Diantha's Gate

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Chapter 6

“I really think you should talk to her,” Brynn said to me from across the dining room table. We were at the Elwood house, Drew and Lav sitting with us, listening intently.

Knowing I would struggle to explain last night, Brynn had filled them in for me, not missing a beat.

I could tell they were more rattled than they let on, but they deflected with humor and sarcasm, and I was grateful. I couldn’t bear the idea of pity or, even worse, the dejecting faces of skepticism. I had to swallow the uncomfortable acceptance that the three of them would probably (if they hadn’t already) create a group message that didn’t include me in order to further analyze my bizarre behavior. They could label it “Nia’s New Psychosis.”

“I agree,” Lavender chipped in, tucking a piece of pale purple hair behind her ear. “Corinne is cool as hell and knows the craziest hippy shit. One time, we talked for like two hours about using rocks for psychic abilities. Like, what? So trippy.”

“Crystals,” Brynn said, still looking at me.


“She uses crystals, not rocks.”

“Since when is a crystal not a rock?” Drew asked with a smirk.

“Say that in front of Corrine, and maybe you’ll find out,” Brynn answered, turning to face him. He held up his palms, his rolled oxford sleeves sliding up to reveal several of his tattoos.

“I’m just saying,” Lav continued, leaning forward on her forearms, “Corinne knows her shit. Maybe she could help you out. Like, hypnotize you or something and draw out your creepy, faceless inner demons.” She gave me a mock wink and thumbs up.

“Yeah, I mean, I guess I could talk to her,” I said hesitantly.

It’s not that I didn’t adore Corinne. I just didn’t want to involve anyone else in my mess. It was humbling enough, as it was. But, I supposed desperate times called for humiliating measures.

Corinne is Brynn’s aunt on her dad’s side. Much younger than Michael, we’d always felt that the age gap between ourselves and Corinne was small enough to make her an easy go-to when one of us was having “teen issues.”

A full-fledged hippy, she was forever looking for a new, more “self-fulfilling, humanitarian” job, and therefore lived at the Elwood house when she was short on money. Which was always. If Michael or Meghan minded, they didn’t show it. She was such an easy presence to have around, and her grateful and optimistic nature really boosted morale and probably the “feng shui.” If her personality didn’t, then her crystal collection and incense certainly did.

She would place “happies,” as she called them, all around the house, ensuring that everyone’s chi was increased and each of our chakras grounded, whatever that meant. She could frequently be found performing complex shape-shifting on a yoga mat in the entertainment room closest to the kitchen, her long, rich ochre dreads pulled in a knot and her harem pants swaying around her. While we frequently poked fun at her, we were all secretly fascinated by her alternative lifestyle.

Well, Drew wasn’t all that secretive. We often had to carry around napkins, taking turns to wipe the drool from his mouth. Though a complete charmer under normal circumstances, Drew was absolutely lost in Corinne’s presence. No one could blame him. She was absolutely stunning in her own unique way. Her complexion, much lighter than her brother’s, was melichrous, with not a blemish in sight. Various exotic beads frequented her dreads, and her petite figure swayed with a humble confidence that could induce envy in any female and something else entirely in any male. A gold hoop wrapped itself around her left nostril, complementing the hoop that Brynn got in her right on the same day. The two were more like sisters than aunt and niece.

“Yeah, you guys are totally right. I’ll talk to her tonight,” I decided, nodding my head and staring down at my nude- painted nails.

“Cool. So now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’ve got another proposition for you,” Drew said with his broad-mouthed grin, his fingers forming a steeple.

“Sounds ominous,” I said with a smirk, knowing that Drew’s propositions frequently involved an adventurous, alcohol-comprised time, of which I often opted out.

“Yeah so, envision this: You, me, Brynn, and Lav, right?”

“Go on,” I invited, leaning back in my seat.

“Ok, so yeh know how we were sayin’ you needed to take a breather, get some fresh air, an’ all that? How about a weekend away from it all, eh? We could get us a couple tents, rough it, do some canoin’. I think it would be really good for us all, yeh know? Let’s get away, take our chances on the Shenandoah. What do yeh think?”

Drew leaned back, spreading his arms wide as though inviting me to take a chance on his grand adventure.

