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The sign on the lawn read: Assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ with the subtitle: Where God is always in.
Makaila lied to Judy. “The sun’s setting. I need you to hunt up a library and pull down that news story, everything you can get.” Makaila knew things would manifest on her schedule and she had all the time in the universe if she chose to take it. She wanted to be alone with no distractions when she asked of God.
At first, somewhere over lunch, she thought the wisdom she lacked was akin to the questions she asked Judy. Why this or why that. Why was least importance. “I want to know what.” The wisdom she lacked was: what can and should I do about it.
She nodded twice, hard, to the sign as she climbed the granite steps. She felt small in front of the fifteen-foot candy apple red doors. The stone structure loomed high above. She was taken with the sense of being eaten. Grasping the sweeping handle in both hands, the door stood firm. “Open sesame?” she said timidly, trying the only magic words she knew for opening doors. The door stood fast, like the rocks around it.
“Guess God’s not accepting visitors today,” she muttered and took three steps back. A loud creak slapped her ears. She spun on her heels, finding the door open.
Returning, she poked her head in the opening, seeing no one. Carefully, remembering Judy said to whisper in church, she called: “Hello?” much louder than she wanted to. Her voice rose and vibrated in the large foyer. Fifteen feet across the lush carpet, which mocked the color of the doors, a life-size sculpture of a man suspended on a cross hung on the wall. At first, Makaila thought it was an actual person.
Again, she called hello and again didn’t get a response. “Is anybody here?” She stepped fully inside and peered up at the sculpture. “Are you Jesus?” The dead, painted eyes stared ahead.
She snickered nervously to herself realizing she was trying to read its subtle body. “It’s a statue.” She felt sorry for his suffering, day in and day out, hung on the wall for as long as the moorings held. She wanted to pull the statue down and let it smash to the floor, freeing the image from its imprisonment.
“Plaster and pigments.” She shook her head. “Plaster and pigments.”
She walked on tiptoes, needless on the carpet, to the smaller double doors in the opposite wall. Through the misted glass, the huge room with high ceiling and pews facing away defied her ability to comprehend its true size. The door gave easily. She leaned in. “Hello? Is anyone here?” Nothing. The door closed behind her as she walked up the aisle to the altar.
After passing the last pew, she took in all the artwork and adornments, looked all around and realized she had no idea how to pray or in any other way ask God for wisdom or anything. She wished she brought Judy along.
“Come on, Makaila. You gotta have something in that noodle of yours.” She twisted her face painfully calling on every memory she had from everywhere. With her eyes closed tight, she didn’t have to go far. She ran to the back of the church and returned quickly with a plastic card. She examined the picture. “Okay. This is a man and I can’t do anything about that, but –”
She carefully removed candles from a table, took the white tablecloth and wrapped it around herself, duplicating the garment in the picture the best she could. Thinking at the picture, she loosed the cloth, stripped off her sweatshirt and rewrapped.
“That’s got it.”
Turning in a slow circle, she found where light flowed in a window like in the picture. She stood in the light, dropping the card to the floor in front of her. Lowered to her right knee, she put her hands together and looked up. “I ask of you, God. I lack wisdom.” She thought. “I lack wisdom, God, so I’m asking you.”
She waited, tilting her head, listening. She checked the picture again and repositioned herself. “Hello? Are you there? Hello? I’m asking you now.”
A faint giggle came from behind her: “What was your IQ again?”
She spun. Cat handed her sweatshirt forward. “Put this back on. You can get arrested for baring your boobs in church.”
Makaila complied, trading the cloth for the shirt, her face red. “What brings you down from the mountain?”
Cat twirled, waved the tablecloth in the air like a flag, jumped like a ballerina, letting the material float in waves, landing on the table where it started. “Damn, I can never get the hang of that.” She straightened the cover and replaced the candles, flicking her fingers over each, lighting them. “I thought you called me. You wanted to talk to God, right?”
Makaila’s eyes would have fallen on the floor if they could have left her skull.
“What is your IQ again? You’ve never been gullible, why you going to start now? Too much time with these mortals?” Cat giggled as only she could. “Look, get a clue, you’re in the right place, but you’re going about it all wrong.”
Makaila tried a smile. “So I am in the right place? Here?”
“I got no idea if there’s any hope for you.” Cat stepped up and took Makaila by the wrist. She waved her other hand up and back behind her. “Here is not the place.” She slammed her open palm onto Makaila’s forehead, hard. “Here is the place!” Makaila reeled back. Cat held fast to the wrist. She slammed her forehead again. “Here is the place!”
Makaila fell to her knees in tears, Cat still holding on.
“It’s in my head?”
“God, I’m glad I don’t have to smack you again. I’d be more than happy to let you keep stumbling around in the dark, but stuff’s moving much too quickly.”
“I don’t understand.” Makaila struggled to her feet.
“You should make that your mantra. You say it an awful lot. Hi, I’m Makaila and I don’t understand!”
The tears came again. Cat took her by the cheeks and kissed her deeply on the lips. “I know. I know. It all sucks. Let’s do some work here, okay?” Cat leaned down to look in the pouting face. “No one said life was going to be easy, or even fun. There’s no disclaimer stamped on your butt that says: treat with love and kindness and let her have a great time.” She pulled Makaila’s face up by the chin and crystal blue eyes met crystal blue eyes. Cat’s face grew dark, foreboding. “You’ve been ducking and bobbing, weaving and jumping just to keep from getting run over. Don’t you think it’s time to get them running for cover?”
Makaila sniffed. “Yeah. I came here to find out just what I can do about it.”
“Asking the question is a great place to start. Do you have a clue what it is? What exactly you want?”
Makaila sighed, shaking herself out. “Not really. For starters, I don’t want you to hit me again. I want Judy and Megan and Larry and Mike and Jill and Bossman and Pops and Ma and Timmy. Did I forget anyone – ?”
“To be happy and safe. I want them to live in a world where there aren’t bad people doing bad things.”
“Nothing for you?”
“I don’t have a life here, never did and never will.”
I know the feeling. “Do you really believe that?”
Cat bent and retrieved the plastic card from the floor. “See this guy here? Do you know who he is?”
“It’s Jesus the Christ.”
“I thought the guy hanging in the lobby was Jesus.”
Snapping the card from Cat, Makaila hurried back to the lobby, holding the prayer card in the line of sight so she could see the statue next to the picture. “They look nothing alike. Not even close.”
Cat came over her shoulder. “What’s that tell you?”
“These artists made Jesus up?” She bit her lip. “No. These artists have a different opinion what Jesus looked like.” Makaila smiled. “I’d smack my own forehead if it didn’t hurt so much.”
“Let’s take a look around. Come on.” Cat waved her back inside. “Did you notice the windows?”
“Yeah. Stained glass.”
“Leaded glass. Did you see that they’re pictures?”
“I guess, no not really.” Makaila squinted at the first window. “I’m glad they have subtitles. What’s he arrested for?”
“Depends on who you want to believe.”
“Is this like multiple choice?”
Cat sat on the end of the pew with her legs hanging over the edge into the aisle. “Sure. We have the historical account, the theological account, the mythological account and then we have what really happened.”
Makaila couldn’t take her eyes from the window. “I would think the historical and what really happened would be the same. And, the theological and mythological would be the same.”
“Nah. They’re all stories told by people.”
Makaila nodded. “Different artist.”
“Keep it up. You’ll avoid a concussion. Generally speaking, he was arrested for not playing well with others. He was speaking out against the current social culture. He spoke out against the law, proclaiming a new law. A rebel without a clue and stuff like that. Some say he got arrested for claiming to be God.”
“What do you think?”
“I think it’s a story.”
“Did he claim to be God?”
