About a month ago, I posted in this category Part I, Chapter I of Agents of Shadow (The Keepers of White Book I), in hopes of sparking interest and also generating questions. I also promised one more chapter to follow, which is the first chapter of Part II. This chapter is almost a paradox from the first chapter in Part I, as it is the first moment in the story in which the reader will see that there are forces of good at play in this underworld that I’ve created. If you’ve gotten a chance to read the blog I posted before with Part I, Chapter I, then I think you’ll enjoy the contrast shown in Part II, Chapter I.
If you haven’t read Part I, Chapter I, go back to that post and read that first, then come back and read this one.
Once you’ve read both, if you happen to become intrigued, please feel free to purchase the entire book on Amazon. You can find a link in the “Buy My Books” tab.
If you’ve already bought the book and have read it, thank you!
Anyway, as promised, I present to you Agents of Shadow: Part II, Chapter I…
Penny screamed for help as she desperately tried to revive the lifeless girl on the back patio. She fought back the tears of panic, knowing they would only block her vision. The little girl was soaked in her clothes and jacket, she was cold and pale, and the smell of chlorine radiated from her thin body. Penny pushed into the girl’s sternum, praying to God that she would see the girl vomit out the poisonous water and start coughing. So far, she was not responding, and Penny grew more frightened with every passing second.
Penny called for help again with all her might, but she knew that most of the neighbors in this quiet suburban community were away at work. So far the only replies to her screams were the early spring birds and the gentle wind in the nearby trees, not yet sprouting new life after the still recent passing of a harsh winter. As Penny continued to attempt resuscitation of the little girl, she started to curse herself for leaving her phone inside the house. She was too desperate to cease her efforts to force the water out of the girl’s lungs and leave her to go back for it. All she could do was continue to call for help, praying someone would hear.
“Come on Terri,” she cried in a shaky voice. “Breathe! Mrs. Patterson is gonna kill me if you don’t start breathing! Oh God, please!”
The girl, Terri, did not respond. Penny kept pumping her hands into her. Each thrust became more forceful than the last. Penny did not want to crack her ribs, but she felt that she was running out of time. She attempted mouth-to-mouth after so many thrusts, and still nothing. “Please God!” she prayed out loud. “Don’t let her die! Please help me! Please, please, please, please…” She thrust into Terri’s sternum in rhythm to each “please” as she could no longer keep her tears from welling in her eyes. “SOMEBODY HELP ME!”
Her voice echoed and quieted the singing birds. Only the wind now responded to her cries. She tried mouth-to-mouth again, then back to pushing her locked hands into the girl. Seconds felt like hours. If only she brought her phone outside with her. If only she thought to check on Terri a few minutes earlier. Hope was fading from her. Her actions were purely out of desperation at this point. What would she do if the girl died? How would she ever face the girl’s parents? How would she ever live with herself? Her adrenaline was forcing her weary arms to keep pressing into the little girl. Finally, she stopped. “Terri?” she whispered to the girl. There was no sign of life from the girl. Penny sat stunned as she started to weep in despair.
“Miss?” a voice called from behind her. Penny turned quickly to see a man in blue jeans and a black, long-sleeved tee shirt, under an unzipped, brown, corduroy jacket, standing on the other side of the screened lanai. “What happened?” he asked immediately.
“Oh thank God!” Penny cried. “Please, call 9-1-1! She fell in the pool! She’s not breathing!”
“I don’t have a phone,” the man replied quickly, his hand gripping the handle of the screen door. “Quickly now. Let me in.”
In any other circumstance, Penny would not open a locked door to a stranger, even one who seemed harmless. Even to one as attractive as this man was. She knew that looks could be deceiving. But she had no choice, and did not hesitate to unlock the door and run with him back to where the lifeless girl lay. She had no doubt that he would have easily been able to break through the thin screen anyway.
The man knelt over the little girl and put his fingers to her neck, checking for a pulse. “I tried CPR,” Penny explained, “but I don’t know if I was doing it right. God, please help her! She’s only three.”
“How long was she under water?” the man asked.
Penny hesitated. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted and started to cry. The man looked at her sternly. “I was inside making lunch in the kitchen. I didn’t hear her go outside. The T.V. was on, and… I just didn’t hear! I came to the living room to tell her that lunch was ready, and that’s when I saw the sliding glass door open. I ran outside and saw her in the pool, tangled in the solar cover. Oh God!” She was sobbing.
“Okay calm down,” the man instructed. “I can hardly understand you.” He started to administer CPR to the girl, but she was so far, unresponsive. “Now what’s your name?”
