A short story by M. C. Wallace
It must have been close to two in the morning when Karen snuck out of her room and down the hall to the stairs. “Not a creature was stirring, not even…”Whoops! Okay, so a security guard was stirring, so what. What does that prove. He was not going to deter this mouseketeer on her duly appointed rounds. The guard disappeared around a distant corner. It was into the stairwell and up to the third floor. She pushed the door open very carefully and peeked. No one was at the nurse’s desk. Karen ventured a little further and listened. As quiet as the grave. Slowly she ventured a glance around the corner down the north Hall. All clear. Now down the south Hall,–ditto. Okay, half a league, half a league, half a league onwards, rode the six hundred…. Karen found room 324. The marker outside the door listed Therese’s name. Quietly and quickly Karen slipped inside. She glanced around the room, but it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the near complete blackness inside. Then things started to resolve. It was a double room but the second bed was vacant. Therese’s bed was by the window. Good. That way when they talk it’ll be that much further from the door. Karen stepped quietly to Therese’s bedside and looked down at her very valiant friend. She had such an abiding respect for Therese. One might almost mistake it for devotion, so deeply did she feel for this lady who had lost so much, yet still remained strong enough to console those who’d tried to console her. She took Therese’s shoulder and gently shook her while at the same time whispering her name. Nothing. Okay, try again. “Therese! Therese, wake up!” It took a wince and a yawn, but presently Therese woke to see Karen standing over her. “Hi!” Therese said with weak enthusiasm, then scanning her surroundings, “Where am I?” she asked. “You’re in the hospital,” Karen replied, “You’ve been out of it for two, nearly three days.” “That woman!” Therese exclaimed. “I saw her! I’d seen her also once before. I think…man! That’s frustrating!” “Don’t strain yourself,” Karen counseled. “You’ve been through a lot in the last couple days. You gotta tell me, though…” “Tell you what?” Therese asked, concerned st her friend’s demeanor. “The baby?” Karen asked, so afraid of the answer. “What about the baby?” “I was told…” and at this Karen became overwhelmed. “Now hold on,” Therese said carefully, taking her friend’s hand, “the baby is just fine! Hey there, girlfriend! Whoa! Now just hold on a minute. I don’t know what you heard, or who you heard it from, but my bimble is just fine!” At this, Therese took Karen’s hand in hers and held it firmly. “I don’t know who you heard otherwise from but Winchester is fine!” “You named him Winchester?! After that TV character?!” Karen exclaimed in rebuke. Therese laughed at her reaction. “No, not after him. After the rifle,” she said. “Nick wanted to name him Shiloh, and I said we lost that battle. Let’s name him after something that’s linked with victory. You know what his first choice was after that?” “What?” “Abrams!” “Aaahhhh! After the tank! That’s such a homely name, ” Karen said, snorting through a muffled laugh. “C’mon in fer dinner Abrams!” she mocked, both of them convulsing at her impish impersonation. “That’s as redneck as they get.” “Oh no it isn’t!” Therese differed. ” If it was REALLY redneck his name would be Lee-Roy, or Earl, or Mack!” The laughter went on. It was early the next afternoon when Therese and Nick were able to take their brand new little Winchester home. He was just adorable to his mother, who refused to put him down. She had to be threatened with the pidey before she’d give in and go get what rest she could whenever “Win” was getting his sleep. Nick buried himself with the dishes, laundry and groceries for the time being, and he was happy to do so. After all, his wonderful woman had given him the son he’d always dreamt of having ever since he first realized that he hadn’t had a dad to relate to, growing up in Ohio. It had been just him and his mom and brother Jack for fifteen years. And there might have been a few lean times but she’d kept them together, fighting off social services and their child protection inquisitors with a steel broom that she absolutely refused to put down. They could haul their happy ***** off her property or get a loada galvanized needles where they won’t heal for years! You had to hand it to her. Anyone else would have been carted into the pokey. But this was Carter Quantrell’s wife, and just about everyone in Regena County owed their well being to her husband in one way or another. That was a fealty no one dared trespass, even if he had been dead for some five years. They owed him. So they protected her. It would be two weeks before the first symptoms began to manifest themselves. White spots on the tender interior surfaces of his mouth. Therese called his pediatrician and explained what was going on in great detail. She trusted Therese’s description, reckoning that since Therese had served as a paramedic for nearly eight