Title: Red Sky?
Word Count: 3550
A/N: Short snippet. Takes place in my "Lost and Found" universe (haven't played around in that world for a while but this prompt took me back there). Only thing you really need to know is that Jimmy is a 13 year old boy who was diagnosed autistic and put into a residential facility when he was 4. Blair is already an adult when Jimmy is 4 and somehow hears the boy's cries for his guide in his dreams. Blair spends the next 8 years trying to find Jimmy in the waking world, finally does, and adopts him. Told from Blair's point of view (as are the most of the other stories in this universe).
I love Jimmy's drawings, paintings and sculptures. He's a natural at any genre of art he tries, but he's very literal. He draws what he sees. He draws it perfectly, and he doesn't have to have seen it for long or seen it recently, but he does have to have seen it at some point, even if it's a distorted version of reality as seen through his sometimes whacked out senses. Or at least I always thought that. So imagine my surprise when I walked into Jimmy's art room and found him painting a mural. The mural itself didn't surprise me of course. Jimmy's always painting on the walls in his art room. But today, it was a picture of a red forest. The blue jungle in his bedroom didn't bother me a bit. I knew that was real and just as Jimmy actually saw it. I had seen it too all those years when that was the only place I could meet Jimmy. But I'd never even heard him talk about a red forest. And this particular forest would have been surreal even if it wasn't red. The trees were distorted, looming figures and the rest of the vegetation almost seemed to cower before them. The only other time I had seen him draw such distorted drawings was when his senses were acting up so badly just before I finally found him at the Children's Center. But even then there didn't seem to really be any symbolism to the drawings. I was really hoping there wasn't any here either. The place Jimmy was drawing looked frightening.
"Hey big guy," I peeked around the corner as he was adding the finishing touches in the sky. "Red, huh?"
"Hi Chief." He threw one of his million dollar smiles my way, but continued on with his unusual project, totally oblivious to the fact that I'd love for him to fill me in on the details here. He didn't seem so inclined, though, and I really had no reason to grill him on it. Maybe he had just seen a picture in a science fiction book or something. Or maybe even just read a description of this place in a book somewhere. He'd never drawn from a description before, but there was really no reason he couldn't. For that matter, there was really no reason he couldn't just draw from imagination. Just because he never had before didn't mean he couldn't now, right? I tried to put the whole thing out of my head. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. The problem was I didn't really believe that at all.
Days went by and the red mural still graced the art room wall. In fact, Jimmy kept adding to it. There was now a fawn (not red) curled up in the underbrush. It looked scared. I still didn't know what this meant, but I was really getting the sense that I shouldn't ignore this anymore.
"Hey bud," I crouched down beside him as he painted angry black clouds in the red sky. "Can you tell me about this place, big guy?"
"Huh uh," was all he said.
I sat quietly beside him for a while but I was really getting worried. When he added tears to the fawn's brilliantly blue eyes, I couldn't stay silent. "Jimmy, you know you can tell me if there's something bothering you, right?"
"Yeah," he said, but just kept painting.
Trying not to be impatient, I asked softly, "Is there something bothering you, Jim?'
"Huh uh," was again all he'd say.
I took his chin gently in my hand and turned his head so he was looking at me. Sometimes, Jim got a little caught up in whatever he was drawing, and this certainly seemed to be one of those times. "I need you to give me a little more than one word answers here bud."
"Is 'huh uh' even a word?" He asked as he tried to look back to the wall to continue painting, but I stilled the brush with my other hand.
"Jimmy, this picture is kind of scary. Did you see it somewhere?"
"Can you tell me where?"
"When I was there."
Okay, that was completely unexpected, and more than a little unwelcomed. I was really hoping he'd seen it in a sci fi magazine or something. The kid reads anything and everything he can get his hands on, and never forgets anything he sees.
"When were you there, Jimmy?"
I was becoming a little impatient with the short answers but they also just served to scare me even more. I didn't know what was going on with my son, and that really bothered me.
