Friday, 18 September 2015 19:15

The Silver Cord by J.G. Formato

The Silver Cord by J.G. FormatoI spent last period roaming the halls, killing time until visiting hours. I’ve noticed that if you walk with a purpose, like you have somewhere important to be, no one ever stops you or asks for a hall pass. Chemistry was enough torture for one day, with Ms. Beck squawking at me every five minutes. “Mackenzie, are you listening? Mackenzie, you’re not paying attention. Mackenzie?” I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and scream. And if I had to do another class today, I think I probably would have done just that. I can tell when I’m about to lose it. So, I was doing us all a favor and skipping Economics.

I timed it pretty well. When the bell rang, I was at the front steps of the high school, the first one to the parking lot. I had buckled myself into Dad’s old Honda Civic before the masses even left their classrooms.

As I drove, I flipped through the radio stations, never resting on one for more than a minute or two. I really can’t stand the crap on the radio, but I need the noise to fill up the car.

 

Whipping into my usual spot at the hospital, my anxiety was already growing. I flung open the car door, took a deep breath, and held it. Held it all the way into the hospital lobby until my lungs were crying. I was almost to the elevator before I had to inhale the rubber glove and sterilization fumes of the hospital. A new record.

My pulse was rocking my throat by the time I reached his room. I never could get used to seeing my dad like that, comatose and vacant. His eyes were still open, staring blindly at the mosaic of white squares and florescent lights on the ceiling. They were always like that now, opened so inexplicably wide, as if his body were waiting for his soul to return. I ran my finger over a lid, gently trying to lower it. It didn’t budge.

I pulled his cold hand to my cheek. With that touch, the room changed. The air thickened, and I struggled for breath. Shockwaves engulfed my spine and spread to my ribs, exploding within my chest.

I sensed Eyes, a burning gaze penetrating my skull. I turned, breathless, but nothing was there. Nothing was ever there.

“I know you’re here,” I whispered. “I know it. I can feel it. Just please let me help. Tell me what to do. I’m listening. I’m trying. I just want you back.”

Tears began to slip slowly down my cheeks. I buried my head in my father’s chest, gripping his pale green hospital gown. It was such a relief to finally let them go. I spend most of my days blinking them back. Exhausted, I let my eyes drift shut.

In an instant, he was there, his face just inches from mine. His skin glowed against an inky blackness that surrounded him. A darkness that engulfed the entire room.

“I am here,” he whispered hoarsely, as though trying not to be overheard. “I am here, but I don’t think I can find my way back to you. I just can’t see it. I’m so sorry. But I want you to know I love you, Kenzie.” His voice rose and broke.

A low menacing growl filled my ears, numbing my brain. Dad’s terrified face blurred and melted into the darkness.

“Wait!” I screamed. My hands were stretched out before me, grasping in a vacuum. The air crackled and popped, and a rush of icy wind stung my face. Then there was nothing. The electric feeling had dissipated, and I felt more alone than ever.

The door clicked, and I heard the night nurse enter the room. She said something, but I could barely hear her over the blood roaring in my ears.

“What, Jenny?” I blinked at her and squinted, trying to bring reality into focus.

“I said, don’t you think it’s about time to head home, Mackenzie? Visiting hours are about done now.” She squeezed my arm. “And you look worn out. Did you fall asleep in here?”

I turned for the door, but caught my reflection in the blank television mounted on the wall. The screen pitch black, mute. I slammed the ON button with my palm and drove the volume up.

“Now what are you doing that for, honey?” the bewildered nurse asked. “You know he can’t hear that.”

“You don’t know that!” I shrieked. “He needs it on. He needs it to think, it’s too quiet in here. He hates that. You don’t know him.”

Avoiding Jenny’s eyes, I leaned over my father’s bed and whispered in his ear. So low only he could catch my words. “I heard you. I did. I know I did. I’ll make you better, I promise.”

#

The sun had slipped behind the trees, and the sky was a deep purple when I pulled into my driveway. The sound of the crickets was deafening. It’s late, it’s late, it’s late they seemed to be chanting.

I slipped around the back and checked the kitchen window. Uncle Charles sat at the kitchen table, squinting at his laptop with his cell phone crammed against his ear. I hate that he moved in here, like some semi-present nanny. I don’t need a babysitter.

