Silverwood: Chapter 13

Two pairs of feet belonging to Kate and Henry made pong-pong sounds on the metal stairway leading up to their apartment. They both were carrying a partially-eaten ice cream cone. They had not changed the world but they had shared some time and ice cream and so maybe they had changed this corner of the world a little bit.

A disturbance from above and the sound of someone scrambling downward toward them. A young-ish fellow came into sight on the landing, bounding downward several steps at a time. He had a scraggly beard and hair and his clothes were way too big. As he rushed past them he met their eyes, but kept going.

But at the next landing down he stopped. He turned and blurted, “Ma’am, if you please, are you Kate Silverwood?”

Kate’s face froze. “Who are you?” She demanded.

The man didn’t seem to have an answer. Instead he produced a small coin-like object in his palm and held it out for her to see.

“Mom?” Henry said. His head swiveled back and forth between the two of them.

Kate held up a finger. “Quiet.” She looked up and down the stairwell, slowly and deliberately. Nobody said anything.

Kate took off sprinting up the stairs and leaving the young man where he was. Henry followed. The apartment was reached by way of a narrow pass-through and then a balcony running across the front of the building on the street side. Kate ran through this and made a skidding turn onto the balcony. She could see right away that their door was ajar. She burst in. Kate yelled. “Helen? HELEN?” Nothing in the apartment appeared out of place.

“Well, that was awkward,” Helen said. She was standing at the front window looking impassively down at the street.

“Okay what just happened?” Henry asked as he came in.

“Well, two things, actually,” Helen said. “The first thing was I got home and found this.” She held up a crinkled drawing with telltale holes across the top of it indicating it was torn out – or fell out – of Henry’s sketchbook. He must have dropped it when he was gathering his things for school. It was a detailed depiction of Helen sitting next to what was clearly a Tromindox. They looked peaceful. Friendly, even.

“Where did this come from, Henry?” Helen asked. “When did you draw this? Do you even know what this is? This is really creepy Henry. It looks like you can see my dreams.” She came toward him. “I know I’ve described them to you but this is an exact drawing of the creature. You’ve never actually seen one. Have you? What is going on here?”

“I can’t see your dreams, Helen,” Henry said. “Nobody can see other people’s dreams.”

“Then, what is this?” Helen asked.

“It’s real,” Henry answered.

“No, no it isn’t, Henry,” Helen said. “This is a very detailed drawing of the dreams that I have all the time. How do you know all this about what the creatures look like. I mean, this is exact. Right down to what the thing is wearing. Henry, if you can see people’s dreams, you need to say so. That’s kind of a major piece of information. You understand that, right?”

“Helen, it’s real.” Henry stomped his foot.

Helen stared at her brother in exasperation. The two of them had so many conversations that would go in circles. It is what brothers and sisters do. Helen knew her brother could see things. But he was a little kid and a lot of what he would say made no sense or blurred the lines between reality and something made-up or something he wished for. That was okay most of the time but not now.

Helen resorted to the time-honored tactic of turning to their mom with a pleading look on her face and saying, “Mom?”

Kate stood rooted to the floor just inside the door. Her mind was racing a million miles an hour. Up until extremely recently on the stairs she had felt like she was doing a reasonable job of staying ahead of the game. She had ice cream with her son after school like normal people. She felt like Helen and Henry were ready to understand more about who they were and what she did and where their father was and a lot of other things. She had promised herself again and again to talk to them and explain it all. Soon. Soon had very abruptly turned into now.

So Kate Silverwood acted according to her nature as an ex-Agent and a member of an ancient clan who moonlights as a bounty hunter. She went for it.

“Helen,” Kate said, crossing to her and gently taking the frankly beautifully rendered drawing from her hand. “This creature here is called a Tromindox. The reason that Henry can draw a Tromindox is because he has seen them. They are real.”

Helen turned away. She plunked down into a lawn chair. She leaned forward so her hair swung in front of her face. Instant privacy. She sat without moving like a robot that had just had its power button switched to off.

Helen eventually spoke from within the hair. “Real?”

Kate nodded even though Helen couldn’t see her do that.

“So, not dreams?” Helen asked.

“No,” Kate replied.

The young man from the stairs was standing very quietly and very uncomfortably just outside the doorway.

“You saved my life, miss Helen,” the young man said softly.

