I open my eyes to find I am standing on a sandy path at the edge of a very dark lake. To my right, the wood platform is there just like before. It beacons silently as it reaches out over the water, promising safe access across the lake. But I know where the dock leads, and tonight as I look up at a night sky with its billions of stars shining bright above me and the glowing moon, a golden globe with a twin reflected on the water, the mystery of the place shivers across my skin, awakening my curiosity. I turn away in favor of a little exploration.
The dirt path seems to run along the water's edge so I take it walking through a sultry night as a soft wind strokes my face. The balmy air is thick and alive with a myriad of nighttime voices, invisible creatures that peep and croak and click and creak in the darkness. It isn’t long before the sand turns to mud that squishes through my toes. I walk for a good distance and when I think I must be halfway around, I turn… and to my surprise, I find the dock only a step away behind me.
I draw a sharp breath when I see it. My eyes follow it out to where it reaches across the dark lake beyond. There is a stirring in my soul to mount the stairs and walk across it but instead of giving in, I turn away, stubbornly in favor of a nighttime stroll. This time I go the other way around. This side is wilder, the path a narrow passage through tall rushes and reeds that quake and stir in whooshes and whispers. After I've walked a few steps, lights wink on around me, a sprinkling of tiny colors that float magically on the night breeze.
A little further on, I spot the glow of eyes of something much larger watching from the water's edge and I stop as thoughts of warning crowd into my head. And as I stand there considering the prudence of my adventure, the watching eyes offer only a blink. Then the sounds of thrashing water followed by a wild screech shatter the night's serenity. And I turn intent on creeping back to safety, only to find the dock is still right there, one step behind me.
Hurry….hurry…you are late….The call is strong as I turn and face the wood structure. Guilt presses in and this time I give in. I put my foot upon the step and climb to the top of the platform. With each rising step, peace floods through me in an absolute rightness and I know this is what I was called here for, not for a night time adventure, not a quiet walk through the dark. It is this that draws me to heed the call and cross the water. I have been given a function to perform, a task to do. With the understanding shame descends haring my footsteps to become faster. The wood is rough beneath my feet but I ignore it as I scurry across the top to where the lower platform reaches out across the water. A quick, light hop sets me on it, and my chest tightens with guilt over the wasted time. I quicken my pace, to a shuffling jog as I begin the long crossing. It seems to take hours but finally I spy the higher dock, set on the other side.
The woman in white is waiting. She snuffs out her cigarette and rebuttons her lab coat as I approach. “What took you so long? We almost had to send him away.” But she doesn't wait for an answer as she grabs my arm and hurries me past the desk where the nurses are working, to a table where a child waits.
His back is to me. A handful of canyons and a pad of blank sticky notes are ignored on the table. His sightless eyes are fixed to a spot on the wall. I slip into the chair against the wall and my heart breaks when I look at his battered face. Then I reach out and take both of his hands in mine, resting both of his in the palm of my left hand while I cover them with my right.
I ignore the pain, fear and hunger that seep from him and call the power into my hands. Instantly my palms begin to heat and tingle as I gather the energy and press it, and wrap it. When I have enough, I lift my hand to touch the top of his head and plunge the energy down into his crown charka. I press it and funnel it down, infusing his crown charka until it is awash with a radiant light before I move down to his third eye. I press the energy down filling his throat chakra, push it down to wrap around his heart chakra, plunge it to fill his belly. I run the energy until his solar plexus chakra glows a sunshine-yellow. My hands begin to tremble. I draw a sharp breath and ignore the weakness that is settling in my muscles, the way my stomach is beginning to knot. I don’t slow as I continue to filling him with health, pouring energy to his sacral chakra, then into his root until he is brimming with a rainbow of energy and his charkas are spinning like brightly colored jewels.
I pull my awareness from the child and fall back, gasping, into a body that twitches and quakes with exhaustion. My heart is racing and my energy is spent. I swipe a stream of sweat from my forehead and lift my eyes. From across the table the child watches me. A slow smile grows on his mouth. He doesn’t say anything as he reaches for a green canyon.
The boy bows his head over the small square of paper. I am too weak to do anything but look past his shoulder and wonder where the nurse might be. When I glance back at the boy, he is looking up at me. His smile is wider and his hand is extended in offering. In his palm is a slip of paper with smiling face drawn in green.