years before she met Nick and moved to Tyler’s Crossing, her assessments and deliberations were not only credible but ninety eight percent of the time were consistently more accurate than the models published in the preferred medical journals. The doc said it sounded like Thrush and said she’d fax over an antibiotic to the pharmacy. It should be ready within the hour. Therese thanked her profusely and said Nick would pick it up as he was getting off early. Fifty minutes later Nick walked through the door with the pink emulsion which Therese immediately administered it to Win. He drifted back off to sleep, and having checked his diaper and mattress, believed he should last a good two hours before he’d need to be awakened and changed. Even so, she knew she wouldn’t wait that long to check on him. Not since…no. Don’t, Therese. Just don’t. She’d made dinner in record time and they’d both eaten rather quickly, neither really having had the chance to take any time for themselves over the last hectic twenty-four hours. Nick had had a mandatory office meeting that he’d taken three days to prepare for which, fortunately, hadn’t gone badly. Why, then, was he still mulling it over in his mind? It was over and done with; you can’t go back and redo, resay, readvise…he’d tried to set it aside half a dozen times but it kept coming back to nag him. ‘It could’ve been done better,’ he kept beating himself up. ‘When district gets Wyatt’s report they’re gonna wonder if I was even in the room!’ Therese had her own demons feeding on her. She’d nodded off to sleep, and now had entered into an uncomfortable dream. There was a pale green mist that parted before her as she approached…what? What, where was she going? She couldn’t remember why she’d come here, she only knew it was very important, there was something here that needed her attention. It’s up there, there! Beyond the jetty. She perceived the boards beneath her feet, uneven and creaking. There,–she could smell the water! She was at the ocean. Oh, yes. How she loved to be by the ocean. She felt her spirit give in to the soothing rythym of the waves lapping up against the sides. Wait…the sides of what? If she was on the jetty, what sides was she referring to, and where? WHERE WAS SHE ?? This was when she began to feel the incipient rise of fear start to pool around her ankles and ascend. Slowly, but consistently, she resolved to search in earnest for the source of this alien alarm. The mist shifted into rain, it’s color changing to black, a black which would not work. It didn’t stay where it was supposed to stay. On the ground. Nick turned about to see his paintings of animals, mostly small or diminutive little creatures of a benign or entirely harmless nature. He had longed for the companionship of a pet as a young boy, but they couldn’t afford one. So what did he and his Lady-love have now? A hellacious koati mundi, a tarantula and a Pac man frog. Dern thing screams when you pick it up. ‘Now that’s really weird! I was just thinking of it screaming and…’ he thought to himself, amazed that the fatso would sound off at the precise time he was…but that wasn’t the frog. Wha?…O LORD! THAT’S THERESE!! “I’M HERE BABE! I’M COMING!I’M RIGHT HERE!” he screamed, tearing up the stairs. He found her in Win’s room. She was flounced on the floor, cradling him in her arms, her arms drawn up to hold him as close to herself as possible. “You can’t have him,” she whispered. “No! Oh no,” he said, his voice breaking as he crouched down next to her. She wasn’t looking at Win. She wasn’t looking at him either. She was looking at the boat, the one moored to the jetty. The one with Charon in it. He was reaching for Win. “No,” she said, starting to shake her head, “no, no…” “Therese?” Nick whispered very gently, ” let me take him now.” “He wants Win. He already has our Darcy. I won’t let him…nooo,” her voice trailed off. He knew she couldn’t hear him. It was just like before. “Why God?! Why do we have to through this again?!” he shouted at the ceiling. The tears came hard as he surrendered to intractable loss. He reached over to put his arms around his wife and son. It didn’t matter now if or when they called nine eleven. Some ten minutes had elapsed when he heard the doorbell. ‘Go away.” His thought was finite. His son lay dead in his wife’s arms, his wife sat estranged in her own world. For now, everything else and everyone else simply had to be annulled. Nothing mattered anymore. The doorbell rang again. He grimaced at its peal, his anger mixing with despair at being bothered now, at this time. It came again. “What do you want of us!” he screamed. Oops. This is different. Therese had turned to look at him. No tears, no seeming sadness. Just a genuine look of concern. The vacant empty gaze had disappeared. “Therese?” “Are. You. Gonna. Get. It?” Her words were hacked and stilted as if she were learning to speak for the first time. “Get it? What Hon?” he asked, reaching up to stroke her hair. “The. Door.” He looked at her with a frozen question in his aspect. The door? Their son