Helen’s head snapped up. She had completely forgotten about the second thing that happened. She pointed. “Also, this guy appeared from nowhere.” He had looked eerily familiar but Helen wasn’t able to place him. She did not remember saving his life. Or anybody’s life.

And that is the moment when it came together for Helen. The moment when her dream walked into reality. That’s who this guy was. He was here. He was a creature and then she turned him back into a person somehow. But in reality. Not a dream at all.

Helen fixed her eyes on her mother. “So, since my dreams which are not dreams are apparently public knowledge, what exactly is happening? Please explain in detail. All of it. I want to know. Now.” She jutted out her chin and her hair no longer obscured her face. It was her famous face of focus and intensity.

“You are capable of reversing the effects of Tromindox venom,” Kate stated as if she were reading information off of a cereal box. Or the disclaimers for some pharmaceutical product. Might as well just say the facts.

The young man took a step forward with his palms out. “Maybe I can explain,” he said. “When people come to you, Miss Silverwood, they are in a battle for life. They’ve been terribly horribly shape-shifted. The Tromindox is consuming them whole, eating them up. But see, we haven’t given in, we have fight left in us. We fight until we get the upper hand on that Tromindox. Maybe we are partway immune or something. Anyway the Tromindox move among us by mimicking the human form. But when we fight them they get stuck in the Tromindox shape. They can’t quite pull the human thing off. It’s a terrible process, let me tell you. Exhausting. So much pain and the noise in your head is so loud you get lost in it and you think you’re never gonna form a clear thought again.

“When Tromindox come in contact with you, Helen, you dissolve them. You let the human back out again. For most of history, without help from people like you, the Tromindox would eventually win over the human. Those people would be lost forever. Digested. Tromindox food. That’s what almost happened to me. But you brought me back, and now I am here today. I’m alive thanks to you.”

“Contact with me? What does that mean? Do I have super healing hands or something?” Helen asked. Her voice was rising. She felt like she had been thrown out the window and was in free-fall.

“It’s a drop of your blood, is all that’s needed,” the young man explained. “To defeat the Tromindox people required a drop of your blood. Your blood is the anti-venom, see. So they take a tiny bit of blood, and heal up the spot where they took it. Then they put you back to sleep so you won’t remember that it happened.”

Helen considered this. “That’s… really gross.”

“Yeah, that is gross,” Henry said. “So, you guys made my sister think it’s a dream so she wouldn’t freak out?”

Kate interrupted before the man could answer. “It’s an arrangement that your father and I made when Helen was very small. We knew that Helen had the anti-venom, but it wasn’t fair to ask a little child to take responsibility for such a thing. So the solution was, let it be like a dream. Let her stay asleep.” Kate looked back and forth at her two children. “It seemed like the most humane solution. We couldn’t just withhold it from the people who needed it. This was how the clan survived. It was the old way, sure. We have synthetics now. But we knew sometimes the modern way isn’t possible. And we weren’t going to traumatize a small child. Our child.”

“So, when were you planning to explain all this?” Helen asked. “’Cause you may have noticed I am not a small child.”

“I was going to tell you, Helen,” Kate said. “At the right time. I just wasn’t sure when that time would be. You’re still so young. I didn’t want to dump all this on you. And now we can carry the anti-venom instead of taking it directly from you every time. It’s portable now. It degrades before the Tromindox can get their hands on it. It’s just all very complicated. It’s like, it’s like…”

“Puberty,” Henry declared. Everyone looked at him.

“It’s like puberty,” Henry continued. “That grownups are always worried about how to explain puberty, and have this big talk about how it all works, where babies come from, and then by the time they finally get around to it, the kids already know stuff because the other kids told them. Like Michael told me…”
Kate interrupted. “Well, right, yes, that is kind of like…” She trailed off. She was gritting her teeth.

The man in the doorway looked down at the floor to hide the smile spreading across his face.

Kate turned to the visitor. “So, who are you, exactly?”

“Me? I’m an Agent. Or I was an Agent. Years ago I fell under attack by Tromindox and they got me. They got me bad. This was before the bounty hunters. I only had a little time. I found Helen through the Agent network and I paid her a visit. You probably don’t remember. But she got me free. It was a miracle. I didn’t think it was for real.

“And then a few nights ago they got me again. I thought for sure this time I was a goner. But Kate Silverwood you chased that thing down and took it out and I was alive once more. It was a powerful creature that one. Grabbed onto the train in the subway. I’ll never forget it. Flying along like that. But you ran that thing down.”

