136 to end
“I’m not sure what I mean, Larry.” Catrina scanned the faces around the table. “I told you before, I don’t know the mechanics of things. They just are. I’ve lost my inner sight. Everything that was so clear and obvious just isn’t anymore.”
“But, you feel there’s something out of whack?”
“Oh, yeah. Way out of whack.”
“If I may.” Megan watched Catrina carefully. “There is a balance in all things. If the balance is disturbed, all things are affected.”
“Not in all things, Megan the witch. There’s a balance in this universe of yours. Not so on the mountain.”
“Then that is what you mean. You have left the mountain. That is what caused things to be out of balance here. This place, here, Catrina, is of you, not separate from you.”
Catrina put her head in her hands. “Maybe it was. I don’t think so anymore. I’ve been consumed by my own creation.” She looked to the distance glow of the horizon. “I wish I could see clearly, but all I got is feelings. There’s one, a child, doing what she cannot do, forcing things even farther from the balance that should be.”
“What you said last night? It gets worse?” Elderage asked.
“The kid in the hospital?” Siegel asked for clarification.
“I’m still not ready to run the God comes to Earth story. I haven’t seen anything with my own eyes to convince me that you’re not just some crazy kid.”
“Want me to smite someone for you?”
“Siegel.” Mike put a hand down on the table. “My wife’s pregnant.”
“For sure?” Judy asked with wide eyes.
“For one hundred percent sure. EPT.”
“So what?” Siegel asked.
“She has no uterus.”
“I need to talk to you about that in private,” Catrina informed Jill.
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.” Siegel punctuated her statement with a wave of a hand.
“I have some rubber gloves in the trailer if you want to look for yourself.” Mike received a sharp hand up the back of his head from Jill.
“I’ll say it again. It doesn’t matter to me what you believe or don’t believe.” Catrina crossed her arms over her chest.
“So mote it be.” Megan agreed with a nod.
Josephine blinked hard, trying to keep her eyes open. “It’s been a very long day. I need to impose on someone for a place to crash.”
“Our trailer, door’s never locked.” Mike pointed across the lot.
She stood. “I’ve listened for hours to you guys arguing about the nature of things. Me, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but I know what the problem is and I know what you need to do. Forgive the wrong terms I use. They’re the only ones I have.”
All eyes fell on Josephine as she leaned on the table. “God, I’m tired!” She looked at Catrina. “You were someplace else and came here by magical means. You can only return by magical means. If it was a matter of the law, I’d be the-man, but it’s not. It’s a matter of magic. Megan, Mike this falls in your laps. Put your heads together, figure it out and do the magic. If the magic’s right, problem solved. The rest is only details.”
“Magic?” Siegel asked.
Megan, Mike and Catrina nodded.
“Whatever the hell you want to call it! I don’t have the right words. I told you that already.” She turned back to Catrina. “That’s what you need to do. Do it. I’m going to get some sleep. If you leave before I wake, I’ll see you on the other side.” She turned on Siegel again. “Or whatever the hell you want to call it!”
She looked to the clouds. “I do have one question, Catrina. There was this clown, you got a glimpse of him last night, who shot me twice in the chest. He had a smile on his face, I think. Anyway, is it cool for me to hunt him down like the dog he is and return the favor or is that wrong?”
“I guess that’s an age old question, huh?”
“I’m tired, don’t you dare distract me with parable nonsense!”
“I do like you.” Catrina nodded to Megan. “If you weren’t so distracted, you’d see she does show the Mark.” Back to Josephine, she told her: “No parable, just the dirt. There is no right and wrong. It’s your life. Do what you got to do to live with yourself. I have never, nor will I ever judge you.”
Josephine’s lip curled. “So mote that be! Thanks.”
“I do like her.” Catrina nodded. “You guys got such fire when you get going!”
“She’s right, though,” Elderage said to Josephine’s retreating figure. “It’s gotta be magic, whatever you want to call it. And, Catrina, just so you know: I’m down to only a million questions now.”
“I need to search the text of the old wisdom.” Megan’s eyes hung tired.
Larry put a hand on Megan’s arm, surprised her white flesh wasn’t cold to the touch. “Assimilating and coordinating information is what Sally and I do. We’ll help.”
“Count me and Jill in on the read-fest,” Mike volunteered. “I’ve been frothing at the mouth to get at those witchy books. Professional interest, you know.”
Megan raised her hand. “The old wisdom is for the few, not to be viewed by those not of the Way.”
“Nonsense, witch.” Catrina’s words cut the air. “Knowing stuff can never hurt anyone.”
Megan’s eyes held Catrina’s. “Are you sure I may share the old wisdom with those not of the Way?”
“Of course, I’m sure! I’m freaking God, aren’t I?”
Everyone, including Megan, laughed into the light of the dawning sun.
“Do you believe there’s like a master plan or something and everything’s all laid out somehow, maybe even directed by the old guy in the woods?” Makaila asked Arianna.
“Don’t know. If my life was all predetermined by the guy in the woods and all I can do, and all that’s happened is because he wrote the script, let’s go back and kick his butt!”
“That’s the spirit.”
“Why do you ask?”
Makaila snickered. “Sometimes things fit together too well for it to be happenstance.”
“You mean like the states on the map fitting together perfectly?”
“Well, yeah. That, too.” She pointed to a car pulling to a stop. “But, more like one of the guys who shot me last night pulling into this very parking lot we happen to be sitting in.”
Arianna was stunned. “Shouldn’t we be running or something?”
“I can’t stop giggling. Nah, he’ll think he’s seeing a ghost or something. Like how can I be sitting here? His brain won’t make any sense of it and we need a car.” Makaila felt light-headed, shaking it off. She had the odd feeling of being in two places at once.
Stay here and now.
Arianna went from giggle to laugh. “They call that karma.”
“What goes around comes around?”
“Oh, sure, something like that. Should I kill him?”
“Kill him, like send him to God. Get him out of my face.”
“Get out my face. Something George used to say. Why don’t you just steal his clothes? Can you overpower him or something?”
“Just seeing me’s going to send him into shock. However, he is a professional. He might empty his gun into me again before he even has a chance to think about it.” She shook the bag. “We need more chips.”
“I’m ready for more coffee, soon as I get rid of what I drank. Be right back. Don’t do nothing I might not want to miss.” Arianna set out for the trees around the corner of the building.
Makaila turned her head just a bit with a smile and a nod as Bixby nodded and entered the bait shop. She read his subtle body, analyzed his attire, compared how he appeared then with how he had appeared, compared with his movements and actions from the night before. In her mind, she saw where his gun was, identified his other gun, noted he was right-handed but overcompensated, thus his right side was his weak or slower side.
Pulling up every memory she had of him, she calculated his reactions. She knew he wouldn’t be inside long and she knew he would not freeze. Just like Harshaw, he’d make a move if he weren’t one hundred per cent convinced she was serious.
He’s much younger and less cautious. Mortality hasn’t really come home yet.
Makaila came to her feet, entered the bait and tackle shop, had Bixby’s pistol out, firing once into the back of the man’s knee, sending him kneeling to the floor before the shopkeeper or Bixby knew she was there. The shopkeeper immediately had both hands in the air.
She smacked Bixby hard on the side of the head with the barrel and planted it behind his ear. “Keep the hands on the counter and don’t even breathe hard or I’ll send you to hell!”
“This girl is a –” Bixby started to the shopkeeper.
Makaila fired again, barely nicking his right ear.
“Now, you and Harshaw are twins! I really didn’t want to do that. Want to go for one in the brain?” She smiled at the man behind the counter. “Two more coffees, please. Oh, and put your hands down. Me and this guy got this personal thing going on. And, yeah, smack your 9-1-1.” She steadied the gun in one hand and retrieved a folded paper from her hip pocket. With a shake to open it, she placed it on the counter.
“Give this guy a couple of packs of gum, on me.”
“Damn.” The shopkeeper eyed the poster. “He’s a bad one!”
“Actually, just misled. If he was a bad one, he’d be talking to Satan right now, saying: ‘I was just buying some coffee and Makaila, she-who-is-like-God punched my ticket!’”
“Kill him.” Arianna’s voice came from the door. “Kill him now. He’ll just keep coming.”
The bait and tackle shop owner hung up the telephone and looked hard at Makaila. “You’d better listen to your friend there. He’s a bad one.”
Makaila saw the reason and the sense in what they said. The muscles in her hand agreed. She stopped short.
Now, that doesn’t make sense.
She swung around and looked into Arianna’s worried eyes and then at the shop owner.
“Dammit!” She put a hand to the back on Bixby’s head, sending him into a deep sleep to land face-up on the floor. Falling to her knees, she fished in his pocket and then threw the keys to Arianna. “Hang onto these.”
Placing a hand on either side of his shattered knee, she drew a deep breath and gave out a loud scream. She dug out his other gun and tossed both onto the counter. “If you want him dead, you kill him.” She placed a hand on Bixby’s forehead. “Come back to us, now!” Bixby’s eyes fluttered. Makaila waved Arianna over to help her up, using her friend as a crutch.
“Listen.” She looked down at the confused Bixby. “There’s sirens in the distance. I’m taking your car. Too bad for you. You can take to the woods or try to talk your way out of it. Doesn’t matter to me. You don’t really understand me or anything about me. I’m considering that here. It ain’t personal. Know this: you keep coming, I will kill you next time just like I’d kill a fly buzzing around my head. I got nothing against the fly, but it’s bothering me. As it is, I’m giving you another chance. Use it wisely.”
Bixby came up on an elbow and looked at his guns on the counter. The shopkeeper nodded. Bixby fell back down and looked at the ceiling.
Makaila stopped half out the door in Arianna’s tow.
“There’s something in the trunk. Would you leave it, please? It’s important to me.”
Makaila rolled her eyes into her head. “Yeah, Bixby. We’ll leave it.”
“Thanks.” Bixby closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts for a moment before jumping back into life.
It took all Makaila had to pull the dazed and weak Marks from the trunk. Dropping him to the dirt, Makaila put a hand to his forehead. “You’ll be okay.” She undid the handcuffs and removed the car key from the ring, leaving the extra keys in Marks’ hand.
Marks put his hands to Makaila’s face. “I told him you weren’t dead. I told him.”
“No, Marks. Not for a while yet.”
Arianna watched out the back window as they sped away. “I’m getting tired of saying, I don’t understand.”
“I was real close to missing it myself, so don’t feel bad.” She flexed her leg. “Good, the pains going away already.”
“What did the bait guy say?”
“Well, he agreed with me. I still think you shoulda plugged him.”
Makaila took her eyes off the road, staring deeply at Arianna, her eyebrow raised.
Arianna blinked hard three times. “He saw me! He heard me! Duh!”
“So I did the exact opposite of what he said.”
Arianna laughed. “I am so dumb!”
“This killing thing has confused me forever. I really didn’t understand it and I’m not sure I do yet. Cat says there’s no right and wrong only choices, but I’m thinking there’s right and wrong choices. Follow?”
“Not an inch.”
“It’s mine to figure out, not yours. Most people are almost born knowing murder’s wrong. It’s a habit. You don’t have to think about it. A normal person would be too damn worried about killing someone, they’d hesitate when faced with a guy like that back there and end up dead.
“Come to think of it, just a few months ago, I would have blown his brains out instead of shooting his knee off. I did consider the brain as an option and if he threatened someone else, I would have nailed him and never looked back.
“Murder is not right or wrong, the circumstances make it one or the other, just like chickens.” She smiled. “It’s all so clear now. How come I didn’t see it before?”
“It was in your head and not real?” Arianna suggested.
“What do you mean?”
“Okay. You were trying to think it out in your head. It’s not really real there. It’s only real when it counts.”
“When my finger’s on the trigger.”
“We gotta find Cat. Her finger’s on a trigger it’s never been on before.” She rolled her eyes and made estimations. “Least she can’t be with a better group of people. Couldn’t be better if I hand-picked them myself.”
Makaila looked to the passenger side of the car. Arianna was gone. “See you on the other side,” she muttered to the highway ahead and calculated how long she could keep the car before the net came down.
Stevens didn’t ask and Potter didn’t get any answers. Terri sat, wordless as if a million miles away, speaking only to give directions or point to something out the window as they passed. Potter gave up asking, surrendering to a restless on and off sleep.
Stevens pushed the car into the coming day as if propelled by the force of will rather than a gas pedal. His jaw was tight, giving no sign of the weakness Potter saw the other day.
“Would you have really killed me?” he asked Potter early in the journey.
“I don’t really know.”
“I’d have deserved it.”
Potter lobbied for a stop, insisting his bladder was going to burst. Terri briefly stretched her legs and then sat on the car’s hood, staring to the east seeing what no mortal could. Stevens unwrapped a hamburger and broke off pieces, forcing food in Terri’s mouth, alternating with a straw for Terri to drink.
“She’s possessed by God.” Stevens offered the explanation. “I will take her, follow her to where she wants to go.”
The glare in Terri’s eyes shouted down any arguments Potter could make. Stevens hinted Larry Carleton was at the end of the road. Potter hoped Arianna would be there, too.
Potter looked toward the east, trying to see with Terri’s eyes. “I abandoned you once. I will not again.”
“She’ll be fine, George. I see it clearly. Everything’ll be fine.” Terri gave her own promise, her voice like speaking from the bottom of a well.
George shivered when he heard the words and he shook when he climbed from the car to see F-36 and its cold, forbidding façade.
Emotionless, face like a mannequin, inhuman, Terri took the center of the road. Stevens put his hand up to block George’s forward motion, nodding toward the ground. Stevens dropped to his knees and opened his Bible. “Pray with me.”
“That child can’t face them alone. We have to go with her!”
“Trust in God, my friend. It’s out of our hands. Don’t you see that?”
George was caught. He couldn’t move forward or down to his knees.
“You’re safer here anyway. George, you felt the child’s hands on you. You cannot deny what you know. You should also know, the hands that can heal so powerfully can just as powerfully do the opposite.” He looked to his Bible. “If you cannot find it in your heart to trust God in this moment, then simply trust what you know already.”
George dropped to the dirt beside the pastor. “I’ve never prayed before.”
Stevens looked at him sideways. “Then just keep your wits about you and your head down.”
Harshaw stared in wonder at the child moving slow and steady, measured step by measured step like a bride toward the altar. “There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who truly believes,” he muttered.
