"Sons of God, Daughters of Men" - Chapter One
As I lay in a puddle of red blood, a needle in my arm, a pounding headache, the smell of cigar smoke consuming me, I know I’m about to die. I don't know how I got to this point, or what happened, but something dark led me here. I manage to lift my head and realize that the pool of blood is not all my own. A lifeless woman in a clinging green dress lies just below my battered legs. Her rose red lips are striking against her ashen face. Wait. Maybe that is blood. A man's arm hangs limp off a tabletop, blood dripping from his fingertips. I lay my head back against the floor. I can hear the sirens, pounding rain, and boom of thunder in the distance.
It has been five years. Day and night I bow down to pray to thank the Lord for sparing me, but I also ask why he let them steal my memories—all but this one. I can’t see who did it. I don’t know what forced me to the ground. I don’t know why. That needle robbed me of my memories. It robbed me of my happy childhood and innocence. This memory is the only memory of my parents. What a terrible thing to inflict on a child, but I tell myself to wake up child. A child you are no more. No. Now what remains is a mentally unstable twenty-two year old that feels lonely, even amongst ten friends. So, I keep my dreams big and look to the sky to remind myself of possible impossibilities. There is a time for change. It is waiting for me on the edge of the sky, but right now, the sun is setting. I’m that ghost longing for the light of day. I was spared for a reason, but why?
The pink and purple converge, and I feel a sensation I can only imagine is euphoria. It is gone in an instant. It is disappearing all too quickly as the dark, ominous clouds begin to roll in over the trees, outlining the golden field. It won't be long until the rain begins to fall, melting the barely noticeable layer of the last snow of the season. I find comfort in the rain somehow, even though it has become a constant theme of my seemingly short, confused life thus far. In my dreams I try to look though the droplets, but only distorted images appear. No answers.
The fire begins to rage from the bonfire, signaling the others to stop adding to the flame. The black smoke clouds the sky and disappears as quickly as the sunset. My eyes begin to burn momentarily as the breeze thrusts the black smoke toward me, ravaging and polluting my lungs. I cough as my lungs search fervently for clean air. I clutch my chest as it begins to tighten. The trucks begin to back into a circle to surround the enormous mass of dead tree limbs and old wood that are now consumed in red flames, producing the ultimate heater. This will be our last hoorah before spring, before we all go our separate ways. While I may have only known these people for five years, they are all I know—all I remember knowing. I remember nothing from before my life here, except the rain, blood, and smoke. I'll cherish the semblance of a normal life they have given me.
"Ana!" Taylor shrieks from behind.
I quickly jump out of the way to avoid becoming a headline on the front page of The Charlotte Gazette once again. "Chad! I value my life, sir!" I yell to Chad, annoyed he has catapulted me into a memory from not so long ago. I am pulled back to the day the gunman's bullet grazed the side of my cheek and exploded the banker’s computer monitor. I rub my cheek. It may be healed, but I can still feel the gash as clearly as the day it happened. My chest tightens, and I have to rub it to soothe the sensation.
"Sorry, sweet cheeks." He taunts. "No nevermind, though. You’ve got a damn leprechaun in your back pocket." He spits the juice of his Grizzly to the ground.
Tonight, my water bottle serves as a flask. I take a swig.
The trucks come to a halt behind the fire, leaving just enough room for coolers and walking room. Chad blasts the music. Taylor and I push the blankets aside and jump onto the truck bed. Ashley and Jessica climb from the neighboring truck to ours, and the night begins just like any other bonfire night: very loud singing, terrible dancing and too many whiskey shots we can’t give back. There is no noise ordinance out here in the backwoods. We wouldn’t care if there was.
In theory it is nice. It is on the outside, but I can’t wait to free myself of this place, the silly little small town games, and dreadful niceties. It’s enough to clear my mind a moment, but I’m always thrown back into my mind, shackled to the nightmares and images of outrageous things like strange men with black eyes, engulfing fires, and disfigured creatures. I am trying to learn to cherish moments like this, though, as they have been so rare in my life. I haven’t mastered it yet. The thought process for that is exhausting. But, I put on a smile and play nice, for the sake of them. They have been so kind to me. I'm thankful they can't read my damaged mind.
