The rattlesnake coiled by the trunk of one of the trees, its wide mouth displayed needle-like fangs.
Past and present overlapped as long buried memories from Miami broke free and terror choked me. Time slowed, and I saw everything in obscene clarity. Even the strange red cross-shaped mark atop the snake’s triangular head, like the dragon in my dream, as it struck toward my leg.
But the pain never came.
A dark blur smashed into the serpent in mid-strike and in the space of time it took me to blink the snake writhed dead, its head flopping around on a torn neck as small beads of yellowish venom gathered on the tips of its fangs. I tore my eyes away in time to watch a black lupine rump disappear into the misty trees.
I fought the choking cold that gripped me as I scrambled back from the twisting corpse. A dam ruptured inside my head, and a thousand buried memories crashed over me…
Sunlight glimmered off the water in the swimming pool in Miami, while insects droned around us. Anxious to cool off, I ran along the side of the pool ahead of Mom while she carried Jacob. I never even saw the rattlesnake; but I relived the agony that exploded in my calf. Flashing lights rushed me to a hospital, but they didn’t have the right antivenin, so a helicopter flew me to a second hospital.
My heart stopped en-route. I couldn’t breathe and I went into cardiac arrest. That’s what they told Mom, but they couldn’t see the violet light that surrounded me as Raven fought to keep my soul from leaving my body. He held me together until the paramedics could restart my heart.
I should have died. The doctors said I should have died. Days passed in torment as the venom warred with my body and Death seemed to wait at the foot of my bed. The doctors had to cut my leg open from knee to ankle so the swelling had somewhere to expand. They repaired the damage the best they could, but the scar on my calf remained.
A lingering reminder of everything I had shoved out and tried to hide from—
The memories released me, and my grandfather’s voice came into focus as he whispered, “Shh, come back Jimmy. Come back to me now…” I felt his strong arm around on my shoulders, holding me tight.
“That was what broke me,” I muttered as realization clicked into place, “I was terrified, not just of death, but of leaving my body at all. I forced Lupa away and then buried my wolf and the memories so deep they’d almost ceased to exist. Until Fen pulled me back…”
Another wave of sorrow, shame, and guilt washed over me. Before I could react, my grandfather jabbed the tip of a stone knife into the festering wound on my leg.
“What the fuck?” I shouted as I jerked back.
Black ichor spurted out of the wound and it began to drain like a lanced abscess. All of the fear and rejected memories I had infected myself with finally released. The dark and destructive hate I had hoarded inside myself, my Dragon’s very lifeblood, sizzled as its corrosion dribbled onto the ground.
“Let go of your fear Jimmy. All that rage and all that sorrow won’t ever make you stronger; it’s just a shackle that holds you back. In time, you will learn how to let go of the things you can never change. Things happen. Accept it, and learn what you can.”
“Shit, give me a little warning next time,” I snapped and stood up.
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