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Sonny Preyer - A Fairy Tale of a Different Kind

©2002 Bridgette Hayden, Graphic Art © 2007 Party_Advisor


Dedication Page
About the Author

Chapters 4-6 (of 30)



His arm hurt. Someone was squeezing his right hand. It was the pain that woke him up, and the sound of his name.

"Sonny... Can you hear me, Son?"

He'd recognize that gentle baritone anywhere. He opened his eyes. "Dad?"

Mr. Preyer gave his son a big smile. His hair was tousled and his clothes rumpled. One large, meaty hand clasped Sonny's while the other pumped a familiar, red stress ball.

"Hey Son. Givin' me gray hairs, guy. How ya feeling?"

"My arm hurts."

"It should. They poked you enough."

It was then that Sonny took in the bland, pastel blue walls, hanging IV tendrils, and his hospital bed. "Shit!"

He caught himself, looking at his father. "I'm sorry. I meant..."

"It's okay." Dom patted Sonny's arm.

"Why am I here? What happened?"

Now Dom rubbed his hands together, looking away from him.

"They had to run some tests. Try to determine... why you keep having these spells."

He quickly looked up again. "But don't worry. Doctor Sanders is handling everything. Don't you worry about a thing."

He tried to sit up. "What happened?"

"Don't." Dom pushed against his chest, forcing him to lay back down. "You've got an IV, Sonny. You're dehydrated."

Sonny looked over at the plastic bag and dangling tubes attached to him. Did Tyler hit him? He thought it, but he didn't realize he'd also said it.

"That boy will never put his goddamn hands on you again."

He stared at his father. Dom was smiling again, nodding his head. But there were tears in his eyes.

Sonny had stopped telling his parents about the run-ins with Tyler, since junior high, when his dad was arrested for hitting a smart-mouth Tyler. The kid was only fourteen, a minor. Dom had witnessed from their picture window, when Tyler picked up an old beer bottle he found and threw it at Sonny, catching his face. The bottle hadn't busted, but Sonny's lip bled from it's impact against his teeth. Dom ran out of the house so fast, Tyler didn't have a chance to get away.

But Dom gave all of his attention to Sonny, using the boy's shirt to wipe the blood and to stop the tears. When Tyler laughed, admitting to throwing the bottle, and telling Dom, 'And there ain't shit you can do about it,' Dom was on him in one swift motion, striking Tyler so hard it knocked him to the ground. Tyler's father pressed charges.

Dom made bail and didn't have to spend the night in jail at all. But just seeing his father hand-cuffed and put into a police car, watching from his room where he had been forced to go, was enough to teach Sonny to keep his mouth shut whenever Tyler or the other guys did anything to him. He couldn't bear seeing his dad arrested again. It just wasn't worth the hassle.

Now Sonny tried to read his father's riddled face. "What's wrong?"

Dom squeezed his hand again. Then, as if thinking about it, he sobered, pulling himself up with a deep breath. He brought the smaller hand in his to his lips lightly, then laid it back down. "People don't understand what this has been like."

He looked into Sonny's eyes. "I'm just supposed to put up with boys chasing after you, giving you hell? I'm supposed to let that toughen you up? Bullshit! Even if you were like the other boys... like Tyler, those boys aren't just bullies. They're dirty. You know how I know? I used to be a bully. I knew what it was like, not being able to resist picking on the small guy. Now people see a respectable, responsible husband and father, but I'm telling you, I would've been your worst nightmare. I'm not proud of that. But these boys around here, they don't just want to play rough with you. They don't know when to stop."

He lowered his head. "I just had no idea that God would give me such a good kid. I knew, the minute I looked into those huge blue eyes, that you didn't come into this world to be tough. You came to teach us a thing or two. These boys around here, I don't think they're as bad as Tyler was, but they scare me. I think they look at you, and they're so confused. We were crazy, your mother and I, to think that we could hide how amazing you are, with short hair and boys' clothes. It's not just on the outside, Son. But we did our best."

"I know, Dad." He kinda knew, and he kinda didn't know what his father was talking about.

"Do you? I wouldn't trade you for the world, Son."

What's going on?

Dom finally let go of his hand and stood up. "I'm gonna get some coffee. Mom's in the gift shop. I'll bring her back with me."


After he left, Sonny stared at the far wall, vaguely seeing a garden painted in muted colors. His mind was trying to remember the events that put him here, trying to make sense of what sounded like his father's confession. It wasn't long before there was a knock on his door. It cracked open before he managed to say anything, and it wasn't his parents.

A girl peered around it. A very dark-skinned girl. Shyly she stepped into the room, smiling. "Hi Sonny. Remember me?"

Now he did. Brecca Stewart. Two years ago they had both walked the annual Silver Springs March for Domestic Violence. It was a twenty-mile walk-a-thon to raise money for battered women and children shelters. They teamed up halfway through, thanks to Brecca's determination to ignore Sonny's silence, and continue making conversation as she stuck by his side.

By the end of the walk-a-thon, they were practically leaning into each other, stumbling from shaky legs and exhaustion. The walk ended at the recreation center, where participants were found passed out all over the couches and chairs in the lobby. The local newspaper covered the event, featuring a photo of Sonny and Brecca leaning against a corner wall, sound asleep, their heads and shoulders having found each other for support. Both had no idea this occurred until Monday morning's paper arrived. In spite of the amusing memory, neither had spoken to one another since.

"Brecca?" He said her name and questioned her presence at the same time. He was in no condition to hide his confusion.

"I'm sorry to barge in here like this. I just... I had to come and see you." She shook her head.

She was a tall, skinny girl. She wore part of her hair braided on top, and let the rest fell about her shoulders. Designer overalls over a plain white T-shirt, hung on her slender frame and matched her blue tennis shoes. A book bag slung over one shoulder. She, like Sonny, had a reputation for being weird. In junior high, she had claimed that she could see ghosts, leave her body, and tell the future, sentencing herself to a life of ridicule. But she handled it differently from Sonny, as if she enjoyed being an outcast. Unlike him, she looked at it as a sign of superior intelligence. That's what she had told him as they finished the last mile of the walk-a-thon two summers ago.

Now she seemed awkward and unsure. "I have your books." She retrieved three textbooks and a notebook from the bag. She stood for a moment holding them, then she noticed the small table at the end of his bed. "I feel so stupid. But here I am." She raised her arms, palms out. "I'm gonna leave. I promise. But I had to tell you that you shouldn't feel guilty for what happened. Tyler had every warning, and he ignored it."

She clasped her hands together. "I know people think I'm crazy, and I probably am. But I know what I saw. When you showed him what you really were, he should've backed down. He was stubborn. He wanted to be taken this way. He was an evil warrior, he wouldn't have it any other way. So don't feel guilty. He's not worth it. I just wanted to say that to you."

He knew he had missed something. But he didn't know when or where, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Warrior? Did something happen to Tyler?" Not that he cared about that jerk, but something strange was going on. And it wasn't just Brecca.

She simply stared at him for a moment. Then her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh my God, Sonny. I'm so sorry. I should've known they wouldn't have told you. Not right away. You haven't even talked to the police yet, have you?"


Brecca took a deep breath. "Tyler's dead. He was dead before he hit the ground. Cause of death hasn't been determined, but I know why. His heart stopped when you revealed yourself to him. You have an incredible light. That's all you are really, pure light. Physical eyes are not made to see that, but to block it out. Forgive me for being the one to tell you."

"What? What did you say?"

