Chapter XLI

Déjà vu, which translated means “already seen”, is the sensation of experiencing or witnessing a current event or situation as something that was previously seen or done. It has been suggested by theorists that this human feeling is due to the existence of multiple Universes that exist parallel to each other within which there are an infinite number of human experiences being had by multiple versions of each individual; some of these Universes are similar while others are drastically altered, but all are different and are unfolding simultaneously. This concept is commonly known as The Multiverse Theory.

When the cosmic wall which separate one Universe from the next is weakening, an individual may experience what has been labeled: déjà vu. This experience is outside of our linear understanding of time and can be something as recent as seconds prior or as distant as years because each Universe exists on a different energetic frequency. Each Universe consists of multiple energetic frequencies, though the whole of humanity is tuned into one frequency, the frequency that corresponds to our physical Universe or reality, with which we all share and are intimately familiar, however this does not discount the existence of the other frequencies or Universes.

The majority of human beings are only able to align with one frequency at a time, however the Universe consists of atoms that are oscillating at all times at unique frequencies that other Universes are not, making them available for alignment at all times by anyone possessing the ability. These Universes or realities coexist even if they are not perceivable by the majority of humanity. They don’t align on the same frequency due to the division caused by time, but when the Universes do align, it is theoretically possible to move between the realities. Déjà vu is the result of those times, the moments when the Universes are vibrating in entrainment with a parallel Universe or reality.

 

After Chloe left our house to return home and Daniel retrieved his box and duffle bag and brought them upstairs presumably to settle in, I walked through the quiet house searching for Aunt Rachel. I was hoping to have that conversation about Mr. Stokes and his relationship with our family that I had wanted to have with her since I woke that morning, but also to discuss my new concerns about my brother and his role within our family, both in a purely mundane sense as well as in a … not so mundane sense; was there a possibility that he might also possess some uncommon abilities? Was it possible? Maybe Chloe’s instinct to ask him about it was valid. Perhaps I should have engaged in the conversation with him regardless of whether it would have pushed us further apart. And if he didn’t have abilities perhaps he had information that might be important for me to know. I really wanted to talk with my aunt.

After searching throughout the house I found her sitting on the beige Queen Anne sofa in the morning parlor where she had been earlier that day. At first glance it appeared to me as if she hadn’t moved from her original position though I knew she had; she had answered the door for the pizza guy and had been at the front door when Daniel had come home earlier that evening. She had briefly spoken to Chloe and I in the foyer and had gone to the kitchen after we had finished, but as I stood there in the doorway my perception shifted and the memory of what had occurred earlier in the day was confusing me. It felt as if that morning’s experience and the current moment were somehow intertwined.

I reached out my right hand and braced myself against the wave of vertigo that threatened to drown me. My head tingled, my eyesight blurred and cleared, blurred and cleared. I felt myself sinking, spinning, and floating as I saw each moment shift from one to another, morning to night, like a strobe light flashing in a night club. It continued until both experiences I had with Aunt Rachel fell into entrainment so that they existed simultaneously allowing me to perceive both moments, one overlaying the other.

I stared at Aunt Rachel who was both drinking a mug of coffee and looking at a magazine while concurrently sitting motionless and staring ahead towards the opened doorway where I stood studying her, attempting to discern if I was actually upstairs in bed dreaming about an actual experience from my day or whether I was here downstairs experiencing a new moment I had yet lived. Confusion and hallucinations were both side effects from taking and withdrawing from Klonopin, but I was having difficulty determining what it was I was experiencing.

Was this reality or was it all my own creation? Was I awake or asleep?

My perception of past and present was obscured and my thoughts had become scattered as I tried to reconcile what I was experiencing in the morning parlor. I felt as if my knowledge of what reality was had fragmented from a shared understanding and expanded into something greater, but my brain was incapable of comprehending such a grand concept and thus was unable to reveal to me the truth. It was strangely exhilarating and perplexing.

I took a few tentative steps toward Aunt Rachel, not knowing how else to determine whether I was awake or sleeping.

“Aunt Rachel?” I called as I slowly approached her, feeling as if I was reliving a moment of my life.

“Angie, don’t!” a familiar male voice called out to me.

I spun around expecting to see Mr. Stokes standing behind me in the foyer, but found it empty. Anxiety crept through my body. It felt as if my mind was shattering. In one moment I had a single cohesive thought and the next it dissolved into utter confusion. Perhaps it was unwise for me to stop taking my prescriptions. I was losing touch with reality and was drowning within my own delusions.

Daniel. I should call my brother. He would be able to help me. He was always able to protect me when we were children; perhaps he could help me now.

“Dan!” I screamed as loud as I could.

Sitting in the dimly lit room Aunt Rachel brought the multi-blue colored ceramic mug to her lips as she looked up from her magazine and smiled at me, motioning for me to join her while simultaneously sitting motionless with her hazel eyes focused on something or someone standing next to me that I was unable to perceive, unaware of my presence at the doorway.

“Are you kidding me?” I whispered aloud to no one, feeling completely overwhelmed. I glanced over my shoulder towards the crimson carpeted stairs willing my brother to hear me and come to my rescue.

“DAN!”

I waited, listening for some indication that he had heard me and was coming to help. I gripped the doorframe as I was overwhelmed by another wave of vertigo followed hastily by its companions; anxiety and fear. I felt a familiar lump form in my throat and my eyes water.

Aunt Rachel continued to stare in my direction for what felt like minutes, until her eyes shifted and met mine though the rest of her physical body remained motionless.

She saw me!

Comforted and strengthened by her acknowledgment, I released my grip on the doorframe and entered the room approaching the matching sofa across from her position. I watched as the air around her shifted, moving strands of her hair that had fallen from the top of her head to frame her face. It appeared as if there was a subtle breezing blowing in the parlor. The vision before me pricked at my intellect.

I was startled by the grip of fingers on my forearm and turned to see my cousin Christian standing beside me.

“You have no idea what you are getting involved with here. That, right there,” he said, pointing to his mother, “is a power vastly beyond anything you might have experienced. It’s beyond your immature abilities. Don’t fuck with it, Angie. Leave it alone. Let this play out as it should.”

“What?”

I was confused. My head was muddled. How did Christian get here? Everything felt too familiar. Different, but recognizable. I attempted to yank my arm away from my cousin. I turned back to my aunt, who was simultaneously pointing to the mug on the table in front of her, speaking wordlessly to me and floating above the sofa, the air around her spiraling creating a wind that I felt from where I stood beside Christian. The image before me was surreal and familiar. I glanced at my cousin hoping that he would act as an anchor to reality, but something about his expression and presence was odd.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard him enter the house.

The pressure in the morning parlor dropped as the calliope of organic murmurs emerged from the corners of the silent room. In that moment I gained clarity and understood what was transpiring, but I doubted my ability to confront them again so soon. I didn’t think I had enough mental power to fight. I could barely keep hold of my perception of reality, how could I stand alone against the Ancestors? I had no one with me, well, except Christian and I wasn’t even sure he was actually there.

