61 to 75
Every breath came painfully, intruding on her dreams. Visions of young children, death and the face of the well-dressed man danced in her nightmares. The door burst open again and the same man rushed in. If not for the safety, she would have unloaded the .44 into the empty air before fully awake.
She fell back on the bed and wondered, in order, where she was, what day it was and what time it was. “Pennsylvania,” she said to the ceiling searching for the other answers. “Don’t know – don’t have a clue.” Rolling to a sitting position, she dropped the clip, again, checking the gun’s load. “Find out what time it is, what day it is, eat, get the car fixed and find the carnival.”
Her head was dull and she wished for her normal eye-opener: bourbon. Leaning on the sink, she stared at the image in the mirror. “God, girl. You don’t look so good. The last thing you need is a drink.”
She called the desk. To her surprise, she hadn’t slept twenty years. She thought she’d check out and arrange road service from the desk. She had no idea who to call. She pushed the pain back, threw her one bag over her shoulder and left the room behind.
“It says major credit cards.” Josephine puzzled at the kid on the desk.
“That means in-state credit cards. You have to find a bank and get a cash advance. Don’t even show me a checkbook. You’ll have to leave your car until you pay.”
Jokes on you, you little bastard.
An auburn-haired woman pushed her way casually next to Josephine, leaned her elbows on the chest-high counter and presented a fist full of money. “I hope you take, like, cash, even if it’s printed outside your wonderful state. Room 212. I’ll pay for this lady, too.” Makaila winked at Josephine.
“Sorry to spoil your fun, kid, but I think it really sucks when a clown like you gets in someone’s face just because they happen to be born different than you.” She held her hand at her eye level. “I’m not all that tall but you’re shorter than me and you don’t see me making fun of you because you don’t measure up.”
Josephine tried to laugh, but hurt too much. “Thanks, eh. Get me to a bank and I’ll pay you back.”
“Cathy. Cathy Madison. $16.00? Won’t break this bank.” Makaila fanned the handful of bills. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Josephine McCarthy.” She took Makaila’s hand. “My friends call me Jo.”
“Well, we’re buds right off until we decide different. Something I learned not too long ago. In college, Jo.” She gathered the receipts and placed a ten-dollar bill on the counter. “For the great service, shorty.” She picked up Josephine’s bag.
Makaila left Josephine on the curb and went to the driver’s side, leaning on the door to talk to Judy. “Your sister’s Cathy, right?”
“Yeah, surprised you remembered.”
“For now, that’s me.”
“Good idea. What’s up with her?”
“I gotta teach you to read subtle body. This lady’s in big trouble.”
“More than you?”
“It’s all relative. Look at her face. She’s in lots of pain. My guess is she got sprayed with bullets.”
“You can tell that by her face?”
Makaila snickered. “The pain, yeah. The bullets, no. She’s wearing a bullet-proof vest.” She held a finger up to Josephine for her to wait. “She’s from out of town. Look at the cars here in the lot. No rental and no out-of-state tags. Her car’s not here. Should I go on?”
“What do you think we should do?”
“Don’t know. I think we should ask her.”
“Maka – Cathy, you’re not a psychopath.”
“Maybe I just like the rush.”
Makaila put Josephine and her bag on the backseat. “My sister, Judy. Her friends call her Judy. Give the glad hand to Jo, our new bud.”
“We’re on our way to get a serious meal. Care to join us before you go on your way?” Judy watched Josephine in the rearview mirror.
Eating was on her list, having been a while. She winced against the pain. “Sounds good. Thanks again. I’ll buy. Least I can do.”
“Deal,” Makaila agreed.
In the first restaurant they came to, once at the table, Jo suggested: “You shouldn’t wave that money around like that.”
“I don’t. I was making a point.”
“So where you from?” Judy asked.
Judy tightened up. Makaila, without hesitation, asked: “Is that like in New England?”
“A ways below New England. Dead east of here.”
Breaking a bread roll in thirds, Makaila gave each a piece. “I’m going to go back to my high school and demand my money back. I should know that, I guess.”
“What brings you out here?” Judy asked further.
Makaila smirked and leaned toward Josephine. “This ain’t no hoedown at the county fair and not time for dancing. Who shot you?”
Josephine looked from one to the other as if caught cheating on a test. “What makes you think I was shot?”
“Do you believe in psychics?” Makaila asked.
“Neither do I.” Makaila paused to accept menus and order coffee. “You’re on the run. You got shot. You’re not a criminal and you didn’t do anything wrong. You drink too much.” She squinted. “Make that drank too much. You’re more concerned about your career – slash that – an aspect of your career – yeah, that’s right. You’re more concerned about an aspect of your career than having friends, or even your family.”
Judy was amazed watching Makaila work Josephine. She understood exactly what Makaila was doing and how, but she couldn’t have done it herself. Makaila could put things together and in order, simply reading subtle hints in Josephine’s face.
“Jo, our new bud. We’re the good guys. Tell us how we can help.”
Josephine sat with her mouth moving, no words coming out at first. She closed her eyes. “My car’s got a flat and I don’t have a jack.”
“Rental car. Should have called the company.” Makaila saw a variation around Josephine’s eyes when she said, my car, which told Makaila it was not her car at all. The rest was conjecture. “But, that’s really your problem in life and why you’ll do what you can to refuse our help. You’ve been disappointed so many times, you think you’re on your own all the time.”
Judy giggled. “Scary, isn’t she?”
Josephine stared at Makaila. “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone.”
“You just may be! But, really. We’re on vacation and can help you out.”
“We were raised that way,” Judy added.
Makaila wouldn’t allow Josephine to pay for the meal. “I don’t care about the details, but someone tried to kill you. The second you smoke the credit card, he’s going to know where you are.” She smiled. “Unless that’s what you want, but I’d wait until you can hold that gun in a way it would do some good.”
Makaila made too much sense.
“I’m a psych major. I know nothing of jacks,” Judy announced. “That’s what I have a dad for.”
“I’ve never changed a tire.” Josephine eyed the trunk. “The three of us are going to set women’s lib back a decade.”
Makaila dragged the pieces of the jack out of Judy’s trunk. “How hard can it be?” She read the instructions and looked at the rental car’s undercarriage. “You’d think a car’s a car, but not so.” She made it work. When she came to breaking the lug nuts, she found herself thankful for all those days throwing hay.
“Back in the race.” Makaila clapped her hands together. “Now we can go to the carnival, if there’s nothing else.”
“Carnival?” Josephine asked.
Makaila closed her eyes. The license tag, Ohio, on the rental car hit her for the first time. She ran the combinations and permutations backwards, trying to place Josephine in the drama.
“Carnival’s are a hobby of ours.” Judy jumped in. “I’m doing a study of social culture structures in the carnival environment. When I publish, you’ll get to say you met someone famous.”
That’s enough, Judy.
Judy went on: “Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with carnivals of all sorts.”
Makaila put a hand on Judy’s arm but knew it was too late. Josephine had too many pieces.
Friend or foe? Makaila couldn’t be sure. She watched Josephine’s mind working. Makaila was five feet away, Josephine slowed by her injuries.
Two steps, swing. The tire iron would crack her skull before she could reach her gun. Makaila took a deep breath.
“I’ve always liked carnivals, too.” Josephine narrowed her eyes at Makaila. “Maybe I’ll see you there.”
Not if I see you first. Makaila waved as Josephine drove off.
“I think she knows, Judy. But she’s not sure what she knows.”
