Chapter LI

I looked across the dining room table at my brother as he poked at the salmon on the plate with his fork. Mother had taken great care to arrange the food on our plates so that the piece of fish was balanced by the crisp green asparagus spears and small pile of roasted red potatoes that accompanied it. Neither Daniel nor I had eaten anything, instead we pushed the food around with our forks, glancing at each other waiting for a cue as to the proper time to request to be excused from the table. Manners were paramount in our home and we both knew the consequences of asking to leave the table sooner than would be expected or appropriate. I was anxious to finish our earlier discussion concerning our shared missing time and what I had discovered at Aunt Rachel’s house when we were interrupted by Mother summoning us to dinner.

I listened to my parents discussing the annual fundraiser that was held at Arkham Waterfront Hotel that they attended every year. The date of the gala was fast approaching and Mother was enthusiastic as she prattled on about their required attire; black tie for Dad and an evening gown for her. Dad nodded his approval though he was clearly bored with the topic. He drained his beer glass of the dark ale and replaced it on the oak table with a gentle thud before gently wiping a hint of white foam from his upper lip with the cloth napkin that had been sitting on his lap. Mother described the evening gown that she would be purchasing for the gala in the next few days and though her tone sounded jovial as she spoke, her facial expression held a glaring contradiction. Their interaction felt strange to me. The usual underlying animosity between them had shifted and become something else; something akin to compliance or indifference. I wondered if Mother had told Dad about the detectives’ visit to the house that morning or if they had come to a compromise within their marriage while on vacation in the Bahamas. Whatever it was that had occurred between them it caused me discomfort; I sensed the energetic disharmony and desired to rewrite their symphony.

I set my fork on the table and drank from my water glass. I felt disorientated, misplaced, and everything about that moment of my life as I sat at the dining room table with my dysfunctional family felt surreal. It was as if I was watching a version of my life as I had once wished it to be while possessing the knowledge that it was just a fantasy, one that would never become reality. As I gazed at my plate of untouched food I felt a burst of hysterical laughter threaten to explode from me and it became a challenge for me to stifle it. How could any of them believe that this moment was reality? How was it possible the only one sitting at that table diagnosed with a mental illness was the one who saw through the absurdity of this moment? I felt as if I was losing my grip on sanity. I needed to be anchored in a reality based on truth and the only person or thing that was able to accomplish this and that was available to me was Daniel. How unexpected was that? For so long he and I were at odds with each other. We were as distant as one could imagine siblings to be. I had been convinced that our relationship was beyond repair, but now sitting across from him at the table I felt as if he and I were the only two individuals in that house that understood the gravity of our current predicament. We were the only ones who knew the truth of our situation; that someone or something had managed to steal time from our lives and manipulate our reality so that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. With Aunt Rachel missing I considered that Daniel might be a replacement for her in my life and considered telling him about my abilities.

“I’m getting myself another ale,” Dad said as he stood from his chair. “Do any of you need anything from the kitchen?”

“No, thank you, Edward,” Mother said as she stabbed a spear of asparagus with her fork.

Daniel shook his head, “No, thanks Dad.”

I stood from my chair, picked up my dinner plate, utensils, and water glass from the table.

“May I be excused?”

“You hardly ate anything, Angie. Are you feeling ill?” she asked examining the uneaten food sitting cold on my plate.

“I do feel a little nauseous,” I replied. It wasn’t a lie. The anticipation of revealing the truth about myself to my brother made me feel a bit queasy.

“Maybe it would be best if you laid down to rest,” she suggested.

I nodded and exited the dining room following the path my father had taken into the kitchen. I glanced over my shoulder hoping that my brother would follow my example.

Dad smiled and patted me on the shoulder as he passed me on his way back into the dining room with his beer glass filled with ale. I felt like shaking him and asking him all the questions I had in my head concerning Aunt Rachel, Mr. Stokes, and my abilities, but I understood that if I did, if I pounced on him with such unusual and bizarre questions, I might be giving him cause to believe that I had lied about taking my medication. Dad would be concerned about me and would promptly speak to Mother and that conversation would most likely motivate her to call Dr. Worth, who would have me checked into the hospital under his care; something I didn’t want to occur, so I refrained from saying anything; instead I just looked into his eyes, returning his smile.

His eyes looked different to me. Something about them had changed. Was it his eye color? No, that’s impossible. They were always hazel colored; the same as Aunt Rachel’s, the same as my own, but something was different about them. There seemed to be something abnormal happening to them, a haze clouding them, keeping him hidden from my own prying stare. Strange, I hadn’t noticed it before. Had something happened while he was away with Mother to cause this?

“Dad, are you alright?” I asked. I was concerned for him and began to wonder if there was something darker occurring within the walls of our home and family relations.

He held my gaze for a beat before he wrapped his farm around my shoulders, gently kissing my forehead, something he hadn’t done since I was a young girl.

I heard him whisper, “I’m so sorry, Angie. I love you.”

What? I was confused. The gesture was out of character for my father and it caused me distress. I felt my heartbeat quicken and my body tense. I was unsure of how much longer I could deal with the level of stress I was experiencing without my medication.

I was rinsing my dinner plate when Daniel entered the kitchen carrying his dish and utensils.

“What the fuck is going on?” my brother whispered, pointing to the archway behind us that lead to the dining room. “They’re acting weird.”

I nodded. “I noticed. Dad kissed me on the forehead.”

“Seriously?” my brother chuckled, handing me his plate so that I could rinse it with water. “Maybe he’s drunk. He’s been downing those ales like they were water.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged as loaded the dishes into the dishwasher and shut the door.

As we walked through the foyer my body became tense.

“Still no call back from Aunt Rachel?” Daniel asked.

“No.”

“Well, maybe she’s in Europe like Dad said,” he proposed. “I mean since she wasn’t at home and her house didn’t seemed jacked up and her car was in the garage it seems likely. Right?”

“No Daniel, it doesn’t. Nothing is ‘right’. Nothing’s been right since you came home. Something happened here in our house that night and it affected us; you and me and Aunt Rachel,” I paused as I considered our relationship to each other before adding, “and maybe even Mr. Stokes.”

“Mr. Stokes?” Daniel raised an eyebrow as he approached the staircase that led to the second floor. “Mr. Stokes as in your tutor?”

I nodded.

“Why would the old man be involved?” he laughed. “He wasn’t even here that night.”

The crimson carpet tumbled down the staircase spilling into the foyer as it always did, but as I reached out for the banister with my hand and placed my foot on the first step the sensation of dread overwhelmed me. My vision blurred as disembodied sounds filled my mind. I blinked numerous times, attempting to clear my eyes, but my sight remained distorted, everything appeared to me as if I were looking through water. I reached my hand out toward where Daniel was standing and immediately found his hand. His presence gave me strength and braced me against the wave of vertigo that washed over me.

“Angie?”

I heard my brother, but I couldn’t respond. I had no ability to speak. I opened my mouth, but nothing happened. My head tingled and I felt as if I were falling into myself. The crimson carpet beneath my feet shifted and rippled becoming a warm thick liquid that rose to my ankles. I gripped my brother’s hand tighter. What was happening? Could Daniel see what I was seeing or was this a personal hallucination?