"One of those freak things, Sonny. He was up in your face. I told him to grow up, to cut it out. But he kept pushing and pushing. Everyone in that cafeteria, teachers and all, saw you stand up from your seat. You said something funny, almost like you were humming. Tyler shut up and turned as white as a sheet. His body lifted off of the floor, and slammed backwards into the brick wall at the end of the lockers. It was a dead body."

He let his eyes drift to the sheet covering his legs.

Another pathetic joke. And he felt so disoriented from hearing it. Between her and his dad, he wished he'd never woken up.

He told her, "This is sick, you know. Why won't you guys leave me alone? I used to think you were halfway decent, Brecca. You're just one of them. Leave please. I feel like crap and this isn't funny."

She bolted to his bedside. "If you thought I was half-way decent, then why didn't you accept my friendship? Why didn't you ever let me talk to you? You learned to run away when you saw me coming. I know it. All I ever saw in you was something wonderful. And I'm not lying. Tyler is dead."

Just then the door opened. Dom and Amber walked in. Brecca straightened. All eyes intersected. No one said a word.

Unable to hide the stricken look on his face, Sonny was almost glad when his father spoke.

"Well. You have a visitor. Introduce us to your friend, Sonny."

Before he could, Brecca stepped forward, holding out a slender hand. "Hi. I'm Brecca Stewart, a classmate."

The Preyers both accepted her hand with some reserve. Sonny hoped their bland smiles didn't offend her. He knew his parents were just in shock to find that their son had any friends at all.

"I was just leaving." Brecca hoisted her bag. But she lingered, rubbing her hands together.

"Look, I told Sonny what happened. I thought he knew. I'm sorry."

It was Dom's and Amber's turn to look stricken as they stared from the girl to Sonny. Amber recovered first. She walked over to the bed and sat down facing her son. But she looked just as lost as he did.

"I'm really sorry." Brecca exchanged a nervous glance with Dom, before opening the door and leaving. When she had gone, his father put his hands deep in his pockets and rocked on his heels. The air in the room seemed still even though the air conditioner's steady blow was starting to chill Sonny.

Dom cleared his throat. "I want you to know Son, everything's gonna be okay. No one is blaming you for anything."

Amber added, "What happened to that boy is unfortunate. But it had nothing to do with you. There were many witnesses."

"And by all accounts, no one saw you lay a finger on that boy," said Dom "As if you're capable of anything like that."

Sonny frowned. "Then it's true?"

"Yes." Amber reached for his hand. He pulled away. "I'm gonna be sick."

They stared at him, uncertain. When he retched, throwing himself over to the other side of the bed, they believed him. Amber grabbed a wastebasket. Dom called for a nurse.

In that instant, Sonny groaned in pain. Tiny beads of dark red blood splattered the bed sheets, lashed across Amber's blouse, and dotted the tiles on the floor.

In jerking himself to the other side of the bed, he had ripped out his IV.

The Preyers tried not to panic. But he made it difficult as his body continued to force his stomach content out of him. He choked. There was no keeping still as his mother tried to wrap the sheet around his bleeding arm. Dom yelled into the intercom, "Where's that damn nurse? Get somebody in here right now!"

Sonny pressed his head against the cold metal bar along the side of the bed. By now, feverish and strained, the coolness of it felt good to him. There was nothing else to throw up. Dry heaves wracked his body anyway.

The muscles along his abdomen were already painfully sore. His arms shook. He knew there was blood everywhere, but he couldn't muster enough energy to care.

Help arrived. He closed his eyes and surrendered to Doctor Sanders and the two male nurses with him. The sting he felt in his arm was nothing compared to the IV needle that had burned its way out.

He was already drifting when the two nurses rolled him to get fresh sheets onto the bed. He didn't know how long it all must've took, but it seemed to him that everyone was leaving, one by one. First the nurses, then his parents, then Sanders. Dom had bent down low over him, grasping his arm, but his words sounded strange to Sonny, all garbled. Those remaining in the room formed a line through the door. He watched it close behind them.

It occurred to him that he should be doing something, feeling something. He sensed an enormous weight, invisible, pressing against the fabric of reality. There was something occupying the same space as his bed, as the mounted television, as all four walls and everything in it. But he didn't know what it was. He couldn't remember.

Then Sanders stood over his bed again, hands behind his back and wearing a smile.

He tried to tell Sanders, "I don't want this." But it didn't come out right.

Again, Sonny heard words that didn't have any meaning.

"I've given you a mild sedative. You're going to be fine, Sonny. The tests I ran last week were inconclusive. You're going to have another diagnostic tomorrow, and if I'm pleased with your vitals, I'm going to let you go home."

He focussed on Sanders' tone. It was soothing. It reminded him of Brecca, and he kinda wished she had stayed.

"This has been a rough day for you. Try to relax and get some rest. The Tranxene I've given you will help with that. Sleep, Sonny."

He felt the doctor's hand on his head. It lingered there. Then Sanders was gone.

With no one and nothing to influence his attention, he floated between awake and asleep. He wanted to sleep, but there was something he needed to remember, and he couldn't.

Amorphous colors swirled in his vision. He looked over to his left and saw a fire burning in a hearth. A blond young man tended it.

Sonny stretched under the coverlets, glad to be back home. The tapestries, the burning clove, and the firelight falling across all of his books, intoxicated him. It was the familiarity of it all. The young man stoking the fire turned to look at him. "Oh, Sy. Come back to us, Sy."

He answered him, "Silly Cale, I am back."

With these words, Sonny closed his eyes on the fire and the young man. He slept.

The tests took all morning. By noon, he was back in his room, where Sanders joined him with his parents.

"The data isn't complete, but I already know there's disruptive activity in both temporal lobes. However, the pattern does not indicate full-blown seizures. But he is at risk." He gave Sonny a pointed stare before continuing. "None of his motor, nervous, or cerebral functions appear anymore affected than they were nine years ago. But his metabolism is showing an unusual enzymatic chemical reaction."

"And this means?" Dom pumped his rubber ball.

"It means that his brain is behaving as if he is starving. Instead of using glucose, its usual fuel, it's using ketones. To the brain, these are a last resort, pulled from reserves of protein and fat cells. I'm not definite, but this might be exactly why the disruptive activity has not turned into full-blown seizures."

Amber's hand went to her throat. "Sonny's body is trying to have seizures again?"

"No. His body is trying not to have seizures. I think the black-outs may be an abortive attempt to prevent further surges between neural synapses. Of course, the Neurologist will have the final say."

Dom frowned. "So what now?"

"Further analysis. And plenty of rest for Sonny. I should have more results by the end of this week. Other than that, his blood work looks fine. Red counts are a little low, but the metabolic shift explains that. Over the next few days, I hope to collect more precise information. Until then, he should take it easy, moderate activity. Make sure he eats. Since there's nothing else we know to do at this time, and there's no immediate threat, you're free to go home."

Sonny hopped off the bed, dressed and ready.

"One more thing."

All three waited warily.

"I have kept the police away from you for as long as I can. I told them you were in no condition to answer questions. Since they do not believe you to be a criminal, my medical authority has been respected. But they have to question you, Sonny. I recommended to the officers who were here yesterday that they stop by your home later tonight, allowing you some time to settle in. I reminded them that Tyler's death is a tragedy for you too, in spite of the circumstances. They agreed and left, but you may still run into some reporters downstairs. I would avoid the main exits if I were you.

Sonny didn't know what to say. Amber hugged the doctor, pressing a tearful "Thank you" into his shoulder.