“You think? Why didn’t she take you?”
“She knew I’d kill her.” Makaila sat straight down to the gravel shoulder and looked up at Judy. “I want to go back to the motel where only you and me were the whole world. I want to go back to the farm where the whole world was people who smiled at me and cared about me.” The tears flowed. “I don’t want to be in a world where I even have to think about killing people!”
Judy dropped to her knees, holding Makaila. “You’re makeup’s going to run.”
Cathy’s right. Josephine made her way to the turnpike. If they suspect I’m not dead, the credit card’s a dead giveaway. She drove east two exits, filled the car on the credit card and withdrew cash from a bank machine.
Now the trail, if found, will look like I’m on my way to New Jersey.
She went back the way she came.
The girl, Cathy, bothered her. She had too much insight as if she had inside information. She looked familiar. Josephine placed her at about eighteen years old. She wanted to put the girl’s face next to those in her files to be sure, but she didn’t fit any of the profiles. Debbie Powers and Carol Abbot, she remembered, would be around that age, but she couldn’t imagine what they’d look like.
Nothing else fit the profiles.
The so-called psychic abilities sent the first alarms off and raised suspicions. She’d seen many acts just like Cathy’s, but always on stage. Hers wasn’t all that good, anyway. Guessing averages. Once Josephine learned Judy and Cathy were carny-rats, the psychic act made sense.
“Interesting women, though.” She hoped to see them again and maybe get to know them better. And, pay them the money she owed.
“It’s lots easier being a farm girl.” Makaila worked on fixing her makeup in the moving car.
“Gets to be second nature. Do they know you’re coming?”
“Doesn’t matter. I didn’t tell them. Megan’s a witch. I’m sure she knows. I want to just walk in. If no one recognizes me, I know I’m cool.”
“A witch, huh?”
“Gypsy. I call her a witch because it gets under her skin. Not that there’s any difference. It’s shtick for the marks.”
Judy laughed. “How long did you hang out with these people?”
“Couple of hours. Seemed like a lifetime.”
“And, you think they’ll welcome you in?”
“With open arms – maybe even candles.”
An elderly man stopped Makaila and Judy at the temporary fence. “Don’t open ‘til tomorrow. Come back then.”
“I’ve never seen you before. You a local temp?”
“Don’t matter who or what I am. Tomorrow.”
“We’re college kids looking for some work ourselves,” Judy insisted. “Just a couple of days.”
Allowed to pass, they wandered around, watching everyone putting up stands, tents, rides and stages.
“This is a big one.” Judy tried to see everything at once.
“It’s very cool.”
“No one seems to know you.”
“Good.” She didn’t see Mike, Jill or Megan. She found Megan’s tent and decided to wait.
“Are you sure no one’s going to mind us being in here?”
“Maybe I’ll do some readings until Madam Dandelion shows. What do you think? Madam Bimbo?”
“How about, she-who-is-like-God, Makaila?” Megan’s song-like voice filled the tent. Judy jumped.
“So it is. We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Well, since I don’t have to bring you up to speed, I’ll just ask then. Can you do it?”
“We would be honored.”
“We are family here. You know that. We decide these things together. Bossman cried with joy when he heard you were coming to stay with us.” Her dark eyes cut into Makaila. “It is really our joy to serve you.”
Megan smiled. “No.”
“Okay. Bossman. Megan, say hello to Judy. She’s like my sister. Judy, this is the witch I mentioned.”
“Gypsy.” Megan took Judy’s hand. “Yes, with your new look, which I like by the way, you do look like sisters.” She held Judy’s eyes and hands. “Hmm – you find yourself on a strange journey.”
“That’s not what I mean. A journey within yourself, your mind and your emotions. Everything in life is suddenly not as it was. You have found a rare gift, which few in a lifetime experience and you don’t know what the gift is.”
Makaila walked around the tent, stopping to put a hand on the window-artwork with the candle. With the matches from the small shelf, she lit the candle. “Spiritual love.”
“Yes, Makaila. Spiritual love.”
She didn’t turn from the candle. “What is that anyway?”
“There are no words. It just is. What you feel for Cat.”
“Told you it wasn’t sexual. What gives with the candles?”
Ignoring the question, Megan continued to Judy. “This is a life-transforming experience. Very powerful. It’s a testimony to your character that you have not run from it.”
Judy watched Megan carefully. “Where will it lead?”
“No one knows what the future will be. Your life will unfold before you as you take each step and make each choice.”
“Unlike some people we know, whose choices are made for them.” Makaila stared into the candle’s dancing flame.
“You can go back to your life, taking that which you have experienced thus far – full and rich – and your life will unfold as you have imagined it and predicted it. Or, you can stay, here, with her and with us. Many doors, which you cannot even imagine, will open to you. But – be warned – there is a dark side.”
“Like a butterfly, you can never go back and be the caterpillar again.”
“That doesn’t sound like a dark side.”
“Oh, child, it is. You will never again be able to be like them. You have fit in all your life. You no longer will.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Stay then. You will come to understand.” Megan released Judy’s hands and eyes. “Candles call you home.”
“Here? No, wait. The farm? No, not the farm. Hmm. You’re kidding? No, you’re not. I don’t want to go.”
“You must and you will, but not today.”
“Cool. I was surprised no one recognized me. I made quite a stir the other night.”
“Everyone recognized you. It was all they could do to continue their work. You seemed to want to wander around unnoticed so that’s what they let you do.”
“Oh. Where’s Mike? I kinda slipped out without thanking him.”
“I’m sure he’ll be along. He’s readying a party.”
“You’re pretty cool, for a witch.”
“She only says that to bug you,” Judy pointed out.
“I know.” She backed from the tent. “Come along when you’re ready. Just look for the glow of the fire.”
“Thanks!” Judy called.
Makaila dropped to her knees and put her hands in Judy’s lap, looking up at her. “Told you she had a cool shtick, huh?”
“You think that’s all an act?”
“It’s all magic. Mike said so. He’s pretty cool, too. You’ll like him. It’s not hard to guess, seeing as how I have a new look and it looks like you, that you’re in a life-transforming experience and it has something to do with me. Megan’s the one who told me I have this light thing. It doesn’t show in the mirror, so I have to take her word for it.
“She said I was like God or something.” She bounced. “So, what you going to do? Hang or split?” Makaila’s blue eyes sparkled from the candlelight. “I told you my story and you got me here. That was the deal.”
“Somehow I think that deal changed somewhere along the way. If you want me to stay and I’m invited, I would like to.” Her greenish-brown eyes were almost sad.
“Yes and you are!”
“I’m not sure you can speak for them.”
“I gotta clue who Bossman is. I can speak for them.”
“Assuming that’s true, you’re stuck with me for the time being.”
“Let’s go find the fire, then.”
Hand in hand, they left the tent.
Evening gave over to night and a harvest moon. The earlier activities, clanging of wrenches, pounding of hammers, shouts of instructions, heaving of combined force in lifting structures into place and the general buzz of group labors vanished. The stands, tents, games, rides and displays were ready for opening day. The rides were not the same as in Ohio. They looked the same. Makaila knew they were not. This was a different company.
Yet, it was all the same anyway.
A glow, like a candle in the window, and the voices of guitars, a banjo and drums led the way, calling Makaila forward.
“You okay?” she asked Judy.
“Kinda weird, I guess. I feel like a stranger.”
