Chloe and I walked through the foyer; the soles of her black combat boots rhythmically hitting the floor tiles setting the tempo for the duet we had begun. We passed the open door way to the morning parlor where Aunt Rachel was still peacefully engrossed with the issue of ArtNews she had opened on her lap. With her left elbow bent and resting on the arm of the Queen Anne sofa, she held a blue ceramic mug from which she sipped coffee as she intermittently turned a page of the magazine with her free hand.
“We’ll be up in my room,” I offered to which she smiled and nodded.
We hastily ascended the stairs, my bare feet caressing the crimson carpet as I climbed, intent on reaching the sanctity of my bedroom as swiftly as we could before continuing the conversation we had begun on the front porch. This was the first time that Chloe showed interest in my copy of Sacred Magick. Usually I would be the one to find something fascinating to share it with her, but today was different; her request to look through the tome was tainted with an anxiousness that unsettled me. Our casual conversation outside had taken a drastic turn after we had discussed the police investigation into Josh’s mysterious disappearance and Brittany’s unforgiveable betrayal of me. Chloe had tactfully brought up the topic of my diagnosed mental illness through questions about my experience with nightmares. She had wanted to know how I was able to determine what was a terrifying dream and what was a psychotic hallucination. As if it was something I could easily determine for myself. It seemed to me as if the last few days were indistinguishable between the two; reality and fantasy were merging and it was terrifying.
As we entered the private sanctuary of my bedroom, I pointed to the large heavy book sitting on the desk beside my computer monitor. Chloe sat in the swivel chair and eagerly opened the heavy tome as I secured the door. I wasn’t concerned that Aunt Rachel wouldn’t respect my space or that she would overhear a conversation that would convince her that I was mentally unstable, I just felt that Chloe would be more open with me if she knew that my aunt couldn’t hear our forthcoming discussion. My friend briefly consulted the table of contents in the front of the book and then began flipping through the delicate pages, obviously searching for a specific page number. I sat on my bed silently observing her, studying her facial expressions with curiosity.
Up until that moment she had always been reserved when I shared bits of occult information from the book with her. She never asked questions or offered opinions so I had been convinced that she was uninterested, but now as I watched her frantically search the text, I pondered what she had been thinking during those exchanges. Was she listening and storing all the information I shared with her? And if so, for what purpose? She stopped turning pages and concentrated on the text in front of her. As she read, the index finger of her right hand glided along the page. I had the overwhelming feeling that she held secrets of her own and I was intrigued. I inched forward on the bed trying to catch a glimpse of the text she had been reading.
She frowned, closed her eyes, and bowed her head for a moment before carrying the opened book over to me.
“How do you interpret this, Angie?” she turned the book so that I could read the written words and pointed to a paragraph on the top of page two hundred one.
“It has been recorded in numerous ancient texts that transmogrification has been widely valued by various religions; within occult practice it should not be discounted. The importance of the degree of knowledge and ability to completely shift the physical shape and form of a being to another is difficult to master, but when it is achieved through magick the occultist’s ability is tenfold more noteworthy, than when, accomplished by the intervention of divine or profane powers. The list of the Sages that have endeavoured transmogrification is long; those who have succeeded are few indeed.”
“How do I interpret this?” I repeated, confused as to what she was actually asking me. The text seemed rather clear and easily to comprehend. Was Chloe asking if I thought transmogrification was possible? Was she suggesting that she had the ability to shapeshift? I didn’t understand what her implications were so I asked. “What is it you really want to know, Chloe? Are you asking me if I think transmogrification is possible?”
“I ….,” she hesitated, the pupils of her eyes dilated with what I only could interpret as fear.
“If that is what you’re asking then I have no hesitation in telling you that I believe a lot of the concepts and ideas within this book,” I tapped the open pages with the tips of my fingers, “are not only possible, but that they are practiced today. I believe you can find people who possess these abilities and skills, but the average person doesn’t want to believe it or they dismiss it with medical terminology like paranoid schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder or some other mental illness, but in reality they are just misunderstood.”
