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Across The Veil – Chapter 1

October 4, 2008

So, yeah, here’s the first chapter of Across The Veil:

Chapter 1

The piercing shriek that exploded from his son’s throat drowned out the cacophony of the sudden summer storm washing over the Comfort Inn nestled in the New Mexico desert. It brought Liam Connolly to the boy’s bedside in fewer than four steps. The dim early morning light slanting in from the window revealed Evan sitting bolt upright; wide-eyed and sweating. The look of terror on the ten year old boy’s face rent at his father’s heart.

Liam clasped Evan to his chest and held him tight, rocking back and forth.

“It’s okay, Buddy. Daddy’s here. Anything that wants to get you is gonna have to go through me.”

He didn’t expect much of a response from Evan. Words tended to be few and far between for the boy. The teachers at his school spent hours a day trying to correct that and Evan, as a result, talked more and more every day but he still lagged behind those kids that society labeled as normal. Much of his speech made him sound like a human tape recorder, mere repetitions of words he heard from those around him, favorite television shows and movies.

Asperger’s Syndrome they called it. A high-functioning form of Autism. Frustrating as hell is what Liam called it. The stares directed at them while shopping, when Evan would suddenly begin flapping his arms around, caused enormous embarrassment, for Liam, at least. It was hard to tell if any of it bothered Evan. The most baffling part of it all, Liam supposed, was not knowing whether he should feel sorry for his son.

Evan surprised his father by openly crying. He never cried unless he was hurt and even then it was a fifty-fifty proposition. Liam allowed his shoulder to absorb as many tears as his son needed to shed and held the boy tighter as he convulsed with sobs.

The commotion caused Laura to stir in the other bed furnishing the room. “What’s going — ?”

Liam raised one index finger to his lips in a gesture to his bleary-eyed wife to remain silent. She blinked a few times then sat up quickly. “What’s wrong with Evan?”

Liam made the “quiet” gesture once again, more emphatically this time.

Laura got out of bed and moved to sit beside Liam. She ran a gentle hand up and down her distraught son’s back in an effort to help calm him down.

Evan’s sobs dwindled and finally faded away as he drifted back into sleep. Liam stood in order to lay the boy back down on the bed. As he pulled the blanket up over his now-peaceful son Laura whispered, “What was that all about?”

Liam matched his wife’s quiet tone, “I’m not sure. Whatever it was it scared the hell out of him, though.”

“He doesn’t get scared.”

“I’m telling you, he was terrified.”

“You’re sure he wasn’t just upset? You know how he gets when something upsets him. You know as well as I do that his emotions rarely match the situation. I mean, a ball bouncing the wrong way can send him into a flying rage.”

“You didn’t see the look on his face. He was scared, alright.”

Laura thought about that. “Was he actually crying?”

Liam nodded and Laura fell silent. Evan sighed, rolled onto his back and muttered something about pandas and Jesus before falling into the steady snore that indicated he was dead to the world.

“Think we should try and find out what scared him?” Laura asked.

“He’s sleeping.”

“Well, I mean when he wakes up.”

“The odds of him remembering what it was are pretty slim. Besides, anytime I’ve never been able to get much of a straight answer on anything having to do with what he’s thinking. He’s just not there yet communication-wise.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“You should get a little more sleep.” He touched his wife’s cheek tenderly and gave her a kiss on the lips.

Laura turned to make her way back to the bed.

Liam walked back over to the room’s only window and watched the early morning traffic, smeared by the diminishing rain, as it sped past the motel on White Sands Boulevard. The mountains, their upper reaches swaddled in a mist comprised of clouds from the same storm dumping rain on this small patch of the southwest, provided a backdrop that saved the town, he had always thought, from being a total waste of space.

What was he doing here? He had left Alamogordo in the rear view mirror of a rented U-Haul truck more than a decade before, written it off as a dead end and vowed he would never be back, yet here he stood, facing a past that he didn’t create.

He started slightly when a hand touched his shoulder. He turned, looked into Laura’s eyes and read the concern evident in them.

“What’s wrong, hon?” Liam could not hide anything from her. She was far too astute and knew him too well. That never kept him from trying, however.

“Nothing.”

“We both know damn well that’s a lie.”

“Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”

“Come on. Tell me what’s going on in that squishy, gray brain of yours.”

