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Winds, Prologue and Chapter 1
I could feel a presence in the room. A presence other than myself and Esmond. A darker presence, a more sinister presence than even my Esmond could emanate. I shivered, though I was quite warm in my bed. I heard Esmond’s voice, barely loud enough for my ears to hear, speaking threatening words of warning, presumably to the unknown presence. As I woke more fully I could make out vague shapes. There were two people at the foot of my bed. One I instinctively knew to be Esmond. The other appeared to be a huge, hulking man. I could also hear Esmond’s words now. “Why are you here? We’ve already spoken of this; the elders said that this was permissible, and did not break any of our rules. You should leave before she wakes.” The larger shape moved, ever so slightly, before speaking. “Ah, but as she is already awake, does it really hurt anything if I stay?” Esmond glanced over his shoulder at me before whipping his head back around to glare at the strange aggressor. As they both now knew that I was awake I sat up in my bed, gathering the sheets around me. I squinted into the darkness, but just as I began to see the details of my visitor he moved into deeper shadows. I quickly looked away, although I was certain that he knew of my staring. “We are so very sorry to wake you, Ceri. This . . . man” – Esmond sneered the word – “wanted to speak to me personally, as letters are apparently not convincing enough for his scrutiny of my actions. But he will leave soon and cause us no harm.” He smiled at me as if trying to force me to believe him. But I knew him far too well. “ What is happening? Don’t lie to me Esmond, tell me the truth. I want to know.” I heard my voice quiver. He started shaking his head, so I quickly pressed my point. “Please . . . If this affects me in any way – and if it affects you, it affects me – I have to know.” The dark shape of the stranger moved slightly closer, but he was still too deep in the shadows for me to make out any more than his silhouette. He tilted his head slightly toward me. “My dear girl, I mean neither of you any harm. This is simply a business visit, to speak with Esmond about a few small matters,” he said “and none of these matters involve you. So you see, there is no need at all for you to be concerned.” While he spoke I was slowly reaching toward the lamp on the bedside table.
With the light, came the darkness.
Chapter 1: The Meeting
I sighed as I checked off another chore on my to-do list. “Anything interesting happen today, Bernie?” My huge (and wet, due to a recent bath) Saint Bernard lolled his head around to look at me. His big pink tongue flopped out of his mouth as he sighed. “Guess not.” I muttered to myself. I hated Sundays. Suddenly, the small silver phone on the counter rang. I snatched it up eagerly, knocking my to-do list into the dishwater. Well, at least I wasn’t bored anymore. I pulled the list out and began mopping up the splashed water as I answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Yes, hello. May I ask to whom I am speaking?” said the genial bass voice on the other end.
“This is Ceri. Ceri Bristol. Who is this?”
“Ah, Ceri. That is Welsh, is it not?”
“Yes. But who are you?”
“Oh, I am so sorry, my name is Esmond.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Well, I suppose you are not a telemarketer, contrary to my original thought. But I don’t believe that I know you. What was your reason for calling?”
“To be perfectly frank, “ he replied “I wanted to make myself certain that you are alright. Something has been going on, and I - I don’t . . .quite . . .like it. I apologize, but something has come up rather suddenly. I’m going to have to hang up now.”
I stared at the phone for a moment before shaking my head and placing it back on the counter. The bizarre call, combined with the way his voice had sunk to a whisper towards the end, made me suspect that it had been a prank. Either way, I had to carry on with my chores and my boredom, since it appeared that my little minute of excitement had passed. Bernie looked up at me curiously before going back to his slumber.
I walked to the laundry closet and threw the dishwater-soaked towel into the washer, then tossed all of the dry laundry into a basket and headed back to my miniscule living room to fold the dry load. As I dumped the basket out onto the couch I felt something cold touch my back. It felt like a cool breeze, but more solid, somehow. I straightened up and began to fold a blouse. Something whispered just past my ear, causing my heart to jolt. I was sure that it must be a draft, and the noise . . . That could easily be explained by wind, or even Bernie, snoring away in the kitchen. I closed my eyes and shook my head. Strange phone call, odd drafts, whispering sounds. My boring-beyond-reason life was causing me to hallucinate. I snorted and went back to work. “Bernie! C’mere, boy!” I called loudly. The loud scratching of his nails as he came running to the living room reminded me of another chore: trim the dog’s nails. I sighed and looked over my shoulder, wondering why he hadn’t already leaped onto the couch and scattered clothes everywhere. Bernie was frozen in the doorway, hackles up, tail down, and teeth bared. Frightening snarls ripped from his large muzzle. I whipped my head back around to see what he was so worked up about. All that I saw was a huge pile of laundry to be folded, and my messy living room. I turned back to Bernie. He was still growling at something. While I stared at him in confusion I felt something cold along the whole back of my body. I shivered, too scared to turn around. Whatever was causing Bernie to act on his brutish instincts was right behind me, and I was not sure that I wanted to know what it was.
