"I didn’t know that you drew, Mom,” Jolie muttered, looking at each sketch pinned to the stained wall. Jessie Lynn had only been in Tecopa a week, but dozens of pictures were grouped in drunken lines, covering the living room walls of the little house. Bold, emotional charcoals drawn in sweeping scratches, with angry blots of red; abstract images of nightmare dreamscapes, and terrifying creatures, the same ones over and over again, in different places, or positions. The word that came to Jolie’s mind was: disturbing.
“When I was young. So, what do you think of the house?” Jessie Lynn hugged an old sweater around her emaciated body.
She must have lost twenty pounds. Jolie eyed her mother. Was that even possible in a week?
Calling the shack a house was like calling an outhouse a restroom. Brett’s friend hadn’t rented the place because it had not been rentable. It had probably not been livable until Brett threw some money and elbow grease at it. New, unpainted wood had been nailed to the old wood with layers of chipped paint, drawing attention to the newly installed window that faced the front of the house and the long dirt driveway. Brett had added boards to make up the difference between the old window’s frame and the new smaller standard sized replacement.
There were a zillion bright white spackle spots on every wall that Jessie hadn’t covered with her “art”. Someone had popped for a used fridge and stove; Jolie suspected Brett. The front door was new; it both closed and locked; a thoughtful touch that Jolie was grateful for. Unopened cans of paint and roller brushes were stacked in the corner, waiting for someone to finish the job. Jessie Lynn had made other choices.
Brett really didn’t know her mom very well.
The original interior doors had so many coats of paint that the hardware on the door and that on the frame didn’t fit together.
“It was nice of Brett to do all these repairs,” Jolie dodged a direct reply to her mom’s query. She looked out the curtain-less window at the lonely moonlit landscape. “You could build five houses on this lot,” she muttered. They would have in Vegas. The driveway was nearly half a block long, the highway end barely visible behind a strip of salt cedars someone had planted beside the road before people knew that the invasive plants sucked two hundred gallons of water a day. Iris and she had only found the place because Brett had put a shiny new black mailbox on the old weathered post beside the driveway.
The house sat on two acres, but there was no yard--at least none that was improved. Rotted fence posts lay on the hard dirt. Half standing outbuildings and the rusted metal exoskeletons of dead machinery were all that remained of the dreams that previous tenants had abandoned when they left. Jolie felt the echo of their sadness and wondered what she and Jessie Lynn’s future would be living here?
She turned back to the room, examining the leftover bits of hideout style furniture, the mental hospital green paint, scarred windows, the pitted linoleum floors.
“Your art fits perfectly here, Mom,” Jolie commented wryly. Her eyes flitted across the collection of pictures. As dark and unsettling as they were, what bothered her most, was that the artist was the woman who had given her birth, and she was going to sleep in the same house with her tonight. Jolie examined a series of drawings.
I know this place. I’ve seen it. Her heart began to race. She had walked these dreamscapes in her own dreams. She had seen these images when the demon was inside her mind.
“Brett’s taken to calling me his Dark Queen.” Jessie Lynn smiled, wistful and self-conscious. “But it’s really good therapy.” Jolie liked the idea that her mom was thinking about therapy. “I’m finding it very freeing getting the images out of my head and onto the paper.”
“Is it working?” Jolie asked, cautiously.
“Getting them on the paper, is it getting them out of your head, or are they still there?” Jolie faced her mom.
“Well, of course, they’re still there, Jolie. I’m the artists. They come from me.”
Jolie wasn’t so sure. What had happened to the demon when Hoke banished it from her? Where had it gone? What about Axel? Was the demon’s connection to him so strong, that wherever they went now, they would go together? When Axel was chased out of Jolie’s mind, where would he have gone? Would he have been drawn back to his old apartment? Would the demon have gone along for the ride because he didn’t have anything better to do? Jessie Lynn’s artwork had given Jolie a lot of questions.
“Are you sleeping okay, Mom?”
Jessie shrugged. “It’s been weird being here alone.”
“Brett didn’t stay to try out the little love nest once he had it all fixed up?” Jolie teased.
Jessie frowned. “Don’t be mean, Jolie. I can’t handle it. You know he had to go back to Montana to do business stuff.”
Jolie did. She also knew that Brett had not left until Thursday when he texted her. That was four days after he had deposited Jessie Lynn here in Tecopa. He could have visited if he’d chosen to.
“Anyway, it’ll be better now that you’re here,” Jessie Lynn declared, hopefully. “I won’t be alone anymore.” The echo of the demon’s promise was creepy.
Jolie didn’t think her mom had been alone for awhile now. She also knew how hard it could be to deal with these particular visitors. They just wouldn’t leave, even when they were invited to.
