Wandering, p.1
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Wandering
Wandering

  Copyright 2013 Angela Koeller

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

  Note from the Author

  This is a book of short stories all written by Angela Koeller. She would like to beg your help. One of these stories, apart from Singing in Limbo, shall become a novel in its own right. Please submit your votes to wandering07ak@gmail.com and the final tally will be taken 07.09.14. The chosen story will turned into a novel and published by 07.09.15. Thank you for your time and please enjoy these works.

  The Sea Girl

  Why is it so foggy? It made no sense to her as she walked alone on the ocean’s shore. The sky had been clear, the sun shining, and no sign of rain, yet now there was a solid bank of fog over the ocean. Maybe it was the mist clouding her brain but she couldn’t quite remember why she was wandering all by herself when she had her new husband waking up in their bed. Just thinking about him made her happy so she didn’t know why she kept walking. She should go back to him and she knew she would, eventually. There was something she had to do first. What did she have to do so badly?

  The sand was warm and soft beneath her feet. Waves crept toward her feet like naughty children, coming close and then backing away, as if they would be punished for touching. As she looked ahead of her, she thought she saw a figure lying on the sand. Curiosity took over and she hurried toward the spot. It was indeed a child lying in the sand, motionless as if sleeping. She knelt by the child and noticed in passing that it was a girl. Taking off her jacket, she covered her small body. When she picked her up, it started to rain. Perhaps the gods are crying for her, she thought to herself.

  After she got home, she went to the spare bedroom and tucked the child in. She returned to her sleeping husband and decided to explain the situation when he woke up. Surely he would understand, or so she hoped.

  - - -

  She woke abruptly to someone jabbing her arm. “Darlin’, what’s with the kid in the spare room? And after that, do you think you could make somethin’ to eat, I’m hungry and you know I’m hopeless in the kitchen.” It took her a few moments to remember what happened and then another few to gather her thoughts. Apparently that was too long for her husband because he began poking her again.

  “Will you quit the poking, dear?”

  He stopped and looked at her expectantly.

  “Last night after you fell asleep, I went for a walk on the beach. She was just lying there. I couldn’t leave her, she looked so helpless.” Pausing, she waited for his acceptance and mild approval, which she got in the form of a small nod. She kissed him and after putting clothes on, went to make breakfast. Their honeymoon wouldn’t turn out quite the way he had hoped, but she knew he loved her enough to take the loss for something important to her.

  For days, the child lay in the bed sleeping. Although she was concerned, she did not attempt to wake her. Every once and while, water was forced through her lips that she swallowed automatically, which was a good sign. On the fifth day, a sudden burst of crying came from the spare room that she was informed of by a loud shout of, “Hey, Kari, the kid’s awake!” She hurried to the room. Smiling at the tiny girl, she sat down on the bed beside her and held her close. How long it took to calm her was anyone’s guess but after a while, her crying slowed and finally stopped. There was silence and the only noise that could be heard was the waves on the beach just out the door, which interested the girl once she could hear it. Kari gently picked her up and carried her to the beach, sitting down and holding the girl on her lap.

  “What’s your name?”

  Moments passed with this question hanging in the air, and then the child answered. “I don’t know.”

  “Where are your parents?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Well, what do you know?”

  “I love the sea.”

  -

  “What are we supposed to do, Hugh? We can’t abandon her; she doesn’t know anything about herself, her family, or her past.”

  “So she claims.”

  “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. She needs us.”

  “I know.” He said, smiling at her. “Damn, I can’t deny you anything, can I? Too bad though, this is kick-starting the family idea a little sooner than I had anticipated.”

  She kissed him and went to go find the little girl. Well, not so much find her as figure out which beach she was on. It didn’t take long because, in her fear, she hadn’t wandered far from the people that had helped her. The little girl was sitting as close to the water as she could get without getting wet. She looked so hopeless sitting there in Kari’s smallest t-shirt and shorts.

  “What’s going to happen to me?”

  “I don’t know, dear, what do you want to happen?”

  She didn’t answer for several minutes, just sat there, looking at the sea. Then, she slowly rose to her feet and abruptly ran into Kari’s arms. “Can’t I stay with you? Or would the man be mad?”

  “No, sweetie, the man wouldn’t be mad. He looks mad sometimes but he’s not.”

  A voice came from behind them, “You can stay with us if you want, kid, but you should know we don’t live by the ocean, we’re just here temporarily.”