Makaila danced as she walked. “We all are until we say hello.” As they broke into the clearing where the bonfire was, all activity stopped and everyone’s attention fell on Makaila and Judy. Makaila bowed, her arms spread to receive nods and murmurs. A child, who reminded Makaila of Audrey, came forward, presenting a dozen long-stem yellow roses.
“Welcome back and please accept this gift from us.”
Makaila, with a smile and giggle, accepted the flowers and quickly took in the dynamics of the forty-odd people. “It’s great to be back.” She handed the flowers to Judy, plucking one from the bunch. She skipped-danced through the people, stopping in front of a tall chair on a raised platform.
Holding the rose in both hands, she offered the flower forward, her head bowed. “I return this to you, Bossman. Thank you for offering me a place to stay.”
The deformed man grunted, shifting his entire body to accept the gift. His eyes sparkled, a tear dripped down his cheek. She wiped his tear with the back of her hand, took his face in her hands and kissed him on the forehead. The music came back up and the party continued.
Mike offered a hand to help Makaila back to the ground. “Good to see you. New look? You incognito?”
“I thought it was Pennsylvania.” She poked his ribs, giggling. “On the lam.” She took his hand and walked in the direction of Judy.
“No one should know you.”
“You all did, I hear.”
“Megan said you were coming. We were looking.”
“I kinda got stuck, no place to go.” She pulled on a man’s arm. “Sorry about the gut. Did you get the bat back?”
He rubbed his big stomach. “Least you hit me where I got all the padding. Yeah, Mike gave it to me.” He took her from Mike, dragging her away from the crowd, back to the games. He beamed, pointing.
The baseball bat hung on a gun rack at his stand. The sign below it read: In case of emergencies. “Madam Dandelion says it’s magic now. I don’t believe nothing of magic, but I don’t believe in taking risks, either.”
Judy, lost and alone, came up behind as they laughed. Makaila put her arm around her friend and kissed her on the cheek.
“What kind of emergencies?” Judy asked.
“This is Judy, my bud.”
“Batman.” The man offered a hand. “You didn’t brag on yourself?”
“About?” Makaila asked.
He laughed again.
As time went on, Judy warmed up as she spoke with many people.
Only a couple of hours? Seemingly, Makaila had known these people all her life.
“I kinda have.” Makaila and Judy sat by the fire. “They’re freaks, just like me.”
“You’re not a freak.”
“Oh, I may not have a gnarled face.” She waved to Bossman. “Or be both genders.” She smiled and waved to another person. “I may not be an albino with black eyes.” She exchanged smiles with Megan across the fire. “But, I’m more like them than I am you.” She giggled. “These people are me. I am these people.”
“I’ve never seen you so relaxed. There’s something different about you, here.”
“Subtle body. I don’t feel the need to contain myself so much, control my subtle body to the degree I usually do. It doesn’t matter here.” She giggled again. “Not that you can really hide from your own, anyway.”
Megan took a place next to Bossman, raising her hands to the night sky. All attention came to her. “I shall tell but two of the stories this night.” She drew moans from many people. “I know. It’s late and we have a big day tomorrow.
“In the time before we knew each other, there was a man whose real name was long forgotten. He was called monster and freak and ugly and grotesque and repulsive and inhuman and many other names. He was unloved and unwanted, even by his own family, his own parents.
“There came many times he thought to kill himself and rid the world of that which they hated. A doctor once came to see him and offered to help. But, this doctor didn’t want to help, traveling from one center to another, showing off this man to others. Making money off this man’s misery, giving in return only something to eat and sometimes a bed to sleep on.
“The doctor became rich and the man suffered more and more. The doctor betrayed the man, right down to the core of his soul. The doctor could not trust anyone or anything, and became fearful of others. He kept the man in a wooden crate and he kept his ill-gotten money in a box under his bed.
“There came a night, in a drunken rage brought on by self-hate, the doctor beat the man almost to death. You see, the doctor was as horrid within as he saw the man to be as horrid without. He tried to beat himself.
“The man did, that night, kill the doctor and take all his money. A sizable amount. He created a home for himself, which travels around so people can see him, be saddened, offended or maybe even see themselves. It doesn’t matter why they come. They do. And, leave their money. In time, others joined and were hired by the man.
“We are those others and that is my story.”
Megan was treated to applause and bowed briefly. “For my second story, I shall tell a new one.”
She smiled, showing her palms to the stars. “We live in the goodness and the center of the light. We do only what we need do to be happy. We harm none and expect no harm from others. We celebrate life and life celebrates us. In our home, we live in perfect balance.
“But, all the world is not like us. There is a darkness that has its own will and hates light. And, this darkness is attracted to us. It is in hate with us. It is in love with us, too. It comes in the night, when eyes do not see. It lives in the shadows and stalks our souls, taking that which we own and sometimes taking life itself from our very belly.
“Not long ago, in the form of three ungodly and wretched men, this darkness came and attached itself to us. Whoa, to the good when Satan sends His misery on us! Nothing is safe from this darkness and we were helpless to do anything, because we cannot see that which is hidden in darkness.
“For months, they drained our souls and our goodness and we didn’t even know they were there. Sure, we suspected, we had a feeling, but the darkness is the greatest trickster. We were helpless before it and would have surely been destroyed if not for the help of that which is good. If not for the help of that which is as good as they were bad, as light as they were dark.
“There came a night when the darkness stole from our very womb the most innocent of innocents, a bright and shining child with more life ahead of her than stars in the sky. Their plan was the most profane sex, the cold, lifeless penetration of Satan Himself into her virginal, pure body and soul. The taking of this child’s life would have been minor compared to the violation of her soul!
“Into the dark woods, down in the darkness of the soul they dragged her, away from our light. Held to the cold ground, cold eyes searing into her flesh and her being, to corrupt her body, soul and spirit. Only, yes, only by an act of God could she be saved. Only by an act of God could the reign of darkness be stopped.”
Megan reached high with her right arm. “God did reach down to the Earth and say: This will not happen! And, the angel came to earth with a flaming sword and crushed the darkness, laying dead the husks of that which were already dead, draining the life back to the earth which birthed it.” She folded her hands in front of her chest as her eyes glistened in the fire’s glow. “And that is our story.”
“Wow.” Judy tried to fill her lungs. “I’ve never actually heard a real storyteller.”
“Did you like it?” Megan asked, dropping down next to Makaila. “Audrey told the bit with the angel and the sword. I kept it in.”
Judy’s eyes got big, looking across Makaila. “That really happened?”
Megan nudged Makaila. “You didn’t tell her?”
Makaila shrugged. “Kinda sorta, I guess. No, not really. You tell it like an urban legend.”
“Myth and legend are how all gods are made.”
Judy pulled on Makaila’s arm light-heartedly. “Tell me! Tell me!”
“I’d rather not.”
Megan leaned across Makaila to see Judy. “Just like I said, but take God, angels and the flaming sword out.”
“Yes. Three men dragged a child into the woods. Makaila followed and clobbered them.”
Makaila twisted her face. “I did to them what they were going to do to Audrey. Don’t glorify it. I just can’t get around the thought that I’m just like them. Like, what are their moms feeling about me? It’s not like I feel bad about murdering them. I feel bad that I’m like them.”
“Definitely not a psychopath.”
“Back on the road, Jo was a heartbeat away from death. I thought it, planned it and almost did it.”
“Jo?” Megan asked, slipping into her trance.
“Why?” Judy asked.
“Save the shtick for the tourist, witch.”
