Copyright© 2019 by Christopher Podhola
“The only threat to the Anisgina (Bad Spirit) is the great owl, but only if the owl’s eyes and wings open in time.”
Crying shadow’s foretelling of the last harvest
Translated by Erik Livingtree
I‘m not going Whitney thought to Tommy.
Tommy’s head turned and her relaxed body came into view. She was sitting in the back seat of the S.U.V. as they made their way toward the summer camp. Tommy was sitting on the passenger side right next to her. As he looked at her, she could see herself through his eyes. That’s funny because it looks like you are right there sitting next to me, he thought back to her.
Ha, ha, very funny. You know what I mean.
Come on, Whit! Where’s your sense of adventure? Don’t you want something cool? Something different? You know! Something spectacular? he shot back.
Spectacular? Seriously, dufus, she thought to him angrily. How would it be spectacular for me? Am I supposed to swim in the lake? Hmm? That sound like a smart thing for a blind girl to do ... genius. How about boating? That’d be a laugh for the rest of the campers. Could you picture the blind and deaf girl paddling the boat in circles, hmm, Sherlock? Should I climb the wall in the obstacle course? That could be entertaining. I bet the campers would talk about that for years. Heck, they might build a monument in my name!
Whitney felt his guilt and felt some for herself too. She didn’t want to rub his nose in it. That wasn’t what this was about, but in a way, she felt like this entire trip was rubbing her nose in the fact that she couldn’t see or hear. At least she couldn’t see through her own eyes or hear through her own ears. Camp Tumbling Waters was about fun activities that she could not participate in. Going there was smashing her face in all of the things she couldn’t do.
Come on Whit! I really want you there. You can ride with me while I do those things. I know it’s not the same as doing them yourself, but we’re a team!
I can watch you from home.
You don’t know that, Whitney. The farther apart we are the harder it is to piggyback. It’s a three hour drive and we’ve never even tried it half that far.
Of course, he was right. There didn’t seem to be a limit to how far she could see her brother’s shadow, but joining with him? That was another story. The farther away he was, the more difficult it became. It was almost like throwing a ball. There was a limit. Stretching her consciousness to wrap around him, consumed her energy and she could only stretch it so far before it snapped back. The furthest they had ever done it was at the mall, which was only five miles away from their home.
Tommy sat still with his hands folded in his lap. He didn’t look around and there was no smile in his heart. There should be and she knew it. He was about to take on an adventure and she was ruining it for him. She didn’t want that.
I guess I spend a week blind and deaf. I was born this way and I should learn to live with it.
That’s not fair, Whitney. You are intentionally trying to make me feel guilty. You know I would gladly take either one or even both of your conditions. I think one of them belonged to me anyway.
He was right about that too. He would gladly give her either his sight or his hearing if he could. I don’t want you to feel guilty. I’m not trying to make you change your mind and stay home. Go. Have fun. Have your adventure and I will be home when you get back.
Whitney retreated into her blanket of quiet darkness. Pinky, ring, index, middle. Pinky, ring, index, middle. She had been repeating this synchronized pattern for most of the trip—trying to calm herself—touching her thumb to her fingers in that pattern she considered her own. The sensory input usually worked, but every mile closer they got to the campground, was an extra notch of stress to her. It was a mile closer she would be to separating from her twin brother for an entire week. She didn’t know if she could handle it for that long.
Her bags were packed and in the vehicle. In the beginning, she was sure she couldn’t go that long without Tommy. So sure, that she had agreed to come along. The idea of putting herself in a completely strange environment was too much. There were forests and trails, rocks and trees. The entire place was an obstacle. Just getting from point A to point B wouldn’t just be a challenge. It would be a nightmare even if she were piggybacking with Tommy. Tripping and falling wouldn’t just be a probability. It was a guarantee. Everyone’s attention would be drawn to the poor blind and deaf girl.
I’m not going.I can’t!
Pinky, ring, index, middle. Pinky, ring, index, middle. Her fingers increased pace. They had been on the road for about two hours, which meant they were within an hour of arriving. Tommy slept for quite a while. She wished she could do the same.
She couldn’t believe Blake and Carol were going along with it. What were they thinking? For most of her life they went out of their way trying to make sure the “secret” wasn’t discovered. It had been a long time since her aunt Carol figured out she was blind and deaf. Her aunt convinced Blake to move from Manhattan to Burnsville, Missouri just so it would be easier to keep Whitney’s talents a secret. She always thought they were on the same page with that. If anybody knew what she and her brother were capable of, they would be turned into lab rats. There would be tests, scans and probably drugs and psychiatrists—psychoanalyzing. She wanted none of that.
