3 November 2013 ~ Hyacinth Noir’s Samhain Literary Issue
Post VI ~ Atticus of the Braithwolds, by Lore Lippincott
< adult content warning; part I available previously>
Atticus of the Braithwolds
Cabin Elm was minus a worker that morning. Sebastian thrummed his pencil. He turned it over and over against the top of the table. Angelica slammed a hand over his wrist to stop his nervous fidgeting. Raddix paused in his oration, looked up, and saw Angelica dismiss the interruption. He may not have Atticus’s keen awareness, but it wasn’t required to see the restlessness in Sebastian.
“Did I miss a key point in the story, Sebastian?”
“What?” Sebastian shifted, antsy again. “I wasn’t listening.” No apology was offered. Instead, he claimed the interruption as his own. “Hey, where’s our empath?”
“I don’t know,” answered Raddix. “I’m not a big believer in making these meetings mandatory. He’s allowed to miss a few days here and there, if he wants. You missed far more than a few days, old friend.”
“That was different,” Sebastian said with a lazy inflection. “I couldn’t help it.”
Raddix and Angelica shifted a secret message between them. Before it finished, Sebastian grabbed his laptop, folder and notebook and announced his intention to exit the meeting. They had no need for him that day.
“Yeah,” responded Raddix, cramped in his seat and feeling the numb-tingling beauty of the afternoon, “let’s all just call it quits and get out of here.”
No one left speedier than Sebastian. Finding the work paraphernalia cumbersome, he left them in his cabin, instinctively grabbed his walking stick and blue bard’s cloak. At Cabin Apple, the display of lounging felines caused him a brief stall until he found a path through the slumbering furry lumps to the door. He gave no notice of his arrival, simply barging in loudly, obtrusively. If Atticus were about, the arrival of a guest would be heard.
The single-room cube was empty. Sebastian circled its center, on the lookout for the poodle-haired head of Atticus. He called out, and only the faint odor of warm apples rose as the answer he wasn’t looking for. Upon the dirt and gravel path down from the door, Sebastian puzzled on Atticus’s whereabouts. The campground was not in itself enormous, but its paths through the woods lasted miles. Atticus could be lost in the distance. Sebastian knew from observation that Atticus favored the bend of the lake, where it broke from its usual form and dove into a lagoon surrounded by rocks and willows.
Not far from his destination, a blear of red blatantly abnormal in the span of earthy tones caused him to veer from his course. He’d found Atticus, yes, moored beneath a grove of naked cottonwoods. Their lost leaves, mingled with those of a hundred other indigenous species, pillowed Atticus. Sebastian slowly swept into a cross-legged position near him, more than an arm’s length, to keep their prepossessing energies from colliding. He didn’t want the empath of the Braithwolds to know his fatigue, his worry, the dull hurt in the marrow of his bones.
“I could hear you coming yards away,” Atticus muttered, bothered, disgusted. He tapped at the side of his head, above his ear. “Everything you do is in here.”
Sebastian leaned back, feeling a pop in his spine and the twinge of a childhood injury in his knee. Atticus flexed the same knee, stretched it out, but of this movement Sebastian gave no comment. Mere coincidence. He tasted bigger things of Atticus. “I didn’t know we were so connected.”
Atticus coughed on a laugh, choked, and sighed as he flung tears into his eyes.
Sebastian stared, mortified. “Why are you—upset?” He patted the pockets of his trousers to find a tissue, a handkerchief, anything to help Atticus hide. He found a napkin holding a half-gnawed mint. The mint ripped the soft paper and puttered to a stop in the tall dormant grasses. The rest of the napkin he gave to Atticus.
“I’ve been broken all day,” said Atticus, letting the leakiness of his eyes wet the paper, the back of his wrist, the hem of his jacket. “I woke up this way: broken. Like I’ve had my soul stretched. There are faces in my head I’ve never seen before. Whole lines of heads. They all want my attention. They all have something to say. They won’t shut up.”
Perturbed, Sebastian sat upright, used his knees to near Atticus. He was unsurprised by the appearance of Indira’s cat down the path. He ignored the sultry green eyes, and Atticus found more comfort in the cat than the human. “Who were they? Those people.”
“I don’t know them,” he replied, finding the words drawn out of him almost against his will. He would’ve never gone to Sebastian to talk of this, a topic too sensitive and provocative and astounding. Atticus stretched his hand out for Phoenix to rub. The cat sniffed with a shine against its bumpy ebony nose—but Atticus had his hand grabbed, held, warmed between Sebastian’s.
“Who are they?”
Atticus shook his head, rose as if to go, though he couldn’t wriggle free of Sebastian. He gave in, standing on his own beneath the cottonwoods, aware of their aura, their songs. Sebastian’s sad songs clashed with the fervid renewal of cold lips and fascinated eyes that pirouetted in his mind. Atticus clutched fists to temples, dragging his forehead to rest against a tree. “I don’t know them. They’re dead. They’re all dead. But they have voices and faces and memories. And I can’t get rid of them.”
Atticus had no idea how this sounded to Sebastian. It was nonsense to him. He couldn’t see how it was the truth, but he’d never been more sure of anything. They crowded his inner eye even then: that face, that face, another half-dozen browsed through, like photographs spun upon a never-ending web. He shook his head, hoping to scatter the images long enough for a decent reprieve.
He flinched at a hand against the back of his neck, but understood immediately that a darkness blanketed his thoughts—a thorough nocturne sent the faces to sleep. In a moment, Atticus rested against Sebastian’s shoulder, a vibration through his chest of a wordless song he’d never heard. That weight returned to the base of his stomach, a hollow but heavy thing that he construed as apprehension. But it was Sebastian’s, he supposed; it didn’t belong to him.
