Excerpt from Weathering Old Souls by James J. Cudney & Didi Oviatt
One morning as winter should’ve been transitioning into spring, an eight-year-old Abigail awakens with a piercing scream. She bolts upright and snails herself to the edge of her bed, placing a heavy hand on her chest to help steady herself and catch her breath. Her body twinges as though she’s fallen down a flight of stairs or been slammed by a double-decker trolley. The agony starts in the muscles behind her shoulder blade. From there it feels like a rocket exploded, escaping through her chest, leaving only traces of burning gases to snake their way through the rest of her fragile body. She coughs violently as her system tries to rid itself of unknown toxins.
The bedroom is dark and frigid because the pipes broke the previous day and her father was too busy sleeping off a hangover to call a contractor to fix them. Oliver has no mechanical knowledge or experience with home repair, but he tells Abigail that the Stauntons will address the issue since their heating system has also experienced problems with the winter storms that year. It’s been an unpredictable season, much more so than the usual winter in South Carolina. Some days Abigail has played outside all afternoon, hardly catching a chill. Others she wakes to a beautifully ominous layer of frost clinging to every blade of yellow grass as if its very life depends on it.
A thin glint of light pushes through the crack between the bottom of the broken shade and the splintered windowsill. Abigail watches as the sparkly dust settles on the foot of her bed and shines brightly. It reminds her of the quartz necklace dangling on the neck of the woman in her scary dream. It was gorgeous and made the woman feel safe and comforted as it has in every dream where it made an appearance. Abigail’s told Margaret about the necklace many times, wishing she could hop out of bed today and do it again. It’s only been two months since she saw Margaret, but missing her is more than just a faint feeling. It’s soul crushing. She aches for Margaret’s companionship like any other child would her own sibling who’s grown up and gone on without her.
In her nightmare, Abigail was stuck inside the body of an old lady running through a field, sweat pouring from her head down the curves of her hollowed and withdrawn cheeks. It was pitch black, and there were trees all around her, the wind shaking the branches such that they whispered secret directions in an unknown language. They resembled monsters with claw-like arms and vicious teeth, ready to bite her flailing limbs. Someone had been chasing her, but Abigail never saw the figure’s face.
Confusion rocks her body. Part of her is the small innocent child who wants to scream for Elizabeth, but a stronger piece of her feels much older, more mature, as if she’s lived for decades, maybe even centuries. She shakes through the aftermath of terror, unable to make sense of what happened in her sleep. All she knows is that it was horrific and made her fear something awful was destined to happen. Abigail wonders if her nightmares relate to the bits of conversation she’s overheard between Elizabeth and Bradford in the past. Elizabeth once said something about a killer coming after them again, but they’d ultimately agreed they were much safer now.
After deliberating with Imaginary May for a few moments, Abigail announces, “I can handle this on my own. I am a big girl. Margaret’s gone, but she taught me to be strong.”
She cuddles the teddy bear that Elizabeth gifted her last month for Valentine’s Day. Elizabeth had always bought one for Margaret when she was a child, the kind of mother and daughter tradition that Abigail has always yearned for. This is the first year that Margaret has been away for Spring Break during Valentine’s Day. Elizabeth missed her daughter immensely, so she purchased two identical teddy bears at the local toy store. One for Margaret, who would be home on Spring Break soon, and one for her favorite little neighbor and second daughter.
With a heavy sigh, Abigail stretches her arms above her head, extends her legs, and spreads her toes apart. Then she drops her chin to her chest, before rolling her head around in big circles. Four times each direction, one for every major element. She studied them in school that year. With each round of her neck, Abigail breathes in and counts to ten, then she lets out the air and reminds herself of everything she has to be grateful for. Margaret once taught her this morning routine, to help her ease the body tremors brought about by a nightmare, as the last doctor she saw refused to give any pain medication or advice. The stretching and breathing exercises help, and her pains slowly evaporate like a faint mist over a swamp.
An oblong mirror that’s mounted to the wall across from her window offers Abigail a dust-clouded view of her messy hair as it knots and sticks out in every direction, along with her worn-out unicorn covered nightgown. She chuckles at the sight of herself, and the last of her anxiety and spasms disappear. She imagines the body aches to have a color, a dull shade of lilac, as they lift in a swirling pattern like hazy smoke and exit out of the beam of light coming through the window. “Stay away, you filthy bloke,” she chastises the imaginary swirl of colorful pain.