Windwalker’s Mate by Margaret L. Carter
Shannon’s little boy Daniel has disturbing psychic powers. He talks to the wind–and it listens.
All Shannon wants is a normal life. She wants to forget the cult of the Windwalker, a dark god from another dimension, and the terrifying night when her child was conceived. But her first love, Nathan, son of the cult leader, contacts her for the first time since that horrific ceremony. He claims his father is stalking Shannon and Daniel.
Whose child is Daniel, Nathan’s or the Windwalker’s?
Nathan’s father plans to use Daniel to open a gate between dimensions and unleash chaos on our world. To save her child and become reconciled with her first love, Shannon must embrace the strange powers she has rejected.
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A vast, jagged landscape stretched before her. Like a luminous mist, a shimmering, pale violet radiance pervaded the scene. A gale blew toward her, lashing her face and hair. Its chill froze the air in her lungs. In her ears the wind keened with an eerily lifelike whistling cry. She trudged forward, one pace at a time, careful not to trip on the rocky ground. Something waited for her up ahead, but she couldn’t remember what.
Through the scintillating veil, she saw a shape in the distance. A tiny figure. A child. She tried to walk faster without falling. Though her speed seemed to increase, the horizon where the child waited never drew any closer. My little boy. I have to get to him.
She broke into a trot. Her foot caught on a stone, and she tumbled to the ground. It didn’t hurt, so she hauled herself upright and kept going. She fell over and over, though still without pain, but she never made any progress toward her goal.
The wind turned icy, and a blotch of darkness appeared on the field of violet light. She glanced up. A gigantic shadow overflowed the sky. The shadow of a creature with undulating tentacles, too many to count. One of those appendages slithered toward the child and coiled around him
No! You can’t have him! She raced toward him, while the tentacle hoisted him into the air…
She woke, panting, her nightgown plastered to her body with sweat. Where did that come from? I haven’t had one of those dreams in ages. Still shivering with irrational terror, she hurried into Daniel’s bedroom. He lay asleep on his side, the sheet tangled around his legs and his stuffed dragon on his pillow. He didn’t stir when she bent over his bed and straightened the covers. Only a dream. It didn’t mean a thing.
Sometimes a gust of wind is just a harmless breeze.
Shannon clutched at that belief when she caught sight of her son in the lobby of the Little Stars preschool and day care center. Ms. Ginelli, the teacher of the four-year-olds’ class, gripped him firmly by the hand. His curly, reddish-blond hair looked as if a gale had swept over it. The question, “Oh, no, what did he do now?” leaped into Shannon’s head. She bit her lip to keep the words from bursting out.
“What’s going on?” she asked instead.
Ms. Ginelli’s frown hinted at perplexity rather than annoyance. “We had a little accident, Ms. Bryce,” she said, “but I’m not honestly sure what happened. I wasn’t in the room when it started. Paige said Daniel and Jacob got into an argument in the block corner. When I got there, she’d already separated them.”
Paige, the aide for Daniel’s class, appeared behind the reception desk at that moment. Her hair, not confined in a tight bun like Ms. Ginelli’s, bristled as if she’d run her fingers through it–or she’d stood in front of a fan. “Jacob has a small bruise on his arm, but he’ll be okay. And don’t worry, Daniel didn’t hurt him. I was holding your son on the other side of the room when it happened.”
Shannon locked stares with Daniel, who gazed up at her with his lower lip quivering. “What happened?”
Paige shook her head. “I’m not sure, either. It was over so fast. The wind rushed in and blew the blocks around. I mean, not just scattered them, lifted them off the floor. Hard enough that one of them bounced off Jacob’s arm.” Obviously mistaking Shannon’s gasp of alarm for worry about the other boy, she said, “No biggie. They’re soft plastic. It wouldn’t have left a mark at all if it hadn’t hit him so hard. It’s weird, though. The wind just sprang up all of a sudden, like a mini-tornado, and stopped a minute later.”
“It’s true,” Ms. Ginelli said. “I came in just in time to see the end of it.”
Shannon didn’t doubt the story for a second, though she couldn’t explain why freak winds surrounding her son didn’t surprise her. She flashed on a memory of him on the backyard swing set, at the age of three, swinging back and forth without pumping his legs, a breeze ruffling his hair while no wind blew anywhere else. She thrust the image back into the compartment where she stored all the impossible events she wanted to forget.
