“JOSHY is finally tucked in and settled!” Catherine Halden called to her husband from the stairs in the entrance hall. The nightly ordeal of settling her three-year-old boy, Josiah, harried her.
Jeremy sat comfortably in the living room reading the evening paper. He was in his favorite chair, his grandfather’s chair, the old finely upholstered one with the high back next to the fireplace. His feet were on a matching ottoman. “It’s nearly eleven!” he called back.
She stood in front of the chair, pushed her hair back, and gave her husband a meaningful look. “Well, now, if you’d help put him to bed—”
“I thought you had it under control.”
They were a young couple. Jeremy was twenty-seven; Catherine was a year younger. There were times, though, when he seemed older, much older, and patronizingly so. This was one of those times. And she was not amused.
“I’m sorry,” came his sheepish response to her firm stance and glare. He set the newspaper aside.
“The lad moves a mile a minute,” she said.
“Now you know why I’m reluctant to help.”
She rolled her eyes.
He was in trouble now and knew it. He tried to deflect things with a touch of humor. “How do you keep up with our little devil boy, Cathy?” he asked, using the playful nickname he’d given the boy. “I know I can’t.”
“He’s a good lad,” she scolded. “Don’t call him ‘devil boy’!”
Josiah was Jeremy’s greatest pride, there was no doubt, and that was why he teased. “If he’s this wild at three,” he joked, “imagine what he’ll be like as a teenager!”
“After tonight—I would rather not!”
Jeremy offered Cathy his hands, a conciliatory gesture, and she sat on his lap. She leaned forward, and they nuzzled. He grinned, full of mischief, and tickled her sides. Then he kissed her.
“Wild, is he?” She laughed. Her husband’s passionate, playful nips at her neck tickled. “He takes after his father!”
On the far wall, unseen by the two, a thick, black, liquid metal oozed through the wood paneling. At first it appeared in droplets… and then in thick clumps. The filth accumulated and flowed downward as it grew in size and weight.
Jeremy and Catherine remained entwined, kissing, and laughing.
“Perhaps I should tell Joshy goodnight before he falls off to sleep,” he said. “I wouldn’t want him to grow up thinking his old man doesn’t love him, after all.”
“‘Old man’, is it? At twenty-seven?”
“Three years with the ‘devil boy’ have aged me, woman! Can’t you see?”
Catherine laughed. “Fine. Shall I help you up the stairs, old man, or can you manage on those wretched knees of yours alone?”
The black filth had pooled on the floor. It gathered, rose… slowly. And as it did, it took on a roughly human form. First, a head emerged, then a neck, shoulders, torso, arms….
Jeremy nudged Catherine off his lap. “All right then—upstairs!”
Catherine took him by the hands and pulled him to his feet. He sprang forward and wrapped his arms around her.
“Just a little playful tonight, aren’t you, dear?”
“A little,” he admitted with a knowing smile.
From the corner of his eye, Jeremy saw it. On the far side of the room, he saw it move, this intruder.
Catherine saw the look of surprise in his eyes. “Jeremy?”
He did not answer. The look in his eyes transformed into one of growing terror. She could not help but notice. She shuddered, never having seen anything like this in her husband’s eyes, and her glance followed his.
Still indistinct, the intruder looked something like a man covered in tar—though this “tar” had a uniquely metallic property, reflecting the lamplight in a glimmering of flecks. A point appeared in its right fist. The point grew, became a spearhead, and was followed by an elongating handle. Forward and backward simultaneously, from the fist, the handle grew. It formed a javelin, entirely composed of the same black, outlandish metal.
It took a small, lurching step toward the two. It stepped forward again. And again. Its movements were unnatural, then… almost serpentine.
And as it slithered forward, the pitchy filth was absorbed into its flesh. Free of the filth now, it was extremely pale. It was sinewy, completely naked, though also, apparently, lacking genitalia, and nearly featureless. Upon its “face” was a mouth of sorts, a tight ring of pale, gray flesh, and two small oblong holes that were located higher on the sides of its head.
It thrust its head forward, and its hideous maw opened. It formed a perfect circle filled with concentric rings of shark-like teeth. A narrow black tongue issued from its depths.
Jeremy took Catherine in his arms, and they drew back away from it together. He recognized it and cried, “You! How…?”
It continued its advance. As it did, its visage transformed once more. It took on the form of an extremely tall, powerful man dressed in the garb of ancient Near Eastern royalty. It wore an ornate tunic with purple fringe at the bottom of a knee-length skirt. It was muscular, vital, arrogant, and the long, thick, black mane and braided beard only heightened its leonine appearance and prowling menace.
Jeremy stopped, pushed Catherine back, and stepped in front of her, to protect her. Despite this brave gesture, he could not help but tremble in the face of this shape-shifting demon. “No! This can’t be real… you can’t be real,” he cried.