  “Why don’t you want to live by the ocean?”

  They looked at each other and Hugh said, “Because we have commitments back home. Things that we have to do. That’s our home.”

  “Well, I guess it would be ok to not be by the ocean all the time if I’m with you. Do you think we could come visit it sometimes?”

  “Of course we could. Probably not as often as you want, but I think we could manage,” Kari looked at her husband, “once a year, at least?” He nodded.

  “Maybe more, if you’re a good girl.” Hugh added.

  “I’ll be a very good girl!” She ran and hugged him. He looked surprised but hugged her back. Then, he picked her up easily and put her on his shoulders. They all laughed for the first time as a family.

  -

  “Do you think we can adopt her? She’ll need a birth certificate and everything to start school.”

  “They might send her picture and prints around to see if anyone claims her but then they should let us adopt her.”

  “What should we call her? We can’t keep calling her dear and sweetie, even though she is.”

  “I don’t know anything about naming a kid, you know that. You can name her whatever you want. Get a baby name book or something when you go into town to get her some clothes.”

  “You aren’t coming with?”

  “We can’t just leave this state with her. We need to contact the authorities, let them do whatever it is they have to do to verify that she has no family here and no record period, and then they’ll tell us what we need to do. Buy her what she needs for now. We can go all out when we get home. There’ll probably be police here when you get back so warn her and try to keep her calm.”

  “Is it such an outrageous idea, moving out here? It’s beautiful and not too far from a city where you could work.”

  “What about you? Will you be able to write your books with her around all the time?”

  “I could write with her always hanging on my back. Writing for me is like breathing. You know that. As long as I have pen and paper, there’s nothing that can stop me.”

  “Maybe we can move in a year or two, but not right now. Our
parents would flip and you know it. Besides, they’ll want to get to know our little water girl before we move away.”

  “You’re right, I suppose. We’d better get going if we want to take care of all of the authority stuff before we go home in a week and a half. Be patient with the police, Hugh, this is a strange case for them.”

  “Yes, dear. Have a good time with her and don’t take too long.” He kissed her cheek and went to go find a phone in the area. Kari sighed. Too bad he had to do all of the tedious and difficult things while she got to go shopping and such. She would make it up to him but how she would do that, she didn’t even know.

  - - -

  Whatever reaction Kari had expected from the little girl when they were in town, she didn’t see. Perhaps she thought fear would rule one so seemingly inexperienced with strange situations. Curiosity filled every action, every response that she had. This endeared her deeper into Kari’s heart. It helped that the child was so invisibly bound to her, if she hadn’t been, surely her curiosity would’ve carried her to places of danger or get her lost. Her writer’s soul was quivering, imagining endless possibilities that had set the girl in her path that night. Most of the more mundane ideas were abandoned because few of them would cause someone to completely forget their past, as this one had. After she had figured out the purpose of shopping and how it was done, her childish enthusiasm picked up where her knowledge left off. All of the clothes she was drawn to had either aquatic themes or were some shade of blue, the favored shade being one remarkably similar to the color of her eyes; something she probably had not seen. Convincing her to try on shoes was a chore that hadn’t been anticipated, but was dealt with. Time passed quickly, and after pausing to grab the baby name book, they headed back toward the house.

  As Hugh had said, there were policemen there. At first the little girl had panicked, calming only when being held by Kari, and much to his surprise, Hugh. She gave the same answers she had given the other two earlier. The police asked the couple how much longer they were planning on staying, their month-long honeymoon working well for this adventure, since that how long they were asked/told to remain in the area.

  -

  They settled into a sort of routine after that. When they woke up in the morning, they would go play in the ocean for a while. Then they would have breakfast, Kari bathing and clothing the girl before whatever activity had been decided on for that afternoon. In the evening, Hugh would read to her or they’d build sand castles while Kari took some time to write. Every few days they were visited by someone, be it the police or social services, but they handled it in stride. As had been predicted, nothing came of the police searches or the social service’s records.

  Two weeks of pouring over the baby name book had led Kari to interesting thoughts.

  “What do you want us to call you, sweetheart?”

  An unhelpful shrug didn’t help her growing frustration.

  “Well, what would you like to call us?”

  She opened her mouth only to close it again. Thoughts danced behind her eyes.

  “If the people that keep coming here decide to let us keep you, we’re going to need to tell them what name to put on your papers. Since you don’t have one, you either need to pick one or let us pick for you.”