She walked over to Daniel, who let go of the teacher’s hand and grabbed Shannon’s. When she picked him up, he hugged her around the neck and planted a damp kiss on her cheek. “When did this happen?” she asked.
“A couple of minutes before you got here,” Paige said.
“May I see the room?”
With a puzzled look, Paige said, “Sure, if you want.”
Carrying Daniel, Shannon followed her down the hall to the four-year-olds’ class. With the other kids already gone, the room was vacant except for child-size furniture and scattered toys. In one corner, half of the blocks formed a foot-high pyramid. Most of the others lay in a sinuous curve around the structure, like the vertebrae of a snake.
“Isn’t that funny?” Paige said. “What are the odds?”
Shannon felt a chill trickle down the back of her neck. “Odds of what?”
“Them just falling into those shapes when the wind stopped.”
“Yeah.” Shannon swallowed a cold lump. “Funny.”
“Of course, it couldn’t have happened that way, could it? In the confusion, I must’ve thought they got scattered more than they really did.” She rubbed her eyes. “Anyway, Jacob’s all right, and Daniel didn’t get hit at all. No damage from the attack of the amazing airborne blocks.” The aide’s nervous giggle hinted that she didn’t take the incident as serenely as she pretended.
Setting Daniel on the floor, Shannon said, “Time to go home now, okay?”
“Okay.” His smoke-gray eyes solemnly returned her gaze. For the thousandth time, she wondered where that gray had come from. Not from her or anyone in her family. Or from Nathan, she thought, but instantly squelched the thought, as she did every time his name popped into her mind. She walked her son to his cubby to collect his backpack, then led him to the car in the late afternoon September warmth. “Thank goodness it’s Friday,” she muttered to herself. By Monday, Ms. Ginelli and Paige might have forgotten the more incredible details of this afternoon.
On the way to the parking lot, familiar anxieties scurried through Shannon’s head like hamsters on a wheel. What if something worse happened next week? What if the weirdness got too extreme for even a levelheaded, professionally certified preschool teacher to ignore? Suppose they asked her to withdraw him from the class? Where else could she find decent day care she could afford?
“Okay, Danny boy,” she said after she’d belted him into his booster seat in the back of her four-door compact, “nobody here now but us chickens.”
“Daniel,” he said with a long-suffering sigh. From his first week in preschool, he’d rejected nicknames. “Not a chicken.”
“Right. Level with me, not-chicken Daniel. What did you do to Jacob?”
“I didn’t do anything to him, Mommy.”
She fastened her own belt and switched on the ignition. She’d have to approach the problem from a different angle. “What did Jacob do to you, then?” By now, she knew better than to fall back on a “yes or no” question.
“He took blocks off my building.”
“How did that make you feel?” The parenting advice books always stressed the importance of active listening and respecting children’s viewpoints.
“Mad.” He tossed out the word in a casual tone. His anger must have worn off by now.
She kept quiet while pulling onto the freeway for the short drive home. She couldn’t yell at him for an event that might not have been his fault after all, or that he might not have understood even if he had caused it. When she felt able to match his offhand manner, she said, “What did you do about that?”
“I made him put them back where they’re s’pose to be.”
“How?” Daniel might be calm, but her own head throbbed with tension. She struggled to keep her voice steady so he wouldn’t notice.
“I told the wind to make the blocks fly.”
Turning from the highway into her neighborhood, she felt her hands clenching on the wheel. She deliberately relaxed her fingers. “You know it’s not good for things to fly through the air. Somebody might get hurt.”
“But Jacob’s okay. Not real hurt. They’re soft blocks. Ms. Paige said so.” His voice quavered. “I had them first. He wasn’t s’pose to take my turn.”
“Okay, we’ll talk about that later. What happened next?”
“I told the blocks to go where I wanted them.”
She blinked and made herself focus on the road instead of the buzzing in her brain. Most parents, hearing that kind of story, would chalk it up to a child’s vivid imagination. Shannon knew better.
Ten minutes after leaving the preschool, she pulled into her driveway. Convenience as well as economy made it important to keep Daniel enrolled in the Little Stars program, near both her house and the dentist’s office where she worked. She didn’t have to waste much time or gas on the daily commute.
