Chapter Ten

Evander walked through the black mist. Places that they knew but some they couldn't remember. The dark miasma was moving into shapes. Like a thousand reflections of them walking in the iridescent smoke. Occasionally one reflection would break away and head toward more darkened shapes.

Evander ignored the temptation to wander through memory lane. They needed to keep moving forward through this darkness. The deeper then went the more uneasy they became. Like the other reflections were like sirens luring them to their death. They wove between streep lamps that didn't offer any extra light. Shadow buildings rose up into a narrow street. The light they held travelled away from them and came from above in the street lights. Lighting up the street ahead.

The buildings turned into the winding and confusing maze of apartments. Before they'd realized it, they were walking in a familiar pattern through the complex. The black mist turned white and dispersed. Lights in the complex turned on and the streets under them were damp from rain.

There was a feeling of dread like a stone in their stomach. But they weren't in control of themself anymore. Everything looked so much bigger than they remembered it being but still being exactly the right size. They hopped up onto the concrete porch, surrounded by the worn blue fence. The brass doorknob was cold in their hand. They didn't want to go in. It turned and opened into the dark. The black shadows moved around for a moment before taking in the proper shape of the apartment. The second-hand couch that was worn and ugly. The coffee table with deep scratches and a few books propping it up. The leaning bookshelf with only three books.

Evander remembered those books. One on birds, on baking, and on mental positivity. Mom was all about that attracting positivity mentality. But mom wasn't quite herself anymore. Hadn't been since the separation.

"I'm home!" Evander called. Immediately confused as to why they did. They swung the door shut before realizing they had. The house was dark. No one was home. Right?

Upstairs came the heavy sound of footsteps. Evander immediately ran to the switch and flipped on the yellow light. Mom stood at the top of the stairs with wild eyes.

"We need to go." She whispered.

"Go where?" Evander asked. The dread building as they knew what was happening but couldn't break away. As if they were trapped in a horrible nightmare.

"Now! Get your things! Pack lightly." Their mom charged back into their room. Evander walked up the stairs into their own room. Bare. Just like they remembered it. A ghastly twin mattress on the ground with one hand-me-down comforter. A small dresser. The closet didn't have doors on it. Not anymore. Mom broke them off in one of her episodes. Rambling about how it would find them and kill them in their sleep. Clothes littered their floor, mom had already come through here. Chaotic steps came thundering down the hall. Mom smashed through the door.

"It's here. We need to leave!" Mom whispered hurriedly. Her face drained of color.

"Mom. What is it? Where are we going?" Evander didn't even open their mouth but that was their voice.

"Hurry. We need to hurry." Mom grabbed an armful of clothes from the floor and shoved them into a backpack. Shoving it at Evander and grabbing their arm hard.

"You're hurting me." Evander said. They were pulled down the stairs and out the door. They didn't even stop to shut the door or turn out the lights. Evander tried to keep up but their mom was running fast and it felt like they were running in place. Mom was rapidly looking around in a paranoid fashion.

"Mom. We left the door open, someone will break in!" Evander pleaded. Their mom shook their head.

"It's too late! We need to disappear." Mom said. "It's already here." Evander looked back and the apartment was swallowed by the darkness.

They ran through the night until the sliver moon was high overhead. Evander lagged farther and farther behind as their eyes grew heavy. Their mom's grip tightened on their arm, nails digging into their skin through their jacket. Black. No. Red. It was red.

Evander's eyes widened in a second of clarity. But it was lost as the looming overpass broke through the dark smoke. Mom shoved them at the fence. Tossing their backpacks over the other side. Evander could fit their sneakers into the holes of this fence. It was harder to pull themself up to the top. They scraped their thighs and ripped their jeans as they climbed across the other side. Their mom was over in a second. Grabbing the tight hold on Evander and rushing them down under the overpass. Cars drove across the roads above. Their headlights made quick flashes of light. Mom led them to the sloping ledge of a pair of support beams.

Evander sat down. Grateful to stop. Mom kept circling around the small area. Nodding and mumbling to themself.

"Mom?" Evander asked quietly. Mom only grunted in response. "Where are we? Why are we here? When can we go back home?" Mom kept pacing. Not responding. Evander curled up tighter.

"Mom?" Evander hardly whispered.

"It keeps finding me. How? HOW?" Mom whispered as she paced. Evander slowly stood up. Wary of how mom could be. They stepped forward and reached out. Their mom snatched their wrist and yanked them in. Squeezing their wrist hard in one hand but the second on their shoulder. Mom's wild eyes softened at Evander.

"Evander." She said mournfully. They smiled.

"C'mon mom. Let's just go home." Evander coaxed gently. Wrapping their free hand around their mother's shoulder and embracing her. Mom let go of Evander's wrist and hugged them back.

"Only one of us can escape." She whispered. Making Evander's stomach turn uncomfortably. "I'm so sorry."