I considered this before nodding my head. “Honestly….yeah. Honestly, that sounds really great.” I envisioned a full weekend away from the hum-drum stressors that I’d been spending a reproachful amount of time contemplating. The beginning of my summer had, in truth, been shameful. Instead of celebrating- I mean honestly, it was truly a small miracle that we’d gotten Drew to graduation day- and partying, and all of the ridiculous pastimes eighteen year olds are supposed to get caught up in, I’d simply drowned myself in worry and financial aid applications and scoured web page after web page that might inspire me to choose my life’s path. I’d lost count of how many personality and career path quizzes I’d taken. I kept finding myself so frustrated and defeated, so clueless and unsure. It was an extremely uncomfortable sensation for me, the girl who always set goals and, with hard work, achieved them. Now, I was unsure of what my goals even were. According to one of the many quizzes I’d taken, I’d make a fabulous accountant. Which was great, except… well, I’d hate my life. Another claimed I’d excel as an anesthesiologist. I’d looked at the pay scale, and my heart had nearly lept from my chest; however, I’d then remembered that I’d, once again, hate my life. I couldn’t even stand the mere thought of needles near myself or anyone else, so I’d flushed that option down the toilet before I spent too much time considering a day in the life of someone who stuck people for a living. I discovered that I’d also make a great dog walker, business entrepreneur, and barista. The list was extensive. The problem was, as I analyzed the spreadsheet I’d made myself (yes, I made a spreadsheet of potential careers, educational requirements and expected pay for each, and the pros and cons from a subjective standpoint), I realized with horror that not a single one of those paths called to me. I felt stuck. My accomplishments seemed to dwindle into some meaningless list of childish triumphs that could get me into a thin black robe and unflattering cap, but no further.

“Wait, seriously?” Brynn knocked my elbow with her own and gave me a broad smile. Her eyebrows, like everyone else’s, were raised. This made me feel even better about my concession.

“Yeah, I mean, Drew’s right. I really need this.” I thought about Brynn, running through the woods with me, crying out in the dark. “I think we all do.”

Lav agreed. “I really have to get away from Mum for a couple of days. I don’t know how Drew does it, but I’m damn close to stranglin’ her. She’s impossible.” I assumed her night with Vanessa had gone pretty poorly, which was nothing unusual.

Drew interrupted, quietly considering our weekend aloud. “Cliff-diving. Some snazzy bikinis for you three. Booze.There it is.” He clapped his hands.

“I’m going to stop you there,” I interjected, laughing.

“Nia, we’ve been talking,” Lav said, cutting me off.

So that three-man group chat had already begun.

“Even before all of this, you know, nightmare stuff… you’re overwhelmed. And you are too busy tryin’ to figure out the next twenty years of your life, and you’re missin’ the here and now. You’re eighteen, for god’s sake. You need to get out, and you need to enjoy yourself. Relax. Drink. Act a fool. I know you have it in you. Quit hiding from us.” Her hand gestures were honestly the most inspiring element to her speech, I thought to myself.

“Quit hiding from yourself,” Drew chimed in. “We know you’re not the complete drag you want to lead us all to believe.”

I displayed my prized middle finger, and he winked.

“Alcohol? I’m not making you any promises there,” I laughed. You know how I feel about that shit. I’m like, cursed when it comes to drinking.”

“Nia,” Brynn said, putting her hand atop my own. “You need this. You’re seeing monsters at night, and you’re spending your days wrapped up in lame personality tests. We are just trying to help. Let us,” she begged, the light bouncing off her golden hoop.

I sighed, annoyed at just how right they were, yet, inwardly, relieved that they’d convinced me. I began putting my hair into a high ponytail and pretended that this took an amount of concentration that hindered my ability to speak. They all watched me intently, Drew wiggling his eyebrows preposterously. “Oh my god, ok, ok!” I shouted with false exasperation. I couldn’t hide the smile. “You guys are unbearable,” I said.

“Somebody get out the diaries, and write this shit down,” Drew was saying as he scraped his chair back from the table. “We need documentation. The girl may be human, after all,” and he ran from the room, my sandal flying after him.

That night, I sat with Corinne in the living room, while everyone else bustled around the kitchen, helping with dinner, or in Drew’s case, distracting everyone and getting in the way.

“Drew, I seriously almost stabbed you,” I heard Brynn complain. “Does that really seem like the best place to stand while I’m wielding this thing?”

I smiled.

“So, you say you saw this figure, but Brynn didn’t, right?”

Corinne was sitting next to me on the couch, facing me, with her legs drawn up and crossed. A purple-tinged stone hung from her throat, and her hair was a mass of ropey braids flowing around her slender shoulders. I began playing with the hem of my shirt and soaking up the familiarity of the room, trying to make it a safe space. The walls were the same pale melon green they’d been since I could remember, and the books on the coffee table hadn’t been rotated, or probably read, either, for at least three years. The titles had been engraved in my memory: Huckleberry Finn, War and Peace, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. So random. The covers were worn, and the foil embossing on the spines was dulled, but they still appeared valuable. Meghan had probably gotten them at some fancy estate sale. I studied the petals of the peonies that filled a dainty ivory vase on the fireplace mantel and wondered if Michael had just gotten them for Meghan. He was always doing that kind of thing.

“Yes,” I said, slightly embarrassed. “I know how that sounds. I really do, but…”

“Nia, I don’t think you were hallucinating. You know, you don’t have to feel uncomfortable telling me this. This,” she indicated the small square of couch between us, “is a safe space.” She handed me an amethyst.

