46 to 60
To the outsider, Sheriff Powers seemed a country bumpkin, unsophisticated and scarcely aware of his surroundings. He liked the way he lived his straightforward and simple life, getting cats out of trees, calming down locals who might drink too much on a Saturday night and knitting sweaters for pigs. He was also a Yale graduate and been around the world twice.
When Makaila told him they should fill cities in with concrete and make them airports, he knew exactly what she was talking about. He saw her light, her zest for life. He also saw the pain around her eyes, a pain from something past, something awful.
As he hurried through the crowd with Mike, Mike lobbied the need to keep events as quiet as possible. Powers secretly agreed. He let Mike do the talking.
Things like this don’t happen here, even when they do happen.
Powers would handle the reports, downplay any details, particularly any involvement Makaila had. He didn’t want to attract any national attention or have the Feds poking around, speculating and leaking nonsense to the media.
Powers lived a quiet life and planned to keep it that way. Before Mike found him, he listened to the hysterical story of Audrey’s. She told him a man, who met two other men, dragged her off into the woods. They hadn’t said much, but beat her around before pinning her to the ground. Even at her age, she was able to articulate their obvious intention.
Then the hysterics came in. “Just as he ripped my dress open, an angel. An angel, with a flaming sword came down on them and smashed them dead! Then. Then, Makaila was there and carried me back.”
“The fair’s two more days,” Powers told Mike. “There’s to be nothing about this until it’s over.”
Mike agreed. “We’re not going to say anything. Not in our interest. It’d paint our show.”
Our show, too. Powers nodded to Megan and bent over each body in turn. Angel with a flaming sword, indeed. “Who did this?”
“Does it matter?” Mike asked carefully. “I mean really.”
Only to me. “Makaila?”
“Yes.” Mike didn’t hesitate to answer, seeing no advantage complicating things with a lie.
“Is she okay, physically and emotionally?”
“Physically, yes. Emotionally, she’s scared to death.”
The sheriff stood in the darkness. “Of? Do you know?”
“Fiddlesticks!” The sheriff shook his head. “I don’t think I could’ve done this. She’s a better man than I am.” Powers looked at each in turn. “I don’t know how you two got involved.”
Megan smiled in the dim light. “We met Makaila.”
The sheriff nodded. “She’s something.”
“Shining star.” Mike agreed.
“Okay, here’s what I need from you two. About four miles down the road, we have a potter’s field. I’ll take any ID’s they might have and handle the legal side of it. Can you handle that? Bury them as close to proper as you can?”
“Before the sun rises,” Mike said.
Mike showed Powers to the trailer and hurried off to gather help. The sheriff pulled the door open. “Makaila, my friend. You are not in trouble.”
“I’m not?” She pushed the carving knife down into the chair cushion.
“Absolutely not. Audrey told me the whole story. May I come in?”
He stepped up and into the light.
“I’m not in trouble?”
The sheriff smiled warmly. “Not one bit.”
She read his subtle body. He told the truth. She wondered whether the determination was completely in his hands.
“According to Audrey, you saved her life. That’s a good thing, regardless of what you did.” He sat across from her in the cramped trailer. “Did you do that?”
Her mind reeled with the last time she was asked the same question. Controlling her subtle body, she remained relaxed and calm. “Did I do what?” She held his eyes, looking for the slightest hint of betrayal.
“Audrey told me that she was kidnapped by three men and dragged into the woods. Did you free her from that?”
He let out a long sigh. “Makaila, I don’t really care how you did it, but you did a great thing and I thank you. Audrey is such a special child and we couldn’t stand to lose her.” He winked. “We couldn’t stand to lose you, either. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Makaila froze for a brief moment and would have jumped out of her skin if she could, staring behind the sheriff.
The sheriff looked at the window, expecting to see the Devil looking in. He had his gun half-drawn. “What?”
With a deep breath, she calmed herself. “Like my new hat?”
She believed the sheriff told the truth.
Powers offered to take Makaila home, she declined, explaining she needed time to think and put things together. “If you could tell Pops, Ma and Timmy I’m okay and I’ll see them soon, I’d like that.” With a smile and a nod, he left. He did like her new hat.
Makaila stared at the hat, touched it all over and smelled it. The hat was as real as anything else and the sheriff saw it. She tucked the hat back on her head. “This is supposed to give me a clue?” If the hat was on her head and she was in a trailer on the fair grounds in Ohio, then that meant the dream was not a dream, somehow.
“I don’t go anywhere!”
Timmy sat and watched her while she was in the dream. Yet, the hat was on her head.
It’s a trick, just like butterflies.
Makaila decided to demand an explanation, exactly how the trick worked.
Mike told the gun carny it’s all magic. Everything’s a trick of some sort?
She still felt they were going to take her away. She didn’t know who they were. She had no reason not to believe Cat, saying she’d not be sent away.
Time slipped into the night, the noise from the rides well past. Mike didn’t return. Makaila decided to work her way back home, only a few miles and a pleasant walk in the country.
When she opened the door, she knew the hour late. Every carny, it looked like, stood facing the trailer, each holding a candle. She looked for the familiar face of Mike, but he wasn’t there. Jill came forward. “This is our thank you.” She bowed slightly.
“Being you and sharing your light with us.”
Grunts attracted Makaila’s attention. The deformed man from earlier offering up a yellow rose. Stepping down, she bent, kissing his gruesome forehead. “Thank you.” She took the rose, standing erect. “Thank you all!” Heads gave a slight bow as she walked toward the fairgrounds and beyond.
In the days to follow, Makaila couldn’t shake the idea somehow she brought evil to a perfect place. She ran down ifs. If she hadn’t taken her eyes off Audrey. If she hadn’t insisted Tim go to the carny side. If she had taken the few minutes to explain to Timmy what the problem was.
If she had never come to Ohio in the first place.
By her hand, she brought death to a perfect place. She found bringing death much too easy. Popping heads with a baseball bat was just as easy as twisting a chicken’s neck. She tried to make everything fit into what Cat said.
“Okay.” She walked through the woods with the morning sun dancing around the branches. “If I didn’t smash their skulls when I did, Audrey would be dead.” If she were standing on the sand at the lake in the dream, and Cat fell in the water and Makaila just watched, no action would be the same as if she held Cat’s head under water. “My decision would lead to her death.” However, the question Makaila had was the value of human life.
Does Audrey’s life have more value than the other three? “From where I’m standing, sure,” she told the trees. She couldn’t find a place in her mind where the three men were human beings at all. They were no different from a rabid wolf bent on murder. Here, she found her difficultly.
“I’m more like them than I’m like Audrey.” Again, she spoke to the trees. She wished she could talk to Dr. Zogg. His telephone had been disconnected, temporarily the recording said. Touching the brim of her new hat, faith in the things Zogg said lost all texture. The dream is not just imagination. Dr. Zogg didn’t have all the answers.
“Did you ever kill anyone?” she asked Joseph at breakfast the day after the fair.
His eyes turned cold, emotionless. “Not really. In war.”
“How’s that different?”
Joseph ran his hand from his forehead to the back of his head, staring at the wall behind her. “I don’t know.”
“Do you regret it?”
Joseph twisted uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes, I do.”
Why don’t I?
Cat said there’s no good and evil, bad and good, but Makaila just couldn’t find a reason to believe this to be true. Like Dr. Zogg, Cat could be just as easily wrong as she is right.
Purest soul ever born. “Yeah, right.”
She didn’t feel she belonged in her environment anymore, which was nothing new. That night in the woods did change everything. People were happier to see her, she was welcomed even more. They were happy, anyway, Audrey wasn’t murdered.
She wondered whether she could just as easily kill Joseph and Marcy. All those months before, she had no doubt if they stood in the way of her freedom. If Timmy hadn’t let go of her arm, she knew she’d have clobbered him. “Nothing stands in the way of what I want.”