"Jim, I really need more information here. I don't like the idea of you being in this place alone. It's scary, don't you think?"
"It's a scary place, Chief, but I'm not alone there."
Okay, not alone there. But I wasn't sure that was a good thing. Was there a monster or something in this place? Was this just a scene (and incredibly detailed scene) from a child's nightmare? Was I getting worked up over nothing? Jimmy's not your typical kid, so maybe his nightmares aren't typical either. Maybe this didn't mean a thing. But, there was still that pesky little fact that Jimmy and I actually met on the spirit plane for years. What happens there is real. This wasn't his usual spirit plane, but something was telling me not to dismiss this.
"Who's there with you, bud?"
"Him," he pointed to the deer.
"A baby deer?"
"Well, he's really a boy, but he looks like a deer when we're there."
Okay, this was getting weird. "Jim, I really need the whole story here, right now, okay buddy? You're scaring me, just a little."
"He's scared," my son replied. "But I'm not scared, and you don't have to be. Well, I'm worried, but I'm not scared."
Okay, I can work with that. "What are you worried about?"
"I'm worried that his guide won't find him like you found me." He tried to pull the brush away and go back to painting, but I couldn't let that go.
"Jimmy, you mean this is a real little boy on the spirit plane, like you were when you met me?"
"Yeah, but his guide doesn't hear him. Or he doesn't understand that it's real or something."
I could understand that. I looked for Jimmy for years without ever being one hundred percent sure that the spirit plane was real. Most of my friends thought I had gone just a little insane, and some days I hadn't been sure they were wrong. "Maybe, or maybe he's looking but just hasn't found the boy yet."
"No, he hasn't heard him. Well, at least he hasn't told Collin that he's heard him."
"Collin is the little boy?"
Jimmy looked at me like the answer to that should be completely obvious and that he was very disappointed with me for not knowing that. "Okay," I answered my own question, "I'm going to assume that's Collin. Why does he look like a deer?"
"That's his spirit animal. I think he feels better having him talk for him. He's really young. He might not even know what he looks like. I'm not sure."
Okay, so at least now I have enough information about the problem to maybe come up a solution…maybe.
"So, you meet Collin in this forest when you're asleep? Like I met you in your jungle?"
"Our jungle. But yeah. I heard him crying and went to meet him. He was calling for his guide but the guide didn't hear him. I did, though, so I keep him company."
Oh boy, here we go again. Another lost sentinel who could be anywhere.
"Jim, do you know where Collin is when he's not in the forest?"
Jimmy's eyes got suddenly sad. "No, Chief. I don't know because he doesn't know."
Yeah, that sounded about right. That's one of the reasons it took me so long to find Jimmy in the first place. "What do you know about him?" I had known all about Jimmy's history somehow. I was hoping Jimmy could tell me about Collin.
"Nothing really Chief. He thinks he's three and he knows his name is Collin. That's about all." Jimmy's eyes got a faraway look. "Oh, and he said his dad gets mad at him."
"What does he do when he gets mad, Jim?"
"I don't know. Collin cried really hard though, Chief."
"Okay, bud. We'll figure this out." At this point, I had no idea how, but I found Jimmy, so maybe together, we can find Collin.
Over the next couple of weeks, Jimmy gathered all the information he could from Collin when he saw him on the spirit plane. It didn't help much though. Collin was very young and apparently pretty secluded. He didn't know his last name or where he lived. He just knew that life with his father was unbearable and he was spending more and more time on the spirit plane…which I knew from experiences with Jimmy meant that he was in what amounted to a zone somewhere in the real world. We had to find this kid fast.
I did all the research I could. I tracked down any three year old in the US named Collin, who had no siblings and no mother on the scene. That didn't really narrow it down to a searchable number. I started narrowing down even farther. Collins enrolled in preschools were ruled out. I couldn't imagine preschoolers not knowing at least an approximation of their last name, and something about what Jimmy said about Collin's father just didn't jive with someone who would send his son to preschool. I ruled out the ones in residential facilities. I couldn't imagine facilities like that allowing Collin's father to be mean to him, and anyway, Jimmy had said that Collin lived with his father.