You can see our breath as we sing the words to the old country songs. The breeze grows more chilling as the hours pass, even with the layers I wear and the blazing fire. Still, I shiver and hug my body. I can't sing anymore. It burns my throat, and my vision is a blur. The chilling breeze forces tears down my cheek. I can't tell if they are real tears or just a reaction to the frosty air. I look deeper into the fire and am pulled in again for a moment. It is terrifying really, not knowing who you really are, where you came from, what you've done, and why you have become so detached. I really shouldn't be left to my own devices to ponder for too long. I can still see all the blood each time I close my eyes.
"Ana? You alright?" Taylor shakes me. "What's wrong with you, girl?"
"I'm fine. Just a long day of debate." I say, convincing enough she smiles, but concerning enough she leaves me alone. I've been staring into the fire for too long, reliving a dream. I've let my mind wander into the emotional state and internal debate I try to steer clear from in public at least. Some tiny part of me longs to stay here in this little town with no stop lights. The calmness of the night, closeness of friends, my family, and the way I feel safe sometimes is comforting. But, the calmness radiates and would ultimately drive me insane because my busy mind needs a distraction this place can’t provide, and my heart needs answers.
The earth splits when the thunder booms. A few seconds later the sky lights up with lightning flashes to reveal the deep black clouds that have progressively grown thicker as the night has fallen. The rain clouds are becoming heavier by the minute. A few droplets find their way out and fall to our cold faces. The wind picks up. The downpour will begin any minute.
"Ana, let’s get going." Taylor yells to me as the lightning begins to strike closer and wind blows stronger.
The flames are beginning to twist back and forth and crackle as the raindrops touch down. Taylor, grabbing her short blonde hair to keep it from her eyes, is terrified of thunderstorms. She stumbles over someone’s drink on her way to me and nearly knocks mine from my hand.
"Analise. Let's go." She pleads
I dismiss her comment and pat her on the head. I don’t want to. I’m not a bad person. I just can’t be alone just yet. I jump onto the truck to sit beside Chad and insert myself in their conversation about boy things—blowing shit up.
“We just need to go over there and blow them all up.” Chad scoffs.
“So you think the loss of innocent life is a cost worth taking? I hope you have already picked out your spot in Hell.” Jessica laments.
The rain begins to fall harder. Damn. I pull my long brown hair into a ponytail to keep it from my face and out of my eyes. I ignore the cold, wind, and rain the best I can. I want to stay a little longer so I have more of a good memory to hold onto. I am not ready to go home.
"It's 10:45, brown eyes. You better be getting home. It's passed your bedtime." Alex chuckles, his green eyes glistening against the red flames. He downs his Gatorade and tosses it into the trash barrel.
He’s right. My face grows tense, and I glare in his direction. I'm twenty-two years old, in college, and still have a curfew. Pitiful. But, what do you expect of someone in such a compromised mental state? I jump from the truck and onto my feet. The impact pushes needles through my boots to my toes. I take a long swig from my bottle, trying to dull the pain. I'm still not ready to leave, but I know if I stay any later I will be locked in for a week.
I circle the fire to warm my face and body. "I'm leaving soon enough." I say, a smirk emerging from my lips. I reach Alex's red Jeep, where he stands flashing the kind of smile that stops you dead in your tracks. He runs his hands through his shaggy blonde hair, pushing it back to put his cap on. Now I’m lost. I grab the liquor bottle from behind him and turn it up. It's smooth as honey and burns like fire as it moves down my throat. I've got to stop. While this poison helps to block that part of my mind I hate so much, it makes it harder to drive home.
"Let’s go, Taylor." I yell. I toss the bottle to Alex and wink at him as I walk toward the road in a poor attempt at seduction.
