CHAPTER TWELVE: THE SICKNESS
It is 5:00 am on August 2nd.
I open a tiny hatch in the floor of the Mother’s first floor library and descend a cramped spiral staircase to her personal Tank, my son following me down. I knock gently on the door and hear Veda whisper for me to come in. Candles illuminate the Mother’s face and she smiles at me, though I know she can’t see me anymore. She wants me to feel seen. She lays on a mattress made of stacked mats, her head nestled into a feather pillow, her frail body covered in her own handmade quilts.
We helped make this little infirmary for the Mother just two days ago. The Tank session after our night in the woods slammed us both back into the reality of this uncertain new life; we both hovered between waking and sleeping, trapped in eerily similar nightmares about the wolf. I didn’t feel safe going back to our cabin, so we came here to the Mother’s instead. I intended to talk to her about what had happened, and ask her for specifics. I badly wanted to ask her what was next, what we are going to do; what we should do. Instead, I found her in her Tank alone, lying in the floor unconscious. She said she felt dizzy standing up after meditation and had fallen. She must have laid there for hours before we found her, though she says she remembers nothing. Her vision and strength have nearly disappeared in a matter of days.
A small sleepy grunt behind me startles me, nearly causing me to drop the tray holding the Mother’s tea. I turn around to see the dark silhouette of another, smaller makeshift bed with an unrecognizable dark lump on top, emitting the labored sounds of restless sleep. Veda is beside me now, holding a lantern up to reveal a tiny sleeping face.
My son drops the cup he’s holding, sending a volcano of orange juice nearly to the ceiling of the Tank as he runs to the little bed, grabbing Bodhi’s hand. He opens his eyes as if he’s peeking through cracks in the blinds to see who is at the door and smiles faintly at his friend.
“What happened to Bodhi? Is he ok? Bodhi, are you ok? Mom, why won’t he wake up? Veda, what happened to Bodhi?”
Veda offers her hand to my son, who takes it, keeping one clutched around Bodhi’s.
“He’s going to be fine sweetie. He got really sick last night in the woods, and we just wanted to keep a close eye on him. That’s all.”
My son’s shoulders relaxed a little, and he turned to Bodhi, inspecting him for confirmation. The Mother’s voice pierced the silence.
“He swallowed the Light and it made him mad. Let it melt right onto his tongue like a snowflake, the poor boy. He was talking. He was talking in the voice of a man, a full-grown man.”
Veda glances at my son’s widening eyes and walks back to the Mother’s bedside, telling her settle down now, Mother, you need your rest. Tears are streaming down my son’s face. He lays his head gently on Bodhi’s chest, listening closely until he hears the pattern of his heartbeat.
“You don’t even talk though, do you Bodhi? I’m going help you get better, I promise.” he whispers.
He stands up and asks if he can go upstairs and get something for Bodhi, and I tell him sure, thankful for a moment to speak with Veda. I’m watching him ascend the staircase, waiting until he is out of sight to speak, when I see a tiny flash of light under the flap of his green bag. I follow him up the stairs, telling Veda we will be right back. I try to tell him to wait up for me but he’s up the stairs in seconds. I peek my head out of the opening in the floor and see him nearly running toward the porch.
“Wait! Hang on, hey, wait for me!”
Headed through the library toward the dining area, I see him stopped beside the table talking to someone, his hand clutching his bag shut tight. I turn the corner to see Belle, Veda’s eight-year-old little sister, sitting at the table with paper and crayons. She’s crying, and my son puts a hand on her shoulder. Feeling like I’m intruding, I back up behind the wall and pause, listening.
I can barely see Belle around the wall. She is wearing a yellow nightgown and has tears streaming down her round cheeks. It’s difficult to understand what she’s saying through the tears and the two fingers she has stuck in her mouth like a pacifier.
“It’s ok” I hear my son tell her. “Take a deep breath. It’s ok. You can tell me what’s wrong if you want to.”
She tells him she was playing with Bodhi last night in the trees when they saw the lights flying around like bugs. Bodhi was being silly and jumping like he was going to catch them in his mouth and she got scared and told him not to but he didn’t listen. She yelled for Dorian, but Bodhi had already swallowed one. He seemed fine, and they kept playing, but a few minutes later Bodhi started acting weird. He was pacing around the woods, and he started talking. Everything he said was nonsense, words strung together in strange ways that didn’t seem to mean anything. He started yelling like he was angry. Dorian ran over and grabbed him, carrying him back to the Mother’s with Belle following.
“I heard Mother say he ate somebody’s soul.”
Those words sent a chill the entire length of my spine. I walked into the room, pretending to be unaware of their conversation.
“Good morning, Belle. Are you ok dear?”
She nods her head slowly, her hand still dangling from her mouth. I look over at my son who is staring at the air in front of Belle as if he can see the words she just said hanging there in the air.
“What are you making there?” I ask her, looking down at the colorful paper in front of her.
After a few seconds of silence, my son answers for her.
“She saw a scary animal in the woods last night, and she’s drawing it.”
My son and I step out onto the porch and he looks at me sheepishly as he opens his bag to let out a single floating orb of light. It flies up to his face, brushing against his cheek. He swats at it angrily.
“NO! You hurt my friend.”
He turns and walks inside and begins picking Bodhi’s little wooden toys up out of the floor of the library, placing them into a basket. I’m trying to think of what to say, but I just watch him. He heads back toward the hatch in the corner and asks if I’m coming back down. It’s our morning to care for the Mother in the Tank.
I hold my breath on my way down the stairs, worried about what I will find. For the past two days I have prayed my way down these stairs, worried that the Mother won’t respond this time. I hear Bodhi whimpering, and it dawns on me just how bad this situation will look to Tok when he arrives tomorrow. He was here less than two weeks ago and things were so different. In the Tank, I hear the Mother mumbling as Veda wipes her head with a damp cloth.
“The Lights used to be good. They were sweet, like friends. Veda, take me outside, I need to talk to the trees…”
“Mother, please, you need rest ...”
The Mother cuts her off with a sharp, stern voice I’m shocked to hear her use.
“NO. Veda these woods are misbehaving and that poor little boy is suffering. I don’t know what is happening out there but I can’t fix it from in here. I AM the woods, Veda. I can talk to them. I’ll not put up with them scaring these babies, they were supposed to keep you safe.”
She leans up from her bed, knocking the cloth from Veda’s hand. Her expression softens a little, and her cloudy eyes start to well with tears.
“Please, girls. Get me out of here. Enough is enough, I need to go to the woods.”
I am trying to breathe deep as I help Veda lift the Mother’s frail body up the spiral staircase. Don’t panic. Tok will be here in the morning and I know he will know what to do. We can make it until the morning. It can’t possibly come soon enough.