I wake to the sound of my alarm. A quick swat makes it silent. I lay blinking in the morning light. It takes several blinks to remember I am scheduled to open the store. I give a long sigh, push back the covers and sit up to find there is a square of paper stuck to my hair. I pull it free and see it is a sticky note with a smiling green doodle on it. Something about the note is both uplifting and troubling. I sit mesmerized on the edge of my bed, gazing down at the drawing wondering where it came from and what it might mean. From the mists of memory, images of a moonlit walk across a lake begin to emerge…
A blaring noise breaks the silences, startling me from my thoughts. I rise and quickly switch the alarm off. The square of paper is still in my hand. I pull open my bedside drawer and brush my eyes over the smiling green doodle one last time before I drop it inside. The day has begun forcing me to join the routine. I put my curiosity aside and go to shower.
I am in my closet sorting through possible outfits with one towel wrapped around my body and another around my head. I hold up the blue shirt and scrutinize it again. The color is nice but the shape of it just doesn’t quite do. I put it back and pull another hanger from the rack. My cell chirps. I put the white striped shirt back. It was never a favorite, and pick up my phone. “Hello?”
“You're opening this morning right?” I recognize Anna’s voice.
“Uh, yes.” I dart my eyes to the clock to see I’m running out of time.
“Thank the Goddess. I wanted to get breakfast on my way in but I can't find my keys anywhere. Do you think you could give me a ride?”
I calculate how Anna lives only a couple of miles beyond the store and how it wouldn’t take much of an effort to swing by and pick her up. “Sure, no problem, except I’m not quite dressed yet.”
“Great! Thank you. You’re a real life saver. I’m going to keep looking so if your phone rings, pick up. Hopefully, it’s me telling you I found them.”
I click off, give a long sigh, and shelf my plans to spend a little extra time on my appearance in case Jared stops by. I fly to my closet and settle on a favorite pair of jeans and t-shirt.
I finish getting ready and on the way out, I grab the leftovers Jared gave me to eat for lunch. Luck is with me. I catch every light green. The drive is quick. It only takes me an extra five minutes to get to Anna’s.
I pull up to the curb and send a quick text: I'm here.
I’m wondering if I should turn off the engine and park when my phone chirps. Anna: Thank you, thank you! Still no keys…might be another minute. Would you mind coming in?
I frown down at the text thinking that if she doesn’t hurry, we are both going to be late and I grumble softly to myself as I park and get out. I turn and look at the building. A magical slant of light warms the house as it casts an enchanting array of dappled light and shadow to shift through the leaves overhead, illuminating a garden already bright with snapdragons, larkspurs, zinnias and poppies. I go to the gate, let myself through, and follow the slate path back to the guesthouse. I pass through a small citrus grove, tiny white flowers busy with bees. A thick twist of morning glories rises up to cover a trellis. Their heavenly blue blossoms nod in the light breeze. In their shade an inviting white bench waits and just beyond is Anna’s door standing open.
“Anna?” I peer inside. “Anna?”
“Back here!” she calls.
I step in to find her house is mess. Stuff is strewn about everywhere and I have to pick my way through it carefully so I don’t step on anything. I find her in the bedroom rummaging through a pile of clothes. “What’s going on?”
Anna throws up her hands when she sees me. “I can't seem to find anything. First it was my keys and now it’s my wallet!”
She squats down to pull out a small trash can, and as she begins to rummage through it, I start to crack a wise remark about cleaning up the place when a movement catches my eyes and I turn to see the small blond girl. Her head is thrown back and her mouth is open in a wide grin as she laughs at Anna. “Uh, Anna,” I shoot her a worried glance. “Sara is here.”
Anna frowns up at me. “The little girl from the shop?”
I glance back at Sara. “Yep, the very one.”
“But why would she follow me here?”
“I have no idea.” Sara leans back across the bed and laughs so hard, her whole body trembles. “But she seems to think that you're funny.”
Anna's posture goes stiff. “No,” her voice is low as she sits frozen for a long moment before her hands fly to her head. “But of course. That explains everything!”
She slowly rises from the ground. “First getting locked out yesterday, then-then,” she starts to sputter and I have to put my hand to my mouth to cover a nervous giggle, “breaking my favorite necklace and now my missing things!”
I look nervously back to Sara as Anna’s voice rises louder, “The little freak is screwing with me. She is SCREWING WITH ME!” Anna pulls herself up to full height as her hands go to her hips, “Well, I won’t have it! You hear me you little wench?” Sara stops laughing. Her eyes narrow. My chest tightens but Anna can’t see her and she does not hesitate. “Stop it! Stop messing with me!”
