Tendrils of late morning sunlight snaked their way through the curtains on Ward’s bedroom windows. He lay with his arm across his eyes, groaning slightly. Yesterday’s electrifying incident layered new pain on top of the old. Knowing he needed something stronger than Advil, he rolled out of bed, heading to the medicine cabinet. A quick search revealed the Vicoden. Taking two with a fistful of water from the tap, he studied himself in the mirror and wished he hadn’t.
Shadows ringed bloodshot, watery eyes. His dark beard shaded his chin, standing in stark contrast against his too pale skin. “I look like a vampire who sucked a wino dry,” he murmured. “One day, I’ll get back to normal. One day . . .” But he had to wonder what normal really was.
He clicked on the TV for company as he prepared a breakfast smoothie. Paying very little attention, he poured in almond milk, yogurt, fruit and a tablespoon of honey. He was about to start it up when a banner on the screen caught his attention. He turned up the sound.
“Something is rotten in Rubicon Ranch,” the anchor quipped. “The sheriff’s department responded yesterday to a call that a dismembered foot was found in the desert bordering the bedroom community.”
“Strange things are afoot,” his predictably pretty co-anchor teased.
“No doubt about it, Monica. You’ll remember that not too long ago, a little girl’s body was found near Rubicon Ranch . . .”
He clicked off the TV and got ready for his day. He had an appointment at Dr. Emily Prescott’s office. Part of his treatment plan was intensive psychological therapy. As he’d survived an event whose effects were completely unknown, the doctors determined that he should see a psychiatrist at least once a week. Until yesterday’s encounter with the doggie deterrent device, he’d been making progress.
A doggie deflector. Really? What’s next, Ward? A flea collar and Frisbee in the park? Could it be any more embarrassing? And in front of Egypt too.
The humiliation he’d felt being weak and injured in front of Egypt was beyond anything he’d experienced. Beautiful, poised, self-confident, intelligent—A woman like her was so out of his league, but he couldn’t help himself.
Dreaming mighty big there, buddy.
Is there any other way?
He walked in the door at 12:55. Dr. Prescott’s office was cool and quiet in the early afternoon. Since his next scheduled appointment wasn’t for a week, she had agreed to work him in over a late lunch. Smiling, Emily Prescott ushered him into her office. An improvised picnic was arranged on the low coffee table in her sitting area.
“Have a seat. Tell me what’s wrong. You look awful, if you pardon my saying so.” She handed him a flowered China plate.
Ward took the plate carefully, holding it while she loaded it with various exotic delights. Being vegan, she loved to share her creations with an appreciative audience. As a non-cook, Ward enjoyed the meal.
Too bad she’s so old. She’s a hell of a cook!
She’s barely fifty!
Hot for doctor?
“What brings you in today? On the phone you said it was urgent.”
Ward told her about his encounter with the doggie deflector, reliving the humiliation of being flung around by some mysterious force. He went into detail about meeting Egypt, barely mentioning Eloy at all.
“Tell me about Egypt.” Her face remained placid.
Ward smiled as he fiddled with his food, ducking his head from her penetrating blue eyes.
“She’s great. Smart, pretty, long black hair, gorgeous voice . . .” He laughed at himself. “Sorry, I guess I have a little crush.”
“Crushes are okay, Ward.”
“For the first time in—forever, I didn’t feel ill at ease talking to a woman. I had nothing to hide. She’d seen me at my worst.”
“How does that make you feel?”
Ward chuckled, shrugging. “Embarrassed. A doggie alarm—really?”
Dr. Prescott smiled. “We all have those moments. When I was fifteen, I tripped going down the stairs. I fell at the feet of my secret crush.”
“No way! Did he help you up?”
“He laughed and walked away.”
“But Egypt didn’t walk.”
“She didn’t laugh either. She was cool.” He paused, food halfway to his mouth. “The nightmares came back last night, worse than ever.” He stared at a brown stain on her carpet.
“Tell me about the dreams.” Her voice seemed to come from a great distance.
Ward shook himself, blinking. “The demon is back. I can’t see him, but I feel him. He’s always there, taunting me. Making me want—” His fingers went numb and the plate shook.
Dr. Prescott caught the delicate China before it fell. “This is a fear free zone, Ward. The demon can’t get you here.” She came over and sat next to him on the couch.
Ward’s eyes closed, his breathing quickened, his fists clenched, afraid the demon sought him. He could hear Dr. Prescott’s voice, talking quietly. The ringing in his ears didn’t quite drown her out.
“Let it go, Ward. Let the rage go. The demon can’t hurt you here.”
“I want to kill it. I want to kill the demon!”
“We talked about that last week. You said you were ready to confront him.”
“I thought I already had! I tried . . .”
“I told you not to try on your own.”
“I know, but I saw him and I knew I had to. I thought he was dead!”
“Shh, Ward. It’s okay. We’ll get through this. Finish your lunch and we’ll talk about ways to help you sleep and how to keep the demon away.”
“I can’t do this alone, Dr. Prescott.”
“You won’t be. I have a good friend who specializes in how to control your dreams.” She reached into her pocket, extracting a business card.
“Faith Healer? Card Reader? She’s a psychic?” He rose angrily. “You’re sending me to some wacko?”
“She’s a minister—a doctor of metaphysics and theology. She knows about the Dark. I want you to see her. She’ll evaluate your space and set up protection for you.”
“I don’t need a mystic, Dr. Prescott! I need an exorcist.”
“What you need is a good night’s sleep. Celeste can help you with that.”
“I need that and more, Doc. I need to be able to leave my house without feeling like I’m being watched. I need my life back!”
“You need Celeste. Trust me. If it doesn’t work out, we say goodbye to her and you’re out nothing. I’ll pay for her services. But if she does for you what I expect, you will have no more visits from the demon. Now, finish eating and tell me about the nightmares.”
Ward did just that. He ate the delicious tabouleh she’d prepared and told her about the vivid nightmares where a demon with death’s face, followed him. The hour passed far more quickly than he would have liked. As he rose to leave, Dr. Prescott put a hand on his arm.
“Promise me you’ll call Celeste. Today.”
Nodding, Ward turned away and trudged back to his car. He carried Celeste’s card in his hand, staring at it several moments before starting the engine. He tossed it on the seat beside him and drove to the bookstore to check his schedule. The owner’s sons were putting up a banner across the front of the building.
“Free Psychic Readings Today @ 2:00! Local Shaman, Celeste Boudreau will be giving free readings and talking about her new book, Walk in the Spirit World.”
Ward started laughing. “Okay!” he said, wiping the tears of relief from his cheeks. “Okay, I give.”
Still laughing, he walked into the bookstore to meet his destiny.