“Am I that obvious?”

“I’m pretty good at reading auras,” she replied. Of course she was.

I looked at the crystal in my hand with confusion and lifted it questioningly.

“Just hold it,” she instructed with a smile. “It will help you connect with your inner truth and help you better understand your astral self.”

“Ok, in English, Corinne.”

“Sure thing. Just… work with me,” she said gently, no frustration in her tone.

“Western culture is so dependent on measuring reality on what is tangible, what is palpable,” she began. “Scientific dogma uses a methodology of determining the validity of an object or even a phenomenon based on formulas that completely ignore anything outside of our materialistic and rational understanding.” She began playing with a rope of hair, sliding a wooden bead up and down the length of it.

“This is flawed, because this system completely ignores the non-physical.”

“The non-physical?” I questioned, trying to follow along.

“Yes. The spiritual and mystical. Phenomena dealing in these realms are not independent of the observer, in a sense, and therefore cannot be measured by our Western science. Many are ruled by these short-sighted notions and therefore restrict themselves to the concrete, the visible, all that can be explained using the five senses.” She looked excited, frustrated, impassioned.

“Nia, we are so much more than these five senses.”

“Aren’t you talking about hallucinations? Because that’s what I’m getting from this, and, correct me if I’m wrong: hallucinations are a symptom of psychosis,” I said, feeling mildly disappointed.

She leaned forward. “Again, you’re using Western terminology, which is going to really limit your understanding.”

“Ok, my bad. So, not hallucinations.” I felt relief, and she saw it in my expression.

She tilted her head, smiling. “Just because you are the only one who experienced it, doesn’t make it any less absolute, Nia. Reality is such an overrated concept. In fact, in my opinion, reality isn’t… well, real.”

I raised an eyebrow. Maybe this was a mistake. I was trying to stay on the same page, but felt that, in truth, I was in an entirely different book. “So what do you think it was?” I asked, nervous about her answer. I began massaging the amethyst, working it in my palm. Without looking at it, I tried to discern every ridge, every crevice, every smooth, glassy edge. I had to admit, it was calming.

“Well, that is a loaded question,” she said, leaning back and adjusting her olive tank top. “Originally, I considered astral projection, but that can’t be the case for this last experience, as your physical body was awake and active, and Brynn was obviously with you.

At my ignorance, she explained, “Your astral body is, for lack of a better word, your spirit. Your soul. It is separate from your physical body, and as your consciousness, it can actually experience things without your physical body’s presence. Just like your physical form, your astral form can travel, encountering situations and entities without taking your physical body with it.”

“Like an out-of-body experience?” I asked.

“Exactly,” she said, clearly excited that I was actually following along. “You often hear of astral projections referred to as out-of-body experiences or near-death experiences, but they are essentially the same thing.”

“But, like you said, Brynn was with me. I was definitely physically present,” I said, disappointed that I was no closer to determining what on earth was wrong with me. “I mean, that’s never happened to me. It’s not that I’ve ever felt that I was asleep when I’ve seen him, but… I’ve never felt so awake. When I saw Brynn, and knew I was completely conscious… it was an entirely different experience. I knew that what I was seeing was really there. It’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me, Corinne.”

Meghan’s voice interrupted us as she called from the kitchen, “You want potatoes, Nia? I made them this time, so beware!”

“Yes, please,” I called over my shoulder, before turning back to Corinne.

“I got your potatoes right here, Nia!” I heard Drew bellow, and I could only imagine what crude gestures might have accompanied the comment. I raised my eyebrows at Corinne.

“What does that even mean?” I muttered, cocking my head. “Uh. huh. Moving on.”

Corinne didn’t miss a beat, despite the interference.

“I’m sure it was,” she said sympathetically. “Scary, I mean. I’ve definitely encountered some dark entities while projecting, but I was able to come back to my body whenever I felt the need. I couldn’t imagine confronting something like that without having control over the situation.” She looked away, shaking her head, her concern sincere.

“Wait, you can do that astral thingy, like, on command?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah, kind of,” she said with a smile. “It takes a lot of practice, but I try to travel often, so that I can experience everything meant for my astral body. There are other worlds out there, Nia. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to this one. We live in a multiverse.”

“Whoa, ok, boss,” I said, feeling that my open-mindedness had officially peaked. Yet I was nagged by a certain phrase I’d heard years ago. Kosmos Taxidia.

“Yeah, yeah, I gotcha,” she laughed, standing and stretching. Some kind of minty essential oil fragrance wafted my way. “Let’s go help in there. And by help, I mean get Drew out of the way.”

“Yeah, wherever you go, he will surely follow,” I muttered, and she elbowed me with a grin. “A bee to freakin’ honey.”

“Yeah, I got it,” she laughed.

“A moth to flames. A fly to a turd.”

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