The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirty-Four

Ethan could tell by the exaggerated way their mouths were moving, Dorian and Enmerkar were shouting at him.  However, he couldn’t hear a word they were saying.  Their voices were drowned out in his head by a hissing sound that grew in volume until it felt as though his head would split open.  He closed his eyes and the noise slowly resolved itself into countless whispers which he could not make out.  Dorian touched him on the shoulder.

Ethan opened his eyes in time to see Enmerkar grab a bar of soap from one of the shower stalls.  He used it to draw a circle around Ethan.  Enmerkar mouthed the words, “don’t move.”  He appeared to be chanting something, but each time Ethan tried to listen, the whispers grew louder.  Enmerkar completed the circle and then encircled it with symbols.  Before Ethan could ask him what he was doing, Ethan’s limbs began to tremor.  An all too familiar feeling of something rising up internally overtook him.

He looked into the mirror and saw his startled expression as a creature’s face was suddenly superimposed over his reflected visage.  The ghostly face quickly darkened and came into sharper focus as it began to solidify.  Ethan was filled to almost to bursting by the increasing presence of the demon. It felt as though his insides were being shredded by the creature’s attempts to pass through his body.  Ethan screamed in agony and attempted to help it along by focusing his dwindling strength on pushing it out.

Once again Enmerkar grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him until he opened his eyes.  He mouthed the word stop.  Driven to the verge of madness by the pain, it took Ethan a few moments to comprehend that Enmerkar wanted him to stop trying to force the being out.  Enmerkar placed a hand on his forehead and his mouth moved rapidly.  Ethan supposed it was some sort of spell.  He stopped pushing and closed his eyes, forcing himself to relax and allow the pain to wash over him without reacting to it.  The sensation of fullness gradually subsided.

When the pressure in Ethan’s chest eased, he sighed.  The hissing sound in his mind faded and the voices grew quiet.  He went limp with relief and stumbled slightly.  Dorian pressed his hands against  Ethan’s back to keep him propped up inside the circle.  Enmerkar’s booming voice was jarring to Ethan’s quieted mind.

“Where in the building did you open the portal?”

Ethan’s head was foggy.  It didn’t register that Enmerkar was talking to him until he grabbed him by the throat.  Ethan’s eyes flew open.  Enmerkar’s hand was beginning to crush his throat, cutting off his oxygen.  Ethan’s vision swam.  In another moment, he would black out.  His peripheral vision was rapidly fading.

“The portal damn you!  Where did you open it?”

“I… up in room 211,” croaked Ethan.

Enmerkar dropped Ethan onto his knees inside the circle and disappeared, leaving him gasping and sputtering.  He bent forward with hands on knees as he fought to draw in ragged breaths.  Ethan struggled to his feet and swayed.  His legs felt weak and rubbery.  He needed to sit down, before he fell down.  Dorian stopped him before he could step outside of the circle.

“Stay in the circle Ethan.  Don’t move until Enmerkar gives you permission or else it will make him more angry.”

“I…need…to sit…down,” Ethan panted.

“Hang on, I’ll get you a chair.”

Ethan waited for what felt like an eternity before Dorian returned with the chair.  He felt strange.  When Enmerkar took possession of his body, it was equally painful.  Only that time, he had felt himself again the moment that the demon had separated from his body.  Something was different this time.  The fogginess in his head wasn’t lifting.  Ethan slowly realized that his third eye was closed so tightly that it felt sealed shut.  Enmerkar materialized in front of Ethan once more.  All at once, the memory of the demon’s hand on his forehead reminded him of a fleeting sensation that had overtaken him.

“What did you do to me Enmerkar,” ventured Ethan.

“Ah, I was wondering how long it would take you to realize that I took back your powers,” he chuckled.

“More like stole them from me!”

“It had to be done.  You are too irresponsible to wield that much power.  Which reminds me, hand over the grimoire.”

“What?  No, I’m not giving you…”

“I wasn’t asking you.  Hand it over!”

Ethan knew that the smart thing to do was to give Enmerkar the book.  Pride and anger wouldn’t allow him to bow down.  Not this time.  He had no right to steal Ethan’s powers.  Now, he was trying to take the only thing Ethan had left which gave him hope.  Without that book he was completely powerless.  It was his escape plan.  He just knew there was some nugget of knowledge, some rune, some spell that he could use to regain his freedom.

He couldn’t just hand it over.  Not even if it meant being tortured by Enmerkar.  To just hand it over would destroy what little self-respect he had left.  Ethan stood his ground, ignoring Dorian’s pleas and Enmerkar’s demands.  One angry swat from the demon and Ethan was knocked out of the circle and into the brick wall across the hallway with such force that he felt the back of his skull split and he winked out like a blown out candle.

Dorian let out an involuntary shout as Ethan crashed into the wall and collapsed in a heap onto the floor.  Enmerkar dispassionately flipped Ethan’s body over and retrieved the grimoire from his waistband.  He turned on his heels and left Ethan flopped over like a broken doll.  Dorian rushed over and checked for a pulse.

