Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's Not A Dream Sequence, I Swear!

Okay, time for a weird chapter... Really, It's not a trippy dream sequence. It just appears to be. It does have an impact on the story later down the road... Big kudos to the first commenter who can figure out what it is...

Chapter 12

In accordance with his declaration that he would live in the White House, despite its being compromised, Edgar began settling in immediately after his speech was over. He walked slowly through his new home, looking into each bedroom, wondering where he and his wife would be sleeping until the next election. Although if Mistlethwakey managed to make good on his promises, it would be much longer than that. Edgar was looking into one particularly large room when he was approached by Frank Lertenz.
Edgar ignored his head of security, confident that if what he had come to tell him were important, Lertenz would eventually speak.
Of course, Edgar was not disappointed. Less than a minute after arriving, Lertenz cleared his throat and spoke. “Sir, your wife and son have just arrived at the south entrance.”
Edgar continued his examination of the room, looking into the attached bathroom and walking into the closets. When his examination was finished, Edgar turned to Lertenz and smiled. “Have our luggage brought to this room.”
“Yes sir.”
While Lertenz hurried away to alert the staff of the president’s choice of living quarters, Edgar walked downstairs to the south entrance and saw Amanda and Ethan standing just inside the security checkpoint. Ethan was looking around in a kind of morose-disinterestedness; he had been to the White House many times before, and it had long ago lost the wonder that it used to inspire in Ethan. Also, he was still a bit mad at his father for missing his performance.
Amanda, on the other hand, was shaking with cold fury. As soon as her husband came into sight, she stormed over to him and, oblivious to the audience of her son and the White House staff surrounding them, began to yell at him.
“You were the one who wanted Ethan to continue with those **** music lessons, and then you can’t even stay around long enough to see his **** performance! All he wants is to make you—“
“I’m the president.”
“--happy, and you can’t even sit still long enough for him to try! You disappear without telling us anything and then you—“
“I’m the president.”
“—send cars to pick us up not even telling us where you…” Amanda’s rage slackened long enough for her to realize what her husband had said. “Say that again…”
Edgar smiled his biggest, most annoying smile. “I’m the president.”
Amanda gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “You’re—no, that can’t—no! I—Than that…” She stood still and breathed heavily. Then something seemed to occur to her. “But if you’re president, then…”
Edgar nodded solemnly. “My uncle is dead. That’s what they came to get me about.” He glanced at one of the security men who had arrived with Amanda. “They didn’t tell you?”
Amanda shook her head.
“And you didn’t hear anything about… anything? Not even the speech I made?”
Again, Amanda shook her head.
“You missed a good speech. Televised, very important.”
Before Amanda responded, a weak tremor passed through the building, followed a sew seconds later by a muffled explosion. The security personnel all pulled out weapons and got into defensive crouches. Edgar stood tall in the midst of them, laughing quietly to himself. “C’mon guys; if you couldn’t keep my uncle safe, what makes you think you’ll do any better with me?”
Amanda, crouched low and with an expression of mild panic on her face, looked up at her husband. “what did happen to your uncle?”
Edgar grabbed her arm and pulled her upright. “I’ll tell you about it later. Right now, I think we should have a personal tour of our new home.”
He began leading Amanda away, but after a few steps she stopped and looked her husband in the eyes. “You’re not doing anything else today without your son.”
Edgar sighed and looked back at his son. Ethan was standing tall, obviously unafraid of whatever the explosion had been. He was brave, Edgar had to admit. And he did owe him a bit of quality time after missing his recital. Edgar sighed again and then waved at Ethan. “Fine, you can come on the tour, too.”
Ethan smiled, and ran to catch up with his parents.

That night, after everyone had settled in, Edgar lay in bed next to Amanda, trying unsuccessfully to get to sleep. In the course of the afternoon, Edgar had found out that the bedroom he had picked out for Amanda and himself had been very bed his uncle had slept in the night he died. That news hadn’t disturbed Edgar at first but now, after hours spent trying to get to sleep, trying to get comfortable, Edgar’s mind wandered and began to follow strange paths, and now he couldn’t forget the morbid connection he had to this bed. The man who slept here last was dead. Also dead was the woman who had killed him; that was the explosion that Edgar had felt shortly after his family arrived. The death of a second E.H.U.D. assassin…
Most of the White House’s security staff was afraid that more assassins would try to make their way in and kill Edgar, but Edgar was confident that he was safe from the E.H.U.D.s. Of course, the reason for this confidence was that he knew who had sent the E.H.U.D.s, and knew that he had no reason to kill Edgar.
