Chapter 1.1: To All Good Things
(excerpt three of three)
From the first moments when they met, those seven years ago, he'd developed a mighty crush on her, and she had unknowingly nurtured it as it had grown along with him. Now Lily knew: His heart needed her protection, as well as his body and soul. From her. She couldn't stand to hurt him, yet more frequently now had to clip his wings to keep him from getting too high on her. But it's such a long fall for this sweet little bird, she thought, yet they don't belong on the ground...
An unfamiliar pang of longing passed into and out of her heart; she didn't know what it was a desire for, though. Before she could catch it, it moved out of reach, just as everything did; it fled into the past and away from her. All gone and forgotten: longing or loathing, nothing stayed with her. That's the deal, she remembered. Then even that echo was gone, as if a page blown out of a borrowed book; she had nothing to refer or turn back to.
She wondered, What was I thinking about? Will's unguarded grunting as he crammed their things into their backpacks returned her to her most pressing concern: His distress. Soon it would be time to send him home to his folks, and she needed to move on, as well. That's what I do. She remembered that much, despite her memory's affliction. But what if I didn't, this time? What if I stayed with him?
This Lily knew intuitively: There would be consequences. There always are. She shuddered despite the warm weather. Something bad would happen...
As if a signal or a sign, a blossom of smoke bloomed high in the afternoon sky.
She forgot it all, all over again. "Ooh, look at that Willie!" She pointed up, way out in the eastern sky. "Somebody set off a flare!" It was unlike any flare that she had ever seen, though. It was beautiful; phosphorescent and ruby-colored, it dazzled her eye.
Gaping, Will exclaimed, "That's not a flare!" As if an arrow on fire shot from afar, the object trailed a violet tail of smoke that seemed to point right at them; like a skeletal finger it curled. As it neared their position, they could make out its red flaming core enveloped in orange fire, arcing straight toward them. "Fireworks maybe? It looks like it's coming this way!"
Lily shielded her eyes. "It's like a meteor, or a shooting red star; look at it move through the sky!"
The fireball fell toward the lake. Then it stopped in the air high above, where it hung as the trailing tail caught up with it and coiled around it like a snake. It hovered expectantly like a small flaming moon that pulsed with potent energy. "Uh-oh," Lily muttered, "I don't think theyre supposed to do that..."
"What the hell is it?" Will's voice trembled with excitement. He gripped the wooden seat with one hand and grabbed for the oars with the other, saying, "Oh man, this really can't be good. Let's get out of here!"
"No, wait -"
Without warning, the thing suddenly exploded in a burst of orange and violet light. A sonic-booming crimson Word sprung forth from the effulgence. Its sound was a rushing command, a pressing imperative; a roar of fiery thunder pouring onto the Earth and the ones down below who must hear. It said, [Awaken!]
But the ancient language was lost, buried, dead or forgotten; the sleepers did not hear it. The two in the boat on the water were astonished and stunned, and they did not understand it.
One not present did. It sent a tendril of black light out from itself to follow the sound of this rousing Word, and another tendril beyond the color of blood to seek out its slumbering targets. It would discover them all.
Unheard and unheeded, the unanswered Word imploded into the air, leaving a shower of orange and ebony sparks in its wake that faded into ash, then reduced slowly to nothingness over the lake.
Just before it evanesced, the adversarial rays intercepted its essence, replicating it, and bathed the countryside, seeking, now united: ultra-violet and infrared, it saw everything. It descended down toward the lake and the little craft on the water. The Earth recoiled from its corrupt, invisible touch. It passed right through them, all of them, a rousing echo of the compelling Word.
The sleepers stirred.
It saw them.
That was all that it sought; it switched off like a light.
Lily and Will were still agape moments later.
"Wow, those were the weirdest fireworks I've ever seen," she murmured. "What a strange sound, like a freight train from Heaven!"
"Or Hell," Will countered, rubbing his eyes vigorously. "What the heck was that all about?"
Lily wiggled her fingers in her ears. "Wow, I can barely hear you. Are yours ringing too? I wonder what -" She stopped and grabbed the sides of the boat. A subtle rumble rolled across the lake, and increased. "What now?"