“Because I got the idea she was looking for me, found me and was going to take me back.” She turned to Megan. “Gypsy. Save the shtick. If you see something, I’ll listen. You don’t need to give me funny twisty faces as proof.”
“How’d you figure?” Judy asked.
“She’s looking for you, but she’s not the enemy,” Megan stated, without her trance.
“That’s just a habit, the trance,” Makaila said to Megan. “Why’s she looking for me?” Back to Judy: “Carnival. Sent her subtle body off the charts, then you carried on and on, like you explained too much. I thought she recognized me.”
“The tire tool?”
“It’s a deep soul obsession,” Megan explained.
“Yeah,” to Judy and then to Megan: “She’s a cop. Dogging me for the murder?”
“Yes but no.”
“The three guys?” Judy asked.
“No.” Makaila answered Judy and then asked Megan: “Why’s she want to find me, then? If she’s a cop, who shot her?”
Judy put a palm on her forehead and raised the other hand. “Both of you shut up a minute. She’s a cop from New Jersey, driving a rental from Ohio. A rental. Someone shot her because they didn’t want her to do what she was doing: finding you. How’s that sound?”
“A ghost?” Judy asked.
“Spook?” Megan asked.
Makaila stood up. “I’m only safe here if no one knows I’m here. If they know I’m here, no one here’s safe.”
Megan went to speak, to reassure her, but Makaila held her hand up.
“True story, witch.”
Megan nodded. “Then we bury you.”
“I’m Cathy Madison now.” She pulled Judy to her feet. “This is my sister, Judy.” She wrapped her arms around Judy and whispered in her ear. “I will not let anything happen to you because of me. I love you.”
Makaila felt alone in the darkness, staring at the stars, snug in the borrowed sleeping bag. Judy slept in her own sleeping bag so close, Makaila could hear her breathing. She still felt alone. In earlier years, she felt she had no power over her life, her destiny. The people around her, the world around her, had complete power over her.
The time in the institute was no different from the time before the institute. The straps restraining her were different. Dr. Zogg offered words only seeming like freedom. Behind the words, hidden in the darkness of his intent, came tethers locking her actions and sight in what he wanted.
Makaila’s parents were no different.
Her parents did everything they could to minimize the impact Makaila had on their life. They, too, were no different from the institute, the ropes binding her only seemed different. Gaining freedom from the institute and her parent’s environment changed all that. On the farm, she was lulled into a sense of freedom, yet didn’t know what to do with her self-determination. With this sense of freedom, she was allowed to learn what it meant to be a human being in a society. Socialization, Judy called it.
Things weren’t different, just the rules were. Makaila watched Judy’s face lost in sleep and realized just how much impact she had on the world around her. Back in the world, the time in the institution and before, the only consequences were Makaila’s alone. With the arrival of the well-dressed man, clearly anyone around Makaila would bear the consequences. No one was safe around her.
Coming out of isolation meant everyone she cared for and cared for her was at risk. She felt the burning desire to walk away, leaving Judy and the others safe without her. She rolled her eyes up into her head.
Something was different. The canoe wasn’t in its usual place. Climbing the hill, Cat greeted her. “You’ve made some changes.”
“Good to see you, too.”
“Oh, calm down. I like it, even if you don’t look so much like me anymore.”
Makaila relaxed into the chair next to her friend. “Sorry, been a long day.”
“Yeah. Like a year’s passed.” She took her friend’s hand against her cheek. “He’ll keep coming, won’t he?”
“He’s on a mission from God.”
“No. He only thinks he is.”
“Strange. He didn’t seem like a religious guy.”
“I didn’t mean that. He feels he’s doing what’s right to protect his people. He wouldn’t use the word god, but there’s really no difference.”
“Who are his people? Maybe I can just give them a call and see what the deal is.”
“Now you’re thinking, but I didn’t mean that, either. He’s got this moral code and moral imperative, an idea of right and wrong. This code tells him what’s wrong and the imperative drives him to correct it any way he feels he needs to.”
Makaila nodded slowly. “Why am I so important? Why make me a life’s work?”
“You assume you’re the only one.”
Makaila was stunned. “I’m not?”
“Nope – just one person on a long list.”
Cat rolled her eyes into her head. “Fifty-seven so far.”
“Damn. That’s not a hobby. It’s a career!”
“Now you’re catching on.”
“I should have painted the wall with his brains.”
“I might have, if I were standing there.”
“No, not really. If I were you standing there, I might have.”
Makaila nodded again. “That would have gotten me back in the institution, for sure. Cold-blooded murder in front of Ma, Pops and Sheriff Powers.”
“Not the institution, but certainly an institution.” She pointed to the canoe far out on the lake. “Do you like to fish?”
“Never been fishing. Only when talking with you. So, maybe I should’ve tried to get him alone and blow his head off instead of running?”
“Why did he misrepresent himself at the house? Think carefully now.”
She thought carefully. “Okay. Okay, I get it. He wanted to do something to me. Right? Like back to the institution or. Right! Kill me.”
“So, if I got him alone and killed him, I’d be no different.”
“You would do that, why?”
“To save myself.”
She bit her lip until she tasted blood. Her eyes went wide. “To protect my people!”
“Just like him.”
“So I’d be wrong.” Makaila fell back on her chair.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Damn.” Makaila gnashed her teeth. “He’s just as right as I am, seeing it from where he’s sitting.”
“Sure. The only question you have is: what are you going to do about it? You staying for dinner?”
“Fresh fish cooked over a fire?”
“I’ll pass, thanks.” Makaila stood and took Cat by the hands, pulling her to her feet. “There’s one other thing while I’m here.”
Cat put her fingers to Makaila’s cheeks and giggled. “I knew this was coming.” She pressed her lips softly on Makaila’s.
“For all she knows, she really knows nothing,” Megan said to the others. “I feel it’s our responsibility to teach her.”
“I’ll do it,” Mike offered. “She can be my second assistant.
Jill’s hand came hard up the back of Mike’s head. “One assistant is plenty for you, Husband. Besides, she needs a great deal more than you can teach. You forget you’re just a carny magician. I agree with Megan. I feel Megan’s the best choice.”
Megan remained stoic, watching the exchange she knew half in fun. She knew she was the only one to teach the child, but also knew everyone in the carny could offer much.
“I’m not sure we should even keep her around,” Willy, the grounds keeper stated. Willy was the oldest person with the carny and the longest friend of Bossman. They met more than twenty years before, Bossman bringing him from a life on the street. Next to Bossman, he was the last chair back. “I think she can bring only trouble.”
“Life is trouble,” Megan pointed out. “This is a special child and we have a responsibility. If you throw her out, I’m going with her.”
“There’s no trouble that can come up we can’t handle,” Mike said, secretly doubting his own statement. She’s a shooting star, destined to burn out.
“You didn’t see her carrying that child, Willy,” Jill said. “You didn’t see her that night. You don’t know.”
“Oh, I know. I know she’s trouble and I know no one’s safe with her around.”
The contorted voice of Bossman demanded attention. “We will give the child all she needs and all we can. Megan: you will teach her all you know. She will, for now, be your student, if she be willing. Mike, you will tutor in your art, if she be willing. Willy, my old friend, you will protect her with your life.”
Megan, Mike, Jill and Willy nodded together.
“As for this other one, Judy. Willy, if she be willing, she will be a utility person. Make room for her. Teach her well. She is a smart one.
“It’s late. Mike, if you would carry me to my trailer.”