We continue down the rocky path for several minutes until we find the road. It would have been impossible to find if the lightning hadn't picked up. The rain sparkles against the flashes like a thousand stars, but the light still isn't enough to calm Taylor. I can almost feel her pain, a mix of anxiety and sickness in the pit of your stomach. Terrified, she begins to pick up speed. I choose to keep my pace. I fear the dark, but I enjoy the peace and quiet, the crush of rock beneath my feet, steady beats of droplets against the ground, and the trees brushing against each other at the tree line. It is harmonic, a perfect blend of good and evil that’s hard to come by unless you are looking for it. Maybe, instead, I respect the dark.
That calm feeling is gone in an instant as chills shoot up and down my spine, causing me to stop in my tracks. The scene has not changed, but there is a different sensation, or maybe just gut feeling. I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say it feels like anticipation—not the good kind either. It’s as if someone watches us. I walk a few more feet. I can still feel it. It’s probably Alex following us, or maybe a strong case of paranoia can be added to the long list of ailments. Alex knows how frightened Taylor is of the night. It's probably him. Nevertheless, it makes me feel uneasy, like someone is looking too deep. I can feel their eyes penetrating me to my very core. I stop and take a look around to see if I can hear or see anything out of the ordinary. Only the gleaming eyes of coyotes peer through the trees. There is nothing else, nothing except the feeling and those coyote eyes.
We finally reach my car, a vintage Triumph I bought myself for my twentieth birthday. It’s supposed to be just like my parents’—a white four-seater convertible. Why not indulge myself in nice things? They left me with more money than anyone would ever need in a lifetime. Actually, Elizabeth and James suggested it—a ploy to dissuade me from buying the months long trip to Africa I preferred. Probably for the best, though. It is handy during nights like this. Besides, I’d likely experience an anxiety attack on the way over or get trampled by a hippo. No. I still prefer Africa.
Taylor lights up a cigarette. "Not in my car." I motion to Taylor to throw the cigarette to the ground.
"Seriously, Analise? You know how much it calms my nerves." Taylor says, whimpering as she holds the cigarette in her hand.
"I figured you would have grown out of that by now." I say, shrugging my shoulders in disappointment. This may be hypocritical coming from someone who borderline abuses alcohol, but I have a special abhorrence to smoke. "Besides, you don't want your parents to smell smoke on you. You know they would kick you out and never pay for your trip to New Orleans." It is too dark for her to see my smile. Victory. Taylor would never ruin her opportunity to go on this trip. Am I being manipulative? Maybe. It's for her own good, though.
"I knew I should have taken that job. But, they insisted. ‘Taylor, you need to focus on your studies,’ they said. What they meant was, ‘let us control your life just a bit longer.’ Fine." She says, defeated. She puts the cigarette back in her purse.
The cold leather seats cause chills to shoot throughout my body. For a moment, it is almost as if it’s warmer outside.
"You know. It's okay to be bad sometimes, Analise.” Taylor says as she searches her
purse for something.” This is the best time to get it out of your system."
I laugh. If she only knew. "I know." I say. “This isn’t the time to be bad. It shouldn’t be a be bad situation. I’m an adult.” Living with Elizabeth and James has been an experience. I think they truly believe my parents’ killer will come back to finish me off, so they shelter me, hide me away in tiny Keysville, Virginia—a no stoplight town. I couldn't even go away for college. It is a miracle they are letting me go to Charleston for grad school. I can’t imagine what inspired them to approve me going to New Orleans in a few weeks. I just don’t bring it up in the off chance they were invaded by aliens at the time.
Taylor only lives about two miles from my house, down a back road three miles from town; this is a very convenient set up, for her at least. Her car is a piece of shit, so I am always left driving. I don't mind the driving, but it would be nice to have a break sometimes. I crave the alone time to drive down the back roads listening to the old Frank Sinatra and Etta James songs I've been told were my parents' favorites. I need something to help me escape the everyday, or the past perhaps. My addiction, I admit, is too destructive, but a quick fix.
