Ember was up at the crack of down the next morning par usual. After her morning bathroom rituals, she headed to the study to check her calendar as rain pelted the windows from a line of thunderstorms that had moved in over night. All this rain was great for the crops but bad for her training schedule.
What she found when she entered the study was nothing short of disturbing.
Luca sat slumped in a chair where he’d obviously been reading. He was freshly showered and changed into some of the clothes she’d bought him. Yet, he looked far too similar to how she found him when she first met him. The way he had lolled said much to her. It was almost as if he had simply stopped functioning in the middle of doing something. It had seemed the same way the other day. She would have suspected Narcolepsy except that instead of simply falling asleep, it was as if his life simply fell over like a puppet without a puppeteer!
She was instantly enraged at herself for letting her guard down so easily. She should have been far more vigilant with him! Putting her hands to her face, she spat a colorful string of language at herself. Then, she bolted into action, rushing over to see how bad his condition actually was. With Luca, looks were always so deceptive.
As she reache dhim and put her hands on his shoulder, he twitched in response. Letting out a quick breath of relief that he was at least still alive, Ember worked at trying to rouse him further. That part took some work.
“Hey, you. You were suppose to go to bed before you fell over. Not make me come drag you there myself. Come on. Work with me here, Luca,” Ember said as she coaxed him awake enough to sling his arm over her shoulder. They both wobbled as she hauled him upright. He mumbled incoherently as he stumbled next to her.
“Come on, Luca. Fight it. I need you to help me, Luca,” she urged as she shook him hard, trying to him to come around.
“..so.. hard .. to move,” he rasped.
“Here, lean against me. Hang onto me. But I can’t carry all of you. You have to walk with me. I don’t know how I managed to get you back here by myself in the first place, but I can’t do it again. Fight, Luca! Come on, this way. It’s not far. Just across this hallway.”
Slowly but surely, he rowsed enough to walk with her support. They stumbled out of the study, across the hallway, and into the bedroom. Once through it, she kicked the door shut with her boot. It was only a short way to the bed. From there, Ember maneuvered him over to the side with more room. He didn’t need to be running into any walls.
“There we go. Almost there. Good job. Just a little further.”
They stumbled and he give an odd sort of jerky motion as he stood up. For a moment, his face was blank, his eyes empty.Then, a moment later, he stumbled again but caught himself. He blinked his eyes and looked about groggily as though he had no idea how he’d gotten here.
“Hey there, what happened? Quick, before you pass out again. Give me something to go on.”
He blinked and looked at her as his eyes gleamed an odd color, “I don’t know. It’s weird. Life.. it starts and stops.. like a wind-up toy. I.. don’t feel right. I’m… sorry. To burdeon you. You.. ”
Ember gasped at his words in shock, “Luca, don’t you dare be sorry! This isn’t your fault! You’re sick! We both know that. I’m not going to give up on you. We’ll find an answer. Come on, let’s get you into bed. You need rest.”
He didn’t argue with her. He didn’t have the energy to even if he had wanted to.
Toppling into the bed, Luca was asleep almost the second his head hit the pillow. Ember let out an exasperated sigh and rubbed her neck after getting all of his gangly limbs laid out in the bed. This was certainly one mystery that went vastly far beyond her pool of knowledge.
She tucked him into bed and stood watch for a few minutes while her mind chewed at the predicament it had been handed to solve. Luca’s face softened as his body relaxed into a true state of sleep rather than the semi-catatonic state she had found him in. Turning, Ember began to pace the room as she picked up her cell phone to start calling elders in France then Egypt. Anyone that might have enough offbeat knowledge to figure out what she was dealing with.
Eventunally, Ember found herself calling the only other person she could think of that might have an answer. One that wasn’t even from Earth at all. Dialing the special code she used to relay to him, she prayed for a miracle. Just as she was about to hang up, Kexavu Ewi bip picked up on the other end.
“Man, am I glad I got a hold of you. I have a serious situation here, and you are the only person left that I know of who has the lightest chance of helping,” she told her otherworldly friend before launching into the tale of finding Luca and the events that had taken place since then.
