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.”

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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?”

 

 

Chapter XXXIV

A familiar spirit is an emissary of power and is of great significance, granting the occult practitioner the ability to travel between the Planes of existence while serving as her eyes and ears, easily sensing the presence of other spiritual entities, while recognizing the shifting of the energetic tides with a knowing possessed by no human being.

Lodged into a family tree by the Devil after the first born female of a chosen family bloodline went through The Initiation Rite, the familiar grows a special fondness for that female and attaches itself to her bloodline. This bond is inherited upon her death by her first born daughter; there is always a female born of the family bloodline once the familiar is gifted to the family, however it is speculated by some occultists that in order for the matriarch to die in peace, she is required to bequest her familiar spirit to another female of her bloodline in the “proper manner”, and if it is not done, the familiar will bring upon the family a curse causing them great pain, suffering, and misfortune.

In their ethereal form, familiars are described as forms with intense color and animated with movement and sound, while in their corporeal form they appear as a long deceased relative or intimate friend of their human partner. This is to ensure that the members of her family become acquainted with the familiar and trust it as if it were one of their own blood relatives; in fact most family members are unaware that the familiar is not a human being at all and will treat it as if it were human. While most familiars willingly serve and are devoted to their human partners, it is important to note that some familiars are deceitful and will harbor their own agenda regarding the future of the bloodline they seemingly serve.

I was famished by the time Aunt Rachel had finished preparing the food. The mixture of curry powder, ginger, and cinnamon that she added to the collection of vegetables, egg, and brown rice was not only aromatic and visually appealing, but was delicious. We both were hungry and ate our food in comfortable silence for the first ten minutes of our meal at the dining room table. My aunt had attended numerous family dinners and was acquainted with where Mother kept the napkins and silverware that were to be used in the dining room. She was also aware of the unspoken rule concerning which dinner plates and water glasses were “allowed” at the dining room table and which were strictly used exclusively in the kitchen.

I still had so many unanswered questions for my aunt, but I was certain she was unwilling to discuss them with me since she was unyieldingly determined to remain loyal to my Dad’s decision “about his family”; whatever that meant. I still wanted to know where she was trapped? Was she on The Elemental Plane? The Astral Plane? Did she contact Josh, or Ryan, or Mr. Morrell while she was there? How much did she know about my abilities? Did she know The Ancestors? What did they want from her? Was her being trapped my fault? Did Syn demand that they trap her because of my defiance? The questions swirled in my brain as we sat together at the table eating our meal.

I felt Aunt Rachel watching me eat, my own eyes focused on the dinner plate before me, examining each piece of brown rice that remained; some of them had attached themselves to the florets of broccoli that lay among them, refusing to let go, finding solace with their unlikely ally in the reality of their pending death. I placed my fork on the table beside the plate and reached for my water glass.

My aunt was the first to break the silence. “Angie, I can only imagine the frustration you feel sitting here alone with me knowing that I know that you have abilities, but refusing to discuss them with you.”

I choked on the mouthful of water I had taken, spraying some of it into the food remaining on my plate. I clumsily replaced the glass on the table as I wiped my mouth with the napkin that had been lying in my lap.

“Well, yeah. Honestly it is,” I said.

I watched her glance from me to the empty plate before her on the table then back up at me. I appreciated that she was experiencing an internal struggle. The fluttering of expressions that played across her face indicated that she was clearly torn between her loyalty to my Dad and some unspoken allegiance to me. Was it more than our blood bond that bound her to me? Her hazel eyes found mine and held them.

“Believe me; it’s frustrating for me too. Your father just doesn’t see the connection between his actions and the negative environment that has created for you here,” she gestured dramatically around the room with her arms, “in this house, in this family.”

I was intrigued by her words. On some level she clearly understood my frustration. My curiosity about her visits with my Dad grew exponentially. What did they discuss in the library behind the closed door? I assumed it concerned my aunt’s financial status and that Dad was giving her his professional advice, but perhaps that wasn’t the situation at all. Perhaps it was Aunt Rachel giving Dad advice about me! About my power! Was it possible that my aunt was more of an ally to me than I ever imagined?

She sighed, and cupped her head in the palms of her hands, her elbows resting on the table. She mumbled, “He does his best to forget about our own childhood, and I suppose it’s much easier for him to do so than me.”