Jimmy started to get more and more worried about him. He came running into my room in the middle of the night, crying. "Chief. We have to find him. He won't leave the forest. He's been there for days and days. That means he'll die, right? You told me I shouldn't stay in the jungle long because my body needs food and drink and stuff. I could die if I don't leave the jungle, right? So, he can die if he doesn't leave the forest. Right? Chief! We can't let him die!"
He crawled up in bed beside me and cried into my shoulder. As I held him and rubbed circles on his back, I vowed I would find this little boy. A dark thought crept into my mind, though…even if we find Collin in the waking world, if we don't find his guide, he might still be in danger, if not soon, at least in the long run. One step at a time though. First, we needed to find him.
The next morning, I checked the hospitals. If Collin had been in the forest for days, he'd have been in a zone for just as long. Even an uncaring father would have taken his catatonic child to a hospital, right?
It took another two days, but I found him. He was only thirty minutes away from Cascade. Jimmy and I sat out in the morning. It didn't take long to get to the hospital. We found Collin with no problem. Jimmy had never actually seen the child's image. He always appeared as a fawn in the forest, but Jimmy still recognized him anyway. The father was nowhere to be seen. Hospital officials said that he relinquished his parental rights when he left the boy there. They had been trying to track down other family but hadn't had any luck so far.
"Can we keep him, Chief?" Jimmy was trying his best "I'm adorable" face. "You can be his guide too."
"He's not a puppy, Jimmy." But Jim did have a point I hadn't considered. I knew from research that sentinels can thrive with a temporary guide until they meet their true guide. Obviously, this little guy didn't have any guiding influence at all, or he wouldn't have been hiding out on the spirit plane. Would he respond to me? At least long enough to find him another guide? I had to try.
The nurse took us back to Collin's room. We had told her he was a friend of Jimmy's but I think she was just happy the boy had someone who cared. He was so small. His hair was the same color as the baby deer Jimmy had painted, and he looked just as lost.
"Bring him back, Chief." Jimmy had grabbed the boy's hand, but Collin just continued to stare straight ahead. "Please Chief.
I ruffled Jimmy's hair. "I'll try bud." I pulled a chair up beside the child's bed and took his other hand, looking across at Jimmy who still held the other hand.
"Hey Collin," I started. "My name's Blair, buddy. I know you think you're in a safe place right now, but I really need you to come back. Jimmy's here and you can talk to him in person instead of meeting in your forest. What do you say, pal? Can you come back?"
"Please Collin?" Jimmy added.
We stayed for almost two hours but Collin didn't twitch. Jimmy was practically inconsolable.
"Come on big guy." I finally told him, slinging my arm over his shoulder. "Let's go home for now…get some sleep. We'll come back tomorrow, I promise. Okay, bud?"
It took forever to get Jimmy calmed down enough to go to bed. He finally got to sleep around midnight, but by 3AM, he was in my room, more excited than I ever saw him.
"Chief, Chief! I talked to him." He actually jumped on my bed, and bounced. "He told me he'd leave the forest. Call the hospital, Chief. See if he came back. He said he would."
He was so excited, how could I say 'no'? The nurse at the hospital thought I was nuts for calling at 3 in the morning, but she did go in and check for me. She came back to the phone as excited as Jimmy. "You're right. He's awake."
Jimmy wanted to go there right away. I did manage to get him to wait until 7. I got him to eat breakfast (well, wolf down a bowl of cereal) and we got to the hospital just in time for visitor's hours at 8AM.
I think my son thought everything would be fine now that Collin was awake again. He bounced into the younger boy's room and his face fell. The child was staring straight ahead again. I don't know if he went back to the forest when there wasn't anyone here, or if he was just zoned on something here. Jimmy always hated the hospital…all the smells and bright lights and noises. I didn't think I could bring him back from the forest, but I might be able to talk him down off a zone.
