I don't know how much time has passed when I open my eyes again. I find I'm lying on a couch in room I've never seen before. I try to move and pain slices through my brain when I turn my head, but I blink it back and spot Jared locked in an animated conversation with his Devito friend. I must make a noise because suddenly both of their eyes are on me. I am terribly groggy but I know something is wrong. “Where am I?” My voice comes out strange and rough. “What's happened?”
“Shhh,” Jarred says as he walks across the room. He kneels beside me and my fears quiet when he runs his hand over my face. “Don't fight it. Just close your eyes and rest,” he tells me. Then I swear he leans forward to press a kiss to my brow.
My eyes close. They are so heavy I can't make them open. I cling to consciousness long enough to ask, “Fight what?” Then I am being pulled under the heavy darkness again.
The last thing I remember is hearing him say, “The Rohypnol I put in your tea.”
I drift away…I don't know how much time has passed before I can feel my body again. It feels so heavy, like my skin is weighted down with iron. All I can do is breathe. Still I work to grab at the edges of my consciousness with all of my will until I rip through and wake.
My eyes flutter open, I find that I'm in the green silk bed in my sacred space. The bed is amazingly comfortable, fluffy and soft like it’s made of down feathers. The absurd image of featherless chickens dances behind my eyes as I sink back into the warm softness. My heavy-lidded eyes close again when a low voice purrs, “Oh, what a splendid mess you’ve made.”
I jerk my eyes back open at the familiar voice expecting to see a cat, but standing at my side is a tall slender woman with lovely brown skin. I'm shocked to see that she is stark naked aside from the gold bangles around her neck, wrists and ankles. She gazes down at me with the same gold rimmed, tawny eyes and though she is very feminine and hairless, I know she and the cat are one and the same. “Bast?”
She sighs heavily as she peers down at me. “Now that’s a name I haven’t heard for awhile. Oh Rachel, what am I going to do with you, little one?”
I watch enthralled as she shakes her head. I find it hard to pull my eyes from of her body even as embarrassment burn my cheeks red. I fight for use of my tongue and mouth and pull off a small victory when I mumble, “He drugged me…”
Her mouth quirks in a fascinating grin to reveal a row of sharp white teeth. “Ah, yes. Then I do know of something we can try.” She turns from the bed and my eyes slip closed for what seems a second as she moves and mixes things in a mortar and pestle she seemly acquires from thin air. Then she pulls me into her arms. My heavy head lolls back. I feel like a newborn or at least as helpless as she forces a vile liquid between my lips.
The potion has a powdery feel and a metallic taste that cleaves to my tongue. I sputter but she holds me still, locked in her vice-like grip. There is nothing I can do but take the liquid as she coos, “That's a good girl. Just a little bit more.” Then I am suffocating as she pours the drink down my throat holding me tight until I’ve swallowed it down. “There. That should help.”
“Why?” I ask when I can speak again.
“Why?” she echoes.
“Why are you doing this? Helping me?”
“Silly girl. It is not your place to ask. Didn't anyone ever tell you? Never question a Goddess.” She sighs dramatically. “I know you are young and uninitiated so I will indulge your question,” she looks at me with eyes sharp and bright as she adds, “this time.”
Then she grins flashing her small, sharp teeth. “You might say that I’m a curious cat who likes to play with her little bird before the feast.” Her grin widens and for the first time I understand the menace it holds. “And you, Rachel, are a very curious little thing indeed…”
I draw a harsh breath as a jolt of pain brings me back. My skin is on fire. The pain narrows my focuses to a pinprick. My whole universe becomes the hand pressing down on my bare back. To my horror I find that my muscles are still paralyzed. I can only endure the stabbing heat thrust between my shoulder blades. Then a voice I recognize as Jared's speaks. Betrayal, fear and sorrow wash over me so intently, I barely catch the words. “Something has been bothering me, until recently I could always tell where she was but then she completely dropped off my radar.”
I feel the rough fabric of the couch under my cheek and I realize I must still be his captive. My fear mounts as an unfamiliar voice responds, “Do you think this is the witch's doing?”
Jared moves his hand, probing my bare back and I am powerless. Only my skin is free to react, coming alive to spasm and throb under his touch. “No it doesn’t feel like her energy.”