But even with this confidence, Edgar was still not entirely sure he was safe. Until a few weeks ago, the man who had slept in this bed had been a loyal pawn of Mistlethwakey, but now that his usefulness was over, he was dead. Would that happen to Edgar? He had Mistlethwakey’s promises of the Plan, promises that Edgar would rule the world. But how did he know he was the only one who had been given that promise? Maybe poor Uncle Isaac had been told that he would be the recipient of Mistlethwakey’s machinations. Maybe Edgar’s replacement in the plan had already been chosen…
These thoughts led to other thoughts, which in turn led to other thoughts, which led to yet more thoughts, which eventually led back to Uncle Isaac. Edgar found it a bit amusing that it took the old man’s death for Edgar to start thinking about him with the old familiar name he had used in his childhood. When Edgar was younger, he had adored his Uncle Isaac, the daring young politician and volunteer firefighter who would come over for Sunday dinner. But over the years, Edgar had come to realize just how shallow his uncle was. He married some woman he had met at a political convention, and then had run for a seat in the House of Representatives on a radical reform ticket. A young Edgar had overheard a conversation between his father and his uncle in which his uncle had revealed that he didn’t even care about the positions he had run on; he only used them because they were popular and likely to get him elected. Edgar personally didn’t find anything wrong with that. But then his uncle revealed that his whole purpose in running, his whole goal of eventually becoming president, was not to make a change, not to wield power, but was solely for the purpose of retiring wealthy and not having to do any more with his life after it was over.
The thought of that disgusted Edgar, even at the age of eleven. The world was constantly in motion, and it needed a strong leader. Whoever took on the all important role of president had to be constantly ready to do what was necessary to keep the world as it should be, to make it better if it was possible; the world could not afford four years run by a lazy simpleton who merely wanted to look back on his life and say, “Yes, I did it, now I can quit.” Being president wasn’t an end; it was the means towards making a better future. It was at that point that Edgar decided that his uncle was nothing but a fool to be pitied and that he, Edgar, was meant to go to the top and be the rightful ruler of the world.
Of course, that was when he was eleven. Over the next few years, as he took government classes in school, he learned about how limited the powers of the president actually were. But he decided to stay with his goal; if the president didn’t rule the world, it was certainly a good place to look for the person who really did.
And now, as he struggle to find sleep on his first night as president, Edgar realized he already knew who ruled the world: Mistlethwakey. And Mistlethwakey had promised him the power to rule the world, the power to make a difference.
Edgar sighed. His thoughts always came back to Mistlethwakey.
It was time to give up. Edgar pulled himself into a sitting position and looked at the clock on the nightstand. Two o’clock. If he wasn’t asleep by now, he was likely never going to get to sleep. Careful not to disturb Amanda, Edgar pulled himself out of bed and put on a housecoat. He paced around the room, stopping whenever he passed bookshelves to check if they contained anything interesting. Of course, they invariably didn’t.
Eventually, Edgar got bored and walked out into the hall. The two men guarding his door snapped to attention ad saluted, but Edgar ignored them and continued his walk.
Down the hall from his bedroom, Edgar saw Frank Lertenz standing guard in front of Ethan’s room. Another morbid connection with the night before suddenly occurred to him. Just how did Lertenz get away with staying on duty after failing to stop Maria Tumpuelo?
Lertenz happened to look up, and he too saluted the president. Edgar acknowledged him with a nod, and then continued past him into his son’s room. The room was too dark to see any details, but Edgar remembered where the bed was situated so that he could walk to it and stare down at his invisible son. He wondered what effect this sudden move was having on the boy; it was certainly a step up in the world, Ethan should be proud of that, but now, with all of the extra security, he most likely wouldn’t have a chance to play with his old friends. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have a chance for any friends. He would be taught by a combination tutor and body guard from now on, and of course the music recitals and after-school sports were completely out of the question. Edgar smiled at that thought. Ethan had never liked the activities he was allowed to participate in, and now he wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate any more. He would probably like that.
