Forever Becoming

31 to 45

31

“So, what do you think?” Timmy spread his arms, presenting. 

An elderly woman with a smile of understanding only years can bring, offered Makaila a bright red apple. Makaila thought of a Grimm’s witch and bewitched fruit, accepting the gift anyway with a thank you and returned smile.

“Piece of Heaven.” She nodded to Timmy, twice. “A big ol’ piece of Heaven.” Around a mouthful of apple: “If I were God, this is what I’d make Heaven.” 

Timmy asked about the county fair, Makaila spoke of the entirety of her experience since the night she was dragged from the ambulance.

From her reading, she knew toward the end of the growing season a community would gather and share the bounty of the land. Within the nature of the culture, they’d share ideas and what they learned over the past year. From the biggest tomato to the best pie, the sharing became a form of contest or competition. 

Makaila took another bite as she looked over the handwritten list of events for the day.

Doesn’t anyone own a typewriter? 

“Maybe next year I can help ‘em put this together.” She read aloud: “Pie judging, sheep shearing, cow milking. Here’s yours, shoot out, greased pig? Is that what I think it is? I shouldn’t have worn a dress.”

“That’s not for girls, Butcher.” He spoke as if she should have known.

“Well, that’s silly. If we couldn’t catch a greased pig, half us would never get married!”

“That’s why we keep you out of it. You’re too good at it.”

Giggling, she continued: “Indian shoot out. Like bows and arrows? That is like so un-PC! It should be: Native American technology or something like that. This is better: Native American storyteller and dance. That sounds cool. Quilting, Ma’s doing that. Chicken catching but no chicken cutting? Fiddling? Cool. Square dance contest? Form or staying power?”

“That’s tonight. Both. Do you dance?”

“Haven’t, but you could show me.”

“Takes years to get good at it.”

“Like shooting?”

“Got your point.” Chewing his lip, he took her by the hand, dragging her beyond the farmers’ booths. 

“Gus.” He approached a gray-bearded man. “Give the glad hand to Butcher. She’s the city girl. Wants to learn to dance.”

Gus chuckled, looking her up and down. “Good to meet you. I’ve heard much about you, it’s like I know you. But dance?” Gus reached behind him and retrieved his fiddle, tucking it under his chin. “I’ll give you halftime so you don’t fall on your face out the gate.” He played a riff.

Timmy tried to show Makaila how to step.

“I gotta watch someone.”

“Darn and fiddlesticks. I wish my little sister was here. Wait.” He ran off, returning with a girl in tow. “Butcher, say hi to Audrey Cantor, Audrey, Butcher.”

Audrey was ten years old, slight of build with a ponytail on either side of her head. She greeted Makaila with a smile.

“Let’s do it!” Timmy called to Gus and Gus’s fiddle caught fire. Timmy and Audrey grew wings and flew over the dirt. Makaila was mesmerized, keeping her focus, internalizing the steps. The dance was not as complicated as she first thought, being variations on a few basics. Makaila knew she could easily fall in and follow Timmy’s lead, the improvisation in the solo moves would take a bit of practice, maybe five minutes.

“Try it?” Timmy called.

Gus cut to halftime.

“Baptism by fire, sir.” Makaila nodded. “Let ‘er rip.”

He did.

In five minutes, Makaila danced like a pro. Audrey stepped out laughing, clapping her hands. “You just might get two ribbons today, Killer!”


The fair grounds were set up in three sections. Makaila and Timmy spent the morning in the core: the tables, booths and stands of the community farmers and vendors. Makaila found the handcrafts, from stained glass lamps and hangings to quilts, fascinating. “These are some talented people you got here.” In the passing morning, she figured she must have met the entire community. 

“You made this, Sheriff Powers?” She held up a knitted sweater.

He laughed. “That’s for fitting a pig.” He leaned forward and winked. “I tell the tourists my wife makes ‘em. You know who likes the knitting.”

“Too cool.”

Of all the people she met in and about her own age, not one she didn’t like and reading the facial muscles and subtle body, didn’t like her. She kept searching for the dark shadow of humanity she’d always seen just below the surface, but it wasn’t there. She lingered long with the sheriff, the last of the farmer’s stands.

Timmy pulled her arm. “Come on. Let’s see what kind of rides they brought in this year.”

She faced away from the rides. She saw the Ferris wheel reaching in the sky, heard the banging and clanking of spinning cars of another ride and the fading and explosion of metal wheels on tracks from the roller coaster. She knew there’d be a merry-go-round, teacups, maybe bumper cars and likely a fun house. 

She also knew the rides and amusements didn’t drop from the sky. Back in the world, she’d been to traveling amusement parks, maybe even this one. She knew with these rides came the people from the outside world, from the world. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that apple?” 

Timmy looked over her shoulder. “Uh, come on, Butcher. People are just people.”

She reached up, placing a hand to his cheek. “I have a wish for you.” Tears welled in her eyes. She smiled. “I wish with all my heart you never learn different.” She took his hand and a deep breath. “Let’s see what they got. You’ll be shooting in two hours.”

She watched Timmy’s subtle body as they crossed the imaginary line, the line drawn in Makaila’s head, into the other section of the fair. She was curious whether on any level Timmy could feel the difference apparent to her. As she thought, she noticed a tightening of his entire subtle body, something Timmy hadn’t noticed.

Makaila shivered, feeling like she crossed into the land of the dead.

“It’s the eyes.” 

Timmy bought tickets for the Ferris wheel. 

“What is?”

She waved him off as they sat in the car. 

Can the dead be hungry?

The people with the rides had dead eyes, as if the life was drained from their bodies. Unlike Gus, Sheriff Powers and Audrey, their souls, essences, feelings, she couldn’t find the word, didn’t reach out. Like her father back in the world, these people were not glad to see her or maybe didn’t see her. She didn’t know, the feeling didn’t make sense.

Still, there was a hunger.

The money? Are we just marks to give them money and they hunger for the money? 

As the car rose into the air and jerked to a stop, she found herself almost in a panic to be higher, farther away from the ground. 

No, it’s not the money. It’s the life itself.

The ride found its stride in full rotation, and Makaila felt better. Timmy pointed out the sites as the wheel came around the top.

Makaila worked her thoughts around the hunger in the eyes. She let a memory, put aside for a long time, come up to her awareness. She saw the same hunger, bare and unmasked, unconcealed by the layers of social behavior, only once in her life. The memory of the ravenous eyes made her shudder.

Off the ride and back in the mental darkness, she suggested: “Would you go scare up some coffee? I’m going to go sit in the middle of that field for a while.”

“You okay?”

“Of course.” She smiled, a hand to his cheek. “Do you know what meditation means?”

“Thinking about something really hard?”

“Yeah, that.”

32

Makaila climbed the hill. Cat wasn’t on the porch. Vague laughter danced in the air. Makaila followed a trail. The path opened onto a large field of knee-high flowers, Cat stood with her arms high in the air, palms up. Six children, younger than Makaila, circled Cat. She remembered one of the children, Sharon.

The girls laughed, giggled and jumped around like dancing. At least thirty butterflies danced above Cat and the children. Cat smiled brightly, swirling her hands in the air. “Go my little friends. Go in peace and take our love with you.” She waved Makaila over and as she neared, Cat put her arm around her. “It’s so nice to see you.” With a hand to each head in turn, Cat said: “You met Sharon. This is Carol, Debbie, Georgeanne, Lisa and Tracy. Group hug!”

Giggling and laughing, the girls attacked Makaila with warm hugs. Makaila exploded in a river of tears. She dropped to her knees, the girls pushed, taking her to the ground among the flowers. They piled on top, laughing.

“I love it.” Cat raised her swanlike arms to the sky. The butterflies returned, dancing above Cat until the air was thick.

Makaila tried to draw a breath through her bellowing sobs. Her tears drenched her face and shirt. 

“Life is good.” Cat’s call floated song-like. “Always, no matter how it seems at any one time, know that. Life is good.” Butterflies landed on her hands and then lit into the air again. She looked down. “Did you ever feel a butterfly kiss?” She knelt, the girls circled, holding hands. “Here’s a whole mess, all at once.” Cat put her warm, soft hands on Makaila’s cheeks.

Makaila’s eyes bulged. From the deepest place within her where she internalized despair, she screamed long and loud.

“I love it.” Cat sang to the girls, Makaila and the fleeting butterflies. “Life is good.”

Makaila giggled and then laughed, deep and rich as her soul never laughed before.

Cat lost the song in her voice. “Let them go.”

Still in the throes of the emotional roller coaster, Makaila couldn’t think clearly. “Who – them?” She drew three deep breaths.

“Me,” Georgeanne said.

“And me,” Lisa added.

“All of us,” Tracy directed.

“Yeah,” Debbie said.

Makaila propped up on her elbows, looking around the circle of girls. “What – how?”

Cat’s eyes flashed in the bright sun, reflecting the flowers. She took Makaila’s face in her hands, kissing her on the forehead. “You brought them here, you hold them here. It’s time to let go.”

“It’s not that we don’t like it here!” Lisa shouted.

“Yeah – Cat’s too cool!” Tracy offered.

Carol smiled warmly, touching Makaila’s shoulder. “But, we gotta go.”

The youngest, Sharon, fell to her knees facing Makaila, hugging her. “You’re the reason we’re only six of us and you’re the reason we got to be with Cat and get what we couldn’t get.”

“But, now we gotta go.” Debbie said sadly.

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to.” Cat kissed her forehead again. “Just release them, our children.”

Makaila stood and held her arms wide. “Okay! Group hug!” She held each child as tight as she could and kissed the top of each head, repeating: “I release you.” Somewhere between dream and reality, temporal and not-so-temporal, the children faded slowly into nothingness.

Cat held a hand toward Makaila, her fingers together, each a little out of alignment. “See exactly how I have my fingers?” She tilted her hand in the sunlight. “See exactly how the shadows are formed?” A butterfly landed on her hand. “Neat trick, huh?”

