Jo could have passed it off as a bizarre joke, except when her brother handed the phone to her a few days later; the voice on the other end was anything but jovial.
“Yes?” She felt the same premonition as when she had gone through the packet.On instinct, she went to another room and sat in a corner.
“This is Satara. I’m glad to reach you and speak in person at last.How are you coping?”Her voice was lovely -- warm, rich, kind, cultured, the kind one would imagine an angel having.
“I…don’t think I have yet. I thought it was all a weird prank.”
A sigh drifted over, bringing a vivid image of towers, white stone, light and blinding colors. “Time has run wrong on us.I wish I could have prepared you longer for this.It is no prank, and it is indeed ugly.”
“It? What’s it?”
“We are facing a war. If you are left on your side, you will probably be killed.”
Jo wondered what she had missed, or if the woman on the other end was just lacking in bedside manner. “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.Killed?Left on my side?”
“When sending written words, particularly in this situation, I have to be careful. Much went unsaid.You are our only untrained contact in your world.If left, the people I wrote you about would try to stop you and us at the same time by simply eliminating you and anyone who might replace you.”
“My brother?” Jo was instantly horrified, doubt taking second place to fear.
“No, he hasn’t crossed our paths, except through you. You have some friends, who live near you.They would be connected.”
That meant their neighbors, the Netherlands. They had been friends for a while now, and Jo did have a reputation for being loyal to friends. “I still don’t get it,”she said, hoping for more information.When it wasn’t forthcoming, she added, “What do you mean by worlds?”
“That is simple,” Satara answered, “we are one earth, but it’s a little like Swiss cheese. The surface is smooth, and undisturbed.What is there is what you see.But look at it differently; there are holes, pockets of space and unseen paths.They lead to us, our world and the lands within it.We are part of Earth, but a hidden sphere.”
“Why me?” Jo challenged. She was beginning to feel a little belligerent.Hedging didn’t sit well when the person doing it had just coolly announced to Jo that she was in line for execution.
“As I wrote, you have the acceptance needed. A heart and mind must expand in order to survive us and our ways. There is something you should know; I’ve sent out the door, your connection to the passage.It will simply be there one day.You have a tree row; I recommend you check it every so often.”
“I don’t get it!” The girl erupted, sounding younger than her fourteen years, and feeling even younger than that.“I don’t understand any of this!What do you want?”
“Your trust,” Satara said simply.“I can’t explain everything just now, and if I did, you wouldn’t be able to understand it.I do care what happens to you and your friends.Trust us.”
With that, she was gone.
If she hadn’t been shaken enough by then, Johanna found herself home alone to brood over the package and the echoes of the phone call. The farm house was eerily quiet as she studied the pile on her bed.In a fit of rage, she bagged the papers up and shoved them under the dresser.
Storming to the kitchen, she began water for tea, hoping a snack would distract her for a few minutes. Whether it would have worked, she never discovered.
A man stood at the door, waiting patiently. Jo was certain he hadn’t knocked, or at least certain she hadn’t heard him.Opening the door, she looked him over with veiled suspicion.He was portly, on the shorter side of medium, and had bright, bright red hair, which was going grey.His glasses were incredibly thick, and tinted.Under the glasses, he had a patch over one eye, making her wonder why he had bothered with glasses at all.He faced one direction, as if musing over the paint on the house.One thing Jo quickly picked up on was his presence.It seemed to fill and dominate the space around him like a bitter smell.
“May I help you?” She asked courteously, glancing behind him at the white van and trailer in the drive.They looked broken-in.She looked back at him.
“Perhaps. Are you Johanna Hall?”
Usually, passersby asked for directions or her folks. She was instantly on guard.“What’s your name, sir?”
The smirk on his face said, sir, that’s nice.Out loud, he answered, “Warner Weston.I deal in antiquities.” Handing over a card, he waited until she had read it before going on.“I just need to make a call, and my cell has died.Could I borrow your land line?”
Jo shut the door, picked up the wireless phone and brought it back to him. He turned his back, punched in a number, held a brief and almost curt conversation with a hotel, and then returned it to her.“My thanks.”
“No trouble.” She slid the phone into her oversized pocket alongside the card.“Staying at the Branches?”
“I doubt it.” He studied her.“I still don’t have your name.”
Jo thought about lying, but decided there was no way a stranger using her name could not know who she was. “Johanna.”
“Johanna,” He repeated sardonically, “Very pleased to meet you. Perhaps you’ll be helpful after all.”
She shrugged, wishing she’d thought to bring a baseball bat out with her, but something told her nothing less than a firearm would stop this man.
“You see,” He continued, “I’m looking for a book. A very old, very odd book.Plain, brown leather, a journal kept by several people in succession. Ah,” Mr. Weston said, seeing her tense. “You have seen it.Probably have it, and have spoken with an old acquaintance of mine as well.Called Satara?”
“You have a very active ESP system, sir.” She said, noncommittally.“What does that mean I can do for you?”
