“Mom! Dad! You’re alive!” Steven stood frozen in shock in the middle of the moonlit meadow as his startled parents half turned, looking over their shoulders at him with wide eyes. Their appearance was not what he expected, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on why. How did he know they were his parents? And yet he just did.
Something blurred his eyesight, obscuring their features as he tried to get a closer look. Was he crying? He rubbed his eyes and looked again, but they were walking away quickly.
“Wait! Don’t go!” he yelled. He took a step but something distracted him. A loud humming sound that seemed to be felt more than heard permeated the air around him. He turned around, trying to find where the noise was coming from, but it was everywhere. Could they even hear him?
He glanced back at them. They were much farther away now. “Wait for me!” he yelled. He tried to run after them, but his legs felt weak and heavy. It was almost like something was wrapped around them.
He looked down and all he saw was the grass of the meadow. Perplexed, he wondered how he got there. The meadow looked familiar to him, even in the moonlight. He looked at the landscape around him, almost certain he knew where he was. He remembered the place. But at the same time, the memory was elusive. It was like a word at the very tip of his tongue, yet hopelessly absent. Had he been there before?
The clearing, illuminated by the full moon, was surrounded by a dark forest that looked like an ominous black wall towering up into the sky. It cast eerie shadows that seemed to have a life of their own. Out of the center of the meadow there was a stark white pine snag sticking up like a tall, skeletal spire pointing up to the heavens. It almost glowed in the bright light of the moon. He found it all fairly creepy in the still of the night.
Looking back to his parents, he saw them nearly out of sight at the edge of the forest across the meadow. They turned and yelled something.
“What?” He cupped his ears as he desperately slogged through whatever was slowing him down. It was like wading through molasses. He kicked his feet trying to free them, but it just got worse. Scared, frustrated, and unable to run, Steven looked desperately toward his parents as he struggled to catch up with them.
“Run!” his mother screamed, pointing behind him. He turned and saw a large dark shadow coming toward him rapidly, exploding out of the forest into the clearing and landing with a heavy thump that Steven felt through his feet.
Startled, he tried even harder to run but his feet got tangled on each other, and he fell and hit the ground with a resounding thud. The landscape had started heaving and shaking, and he fell over again as he tried to scramble up. Steven quickly made it back to all fours and pushed off with his feet, running toward his parents in big, plodding steps as he used his hands to pull on the grass.
“Mom! Don’t leave me!” Steven wiped the tears from his eyes as he struggled to catch up. Why were they leaving him behind? A sense of abandonment washed over him as he cried. She was right there. Why wasn’t she trying to do anything to help?
The trees that bordered the meadow had begun swaying violently and a deep groan emanated from the landscape as it shuddered beneath his feet, threatening to throw him to the ground again. Still he pushed on, stumbling and trying frantically to get to his parents where he knew he’d be safe.
He felt the wind on his face as if he was running quickly, but every step seemed to be in slow motion. He was trying with all his might to run as fast as he could, but it felt like he was going impossibly slow. No matter what he did, they were still far away and he just couldn’t make any headway toward them.
He cried out in frustration, struggling to move beyond the futility of getting nowhere. Why had they gotten so far ahead of him? They were still yelling, waving him on. “I’m trying!” he yelled back at them. “Help! Mom, please!” He looked back as he tried to run and his blood ran cold at what he saw.
The shadow was approaching quickly, now looking like a large hairy monster. Terrified, he cried out to his parents. Where were they? He looked where he expected them to be, but now only saw dark forest. Did they really leave him behind?
Incredulous, he glanced back just in time to see the dark monster pounce on him, knocking his breath out as he was shoved to the ground. It opened its toothy mouth wide and let out a blood curdling roar that seemed to shake the ground. Nearly overcome by horror, Steven raised his arms, instinctively trying to ward off the creature as he desperately squirmed, trying to get away. But his legs felt like they were hopelessly entangled. The monster grabbed his arms and pinned them to the ground.
Time seemed to slow as the creature drew closer to his face, moonlight glinting off its obsidian eyes. It uttered a rumbling growl as its lips curled back. Its massive, thick canines that dripped with glistening saliva were now just inches from Steven’s face.
