The sleep of the gods, p.3

The Sleep of the Gods, страница 3


The Sleep of the Gods

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  Abby fidgeted with her purse, subconsciously zipping and unzipping the main pocket. “Are you and dad getting divorced?”

  Catherine locked on Abby in the backseat, and despite the lunacy of the day’s events, still managed to conjure a look of incredulity.

  “Divorced?” Catherine forced herself to repeat. Then, as if uttering these words aloud had made trivial what would otherwise be considered a traumatic life and family event, Catherine burst into laughter. Tears of some sort spilled down her cheeks as she rapidly worked to clear the remaining mascara from her face. She glanced at Abby and smiled from ear to ear, the sadness in her expression unable to be vanquished with upturned lips. “I should be so lucky to have such problems.”

  The waterfront crept into view. Everyone craned their necks, staring out into the open water toward the bevy of miscellaneous watercraft, which crowded the numerous marinas lining the harbor.

  Another helicopter sped overhead curiously close to the ground, enough so that Tamara ducked.

  Josh caught the reaction of his mother as the chopper flew past, the slight wince, the tensing of the shoulders. And as much as he’d like to believe these were responses brought on by surprise he knew better. His mother was downright afraid.

  He turned from her and gaped out the passenger window. Storefronts lined the boulevard opposite the marinas. Funny, he thought for the briefest of moments, how in all the years he’d lived in this city he had never visited this area. It looked interesting enough with its tourist shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stores. And as if this very thought were transmitted, Abby realized it aloud from her place behind him.

  “This place looks pretty cool,” she stated, her gruffness eased off just enough to seem peaceable.

  Catherine squeezed out a smile over her shoulder when she was forced to brake dramatically. An ice truck veered into her lane just short of a traffic light, it changing from orange to red. Anxiously, Catherine tapped her thumbs on the wheel, as if by this very action the shift from red to green would hasten.

  Josh looked from her back out onto the promenade. He watched people move to and fro along the sidewalk when something peculiar drew his attention. On any other day he would have thought not a whit about it, but today his senses were heightened, more acutely aware of his surroundings.

  There were already six people standing at the display glass and three more appeared to be approaching, a look of curiosity on each of their faces. The sign above the store entrance read Telly’s Tellies, an apparent mom and pop electronics showroom. But the throng of onlookers gathered at the window prevented Josh from discerning exactly what it was that had captivated everyone’s attention.

  The light, mercifully, turned green and Catherine made no hesitation in finding the accelerator. The car lunged forward and as they rode past the shop, Josh craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the center of commotion. But all he could see was a modest selection of widescreen plasma and LCD TVs broadcasting what looked to be a cable news network station. He thought it might be CNN judging by the color of its identifying banner but he couldn’t be certain. But doubtless was the impact the story seemed to have on the throng of bystanders, the majority of who displayed shock and surprise, their hands cupped in semi-permanent distress over their mouths.

  With the ice truck now out of her way Catherine steered the car a few hundred yards farther up the street before turning in the direction of an entrance gate that displayed above its wall of chain link containment a breezy and appropriately whimsical sign that read “Sandy Shoals”. Designed in a cursive navy blue, it boasted a four-foot tall caricature of a Belted Kingfisher replete with sailor cap as he thumbed—or feathered—over his shoulder toward the marina.

  Catherine maneuvered the car alongside a stand-alone digital card reader. A single quarter-inch high by two inches wide slot resided above a standard numeric key pad, these items the only blemish on the otherwise immaculate stainless steel surface. Above the reader was a small placard, black letters on white, with a brief message reminding visitors to punch in their berth number followed by the first three initials of their last name.

  Josh deciphered the words even before the vehicle came to a halt. He watched as his mother proceeded, undeterred by the instructions and indications that this was a member’s only facility.

  Annoyed that he was apparently the only one in the car who could read and was aware of the fact that they didn’t own a boat, Josh turned to Catherine, “Mom, you can’t get in. It’s a secured marina. Do you not see the gate five feet from your bumper?” Josh turned toward his window, exasperated. “Jesus, this is fucking crazy.”