lies dead in her arms and she’s concerned about the door. Sure. This makes sense. “They’ll go away, Hon,” he said with great compassion for her fragile mental state. “But–it’s–him.” “It’s him?” he asked. “Him who?” He studied her with a kind of twisted whimsy, heartbroken. He’d not only lost his son this night, but there was a good chance he’d also lost his wife. “He who am.” Nick just nodded with a crooked smile and stroked her hair. He pulled her close to hug her but she put her hand up in soft resistance. “He.” “Do you…” The doorbell rang again. He had to stifle a twisted laugh. It just would not have been right to explode the way he almost did. What the h–maybe HE was losing his mind, too! She pointed towards the stairs.He drew his mouth in so it looked like he had no lips. If he hadn’t he’d have loosed an unprecedented peal of maniacal laughter. The doorbell rang again. Therese started to point and he took her by the hand. “…i will go and answer the door!…” he said in a marked and stilted manner. “Okie Dokey!” He rose carefully and quickly left the room. This is lunacy! That’s all he could think as he descended the stairs and aimed for the front door. He grabbed the knob and opened it to a small boy who smiled up at him. WITW?? “Uh—hell-lo.” Nick stood there for a long moment in incredulity. Hah? “Was there something you—” “I’m here for your son,” the boy said. Seized with dark thoughts, Nick replied, “You can’t have him.” “You needn’t fear,” the boy said, smiling compassionately. “I’m not here to do harm. But to heal.” “Oh yeah? Where’d you get your medical licence?” “You’re just scared, that’s all,” the boy said. “Scared and wounded.” He’d had enough. “I don’t know where you came from, or how you know I have a—” “Has she shown you the Lullabye yet?” he asked. Nick was dumbfounded at this remark. “Now just wait one lousy minute here!” “Time is all we have really,” the boy replied. “We’d really better get to it, Nick.” “Now how the devil do you know my name?” Nick demanded. “Oh let’s not drag him into this.” “What?” “May I see him?” the boy asked with quiet reserve.”I’m not here to gawk, of that I can assure you. I’m here—” “To heal. I know,” Nick said, completing his sentence for him. “Well this day has been as strange as they come so you might as well add your brand of queer to it.” “Oh I’m not inclined that way either,” the boy said, entering the house and making a beeline for the stairs. Nick was a might perturbed at the boy’s seeming foreknowledge of his home’s layout as he made straight for the nursery where Therese still sat on the floor hugging Win. The boy stood in the doorway looking in upon them as Nick came up behind him. “Well there’s no point in standing on ceremony, do come in and join the party,” Nick remarked. He sat next to his wife on the floor and caressed her hand. She never even noticed the boy when he came in. He didn’t sit, but preferred to stand a bit aloof. “Ask her where she put the Lullabye,” the boy instructed. “How do you know about the cradle?” Nick asked with a measure of reserve. “Look here, how is it you know about my son, or my name, and now the cradle? Are you really some diminutive adult turned spy who bilks people who are victims to personal tragedy because at such times their guards are down!” “You really aren’t very trusting of your fellow man, are you, Nick? Was it your father’s untimely death that made you this way?” “You leave my father…my loved ones alone! I should take take you by—” “Please, Mr. Quantrell, I know a great deal about both you and your wife. It’s no great secret. Most information about folks is readily available these days through the internet, surely you must know that. And even if you block or delete information, the FBI, the NSA, they all have the tech to find and secure information even if it’s been permanently deleted from your harddrive. I’m no government agent trying to pry into your life. And I’m certainly not some idle gloryseeker who likes to stand around accident sights in the hopes of seeing some really sensational material. I’m just passing through, but I’m also able to help people, Mr. Quantrell.” “Help,” Nick repeated. “Help the dead!” “Perhaps,” the boy said. “Ask her where the Lullabye is.” “Ask her yourself,” he replied testily. “She can’t hear me,” the boy answered. “Only you. Your wife, sometimes, but not today.” Nick glared at him. He was waffling. One moment he had a good feeling about the lad and the next moment he wanted to strangle him. He glanced over at Therese, then leaned forward and asked her about the cradle. At first she pointed to the bassinette but he said no and repeated himself more firmly. This time her eyes grew wide, the expression on her face fearful. “Its okay, Hon. I was just gonna—” here Nick broke off and looked over at the boy for a fill-in-the-blank for him. “Try it out,” Nick said without thinking, then realizing what he’d just said, returned a ferocious glare to the boy whose expression was implacable. “On Rusty,” he finally said, and when she looked up at him with surprise