Suddenly the room brightens. Light flickers across the walls as the familiar chime of foreign words crash around us. “I recognize that voice. This is Bartamous' work.” His hand falls away. “I can’t undo this.”
“What voice? Undo what?”
The pain between my shoulders subsides. “I forgot. You can’t hear angel song or see their sigil.” Jared's fingers trace down my back, their touch now light almost like a lover's. “There is a mark here. Her wings are sealed.”
“Then you're just going to have to hand her over the way you did her father.”
My father? The words sharpen my focus until I begin to doubt them. Did he just say something about my father? What does my father have to do with any of this? It takes all the strength I have to lift one eyelid. From my vantage point I can see Devito and I watch as he puts his hand on his chin and narrows his eyes. “You think Bartamous has caught on? Do you think he knows?”
Bartamous? The name sounds like I should recognize it. Images of a white dove and an envelope sealed in gold fill my mind as I let my heavy eyelids close. The conversation has my thoughts in a twist of confusion.
The hand lifts off my bare skin. My shirt is tugged down until my back is covered. “Please, we are the least of his worries. Her wings take her places when she sleeps, someone probably tipped him off is all.”
Wings? I hold the word tight as my thoughts muddle and the darkness closes in.
Voices rise in the next room jerking me awake. I am still on my belly, fabric rough beneath my face. I struggle to turn over only to find that I can barely move. Though my muscles are leaden, my mind is now very much awake and I'm able to feel enough to tell now that my hands are bound. I don't know if it’s adrenaline or Bast's potion but my blood seems to warm as the feeling returns to my fingertips.
Movement catches my eye and I shift my chin to watch Jared and Devito enter the room. They are locked in an animated conversation I cannot understand, I can only follow with my eyes as they walk across the room. My breath catches when I spot Sara stepping out from Jared's shadow. She turns to peer up at him but the way her body moves is terribly wrong. Her movements are jerky. Her steps ridged and her face is void of any expression.
“What are you going to do with her?” Devito asks.
“Release her. She has fulfilled her obligation.” Jared bends to wipe his thumb across her forehead and as his digit meets her flesh a glyph on her forehead blazes bright. He rubs through it and the mark vanishes in a shower of sparks.
Sara blinks as fear crosses her face.
“Do not be afraid, little Si’lat. Your contract is fulfilled. Go in peace.”
I watch as her eyes dart to me before her form dissolves into the air. I must make a startled sound because Jared turns to glance at me. I squeeze my eyes shut and feign sleep.
I am saved when Devito asks, “You got anything to eat in this dump?”
“Mal, you have no need to eat.”
He snorts. “That's never stopped me before.”
Jared runs his hand over his face before he turns away. “There is food in the kitchen.”
“And why is that?” Devito’s voice is like a bark.
“Because I too indulge in some pleasures.”
The minute they are out of sight I begin to struggle. A dark shadow begins to take on form and I freeze as Sara materializes at my elbow. She gives me a sad little smile before she motions for me to be quiet with a raised finger against her lips. Fear grips me she bends to put her lips to my ear. “I am sorry I scared you, Rachel. I couldn’t do anything. My body wouldn’t listen to me. It moved on its own. Please don't hate me.”
I am shocked to hear her voice. I turn to see the contrition shining in her eyes and it gives me hope. “Oh Sara, I don’t hate you.”
Her expression brightens.
I know I have to trust her, that I can't waste a single second being afraid. “Do you think you can get me out of here?”
She looks at the rope and frowns. “You forgive me?”
“Yes, Sara. I forgive you.” I search my memory for something, anything that might help and I remember Ian’s declaration that spirits need energy to manifest. My thoughts turn to how I might lend Sara energy. I take a breath and reach for the energy of the room but I am too muddled to focus. My intention only falls to the floor. Think, think I tell myself. Memory blooms of the night Anna asked me to work the spell with her so that our energies could mingle to create a stronger force and an idea begins to form in my brain. “Sara, I'm going to try something. Don't be afraid of what happens next. Okay?”
She gives me a puzzled look before she nods.
I close my eyes and will myself to the lobby with the black couch but this time instead of taking the stairs, I cross to the lobby phone and lift the receiver. I take a leap of faith and punch in my Grandma's old number.
