Here is the next installment. So far I am happy with the direction. I feel like I am at the tipping point where everything will start to fall into place nicely or unravel. We will see.
Gerard nearly toppled the kitchen table when he jumped out of his chair. A crystal fruit bowl, brimming with a variety of wax fruit wobbled, flipped and the rolled to the floor. Shiny red apples and verdant pears were showered in a shimmering rain of prismatic shards. Neither Gerard nor Cheryl registered the sound of the bowl shattering and unconsciously avoided the upturned chairs as they bolted for the stairs.
Their agility enhanced by protective parental instinct they bounded up the stairs two at a time. Cheryl narrowly avoided taking her husband’s heel in the face on more than one occasion. The ascent took moments, but the sense of panic they both felt made it seem an eternity. Between the race from the kitchen and the arrival at the child’s bedroom, Jimmy’s screams continued. Filled with horror and pain the sound took on its own unnatural life, became a thing of nightmares.
When Gerard burst through Jimmy’s door, Cheryl fumbled for the light-switch. After two blind swats at the wall the switch engaged and the room was bathed in soft white light. Both parents stopped; Jimmy’s shrieking had reached a crescendo and his face was the mirror of terror. The boy sat straight up in his bed, his face and clothes drenched in sweat. Both hands flailed at his chest; he tore at his shirt grasping at some unseen object. Neither parent saw anything that would be causing him pain but the boy continued to claw at himself as though a hot coal was burrowing into his flesh.
In an instant, Cheryl and Gerard were at Jimmy’s side. Up close his wailing was ear-splitting, both parents winced as they began shaking the boy calling his name. Jimmy’s eyes were open but unseeing; the eerie blank stare of a sleep-walker.
“What’s wrong with him.” Cheryl’s voice was lost in the clamour.
If Gerard heard her he did not respond, his efforts focused on breaking the terrible trance transfixing his son.
Finally the big man scooped the boy from his bed as though he was pulling him out of a fire. The screaming stopped. Gerard held Jimmy close. Drenched with sweat the boy’s heart pounded with such ferocity Gerard couldn’t tell his own heart from his son’s.
Tenderly he stroked Jimmy’s back; the sopping fabric of his pyjama top was cold.
“We have to change his clothes,” he said to his wife; his voice was weak.
Cheryl could only nod and then she began to search Jimmy’s closet. Her actions took on an automatic quality, like a robot carrying out a command. She whimpered softly as she tried to suppress the sobs building in her chest. The pressure in her sinuses was stifling and the taste of hot bile was building at the back of her throat.
Gerald tenderly put Jimmy back in his bed and began removing his wet clothing, covering him with a blanket to keep the chill off. Cheryl came over with some red-flannel pyjamas and began dressing Jimmy, while Gerard stroked the boy’s matted, damp hair. She exchanged a look mixed with confusion and terror with her husband before turning a concerned gaze on her son.
Jimmy’s laboured breathing began to calm and then he glanced between his parents as if waking from a daze.
“Mom, dad? What happened?” he asked, his voice cracked and raspy from the screaming.
Cheryl covered her mouth to suppress the next wave of sobs.
“You don’t remember? You were screaming. Did you have a nightmare?” Gerard asked.
Jimmy hesitated. He seemed lost in thought.
“I was at school,” Jimmy struggled to grasp at the images of the fading dream. “I was playing in the field. There were people all around me. We were laughing, then I was looking up at them. My chest hurt. I felt tired. When I tried to get up I was stuck, people were screaming. I looked up and something was holding me down, a bar. It was red, covered in blood. It really hurt.”
Absently Jimmy began rubbing at his chest while he spoke, tears welled in his eyes. “It was real,” he finished.
Cheryl pulled her son into an embrace more forcefully than she intended. “It’s OK, baby. It’s OK. It was just a dream. See, you’re fine,” she was barely understandable as she tried to talk through sobs and sniffles.
Gerard’s face was also tear streaked and his eyes were bloodshot.
“My throat hurts.”
Cheryl gently pushed her son to arm’s length and while wiping away tears forced a smile. “Go get a drink of water, sweetie. Mommy and daddy will be down in a minute.”
Jimmy hopped out of bed, the dream seemed to have faded from his mind. He rubbed his throat and padded out of the room barefoot. Cheryl considered telling him to put on slippers, but it didn’t seem important enough to voice.
“He remembers,” she said softly, her body shaking uncontrollably.
Gerard embraced her and then he kissed Cheryl’s forehead. “The doctor told us this might happen. He still has all his memories, as long as he thinks it’s a dream….”
“No, Gerard. That’s not what I mean,” the sobs were starting again. Her shaking becoming so violent it strained her muscles. “He remembers. He was awake. He felt everything. My baby suffered when he died,” she was nearing hysterics.
“Are you OK, mommy?”
Cheryl nearly jumped at the alien sound of her son’s voice. She looked at Jimmy without recognition, her lips moved soundlessly.
“Cheryl?” Gerard’s tone was sharp.
She closed her eyes and when she opened them, appeared calmer.
“Yes, sweetie. Mommy’s OK. Come here.”
She enfolded Jimmy in her arms and held him tight, a fresh stream of tears wetting her cheeks.
Gerard brushed his own tears away and tenderly pulled Jimmy from Cheryl’s arms.
“Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll make breakfast and have some fun, just the three of us,” he said, ruffling Jimmy’s hair.
The boy smiled. It was s a big smile filled with the sincerity only a child can muster.
“Sure, dad,” he said as he crawled into bed and pulled the blankets tight around him. Cheryl helped tuck him in and kissed him on the cheek. “Swee…good night,” she whispered into his ear.
“What is it, sweetie?”
“Can you make pancakes tomorrow?”
Cheryl laughed, it felt good. “Sure, baby.”
Gerard was already in the hall when Cheryl walked over to turn off the light. She began closing the door and stopped at the sound of Jimmy’s voice.
“Go to sleep, Jimmy.”
“I will. I just wanted to ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Can I have blueberries in my pancakes?”
She laughed again, this time more sincerely as it washed away her fear.
“Yes, you can have blueberries, now go to sleep.”
She left the door open a sliver and took her husband’s hand. “Let’s go to bed,” she said. “Grab the mirror in the bathroom when you come.”
Gerard nodded, his expression thoughtful.
“What is it? She asked.
“He hates blueberries,” he replied.