Chapter 22: Meeting
The sky overhead swirled with pale blue cold fire. She stood on the windswept plain, side by side with the other Chosen.
“The Earth shakes there,” whispered the warrior to her left. “The very air is poison,” nodded the one to her right.
“Demons appear from nowhere to crush your bones.”
“The stones open their mouths and cry out in pain.”
A frail voice whispered, “None are able to approach the Dark Castle.”
A slow, determined voice below her feet added, “All who have tried, have died.”
She wept, feeling the despair of those around her.
And then the Voice spoke, so powerful and deep, as broad as the air, as high as the sky. The Voice spoke and none could understand.
“What did the Voice say?” she cried out.
A Chosen, so small that it came to rest on her ear, whispered, “i heard it.”
“What did it say, oh tiny Brother?”
“the voice asked, ‘who will go to the dark castle?’”
The Chosen wept as one, for there was no one able to approach the Dark Castle and live.
She breathed in the companionship of the Chosen and cried out, “I will go.”
No sooner had the shiver of rejoicing overcome the host than a watcher cried out, “An Other has come!”
Fear replaced the joy in an instant, for Others brought death.
“Go!” she cried. “Run away, go to the west. I will withstand the Other.”
Luther whispered, “Deena!”
She reacted. Lowering her arms and still moving as if she were in a dream, she pointed to the west.
As if they were all one herd, the elk and deer and smaller animals quickly moved off in the direction she pointed.
“Deena?” He ignored the animals and made his way across an ancient fallen log towards her.
She blinked, seeing him for the first time.
“Luther,” she smiled. “How...?”
Seeing they were deep in the forest stole away her words. Her face crashed.
“Where...? I was in the car...” She felt the scrap edge of her blouse. Frantically, she tugged at it, trying to make it cover her.
He approached and she flinched away.
“Deena, you fell out of a moving car. You are injured, I need to see how badly.”
Like a toddler, she hugged herself and said, “No.”
He pulled out the missing sleeve. “There’s blood on this. Now, I have to check you out.”
She shook her head. A faint wail was building up in her throat.
He grabbed her arm. Shaking her firmly, he said, “Stop that. We have to get you back to the car.”
He pulled her free of where she had been standing. Once she took the first step, it was easier, but nothing could free her grip on her ruined clothes.
When they reached the trail, she hesitated.
“Someone might see me!”
Luther sighed, but it at least sounded like levelheaded Deena was coming back. Whatever had happened to her had been traumatic.
“I’ll check it out.” He walked the trail to the next rise, and then called, “No one is here. Come on.”
She edged out and headed his direction. With her arms clutching her blouse, she walked with a waddle.
He led them back the way he had come. Heading for the official trailhead parking was too risky. When he saw the stick, he pointed the way. At the road, he went alone to recover the car while she hid.
“Get in,” he called, when he had driven back. She dashed out of the shadows and ducked into the back seat, covering her self with the blanket.
“That has to be uncomfortable back there.” There was nowhere to sit. She was piled on top of the luggage.
“Don’t look back!”
He dug into his glove compartment and pulled out a pocket-sized Global Positioning System navigator. He turned the GPS on and hoped the satellite signal could penetrate down through the trees. He drove on to try to find a place to U-turn. “Look in the black airline bag. There’s a spare shirt in there you can use.”
She mumbled something he couldn’t understand. A quick glance in the rear view mirror showed frantic motion under the blanket. He grinned and shook his head.
By the time he passed the place where they had stopped, the GPS was active. He marked the position as a waypoint in its little database. A block appeared on the glowing green map.
When they rejoined the highway, she was dressed and came back to the front seat. There were tears in her eyes.
“Do you hurt?” he asked. “I still need to check you for cuts and scrapes.”
“You don’t sound positive. We can’t let open wounds go untreated. They will get infected.”
She shook her head sadly. “You don’t understand.”
“Then tell me.”
She tried to brush the deeply muddied stain on her white slacks. “This was the first nice outfit I’ve had in years! It’s ruined! In one day—less than a day. Ruined.”
He silently relaxed a bit. He would have laughed, but she might take it wrong.
“I have nothing to wear, except this...tent.” The red plaid shirt drooped on her shoulders and, untucked, extended halfway down her thigh. He didn’t comment that it was maybe too tight around her chest. She had it pinned strategically in the front.
“I think you look nice.”
She didn’t respond.
He put aside his worries about her injuries. She showed no pain. Nothing appeared to be still bleeding. If she was cut in an embarrassing place, he suspected she’d never let him near it.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” He honestly had no idea which of her defects she was worried about, but he wasn’t to going phrase it that way.
