Chapter 16: Walking
Deena said nothing to disillusion her mother. But the empty rooms she had seen, and the dust collected on all the furniture, confirmed what she had overheard on the cell phone. Katy Ferril didn’t live here. Probably there was no workshop, and Luther probably bought the examples of ‘Katy’s artwork’ just for show.
Luther did his best to hide his discomfort, and Deena said nothing else provocative. She had a hard time hiding her grin.
Let’s all pretend! Luther was playing the dutiful nephew. Katy was playing the cheerful artist. Mom was playing the protective parent.
And I’m playing ignorant.
Luther worried. We may have overdone it.
He smiled as they all went out on the front porch. Deena’s mother was looking him over as if he were a prime bull at auction. All I wanted to do was get her out of my hair. I wasn’t auditioning for the role of son-in-law.
He sent Katy a scolding look. She looked positively smug. What had she said about him when he was out of the room?
Deena looked smug, too. What had she said to him in the kitchen? It had sounded all too close to reality. But had she actually meant what he thought he heard?
If it was, then that’s another data point for the psychic abilities theory. She’s reading my mind—maybe unconsciously.
But that didn’t make it any the less alarming. Some secrets had to be kept, no matter what.
Deena was shaking her head. “I’m going to be walking home.”
He looked up at that. “No.”
Mara said, “No, dear.”
Even Katy frowned.
Deena argued with her mother. “I am losing weight with my new exercises. I don’t want to quit just because it’s inconvenient.”
Luther interrupted. “Let me take her part way, Mrs. Brooke. Some of these roads have no sidewalks and the afternoon traffic is too fast for walking.”
Deena wasn’t happy with the people on all sides trying to take care of her, but she agreed to Luther’s plan. Mara left with a smile on her face.
“It was nice meeting you Ms. Ferril. I hope I get to see you again some time.”
“I hope so too, Deena.”
Luther held the door for her, still playing the gentleman.
As they drove away, Deena said, “Katy did a good job, winning Mom over.”
He nodded, “Hmm. I thought I’d take you as far as Highway 101. Is there another place you’d rather start your walk from?”
“Oh, take me down to the docks, and I’ll walk around the harbor.”
“So, you’ve taken up walking?” He was fumbling for small talk. The whole visit had been embarrassing. He’d never have set it up if he’d known how it was going to turn out. Instead of re-enforcing his image as a resident, Deena, at least, was even closer to knowing how false his life here in Crescent City was.
“Yes. I’ve gotten itchy feet lately. In the metaphorical sense.” She laughed. “Maybe it’s another of my alien symptoms.”
The highway exit into Citizen’s Dock Road came a minute later.
“Would you like me to walk a ways with you?”
Deena looked at him enigmatically, then shook her head. “No. It’s an exercise thing. I doubt you could keep up.
“And don’t let my Mom’s delusions confuse you. I know you’re not looking for a girl friend, and let’s not encourage her too much right now. Let’s keep our conversations at school. My park bench is hardly out of her line of sight.”
She hopped out of the car beside the statue of a mermaid, carved out of a large redwood trunk, and began moving away towards the boats, first at a walk, and then moving up to a slow jog. She didn’t look back.
The world had gone dark, but she could see waves of energy move through the sky. They seemed to emanate from the dark castle far in the distance.
Every step brought her closer, closer to her goal.
There were other runners beside her, but they had four legs, and one by one, they fell behind, unable to keep up with her.
Her fellow warriors, they urged her on as they succumbed to their own limitations. Only she could see the rising edifice. Only she had the ability to bring it down.
Only she was fast enough to reach it.
Beating as her heart, her legs were weightless, carrying her easily through the forest, across the rivers, across the grassland.
All she had to do was reach it.
She pushed higher, ever higher up the hill.
Suddenly, a chasm opened up below her. She stumbled. She fell.
Falling, falling, falling.
And then she hit.
Deena sprawled across the curb, tumbling across the gravel. Her right arm and leg scraped raw.
“Huhh!” she cried, startled suddenly awake.
The pavement was cool beneath her, damp with dew. She struggled to a sitting position, holding her injured arm.
Above her, the stars shone above the streetlights.
What am I doing here?
She tried to stand, but her pajama bottoms were wrapped awkwardly around her ankles.
