be good people,” the nurse said. “If you want to get in bed with him, I won’t stop you. Just don’t mess with the monitors or tubes.”
Ava kicked off her Dansko clogs. She went to the end of Seth’s bed and, with the nurse’s help, she climbed in.
“You have about an hour before our shift change. You should probably get out then,” the nurse said. “I bet love is exactly what he needs right now.”
Wednesday evening — 8:40 P.M.
Mike wiped the dirt off his hands onto his jeans and stood up. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected tonight. He’d certainly heard all about scary creatures and the battle against evil. All kinds of things. He’d even heard about the bright light that emanated from his Valerie with the help of Noelle and Nash. There just was no way anyone could have prepared him for this.
The action had started the moment they arrived. Jacob yelled that the creature was fighting to escape. Valerie jumped into action. Within moments the women and children locked arms. Intent to support them, he, Jacob, Aden and Sam stood ready to jump in. But those ladies did not need their help. A radiant light burst from his Valerie. As if drawn by a magnet, the light dove in to the earth.
And they fought.
With Katy in her arms, Jill, supported by Jacob, managed to hold everyone upright. The earth shook and the men fell to the ground. The sky seemed to rain ash. Lightning sprung from no where. At one crucial moment, Jill seemed to collapse. Charlie rushed to her side. With Charlie on one side, Teddy behind, and Sissy on the other, they held Jill upright over the jerking, rolling earth.
And the light hung on.
“Everyone all right?” Valerie yelled.
As if it had never happened, the earth became shockingly still. The sky filled with bright stars.
“Is that it?” Valerie yelled from where she, Nash, Noelle, Honey, Sandy, Rachel, Heather and Mac stood. “Jake! Is that it?”
“I think that’s it,” Jacob said from somewhere to Mike’s left. Mike helped him to his feet. “Delphie?”
“He’s gone,” Delphie said.
“The Shamans are leaving,” Jacob said.
Honey began to hoot with joy and a general cheer rose up. The kids screamed and jumped up and down. Sam helped Delphie up. Aden rushed to Sandy. Jacob grabbed Jill. And he rushed to Valerie.
“How are you?” Mike asked.
“Great!” Valerie beamed. He picked her off the ground and spun her around.
“That was amazing,” Valerie said.
Mike looked up to see everyone laughing and hugging. He smiled at Valerie.
“Party at the Castle?” Valerie asked and got general applause in return.
“What’s the proper celebration after saving the world from evil?” Sam asked.
“Pizza!” Noelle said.
“You had pizza last night,” Sandy said.
“Pizza!” Charlie and Teddy said.
“Pizza!” Honey said and hugged Sissy.
“Pizza it is,” Sam said. “I’ll call.”
“Let’s go home!” Valerie said.
As if nothing had happened, they got back in their cars. It wasn’t until Mike was sitting in the driver’s seat of his old Bronco that he began to laugh.
“What’s funny?” Valerie asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “Everything. What a night!”
As if it was whispered in his ear, Seth heard very clearly:
“Don’t leave me O’Malley. I love you.”
Seth looked at Saul and Silas.
“Did you hear that?” Seth asked.
“She’s a total babe, brother,” Saul said. “How do you always manage to get the babes?”
“She seems so young,” Seth said. “I don’t have any idea what I was thinking.”
“Oh Seth,” Silas said. “She loves you. Who cares how old she is?”
“You’re not her father. It’s not your job to make sure she finds an age appropriate mate,” Saul said. “Do you love her?”
“I gave her Mom’s ring,” Seth said.
“The one she always wore?” Saul asked. “Wow.”
“Then who cares?” Silas asked. “When you get here, the only thing that matters is the people you loved and those who loved you back. All that other stuff – money, age, gender, color, whatever – don’t matter. Only love.”
“How do you always get the babes?” Saul asked. “That girl you met at Eastman was flaming hot. She was my… inspiration for years.”
Saul blushed to his ears. Silas squealed with laughter. Seth shook his head at his brothers. Despite himself, he had to laugh.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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