CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-SEVEN
“Okay, what is going on?” Jill asked. “Spill it.”
“I’ve had this weird feeling all day,” Jacob said. “It’s not too surprising since I’ve been working so much and missing my girls terribly.”
“What do you mean ‘weird’ feeling?” Jill asked.
“Like a cold wind is blowing up my back,” Jacob said.
“It was pretty warm today and not windy,” Jill said.
“Yeah and I spent the day with a shovel in my hand. I was definitely not cold,” Jacob said.
“Do you think you’re getting sick?” Jill asked. “Charlie has strep.”
Jacob shook his head.
“I think it’s weird,” Jacob said. “The weirdness continued when I got home. Delphie told me Celeste found her granddaughter so I don’t have to worry anymore. Who the hell is Celeste? I was going to ask her but she was so sure I’d know that I just came up here.”
“Celeste is the woman ghost from the skeleton couple Delphie calls ‘the lovers’,” Jill said. “You probably don’t remember because you were… well, possessed at the time you met them.”
“I really have a lot better things to do than think about dead people.”
“Daddy hates ghosts,” Katy said.
Jacob looked down to see Katy’s wide awake eyes looking up at him.
“That’s right. I hate ghosts,” Jacob said. Turning to Katy, he asked, “Do you know Celeste?”
“She scared Noelle this morning before school,” Katy said. “I told her you would get rid of her if she kept it up.”
“She frightened Katy and Noelle,” Jill said.
“That’s not good,” Jacob said. “Maybe I should get rid of her.”
“Mommy told her to knock it off,” Katy said. “She hasn’t been scary since then.”
“Go Mommy,” Jacob said.
“Noelle is her granddaughter,” Jill said.
“Nuala is her daughter,” Jill said.
“Okay, ew,” Jacob said. “Aden married his…”
“Cousin, yes,” Jill said. “It’s weird.”
“It’s like a soap opera,” Jacob said. “Did someone come back from the dead?”
“Besides Delphie?” Jill asked.
“Are we related?” Jacob asked.
“Not unless Sam is a member of the Russian Mob,” Jill said. “Or Celia’s from Zimbabwe.”
“Not that I know of,” Jacob laughed. “But Sam could be from Zimbabwe and Celia could have been in the Russian Mob.”
“Very funny,” Jill said.
“OK, so Nuala is a Gilmore. She’s psycho enough to be a member of that family.”
“Noelle is terrified Saint Jude will come for her and Nash,” Jill said.
“I bet,” Jacob said.
Jacob got up from his chair. With Katy on his hip, he took a bowl from the cabinet and the Captain Crunch with Crunchberries.
“Hey,” Jill said. “What about dinner?”
“Dinner,” Jacob pointed to the bowl.
“No,” Jill said.
“No cereal, Daddy,” Katy said. “Makes you sick.”
“Too much cereal makes me sick,” Jacob said. “I haven’t had any since…”
“Last night’s dinner,” Jill said.
Jacob scowled at her but put the bowl and cereal back. He set the plate Delphie had given him in the microwave. They watched the plate rotate until he took it out and put it on the counter. Going around, he sat down on the stool. He took a forkful and offered it to Katy.
“I brushed my teeth,” Katy said.
“Good thinking,” Jacob said. “Would you …?”
He held the fork to Jill.
“You act like it’s poisoned,” Jill laughed. “Should we test it before his majesty eats his meal?”
“Eat your dinner,” Jill said.
Jacob put a fork into the casserole.
“You said you got a weird phone call,” Jill said.
“Right,” Jacob said. “Remember the guy who was trying to sell me haunted houses?”
“Like the mansion in Brighton? Where you sent Seth to find Jeffy?”
“Exactly,” Jacob set his fork down. “The real estate guy went by the mansion and it looked like the police had released the scene. I told him I doubted it because the police still haven’t released the chapel and they were here first. But I guess some developer has been pressuring the police. They want the property cleared so they can start building ASAP.”