“No, not really. That didn’t stop his followers from making the claim. You run around doing miracles and healing people, someone’s going to get the idea you’re God.”
“Was he God?”
“You have to be that artist.”
She nodded, moving to the next window.
“Whoa. Tough sentencing. Nowadays, they just lock you up where nuts run the nuthouse.”
Cat moved across from the window and sat.
“I heard about a girl who just got killed for saying she was a witch. They put you to death back then for saying you’re God?”
“She didn’t say she was a witch. She said she was a saint.”
“That’s not what I heard. Wait. The waitress said that from what she heard of what others said. Judy’s checking the wire now.”
“Yeah. One of the crimes punishable by death back then was claiming to be God. A couple of generations before this guy came along, they had a guy claim to be God, had like this really big revolt and gummed up the works. They weren’t about to have that happen again.”
“But, he didn’t claim to be God.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“I don’t think we have a happy ending coming. He drags his own cross?”
“Saves on delivery charges.” Cat stood facing Makaila and held her arms straight out with her feet together. “What do you see?”
She looked from the window to Cat and back again. “The flesh. Taking life? It’s a cross? This body?” She jumped down a few windows. “Having a body leads to death.” She nodded hard, twice.
“That’s the mythos. His death was not caused by the crime or the punishment. He died because he was born. If he never took flesh, he’d have never died.”
“So nothing really matters ‘cause we’re all going to die anyway?”
“What happens in-between matters. It’s what makes the difference.”
“Nothing really. To avoid a smack in the head, tell me why.”
“I don’t think I like you anymore.”
“I could care less. I’m not going to smack you anymore. I just wanted to get your attention.
“Nothing really makes any difference because we are all our own artists.”
Makaila twisted her face. “Yet – yet – yet we can have a profound effect on those we touch.”
“In ways we can only guess at.”
Makaila sat on the step leading to the altar. Cat sat in the second pew, to Makaila’s left. “I wanted to ask you about something from a long time ago.”
Cat leaned her head on her hands. “Shoot.”
“Why am I the reason there’s only six?”
“That day you did the butterflies. That girl –”
“Said I was the reason there was only six of them and what else?”
“You were why they were with me, but that wasn’t true. I let them believe that.”
With her elbows on her knees, Makaila looked at her hands. “At the time, I didn’t believe the dream was real like this is real so I kinda thought it was like just a dream, like at night. Then, you gave me the hat and all so I got to thinking back. You said they were dead?”
“You asked me if you killed them.”
“Right. You said they were dead already.”
“There are many clines and colors of death. For all you really know, you’re dead. You of all people should know you can’t trust what you’re looking at.”
Makaila stared at Cat into a long silence. The door opened and a child, eight years old, came down the aisle slowly, alternating her eyes from the floor to Makaila. She stopped next to the second pew and addressed Makaila. “I’ve gotta ask God’s help. Are you the one to help me?”
Makaila blinked hard. “I’m not even sure how to pray.” She looked at Cat. “Can you help out here?”
The girl looked in Cat’s direction and back to Makaila. “Who you talking to?”
Cat winked at Makaila. “She can’t see me. Like you coming to the cabin, I’m not really here. You’re on your own, bud.”
Makaila rubbed her head. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s easy,” the child said. “My mom’s sick and they say she might not get better. I want to ask God to make her better, like He does in the Bible.”
“Go ahead, Makaila.” Cat twisted a smile. “Jesus did. You might want to stop gawking at the picture on the card and check out the other side.”
Larry’s greatest fear was the opposition would turn violent before they were ready, before his sister returned. He knew no one, or no thing, could stand against her light. He never considered using their hate against them. The price was high, so were the stakes.
Many of the murderers ran off. Many stayed, kneeling on the grass. Larry swabbed his friend’s blood from the steps and with his hands sticky and cold, went to each kneeler, a hand to either side of a head. “By the blood of Saint Arianna, by my relationship and in her name: I forgive you!”
Many cried. Everyone sobbed.
When the police arrived, the energy of the moment was calm and sedate, the bloodlust long past. At first, they declared they were going to arrest everyone, but the crime wasn’t clear with no victim, despite radio investigation with the local hospitals. The official in charge onsite then chose to bring everyone in for questioning, to sort things out.
He was superseded from afar.
“If you have no apparent victim, secure the area, do a search and interviews. If a victim surfaces, we’ll go from there.” No two accounts agreed and somewhere, someone made a decision the entire event was some sort of mass hysteria. “The only thing missing is a Mother Mary sighting or bleeding wall.”
Pastor Stevens watched from across the street where he retreated after being pushed into the bushes. He stood faceless with the ever-growing crowd of gawkers.
The work of Satan Himself.
He watched the teenager raving at the sky, handing out forgiveness like Halloween candy. What disturbed him more was how people he knew, rational people, could be taken in so easily.
Earlier that day, Stevens was hard at work to stop a ragtag group of children. Children were so easily led astray with shallow promises, Satan’s stock-in-trade.
He’s winning adults. “God is losing here.”
“Reverend?” A woman in the crowd next to Stevens looked at him.
He narrowed his eyes, watching Larry. He nodded. “That child could be Satan in the flesh.”
The man on the other side of Stevens looked at his watch. “Whoa, good thing my wife gave me a calendar watch for my birthday!” He leaned across the pastor and said to the woman: “For a second there, I thought we slipped a century or two, back to the Dark Ages!”
She chuckled. “I think the reverend’s been watching way too many TV horror movies.”
Rage flashed in Steven’s eyes. “Satan’s greatest feat was to get you to believe He doesn’t exist.”
“Don’t know, Reverend. You from around here? I haven’t seen you in any local parishes. I do fundraising for most of them. Were you part of that disgraceful display?” The man crossed his arms, cocking an eyebrow.
“Did you see that?” the woman asked the man.
“No.” He nodded. “I got here just as the I-spy guys carted the child off.”
“I did! I saw it all! Disgraceful is the word for it. That child is so sweet, I bet butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. I had to double-up my insulin every time I talked with her. Painted my house, you know. She was trying to talk to them and they just rushed up and tore at her like a pack of wild dogs!”
The man chuckled. “I think you’re right about Satan, Reverend, but I think you got that finger of yours pointed in the wrong direction.”
Stevens held his head high. “There’s a reason that Satan’s called the Great Deceiver. You don’t understand what these kids have done.”
The man looked toward him with narrow eyes. “You didn’t answer my question. Is this your party?”
Feeling much like the Apostle Peter, Pastor Stevens shook his head. “No, it’s not.” Unsympathetic ears, ears that wouldn’t hear the truth, surrounded him and he knew it. He watched believers run, as he ran away. He now watched believers turn to Satan right before his eyes.
Prayer vigils weren’t enough.
This child just might be Satan. His appeal is so very strong.
Satan was winning, gaining ground in every passing minute. Stevens knew things sought their own level and their nature. This boy, this child was a rock, seeking the earth and temporal. His spirit was trapped from seeing what towered above. He couldn’t see nor could he feel God’s true power. As the child was rock, trapped in his cycle of evil, Stevens knew fire reached to heaven. He knew fire freed the spirit from the evil, allowing the spirit to be with God, forever cleansed from the vile darkness.
Stevens searched his mind for the courage to do what must be done to win the battle for the Lord. He formulated a plan.
Judy was never what she’d call apprehensive. A better word would be paranoid. Many of her friends were sure either the world was going to end next week, if not sooner, or the landscape was permeated with a host of characters bent on doing harm. “Watch who you talk to on the Internet,” she was often told. “There are more bad people out there than good.”
“How’s that different from meeting someone in the supermarket?” she’d ask.
Judy resisted the idea she should hide under the bed and guard herself from strangers. Her experience told her the world, in general, was a friendly place welcoming the stranger, until she met Makaila and became familiar with her story.