I turned to where he should have been standing, expecting nothing, but hoping to see him and not something else, some strange apparition attached to the hand I held tightly in my own. As I focused my eyes I was relieved to see my brother standing next to me though he was clearly concerned about my well-being. He reached over to support me with both his arms and I allowed him to guide me up the stairs and into my bedroom; only then in my private sanctuary did my vision return to normal.

I allowed myself to fall onto my bed as Daniel closed the door to my room.

“Are you ok?” he asked. “What happened to you?”

If I was seriously considering revealing my secret to him then this was the opportune time to do it, but I was hesitant. I was afraid that once he heard the truth of who I was and what I was capable of doing he might think that I was experiencing some sort of a psychotic episode and feel compelled to tell our parents, and I knew with certainty that they would contact Dr. Worth and off to the psychiatric hospital I would go. I knew that my claims sounded mad and I wasn’t sure if he would believe me.

Advertisements

Chapter L

As I walked through Aunt Rachel’s studio I marveled at the number of pieces she had in progress, even in the early stages her sculptures held lifelike characteristics and once completed were easily mistaken for living people. Walking through her studio was similar to strolling through a hectic bus terminal or other crowded public space, each of her sculptures possessed the uniqueness that human beings did; some were plump while others were skinny, some were tall and others were petite, some bore scars, freckles, or tattoos, while others possessed unblemished skin. Each had their own hair texture and complexion capturing the diversity found within the human race. She had numerous examples of adults that were all within a wide age spectrum, but as I ambled through the congested area towards her working space I found only a single example of an adolescent.

Approaching the lone sculpture, which stood facing my aunt’s workbench, it was easy for me to determine by its posture and form that it was a male. It stood just a few inches taller than me, though his physique suggested that he would have been more athletic than I was ever inclined to be if he had been an actual incarnated person and not just a piece of art created from resin. Aunt Rachel had bestowed him with dark brown hair styled in a modern faux hawk, similar to the cut favored by her son, my cousin Christian.

I circled to the front of the sculpture and felt my stomach flip. My throat tightened as I gazed at the lifeless features of the statue. The statue was a synthetic duplicate of Christian from his light brown colored irises to the scars on the fingers of his right hand, a permanent reminder of when he punched his fist through the glass of his bedroom window. My aunt’s precise attention to such personal details astounded me and gave credence to her inherent talent as an artist and why her patrons willingly paid the hefty price tag to own one of her sculptures.

I took a few steps back to appreciate her craft and bumped into a wooden stool. I found the position of the sculpture in relation to the stool to be somewhat peculiar as the piece looked to be finished. I wondered why it wasn’t with the rest of the completed pieces across the room closer to the double doors. I gazed at the convincing replica of Christian’s face, gazing into its haunting eyes until I had convinced myself that it was no longer a molded piece of resin, but a living breathing person that could speak if he so desired.

“Angie.”

“Yes?” I peered into the golden eyes that were fixedly staring back into mine.

“What are you doing?” questioned the voice. It sounded as if the timber of his voice had become deeper, more mature; if that was possible.

“I’m looking for you,” I responded, reaching out to touch his cheek.

“I told you that I was going to check the garden.”

“What?”

I was confused by not only by the vocal response, but also by the firmness of his skin as my fingertips made contact with the surface of the figure standing before me. I had been convinced that I was going to feel the warmth of living flesh and not the hardness of molded resin. The voice I heard did not belong to Christian as I imagined; it belonged to my tutor.

I looked over my cousin’s shoulder towards the studio doors to see Mr. Stokes approaching me with Heimdall meandering behind him. I frowned. My mind was surely playing tricks again, but was I experiencing delusions or was there something peculiar occurring here in my aunt’s house? I glanced from the statue of my cousin to my tutor.

“Have you seen this piece?” I gestured at the inert figure.

Mr. Stokes stopped just behind the sculpture and crossed his arms with a nod.

“What do you think?” I asked as I leaned against the stool inspecting my aunt’s work for any imperfection. “You know, it’s weird. I get the impression that he has something to say to me. I mean, I’ve always felt that Aunt Rachel’s sculptures had something to share, but this time it’s different. Maybe it’s because I’m off my medication and can tell when I’m having an auditory hallucination and when I’m not.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But when my parents took me to Aunt Rachel’s opening I would stand in front of each piece and just listen. I honestly believed that I was actually hearing them speak to me,” I chuckled as I tapped on my skull with my index finger, “in my head. I desperately wanted to know what they had to say, but now I’m not really sure if it was their voices or The Ancestors or just hallucinations.” I paused and leaned closer to the piece before me. “But this one … I swear … it’s breathing …”

My tutor glanced at the sculpture out of the corner of his eye and scowled. “We don’t have time for this, Angie. We’re here to find your aunt or clues to her whereabouts.”

I nodded. “I know. It’s jus –”

“Angie,” a strangled whisper echoed in my head. I watched as a furrow appeared on my tutor’s brow. Curious. Was his expression a reaction to the whisper or just coincidence?

“Let’s go,” he urged, moving towards the double doors. “This was a waste of time. There’s nothing for us here.”

“Wait!” I exclaimed, convinced that it wasn’t mere coincidence and that there was something he wasn’t sharing with me. I caught his arm and forced him to stop midstride. “I know you heard that. You heard that whisper. It called my name.”

He roughly shook off my hand and continued towards the exit without looking back. He cautioned, “Angie, leave it alone.”

I wasn’t good at heeding warnings from anyone whether written or spoken so why would my tutor expect me to do so now? I sprinted after him and positioned myself between the doors that lead to the front hall and where he stood in the studio. It was obvious to me that he knew something and was attempting to avoid sharing the information with me. I wasn’t going to stand for it, not again. Transparency was a priority to me, the more information I had the more comfortable I felt.

“You’re kidding me, right? When have I ever listened to your warnings, Mr. Stokes?”

“Well, I really wish you would just this once,” he explained, caressing the scar on his forehead. “As usual, you have no idea what you’d be getting into if you were to engage with that. Back there,” he said, gesturing behind him with his thumb, “is a power that you shouldn’t try to manipulate. It’s something even your aunt knew to leave alone.”

Instead of instilling restraint or fear within me, he was intriguing me even further. I was fascinated and wanted to know more. I needed to know more. Maybe the power he alluded to had something to do with my missing time. It probably had something to do with Aunt Rachel.

“What power? What is it?” I questioned.

Mr. Stokes shrugged. It was clear he was tired of fighting me and acquiesced to my appeal for more information. He removed his glasses carefully sliding them into the pocket of his light blue button up shirt before reaching for my hands and gently but firmly holding each of them palm to palm with his own. The connection created a lemniscate symbol with our arms.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, instructing me to do the same and when we reopened them we stared into each other’s eyes. It took just a moment for my essence to tumble into the seas of green that were his irises and to withdraw into my center. I listened for the whispers that I knew would eventually creep into my head. I probed Mr. Stokes’ thoughts … his memories … all of which were submerged beneath layers of murky emotion. The shadows concealed, shrouding that which Mr. Stokes desired to keep hidden from prying minds such as my own, but after sweeping aside the darkness his center gradually opened like the petals of a flower revealing within what I was unconsciously seeking … the whispers gifted me the knowledge.

