THE CAMERON CONNECTION
D. H. Parker
The first crash rattled the house, but it didn’t rattle me a bit.
Fact of Cameron life: our creaky old place makes noises. Normal noises, weird noises. Any kind of noises, any time of night or day. The family’s a bunch of certified packrats. Dad, Mom, Flower and I all have tall piles of junk stashed around. Once in a while somebody’s stack gets tired of holding out against the law of gravity. We mostly ignore odd noises and sudden crashes. Besides, when I’m writing, or when I’m tired and reading, like I was then, I can ignore almost anything.
The crash didn’t bother old Dougal-dog, either. He was taking full advantage of Mom’s absence by sleeping on the foot of my bed, and he didn’t even twitch a whisker.
I sighed and put my book down. Better check it out. Not that I expected criminals or anything. Sheehan, Missouri is so far back in the Ozarks that we don’t even always lock our doors when we leave the house.
Nope, bad guys never crossed my mind, but Mom’s latest warning did. “Robert Bruce Cameron,” she said, “if I find your junk scattered all over the floor when we get back, out it goes!” Mom may have been a fellow pack-rat, but she was a neat and organized pack-rat.
So, I eased myself off the bed, mindful of my newest set of aches and pains, and spared a black thought for their cause: Macrath and his “Sheehan Scottish Gathering and Highland Games”. A guy shouldn’t have to see any history teacher during summer vacation, let alone work for one.
Dougal finally opened his eyes. “You don’t have to go,” I told him.
He hopped off the bed, anyway. He’d signed on to be the family body guard, whether we needed one or not. We never had, but Dougal lived in hope. I started down the stairs with him following on my heels.
Another crash. A louder one. I stopped. So did Dougal.
“Sounds like it’s coming from the laundry room, Dougal.”
The dog yawned, plopped his back side down on the step nearest to it and gazed at me like he hadn’t heard a thing.
“Look, Dougal, I might believe in one bunch of falling collections. Two, that many minutes apart, is stretching it.” I was whispering. “Bark. Look fierce.” He was good at it when he wanted to be. This time he didn’t.
For the record, I was supposed to be the only human in the house. Mom and Dad were in Canada. My older sister and our cousin–well, they’d gone to hang out with snaky Val Sheridan, so they couldn’t be home already. Any neighbor would’ve yelled before coming through the door.
Dougal was still staring at me, his doggy expression the equivalent of a human shaking his head and saying, “Poor Robert Bruce. Still imagining things.”
Granted, I had an imagination. That’s one reason I like to write. And granted, my imagination had worked overtime for two months where my sister was concerned, but a guy doesn’t imagine crashes when he’s wide awake and walking down some stairs. Does he? So Dougal didn’t seem to hear it. Maybe he just knew he had no reason to panic. The noise could be the usual falling boxes.
But what if it wasn’t? Should I call Macrath?
Scottish-born Ewan Macrath had immigrated to Sheehan two years ago. He was a good history teacher, but now he’d morphed into a slave driver. Still, he stood about six foot nine and weighed over 300 pounds. Charging to the rescue–in full Highland battle gear–would be his idea of a grand way to spend a summer’s evening. And he was Dad’s best friend. We’d promised our parents we would call Macrath if anything went wrong while they were gone.
But I didn’t know anything was wrong. Even if I did, I ought to be able to handle it myself, right? I was fifteen years old, for crying out loud.
And ever since I could remember, the main topic of conversation at all Cameron family get-togethers was our long line of courageous and heroic Scottish Highland ancestors.
Courageous and heroic. So, yeah, I could call for help. Or I could sneak out of the house and run. But if we didn’t have at least a crazed murderer in our laundry room, I never would live it down.
That left one option: Deal with it myself. Main downside to that? Whoever had passed out the Cameron courage and hero genes to my generation flat out missed me.
At least I had Dougal. Or did I? During the argument between my Cameron pride and my good sense, Dougal had put his head down and gone back to sleep. That dog beat all. What was the matter with him? Normally, he would bark at anything. Now, here we were in the middle of a possible home invasion, and my self-appointed body guard couldn’t keep his big brown eyes open. His lack of interest should have reassured me, but somehow it didn’t.
I went down another two steps.
What was that?
Sounded like… like somebody groaning?
Okay. We had an intruder for sure, but maybe he needed more help than I did.
Curiosity is, I guess, the next best thing to courage. Suddenly I just had to know who was down there and why he was groaning. “You stay here,” I whispered to Dougal. Like he needed to be told. He didn’t even open an eye.
The kitchen shared its cabinet wall with the laundry room, so I crept into the now-dusky kitchen on tiptoe.
