Share the learning, heartbreak, joys, and challenges as Ev Rykoff and his train engineer friends begin a lifelong journey with the Silicrys, symbiotic aliens. Hop on the train, come along for the ride, and become part of ‘Chimes of Light’.
Janet Newman is the first female brakeman on the Great American train. Hers isn’t an easy life to lead, but the arrival of her Silicrys, a symbiotic alien, just made her job seem easy by comparison. With her engineer friends Ev Rykoff and Rig Dawson, she fights the insidious Drasberg Device that threatens their lives. She sets out on a search for a way to defeat the device. What she finds changes their lives forever.
GENRE: Science Fiction ISBN: 978-1-876962-82-1 ASIN: B003XYEB4Q Word count: 148, 927
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
~~ Abraham Lincoln
On the Great American Railroad, summer faded to fall, greens turning gold and red, and then finally departed with the arrival of the winds of November. Arctic chill flowed down from Canada in frigid rivers. The autumn that year was remembered for the gala wedding of Pat Ryan to Ev’s sister Elizabeth in late September, and for the birth of Max O’Connell’s second child, a daughter, in October. There was much celebration, though the events were a month apart.
By the time the second week of November began, the cold weather was there to stay, and everything had settled down to a relative quiet in the terminal of Cameron. It was as tranquil as it ever got in that busy railroad yard.
Following daily custom, Rig Dawson arrived at the Yard Office only a few minutes early for his 759 Transfer job. He was surprised to find Ev Rykoff, his closest friend, and his crew drinking coffee in the lunchroom. He fetched his own mug of yard brew; it was strong, hot and lethal to anyone sensitive to caffeine. “Hey, Ev, what’s up?” He inquired.
Ev looked up from the newspaper that he was reading, and smiled. “Called for the Beloit Transfer, and midnight trick hasn’t finished building our train. At this rate, you and your fearless switchologists will have to dance the rest out on days.”
“And I suppose they left a lion’s share for us?”
“You got it,” Pat intoned. “We’ll be lucky to get outta here by ten or eleven o’clock. There’s a winter storm warning out.”
“This early in the season?” Rig groaned.
“Yup,” Ev replied, stretching. “Might get up to ten inches.”
“Damn! It’s only November. We may be in for a bad winter.”
“Rig, what’re you worried about?” Pat Ryan, Ev’s conductor on the Beloit Transfer, snickered. “It’s not like you’re going to be out in it.”
“Shit. I just hate winter…” Rig muttered, watching Pat eye Rykoff, who just smiled and shrugged. The other trainmen in the lunchroom smiled, but made no verbal comments–until Rig’s Foreman walked in.
Ron DesCartes called from the north lunchroom door. “Yeah…he hates winter, all right. Just watch how smug he gets when we freeze outside while he stays warm and dry with his toes wrapped around the heater box. He throws a fit if we open a window…”
Rig grumbled, shaking his head. “Monday…” The disgruntled engineer stalked out the lunchroom door, passed Ron, and walked down the corridor towards the outside door. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the screen door to the cold world outdoors. The temperature was hovering just below freezing, and the wind was in the process of shifting. Rig shivered slightly, dressed for the engine cab, not the lead. As he walked out towards the yard tracks, he scanned the sky. Low, scudding clouds covered the sun.
Sure smells like snow, he thought, searching across the west ends of the closest tracks to find 4190. The 1159 Top End was still switching in the middle, their noise a counterpoint to his thoughts. Where are you?
I’m on the North Lead Pocket, T’raagahr informed him.
Rig turned to his right, and sure enough, there was his engine, big as life. “I’m getting old,” he muttered.
No, you’re not. The hostler just brought me over from the sand tracks. I wasn’t here five minutes ago.
He could’ve parked you closer, he carped as he walked the equivalent of a block and a half to get where T’raa was tied down.
You can always just lite-in, his silicrys reminded him, as a large cut of cars rattled past on the lead headed for Ev’s embryonic train.
“Did Ev bid back on the Beloit Transfer?” Rig asked rhetorically, knowing his invisible companion T’raagahr could hear him. He was apparently talking to himself as he strolled down the lead.
“No, just the Extra Board,” a familiar voice replied from right behind him.
“Mind a little company?” Ev grinned at him, his white hair tousled by the fitful wind.
