A journey of friendship proportions.
“It’s an angry moon tonight. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes,” Mike answered, his eyes never leaving the towering cathedral on the top of the mountain plateau. “What do you mean angry moon?”
Jace closed his eyes, mentally kicking himself for even speaking a minute portion of his doubts. They’d been hiking toward the cathedral for the better part of what felt like forever and each hour brought them closer to the imposing edifice as well as to the dauntingly close full moon.
“I don’t know, it just looks angry to me,” Jace stumbled both with his words and his feet over an uneven section of the path.
“If you say so.”
“Why are we doing this again?”
“Because tonight is Kara’s birthday and I need to reach her… talk to her.”
Mike’s voice was distant and pained yet determined as Jace rolled his eyes. If anyone else had come to him with this cockamamie idea, he’d have told them which rolling donut-hole to jump through but he just couldn’t hurt Mike that way after everything that had happened.
To say his best friend of the last two decades had had the worst year ever would be an understatement. Mike’s parents had been on vacation when a freak accident had cut their lives short, then shortly after that, his cat, Gino, had begun acting weirdly. The poor thing had been found to have an advanced cancerous tumor and he’d lost his pet. Just when Jace had thought things were going to get better for Mike, the bottom had dropped out on him completely.
“Let’s keep going. I want to get there before midnight.” Mike urged.
Jace wiped the back of his arm against his sweaty brow and followed his friend.
“Do you really think she’ll be there?” Jace asked quietly as the looming cathedral broke through the trees again and the moon hovered menacingly just above it like an angry mother scolding a recalcitrant child.
“I do. Every time she visited my dreams, she said she would.”
Jace nodded but didn’t speak as they continued to trudge up the narrow, overgrown road. To have that belief to carry you must be an amazing feeling. He didn’t doubt that Mike had dreamed of Kara but to have the belief that what was dreamed would become reality was beyond Jace. He wasn’t sure what he believed in anymore… not after witnessing the things his friend has suffered through.
“Did you ever try to tell her when you were dreaming?” Jace finally asked the one question that always bounced around his mind whenever Mike brought up his recurring dreams of his late girlfriend.
“I want to but I can never seem to speak. It’s like I have no voice or something.” Mike admitted as he paused and looked at Jace with his miserable blue eyes searching for understanding. Jace reached out and gave Mike’s shoulder a squeeze. Mike heaved a heavy sigh then turned and continued up the path.
Jace was winded as they reached the top, the last hundred yards or so sloping sharply upward. He stopped short, his chest heaving and sweat burning his eyes as he stared up at the massive glowing orb in the deep night sky. It chilled him even as it called to him, begging him to just reach out and touch it. Why did it have to hover so close and look so angry?
“This way,” Mike directed, moving forward toward the immense stone cathedral after knocking Jace’s chest with the back of his hand. Tearing his eyes away from the colossal moon, he blinked at the way the ancient cathedral seemed dwarfed somehow under the brilliant light cast by the moon and followed his friend. Minutes later, with trepidation, he stepped onto the first stone step at the base of the cathedral. Why was he following Mike blindly into this building? It was probably crumbling or haunted or something and Mike was looking for a way to join Kara and his parents.
Up – one, two, three steps – they went, each a stone plateau unto itself that ran nearly the length of the front of the building. Jace lost count after twenty but was grateful when they reached the top and the grand entrance of the cathedral. Vast stain glass scenes glittered in the overly bright light overhead between three sets of massive iron-clad wooden double doors.
Mike neared the center set of doors as though in a trance, his arm outstretched and his expression rapt. A shudder traipsed up Jace’s spine, raising the short hairs on his neck, arms, and legs. He tried to lunge for his friend, to stop him from touching the doors or worse yet – entering the building, but his legs felt like jelly had replaced his bones. The sensation of trying to run through thick, sticky mud slowed him and a sense of terror overwhelmed him as Mike disappeared beyond the doors. Jace tripped and landed hard on his knee.
Gripping his knee in agony, he rolled to sit on his backside, blinking back the stinging in his eyes. Jace rubbed his eyes, taking a long moment with them closed to collect himself. This was the worst idea, being at this haunted place. He believed that Mike believed he’d be able to speak to Kara but he, himself, doubted that Kara would be reachable.
As he sat on the hard, cold stone of the cathedral landing, Jace opened his eyes and came face to face with the enormous, glowing full moon. It stared into his soul and memories of the night Mike had nearly died flooded his mind.