Before I went on into that laundry room, I wanted something defensive in my hand. Would I have enough guts to use a weapon if I needed to? Didn’t know, but that didn’t stop me wanting one. Sadly, weapons were scarce at our house.
Dad was a fisherman, not a hunter. His wood-chopping axe, naturally, lived in the laundry room closet. I had an archery set, but Dougal had chewed up the last arrow two days ago.
If only Mom weren’t such a pacifist…
Mom! Mom’s big iron skillet. Now that was a weapon. I knew from experience, since I’d once dropped it on my foot. Might be a good shield, too, if I needed one.
Straining my eyes to watch the door connecting the two rooms, I knelt down and opened the cabinet. I couldn’t see a thing inside there, but just because I wanted it, the skillet was bound to be on the very bottom, under every other one of Mom’s hundreds of pots and pans. Holding my breath, I reached into the mess.
Let me say here that I do not startle easily. I may not be the bravest Cameron in the line, but my name being Robert Bruce and all, it doesn’t pay to be jumpy. Because of the old story about the original owner of the name, I’ve had enough spiders poked at me and dangled over me in my life that I just don’t startle. I also never yell. But when my hand came down on a shoe where the skillet should have been, I let out a good one.
It wasn’t just because it was a shoe. Dougal might have buried an old shoe in there. I yelled because it wasn’t any worn-out shoe we’d given to the dog, or even a good one he’d stolen. I yelled because it was a shoe in use.
A warm shoe.
A shoe full of foot that kicked at me when I grabbed it.
Who says nothing moves faster than the speed of light? My hand coming out of the cabinet probably re-wrote the laws of physics. Too bad nobody was there to document it. I sat back on the floor nearly hard enough to knock the wind out of me. It took a few seconds to get back enough breath–and guts–to try and see what was attached to the foot.
The kitchen faced west and its windows, collecting the last of the long sunset glow, made it lighter than the living room–just light enough to see that the owner of the foot was… only halfway there. I mean, well, I could see the top half of him except for most of his right arm and shoulder. They, along with the rest of his body looked sort of blended in with the wall and the counter and the cabinets. He was stuck there, somehow intermingled with the wood and tile and Mom’s flour and sugar canisters. He looked more mad than hurt, but painful or not, it was an awkward way to stand. Let me rephrase that: It was an impossible way to stand. Talk about rewriting physics!
Neither one of us moved. I stared at him and he stared right back at me. I don’t know why he didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I was too busy taking deep breaths and trying to prevent cardiac over-drive.
He recovered first. “Where am I?” His voice was a whispery growl and definitely not American. He sounded more like Macrath than like Dad.
“My house. Uh… who are you?”
“Quiet! I’m needing to think.” His black beard bristled and his bright eyes, reflecting the light from the windows, looked capable of delivering death rays.
Maybe I should have run then, but no way could I leave until I found out what was going on. I kept quiet and watched.
Thinking, for this intruder, seemed to mean going into a kind of trance. I stared at him while he got on with his mental exercises. With his long, tangled dark hair, short, scraggly beard and the glint of a gold ring in his ear, he looked like somebody off a wild pirate movie. He wasn’t dressed like a pirate, though. He was wearing a kilt.
Maybe I had heard real crashes, but I had to be hallucinating this Celtic warrior guy. Macrath! He’d been haunting my days with all the work I had to do on his Scottish games, and now I was having Homesick Highlander-induced hallucinations. Macrath had driven me over the edge.
So maybe I was crazy. But maybe crazy wasn’t all bad. It might explain Dougal’s reaction, or lack of one. Dougal couldn’t smell or hear my hallucination, so why would he bother to bark at it?
Hallucination or whatever, the guy in the wall seemed peaceful enough even if he was a grump. So far he hadn’t shown any inclination to blast me with those eyes. Still, seeing him incorporated into the cabinets like that was getting to me.
He finally came out of his trance.
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable out here?” I asked.
“Indeed, I would,” he snapped, “if it’s out I could be.”
“How did you get there in the first place?”
The anger drained out of him in a long sigh. “Would you be helping me out of here?”
Me? Help him? Pictures of an axe-demolished cabinet and a severed leg flashed through my head. The man was… co-existing… with the wood. How was I going to separate his molecules from the cabinet’s molecules? “Me? What can I do?”
“He was forever telling me that I must be concentrating my thoughts on the place I was wishing to be. And so I did. And it was not working at all well for me, or I would not be standing just here. It appears that I am well and truly trapped. I was thinking you could maybe be giving me a bit of assistance.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Are you not a Cameron? He was saying you’d be a Cameron.”
