Valley of Shadows (Novel)
Chapter 55: The Ultimatum

Chapter 55: The Ultimatum

It had been an exhausting afternoon filled with hard truths and tough decisions.  Dealing with Rachel’s drama had aggravated Joshua, but it also enabled him to put off dealing with his immense sense of loss. On the drive back to the nursing home, reality abruptly intruded on his thoughts.  Joshua pulled into the nearest spot on a grocery store parking lot, blinded by a sudden flood of tears. His mother, best friend and light of his life was never coming home again.

The thought of endless days and nights alone in that house, once his sisters and brothers returned to their homes, sent his heart into palpitations.  He could not wrap his head around the fact that she was sitting up in bed larger-than-life one moment and gone the next. 

Joshua cried until he couldn’t and then got back on the road. He had responsibilities waiting for him. Arriving at the nursing home, he parked and went to find his sister and brother. At least he didn’t have to be alone, while they were in town.

An aide directed him to the room where Richard was resting and Joshua walked in without knocking. His sister and brother looked startled.  The energy in the room felt weird.  Had he interrupted something?  Joshua stopped in his tracks, looking uncertainly from one to the other.  Harriet and Richard looked as though they had been sharing a secret. The awkward silence stretched out for a moment longer. Neither of them offered any explanation or looked inclined to discuss it, so Joshua pretended not to notice. 

Anxious to be rid of the siblings, the nurse appeared in the doorway and asked if they wanted to go in and see their mother, before the medical examiner came for her. They looked to one another and nodded wordlessly. Richard stood up. The three of them joined hands. Feeling like kids again, they went trudged in to see her. 

It seemed important to assure themselves that she really was gone.  The staff had arranged her in bed, so that she appeared to be slumbering peacefully.  Joshua was grateful for their thoughtfulness.  He couldn’t bear the thought that she might have suffered.

Beside him, Harriet was preoccupied with her own troubled thoughts.  In life, Reverend Mother had been a force of nature. The woman was so full of life that Harriet half expected that she would always be around barking orders.  Then, in a flash she was gone forever.  Harriet was still shocked and confused. 

Still unsettled by the exchange with Samentha and agitated by the unrelenting pain and pressure in his temples, Richard felt an almost irresistible urge to run to the bed and shake his mother. Surely, the nurse had made a mistake. Reverend Mother looked as though she would wake up, if he shook her hard enough. Then things could to back to normal and the world would make sense again

Three hours later, the siblings made their way home physically and emotionally drained. They sat over their dinner plates in silence and picked at reheated leftovers. Richard excused himself and went to lie down. Harriet was helping Joshua clear the table, when Samentha returned and snatched the reins of Harriet’s consciousness.

They had brought Reverend Mother’s belongings back from the nursing home in two boxes, which were still out in the trunk of Joshua’s car. Samentha wanted to get the spirit whistle out, before anyone else got to it. Then no one would ever be able to banish her again. Eager to get rid of Joshua, she put a big show of concern doing her best imitation if Harriet.

“You look terrible Josh. I’ll wash the dishes. You’ve been through a lot, between losing mother and dealing with Rachel. Oh and where are your car keys? I can get mother’s things out of the trunk too. You go lay down.”

“Well…I am very tired. Are you sure you don’t need help?”

“I’m positive Josh, go on up and get some sleep.”

“Ok, here are my keys. Thanks sis.”

Joshua handed her his car keys and took the stairs up to his room. Samentha forced herself to load the dishwasher, before retrieving the boxes. She sat them on Reverend Mother’s bed and rifled through them calmly at first then frantically, unable to find the spirit whistle. Where the hell was it?

It had to be in one of the boxes. She must have overlooked it. Samentha took a deep breath and started taking everything out of the first box. She was focused and didn’t hear Joshua come back down the stairs. Samentha jumped, when he spoke. She glanced over her shoulder and then turned to face him, bewildered by his sly expression.

“Looking for something Samentha?”

“How do you know…”

“About you? Mom told me. She and I had no secrets.”

“When did she tell you about me?”

“From the very beginning. I’ve always known about you Samentha.”

“Why didn’t you say something before?”

“After dealing with her all these years, you mean you don’t know why? She wanted me to keep tabs on you. It’s easier to monitor someone with their guard down.”

“If you know about me, then you know…”

“About the spirit whistle? Yes, I know all about that too. It’s not in either of those boxes.”

“Where is it?”

“Someplace safe.”

“You had no right to take that Joshua! Give it to me!”

“No right? No right? She was my mother! Now that she’s gone, I’ll be picking up where she left off.”

“If you think you’re going to use that thing on me I’ll…”

“You’ll do what I tell you to do, because you have no choice. Weren’t you listening just now? I know how the spirit whistle works Samentha. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t say I would use it…not if you want to buy it from me. How much is your freedom worth to you?”

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