Chapter 13: Comeuppance – part 1
Ashlynn mock-pouted at her parents, who lay entangled on the blanket in the middle of the arboretum clearing. She glanced at Jake, who stood beside her with his arms crossed. “Mum, Dad!” she called. “You promised you’d behave!”
Shane and Mum came up for air from their snogging session. With the tropical plants in full bloom around them and yellow butterflies flitting about, the scene was something out of an allergy commercial. Post-meds, of course.
Jake snickered. “Look at it this way, Lynn. If they catch you sucking face with Arjay, they can hardly blame you.” His voice rose to a ridiculous falsetto. “’I can’t help it! Hormones run in the family.’”
Their parents were unabashed. “I think not,” Mum said. Grinning, she turned back to Shane. “As an adult, I can ‘suck face’ with whomever I want whenever I want.”
Shane leaned closer, his body language undermining his stern expression. “Not whomever.”
“But I only want one man.”
Jake pantomimed gagging as their parents’ snogging resumed. Then his eyes settled on the picnic basket in the middle of the blanket. “C’mon, Lynn. May as well take all of the good stuff for ourselves.”
This time Ashlynn giggled. “And fill a glass with cold water to throw on them.”
The lovelorn parents reluctantly broke apart. “All right, all right,” Shane said. “We get it. Time for lunch.”
“Yeah!” Jake cheered. He and Ashlynn sat across from their parents, moving the picnic basket between them.
Mum pulled basket close. “What shall we start with? Antipasto?” She flipped the wicker lid open. Sooty smoke poured out, twining up Mum’s arm and twisting around her neck.
Shane lunged for her. “Addison!”
“Don’t touch it!” Lynn screamed, but it was too late. The smoke had entangled Shane, constricting around his throat as well.
Jake tried to move in, but Ashlynn grabbed his arm in time. He struggled against her mental and physical hold. “Mom! Dad!” He twisted around to glare at Ashlynn. “What is it?!”
Tears blurred Ashlynn’s vision. “I don’t know, but it’s bad. Evil.”
“We have to do something!”
But there was nothing she could do. She was rooted to the spot. “It’s too big.”
Mum, whose face had turned blue from the choking darkness, pinned bloodshot eyes on her. “Not anymore.”
Ashlynn awoke with a start, her sweat-soaked nightshirt clinging to her. She was home, safe in her bedroom, with Mum and Jake hovering just outside of her consciousness. Sorry, she told them, embarrassed. Just a stupid dream.
Their concern came through loud and clear. Another one, moppet? Mum asked.
It’s just exams, Mum. Ashlynn colored her reply with teenage petulance. She was stressed about the organic chemistry final, so the statement was truthful.
I don’t know why you’re worried. I’m helping you study. O-chem is easy, Jake teased.
Shut up, brat, Ashlynn shot back, but her heart wasn’t in it. The memory of the dark creature lingered, making her skin crawl. The distraction was welcome. I’m fine, Mum, really.
All right. Her mental presence withdrew. Jake remained.
You’re not fine, her brother insisted. You can fool Mom sometimes, but not me. This is the eighth time you’ve had this nightmare?
Ashlynn didn’t want to answer. Something like that.
Share it with me.
What? The nightmare?
Lynn flopped back into her pillows. What good will that do?
Dunno. But more data is always a good thing.
Dammit, Jake! I’m not one of your experiments!
Ashlynn imagined him frowning in his bedroom in Shane’s quarters. I know! But something’s not right. We need to diagnose it.
Your bedside manner sucks, Jake.
I’m twelve. Sue me.
Don’t think I won’t.
Whatever. He grew serious and was quiet for a long moment. We should do this in the lab. Teleport me there once Mom’s asleep? Dad’s still out cold.
Fine, Lynn reluctantly agreed. He’d badger her until she did, and it was only 2:30 in the morning. But you’re still a brat.
Jake sing-songed, I know you are, but what am I?