“You don’t like the casserole?” Jill asked.
“Delphie made it?” Jacob asked.
“I thought it was really good,” Jill said.
“I love Delphie,” Jacob said. “But not her casserole.”
“What’s wrong with Delphie’s casserole?” Jill asked.
“I’ve always wondered the same thing,” Jacob laughed.
Shaking her head at him, Jill picked up his plate and took it to the sink.
“No cereal,” Jill said.
“That’s all right,” Jacob said. “We can pick up something on our way.”
Jacob stood up.
“Our way where?” Jill asked.
“Brighton,” Jacob said. “Didn’t I say that?”
“No,” Jill said. “If it’s a property thing, why don’t you go and I’ll get Katy to bed?”
“Because I just realized why I’ve been cold all day,” Jacob said.
“And?” Jill asked.
“Come on,” Jacob said. “I’ll tell you on the way.”
“I still don’t see why Katy and I should go,” Jill said.
“Have you met Seth’s girlfriend?” Jacob asked.
“Amelie Alvin,” Jacob said.
“You introduced me to her and her mother last night,” Jill said. “At the symphony.”
“She’s so smoking hot, she’s ice cold,” Jacob said.
Outraged, Jill opened her mouth in shock. He laughed.
“You know her from?” Jill asked.
“High school. She was a freshman when I was a senior,” Jacob said. “We used to call her Arousing Alvin.”
“The lacrosse team,” Jacob said. “She played on the freshman team. Everyone had a nickname.”
“She’s in the barn,” Jacob’s face shifted to dead serious. “She needs my help, your help.”
“Oh my God,” Jill said. “They’ve been looking for her all day. She was taken by the…”
Jill’s eyes shifted to Katy.
“We need to call the police,” Jill said.
“No,” Jacob said.
“If Seth had called the police, Jeffy would…”
“She needs us, Jill,” Jacob said. “Trust me.”
Jill’s eyes scanned his face. With a nod, she got her jacket and Katy’s jacket. They started down the long stairwell to find Delphie waiting for them at the door.
“Guess who just arrived?” Delphie asked.
Jill and Jacob looked at each other then back at Delphie. Jill managed to slop Katy’s jacket on without Jacob setting her down.
“You’ll never guess,” Delphie said. “I’ll just tell you. Teddy’s Dad. He’s just about to take the kids for a night helicopter ride. He says the city is gorgeous at night.”
“Seriously?” Jacob asked. “Zack’s here?”
“He came about that whole satellite thing,” Delphie leaned forward conspiratorially. “It took him a month to get home from Afghanistan. Tonight’s the ‘scared straight’ night.”
“They’re going to the prisons tonight?” Jill asked.
Delphie nodded her head.
“He’ll take us to Brighton,” Delphie said. “Seth’s already on his way there.”
Katy clapped her hands.
“I’ll just get my jacket,” Delphie said.
Tuesday night — 8:45 P.M.
Sandy brought two mugs of hot chocolate out to the apartment living room. Sissy met her there. Fresh from a shower, Sissy had a towel wrapped around her hair like a turban. Sandy nodded toward the couch. Sissy sat down, took a mug from Sandy then set the mug down on the side table.
“You promised to drink it,” Sandy said as she sat down. “It’s the last of today’s calories.”
“I’m going to drink it,” Sissy said. “I’m not screwing up, Sandy.”
Sissy picked up the mug and took a drink of the cocoa. Sandy smiled at Sissy’s chocolate mustache.
“What do you want to do with your hair?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t know,” Sissy said. “I used to keep it long for ballet, but it doesn’t matter much now.”
“You’re not dancing ballet at all anymore?” Sandy asked.
“Not for at least a year,” Sissy said.
Sandy furrowed her eyebrows. She covered her frustrated surprise with a drink of her cocoa.
“Oh that’s really good,” Sandy said. “I hope Rachel doesn’t mind the chocolate too much.”
“Rachel’s eating good now,” Sissy said. “She’s four pounds.”