As Edgar continued to stare down at his son, he began to wonder why he had had a child in the first place. Edgar didn’t like kids; he never had. In fact, he had promised himself early in his career that he wouldn’t have any children. What had changed his mind? Edgar thought back first on his reasons for not having a child: they were distracting, they would make him appear older in the eyes of the public, how he raised a child would be one more way for the public to pass judgment on him. Why had he ever gone back on that decision? It certainly wasn’t Amanda’s doing.
No, definitely not Amanda, but another woman. Edgar’s mind drifted back to his years in college, to a particular young woman named Shandra. She had been his first, his only love outside of himself and his ambition. She was earning a degree in philosophy, in sharp contrast to Edgar’s own political science major. She had first come to him looking for help with a history class, and after spending a few study sessions together, they began having long talks, discussing societies throughout history, and how prevailing philosophies had shaped the political landscapes of the world, causing empires to rise, reinvent themselves, survive, decline, and eventually die. From these conversations, they eventually developed a deep love for each other, and in time Edgar told her of his political aspirations. Shandra found this fascinating, and helped Edgar to change his image to appeal to current philosophies and social norms so that he would be more electable. And one of the changes she suggested was to have a child. He had of course refused, but she had turned his argument against him. A child would be a distraction: It would show the public that he had a life outside of politics. A child would make him seem older: It would make him seem more responsible and mature. A child would be a source of judgment: It would be a sign to the people that he could manage someone’s life, and by extension could manage a country. She had explained to him that the United States was still dominated by patriarchal philosophies, and that the highest station in life that one could have was father. Edgar didn’t believe her, but when she pointed out that the child would probably be her child as well, Edgar had relented.
But that had all changed when he lost Shandra in his junior year. To this day, Edgar didn’t like to think about it, so he shifted his memory to a little over a year later, when he had married Amanda, and she had tried to convince Edgar that they needed a son. He had managed to resist her arguments, debates, pleas, threats, anything she had tried for years, but he eventually gave in. And now he remembered why. He was watching the news late on night when he had seen a bit about Shandra’s new best-selling self help book. That must have been the night when…
Edgar sighed and came back to the present. It was no use reflecting on motives; he had a son, and so he would have to deal with the consequences.
After standing over Ethan for a few more minutes, Edgar went back into the hall. He passed Lertenz and went back towards his room, hoping that maybe now he could finally get some sleep. Of course, he probably wouldn’t be able to. If anything, his mind was more mixed-up than it had been ten minutes ago… Edgar stopped and turned back towards Lertenz. Something wasn’t right. Lertenz always, always greeted the president, be it Isaac or Edgar, whenever he saw them, yet he had remained perfectly motionless when Edgar left Ethan’s room. Edgar walked carefully towards Lertenz, expecting—hoping—that he would salute, or nod, or move in some way. Lertenz didn’t move. Edgar was now only a few feet in front of Lertenz, and he waved his hands in front of the guard’s face. Lertenz continued to stare straight ahead.
Edgar snapped his fingers, and then punched Lertenz in the face. Except for his head tilting back and then forward again, Lertenz didn’t move. Edgar shoved his face near Lertenz’s ear. “Hello?! Hello?! Frank, are you alive?!” he yelled angrily. Again, no response. Edgar grimaced. “**** it Frank, let this be some weird dream! I can’t deal with this kind of ****!”
“He can’t hear you, Mr. President,” someone whispered.
Edgar whirled around, sure that whoever had spoken was directly behind him. There was no one there. Edgar took a few steps down the hall and then stopped, looking around frantically for the source of the voice. “Who said that?!”
“Come and find me…” The voice echoed slightly through the empty hall.
Edgar closed his eyes tightly, and blinked as he opened them again. His uncle had died the night before, and already strange things were happening. He glanced quickly over his shoulder. Lertenz was still standing there, blood trickling out of his nose. Edgar tried to tell himself that it was all just a dream, that he should go back to bed and go to sleep… but if it was a dream, how could he go to sleep?
“I’m waiting…” said the voice.
Edgar crept slowly forward, not sure how exactly he was supposed to follow the voice. It seemed to come from everywhere. The further down the hall he went, however, he felt an electric tingling across his skin. This must be the right direction.
