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18. reunion

HILDA LEEK

It’s this time more than time so far past time.  We who gather under the stars are blessed and we are ready and we are prepared.  My thoughts go back and forth between my immediate work and everything that’s led up to now.  I look across the table and I see these two wrong bodies with their wrong hands — Daniel Salat and Jeff Armando.  They lie in front of me just as they lied when they came.  They are with the illusion, and I am with the truth that’s here now.  And the film continues to flicker on the screen, helping me find strength.  I realize that I should be a little gracious, though, in that the two men brought me into contact with the spirit book.  Can you believe that the book was wrapped in trash bags?  Unforgivable that they should do this to something so sacred and rare.  Unforgivable, and I won’t forgive them.  And stupid.  As if plastic would hide a spirit book’s radiance from anyone who can see.  I see its blood light pouring out in all directions from the book, on all sides, and even pouring upward into the ceiling and down through the table and down still further still into the ground.  But I had to be smart.  I had to act like I couldn’t see anything.  Like I was as game to Salat’s arrogant mystery as he was.  Nothing is ruined, though.  I counted on his arrogance.  I.  We.  I, soon to be we.  We’ll be together again, soon.  Soon SOON soon.  I say it to myself, over and over, to make sure I’m certain it’s true. Parts of me have lost faith over the years. 10 years. And even beyond that. Decades before, when the truth was shown to us and taken away. But I’m angry at myself for thinking this way. I decide to look at the spirit book. I tore it out of the plastic with my fingernails. I didn’t bother with the knot tied at the top of the garbage bags. There was more plastic beneath the first layer, and I tore that open, too. As I picked up the book, I felt it bite through me, taking some of my blood. I watched as the furious light of the tether moved from Armando’s hand to mine. I knew then that he was no longer conscious in any way. Which is good. And now, the spirit book is feeding off of my blood. I can hear a scratching sound in my head, too — no doubt, it’s the book recording my thoughts on its pages with my blood. The scratching sound is exactly like a pen. Well, let it record, I say. I’m glad. And I’m not afraid. Not in any way. Yes, I have too many doubts that I really have to get rid of.  Doubts that will end up on the spirit book’s pages for others to see. I tried to look, but When I opened the book to try to read it, I realized that I couldn’t. The glow on the pages is too bright, even now, for me to read, as I check again. But that doesn’t change my thinking about my doubts. But doubts have no place in my future, do they? I can’t live alone any more.  Friedrich is shallow company, at best. And he can only do so much of what I need. But I will not fail, and I won’t have to worry about being alone ever again — forever and ever. And is that arrogance on my part to think that?  No.  No arrogance from me.  I know why I’m doing all this.  I’ve got certainty on my side. I see the results of my actions. And I don’t need faith.  The arrogance was from Salat.  Which is usually to be expected from a priest of any stripe.  But I know how truth works.  And I felt the book pull at my blood when I touched it.  Armando should have felt it, too.  I hate ignorance.  I crack my knuckles and think about getting to work.  I hate ignorance and all the lies it makes out of easy things to explain.  Lies told so people can sleep easy.  Like a sleepy priest and a sleepy helper.  The drug in the sandwiches worked its magic.  I check on them both.  Still breathing, though, both of them.  Lying facedown on the ceremonial table.  Armando was slower to go under than Salat.  Attributable to his youth.  But Armando didn’t fight me, even when I was cutting the ceremonial marks into his face. I paid close attention to that job, like Cameron taught me. Without Cameron right there to guide my hand, I wasn’t sure I’d do it right.  But practice makes perfect.  And spirit stuff — well, it works like muscle memory, sometimes. So it was like my hand was telling me where it wanted to go as I held the knife. The spirit stuff was telling all of me what to do.  Like I was being guided through a dance. And I didn’t fight it.  Because I kept control the whole time, even with the power of the spirit stuff so thick on Jeff Armando. People who are thick with it can disrupt the spirit stuff’s power to guide you. But cutting Jeff was easy. I could hear the spirit stuff’s song clear and pure.  Not like at the Visitor’s Center, yesterday.  I keep thinking about that.  My hand was guided then, yes, but there was too much noise going on. Too many different kinds of energies, putting me out of sequence.  Not keeping me in line with the proper ritual, with all the noisy chaos.  The bloody stuff of spirits is thick on the ground all across Drodden, from all our work — mine and Cameron’s.  So much work.   And spirit stuff can distract.  I check the two men’s pulses, which are both slow and steady.  Salat’s is a little bit thready, but that’s to be expected, too, given his age.  An end to an age, coming now.  If I can keep control and not let the power of the spirit stuff overcome me.  Because, yes, it can be overwhelming if you let it control you, and it can guide your hands like puppet strings instead of helping you do what you want to do.  It can wrest control.  