There it was.
The three men wanted something and no laws, morals or concerns for other human beings were going to stand in their way. Joseph regretted killing, even in war. These three had no regrets, no remorse. They may not have known what they did was wrong. Makaila understood what she did was wrong but didn’t understand why it was wrong.
“You are not like other people,” Cat and Dr. Zogg both said more than once.
“Yeah,” she agreed, again aloud to the trees. “In the psych books, they have a word for people like me: psychopath.”
Another messenger arrived the day before, put an envelope in her hand and left as quickly as he came. The personal note from Elderage was simple and didn’t offer much more than well-wishes. The legal form was her emancipation declaration. Her first paycheck accompanied the paperwork.
Who is this guy?
Makaila was now an employee of the RiteWay Legal Research Foundation. The short letter provided information as to salary, with little about the actual job. The letter informed her she was required to demonstrate to the court she had an income. She was now the Assistant to the Secondary Secretary to the Senior Board Research assistant. Her status at work was now: extended paid leave of absence.
“Smoke and mirrors,” she explained to Joseph.
Soft, far off in the distance, the slow ring of the bell sounded. She counted three sets of five rings, a long pulse and then repeated. She set a hurried, yet not fast pace to the house. The bell pattern meant she was needed at the house, not an emergency. Checking the sun, she knew it wasn’t anywhere near lunchtime.
A large dark car sat in the drive. Joseph met her on the front porch. “There’s news and I hope you think it’s good news.” He looked joyfully sad, putting a strong arm around her. “Larry Elderage is here. Everything’s worked out. You can go home.”
Stunned, Makaila wanted to run, hiding in the barn. At the same time, having seen what kind of work Elderage capable of, she had no doubt he could have worked everything out. Yet, she was not excited about returning to her parent’s house, packaged food and people who didn’t care about her.
“I don’t want to leave.” She held onto her uncle.
“That’s the great thing. Mr. Elderage says you can go back with him now and if things don’t work out for any reason, you can come back here.” Joseph looked out over the field. “Me and Ma don’t want you to go, either. But, they’re your family and you should give them a shot, try to work it out.”
Makaila nodded. “Let’s go meet Mr. Elderage, then.” With mixed emotions, she followed Joseph into the dining room. Marcy and the stranger sat at the table, drinking coffee.
“Mr. Elderage, this is Makaila. Makaila, Larry Elderage.”
The man turned in his chair. Makaila evoked every ounce of conscious effort to control her subtle body and not betray herself. “Mr. Elderage!” She feigned excitement. “It’s great to meet you!”
The well-dressed man smiled. “Did Joseph explain everything to you? We can go as soon as you’re ready.”
“Boy, this is all of a sudden! I can’t wait to get home! Let me just run upstairs and get my things!” With that, she disappeared into the house, skipping joyfully.
“She’s taking it well,” Marcy observed.
Makaila returned in less than a minute, not with her things. She planted the butt of Joseph’s 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun in her shoulder like Timmy showed her and placed the side-by-side business end in the man’s face. With jaw taut, her eyes flashed with deep, direct intent. “Hands flat on the table, breathe wrong and your head’s splattered all over the wall. You know who I am so you know I’ll pull both these triggers and then sit down to lunch.” Without taking her eyes from the man’s eyes, she nodded. “Pops, call the sheriff. This is not Mr. Elderage.”
Marcy gasped, more from the shotgun than the revelation. Joseph reached for the telephone.
The man raised a hand from the table. “I can explain –”
Makaila let go one of the barrels, taking out the window and a good hunk of the man’s ear. “Shut up and don’t move!”
He didn’t flinch, Marcy screamed, Joseph dialed faster.
“Now, no one’s going to move. We wait for the sheriff.”
The man’s stoic composure impressed Makaila, blood dipping down his neck onto his shoulder. He had incredible control of his subtle body. Her impulse was to blow his brains out and if Marcy and Joseph weren’t there, she would have.
Time was suspended until Sheriff Powers arrived. Makaila, the man and shotgun like a statue.
“Well, this ain’t no cat in the tree,” the sheriff said, almost with humor. He moved into Makaila’s line of sight. “What’s the story here?”
“Cuff him first.”
The sheriff complied. The man sat in silence. “The story?”
“Get his gun.”
The sheriff removed a .44 magnum. Marcy had a towel to the man’s head. Powers looked at Makaila as she broke the shotgun, removed the spent shell, replaced it and locked the gun down.
“You’re something for thirteen.”
“Almost fourteen. I hope to live to see it.” Cradling the shotgun, she half-smiled. “This clown showed up claiming to be who he’s not.” She rolled her eyes. “Whom he’s not? Anyway, he wants to take me away.” Her eyes hardened at the sheriff. “You made a promise.”
Powers leaned on the table, squinting at the man. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Finally. My name is Larry Elderage. I’m Makaila’s lawyer. I’ve come to take her home. I have identification in my inside pocket.”
“Just a nick.” Marcy reported on the ear.
“Too bad.” Makaila pulled an envelope from her pocket and handed the papers to Powers. “What’s my job title, Mr. Elderage?”
Powers eyed the papers quickly. “I have an easier question. This came yesterday.” He waved the emancipation declaration. “What is it?”
“I deal with so many legal forms.”
“Not like this.” He looked at the man’s identification and handed it to Makaila who glanced and handed the plastic coated card to Joseph. “I’ll even give you a hint. It’s a declaration. Of what?”
“I don’t remember.”
Powers smiled. “Larry Elderage signed it two days ago. You aren’t Larry Elderage. You can admit that now or I’ll take your prints, put you in a cell, send them off to New Jersey and wait for them to tell me you’re not Elderage.”
Joseph set the identification on the table, took the shotgun from Makaila and held it menacingly. “He’s a spook, Randy.”
“You sure?” Powers moved just his eyes to Joseph.
“Years pass.” He indicated the identification. “Some things never change.”
Powers nodded and looked painfully at Makaila. Back to the man, he went nose to nose. “What’s the fail-safe?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fail-safe?” Makaila was ignored.
“I’m a lawyer. Larry Elderage. This is all a misunderstanding.”
Powers stiffened. “Look. We’re on the same side. We both have the same employer: the people of the United States of America.”
Joseph had gone to war, to work for the people of the United States of America. It’s the only time he was away from the farm and the simple life. He’d seen much in those few years and was taken prisoner. If not for covert operations, he might never have been freed. He owed a lot to the operators, who they called spooks, and in the months with them, saw how they worked and what they were capable of. However, this was not war. This was a thirteen-year-old child.
Joseph nodded to Makaila, she returned his nod and backed quietly from the room. He nodded to his wife, who left the room to join Makaila.
“I’m not understanding any of this.” Marcy put a hand to Makaila’s face as Makaila quickly stuffed a knapsack.
“I gotta get out of here.”
“Why? You’re safe here.”
No, you don’t understand any of this. “No one’s safe while I’m here. That’s the man who had me locked up. He’s pretty stupid to think I wouldn’t remember him.” Or he thought I was just a kid and so what.
“Where you going to go?”
“I don’t know for sure. I’ll find a way to let you know when I get to where I’m getting.” She slung the bag over her shoulder. “Pops knows I’m going. They’re trying to make him think I’m still standing there behind him. You gotta go back and sit where you were sitting. Give me a head start.”
She nodded, tears in her eyes and hugged Makaila. “I love you, Makaila.”
Makaila allowed herself a moment of pure joy in the timeless unconditional love, with her own wet eyes. She put her new hat on Marcy and kissed her on the lips. “I love you both and thanks for everything.” She smiled, wondering when her next real smile would be. “Give me three minutes, no more, no less, and make some noise.” With that, she slipped down the steps and out the front door. When she heard pots falling in the kitchen, she started the stranger’s car and headed off down the lane.