“You’ve lost a lot of weight. Have you been eating?” Jolie asked her mom.
Jessie sighed, looking at her wall. “I forget. I get to working and....” Her voice faded off. “There’s food in the fridge, though. Brett bought groceries before he left, and he asked the neighbors, the Coltons, to check in and see if I needed anything.”
“I’ll get my license right away,” Jolie said.
“Don’t bother. The truck isn’t working,” Jessie dropped another bomb.
“What? When did that happen?” Jolie demanded, imagining living out here in the sticks with no way to get around.
“It blew a...I don’t know, it broke down when Brett brought it up the hill.”
“We’re living out here in the sticks with no wheels?”
“I couldn’t drive anyway, and you were going to stay in town. It wasn’t at the top of my list of things to deal with. Brett found an old bicycle in one of the sheds. The tires are flat but maybe the Colton’s have a pump.” Jessie picked up a piece of charcoal and began to scribble around the edges of one of her drawings. Not having a way to get around out here in the middle of nowhere was definitely going to be a problem. “They’re nice people, the Coltons--quiet. They keep to themselves,” Jessie mused, almost as if she were talking to herself. “Their place is like a horse ranch or something.” She stepped back and examined what she’d done. “You know, this is what I was doing when I met your father.”
“And painting too, back then.”
Jolie chewed on her upper lip. “I guess having a baby wasn’t part of your big plan.”
“No, but I don’t regret having you, Jo. The circumstances sucked, though. I begged Lucien not to go to Nicaragua. I just had this feeling that it was dangerous, but he thought I was being paranoid. He probably figured that if there was any danger, one of the Boulettes would have picked up on it--like they’re the only ones who ever have visions.”
Jolie had heard the story before. Her father, Lucien Boulette, had been working for the Peace Corps when the Casita Volcano mudslide in Nicaragua buried four villages, killing almost two thousand people, including him.
Jessie and Lucien had only met a few months before, while Lucien was home on a visit between assignments. It had been an intense, steamy affair. Jessie had gotten pregnant, and then Lucien’s leave was over, and he’d had to leave. He’d been in Nicaragua a week when Hurricane Mitch hit, followed by the devastating mudslide that killed him.
Jessie Lynn was left pregnant, unmarried, and on her own. When word came of his death, Mem had offered Jessie and her child a place in the Boulette family home for as long as they wanted to stay.
If Jessie hadn’t gotten pregnant, and Jolie’s dad had not died, would her parents have stayed together? Jolie wondered. Lucien Boulette was an educated man from a well-established family; a man with prospects. Jessie Lynn Figg was a nobody from nowhere with no education or upbringing. In time, would Lucien have recognized Jessie Lynn’s issues and opted out, or had he been the one person who could have saved her from herself?
“So, do you want to talk about what happened between you and Rebecca’s folks?” Jessie interrupted Jolie’s thoughts.
“Not really. Let’s just call it a difference in parenting styles.”
Jessie Lynn chuckled. “You mean they wanted you to be a kid, and leave the parenting to them?”
“Something like that,” Jolie agreed. It was easier than explaining the truth, and Jessie would have been on the phone to Pamela Grolund in a hot second if she’d known what really happened. It was easy to label Jessie Lynn a poor parent because of her absence and permissiveness, but there were lines, and someone attempting to abuse her daughter was one of them. Jolie hadn’t decided what to do about Mr. Grolund’s offer yet, but she wanted the decision to be hers, not someone else’s.
There were only certain places on the Tecopa property where you could get cell service. The next day, Jolie walked around until she found one. The tin-man silver fifty-six Ford pickup that sat out in the yard to the east of the house, was in no way original anymore. Someone had jacked up the rear end, put oversized wheels on the back and changed out the guts. The truck’s windows had fallen down inside the doors and never gotten back up, leaving them permanently open to the weather, but the deteriorating bench seat was still original. A butt sized hole was worn into the driver’s seat where you could see down through the layers to the original straw and horsehair padding.
Previous owners of the unfinished hot rod conversion had used minimum money to start their restoration, adding a hot rod barefoot gas pedal and a fancy leather wrapped mini steering wheel inside the cab. A pair of faded dice attached to the rearview mirror shed sponge rubber fuzz onto the spray-painted dashboard below it. A spider had set up a post-apocalyptic Mad Max web beneath it in the empty hole where a radio had once been.
Jolie flipped down the visor. A set of keys clattered onto the floor.
