Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, continues in this 3rd of six installments. I hope you enjoy Dani’s continuing adventure and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
BOULDER RESERVOIR SPARKLED in the afternoon sun, inviting the people on shore to step into its cool water. Our extended family’s annual end of the summer bash was underway. Partly my birthday party, partly an excuse to barbecue, swim, and laze in the sun before everyone went back to school. And I do mean everyone. Several of Dad’s brothers and sisters were teachers, everything from preschool to university professors, but not Dad. My dad was an architect, a partner at one of Boulder’s most prestigious firms. Mountain lodges designed to withstand Rocky Mountain snow loads were his specialty. Too bad we lived down on the flats.
One of the great things about family gatherings was that they grounded me in reality. Sometimes being the youngest of seven weighed on me. I mean, none of my friends came from such humongous families. Two, three, even four kids, that was normal, but seven? What were Mom and Dad thinking? Then we’d have a family gathering and I’d realize that in Dad’s world, a family of seven kids was kind of minimalistic. Dad fell right smack in the middle of thirteen — seven boys and six girls. Now that’s a family!
Anyhow, I was lazing under a tree with a couple of my cousins, having had enough sugar and exercise for my lifetime, when my vision went wonky. Everything kind of twisted and blurred. I rubbed my forehead, blinked a few times, and focused on Jamie. My youngest brother — who was still three years my senior — was entertaining some of the younger boys by walking on his hands. I could see him, right down to the goofy grin on his face, but he was encased in a deep purple haze.
I blinked again and shifted my gaze to Mike. The doctor-in-training sprawled in a lawn chair a few yards away, a cell phone held to his ear and surrounded by a pale blue fog. Though the hand touching the phone glowed lime green. I closed my eyes and stretched out on the tartan picnic blanket.
I’d obviously had too much sun. A few minutes’ rest would put me right as rain.
I could say something to Mom, but who wanted to be treated like an invalid on her birthday? Certainly not me! Sure, fourteen wasn’t a big deal. I wouldn’t be getting my driver’s license or even a learner’s permit, but still … a birthday is a birthday. You take your celebrations where you find them. Especially when you’re the youngest of seven, and the only girl.
“What’s wrong, squirt? You look a little green.”
I squinted up to find Jamie peering at me. He knelt beside me, looking all buff and tan from a summer of lifeguarding at the local pool, but he was still covered in that weird purple haze which was quickly modifying to a rich blue. Actually looked quite good with his ice-blue eyes and sun-bleached chestnut hair.
“Gee, thanks!” the corners of my mouth twitched, but it was hard to smile when your brother looked like he’d been cocooned in blue silk. “It’s nothing. Something’s weird with my eyes. Stuff is … hazy.”
Jamie scowled. He turned to Mike. “Hey, lover-boy! Get off the phone and come over here. Something’s wrong with Dani.”
Mike turned, eyes dark and irritable, ready to yell at Jamie … and stopped. His jaw slackened and his eyes widened. He mumbled a few words, snapped the phone shut, and sprinted to my side.
“What’s wrong, Dani? Did you eat something bad?” Mike scrutinized my face, his eyes narrowing. Cool fingers encircled my wrist as the physician-to-be assessed his little sister. He dropped my hand and scowled. “Tell me you’re not stupid enough to be messing with drugs!”
“Wha-” That was the extent of my snappy comeback. My jaw locked and no further sound passed my lips.
My heart slammed against my ribcage like a passenger in a speeding car that had braked too suddenly. Panic clawed at my throat, but not a sound escaped. I was locked inside my own skull looking at everyone through silky gauze layers. Could Mike be right? Had someone drugged my potato salad?
“MOM!” Jamie scrambled to his feet and fled to the pavilion on the other side of the park.
Mike moved into Jamie’s position, a worried frown replacing the scowl. His pale blue fog deepened to purple and pulsed in a rapid beat. The visual assault dizzied me, so I closed my eyes again. At least my eyelids still obeyed.