I watched her, expecting her to continue, but she stayed in that position for a while. The antique walnut longcase clock struck nine. I was convinced she had drifted off to sleep when she abruptly raised her head and took a drink of water from her glass.

“When I was a young girl I had an imaginary friend named Jerry,” she began, her right hand still holding the glass as she stared into the water it held. “I would talk with him and play with him outside, building forts made with long sticks and old blankets. I would share my secret desires with him; both the good and dark.” She smiled briefly as she stared into the glass. “My father, your Grandpa Tom, once told me that Jerry wasn’t an imaginary friend, but that he was my guardian angel and that his job was to protect me. But I knew that Jerry wasn’t an angel. I knew he wasn’t really imaginary either, even before my father said anything, but I had no better label for him. You see, Grandpa Tom never believed the stories the women told in the parlor over a pot of tea and cookies or when sharing a bottle or two of Riesling on the back porch during the hot summer evenings.”

Well, now wasn’t this interesting? “So, if Jerry wasn’t a guardian angel or an imaginary friend, what was he?”

She deliberately placed the crystal glass back on the table, and looked at me. There was something in her eyes that I had never seen before, a glint or flash of … electricity? Of power?

“Something much more, Angie, he was something … effective,” she explained, a smirk had crawled onto her lips. There was something happening with Aunt Rachel that enthralled, but scared me. “Jerry would sometimes appear to me as a little ball of light, like a firefly, other times something more physical like a mouse, but it wasn’t until my sixteenth birthday that he first appeared human. I’m sure it had something to do with my birthday wish. I wished him to be real … like a real person.” She laughed. “I remembered that story about the marionette that was turned into a real boy by a fairy and wanted that to happen with Jerry.”

I felt my eyes widen. “And you believed it did?”

She nodded. “Your Grandparents thought he was a classmate and eventually assumed that he was my boyfriend because we were always together. Even the guys at school who were interested in me felt threatened by him, thinking that he was competition for them, but he wasn’t. He was just Jerry; always around, my best-friend and I loved him,” she paused. “Actually I still do and always will, but not in a romantic sort of way.”

“You mean, he actually became real? Flesh and blood, real?” I asked. I was shocked with her story, not because it made her sound as crazy, which it did, but because of the implications it carried if the story was true.

“Yes, Angie, flesh and blood real,” she confirmed.

Chapter XXXIII

Aunt Rachel returned the hefty tome to me as she stood from the bed, suggesting that we find something to prepare for dinner. It was already close to eight o’clock in the evening and I couldn’t remember the last time I ate food. The uncomfortable cramping inside my stomach and dry mouth made it difficult for me to oppose her suggestion and continue our discussion. She reached out for my hand with her own indicating that I should take hers. Without hesitation, I took it and abandoned my book. As I stood she leaned into me and enveloped my shoulders, her left arm embracing me in an unusual, but comfortable side hug. I gripped her hand with mine, as an insidious fear rumbled inside of me like a timpani. Something was not right.

We walked in silence through the upstairs hallway, the hardwood floor pressed against the soles of my bare feet as we passed Mother’s treasured museum-like collection of glassware, ceramics, vases, and figurines she had displayed in the numerous cabinets that lined the wallpapered walls. The light of the halogen bulbs spilled softly through the glass panels of each cabinet into the unusual darkness of the corridor, casting peculiar shadows of the items held within them. With Mother away no one had considered turning on the house lights once the sun set so we walked in blackness. Mother was compulsive about ensuring that there were always lights on in the house. Until then I had assumed that it was due to her unfounded fear of home invasions, but now I wondered if it was something more personally rooted in her experiences with me and my abilities. Perhaps there were hidden details that I have yet to unbury about the midnight whispers of The Ancestors and other childhood nightmares I experienced that incited Mother’s reservations about the darkness of night.

As we approached the top of the main staircase Aunt Rachel paused, released me from her embrace, and slowly retraced her steps. Curiosity motivated me to follow her back to the most ornate of Mother’s cabinets. The French styled Louis XV display case stood with one bowed glass door opened. My aunt gingerly reach out her hand and closed the gold trimmed door, turning the key to secure it. She glanced at me.

I nodded. “Yes, it was closed.”