“Yeah, neat trick. Are they dead now? Did I just murder them?”

Cat forced her hand in Makaila’s face. “Fingers! Shadows! Do it!”

Makaila looked hard at the hand again, held her hand up over her head, tilting a little at a time until butterflies circled.

“That’s better. They were already dead.”

“Because of me?”

“No. They were here because of you. That doesn’t matter now. It’s been a long time since you visited. You must have a question.”

Makaila dropped her eyes. 

“Stop being silly. I know how you feel about me. I’m not offended you only come by when you need something.”

Makaila’s mouth dropped open.

“I repeat, stop being silly. A blind guy could read that body language.”

True.

“You’re not that good at it anyway.” Cat laughed. “And, you don’t want to test me!” She looked to the sky. “Your coffee’s arrived. Get on with it.”

Makaila wondered how Cat could be aware of both places at once, never getting a straight answer. “This just threw my question way out of whack. I thought I had figured something out, now I don’t think so.”

“Why the dead have hungry eyes?”

“Well, yeah. That’s part of it.”

“You haven’t met any dead other than here.”

She bit her lip. “Wrong word?”

“Yeppers.”

“Okay. Emptiness?”

“Better.”

“No soul?”

“Nope, wrong direction. They all got the same spiritual plumbing.”

“Wait. Are you dead?”

“Asked and answered. No. I’m as alive as you.”

“Uh, play, yeah, I remember. Gotta be disconnected from the plumbing then.”

“You’re getting warm.”

“It’s hunger.”

“Uh-huh.”

“For?”

“Hmm?”

“They don’t know!”

Cat held her hands to the sky, smiling. “You’re red hot.”

“Like the butterflies, they’re attracted to what seems like what they need?”

“Any port in a storm.”

“If you’re dying of thirst, you’ll drink sand if you don’t know it’s water you need!”

“Sometimes it’s like someone trying to put out a fire with gasoline.”

“Too cool!”

“If that’s all for now, you have a patient but worried Killer waiting for you to snap out of it – this.”

“Oh, one more thing. I asked someone why I was so important and they told me I was asking the wrong person. For the life of me, the only other person I could think to ask is you. Are you the right person to ask?”

“Am I?”

“Why am I so important?”

“Don’t you know?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You’re not like other people.”

“I know that!

That is your answer: you do show the Mark.”

33

Makaila stretched and yawned, opening her eyes, finding Timmy kneeling, facing her with coffee in either hand. “Hi.”

Dark with concern. “Are you okay?”

“More than. You?”

“Fine.”

She took the coffee. “Sorry I’m so weird. I really don’t want to pollute your world with my stuff.” 

“Hey! You can shoot, dance and you’re my Butcher. If that comes with a carpetbag or two, what should I care?”

“Let me borrow them eyes of yours, and I’ll have no problem back in the world.”

Returning to the area of the rides, Makaila noticed a marked difference in the feel of the air. The imaginary line was gone. She didn’t feel the weight of the subtle darkness just out of sight. She still felt the pull of hungry eyes but more like a breeze, a natural occurrence. They didn’t want her. They were just hungry, wanting any light they saw. 

Like butterflies to a hand.


“I’ll make a deal with you,” Makaila told Timmy as he checked his pistol for the umpteenth time. “If you stop breathing, I’ll smack you up the side of the head – twice.”

“And, if I win?”

“Avoiding getting smacked – twice – should be incentive enough.” She shook her hair out, squaring her shoulders. “But, if you win the ribbon, I’ll kiss you like you never dreamed of being kissed before.” She had never romantically kissed anyone. 

How hard can it be?

“It’s in the bank.” He blushed, snickering.

Makaila considered entering the shoot-out. She didn’t want to upstage Timmy. With her talent for shutting out surroundings and focusing on her hands, shooting accurately would be easier than making mashed potatoes.

Sheriff Powers fell out in the third round. “Good thing I don’t have to do this for a living!” 

For over an hour, the competition was lighthearted with everyone having fun. When the field narrowed to three, one being Timmy, the air grew tense. Round after round, six shots hit within the four-inch circle. 

Then there were two: Timmy and his friend, Tom, from school. Tom took the ribbon the past four years running. Tom’s final shot just caught the outline of the circle. Timmy stepped up. Everyone held their breath, but for Timmy. He shook himself out, raised his pistol and calmly, counted his shots and his breaths. He smiled pleasantly, the crowd applauded. Makaila jumped up and down with squeals of delight.

The man with the ribbon approached Timmy from one side, Makaila ran up from the other. She reached up, took his face in her hands and planted a kiss on him, dead on the lips, in front of God and everyone. The crowd produced a collective Ah, and then delivered a deafening ovation, which easily topped the first.

Makaila blushed, her eyes tearing, she curtsied, drawing more applause. 

Life is good.

She indicated Timmy with both hands and left the way she came. Timmy was proud. She was proud of him.

“A girl should always remember her first real kiss,” Marcy said from behind her. 

“Yeah, I’m not likely to forget this!”

“Come. Sit with us a bit.”

34

Makaila was not the only child around the circle as she sat with part of a quilt in her lap. Marcy sat across from her, two women sat on either side. She watched the sixteen hands busy at work for two minutes, then joined in.

“Oh, you’re not new to this,” the woman beside her commented.

“I’ve seen it done.” She resisted the desire to turn and see what was going on across and around the fairgrounds, particularly if she could see Timmy from where she sat. She realized, quickly, her task was to sit, be quiet and listen.

The topics in the next hour ranged from longer baking time for crispier pie crusts to a breathing exercise to lessen menstrual discomfort. Makaila offered a bit of information on the mind/body connection she read in a psychology book. Marcy politely hushed her. Much of what she heard, she realized, were old wives’ tales. These people were old wives. She gleaned the deep, almost spiritual value of what was offered. This free flow of information, opinion and idea could never be put in a book.

“I gotta steal my shooting coach, if no one minds,” Timmy said from behind. 

He received glares from everyone, including the children.

Timmy took a deep breath and looked toward the ground. “I am sorry. Hold on.” Timmy took three steps back and then came forward again. “Good afternoon, ladies.” He smiled. “Is everyone having a great time today?”

Greetings and agreements followed.

“Excuse my interruption, but I would like to, that is if no one minds, ask Butcher – ah – Miss Makaila, if she would do me the honor of having a bite to eat with me.”

Marcy didn’t look up from her sewing. “No one minds. You may ask.”

“Miss Makaila. Would like to join me for dinner?”

Makaila quickly ran down the combinations and permutations of the social interactions and took her best guess at what was expected. No one looked at her, still she felt everyone’s attention.

“Ma, ma’am. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to get something to eat with Timmy.”

“You may.” Marcy smiled, just a little.

As Timmy led Makaila away by the hand, she heard one of the women say to Marcy: “See what that city girl’s done to Timmy?”

“Timmy’s done that all by himself. Children just get excited and forget themselves at times.”

Makaila, not sure what she wanted, flitted around like a butterfly, trying just about everything. “If I don’t know what it’s made of, don’t tell me.” She sampled her second piece of cheesecake: “Must of been made by God Himself. Do I kiss better than a cow?”

“Uh? Yeah!” Timmy glowed a wonderful shade of red.

Makaila waved her plastic fork and with a mouthful of cheesecake, said: “I won’t ask about you and the cow!” To her great surprise, Timmy’s blush deepened. “Just kidding!”

“Yeah! Everyone knows I like them sheeps!”

Makaila wondered, for the first time in her short life, what love felt like. “Wanna try over there?” She indicated beyond the rides to the third section of the fair.

“I usually don’t. Just a bunch of lame shows, guys yelling at you to come see what’s inside and just weird and seedy characters.”

“Real carnies! Cool. I can show you what my world looks like without taking you back to the East Coast. Maybe we should wait an hour after eating so we don’t get the bends.” 

“The bends?”

“Yeah. A very uncomfortable feeling moving from one place to another very different place.”

“You want to check it out, we’ll check it out.”


“It’s like a live Ripley’s.” Timmy was visibly uncomfortable.

“It’s kinda like that, sure. In the old days, they didn’t have TV, so they’d have shows like this. Ripley got the idea somewhere to put the stuff in a book and then you get it on TV.”

The appearance of some of the people shocked Timmy. 

Makaila smiled sadly. I am more like them than I am like you. She stopped at a man, growth stunted, bent over painfully with a head twice the size it should have been. People stood and stared, spellbound.

Makaila broke away from Timmy, went around the barrier and knelt before the man. “Elephantiasis?”

He nodded, moving his entire body. 

She held his sunken eyes. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.”

Mutated and barely audible, he grunted. “It’s like life.”

She checked the sun, falling to the horizon over her shoulder. “I’d take it away if I could.” She pleaded with her eyes.

“You need not. Death will do that.”

She perked up and straightened. With a tilt of her head, she raised her hands to the sky. “The only thing I can give you is butterfly kisses. Have you ever had butterfly kisses?” A tear ran down her cheek. She felt the press of people gathering on the other side of the rope barrier. 

The butterflies came, just like in the dream. A deafening hush fell. Moving her hands slightly, the butterflies touched and lit off again.

The man bent his body back to watch, grunting in a laugh, a mutated smile on his face. 

“Go in peace and love, spread it everywhere.” With a twist and wave of the hands, the insects flew off.

“Now, butterfly kisses for you.” She placed her hands on either side of the deformed, horrid face. She pulled him to her as he cried in tearful joy, releasing a lifetime of pain. “You cry, my friend.” She stroked his unkempt hair. “You just go right ahead and cry.”

“Come people!” A voice rose from the crowd. “You can’t get better entertainment than that! Come on! Give up a couple of bucks for the kid!” He passed a hat, literally.

Makaila held the man tighter to protect him from the hunger of the crowd. 

His sobs lessened. She knelt to see his eyes. His distorted voice rumbled. “Thank you.”

