The storm had entered Daniel’s room, slamming the window against the wall. Raindrops pelted the floor. Instead of a flame, the wick of the candle now only emitted a tendril of smoke. Daniel’s head was resting on my lap, his arms were around me, shoulders shuddering. My hands still pulsated with heat, an aftermath of the vision. Without thinking, I placed them on Daniel’s head. I curled my fingers, their tips tracing the landscape of his cranium, where a long scar like a crescent lined its base.
The wind blew pieces of debris into the room, diffusing the precious heat that had accumulated, but I couldn’t make myself lift my hands off Daniel to get up and shut the window. He seemed to have emerged more shaken from the experience than me.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“All this sadness and suffering. It broke my heart.”
“It breaks mine to see you like this.”
“This is not a mere dream you are having. The angel is real. You must turn back,” Daniel said as the wind tipped over the clothing hanger that fell with a thud.
“But I don’t want to turn back. I want to help him.”
“You don’t know how.”
“But I want to know.”
“If you do what he’s asking you to do, his pain will become yours.”
“Because even if you give yourself to him, he can never be yours. You cannot meet him in this life. He is not human. You must turn back.”
“But love can overcome everything! You are seeing only the dark side, and forgetting about the light!”
“The forces he is a part of, they are dangerous to those who don’t know how to command them.”
“Daniel, I cannot turn back. I need to go on. I need to disentangle this, understand why it is happening.”
Daniel lifted his head and blew his nose. I was beginning to understand what he meant when he told me that his abilities were as much a blessing as they were a curse. He felt so much.
I got up to close the window, the wind pushing against me, but soon silence and calm returned to the room. Daniel sat up and pulled the blanket over his shoulders. I found the matches and relit the candle. Kindling light returned to our space, surrounding us in a golden halo.
“Sorry, I just don’t want you to suffer in vain.”
“Why do you care?”
Daniel dropped his gaze. “I don’t know. I just do.”
“In that case, maybe it will be better I told you how everything started. Maybe then you will understand?”
Daniel agreed and pressed his lips together. I told him about Ben, the black magic book I had taken from him without permission, the details of my dreams—the gray terrain, the wails, and the steam rising from the gorge. I told him when the dreams started and how they matched lunar phases. I told him about the red candle I took off the soldier’s crypt, and finding in its remains the image of the angel frozen in wax. I told him how noticed Ben’s behavior change, about meeting Punk and what he had said to me about coming to the hospital when we sat with our backs against the wall of the castle. And finally, I told Daniel about the meadows, the feathers, and even the red lipstick. Daniel listened, nodding here and there, absorbing every word with a scholarly focus. When I finished, his face was expressionless, eyes on the flame.
“Your friend Ben can feel it, too,” Daniel said. “He is trying to hold you back, warn you.”
“How does Ben know about the angel?”
“He doesn’t. But the heightened activity around you summons opposing forces. It is invading his subconscious, much like the angel has invaded yours.”
“But the angel didn’t invade anything. I let him in,” I said in protest. “Willingly.”
“Your friend Ben, is trying to pull you away from falling for the angel by making you fall in love with
“This is just too much!” I got up and walked to the window, wringing my arms over my chest. The storm had subsided, but the rain was still falling, its big drops producing small creeks in the asphalt’s dips and cracks.
“Ben is only a vessel, a vehicle for something much larger, something he could never comprehend.”
“Is this why Ben told me he feels like he’s losing control of himself? That night, when he kissed me… it wasn’t even him, he said. I shouldn’t be mad at him.” If Ben only knew of the forces that stirred in the depths of his mind…I leaned in closer toward the pane, espying a movement down on the pavement below us. A lone figure crossed the street. The man wore a hat, but had no umbrella. I wondered why anyone would be out in this weather at this late hour.
Daniel cast his blanket aside and stood up. “But all that could fade and things return to normal if you turn away. You still can.”
But I wasn’t eager about the prospect of turning away. I kept the thought to myself, only telling Daniel how disappointed Ben would be at losing his ability to ace his tests without ever opening a textbook.
“Love is a double-edged sword. It first brings delight, but its loss causes worse pain than the worst physical wound,” Daniel said, and reached for a towel slung over a chair next to a small table with a pitcher of water and a glass. He bent down to his knees and began wiping the wet floor. I waved in protest and tried to take over, but he wouldn’t let me. He finished cleaning, placed the folded towel in the corner and poured himself a glass of water, asking me if I wanted any. I took a sip and shuddered. The water tasted very bitter, so I passed. He took two gulps and set the glass aside.
“Why are you so against love?” I asked him.
“I’m not against love.”
“Were you ever hurt?”