“Let me shuffle some things and see what I can do to sneak over there. I can’t make any promises though. Contrary to what you might think, my people don’t know everything. That’s why I came here in the first place,” he replied.
An hour later, Ember had just finished scarfing down a bowl of cereal when she noticed a strange light outside the kitchen window. Her heart racing, she rushed to go greet her guest.
“We need to do this quickly. I can’t be caught here right now,” Kexavu told Ember as he met her near the front door of the castle. He produced a colorful umbrella he had found in his travels to try and shield her from some of the rain that was pouring down.
“I know. I wouldn’t have asked you to come at such an awkward time if it wasn’t important. Come inside with me, please,” she said before leading him inside to the bedroom at the other end of the residence.
At the bedside, she gestured to the soundly sleeping young man whose skin still held the same pallor as a corpse from the county morgue. He breathed for the time being, but that in of itself, was erratic and odd in it’s animation. Ember continued to explain the situation as Kexavu looked on with full attention.
“You are right. There is something very strange going on with your friend. Some of these symptoms do not seem logically possible, yet I observe with my own senses much of what you describe. I may not be able to find an answer, but this is an area my superiors will allow me to explore.”
The alien and Ember walked together our of the bedroom and back to the foyer where Kexavu felt better talking without disturbing the ill young man Ember had come to care for.
“I think I might actually be able to help him. One of my superiors would be thrilled to be presented with data on your friend’s peculiar illness. It is certainly in a category that needs further study. If you will allow me to take him with me, the instruments in my lab will be able to give me a clear picture of what is going on inside of him. From there, I can work out what can be done for him. I shall return him before the next night is out. My superiors will not mind my putting a rush on this case due to it’s particular nature.”
“Oh my gods, Kexavu, thank you so much! You were my last option, truly! I’ve been so scared that he would die before I found help!” Ember exclaimed as she hugged the strangely clothed alien with a strength that surprised him as much as her reaction did.
“Okay, okay. Be at ease, friend. I will do what I can,” Kexavu said as he tried to soothe the teary-eyed female the clung to him. He carefully pried her away, “But I must go now if I am to do this without additional complications.”
“Yes, of course. Do what ever you must. Take whatever you need. And when you return, that Yellow Chondra Python in there is yours if you wish to take it back with you. I know how much you like it.”
Without another word, Kexavu rushed to his personal ship. As soon as it was running, he beamed Luca aboard to the stasis chamber in the containment hold. The horses blinked at the strange craft, but having seen it many times before, they were no longer bothered by it. Even though this was the first time they had ever seen it in the daylight.
Then, as quickly as he had arrived, Kexavu zipped away to rise through the atmosphere on the return trip to his mothership.
Ember marshalled herself to launch into her ordinary morning routine. There was plenty of work to do around here. She forced herself to focus on the tasks she had at hand. Luca was in good hands. It was her job to keep this castle running in the first place. So off she went to see to the day’s list of chores and activities.
She spent a good portion of the morning doing a complete clean out of each of the six stalls. The old material got shoveled out and carted to the compost heap. Then came hosing down the matting before spreading out a fresh blanket of horse bedding. Sundune was under foot the entire time like a little supervisor. Turtle was just glad they were getting fresh bedding.
After lunch, Ember set about installing a new saltlick rack in each of the stalls. She was so proud of her herself when she got the last one in ahead of schedule. They looked awesome and the horses were thrilled to have new goodies right there in the stalls.
Turtle was quite thrilled to notice the brackets had been built out of some of his old used shoes. He did a little dance to show his appreciation of the new lickable furniture made out of his shoes and his favorite salt blend. Meanwhile, Fortune looked at dancing human and dancing horse like they were both crazy.
“New things to play with are always nice, aren’t they, Turtle?” Ember grinned with a laugh as he gave her a smug expression as if in full agreement. Fortune still studied the pair with a look of concern for their mental health.
Once done with stable work, Ember headed inside to take care of the indoor creatures. She took special care to get the snake ready to go with Kexavu when he returned.