I pushed the door open and waved indifferently. He put a finger to his lips then gestured at a box of pizza lying on the counter. I grabbed a slice and stumbled up the stairs to my room.

Not hungry, I tossed the greasy pizza in the wastebasket and wiped my hands on my jeans. The room was dim, with a sad little half-light coming from the crescent moon. Not even bothering to undress, I crawled into bed, pulling the comforter up to my neck.

It reminded me of the way I had found Dad.

I had spent the night with a friend, making sure to be home in time for Saturday morning doughnuts. But the second I stepped through the back door into the kitchen, I knew it was all wrong. Even the air felt thin.

And the silence, why was it silent? This house was never quiet. Dad always said he needed noise to think, that peace and quiet made him nervous. He kept the TV in the living room on at all times, and the TV in the kitchen, and usually the alarm clock radio in his bedroom. I used to tease him about it, that he was singlehandedly out to destroy the environment. He would just laugh and crank the AC.

But that Saturday was different. Not a sound could be heard anywhere in the house. I called for him, but there was no answer. I tripped up the stairs to his room. His bed was empty, and looked as if it had not been slept in the night before. By then I was starting to panic, he never left without telling me where he was going.

I ran to his small office and wrenched open the door. He was sitting in his brown leather computer chair, facing the window. A white down comforter was draped loosely over his stiff, pale body. His eyes were open, but he didn’t even blink when I stepped into his gaze.

“Dad?” I whispered. Then louder, “Dad!”

But there was no response. He just stared ahead, with a blankness I had never expected to see in his sparkling hazel eyes. His mouth was expressionless, and his skin was ghostly white. But the worst part was the emptiness I could not only see, but feel. This looked like my father, but at the same time it didn’t. It was like looking at a skin that a snake had shed.

I shook him and screamed. His head dipped forward and his chin fell into his chest. The office chair rolled back and hit the desk with a bang as he fell forward onto the carpet. I tried to catch him, but I just wasn’t strong enough. Kneeling by his side, I rolled him over and put my ear to his chest. His heart skipped and fluttered weakly.

Curling up next to him on the floor, I dialed 911. Closing my eyes, I waited for the sirens, listening to the faint heartbeat palpitating beneath his ribs.

Later, the doctors told me that he was in a coma. They ran all sorts of blood tests and brain scans, but they never found a cause, which of course meant they never found a cure. They called it a “Medical Mystery”, which sounded very important, but meant absolutely nothing.

I just knew there had to be more to it. The doctors had to be missing something. Whenever I visited him, that cold hospital room crackled with electricity. And there was always this faint tug at the back of my mind, as though someone were trying to get my attention. I could sense him in the room, not in the lifeless body in the bed, but all around me. Like he was trying to send me message. I guess today he had.

I couldn’t get the sound of that growl of out my mind. It had sounded like pure evil, animalistic yet intelligent. My stomach turned, thinking of him being held by whatever it was that had made that sound.

A sudden, staccato knock at the door pierced my thoughts. Uncle Charles cracked the door and leaned in, his hand resting lightly on the doorknob. “Is everything alright? You got home kind of late.”

“I’m okay. I just stayed at the hospital later than I had planned. Sorry.”

“Alrighty, then. Just thought I’d check. Any news or updates?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“No, not today.”

“Well, good night then. Sleep well.”

“Hey, quick question.” I sat up straight in the bed. “Did you ever have visions? You know, see things that might not be there, or hear things?”

The door opened all the way, spilling yellow light from the hallway into the room. “Why? Do you think you’re having visions? Are you hearing things?” His tone sounded slightly panicked. He tried to cover it with notes of cheerful interest, but I wasn’t fooled. He thought I’d lost it. And I didn’t really blame him, it came out a little intense. I backpedaled.

“No, no! Of course not. We were just reading a story about it in English today, and I was just thinking about it, that’s all.

“No, Mackenzie. I’ve never had visions,” he said, as though speaking to a small child. Then his face softened. “But I will say your dad used to be interested in that type of thing. When we were in high school, he would read all these books about yogis and gurus and how they attained enlightenment.” Uncle Charles said, air-quoting the word enlightenment. “He was big into meditation for a while, too. He was really convinced that he was going to learn something from beyond the beyond. He even dragged me to see a fortune teller once.”

“So what did he learn?”

“Nothing. It was all fantasy. Kid stuff.”

