In which Dodger faces an old fear
Dodger said nothing. He did nothing. He simply stood his ground, eyes affixed on the closed coffin beside him. This was a low thing for Rex to do, bringing Dodger’s mother into all of this, and Dodger wasn’t surprised one bit.
“Surprised?” Rex said.
Again, Dodger did nothing. He wasn’t going to play this game.
Rex chuckled. “You should be grateful I found some portraits of your mother, else this reunion would’ve been impossible. There was a lovely write up about her funeral in her local paper. People do love to share such horrid details, don’t they, Mr. Dodger? Juicy little tidbits and particulars about morbid events.”
Dodger burned with anger, but kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t going to be goaded into an argument over his own mother’s coffin.
“Did I get it right?” Rex said. “All the little details? Or do you even know? I mean, you weren’t there, where you?”
“I was there,” Dodger said, in spite of himself. His fists curled tightly.
“Oh really? That is news to me. Because the article said her only child wasn’t able to attend the wake or the funeral. I suppose it was just bad journalism.”
“I was there,” Dodger said again.
He had made an appearance at his mother’s funeral, but kept his presence low key. None of the attendees had seen Dodger since he was a thirteen year old little boy, which made it an easy feat to move among the crowd posing as a mild acquaintance. A few folks eyed him, maybe recognizing the family resemblance, but no one called him on it. He stood at the side of her coffin, looked down into her cold face, and said nothing. After this, he walked out of the church and never looked back. That was ten years ago. And here he was again.
“You think you’ve faced your demons,” Rex said. “But you haven’t dealt with all of them. Not this one. Not her.”
As he spoke, the coffin lid began to move. Swinging up on squeaky hinges, the upper half of his mother’s casket opened wide, exposing the corpse waiting inside. Dodger closed his eyes and turned his back before he could see whatever horror Rex had lined up for him.
There came a low whisper from behind him. “Rooodgeeer.”
He squeezed his eyes tighter. This wasn’t real. None of this was real.
“Rodger,” the whisper said. “Look at meeee.”
“No,” he said, his voice weak and child like.
“Rodger,” his mother’s voice said again. “Look at me, Rodger. Look at what you did to me.”
Try as he might, Dodger couldn’t ignore the commands of his own mother. He opened his eyes and turned around to stare up at her standing over him. He looked up because he was small again. He was little. Thirteen, maybe younger. His mother wasn’t the older, wasted woman he barely recognized in the walnut coffin with the white trim. No. Here she was younger, as young as the day he set her second husband ablaze in their bed. She dressed in her traditional black mourning gown. A gown she donned after the death of her first husband, and continued to wear long after the death of her second husband. A death caused by her own son.
“I can never take it off,” she said, as if reading is mind. “I can never take it off because I will always mourn my loss. The loss of my son. I lost my little Rodger the day you killed my husband.”
“He hurt you, momma,” Dodger said. “I wanted to help.”
His mother’s face twisted into a mask of utter hatred. “He was my husband. You had no right to take him from me. No right!”
“I was only trying to help.”
She bore down on him, almost doubling over as she screamed into his face. “You’re nothing but a selfish little brat! You killed him because you didn’t want to share me! I loved him. I used to loved you, but not anymore. My son died that day. I don’t know who you are, because you’re not my son. You’re no son of mine.”
No son of mine.
Those words rang in his ears nearly as loud and strong as the first time he heard them so many years before. No son of mine. Dodger pressed the heels of his hands against the sides of his head but it did no good. He couldn’t shut out the shrill cry of her hatred for him.
“No son of mine!” she screamed.
He turned on his heel and took off in a run, trying to escape his dead mother’s wrath.
“That’s right,” she said from behind him. “You run away! You run far away from me, you little brat. I can’t stand the sight of you. You make me sick. You’re no son of mine!”
Dodger ran and ran in the emptiness, not getting anywhere and not caring. His mother’s voice echoed in the darkness all around him, shouting those terrible words over and over. He couldn’t escape her. He couldn’t run fast enough. He couldn’t run far enough. He had spent his whole life running and never got away from her disappointment. Or his regret.
“Dodger,” someone said to his left.
He ignored the voice and pumped his legs harder. Maybe, just maybe if he pushed himself hard enough he could bury himself deep inside of his own mind. He could shut out not only Rex, but the terrible memories of his mother’s disappointment.
“Dodger, hon,” the voice said. “This is what he wants.”
Slowing in his run, Dodger glanced to his left. Miss Rebecca stood beside him. All at once he wasn’t running anymore. He wasn’t thirteen anymore either. A full grown man, he stood still, glaring at the vampire through damp eyes.
“This is what he wants,” she repeated. “He wants you to disappear so he can take control. You can’t escape the truth. You can’t run from yourself.”
“She died hating me,” he said.
“No she didn’t.”
His eyes stung with unspent tears. “She never forgave me.”
“You know she did.” Rebecca reached out and cupped his face with her cold hands. “Remember, Dodger. Remember what really happened. What you really saw that day.”
He blinked and in that moment Rebecca vanished. Once more he stood beside his mother’s coffin, staring down at her corpse. His eyes welled with tears, just as they did that day he showed up as just another face in the crowd of his own mother’s funeral.
He leaned over her casket and stroked her gray hair. He whispered, “I didn’t mean to make you hate me, momma. I’m sorry.”
As if waiting for his apology, something metallic glinted from her throat.