  “Can’t I just call you Mommy and Daddy? Or is that wrong?”

  “Does that feel right to you, calling us that?” She looked to Hugh and his answering nod led her to continue, “Whatever makes you happy is fine with us, dear. You can call us by those or by our names, whatever you are most comfortable with.” This whole situation gave her an odd level of satisfaction and confusion at the same time. To be so abruptly shoved into motherhood was awkward but, seeing as she already loved the child, she may as well be her mother. Hugh felt the same, for the most part, acting more like a big brother than a father figure. If they got to keep her, he would learn.

  Seemingly deep in thought, the girl went to play in the sand. Hiding her exasperation at yet another failed conversation relating to the little one’s name, she turned away from her direction to glare at the wall, finding no solace in it. Hands moved up her back and ended up on her shoulders, trying to rub the tension from them, to no avail.

  “Honey, are you sure you want to do this? Keeping her, I mean. Social services could find a home just as fit as ours with half our hesitations.”

  She turned to look at him. Whatever he saw in her eyes made him flinch.

  “Sorry. I know you love her. I do too. But there are other options; we are not trapped in this. Choices can still be made. All of us can be happy. You finding her doesn’t have to change our plans for the next fifteen years of our life, or more, were it to come to that. This isn’t your burden to bear if you want it to be otherwise.”

  “I hear what you’re saying, Hugh, truly I do. If you would like us to choose otherwise, you’d better speak up. In my heart, I want her, but my mind is having problems dealing with all of the details. Part of me feels I may be incapable of being someone’s mother; that I’m too young, too inexperienced with children. But another part wants to believe that love can build that bridge, help me to care for her the way she needs to be cared for.”

  “Parenting is like anything, it’s learned through trial and error. Our parent’s weren’t born knowing how to care for us. Besides, once we get back to the city, they can help us, their knowledge can help that bridge. Love is enough. It will make our lives harder if we keep her. That I know. But I also know she’s worth it.”

  Kari seemed far away when he finished speaking, so he let her stay near whatever thought train she’d ended up on. Kissing her cheek, he went to go check on the tiny girl that had stolen what was left of his heart that he hadn’t already given to his love. As is the nature of children, she asked him random questions about random things until it was time to go back inside and go to bed. If Kari decided it was better for the girl to live with people who already knew how to care for children, he would go along with that decision. People misunderstood all of the time the finer points of their relationship. He did not bend to her will --she won him over with her logic every time. Every once and a while, he had his own bouts of logic and, when he did, he won. On this matter though, her choice would rule, and he hated himself for forcing her to make this particular choice alone. It’s not that he was incapable of deciding to keep the girl or not, quite on the contrary, he knew which he hoped his wife would pick. But her life would be much more profoundly affected than his and, because of this, he let her mull over her future. He could make either work, he was determined in this way, but she would be raising the girl until the whole school mess would be figured out and, even then, summers would fall to her. Tucking her in, her content smile shining in the darkness, he felt a peace he hadn’t known could exist. Everything would be fine.

  -

  The choice was made and she was theirs, but they still needed a name for the birth certificate. A doctor, after examining her bone structure, teeth, and other details, had guessed she was around the age of six. Her birth date would be the day they found her, having no way to determine if this was false. In a way, she had been born that day.

  “I get your last name, right?”

  “Of course you do.”

  “So, do you guys have any ideas for my name?”

  “How about Sasha?”

  Something similar to a serious moue took over the child’s face.

  Kari laughed. “No, Hugh, that doesn’t sound right at all. How about Toby or Jocelyn?

  These suggestions made the little girl laugh outright.

  “Oceana?”

  More laughter.

  “Moselle? Seems like a good fit, you were taken from the water after all, or near enough.”

  True seriousness controlled her features now. “Not right for a first name. Don’t I need a middle name too?”

  “Yes, you do, sweetheart. You like Hugh’s idea for a middle name?”

  Beaming, she chirped a, “Yup!”

&
nbsp; They continued to go through countless ideas for a first name until one, randomly thrown out by Kari, was scooped up with more enthusiasm than the one for the middle name.

  “Nixie? Really?”

  “Yup!”

  “Why?”

  “Because maybe I really am a water sprite,” she replied, giggling madly.

  “How’d you know that, sweetie? I didn’t tell you what it meant.”