The knot of anxiety in her chest loosened a little when she unbuckled Daniel and watched him run up the walk to the front porch, little more than a stoop with a railing and just enough space for one lawn chair. She’d inherited the split-level house, in a 1950s suburb south of the Baltimore beltway, from her mother. Bringing up her child in the closest thing she had to a family home anchored her to the normal life she clung to like a toddler’s security blanket.
When a breeze rustled the leaves of the tree in the middle of the front lawn, she assured herself it was a natural breeze, nothing more.
Daniel looked up at her while she unlocked the door. “Can I catch lightning bugs tonight?”
“I guess.” He wouldn’t have many more chances, since evenings would turn cooler soon.
Their silver-gray Persian met them at the door, looping around Shannon’s ankles in impatience for her dinner.
Daniel waved. “Hi, Gigi!”
The elderly cat dashed toward the kitchen to get out of his reach, with good reason. Shannon served Daniel a bowl of carrot sticks and shooed him into the den on the house’s bottom level to watch a Sesame Street video. Listening to him sing along with Elmo, she could think of him as an ordinary kid, no different from any other little boy.
I’ve tried, honestly. I’ve done everything I can to give him a regular life, she thought while filling the cat’s food and water bowls. Even though a critical four-year period in her own life had been far from ordinary.
Her energy seeped out like water through a colander. Dragging herself into the bedroom, she stripped off the slacks and blouse she’d worn to work and zipped through a shower before the video could run out. After dressing in shorts and a T-shirt, she started a load of laundry and microwaved hot dogs for supper. I’ll fix something healthier tomorrow night.
For the rest of the evening, she concentrated on wearing a cheerful mask, to keep Daniel from quizzing her about her mood. She pretended to share his fascination with lightning bugs in the back yard and toy boats in the bathtub. She couldn’t let him guess how the block “accident” preyed on her mind.
She might have to consider taking the step she’d always sworn she would never resort to. She might have to contact a man she’d hoped never to meet again. Nathan Lange.
By the glow of the night light, Shannon gazed at Daniel asleep in his bed. In Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas, he lay sprawled on his back with his stuffed dragon, Puff, under one arm. She’d suggested more original names, but Daniel’s fondness for the song his late grandmother had sung to him countless times had overruled Shannon’s preferences. The plush toy, with its green body, blue wings, and silver tail faded from neon-bright to pastel, remained his favorite bedtime companion. On the dresser, lightning bugs flickered in a nest of grass at the bottom of a jar, waiting for their release the next morning. She sighed with yearning at the illusion of peace. At this moment, she could dismiss the turmoil Daniel sometimes generated as accident, coincidence, or her own paranoid imagination. If only I could believe that.
Shannon jumped and stifled a screech when something brushed her bare leg. She glanced down. The cat’s plumed tail grazed her calf again.
“What are you doing in here?” she whispered. “Scat.”
She ushered the cat into the hall and closed the door. Gigi avoided Daniel whenever possible, and no wonder, after that incident when he was about two. Hearing a screech from Gigi, Shannon had hurried into his room just in time to glimpse the cat floating onto the dresser. Of course, she’d immediately told herself the animal must have jumped. But an uncompromising voice in her head kept insisting she knew what she’d seen.
After putting the hissing cat into the hall, she’d asked Daniel what happened. “Bad kitty,” he’d said.
“What did Gigi do?”
“She bited my bunnies.”
“Your what?” Looking at the floor for the first time, Shannon had noticed Daniel’s playthings–a column of lint balls lined up beside the bed. They had looked like rough sketches of rabbits, with round puffs for tails, floppy ears, and four stubby limbs. While she’d stared at them, they’d started moving. Not randomly, as if stirred by a breeze. They’d hopped.
“I play with dust bunnies,” Daniel had said. “Gigi bited them. Bad kitty. So I make her go up high.”
“Don’t do it again,” had been the only thing she could think of to say. “You scared the poor kitty.”
She’d left the room, assuring herself that next time she peeked in, the dust bunnies would be gone. And of course they were. Of course Daniel hadn’t really levitated the cat or mentally shaped scraps of lint–that would teach her not to use careless metaphors around her kid!–into lifelike rabbits and made them hop across the floor. Even then, though, she’d already seen enough incidents in his two years of life to know she was fooling herself.