“And gaining weight,” Sandy said. “The docs think she’ll be off oxygen soon.”
“When can she come home?” Sissy asked.
“She has to be eating on her own, gaining weight and able to maintain her own body temperature,” Sandy said. “She can do all of that but she’s still struggling to breathe on her own.”
“But no surgery?” Sissy asked.
“The holes in her heart have mostly closed,” Sandy said. “We’ve been really lucky.”
“And Jill’s helped,” Sissy said.
“You are not supposed to know about Jill’s secret,” Sandy said.
“I’ve always known about Jill.” Sissy gave a know-it-all-little-sister smile.
Sandy laughed and Sissy beamed.
“How do you like living with us?” Sandy asked.
“I love living here,” Sissy said. “It’s like a dream come true.”
“I’m glad,” Sandy said.
“Aden’s pretty dreamy,” Sissy said. “Charlie calls him Shi-dai. What’s that?”
“Little father,” Sandy said. “I bet Aden would like it if you called him that too.”
“He might not want to be my father.” Sissy said. The sorrow that was never far from Sissy’s heart shone in her eyes.
“Don’t be dumb,” Sandy said. “Aden and I want to adopt you and Charlie.”
“Even if I’m not in ballet?” Sissy asked. “You seemed mad when I said I wasn’t dancing.”
“Mad?” Sandy asked. “Not at you. I’ve been paying for your ballet lessons for years. I’m… frustrated at myself for not knowing you weren’t taking them.”
“And at Mom for spending the money?” Sissy asked.
“Seems like that’s just what she does,” Sandy said. “Or did. Have you heard from her?”
Sissy shook her head.
“I haven’t either,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we call her tomorrow night when you get home from work? How do you like working at Lipson Construction?”
“It’s really fun,” Sissy said. “There’s a bunch of kids. Nash, Teddy and Charlie are there. I see them when we clock in then we go to our teams. I’m working on the road crew with a couple high school girls. Did you know Valerie used to be on the sign crew before she was a movie star?”
“Val and Jake worked all the way through high school,” Sandy said. “They worked filled in on the night crews and worked full-time in the summers. I think they worked every summer when they were in college too.”
“That’s what she said,” Sissy said. “She said the sign girls are one of the most important part of the entire company. I just hold the sign, smile at the drivers, stay sharp on the com and watch out for trouble. I think it’s pretty easy and I really like making money.”
“You’re the only one who gets to keep it,” Sandy said.
“I feel a bad because I would definitely have been there if I wasn’t locked away in treatment,” Sissy said.
“Nash said you buy them ice cream and stuff,” Sandy said. “That’s nice of you but not necessary. They really screwed up.”
“Oh I know,” Sissy said. “Is it bad that I’m glad they’re all gone tonight?”
“It’s nice to spend some alone time together,” Sandy said.
“I got really excited when Aden said he would stay with Rachel,” Sissy said.
Sandy gave her little sister a quick hug.
“I have something to talk to you about,” Sandy said. “Promise you’ll hear me out?”
“If it’s rules of dating, I’m all set,” Sissy said. “Aden told us all about condoms. He showed us how to use them on bananas. We almost died from embarrassment. But Aden said if we didn’t know anyone our age who was having sex, we didn’t have to talk about it. But I know lots of girls. Noelle too. I think he wants us to be safe not sick. That’s what he said. It’s nice but so…”
Sissy giggled. Aden had talked to Noelle and Sissy about safe sex while Jacob had talked to the Teddy, Nash and Charlie. Sandy had bought boxes of condoms and left them in their bathroom. She knew a lot of parents would disagree or say she was promoting sex. She’d rather know they were safe. Sandy smiled.
“Now that Charlie’s seeing Addy again, I bet he’ll need all those condoms!” Sissy giggled.
“Do you know Addy?” Sandy asked.
“She’s one of Charlie’s girlfriends,” Sissy said. “Charlie has a lot of them. Wait ‘til school starts, the girls are all over him. He says he’s pretty careful so they don’t get pregnant. Of course, I’d have to have a period to get pregnant.”
