Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 19
From Chandler, I made my way to the Phoenix-Wickenburg Highway, which was the quickest route to Wofford, where my old man’s trailer was located on a small plot of open desert.
Wofford wasn’t much of a town and while I loved desert wilderness I had to admit that my dad’s place was not the most scenic spot in the Sonoran Basin. The trailer sat at the end of a short, rutted road on top of a gradual rise. When it was new, the trailer was kind of nice, but it hadn’t been new in fifteen years. During the summer, Saorla’s weremancers used spells to fracture the cinderblocks that served as its foundation, causing the entire trailer to topple over.
We had managed, using the ten grand Amaya gave me, to prop it back up and repair the shattered windows. We had also replaced most of the kitchenware and picture frames that broke when it fell over. But the place remained tired and rundown, a bit like my dad.
He liked to sit out front on a lawn chair, holding an old pair of Leica binoculars that he trained on every bird that soared past his place. His doctors didn’t want him to get too much sun, so a few years back I rigged a sort of covered patio using two-by-sixes and a plastic tarp. That had been destroyed this summer as well, but I’d set up a new one that worked even better than the first.
My father was subject to delusions and hallucinations. He had days when he could barely function, and when even the simplest attempts at communication left him flummoxed and frustrated. And he had others when he seemed damn near normal. He wasn’t really a danger to himself or to others, which was why I had been able to keep him out of a mental health facility. But he didn’t do well around crowds; he grew confused and quick-tempered. So, I did his shopping for him, coming out to restock his refrigerator and pantry every Tuesday morning, and I only took him into the city on those occasions when he needed to see his doctors.
If he had managed to keep track of the days this week, he’d be surprised to see me. But that was a big if.
These trips out to Wofford were always a bit of a crap shoot. I never knew what condition I’d find him in, what mood. He could be ornery and lucid, or docile and utterly incoherent, or pretty much anywhere else in between those extremes. Today I was counting on him being clearheaded enough to function and help me out, which, I knew, wasn’t very realistic.
I drove up to his place, the Z-ster bouncing over the dirt road, and stopped the car. A cloud of red dust billowed behind me, twisting in the cool wind. Dad sat slumped in his chair, long legs stretched out in front of him, the binoculars resting in his lap. He wore an old flannel shirt over his usual t-shirt and jeans, which was a good sign. When he was really out of it, he didn’t bother with weather-appropriate clothing. I could also see, however, that he had on tennis shoes but no socks. I muttered a curse. In the many years I’d spent scrying my father’s state of mind, I had learned that more often than not, no socks meant he was out of it.
He had looked over at the car as I pulled up, but now was staring out over his land, his eyes fixed on the New River Mountains to the east, an unsteady hand raised to his brow to block the sun, which still hung low in the eastern sky.
“Good morning, Pop,” I called, climbing out of the car and shutting the door.
He glanced my way and lifted his other hand in a half-hearted wave, so at least he knew I was here. But he didn’t say anything and soon turned away once more. Mixed signals.
I walked to where he sat and leaned down to kiss his forehead. His skin felt cool, and he didn’t smell bad, as he did when he hadn’t showered for a few days. “How are you feeling today?”
He shrugged, but said nothing, his gaze never leaving the mountains.
“Are you hungry?”
He considered the question and nodded.
“How about a bowl of cereal?”
I stepped into the trailer, filled a bowl with raisin bran, and poured a little bit of milk over it. Dad could be particular about the foods he ate. He only liked a certain brand of cereal, and he could tell the difference if you tried to slip a cheaper brand into his breakfast bowl. I’d learned that one the hard way many years ago. He liked milk on his cereal, but not too much. He had other preferences as well, all of them specific and none of them open to negotiation. But that was okay: At his age, with all that he had been through, he’d earned the right to be a little picky.
I brought him his cereal, along with his favorite spoon — don’t ask — and then pulled out a second lawn chair, which I set next to his.
He took a spoonful of cereal and chewed it slowly, following the flight of a hawk with his eyes. Usually he would have told me the species, but he didn’t say a word.
“Have you been sleeping all right?”
“And you’ve been eating?”
A frown crossed his features, but after a moment he answered with another nod. I guessed that he had last eaten sometime yesterday, but couldn’t remember when.
I let him down the rest of his breakfast in peace, wondering if I had wasted a trip. I needed his help, but he wouldn’t be able to do anything for me in this state.
It occurred to me that if he hadn’t eaten before my arrival, he probably hadn’t had anything to drink, either. I went back into the trailer and filled two glasses with ice water. When I walked outside again, his bowl was empty. I took it from him and handed him the glass. He drank deeply, draining half the glass.
“Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome. You’re talking.”
His brow creased. “Was I not?”
“Not a word.”
“Sorry. I thought I was.”
“You feeling all right?”
He lifted a shoulder. “I suppose. A little muddled. It Tuesday already?”
I shook my head. “Saturday.”
“Was I in bad shape on Tuesday?”
“No, you were fine. I came out today because I need some help.”
He sat up a little straighter and took another sip of water. “I don’t know, Justis.” He and Kona were the only people in the world who called me by my full name. “It’s been a while since I cast any spells that matter.”
“Since this summer?” I asked. “When we fought Saorla?”
“Yep, I think that would be the last time.”
“Well, if you can’t do it, I can try to find another way.”
“What is it you’re trying to do?”
I looked him in the eye. “Hide from Saorla.”
He grimaced, ran a hand through his white hair so that it stood on end. “She’s not going to like that.”
“No, she probably won’t.”
“Then I’m in.”
“Why me, though? You know other weremystes.”
“Honestly? Because Saorla knows I come out here a lot. And she thinks you’re nothing more than a burned out old weremyste.”
“I am nothing more than a burned out old weremyste.”
“Dad, that’s not –”
“It’s all right. I think I understand. Going to another weremyste would draw her interest. But she doesn’t think much of me, and she doesn’t pay too much attention when you come out here.”
“Exactly. I need to track down a woman, another weremyste. I think Saorla and her friends are after her, and I want to get to her first, without Saorla knowing about it.”
“So what kind of spell would you need me to cast?”
I stood and peered around the far side of the trailer to where my father’s 1989 Ford F150 pickup was parked. It was one of those two-tone models, chestnut brown with a broad tan stripe along the side panels. “Well, first of all, when was the last time you started up that old truck of yours?”
He swiveled in his chair so that he could see it. “My truck? What’s the matter with your car?”
“Saorla knows it, and so do her flying monkeys.”
I could tell he didn’t like the idea of lending it to me. He probably hadn’t driven the thing more than ten times in the last year, but that truck had been his baby for a quarter century.
“Keys are in the trailer,” he said, sounding like he begrudged every word, “on a hook inside the door.”