I sat on the porch smoking a cigarette with my new friend, Samantha ‘Sunny’ Foster. The blonde with chubby cheeks and doll-like eyes looked young for her age but she had seen some shit. Her mother, Elena Desilva, was a high school teacher who was on being investigated for sleeping with underage boys (and the murder of her husband, Sunny’s biological father.) During the start of Sunny’s senior year, Elena moved in her newest lover, Austin Lopez.
“You think you can help me?” Sunny asked.
“Depends on what you need.” I knew I looked about twice her age with long hair like a homeless hipster holy-man, but she seemed to trust me. At least more then she trusted her mother.
“My mom found you the same way she found Austin. She’s drawn to people with supernatural abilities. And from what I’ve seen you’re not a teenage bag of hormones.”
“He’s really a teenager?”
“I think he’s nineteen, but I never asked,” Sunny sighed. “I could go to the cops if I wanted to, but my mother would just use her powers to talk her way out of it. That’s why she’s been ‘under investigation’ for well over five years now.”
From the porch, we could hear the sounds of abnormally loud sex. If this was how Elena acted normally it was no wonder she was being investigated. But that wasn’t my main concern. “So, what do you do?”
“I don’t have any powers if that’s what you mean,” she said with a chuckle. “I guess my superpower is the ability to survive in this shit-hole of a town until I graduate high school. “That’s why I need you. Elena did something to my dad. I don’t know if he’s dead or if he just left her because of her shit.” Sunny paused as she put out her cigarette on the pavement. “I’d like to think he wouldn’t leave me alone with Elena.”
“You were close to your father?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “Can you help me?”
“I can try.”
“So, what is it you do?”
“Long story short, I traverse realities, hunting angry spirits. when business is slow I work as a long haul trucker.”
“You can look into my past?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“I want a taste, a free sample.”
“You want a magic trick?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean I can’t be the first person to ask.”
“Well, most people see me as a trucker.” I thought for a moment. I wasn’t able to pull off a trick, per se but I could certainly give her a reading. With my connections, I might even see some useful information. “Do you have anything from your childhood, something that would have been around before your dad left?”
“Not necessarily, just something that represents that time in your life.”
Sunny looked to the clear blue sky, clearly daydreaming. “I have an idea, follow me.” She got up and went back inside the house.
I followed as she turned the corner to a pull cord connected to an opening in the ceiling. “We’re going up there?”
“the attic: it’s where my childhood lives.”
The attic was maybe four feet high, just tall enough to crawl, sit and search. Sunny reached for a box marked ‘Tree.’ “Dad was the only reason we ever celebrated Christmas,” she said as she turned on a large flashlight. “So when he was gone, so was everything that he represented.” I could hear the emotion in her voice as she dumped out the contents of the box. “It all got packed up here, into the magical box of Christmas.” Sunny picked up a gold foil star that seemed to be twice the size of her hand. She held it as if it was made of paper.
“Is this a tree topper?” I asked.
Sunny nodded, her fingers were stroking the delicate foil. “My daddy’s star.”
I wanted to touch it. The foil was like nothing I had ever seen, it seemed to sparkle, crumble, and even morph into a liquid. “It’s beautiful.”
As our hands touched Sunny got her magic trick. When I opened my eyes, I was standing outside in ankle-deep snow, but I wasn’t the least bit cold. “Sunny, where are you?”
Sunny emerged from a heavenly beam of light. She wore a gown made of shimmery lace and crystals, looking like an angel. “This is my house!”
More and more of the scene came in to view; a sidewalk, a gate, and a house. Two children came into view; a girl with long blonde hair, followed by a small boy on crutches. “Wait Sunny!” the boy cried in an adorable voice. His feet made an odd sound, dragging his shoes.
I moved closer since it seemed they couldn’t see me. The little boy was struggling with his joints. the children passed through me like ghosts. But as they did, I knew for certain what I felt; the little boy had prosthetic legs.
Teenage Sunny stood next to me in her gown. “So what now?”
“Do you remember when this happened?”
“Yeah, when I was ten I found out the truth about Tony. I told my parents and they let me bring him home, so he had a safe place to stay.”
“The kid? Are you talking about his legs?”
“No, his fake legs are pretty obvious.” Sunny pursed her lips, blinking tears from her eyes as Elena appeared.
We watched as Sunny’s mother ran to little Tony, scooping him up in her arms. “Tony! Merry Christmas, my sweet little angel!”
The boy’s shirt rode up just enough to expose the bruises on his back.
My heart sank. “Oh.”
A man emerged from the house. He was heavyset with chubby cheeks, blue eyes, and blond hair. This was Sunny’s father.
The little girl ran to her father’s embrace. “Daddy!”
