“Let me go!” I screamed, “I have to find her!”
The nurses pinned me back down onto the bed! “Let go of me I have to find her!” As they injected me I felt the familiar oozing warmth of the sedative enter my blood stream and I struggled to fight it. My arms and legs became heavier as though cemented by gravity. I felt an empty scream echo throughout my whole body. My eyes welled with tears as I pushed with all my might before the darkness swept me under.
There was something peculiarly comforting about the rainstorms with the pounding sound of thunder, the whipping of the wind surges and the slicing flashes of lightning. A peace and calm rose within me while standing in the kitchen looking out the window of our new empty house in Tacoma Washington. I was surrounded by mountains of cardboard boxes and bags but this was a chaos I was in control off and outside was a chaos that couldn’t touch me. Or so I hoped? The feeling of shelter and security overtook me while the winds tore through everything in sight. The giant oak trees in the front yard toppled forward with its branches bending in every direction. Nature was cowering but I was untouched, firm, rooted and safe. Moving here after being offered a teaching assistant position at The University of Tacoma for Mythology and Theology Studies seemed like the right choice because there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Annabeth Letha Grey.
From the moment, she was born I had found my tether to this world. The one thing to pull me back from the precipice of self-destruction I was standing on. I was twenty-two, just barely done with college, her father was out of the picture, I had no job prospects with a pit of student debt. During her delivery five years ago, I felt a burning sensation in my chest, each breath I took felt like I was swallowing gulps of fire. She was in danger; the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. My baby couldn’t breathe and neither could I. It only lasted a few seconds before she was taken out and I held her for the first time. I knew everything in my life had led to this. All the worries and fear seemed to disappear into the lush rainforest of her emerald green eyes. This job was the ticket to give her the best chance in life. We couldn’t live with my parents in Arizona forever. I thought I was ready for us to be on our own and take on the world together.
At the sound of the thunder Annie ran into the kitchen pushing the half open card board boxes from her way and clung onto my leg.
“Mama, it hasn’t stopped raining since we got here. I want to go back to Nana and Pops please!” she cried as she started heaving as she gasped for breath.
“Sweetie, remember to breathe deeply.” I said calmly as I pulled her inhaler out of her pocket. She reached for it and took a deep breath. The rise and fall of her chest steadied as I lifted her up to the window as the storm raged on.
“Do you know why there is a storm?” I asked her as I ran my hand through her red ringlets hoping to distract her to steady her breathing more.
She turned to me and shook her head, as the lightning flashed she buried her head into my hair and whimpered. I held her tightly.
“Zeus is the Greek God of the storm. Do you know how he comes to Earth?” I placed her to sit on the counter as I wiped her tears and put a kettle on the stove.
“Once every century Zeus makes the journey to find his new Queen. He races past the blinding stars, suns and dimly lit moons. He leaps from Jupiter to Mars, across the vacuum silence of the empty darkness riled with determination to complete his quest. His intent was unbreakable to get to the planet spinning slowly with a steady hum of beating hearts and life.”
“That’s our planet! Earth!” Annie interjected as she wiped her eyes and nose.
I smiled as I opened a box of kitchen supplies and unpacked two yellow mugs, “Life was in the planet ahead, life of the purest of heart and beautiful women. He breaks through the invisible barrier of crisp cold air striking his lightning bolt to cut through the wisps of white clouds till he is caught in the stormy pockets of the wind. The wind was his ally, he climbs onto her back, steadies her and grip onto her firmly. He rides her as she plummets towards the center of gravity in this strange beating heart planet across the blue sky into the reflective blue green seas.”
The kettle began to whistle like the sharp winds piercing through the atmosphere and I poured the water into the mugs with some hot chocolate.
Annie giggled as she grabbed a cup, “What happens next?”
“He unlocks himself from the wind and dives into the deepest ocean waters tasting the salt. The tide raises and storm fronts form as he spread out across it in ripples and waves and follows the currents in the oceans to land. He travels in the storms with lightning flashing around him like a beacon as he searches for his next love to make his queen.”
Annie looked outside at the storm as a bright burst of silver lightning flashed, “Tell me more mama!”
“I have a lifetime to share stories with you be patient.” I said then kissed her forehead.
I jolted forward as I woke up from the forced sleep that kidnapped me, I was held back by the handcuffs around my wrist that were attached to the bed. My vision was blurry at first, everything in the room seemed out of focus. It was as if a layer of murky saran wrap covered every surface. At the time, nothing stood out to me but the fuzzy outlines of the white furniture and white carpets. If the colour white had a smell it would be the cold cutting scent of bleach. The sound of a buzzer went off and two men walked in, with at least a foot of height difference between them. The shorter man was balding man with a lab coat and the other one wore a soaked trench coat smoking a cigarette, his muddy boots left faint footprints on the white tiles behind him.
“If you’d be so kind Detective Riley to put out that fire hazard in a hospital.” said the shorter man. Detective Riley chuckled and outed the cigarette between his fingers and pitched it into the trash.