A flurry of voices rode the wind off the reservoir, alerting me to the imminent arrival of my parents, buoyed by a wave of aunts and uncles. With the familiar chatter of family came a decidedly unfamiliar sensation: awareness. Each person who approached was heralded by a distinct bubble pushing against the boundary of my conscious mind. Though my eyes remained closed, I could identify each and every person in our quadrant of the park. I knew exactly where they stood in relation to me, could judge their level of agitation by the color of the bubble. Worse yet, other blips appeared on my psychedelic radar. Not the comfortable, concerned, well-rounded bubbles of my extended family, but twisted, dark blips that oozed like malignant wounds.
My eyes popped open. Each family member stood right where I expected, but the blips weren’t visible. No. That wasn’t true. The air shimmered where the blips should be.
“What is it, Dani?” asked Mom, her voice soft and soothing. She slipped to the ground beside me and searched my face with a concerned gaze. “Tell me where it hurts.”
A shimmer intensified and I shifted my gaze from Mom to the anomaly. Maybe if I squinted…
A creature sprang into existence and eyed me with curiosity.
I recoiled, horrified by its scaly maroon skin, long filthy claws, and sharp, protruding teeth. The vaguely humanoid being stood erect and wore a torn, brown tunic. Its eyes, black and dangerous, glittered with intelligence, and something else — some dark amusement.
I shuddered and closed my eyes, but my awareness only heightened. More blips accumulated, surrounding my family. Drawn like sharks to blood. But what drew them? And why could I see them when my family obviously couldn’t?
“She started to say something,” Mike explained, “then, I don’t know. It’s like she seized. I think we should call an ambulance. I don’t want to move her, but she needs help.”
Mom stroked my hair and murmured reassurances while my brain scrambled to make sense of the unbelievable. What was happening to me?
A new bubble converged upon my family and drifted to my side, a shining white beacon tinged with radiant gold. Warmth and comfort emanated from the newcomer.
“Excuse me,” the being said in a voice filled with authority. “May I have a look at her?”
My family drew back, except for Mom. The stranger laid cool hands on my head, one covering my forehead, the other supporting the nape of my neck. “Relax, child. Don’t fight it,” he murmured. “Acceptance is the key. I can and will explain, but not now. Right now, you must accept the unacceptable.”
He continued to cradle my head and energy poured through my mind. I haven’t got a clue how to explain what happened, but synapses fired, my emotions sorted, my understanding cleared, and my body relaxed. I opened my eyes and stared into the face of the man who had promised to explain my destiny to me. Blue-green eyes stared back at me from a hard, chiseled face. A mustache and short, well-trimmed beard provided the only softening to the planes of his face.
He released me, extended his hand, and helped me sit up. I shivered in the late afternoon heat and glanced from family member to family member. “I’m okay now.”
A collective sigh of relief whispered through the ranks, but I knew the next indrawn breath would release a barrage of questions. My self-proclaimed mentor forestalled them.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said, rubbing his hands together and backing away from the tartan blanket. “Just a bit too much sun and exercise. Happens all the time around here.”
Jamie frowned and glanced at me, eyebrows lifted. My lifeguard brother knew something was up.
I shook my head, and he shrugged. We’d talk later.
Dad was shaking the man’s hand. “I don’t know what you did, but thank you, Mister…”
“James. Warwick James, but everyone calls me Wick. Don’t think a thing of it, sir. I’m just glad I could be of service.” He looked at me, and our gazes locked. He smiled, and I nodded and closed my fist around the slip of paper he’d palmed me when he helped me sit up.
I was still aware of creatures that shouldn’t exist, but the members of my family were no longer shrouded in colored fog. Whatever was happening, I could deal with the remnants for the rest of the day, but tomorrow Mr. Warwick James and I were going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting.
Thanks for reading! Part 4 will be posted on 7/8/15.