“You will,” Sandy said. “Then we’ll talk about birth control.”
“I’d have to have even one boyfriend,” Sissy said.
“You will,” Sandy said. “Soon enough. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Okay, lay it on me,” Sissy said.
“I set up an interview for you,” Sandy said.
“For a job? I have a job! I really like my job!”
“For the Colorado Ballet,” Sandy said.
“WHAT?” Sissy looked horrified. “What are you talking about?”
“Aden called them while I was in the hospital,” Sandy said. “I told him about your lessons and he called to find out when more about the program.”
“You knew I wasn’t taking classes then,” Sissy said.
“I knew you weren’t going to the Colorado Ballet,” Sandy pointed her index finger to her temple and twirled it. “It crazy, but it never occurred to me that you weren’t dancing ballet somewhere. And, as of tomorrow, you will be.”
“How?” Sissy asked. “I haven’t danced in forever. I’ll never get in.”
“I talked to your old instructor, Ivan,” Sandy said. “He told me they’d interview you for the main summer classes. He said if you didn’t make it, he would take you as a private student until you’re ready to join the others.”
“I don’t make enough money to pay for private lessons,” Sissy said.
“Lucky for you, we do,” Sandy said.
“But I can’t…”
“You love ballet,” Sandy said. “You love to dance.”
“What about treatment?” Sissy asked. “I can’t stay with you if I get sick again. That was my agreement with Aden. We shook hands on it and everything.”
“Aden made an appointment for all of us to meet with your counselor on Monday,” Sandy said. “Ivan’s going to be there too. He said he would be more than willing to help. You remember what Ivan always said.”
“Starving only makes you weak,” Sissy said.
“Great dancers are strong,” Sandy said.
“He seemed excited to teach you again,” Sandy said. “But we didn’t think you should go to the School of American Ballet again.”
“Because of treatment?” Sissy asked.
“Because you’d be in New York for four weeks,” Sandy said. “I just got you back. I don’t want to lose you, even for just four weeks.”
“I went when I was twelve,” Sissy said. “Maybe I can go next year.”
“Do I get to keep working?” Sissy asked.
“If you can fit it in,” Sandy said.
Smiling, Sissy picked up her cocoa and drank it down.
“So what do you want to do with your hair?” Sandy asked.
“Can we dye it?” Sissy asked.
“You want purple hair?”
“Just a little underneath,” Sissy said.
“Sure,” Sandy said.
“Noelle wants purple too,” Sissy said.
Shaking her head, Sandy laughed.
Tuesday night — 9:15 P.M.
Ava opened her eyes then slammed them shut. Feeling the wet, warm sensation of breath on her face, she had to look. She stared into the face of a monster.
In all of her twenty-three years, she had never seen anything so terrifying. The creature was a pitch black serpent with black translucent wings. It had chicken leg like skeletal arms and legs. Razor sharp teeth lined its almost canine jaw. Its large black eyes with red pinpoint pupils filled what would have been a forehead. The eyes locked on Ava’s.
Horrified, Ava began to hyperventilate. The leather strap constricted her throat. Knowing she would die if she didn’t calm her breath, she started to truly panic. She fought with her breath.
The creature lifted a skeletal claw with blade-like talons and pointed to Ava’s face. Unable to move, Ava watched the talon come toward her face. She shut her eyes and felt the talon rip into her right cheek. Terrified, she began to pass out.
She heard music.
The woman had returned. She was humming a tune.
“Will you hum with me?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know the song,” Ava said.
“You don’t?” the woman asked.
The music swelled and Ava recognized the song. She was listening to the movie track of her favorite movie. She loved that CD. She’d listened to it so much that she’d worn it out – twice. The music always lifted her heart and gave her hope. Feeling a moment of elevation, Ava opened her eyes.
And saw the creature laugh at her.