Ashlynn loosed a sigh of frustration, then rolled on to her side. If she was lucky Jake would fall asleep and forget all about his stupid experiment.
Getting Lynn to teleport them to their lab had been an uphill battle, but Jake won in the end. His stubborn sister sat on a lab stool opposite him scowling, arms crossed. She looked a lot like Mom, he realized. Weird.
“Nothing.” He fished his prism from his pocket. He still had to look at it to forge a connection, but the connection was steady and strong now. Its pale glow lit Lynn’s face from below. Ready.
Why are you using that?
Jake shrugged, which made the crystal’s light flicker momentarily. Might help, and I figure it won’t hurt.
“Whatever.” Although her expression was pure annoyance, Jake felt her anxiety mount. Suddenly he was in the arboretum. Yellow butterflies flew gracelessly, and a skinny, dark-haired kid—
Jake abruptly realized that the kid beside him was… him. Sort of. I am not that skinny! he thought, then noticed Mom and Dad on the blanket in the middle of the clearing. It didn’t seem nightmarish at all, even with his parents making out. As happy as he was that they were finally together, he did not need to see them sucking face.
Dream Dad pried himself away from Mom. “All right, all right. We get it. Time for lunch.” Jake studied him. He looked different. Younger. Fewer lines around his mouth and the corners of his eyes.
“What shall we start with?” Dream Mom asked. “Antipasto?” Jake scrutinized her as well. Also younger.
She opened the picnic basket, and a dark vapor poured out. Ashlynn’s dread closed around him. Definitely a nightmare.
The smoke curled around Mom and Dad, tightening around their necks. Although this wasn’t his nightmare, Ashlynn’s fear and the sight of his parents clawing at a choking darkness was getting to him.
“What is it?!” Jake’s too-skinny representation said.
“I don’t know,” Jake (Ashlynn) managed, “but it’s bad. Evil.”
“We have to do something!”
Helplessness gripped him. “It’s too big.”
There was more, something bright, hovering at the edge of the dream. Letting instinct guide him, Jake plunged after it. The brightness focused into someone familiar: Dr. Gibson. He was younger, too, and seemed much taller. Jake realized he sat beside the man on a white leather couch. He stared up at Gibson, angry and frustrated. “No! That’s not it!” he shouted, his voice high and thin. “It’s not because I’m little. It’s because I know! It wasn’t them! It was the dark, twisty thing. It got to them. I saw it and no one else did and no one believes me but it was real. It made them mad and now everything’s wrong!”
He felt Gibson’s—Daddy’s—hand smooth his hair. “It was something twisty and scary. But I don’t think it was a monster. I think you saw a premonition. Some people don’t see things like a movie. Some people see symbols. They have to learn to read their visions. Translate them. And I think that you had that kind of premonition. You saw a dark thing as a symbol of all the bad feelings that your mum and Dr. Myers were experiencing.”
It made sense, sort of. And it must be true because Daddy said so. And once she was a good girl she could see Mummy again. So she nodded and waited like a good—
The warm, safe haven vanished, and Jake snapped back to reality. The shock of it made him dizzy. He grabbed the edge of the lab table to steady himself.
“What the hell was that, Jake?!” Ashlynn demanded.
“How should I know?” Jake shot back as he willed the world to stop spinning. “It was your memory!”
“My…” Lynn’s shock washed over him. “Oh god. It was real.”
Jake, although no longer dizzy, was too disoriented to follow. “Which part?”
“The part with Daddy,” she spat. “Daniel. That bastard! He lied to me!”
“He lies to everyone, Lynn.”
“I know! But I was four!”
“That’s pretty low,” Jake agreed. He recalled the rest of her nightmare and felt his stomach sink. So the black smoke was real? The whole picnic thing?
Ashlynn’s face darkened. “Not exactly.” Her eyes unfocused as she searched her memories. Tears welled, but she held them back. After a few long moments she returned her attention to Jake. “You’re not going to like this,” she warned.
Ashlynn was right. He didn’t.