  “You cursed again,” Tamara muttered from the back.

  “I know I fucking cursed, all right?” Josh railed.

  “Don’t yell at Tamara,” Abby defended. “She’s not the one acting crazy.”

  Catherine rapidly threw the car into park and began rummaging through her purse. Abby and Tamara glanced at one another in amazed silence, the absurdity of it all seeming to increase as the day prolonged.

  And as if to emphasize this point, yet another helicopter flew overhead, its flight pattern close enough to the ground to upset the boats moored in the marina with the downdraft from its rotor. This time it wasn’t a news crew.

  Catherine gave the chopper only a cursory glance, the distinctive emblem of the county sheriff’s department evident on the doors. Having discovered the object of her search, she pulled a slim, plastic case from the confines of her purse. She turned to Josh. “You remember a few moments ago when you asked me, ‘What’s at the marina?’” Catherine said, a look of minor success mixed with uncertainty clearly etched on her face. She held up a key card for the entire car to see, the same cartoonish Kingfisher stenciled opposite a side with a magnetic strip. She reached through her window and slid it into the awaiting slot of the reader, punching six keys on the keypad. A loud chirp sounded and the gate began to slide open.

  Catherine returned the card to her purse then looked up at Josh with all the compassion and love a mother could have for her child.

  “The answer is, quite simply, everything.”

  She was the first one out of the car, popping the trunk from the inside as she scrambled to the rear of the vehicle, the door slowly rising open at her arrival.

  Josh could see she was unloading several boxes and various other items from the trunk. He glanced at his sisters, stopping on Tamara. “Sorry, I yelled at you.”

  Tamara grinned just a little, “It’s okay. You’re a dummy head. That’s what dummy head’s do.”

  Josh smiled, pleased to have patched the minor rift he had created moments earlier in a bout of frustration. He wrenched himself almost completely around. “Well, should we go see what this is finally all about?”

  “First smart thing you’ve said today,” Abby proclaimed. “Samantha is going to just die when I tell her about all of this.”

  Josh winked at Tamara, she trying desperately to return the gesture as he opened his door and stepped out. Tamara and Abby’s doors popped open in succession as each girl clambered from the vehicle, following Josh to the trunk.

  Catherine was finishing unloading the last of three boxes of food as everyone joined her, staring open-mouthed at the stash of odds and ends lying at their feet.

  “What’s all the food for, mommy?” Tamara asked innocently, perusing the open boxes of canned and boxed goods.

  “Hell with the food, what’s in the duffel bags?” Josh queried.

  “Clothes. Now everyone grab something and follow me. Quickly.” And with that kernel of info tossed so carelessly forth, Catherine was off, a duffel bag strapped over her shoulder, a box of food cradled in her arms. She quick-stepped over to the end of a pier marked with a modestly sized letter ‘C’ whitewashed on sheet metal. That ubiquitous kingfisher was emblazoned in the corner of the sign, his wings outstretched as if to say “Welcome aboard!”

  Catherine turned, scrutinizing the progress of her children: they w
ere still standing beside the car. Summoning authority from her innermost drill sergeant, she inhaled deeply and bellowed in a way meant not only to command, but also, to a small degree, frighten.

  “Pick up those goddamn boxes, get your asses over here and follow me. Now!” She knew this extreme manner in which she was attempting to get her kids to comply would be resented, but she also knew it would achieve the intended result. And as she lamented having to barrage Tamara’s innocent ears with such language, her decision to do so was immediately validated as her kids stooped and claimed the rest of the dockside merchandise.

  She waited impatiently at the entryway of the pier for her children to rejoin her. And in that brief moment she felt what others surely must feel before embarking on a sea bound voyage, that exhilaration and anticipation of preparing for a humbling reduction in egocentricity. For that was truly what it was in her mind: Man versus sea. And so very often the sea lay claim to victory much to the chagrin of the individuals whose original intention it had been to venture forth upon her, seeking thrills or commerce. But with these excursions, unlike the one she was about to commence, there was the notion of finality. A destination. An end. And as she stared at the sleek and polished sailboats and yachts bobbing so harmoniously along the pier, Catherine yearned to share in that sense of terminality.