The familiar screech pierced my brain, “Time for the reckoning.”

 

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Chapter XL

“Who is it?” I asked as I descended the last few stairs and approached Aunt Rachel who obstructed my view of the opened front door.

Chloe followed me, but kept some distance between us. Whoever it was obviously wasn’t the pizza delivery guy since the box sat abandoned on the side table. So who was it that stood outside on our front porch? My mind flashed briefly to the night that Ryan Fuller stopped by to pay me an unexpected visit, and though I knew there was no possible way that it was him standing there speaking to my aunt, the scenario I was currently experiencing felt all too familiar and caused a slow wave of fear to wash over me, threatening to pull me out of my current state of stability.

My aunt stepped aside, not with the intention of permitting me to see our visitor, but to allow whoever it was entry into our house. I stopped myself from screaming out my impulsive objection as I knew I was in a state of heightened alertness, considering everything that had occurred over the last forty-eight hours. It was possible, even probable that our visitor meant us no harm, but I remained suspicious.

I forced myself to blink a few times unsure of the accuracy and validity of my eyesight since the world of reality and unverifiable phenomenon had crossed boundaries. Was our visitor a mirage or was he real? Was it a vision of what I secretly desired or was it an actuality? I was confused, annoyed, and angry; if what I was seeing was in fact reality, then what I predominately felt was rage.

“I thought you were too busy to come home,” I crossed my arms in front of my chest as I hurled the accusation at the dark haired male who shared more than one of my own physical characteristics. “According to Mother you had a ‘demanding schedule’, which didn’t allow you any trips home.”

My brother shrugged as he entered the foyer, shutting the door behind him.

“Yeah, well, I guess things changed,” he glanced at me then smiled feebly at Aunt Rachel. “And my schedule freed up.”

“Lucky for us,” she said as she wrapped her arm around his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s so good to have you home.”

“Yeah, lucky for us,” I repeated, ensuring that my tone carried the biter note of sarcasm. “We get you all to ourselves.”

“Looks like it,” he nodded, placing a cardboard box on the foyer floor and dropping his canvas duffle bag next to it. “Do I smell pizza?”

I knew he didn’t really want to be home. He would much rather be spending his time with the entourage of pretty girls, who in his photos on social media, were always hanging on him or with his friends drinking and having fun, than being at home with Aunt Rachel and I for company. I wouldn’t be fawning over him or getting drunk with him. I knew he’d be counting the days until he could return to campus. Something other than our parents must have forced him to come home otherwise he wouldn’t be standing there awkwardly in the foyer with us asking for food.

Aunt Rachel walked over to the side table and grabbed the abandoned pizza box. She handed it to my brother with a smile, “I hope you like pepperoni.”

Ugh, why was she so happy to see him? The kindness pouring from her was nauseating. I couldn’t tolerate the way she was overly accommodating and I looked to Chloe hoping to see that she too was uncomfortable with Aunt Rachel’s behavior. She knew how I felt about my brother so I expected to find some show of support, but instead I witnessed her staring at him pensively.

What the fuck?!

She glanced at me and blushed. I caught her ogling betrayal.

She shrugged as she pantomimed with her mouth, “He’s hot.”

Daniel enthusiastically grabbed the pizza box from Aunt Rachel and walked towards the kitchen.

“Off to the kitchen with you,” my aunt chuckled, gesturing for us to join him.

I glared over my shoulder. How could she not know how unwelcomed he was by me? I spoke to her about my feelings numerous times, but it seemed as if none of that mattered. It was clear to me that she didn’t understand that once a composition was written and had been played successfully by the orchestra there was an expectation that every time it was played by that orchestra again, it would sound the same. Yes, there would be varying inflections and an emotional quality dependent on the musicians’ disposition and the composer’s direction, but once that symphony was played badly and the dissonance was experienced by the audience, it took relentless effort and work by the musicians to convince that audience of the beauty and harmony the composition honestly possessed. Audiences are known to be stubborn and unforgiving. I wasn’t convinced that the symphony Dan and I had penned together years ago, that was once a harmonious sounding composition was worth reworking.

“Angie, give him a chance,” she urged. “He’s your brother.”

“So?” I scowled at her before stomping after him.

“Sometimes you act like such a baby,” Chloe whispered to me as she walked beside me towards the kitchen.

“Do not!” I pouted.

She raised an eyebrow.

I opened my arms with an exaggerated. “What?”

Shaking her head, she entered the kitchen.

She had a point even if I wasn’t going to admit it to anyone, but why didn’t either of them understand my feelings about this entire situation? My brother had been my best-friend when we were younger and I missed that relationship. I wish I could change things and rewrite the past. But I can’t. He broke a promise, a promise to protect me from whatever it was that threatened me in the night shadows. He abandoned me years ago and now we’re nothing but strangers; two solitary individuals with nothing in common. Blood relations held no meaning between us; it was just a coincidence that we were born from the same set of parents, because we were nothing alike. In fact, if you looked on his social media profiles he has no mention of siblings. He doesn’t even acknowledge that I exist in his world! So, I’ve abandoned any and all hope of mending our relationship. It’s clear that it isn’t what he wants from me. He desires the distance. He likes his privacy – as do I. He is clearly enjoying his freedom from the living nightmare that he was forced to share with me for so many years as a child. And I don’t blame him, well, not for that; I blame him for leaving me to fend for myself when he said that he would be there beside me forever. But he did and without the simplest “good-bye”.

Daniel stood at the far end of the island counter with the pizza box opened; a half-eaten slice in his right hand and a can of soda in his left. He loudly chewed a mouthful of food as he watched Chloe and I enter the room and approached the counter. Chloe casually slid onto the stool closest to him and grabbed a slice of the semi-warm pie for herself as I walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water and a Coke. I slid the can over to my friend and twisted open the cap on the water bottle. I took a sip while studying my brother.

He looked different from the last time I had seen him in person. When was the last time? I couldn’t remember. Days, weeks, months; they all seemed to blend together in my mind. It was a side effect from the Klonopin that I had been prescribed by Dr. Worth, but that I had stopped taking within the last forty-eight hours. Whether or not that was a “good” idea was still left to be determined, but regardless I was done taking it. I was tired of being medicated, of going through life in a chemical fog, unable to really experience what was happening to me, to accurately feel the changes occurring and my honest emotional responses to these changes. I decided that I would allow my parents and Dr. Worth to assume I was still taking the prescribed dose and I wouldn’t feel badly about the deception. It was important for me to be able to remember my experiences. I needed to remember. My thoughts needed to be cohesive. I needed to be conscious and aware of my surroundings. Often times I found it difficult to discriminate between reality and pure hallucination. I was never entirely sure, but with the unfolding of the last few days’ events it was imperative that I be as mentally clear as possible. I assumed that my parents and Dr. Worth wouldn’t understand, perhaps the only people that would were those who experienced the same events as I.

Chloe snapped open her Coke and took a gulp. She carefully placed the can on the counter with a loud burp before she addressed my brother.