As he walked, Edgar noticed that all of the guards he came across were frozen, just as Lertenz had been. One was even posed reaching out for a can of soda that had been left on a table. Edgar stopped and stared at the man. He was perfectly motionless except for the arm that was extended towards the can; it trembled slightly. Edgar reached out and pushed the arm down. It took considerable effort; the guard’s muscles were tensed in that one pose. Edgar backed a few steps away and then lunged at the guard, toppling him backwards. The guard’s muscles remained taut, and he hit the ground awkwardly. Edgar heard a few joints popping. So, something was causing all of the guards to stop and maintain whatever pose they had been in…
“I can’t wait forever…”
It took everything Edgar had to not run away from the voice. Amanda would be back in the room, she would comfort him… But she would probably be just like the guards…
As Edgar reached the end of the building, he felt an irresistible force pulling him to the left. By this point, Edgar had resigned himself to whatever strange fate this was, and without even pausing to think about it, he turned and continued walking. He was now in the main corridor of the second floor, and as he took another step forward, the strange pull on him dissipated. Edgar didn’t know where to go now, but he knew he had to find the source of that voice. “Hello!” he called, secretly fearing that there would be an answer.
“I’m here…” this time the voice was coming from a definite direction. It had a slight echo, yet seemed somehow cut-off or muffled. Edgar guessed that whoever was speaking was in the main lobby, and was calling up the staircase. That was assuming, of course, that someone was speaking, and this wasn’t all a dream. Edgar couldn’t decide between the two possibilities. He couldn’t even decide which one he wanted to be true…
The few small lights that were spaced evenly along the walls suddenly dimmed and died out, leaving the corridor completely black. No, not completely black. Edgar strained his eyes at something ahead. It was a soft glow…
Edgar continued forward, and soon the glow resolved itself into a pale bluish-white light filtering through the banisters of the new grand staircase that had been installed some ten years back. So the light was coming from the same place the voice was. Edgar cautiously edged towards the stairs, his mind alive with speculation about what his uncle might have seen the night before, what an E.H.U.D. might do if they were trying to kill someone. As he reached the end of the end of the wall, where the corridor opened up into the two-story lobby, Edgar looked down and was surprised to see bright light, almost like a thick fog filling the space, obscuring the lower part of the lobby and making the stairs appear to drop into an abyss.
There was nothing else that could be done. Everyone in the building except for Edgar seemed to be frozen… there was no one else to help him… there was only impenetrable darkness above and impenetrable light below. Edgar somehow knew that if he tried to do anything except go on, that the source of the voice could stop him. Taking a deep breath, Edgar stood up straight, squared his shoulders, and took the stairs down into the light.
As he neared the bottom of the staircase, the light seemed to roll back from him, almost like fog. Ahead of him was and a thin shadow which quickly grew darker and acquired mass until it eventually resolved itself into the silhouette of a man.
It was Mistlethwakey.
Mistlethwakey slowly smiled. “You found me…”
Edgar’s heart beat faster. His thoughts from earlier that night returned to him: What if Mistlethwakey had no intention of letting Edgar be the beneficiary of the Plan? What if Edgar was just one more tool for Mistlethwakey to use and cast aside, like he had done to his uncle? He knew then that it was a mistake to ever trust Mistlethwakey. It was time for the betrayal.
Mistlethwakey shook his head and chuckled softly. Edgar didn’t think Mistlethwakey was able to read his mind, but now… “You’re not going to die, Mister President. This is just another step in the Plan. You agreed to the plan, so you can’t complain now. Besides, I don’t think you’ll remember this.” His expression became grim. “Unfortunately, this going to hurt quite a bit. I know; I’ve been through it myself.” He spread his hands. “I wish there were another way to do this, but…” He trailed off and shook his head.
Edgar took a step backwards. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t trust Mistlethwakey, and he had no idea what the man was going to do now. He cautiously turned his back on Mistlethwakey, but found that he could no longer see the staircase. What was going on? He was completely surrounded by the bright fog.