We peered inside at the Royal Doulton and Dahl Jensen figurines. I wasn’t sure what we were looking for, but assumed we’d know what it was if we spotted it. The halogen light inside the cabinet flickered and went out. The familiar rumble within me returned. I grabbed my aunt’s hand. Her palm was moist. I heard her exhale loudly as she abruptly walked towards the staircase pulling me behind.

“Everything okay?” I asked, knowing that it was not, but wanting to hear what she was thinking.

She didn’t respond, but forced herself to smile at me reassuringly, though it did nothing to comfort me. I considered that The Ancestors were rebuilding their power in an effort to reclaim my aunt in the same way that they had previously, but I didn’t know how to defend against them because I had no idea as to how they originally trapped her, and Aunt Rachel had made it clear that she felt uncomfortable discussing the topic with me. I decided to approach the subject from an angle that she wouldn’t be expecting.

“Do you remember when Grandma Claire died?” I asked, turning the dial that controlled the chrome and crystal chandelier that illuminated the foyer and staircase.

We began our descent down the carpeted stairs still hand in hand.

“Yes. You were four or five, right?” she prompted.

“Right. And my parents didn’t want Daniel or me at the funeral,” I explained, feeling the smoothness of the banister against the palm of my left hand and the skin of her hand against my right. “But for some reason we were brought to the funeral home and my cousin Ashley watched all of us kids in another room.”

“I remember,” she replied. The light reflecting off the crystals above us created abstract patterns on the crimson carpet. “But you snuck in.”

I snickered. “Daniel helped me get by Ashley, which wasn’t even difficult, and snuck me into the viewing parlor.”

“You were precocious even at that age,” my aunt chuckled.

“I walked up to the casket and looked down and I remember thinking that she was so beautiful then feeling really strange; sort of dizzy, but tingly like a gentle electric current flowing through me. That feeling you get when you pinch off a nerve, like when my arm or leg falls asleep.” I explained. We reached the bottom of the stairs and continued through the foyer, which had been tidied, towards the kitchen. “It’s the same sort of feeling I get when I listen to music.”

“Inspiration?” suggested my aunt, pushing open the swinging door and walking through. “That’s the best word I’ve been able to come up with. I feel something like that when I sculpt.”

“You do?” I was pleased, but a tad guilty that she took the bait. The guilt wasn’t strong enough to stop me from talking. “I felt that even when I was pulled away from the casket and dragged out of the room. I kept staring at the casket because I saw Grandma Claire standing next to it.”

My aunt didn’t appear surprised. She opened the first cabinet, the one closest to the kitchen door and started rummaging through its contents for ingredients she could use to prepare dinner for us.

“Aunt Rachel,” I stressed her name to ensure that she was listening. “She spoke to me. She said something curious. Something I can’t really understand and I was hoping you’d be able to sort it out with me.”

I heard my aunt sigh, though her face was obscured by the opened cabinet door. “What did she say?”

“She told me that I was special, then she warned me about something …,” I paused as I sat on one of the three counter stools, waiting to see if Aunt Rachel would look at me, but when she didn’t – I continued, “An omen … The Blood Omen. Do you know anything about that?”

This was the question that ceased her search and although I couldn’t see her face, I knew the expression that she wore. That was the reaction I anticipated. Silently she removed a glass container filled with brown rice and placed it on the counter. With contrived focus she closed the cabinet and opened the one next to it, distracting herself with Mother’s collection of dried herbs.

“The Omen has something to do with how I was born, doesn’t it?” I prodded relentlessly.

She waved her hand around her head in a motion that could easily be perceived as swatting an invisible fly. “I can’t talk about that, Angie.”

Well, I wasn’t giving up. I was going to force her to admit that my supposition was accurate. I stomped through the house, retracing my steps back to the guest bedroom and retrieved my abandoned copy of Sacred Magick from the bed. I carried it into the kitchen, flipping through the pages as I walked. My aunt had placed a pot with rice and water on the stove to boil and was cutting a variety of colorful vegetables at the island counter facing the stool I had recently vacated. As I reclaimed my seat, I placed the opened book on the counter; the text positioned so that Aunt Rachel could easily read it and slid it towards the glass cutting board where she was actively slicing through a dark green zucchini. Only then did she look up from her task.

I pointed with my index finger to a very familiar paragraph on page ninety-three. I had read it numerous times since I had discovered the book at the library. Aunt Rachel followed my direction and read the entry to herself.