“Ceri . . . Such a beautiful name. You can turn around. I will not hurt you, I swear. Besides, if you are going to die, wouldn’t you rather know? ” My eyes snapped wide open. It was the voice from the phone - Esmond.
“Please, Ceri, turn around. Don’t act like you are afraid of me,” he said “I am here for the sole reason of protecting you.” I felt his hands on my shoulders. He turned me around, but how, I did not know. His touch felt like an insubstantial breeze. I slowly brought my eyes up to his face, noting how perfectly normal he looked, from his brown leather shoes, up his lean but muscled legs, his blue-sweater clad torso, showing off his strong arms and chest to perfection, and to his grey-blue eyes, set in a pale face with a cocky, amused expression.
“Hey.” He said casually. I stared at him in disbelief and fear.
“ How . . . How did you get in my apartment?!” I demanded.
“Through the door, of course.”
I ran to the heavy wooden door and checked the locks. All of the locks, including the deadbolt and chain, were still locked tightly. I heard – or rather sensed, as he made no more sound than the earlier noise that I had mistaken to be a wind draft – him come to stand behind me.
“If I tell you that I wanted to be sure that you were safe, and I had reason to suspect that you were not, do you really believe that a simple matter such as a locked door would stop me?” he asked smilingly. I turned to him, my eyes wide with fear. I could feel my hands trembling, but I tried not to show how terrified I was by scowling at him. “Since we are arguing over my safety, why don’t we address the problem of a man I don’t know in my home, without invitation, claiming to have walked through my locked door! If you don’t leave now I am calling the police.” I shoved at him as hard as I could, feeling mean as I did, since he obviously did care what happened to me. Perhaps he was insane.
My hands went right through his body, as if he was no more substantial than air. I screamed.
“Shh, shh, shh! Please Ceri, be quiet! If someone comes I will have to leave, and if I leave you will not have any more protection than your dog here. And he appears to have decided that I’m a good guy, by the way. Please, just calm down!” His wide eyes were staring into mine during his plea, reducing my will to a shambles. I stopped screaming to breathe. My loud panting was the only sound now, as Bernie really had settled down to sleep at Esmond’s feet. His eyes roved over my face, gauging my reaction.
“Are you alright? I mean, other than having a ghost invade your life and claim to be your guardian angel?”
“Ghost?” I whispered. “Is that really what you are? Please, I need to sleep . . . This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. I was so bored, I must have fallen asleep. I’m dreaming.”
He smiled ruefully. “No, but I may as well be. Your hand just went through my chest, and I can become invisible when I choose. Oh, and the ability to walk through things. Mustn’t forget that. And I am the stuff of dreams. Or nightmares, depending on your views of death. But truly, Ceri, I am your guardian. I have decided – and please don’t scream again – that I love you. And I will protect you from everything that means to cause you harm.”
“Why did you call me if you can walk through a locked door?” I asked as I sat down on a low ottoman.
“Well, I prefer to stay away from you as much as possible. I don’t want to draw anything distasteful to you. A phone call seemed like a good plan, as long as there was no nearby threat to you. While we were speaking, however, your charming dog started to whine, and I heard a sound that did not belong in the kitchen of a single young woman. I needed to get here quickly, because something distasteful was already near you.”
“What noise? And Bernie always whines in his sleep.” I narrowed my eyes at Esmond, trying not to be swayed by his piercing gaze. “Why am I standing here so calmly?! If this was real – which it’s not – I should be running and screaming! Or . . . or something!”
“Well, you may use that as an excuse if you please. But he was whining in fear. He felt it. And the noise was a but a whisper, such as what you heard when I arrived. And you have already tried screaming, which did not help you out in the slightest.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing. As soon as I was sure that I could stand without falling I stood and walked to my bedroom. I collapsed on the bed.
“This is not happening, this isn’t happening.” I chanted to myself. My eyelids grew heavier.
It seemed just moments after when I woke to the bright sun.
My bed faced the east window in bedroom, so I was staring straight into the light. As I rubbed my eyes groggily I noticed a slight shimmer, like gas fumes. I blinked and sat up. Before my eyes the shape of a tall man solidified. I opened my eyes wide against the sunlight to see Esmond standing at the foot of my bed. I shouted, my hand flying up to cover my heart. He raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Taking His name in vain now, are we? And I thought that you were such an innocent girl.” Esmond leaned his head to one side as he looked at me curiously. “You know, despite having been watching over you for so long, I never can get used to how . . . solid you are. I mean, all humans are, but you are the only human that I have been around much. Or even noticed, for that matter.” He smiled. I stared at him, beginning to feel embarrassed at my disheveled appearance. I began to pat my hair down, so that it wasn’t sticking up in tufts all over my head. I was silent for so long that he began to look at me like I was going to have an episode.