Guided by his father's hand on his back, Sonny walked out of the hospital.

The Preyers skirted past the small crowd of people

gathered outside of the Emergency Room entrance. Heading

for the parking lot, Sonny saw three news vans, the local channels, stationed in a row in front of the hospital. He walked closer to his parents.

"Shit!" Dom stopped in mid-step.

Sonny saw why. Some of the news people and on-lookers

had cunningly staked out the Preyer's car.

His father lunged one huge arm around his shoulders. "It's okay, Son. Don't worry. Just let them do their thing, they're reporters. We'll be polite, but we're not talking. Just get in the car, and all of this will die down. Come on, it's gonna be okay."

Dom didn't sound like it was gonna be okay at


As soon as they approached the car, they were descended upon.

"Live from CSN, Sonny Preyer is leaving the Silver Springs Medical Center after the terrible incident at Silver High that has left this community still asking, what happened?"

"And here's Sonny Preyer now with his parents. We will ask him to comment..."

"Sonny can you tell us what happened in your own words..."

"Sonny, is it true that you've received anonymous death threats? And can you tell us..."

"What's the last thing you remember, Sonny?"

"Is it true that you and Tyler Croner had come to blows just prior to the incident?"

"What do you say to the rumors insisting that you belong to a cult and had it in for Tyler?"

The questions came on and on. Dom burrowed his way past the reporters, with Sonny close behind. Amber clutched the back of Sonny's shirt, trying not to get separated from her family. Dom opened the rear door, but just as Sonny bent to get in, someone grabbed his arm.

"Preyer! What did you do to my boy?"

Sonny found himself looking up into the bloodshot eyes of Mathew Croner, Tyler's father. In his sixties, Croner was a wiry man with a stooped frame. As long as Sonny could remember, the sunken man had walked with a stick, dragging the right half of his body. Even his face, with the right side of his mouth permanently frozen in a flat compression, gave Sonny the impression that Croner was imprisoned in his body. He had never heard what disease or malady had stricken Croner, only that the man was a widower who raised his son alone.

"Everybody knows you two didn't get along. Tyler ain't dead for no good reason! What the hell did you do to him?"

Croner threw spit with his words. Sonny felt the spray and smelled liquor. There was a tremor in the left hand that gripped his arm.

Dom stepped up to the man. A hush had fallen and cameras clicked away.

"Now Matt, take it easy. Let Sonny go."

Croner let go, but he stood his ground. "You damn Preyers always thought you were better than us. I ain't leaving till I hear something. I deserve an explanation for what happened to my son."

Dom clenched his fist and a white line appeared above his mouth. Sonny spoke up. "I'm sorry, Mr. Croner. I'm terribly sorry. It's true that Tyler and I didn't get along, but I don't know what happened to him. And I wouldn't wish this on him, or you. I'm sorry."

Croner opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something. His jaw trembled, and he closed it, averting his eyes.

He reminded Sonny of a wounded animal who could not be helped.

"He was all I had," Croner replied. "Tyler was all I had." The man's withered mouth chewed on his words.

Dom nudged Sonny. "Come on, Son. Get in."

He couldn't move. To him, it seemed that Croner was shriveling, wasting right before his eyes. The man's pain came at him, flooding his mind with information.

He saw the last fifteen years of Croner's life, saw the car crash that killed his wife and left one side of his body paralyzed. He saw the man left with a five year-old son to raise. Saw the loneliness and the alcoholism. The arguments between him and Tyler. Tyler hitting his father in their kitchen, knocking Croner into the stove. Croner calling the police. Croner taking pills. Croner asking for the Lord's forgiveness.

Sonny couldn't stand it anymore. "Mr. Croner, give me your hand."

If the crowd had gotten quiet, any residue of murmuring now came to a complete standstill. Dom's mouth fell open as he watched Sonny move to Croner. From the other side of the car, where she had maneuvered, Amber called her son's name.

But Sonny didn't hear her. All of his thought was bent on Croner. The stooped, older man did not give Sonny his hand, but merely stared at him, brows knitted together. Sonny reached out and took his coarse, gnarled fingers, and put them into his own. Then he did something even stranger. He held them against his chest.

"You were always worthy. Always.

As he spoke, something rose in and around him. In his head, was the sound of a thousand humming bees, a continuous sonic vibration that found a focal point in his chest. It was feeling-sound. It mounted. And for one split second, there was only he and Croner.

It was over, as quickly as it started. The next thing Sonny knew, Croner was pulling back, jerking so hard that he fell into the people behind him. Before Sonny could wonder at this, dizziness overcame him and a terrible ringing sounded inside his head. He felt relief when he realized he was in his father's arms. They were in the car and Dom held him, lifting and sliding him across the back seat. Sonny closed his eyes, aware of the engine starting. Someone was talking to him, a woman's voice. The more he strained to listen, the further away it sounded.

Running from Fate


When he awoke, it was dark outside his window. His bedside lamp had been left on, so he could see that he was back home, in his own room. Comforted by this for a few minutes, he then remembered the crowd around the car, and Mr. Croner drawing away from him, in what he assumed had been disgust.

Why had he grabbed Croner? Even he didn't know.

Lying on his back, he let his eyes trail along the tiny lines in the ceiling. Without warning, he couldn't breathe. His air passage was suddenly blocked. He sat up, coughing and gasping. The strangle in his throat did not go away immediately. Burning sinuses and lungs caused his eyes to water. By the time he finished coughing into his hand, and regained his normal breathing, he noticed a saccharine taste in the back of his throat. Strange. It tasted the way certain things smelled, but did not taste. Like almonds, or cherries. He didn't like either, but they had an affecting aroma that he felt should've been what they tasted like. It reminded him of something he could not name.

Recovered, he decided to leave his bedroom and face whatever was going on outside of it. It felt like he'd been in bed for days. Downstairs, he heard the television on in the den.


A woman looked up from the sofa, but it wasn't his mother. Delores Myers from across the street, gave Sonny an uneasy, dentured smile. People always seemed to be giving him false smiles these days, Sonny noted.

"Well how are you feeling, sleepy head?"

"Okay. Where's ..."

"Amber and Dom ran out to the grocery store and left you in my care. Just like old times."

Sonny returned her fake smile with one of his own. Maybe, he considered, they didn't trust him to be alone after all the fainting spells.

Then it hit him. He realized with a sudden pang, just how hungry he was. "Excuse me, I'm going to find something to eat. Would you like something?"

"No, honey. Just had my dinner a little while ago."

He left her grinning at him, like she was trying to prove she was happy or something. He plundered the refrigerator, looking for something appealing, simple, and instant. Lunchmeat didn't look very appetizing. Leftover spaghetti was less so. Everything else were items that had to be cooked. Bacon, pork chops, a bundle of fresh green beans from Amber's small vegetable garden, ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard.

He slammed the fridge. Shuffling along each cabinet, he hoped for something hidden among the dry and canned goods. Instant potatoes, ravioli, cereal, cookies, none of these even remotely seemed edible to him. He could remember a time when ravioli was all he wanted to eat.

He gave up on the storage and stood at the counter thinking. The emptiness in his stomach was almost nauseating, if that were possible. Back to the refrigerator, hoping to spy something he'd missed before, he crouched down and began removing the foiled and plastic containers. Then he saw them. The most delicious looking things in the world. Behind the greens, sat three bundled, ripe, red tomatoes. His mouth watered.

Right there, in front of the open fridge door, he sat down and started eating his tomatoes. This was where Amber and Dom found him when they came home.