“He’s dead Enmerkar.  You killed him!  Aren’t you going to bring him back?”

“No need, he is not dead.”

“But he’s not breathing.”

“Wrong Dorian, he is barely breathing.”

“Then why isn’t Ethan moving?”

“Because he is in a…deep sleep.”

“You cracked his head open like an egg!  What do you mean he’s in a deep sleep?  Are you saying he’s in a coma?”

“Ah yes, I could not think of the right word.”

“Aren’t you going to fix him?”

“I have not yet made a decision as to what I intend to do with him.  Perhaps I will leave him in that state for a while.  At least then, I will know he is not starting any more fires for me to put out.”

“That’s not fair!  You brought me right back.”

“You are not a troublemaker.  You are impulsive and dimwitted but docile.  I don’t have to worry about you intentionally causing problems do I?”

Something in the feral way Enmerkar stared at Dorian deflated any defiance that had begun to rise up in him.  Rather than argue, he averted his eyes and meekly shook his head in silent agreement that he knew his place.  The memory of a crushed brainpan was still painfully fresh in Dorian’s mind.  He contented himself with glowering at Enmerkar’s retreating back.

 

 

 

Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Four

I knew that Plum was right about my misgivings, but I also knew that getting me to mistrust Delilah would benefit Plum.  I was still very angry about Plum invading my body and attempting to imprison me.   Just thinking about it filled me with impotent rage.  With her inside of me, I couldn’t punish her without hurting myself.  Her voice droned on and on inside my head.  She was seemingly oblivious to my growing hatred.  Plum’s voice intruded on my murderous thoughts.

I’m well aware of how angry you are Patricia.  What do you want me to say?  I would do the same thing all over again.  I was not going to let your little friend attack me without exacting a little payback!”

“Which is why I’m not helping you.”

Aw, you’re so cute.  Trying to protect your little buddy.  Five minutes after meeting some common whore in a rundown bordello, you think you’ve made a friend for life.  Open your eyes darling.  People like her don’t have real friends.   She’s using you to get to me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.  She knew nothing about you…”

“Until two minutes after you met her.  No doubt you told her your whole life story.  I don’t even have to read your thoughts to know that darling.  You are so very predictable, I always knew what you were feeling before you were even aware of it.  Walking around with your heart on your sleeve is going to get you killed.   No, I’m not saying your precious little friend is trying to kill you.  I wouldn’t put anything else past her though, once she gets what she wants from you.”

Plum had struck a nerve with such precision that my reaction was more reflexive than intentional.  A sudden overwhelming urge to block out the sound of her voice, before she said another word, evoked the image in my mind’s eye of a brick wall.  All at once, my mind was silent.

I sat up in bed breathing heavily.  The idea of being betrayed and abandoned again had dredged up long buried pain.  Had Plum been rooting around in my memories?  The impotent rage returned with an intensity that left me trembling.  She had no right!  There were things in my past that I didn’t even allow my mind’s eye to see.  Lost in thought, I didn’t notice that Delilah had opened the door and stuck her head in until she spoke.

“What’s wrong Patricia?”

“Huh?  I….nothing, I guess I’m just a little freaked out over having someone else inside my head.”

“I know and I’m sorry you have to go through this.  I promise we’re gonna get the situation taken care of post-haste.  We’ll hit the road first thing in the morning.”

“You mean we’re driving back to Philadelphia?”

“We’re going to have to, there’s too many of us going to get that many plane tickets at this short of a notice.”

“How many people are going?”

“I don’t have an exact number yet.  I’m still making calls.”

“Are we talking more than five?”

“Oh, hell yeah!”

“What?  Why so many?”

“Think about it Patricia.  You and I couldn’t face down an entire coven on our own.  We need backup, for even a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in and out of her place alive.”

“You make it sound like we’re heading into some sort of battle.”

“I don’t know about all that Patricia.  What I do know, is that they will probably need a little…convincing before they cooperate.  We don’t need to worry about that tonight though.  Why don’t you lie down and get some sleep?”

“I’m not tired.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep again.”

“You need to get some shuteye.  I know, I’ll make you some chamomile tea.  That always relaxes me.”

I nodded grudgingly, just to get her to leave the room.  I needed to process what she had just said, and Plum’s attempts at invading my thoughts was distracting me.  Mental exhaustion was weakening my resolve and I could feel the barrier between us beginning to buckle.

Thinking that splashing cold water on my face would revive me, I went across the hall to the bathroom and flipped the switch to the left of the door.  The light hit the collar around my neck and the gleam made me stop and stare.  I leaned in close to the mirror, trying to see past the shine and make out the shapes etched into its polished surface.  Delilah walked past the open door with a mug in her hand.  Seeing the guest bedroom empty she turned and saw me in the bathroom.

“What the hell are you doing Patricia!”

“You’re kidding right?  What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Get away from that mirror!”

“Ouch, let go of me Delilah!”

“Ok, look I’m sorry.  Just stay away from mirrors.  I don’t want you looking at that collar.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have put it around my neck.”

“I know you think I’m being ridiculous, but we can’t let Plum get a good look at the runes on that collar.”