Hearing a footstep behind him, Edgar turned and saw Mistlethwakey slowly advancing on him. A jolt of fear passed though Edgar, and he backed further away. “I don’t want this… Whatever you’re doing, I don’t want this. I don’t want the Plan, just let me go and I swear I’ll never—“
“Never what? Never hurt anyone? Never run for office? Never, never… never…” Mistlethwakey stopped and looked wistfully into the mist. “You know, all I ever wanted to do was to help people, to make the world a better place. You think that that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing, but I think you’re doing all of this to show your uncle that you’re just as good, if not better, than he is. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve made your choice. You made your choice an infinity ago, and it’s too late to make a change now.”
Mistlethwakey began moving again, but continued talking. “One question that always bothered me was who was actually responsible for what is to come: you or me? The only reason I did what I’m doing is because of you, and the only way you were able to do what you’re going to do is because of what I did.”
Now Edgar stopped moving. He had no idea what Mistlethwakey was talking about. “What?”
Then, with a sudden burst of speed, Mistlethwakey reached Edgar. Mistlethwakey reached out his hands and, before Edgar could resist, delicately gripped his head. Edgar tried to pull away, but he found that his body was frozen, just like the guards upstairs. He stared at Mistlethwakey’s left shoulder, not able to see anything that was going on. In his peripheral vision he noticed that the light was growing more and more like fog, thickening and swirling around them…
Edgar’s vision blacked out as a horrible, wrenching pain ripped through his body, and he suddenly found that he could move again. He jerked back and sprawled on the floor, arching his back and writhing and clawing at his head were Mistlethwakey had touched him. The skin was warm to the touch, and then burning, smoldering, glowing with heat, and then it spread to the rest of his body, burning through every organ, every vessel, every cell… With one great spasm of pain, his body burst into iridescent, unnatural flame, burning away all of him, stripping away flesh and bone, incinerating the old cells…
The flames stopped, and Edgar lay gasping, new and naked, on the floor. He breathed deeply for several long seconds, and then looked down at his body. The skin was soft, the hair thick and smooth. He raised his hands and found the palms un-creased. He flexed his hands experimentally, and watched in amazement as deep lines etched themselves into his skin. He looked around were he lay and found an outline of ash. His housecoat…
“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Mistlethwakey said cheerfully. “You now have a new body. Use it wisely.” He looked up suddenly as a drift of fog curled and swirled away. Edgar saw it, too. A person had walked past them.
Mistlethwakey looked back down to Edgar. “My part is done, but you need to… deal with your ghosts, shall we say, before you can live your life and do what you have to do.” With that, Mistlethwakey turned and disappeared into the fog.
The fog drifted in closer around Edgar, and then swirled around as shapes moved through the light. At first, Edgar had a hard time seeing them; they were just blurry shadows. But as more and more of the shades walked past, they became more human.
Then, Edgar recognized one of them. It was the shade of Leonard Shelby, someone he had known in college… someone he knew was dead. Edgar stifled a scream and scrambled backwards. Another shade passed him. His father.
More and more shades surrounded him: people of all ages and races. Each shade looked like a real person, completely detailed and alive, but all were made of the same fog that surrounded Edgar. And each one was someone that Edgar knew was dead. There was Merv Lemlin, and there was one of the men Lemlin had killed in his rampage. There was Amanda’s great aunt, and Maria Tumpuelo. Edgar thought he saw Mistlethwakey wandering through the swarms of the dead, but it wasn’t the same Mistlethwakey he had seen only minutes before.
For a while, the shades ignored Edgar, just stumbled blindly through the fog, gathering in number. And then one of them, Edgar couldn’t tell who, came towards him and passed through him, leaving behind a soul-chilling cold. The shade that had passed through Edgar looked down at him, and then smiled savagely. Instantly, the other shades shifted their attention to Edgar, and they began to move towards him, purpose glinting in their ghostly eyes. As the nearest shades reached Edgar, they stretched out their hands, trying to touch him, their hands warping and becoming bony claws as they neared him. Edgar scrambled away from the claws and got quickly to his feet. He turned in a circle, looking for some way to escape from the shades, but they were all around him. A dull humming filled the space around him, and the shades once more closed in. This time, however, they were crouching and wary, and they lashed out quickly, digging their claws into his flesh, pulling themselves closer to him. Edgar tried to pull away, but the claws stayed and pulled at his skin, ripping the flesh and sending blood spraying outwards into the void. Edgar shrieked in terror and agony, and the shades shrieked too, but seemingly in sadistic joy.