“Hi Kiddo!” the sound of his voice was barely audible as the scene started to pixelate. It was like the world was raining down in colorful droplets.
I ran with teenage sunny until the rain stopped, revealing a bright blue sky.
“What just happened?” she asked, dusting off her gown.
“Tell me more about Tony.”
“He’s still alive, maybe he’s what you need to…”
“Tony was the love of my life, but he broke my heart.” A whirlwind started to form around Sunny. This was her memory, her emotions, her world.
The scene changed to a snow-covered football field, surrounded by autumn trees. Sunny and a now teenage Tony are sitting in the bleachers.
“Did this happen in the fall?” I asked.
Sunny cupped her hands over her mouth as she nodded. “Freshman year.”
“Um, what?” Tony had gone through one hell of a puberty transformation in less than five years. ‘Freshman year’ Sunny looked a little taller and more grown up, but Tony could have easily passed for seventeen or older.
“My mom took him on as her pet project. She gave him everything; food, drugs, steroids. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she was grooming him.”
I watched as teenage Tony ran his fingers through his hair. He smiled at Sunny with a genuine sweetness.
Freshman Sunny looked just as deeply in love. “You’re taking me, to the Halloween dance right, Tony?”
“Why wouldn’t I?
“You’ve never taken me on a proper date.”
“We’ve been on lots of dates.”
“Sleeping over at my house doesn’t count. We’ve never even kissed.”
Teenage Tony was visibly blushing. “I-I’ve never kissed a girl.”
“I can show you how.”
Present-day Sunny shook her head with disbelief. “I was such a wannabe. Everything I knew about kissing I learned from movies. Tony was my first kiss.”
I wanted so badly to help heal her soul. Sunny had been through so much in this Midwestern hell she deserved peace.
A bolt of lightning cracked the sky, shattering the scene into shards of glass.
“What right do you have to give this girl peace?” the booming, demonic voice seemed to be echoing from every direction.
I ran to Sunny, as the sky went black.
“There’s a reason Leo is what he is,” the voice said, sounding slightly more ‘human.’ “After a lifetime of running away, from friends, family, anyone who ever trusted him- all that’s left is a broken shell of a man!”
Sunny looked at me. “Please tell me you know who that is?”
I knew why she was asking. “Unfortunately I think I do.” But I didn’t know what he wanted or if I could even defeat him. “Jamie!”
The sky lit up in a hail storm of fire. “You just said the magic word!”
As the fire fell to the ground it turned to snow. I knew the moment he wanted to show me. “Stick close to me,” I said to Sunny.
“You’re about to get treated to a performance of my biggest screwup.”
The memory was from a few years ago, during a particularity bad snowstorm in South Dakota. This was the kind of storm that buried cattle up to their necks. But sitting on a fence was a kid with a guitar. Driving in my truck I remember seeing the figure, I assumed it was a ghost or maybe a dead body. But something made me pull over.
“Hey!” I shouted at the figure.
The boy had long hair, tan skin, and the most beautiful eyes. He was strumming a guitar, making a sound so pure, I could feel it straight to my soul.
“Hey, kid, you ok?”
“Well ain’t you all kinds of sexy,” the teen said with a laugh.
That was when I knew he was high on something. if I didn’t get him to safety he would have no issue with freezing the death. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Leo. Where you headed, Jamie?”
“Heading south, to off myself on my daddy’s grave.”
“Well, you’re not going anywhere in this storm. Why don’t you come with me to town? We’ll share a hotel room, my treat.”
“You want my ass? I mean, I’ll fuck you in exchange for a ride.”
“Maybe you can play me a song.”
Jamie hopped off the fence, tossing his guitar over one shoulder. He looked me in the eye. He seemed to be staring into my very soul.
I let him touch my cheek, my hair, my arm. I assumed he was waiting to see if I was going to attack him. After a moment he seemed to be satisfied.
“T-Thank you, Leo.”
As Jamie climbed into my truck, the wind blew, changing the scene. We were now in a clean, warm Best Western motel. Jamie walked slowing to the bed, limping on pain-stricken legs.
“Let me help you.” I carried his guitar while he laid down on his street clothes. “Do you need a doctor?”
He pulled a lighter and a pipe from his pocket. “Nah, I’m good. All I need is my medicine.”
“How about some coffee instead.” I turned on the coffee maker and much to my surprise Jamie put away the crack pipe without argument.
He reached for his guitar and started to strum a melody. His clothes were wet and torn, revealing parts of his stomach, arms, and legs.
“My stepdad was pimping me out so I ran away from home.”
“The reservation, I’m a Lakota boy.”
The coffee started to pour into the pot. “What about your mother? is she still alive?”