He hadn't even heard the car pull up, so engrossed in sucking the tangy flesh and letting its seeded juice squeeze into his mouth, had he been. He was eating the last one when Amber walked into the kitchen, stopped, and was nearly hit from behind by Dom. Both stared.

The only thing Sonny could think to say when he saw them was, "Did you buy more tomatoes?"

Amber's reply was slow. "No. We have tomatoes in the garden."

"Oh. That's good." He got up off the floor and began putting the food around him back inside.

Dom moved around his wife. "Are you okay, Son? How ya feeling?"

He shrugged. "I was just hungry."

Amber sat her groceries down. "Well that's good. I hope you still have room for lasagna, your favorite."

"Sure." That wasn't quite true, but he didn't want to disappoint her. The truth was, the thought of lasagna made him wish he'd never said he was hungry.

An hour later at the dinner table, his parents watched him pick at his food. He knew they were looking, but the one bite of lasagna he had managed to put in his mouth, had to be discreetly spat into his napkin. He did eat his salad though, and not just the tomatoes. This seemed to please Amber.

"You want some more salad, Son?"

"No thanks."

He pretended to be interested in his food for just a minute longer, before finally giving up.

"Excuse me. Think I'll see what's on television"

His parents exchanged odd looks. So odd, that Sonny stayed in his seat. "Is that okay?" He waited.

"Sure," they said in unison.

He washed his dinner plate, as was customary, and headed for the den. Crawling into his father's Deluxe Easy Chair, which swallowed him, he grabbed the remote and began sifting through the channels. He found a rerun of a show that was popular five years ago, and settled. Joined by Amber and Dom, the three of them watched TV, something they hadn't done together in a long time.

During the commercial break, Dom asked, "You wanna go downstairs and shoot some pool a little later, Son?"


This was affirmative enough for Dom, who grinned. When the show went off, he clapped his big hands together loudly, "How 'bout it, Son? Two out of three?"

Sonny gave an effortful sigh, wondering why Dom couldn't see how not in the mood for pool he was. The more he thought about it, the more he wished it wasn't so late, and that he could take a walk. He knew his parents would object.

He never did answer his father, and a minute later it was too late. He stared in abject horror at the TV screen in front of him. There he was, outside the hospital, hiding behind his father in the crowd. The camera had panned in, getting a close shot of his bewildered face. He didn't remember any television camera being that close to him, prying that overtly.

Everyone in the den froze.

"Tonight, Action Thirteen News gives an exclusive on the controversy surrounding eighteen year-old Sonny Preyer, and the death of his classmate, Tyler Croner. First accused of Tyler's death, without substantiated evidence, the young man further astounded the Silver Springs community when witnesses claimed that he used a laying on of hands to heal one of its citizens, Mathew Croner, Tyler's father. The incident has caused so much outrage in this quiet town that the boy's parents say they have been forced to address it publicly. Earlier today, the Preyers agreed to meet with the local press to give a brief statement on their son's behalf."

"That's enough." Dom reached for the TV.

"No!" Sonny brought the chair forward and the footrest down. "What is this?"

His father shoved his hands into his pockets and looked at the carpet. Sonny turned to his mother, who folded her hands together, two fingers at her lips, as she concentrated on her words. "We had to say something, Sonny. This town is filled with ignorant, superstitious people."

On TV, he saw himself, intimidated and exhausted, apologizing to Croner, and Croner walking away. He called to him, reaching for him. And in front of all those people, his parents, God and everybody, he saw himself closing his eyes and grasping Croner's hand to his chest. His lips murmured something the cameras did not pick up. The old man pulled out of his grasp and fell into the crowd. He saw himself drop behind the open car door, and his father reaching to the ground for him. People began helping a disheveled Croner to his feet, dusting him off.

The thin, crudely bent right arm that he had seen Croner lug around town all his life, now swung out wildly, warding off the crowd trying to help him stand. The leg that had always tagged along, with no effort of its own, now made concerted movements with the other, staggering amid the jostling as people craned to see what was going on.

The camera panned for an instant, to Dom attending matters behind the car door, then back to Croner who was feeling his body and staring at his hand and arm as if they weren't his. People spoke at once, their excitement canceling out one another's clarity. The camera swung back around to see the Preyer's car pulling off, as fast as the throng in their way would allow.

But it wasn't over. The anchorwoman continued to surmise as the screen showed the Preyer's car pulling into their driveway.

"Mr. and Mrs. Preyer declined to speak to the press at first. It wasn't until an object thrown from a circle of spectators hit Mrs. Preyer's head, that she and her husband decided it was best to speak on the matter."

Sonny caught his mother's rigid face before she turned away from him. He knew it meant that she was trying very hard not to cry.

Onscreen, the scene re-played: Dom standing in front of the rear car door, Sonny limp in his arms, and Amber closing the door behind him. His father climbed the steps of their porch, Amber following, when something crashed into the back of her head, shattering.

"The object was determined to be a common drinking glass. Amber Preyer, while shaken and appalled at her neighbors, suffered no serious injury."

Dom had quickly disappeared inside the house with Sonny. Amber, holding the back of her head, turned to face the swarm of people on her front lawn. "You ignorant trash!" She screamed. Heaving visibly, she struggled to shout out her words.

"I have lived here almost twenty years! I went to school with some of you. I've kept your kids, watched them grow up. I put my trust in this neighborhood because we looked out for each other. You all know Sonny isn't capable of hurting anyone. You have no right to treat us like this!"

Dom reappeared without Sonny, coaxing Amber. Then a dark-haired woman in a flowered housedress leapt into the frame and threw her arms around his mother. Sonny recognized Delores Myers, the woman he had woken up to find in the house. She was joined by her husband, and another woman, until the whole front steps of the house was covered.

"It's apparent that in spite of the threats and assault the Preyers have endured since their son was first accused two days ago, there is still a considerable amount of love and support for them among their neighbors."

Delores appeared on the screen. "I used to baby-sit Sonny. He's always been a quiet, withdrawn child. I guess quite shy, you might say. But he was always well-behaved."

"It's always the quiet ones," someone shouted off camera.

The scene changed to a bright room filled with long tables and folding chairs. Amber and Dom sat close, composed behind one of the tables. People on either side of them spoke at once.

"An impromptu press conference took place at the Silver Springs Community Center, where the Preyers agreed to meet with reporters shortly after the violent display which took place at their home."

He saw his mother flinch slightly at the disturbance of a flash going off in her face.

"What do you have to say about your son's involvement in the incident at the hospital?"

Dom cleared his throat, bending to the microphone. "Number one, we don't know that Mathew Croner was suddenly healed. That's just what people are saying, hearsay. And number two, it's obvious that my son was only showing compassion to Croner who was in a state of grief, understandably. Sonny has always been a compassionate person, and Tyler's death weighs heavily on his conscience simply because of the circumstances. There's no doubt in my mind that Sonny was only trying to comfort the man."

Questions continued, but he'd had enough. He turned off the TV and waited for his parents to say something. After several minutes of silence, he got the impression they were waiting on him to speak first.

"So that's where you were when I woke up?"

Dom nodded, sitting back down with his wife. She leaned forward. "We had to say something. These people were acting like village idiots. And it does look strange. I hated Tyler Croner, I'm sorry to say that. But Mathew loved his son just like we love you. He needed him, and this whole town knew that, even if they also knew how rotten the boy was. Tyler was still a child of this community, and nobody can figure out why he died like that. We agreed to that press conference hoping to let people know we're just as confused as they are, and that you are not to blame. We weren't there thirty minutes. That's all we really had to say."