He slid his phone out his pocket and began thumbing nimbly through his text messages. “But anyway, I’m sure it made for an interesting story. And I’m glad you actually made it to English today. Good night.”

“Good night. Close the door behind you, please.”

#

Sinclair was already waiting for me when I got to school. He was pathologically punctual, and it looked like he’d been sitting on the auditorium steps for a while. “I texted you last night,” he said, by way of a greeting.

“Yeah, sorry, last night was crazy.”

He ran his fingers through his sandy blonde hair and nodded. At what I don’t know. I think he spent so much time trying to be supportive that he just nodded at any fool thing I said.

We lapsed into awkward silence. I broke it.

“If I tell you something, will you promise not to think I’m crazy?”

And, of course, he just nodded. I told him about the vision in the hospital, -- what I had seen, heard, felt. “Sounds crazy, huh?”

“Well, I don’t know. There are lots of things in this world that can’t be explained. Who knows? You’re sure you weren’t dreaming, though?”

“I wish I could be sure. I’m not sure of anything anymore. But I know he needs my help. And it’s all I can think about.” My voice broke, and I was terrified I was going to cry. I let Sinclair hug me, resting my head against him.

“I can’t sit through classes today.” I mumbled into his shoulder. “I need to go back to the hospital. I just don’t want to go alone.” I pulled back, looking up into his familiar blue eyes.

“Right now?”

“Yes, right now.”

“But, my mom...”

“Please, Sinclair.” I was blinking hard and fast.

He gave the slightest nod. “Alright, let’s go.”

We slipped around the back side of the auditorium and through the gate. I’d left my car parked along the little backstreet for easy access.

Sinclair wouldn’t let me blast the radio. His nerves were shot from fleeing the school, so I gave in. This time.

My eyes jumped around as I drove, watching the buildings slip past, the grocery store, the park, the Spiritual Advisor’s....”

I gave the wheel a sharp yank and slid to an abrupt stop along the sidewalk.

“What was that all about?” Sinclair asked.

“We’re going there.” I pointed to the hand-painted sign that read “Spiritual Advising and Readings by Jane.” Silver letters shone against a deep blue background, surrounded by golden suns, moons, and stars.

“The fortune teller place? What for?”

“I talked to my uncle last night. He said that Dad used to be real into places like that. That he would try to find things out. So, maybe I can find some things out, too.” I unbuckled my seatbelt and flung it aside. “Come on, it won’t take long.”

I was surprised, and a little disappointed when we stepped inside. It looked kind of normal. There was no crystal ball, no ornate candelabras, no little jars of potions, not even any incense. The walls were painted a soft, sunshiny yellow and airy white curtains hung from the windows, blowing softly in the breeze. On the far wall was a well-stocked wooden bookcase. A hand written sign above it read ‘Lending Library.’ A woman sat a small iron table, absorbed in a book. I cleared my throat and she stood, carefully sliding the book onto the shelf.

.“Well, hello there. Welcome.” she said in a musical voice. The woman had vibrant orange hair cut into to an angular bob surrounding her face. Her topaz eyes glowed softly against the bronze of her skin.

“Jane?” I asked.

She nodded, then crossed her arms in front of her.

“Why aren’t you two in school?”

“It’s a Teacher Planning Day,” I lied.

“No, it’s not.” Jane shook her head slightly as her eyebrows drew together. “A bus full of you maniacs almost ran me off the road this morning.”

Jane gestured to the chairs at the round table, inviting us to sit. “I should send you straight back to school,” Jane started slowly. “But, you don’t look like lawless ruffians to me. What are your names?

“Mackenzie, and he’s Sinclair.”

“Ok, like I said, you don’t seem like much of a troublemaker to me. There’s something obviously frightening you. And this poor guy here looks incredibly uncomfortable. Did you drag him here?” I nodded, a little embarrassed. “He’s a good friend. You’re lucky. So, you two are on a mission. You want to find some things out, and you have come to me. Is that right?”

“I thought you might be able to help me. Give me a reading, or a prediction, or something. Your sign says you’re an advisor, that’s what I need. Everything’s just so strange.”

“Well, I can’t promise to make things any less strange for you. Life has a habit of becoming more strange and confusing as time progresses. Why don’t you fill me in a little bit on why you’re here? Then I’ll be able to focus in on the question at hand and give you what guidance I can.”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Jane smirked. “Try me. And start at the beginning.”

