I drove to a hotel I knew of, a somewhat quaint-looking little Inn with a vaguely medieval feel, like a lot of things in the older part of Mellowbrook. Never had I particularly liked hotels, but there was no way I could go back to that house and sleep above the Dreamfeeder.
The hotel didn’t want Solo in the room, so I told them if they wanted my business they should bend the rules a bit, because Solo wasn’t just any dog; he was a demon survivor. The clerk and manager had widened their eyes, and seemed to believe that, or maybe they felt sorry for the deluded traveler with her mangy mutt. Nevertheless, they let Solo stay, but not without an extra fee.
Bringing the duffel bag and suitcase in my room, I sat down on the bed.
The room didn’t have a medieval feel on the inside, for some reason, maybe because it would cost more to do so. The room wasn’t dirty, however, as far as I could tell, but the carpets were dark and thin, the bedspread and wallpaper old, the furniture dusty, and the TV and clock radio archaic.
Maybe I had become more attuned to feelings during these unearthly encounters, or maybe it was just my imagination, but the energy of sad and lonely people seemed to put an oppressive weight upon the room, to emanate from the very walls as though every person who had stayed here left part of their troubled souls.
It was depressing.
I absent-mindedly fingered the green gem around my neck, which darkled in the light of the bedside lamp. It seemed to radiate a strange calming effect, maybe because I wanted it to.
I went into the tiny bathroom, scanned the shiny white tile floor for spiders and cockroaches, but found none. Looking in the mirror, I studied my reflection. Little red cracks spread across the whites of my eyes, more prominent than usual. The dark circles were deeper. My skin was as pale as milk.
The Muse was polite enough not to comment this time, as well.
Taking a few deep breaths, I turned on the faucet and splashed some cold water and soap on my face, as though trying to scrub away worry along with tearstains. Then, I left the bathroom and sat down on the bed again, looking for a phone book in the night table drawer. Kat had been right about cell phones being nifty. The old hotel phone had no dial tone, even though it was plugged in.
Unless I went to the front desk to get someone in to fix it, calling the hospital for Kat wasn’t going to happen, and as worried as I was about her, the effort didn’t seem worth it because I was so drained.
Even the Muse seemed too tired to provide feedback on the situation.
Sighing in resignation, trying not to think about the future, I switched off the lamp, turned down the covers, and closed my eyes. Solo curled at my feet with a quiet snort.
In the next room, the muffled sound of laughter and drunken conversation echoed through the thin walls.
I tried to think about angels. Because if I didn’t, other things would come to mind, things that might trigger nightmares if there weren’t any already waiting to be delivered. For the longest time my mind would not shut down, however. It was an overload of thought, of shock and gore, of sleep and awakening, of horror and hope. All of it was gnawing at what I was, what I am, but before I knew it, sleep came. It was a peaceful, dreamless void of a slumber that lasted until about nine in the morning, when I awoke to the sound of maids speaking in Spanish outside the door.
Eager to get out of this cramped, shabby room, I packed my things and left. Solo seemed happy to leave as well.
Heading to Emma’s, I brooded about Chief Bluewind, about all that spiritual knowledge he allegedly possessed. I also realized that coming to Emma was not an act of kindness or a need to see an old friend; it was born of fear and desperation. Maybe by even coming in her house, I had brought bad luck, like some kind of witch.
Molly! Come on! Cut the crap. And even if she does know truly the reasons you came, there’s no need to be ashamed of it. She’s glad you did, rather than to face this alone. She’s different from most people.
All this is just so damn confusing. I never thought I would believe like all those crazy evangelists and Voodoo priests. I was getting by. We were getting by. And now look.
Things change, you know that. And it doesn’t make you a religious nut if you seek help in spiritual matters. It just makes you curious and in need of a way to stop all this.
In daylight, Emma’s home, with its lime green paint, large shuttered windows, and bordering psychedelic fence, stood out like a clown wig in a box of brown hair.
Stopping the car in the street, I got out and hurried to the gate. As I reached for it, it swung open, surprising me, and I flinched as Emma appeared, laughing that she had been too quick for me a second time, or maybe just because she liked to laugh. She was wearing a long flowing canary yellow sundress with flower patterns, making her look girlish and somewhat odd-looking since it was September and not really a time to be wearing such light clothing. The cold didn’t seem to bother her, however. In fact, it seemed to give her an enthusiasm and vitality even more so than before.
“Molly, he’s in here.” She said excitedly, motioning toward the front door.
“Really? How, if he doesn’t have a car?” I wondered.
“He hitchhiked here as quickly as possible. Come meet him.”
I followed her into the house, into the living room that was empty except for a dozen dogs, which parted to make room as we entered.
“He’s in the meditation room,” Emma explained, noticing the puzzled expression on my face as I scanned for Bluewind.
We pushed aside the blanket which covered the doorway, and entered the kitchen, which was small and simple. Five bags of organic white rice, the only kind she ever bought, were piled on the counter next to two brown mugs.
“Would you like some lemon tea?” Emma offered. “You can sweeten it with honey.”
I accepted one of the mugs, noticing the three foot statue of a panda sitting next to the round wooden kitchen table. As a kid I had always loved that panda. Whoever made it had paid exquisite attention to detail. Its whimsical expression always inspired an inner smile.