Sonny sat there, feeling his whole life disintegrate.

"I think it helped," Amber continued. "No one's been back to our house. There were no nasty messages on the machine, the last time I checked. Some people have actually been nicer to us."

He wasn't listening anymore. He was sinking, and thinking about how dense and heavy the last few weeks had been. And the thought of Tyler...

"I have to get out of here." He stood. So did they.

"Just for a while. I need some fresh air. I need to move around."

Dom held up one thick hand, "Didn't you just see your mother get hit by some damn idiot?"

"I can't stay here right now." He walked out of the den. His parents followed, with his father's voice rising. "Those idiots are still out there. We can't take things for granted right now, Sonny."

He snatched a jacket from the hallway closet, glaring at Dom.

"You're not being rational, Son. Do not go out that door."

He put on the jacket. It was a rare thing in the Preyer house, but Sonny had been known to challenge his father a time or two. This was one of them.

Zipping up, he was aware that Dom's face was getting very red.

"Sonny, so help me God, I will haul your ass back in here."

"Don't make things worse, Son" Amber pleaded.

His hand on the doorknob, he looked at his parents. They couldn't understand that he was going to go crazy if he had to stay indoors another minute. From bed to bed, he felt like he'd been asleep for a week. He just wanted to wake up from what seemed like a perpetual lethargy. Sure his dad was mad as hell, but it wasn't like he was going to hit him or anything.

He had to make a run for it.

Slight, lightweight, and nimble, Sonny was sure he could move much more quickly than his heavy father. He got the door open and was out before Dom even got to it. He should've had it made. Especially when he jumped the steps and landed on the walkway. But halfway across it, he felt a firm grip on the back of his jacket.

"Dammit Sonny!"

His father could not stop the velocity of his own bulk. When he grabbed Sonny, he also crashed into him. Both hit the ground, Dom landing disastrously on top of his son.

"Son-of-a... Sonny! Are you okay?"

Out of air from having it knocked out of him, Sonny was not out of fight. As soon as Dom got off of him, he sprung to get away. Dom caught him by the arm and jerked him towards himself. He wrapped both of his arms around Sonny's shoulders and lifted him off the ground from behind.

"Jesus Christ! You been a model kid all these years. You're gonna throw a goddamn tantrum right now? At eight-goddamn-teen? I don't think so."

"Let go!" Sonny struggled, but his father's arms felt just like they did when he was little and couldn't break out of Dom's bear hugs. Like steel bars. Not only had he not inherited his father's physical stature, he hadn't even inherited the stature of a normal boy. His upper body strength was minimal. His mother was probably stronger than he was.

Dom wrestled him back onto the porch. He spotted a few people silhouetted in their doorways, wondering what was going on.

Back inside, his father didn't release him until the door was shut and locked by Amber. Then he flew from Dom's arms, letting go of a strangled cry of frustration. He had never cursed at either of his parents a day in his life. But as he fell against the doorframe, between the kitchen and the living room, he almost cursed them then. Almost said something awful. Almost.

He glared at them as hard as he could, feeling hot and humiliated. Across from him, they were a team. He was outnumbered.

Dom took a moment to catch his breath. He sat down at the kitchen table, raking his palm down his face.

Amber spoke first. "We're not the enemy, Son." Simple. Restrained.

He turned his ferocity on her, no longer sure why he was treating them this way. But he wasn't ready to let it go.

Getting up, Dom went to the sink and returned with two cold, wet paper towels. He folded both, still dripping, and placed one on the back of Sonny's neck. The other, on his forehead. Sonny's breath came in short gasps.

He hated giving in to Dom's ministrations, but the cool, makeshift compressions felt good under the weight of his father's hands.

"This is all gonna pass. It can't last." Dom's voice sounded unsteady. He figured his parents were afraid he'd pass out again. Amber left the room.

"You okay, honey?"

He nodded that he was all right, keenly aware of Dom's choice to address him as he might a daughter. Sometimes he didn't mind this kind of indulgence from him, but he chastised himself for liking it. It wasn't a very manly thing to do. But in a way, this had always been a private allowance between them. Just something that only his father could render harmless.

"I'm going to lay down."

Dom saw him to the stairs, and watched him disappear down the hall. Only when he heard the bedroom door close, did he turn away.

The last thing Sonny wanted to do was go to bed. Not that he was feeling energetic, but he was still angry. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up and something terrible has happened, something crazy.

He sat at the end of his bed for a few minutes before noticing his reflection in his bedroom window. An idea came to him.

He hadn't crawled out onto his roof since he was fourteen. It used to be a refuge, from which he could see the park and watch the other kids playing there after school. Now he wanted to go there. Just to be away from his house.

In the dead of night, the air wafted cool without its daytime humidity. He ignored the dead leaves, sticks, and other debris that littered the roof, having fallen from overhanging tree limbs. He made a mental note to help his dad clean it off, clean out the gutters too. He settled himself on the sloping tiles for a minute and looked up into the sky. How the night seemed to open. The breeze felt good.

No point in wasting time. He scooted down alongside sill. He had to be careful. It was his parent's bedroom window he had to pass. Once below it, it was just a matter of gripping the guttering long enough to swing his legs over it and reach the lattice structure supporting his mother's roses. From there, the climb down was easy.

On the ground, he looked for any signs of people. But his street looked deserted, the lampposts revealing nothing but an empty stretch of road. Only a few interior house lit the dark.

He took off, dashing across his lawn as if his father still chased him. He didn't want to chance being seen. In fact, the further down the block he got, the more he wished he'd worn the jacket he had before, and maybe a cap. Anything to make it less obvious who he was. The image of the glass breaking on his mother's head, her tearful fury, put a knot in his stomach each time it replayed itself in his mind. Guilt gnawed at him, but he put it aside and kept moving.

He reached the baseball fence out of breath. The park was just on the other side. But up ahead, he saw headlights as a car turned onto the street, headed in his direction.

Remain calm, went a voice in his head. It's just an innocent driver, out late like you. Not a threat.

As the car got closer to him, he put his head down, his heart pounding in his chest. There was absolutely nowhere to duck into. But he didn't have to worry. The headlights passed him. He felt silly. He looked back to see that it was a black Honda. And now it slowed down, almost stopping.

It's nothing, keep walking, he urged himself. But he did turn to look again. The car made a U-turn in the middle of the street.

He couldn't move fast enough. It was like one of his old nightmares, where his body betrayed him, and he couldn't will it to go any faster.

The end of the baseball fence looked a mile away. If he could reach it, he'd disappear into the trees lining the outskirts of the park. The car caught up with him and passed him again. But this time, it came to a complete stop about fifteen yards ahead of him. Sonny stopped, his plans shot. The car was now between himself and the park.

His mouth hung open as he watched the car door swing out, and a figure stepped from it. He couldn't see any details, just the vague outline of someone tall, and definitely masculine.

"Don't run, Sonny."

A tremor shot from the bottom of his spine up through his chest. He knew that voice. It belonged to Shore, the counselor. He took off in the opposite direction.

The last time he'd seen Shore, the man had threatened him with a knife, or a dagger or something. He wasn't about to wait around to see what Shore wanted now.

He didn't have to. When he looked back, Shore was gaining on him. Alarm propelled Sonny. He knew he didn't have enough strength to run all the way back home. Then he remembered what he'd seen the other boys do when they used to chase each other across the neighborhood. He only hoped he still had enough distance left between Shore and himself to do it. The man could run.