“You can relax, I’ve blocked her out.”

“Maybe you blocked her out from seeing what you see at this moment, but she can still access your recall of what you’ve seen.”

“Don’t remind me.  I think she already rooted around in my memories.  Who knows how much ammunition she has on me now?  If you would have just forced her out when she first invaded my body, that never would have happened!”

“Oh are we assigning blame?  Don’t forget that your interference got you into this mess.  Nobody told you to go down to the room alone with Flame.”

“How was I supposed to know that Plum had returned?  I was just trying to be nice…”

“Well, you see where that got you.  Look, let’s not fight Patricia.  I can see that you are exhausted.  Come on back in the bedroom.  Your tea is getting cold.  I’ll reheat it for you.”

“That’s okay, it’s probably still warm.”

I sat on the bed and bolted down the tea, in the hopes that Delilah would go away.  Mental exhaustion had my nerves on edge.  Delilah held her hand out for the empty mug.  In passing it to her, I noticed what looked like traces of a gritty substance in the bottom of the mug.  Drowsiness suddenly began leaching away my strength.

“What is this in my mug Delilah?  Did you drug me?”

“It’s just a little something to help you sleep.  Lay down Patricia.”

“I don’t want to go to sleep!  The minute I’m unconscious, Plum will try to take over.”

“Not if you put her in her place.”

“And how am I supposed to do that while I’m unconscious?  She’s a witch.”

“In the natural world, she is a skilled sorceress.  But anyone can be a sorceress in their dreams Patricia.  You’re only limited by your imagination.”

“What does that mean?”

“A minute ago, you said that you had blocked her out of your thoughts.  How did you do that?”

“I don’t know.  I just sort of envisioned a brick wall between us.”

“Well there you go.  In your dreams, all you have to do is concentrate on what you want and it will manifest.  You just have to believe.  You’re a lot stronger than you think you are Patricia.”

 

The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirty-Three

Ethan wondered how long Enmerkar would keep him and Dorian holed up in the old school. The demon had proven to be secretive and suspicious of them.  Enmerkar kept Ethan and Dorian on a short leash, even when they ventured out for something to eat. Ethan was beginning to feel like a hostage.  He spent as much time alone, prowling through the building, as Enmerkar allowed.

Ethan found within the pages of the grimoire he carried everywhere, a spell which promised to bestow the power of second sight.  It was the only spell he could find that did not require obscure ingredients. Ethan was careful to practice the spell away from prying ears and eyes.  If Enmerkar got wind of what he was up to, then Enmerkar would destroy the grimoire and punish him in some horrific way. The memory of the Dorian’s crushed skull was still fresh in Ethan’s mind.

He poured the strength of his mounting fears and frustrations over his seeming powerlessness into working the spell. The first few times that he recited the incantation, nothing happened.  Ethan kept at it. He had nothing but time on his hands.  One evening, he spent hours, in an empty classroom, trying and retrying to cast the spell.  Night fell and a full moon rose high in the sky. It streamed through the dusty windows behind him.  Ethan lay in the middle of the floor to rest his back and closed his eyes against the moonlight. He had just eaten.  A pleasant sensation of fullness was relaxing him.

After a few moments, Ethan began drifting between sleep and wakefulness. He rested the back of his head in the crook of his right arm, took a deep breath and slowly recited the spell. Ethan had worked the spell so often that the words were etched into his memory.  Practice had resolved his previous hesitation in pronouncing the cumbersome words.  He had even managed to wheedle out of Enmerkar the meaning of the terms he couldn’t figure out. Ethan’s recitation had become smooth and assured. He chanted the incantation with conviction and focus on the meaning of each word.

Again Ethan uttered the last word.  He felt a sudden hard tug in the center of his forehead and the moonlight was suddenly dazzling.  Reflexively, he blinked his eyes and the light grew more intense.  He realized that they had actually been closed.  Ethan cautiously closed his eyes again and clearly saw the ceiling above him.  Realization came to him in a rush of elation.  The spell had finally worked! His third eye had opened.

He got up and roamed around the building with his eyes closed, marveling at the clarity of vision through his third eye. Things were clear, even in darkness and at a distance.  Ethan made his way into the boys bathroom on the first floor and peered into the dusty mirror.

By degrees, he became aware of a change in his appearance.  Something was different, but Ethan couldn’t quite put his finger on it.  Habit made him open his eyes for a closer inspection.  With average vision, he looked normal.  Ethan chuckled, shrugging off his initial impression.  Maybe the changes he saw were just a trick of the dim light.

He was about to turn away from the mirror when curiosity made him pause.  The urge to take a second look with his third eye was strong, but a sudden sense of foreboding made him hesitant.  Ethan wasn’t sure what he thought he might see.   Instinctively, he eased open his third eye by imagining a heavy eyelid lifting.  Ethan kept his eyes open and looked full on at himself, mentally focused on seeking out the changes within him.

The whites of his eyes glowed in the gloom of the bathroom, turning his brown pupils into black holes.  Something moved ceaselessly beneath the surface of Ethan’s skin.  He was transfixed by his reflection, unaware that the scream bouncing around the tiled walls of the bathroom was coming from him.