Urgently, she pulled them back up.
Sleepwalking, and I tripped on my own pajamas.
She recognized the intersection.
What am I doing three blocks from home, in my pajamas?
Gritting her teeth against the pain, she stood and held her bunched waistband in a tight grip.
It was early in the morning. No traffic was out. Hurriedly, she turned back, and keeping to the dark side of the street, padded on bare feet back to her house.
Her front door was open. Quietly, she closed it after her and went to clean up.
In the bright light of the bathroom, she checked her injuries.
Dried blood, but the skin had already closed up. She wasn’t really surprised.
In the mirror, her face and her exposed skin were red, like an all-over blush. On impulse, she used the thermometer. She read 106 degrees, but she could feel herself cooling down. There was none of the aches she remembered from the fever.
She shed the bloodstained pajamas and ran a shower. Her body temperature quickly dropped to normal.
I can’t have Mom see these. She wrapped the ruined clothes in a trash bag. They were several sizes too big anyway. All of her clothes were too big.
They had a bathroom scale, but it usually spent months at a time in a cabinet. Neither of them had enjoyed weighing themselves. Deena fished it out and checked her new weight.
I’m thirty pounds down! She had known the fat was melting away, much faster than any healthy diet could promise. But this was impossible.
All these fevers—something is burning up my fat for energy. She took a look at herself in the mirror. She hadn’t consciously looked at her own body in a long time. It had always been too depressing.
I’m not slim. Not yet. But maybe not horribly obese either.
She felt good. Pain from the fall had vanished on the way back home. I feel healthy.
But the sleepwalking was disturbing. What had she been dreaming? It was gone now.
Killing the lights, she took the trash bag back to her room. Where did I stow my old clothes? Surely there’s something that will fit.
Mara woke to find Deena cooking a large breakfast.
“I thought you were on a diet.”
“I am, but I’m starving this morning. I think the exercise has upped my metabolism.” She put down the spatula.
“And Mom, I need new clothes. Look at this.” She undid and re-tightened her belt. “I had to punch two new holes. None of my things fit anymore.”
They talked about which things could be cut down and re-sized. Buying a new wardrobe was way out of their budget.
But Mara understood the need. “You need to look good for your friend.”
“Mom! You misunderstood. Remember, it’s just a science project.”
Mara nodded. She remembered losing weight when she was dating Deena’s father. Sometimes, it just took a man to give you the motive to take care of yourself.
But if Deena wanted to deny her feelings, she would go along with it, for now.
“I need to go now. I’ll be walking to school.”
“Is that a good idea? You’ll be all sweaty.”
“I have an idea about that.”
Luther handed Aunt Katy her check. It was blank.
“Don’t get greedy.”
She looked over the check. The account was in her name. She had opened it here in Crescent City with Luther several months ago. One phone call and she could drain the balance dry.
He nodded. “It won’t clear until tomorrow, but then you could tell your bank to do a wire transfer and get it in your home account practically immediately. I hope it will help you out.”
She slid it into her purse. “It will do fine.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “But I need to get the rental car back to the airport, and the drive takes hours.
“Have fun at school, with your new friend.”
“Ha.” Luther grumbled. Katy was having too much fun at his expense.
Deena tuned her internal radio to a jazz quartette and eased from a jog to a smoother run. Sometimes, in spite of all the stations she could pick up, there was still nothing on the air that fit her mood.
But the running itself felt good. She made the mental adjustment and even the jazz faded down so low she couldn’t hear it over the beat of her heart and the rush of air in her lungs. Running could be its own music.
With navigation on habit and autopilot, she had time to think.
Would an alien know she was an alien? In the horror movies, the victim changes slowly, until suddenly it develops a taste for blood or brains. It infects other people while it still seems human.
I need to be on the look out for other people like me.
What would their symptoms be?
Red faces—fevers. Zinc junkies. Fast calculators.
The school was there before she realized it. The three-mile run hadn’t taken nearly as long as she had expected.
And I’m not even winded.
But she was hot. Her clothes were wet with sweat. Slowing down just made it worse. The breeze of her run had felt good.
The girl’s gym was around the corner. I hope I’m not too early.
But the door was open. She knocked on Coach Rathborne’s office.
“Coach, I just jogged to school. Do you think I could use the showers to freshen up a bit?”