The warm sun on her face and the drone of background activities brought Makaila from sleep. She opened her eyes. Judy and the sleeping bag were gone. A feeling of great loss filled her. The sun was low. She knew the day was still young. She smelled food and hurried toward it, quickly finding the makeshift dining tent.
Judy was in the back, wearing an apron and white ball cap, stirring a mixture in a bowl. “Good morning! Looks like I got a job!”
Makaila relaxed, knowing she could never slip away in the middle of the night, no matter what. “I thought you’d gone.”
“Not wild horse or even spooks!” She passed a mug of coffee. “I heard they got a job for you, too.”
“Tell me it’s not making mashed potatoes.”
“No, it’s not. I’ll let it be a surprise. Get something to eat. I’ll catch up to you. We have more than forty people to feed!”
Just how does one go about training a god?
Megan was a storyteller. As a child, because the other children ostracized, teased and feared her, she found her friends in her imagination and on the pages of the books. She was not a true albino. Her flesh was actually white, not colorless, a trick of the gene pool.
Crossing the barrier into her teens, with makeup and hair dye, she tried wearing a mask to look normal, but it was too late for her to join humanity. What separated her from others, what was skin deep in the tender years, oozed down the layers to her bones and permeated her soul.
She knew from her obsession with myths, the gods do not give a gift without a counterbalancing downside. She also knew the opposite true. What cast her out and forever separated her from all others, was what gave her a clear understanding, just by looking, of others. She was barely fourteen years old, attending a carnival, when a spiritual advisor, a gypsy, told her she was gifted with the light. She did show the Mark.
Megan’s mother was insane, never diagnosed, living in a time before the trend was fashionable to sit in an analyst’s office. In retrospect, Megan knew her mother had an undiagnosed mental disorder. As time passed, the mania deepened. The children in the neighborhood and even some adults thought her mother a witch. It didn’t take long for Megan’s classmates to nickname her baby witch.
Megan’s father had his own issues. “More issues than the periodical sections of the Library of Congress,” Megan had said. At the age of seventeen, Megan lived a cliché and ran away with the circus. Her first job with the circus was as a laborer but soon they dressed, or rather undressed, her in pasties and a thong, putting her on display at first as the girl who spent her life in a cave, and finally as the alien girl from outer space. She drew a crowd, mostly men.
She spent her spare time with the show’s mentalist and absorbed the tricks of the trade, eventually becoming his assistant, still in pasties and a thong. Megan acquired a long black robe and in her spare time gave people spiritual readings and advice as High Priestess Megan, Tenth Order Witch. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, the show was closed down and run out of town for satanic practices.
Megan worked on an accent, gathered fine, colorful fabrics, obtained several Tarot decks and a crystal ball. Madam Dandelion the Gypsy was born. She quickly became popular and a moneymaker, yet was still required to undress as the mentalist’s assistant. Understanding she could never truly have her own voice because everyone in the show knew her as the space alien, she left the circus, drifting for a handful of years. She spent some years with another show studying under Lilith, who taught her beyond the temporal. She left when Lilith died, dragging a trunk full of Lilith’s books behind her. She finally met Bossman. Everyone knew her as the Gypsy Madam Dandelion.
“I think I’d rather cook and clean up like Judy.” Makaila presented herself wearing one of Megan’s outfits.
“If that’s what you really wish. I think you should try this first and see if you like it.” Megan folded her arms across her chest and tilted her head. “The look doesn’t work on you. You don’t look gypsy enough.”
“Fair enough. I’ve been trying lots of new things lately. What does a gypsy look like?”
“What people think a gypsy looks like.” Megan rifled through an old cardboard box and came up with a plastic bag. “This might just work.” From the bag, she produced a long, flowing white silk robe. “One of the few things I have from my childhood. My church choir robe.”
“Huh? You went to church?”
“Sh.” She put a finger to her lips. “Don’t tell.”
“It did surprise me last night when you said all that God stuff. I thought witches weren’t into God.”
“Gypsy.” Standing back and eyeing Makaila in the robe, Megan commanded: “Take your shoes, socks and pants off. Your feet have to be bare to the earth. That was just a story told in a way people would understand it best. As for witchy stuff, there’s no sense talking about things people aren’t going to understand. It needs something.” Back in the box, Megan found a two-inch thick gold drape cord. She reached the cord around Makaila and tied it in front.
“Stolen from the church, too? Do you think I’ll understand the witchy stuff?”
“No and of course. Still something missing.” Once more in the box, Megan found and placed a gold jeweled tiara on Makaila’s head. Stepping back. “One more thing.” Megan hung a thick eight-inch gold cross on a heavy gold chain around Makaila’s neck. “I think we’ve got it!”
Makaila faced the mirror. “I look like a virgin ready to be sacrificed to the gods.”
“God’s Lamb. Sure. I like it.”
“Yes. You need a stage name.”
“Okay. I got like this cool get-up. What do I do now?”
“For now, I want you to watch me work for a while and then we’ll see what you’re comfortable with.”
“You mean tell people what to do in their life? I can do that already.”
Megan nodded. “You’re very good and a natural. However, you need to learn some showmanship.”
“So people feel they get their money’s worth. This is how we make a living.”
“I’m loaded. I don’t need to make a living. Give me a better reason.”
Megan’s eyes grew cold. “So you can learn what it is to be a human being, by working with them and listening to them.”
Makaila dropped her eyes to the floor. “I don’t belong here, do I?”
“No, you don’t.”
What she always felt the truth, arrived like a cold slap in the face coming from someone she trusted. Makaila locked eyes with her teacher.
“So why am I here?”
Megan put a palm to the child’s face. “That’s not an easy question to answer, and I’m not sure I know.”
“Just one of them feelings?”
“Then I have no reason to believe it.”
Megan sighed. “My child, this world was not meant for one as beautiful as you.”
“Like one of the purest souls that ever took flesh?”
“Yeah, right. You got your scarf around your neck too tight.”
“Just maybe. You are much too easy to love.”
“Tell that to my parents.”
“It’s them, not you. They just can’t see for looking.”
Makaila twisted her face. “Okay. I’ll take all this under advisement. Things have like been moving way too quick for me to even get my brain in gear. I’ve been on this adrenaline high from the second I saw that slug sitting in my chair at the farm. I gotta like shake out and get some air in my lungs.”
Megan closed her eyes and nodded. “Of course. There’s no hurry.”
“I’ll do as you ask. I’ll hang out, watch you work and help out and stuff. Just give me a day or so to shake the dirt off.”
“You misunderstood. You may do anything you wish. We are here to help.”
“In the way you think I need helping?”
“I only want to share with you what I know. I want to give you what I have learned.”
“Fair enough. Just cut the talk about me being a god or something. I’m not. I’m just a kid that’s nuts.”
Judy was a student of humanity all her life, but not until she signed on with the carny did she realize how narrow her education had been. As much as she studied and analyzed social cultures, she quickly realized she didn’t understand anything. She never suspected she was a snob and an elitist.
“We’re not rich, but we’re far from poor – real far. I’ve never really wanted for anything, yet I think I understand the subcultures that want for mere existence. I’ve been looking at other peoples not as people at all. I’ve been seeing them as silly little monkeys to be studied, like I’m looking into a cage or something.”
“You got all this from slinging hash?” Makaila winked.
“No, I got this from standing in the cage for a day.”
“You were in a cage before, just you didn’t see who’s looking down studying you. One group of silly little monkeys watching another group of silly little monkeys.”
“I don’t know.” Judy took Makaila’s hand as they walked over the quiet carnival grounds. “My world and how I see the world is topsy-turvy. Nothing’s as it was two days ago.”