“And the girl?”
“Terri… Theresa, but we call her Terri.”
“What’s the longest length of time she could’ve been out here? Can you guess?”
“I… I don’t know,” Penny answered frantically.
Still working to resuscitate the little girl, the stranger gave Penny a quick, doubtful look. “Not even a guess? What were you making for lunch in the kitchen?”
“Peanut butter and jelly,” she replied, trying to get a grip on herself.
“A sandwich? How long does that take? A few minutes maybe?”
“I… I guess so…”
The man bent over to fill the girl’s lungs with two breaths of his own, hoping for a response. When he came up again, he resumed his questioning, when was suddenly making Penny quite uneasy. “So then, she couldn’t have been out here longer than a few minutes, right?”
Penny said nothing, only nodded with hesitation.
“Right?” the man repeated.
“I… think so,” she finally stuttered.
“You don’t sound so sure.” The man, not letting up on the girl turned again and focused a hard gaze into Penny’s eyes. “What are you not telling me?” He quickly placed his hand on her own and squeezed gently. “Penny. Tell me the truth. Now.”
The sound of his voice when he said her name was strangely lulling and captivating. And his eyes… the brightest blue that were almost shining and yet hard and cold like steel. Penny didn’t even realize he reached for her hand when he spoke because she was unable to notice anything other than the piercing sapphire orbs that seemed to penetrate her very soul.
Despite her reluctance, she found herself speaking: “I was… also… on the phone with my boyfriend,” she sobbed again. “I wasn’t paying attention like I should have been, so I honestly don’t know how long she could’ve been out here.”
“Okay, better…” the man said in a less entrancing voice than before, letting go of her hand and resuming CPR on Terri. “So, are you her sister, Penny?”
“No,” she sobbed. “I’m the babysitter. I couldn’t afford to go to college after high school, so I started sitting for Mrs. Patterson to save up. Mrs. Patterson works the day shift at the nearby grocery store.”
“You’re the babysitter?” the man replied, “Mrs. Patterson hired a sitter who doesn’t know CPR?”
Penny looked down at the concrete patio, still crying. “I told her I did, but that I had to get recertified. I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.”
The man shook his head and continued to work on the girl. “Okay. Penny, listen to me. I need to you go inside and get me a blanket. She’s freezing.”
Penny stood up to run into the house. “Should I call 9-1-1 too?”
“No time,” the man answered, “just get a blanket. Hurry now.” Penny hesitated again. “It’ll be alright,” he assured her with a calm reassurance. She nodded and ran into the house.
The man stopped pressing against the girl’s sternum. He watched Penny run until she retreated into the house and was out of sight. Then he turned back to the little girl and held her wet head up with his left hand. Her bright blonde hair was dripping with cold pool water on his fingers. Gently, he pressed his right hand against her chest where her heart lay still underneath. “Teresa,” he spoke softly as he closed his eyes, “breathe.” He knelt there, a still statue save for deep breaths flowing in and out of his nostrils in a slow, constant rhythm. “Breathe,” he spoke softly again. For several seconds, he remained silent and only focused on the cool, spring air flowing through him. His right hand against the girl’s chest, as if attached to her. He felt warmth in his arm, and allowed it to pass into her. He willed all feelings of love and compassion to overwhelm him as he breathed methodically; tears started to trickle down his cheeks.
“Breathe!” he commanded one last time…
Penny flung open the door to the linen closet in the upstairs hallway, roughly pushing sheets and pillow cases aside, until she grabbed a hold of the thickest blanket she could find. She was crying uncontrollably, and she wanted to grab her phone and call the paramedics immediately, but she felt an unnatural trust in the stranger outside. Against her instincts, she obeyed and did not stop for the phone, but she ran as fast as she could down the stairway, almost stumbling as her feet tangled a corner of the blanket that was dangling in front of her. She caught the banister and regained her balance, then took flight again to the first story. “Please, God. Please, please, please, please,” she sobbed over and over in a mantra fueled by panic as she ran for the open sliding glass door.
When she finally made it back outside, she stopped in disbelief. Terri was sitting up; coughing, crying, and shivering. The man was holding her tightly, rocking her back and forth and singing softly to her. Penny dropped the blanket at her feet, covered her nose and mouth with hands in a prayer-like position, and started sobbing even harder. Both relief and guilt had overtaken her, and she herself was shaking all over.
The man stopped singing. He continued to rock the little girl back and forth in his lap while sitting on the cold concrete, and his eyes were closed. Without turning his head, he spoke gently, “She could really use that blanket now, Penny.”