by H. A. Titus -
A loud chime startled Reeder from his nap. He sat up, his heart pounding wildly, staring around his living space with eyes stretched wide.
Another loud chime from the screen on his desk.
Reeder shook the sleep from his head and lunged for it. He tapped the screen and his video-call feature popped up.
"Call from 'Mom'," the computer voice said smoothly.
"Answer call." Reeder patted down his hair with one hand and pulled the chair closer to the desk.
The call window opened. His mom's two-dimensional face stared out at him. Dark, baggy circles hung under her eyes, and he realized that she had more gray streaks in her dark brown hair.
"Hello, Reeder?" She squinted at the screen. "Is this thing working?"
He usually chuckled at her technical cluelessness, but this time it stuck in his throat. The feeling of something wrong just pervaded the screen. "Press the video button, Mom. You must have turned it off again."
She rolled her eyes. "I did. There, I can see you now. How's work?"
"Fine. Busy. Lots of people seem to trust human messengers more than cyborgs or computers nowadays."
She nodded, her eyes drifting away from the screen. "Any friends yet?"
It was a constant worry of hers. She always told him he never had enough friends, that she worried when he stuck to himself.
Reeder changed the subject. "How's life on the farm?"
"Peachy keen," she said, a false note of brightness in her voice.
Reeder groaned. "Don't lie, please?"
She bit her lower lip. "Danyel has been…acting up."
His older brother? A chill ran down Reeder's back. It was never, ever good when Danyel 'acted up'. "What did he do this time?"
"He's just sick, Reeder," she whispered. "So mind-sick."
Bile rose in the back of his throat. The way her eyes dropped, the way her voice tensed…
"Mom, what did Danyel do?"
"He stabbed a stablehand." Her voice cracked. "The man lived, barely."
Reeder swallowed. His stomach heaved. He thrust the chair back from the desk and ran for his closet-sized bathroom. He made it just in time.
Danyel's second murder attempt. Reeder sat back on the floor, cradling his head in his hands, spitting to get the foul taste out of his mouth.
Why had the demon chosen his brother? Why had it been Danyel? Why not some other random guy?
Reeder stood and wobbled back to his desk.
His mom bit her lip. "I need you to come home."
He almost threw up again. "What? No way!"
"Please? The doctor I spoke to thinks that he needs those he was closest to. She thinks that perhaps you could pull him out of the mindsickness."
Reeder shuddered. "I'm not going near that possessed creep again!"
It hadn't been the violence so much. That had come later, after he'd left. But the memory of Danyel's hollow, smoldering eyes following him everywhere, boring into him with malice every time his back was turned, was enough to give Reeder nightmares to this day. Three years later.
His mom glared at him. "Reeder, he's not possessed. Stop acting like a child. We need you!"
Danyel was possessed. Everything that Reeder had heard, the whispers and rumors floating through the halls of Zirconia, confirmed it. He didn't want to go back up to the grit-filled red landscape, to risk Ash Lung, just for a brother who hated his guts.
But he still loved Danyel.
"Okay, Mom. Okay. I'll talk to my boss and let you know."