“Cool car, huh, Eddie,” she said to the mechanic in the local gas station. “Fill it up, please.”
His eyes went big. “Sure is, Butcher. Gassing it up for someone?”
“Yeah.” She produced her first paycheck. “I need this cashed, too. And, a map. I’m working on a project.”
“Wow! Let me run it across to the bank! This is lots of money!”
She picked the cleanest run straight west and caught Route 70 out of Columbus. She guessed the police would ignore the car given the nature of its owner until the net came down. Then, the car would send off bells and whistles. To be safe, she gave herself three hours behind the wheel. She parked the car within walking distance of the bus station in Indianapolis. After buying a bus ticket in her name and making a big ordeal out of it, to Houston, Texas, she found a gypsy taxi and took a ride to the Metropolitan Airport where she booked a seat on a commuter flight to Chicago.
Settling in at the lunch counter for coffee and a snack, she let herself miss the farm. At the same time, she could feel the net coming down, knew she had to get out and away from the airport. As she read the subtle body of her fellow travelers, she noticed how people walked around with tunnel vision, not really seeing their environment.
So lonely. She was reminded of her home. She felt alone in the crowd.
She carefully picked out a mark. “Boy, I hate flying anymore,” she said, half into her coffee.
The young woman, casually dressed and with only one suitcase, looked over. “Oh, you know it!” She accepted the coffee from the clerk.
“Since my parents split up and moved to different states, it seems I live on planes and get stuck in airports waiting for rides, like they really don’t care about me.”
“That sucks. I just have to get to and from college.” She turned toward Makaila. “Do you mean you’re stuck here?”
“Kinda sorta, I guess.”
“I have a car. Which way you heading.”
“That’s cool of you. I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble. Which way you going?”
“North, kinda, with a little east thrown in.”
“Isn’t that a coincidence.”
Makaila shifted in the seat to watch the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport disappear over the hill behind her.
“Is it gone now?” Judy Madison was a smart, laid-back woman of twenty-two. In her fifth year of psychology, she felt she was getting to know human beings well. Human behavior had always been a hobby of hers and she hoped to make it a profession. “Do you think you’re safe now?”
Makaila laughed. “Are any of us ever really safe?”
“Runaway? You didn’t fool me for a minute. I bet your parents are worried about you.”
Worried I might show up. “Do you always guess what’s going on with people?”
“You’re easy. You have one small bag. Not the luggage of a girl who lives in two households.”
“Okay. I lied. You caught me. And, yeah, I had to get out of the airport and said what I had to for you to give me a ride. You can let me off anywhere you want.”
“Oh, calm down. You’re a minor in some sort of trouble. I may be able to help you work it out. Why’d you run away?”
Some spook wants to make me disappear. “I didn’t run away. I can do anything I wish.”
“You are how old?”
“Well, then, the law says –”
“Yeah.” Makaila flashed the document.
“That changes everything I was thinking.”
“So where you going?”
“Can’t tell you.”
“Did you kill someone or something?”
Kinda sorta, but that’s not the problem. “I pissed off some powerful guy.”
“I’m too cute for my socks.”
Judy didn’t know what to make of her new friend but found her interesting just the same. “You don’t trust me, do you?”
“I can’t really afford to trust anyone right now.”
“Fair enough. Do these people want to kill you?”
“You watch too much TV. They want to lock me away.”
“I don’t know about you, but I believe there’s truth in a lot of the conspiracy theories. What are you charged with?”
“I’m not. There’s no warrants out on me, that I know of.”
“Come on. They can’t lock you up without charges.”
“I got an eighteen-month chunk out of my life that says different.”
“Jail? Juvenile detention? Wait! An institution?”
“Yeah, you get ten points. Want to go for twenty and guess what for?”
“You still have to go before a judge. Need a court order. I had a course or two on that.”
“Didn’t see anyone in a robe, the inside of a court room, talk to any doctors or even pass go and get my two-hundred dollars!”
Judy laughed. “That sucks. You don’t look nuts. Have you ever been diagnosed?”
“My opinion: I bother the neighbors.”
She laughed again. “That’s a birthright in America.”
“Only within accepted limits.”
“Too true. What do the docs say?”
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, which means: We couldn’t buy a clue with a major credit card. I would’ve been better off with a voodoo priest but then, my parents did try an exorcism.”
“Well, that’s not exactly true: it was twice.”
Judy shook her head. “You seem perfectly functional to me. It was a well-planned scheme to get a ride out of the airport. You seem to do just fine.”
“Other end of the scale. I’m a psychopath.”
Judy sat up quickly and snapped her head to the left. “Aw, there’s a poor cat dead in the road.”
Makaila climbed up to look back. “Ow meow! That sucks. They should keep them off the highway. Cats don’t know nothing from cars.”
“I have a brother, two years younger than me. He was born with only half his arms.”
Makaila blinked twice. “God, life must be tough for him!”
“You’re not a psychopath. I’ll send you a bill.”
“Nope. Psychopaths care nothing for cats or people with no arms.”
“A few days ago, I meet a man with horrid Elephantiasis and it ripped my heart out. I just had to hold him and cry.”
“A psychopath wouldn’t have cared one way or another.”
“I killed someone and don’t feel bad about it. Doesn’t that make me a psychopath?”
Judy blinked hard. “Not in and of itself, no, but some people might see it that way. Did you really kill someone?”
“My uncle said he killed people in war and felt bad about it.”
“You’re not your uncle. A lot of people kill in war and don’t feel guilty about it. Killing in war is accepted but killing for a candy bar is different. Understand?”
“Well, yeah. Killing chickens to eat them is good. Killing people is bad.”
“You’re thinking too dualistically.”
“You caught me. I don’t know what that means.”
“It means seeing things in black and white, either/or. You’re trying to see it as good or bad when that’s not the case at all. Question: Is killing people bad? You want to answer with a yes or no.”
Makaila giggled. “I do that. I look for one rule, over and over, to cover all things.”
“Moral and social values are relative to the context and not absolute.”
“That’s it! Relative morality!”
“I’ve been working on a thesis paper on that: Relative morality in social cultures.”
“There’s no right and wrong. There’s no good and evil. There’s only choices.”
“That’s good, yes. Is that a quote? I can use it. Who said it?”
“Now that you think I’m sane, I don’t think I should tell you.”
Judy giggled seriously. “You can tell me. I’ve been around insane people. You’re not one.”
“That’s a quote someone in a dream told me.”
“Like when you’re asleep?”
“No, awake, kinda. I call it the dream. It’s like a meditation my therapist, Dr. Zogg, taught me.”
“You’re kidding? Reach that blue notebook in the backseat. I have some of his papers there on creative visualization and the chronically insane. His theory was that the chronically insane live in an imaginary world that seems very real to the patient. He said treatment was to help the patient come away from the creative visualization and back to the real world.”
Makaila opened the notebook and read the opening of an article photocopied from a magazine. “This was published?”
“In a trade journal.”
Makaila’s eyes popped. “This big time sucks!” She read: “Nine-year-old Makaila Carleton refused to accept the non reality of the creative visualization and spent most of her time living in that world.” She beat the papers on the dashboard. “No! No! No! He taught me the dream and pushed me into it! These are all lies!” She took a deep breath, smoothed the papers and finished reading. “I’ll kill the bastard. This was all private.”
“That’s you? Really?”
“Loosely based on facts! Bastard!”
“Well, anyway, you can’t kill him. He’s already dead.”
“I think I’ll be selectively psychopathic and say: good. Probably murdered by one of his other patients he betrayed.”