It strutted, passing the javelin back and forth, hand to hand. Its eyes were dark.
“You’re not really here!” he said. “I’m dreaming again!”
Its expression changed then. It was amused. It toyed with them, to test their reactions, as it moved toward them.
Then it leveled the javelin at Jeremy’s chest….
JOSIAH ALAKA‘I HALDEN lurched in bed, his muscles tight, and his eyes snapped open.
It was daybreak, just before sunrise, but the storm clouds blocked the sun’s emerging rays. Outside his window, he heard the heavy downpour, its steady pelt against the pane. It had stormed all night.
A moment later—after he had recovered from the violent images his exhausted mind had conjured—he sat up in the darkness and ran his hands back through his long, sweat-dampened curls. Though this was not the first time he’d been plagued by the nightmare, it was no less disturbing. It was crazy. This bizarre scenario, which had played itself out in his sleep over and over again, was crazy.
The dream was….
A dream, Josiah said to himself. A nightmare. Nothing more. Nothing less.
But in the essence of the dream, in the violence and finality of it, there was some truth. Josiah’s parents, Jeremy and Catherine Halden, had been murdered. The killer, or killers, had never been identified, and the police back in Norwich, England had neither explanations nor leads. There was no evidence, not so much as even the signs of a break in.
Fifteen years and thousands of miles stood between the real but unknown events of that night and Josiah’s life today. What disturbed him was not so much the dream itself, he realized, but rather why he should dream of it now, when he couldn’t even recall his parents’ faces clearly without looking at a photo, and why should the nightmares take such a horrific and unbelievable form?
Simply because the crime was unsolved?
Josiah put these thoughts aside. There was no point dwelling on it. It was a thing of the past, and there was nothing he could do about it. He hardly knew his parents. He recalled a few things—the way his mother would brush his hair in the mornings, or that his father would sit him on his lap evenings and read to him—but nothing clearly. His life had been spent with his Aunt Maggie, Jeremy’s younger sister, her husband, Bill Alaka‘i, and their seven-year-old daughter, Malia, in Kona, Hawai‘i. Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill, his adoptive parents, had raised him well. He had no complaints.
He drew in a deep breath, then let it out.
Get it together, man.
He pushed the bedcovers aside, stood, and made his way toward the bathroom to shower.
On the bookshelf, prominently displayed, stood a black iron statue, the image of a Canaanite warrior, javelin in hand, which had long been in his family’s possession. It caught Josiah’s eye, though he wasn’t certain why. It seemed different to him somehow, the way it stood on the shelf, perhaps, as if its position had changed. He moved toward the statue, took it down from its perch, and examined it.
He moved his hands over it carefully. It was cold to the touch and heavy. Its features were set and cruel. The statue gave him the creeps—it always had, from the time he was a small boy—but he couldn’t bring himself to hide it away in storage. It had belonged to his father.
A chill passed through him.
Now he knew what was wrong… what it was about the thing that had caught his eye.
The statue reminded him of his nightmares.
He put it on the bookcase again, but at the back this time, and facing the wall.
THE campus of North Kona High School sprawled out over a gentle slope above Kailua at Kealakehe. It was the newest and largest school on the Big Island. But despite being the most expensive and modern school on the island, it had the worst drainage system imaginable. Josiah drove through the deep puddles, looking, and hoping, for a relatively dry spot to park in the so-called “seniors’ parking lot” behind the school. There were none to be found, and he pulled out onto the street again.
Ugly day this is turning out to be, he thought.
His mood matched the skies. The clouds overhead were still gray and pregnant and seeped. With Kona being the dry, leeward side of the island, it didn’t rain a lot, but the last few days had been torrential.
Finally, he parked in the school’s front parking lot, got out, and walked briskly across the slick asphalt. “One of these days a freshman will drown out here,” he said to nobody at all and jumped a lake-puddle.
Other students who had arrived by bus, or by car, or who had walked in from the surrounding subdivisions, were all eager, even in this faltering shower, to get inside.
Inside, the welcome mats were soaked. He wiped his feet anyway, then went toward his first class, Miss Walcott’s Honors English class. Halfway there, his friend Kekoa Provost approached him.
Kekoa was a good-looking local boy. He was muscular, athletic, and hapa-haole—half-English, half-Hawaiian. He was also an intelligent, accomplished student who was, nevertheless, often found in detention hall after school because he was a follower (he got into whatever trouble his friends did). Josiah had known him since junior high, but the strong bond of friendship between them only came about during their sophomore year.
“Joshy, my boy, howzit?” Kekoa said.
The two friends bumped fists, knuckles together, in greeting.
Josiah shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
Kekoa watched Josiah. “Rough night?”