“We’ll fix that believing with a date with the electrodes.” The aide in a white lab coat nodded. “What are those other two doing?”
“Looks like they’re praying.”
Terri stopped, the glass of the door and fifteen feet separating her and Harshaw. Her eyes burned into the eyes of the half-dozen men awaiting Harshaw’s orders. She settled in on Harshaw. She fisted her hands, crossed over her chest. Terri’s lips didn’t move.
You are the one?
The words boomed in Harshaw’s ears. He shook his head, blinking hard.
Terri raised a small hand with an extended finger. The voice came again.
I ask you: are you the one who has my people? Her eyes flashed with an inner light as she returned her hands to her chest.
Hide in silence if you must. It doesn’t matter. You will let my people go.
“Do you hear that?” Harshaw asked the man next to him.
He looked hard at Terri’s immature face.
“Come on in, and we’ll talk about it.”
I will not come in. You will deliver my people to me, here and now or I will kill you and walk over your lifeless body.
“This is ridiculous. Bring them in.” He waved a hand in the air, as if shooing a fly.
Terri raised her arms.
Somewhere in the distance of imagination, a low rumble grew from the mundane background noise. The walls vibrated and then shook. The glass doors shattered inward, forcing Harshaw and the others back.
“Earthquake.” Harshaw shrugged calmly, dropping to one knee, producing his handgun. He drew a quick bead on Terri’s forehead and released three bullets. “That’s that. Now go get the others.”
Terri’s form wavered in the air as if Harshaw were looking down a long road on a hot summer day. She stepped forwarded, stopping two short paces from the entrance. Her eyes flashed and glistened. She said in the voice of any child: “As you wish it.” She raised her arms again. The sky behind her grew black with thick, billowing clouds.
Harshaw emptied his pistol into the shimmering figure.
Fingers of light danced like a living spider web across and around the storm clouds, coalesced and finally raced downward as one, through Terri, filling the foyer and hallway with ear-shattering thunder and blinding, flesh-searing light.
Terri tilted her head, listening with her inner sight. “It is done.”
Stevens stood, pulling George to his feet. “It is done.”
“I’ll be damned!”
They hurried to catch up to Terri.
She knelt at the smoldering charred remains of what was once the animated being known as Jordan Aristotle Harshaw. “Why did he make me do it, Steve?”
Stevens bowed his head in silent prayer for a moment. “It seems we receive from God what we ask for.”
She looked up. “This place is evil. Do you feel it?”
Stevens nodded. “Maybe this place made him do it.”
Terri stood, tilting her head again. “He made this place, this place made him.” She rolled her eyes into her head. “We have much work to do. We have many souls to recover. It is too much for me alone. My mortal body cannot sustain.”
“Ordain us.” Stevens nodded toward the speechless Potter.
“I will do just that after we retrieve Brother Larry and Saint Arianna. Arianna is very close to death. It is she-who-is-like-God who sustains her even now.” Terri blinked twice. “This way.”
They found Larry strapped to a bed in a small, pale green room. With a hand to his forehead, Terri muttered to herself. “He’s been drugged. I’ll cleanse this.” She held her right hand to Stevens, who placed the knife blade on her palm.
With one long sweep, she placed her fiery blood-soaked palm to Larry’s forehead. “By the blood of the Saint, in the name of God and the power of Makaila, she-who-is-like-God and by the power of Saint Arianna and by the power granted to me, in the name of Makaila, she-who-is-like-God and in my name, I do now command you be cleansed of the toxins that keeps your soul away from us. Come back to us, now!”
George released the straps as Stevens stood back, close but out of the way, Bible open with his lips moving.
Terri crawled on top of Larry as he gained consciousness. “I love you,” she muttered softly.
“Welcome back.” Stevens nodded, guiding Terri back to the floor. “George, if you would bring Larry up to date the best you can, Saint Terri and I have more work to do.”
“Saint Terri?” Larry’s eyes went wide as he came up on his elbows.
“Of course.” Terri, for a brief moment, found the child within. “Listen to George. We’ll talk in a few minutes. There is work to do!”
George wanted to go to Arianna. He obeyed the instructions.
Terri staggered, almost losing her footing as she entered the room hosting Arianna. She fell against Stevens. Visions danced in her head, tears came.
Stevens held her. “Suck it up, Saint Terri.”
With three deep breaths, Terri found the center of her soul. “Yeah. I just learned something. Makaila, she-who-is-like-God was here. This was her room. I just had a vision of her experiences here.”
Stevens looked toward the bed holding the restrained saint. “How ironic. This must be the saint room.”
“This place is evil. That guy lives on here. We’ll send it back to hell.” She nodded twice, hard, climbing on top of Arianna’s chest with Stevens’ help. Terri held her hands to the ceiling.
“In the name of God, in the name of Makaila, she-who-is-like-God and in my name, by the power granted me, I do now command you back to full health so that you may serve Makaila, she-who-is-like-God.” She held her open hands to Stevens and in turn, pulled each hand across the blade.
With her hands to Arianna’s face, she closed her eyes. “By the blood of the Saint, I call you back to life. I call you back to health. I demand your wounds be healed. I demand: come back to us, now, that you may serve her!”
“Where do you think Cat is?” Arianna asked Makaila, but found herself looking up at Terri.
“Welcome back.” Stevens worked on the straps.
“Eh, thanks. Hi, Terri. I hear you been a busy little Saint.”
“Yeah, kinda sorta.”
“We have work,” Stevens reminded Terri again, helping her off Arianna.
Arianna swung her feet over the side of the bed, completely oblivious to her nakedness. “We haven’t officially met. Pastor Stevens, I’m Arianna.” She held out a hand.
“Saint Arianna.” He bowed. “Just Steve is fine, please.” He did not take her hand.
Arianna turned to Terri, taking her shoulders. “I’ve been with Makaila!”
Terri nodded. “Which explains why you’re not dead. I thought so. She-who-is-like-God has held the life in your body so that you may serve her.”
Arianna blinked at the depth and intensity of the child. That’s scary.
Larry rushed in, George close behind. “I don’t believe a word of it! And you!” He pointed an angry finger at Stevens. “You who stand against us!”
Terri stepped between Stevens and Larry. “Brother Larry! Look in the hall! Those in this place standing against us lay dead! Brother Larry! I did that!”
Larry’s face grew hard, yet excited. “It’s beginning.”
“George was sent by Makaila.” Arianna waved a hand.
“You dare use her name like that?” Terri challenged.
Larry’s eyes narrowed. He was overcome, everything moving so quickly. He was glad to see Arianna was alive, but asked: “How can you be so sure?”
Arianna climbed to her feet, realized she was naked and wrapped in a sheet. “Terri, I told you. I’ve been with her. We’re like on a first name basis. Larry, she told me herself.”
Larry thought into all the new information, looking at the faces. “Okay, what do we do now?”
“We have work here.” Stevens nodded toward the hallway.
Terri rolled her eyes into her head. “There’re fifty-eight others here, held against their will. We now heal all of them. We set them free.” She turned to Stevens. “I will empower you in her name, that you may help me. Brother Larry?”
“I will accept what you offer. I will help.” Larry puffed his chest out.
“I’m stealing George.” Arianna took George’s arm. “We have some mundane things to attend to.”
“Such as?” Stevens asked before Terri could.
Arianna took in the dynamics of the personalities, her mind racing to put everything in order. She knew, human beings being what human beings are, she had to avoid a power struggle for the authority to speak for Makaila, she-who-is-like-God. Arianna knew Terri didn’t have the theology exactly correct. She also remembered the warning she herself had given Makaila about robbing people of their beliefs.
Arianna knew what Makaila called the place. She knew she stood in a room in Hell. It was good to free the souls.
Should I even try to explain Cat or the true nature of Makaila?
Arianna decided things were confused enough already. She carefully framed her words. “Makaila, she-who-is-like-God awaits us, once our tasks here are done. I sat with her and listened to her words.” She looked hard at Terri. “While you finish our tasks here, I will prepare for our journey.”
“It will be so.” She waved George and Arianna off, turning to Stevens and Larry. “Kneel before me.”
Terri placed a hand on either head, turning her face to the ceiling. “By my blood and in the name, power and glory of Makaila, she-who-is-like-God and in my name, I empower and bestow upon you both her light and her power, that you may serve her will and her plan for this world. I empower you in my name and her name, that you may remove the evil that has been put within these people. This I command now!”
Terri’s eyes glistened with an internal light. “Let’s begin our work in her name!”
“First.” Arianna began.
George cut her off. “First we find you some clothes. Not that the toga look doesn’t work for you.” He kicked in a door. “Saw this on the way by.” They entered. He quickly scanned the cardboard boxes on the shelves. “That was too easy.” He pulled a box down. “I’ll wait in the hall.”
“No, stay. I want you to see something.” She set the box on a bench, dropping the sheet to the floor. “This.” She watched his eyes carefully as she dressed.
“I don’t understand. What exactly is it I’m supposed to be seeing?”
She pulled her pants up. “I can’t believe I lost this much weight so quickly. Something Makaila told me. Something she said I don’t understand, confusing love with lust.”
George didn’t yield or avert his eyes as she worked into her shirt. “Blood stains never come out. Maybe I should have stayed with the toga? I lied. It’s something I wanted to see.”
“Hi.” A stranger entered. “My clothes are here somewhere?”
George helped him find his box.
“Makaila told me you love me, are in love with me. I told her no. You don’t have the look in your eyes when you look at me. She said I was confusing lust with love. I wanted to see what love looks like.”
George blushed like a sixteen-year-old girl whose diary was being read in front of her English class. “I have no right.”
Someone else came looking for clothes. “Find them yourself.” Arianna put a hand to George’s face, stepping close. “We have the right to love, George. We have the right to do anything we wish.” She looked over George’s shoulder. “Your name’s on a box somewhere.” Arianna glanced around. “See, George. These people are helping each other, strangers helping strangers. They have that right, too.”
She brought her other hand to his face and held his eyes. “In this moment, in this time, my life is not my own. My life is in service to another.”
“No. Not really. Makaila by proxy, maybe.” She lifted herself on her toes and kissed Potter long and hard. “We need to find a phone that still works. What happened out there?”
Potter stared into Arianna’s eyes. “Out where? What phone?”
She giggled. “I’m going to like this love thing, I think. In the hallway. What happened?”
The room became crowded. George pulled Arianna into the hall. “I’m not really sure. I can tell you what I saw.”
The telephones at the nurses’ station and reception desk were melted and useless, George’s cell lost in Pennsylvania.
“Tell me what you think, then.”
“Terri caused an earthquake and then called lightning down and through herself.”
“That’s what I figured.”
“You accept readily something I don’t believe even though I saw it happen?”
“I’ve been to the mountain. It’d take a lot to surprise me.”
“Mountain? This looks like something.” Larry stepped into a far back room, its door removed, full of electronic equipment. The telephone had a dial tone. “Who we calling?”
“Yeah, prayer’s so Dark Ages, you know.”
“What’s the number?” He half-joked.
“Don’t know. I’m taking a wild guess here. Call your boss.”
“Who? Oh, okay.” Potter punched the numbers and waited. “Hey Sally, what’s up, baby.”
A paused followed. “George Potter? Where the hell are you and why didn’t you have your damn phone on?” Larry Elderage yelled.
“Good to hear your voice, too, Mr. Elderage.”
“I wish people would stop saying stuff like that to me. We’re up to our eyeballs out here. What do you have?”
“Pittsburgh.” Arianna and Elderage spoke at the same time.
“Okay, Mr. Elderage, I got my own mess happening here. Let me take care of this business first. Do you have a Mr. God around there somewhere?” He winked at Arianna.
“That would be Miss or even Ms. to be politically correct, God, actually.”
“What? Hold on a sec.”
Arianna took the telephone. “Hi, Mr. Elderage. Could I speak to Cat, please?”
“Who’s this?” Elderage put his hand over the receiver and said to Sally: “Let’s go fishing.”
“Arianna, or Saint Arianna to many.”
“Arianna? But you’re locked up, or dead?”
“Or, maybe both. I don’t know anymore. Terri showed up and brought one of them Horsemen with her, the fire rider. When she’s done healing the unwashed masses, I think she’s going to bury the place right to hell. She’s really out of control, but I love her for it. That don’t matter. Let me talk to Cat.”
“Terri? Oh, never mind. Let me get her. I want to buy a ticket out of here, anyway. I have a fishing rod with my name on it in the trunk.”
A moment inched by. “Arianna? What are you doing off the mountain?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing. Forget how I got here. Makaila’s guessing you screwed up and she’s heading at you right now.”
“I was wondering what the cavalry was going to look like. Is she okay?”
“She’s pretty pissed. At you, and just might boot you back to the mountain with one foot to the butt. Other than that, she’s cool.” Arianna bit her lip. “You lost your sight?”
“I got a list of stuff I lost. I won’t bore you with my problems. Where are you?”
“Hell – still.”
“You’re back in the corporal then?”
Arianna laughed. “Now, why would you even think I’d know what you’re talking about?”
Cat giggled. “Makaila can’t keep her mouth shut.”
“Yeah, I’m all hooked back up.”
“Makaila sent you back?”
“No, Terri. Do you know Terri? Anyway, one of your Saints. Smote the sinners and healed my body. I guess she called me back. Sound right to you?”
“Smote the sinners?”
“Biblically. Old Testament stuff.”
“Dammit! You gotta rein her in. She’s doing what she shouldn’t be doing, gumming up the balance. This is not good.”
Arianna took a leap. “It’s because you’re off the mountain. That’s why she can do this? What can’t be done?”
“Yeah, dammit. Makaila can do miracles because, well, let me just say she can do miracles, not others.”
“Because she’s like God. She’s like you, but she’s like us, too.”
Arianna’s eyes got big. “You have the same father!”
“Arianna. Rein the kid in. Do whatever it takes.”
“It would take Makaila appearing in a vision, spinning in the sky, sitting on a flaming throne.”
“Where do you fit in her theology?”
“Well, I’m a Saint. I’ve walked with Makaila. I think, for now, I’m a step up the ladder from Terri. I might be slipping off a rung though.”
“Cool. It’s time to gather together. Makaila calls us all.”
“I get it. We come there?” She looked at George. “Do you know exactly where they are?”
George was off to help the newly freed people the best he could. He told Terri they should arrange transportation out of the woods.
