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Reality disintegrates when the emerald tablet is stolen from the tomb of Thoth. Seven teenagers – with untapped spiritual gifts - must unit to return the Tablet before the universe implodes.
What if you had untapped supernatural abilities? What if you could manipulate time and space and open doorways into a parallel universe? Or move things with your mind? The Emerald Tablet- Omnibus Edition combines Shadows of Doubt, Immersion and Convergence. Humanity’s fate resides in the hands of seven young teenagers — Sophia, Casey, Kevin, Jade, Tim, Shaun and Rachel — whose untapped spiritual gifts include telekinesis, astral travel, telepathy, prophecy, and travel between worlds. The universe is inexorably pushing them to harness their abilities to save Earth. An archaeological team discovers the tomb of Thoth. Unaware that the Emerald Tablet of Thoth is a seal keeping closed the gate to Hell, Grady steals the Emerald Tablet, to sell and pay for what he hopes will be a cure, to save his dying wife. Grady's son, Shaun, is with him at the dig site, becoming a terrified witness to the exodus of a dense mass of shape-shifting micro-beasts from the tomb of Thoth. With the seal to the underworld removed, these parasitic beasts are free to pursue their one goal: to consume humankind, the inhabitants of God’s ‘seventh world’. The veil between our world and the world of ghosts, lost souls, and demons is disintegrating. While the angels do battle above, the seven teenagers fight their own personal demons to overcome all obstacles and find the Emerald Tablet. It must be returned to its rightful place before the last blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, or there will be no new year to celebrate.
I dedicate this book to my daughter Bianca – never stop dreaming.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Shaun moved his legs in a scissor motion, kicking his heels rhythmically against the boulder; he felt each impact pulse down his feet to his toes. He heard the vibrations of the red string protecting the excavated sites being plucked by the same wind blowing the sand off the tips of the dunes. The area, empty of working archaeologists, was eerily quiet. Shaun imagined the sand spirits whispering, moving like ghosts in the sun’s glare. Ignoring his fear he started humming, mimicking the resonance of the red string.
He’d been desperate to accompany his father on a dig such as this one, but it wasn’t turning out as he’d imagined. Each time he’d begged his dad to go, he’d been told, “You’re too young! When you’re older; Mom needs you.” His dad had promised to take him on adventures Shaun read about in books, but Shaun felt the emptiness of those promises. Sensing his mother’s pain and hopelessness, he’d craved to escape the dark cloud that enveloped her.
Then, after only a few days back home in Australia after his dad had been gone for weeks, he had told him, “I believe I’ve found a cure for your mother; though I have to leave one more time.” However this time, he’d been forced to take Shaun with him.
Shaun was wishing he was home at his mom’s bedside. He closed his eyes and imagined he was resting his head on her chest. He could smell the perfumed air of her room and feel the gentle stroke of her hand on his head as she softly hummed a tune. Hours had passed since his dad and the other archaeologists had disappeared into the cave. He was in awe of his dad, but scared of him at the same time. Feeling dread creep up on him, he shivered, shifted on the boulder and pitched stones at the trucks, pretending he wasn’t anxious. The red desert behind him gave him the jitters big-time. He was glad he had company, even if it was a girl: Rachel, the daughter of the head archaeologist, his dad’s boss. She was sitting next to him on the boulder, chewing the ends of her long, wavy black hair. Rachel sat scanning the desert mountains that faced the distant blue haze of the Dead Sea. He followed her eyes, watching them double back to the track that was covered with sand and stone. It snaked down and around the side of the mountain, to the caves where their fathers had gone. To distract her he gave her half of his sandwich. She flattened the bread, squashing the slices together.
Earlier in the day, Shaun had seen her hiding on the back of one of the trucks. He’d spotted her peeking out from under the tarpaulin. He’d watched her as she cautiously wriggled over the side and jumped off. Seeing him, she’d frozen, knitted her eyebrows together pleadingly and put a finger up to her lips to beg him to stay silent. She must’ve sensed he wasn’t a threat, because she’d suddenly slid under the truck like a baseball player sliding into home plate, and as soon as the archaeologists had left, she’d just as quickly — like a lizard — crawled out from under the truck and run after them.
Shaun had sprinted after her. He’d found she was taller than him, and fast, but he was faster. She must be at least a year older, he’d thought as he got closer; at least eight. She’d been wearing hiking boots and a pretty lilac floral dress that was covered with smudges of dirt. Shaun had grabbed her by the arm, and she’d jerked to a stop at the entrance to the cave. He wanted to stop her following the men. He’d been afraid she’d get lost; mostly, however, what he’d really feared was being alone in the desert.
Rachel had shaken her arm free and stared fiercely into his face. He’d brushed his straight, sweaty dark hair out of his eyes. She’d looked back down into the mysterious cave. They could no longer hear her father or the other men. In a display of fiery anger she’d ranted and raved in her own language, waved her arms about madly, and stomped on his shoe.
She’d then suddenly stopped to size him up, tilting her head to the left, then the right and then back again, as if she was trying to work out what the image in an abstract painting was meant to be.
Shaun thought she looked at him as if there was something unusual about him. Whatever she’d been thinking passed and she smiled. “Rachel,” she said with a heavy accent.
A truce. “Shaun.”
Together they now waited in silence for their fathers to return. Hours had passed. At first, they hadn’t noticed the time going by, because they’d quickly amused themselves, playing games as if they’d been friends forever. They’d enjoyed seeing who could jump further, run faster and throw higher. They’d taken a large piece of cardboard from a box in the truck and sat on it to race down the side of the dune. Eventually, they’d tired of climbing back up to the top. Shaun was now growing restless seeing the sky turning black.
