Billy’s anxiety level was rising fast. He didn’t think he could sit in the confined area with everyone much longer. He and Angela sat at the small table in the holding cell while Hugh and Planche sat on the bottom bunk. No one spoke, but all eyes focused on him. He didn’t see them looking because he was focused on his hands in his lap as he rubbed them together nervously, but he could feel their gaze as a palpable pressure on his skull.
“I just don’t think we should do anything else until Brandt is healed,” Billy said, trying to change the subject.
“Pour l’amour de Dieu. William, this process does not happen overnight. It is long and must be started as soon as possible,” Hugh said.
“He’s right Billy,” Angela added. “Besides, we can’t do anything with Brandt until he’s in the ether. He can’t get into the ether unless he’s conscious. They’ve got to let the painkillers work their way out of his system before we can even try.”
“I, I know,” Billy stammered, defensively. In point of fact, he’d forgotten about that detail but he still felt like he was under assault and on the defensive.
“Howbeit this kind goeth out not but by prayer and fasting,” Planche said shaking his head.
“Exactement,” Hugh said, raising both hands palms up.
“What does that even mean?” Billy asked, his brow wrinkled in confusion.
“The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. He doesn’t know scripture like we do,” Angela said raising her hands to restrain Hugh. She turned to Billy and said, “If Hugh is right, you have the potential to be stronger than any Guardian we’ve seen before. These exercises Hugh is talking about, especially the prayer, will help you focus that ability.”
“Can we go please?” Billy asked, just wanting the interrogation session to end
“Try one time William, and we’ll be done for the day. I promise,” Hugh said, sliding to the edge of his bunk.
“Just once?” Billy asked, hopefully.
“One time, mon ami.”
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
“That’s not a helpful attitude…,” Planche started. Hugh raised a quick hand and cut the man off. Planche held his tongue.
“Very well. Here,” Hugh said, holding out a small brass cross of about three inches in length.
“What’s this for?” Billy asked, but he reached out with his left hand and took it. He could feel the warmth of the metal and it soothed his anxiety a little. He closed his hand around the talisman and squeezed trying to force more of the calm out of the object. To his amazement he did feel slightly better.
“That is to help you drive out distractions as you pray,” Angela said.
“Distractions?” Billy repeated in a questioning tone.
“We use the Lord’s Prayer as our mantra but there are several parts if you are to be successful,” Hugh added.
“You must focus all your energy on the words and the intent behind the words, Billy,” Angela said turning to face him. “Hold the cross, begin reciting the Lord’s Prayer, close your eyes, and focus on the needs of someone other than yourself.”
“That last bit is important, sir,” Planche said.
“What?” Billy asked, not sure what he meant.
“You must earnestly desire good for someone other than yourself,” Hugh said trying to clarify.
“Humilité,” Planche added.
“Yes, exactement,” Hugh said. “Humility, make someone more and yourself less.”
“Fine. Let’s get this over with,” Billy said. He brought both hands together and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer as he recalled from his youth in church with his father. The words came out in rote memorization as they had hundreds of times before. He wasn’t even sure what they meant though his tongue clearly spoke the prayer with no missteps. When he finished he opened his eyes and looked at the people around him. He held out the cross to Hugh and said, “Well? Can I go now?”
Hugh and Planche both slumped their shoulders. Hugh said, “You hold that in safekeeping for the time being, William.” Planche rose to protest, but Hugh raised another silencing hand and Planche sat back down without uttering a word.
“You tried Billy. Thank you,” Angela said, beaming a warm smile at him. “You’ve got a few hours before Brandt is awake enough to try and go in. Maybe we’ll try again later when you’ve had some time to relax?”
He just rose and left the room as quickly as he could, happy to be free of the pressure to perform to a standard he didn’t understand. His feet bore him through the halls where they would. He kept his eyes down and tried not to bump into too many people as he followed his feet down halls and around corners. Before long he looked up and didn’t recognize the part of the base he stood in.
The clean, plasterboard walls were gone. Now, Billy stood in a natural rock cave with a very high ceiling. Supporting columns stood at regular distances, and the floor of the cavern was smooth paved cement. Several small buildings stood against the far wall and all manner of vehicles were parked in neat rows, including a contingent of five helicopters. Men and woman moved about conducting various tasks. At one end of the cave a set of large steel doors stood open, revealing the roof of a curving tunnel leading away. A like set of doors hung open at the opposite end of the cavern.
“Hey, kid!” Billy jumped, startled out of his reverie. A large burly soldier with the letters MP on one sleeve of his uniform had come around one of the vehicles next to Billy. He rested a hand on the butt of some sort of gun. “Let me see some ID.”
Billy pulled his badge out of his pocket and showed it to the man. The guard studied the badge, then studied Billy’s face, then the badge again. About this moment First Sergeant Wilcox trotted through the doors behind Billy. The guard tensed and slid a foot back assuming a defensive posture until his eyes caught sight of the newcomer’s rank insignia.
“First Sergeant, this kid with you?” the guard asked.
“Yeah, he is. Carry on,” Wilcox said.
“Okay, First Shirt, just ask him to keep his badge out like everyone else. Especially up in here,” the guard said.
“Will do,” the First Sergeant said. To Billy he said, “You almost lost me back there. You’re pretty slippery in a crowd.”
“Yeah, I’m good at that,” Billy said saddened his time alone had been violated. He realized at that moment he hadn’t been alone, just by himself for a very long time.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. For more information about this story please join us on our Facebook page community at www.facebook.com/firstchevalierbooks.