“So Dan,” she winked at me before continuing. “What abilities do you have?”

“Abilities?” He swallowed a large bite of pizza and washed it down with a gulp of soda. “What do you mean?”

What was she thinking? This wasn’t a conversation we should be having with him. He wouldn’t understand, or worse, he would inform my parents about what we said when they returned from their Bahama trip. She frowned then took a bite from the slice of pizza she was holding.

“Nothing,” I said, reaching into the opened pizza box that sat between the three of us on the counter. The pizza was already cold. And I really hated cold pizza. I carefully peeled a pepperoni off my chosen slice and popped it in my mouth.

“By abilities do you mean talents? Cause I have a lot of those,” Daniel grinned at Chloe.

She giggled.

What the fuck was that? I had never heard her produce such an irritating sound. It was disturbing. What was wrong with her? Was she suddenly possessed by a spirit? Did she need an exorcism?

“Really,” I glared. I felt certain that I was about to vomit all over the remaining pizza.

“What?” she asked, attempting to portray an innocence that I knew didn’t exist within her. “I’m just playing.”

As if that was the justification that would make her nauseating behavior acceptable. It didn’t. It just made me more annoyed with the situation. The three of us sat in silence. Daniel stole glances at Chloe while pointedly ignoring me. I could tell that she was enjoying the attention, and while I was happy she felt appreciated, I was irritated that my brother was there as a distraction. The last thing I needed was my newly established bond with Chloe to be destroyed by my estranged brother’s fascination with her. I had to stop this, whatever this was, before it evolved into something more threatening and potentially damaging.

“Why are you here?” I threw the pepperoni stripped slice back into the box. “I know you don’t want to be. So, why are you?”

For the first time since he had stepped foot into the house Daniel looked at me directly.

“Because I have no choice,” he answered. “I have nowhere else to go.”

“Why do you have to go anywhere? Why didn’t you just stay at school?” I countered, staring at him directly, demanding an honest answer from him.

“I wasn’t allowed,” he said without dropping my gaze. Where those tears forming in his eyes?

“Wasn’t allowed?”

He nodded, “I was expelled.”

He glanced at Chloe then back to me. He shook his head while bringing his hand up to his forehead; the realization of the serious consequences must be overwhelming. “Mom and Dad are going to kill me.”

He was right. While killing was a hyperbole, they weren’t going to be pleased; Mother especially. He fucked it up good. I couldn’t have done it better myself.

Chapter XXXIX

Light is vital to sustain life. It has the ability to create and destroy; to nurture life and bring forth death if it is withheld. Light is power; a power that my friend, Chloe held within her. A power that I was certain she could utilize to manipulate others without them ever truly understanding what exactly she had accomplished. Just as I am one with music, Chloe is one with light. I imagined that the light waves of color echoed through her veins as music did mine.  This fascinated me. It intrigued me. Was Chloe’s power directly tied to her bloodline as mine was? I was a descendent of Abigail Williams and she had said she was blood relative of Anne Putnam. I needed to know more about the connection these women had all those years ago. I searched my memory for any other historical information I had on Anne Putnam, but couldn’t remember anything though the name was familiar to me. And I wondered if The Ancestors had played a part in bringing Chloe and I together or was this growing friendship just a step towards Syn’s impending retribution against me? Was an alliance between Chloe and I as much of a benefit as I imagined it to be or was it one step closer towards my punishment for defying the goddess of my family?

I flipped the pages of the book that I held in my lap until I found page two hundred twenty-eight. I handed the book to Chloe. “Read this, I think you’ll find it very interesting.”

“This is the assumption; what are the facts? On the one hand there are unspiritual, entrenched, too often depraved cowans; a host of sects, and warring factions; reveling in discord instead of unity; wealth and pleasure-seeking individuals possessed by bigotry, perceiving only that which the tyrannical exigencies of respectability demand. On the other hand, there are those spiritually embedded, gifted individuals; singular people, outcasts of, though living within society, who possess an ability beyond the parameters of recognized vision; super-vision; perceiving a range of a hundred million colours for which there are no names; perceiving spirits invisible to even the most accomplished occultist, adept or Seer. We have named them; Tetraprismats.”

 “Invisible spirits?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“I don’t know …,” she frowned. “I mean … I don’t see ghosts.”

“Spirits not ghosts,” I corrected, sounding too much like Mr. Stokes for my own liking. I shook my head in an effort to clear his image from my mind and refocused my attention on Chloe. “Maybe you just don’t understand what it is you are seeing,” I paused as I considered how her powers might mature as mine did. “Or maybe you don’t see them yet, but you will.”

“I don’t know …” she mumbled, handing the book back to me as she sat next to be on my bed.

“Well, I do,” I accepted the heavy tome, closed it, and placed it on my lap, resting my forearms on its cover. Thoughts began forming in my mind; my imagination expanded and gave birth to grandiose ideas on just how much she and I could achieve if we were to work together and join our power. I understood that there were things that we would be able to accomplish that our peers could only ever fantasize about. “And I think it’s fucking amazing!”

She studied me in silence for a few moments, probing my eyes with her own. She didn’t completely trust me and I didn’t blame her. I had similar issues with people. My life had been one betrayal following another, but I was making myself vulnerable to her just as much as I was asking her to be vulnerable with me. I intuitively knew that she and I together could change things in our lives and the lives of other people; not just silly insignificant things, either … important things.

Chloe’s frown slowly transformed into a smile as she acquiesced with a nod, “It is fucking amazing!”

The gentle knock on my bedroom door ceased the melodic laughter of the sonata Chloe and I had begun to compose together. I assumed that it was Aunt Rachel as no one else was currently occupying the house. I placed the book on my desk on top of the pile of other library books I had recently borrowed.

“Come in.”

I presumed that Aunt Rachel was inquiring about dinner plans as I noticed the numerous shadows skulking around the room and the disgruntled vocalization of my empty stomach. Time had passed quicker than I had realized. I glanced at the digital clock on my nightstand: six o’clock. Chloe’s Dad would be expecting her home soon.

The door slowly swung open and Aunt Rachel appeared behind it, but remained at the threshold. Her expression was difficult to read, but I could tell she was unsettled.

“Everything okay?” I questioned.

The disturbing image of her body suspended in the foyer flashed in my mind like a strobe. I jumped up from the bed, the book that had been sitting in my lap hit the floor with a loud thud. Chloe jolted up and stood next to me. I could feel the tension radiating from her body.

Aunt Rachel hesitated a moment before entering my room. She approached us and touched my arm, a weak smile fluttered over her lips. “There’s nothing for you to worry about, Angie. I just wanted to know if your friend,” she smiled at Chloe, “was staying for dinner.”

I turned to Chloe. “Yes?”

She nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

“Is pizza okay?” she asked. When we both agreed, she offered, “The usual peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes? Or are you doing something else this time?”

“Chloe?”