The rotten stench of its breath blew hot against her face surrounding bald head in a cloud of darkness. The creature opened its horrible mouth. Its terrible black tongue dripping with clear mucus stretched out to lick the blood off her cheek. Ava felt the wound open and pour blood into the creatures mouth. Ava panicked.
“There, there,” the woman’s voice entered her ears.
“This… thing…” Ava said.
“You don’t have to look,” the woman said.
“It’s right in front of me!”
“So is the sun, but you don’t look into the sun do you?” The woman gave a sweet laugh. “Don’t look, Amelie. You don’t have to.”
Ava shut her eyes. And the music returned. Ava hummed.
“They’re on their way,” the woman said. “Your job is to be alive when they get here.”
“Even if I make it,” Ava said. “I can’t fight this thing.”
“Don’t worry. The people who are coming are capable of dealing with his kind. They’ve done it before,” the woman said. “Seth will be here with them.”
The woman’s voice caressed Seth’s name. Ava had to ask.
“You know Seth?” Ava asked.
“He was my love,” the woman said.
“Bonita?” Ava asked.
The woman smiled. A toddler appeared on her lap. Another boy hung on her arm.
“Will you tell him something from us?” the woman asked.
“Anything,” Ava said.
“Tell him the music he sent rescued us,” the woman said. “We are at peace. Remind him to remember what he noticed. He’s forgotten. He’ll know what that means.”
“If I get the chance, I’ll tell him,” Ava said.
“I’m with him every day,” the woman said.
“You pushed him into the river at Sand Creek,” Ava said.
“I did,” the woman said. “You might say that I’m the pain in his ass.”
Ava smiled at Bonita’s joke. They heard a helicopter pass overhead. The creature screeched with rage. Ava felt a wave of horror rip through her body.
“They’re here. And so am I,” Bonita said. “This will be over very soon.”
Tuesday night — 9:25 P.M.
Looking for a place to land, Zack brought the helicopter in low over the barn.
“What’s the ground like?” Zack asked Jacob through the intercom.
“Two feet of mud,” Jacob said.
“That’s what I thought.”
Zack maneuvered the helicopter toward a slip of cement left from the demolished house near the barn. When the helicopter touched down, one of the crew opened the door.
“You kids stay here,” Jacob said. “We’ll be right back.”
Jacob, Jill and Delphie climbed out of the helicopter and ran across the mud toward the barn. They were almost to the barn when they heard: “MMMOOOOMMMMMYYYY!!” Trailing Charlie, Nash, Noelle and Teddy, Katy ran across the mud to them. Jill jogged back to scoop up Katy.
“Go back!” Jacob yelled to the children.
“What?” Charlie yelled over the helicopter.
The kids continued toward them until they were standing outside the barn. Hearing a sound, they looked up to see the creature’s horrible head peering down at them from the rooftop. The creature screeched at Jacob.
Noelle and Nash screamed with pain. Holding their ears, they collapsed to the dirt.
“Protect them!” Delphie screamed.
“Charlie! Teddy! Do it now!” Jacob yelled.
Charlie and Teddy knelt down around Noelle and Nash. Seth pulled his car into the gravel driveway of the mansion. In on motion, Seth stepped out, put his arm over the hood of the Bugatti and emptied the clip of his handgun into the creature. The creature laughed at his efforts. Flying above, the creature spread his wings and screeched at Seth. Noelle and Nash cowered in pain.
“Jill! Stay with the kids,” Jacob yelled. “I’ll let you know when you can come.”
Jacob kissed her cheek. She stroked his cheek, ran to the children and set Katy down. Reloading his handgun while he ran, Seth joined them on the hill.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Jacob said.
“Ava?” Seth asked. He holstered his weapon.
“She’s inside,” Delphie said. “We have to get her away from…”
Delphie gestured toward the creature. Seth nodded.
“Listen for me. Come when I call you,” Jacob said to Seth. Turning to Delphie, he said, ”Ready?”
“Ready,” Delphie said. Jill nodded.
With a nod, Jacob and Delphie ran into the barn.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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