“There’s no need to be shy around me. Just pretend that I’m one of the family.” He looked at me with what he apparently thought was a convincingly human expression. I decided to listen to him anyway.
“Well . . . I don’t suppose that you’d like breakfast? I have, um, cereal. And oatmeal. Maybe a few eggs.” I said. He blinked slowly before shaking his head. “No, I actually don’t eat, thank you, though.” I nodded and rolled out of my tangled sheets. I could barely hear him gliding along behind me as I padded to the tiny kitchen. I ducked under the low doorway out of habit, turned to him, and waited for the sound of his head bumping it. Someone as tall as him would certainly hit it. But no sound came, as he simply passed through the frame. The effect reminded me of waving your hand through smoke. He cocked his head to the left and looked at me searchingly. “You are awfully calm, aren’t you?”
“What does that mean? What’s wrong with being calm?” I asked.
“What I meant to say was, after you decided that you weren’t hallucinating or dreaming -”
“Which I haven’t ruled out yet.” I interrupted.
“- Since you have decided that, you haven’t screamed or tried to push me out of a window once. Not an easy thing to do, considering how unusual I am.” He smiled triumphantly and demonstrated by passing his hand through the tabletop. I stifled a gasp. “You are abnormally calm.”
I scowled at him. “I’m not ‘abnormally calm’. I’ve just had to deal with a lot of things in my life, and it helps me adjust to strange situations quickly. And pretty easily.” I watched his eyes grow dark; his brow furrowed as he frowned slightly. I wondered what was wrong, but no sooner did I have the thought than he was explaining.
“It hurts to hear of all of your pain. If I knew how to have taken care of your family . . . But I can’t change anything in your life that doesn’t directly affect you and your bodily and mental health. I can’t do anything for your family, or even your emotional health. If there was any way, trust me, I would have done anything to keep this pain from you.” His face twisted in pain, whether for me or for himself, I didn’t know.
“It’s not your fault,” I mumbled “I just wish that I had been there, to say goodbye.” I stared at the hardwood floor as my eyes began to sting. I blinked back the tears, embarrassed.
“Ceri? I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have brought that up. Please don’t cry!” I felt his cool hand under my chin, gently pulling my face up. I moved my gaze to his chest, as I could no longer see the floor. I took a ragged breath before looking up to meet his eyes. “Okay. I’m done talking about this. Um. Yes. So now what?” I asked. He was still frowning slightly, so I smiled to show him that I was okay. I must have been fairly convincing, because he smiled back, though he still had a small crease between his eyes. “Are you going to go eat now?” he asked. “Oh, yeah, right.” I walked over to the pantry and pulled out a box of cereal and a bowl. As I poured milk into the bowl I could hear him gliding around the kitchen, occasionally asking me questions about my life, which I answered as honestly as I could. Some questions were more difficult than others, though. “Why don’t you have a husband? Or a boyfriend?” he asked. That one stumped me for a moment. “Well . . . I just never liked anyone. Not enough to want to be with them forever.” He nodded. “I suppose that is a good reason. But very, very few relationships last for a lifetime. Do you believe in the God?”
“Yeah, I think so. It’s pretty obvious that someone created all of this.” I swept my hand towards the western window, overlooking the river and public garden. “There is no way that all of this, from the mountains to the little ants, just . . . appeared in a big sonic blast.” Esmond laughed and nodded. “I agree with you completely. I’m just not sure what could have created this.”
“If you have been following me since I was born, shouldn’t you know all about what I believe and think?” I asked.
“No. I can’t read your mind, and you are an incredibly quiet person. You rarely speak about your beliefs, so I had no way to know. It is nice to finally know what you think. New question: Do you believe in the afterlife?”
“Hm. That one I kind of doubt. I’m scared to believe in whatever comes after this life. What if I don’t end up in heaven?” He looked at me searchingly before replying. “I don’t think you would have to worry so much. For all of the while that I have been around you, you always seemed to be an exceptionally good person , helping the poor, and caring for the lost, et cetera. I hope that there’s something after this, since so many people don’t get what they deserve in this life. How many evil people are free from the law, and punishment? And how many good people don’t receive any award for their kindness? I hope that there is something else. That is how I feel about it. Do you like your job?” I relaxed now that we were back to easy questions. He kept right on with his questions until I had finished washing my dishes (I had yet to be able to afford an automatic dishwasher) and dried them. Then I finally managed to ask him the question that had been on the tip of my tongue since I had seen him.
“What are you?”
I watched his throat move as he thought. He looked away from me, towards the ceiling, as he spoke.
“I don’t know.” he said simply.