“They don’t know who killed him. Random act, they think. Tell me about this dream of yours.”
“Out of curiosity or for professional reasons?”
“Professional. I want to help people.”
Makaila ripped the papers in half. “Or help yourself get published?”
“I’m not Charles Zogg.”
Makaila sat on her leg to face Judy. “I’m in big trouble, and I’m really in a spot. I gotta get my head down and stay out of sight from guys who have eyes everywhere and what seems like unlimited resources. Dualistically, I have a choice. I can trust you or I can kill you. In my mind, this moment, I find killing you easier.” Makaila laughed darkly. “But, I can’t speckle the landscape with bodies, either”
Judy laughed back, not sure why. She knew Makaila was serious, yet the whole idea was absurd. “In for a penny.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ll make a deal with you. You tell me your whole story and I’ll take you where you’re going. Trust me or kill me: you can make up your mind when we get there.” Judy didn’t believe Makaila would really kill her.
Makaila dug out her map, eyeing it briefly. “Keep going north until we hit 80/90. Bang a right and we’ll be going just over three-hundred miles.” She snuggled back in her seat.
“I gotta catch up to some friends.”
Josephine couldn’t hold back the fantasy, thinking finding just one of the seven girls would be the key to all the missing girls. She wasn’t sure whether the picture of the girl on the front of the newspaper was Makaila Marie Carleton, but if it wasn’t, she was a dead-ringer. She thought the first plane was small until she caught the connecting flight, a puddle jumper. She was glad to have her feet back on the ground.
She rented one of the two cars available and found her way directly to the small town and the storefront sheriff’s office. As she entered, the sheriff sat with his feet on the desk, leaning back in his chair. A much younger man, sharply dressed, stood in front of the desk.
“It’s a legal writ from a federal judge. I demand you honor it!”
“Why, sure it is. I just have to process the paperwork and that takes time. I need to wait for the call back on why no one’s named. Whoever I’m detaining. What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means the man you have in there!”
“What can I do for you, young lady?” Powers turned to Josephine.
“Josephine McCarthy, Sheriff Powers.”
Powers stood to shake her hand.
“We spoke a couple of days ago on the phone?”
“Of course, Detective. You have to forgive me, we don’t have any pretty detectives around here.” He waved the man back. “Have a seat somewhere, would you?” Back to Josephine: “You’re investigating missing children, right? Wanted to know about the three men in the woods?”
She didn’t have a drink in two days and felt unsteady. Once she saw the picture, she put her bottle aside. She placed the newspaper on the desk and followed with Makaila’s picture. “Makaila Marie Carleton. She went missing the first week of December 1997.”
The younger man disappeared out the door. Powers fell back in his chair, speechless.
“Do you know where she is?”
“Forgive this simple country boy. Could you repeat that?”
“Sure. Makaila Marie Carleton. She’s been missing almost two years.”
He looked back toward the lockup, toward the door and then to Josephine. “You just stepped in some trouble, pretty lady. Are you armed?”
Puzzled, she was honest. “Came in by plane.”
He opened a drawer, produced a .38, made sure the gun was loaded and handed it to her. She checked the load out of habit and tucked the gun in her belt.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. We got this guy in lockup with bad identification. He came for Makaila, but she got the drop on him. Now I have a federal writ to let him out.”
“The girl’s not missing?”
“She is now. Took off, disappeared. She’s been here since May.”
“Where was she before that?”
“Says she was locked up. By this guy.” He thumbed toward the back. “I’m dragging my feet as long as I can to give her time to get somewhere, anywhere.”
She twisted her face, puzzled. “Why didn’t you just protect her?”
“This.” He waved a paper. “Is a federal writ. There’s no protection on earth. He’s a spook.”
Josephine smiled grimly. “That’s whom I’ve been looking for. His prints and your computer?”
“Nothing comes back.”
“I have some codes you don’t.”
The sheriff smiled, showing his guest the other room. After thirty minutes, she reported: “It says he doesn’t exist.”
“That’s what I got.”
“That’s not what I mean. I get a denial of his existence.”
The sheriff nodded. “All this for a kid?”
“Let me talk to him. Get your DA down here.”
She began with a smile in the interview room. “Care to tell me your name?”
“My name would be meaningless to you.”
“I’ll give you some names then. Makaila Marie Carleton, Jack Percy, Judge James Bosch.” She leaned back in her chair across from Harshaw. “I don’t need your name. I don’t even need to know why. I got you, sucker, and I can make it stick. Kidnapping, false imprisonment, child endangerment. That’s before I get to the federal constitutional issues.”
He turned his head just a little. “You don’t have anything.”
Josephine went for the gun, much too slow. The door flew open, Marks fired twice into her chest, sending her sprawling back and to the floor.
“Took you clowns long enough to figure it out,” Harshaw said as Marks undid the cuffs. “This lady has too much put together. Burn her house.”
They left quickly.
Larry Elderage stopped his car as far off the end of the dirt almost-road as he could. “Should be valet parking,” he muttered to himself, casually waving to some campers and flipping his backpack on his shoulders. He never dreamed he’d own hiking boots, but they were required for the last leg of the trip. “God, I wish you’d get a phone. I’m not a young man anymore.”
He did like getting away from the noise and pace of life. The pine forest, clear crisp air and lack of people massed together had its charm. A two-day trip was as good as a two-week vacation anywhere else, even if he would be walking stiff for days.
After a four-hour forced march, he came to the lake, skirted it to the north and spied the cabin.
“Ho! You should have let me know you were coming. I would’ve baked a cake.”
He trudged up the final leg, falling onto a chair on the porch. “How you been, Cat?”
“Oh, I couldn’t be dandier. You don’t look so good.”
“Getting too old to keep up with the kids, I think.” He handed off a paper bag. “Cook some of this up, it’s Turkish, your favorite.”
“Too cool!” She accepted the bag and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks, Larry. You staying the night?”
“Are the girls still with you?”
“Then I’m staying. They give me the creeps.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Cat, that’s your world, not mine.”
“Let me make us some brew.” With that, she disappeared into the cabin.
She returned with two steaming mugs. “I could live on this stuff.”
He took his mug.
“So’d you come all this way because you miss me and I’m too cute for words?” She giggled, as only she knew how.
“Of course. But, while I’m here, there’s something I need to talk to you about. Makaila.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Larry, you’re doing just fine.”
“I don’t feel like I’m doing just fine. This girl’s in some real trouble.”
She put her hand on his knee. “This is the best coffee. We’re all in real trouble, Larry. Including you, just because you hang out with me. You knew that coming in.”
“I know. I know.” He drew deep on the coffee. “You’re right about the coffee.”
“Have you ever known me to be wrong?”
“Not lately. I need to know how far you want me to go to protect her.”
“You’re doing fine. Don’t forget, she doesn’t need protecting. She’ll find her own way.”
“She’s just a kid.”
Cat laughed and raised an eyebrow. “She’s older than me!”
Now Larry laughed. “I’m so stupid sometimes.”
“No more than anyone else. You’ve been so busy with the details, you never bothered stepping back to see the big picture.”
“Okay, fill in some details for me.”
“Not a chance.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Want to do some butterflies?” She stood, taking his hand.
“Sure. Let’s do some butterflies and then maybe I’ll drop a line in the water.”
“I’ll clean and cook.”
“Getting this house pulled everyone together,” George commented to Arianna. “What are you going to do when the project’s done?”
“It’s not about the house. You know what it’s like to have the world against you. This is what we have in common. Life sucks to the max. I understand these people, and you, like I understand myself. It’s not fair my father is like he is. It’s not fair I got the parents I got. It’s not fair Larry got the parents he’s got.”
George was personable and bright. He really didn’t understand what having the world against him was like. Life unfolded before him like a wonderful gift.