I really shouldn’t complain, though. My friends have their flaws, sure. Taylor is brilliant but is always stuck on Facebook and Twitter, so she has never learned how to apply herself. Chad will never completely reach the maturity level of a twelve year old. Ashley is the most superficial bitch I've ever met but has a heart of gold hidden deep. Alex. Well, Alex. He is too good for us. But, I am emotionally stunted, moody, and likely have a serious mental disorder, or two. Having witnessed my parents' murders at seventeen would surely be enough trauma to cause irreversible emotional problems for life. I think I do well, considering. It does help I remember nothing about the murders, except a storm, smoke, and lots of blood. Shit, I remember nothing of my life before the murders. My therapist says the experience triggered a psychological disorder that blocked those memories. I call it bullshit. I do remember bits and pieces of that night. I remember that syringe. Call me crazy, and they do, but I think it had an amnesiac medication in it. Their case was never solved, either. It was closed. Someone did a great job at covering their asses. How am I supposed to get closure? No one even mentions their names; it is taboo. It's as if they never existed. Now do you get the picture? I'm pretty damn lucky to have them, flaws and all.
Within days of the murders I was sent to live with Elizabeth and James, my mother's best friends from college. Elizabeth has never been able to have children, so you can imagine how she raises me. It's like living with the goddamn secret service. James is bad, but not quite as overwhelming. I am able to get away with a few things when he is around.
"So what are you going to do?” Taylor almost whispers.
"What do you mean? I ask, trying to concentrate on the road. The lightning has stopped. It is pitch black inside and out. I can barely see the road in front of us through the rain; only the outline of the grass is keeping me on the road.
"When you leave. Yea. I mean, most of us will stay here, but you—you aren’t scared to get out there. You can’t wait. You can do anything you want with your backing at school.”
I roll my eyes. "Any of you can do the same. You are just too scared to disconnect that security blanket. You mentioned being bad earlier. That is kind of like taking risks, right? But, your idea of risk isn’t the kind that amounts to anything, except a waste of time. I’m not trying to be mean—just honest. Leaving is the kind of risk that can change your life. Applying yourself can change your life." I look over to her. I can’t tell her I’m terrified.
“Alex will leave.” She says.
“Because Alex has nothing holding him here.” I say coolly.
“No, because what’s holding him here is leaving.”
The rain slows to a slight trickle as I pull into Taylor's driveway. I realize how tired I am when my car comes to a stop and the sound of rain on my canvas roof drums like a lullaby. I close my eyes for a few seconds, listening to the music. Taylor opens the door and the cold gust quickly rouses me to attention. Two miles to go. My chest grows tight again. I rub it.
"See you later, Tay." I say, groggily.
"Goodnight, Analise. I hope you don't get into too much trouble."
My head falls against the headrest in instant defeat. It is now at least 11:25p.m. I am almost too afraid to check the time on my clock. My curfew in the Crawford house is eleven o'clock. There is no question I am going to get it from Elizabeth and James both. Sulking in Taylor's driveway is not increasing my odds of survival. The two mile trip seems endless. It might be the thirty miles per hour I am traveling. I know what awaits me, and I want to enjoy the dark ride home for as long as possible.
I admire the fearful night. I envy it. It is frightening and serene, poetic, courageous. I only wish I had those characteristics. Not even in my dreams am I brave. However, tonight is different, more like my dreams filled with nightmarish things. There is something adding to the fear fuel tonight; I still feel those strange eyes. I am now convinced it is not Alex. Tonight, something else watches me.
I turn right onto the long drive, lined by tall Bradford pear trees and stone walls covered with ivy on each side. The lightning flashes illuminate the path ahead again. The farmhouse is a welcome sight. I'm going to miss this house. It has been my home the past five years. But, it confines me when I want out and is a constant reminder of the painful life I lead. This reason is why I can easily part without it.