In that moment I realized that I had only surface knowledge about her; you know the basic information, but nothing substantial; not that her favorite pizza toppings was considered significant information, but it was more than who her parents were and if she had any siblings. The only things I knew that she enjoyed on a regular basis were: Benson and Hedges, moccachinos, and Red Bull.

“Could you put pepperoni on half of it?”

“We can just put it on the whole thing,” I suggested. “I don’t mind pepperoni.”

Aunt Rachel nodded.

“Great. I’ll order it and let you girls know when it arrives,” she said as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

We both sat back down on my bed. I allowed myself to fall backward and gazed at the ceiling; the smoothness of the surface taunted me with its stark perfection.

Chloe removed the cellphone from her jeans pocket. “I’ll let my Dad know I’m staying for dinner so he doesn’t worry. Ever since Josh disappeared he’s been overprotective. He’s convinced that I’m the next one to go missing.”

I chuckled. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she laughed with me as she quickly typed out a text on her phone. “I mean, I guess I don’t blame him,” she admitted. “I sort of disappeared before.”

“You did?” I sat up. Chloe was becoming much more interesting to me the more I learned about her. “Did you run away?”

“I didn’t run away,” she scoffed, appalled by the notion that I thought she would. “I’m sure everyone at school believed I did, and maybe my Dad thought so, too, but I didn’t.”

“Well …,” I prompted. “Stop teasing me with it, Chloe. Spill it! Tell me what happened. Obviously there is an interesting story here and I’m curious.”

She slid her cellphone back into her pocket and pulled out the familiar gold colored pack of cigarettes from her hoodie pocket. She glanced at me as she raised her eyebrows. I nodded, walked over to my bedroom window, and opened it. Chloe rested her right butt cheek on the sill as she lit one of the last cigarettes in the pack with a red plastic lighter.

“Wait,” I leaned against the opposite side of the window frame so that I had an unhindered view of her facial expressions, “does this have to do with your abilities?”

“No, at least not that I know of, but I suppose it could. I mean … it’s …fucked up,” she stressed the last two words looking directly at me. “I haven’t told anyone the whole story because no one would believe me.” After taking a drag, she offered me the cigarette. Her dark red lipstick stained the filter. “I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me.”

“And so …” I gestured for her to continue.

She sighed, resigning to my will. “Well … remember I told you about that night that Nick, Jack, and I stole the grimoire and cast that spell?”

I nodded. “Yeah, you were living in Salem with your Dad and it was on Halloween at midnight or something during a full moon.”

“Right. Well, those witches that we brought back … The Pickman Sisters, they cast a transmogrification spell.”

Not what I was expecting her to say. I admit I was skeptical at first.

“Like we read about in Sacred Magick?”

Was it possible? Or was Chloe just as fucked in the head as I was? Didn’t I just say to her that very afternoon that I believed that everything written in that book was real? Yes, I did. Was I now retracting that statement or did I really believe what I had said; that the concepts and ideas within the book were not only possible, but that they were practiced today by people who possessed abilities even if they were obscure or unheard of in modern society. I knew that there were occultists and witches who were able to do those fantastical things. I knew because I had abilities that seemingly defied logic and science.

“Yes,” she whispered, avoiding my eyes and picking at the cuticles on her left hand. I watched her place the cigarette between her painted lips and inhaling before she continued. “They cast a spell and … Nick …” She made a strange noise that sounded like she had choked on the smoke of her cigarette, but when the thin stripes of black marked her cheeks, I realized she was sobbing. “He changed into a rat right in front of me. And then they did something to me, Angie. I don’t know what. I don’t know … but I imagine they did it to me, too.”

I reached over for the tissue box from my dresser and handed it to her. Chloe crushed the end of her cigarette against the outside sill of the window and grabbed a tissue from the box. She wiped her cheeks, smearing the trails of mascara.

“I don’t remember anything from that night in the woods,” she held out her left hand palm up, then held out the opposite hand that was holding the used tissue, “until the morning I woke up at St. Mary’s Hospital. It’s like someone wiped my memory.”

“Wow.” I was stunned. “That is fucked up.”

She tossed the used tissue into the decorative wastebasket next to my desk and reclaimed her spot on my bed. “I know, right?”

My mind churned with numerous questions; some of which I deemed inappropriate at the present moment. Chloe was visually upset by the past events she shared with me; I didn’t want to upset her further by asking too many factual questions that might be perceived as uncompassionate.

“What happened to Nick? The Sisters?” I questioned, “And what about Jack?”

“Nick was still missing when Dad and I moved here. I hope they will find him, but I doubt they will.  And I don’t know anything about the Sisters. I mean, when I was released from the hospital I couldn’t go around asking people about whether they saw The Pickman Sisters walking around town,” she snickered. “Can you imagine?”

I smiled and laughed softly as an image of three young women dressed in Puritan clothing emerged from the depths of my mind.

“But there was no news about a large number of children missing from Salem so I figured someone stopped them,” she continued. “And Jack, well, apparently his body was found in the woods where we cast the spell. By the time I woke up they had already buried him.”

The chime of the doorbell rang through the house, signaling that our pizza had arrived. We eagerly left my bedroom and walked through the hallway. The steady rhythm of Chloe’s combat boots hitting the hardwood floor echoed through the upstairs. The halogen lamps from inside the numerous curio cabinets that lined the wall cast strange shadows on the floor.

“How did you end up in the hospital?” I asked, as we passed the ornate French styled display cabinet.

“I don’t know. Apparently a nurse found me slumped in one of the chairs in the waiting area and …,” Chloe paused mid-sentence as she watched the gold trimmed glass door slowly creak open. “He recognized me from an AMBER Alert.”

“Oh,” I said. The cabinet’s interior light flickered out as I secured it shut. The familiar insidious fear rumbled within the center of my being. Something big and bad was brewing; I felt it. Apparently Chloe did as well; she grabbed my hand and without further conversation pulled me towards the staircase.

The light of the crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling illuminated the crimson carpeted stairs and spilled into the foyer below. I expected my aunt to greet us in the foyer with a pizza box, but found instead the pizza abandoned on the mahogany side table next to Mother’s Golden Pothos and Aunt Rachel speaking in hushed tones with someone at the front door.

 

 

Chapter XXXVIII

There are millions of colors within the spectrum of light, but only a limited range of color that human beings can perceive with their eyes and interpret with the brain, but not only are there colors that surround us on a daily basis that we don’t perceive; light waves don’t die, but instead they shift and continue to exist eternally.

The power of vision originates from the photoreceptor cells found within the eye, known as rods and cones. Rods allow the eye to perceive in low-light conditions or gray-scale, while the cones deal with color. The majority of human beings on the planet possess three types of cones, which are triggered by different wavelengths of light impacting the retina located at the back of the eyeball. These wavelengths, short, medium, or long, will determine what signal is sent to the brain; short wavelengths are perceived as bluer, longer wavelengths are redder, and the wavelengths in between and combinations of these wavelengths create the kaleidoscopic rainbow. Each cone holds the ability to distinguish around a hundred shades, which can be calculated to be at least one thousand three or a million combinations of color, however take just one cone out of the equation and the number of possible combinations drops a factor of one hundred to ten thousand.

