I not only didn’t have any books, I didn’t have anything. My own razor, for one. My cell phone for another.
What I did have was some good drugs. The pills took the edge off the pain and made me a tad goofy. But the stuff that they injected through my IV, when the throbbing in my face got too bad or if I did something dumb like laugh with cracked ribs, knocked me on my ass. And gave me extraordinary dreams.
I would have thought that with all that had gone on in the last 36 hours, my dreams would be haunted by JD and/or Sabrina. Silly me, to think that my subconscious might work in such an ordinary, expected way. No, it was the Golden-haired Woman who I now thought of as Nimue who continued to plague in my drug-induced reveries.
The sacrifice dream occurred most often. Variants of the one I had maybe a month ago where Nimue and George were arguing whether to cut Lacey’s heart out or not. Pretty much everybody I know took their turn on the altar: Sabrina, Chai, Adeline, even George. In the case of George, I was the one arguing for his life. Curious. It would have been a lot more pleasant if JD had made it up there at least once, but no.
There were others equally bizarre. In one I was standing naked in front of the altar while Nimue made me catalog my sins in excruciating detail and beg penance for each. In another, Sabrina and I were paddling a canoe through the mists to the rocky shore where Nimue waited to receive us, hands outstretched.
I don’t believe for a moment that dreams come from an outside agent, even an agent such as Nimue who I now believed actually existed somewhere or some when. They came from my own head, which meant I was trying to tell myself something. So every time I woke up—and so far, I always had; maybe if I had the dream where I was the one on the altar I wouldn’t—I tried to figure out what.
The ones where I was cataloging and paddling, I lumped together as mere self doubts about my own worthiness. Worthiness for what, exactly? Worthy of Sabrina? Surely not that simple. Worthy to be the one chosen to receive the revelation of this great mystery? Maybe. I mean, why was I drawn to the island while Lucas and Adeline were pushed away? Why me?
I never did come up with a hypothesis for the sacrifice one. Couldn’t be people sacrificing themselves for me—maybe Chai, maybe even Sabrina if you pushed the definition a little, but I didn’t see how it fit Adeline except she was spending her money on me. And definitely not George.
I risked skipping my pain pill on Saturday morning. Lying there after breakfast, head reasonably clear, thoroughly disgusted with daytime television but without a book of any sort to turn to, I reviewed the whole investigation into the disappearance of George. Helped crystallize what I believed.
I believed that the island of Avalon, S.C. was somehow linked to some other place and/or time. That the boundaries between there and here weakened at the pagan feast days, most strongly at Samhain and Beltane, less so on the solstices and equinoxes. That meant Imbolc, which fell somewhere between Midwinter and Beltane in power, might add a critical piece to the puzzle. Imbolc was little more than a month away now, and I intended to be on Avalon.
I believed the golden-haired woman was somebody powerful and important in that other place and time.
I believed George was there. ‘Alive,’ if that meant anything in the other place and time. Although Chai had called it the Otherworld, which is often associated with Hades, so possibly alive wasn’t the right concept.
I believed the Falcons would let me down yet once again, winning a playoff game or two, maybe actually getting to the Superbowl, destined never to win the big one.
I believed that . . .
“Oh my, is that Rick Whittaker under all those bandages and bruises? Somebody tried to cover up all that boyish charm and good looks.”
“Um, hello Chai. Yes, it’s me. Or at least what’s left of me. But boy, you should see the other guy.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“Thanks for coming. How did you know I was here?”
“Well, I called to confirm our date for today but it kept going to your voicemail. So I decided to drive down and find out why you were ignoring me. Then when your house was locked up and nobody answered the door but your car was there, I stopped by that old store to see if anybody knew where you were. Only to find the whole town abuzz over the news.”
“Sorry I didn’t call. I don’t have my cell phone, plus I’ve been pretty out of it with all the painkillers they’re giving me.”
“No problem, Rick. Only cost me two trips down the road from hell, same as if you’d been there. Here I’ve brought you two things to speed your recovery.”
She handed me a small gift bag that contained a tube of Cream of Isis. ‘Herbal infused for rapid deep tissue healing.’ I squeezed out a dollop of something a medium shade of purple that smelled of musty lavender and dutifully rubbed it around my swollen eye. “Hey, I can feel it working already. Cleansing my eye chakras and all. Thanks.”
I waited for the other gift but when it wasn’t forthcoming, I squeezed the bag surreptitiously to see if there was something else in it. “Did I zone out on pain meds or did you say you’d brought two things?”
Chai winked, then reached under the covers and gave my crotch a little squeeze. “And what is the one thing guaranteed to make a man feel better faster than anything else? A nice blow job, of course. Special delivery.” She trailed her tongue over her lips and gave me another squeeze.
“Uh, I’m going to have to take a rain check on that, Chai.” I realized how lame that sounded, but it would have only made it worse to add, “But I really appreciate the offer.” The piece of my brain that wasn’t being embarrassed noted that I hadn’t sprung to attention at either the verbal or tactile suggestion.
“Hmm.” Chai withdrew her hand. “So is that because the pain meds have rendered you temporarily impotent, or that you’re a prude at heart and embarrassed that somebody might catch us in the act?” She put two fingers on her cheek as if deep in thought. “Or could this be about the little waitress who’s used the curious technique of winning you by having her boyfriend beat you up?”
I reached for her hand, which she extended after a little hesitation. “Chai, I don’t know what it is. I just know it wouldn’t be right. A lot has happened during the last few days, and I’ve been too drugged up to process it all. I keep zonking out and dreaming about the golden-haired woman. She even had you stretched out on the altar and was going to sacrifice you with a big, wicked-looking bronze dagger.”
“Wow. Sounds like a pretty clear message to me. Although your little waitress doesn’t have golden hair, so maybe there’s another explanation. But I have to confess: I liked it better when it was you that had me stretched out in front of the altar.” She winked again, albeit with only a hint of her usual wickedness. “And daggers are awfully phallic.”
I turned down the offer to keep it light. “If you have to go, I’ll understand. But I’d appreciate it if you’ll give me a few days to process it all. I promise I won’t string you out.”
Chai laughed. “Just having you promise not to string me out makes the wait OK. Not sure I believe you. But what the hell. We weren’t exactly Romeo and Juliet before.”