Out in the open and in public there was always the risk that if she piggybacked with Tommy that someone would catch on. They called it piggybacking because, in a way, that’s what it was. She was riding along on his back, but not literally. She was riding inside of his head, viewing the world through his eyes and hearing the world through his ears. Doing that without letting on that she wasn’t shut out from the world was possible but not easy. They had even kept it from Blake and Carol in the beginning. It had taken four years for them to figure out that she couldn’t see or hear. They originally thought Whitney was a slow developer. That’s the reason that she didn’t go to public schools with her brother and that’s the reason that they lived so close to the school. So she could sit in with her brother and listen to the lectures and be around people, but she could do it from the safety of her own home where it wouldn’t draw too much attention.
Out of the crisp blue horizon, they wanted her to go? They wanted her to get out of the house and to be more like a normal kid? Just like that? At least that was their argument. She wasn’t a normal kid. She never would be. She blind and deaf. There were things she could do and things she couldn’t. Going to a summer camp wasn’t one of those things. It just wasn’t.
Somehow, she did sleep. One second she was touching her thumbs to her fingers in her familiar comforting pattern in a frenzied pace. The pace began to slow. Finally, it stopped altogether, and her hands slid gently from her lap as the family S.U.V. sped down the e-way.
At first, there were no dreams—only sleep. Eventually, a dream crept into her mind. In her dream, she saw a large wooden banner stretched across a stony driveway with patches of grass growing in the middle. The banner announced the entry into Camp Amicolola and then it was gone, replaced by a lake surrounded by trees and an island stretching its way toward land. A small rickety bridge connected the atoll to the main land. She floated to the center of the lake, gliding above it like a bird until she got to the center. There, the water bubbled as if there were a pot of water boiling there. Whitney hovered above the boiling point looking straight down at it.
A pair of slitted, silver eyes stared back at her.
Tommy watched Whitney after she pulled back from him. He no longer had to worry about how she felt about it, because she was no longer ‘riding with him.’ He understood why she loathed seeing herself. When she was wearing her sunglasses, it reminded her of her blindness. When her glasses weren’t on, her unfocused eyes also reminded her of her blindness. Her conditions, to her, were a weakness. A weakness that kept her from being able to make and keep regular friends and kept her isolated.
He watched Whitney as she did her hand dance, keeping her centered. (He tried doing it himself once. It accomplished nothing). He kept watching as her hand dance slowed down and fell off, her hands sliding off her lap. When her body began to do its little dream twitch, he knew she was out.
Outside of the vehicle, the world had long since changed. They left the world of hills and corn, entering the world of hills and trees. They traveled a few hours away and yet it was as if they’d driven to another world—a world in which corn didn’t really exist. If it did, it was more obscure.
Time was getting short.
I’m not going, Tommy, Whitney had said.
Ordinarily that would have been fine. Ordinarily it should have been totally up to her and whatever she desired should be respected, but the circumstances weren’t exactly ordinary.
“How much time do we have left?” Tommy asked Blake.
“Not long,” he answered. “Half hour?”
A half hour left. He only had a half hour to change Whitney’s mind. He thought about waking her back up and getting to it. He would have done just that if he had the vaguest idea of how to do it. Changing Whitney’s mind from what to have for lunch was virtually impossible. The girl was as stubborn as a southerly wind.
He let her sleep for the time being. He let her sleep and dream while he watched the trees buzz by outside his window. He wondered what she was dreaming about.
Is she dreaming of home already? Is that what she dreams about or are her dreams as dark as mine?
Somehow the world wasn’t the way that it was supposed to be.
Tommy didn’t share his dreams with Whitney, but not because he didn’t want to. He did want to. She couldn’t handle the pressure of them—couldn’t handle having life thrown at her, not like a little orange carrot, but more like car sized meteors raining down like a hail storm. That was the real problem. She just couldn’t handle it.
You are supposed to be able to, though, dammit! You are stubborn, Whitney. Am I coddling you too much? Is that it?
He only had time to take one more shot at convincing her, and that would only be if she woke up soon. Blake was signaling for the exit to the e-way, which meant the road-trip was drawing to an end.