Past another blanket-covered doorway, we entered the meditation room, which had once been a garage but now had no doors, only a window. There were no chairs, just plump silk pillows arranged in a circle, and on one of them sat Chief Bluewind, with his legs crossed, holding in weathered hands the jar with the tendril in it.
He was a lean, sinewy man, with many wrinkles creasing his dark and pointed face. He seemed to be in his late eighties or early nineties, had a full head of glossy gray hair kept in a tight braid, and wore what appeared to be a worn Western shirt, beige corduroy pants, snakeskin boots, and a suede jacket with decoratively frayed ends.
His eyes were large, wise, a beautiful robin-blue, and conveyed both steely toughness that seemed more fitting to someone decades younger, and quiet dedicated kindness.
He didn’t greet us verbally, but nodded his head, thin lips pursed in a thoughtful expression.
The Chief’s stare was so clear and direct that it was piercing. Emma excused herself and left the room to start cooking rice, and there was a short almost awkward silence before I raised one hand in a little wave, smiled sheepishly, and said, “Hi, I’m Molly.”
He nodded again, thin fingers tapping the sides of the glass jar. The tendril was still twitching, and seemed even more agitated than usual.
“How much do you know of what’s going on?” I asked, trying not to act as odd as I felt. This guy seemed to see right through my pretence of calmness, to see my fear. He regarded it solemnly, with a compassionate expression, yet it still unnerved me. Keeping things secret, my emotions hidden, was something I could always do with everyone on a whim, but now I felt horribly transparent.
“What you call a Dreamfeeder has entered from a lower spirit world.” He finally replied in a smooth, quiet voice with no accent, flexing his broad but bony shoulders.
I might have revealed my still lingering distaste of supernatural subjects, and showed some reaction to the term spirit world, perhaps a grimace, because his unwavering gaze slid casually away from me and onto the catch in the jar.
I sipped my tea. It was slightly bitter, but warm.
Feeling somewhat out of place, I sat down on one of the pillows, a few feet from him. “I’m glad there’s no language barrier so we can communicate freely.” I remarked, trying to break the ice of the conversation.
“There is only one language.” The Chief answered weirdly, and confusion settled in my mind. I didn’t ask what he meant by that. At the time it didn’t even make sense.
“I just don’t understand why something so physical and real won’t die, no matter what I do to try to kill it.”
“The lower realms don’t operate by our rules, not always,” he said. “Often there are…barriers which cannot always be reached by human souls, and that is where their true life force resides, on the other side of them.”
“But if they can’t be killed here…what can be done to stop them?”
He didn’t reply. I waited.
Setting the jar down on the floor, he explained, “This is our world, not theirs. The reason things like this don’t always happen is because the veil hardly ever thins, and even if it does, the balance of nature eradicates these intruders, unless something powerful is keeping them here. My family, many years ago, faced a similar entity to the one of which you speak. It formed and resided in a cave near us, and took for itself any who entered.”
Fascinated, afraid, I listened, hoping to hear the way, the one vital truth that could end this nightmare once and for all. I couldn’t believe that he too had dealt with something like this. It was more than a coincidence, more than just blind fate. I wanted so badly to be sure of it.
“Two of my brothers brought weapons,” Chief Bluewind began, “And tried to combat it. They believed less in the power of the spirit than in brute force. It killed them. I wanted vengeance for my family, but that is what it wanted me to feel. It was attracted to this realm because of those who mourned the dead. It lusts after negative energy as well as the sustenance of our physical flesh.”
A chill went through me. Although the wood stove kept this place very warm, coldness had settled in my bones. In four long swallows, I finished my tea.
“It even fed on children, and those that felt and survived its aura were told they would receive bliss in the afterlife if they complied with its wishes. It wanted a harvester, who would bring what it needed. It especially wanted the children.”
Suddenly I noticed the thing in the jar doing something peculiar. It seemed to be bleeding. The shimmering blood oozed in a small but constant flow from its tip as it spasmodically rolled around in the jar. Then the blood it had left began to instantly harden, to gather and quiver.
“Chief, what’s it doing?” I said with alarm, pointing.
He looked at it, and then the pile of blood was no longer a pile of blood, but another similar tendril, which also began to writhe.
It was growing. This meant it would surely be growing back at my house and would be larger and more dangerous.
Chief Bluewind abruptly stood up on his long bird-like legs and met my eyes purposefully. “There is not much time. I must see this Dreamfeeder.”
“What are we going to do to stop it? Can you stop it?” I demanded softly.
He shook his head.
My heart sank like a discarded locket cast into a murky sea. “Why?”
“Because I’m not what brought it here.”
--“there is no time to talk. We must go now.” Standing there, towering, poised tensely, the old man was gaunt but strong-looking, and from him radiated wisdom that had likely been the sturdy roots of his entire tribe. But if he could not do anything about the Dreamfeeder, then it seemed no one could.
“So, what now?” I said, angry at myself for the needy, quavering tone in my voice. “Are we just going to go there and let it kill us?”
His blue eyes fixed on me, the dark-parchment face tightened. “We will either face this evil or shrink away like a wounded wolf and forever live defeated. Which do you want, Molly Harland?”