Steven caught his breath, too terrified to scream. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears, drowning out the persistent humming sound that filled the air around him as he frantically tried to ward off the demonic nightmare that was holding him down. It reared back and let loose another monstrous roar that seemed to erupt from deep within its massive bulk. Steven turned his head to the side and closed his eyes tight, fearing what would come next.
“Steven!” The voice sounded…human. “Steven!” Something shook him violently. He opened his eyes, gasping.
“Jonah?” The darkness melted away and Steven looked around for the monster, still terrified. Slowly he recognized where he was – his room, dimly lit by a hall light.
His heart still thumping wildly, he sat up from the floor and noticed his legs were tangled up in his covers. His adoptive father was holding him, helping him sit up and tugging at the tangle of sheets. Steven was crying but he was having trouble remembering why.
“You’re home, Steven. Everything’s fine.” Jonah gave up on the hopelessly tangled sheets and sat on the floor next to him, embracing him while he woke up.
Steven’s adoptive mother, Sally, briefly peeked through the door before walking into the room and picking a picture up off the floor. Jonah and Sally looked at each other, concerned. Steven was drawing a mental blank, trying to gather his wits.
“Why am I on the floor?” Steven’s heart was still thumping and he looked around as the mists of the nightmare faded away. He really was home now, sitting on the slate tiled floor of his bedroom.
“You fell off your bed. I’m surprised it didn’t wake you up.” Jonah smiled wistfully. “Same dream?” He wiped the sweaty lock of curly black hair from Steven’s face. Steven reached up and pushed more of his unruly hair out of his face. It was drenched.
“Yeah. Was a…” Steven tried to remember. The dream was fading fast. “A wolf sort of man this time.”
“Not a vampire? It’s usually a vampire.” Jonah stood up and pulled the boy to his feet.
After Steven pulled his feet out of the tangle of bed sheets, he sat down on the bed. His shoulder ached where he landed on it when he fell on the floor, and he rubbed it absentmindedly.
“No. But I couldn’t get away. It was really scary.” The sense of anxiety was easing. He wiped tears from his eyes as he looked around again, taking in his room in the dim, warm light. Steven was feeling more wakeful now. He wiped his eyes again and looked up at the ceiling. “They left me.”
“Steven…” Jonah started.
“They were right there. And they left me,” Steven said, feeling the loss all over again. He wiped his face as he looked down.
“It was a nightmare.” Sally tugged at his pajamas. “Just a bad dream.”
“But,” Steven looked at his adoptive mother, “they really did leave me.” He tried to hold back the tears, but the dream only reminded him of the reality of his situation. He was an abandoned child. “They’re gone and I’m alone.”
Jonah sighed, shaking his head as he hugged his adopted son. “They would never have left you, Steven. I know that. I know them.”
“Then why? It’s been years. Why hasn’t anyone found them?” Steven wiped his nose. Sally grabbed a tissue for him from the nightstand, unable to answer that poignant question.
“We don’t know, Steven.” Jonah said quietly. “I know they would not have just abandoned you. I’m so sorry.”
Steven took in a shuddering breath. He wiped his nose again and dropped the tissue into the wastebasket beside the bed. It was the same as the other dreams, and the same unanswered questions. He nodded, calming down a little.
Jonah glanced at his sketchbook by the box of tissues. “That’s them?”
“Yeah.” Steven shrugged, self conscious that it had been left open. “I draw them every dream, but it’s always the same.”
Jonah gaped at it for a moment, then glanced at a worried looking Sally before returning his attention to Steven. “We’re doing our best, Steven. You’re not alone.”
“I just wish, I want…” Steven stopped. They knew. He wanted his parents back. He had no direct memory of them, but for some reason he acutely felt their absence.
“We do, too,” Sally said softly.
His framed drawings hanging on the wall were all tilted and a few were on the floor. “What happened?”
