Title: Lead the Dance
Chapter: 2 of 8
Other Info: Sequel to A Change of Grace
Excerpt: Zac wasn’t sure where he was going, he was just going. The sound of his footfalls echoed the lunatic circular mantra in his head.
“Gotta go, gotta go, going insane, going crazy,” cycling through, in mad rhythm, filling him with the urge to rip his hair, tear at his eyes, anything to stop it. Almost pain, this manic spinning restless urge to go, to run, and to somehow find. Unstoppable, not going was not an option.
“Find what, find what?!”
“What’s he dreaming ’bout, Ike? Do you know?” Taylor leaned back against the headboard, idly toeing the blanket spilled half onto the floor, as he watched his sleeping brother.
He couldn’t shake the sense of unease, the feeling that there was something fundamentally WRONG with Zac. Oh, he looked alright certainly, sleeping deep and heavy, faintly flushed, hair damp on his forehead, errant strands moving gently with each breath. Nothing wrong, just the slow, night rhythm of dreams, the only motion that of eyes beneath closed lids, the quick furrow of the brow, lips moving in silent answer to some unknown question. Nothing to worry about.
But he felt off, intrinsically disordered.
Part of it, Taylor knew, was the remnant of his own nightmare, the horror of the Void that still visited him in his dreams, that often woke him, as it had tonight, leaving him shaken and trembling, unable to sleep for hours. No details, only the cold, the unbearable, bone deep cold, and the very stripping of his minds connection to his soul. Yes, that was part of it, but not all. No, not all, he knew that beyond any shadow of doubt.
“Look at him, Ike, look at his face. Can you even tell what he’s thinking? I can’t feel his dreams anymore, do you know that? Not at all. It’s like he’s just not there. I used to be able to, but since like two days ago, I can barely feel him in my head at all! It’s like there’s no Zac left Ike…”
His voice rose, and Isaac looked up at him from the foot of the bed, shivering and weary, still wrapped in the blanket he’d dragged in with him, Taylor’s nightmare reverberating in his own mind, breaking the walls of sleep.
“Don’t go getting all histrionic, Tay. Please. I’m not up for 3 AM hysterics, ok?”
His gaze joined Taylor’s, lighting on the sleeping boy, and he reached out, that peculiar mental joining with his brother’s an involuntary action by now.
He felt for the sparks, both of them, in his mind, quietly humming, carrying their individual tastes of “Taylor” and “Zac”. Always there, their presence gave him comfort, the warmth and companionship of the others, shared emotions, thoughts, unnoticed on any conscious level, accepted as a matter of being.
Still there now, but… different. Taylor, so strong, glowing brightly in that new corner of his mind. And Zac… but what was it about Zac? As Taylor, still trembling and now wrapping himself in a blanket similar to Isaac’s, had said, the feeling of Zac had changed. When? Recently. Days ago even?
When had Zac started feeling so distant, so ‘not with them’, so away? He COULDN’T read his dreams, couldn’t discern his thoughts, couldn’t reach him. Oh he was there, there was no blinking out of that presence, no… but it was walled… divided.
Holding them out?
Unable to give Taylor the comfort he craved, he simply reached out, catching the other boy’s hand, squeezing it gently.
“I don’t know, Tay. I just don’t know.”
“He’s losing his mind Ike, you know that.”
“Seems like it sometimes…”
They sat there, in the still before dawn, watching Zac sleep, their thoughts, both separate and inextricably shared running over the past 48 hrs, trying to find the connection, the answer, the reason behind Zac’s apparent insanity. Without any conscious thought on their parts, they fell into that linked communication as natural now to them as breathing, shifting ideas and impressions flowing back and forth along the link between them, mind to mind. Soul to soul. United in their effort to find him again, to make it clear. Cataloging their brother’s behavior… searching.
