They spoke in hushed tones outside the chamber. Though they could hear Avalyn’s voice, her words were indecipherable.
“Sounded like she was talking to somebody,” Father Purgeon said. “I heard her mention her mom, that she was dead. Like she was telling somebody about it. I couldn’t understand much more of it, but what bits I did, bothered me, bothered me a whole lot.”
They’d brought a lantern with them. By its light, they could see Avalyn’s wavy, auburn tresses, matted against her pale, slick forehead. Her eyes shuffled beneath lids bedewed by sweat. The air felt thick with her fever. Her chest rose and fell in ragged undulations.
Sarah wished Father Purgeon had forewarned her. He of all people understood how difficult this would be. Sarah wanted to help the girl. But she didn’t know if she was ready. She didn’t appreciate Father Purgeon throwing her into the fire like this. If it had been anybody else, she would’ve walked out by now. That was the problem. Father Purgeon wasn’t anybody else.
“I’m surprised that you waited this long. We need to get her to a hospital. Get her to more capable hands. Anybody’s but mine.”
“Circumstances are quite unique here, Sarah. I know I’m asking a lot, but I have no one else to turn to.”
“How unique could they be? Unique enough to risk her health? Talk to me, Father. What’s going on?”
The priest bit his lip. He had to give her something. He needed her help. Yet what could he tell her? That the man he was counseling was a vampire? That the vampire had rescued the girl from a serial killer who’d already killed eleven other children? That he had to keep the child below the church because other vampires might come for her? She’d think that he was insane.
“We might be endangering her if we bring her to the hospital,” Father Purgeon said, deciding to stick to the truth, no matter how vague he had to be, and hoping it would be enough. “Please, Sarah. Trust me. I promise to tell you everything come morning, no matter how crazy it sounds. I just need you to do what you can for her until then. I’ll take full responsibility for Avalyn.”
Sarah looked into his eyes and held them. She thought about everything he’d done for her. He’d brought her back from the brink of death, a walking death after her husband had died, before her daughter’s passing, and the funeral procession that had continued afterwards, steadily leading her toward suicide. He’d believed in her when there was no reason to, when everyone had given up on her, including her daughter, deservedly so. He’d made her care about others, especially after her husband’s death. Made her realize that Janelle was hurting as well. He encouraged her to think beyond herself and therefore reach her potential. Become the woman he knew she was, and the mother. After Janelle’s death, the priest had had to start from scratch. He’d had to help her deal with her grief, the ultimate misery of too little too late.
How could she deny him? The man that had given her so much and asked for so little.
“Ok, Father,” she said. “I’ll give you until the morning.” She glanced at the watch on her wrist. “It’s almost morning anyway. But you have to come clean, Father. You have to tell me everything.”
His eyes thanked her more than his words ever could. They also revealed how tired he was.
“Go get some rest, Father. Looks like you aged a couple of years.”
“Thanks, Sarah. See you in a few hours.”
Sarah watched him leave.
She shielded the lantern’s glare with her hand as she made her way into the room. Yet she couldn’t make it past the threshold. Janelle would’ve been about the same age. Sarah felt her throat constrict and became angry with herself. She’d been selfish long enough. Swallowing hard, she pushed past her feelings and the entry.
Avalyn was breathing easier; the rasping sound was gone and she wasn’t sweating anymore. Her skin was still moist, but already had lost its feverish gleam. Once restless eyes had ceased their constant shuffle.
By the cot was a bucket filled with ice water and washcloths. Sarah knelt down and plunged her hand inside. She winced from the cold. She pulled out a cloth, rung it, and placed it on Avalyn’s forehead. She felt Avalyn’s cheek with her wrist. Her fever was breaking. She checked Avalyn’s leg. Her breath caught in her throat. The redness was gone. So was the swelling. Her shin was unblemished. Nary so much as a scratch on her skin. Sarah ran her hands over the leg, lightly pressing as she checked for breaks, checked for swelling, and questioned her sanity. “My God,” she whispered.
She almost screamed when she felt a small hand grasp her wrist.
“Hello, Sarah,” Avalyn said.
“What? How do you. . .”
“Shhh,” Avalyn said, sitting up. “I’m not in pain anymore. My body lets it go. We’ll need your help.”
“This is impossible. It was broken,” Sarah said, eyes darting back to Avalyn’s leg.
“Not impossible, Sarah. I can’t explain it; I can only show you.” Avalyn reached for Sarah’s hand and seized it. Warmth past from palm to palm, spread up Sarah’s arm, and throughout her body. “Remember.”
And Sarah did.
Suddenly, it felt as though she’d been thrown into the sun, where a lustrous beam of light encompassed her entire being. The veil of mortality fell away and the pain of want went with it. She was formless. Innately she knew this was the light that all life stemmed from. That this was the light all can return to. That this light was a part of her and every living thing. If they only knew it was there. That it had always been there. And like frost in the sun, fear and doubt melted away, but not the lessons that they taught. Pain was needed to learn.
Avalyn had to force Sarah to relive her pain in order for her to let it go. She didn’t want her to forget what lessons it had taught her, but Sarah needed to forgive herself, for that pain was no longer required. Regret could only hold her back from becoming what she was meant to be. Then and now.
Her body shook with each memory as Sarah remembered every hurt she’d ever experienced. Every emotion she relived.
She remembered Janelle’s father, Samuel. How she loved him. How she felt he’d let her down by dying. Leaving her in a world she barley recognized. With a child she’d soon shun. That she chose not to know. Until it was too late.
Sarah remembered Janelle. The warmth of her in her womb. Her first gulp of air. The cutting of the umbilical cord. Janelle’s first scream and the realization that they were the flesh of one. Later, after Samuel’s death, she’d forget this unity by pushing Janelle away, to protect herself from pain, yet lying to herself that she was protecting Janelle from pain. Sarah hadn’t wanted to lose something she loved again. She hadn’t wanted Janelle to go through that pain again either. It was why she’d distanced herself from her daughter. It was why she’d made herself unavailable to Janelle. Spiritually. Emotionally. Physically. Abandonment for all the wrong reasons. For cowardice. For only the brave can strive through pain to appreciate joy.
She tried pulling away from the memories she’d spent years trying to forget, but Avalyn held on, brought them all back, and the pain they were married to. “Remember,” she said. “Let go.”
Sarah remembered the day she got the news. Taking some time off work to finish decorating Janelle’s room.
“Please!” Sarah said, tears soaking her face. “Let me go!”
She remembered not wanting to hear the details. Her imagination had supplied its own images, which her mind could not mitigate. Sometimes imagining was more maddening than witnessing.
“Release,” Avalyn whispered, “remember.”
She remembered the morgue. Identifying Janelle. Father Purgeon pulling back the sheets because she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Her spasms slowed and her shoulders slumped. Her head dropped. She was still.
She felt that stirring space. The formlessness within herself. For at that moment, she knew that her daughter was okay. That she was one with that light. The light that preceded everything. That she now knew would be there at her journey’s end. That all return to the Nothing, that allows everything to exist, where all life exists.
Sarah opened her eyes. The colors seemed brighter. Without judgment, every sound was sweeter; every sight was brilliant. Breathing felt miraculous. The sight of Avalyn’s hair. The feel of her tears drying on her cheeks.
Sarah thanked Avalyn with her eyes; words couldn’t convey the sentiment; words were limited.