  Josh, Abby and Tamara finally reached their mother. “Okay,” Catherine said, turning on them and starting down the pier.

  Abby gawked at Josh and Tamara, the incredulity and incomprehension of her mother’s actions defined in her slack-jawed expression. “Where are we going?” Abby demanded, the irritation in her tone setting new standards even for her.

  “This way,” Catherine answered over her shoulder without so much as a glance their way.

  A series of sirens initiated somewhere in the distance. The familiar wailing of the horns began low, barely discernable, then gradually increased in decibel level until the source of the ear-numbing din became apparent. Three cruisers, lights ablaze, screamed along Stevenson Boulevard just outside the marina, vanishing in the same blur in which they appeared, their sirens fading into the air.

  Catherine doubled back behind her kids. “All right, that’s it. Let’s move.”

  “What’s happening, mommy?” Tamara asked.

  “I don’t know, baby, but we’ve gotta go.”

  “If you don’t know what’s happening, then what’s the rush?” Josh interjected.

  “Not now, Josh. Just keep moving.”

  “No, seriously. You’re acting all freaky. What’s happening? And where are we going with all this shit?” Josh commanded.

  “We’re going this way,” Catherine indicated with a nod of her head down the pier. “Just keep moving. C’mon.”

  Josh, having reached his tolerance threshold, tossed his bags to the ground.

  “What’re you doing?” Abby said, drawing the attention of Catherine.

  “Calling dad,” Josh replied, instantly dialing on Abby’s phone, which he still possessed. “This is bullshit. And I’m not going anywhere until I find out what’s going on. We could be breaking and entering for all I know.”

  Catherine dropped her supplies and stormed up to Josh. She snatched the phone from his hand and threw it with all her might into the softly rippling water.

  “My phone!” Abby screamed, as it plopped unceremoniously into the sea.

  “ What the hell is wrong with you?” Josh howled.

  “What’s wrong with me is that you’re not listening to me!” Catherine charged back with equal intensity. “Now pick up those boxes.”

  Josh crossed his arms in defiance. “I’m not picking up shit. You want them? You carry them.”

  “Josh Andrew Hayesly, you pick up those boxes right now. I am deadly serious.”

  “Or what?”

  In running through potential scenarios in her mind, this was one to which she had given the least amount of scrutiny: downright refusal to obey. Of course she suspected there would be resistance and anger and threats as well as the full spectrum of other emotions that would come into play on a day like today. But not this. She did not expect this. And as she stared at her son, knowing that time was of the essence in ways he just couldn’t comprehend, she found herself at a complete and total loss for words. She surveyed her children: Abby, wide-eyed with shock, Tamara, the poor child, fighting bravely to contain the tears that threatened to burst from her eyes.

  She turned back to Josh, hoping he could recognize in her eyes the maternal compassion she was attempting to convey to him in this moment. She stepped up to him, speaking calmly and clearly and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Honestly, Josh, I don’t know what the answer to that question is. But I do know this: something is happening. And it’s not good. I can’t tell you how I know this. Not yet. But I will. Now, I’m going to say this for the last time: I need you to pick up those boxes and follow me. I can’t force you. You’re old enough to make your own decision. All I ask is that you just give me a little more time. Just trust me.” Catherine fixed her gaze on Josh as she spoke, his eyes finding mostly the tops of his shoes. “But more than that, I ask you—no, I beg you—to please not force me to make the decision to leave you behind.”

  Josh’s head snapped up, found the seriousness in his mother’s eyes. She cupped his head in her hands, wailing on the inside like so many mothers of martyrs, then turned from him. She encircled her daughters in her arms as she headed down the pier, recollecting her dropped items.