I told her my story, beginning with the day I found Dad comatose in his office. I felt a little silly when I got to the part at the hospital, but Jane was listening intently with no judgment, so I went for it.

When I finished, Jane took my hands and held them tightly. She looked deeply into my eyes without blinking, her yellow irises sliding back and forth as though she were reading a book. Her smooth hands began to heat and send pulses of warmth through mine, up my arms until it settled in my chest.

Everything around me went dark, and the room dropped away. Everything was gone except for Jane. Her golden skin had taken on a luminescent quality, and her pupils dilated until the black had nearly swallowed all of the color.

“He is close,” she began in a soft sweet voice, little more than a whisper, “But at the same time unreachable. Unreachable by any physical means. His body is in the hospital, but he is not with it. His connection has become very weak. He made a terrible mistake, and now he is paying. He was a seeker, eager to learn life’s mysteries. He learned a little of the mind body connection-- and how to cause a disconnection. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You must always be careful to guard yourself when you step outside, and he was careless. Something got to him, frightened him, and he allowed that fear to take over.”

“I don’t understand.” My heart was thumping wildly, and my throat had gone dry.

“Your father had discovered a technique, a way to go out of his body. Some call it astral projection. You leave your physical self behind and travel as a light being, your spiritual self. I am sure he meant to return, but he was inexperienced. Untaught. Ungrounded. He was caught out, and now he can’t get back in. There are entities that lie in wait, just outside. They draw their power from the lost souls. They instill them with terror, trick them into giving their power away, and then they feast upon their life energy. It is the only way they can survive. He is with one such as this now.”

Jane squinted and narrowed her eyes, as if trying to see something far in the distance. “He holds fast to memories of himself, to thoughts of you. But he is being slowly drained, and this entity grows ever stronger. He’s lost sight of his cord, his connection to the human world. That doesn’t mean he can’t find it again, but as long as he believes he’s lost, he will be. He won’t be able to wrench himself away.”

“But he has to. He has to get away. Find him, tell him I need him!” I jerked my hands away and balled up my fists. The darkness that surrounded us receded, and I was back in the room.

Sinclair was standing next to me, streaks of sweat dripping from his temples. He slid his arm around my shoulder.

“Help me,” I whispered.

As she let out a soft moan, Jane’s face began to lose its unearthly glow. She shook out her now empty hands, and then rubbed them together as if she were cold. After taking a few slow deep breaths, she sounded more like herself.

“You are the only one that could find him. The astral world has many layers. Layers that can all exist in the same time, and even the same location. In a way, it’s like different dimensions. I could never find him, not in time anyway. It would be like going door to door in an abandoned city. I would have no idea where to look, or where to even begin. You are his life’s blood. Your souls are linked, his will call to you.” Jane’s voice was hollow.

“Then I’ll get him, and I’ll bring him home. Show me how, I know you know.”

“No. I shouldn’t have…” she murmured to herself, her voice pained. “It is dangerous, too dangerous and you’re too young. The risk is too great. You can’t understand what it means to lose yourself. These entities, they’re like vampires, except instead of feeding on blood, they feed on souls. And unlike vampires, they’re very real. ”

“If you won’t help me, I’ll do it myself!” I shrieked, jumping up from table.

Jane turned towards Sinclair, eyebrows raised. He nodded.

“I believe you would. I wish I had never spoken of what I saw to you. I should have stopped myself, guarded myself more closely. You should never have known what I saw.”

“But I do, and I’m glad I know. I was meant to come here, and you were meant to tell me. And I believe you were meant to help me. You know it.” I turned towards the door.

“But if you won’t, trust me, I will do it myself. I’m going to the hospital right now, and I’m going to talk to him.”

“No!” Jane shouted. She took a long slow breath. “This is not an easy thing, but it is not impossible. We will work together.”

She turned to the bookshelf behind her and removed a book. “Begin by reading this. It will explain quite a bit. Just don’t try anything, alright? I mean it. And I would stay away from the hospital this afternoon. It seems that you are already being pulled out of yourself. Maybe because of the bond you have with your father, I’m not sure. But it’s not a good idea for you to be there right now. Go straight home, read the book, then come see me tomorrow, after school. Around 8:00.”

Glancing down at the book, the title caught my eye. “Astral Projection? You were reading this before we came in. Why?”

