Matt had very few memories of his parents, and he couldn’t tell how many of them were genuine and which were formed by a mix of old photographs and his own imagination.He had always had vivid dreams, too, especially in the last moments between sleep and waking. It was in such a moment that Matt saw his parents at a distance, wrapped in each others arms, just like in his favorite photo of the two. They were wrapped up in each other, as if they had the whole planet to themselves.
As he watched them, he felt a sudden urge to come to them, and began to walk toward them. With the great distance, Matt expected it to take a great deal of time to reach them, but as he walked, the distance closed so quickly that in only a few seconds he was nearly close enough to reach out and touch them. They turned, as if to look at him, but their gaze stopped at something beyond him. He turned around. Someone stood only a few feet from him, but as he looked, his vision blurred, and he couldn’t make out the face.
It was a man, he was sure. A young man. He rubbed his eyes, hoping to clear away the blur. It didn’t help, so he got closer. The figure still didn’t come into focus, and in frustration he turned back toward his parents. They were still holding each other, but they continued to gaze at the blurred figure. Matt’s father tilted his chin upward, as if signaling for Matt to look again. He did.
The young man’s face moved, and the blur began to fade. Matt concentrated, willing his eyes to adjust. As he watched, the blur rose like smoke, until finally the face was completely in focus.
It was his own.
Matt’s eyes opened, and he tried to sit up, but found that he didn’t have the strength. The dream, the recurring dream of someone standing before him – had it been himself that he had been seeing all along? Something about that troubled Matt. Why would he have a recurring dream of his own face? It was as if he had been looking in a mirror. He tried hard to remember the rest of the dream.
He had seen his parents. He dreamed often, but never about his parents. In his mind he tried to bring the vividness of the memory back.
Suddenly he realized that he wasn’t at home. Though the room was dark, he could see well enough to tell that the ceiling was white and tiled. He turned his head, and found the motion difficult. He was in a small room with machines. What had happened? He tried to lift his hands, but found that his left hand was propped in a sling, his wrist covered in a cast.
He was in a hospital. He could see it now, and for a moment he felt like panicking. Was he on his death bed? It was only then that he noticed a dull ache on the back of his skull, and what must have been a heavy bruise on his side. But he had no memory of how they had got there. Did he have amnesia? No, he remembered his name and basic information. Something must have happened after… after… what could he remember?
As recollections of the last day and a half began to return, his sense of concern and worry increased. He remembered the hooded people, the hole, Phil barking at them, the police call, the library visit, and… and the ghost. The strange ghost – what had he called himself? Mork, or Mark? No, it was something odder than that. Mourg. Yes, it was Mourg. He had been warning Matt about some group called the Ions – yeah, the name Ions sounded like the word eon, as in eons of time. Then Alice had come to the door. He hardly noticed that he had no trouble at all remembering her name. She came to the door, and said she learned more about the books. Then… then…
No matter how hard he tried, Matt could remember nothing beyond talking to Alice on his porch.
Had the ghost been right? Had Ions caused this? He looked around the hospital. Had they taken him to the hospital? He could hardly imagine an evil organization calling an ambulance for their victim. Thinking about all the crazy events from the previous day and night made him dizzy and uncomfortable.
But the memory of his dream distracted his thoughts. The memory of his parents. The feelings. They had felt so real, the desire to come to them, and be with them.
He thought back on his early years. He could clearly remember moving in with Uncle Eric. He had been only three years old at the time. Because it was a whole new environment, the memory was strong and clear. But he could remember very little about his parents. Was it his father that had told him bedtime stories about fantastic places and funny people, or had that been Eric? He could picture his father’s face in his memory, but he may have added that over time. After watching so many home videos of them, and seeing them in countless photos albums, Matt could picture them as well and as clearly as most people picture celebrities.
Matt had never been told exactly how they had died. He had asked his uncle many times, and each time, he merely said that they had been traveling when they passed away. What was it with his family and traveling? Matt had come with his uncle once to Tokyo, and another time to Germany, but that was all the traveling Matt had done so far. Eric had been successful in persuading Matt to follow his own dreams, and not get locked in his family’s lonely traveling occupation tradition. Matt was curious about travel, but it had never been a real interest.
Whenever he thought about the direction of his own life, Matt would get squirmy and feel unsettled. He already felt like he was alone in the world, cut off from society. He felt like the last brick in a crumbled wall, as if his chance had long since passed, and all there was left to do was repair.
Matt tried to shake that thought. He didn’t consider himself unhappy or unfulfilled. It was just that every time he tried to set long-term goals for himself, he became frustrated and unsettled. And thinking about it in a hospital where he didn’t even know why he was there only agitated those feelings.
“I tried to warn you,” a quiet voice said. Matt turned toward the voice in time to see the ghost walking toward him. From his direction, Matt guessed that he had come through the wall again.
“What happened to me?”
“I was attacked?”
“You were a target of attack. You can be sure this was their doing, though they rarely attack directly. They simply align things to work out in their favor.”
Matt wasn’t sure he wanted to tell a stranger – a ghost stranger, no less, that he couldn’t even remember what had happened to put him in the hospital, but his curiosity and anxiety were nearly at a breaking point.
“Tell me everything that happened after I… well, after I was out.”
“They played their part well. After the Ions fled, the driver that hit you stayed to call for help. The marauders clearly didn’t want you dead. I suspect they were threatening you.”
“Threatening me? Why? What did I do?”
Mourg eyed him as if looking for a reason to be suspicious. “That is the big question, isn’t it?” he watched Matt, waiting for a response. What was he looking for, a confession? The sudden turn of blame made Matt completely lost for words.
Mourg must have taken his hesitation as evidence for suspicion. “Did you do something to someone recently, or said something to someone? Or perhaps, taken something?”
“What? Of course not! I don’t see how this can be considered my fault!”
Mourg shook his head and raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Please, please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not here to accuse you. I’m here to help. If you have done something that hindered them it is certainly a good thing, but also very dangerous for you. I can help – perhaps move the blame elsewhere, if need be.”
Matt couldn’t tell what to think about Mourg’s words. Had Matt somehow interrupted an Ion plan? Had they been after something that he had found? What if they knew that he had seen them burying stuff in his backyard, and didn’t want him to speak?
Footsteps in the hall drew both of their attention.
“I must go, but I’ll be close – consider me something of a… what do you call it? Guardian angel?” Then he stepped into the wall just before the door opened.
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