More and more of the shades continued to appear, each one heading straight for Edgar, swarming around him, swallowing him in a mass of violent, unearthly joy. Edgar writhed, gasped for air, tried to break free from their vicious claws. He finally gave up struggling, sank to the floor, and let the shades take him. As they surrounded him, dug at him, he felt the pain lessen, felt himself slipping away, joining with the fog, becoming one of the shades…
Just before the ghostly forms fully consumed him, Edgar saw one final shade emerge from the swirling fog: a portly, bearded old man with a small hole in his forehead. Edgar smiled bitterly. Uncle Isaac.
The shade of Isaac smiled, his face becoming gaunt, his teeth jagged. He waddle forward, his arms outstretched to consume Edgar. It was all going to end…
Edgar would not allow it. His uncle would not stop him, would not beat him, would not be better than him. Edgar gathered all of his hatred, all of his weariness, all of his years of work and focused them in on his uncle. With an earth-shaking howl of fury, Edgar released it all, focusing the blast down onto the shade. Like bright, yellow, atomic flame, everything within him vented out at his uncle, engulfing, melting, destroying the shade.
The other shades stopped what they were doing and looked down at the man they were clutching. Their expressions of grisly joy turned quickly to apprehension and then outright terror, as Edgar once more rallied himself and let out the flames of his anger in all directions, clearing the house, cleansing the shades from this world, pushing back the fog until…
…Edgar stood on his knees in the empty lobby, naked and exhausted, bleeding from hundreds of small wounds. He focused everything in him back onto his body, and felt the wounds dry, close, and heal without a trace.
As soon as that was done, he heard a quite laugh fill the room.
“Good, that was good…” It sounded like Mistlethwakey. “You’re almost ready… Of course, I can’t have you remembering this…”
Edgar felt a presence enter his mind, moving through his memories. He pushed back on it, and was surprised to find that the presence actually yielded a little. But then the presence pushed again, and Edgar felt his body go limp, saw the floor rising up towards him, and then—

An alarm clock began beeping incessantly, and Amanda slowly woke up. She yawned, stretched, and then rolled over, expecting to find her husband beside her. The bed was empty. She stared bleary-eyed at the place were Edgar usually hung his house coat, and seeing the house coat gone, assumed that Edgar was probably off somewhere doing… something… She yawned again. What time was it?
Amanda rolled over the other way and stared bleary-eyed at the clock. It was six thirty… thirty-one… forty-seven…
With yet another stretch and yawn, Amanda sat up, turned off the alarm, and got up. She slowly took a shower, got dressed, and then called and ordered coffee from the kitchen. Before the coffee could be delivered, she slipped out into the hall and walked down to Ethan’s new room. Normally, she would be going in to wake him up for school, but now that his father was president, she doubted that they’d keep him in school.
As she passed the tables, vases, and portraits familiar to anyone who had ever taken a White House tour, she couldn’t help but smile to herself. Growing up, she had had dreams of marrying young, having many children, becoming a writer and part time home-school teacher. She never thought that she would end up living here. Of course, she knew of Edgar’s dreams of becoming president, but she knew that he would never get elected. He was telegenic and could pass himself off as charming and charismatic, but the effect never lasted long. If he used it for the long periods of time involved in an election campaign, he would burn himself out and alienate everyone around him in little more than a month. But here he was, president…
Due entirely to a devastating scandal and the death of his uncle. Amanda’s smile faded as she realized this. And despite what Edgar had said on television, the danger wasn’t over. There was the possibility of more E.H.U.D.s, or mobs of protesters, or foreign powers attacking, taking opportunity of America’s weakened state. Amanda had a sudden urge to run into Ethan’s room, take him down to their car, and drive off to who knew where. It may be nice to be the First Family, but now was not a good time to take on that role.
Amanda was pulled out of her thoughts as she neared Ethan’s room and noticed that the man who was on guard duty… Lawrence, or Lertenz, or something… stood completely unmoving, not even blinking, his eyes staring straight ahead.
Amanda leaned in to take a closer look at the guard. She noticed his chest twitching slightly, as if he were taking hundreds of tiny breaths instead of breathing normally.
“Hello?” she asked tentatively.
Instantly, the man’s body relaxed, and he looked at her. “Hello, ma’am. Your husband is right ins—“ He stopped abruptly and looked around. “Why’s it so light? What time is it?”