Evander pulled back and looked at mom. She brushed Evander's hair back with a small smile. Evander wanted to smile back. But something about her face, her smile, was just wrong. Mom took Evander's hand gently and brought them to the pillar. Mom sat down in the dirt and Evander did as well. She reached into her bag and brought out the bottle. Evander grimaced.

"Hold out your hand." Mom whispered.

"I don't need it tonight." Evander said. "I'm already so tired." The arm around them squeezed tighter.

"Don't be ungrateful." Mom said through clenched teeth. Evander nodded and held out their hand. Mom bit the cap and twisted. Two small white pills fell into Evander's hand. Evander sighed and popped them into their mouth. Sucking up enough saliva to swallow the pills dry. They were bitter and made them gag. In a few seconds Evander felt their body fill with static and their vision go dark.

It was cold. No matter how tightly Evander curled up, they couldn't get warm. They pried their eyes open and blinked through the blur. Mom was nowhere to be seen. Evander jumped to their feet. Their backpack was gone and they were alone. They turned around multiple times as if in the early misty morning they'd suddenly see mom somewhere.

Camping tents and makeshift shelters were no longer camouflaged by the night. Little campfires with breakfast going dotted around the camp. There were people shuffling around.

"Mom!" Evander yelled. Hoping their mom was somewhere in the crowd. A few people looked up but went back to their business. Avoiding any eye contact with them. Evander backed into the beam and slid to the ground. They held their knees to their chest. Shaking their head in disbelief. As much as it made sense to stay put and wait for mom to come back. Evander knew going back home was safer. Where the door could lock and the heat would turn on.

Evander got up and brushed the dirt off the best they could. Most of it was so ground in, that not even the washing machine could get out the stains. They walked through the camp of the overpass and to the fence.

"Where you headed?" Evander turned and backed up into the fence.

"Home." Evander said weakly.

"Lost your momma?" He pouted in the fakest way Evander had ever seen. "Why don't we go look for her? I'm sure she's around here somewhere." He grabbed at Evander. They tried to jump back but was stopped by the fence. He held their arm way too tight and pulled hard. Evander twisted and tried to pry his hand off of them.

"No!" Evander's light suddenly ignited. The visions looked only half opaque on top of twisting tendrils of shadow. They twisted and wrapped around Evander's body. Holding them tightly in place.

Evander's light began to dim again. It flickered. Reality and hallucination danced together. Evander shut their eyes as they felt the man (shadow?) pulling them forward. Though it felt awkward and wrong.

"HEY!" Evander breathed a sigh of relief. He ran up from the side and shoved the first man hard. "Leave that kid alone, man!"

"Stay out of this!" The first man let go of Evander to shove at the other guy.

"I mean it, Jackson." The newcomer grabbed the collar of the second's. "Get outta here." The second man threw the first back and he scrambled away. Yelling half thought out threats.

Evander had forgotten most of these faces. They all were blank or redrawn versions of people they'd seen recently. But this face Evander would never forget. He had a scar on his bottom lip, that Evander had seen first. Then his dark coal eyes.

"Are you all right?" He asked. Keeping distance between them. Evander only nodded wordlessly. "Okay. Here. The store right there has a phone. Let's go call your parents."

"We need to call the police." Evander insisted. "Mom's lost. She's wandered off."

"Okay. We can call the police." He agreed. He showed Evander where the fence was split so they could walk through without being cut. They went to the little convenience store where the clerk knew him by name.

A police cruiser was sent out to collect Evander. They stayed at the station for hours. Anyone who walked into the room, Evander would ask about their mom. She was never found.

Evander could hear the busy station around them. But they had played back the memory behind their closed eyes. Those few moments in the station. When they changed the news on the tv to cartoons. The man had bought Evander breakfast from the hot case. He told stories of places that were far too good to be true.

The stories were distorted with time and rambled on to descriptions of everything Evander had seen since the station. Overlapping with the sound of the social services lady. Their dad had been found- And a city that rained ashes with a theatre in the center.- He's declined to come collect- And a forest that touched the sky. And what a beautiful sky- You're going to be put in a- Deer as big as houses that glow in every color of the rainbow!

Evander realized they were shouting. Screaming into the dark that was trying to tighten the grip on them. Evander opened their eyes. Their light came streaming in a sudden burst from their strained muscles. Shadows screeched and dropped Evander to the ground as they scattered back into the darkness.

Evander got to their feet. A rage coursing through their veins. The shadows churned and took the shape of the wraith. Staring down at them.

"Do not fight. Just succumb." It whispered. Reaching again for them.

"No!" Evander lit up. Their light broke through all the illusions around them.

"Then die." The wraith's shadows swirled around them and turned into snarling wolves. Evander kept their light strong. But one of the wolves broke through. It's jaws bit through Evander's arm, the wolf vanished immediately in their light. Pain and blood dripped from their arm. Their hands shook as doubt started bleeding through. They concentrated their light and hit one of the wolves that circled them like sharks. It vanished but the wraith summoned two more.