“I’d like to buy it.” He said simply.“To be honest, I’d rather pay you.Seven hundred thousand dollars is a large sum, and fair enough for a child.You could give it to me, but I think there would be some…ethical issues raised for me personally.If neither of those works, I would choose a firmer offer. Say, your brother for warning, your friends for insurance.”
“Satara said you were desperate.” Jo murmured, wondering if he had a gun himself.
“Did she say why?” He seemed genuinely curious.
Looking into the half of his face she could see, she answered, “You want to go home.”
A red eyebrow rose, and slowly lowered. He reached up and pulled off the glasses, then the eye patch.“You haven’t given me your answer.”
“No.” She said, terrified, shaking, but she’d said it anyway.
“Are you sure? Dead sure?” He faced her full on, looking her dead in the eye.She wanted to vomit.
The nondescript green eye became nonexistent when the other was unveiled. It was a sickly yellow, distorted, too round.Down the centre it was slit like a cat’s, but the color completely filled the white as a bird’s would have.The presence she felt, the probing mind, grew, radiating from the eye.
“Mine is only an eye, mild. Do you know what you’re going to see if you hang onto that book?Are you sure you want this in front of you for days, weeks, years?”
“Good-bye.” She shut the door, locked it. Sliding down along the frame, she cried until her body refused to produce more tears.Jo wasn’t brave, but she had given her answer, and couldn’t back out now.
Her family hadn’t seen the man, or his car. Jo didn’t bring it up.Cynthia’s warning rose to her mind, and she didn’t like the feeling everything was bringing to her stomach.
Eventually, she had to bring it up. Her depressed and agitated state was rapidly seen.Naturally, her parents were furious, and she had left out Satara, the journal, and the forbidden world.
“I don’t want you to go anywhere alone; do you understand me, Johanna?” He father ordered.
She nodded. “But, Dad, he’s so smart, you have no idea . . .”
“And you do?” Her mother asked.Jo had to admit, she didn’t.One encounter was a far cry from expert status.
“You almost like him,” Jo said, her eyes turned down, trying to recall that horrific moment.“He’s on his own, and kind of like a kid.He just…wants to go home.”This seemed significant to her somehow, something she didn’t dare forget.
With a sigh, her dad went to call the sheriff.
Then, the letters started coming. They all said something like:
Since you have decided to involve your parents, I will see to it you have as much difficulty as I do. You have already heard my terms, and I will not revoke them. Reconsider.
Perhaps the most notable of their encounters was the Sunday afternoon she went out to the “fort” as she and Jay affectionately called the hodge-podge of scrap lumber, nailed together in a vague semblance of a certain-to-sink ship. Inside was a combination of everything and anything.There was even a recent, and struggling, garden that Jo had started on the dirt floor.The hideout was her favorite place to read in the summer, being cooler than sitting under a tree, and a place she was less likely to be interrupted.She had hung a hammock there for comfort’s sake.The hammock looked pitiable under the weight of the various books she had stacked there.She selected one, and turned to go, when the two-way radio her brother had left behind crackled.She grinned and answered it.“Jay, this is Jo, come in.”
“Hey, Jay, do you copy?”
“Jay doesn’t copy, I do.”
“Right the first time. Your friends, they know about the book?Or are you afraid word will get out.”
Jo went rigid. “Mr. Weston, I don’t have it.”
“You do have. You and I both know you have.And Just Watch Eye will do.”
“What? Watch Eye as in . . .”
His derisive answer left little room for doubt. “How else have you heard the name?It’s pathetic you didn’t put it together the day I stopped by.”
“I don’t know what you expect from me.”Jo had never told such a bare faced lie before, but hedging seemed the best bet.
“Jo, I don’t want to stoop to being nasty with a child.” He sounded tired, Jo thought vaguely.
There was a moment of silence, and then the air was filled with a shrieking, wailing sound. It seemed to have a melody without meaning, a melody that causes pain, fear, anger, all the base feelings music can bring if mishandled. Jo and the sound fought each other, as if it had been a living thing trying to gain mastery over her.She hit the ground and the sound left her gasping in agony.The radio crackled again.
“Get up; it didn’t do any permanent damage.”
Jo took the machine in her shaking hand. “Pro…prove it.I c-can h-hardly t-talk.”
“A side effect, which will wear off. I would like that book.”
“N-no. I d-don’t have it.J-just let me b-be!P-please, let me BE!”
There was a moment of silence. Then a sad, world weary answer came almost kindly. “You fight well Jo.They chose correctly.I wish only that you knew what you were getting yourself into.” Then, he was gone.
Jo limped back into the house. She had somehow remembered to take her brother’s radio with her, and handed the device to Jay. He lit up as he took it.
“Oh, yes! I’ve been looking for this, where’d you find it?”
“The fort, by the hammock.”
“I’ll need this next weekend when the Netherland’s come. One won’t do us any good.”He stowed it away in his backpack hanging over the back of the chair, and gave her a high five. Jo was staring at him as though he’d dropped from Mars.
“What do you mean, ‘one’?”
“Well, I have the two, but just before you came in, I could only find one. I guess I left this one out in the fort yesterday.”
“Yes, I guess you did.” She muttered darkly.