In the valley, the nights were cold and the days hot. Shaun could feel a wind blowing in from the west and thought of how this day was a spiritual one for the locals. He could clearly hear the sound of the ram’s horn calling across the land, from Metzoke Dragot, or maybe from as far afield as Ein Gedi. He loves the name, it sounds like Jedi. The wind whipped the sand against his legs. He watched Rachel jumping down from the rock, her long hair flowing behind her as she turned towards the golden sand dune. Having been perched on the boulder for so long, Shaun realized his bum was getting sore and his feet were throbbing from kicking against the rock. He stood up on the rock to scan the area, looking for any sign of his father, before he slid down to the ground.
They both shivered as the final light of the sun, and the first light of the moon was swallowed up in darkness.
Shaun noticed Rachel had become tense, and although they didn’t speak the same language, he could tell something was wrong. He felt himself shiver again, chilled by the frightening howling of the red string mixed with the distant bellow of the horn. He watched as Rachel pointed to her right, up into the distant sky, where the stars were twinkling brightly, arching off the horizon and up to the heavens. He saw the left part of the sky was empty, nothing but darkness: no stars shined, they were blanketed by a dirty haze, a sandstorm.
He and Rachel began to cough and choke, and he could feel the sand biting at his face and neck. The dust spirits have whipped up around us. Any air that was in the valley has been squashed! He thought.
Rachel tucked her chin into her dress to cover her mouth, and shouted to Shaun, in muffled broken English, “Quick! Come!” She reached for his hand and motioned to him to start running for the cave; they stopped just inside the mouth.
“Papa! Papa!” Rachel shouted into the darkness.
The wind was now blowing at their backs, pushing them forward.
Shaun dug into the pockets of his Levis, searching for his miniature blue LED light. It was a gift from his mother, she’d given it to him the last time she’d been admitted to hospital. She had pulled it out from under her pillow and pressed it into his hand and mumbled, “Turn on … no darkness. Thoughts make merry-go-rounds. We … thoughts control; control thoughts. She will live.” He’d felt sad and embarrassed to hear the jumbled words. He hadn’t understood what she had said, later his dad had explained that the medicine had taken hold and she was no longer coherent.
Shaun flicked the torch on and stepped further into the cave, feeling his throat being scratched by thick, coarse air. Cupping his hand around his mouth, he yelled as loudly as he could, “Dad!”
They sensed the echoes penetrating the earth and traveling under the ancient land towards Mount Zion. They waited, afraid to move.
“Dad!” Shaun repeated. Still no reply.
They walked a bit further in from the entrance, away from the storm, deeper into the old caves. Shaun ran his left hand along the grooved wall, then inhaled sharply and shook his hand in pain. Droplets of blood, like beads, had formed in chains across his palm. It stung like gravel rash. Shaun rubbed the granules of sand and blood on his jeans. “The air’s so gritty,” he said.
Scared and alone, they crouched against the wall and waited. Shaun pointed the torch towards the ceiling, trying not to shine the light in Rachel’s face. They looked at each other, wearing fake smiles to mask their fears. Outside, the storm was raging; inside the cave was deathly silent.
Rachel began to cry and whispered a prayer.
Shaun watched as her mouth moved, but couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Her eyes are emeralds. His dad had given his mom a pair of emerald earrings, but she’d never worn them; they’d stayed a sparkle hidden inside her jewelry box.
He pulled out his Swiss army knife and started drawing in the dirt.
Rachel watched him and slowly picked up a rock to use to finish his pictures of spiral galaxies, joining them together with strong lines into the shape of a kite.
The pitch-blackness of the cave was eased by the glow of the light from his mother’s torch.
The sandstorm began to pass, hard rain started to fall, and their hiding place became illuminated by quick bursts of lightning.
Shaun’s concern that something was wrong increased. He knew his dad hadn’t planned to be gone for so long. Early that morning, Shaun had woken to the tapping sounds of typing. He’d stayed under his bedcovers and had watched his dad on the laptop, booking the flights for tomorrow. They were to head home, back to mom. His dad had been unusually happy and excited, and while Shaun had been picking the sleep out of his eyes, his dad had come over, sat beside him and said, “After today, we’ll be able to afford — and provide — all the good health your mother needs. We’ll have the tablet.”
Rachel moved closer to him, breaking his train of thought. He could smell her hair and see the worry on her face. Both of them were hungry, cold and tired. Bit by bit, Rachel nudged closer, until they were huddling together.
Shaun started to hum a tune his mom had sung whenever he was afraid of a thunderstorm. In the empty cave, his voice sounded delicate and shaky.
With her head on his shoulder, Rachel soon floated off into a restless sleep. Shaun was surprised he wasn’t grossed out, her being a girl and all. At school, the girls were trouble, with their giggling and whispering, but Rachel seemed different.
He began to drift into sleep…
Something probed his mind — a distant sound. He surfaced to consciousness and sat wide-eyed, straining to hear. He gagged, registering a repulsive smell floating in from one of the tunnels like the smell at the garbage tip. He covered his nose and mouth, his eyes watering as the stench grew stronger.
He felt Rachel jolt as if her senses were rocked by the sickly vapors too. On the tail of the stench came the faint sound of screaming, mayhem unfolding, as the odor got closer and stronger. He heard the painful cries of men, as if from a distant battlefield, being amplified from the depths of the cave. As suddenly as the noises of suffering and torture had arisen, they ceased.
Shaun was paralyzed. He stared hard into the tunnel, squinting in an effort to penetrate the murkiness beyond the light of his torch. He bit down on his lower lip, drawing blood. He stood, and shuffled one step forward. The density of the blackness intensified, expanding like oil. It seemed to be moving towards him.