Sara pulls herself up to glare at Anna and as she does her posture turns menacing. Fear uncoils in my belly. “Anna,” I caution, “stop.”
Anna doesn’t seem to hear me. She’s given herself over to her anger. “You think you can just move in here and mess with me?” She shoves back her sleeves, hands balled into fists. “Well, I won’t have it. You hear me? I won’t! You have to go right now, Missy!”
Sara hunches forward, and as I watch, her small body begins to change. “Quiet, Anna,” I plead, eyes locked on Sara, watching as her small back flexes as it thickens and grows wider.
Anna doesn’t slow. She is oblivious to the metamorphous taking place right in front of her “Mess with me, will you?” Her eyes flash.
But Sara is still changing like a werewolf caught beneath a full moon. Now she is twice the size she was, and still changing as her head expands, brow growing wide, jaw thickening, teeth growing long and sharp. Then her eyes do a wild roll and I find my voice, “Anna, shut up. You're making her angry.”
“I don't care if she's angry. I'm completely pissed!”Anna is spitting mad now but her anger only seems to fuel Sara, feeding her energy to morph into a completely different form and I am helpless but to watch in horrified fascination as her mouth stretches wide to reveal huge, jagged, shark-like teeth, her fingers lengthen and grow until they become long, wicked-looking claws. In seconds the innocent child from the store is gone, and a frightening monster is in her place.
“Mess with me? Me?” Anna thunders and Sara answers by launching herself into the air. She leaps with ease to Anna's back, alighting on her shoulders.
I scream as she throws her head back and sinks her teeth into Anna's neck. “No, Sara!” I lunge, reaching for her but my fingers only slip through her vaporous form. She lifts her head and plunges it down to clamp her jaws on Anna neck again. “No!”
Anna face goes slack and fear streaks through me as she sits heavily down.
“Quit it, Sara!” I shriek. I reach for her again but it’s like there is nothing there and my hands just go through her like she's empty space. With wide-eyes I watch the color drain from Anna’s face and suddenly I'm terrified.
Then the still small voice in my head begins to whisper, Get her outside…and I react. I grab Anna up and roughly pull her out of the room, hoping that if I get her through the front door and out into the garden Sara will not follow.
I hobble out of the bedroom dragging Anna with me. She finds her footing and clings to me as we stumble across the living room. The door is still open from when I came through and I tighten my grip and fall with Anna across the threshold.
I turn to look and catch sight of Sara in the doorway, pressing against an invisible barrier, gnashing her horrible teeth. Her eyes are rolled back and her mouth is working in a dreadful biting motion as she snaps on nothing but air. The clicking of her teeth is shocking and I can't help but stare as her mouth snaps open and then smacks loudly closed, teeth smacking teeth.
After a moment, her form dissolves to mist. I tear my eyes from the doorway and turn to see Anna, pale and quivering. We are still clinging to each other. I haul her up and drag her to the bench where she drops heavily. “Let me look.” I pull her hair away from her neck and tug down the collar of her shirt looking for a wound but her pale skin is unmarked.
“What are you doing?” Her voice is weak.
“She bit you.” The sight fills my mind and sets my knees to tremble.
I sink down next to Anna. “Don’t worry. There is nothing there.”
“She might not have left a mark, but she did something. That was horrible.” Anna screws up her face. “Why would she bite me?”
“Because she wasn’t a little girl. She turned into…” my words trail away as a violent shiver trembles through me. I glance back at the doorway. It is still empty, only a few thin shadows lie beyond.
“But what does she want?”
I can only shrug. I’m wrung out feeling the effects of the adrenaline that just crashed its way through my system. We sit there, side by side, on the bench as the color returns to Anna’s face.
Anna gives me a wan smile. “Wow, I really don't think she likes me.”
My stomach clinches as the gravity of the situation weighs on me. “Do you think that had anything to do with that spell we worked?”
“That little freak is not my muse. Is she yours?” I shake my head and Ann continues, “No, definitely not.”
I can’t get Sara’s monstrous image out of my mind. “Maybe it has something to do with you naming her.”
Anna’s brow winkles. “But I thought she liked that name.”
I breathe out loudly. “Well something has obviously happened to bring her here to haunt you.”
Anna’s eyes go round. She almost moans, “Is that what she's doing? Haunting me?”
As I sit there looking into Anna’s eyes I realize that I’m not sure of anything. Life seems to be speeding up, going faster than I am, setting me to be one step behind so that I can’t keep up and I keep missing things…“I'm not sure what is going on.” I think back to the night we named Sara and I cling to it. “I only know that when you named her something changed. She changed. God, even as I watched she changed.”