“I just — I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing here. What if he rejects me?”

“Your father, you mean?”

“Yeah. It’s not like I’m visiting after being away a while.”

“Technically you are.”

Liam chose to ignore that specification. “How does a thirty year old man introduce himself to his father? They don’t make any how-to books on that.”

“You’ll know how when you need to.” She evinced such a strong belief in these words that Liam almost let himself succumb to the conviction they instilled. Laura had always been one of those optimistic people that assumed things would work themselves out. Liam was the opposite. He figured that if you expected and prepared for the worst, the best case scenario could only pleasantly surprise you. He knew for a fact that if he was an optimist and the worst happened, he would panic.

Liam shook his head. “The fact still remains that, no matter what I decide to say, however I decide to introduce myself, he could very well deny paternity.”

“We’ll get a DNA test if we need to.”

“He could tell me to go to hell.”

“I don’t think that’ll happen.”

“But it could happen.”

“A meteor could hit our car on the way over there too but I don’t think that’ll happen either.”

“But we don’t know.”

Laura moved to the bed she had vacated during Evan’s episode and sat down on its edge, looking at the floor. “Liam, let me tell you a story.”

Liam turned from the waking desert town and its misty mountains beyond the window to give his wife his full attention. “Shoot.”

“When my sister, Megan, and I were growing up near San Francisco we had a little forest behind our house. I think we spent more time in that forest than we did in our parents house. There were so many different animals that called that forest home, all of them fascinating. One day, I found a slimy little thing I had never seen before. I asked Megan what it was because she was a few years older than I was and had probably learned about them. She told me it was a banana slug and that they were all over the area.”

“And it got hit by a meteor?”

Laura looked up at her husband with a confused look. “What?”

“I’m just trying to connect the story to what we were talking about.”

“Smartass. Try just listening for now.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, I asked Megan why they called it a banana slug. Being only six, I didn’t put together the name and the color or anything and Megan, being ten, was well into her mischievous phase. She told me that the slug got its name because it tasted like a banana.” A look of disgust crossed Laura’s face as she recounted the memory. “It didn’t taste anything like a banana.”

“You ate it?”

“Yep. And Megan got a mighty big laugh out of it, too.”

“That sucks. It really does. But what does your sister making you eat a bug have to do with me meeting my father.”

Laura smiled at him. “I guess it’s just my long way of saying that you don’t know how things are gonna go until you do them.”

“So, I won’t know what the bug tastes like until I eat it?”

“Basically, yeah.”

Liam smiled. “Wise bug.”

“Wise bug. I figure learning that lesson was the least I could do. After all, an innocent banana slug gave its life in the teaching of it.”

Liam laughed. “Well, I guess we’d better get ready and get this over with.”

The two took turns showering and got dressed with as much stealth as possible in order to not disturb their sleeping son. Evan stirred just as Laura finished brushing her still damp hair.

Liam took Evan into the bathroom and guided him through his own shower. Though the boy didn’t yet stink of puberty, nor had he had ample opportunity on the trip to get very dirty, his parents wanted to make sure he got into the habit of bathing daily. Evan craved the routine of everyday tasks and predictability of events made him happy. Liam thanked whatever deity happened to be listening that the nightmare from earlier didn’t come up.

The rain had stopped by 8:30 when the family prepared to climb into the Toyota Corolla that brought them the twelve hours from their home in Plano, Texas. Liam paused before entering the car and noticed a somewhat scruffy man with shoulder-length, stringy hair and a beard. He didn’t recognize the man at all but something inside of him screamed something about a link between that man and Evan mentioning Jesus while sleeping earlier.

Liam supposed that the man could possibly pass for the Christian savior if he took a couple of showers and donned a flowing white robe instead of the dirty tee shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots he now wore.

The dirty messiah stood only thirty feet or so from the family’s vehicle and stared directly at them. He studied each member of the family in turn as if he wanted to etch their features into his memory. An icy chill ran down Liam’s spine as he made brief eye contact with the guy.

“What’s wrong, hon?” Laura looked at him over the top of the Corolla with her brow furrowed.

“Nothing.” Liam shook off the feeling of impending doom that had inexplicably taken hold of him and got into the Toyota.