His saliva tasted metallic as if he’d been chewing his necklace and its dangling silver scorpion. He went to spit in the dirt but was stopped mid-spit by an explosion of harsh sound. Slowly he wiped his mouth. Shaun heard a corrosive shrilling within the labyrinth of tunnels. The unbearable screeches pierced his skulls and reverberated in his mind. They clamped their hands tightly over their ears to block the noise that sounded like a swarm of tiny-metallic claws being dragged along the cave’s walls. A message was sent to every part of his mind and body: a signal to run, to scream — anything to escape.
He saw the dense mass move like a snake towards them. He could barely move his thumb over the torch’s black-rubber button to turn it off. The screeching grew louder. Rachel screamed, and Shaun quickly slapped his hand over her mouth. He saw her eyes were wide and filled with horror. He heard his heart pounding in his ears and felt fear crawling up his spine; out of the corner of his eye, he could see a shimmer of reflective light, like a flock of birds high in a sun-filled sky. That’s when he saw the semi-transparent flying creatures, although he wished to God he hadn’t. They had gilled necks, masses of bubbling lesions on their bat-like faces, vulturine feet, the jagged tail of a scorpion with a sharp arrow-tip, and the wings of a desolate angel. Within seconds, the faces resembling a bat’s changed to a dog’s snout … the creatures were shapeshifting, constantly fluctuating and never completely forming. The air was like soup and the energy was suffocating; it had a vice-like grip around Shaun’s throat.
The tiny beasts were fighting each other: pushing and shoving each other towards the entrance; tearing each other apart. They exploded from the mouth of the cave; a swarm of evil disappeared high into the dark sky. The cave fell silent. Light dancing off the walls was moving closer to them. Somebody coughed in the distance. “Who was that?” Shaun blurted out, looking at Rachel, quickly dropping the hand he had over her mouth. She’s going to cry, he thought. I have to protect her! She looked how he felt: petrified.
They scurried to the other side of the cave and crouched behind a boulder. The silhouette of a man, with a backpack hanging off his shoulder, rushed past them and out into the night. He stood just beyond the entrance, coughing, “Shaun!” the man shouted. “Shaun, where are you?”
Shaun stood up and pulled at Rachel.
She wouldn’t budge.
“Come on!” he whispered. “Let’s go!”
Rachel didn’t move; all she did was shake her head rapidly and move further out of sight.
Shaun stared at her and frowned. She shooed him away and began to cry silently, the tears marked her dirty cheeks. Their eyes met.
Despite the despair she must have been feeling, Rachel smiled.
Shaun smiled back, then turned and ran towards his father. “Dad! Dad!” he yelled. “I’m over here!” He wrapped his arms around his dad’s waist and hugged him tightly. “Where are the others?” he asked him. “What happened? You were gone for so long!”
His father pushed him aside. “Stop talking.”
He looked at his father’s face that was screwed up with anger and hatred; a stranger’s face. “But where are the rest?” he asked again.
His dad dropped the backpack at Shaun’s feet and ran over to the truck. “There was an accident,” he yelled back to Shaun as he lowered the tailgate and climbed on.
Shaun was glued to the spot. He watched his dad jump off the back of the truck carrying a wooden box and rush back to the cave, where he emptied the contents on the desert floor.
“They’re not coming. Now, move! Pick up the backpack and get in the Jeep!”
Recognizing the symbols marked on the box, Shaun felt he was going to wet his pants and vomit. He had such a strange feeling in his tummy he didn’t know what to do. “That’s dynamite!”
His dad just kept ignoring him and jamming the sticks into the cracks in the wall.
Shaun ran up to him and pulled at his belt to make him come away from the cave.
His dad slapped him hard, flinging him like a rag doll.
His face stung.
“Stop blubbering!” his father demanded as he wedged more explosives into every crack he could find. Then he set a timer.
Shaun jumped to his feet, bolted past his dad and yelled into the cave, “Rachel, get out! You have to get out!”
His dad knocked him to the ground then picked him up until they were eye to eye.
Shaun’s face stung, and through his shirt he could feel his dad’s fingernails. His dad’s breath smelt stale and hot.
“Who the hell are you talking to?” he bellowed. “They’re all gone! They’re all dead!”
Shaun couldn’t catch his breath. He started crying and couldn’t stop. Suddenly he could see around his dad’s head a cluster of parasites clashing with an invisible force field. Shaun became transfixed. It’s the tiny beasts. He started to feel itchy all over. He wished his dad would put him back down on the ground. He could see the parasites were getting smaller as they move closer and closer to his father’s head. One of them pierced the invisible force field, and the cluster streamed into his dad’s left ear.
His dad, irritated, stretched his mouth so wide Shaun thought it would become unhinged. His dad became more anxious and angry, as if the parasites were urging him on.
Shaun leant back, away from his father’s face. “What? The others can’t be dead!” Shaun tried to pull away.
“What are you doing?” his dad yelled. He pulled him close, flipped him under his arm and used his other arm to pick up the backpack.
Shaun kicked and screamed, struggling to get down. His dad carried him to the Jeep and threw him into the back of the vehicle. Shaun heard the old Jeep grind into gear, and hung on to the seat as he looked back for Rachel. He saw the cave getting smaller and became afraid he’d lose sight of it. Then he saw Rachel emerge. As the vehicle bounced over the unsealed road, he willed Rachel to move: Run, Rachel! Run!
Frozen, she just stood there.
He continued watching and waiting for her to flee. He thought he saw her move away from the cave, towards him, and let his shoulders relax a bit. She’ll make it! His dad was driving fast, and Rachel was getting further and further away. The sky was lit up by lightning, and in the distance, he thought he saw her raise her hand and wave. He raised his too, but the simple wave, the simple gesture, was lost: the cave exploded, and Rachel was no longer visible. The explosion was brighter than any of nature’s fiery storms, brighter than any lightning bolt.