  She shrugged while Kari and Hugh looked at each other with alarm. And thus, the mystery of little Nixie deepened.

  - - -

  “Mommy?”

  “Yes, sweetheart?”

  “Why is math boring?”

  “Well, why do you think it’s boring?”

  “It’s too easy.” Her small voice had a smug sort of tone to it.

  Rustling papers followed this. “Here, try this one.”

  Working on her newest novel and watching Nixie do preliminary schoolwork wasn’t too difficult, although she was surprised at how advanced she seemed to be, in some subjects anyway. Despite all proof that she’d been outside any of any sort of educational system, she appeared to be a couple years ahead of her age group in artistic skills, math, and science. Unfortunately, she was behind in writing, history, and a couple of other vital areas, which meant she had to be home-schooled until she was at equal levels for everything. Kari was concerned about how this would affect her social development, but Nixie was able to meet other kids when she took her to the park before dinner every day. A lot of the kids thought she was kind of weird but there was one boy, Aidan, who enjoyed her company. They talked mostly about things relating to the water. He lived near the park so he would wander over whenever they got there just to talk to her. When they had first met it was because he was drawn to her clothes, the blues and water scenes calling to him, day after day. Aidan was a few years older than Nixie. The boy seemed desperate for her to start school, probably so they could talk more. Or maybe he was lonely. At his age, it was hard to believe he could be truly lonely, but children can be cruel to those they can’t understand. Nixie was one of these, and Aidan must be too. Thankfully, for the two of them, they had each other.

  It took a long time to convince Aidan to come over to the house. Kari talked to his mother countless times, tried to bribe him in all the ways she could think of that were acceptable. What finally convinced him to come was nothing she did. One day, Hugh had brought home a fish tank, with all the things needed to start a salt-water habitat. He and Nixie were co-conspirators for the next few days, setting it up, buying the fish, and naming them all. They managed to do all of this without Kari finding out because she was immersed in writing her novel. As soon as Hugh came home from work, it was his turn to take care of Nixie. The day after they finished it, they showed it to her, basking in her praise and awe. All of the fish glistened in a different shade of color, the whole rainbow represented. Nixie was so excited, she told her their names and why she had picked them. The next time she saw Aidan, she was bursting with the desire to tell him about it, sparing no detail. She had, apparently, begun to notice the personalities of the different fish. This drew Aidan in to such an extreme that he begged to leave right away to go see. That night they spent hours with their noses pressed against the glass, talking in low tones. A few days later, they had developed an elaborate story that explained the interactions between the fish in the tank. Drama, to Kari and Hugh’s surprise, could thrive between fish. At least, that’s what Nixie said, Aidan standing a step behind her, grinning like a fool. He came over every day after that, a craving almost to the point of obsession. Playing at the park became a chore for them, since Kari refused to take them home until they had a bit of fun there. Sometimes Aidan would bring his homework, not only to appease his mother, but so he could stay longer, not having to go home to do it. He’d sit right next to the fish tank, his eyes flashing between his paper and the racing fish. In the beginning, Nixie helped him with his math homework, until he got to material that was beyond her. They grew close, drawn together by the indefinable lure of the large, glowing fish tank. Some said that he only remained friends with Nixie because of it, but all who knew him knew this wasn’t true.

  Months later, with the help of Aidan and her own determination, she reached the point where she could enter a public school. She would be a grade behind Aidan and the school system said they would test her skills every few weeks to be sure that it was the proper placement. Kari missed her when she was gone at school and, although she accomplished much more as far as her writing was concerned, that and basic household chores she couldn’t avoid, she wished she was back. Since Nixie had started school halfway through the year, it was summer soon enough and they were both glad to go back to their old routine. Things at school went much like they had at the playground. Aidan and Nixie found solace in one another’s company. Because it was summer, Kari decided it was time to go back to the ocean. Nixie refused to go at first, concerned about her fish tank and its thriving occupants. Quizzing Hugh on how to take care of them, she didn’t agree to go until she was satisfied, making him promise multiple times that he would give them the attention and love they deserved. He had to work so he was unable to join them, which was just as well, for the fishes’ sake. Kari tried, and failed, to convince Aidan’s mother to let him come with. Evidently, she got nervous when he was too far away from her. There was nothing they could do to change her mind though.