“It has been stated in numerous ancient texts that the Blood Omen is a significant portent not to be overlooked. The importance and the presentation are difficult enough to understand when taken singularly; but the interpretation and the realization of the omen itself become tenfold more noteworthy, when, instead of being comprehended, is witnessed. The list of Seers who have endeavoured to interpret the Blood Omen is long indeed. They have discovered with trepidation that the child, usually female though on rare occasion male, associated with this portent is the signifier of the advent of great change, not only for the bloodline from which the child sprung but for the community as well. The child harnesses within a timeless and everlasting power that is irrefutably attributed, in the minds of the ancient Seers, to Spirit within blood. This merging of the two into a unity becomes thereby significant when that power is recognized.”

She frowned.

“I was born in a pool of blood,” I told her. “When we were little Daniel would talk to me about it. He said that it was a secret, but that he had overheard Mother talking with Aunt Brenda about how difficult it was for me to come out and that Mother almost died giving birth to me.”

She placed the knife on the counter and reached out grasping both of my hands with her own. “Yes, I know.”

“Is there a connection between the Blood Omen, my birth, and my ability?” I asked practically begging her to answer the question.

“Oh Angie, I can’t.” She released my hands as if she realized they were dirty or hot. She picked up the knife and continued cutting the squash into half circles. “I can’t discuss that with you. You really should ask your Dad.”

I laughed exaggeratingly.

“Ask my Dad?” I mocked. “Ask my Dad? Really? If I ask my Dad it will inevitably lead to a change in my medication. And I don’t want to increase the fucking dose or change the prescription. I don’t want it. I’m done with it! I’m not taking it anymore!”

She nodded.

“None of it!” I yelled with tears forming in my eyes.

“I don’t blame you, sweetheart,” she said walking around the counter.

I allowed her to embrace me. I wasn’t really angry with her specifically. I logically understood why she wouldn’t talk to me, but I was upset. I was frustrated with the situation, with my parents, with my fucking life. I slowly returned her hug, sobbing quietly into her shirt as she stroked my hair. We stood like that for a moment as I listened to the bubbling of the rice on the stove.

“Will you at least answer me this,” I asked still holding onto her. “Was I able to free you from wherever you were because we are bonded by our blood?”

She gently pulled away from me, but held onto my upper arms and looked directly into my eyes. I could see her considering if she should answer me and how much she should say if she did. But how was she going to deny that the past forty-eight hours didn’t happen without undoing our bond? If she did deny that she was in some sort of supernatural vortex, that she had been trapped on another plane of existence, then she was going to imply that I had actually hallucinated it all and infer that I was schizophrenic as my parents and Dr. Worth have said, which would contradict everything we had shared earlier that evening. We had nonverbally agreed that I was not mentally ill, but that I possessed an ability or talent.

She inhaled deeply and still looking at me directly simply said, “Yes.”

I knew it. I felt good about my ability to come to accurate conclusions about what was happening in my life so I ventured forward with another question hoping that she would continue to respond and verify what I already concluded on my own.

“Why was Mr. Stokes so annoyed when we first found you in the foyer?”

“I can’t go into that with you,” she responded, returning to the vegetables on the counter.

But I persisted. “Does it have anything to do with the vision I saw of Christian when I was trying to free you from that vortex?”

She located a large frying pan from the rack above the island counter and placed it on the stove. She turned on the burner beneath it and retrieved the bottle of olive oil lining the bottom of the pan. “Yes.”

“Then tell me, Aunt Rachel. Tell me,” I begged, handing her the cutting board covered with sliced vegetables. “Dad doesn’t have to know. I won’t tell him. I am an expert at keeping secrets from my parents. They have no idea who I am.”

“No, Angie,” she shook her head as she added the vegetables to the pan. “You may be an expert at keeping secrets, but I will know that I shared information with you that your Dad made me promise not to. There are things that really are not a burden meant for you to bear.” I watched her move the vegetables around in the pan with the wooden spoon, the colors creating an abstract design as she did so. She continued, her voice trembling with each word. “I made choices and I take full responsibility for those choices, but unfortunately sometimes things don’t go as we expect and the consequences are painful.”

“Aunt Rachel …”

She put her left arm around my shoulders and pulled me against her as she leaned her head on mine. “I appreciate that you want to help me. I do. And I believe that you are capable of dealing with serious issues, but this isn’t something that you need to deal with. It’s all on me.”