“‘Course not,” Rig said. “Y’know, we haven’t really done anything together since Pat and Elizabeth’s wedding, and before that it was…”
“I know.” Ev watched his feet, trying to avoid Rig’s eyes. Both knew what Rig was thinking of.
“I promised something I had no right to promise, after the Ferris wheel thing. It wasn’t my place.”
“Forget it. It’s not your fault you don’t have the p’raanahr.”
“I never really minded until I met all those kids at the Fair. It was then that I learned how helpless I really was. I’ve been meaning to speak to you about–”
“The Dahlgren girl?”
“Yeah. Maybe I’m just taken with her personality, but I was very impressed with her. Since the Fair, I’ve been volunteering over at Rock County Children’s Hospital. I’ve visited her lots of times, twice when she was very sick. She’s dying. It won’t be long before her cancer makes her life totally unlivable. I want to help her–in fact, I want to help all of them. If only I had that damned p’raanahr. It would be so easy.”
“It’s not as easy as it seems, Rig.” They stood at the foot of 4190’s rear platform ladder in an uncomfortable silence. A few snowflakes drifted around them, chased by the gusting wind.
“No, you don’t, Rig. You don’t know what it feels like to invoke the p’raanahr.” Ev looked hard at his friend, their eyes locked. Rig had a pained expression on his face.
Softly he answered. “You know that I don’t.”
“I wish I could help you, but if I start healing every kid with cancer–just flat out curing them–then where will I be?” There was anguish in Ev’s shining blue eyes.
Rig gazed down at the crosstie beneath the edge of 4190’s running board and kicked it. “Probably on the front page of the Clarion,” he admitted, not looking up.
“Exactly. Can’t you see why I must say no? Forget about them, Rig. We can’t solve all the world’s problems.”
“Damn it, Ev! I can’t forget about Melody! She’s my friend. I promised I would try. I promised her mother.”
“You should know better than to promise something you can’t deliver.”
“I know, I know!” His voice held barely contained torment as he gazed at his friend. “Don’t you think I understand? Don’t forget I had a daughter once, too…”
Rig regretted ever asking for his help. “I’m sorry.”
Ev swallowed hard, his voice a bit unsteady. “Hey…forget it. Neither of us chose what we would be able to do with these silicrys, did we? I don’t think they even knew what we would be able to do until after our siivahnurahs were completed.”
“It just seems like you’re the lucky one…” After he said it, Rig immediately wished he hadn’t.
Ev closed his eyes, unforgettable memories mirrored on his face as he lowered his head. “Get up on your engine, and get to work. I’ve got to go.” For a moment, Ev looked up at Rig, and he saw all the heartache he held inside reflected in his pale eyes. Then, before Rig could say anything else, he vanished.
Rig dejectedly stared at the spot Ev had vacated. I can’t really blame you, buddy. I’m one son of a bitch that sure as hell doesn’t know when to keep his big mouth shut. He stared up at the red and white enameled unit at his elbow, and sighed. Muttering self-recriminations, he slowly climbed up on 4190 to begin the day’s work.
That evening, the snow fell deep and drifted high. It turned out to be quite a storm. Visibility was severely restricted, and Ev was very glad that they had made it back to Cameron before the worst of it had begun. 1019 was on one of the Pit Ready tracks that evening. Even though he was off duty, he watched the blinding snow from his seat at the engine controls. His mind was not on the storm, however. He was thinking of the conversation he had had with Rig that morning. He was also thinking of the things that he and Janet had discussed in the summer. Although some of Rig’s comments had hurt badly, Jenine had agreed with them–as she had agreed with Janet. That did not sit well with him. Staring out at the wildly blowing snow, he talked with Jenine, his own silicrys. “I can’t.”
You must! You have the gift, just as Janet and Rig have said. Not to use it is to deny what we are. Is that what you wish?
“Jen, don’t do this to me!”
You do this to yourself, siiur’kiirehn. The pain must be borne, though I believe there must be a way to deal with that. I do not remember there being such a pain factor in this. I will think on it more thoroughly. As for the factor of discovery, I believe you may have a point. We do not need to share this gift with the entire world–unless you are personally called to that.
“I’m not. Believe me,” he assured her.
Then use your gift with discretion. We will work on dealing with the pain memories.