  So they packed up everything they needed and some stuff that they didn’t, and drove to the little house near where Nixie had been found. They spent most of the car ride singing with songs on the radio and chatting about what they wanted to do once they reached their destination. Nixie’s ideas were fairly simple. She wanted to play in the sand and in the ocean, and to Kari’s surprise, she asked to be taken to the highest point in the area that you could see the ocean from. Oh, and the lighthouse near there. To Kari’s knowledge, Nixie wasn’t fond of heights, so the ocean view request confused her. Their vacation was going to be long enough that they would have time to do all of these things and more. Two weeks was an acceptable amount of time for a vacation in any sense of the word. Hugh would miss them enough as it was, any longer would be cruel.

  Mostly out of curiosity, Kari went about trying to figure out where the highest point was first. The locals knew, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out. On the second day, they drove up a steep hill that had trees on both sides of the road. For the entire ride, Nixie kept asking how you could see the ocean from the top if you couldn’t even see it on the way there. But as soon as they reached the top, she knew. It was hard to keep her away from the edge of the cliff; her excitement had her darting around looking at everything, though she said nothing. Kari drank in the view until she’d had enough, then she sat in the car, watching Nixie, yelling when she needed to. After a while, she must’ve gotten tired out because she just went as close to the edge as Kari would let her and sat down. She sat there, staring into the distance, not caring how much time passed. When the sun was ready to set, Kari told her it was time to go back. Without a word, she rose and climbed into the car. It was a couple days until she could be convinced to say anything, but she slowly worked up to her regular speech level. Time was on their side. They went to the lighthouse, shopping around the town, and they spent countless hours playing at the beach and in the ocean.

  Watching her play in the ocean soothed Kari, especially since she hadn’t been able to write for days. For whatever reason, her words had stopped coming and it hurt her in ways no one else could ever imagine. Hearing footsteps approach, she turned to see who was coming. A man, who looked ordinary in every way, came to stand next to where she was sitting.

  “She’s a remarkable child.” His voice gave her chills.

  “Yes, she is.”

  “You don’t know the half of it. And how could you.”

  Bristling at his condescending tone, she shot back, “And how would you know any of it? That child is the one that Fate gave me. Whatever mys
teries hide inside of her, surely she was given to me to bring about some end.”

  “I doubt her destiny is something you are capable of encouraging.”

  With that, he walked away or, at least, it sounded like he did. Nothing would make her look in his direction. There was no way he should have been able to provoke her like that, and yet he had. That only made her angrier at him, whoever he was. After a while, she scanned the beach and noticed there were no footprints to commemorate his passage. It was as though he were a figment of her imagination. A figment of her nightmares.

  - - -

  Hugh and Aidan were at the house when they returned, and there was no way to know which was more relieved. Aidan, who was usually very reserved, especially around Kari and Hugh, rushed Nixie for a hug that seemed to calm him considerably. The children went to go talk by the fish tank, which gave them the chance to have their emotional reunion. They had not been apart for that long since before they got engaged. There was kissing, hugging, and a lot of words that would’ve grossed the kids out.

  The rest of the summer was spent lazily, for the most part. Kari studied with Nixie a little bit, to be sure that she was prepared for her next year of school. Other than that, they mostly played at the park, had movie days, and took a special trip to an aquarium a few towns away. As far as Kari’s writing went, her words were still lost. She was also having problems sleeping, since the ‘Dark Man’, which is what she called him, kept creeping into her dreams. He never said anything, just stood in the background of whatever dream she was having, glaring at her. After a few weeks of this, she remembered a dream from the night before when she actually screamed at him to state his purpose and/or go away. At the time he had left, for which she was grateful. For a few months, he had stayed gone. Just long enough to lull her into a false sense of security. When she was finally used to getting normal amounts of sleep, he appeared in a dream dedicated to only him, rather than appearing in the background.

  “I will take her and I will return her. If you show faith in me, I will return your words to you at the same time.”

  A realization struck her then. “You stole them from me to use as leverage! They were mine to start with, they always have been! You cannot return what has always been mine!”

  “If they are always yours, why can’t you find them now?”

  She fumed, but had no response.

  “As I said, if you show faith, you can have your words back when I return her.”

  “How long will she be gone? She has obligations in this world. Why do you even want her? What are you going to do?”

  “She won’t be harmed, that’s all you really need to know. Time passes at a different speed where we’re going versus where you are. Nixie, as you call her, will only be gone a few days.”