“They are released from the evil. They are free,” Terri told him. “That is our only obligation. I concern myself only with their souls.”
“We are not just souls.”
“That is all that matters.” Terri glared.
He backed off and called Elderage’s office. “Check with Mr. Elderage if you have to. He’ll approve it. We need three buses on this location, an office or center or something set up with a data bank to help these people get back to their lives. More than fifty. They have to have some kind of counseling and maybe financial and legal assistance. I don’t know, maybe rent a motel or something. These people may need a place to live!”
“It’ll take a couple of days,” the voice said.
“Make it less than a hour.” He banged away on the other telephone and addressed Sally. “Tell Elderage to call the office and approve everything I say.” Back into the receiver, Potter said: “Pick up the other phone.”
Potter found Arianna. “Buses are on the way. Should have a full center set up and operational by this afternoon.”
She stepped over the charred and broken glass of the front door. “See if you can get the P.A. working. These people have to be moved away from the building as soon as possible.” She nodded toward Terri, Terri sitting cross-legged twenty yards off the front door. “Cat told me to shut her down. I don’t think I can.”
Arianna went for the easy answer. “The person Mr. Elderage works for.” She looked hard at George. “Get the people away. I’m going to talk to Terri.”
Arianna dropped next to Terri as Stevens moved close, unnerving her a little. “The building is not evil. There’s no reason.”
Terri stared off into the sky. “You did not see what happened to she-who-is-like-God in there. It is evil. It is dark. It is corrupt. I will cleanse this place in her name.”
“In all you know about Makaila, do you know of her destroying anything?”
Terri leaned back with narrow eyes. “You dare to tell me about she-who-is-like-God after you have witnessed what I have done? She guides my hand. My will is her will!”
“She calls us now to be with her. We should leave right away.”
“That is not my vision. Through my vision, she speaks differently. We finish her work here and then we go to town, back to the house and cleanse the darkness. As I have done her will here, I will travel and do her will everywhere, until the face of this Earth is fit for her light and her beauty. See, Saint Arianna, you got it wrong. She is not to come to make the world as it should be. We are here to make the world as it should be and then she will come.”
Where’s a flaming throne spinning in the sky when you need one?
“I’m called to go to her. George and I will be leaving soon.”
“You must do what you must do. I must do what I must do.” Terri nodded to Stevens. He bent, taking Arianna under the arm, dragging her away.
Arianna pleaded her case to Larry. His eyes sparked. “I’ve seen the power and glory. I will follow Terri and you should, too.”
Arianna felt strangely at risk, anxious to leave.
Pulling George by the arm, Arianna left on the third and final bus, sure everyone else out of harm’s way. “I don’t believe the building, or the place or even the people are evil. What do you think?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. “About a lifetime ago, someone else’s lifetime, when I was back in school, there were different groups of kids. We had Preps, Mods, Heads, Flash, God’s Children, and Freaks.” She looked into the air as if counting. “Oh, yeah, we had Agers and Gays, too. Bet you can’t guess which I was in?” Again, she didn’t wait for an answer. “Well, there was like an unspoken war going on for members and to be a member, like who was going to rule.”
“I didn’t go to a normal school, but I can see what you’re saying.”
“I wonder. Do you think if, say the Mods, the fashion police, could enforce their opinion and make everyone dress and act the way they did, would they?”
“I’m sure with peer pressure they did just that.”
“Well, yeah, but that’s not what I mean. Suppose they had a magic wand and could wave it and make it happen? Do you think they’d wave the magic wand?”
“Sure, no doubt.”
“How ‘bout the Heads? If they had a magic power and could make everyone like drugs like they do, would they do it? Further, if the magic didn’t work on a few people and they had a place to lock those people up, would they do it?
“Would the Mods lock them away if they could?”
“What’s your point?”
Arianna took a deep breath. “We have become them. I keep thinking we always were. I keep thinking of those dead people in the hall, looking like overcooked hamburgers, just because they believed what they believed.” She stared out the window. “I stood behind Makaila and said: kill him and meant it. She didn’t. I wish forever in my heart I could take those words back.”
“Terri gave him a chance. It was really his choice.”
“Was it really, really a chance. Did he really, really understand what she could do? Or, did she just throw a token out? Did he really understand the choice?”
“I want to make us, her, right. You’re right. Harshaw broke the law and used keeping the law as his justification. You’re right, you’ve become them.”
“We’ve always been them. In a world where one group is wrong, no group is right. There is really, really no right and there is no wrong. People have a right to do what they do. I see clearly now how no action can be wrong, yet no action isn’t right, either. I see clearly each action plays against other actions, maybe even creating them.
“Those guys running the show back there got exactly what they were asking for. Yet, Terri delivered it. For that, she’ll get exactly what she’s asking for. Terri is the instrument of her own destruction simply because she’s stepped up to be the instrument of the destruction of others. It’s a beast that consumes itself.”
Arianna snuggled into Potter’s shoulder. “I want to be the instrument of love, love like you and Makaila have. A love that looks and says: I have no right. George, what do you ask of me. What do you demand of me?”
“Eh. Um, nothing.”
“That’s the love I want to be an instrument of.”
“Then be that.”
Elderage’s ability to get things done once again impressed Potter.
“We must get to Cat, but we have to see these people are taken care of.”
Potter handed Arianna a cup of coffee, waving his hand over the large room. “Didn’t I tell you? For my money, Elderage is like God.”
She closed her eyes, sipping the rich coffee. “I sat on a mountain, in a place not a place and had the best coffee I ever had.” She smiled softly. “This is even better and it’s not the coffee. It’s that this is a place that is a place. Eating the apple wasn’t a mistake. Eve planned it. Somehow she knew it was the only way to really, really have life.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “I watched Makaila cry because she was sad for God. I really, really understand that now. We gotta get to Pittsburgh. I want to hug the life out of Cat and tell her I understand.”
“Potter,” a voice called. “You gotta see this.”
Potter and Arianna hurried into a conference room. The television suspended from the ceiling shouted a special report. “Isn’t that – ”
“Yes.” Potter crossed his arms over his chest.
“It’s the beginning of the end of all things.” Arianna’s words came a breathless whisper. “Cat, what have you done?”
The dancing camera of the news helicopter showed an immense fire in a hole whose size defied comprehension on the small screen.
“– suspects illegally stored toxic chemicals to cause a blast of this magnitude. A limited state of emergency has already been declared, but there is no official report –” the voiceover was saying.
“The hand that can heal can also do the opposite.” Potter moaned. “Something Stevens said. God help us all.”
Arianna closed her eyes. “I can’t stop her and she’s not going to stop. We gotta cut the power off. We gotta get to Pittsburgh.”
If we can’t send Cat back to where she came from, we’ll have to kill her. She glanced at the television again. We’ll have to.
“George, get us a fast ride, even if you have to steal it.”
“Keys!” he called out and got his choice.
“Blue Chevy.” The keys flew through the air.
With a finger toward the ceiling as thanks, Potter and Arianna disappeared out the door.
Jill suggested to Mike they cancel their magic shows so he could spend time with the many volumes Megan inherited and gathered. “We’ll add two shows,” Mike told her. “Maybe three. Life will go on or it won’t. Either way, my love, this is our life and no matter what tomorrow brings, it’s life I want to live today.”
Jill didn’t understand what Makaila did to her under the dining tent, but in her new understanding, she knew exactly what Mike meant. Tomorrow would come and it would come as it comes. However the new day does come, it has no effect on the present moment. Mike took the news of her pregnancy much better than she thought he would.
Following the, that can’t be, he said: “That little witch! Of course, I never wanted to be a father and decided that long ago. When you came along and gave to me the love I’d never known, that gift was plenty, more than any man could ask for. I never revisited my decision because there was no sense to it.”
He smiled off to the distance. “Makaila knew.”
“What if I told you that you’re not the father.”
Mike laughed. “I know I’m not. I don’t care what harebrained, wild tale Catrina told you. I am the father. Catrina doesn’t understand what being a father really means.”
Jill took his hand. “You’re really not.”
Mike laughed again. “Yeah, right. Makaila’s the father. Sure.”
“That’s not what Catrina meant.”
“That’s exactly what Catrina meant, though I’m sure she put it a much different way. This child is born into creation by our love, though Makaila might be the catalyst, our love, we, are the parents. That’s where Cat misses the point. She misses what we are. She can only understand by the way she understands herself.”
Jill nodded. “So, you don’t really believe she’s who, or what, she says she is?”
“Nope. I believe she’s exactly who and what she says she is. Actually, deep in the core of it all, I believe she’s the chick Megan speaks of in that creation story, whatever the real details might be.”
“How can she be God and not know, then?”
“See, there’s the whole point. We’ve created God in our image, not the other way around. It’s a scary idea to think maybe God’s more like an imp than an old guy who knows everything and has some great plan for us. Over the millennia, we’ve created an image to watch over us.”
Catrina didn’t give up easily, but she did give up trying to make sense from Megan’s volumes. She found too much chaff and little wheat. She didn’t have the practical experience to separate the myth from the wisdom. “You’re looking in the wrong direction,” Megan told her. “The wisdom is the myth. The wisdom dances beyond the words and that is where the answers lay.”
“I just don’t have the eyes to see it.”
“How could you? It has taken us thousands of years to learn to use these eyes. You give yourself a few hours.”
Catrina’s lower lip stuck out. “Much as I hate it, I guess it’s in your hands.”
Megan smiled. “It always has been, no?”
Catrina didn’t like the idea at all. She didn’t like the flesh she was trapped in, she didn’t like the limit of her vision, she didn’t like the emotions the chemicals shot through her brain, she didn’t like being a human being and most of all, she didn’t like fate in the hands of mortals.
How can they exist like this?
The concept of place and linear time confused her. She was used to seeing all things in one big picture and now she looked through a pinhole. She understood mortals weren’t stupid. Mortals simply saw with narrow, limited vision. However, she realized, for all her vision, when it came to where she was trapped, she was blind and always had been.
“Go,” Megan told her. “Walk among that which you have created and enjoy yourself. You can do nothing here. It is our work to do.”
Catrina didn’t like being dismissed, not one bit. She, maybe for the first time since creation, did as she was told.
The final day of the carnival brought a good crowd by mid morning. Megan, not sharing Mike’s view, didn’t open her tent for the final day, choosing to spend time reviewing the books.
After repeating, this is nonsense, a dozen times and receiving just as many glares from Sally, Elderage settled in, doing what Catrina couldn’t. Megan, Sally, Elderage, with Mike and Jill in and out, poured over the volumes. They didn’t talk much, having decided to take in as much as they could and then argue as long as it took to come up with an answer.
Catrina stared, almost in a trance, at a vendor spinning cotton candy. “Paul.” A familiar voice came from behind. “Give my friend here some of that, would you?”
He nodded. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks.” Makaila had a mouthful of corndog. “You really ought to try one of these things, too, before I kick your sorry butt back to the mountain.”
“Hi, Makaila,” Cat said casually. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Don’t be so quick to say that. You’re on my turf now.”
Catrina let the cotton candy melt in her mouth. “This is good and it’s not just the taste. It’s not really, really your turf. It’s theirs.” She motioned with a sweep of a hand.
Makaila forced the last of her early lunch into her mouth, narrowing her eyes. “Yeah. It’s the feeling, too. The way it melts and bursts in your mouth.” She mimicked Cat’s hand motion. “This is my place. These are my people, and you got no business fooling with it.”
Catrina shot her a hard look. “There’s something I never told you –”
“Yeah, sure. We’re sisters. So what? I stand by what I just said. I don’t really care how you see it.”
Cat’s eyes got big. “How’d you know?”
“I woke up.”
“So you understand this is not your place.” She hesitated. “You understand the whole deal?”
“I understand nothing of the kind. This is my place. It’s not your place.”
Catrina shook her head, holding Makaila’s eyes. “Understand this: you can never be one of them.”
“Understand this!” Makaila grabbed Cat’s wrist with one hand and round-housed her other arm, slamming her palm into Cat’s forehand. “I am one of them!” With a firm hold on Cat, Cat couldn’t stagger back. Makaila repeated the action, dropping Cat painfully to her knees. “I am one of them!” Makaila raised her hand one more time at the tearful face. “Say it! Know it or I’ll keep pounding until it’s in that thick skull of yours!”
Makaila dropped to her knees and took Cat’s face in her hands, kissing her deeply on the lips. “My sister, my God, know that I love you in a way no other mortal could. Know this. However, know I am mortal. I am like you. I am not you. You are my half sister, not my sister.”
Cat nodded, sobbing. “I understand and Makaila, know I have always loved you, more than I love myself.”
“I have known this. I really have. It’s just I didn’t understand it.”
“And, this is why you can’t stay. This is why you must come back with me. This hasn’t worked out like we planned. We must try again.”
“Not a chance.”
“If you stay, you die.”
Makaila wiped Cat’s tears with her thumbs. “Exactly, Cat. That’s what we mortals do. This is what you don’t, can’t, get. You have existence, but we have life. This is what I’ve come to understand. There’s a difference. Life is about birth, as I had birth, a start in this place brought by pain. Our price for knowing life. And, life is about death, the cost of life paid in full. Life is about not knowing what comes next. It’s about wondering, being confused, finding our way. Life is about loving with strings, a love that asks for, demands and offers. This is all that makes us who we are.”
Makaila smiled. “I told you not so long ago: you’ve been on the mountain too long. Boy, was I right. You have no way of understanding any of this.” Makaila stood, pulling Catrina to her feet. “See? I help you up, something you didn’t think to do for me. You’re just going to have to have faith in me, Makaila, she-who-is-like-God, because it’s beyond your ability to understand.”
Catrina nodded to the ground. “You really don’t understand, but you will. Take me home?”
“Thy will be done!” Makaila put her hands to either side of her sister’s head. “See you on the other side.” Makaila closed her eyes and shifted her consciousness to the dream and as she did with healing, became Cat and switched temporal with dream stuff. She opened her eyes. Much to her confusion, Cat was still before her.
“Damn! I’ve been thinking about this. I thought that’s all it would take.”
Cat held Makaila’s eyes. “They’re working on it. The witch and the others.”
“Sounds like time for another corndog, then.”
“If you’re quite done for the moment.” A voice came from behind Makaila. “I could really use a hug.” Judy giggled, tears in her eyes, draping herself on Makaila. “God, I missed you.”