She wiped the tears from his malformed cheeks. “Thank you.” She stood. He waved goodbye, moving his entire body.

Stepping back, she returned the wave, felt a strong hand take hold of her arm pulling her away from the waiting crowd, behind the tents.

35

“They’ll eat you alive after an act like that!” The owner of the hand had gentle eyes. Reading his subtle body, Makaila decided he meant no harm.

“My friend’s out there.”

“I saw. My friend’s getting him. And, here they are now. Sorry to snatch your friend away. I’m Mike and this is my sidekick, Jill. We have a magic act.”

Makaila waited for Timmy to speak and when he didn’t, offered: “This is Killer and I’m Butcher. Pleased to meet you and thanks for the help. I was so caught up in what I was doing, I forgot people were watching and how they might react.”

“Killer and Butcher, huh?” Jill’s tone, rich in obvious judgment. 

Makaila giggled. “Killed a rabid wolf. I cut up chickens pretty good.” With a presenting hand: “Timmy.” The hand came back to her chest. “Makaila.”

“Much better.” Jill nodded approval.

“You didn’t do that for the marks?” Mike asked. 

“Marks?” Timmy twisted his face.

“Paying customers,” Jill explained.

“Uh, no. It was the pain, and it’s all I had to give.”

“Well, that’s a really neat trick. Can you show me how to do it?” Mike asked. 

Makaila explained the best she could, but with the sun slipped away, she couldn’t demonstrate. She put her hand next to his. “It might have something to do with the size and shape of the hand, too.” She hadn’t realized how similar her hands and Cat’s were. 

Mike peeked around the corner. “No one really got a look at you, I don’t think. You should be okay now.”

“Thanks for thinking when I wasn’t. Very kind of you.”

He winked. “We magicians gotta watch out for each other.”


Mike was correct. No one gave her a second look. 

“I was watching what you were saying and I still don’t get it.”

“It’s a trick, I think. Cat showed me how to do that when I was meditating.”

Timmy stopped her with a tug on her arm. “The what did what when?”

Oops. “One of my carpetbags.” 

“Uh, okay. Got ya.”


Makaila was a game carny’s worst nightmare. She stood, watched and then nailed the ring toss, skeet ball, basketball, knock the iron milk bottles down, little ball in the milk bottles and the squirt the balloons. She accepted no prizes, but for one. 

“I cheat,” she told Timmy. “Even if their games are fixed, kinda, I don’t feel right taking from them.”

She watched a child, maybe five years old, waiting to receive a teddy bear from his father’s victory. “The barrels are bent. The only way anyone’s going to hit the bell ten times is by luck, an act of God or me.”

The father placed the gun down in despair and faced his child. 

“Life is disappointing sometimes,” Makaila said. “But, not this time.” She stepped up, picking out an air rifle.

The carny, chewing on his cigar, barked: “Hey Blondie, you ain’t shootin’ here.”

“It seems your reputation proceeds you, Butcher.” The magician appeared from the crowd.

“So it does.” She replaced the rifle.

Mike looked hard at the carny. “How about we make it interesting. I say Blondie here can hit ten without a miss, blindfolded, with no practice shots.”

Makaila’s mouth dropped open.

“And, I got fifty against your fifty, and the teddy bear, that says it loud and clear.”

“No magic or nothin’?”

Mike laughed. “It’s all magic, Marty.”

“Ten in a row?”

“Right.”

“Without a miss?”

“Right”

“Blindfolded?”

“Right”

“No practice shots?”

“Right. Bet?”

“I’ll take your money, sure enough.”

Mike produced a red flowing scarf and waved it in the air. “Watch carefully. My hands will never leave my wrists.” With a twirl, he put the scarf over Makaila’s eyes and while tying it, leaned close. “Just know what you saw and see it in your mind. The gun’s the same, the target’s the same. It’s all in the same place.”

“And, remember to breathe!” Timmy called out.

“I can’t do this.”

Mike’s calm voice invaded the darkness. “Just remember it.”

She took a deep breath. Closing her eyes behind the blindfold, she reconstructed everything in her mind as if she were in the dream. She checked the combinations and permutations, focused, picked up the rifle, accounted for the bend of the barrel and squeezed off a shot.

Ding!

She was in the zone. Winning was a matter of repetition. “Are my hands still on my wrists?” 

Ding, ding, and ding.

“I am hitting the right one, aren’t I?“

My left, your right.” Mike snickered.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, and ding.

“Son-of-a-bitch.” The carny moaned.

“Is anyone keeping count? I’m not really paying attention.” Makaila giggled. “And, for the car, the house, the trip to Hawaii and eternal happiness!”

Ding.

The carny bit his cigar in half.

As he was digging for bills in his apron, Mike waved him off. “I don’t want your money, but there’s a kid who’d really like a teddy bear.”

Makaila grabbed the bear from the carny and handed the prize to the child’s father. “It’s your gift. I’m just the middleman.” With a wink, she grabbed Timmy by the hand and skipped away.

“Wouldn’t that be middleperson?” Timmy asked.


Jill watched the two children melt into the evening’s growing crowd. “What are you thinking, Mike?”

Mike’s face hung, sunken. “A shooting star. Let’s kidnap her.”

Jill laughed. “She’s going to burn bright, burn out and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

“No one should. It’s just sad. They’ll love her too much or fear her too much. Either way, she’ll be just as dead.”

“You think it would be better if she holes up in a cave or takes a lick in a carny show? Just another freak in a crowd of freaks?”

“Let’s kidnap her.” His deflated words rung hollow.

She shook his arm. “Tie a rope to that shooting star, you’ll burn up with her.”

“I know. I know.”

36

“Darn!” They moved quickly within the sea of people. “You shoulda entered the shoot out!”

“That was your ribbon, not mine. I’m just passing through. You live here.” Makaila tried to slow things down in her head. Events came at her much too quickly. Dr. Zogg taught her to focus on and completely analyze the social culture of the moment and once it was fully understood, to make choices within the context to smoothly navigate the then-charted waters.

When Timmy approached the quilting table, in his excitement, he forgot the rules and acted without thinking. In that case, the punishment was merely a visual slap but still, it created a wave in the social waters, which made his path, what he wanted, difficult to obtain. In another context, as with Makaila’s past, the effects could be farther reaching, even devastating.

Is Dr. Zogg really correct? All the time? 

The dream itself was a violation of most generally accepted social context. “You don’t involve other people,” Zogg had told her. “So you can do pretty much what you want.”

But, other people populate the dream, even if Dr. Zogg insisted they don’t.

Cat can’t be me. She knows stuff I don’t.

Dr. Zogg insisted people are exposed to information they aren’t aware of and in other states of consciousness, can recall the information. “It only seems like you aren’t aware of it.”

Makaila wondered: If the rule for living simply comes down to: don’t do anything to bother the neighbors, is that really life at all?

Makaila thought: Stay free and stay alive, my own advice, is certainly good advice. However, if someone doesn’t do what they feel is right in a moment, like bringing a grain of light to the dark existence of a tortured soul like the deformed man, just because it could make trouble, is that any different from being tied to a bed for eighteen months? Is it any less free?

At thirteen years old, “Almost fourteen, thank you very much,” she said aloud to no one in particular, she stepped far out of the social context when she kissed Timmy in front of the whole county. She couldn’t imagine doing anything even remotely similar back in the world. She did what she wanted to do, at the time she wanted to do it. The kiss felt about as right as corn stalks leaping from the earth in summer.

So what of social context and rules of the moment? 

If her father had been there, he would have slapped her to the ground, maybe beat her until his arm got tired. 

She pulled Timmy to a stop, looking up at him. “Arg!” She snapped her head from side to side. “I’m so confused!”

Bewildered, Timmy blinked at her.

A voice like a song, an odd foreign dialect, floated from behind. “Explaining all life’s mysteries is what I do, child.” 

Makaila spun on her heels. A tall woman, taller than Timmy, leaned against a tent. Her eyes were all pupils, as black as a moonless night. 

Nothing could be blacker, but maybe that hair! 

Her hair cascaded around her shoulders and down her back. The flesh of her face was as white as her hair was black. Her lips, as red as red could be, bringing to mind the image of an apple sitting in a bank of snow.

“Would you like the mysteries explained?”

Makaila fought hard to read the stranger’s facial muscles and subtle body, but seeing beyond the obvious was like trying to read a tree or a rock. Makaila was drawn in. She wanted to throw her arms around the woman as if the woman were a goddess come to take her to Heaven. 

“What do you think, Butcher? Want to know your future?” Timmy nudged Makaila’s shoulder.

The woman held a porcelain-like hand up. “No one can tell you what the future will be. All I can do is reveal what the future could be.”

Makaila shifted her focus and squeezed Timmy’s hand. She put all the drawn in feelings aside, dug in her dress pocket, producing a handful of bills. “Let’s see what I got left.”

The woman waved her off. “Some come to me because they wish to prove me wrong. It amuses them, and I play the game. Some come to me because they are curious about what someone like me does. Some come to me because they do not want to, or can’t, make decisions for their own life. All these people hold forth a fist of money and I shamelessly and willingly take their money and give them a show. It is not the knowledge of the future they pay for. They buy the show.

“Then, few and far between, there are others who stop before my tent and ask a question. They do not know they ask the question of me, but they do. When I’m not serving my own mundane existence, it is these, you, I serve.” She bowed deeply, waves of hair sweeping the ground. “And, it is my honor.”

Timmy leaned to Makaila’s ear. “She’s pretty weird.”

Makaila held the woman’s eyes. “Well, so am I.”

She smiled, holding a hand to Makaila. “Then come. And, your friend, too.” Not waiting for or needing an answer, she moved as if floating across the ground, her multi layered silk dress flowing and shimmering in a vast array of colors as if the garment had a life of its own.

Feeling like a soup fork, Timmy trailed behind.

“They call me Madam Dandelion.” She sat at the small, round table in the center of the tent.

