Friday, October 23, 2009

Prologue: The Side Effect of Sleep (An Excerpt from The Soulkeepers)

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took of them all which they chose.”  Genesis 6:1-2

A single choice can change a life forever.

Jacob Lau had a choice to make.  If he believed a person was only as good as the worst thing they had ever done, than he should go.  After all, no one in their right mind would remain in the apartment without a good reason. Not with the smell of dirty dishes and the sound of gnawing teeth that came from the walls.  Or, the scurry of multi-legged things that hid when the lights came on.  No one should stay alone and hungry.  But, the problem was that Jacob Lau did not believe a person was only as good as the worst thing they had ever done, especially when that person was his mother.
She wasn’t a bad mother.  She tried hard.  But, since his dad died, something about her was broken, something important. Often, he wondered if that place she went to, the dark prison of sadness that left her unresponsive, was permanent, but then, the sun would rise, and the weight of whatever burden had held her would be gone as mysteriously as it had come. But this, this might be too much.  This could be the thing that gave him permission to hate her. Abandoned was such an ugly word.
It was tempting. One phone call and the gnawing pain in his stomach would be history.  They’ll take me away again, he thought. The hard truth was all they had was each other. If he left, there would be no one to take care of her and he would have nowhere to call home.  With a hand on his growling stomach, he filled a glass with water.  It would have to do. Because Jacob had decided that he wouldn’t give up on his mom, no matter what she had done.  He wouldn’t give up, no matter what.
The choice was made.
The sofa that absorbed the impact of Jacob’s bone poking thin body could be described as anything but a proper place to rest, with fabric the shocking orange of a safety cone, and collapsed cushions with loose springs.  At 15 years old, he was capable of taking care of himself, but he didn’t.  Deep down, some part of him believed if he let himself go, she would have to come home, as if some sort of parental radar would alert her to his desperate condition. Not to mention that to lie in a bed would invite sleep and the potential side effect of dreams, those confusing and willful episodes he was so apt to avoid.  It was far better to lay here in relative discomfort, positioned to face the door should she walk through it.
As hard as he tried to stay awake, exhaustion overcame him.  His eyes closed. For a few moments he enjoyed peaceful nothingness. But, all too soon, the darkness parted, the weightless shift in space of dreaming and he fell, helpless, into a rush of green.
It began harmlessly enough.  He landed in a crouch, knee deep in ferns and bromeliads, shoulder to shoulder with bamboo. Wet leaves brushed against his arms and legs and rain mapped cool trails over his skin.  He turned in a circle.  There was no path here. Still, there was a familiarity among these trees.  He was sure he’d been here before.  
Dark clouds rolled in overhead, faster than in real life, and the forest grew dim under their ominous bellies.  An alarm sounded in every cell of his body. Chased or pulled forward, he wasn’t sure, but Jacob launched himself into that forest.  He darted through the trees, casting frantic looks over his shoulder with no idea why the panic swelled in his throat. 
Up ahead, the forest opened and Jacob watched a car climb a gravel roadway. The faded blue of the 1989 Toyota Celica was unmistakable.  It was his mother’s.  Panic threatened to rip through his chest.  No.  Not now, he thought. Not here, in my head. He knew his dreams weren’t real but they weren’t exactly harmless either. There had been others. Terrible others.  For a normal dream about football or girls, he would have given anything. Any dream that didn’t find a twisted way of coming true would be welcome.  But for Jacob, dreams were dangerous and his mother didn’t belong here.
Move, he thought, and pushed his muscles harder. If he could reach her, maybe everything would be normal again, in his head and in real life.  But, it was like running in quicksand, for every three steps forward he was dragged two back.  Or was the road getting farther away?
From the drivers seat, his mother emerged but she was not the woman he remembered.  Jacob had never seen this Lillian Lau, a strong soldier of a woman in a long sleeved black t-shirt and military pants.  Her jet-black hair was swept up into a ponytail and her almond eyes were deadly serious. The blade of a knife glinted from her leg. 
The knife bothered Jacob. His mother had never been violent.  She hated fighting.  The idea that his subconscious would produce the knife was as threatening as her appearance here.  He watched as she reached across her body and drew a gun from under her arm.
 MOM! Jacob tried to scream but nothing came out of his gaping jaw, not even a whoosh of breath.  Dead silence wrapped itself around him like a fog. The call of birds, the crunch of greenery underfoot, the slam of the car door, were unnaturally absent, as quiet as a grave. 
“Over here mom,” he mouthed.  But, somehow Jacob knew this nightmare was not about him.  Today, he was a voyeur in her story, doomed to watch what was about to unfold. The gun pointed toward the trees, his mom scanned the forest with a determined confidence.  Her eyes skipped over Jacob like he was invisible even though his red shirt should have stood out against the foliage. There was something in the forest behind her.  He couldn’t actually see it but Jacob could feel it.  He could smell it.  And, although he didn’t know exactly what it was, he hated it.
Behind you, Jacob pleaded inside his head. He wished he could close his eyes, wished he would not see what he knew was coming, but he was already asleep and there was no avoiding what horrors his mind had planned for him.  All he could do was run to her, warn her, and maybe protect her.
 Closer now, the rain felt funny against his bare arms.  Maroon drops, hot and thick, fell in tacky splotches to his skin.  He paused to dip a finger in the stuff and raised it to his lips. A salty, metallic taste filled his mouth.
It was raining blood. 
Panic fueled a sprint toward his mother, pushed his muscles harder, the leaves and twigs slicing his skin like a thousand paper cuts.  But it was no use. The dream was ending. The light began to flicker and the last images came in disjointed flashes: a grasping set of talons…a spray of blood on the windshield… the gun firing toward yellow eyes and the last image, the one he would never forget, his mother’s silent scream in the shadow of a monstrous leather wing.
“NO!”  Jacob’s voice reverberated through the empty apartment.  He sat bolt upright, launching the glass off his stomach.  Shards of glass skimmed across the linoleum in all directions, making a sound that he imagined like talons on the windshield.  The hair on the back of his neck bristled.  “What the hell was that thing?” he asked the emptiness.
He leaned his head between his knees, his chest cold and wet. Sweat rolled down his temples and air rushed into his lungs in hungry gulps. The yellow eyes, the leather wing, his mother’s blood, he tried to shake the memory from his head. Hugging himself, he rubbed his upper arms, hoping to come back to reality. It was just a dream, he told himself. This time, it was just a dream.   But, his hands came away warm and wet, covered in streaks of blood.  He forced himself to look and saw tiny cuts that ran from shoulder to elbow.
              A knock at the door brought him to his feet in one movement.  “Mom?” he called.  Jacob didn’t wait for an answer. He turned the deadbolt and threw open the door.


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