Sebastian barely had to finish the first verse before Atticus calmed enough to receive other signals and energies. With only the power of song, powerful in itself, Sebastian knew Atticus required better care from Raddix and Angelica.
It was funny, but Sebastian neither looked nor acted apprehensive. Gone was the smugness, too. He maintained that irritating awareness of his magnetism, and in reaction to it Atticus pulled away. He was pulled right back, glared at, kissed with an air of triumph and a passion that embarrassed him. Atticus let go, trembling and exhilarated, exhausted and amused.
“I knew you were going to do that,” he griped. It was easier to complain about being kissed than glorify it. He shoved Sebastian, allowing his hand to fall until their palms matched. He tugged, inching them forward along a path now drenched in the thin cyan beams of a mid-autumn sun. “Come on. We’re going back.”
Sebastian tried not to be too gratified. “I’ve wanted to do that since I saw you walk into the House of the Moon the first night you were here. But let’s not get carried away. At least it distracted you and shut those people up.” His hand received an extra strong squeeze. “One of my spiritual counselors was a medium. She used to say that nothing created boundaries and grounded her better than sex. Guess it’s true.”
Atticus heard his heart thumping on and on, thrusting its potion through the tightness at the top of his chest, the fullness at the base of his throat. He was aggravated, startled, afraid. “So what am I supposed to do for the rest of my life? Kiss you every time someone dead walks in?”
“That’d be nice, but I don’t think you need me specifically. Though—that’d be nice, too.”
But Atticus hadn’t heard the last part. He just returned to the main grounds, the squares of low-ceilinged cabins, smoke, songs caught in the cold breeze—and a filmy white wall that sent him into a mad blink. He rubbed his eyes, but the white glare stayed, even seemed to strengthen, smear the edges of every living tree and every grass blade. Defeated, Atticus sat where he stood. He heard the sound of their palms brushing together, one trying to hold on while the other let go.
“I can’t go any further. I think I’m going blind. Or I can’t see the way I’m used to seeing.” Sebastian’s hand grazed the top of his head, bringing a whoosh of short-lived serenity.
“I’ll get Raddix.”
Atticus watched Sebastian walk through the film as if it wasn’t there, and he became a brighter part of it. He lay on his back, arm thrust over his eyes to separate him from the otherworldly glare. He tried to think of a song—any song—hoping it would provide him with the emptiness that Sebastian’s melody had brought. But he could only think of the big band tunes that’d set the backdrop of his childhood, and they were not melancholic enough, and his voice wasn’t strong enough. He returned to the second he was aware of Sebastian’s lips, the second he thought the passion in it might split him in two. The heady perfume of eucalyptus, the scent of stone and meadow riding on the wind. The taste of him was the absence of everything else.
He opened his eyes to faces and an odor stinging his nostrils. But the faces were real, his friends. Angelica held an obnoxious tangle of weeds in front of him. He scurried to his feet, helped by Sebastian and Raddix. A swipe of the hand removed the smelly leaves.
“Those stink.” He wrinkled his nose, pinched his thumb and forefinger between his watering eyes. “That really stinks, Angelica!”
“We thought you’d fainted,” Angelica said, hiding the herbs in a leather pouch and giving him a scowl.
“What’s the matter with you?” Raddix held him at the elbow, Sebastian on the other side. “What’s this about not being able to see? And the dead?”
The light was still there, sharper than he’d seen it yet. He ignored it. It wasn’t important. “I woke up this morning and I could hear the dead. I could see them. No, I couldn’t hear them. I knew them. Their thoughts and what they wanted. I sat in the cabin all day, then went to the trees for healing.”
They took him back to his cabin, wrung the story from him with as much detail as successive cups of tea, a healthy fire and inquisitive friends could do. Angelica fetched Indira, who knew more of the dead than she and Raddix, but what Indira knew did not compare to the knowledge Sebastian claimed to have gleaned from his spiritual counselor.
“What?” He shrugged, perched backward in a ladder-backed chair, and returned his pointed chin to his wrists. He smiled at Atticus. “She’s dead, too. So she’s probably hanging around you.”
“And your grandmother,” Atticus said. “And an uncle—a great uncle.”
Sebastian didn’t know what they were telling Atticus. Nothing too poignant, he hoped. No spoilers. He wasn’t ready to know everything. What was the fun in that? He shifted the topic. “What can we do for him, Raddix?”
“How am I supposed to know? I don’t get it.” He studied Atticus like words of his sudden alienation from the common populace had been written upon his outer self. An unprecedented and likely ridiculous idea came to him. “I want to talk to Atticus alone.”
“But—” Sebastian began protesting, but Raddix’s bushy eyebrows were far more imploring than his manner, and with a lingering expression of doubt, he went out the door with Angelica and Indira. He nearly tripped over all the cats.
Angelica understood the reason for the cats, yet it was stranger to acknowledge the truth than downplay Atticus’s power. “Sebastian, let’s go over to the House of the Moon for some refreshments.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’re a man: You’re always hungry.”
“That is an unfair stereotype. And I feel like I’m being punished,” he grumbled. Again, he noticed himself crossing his arms tightly, an ache there, an awareness that burned a hole in him. “Why am I being punished?”
“You’re only being punished if you did something wrong.”
He glanced behind him. A few of the cats followed his footsteps. It wouldn’t do to tell him he wasn’t the one they wanted.
… to be continued
studies, works and writes in her native Ohio. Check www.breezydaystories.com for any upcoming scribbles and releases.