Sally sat down next to him, gathering up the sheets that were half on the bed. “Just another tremor, dear. The usual. We were coming to check on you when we heard you fall out of bed.” Her soft, sultry voice was always so soothing and Steven felt even more anxiety melt away. “Now lay back down, honey. Do you want some water?” She looked over at Jonah, who nodded and left the room. Steven could hear glasses in the kitchen clink and the water being turned on. The familiarity of home was starting to sink in again as the fear and sorrow continued to subside.
Steven lay back down. “I’m fine.” No, he wasn’t. His mouth was parched. He grabbed the sheets as she tried to tuck them around him. “I’m ten years old, Sally. Almost eleven.”
“You sure are, big man.” Sally took the glass of water from Jonah and handed it to him. He sat up a little and drank deeply. The cool liquid felt so good, he finished off half of the glass before stopping and taking a breath. She retrieved it from him and set it on his night stand. “Are you okay now?”
“Yeah. I think so.” Steven was getting sleepy again. “I wish they would have helped. They just stood there.”
Sally kissed his forehead, her blond locks tickling his cheek. “It was just a dream, honey. Your parents would have done anything for you if they could.” She looked up at Jonah. This was always a tender but awkward subject. She stood up and walked toward the door.
The anxiousness returned. “Don’t leave.” He felt silly, but he was still afraid. Sally always made him feel secure and wanted, and that’s what he really needed now.
Sally came back and gave Steven a long hug, holding his head and kissing his wet cheek. She was delighted to hear him say that. “I won’t go anywhere, Steven.” She pulled back and Steven looked up into her remarkably blue eyes. “Ever.”
Steven smiled and hugged her back, feeling much better. He had started calling them by their names a couple years ago when he learned he was adopted and started searching for his biological parents, but she was still the only mother he had ever known.
Sally got up again. “We’ll be right down the hall. You try to go back to sleep.” Jonah backed up to let Sally slip by. She put her hand on Jonah’s chest and looked back at Steven. “Okay?”
“Yeah.” Steven was getting drowsy again.
Jonah smiled and followed his wife down the hall. Steven could hear them talking about a broken plate in the kitchen as he started to drift off. He always seemed to sleep through the little earthquakes that seemed to infrequently happen in the area. He wondered why he was never awake to actually experience them.
As Steven drifted off, he remembered something that jolted him awake. Rubbing his eyes, he scooted over to the side of the bed and grabbed his ever present sketchpad and pencil. In the light of the hallway he sketched what he remembered of his parents from the briefest glimpse he got of them before his dream tears clouded their features.
His sketchbook was full of similar sketches and he made it a point to draw them from every dream he had. Each drawing added minor details to the overall image Steven was trying to develop of his parents. As he browsed through them, they all seemed fairly consistent. Satisfied and barely able to hold his head up, he put the sketchbook back on the nightstand and lay back, remembering his parents from his dreams as he faded off to sleep.
~ ~ ~
The bluff overlooking the homestead was well illuminated by the full moon. Even so, the forest and underbrush created a dark wall around the little clearing by the edge. A shadow coalesced from the darkness and moved without a sound to the edge of the bluff like a dark vapor. The tendrils of the vapor settled into a robe that rested on a still figure that could have been a statue as it stared down at the homestead below.
There were lights on and movement in the modest ranch home down below. The last remnants of the tremors still shook the ground, and the branches of the trees behind the stoic, dark figure were still quivering.
The quake originated from the cozy home below, but had largely subsided now. The figure sighed and pulled his hood back, releasing an unruly mane of crystalline white hair that could have been fine strands of glass that rustled in the breeze. His jaw was stern and square, his countenance as white as his hair, and it gleamed as if chiseled from the whitest of marble.
“It happened again,” he whispered, his voice no more than a soft breath and yet clear as a bell.
A clump of underbrush burst to life and a massive, dark creature covered with glistening black fur erupted silently and landed beside the man, who didn’t flinch at the sudden intrusion. For a moment it looked like an enormous wolf crouching there. The creature rose up from a crouch and shook itself, taking the form of a large man covered from head to clawed toe with thick black fur under a spare black leather outfit. He stood in the moonlight with a fierce expression on his face as he contemplated the homestead. The creature stepped closer to the precipice of the cliff, crouched slightly, and grabbed a sapling as he leaned over the edge, glaring down at the humble collection of farm buildings.
