In some ways, David had a good childhood. Certainly his material needs were well provided for. His father, Roy Eblis, was a rich businessman. David grew up in one of those sprawling, over-furnished mansions like the Vanderbilts used to occupy. A house with rows of huge, vacant, richly decorated rooms.
He played with the kids of the live-in servants. He attended prep school. He had the best of everything. Still, there was something missing in his life.
Eblis was an odd character. On the one hand, he indulged David. Gave him everything he wanted.
On the other hand, Eblis was aloof. Remote. Not what you’d call the demonstrative type. Lavish, but never affectionate.
Eblis also had a cruel streak. Vindictive vein. David saw this on more than one occasion when one of the servants made a trivial mistake.
Eblis would also fly into a rage whenever the topic of religion came up. Bibles were forbidden. He kept David home on Sundays, and sternly lectured David on the evils of organized religion.
David had no mother. Eblis told him his mother died in childbirth.
Yet David seemed to remember a woman who nursed him and bathed him and cuddled him and sang to him when he was very young. And not his nanny. A different woman. Before the nanny. At another time and place.
He also had dim memories of another man. He could almost recall the sound of his voice. A man who used to throw him up into the air and catch him as he came down. Or read him bedtime stories.
Sometimes he dreamt about them. Dreamt about another place. Another home. Fuzzy, fleeting images of a garden with a stream.
And therein lay the problem. Were these memories of another, earlier time of life? Or half-remembered dreams?
You know how it is when something triggers your memory. Only you’re not sure if it’s something you saw in a dream, or something you saw one day when you were on a trip. Something that stuck in the back of your mind. But you can’t remember enough to place it. Maybe this was just a recurring dream. Did his memories come from dreams, or did his dreams come from memories?
Over time, the dream became an obsession. David never felt quite at home in Acheron, living with Eblis. He felt more at home in the dream. He looked forward to bedtime. Hoping to reenter the dream world. Sometimes he dreamt about that other place, that other life.
But sometimes he dreamt about Acheron. There was a nightmarish quality to these dreams. If they took place during the day, everything was brown and dry–like tumbleweed.
If they took place at night, he could hear muffled screams echoing through the paneled hallways of the mansion. One time he was standing at a second story window, when he saw Eblis outside. Eblis was surrounded by the shadowy outline of dogs–or were they wolves? When Eblis looked up, his eyes seemed to flare like cat’s eyes in a flashlight. David woke up in a sweat.
One day, when David went down to the kitchen for a snack, the chef removed a tray of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls from the oven. The aroma reminded him of something from his past. And, for some reason, the name “Cana” came to mind.
He looked it up in his Atlas. There was a place on the map named Cana–hundreds of miles away.
He began to wonder if he’d been kidnapped as a little child. Abducted from his nursery. Maybe Eblis wasn’t his real father at all. Maybe his real mom used to bake cinnamon rolls.
There was only one way to find out David was determined. But he was also afraid. Eblis was a scary guy. He demanded unquestioned loyalty from all his subordinates. Any whiff of betrayal was unforgivable. Employees who displeased him had a way of disappearing.
One day, instead of driving to school, David started out for Cana. He didn’t dare pack a bag since he couldn’t afford to have a house-servant discover his plan and report back to Eblis.
The trip took longer than expected. He stopped for gas. He paid cash to avoid leaving a paper trail. The attendant asked him where he was headed. David knew from experience that Eblis had spies. So David asked him directions to another town. That would buy him some time–or so he hoped.
David stayed overnight at a motel. He had a terrible dream. Wolves were chasing him. They overtook him. Mauled him.
David woke up in a sweat. There were welts on both arms.
He drove all day the next day. In the rearview mirror he could see a crow following him. On either side of the road he could just make out the fleeting image of a dog pack or wolf pack running through the woods.
The light was dimming with the approach of sunset. The slanted sunlight, filtered through the forest, cast sharp, dagger-like shadows across the road. The road sign showed Cana five miles away.
He heard a loud cracking, snapping noise. Just ahead of him a towering cedar tree began to fall across the road. He gunned the engine. The tree came crashing down, just behind his car.
The road was narrow and loopy. He had to decelerate to make each turn.
Light was fading fast. As he neared the city limits he could see the wolf pack on either side begin to converge up ahead, like a bottleneck. Once again he gunned the engine and sped past them. His car nearly flipped over as he tore past the city limits. He glanced at his review mirror. The road behind him was deserted. He eased up on the gas pedal. His chest was tight. His hands were cramped from gripping the wheel.
David pulled into town and checked into a motel to spend the night. He’d try to find his old home in the morning. Were his parents still alive? Did they still live there? Were they waiting for their long lost son to knock on the door?
As he turned out the light, he wondered if he’d wake up in Cana or Acheron. Was he just dreaming, or was it for real this time?