I opened my eyes to Mom’s concerned face looking down at me. A warm hand and soft fingers pushed hair from my forehead. I lay on the living room sofa and I felt like I floated. I put a foot to the floor to keep myself anchored.
My shoulder, back and leg muscles ached, but not as bad as my head and eyes; I’d had a seizure.
“How do you feel?” Mom asked.
“I’m fine,” I said and smiled to hide the pain I knew was evident on my face. I reached out and touched one of the silky short sleeves of Mom’s blouse. She wore a cerulean one now with dark blue buttons. I frowned. “Going somewhere?”
“No.” She kissed my forehead before she stood and left the room.
I pushed myself up, waited for the dizziness to clear, then staggered on wobbly legs to the hallway. I thought about splashing my face with cold water in the little bathroom across the hall, but the sound of an electric drill in Mom and Daddy’s old bedroom sent me that direction. Curious, I stepped inside. It still had Mom’s cream-colored wallpaper with blue floral and butterfly patterns on the walls. But a different king-size bed sat where my parents’ bed had been. This one had a rose-colored spread on it.
I took another step on the cream-colored carpet. A tall, sinewy man wearing brown coveralls and a black sweatshirt with rolled up sleeves stood at the walk-in closet with a screwdriver. Grandpa Lybrook was brown, leathery and fit, which came from working long hours outdoors. He lifted his head of well-groomed dark hair and studied me with serious looking brown eyes below frowning brown eyebrows. Then his upturned nose twitched as a slight smile moved the corners of a pinched mouth on a clean-shaven face.
He stopped working a screw in the doorframe and asked, “Will you help me lift this door?” His voice was strong and deep.
“Is it heavy?” I took a step back. “I really shouldn’t lift anything right now.”
“Nonsense. You’ll be fine.”
I looked at the wooden door, then walked over to it and lifted it. It was light. I lifted it higher until Grandpa told me to stop.
“Thank you, Verawenda.”
“Everyone calls me Vree,” I reminded him.
The old man squinted at me a moment while he turned another screw to adjust the track of the closet door. “How are you feeling, Vree? Good as new, I hope.”
“I called you and Grandma from the hospital but you didn’t answer,” I said.
Grandpa grunted. “Phone reception is lousy here. All of Myers Ridge, for that matter, depending how the wind blows, ever since those new sinkholes appeared at my farm and forced your grandmother and me to finally move.”
A noise at the open window across the room kept me from asking what a sinkhole had anything to do with phone reception. Someone in a Navy blue sweatshirt and jeans stood on a stepladder and caulked the top of the window. His face was almost featureless behind the gossamer film of dust on the glass, but I could tell he was good looking.
Grandpa went to the window screen and said, “I’ll pay you an extra twenty if you wash all the dirt off these windows when you’re done caulking. I have glass cleaner and towels in a box on the workbench in the garage.”
The person rubbed dirt from the glass with a cloth and peered in at us. Lenny Stevens had an unclouded, intelligent looking face, although caulk marked his high forehead and the left side of his slender nose. His full lips thinned as he smiled at me from beneath a head of thick, burnt sienna hair before he descended the ladder and said, “Yes sir, right away,” through the screen.
Grandpa returned to the closet door, finished turning the screw, then rolled the door back and forth on its track before he excused himself and headed for the door. He stopped and turned back. A thoughtful look crossed his dark brown eyes.
“I got you some canvases so you can paint some pictures while you’re recuperating,” he said. “I got you an easel too, along with some paint and other things. You’ll find them in your bedroom.” He turned and headed out.
“Thank you,” I called out.
I turned back, but Lenny was gone. I vowed to call Zoey later as I headed to the door.
That’s when I noticed a corner of Mom’s carpet lay rolled away from the floor and some of the floorboards were gone. Grandpa must have decided to fix the section that always squeaked.
I went to it and peered at the darkness, then squealed and backpedaled, dropping my handbag into the hole when a gray mouse scurried from it and ran out the door.
“Ew,” I said, peering down the hall and hoping Mr. Whiskers would find it before it nested in the house. I barely saw its tail vanish around the corner as it entered the morning room.
Back at the hole, I convinced myself that there were no more mice in it before I reached for my bag. The space was deep enough to swallow my entire arm as I felt around the basement’s ceiling and the cement foundation.
I touched something large and leathery. It felt like a book. My bag lay on top.
I retrieved my bag, then lifted a dust-covered book from the floor. It was heavy and as large as one of my coffee table art books. Its dusty cover was black, hard leather, and its pages were askew.
There was no title, even after I blew away some of the dust, which made me sneeze.
I pulled a loose page from the book. Someone had written numbers and figures on the thick and yellow page with a quill pen. I ran a finger over the brittle page. Parts of it crumbled at the edges. The numbers and figures on it shifted and coalesced into letters that became words.
“Free the dancers of truth so that you may know their poetry,” I read aloud.
More words formed from the numbers and figures across the page, which made me dizzy to watch, so I closed my eyes. But I peeked at the book. More brittle pages revealed more numbers and figures that turned into words. More poetry. When the numbers and figures finished turning into words on the pages in front of me, I sat cross-legged, rested the book on my lap, and read silently. Like most poems, none made sense. There was talk about war and captains and kings. There were Greeks and Romans, gods and goddesses, and lords and princesses. Was this history or fable? I couldn’t tell, so I skimmed the verses until one poem stood out from the others because of its shortness and the large size of its letters.
Born from lightning’s flame,
She lives in the heat of shame
Until gone from her life of false existence
She travels the distance, enlightened
And brightened by the flame.
Whatever it meant, I found it rhythmic and catchy.
I closed the book and started to put it back, then changed my mind and headed to my room, the book in hand and weighing down my left side.
I passed framed photographs of Daddy and ignored them. Up the squeaky wooden stairs, I passed more photos. The smell of fresh paint filled my nose. Someone—probably Grandma—had recently painted the upstairs hall a fresh coat of white. More photographs adorned the walls. I went to my room. My single bed with a pink cover with small purple butterflies printed on it sat to the left of the door and my dresser to the left of my bed. A box of oil paints and brushes sat on my bed, and a new painter’s palette sat on the dresser. The easel grandpa had mentioned sat next to my window.
My room was different, but not because of the gifts inside it.
I placed the book and my handbag next to the paints and brushes, then went to my window and pulled the blinds so I wouldn’t have to look at the oak tree in the backyard. Before the blinds closed, the white crow appeared at my window.
I shrieked and stepped away, bumping the easel and knocking a blank canvas from its perch. I caught it and stood it up again, then peeked out my window blinds. If the crow was there, I didn’t see it.
What I saw, however, caused me to drop the blinds and back away from the window.
“Eyes,” I said when Lenny came to my door and knocked on the frame. “Red eyes.”
That’s all I remember before waking up on my bedroom carpet.
Click to read the next chapter