“Andrew Skolnick’s Miracle.”

Part 3.  “Unknown Country.”

M.J. Downing

            In his dream, Drew stood in a high place, almost in the clouds, and it didn’t matter how he was there or what he stood on. His arms held a young lady dressed in something like a genie costume.  She was sandy-haired and green eyed, freckled, and not skinny. Perfect.  Her strength was palpable in his arms.  Drew didn’t know her, but he knew that she was beautiful, that she was for him, and that she urged him to jump from that high place, down hundreds of feet into a pool of blue water, so clear that he could see the giant rock in its center, rising like island.

            “Who wants some of this pearl?” she asked, smiled, and dropped away from the platform, her hair and billowy clothes flapping in the wind of her fall.  She went feet first, straight down, looking up at him, smiling all the while.  Drew couldn’t take his eyes off her. The path of her descent looked to put her right on top of the rock, but when she broke the surface of the water, he saw her curve away from its danger, out into the deep pellucid blue of the water around it.

            His heart pounding with fear and excitement, he watched as she broke the surface and turned her wet, shining face toward him. She treaded water easy, strong arms and legs holding her stable.

 “C’mon!” she shouted. “I love you!” 

            Drew didn’t think about it; he dropped. One thousand one, the rush of air shrill in his ear; one thousand two, gasping for breath as the giddy, surprised sensation in his stomach filled him; one thousand three, as he pulled his arms to his sides, pointed his feet, and increased his velocity; one thousand four, as his feet smashed through the water’s surface. Down, down, and down he went before he slowed to a stop, in a blue so dark that it was almost black. 

As he kicked towards the surface, a rush of panic sat in that he hadn’t enough air in his lungs, that he’d drown before he broke the surface.  His lungs ached, and he pushed, kicked harder to swim higher.  With no air in his chest, it took longer to go up from below than it did to fall down from on high. Gulping at nothing, just to keep from breathing, Drew saw, at last, the light of the surface, and his open mouth gulped at air just as he broke through the surface and awoke.

A dream fog held him for a while in a pleasant place of not thinking, just remembering the woman, the water, the plunge, and the rise. He ached to go back there, but the smell of coffee in the kitchen and the remains of his Dad’s first cigarette of the day hung in the air. It was 8:20 or so. That thought brought back the reality of the night before: Kyle Jensen, hospitalized, in restraints, his disembodied voice talking to Drew, the shoving match Drew had with his father over the appearance of Marty Floyd in their driveway. One of the neighbors had called the cops, who came after Marty drove away, and after Drew’s Dad finally stopped yelling.

A shaking dread replaced the dream. Remembering the things his Dad had yelled at him, at Marty, even at Drew’s mom, who couldn’t hear any of it, Drew dragged himself, heavy with sorrow, into the kitchen, where his Mom sat, looking at the newspaper. “Sorry,” he signed to her, getting her wry smile in return.

“He’s not right,” she signed and pointed at her head, which she often did in response to his father’s outbursts.  She shrugged her shoulders.

“I did not mean to upset him.  Marty Floyd just gave me a ride home from the hospital where they took Kyle,” he signed. “Before last night, I never heard Dad say a word against black people.”

“No, but you haven’t heard him say anything good about most people, right?” she signed.  She waved her hands in the air as though to wipe away all the signs. “Somebody is here.  Driveway.  I don’t know who.  They probably can’t speak sign, though.  Go see?”

Frowning, hoping it wasn’t the police, again, Drew signed “Okay” to his mom, put on shorts and a t-shirt, and stumped outside in his bare feet.  A light blue Ford Falcon sat in front of the garage.  Drew went quietly through the side door of the garage so that he could look out and see who it was before he opened the overhead door.  That door, though, stood open, and Mary Beth Stevens sat on his weight bench, holding one of his Tolkien books in her hand. Her hair was pulled back, and she was dressed in jeans and a Durrett sweatshirt.  She was crying, turning her tear streaked face to Drew, with a start, like she’d been caught doing something wrong.

Even without any makeup on, she was still too pretty. Drew said, 

“Uh, hi.”

“I’m sorry.  I know I shouldn’t be here,” she said, pushing the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hands. “Kyle told me that your garage was your safe space, your ‘fortress of solitude,’ he said.  Only, the door was open, and…”

“My Dad must have left it open. It’s okay,” he muttered, crossing his arms and trying to relax and lean against the workbench. Talking to Mary Beth had become easier for him, when she was with Kyle. Here, alone, she was too much, too pretty, too vulnerable for his comfort. The only crying female he’s ever encountered was his mother, and her tears he understood.  Those tears belonged to his father.  Mary Beth crying was a different sort of thing, a grief he had yet to name in himself.

“It isn’t okay, though,” she said in a voice husky with crying, rising to her feet, and reaching for him. Uncrossing his arms in a hurry, he banged his elbow against the workbench, and let out a groan just as she put her arms around him.

“What?” she asked drawing back.

