Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ghost Creek, Episode 5


PREVIOUSLY- Sean Preston, ten years old, traded places with his twenty-eight-year-old self. He awoke in a Chicago apartment, in bed with his older self’s girlfriend, Jubilee Bellefleur. Sean was completely overwhelmed by the accumulation of eighteen years of new knowledge in his older self’s brain, including the death of his mother and the truth about what Sean-at-28 went back in time to avoid.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS JUNE 1999

“Sean? Sean?”

The man was limp in Jubilee’s arms. She shook him, but he would not wake. He was gone. Out of it. Completely shut down.

“Damn it, Sean.”

Laying Sean down on the couch, Jubilee stood and paced the room for a few minutes, cursing Sean for his cowardice. A deeper, more honest part of her wondered if she would have chosen a similar exit had she possessed Sean’s particular talent.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud. All that mattered was what to do now.

Jubilee picked up the phone. Before she could dial, she heard the tone indicating she had a waiting voice mail message. She dialed the number and punched the code. Listened. Closed her eyes with sorrow. Today, it seemed, was a day for bad news all around.

“Let’s get you dressed, Sean,” she said to the senseless shell which had until recently contained her boyfriend. “We’ve got to go to the hospital.”


***


Moving Sean proved easier than she had feared. He was still silent, his eyes blank, but he obeyed her commands. “Put on these pants, Sean.” “Get in the car, Sean.” “Come with me.”

She led him easily through the hospital halls. There were four people in the room when she opened the door.

Sitting in a chair in the corner of the room was a young Japanese man reading a thick paperback book entitled “Chainsaw Moon.” His own name, Shozo Watanabe, was printed on the cover. Though he had written the book (technically, at least,) he had not yet read it all. There was desperation in his reading, a hunger, as if hidden in the book’s pages was the answer to a particularly vexing question. He did not look up when Jubilee and Sean entered the room.

A young, boyish-looking woman in a wheelchair turned from the window when they came in. She managed a weak smile. Her name was Sally Ross. She wore, as did the rest of them, a look of haunted sleeplessness. Dark circles under her eyes, a certain pallor of the skin.

The eyes of the man pacing the room were rimmed with red. He had recently shed many tears. His name was Henry Leary and he appeared ragged with desperation, like a man on the verge of total collapse. His face crumpled when he saw Jubilee and Sean, but he did not cry again. He seemed to have cried himself dry.

The fourth person in the room was the young girl unconscious in the hospital bed. Henry’s daughter, Joyce. Six years old but wearing the face now of someone ten times that age. Her skin wrinkled, her hair gray, her sleeping features conveying the weight of a lifetime of troubles.

“Oh my God,” Jubilee said when she saw her. “Is she all right?”

“The doctors can’t find anything wrong with her.” Henry sounded as tattered as he looked. “Physically. She hasn’t woken up yet, though. I don’t know if she’ll ever . . .” His voice just gave out into a dry wheeze, as if his tears had drained every bit of moisture from his body.

“What happened?”

“She’s been having nightmares,” Henry said. “So she came to sleep in my bed. She probably thought she’d feel safer. How’s that for irony?”

“Henry.” Jubilee put her hand on his shoulder.

“Thank God I woke up before . . .”

“What’s wrong with Sean?” Sally interrupted, wheeling her chair closer.

Sean was staring at the shriveled girl on the bed, jaw hanging open but otherwise displaying no emotion.

“Well,” Jubilee said. “That’s my big news. Sean has . . . checked out on us.”

Henry’s face snapped instantly from grief to anger. “No,” he said. “You mean he . . .”

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” said Sally.

“You little shit!”

Henry grabbed Sean by the shoulders. Jubilee pulled him off.

“This isn’t him,” she said. “This is the kid he used to be. He’s only ten years old.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Henry demanded.

“His mind snapped,” said Jubilee. “He couldn’t take it. He remembers everything Sean did, and it was just too much for him.”

“We need him!” Henry was frantic now. “We don’t stand a chance in hell without him.”

“We didn’t stand a chance in hell even with him,” Sally put in.

“Calm down,” Jubilee said.

“Calm down? We’ve only got six months left, Warner and Henley are both dead, and Joyce . . .”

He gestured with his hand at his daughter on the bed, waving away words too painful to utter.

“You were dreaming about Him when this happened?” Jubilee asked.

“Of course I was,” said Henry. “I dream about Him every night.”

Jubilee nodded. A presence stalked them in their dreams, taking a different form for each of them. Henry dreamed of a man with a black void where his face should be. Jubilee saw a huge dog with red eyes and flaming fur. Sean had always seen a gray alien with a bulbous head and huge black eyes. They all knew its shifting form was due to flaws in their perception. It didn’t matter what it looked like, though. It was the same malevolent being. Worse, it was but a harbinger. A single emissary sent in advance of the invasion. One was bad enough. They couldn’t imagine the terror a million would unleash.

“We have to get a hold of SAFT,” Henry said. “He’ll know what to do.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” said Jubilee. “Send a telegram to the future? He said he’d contact us again in September.”

“September?” Henry moaned. “Jesus.”

“I know it’s bad, Henry,” Jubilee said. “And I am sorry about Joyce. But we all have to chill out and try to figure out what to do next. Now does anybody have any ideas?”

“My frog turned white this morning,” Sally said. “Just pure white. That’s got to be a sign, right? That’s got to mean something.”

“I’ve given up trying to figure out what the damn frogs are trying to tell us,” said Jubilee. “Mine looks like his brains are coming right out of his head. You want to tell me what that means?”

Henry sat on the bed, near his daughter’s feet. “All right,” he said. “Let me see if I got this straight. Sean went back in time, that’s his thing, right? And he did . . . what?”

“He traded places with himself. Sent his ten-year-old self into the future and took over his own past.”

“OK,” said Henry. “So wouldn’t that change everything here in the present? I mean, if Sean went back to change his whole life around, we wouldn’t even know him, right?”

“No,” Shozu said from the corner, speaking for the first time since Jubilee walked into the room. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t change the present by going into the past. The present already exists. It cannot be negated. Instead, a tangent is formed. A divergent reality.”

“A parallel universe?” Sally said.

“That is one way to describe it,” said Shozu.

“How can you possibly know that’s true?” said Henry.

“Because it says so, in this book,” Shozu said.

“Which you wrote.”

“The words came from my hand, but not from my mind,” said Shozu. “You know that, Henry.”

“Yeah, well, what else does this amazingly useful book have to say?”

Shozu looked up at the clock on the wall, then back down to the page open before him. He ran his finger down a column. “Today is the 12th, right?”

“Yeah.”

Shozu slammed the book shut. “It says that in ten minutes, some men are coming here to kill us.”


NEXT TIME: The maze. The morgue. The moon.

1 comment:

Jen said...

I didn't like this section nearly as much. At first I thought Freddy Kruger, then that movie "Dreamcatcher" (Stephen King, but I never read the book). I think this scene happened too fast, without enough there to make me believe the characters as credible experts - I'm sure you'll explain how they know what they're talking about, but I didn't get that sense here.