“Why can’t I forget them?” He whispered, remembered pain coloring his voice. “Why is there no way to dull that aspect?”
I do not know. It seems that you have the extremes of the p’raanahr. Most have no pain memories–and most are less gifted. I will think on it.
“Until then,” he sighed, “I’m going to talk to my sister Beth. She’s a volunteer at the Rock County Children’s hospital. If anyone can help with the discretion end of this, she can. I’d still rather not do it, though.”
Everett. Her thought was strong with her certainty. You cannot escape what you are…what we are. I feel your pain, also. Never forget that fact.
That was news to him. He hadn’t realized she endured it, too. He then understood the enormity of his survival after the fire in the spring. “I won’t forget, Jen.”
Then promise me by our kihn’ur that you will use the p’raanahr when there is need.
Promise me, Everett.
He took a deep breath, watching the snowdrift on her engine nose. She was very serious when she used his name like that. “I promise you, Jenine. By whatever powers you believe in, I promise.” He prayed he wouldn’t regret that promise to her.
I mean this to be for Melody Dahlgren, Ev. Jenine’s chiming voice was softer, gentler in his mind.
“Just because of Rig’s promise?” He shot back, irritated anew by the corner Rig had painted him into.
No. Melody is one of us, though she is still unchosen.
That statement surprised Ev. “How do you know this?”
T’raagahr and I feel it. She has the mind for it. She desires it. One of my race will find her–if she lives long enough. Her call is very hard to ignore.
Ev smiled, laughing to himself. “Wouldn’t that just fix Dahlgren’s wagon?”
I believe that is a true statement, but, if you do not find your destiny, Melody will not be able to find hers.
“I hate to say it, Jen, but you’re right. I’m sorry,” he whispered to the empty cab. “I’ll do as you ask.”
Though the snow had gone south and east, in LaCrosse the cold had stayed, reducing the temperatures to the teens. The midnight switch engine had just tied up. Dawn was painting the eastern sky in greens and oranges, streamers of cloud reaching far to the west, the only visible remnants of the storm that had swept through Cameron the night before.
Janet Newman, brakewoman and midnight yard rat, fell gratefully into her bed as the first rays of the morning sun beamed into her open curtains. The night had been difficult. There had been a lot of switching to do, and she had been the ‘pin-man’. She felt as if she had not stopped moving all night long.
Damn, I’m tired, she thought, settling herself into bed. The northeast wind was rattling the windows, foretelling another storm in the works. It was the beginning of her third winter on the railroad. She knew what to expect, but wasn’t enthusiastic about it. She was currently happy to just rest her aching muscles and sleep. Within a few moments, she had drifted off.
It was sometime later, the sun gone from her eastern window, when she experienced a very lucid dream. It was a very tactile, emotional dream, full of strange images and impressions. It was a vision of vast interstellar space, with glowing lines of force that knit the stars together in an unimaginably huge web. In this place, she dreamt of a being–best described as a cross between a graceful flower and a butterfly–who navigated that streaming web with ease. There was no apparent plot to the dream–just flashes of indelible images and sensations. Tying it all together was a personal, intense need that woke her up crying sometime after dusk.
She sat up in bed, tears streaming down her face, an intense longing filling her with pain. “What does it mean?” She cried, her throat aching and constricted. She remembered the images, the sensations, but felt them slipping from her conscious mind as she tried to make some sense out of what she had experienced. What did stay with her was the impression of need, of desire–a longing. “What is it that I’m longing for?” She whispered, confused. It seemed the answer was just out of her grasp.
She yawned as the tears dried on her cheeks. Darkness filled the room, but for the shaft of light shed by the streetlight outside. The wind still rattled her bedroom windows, still out of the northeast. She shivered, pulling her dark green, ivy-patterned quilt closer around her. She sighed as her head touched the pillows again; sleep washing over her, the dream filed away in her subconscious.
The snow was slush, and another storm was on its way before Ev got time to do anything more than mention his hospital visitation idea to Elizabeth over the phone. She had set a time and a date for them to meet. It was the Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving when Ev drove over to the Rock County Children’s Hospital to meet with his sister. He had planned his first visit only as an orientation trip, to familiarize himself with the place. He wanted to know how the place was run, where everyone worked, and where the patients were. He wanted to do his real work alone–late at night.