“It doesn’t matter. It is not about me.”
“But I want to know more about you.”
“What do you what to know?” Daniel asked.
“Where were you born?”
Daniel smiled, but his expression was jaded. He went back to sit on the bed, placed a pillow between his back and the wall and drew the blanket around his shoulders. I sat on the edge of his bed and waited. The candle had lost about a third of its volume.
“I’m not really sure where I was born. Nuns raised me until I was four. Then I lived with a family of orchard growers in the north until I was six. Then a nurse, who couldn’t have children, and her husband, adopted me. She died before I turned twelve. I lived with her husband for four more years until he drank himself to death.”
My throat constricted. Here I was concerned about my dreams while Daniel’s life must have been a living nightmare.
“Have you ever been close with anyone?” I asked.
“I once had a friend,” Daniel said. “I met him the day my adoptive father died. He helped me a lot. I had no family left and no place to go and I was scared about what to do. He
was about my age, but unlike me, he thrived alone. I admired that. He taught me how to be self-sufficient and believe in myself. We spent most of that summer together. We’d forage for food, swim in lakes, and sleep under the stars.
“What happened to your friend?”
“One morning I woke up and he was gone.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. But before he departed, he left me with something that changed the course of my life.”
“What was that?”
“The motivation I needed to go back to my roots.” Daniel told me about the night before his friend had left. “We sat by the fire and I told him that I wanted to be free like him. He said no one could truly be free until they made peace with their past. He also said that we were of the same kind.”
“What did he mean?”
“I don’t know. But the next morning I was on my way.”
“On your way to where?”
“Did it help you find your parents?”
“I found clues that led me to my mother. I still don’t know who my father is.”
“Who is your mother?”
“I haven’t met her yet. But I now know that she didn’t want to give me up. That alone makes things easier.”
“Did someone make her do it?” I kept on.
“Her father did,” Daniel said, looking uncomfortable. “The nun told me they brought me in on a cold January day. Mountains of snow were piled up everywhere. She said that my mother’s face was swollen from tears, but she was resigned to doing what her father told her to do,” he said, and his voice broke.
“Did you try looking for her?”
Daniel nodded and his eyes watered. He rubbed them and I helped him lie on his back. He was starting to look pale and ill again.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed you. You should rest now,” I said, and he nodded again. I reached for his hand feeling faint pulsations of his palm, listening to his breath settle into a rhythm. After a few minutes, he seemed to be asleep. I let go of his hand and walked to the window. It was still raining but not as hard. I wondered if anyone at the motel had noticed my absence. To my surprise, the figure I spotted earlier was still there, sitting on a ledge, motionless. I could’ve mistaken it for a statue. As I kept looking down, he raised his head and looked straight at me. As he did, a cold gust of wind skimmed my face. He was the man from the basement. I heard a noise, turned around, and saw Daniel stirring in bed. He stretched his arms and blinked.
“How long was I asleep?”
“Not long at all.”
“Strange,” he said. “I just had a dream about the nurse who took me in years ago. I never dream about her. It is always her husband who keeps asking me for forgiveness, hunched over a bottle. But this time, she came. She sat next to me on this bed where you just sat and said, ‘You’re going home, Daniel.’”
I walked up to him, and sitting in that same spot again, let myself get carried away telling him how he would surely get better, and how I would then help him find his parents. His dream was a premonition. It must have been. But Daniel said that he thought she had meant him going home to be with God. Not wanting to give in to his grave mood, I asked him to tell me about the dream he had of me.
“A girl came here, to this hospital, to visit her grandfather, and to see me too. The dream was very short but it felt very good to have someone visit me. The next day I saw your grandfather and he said—”
“Wait, Daniel, you know him?”
Daniel confirmed, looking lost, as if he had been caught saying something he wasn’t supposed to. But I was happy they had met, and that another piece of the puzzle had snapped into place. This is how Grandpa knew of Daniel. This is why he cried when I mentioned him. Grandpa must have been aware of Daniel’s critical condition and felt sorry for him.
“What did my Grandpa say to you?” I asked.
“He said that you had the sensitivity of your mother and the stubbornness of your father and wouldn’t stop looking for something until you found it,” he said with quivering lips.
“He’s right. Once I latch onto something, I tend to become obsessed until I figure it out. But how does he know about my dreams?”
“He didn’t mean your dreams.”
“What did he mean?”
“I don’t know,” Daniel said quickly and looked away.
“You are hiding something. I can sense it. What did he mean Daniel? What did he say I’d never give up searching for?”
“I can’t say. He had me promise.”
“That I wouldn’t say anything. I already said too much. I’m sorry,” Daniel shifted on the bed, looking uneasy.