“I … I …,” I stammered, overwhelmed by the secret I had just learned. “I don’t understand … how?”

“Because we are bonded,” he sighed, releasing my hands and pinching the bridge of his nose before replacing his glasses. “Your aunt must have performed the binding ritual sometime after I left your house on Saturday night. She bequeathed me to you, which bestows upon you power and abilities that you would not usually have access to.”

“She must’ve known,” I said.

“Yes,” he nodded his sad agreement. “She probably did.”

 

 

Chapter XLIX

Necromancy is the art and science of conjuring the dead, either by summoning their spirit as an apparition or by resurrection, for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events, discover hidden knowledge, or to use the corpse as a weapon. The practice supposes belief in the survival of the human spirit after physical death, the possession of superior knowledge by the disembodied spirit due to being free of the limits imposed by the earthly plane, and the possibility of communication between the living and the dead. The circumstances and conditions of such an exchange would depend on the nature of the departed spirit, its relation to the earth, the body in which it previously possessed, and how long it aboded.

The practice of necromancy is found in every nation of antiquity and has always been a practice within paganism and in all countries on the globe, but nothing can be determined as to the place of its origin. Each culture possesses specific rites and incantations that are used when establishing communication with the dead. Some evocations are complex and elaborate, while others are not, and all vary one from another, though many include an act of blood sacrifice, a form of equivalent exchange, and reciting specific incantations.

Necromancy is an extremely dangerous practice and precautionary measures should be taken to assure the spiritual welfare of the practitioner. It is understood that the astral corpse of a human being has an intense desire to return to a physical life and holds the ability to prolong its grip on the earthly plane by absorbing energy from the living, making it strongly advisable that only the Initiated need attempt an evocation.

 

From the outside of Aunt Rachel’s modest two story house everything looked normal. The driveway was vacant of any vehicles, which didn’t directly indicate that no one was home since there was an attached garage with its door closed. As soon as Mr. Stokes shifted his car to park I flung the passenger’s door open and leaped out, running towards the house as soon as my feet hit the ground. The wooden stairs of the porch proved to be somewhat of a challenge for me as I tripped numerous times, losing my balance and almost slamming my face into the rail. I skipped knocking or ringing the bell; instead I gripped the door handle and pushed it opened. The force I exerted against the unlocked door caused me to stumble across the threshold.

I called my aunt’s name hoping that she would immediately respond to the sound of my voice and ease the unnamable sensation that had possessed me since I had awoken that morning. I waited motionless; listening for her response. The air around me was stale and heavy. When no one replied I took two tentative steps further into the house, enabling me to peer through the opened sliding doors of her art studio.

“Aunt Rachel?” I summoned, but was disappointed by silence in return.

I continued further into her home walking through the archway that led to the rest of the first floor. Everything appeared neat and tidy; no food was left out on the dining room table, no dirty dishes were neglected in the sink. I saw no indications that anyone had even used the stove or dishwasher recently. I walked through the opened floor plan, searching for anything that seemed out of place, whether that was a physical indication or something more ethereal, but discovered that nothing was out of the ordinary.

As I entered the hallway I opened the door leading to the garage. I flipped the switch on the wall, immediately illuminating Aunt Rachel’s red Altima with the overhead lights. It sat parked in its usual spot. I was uncertain as to whether it was a good sign that her car was there or a bad one. I retraced my steps back to the front door where I was joined by Mr. Stokes. We ascended the stairs intending to search the bedrooms for any sign of my aunt or my cousin, but the stagnation of the air within the stairway was almost unbearable. It felt as if the oxygen was slowly being sucked out of the atmosphere. I coughed a few times and considered turning back and explore her art studio instead, but Mr. Stokes urged me forward. The numerous windows in the house provided us with more than an adequate amount of sunlight, but I felt the discomforting sensation of a sinister presence lurking within the abnormal shadows being cast around us. I felt as if they were gathering and attempting to forcefully persuade us to leave the house. I considered that it was my own paranoia that caused me to feel and think this way, but I knew that the sensations originated from more than my own disturbed mind.

We approached the guest room first and found that it was orderly with its bed made and other furniture and décor undisturbed. The sun’s rays filtered through the curtained window and cast interesting shadows on the papered wall. My aunt’s Maine Coon cat sauntered out from the closet and jumped onto the bed with a loud meow.

“Hey there, Heimdall,” I cooed, reaching over and scratching him under the chin. His orange fur was soft to the touch. “Where’s Aunt Rachel?”

“He won’t tell us anything,” Mr. Stokes scoffed. “He’s always been uncooperative and rebellious ever since he was a kitten. Loki would have been a more fitting name for him.”

Heimdall hissed and growled at my tutor before jumping from the bed and running out of the room.

I raised an eyebrow at Mr. Stokes before moving onto the next bedroom, which was my cousin’s.

Christian’s room was filthy and disorganized. How anyone could live in such chaos baffled me. I would not characterize my cousin as a neat freak, but the disaster we discovered in his bedroom appeared overly messy for even him. The bed was unmade with the blanket, sheets, and comforter twisted around each other and hanging off the side of the bed; random items of clothing were scattered around the room with a pile of what I assumed was dirty laundry leaning against the hamper. The contents of his closet were spilling out of the partially closed doors and into the middle of the room, which was carpeted with an assortment of candy wrappers, empty chip bags, scraps of paper, and from what I determined by the illustrations were pages from a few different comic books. I located at least one greasy pizza box with some uneaten pieces sitting on his computer desk along with empty plastic bottles of soda.

“Disgraceful,” frowned Mr. Stokes as he turned and headed to the closed door across the hallway. He was clearly uninterested in looking beyond the mess, though I briefly entertained the idea of rummaging through the chaos for clues, but changed my mind as I spotted Heimdall following my tutor towards the last bedroom.

Mr. Stokes knocked on the door and waited for a response. I knew she wasn’t inside, but hoped that maybe my intuition was mistaken. He glanced at me over his shoulder before turning the knob and opening the door. The aroma of herbs and burnt wood drifted out of my aunt’s private sanctuary and into the hall. Heimdall weaved his way passed my tutor’s legs and darted through the opening, disappearing into the room before we were able to take a step over the threshold.

Her room was a complete contrast to Christian’s. Her bed was made with the two sleeping pillows tucked in shams and the smaller decorative ones carefully placed in front of them and the nightstand held only a lamp and small digital alarm clock placed an arm’s length from the edge of the bed. The top of her antique dresser was immaculate with her perfume bottles arranged according to their height. The only area in the room that was disorganized was her desk, which was covered with numerous books some laid opened while others were stacked.

The books caught my attention so while Mr. Stokes walked towards the door leading to the private bathroom I approached the desk and pulled out the chair. I sat, scanning the text of the opened book hoping to gain insight into what my aunt was doing or at least thinking the last time she was in her room. I allowed my fingers to travel along the page as I read the words written in the same dialect as my favorite occult book, which held a place of honor in my bookcase at home. I flipped shut the cover searching for the title of this particular tome. I ran the tips of my fingers over the worn burgundy leather. My fingers easily found the grooves of the embossed title and slowly traced each letter of the title; Grimoire of the Necromancer.