Enmerkar materialized behind Ethan in a defensive stance.  Footsteps sounded in the hallway and Dorian came bursting into the bathroom gazing around wildly, makeshift weapon raised overhead.  Realizing that the three of them were alone, he dropped the wooden table leg, grabbed Ethan by the shoulders and shook some sense back into him. The scream died away and Ethan’s horrified stare was replaced by surprise.

“What are you two doing in here?”

“You were screaming your head off just now.  We thought someone was attacking.  What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Sorry mate, didn’t realize I was screaming.  You’d scream too if you looked like this!”

“Looked like what?”

“Are you blind?  Look at my eyes and my skin!”

“Your eyes look the same way they always looked.  They’re a little bloodshot, but that’s because you haven’t been sleeping.  Your face is just breaking out from all the greasy food we’ve been eating.”

“You gotta be joking me.  My eyes are glowing like…”

“Save your breath Ethan.  He cannot see it,” Enmerkar interjected.

“What do you mean he can’t see it?  My eyes are bright as headlights.  How can he not see?”

“I’m guessing you cast some sort of spell.”

“I…yes, it’s called the all seeing eye.”

“So, you beseeched Ash Shaitan for the vision of a god?”

“What?  No, I didn’t beseech the devil.  It was a spell for opening the third eye,” blurted Ethan.

“Spell casting is just a prayer directed away from the heavens.  What did you offer in exchange for your new powers?”

“I didn’t offer anything.”

“There is always an offering.  Why else do you think your request was granted? You have entered into a contract,” Enmerkar yawned and turned to leave.

“What?  Where are you going?  How do I figure out what sort of contract it is?”

“Not my problem.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re pissed that I have powers now. Feeling a little threatened?”

“What you have are abilities. They only become powers if you know what they are and how to use them.”

“What does that mean?”

“Figure it out worm. It is not my responsibility to spoon feed answers to you. Humans are so lazy.”

“Yeah, well it takes one to know one. Weren’t you human once?”

“Was I?  How would that obligate me to tell you anything?”

“What’s the big bloody deal in sharing a bit of information?   Why do you always have to speak in riddles?  We’re supposed to be a team…”

“You speak of teams.  Yet you snuck off, cast a self-serving spell, and put us all at risk.”

“How did I put you and Dorian at risk?  The spell went off without a hitch.  If anything, I put myself on the line to make the team stronger.”

“Spare me the phony altruism worm.  Your pathetic, little grab for power may have put is in danger, all because you fail to grasp the most basic tenets of spell casting!”

“Now I know you’re full of it! If I’m such a bloody wanker, then I wouldn’t have been able to make the spell work would I?”

“Tell me something  worm.  Before you began weaving the spell,  did you mark out a sacred space?”

“A what?”

Dorian’s voice sounded concerned, “He’s asking if you cast a magic circle or pentagram to contain the energy generated by the spell.”

“I…no, to tell the truth…I didn’t think the spell would actually work…”

“Did you at least close the gateway,” interrupted Enmerkar.

“What?”

Dorian’s voice conveyed his rising alarm, “The portal Ethan! Did you close the portal you opened by uttering that spell?”

Ethan suddenly felt sick. He opened his mouth but no words would come. All he could do was shake his head no.

 

Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Three

When Plum’s essence flowed into me, my senses were thrown into such a state of flux, that I went into shock. She quickly overpowered me. In my confused state, I initially offered no resistance.  There are always those first few seconds, after something inexplicable happens, when you can’t quite believe it’s real. I had no frame of reference for what was happening to me.

As Plum completed her hostile takeover of my body.  I just kept asking myself, “What is happening?” She took root inside of me and my mind was suddenly flooded with images from her. It was like being hit by a tidal wave.  As quickly as the flood began, it receded.

I gradually came to the realization that Plum had erected some sort of barrier between us. At first, it was a relief to be free of her caustic thoughts. Then I realized that she had imprisoned me; relegating me to some disused part of my mind. Being disconnected from my senses really freaked me out. In an instant, I was blind and deaf. Fear shook me out of my daze.

Fighting back was the only option. No one was going to rescue me. They didn’t even know that I was possessed. It was up to me to free myself. Of course, I had no idea how to do that. The thought of being trapped in the darkness forever sent me into a tailspin of panic. A growing sense of hopelessness pushed me to the edge of sanity.

In Plum’s rush of images, I had seen what she had intended to do to Delilah.  Plum had to be stopped.  That was easier said than done, with nothing but the force of my will. I used it like a battering ram, to breech Plum’s wall and free myself.  Coming out of the darkness made me feel like a resurfacing deep sea diver. The return of my senses was almost overwhelming after the void. Plum was still in the driver’s seat, but at least now I could see where we were going.

She knocked on Delilah’s door and I felt frantic again. Plum was about to kill the only person who had actually tried to help me. When no response came from the other side of the door, I was relieved. Maybe Plum would leave. She tried the knob, the door opened and we were inside Delilah’s apartment before my dismay could register.