he grinned a very wide grin at her to convince her. Not quite all there at that moment, Therese told him she’d put the Lullabye in the guest room under the comforter with the violet embroidered lilies on it. He patronized her with exaggerated acclaim and then excused himself, saying he’d be right back. He was gone for only a minute and a half, returning with the cradle in hand. “Put it right here,” the boy instructed, then, after it was situated close to Therese, the boy placed his hand lightly on her arm and she reacted as if she could feel him. Nick looked on as the boy guided her to place Win into the cradle, then tuck him in just like she would if he were alive. Then the three sat back. The boy dropped his head to his chest and began to whisper. Nick strained to hear what he saying but couldn’t make it out. ‘He’d better not be calling on some dark force or energy,” Nick thought to himself, never having completely trusted anyone other than his own immediate family. It was only a matter of seconds before an undercurrent of something risible met Nick’s ears. ‘Was this an earthquake? Naaaww. There’s never been an earthquake up this high on the New Madrid fault.’ “Yes,” was all that Therese said, turning to ask for a cola and onion rings, the buzzing in her head getting louder. “Aaahh!” she began to screw her face into a twist, the noise from what must have been a tornado growing ever larger with each passing second. Terrified, Therese threw herself over the cradle as plaster from their ceiling began to crack and break, falling onto the bassinette, the dresser, the cradle, the bouncer. Therese became Win’s own personal human shield against the ever increasing roar of an unseen storm. Nick and Therese looked over at the window at the same time, then their attention was drawn back to the boy. This time Therese could see him. What they witnessed then they never would’ve anticipated in their entire lives. The boy’s outer shape had morphed, growing taller, his hair growing to shoulder length, muscles appearing where there’d been only simple limbs a moment earlier. They looked on, at once aghast and fascinated by his metamorphasis. Light in disparate intense shafts started to shoot out from his garments which had changed from a boys regular clothes as a six year old, to the middle eastern garb of a grown man some six feet eight inches tall. His skin gleamed like burnished bronze and when he finally opened his eyes to level his gaze on them they were a large piercing green color, set perfectly beneath a modest brow, an aquiline nose gracing his countenance and a sculptured jaw finishing off what could only be called a celestial being. “Who are you?” Nick asked, in wide-eyed apprehension. “Have you come to take Win?” “My name is not important,” the man said. “Let it suffice to know that I am not of the earth,” he stated, the sound of the ocean in his voice. “No ****!” Nick stated laconically. The man raised an eyebrow in critique of his language. “Oh. Sorry.”The man reoriented himself to the more immediate task at hand. He looked at Therese with great compassion and sorrow as she scooped up her son and held him unnaturally close. She reacted to his concern. At first she was puzzled, but then, it occurred to her. “You’re the little boy whom Karen came across that day!” aren’t you. “I am the same,” he concurred. “You told her that day that I had lost my child,” she said, the tears rising in her eyes. “Why didn’t you take him then? Before we had the chance to fall in love with him?” Her plea did not fall on empty ears. The man reached down and with great care took Win from her arms. She never gave him a moment’s refusal. For a brief moment he stood there holding Win, then giving him a sad smile, bent down to place him in the cradle. “What good will that do us now,” Nick asked rhetorically. If you’re God, why don’t you heal him? Bring him back to life?” “I am not God. I am merely privileged to serve Him.” What did he just say? He serves Him? “Scuse?” Nick asked. “You SERVE Him? In what capacity?” The man observed Nick for a moment, then glanced down at Therese. He closed his eyes for only a moment. Then, opening them, responded. “I am the Seraphim who has charge over the Holy Artifacts.” “The Holy what? Whatta you mean artifacts? Like hieroglyphs and stuff?” Nick asked. The man lowered his head and smiled. “Oh MY GOD! You can smile! Not bad! You need to do that more often!” Nick counseled, “it changes your whole outward aspect.” “Do you have a name?” Therese asked very innocently. The Seraphim looked kindly on her at her childlike inquiry. “I do. But I am not allowed to reveal it on this side of life. Not to humans who are still alive.” “And whyzat?” Nick asked, pushing his luck. “Because it allows us to become abused,” he replied. “Really?” Therese asked. “Yes, my dear Therese. You need to rest now,” the Seraphim said, and rendered her a solemn bow and a smile.” Presently there came a different sound. Tiny, rustling, like maybe linens being shifted on the bed? Nick was the first to look around, then