Makaila circled the tent like a dog circles before lying down. She stopped at a wall hanging, a miniature window twelve inches high and eight inches across, with a small shelf sporting a white candle. She ran her hand down the side of the decoration. “And, what should I call you?”

“Do you like that? I was drawn to it yesterday. The local crafts are so beautiful around this country.”

“A candle in the window.”

“So you can find your way home. Megan. Dandelion is my magical name.”

“A beautiful weed that’s persistent and you can’t get rid of.”

“My roots are deep.”

“Miss or Madam Megan?”

“Just Megan, to you.”

“Are you a witch?” Makaila guided Timmy to a chair at the table. With slight pressure on his shoulders, she forced her friend to sit. The last question made him visibly anxious. “There is no place on earth we could be safer than in this moment.”

“I am a gypsy.”

Makaila found herself wishing once more she could read her subtle body. “The difference?”

“None.”

Timmy squirmed on the chair. Makaila put her hands on his shoulders, looking into Megan’s eyes, searching. “Am I a witch?”

“No one can answer that question but you.”

Makaila laughed with a bitter edge. “So you ain’t in the club unless you join up, huh?” 

Doesn’t this woman blink?

Megan was unmoved. “It can be seen that way.” She laid her hand on a deck of cards. “Let’s see what the oracle tells us today.”

Not being able to read the subtle body, Makaila wished she’d read more on the subject. She knew little about magic and witchcraft. However, she did know a bit about human beings.

“Save the oracle for the tourists.” Makaila swiped the air with a nonchalant hand, dropping on a chair. She presented her face. “Just look at me, and tell me what you see.”

Megan put a hand to the side of Makaila’s face. “So young to know so much and be so cynical.” 

Makaila didn’t see herself as cynical, but in quick reflection could see how someone might think that. 

“Let’s start with what it is that you are confused about.”

“You already answered.”

Now, Megan was surprised, and Timmy, too.

“I was trying to figure out the one and only rule to deal with everything I was looking at. What I had, just didn’t work all the time. It didn’t fit. When you said what you did about different people looking for different things. Well, that’s the answer.” She leaned back. “But, here’s the thing: they may think they know what they want, but they don’t. You make that choice for them, don’t you?”

Calmly. “Yes, I do.”

“You have the right to do this, because?”

“I choose to take the responsibility.”

“For other people’s lives?”

“For all life.”

“Because you’re a witch.”

“Gypsy.”

“Whatever.”

A cheery voice came from the tent opening. “Pardon the interruption, Madam Dandelion. I thought those red shoes of yours might be feeling pretty tight right about now.”

Makaila saw her subtle body for just a passing moment. Megan was perplexed and confused. Makaila turned toward the tent opening. 

“Hey, Mike. You following me around or what?”

Mike nodded to Timmy, winking at Makaila. “My honorable Madam Dandelion, my friend of four years, just ask the child her name. I gotta show to do. You kids have fun.” He disappeared.

“Please, what is your name?”

“Makaila. Makaila Marie Carleton. They call me Butcher.” 

Megan’s facial muscles and subtle body rung like a hammered bell. 

“Hey, don’t blame me! Blame my parents!”

“Oh, child!” She bowed, shaking Makaila’s hands. “May I say it?”

“Say what?”

“Your name.”

This is stupid.

“Just don’t wear it out.”

Her eyes found Makaila’s, her hands gripped so tightly, they hurt. “Makaila: who is like God,” Megan sang as a prayer.

“Whoa! Back this spiritual hayride right back to the barn!” She pulled her hands away. “If I’m like God, this universe is in big trouble, really big trouble!” 

Megan’s control of her facial muscles and subtle body fell into ruin. Megan believed every word she said.

Megan took three slow deep breaths. “I am sorry. I became excited.” She wrestled her emotions back under control. “Your name is a very old name. It means: who is like God.”

“Which are just words and doesn’t make it so.”

“You are a beautiful child and look normal in every way.” 

Makaila blushed.

“But, there’s something you don’t show others, but I’m not sure.”

Subtle body. I call it the subtle body.” 

Megan stared into Makaila’s crystal blue eyes.

Makaila turned to Timmy. “I’m going to screw your brains out tonight.” She put a hand to his arm. “Sorry, only kidding. Forgive me.” Back to Megan. “Did you see Killer’s face? You could tell exactly what he was thinking and feeling.

“Of course, I went over the top there so you could see it. The facial muscles and other body movements tell you almost everything that’s going on in someone’s head. The subtle body. You can’t read mine. I’m like in total control. You are, too, but you’re not nearly as good as me.”

The gypsy leaned back in her chair and put a hand to her chin, pondering. “You hide your light, that which is special about you. Why? How did you come to do this?”

She looked at the mesmerized Timmy. “Carpetbags, Killer. Carpetbags.” Turning back toward Megan, she felt Timmy’s hand on her shoulder. “I’m nuts, insane.”

“Many teenagers think that.”

“Card-carrying, got the tee shirt, cost me eighteen months and only by luck and the intervention of people I don’t know am I even sitting here now.” She held Megan’s eyes. “If I don’t hide what you call my light, fate has me back inside, tied to a bed for the rest of my life.”

Timmy’s hand tightened on her shoulder. He sobbed. 

She brought her hand up to his and softly spoke, still looking at Megan. “It is what it is. I’m sorry you share my pain.”

Megan’s mind raced. “That’s it! You show the Mark. I saw it and didn’t see. I was looking and you look normal enough. Look at my eyes, my hair, my flesh. The Mark. It is written, there is a Mark that shows in other ways. You show the Mark.”

That’s the second time I heard that today. “And, that means?”

“You are not like other people.”

“I’m sure glad this isn’t costing anything. You aren’t telling me anything I don’t know.”

Megan’s face saddened. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.”

Oh-my-God. He is me! 

She realized why she had to go to the crippled, mutated man. 

She repeated his words. “It’s like life.” 

37

Makaila hung on Timmy’s arm as they moved slowly amid the other people. “I’m so sorry I’ve been through what I have and you had to hear it.”

Timmy smiled at her with wet eyes, his arm around her. “You’re my friend, Butcher. Nothing in the past is going to change that. Friends are about today and tomorrow, not yesterday. You could tell me you murdered someone and cut their heart out and you’d still be my friend.”

Bet me! “I’m not used to people just being friends without strings and baseball bats to the head.”

“Can’t imagine a world like that.”

“Good. I hope you never can.”

Audrey Cantor came out of the crowd, throwing her arms around Timmy’s waist, climbing onto his feet. “I’ll be rooting for you guys tonight. You’re dancing, aren’t you?”

Timmy kept walking with his passenger. “Nothing could stop us.”

“Not God Himself!” Makaila affirmed.

Timmy pulled Audrey from him and bent over, handing her money. “Why don’t you run over there and get us some cotton candy?” 

She skipped off.

“I wish you wouldn’t say that.”

“What?” Makaila listened to Timmy, watching beautiful Audrey, the picture, the archetype of what a child should be: pure and uncorrupted by the world the likes Makaila called her own. 

“The God thing.”

“The God thing?” 

A man, maybe in his thirties, unkempt, unshaven, wearing a tattered leather coat spoke to Audrey. Makaila squinted, trying to read his lips. 

What is it? She mouthed the words the man was saying: Can you help me out with something. The question danced in her brain, drawing her back to another time and place. For a brief moment, she saw herself in Audrey’s place buying cotton candy.

“Are you listening to me?”

She looked up at Timmy. “Yeah. You’re right. That’s a habit I got back in the world. A carpetbag. I never thought about it. Tell you what. Just smack me in the head any time I say anything like that and I’ll get over it real quick.”

“You’re cool. Thanks. But, maybe I’ll give you a kiss in front of everyone instead.”

She giggled. “That could get me to saying it all the time.” 

A chill ran deep to her bones. She lost her voice, becoming dizzy, panic stealing her breath. She pointed toward the cotton candy vendor, lost for words. “Uh – uh – uh.”

Timmy grabbed her by the shoulders and shook. “What! What is it?”

She swallowed deep, taking air into her lungs. With all the strength she had, she shoved Timmy off balance, sending him staggering. Pushing people out of the way, she moved straight to the stand. 

“Little girl: pigtails.” She held her hand at her chest. “This high, was here two minutes ago, where is she?”

He shrugged. 

Timmy caught up. “What’s happening?”

“Audrey’s gone you dumb hayseed!” She took ten steps to the batting cage game and picked a winner. 

“Hey, that’s my bat!” The carny operating the cage approached.

She jabbed him hard in the gut, sending him to the ground. “I’ll return it.” Back to the cotton candy stand, she wailed the bat down on the counter and pointed at the vendor. “I’m talking to you! Where?”

Casually, he nodded around the corner.

Timmy took her arm. “Makaila!”

Her eyes flashed and glistened as she pulled away, bringing the bat back. “Killer! By the God who put me on this earth: this will not happen. Get in my way, I’ll kill you!” 

He released her. 

“Don’t you get it? Audrey’s gone! Taken! Get behind me or out of my way!” She waved the bat. “I don’t have time for this.” She took off in the indicated direction.

Timmy ran to find the sheriff.

38

A handful of strides past the stand, she found the cotton candy. “Come on. Come on.” She gnashed her teeth, looking for something, anything. A shoe, twenty paces beyond the cotton candy caught her eye. She didn’t know how she saw the shoe nor did she care. Kneeling, clenching the baseball bat, she ran down the location of the stand, the cotton candy and the shoe. She balanced the combinations and permutations in nanoseconds, picked a direction and plunged into the darkened woods.

Minutes leaked by, she stopped, listening for what shouldn’t be there. There: a tickle of glass on glass. There: rubbing of cloth on the ground. A whimper, that’s it, muffled. Quickly and carefully, Makaila moved forward.