Elizabeth met him at the reception desk, slightly surprised that he actually had shown up. “I can’t believe you really want to help,” she said enthusiastically, as they walked down the main corridor towards the volunteer’s locker room. “When you called, I thought you were pulling my leg.”
Ev gave her a withering look. His concealing contacts showed the telltale pale ring around his irises. “You told me you could help me. I don’t need you examining my motives,” he said through his teeth. He was not looking forward to what he would have to do.
“I guess a spontaneous change of heart wasn’t it, eh?”
“Didn’t think so. Jenine put you up to this, didn’t she?”
“Yes…in a way. I wish it were otherwise.”
“Do you still want to go through with this?”
“Yes. I don’t have any choice.”
“Then let’s go.”
Clad in a white volunteer’s coat, much like the staff wore, Ev followed Elizabeth around on a grand tour. It took more than an hour to walk through the facility. More than once he had to restrain himself from reaching out to a crying child, from relieving a searing pain, or from curing a coughing, sick infant. After a while, he was trembling from the excess empathic energies in the place. Elizabeth noticed his distress, and took him to a quiet, unoccupied room.
Ev sat down on the neatly made bed and closed his eyes, his whole body shaking. In his mind, all the energy of all the sick children whirled in a disturbing dance, overloading his senses. With great effort, he corralled the sensations, putting them into the compartment where such pain was hidden. He gasped in surprise as the trapped memories exploded into his consciousness.
Elizabeth watched his face pale as he went into a convulsion. She held him as he struggled, his eyes wide with shock. After a few moments, he lay back on the bed, still, his breathing ragged. Tears ran from the corners of his open eyes.
“Ev! Can you hear me? Ev…” She spoke to him, her hands clutching his shoulders. She watched as his eyes refocused on her face.
“I hear you.” He sounded very tired.
“Can you sit up? What happened?”
“If I was to use railroad terminology, I’d say ‘ground fault…’ or maybe ‘flash-over’ would be better…” His voice faded. He closed his eyes again, going through a milder seizure, a groan coming from his lips. “I don’t think I can do this. It’s too much.” He breathed.
“Ev, when I started this volunteer work, I thought the same thing. Maybe we share a bit of that handicap. I know it’s probably a thousand times worse for you, but you have to stay! You can learn to control the empathy–”
He laughed humorlessly, sitting up carefully. “Easy for you to say. You have no idea what this feels like!”
Elizabeth frowned, feeling a bit peeved at her brother. “I may not have a silicrys, but I am still a Rykoff. I’ve learned to keep a wall up–a shield–to keep my sanity. Do you think it’s any easier for us ‘normal folks’?”
“I didn’t say it was easier, I said it was easier to say it than do it, for me. I have pieces missing…things that should already be in place for this to work, but aren’t. Somehow, I have to work around those teensy little derails and do what I have to do. I’ve tried to control it, Beth! I try every time I use this cursed power. I haven’t managed it yet.” He drew up his legs, putting his chin on his knees.
“You have to learn that control. How do you really expect to do what you came for without it? When you were at Cherry Hills this spring, I believe you felt little of what you went through. I watched you–I felt some of what you felt, but Jenine kept most of it from you. She protected you; she kept you safe.”
Ev’s face was drawn, his anxiety a presence, evident in his posture. “I know.”
Elizabeth felt sympathy for him. “This trip is on your own, isn’t it?”
“Not exactly, but as much as anything is on my own–yes,” Ev admitted, hugging his knees.
“Let’s try it again. Maybe I can screen some of the pain for you.”
Ev eyed her skeptically. “Elizabeth, you barely have common channel telepathy,” he scoffed.
Elizabeth gave him a scathing look. “Damn you, Everett Jacob Rykoff! Can it hurt to try?”
Resignedly, he sighed. “No, I guess not. I’m sorry.”
“That’s better.” Elizabeth smiled and pulled him to his feet. Unresisting, he followed her.
Jen, I can’t do this! he sent to his silicrys in a flash of panic.
Yes, you can, he heard her whisper in his mind. Believe in yourself.
I’ll try… He felt a bit better with Elizabeth holding his hand, her physical touch enabling her shield to function for them both. Maybe she wasn’t pulling my leg, he thought, as they walked down the hall to the two wards he had yet to visit. One was the Cancer Ward, the other the Burn Unit.