  “Let me think about this for a while. I need time to process this information.” Anger still filled her, but she tried to force her voice to stay calm. There was no way to know the extent of his powers and what he could do to her. This whole mess would be easier if the Dark Man would express some emotions; he was always so neutral in tone and body language.

  “Fine. I will return in a week. Sleep well until then.” And then he was gone as if he’d never been there.

  As if she could sleep well now.

  -

  Pretending as though nothing was wrong was no easy task. She told Hugh about the dream, not that it did any good. He decided that it was her subconscious trying to come up with some rational about her not being able to write. Part of her wanted to let her anger fly right then and there, though she knew Hugh didn’t deserve her anger, the Dark Man did. There was no way he’d stand for it, but he did deserve it. Wishing he’d give her some glimpse of what he wanted with Nixie wouldn’t do her any good either. If he thought she was capable of stopping him or if he wanted her to know, he would’ve told her already. That would’ve made this whole mess so much easier to deal with. But no, the Dark Man was a stubborn as every other man. Wow. She really needed to calm down. It was out of her hands, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit defeat. Nixie was hers, maybe not by blood, only in every other way that mattered.

  Stopping him wasn’t an option. Telling Nixie wasn’t an option either. Every time she tried, something came up that she had to do or take care of. This was a not-so-subtle way of the Dark Man mocking her and she hated him for it.

  As he had promised, a week later he was back. Of course, it took her so long to fall asleep that night she almost missed him. Maybe he had something to do with how she managed to fall asleep in the end, since her mind was as restless as it had been. Apparently, she had a habit of pacing in her dreams too. He didn’t say anything at first, just watched her pace, expressionless as always.

  “Have you made a decision?”

  “I didn’t know there was a decision to be made. It didn’t sound like there was; only two different reactions that I was allowed to have. That is not a decision in any sense of the word.” Her growl seemed to amuse and annoy him, as though he wasn’t used to people fighting against him.

  “You make a valid point. I’d like an answer either way though.”

  “I have conditions.” He was openly laughing at her now. “If she’s gone more than three days our time, I don’t care if I ever get my words back again, I will search for her using all of my resources. And everyone will hear about you.” The laughter stopped then, she must’ve hit a nerve.

  Now he was the one who was growling. “You ought to be careful about who you threaten.”

  “It wasn’t a threat. It was a fact.” Her falsely cheery voice was full of implications. “Whatever consequences I face, I love her and will find her, I don’t care who you are. Just because you are a mysterious night creeper doesn’t mean you can scare me.”

  He forced a civil smile then. “Fine, I accept your conditions and I will take good care of her.” And he was gone, same as before.

  - - -

  What Kari had no way of knowing was that she wasn’t the only one having the Dark Man appear in her dreams. Nixie had been seeing him for as long as she could remember. For the longest time, he didn’t say anything, just watched her do whatever it was she was doing in her dream. Then he started taking her to various places of beauty, places she knew she was incapable of imagining. She had theories that had something to do with her life before she had been found on the beach. There was no way to know for sure what happened before that, and she couldn’t ask him; he’d never answer that question in a straight-mannered way. All she could do was enjoy the scenery and wait for him to speak.

  One dream, she asked him to take her to a specific beautiful place that he’d already shown her. Before he took her there, he asked, “Why that one?”

  Shocked that he had spoken, she hesitated before answering. “Because a part of my soul is there.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “How does anyone know anything? I just do. That place makes my heart sing.”

  He almost smiled then, or so it seemed. They went, and he said nothing else for a long time. Every once and a while, he’d show her pictures of people, perhaps wondering what reactions she would have to them. She noted various details when this occurred, but nothing significant was learned. After several such sessions, he seemed frustrated, but she didn’t know what he wanted. Though she knew little about him, she would give him whatever it was he wanted as far as it related to these pictures; she was at a complete loss. Her young mind saw nothing of value in these uses of her time. One day, she said so.

  Sitting down on the ground, disregarding his pictures, she stated, “I’m not doing that today. This time, you’re going to tell me about you. I don’t even know your name. Mommy says it’s bad to talk to strangers. Tell me things.”

  His face flipped through a variety of emotions and reactions before carefully composing itself. “Your mommy is right, talking to strangers is bad.” Pausing for thought, he sighed. There was no way to talk his way out of this one. Her fierce expression t
old him that much, her head cocked to one side, openly curious. “You can call me Mr. Nessuno, if you want.”

  Her face twisted a little bit. “Mr. Nessuno? No, that’s too stuffy if you’re my friend. You are my friend, right?”

