As the sun’s edge began to creep above the horizon, it lit the sky with a strange, warm glow. Roderigo had been watching the bay from the window for several hours by then–he’d been unable to sleep through the night. He turned his head to check on the others, all asleep in the living room. No one had been able to return to their beds. Instead, they all chose to take to the furniture and floor.
Carter’s spot was already empty. Roderigo heard the bubbling sound of the espresso machine echoing out from the kitchen. “Looks pretty bad out there,” he heard Carter say. “That red glow means trouble. Well, I guess you already know.”
“Yeah,” Roderigo said, taking a long sip from his cup. It was a very bad sign to those on the ocean, especially to those who used sails. More than a few ships were lost on days where the sky was red at sunrise–there was even an old saying about that phenomenon.
Fiona had only been gone for half an hour. She’d arrived home in a panic, but was able to tell them about what had happened. Despite that, there wasn’t much discussion. The poem was too cryptic, and while the detail about the shattered glass was new, there wasn’t much information to gleam from it. There was only one detail that stood out–the date that Princess had mentioned in the poem was a familiar one.
It was the Bauer twins’ birthday.
After that, Roderigo was surprised that anyone fell asleep at all. Even Fiona had managed to drift off after a couple of hours. He could tell, however, that they were sleeping light. The slightest noise stirred them, and each of them had awakened at least once. In fact, Roderigo was the only one not to get any sleep at all.
It wasn’t because of that story, however. Something else, something personally stressful had started bothering him before Fiona had left. His hallucinations had returned, and they had filled his head with nonsense. But what bothered him wasn’t the mindless chatter, but the few voices that had gained strength in the hours that had followed. These voices were particularly unsettling.
Something about him was changing. If he focused, he could feel his physical being altered, giving birth to a slowly growing hunger that seemed foul and foreign. He needed to bring the White Flame to something’s throat, to spill blood on its steel. This urge was so primordial that it could not possibly be psychological–his body ached every second he did not draw blood. He already knew that he was no longer human, but now he could feel it as clear as day–he was more powerful, more complete, like the person he was before was a mere shadow of his new self, and while this strength and awareness felt normal to him, he did not like it at all.
It was that new feeling that made the air seem foul. Something else was coming, something that could reduce the Earth to dust, and he could sense it. He could feel that ravenous God gnawing on strings of those around him. Should those strings break, he could sense the horror that would befall them, one he could only describe as hell itself.
“Here,” Carter said, handing him a cup of coffee. “Five sugars and vanilla creamer, just how you like it.”
“Thanks,” Roderigo said. He didn’t need it. He’d felt his need for sleep fading even without it. He took a hefty gulp of it anyway, and was unnerved by his body’s lack of response. He felt no warmer and no more alert. After another sip, he realized his body was not reacting to the caffeine. He didn’t want to think what this might mean for his medication.
Roderigo closed his eyes for a minute to clear his thoughts, then he turned back to the window, only to catch a glimpse of something flickering and dancing against the waves, only to fade out within a couple of seconds. That’s odd, he thought. For a moment, he dismissed it as the sun’s rays reflecting off the waves, but then he realized that his assumption was flawed. No, a reflection wouldn’t move like that.
After a second or two, he saw it flicker back into view, this time long enough for him to study it. The light seemed to hover a foot or two above the waves, erratically moving in a random horizontal manner. The edges seemed ill defined, almost fuzzy; there wasn’t a clear point where it began and the air around it ended. He briefly wondered if it was a form of ball lightning before dismissing it entirely–flashing lights were not an unusual visual hallucination.
Roderigo turned to see Yvonne standing behind him, her eyes still half closed. “It’s nothing.” It wasn’t a very good lie, not that it mattered. She always read him too easily. “It’s just a bad feeling in my gut,” he said. “Probably doesn’t mean anything.”
“Guess you’re right,” she said. She looked down at his cup, and smiled. “Is that coffee?”
“Yeah,” Roderigo said. He handed it to her, and she quickly chugged it before recoiling. A look of disgust stretching across her face. “Sorry, it’s probably a little sweet.”
“No, just cold,” she said. “I probably should’ve gotten my own cup.”
“Woke you up, though, didn’t it?” Roderigo asked. The joke seemed duller than it should have.
But Yvonne stilled smiled. “It’s funny,” she said. “When we met in ’99, I couldn’t believe it was you. You seemed so blank. But each year I’ve been around you, I’ve been able to pick a little more emotion out of the things you say.” She pulled him toward her and embraced him. “You’re still the same kind, funny man I went to high school with. People just need to pay attention.”
A sudden feeling of dread overcame him. Those voices–the loud ones–were telling him to cherish that moment, that it would be the one of the last they’d have together, that his wife would soon step out the door and never come back. They’re just thoughts, he told himself. They’re my own thoughts, running wild in my mind. That’s all they are. He closed his eyes and hugged her back
“Don’t ever leave me,” he said.