“Hello?” a familiar warm voice replies.
“Rachel? Is that you? What's wrong?”
“I need your help. Last time I saw you, you told me to call if I needed you. Well, I do. I need you right now!”
“And Grandma, bring Pa and Aunt Elsa too if you can.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Yes, I think it’s going to take all of you.”
“We'll be there when you open your eyes.”
I hang up the phone and go back to sit on the black couch where I begin to wiggle my fingers and toes until I am back in the room with Sara. When I open my eyes, I see three bright, luminous forms standing over me and Sara crouching again behind the chair.
“Sara, don't be afraid. They are here to help.”
Sara gives me a long look before she creeps over to take shelter behind me as she peeks out at them, holding on to the back of my shirt. The image of her claws flash fresh in my mind. She’s just a little girl, I tell myself. Then I turn to my grandma, “Can you move anything in this world?”
I am not surprised when she shakes her head.
“Sara can,” I tell them and they turn to look at her. “She needs your strength to help me. Do you think you can empower her?”
Through the golden glow, I see my grandma's lips moving.
“I can't hear you,” I tell her.
She gives me a smile and a nod and then the three of them draw close as they link hands to form a circle around me. I see my grandma’s lips move again and this time Sara turns to her and nods. My grandma places her hand on Sara's shoulder and I watch as my three dead relatives wrap Sara in a cocoon of golden light, and with the boost of their added energy, she raises an index finger that thins and lengthens until it becomes the shape of a long, wicked-looking knife. She presses it to my bonds. I hold my breath bracing against the weight pressing down, and then as if by magic, the rope gives way and my hands come free.
I sit up rubbing my wrist. Sara is quick to take my hand and pull me to my feet. The room goes black. I close my eyes and draw a ragged breath. When I open my eyes, the room is back and Sara is standing alone. She motions for me to be quiet as she pulls me toward the door. I cross the room on rubber legs to fumble with the knob and have a heart-stopping moment before it releases and comes open with a soft creak. We slip through and I find myself standing on a dimly lit street I don't know. It doesn’t slow Sara. She pulls me down the walk and I follow urging feet I can barely feel to tap out a soft beat as we move through puddles of light that shimmer like coronas under a long line of streetlamps in a night that is strangely beautiful. She tugs and I follow round the first corner we come to taking us out of sight of the house. I slide my hand into my pocket and am rewarded when my fingers brush my cell phone.
“My phone!” My steps falter as I pull my cell free.
“Hurry Rachel!” Sara tugs and I hobble after her, fingers fumbling with my phone as we go but no matter how many times I press the buttons, the screen only flashes “keypad is locked”. I glance up to see Sara’s mouth moving but her words take time to reach my ear. When I finally hear them, I realize she’s repeating my name. “Rachel!” My numbness earns a reprimand from Sara as she reaches out to catch a lock of my hair. She gives it a hard tug and I yelp, “Ouch!”
“Run faster, Rachel. You have to run now.” As anger floods through me it’s like I come awake. The night suddenly seems sinister. I stop messing with my phone and will my feet to move faster as I try to orient myself. I've always had a great inner compass but tonight I’m hopelessly adrift as we jog blindly forward, hand in hand.
Sara leads me across a street and round a corner and then down another block until we reach a main road. Across the intersection is a little park set off the road. As my eye fall on it, I realize where we are. Cars zip by sending a shudder through me as I stand in the shadows weighing my options. I don't know if Jared is still talking to his friend or if they are out here looking for me. One thing is certain, I can't just stand out here in the open. They'll be able to spot me for sure if they happen to drive this direction. Across the street, the WaterWorks project at Arizona Falls glows like a beacon. The sight of it fills me with hope, and when traffic thins, I sprint across the street, race across the parking lot and haul myself up the walkway.
The walls of the exhibits block the view of the street. I collapse on the first stone seat we come to out of breath and huffing. “Now you can call Anna,” Sara tells me.
I pull out my phone and press Anna’s number. She answers fast. “Rachel is that you?”
Relief floods me when I hear her voice. “Yes,” I puff, “Anna, it’s me…”
“Rachel where are you? I've been so worried. When I got back the door was standing open and your car and purse are here...”
Worried. She was worried. “I had to run. Sean was there, and Sara too.”