Therese. “What IS that?” Therese asked. “It’s TIME.” Nick and Therese looked over at the Seraphim where he bent down to pick up the child who now cooed happily, no trace of illness about him at all. He bent down and handed the infant to Therese. “It’s time!” she repeated in awe. “There is a regular time for when one is ordered to live, and time when one is ordered to die, “the Seraphim stated. “Consider now the many artifacts which my Lord made while He was on earth.” “What are you talking about?” Therese asked. “What artifacts,” she asked. Now there’s a loaded question if ever I have heard one. She just HAD ta know what’s behind curtain number three. The Seraphim told them of the artifacts. Besides this cradle which Joseph had made for Jesus and which Mary had called the Lullabye, which was so powerful that it could resurrect anything no matter what stage of decay it’s in, there were all the small wooden animals Jesus had made for His Mother when He was little. Joseph would teach Him how to carefully pare down the wood until it was the right size. Then there were the many bowls and cups and utensils He’d designed for fun when work was slow. His Mother got a bit concerned when She found He’d developed a seeming obsession for spoons. Why spoons, She’d wondered. He must have made nearly five hundred of them, nearly half of them being strictly for show as they were far too large to be of useful purpose. Oddly enough women were very fond of them and they sold every last one. He’d found that whatever He put His mind to He’d be able to replicate it. The Seraphim told them of the one time when, in a rare moment of pixillated humor when He was spending some time with John the Baptist in the desert, this would have been when they were both still teenagers, Jesus had taken a log and, once hewn to the exact parameters He needed, He’d made a model car that moved with pedals. Now, He deliberately made it so it would burn really fast, because He was fully aware that that’s what He’d need to do once the word got out about the intricacies of his abilities. Then there were games he’d made. Like Potiphur. Today it’s called Jenga. He was all over Jenga before it reemerged in the 20th century. Joseph taught Him about all the mundane things: tables, chairs, ladders,—but it was the OTHER stuff that passed into history that the Seraphim was commissioned to watch over. Why? Because, having been made by Christ, it n e v e r disintegrated. A protracted “Oooohhh,” was passed around the room. Things like clocks. One of His favorite pranks as a teenager was to take a clock that He’d made and drop it off after dark on the doorstep of someone who had a lot of children. Once discovered and brought brought inside, it would become an object of intrigue as the kids would stare at it by the hour watching the hands go around and the tiny figures going in and out of doors and slots. Now there was one odd note about the clocks that you had to remember and it was the key to why the clocks were so desired by the kids. They never really kept time. The hands and the figures and the doors all moved faster than would have been allowed on a rightly functioning clock. But in fact, if they ran any slower the kids would lose interest. Ergo, the key to keeping kids occupied. Alright, players, remember, with all due respect to previous inventors, Jesus was no amateur, he simply knew He had an advantage over the average Joe who attempted to whittle for a living. (And after all, besides his cousin John, He only showed the car to His Mother and Joseph.) “Here you are my little man!” Therese exclaimed. “Oh, you are so very beautiful, yes you are! Mommy’s so glad to have you.” Nick came up behind her and gave her the first hug, then took his son by his cheeks and imped at him. Win smiled back and glurred at his daddy. “So how are things coming along?” Therese asked brightly. “Not bad. Not bad at all,” Nick said with a sigh of satisfaction. “Should be ready by Friday.” “Oh. Ahead of schedule.”she remarked. “Yes, indeed,” and at this Nick took Win from her and hoisted him up over his head to play bimble bee. Win giggled at his daddy. I never would have thought it would turn out like it has, but you know? I sure am happy it did.” “Me too, honey,” Therese answered. “You’ll be a fantastic carpenter! I can already see all the wonderful things your gonna make.” “Like clocks that go too fast,” he laughed. “I gotta make one of those for Win.” “And I want an oversized spoon to hang on the kitchen wall. But it’s gotta be blue,” she insisted. “One oversized blue spoon coming up.” “What about the cradles?” she asked. “THOSE? Those are gonna be my trademark. I’m gonna call ’em Lullabyes.” At this Nick looked at his son and thought of the Seraphim that had come to make such a difference in their lives. And how grateful he was to the Child for whom Joseph had made that first cradle. Thing was? He couldn’t figure out how Joseph made that first cradle out of a single piece of wood. Now there was a real mystery. And one that was probably better left as such.