He pulled the car out of the parking lot and turned onto White Sands Boulevard heading north. Their agreed upon plan consisted of getting to Liam’s father’s house late enough to not make an impression reminiscent of that one neighbor that insisted on mowing the lawn at seven or eight on a weekend morning but to get there early enough that, if all went well, they could have a sort of family reunification brunch. If all didn’t go well they could drown frustrations in a nice big breakfast since that would likely equate to a short visit.

Liam glanced over at his wife in the passenger seat. “I don’t know why you insisted on bringing those map printouts.”

She didn’t even look up from scanning the Mapquest papers. “So that we know where we’re going.”

“I know where we’re going.”

“You haven’t been here in over ten years, hon.”

“Alamogordo is Alamogordo. Sure, some things change but never enough to throw an old townie off. It’ll always be true that the north end of town can smell it when a gnat farts on the south end.”

“Lovely choice of words.”

From the backseat they heard only two words: “Gnat farts.” Apparently those two words had struck Evan’s fancy and, as he was wont to do, he would repeat them quite consistently until something new took their place. Liam and Laura tried their best to avoid what they saw as undesirable words for that very reason. Once in a while they, usually Liam, slipped. Now he had the piper banging on his door demanding his pay.

“Gnat farts.”

Liam attempted to reason with his son. This usually ended with Liam about two seconds away from banging his head against a wall but he always tried it first. “Evan, that’s enough buddy. Daddy shouldn’t have said that and neither should you.”

“Gnat farts.”

Liam looked to his wife, appealing for her assistance with his eyes. Laura, obviously stifling a giggle, just winked at him. He knew well that Evan had repeated far worse phrases before Liam had gotten his road rage under control and if the boy said nothing worse on this day they could consider that a mild victory. Nevertheless, Liam remained determined to make a good impression on his newfound family.

“Evan, what have we said about bad words? What should we say instead?”

After a short pause the boy responded, “Tartar sauce!” They had all agreed that this “swear” from Spongebob Squarepants was far preferable to socially unacceptable speech. It tended to draw mystified looks from people not blessed with the adventure of child rearing but at least it didn’t result in the shocked gasps that the alternatives elicited in public.

“That’s right. It’s more fun to say something funny anyway, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

It pleased Liam that he had been able to defuse this situation so quickly. No telling how they would have been received at his father’s house with Evan spouting off about gnat farts.

“Anyway, as I was saying, I know the neighborhood the house is in. I’ll get us there without the maps.”

Laura, still smirking a bit, said, “If you say so, hon.”

Liam let it go at that and focused on the town in which he had grown up. It had changed a bit, mostly due its proximity to a military base that shuffled people in and out on a regular basis, but, as Liam had guessed, it had not changed enough to throw off the sense of direction guiding him to their destination.

“So, you really think this’ll be okay?”

Laura tore her gaze away from the car window displaying Alamogordo’s concrete flora and human and metal fauna. “I really do.”

“What if I’m not good enough for him?” Liam lowered his voice almost to a whisper, “Or worse, what if Evan isn’t?”

“What do you mean?”

Liam continued speaking low enough that Evan, he hoped, wouldn’t hear. “You have to admit that Evan isn’t, for the most part, what’s considered socially acceptable.”

“That’s your son you’re talking about!”

The indignant tone thick in his wife’s voice immediately put guilt in his heart. “I know and I love him more than anything but I also know that most people don’t understand Asperger’s and the difficulties that can come up. Why would these people be any different?”

“To be perfectly honest, if they can’t accept their grandson for any reason then I say screw ’em.”

Liam knew she was right and he felt like a heel for even worrying about it. He realized then that his thinking in this whole matter was flawed. What if his father rejected him? What if he denied paternity? What if he told Liam to go to hell? As Laura had so eloquently put it, screw him. Liam had made it this far without his father in his life and, no matter how this morning’s meeting turned out, he would continue living the great life he had built for himself and his family.

A sense of relief washed over Liam at this minor epiphany. A sense of peace. He would introduce himself to his father and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Even though he had come to peaceful terms with whatever the result of this meeting might be it didn’t quiet the butterflies in his stomach that got more agitated at the prospect of actually going through the event the closer he got to the house at his own personal ground zero.

Those butterflies threatened to burst out of his navel as he made the final turn and pulled into the driveway of his father’s house.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kara Douglas permalink
    October 30, 2008 7:11 pm

    this is sounding great!

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