“We always thought that somehow we didn’t fit in this world, that we shouldn’t be here. I think the worst thing was that we thought we were totally alone and no one in the world could understand how we felt.” She twirled on her toe and indicated her people. “Not long ago, we all walked around with our eyes to the floor and never even saw each other.”
Her eyes sparkled as she smiled. “Then, we saw her, and we knew each other. We knew we weren’t alone and we knew there was nothing wrong with the world. The wrongness was in the people and the darkness. This pushed us down.
“No, George. It’s not about the house. It’s about she-who-is-like-God, taken into death by their hand. It’s about her coming back to correct all that’s wrong.”
George nodded. “And, you met this person?”
“I’ve never spoken to her. However, Larry, Brother, is her brother. Through him, we hear her words now, but soon she’s coming back. This has pulled us together. We know the truth of that which is to come. All the unfairness will be corrected and we’ll take our rightful place.”
They’re talking about Makaila. “How’s she going to do that?”
“I don’t know, but coming back from the dead is miracle enough, I would think. People will see her light and those who can’t, well, they’re going to have problems.”
George finished securing the last first floor window with a heavy-duty lock. “There. You should make sure the house is kept locked up at all times.”
“We know there’s people out to get us. Larry told us, and it’s always been that way. Just think about it for a minute. There was a handful of people out to get me, same as with the others. Now that we recognize each other and are a group, it’s like these other people are a group. The bigger we get, the bigger they get. It doesn’t surprise me at all the Feds are out there taking pictures.
“We know it doesn’t matter we haven’t broken any laws. They’ll come for us one day and there’s going to be a fight. But, we’re right. We’re good. They’ll lose this time.”
George stopped in a doorway and watched Larry teaching a homework class to a handful of younger children. “People helping people. This is a good thing. Knowledge is important.”
Arianna took his arm. “You gave Larry the idea, you know. He saw how much you know and how valuable it is. Public school is limited, but Larry thinks it’s a good place to start. Why reinvent the wheel? We’re working on a curriculum for everyone now.” She shook his arm. “We are the future!”
“I think it’s time you contact the newspaper and let the public know what you’re doing here. Just keep the God stuff out of it. If you run around in a large group and in secret, the public’s going to get the wrong idea.”
“I’ll take it up with Larry and see what he thinks. I have to agree with you, though.”
George knew having the party the other night, a vast mix of people coming and going, only put off the inevitable. They would undoubtedly uncover the principals in the project and once this was done, they would draw conclusions. With any luck, George figured, they would conclude the group a harmless cult, which would draw a watchful eye and nothing more.
The reporter from the other day was a member of a cult investigation team. George knew their interest went deeper when he saw the van. The group’s activities did not warrant a high level investigation. George hoped some good press, if believed, would drop the group to low-level observation.
Larry agreed, Arianna called the newspaper and reported: “They said they weren’t really interested.” George called Elderage’s office. A reporter was out the next day.
Children helping children – and the neighborhood was the lead-in.
The press was good.
Larry Elderage drifted in the canoe only half-aware of his surroundings. He was disappointed as the sun dipped low in the west and he hadn’t managed to catch dinner.
Cat’s wordless song drew him from the daydream, Cat standing with arms raised.
He readied himself.
After pulling one large fish into the canoe, he dropped the unbaited line once more and drew another fish. He paddled back to his waiting friend. She took the fish to the cabin. He relaxed near the fire on the beach and watched the sun lose to the evening.
“How do you do that?”
Cat dropped dinner on the grill plate.
“Forget it. You said the girls left.”
“Oh, her?” She shrugged. “That was someone else.”
“I thought I was seeing double.”
He dropped on his back, looking at the stars. “It doesn’t get better than this. I can see myself living here.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Why don’t you? There’s plenty of room.”
He sighed. “Then, who would take care of business?”
“You’re funny. The universe takes care of itself. What you take care of doesn’t matter at all.”
“Are your choice. Transferring money for an escrow or watching the stars. What’s the difference?”
“How’d you know I did that?”
He watched Cat into a silent moment and then went back to the stars. “Helping Makaila out goes to making a better world. Righting a wrong.”
“Looking at stars and relaxing doesn’t make a better world?”
“Of course not. I feel guilty lying here, neglecting my responsibilities.”
“Because you’re not on the edge? Feeling stress? Experiencing anger toward those committing what you feel are injustices? Like, if you weren’t here, you’d be pouring over papers or in bed with your computer on your lap?”
Elderage gave her a sideways glance. “You peek in my windows?”
“No. I just know you. See? That’s something you mere mortals don’t get.”
“You’re a mere mortal, just like me.”
“Maybe, but you don’t get: for there to be evil, there has to be good.”
Elderage snickered. “Oh, omniscient one, tell me if you can, how many times have you told me there’s no good or evil?”
“There is and there isn’t. Good and evil are relative and a counter-force to each other. See what I’m getting at?”
She turned the fish, poking at their dinner. “When you get on edge, feel stress and anger, you create a force. Out there somewhere, a counter-force gets created.”
“Not true, Cat. I’m just reacting to what’s out there.”
“See my point now?”
“Whoa. Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that if I didn’t get all worked up over Makaila’s lockup, she wouldn’t have been locked up?”
“You’re only one of six billion people. Collective energies, thoughts and feelings went into her getting locked up. The counter-force is only manifesting now, but if there were enough people on her side back then, it would’ve never happened. Dinner’s ready.”
He sat up and painfully crossed his legs.
Cat handed off a metal plate. “Food of the gods, my friend. Food of the gods.”
“Would you tell me why Makaila got locked away in the first place?”
“Doubtful. It wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Was it just?”
“Must have been to someone. But, don’t you get it? Where that all started doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about something different now.”
“You’re not as dumb as you act.”
“Group or individual?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think it would.”
“There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks they have the truth and the mandate to impose that truth.”
“Individual. Can he be turned?”
“You assume it’s a he.”
“It’s a woman?”
“I didn’t say that.
“Can this person be turned?”
“All true stories end in someone’s death.”
Cat giggled. “But, death doesn’t mean physical death, not always, anyway.”
His eyes went big. “That’s her test, isn’t it?”
She smiled wickedly. “You mere mortals think everything’s a test.”
Judy Madison fell in love. She lived a normal life, the daughter of upper-middleclass parents, a younger sister about Makaila’s age and an older brother with two normal arms. She was blessed with parents who valued education and guided her choices, yet never told what to pursue. “Mom and Dad are sixties brats. They instilled the values they grew up in. Fairness, justice, equality.”
“I had lots of time to think about my mom and dad when I was in irons.”
Judy didn’t believe the institution existed, feeling Makaila exaggerated, a tendency most people leaned toward.
“Between isolation and deprivation, there was nothing to do but play in my head, hanging out with Cat and replaying my life, looking at it. I kinda didn’t get it until I got to the farm.”
As Makaila told her story, with sharp interruption and commentary, Judy was taken by her beauty, wit, intelligence and insight.
She fell in love.
She could see herself committing her life to Makaila.
“My mom and dad really, if they knew it or not, had a dream of a normal life, not that such a thing exists, but they had it. I kinda gummed up the works because my brain gives me information differently than most people. I not only was seeing things differently, but it was so different, it was like I was seeing stuff and hearing stuff that wasn’t there.”
“So much for your parent’s normal life.”
“Exactly. And, I fell so far off the map, the therapists really didn’t get it so they weren’t much help. Instead of trying to help me understand what I was seeing, they tried to get me to see like everyone else.”
“Until you landed in Zogg’s office?”
“That’s what I was thinking until I read his crap. He forced my insanity on me to see where it would go. He controlled my existence just as much as the clowns in the institute and my parents did. He showed me the dream, but he didn’t really teach it to me. I think it would have come along all by itself, given time.
