The Whistler - Chapter 22
By Karolyn Gray
The Whistler was gone and Nathan was surprised that he felt nothing at that fact. He had thought he would feel vindicated or satisfied or even angry but instead there was nothing. He'd ended the madness, but it didn't make up for those lost.
Nathan barely came back to himself in time to catch Kenny and Mike's tackling hugs. His only warning had been the sudden departure of Audrey's warmth from his side. He heard a nearly inaudible clicking sound inside him and groaned. It didn't hurt but he suspected a rib was broken and he was feeling lightheaded. In spite of himself, he chuckled and gave the boys a long hug in return. Beside him he heard Alice giggle and he gave her a wink, which simply sets her of into more giggling.
Looking over Kenny's head, he could see Duke, who cautiously approached to stand by Audrey. His partner was watching him with mixed emotions: obviously worried but with a smile that showed the heartwarming scene of him and the kids had touched her. Duke merely nudged the old man's body with his foot frowning disdainfully before turning back to Nathan and giving him a smirk.
When they finally release one another Nathan lurched unexpected to the side, the world going topsy turvey in his vision for a moment. When he blinked his vision was righted. Audrey was next to him keeping him steady but she seemed fuzzy and just slightly out of focus. Strangely, the boys behind her were as sharp and clear as ever.
"I think I need an ambulance," he said, earning a snort and a long suffering roll of the eyes from his partner.
"The Chief should be at the cabin by now," Audrey told him. He briefly wondered if she even realized she was gently brushing the hair off his forehead. "Duke, would you take Ken back to the truck, see if backup has arrived."
"Sure." The smuggler came behind the boys, looking as indistinct as Audrey. He rested a hand on Kenny and started to lead him away. Kenny was having none of it, shaking the taller man's hand off and rushing over to Nathan's other side and grabbing his hand.
"No! I'm staying with Nathan," Kenny declared.
"Just let them stay," Nathan whispered tiredly, wondering why Duke and Audrey shared puzzled expressions at his words.
"Okay," Audrey finally said. She nodded her head to indicate she was going to speak with Duke for a moment and Nathan just dipped his head in agreement.
When alone, Nathan focused on the boys and was glad to see them both looking happy and smiling—dirty, filthy, and exhausted, but smiling.
Kenny tilted his head slightly, looking out at the forest around him with a curious expression. After a moment he returned his gaze to Nathan with a knowing look far beyond his years. "Everything's going to okay now."
"Yeah, I think so," Nathan agreed. There were a lot of questions to be answered and he knew he would have to work through his newly recovered memories. But for now he just wanted to concentrate on getting the boys home and the Whistler case wrapped up as soon possible. The fallout over the Selectman's crimes would likely cause uproar in town but he didn't want to think about that now. "I'm glad you boys are okay."
"Me too," Kenny chimed back, hero worship clearly in his eyes as he smiled at Nathan.
"Thanks, Nate," Mike said, brushing back some of his short blond hair. Nathan noticed the sad look in his hazel eyes as he glanced towards the trees around them. "I'm sorry but I think I have to go now."
Nathan's brow furrowed. "What do you mean you have to go?"
"Nathan, who are you talking to?" Audrey asked from the distance, wondering what Nathan and Kenny are looking at. She and Duke quickly walked over to the pair concerned about their injured friend.
"Mike and Kenny," Nathan said simply, with an agreeing nod from the dark haired boy.
"She can't see me," Mike said. "Neither of them can."
Nathan just shook his head in confusion. "What?"
"Mike's like the others," Kenny said, pointing to the trees around the glen. "Like them."
The three adults looked to where Kenny pointed. Audrey and Duke just looked at each other, the smuggler shaking his head to indicate he saw nothing. When they turned to Nathan they saw his eyes were wide and mouth open in clear shock and amazement.
"Parker, are you seeing this?" Nathan whispered. He could see children, dozens of them streaming out of the forest in all manner of dress. Old and young. Short and tall.
Audrey placed a hand gently on Nathan's uninjured shoulder. "Nathan, you're starting to worry me."
Kenny looked at her, almost apologetic in his nod of acknowledgement before he sat next to Nathan and wrapped the cop's right arm around his small shoulder and leaned into the man's warmth. "She can't see. She doesn't hear the music. We do."
Nathan's vision went watery and quickly blinked away the unexpected tears. "So many."
"Do you see them?" Kenny asked softly.
"Yeah." Nathan said voice low and rough.
"See who? Nathan?" Audrey sounds scared now.
Nathan tilted his head back to look at her, reaching up and taking her hand in his. He nodded in the direction where the apparitions were and she slowly lifted her chin. A moment later she gasped and jerked back breaking contact with Nathan.
"They can't see us, Nate," Mike said coming to stand before the cop and the boy. "It's okay, it's over. We can go now."
"I understand," Nathan said softly. Mike was no longer dirty and disheveled. He looked happy and free, like the others behind him.
"I'm sorry we made fun of you behind your back," the blond boy said with genuine regret. "And I'm sorry for…the rest."
And Nathan finally understood, finally remembered all of it. He nodded once and patted Mike on the shoulder. "It's what kids do."
"Well, I'm still sorry, Nate," Mike said. He turned to Alice, who had stood silently watching the exchange, and smiled. Taking his hand in her own the little girl guided the boy towards the others waiting for him, gathering around the old mother at the foot of the black spruce, some waving as they too turned away. "Bye."
Audrey had settled in beside her partner, looking shaken. "Nathan?" She whispered.
"He's talking to Mike. They're leaving soon." Kenny told her, snuggling further into the cop's arms.
"Who's leaving? There's no one there." Duke demanded in confusion.
"The children. The ones who died," Audrey said quietly. She didn't see any of them, but she had seen how the tree limbs had shaken and moved, the bushes rustled, and the grass sway as something unseen moved through the glen. She couldn't see it, see them, but she somehow sensed they were there. The sadness in her voice drew Nathan's attention away from the last of the fading spirits. He gently took her hand.
"It's okay, Audrey. They're going home." He told her, eyes heavy. At the understanding nod she gave him he finally allowed darkness to overtake him and he slept.