“I agree,” she said, sitting on the bed next to me. She adjusted herself so she could comfortably face me crossing her legs beneath her. “There are things that I don’t share with others because if I did, if I told people about the experiences I’ve had they would think I was just talking crazy,” she nervously pinched her face. “No offense.”
I smirked, shaking my head. “None taken.”
She continued, “I mean, I’ve seen how people mock others who claim to have encountered demons or ghosts or other paranormal things. Even when Dad and I lived in Salem I could tell that a lot of the witchy stuff was just plain bullshit. Witchcraft is so commercialized in Salem. Most of the self-proclaimed witches aren’t even authentic so why would I share my experiences with them or anyone else? No one would believe me anyway so I’d rather just keep them to myself than be treated like I’m just a wanna-be or fake. You know?” I nodded, but said nothing. She picked at the bed quilt. “I’ve made friends before with people I could share stuff with, or so I thought, but those friendships didn’t end well.”
“Maybe you just chose the wrong people,” I suggested. HA! Listen to me, giving advice about friendship. Who was I pretending to be? If Chloe possessed any common sense within that head of hers, she wouldn’t listen to any advice I attempted to give about any type of relationship, after all I was the mentally ill one here.
“Possibly. But the last two friends,” she pantomimed quotes when she spoke the word friends, “I had, ended up convincing me to –.”
She stopped mid-sentence as she probed my eyes with her own. Her pupils were no longer dilated and the deep green hue of her irises drew me in, mesmerizing me. I knew she was searching for a reason not to continue, estimating how much she should or could tell me without being ridiculed, but she wouldn’t get that treatment from me. It would be a comfort to finally find someone to share my experiences with, someone who wouldn’t tease me, someone who could discuss them with me without breaking any promises made to my father.
Satisfied with what she saw she continued, the remorse in her voice was palpable, “To do something that I shouldn’t have done; that no one ever should‘ve done.”
I wanted to believe everything she was telling me, but I couldn’t help be skeptical. She sounded overly dramatic, which was rather out of character for her. “Was it really that bad, Chloe, or is it possible you might be exaggerating a little bit?”
“I’m not exaggerating,” she explained, choking back tears. Beginning with her face, shame manifested like a wave throughout her body. “I will never forgive myself, but I don’t know what to do because it feels like it’s getting out of control. Maybe I am mentally ill!”
I contemplated what I knew about my friend and considered that she had secrets as dark as my own. I had done things in my recent past that others would consider unforgiveable, but though they would judge my actions in such a way they didn’t share the history I had with those now “missing” individuals. Was it possible Chloe committed similar offences? Were we more alike than it appeared?
As I leaned forward, I reached out for her hands, and whispered in complete seriousness, “Did you murder someone, Chloe?”
“Angie, there are things worse than murder,” she said flatly. “Sometimes death is a blessing.”
I was surprised by her rather unemotional response and leaned back, creating some distance between us. I had never considered death to be a blessing and the concept of it being such intrigued and captivated me. In that moment I felt more kinship with Chloe than my own family, even Aunt Rachel. I began seeing the possibilities that my friendship with Chloe could create for both of us, but I needed to know more about her and have full understanding of what she was suggesting. I recognized that I had made bad choices in friends before, Brittany being the prime example of such poor judgment of character.
It was time to blatantly ask her what she was hinting around at and if she listened to me and was thereafter convinced that I was mentally ill as everyone else around me did, except Aunt Rachel and perhaps Mr. Stokes, then so be it, but the possibility of having someone understand me in a far greater degree as Aunt Rachel ever could, well that was far worth the risk.
“I am a descendant of Abigail Williams, a direct bloodline relative,” I began. “And a human agent, a Valkyrie, of the goddess Syn. I have the power to trap souls on The Astral Plane through the vibration of music and sound and I’m sure I can do other things, like manipulate time, but I haven’t learned how to use that power yet.”
Chloe listened and didn’t respond for what felt like minutes. I berated myself for saying anything in those long drawn out minutes. I convinced myself that she was going to stand up and leave my room, uttering some spiteful comment about my mental condition, but instead she stayed sitting next to me.
“I don’t know what an agent of Syn is, but,” she smiled weakly. “Anne Putnam is my blood relative and I have abilities, too.”