I thought it might be fun to revisit one of the early drafts of Journey of Awakening. This is the third and final part of Back to the Beginning. If you'd like to read part one and part two you'll find them here:
This chapter has always been special to me. It's one of the few I wrote from personal experience. It was hard to cut it, but it didn't go with the version my editor and I chose. But at least now you can read it. ; )
One, two, three, four. Sarah counted stripes on the worn pastel carpet, sighed and stopped to eye a print on the wall. Pointillism. The designer had probably meant well but failed. Subdued hues and framed artwork could do little to calm anyone waiting to know if a loved one would live or die and nothing could beat the absurdity of standing in a hallway admiring a peaceful country scene while her grandfather fought for his life yards away.
Frustrated, she entered the ICU waiting room. Several people looked up and Sarah realized they hoped and dreaded she was a doctor with news; their faces a strange mix of expectation and relief. Then, as eyes met hers, relief flooded into the uncanny identification of kinship. She was one of them. A feeling of solidarity pervaded the small space where the community of sufferers shared in a universal truth. Small children watched a cartoon on a television suspended from the ceiling in one corner. Adults napped, lying across several of the heavily padded chairs. An ice chest and sleeping bags crowded other corner. Someone was in for the long haul.
Unsure what to do, Sarah glanced around, her gaze stopping at a little silver box on a nearby wall.
Sarah turned to the brown eyes of a young woman, obviously pregnant, who sat on the edge of a couch.
“Excuse me?” Sarah said.
“Do you know which room?”
“No, they just brought him in. The doctor told me to wait here.”
The woman nodded. “Then push either button. Tell them who you want to see and don’t let them forget you’re here.”
Sarah smiled her thanks, stepped up to the box and pushed the left button.
“Yes?” The voice was hollow, distant.
“I’m here to see William Kenneth.”
“What room?” The woman sounded bored.
“I don’t know. They just brought him in.”
“Just a minute.”
The intercom went dead and then buzzed back to life moments later.
“They’re still working on him. The doctor will come out when he’s finished.”
Working? Finished? What the hell did that mean? As she debated whether to find a seat or continue her pacing, the door opened. A collective breath caught in the room.
“William Kenneth, any family?” A young man dressed head to toe in blue scrubs walked in.
“I am——” Sarah began then stepped forward. “I’m his granddaughter.”
The man peered at her for a moment and lowered his voice to a whisper “I’m Dr. Mosely.” He laid a hand on her shoulder and led her to an empty section of the room. “Your grandfather has had a heart attack. He’s stable now.”
“W——when can I——?”
“Visiting hours are over.” Then his gaze softened, “but you can see him for a moment.”
The doctor led her back into the hallway then paused before large double doors and pushed a steel circle on the wall.
Sarah walked into an alien world of hissing ventilators and the aggressive smell of strong chemicals.
Darkened rooms contrasted sharply with the bright hallways. Sarah kept her eyes averted from glass partitions that seemed more like museum cases than hospital rooms. Printed curtains hung from railings on the ceiling, offering the patients a measure of privacy.
Before reaching the end of the corridor, the doctor paused and indicated a room with a nod of his head. William lay on a bed, tubes growing from his hospital gown. An IV dripped steadily as monitors beeped and tiny lights flickered. His index finger glowed red. Sarah traced the line to a machine. Ninety-two point nine.
The doctor glanced at a chart. “He’s stable. We’re running tests now. We’ll know more in a few hours.” He looked up. “Don’t stay too long.”
For several seconds she stood rooted to the spot, unable to assimilate that the man on the bed was the grandfather she’d known all her life. As if pulled inward by unseen forces, his body had shrunk almost beyond recognition. Sarah’s eyes brimmed over. Until this moment, William’s mortality hadn’t registered. He was her grandfather, the constant in her life; but now he seemed so frail, so small. She fought panic. He couldn’t leave her; she couldn’t face the world alone. Sarah rebelled against her selfish thought but it fought back; she needed him; his voice, his presence, his strength.
“Papa?” her voice seemed small against the machines’ persistence. “Papa, don’t you leave me.” She trailed a hand along the creases of his face and leaned closer to lay her head on his shoulder.
“Sarah?” The voice was little more than a whisper.
She straightened, grasping a hand that had taken on the appearance of a dragonfly’s wing, the skin translucent over veins and tendons. “I’m right here, Papa.”
“You’ll go to Anatar?” His voice remained a whisper.
“Papa, I won’t leave you. I’ll look after you. I’ll get a job and——”
A thin smile touched William’s mouth. “Some things are out of our control. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. I’m satisfied. The next task is yours alone.”
“You rest now; we’ll talk about this more when you’re better.”
“No darling....” His eyes flickered. “Now is the time to decide. You wear the pendant. You can feel its power. Please, say you’ll take it back.”
Heat bloomed through her chest as Ilydearta glowed, faint light seeping through the thin fabric of her blouse.