  “I want to be, Nixie, if you’ll let me.”

  “Good. Can I call you Uno? Nope. Not that. That’s a game I played with Mom and Dad. Muno? Nomer?” Concentration filled her face as she thought for several moments. “I’ll think about it, is that ok?”

  “Yes, of course.”

  “Tell me other things.”

  Forcing a laugh, which sounded like it had been trapped in his chest for a very long time, he asked, “What do you want to know?”

  “Everything.”

  “Well, that’s a start.”

  “A start to what?”

  She was too perceptive by far. “Never mind, little one. My mind was wandering.”

  “So, does that mean you won’t tell me anything? Why do grown-ups always keep secrets from me?”

  “It’s not about keeping secrets from you, it’s about keeping you safe.”

  “I want the truth over safety any day. But no one listens to me when I say that.”

  “Can I think about what I’ll tell you and tell you next time? There’s a lot I could tell you. I need to sort through all of it.”

  “I guess so. Do you pinkie promise you’ll tell me next time?”

  “Sure.”

  Then she smiled and made a goofy face. “You’re still going to make me look at the pictures, aren’t you?”

  “Please?”

  She grumbled for a little bit until she finally muttered, “Fine then.” Her tone was hesitant when she made comments on them. It was almost time for her to wake up when they finished. Patting her on the head, he left, going wherever it was that he went when he wasn’t with her. To say she was upset with him didn’t cover all of it. Why was asking his origins such a hard question? He knew everything about her; it seemed only fair that he share as well. But he wouldn’t, she knew, until he felt it was the ‘right’ time. Over time, he’d dodged every question he hadn’t liked; it was only a matter of time.

  -

  Her waking hours were normal. She went to school, played with Aidan, and spent time with her family. They had no reason to suspect that she was visited by a strange dark figure in her dreams at least once a week, sometimes more. Although, after the conversation that demanded information from him, he disappeared for quite some time, so long in fact that she became very worried that she had made him angry. Well, it was true, she had made him angry. But he wasn’t mad at her, he was mad at himself, and the people that had encouraged him in this path. There was no turning back now that he had seen the full extent of her potential. From a distance he had seen only so much. In person he could barely wrap his mind around it. Part of him was afraid of teaching her the things she needed to know to grow into her full potential, afraid of the person she would become with such powers at her disposal. He’d known too many people who had attained such power just to watch it destroy them, some slowly, some in a matter of days. He couldn’t bring himself to quit now. Besides, how was he to know what her destiny was, at least in full? There was no way. All he could do is put his faith in this small girl and hope something came of it. To give her the truths she required was a heavy price though, and he didn’t want to pay it, though he had little choice. He needed her trust in full, because this would never work if it was only given to him in pieces, driven by her whims. So he was forced to earn her trust in such a way that could make or break whatever it was that they had, be it friendship or some sort of teacher/student bond. Lying to her wasn’t an option; she would know. She wouldn’t know how she knew he was lying, but she would, and then the trust would be lost, never to be regained. In all ways, she really was quite a remarkable child.

  -

  “So, Sunny, tell me things. You promised you would.”

  He laughed internally at the irony of his poorly chosen nickname. “What do you want to know? I won’t just go on tangents. You’ll have to ask me direct questions for direct answers.”

  “You sound like Mommy.”

  “I don’t mean to.”

  She smiled, “That’s ok. Let me think for a minute.”

  Flipping through scenes, trying to decide where to settle for this dream sequence, he waited for her to find her thoughts.

  “Stop,” she commanded, “This one’s new. I want to be here today. It feels right.”

  With a nod of his head, he settled the scene, still waiting for her questions.

  “How were you born?” How, not when. She was far too clever.

  “I don’t know.”

  Confusion filled her features as she cocked her head to one side, her curiosity lit aflame.

  “I don’t remember being born and I don’t remember being a child. One day I appeared, as you see me now. I’ve learned a lot since then, but essentially, I’m the same.”

  “Why were you created?”

  “I can’t be sure. No one ever really told me. But I like to think I was created to teach little girls like you.”

  “Teach what?”

  “That depends on the person. You’re still too young for me to know what to teach you, but when I figure out, I will.”

  She mumbled under her breath, even she didn’t know what she said.

  “Anymore questions?”

  “Of course, I need to think of some more, give me a few minutes. Jeez.”