Elizabeth stopped in front of the entrance to the Pediatric Burn Unit. She pushed open the door and started in, pulled up short by Ev’s hesitation. “Umm…can’t we go to the Cancer Ward first?” He pleaded.
“Ev, we’re here now. Let’s go in,” Elizabeth coaxed. Ev didn’t move. Ever since the fire, she knew he could not bear the sight of open flames. Could he bear the empathic telepathy of someone recently burned? He could have real trouble going in there, Elizabeth realized. Using a gift she rarely acknowledged, she spoke in his mind. Ev.
He abruptly focused his white-ringed gray eyes on her face.
I know you can hear me. Please try to come with me. I’ll help you.
NO! Not here! Not this. Please, not this!
Elizabeth looked into his contact-disguised eyes, and saw reflected the naked flames of his ordeal in the spring. He had experienced a lot more than she had realized before. She was about to honor his desire to avoid this particular ward, and leave, when a tall, middle-aged nurse walked towards them from down the corridor. Elizabeth recognized the approaching woman from her volunteer work. She was a compassionate, resolute soul who was one of the few with enough endurance to care for the burn victims on a regular basis.
She smiled at Elizabeth as she came up to them. “Afternoon, Mrs. Ryan. Who’s your friend?” She asked in a pleasant tone.
“This is my brother, Everett. He’s kind of–unsure–about coming in here.”
The nurse frowned thoughtfully. “This is your brother?”
“Uh huh.” Looking at him, she introduced the nurse. “Ev, this is Madeline Springer. She’s a good friend of mine.”
Quietly, he responded. “Glad to meet you, ma’am.” He extended his hand, and she took it, giving him a pointed gaze.
With a knowledge that seemed to baffle Ev, she gave him a sympathetic look. She patted his hand, seemingly unaffected by the electrical charge he knew she had to have felt. “I understand you are a bit uneasy.”
“That is an understatement,” he replied.
“Even for us veterans this is sometimes a cruel duty to pull, but please come on in, though. These kids rarely receive visitors.” Madeline grasped Ev’s ice-cold hand and led him in, ignoring the pressure of the energy he projected.
Elizabeth watched Ev’s face as they entered the ward. He began to tremble as Madeline led him through some of the rooms by the hand. Many emotions played across his face. She saw terror, fear–and an overpowering sense of compassion–mirrored there. Maybe I should’ve been the one to lead him, she thought with worry.
Madeline spoke to him softly as they paused in the corridor adjacent to the nurse’s station. “Just think of the kids.”
A few beads of moisture ran down his forehead and across his cheek. “I am. That’s the problem.”
She stopped, turning to him, searching his face. “That’s a problem?”
“It is when you feel everything they do,” Ev said in a whisper.
“What do you mean?”
Ev took her by both shoulders, and linked with her mind. He wasn’t gentle. This is what I mean, Madeline! He opened his memories to her, watching the tears spring to her eyes. She managed to hold his scrutiny for almost ten seconds before a moan of anguish escaped her. She sagged in his grip. With his mouth close to her ear, he whispered, “Do you understand now?”
Gasping in reaction, Madeline leaned against the wall as he released her. Elizabeth came over to support her. She watched, stunned, as Elizabeth gave Ev a scathing look and hissed: “Did you have to do that?”
Still trembling and perspiring, he retorted, “Yes…I did. Do you want a sample?”
“I–” she hesitated. “No.”
After her heart slowed down a bit, Madeline stood up straight, shook loose of Elizabeth’s help, and grabbed Ev’s arm, pulling him to her. “What are you?”
He glared at her, his irises ringed in incandescent white. In her mind she heard his ‘voice’: I am P’raanahr’krihn. You would call me a healer, but I have one problem–and you felt it already.
Madeline’s eyes grew wide, amazement in them. “A healer? You?” she whispered in astonishment. “Can you prove this to me?” Madeline breathed, getting herself under control.
Elizabeth’s brother stood straighter, his trembling still pronounced. He nodded. “You pick a patient, Madeline.” I’ll prove to you what I am, he echoed through her skull.
