Jesop had to stop for a moment and catch his breath. He hadn't realized he had been running down Fountain Avenue at full speed. The Citizen’s Bank - and his daddy - was only a few blocks ahead. Daddy will make all of this better, he thought. I don’t know how, but he will. I have to tell him everything. He will know what to do. The boy had been blind-sighted by his Grandmawmaw’s revelations and Emily Washburn’s death. Yes, his faith and his belief in God was strong. He had readily and eagerly accepted his charge, his fate, but all of this... well, it was just too much. I’m just a kid, dammit! I... I need my Daddy!
Although it was not yet noon, the stifling Mississippi Delta heat and humidity had bathed him in perspiration and left him struggling to breathe. Bent over, with his hands on his knees, Jesop slowly regained his composure. And then he felt a warm and somehow disquieting breeze on his back. It penetrated his wet t-shirt and, rather than a refreshing wind, it felt like a steamy blustering fog. And the stink! It reminded him of the smell in the Exxon service station’s restroom... that is if a squirrel or rat had died and was decaying in the small, damp, enclosed space.
Jesop turned and looked behind him. Tall oaks lined the avenue behind him. Every one, so far as he could see, had begun to shed wilted and moldy leaves that littered the sidewalk and pavement.
It’s HER, he thought. The witch! She’s following me!
Eustis’ feelings of pain, fear, and disorientation were instantly alleviated. Even as he looked down at his body, now several yards below him and slumped against the driver’s window of the car, he felt no angst - only curiosity. Without intentional or conscience thought he reached up to feel, to see if he could feel, the top of his head. Yep. That’s my head, for sure, he thought. But if this is me here, how the hell am I seeing me down there?
Eustis tried but couldn't really remember what had just happened. He could, kind of, recall the onset of a blinding headache and a few moments of panic. But how had my spirit or soul or whatever, he thought, been severed from my body?
Eustis had never been absolutely certain that he, or that anyone, really, had a ‘soul’. Nor was he entirely convinced there was actually a ‘God’. Yes, he had always sustained an uneasy relationship with - and had professed his allegiance to - the Catholic Church. He had even confessed his sins in a couple of them. But his belief in an afterlife or in a spiritual realm had been perfunctory at best. He had, he remembered, prayed on several occasions. One time in particular he drank far too much tequila and had thought he could no longer withstand the torturous dizziness and vomiting. He had begged God to make him better or let him die. And he had prayed a couple of times that Leila and Jesop would forgive his shortcomings as a husband and father. But when they had forgiven him, he had reasoned that it was far more likely it was his charisma and charming personality, not his supplications to Mother Mary and Jesus, that had won the day.
“So... What the Hell is this all about?, he wondered. Am I dead? Eustis didn't feel a pull up to Heaven - or a sharp shove down to Hell for that matter. He seemed simply to be standing on air a few feet above his car and immobile physical body. Looking around, he noted that everything looked just as it should. There was the bank. There, just down the building’s back driveway, he saw a car speed past on Fountain Avenue. Almost reluctantly and with some apprehension Eustis tilted his head and looked upward.
“Humph. Nothing but blue sky and sunshine,” he said aloud. He had half expected to see a cryptic tunnel and far off bright light beckoning, compelling him heavenward. But all looked exactly as it was supposed to. Eustis had, however, noticed another anomaly. When he had spoken aloud, the timbre of his voice was off. There was something “not quiet right” about its resonance.
Eustis looked at the scene below him and decided he should try and... What?, he thought. Save myself? C’est fou! This is crazy!
Jesop suddenly appeared at the driveway, paused just long enough to identify his dad’s car, and jogged forward to the bank’s employee entrance. He glanced behind him as if some pursuer with ill intent was gaining ground. The sun glared off the car’s rear window, preventing the boy from seeing Eustis’ body slumped in the driver’s seat.
Reaching the door, Jesop extended his arms. His knees buckled a little, so he braced himself with his hands on either side of the entry. For a few seconds he tried to breathe without gasping. Intense fear was reflected in his eyes, and the way he intently stared back at the street left no doubt that someone was giving him chase. Frantically he reached out with his left hand and, with more pressure than was necessary, repeatedly pushed the round brass door buzzer. With a tightly fisted right hand he pounded loudly and insistently on the metal door.
“DAD, DAD, PLEASE... LET ME IN!”
“JESOP! WHAT IS IT, SON?”
Eustis was immediately aware that the boy could not hear him. His words seemed to hit an invisible wall and bounce back to slap him in the face. Looking around, Eustis was stunned to see his wife’s car slowly turn into the parking lot from one direction and, in the same moment, someone or some horrible ‘thing’ seemed to ‘glide in on air’ from the direction Jesop had come.