I hadn’t heard from Chloe since the Sunday she was at our house hanging out. She stayed until after Daniel, her, and I devoured an entire pizza, but that was nine days ago. I was frustrated that I had no way of contacting her. She wasn’t answering her cell phone and my calls weren’t being redirected to voice mail, but even if I was able to leave her a message, I wasn’t sure she would retrieve it. I texted her numerous times hoping that she would respond, but she never did. Over time my frustration had morphed into anger then transformed into concern and at this point nine days later I was simply worried. I knew that something terrible had happened to her just as it had with Aunt Rachel. What I didn’t understand was why the Ancestors pursued her as they did my aunt. Had Chloe disobeyed them? Had she broken a vow? Did she use her powers in a disapproving way? Would I ever know the reason or would I have to glean it on my own as I had concerning Aunt Rachel.
Years ago my aunt had taken the same vow I had made, that all Williams women took, with the intention of repaying the family debt owed to the goddess and her handmaiden, both of who protected the family during the Witch Trails in Salem. We willingly made the vow to Frigg to be agents of Syn and as “choosers of the slain” we swore to be ever vigilant of those who tortured and persecuted the favored and protected, the innocent and lawful, slaying the oppressors when deemed necessary and escorting their spirits to the Astral Plane for Syn to judge. Their spirits would either be allowed to enter the grand palace of Fenislar and spend eternity with Frigg or be escorted to Valhalla where they would be celebrated until becoming the einherhar and fight at Odin’s side in the battle of Ragnarök, but those who were deemed unworthy of either of those fates would be cast aside and sent along to Helvegr with no chance of appealing Syn’s decision. I knew that Aunt Rachel had broken the family covenant with Frigg and had become that which she vowed to be watchful of. She was claimed and drawn into the Astral Realm by the Ancestors just as I had done to Ryan, Josh, and Mr. Morrell. No compassion was offered and neither was a chance given to make amends because like them she had become a tormentor, but unlike them she had made a sacred vow to an ancient deity and a Valkyrie that denounces her oath to the goddess Frigg was deemed contemptible and labeled an Oath Breaker. I knew she was bound to travel The Road to Hel.
Though the motives of the Ancestors and Syn had been unknown to me prior, I now understood that it wasn’t my actions that caused Aunt Rachel’s fate, it was her own lapse in judgment, her own grievous error. Overwhelmed by her fears and emotions, she misused her power and caused immense harm that I was expected to remedy. The responsibility of the family bloodline had been transferred to me during the bonding ritual that Aunt Rachel had done. How was I going to accomplish this task? I was unsure, but I knew that it was an enormous challenge that I felt unequipped to handle alone. I needed someone to aid and support me, which led my thoughts right back to where I had begun: Chloe.
I heard the heels of my Mother’s designer shoes strike the hardwood floor of the hallway as she approached my closed bedroom door. The measure of the raps on the floorboards indicated that she had a specific and perhaps uncomfortable purpose for disturbing me. I rightly assumed it had something to do with the lingering echo of the doorbell chime that hung in the atmosphere of the house. Were Detective Moore and Walker back to visit us again? I sincerely hoped they hadn’t because at the moment I had more than enough on my mind and adding another issue would certainly overwhelm me.
“You have a visitor, Angie,” she said with distain through the closed door after a brief, but loud, knock.
I heard the raps of her shoes retreat down the hallway just as fast as they had approached. I closed the leather bound journal I was reading and left it with the others on my bed, intending to return to them after speaking with whomever it was waiting downstairs for me. I was finding that the penmanship and language that was used in the diaries were difficult to comprehend, something I hadn’t prepared for when I collected the journals from Elizabeth Bennet.
I left the seclusion of my bedroom and walked down the stairs and through the foyer, passing the side table that held Mother’s house plants, all of which appeared to need watering; the tips of their leaves were turning brown. The late morning sunlight filtered through the sidelights and fanlight above the carved wooden door casting shadows on the Oriental rug, but otherwise the entranceway was empty of anyone. I walked through the archway that led to the large formal living room where Mother always escorted the police detectives, expecting to find both or one of them waiting for me, but found the parlor vacant as well.