Evander began backing up slowly. Jumping to the side to avoid another set of attacks. Evander threw more light at the wraith. It smacked the shot away like it was nothing. Evander's eyes widened. The wraith itself reached around and it's hand came down so fast and hard Evander had no chance to move. They were backhanded hard and thrown off their feet. They flew through the air and skidded across the ground. Their light extinguished when they hit the ground. The air was knocked out of them. They had heard the sound of breaking branches in the mud. Only realizing that was the sound of bones breaking when they struggled to breath. The sharp teeth of the shadow beasts tore at their cape still tied around their face and shoulders.

Evander lit up their light again. Chasing off the beasts. They couldn't win this fight. They realized that now. They ran as the shadow beasts stayed on their heels. Instead of barking, the shadow beasts yelled vicious criticisms at them. Tearing them apart from the inside out. The halo of their light grew dimmer, the heart pounded in their ears. Ahead the darkness parted to reveal half rotten trees.

Evander scrambled up the fallen trees. Feeling the sharp teeth puncture through their boots and into their ankle. Before it could yank them down, Evander turned and blasted the beast away. They scrambled up the debris. The wood creaked and moaned. Rotten to the core and unstable. Evander's light got dimmer with every step, making it harder to see where to place their feet.

The trees broke underneath them. Evander fell between the rotten wood and plunged further into darkness. Sharp wood cut and scraped against them. They hit the ground again hard. Their light had gone barely visible. Showing the tangled maze of rotten wood above them. Shavings and branches fell around them. Above, Evander could see the shadow beasts vanish. They turned onto their stomach painfully and began crawling through the branches into the tightest corner they could get to.

Evander rested their head on their knees and sighed. Everything felt heavy. With no energy or motivation to move. Lux came to mind, what they did to him. None of this should have happened. If they had just walked home and not gone through the trainyard…

It was their fault. They had no one else to blame. And they had no idea what to do next. Evander numbly bunched up their cloak. The smell of decay didn't bother them anymore. They laid down on their coat and curled up tightly.

Whatever happened next would happen. Evander felt the itch of tears. They ignored them, letting them soak into the already stained cloak. The harsh words of the shadow beasts kept springing up. To remind them of all their failings and imperfections. The light died down. Only Evander's chest glowed. But only barely. Lighting up their immediate surroundings. Sounds of the wraith pacing around the hollow decay Evander hid in made them jump. Goosebumps crawled over their skin and their hair stood on end. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the wraith found them.

It made their throat swell. Their eyes dart around after the sounds in the darkness. Exhaustion dulled their senses. Made them want to just sleep it all off. Pretend none of it existed until they slipped away. It would be easier to succumb.

Evander's slowly closing eyes snapped open. Their light brightened for a split second. Succumb. Evander sat up again. They could barely breathe. But if that was due to the broken bones or the shock it was hard to tell. A foul wind blew and the wooden debris leaned to the other side and Evander sub-consciously leaned with it. They felt very small. Somewhere in the debris, another pocket collapsed. The beams over their head shook. Threatening to fall on their head too.

Evander slumped down as they looked around. They tried to conjure up some light to see by. The weak light didn't help Evander see any way forward. Even the corner they crawled into was a dead end. Evander fell back to the ground. They curled back up into the corner and laid on their cloak again. There was no care left in their body. Evander closed their eyes. Not really wanting to sleep but maybe things would be brighter tomorrow.

Pain dug deep in their chest and ankle. A root or rock dug into their hip. Even with the sleep-static behind their eyes it was impossible to sleep.

Mom could always get them to sleep. That was something Evander hadn't thought about in years. How they used to have trouble sleeping. Evander could hardly remember why, though they'd always had bad night terrors. Perhaps that had been a part of it. Mom had pills in an unmarked bottle that would always let Evander sleep.

They frowned and opened their eyes. They scrambled up as they saw the light blue outline of a dog.

"Lux?" Evander covered their mouth. The dog walked over and sat beside them. Evander went to hug them but they went right through. A slow realization made their shoulders sag.

"I'm so sorry." They whispered. They covered their mouth with both hands as they started shaking. "I didn't mean to kill you, and then- I didn't. Mean. To." Evander was gasping for air and their chest was stabbing them in pain. Lux pressed their face into their lap. Their light changed to mimic Evander's. They closed their eyes and let Lux's spirit calm them. There was no sense of animosity. Just a feeling of sadness.

"I'm sorry." Evander said calmer. "I guess I got a little lost." Lux snorted. Evander allowed a tiny smile. Lux stood up and started walking away. Evander jumped back up to their feet.

"Wait! Don't leave me!" Evander called. They began running after Lux. Who sped up to keep ahead of Evander. They lost sight of the dog a few times. Breaking through the rotten trunk to a clearing in the dark chasm. Lux stood beside a giant wooden wall. Lux barked and dove into the ground. Becoming a light that travelled up the roots of what wasn't a wall but the trunk of a tree the size of an entire park.

Looking up Evander could see the light of the guardian at the top. This was the very center of the forest.