“More pancakes Damien?” My mother asked with her typical warm smile. I nodded eagerly as she stacked a few more onto my plate. She set it down in front of me and then walked back to the stove to whip up another batch for my father. He was reading the news on his iPad as he always did. I smiled, as I looked between them and wondered how life could really be this perfect.
Being fifteen was great. I had plenty of friends at Hamilton High, even a potential girlfriend, and I don’t think I could have asked for much more. My mother was involved in a new research project, and my dad’s restaurant consulting business was booming. We were all happy, and nothing seemed to be able to take it away from us.
“How is that new project going, Mom?” I asked once I had swallowed most of the food in my mouth. I had a bad habit of speaking with my mouth full. She chided me most of the time, but with her back to me she didn’t notice.
“Oh it’s great. Have I told you about it yet? The university is doing a cross-cultural analysis of different tribes in Nigeria. I’ve been assigned to do research on the Yoruba tribe. I’ve already learned a great deal, but I think my favorite part is their music. Did you know that they play a drum called the Dundun, or Gangan that can mimic human speech? It’s used by other tribes too, and scientists normally call it the Talking Drum. They have some great dances that they perform while the drum is being played,” she replied with excitement. She was always excited whenever I showed interest in her work. I was into anthropology myself, so we had these sorts of conversations often.
“That’s pretty neat. Are you going to go to Africa again? Can I come this time?” I replied with enthusiasm. My dad chuckled as he heard me, and shook his head helplessly. He always did that when I asked her if I could go wherever she was going. Normally she just carefully explained that there wasn’t budget for that, though we had gone with her a couple of times over the years.
I was pleasantly surprised, and could tell that my dad was too, when she turned around with a big grin on her face and said, “Yes you can. I’m so glad you asked.”
“What!? Really?” I asked, stunned by her revelation. The news was too good to be true, but I quickly learned that it was going to be even better.
My mother nodded and explained, “I was talking with my department head and asked if there was any room for an intern. He said yes, but they would have to be sixteen or older. He then asked me if I had anyone in mind. I mentioned that you were fifteen but had an interest in Anthropology, and that you would be sixteen by the time of the Africa trip. He said he would have to think about it, but that he didn’t see anything inherently wrong with the idea. He called me last night to say that you could start as soon as you turn sixteen.”
“Woohoo!” I said excitedly, and then got up as quick as I could. I rushed to her side and embraced her more fully than I could ever remember doing. “You’re the best mom ever!”
“Wow, what a great deal. Can I be an intern too?” My father asked with a smile, showing that he too was pleased with the news. He winked at me when I turned to regard his quip, and I stuck my tongue out playfully.
“Oh Jason, you can come too; if you pay your own way of course. The school is only going to pay for me and one intern. Why don’t you bring up some travel information on your iPad and we’ll see what it’s going to cost.” My mother replied as she released me from the hug. I sat back down and devoured my pancakes, then listened to the ensuing conversation with a smile. I loved watching my parents banter. Even as they argued, I knew it was all fun for them, so I didn’t worry when they had their little debates. I knew that they loved each other completely.
I didn’t throw in any comments; I was content enough to just watch them talk. They had moved past talking about the specific trip and instead were arguing about which airline treated their passengers better. Watching them gave me a chance to think, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that kept nagging at me. It felt like I had done all of it before, though I knew that my mother had never mentioned anything about an internship to me. Forgetting something like that would have been impossible.
When my plate was cleaned I went to the sink and gave it a quick scrub before putting it in the dishwasher. I had been taught to be self-sufficient, and I was very aware that if I didn’t take care of my dishes then, I would just have to do them later when they piled up. Because my Mother was distracted, I decided to help out and do some of the pans as well while I was in the process. I was happy to do it, especially considering what she had done for me that day. I really did have the best mother in the world.
With a bow and a wave I left the room, saying that I was going to do research in the library about Nigeria, and they nodded and smiled before returning to their banter. I shook my head helplessly, knowing that they were never going to give up how they were.
My mother and father were both avid readers, and their book collection proved the fact. The largest room in the house, which was supposed to be the master bedroom, was instead a library dedicated to their mutual hobby. Growing up with their care had taught me to love reading just as much, if not more than they did, and I was always happy to sit down with a novel or even something non-fiction. Reading was in my genes.