A cool breaker washed over her troubled mind, leaving in its wake a soft narcotic calm and the blurred image of pebbles whispering on a distant shore.
“Yes, Papa, I’ll go to Anatar. I’ll take the stone. I’ll finish what you began.” Sarah closed her eyes to ward away an involuntary shiver. “But I don’t know how to get there.” This is crazy. “And——if I do, where do I leave it?”
The pressure of his hand increased. “No, Sarah, you can’t leave it. You must find the other two stones. The three stones must be reunited or Anatar will fall into darkness.”
Sarah fought to still a groan. Darkness? Like in a Tolkien novel? These things don’t happen! She could feel the insistent pressure of his hand and something else; his strength ebbing away like tame rain sucked in by thirsty soil. She panicked, seeking to grasp at reality in a world of beating lines, blinking lights and hisses.
“But Papa. I don’t even know how to get there. Do I have to go back to
Through a misting of tears, Sarah watched peace settle over William’s features.
“The sea, my love...the sea... is your mother.” He labored a faltering breath. “The sky, Sarah.”
William smiled and closed his eyes. The trace in the monitor peaked once and flattened into a straight line along the center of the screen as the beep became a single note.
Sarah gazed at her grandfather, his outline softening through a blur of tears. “I love you the moon, Papa.” She kissed his forehead and stepped out of the room passing the nurses who rushed to William’s bedside.
Sarah stepped into the darkened entry and deposited her keys in the glass dish, the echoing sound unfamiliar. Until this moment, the house had seemed to hold its breath waiting for William’s return, now it felt sad, resigned to a permanent loss.
As her silent footsteps glided over the wooden floors, Sarah felt bitterness curdle in her throat. They had always made a game of walking without noise and trying to sneak up on each other, whether it was in the house, the beach or the woods. She now recognized it as part of her training. Sarah’s hand reached to her chest and Ilydearta underneath her blouse, its beat insistent, prodding, urging. She turned to the worn banister. Upstairs, she paused before her grandfather’s open door.
Few had attended William’s funeral: students who read his obituary in the local paper, the man at the grocery store, a neighbor or two. Sarah hadn’t cared. She watched as though witnessing a play. Nothing seemed real.
Her heart beat with the voice in her head. He’s gone. He’s gone. Now what? Get a job? The house was paid for but bank statements told her there was little money left. Her grandfather had wanted her to go to a place called Anatar; a place better left in a fairy tale. Did he expect her to know how to get there? Well she didn’t. The analytic part of her brain told her the anger she felt was part of the grief process. It didn’t help. Surely this was a dream; she’d wake up soon and tell her grandfather about it while they shared breakfast. She realized she was pacing up and down the hallway. Her steps echoed in the enclosed space, a lonely hollow sound. How was she going to get through this? One arm outstretched, Sarah leaned against the wall, her legs weak. Warmth bloomed in her chest and for a moment, Ilydearta glowed incandescent. William and all the love and security he represented receded into the misty background of her mind and hovered there, an indistinct memory of something beautiful in her life. She was filled with longing, a craving for something, but for what she didn’t know. And then a blurred image played like a flickering old film against her closed eyelids: pebbles whispering on a distant shore.
The beach. That was it, the house was too small. I need space... Air. Sarah walked down the stairs and through the garden toward the ocean. The beach was her sanctuary, the place she would go when she wanted to be alone. Mist swirled in her wake then slowed, gathering and resettling to eddy at the feet of tall eucalyptus, their fragrance and shape adding to her dreamlike feeling. She breathed in the pungent scent as a breeze rose and a shiver ran through the leaves.
Before long, she could hear the breakers grinding against the shore where she’d spent many joyful afternoons, alone and with her grandfather. The beach was isolated, well away from any tourist attraction and now, well after sunset, it was deserted.
The breeze made her skin feel alive. The soft hairs downing her arms tingled as if charged with static. Sarah narrowed her eyes as the recurring imagine of a pebbly beach filled her mind. But not this beach.
Removing her shoes, she walked to the foam crust left by the last wave. The sea, my love...the sea... is your mother.
Cool sand sent shivers through her body. Sarah gazed up at the night sky where thousands of stars throbbed in unison with the pendant lying against her heart. The sky, Sarah. A seagull cried overhead. The salt-spray mixed with her tears until it was as if the ocean cried with her.
Sarah gazed across the inky depths. The waves fell in one long splash, like a wall falling, a wall of dark stone capped in fluffy snow. She regarded the dark water, felt her heart surge with the tide. Come.
One foot moved forward then another. Cold water eddied around her calves as she took another step, freedom chasing away the last remnants of fear. The pebbles in her mind’s shore tinkled like seashell wind chimes as she stripped off her clothes. Ilydearta catching the starlight, Sarah dove into the ocean.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into what might have been. Let me know if you have any questions about what would have happened next. ; )