“As alive as a fucking addict can be. she pretty much traded my life for a kilo of crack the day my daddy died.”
“I’m sorry,” I said as I handed him a cup of coffee.
“why? you’re not the one who killed him,” Jamie said with a laugh. He took a sip of coffee, spilling the majority on himself. “Fuck…”
I took the cup from Jamie, helping him sit up. I was fully expecting him to get aggressive, but instead, he leaned his head on my shoulder.
After a moment of silence, he picked up his guitar and started to play a slow melody. “Oh, let me play you a sad song,” he hummed, softly, “I’m gonna make it good and long.”
I strummed my hand over his. “Make me cry, make me cry, make me cry…”
The scene faded to black. Sunny and I were standing in the middle of a road looking up at the moon. She put her arms around me. “Wow, just wow.” She was still wearing her sparkling gown, signifying we were still in a world of memories. “So, Jamie was just like Tony- someone you couldn’t save.”
I was about to answer when a massive gust of wind blew a tidal wave of snow in our direction. Blinded by white I fell over, holding my breath until I felt the air become calm. We were back indoors.
Part of me hoped we were back in Sunny’s attic but I knew in my heart that was not the case. Judging by the pale yellow walls, this was the last time I’d seen Jamie alive: in an emergency-room psych ward handcuffed to a bed.
“Leo?” his voice was hoarse as he attempted to turn his head.
‘I can’t do this, I’m sorry,’ is what I said in my head. The words that came out of my mouth were “I have a job to get to.”
Jamie started to move his hand. “What? Leo please!”
“I’ll come back in a few months.”
“I got you a spot at a rehab center, you’re going to be transferred there as soon as you detox.”
“What the fuck, Man!” Jamie swallowed hard as he blinked tears from his eyes. “Please, I-” he shook his head, “I-I can’t, I need you.”
I left the emergency room and with that, the memory faded. Sunny and I awoke back in the attic.
Sunny started to frantically rub her hand over the floor of the attic. “Leo, I don’t see the exit panel.”
I could hear Elena and Austin shouting from the floor below.
“Mom?” Sunny shouted back, pounding her fist to the floor. “Mom, can you hear me?”
The boxes started to burst into flames. It was clear to me, someone else was here. “Jamie!” I shouted as the smoke started to choke my lungs. “Jamie, let the girl go, this is between you and me!”
“Did you tell your little friend about how my step-dad used to beat the shit out of me from the moment I could walk? I was lucky to survive as long as I did.” Jamie appeared in the flames, his ghostly body a reminder of just how he chose to end his life. “I was only eight when he started to rape me. He told me it was the only thing I would ever be good for. I guess he wasn’t wrong.” Jamie placed a hand to his decaying jaw. “Maybe Leo’s right. Maybe I should spare you, Sunny. But then again. I can see into your soul. you turned your back on someone who truly needed you.”
“I didn’t, I swear! Tony was the one who left me!”
Jamie tilted his head to the side, like a doll. “I think we need to quarantine the sinners of this world.”
“Yes,” said a new voice. “We do.”
The floor of the attic started to crack, revealing a hole of flames. Sunny and I tried to scoot back, but the hole seemed to have a gravitational pull. All we could do was cover our faces and hope to survive long enough to make it out the door.
We landed with a thud, in a room that felt oddly cold. I opened my eyes to see a cave with no entrance or exit. There were torches that lit the walls, bathing the room in a reddish hue. At least we weren’t dead.
“Sunny? Are you here?”
Sunny sat up, brushing her hair from her face. “Yeah, I-,” her voice froze “What is that?” With a trembling hand, she pointed to a lump in the corner of the room.
It appeared to be a quivering mass of blood, guts, and viscera. And then two eyes opened and I nearly shit my pants. “Oh Fuck!”
I heard laughter. Jamie’s laughter. “I see you, Leo. Welcome to hell. or as my people called it, the great darkness.”
A glowing form started to emerge from the lights. The gold buck with its massive antlers looks somewhat angelic against the backdrop of the cave. “Take the eyes.”
“The blinking eyes?” I picked up the eyes, one in each hand. They were moving independently, looking around, and with the skin and muscle tissue still attached, they were even blinking. “Ok, now what?”
“You will ferry Jamie to heaven or burn in hell by his side.”
My hands were shaking. I knew these were Jamie’s eyes, but to hear the words cut me to the core. “Agreed. But what about Sunny?”
An icy finger glided down the back of my neck to my shoulder. “Maybe she’ll learn something,” Jamie said in a menacing tone as if trying to give his best Batman imitation.
I opened my palms to look at Jamie’s eyes.
I needed to do this to save Jamie, Sunny and maybe even my own soul.