“Nothing.  Hit my funny bone,” he muttered, but he didn’t put his arms around her.  The shock of pain that ran through him from the blow to his funny bone didn’t go away.  It mounted to a vibrating sensation all along his spine, and before he knew it, the hair on the back of his neck rose.  Right next to his ear, he heard a soft whisper say “It’s just a hug, dude. Put your arms around her shoulders.”

Kyle was with him.

He knew the voice. It had that same gentle insistence that Kyle always used when trying to get Drew to talk to someone new.  Drew shuddered, but he did wrap somewhat stiff arms around Mary Beth’s shoulders.  She sighed. Then, she chuckled, even through her tears.

“It’s like trying to hug a huge piece of stone, a pillar or something,” she said, but her face was still buried in his chest, his shirt wet with her tears.  She took a deep breath and added, “I’m making you uncomfortable, right?  Kyle said it did, hugging you. He said it was because you were so shy, especially around girls.” But she didn’t let go.

“Relax, big guy,” Kyle whispered. “She’s upset. Just give her a hug, like she’s your sister or aunt or something.”

“Kyle,…well, he talks too much,” Drew muttered. He heard a laugh not far away. Mary Beth’s lack of reaction to any voice but his told Drew that she had not heard Kyle.  The fact that he heard it made him sort of shudder.  Mary Beth broke the embrace and pushed back from him, raising her damp eyes to stare into his.

“Can I come back?” she asked.

Drew’s heavy brow contracted into a frown of confusion. “I figured…I’d see you at the hospital…later, maybe.”

“You will. Emma and I are going back this afternoon. The doctor is usually in around three. But I meant, can I come back here, with you, come back again, like now.”

Drew looked her in the eye. He had no earthly idea what she was thinking about him, for only sadness about Kyle touched her face. When he said nothing, she added,

“It’s just like I sort of feel Kyle around me, when I’m here.  When I see him in the hospital, it doesn’t even look like Kyle.”

“I know,” Drew replied.
            “Before any of this happened,”Mary Beth said, taking her seat on the weight bench again, “Kyle said some things I never really understood.  Truthfully?” she said, leaning back on the incline of the bench, letting her back arch, “they sounded sort of crazy.”

She was more relaxed around him than he’d ever seen her, but that only confused the boy. Was she drawing him to her somehow? He told himself, “I’m just her friend.  Her boyfriend is my only friend. She isn’t here for me, like the woman in my dream.  She’s just here because she’s scared or worried or lonely. But doesn’t she have girlfriends for this kind of stuff?”

“Crazy, like what?” Kyle said, turning away from her to look at his books. When he would look at her again, he concentrated on looking at her eyes, but they were just as troubling as the rest of her.  He picked up a book and thumbed through its pages, deciding that he would look her square in the forehead.

“Like he said that he could see things,” Mary Beth said, rising from the bench.  She turned him to face her. “Like connections between people, but it wasn’t seeing them as actual things, you know, like objects.  It was knowing that the connection existed and feeling it, like he said you can feel light.”

“But you can’t feel light, only the heat of the light’s source, like the sun, a fire, or a lamp,” Drew said, as he might in Roy Kirby’s physics class.

“It didn’t make any sense to me, either,” she said. “But that wasn’t a general you. He was saying that you, Drew, can feel light,” she insisted. “He claimed that you had other abilities, too, and last night, I got to thinking of that when you left the hospital.  You said that you heard him, when no one else did.”

He remembered a time when Kyle laughed at him here in the garage. Drew knew what time it was just by looking around him. He had no clock in the garage. They had been working out, a week or so after they had met, and Kyle had said that he wondered what time it was, since he had a date with Mary Beth at 7:30. “You’d better hurry. It’s six fifteen,” Drew claimed, just by looking out the window at the light under the trees. Kyle ran to the car and picked up his watch, saying that Drew was right, and it was time to go.  There had been other times, too, when school started.  

“Just lucky guesses,” Drew said, though at the time Kyle had insisted that Drew’s ability to know the time of day by the light was evidence of his clearer focus and a deeper awareness of his surroundings.

“Well, maybe, but you are a different kind of person,” Mary Beth said with an air of certainty.

Drew knew that.  He was ugly, quiet, and sensitive about things. He hated when people yelled at him, except on the football field.  There, he could challenge anyone with his paly. It was the rules.

Kyle, however, had opened up the world that Drew inhabited and brought him out where others could see him.  Drew heard the words of his Dad, saying he was crazy, and he didn’t want to see that, recognize that. It was an old, worrisome fear, one that shut him down.

He didn’t say anything to Mary Beth.  He just kept thinking about the Hunchback of Notre Dame, how Quasimodo, when he came out into the world outside of his cathedral was crowned “King of Fools.” And later he was scourged in the public square, and lost all the world he had ever known through daring to love a beautiful girl and giving her sanctuary.

“Kyle even said one night that he believed that you could travel between worlds,” Mary Beth went on.