“That’s what Megan said would happen.”
“I look back over things and I can’t believe I’m here, absent from school, out of communication with my friends and family and working in a carny.” She squeezed Makaila’s hand. “In love with a thirteen-year-old.”
“Almost fourteen. We went over that.”
Judy blushed. “Yes we did. What are we going to do now?”
Makaila looked at the stars and gauged the moon’s position in the sky. “Almost midnight. I made my goals for the day.”
“I’m alive and I’m free.”
“See? That’s what I mean. Freedom and survival have always been a given for me. My goals were always way out ahead of me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think about college, where I would go, what I’d major in and do after I graduate. I even have my wedding dress in a box at the foot of my bed.”
“You’re getting married?”
“Always thought so. Someday. Now, I’m not sure I’ll meet anyone I’d want to marry. I just assumed it’d happen.”
“I got this way of looking at things. It’s like I live in my head more than I don’t. Like, there’s two of me. I got this body and I got in my head. Lot’s of people over the years told me how these two hook up, like the two are really one, but I’m not sure who to believe.”
“I guess it depends on how you look at it. Are we spiritual living a temporal existence or are we temporal having a spiritual experience – or both?”
“Neither. You’re thinking too dualistically now.”
“I don’t think so. It’s obvious we have a body and it’s just as obvious we have a soul.”
“You just slipped into science fiction, Ms. Scientist!”
“I don’t agree. There has to be something about human beings that animates us in a way other things aren’t animated. We’re not the same as a rock or even a chicken.”
“The Bible says that God breathed into Adam, giving him spiritual life.”
“I don’t know anything about religion.”
“That’s right. You’ve never been to church. Want to go?”
“I guess. Megan wants me to do a show passing myself off as speaking for God, I guess it would be good to see what this God’s all about.”
“You’re kidding? In some places that could get you burned at the stake.”
Makaila nodded, amused. “That would just give them another reason.” She drew a deep breath and composed herself. “Do you think all this happens to me because God’s like mad at me or something?”
“I doubt it. That would mean you’d really be important to God, I guess. Like He’s got you singled out.” She thought for a minute. “Jesus.”
“Jesus? Like the Christmas guy?”
Judy giggled. “You really don’t know anything about religion, do you?”
Makaila stopped, looked to the ground and pushed dirt with her shoe. “Sorry.”
Judy put an arm around her. “You don’t have to know anything about religion. I’m just surprised you don’t. Christianity permeates our society. It’s hard to stand in the water and not get wet.”
“I’ve been too busy trying to figure out my own head. I haven’t had time for hobbies.” She dropped to the ground and crossed her legs. “Sit. Teach me about Jesus.”
Judy looked down. “I don’t think I’m the one to do that.”
“Because – how do I say this?” Judy bit her lip, silhouetted against the stars. “I don’t really believe.”
“Yet, you talk like you do? Habits?”
Judy sat, facing Makaila and took her hands. “Yes, I guess so. I’ve been too busy with other things to have any hobbies, too.”
They laughed at God and themselves.
Mike was a competent magician with a full roster of tricks. No two shows were the same. He was a much better showman than a magician. However, his act was entertaining. Mike would play to the crowd, not from a script.
Jill, his wife and assistant, was a joy and a delight, the perfect distraction when Mike made a mistake. They worked together seamlessly, their act popular.
When Makaila wasn’t watching Megan work, she spent time watching Mike and Jill, taking in all the subtleties that made their act work. She liked Mike and was drawn to him.
“I wish you could have been my dad.”
Mike laughed. “I have no children of my own for a handful of very good reasons.”
“It’s my fault.” Jill was matter-of-fact.
“Is not. But, that is one of the good reasons.”
“I had some problems when I was your age and can’t have children. That’s why Mike doesn’t have any kids, no matter what he says.”
“I made the choice long before I met you. Never was in my cards.”
“That’s true,” Makaila told Jill. “You shouldn’t keep blaming yourself ‘cause it gives you a shadow.”
“A shadow? What do you mean?”
Makaila rolled her eyes. “I got like no idea what I mean. I see stuff and just don’t have the real words to explain it.”
Makaila put her hamburger on her plate and reached across to take Jill’s hand. She closed her eyes. “You got like this idea the problems were your fault so you’re being punished. You got this other idea that giving Mike a kid would be a gift for him and it’s your fault he can’t have this gift. Really, it’s you that wants to have a kid, not like have a kid running around. You want to have a baby in your belly.
“So you shadow this disappointment onto Mike as if it’s his and not yours.” Makaila’s eyes popped open. “This like distracts from your love for each other. It gives you a shadow.”
Jill blinked hard three times. “You’re thirteen?”
“Almost fourteen, thank you very much.” She sat back smugly. “Don’t know why you can’t see this thing standing between the two of you. Look in the mirror. It’s in your face.”
Mike took Jill’s other hand. “These years with you have been the best of my life. I couldn’t ask for more nor would I change anything. I told you when we met, and hundreds of times since: I’ve never wanted to be a father. Tell her what happened.”
Jill closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Makaila jerked her hand away. “God!”
“I get it!” Makaila almost sang. “What was it Judy said?” She jumped up, went around the table, stood behind Jill and placed a hand on each cheek. “Give me room to work here. I want to try something.” To Mike: “What did you say to me in the woods? Oh, yeah. Something about asking forgiveness.” Giddy, Makaila pulled Jill’s head back to rest against her stomach. Under the open-sided dining tent, she raised her hands and closed her eyes.
“Come, my little friends.” Butterflies of every variety came from all directions. “Judy told me what we deny we give life to. You got like this thing giving you pain and you deny it and it just gives you more pain. You like hold onto what you’re ignoring.” Makaila swept her hands down to Jill’s face, the butterflies following like a scarf dancing on the breeze. “Give it all away to our little friends.” She swirled her hands into the air, sending the insects lightly scattering. “Be free of this.” She finished with her hands back on Jill’s cheeks. “Life is good.”
Jill cried. Makaila giggled and wrapped her arms around her friend. “Life is so good.”
Jill shivered and sobbed, finally looking up at Makaila. Makaila wiped Jill’s tears with her hands, smiling, bent and kissed her deeply on the lips. “I like this kissing thing.” She rolled her eyes.” How do you feel? I feel great!”
Jill finished drying her face on her sleeves. “I don’t have the words.”
Mike snapped from a hypnotic stare. “Now there’s a miracle! My wife lost for words!”
Jill looked at Mike with a wiry smile. “We have thirty minutes until show time. I have something to share with you, in the trailer.”
“I think I know what it is, too!”
“Almost fourteen, thank you very much!”
As Mike and Jill hurried off, Makaila became aware of everyone staring at her. “What?” She offered open palms. “What?” The carnies returned to their meals with smiles and shaking heads. Makaila finished her hamburger and fries.
Far across the lot, spellbound, Judy watched Makaila. “I’ve never seen anything like it, short of science fiction movies. I couldn’t explain it if I tried.”
Megan nodded. “Don’t try, Judy, friend of Makaila, she-who-is-like-God. The understanding is not in the temporal. Our myths, the stories of old, dance with tellings of this one.”
“Those are just stories, though.”
“Myth and legend are how all gods are made. Most believe they are just stories, musings to let the imagination dance where the feet can’t walk. There are some of us who understand the myths and legends are a map of what was, with hints at the future to be.”
“What is the future to be with Makaila?”