“Sean? Who is Sean?” An image of him on my step, holding me, kissing me, burns bright and her voice is lost as the moment stretches into something strange and surreal as everything shifts into something mist-filled and dreamlike and I am left hollow watching, a spectator watching it happen to someone else. “Rachel? Answer me. Rachel, are you alright?”
I fight to draw a breath as her words break over me. All right. Am I all right? The realness of it and all of its implications loom and in that stretching moment it dawns on me stone-cold-clear that just a few minutes before I’d been a prisoner bound with my hands tied behind my back and that I was NOT all right. No, it was not right. In fact NOTHING WAS ALRIGHT. The small voice begins to whisper. Wake up! Anna needs to know where you are. You have to tell her what happened. I give my head a shake and try again. “I had to run.” I catch my breath enough to screech, “Anna. Jared drugged me—”
The strange words fill my ears so that I almost don’t hear Anna. “Drugged you? Rachel, where are you?” I blink anchored by a single thought like a lifeline holding out against the numbing fog. But this is happening. It is. I am here, right now, hiding from something bad…I am not safe, something very bad could still happen. “Rachel?”
The shrillness of Anna voice wakes me from the fog of my thoughts. I might not be one hundred percent sure of what happened but I am sure of one thing. “Anna, he drugged me!” The realization releases a flood of tears. “Jared drugged me. He drugged me and tied me up. Anna, I think he was trying to kidnap me!”
“Calm down and tell me exactly where you are!” Her tiny voice through the phone sounds so far away. Suddenly I feel very much alone.
I force out a sharp exhalation and grasp at reality all around. “I'm at the Water Works at Arizona Falls. It’s off of the little park on Indian School and 56th Street.” My eyes go to Sara as she suddenly turns, cocking her head to listen to something only she can hear. “Hurry Anna.”
“Are you safe?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” My stomach pitches and I squeeze my eyes closed. “For the moment maybe but I feel kind of woozy. Anna. Jared drugged me!” Tears begin to leak from my eyes.
I hear Anna but her voice becomes muffled, like she is talking holding the phone away to someone else. “She's at Indian School and 56th Street at a place called Arizona Falls.”
Fear that the call is going to drop flashes through me and I yelp, “Anna?”
“Thank the Goddess!” Her voice is back, clear and breathy. “Just stay on the phone. Help is only a few minutes away.” While she is talking I can hear the jingle of keys and the slamming of a door and relief floods through me because I know that she is on her way to get me.
I wipe the wetness from my face as more facts of the weird night gel. “Uh, Anna? Sara is here.”
“Oh my god—”
I cut her off. “She saved me. She was under Jared's control,” I start to blubber but I know the information might be important should he somehow manage to gain control of her again. “There was some sort of mark on her forehead. I think it was a glyph. Then he erased it. Anna, he called her a Si’lat.”
“Rachel, shhhh. Rachel, listen to me. Ask Sara if she can find out where Jared is.”
Sara and I lock eyes. I watch as she nods and then she is gone and I am alone in the dark with just Anna's voice on the phone. The night grows darker and stranger as the reality of what I'd just endured washes over me. I crumple. Tears roll down my face and I begin to sob noisily until I hear Anna's voice through the phone. “Rachel, just keep it together a few more minutes. Everything is going to be all right.”
A flashing sweep of headlights blind me as a car pulls into the parking lot. It parks close to the entrance of the WaterWorks project. I gasp, slip from the seat and press my back to the stone. A car door opens and someone get out. My heart begins to pound wildly when it slam closed. I press the phone to my chest and hold my breath as I listen to footsteps crunch across the gravel. “Rachel, come out.” The sound of Jared's voice makes my heart lurch. “I know you’re here. I saw you run across the street.”
I gasp and say in to the phone, “Anna, Jared's here. He's found me.”
“Run, Run back down to the road. Go east on Indian School…” Her words fade as I end the call afraid that the light from the display might give away my hiding place.
“Rachel, come out. Make this easier for both of us.” His voice is low and reassuring even while his measured footsteps crunch the gravel. I hold my breath and listen as he makes his way up the walkway, cutting off my escape route. I quickly weigh my options. Now I can hide here and wait until he passes, hoping that he doesn't see me, or I can take the back way and loop around through the park.