“Scarlett good to see your awake” he said, “I am Dr. Lotz and this is Detective Riley who is on your daughter’s case.”
“Why am I here? Get me out of these restraints!”
Dr. Lotz pulled a chair next to my bed while the detective leaned against the wall.
“You were in no condition to be left alone Scarlett, understandably you were hysterical last night so for a matter of precaution we thought it best to put you under a 24-hour sedated psych watch. The restraints are a necessary precaution till this is over.”
“I’ve been here 24 hours?” I screamed as I tried to pull my hands out of the cuffs but it just dug into my skin, “I need to get to fine Annie!”
“You were screaming about the light all night.” Dr. Lotz said, “Are you ready to tell us what happened?” Dr. Lotz asked.
“We need your help to get a better picture of what happened to Annabeth, we have an Amber alert posted nationwide.” Detective Riley said I noticed his hand fidgeting, taping on the wall till he gave in and lit another cigarette.
Dr. Lotz shook his head but ignored him, “Scarlett, no one was able to get a coherent word out of you and to find Annie we need to know everything.”
Retelling everything and reliving it again knowing where I went wrong was harder than I thought.
Annie grew to love our new home. We spent the next few weeks unpacking and decorating. She insisted on having the room on the first floor where she can see her new garden. The only thing greener than her eyes were her thumbs. When we lived in the city we never had the room for a garden but now with a yard out front she was ecstatic. That summer before school started we’d go outside on evenings and I’d supervise as she rattled on about her favorite types of rose or magnolias. My daughter was the most precocious 5-year-old, at times I’d forget her naïveté, if only I had caught on earlier.
We met our new neighbors whose twin daughters Bella and Billie immediately became her friends that summer. At first those three were inseparable and I was beginning to let my guard down. This place was just what she needed to thrive. Annie was about to begin first grade. Before we both got busy I decided to take her to the park to spend time together. As we reached to the park Annie catapulted forward like a fiery red flame and ran for the swings begging that I push her. She kicked her legs up into the air to gain momentum as she swung higher and with laughter.
The other children ran aimlessly around her but Annie was different she was above them all floating in the air. At just the right moment as she swung higher her silhouette blocked the sun completely, all the light seemed to be escaping from within her as she gave an iridescent smile.
“Mom! I have something to tell you” she yelled, “I’m a queen! Bella and Billie don’t believe me but I am.”
“Annie aren’t you too young to be a queen you’re more of a princess” I laughed.
She hopped of the swing and grabbed my hands pulling me under a tree for shade.
“I will be Queen Annie I just know it. The lightning told me.” she whispered then she ran off laughing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel uneasy as I watched her skip away.
Later that week we were packing her bags before the first day of school. She sat on the floor staring at something in her hand. I remember droning on about school rules but Annie didn’t notice me speaking as she twirled the object between her fingers.
“Annie what’s wrong?”
“Mom…I saw Zeus outside my window last night again.”
“Honey… come on we have work to do” I said as I packed some notebooks in her bag.
“No mama, he left me this!” she showed me crumpled up rosebud from the garden. It was young and had not yet fully blossomed.
“Someone was outside your window?”
“He came in his lightning. I asked him if he was Zeus just like I did the first time and if he was here to look for his queen and he said yes and picked me this rose.” she said softly.
I took the rose from her hand and walked in her room, closed her window and locked it. Annie trailed behind me, I could sense that she knew I was upset as she pouted her lip and leaned against the door frame.
“Annie, this has to stop, this window stays locked. Enough of these games.”
I knew that there weren’t any storms last night. She had to have just been dreaming. At first, I rationalized why I made her sleep in my bed for a couple weeks. I told myself it was just till she got the Zeus story out of her system. Now I know it was a part of myself trying to warn me, to call out for me to protect my daughter but when my new job started I got too busy and the tiny voice faded.
Weeks passed and my job at the university was more demanding than I imagined but the flexible hours with the steady pay was a life saver for a single mother. I felt my relationship with Annie straining but I thought things would get back on track when work settled down. I didn’t notice when she stopped inviting Bella and Billie over and how she was constantly lost in her own thoughts. I’d drop Annie off at school and head to work every day. I’d pick her up at 3p.m, we’d run a few errands together then head home. For Annie, it was homework, playtime, dinner and bed like clockwork. I’d tuck her into her bed downstairs then head upstairs to the tiny home office.
One night it was especially hectic. I was in my home office when Annie ran in yelling.
“Mom! I’m going to be a queen again! Zeus told me!”
“Annie I’m working.” I said as the phone started ringing, I picked it up.
“Mom listen to me I saw his lightning! It was so bright! Billie and Bella told me it wasn’t real but it is!” Annie screamed louder.
“Annie be quiet” I chided her. It was a call from my supervisor Professor Andrews in regards to grade submissions.
“Mom I swear! I swear! Mom I’m going to be a Queen he came in the lightning he came for me! Queen Annabeth!” she screamed in a sing song voice as she twirled around me.