Plum and I realized that someone was behind the door right before the cold band of steel locked around my neck.  I suddenly felt like a fuse blew inside my head.  Everything went black.  When my eyes opened again, I was lying on a bed in Delilah’s apartment.  The steel cuff was chafing my neck.  One of the female dancers was sitting beside the bed and called out for Delilah, as soon as she realized that I was awake.  A moment later, both of them were standing over me.  I remember thinking how much younger they both looked without the heavy makeup of the night before.

“What happened,” I asked groggily.

“Crystal here saw Flame latched onto you downstairs and sprinted up here to tell me.  I knew there was a chance that Plum had taken possession of your body.  That’s why I was ready with the collar.”

“Speaking of the collar, can you take it off now?”

“I can see it’s uncomfortable.  Sorry, but you’re going to have to keep it on for now.  It’s the only think keeping Plum in check.”

“You mean, she’s still inside of me?  That explains why my head feels so weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“It feels like ants are crawling all over my brain.”

“Guess it’s all the extra electrical activity.”

“Well, I don’t like it.  When are you going to get rid of her?”

“As soon as we get you back to her place.  It’s too dangerous to try doing anything with her here again.  We’ll escort you back and secure her there.”

Plum’s voice suddenly echoed through my mind, “She’s lying!”

My hands involuntarily flew up to my ears, as if they could somehow block out the reverberations bouncing around inside my head.  Delilah asked what was wrong and I told her what had just happened.  She gazed at me steadily with an unreadable expression.

“Do you think I’m lying?”

“Of course not, I don’t believe anything she says…not anymore.”

“Glad to hear it.  We’re all going to have to stick together in this thing.  If you allow her to drive a wedge between us, it weakens our defenses.  Just ignore her.”

“That’s easier said than done.  How do you ignore a voice inside your head?”

“Block her out.  Focus your thoughts on something pleasant: a happy memory or future plans.  If your imagination is strong enough, then you can visualize a barrier like a brick wall or steel vault and use it to protect your thoughts but those are hard to maintain.”

Delilah could see my eyelids growing heavy.  She left the room, so that I could get some rest.  Crystal wanted to stay and keep an eye on me, but I protested and Delilah shooed her out.  The thought of trying to sleep with a stranger looking on made me feel more agitated.  Plum spoke up again, “Is that really why you didn’t want here in here?  I think you’re beginning to have doubts about your new friends.  What do you really know about them Patricia?”

“I know all I need to, they’re nice.  You have to admit that Delilah has helped me a lot,” I inexplicably said out loud.

You used to think that I was nice and helpful too.  That doesn’t make it true.  Stop allowing fear and insecurity make you turn a blind eye to the red flags right in front of you.  When Delilah said that she couldn’t safely turn me loose, you felt a twinge of doubt.  They seemed to have no problem corralling me in that enchanted circle earlier.  No point in trying to lie darling.  I can hear your thoughts just as clearly as you hear mine.  You felt another twinge, when Delilah said she was taking us back to my place, in order to turn me loose.  Both times, she broke eye contact and exchanged secretive looks with Crystal.  What was that about?  Don’t you think it’s in your best interest to find out what’s really going on here?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Three

Harriet left Reverend Mother’s house and walked two blocks to the car that she had requested from Ryker when he issued his latest order.  It was important that no one knew she was using the car.  If anyone should come looking for her or try to place her at the scene of some…unfortunate incident, then the last thing she wanted was a nosy neighbor tying her to the car.

Ryker preferred to send drivers to chauffeur her around whenever she was working for him.  Harriet felt that drew too much attention.  People in the circles she found herself in recognized that car and many of them were less likely to share any useful information, knowing who would ultimately be on the receiving end of it.

Besides, she didn’t trust the drivers not to reveal her sources to Ryker.  If he sussed out her methods, then she would be of no use to him.  Harriet’s usefulness was the only thing keeping her father alive in prison.  The work she did for Ryker kept her father protected by helping to repay some big favors.  The problem was that he would be in there for a long time.  She didn’t know how much longer she could keep paying down his debt.  It was slowly taking over her life.

Ryker was asking her to do increasingly dangerous things.  Harriet felt trapped.  It frightened her and made her angry at the same time.  Why should she have to put her life on the line for a father who was in jail more than he was ever around when she lived under his roof?

The memory of Richard and Rachel laughing at her was a painful reminder that Harriet had no one else.  There was a time, when she first came to live with Reverend Mother, that Richard had been fiercely protective of her.  She felt more love than she had ever felt in her entire life back then.  As a teenagers, they began to drift apart.  Richard was always hanging out with his friends.  Next, came an assortment of girlfriends whose names escaped her.

High school was a lonely time for her.  She never really fit into any of the social groups which had formed in grade school, before she had come to live with Reverend Mother.  Harriet was painfully shy, sensitive and self-conscious, which made her a natural target for bullies.  Becoming a loner was easier than opening herself up to more rejection.