“We must collect him now.” The words were barely a silent growl.
“It is too soon, Migalo.” The whisper came from the forest, seemingly from the trees and bushes, as soft as the leaves rustling in the slight breeze.
Another figure emerged from the darkness, passing smoothly through the underbrush that seemed to caress her longingly. A lithe human form that seemed as part of the forest as the trees and saplings walked lightly but purposefully into the moonlight to stand beside the other two.
Her skin was covered with the shortest fur that had an almost bark-like pattern, clearly visible in the bright moonlight. She wore a short top and long shorts that mirrored that pattern. And framing her face was a shock of short, unkempt hair that likewise retained the same bark pattern. Her hair still had leaves and pine needles from the forest clinging to it. It was as if the forest itself had directly given birth to her.
“We must leave this place. We are making it worse.” Her large, gentle eyes peered into those of the statuesque figure who seemed transfixed by the homestead below. “Lohet, he is not ready yet,” she insisted.
“We’re running out of time, Penipe,” the furry creature snarled at her. He shifted impatiently, baring his fangs at the thought of having to remain there any longer.
She barely glanced at her anxious friend, intent on Lohet instead.
“Migalo is right, Penipe.” Lohet turned his expressionless gaze on her. He seemed to look through her while many millennia of thoughts and experiences played themselves out in his mind as he weighed the odds and forecasted the consequences of their actions. “The longer we wait, the greater the danger.” His attention came back to the present and his eyes truly looked at her.
“What good is the fruit if picked too early?” A singsong voice floated out of the forest behind them. A slight figure hovered on the edge of the forest, just out of the light of the moon.
“Sirel, you of all people know what is at stake.” Migalo glared at the small shadow angrily, sulking, knowing she was right. He looked back at the homestead then silently moved toward the forest’s edge. “We can’t wait forever,” he grumbled at Sirel as he circled around her, then glanced back at Lohet for confirmation. She grinned, winking playfully at him as he glowered by.
“If we stay this close, it will just get worse. We must leave. Now,” Penipe repeated, pleading.
Sirel giggled and skipped into the moonlight, appearing all of an adolescent girl just entering her teens, and yet moving with the confidence and playful grace of a mature woman. She was dressed in long, flowing, silky robes that kissed the ground as she walked and her face was framed by a thick mane of curly red hair. None of the others knew exactly how old she was but she was easily much older than the ancient Lohet.
“The men are bored, Penny. They just want to play.” She grabbed Lohet’s cold white hand and tried to pull him into a dance. Lohet looked sternly at her for a moment, then he grinned, relenting. He found her touch electrifying and it brought him back to the present. Moonlight glinted off his sharp canines as his smile widened. Sirel was always the effervescent one even in the most serious of times. He admired that in her, given the tragic history of her people.
“Okay. That’s enough, my dear Sirel.” He looked back at the homestead, “We will wait. But not for much longer.” Lohet suddenly disappeared from Sirel’s playful grasp, moving as quickly and quietly as a shadow to the edge of the wood. Migalo growled from the forest’s edge and disappeared into the wood silently, sullen at all the waiting they were forced to endure. Lohet watched him leave, looked back at the other two for a moment, then melted into the darkness like a vapor.
Penipe and Sirel looked back at the house. The ground vibrated almost imperceptibly.
“He’s dreaming again.” Penipe knelt down, touched the ground with her hands and concentrated. She could feel the effect their close proximity was having on the boy. Sirel leaned against her, playing with a leaf she plucked from Penipe’s hair. Penipe gasped slightly. “The deviant is on the verge of another incident.”
“Then it’s time to go, Penny,” Sirel whispered in her singsong voice. With a quiet whoosh she abruptly ascended into the dark sky without another word. Penipe stood up and watched her disappear into the star studded heavens above. After a final look at the homestead, she returned to the shadows. Vines and branches reached out from the undergrowth as she approached the wood, receiving her as if receiving their own. Then quite suddenly, the bluff was empty and quiet again.