Angeling | prologue: the echo of a song

Shining WaterThere is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

—Thomas Merton


It was the sound of his mother’s voice that woke Jonah Wilder from his drug-induced coma—the echo of a song, calling to him from the far side of a dark mist. In the mist there had been nothing—not even memories of the past or thoughts of the future. And without a past or a future, or stars above his head or ground beneath his feet, Jonah had been nothing, too.

When her voice found him, he clung to it as if it were a lifeline. The words held no meaning for him at first; they were only notes in a melody. This was the way she had roused him from his nap when he had been little (four rather than fourteen), gently dropping words into the deep pool of his sleep. Sometimes she would raise the window-shade, too, letting in the long light of a late afternoon.

Sunlight shone on him now. He could feel it on his face, and see it as an orange smear through his closed eyelids.

As he woke, her words became sentences he could follow, if not fully understand.

“Mmm-hmm. Well, when he first came around yesterday, he was totally out of it,” she was saying. “He kept trying to get up. I can see why they have him restrained.”

A long silence.

“No one will tell me anything about brain damage. They keep saying to take it one step at a time. They keep saying it’s a miracle he’s even alive—technically, he was dead for twenty-three minutes, did I tell you that?”

Jonah had no idea what she was talking about. He just knew his head hurt like he was wearing an iron helmet that was two sizes too small. Everything hurt, actually. He willed his heavy eyes open and saw his mother looking out a bright window, a phone at her ear. The sun shone through the window into his eyes, so that he had to squint to look at her.

His mouth and throat were dry as sand. He needed her to get him a drink.

“Mom,” he whispered. It hurt to speak. “Mom. . . .”

She jumped, and then her face lit up as she turned and saw him awake.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, putting the phone down without saying goodbye.

“I didn’t notice you woke up!” she laughed, coming to his bedside. “Good morning, Jonah! Or I guess it’s actually afternoon. It’s really good to see you, honey. How are you feeling?”

She took his hand and squeezed it, looking into his eyes.

A shimmering light rimmed her face, flashing like sunlight dancing on waves. He thought it was actually the sun, but then realized she wasn’t standing in front of the window anymore.

“Can I have water?” he whispered hoarsely.

“Sure! Or ice chips, maybe? Let me get a nurse.” She pressed a button on the bedside.

Nurse? Ice chips?

“Where am I?” he asked. He had a sudden flash of worry about being late for Mr. Berning’s homeroom again. “Am I late for school?”

That made her laugh, and then the tears that had been welling in her eyes spilled down her cheeks. She leaned over and kissed his forehead.

“Well, I can tell you got cracked in the head if you’re worried about being late for school,” she teased, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Don’t you remember waking up yesterday?”

He tried to remember yesterday, but it kept jumping around on him. “Not really. . . .”

She nodded. “That’s okay. You’ve been out for a while, you know.”

He looked around the room, and his gaze settled on the other people there: the insubstantial forms of his grandfather and a very large, strong man who might have been the star of an action-adventure movie. Both of them were shot through with light as if they were stained-glass windows, lit from the inside.

Jonah stared at the figures long and hard, trying to decide whether they were real or imagined. It was like he was seeing them through a great expanse of water. He kept waiting for them to disappear, but they didn’t.

He caught the strong man’s eye, which was filled with stars, and then he remembered. These men were Iridius, who was his guardian, and his Grandpa Z, who was dead.

“What are you two doing here?” Jonah asked them.

His grandfather and Iridius exchanged a look. It was a look that said that maybe there was a problem with that question.

Judging by the expression on his mom’s face, she thought it might be a problem, too. Her face had darkened as if shadowed by a passing cloud, even though the shimmering light still danced around her playfully.

The shadow, he thought, turning the phrase over in his mind, unsure what it meant. The shadow. The shadow.

The Shadow.

He struggled to sit up, but his hands and feet were still tied down with safety restraints.

“The Shadow,” he said to his grandfather, urgently. “I thought it got you!”

“Jonah! Jonah!” his mom was saying, touching his arm. “Okay, honey—calm down—”

But the memories were flooding back now. Instead of calming down, Jonah gripped his mother’s arm. “It has Evie,” he said hoarsely. “We were supposed to help her—I was supposed to help her—”

His eyes darted around the room. The thing had to be here somewhere. The Shadow was everywhere.

Then he looked into his mother’s eyes. There it was, a bit of black back there in her eyes, hiding from the dancing light. Lurking.

“Nurse! Nurse!” His mom was hitting the call button repeatedly as she shouted for help. A worried-looking nurse came running into the room.

A long comet-tail of light trailed behind her.

The whole room had become a kaleidoscope of light and shadow: crackling lines and bright flashes of color mixed up with black, smeary streaks of darkness. The nurse’s head was haloed so brightly he had to look away; turning his head, he saw dark shadows oozing across the floor like primeval creatures, unmoored from any solid object.

“He’s hallucinating again,” his mom told the nurse.

“Grandpa, what’s happening?” he asked, his voice panicked.

“It’s the sedatives, honey,” his mom said. “They’re making you see things that aren’t there.”

“Grandpa’s right there,” Jonah insisted. “Iridius—we’ve got to get Evie!”

Iridius and his grandfather came to him then, just as the nurse was adjusting dials on the intravenous drip that hung beside his bed. Iridius touched three fingers to Jonah’s cheek and placed a warming hand on his heart, and Grandpa Z moved his mouth close to Jonah’s ear, as if to whisper a secret.

You’re the only one who can see us, Grandpa Z said. And you shouldn’t be able to see or hear us, either, nor the Shadow. Not anymore.

“Why . . . why . . . .”

Jonah meant to ask him why not, but the mist was falling again, and the thought slipped away into the descending darkness.

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