"Earthquake!" Will cried. He dropped to the bottom and hunkered flat. "Get down!" Few things frightened him more than his father did, and he wasn't here now, so this was it. He tugged at her shorts and pleaded, "Lily, please! It's coming!"
At first slight, an increasing tremor shook the surrounding countryside. The lake trembled like a bowl of Jell-O tapped by a giant finger, and the small boat rocked rapidly in the water's commotion. Lily knelt down and grabbed both sides of the vessel, laughing like a little girl on a carnival ride, until it gradually subsided. When it was all over, she shouted, "Wow; that was fun!"
Will was still prostrate in the bottom of the boat, hands splayed against its sides. He was shaking with fear, the fireworks completely forgotten. "Let's get back on land," he demanded, " Now!"
"Aw, come on, Willie, don't be afraid. It was just a little one!"
"The Big One will start out little, too," he grumbled. "Hate earthquakes. Everything shuddering, like it's the end of the world..."
"...as we know it," she sang. Slightly off-key, she warbled his favorite R.E.M. song in an attempt to loosen him up. "And I feel fine!" She grinned widely at him as if to show him the proof. She stood up, almost defiantly, held out her arms and remarked, "We're still here!"
Something creaked nearby, and overhead. A movement above caught Will's eye. He yelled, "Look out!" and yanked Lily back to her seat just in time. The caterpillar's branch snapped and fell into the water right next to the boat with a splash, missing her by inches.
In its wake, a large leaf followed, tumbling down in a twisting spiral. Lily recovered and snatched it from the air just before it hit the water. Upon it, the little caterpillar squirmed amid its now-ruined just-begun cocoon, all in a mess from the fall through the tree.
The other chrysalis, still attached safely to its branch, sunk beneath the water, along with its host and its guest. "Aw," Lily murmured with regret, watching it disappear into the murky lake. "But it was dead anyway..."
"Lily! It wasn't dead; changing, remember?"
"I remember I didn't agree with that," she chuckled. She shook the surviving bug off the leaf and into her hand. "Ew," she grimaced as it curled up in her palm. She scrunched her shoulders in muted revulsion, but held her ugly little critter close to her body. "So, we meet at last," she said in a low voice, and smiled at the bug cupped in her hand. "Hello!"
She gently stroked the creature's green and yellow back as it writhed against her finger. She giggled and flinched as the bug undulated, tickling her, and looked at Will with an expression of delight and silent laughter so as not to squeal. As usual, her enticing excitement brought Will out of his shell and the bottom of the boat. Then, settling back into her seat, she murmured, "Well, it looks like you're going to have to start all over, Mister Caterpillar."
Will leaned over and poked the insect with his finger. "Yeah, all that work and time wasted, too bad." At his prodding, it began to search for a way off Lily's hand, crawling to its edge and feeling the space. "You'll be okay, little fella," the boy whispered to it, "You have a very bright future ahead of you, thanks to your lifesaver." He looked up at his guardian, missing her wounded glance that she covered up just in time. Then he said, "You realize we're talking to an insect."
They both snickered, though Lily's was somewhat hesitant.
Resuming her examination, she said, "I don't think he's going to be giving us his opinion on his future." In a small, imaginary caterpillar voice she said, " Dang, humans, this cocoon stuff really sucks! I don't want to diiiie!" She chuckled to herself, a low, attractive sound from deep in her throat.
Will's heart quickened with the familiar, musical evidence of her delight. He resisted the urge to correct her, this time. Forcing his focus back on the bug, he said, "We studied these in school, it's a Monarch butterfly. Or will be when he comes out."
"It's not a butterfly or a monarch," she countered, "It's a caterpillar, a crawler." Like the sun suddenly obscured by clouds, her demeanor changed once again, growing somber. "God, it must be like burying yourself alive." Lily's brow wrinkled a bit. "I wonder if it hurts when they die."
"You are so morbid," Will scolded, "Can't you remember anything? I told you, it's a transformation. It changes from a creepy-crawly into a cool creature of flight. After a little nap, is all." He stroked its stripy body. "Your memory sucks, Lil."
"I bet it hurts," she insisted, looking down at the bug with a small frown. "My memory's okay."
"Then what'd we have for dinner last night?"
"Are you testing me?" Lilys expression turned incredulous. "Pizza and smoothies! Gee, I can remember that much. Do I pass?"