“The whole dream thing changed when Cat showed up. Zogg said the dream’s creative imagination, but it’s real, a real place and Cat is not me. She’s real.”
“It can seem that way.”
Makaila told Judy about the hat. “It convinced me.”
Judy didn’t believe the story, dismissing it as more exaggeration. “When we believe something, or wish to believe something, we imagine things that validate what we wish to believe. We spin the experiences to prove what we want.”
Makaila giggled. “You asked for my story and I’m giving it to you the way I see it. You can draw whatever conclusions you want.”
“I got that. However, I’m a scientist and I have to fit everything into my observations and experiences. I believe that you believe the dream is real and that’s okay. Until I find a framework to understand it that way, I’m going to keep the jury out. I’m not going to say it’s not real, but I’m not going to say it’s real, either.”
“I hear you.”
Just into Pennsylvania, Judy pulled off the interstate and found a motel. Inside the dim room, while digging in her large bag, she told Makaila: “I’ll tell you my greatest secret in life. I started going gray about four years ago.” She produced a bottle and a pair of scissors. “I don’t believe you’re a liar or a storyteller. I believe that you believe everything you say. Yet, I don’t believe everything you say is true.
“Yet, I believe a lot of it and I’m not going to even try to figure out what’s reasonable and what’s not.” She held the bottle to the side of Makaila’s head. “This long blond hair of yours is a beacon. Let’s go auburn, my color, and shorten it up.”
“Cool deal! Great idea!”
“And, I’m going to teach you how to wear make-up so you look older.
Makaila pushed on her breasts. “Maybe I should see if I can pass as a boy?”
Judy shook her head. “Bad idea. You want to blend in, not stand out. A fem boy could attract more attention than an average girl.”
As the sun was rising, Makaila inspected her new look in the mirror. “My own mom wouldn’t know me, not that she ever did.”
They slept into the afternoon.
When Makaila woke, she was alone and panicked, thinking somehow Judy betrayed her. She was trying to pry open the rear window when Judy returned with hamburgers and a newspaper. “I know you must be hungry. I sure am.” She inspected her work. “You even wake up looking great.”
As they settled to eat, Judy asked: “Now where to? I have to call the college and ask for a short leave of absence.”
Makaila opened the newspaper, flipping the pages quickly. “Can you call your parents and have them call the college? I have no idea how good their net is.”
“What do you mean?”
“I booked a flight, but didn’t get to the destination. They look at the airport I booked from, find a woman who called out from classes, phoned in from Pennsylvania, they have a place to look.”
Judy nodded. “I’ll email my dad at work and tell him I’m okay, but not to notify the school.”
“That’s even better. I’m not paranoid: everyone is out to get me.” She smacked the newspaper. “Dammit!” She showed Judy the entertainment page. An ad in the middle sported a picture of a girl in a shower of butterflies, one-third profile. The header read: Butterflies are free.
Judy looked close. “Is that you?”
“Was. This is where we’re going.”
“Yeah, as if life isn’t.”
Josephine became aware of the vision, an elephant sitting on her chest. She tried to push the elephant off but couldn’t. Her eyes fluttered. She stared into a bright light. Somewhere between the non-reality of the dream world and the real world, she remembered. Her first attempt to sit up failed in a cascade of pain.
She rolled on her side and pushed through the agony, fighting for every painful breath. “Bitch! He made a big mistake. I’m alive.” The sheriff and DA were cuffed, gagged and locked in a cell. The only real damage was to Power’s pride.
“How long?” she asked.
“Couple of hours.”
She grimaced. “Too late for a posse, if you do that sort of thing here.” She laughed painfully. “They’ve evaporated by now.” Falling into the sheriff’s chair, she asked, picking up the telephone: “Can I use your phone?”
“Uncle George. Listen and do as I say. No questions. Just do it. Go to my apartment, now. I mean right now. Mom’s got a key. Take my computer and files. All of it. Take someone with you to help.” She looked at Powers. “Two hours?”
“You have thirty minutes, maybe an hour. Do it now.”
“What’s this all about?”
“That present you gave me last Christmas? It works fine.”
A pause crept by. “You all right?”
“Barely. Get moving. I’m counting on you.” She hung up and asked the sheriff where the gun shop was.
Powers reached around her, opening a drawer. “Take that.” He indicated a .44 magnum. “An irony. That’s his gun.”
She traded the .38.
Josephine went up on the sheriff’s computer and downloaded the hard drive from her computer two states away. “Just in case.” Back to the telephone, she called the desk and was glad Sergeant Carl Hagan answered. “Got an emergency, Carl. I just got it on a pretty reliable source there’s a bomb in my building. Better get the whole building covered.”
“No. Almost sure.”
That’ll buy Uncle George some time.
Marks and Harshaw hurried by Bixby, Bixby alert at the door. Marks looked in all directions. The three men climbed into the front seat of the waiting car.
“Airport,” Harshaw said, not needing to. “Why’d you take so long?”
Marks, behind the wheel, leaned forward to see around Bixby. “Protocol.”
Marks nodded. “You broke protocol when you went alone. You didn’t have a fail-safe in place.”
“You should have had me out the second I didn’t check in! That’s protocol!”
“Not actually,” Marks corrected. “With no fail-safe, protocol says to gather information, then take appropriate action, which, I might point out, was not to get you out but leave you incarcerated. Too great of exposure.”
“I thought to get the writ,” Bixby added.
“The cop knew too much, had too many pieces,” Marks stated.
“We had to take care of the problem. It just so happened that you were a bonus.” Bixby nodded.
Harshaw looked uncomfortable, knew he made a mistake and tried to put it behind him. “Just a kid! How easy could that be? They got my gun. She took my car.”
“Good,” Marks said. “About the car, that is. We’ll have her by morning at the latest.”
“Don’t bet on it.” Harshaw grumbled to himself. “This one’s coming down hard. I saw her eyes. This kid’s got no soul.”
Bixby, sitting next to his boss, laughed a little.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’ve never known you to make a mistake. This was a big one. It’s nice to know you’re human under that iron skin of yours.”
“Simple misjudgment. I didn’t count on the kid having so much help.”
“That’s why we have protocol,” Marks pointed out. “I can’t count how many times you told me that.”
Harshaw turned to damage control. “How’d you handle the report?”
Marks leaned forward to see the man’s face. “You happened to be in the area and had to act right away.”
“Just why did I happen to be in the area?”
“No one asked,” Bixby answered. “I don’t think anyone really cared.”
“Paper trail back there?”
Bixby smiled. “I’m surprised that hick could find his desk without help.”
Marks mused to the windshield. “But, the writ didn’t intimidate him.”
“Little man with his little piece of power,” Bixby offered as an explanation.
“I don’t think so. He made me. Do a background check on him.”
Bixby and Marks looked at each other.
“There’s a meeting,” Marks said coldly. “We don’t know if you’re in charge anymore or not.”
“I’m completely within parameters.” Harshaw balked. “But sure, I can see how that’s required.”
Bixby produced some papers from his coat pocket, handing them to Harshaw. “Our report. We back you up.”
Harshaw knew the problem would work out. A hard copy of a report of this nature was a violation of protocol. The whole Event Horizon could be spun and pass.
“We don’t really answer to the bureaucrats, anyway. They just think we do.” Bixby smiled.
True. Harshaw read the report and filled in the blanks he knew he’d be asked. The powers-that-be want certain situations handled but don’t have the stomach to do what has to be done, nor do they want to accept responsibility for their choices. Protect the safety and security of the citizens of the United States of America, was his charter.
I don’t determine what the risks are, after all. He is assigned, or made aware of, what needs to be fixed. His job was to determine the quickest, easiest and best way to achieve the goals.