He threw himself onto the chain-linked fence, remembering to grip as high as he could and to find his footing quickly. He'd only tried this once before, when no one was around, just to see if he could do it like the other boys. It wasn't as easy as they made it look. It resulted in a badly sprained ankle that first and last time. The fence was only about fifteen feet high, but it was old and rickety. It swayed a little, causing his arms to shake when he reached the top and tried to throw his leg over to straddle it.

Shore hit the fence. "Sonny, you can't run from me."

He looked down into the counselor's face for one second. He wasn't sure what he saw there, but it wasn't encouraging. Wild eyes gleamed up at him under the street light. Sweat shone on the man's face as his lips stretched across clenched teeth. Shore drew back his fist and pounded the fence as hard as he could. Chain links vibrated his anger. Sonny felt it.

Something like a growl escaped Shore. "Don't do it. I swear, I will come after you."

Instead of climbing down closer to the ground, Sonny just let go. He wasn't braced for the drop. His feet hit the ground, but he fell hard to his knees, jarring his torso forward until his head hit also. For a split second, he wasn't sure he could get back up. His arms didn't seem to want to push him up. But he knew he had to. Back on his feet, he turned in time to see Shore reaching the top of the fence.

Sonny's legs were already moving before his brain registered that it wasn't over. Now he broke into an open run across the field. He knew that to glance back for even a second was too dangerous. All his might was bent on getting to the other side in time to leap the fence again. Then surely he could lose Shore in the trees. The field was just an alternate route to the only place where Sonny stood a chance of hiding. He had to make it to that fence.

Running as fast as he could, he fought all reason telling him that the field was too wide, the fence too far away, and his body already too exhausted. He felt his momentum decreasing against his will. Something broke inside his chest and poured out of his eyes. Fear. He kept running.

Never in his life had he suffered such a rise of pure dread, as he did when he felt Shore's locomotive force bearing down upon him. Everything, from Shore's rushed breath, to his body heat, to the sound of the grass crushing under his feet, infused Sonny with an utter loss of hope.

But he did make it to the fence. And so did his pursuer, simultaneously. Shore slammed into him with all of his weight, impacting the metal links and crushing Sonny between them and himself. The links dug deep into the side of Sonny's mashed face. The fence caved a little, accommodating the violent pressure. Sonny was pinned and helpless between it and Shore for what seemed like an eternity. The man's heaving chest bellowed hot bursts of air down on his neck.

Finally, Shore let go of the fence and released him. Sliding off of the steel, he was too afraid to turn around.

"Sonny, what did I tell you I was going to do if you fought this, if you brought anymore attention to yourself?"

Rough hands were on his shoulders, turning him around. Though Shore must've been in excellent shape to chase him down the way he did, Sonny noted that he now looked very drained, and worse for wear. Shore panted, resting his hands on his knees. His hair hung in wet strings over his brow. "Tyler was one thing," he said. "Croner is another. Wake up! You are doing harm."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You don't want to know. Your parents have not prepared you. So you hide the truth from yourself. Well, no longer. It is up to me to end this deceit."

With that, Shore opened his jacket. The silver dagger he carried caught a gleam of light and flickered at Sonny before Shore ever withdrew it. Wasting no time, Sonny surprised himself and kicked with all his remaining strength. His foot found its mark between Shore's legs. The man folded.

Sonny had just bought himself some time. He scrambled over the fence, too determined to care how it shook. By the time he was back on the ground, Shore was climbing. Shocked by such a quick recovery, Sonny was almost too stunned to run. But run he did, into the trees.

It didn't matter though. The underbrush had grown a lot more dense than he remembered it. Getting through the knurled twigs and limbs took greater effort than he expected. Shore had him on the ground and pinned before he knew what was happening.

"That was very foolish. You are dreaming. You are an Illumenae who must be kept. You must return to your world, your people. They need you there. You are hiding in this identity. You are upsetting the balance of this plane. You will attract the enemy's attention, and he will find you. He will learn how he can kill you. Then all will be lost. I have sworn by my life not to let that happen."

Sonny could hardly believe what he was hearing.

"The plan was to wait until you matured safely here. Your people could not risk another attack. Then bring you home. But your time is near. Your life force is upsetting everything. You are being rent by your resistance to what you are. You are literally spilling your energy and it affects everyone around you. Your maturation is greatly hindered by your fear, your resistance. The seal that binds you to this world must be broken. We cannot wait for it to break on its own, for you are fighting it."

Shore raised the knife.

Sonny didn't see his life flash, only the edge of the knife. It shone in the moonlight. He couldn't take his eyes off of the point aimed over his chest. When he was certain it would happen, his eyes shut tight.

He waited. And waited.

Under Shore's heavy frame, Sonny lay listening to the sound of Shore's breath straining through his teeth.

He dared to look. He saw the knife lower. But Shore's hold remained tight. He used all of his body weight to keep Sonny's arms pinned.

"Sy, it doesn't have to be this way. You are so close to maturation, to your destiny. Don't refuse it. Don't make us force you. I would sooner cut my own throat than cut into your perfect embodiment. Yet I will."

Shore's breath whispered through flared nostrils. "It comes to me that you are sleeping. You truly do not remember, in spite of your people's best efforts to awaken you, to remind you. But you are not so innocent. You resist the knowing that wants to break into your awareness. So I cannot wield this dagger in clear conscience." He returned it to his jacket.

"I say to you, that you shall be given one more chance. Only one more. The change is upon you. You are fevered right now. Stay at home. Avoid people. Anyone you need to see will come to you. Understand? When you start to hurt, help will come to you. Do not seek it. Do not draw attention to yourself. There will be no more reminders. Time is running out. If you do not come to fruition by your own doing, then you will come to it by ours. And you will not like it."

Shore let go of him, and stood. Sonny felt the blood rush back into his numb hands.

"Go home. Stay there. I should not have to speak to you again, for any reason. If I do, you may not survive it." He turned and disappeared through the trees.

Sonny remained on the ground shaking.

He knew he should be up on his feet, running for home. But the relief of not being stabbed brought with it an almost debilitating exhaustion, as if it had only been postponed. A little dizzy, he closed his eyes and listened to the crickets until the spinning stopped.

His legs trembled when he got to his feet. He leaned his back against the rough bark of a tree and prayed for the strength to get home. Now he wanted his bed. He wouldn't even have minded if Dom carried him up to it.

But something flickered through the trees. It was a light coming towards him. His skin prickled with alarm, but he still wasn't ready to leave the support of the tree.

The light came closer.

Tempting Tomatoes


Who else could know that he was here?

He dared not call out. The newsreel of his mother flickered in his mind. The owner of that flashlight might not be very friendly.

But the light got steadily closer, as if the person knew exactly where he was. Shore? Doubtful. But who else knew he was here? Would the man who'd almost killed him send help?

"Sonny!" A voice called. A female voice.

He was torn between caution and hope. Still he said nothing. But he didn't have to. The beam of light angled directly at him, searing his pupils. He turned away, hearing footsteps accelerate through the brush.

"There you are. My god, what happened?"

He couldn't be sure, but at least two people had arrived with the one light. And one of them sounded very familiar. He shielded his eyes.

"Get the light out of his face."

"Are you hurt?"

The beam lowered. Faces were still lost in the shadows, but he took a chance.