The woods sat dark. She closed her eyes hard and waited for as long as she could. She only saw shapes, dark, large – three adults. A distant light reflected off leather, just a hint. Even though she couldn’t see her, she knew, on the ground, restrained, lay the beautiful child, Audrey.

Makaila ran down the next set of combinations and permutations, calculating surprise, a weapon and her direct and focused intent. She had to decide what she was going to do and do it a step at a time without hesitation. She had one chance at a strike. Any man alone could easily overpower her. Carefully checking the shadows and the distance, she calculated the only option was to be the last person standing. She gave herself seven seconds from her first move.

If Timmy were here, we could just get on either side and make noise to scare them off.

She dismissed the idea, her voice much too little girl. She waited, hoping to hear sounds of others coming from the fair. She didn’t know how long the window would stay open. When she heard material rip, she knew she could wait no longer.

She closed her eyes again, painting a landscape in her mind, a map to guide her in the darkness. She moved breathlessly. A dull thud quickened echoless across the landscape, followed by the sound of deadweight dropping to the ground. 

One-one thousand, two-one thousand.

She swung around connecting squarely in the face of the man holding Audrey’s arms, following through with the full weight of her body.

Three-one thousand, step, turn, set, four-one thousand.

“Batter up!”

On five-one thousand, the last bulk of a man flew backwards into the night. 

Audrey sobbed. Makaila took a moment to listen for movement or moans. She’d seen enough horror movies to know to make sure the monsters stay down when they get put down. She fell to her knees, gathering Audrey into her arms. 

“Hush, now. It’s over. Everything’s going to be all right.” Tears wet her cheeks. She knew nothing was all right. She knew nothing was going to be all right, not for Audrey, ripped from the womb of childhood and not for her.

She couldn’t hear the blood from her victims leaking life back into the earth, she could feel it. Her tears came to blend and meld with Audrey’s, their fluids becoming as one to drip into the earth as life itself.

It’s over.

She cried louder for the loss of what she knew was only on loan and she could never have anyway. The face of a well-dressed man came up in her mind. He pointed to a picture. “Did you do this?”

“Yes,” she said through the sobs. “God Almighty! I did it!” She raised her face to the sky.

The face spoke to someone she couldn’t see. “And, she’ll do it again – again – again – again.”

“You were right. You were right. You were right.”

Audrey groaned. “Oh, thank you, Butcher!”

The face of the bearded Dr. Zogg took the place of the well-dressed man. He looked over his glasses, down to her.

Why didn’t I notice this until now? He always looked down to me.

“You are not like the others.”

I see that now. I’m not fit to live with people. 

Makaila pushed the images back. Audrey was okay, as okay as she could be, taken so close to the edge.

“Sit. I’m going to be right here.” She put her hands on each of the three bodies, assuring they were dead.

I’d trade their lives for yours in a heartbeat, Audrey. “Can you walk? If you’re nodding, I can’t hear you.”

“Yeah.”

“I did a bad thing. Something my parents couldn’t forgive.”

“They’re dead?”

“If I point you in the right direction, can you get back by yourself?”

“Don’t leave me!”

I told the guy I’d bring his bat back, anyway.

With a grunt of protest from the younger child, Makaila pulled her to her feet. Audrey stumbled back to the ground with a wail, grabbing at her leg. 

After a quick run of the hands: “Your ankle’s broken.” 

Damn. 

“Don’t leave me!”

“Hell, as seen on TV.” Passing Audrey the bat, Makaila hoisted her up in the fireman’s carry. She labored her way diligently through the woods. 

The weight pushed her beyond her limit. She pushed the discomfort back and out of her mind. 

Maybe they won’t find the bodies. Maybe she could just step right back into her life on the farm as if nothing ever happened. She ran the event over in her mind again.

No, there was no choice.

The weight was lifted from her shoulders as if by God. Hands found her face in the darkness. “Are you okay, deary?”

“She seems all right.” Mike spoke to Jill, cradling Audrey in his arms. 

“I did it,” Makaila said.

Jill, still holding her face, kissed her briefly on the lips. “Deep breath, deary. Are you ikay?”

“I did it.”

“I think she’s in shock.”

“I don’t think so – here.” Mike handed Audrey to Jill. Kneeling, Mike asked: “What did you do?”

Staring over Mike’s shoulder: “I killed them.”

Mike put 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.”

“Is that it this time?”

Mike smiled. “That’s all there ever is. Are you okay?”

“This time?” Jill asked from behind her.

“No doubt.” Mike answered Jill.

“Yeah, I’m just dandy.” Makaila bit sarcastically.

Mike stood. “Do you want me to carry you?”

“No, I can walk.” She took his hand. “Why, Mike, why?”

“Why what, young Makaila?”

“Why all this? Why me?”

Audrey leaned back and held her hand toward Makaila. She took it.

“That’s as good as an answer as I could come up with,” Mike said.

39

Larry found a three-subject notebook, 10 1/2 by 8 inches, wide ruled, manufactured by Mead, in his sister’s bedroom. The first page had scribbles, the rest untouched. The scribbles were by her hand. Testing pen after pen, he found the pen that made the scribbles: the pen she used to draw the meaningless lines. He returned to his room and opened to the page behind the scribbles.

He wrote:


I say this now so we all can know the truth. On October 13, 1986, there was a baby born as no other baby was. My mother, Catherine Carleton, was surprised to be pregnant because they did not plan this. Of course, they did not plan this. This was God’s plan to give this world this baby.

In no way and at no time should Catherine Carleton be praised or honored for doing this. God chose her not for her goodness but knew it was the darkness this baby must be born to. God says even evil can bring forth good. And this baby was good, pure and like God.

We can argue if she is like God, or God. It doesn’t matter which. It means the same. The baby was born in this perfect light, into the darkness of this world which by her own mouth stated to me, “Sucks.” She came from Heaven to teach us a new way so that the world doesn’t have to suck.

As a child, she saw that which is hidden and spoke of it. Those who serve the Dark didn’t want this told and did everything they could to shut her up. They gave her drugs and made her talk, week after week to doctors to make her change her mind and embrace the Darkness as they did. She-who-is-like-God would not turn from the Light that she was. They beat her, starved her and would not love her. 

Everybody did this because they could not understand her light because the Darkness is just so great. She did not give up and worked as hard as she could. 

One night she came to me. She told me they were going to take her and kill her and I was to do nothing. She made a promise to return. She knew what was to come and what had to happen for people, us, to know who she really was. I keep what she gave me until she returns to reclaim it and then reclaim the world and bring the light of she-who-is-like-God to us all.

First Apostle and Brother, Larry Michael Carleton


Larry knew the world sucked. He could see the evil on television each day. He could see the darkness on the faces of those around him. He knew the badness deep in his heart the day his father told him, with a laugh: “Your sister’s gone.” All hope, all gifts life could bring: love and happiness, peace of mind, joy, the gifts God gave man and now were lost, made the world suck. 

Religions, Larry knew, promised these gifts, but he had to die to receive them. He thought about doing just that. He woke up to a promise and this promise was not in death. Even after the email, he didn’t fully believe what he said to others. The thought of his sister returning was beyond all reason and beyond all hope. He said what he did and stood as Brother, First Apostle and Forgiver because he wanted to believe. He had doubts, which forced him not to give over fully, no matter what he said.

That is, until Arianna called. 

“They need us to come down the bank and sign the papers.”

“Huh?”

“For the house.”

“Huh?”

“Last week. The ghost house? On the hill? We filled out the papers?”

“I know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“It’s ours.”

“Huh?”

“The house. It’s ours. We just have to sign the papers and have it up to code in ninety days.”

“Huh?”

“Larry, please stop saying that. I’ll talk slowly. We got approved.”

“They’re not asking for the escrow?”

Arianna took a turn. “Huh?”

“The escrow. The $24,000.”

Then came a long pause. “He said it was there. You didn’t –” 

“Huh? Sorry. What’s where?”

“The escrow. In the account.”

“I’m confused. Pick me up.”


“I’ll be honest,” the clerk told them, collating sets of papers on the desk. “I didn’t think you kids were really serious and just a waste of my time.”

“You got your fee. You were paid for your time.” Larry didn’t like how the man acted, like he did them a favor.

Arianna put a hand to Larry’s arm and smiled falsely at the clerk. “We really understand. I’m sure you get lots of people wasting your time.”

Larry saw her wisdom at work, backed off and shut up. 

“So the escrows okay? Like, where we got it from?” Arianna went fishing.

The clerk ignored Larry, responding to Arianna’s smile. “Money’s money. As long as it’s legally obtained, it doesn’t matter who signs the check.” He thumbed out one of the forms and eyed it. “Odd. Cash system transfer done anonymously.” He leaned toward the young woman. “You wish to isolate your sources from liability, huh? Might be a problem if the IRS gets curious.” He put the paper in front of her. “If this were deposited in a regular account, we’d have to report it. Escrow. Well, maybe not.”

She leaned forward, placing her hand on his. Arianna knew her soft, round, baby-like face, cascade-curling hair, doe-like coffee-brown eyes and innocent smile inflamed lust in men. She saw this walking down the street, sitting in school and in the past few years had to fight advances back, lust rising in her father when he drank, often losing the battle, preferring profane sex to a senseless beating and profane sex. As she got older, she learned to keep herself out of questionable situations, like being alone in the house with her father when he drank. She put a lock on her bedroom door. 

She loathed how men saw her, the lust her appearance evoked. She wanted to vomit on the desk, watching his eyes dance over her face. She smiled anyway, running a finger over the back of his hand, knowing if he didn’t have an erection, he would. 

“My uncle wanted me to do this totally on my own so he’s keeping his name off everything.” She didn’t hesitate to lie. The burning in his eyes told her exactly what he was thinking. She was sure in her heart he’d rape, if not for the other people around.

“Well, that explains it.” He took her hand.

“Just sign the X’s?” She batted her eyes lashes, taking her hand back, picking up a pen. The family picture on his desk showed a daughter about her age. You’re lucky you’re ugly. She signed the dozen-odd stacks of papers spread across his desk.