The night had been moonless and rain had been falling in torrents. Jace, Mike, and Kara had left the animal hospital with Gino’s ashes. Jace remembered vividly that Mike had insisted he was fine to drive after he’d gently handed the urn of ashes to Kara.
She’d only been his girlfriend for a few months but Jace had never seen his friend so completely enamored with anyone before. Kara had held Mike’s hand through his parent’s funeral, had held him close when the vet had said his cat couldn’t be saved… had never left Mike through the loss of his pet. Kara had been the best thing the world had ever given Mike and Jace had been hopeful that, between the two of them, they’d see Mike through this year into a brighter future.
Jace recalled the way the sedan had skidded oddly through a slick curve in the road and the chaotic light play that still made him dizzy to this day as the car had rolled over and over down the embankment. Mike hadn’t been driving recklessly or emotionally; if anything, Jace had thought his friend had been positively cautious. When the world had stopped spinning violently and he’d stopped puking, Jace had crawled from the back of the car, which had come to a stop on its roof.
He’d leaned against a tree, clutching his head as rain and blood ran down his arm. Jace remembered blinking through the pain of his shoulder and head, searching the heavy darkness for the source of a low moan that had penetrated the ringing in his ears. Slipping and slogging through the thick, wet weeds, Jace had fallen to his knees and blindly searched for either Mike or Kara. When his hand had landed on a warm mass, relief had made him dizzy again. A watery, wheezy sound reached his ears, bringing a surge of panic. He’d needed light.
Searching his pockets frantically for his cell phone, Jace remembered actually sobbing in relief when he managed to feel it in the deep darkness. With numb, quaking fingers, he’d somehow gotten the flashlight app to work, light flaring and immediately blinding him.
Jace propped the phone against the car and pulled Mike from behind the wheel through the shattered window. Mike had wheezed horribly, blood bubbling at his mouth.
“Find Kara,” Mike had gasped then passed out. Fighting his growing panic, Jace swiped at the blood, rain, and tears impeding his vision and reached for his phone. As he stumbled around the car, a huge flashlight illuminated the area. Blinking in his confusion, he remembered trying to figure out where the sunlight had come from until a voice from above made him jerk and slip in his surprise.
“Hold on there, dude! Help is on the way!” The disembodied voice had called. Confusion had muddled his mind and only Mike’s wheezy plea seemed to make any sense. Crawling through the glass and mud, Jace worked to where Kara hung in the car, still confined by her seat belt. Her arms drooped lifelessly and her long hair was blood soaked. Jace recalled his battle to unlock the seat belt and the horrible thud of Kara dropping when he’d finally managed it.
As soon as Jace had managed to pull her from the wreckage, he’d known it was too late. A long gash across her forehead was oozing and a shard of the broken urn was embedded in her neck. The sight of her staring blankly into the night had made him puke again and then he simply couldn’t remember anything else.
Mike had barely survived. His lung had been punctured, his arm and leg fractured, among a laundry list of other injuries that, when added together, had been life-threatening. But losing Kara had been the one near-fatal thing that had almost taken Mike. Jace remembered waking up with bandages everywhere and only wanting to know where Mike was. He had needed to be with his best friend and the only brother he’d ever known even if they weren’t blood related.
When Mike had proposed hiking up to the cathedral so he could apologize to Kara for the accident, Jace hadn’t hesitated in his agreement to go. Jace didn’t want to know how horrible life would be without Mike and he refused to leave Mike to face his pain alone.
Jace blinked and the impossibly angry moon stared back, but the odd notion that the orb seemed to now be smiling struck him. He blinked again and understood. Mike had needed to believe he could reconcile his past with Kara so that he could move forward and he’d needed to have Jace believe in his need. If Jace didn’t believe in Mike, then Mike didn’t believe he could carry on.
Warmth suffused Jace with the belief he felt in his friend’s future. It was as bright as the moon that shone so close.
Standing, he tested his knee to see if he could walk and realized there was no longer any pain. Jace walked to the double doors and as he reached for the handle, it opened. Mike stood face to face with him, a peaceful expression that had been missing for the last year softening his face. In the brilliance of the full moon over his shoulder, Jace saw hope once more in his friend’s blue eyes.
Without saying a word, the friends simply smiled at each other and began the downhill trek in the light of the smiling moon.
Word Count: 1858