Dodger pulled aside her high necked gown, exposing the cold flesh beneath. In the hollow of her pale throat lay a heart shaped locket. The locket he gave her for her twenty ninth birthday, when Dodger was only ten years old.
“You were wearing it?” he said.
But that was impossible. The day they took him away, the day she said he was no son of hers, she ripped the locket from her throat and tossed it to the ground. Why would she have it on now?
“Because she loved you,” Rebecca said from beside him.
Dodger popped the locket open. Inside, on one side of the heart rested an image of him. Only it wasn’t a picture of Dodger as a child. It was a picture of Dodger as a full grown man. Two words were etched opposite of the portrait.
He remembered then. This had happened before. He hadn’t fled from her funeral in shame and misery. He had discovered the locket that fateful day. Dodger knew that she must’ve forgiven him after all.
“I love you too, momma,” he said, and kissed her cool forehead.
The tears came then, free and beautiful. He smiled down at her, knowing in his heart that she had forgiven him. She may not have agreed with his life or his choices, but he was her son and always would be.
“Why would I forget this?” Dodger said.
“Because you never forgave yourself,” Rebecca said. She sidled up next to him, wrapping an arm around his waist. “You thought you didn’t deserve her forgiveness. You let her memory punish you for everything you’ve ever done.”
“Thanks,” Dodger said. He put an arm around her shoulder and held her closer to him. “Where did Rex go?”
“He’s waiting for you, on the surface of your mind. You’ve shut him out, but he’s right. You can’t keep him out forever.”
Cracks appeared along the walls of his defenses, letting in bright streams of light.
“See?” she said.
More cracks appeared, spreading across the vault that kept Rex from Dodger’s innermost thoughts.
“You’re getting weaker by the hour,” Rebecca said.
“The hour?” Dodger said. “Surely it’s only been-”
“Help is finally here,” she said over him.
“Help?” he said. “I don’t need help.”
Rebecca kissed him on the cheek. She touched his chin and smiled at him. “We all need a little help every now and then, hon.”
The cracks multiplied, spreading and joining and parting, spider webbing all across the walls of his mind. Light poured in, as well as Rex’s booming voice.
“Rodger Dodger!” Rex cried. “You can’t hide forever! I will find you and I will have you!”
Just under this cry came another, softer voice.
“Dodger?” Boon said.
Dodger spun about to find the spirit standing behind him. “Boon?”
“There you are. I never thought I’d find you.” Boon waved a hand. “Come on, we gotta get out of here.”
“No way.” Dodger shrank away from the mirage of his friend. “I’m not gonna fall for that one.”
Boon cut his eyes at Dodger. “Fall for what?”
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing Rex, but it won’t work.” Dodger raised his face to the cracks that arched over him. “Do you hear me? It won’t work!”
“Dodger? I swear it’s me.” Boon frowned, obviously hurt.
Dodger eyed the injured spirit, still unsure if this was a trick or not. “Can I ask you something personal?”
Boon’s brow knitted so deeply it could’ve produced its own sweater. “I reckon so.”
“Did Lelanea ever know about you and Miss Rebecca?”
“Me and Miss Rebecca!” Boon shouted. He went red from head to neck, huffing in large, exasperated puffs of air as he tried to explain things between him and the lady vampire. “There is no me and Miss Rebecca. I told you already, she was just a really good friend. Why? Did Lelanea say something about it? I know she thinks we were up to something but I swear I ain’t never done nothing like that. Not with her. Not with anyone.” The spirit blushed deeper when he realized what he had just admitted. He skipped from foot to foot, patting his hands as he tried to smooth away his virtue. “I mean of course I been with lots of ladies in that way. Who hasn’t? I’m just saying there was never … why are you laughing?”
Dodger was laughing because there wasn’t a soul in the world who could get so bent out of shape over such an innocent question.
“It’s you all right,” Dodger said. He tried to pat the spirit on the back, but was surprised to find his hand passed through the blond ghost. “It’s so good to see ya. What in the heck are you doing in my head?”
“I’ve come to rescue you. I know it sounds silly but Feng said I was the only one who could set you free. Turns out he was right. Again.”
“No surprise there. How did you get in?”
“Miss Rebecca helped me.” Boon blushed a bit. “I was kind of surprised to see here.”
“We gotta go. Everyone is waiting for you.”
Dodger started at this. “What do you mean everyone? I told y’all to get the hell away from here.”
Boon gave a sheepish grin. “Well we were going to, at first. But after a bit of planning with Mr. Bigby and his folks, and some repairs to Laura’s aircraft-”
“Henry,” Boon said, clarifying the name’s owner.
The walls around them shook and crumbled, the cracks breaking open into huge holes. An eye peered into the hole, giant and overwhelming.
“Let me inside of your mind!” Rex cried. “You will let me inside!”
“We gotta get out of here,” Boon said. “There’s so much to tell you but not here. Not now. I can leave the way I came in. Do you know how to get out?”
“I think so,” Dodger said. “See you on the other side.”
The spirit took a step closer to Dodger, lowering his voice as he said, “And you won’t tell Lelanea about me and Miss Rebecca. Will you?”
“Do I look like a man that kicks hornet’s nests?”
Boon lifted his fingers to his forehead in a quick salute before he vanished.
Closing his eyes tightly, Dodger ignored the rumbles and cries and screams. He took a deep breath and stepped forward, back into the surface of his own consciousness.
Back into the waking world, and into the smile of a familiar face.