Why was Aunt Rachel reading this book? What knowledge did she hope to acquire? Was her research connected to me or The Ancestors in some way? Did this lead to her current situation? As I sat in contemplation my head began to throb. The atmospheric pressure in the bedroom had dropped, causing a familiar insidious fear to rumble within the center of my being like a timpani and I knew that in moments I would be overcome by a wave of vertigo. I stood and searched the room for the origin of the imposing and threatening presence that had manifested in my company, but saw only that Mr. Stokes had appeared at the door way to the bathroom wearing his customary mask of trepidation. He, too, felt the presence.

Our eyes were fixed on each other as we waited. I stood by the desk motionless; he at the threshold between the bedroom and bathroom. We each knew that something was about to occur, but neither of us knew what. With a distressed sounding meow, Heimdall darted out from under the bed and through the open door into the hallway as it slammed shut behind him nearly catching his tail. The noise should have echoed through the house, but it didn’t. The air in the room had become so dense that the sound was muffled.

I took a step towards my tutor as the double doors of the large wooden wardrobe slowly opened with an inhuman moan, revealing that its contents were not clothing as one might assume, but what could only be described as a shrine. I changed direction and approached the welcoming cabinet. Mr. Stokes wasn’t far behind.

“What is this?” I whispered. My eyes were drawn to the lone statue prominently set in the center of a table, which extended the width of the interior of the closet. The figure was distressingly familiar yet even recognizing that I was scared I couldn’t fight the compulsion to touch her. I extended a trembling hand towards her cold metal cheek.

Mr. Stokes grabbed my wrist before I made contact.

“I wouldn’t,” he cautioned.

Chapter XLVIII

Mr. Stokes and I were interrupted by a knock on the door. We jumped from our seats as if we were horny teenagers caught having sex or curious little boys playing with Daddy’s pistol. My tutor reached for his eye glasses, which were resting abandoned on the table in front of us and placed them on his face. He slipped his hands in the pockets of his trousers and waited for the door to open. I struggled to refocus my attention from what I had just learned concerning Mr. Stokes to the current events that were unfolding before me, though it was challenging. As I’m sure you can imagine, I had questions; I always had questions, but I wondered if he would have the answers. And I was uncertain as to how this new information would aid me, aid us in finding out what happened to my aunt.

We had to go to Aunt Rachel’s house. I felt like she was there … somehow. Maybe she was trapped in another vortex by The Ancestors just as she had been in our foyer only days, or was it weeks, ago?

“Good morning Mr. Stokes,” Mother smiled as she entered the library followed by the police detectives she had been speaking to in the living room.

“Mrs. Williams,” he greeted her with a slight bow of his head.

Do you have a moment to spare?” she asked as she swept her arm towards the men as if they were a prize to be won on some cheesy daytime game show, “Detective Moore and Walker would like to speak to Angie.”

“Of course,” he replied as he returned the chair he had previously occupied to its original position at the table before retreating to his usual seat behind the oak desk. He busied himself with the contents of his well-loved messenger bag.

“Good morning Angie,” greeted Detective Moore as he extended his hand to me. I was bored already. It felt as we had just gone through this routine together, even if it had been close to six months prior. “We just have a few questions we’d like to ask you about a colleague of your father’s. Would that be okay with you?”

I shook his hand. “Yes.”

Detective Walker removed a photograph from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to me.

“Do you recognize this man as Peter Morrell?” asked Detective Moore.

“Yes.”

“A neighbor identified this,” he exchanged the photograph I was holding of a smiling Mr. Morrell with one of a red BMW, “as a car that was parked in your driveway the afternoon of,” he consulted the notepad he held in his free hand, “Wednesday, September 20th. Were you home that day?”

I nodded. “Yes. I have lessons on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the week with my tutor,” I gestured to Mr. Stokes who looked up from his iPad at the mention of his name.

Moore nodded and jotted something in his notepad with the pen he retrieved from the inside pocket of his suit coat. “Do you recall seeing this car in your driveway?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Did Mr. Morrell come by the house that day?”

“I know he stopped by recently, but I’m not sure of the date,” I answered. “Sometimes I get my days confused.”

“Her medication has that side effect,” my Mother reminded them from her position by the door. Her hands were clasped in front of her, but she was constantly twirling the rings she wore on her fingers; beginning with the index finger and ending with her thumb then repeating the process. Clearly she was uncomfortable with the inquisition because up until the moment when Detective Moore posed the question of me she had been blissfully unaware that Mr. Morrell had even been at the house that day.

“Pardon me,” Mr. Stokes said, clearing his throat. “I can confirm that date for you.”

“And your name is …?” asked Detective Walker as he extended his hand to my tutor.

“Gerald Stokes,” he said, shaking hands with Detective Walker then Moore.

“And how is it that you are able to confirm this date?”

“As Angie said we have lessons here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” he began, “and on that particular Wednesday I had an appointment scheduled for three-thirty in Providence so I left a little earlier than usual and as I was leaving Peter Morrell rang the bell. I passed him at the entry way when Angie opened the front door.”

Walker frowned. His partner scribbled another note.

“Why did he stop by?”

As I contemplated the detective’s question I found myself in a serious conundrum and I was uncertain as to what was the best way for me to proceed for the benefit of everyone involved in the situation. Should I reveal the truth; that sleazy Peter Morrell came to the house to visit and perhaps fuck his colleague’s wife while that co-worker and longtime friend was at work unaware of the betrayal, which would reveal at least one of the skeletons that my Mother was hiding in her closet, or should I blatantly lie to the detectives and make up some believable reason for Mr. Morrell’s being there in the middle of a work day? It would’ve been helpful to know if Mother had already informed the detectives of her affair.

I glanced at over at her hoping for some hint as to how she might want me to respond, but even though she was uncomfortable with the questions her composure never faltered. From where I stood I could sense that she was distressed, but the energy was a complex jumble of guilt, fear, sorrow, and … what was that? Jealousy?

“I thought he came to see my father,” I said. It was the truth; no lie was necessary. “So I told him that he wasn’t home.”

“And what did he say?”

“I don’t remember,” I shrugged; now that was a lie. I remember what he said, but I decided that I didn’t want the responsibility of being the one to reveal my Mother’s adultery if she hadn’t done so already. “I don’t think he said anything.”

“How long was he here?” asked Detective Moore. “An estimation will be fine.”

“Maybe five minutes,” I guessed. I knew The Shadow’s Bride wasn’t a particularly long musical piece and that my Dad’s whiskey he had consumed made the process of resonance and entrainment happen easier and quicker than it had if he had been sober.

Detective Moore nodded and scribbled in his pad again.

“Did you see him drive away in his car?” Detective Walker inquired.

“No, I guess I didn’t. I assumed he did,” I explained. “But I shut the door before he got to his car.”

“That car?” he asked pointing to the photograph I still held in my hands.

“Yes.”

“Did you see him drive away?” the detective asked my tutor, as he retrieved the photo from me.

“Me?” Mr. Stokes pointed to himself. “No, no. I left when he was still standing at the front door.”

After giving the detectives a description of what Mr. Morrell was wearing that day they left the library in the company of my Mother, who glared at me over her shoulder before firmly shutting the door behind her.