Once in the fresh air, Arianna hurried to the walkway between the bank and another building, pounded her fists against the brick and vomited. Between eruptions of the stomach, rage erupted in screams to the sky. Larry watched on, not for the first time.

“God, I hate me!” She dropped into the driver’s seat, fishing in her purse.

“It’s not you.” Larry put a hand to her shoulder. “She-who-is-like-God teaches us that it’s them. They make us dark. We are not dark. We must be in the light. It’s not you. It’s him. You just used his darkness against him and you did good.”

She nodded in disdain, the acid taste in her mouth. “I try to understand it that way, but it’s hard.”

“She’s coming back and you’ll see.”

Arianna swished mouthwash and spit out the window. “I can’t wait. She’ll return and life’ll be returned to as it was.”

“That’s the promise.”

The required escrow, $24,000, appeared in the account. Larry had no idea from where. 

“God.” Arianna spoke without emotion. “I told you it would come, and it did.”

“Now all we need is the money for the repairs.”

She smiled. “We can do lots of it ourselves. As for the rest, it will come.”

Larry never looked back and lost all doubt. He believed.

He wrote in the notebook:


The miracle of the money: We did in her name need money for the escrow to buy a house for her to live when she returns. We had no way to raise this money but Arianna said in her knowing, “It will come.” And, it came. In a miracle from God, the money was just there.

40

“I find it all very strange,” Sally said to her boss, Larry Elderage. 

“Sure.” He nodded. “It’d be great to have a fly on the wall or a spy inside so we know the details.”

“If it were my kid, I’d have him deprogrammed or something.”

Elderage laughed. “If he had you for a mother, he wouldn’t be in the spot he’s in.”

Sally handed a report across the desk. “In short, Larry’s shifted his peer group. He used to hang with good kids. Now he runs with some really shaky characters. Looks to me like he’s a good apple in with bad.”

Elderage handed the summary report on Ralph Carleton back over the desk. “You didn’t see this one, or chose to ignore it?” He winked. “You have to be careful which ones you call the bad apples.”

“Hmm.” She narrowed her eyes. “I keep forgetting about, who?”

“Makaila.”

“Right. Okay. Everything turns on the winter of ‘97. Seems Larry goes south and old Ralph goes north.” Leaning on the desk, she put her chin on her hand. “The parents weren’t devastated by the state’s actions?”

He handed another paper forward. 

Sally’s eyes got big. “Who picked up guardianship?”

Elderage waved his hands over his desk and the pile of papers. “That’s the thing – no one.”

“Oops.”

“Indeed. The paper trail just ends with this.” Another paper crossed.

“This place is what?”

“Don’t have a clue. The only records are right in your hand.”

Sally looked perplexed. “A private research facility? Researching what? Who owns it? Who runs it? What’s the charter say?”

“What’s in your hand is all we have.”

“Spooks?”

“That’s my guess.”

“Oh.” Sally fished in her briefcase. “I picked this up off the search this morning.”

Elderage looked over the form and research summary. “Transfer the money anonymously. Stay on top of this and make sure they get it. Get the kid’s name off any paperwork. I don’t care how you do it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.” He again let his eyes run over the pile of reports and summaries. “We have too many missing puzzle pieces.” He swiveled his chair, watching out the window. His instructions had been to get Makaila Marie Carleton released, the whole of his instructions. He would have never found her or known where to look, if he hadn’t been pointed in the right direction. Only with collation, interpretation and inference was he able to find her. Nothing existed in official records

The covert nature of her imprisonment allowed Elderage to get her released. A bit of sleight of legal hand, a phone call in the right place, the right question asked to the right person and the door sprung open. Once she was freed, his job ended, but curiosity pushed him forward. As time allowed, he gathered information.

When Makaila called and asked about her brother, Elderage took the request as his next instruction. Then, gathering information moved from a hobby to a job. 

“Sally.” He didn’t turn from the window. “I want to know exactly what this research facility is, what they do and what goes on inside. Put someone on it full time. I want to know how Makaila Marie Carleton landed there.” He turned back to his desk, resting his head in his hands. He didn’t look up. “Make an emancipation petition that’ll fly. I don’t care what you have to make up as long as it’s verifiable. Get it to Judge Bosch’s clerk. Attach without explanation a copy of the Guardianship Transfer.” Elderage looked up with a tired face and a smirk. “He signed one. He’ll sign the other without question.”

Reading from her notes, Sally repeated the instructions. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. Back up over this whole mess and see if you can’t cover our tracks. Further, from here on out, let’s work everything through one of our shells, a deep one.”

“Spooks.” She nodded.

“Who’s the new kid?”

Sally snickered at the word kid. “You hired him last month, George Potter.” 

“Ah, right. Couldn’t be better. Send him in and get to work.”

Sally left, replaced by Potter. Elderage watched the clouds.

Without turning from the window, Elderage said with a wave of his hand: “George, I want you to know this file as if it were your own life. Clear your desk of any busy work they might have given you. Know the file. Come see me after lunch. I have a job for you.”

Stacking the reams of papers, he answered: “Sure thing, Mr. Elderage.” He had the enthusiasm of someone elated to have something important to do.

Elderage let out a long sigh and wondered if he’d get his boat out on the bay just once more before the weather turned.

41

Larry Carleton waved the city’s list of required repairs, standing in the front room of an old, neglected house. “I don’t know where to start.”

Tying her hair back and pushing the sleeves of her oversized sweatshirt up, Arianna smiled. “Too easy. We clean.” The small group of Freaks nodded. 

“And, get the electricity turned on.”

“And, get candles in the windows.”

“Then, we do one thing at a time.” She handed Larry a can of white spray paint. “Put an X on anything you don’t think worth keeping. Out it goes.”

Larry shook the paint. 

The city not only provided a list of repairs, but also provided a list of city services to help the new homeowner with the task of reclaiming properties from time. Larry, somewhere along the way, took a secondary role to Arianna’s leadership. Arianna was better doing what needed to be done and saying what needed to be said to get cooperation from other people. Larry had no idea, with one telephone call and a simple request, they could get a city trash container placed in the driveway.

Arianna giggled, pointing to paperwork. “It’s right here. The city wants the house fixed as much as we do, just for a different reason.”

As darkness filled the house on the first day, everyone gathered in the large front room. They pooled their money, sent for cold cuts and soda, and relaxed. Larry addressed everyone. “We did lots today, but the work we need to do is really ahead of us.” 

The thirty teenagers nodded in agreement. 

“Arianna’s going to type up a list of stuff we have to do. If you know how to do any of this stuff, put your name next to it. She’s going to type out a list of stuff we’re going to need. If you can beg, borrow or steal any of it, let her know. We’re going to need money for what we can’t do and can’t gather.”

With a mouthful of sandwich, Arianna added: “I’d like to know where we stand in the next couple of days.”

“Now, this is important.” Larry paced, pulling on his chin, watching the floor. “Don’t tell any outsiders anything. There’re forces out there that would stop us. The cops came around asking me questions. They know, or think they know.”

“I saw the cops drive by earlier.”

“A lady cop?”

“No.”

“A lady cop was the first they sent. There’ll be more. Don’t say nothing to nobody.”


Five days and three trash containers later, Arianna sat on a wobbly wooden chair at the old oak desk Larry decided to keep. Yellow highlighter marked only half of what they needed to get done, which would be a real problem if not for George who said: “I can do that,” each time she pointed to something.

George was not a Freak, really. He didn’t go to the school. He was a stranger. Though he was not a Freak, he was a social misfit: dirty and worn tee shirt, faded jeans with a wallet on a chain, green Ike jacket with Out my face where the nametag should be and an upside down American flag haphazardly sewn on the back. He smelled as if he hadn’t had a bath in a month.

The house was not located in the best of neighborhoods. On the third day, Larry sent Terri, an eleven-year-old, two blocks up for cold cuts, bread and soda. When she left the small grocery, a gang of youths surrounded her. She held tight to the bag as they pushed her back and forth.

The air burst with the sound of straight pipes as a motorcycle slid to a stop. The rider leaned his bike on the kickstand, shut the engine off and removed his helmet, placing the headwear on his rearview mirror. Flipping off his sunglasses, he said to the group of six teenagers: “I love a good fight, but not with little girls.”

Swinging his leg over the seat, he slid an iron pipe from a side holder and approached, wielding wildly, connecting and not connecting with his targets. The teenagers ran off. “Damn. What’s a guy gotta do to get a good fight?” He looked at Terri. “Stupid kid. Don’t walk around here alone. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Terri pouted, then the tears came. 

“Stupid crying kid!” He sat hard on his motorcycle. “Aw, hop on, stupid. I’ll give you a ride home.”

The blast of noise in the driveway drew Larry from the house. The machine’s roar fell away after two revs. The rider did not remove his helmet or sunglasses. He let Terri to the ground. “If you’re the idiot who sent this child by herself down the street you oughta be shot.”

Terri’s face was wet with tears. 

Larry yelled back. “What’d you do to her?” His fist came up.

He pushed Larry with a flat hand. Larry stumbled back and down. Placing his helmet as before, he was off the bike and nailed Larry with a right hook as Larry tried to gain his feet. 

“No good fight here, either.” He climbed back on the bike.

Terri fell to her knees and quickly recounted the event at the grocery. Arianna and many others came from the house. The rider spit and replaced his helmet.

“Wait!” Larry called from the ground, in no hurry to get up. “I misunderstood.”

He looked down his nose, sneering. “Like all other people do. Get out my face and get a life while you’re at it.”

Ride away, sucker. Larry felt bad, regretful. “Have a sandwich with us?”

George Potter removed his helmet again. “I never turn down free food. You never know when you’re going to get a chance to eat.”