The cone cells detect just a small sliver of the light wavelengths that pass through the optical window of earth’s atmosphere and do not contain all the colors that the human eyes and brain can distinguish. Ultraviolet rays are invisible to most humans though there are some conditions where children and young adults may perceive them. These waves that human eyes perceive are not affected by Earth’s gravity, but are slowed upon entering a denser medium of the atmosphere, and just as sound waves interfere and interact with each other, light waves do the same, but they also have the ability to gain or lose energy in finite amounts related to their frequency. It is understood by physicist that light is not only considered a wave, but also a particle, though it is neither particle nor wave. It can be described with mathematic equations that are appropriate to particles, but at other times the metaphor of waves is more effectively applied, thus illustrating the elusiveness of light and how it cannot be fully imagined or understood by the human brain.

 

Chloe and I spent the rest of Sunday afternoon sequestered in my bedroom sitting across from each other on my bed, sharing our personal occult and paranormal experiences, particularly when and how we discovered that we were able to do things that other people around us could not. Frankly, at first I was reluctant to share anything with her, not because I thought she would think I was mentally ill; it had already been established that she perceived me as sane, but because I was slightly concerned about what she would do with the information once I shared it with her. I quickly realized that if she did leave my house and directly go tell other people; friends, her father, or even the police, they would most likely think she was as mentally ill as I was since everyone in town knew me as such. So, I rationalized that since she was willing to share her dark secrets with me, then she deserved to hear about mine, though I did not yet reveal to her what treasures I kept concealed on my MP3 player. Well, at least not that particular afternoon.

Chloe had been involved, along with her two “friends” Nick and Jack, who she mentioned earlier that afternoon, with stealing an ancient grimoire from a museum in Salem and holding some sort of necromantic ritual on Halloween that succeeded in resurrecting three witches who had died in 1692. She had been a witness to some authentic and horrific witchcraft done by these witches, including transmogrification, but she confessed with slight embarrassment that her memory of that night and the entire following year was confusing and fragmented. The medical doctors, along with her PTSD therapist, suggested that it was all normal and the confusion and slight memory loss were the results of the trauma she experienced during that time. Her mind was not only trying to heal, but was attempting to protect her from the pain and suffering she endured. As result of the events, her Dad moved them to Rhode Island the following year, though Chloe was suspicious of his reasoning. She believes that while it was true that he thought it better to start “fresh”, as was his usual way of dealing with anything uncomfortable, she was convinced that he was keeping something about that night and possibly the following year hidden from her.

She confessed that it was only within the last six months that she accidently discovered her abilities.

“What sort of abilities?” I was curious to know what she could do.

“I don’t know what it is called,” she shrugged. “And it’s difficult to really describe, but when I look at someone and focus on them I can see waves of … well, like waves of color or … waves of light around their body.”

I was fascinated with her explanation and tried to imagine what it felt like to experience what she had just described.

“Are you seeing their aura?” I suggested, being familiar with the concept and recalling my own experience with Aunt Rachel’s aura.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged again. “Maybe? I don’t know what that looks like,” she explained.

She made a valid point; how could she relate to what an aura looked like without ever having seen one. I decided to explore her ability in a different way.

I gestured to myself with both hands, “Use your ability to look at me and tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” she nodded with a weak smile. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable, but willing to humor me.

She inhaled, filling her lungs with air while she focused on me; her eyes remained opened, then slowly exhaled. She repeated this a few times, while I remained silent. I studied her closely and wondered if she was executing the same sort of relaxation exercise I did before I proceeded to manipulate someone else’s energy. What was happening inside of Chloe? What was she thinking? Feeling? Seeing?

After a few more breaths, she subtly tilted her head backward and closed her eyes. When they reopened the pupils and irises had vanished.

I gasped unprepared for her eerie appearance. The noise of my sharp inhalation caused her to lose concentration. She blinked, returning her eyes back to their normal condition.

“Oh fuck! Fuck!” she exclaimed. “Are you okay, Angie? Did I hurt you?”

This ability was clearly all very new to her. She had yet to build up the confidence I had, probably because she hadn’t been forced to pull a loved one from a paranormal vortex that had appeared in the foyer of her family home to save that person’s life.

“No. I’m fine,” I dismissed her concern with a wave. “I’m sorry. I guess I was just unprepared for your …” I pointed at her mesmerizing green irises, “Eyes to do that. It’s kinda freaky.”

“What?” She jumped up from the bed and rushed over to the floor length mirror attached to my closet door. She pulled down the bottom lid of her left eye and examined her eyeball then proceeded to do the same to the right. “What do my eyes do?”

I shifted my position so that the soles of my Mary Jane’s touched the floor. “They go completely white.”

“No shit!” She shifted her gaze to my reflection. “Seriously? For reals?”

I nodded.

“Should I try again?” she asked as she turned to face me.

I shrugged. “Why not. I’m really curious to know what you see.”

She focused on me, her eyes staring while I stared back focusing my own eyes on her. As she inhaled so did I. As she slowly exhaled, I did, too. Our breathing fell into resonance. She slowly titled her head backward closing her eyes. I lazily blinked and when I reopened my eyes Chloe’s white eyeballs had returned, but my attention was no longer on the appearance of her eyes. My own vision had blurred as images flashed through my mind with a swiftness that prevented me from comprehending what I was seeing; but the emotions associated with them poured over me like a warm sultry liquid; drenching me, drowning me, and spewing forth from the fount of my power. I desperately attempted to surf through the waves of complex emotions, searching for the center, where this excess of emotions sprang.

What was happening? I felt myself begin hyperventilating.

Fuck!

Chloe had triggered my own ability!

If I didn’t gain control of it quickly, I instinctively knew that I would do something that I would later regret.

I frantically located my center of power and coiled my mind around it, drawing the emotional energy into itself like a whirlpool of living energy. I spindled that sparking and vibrating mass of power and harnessed it. I found that this was not a difficult task; however I was at a loss as to what I should do next. The last time I had done anything similar to this, I had intuitively given the energy to Aunt Rachel in order to strengthen her weakened energetic vibration, but what was I to do with it now? Should I attempt to pass it to Chloe? Would she be able to handle it?

As I silently contemplated my next action, my vision cleared and I focused on Chloe who stood just a few feet away, and though I visibly saw nothing with my physical eyes, it was clear to me that my friend did.

“It’s beautiful, Angie. My god! I’ve never seen anything like this!” she said breathlessly, as she slowly reached out towards me with her hands.

I watched in fascination as subtle waves of energy that reminded me of heat rising from the hot pavement in August emanated from her palms and moved towards me. As the strange waves enveloped me I felt their heat and vibration, and heard a whispered hum.

“What do you see, Chloe?” I asked.

“All around you … there is a purple, no, not purple, more like blue? It’s a glow that … moves around you,” she described with joy.