Megan looked toward the sky. “God has the plan.”
“Which is? Do you know?”
She pointed across the lot to where a child stood with her face upward to dancing butterflies. “You’ll have to ask she-who-is-like-God.”
Judy felt light-headed, holding onto Megan’s arm. “Can you really see the future?”
“No. What do you wish to know?”
“You ask if she will die soon?”
“Yes. I ask exactly that.”
“Just look.” Megan nodded toward the dining area as Makaila took Jill’s face, Jill’s tears poured forth. “This world will not tolerate one such as her.”
Judy’s eyes welled, her stomach heaved. “I won’t let that happen.”
“There is nothing you can do, other than die with her.” Megan smiled and leaned her head on Judy’s. “And, if that’s your choice, you won’t be alone.”
Judy buried her head in Megan’s shoulder. “I will not lose her.” She pulled back the tears and sorrow. “You said the future isn’t set. You said no one knows the future.”
“Makaila said some choices have already been made.”
“We help her find other choices?”
“If we can.”
Judy felt as if her sanity slipped away. She thought at one time she could see herself giving up her life, as she knew it, and devoting her being to Makaila. She found she did just that. I’ve lost my sanity for sure, but I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.
“I’d die for her.”
“Other way around, if we can believe the stories.”
“She’s positively glowing,” Judy told Makaila as they stood in the crowd watching the magic show. “What did you do to her?”
“You saw that? Nothing really. Look at poor Mike. A bit tired wouldn’t you say.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“I’d guess he got it like he never got it before.”
“I see, I think. But, what’d you do?”
“Nothing, I told you, really. She just thought I did.”
“I wish I could. I just got like this feeling. Jill had this stuff, bad feelings she ignored, she was holding onto. She let them go.”
Judy nodded. “Yeah, okay. I follow that. What we deny we give power to.”
“Well duh, yeah. You told me that. That’s how I knew.”
“But, what did you do? How did you know to do it?”
“I didn’t do anything. I have no idea. I like just put the puzzle together.”
“The butterflies –”
“What about them?”
“How – why – what did they do –”
“It’s a trick. No reason. Nothing.”
Judy crossed her arms on her chest and raised an eyebrow.
“Really! It’s just a trick. You hold your hand a certain way and catch the sun a certain way and they come. Cat showed me how to do it.”
“In a dream.”
“The dream. I can show anyone how to do it, though Mike couldn’t get it. I think his hand’s the wrong shape or something. I bet you could do it. Our hands are like almost identical.” Makaila’s eyes got big. “Oh-my-God!”
Makaila ran off into the crowd. Judy caught up to her at the dining tent. “What?”
“The bitch lied to me.”
Makaila pointed to where she, Mike and Jill sat under the tent. “No sun. Now I really don’t know.” She turned to face Judy, took her friend by the arm and shook. “Every time I figure out an answer, they change the God-damn question!”
Judy looked with sad eyes, putting the back of her hand on Makaila’s cheek. “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter how it works or even what it does. I think it’s cool any way it works.” Judy held Makaila. “I got some work I have to do.”
“I should be hanging with the witch.”
Makaila didn’t go to Megan’s tent. She left the grounds, wandering into the woods. Sitting on a small rise overlooking the carnival, she watched the activities below.
“You lied to me.”
“You said it was the sun and shadow that brought the butterflies –”
“Did not. I just showed you how to hold your hand, like I was holding mine. The sun and shadow helped you see what I was doing.” She nodded hard twice. “You assume too much sometimes.”
Makaila looked at her sideways. “I wish I could read your subtle body.”
“If wishes were horses.”
“Why Cat? Because you’re stoic and act like you know everything?”
She laughed. “Now you’re being real silly. It’s not like a magical or Indian name. It’s a nick.”
“Tell you what. If you can guess my name, you get your baby back.”
“Oh, right. That’s a different story.”
“I gotta ask your opinion on some stuff.” Makaila’s tone carried the weight of thirteen-almost-fourteen years.
“This is great!”
“What is? That I have questions?”
“What was your IQ again? No, silly. This is the first time you asked for my opinion. Before you always wanted me to tell you stuff like I know it all or something.”
“Butterflies?” She nodded hard, twice. “Butterflies.”
“You’re catching on.”
“Tell me about God.”
“What about him?”
“Okay – God’s a he?”
“Fine, then. What do you want to know about her?”
Makaila rolled her eyes. “No gender?”
“Why’d you say He?”
“Take a guess.”
Makaila sat back, put her feet on the railing and stared down to the lake. “‘Cause we don’t have a word for someone that doesn’t have a gender? Yeah, that’s the answer.”
“What’s that do with this whole God thing, then? You just did it.”
“You said He and I thought of a guy. So in my head, I get this picture of a guy and make him wear all the guy stuff?”
“You asking me or telling me?”
“Telling you, of course.”
“Good. Tell me more about this God.”
“I don’t know all that much. It’s confusing.”
“Don’t think beyond what we’ve already talked about. You want some coffee? I got some Turkish that’ll curl your hair.”
“I gotta get back.”
“The world’s going to keep on spinning without you.” Cat winked.
“Sometimes I wonder. Sure, bring it on.”
“It will, trust in that. I’ll brew up the coffee. You brew up the answer.”
“First off,” Cat announced as she returned with two large, steaming mugs. “There’s lots of folks that demand proof that there’s even a god in the first place.” She sat, passing a mug. “You can put this stuff in your mouth and never doubt again.”
Makaila, with the mug in both hands and eyes closed, smelled the coffee. She put the mug to her lips and her eyes popped wide open.
Cat, with her head tilted back and narrow eyes, asked: “Am I right or am I right?”
“If it was legal, I’d ask you to marry me.”
Cat giggled. “By the time we’re old enough, it may be. Ask me then.”
“I’m old enough now. I’m emancipated.”
“I know. Larry told me.”
“It’s because of him we have the coffee. He brought it. Should have stayed for fish. He was out catching dinner.”
“No, stupid. On the lake.”
“Wait a minute. Larry Elderage was here?”
“He comes now and then. He can’t stay away from me. I’m too cute to resist.”
“It was you!”
“So tell me about God. What’s the mistake?”
Makaila took a deep breath, knowing she wasn’t going to get a direct answer. She narrowed her eyes. I’ll come back to it. “There’s a God. Turkish, coffee’s the proof. Okay – God. I’d walk out of here thinking God was like some guy if I took what you said on its face, like if I believed you know what you’re talking about.”
“So if I like read some old book and I believe them guys, I walk away really not getting the point, just getting their point.” Makaila sat back, smug.
“Like butterflies. I took it to mean one thing and you meant another.”
Makaila blinked hard twice. “Even though I went away with the wrong idea, I got the right idea, like stumbled on it eventually? No. Not a question. I’m telling you.”
Makaila watched the sky through the trees. “When you did that to me, it wasn’t the butterflies that made me feel that way, was it?”
Cat smiled. “How’d it make you feel?”
She thought, looking into Cat’s face. “Don’t really have words for it. Kinda like I had these heavy chains on me and they all dropped off at once. But it wasn’t the butterflies, was it?”
“What do you think?”
“Of course, it wasn’t.” She looked at her palms with wide eyes. “Me?”
“No, I don’t.”
Makaila sipped the coffee thoughtfully. “It makes people feel good.”
“It does. Ask Bossman and Jill.”
“But, anyone can do this, right?”
“I guess. I don’t know. When I was younger, a couple a years back, I used to think so, now I’m not so sure.”