“I was expecting you,” Jane said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, try to get some rest. You too, Sinclair.”

#

“So tell me about the book. How does it all work?” Sinclair shouted over the car radio.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never read anything like it.”

“I’ll bet.” He twisted the volume knob to zero. “Please explain. I’d like to know exactly what you’re planning on doing before we get there.”

“Ok, well the first thing to understand is that we really have two bodies.”

Sinclair raised an eyebrow doubtfully.

“Your physical body.” I poked him in the side. “And your spiritual body. Your spiritual body is kind of like your soul. That’s the part of you that lives forever. Some people also call it your astral body.”

“The book was called Astral Projection, right?”

“Right. When you astral project, you actually leave your physical body behind. It’s an out-of-body experience that you can control.”

“So, you can fly and stuff?” Sinclair was started to look interested.

“Well, I guess in a way. I don’t know really, I haven’t tried it. Supposedly it’s like you’re floating outside of yourself. And you can go anywhere you want. Anywhere! There are no limits. You can travel the world, the universe even. You can go to other dimensions, too. The book says you can even meet up with spiritual teachers out there.”

“Or other not-so-nice entities?” He reminded me.

“Yeah, that too.”

“So what’s to keep you from just flying out into the universe and getting lost?”

“I read about that. It said that there’s a silver cord that connects your physical body to your astral body. It’s the connection, and you can always use it to find your way back.”

“A silver cord, huh? That’s not a lot to hold on to. I can’t decide if this is dangerous or just plain crazy. But, anyway, I’m with you-just be careful.”

“Of course.” I forced a smile

At the door of Jane’s shop, I peered in through the glass. She was pacing the floor, twisting a strand of her fiery hair. I think she might have been talking to herself. Every few seconds, she would stop and shake her head. Next to me, Sinclair had begun breathing heavily, and a red flush was creeping up his neck.

They’re a mess. For some reason, that made me feel better. I was ready to go in.

#

“You’re sure about this, Mackenzie?” Jane asked.

“I’m sure.”

“Alright, but remember, you must do exactly as I tell you.”

In a matter of minutes, Jane had prepared the room for my journey. She locked the door and pulled the shades. From the corner, she pulled out a deep purple sleeping bag and spread it out on the floor. She dimmed the lights, then lit what looked like a small bundle of dried leaves. A strong earthy scent filled the air as the smoke drifted around her.

“What’s that?” Sinclair asked suspiciously.

“It’s sage. It’s used by many cultures, including several Native American tribes to cleanse and purify the air. Plus, it smells nice.” She smiled at him. “You can just have a seat over there. You’re moral support.”

“I will help you as much as I can.” Jane said, turning to me. “If I sense things have gone wrong, I will do everything I can to wake you and bring you back. But, for the most part, you really are on your own.”

“I understand.”

“Now we are going to have to get you into a completely relaxed in order for your astral body to separate and break free. Go ahead and lie down with your arms and legs by your side.”

Feeling both ridiculous and terrified, I stretched out on the sleeping bag

. “Now what?”

“Well, first, you need to begin breathing deeply. When you breathe, though, don’t trap the air in your chest. Let it flow all the way into your stomach until you see it expand.”

“That’s what my dad used to say when I needed to calm down or focus or anything. He called it belly breathing,” I said.

.“Good.” Jane nodded. “First, I want you to do three deep belly breaths. Now, focus all of your attention on your right foot. Tense it hard, for ten counts. Then relax it completely. Take three more of those deep belly breaths; with each breath you let out feel your foot becoming heavier. Good. Now we’re going to repeat the same procedure with your left foot.”

We continued, progressing through each part of my body. We began at my feet, then continued through my legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, face, and head. As each part of my body became heavier, my mind became lighter. Everything dropped away. I was thinking more clearly, free from the confines of my physical self. I had never felt as awake as I did at that moment, lying motionless on the floor.

As my body went dormant, my soul began to quicken. My heartbeat deafened my ears, waves of blood crashing through my veins. Molten lava rushed up my spine, erupting inside my skull. There was a tug at my heart, and I was gripped by an unseen force, coaxing me, pulling me, dragging me from myself.

My astral body was begging for freedom from the dead weight, and I was ready. My closed eyes were maddening, and I was fighting for my sight. I wrenched my eyes wide open and I knew that I had done it.

