Chapter 14 – Sliding Beneath the Surface

March 21, 2013

Sliding - blogThe St. Augustine Trilogy: Book I

Young adult, paranormal/historical

14

Brightness and People

 

I puked and puked until nothing came up but air. It seemed like my stomach was going to come right out of my mouth. Through closed eyes, I could feel hot tears drop away. All I could think of was those bodies on the road, vultures feasting, the stink, and being alone in a place I didn’t understand.

A voice just behind me said something I couldn’t quite hear. At the same time, I felt a hand touch my back and come to rest there. Part of me wanted to whirl around and see who it was, thankful somebody, anybody, had found me. The thing is, I wasn’t even able to turn my head because of the heaving. The hand on my back moved over to my shoulder and gently squeezed.

“Are you OK?” the person said, the voice louder and sharper this time. It sounded vaguely like Carla.

“Carla?” Her name came out all raspy sounding, but the possibility it might really be her calmed my stomach a bit. After retching one more time, and bringing nothing up, I found I could turn my head. When I opened my eyes, there she was, beautiful, wonderful Carla. Couldn’t believe it. I had never been so glad to see someone in my life, but part of me feared she might fade away in a flash of brilliant white. All the while, my stomach kept twisting, but I didn’t puke any more.

“You had me so scared.” In her voice, I could hear a mixture of deep worry, almost panic. For Carla, that’s saying something. She doesn’t do panic.

I dropped my head between my shoulders a bit and took in a deep breath. That’s when I smelled it. Sure enough, there was my puke all over the grass. I had been throwing up in front of the middle pyramid back in the cemetery.

“Oh man.” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and stood up. Talk about embarrassing.

“Sorry Carla,” was all I could manage to say. The thought of me throwing up in front of her made me feel worse. In order for me to get both of us away from all that mess I’d made on the ground, I walked into the grass around the tall war monument and squatted with my back to the pyramids. I barely made it, my legs were so wobbly.

Carla came over and sat next to me, again putting her hand on my shoulder. That felt so good, but my mind kept going back to all I had seen on the lonely wilderness road.

“We’ve got to get you to a doctor,” she said gently, but with urgency in her voice.

“No… I’ll, ah, be OK, really.” I took another deep breath, realizing for the first time, there was no horrible stink in the air, and I don’t mean the puke behind me. I’ve never been so glad to inhale clean air in my whole life.

“Come on now,” Carla argued, “one minute we’re talking and the next minute you’re throwing up. There has to be something really wrong with you, food poisoning maybe.”

“It isn’t anything like that.” My mouth tasted terrible. I knew my breath must smell awful so I tried not talking to Carla directly. As my mind began functioning better, it dawned on me I had started throwing up on the road with the bodies and finished back in the cemetery with Carla. I was beginning to think I really was losing my mind. “Tell me what happened.”

“What do mean?” she asked.

“Please,” I begged her, “just … just tell me what you saw from the moment I touched the pyramid until I started puking.”

“OK, but there really isn’t much to tell. You, ah, touched the pyramid with your fingers at first, and then you put your whole hand on it. You backed up a little bit right after that, and quivered, like you were cold. The next thing I know, you bent over and started throwing up. That’s it.”

That’s it? My mind raced through the memory of all I experienced after I touched the pyramid the second time. All of that was not my imagination, a dream, or a hallucination, I kept telling myself. Lobo’s words about spirit bodies traveling to other places also thundered inside my head, as if he was standing next to me. Talk about confusion.

“Something else is going on with you you’re not telling me isn’t it?” Carla asked.

“Well … yeah, but this is going to sound even crazier than what I told you about all that fog on Lobo’s porch.” It only took a few minutes for me to spill my story about the road, and what I found there, but it felt like an hour. As I talked to Carla, the fear I felt during my time on that stinking road once again forced its way into my mind, and my hands shook. Seeing how agitated I was getting, she took both my hands in both of hers, immediately calming me down.

“Fascinating,” she said wide-eyed when I finished. “Unbelievably fascinating.

“That’s not exactly the word I would use, but at least you’re not ready to have me committed to a mental hospital, right?”

“Hardly. I think your experience here has really pointed you in the right direction.”

“To hell with direction, I want it to stop. If I get any more direction like that I may really go freakin’ crazy.”

Surprisingly, Carla didn’t even blink when I forgot and used the word hell. “I hear you, really I do,” she replied, “but Lobo sent us here to see if we could pick up any information that might put an end to all this for you.”

“Maybe so, but you haven’t gone where I have and neither has Lobo. Look at me,” I said holding up my hands that had started shaking again. “My head is killing me, and it’s really hard for me to sit here and talk about all this in a calm, logical way.”