"Yeah, Son. It's me. What's going on?" She came closer, turning the light towards her own face. He could've cried to see that it was really her. He didn't care who her friend was, an extremely tall and angular figure whose white face could be detected in the dark, unlike Brecca's. The figure stayed back while Brecca came forward. Her posture was uncertain as she crept up to him. But her arms reached out. Sonny sank into her hug in spite of himself. Someone in this town liked him. At least someone in this town liked him.

Brecca pulled away. "What happened? Why are you in the woods?"

"How did you know I was here?"

"We've been looking for you. Everybody's been looking for you; you've been missing for hours. You weren't in your room when your dad checked on you. With everything that's been going on, the police agreed not to wait until your missing became official. Your parents called everyone they trust to help look for you. Mr. Shore said he thought he saw you in the park. But you ran from him."

Sonny let go of her, stepping back.

"Sonny, you're bleeding. Have you been here all this time?"

Was she crazy? Was he?

"I haven't been gone from my house twenty minutes. And Shore knows exactly where I am."

Brecca frowned. She glanced over her shoulder at the quiet figure she'd brought. It seemed to Sonny that the person shook their head.

"Sonny, your father told the police that he found you were missing at one thirty-five this morning. He said you were sick and under a doctor's care. Given everything that's happened, he was afraid for you. That was almost five hours ago."

He shook his head.

"You've lost some time somewhere. The sun's coming up, Sonny."

He looked up, catching sight of the horizon. Through an opening, in branches that looked back across the field where Shore had chased him, the slightest blue-gray divided land and sky. His heart dropped to his stomach. How could it be?

"Let us take you home."

Confusion left him mute. When Brecca took his arm, he let her. Her companion now stepped forward, laying a hand on Sonny's shoulder, "Let me help you also."

He had to look almost straight up. The guy had closed in, towering over him.

"This is Elden, my cousin."

Cousin? It might've been dim, but Sonny was still certain that Elden didn't look anything like Brecca.

Elden looked about six-four, with long blond hair spilling from beneath a bandana over his head, and very fair skin to match. He looked down at Sonny as if he too were making a study.

"I'm here to help you," Elden said again.

At Brecca's car, Sonny let them deposit him in the back seat. He watched them take their places up front. Now the sky was more gray than blue. The morning was already taking on an overcast look.

Brecca started the car. "Your dad is going to be so relieved.

It just occurred to him that he really didn't know anything about Brecca. And even less about the guy who kept turning around to look at him. Cousins?

"I changed my mind. I don't want to go home."

A lurch interrupted the smooth motion of the car.

"You have to go home."

He gritted his teeth. "I am so tired of doing what everybody tells me to do. Why does everybody want me at home?"

"That's the safest place for you." This didn't come from Brecca. Elden was looking at him directly now. "Things have escalated. People are looking for you, and not all of them have friendly intentions."

Sonny huffed, more than a little stunned. His eyes narrowed. "How would you know anything about it? I've never seen you around here before."

Before Elden could answer, Brecca cut in. "He knows because it's all over the news, and all in the papers. Croner's doctors confirmed publicly that he has full use of his body again after twelve years of irreparable nerve damage and deterioration. They even showed his x-rays. Tissue that wasn't there a year ago is present and healthy today. They just keep playing the footage of you touching Croner over and over again. Even the people who supported you have started to get nervous. It looks for all the world like you healed the man after killing his son. Croner himself went to the police, demanding your investigation."

Elden took over. "He said he felt a power coming from you. An evil power. He said that if he could, he'd give the use of his body back in return for his son. He doesn't want anything to do with such evil. No one's laughing at him, especially not the people who saw that boy die. This town is deciding what to do with you."

"That's crazy."

Brecca glanced into the rearview at him. "It's unofficial, but it's on everybody's mind. It might as well be a witch-hunt. Understand, I think most everyone knows it's bullshit. Spontaneous recoveries happen. But some people don't have to be convinced. Your dad's even thinking about getting you out of town. But that would totally convince more than a few that you have something to hide."

Again, he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

She added, "There's other things that have come out also."

He waited, keeping his hands folded between his knees. Staring down at them, he could feel Elden's eyes on him.

"Do you remember when Tyler broke his leg last fall?"

Of course. He didn't have to reply.

Brecca let out a heavy sigh. "Well, the people who were there are changing their stories. They're saying you did it on purpose."

"I didn't press that button."

"No, but you've demonstrated some ability to move objects without touching them, and everyone knows how much you hated Tyler. They're going with their assumptions.

"I wasn't even near it!"

"No one was near it. That's why it looks so strange, Sonny."

He closed his eyes and fought the rage.

"And everyone knows, or they think they do, what Tyler did to you, to deserve that broken leg."

Not going to cry. Not. He shook his head to no one but himself.

"The things Tyler said are coming back to some people. And there's a few who feel they can prove whether or not you intentionally hurt him."

Here it comes.

"He always picked on you. Almost obsessively. He made some incredible claims about you, about doing things to you. He bragged. People just thought he was an idiot, maybe touched in the head. Now they're saying that if there's any truth to what Tyler always said about you, then that would prove he really did those things, and that you had a motive for hurting him. For killing him, even if they're not sure how you did it."

Feeling nauseous was becoming a way of life for him.

"Some teachers have been questioned."

He thought of Mrs. Bay, the gym instructor. Would she tell?

"Don't worry. Legally, they can't do anything. The police aren't even interested in you, they're just trying to keep order. But there are some really stupid people in this town who don't care about the law. And that's why we have to get you home."

The outlets on Market Street passed by. What a bleak morning. How had everything gone so wrong so fast?

They pulled up in front of his house. He noticed Brecca and Elden exchanging communicative glances.

He blurted, "I think Shore wants to kill me."

Two faces turned to him.

"He pulled a knife on me this morning, last night, whatever. And he's threatened me before. Before anything happened to Tyler. Don't trust anything he says to you, Brecca. He lied about last night."

Instead of Brecca, it was Elden who responded. "He only said that you ran away from him into the woods. Are you sure that's a lie?"

Sonny's mouth fell open. "Who are you!" It was not a question, but an accusation. "This is none of your business."

At first the young man frowned. Then his smooth face softened. Pale blue eyes regarded Sonny. Prominent cheekbones and a thin, smooth mouth afforded him an unusual look. Almost delicate, if it weren't for the sharp, masculine angles of his bone structure, and something hard in his eyes, which sat beneath a stern brow. The long blond hair didn't help. It suddenly struck Sonny that the man was attractive. Very.

Then he hated the nosey, interfering stranger all the more.

Elden spoke in a low, calm tone. "I only want to help you."

Who was this guy? "You don't even know me."

"Then I shall get to know you."

Okay, that's enough. He opened his door. Brecca reached across and put her hand on his arm. "You're tired. Let us come by later on and talk. If you can't get out of the house, maybe you could use some company."

He wasn't sure. He really wouldn't have minded Brecca. But her cousin, definitely not. He tried to say as much with a sharp look at Elden, then back to her.

When he got out, so did they. They flanked him all the way to his door. It was locked, so he had to knock. Amber answered.

He expected the biggest, angriest reproach he'd ever gotten in his life. She was really the tough one, not his father. He was just careful not to rouse that side of his mother. He had never been able to soften her wrath with looks of pitiful remorse, the way he usually could with Dom. When it came to punishment, Amber dealt her hand of cards, then walked away. Dom however, feebly dropped his around his feet, revealing all.

But the grimace on his mother's face died away when she took a good look at him. If there had been steel in her eyes, it melted, pouring down her cheeks. This confused him.

"Are you just glad I'm home? I'm okay."

"Get in here."