 

 

Chapter XLVII

Mr. Stokes walked behind the oak desk in silence as he massaged the mark of an old wound on his forehead. His eyes, obscured by his spectacles, were focused on the items lying upon the flat surface of the desk, though I could tell that he was not seeing any of them. His mind was elsewhere. He did not immediately dismiss my concerns about Aunt Rachel, which was in and of itself worrisome, nor did he discount my lost time or lapse in memory about the previous days’ events, causing a marked increase in my uneasiness about the well-being of my favorite relative and what had transpired during those missing days.

Without a word he pointedly raised his gaze and gestured to the library door while taking his customary seat. I stood from my chair and closed the door, allowing the two of us privacy, although I was certain that Mother would be occupied with the police detectives for a time and would not have the ability to eavesdrop or interrupt us. I walked back to the table and reclaimed my chair waiting for his response.

“I agree with you,” frowned Mr. Stokes.

I was unprepared for his unhindered and simple acquiescence.  I expected my tutor to question me or demand that I explain my feelings because it was usual for him to deem them irrelevant or foolish, but he didn’t and that left me unsure of how I should respond. I was elated to have him respect my thoughts without question, but I was also deeply troubled because this time my feelings were in direct relation to the fate of my aunt, someone I cared about and whose continued absence would cause me great distress.

“Something has happened to Rachel,” he said, his voice cracking with unchecked emotion.

“What is it? What happened?”

“I don’t know,” he listlessly shook his head.

I screamed at him in my head, “You don’t know?!”

I was frustrated and he was doing nothing to soothe my worry, instead he was adding to it.

“Something …,” he struggled with his words, “Something isn’t … something isn’t …”

“Something isn’t right, is it?” I jumped in and finished his thought.

I knew what he was attempting to vocalize. It was more of a feeling than an actuality that could be described with mere words. It was a nagging sensation that originated deep in the gut, but was elusive and refused to be identified. It was a frequent companion to me as a child and would possess me whenever I heard the midnight whispers of The Ancestors. I never fully understood what the sensation was, though it created an intrusive imbalance within my reality, throwing everything askew when it manifested and the overwhelming feeling of dread that accompanied it was recognizable even if the root feeling was not.

He nodded, “Something is very wrong.”

“So what do we do? What can we do to make it right again?” I asked him. “We have to do something. We can’t just sit here. She needs us.”

He nodded and stood from his chair. He looked older than I imagined. Was it possible for someone to age years in just days? Mr. Stokes approached the table and sat himself down in the empty chair beside mine. He visually scrutinized me, searching for something, though I was unsure of what we was looking for and I didn’t have the patience to deal with this usual yet still peculiar behavior.

“You know I hate it when you look at me like that,” I snapped, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

“Yes, I’m aware. I apologize,” he said as he removed his glasses and placed them carefully on the table. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and shifted the chair so that he could sit directly facing me. He pointed to his chest. “Who am I?”

“What?” The shift in the conversation caused me serious discomfort. Where was he going with this? “What does your identity have to do with my aunt?”

“Please Angie,” he coaxed. “Just answer the question.”

“Seriously, Mr. Stokes, we don’t have time for this. What we need to be concentrating on is what we are going to do to about Aunt Rachel.”

“Angie, please,” he pleaded. “Who am I to you? To Rachel?”

I shot up from my seat, the anger expanding within me. Why were we wasting time with this? This was ludicrous. I was beginning to question my tutor’s sanity.

“Look, I can’t sit here and talk to you about who you are or who you aren’t when I know something terrible has happened to my aunt. I know she’s not in Europe. I know it,” I explained as an apparition of my cousin appeared next to me. Did Mr. Stokes see him or was he purely a hallucination my mind had conjured solely for me? “And Christian isn’t with his father. All that’s a lie.”

“I know,” he said, grasping my arm and gently pulling me back into my seat.

We sat in stillness for a moment staring into each other’s eyes. I directed my rising anger and frustration towards him determined to bend his will and align it with my own, forcing him to act as I demanded. We had to take immediate action. If Aunt Rachel was in jeopardy then she needed me and I in turn needed Mr. Stokes. He was my natural anchor and battery, allowing me to use my ability to its full potential. We couldn’t waste any more time sitting in the library doing absolutely nothing, other than discussing ridiculous topics such as his true identity.

Wait a minute.

True identity … as opposed to a false identity? My anger was clearly muddying my thoughts, causing me to create situations that weren’t really there so that I had some emotional drama to distract me. Things were becoming disjointed. Something was distorting and fragmenting my thoughts. I closed my eyes. I needed to clear my mind and concentrate on my aunt … my aunt … my Aunt Rachel … but my own words echoed in my head.

I reopened my eyes and repeated aloud, “All that’s a lie.”

I analyzed Mr. Stokes’ face and settled once more on his eyes. His irises were the most intriguing hue of green reminiscent of the jade on Mother’s antique necklace that she often wore at Christmas time. I allowed my essence to fall into the color and withdrew into my center, listening for the whispers that I knew would creep into my head. Usually this happened involuntarily when I experienced what Dr. Worth labeled my “unusual behaviors”, but I intuitively knew I had the ability to make it happen intentionally. I probed Mr. Stokes’ thoughts, seeking out the lie, searching for the deception, but when the whispers came, they were too low for me to hear clearly.

“Who are you?” I asked my tutor, allowing the suspicion to ride my words.

“You know who I am.” He gripped my hands with his and asked, “Tell me. Who am I?”

“I don’t know!” I shouted, yanking free. “I don’t know! I’m tired of your stupid game. We don’t have time for this.”

“This is important,” he stressed, reaching for me. “I know it may not seem like we have time and it might feel like I’m playing some game with you, but I promise you; I’m not.”

“I don’t believe you,” I retorted. But the truth was I did. I believed him. Innately I knew that this conversation was important, but I also felt an overwhelming desire to fight with him so that we wouldn’t engage in this discussion. I didn’t understand why I was feeling defiant. Was it possible that I was afraid of what he would say to me; of what I might learn? My emotions were entwined as I struggled to untangle and comprehend them.

“Yes, you do,” he stated. “I understand that you’re worried for Rachel. I am, too, but we absolutely must have this conversation no matter how challenging it is for you. So, will you please sit back down?”

I reluctantly obeyed.

“Thank you,” he smiled weakly as he held my hands. He took a deep breath and looked at me before asking, “Angie Williams, who am I?”

I would answer his stupid questions, but I would do so unenthusiastically.

“You’re my tutor.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “And?”

“And? Seriously? I don’t know what you want me to say, Mr. Stokes. Do you want me to feed you the lie that you’re a family friend? Because that’s what it is,” I spewed. “It’s fucking bullshit. You may be associated with my family alright, but not every member of my family. Huh? It seems that you fancy just specific women in my family.”

“Yes,” he smiled.