“Okay,” I conceded. She made a valid point.

Chapter XXXII

The comfort of silence embraced us as we sat side by side on the double bed. The soft light of the Daffodil Tiffany lamp that sat on the bedside table illuminated the guest room. I allowed my eyes to follow the pattern of the Ushake carpet and was drawn into its luminous gold, cinnamon, and terracotta colors as my mind contemplated the many questions I wanted to ask, but knew that they would be left unanswered because Aunt Rachel would refuse to respond in fear of disrespecting my Dad. Regardless of her unyielding loyalty to her brother, I felt comfortable sitting in the stillness with her, which was unusual for me, not because of who she was, but because I was generally uncomfortable sitting in stillness with anyone – including myself.

“Aunt Rachel,” I said in a volume just above a whisper. “I know you don’t feel that it’s your place to explain things to me and you don’t want to ignore my Dad’s request, but do you think it would be possible to ask you questions about stuff you might be able to talk to me about without violating his trust?”

She considered my suggestion for a moment then nodded. “We can do that.”

We both shifted our positions on the bed so that we were facing each other. Aunt Rachel grabbed one of the fluffy bed pillows and placed it on her lap so that she could lean on it with her arms for support. I crossed my legs under each other and rested my elbows on my knees. As I looked into her eyes I noticed that they were the same light shade of hazel as my Dad’s.

I figured it would be best to begin with asking the simplest questions I had filling the space in my brain.

“Does Mother know about my,” I smiled weakly. “What did you call it? A talent or ability?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” she shrugged. “She’s heard the family stories. Many times she’s sat in the morning parlor or on the back porch with the Williams’ women, but I don’t think she believed that there was any truth in them. To be fair, if you aren’t part of the family and lived through some of the stories, they do sound fantastical.”

I agreed with my aunt. Mother was logical, practical, factual, and if she didn’t see it then it didn’t exist and even when she did see it there was some sort of scientific explanation for it all.

“Right, I can’t imagine Mother would.” I knew she heard the disappointment in my voice, but I didn’t care. As much as Mother and I were at odds, I still held the tiniest hope that she would someday try to understand me, but maybe it was just beyond her capabilities.

“Angie,” my aunt leaned over and grabbed my hand. “I know that she’s concerned about you. She constantly worries about your well-being, but I think she attributes your unusual behavior,” she indicated quotation marks when she spoke Mother’s phrase, “to mental illness instead of seeing it for what it really is.”

And that was the conundrum, wasn’t it? Aunt Rachel had stated the issue simply. It was the same mystery I continuously pondered about myself. Do I have abilities or am I really just paranoid schizophrenic? Aunt Rachel seemed to be convinced that it was something other than mental illness and I wanted to hear her label it.

“What is it really?”

“What do you think it is?” she asked as she eased back and gestured to me with a nod and open palms.

“I don’t know.” Gah! I just wanted her to tell me. I didn’t want to play guessing games.

“Sometimes I am convinced that Dr. Worth is right, that I am mentally ill, but other times, well, other times I’m not sure.”

Aunt Rachel nodded. I decided that the warm up was complete and we would move to more difficult topics for discussion. I was determined to learn something from my aunt.

“Can I show you something?” I asked, jumping up from the bed.

With distinct apprehension she agreed, “Yeah, sure.”

I hurriedly left the guest room, returning seconds later with my treasured copy of Sacred Magick clutched to my chest. I reclaimed my spot across from her on the bed and handed her the large, heavy book.

She accepted it with eyes that seemed to have grown twice in size and placed it on top of the pillow on her lap. “Where did you get this?”

“I bought it in Bridgeboro. Mother and Dad brought me with them when they went to close up the cottage and on the way home we stopped to visit Aunt Brenda and Uncle Stephen. While they were talking about their usual boring shit, I went for a walk and found this little shop that had all sorts of great stuff. I bought a few things from there.”

“I know that place,” nodded Aunt Rachel as she admired the book in her lap. She slowly caressed the cover with her finger tips, tracing the embossed circles and spirals in the leather. She briefly smiled at me as she opened the book and inhaled deeply. The sweet aroma of the old book drifted up into her nostrils. I knew the scent: a combination of vanilla, almonds, gardenias, tobacco, with a hint of staleness. After a few minutes of basking in the heady aroma, she gently turned the thin pages. When she came upon the title page she studied the scribble of black ink as I had when first spotting it at the shop.