Richard protected her whenever he was around.  But he fell in with a rough crowd and was always ducking out of school to hang out with them.  It wasn’t long before he was only coming home to eat and sleep.  Reverend Mother had even given up on trying to make him go to church with the family on Sunday.  It was easier to make excuses whenever the parishioners asked about him.  That left Harriet to fend for herself.  The one constant in her life was her father, who was a phone call away behind bars.  He had a friend of his secretly pose as her mother, so that she could visit him without Reverend Mother knowing about it.

Harriet made the best of a bad situation.  In her efforts to be her father’s eyes and ears out in the world, she discovered a natural talent for tracking people and getting information out of them.  She had even figured out how to earn a few duckets for herself from time to time.  That money had paid for her ballet training.  Harriet had never told her family that there was no scholarship.  Taking on odd jobs ended, when she graduated from high school.  Performing was a dream come true.

However, all good things must come to an end at some point.  Dancing was a young woman’s game.  Harriet wanted to be financially secure when the curtain came down on her career.  Her newest order from Ryker was to find out why profits were down in the dope hole distributing his illegal pharmaceuticals.  For some reason, the Oxycontin wasn’t selling well yet the inventory seemed to continue disappearing.

Harriet could trade on her name as the daughter of Jericho Jones, but that name no longer inspired fear in anyone.  He was old school.  The young bucks coming up in the streets nowadays had no respect for their elders.  However, her father’s name would buy her a certain level of acceptance.  Trust was a different story.  Drug dealers rarely trusted anyone.

Another option was to be upfront and tell the dealers that Ryker had sent her and why.  Harriet quickly dismissed that idea.  They would just get defensive and back one another’s stories. Of course, it would be possible to weed out lies until she gleaned enough of the truth to figure things out.  That took more time than Ryker was willing to give her.  There was also the risk of one of them getting rattled enough for her to end up buried in a shallow grave with a bullet in her temple.  Somehow, she didn’t think Ryker would lose too much sleep over her death.

So, she woke from a night of restless sleep without combing her hair, dug some sweaty workout clothes out from the bottom of her hamper, put them on and went to hang out in the neighborhood.  The idea was to become a regular customer of the dope house.  Her unnaturally thin dancer’s body helped complete her disguise as a drug addict.  Who better to scope out the day-to-day activities in the house?  She could also hang around outside.  If she played her cards right, no one would ever suspect that she was surveilling the place.  That was crucial because, the neighborhood around a drug house was always full of addicts eager to trade information for drugs.

In the past, Harriet would have found being around such desperate people unnerving.  But her mood had sunk so low that she felt at home with the hopeless, dejected group.  There was something freeing about taking a break from keeping up the façade of success and happiness for a few hours.  Some of the addicts were aggressive and suspicious, but others were actually friendly.  Later, she learned that one of the dealers, whose name was Deuce, tended to leave the drug house with a bag that was suspiciously full and it was empty when he returned.

Harriet followed him for a couple of nights and saw him entering various clinics.  She called Ryker and asked him if they were part of his trade.  He had no idea what she was talking about.  Tonight, she arranged for two of his men to trail behind her at a distance as she shadowed Deuce on his nightly delivery.  They parked at the end of the block and awaited a text from her.  She explained that request as a desire to catch him with cash in hand.  Harriet followed Deuce to a darkened clinic which was clearly closed and watched while he made his way around to the side door.

 

Valley of Shadows- Chapter Thirty-Two

Reverend Mother stood alone in the church basement, broom in hand scrubbing at the concrete floor.  Ignoring her aching back, she persisted in her labors. The task always triggered memories of her as a little girl, back when she was just Hester,  sweeping off her mother’s front stoop and dreaming big girl dreams.  Those were fond memories.  Now, it was a sad reminder of all the years that had flown by.

Reverend Mother missed her younger self; the person she was before the harshness of life had taken its toll.  Reality had a way of wearing a person down, like water dripping on stone.  Getting pregnant so young, then facing everyone’s disappointment and judgment alone had broken her.  Hester had settled for less and less until she forgot how to dream.

Marriage to Gabriel had rescued her self-respect.  She became Reverend Mother and his dreams became hers.  When he died, she soldiered on alone.  Her confidence in his vision was unshaken for twenty years, until Nicole came along.  One stick from that needle had robbed Reverend Mother of her health.  She could feel it leaching away day by day. What started out as a tiny stab of pain had grown and slowly spread until her entire abdomen was inflamed.

Tonight, Reverend Mother was in church to get her mind off of the constant dull ache in her gut.  Normally, just being in the house of the Lord was comforting.  Tonight, she felt nothing but guilt and a vague sense of dread. Reverend Mother could not shake the feeling that she wasn’t alone. There seemed to be some sort of supernatural presence hovering around her. She felt it in her spirit.  More than once, she had looked over her shoulder, half expecting to see a figure hiding among the deepening shadows of the cavernous basement.  Turning on more lights did little to ease her fear.

Was the pain God’s way of punishing her for trying to blackmail Nicole?  Or was it a test of her faith?  If that was the case, then she was in serious trouble.  Her faith had been shaken apart.  If one woman could so easily tear down what took years to build up, then maybe she never truly believed.  Reverend Mother was starting to think that what she actually believed in was Gabriel.  He always had enough faith for the both of them.  The strength of his convictions always reassured Reverend Mother.  She missed that reassurance.