Anna reaches out to touch my arm. “What do you mean?”
I don’t know what I mean and I shake my head as I try to find the right words. “It’s like she became more.”
Anna’s face crumples. “I still don't understand why she hates me.” I slip my arm around her shoulders and give her a hug. She takes a noisy breath. “Why did she bite me?”
“Well you were sort of egging her on…”
Anna pulls away and she surprises me by giving a small laugh as she brushes the tears from her face. “Crap, think I'll ever be able to go back inside my house again? How do you unhaunt a house?”
I snort. “If you could see what she looked like when she jumped on you I don't think you'd ever want to go back in there.”
“What did she look like? Tell me.”
“Scary as shit!” I start to describe the way her features morphed but my cell starts to ring and I dig it out of my pocket to see that it’s the store. “Hello?”
“You ever coming in?”
I turn to Anna. “It’s Cordelia.” Then I turn back to the phone. “I'm on my way. I stopped to pick up Anna. She's misplaced her keys.”
“Misplaced my ass,” Anna grumbles.
“Well, ya better hurry it up. It’s getting busy!” Cordelia says. “Crap, gotta go.”
I disconnect. “Guess we got to go.”
“What about my wallet?”
I flash her a look. “You really want to go back in there?”
Anna stands. “I am not letting that runt chase me out of my own place.”
My mouth drops open. “Anna, I don't think it’s safe. I mean if you could have seen what I saw… You know she attacked you right? The only reason you're safe now is because she seems to be tied to the space.”
Anna lifts her eyes to gaze across the shadowed threshold. I can see that she is weighing the danger. She draws a noisy breath. “Even so I can't just leave. I mean even if I do go somewhere else for a couple of days, I still need to go back in and get a few things, my purse and my phone at the very least.”
I can't believe she's willing to go back inside and my skin prickles when she suggests that I go in first as a lookout but I agree and together we quietly, slink back inside.
Anna freezes just inside the door. “Do you see anything?” she asks in a voice soft as a whisper.
I look around the room and I am alarmed to find that it’s messier than it was the moment before. Pillows are on the ground, the lamp has been turned over, a magazine has been gutted its pages strewn across the floor. “No. I think it’s clear,” I whisper back.
Anna stops. A frown fixes on her face as she looks around. “Fuck, I can't believe it. She trashed the place!”
“Shhh!” I turn and give her big eyes. She makes a face at me but she stops talking. Cautiously I walk deeper into the room. “I think she had a tantrum.” I keep my voice low, eyes darting. I spy Anna's wallet, phone and keys in a pile of debris on the ground. “I don't know where your purse is, but I think I found all your stuff.”
Anna scoots up beside me to eye the pile. She drops to her knees and scoops it all into the nearest bag. Cautiously we move into the bedroom and we are instantly silenced by the mess. There is stuff everywhere. Clothes, shoes, papers, books, knickknacks and jewelry are strewn across the floor. I think most of it was once on top of the dresser because now the top of the dresser is the only cleared space. All of the drawers are open with a few now empty on the floor, the bed has been stripped and there are feathers everywhere.
Anna leans down to pick up a large pillow. Her eyes fill with tears. “That bitch ruined my favorite pillow!”
“Anna!” I cringe and dart my eyes around but there is no sign of Sara. A book falls off the night table hitting the floor with enough force to make us both jump. I glance at Anna and read the fear in her expression. “Maybe you should consider staying with me tonight.”
“I think you might be right.” She presses the bag she holds into my hands before she goes to the closet and pulls out a suitcase. She opens it and tosses in an assortment of clothes and a couple of pairs of shoes before going to the bathroom and dumping in the contents of an entire drawer. “Okay ready?”
I nod and silently we retrace our steps, slinking back out through the now spooky rooms, neither of us speaking until we are safely outside. We turn and pause to look at the house which now appears deceptively serene and inviting.
Anna draws a noisy breath. I turn to her. “Ready?”
She nods and holds up her keys so we each drive to the store safe and steady, each staying in easy sight of the other. I park and slide out just as Anna comes around to my side. “I really don't want to talk about this right now. Can we keep this between us?”
I shrug. “Sure, I guess.”
“And your mom won't care if I stay over tonight?”
I shake my head. “No, of course not.”
She gives a small nod. “We should hurry. Cordelia is probably having a tizzy.”