"All right, you're off the hook this time," Will grudgingly replied. "But I'm worried about you. You're really getting scatterbrained, or something."
"Yeah, well..." His partner grew pensive, watching the little caterpillar now curled completely around her finger, seeking a likely place to rebuild its cocoon.
Her memory had been a problem for well, for as long as she could remember. She was fine with appointments, upcoming events, and dates; her job demanded it. But most of the past soon became faded and subsequently forgotten, as if her memory only moved forward through time, discarding the old and replacing the recent with what was coming into her view, with little or no concern for those matters and things just gone by; out of sight, out of mind, out of memory, out of life. It had been this way for some time, but for how long, she couldn't remember. She had tried, repeatedly.
Places to go, people to see, things to do; there's always something coming up or down. And I dont want to go, anymore...
Will interceded once again, and his voice startled her. "Whatcha thinkin about?"
She forgot, but offered, "Driving." With a sigh, she stirred herself and said, "Come on, Will. It's time to go."
"Home? Not already! Do we have to?"
"You knew it had to come to an end sooner or later." Lily gently placed her bug in her lap, then grabbed the short oars and fixed them to the boat. "We've had a whole week here," she reminded him, "it can't last forever."
"Can we go to the beach then, before we head back to the City?"
"Let me think about it, okay?" She took a deep breath and then slowly let it out, either relaxing or sagging, and just watched the treetops swaying beneath the lowering orange sun. Her eyes seemed to glaze over, lost in her melancholy thoughts. After a moment, she murmured, "It is so beautiful here..."
It was as if he wasn't even there, and she was here, all alone.
Will watched her warily, for a moment, and shivered. He thought it spooky when she did that. More and more lately... "Whats eating you, Lil?"
"I don't know, Sweetie. I dont know." She closed her eyes. "I feel like something's going to happen."
"Like what's gonna happen? Something bad?"
"I don't know," she repeated. She shivered and leaned over, still looking down at her caterpillar. "Nothing good."
With great concern, Will knelt before her. Tentatively, he reached up and stroked her long, dark hair. It still smelled of jasmine, even after their swim, sharp and sweet against the mossy lake air. "Don't worry, Lily; I won't let anything happen to you. I'll protect you. You'll see."
She snorted a little laugh, which was not unkindly, but sad. "I know you will, angel," she replied.
"What could possibly happen, anyway?"
"Nothing will happen," she answered, a bit too certainly. She took the oars, and careful not to disturb the little bug in her lap, offered them to Will. "Let's get off the water, now."
He took the oars from her, and settled back in his seat, resigned. Dipping them into the lake, he began pulling them through the current. After a few strokes, he said, "Weird day, huh?" With no response, he made a feeble attempt at small talk, hoping to distract her. He droned the list of recent events: "Fireballs, a sonic boom, an earthquake, and almost clobbered by a tree. What else has He got?"
"Don't ask," Lily muttered, and settled back in her place. "You may not get an answer, and if you do, you might not like it very much at all..." Then she fell silent, as quiet as a church.
With some effort, Will rowed the short distance to the small wooden dock. His companion sat stock-still and downcast, eyes on her hands and her prize the whole way.
All she needs, he thought, is a hat and a veil, a cloak and bible; she looks as if she's just come from a wake. Not that he'd ever been to one, but he had a good imagination.
At the little pier, he rose and tied the boat off. He jumped onto the wooden dock and then helped Lily out, grasping her hand. She cupped her caterpillar close to her as she let him pull her up. They looked like two teens coming back from a first date on the lake. They were anything but that.
While Will gathered their belongings from the dinghy, Lily placed the bug on a large leaf growing from a short bushy tree near the creaking old pier. The insect immediately resumed its mission, unmindful of its protector's release or apparent absence.
Satisfied that all was as well as it could be, she stepped back, and gave it a little wave. "Bye, Mister Caterpillar," she whispered in a small, quiet voice, "Have a nice trip." She paused, as if waiting for a reply, and then added, "I hope it doesn't hurt..."
As usual, there was no answer. This did not surprise her.
She turned away to join her watchful ward, waiting at the lifeguard stand for her. The insect continued its knitting, completely oblivious to her existence.
Neither did it mark her leaving.
They were all of them already well on their ways...