Shocked, Shaun allowed his hand to slowly drop. He didn’t know what else to do, except cry.
“Turn around!” he heard his dad command him. “Wipe that stupid look off your face and open the luggage bag — quickly! Get the backpack! Reach in and you’ll feel something wrapped up in cloth. I want you to take it out. It’s heavy — be careful. But don’t unwrap it! That’s it!”
Shaun took some short, sharp breaths and felt his body jerking. He lifted an artifact out and tried to speak: “What … what … is … is it?”
“Never you mind!” his dad replied. “Bury it among the clothes in the suitcase, and lock it!”
He felt the Jeep toss and turn, and twice he nearly dropped his dad’s precious cargo. He did as he was told. The object was curved like a Roman chest plate covered with ancient writings and drawings. It was heavy and difficult to hold. Shaun struggled as he buried it deep in the suitcase and zipped it up. He used the back of his dirty hand to wipe the tears and snot from his face.
The Jeep screeched to a halt just outside the airport. His dad lifted the suitcase out, roughly turned Shaun around on the back seat, put the backpack over his shoulders. “Come on! Out of the car! Keep up! You’re so weak it’s pathetic! I’ve never noticed how soft you are — you’re just like your mother!”
Shaun jumped out and, closing the door, spotted a leather pouch on the car floor. He picked it up and opened it slightly and saw oddly-shaped, multi-colored stones.
He pulled the straps tight and shoved the pouch deep into his pocket and followed his father. Shaun hid his feelings behind the shadows of the night and as he ran to catch up, he felt the rain upon his face merge with the tears spilling down his cheeks. Everything seemed different. He was afraid.
Once inside the airport, his dad flashed Egyptian passports. They passed through Customs unquestioned and were allowed to board the plane immediately. Shaun sat next to the window and, looking around, saw the small plane was only half full. It shook and vibrated as it screamed down the runway. The storm had become violent, lightning hammered the tarmac. The ground shook with each strike, each blast reminding Shaun of the exploding cave. Some of the passengers screamed. He could see out the side window that the ground had cracked open. Like a sinkhole, he thought. The plane accelerated towards the hole and the lightning illuminated the crumbling ground. We’re not going to make it, we’re not going to make it! The heavy machine’s wheels were inches from the abyss below them as the plane launched into the storm. The aircraft ascended into the terrifying turbulence created by the merciless clouds of micro- beasts released less than an hour ago from the cave. They’re following us. It sounded as if the plane was being pelted with bullets.
As Shaun gripped the seat, his knuckles turned white. Oxygen masks sprang from their sockets. The plane continued its sharp rise to the heavens. They shot through the clouds and leveled out above the storm. They removed their oxygen masks and left them dangling. Shaun leant into his dad, “I’m scared.”
“Everything’ll be okay now, we have the tablet,” his dad assured him. “Get some sleep; you want to be fresh to see your mother when we land.”
Shaun felt exhausted, confused, frightened and mistrusting. “Dad, is Mom coming home? Is she better?”
His dad didn’t answer; he stared vacantly past him and out the window. Shaun shivered.
Shaun tried to sleep, but found himself tossing and turning in his seat, unable to stop thinking about Rachel…
“Wake up, boy!” he heard his dad demand. “Drink this!”
He saw his dad’s eyes were black marbles — he was gone again. His dad shoved a clear plastic cup and a little yellow pill into Shaun’s hands. He wanted to please his dad so he took the tablet.
Shaun fell into a deep sleep and awoke just before landing at home. He wanted to look out the window to see the beaches that stretched along the coast; he wanted to see the land of the sun and surf, his home — Australia. He felt groggy, and his body was heavy. He turned to his dad and saw him rummaging around in his backpack and wearing a different set of clothes. The couple sitting next to him unlocked their seat belts and reached up for the overhead compartments across the aisle. Shaun felt his empty stomach do a somersault and his head spun. There was no window; they were in the middle aisle, and it was six seats wide. Where am I, he wondered.
His dad looked at him, he heard him say something he couldn’t understand as he handed over a vomit bag. Perfect timing. He buried his head in the waxed bag and puked. He came up for air, looked around the plane and saw it was full. That was when he realized he was on a different plane — a jumbo! He felt his dad pull him to his feet and push him into the aisle.
His head hurt. Everything was a blur as his dad kept him shuffling forward down the aisle, off the plane, and through Customs. Feeling fuzzy, and as if he was going to puke again, he tried hard to understand the Customs officer, who said to him, “Not much of a holiday for a young fella — a business trip to Dubai with your old man!” The man then handed back the two passports.
Shaun was focused on his passport, feeling confused. He fixated on its cover, the coat of arms. He ran his finger over the images of the kangaroo and emu: an Australian passport; his passport. What happened to the Egyptian passports? He looked up at his dad.
Noticing his perplexed look, his dad put his arm over Shaun’s shoulders, as if he cared. “He’s jetlagged and misses his mom,” he said to the Customs officer.
That’s true, Shaun thought.
They walked out of the airport, with the backpack only, not the suitcase.
“What about the suitcase?” Shaun asked his dad.
His father opened the door of the silver taxi and blankly asked, “What suitcase, son?”
Shaun climbed into the taxi and swore he’d never trust his dad again. Was it all a dream? They climbed into the back of the taxi. The air was so thick you could’ve cut it with a knife. Neither of them said a word as they headed for home.
Casey was skinny and had wild curly brown hair, and a tiny gap of prosperity between his two front teeth. He was tad short for his age, but he was a bright boy and was about to use parts of his mind Einstein would have only ever dreamed about.
He was walking home from school, happy. The wind was gathering strength and the leaves started spiraling around him and were swept up into the air and across the mountain road. Thunder echoed across the valley, heavy raindrops began to slap the sealed road. Like paint flung from the brush of an angry painter, dark clouds suddenly blacked out the sun. He shivered. Something was terribly wrong — there was an atmosphere of foreboding, and a churning sensation in the pit of his stomach.