Tears found Makaila’s eyes. She hugged Judy back, trying to consume her. “I got no words. I got no words.”
“Never leave again?”
“’Til death do us part, if you’re willing. I thought about this for a long time, too.” Makaila leaned back slightly to make sure Cat could hear. “Listen up. Witness what you can never understand. At least, see what it means to be a human being.”
She turned back to Judy and took her face in her hands. “If you’re willing.”
Judy blinked hard into the words. “Is that a proposal?”
“Yeah, kinda sorta! Don’t make me smack you in the forehead, too!”
“Oh, God, yes! I’m willing!”
“What is this I’m feeling, Makaila. What is this that makes me want to strike out at you, to kill Judy?”
Judy laughed. “You’re really a disappointment for a god, you know, Catrina.”
Catrina winked at Judy a second time. “If you only knew.”
“Catrina?” Makaila asked, having heard the name for the first time. “Judy, the only way we can be disappointed by God, or anything else, is to expect what they don’t have to, or willing to, give.”
Judy smiled at the sisters. “Isn’t that the point, though? It’s one of the things that makes us who we are.”
Catrina nodded. “Don’t even think of hitting me in the forehead again, Makaila. I fully understand what’s me here. It’s the darkness I do not understand. What separates me from this place. It is a part of me, here, but it is not of me.”
Makaila and Catrina clenched their fists and gritted their teeth. Their faces distorted and they screamed, falling to their knees. Groping, as if blind, they found each other, held on and screamed again.
Drawing deep breaths, Cat finally asked: “What the hell was that?”
Makaila rolled her eyes up in her head. “Big trouble.” The sky was darker and the air thicker, but vaguely. Most people wouldn’t have noticed. “A shift in the balance? Where’s the witch?”
“Terri?” Cat asked.
“Yeah, I think.” Makaila shook her head hard, trying to clear her thoughts. “She did a healing and somehow tapped into me. I think she’s tapped into you, now.” Makaila pulled Cat to her feet. “I gotta go stop her.” She turned to Judy. “Mark this spot. We’ll pick it up when I get back.”
Catrina grabbed her arm. “No. It’s my mess. I’ll go.”
“You two are really, really disappointing for gods. All we have to do is send you out of this reality, Catrina, beyond this Terri’s reach.”
“We must first find the way to do that.” Megan approached with a book held to her chest. “We can find no clear path, no magic for doing this.” She nodded to Makaila. “I feel better now that you are here. I feel you have the key, somehow.”
Megan’s eyes burned into Makaila. “You are correct. Feel the air? There is a shift in the balance of all things. It shall get worse, with or without the actions of this one who acts. The dark shall become the light and the light shall become the dark. This one who acts as she cannot, simply makes this happen more quickly. If you look, this is clear.”
“What’s that mean?” Judy didn’t really want to hear the answer.
The silence was the answer.
“Is there a reason we’re all having a meeting in the middle of a crowd?” Elderage ask, Sally coming up to his side. He smiled. “You must be Makaila. The resemblance is uncanny.”
“Yeah, the one and only. Mr. Elderage? You sound just like you did on the phone.”
He addressed everyone. “Siegel just took off out of here like Satan Himself was on her tail. Said something about the real story of the century.” He snickered. “I still say the story’s here. What’s an explosion and fire compared to God putting her feet on the soil, you know.”
“Earth to Mr. Elderage. Come on in and cash in your reality check. It’s the same story.” Makaila winked at him.
He rolled his eyes. “Catrina! What have you done now?”
She sighed. “More of the same, it looks like. The witch has a better clue than I have. I just want to go home.”
“Did you try clicking your heels three times?” Elderage asked, lacking a better suggestion. “Come on, Makaila. You’re the miracle worker. Get to miracle-ing. And, Catrina, you’re the deity-in-residence. Can’t you get Jacob to drop a ladder or something deity-like? Megan, why don’t you do some witchy stuff, eye of newt, wave a broom around?”
He felt a hand come up the back of his head. “Learned that from Jill and I think I like it. Larry, let’s get serious,” Sally told him.
He mockingly rubbed his scalp. “I am serious! I’m out of my element here. I’m going to find Jo, someone I understand, have my last supper and await the End Time.”
“Jo here and okay?” Makaila asked.
“Damn mortals!” Cat gnashed her teeth. “We may not be here to see tomorrow and you worry about one person?”
“It’s what we do, Cat. Get over it!” Makaila shot back.
“Yes, she’s here. And, it is what we are, Catrina.” Judy narrowed her eyes watching Mike performing the final trick of his set. She nodded, wrestling the book from Megan, flipping through the pages.
“Mike’s right. Tomorrow will come as it does.” She held the open page to Megan. “Madam Dandelion, Megan the witch, I humbly and with full knowledge ask you now: will you do me and Makaila the service of performing this sacred rite, today? I want my promise to be on God’s ledger.”
Megan eyed the hand-scribed words. “This is your wish, too, Makaila, she-who-is-like-God?”
“What?” Makaila asked, standing on her toes to see the pages.
“’Til death do we part, made official before God.”
“Don’t drag me into this,” Cat insisted. “You play a fiddle while Rome burns?”
Megan smiled. “Maybe we like the music.”
“You bet, Judy! You bet, Megan the witch!”
“So mote it be, then.” Megan bowed. “After we close, after the sun gives way to night we will gather as we do, share stories, celebrate your handfasting and feast.”
“I’m staying with the books.” Elderage shook his head.
“As am I,” Megan agreed.
Josephine wandered into the circle among the crowd, hamburger in one hand and an open book in the other. “How come my money’s no good around here?”
“Our nature,” Megan answered.
Josephine shrugged, not looking up from the book. “I think I found it.” She glanced around the gathered faces. “Oh, hello Makaila. How are you?”
“Out with it!” Elderage insisted.
“Don’t get you’re shorts in a bunch, Larry. No matter what we face, we can still be civil.” Back to Makaila, she asked again: “How are you?”
Makaila smiled. “In this moment, life has never been better. Sorry about knocking you out.”
“Apology accepted as offered. I want to ask you something very important to me, but in a bit. Let me do this first. You’ve all been looking for the wrong thing. You’ve been looking for steps to send someone to a place that is not a place to a time not a time. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Megan watched Josephine carefully.
“Well, I don’t get that at all, in details, but I do understand the concept. I can’t even imagine this place that isn’t. That’s the key. No human being can. Human beings wrote these words. You ain’t going to find it.
“So here’s the deal. My great granddaddy was a Voodoo priest. I never met him, but my grandfather had many a story to jaw at anyone who’d listen. He also had a book that read much like this one and the other books here.” She turned to Megan. “You’ve never been taught or trained by anyone? You are not really of direct lineage?”
“No, I have not. I only had one teacher of direct lineage for some months, but I do show the Mark.”
Josephine waved her off with a half-hamburger. “I’m not challenging your right to be you or telling you to validate it. All that don’t matter. Here’s what I got. My granddaddy showed me stuff in the book. He told me it didn’t matter if I memorized stuff or not. It wouldn’t work for me.”
“Because you do not show the Mark?”
“No. Wrong answer. In my great granddaddy’s tradition, when they wrote stuff down it was like in shorthand. They left keys out that would be passed down in an oral tradition. This protected the wisdom from those who might misuse it or so that was their rule.”
“So it’s not in my books?”
“No. It is here. It’s transitory in this healing nonsense.”
“Of course.” Makaila’s eye went wide.
“I do not follow at all.” Megan’s eyes stayed on Josephine.
“We gotta interpolate it?” Elderage asked. “Now why didn’t I see that?”
“I told you: you were looking for the wrong thing.”
“That’s assuming all the keys are among the writings,” Elderage pointed out.
“You’re a lawyer?” Josephine asked. “How the hell did you ever pass the bar? There are no keys, magic words, wands or mumbo-jumbo like that. It’s just a process, like baking a cake or putting a bike together.”
Elderage laughed at her wit and sarcasm. “I can’t do either!”
“Now, you’re the odd-man out. You can’t do this. Now, you can say it, Megan.”
Megan smiled subtly, narrowing her eyes at Elderage. “Because you do not show the Mark.”
“Whatever that is!”
Back in Megan’s tent, Josephine presented her theory again to Elderage, Sally, Megan, Mike and Jill. They jumped into a process of rifling through the books, each in turn reading aloud any passage close to being relevant. Megan sat, her eyes closed, internalizing everything, inferring what might be missing, connecting dots and looking for a bigger picture.
Makaila bubbled. “These moments are ours.” She addressed Catrina and Judy. “When I first came to this carny, I was an innocent child. For now, I want to be that again. My gift to you both. Let’s ride all the rides, taste all the food and laugh with all the people.”
For the next two hours, they did just that.
“I don’t understand,” Cat told Makaila.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” She snuggled into Judy.
“I mean: you play as if tomorrow doesn’t matter. This linear time thing is like in my face all the time, nagging at me.”
“It’s the risk,” Judy told her. “The fact we will lose all things is what makes all things important.”
“But, without linear time –”
“There would be no life.” Makaila danced on her toes and spun in circles.
“I want to go home,” Catrina stated to no one in particular.
“And, Larry Elderage wants to go fishing. Me and Makaila just want to be where we are.” Judy took Makaila’s hand. “Here and now with each other.”
“Yeah, ‘til death do you part.”
“That’s what makes it so important. This moment and the one after and one after that and so on until we run out of moments.”
Out of the crowd, Arianna slammed into Catrina with a breath-stealing hug. “I understand, Cat. I really understand!”
“Hey, gang.” A tall, dark-haired man stepped up, tossing a teddy bear at Makaila. “I think you lost this?”
“When you get done strangling Catrina, give the glad hand to my best bud, Judy. This? This isn’t mine.”
“Looks like Arianna’s going to hang on for a while.” He nodded to Judy with a warm smile. “Hello, I’m George.”
“Oh! You’re like Mr. Elderage’s guy!” Makaila smiled. “Duh, I should have known.”
“Well, change of ownership. I’m Arianna’s guy now.”
“Good.” Makaila nodded twice. “I’m glad you guys found a way.”
Arianna turned from Cat. “I learned so much from you!” she told Makaila.
“Don’t be laying that off on me, either. What’s with this bear? Isn’t it Larry’s?”
“It’s a hiding place.”
George took the bear, fished in its back producing a small purse. He handed the bag to Makaila. “We thought you might want this.”
She accepted the purse, sat straight to the ground and cried like a child. Judy knelt to her.
Potter looked at Arianna. “Or maybe not?”
“God! It comes around! It comes around!” Makaila put a hand to Judy’s face. “I’m so sorry! I love you so much!” She looked up at her sister. “I’ll go with you. I have no choice!” She looked to the ground, between her legs. “I don’t deserve to be here.” The tears came again.
Judy looked to Arianna and then George. He shrugged. “Her brother flipped out when he saw it.”
“He said it was her vindication,” Arianna added.
“Vindication?” Judy asked. “Vindication! The story untold, Makaila?” Judy shook her. “Is that it?”
Cat looked hard at Judy. “If you don’t hit her, I will.” She held her head high. “Makaila, she-who-is-like-God, I told you before, you are one of the purest souls to ever take flesh. I thought I knew it then, but I really know it now.”
“No doubt in my mind,” Arianna agreed.
“Nor mine,” Judy voted.
“You all just don’t know. You don’t know.”
Judy held Makaila’s face up, taking her eyes. “Then tell me. Change my mind. I promised until death do we part and that stands. Nothing you can say will change my mind – nothing. I believe I told you one time: what we deny we give power to. You have held this to yourself much too long already.”
Makaila blinked back her tears. “I will – I will.” She looked up at the faces. “I’ll tell everyone. I’ll let everyone be my judge.”
Catrina laughed. “Better them than me!”
Arianna reached over and smacked Catrina hard across the side of the face. Arianna giggled. “Sorry, I wanted to see if my arms were long enough to box with God.” She knelt to Makaila. “I’m with Judy. There’s nothing you can say to diminish my love for you. Nothing.”
“Makaila, listen carefully.” Catrina looked over the fairgrounds. “I have my own story to tell about the story you tell.”
Makaila left her friends, sitting alone in the nearby field. Her body sat motionless. In the dream, she drank coffee, danced in a field of flowers, cooled herself in the brisk water of a lake and rowed the canoe.
She let reality fall away, seeing how easy she could just let go the tether between her dream and the body defining her in the temporal world, leaving the body to fall lifeless to the earth that birthed it.
“Now why can’t Cat do just that?”
She doesn’t have a tether, a rope between here and there?
“Yeah, that’s got to be the answer.”
With quiet thought, Makaila saw clearly what Cat had done. Cat was not born to that place, but manifested flesh. Cat manifested flesh to fill the space she stole Makaila from. “Kidnapped me.”
“‘Cause if you died in flesh without being here, you’d be gone for like-ever.”
Makaila didn’t jump at the voice, a child sitting next to her on the cabin’s porch.
“No! I don’t think. I know.”
Makaila rolled her eyes into her head, racing over her memory streams. “Sharon, right?”
“Yeah. That’s the name, don’t wear it out.”
“So if Cat dies in her body, she’d better be here, too?”
“Nope! Don’t work that way. Catrina has all her stuff right there. Gone is gone.”
“She risked that for me?”
“Kinda sorta. It’d be cool to say she so loved her sister that she risked all for her, but it just wasn’t that way. She screwed up. She didn’t think she’d get stuck there.”
“Yeah, like big time. Catrina’s not supposed to fool ‘round like that.”
Makaila nodded. “I don’t know how to take Cat or what to really make of her.”
“Then don’t. Catrina is Catrina.”
“Why are you here, now?”
“To talk to you? I don’t know. I don’t think Catrina can be here so here I am.”
“You were here before when Cat was here.”
“That was different. We had to wait for a balance to happen.”
“Wait for what?”
She looked toward the sky, biting her lip. “I don’t have words for it, but you know.”
“I don’t know. I’m dumb today.”
“Oh, you know! Like the butterflies! In the center of all that, passed what it is!”
“Yeah, there’s no words there. I’ve tried myself. I guess I understand.”
“No! There is no understand! You keep doing that and doing that and doing that. Understanding’s for back there. Here, there just is.”
Makaila looked at Sharon with sad eyes. “What killed you?”
Makaila shivered. “And the others?”
“Which is why you’re only six? You said that, right?”