Judy had been a conspiracy buff, but as an interested observer not a true believer. She came to believe most of what Makaila reported, though with a discount for spinning, editing and drama. Judy found herself uncomfortable moving around alone, stressfully watching every person.
The library did have enough hamsters and she was lost in the news search when she became aware of someone watching over her shoulder much too close.
Judy closed her eyes and took a deep breath, thankful a good number of people moved about. “That’s what I came to look up,” Josephine McCarthy said from behind. “Judy, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” Judy kept her voice even. “Feeling better?”
“Much.” She leaned and pointed to the picture. “I caught a bit of this on TV and wanted to see if I could get some details. This guy here is the brother of someone I’m looking for.” Josephine wanted to call the stationhouse and just ask. She wasn’t sure of the spook’s reach. She was dead or in New Jersey and wanted to stay that way. Keeping a low profile seemed a good idea.
“What’d she do?” The guy wasn’t identified, only as a minor.
Josephine was reading. “Who?”
“The girl you’re looking for?”
Josephine reached over Judy and scrolled the screen. She smiled to herself, surprised how sharp her mind had become. “Why do you assume I’m looking for a female?” She squinted. “That’s strange. What I saw on TV said she was a witch. Just a group of kids, it looks like. May I?”
They switched and Josephine looked for background and related links. “I am looking for a girl, several. Your sister was right. I’ve got a passion. How did she put it? Yeah. An aspect of my career overshadows everything else in my life.” She sighed, looking up at Judy. “She was right about something else. I’ve always got this feeling I’m on my own. It’s up to me. You know what I mean?”
Josephine went on. “What’s your interest in this?”
“Cathy wanted me to look it up. We heard some vague stories, too.”
“Makaila Marie Carleton,” Josephine said aloud.
“I think this is the weirdest case I’ve got in my files.”
Judy gulped air, swallowed hard and gulped again. “How so?”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to kick you off your time here.”
“It’s okay. Seems you know your way around the Internet better than I do.”
“Here’s where the witch thing comes in.” Josephine pointed with her pen. “This, Judy, is more fiction than fact. You really have to do a lot of mental back-editing when you read anything in the newspapers. If you want to hear this, I’d be glad to fill in the blanks for you. I’m surprised Unsolved Mysteries hasn’t picked it up.”
“Please, go on.”
“Once upon a time, there was this twelve-year-old child by the name of Makaila Marie Carleton: the murderette.”
“Yeah, I nicked her that. Too young to be a murderer. She killed this guy.” She pointed. “Alvin Percy. Before the first ghost showed up –”
“Sorry, that’s the way I talk when I get going. First ghost to visit Scrooge – midnight.”
“Didn’t they all show up at the same time? I mean the same hour but different times?”
Josephine laughed. “Yeah, that’s why it works. Nothing makes sense or fits here.
“Anyway, she killed Alvin Percy and before the first ghost shows up, the case and files get locked down tighter than my Aunt Ruth’s waistband.” She clicked one link and then another. “With no facts fit to print, the newspapers reported speculation spun to look like facts. Here.” She indicated the article. “See? If you don’t read this with the jaded eye of skepticism, you’d wander away thinking this was a cult murder done by a gaggle of witches. I saw the original reports. The murderette acted completely alone.” She highlighted a name and hit copy, pasting into the news search. “I’d bet my badge.”
Pastor Stevens’ letter to the editor popped up. “I am just too good!” Backing in the history, Josephine brought up the article where they started. She put a finger to the picture: “That is Larry Carleton, Makaila Marie Carleton’s brother.”
Judy took the chair next to Josephine. “So you want to bring this kid in for murder?”
“No. I don’t track down murderers. I’m not a bounty hunter. I look for missing children. Matter-of-fact, there’s no warrants out on this kid, but there is something going on.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Okay.” She dug in her pocket. “This child.” She showed Makaila’s picture. “Was arrested for a murder on my profile day. My profile day is the day that all the children I’m looking for disappeared. November 4. I didn’t pick it up at first. It wasn’t until last week that I even figured out she was missing.” She closed her eyes. “I know. It gets confusing. I wanted to interview her for background, but they weren’t letting anyone near her. When I tried to follow up, a year and a half later, she had disappeared from the system, original records and all. I had another missing child.”
Judy watched her face carefully. “Is that the truth?”
Wishing she could read subtle body as well as Makaila, Judy pressed on. “You don’t want to arrest this girl? You just want to talk to her?”
“That’s about it.”
Judy wasn’t sure what the marked shift on Josephine’s face meant. “Give me the details of the murder.” Judy’s demand came a bit more forcefully than she meant.
“Understand that there now no longer exists any official public records on this, unless my uncle did as I asked anyway. I suspect no.” She waved off questions. “Here’s what I recall. Sometime in the evening of November 4, 1997, Alvin Percy, age thirty-five, was overcome and murdered in his apartment by Makaila Marie Carleton, age twelve. She not only murdered him, but also butchered him. I never did see the final forensics report, but the preliminary report indicated that she might have cannibalized the body.
“I doubt that myself. I think that was a speculation brought on by the reaction to the butchering.”
Judy shifted her thinking to the abstract as if she discussed a movie of the week and not her friend. “Did they know each other?”
“There was no investigation, but all indications point to no. I remember asking myself how and why she landed in his apartment in the first place, but it seems no one else bothered to ask.”
Judy nodded. “Because of how gruesome it was?”
“That’s my guess.” Josephine put a hand on Judy’s. “I’ll be honest with you. Your sister’s about eighteen, right? I thought she looked familiar, but I don’t have my files. I tried to imagine which of my girls would be about that age and which one she looked like.”
“Could have asked me. My sister’s not missing.”
“It’s been a long, strange trip and like your sister said, I just don’t trust anyone. Where is she anyway?”
“Church. Talking to God.”
“I think I should find the time for that.”
“Do you come here in faith?” Makaila asked.
The child looked down at her shoes. “We never come here.”
Neither do I.
“You came here today and that’s good. My name’s Makaila. What’s yours?”
“I’m called Nikki.”
“Is that what you want to be called?”
“No! It’s stupid.”
Makaila smiled, giggling a little. “Then, you tell me what you want to be called and that’s what it will be.”
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling, put her hands on Makaila’s knee and twisted her body. “Well, let’s see. Anything?”
“Your heart’s desire.”
“Mother’s Light it is.”
“Mom used to call me that before she got sick. I don’t want her to be sick anymore and I know you’re going to make her better.”
Makaila half-closed her eyes, letting the child’s subtle body wash over her. “You come in faith.”
“I don’t really know what that means.”
“Doesn’t matter. You do.”
“Are we going to pray now?”
Makaila closed her eyes, taking in her entire life, front to back and forward. “No, we’re going to take a ride and go see your mom.”
“She’s not allowed visitors, but for Dad.”
“We’ll be allowed.”
Evening wrestled the sun from the sky as Judy pulled up in front of the church to find Makaila waiting with a child.
“Take us home, to the carnival, then we’re going to visit someone.”
“This child’s mother.”
“Oh.” Judy pulled off the curb. “You’ll never guess who I ran into!”
“Jo McCarthy. It can wait until later. I need to think.”
“Makaila’s going to make my mom all better!” Nikki said from the backseat.
Judy looked at Makaila, stared blankly through the windshield then found Nikki in the rearview mirror. “Is she now? That’s good. My name’s Judy.”
“I’m Nikki. I got a secret magic name only God and my mom call me.”
Judy put a hand on Makaila’s leg. “Sun’s going down.”
“Where’d you get that?” Judy indicated the book on Makaila’s lap.
“I’m sure God will forgive you.”