She took him at his word, scanning the wall chart near the nurse’s station. After a few moments, she selected a child. With determination, she beckoned him, expecting him to accompany her. He did, but with reluctance evident in his posture.
As they walked down the corridor, Madeline recounted a bit of history concerning the child they were going to visit. “You’ll be working with David McGinnis. He’s just seven years old–his birthday was the fourteenth of this month…”
Ev blanched. This kid has my birthday! Is this a coincidence?
Jenine answered. There are no coincidences–only synchronicity, Ev.
Synchronicity? You’ve said that before…
Yes…I have. Things happen a certain way because they need to happen that way.
Are you telling me this needs to happen?
Jenine didn’t answer.
“…The only one of five children to survive a house fire four weeks ago.” She pushed open the door to the child’s room, leading them into his presence. “He can’t hear us. He was burned over 60% of his body. I’m afraid he has little chance of a full recovery.”
Ev swallowed. I was burned over 80% of my body…
However, you had ME to keep you alive, siiur’kiirehn! Jenine sent fiercely in response, surprising him. Now you need to be that power to him.
“That is why I brought you here. He’s dying, and there’s not a damn thing we can do. His parents are sure he’s not going to survive, and they’re full of despair.”
” If he wants to live, I can help him,” he whispered, his body shaking. I have to.
He noted that Madeline eyed him skeptically. She knew what his trembling represented as their eyes met briefly. She stood back as he approached the bed.
Ev breathed in the scent, the signature of fire wafting up from the boy’s bandage-swathed body. The aroma was very familiar to him, as was the scent of the dressings and ointments. Silently, he grabbed a convenient chair, pulling it over to David’s bedside. Sitting down, he took a deep breath. He tried to calm himself, fighting the nearly incapacitating effects of his uncontrolled empathic telepathy. He held out his hands, fingers wide apart, palms down over David’s body. His hands did not quite touch the boy. Putting a blind faith in his kiiyahkihn bond with Jenine, he called on the energies of p’raanahr, bracing himself for an experience as close to torture as he could imagine.
I don’t want to do this, Jenine! Ev’s inner voice screamed as the energies danced over his fingers, and leaped the gap to David’s body. The boy convulsed, a muffled cry coming from an abused throat. Ev groaned, closing his eyes. His body wilted. His hands touched the boy’s body then, sending a shock wave through him. He opened his eyes, and locked his gaze with the boy. Bloodshot blue eyes met his, flames and terror and screams flooded his mind. He felt the boy’s intense desire for life. He resonated with that, sending back hope and certain knowledge of an end to the pain. Blue-green energy grew brighter and stronger, playing around his hands and dancing across David’s form, missing nothing. Ev felt the boy’s burns over his body, as he remembered his own. After about ten minutes, the present pain subsided, then disappeared.
Ev hung his head, sweat dripping from his nose; his breath coming in gasps as he pulled his hands off David’s now animated form. He sat back in the chair, dizziness washing over him.
He reached for Jenine’s psyche, needing her more than ever. She calmed his mind, helping him box the pain, but did not try to eliminate it. There was simply too much to deal with. I am with you. Do not fear.
Ev echoed Jenine’s words, transmitting them to the crying child. David took one last gasping sob, and stopped crying, his breathing evening out. He slipped into the natural sleep of the newly healed.
Madeline came over to the bed, and checked the sleeping child. As she discovered that the skin below the dressings was whole and without scarring, she turned to him. There was an air of amazed awe on her face. “You told the truth!”
Ev lifted his head, exhaustion evident in his posture. “Yes. Do you really think I would lie about something like that?”
“I had my doubts.”
She watched as he slowly got to his feet. With dignity, he walked out into the hall. She sensed there was pain in every move he made. “It’s time for me to leave,” he said softly, fatigue dragging at him.
“Now?” Madeline stopped him, holding onto his sleeve. Ev pulled away violently, the sleeve of his jacket giving way, the wrist button pulled from its place. She got a glimpse of the scarring on his forearm. Stepping back, she stood dumbfounded. Ev pulled the sleeve down, covering his arm. His gaze was one of anger as he resumed his retreat down the corridor.
“Everett–” she called.
He turned, shifting his eyes from Madeline to Elizabeth and back. He said nothing, then resumed walking slowly away.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t realize…” Madeline said in a whisper.