“I don’t know what he meant by that,” Drew answered, but that was a lie. He remembered. Once they’d gotten to know each other, much of what they spoke of, outside of football, was what they read in fantasy books and mythology. Kyle had claimed that Drew could disappear into a book like  people were said to disappear into the land of Faerie—or to the land of the Dead. Kyle had claimed that Drew was so centered on the here and now of his life, that he could easily put himself in other worlds, see, hear, and feel their reality.  

“I think maybe you do, Drew. And though he sounded sort of crazy at times, I think Kyle knew something about you that no one else did.” Mary Beth’s eyes grew intent, as though she wanted to see some sign of these abilities from him. His hands began to shake, and he wanted her to go away. 

“So?” Drew shouted.  Mary Beth stepped back a pace. “He’s my friend, my only friend.  Of course he knows me, knows things about me that no one else does. What do you want from me?”

Her voice was quiet when she answered, “Can I come back?”

“I…I suppose—if you need to—okay,” Drew said, caught off-guard by the request.  He letl go of his defensiveness. He knew her to be a sweet natured person, usually.  He supposed that he trusted her, though it had never come up between them, trust. Since she was standing closer to him, he could see her shaking, a tremor that ran through her. He could feel it in the hand she lay on his chest.

“I just can’t lose him, Drew,” she whispered, “and I think I’m going to.  I think you are the only way I can hold onto him for as long as I can,” she claimed.  She turned and walked back to her car, and drove away. He watched her in silence, and closed the garage door.

“Drew, I’m going to need you to help her,” Kyle said in the silence of the garage. The voice was clear, next to Drew.

“Get out of my head,” Drew murmured, holding his hands to his ears and sinking down onto his weight bench.

“I’m not in your head, buddy. I’m here.”

“I usually see people who talk to me,” Drew muttered, as though he didn’t want to think of himself talking to a disembodied voice.

“How would you know? You haven’t talked to that many people in the life you’ve led,” Kyle said.  He got a nod from Drew to acknowledge that was true.

“Basically, I feel like I’m sitting here, talking to myself, like the loony my Dad thinks I am.  Can’t you show up or something? Let me see you?”

“Apparently not,” Kyle replied. “Don’t you think I want to?”

“How can this even be happening?” Drew demanded, his hand loosely covering his mouth.  No one else was around, except his mother, who could not hear him.  She could read him, though, and he didn’t want to do anything to make his mother anxious about him.  He had done enough of that already.

“I don’t know, buddy,” Kyle said. “And please don’t think I know more about this than you do. I really don’t know how I can be here with you.”

Drew stood up and looked in the direction he thought the voice came from. “Are…are you…dead?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, I think I see you, but it’s more than seeing and being in one spot.  I can be in any spot I want to, as long as you’re around, and I’d much rather be here than in that damned hospital bed.”

“What…what has happened to you, Kyle?”

“I don’t know.  I can’t hear anyone but you.  I’m pretty sure, though, that I don’t have much time left.  I mean, you saw me, right?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, I did.”

 “It must be something with my brain, some disease. But that’s not why I’m here. I need you to help me help her.”

“Who? Mary Beth?” Drew asked. “Help her do what.”

“The only thing I know for sure is that she’s in danger, Drew. Something bad is coming for her. It’s like a shadow that I’ve seen around her, like she’s haunted by something…evil.”

“How long have you known about this?” Drew asked.

“A while now…since, well, since we first made love,” Kyle said. “I saw something, a scar on her, just over her right eye. It was really thin, barely saw it, but it was there, and when I asked her about it, she got really quiet and then really mad.  She wouldn’t talk to me for two days.  And then, I saw the shadow around her.”

“Shouldn’t you, you know, call the cops or something? Maybe speak to her folks about it?”

“I don’t get along with her Dad,” Kyle admitted in a sad voice, and her mom is impossible to talk to. I tried to talk to my Dad about it, and I think he was interested to help me, but now, he can’t hear me, and I can’t hear him, even when he’s in the hospital standing right next to—Oh, oh, my God, what—“

“Kyle? What’s wrong?  What’s happening?  Where are you?” Kyle’s voice was a strangled scream of pain.  Drew looked around him and knew that Kyle had left and that something hurt him horribly. Drew flew from the garage and stormed into the house.  He dashed by his mother, making the house shake around her.  Grabbing his sneakers, Drew broke from the front door and started to run toward St, Joseph’s hospital.  The sky above him was full of clouds, a wet, cold day in Louisville that others greeted with joy, relief from the summer heat.  Kyle only ran through it, down toward Eastern Parkway, through the misty air that began to dampen his clothes.  He pinched his side to help relieve the stitch there and kept running. By the time he reached St. Joseph’s, he was as wet as he was in the pellucid pool of his dream.  When he did arrive at the front of the hospital, the clouds had thickened and it looked as though the whole building was being engulfed by a shadow.

Stay tuned for Part 4.

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