Helen considered that her theory of her mom being a repo-man wasn’t that far off. It was just that she repossessed people instead of cars.

“I intercepted some communications, ma’am, and I thought you might still be here. I know you’re on the run. We are all on the run. I get that. I know this might have been the worst idea. But I was hoping I could catch up to you before you disappeared again and let you know what I had learned about Mr. Gabriel Silverwood, in case it helps. It’s the least I could do.” He raised his hands in front of him defensively. “I know, again, it’s probably a terrible idea to come here like this. But I really thought you should know. I felt I owed it to you and I had to take the chance. And I did not want to risk someone listening in on some communications channel.”

“Gabriel?” Henry said. “That’s our dad!”

“Shush Henry,” Kate said. Anyone coming around claiming they had information about her husband was worthy only of suspicion. This trick had been tried many times. Throw out Gabriel’s name and hope she would blow her cover or make a mistake. Get distracted. Give herself away and the children with her. “What do you supposedly know about Gabriel? He’s been tossed in the Time Files. I already know where he is.”

Time Files? Helen thought. Mom never mentioned that.

“No, no he’s not, ma’am,” the man said. “He’s out. The clan busted him out.”
Kate had been told this exact sort of thing before. Oh, what the Council would do to get access to her and to Helen. And Henry.

“You don’t have to believe me, ma’am, really. I would not blame you in the least if you don’t. But I will tell you the thing that I have heard, and then you can do what you like with it. Gabriel Silverwood is out, and he’s cut a deal of some sort, where he’s supposedly coming to this time frame. He’s tracking a Tromindox. It’s called T-441.”

“And what is your information on where this Tromindox is headed?” Kate asked. Scratch the surface. Dig for details. See if he slips up.

“Some town called Brokeneck,” the man said. “I don’t know anything about the place. I just intercepted this like I said. It sounds like your man is on the thing’s tail, and the thing is headed to Brokeneck. Remote town in the redwoods. That’s about it. I can give you the coordinates. And now, really, I’ve been here way too long. I’m very sorry to have troubled you. I’ll send out some misinformation on your whereabouts to throw people off your trail.”

“I’m sure you’ve been followed here, so that’s not going to help much,” Kate said. She was calculating in her head how quickly they could get out of this building before it was too late. “If your information is correct, though, I do thank you. We will do our best to take advantage of it.” Kate didn’t want to sound ungrateful. If this guy really was an Agent he took a huge risk coming here to talk to them. Coming anywhere near them at all was a risk. But between the discovery of the drawing and the discussion of Helen’s dreams and the unwelcome directions this conversation had taken Kate’s head was spinning and she knew above all she needed to quiet down and create a plan of action.

The man went to the doorway and then turned and looked at each of them as if to remember their faces. He left without another word. They could hear his feet descending the stairs. His steps faded away until a distant gate slammed.

Kate sat down in the other lawn chair. She needed to evaluate this information. She needed to get them out of here. And she needed to look her children in the eye and hope that she could hang onto their trust.

And, what the heck did her son know about where babies come from?

“We have to get out of here, tonight,” Kate said. “Our location has been compromised.” Kate knew those words would sting especially after her conversation with Henry this afternoon. It felt like punching someone in a spot where they were already badly bruised.

“So that’s why we move?” Helen asked. “To keep our location secret?”

“That’s part of it, Helen,” Kate answered. No, she was not going to go into a lengthy explanation right now about her work as a bounty hunter. And how she landed in that job. That discussion was beyond the scope of what Kate could deal with right now. All that mattered was re-establishing safety. And anonymity.

“We’re going to Brokeneck,” Henry said, having a seat on one of the boxes. He wasn’t crying. He didn’t look particularly agitated at all.

Helen and Kate looked at him.

“Now Henry, we don’t even know if that Agent gave us real information,” Kate warned. “He could have been sent here to deceive us. Or someone could have deceived him. Besides, we don’t know if such a place as Brokeneck even exists.”

“The Agent is not lying,” Henry declared. “And we do know about Brokeneck.” He picked up his sketchbook from on top of his backpack. He flipped a few pages and handed it to his mom. “This is what it looks like.”

It was a pencil drawing of an iron sign arching over what looked like a main street in some Western town. The letters spelled, “BROKENECK.”

Henry pointed firmly at the drawing. “We are going there.”

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