The chief editor of the national affiliate local newspaper stood over the desk of the young editor. “Just how much background did you do on these kids?” He waved her article.
“It was cut and dry.”
“You didn’t see anything unusual?”
She sat back from her word processor, looking up. “It was all unusual. Teenagers buying a rundown house and doing an outstanding job fixing it up with their own efforts and money? Setting up formal study groups to help each other out in school? I didn’t even see any toys, comic books or video games. Very unusual, but all teenagers should be like this.”
“You didn’t think to do any background?”
“I didn’t think I needed to. Like I said, cut and dry.”
He looked at the ceiling. “I should have given this to Siegel. She knows how to fact-check and isn’t easily fooled. This will be on the op/ed page tomorrow. I expect our response, one way or another, the next day.” He handed her a sheet.
She read it, twice. “Looks like nonsense to me. Is this guy credible?”
“Local pastor. Twenty years on the job. Nonsense or not, it sells papers. Let’s stir this fire and see how far it shoots up in the air.”
Almost two years ago, we had a bright light ripped from us; and we so soon forget. Alvin Percy was a teacher, a profession he chose because he loved children and he knew Jesus, who tells us to care for the children. Alvin was a member of my parish and I knew him for many years. He was a godly man.
On November 4, 1997, at the age of 34, he was taken from us in a most gruesome way. His life was taken in a ritual, which could only be the practice of the Black Arts. This was reported on the news; I remember it well. But the news was soon censored for whatever reason they had to do so.
Maybe it was fear of a public panic; maybe it was because the Evil in our society controls the news we see. I write this letter now, and fully expect it will not be published. Ignoring and hiding Evil is so much easier than confronting it.
I believe in my heart, from hours of prayer, that a satanic group murdered my friend Alvin in a satanic ritual. This was in the newspaper, too, but quickly ignored and forgotten. We must all remember, life is a battleground between God and Satan, and Satan is winning because he is a coy trickster and we are so easily fooled.
Yesterday, I read “Children helping children – and the neighborhood,” and went into prayer for hours. This is not a group of innocent children but a cult. Satan comes on the faces of the innocent, those you would never know. And they do good deeds and help people so that we are fooled. This could very well be the very cult that murdered Alvin Percy. Take care; you might be next. Join me in prayer against all Evil in the world. We must win for God!
Pastor Steve Stevens
“Do you think they’ll get violent?” Arianna asked George.
“Depends on their numbers.”
The day after the letter to the editor was published, toward evening, four people showed up on the street, knelt and prayed, holding candles.
“Doesn’t matter,” Larry said. “They’d only bring about their own destruction.”
“Lots of kids didn’t come today.” Arianna carried worry in her voice.
“Fear, parents, other reasons I would think,” George offered. “A lot of people are going to believe this nonsense.”
“Nonsense?” Larry turned to him with a stiff jaw.
“Yeah, nonsense. You having anything to do with this guy’s death.”
Arianna’s soft face grew dark. “We did.”
“That.” She nodded to the newspaper in George’s hand. “I’m glad they know it.”
Larry threw his head back. “It’s a test. Our saint against theirs. Which one will come back?”
“She-who-is-like-God,” Arianna whispered.
“They’ll see which is the true God and which is not,” Larry said.
“You killed this guy?” George asked again, clearly and plainly.
“She did.” Arianna answered.
Makaila? He ran the numbers in his head. At the age of twelve? A gruesome murder?
Larry’s eyes glazed over as he stared out the window. “She was the light and the truth. He was sent to kill her but couldn’t. She killed him. Since their minion couldn’t stop her, they came and murdered her. Now She’s coming back for them.” He pointed toward the street. “All of them!” He raised his hands to the ceiling. “In power and glory, she shall return!”
“In power and glory,” the ten gathered children repeated.
Addressing everyone, Arianna contradicted Larry, a new habit. “I don’t think so. I see her coming back on a cloud of light, which only we can see, humbly, with her eyes bright and her hand waving in the air like a butterfly, softly touching us all.” She put a hand to Larry’s face. “That will be her power and glory.”
Larry nodded. “Yes, of course. I sometimes see it how I want to see it, not as it will be.”
George took it all in.
I have to talk to Elderage, ASAP.
Josephine knew she had a broken rib or two – or three.
Maybe just cracked.
From her childhood, an argument with a sliding board, she knew medical science couldn’t do anything for her but say: rest. She hadn’t rested in years and wasn’t about to start.
As Powers busied on the telephone, and after she buried and coded her down-loaded hard drive information onto the sheriff’s computer, Josephine did one last Internet search, found what she was looking for and left, with the sheriff calling, good luck, as the door closed.
The bar across the street called to her in a voice she could taste.
After all that, I’ve earned a drink.
With a two hundred mile drive ahead of her, five or six hours, she thought maybe she should get a bottle for company. She dropped to the curb and took a deep breath.
“If I wasn’t so shaky, I could’ve got the drop on him.” Her mouth was dry. She ached for just one drink. “One, to take the edge off.” She put a finger on the indentation in her flak jacket. “Maybe when I’m done. I need this edge.”
She bought a large coffee, assorted candy and a bag of cookies, found the rental car where she left it and headed east. She smiled at the folded newspaper on the seat next to her, a picture of an angelic child, her hands raised surrounded by butterflies. “I know where I’d hide if I were you.”
Josephine settled back in the seat as she climbed onto Route 70, found a classical music station on the radio and let her mind wander over all that brought her to the moment. She’d never been to Pittsburgh, a carnival or even gotten shot in the chest. She laughed at the non-reality, the surrealistic nature of the past day.
She didn’t have a plan other than to find the girl. When she first stumbled across what seemed like a conspiracy, she dismissed it. For such a conspiracy to exist, things and people would have to be too far reaching, too large. People can’t disappear from a system created to protect people. Josephine believed in the system. She believed the system worked, though not perfectly. She believed the system was fair for the most part.
In the part where the system wasn’t fair, she fought to correct it. The laws were established by the people and for all the people. She supported these laws. Now, she had a judge involved in a child’s disappearance and a man who gets a writ from a federal judge. They tried to kill her, but not the sheriff. She wasn’t sure what she stepped into, like the sheriff said. She became a believer in conspiracy theories.
As if her day wasn’t bad enough, just off the interstate nearing Pittsburgh, she limped to the side of the road with a flat tire. The rental car didn’t have a jack. The road was off the main highway and she couldn’t see any lights from far off houses. A few cars passed, far between each other. As she tried to decide which way to walk or stay with the car until morning, a car pulled up behind hers.
Three young men climbed out, apparently drunk, made some derogatory remarks concerning her race and, she judged, threatened aggressively.
“I don’t want any trouble.” She squared, wishing a cop would stop. “Just move along.”
“Aw, we can have a little fun.”
Josephine spread her feet in her marksman stance and leveled the .44 in their direction. They moved along. She hoped they were just drunk kids and not representative of the population. She decided staying with the car wasn’t safe, locked the rental and picked a direction.
She soon came to a small motel. When the thought of sleep came to her, she realized just how tired she was. She took a room, fell on the bed and slept not only through the night, but well into the next day.
Makaila stood in the bathroom doing her makeup for the first time, trying to duplicate what Judy showed her. She found it easier, and harder, than she thought. “Makes my face feel dirty.”
“You get used to it, like anything new.” Judy put a robe over Makaila’s shoulders. “Don’t want you to get cold.”
The motel room wasn’t cold. Makaila giggled. “Sorry, I forgot.” She showered and dried off. Anxious to try her new look, she forgot she was naked. “Sometimes I’m not aware I have a body.” Makaila looked at Judy. “I mean I forget I’m supposed to keep my body covered around people.”