I knew what she was describing; it was the evanescent radiance that had mesmerized me as I worked on Aunt Rachel’s doyens. The warmth and tingle I felt from Chloe was exactly when I had experienced then as well. At that moment I understood that as I was able to distinguish hidden voices within music and sound, she was able to see the hidden colors of light within our environment that other humans could not.

 

Chapter XXXVII

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.”

Chapter XXXVI

It was close to ten o’clock in the morning when I finally left the sanctity of my bedroom and proceeded downstairs with a compelling desire for a cup of coffee. I glanced through the opened door of the guest room that Aunt Rachel had claimed, but found it empty. I remembered that she was usually an early riser and was hopefully already downstairs drinking a mug of hot coffee she had brewed. As I walked through the hallway I enjoyed the sensation of the cool hardwood pressing against the soles of my bare feet, it reassured me that I was grounded in reality and not trapped in the nightmare of yesterday. I paused at Mother’s Louis XV display case and peered through the glass at the porcelain figurines, contemplating the experience Aunt Rachel and I had the day before, but nothing about the cabinet’s contents seemed unusual or out of place.

I eagerly descended the main staircase anticipating a mug of the imagined coffee Aunt Rachel brewed. My imagined beverage became a reality as the aroma of Columbian Roast beaconed be from the kitchen. I was distracted by Aunt Rachel’s voice calling my name from the morning parlor. The mug of coffee I greatly desired would have to wait just a few more minutes.

Aunt Rachel was sitting alone on the beige Queen Anne sofa in the middle of the room. She brought a multi blue colored ceramic mug to her lips and sipped what I only imagined to be coffee as she gazed at an opened issue of ArtNews in her lap. The late morning sunlight filtered through the large windows in the parlor, Mother’s favorite space in the house, casting a warm glow over everything including my aunt, giving her an ethereal appearance. She looked up from her magazine and smiled at me as she motioned for me to join her. I was reluctant. The relentless, yet skillful, dodging that both she and Mr. Stokes did the night before as I questioned them about his relationship with our family was still prevalent in my mind; the memory pricked at my intellect as I entered the room and approached her.

She pointed to a mug sitting atop a coaster on the table positioned between the matching sofas. It matched the one in her hand and held steaming coffee. As I walked toward the mug, I felt my eyes widen and lips slowly turn up.

“Thank you,” I said, grasping the handle and bringing the hot coffee to my mouth. The liquid caffeine soothed my ragged psyche as I gratefully drank it. It tasted smooth and possessed a hint of hazelnut? No, not hazelnut. What was that? It was familiar to me, but not a flavor I expected to taste in the coffee. I sat down on the sofa opposite Aunt Rachel as I pondered the unusual flavor. “Is that cinnamon?”

“No,” she smirked as she took another sip from her own mug and flipped the page of her magazine.

I drank from the mug again, but this time I closed my eyes. As the liquid filled my mouth I felt my mind quickly search for the identity of the flavor my taste buds were experiencing. Slowly an image began to take form as I heard a whispered echo of my aunt’s voice inside my head.

I opened my eyes as I swallowed.

“Cacao,” I repeated the word her voice silently uttered to me.

“Yes!” she exclaimed with a giggle.

It was good to see and hear my aunt laugh. It was surreal to think that just forty-eight hours ago she hung suspended in a vortex that had materialized in our foyer just feet away from where we currently sat together drinking our morning coffee. How had my already peculiar life become even more bizarre? When did it metamorphous into a symphony of cacophony and discord? Even my usual psychosis seemed to be experiencing a disconnection from its usual perception of reality. How could I continue to discern what was reality and what was fantasy when reality seemed to be mimicking my schizophrenic hallucinations?

Aunt Rachel smiled and nodded. “I didn’t think you’d get it. I’m impressed.”

“It really wasn’t difficult to figure out,” I shrugged before enjoying another gulp of the coffee she had brewed for us.

“Yes, it was,” she argued, looking at me instead of the magazine. “It was tricky. Don’t underestimate yourself, Angie. Too many people already do. I don’t want to hear that you’re buying into their disbelief, especially when it comes to your skills and talents. You know yourself better than anyone else does. Anyone.”

And this was the intrinsic essence of who Aunt Rachel had always been to me. Her compassion and unwavering belief in who I was and what I could accomplish gave me such inner strength and confidence; sadly it was the same support that I constantly sought from my own parents, but was unable to find. I silently hoped that my parents would never return from the Bahamas. Maybe then I would no longer doubt my experiences and my life would become something valuable and worth living. I was certain that with Aunt Rachel’s constant presence in my daily life I would be able to piece together the disjointed perception of reality that my parents and Dr. Worth considered my mental illness and once my awareness had been realigned I could concentrate on my reconciliation with Syn, the Norse goddess of my bloodline; the bloodline that Abigail Williams, the infamous witch of Salem begat back hundreds of years ago. My unapologetic defiance of the vow I made to her needed to be atoned for, but I had faith that I would be able to reclaim my position as her Valkyrie, here, in Midgard. Perhaps in the process I could help Aunt Rachel with whatever it was that drove the Ancestors to target her to begin with. I knew that I had the power within me to help her and I wanted to support her as she did me. It was only a matter of time before the Ancestors had raised enough energy to attempt to grab her again.

I studied her face, attempting to determine how much she actually knew about the skills and talents that she was actively encouraging me to have confidence about. Did she realize that being blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, she held the same power within herself that I did? Maybe it hadn’t been revealed to her yet or maybe she knew that she was different, but didn’t know how to effectively harness the power.

“Jerr… ald, I mean Mr. Stokes,” she blushed, stumbling over her words, “wanted me to tell you that he’d be here Monday at the usual time for lessons and that you should just take today to rest and relax, spend time just enjoying yourself with something fun,” she explained closing the magazine and placing it on the table between us. “So I was thinking –”

The chime of the doorbell echoed throughout the house like an unwelcomed scream. Aunt Rachel and I looked at each other, waiting to see which of us would volunteer to greet our unexpected visitor. I don’t know who or what we were afraid of, but our fear was undeniable, hanging in the room like a specter. Reluctantly I took the initiative and stood from my seat as Aunt Rachel watched wide-eyed and on the verge of hyperventilating.

“I’ll get it,” I offered, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm myself. This is ridiculous. Why am I anxious? The Ancestors wouldn’t ring the doorbell. Anything that I should be concerned about wouldn’t be so damn polite.

I walked through the foyer, passing the side table that held Mother’s house plants and forgotten mail. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the sidelights and fanlight above the attractively carved wooden door casting shadows on the Oriental rug. The doorbell chimed an additional two times before I reached the entranceway and pulled it open without first looking through the peephole, a practice Mother would have lectured me on if she had been aware of it. Her persistent discourse about the growing number of deranged men with malicious intentions towards trusting vulnerable females was nauseating. Whenever she was nearby I would mimic peeking through the hole before opening, but if she wasn’t around I lived perilously and took my chances. In all sincerity, you and I both know that I am neither trusting nor vulnerable, so unless our unexpected guest had a gun cocked and aimed at the door in preparation to shoot me, he is the one with the greatest disadvantage.