Then, Ember headed across the street to the horse park where she gave a private riding lesson to a young fellow who was passing through on a music tour. She brought Grace O’Malley with her, confident that Grace would be friendly and mindful mount to learn on without too much hot spunk like most of the rest of her horses. GRace had a smart and sweet persona and was gentle with people even though she was only just getting started in life herself at a tender age of three years. Still, she had been a fast learner. As the greenhorn rider got on her back, Grace stood calm but alert and ready for her cues.
The rider started out with a bunch of mixed signals that had Grace shaking her head at him. Ember calmly continued to instruct the boy how to posture to get the horse to do this or that.
After another set of mixed signals, Grace decided she would be cheeky and responded with a few exaggerated trick moves. Like backing up a pace, then taking a lateral bow. She nickered at her riders sound of surprise.
Laughing, Ember stopped to have Grace repeat the bow as Ember smiled for the camera held by the rider’s bandmate. “Ta-da. Meet my trick pony, Grace O’Malley,” Ember said with a laugh.
After that, the lesson continued. The rider finally got the hang of basics, and Grace was as gentle and willing as Ember knew she would be. She acted as though she had done this a million times before. Nothing this guy did could phase her beyond another little cute trick or two to show off just how smart she thought she was. The lesson ended well, and Ember and Grace went home a couple hundred dollars richer that night.
Night time rituals went smoothly. Foals got bottles, horses got their event meals, and all got tucked away in their clean and dry stalls for the night. Ember had a quite dinner before taking a leisurely bath to sooth her nerves.
Upon finishing her night time bathroom rituals, Ember entered the bedroom to find that Luca had already been returned. She didn’t even know when he’d arrived.
Quickly, Ember dialed Kexavu to get the scoop on whatever he had learned.
“Your friend Luca is an interesting individual. The illness he posesses is a strain of the virus that creates what your culture calls a Zombie. The memories of his old life are gone. The virus that made him as he is saw to that quite thoroughly. However, he possesses a resilience much like your own. The virus should have completely killed the human body and altered it into the zombie that your culture loves to make movies about. However, it has not. I have never heard of such a thing happening before.”
Ember’s eyes bugged at this new information. “You’ve got to be joking. You’re not joking. Oh my gods, I mean I’ve dealt with some crazy shit before but this is a whole new level of… wow. Please just tell me there is a fix for this somehow.”
Kexavu made a sound that was an effort to show empathy before responding, “There is, however, he is a strange case in that he will not need it. As I said, his case is highly unusual. His body as already neutralized the toxic part of the virus. It seems as though his immune system kicked into overdrive just as his DNA was being rewritten by the virus. The mutation was stopped before it could reboot his system so-to-speak. Therefore, he is now something of an oddity–a self-generated hybrid between human and zombie.”
“Well, that does explain a few things. Like how he was much more able to be awake at night than in the day.”
“You might try getting him to be active during your routine schedule to see if it helps him stabilize further. Make sure that his meals are high in meat content for the zombie portion of his biology. We will stay close and monitor the situation from here. My superior is much enthused by your discovery and wishes to see how his condition progresses. Regardless, should he relapse, I don have options for synthesizing a cure for him. he may yet still find a way to recover bits of his life before this, but we could not locate anything in his mind that spoke of it. The mind is the mos complex part of a being, and not all of it is stored in the biology, therefore if it is to be recovered, only he can do so. I advise you to to not dwell on his past and have him create a new identity. He is, after all, not the same person he was before anyway.”
“I… understand. I think.”
Ember and Kexavu talked for a few more minutes before hanging up to go their separate ways.
Ember climbed into bed and pulled Luca into her lap to hold. She turned her face to hide hot and silent tears in the soft fibers of his shaggy hair. Tomorrow, there would be a long hard talk with this man who had just lost everything but the ability to live. Who knew how he would take the heavy dose she had just learned. For now, she didn’t care. She just wanted him to rest knowing that someone was close that cared and would see him through this hardship.