“Are you, then?”
“Sure, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
He raised one eyebrow slightly. “It seems I’d not be here at all but for you, so will you not be using the mind the good Lord gave you and help think me out of this wall?”
Think him out of the wall. Sure. Why not? If he was only a hallucination I could hallucinate him out of the cabinets as well as in, right? Then I could entertain my best friend, Clem, with the story when she got back from New Mexico.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try. Hang on a minute.” I went through into the laundry room. Maybe it would be easier pulling him out from that side, if he could be pulled out at all.
I reached for the light before I remembered Babette had blown the bulb yesterday and hadn’t bothered to replace it. Never mind. A hallucination probably wouldn’t care if we had modern conveniences.
“Ready,” I yelled. “Start concentrating. Now.”
Something, maybe it was my concentration combined with his, had the immediate effect of floating–yes, I said floating–him backwards right out of the wall. I was so surprised I forgot to keep concentrating. That could be what landed him in a heap in Mom’s best clothes basket. The basket split right down the side.
“Hey, are you hurt?”
Looking grim, he extracted himself from the basket, smoothed down his kilt, hiked the heavy plaid back over his shoulder and cleared his throat. “I am not,” he said, “but no thanks to you.”
“This is some hallucination,” I said hopefully.
He glared at me. “Is it a dream you’re thinking I am?”
“It’d be a lot simpler if I could just wake up. I wouldn’t have to explain Mom’s broken basket, for one thing.”
He stopped glaring and shook his head sadly. “And it was myself wishing the same, right enough. But I fear neither of us is dreaming.” He seemed pretty certain. But if he wasn’t my imagination–
“Are you a ghost?” Even better! Ever since Clem had told me about the ghost she’d seen when she was a kid, I’d wanted to meet one, too.
“I am no spirit,” the guy said again, sounding highly insulted.
“Well, what’d you expect me to think when you come popping into my wall like Captain Kirk beaming down from the Enterprise? Say, you’re not some kind of space alien, are you?”
“Space alien? Captain Kirk?” He peered into the darker corners of the room like he expected to see a real, lurking Kirk there. “Who is this Captain Kirk?”
The guy had to be kidding. “Forget it. It’s not important. Just tell me who or what you are.”
He gave me a withering look. “What am I? Do you not recognize a good, solid Scotsman when there’s one before you?”
“Scotsmen I’ve seen. I see Macrath nearly every day and you can’t get much more Scots than he is, or much more solid; but I’ve never seen anybody solid look like you looked in that wall.”
He sighed. “Nor felt like, either, I’d wager. Might you have a wee drop o’ whisky about the place?”
“No. This family does not do drugs.”
I had lost him entirely. He had no idea what I was talking about. Where had this man been?”
“No whisky,” I said. “Nothing to scramble your brain. No beer, no wine, no…”
He put up a hand to stop me. “You’ve something for drinking, surely?”
“Of course we do. Just nothing alcoholic.”
He sighed again. “I’ve a great and terrible thirst on me, lad. If you’ve anything at all in the house for quenching it…”
“Sure. Milk, juice, water, ginger ale.”
His eyes lit up. “Ale.”
“It’s not what you think, but I guess it’ll quench your thirst. At least it won’t give you a hangover.”
“You’d best be bringing it.” He didn’t sound enthusiastic about missing a hangover.
“It’s in the kitchen. Come on. We can sit down in there.”
“Have you a candle?” he asked as we left the laundry room. “I’d like fine to see where I am.”
“Why would you need a candle?” I flicked on the light in the kitchen and went to the fridge for a couple of ginger ales. When I turned back to him, he really did look like a ghost. His face, what I could see of it between the hair and the beard and under the dirt, was so white it was practically translucent.
He backed away slowly, not taking his eyes off me. “You’re one of Them,” he whispered. “Why was Oran telling me you were a Cameron and a clansman if you are one of Them?”
I’d never seen anybody so pale in my life. I jerked open the ginger ale and held it out to him. “Here. Drink this.” Ginger ale wasn’t on my first aid list of things to give people for shock, but it was all I had handy. Maybe the shot of sugar would do him good. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him.
He had nearly touched the can before he jerked his hand away like he’d been burned. As his hand moved, he made a strange, almost convulsive movement with it, like something to ward off the evil eye. “But you have the magic,” he said. “There’s light from the touch of your finger.”
He was actually shivering. As much as he was trying to hide it, the man was scared nearly out of his mind. The really weird thing was, he seemed to be scared of me.
©2010 /Donna H. Parker