She dreamt of the rocks crashing down and being tied up. This time there was no rescue. Her tormentor came back. The last thing she saw was a triumphant smile and those reptilian eyes just before a rock was brought down upon her skull and it all going into a wet, crunching black.
Her eyes flew open into the darkness of a warm room. She could hear her breathing and feel a thin glaze of sweat upon her brow. At first, it was like waking up from any other nightmare until she realized there were arms around her. There was someone else breathing next to her, and it sounded like the purring of a big cat. With a sigh, and perhaps a smile, she pulled herself in closer to the slumbering embrace allowing for the waking safety she was yet to achieve in her dreams.
Of course he would disappear. He was Lazarus Lankin. The first time it happened, despite every story and every fact she was told about him, Sydney found her feelings were hurt. Her grandfather’s barn cat, back when she was a child, was like that; curling up in a bed with her one night, and then disappearing for a week or two before the sun was even up.
“Lazarus is Lazarus,” Bast said to her one afternoon at Ira Milligan’s café. “If you think he might be someone else, or try to make him into somebody else, he will turn on you.” She leaned closer, predatory gray eyes narrowed. “And I think you’ve seen quite well what happens to those he turns upon.”
“I guess I might have to learn a new way,” Sydney mused. “That seems to be what I’ve needed to do since I came to Marrakech.”
“I’m optimistic,” Bast said.
“Your brother said that too,” Sydney quipped and Basted smirked in the manner of a sphinx that knew the answer to the riddle from the time of the dinosaurs.
“Did he now?”
The nursery rhyme of Humpty-Dumpty became a strange mantra for Sydney the rest of that summer, as she worked to pull herself back together again after five years of harassment. She found a newfound sense of freedom living in Marrakech and not all but hiding in her little apartment above Ira Milligan’s. The freedom of being somewhere new and finally really starting anew. There was the freedom of not being followed and tormented, though she still fought back the nightmares and the urge to constantly check over her shoulder. The freedom of knowing Darcy was going away for a very long time.
Sydney found freedom in her acquaintance with Lankin. Sometimes she would find herself at the last house on Lovecraft Lane. There were times they would go for a hike or to shoot pool at Magpie Jack’s and part ways with nothing more than a hug and a peck on the cheek. Sydney joked she never thought of herself as a cat person, but for him, she would try to make an exception.
“My sister observed a defiant streak in you,” he told her one night. “Perhaps it is that, which intrigues me.”
“Or maybe you just actually like me,” she teased.
“You’d find that answer boring, Just Sydney.”
“Only from you.”
In Levant County, it was said the inhabitants of Marrakech had an innate sense of when the last truly hot day was before the chill of High Country autumn, and ultimately, winter, was going to set in. It was inevitably a day in September, and, most always, a day when the aspen leaves had hit their peak, turning the mountainsides into tiger-stripped veins of green, gold, orange, and red. On that day, the atmosphere at Magpie Jack’s was that of the most festive of parties, and everyone in town, as well as from nearby, stopped by for at least an hour.
Sydney sat out at a patio table with the warm sun on her face. There were loud voices and the sound of a game of horseshoes being played. Something fun was being sang from the speakers. Her vantage point allowed her a spectacular view of Gaia’s Backbone, including the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower; both mountains she had finally been able to summit.
At the table with her was Desdemona, Bast, and Marty. She was enjoying the company, and the fact she could have friends now and not worry about having them poisoned and stolen away from her. This new life she found herself in, despite the lingering nightmares and occasional old fears, was shaping up to be fairly good.
“I must say you look much better than when I first met you back in June,” Bast observed. “You look more vibrant.”
“I’ve been up on the tundra a few times this summer,” Sydney said. “Someone once told me going up there can be quite cathartic.”
“Sounds like someone rather wise,” Bast said with a smirk.
A round of cheers erupted from inside. It was the type of ruckus that was made when an important point was scored during a game. Bast leaned back in her wheelchair and Sydney stood up to peer in the open patio door. By the bar was a familiar angular figure sipping a glass of red wine.
“Well, well, we will need another chair,” Bast chuckled. “Look who’s coming to dinner…”
“Natty Dreadlocks,” Sydney finished with a smile that might be described as either excited or expectant.