“Why is it you’re fond of me, Mr. Stokes? Is it because I’m young?” I accused. “Well, what about Aunt Rachel? You’re in love with her, aren’t you? Did you love Grandma Kathleen and Great-Grandma Lillian, too? And Great-Great-Grandma Catherine, Carrie, Nellie, Margaret, Elizabeth, Emma, Hannah, Mary Frances, Constance, Mary Elizabeth, Anne, Patience, and Abigail … because all of them … they …”

I realized that as I had spoken each name an image of the woman standing beside a man, who I instinctively knew was Mr. Stokes though he didn’t always look like the man sitting in front of me, flashed through my mind.

He nodded. “Yes, please continue.”

“They were more than friends with you, but not lovers, never lovers,” the information flowed through my mind as if I always possessed it. “You were their trusted confidant, a devoted companion, who … because of a bond …” An image of the foyer filled my mind; the crimson carpet rippled as if it was liquid as it cascaded down the stairs. “… a blood bond … willingly serves, attends, and guards his wi –”

“Yes!”

Chapter XLVI

Within Greek mythology when a human died their soul traveled to the Underworld where they would exist, but with no sense of purpose, for at the moment of death their psyche was suspended. It no longer aged or changed in any sense including experience and understanding. Upon physical death the soul would be required to travel to the Underworld where she or he could be required to bribe Charon, the terrifying ferryman, to guide them across the river Acheron in order to reach the entrance to Hades, therefore the dead were traditionally buried with a silver coin placed over each of their eye lids or one under their tongue. If the deceased did not have silver to bribe Charon he could grimly turn them away, prohibiting them entrance to Hades, and they were left to wander the shores, though he was known to make exceptions for souls carrying a golden bough.

Within the Underworld there existed six rivers; the Styx, the river of hatred, which circled the Underworld, Acheron, the river of pain, Cocytus, the river of wailing, Phlegethon, the river of fire, which lead to the depths of Tartarus, Oceanus, the river that encircled the world, and Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, which boarded Hades and Elysium, a paradise for the souls of demigods or heroes.

Most interesting within the Underworld is the Lethe River, which flowed through the cave of Hypnos where no light was cast by the sun or moon, a grotto where night and day met and no sound dared ever enter; where at its entrance a vast number of poppies and other hypnotic plants flourished. The lulling murmurs of the river induced drowsiness in the souls who drank from its sluggish waters, the souls required to drink prior to their rebirth to ensure that all memories of previous lives lived were forgotten. The only exception were the initiated, who were taught to seek the waters of the river Mnemosyne, the river of memory, thus securing the retention of their memories of previous lifetimes and ensuring the end of the transmigration of their soul.

The weekend passed without a return call from Aunt Rachel, though I left numerous messages on her voice mail, and each time I attempted to contact Chloe to question her about the events preceding the gap in my memory, her cellphone rang endlessly without any redirection to voice mail. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement of the level of stress I was experiencing. Daniel and I spoke, but only briefly about the shared memory loss not because either of us were avoiding the other or the topic, but because most of his time was spent evading our parents, who apparently had not forgotten about his expulsion from school and my energy and time was consumed by assuring both Mother and Dad on separate occasions that I was faithfully taking my medication as prescribed, though I lied. I wasn’t. I needed to be unmedicated and as clear minded as possible if I was going to solve this perplexing situation.

I thought of Chloe and the story she told me about her and two of her friends stealing The Pickman Sister’s grimoire and wondered if our situations were similar in any aspect. She mentioned that she had no memory of what had transpired after that night in the woods and suggested that it was as if someone wiped her memory. Was that possible? And if so, was it possible that someone did the same thing to Daniel and me? Maybe my brother’s idea that we were drugged wasn’t as far-fetched as I might have thought.

The chime of the doorbell echoed throughout the house announcing the arrival of who I assumed to be my tutor. I was completely unprepared for our lessons today … I wasn’t even certain of what I should have been prepared since I couldn’t remember our last five days together. I peeked out my bedroom window expecting to confirm my assumption of the identity of our visitor with the sight of Mr. Stokes’ car in the driveway, but was startled to see a dark SUV with government plates parked there instead. Instinctively I knew the occupants of the vehicle were detectives and assumed that they were revisiting us about Josh’s missing persons case.

The doorbell chimed an additional time as I left the sanctuary of my bedroom and walked through the upstairs hallway. Every door to my Mother’s antique curio cabinets stood opened; a bottle of glass cleaner and microfiber towel lay abandoned on the floor close by. I glanced at Mother’s multiple collections of pretty items and considered the pleasure they brought her. Was there anything that I held in my own life that brought me such delight? As I reflected on my own collection of occult books and paraphernalia I smiled. Of course. But how different our tastes were; my Mother and I, and yet, how similar our desire to fill the void within our deficient existence.

As I descended the stairs leading to the foyer I observed Mother opening the heavy wooden front door. The sunlight spilled through the entryway from outside and onto the Oriental rug. If my Mother was surprised by the appearance of detectives Moore and Walker standing on the opposite side of the door her expression didn’t reveal it.

“Good morning, detectives,” she smiled, methodically dissecting the two men standing on our front porch. “What brings you to our door so early in the day?”

“Good morning, Mrs. Williams,” nodded Detective Moore. “We are looking to speak with Mr. Williams. Is he home?”

Mother shook her head. “Unfortunately no, Detective Moore, he’s already left for the office and won’t be returning until around six this evening. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Well, I suppose you might be able to help us with our investigation,” he began, glancing at his partner who shrugged with a nod. “Would you have a few minutes to answer some questions about your husband’s coworker, Peter Morrell?”

Peter Morrell? I didn’t see that one coming though I should have anticipated that at some point someone who knew him would have reported him missing and that the police would send someone to have a conversation with Dad since they were colleagues and at one time close friends. I wondered if they already knew about my Mother’s affair with the repulsive, lewd man or perhaps that was precisely why they were at our home so early on a week day when most people were at work. From my previous interaction with the detectives I knew they were capable and had probably already calculated the best time to speak with my Mother without Dad around to hinder her responses.

“Of course. Come in.” My mother didn’t hesitate. She stepped out of the way as she pulled the door wide enough for the men to step into the foyer. She gestured to the archway that led to the large formal room. “We can talk in the living room.”

The detectives followed my mother through the foyer. Detective Moore checked his cellphone as he walked behind her, but Detective Walker offered a greeting as he passed by me. I smiled and returned the pleasantry while contemplating whether I should follow them and offer my personal insight as to the asshole that Peter Morrell truly was behind the V-neck sweater and aviator sun glasses and to inform them that whatever might have happened to him was the justice he deserved, but before I could be so impulsive our doorbell chimed again and I was forced to answer it.

I casually approached the entry way and scoffed at the peephole in the door. If there was a stranger on the other side with devious intentions they would unlikely be able to carry them out considering there were two able bodied, gun carrying detectives sitting in our living room just twenty-five feet away, questioning my Mother. I opened the door and was met by my tutor, Mr. Stokes. I opened it wide enough for him to enter the house unhindered.

“Good morning, Angie,” he said as he passed by me carrying his messenger bag in one hand and a Styrofoam cup presumably filled with hot coffee. “How are you doing today?”

“Honestly, Mr. Stokes,” I said, shutting the door and walking beside through the foyer towards the library. “I’m not sure.”

“Does your uncertainty have anything to do with the unmarked police car that’s parked in the driveway?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah …,” I slipped my hands into the pockets of my cardigan sweater. “Well, not really.”