“Always. Now shut up. I gotta think.” Makaila dropped her hand on Judy’s and squeezed.
Makaila was disappointed Megan had not returned. She closed her eyes. “She’s all right.” To Judy’s questioning face, she added: “The universe has a subtle body, too.” Leaving Judy to watch after Nikki, Makaila went to the rear of Megan’s tent, stripped naked and donned the glistening white robe, gold tiara, drape cord and gold cross.
She held the black prayer book to her chest and did something she’d not done since she learned she had a subtle body. She released all conscious control.
“I am ready.” She stepped from the tent. Slowly, all activity in the carnival grounds stopped as every eye, carny and mark alike, fell on her. She glowed with her own light.
Nikki giggled. Judy cried. Makaila put her hand on Nikki’s head and pulled her to her. “The children are delighted and the adults will cry.” She smiled. “Suck it up, my friend. You have to drive.”
Judy wiped her face on her sleeve and nodded quickly. “You are absolutely beautiful!”
“You still have to drive.”
Across and down the lot, Mike stopped in the middle of a trick. He stood tall and helped Jill to her feet. “It’s starting already.”
Jill squinted, giggling. “God! Look at that child!”
“Child!” Mike said as if spitting. “She doesn’t deserve this. No one does.”
“She is this. Don’t you get that?”
Makaila, Nikki and Judy were stopped at the front desk, the doctor on duty called. They were not strangers to faith healers and other religious people offering the tools of their trade. All were welcome, but the institution didn’t allow nor condone anything obviously harmful. This area was fuzzy.
The doctor was taken with Makaila, putting on an air of professionalism. “You have to know we have an obligation to protect the patients in our care.”
“What is your fee?”
“There should be a fee? What an odd question to ask first. I would think you would ask what I plan to do, not be concerned with what I charge.”
The doctor blinked. “You’re right, but the order doesn’t really matter. All the questions get asked.”
Makaila closed her eyes and nodded. “Mother’s Light, do you have any money on you?”
She fished in her pocket, producing a wrinkled bill. “All I got’s this dollar.”
“Will you promise me to put that dollar in the collection box for the needy at church?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
Makaila opened her eyes, staring through the doctor. “My fee is that dollar.”
“What do you plan to use? I’ll tell you why I ask. For example, we had a witchdoctor who wanted to build a fire on the floor and kill a chicken to have its blood drank. We really can’t allow such in the hospital.”
“I understand. I plan to use nothing.”
“You mean nothing like that.”
“I mean nothing.” She handed the prayer book to Nikki and the cross, tiara and cord to Judy. Staring at the doctor, she dramatically pulled open the front of the robe and let it fall to the floor, snapping her feet together and holding her arms out at her sides. “Just the cross I bear.”
He averted his eyes, the vision painful. “Please, put your robe on.”
Judy fumbled with her hands full and lifted the garment from the floor, helping Makaila cover up.
The doctor scribbled on a form. “You have fifteen minutes. You’ll be on the critical ward, so please be as quiet as you can and do your best not to disturb anyone.” He, as did the hospital, believed in the power of prayer, yet he, as the hospital, did not believe in miracles. “Do you want to see her chart?”
“No.” It doesn’t matter.
A nurse was assigned. “I’m Brook. What’s your name, honey?”
“Nice to meet you. We get a lot of you people in here.”
Makaila glanced with half-closed eyes. “I think I would like to meet them.”
“I hope it doesn’t bother you much, but I have to watch everything you do. Hospital policy. There are a lot of nuts in the world and believe it or not I think they all find their way here. How long have you known Lori?
“Answers that question. Lori’s the woman you’re going to see. She’s been in a coma going on her third week. The doctors don’t give her to the end of the week, but our pool runs for five.” She put her hand over her mouth. “Oops, sorry. I guess that sounds heartless. We get to seeing death as normal.”
“Death is normal, in its time.”
“I guess. How can you tell it’s your time?”
She lowered her voice, pushing open double doors. “Here we are.”
Beds were side-by-side in a large circle separated by temporary curtains. A circular desk stood in the center. Brook checked various readouts, adjusted the IV flow out of habit and then put a hand to Lori’s face. “Lori, you have a visitor. This is Makaila. Honey, this is Lori. I’ll be right over there if you need anything.”
Makaila put the back of her hand on Lori’s cheek. “You’re as beautiful as Mother’s Light. And, she is a beautiful child.” Makaila wanted butterflies, finally realizing the trick was not about the butterflies. She read the woman’s subtle body. “Mother’s Light came to me and asked me to be here.” In a series of three cold waves, Makaila felt her head get tight inside, dizziness blurring her vision.
“Whoa, let me back up a little.” She closed her eyes. Why did Cat’s smack hurt and the potato and the light bulb not? Makaila reestablished the control of her subtle body, once again creating the phalanx between her and the world.
She put her hands on either side of Lori’s face and read deeply the subtle body. “Now I got it, I think.” She giggled, feeling the woman’s love for Nikki. “Mother’s Light, for sure. I wonder if my mother, somewhere in that head of hers, feels that, too.”
She must. She’s your mother. It’s not the dying as much as leaving Mother’s Light with so much more I had to teach her, show her and love her.
Tears found Makaila’s cheeks. “Then don’t die now. Teach her, show her and love her.” Makaila thought hard about the process allowing her to reach into a boiling pot of water and not get burned or feel pain. She knew somehow, somewhere in her head she knew how. Concentrating, she let down the wall between herself and the dream, the temporal and the spiritual, reality and non-reality: the control of her subtle body.
Years of pain and damage processing might manage to keep me alive.
Her head burst with pain, she yelped, staggered back and fell to the floor.
Why doesn’t my body hurt? was the first conscious thought. Why is my face in pine needles? was the second. She pushed herself over on her back and stared at the bright sun through the towering trees.
She sat up and looked out over the lake. She could only see with one eye. It didn’t seem to matter. “Beautiful.” She laughed at herself. “But, where am I and, duh, how did I get here?”
She looked up again and scrunched her face to the sun, trying to remember the dream she had. Holding her arm out, the twelve-inch scar confirmed the events hadn’t been a dream.
A song-like voice came from behind. “You back from never-never land finally?”
She dropped to her elbows, arching her head back. “Oh-my-God!” She rolled to her knees. “Makaila!”
Cat laughed joyfully. “Sorry, wrong god. I’m Cat. Come on up to the cabin. I’ll make us some coffee that’ll pop your eyes out.” She walked off.
“This is really, really confusing.” She fell back, breathing in the musk of forest decay. “But, it is beautiful.”
“I wasn’t expecting company. You can imagine. I don’t get a lot.”
Arianna stepped on the porch and leaned against the railing.
“Where is here?”
“No place really. It falls between zip codes. It’s really cool until you need snow removal, a pizza delivered or a cop. Do you like coffee? I didn’t think to ask. I have tea and other stuff.”
“Eh, coffee’s fine. I’m confused.”
“Welcome to the human race.”
“I mean about where I am.”
Cat retreated into the cabin, quickly returning with two mugs. “You’re here, at the cabin, in the woods with me. Cat.”
“You just keep feeding them to me and we’ll get along just fine. State of insanity most the time.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. The answer would be meaningless to you, so let’s move on.”
She bit her lip. “How’d I get here?”
“Same way you get anywhere.”
“I mean physically.”
“Same question. Same answer.”
She tasted the coffee. “This is good, rich, could almost chew it. Why am I here?”
“I likes my coffee. There’s something absolutely decadent about good coffee. You should try treating yourself more often. There can be a lot said for sacrifice, but you should really go for like a balance between self-deprivation and self-indulgence.
“Same reason you’re anywhere.”
“I don’t go out of my way denying stuff to myself. Other people do that for me.” She took a deep breath. “Am I dead?”