"Hey Collin. This is Blair again, Jimmy's 'Chief'. Remember I talked to you yesterday? And Jimmy told you about me, remember?"
Jimmy took his hand again. "Collin. You promised you'd leave the forest. You were supposed to wait for me here."
"Hey Jim, go turn the lights off, okay?" I pulled the rough blanket off the boy, and rang the nurse to see if we could get an oxygen mask to reduce the smell, and a softer blanket. I turned on the room's TV onto a channel with static and turned it down low, but loud enough to mask other hospital sounds. The nurse managed to get a doctor to sign off on the oxygen and brought in her own lap blanket from the lounge that was super soft. I don't think she understood why I was asking for all these things, even though I tried to explain, but she seemed to be really happy that someone was trying to take care of the little man.
After a while with the sensory input reduced a little, I noticed the child move around some. He was still staring blankly at the ceiling, but his arms and legs were twitching a little.
"Hey Collin. Is it better now? Not as noisy or bright. You can smell the oxygen instead of the disinfectant. The blanket is nice and soft. I don't have anything for you to taste, but if you wake up and talk to me, we can get you something…anything you want."
I kept my voice calm and rubbed his hand and arm and just rambled on with whatever I could think of. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he turned his head and actually looked at me. His eyes were as brilliantly blue as Jimmy's painting.
"Hi there." I smiled.
He smiled a little and looked around. Jimmy beamed when the boy met his eyes and smiled even bigger.
"I'm glad you came back from the forest." Jimmy told him.
Over the next couple of days we got Collin to talk to us and got to know him a little better. He was terrified of his father, but seemed relieved when we told him he was gone. The nurses all fell in love with the little guy. I don't know what it was about our young sentinels, but they all seemed to have the whole world wrapped around their little fingers…well, the two I knew did.
Two of the nurses (one day shift and one night shift) grew especially close to the young sentinel. Amy (the day shift nurse) was the one who had contributed her soft lap blanket the day Collin woke up. Shelly, (the night nurse) bought his soft toys and clothes and a bed lamp with a dim light.
Jimmy and I spent all the time we could with Collin, helping him learn to control his senses as best a three year old can control them. The doctor had been treating Collin for dehydration and malnutrition, but he was becoming healthier by the moment, and it was coming time to find him a home.
The authorities weren't having any luck finding family to take Collin in, and Jimmy was making grand plans to have him move in with us. He was even willing to give up his art room to give Collin his own bedroom. Collin didn't seem to have much of an opinion on where he lived. But he seemed to be a lot less afraid now that he didn't have to go back to his father.
A Social Services representative came by the hospital the day before they were planning on releasing Collin. I had asked if we could take him home, at least until they could find someone else to take care of him, and was filling out some forms, when Amy and Shelly came in. As it worked out, they were roommates and were both smitten with the young sentinel. They worked different shifts so there'd always be someone to watch him while the other worked, and he loved them both. The Social Worker was willing to try to push through the paperwork, at least for temporary guardianship. Collin beamed. Jimmy was disappointed, but we all decided that Collin could visit anytime he wanted. Jimmy also decided they could meet in the forest anytime they wanted too.
Two days after Collin was released, I came into Jimmy's art room to see him painting over the red forest. He had straightened out the trees, and made the whole scene less frightening. The leaves were green and sparkling in the sun. The fawn was frolicking with two does and they all looked very happy. Jimmy was putting the finishing touches on a blue sky filled with sunshine.
"No more red sky, huh?" I asked.
Jimmy gave me another million dollar smile. "Nope. Not anymore. He's happy now Chief, so his forest is happy too. Not scary anymore."
"That's really good to hear, Jim." I smiled back. "You've been talking to him in the forest again?"
"Some…not as much as before. He doesn't spend much time there anymore."
"How about we ask all three of them over this weekend and you can show him your painting of his forest."
"Yeah, I can ask him in the forest next time."
I grinned. "Or I could just call them."
His eyes twinkled. "Yeah, that would work too."