As I opened the door for our uninvited guest, I was genuinely surprised to discover Chloe Putnam, who I hadn’t seen in several weeks, standing before me. After sneaking out of my house that influential night in September and meeting Chloe, she and I would spend most Sunday afternoons hanging out. Sometimes she would come over to watch movies or listen to music with me and other times we would just casually stroll around the neighborhood or hang at the park where we first met, smoking cigarettes and complaining about the unfairness of our lives. My Dad’s unyielding encouragement about my friendship with her would sometimes leave me ambivalent about continuing it, but Mother’s distain for Chloe’s unconventional style and “fuck-you” attitude urged me to sustain the friendship.

Our Saturday routine continued for years, but eventually dwindled as I spent more of my leisure time exploring the occult books shelved within the public library. As I gained the courage to earnestly explore my own spirituality without guilt or fear, the friendship with Chloe seemed less important to me. Frankly, how could she be expected to understand who and what I was, when even I found it to be confusing and daunting at times?

“Hey!” I smiled, bewildered by her unexpected visit. “How’s it going?”

“Okay.” She gestured to me. “What about you? It’s been like a minute since we hung out. How come you haven’t returned any of my texts or voice mails? Did I do something wrong? Are you mad at me?”

“No, no,” I shook my head. “I’m not mad. You didn’t do anything.”

I was intrigued by the disappointment on Chloe’s face and realized that I missed spending time with her and as much as I told myself that our friendship wasn’t important to me, I could feel that I had been lying to myself.

Chloe was the only child of Jeffery and Faye (Tucker) Putnam. Her Dad was a Professor of English Literature at RISD and her Mom had been a kindergarten teacher. She was a few years older than me, but had been retained in school twice due to the multiple traumas she experienced prior to moving to Rhode Island, one of which was the death of her Mom in some sort of accident that Chloe never went into detail about and which I didn’t pry. I assumed that her appearance was the way in which she dealt with the pain she had experienced in her life, a rebellion against the shallowness and normalcy that society tried to maintain, especially in our town, even though life itself was a true complex mixture of profound chaotic energies. She always had her hair cut short and dyed some shade of blue, though I noticed it was longer now than I remembered ever seeing it.

“I like the new length,” I commented with a smile. “It’s cute.”

Chloe shyly reached up and touched the hair at the base of her neck. “Thanks. Do you like the color? The girl at the salon called it ‘mermaid’.”

“Yeah, I do. It’s a nice subtle change for you. It works.”

She nodded, dropping her arm. “I thought so, too.”

We stood in silence. It wasn’t awkward; it was our usual comfortable silence and I missed it. There was no one else, other than my Aunt Rachel up to the last days’ events, whom I could be in that quiet space with. I leaned against the door frame and watched Chloe reach into the pocket of her hoodie and remove a gold colored pack of Benson and Hedges. She lit a cigarette with a red plastic lighter and took a slow drag. She flicked the spent match onto the cement walkway that lead to the driveway where Aunt Rachel’s red Nissan was parked.

“So, what have you been up to, Angie?” she asked as she exhaled; the smoke of her cigarette lingered in the air between us and briefly formed into a cloud that resembled the face of Mr. Morrell.

I shrugged and waved my hand, dispersing the uncomfortable smoke apparition. “The usual.”

She flicked the ashes of her cigarette onto the porch and passed the butt to me. “Same. Any more with the Josh thing? “

“No. Nothing. Have you heard anything?” I inquired, glancing over my shoulder for Aunt Rachel before placing the cigarette between my own lips when I was confident she hadn’t entered the foyer.

I was curious about the investigation, but whenever I asked, Mother claimed not to have any new information; I knew she was lying to me, most likely with the misguided belief that in keeping the details from me, she was protecting me from the ugly truth about the world and would prevent me from experiencing a psychotic episode. Even the internet searches I did revealed no new information. It appeared to me that the investigation had reached a dead end.

Chloe accepted the cigarette from me and took a drag. “My Dad said something about the police being convinced that Josh had run away from the hospital.”

“Weird.”

“I know, right? The whole fucking thing is kinda sketchy. I mean if he was really in a coma,” she inhaled a lungful of smoke and exhaled as she continued speaking, “how did he leave the hospital without anyone seeing anything? I mean someone would’ve had to move him in his bed or something. Right?”

“Well, yeah,” I said in agreement though my thoughts drifted to my MP3 player sitting on my bedside table upstairs.

She offered me the cigarette again, but I waved it off. She shrugged and took another drag as she looked directly at me. “Brittany’s been talking shit about the day she saw you at the hospital. She’s been throwing some serious shade, Angie.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said dismissively, recalling the betrayal that skulked into the cantata that she and I once sang and what my actions were in response to it. “Did you know they were fucking? Josh and her?”

“No. Wow. That’s really messed up.” She shook her head. “Someone really should put that bitch in her place. She’s always acting as if she’s better than everyone else when she’s just not. You know? And I have tried to be nice to her for you because I know you are … or were close to her, but every time she looks at me I can see what she’s thinking. And it seriously pisses me off. I just want to wipe that smug look off her face.”

“No need to hold back on my account,” I offered. “I hope she gets everything she deserves.”

Chloe dropped the butt of her cigarette on the porch and crushed it violently with her boot.

Chapter XXXV

I turned to look at Mr. Stokes as he walked casually into the dining room. I had forgotten that he was still in the house with us. He shifted uneasily as he stood silently with a glass of water near the archway waiting for permission to join us. As much as I was grateful for his assistance in bringing Aunt Rachel back from whichever plane of existence she had been trapped in, I was still suspicious of him. I knew he held knowledge and significant information that was invaluable to me and it frustrated me that he wasn’t eagerly sharing it when I had been abundantly clear about how much I hungered for it. I felt as if he was attempting to keep me in an invisible cage of ignorance, leashed and controlled by how much or how little I knew, but I wouldn’t have it any longer. I would find out what he knew and what he was keeping from me. Perhaps the diaries he spoke of were the answer or maybe Aunt Rachel could be persuaded to share more information with me, it didn’t matter. I would find a way to gain access to what he knew. While Mr. Stokes may be my teacher, one I admittedly enjoyed learning from in the mundane academic sense; he was nothing more to me than a tutor regardless of what Aunt Rachel suggested. He was not my parent. He was not an elder family member. And he would never be my friend. He was a paid educator and as being such had only limited authority over my actions and behavior.

Aunt Rachel held out her hand towards where he waited. “Come in, Gerald.”

He entered the dining room still wearing the wrinkled, light blue button up shirt and khaki colored trousers he had been wearing since yesterday morning when he showed up for our usual Friday tutoring session. So much had happened in the span of forty-eight hours that when I stopped to think about it, it hurt my brain. He sat down in the empty chair next to my aunt and across from me; Daniel’s usual spot when he was home and ate meals with the family. He placed the glass of water on the table in front of him.