“Yeah, I wish I had a cup of coffee for every time I heard that whining: Oh, life does it to me! Like you have nothing to do with it.” Cat reached over and took her wrist.
“Got a pulse. Can’t be dead.”
“There’s lots you don’t have any control over.” She bit her lip. “I’m not dead?”
“You don’t have control over stuff you hand control off to. Asked and answered. That’s a pretty silly question for someone with so much color in her cheeks, anyway.”
“Are you dead?”
“Arianna, that is the dumbest question I’ve ever heard! I’ve had bad hair days, but no one has ever said I looked dead!”
“How’d you know my name?”
“I looked in your wallet when you were passed out.”
She patted her pockets. “I don’t have a wallet!”
“I stole it. Girl’s gotta make a living.”
“I’ve never had a wallet!”
“Okay, you caught me. I channeled your name from Spirit.”
Arianna’s eyes got big. “Really?”
“No, not really. I just know lots of stuff. Get used to it. You planning on staying for a while?”
She blinked hard. “I’d have no idea how to leave.”
“North by northeast. Follow your nose. It’s a good half-day if you don’t stop to sightsee.”
“I’ll stay, if that’s okay.”
“Fine by me. If you overstay your welcome, I’ll turn you into a frog and eat your legs for dinner.” Cat giggled. “Don’t take me too seriously. If I have something I really want you to pay attention to, I’ll whack you on the forehead first.”
“And, it hurts lots, so keep your ears on.” A new voice came from the hill.
“That.” Cat extended her arm, palm up. “Is Makaila.”
“Hey, Cat.” Makaila narrowed her eyes at Arianna, whose mouth was moving with nothing coming out. “Hello. Don’t I know you?”
Arianna fell to her knees and slammed her head to the porch planks, shaking uncontrollably.
Makaila looked at Cat.
Cat shrugged. “Looks like you have a fan club.”
Makaila dropped to a knee and raised Arianna by the shoulders. She read her subtle body. “What are you afraid of? Last time I saw fear like this, I had a shotgun in someone’s face.”
Cat laughed. “I still say you should have blown his head off. Close, she’s got this idea she’s dead.”
“There may be lots of clines and colors of death, but I think if you only think you’re dead, you’re not.” Makaila pulled Arianna to her feet. “I don’t know what kinda trash Cat’s been filling your head with, but know you ain’t dead.”
Cat laughed again. “How can you be so sure?”
Makaila smirked. “She’s not like the others.”
“You’re no fun.” Cat feigned a pout.
Makaila pushed Arianna back onto the chair. “Take a few deep breaths and kinda get your head in just what you’re looking at. This place can be over-the-top confusing if every thought you got starts with why.”
Arianna nodded, her eyes wide.
“If you didn’t save me some of that coffee, your forehead’s going to get a turn.”
“Well, aren’t we full of our self! See what going to church will do for you? Help yourself. I’m through waiting on you.”
Makaila rubbed her forehead. “You made that perfectly clear.”
Makaila returned with a mug, leaned on the railing between Cat and Arianna and held a hand up with eyes closed. “And, now the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” She inhaled the coffee deeply, sipped and popped her eyes open. “Good stuff!” With the cup to her lips again, she looked down to Cat. “Why didn’t you just tell me the universe has a subtle body?”
“You’re not as dumb as a log? You didn’t ask? I didn’t need to tell you the sun comes up in the morning, either.”
Makaila nodded. “Bitch.”
“But, I’m you’re bitch.”
Makaila turned to Arianna’s awestruck stare. “If you’ve come in for a landing, we’ll try again. Hello. I’m Makaila.”
In a whisper as in prayer, Arianna spoke: “She-who-is-like-God.”
Makaila rolled her eyes. “Doubtful. Some do say that, though. Jury’s still out.”
“That’s how you know you’re dead,” Cat said with a smile.
Makaila almost asked what she meant, stopping herself. She laughed. “Certainty: I’m telling not asking.”
Meekly, with eyes wide open, Arianna asked Makaila: “What’s death like?”
Cat leaned forward.
Makaila smiled just a little. “I really wouldn’t know. I haven’t died for real so I couldn’t tell you.” She winked at Cat, realizing, finally, who Cat was.
“She’s sleeping,” Makaila told Cat, coming next to her at the lake’s bank.
“Aren’t they all.” Cat skipped a rock across the glasslike surface. “The mechanics still look like magic to me.”
Makaila closed her eyes. “How a rock can drop in water as if the water isn’t there, yet with the right force and angle the rock dances like a butterfly.”
“Yet, by itself, the rock sits in the sand.”
Makaila smiled. “The forces applied are just more subtle but forces just the same.”
“Too true. We can get the idea that we’re the only force and like I told you before, the universe is going to just keep on going on with you or without you.”
Cat threw another rock. “Why’d you do it?”
Makaila closed her eyes again. “Because Mother’s Light asked of me.”
“So now you think you’re God?”
Makaila smiled. “Been here, done this. It doesn’t matter what I think or even what I know.”
Makaila narrowed her eyes. “Define God and I’ll tell you if I think I’m God.”
Cat laughed. “The child grows up!” Cat threw another rock. Makaila raised her palm quickly toward the lake. The rock dropped straight under the surface. Cat laughed again. “Bitch!”
“But, whose bitch am I?”
Cat narrowed her eyes. “Do you really think you have a choice? Don’t ever get the idea you know all things.”
“I wouldn’t want to be like you.”
“Ho! You’re getting mean in your old age.”
“You bring it out in me.” She squinted at the sun. “You told me one time that I like cycle damage-pain and heal as quickly as I hurt. Remember?”
“Yeah. I remember telling you that.”
“How? I mean, how’s it work? How do I do it?”
Cat sent a laugh over the musty cedar water. “Don’t have a clue. I made it up. If you think back, you didn’t believe me and rightly so. It’s a temporal/spiritual thing. I don’t know how it ticks.” She leaned toward Makaila. “There’s lots I don’t know.”
“You can’t do it.”
“Of course not, silly. That’s you, not me.”
“That’s why you told me I was on my own with that kid!”
“Kinda sorta. I had no interest in what the child wanted.”
“Oh, she had so much fear and pain.”
Makaila tilted her head. “You’ve been on the mountain too long.”
“Everything’s got its place. Maybe this is mine.”
“You really didn’t care about Mother’s Light? Not one bit?”
“Only how she impacted you, I guess.”
“Did you somehow send her in the church?”
Cat grew solemn. “Do you really think I can manipulate the actions and choices of others with a wave of my hand?”
She bit her lip. “I don’t know.”
“Doubt will keep you alive.”
“Right before she came in, you said: For all you know, you’re already dead. Define death.”
Cat nodded back to the cabin. “Where do you know her from?”
“Saw her around school, I think. Define death.”
“You’re getting too smart. I can see I’m going to have to put you on a short leash soon.”
Makaila grinned. “You were wrong when you said you were the exception.”
“People I could kill. I bet your head would pop just like anyone else’s.”
“I’ve created a monster! Believe me, you’re the only one that reigns you in. The only one, for now anyway.”
Makaila’s jaw stiffened. “Not a power on earth, Cat.”
“Now you’re catching on. So, she was in school with you. A friend of yours?”
“I didn’t have friends.”
Cat pinched Makaila’s cheek. “Sweet thing like you? Why not?”
“People didn’t like me.”
“I thought you didn’t have any friends?”
“I didn’t. We’ve covered all this.”
“If you didn’t have any friends, how could anyone not like you?”
“Duh. Yeah, no one knew me, so it wasn’t me they didn’t like.”
Makaila nodded. “Artists.”
“You didn’t paint a picture.”
“I read the subtle body and slapped paint on canvas big time.”