Zac had become “other”, softly talking to thin air, gentle hand movements, midconversation with sun motes, movements that were strangely familiar to Taylor. Soft, this new Zac, even in his obvious anxiety, quiet, no strident voices, no strange Zac-sounds, nothing they could pin on “He’s just being Zac.” He wasn’t being Zac, that was one of the problems. Zac wouldn’t have hidden himself from them, Zac wouldn’t have suffered alone whatever he was now quite obviously suffering.
And yet, unquestionably, he was.
There was a new wall in his mind, a wall that neither brother could see over, or around, or through. A wall inviolate, complete, blocking them from something. Why would Zac block them? What was happening in his mind, in his thoughts, in his dreams that they could no longer share??
The brothers sat, hands and minds linked, cocooned in blankets, concern for Zac rising, deepening as the threads of the still lingering nightmare faded.
Zac. What was it? Why couldn’t they see it? He felt different, yes, but almost as troubling was the odd familiarity. His manner was so unlike him, yet somehow felt so RIGHT for him.
A soft, intense seriousness, a faraway look to his eyes that was ringing bells in Taylor’s mind. The more he thought, the more he felt the answer was right there. Right there, just out of reach.
Taylor’s attention suddenly shifted as Zac’s hands rose up in sleep.
He watched those hands, still soft, still little boy hands, hands moving again in that way he’d seen before, where had he seen that? And why did they cause such deep seated satisfaction even as they puzzled?
Faint movements, touching, stroking, weaving… he felt his own hands involuntarily mimic Zac’s motions, felt them sink into a soul level comfort, his mind slipping away. And then he had it, sudden cold terror shattering him, sending him bolt upright.
“Oh my God…”
The answer jumped clearly into his head. He saw hands, smoothly working, softly untangling, deftly putting straight… he saw Kathryn’s hands, alongside his own, working Time strands, in that long ago little room at the Dakota.
Taylor shook his head, not in negation, simply too baffled, too disturbed to respond coherently. Was Zac a Keeper? And why did it feel so wrong, yet so intrinsically right?
Nothing for them to do, they sat together, leaning on one another, watching their little brother sleep, probing gently at the barrier that kept them from the secret.
They sat, slowly sinking back into dreams… for Taylor, dreams of a now hidden
past… Isaac, dreams of his brother, at a table, wearing a softly glowing bracelet of silver shimmers.
Unaware, they slipped away, slept, minds still linked, present but helpless, to the
increasing chaos in Zac’s mind.
Zac wasn’t sure where he was going, he was just going. The sound of his footfalls echoed the lunatic circular mantra in his head.
“Gotta go, gotta go, going insane, going crazy,” cycling through, in mad rhythm, filling him with the urge to rip his hair, tear at his eyes, anything to stop it. Almost pain, this manic spinning restless urge to GO, to run, and to somehow FIND. Unstoppable, NOT going was not an option.
“Find what, find what?!”
He shook his head, clutched at his arms, cold sinking slush under his feet unheeded. There was something he was supposed to be doing, something he had to find, something he had to look for, he knew it. Knew it with deadly certainty, and to not do it meant… what? Death? His death? Ending… the end. The end of what?
“The end of the world? God, help me…”
His thoughts angled in the direction of prayer, eyes unseeing as he continued on, the morning noise and bustle of the city never reaching him. People brushed past, collided, and he spun away, not seeing, not noticing.
It had pulled him from sleep, this sudden compulsion, the need to do something. In trying to put a name to it he’d come dangerously close to complete shutdown, his practical mind not able to cope with the concept of needing to do something unknown, with such unquenchable urgency. It had stolen his words, erased his ability to hear or understand, replacing conscious thought and action with the laser urge simply to DO.
Nobody knew he was gone, he’d dressed without thinking, hands moving automatically, mind already arrowed outward, slipping away before dawn, tramping the dangerous streets alone. In the cold, the snow only gray, not yet trampled dark by thousands of feet. Where he was didn’t matter, only that it wasn’t where he should be.