If she didn’t wake up on her own soon, he would have to wake her up, and when he did he wasn’t just going to ask her or beg her to go. He was going to make her go. He was going to make her go because, like it or not, his life depended on it. He didn’t know what her dreams were telling her, but his dreams assured him of that much.
He didn’t have to wait much longer, because the change of pace and smooth ride that the express-way provided was over. When Whitney was finally brought back out of the dream world, she would want to piggyback with him again. He made sure he was ready.
Blake and Carol originally thought Whitney had ESP. She didn’t. A person with ESP could pluck a person’s thoughts from their head or from the air (some people believe that a person’s thoughts are broadcast from their subconscious into the open air much like radio waves). Whitney couldn’t do either.
What Whitney could do was extend her conscious mind and wrap it around Tommy’s, but she only seemed to be able to do it with Tommy and nobody but him. She tried to do it with Blake and Carol, but her attempts caused them discomfort. If she tried too hard—pain.
She could piggyback two different ways. The most common way was ‘riding along’ and the other way ‘going to the helm.’
‘Riding along’ was when Whitney entered his mind. She could see everything he saw, hear everything he heard, and feel everything he felt. If he was happy, she felt his joy. If he was sad, she sensed his sorrow. If she was riding along while he got punched in the face, she would react by placing her hand on her cheek.
Tommy came up with the term, ‘going to the helm.’ He named it that, because that was the most common realm he took her to, and that’s what it was. He could create, in his imagination, an entire alternate realm. The helm was just one of the realms he created for them to interact in. It existed in his mind and his mind only. Tommy was a sci-fi geek and the ‘helm’ was like the cockpit of a ship. He created that reality because he could interact with Whitney in it and still have control over his body. He did that by imagining himself wearing a body suit complete with sensors that duplicated his movements in the ‘real world.’ The front of that cockpit was a movie screen that showed whatever his eyes were looking at, and speakers that brought in the sounds of the ‘outside world.’ But being in the ‘helm’ allowed them to talk things out like normal people could—face to face—instead of thought to thought.
The time for coddling is over Whitney. Time to take you into the helm—into the arena.
When they ‘went to the helm’ both of their bodies were replicated in his mind and the alternate reality that Tommy created. Whitney liked it because Tommy could give her sight and sound in there. It made her feel like a normal person.
The helm wasn’t the only alternate reality and when Whitney finally did wake up and when she did reach her mind out to him, he brought her to another realm that he’d created when they were twelve. He called that one ‘The Arena.’
It was more of a dome than a ring. The floor of it was soft like the floor that gymnasts used, but it wasn’t square like a gymnast’s floor, it was round. There was a red line painted around the outside edge of the ring, representing the boundary they couldn’t leave, but it wasn’t just an invisible line. There was a force field there and if either of them were forced into it, they’d receive one heck of a penalty shock. To make things more interesting, there were bleachers that surrounded the outside of the ring, complete with a full complement of spectators.
The crowd came to their feet when Tommy and Whitney appeared inside of the arena and the blast of their roar filled the air.
Whitney furled her brows and looked down at herself. She was dressed in a black leather tunic. She could feel her maroon cape hanging from the back of her and she didn’t need to see the infinity symbol on the back of it to know it was there. She could also feel the weight of her training sword, which was just a metal dowel with an ornate hilt on it, strapped to her back.
“Why here?” she asked him.
“So you remember?” he answered with a question of his own.
“We don’t have time for games, Tommy. You can’t go either.”
“Not only am I going,” he replied, “but you are too.” He drew his training sword and took his offensive stance.
“Tommy...” she began, but he didn’t wait for her to finish. He lunged forward and thrust his sword at her middle. His move was practiced, but it was the type of practice that came from someone that had no training. She easily dodged it.
“Tommy stop! I’m not going to fight you. You remember what happened the last time.”
“Yeah. I remember it well. You almost killed me, but we were using real swords. Probably not the smartest thing we ever did, but hey. Live and learn.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“I’m not laughing. Draw your sword or take your punishment. Your choice,” he said. He spun and moved forward at the same time, slashing his training sword hard at her side. She couldn’t dodge backward because she was already too close to the force-field she knew existed behind her. She accepted the blow and grunted as it came.
“Uggh,” she said in the S.U.V.
Whitney grabbed her side and her face filled with rage. “What the heck, Tommy!”