“I think that says: ‘With loving devotion, on this a special day, your mother, Savannah Rae Williams’,” I offered.

“Savannah Rae Williams?” Aunt Rachel squinted her eyes and brought the book closer to her face. She shifted the book into a different angle hoping to gain a better perspective of the penmanship. “Yes, it certainly does look like Savannah Rae Williams. What are the odds of that?”

“Odds of what?”

Aunt Rachel looked up from the page. “Don’t you know who Savannah Rae Williams is?”

“No, but I was going to ask you or Dad if you had records of our genealogy,” I explained. “So that I could check to see if she was someone in our family.”

“She definitely is, Angie. This is your Great-great-grandmother!” She smiled, shaking her head as she gingerly turned the pages. “This is amazing. This book … what a wonderful heirloom you’ve got yourself. Have you shown this to your Dad? He’d love it,” she paused as she considered the text. “Does he know you’re reading this?”

“No.”

She grunted. “Yeah, he’d probably be concerned if he knew you were reading about the occult. How much of this book have you been able to comprehend? It’s pretty dense.”

“Quite a bit, but yeah, some of it gets confusing,” I admitted.

“Gerald, I mean, Mr. Stokes, could help you with those denser sections. He possesses some impressive occult knowledge,” Aunt Rachel recommended as she continued to flip through the pages.

“I noticed,” I snarled. This was the perfect time to interrogate her about my tutor since she was the one to bring up his name. “So, what do you know about Mr. Stokes? He told me that he was here to give me advice and to ‘heed his warnings’. I mean, I realize that my parents hired him as my tutor, but he seemed to imply something else. Do you know anything about that?”

“Well, he is your mentor, Angie,” she explained, closing the book and resting her hands on it. “He’s a valuable ally for someone like you to have. He can offer you guidance and support, and he might even in time become your friend.”

“My friend?” I laughed. “I highly doubt that, Aunt Rachel. He’s old and creepy. And I just don’t trust him. I feel like he’s hiding something.”

“The trust will come, and when it does you will realize that you can tell him anything, share anything with him without fear of judgment or scorn, unlike what you receive from members of your family who judge you a little too harshly, if you ask me.”

I shrugged. “But he gets paid to be my mentor and teacher; that’s his job. He’s a tutor.”

I was willing to consider her words. I had come to the conclusion on my own that Mr. Stokes had knowledge of the occult far beyond what I had learned on my own and maybe he would be willing to teach me. Perhaps after the events that he witnessed earlier that day he would stop underestimating me and my abilities and treat me with the respect I deserved.

“If what you’re telling me is in fact true and he has more to offer me than just his academic knowledge then what will he ask from me in return? There’s always an exchange to be made, always a price to be paid. Nothing is ever free,” as I spoke I was reminded of the story about the mermaid who paid for a set of legs with her voice.

“That’s true, but sometimes what we experience in our lifetime is the direct result of an exchange that took place years prior to our birth. What we are experiencing is the price paid for a favor or service an ancestor provided,” she pointed out.

What was she trying to tell me?

Chapter XXXI

Astral projection is the ability to journey to other realms of existence where worlds such as: the heavens, hell, the Underworld, the Otherworld, Summerland, and other spheres of existence reside. Aligning with this plane of existence allows the individual to gain access to visions of the past, present, and future through the Akashic Records because the space time continuum that is experienced in the physical realm does not exist here. These realms are populated by beautiful, horrific, and neutral entities possessing agendas and desires independent from that of humanity. The part or layer of a human being that journeys and experiences these realms is the second doyen or the astral body. This doyen, as are all doyens, is ephemeral; but the second doyen grows and develops as the physical body does. It is an etherical duplicate of the physical body.

The Astral realm is parallel to the physical realm. It is the substance of etherical energy and works in cooperation with all other realms of existence as the bridge between matter and energy, transmitting the energy waves from the Mental realm to the Physical realm. The Astral realm is where the second doyen resonates when an individual intentionally astral projects and what the fifth doyen or ego reaches entrainment with after physical death of the body. When individuals contemplate and discuss the idea of “crossing into the light” or “parting the veil”, it is the Astral realm that is being referred to as the destination.

