I must admit I received quite a shock when I saw my teenage daughter leaving for prom wearing a cropped halter top and a mini skirt.
“I won’t be late, Dad, don’t worry!” she reassured. “Prom ends at 10 and I’m coming straight home after that.”
“I’m glad you’re going to prom, hon,” I told her, “I guess you’re breaking out of your loner shell?”
“I wasn’t going to go,” she admitted “But I have a date, so…”
A date? Who? At that moment there was a knock on the door “That must be Micah!” Irene announced, and hurried outside. I just followed. A kid who I have seen skating around town and generally hanging out with the rocker crowd in school was waiting for my firstborn, looking at the clock and at the limo waiting outside on the street.
“Mind if I talk to him, Irene?” I made clear to my daughter that I wanted to know what the kid was like.
“Uh, sure?” she looked uncomfortable. I understood, of course—she didn’t want to look bad in front of her prom date.
“Hello, I’m Simon, Irene’s dad. And you are?” I introduced myself to the boy.
“Micah Sheppard,” the boy introduced himself. “I promise we’ll be back as soon as the dance is over and we can hail a cab.”
“That’s great. But tell me more about yourself, Micah.”
“Well, not much to say. I like to skateboard and play the guitar, mostly. I even take lessons for the later. As for the dance, I promise not to do anything you wouldn’t approve of,” the boy reassured me.
“Alright then, have fun you two,” I waved them toward their ride. Who knew? My daughter was going out with someone. He didn’t seem too bad either—musicians were in the family already, so if things got serious with them, it won’t be anything new. Not that I would worry any less, of course.
While the teens left for their dance, we had an impromptu movie night—just me, Celeste, and Gerald.
“Does Irene have a boyfriend?” Gerald was ever curious.
Celeste began to giggle “Just because she’s going to prom with the boy doesn’t mean he’s her boyfriend! I went to prom with someone entirely different that your Dad, and I wasn’t even dating the guy. What about you Si?”
“Um, I actually didn’t go to prom, to be honest,” I admitted “I just headed to the library and stayed there until the thing was over.”
“Oh no! Why?” my wife was genuinely surprised.
“I was much more shy back then than I am today. Didn’t feel like hanging with my classmates that I had nothing in common,” I admitted. “I’m glad Irene doesn’t have the same problem and is breaking out of her shell a bit.”
“Well, I’m going to take Katy to prom!” announced Gerald. “And I’m going to be her boyfriend too.”
Celeste and I shared a smile. He was so crushing on that girl!
True to her word, Irene was home a bit after 10. Smiling from ear to ear, she not only served everyone dinner, but later offered to clean the dishes.
“Prom rocked! And Micah was actually a good dancer, didn’t step on my feet even once. He asked me to be his girlfriend, can you believe that?!” my daughter was ecstatic. Whatever that boy was doing, he not only got her to attend a social event but to be happy afterwards. Good job, I’d say.
Yes, I did agree to be Micah’s girlfriend. What can I say? The guy had a lot of charm and he was really fun. Why not give it a try?
Gerald was all ears after I came home from prom. He wanted to hear every detail about the dance and even let me put up our prom picture in our room.
“I’m going to ask Katy to prom when we’re in high school. You think she’d go with me?” he was curious.
“Why not? She’d be silly to refuse,” I reassured my little brother
After a while, it was time for Gerald to join me in high school. We were throwing a joint party for him and Katy, who after Maya’s passing, spent more time at our place than ever.
Micah was there too. After we became an item, he also visited my place quite often and my parents totally didn’t mind. They were wary of him at first, with his juvenile delinquent image, but came around when they saw that I was happy with him.
After our fight, Mom and I took to going out to fish after school again. It was therapeutic for both of us since we got to talk to one another, enjoy nature, and relax at the same time together. She and I discussed a whole lot of things, from life and relationships to the more random topics in the news.
It was during one of these outings that it all began, at least for me.
“Wow, great catch,” I admired after Mom reeled in a huge fish.
“It’s all about proper baiting, hon,” she smiled. And quickly bent over, holding her stomach, throwing up.
“Mom? Is everything alright? You don’t look so good,” I realized.
“It’s nothing, sweetie,” she tried to brush the episode off like it was normal.
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me. You’ve been way pale all day. You know you aren’t getting any younger and have to take care of yourself,” I tried to reason with her.
Mom looked really worried and slowly nodded “I know sweetie. I already have an appointment with the doctor tomorrow.”
So this wasn’t the first time she felt sick? And she was putting of the appointment. Was there a reason to worry? I really hoped Mom’s symptoms weren’t anything serious.
That night, even Gerald’s joyous announcement that he and Katy were officially dating didn’t make my mood better. Who knew what was going on with my mother?
I dreaded going to the doctor about my symptoms. That’s why I put the hospital visit off for so long.
Truth be told, I’ve felt somewhat strange ever since before the kids have gone to high school.
I was just enjoying the outdoors with Simon. He was gardening and I was watching him. He always looked so at peace in his garden.
“I bet you never imagined this garden to turn out so well,” I reminisced.
“It certainly exceeded my expectations,” he admitted. “Just like my love life.”