  Time passed, he didn’t know how much.

  “There are other girls like me?”

  “Yes. Well, sort of. They are similar to you in some ways, and different in others.”

  “Can I meet them?”

  “You will someday.”

  “Are there boys too?”

  “Some. Less of them than girls though.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “I’m not sure. There may not be a reason. It just happens that way.”

  “Oh.” She slumped, her face contorted, trying to think of more questions probably. Minutes later, she started pacing, which seemed to help her a little. Frustration had almost overtaken her. While he waited, he sat down on a rock, gazing into the water that was before him. Of course she had a tendency to favor water scenes.

  “Sunny, what’s your real name?”

  “It’s in a language you can’t pronounce. One that’s been long dead.”

  “How can a language die?”

  “A language is dead when people stop speaking it. Only people like me remember it now.”

  “But then it’s not really dead, right?”

  “It’s dead. We don’t speak it. We can’t. We only know it. That’s the difference.”

  “That’s sad.”

  “Yes, it is.”

  “So, there are other people like you?”

  “Some.”

  “Will I ever meet them?”

  He flinched and paled, the strongest reaction she’d ever gotten from him. “If you have faith, my dear girl, pray that you never ever do. They are very different from me and are kind in no ways. They don’t want you to learn, and if you do, they will want to corrupt you so they can use whatever powers you have to reach their own ends. Had they the power, they would have snuffed out my existence long ago. Then the world would be an evil place and they would be worshipped, as they were centuries upon centuries ago.”

  Her voice was small when she spoke again. “There are no exceptions? All of them are bad?”

  “Only one is like me. My twin sister, as far as I can tell. I don’t know if she’s actually my sister. We were created at the same time with the same purpose. Or so it seems. We use different methods, teach different people, but we strive for the same goal.”

  “Can I meet her?”

  “I don’t know. Even I haven’t seen her in a very long time.”

  “But she’s your sister. Don’t you miss her?”

  “Sometimes.”

  They both got lo
st in thought for a while until Nixie said, “It’s almost time for me to wake up so I’ll ask you more questions next time.” And silence fell between them until the sun came up.

  - - -

  It had been so long since Kari had the conversation with the Dark Man about him taking Nixie, she thought he might have changed his mind. Then came the day when she and Hugh woke up and she was gone without a trace. That was when Hugh finally believed Kari about the dreams with the Dark Man in them. He tried to pump her for information, but alas, she had little to share. At first, he wanted to call the police. Kari stopped him. There was nothing they could do. All they could do was try to trust the Dark Man and, if he failed to keep his promise, they would make good on Kari’s threat. She didn’t want to. The writer inside of her was, by this point, screaming for her words to return, feeling trapped inside her mind, in a box with no light or air or sound. If she followed through on her threat, there was no way he’d give her words back. Granted, it was hard to know if he’d do it anyway. But she desperately hoped he would. Who knows how much longer she could stay sane without them. After she was gone for two days, Aidan started freaking out. Kari told him some pretty lies to calm him down, hoping she would be back soon. He didn’t seem to believe her.

  - - -

  When he came to take her, she was surprised. She thought that the extent of the time they spent together would be in dreams only. So, when he appeared at her bedside, motioning for her to follow him, she wasn’t sure what to do. A part of her knew that it would be wrong to leave without getting permission from Kari and Hugh, but then she’d have to explain her dreams and all she knew about Sunny, and she didn’t want to do that. Because she trusted him, she took his hand and let him lead her from the house. Once they were outside, they seemed to jump from her front yard to a fantastic strange place where she’d never been before.

  “What’s going on, Sunny? Why are we here?”

  “Because what I need to teach you cannot be taught in a dream.”

  “But what about Mommy and Daddy? They’ll get worried if I’m gone when they wake up.”

  “You’ll only be gone for a few days. I already asked your Mom and she said it was ok. Time passes differently here.”

  “Mommy knows about you? She never said anything.”

  “She doesn’t think you know anything about me, and she couldn’t talk to you about me because that would make this whole thing more complicated. It’s best that I only talk to her in dreams, telling her what she needs to know, and nothing else.”

  Shuffling her feet, her curiosity slowly overcame her worry and frustration at his need to be mysterious. “What are you gonna teach me?”

  “A lot of things. Are you ready?”

  Hesitating, she was afraid of the future, if only for that moment.

  “Yup!”

  “Then let’s get started.”

 
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