“You have a beautiful body.” Judy blushed. “Too much time in your head?”
Returning to the mirror and twisting for an angle to see and apply mascara at the same time, she thought aloud. “Yeah, I think that’s it. It’s cool you get that. I tried to explain it to my aunt and uncle, but they got lost before I even got started.”
“I find that an interesting contradiction. You can understand other people to a scary degree, as if you can read their minds –”
“The subtle body.”
“Right. Yet, you don’t put yourself in the puzzle.”
“I do, when I’m paying attention. It’s like people get programmed, but my programming just doesn’t stick.” She slipped her arms into the robe and tied the belt. “How’s this? More shadow?”
“Looks good. You’ll get better with practice. Do you mean habits?”
“Yeah, habits, I guess. Like you, and most people, grow up not running around naked because, well, you learn not to. You get out of the shower and reach for the robe without thinking about it. Like there’s already the thought in your head and it just doesn’t come to the front, yet you do it anyway. Kinda like programming.”
“Sure. What we learn to be a human being in society. The rules. Whisper in church, go on green lights, wear clothes around people, have dessert after dinner, say please and thank you, and so on.”
“You gotta whisper in church?”
“No. You don’t have to but everyone does.”
“I’ve never been in a church.” Digging in her knapsack, she came out with a simple cotton bra. “Ma picked this out for me. You got something better.” She looked to the floor. “I got no idea about this girl stuff. Mom always got whatever was on close-out or on sale.”
“I only wish there were an owner’s manual!” Judy dropped a suitcase on the bed and flipped the lid back. “I bet we wear the same size – almost.” She held up a black, bra-lined sheer camisole. “Try this.”
Makaila looked at the camisole, back toward the bathroom, and then back at Judy. She dropped her robe to the floor and slipped the garment over her head, wiggling into it. Her eyes got big as she ran her hands down the front of her body. “Wow, this feels great!”
She passed Makaila the matching bottoms. “I wish I had my closet here. You’re thirteen?”
“My mother took me in her bedroom when I was about your age. We did this for hours.” Her eyes drifted into a stare.
“I read all about menstruation and all that, but that’s nothing like someone telling you about it. I think my mom was too caught up in her own stuff to even think I might be a human being under my psychosis.”
“You don’t have a psychosis. Get that in your head. I think you’re better off not having your mother, someone who doesn’t know how to be a human being, showing you how to be a human being.” Judy wasn’t afraid to draw conclusions about Makaila’s mother, having weighed the entirety of Makaila’s story. “I think it was your parents that should have been in therapy, not you.”
“Really?” She eyed herself in the mirror. “This not only feels great, but looks great, too!” Makaila tried to hug herself. “Shame it’s gotta be hidden under clothes!”
A mix of emotions cascaded through Judy’s mind. She found herself much too physically attracted to the child.
Makaila turned from the mirror and threw her arms around Judy. “Thanks for everything!” She held back happy tears.
Judy kissed her on the cheek. “You’re welcome.” God. I could eat her up! Judy didn’t want to withdraw affection from Makaila, yet she knew she had to decide what was appropriate.
She dressed her new friend in flare-bottom jeans and her college sweatshirt. “Let me try to explain something to you.” She sat next to Makaila on the bed. “I got this idea that what we deny or ignore, we give power to.”
“Okay, let’s say I feel something and ignore it or deny it. I could end up doing something I really don’t want to do. For example, if I was mad at you yet didn’t want to yell at you and denied the anger instead, I could end up yelling at you anyway. Follow me?”
“You’re mad at me? I don’t see that.”
“That was just an example.”
Makaila took a moment to run down Judy’s subtle body indications. “You’re upset, uncomfortable. Tense. It has something to do with what I’ve done? No. Who I am. No. What you’re seeing?” Makaila nodded. “What you’re seeing.” She took Judy’s hands. “Why don’t you just tell me what’s bothering you?”
Judy blinked twice. “I find myself attracted to you.”
“Like sexually?” Makaila looked deep into Judy’s eyes, analyzed her facial muscles. “You’re gay?”
“Of course, you’re not. It’s not sexual, not at all.” Makaila smiled darkly. “I know lots more than I should about sex, but I still don’t understand it. Mostly, I think people are mixed up and confused more than I am.” She nodded long, twice. “I can tell by your eyes.”
Judy drank in Makaila’s words as she searched her crystal blue eyes. “I don’t follow you at all.”
“Guys get this look, hard to explain, in their eyes. It’s like their brain’s disconnected from their bodies. I like saw it in school and didn’t get what it meant. I learned what it meant in the institute. Kinda like a cause and effect thing.” With the casualness of talking about the weather, she went on: “I could tell how the night would be by their eyes in the daytime. I’d be stripped and the straps switched around. Some guys would just play with themselves and others would have sex with me. It’s the eyes that tell the future.”
Judy was stunned.
“When I got sprung, I watched the eyes of people. Girls get that look, too. Out here in the world, it’s a bit different and I think I understand why, now.” She reached up with a soft finger, wiping a tear from Judy’s cheek. “Socialization. In Hell, they had a different set of rules.”
Judy searched for words. “Couldn’t you tell the people in charge?”
“The head guy was in on it. He was around often, joined in the reindeer games and I think he sold tickets. All that doesn’t matter, just in how I know what I know. You’re not gay and you don’t want me sexually. Of course, you just may think you do, but that doesn’t make it so.”
Judy shook her head to clear the fog.
“It doesn’t matter because I wasn’t there. I read lots about survivors of childhood sexual abuse and how it ruins their whole life. Here comes the psychopathic stuff. I wasn’t there. I was in my head. So, it really didn’t matter what they did to my body. They didn’t do it to me.” She removed the lampshade and unscrewed the bulb, holding it tight in her fist. “See? No pain. No burns.”
Judy went wide-eyed.
“You don’t want me sexually. You misunderstand what you want. You’re attracted to my light.”
“Okay, Ms. Scientist. In all my reading about psychology, I never came across this, so I doubt you ever heard of it. I only get it because I’ve experienced it with someone. You got these feelings telling your body something and the only way you can relate is sexually. You want to be close to me, next to be. So close to me, you’re inside me, like being so close you want to be me or leave behind all that’s you and be me instead. Kinda feel like that?”
Judy closed her eyes and took a deep breath as Makaila wiped more tears from Judy’s face. “Like wanting to be back in the womb, surrounded. Protected?”
“Yeah, kinda sorta. So close that you lose track of where you end and I begin.”
Makaila, filled with an undeniable impulse, leaned in and kissed Judy firmly, but briefly, on the lips. “I think sex should be left for making babies. It just confuses people.”
“You just kissed me.” Judy blinked three times.
Makaila giggled. “That damn short-circuited socialization thing. I wanted to see what it felt like. I’ve only kissed one other person, around my age, and meant it.”
“The person you experienced the light with?”
“No, but I’m going to the next time I see her. It was this kid, Timmy. In front of a crowd of people.” Makaila took Judy’s cheeks with both hands. “May I?” Her eyes, innocent and probing.
Judy nodded short and quickly. With eyes closed, Makaila and Judy kissed long and deep.
“I think I’m going to like this kissing thing.” Makaila took her feet. “When I was a kid, no one ever touched me and meant it. I can’t remember a time when my mom or dad ever hugged me. When I got to the farm, Pops and Ma went out of their way to hug me, and mean it. When I did good, I got a hug. When I did not so good, I got a hug.
“In Hell, lots of guys kissed me, but that was when they were squirming around on top of me. They weren’t really kissing me. They were like in their own heads trying to satisfy their thirst by drinking sand.
“No, Judy. It’s not sexual at all. It’s about wanting to be close to each other. Let’s find a carnival.”
“I need a cigarette.”
“It was a joke.”