Now in the light of day, his vision failed him, some hallucinatory shimmer overlying everything his eyes happened upon. He didn’t hear the city humming to life around him, only echoes in his mind of voices yet unknown.
The word replaced the mantra, still in chaotic time with his footsteps, bringing images of wild animal eyes, luminous in the night. He looked, not seeing, only knowing it still wasn’t here.
Cold sank deep into his feet, hands, face, and in some distant recess of sanity he realized it hurt. Icy slush pushed into his running shoes, socks soaked, toes joining fingers in mottled red and white frostbite. His face burned abominably, and some minute voice of self preservation tried to intrude.
“I have to get inside…”
Then shoved away by the gibbering, capering voice of manic drive.
“I can’t stop, I can’t FIND it!”
Desperation drove him, on, in, deeper into the heart of a city he’d never moved through alone, the biting sting on his face soothed by sudden warmth, streams of heat down his cheeks. He sighed a little at the feeling, grateful that at least part of him didn’t hurt. It would have surprised him to know he was crying.
“In the whole spectacle there was a persistent, pervasive hint of stupendous secrecy and potential revelation…”
The voice startled him and he jumped back, eyes slitted in suspicion at the figure that suddenly appeared before him. Senses heightened to razor sharpness, the voice unbearably loud.
“…as if these stark, nightmare spires marked the pylons of a frightful gateway into forbidden spheres of dream, and complex gulfs of remote time, space, and ultra-dimensionality. I could not help feeling that they were evil things – mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss.”
The figure resolved itself into a man, not a sudden apparition before him, but a man in a half opened doorway, and the voice echoed down from supernaturally loud insane resonance, to the typical tone of anyone reading aloud.
Zac stepped into the doorway, the recited words suddenly the fulcrum upon which his sanity rested. Something in those words…
His thoughts focused only on the voice, and the man, he saw nothing else around him.
“That seething, half luminous cloud – background held ineffable suggestions of a vague, ethereal beyondness far more than terrestrially spatial; and gave appalling reminders of the utter remoteness, separateness, desolation, and aeon-long death of this untrodden and unfathomed astral world. Now THAT…”
The spectral voice resolved further into a tone of cheerful satisfaction.
“…is what I call literature. What do you think of that Nicky, huh? All your infinite wisdom about time, what do you make of… hello, can I help you?”
The man’s eyes lit on the boy in the doorway, clouding slightly with the instinctive suspicion of the New Yorker. Teenagers, in his world, usually meant trouble, and this kid looked even more motley than most. And it was way too early in the day to be dealing with teens with attitude.
“Have to be eighteen to come in here, kid, did you want something?”
Zac fought the pain between his eyes, struggling for words, for coherence, finding it, shoving away the glimmer with an iron act of will. The constant murmurs in his mind dulled, as his voice rose slightly.
“What you were saying, what you’re reading, what is it?!”
“What, the book?”
Jake glanced down, shooting a look across the room at Nick. The kid couldn’t be inside, why wouldn’t Nick help him out?
“It’s Lovecraft, kid. You can get a copy at the library, now get out of here before we get caught and lose our license.”
“No, what’s it mean? Mountains of madness, what does that MEAN?!?”
Jake set the book down, struggling sudden concern for the boy’s apparent anxiety, against temper at having his directions ignored.
Zac muttered the words to himself, ignoring the protests of the young man, as he reached for the book on the table, eyes finding the passage almost immediately. He pulled away from Jake’s restraining hand, stepping half out the door, drinking in the only thing he’d seen all day that made sense.
A new voice came to him, one that rang in his mind as well as in his ears, driving away a good deal of the fog-like trance he’d been in, and he looked up into eyes, eyes with depths as fathomless as the thoughts in his mind, and he felt sudden shame as he realized he’d barged in and intruded on these people.
“Jake’s got it nailed, kid…”
The man’s voice was not unkind, but it brooked little argument, and Zac felt despair wash over him. It was here, whatever he was looking for, he could feel it, and to be denied was intolerable.