“Didn’t sleep well.”
Along with twenty or so of their classmates, they filtered slowly into class. And, like the others, Josiah and Kekoa found their seats.
“So… is it on Friday night or not?” Kekoa asked.
Josiah shook his head.
“Why not? You have the condo to yourself.”
“I promised Aunt Maggie there would be no parties while they’re away.”
Kekoa protested, “There’ll be ten of us—twelve at the most!—so it’s not like half the school’s coming. Besides, Maggie and Bill are on the mainland—they won’t know.”
“She trusts me, Kekoa,” Josiah said. “I’m eighteen now.”
Kekoa dismissed this with a heavy, annoyed sigh.
“She trusts me.”
“What, brah, you’ll feel guilty?”
“Don’t goad me.”
The bell rang to bring class to order. It didn’t matter. The conversations, the banter, the shameless flirting continued regardless; teacher was AWOL.
But not for long.
Miss Walcott entered, her arms filled with folders and a bundle of papers. Her black hair was pulled back tightly in a bun, as always, and the black business suit she wore only accentuated her grim appearance and demeanor. The sound of Josiah and Kekoa’s conversation was indistinguishable from the others, but she noticed the two boys straightaway and focused her laser-like energy there. It never failed. “Mr. Josiah Halden,” she said, her face locked in a painful-looking grimace. “Would you shut up already? Class has started.”
The muscles in Josiah’s jaw tightened. Go to hell, he thought. He could hardly resist the temptation to say it out loud. He was tired of the way she singled him out in front of the class. Hadn’t she noticed how many of the others were still deep in conversation? No, of course not; her attention was selective.
She sat down behind her desk and spread the folders out in front of her. She opened one with a big blue sticky-note on the front and looked over its contents. She removed the stack of papers. “Okay, people, quiet. Class has started.”
The conversations died out slowly.
“Kekoa?” she said.
Kekoa looked up. His eyes betrayed some fear. “Yes, ma’am?” he asked cautiously.
“Come up here and take these papers.”
Kekoa did as he was asked.
“You’re holding the test,” Miss Walcott said. “Pass the papers around.” She went to the center of the classroom and addressed the class. “As you all know, this week is midterms, and today is your final exam for Unit Five,” she said. “This is one of the more difficult reading assignments you’ve been given in your years here at North Kona High, and I hope you’ve all taken the time to study the structure and flow of the narrative thoroughly.”
Josiah leaned back in his chair. There was no love lost between these two, teacher and student. He would show her all the respect she had shown him—none at all. It was a dangerous, escalating game, and one he really could not afford to play. She had some power over how his transcripts would read, and it was his intention to go to the University of Hawai‘i the following autumn on a scholarship.
“As this is an Honors English class, I should not have to repeat myself, but I’ll tolerate no cheating.” She noticed Josiah sitting back heavily in his chair and stepped toward him. “I don’t suppose I’ll have to strip search you for cheat sheets, will I, Mr. Halden?”
Kekoa laughed and put a test down on Josiah’s desk. He pushed his friend’s shoulder roughly, playfully. “She wants to strip search you, stud.”
Josiah’s face reddened noticeably at her comment. Kekoa’s didn’t help either. He could not believe she had just said that to him in front everybody! She had treated him like the class buffoon from the second day of class on. He was tired of it and sat up straight. “No, Miss Walcott,” he said. “I usually prefer to undress myself.”
Miss Walcott was not used to being talked back to, and her icy facade cracked, if only for a moment. “Don’t wear my patience thin, young man.”
Josiah was flippant. “If you insist on doing the strip search yourself, that’s okay—I’m wearing clean underwear.” He paused and grinned. “Hope you don’t mind briefs, though. I hate the way boxers leave me hanging.”
The snickers and giggles in the background exploded into outright laughter. All order was lost and, with it, Miss Walcott’s composure.
“Mr. Halden, out! Now!” she shouted, her face red with indignant rage. “Report to Principal Wu’s office!”
ON his way to the principal’s office, Josiah saw John Davis coming down the hallway toward him from the opposite direction. John carried a transparent neon-orange clipboard marked “HALL PASS.” They watched each other as they approached.
John was the all-American, boy-next-door type—handsome, tall, slender. He had blue eyes and floppy, dusty-blond hair. His clothes, though, were worn, faded. Unfashionably so. With the economy sour, the Davis family had little extra money. John’s clothes bore witness to that fact.
Josiah’s gait was bold, confident, and he was grinning. The smug look was one of victory taken from his verbal battle with Miss Walcott. He met John’s eyes. His smirk changed, and he smiled at John. When they were just a foot or two apart, Josiah said, “Hi,” and his smile brightened.
But John just looked away, shyly, and they passed each other.