His voice jerks me from my thoughts. “I’ve marked you Rachel. It does no good to hide. Just come out.” My chest tightens as I listen to his looming voice. “You know it’s not like I'm the only one looking for you. You don't think all those adventures you took on the Astral went unnoticed do you?” He is so close now I can hear it when he sighs. “Rachel, it will be a lot easier on you if I'm the one who hands you over.”
His words force my decision. I bolt like a rabbit making a mad dash for the viewing platform. My heart beats wildly because I know I've been spotted when he stops talking and the footsteps behind me now ring out at a full run but I make the platform. From the top I can see the bridge leading across the canal and I press myself to run hard toward it. The way is poorly lit and as I come down the last few steps, I miscalculate and stumble. For a few crazy micro-seconds I'm flying. Thankfully I land uninjured at the bottom and I'm able to gather myself and spring across to the other side.
My footfalls are softer on the dirt path but my heart is thundering loudly in my ears. For I know that if he caught me here it would be the end of it. The only way I can evade capture now is to make it to the pedestrian bridge and cross it back into park. I bolt through the dark, praying that I make it safely through to the tennis park and this time when I come to the bridge, I don't hesitate but plunge on, full ahead. My footfalls on the metal ring out my presence. I'm halfway across when I see something on the other bank begin to stir and it looks as if the ground itself is moving, shifting, as it begins to take on form. Then Sara is there ahead of me shouting, “Toss him all of the money in your pocket!”
I blow by her, legs pumping hard as I stuff my hand into my pocket. Sure enough, there is money there. I seize it all in my fist, barely slowing as I dash by the form, only tracking it with my eyes so I can tell where to direct the toss. Then I fling out the money hard, and for an instant I catch the image of a face, its expression turning to surprise as the coins strike and bounce off of his head as I speed by. The steps are now in front of me but I choose not to slow. I leap down only to lose my footing on the last step and tumble out on the bank.
I'm shaking as I pick myself up and thanking god that I didn’t twist my ankle. Footsteps ring out behind me and I gather myself and bolt. I run. Stretching out my legs to their very limits. Feet slapping the ground. The grass below a blur. I run. Behind me the night explodes in the angry noises of a fight, I don't slow. Instead I fix my eyes on the promise of the road and rocket toward it, darting through the candescent circle of a street lamp, running hard. Running, my arms swinging wide. Feet pounding, slapping the ground. I’m nearly there. Just a few more yards…Then I hit with a smack, an invisible shoulder-high wall that halts my progress, and like a firm steel hoist, it hauls me off my feet, to thump me, back to the grass, as the air knocks in a whoosh from my lungs. “Ooof!”
I am flat on my back gasping like a fish when a strong hand clamps down on my arm, “Why did you lock me in the house and run away?”
“Jesus, Sean. You just closelined her!”
I open my eyes to see Sean kneeling beside me. Just over his shoulder, Michael looks down, his hand reaching out in an offer of help. I start to reach up but then Sean sees it too. “Don't you touch her,” he hisses as he shoves Michael back.
Michael lifts his palms in surrender. “Hey, Sean. No need to turn all fucking psycho. I mean, shit, I was just going to help her up.”
Sean pulls me into a rough hug but I'm still huffing and puffing so I barely struggle when he presses a kiss to my mouth. When I gain enough control of my breathing, I gasp, “Not now, Sean. We have to get out of here.”
“Now, that’s no way to treat a lady.” I swivel my head just in time to see Jared's Devito-look-a-like friend step out from the shadows. Then he does something strange with his hands and his feet, and the more I look at him, the more he starts to look like a giant toad. He hops across the grass and now the resemblance is unmistakable. “I hate wearing that stuff,” he says flicking a tongue much too long to belong to any human.
“What the fuck?” Sean stiffens and I know he must be seeing what I am. “What the fuck are you supposed to be?” He pushes me away as he rises to his feet.
“Didn’t your parents ever teach you to ask nicely?” the toadthing asks before he lashes out his tongue in a pink flash hitting Sean and hurling him to the ground.
“No!” I scramble over, reaching for Sean. I catch hold of his arm but I am too afraid to take my eyes off the toadthing as it crawls closer.