Aligning with the Astral realm can be achieved intentionally through deep meditation, but is often done unintentionally when dreaming. The consciousness and physical body must be comfortable and completely relaxed allowing the consciousness to shift focus from the physical vessel and surrounding environment to the non-physical realm and vibrational frequencies that every human being is continuously connected to, but are usually unaware of. Because it is impossible for the consciousness to actually leave a physical body without the vessel experiencing brain death or biological death, Astral projection would be more accurately described as a “phasing into” or “resonating with” another realm of existence or vibrational energy instead of the more common description of “out-of-body experience”.

The physical vessel is not protected from physical harm, injury, or death while Astral projecting and will react as it normally does when the consciousness is fully engaged with the body. If the physical body is disturbed, the doyen would be yanked back into the body in order to protect it from the threat of danger, propelling the consciousness back into resonance with the energetic vibration of the physical realm.

“The ancient occult teachings have taught that the disappearance from sight of a flame does not imply its actual extinction. The flame has only passed from the visible spectrum of sight to the invisible realm, and thus may be perceived by the inner sense of vision, which is designed to sense things of that realm and the more authentic cosmos. This same rule applies to physical matter. Because physical matter vibrates at the specific degree of motion, rate, and manner necessary for manifestation, an adept whose interior senses have been developed can take the energetic vibrational frequency of that matter and sense its presence in the astral realm. The adept requires no wires, gauges, or sensors; his will-power is all-sufficient.”
– page 178, Sacred Magick

 I closed my favorite book, as I glanced at the digital clock on my nightstand; six twenty-one. I allowed the heavy book to drop next to me on my bed. Three hours had passed since I had pulled Aunt Rachel from the vortex and I desperately wanted to speak with her. I had numerous questions requiring answers that only she could provide me, but it was because I honestly cared about her that I didn’t bombard her with them as soon as she opened her eyes. Mr. Stokes urged me to give her some time to recover from her ordeal before I began questioning her and though I wanted to remain compassionate, I was deeply concerned that the longer we waited, the greater the chances of Aunt Rachel’s memory fading or of her forgetting the details of her experience and those details are what I wanted most to hear.

Why did the Ancestors want her to remain where she was … and where the hell was she? Had she been on the Astral Plane? The Elemental Plane? Did she even know where she was? Was it the Ancestors who created the vortex? And if it was, why did they do it? Was it my fault that they trapped her? Was her ordeal the cost that Syn threatened I’d have to pay for my “grave mistake”? Or did it have to do with that feeling of sorrow concerning my cousin, Christian, that I experienced from her when I was trying to free her from that place? And these questions were just the beginning. I knew Aunt Rachel knew more about occult things than she had ever suggested to me before and I wasn’t going to allow her to distract me from learning about what knowledge she possessed.

I was anxious to speak with her and with determination I stood, crossed the room with only a casual glance out my bedroom window, and exited my sanctuary, resolute to uncover the elusive answers to all the questions that relentlessly bombarded my brain. I imagined that the answers Aunt Rachel would provide me would allow me to put my mind at ease and give me a deeper understanding of the true nature of who I was, where I came from, and why I was born with such a debilitating mental illness, that according to my parents and others in positions of authority, required medication to regulate.

I swiftly navigated passed Mother’s numerous antique curio cabinets positioned in the upstairs hallway, pausing only when I approached the opened door of the guest room where Aunt Rachel sat silently on the unmade bed; the bottom of her bare feet just scarcely touching the Ushake carpet. Just for a moment I stood in bafflement. Aunt Rachel appeared to have reversed time, shedding years from her physical appearance. She sat alone in the bedroom, gently rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around herself; an occasional sniffle breaking the otherwise silence that permeated the house. My determination to interrogate her eroded as I mutely watched her from the threshold. Not wanting to intrude, but concerned for her overall well-being, I softly knocked on the opened door.

“Aunt Rachel?”

“Hey, Angie,” she said, as she glanced toward the opened door, hastily wiping the tears from her cheeks with the fingers of both her hands. “Come in, sit.”

I walked into the room and over to her, sitting in the spot she indicated by patting with her left palm. She looked different to me, though I wasn’t exactly certain what it was that shifted in her physical appearance, it was more than just the change of clothing that profoundly affected me as I sat next to her. The long skirt and blouse, which had been stained by the blood from her nose, was replaced by a pair of comfortable looking wide legged pants and an embroidered tee shirt.

“Are you feeling alright?” I didn’t want to cause her more distress, but I was curious as to what she was feeling and thinking.

