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NINE LIVES OF XEN: Chapter 20, A Moment of Xen

Chapter 20 in the ongoing series, The Nine Lives of Xen.

Some people enjoy the calm; some, the storm. I’ve never had much of a preference, but it seems you can’t fully appreciate one without knowledge of the other. I was enjoying the calm that had settled in at the Pines. If I was aware of the approaching storm, who’s to say I wouldn’t have appreciated it more—or wasted the time with worry?

M.’s health and attitude improved greatly after Mrs. Robertson’s passing. I found myself shying away from her company less and less. Who in their right mind would be able to put two and two together, and come up with “the cat is a murderer”? Even if they did, if they told anyone, they would end up in a place far worse than here. 

I slept most nights at the foot of her bed and curled up next to her during daytime activities. I could tell there had been something special about Mrs. Robertson, because M. just kept getting better and better. Maybe there was more to the essence I was stealing than just time. Maybe the quality of a person’s life counted just as much. I was in far too good a mood to be philosophical. 

I started dreaming on a regular basis, when I could only remember having a handful before. I was running on the beach and heard a voice calling out to me. I looked around and saw M. standing in the middle of the ocean. She was waving at me with her good hand. (Even in my dream her other hand remained clinched in a fist, as if my subconscious was trying to tell me that, no matter what I did, I would never completely heal her.) I started to walk toward her, expecting to walk on the water as well, but the ocean parted wherever I took a step. I looked behind me, and the water regathered itself as I continued on. I kept at it, faster and faster, but, no matter my speed, she kept at the same distance. I would stop for a breath and look up to realize the water surrounding me was taller than most buildings. That’s when I would wake.

Other times I would find myself in a little graveyard, settled just behind a small country church. Every ancient grave was covered with flowers, and all of the flowers were so bright they seemed to glow. It was beautiful, if not a bit macabre. I would walk around, lost in the colors, and I would hear someone weeping. There would be a girl, standing in front of a tombstone, gently crying. I couldn’t make out the writing on the stone; it was far too old. When I looked up at the girl, I saw she had no face.

Oddly, the dreams were peaceful, even if at times slightly disturbing. Every time I dreamed, I found I slept far heavier than usual. If this hadn’t been the case, I might not have been caught so off guard.

It was the ocean dream again—only this time, when I looked up to see the gargantuan waves, they came crashing down on top of me. I jumped in my sleep and woke with a fierce immediacy. M. was not in the room.  M.’s things were not in the room. I ran around the building to look for some sign of her, but she was gone. I came to my senses enough to stay still around the orderly station to listen to the chatter. It seemed she was doing so well that her brother had decided he could care for her himself after all. That was it. Just like that, M. was gone.

*    *    *    *    *

The woods were unnaturally dark, but I kept walking. Everything was off; the darkness, the silence, but I couldn’t find it in me to care. I walked for what seemed like hours before I came to a hole in the ground. It looked to be a little more than a foxhole, but I went in anyway.  The hole seemed to open wider instead of closing in as I walked on. Further and further until my feet hit something solid like a plank or … a stair. There were stairs leading down. I followed them until I came to a small, earthen room. There was a chair in the middle of the room; the person sitting in the chair had his back to me.

I walked around the chair and noticed the softness of the ground, much softer than the stairs or even the dirt floor of the hole that lead below. It was almost like walking on a bed of moss. I walked around the chair and stared up at M.’s frozen face. Her entire body matched her clinched fist. She looked like a porcelain doll; I had the strangest sense of déjà vu. I looked around the room and saw hundreds of little dolls, staring down at me with their dead eyes. The smiles on their faces exhibited no joy, but twisted satisfaction and fascination. I looked back at M. and saw the cracks in her face. The floor no longer felt soft; it felt like I was sinking. Currents moved around my feet, but it didn’t feel wet. I looked down and saw a sea of multilegged insects swarming. The room was filled from edge to edge with creatures crawling over themselves, looking for a way out. Just then, as if to match my disgust, the thing that looked like M. let out an ear-splitting scream and shattered. A river of blood cascaded out of her body and threw me against the wall. I woke up.

*    *    *    *    *

No one had been moved into her room since she left. I was surprised I was not alone when I did awake. “I know you miss her, pal—probably a good thing you can’t see her like she is now.”

It was Jodie (or Janice), but what was she talking about?

“Poor girl just keeps getting worse, and I don’t think her brother will be bringing her back. It’s all very upsetting, I mean look at me … I’m talking to a cat.” With that, she scratched my head and walked out of the room. I was right behind her.

It was still dark out and all the doors were locked, but I was sure I could find some orderly slipping out for a smoke. I passed through the rec room, just in case a window had been left open. I saw Mrs. Calvin squatting over the litter box that had been left out for me. We locked eyes and she just gave me a twisted smile as she raised her finger to her lips in a “hushing” sign. That was one mystery solved.

I heard a door open behind me and I rushed out before seeing who my liberator was.  I had spent a long easy life at Greendale Pines and somehow I was certain I would never see it again.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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