That was my husband—never missing the chance to be sweet. “I have to admit, I did catch the best fish in the sea, too.”
He smiled, appreciating the return pun “You’re adorable.”
“Well, I have to keep up with you, right?”
Inside, my fish still waited to be fed. After I was done, I was planning to go out and buy some groceries, but all of a sudden, I’ve felt the worst dizziness in my life. It was so bad that I spent the rest of the day lying on the couch, not doing anything and hardly moving.
When the family asked if I was ok, I told them I was just tired, which wasn’t a lie. I did really feel less energy than usual.
At first, I thought I was pregnant again, and while the idea of having a child at this age terrified me, I knew that was a good thing. But after several months passed and I was certainly not with child, I figured it was something worse.
I was going to go to the doctor then, but then the symptoms went away for a while and I assumed it was a simple food poisoning or brain flu. But now the dizziness, the nausea, and the weakness were back. From looking online, I knew that I had reasons to suspect a serious illness.
So, it shouldn’t have been too much a shock that day, when the doctor confirmed the facts—I was sick. Very, very sick.
After coming home with the news, I couldn’t think clearly. I just wanted to smash something, something solid, something that wasn’t killing me like the cancer was. I knew I was at a high risk, after what happened to my mother. I knew I should’ve been more vigilant, but wasn’t I? I made sure to eat all natural food, I spent hours outdoors, I stayed fit. Why was this happening?
Simon found me in a desperate state when he got home from the store.
“Celi? What’s wrong? Talk to me,” he hurried to my side with a worried look.
“Simon…” I had trouble saying the facts out loud. It felt like they’d turn out to be some sort of a nightmare I’ll wake up from soon, if I didn’t say it out loud. “I’ve been to the doctor. I’m sick. Just like Mom.”
The dogs surrounded us, as if feeling that I needed the extra companionship at the moment.
Simon took the news like a trooper “That doesn’t mean everything is over. I mean it. Science has come a long way from where it was even a couple years ago. The doctors have advanced medications now. We can afford it, don’t worry about that. And you know I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”
“What if it isn’t enough?” I knew that cancer research has come a long way, but still, for so many it wasn’t successful.
“Well, we’ll try, hon.” He brought me into his lap and enveloped me in a big hug, as a mother would. “And who knows? I have hope that you’ll get through this. You’ve got a fighter spirit.”
For the first time since the start of my sickness, I felt something other than the awful dread of feeling like the world was ending. My children and the person I loved were right here with me. I wasn’t alone. If anything, that would give me the spirit to fight for my life.
Even though I knew Celeste had a history of cancer in the family, news of her sickness hit me like a ton of bricks. She was too young to go just yet. No, she was supposed to grow old properly, to see our kids graduate, have kids of their own. If I had it my way, she would play with her own grandchildren.
Of course, soon our hopes for a fast recovery came crashing down. After the first round of treatment, Celeste’s sickness didn’t change in the least. The doctors were giving her what medication they could, but no changes for the better happened at all. The disease, in Celeste’s case was acting differently than it had in other patients, they said.
I had some ideas as to why that was. And some ideas for why Celeste got sick in the first place.
The cemetery was empty on that rainy day. Good. I didn’t want anyone asking why I was “playing around” in the pond. Of course, I wasn’t here to play; I was here to get water samples from that pond behind the chapel.
Crouching down on my knees and making sure my hands didn’t touch the water, I picked up a good amount of the liquid in a vial. I thought I might need a bit more, but I didn’t want to bring more energy from that place into the house.
At home I tested my sample for anything I could find. Of course, the water didn’t seem very different than the water in other ponds. What did attract my attention was that there was much less bacteria in the sample than would have been in any other pond. It was surprising there were any fish at all in there, considering that fact.
Wanting to test out the theory I had in mind, I went outside and poured the remaining water in my sample on one of my plants, which was thriving and always brought in good fruits.
The next day, that plant has wilted. Just as I had expected. Something in that pond was harmful to life. I didn’t know what it was, but maybe others did?
After long hours of searching around on the internet, from sources reputable and questionable I came to realize that the fish that swam in that pond were rather infamous. Their origin was not known, but it has been noticed that in every body of water that they appeared in, most other life soon died out. The fish, however, only thrived when that happened. It was rumored that they could drain energy from things and in some places were considered to bring bad omens. For that they were “fondly” called Deathfish.
Well, I thought, leaning back after reading about this for hours. Why were they in Hidden Springs?
More research revealed that the few places that these Deathfish were rumored to inhabit were located not so far from famous places of miracle. Places of miracle? What were they?
Alright, those were places that were rumored to have very good energy, where a lot of medicinal hot springs were located (check), and where a lot of other phenomena took place. Also check, if my stranger garden plants were any proof.
But was there any way to combat the effects of the Deathfish, I wondered? Some information sources maintained that since the fish were harmful to life, there had to be, within reasonable vicinity, something that had the opposite effect. But what?
I couldn’t find anything, no matter where I looked. While people knew a reasonable amount about the fish, there wasn’t anything about the counter.
Well, I would just have to find it then. There was no other choice. Celeste was only getting worse, and I promised I would find a cure. I was going to keep that promise.