When I entered the room and saw the shelf after shelf filled with books, I was excited to begin my research. I knew exactly where to begin my study. My mother had an entire bookcase dedicated to Africa. She had specialized in African studies over her entire career, and had acquired a large number of books for her research, even during the years that she had taken off just to focus on raising me. The university had been shocked to learn that she had kept up so well on her field of study, and had welcomed her back with open arms when she decided to return. Anyone who visited our personal library would know that she had never really left, just stopped getting paid for it.
Walking straight to the shelf I started scanning the titles, looking for something about Nigeria, or at least the western region of Africa. I was almost halfway down the bookcase when my mind told me that something was wrong. None of the titles on the shelves were about Africa at all. Instead they had titles I had never seen before, like “Advanced Telepathy”, or “Moving Objects With Your Mind, For Imbeciles”. The feeling of déjà vu came back forcefully for a second, and I felt like I could almost see the truth of what was going on. I reached out and tried to grasp at reality, but it slipped away from me as if it had just been carried away on some wind.
I shook my head and put myself back in the moment. I knew the African books had to be around somewhere, and my mother had to have simply moved them. Checking another shelf, I ran into a different set of books that I had never seen before. These were about Druids, and Celtic knots, and even a collection of tales about King Arthur. Once again, I reached for the source of the confusion, but it managed to evade me, again. I was getting frustrated, but I wasn’t sure if my frustration was the result of not being able to catch the truth, or in my inability to find the books on Africa. I rooted myself in the only reality I could find, and turned for another shelf.
The next book shelf contained books on Angels and Demons. I had never considered my parents to be New Age fans, and the thought that this was among their collection was almost laughable. The only thing I knew that my mother collected that was even remotely connected to the subject was her collection of dragon figurines, some of which had a demonic feel to them. As I laughed in my confusion, I continued to scan the titles on the shelf, until my eyes came to rest on a title that stood out to me. The book was titled, “Dae’Marca”. With a hand suddenly trembling for no reason I could discern, I reached out for the book. When I pulled the book from the shelf, it felt as if I had finally managed to grab onto the fleeting reality I had missed so far. I regarded the cover with interest and trepidation, for aside from the title there was nothing but a picture of a young, handsome teenager who seemed so familiar, but that I couldn’t seem to place where I knew him from. My day was getting stranger by the minute.
I was about to open the book when I heard a knock on the front door of the house. Assuming that my parents would get it, I went to open the book again when the knock sounded a second time. Grumbling, I hurried down the stairs to the accompanying rhythm of further knocking. I looked into the kitchen as I passed by, but I didn’t see my parents anywhere. Shrugging, I walked to the front door to find out who my urgent visitor was.
Looking through the peephole I saw a young man in a dark gray hoodie, standing with his arm poised to knock again. He looked straight at the hole as I looked out at him, and I took an involuntary step back from the door in my fear that he had somehow seen me. He knocked again, which brought me back to my senses, but before I could act again he shouted through the door, “Come on, Damien, let me in already.”
His voice was familiar, though like the boy on the book I still held in my hands, I couldn’t place where I had heard it before. I somehow knew that the man on the other side of the door was not there to harm me. However, it didn’t stop my nervousness as I reached for the door knob and opened the door. He stared at me like I was crazy as he pushed past me into the house, not waiting for an invitation.
“What took you so long? I’ve been trying to get to you for months! Marc’s been going insane with worry. He and your dad have practically been living at the hospital. Marc more than your dad, but that’s because the latter has to work. Even that little angel bitch has visited you a few times. What was her name...? Verina. Yeah, that’s it. Oh, and some kid Marc met at your school seems attached to you too, name’s Alan or something. So, let’s bust you out of here and get you back so we can kick some angel ass.”
I stared at him with confusion and a bit of horror. Everything he said flew right over my head, and I couldn’t process it at all. The only thing that seemed to stand out were the names he used and I still couldn’t figure out why.
“Wouldn’t you think the logical thing to start with is who you are? And what are you even talking about?” I replied with quickly growing anger. I had been having the best morning of my life until I went looking for books, and I was getting quite sick of the confusion.
“You have got to be kidding me,” He replied with a roll of his eyes, then he extended his left hand for me to shake, “Hello, I am Keith Morgan. It’s a pleasure to meet you Damien. I’m a psychic, you are too, and we’re both inside your head because you’re in a coma from getting your head smashed in by an ignorant teenager. Now can we go?”
As the memory of what had happened came rushing back to me, I was so overcome that I had to sit down. I missed the couch and ended up on the floor, but my mind was going so fast that I didn’t even notice the pain of hitting the hardwood. Everything played back vividly, from the moment that Karl had cornered me in the bathroom with his cronies, to his humiliating act of pissing on me, to the sound of his body hitting the floor.