The flood light beams on my car as I inch closer to the house and clearly announces my arrival. I growl to myself as I pull into the dimly lit garage. I sit for a few minutes trying to gather my thoughts, compose myself, and prepare for the ambush inside. I need to listen to a few songs before I finally decide to make the move inside to face Elizabeth and James' angry and disapproving faces. I lay my head against the headrest in defeat and let out a deep sigh. I hate to disappoint them, but I seize every opportunity to take time for myself for good reason. I am too afraid to test my sanity. I will turn into everything I vowed not to turn into: angry and resentful. They have already done so much for me. I turn up the volume and close my eyes. At least one song. Maybe six.
"Where have you been, Analise?" Elizabeth asks sternly as she points to the massive clock above the fireplace. "I've been worried sick. You're an hour late."
It is now twelve o’clock. I didn't realize how long I had waited to come inside. The few moments of peace only worsened my case. "I'm not an hour late. I've been here for at least thirty minutes in the garage. I know you saw that." I attempt nonchalance and don't break my stride toward the stairs. She follows close behind. James appears from the study, disappointment masking his usually happy self.
James chimes in. "We wouldn’t have to revisit the same lecture if you would just absorb. Why is it so difficult for you, Analise?"
I have a hard time fighting the frown forming. They will never see me as an independent adult. It's far too late to convince, though. I am going to be gone in a few months. "I am twenty-two. I will be states away in a couple months. You can’t force rules on me my entire life. You can’t stop me from meeting the world. If anything, you have shielded me from experience. How am I going to know what to do?"
Elizabeth lets out a deep sigh and lowers her head. James leans against the massive door frame and his face softens. My comments don’t settle well, but it appears the fight is just about over. They look worried, frightened even, at the truth they haven’t prepared themselves for. I know they despise the idea of me moving to South Carolina to go to grad school. There will be too much distance between us; I will be too far to monitor. But, that's why I love it. I'll have my own life, finally. Maybe I will finally have time to heal and find the purpose I’ve been looking for.
"I'm going to bed." I say, assertively. "Goodnight." I sluggishly climb the stairs.
"Wait." Elizabeth says, her voice cracking. I wait, without turning.
There are a few moments of silence. I just stand there numb. Waiting.
"You are too young to know the kind of bad there is out there. You have to trust that our choices are in your best interest. You are too careless and vulnerable. You, better than anyone, should know that. You are smarter than this. You have to be. You are going to find yourself in trouble and not know how to get yourself out of it.”
I turn and firmly place my hands against the railing. My head is spinning now. I shouldn’t have had so many shots. "I’m too young to know what bad is out there? I don’t know anyone who has seen the bad I have seen. And that is my only memory. Thank God for that memory. The fire inside that was created that day still burns. I didn’t lose that. I didn’t lose my fight. You can't keep trouble away from me, Liz. If it wants me, it will find me. I can protect myself. I’ve done it before. I will keep doing it." I say.
"Go to bed, Analise." She murmurs sternly through her gritted teeth and downcast eyes.
"If trouble really is looking for me, it definitely won't come looking here. You picked a hell of a spot. No one knows this place exists." I say, defeated, as I stomp my way up the stairs to my bedroom. "I'm out of here in a couple months. Let me go." I almost whisper, but I make sure I'm loud enough so they hear. That comment is surely a result from that last swig I took from that bottle. That stuff is no good for me.
I'll be rid of this place in a short two months. I will be on my way to South Carolina to enter The Citadel’s graduate Intelligence program. Finally. Not the big city I wanted or the Ivy League they preferred, but it's a compromise. Elizabeth and James have begged me for months to move with them to Connecticut and attend Yale Law School. Too close. They would see me every day. I need a life of my own. I need to break free of my past and finally move on. Sure, whoever killed my parents might come looking for me someday, but why would they? It is time I make my own life. No more Student Government, no more Debate Club, no more Fencing. Thank God no more Fencing. I know I am meant for something more than this; I am going to find that something my way. I need something to show me I'm alive and finally release myself from the prison that is my past.
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