Amanda was about to respond when there was a muffled groan from somewhere nearby and a loud scream from somewhere downstairs.
The guard reached under his jacket and pulled out a pistol and then ran down the hall. Against her better judgment, Amanda raced after him. The hall turned left, and lying in the middle of the hall was another guard, writhing on the floor, clutching alternately at his left ankle, which twisted at an odd angle, and his left hand, which hung limp and unmoving. Before the first guard—Amanda was fairly certain his name was Lertenz—could reach the man on the floor, several other guards descended on him and dragged him away. Lertenz continued to the grand staircase and crouched behind a banister, his pistol at the ready. Amanda had just reached him when he half-stood and pointed his weapon down into the lobby. His body relaxed a moment later and he hurriedly ran down the staircase. Amanda, still running, slid and crashed into the banister.
She could now see what the all the screaming was about. Down below in the lobby was a maid, shrieking and being led away by guards, and on the floor, naked and surrounded by a strange halo of soot, was her husband. Amanda’s first thought was that he was dead, but a moment later he curled into a ball, and then pulled himself to a sitting position. Lertenz reached him then, and Edgar began yelling at him. Amanda didn’t care what they were saying; she pulled herself off of the banister and ran down to Edgar. For one brief second, she had thought her husband was dead, killed just like his uncle had been, and she knew she couldn’t take that, couldn’t survive that…
Edgar pulled away from the embrace he was in. “Get off of me, **** it! I’m fine!” He looked down. “And someone get me some **** pants!”
He pushed past Amanda and headed for the kitchen. Lertenz stepped forward. “Sir, what—“
Amanda put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Let me handle it.” She jogged after her husband, and when she caught up with him she grabbed his arm. He swung around and glared at her. Thirty seconds ago, she would have wilted, backed off, felt sorry for herself. But after the way he had responded to her honest concern, she held her resolve and glared back at him. “Ed, you tell me what is going on right now.”
“I have no idea.” Edgar jerked his arm away from Amanda. “I don’t know, but I’m naked and hungry, so I don’t very much care.” He turned away from her and stalked away.
It was useless going after him. He had gotten into this mood before, steadfastly refusing any love or support. In times past, Amanda had just let him do it, letting it continue for weeks at a time. Now, though… she didn’t know what she would do know…
Just before Edgar disappeared from sight, Amanda looked him over and saw that he was different. He seemed younger, more full of energy. The way he walked suggested a new power seething just under the surface.
“Mom? I heard someone screaming. What’s going on? Where’s dad going?”
Amanda turned to see Ethan coming down the stairs, still wiping sleep out of his eyes. Amanda sighed; she had hoped Ethan wouldn’t see any of this. “It’s nothing honey, just go back to sleep.”
“But its time to get ready for school…”
Ethan reached his mother, and Amanda took his hand and led him back up the stairs. “I know, honey, but things are different know. You might not be going to school for a while.”
“Really?” Ethan was probably excited about that, but he was too tired to express any emotion. Yesterday had been too stressful.
“Uh huh. So you can go back to bed now, and we’ll worry about school tomorrow.”
“Okay…” They were back in Ethan’s room, and Amanda helped him into bed, and then quietly left. She stood outside for a few minutes, not sure what to do, and then went back to her room and sat on the bed.
She had been married to Edgar for nearly eighteen years. She had hoped the marriage would work, had been devoted to making it work… but for his part he never seemed to try… And now, when she had reached out to him, he had rejected her…
She thought again about the threats that this sudden change would have for her son. He was now the target f every kidnapper on the planet. And deep in her heart, Amanda knew that Edgar didn’t care about Ethan. She wanted to stay with Edgar for her son’s sake but she knew she had to do what was best for him, no matter what. And now… now something had changed in Edgar. He seemed to be a different person today, and she didn’t like that person. Maybe it was time for a divorce…
But she couldn’t do it so abruptly, just like that. She would need to find out as much about what was going on as possible. Maybe Edgar was just reacting to the stress of his new office… She would ask around for advice: her mother, her therapist, Ethan’s counselor, her friends… and—she didn’t know why, maybe because he was closer to her husband than anyone else—Mistlethwakey…
But that could wait. Amanda undressed, burrowed under the covers, and went back to sleep.

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