“In two seconds flat. What of all the people you passed in the street earlier today and never bothered to look at, let alone read the subtle body? If I’m wrong for not seeing one child’s life, how wrong does it make you for ignoring hundreds each day?”
“My brain’s only so big –”
“So’s mine. We pick the circle of those we call our life.”
Makaila nodded. “Why’s Arianna here?”
“Same reason she’s anywhere.”
“You brought the six girls here.”
“Absolutely. No doubt in my mind.”
“I’m definitely going to need that leash.”
“You brought Arianna here. Like you brought me here. Why?”
“First off, I did not bring you here. You were a wonderful gift to me and I never bothered for a second to look that horse in the mouth.”
“But, you brought Arianna here.”
“Beep! Wrong answer! You lose ten points. You did.”
“I did? No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know her until I came up the hill.”
Cat smiled. “Turn it over. You didn’t know Mother’s Light, either.”
“She came looking for God and had to settle for me!”
Cat rolled her eyes. “God couldn’t have done any better.”
“I hit the floor pretty hard. Am I dead?”
“Arianna came looking for God?”
“Asking me or telling me?”
“Came looking for me?” Makaila closed her eyes. “As the artist, it’s one and the same to her.”
Cat nodded with a coy smile and narrowed eyes. “And?”
“I did bring her here.” She squinted. “Wait. Why here and not Pittsburgh?”
Cat tilted her head back, drooping her eyes. “Hmm – hmm?”
Makaila’s mouth hung open. “I don’t think I want to hear this answer. Where’s her corporal form?”
Makaila shivered, a tear formed in her eye and her jaw stiffened. “Can you keep her here?”
“I could, but why would I want to?”
“Because I’m asking.” She sneered. “Telling you to!”
Cat smirked. “You purport to order a god?”
Makaila raised her arms to the lake and the sky. In a voice more song than not, she proclaimed: “Who better than Makaila: She-who-is-like-God!”
Cat laughed long and hard, finally taking Makaila by the sides of the head. “If you’re going to be like God, you might as well look like one.” Makaila’s scalp tinkled and then felt like it caught fire.
Somewhere in the darkness of thought and dream, temporal and the world of the flesh, the smell of hospital sheets and antiseptic wash filled her head. The all-too-familiar firmness of a hospital mattress supported her back and the sheets held tight, tucked firmly as only a nurse knows how from years of repetition. Hungry eyes, disembodied, danced in the darkness, sucking at her light like piglets at their mother’s tits.
She tried to clear her head. The images pressed forward. She tried to move her arms. The sheets resisted. Somewhere in her darkest imaginings, she thought she was strapped to the bed, readied for a party. Where her muscles failed to liberate her, she threw her being at the restraints. The bed frame shattered, collapsing to the floor as the sheets, along with everything within a few feet, went sailing away.
With a glass-shattering scream, Makaila sat up, realizing she was not back in Facility 36. “Sorry, bad dream,” she told Brook as the nurse knelt at the bedside. “How long was I out?”
Brook pulled a sheet over Makaila’s naked body. “About thirty minutes. Your sister signed off on the tests. We were just about ready to go.” She leaned back. “What happened to your hair? I thought it was brown.”
“Boy!” Makaila looked over the ruined bed. “They don’t make them like they used to! No tests. Where’s my robe? I’m out of here. My hair?” She pulled a handful, her hair longer, back to the color of winter wheat. “Bitch. No, I’m a blondie.”
How and why’d she do that?
“You aren’t going anywhere, young lady,” the doctor informed her from above, appearing from nowhere. “You’re a minor and your legal guardian signed the release. You’re getting some tests.”
“Can I get off the floor? This is kinda embarrassing. You can back the truck up to the front door, Doc. Judy lied to you, God love her, but I’m my legal guardian and I say no tests.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“Let your fingers do some dancing on that computer system of yours. Makaila Marie Carleton. You’ll see I’m emancipated.”
Brook helped her from the collapsed bed with worried eyes. “You feeling okay?”
“Thanks for caring about more than your liability. Where’s my robe. It’s borrowed.”
“She’s not going anywhere until we check this out,” the doctor said gruffly. He backed off.
“Take your time. Where’s Judy and the cafeteria? I’m hungry!”
Brook smiled, helping Makaila into her robe. “You’re something, young lady.”
She winked. “That’s what they tell me.”
“You aren’t going to ask?”
“Who? Oh yeah. How’s Mother’s Light?”
“Nikki – the little girl.”
Brook laughed. “Mother and daughter are doing fine. Asking about you, though.”
“This shack got a backdoor?”
There wasn’t a backdoor. Makaila found an eight-year-old attached to her, knocking her off balance. Makaila dropped to her knees. “Listen to me carefully, Mother’s Light.”
The child nodded with big brown eyes.
“I will not be with you for long. Life, your life, is about your mom and dad and the people you love. Love as hard and fast as you can. Do you understand me?”
She threw her arms around Makaila’s neck. “Yeah! I understand! And I love you, hard and fast, for my whole life!”
Life is good.
Nikki dragged Makaila onto a ward. Lori was sitting up and dopey, sucking on ice. She smiled weakly and spoke painfully. “Thank you.”
Makaila took her hand. “You got lots of atrophy. It’s going to take some time for your body to get back up to speed, but it will. Don’t try to talk. I can see everything you want to say in your eyes.”
Lori squeezed Makaila’s hand the best she could.
“You like made a promise to me. You gotta show Mother’s Light, and teach her all the stuff you want and need to. Most of all, you gotta love her.”
Lori nodded with tired eyes. Makaila put a hand on her forehead. “Sleep for now. Get better.”
Lori drifted away.
Nikki ran off to be taken up in the arms of a man. With her eyes half-closed, Makaila read the subtle body, having her breath swept away. She staggered and then steadied. “She’s sleeping. She’ll be fine,” she told Nikki’s father.
“They told me on the phone. How can this be?”
Makaila giggled. “We don’t need to know why we get a gift.”
He bent and kissed his wife on the forehead. “Pray with us?”
“Sure.” Makaila closed her eyes. She brought back what she read on the plastic card. At the foot of the bed, she raised her arms to the ceiling and sang more than spoke: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The story, in the way they’ll understand.
Nurse Brook was the sole winner of the pool.
What Makaila didn’t understand was the combined subtle body of Nikki and her father. She rolled back in her mind along her life and watched Mr. Wilson first with Timmy and then with Lisa. She was washed with the same feeling Nikki and her father had. “I don’t know how I missed this,” she told Judy.
Judy navigated the car toward the carnival and home. “Sometimes you forget you do things in your head, and I’m not in your head with you.”
Judy was pleased Makaila was back to her old self, somewhat anyway. At least she wasn’t staring off into space telling her to shut up.
“Like I told you, people have this subtle body I can read. I figured out people together got a body, too. You sure you don’t mind me not looking like you anymore?”
“You said the universe has a subtle body, when you were all whacked out. Of course, I don’t mind. I’d love you any way you look.”
“Yeah. The universe can be read in the moment, kinda. But, I got hold of this in Lori’s head and saw like Nikki with her dad and the body is like really powerful. When I first saw it, read it, it almost knocked me off my feet.”
“Well, sure. The parent/child bond.”
Makaila thought into the idea. “Are we born with that or something?”
“You mean: is it an instinct? A habit we’re born with.”
“We’re born with habits?”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“Everything depends on how you look at it.”
“Scientists have studied us forever. When we look at societies over different times and in different areas of the world, we can see what people do and draw some conclusions about what they do in common. Then, we can say people in general tend to do whatever.”
“We tend to group. We tend to mate for life, care for – love – our children. That’s what you’re seeing. Gossip is another thing people tend to do.”