She pulled him in by his shoulder. "What the hell did they do to you?" Her hands combed his hair, pressed the sides of his face, his forehead. "You're so hot, Sonny. Look at you. Those bastards!"

She began wiping his face with a dishtowel. When it came away, he saw blood. He put his hand to the side of his head and felt the torn, puckered skin. It stung. Now he realized what she meant. He must've been a wreck. He stared down at his ripped shirt, the welts and scratches along his arms, and the pine needles and dirt caked into his jeans.

"I'm okay. Nobody did anything. I'm okay."

She wasn't buying it.

"I got scraped up when I slipped off the roof. That's how I got out last night. I went through my window. Just for a walk, that's all. Nothing happened."

This seemed to make a difference. She sobered, "I'll call Dom and tell him you're home. He's still out looking."

Now she looked up, finally acknowledging the two people who'd brought him home. "Brenda, is it?" she asked.


"Brecca, yes. I remember. Thank you, Brecca." Amber hesitated.

"Oh, this is my cousin Elden. He's from out of town."

Elden offered a courteous nod. Amber returned it, bewildered. "Thank you both. I'd ask you to stay, but Sonny..."

"Oh that's okay. Sonny needs to rest, we understand."

Sonny watched them go. It seemed to him that Elden lingered a second too long before following Brecca out the door. What a creepy guy.

Now his mother folded her arms. "What the hell were you thinking, Sonny?"

He knew to keep quiet.

"Do you know how many people we got out of bed to help find you? Do you know how scared we were? Do you care? I just thank God that not everybody's turned against us. There are still some decent people around here. You know, we didn't even have to ask Ronald Shore, bless his heart. He volunteered to help look for you."

He shivered. Should he tell? Would she believe him?

"In case you haven't realized it, this is a crisis for us as a family. I know things are hard on you especially. But Dom and I need you to help us out a little. Act like you know what's going on around you."

He exploded, "I don't know what's going on around me. I go to sleep, when I wake up something newsworthy has happened and everybody's pointing at me. All I hear is don't leave the house, they're after you. Or hurry up and get home. After not having a clue what's going on, I'm supposed to be okay with that? And your friend Ronald Shore is a crazy lunatic. He pulled a knife on me tonight. A knife! He knew where I was the whole time."

"Ronald did what?"

"He pulled a knife on me. And he's threatened me before."

"You just told me nothing happened."

"You just told me to act like I know what's going on."

One unreasonable turn deserved another.

Amber sat down at the table and brought her fists to her mouth. Her eyes appeared not to be focussed on anything in front of her.

"You believe me, don't you?"

Her fists unfolded, becoming hands of prayer.

Finally she turned to him. "Go clean yourself up. Take a cool shower, not a hot one. I'm gonna fix you something to eat, and then I want you to go to bed. And stay there."

Did she believe him?

"I'm telling you the truth." He tried to read her expression. Stern authority confronted him. He backed away and headed for the shower.

The water should've felt good, soothing. But it made the abrasions along his skin burn. He'd forgotten about the tear on the side of his face until soap got in it. What had been a dull tinge, easily ignored, now flared painfully.

Then it hit him. As if someone had put a live wire to the base of his spine, a jolt of spasms rushed up his body and spread down his legs simultaneously. He fell, sliding against wet fiberglass. He landed hard on his left arm, with his head near the drain. But the spasms weren't finished.

They came in waves. It was like an energy surge going through him. Its beginning, a pinpoint of tingling that expanded outward into tendrils of raw sensation. With it came a rolling heat that pushed out through the cords of his muscles. As if his nerve endings were splayed, a million tiny fingers tickled just under his skin, overloading the fibrous network. He would've screamed if he could. But he could make no sound at all.

Contractions intercepted all messages between his brain and his vocal cords. Being afraid was the only thing he could do, as the waves wracked his body. It lasted for several minutes. When he opened his eyes, the spray going full-force above him, he swore that if he didn't drown, he'd call Sanders as soon as he got out of the shower.

He wasn't sure if it was over, but after a minute he attempted to sit up. When he succeeded, he turned the water off. Drawn up in the tub, he lay against the side. Another minute went by, then he slowly got to his feet.

He steadied himself by holding onto the towel rack. He was going to put one foot out of the tub, but before he could, another series of lightning bolts spread through him. This time, he clung to the rack with all of his will. And there he shook at the force pushing up through him and out.

No, no. He didn't want this.

Tears spilled from sheer pressure, something rising and rising. Not physical at all, but somehow connected to his flesh from the inside.

Only when it seemed to wane, was he able to release a sound. The scream inside him was reduced to a drawn whimper. Unwilling to let go of the rack, he rejected the thought of calling for help. As foolish as it was, he would rather die than have his parents see him naked.

He waited for his body to return to normal. It did not. Unlike the first attack, the second lingered. Its effects greatly lessened, but a steady stream of charged currents rippled from his lower body throughout.

Minutes passed. He wasn't sure how long he stood there clutching the bar. A knock on the door brought him back to the present.

"Sonny? You okay? Your breakfast is getting cold."

No, I need help.

He found his voice. "I'll be right down."

He released his grip on the bar. His knuckles ached. His legs held steady enough, but they still felt like jelly. He figured this was his chance. As fast as he could, he got out of the tub and braced himself against the sink. In the small bathroom, everything was only a few steps apart, something he used to complain about. Now he was grateful for the limited space. He waited at the sink. When nothing happened, he let go.

He caught sight of his reflection. Looking back at him, was a pallid, terrified young man. His dark brown hair hung in wet clumps. The cut at his right temple wasn't that bad after all, but the bruised imprint of those steel links was clearly visible on the right side. His father will want to know what happened.

Suddenly, he found his mouth filled with the saccharine water he had tasted yesterday. He spit it into the basin, and froze. A clear, pink-tinged liquid splattered the porcelain. Staring down at it, he calmly told himself that he wasn't bleeding internally. It didn't look like blood diffused by saliva. It looked like... some kind of juice.


Hastily, he dressed. A T-shirt and shorts were more than appropriate for going to bed after sunrise.

A watery motion continued to course through his center and out to his limbs. The rippling vibration wasn't as strong, but it was still there. Hungry, he saw no way of going downstairs and moving about. His body didn't feel stable. What was happening to him?

As he stood there, changes steadily took place. A heat-rush traveled up his back. It felt like a pocket of warmth turned on itself inside his chest. It separated into two definite points, and doubled back down his sides, running slowly like two distinct streams of thick syrup.

He threw his head back and bit his lip to accommodate the shudder that came. Afraid it was another attack, he gripped the edge of the sink. But this time, no spasms came. This time, all the sensory expansion turned in on itself. What had been racing to get out of him, now flooded back into him. Sonny could only feel the concrete reality of this, the certainty, taking place. He couldn't see it or name it. The waves poured into his center, converging deep in his pelvis where they stayed, becoming a point once again. It felt as if someone had taken a large water-balloon, filled with very warm water, and wedged it right there.

His arms and legs returned to normal, mostly. A thin reverberation continued to hum through them. But they did not feel so unsteady.

He got to his room and fell on his bed, not bothering to shut his door. With his head buried in his pillow, he prayed for sleep. Food could wait. His muscles ached as if collapsed, and his lower abdomen churned, rising and swelling. And he was just plain tired.

He vaguely heard Amber when she came up to find him. He had no idea, or interest, in what she said to him. He didn't stir again until Dom sat down on the bed and placed one hand on his damp hair.

"Time for another haircut, Son."

His eyes never opened but he absorbed the touch and slept on.

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