Makaila closed her eyes hard for a moment. “Let’s get back to God.”
“We never left. More coffee?”
“If there was only one cup left, I think I’d kill you for it.”
Cat stood and leaned close, giving Makaila a stern look. “You could easily kill anyone in the world, but for me.” She smiled and kissed her quickly on the lips. “Let me get the coffee.”
As she sat back down, Makaila went right at her. “That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Must you always do that? I mean: the killing and the butterflies is like the same thing, just different ends of the same pool?”
“I guess that’s one way to see it.”
“I could have done butterflies in the woods instead of killing them?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been in the deep end like you have. I got like nothing to reference it from. I can’t kill.”
“You said you would have blown that guy’s head off.”
“I said I would have if I was you. If my life depended on it, I’d have had to have someone else intervene. Been there, done that, got the coffee mug, tee shirt and the bumper sticker.”
Makaila looked to the ground. “That makes you a whole lot better than I’ll ever be.”
Cat laughed hard. “Other way around! It’s my fatal flaw! If it had been me instead of you, Audrey would be dead. That is, unless I found another way. I might have made it clearer to Timmy, got help before running in the woods. Something like that. It’s too easy to call the play after the game’s over.”
Makaila nodded. “I gotta expand my thinking, huh?”
“That’ll come as you spend more time with people. You get the idea of more options in all things.”
“Okay, again. God. What do you think?”
“I think God’s just like you.”
“Don’t even start that.”
“You didn’t hear what I said. I think the animating force that manifests all creation as we perceive it is learning about creation, just like you.”
Makaila nodded again, slowly. “I’m not a done deal. I’m different everyday.”
“As is the universe.”
“You’re saying the question: What is God? has no answer?”
“I would think the question is the answer.”
Makaila nodded yet again. “Okay, enough with God. Tell me about witches.”
“I hear they live in the woods, in candy houses, and eat children that are sent away because parents don’t know how to be parents.”
“That’s just a story.”
Cat tilted her head back, narrowing her eyes. “Is it?”
“I haven’t seen anything in the newspapers about such nonsense.”
“Close your eyes and tell me what you felt when you first saw Megan.”
Makaila drained her cup and sat back with her eyes closed. “I was pulled toward her. I wanted to throw my arms around her and hug her to death.”
She rolled her eyes. “Candy. A treat. Something we’re drawn to. Yeah. Okay. My parents send me away because they couldn’t take care of me. Megan wants to eat me?”
“Consume you. Same difference.”
“So she’s a witch?”
“If she says so, I guess.”
“Are witches real? That’s the question.”
“Are Republicans real?”
“What makes them real? Something they’re born with, like in their wiring?”
Makaila squinted toward the lake trying to see the answer. “It’s a club they join? Yeah. They sign up. But, witches are different. They like are related, aren’t they?”
“If your mom’s a witch, then you are?”
“Same could be said for Republicans.”
“Don’t confuse genetics with tradition.”
“So witchcraft is a tradition?”
“We could call it that, but I wouldn’t.”
“What would you call it?”
“Butterflies?” Makaila looked out over the fair grounds and said to the trees: “Ah, sure, butterflies.”
“I think we should fold up the tents, shut them down and run for cover,” George Potter told Elderage. “We’re skirting a mass insanity here.”
Elderage smiled, his feet up on his desk, dreaming of butterflies and fish. “Not long ago, you were bored to tears. Now you have something interesting to work on.”
“If things keep going the way they’re going, we’re going to see some deaths and it isn’t going to be pretty.”
Elderage sat up. “Now you’re a fortune teller?”
“They believe this Makaila acted for God, confronting and destroying an evil in the guise of a school teacher. They believe she was murdered in jail and is coming back from the dead to have one last battle with evil. The newspaper is stirring things up with a bunch of nonsense about evil cults. I don’t have to be a fortune teller to see a mass suicide or worse heading their way.”
“I’m pulling you out.”
“You can’t. These are good kids and they don’t stand a chance.”
Elderage swiveled his chair, facing the window. “There’s been a development. They can’t be our concern right now.”
Damn – I should have seen this.
“Makaila’s MIA. I need you to find her.”
“Won’t happen.” Potter dropped a plastic bag containing a bloodstained towel on the desk. “I have no idea what our resources are, but if this guy can’t find her, we don’t have a chance.”
“You got him?”
“Yes. And, if they crack the codes I used, we’re all going to disappear off the face of the earth.”
“That’ll happen sooner or later anyway. We might as well go out standing on our feet trying to do the right thing.”
God – I hate to sound like Cat.
“So, who is he?”
“Jordan Aristotle Harshaw.” Potter ran the DNA himself. “He’s not a spook, not anymore anyway. Where’d you get it?” He nodded toward the towel.
Elderage snickered. “Makaila took his ear off with a shotgun when he twitched.”
Potter showed a rare look of surprise.
Staring deeply out the window, Elderage closed his eyes. “Run him down for me.”
“He spent his childhood in foster care. The record’s not clear why. He has a juvenile record splattered with acting out and antisocial behavior. As a teenager, he landed in a reform institution. When he was seventeen, he was recruited into the Service.”
“With that record?”
“Remember – different times. The Service was looking for people who had no problem stepping outside the rules now and then. People they could control. I can’t be sure, but this reform institution might have been a farm back then.”
“Molding young minds, eh?”
“Something like that. He was cultivated.”
“What he was told without question. He served overseas in covert ops for a few years then came stateside with a position in the original Special Crimes Commission. This was a government agency set up to convict suspects charged with particularly violent crimes. Their charter was to do whatever it took.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Not in its conception. It seems in the sixties, they expanded the charter to include some questionable tactics. Again, these were different times with social unrest and the threat of communism. Many people were willing to look the other way if it meant preserving freedom and our way of life.”
Elderage opened his eyes. “Do you like to fish?”
“Yeah, fish. Float on a lake in a canoe in the middle of nowhere. A place where not even a plane goes over.”
He ignored the comment. “They stepped over the line too many times and were disbanded, all of this done in secret. I’m surprised they kept the records. Harshaw was the director at the time and disappeared, well died, when the agency disbanded.”
Elderage casually pushed the plastic bag. “Seems he’s not dead. The kid should have aimed two inches to the left.”
“Everything disappears after that. Do you want my guess?”
“With all that money moving around, Harshaw skimmed off the top, invested and funds the agency himself, operating through the shells.”
“Good way to run a government agency. Self-funding through investments.” Elderage snickered and then looked dark. “He’s a fixer and a loose cannon at that. He circumvents the system he thinks he’s protecting.”
“That would be my guess.”
“Choices? Can we take this to the feds?”
“There’s no evidence here. It’s all guesswork.”
Elderage’s jaw hardened. “No legal recourse?”
“He’s dead – doesn’t exist. He must have faked his death.”
“Think I’d retire.”
“Not a chance. I think I’ll retire my morals, though. How do you feel about that?”
Potter looked to the floor. “That’s why I left the Service.”
“Give me another choice, then. Playing defense isn’t getting us anywhere but back on our heels.” He pulled Makaila’s picture out of a file and placed the photograph on the middle of his desk. “Look at this face, Potter. Could you kill to protect her?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Elderage.”
“Make up your mind and let me know. Out there is not the place to hesitate.”
Potter picked up the photograph, examining it carefully. “I’ll go.”
Elderage smiled. “Good. Go over the file, find her and get next to her. Do what has to be done.”