“Yeah, right. Like this old thing would run,” she muttered cynically. Still, she put the key in the ignition, pumped the barefoot pedal a few times and turned. The gas gauge rose above a quarter of a tank and after a little more pumping, the old pickup sparked to life, its glass pack mufflers rumbling like a gangster’s boom box. “Amazing.” Jolie chuckled. Sitting back with her hands at ten and two o’clock on the little steering wheel, she imagined that she could drive into the sunset, leaving her problems behind her.
For the rest of the world, it was Monday; Remy would be in school, and though Jolie knew she should call Cliff Wrangler to tell him that they had moved out of his jurisdiction, she wasn’t ready to break in a new juvy officer today. If the county sent someone out for a site check right now, things could go badly, and not just because of her mom’s disturbing self-expressive art. This place was not going to score well on first impressions, and if a social services type looked into Jolie’s situation, the worse it would be. They had no income, a finite amount of food, Jolie wasn’t in school, and Jessie Lynn had a history of domesticate violence and alcoholism. The likelihood of Jolie being whisked out of her mother’s custody and thrown into foster care was pretty high. She needed time to straighten things out before anyone official showed up. She looked around the property and sighed. There was a lot do. But first, there were a few loose ends she wanted to tie up.
Jolie looked up Yanna Maria’s shop listing and called.
“Good Morning, Madam Farqueza’s psychic readings. This is Madam Farqueza,” Yanna Maria answered.
“Hi. It’s Jolie.” Jolie waited, unsure what the fortune teller’s reaction to her call would be.
“Ah. So, you are coming by after school today?” Jolie could just imagine the tight-lipped expression on the woman’s face. Yanna Maria was not happy, but she had not completely closed the door between them.
“No, actually, I won’t be able to do that anymore, Yanna Maria,” Jolie explained.
“I see.” An arctic freeze came through the phone.
“It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s that we moved...to California. My mom was in the hospital and couldn’t work, so we lost our apartment.”
“That is unfortunate,” the fortune teller replied after a long hesitation.
“I do have a question that I thought you might be able to answer for me, though?” Jolie went on, hoping that Yanna Maria would be willing to give her this little bit of advice without getting her floor swept, or whatever else it was she was really after. “After Hoke did the wipe down, where would the thing he chased out of me have gone?”
“It is a good question. A question I have asked myself,” Yanna Maria replied, more readily than Jolie had hoped.
“Do you know the answer?” she prompted the fortuneteller.
“You knew this entity, Jolie. Where do you think it would go?” Yanna Maria reversed the question.
“Are we talking about a physical place or a dream space?” Jolie asked, trying to gain clarity before she answered.
“What is it exactly that concerns you, Jolie? Has this creature been visiting you again?” the woman’s voice had thawed. She seemed almost eager as if she were excited by Jolie’s question.
“Yes, but not visiting me, exactly,” Jolie hedged.
“Who has it been visiting?”
“My mother,” Jolie admitted. “I think it may have gone to my mother.”
“Ah.” This did not please the santara. “And is your mother a strong woman?”
“But she is gifted, like you?” Yanna Maria seemed genuinely interested in the subject of the demon, where it had gone, and under what circumstances it now resided. Much more interested than Jolie had realized.
“No. Mom would like to think she is, but.... No.”
“Lots of people think they have abilities, but only a very select few truly ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things from the other world,” Yanna Maria insisted. “It takes years of training and discipline to acquire the skill of being clear and open enough to ‘hear’ truly,” the woman declared.
“My mom has no special skills or training. She’s struggled with her own inner demons so long, that she probably doesn’t recognize this one as something come from outside of herself. But how could it have found and moved to her?”
“Was there proximity?” Yanna Maria asked.
“What do you mean proximity?”
“Would the demon have gone somewhere that would bring it close to your mother? Was she vulnerable? Could she have drawn it to her?”
“There was a man who lived upstairs from our apartment, who died a few weeks back.”
“And that is where you met the creature?” Yanna Maria grasped at every small straw of information with a voracious appetite.
“Yes.” It was a partial truth, but though Jolie wanted to understand what might be going on with the demon and her mom, she was becoming reluctant to share more details about what she knew with the fortune teller. There was avarice in Yanna Maria’s interest that seemed unhealthy.
“Proximity. You see?” Yanna Maria stated.
“But we were nowhere close to my apartment when Hoke sent it away.”
“The spirit would have felt lost, frightened. In that case, it very well could have returned to the last place it had lived.”
“And found my mom,” Jolie confirmed.
“Yes. But if, as you say, she is not gifted, I don’t know why he would have chosen her as a vessel.”
“You asked about her being vulnerable. She’d been shot. She couldn’t leave the apartment. She was just stuck there, alone,” Jolie explained, thinking out loud. “Vulnerable.”
“And angry?” Yanna prompted.
“What’s her being angry got to do with it?”
“Affinity,” Yanna Maria explained. “Like attracts like.”