Aunt Rachel reached out and gently caressed his hand. “Would you like something to eat?”

“Yes, thank you,” he said, grasping a hold of her hand with his own and kissing her palm.

She smiled at my tutor and stood setting the white cloth napkin that had been lying in her lap on the table.

“Do you need anything from the kitchen, Angie?” she gestured to the glass I was drinking from. “More water?”

“No, thank you.”

I watched her disappear through archway that led into the kitchen. I placed my glass gently down on the table as I studied the man sitting in Daniel’s place across from me at the table. With my fork I pushed a lone piece of broccoli through the scattered remnants of the brown rice that still occupied my near empty dinner plate. I glanced across the table at Mr. Stokes as I considered all that Aunt Rachel had said about him; the fact that she considered him to be a valuable ally for someone like me to have. He could offer me guidance and support, but what was her relationship with him? Why did there seem to be some sort of bond or connection between them? Was it possible they … no, I couldn’t even imagine that … that was just disgusting! Christian’s father was much more attractive than creepy, old Mr. Stokes! Revolted yet motivated by my personal thoughts, I placed my fork next to my plate and crossed my arms.

“So … what’s going on between you two?” I nodded from Mr. Stokes to the archway that my aunt had disappeared through. “I didn’t even know you knew each other.”

“Oh, that,” blushed Mr. Stokes as he cleared his throat before nervously taking a sip from his water glass. Mother would have a fit if she knew he was using a kitchen glass in the dining room. “I think it would be best if your aunt answered that question.”

As if on cue, Aunt Rachel returned to the dining room with a steaming plate of vegetable fried rice for my tutor. She placed the plate of food on the table in front of him along with a set of silverware wrapped in a cloth napkin. It seemed to me that he was incapable of looking at anything or anyone, except her when she was present in the room. I knew he was worried about her, as I was, but she since she was clearly out of danger his behavior seemed overly obsessive to me, and believe me, I was familiar with obsession. Anyone remember Ryan Fuller?

My aunt reclaimed her seat at the head of the table; the seat that Dad usually occupied during our less than frequent family meals, while Mr. Stokes carefully unwrapped the utensils, placed the napkin on his lap, and ate a mouthful of the steaming vegetables and rice. It was clear he was as hungry as I had been.

As he swallowed the generous bite of food, he nodded. “Delicious. Thank you, Rachel.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Your niece has made an inquiry of me that I believe would be most appropriate if you were to address it.”

“Oh?” With her elbows leaning on the table, for which Mother would have a nuclear meltdown, and clasping her hands together, Aunt Rachel turned to me. “What is it, Angie?”

“I was just curious about the two of you,” I said, wiping my mouth with a napkin and placing it on the table next to my plate. “But if it’s private, I understand.”

Aunt Rachel blushed and glanced nonchalantly at my tutor, who was enjoying his food, then back at me. “It’s a fair question and one – you’ll be glad to know – I can answer. You see, Gerald and I have a special relationship.”

“Yeah, I get that. I’m just confused as to why no one told me about the two of you or that I never noticed the … I don’t know … your relationship before,” I commented.

The two of them together just made no sense to me. I don’t ever remember Aunt Rachel bringing him to any of the parties that my parents hosted around the holidays, which was the time that everyone brought their significant others. When she was with Christian’s father, Keith she brought him everywhere; to every holiday party, cookout, picnic, birthday celebration or other family gathering. So, I was wary of this whole situation with Mr. Stokes. Was she embarrassed to be with him? I mean, he was a lot older than her from what I could determine and he wasn’t very attractive. I know, I know, it is shallow of me to consider his physical appearance, but seriously, if you’re going to be physically intimate with someone I would imagine that you would want them to be sexually attractive, right? I mean I may only be sixteen, but even I would rather have sex with Hugh Jackman than with Steve Buscemi. And in this particular scenario Keith is Hugh and Mr. Stokes well … you get the picture. Creepy, right? I couldn’t help but feel as if Aunt Rachel or the two of them were trying to convince me of something that actually didn’t exist or was more illicit than they were implying.

“How’d you two meet?”

My aunt smiled. I could see she cared about him, but not nearly as much as he seemed to care about her; there was a significant imbalance between them, and that made me suspicious.

“He’s been a family friend for many years,” she explained as she placed her utensils across her plate.

“What?!”

Wait, wait, wait, hold up a minute. Did she just say that he was a family friend? Whose family? Our family? Was she seriously implying that Mr. Stokes was our family’s friend? No. No. No. That was impossible. He wasn’t a family friend. Or … was he? Could he be? Was I just completely unaware and out of it? Did I forget? Or was she trying to get me to question my sanity? After our earlier conversation, the one that she made me feel normal … sane, she’s now playing this … what is it? A game. Now she’s playing this game with me? I don’t understand.

I felt myself drowning in confusion while trying to make some sort of sense of something that truly made no sense to me. The familiar doubt began creeping in from the edges of my mind. Perhaps my perception of reality was still fragmented. Perhaps I had imagined everything that had happened or I was imagining everything now in this moment. I’m certain I had missed at least three doses of my medication. Maybe even more. Maybe my mind was distorting everything, altering my memories and twisting my mind so that I couldn’t remember what was real and what was imagined. Could Mr. Stokes really be a family friend? Maybe it was a memory that I had blocked out for some reason.

Maybe?

“Aunt Rachel, I find it really strange that Mr. Stokes has been my tutor for an entire year and no one ever mentioned that he was a family friend,” I countered, trying to gain a sense of what I was experiencing and hoping to determine if I was having a psychotic episode.

My aunt stood with her plate and utensils in hand and reached over to collect mine. “It’s really not a big deal, Angie. There are more important things going on right now than worrying about how long you’ve known Gerald, don’t you think?”

I wasn’t giving up on this that quickly. They were keeping something from me and I was going to figure out what that something was … because this wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t making any sense. I looked across the table to Mr. Stokes, who was staring at Aunt Rachel.

“Is that why Mother and Dad decided to hire you, because you were a family friend?”

He smiled and chuckled. “You could say that.”

I was suspicious. Why was he laughing at me? I abruptly stood from my seat causing it to tip and fall backward. “What aren’t you telling me?”

My aunt startled by my outburst, stumbled backwards. The dinner plates she had been holding broke as they collided with the hardwood floor. “Angie … I –”

I shook my head holding out my hand, deflecting what she was about to say.

“I don’t want your excuses, and I don’t want to hear about your respect for my Dad,” I spat at her as I jolted over to the other side of the dining room table. I confronted Mr. Stokes, who had jumped up from his own chair when I did. I pointed my index finger in his face. “If you’ve been a family friend for years then why didn’t I ever see you before you were hired as my tutor?”

He sighed as he absently caressed the scar on his forehead. “You did see me, Angie, you just don’t recognize me.”

“I think I would remember if I had seen you before,” I scoffed.

He casually slipped his hands into his trouser pockets as he looked at me in the eyes. “Are you certain?”