I breathe deeply of the blood pouring from Armando’s face.  It helps me focus.  I worry about making mistakes because of the power of the spirit stuff.  I worry I’m not strong enough to keep control the whole time.  History says it’s a challenge for even the strongest.  And my failures make me ashamed.  It was a critical moment yesterday, and I almost ruined so many things, losing my control when I was surprised by the Greenlee girl.  She almost ruined it.  Penny Greenlee.  I told Friedrich the truth when I said she’s dense with spirit stuff.  How she’s glowing with it.  But it’s more than that.  She’s attentive to it.  Attuned.  Dangerously attuned.  She needs to die in her time, yes, but not out of sequence for the ritual.  At the proper place and time.  But I have to ask myself  if it really just a loss of control.  She surprised me with her radiance yesterday, and in my surprise I gave in to the spirit stuff and my hands struck at her with Cameron’s box.  In that moment, I saw a vision of myself as if I were being guided by Cameron, even though he was far away and doing his part.  I saw myself reaching up and smashing Cameron’s box down onto Penny Greenlee’s face over and over again and taking her blood for mine.  And then smashing again and again until she was unrecognizable as a girl or even as a person.  I felt truly electric, then.  But I got control of myself, and there I was, tending to her wounds and sending her on her way.  I was tempted, and I resisted.  Salat’s religion would be proud of me.  I laugh.  I ache for Cameron to come back.  But we have to do this right.  In the proper sequence.  Out of sequence to kill Penny Greenlee then.  The sequence is essential to the ritual, and the ritual is essential to success.  And I will follow it as I was taught.  I push Jeff Armando off his chair and onto the floor.  I keep thinking back to Penny.  Yes, I could have guided Penny to the van, brought her here.  Drugged her like I did Salat and Armando and then pulled her by the arms  like I’m dragging Jeff Armando now, into the Grandeur Room.  I could’ve done all that, so easily.  Which makes me feel powerful.  I feel like my skin can breathe, now that all my disguises are coming off one by one.  And this wrong body world will fade away, and we will see the true world again the way we did when we were children.  But killing Penny Greenlee would have ruined a lot of things.   Complicated the ritual.  Added more layers.  Which would have been a grave misstep this close to the end.  I’m so frightened about missteps because of how close to the finish I am.  We are.  This makes me worry for a moment that I’m forgetting some steps now.  I roll Jeff Armando over to the side when I reach the door of the Grandeur Room, and I count the bleeding marks I carved into Jeff’s face.   There are nine cuts on Jeff Armando’s face, just like Cameron instructed me, in the proper places.  Jeff was so drugged, he didn’t react much at all.  He just made an ‘ah’ kind of sound, over and over.  I thought it looked like he was smiling at one point.  Nine marks to do the job.  I’m out of breath.  I have to pause and think.  And, yes, Penny was also marked now, but Penny’s one mark wouldn’t make a difference, given how much of the stuff is on her already.  It’s inconsequential, really.  Cameron says so.  He’s been so brave through all of this trouble in the end.  Losing Emmett in the woods was the real complication, I thought, but Cameron was unconcerned.  I turn the combination on the lock of the metal door to the Grandeur Room and pull the metal handle.  The door screeches as I open it.  I was furious at Friedrich’s foolishness until Cameron came back from chasing Emmett.  How he soothed me.  He touched my face, even though I couldn’t feel it.  I could see it, and that’s what mattered.   And he told me Emmett had gone to Penny.  At the Yellow House.  I drag Jeff Armando into the Grandeur Room.  I pause to take another breath and get my strength back.  I feel so old.  I want to feel young again.  Soon.  And there’s no way either of us is going to go to the Yellow House.  The blood magic that would be needed would be obscene.  It would take years.  But I wanted Cameron to catch Emmett.  He’s been such a nuisance.   I’m still disappointed that the little raccoon got away.  How I longed to see Cameron devour Emmett Beery after all this time.  I’m angry.  The anger gives me strength to lift Jeff Armando sideways and throw him into the central chair of the Grandeur Room.  But Cameron wasn’t upset by the loss of Emmett Beery.  He told me Emmett and Penny would hide and cower, and not worry — because there was a different way, now, with the spirit book.  Cameron had even told me so.  He’d said if we couldn’t get Emmett, there were others.  I’d been worried he was just trying to make me feel good.  But he’d told the truth.  I walk to the workbench chained to the wall of the Grandeur Room. The branding iron is on the heating element. It’s still too dark, and the glow is too dull. Soon, though. I move on to secure Jeff to the chair and cover his mouth with duct tape from the workbench, just like I’d planned.  I distractedly tie Salat’s wrists behind his back with more tape and set him on his side. Then, I tape his mouth shut, too. It’s just a precaution, but it also feels like a big waste of time. He won’t wake up. I stand back up, feeling lightheaded. And then I head for the stairs, so I can bring Friedrich down here, too.

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Published inpart 2

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