“What the fuck! Is that blood?” I turn to see that Sean’s moon-eyed expression is gone. The look on his face is real now. “Oh, my god! Am I bleeding?”
Michael turns to face the monster and I rise from the ground and reach out and take his hand. We stand together, shielding Sean with our bodies. Even though I’m putting on a brave front, my legs wiggle like they are made of jello and my heart thunders in my chest.
The toad creeps closer. “Stay put and no one else gets hurt.”
Sean groans on the ground behind me and I'm pretty sure that I'm about to be dragged off again, when a familiar voice hisses, “She's here. She's here!” I lift my eyes to see the little grasshopperman hovering above the bush. The thing that was Devito fixes his eyes on him and shoots out his tongue but the grasshopperman evades it and flees up into the leaves above us but he doesn't stay silent. “They are here! They are here!” he chirps.
The shadows around us begin to quiver and quake as darkness gives way to light and I turn to see a bright light shine like a star through the trees. It grows larger and brighter as it approaches. I shield my eyes to see a thin, shining man coming across the green. Following him are three rough-looking men poking and prodding a bound and gagged, Jared. The grasshopperguy flits to the shining man's head and settles into a crook in the fabric of his hat. I blink and rub my eyes trying to get a better look at the man. But he’s so bright it is hard to get any details.
“Are you alright, Rachel?” says a voice that's I instantly recognize as my neighbor's.
The toadman shuffles back wide-eyed when he sees Jared. But then Tom holds his hand out in a motion to stop and the toad freezes. Tom raises his arms and moves his lips, and though the sounds escape my ears, runes instantly appear to burn into the earth around the toadman. As the runes blaze to life, the toad starts to panic, hopping and turning within the burning circle but there is no way for him to escape. There is a blinding flash as the runes flare bright. When I can see again, the toadman is gone. All that is left is a circle of singed grass and a pile of empty clothes.
There is a noisy gasp beside me that I think is from Michael but I don't turn to see because my mind is still trying to process what my eyes saw happen to the toadthing. I am staring at the pile of clothes when the fabric begins to shift and tremble like there is a heart thumping inside the shirt. I’m hoping hard that it’s not an actual heart when a normal-size toad wrestles free of the cloth and hops out.
“Is everyone alright?” Tom asks.
I blink and pull my eyes from the circle of burnt grass. “No, Sean's been hurt.”
Tom comes around the bush to where Sean crouches, eyes flashing pain and anger. “Stay away from me.”
Tom leans in quick to run his palm over Sean's face. At his touch, Sean's eyes close and as his muscles relax, he falls back on the grass. Numbness begins to steal into me as I kneel, eyes on Sean’s motionless body. I’m about to give over to it when Tom’s voice calls me awake. “Rachel.” I turn to see that he is gazing back at me and his words are like a soft encouraging breeze as he says, “Well what are you waiting for? Call your power into your hands.”
Michael slides his eyes to me but I only take a breath and lean forward. Then before a single question can cross my mind, my hands are reaching out and grasping at Sean's blood soaked shirt. I tug the cloth and the seams give. When I see his ruined flesh, I silently thank god that the wound is in his shoulder and not his chest.
I close my eyes and summon my energy to my hands, and just like before in my dreams, my hands begin to warm and tingle. I draw a deep breath as I call up the energy within me. Then I press my palms to the wound. I ignore the warm feel of the blood running between my fingers and focus on sending energy into him. In my mind's eye I see his wound healing, veins knitting back together, muscles rethreading. I picture it just like you would mend a tattered cloth and I am awed when I feel the skin under my palms stir. I focus my intent and channel my energy into him, a bright healing flow that rolls up my spine, down my shoulder and into my tingling palms. I press it into him and I run it until he is filled and I am left empty, with only a glowing ember remaining.
The whole thing only lasts a moment. I am lightheaded when I pull my hands away but I know his wounds have closed and the bleeding has been stopped. I sit back and almost fall. It’s as if all the blood in my body has rushed from my head into my feet and I have to sit back on the ground as the world goes black. I gasp but a blink later my vision begins to return and I find myself sitting on my butt, feeling dazed and a bit muddled. I give my head a shake to try to clear it. When I look up I find that Sean's awake, gazing at me with eyes round with fear.
“Keeper, there is something wrong with the girl.”