I glanced into the living room as we passed the archway. Mother sat on the sofa with her hands clasped in her lap, facing the detectives who sat in the matching floral printed chairs across from her. Upon her face lingered a look of shame as she nodded in response to a question from Detective Moore that I could not hear clear enough to understand, but presumed by her expression had something to do with the illicit affair she had with Mr. Morrell. I sighed and hurried to the library exasperated with my Mother’s behavior. Honestly if she hadn’t involved herself as she had with that nauseating man, Mr. Morrell would still be alive, well, not that he was actually dead, but he was definitely gone and the police wouldn’t be in our home disrupting our lives.

“So, if it isn’t those detectives that are bothering you, then what is it, Angie?” my tutor questioned once we had entered the library.

I stood by the table and decided in that moment that I was going to just tell him. Tell him everything … well, almost everything. I wouldn’t reveal what I had saved on my MP3 player. But I would tell him everything else. He already knew how different I was, he knew about the bloodline, and knew to some extent the power of my abilities. And even though I was still unclear as to who he was to our family or to Aunt Rachel, I still didn’t believe that he was a longtime family friend, I was going to trust him. I didn’t have many people I could actually trust and I needed someone to work through the missing time with, so I was going to take a chance with him.

“I don’t know if you’ll believe me, Mr. Stokes, I hope you do, but I don’t know if it really matters, but I need someone to sort things out with me, someone who understands my perspective, you know, someone who knows what I am and can appreciate what I am capable of,” I began to explain. “And since Aunt Rachel is currently unreachable I figure you’re the next logical choice. Right?”

After placing his bag on the desk he said, “Right.”

“Okay so since I last saw you … or wait …,” I began again. “Since the last time I remember seeing you, some really weird things have occurred.”

“Weird?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the desk. “Can you elaborate on what you mean by ‘weird’?”

“Yeah, of course,” I pulled out a chair and sat at the table. I inhaled deeply and explained the situation. “So, I feel like something’s seriously ‘wrong’, like I’m out of synch with … I don’t know … everyone else …,” I paused and considered the other people I was currently in contact with in my life. “Well, except for Dan and you.”

“Are you taking your medication?” he asked, as he removed his glasses and cleaned them with the handkerchief he had retrieved from his pocket.

I was tired of responding to that inane question that every adult I spoke to felt the need to ask.

“This isn’t about my medication,” I stated louder than I intended. I took a deep breath before I continued. “It doesn’t have anything to do with mental illness. Mr. Stokes, seriously, you of all people know I don’t need that fucking medication. I’m not schizophrenic.”

“Alright,” he conceded, as he replaced his spectacles. “Can you explain to me why you feel like you’re out of synch?”

“I’m missing time. I don’t have memories of anything that happened since the Sunday after my parents’ left for the Bahamas,” I looked at him hoping that he had some idea of how to explain why I couldn’t remember and how to regain the memories I had lost because I had the strong feeling that there was important information for me to possess within those lost memories, perhaps even something to do with Aunt Rachel. “I do remember you leaving Saturday night and everything that occurred Sunday, but then there’s nothing after my memory of Daniel coming home Sunday night, well nothing until two days ago.”

Mr. Stokes frowned as he massaged the scar on his forehead.

“And I think something terrible has happened to Aunt Rachel,” I added.

Chapter XLV

The noise of water rushing out of the shower head has always been a source of relaxation for me; the only other sound that was able to produce a similar response in me was the pitter patter of rain hitting the pavement or other hard surface. Though the noise produced by water and the sounds produced by musical instruments both brought me to an altered state of consciousness my natural responses to each were different. Music seemed to increase the tension or energy within my body and mind thus allowing me to tap into my inherited abilities while the sensations of water seemed to ease the tension and allow me to open my body and mind, encouraging a sense of tranquility in which my intellect could process information with clarity and speed.

I stood in the shower with my head tilted back and my eyes closed, allowing the warm water to hit my face and contemplated what had been revealed to me; five days had passed and I had no memory of what had transpired. Nothing. How was that possible? How did I lose all that time? What the fuck happened to me? Could it have been something so traumatic that I blocked it out so I wouldn’t have to deal with the memory of it? Was it a new mental health issue? Did I have Dissociative Identity Disorder? Could I have fragmented myself to such a degree that I created another personality that was in control of my body for the last five days and that’s why I didn’t remember anything? I tried to make some sense of it, but found that even the water brought no flash of insight or inspiration.

I shut off the faucet, dried myself off, and dressed in my favorite pair of black denim jeans and dark red Wonder Woman tee shirt then sat on my bed, hugging my knees. I considered that it might be possible that I was actually mentally ill and that the revelation I had days ago had been false. I rested my chin on my knees and closed my eyes, attempting to hold back the tears that I felt building inside of me. It was evident that I didn’t have a solid perception of what was real. I still existed and lived somewhere outside of the shared reality and maybe I never knew nor would I ever know the difference between truth and fantasy. When I thought something was real perhaps it really wasn’t and everything that was actually true and real my mind distorted and twisted so that I couldn’t recognize it as reality.

There was a soft knock on my bedroom door. I expected it to be my Mother, but realized I hadn’t heard the click of her shoes on the hardwood floor of the hallway.

 “Come in.”

I considered that my visitor was my Father. Mother probably sent him in to lecture me on the consequences of neglecting to take my Klonopin and Cymbalta as prescribed by Dr. Worth and I really didn’t want to hear it. I just wanted to be left alone, but knew that if I said as such to him the repercussions would be worse than what they were going to be for me. I had hoped that Daniel would be a distraction for them; the fact that he had been expelled from military school presented a huge problem for them to deal with, something other than me for a change and I was hoping it was a big enough issue to keep them occupied for a while so that I would have time to solve my current predicament, which I was convinced was something greater than just skipping a few doses of prescribed medications.

The door slowly opened.

“Can we talk?” my brother questioned, his hand still lingering on the glass doorknob.

I was surprised and slightly annoyed to see him, but I was sure as shit not going to dismiss a chance to question him about his own memories of the prior evening.

“Sure,” I said as I folded my legs, one under the other, and tapped the space next to me on the bed. “Come sit.”

Daniel seemed uneasy as he shut the door behind him and walk over to my desk chair without acknowledging the empty spot beside me on the bed. He wore the same tormented expression that he had earlier, though I was unable to determine whether it was because of me or what was on his mind. I studied his expression as he glanced around my room. It had been years since he had spent any length of time in my room and I wondered what he was thinking as he looked at the various items I had displayed on my walls and book shelf; a collection that held a few pieces some people might find morbid or disturbing, but he seemed unaffected by any of it and lingered his gaze only when he noticed the large heavy book that sat near him on my desk. He reached out and brushed the leather cover with his fingers before turning to me.

“Look, I know things between us have been …,” he gestured with his hands as he struggled to find the right word then shrugged. “Tense.”

“Personally I would’ve gone with ‘nonexistent’,” I offered.

I was curious about where the conversation was going. It almost sounded as if Daniel was building up to an apology, but I was skeptical about his sincerity. And why did his attitude towards me shift? All of a sudden he wanted us to be close again when in the not so recent past all he chose to do was ignore me? Well, I wasn’t ready to let go of my pain, the pain I blamed on his betrayal.

