Chapter 22: Falling Further Down the Rabbit Hole.
I sat frozen in stunned silence, long after the call ended. My mind was blown. Once again, everything I thought I knew about someone had been turned upside down and inside out. My thoughts scattered in a hundred different directions. I had so many questions that my head hurt. Collecting my thoughts was a struggle.
Realizing that I knew next to nothing about someone upon I had come to rely was a chilling thought. All I had was a name and that might also be false. If Hiromi stole from me or tried to kill me, I wouldn’t even be able to pick her out of a line-up. Thanks to Plum and Mr. Canfield, if I went to the authorities, they would probably just arrest me.
Hiromi had tricked me! I felt stupid for allowing myself to get caught up in yet another trick bag. I was playing some sick game with more layers than an onion. Hiromi could decide to sell me out to Plum and I would be none the wiser until it was too late. The chit was probably the only thing keeping me safe. Of course, the smart thing to do would be to watch what I said to Hiromi. Telling her too much about my movements might prove dangerous.
How did I keep winding up with the short end of the stick? I couldn’t rightfully get upset with Hiromi. I only had myself to blame for jumping to conclusions. She had not told me that she was Plum’s sister. However, she also hadn’t corrected me, the first time I said it. I had to stop taking people at face value. That made it way too easy for people to deceive me.
In the midst of these musings, another disturbing thought occurred: Since Hiromi had used a glamour spell, she was probably a witch too. That would explain why she knew so much about magic. How do you fend off two witches? Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness descended upon me with such intensity that I found it hard to catch my breath.
There would be no way I could protect myself if Hiromi decided to double-cross me and just take the chit. A child on the sidewalk below my window screamed playfully and my heart skipped a beat. For one terrifying second, I thought that Tammy had returned. Taking shaky breaths did little to slow my heart palpitations. My nerves were frayed. I decided to get out of the apartment for a while, thinking fresh air might help clear my head.
I took a shower and looked through Tammy’s closet, selecting a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved turtleneck, to hide my bruises. Lucky for me, we happened to be close to the same size. I hunted around in the kitchen for something to eat and came up empty. My first order of business would be to find a fast food joint or diner and get a bite to eat.
I made it out to the sidewalk and realized I had no idea which way I should go. That didn’t bother me. It just felt nice to be outside. I picked a direction at random and started walking. It was soothing to do something normal for a change. I passed a woman who gazed at me curiously. Self-consciously, I turned my head to conceal my slightly bruised eye. A search through Tammy’s purse yielded a pair of oversized sunglasses which I donned gratefully.
It didn’t take long to find a diner. I ordered a coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon and bagel with cream cheese. Sitting by the big picture window, I demolished everything. My appetite had returned with a vengeance. I sat back with a contented sigh and watched people walking past on the sidewalk.
My mind drifted for a peaceful moment before returning to the problems at hand. Having a full stomach and a mind refreshed by sleep was doing nothing to help me come up with any solutions. In light of what I had just learned about Hiromi, turning over the chit to her suddenly seemed like a bad idea. How did I even know the thing was actually a chit? For all I knew, it could be some sort of magical spell. Once she had the thing, I would have outlived my usefulness to her. It would be a simple thing to dispose of me or turn me into a frog, then to keep her promise.
Feeling the need to move around, I paid my tab and stepped outside. Continuing on in the same direction, I paused in front of a gothic style church to admire the architecture. Some impulse made me go inside and sit down on a pew in the back. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, the softly lit stained glass windows overhead came into focus.
My awestruck eyes slowly traveled towards the vaulted ceiling which seemed to stretch upwards endlessly. A sense of history and the fullness of time impressed itself upon me. The church had witnessed the passing of centuries. That it still stood after countless natural disasters and wars was a comforting thought. I sensed power within those walls which could surely repel any magic. For the first time in what seemed to be a long time, I felt safe.
My problems suddenly seemed distant and insignificant. If only I could live out the rest of my days within those walls, sheltered from the never ending problems in the outside world. I let my troubled mind occupy itself with pleasant thoughts for a few peaceful moments. All too soon, reality intruded on my reverie. Sooner or later, I would have to leave. No matter how long I sat there, my problems would be waiting for me outside. If only there were some way to undo my mistakes.
I gave serious consideration to calling Plum and offering to hand over her things. Then, common sense intervened. I may not know much about the woman, but what I had learned from watching her beat Amanda was that she had a vengeful and unforgiving nature. I ran through dozens of scenarios which all ended with her using magic to exact some nightmarish revenge. It wasn’t fair! Frustrated tears suddenly coursed down my hot cheeks. I was so caught up in my own misery, that I didn’t see the man approach me. It took a moment for his voice to register.
“You look like you could use a friend,” he repeated.
I was in so much emotional pain that his words sounded sarcastic. Was he trying to be funny? One angry swipe at the tears blurring my vision and I was ready to fight.
“Do I look like I’m in the mood to play?”
“No, you don’t which is why I said…”
“I know what you said and I don’t happen to think it’s funny.”
“Miss, I wasn’t joking. Oh, I see what happened here. Let me start over. Hi, my name is Tristan. I’m a member here. You look like you could use someone to talk to.”
“I’m sure you mean well, but I don’t need your pity. Please go away and leave me alone”
“Whatever it is can’t be that bad. You’re alive aren’t you? ”
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive though.”
“Now you have to tell me what that means. I can’t in good conscience walk away knowing your life might be in danger.”
“I shouldn’t have said that, look I’m just upset. I’ll figure something out. I’m fine.”
“You don’t look like…”
I couldn’t restrain my frustration any longer. The guy wouldn’t take no for answer. Well, if he wanted to wade into my problems then I was going to start him out at the deep end. I told him about Tammy’s gruesome death, with a few strategic omissions in the story, and reappearance as a ghost. Tristan surprised me. I expected him to freak out or react with disbelief and accuse me of making the whole thing up. Instead, he took me at my word.
“You mean you actually believe me?”
“The Bible is full of tales about spirits. Saul got the witch of Endor to summon the ghost of Samuel from Sheol, the abode of the dead. They had a conversation through the witch who acted as a medium. So yes, I absolutely believe you. Curiosity about the unseen world is big business for occult shops. They’re cropping up all over the place. We’ve got one a few blocks from here. People seeking to foretell the future still summon spirits.”
“So, the witch summoned the ghost of Samuel huh? All this time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to avoid ghosts. I never thought about summoning one and asking it questions. A ghost who could foretell my future might actually level the playing field for me.”
A light bulb had gone off in my head. I stood up to leave. Tristan looked startled.
“I hope you’re not about to do what I think you’re about to do,” he said.
“What do you think I’m about to do?”
“Try to summon Tammy and quiz her.”
“No, of course not. I don’t have to summon her. Sooner or later, she’ll show up on her own. She needs a favor. Besides, I’m not so sure I’ll even be able to communicate with her. What I need is a spirit who will talk to me instead of just shrieking like an animal with its foot snared in a bear trap.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, I’m off to buy a Ouiji board.”