Reverend Mother had known that blackmail was sinful.  At the time, she was focused on what was best for the church.  Reverend Mother stopped sweeping and nodded, trying to convince herself.  She almost dropped the broom when a sly voice sounded at her ear.  Were you concerned with what was best for the church or make yourself look good?    What would Gabriel think, if he knew about the underhanded things you’ve done in the name of his vision? 

A chill raced up her spine.  She resisted the temptation to turn around, knowing that no one would be standing beside her.  The voice had to be in her mind.  That too had begun after Nicole had paid her the fateful visit at the hospital.  At first, Reverend Mother thought that the voice was the small, still voice she sometimes heard when the Holy Ghost was chastising her.  Then she realized that the ugly, mocking tone was evil.

Tears blurred Reverend Mother’s vision.  What would Gabriel think if he knew about the terrible things she had done over the years?  She heard footsteps behind her and spun around.  For one heart stopping moment, she saw Gabrielle standing in the doorway.  The figure passed through the shadowy entrance and the light in the basement revealed that it was Joshua.  He came in and dropped into a bench against the far wall.   Reverend Mother put a hand over her galloping heart, as her tensed shoulders sagged.

She could see that he was upset about something.  Knowing Joshua, he wouldn’t share what was on his mind until he was ready.  She continued to sweep and let him sit in preoccupied silence, while she waited for her heart rate to return to normal.  Reverend Mother was almost finished sweeping when Joshua sighed.  She put away the broom and sat down next to him.

“Alright son, what’s on your mind?”

“It’s Thomas.  He has let that…that woman psyche him out.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he has let Nicole burrow so far inside his head that he’s having nightmares and sleepwalking.  The man actually thinks that she has put some sort of voodoo curse on him.  Can you believe that?”

“I believe that evil exists in many forms.”

“Wait a minute, are you saying that you agree with him?  You believe voodoo is real?”

“There was a time when I would have said no without hesitation.  But, after everything I’ve been through lately, I’m not so sure.  I believe that evil is real, no matter how you dress it up.  If Thomas believes that he is cursed, then he is cursed.”

“Oh I get it, you’re talking about the power of suggestion.  We’re actually both saying the same thing.  That fool went to some hole-in-the-wall voodoo shop and bought some stuff for what they called a spiritual bath.”

“Did it work?”

“He hasn’t tried it yet.  Nicole stopped by his apartment unannounced.  So, he made me take the stuff and sneak down the fire escape.  I just can’t believe someone as streetwise as him would let a woman manipulate him like that.  Nicole is devious, but she’s pretty much harmless…”

“I don’t know about all that Joshua.  If you ask me, Nicole is anything but harmless.  That woman is dangerous.  She is the kind of woman who lashes out when she feels threatened.  I ought to know.”

“Are we back on that needle thing?  I didn’t want to say anything while you were sick in the hospital, but something always bothered me about your story.   Why would Nicole inject you with something that wasn’t strong enough to kill you?  Seems pointless and more than a little risky to me.  What if you decided to get the cops involved?”

“My son the deep thinker.  Alright, I’ll play along.  So what if I had decided to get them involved?  She wasn’t worried about me calling the police, because I had no proof.  The police need more to go on than suspicions.  When you’re lying in a hospital bed, people are quick to assume that your judgment is compromised.  My own nurse didn’t believe me, when I said Nicole had injected me with something.  Did you ever stop to think that Nicole might have made me ill, just to give me a taste of what would happen if I crossed her?”

“I think that your nurse was right.  You probably dozed off and had some kind of…I dunno…waking dream about Nicole injecting you with something because you felt threatened by her.”

Reverend Mother gave her son a withering look and lifted her shirt to expose the bandage on her stomach.  Joshua couldn’t believe his eyes.

“What is that?”

“The needle injection site never healed.  Whatever she injected me with is worming its way through my stomach.”

“Did you show that to your doctor?”

“Of course I did.  He told me it was a bacterial infection and put me on antibiotics.”

“Oh well, there you go.  I knew there had to be a rational explanation.  You were probably exposed to the bacteria during surgery or something.  People get bacterial infections in hospitals all the time.”

“This is different.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because she’s still after me.”

“You mean, she came to see you again?”

“No, I haven’t laid eyes on her since that night in the hospital.”

“I’m confused mom.  Are you saying that she’s harassing you?”

Reverend Mother nodded miserably.  Joshua was taken aback.  He didn’t know which was more surprising; the fact that she kept it from him or the fact that she allowed someone to intimidate her.  Reverend Mother had never been afraid of anyone or anything.  On the contrary, she seemed to enjoy confronting people.  Joshua waited for an explanation that wasn’t forthcoming.

“Why didn’t you tell me?  What is she doing, making threatening phone calls?  Following you around?”

Reverend Mother shook her head in response to his questions.  Joshua gave her a searching look and saw fear in her eyes.  He was unprepared for her response.

