Coffee was brewing in the machine on the kitchen counter, and Sarah inhaled the ambrosial fumes, while behind her, Avalyn patiently waited, clearly enjoying the aroma as well.
“I’d tell you to change into something more comfortable, but Janelle was a few years younger than you, and I don’t think her clothes would fit,” Sarah said, feeling a tinge of pain, at the mention of her daughter’s name. But the hurt didn’t linger; Avalyn’s gift wouldn’t allow it. She’d shown Sarah where her daughter had went, made her understand that she was in a better place, made Sarah realize that holding on to pain was what had created the gulf between mother and daughter in the first place, what had caused the gulf within herself. Life was full of second chances. Failure could lead to victory, but only if you let it, only if you let go of failure’s hurt.
What dark and destitute memories that came to Sarah’s mind when she thought of her daughter dissipated in the face of the few, though powerful, joyous moments she’d shared with Janelle. The memory of seeing her daughter at the morgue was replaced by the remembrance of Janelle’s birth. The memory of her daughter’s sorrow filled face upon hearing that her father had died was replaced by the memory of Janelle finally learning to float on water, never realizing that her mother had stopped supporting her prone form minutes earlier. These magical moments had been inundated by the dismal ones for far too long.
The coffee machine ceased its steaming gurgles, indicating that its task was complete. Sarah poured the coffee into two mugs. “How do you like it?”
“Light and sweet,” Avalyn said, “with cream not milk.”
When Sarah was done preparing Avalyn’s drink, she turned and handed Avalyn her mug, then turned back to finish her own.
The sound of Avalyn’s mug shattering on the floor made Sarah jump and almost knock over her own mug. Coffee sprayed Sarah’s shins and stained her slippers, soaked through her pants and socks, scalding her. But she barely felt the burn. She was busy staring at Avalyn, who was on the floor lying in a crumpled heap, unconscious.
Sarah’s mocha skin blanched, her hands shook, and lips trembled. Shock paralyzed her, momentarily drove her training behind a wall of fear, behind ramparts of regret. She’d already lost her daughter, she didn’t want to lose another innocent life.
The nurse in her took over. She went over to Avalyn and knelt down, felt her forehead. It was cold and clammy. Avalyn’s eyeballs shifted underneath their shutters. Her breathing was heavy and labored.
“Avalyn.” Sarah felt the girl’s cheek. Same as her forehead, cool and dank. She felt for her pulse, and put her head to her chest to hear her heart, her breathing. Both where racing. Sarah raised her head and looked at Avalyn. She called her name again, this time trying to lift her shuffling eyelids. Avalyn’s pupils were tucked up, trying to reach behind her head. She called her again, “Avalyn”.
Sarah thought it could be a seizer, or maybe she’d collapsed from exhaustion. Too many stressful occurrences for the child to take. For anybody to take. Innately, she knew that that wasn’t it. She remembered the first time she’d met Avalyn, down beneath the bowels of the church. She’d been just like this. As if she were in a coma, not simply sleeping. The Shadowy Man. Sarah remembered the name Avalyn had given her visitor. Was she with him now?
Above Sarah, Avalyn’s astral form entered the Shadowy Man’s realm. Whatever it was that he wished to convey must be important. Never did he urge her astral form forth like this. So sudden and violent.
Sarah lifted her body from the floor. Cradling Avalyn in her arms, she left the kitchen and headed for the stairs.
It was supposed to have been Janelle’s room. It was supposed to have been the start of a new life. Their life together. The room was Spartan. A twin-size bed. A nightstand with a lamp. A dresser. Although, Sarah had painted the walls, carpeted the floors, and furnished it, that was as far as she’d gone. She’d wanted Janelle to supply the final touches and make it her own, embody it with her personality. Unfortunately, Janelle never had that chance.
She gently placed Avalyn on the bed, slid the covers out from under her, then wrapped them around her, leaving only Avalyn’s head exposed.
She could have brought Avalyn to her room, laid her down on her own bed instead of Janelle’s-a bed Janelle herself had never laid upon. But she felt that it was only right, to lay Avalyn here.
She thanked Avalyn silently. She wouldn’t have been able to do it without her, without her touch. Now, she knew that death wasn’t the end. That it was a portal to something more. A journey that led to a joining. A reunion to what all living things feel separated from. That the form blinds us from. She now knew that every living thing was a piece of God, fragments of one entity, a cell within a complete organism, a part of each and every all.
Sarah lay down beside Avalyn and cradled her in her arms.
Avalyn was now floating down a corridor consumed by doors. The Deadtime. Every door was closed. Behind them, brilliant illumination pierced the crevices, spilled from the fissures and outlined the frames. To her right, one of the doors opened. Magnificent light dispersed the darkness and felt warm on Avalyn’s astral face. She turned toward the door, toward that glorious glare. The light engulfed her and she couldn’t quite tell if she’d entered the doorway or the doorway had swallowed her.
The Shadowy Man was standing before her. Behind him, brilliant light veiled his face. “Things will never be the same for you.”
“What will happen to me? What am I supposed to do?”
“Like it or not, this is the beginning. They have found you, Avalyn. I do not know how, but they found you.” He cast an anxious glance over his shoulder.
“Who are you hiding from? Who are we hiding from?”
“Come with me, Avalyn, into the light.” The Shadowy Man extended his hand. She reached for it and when their hands met, she felt warmth. It spread up her arms and coursed throughout her entire body. The illumination behind him intensified. Avalyn squinted against the glare.
“Heed my warning. Tonight, they will come for you.” His silhouette started to fade. It blended in with the background. The Shadowy Man became one with the light. “When next you wake, you will be hunted. Since Roman cannot be there for you, I will try to help you, Avalyn, but I cannot guarantee it, for whatever I do from here, draws their attention, to not only me, but to you as well. Just remember, Avalyn, the doorways to the Deadtime are meant for more than hiding, but for traveling as well.”
The light consumed everything.