All the other memories of the previous year started coming back in a slow trickle, and I began putting it all together. The house I had grown up in, finding out about the internship and the possibility of the trip to Africa; I had done it all before.
“Where are we anyway?” Keith asked curiously as he looked around the living room. Of course he wouldn’t recognize it. He hadn’t met me when I lived there. Some of the themes were the same, such as the African artifacts decorating the walls, but it definitely had a different feeling to it. My mother’s presence was strong in that house.
It took me a moment to respond, and I only did so after he stared at me expectantly. “This is the house that I was born and raised in. As you know, the house I live in now is new to me. I’m sorry, Keith, I don’t know what came over me. My memory is still a little fuzzy, but it seems to be coming back slowly.”
“Well, the good thing is that I finally made contact with you. I’ve been doing some pretty heavy-duty telepathy to try and reach you, and it has been exhausting. Marc is down to one favor that he can call on for me. Of course, trying to reach you was something I would have done anyway, but he insisted that I keep trying long after I left you for dead. No offense meant, but I thought you were a goner.” He said with a slight apologetic shrug, and then turned to continue looking about the room. I got the distinct impression that he was enjoying learning more about my deeper thoughts, despite the fact that he had been insistent on leaving just a moment earlier.
I was caught off guard by his next question though. “You’re mother is very strong here. I can sense her almost as well as I can sense you. This memory must mean a lot to you.”
I nodded sadly, and had to bite back tears, “Yeah, if I could pick any memory to relive over and over again, this would be the one. This was the day before she died. I had just found out I was going to become her intern at the university, studying Anthropology as hands on as I was going to get. We were planning a trip to Africa for shortly after my sixteenth birthday, and then,” I couldn’t continue, I was getting emotional, and I didn’t like getting emotional in front of Keith. I still felt that he was always judging me.
“And then she died. I’m sorry to hear that Damien, but at least you had something a lot of people don’t, even if it was short lived. You had parents that loved you. There are a lot of people who would envy what you did have. I don’t even remember my mother; she died giving birth to me. My father was a grueling taskmaster who trained me every day from the first time I could understand his telepathy. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t inherited the psychic genes.” Keith said over his shoulder as he picked up the same African mask that Marc had taken interest in. He set it down after a moment, and then moved on to another object in the collection.
“Are you saying that I should stop feeling sorry for myself? You know, you’re kind of a prick,” I replied bitterly.
“Ha! You always say that. I’ve got to live up to my reputation don’t I?” He said over his shoulder. He was grinning, so I knew he was bantering, but he had also hit a sore spot. I was going to press the issue, but I realized there was information I wanted that only he could supply. My memory was almost back in full now, and I remembered my first meeting with Keith, perfectly.
“You told me once that you didn’t like me for reasons you weren’t willing to share. I think you owe me that explanation now, especially since I consider us friends now. Tell me what bothers you about me that has nothing to do with my personality,” I demanded. He turned around and looked me in the eye, as if he was searching for something to validate his refusal to answer, but then he sighed and looked away. I knew I had won even before he answered.
“It’s because of what you are, Damien,” He began slowly, without looking at me. I could tell that the words were hard for him to get out, so I waited patiently for him to continue. “You are three things that I both love and despise. You are the son of Merlin, a very powerful psychic, and you are closer to Marc than I have ever been.”
If I thought I had been confused before, I learned a new definition of the work as I stared at Keith while I replied, “Wait, I don’t get any of those. Why would I being the son of Merlin or being a powerful psychic bother you? I thought that was a good thing to people on our side. And, are you really jealous of my relationship with Marc? That makes you sound sort of gay. Last time I checked, you were straight.”
“Well, I’ll address the last one first so that you don’t get the wrong idea,” he replied with a mirthless chuckle, “I grew up without any friends. My father was brutal at keeping me away from kids my age, especially human kids without abilities. He thought it would make me weak. I’d have ended up just like him if it weren’t for Dae’Marca. When I first started working with Dae’Marca on recommendation of his uncle, I treated him just like my father treated me. I was abusive and controlling. The difference was that he was not me. He fought back. He refused to bend to my will, and I quickly learned it was a skill he had acquired from interactions with his father. Marc is a rebel, Damien, if not by law then certainly in spirit. He became the one and only friend I had ever had. Seeing him happy with you has been great and wonderful from one side, but it also makes me feel as if I am being replaced. I truly want what’s best for Marc, but understand that with my personality, there was going to be some resentment toward you. Really, I’ve come to terms with it though. Our friendship hasn’t suffered as much as I had expected it to.”