Daniel had inherited the wild talents she’d spent years trying to suppress in herself. Shannon’s mother had still been alive then. Fear that her mom would notice the toddler’s weirdness had kept Shannon’s nerves constantly taut. She’d felt an urgent need to maintain an illusion of normality–or risk consequences she could hardly bring herself to imagine. Would her mother haul Daniel off to a psychiatrist? Or throw both of them out of the house?
Now Shannon didn’t have to worry about that risk anymore. But since then Daniel’s strangeness had become more noticeable rather than less. Could he be cured? So far, her efforts hadn’t gotten anywhere. She tried her best to divert his attention to normal little-boy activities. When odd events occurred, she discussed them as little as possible. If she avoided acknowledging the abnormality, maybe she could extinguish the behavior by lack of attention, the way she’d read about in her college Psychology 101 textbook. Explicitly forbidding the odd manifestations would draw attention to them, so she didn’t do that, either.
She poured herself a glass of pink zinfandel from the open bottle in the back of the refrigerator and sat at the dining room table to insert a few pieces into the current half-finished jigsaw puzzle. The normally soothing exercise didn’t settle her mind. She couldn’t concentrate on distinguishing cloud pieces from sheep pieces. Wandering into the living room, she picked up a Regency romance paperback and flipped to the bookmark. With her brain simmering like a pot left to boil over, she couldn’t remember what she’d read in last night’s chapter. She tossed the book onto an end table and gave her worries free rein.
This time Daniel could have actually hurt someone, if he’d used hard instead of soft blocks. The way I hurt people, back then. She locked that thought away and focused on the current crisis. Any other parent in the same situation would rush her kid to a shrink. Shannon knew that kind of treatment would be worse than useless. If she consulted a professional who took her seriously instead of deciding she was the one who needed treatment, he’d try the usual methods of counseling and play therapy to get to the bottom of Daniel’s “problem”. When those techniques didn’t work, they would medicate her little boy into a zombie.
Alternatives? Besides the one source of advice she most wanted to avoid? Maybe she should appeal to the rector of her church. She laughed to herself at the thought of explaining to the young, liberal priest that her four-year-old son generated poltergeist phenomena. If the rector accepted her story as true, the first thing he’d probably suggest was the psychologist she was trying to avoid. What else did she expect him to do? Perform an exorcism?
She sighed, took a long gulp of wine, and ran her fingers through her hair. She knew only one person who’d understand and accept her problem at face value. Nathan.
Since the trial, she’d struggled to shut him out of her mind. Until today, she thought she’d succeeded. How could she ask him for help in controlling Daniel, though? He didn’t know the boy existed, and she never intended to let him know. Nathan probably wouldn’t consider trying to take Daniel from her. But she didn’t plan to give him the chance. If she contacted him, she would have to invent some other excuse for needing help. She sipped her wine, mulling over the quandary.
Nathan knew of her reluctance to embrace her own gifts, as he called them. Until meeting Nathan, she’d thought of them as a curse. He wouldn’t find it implausible that she’d tried to suppress her powers, which in fact she had. He would easily believe that she would react negatively if they burst out again. She could claim to ask for help in leashing her wild talents. He knew more about such things than she did. He’d lived with Professor Hugh all his life, while she’d done so for only four years.
If I contact him. She still hadn’t made up her mind to do that. Furthermore, she didn’t know his current address. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to find him, an outcome that would almost be a relief. At least she’d be able to convince herself she had made an honest effort, and she’d be off the hook.
Before she could lose her nerve, she marched into the spare bedroom she used as an office and booted up the computer. She logged onto the Internet and typed Nathan’s full name into the search engine. When the entries popped up, her pulse accelerated. At the top of the list she found an employee in the computer division of a company in Washington. She clicked on the URL and checked the employee biographies. The paragraph on Nathan R. Lange, webmaster, although sparse in details, matched the man she’d known. She pointed the cursor at the e-mail link, with her finger hovering over the Enter key.
After a moment of frozen indecision, she pressed the key. Writing a message didn’t commit her to sending it. And at least if she e-mailed him at work, she didn’t have to worry about getting an answer instantly. She would have a couple of days to work up the courage to face him, if only in writing.
In the e-mail box, she typed the shortest, blandest note she could manage without being totally uninformative: “I have a problem I could use your help with. Please get in touch with me. Shannon.”
With her stomach twisting into knots, she added her phone number.
She hesitated again when she’d finished. I have to do this. It’s for Daniel. She clicked Send.