The rain multiplied, and the howling wind pushed it diagonally across the deserted road. He peered into the dense forest, towards the shortcut, thinking of how it always looked downright eerie. He decided he’d stay on the road, but an uneasy feeling crept up his spine. He shouldered his schoolbag and started jogging.
He felt his woolen school blazer become heavy because it was soaking up the rain like an old sponge. It was two sizes too big, but his mom had said he’d “grow into it”. Casey knew she’d felt bad about having to buy it from the school’s seconds shop, but he also knew the scholarship hadn’t included the cost of his school clothes. He didn’t care, not really, and especially not today, because today was his thirteenth birthday and he was officially a teen.
The wind pushed him backward, and he could no longer see the road through the heavy rain. He had to go into the woods to get home quickly. He wouldn’t think about the spooky stories the other kids told; he had to get home to his mom. She was alone, and the storm looked as if it was going to get bad really fast.
Casey darted off the road down the slippery embankment and entered the woods. He distracted himself by imagining his mom baking a delicious mud cake. He held the vision within his mind, his senses filled with the smell of warm chocolate. His mouth started to water and his tummy rumbled as he pictured the warm glow of the kitchen light and cooling cake. He smiled. It was as if the clouds had opened up above and a summer sun was now shining down on him. He continued to battle the rain, feeling washed with new energy.
Ignoring the whack of the squeaking “WARNING!” sign as it banged against the barbed-wire fence post, Casey crouched down under the wire, ran through the first stand of trees and headed for the stream, which on any other day would have been placid. The kids never mentioned a “warning” sign, he thought, maybe this was a badidea.
He seemed to have jogged for a long time before he spotted the entrance to a footbridge. Its wooden entry posts were covered with green moss that was only half- concealing the termites. Nobody uses it regularly! he thought. All the stories were lies!
Having come too far to go back, he timidly held on to the worn rope balustrade and carefully put his weight down on the first plank. He rocked back and forth to test its strength. The other side of the bridge was cloaked in sheets of rain.
He sensed something moving behind him. What was that? He turned around quickly, checked behind himself, and saw a little off to the right was a storm water drain; the wire mesh covering its entrance was torn away. The gap was wide enough for someone — or something — to pass through. He started to freak out, and his consciousness started to flood with a medley of schoolyard stories. He pushed his wet hair out of his eyes, as if he were able to push the images away.
He stared past the rain and into the dark tunnel, but he couldn’t see beyond its entrance. He strained to hear anything above the rain. Usually Casey loved the fresh smell of rain, but not today: he smelt something metallic in the air and a terrible taste in his mouth.
The thunderclaps continued shifting; moving closer. He looked down, between the slats of wood, and checked under the bridge. Although he knew it would be impossible for a meaty claw to pull him into the depths of a beast’s lair, he couldn’t help looking — just in case. The bridge was old and neglected, and when he stepped forward, he heard the pillars moan. Feeling unsure, he looked for another way across. Everything looked grey and lifeless, the color had been sucked out of the day and there was no golden light, no summer sun.
The stream below was a raging body of water. Knowing he had to move, Casey held his breath while testing the next plank. He kept going, never putting both his feet on the same plank at the same time. He pushed on into the wind.
When he reached the middle of the narrow footbridge, the wind lifted the whole bridge up as if it were a sail. Casey held tight on to the side ropes. The strong gust of wind dissipated and dropped the bridge back down. Seizing the moment, he pulled himself along, feeling the old rope fraying in his hands.
The heavens released their fury on him. Hail slammed into his backpack and into his shoulders, arms and head. He let go of the ropes and raised his arm to protect his head. He imagined his nightmarish phantom was under the bridge waiting for the last sliver of light to vanish. The bridge swayed dangerously.
When the hail stopped suddenly, he reached for the rope, but the wind drove him back. He pulled his heavy blazer tight around himself and pushed on, keeping his head down. He paused and looked upstream. He heard what sounded like a hundred wild horses racing towards him, getting closer and closer. He turned to run, and slipped. Torrents of water were rushing around the bend in the river below, and in an instant, in one surge, the water shot up over the riverbanks.
Casey scrambled to his feet, immediately he knew it was too late to make any difference. He reached for the rope as a tidal wave of debris slammed into him. The bridge was torn away from the posts and dragged down into the murky water. Casey held on as he sank into the river.
Underwater, he struggled out of the harness of his school backpack and felt himself being dragged down because of his sodden blazer. He slipped his right arm out of it and then his left, and let the deadly soaked garment sink to the bottom. He breeched the water’s surface and inhaled air. He used his hands to search for something — anything — and felt the velvet moss of a plank from the bridge. The current was relentlessly pulling at his body, dragging him downstream. He dug his fingers into the wooden plank as it sailed past him, but he couldn’t get a firm grip. He slipped, and felt his fingernails snap back. He let go, screaming in pain, slipping further into the swirling water. The river was moving around and under his body, pulling at his legs, and the debris felt like the sharp claws of a giant lizard. “Help!” Casey screamed.
But nobody was there to hear. Bolts of lightning were splitting the sky, and the undertow was dragging him down. He slapped the water’s surface, searching for something, anything, to hold and keep him buoyant. The flood continued violently surging down from the mountain.
Suddenly, he felt his hand brushing against a passing branch that was tangled up with rope and rungs from the bridge. He threw his arm over it and clutched on to it.