Sharon giggled. “I can’t believe the memory you got! Yeah, that was me and yeah, that’s why.”
“Where’s the balance come in?”
“It doesn’t, not in words anyway.”
“Yeah, kinda sorta.”
“So the balance is about here, not there?”
“There you go again!”
“Both and neither?”
“No. It can’t be. I won’t accept it.”
“Like, you really, really think you got a choice?”
“Cat said, There is no good and bad, only choices.”
“That’s true for people, not for us.”
“Us? Back the truck up. I am not like you.”
“In some ways you are.”
“In other ways, I’m not. It’s those ways I’ll cling to.”
“There you go doing it – again!”
Makaila laughed. “Go away. It’s you that don’t get it. I’ve gained more understanding and more wisdom from the worst of us, than I have from any of you.” Makaila brought her awareness from the dream, knowing in her heart she would never return. Her eyes danced over the carnival and found Mike on stage finishing his last show.
“Thank You,” she said aloud. “Thank you.”
Makaila sat above the carnival watching the activities below as the day gave way to evening and then night. Now and then, Megan took Catrina off to the far side and waved her hands over the child-god, prayed over the child-god and even once danced around the child-god. Makaila watched with disconnected interest as her inner eye watched the darkness become the light and the light become the darkness.
Soon before the sun gave up its fight against the day and its last hope of holding on, Arianna climbed the hill and dropped next to her newfound friend. “I don’t think Megan’s going to get it.”
“She’s got some pieces missing. How could she not?”
“I was thinking we could just kill her?”
“Just?” Makaila turned toward Arianna. “Just? You don’t just kill anyone.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I know that. I got this picture burned in my brain of dead people in the hall at Hell and it’s eating me alive. And, these are the people that kidnapped me.” She let out a long sigh. “I need something from you.”
“You can have it if I got it.”
“That guy? The one in the woods?”
“The old guy?”
“No, the guy in the store.”
“Bixby. Yeah, what about him?”
“I told you to kill him. I want to take that back. I want you to forgive me for not only saying it, but for thinking it.” Arianna’s brown eyes pleaded.
Makaila watched the last bit of the day’s sun slip away. “It’s not mine to forgive or not forgive.”
“I don’t ask you as my godlet. I’ve seen what this Catrina’s all about, and I don’t care much for this God stuff. She’s got no business fooling in what we do or don’t do. As God, Catrina’s on her own and can just get out my face.
“Makaila, my friend, my companion who led me off the mountain and my fellow human being: it’s you, here in the flesh with me here in the flesh, temporal, with all that carries, I ask. Girl to girl now, right in this moment, please, let me have my words back and forgive me for even thinking it.”
There is nothing to forgive.
“Of course, I forgive you, Arianna.” She put her arm around her. “I forgive not just your words and your thoughts, but your humanity, too.”
“Thank you,” Arianna muttered into Makaila’s shoulder.
“We can’t just kill Catrina, because it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“Oh. Back to the mountain or nothing?”
“Yeah. That’s about it.” Makaila grunted in disgust. “Aren’t we full of ourselves to even think to trump the will of the gods? It was Catrina’s decision to set all this in motion, after all.”
“I don’t agree. We are who we are. Even if she were the creator, which I don’t think she is, but if she were, she has no more right to direct us than your father or my father does.”
“No, she doesn’t.”
Arianna’s eyes narrowed. “You can send her back, can’t you?”
“I’m pretty sure, yeah.”
Arianna was stunned. “Then why the hell am I looking at her?” She pointed to the carnival below, where Megan worked over Catrina.
“I’m not sure the end of all this is such a bad thing.”
“You can’t! You can’t let it end!”
“It’s out of my hands. It will happen all by itself. All I have to do is sit here.”
“Maybe you are more like her than me!”
“How dare you! I didn’t create any of this.”
“Oh, no, Makaila. You’re just as culpable as any of us, but no more than anyone else. Can’t you see that?”
She sighed again. “I’m tired. Everyone’s been pointing at me saying: You are the purest, the best, she-who-is-like-God, and other nonsense like that. I told you in the woods: I just can’t stand that high. I can’t be what you want me to be.”
“Oh, is that it? Oh, how so very selfish of you! Poor little godlet can’t measure up to the expectations, so she’s going to pout and just trash it all. You’ve wanted nothing more but to be just another human being and guess what? That’s all you’ve ever been!
“You’re sitting here whining because you are exactly what you always wanted to be! Like, Makaila, have yourself a big duh moment, would you! You’re trashing yourself left and right, up and down ‘cause you did something a long time ago and people won’t like you for it! Maybe you really don’t have a clue what we’re all about. Maybe you got your godlet panties on way too tight. Maybe it’s you who expects way too much from you?
“Makaila. I love you in a way that is so deep it makes me want to cry. I see this in Judy, Megan, Mike and even Mr. Elderage and anyone else that looks at you. And Makaila, we ask nothing of you. Nothing. You hang this around your neck, not us.” Arianna stood and glared down at Makaila. “Sit here and feel sorry for yourself if you want. I’ll still love you for it. I’m going to get next to Megan and fight as hard as I can for tomorrow.
“That’s what we human beings do!”
Makaila watched Arianna melt into the thinning crowd.
That’s been the question. Another full circle.
Makaila, as far back as she could remember, asked the question: what does it mean to be a human being? because she never felt like one. She watched the people around her and knew she was not like them.
It seems like everyone has misled me.
Yet, she knew that wasn’t true. She watched Megan and Mike dueling over the nature of things, the universe and humanity.
Which was right? Both and neither?
Being Catrina’s half sister yet born of flesh, in actually, made her an orphan. She had no home.
“I can walk here, but is this really my place? I can walk there, but is that really my place?”
The hillside didn’t answer. She waited for the old man to come walking out of the woods or a voice to boom from the sky.
There is no right and there is no wrong. There’s only choices. To take no action is a choice.
“Could it be that easy?”
Maybe everything is just that easy.
A cold wind blew across her mind. She knew Terri instigated another miracle.
“She did that to me.” Makaila watched Megan shake her head, walking away from Catrina.
Makaila met Catrina’s eyes across the fifty yards. “You forced that on me. I should have never healed Mother’s Light’s mother. You put that in my hand, forcing a choice on me. Why?”
Catrina shrugged, sat to the ground, crossed her legs and watched Makaila.
“My sister, Catrina, if you bring the light of the mountain here, here won’t be here any more. Didn’t you understand that? In that moment of honesty, you told me there was lots you didn’t know. I see that now.”
Makaila pointed a finger across the distance. “The works are gummed up. You gummed them up.” She sighed, found her feet and crossed to her sister. “Stand, Catrina.”
Catrina faced Makaila. “I don’t like not knowing what’s to come next.” She smiled weakly.
Makaila took Catrina’s face in her hands and kissed her deeply. “I regret what I must do, my sister. Travel well.” Makaila put a hand to Catrina’s forehead. Catrina crumbled to the ground in a heap.
Mike ran out from nowhere, kneeling to Catrina, looking up at Makaila. “What did you do?”
She looked off to the east. “I’m serving up an apple pie. A big one.” She put a hand on Mike’s head. “Close the carny and let’s have a party.”
He blinked up at her. “You don’t mean a Last Supper, do you?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Jesus had a Last Supper with all his friends before he was arrested and taken away to his death. He foresaw it.”
“The Christmas guy? Oh, yeah. Maybe, but it’s not my Supper.”
Makaila found Judy in Mike’s trailer. She’d been crying most the afternoon. Makaila sat on the edge of bed, running a hand over Judy’s back. “I’m really, really sorry about all this. You know I’m just a screwy bimbo.”
Judy rolled to her back. “I’ve never asked you to be anything else.”
“Yeah, I know. It gets confusing for me, with all this stuff.”
Judy watched Makaila’s face soften, reminding her of the child she met in an airport a lifetime before. Judy put a hand to her cheek. “Makaila, I know how much you’ve been carrying. I can see it in your eyes. I know how it wears on you. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. You and me are going to be friends until you tell me otherwise.”
Makaila smiled the best she could. “More than friends.”
“Yes, more than friends.”
“I’ve made mistakes though, and –”
“Makaila. I’ve never asked you to be perfect. I’ve never asked you for anything.”
“Yeah. Please just understand. Don’t rag on me. Arianna already told me how stupid I am. If I was a guy, I’d be walking funny. I hate to think what she’d have said if she didn’t like me!”
Megan took her place over the fire and above her friends, more like family. Her dark eyes shown a light but not from the fire’s dancing fingers. “My friends.” She raised arms. “My life began with you and will end with you.”
The final gathering at the end of the run was always a joyous occasion and celebration. Everyone, this gathering, felt weighted, heavy. Megan didn’t bother explaining why. It didn’t matter.
“On this occasion, we have some special things to do.” The gatherings were for sharing and storytelling, but also the celebration of community. Megan would perform weddings, funerals or whatever the spiritual leader was called to do.
Catrina, what would be called Catrina, lie motionless wrapped in white linen on a large oak table below Megan and before the fire.
“It must be oak,” Makaila instructed Mike.
“I looked everywhere. Why oak?”
“I don’t know. It must be. Go to town and get one.” Makaila gave vague directions to the antique shop. “While you’re there, please, tell Roger I said hi and send my thanks along. He’ll know what you’re talking about.”
While she waited for Mike to return, Makaila retrieved a vile of oil from Megan’s tent and stripped her sister. With the passion only a mother could have for her child, Makaila anointed Catrina, singing a song with no words.
Judy knelt across from Makaila, passing the rolled white linen. “Is she dead?”
“She was never alive.” Makaila unfurled the material. “Please, there is no need to help. I must do this.” She wrapped her sister carefully, lovingly, concealing all but her face.
Batman and Mike approached with the table. Makaila stood, running her hands over the wood. “Beautiful. Deep, rich grain.” She addressed the two men. “Please, place my sister on the table and carry it to where the fire will be.” She put a hand to Batman’s face. “Please, watch over her, that she may not be disturbed.”
With Judy by the hand, she followed the table-bearers. She directed the way she wanted the logs to be laid for the pyre. “Megan must light it.”
Batman nodded. “Madam Dandelion will light it.”
“Mike.” Makaila took his hand. “Let’s see how they’re doing.”
Mike led the way into Megan’s tent. Everyone looked up from the books. Mike nodded. “Time’s up. If you’re not ready for your finals by now, you’re not going to be.” He got forced smiles, insisting once more to put the books aside. With Judy’s help, he cleared the table and chairs from the tent.
“Everyone in a circle now.” Judy gave instructions while Makaila entered, sitting to the ground as they moved around.
“I’m too damn old to be sitting like this,” Elderage complained.
Sally winked at George. “Maybe I’ll trade you in on a newer model.”
“I’m sitting already! I’m sitting.”
“We feel we’re close,” Josephine told Makaila. “Just can’t get the details.”
“Doesn’t matter. Forget it.” She nodded to George.
George gave Makaila a look of question and then nodded, digging in his back pocket to retrieve a bloodstained envelope. He leaned forward, passing it over.
“I need something from all of you.” Makaila looked around the circle, starting with Judy at her side and finished with Josephine. “I need your forgiveness.”
“Ridiculous,” Elderage said.
“I’m not sure that’s ours to give, Makaila,” Megan told her.
“For?” Josephine asked.
Makaila smiled lightly. “Mike, Arianna. Which one of you wants to buy them a clue?”
Arianna smiled. Mike laughed aloud. “Indeed! You’re talking about the little thing in the woods? Right?”
“You already did that one, Mike.”
“This time?” Jill said. “Is that all there is this time, you said.”
Mike’s eyes got wide. “You’ve never asked!”
Makaila looked to the ground. “I didn’t know I could.”
“Asked what? Of who? For what?” Elderage babbled.
Sally’s hand came up the back of his head. “Forgiveness for being human. Now, shut up and listen.”
“I’m sitting! I’m shutting!” He rubbed his head.
Makaila’s crystal blue eyes burned into Mike’s. “Ask me.”
Mike blinked hard. “Huh?”
“I remember.” Jill put a hand to Mike’s shoulder. She took Makaila’s anxious, hungry eyes. “Makaila, what did you do?”
“I killed him. I want to tell the story before Mike gives me the rest.”
“The rest?” Mike got Jill’s hand up the back of his head.
“Just listen. Please, Makaila, tell.” Jill nodded.
Megan agreed. “Yes. Please tell us a story, that we may hear it.”
She looked again at all the faces, now hungry for a telling. “Really. This is my confession and this is why we’re all sitting here, now. This is what brought us here to this moment, and nothing else.”
She closed her eyes, bringing Megan’s storytelling to her mind. “In a time that wasn’t a time, in a place that wasn’t a place, where reality played like a shadow on my mind and I didn’t know what a human being was, lest of all I was one, I met a man, or he met me. Alvin Percy was his name.
“He said, as the man said to Audrey, Can you help me out with something? I didn’t hear him well and leaned in. Confused, I was taken into the car before I even knew what happened.”
“Dropping your book?” Josephine asked.
Makaila rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I dropped my book. I didn’t know why it was so easy for him to do all this. I wasn’t really scared. I didn’t understand. I was curious. He had this look in his eyes. A thing I could almost touch. I had kinda seen this before in other people, but didn’t understand it. I kinda think I was thinking this guy could explain it to me.”
“The light,” Megan stated.
“Lust,” Judy retorted.
Makaila tilted her head, rolling her eyes again. “They could be one in the same, maybe even love, too. Depends on if I’m just a girl or a godlet, I guess. Anyway, he took me home and tied me in a chair. He told me we were going to be married, which I really didn’t get at the time and I’m not really, really sure I get it now. He sat in front of me, his eyes running over me, burning hot. He pushed my legs apart and when I pushed them together, he hit me across the face.
“I finally just sat there while he stared up my dress for what seemed like forever rubbing his crotch. While he was doing all that, he told me he loved me and again we’d get married the next day.” She rolled her eyes again. “Oh, yeah. He said we’d have the honeymoon and he’d really love me. Then, he introduced me to his other wives.”
“Six other wives?” Josephine leaned forward.
“Yeah, six. I was lucky seven.” She waved the envelope. “Want me to introduce you?” She pulled a picture free. “God, I was so young!” She casually handed the picture to Judy, the picture of a child tied to a chair. Makaila’s personal information was written on the back with black marker. “Ignore that location. He didn’t get the chance to put me there.”