“Yeah, I follow you right down to the river, but that’s not what I’m saying, but it might be.” She sat on her leg facing Judy. “My dad’s not my dad.”
“You said that. Your relationship was not healthy and he didn’t act toward you as a father should.”
“No! That’s not what I mean!” She smacked the dashboard. “He’s not my dad! Like biological!”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. It’s a guess. Something in the eyes, I think. Like I saw it in Mother’s Light’s dad’s eyes and other father’s. Not my dad’s though.”
“Maybe that’s just the way he is?”
“Nope. He’s got the parent-eye for Larry.”
“You said you just figured it out. It’s been a couple of years. How can you be so sure?”
“I forgot. You’re a mere mortal. I can go back and look.”
“About looking or mortals?”
Judy laughed. “Looking. Other things I ignore.”
Makaila rolled her eyes. “It’s like the dream deal. I kinda just go and look. It replays in my head and I can see it as it was. I don’t think I can forget a single thing I’ve ever seen.”
“How do you know it’s memory and not imagination?”
“Is there a difference?”
“Who knows? Maybe not.”
“I think I’ve been going about all this stuff wrong. I’ve been beating my head against the wall until it’s a bloody stump trying to figure out why I can’t see the world like everyone else does. Maybe, just maybe, I see perfectly. It’s just it’s all murky to everyone else.”
Makaila nodded hard, twice. “Everyone like paints it in a way they want to see it for whatever reason they want to see it that way. Maybe just their habits stacked on habits? But, just ‘cause they point and say someone’s a witch doesn’t make them a witch, yet in their world, she’d be a witch.
“Now turn that on its head. If someone says they’re a witch, then that’s what they are – period. You follow me? It’s like reports and stuff, like Roger said: it’s not objective. Roger’s the geek.”
“People want to believe something about themselves so they just paint it that way. Maybe the way they paint the world is like a copy of themselves?”
“Context of manifestation.”
“Everything only exists within its own context. I could have a very good reason to murder someone and it could be valid, yet the general society might not think so. I’d be right in my own context and wrong in the general context.”
“Give them the story in a way they’re going to understand it. That’s what Megan the witch said.”
“Yes – like that.”
“Speaking of witches, did you dig up anything on that gaggle in New Jersey?”
“No witches, but I have the story. One picture tells it all.” She looked at Makaila. “Jo McCarthy is one of the good guys.”
“I know – Mr. Elderage told me.”
“You didn’t think to let me in on it?”
“It’s been a busy day.”
Judy nodded. “She knows a lot about you, though.”
“Not nice talking behind a girl’s back. You told her who I was?”
“Good.” She closed her eyes. “We’ll jump that mountain. Witches?”
Makaila put the small stack on her lap. “Damn! It’s Arianna!”
“You know her, too?”
“Just met her.”
“In the dream. No wonder she’s so screwed up.” She read the wire service article, which didn’t say much. “I don’t get it. I told him to keep his mouth shut and run for cover and they step outside and preach? Did my dues lapse in the god union or what?”
“Larry, my bro. When I talked to Mr. Elderage. Some guy was supposed to give him a message. How’s this get connected to witchy stuff?”
“You. It’s all there. Some pastor connected the group back to the murder you did.”
She flipped quickly over the collection. “At least they don’t cloud the issue with facts.”
“That’s what Jo told me.”
“Pretty smart for a New Jersey detective.”
Judy explained how Makaila landed in Josephine’s missing child file. “I’m glad she’s on our side.”
“Only by proxy. She’s on her own side.”
“Could say that about all of us.”
“Don’t know. Right now, I’m on Arianna’s side. I’ve got this single focus thing happening in my head. She’s in more trouble than any human being should ever be in. I’m leaving in the morning. You can come if you like, but it could mean your death. The subtle body’s not clear.”
Judy pulled off the road. She turned to face Makaila. “Where is she?”
Cold, her crystal blue eyes flashed with an inner light. “Hell.”
Judy blinked twice, hard and swallowed. “Follow your friend to Hell and your reward will be a place with her.” Judy showed a resolve in her subtle body Makaila never saw before. “I’ve never been to New Jersey.”
“Good a place to die as anywhere, I guess.”
Josephine gauged herself about eighty percent. She found an indoor shooting range. Her badge got her in at a discount. She wasn’t a sharpshooter, yet never failed to qualify on the first round. She spent three clips with Harshaw’s .44 before she felt comfortable with the gun.
She passed the entire day without the dark draw to the nearest bar. She found the more she thought about not drinking, the more she wanted to drink. She put it out of her mind the best she could.
It was good to see a familiar face.
She sprawled across the chair to watch the evening news. Having checked the schedule, she knew the carnival had two more days. She wanted to search for the butterfly girl before they dropped south.
“Hello!” she said to the television as she saw another familiar face.
“– just in. The FBI has released this information. These two men are considered armed and dangerous. Do not approach these men, but call your local police.” Never seen on national television and rare but not unheard of on local broadcasts, the newscaster looked off camera. “Is this verified?” He shrugged, looking back to the camera. “Okay, folks, here it is. These two men are wanted on a laundry list of charges. Murder, rape, child molestation, assault, bank robbery.” He looked to the side again. “Jaywalking in a major intersection.” Again, he looked to the side and slapped the papers. “Come on now! Okay!” He turned back to the camera, removing his glasses. “And chewing gum without bringing enough for everybody.” He spread his arms. “That’s exactly what the copy right from the FBI says!” He waved the papers at the camera.
The pictures of the two men came back up. “These men are armed and dangerous. The FBI reports just one hour ago, that they believe these suspects are in the greater Pittsburgh area –”
Josephine crawled up to the television and put a finger on the image captioned Marks. She sneered. “Tick-tock sucker!”
Harshaw scratched his head, almost amused looking at the FBI national release. Almost amused. He tapped some keys, confirming the source was indeed the FBI.
This hacker’s good.
Harshaw appreciated a man who was good at what he did. He recognized the mug shots from his own files.
I can’t believe he got in as far as he did.
Marks and Bixby were on the road. Harshaw hit the keys that would start the process to red flag the Event Horizon and get his men off the street.
The hacker is good, but he’s also dead.
He clicked more keys to check the trace. A yellow flag diverted and opened yet another window. He squinted and correlated in his mind.
He set up the forward of Josephine McCarthy’s motel, along with the room number to Marks and Bixby. He added the instructions to slip in, take care of business and slip out. With the heat of the wanted posters, they couldn’t take the chance of hanging around. The child would have to wait. He paused on the enter key.
“Let’s see.” He spoke aloud to his computer. “If the hacker’s in town, they can do that, too.” He opened the pull-down menu and ran the cursor over to the search. “Let’s see if we have the location yet.”
The overhead light flickered three times, brightened and then went dead. “That’s annoying.”
His computer screen followed the overhead light.
“What the hell is it?”
A flashlight danced in the air. “System-wide failure.”
“No.” The voice was tight. “We lost the system.”
“The power, right?”
“No, look out the window. Power’s on.”
Harshaw slammed his fist onto the desk. “Everything?”
“Ever heard: eggs in one basket, sir?”
In the darkness of his own thoughts, he asked: “We have redundancies?”
“Let me get to work.”
He heard a sigh in the darkness. “We got hit hard and fast. A matrix cascade and a good one, with its own redundancies. It turned things on even as our system turned them off.”
He considered the implications. “It’d jump out of our system?”
“Guess, best probability.”
“Three systems, four at the most. It’s not a self-generator. Meant to take one system out, but out completely.”
“How connected were we when it hit?”
“Again, I can only guess. Primetime and with that damn search, looking for the global nametags and the key-flags –”
“Guess! Less than fifty?”
“God, we were connected to fifty.”