The hail returned and smacked painfully into the back of his hands. He lost his grip, the branch floated out of his reach. Casey was pulled under. He was exhausted but continued struggling up to the surface…
He thought he glimpsed a kid on the other side of the river watching him, and screamed, “Help! Help me!” Spotting the long thick branch of an old tree coming his way, Casey fumbled for it, used it to pull himself up, and felt hope. He searched for the kid but no one was there.
A piece of rope that was tangled around the branch and parts of the footbridge suddenly went taut, snapped, and whipped up into Casey’s face, slicing open his right cheek. He let go of the branch, in surprise and exhaustion. Blood poured from his gash, but it was instantly diluted by the rain.
He used his foot to search for leverage below, and felt a rock. His foot slid on the moss, but then he managed to push himself up. He pushed again, using both feet, and lunged at the branch. Reaching for the rope, his foot slipped. His head went under, and his leg became tightly wedged between two rocks. Casey saw the light from above disappear, his heart raced as he endured the river’s claws moving around his leg and latching on to his knee. He wrestled with his leg in an attempt to free his wedged foot. The rain-fueled water was getting deeper and deeper. He kept his eyes focused on the surface and struggled to escape. The light had disappeared completely; he was surrounded by darkness. It’s not fair! he thought as he struggled. This was supposed to be a good day! This isn’t supposed to happen! It’s the first day of summer, the last day of school, the best day of the year! It’s my birthday damn it! This is bullshit! I’m in control of my reality! Whose crappy idea is this? Or maybe I’m supposed to die today! Righteous people come into the world and leave the world on their birthday, don’t they? The stars were all lined up last night in the shape of the Star of David — it was all over the media — I can’t die today, I’m not righteous!
The desire to open his mouth and draw in a breath was overwhelming, and his lungs ached badly. It’s just not fair! he thought. He was feeling like the comic book hero who never gets the girl because the two of them are from different worlds. Why, damn it? he screamed in his head.
The water seemed to rise even higher; the rock had a firm grip around his leg. He stretched his arms up in one last, desperate attempt to grapple at the water around him as if it would suddenly allow him purchase. He felt his lungs fill with unbearable pain, the pressure of the water crushing his ribs as if he were being tormented by not one, but a legion of underwater phantoms. He yelled at the darkness, Enough! I will not … die … today!
In a heartbeat, the hail stopped, the river went silent, he felt his chest start convulsing, and darkness slithered in. There’s no peace in drowning!
Feeling an explosion of light deep within himself, he pushed away the darkness and let go.
The road was now covered with hailstones that looked like shiny marbles. Terry was anxious to get home to his wife, Amy. He rolled down the car window and stared out at the dark cloud that was hovering, tormenting the town. He wound the window back up, nervously gripped the steering wheel, and pulled out from the safety of the trees back on to the road. He heard the tyres crunch and slide over the ice, and he chanted, “Don’t speed! Don’t speed! It’s okay! She’s okay!” He used his left hand to wipe the windscreen, and continued carefully towards home.
The river had flooded and the road was nowhere in sight, he slowed to a stop. He prayed the bridge was in one piece underneath, and entered the flowing water. Two weeks ago, he thought, the rivers and streams were barely a trickle — not even enough to quench a bird!
Terry put his foot steady on the gas and kept the car crawling across the bridge. The water started seeping in between the door seals and pooling at his feet, he was afraid the motor would flood and stall.
Two-thirds of the way across, he spied a funnel of air dropping from the sky and spiraling out of control. “Oh, my God!” he murmured.
He accelerated out of the water, not taking his eyes off the swaying funnel, which was moving backwards and forwards gathering speed, propelling itself towards the town. I’m not gonna make it! he thought as he saw the funnel grow larger. He was well aware that disasters were occurring throughout the world, having vigilantly listened to the reports over the radio. No local warnings — nothing! he thought. Mesmerized, he watched a rooftop bouncing around in the wind, like a kite. The sky was filled with debris. The black clouds released their fury as another twister formed and started colliding with the first, creating one massive storm cell. Terry couldn’t see the town any more.
The trees arching over the road were unable to withstand the force and like dead weeds were uprooted and yanked into the sky. Coastal towns are the only places that get freak storms!
Up ahead, something was lying on the road. He squinted, and frantically wiped the windscreen just in time to see a tree falling across the road. He planted his foot on the brake, the car screeched and spun out of control. He choked the steering wheel, terrified. The car jackknifed, Terry’s head violently hit the steering wheel and the car crashed into the enormous oak…
Silence filled the car, and he slowly opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He saw the back-left passenger door was crushed inward, and could feel the back wheel was elevated. He opened his door and tumbled out, the wind had subsided but it was still sharp and cold on his face.
He climbed over the horizontal tree trunk, opened the car boot and searched around for his emergency warning triangle, raincoat and first-aid kit. When he climbed back over the branches, he slipped, and the triangle blew away. He pulled his jacket tight around himself, kept his head down to protect his eyes, and walked to the crest of the road, occasionally looking up, searching.
Finally, he spotted something further up the road. Terry picked up his pace — the closer he got, the more he could see it looked like a body. “Hey!” he yelled. “You okay? Hello!” He didn’t think whoever it was would hear him over the sounds of the howling wind as it increased in velocity. The trees started bending and snapping. He tried to run, forcing his way through the wind; he could manage no more than a slow jog. “Hey, can you hear me?” he shouted as he approached the body.
No answer. Child-sized, face down and lifeless.
He knelt beside the body, gently squeezed the shoulders, put his hand on the back, and waited to feel it rise.
He rolled the body on its side, and saw it was a boy. He opened the boy’s mouth, and murky water escaped from it. Protecting his neck, he carefully turned the boy on to his back and checked his breathing. His other injuries were evident: a gash down his right cheek, which would warrant at least half a dozen stitches, and blood all over his left leg. Terry could feel neither a breath nor a pulse. He decided to fold his fingers together and press down on to the adolescent boy’s chest, to perform CPR, but it was nothing like the rubber mannequins he’d practiced on — this real body was very fragile. Rain dripped from Terry’s hair on to the boy’s face, and he blinked madly to see.
