DANIEL PUT ON HIS JACKET and softly closed the door behind him. It was dark, since only a faint light shone from beneath his parents’ bedroom door further down the hallway. He hesitated in front of the closed door when he heard his mother’s quiet sobs and his father’s low whispers of consolation. He almost opened the door to recount the strange man’s visit to them, but he decided against it. Matthew’s visit was so unbelievable that they could have easily viewed the event as just a hallucination or a dream.
He stepped outside and buried his hands in his pockets. In fact, he wasn’t sure himself whether the man had been real. A surge of doubt rushed through his body. His stomach hurt and his temples started to throb.
An owl interrupted the silence of the night and began hooting eerily. Daniel glanced up at the nearest oak, aware that the bird of prey was concealed somewhere in the darkness of the old tree’s branches. He felt an unjustified sense of envy surface within him. The owl’s life must be so simple. Most likely, its main concern each night was finding enough food. Was there ever any sorrow in an owl’s life? No, probably not. So what right does it have to just hide there and mock me?
Daniel glowered at the tree. He reached down and picked up a fist-sized rock. He passed it back and forth in his hands, eying the tree as a baseball pitcher would the batter.
A powerful gust of wind swept over the farm. Daniel dropped the rock and pressed his body back against the house. The wind thrust open a shed door and startled a weather vane, inducing the cock to spring into action. Daniel was startled when a bright flash of light flooded the dark sky and illuminated the night for a brief moment.
He warily stepped off the porch and eyed the cloudless sky suspiciously. The wind relentlessly rattled the farm, sending massive torrents of wind at anything in its way.
And then the sky flashed again. This time, though, three words appeared, arching across the sky and extending to the limits of Daniel’s view. They were there for only a moment. Instantly, the dark sky swallowed the light and the words faded into oblivion.
Daniel staggered backwards. The wind instantaneously died away.
He blinked several times. The words were imprinted into his mind as if they had been branded on the inside of his eyelids.
HE IS WAITING.
With this simple message, all of his mounting doubts were shoved away; one clear fact swelled in his mind, crushing his fears:
Andrew was waiting.
After he had cleared his head, Daniel jogged to the road and glanced up at the sky again to ensure that no more messages had arrived. But the enormous expanse above was just as it had been before: a comparatively blank canvas of a deep grayish-violet sprinkled with stars.
Daniel looked back down. The road lay before him, inviting him to follow its lead. Beth's house was only a mile away. If he paced himself, he could easily reach her in fifteen minutes or less. His prosthetic leg might be an issue, though. Daniel lifted his metallic limb and set it down again. He hadn't exercised much since the accident and had especially avoided running.
He could take his dad's car or even a horse, but something within him wanted to run. His heart started to thump with impatience, but his brain stubbornly kept his feet glued to the ground.
Questions swirled around in his head. Is it safe? Is it too dark? Am I fit enough to do this? Then the doubt crept forward again. Am I foolish to believe that Andrew is alive? No, an ardent thought said immediately. Not at all. Andrew is alive, and you know it. He needs your help.
The owl started hooting reiteratively. That time, Daniel was certain that it had adopted a sardonic tone.
"Alright, alright!" he said, irritated, and stepped out onto the road.
He started off slowly, almost timidly. But soon he was running, and nothing except Beth's little green house farther down the road could stop him.