She pulled out another picture. “This is Sharon Watson. She’s pretty cool.” She held the picture to Judy. “Isn’t she beautiful? You can’t really see it in the Polaroid, though.”
Judy leaned back, her face full of questions.
“Oh, yeah. Mr. Percy only showed me pictures to introduce me. I met them all in the dream, though it wasn’t until recently I made the connection.” She passed another picture. “This is Lisa Rosato. I like her, too.”
Josephine had her own pictures out. “Georgeanne Crane?”
“Yeah, right here.” Makaila handed another picture.
“Yeah, she was old, compared to us other wives, anyway.”
“Oh! Now there’s a beautiful girl! This picture sucks, let me see yours.”
Josephine passed it over.
“God, she makes me look like a bow-wow!”
“One more? Carol Abbot?”
“Yeah, add me and you got his harem.”
Josephine looked squeamish, viewing Makaila’s pictures. “On the back? Is this – ”
“Yep, that’s where he buried them. He liked to visit.”
Judy sobbed. “Why?”
“Well, he killed them.”
Judy laughed from the pain and through the tears asked: “No. Not why did he bury them. Why’d he kill them?”
“He said so we’d never leave him, something about being together forever.”
Josephine twisted her face. “Huh? That makes no sense at all!”
Makaila’s eyes cut across her. “It didn’t to me, either. I thought he was evil. Lots of people talked about bad things and bad people and evil and I just didn’t understand it. I thought this was what they were talking about. I tried to ask him about this, but every time I went to ask something, he hit me. I just listened, hoping I could figure it out from what he said. I couldn’t.”
Arianna stared at the pictures in turn and like Judy, couldn’t hold the tears back, soon to be joined by Jill and Sally. Mike didn’t say a word. He knew if he tried to say anything, he’d be crying to. Elderage shook his head in disbelief.
Megan nodded. “You met these children in the dream?”
“Yeah. Cat had me release them.”
“And, you met others, too?”
“No, just them.”
Megan smiled as if she knew a secret. “What does that tell you?”
Makaila’s eyes got big. “That bitch!” She took a deep breath.
“I’m sick and tired of this inside stuff.” Elderage leaned forward. “What does that tell a dumb slob like me?”
Arianna stared off into space. “The hand that can heal can also destroy.”
“She set me up.”
“Who did what?” Elderage asked, too slow to dodge Sally’s hand.
Makaila straightened her back. “Now, Mike, I do now come before you and confess my sins, that you will forgive me. I didn’t figure I wanted to be tied up, so I made fists when he tied my hands. When he fell asleep, I smashed him in the head, returned the favor and waited for him to wake up. When he did, I asked him all over the map about the evil inside him and when he didn’t answer. I figured I’d just look for it.”
She stared at the floor. “I really, really didn’t understand he’d die.”
Josephine couldn’t help herself. She laughed long and hard. “Oh, Mike, you can be forgiving me, too, while you’re at it. To think of what everyone has said as to the reasons this child.” Josephine pointed with an open hand. “This child cut that poor bastard up like a minced onion and it turns out she just wanted to see what the evil looked like! Oh, how ironic! Oh, how innocent!”
Mike chuckled. “Forgiven. It is funny, in an ironic kinda way.
“It’s tragic.” Arianna blinked tears back. “It’s so tragic.”
“And, maybe that’s the big picture point of it all, Arianna. Life is tragic,” Mike said.
There it is.
“That’s what makes us who we are!” Makaila jumped up and fell back on her knees in front of Mike. “Lay it on me, bud.”
Mike looked toward Jill. She smiled and reached a hand to the child’s forehead. “All that come before me and do confess their sins shall be forgiven. This I say in the Name of He who sent me. Makaila, I have heard your confession and do now bestow Holy Forgiveness upon your soul. This I do in the name of Jesus Christ, Lord, Amen.”
“Oh, yeah. That,” Mike muttered.
“Butterflies,” Arianna told Makaila.
Jill smiled, nodding in agreement.
“Oh, like duh!” She turned to Megan. “I know you guys had like had your noses in the books and before me and Judy get hooked up in the handfasting, there’s something else I need you to do.”
Megan’s eyes danced over the pages in her book one last time as she prepared to do the something else Makaila asked of her.
“Makaila, daughter of man, come forward before us all, now.” Makaila kissed Judy and climbed to her feet. Hands reached out to touch her as she worked her way to the front. Arianna stopped her, kissing her on the cheek with a good luck.
Mike appeared at her side and symbolically helped her onto the raised platform.
“Now ask, child.”
“My friends. I come before you this night, this day, to humbly ask to join you in mind, body and spirit. If it be your will and –” She paused.
“If you deem me worthy,” Megan prompted.
“If you deem me worthy.”
Megan raised her bone-white arms to the night and the stars. “If any of you, for any reason, has objection to this, please state that you object. That is all that is needed. You do not have to explain why.”
Makaila held her breath into a long moment.
“Anyone for any reason,” Megan restated.
Dull thumps came from the back, Bossman banging his hands together, soon to be joined by Batman and then Willy. In minutes, the forty plus people stood, applauding and cheering wildly.
Megan leaned to Makaila’s ear. “They need not voice approval, you know.”
Makaila smiled, tears in her eyes. “Yeah. It didn’t say this in the book.”
“We don’t live in a book.”
Megan calmly waited, smiling. When the approval faded, she asked for objections one last time. Then: “Who sponsors this child to be joined with us?”
“It is my honor to do thus, Madam Dandelion.” Mike called with a surly voice.
“Who shall mother this child among us?”
“It is my honor to do so, Madam Dandelion.” Jill stepped next to Mike and whispered: “So maybe we do kidnap her.”
“Do you both swear before God and this child, that you will do all within your power to love this child?”
“We do,” Mike said.
“Oh, God, yes!” Jill shouted, bouncing on her toes.
“Do we as a tribe, swear before God and this child, that we will do all within our power to love this child?”
Amens, yeses and so mote it be’s came forward. The applause came up again.
“Makaila. Please kneel before me.”
She did, eyes anxiously watching every motion.
Megan dipped her thumb in heated oil and drew a pentagram on Makaila’s forehead. “By the east that is our birth, by the south that is our love, by the west that is our death and by the north that is the spirit realm, I do deem your spirit, the fifth point of the star, one with our spirit, from this moment forward. So mote it be!”
Megan raised a gleaming knife to the sky. “In blood we’re born and in blood we live.” She brought the eight-inch blade across her palm, letting open the slightest wound. Touching the blade to Makaila’s forehead, she let open a matching wound, placing her bleeding palm on the cut. “In blood we are joined. Life to death and death to life!”
Megan guided Makaila to her feet and turned her to face the crowd. She raised her arms. “Makaila, we are one.”
Once again, the applause came up.
“I just love that witch,” Mike said to Jill. “What a show!”
Makaila wiped her face on her sleeves, then clapped with everyone. She looked at the faces smiling and happy and for the first time in her existence, saw her own face looking back.
It worked! She looked over her shoulder to Megan. “It worked! I’m mortal!” She found Judy’s face among the tribe and winked. “Oh, God. I’m mortal!”
Now I can do what must be done.
“Everything’s going to be just fine.” Makaila jumped from the platform as music came up, determined to get a hug from everyone starting with Mike. As the first feast of the night began, Makaila gravitated to her sister’s side.
She put the back of her hand to Catrina’s cheek. “Terri’s a busy little saint, huh?”
“She is,” Megan answered. “Do you have the answer as yet?”
Makaila smiled. “Maybe. We’ll see. We’ll do the handfasting first, just in case I screw up.” Makaila laughed lightly. “Megan the witch, if I don’t have it right, I suspect nothing’s going to matter.”
Makaila looked hard into the fire. “Here’s what I figured, witch.” She stroked Catrina’s cheek. “She came here, manifested here? Whatever, by unearthly? Spiritual? Whatever, means. Her magic is not your magic. She can only go back, be sent back, the way she came.”
“Then you do know the way.”
“No, I don’t. I’m not her. Never was and never will be. Could have been but I just gave that away. I know a way, but not the way.”
Megan blinked hard. Makaila was pleased she could surprise her.
“You didn’t accept our lineage. You claimed your humanity!”
“Yeah, I did just that. Gotta be either a bimbo or a godlet. My mistake’s been trying to be both. This beautiful little god here didn’t help any. I just never got it in my head it was a matter of choice or that I even should make a choice. I not only accepted my mortality, I renounced my godletness.”
“You gave up your light? Your gift?”
“My Mark? Who knows what it really means. I had to, if I’m going to kick Cat’s butt back to the mountain. Don’t you get that?”
“But, you said she had to be sent back with the magic she used, not our magic.”
“I did. It’s a paradox. Her magic doesn’t work here. If it did, she could have wiggled her nose and popped out. She screwed up and got stuck.”
Megan’s eyes got wide. “So her magic can only be used here by someone in the temporal, yet no one in the temporal can understand how to use her magic because our magic is of the temporal.”
“Yeah. You’re catching on.”
“You took flesh to save us.”
“Oh, don’t be making me that Christmas guy again!”
Megan put a hand to Makaila’s face. “I wouldn’t think of it, oh, young mortal.”
“Good, better. How about we do a handfasting?”
“When the energy wanes a little. I so dislike interrupting such joy.”
Megan gave Arianna the simple instructions and sent her among the people with a smoking censer. At the sign of the censer, everyone knew what was to come, not strangers to the ritual.
“The only thing I didn’t like about our handfasting was we could only do it once,” Jill told Mike.
“Yeah. It’s a great show.”
Megan flamboyantly worked her old straw broom up and around in the air, her lips moving and her eyes fixed in concentration.
“Now she really looks like a witch,” Elderage commented to Sally.
“Go ahead and laugh all you want. I think this ceremony is really beautiful. I was reading it earlier. I just might ask Madam Dandelion to do it for us.”
Elderage leaned back, delivering a hard look. “Don’t you think you should ask me first?”
“Larry, you already asked me. Or, did you forget?”
“What was that Fifth Amendment all about again?”
Megan placed the broom toward the front of the platform and retrieved a small sack. With her eyes closed, her lips moved as she sprinkled in a circle.
Mike snickered. “Looks like she’s feeding chickens.”
“Nope.” Makaila came from behind him. “Different wrist action. She’s setting the Circle with salt.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Do you know why?”
Mike raised his eyebrow. “Never really thought about it.”
“That’s because your magic’s lots different.” Makaila shrugged. “Sure, it’s all magic, but magic’s not all the same.” She pointed up to Megan. “Her magic’s done in sacred space. Your magic’s done in the temporal.”
“Sacred space?” Mike scratched his chin, nodding. “Does that mean what I think it means.”
“Yeah, it does. In a time that’s not a time, in a place that’s not a place.”
“We mere mortals are pretty stupid, huh?”
“No, we are not. Sometimes we just don’t know stuff.”
Megan directed Arianna with the censer around the established circle while ringing a small bell nine times. Everyone quieted, settling to witness. Megan raised her arms and circled clockwise. “I consecrate this circle of intent to the Old Ones. Here may they manifest and bless their children and this union we manifest today.”
She faced to the east and greeted with open palms. “This is a time that is not a time in a place that is not a place on a day that is not a day. I stand at the threshold between the worlds, before the veil of the mysteries. May the Old Ones help and protect us and bless our intent. The east: the birth of the sun each day, which promises us new starts, new beginnings.”
She turned to the south. “The south: the energy and the will to grow anew and manifest the spiritual growth of love.” Sliding to face the west, she stated: “The west: death and gentle endings. We know, all that we hold, for good or ill, may and will transform, clearing the way on the path of growth and greater understanding.” Megan turned to face the motionless Catrina below her. “The north: reigns all that we cannot see with our eyes, cannot understand with the flesh. This is the realm of the great mystery and all that is unseen.” She smiled. “At least it should be that way.”
With the sweep of her arms, she took in everyone as if gathering them together. “With the four that is the circle, the cross of life, we stand, the fifth element: the spirit of man. We are one, joined. The Circle is set and cast. Let us begin our celebration!
“In the name of the Old Ones, the all that has brought us here to this moment and this purpose, I welcome everyone to Circle and to this rite of handfasting. May our spirits join with the great mystery of all things in perfect love and perfect trust as we witness this mystical manifestation of two becoming one.”
Megan nodded to Makaila and then to Judy. “If you two now wish, come forward and be joined.” Again, Mike symbolically helped Makaila and Judy onto the low platform. With another nod from Megan, Arianna stepped forward and presented a sword to Judy, guiding Judy to the center of the circle. raising the sword. Arianna then presented Makaila with Megan’s broom. Makaila swept the circle as Megan had.
“That looks so natural in your hands, child,” Megan told her. “Makaila sweeps away the clutter of the old ways while Judy cuts the tether to the old ways, both clearing the path for a life together. Forgiving what was, letting go of what was so they may move forward unfettered.”
Arianna took the sword from Judy and placed it forward on the platform, crossing it with the broom from Makaila. Megan brought Judy and Makaila to face each other, placing a hand on each shoulder. Arianna held the book for Megan. “Old Ones, the all that has brought us to this moment and this purpose, we ask now that you always stand close to these two people. We ask that their will, their love and their strength last this lifetime. We ask that in this, these two people stay true to themselves and each other in the promises they proclaim this day.”
Mike and Jill took the platform behind Megan, each holding a tapered lit candle. Arianna gave up the book for a pillar candle and stepped between them. Makaila and Judy accepted the candles from Mike and Jill, placing the flames to Arianna’s candle.
“As your spirits burn a light unto themselves, we ask that the two become one in this handfasting, this union and this sacred candle.”
Back facing each other, Megan joined their hands crossed over, hands to wrists. She nodded to Judy and with prompting, Judy proclaimed: “In the light of this sacred Circle in perfect love and perfect trust, and before these witnesses, I, Judy, take you, Makaila, to be one in spirit, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do we part. This is my solemn vow.”
Makaila followed. “In the light of this sacred Circle in perfect love and perfect trust, and before these witnesses I, Makaila, take you, Judy, to be one in spirit, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do we part. This is my solemn vow.”
Megan coiled their joined hands with the drape cord and placed her hand on top. “Now that Judy and Makaila have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the fasting of hands, I pronounce that they are joined in spirit, handfasted from this moment. Those joined together within this sacred Circle, let no one put asunder!”
