6. In The Darkness Between
I heard Enid bustling in the kitchen. My brain still felt raw from the barrage of memories and images of Dad and Louis. I was not ready to be a grown up with her just yet. So I changed quietly into jeans and shimmied through the bedroom window.
I headed up the path to warped ruins of Dad’s workshop. The distance seemed shorter because my legs were longer, and I was driven by the need for answers. The back yard was overgrown and weedy. I picked burrs off that had bitten into my shirt. I had just cleared the open path and slipped into the thick woods when I heard Enid.
“Dahlia! Dahlia, I made breakfast!” She made breakfast?! Like maybe a diet shake, half a grapefruit, and grainy coffee? I ignored her voice and ducked into the trees.
Forward. I am going back to go forward. The path was all but lost, but I knew the way. Due South through the jungle until you come to the shiny place. That’s what I told Louis the first time he went there alone. Dad had given him a compass and I made a map. I reminded him to play the Treasure Game and light his own way if he got scared.
And here I was now, standing on the bare earth of where the shiny place used to be.
The sliding door had been blown off the warped steel housing. A slanted, gaping mouth beckoned me into shadow and sorrow. I stepped inside. Little pieces, rusted hinges, screw hooks, broken tool fragments, bent table legs, so much of nothing. And yet, these useless bits are what held an empire together.
The Grimwalt Laboratory, vortex of creation, cauldron of hope, crux of my universe where science and magic were one, the physical housing of my father’s heart and brain, the only place where love lived for me – barren and naked bones – the fallen Colossus.
I sat in the middle of the cement floor, only moving what I needed to make space for myself. Closing my eyes, I let the dust and webs and shadows fall away. I slipped back through time, pushing back the oppressive dust and bottomless loss. I wanted to let go of this encompassing ache that I dragged through life like a rotted chain.
The rains came like I called them. And booming thunder and shocks of lightning. I stood up and climbed the rubble to push pieces of the roof open. Let it wash away the mantle of death, cleanse the skeleton of the sleeping giant. I grabbed a large flat sheet of ribbed metal and began to scrape away the debris.
“Mm. Mm. MNOOOO!” The voice came from the closeted recess on the back wall.
I froze. I did not just hear a person. A human voice.
I pushed again, scraping metal against concrete floor.
My heart dropped.
I turned to see a silhouette in the back corner, strobe-lit on and off by the approaching lightning.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…do you sleep here?”
The figure shuffled slowly into the obscure light.
The man was taller than me by a foot. Long, black hair hung over the side of his face. He was pale, translucent. He leaned toward the wall to steady himself on his oversized hands.
“I won’t move anything. I didn’t know anyone was here.”
He tilted his head and the light caught his eyes, the palest of blue and wide with fear. He was afraid of me. I wanted to run, but his face was so stricken.
I put a hand out slowly. “I’m Dahlia Grimwalt. This is my home.”
He stared back, saying nothing. Then he took the sheet of metal from me and threw it against the wall.
He pointed, “No.”
‘I get it. I won’t move anything. So have you been living out here?”
“It’s really dirty, not safe.”
He went back to the corner and pushed through shelving, ignoring me. I followed.
He sat down on a small nest of a mattress in the corner. He lay back down, curled up to fit and closed his eyes. As he pushed his hair out of his face, I saw that it was covered with burn scar tissue.
“It’s really not safe here.”
He turned his back to me. “Safe. I stay.”
“So then we are…neighbors.”
I backed away from him, watching him pretend to nap. A real sleeping giant. I had to return to the house, clean myself up, deal with Enid and any fallout. But I felt like I was moving through quicksand. I felt rooted here in this spot.
“Neighbors…” he mumbled. “Dahlia Grim. Dolly.”
I sagged against the bent steel, not believing what I heard. Not sure if I imagined his words, my name that only Dad and Louis used.
“I’ll bring you some food. Yeah. Neighbors.”
I dashed toward the house through the downpour, not sure how my legs were even carrying me forward.