“OK, OK, take it easy. You don’t have to do any more talking, but let me quick tell you something, and then we’ll go. Whether you know it or not, you just described to me the battlefield where Major Dade and his soldiers lost their lives in 1835. You nailed it right down to the road they used, their uniforms, the burned out wagon, the cows that were actually oxen, and even all those vultures. Jeff, it was as if you truly were there somehow.”

“Really?” As interesting as what she had to say was, it scared me even more.

“Really. You were right on the money. Like I said before, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of those soldiers from the battle who’s trying to grab your attention. I’m sure Lobo can now help you to find—”

I don’t know what happened while Carla talked. For whatever reason, I felt completely overwhelmed. Maybe I suffered a panic attack or something, I’m not sure. What I do know is that after she mentioned the possibility of one of Dade’s soldier’s being the source of all my trouble, I had this uncontrollable urge to get away from those pyramids as fast as I could. Carla or no Carla, I had to get out of there, and I did. When I say overwhelming, I am not kidding.

Without a word, I jumped up, hopped on my bike, and roared off down the sidewalk. Behind me, I could hear Carla calling my name, but I was blinded by so much pain, confusion, doubt, and fear that I flat didn’t care. After coasting through the small opening Carla left in the cemetery gate, I hit the street pumping the old pedals for all I was worth. My butt didn’t get anywhere near the bike seat until I pushed well past the National Guard building. Only when the lights from the marina, the Santa Maria restaurant, and the Bridge of Lions reflected in the Matanzas River did I slow down a little. Those lights gave me a target, a place to head for, as far away from that cemetery as possible. It felt so good to move, to use all my strength and energy and feel the cold, clean wind on my face.

In front of me, a horse drawn carriage with a couple of tourists in it plodded along, its red taillights and little side lanterns glowing. The driver looked up from talking to his passengers just in time to see me approaching at a high speed. I ignored him, whipped into the left lane and found myself facing the headlights from an oncoming car. I was going too fast to slow down in time, but luckily, the driver swerved to his right and partially into a vacant parking spot with breaks squealing. Barely threading my bike between the car’s rear bumper on my left and the horse on my right, I heard a horn blare behind me.

Not for a second did I consider slowing down, but that didn’t last long. When I swung back into the right-hand lane, a line of cars came to a gradual stop on my side of the road up at the King Street traffic light near the Bridge of Lions. Red taillights burned with fiery warnings of danger meant for me and nobody else—warnings about the past somehow coming alive and threatening to swallow me whole. Paranoid thinking? Sure, but can you really blame me?

OK, I did slow down quite a bit when I approached all that traffic in my way, because I had no other choice. Instead of being completely reckless, I glided by the driver’s side of the cars in front of me as oncoming traffic, with their headlights glaring, rushed past on my left. It took until then for me to recognize I had no idea where I was going. Panic had shoved me this far, but I no longer felt that mindless need to move and distance myself from the cemetery. Safely behind me, the pyramids were no longer the problem.

So now what? Returning to Lobo’s place, waiting for Carla and talking to both of them about my experience over dinner was definitely not an option just then. No way I was going to talk about all those bodies any more. I thought about going home, but I sure didn’t want to sit there all alone. To tell the truth, part of me wanted to turn right across the Bridge of Lions out to Anastasia Island, head south on highway A1A along the Atlantic and get away from St. Augustine as fast as I could.

Ahead of me on my left, the plaza and all its little lights glowed brightly. All those thousands of tiny shining white bulbs everywhere, the huge Christmas tree, and all the people walking around looked kind of inviting. Yeah, even the tourists. Brightness and people, that’s what I needed—well, people I didn’t know anyway. Nobody there would know or care about any of my dumbass experiences. To me, the plaza looked like this brilliant oasis of warmth and sanity.

As I got to the first car in line ahead of me at the King Street intersection, the traffic light turned green. Immediately, I turned left and shot in front of the oncoming cars and up King Street. I went against the one-way traffic flow there, but at least those cars had a red light. For me it was the quickest way to get to my oasis where I could feel anonymous and safe.

At the plaza, I got off my bike and walked it past the old public market place across the grass. There were way too many people on the sidewalks for bike riding, and besides, the cops frown on it. The last thing I needed was a problem with St. Augustine’s finest. Exhausted and with my nerves shot to pieces, all I wanted to do was find a bench and sit down. People already occupied most of them, but finally I spied an empty one near the bandstand and the Christmas tree. Trotting next to my bike as fast as I could without bumping into people, I rushed to claim the seat before anyone else did. When I got there, I threw my bike up against the bushes behind the bench and then collapsed on it, sweating and panting like crazy. Slowly, my headache began to ease a little.