I let go of his hand and got up to pace around the room with my arms folded at my chest. “Grandpa wept when I mentioned you to him. Why Daniel?” I turned to him.
“It’s his guilt for hurting you. It’s been eating him alive,” he said, kneading the edge of the blanket in his hands.
The sight filled my heart with unbearable pity.
“But he didn’t hurt us! The worse thing he’s ever done was getting ill, but we can’t blame him for that, can we? Mom depends on him so much.”
“Your grandfather told me he felt so bad because he could’ve done more for her.”
I sighed. “Grandpa shouldn’t be stressing now. He needs to get well. That’s the best thing he could do for all of us. That’s what Mom would say. And now, I would add you to this wish. You too will heal, Daniel. I walked up to his bed and placed my palm on his forehead. Daniel’s skin felt cold and I noticed that he was starting to shiver.
“I feel better just having you here. Thank you,” he said.
“Why did you give up so soon? For goodness sake, Daniel, you need to start eating again.”
I reached for the glass, and brought it to his lips. He took a few gulps and I took one small sip and set the glass down. That water tasted nasty. I wished I had had the foresight to bring a sandwich from the motel. And a cup of hot tea. Yes, I could go for some hot tea now, I thought, feeling homesick. I walked to the hanger by the door, retrieved my wool hat and scarf, put the hat on Daniel’s head, and wrapped the scarf around his neck. I positioned myself closer, so that I could blow warm air on his cold hands that seemed to only get colder. Once they were sufficiently warmed, I slipped my gloves over them.
“You are turning me into a snowman.”
“I wish Mom was here. You know what she used to do to us when we were little?” Daniel’s eyes increased in size. “When we’d come home from playing in the snow, she’d take off our wet socks, roll up our pants and put our feet in hot water that she had poured into a bowl. It was the most blissful
sensation, especially with something warm to eat in one hand, and a remote control in the other.”
Daniel looked spellbound. “Your mom sounds like a very caring person.”
I nodded, and told him that to me she’ll always be the best mom in the world. I wished she had a happier life, but her sensitivity was also a part of her beauty. “She suffers, too. Sometimes I’d find her curled up on the sofa crying. For a long time, I thought she was haunted by something, but as time went by I realized that this is probably how she just is.”
“I miss her,” he said. “The mother I never knew. I wish I could meet her. Just once. Feel what it feels like to have someone love you just because you exist.”
Daniel took off one glove and reached out his hand to touch me. I cupped my hands around it, wondering where I had the strength to be here with a person that may just die in my arms.
“Daniel, will you please tell me what my Grandpa meant about me never giving up searching. Please. I need to know.”
“He was right when he said that you were stubborn.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking.”
“Is it a secret?”
“Maybe you will feel better if you let it out?”
“I made a promise,” he said faintly. But I could see that he was wavering, reconsidering.
“Please, Daniel. Just say it.”
“This afternoon after you left with your parents and sister…I went to his room to wish him goodnight. He wrote a note on a piece of paper. Begged me not to say a word. He knew you’d be back.”
“But why beg?”
“Evelina, I don’t want to cause your family any more pain, can’t you see?”
“What are you talking about, Daniel? Aren’t you the one in pain? And how could you have possibly hurt us?”
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
“What happened years ago, Daniel?”
“Years ago…He and his daughter, your mom, she—”
“Yes? Daniel, please, don’t stop now, keep going,” I said, tugging on his hand that I noticed was starting to get warmer.
“When I went to the orphanage to look for my roots, the nurse gave me a picture. That picture is what brought me here.”
“You are here because of a picture?” I asked. He nodded. “Whose picture?”
Daniel struggled to speak. “Of my pregnant mother, and her father.”
“Can I see it?”
Daniel shook his head. “He has it now. I thought he would be happy to see me. Instead he was so shaken, like he was afraid of me. I think he wants to protect her. His daughter. Like you said, he always worries about her.”
Blood drained from my face. Father’s accusations of Mom’s infidelity… her guilt, her pain… her perpetual, unexplained pain. Could it all have been related to Daniel’s story? The answer became clear. Daniel was at the center of my family drama, and it took me embarking on this trip to discover it. This is why Punk said to me that if I went, I would find the thread that would lead me toward the truth, which had eluded me for my entire fifteen years of my existence.
“I am so sorry,” Daniel said. “I only wanted to meet you. Not cause any problems.”
My body constricted before two tears trickled down my cheeks. They were like the water of a spring welling up in a mountain, a spring that had finally found a way out. The truth was not painful to me. It was a release. Painful was Daniel’s suffering.
“All this time,” I whispered, “I sensed that something was missing. I just had no idea that he was my brother.”