He was intense, angry and never smiled unless he was calling something or someone stupid, which he often did. Arianna was amazed he knew how to do so much for a guy his age. He wasn’t saying, but Arianna made him about eighteen. He was incredibly good with his hands. Larry wished he’d go away. Arianna saw the help he could provide. After an intense argument, he was invited to stay, but not as a Freak. 

Arianna explained who was coming, in short.

“I don’t need no saving. Don’t matter to me who comes, as long as they stay out my face.”

You’ll see.

She liked something else about George. His eyes were dead, cold and calculating, never with a hint of lust. She thought he might be gay, but that didn’t matter. She felt safe around him.

“And,” she told Larry. “There’s lots he can do.” Arianna secretly thought she-who-is-like-God sent George.

42

A tragedy was averted by the alert actions of local residents in the small farming community when three men, Roger Baske, age 28, Mark Royen, age 31, and Robert Simms, age 25, died in the woods near the county fair grounds.


Josephine McCarthy read the article, twice, and pulled the sheets on the three men. The article was short on details, with the attack on a child involved, the news search flagged it. The three men had outstanding warrants on assault charges and a laundry list of attacks on children and adults alike. They were drifters. No records indicated any of the three were ever on Josephine’s turf.

She painstakingly compared the dates of their arrests with the dates of her missing seven children. The three men could be accounted for at the time of the disappearance of most the girls. She called the local sheriff. He couldn’t – or wouldn’t – provide any details the local newspaper didn’t. A call to the newspaper, which provided the article to the wire, yielded the same results. 

Josephine’s experience and intuition nagged at her. She knew everything wasn’t being said. Nothing was said about how they died. She imagined a lynching of some sort. 

If anyone deserved to be lynched, it was these three.

However, that certainly didn’t make it right in a society nor in Josephine’s thinking. She didn’t always agree with the laws, but she respected the process that created the laws. She folded the newspaper, set it on the desk next to the computer and continued her search for the newest of the missing girls.

Larry Carleton said his sister was dead. An exhaustive search of records didn’t prove it out. Mr. Carleton said his daughter was in a place, sent away. Again, no records. 

Armed with a file of Jane Doe’s, she painstakingly tried to match the records to her missing girls, not getting close. Pulling the picture of her latest girl from the corkboard, she ran her thumb over the face, deep in thought.

Got it! If the family’s not talking, someone has to know something. She put the picture on top the newspaper and banged away on the computer keyboard, looking for Larry Carleton’s school records and police file, if he had one. 

Glancing toward Makaila’s picture for inspiration, the picture on the newspaper page jumped out at her. In half-profile slightly from the back, the picture showed a young girl with her hands raised to the air, butterflies around her head. She squinted at the newspaper, back to Makaila’s picture and then again.

“God, I hate to fly.” She picked up the telephone, calling her travel agent.


“I’ll go, personally,” Jordan Harshaw stated to the air more than to his men. Those damn doctors have no backbone. “$100,000 a year?”

“What is?” Bixby asked.

“The doctors down there.”

“$150,000.”

“$150,000 a year and all they have to do is keep people where we put them.” Harshaw slammed a hand on his desk. “Why the hell didn’t the bastard pick up the phone?”

“He said the papers were legal enough. And, he didn’t think it really mattered.”

“He doesn’t get paid to be a lawyer and he knows it. Replace him, today.”

Bixby made a note. “Retirement plan?”

Harshaw snickered grimly. “Sure, a warm bed and a meal once in a while. Give him the best care F-36 can provide.”

“I believe he’s taken out insurance.” Bixby raised an eyebrow.

“Doesn’t matter. Pull the file. Track it down and negate it. Whatever it takes.” Harshaw waved the newspaper over his head and turned on Marks. “All the millions of dollars of equipment you have to work with and for half a buck I find what you can’t!”

“I was getting close.”

He opened the newspaper to the middle. “See? More dead people.” He indicated an article. “Were you going to wait until she murders half the population?”

“We don’t know it was her.”

“Only if we’re stupid!” He slammed the paper on the desk. “I’ll drive out in the morning. You two get down to F-36 and lock it up tighter than a total blink. I’ll have her back inside before the sun goes down, or otherwise fixed.”

“You shouldn’t go alone.” Bixby raised an eyebrow. “Protocol.” 

He shrugged, holding up a single piece of paper. “Larry Elderage? Why is he involved? How come there’s no background here?”

Marks looked toward the floor. “He’s a man of no great distinction. He has no background. He’s just a common lawyer who doesn’t do much of anything.”

“We’ll see. Get on this, too. Everything he’s into. There must be a connection. He has something to do with something. Dig. Who hired him? I want to know.”


George Potter’s fingers danced over the keyboard as Elderage came up behind him. “Electrical code, eh?”

“Yes, sir. You saw the report. The house is a mess and these kids aren’t up to it.”

Potter was a prodigy. A pleasant looking and well-mannered man of twenty-eight, he graduated college, masters in law, at the age of eighteen. He had a relatively short career in the Service, became disillusioned with government along with moral conflicts and drifted from career to career until he found Larry Elderage. Elderage offered variety and variation from day to day, which Potter was looking for.

“I haven’t seen your initial summary report.”

“I haven’t had the time, sir.”

“Make the time. I have to stay on top of this and need to know what’s going on.”

Potter turned from his reading. “It’s an odd group of twenty-nine children, ages eleven to eighteen, led by Arianna Kaine, age eighteen.” 

“Now all indications thus far show Larry Michael Carleton’s the leader.”

“He is and he isn’t. He’s more like a figurehead and everyone looks to him, but it’s really Arianna Kaine pulling the strings.”

“Power behind the throne?”

“Yes, but it’s strange, really. They’re preparing for the return of someone.”

“That would be Makaila Marie Carleton.”

“From the reports, that’s what I thought at first.”

Elderage was surprised. “And, now?”

“God. The person returning is dead now. They fully believe God is coming.”

Elderage reached around Potter, closing all the windows with a single push of a button. “Forget everything else. I want your full report and summary before you think about doing anything else.”


Back in his office, Elderage held up a single sheet of paper for Sally to see. “This is it?”

She leaned forward to identify the report on the institution. “Afraid so. Commitment’s by invitation only and we can’t find who does the inviting. Salesmen and utility workers couldn’t get in the door. We can’t find anyone who’s been sent there or let out. We can’t get an employee list, even through tax filing records. If not for the building, you wouldn’t know the place even existed.”

“Use a B and E man, a good one. I want to know. If that doesn’t work, maybe we’ll storm the place.” He laughed, flipping some papers around. “Lean on Judge James Bosch and check for a money trail. We know he had some part in sending at least one person there. If we can find a payment or payments, we can trace the money back and maybe find a doorway.”

This is getting much too complex.

He wanted to know exactly what happened to get Makaila’s involvement started, but all the official records were missing. He had an idea from the newspaper archives, but much of the news reports were speculation, not fact. He knew of one person who knew the true story.

I should deliver this myself, in person.

He inspected a set of official forms, then handed the stack to Sally. “Messenger this out right away.” 

The emancipation declaration would give Makaila legal status. His only instructions were to free her from bondage, but with her telephone call, Elderage took upon himself to expand those instructions, protecting her freedom. He knew he had to find out who was behind the incarceration before the party or parties discovered her liberation.

Potter entered, placing an eight-page report on the desk. Elderage checked his watch, less than an hour passed. Before George could get out the door, Elderage asked: “You ever heard of this Special Crimes Commission?”

George turned smartly. “Sure, Mr. Elderage. But, if I tell you, I’d have to kill you.” He smiled. “Really. It’s a shell.”

“For?”

“What any shell’s for. To hide the identity of the actual agency who’s taking the action.”

Elderage gave Potter a stern look. “I know what a shell is. I want to know what this shell is.”

“Oh, in this case. Could be a number of agencies. If I had to guess, I’d say a covert, high up Fed agency.” Holding Elderage’s eyes, his mind worked to connect all he knew from the many reports. “I can’t say for sure right now, not enough data. But, when they show up, I should be able to tell you more.”

“You think they’ll surface?” Sally asked.

“I know they will. We stuck an irritating thorn in their side and they’re not going to like it.”

Elderage looked disturbed. “Do you need backup?”

Potter gave him a twisted smile. “Got one. God. He’s coming back.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I. When they show up, and if they make me and they will, only God’s going to be of any help if they decide this little group of kids is in the way of what they want. It would help me to know exactly, beyond information gathering, what our objective is and what my personal limits are in obtaining that objective.”

I wish I knew. “Protect Makaila Marie Carleton. No limits.”

Potter leaned forward with a single cocked eyebrow. “Shouldn’t I be in Ohio, then?”

“Maybe. I feel she’s safe for now. Her brother doesn’t even know where she is.”

They do. You can count on that.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“Be sure. You can’t, but try to stay one step ahead of them.”

Maybe I should go. Elderage was sure if there were an imminent danger to Makaila, he’d have been told. “You stay inside here, gather information and wait. She’ll come to you.”

“In that case, I have some house wiring to do.”

As Potter disappeared, Elderage informed Sally: “I’m going to be out of town for a day or so. If anything breaks, just get everyone together and make the best decision.”

“Ohio?”

“No, not actually. Fishing.”

“I’ll get you on the cell if I need to.”

Elderage smiled as his attention drifted away. “Cell won’t work where I’m going, and I wouldn’t turn it on if it did.”

“Oh.”

43

Arianna stood on the sidewalk across the street, list in hand, looking up toward the roof where George and three others worked on repairs. 

“Okay. The guy’s good. He still spooks me for some reason.” Larry glanced at the list. “I never thought we’d get this much done this quick.”

“Get enough people and throw them at it, you can do anything. How do you think they built the pyramids?” The house was scraped and painted, the shutters replaced, sills repaired and half the porch rebuilt. The yard was reclaimed from the jungle and gardens laid out. Larry argued the garden landscaping wasn’t required, but Arianna insisted. 

An elderly neighbor three doors down liked the painting so much, she asked whether they could paint her house. “But, I don’t have much money.”

