Rivers of the Dead: Book Three

4~2: Direction

Fear still gripped Ethan, even several hours after his dream. He couldn't sleep anymore, not now, not after seeing Caleb and being unable to reach him. It was Saturday night, and early, so he wasn't used to sleeping at this time, anyway, yet he also couldn't find the strength to leave his bedroom. Instead he paced anxiously, glancing at the clock from time to time, wondering if it would ever change, if the next day would come or if he was still dreaming, still trapped in his own mind.

The door opened without warning causing Ethan to jump, landing three feet away in a defensive posture, wild eyes blinking against the light streaming in from the hallway. "Ethan, honey . . ." Mrs. Pallet said, then saw Ethan's eyes and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Mom?" Ethan asked, slowly distinguishing her form in the doorway. She reached for the light switch and flipped it, then returned her attention to Ethan. He held his hand up against the glaring brightness, squinting at her.

Mrs. Pallet's concerned eyes met her son's as she said, "Ethan, you look like you're scared out of your mind. What happened?"

"Just a nightmare, Mom," Ethan said, shaking his head as he looked away. He relaxed his posture as he commenced pacing again, knowing he'd look crazy to his mother, but unable to find the energy to care. "I saw Caleb . . . I couldn't reach him."

"Oh, honey . . ." Mrs. Pallet said, taking a step into the room. She looked like she was about to hug him, but then pulled up short, her face a mask of uncertainty. "It's about time you faced this."

Ethan gave her an incredulous stare. "What?" He asked. "That's what you have to say to this? I have a nightmare and you tell me to face my fear?"

"Your best friend is gone. I'm so sorry, but . . ." Mrs. Pallet nodded to herself, apparently firming up her resolve for some hard thing she would have to do or say. "It's healthy to face your grief. I wish I could make it all better for you."

Ethan shook his head. "You can't. No one can."

"God can."

He heard both the words and their tone. This wasn't a casual mention. His mother had an agenda, something she'd come to accomplish tonight. She hadn't come to offer comfort, to check on him, or even to talk about how he needed to address his grief. No, this was a missionary visit, and she'd come for his soul. That was one thing he'd never give her or her god.

"Mom," Ethan said firmly. "I'm not going back to church. I know you—"

"I know," Mrs. Pallet interrupted, raising her hand. She walked the rest of the way into his room and sat down on the edge of his bed. She hung her head sadly, fidgeting with her hands as she continued, "But I was hoping you wouldn't say that. God could help you, Ethan. I believe in that. I really do."

"No. Death can't even help me, Mom," Ethan said, chuckling dryly. "What can God do?"

"God is more powerful than death," Mrs. Pallet said with conviction.

Ethan threw his hands up in the air and shouted, "Oh, Jesus Christ!"

He meant it as a curse, but Mrs. Pallet's eyes lit up with excitement at his apparent understanding of her point. "Yes, exactly!" She said enthusiastically.

Ethan met her gaze and said seriously, "No, Mom. Nothing is more powerful than Death. I'm sure of it. I've felt it."

Mrs. Pallet's eyes fell, and her face fell with it. "Son, if you're going to keep doing this, resisting God's light in your life . . ." She breathed out a heavy sigh. "After graduation, I don't think we can let you stay here. Your father and I have been talking, and between your claim to be gay and your apostasy, I just don't think we want you around your brother and sister."

Ethan recoiled as if he'd been slapped. He'd expected this, but somehow hearing the words still caught him off guard. He saw the conviction in his mother's eyes and realized it stood in the way of everything he was. She wanted him to suffer because his identity did not mesh with her identity for him. "So, you're going to evict me after all," he whispered.

"Please don't think that we don't love you—"

"I'll move out next weekend," Ethan said, overriding her words. "I'm eighteen already, so it's not like you're able to stop me. Liz offered me a place already, so . . ." He shrugged. "I guess there isn't anything else left to talk about is there?"

"Ethan, don't be like that. You can stay until you graduate, I said that already. We're doing this bec—"

"Because you love me," Ethan finished for her, letting out an exasperated sigh. "I heard the lie the first time, Mom. You're doing it because you love your God more than you love me. It's pretty simple. Now, if you'll please leave me alone so I can pack?"

Mrs. Pallet opened her mouth again, but Ethan shook his head, giving her a warning look. She raised her hands in surrender, stood up, and walked from his room. He waited for her to go and then closed the door gently behind her, not wanting to seem angry by slamming it.

And, to his surprise, he didn't feel angry, not really. Now that the initial shock was starting to wear away, he could see a certain logic behind it and found peace with the situation. They, his parents, saw the world differently than he did. They had no concept of magic, yet they believed in God. They believed in love, though not its many forms. In his time using magic he had seen the endless possibilities ahead of him and could see the vast potential expressions of life and energy.

They didn't understand, and that was okay. One day, perhaps, they could, and then he could be with them. But he had already traveled to a different place, experienced different things, and they no longer knew how to relate. They feared what they did not understand, and so they wanted it away from them — perhaps until they could understand it.

For the same reason, he had given up magic, at least for now. He expected to return to it one day, when he understood it for what it was. He wasn't evil, magic wasn't evil, it was just new. His parents, too, would understand that in time.

But for now, he needed to move on, and that meant he needed to make a call. Liz answered almost immediately, and after they exchanged hello's, Ethan said, "Liz, is that offer to stay at your place still valid? It looks like I'm going to be homeless soon."

Liz laughed. If it had been anyone else, Ethan would've thought she was going to make light of the situation, but he knew she wasn't. She just needed the relief that only laughter could bring. The sound brought a smile to Ethan's lips. "You bet," Liz said enthusiastically. "My Mom already said yes. Not like she has much say. I'm the one who pays most of the mortgage."

"Then expect a house guest by Friday," Ethan said firmly. "Think Jake could spare some time to help me move?"

"I'm sure he can," Liz replied, then, in a more serious tone, she asked, "You doing okay, Ethan?"

"Yeah," Ethan said, nodding to himself. "Better than I ever thought I would be, actually. I guess it's just . . . leaving home, it feels like I'm finally getting somewhere. Like I'm closer to where I want to be."

"You sound happy," Liz observed.

Ethan thought it over, and he realized the truth of the statement. He did feel happy. He had a sense of direction, even if that direction was out, and not to anything in specific. His momentary thought also brought the dream of Caleb back to his mind, and his ability to see infinite possibilities emerged once more. Ethan knew what to do.

"Yeah, but it's not just for that," he said. "You ever had a dream that felt magical?"

Liz snorted. "Of course. What's up?"

"I have a theory. About Caleb," Ethan said. He heard Liz take a sharp intake of breath, and he rushed to continue, "And before you give me that stare over the phone, I don't mean to bring him back. I just want to talk to him."

"You're talking a séance?" Liz asked, surprised. "That's a rather simple spell, compared to stuff we've done in the past. That being said, are you thinking of casting it?"

"Well," Ethan chuckled. "I was hoping you'd be willing."

"Of course," Liz replied, laughing along with him. "How about you give me a week to review the process, make sure we do it right, and we'll do it for your welcoming party?"

"Liz. You are awesome."

"I know, Ethan," Liz said, then with a mischievous tone she added, "I'm the most badass witch that ever lived in this town."

Ethan guffawed. "Jake's rubbing off on you."

Liz groaned, realizing what she'd said. "Don't remind me."

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"I'm sorry for your loss," Caleb said. His arms felt light, and suddenly she was gone, disappearing as if she had never existed. But she remained in Caleb's memory, a fragment of a ghost he'd carry with him as he moved forward. He looked up, fresh tears in his eyes as he imagined the edge of Elysium and walked toward it.