Across the sidewalk from me, two old people, a man and a woman, sat on another bench. Nice enough looking folks, but they just stared at me as if they were sure I had robbed a bank or something. So much for the plaza being as perfectly warm and cuddly as I had hoped, right? Even so, it still felt good to be sitting there, and for the first time in a long while I began to really relax. My breathing slowed, and soon I realized my thoughts weren’t as wild and threatening as they had been minutes before.

That’s when I saw her. Carla I mean. Walking her bike on the sidewalk towards me from the other side of the plaza. I have no idea how she found me. “Oh crap,” I whispered, realizing I had left her without a word in the cemetery while she attempted to help me in every way she could. In my blind need to escape, I had let her slip into the far background of my overloaded mind. Idiot!

When she got to my bench, she stood in front of me for a moment without expression or saying a word. Instead, she closed her eyes for a few seconds, took a deep, shuddering breath, and swallowed hard. I thought she was going to cry, but she didn’t. Only at that point did I begin to understand how truly worried she was about me. God I felt awful.

What she did do was to prop her bike on its kickstand, fold her arms across her chest, and arch a slender eyebrow. She wanted an explanation and she wanted it fast. Funny how much she can communicate with those eyebrows of hers. The two old people across from us stared in our direction, probably wondering what was going to happen. I could see the man thinking, son, whatever you did, you’re gonna get it now. I figured he had it about right. As compassionate and caring as Carla is, you don’t mess with her.

“I am so sorry,” I said. “I really I am.”

In response, her other eyebrow went up. That meant, “Umm, OK, go on, convince me.”

After stumbling around to find appropriate words for a minute or two, I did get her to sit down. Slowly and painfully, I worked hard to explain what had happened to me back in the cemetery. It was so difficult because I wasn’t really sure I understood it myself. When I finished what I had to say, Carla’s eyebrows came down, always a good sign if she’s angry or upset at all. Instead of saying anything right away though, she breathed deeply again and turned her head to gaze out over the plaza. The two oldsters were still staring at us. It looked like they were listening to our conversation, and that I did not like.

“So are you doing better now?” Carla asked once she turned her attention back to me.

“Better than I was back there in the cemetery.”

“OK, that’s good, but we really have to get to Lobo’s. He needs to know what happened at the pyramids. Remember, Jeff, what he said about being out after dark and the danger you face. You’ve had two serious … events, where you, or at least part of you, has gone somewhere else. Who knows what might—”

“Tell me something I don’t know!” My reply came out a little stronger than intended. Her talk about Lobo, pyramids and danger instantly made my entire body tighten. Just thinking about going back to Lobo’s place twisted my stomach into knots, and again my hands started to shake—not a lot, but enough to tell me what I could and could not do. “There’s no way I’m going back and see Lobo right now. I’m OK sitting here for a while.”

“How can you say that? You’re putting your life in even more jeopardy. Remember what Lobo told you about the danger you’re in and getting back by dark?”

“Damn him,” I exploded. “Who is this Lobo guy anyway? It’s Lobo this and Lobo that. I’m sick to death of Lobo. What do you really know about him, huh? Well, I’ll tell you who he is. He’s a weird old guy who likes to scare kids, that’s who. I’ve had enough of him.” Even before the words were completely out of my mouth, I knew I had gone too far in so many different ways. I really didn’t want to offend Carla, but I knew I had.

Before I could try repairing the damage, a hard look spread over her face, and she stood up like a giant spring had shot her into position. With hands on her hips, she started in on me.

“Now you listen here, Jeffrey Golden. Don’t you ever go damning one of my friends, especially Lobo. That man is probably the only thing standing between you and destruction. But if you want to ignore his expert advice and try dealing with all this on your own … ” Her eyes welled with tears, but her voice rose as she shook a finger in my direction. “If you want to do this your way, be my guest. I’m finished. I’ve done all I can.” She grabbed her bike, smacked the kickstand with her foot, and walked away through the crowds of tourists.

That was not what I wanted to happen.“Oh crap,” I moaned.

Across from me, I noticed the two oldsters whispering to each other and glancing over at me. After a few seconds, the man shrugged, pulled out his wallet and handed the lady some money. They hadn’t just been listening in, I figured, they had bet on the outcome of our conversation.

“You two have fun did you?” I shouted at them, standing up. “Huh?”

Well, tell you what. Those two looked like they had been terribly insulted. I don’t think anybody had ever nailed them while they played their little game. In a snooty huff, they both got up and walked down Cathedral Place.

###

Trilogy Graphic - blogFor a brief description of The St. Augustine Trilogy, click here.

For Sliding Beneath the Surface on Amazon.com, click here

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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.

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