The man seemed to see his distress, and his tone became gentle.
“Kid, I don’t make the rules. You like that book, you go six blocks down to the bookstore and pick yourself up a copy, you got it?”
The man’s hand touched the book…
“Now get out of here.”
…and then his fingers.
And then the world exploded.
The fact that I didn’t even SEE the kid really says a lot for what state my head was in. I should have *felt* him, and I didn’t. No vibe, no warning at all.
I was looking out for the other kid, the kid from the void. The tall skinny blond kid, with the hair. This little interloper really didn’t mean much for me but a headache, something I already had from putting up with Jake and his Lovecraft serenade. I swear the guy would read aloud entire tomes, regardless of the pain it causes his unwitting audience, and will never give up his search for that stupid Necronomicon. That’s a book that Lovecraft created out of his ass, and that my idiot partner swears exists.
And he’s going to find it. And he’s gonna drag me along on the journey, come hell or high water, or my death, whatever comes first.
When the kid walked in, Jake was trying to make me see that his favorite author had my time conception issues nailed. Ha, he had syphilitic dementia but he didn’t have anything else as far as
I could tell. It was hard to tell, y’know, he only used words if they were sixteen syllables or more. And my head just was not up to it. Never really is up to it.
Anyway this kid wandered in with a spaced out junkie freak look in his eyes, and starts giving Jake a hard time about getting out. I was tempted to just sneak out the back and get that shot of whiskey my coffee needed, but the look on Jake’s face talked me out of it. He was an inch away from picking the kid up and heaving him out the door, and that kind of thing usually brings a lawsuit. I need that like I need my face shot off.
He STILL didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary, even when I got right up close to him, although I stopped wanting to kick him out when I saw he’d been crying. This was a big kid, as tall as I am, at least fifteen I figured, and teenage guys in New York don’t typically run around crying on the streets. It’s a damn good way to buy yourself some trouble. That and the creepy way he was looking into my eyes. A little like he’d just seen God or something, instead of a hungover tattoo artist.
I really wanted to know what was up, and the fact that he was sucked right into Jake’s book rang a little interest in me, but regs are regs, and what I told the kid was true. If he got caught in there, well, I could kiss my shop goodbye. So, still not seeing that this kid was anything other than royally screwed up, I took the book away from him, and in the process touched his hand.
Now… you probably don’t understand much, if anything, about Keepers and Travelers, and the weird things we do with our minds… but you do understand PAIN I’m sure, so I want you to imagine something.
I want you to imagine suddenly seeing your entire life, past present and future, suddenly flashing at hyper-zapped-out speed before your eyes, while at the same time someone slams an electrified axe through your skull, simultaneously smashing and frying your brains. While the rest of your body is being pulverized by a speeding freight train. In the Antarctic where it is roughly 80 below zero.
Now… have you done that? Good, then you have some idea of what he and I felt, when we touched each other. In less than an instant by your reckoning, we each knew everything there was to know about the other, intimate knowledge that nobody should possess, and the inevitable pain right on it’s heels.
If I’d had my shit together, and felt him coming, I’d have blocked us both from that happening. But, thanks to my screwed up priorities, and of course my hangover, we got slammed.
It was a tossup who was gonna hit the ground first, but Jake caught the kid and I had a table behind me to catch my ass before I keeled over. Anyone watching could have probably seen my eyeballs spinning while my head tried to process all this input.
I knew what had happened, and it was only a moment before my head unscrambled and I felt normal again, although the hangover sure wasn’t helped in the least.
The poor kid though looked like he was about to throw up or pass out, and was terminally stuck at the crossroads of indecision about which he wanted to do first. Blank, staring, sweat beads rolling off his forehead, hands clenched, body held tight and rigid as a board. Only movement I saw was an almost compulsive swallowing motion in his throat.
On top of that he looked just this side of scared to death.
So, as they say in government circles, we had a situation.