“I’m okay, Angie,” she smiled weakly, pulling her hair back from her face and into a low pony tail. “What about you? Are you feeling alright?”

“Me?” I couldn’t fathom that she was concerned about me with what she had just experienced. The confusion must have been evident on my face, because she reached out with her hand and placed it over my own, which had been lying motionless in my lap. The prickling heat radiating from her palm felt comforting on my skin.

“You are my niece, Angie. And I worry about you, probably more than you realize,” she stared into my eyes as she continued, “I know how special you are and even if your parents are honestly unaware or if they refuse to acknowledge your,” she paused as she chose her next word, “talent? Gift? Ability? I’m not even sure which word is most appropriate here … but regardless, I am aware. I acknowledge it and I think I can understand it, which is why I tend to be concerned about you.”

I felt myself smile, then impulsively reached over and embraced her. I felt her wrapped her arms around me and squeeze. This was the first time that anyone vocally acknowledged to me that they believed that I was different in a way that wasn’t unhealthy. Aunt Rachel didn’t refer to me as delusional or paranoid or mentally ill. She didn’t suggest that I possessed an overactive imagination or that I had lost touch with reality. She didn’t refer to me as anything but special and not in a way that made me feel guilty or ashamed or badly about who I was.

“Thank you,” I whispered. Her words were a gift; they gave me an inner strength that radiated deep within my center of being that I didn’t ever remember feeling before. She validated the belief I had that she was the only family member who valued me as an individual person with ideas and thoughts. I loved her more in that moment than I would ever love another person. I gently pulled myself from her embrace. “What happened to you?”

“Oh Angie,” she frowned and shook her head. “I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know how much you know or understand about …,” she spread her arms wide and gestured to the space around her. “All of it. And it’s really not my place to explain it to you.”

“Oh …”

I was disappointed. I thought we shared a moment and had an understanding with each other. I falsely believed that she would reveal to me what had happened, that she and I would be able to discuss the things that no one wanted to acknowledge or discuss with me because they thought my ideas and perceptions were just symptoms of my paranoid schizophrenia. Apparently I was mistaken about our connection.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Angie. Please do not think for a moment that I don’t want to tell you everything I know and show you some truly wondrous things, but I have deep respect for my brother, your father, and I can’t blindly ignore his decision about his family, about you, even if I believe that his choices are the wrong ones to make,” she paused. “I owe your father my life.” She did not use the words to exaggerate or emphasize a point, as many others commonly did; no, her words held meaningful weight. It was clear that my aunt and Dad shared a history full of experiences that bonded them beyond usual sibling rapport. This was understandably the root of the close relationship they shared. “So, you see, I’m caught in the middle of something that I’m not entirely sure how to navigate through. I see what your Dad’s poor judgement is doing to you and I’ve spoken with him numerous times about the consequences of his actions, but he’s obstinate. He doesn’t listen to my advice.”

I nodded. “He’s stubborn.”

I wondered if this was why Aunt Rachel was a constant visitor and in regular communication with my Dad. Were all their conversations about me? The realization brought with it a wave of anxiety that left me uncomfortable.

“And he’s afraid,” she explained. “He’s afraid for you, Angie. He doesn’t want any harm to come to you and he believes that his choices will ensure your safety, but I think, and tell me if you agree with me, that you have long passed beyond the point where he has any ability to protect you.”

I studied her face attempting to determine how much she knew about my ability, what I could do, what I had already done, and if she, too, held that same power within her. She was blood of my blood, which according to the knowledge given to me by The Ancestors meant that Aunt Rachel held the power within her even if she hadn’t yet found it or harnessed it. I wondered if it manifested within her the same way it did within me. Did she hear the voices of The Ancestors within music as I did? Did they show her the power that the Williams women of Salem held within them since ancient times? Could she trap souls on the Astral Plane through music as I did? Or … or perhaps her medium wasn’t music at all, perhaps it was something else.

I decided that even if Aunt Rachel couldn’t share with me what she knew because of her respect for my Dad, it would be nice for me to have someone to share my thoughts and experiences with, someone who didn’t dismiss them as fantasies or delusions, and someone who understood what I was sharing even if they didn’t personally experience it.

“Yes, I agree,” I nodded. “Dad has no way of protecting me, and honestly, I don’t think he ever could.”