Huh, alright. So who was here to see me?
I retraced my steps through the foyer and approached the opened door way to the morning parlor and found my visitor standing just a few steps over the threshold with her back to me. She was easily identifiable with her short mermaid dyed pixie hair style and black leather jacket.
“Chloe!” I shouted.
She turned and smiled. “Hey.”
“Are you alright?” I asked, examining her, searching for some injury or physical evidence of a reason as to why she didn’t contact me before now. “Is everything okay? Were you in an accident? Were you attacked? Did something happen to you? Did you lose your memory again?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, Angie. Relax,” she said, holding up her hands defensively. “You’re stressing me out.”
“I’m stressing you out?! Seriously, Chloe?? Seriously??”
She was joking, right? I had no words to express the level of anxiety over her well-being I had been dealing with since the night she left our house. We needed to have an in depth discussion about the lost time and I needed to find out if she experienced it too, but I didn’t want to talk about it there in the house with my Mother lurking around. I knew she had a tendency to eavesdrop on all my conversations.
“Let’s hangout outside,” I suggested.
Chloe agreed and followed me silently through the foyer and onto the front porch, the soles of her black combat boots rhythmically hitting the floor tiles, setting the tempo for the duet we were continuously composing together.
“Why haven’t you returned my calls? My texts?” I demanded as I secured the front door, granting us the privacy we needed. “What the fuck is going on, Chloe? What’s going on?!”
“Hell-llo, Angie,” she said, waving an obviously new cellphone in front of my face. “My phone died and my Dad had to buy me a new one. It wasn’t like I was purposefully ignoring you. I mean, why would I?”
She replaced the cellphone into the back pocket of her denim jeans while she spoke. “So I take it that some shit went down after I left Sunday night?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed, paused calming myself before questioning, “What do you remember from that night? Do you remember anything?”
“Well, yeah, of course. It was all so fucking weird,” she said as she leaned against one of the four columns of the curved portico, the same spot that Ryan Fuller had favored months ago. “I left your house and walked to the end of the driveway before I realized that I should text my Dad to let him know that I was heading home. When I was texting I felt something, like, pulling me back towards your house. It wasn’t something outside of me, but more like something inside of me. I felt like there was something wrong in your house so I ran back here. I didn’t even knock on the door – I just came right in and as soon as I did … it was fucking intense.”
“What? What was it?” I was anxious to hear what she remembered.
“It felt like I was being sucked in by some sort of vacuum. It pulled me towards the parlor where your Aunt Rachel was reading her magazine, but when I got into the parlor I saw you,” she gestured towards me with her hands, ”floating off the floor, and some other woman, that wasn’t your aunt, standing across from you near the sofa, and there was something … I don’t know … unreal about the woman.”
“What do you mean unreal?” I questioned. Why was it that Chloe recollected the entire encounter while my memory along with Daniel’s had been stolen from us?
“Well … she had … like … I don’t know …” Chloe seemed to struggle for words to describe the woman I knew to be Syn. “Well, I mean she looked like a Viking Warrior Woman, you know a Shield Maiden cosplayer with all the leather and the cloak and face tattoos and spear. I mean I really wasn’t sure if I saw her or if I was imagining her.”
I nodded. Her appearance was something I would always remember; fiercely beautiful and yet terrifying.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something so I called your name, but you just floated there with your eyes closed with this woman seriously focused on you.”
“I heard you,” I assured.
“You did?” she smiled. “Well, that’s good; so then I reached out to grab you, stupid I know, but I didn’t know what else to do. When I touched you I was sucked into some sort of air funnel that I realized was holding you off the ground and then I got sucked in, it made me float, too. And then that woman – “
“Syn,” I said with a sigh.
Chloe’s eyes widened. “That woman was Syn? Your Syn?”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“Fuck!” Chloe cursed, shaking her head. She searched the pockets of her short leather jacket for what I knew was her pack of cigarettes. “Well apparently she thought I was hilarious because she laughed, but I couldn’t hear her laughing, like her mouth was opened but no sound came out. It was fucking creepy. She scared the shit out of me, Angie.”
“She does that,” I agreed.