“Yeah, okay. You’re right,” he acquiesced with a nod and rested his elbows on the arms of the swivel chair. “And I accept responsibility for it.”

Huh. I honestly didn’t know what to say in response so I said nothing and sat on my bed in silence, watching him as he leaned back slightly and rubbed his crew cut with his left hand. With a loud sigh, he abruptly stood from the chair and walked over to my bedroom window, paused then returned back to the chair and sat before he spoke again.

“Look Angie, I don’t even know …,” he looked pointedly at me. The anguish that fluttered in his eyes made my stomach flip. I knew that look; I had seen it when I gazed in the mirror this morning. “… I don’t know … I don’t know what’s happening to me. I think I’m losing my mind.”

I repressed a snicker though I didn’t find the situation humorous. I knew Daniel was feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t understand what lead him to believe that he was mentally unstable and I needed more information from him before I could offer my “expert” opinion or advice on how to deal with his newly found instability.

“Dan, I don’t believe you’re losing your mind,” I comforted.

“Yes I am!” he shouted, jumping from the seat and retracing his steps from the chair to the window and back again.

“Dan … Daniel,” I began, feeling compelled to ease his anxiety, but unsure of how to do so. Intuitively I stood and grabbed his hands with my own, holding them as I continued. “Why don’t you explain to me why you think you’re losing your mind?”

As my palms touched the flesh of his hands my mind sprang alive with a montage of shared childhood memories. Days at the beach, games of tag in the backyard, and forts made of bedding on snow days from school flashed in my head with a speed that prevented me from focusing on any one of them, but the joy associated with each flowed through me like warm caramel. I found the source, the fount from where this happiness sprang and wrapped my mind around it; I pulled the emotional energy into my center and spindled it before sending it through my chest, down my arms, and out my palms to Daniel. We stood together in silence for a few moments before he spoke. His voice was an octave deeper than it had been when he first spoke after entering my bedroom.

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed. I maneuvered him over to the bed so that we could sit side by side while still holding hands. “When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel right. I mean, I sort of felt like I was hung-over, but I know I didn’t drink anything last night. And I didn’t smoke anything either. But I felt … I don’t know … fuzzy? And then I went downstairs to get something to eat and Mom was there. Like what the fuck? I thought they weren’t coming home for five more days, but there she was back from their trip and she didn’t act surprised to see me, which freaked me the fuck out even more …,” he prattled. “I asked her, ‘When did you get home?’ and she said, ‘Last night while you were sleeping.’ and I thought, ‘Last night? No way they came home last night.’”

I ventured a guess as to what he was going to say next, “And then when I asked she said it was Saturday.”

“YES!” His eyes looked like they were going to pop out of their sockets. “What – the – fuck?!”

I squeezed his hands with mine. So I wasn’t the only one who was unsettled by the fact that it was Saturday when I was convinced it should have been Monday.

“Do you remember anything after having pizza with Chloe and me last night … or whatever night it was?” I asked hoping that maybe he had more memories than I did about what might have happened between then and now.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “But there isn’t anything weird. I mean I came upstairs and put my stuff away and then I called my friend Jacob. We talked for maybe an hour then I showered and went to bed.”

“That’s it? That’s all you remember?” I questioned.

He nodded. “Yeah. You?”

“Not much more than you,” I confessed. “Chloe left, you went upstairs, and I looked for Aunt Rachel. I found her sitting in the morning parlor, but after that my memories get weird. I remember feeling dizzy … but I can’t be sure of anything after that … I have images, but I think they’re from a dream I had.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I know that something’s very, very wrong and I think part of it has something to do with Aunt Rachel.”

“Aunt Rachel?” he paused. “Well, how are we gonna figure this shit out?”

I wasn’t used to him looking to me for leadership and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

“Do you think we were drugged?” he asked.

I thought the idea was ridiculous, but I wasn’t about to humiliate my brother by dismissing his suggestion, at least he was attempting to solve the riddle of our shared missing time. I had no deeper insight to the puzzle than he did, but it was comforting to me on some level to know that I wasn’t the only one who was missing a large chunk of time from their life and that the chunk of time missing was the same for both of us. For the first time in years I wasn’t alone dealing with the dissonance of my chaotic life and I found solace in that.

 “We need to talk to Aunt Rachel,” I suggested. “She would’ve been the only other person in the house with us that night. Maybe she knows what happened.”

Daniel agreed. “Call her.”

I grabbed my cellphone from its charger on the desk and called her. I allowed the phone to ring a number of times before the call was sent to voice mail. I frowned as I left a message informing her to call me back as soon as she received my message. I chose my words carefully and spoke with enough urgency to encourage her to call me, but not too much that I would cause her to be alarmed about my well-being. As I finished speaking there was a loud rapping on my bedroom door. I could tell by the force and cadence that it was probably my Dad and welcomed him into my sanctuary.

“Just checking in,” he smiled as he swung the door opened, but remained standing at the threshold.

“Welcome home, Dad,” I said as I placed my phone back on its charger. “How was the Bahamas?”

 “I’m going for a run,” Daniel said, standing from the bed and walking towards the door.  He paused as he turned to look at me. “Wanna come? It would do you some good.”

I intuitively understood that physical exercise did for Daniel what the sound of water provided for me; time for undisturbed contemplation, though I didn’t imagine he would describe it in such a way.

I raised an eyebrow. “Are you insinuating something about my weight, oh dearest brother of mine?”

“What?” He gestured to himself with feigned shock. “Would I do that?”

I threw one of my bed pillows at him, but it missed and fell to the floor with a flop as Dad chuckled at our playful exchange.

“Let me know when Aunt Rachel calls you back,” my brother said, picking up the pillow and tossing it back at me.

“Well, I wouldn’t expect a return call any time soon,” cautioned Dad as he patted Daniel on the shoulder. “She has a flight to catch early tomorrow morning and mentioned a list of things she had to get done before then.”

“A flight? She never mentioned a trip,” I frowned. This new information felt dissonant and strange. I looked over at Daniel. He was standing just inside my bedroom next to our Father, who still held the door knob with his left hand. By my brother’s expression I could clearly surmise that he was experiencing feelings of apprehension after hearing the news of Aunt Rachel’s trip as well; similar uneasiness to that which I felt.

“She goes to Europe every year to do her annual gallery visits,” stated Dad as he eyed me quizzically. “Don’t you remember?”

“I …,” I shrugged. “I guess.”

“You always beg her to take you,” continued Dad. “Frankly I’m surprised you didn’t ask this year because she probably would have. I think she’s been sort of lost lately and your company would have been welcomed.”

No. This wasn’t right … wasn’t right at all. Aunt Rachel wasn’t lost; maybe she was preoccupied and even sad, but not lost. Why was my Father lying to me? An image of my cousin standing beside me with his fingers gripping my forearm flashed in my brain as a profound feeling of grief weighed upon me.

“What about Christian?” I countered.

“He’s staying with his father while she’s gone just like he does every year,” he said before turning to my brother and nodding. “Enjoy your run.”

My brother and I stared at each other in disbelief.