Megan closed her eyes and smiled. “By this act, through this ritual and by this cord, Judy and Makaila are forever tethered together, linked forever and forever. In the light of the perfect love and perfect trust of the all that has brought us to this moment and this purpose and everyone present, I now pronounce you joined in spirit!”
They kissed, long and deeply amidst the applause of all.
Megan directed the couple to step over the broom and sword. “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter to the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there is no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two bodies, but there is only one life before you.
“May your days be good and long upon the Earth!”
Makaila felt markedly different with her arm around Judy and Megan’s hand on her shoulder. She watched the happy faces watching her and wondered whether she looked different. The ground under her feet felt different, the night sky above looked different, the touch of Judy felt different and her inner sight was far away.
“We must dismiss the Circle,” Megan said softly.
Makaila leaned back to find her eyes. “Not yet. We’re not done. I got one more thing to do before our new day can start.”
“It is time?”
“Yeah, it’s time.”
Megan announced the second feast of the evening would begin.
“I wonder why pagans aren’t all fat, with all this feasting,” Mike commented to Megan.
She gave him a crooked smile. “Is that what you think we are? Pagans?”
“Well, no. But.” He looked over his shoulder. “I’m glad Jill’s not standing there!”
Makaila went to her sister’s side, once again putting a hand to Catrina’s face. “You taught me so little. You taught me so much. For all you knew, I bet you never guessed it would turn out like this. I think your mistake is you saw me like you. And, you never guessed I could do this to you. I did warn you, didn’t I? But, that was before you took flesh, no?”
A tear ran down Makaila’s cheek. “I do love you. I will miss you. I believe and I feel in my heart we will all miss you, sitting there over us, doing what you can, what you think is right.” She wiped her tears on her fingers, drawing a cross on her sister’s forehead. “I give you a tear because you don’t have, can’t have your own. My gift to you in this moment.”
“Makaila?” Megan asked from behind.
“What can I do?”
“Keep me alive? Keep me in flesh?”
“You have already guaranteed that.”
“I was throwing you a bone.” She leaned her head on Judy’s shoulder. “Leave me now. Tell Arianna I need her.”
Makaila let herself become aware of all the people gathered around, talking, laughing, dancing and eating. She knew somehow, somewhere in their minds, they felt what was happening. The dark was becoming the light and the light was becoming the dark. “Your magic has no place here,” she told her sister. “Yet another gift I’ll give you as I give this gift to us. We will miss you, but it is well past time for us to grow up.”
Without looking to see her at her shoulder, Makaila said: “Arianna, I need your help. You must come to me in perfect love and perfect trust. You must have perfect faith and do exactly what I tell you.”
Arianna shivered. “I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I have that in me.”
“You can and you do.”
“I’m not sure. Why not Megan or Mike or even Judy?”
“They are not you. They do not know the dark as you have known the dark. They do not know the light as you have known the light. You have in your heart that place of perfect trust like no other spirit I’ve met. You do show the Mark, a Mark that you were not born with but earned. It is this I need.”
“Okay. I’m your man, then. I trust you.”
The party and feast moved on around the fire, a fire reaching high into the night sky, forcing the stars into vagueness. Makaila raised her hands much like Megan had. “I was born a God and I was born a man. My feet have touched the place where no words walk and my feet have felt the cool earth that birthed me.” A wind came up from the north, chilling the air. She closed her eyes. “My sister, my self, I cast you out from this place.”
Makaila dropped her hands to Catrina’s motionless body and found the place where she and her were one. She found the time not a time and the place not a place Catrina created in the brief moment of transitory time. Makaila clenched her teeth and thought herself to a field of flowers on a hill in a place that did not exist. With pure force of will, she tore her spirit body in half, dropping to her knees next to her sister.
She drew a hard breath, putting a hand to Catrina’s forehead. “That wasn’t so hard.”
Catrina’s eyes popped open. She looked up from the flowers. “You can’t!”
“My sister, my self, you know I must.” Makaila put her hands to either side of Catrina’s face and brought up her tether to Judy full in her mind. “What is joined in flesh and spirit will sustain me, but not you.”
Makaila’s body convulsed. She commanded: “Arianna, lift the table and step into the fire with me. Now!”
Makaila smiled lightly at her sister and stroked her cheek. “Goodbye, my sister, my self, my love. I release you now.”
The dream was gone from all realities forever.
A young man dressed only in a white linen robe climbed around yet another fence, worked his way through a sparse grove of trees and into a cornfield. Other than his robe, torn and dirty, he carried in his hand what he owned: the Holy Bible, new Revised Standard Version. For his journey, he fasted, that his stomach might feel the same hunger as his soul. He bowed to a cornstalk.
“I thank you for the gift of food.” He carefully stripped an ear from the stalk. “I’m sorry for the damage to you. Forgive me.” He studied his Bible, the one he now carried, for more than five years. He thought he understood what he read, but what he read did not match what he saw in the world. His faith, somewhere in time, was shaken.
He heard the stories, mostly rumors, of a child, touched by God. Some of the stories said she had spoken to God. Weeks before, the young man decided to give up all he owned and seek this child out, that she may answer the questions of his faith. He didn’t know for certain where to find this child, touched by God. Careful research led him to believe she was in Ohio, hidden away on a farm.
Maybe this farm.
A barn came into sight over the corn.
Beyond the barn, on a rise, a large house stood. He stayed off the roads, choosing to trek the fields, wade the streams and climb the fences.
A child like this will have many around her to keep her safe.
My questions are simple.
The sun was falling away behind him. He thought maybe he should nap the night in the barn and approach the house in the morning. He didn’t think the cows and chickens would mind.
He saw her first, forking dung-laden hay from the stalls. “Don’t run off,” she called as he tried to back away. “I can use some help if I’m ever going to get done here!”
She approached him, putting the pitchfork in his hands. “Just pitch the last two stalls and I’ll drop a couple of bales down.” She scurried up the makeshift ladder.
“I’ve taken a vow,” he called to her.
A bale dropped and broke at his feet. “Not to shovel cow dung? I don’t blame you. I’d take the same vow if there was someone else to do it.” Two more bales dropped, followed by Makaila, landing in the pile of hay. She looked up at him. “That’s why I handed you the fork!” She jumped to her feet, snatching the fork back. “If I can’t slough the job off on you, I can do it.”
“Oh, it’s not that. I vowed to do no unnecessary labors, to only serve God, until my quest is done.”
“The cows think this is pretty necessary.” She handily applied the fork.
“The cows are not God.”
Makaila leaned on the pitchfork. “Well, we never really know for sure, do we? I’m sure you’ve heard: Holy Cow?”
A steady din became a roar as a tractor with a scoop rumbled in, the scoop sliding under Makaila’s manure pile. The driver idled down the engine, looking at the young man. “Hello, nice getup. Bet it sucks in the winter, though.”
The robed man nodded.
“Who’s your friend?”
Makaila shrugged. “Don’t have a clue, George. Some guy who vowed not to fork dung.”
“That’s not what I said. I’m on a quest and made a vow to God not to do any unnecessary labors until I find my answers.”
“Don’t know, Makaila.” George smirked. “I’d be happy just having some good questions. Vow to God, eh?” He throttled the tractor up, lifting the heap. “Good luck finding what you’re looking for!” The tractor backed away.
The young man watched the tractor pull off and then turned back to Makaila. “I heard stories. I seek the one touched by God. Is she here, on this farm?”
“You look really hungry. You can go up the house and see Ma. She loves to feed people. Or, you can hang out. We’re having a community-like dinner today. It’s cool, but I don’t know if God’s going to show or not.” She extended a hand. “I’m Makaila.”
He took her much-too-firm grasp and nodded. “I am No-man.”
“Of course, you are.”
George, on the tractor, waved from just outside the barn door.
“Want a ride?” She ran off and jumped on the running board. “Come on!” She kissed George on the cheek. “Another one looking for God.”
“Oh, aren’t we all, Makaila, aren’t we all?”
“Some of us.” She jumped from the moving tractor and ran toward the front of the house as Sheriff Powers pulled up. “This is too cool! I’m so glad you both could make it!”
“Don’t go nowhere without my new deputy, you know.”
“Yeah! I told you you’d give up that city life. How’s your first month been?”
“An adjustment.” Josephine gave Makaila a sharp nod. “Been kinda slow, but we did get a cat out of a tree.”
Powers put his arm around Makaila. “You do know there is no cat and no tree, right?”
Makaila blushed. “I do now!” She hugged Josephine.
“What you been rolling in?”
“That’s farm stink, Jo,” the sheriff told her. “Two more weeks, you won’t give it any mind.”
“Think I’ll jump in the shower anyway.”
“Who’s this?” Powers narrowed eyes, nodding down the lane toward the barn.
“Just another seeker. Calls himself No-man. He seems all right.”
“Fitting with the sheet he’s wearing. Eastern Indian tradition,” Josephine pointed out. “I’d be glad to tell the story after dinner, if you want.”
“Cool. Give me and Megan a night off.”
“How is the witch?”
“Give a girl a break. I’m off to the showers. You can ask her yourself.” Makaila ran for the house. “We don’t even have the tables out yet,” she told Joseph and Marcy, the pair sitting quietly in the living room.
Joseph looked up from his book, glanced at the grandfather’s clock and then his watch. “Always in such a hurry.” He looked at her over his glasses. “It wouldn’t hurt you to spend some quiet time in the afternoon like you used to do.”
Makaila dropped on a chair, tapped her foot six times and stood again. “How’s that?” She laughed. Makaila liked always having so much to do. “Smells like the bread’s just about done.”
Marcy smiled from her book. “Arianna has that all taken care of.”
It didn’t take long for everyone to discover Makaila was not the one they wanted in the kitchen. She had more talent for eating food than preparing it. Makaila found this a source of personal frustration. She lived her entire life simply being able to watch someone do something and instantly internalizing anything. The talent disappeared.
In a moment nearly a year and half before, she found she couldn’t read the subtle body. This disturbed her greatly and at first, she felt strangely blind, crippled. However, she learned this was a precious gift. Nothing beat the wonderful feeling being surprised with a flower from Judy or a poem. Life, people and moments unfold magically before her eyes and each moment was a source of wonder.
Makaila showered quickly and wiggled into her favorite denim dress. She didn’t know the future for sure, but she knew there’d be dancing come the night. She found Judy where she always sat as the sun went down, on the small hill overlooking the corn, reading to Terri.
Makaila took Terri’s face in her hands. “Crayfish aren’t rocks.” Terri’s soulless eyes stared back.
“I think something happened today.” Judy smiled.
“Watch.” Judy flipped some pages and read: “Is your name Ribsofbeef or Muttonchops or Lacelegs? But, he always replied, ‘That’s not my name!’”
Terri’s head turned, watching Judy.
“See? I think she wants to tell me.” Judy leaned toward Terri. “Help the maiden keep her child, Terri. What’s his name? Rum-pel – “
Terri blinked, her brows coming down a little.
Judy looked at Makaila. “She’s so close.”
“She’ll come back.” Makaila watched out over the corn. “We’ll love her back.”
“Did anyone tell you Larry called today?”
“Sorry, Larry Elderage. He did say he had news, though. He’ll be here tonight.”
“Good news or bad news?”
“You know Larry. If it were bad news, he’d have said.”
“Yeah, generally true.”
Makaila’s brother Larry and Pastor Stevens disappeared off the face of the earth the night Terri collapsed. An intense but short legal battle over possession of Terri followed. Larry Elderage waved his magic wand ending all dispute. The government showed an interest in many areas. Armed with the downloads from Power’s computer Josephine squirreled away and Roger’s copies of Harshaw’s system, Elderage was able to get any interested powers-that-be to backpedal.
“What’s done is done. Just get them to back off and leave everyone alone.” The entire event was so far over the edge, so far from anything even appearing like normal reality, government agencies were looking for a reason to slip everything into a we’ll investigate later file.
Makaila meant to stop by and see Roger to thank him and share a meal, but time always slipped away.
When Elderage’s head stopped spinning and he managed to take a long breath with nothing pressing for his attention, he put his feet up on this desk and told Sally: “Now, I’m going fishing.”
She smiled. “If that’s what you want to do, but you’re wasting you time.”
He looked hard at her. “I have to find out what our next instructions are.”
She smiled again, nodding.
A day later when he returned, he asked Sally: “You knew, didn’t you?” Not only was Catrina not there, he found no cabin, lake, hill or field of flowers, only a housing development.
“Now that that’s out of the way, Larry,” she told him. “And, we’re back from Pittsburgh, and alive, we have a deal.”
He stared out the window. “Yes, we do. I meant every word of it. We’ll just get all this business cleaned up.”
“I mean it. We have to clear this desk.”
“Larry did hint that he had something for Megan to do,” Judy told Makaila.
Makaila’s eyes got big. “Cool! I don’t need my sight to guess what that is!”
Judy nodded with a smile. “I’m so dumb. I wondered why Mike called out of the blue and said he and Jill were coming for a visit.”
“This is going to be a very, very cool night!”
Josephine didn’t understand everything she witnessed. She knew, and came to accept, much was beyond what her eyes conveyed. She watched two young women lift a heavy table as if it were nothing and walk into a blazing fire, moments later to step out unharmed. On the surface, it looked like murder. The act looked like human sacrifice, validating the rumors of the evil cult. Yet, those rumors were founded in the brutal murder of Alvin Percy.
In the case of Alvin Percy, Josephine learned, what sat beyond the eyes neatly explained it all. Makaila had Polaroids to prove it. “She was never alive so how can it be murder?” Makaila asked Josephine.
Given the premise, Josephine accepted the explanation because she knew factors existed beyond her ability to understand. Josephine, as she promised herself so many years before, had the grim task of informing each family.
“I’ll go with you,” Makaila told her. “So that I can speak of the children as I knew them. I’ll go so I may release them.” In these travels, Makaila learned more about human beings and more about herself.
With Josephine by the hand, she made one final stop, to visit her mother and father. She hadn’t thought of the changes the three years brought in her appearance. She was no longer the underweight, skittish child afraid of her own shadow. Though not told in years, Makaila stood tall, strong, a woman forged in the fire of life, confident. She’d been to the mountain and she’d been to the core of death. In the moment as she tapped boldly on the door, she felt good in her flesh like no other time in her life.