“Well, her ex-boyfriend stalked and shot her, so they fired her from her job, and because she can’t work, we lost our apartment. So yeah, I guess she was probably pretty angry. We didn’t talk much about it.”
“Anger would have created a common bond between them,” Yanna Maria explained. “They thought and felt alike; affinity.”
“That’s how it works; affinity, proximity? That sucks,” Jolie complained.
Yanna Maria sniffed. “You asked. I told you.”
“So what do I do now, Madrina Yanna? How do I get rid of this thing again; completely this time?”
“Maybe you should ask Hoke.” Yanna Maria said, haughtily. “You do not seem to question what he tells you.”
“Look, Yanna Maria, Remy brought me to Hoke. I was unconscious at the time and not in any shape to choose who was going to un-possess me. You said you were going to help me, but time ran out, and something had to be done. No one was trying to slight your abilities, Madrina.”
“Hoke has no understanding of power or my abilities.” Yanna Maria did not disguise her bitterness. “He and his little group mimic ceremonies from a dead culture, trying to gain favor with gods who left this world long ago. He doesn’t have a clue what to do with such an ally.”
Jolie let the statement stand. “I can’t think why anyone would want that thing hanging around,” she said.
“Because you are as foolish about the path of power as Hoke is. If you want me to help you, Jolie, you will have to ask.”
Jolie sighed. “I can’t sweep your floors, Yanna Maria. I’m living in Tecopa. We don’t have any money and we don’t have a car. We don’t have anything anymore.”
“You have a demon,” Jolie thought she heard the fortune teller think. She wasn’t sure; she had never picked anything up over a phone before, but if Yanna Maria thought the demon itself was worth something to her, Jolie was more than ready to let her have the damn thing. “I just want my family to be safe,” Jolie said. “I don’t care what happens to it. I don’t want anything more to do with it.”
“I said I would help you and I will,” Yanna Maria agreed. “But you must also keep your promise. You remember the rules?”
“Don’t talk to anyone about what we are doing and do whatever you tell me to. Yeah, I remember.” Jolie sighed.
“You must not speak to outsiders about this; that means Hoke, Rose, your mother--not even your friends at school.”
“That won’t be hard. I don’t have any friends at school,” Jolie pointed out. “I don’t even go to school anymore.”
“I will light a candle and say a prayer for you.” Jolie couldn’t tell if the fortune teller was serious or sarcastic. “So we are agreed then?”
“Yes,” Jolie answered.
“I can remove this demon from your mother,” Yanna Maria declared. “But it will not be easy. It may even require battling the creature. It has already been involuntarily removed from one host. It has tasted physical life, and like an addicted person with a drug, it wants more. I think that it will fight unless it sees a better option.”
“How long will it take to get it out of her?” Jolie asked.
“How long has it been attached?”
“A couple of weeks maybe.”
“How long was it attached to you?”
Jolie did the math. “A little longer than that.”
“But you fought against it?”
“And your mother...”
“Probably did not,” Jolie admitted.
“It could be quite firmly established by now. There will be no half measures this time, Jolie. I will finish the job,” Yanna Maria declared.
“Let me know what I need to do. Whatever it takes to get our lives back.”
“I must gain control of the demon,” Yanna Maria announced.
Control it? Jolie wondered if the fortune teller knew the meaning of the word hubris.
“What do I do?”
“For now, just keep your mother quiet and stay away from her. Under no circumstances are you to engage this demon yourself. Do you understand?”
“I’m not interested in talking to the demon, but I still have to talk to my mother. There’s no one else living here and there’s nowhere to go.”
“The demon knows the pathway to your mind, Jolie,” Yanna Maria warned her. “You cannot risk having it decide that it would prefer to return to you.”
“It could do that?” Jolie’s mouth went dry.
“I will not let that happen,” the older woman assured her. “Keep your mother calm. Do you have alcohol or narcotics if you need them?”
“I’m not going to drug my mom, Yanna Maria. She’s trying to get clean and stop doing that shit,” Jolie protested. Jessie Lynn, the eternal party girl, usually had alcohol and an assortment of recreational drugs close at hand, but they’d gone into the garbage when she came home from the hospital. Jolie hadn’t seen Jessie take so much as a toke or drink anything stronger than water since she’d come to Tecopa. She’d even stopped drinking soda. It probably didn’t hurt that Brett had not bought any alcohol when he bought groceries before he left. Still, if Jessie Lynn wanted it, she’d never had any problem finding a party.
“You must understand, that it is possible we will need to sedate your mother in order to separate her from the demon,” Yanna Maria explained. “Someone has just come into the shop. We will talk again soon.” The fortune teller hung up.