“Anyway I knew she, Syn, was causing the air funnel and I got the sense that being stuck there was bad so I kept trying to wake you, to make you open your eyes …,” Chloe found the gold pack of Benson and Hedges from her pocket and removed a single cigarette as she continued with her narrative, “for some reason that seemed important. I was so scared that I was failing and something would happen to you. I kept yelling at you to ‘open your eyes’, but you wouldn’t. You just wouldn’t listen to me.”
She lit the cigarette with a black plastic lighter that she retrieved from the other pocket and took a slow drag. I studied my friend’s expressions as she spoke and couldn’t fathom how she recalled it all when I couldn’t remember her even being there. In the vision that Elizabeth Bennet had shared with me there had been no echo, no wraith, nothing of Chloe present.
“I decided to use my power,” she explained with an exhale of smoke. “You were surrounded by a dark indigo glow that had wisps moving and pulsing inside it and when I looked at it, or really more like looked into it, I heard some sort of chant in my head, but I couldn’t understand the words. I think either the wisps or the angels were … singing?”
Did she say angels? Where angels even a real thing?
She offered me the lit cigarette.
“Angels?” I repeated accepting the butt and bringing it to my lips.
“Angels, or something like that,” she said, flicking her lighter. “I don’t know what they were, but they swirled around you all sparkly. It was very beautiful and hypnotic. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Those things were probably the Ancestors,” I explained, passing the cigarette back to her with an exhale, “especially if they were chanting.”
“Well, none of it felt right to me so I kept yelling at you and directing you to me. You thought I was your Aunt Rachel, but I kept correcting you and then you started getting scared, which scared me,” she exhaled a lungful of smoke as she spoke. “I moved towards you, but those Ancestors or whatever kept stopping you from coming to me and then something shifted, I don’t know what it was, but I felt you reach out for me so I reached out for you and then we were free of the air funnel. And then when I looked over at Syn with my powers still activated, that’s when I realized that she wasn’t cosplaying. I could tell she was something else. She had a glow that was so bright and pure with no hint of any color. It was just brightness.”
“What did she do once we were free?” I asked.
“She just nodded at me and disappeared. She faded and was gone like she was never there. The air in the house was back to normal.”
“I helped you upstairs and into your room. You were really out of it so I made sure you got changed into something comfy and I helped you into bed and I left.”
“Where was Aunt Rachel? Where was Daniel?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see either of them. I assumed Daniel was in his room because his door was shut, but I don’t have any idea about your aunt. I never saw her.”
“Do you remember anything after that?”
“After that? What do you mean?” Chloe asked.
I decided to take another approach. “When did your phone die?”
“Oh, yeah, well apparently during that whole episode, my phone fell out of the pocket of my hoodie and hit the floor pretty hard. When I got home I noticed the screen was shattered.”
“So then you remember what has happened to you every day since that night? Right? You don’t have any confusing or fragmented memories like that night in the woods with your friends Nick and Jack?”
“What?” She grimaced, “No, no. Why? Do you?”
“Well, I don’t just have confusing memories. I have no memories. I don’t remember you coming back to the house. I don’t remember getting in bed. I do remember you leaving and I remember the whole experience with Syn, but that’s because someone helped me remember them, but I don’t remember everything you just shared with me,” I paused. “Apparently there are five days between you leaving our house and me waking up that are a total blank to me. It’s like they don’t exist.”
“Shit, Angie, that’s fucked up” she said, dropping the butt of the cigarette on the porch and crushing it violently with her boot. “Is Dan okay?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “He’s okay but he doesn’t remember anything either.”
“Was it Syn? Do you think she do something to the two of you,” she swallowed hard and whispered. “Like The Pickman Sister’s did to us – Nick, Jack, and me? A transmogrification spell or something?”
Was it possible? Could Syn have cast some sort of spell on my brother and me? I honestly didn’t know. Anything was possible at this point until I could figure it out. There was a reason for what she did, I understood enough about her to know that she had motives, but at that point I was at a loss as to what those might be.
“I know Syn took our memories, but I don’t know how and I don’t know why,” I explained. “Maybe you can help me with figuring it out.”
She nodded with a smile. “Yeah, of course. How can I help?”