His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 23
He went on and on in the same vein, while I pulled out the steaks, cut into one, and seeing that it was done, shut off the oven. I cut up my Dad’s steak for him, something I only did when he was in bad shape, and filled two glasses with ice water, which had seemed to help him earlier in the day.
“They don’t like this,” he had said about the ice cream and the water.
Returning to my Dad, I put the plate with his steak on his lap and handed him the water glass. He took a long drink.
It had been a strange day, and it had seemed endless. Which may be why my mind was making connections it wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Are they dark sorcerers, Dad? Is that who’s doing this to you?”
He considered me, a spark of recognition in his pale eyes.
“I don’t know. Could be.”
Except for the fact that there were no weremystes here. I was sure of that. But to set my mind at ease, I cast a spell similar to the one I’d attempted in the airport. This time, though, I tried to keep it simple. Three elements instead of seven: me, a concealed myste, and my eyes.
“What was that?”
“You felt it?” I asked him.
“You cast a spell.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“I wanted to see if there was a weremyste here, someone camouflaged, who might be doing these things to you.”
He shook his head. “There isn’t. These are powers that go far beyond you and me and other weres.”
“You’re talking to me again.”
“Did I stop?” He glanced down at the plate and frowned. “You just started those.”
“No,” I said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been muttering to yourself for fifteen minutes.”
“What else can you tell me? Before you slip away again.”
“I don’t know what they are. They’re hurting me, testing me, trying to craft their way past my wardings.”
“I heard you say something about ‘her,’ and you also mentioned a boy.”
He nodded, his face falling. “The boy is you,” he said, voice thick. “They want you for something. And . . . and sometimes they make me see your mother. She looks so fine, so much like . . . like she did. Young and beautiful. Before all the rest, when it went bad. It’s Dara as I like to remember her.” He shook his head. There were tears on his face.
I gripped his arm, not knowing what else to do. “I’m sorry.”
He cleared his throat, swiped at the tears. “I try to stop them. But that’s what they want. That’s the test.”
“You mentioned wardings a minute ago. Have you been warding yourself?”
He frowned again, squeezed his eyes shut. “No. Not the way you mean. But I try to make them go away, and I think they learn from that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. I’m in and out. I’ll be here, and then . . .” He shook his head and drank the rest of his water. “I know what it seems like. I mean, I know. I know! But it’s not– There’s something real here. You’ve been good to . . . You take care of me. And you’ve seen . . . I know what you see when you look at me, what you’re afraid of. But this is real. It’s . . .” He winced. “Damnit! They’re hurting me again. I’m slipping, burning.” His eyes closed and he shuddered. “Listen to me.” His voice had fallen to a whisper. “Justis?”
“This is real. Okay? This is real.”
“I believe you.”
“No, you don’t. But when belief is gone, all that’s left is trust. And I need you to trust me.”
“All right. I do.”
He flinched. “Brands. Burning, damnit. I hate you bastards.”
I took the empty glass from him, ran inside to fill it, and brought it back out to him. He drank deeply, and after a while he ate a few pieces of steak. But he was mumbling to himself again — more about burning and not mattering and the rest — and all the while flinching and whimpering in pain. I listened for more mentions of my mother and me, and heard what might have been a few. But there was little coherence to what he said, and I couldn’t make much sense of it.
His doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for those really bad nights when the delusions kept him up. After a while I got him to take one — no small feat — and then sat with him until he fell asleep in his chair. Once he had been out for a few minutes, I lifted him and carried him to his bed.
I sat up with him for a while, watching him as he lay there. He seemed to have aged ten years in the past few days; he looked like an old man, which scared the crap out of me. It shouldn’t have; he was old, and the phasings and his drinking had taken a toll on his body, so that he was older than his years. But sitting beside his bed, seeing the way he continued to flinch, even in a deep sleep, I realized that in the greater scheme of things, I didn’t have much time left with him. Who knew how many years he’d stick around? Tears welled, and before I knew it I was crying like a little kid, terrified by the simple truth that my father was mortal, and his mortality was exposed to me now in ways it never had been before.
After a little while, I pulled myself together, but I remained by his bed, thinking about the last thing he had said to me that made any sense. When belief is gone, all that’s left is trust . . . There was a time, in the years after my Mom died — I was an angry, lonely teenager, and he was a drunk well on his way to losing his job on the force — when I hadn’t trusted him at all, when I would sooner have trusted a stranger than my own father. But those days were long gone. Crazy as he was, I did trust him. He flinched again, confirming my faith. What kind of hallucination would have followed him into a medication-induced sleep? Strange as it seemed, I was forced to consider the possibility that something or someone really was hurting him. Except that I had no idea how it was possible. I sensed no magic in the room, no ripple of power in the air around me. Maybe it was one of those “old powers” Namid mentioned earlier.
Dad cried out and on instinct I grabbed his hand. At my touch, he appeared to relax, the tension draining from his haggard face.
“I’m here,” I said.
He shifted, began to snore.
After another fifteen minutes or so, satisfied that he was doing a little better, I pulled a spare blanket and pillow from his linen closet and lay on the floor next to his bed. There wasn’t a lot of room, but I didn’t expect that I’d sleep much no matter where I bedded down.
I surprised myself. My head had barely hit the pillow before I woke up to a bright morning and the song of a Cactus Wren drifting in through the open window. I sat up and peered over the edge of my Dad’s bed. He was still asleep, soundly, peacefully. No flinching that I could see.
Relieved, I gathered up the blanket and pillow and padded out of the room, making as little noise as possible. I hated to leave him alone after the night he’d had, but I had work to do, and my Dad’s trailer didn’t even have internet. I hoped that he would remember to eat today, and I wrote him a quick note promising to come back in the next day or two. I had no idea if he would find it or read it or be able to make sense of it. But I put it on the counter in his small kitchen, where it was most likely to catch his eye.
I went out to my car and opened the door to climb in. But then I paused, gazing back at the trailer. I’d learned a long time ago to trust my magical instincts. And they told me that there was a common thread running through all that had happened in recent days: My Dad’s pain, the killing of James Howell and the disabling of flight 595, even the odd burst of magic that had saved my life the night I confronted Mark Darby. I couldn’t make sense of it, not yet. But I was sure it was right there in front of me. All I needed to do was connect the dots.
I got in the car and started back toward the city, a cloud of dust rising behind me, blood red in the early morning sun.