“Buy the paint and buy us some new shutters and you have a deal.” 

Larry grumbled at Arianna’s arrangement.

“It’s a small house and we need shutters.”

She took Larry by the arm. “George says we can open the fireplaces without too much trouble. That would be nice at Christmas. What do you think?”

Larry gave her a sour face. “Christmas is about Christ.”

“Who? Christmas, to me, has never been about Christ. It’s been about friends and family.” She pulled on his arm. “We’re allowed to have a good time.”

“Maybe. I’ll be glad when she gets back. Then, we’ll know for sure.”

A small, dented car in need of a wash pulled next to them. A man in his late twenties, wearing clothes like from the secondhand store, climbed out. “Hello! I’m from the Community News. The weekly? You guys are doing such a great job on the rehab, we’re going to do a feature on your project.”

Larry couldn’t remember the last time he received praise for anything. He beamed. “It’s lots of hard work. But, it is looking good.” 

Arianna blushed.

“Let me start with your names.”

A loud whistle, George’s, screamed from the far off roof. Arianna and Larry looked, George was nowhere to be seen. The three teenagers stopped working, showing six upside-down M’s.

“What’s that mean?” the reporter asked.

Arianna’s hand found Larry’s clenched fist. “I think you should come back and talk to the owner of the house.”

He looked at his notebook. “That would be Arianna Kaine?”

“Yeah.” Arianna nodded.

Larry followed her lead. “Older woman, about your height with gray hair.”

“She’s out of town, visiting a sick relative, her aunt, taken ill last week, nothing serious, but she needs someone to take care of her.”

Arianna tried to look as serious as she could. “Ms. Kaine likes to help kids out by giving them work to do. She’s really a great person. We’ll have her call you when she gets back.” She accepted his card, which looked real enough. 

“Can I look around in the meantime, to get background on the story?”

“Oh!” Arianna widened her eyes dramatically. “We aren’t allowed to let anyone into someone else’s house! That just won’t be right, would it?” She looked at Larry.

“Why, no! People are always talking about how us teenagers aren’t responsible. We are responsible.”

Perplexed, the man returned to his car. Arianna and Larry, with an arm around each other, waved as he pulled off. “What was that all about?” Arianna asked.

“Let’s ask George and see if he gives us a straight answer.”

George was in the front room, peeking around the curtain. Before they could ask, he offered: “That man, no matter what he said he was, was not telling you the truth.”

“How do you know?” Larry demanded.

George twisted a smile. “Because you weren’t swinging your fists at him.”

“A cop?” Arianna asked.

“Sort of. He’s a Fed.

“FBI?”

“Sort of.” George pointed up the street. “See that van pulling up? He didn’t get the information he wanted so they’re going to try another way. Photographs.”

Arianna pulled on Larry’s arm. “I’m scared. What are we going to do?”

Larry was scared, too, not admitting it. “I don’t know. We haven’t done anything illegal. I’m not sure that really matters.”

“It doesn’t. Here’s what we’re going to do for now. Keep all your members away from the front of the house. And, let’s have a party. Open invitation. Invite everyone you know and people you don’t know.”

Arianna giggled, bouncing on her toes. “That’s great! They’ll have so many pictures to run down, they won’t have a clue and just be chasing their tails!”

“For a while anyway.”

Larry narrowed his eyes. “Might be a good time to call for those inspections and get anything and everything delivered that we can. Maybe get a real reporter out here.”

“You got the idea.” George nodded.

44

Makaila watched Audrey’s soft, sweet face bounce as Jill moved quickly though the night crowd. “She’ll be okay.” Mike gave Makaila’s hand a squeeze. 

“Yeah, the ankle will mend.” She’ll never be who she was. The vague song of fiddles rose in the distance. The crowd, curious and happy faces, moved all around her. The many amusement rides started, stopped, and started again. Nothing changed but the undercurrent, an anticipation of things to come.

“Some psychic, that friend of yours.”

Mike laughed. “It’s all a show, young Makaila. You want your money back?”

She answered with a sour laugh. “She didn’t charge me anything.”

“Then you got your money’s worth.” 

She looked up to Mike with hard eyes. “Can I trust you?”

Mike half-smiled. “Only you can answer that.”

She bit her lip. “I’m in big trouble. Can you hide me until I figure out what I’m going to do?”

“I’m a magician, aren’t I? If I can’t make you disappear, I’d better find another job.”

“Can you help me bury something?”

“What?”

She went on her toes, her mouth to his ear. “Three bodies.”

Mike led Makaila behind the stands and tents. “Anyone I know?”

“Don’t know. I don’t even know who they were. I killed them because of what they were doing not who they are.”

“Okay. What were they doing?”

“They had Audrey, in the woods.”

“The child you were carrying?”

“Yeah.”

“And, you killed three men? Grown men?” He squeezed her upper arm, eyes mockingly wide.

“They didn’t see me coming. It was dark.” She held up the baseball bat. “I gotta return this and apologize.”

Mike snickered. “You do that, I don’t think you’ll be in any trouble.”

She looked to the ground. “That’s just not the way it works. I’m going away again if they catch me.”

Mike opened the door of a small trailer. “You stay here until I come and get you. I have some business to take care of.”


Mike found Megan. “Show me.” 

Megan, in a trance, led Mike into the woods beyond the carnies. She walked with her head up until she stumbled on something.

“Here, Mike.” She knelt.

Mike shone the flashlight over the lifeless forms. “Tell me what you see.”

Megan closed her eyes and moaned, yelped and then jumped up, breathing hard. “Oh, Mike. This is them!”

“Them, who?”

“All those unsolved events we’ve had happening over the past few months. This is them!”

“They’ve been dogging us.”

“Yes!”

“Large crowds, nice weather, low security and a lot of confusion. Ideal for people like this.” He took her shoulder. “What killed them?”

She closed her eyes again. “A child?” Her eyes popped open in the darkness. “The child? Did this?”

“She says she did.”

“She told you? Why?”

“She thinks she’s in trouble. Asked for my help.”

“Why you?”

Mike snickered. “Maybe I have a trustworthy face? I don’t know, ask her.” He narrowed his eyes. “Give me your best shot. What’s the best course of action?”

Megan closed her eyes and moaned. “She is in trouble, but not because of this.”

Mike shook his head. “Focus in, Megan. This. What do we have to do?”

She laughed, losing her accent. “You don’t need to be a psychic! Let’s have a parade and give her a medal! She’s a freaking hero the likes I’ve never experienced in my life! She risked her life to save that girl!”

“I can’t argue with that. What of these farmers?”

“Hard to say without my Tarot cards. It would seem they’d see it the same way.”

“She says she’ll be sent away again. What do you think?”

“Again? Away? Where?”

“Didn’t say.”

Megan’s eyes flashed with an inner light. “She won’t be sent away again.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. She’ll die first. We can’t let that happen. She shows the Mark.”

“No offense, but leave the mythology nonsense out of it. Let’s deal with the real world.”

Megan took a deep breath, resisting the urge to argue theology. “No parade. No Medal. Must be kept low-key and her name has to be kept out of it. She’s in hiding.”

“From?”

“She doesn’t even know. I’m not sure she knows she’s hiding.”

“Okay. Let me scare up the locals.” He handed the flashlight over. “You stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

45

Cat smiled brightly as Makaila came up the hill. “Like my new hat?” Cat tilted her head from side to side showing off the round brim straw hat sporting a band of real flowers. 

“New look, huh?”

“Kinda. I’ve had it for a while.”

“I’m used to the ball cap.”

“Well, the ball cap’s better for the woods, sure. But I get around, you know.”

“Do you ever dress up?”

“You mean like a girl?”

“Yeah.”

“All the time. If I do it up good, I look ten years older.”

Makaila looked around. “Guess there’s no point in dressing up out here.”

Giggling. “I told you before, I don’t live here. I’m just staying here for a while. You really don’t get it, do you?”

“Only because you always talk in circles and never really tell me anything.”

“Okay, okay.” Dropping her feet off the railing, she put her palms up. “I’ll give you a big clue so you can get a clue!” She put her hat on Makaila’s head. “See how Uncle Joseph likes your new hat.” She winked. “It looks better on you than me anyway. Timmy will love it.”

“Doesn’t matter. All that’s over.”

Stupid comes to mind, but you’re much too smart for me to call you stupid. You might even be smarter than me, but I’d never admit it. You gotta get over that doom and gloom thing.”

“I’ll be sent away again if I get caught. I’m trusting this guy to hide me for now simply because I got no choice. It’s a matter of time.”

“No, you won’t get sent away again. Not for this nonsense, anyway.”

“I murdered three people! How do you call that nonsense?”

“Why did you murder these people? I mean, what if, in that moment, you didn’t do what you did?”

Makaila shifted the hat for a more comfortable fit and bit her lip. “Audrey.”

“Right, dummy! If you stood there and did nothing, it would have been the same as if you killed her yourself!” She smacked her own forehead with an open palm. “No action is the same as an action.” She smacked her forehead again. “You’re just as responsible!” 

“Yeah, I get that, but will others?”

“Let’s see, hmm?” She returned her feet to the railing. “Let’s ask Timmy? Audrey’s folks? Why did Timmy say he killed the wolf? How thick is that skull of yours, anyway? You did a good thing!”

“Like before and look what happened!”

“That’s different.”

“How’s it different?”

“Who knows what you did and why?”

“I’m not even sure why.”

“Liar! You just can’t fit it into a framework you think others would understand.”

Makaila looked at her hands, tears in her eyes. “I don’t want to be me. I want to be like everyone else. I don’t want any of this.”

Cat giggled a warm and beautiful little girl giggle. “Makaila, I love you more than you can know and I love you for who you are. Someday you’ll understand all this. Promise. Know this: you are the purest soul to ever take flesh. I know you can’t see this, but it’s true. Even if you can’t see this, trust it.

“Besides, being normal’s got to be boring.”