  Tamara looked back, the restraint previously maintained now abandoned as tears streamed down her face.

  Josh watched with incredulity as his family moved away from him, their footsteps creating a dampened, staccato rhythm on the vinyl-coated decking.

  “But...we don’t even own a fucking boat!” Josh hollered after them, holding his ground.

  Catherine stopped midway down the pier, shifted she and her daughters so they were facing the water, perpendicular to Josh. She stared down the walkway at him and said simply, “Yes, we do,” then ushered Abby and Tamara forward.

  Josh watched as his mother followed his sisters, disappearing behind a large yacht. And for the first time in his young life he had the distinct impression that this was the first truly individual decision he would make that could alter the course of his future existence. It was obvious to him that something was afoot. He had witnessed several helicopters en route to some newsworthy story and had seen police, both land and air, fulfilling their duty to protect and serve. But were these things uncommon? This was a large city after all. Shit happened. Sometimes a lot of it and, usually, it was bad. So what makes today so different than any other?

  The quick answer: his mother.

  Not prone to scare easily, she was quite levelheaded when it came to things that go bump in the night. Which made today all the more intriguing. He had seen fear in her eyes today. And while the surreal journey of the morning left him pondering which fork in the road to take as he stood uncertainly on a swaying marina pier, he knew instinctively which was the correct path, whether there was a sign or not.

  Josh exhaled deeply, gathering physical as well as mental energy, and retrieved the boxes from the walkway. As he strode in the direction of his family a thunderous motor sprung to life, its idling sounding like a parked big rig. He continued forward, taking a turn along the slip down which he had seen his family disappear.

  “You’ve gotta see this,” a voice from above yelled out.

  Josh craned his neck, searching toward the sky and found Abby’s face peering down at him from the bow of a sleek, well-kept sloop.

  “It’s a frickin’ yacht!” she barked, vanishing back over the lifeline from whence she came.

  Tamara, her previous exhibition of emotion now thoroughly evaporated, popped her tiny face over the bow pulpit. “Josh, c’mon, c’mon!” she shrieked excitedly. “We’ve got a boat!” And with that she was off.

  Josh couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Not once had he stepped
foot on a sailing vessel of any sort and now on this most bizarre of days learns that his family is the proud owner of such a craft? Try as he might he just couldn’t find the enthusiasm his sisters seemed to share. Why had this been kept a secret? What possible harm could it have done to inform the rest of the family that we were in possession of a boat? And as this thought coursed through his neurons, an even greater question found its way to the forefront of his mind: what else had his parents refrained from sharing with them?

  Josh held out his hand, caressing the white fiberglass hull of the ship. It didn’t take an experienced seaman to recognize that the boat was in top condition, most likely new. There was very little cosmetic damage to the exterior, the only blemishes having been created by the dock bumpers, which were molded in an unfortunate black.

  Josh climbed aboard. His mother was a flurry of activity in the cockpit, busying herself with the various instrument panels. Catherine turned and saw her son standing on deck. She quickly descended the two steps from the cockpit to the main deck. She ran over to him and hugged him immensely.

  “Thank you, Josh,” she said, tears forming in her eyes. “Thank you for making this decision. I can’t do this without you. Thank you for trusting me.” She kissed him firmly on the cheek and gave him another hug for good measure. “Are we good?” she choked out, holding Josh’s head in her hands, their faces mere inches apart. This time, Josh managed to hold her gaze and knew in that moment he had made the right choice—regardless of its outcome.

  “Yeah,” he said. “We’re good.”

  Catherine smiled, but in the most haunted of ways, as if this were only a minor victory in a lengthy, indeterminate battle.

  Tamara bounded up from below deck. “Have you seen our rooms? They’re so cool. We’ve got bunk beds!” she said, her voice trailing in a Doppler effect as she ran to the stern of the ship.

  Abby now joined them as she climbed the narrow steps from the lower deck. “How come we have so much food?” she asked Catherine, not overly concerned about the answer.

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