When she boarded the airplane with Josephine to be a sad messenger, she didn’t plan or think to see her parents. The broom and the sword saw to that. Yet, as she sat listening to the pain of a child lost, the pain of separation death brought to the six families, she thought of what she saw in the dream.
“I didn’t think I’d lose both my children,” her mother had said to a window. Makaila tapped on the door of the house, no longer her home, to carry a simple message.
“Makaila.” Her mother mouthed the name, scarcely audible.
“Hey, Mom. It’s great to see you.”
“Who is it, Cass?”
Makaila hadn’t considered the time. They were eating dinner.
“It’s me, Dad.
“Mom, I haven’t come to screw up your lives. I didn’t really mean to ruin your dinner. I just stopped by to say something. May I come in, please?”
Ralph appeared behind his wife. “What do you want?”
Josephine pawed her sidearm.
Makaila’s eyes pleaded. “I was in the neighborhood. I’ll be leaving in less than an hour and I don’t think I’ll be back. I wanted to just stop by and say that you are my parents, that I love you for that, that I’m your daughter and you never lost me and never will. Please, let me do this.” She stepped to her mother and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.” She turned to her father. “May I?” She didn’t wait for an answer, kissing him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” she repeated. “Please forgive me.”
“Makaila.“ Catherine began.
Makaila stopped her with a raised palm. “Don’t even try.” She looked at her father. “Just let it go.” She looked in her mother’s eyes. “Just let it go.”
Ten paces off, Josephine turned. “We’ll let you know if we hear anything on Larry.”
At the airport, as Josephine saw Makaila off, Makaila told her: “You won’t stay here.”
“I have no place else to go.”
“You may find a place.”
Josephine did find a place.
Josephine narrowed her eyes, her arms folded across her chest. “Okay, then, pilgrim. What were you called before you were called No-man?”
The young man stared, his eyes sparkling. “What I was before doesn’t matter. When I find God, this quest won’t matter.”
“I ought to plant you in a cell until your prints give me the answer.”
Powers put a gentle hand to her arm. “It doesn’t matter, Jo. He wants to be No-man, he can be No-man. He wants to seek God in his way, he can do that, too. Keep in mind what Makaila says: always be kind to the stranger among you.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Josephine was overprotective and sometimes a bit too cautious. “You’re certainly welcome here. They do up a good party.”
A taxi pulled up, depositing Larry Elderage and Sally.
“Now we got the heavy guns,” Josephine observed. “Someone in big time legal trouble, Larry?”
Larry offered a hand to Powers and a smile with a nod to Josephine. “Larry Elderage, this is Sally, my much better half.”
“Oh,” Josephine said. “You guys got hitched” Congrats!” She helped herself to a suitcase and pushed the bag into No-man’s hands. “Take this to the house.”
Larry smirked. “You can repeat that question in a few hours.”
“We asked Megan to do her witchy thing.” Sally clarified. “Tonight.”
Josephine winked at the sheriff. “Put you’re dancing shoes on. This is great.” She tilted her head toward the retreating back of the man in the robe. “A seeker.”
“Ah.” Larry nodded.
The young man timidly crossed the porch, holding the suitcase in front of him.
“Larry and Sally are here, Ma,” Joseph said over his shoulder from the doorway, carefully eyeing the young man. “I bet you have to pee.”
Marcy giggled. “We all do, now and then.”
“Call me Pops, everyone seems to. This is Ma. Are you hungry? Put the bag over there. Bathroom’s in there. Make yourself to home. Everyone does.”
He did as he was told and as suggested. He did find he had to pee and took time to wash his face and hands.
“Oh, hi.” He was greeted when he found the kitchen. “God must be listening to me today. Would you be so kind as to lift the ham out of the oven? My back’s been acting up lately.”
He obeyed. “I am No-man.” He placed the ham on the table.
“Your parents have a weird sense of humor or did you pick that yourself? They call me Arianna. My parents named me that ‘cause they couldn’t spell yuck!”
“I am No-man because only by becoming a no man can I find what God wants of me.”
With the ham coated with honey glaze, Arianna asked: “Could you pop this back in for me.”
He pointed out the back window. “Who’s the blonde?”
Arianna giggled. Great question. “She’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Unlike you, she’s a natural man.”
“She was born a man?” His eyes almost crossed.
“No, silly. Man like you mean it, not like the gender thing.”
“Oh. A natural man. A pagan? I heard them out front say something about a witchy thing. I think this is not the place I’m seeking.”
“Put this in the sink, please?”
He placed the pot of potatoes in the sink and Arianna reached around him, turning the water on. “You can peel these for me. What kinda witchy thing?”
He fumbled with the knife. “I’m not good at stuff like this.”
“I didn’t follow it. Something a woman named Sally asked for.”
“Sally? Here? Now?”
Arianna ran from the room, through the house and out the front door, not slowing when she slammed into Sally with a full body hug. “Damn, it’s great to see you!”
Larry laughed as Arianna turned on him, ripped at his tie and pulled his jacket off. “You’re out of the city, man. Let’s get with the program. Hi, Jo, Randy. It’s been too, too long! No one told me you were coming, let alone getting handfasted tonight!”
“We wanted it to be a surprise,” Sally said.
“Boy, is it! I have so much to do. Come on, get out of the driveway. I got some coffee on. Turkish, like you like it, Larry. I gotta get back to my new kitchen boy.”
“No-man?” Josephine asked.
“So he says.” She giggled, skipping back to the house.
Huddled around the table, Larry Elderage looked at the faces. “Let me first say, it’s great to see you all again. And, to meet you, whoever you are.” He nodded to the kitchen doorway where No-man stood with a coffee pot, ready to pour. As for getting with the program.” He winked at Arianna. “I have full intention of doing just that. However, I have some business to conduct first.”
Sally flipped open her briefcase and rifled though some papers.
“We got a strange letter last week with some other documents and photographs.” Sally first looked at Makaila and then to Josephine.
Larry reached over and put a hand on Josephine’s arm. “Jo, I remember something you asked Cat a long time ago, and this bears on that.” He looked to Makaila. “We found your brother.”
Sally smiled. “No, we didn’t.”
Larry glanced at her. “Well, no. We have become aware of his location. However, this information puts me in a spot. I learned a long time ago not to withhold information because I thought it was for someone’s own good. I learned I’m just not dandy enough to make decisions for someone else’s life.”
Makaila rolled her eyes up in her head. “Larry, I can’t even guess how that all fits together.
“I’m so glad you can’t do that anymore!”
“I am too, most the time, anyway.”
“It’s a small world.” Larry slid a large envelope across the table to Makaila. “There’s a personal note to you in there. The rest is addressed to me, but it’s really for you. I decided I’d give it all to you. You can decide whom to share what with.”
Makaila pushed the envelope aside and put her elbows on the table, holding Larry’s eyes. “Tell, Larry. I ain’t that grand, either.”
Larry gently shook Josephine’s arm. “The package is from two old friends of ours. We know them as Bixby and Marks.”
Josephine stiffened, her jaw hardened.
“It seems you had a talk with Bixby you never told me about?”
Arianna laughed. “You could say that!”
“Yeah, we had our heads together.”
“You never said anything.” Josephine sat forward.
“We did have other things on our minds, Jo. End Time and all that. Remember?”
“You know what it meant to me.”
“Jo, no. I didn’t. How could I, really?”
Arianna giggled. “Where’s my broom?”
“Anyway,” Sally continued. “It seems this talk was very persuasive. Bixby doesn’t give details, but they left the country, disappeared.”
“I guessed you did the butterfly thing.” Larry speculated.
“Better than butterflies.” Arianna smirked.
“The report there is vague in particulars, but heavy in details,” Sally went on. “I guess they don’t want to take the chance of being found.”
“They may not know Terri effectively gutted the organization,” Arianna put in.
“That’s my guess.” Larry kept Makaila’s eyes. “Here’s the kicker. The mail there was bounced all over the world so it couldn’t be traced, but it’s my best guess it originated in a South American jungle.”
“Yeah, cool, then it’s Bixby and Marks of the jungle now. What’s that got to do with my bro?”
Larry sat back with a smile. “Last year, two evangelists showed up preaching a storm. They had a handful of followers with them and established a ministry.”
“Wait!” Arianna put a palm forward. “Larry and Stevens?”
“Larry Carleton and Steve Stevens.”
Makaila sat with her eyes closed. “Tell me they’re close to the ground. Tell me they’re traditional and not way out wacky End Time is here let’s don our sneakers and ride the space ship.”
“Bixby and Marks are thorough if nothing else. They outline their doctrine completely. Run of the mill stuff.”
Makaila let out a long breath, looking hard at the lawyer. “Thank God. Why did they bother?”
“Bixby explains that in his letter. He felt he owed you and this was the way he could pay you back.”
“It’s a wonderful gift and I accept the gift as given. So, you can say Larry’s okay and we don’t need to worry?”
“Yes. I would say that. It’s all in the report,” Sally said.
Josephine stood up. “South America, huh? I have a promise to keep.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.” Larry moaned. “You going to South America?”
Josephine smiled down at him. “No. I’m going to call the Carleton’s and give them news of their kid. Good news to a family for a change.”
“Now, Larry, you can get with the program and relax, if you have nothing else. I declare you officially on vacation.”
He nodded, smiling at Arianna.
“If everyone will excuse me for a while.” Makaila stood.
In the living room, Makaila asked Judy: “You heard?’
“Yes. I’m pleased for you.”
Makaila dropped to her knees in front of Terri. She looked hard into the vacant eyes. “Terri. Larry’s okay. He’s working hard with people needing his help. Larry is okay.” Makaila tried to force the words into Terri’s head. “I think she heard me.”
“Oh, I think she hears.”
Judy took it upon herself to be the primary caregiver for Terri. With her psychology background, she was the obvious choice. Makaila returned to the others as No-man came to stand above Judy.
“Is this the child I have heard the stories about?”
Judy tilted her head, looking up at him. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“A child, touched by God.”
“I’m still not sure what you mean. We are all children, touched by God. How could it be any other way?”
He twisted his face. “I have heard stories of a particular child, touched by God. God has walked the Earth? He had a particular affinity with a child. Is this that child?”
“Stories are just stories. We will hear a story in a way we wish to hear it. Moreover, we will tell a story, or should tell a story, in a way they will understand it.” She smiled warmly. “If you seek, in the flesh, a child you know from a story.” She nodded toward his Bible. “Any story, you will be disappointed every time.”
“Then this is that child the stories speak of?”
Judy smiled again. “You don’t listen.”
“I will listen.” He sat to the floor on crossed legs with eager eyes. “If you will tell.”
A voice came as a song from behind him. “I will tell.” The words floated in the air like notes from an angel’s harp.
He looked around, gasping at the appearance. He had the impulse to run for the door. He couldn’t take his eyes from her.
“I am Megan the witch, storyteller and wisdom keeper of these people, all people.” She raised her arms. “Into the night, you may join us in celebrations and stories. Tonight, I will tell the story of God and she-who-was-like-God, the child you have misheard the stories of. I will tell the story of the apple and the wonderful gift she has given to us all.”
He clutched his Bible, his mouth moved, no words came out.
“Worry not, child,” Megan assured him. “You have nothing to fear here.”
Makaila was overjoyed to see Mike and Jill again. Their baby looked more like Mike than any other human being on the planet. Jill laughed. “I was sure he was going to look like you.”
“Funny how our genes get all mixed up, huh?” Makaila winked.
When Jill told Makaila the name they chose, Makaila said: “Cool! Michael, Junior!”
“We named him after his father, but not after Mike.”
Makaila laughed until the tears came. She had concerns with the child, the miracle baby. Makaila set the temporal world free, cast out from the place not a place, in a time not a time. She came to understand the temporal world was better off without interference from a world of pure light.
We must find our own way. The light cannot understand what is of the light and the dark.
Makaila closed the door when she became a true human being by fully accepting human love.
She watched the child conceived with magic of the other side and wondered whether he would grow to open the doorway again. She didn’t share her concerns with anyone because she wasn’t sure what it meant. The time to come would tell. She did decide, not that she had to, to stay close to Mike, Jill and their child, Michael. After all, Makaila stood in circle as the sponsor of the child into the world of the flesh, joined with other human beings. She would oversee his education.
The feast and celebration began as the moon found its way across the sea of stars. As tradition held, the dancing started with Timmy and Makaila, setting an almost inhuman intensity. Makaila felt events and happenstance robbed her of something special a long time before. Every chance she got, she returned to the time she promised to dance with Timmy.
“Flesh is good!” She broke from Timmy and accepted Audrey as a partner. Audrey, with her bone healed, was the only one in the entire group who could out-dance her, but Arianna was close.
Makaila finally dragged Larry Elderage into the fray. He declined at first. Makaila insisted dancing was required for the handfasting. Elderage looked like an elephant among butterflies.
And that is just fine. It is more than fine.
The bonfire came up.
“I’m glad I don’t see an oak table,” Josephine moaned. Megan took her place and manifested the best handfasting she ever had.
“It’s lots easier to do ritual when the whole of existence isn’t on the edge.” Makaila took Judy by the hand.
Into the night, as the energies waned, Megan took her place again and raised her snow-white arms to the stars. “If it pleases the gods and my family, I tell the story of us all this night.” She paused to hear the thunder rumble across the horizon, which did not come.
“This is my telling:”
In a time not a time, in a place not a place, lived a child unlike any child we would know. She was a child of pure light. She looked upon her creation with a love that offered nothing and demanded nothing. Yet, it is this love that sustained us.
She took from her own breast a child of herself and mixed this child with dirt. She gave this child as a gift to all the world. Yet, all the world misunderstood the meaning of this gift, as she misunderstood its giving. The child, the gift to us, looked at us and didn’t understand. She looked at her mother, her sister, herself, and didn’t understand.
The child who was pure light came, then, to the world of the flesh to tell us what we didn’t understand, but she could not tell what she did not understand herself. In her mistakes, she almost brought about the destruction of all things.
We are created of her, but we are not her. We are created of the dirt, but we are not dirt. She wanted us to become her, but we could not. It would mean our end. The child, herself, she sent among us, saw what we could not see and saw what her mother, her sister could not see.
This child, who was like God, took to her mouth the fruit of our flesh, accepting this knowledge and casting us not out, but forward, to walk the path of discovering not who we are, but who we can become, forever.
And that is my telling.