 

Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Two

I followed Delilah up from the basement and emerged into the hallway.  The throbbing base of the club music was like a jolt back into reality.  It was a relief to leave behind the eerie dimness of the building’s nether regions with its inky pools of darkness and long shadows. Down there, everything seemed a bit sinister.

Back upstairs, everything I had just experienced seemed like a harmless dream. Delilah led me to another door which opened onto a stairwell. We walked up two flights of stairs before opening a door and emerging onto a carpeted corridor. There were closed doors lining the hall which I soon discovered led to apartments, the largest of which belonged to Delilah.

She led me into the kitchen. I took a seat a the table and looked around appreciatively at the homey decor as she made us a couple of sandwiches. Delilah served mine with glass of water and sat across from me with her sandwich.

“You never answered my question Patricia.”

“What question?”

“What is the significance of the ectoplasm you just saw?”

The directness of her stare was a little disconcerting. It suddenly felt like I was back in high school and my math teacher had just called me up to the board to work some complex problem. I had no idea what Delilah was talking about. Her expression was unreadable. No hints there.  I bit into the sandwich and chewed slowly in order to buy myself some time. That wasn’t helpful.  I finally just shrugged my shoulders.

“I don’t know Delilah, I’ve only ever seen ectoplasm in the Ghostbusters movies.  But that doesn’t apply here.”

“Why not?”

“Because Plum is alive, so she can’t be a ghost.”

“How do you know she’s alive?”

“You’re joking right?  I know because I’ve talked to her, looked at her and touched her.”

“You spoke with her tonight in Flame’s body, which you can see and touch.  But Flame isn’t Plum.”

“No, but she was channeling Plum.”

“Mediums don’t channel the living.”

I sat staring at Delilah for a full minute, unable grasp her words.  She looked back at me patiently, waiting for her meaning to sink in.  My first reaction was to smile and start laughing.  She had to be joking.  When her expression didn’t change, I shook my head in disbelief.  If what Delilah said was true, then not only was nothing and no one what they seemed to be, my senses had even betrayed me.

“But I would have sensed something like that… wouldn’t I?”

“How do you know that you didn’t sense something without understanding what it was?”

“I guess I don’t know.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure about anything anymore.  I feel like I’ve been wearing blinders my whole life.”

Delilah gave me a consoling pat on the arm and rose, “I can see that you’re tired.  You’ve been through a lot tonight.  Finish eating while I get the bed in the guest bedroom ready.  We’ll talk more in the morning.”

I nodded gratefully, not trusting myself to speak.  Exhausted tears were damming up behind my eyes and although she could sense my despair, I didn’t want her to see me cry.  Delilah left the room and suddenly, I didn’t want to cry.  All my life, people had taken advantage of me and I would just retreat into some shadowy corner and cry.  What good had being a victim done me?  Even if Plum was a ghost, there must be some way to defeat her.  I was turning things over in my mind when the front door banged open.  The bartender suddenly appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking around wildly.  I jumped to my feet and asked what was wrong.

“It’s that woman…we were going to take her to the airport and she fainted.  Now, she’s unresponsive.  Where’s Delilah?”

“She’s in the guest bedroom.”

He turned and went where I directed.  Before long, the two of them were rushing out of the apartment.  After a moment’s hesitation, I followed them back down to the basement.  They had Flame laid out in one of the small pleasure rooms.  She looked pale against the black sheets.  Delilah pushed past the dancers standing around helplessly and checked for a pulse.  She swatted Flame’s cheeks.  A few seconds later, Flame stirred and opened her eye but her pulse remained weak.  Delilah felt that it was due to a combination of dehydration and exhaustion.  They put their heads together in the hallway and decided to let her rest overnight.

I went up and got three bottles of water from behind the bar.  When I returned, everyone had left and the door to her room was locked.  I slid back the bolt lock and let myself in.  Flame lay facing the wall.  She didn’t stir.  I quietly set the water bottles down on the nightstand where Flame could easily reach them and turned to leave.  Flame began coughing.  I got one of the water bottles and moved to help her sit up.  She turned towards me without opening her eyes and whispered.

“Patricia is that you?”

“Yes, Flame it’s me.”

“I knew you’d come.”

A sudden chill raced along my spine at the sound of Plum’s voice. I tried to move back but Flame grabbed my wrist and I was stunned motionless by a jolt of energy.  A current seemed to flow up my arm from Flame’s finger tips.  I felt the hair on my arm standing at attention.  Shock temporarily immobilized me as the energy passed my shoulder and invaded my neck. My head jerked involuntarily and my scalp tingled.

I remember a growing fullness inside my head and Plum’s voice was suddenly in my mind.  The full force of her essence was filling me up.  I was helpless.  Her thoughts became my thoughts and mine became hers.  Plum’s rage was so overwhelming that she was able to start sifting through my memories before I could block her out.

What happened next is a blur of half-formed memories.  I must have shouted at some point because someone came in and separated me from Flame.  Plum had rooted herself so deeply inside of me that I no longer had control over my own body. I realized with dawning horror that Plum intended to use me to go after Delilah and I wouldn’t even be able to warn her.