Overwhelmed was definitely the word for how I felt as I stood, frozen as the water that had turned into icicles as it dripped from the trees outside. I had turned away from Jared, wrapping my arms tightly around myself as if trying to hold my rationality and sanity inside; Jared's ludicrous claims had made me feel as if they were slipping away, because - and I didn't know why - I believed him.
There was plenty of reason for doubt; his evident weakness, the fact that he had journeyed through the seemingly eternal snow and risked his life, the words that spilled from his blue-tinged lips, all hinted that he wasn't quite sound of mind. And yet... there was no hint of the insane in his pleading voice, his eyes had conveyed how earnest and desperate he had been. However he claimed to be a spirit, and how could he be when he was so clearly there? I was able to touch him. I looked back over my shoulder, inclining my head, and saw that his eyes were still fixed on me. The vibrant colour still astounded me; how could anybody normal have eyes like that? He closed them, and it was if I had been stood outside a house in a starless night and the shutters had been closed across the windows, cutting off the warm and welcoming light. I realised how much my hesitation might be costing him, whether what he said was true or not.
I turned again and took my place kneeling by his head so that he could see me without too much effort again.
"Jared," I whispered softly, and he didn't respond. There was no movement at all. I gasped as panic overtook me - had I wasted too much time pondering his declarations?
I pulled back his layers until only a thin cotton shirt was left, and rested my fingers over his heart. Barely two seconds had passed when I pulled them away again as if burned; he had still been as cold as marble, and underneath his heart had an odd beat - almost as if there were two hearts, beating out of time with each other. One was slower and erratic, the other as rapid as the thrumming of a butterfly's fluttering wings. How could he have two hearts?
My touch had been fleeting, but it seemed to have roused Jared. When I looked to his face, his eyes held mine locked in an intense gaze. I was surrounded by blue - falling into a tropical pool that was freezing over - I felt dizzy...
"Will you help me, Kaleigh?" his voice asked, and it sounded hollow, seemed to have been carried to me on the wind across the dark fields.
"Yes," I replied, but it came out as more of a gasp; something icy held my arm like a vice. His hand. "What must I do?"
"Find Reza," he repeated. "Follow the signs I have left for you, and they will lead you to her. The first clue I can give you is this..."
He strained to lean his head forward, and I felt the coolness of his breath against my ear as he whispered. Then he drew back, looking even more ashen, as if such a simple movement had drained more of the life out of him.
"Go now. We neither of us have time to lose."
I dragged myself back to the present moment, kneeling in my sitting room. I saw him with a sudden clarity; the whiteness of his skin, slowly turning blue with something more than cold. He needed my help, and I had to give it to him. I had to do what he asked of me, despite how impossible and daunting it sounded.
I could see that time was running out for Jared; he had closed his eyes and slipped back into his comatose state. How long could he stay like that before it was too late for him to wake up again? According to him, the only way to save him was to find the other three. Starting with Reza. I sucked in a breath, and laid as many blankets as I could find over Jared. I stocked the fire with the last of the newspaper piles to keep it burning for a day or two. I didn't know how long I would be gone.
Ten minutes later I had dressed in almost everything I owned and packed a bag of what little food I could take with me - and of course the mysterious vial, which I had no clue what to do with. No more clue than what Jared's cryptic directions had meant. It seemed ridiculous, and I found myself stopping to wonder just what I thought I was doing.