I saw myself, thin and pale lying on the floor. Like Snow White after she had bitten the apple. Sinclair sat bolt upright in the chair, biting his thumbnail nervously, staring at my body. Jane was rocking gently in her chair with her eyes closed. They flew open and she looked directly at me. ‘Go’ she mouthed. So I went.

I shot up until I was level with the ceiling. Cracks cut through the white paint, thin grey rivers flowing nowhere. Like a swimmer coming up for air, I pushed through and found myself above the building and below the stars. A trail of light streamed from my chest, shimmering as it cut through the night. I paused for a moment, giving it a long look. This was the Silver Cord, my lifeline, my way back home. It throbbed slightly, pulsing with my heartbeat. I closed my eyes and was able to envision my physical body, lying motionless inside. I was still connected, and my connection was strong.

As I soared through the night, I felt one with the moonlight, vaulting from treetop to treetop until I reached the hospital. There was no time for hesitation. That would only give me time to be afraid. I propelled myself to my father’s room, hoping that it was not too late.

I saw his physical body first, pale and wasted. Reflexively, my hand went to my chest, testing the strength of my own cord-- the lifeline that kept me connected to my physical body. As I peered down at it, it began to glow. It sprang from my heart, a brilliant arc of silvery white. As it twisted away, the cord faded from view, leaving only a faint shimmer in the air to announce its presence.

I thrust myself closer to Dad’s bedside. I reached out and felt the air above his heart, searching. There was a slight disruption in the air around him, a flicker smaller than a candle’s flame. I focused all of my attention on that wavering. Staring deeper, I began to see a cable leading into his chest. Instead of silvery white, it was a dull grey with stains of black corruption eating through it. It flopped over the side of the hospital bed and dragged along the floor. It was there. Maybe not perfect. But it was there.

It’s there… What’s there? Who’s there? I’m there,” a voice rasped in my ear.

Breath like hot wax dripped down my neck and back. Sharp claws dug into my shoulder, spinning me around. The dark shadow was inches from me, and without warning, its face shot forward into mine. It changed from second to second, shifting from one horrible image to the next with no rhyme or reason.

A snarling beast grimaced at me, a low growl rumbling from its wet, black lips. Wiry grey fur stood on end, as it bared its fangs. Saliva dripped and sizzled on the floor, puffs of smoke erupting from each droplet.

I blinked, and the beast was replaced by a grinning skeleton. It lunged and ran its rotting fingers through my hair. It forced its face in closer, rubbing its empty eye sockets against mine. My vision was completely consumed by the blackness inside its skull.

As I pulled back, the shape shifted again. This time it looked desperate; a gaunt demon assessing me hungrily. Red scaly skin clung to its heaving ribs. It raised claw-like hands, tipped with obsidian talons, and pointed.

Then it lunged.

I threw my hands over my face and pulled back. I rocked back and forth, pressing my fingertips hard against my closed eyes. Colors swirled against the darkness. It took all my will to pull my hands away and look up.

The entity had returned to its original shadow form. Tall and dark and terrible, but undefined. I forced myself to look past it, remembering why I had come. Behind the creature, I could see Dad’s astral form shuddering. His light body was dim, and he seemed to be fighting an internal battle. We locked eyes, and I knew immediately. All Jane had guessed was true.

The hopelessness in his eyes was heartbreaking. He had given up. My nails dug into my palms as my fists clenched. My eyes narrowed, and I glared at the wavering darkness.

Even as the entity moved in closer, covering me like steam, I forced myself to speak. “Come back! Come back now, before it’s too late,” I screamed at my father, ignoring the apparition that held him.

“It’s already too late. For me, anyway. The cord’s gone-- that thing destroyed it. I’m lost. But you’re not, Kenzie. I love you. I love you so much, but go home. Go home and don’t ever come back.” His words traveled as leaves in the wind, thin and weak.

I could still hear the love in his voice. He still had that.

The entity moved closer. The room began swirling around me, the temperature rising rapidly. Faces began to appear in the air, some weeping, some threatening, and some laughing. Many were begging for help, begging for mercy. Darting in and out, they muttered and wailed incomprehensibly. As the room spun faster, I became disoriented and my terror rose. Hands grabbed at me from all angles: tugging in every direction, scratching me, spinning me faster and faster.

“No,” I whispered, motionless in the center of the room. “NO!” I shouted.