“Come on, damn it!” he shouted at the body. “Come on!” He kept pumping the boy’s chest: “One! Two! Three! Four!”
After what seemed like an eternity, the boy started coughing and vomiting water.
Terry quickly turned him on his right side, telling him, “That’s it, good! Bring it all up!” He rubbed the boy’s back and continued reassuring him until he’d stopped vomiting the oceans of water he seemed to have inhaled. “My name’s Terry,” he told him. “You’re okay now.”
The wind was getting stronger and the storm was back, building. He knew he had to get them out of there. He saw the kid’s fingernails had been snapped back and the flesh underneath was exposed.
The rain stopped, and the storm became eerily quiet.
“What happened?” he asked the boy, hoping he’d hear. “Storm caught you by surprise aye? — I think the whole town’s been caught out! I’ve never known any twister, or a storm, like it in this neck of the woods — what about you? You’re okay, pal!”
The boy struggled to sit up.
“Take it easy,” Terry said.
“My head hurts!” The boy announced as he tried to sit up. “The footbridge collapsed! My chest hurts! How’d you pull me from the river?” He looked at his fingers, clenched his teeth, and tried to push one of his fingernails back into place. He bent his knee and winced when he felt his torn school pants caught on his open wound.
He’s hurting badly! Terry thought. “The river?” he queried. “No, I didn’t pull you from the river — you’re in the middle of the road, about three hundred yards from the river. I was driving. I couldn’t see. Just before a tree fell in front of me, I thought I saw something on the road. I swerved to miss the tree, and the car slid out of control.”
The boy stopped trying to push his fingernail back to its rightful place, and stared into Terry’s eyes as if he were searching for answers but failing.
“If it hadn’t fallen …” Terry began. “That tree saved your life. I would’ve run over you. Someone’s looking out for you, buddy — you’re one hell of a lucky dude!”
The boy sat up, leant against Terry’s knees. “How’d I get here, then?” he looked towards the violent river, and mumbled, “It was the light – I chose not to die – it was my choice. I did this. Did you see anybody else, another boy?”
Terry watched as the child turned his head towards the river.
“I have to — I have to get home! My mom — she — she’s alone!”
“Okay,” Terry said, “let’s get you up. Do you think you can put any weight on that leg?”
The boy looked down at his left knee, tried to straighten it out, and replied, “Maybe — I think it’s just a bit mangled.”
“‘Mangled’, huh? Is that what you’d call it?” Terry said. He put his right arm under him and helped him to his feet, concerned because the boy could only stand on one leg and looked like he was going to pass out any second. “I’m gonna have to pick you up, buddy,” he announced. “You cool with that?” He waited for him to register the comment.
But the boy didn’t move.
“What’s your name?” he asked him, feeling the rain getting harder and stinging his face as if it were tiny, sharp needles. He was now chilled to the bone. He quickly bent and scooped up the boy, just in time, as the poor fella passed out and slumped over Terry’s right shoulder.
He’s so heavy! he thought. What was I thinking? This guy has to be about ninety pounds! Bearing the boy’s dead weight, he rushed back to the car, desperate to find his wife and get the boy to hospital. Each step was a struggle not to topple over as the wind pushed him from behind.
Exhausted, he sat the boy on the front passenger seat and reclined it until the boy was fully lying down. He feverishly wiped the windshield, breathing heavily as a sense of something terribly wrong came over him. He placed his right hand on the ignition, paused, and addressed the car as if it were a horse: “Okay, boy. We’re gonna get one shot! You’re an all-wheel drive, and we’ve gotta jump this tree to get out of this mess! You can do it!” He patted the dashboard and turned the key.
The car came to life.
“Good!” he exclaimed. “Good start!” He held the handbrake lever, ready to release it, and stomped down on the accelerator.
The car tried to pull away.
He released the lever.
The car hurled itself over the tree trunk on to the road, and stopped.
Amazed, he sat idling for a few seconds and then checked his passenger. Thunder clapped overhead, and he jumped. Lightning split across the blackened sky — a rip in the fabric of the universe — and he felt fear creep over his body.
Entering the town, Terry slowed the car to a crawl. He found the main street blocked and some of the buildings demolished, whereas others were untouched. Cars lay under fallen trees. Like a toothpick, a telegraph pole had snapped and was leaning, broken over the road. A frenzy of broken wires jittered across the lanes, raised up like cobras, discharging electrical sparks; Terry mounted the gutter and then swerved back to the road to avoid them. The boy he had in the passenger seat was a rag doll bouncing around.
Terry saw a few people appear along the streets. An elderly couple were weeping over a pile of rubble. He was spooked, his mouth was dry and the blood rushed around his head. He felt his heart pounding, and began to truly fear for his wife, Amy’s safety. He picked up his phone, no signal. He checked the boy.
He was still breathing.
He cautiously drove on, easing the car forward over the rubble, and finally turned east towards the hospital. Leaves and twigs were caught up under the windshield wipers and were scratching against the window. He strained to see beyond them as he checked down each road to determine the safest route. The town’s north-west side seemed to have taken the biggest blow, and the damage was less as he approached the hospital. “Thank God it’s still standing!” he muttered. He pulled on the handbrake and jumped out of the car.
Hundreds of people, dazed and injured, were walking towards the hospital’s entrance. Terry carefully picked up the boy and moved amongst the crowd as quickly as possible to the entrance. He stopped at the doorway to Emergency and looked over the sea of wounded, searching for help. He wove through the mayhem, pushing towards the front, and repeated, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I have an unconscious child! Somebody help me.”