I tried to show my sympathy and understanding in my facial expression, but I realized that he wasn’t looking at me so it wouldn’t do any good. I opened my mouth to say that it was okay, but he continued his explanation before I could speak.
“The other two points are tied together, and for that we need a quick history lesson. One thing you don’t know about the relationship between you and me is that we are cousins,” He briefly glanced toward me, and smiled slightly at my surprised reaction, and then went on, “I am descended from Merlin’s half-sister Morgana’s line. Almost as many generations back as Merlin is your grandfather, Merlin is my uncle, I just don’t have the drop of demon blood in my veins like you do.”
“Whoa, if we’re family shouldn’t that bring us closer? Isn’t that normally how it works?” I asked in my persistent confusion. All the revelations I was receiving seemed to be taking a long time to clear things up for me.
“Try telling that to Merlin,” Keith said with a helpless laugh, “He’s the one that kicked Morgana out of the family, and out of the druid order. Merlin’s mother, Guinevere, was the one who mated with Pen’Arthrun of the demons. He was the demon king’s brother, which I suppose actually means that you and Dae’Marca are distant cousins as well.”
“Whoa, really?” I asked in surprise. I actually wasn’t that turned off by the idea. I knew that as far back as our connection was, we might as well have not been related at all. The same was true of my connection with Keith. We may be cousins, but the amount of blood shared would be miniscule.
“Yes really, but you better not be thinking of making things weird between you and him because of it,” when he didn’t hear anything to support his suspicion, he went on, “A certain human warrior named Lancelot Le Fay won Guinevere’s heart and stole her away from Pen’Arthrun, whom she never really loved. They had a child together, Morgana. Morgana grew up to be Merlin’s rival, and was a powerful psychic in her own right. They never got along. Merlin ended up winning the popularity battle and had Morgana removed from the druidic order. For centuries after his death, her bloodline was still banned from joining the order. You gotta love politics. Eventually the druidic order was in shambles with no solid leadership, which was when my great grandfather stepped in. He brought order back to the druids, and they clung to his strong leadership. My family has always been proud of their legacy, especially my father and grandfather. I suppose the answer to your question is that I’m afraid you’ll come in and steal the show from me, and that history will repeat itself. I love the fact that the legend seems to be true, and that we have yet another powerful psychic on our side, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about the final outcome.”
He turned to face me as he finished. He seemed weary but at the same time relieved. It was as if he had gotten a weight off of his chest that had been there for a long time, and I was glad that he had been able to finally get rid of the pressure. I smiled at him as sincerely as I could, and made sure he could see my eyes as I replied, “Keith, there is no way I would do anything of the sort. Seriously, I have about as much interest in running the druidic order as I have in dying. I know pretty much nothing about the druids except what you and Marc have told me. In all honesty, once this war business is over I just want to go back to living a normal life if I can, with Marc of course.”
“Yeah, I’ve kind of gotten that impression. Just remember that you were the one who brought it up today. I don’t really think that way anymore, but when I first met you those were the thoughts I was repressing. Now, I think differently,” He turned back to the artifacts, though I caught a hint of a blush in his cheeks before he said; “Now I have two friends.”
I smiled widely and was practically glowing by his remark. I didn’t have many friends myself, so the admission of being one of Keith’s was something I was very into, even if he could be a prick from time to time. Thinking about friendship got me thinking about Marc, and then I realized that in our conversation I had almost forgotten that we were still stuck inside my comatose mind.
“So I’m just catching on to something you said when you first got here. You said you’ve been trying to reach me for months. How long has it been exactly?” I asked with some nervousness. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
Keith sighed as he turned back toward me and said, “About four months. It’s the dead of winter now. Marc was saying that your high school was going to be out for winter break in a week or so. I don’t see how that’s relevant though, considering you probably won’t be healthy enough to attend school anyway; blows to the head like that have a tendency to hamper motor control for a while.”
“As I said before, I was surprised that it took this long to find you inside your own head. I’ve only done this with one other person before, and I brought him back almost the moment I touched his mind. With you it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I don’t much care for such searches, but I was given a magnet today. I’m linked with Marc emphatically, which we hoped would give us enough residual connection to pull you out of wherever you were hiding. Now that I know you were living in the past, it makes a little more sense. You were cut off from your recent memories, which mean that you didn’t know who I was.”