“I have blackouts. I’ve had them for days. I sleepwalk, and now, twice, I’ve done it in the daytime.”
“You don’t remember anything about this last escapade?”
She shook her head. “No. One minute I was in the car, looking at the trees go by. The next, I was there in the forest, far from the road.”
“Then you don’t remember the animals?”
He described what he had seen.
“You mean, I told them where to go, and they did it?”
He shook his head. “You pointed. You didn’t say anything.”
“That’s weird.” She shook her head and put her hand on her stomach. Her face looked pained.
“Are you getting sick?”
“No. I’m just extremely hungry.” She looked desperate. “Could we please stop somewhere to eat? Please?”
They stopped at an old diner in Orick where the locals came to eat. Deena ordered the largest steak they had, plus all the fixings.
“What do I call you?” she asked between bites. “Luther or Luke?”
He shrugged. “Stick with Luther. Your mother may want me publicly flogged, but the people searching for Luke....” He shook his head with bad memories.
She cleaned her plate, and the rest of his, and then begged a slice of pie. He paid the ticket without comment, but he took a quick tally of his available cash.
“Aren’t you afraid of gaining weight?” he asked.
Seriously, she shook her head, “No, I’m afraid of losing it. Do me a favor, will you?”
“I don’t trust my own senses anymore. Tell me, I have lost a lot of weight, haven’t I?”
He nodded. “Um, yes. I’d say so. Unless you were wearing padded clothes this past year.”
“Okay, I want to know if it goes too far. If you see anything unhealthy about my weight—ribs showing, a gaunt face, stuff like that—tell me, please.”
“Okay, but right now, you look just fine.”
She flushed. “Don’t get any ideas. I wasn’t fishing for compliments. I just don’t trust this change.”
He nodded. “Sensible precaution.”
They walked out to the car.
He asked, “Which way are we headed?”
She nodded down the road, and frowned. “South, of course.”
He started the engine and pulled out on the road. “Just a theory. Over the past week, several weird things have happened back on that hiking trail. It could have been that you really just wanted to get back there, to that grove of trees. It was south of Crescent City after all.
“Are you sure you don’t feel a tug to go north now?”
Deena cleared her mind, trying to listen to those urgings.
“No. I still need to go south. We still need to rescue Katy.”
“I’m going to take this alternate route.” Luther said as he turned off of Highway 101.
Deena jerked awake. She had been dozing. Rubbing her eye, she said, “Okay. What’s up?”
“It’s dark and I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. You don’t drive, do you?”
“No. Mom said the insurance was too expensive.”
“So I need to stop. I’ll find a place to pull over. This is a scenic route. There’ll be pullouts.”
“Oh.” She sounded distressed.
“What’s the problem?”
“It’s just...I’m filthy. My clothes are muddy. I stink of sweat so badly I can’t imagine how you stand to be in the same car with me.
“I was really looking forward to a shower, and a bed.”
He sighed. The other times he had been on the run, living from day to day in his car, he had subsisted on drive-thru hamburgers and sleeping in the back seat.
Traveling with Deena was a lot slower, and took a lot more money.
But, she did smell a little ripe.
“Okay. Be on the lookout for a place to stay.”
He saw dozens of great places to park the car out of sight of passing traffic, but most of the accommodations were abandoned 1950’s era tourist courts.
Finally, they located a motel built on the side of a hill. He carefully guided the Chevy up the narrow, twisted access road and went inside the office.
When he came back, he said, “We have a room. And in case anyone asks, your name is Jenny Anderson.”
“Jenny. Anderson. Even when you pay cash, you have to give them a name and the car’s license tag number. I transposed a couple of digits on the tag. That way it looks like an honest mistake if they catch me on it, and it still keeps the real number out of the databases.”
She frowned, “What’s your name?”
“Paul. Paul Anderson.”
“Jenny and Paul. Paul and Jenny.” She toyed with the sound of the names.
He drove over to their parking slot. He applied the emergency brake.
“Ah, Paul? How many beds?”
“Just one. It’s what they had.”
He opened the door. Under the dome light, she looked nervous.
“Are you coming?”
She hesitated. “Luther? I...”
“Hey, don’t get any ideas.” He relished being the one to say it. “I just need some sleep. I was planning to sleep in the car.” He patted the cushion.
“There’s just one key.” He tossed it to her. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
She was out the door. “Thanks, Luther. I’m sorry I’m such a pest.”
He waited until she was in, then closed the doors and lowered the windows a couple of inches for ventilation.
His aching eyelids closed.
At the rate we’re going, we may never make it to Malibu.