I felt helpless, a tiny insect caught in a spider’s web. Then I remembered what Jane had said about my father, that he was a prisoner of his own terror. If I gave in and surrendered to my panic, we would both be lost forever. This entity gained its strength from fear, and I could not allow it to become more powerful than it already was.

“I’m not afraid of you. You’re nothing. NOTHING!” I shouted.

“Kenzie, please go. I love you. I love you so much, but you have to get out of here,” my father pleaded.

“Nothing?” the dark entity hissed venomously. “I am nothing?”

I turned and glowered at the shadowy figure, my rage annihilating my fear.

It watched me curiously, uncertainly. The shade’s dark outline undulated before me, the edges cutting ripples into the air, sending waves of heat in every direction. The flickering edges were hypnotic, drawing me in.

Suddenly, my insides turned to ice. I shuddered as a frozen current swept through me. Without thinking, I reached for the rippling heat.

Quick as a whip, a dark tentacle twisted around my wrist. I felt it; slimy and oozing, working its way up my arm. Like a Boa Constrictor, it squeezed tighter as the entity pulled me closer.

In the darkness, my light body was glowing softly, still white and pure. Ignoring the tugs of evil, I turned towards my father’s wavering spirit. “And I love you. I love you more than I fear that. And I’m strong. Stronger than that thing is. It survives on tricks. And I won’t be tricked.”

I took all of the emotion I was feeling, all of the fear, the anger, and the loss and channeled it into love for my father. I stared into his eyes, recalling the man he was less than a year ago. Refusing to acknowledge the sludge on my arm, I stepped towards him. Without my fear, the entity had no power to hold me. In an instant, I was by my father’s side.

A bone shaking shriek cut through the air, and the shadow form rushed me. Its face was a distortion of rage and desperation. Fangs flashed as it shot forward and the empty eyes threatened to swallow me.

I stood my ground. It passed right through.

Ignoring the entity as it howled in frustration behind me, I spoke directly to my father. “Dad, your cord is here. It’s been here all along. This thing’s tricking you. I’ll show you, and then I need to you come back to yourself. Fast.”

I lunged for my father’s hospital bed. Floating at his side, I extended my hands over his chest, palms down. Time and time again, the entity charged. Each time, it passed right through me. I refused to even acknowledge its existence, laughing inwardly as its fury grew.

A white light emitted from beneath my palms, illuminating his prone body. I felt a gentle warmth beneath my hands, and his silver cord became visible. “See? It’s there...”

A glow spread out from his heart, across the room, and to his astral form. A look of wonder crossed his face. “How?” he whispered.

“I’ll tell you all about it later. Go now. You’re not afraid anymore, right?”

“No. You’ve seen to that.” He moved sleekly across the room, following his cord back to his stricken body. The entity made one final hungry grab for the cord with its teeth bared, letting out what used to be a terrifying growl. Dad moved right through and rejoined his physical body. His former captor let out one final scream, and then was gone.

I looked down into my father’s face. Some of the color already appeared to be returning. The ashy grey was being replaced by a faint pink in the cheeks, and his breathing seemed deeper and steadier. “See you soon,” I whispered, then took off back to my own home body.

#

When I opened my eyes, Jane and Sinclair were pacing the room. The moment I sat up, Jane grabbed me and pulled me to my feet. Her palms were slick with sweat.

“So? How are you? How did it go? Are you alright? Is he alright?” Jane looked me over and checked my pulse as she fired off the questions.

“I’m definitely okay,” I giggled, slightly hysterical. “As for Dad, Sinclair, can you drive?” I tossed him the keys.

Fifteen minutes later, I was walking down the hallway of the hospital. A team of nurses pushed past me. “We never thought…” one murmured. I followed them down the hall, knowing where they must be headed.

Sure enough, they went right into Dad’s room. He was sitting straight up in bed, looking around him. He ran his hands over his face, through his hair, up and down his arms. The nurses began taking his vitals, asking him about how he felt and what he remembered. Looking past them, we locked eyes.

He held his stick thin arms out, and I ran into them like a small child. “Don’t you ever leave me again,” I whispered.

“Never.”

Additional Info

AUTHOR BIO: J.G. Formato lives in North Florida with her best friend/husband and their four amazing children. In addition to writing, she enjoys her day job as a third grade teacher.

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