The triage nurse behind the glass window opened the side door for the next patient.
Terry slid through.
She gave him a scolding look, but checked the boy’s pupils, then pulled open a curtain and said, “Lay him on that bed. What’s his name?” She flashed a light in the boy’s eyes, checked his pulse, and patted him down.
“I don’t know,” Terry answered. “I found him on the road. He wasn’t breathing. I gave him CPR. He vomited water.”
“Has he been in a car accident?” the nurse asked him as she placed a plastic collar around the boy’s neck.
“No,” Terry replied. “Well — I don’t know. He was just lying in the middle of the road. I didn’t see any cars.”
She looked up at Terry and announced, “He’ll need some stitches, at least. We’ll need to check him for spinal injuries and X-ray his lungs.” She pulled the stethoscope out of her ears and left them dangling around her neck. “I’ll find a doctor. You’ll need to stay with him. We’re understaffed; relief is coming, but I need you to stay with him for now. What’s your name?”
“Terry,” he answered.
“Can you stay with him, Terry?” she asked.
“Okay,” he replied, “but my wife … I don’t know where my wife is.”
“I’m sure just as you helped this young man, someone will help your wife,” the nurse assured him, and dashed out of the cubicle.
The hospital smelt and tasted like a construction site, Terry thought. He crouched down so his face was next to the boy’s head, and whispered to him, “Just in case you can hear, we’re in the hospital — you’ll be alright.” He looked at the woman lying unconscious in the bed next to the boy’s. Her face and neck were blackened with bruises and her hair and clothes were caked with dirt. He thought she looked as if she’d been excavated. She had an IV line inserted in her left arm. One of the two attending nurses jabbed a needle into a narrow, orange-colored rubber tip and injected a clear fluid into the arm. The woman reacted in seconds and opened her eyes wide. She gasped for air, seized her stomach and twisted in pain, and the nurse gave her another injection into the rubber tube. The woman calmed slightly and started taking hurried shallow breaths.
That one must’ve been morphine, Terry guessed, watching as the attending doctor unemotionally scribbled notes on his clipboard and then hurried away to his next patient, leaving the woman in the care of two young nurses, who were now holding her right hand and speaking clearly to her to explain where she was and what had happened: “There was a storm, and you were found pinned under a cement slab. You’re now safe in the hospital. Your injuries are critical. Do you understand?”
The woman made the smallest attempt to nod.
“Is there anyone you’d like us to try to get hold of?” one of the nurses asked.
The woman struggled to breathe and to speak: “My … son. Where’s … my son?”
The other nurse held a syringe in the air, again grabbed the little rubber stopper, and injected the swirling, clear liquid into the woman.
“What’s your son’s number?” the other nurse asked the woman, to distract her from the pain she was feeling.
The woman made a choking sound.
Terry’s heart went out to her.
She gave a cough, and blood sprayed into the oxygen mask. She moaned.
Terry saw tears fall from the corner of her left eye.
She turned her head slightly and whispered, “My son.” She coughed again, and this time, more than a spray of blood was visible.
The nurse let go of her hand, moved the mask, and wiped her mouth.
The woman slightly lifted her arm, reached out to Terry, and said to him, “My son.”
Terry’s eyes met hers. He smiled as the nurse busied herself by placing a new oxygen mask over the patient’s face, causing muffling of the words the woman was uttering: “Cay … Casey … my son …” Before she slipped away, she locked eyes with Terry.
He felt a strange connection with her.
The nurses moved quickly, and the machines beeped and pinged loudly around them … but there was nothing they could do.
Terry felt conflicted in his heart. He wanted to turn away from the misery in her eyes.
However, he held her gaze while she was dying.
He felt her fighting the pain, not knowing where her child was. A heavy burden to die with, he thought.
She clutched on to her last moments of life.
He believed her thoughts were only for her son. Her eyes emptied.
He turned away from the dying woman’s final moment.
The triage nurse returned with a doctor, who immediately went to work examining the boy.
“What did you say his name was?” the nurse asked Terry.
Terry pulled his eyes away from the dead woman’s, and replied, “I didn’t — he never told me.” He looked back at the dead woman, and said, “But, it might be … Casey. I think that might’ve been his mother.”
The nurse followed his gaze towards the deceased woman, and closed the curtain.
The doctor turned, lowered his glasses, rubbed his tired eyes, looked at Terry, and said to him, “Why don’t you get yourself a cup of coffee while we run some tests and stitch up his cheek and knee? His vitals are good; he’s stable. You saved his life. He won’t wake for a little while. Go and get yourself some air.”
Terry rubbed the back of his neck, stared down at the springy blue-vinyl floor, thought of his wife, and prayed she was alright. Realizing he needed to try to call her again, he said to the doctor and nurses, “I’ll be back in ten.” He headed out of the emergency ward and came out into the ambulance bay to search for mobile-phone reception. He dialed the number, and when he heard her phone start ringing, he felt joy entwined with fear leap into his throat.
An ambulance pulled into the bay, and the sound of it drowned out the sound of the ring tone.
Terry shoved his right middle finger into his ear.
The medics jumped out of the van, opened the back door, and pulled out the gurney.
The phone stopped ringing.
The medics unfolded the gurney’s wheels, secured them on the ground, clicked them into place, and asked him, “Sir! Sir! Step aside!”
Terry moved and the signal was lost. Frustrated, he wanted to scream. He was scared, hungry and cold. He stared at the gurney and then at the patient, thinking to himself, So much pain and suffering! He saw the person lying on the gurney was mapped with bruises similar to the dead woman’s, and presumed she must have been dug out of the rubble as well. He stared at the unconscious face, and held his breath. Shocked and paralyzed, he forced himself to look closer at the bloody fingers and the black and blue arms. She must’ve tried to claw her way out!