Harshaw did the math. “Over a thousand –”
“Best case, sure. Could easily hit a million, big and small.”
“Mobilize. We have to bug-out before someone comes knocking on the door. Have to blink this location ASAP.” He grabbed the telephone. “Damn phones are even out!”
“Same system. Where you want to go?”
He felt blind. “How quick can you get us up?”
“Depends on how much space you give me to work with. Self-contained power. Everything in house and on location. Anything I have to go outside for adds time.”
“F-36. Has everything you need. Get moving and get everyone on this!”
Josephine called her uncle, disappointed, not surprised her files were lost, not sure of her download. “You’re riding a tricycle in the fast lane, Jo?”
She laughed. “Makes me a smaller target. They got their shot at me. I just want to return the favor.”
“Let me give you some advise as a lawyer. Shoot to kill. That way, the jury only gets to hear one side of the story.”
“They did. You can count on it.” The television caught her eye. “Hold on a second.”
In search of her higher power, Josephine switched to the Christian Stars Shining Bright program.
“– a real Christian Star. This is really something, Reverend. Let me just read this bit here, right from our Christian friend. Thirty-two year old Lori Hanson was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in her brain just over a year ago. Isn’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard?”
The reverend put his fingers together under his chin. “We cannot always know God’s plan, but we must trust in it.”
“Just three weeks ago, Hanson fell into a coma. Wait until you hear the plan God has here!” She looked off-camera to her right, away from the reverend. “We don’t know anything about her? Sure, give us a picture-in-picture.” Back to the camera: “We’ve been working real hard today to bring this to you.” A duplicate of Josephine’s photograph, Makaila appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. “This child –” She looked off again. “How’s it said? Makaila Marie Carleton came to visit Lori Hanson and prayed over her.”
“I’ll be damned,” Josephine predicted. “Doing pro bono? Do pro bono. Larry Carleton. He’s in the papers. Look for the cult witch-killing thing. I gotta go.”
“– scan shows no sign of the tumor!”
The reverend’s face filled the screen. “If you want to support God’s work like this, call the number on the screen. We accept major credit cards or you can send us a check at the address below. God may just work a miracle in your life like the good Christian Lori Benson! What? Oh, Hanson. Our good friend and sister, Lori Hanson!”
Josephine fell again to the floor and put her fingers on Makaila’s image. “Can’t get more ironic than this.”
“I gotta shed this getup.” Makaila pulled Judy through the crowd. “Great turnout tonight!”
She ran into Mike, literally. He took her by the shoulders. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“Aw, that’s so cute! Worrying about me!”
“I’m serious. The sheriff’s office was by.” He produced a flyer. “I know your propensity for finding trouble and the FBI says trouble’s heading this way.”
Makaila laughed, eyeing the flyer. She looked up to Mike and laughed again. “Don’t you get it? It’s a joke! No, of course you can’t get it. Whoa! They don’t bring enough gum to share with everyone!”
Mike twisted his face. “No, I don’t get it.”
She looked from Judy to Mike and back. She told a much-abridged version of her adventure in cyberspace. “This official FBI notice.” She waved the flyer. “Roger had to do this, to slow them down.”
“You’re serious?” Judy asked.
Mike gave the flyer another look.
Mike snickered and then laughed. “This is funny. Who are these guys?”
“Mr. Elderage, that’s my legal eagle, told me this Harshaw guy’s like a spook, a government guy hidden deep. Roger hacked into his system and profiled his game plan. He said these goons are coming for me. I got their pictures back in Megan’s tent if you don’t believe me.”
Mike looked over the confusion of the crowd. He handed Judy the flyer. “Scare up Willy and give him the skinny. Tell him we need copies of this and get them handed out to everyone on the lot.”
Judy nodded, leaving on the run.
“You are going to get buried-deep.”
Makaila giggled loudly, dancing on her toes. “You didn’t even say anything about my hair! I don’t think I’m hiding anywhere. It’s been forever since I ate, so I’m going to change and chow down. You can stay close and worry about me or you can go do your show.” She waved over the crowd. “Jill’s either glad to see me or trying to get your attention.”
Squinting in Jill’s direction, Mike nodded. “Both. It’s show time.” He looked at Makaila with worried eyes. “Keep your head down?”
“You know me!”
“I’m afraid I do. I do like your hair. It suits you better.”
“Oh, one other thing.” She went to her toes, took his cheeks and kissed him deeply on the lips. “Thanks for every little thing you’ve done for me.” She smiled warmly. “I’m leaving at sunrise.”
He closed his eyes. “I understand. Got a show. We’ll talk later.” He ran off.
She slipped quietly into Megan’s tent. “Ah, here’s my young assistant now,” Megan said with a dignified nod.
“Madam Dandelion.” Makaila returned a respectful nod.
The plump woman, middle-aged wearing a housecoat, receiving her future from Megan, looked up with a half-smile. Makaila read her as a reading junky.
“It’s you!” the mark said, pointing, surprised.
“Now that’s silly. Who else would I be?”
“I mean, I mean you’re her! From the hospital! I saw it all on the TV!”
“Hospital?” Megan asked.
“It’s been a long day. You must have me mixed up with someone else.”
“That musical name.” Her finger danced in the air. “Makaila. Right?”
“On TV?” Megan asked.
“Yeah, you got me sheriff. Guilty as charged.”
The woman stood up, showed Makaila her back, leaned on the table and pushed her butt out. “I’ve had a terrible pain in my hip for years. Can you do anything for me?”
Put you on a diet and throw your TV away? “Do you come to me in faith or doubt?”
She turned her head. “In faith.”
“No, you don’t. Look at me!”
She turned. Makaila took the woman’s face in both hands and peered deeply into her eyes. With a tight jaw, she released control of her subtle body, the woman screamed and fell back on the chair. “Now, you come to me in faith!”
The woman took several deep breaths. “It’s gone.” She stared at Makaila. “It’s gone!”
Makaila limped to the back of the tent with a wave of her hand. She sat heavily in the other section and dropped the robe from her shoulders, wincing against the pain.
Megan joined her. “Are you all right?”
“Where’s my underwear? Yeah. I will be in a couple of minutes.” She winced again, struggling with her bra. “No wonder she wanted readings all the time. Took her mind off the pain.”
With sympathetic eyes, Megan explained: “She grew it over time. You got it all at once.”
“There it goes.” Makaila flexed her leg. “That makes all the sense in the world.”
“You dyed you hair again.”
“Nah. Went back to the original color.”
“Grew four inches, too?”
“Looks that way. Cat did it.” She rolled her eyes. “I got like no idea why.” Standing, she wormed into her jeans. “I gotta go on a diet or get some other clothes.” She smiled. “This eating thing’s too cool, new wardrobe, I think.”
“Tell me what happened? Hospital? News?”
“There you are!” Batman poked his head in. “I’ll be right here!”
Makaila went to her friend, putting a hand to the side of his face. “Go back to the cage. There’s lots of marks out there, best night we’ve had.”
She confronted him with a warm smile. “I’ll talk to him. I’m giving you new orders. Go do what you enjoy doing, talking up the marks at the batting cage. I’ll be just fine.”
He warmed to her touch. “I don’t like this, not one bit. I will do as you say, though.”
“Thank you.” She stood on her toes and kissed him.
As he melted into the crowd, Makaila turned to Megan. “I really gotta get something to eat.”
“Let me close up. I’ll go with you.”
“Megan the witch. We’ll talk later. You should know I’ll be fine, at least for a while.”
Megan drifted into her trance. “Of course.
“Think I’ll take the backdoor in case the hip-lady’s got some friends coming down on us.”
Megan kissed Makaila’s cheek. “There’s a party tonight.”
“I know.” With that, Makaila pulled the canvas up and rolled out into the night.