TITLE: Twelve Strikes - Prologue
By Ennis Smith
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2:23 AM; 11 January 2013
It was a distant annoyance, at first. Possibly someone’s car alarm had been set off, down the street. Maybe a cat fight was taking place in the freezing night. Dull, muffled blaring screeches intensifying. As Daniel tossed restlessly, the sound grew louder, more pronounced; closer than the street below his bedroom window. It was in the house. Not an alarm at all. Daniel sprung from the bed, still half sleep, and barreled through the room. He ripped open the bedroom door and descended the steps two at a time.
“I’m coming honey! Daddy’s coming, Mary,” he yelled though the dark house.
At the bottom of the steps, Daniel landed on a stuffed animal, sending his feet into the air. His seat crashed against the hardwood floor, jarring his teeth together. A lightning bolt shot up his back, as he struggled to his feet. The thud seemed to ramp up Mary’s screaming. Daniel crashed through the girls’ bedroom door, flipping the light switch. Jordan sat up in bed covering her ears against the assault.
“Daddy, make her stop screaming! What’s wrong with her?”
Daniel leaped toward the ladder of the L-shaped loft. His eyes trained on Mary as she sat cowering in the corner, screaming. Tears streamed down her wet cheeks. Her sweaty hair lay matted across her damp forehead. Her eyes seemed to dart from one direction to the next, as she clutched her blanket tight to her little chest. At the top of the ladder, Daniel bent over the railing and reached toward Mary.
“It’s okay sweetheart. I’m here. Calm down.”
Mary’s frightened eyes saw Daniel’s reach. She let loose a blood curdling shriek, then collapsed silent to the pillow underneath her. Daniel ripped the blanket from his limp daughter’s grasp, and lifted her one-armed by the night gown. Mary draped loose over his shoulder as Daniel slowly descended the loft ladder.
“Daddy, what’s wrong with Zoo-Zoo?”
“Hush now, Jordan. Lie down honey. Zoo-Zoo’s just had a bad dream.”
Daniel sat on the carpeted floor cradling Mary. She slept peacefully in his arms, as he brushed her damp hair away from her sweaty scalp. Down the hallway, Daniel heard the living room front door close, keys jiggle inside the small dish atop the living room ottoman, and padded feet racing toward the girls’ bedroom. He glanced up to see Dana glide into the room, still clad in nursing scrubs.
“Dear, what on earth is all the screaming about?” Dana asked. “I heard it from the driveway, before the car was even parked. Sugar-bear, are you alright?”
“It wasn’t me Momma. Zoo-Zoo woke up screaming in the dark. I had to cover my ears.”
“Dear, what happened? Is Zoo-Zoo, okay?”
Daniel stood up, still cradling Mary. He reached over and kissed Dana’s lips, while gently rocking their youngest daughter.
“Good morning, babe. Sorry you had to come home to this. She must’ve had one heck of a night terror.”
“Oh, my poor baby. She was doing so well. She hasn’t had a nightmare in over a year.”
“I know. This time was…somehow different though. I can’t really explain it.”
“Different, how dear?”
“Her eyes were all over the place. Once she saw me reaching for her…”
“What? What happened, when you reached for her?”
“Momma did you get to see any dead people tonight?” Jordan asked.
“Hush sugar-bear. Lie down and go back to sleep. We have church in the morning. Dear, what happened when you…”
Babe, I kid you not; she fainted. She didn’t so much drift off to sleep. I think she actually fainted. I scooped her over my shoulder, brought her down to the floor, and she’s been asleep ever since.”
Dana shook her head. She gently stroked her fingers through Mary’s damp hair.
“Honey, I don’t understand. How could she have fainted?”
“I don’t know babe. You’re Doctor Mom. I was hoping you could explain it to me.”
Mary shuddered in Daniel’s arms, and slowly opened her eyelids. Daniel and Dana stared into her hazel eyes.
“Good morning, my little Zoo-Zoo.” Dana kissed Mary’s forehead. “How are you, sweetheart?”
“Hi Momma,” Mary whispered. “Daddy?”
“Yeah, Zoo-Zoo. Daddy’s here sweetheart. You had a little bad dream, but you’re okay now. Daddy was just putting you back to bed.”
“Daddy, they’re coming. The twelve men are coming soon.”
Dana and Daniel exchanged a bewildered glance.
“Daddy, Zoo-Zoo doesn’t even know what number twelve is. Who’s she talking about?”
“Hush, Jordan. Lie down and go to sleep sugar-bear.” Daniel snapped. “Zoo-Zoo, do you remember what you dreamed of, honey?”
“Uh-huh,” Mary whimpered. “He said the time was near, Daddy. He said he was going to bring them back first. He said…”
Mary’s tiny chest began to heave. Dana, took Mary into her arms, soothing the toddler, as Mary began to sob.
“Shhhhh. It’s alright, Zoo-Zoo. Daddy won’t let anyone hurt you, baby.”
Dana’s eyes pleaded with Daniel, as she slowly rocked Mary.
“That’s right, Zoo-Zoo. Daddy won’t let anyone hurt you. I’m a tough guy. Now, who told you about the twelve men? And who are the twelve men, honey?”
Mary buried her tiny face into Dana’s shoulder. Tears soaked through the scrub shirt, but Dana clutched her daughter tight.
“He was bright, Daddy; like the sun. I couldn’t see his face. He was loud and scary, but he was nice to me.”
“What in the world?” Daniel whispered.
“Daddy, he told me to tell you something.”
Dana’s hazel eyes were saucers. She bit down on her bottom lip. Daniel gently stroked his wife’s arm, comforting her.
‘This is all just some sort of weird dream she had,’ he thought.
“What did the bright man say, Zoo-Zoo?”
“Time is short, Daddy. Time is short. They are coming.”
Mary snored against her mother’s shoulder; fast asleep. Dana and Daniel stood in the middle of the girls’ room staring at one another. In his mind, Daniel replayed the words his five-year old daughter had just said; words too complex for the average five year old vocabulary.
“She’s out, dear. My Lord she’s asleep, as if she’d never been awake.” Dana shivered. “Danny, what’s happening here?”
“Babe, I have no idea. ‘Time is short. They are coming.’”
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