Elizabeth leaned on the wall near the boy’s room door. “Madeline, he’s the one that survived the apartment fire that took his wife and daughter in April.”
“He’s THAT brother?”
“Yes. I have only one.”
“But how? He couldn’t…it’s too soon. How?” She knew about burns. She remembered Elizabeth telling of his injuries, how badly he had been burned by the fire. Elizabeth had told her that he was burned over 80% of his body! Ev couldn’t be the same man! It was impossible–yet, he bore some scars consistent with her story–only much older. However, his face and hands were virtually unscathed. After watching his retreating form in shock for a few moments, Madeline ran after him, getting in his way. “Please–wait!”
He raised his eyes, meeting hers. His face held a weight of hard experience. They were old eyes. “Why?”
“Will you ever return?”
“I have to. This was only a familiarization trip. There was a specific person I came here to find.”
“Who? Maybe I can help.”
“I don’t think I should say. I took a great risk in coming here at all…in more ways than one.” His voice held a sadness she could feel. His face was feverish, but there was an aura of coldness around him as he trembled.
“You do not want credit for helping David.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No. That’s not important to me. My anonymity is. I will never return if you break my trust,” he swore. “Do we understand each other?”
She nodded, though her eyes held a threat of exposure.
“If you need my help–really need it–let Elizabeth know. She can contact me. I will work with you in exchange for my privacy. Is that agreeable?”
She hesitated for a second, consequences and effects flashing across her face. She realized Ev could read her intent. “Yes. For the children…yes.” Madeline held out her hand. Ev took it, and they sealed their arrangement with a tingling handshake.
Ev looked haggard and depressed as he and Elizabeth walked through the parking lot to his old Mustang. She couldn’t help commenting on his excursion. “What you did for that boy was nothing short of miraculous. You have such potential, Ev. I’m glad you agreed to return.”
“I’m sorry if I don’t share your enthusiasm. I agreed to return because if I didn’t, Madeline would make sure I did another way.”
“What do you mean?”
“She wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone at the Cameron Clarion of my little ‘miracle’.” He said the last word with a twist of irritation.
“How do you know that?”
“It was in her mind. I heard it–but I’m willing to bet she doesn’t know I’m aware of it. It seems I was effectively trapped by a pair of scheming females…”
“Madeline and me?”
Ev laughed weakly. “No, Madeline and Jenine. Madeline would make a good silicrys. She’s got a single-track mind.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile at his remark, though he wasn’t saying it as a joke. He let out a long, tired sigh as he opened the driver’s side door to his car. Elizabeth saw him grip the edge of the window until his knuckles turned pale.
She put her hand on his shoulder. “Will you be alright?”
“Yeah…I think so. Hell, Beth, what have I gotten myself into?” He stared at her, his eyes a dull gray. “Why did I get that talent? Why not Rig? He’s much more suited to be the healer type.”
“Ev, what is the ‘healer type’? Am I? Is Madeline? Is anyone?”
“I don’t know…but I’m not it.”
“I tend to disagree with you there, brother dear. In my book, you are the ‘healer type’.”
He shook his head in negation as he climbed into his car with deliberate movements. Pulling out his keys, he slipped the ignition key in its slot. Pumping the gas, he turned it, bringing the engine to life in a cloud of loud, blue exhaust. He was reminded of the need for a tune-up and a new muffler.
“Are you coming over for supper tonight? Pat and I would be happy to have you,” his sister offered as the car warmed up.
He wasn’t in the mood to argue. Closing his eyes in resignation, he asked, “What time?”
“How about eight? I haven’t got dinner started yet. I’ll make fried chicken…” She knew his fondness for that, and used it as bait.
“Fine. I’ll see you then.” I really don’t need one of Pat’s lectures on ‘duty’ tonight…but I know it’s pointless to argue with her. She’s more stubborn than I am.
As her brother drove away, she prayed he wouldn’t do anything foolish. He was very unpredictable when he was depressed, she knew. I pray his silicrys watches over him. As unorthodox as his relationship with Jenine is, that has always been a safe bet, she thought, as she watched him disappear into the late afternoon traffic. He is such a puzzle. With all the wondrous abilities he now possesses, he is still unhappy. She sighed, thinking about what he’d gone through in the last year. What will it take to give him back the joy he had when Sandra was alive?