“Professor Andrews I’m sorry I can’t hear you. Just hold a second please.”
“Mommy the lightning was in my room!”
“Annabeth Letha Grayson behave yourself and get out my office!” I yelled. She ran out from the offices in tears. She broke into sobs as he chest tightened she pulled out her inhaler and ran to her room.
The guilt soon ensued as I followed her. I curled up on the bed next to her and gently brushed her hair, “I’m sorry baby.”
She turned around and looked at me and burrowed into my chest as I hugged her tightly. I stayed with her till she fell asleep. I was her mother. I was everything she had left in this world. I stood at her door fixated on the gentle rise and fall of her chest under the sheets. I left her to dream and wander about her whole life ahead of her. Under the pretense her mother would always protect her. I left her there and I let her down.
We did our same routine this past Tuesday. Annie was in bed by 8 p.m. and I somehow pulled myself upstairs to get started on the second group of papers I needed to correct for the day. I fell asleep on my desk and awoke at the crack of thunder that pierced the shrine like silence of the night. I looked outside the window as the sky began to buckle over and the storm clouds were seeping across the sky like a thick black smoke nipping the buds of light emitting from the stars. Lightning arced across the sky and the power immediately went. One by one I watched down the street as each house succumbed to a devilish darkness. I turned on the flashlight on my phone and rushed to Annie’s bedroom to check on her. As I scrambled down the stairs I felt this burning sensation in my chest. My blood was boiling like I was inhaling hot steam. I turned into Annie’s room and I flashed the light in her bed but she wasn’t there.
“Annie where are you?” I called.
Across her bed and floor were tiny white framed polaroid pictures. Pictures of Annie that mapped her whole life, while she was sleeping, doing her homework even when I was with her on her bed, were just scattered everywhere. The wind blew the curtains ferociously and I noticed the broken window, I ran towards it not feeling the pain of the broken shards of glass cutting into my feet. My chest felt tight. I was burning. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t think. I just reacted.
“Annie!” I screamed and I rushed to the front door and into the rain and darkness.
The lightning flashed like a sharp blade illuminating the sky for split seconds at a time. I ran around the house searching for her and calling her name. Then I took to the streets screaming for help.
“Annabeth!” I called, my voice was drowning against the heavy downpour. I tripped and fell hitting my head. I tasted dirt and blood on my lips but kept looking. Then I saw a figure in the distance. A man or something man-like. In the darkness, I recognized the silhouette of her frenzied curly red hair tossed over this shoulders.
“Annie!” I cried, “Stop! That’s my daughter!”
The lightning sliced through the sky once more, it was if he grabbed onto the bolt because just like that they were gone. I ran for two miles in the rain before I collapsed. I fell to the ground as I called for the police. I wasn’t safe anymore. I was exposed I was in the middle of the chaos that I couldn’t control. I was out there in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold burning from the inside and I couldn’t breathe.
“She said the lightning was outside her window. She said Zeus had come to make her a queen. It was the flash from his camera and I didn’t know. He’s been watching her for weeks.” I said barely above a whisper.
“Did you mean these pictures?” Detective Riley said. He handed me a bunch of photos of Annie asleep in my arms. I nodded and pushed them away.
“Scarlett don’t you think it’s time to start letting Annie go. These photos were taken the day she was born and died.” Dr. Lotz said as he pulled out a tape recorder, “Patient still appears to be in an alternate sate of being even after new doses of drug X. Patient’s response remains the same with the death of her daughter being concocted into an elaborate ruse of mythical creatures and predators. No violent outbursts this time. Recommended course of action, double dose in 24 hours.”
“Do you think these treatments will ever work?” Detective Riley said taking of his trench coat revealing a white nurse’s uniform underneath, “I am developing a nicotine addiction just processing how messed up this is.”
“We need to find the source of her delusions and we can only do that if we become part of her story. I am trying to revolutionize science here.” Dr. Lotz snapped.
“What are you talking about?” I screamed, “Who are you people?” I started tugging violently at the handcuffs in fear ripping the railing of the bed along with it. I pushed passed Dr. Lotz and ran for the door but Detective Riley grabbed me and wrapped his arms across my chest, pushing me back unto the bed.
“Annie! Get me Annie!”
“Annie has been dead for 5 years Scarlett.” Dr. Lotz said as two nurses rushed in, “She was suffocated by the umbilical cord in child birth and you know this.”
“Let me go you sick bastards! My daughter was taken from me by the lightning!” I screamed, until I felt the warm ooze enter my blood stream again.
As I began to fall into the deep sleep I began to look around the room more closely things that were there began to come into focus, the yellow plastic mug on an empty food tray, a calendar from the University of Tacoma Washington hung on the wall opposite the bed and the recorder in Dr. Lotz’s hand had a sticker of a lightning bolt on it. I stopped fighting, my eyes were fixated on the picture of me holding my dead child that was now lying on the floor after the scramble. I let the drug consume me for another chance at memories with her.
“Annie…” I whispered as I imagined cradling my baby in my arms once more.