The new information didn’t quite clear it up for me, and in an effort to understand I asked, “If I didn’t know who you were, why was I able to connect back as soon as I picked up on Marc? I only met him a week before I met you.”
Keith looked at me like I was an idiot, and then explained, “Don’t you think that your connection to Marc is a little bit stronger? Remember, I’ve been poking around in your head for the last four months. I believe I’ve discerned that Marc is the first thing to have made you happy since this day that you’re reliving here. You really think that his presence wouldn’t be more potent than my own? God, kids these days. . .”
I admit that I was embarrassed for my lack of understanding. It really did make sense, well, all except the last thing he said. “What do you mean, kids these days? You don’t look a day over twenty five!”
“Has Marc not told you that yet? Wow, he really is slacking, but then again maybe it was my responsibility,” he replied, seeming almost bemused at the thought. “Unlocking our psychic powers unlocks something else in the genetics that all psychics have; increased longevity. I will be celebrating my fifty-second year in the spring. “
“Whoa! So does that put us on par with the demons in lifespan?” I asked excitedly, realizing that it might mean I could spend a lot longer life with Marc than I had originally thought.
Keith nodded and replied, “Approximately. They tend to live a little longer than we do, but it’s not that far off. Since Marc is older, I assume the two of you are pretty evenly matched, though I admit I am not that well versed in the specifics of demon life spans.”
Losing none of the enthusiasm I had just gained, I exclaimed, “Well that’s some of the best news I’ve heard all day! Now let’s get back to the waking world. I think I’ve kept my boyfriend waiting long enough. How exactly do we go about this?”
Keith nodded toward the door he had come in through, and explained, “From all the texts I’ve found on rescuing coma victims from their own minds, the exit is usually in plain sight. Normally the problem is that the memory they live in is such that they would never find the door without help. I’m guessing that in your memory of this day you never entered this room. Well, the good news for you is that I made you come in here by knocking, and I came from outside your head. All we have to do now is walk through the door, and you should wake up.”
“That’s it huh? Just walk through the door?” I got up and walked over to the door in question, and stood looking at it. I found it difficult to will myself to turn the knob, but eventually I was able to force my hand onto fixture and turn, pulling the door open. I stared into the blackness on the other side. It hadn’t looked like that when I had let Keith in. Now it seemed intimidating.
“Well, there is one more piece to the puzzle. You’re tied to this memory. If you want to make this an easier process, you have to say a proper goodbye to this piece of nostalgia and let it go.” Keith explained as he stepped up beside me. I turned to look at him, and his eyes were full of nothing but sympathy. He knew how hard it was going to be for me.
“I don’t know how to do that,” I replied weakly. I didn’t want to let go of the last good memory I had of my mother. This one day had been my crutch for an entire year after she died. I needed it to be a part of me still. Or so I thought.
“Think of it this way, Damien. How happy would your mother be for you now? You’ve got a kickass boyfriend and superpowers. That’s what any mother would want for their kid anyway; love and strength. Do you think she would rather you were in here holding on to a fragment of her that isn’t even really her, or do you think she’d rather you were out living the dream?” Keith put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a few consoling pats. I drained every ounce of strength out of each pat. His support gave me the courage to do what I needed to.
I just had one more thing to do, and I knew that once I had done it, I could do anything. I turned away from the door and ran back to the kitchen. It was at the start of the memory again. My mother was cooking pancakes, and I knew my father would be joining us soon if I stayed. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to all of the people waiting for me in the waking world, so I changed it up.
I rushed to my mother and gave her the longest, hardest embrace I had ever given her. When she looked down at me with her usual loving eyes, I knew that she would always want what was best for me, and nothing else.
“What’s wrong Damien? Are you hurt?” She asked with concern.
“No mama, not really, I’m just saying that I love you. I met a boy the other day named Marc, and he’s a prince. He and I are going to go change the world together. I just wanted to see you smile one last time.” And smile she did. She was radiant, and I soaked in every ounce of it. And then I ran. I ran back to the living room and a waiting Keith, whose cheeks I could swear were wetter than when I had left him.
“You ready?” He asked, his voice confident and reassuring.
I nodded and replied with equal confidence, “You better believe it.”
I stepped up to the open doorway and smiled into the blackness. I knew it was going to take me home. “Goodbye mom,” I said, and then stepped into the abyss.