Night finds me climbing the front steps at my creepy neighbor's house, with all the effort I'd put into avoiding him, it’s something I never thought I'd ever do and I pause in the shadows of the porch as my mind fills with whispers. Go away…. Turn back…Return from where you came. I'm fighting an urge to turn and walk back to my house, when the doorknob begins to click and tumble and then Tom is there smiling at me from the other side of the door. “Hello, Rachel. Won't you please come in?” he invites.
I start to take a step but what I really want to do is turn and leave. “I'm not sure this is the best idea,” I say cautiously, because everything I have inside is shouting, Run! Run while you can still get away!
“Relax,” he tells me with a wave of his hand. “Your hesitation is just a reaction to the aversion spell woven around the doorway. Once you've crossed over, I promise you will feel much more yourself.”
Aversion spell? Tom uses magick? I glance up at him as the image of him surrounding the toadman in a circle of glyphs replays in my mind. “Really?”
He nods and opens the door wider. Don’t go in, Run! Run while you still can…I blink as the reality that I am about to step into my creepy neighbor’s house crashes over me and I draw a long breath and look beyond him at the room with its plush green couch and cushy reading chair, a room that looks as normal as any other living room. “Is Jared in there?”
“No Rachel, he is not.”
I lift my foot to step through. “Have you thought of any way to help him?”
Tom shakes his head. “I'm afraid that might take some time.”
I blink…Might take some time…some time…time …before I’m truly insane or time before things go back to normal... I glance at Tom's face again and read the patient understanding in his eyes. We both know I'm stalling. The weirdness of the whole event crashes over me fresh and I draw a deep breath and take a resolute step inside. As I cross over the threshold, there is a popping in my ears as if the action of my very entrance leveled out a pressure building in the room. The tension lifts from my shoulders and the worried fight or flee voice in my head falls silent.
“Better?” he asks.
Yes, much better… Still I skim my eyes over the room before I nod.
“Okay then, let's go sit.”
I start over to the straight backed chair next to the couch when Tom says softly, “Why don't we go into the kitchen. I think the table there will better suit our purpose.” Then he turns and goes through a swinging door on the side of the room.
This is not so bad, I tell myself, giving a silent nod to the odd odor hanging in the air and the ancient green shag carpeting on the floor, before I follow him into a large gleaming kitchen.
The space is large and airy with a wall set with large windows to let in the light and pale stone tile gleaming on the counters and floor, a sharp contrast to the worn living space I'd just walked through. A shelf above the sink holds rows of carefully ordered jars while bunches of herbs hang from a rack drying in bundles.
He sits down and I turn my attention from the room and pull out the heavy wooden chair across from him knowing that he is trying to help me. I will myself to be open and I lean expectantly, forearms resting on the dark tabletop waiting as his green-green eyes measure me. After a long moment he finally speaks, “I'm not sure where to begin.” He draws a breath. “I’ve never done this before….but Rachel, tonight you've seen more of our world than most humans ever glimpse. You now know things that might put you in danger. I could take away this knowledge, which would do nothing to help your current situation, or I could teach you ways to protect yourself.”
His words have numbing effect on my brain. I have no idea how to respond so I just sit there staring up at him. “Do you know anything?” he asks, but I’ve stopped listening. My thoughts are caught on his statement…I could take away this knowledge…Take it away…I blink again as reality crashes in….Oh my God, I am sitting in my neighbor’s house and some crazy madman is out there stalking me….My chest tightens as the muscles flex and squeeze tight. Tom is still talking but now his voice sounds hollow. “Any sort of magical practice that might work for protection?” I blink… Magical…as in magick? The word is like a punch that knocks my breath from my lungs as my mind fills with the image of Sean, his face twisting in horror as he stares at me…I gasp and catch my breath.
“Rachel.” Tom calls from far, far away. “Rachel.” Tom snaps his fingers and I lift my eyes from where they had fallen on the table. “Rachel. Look at me!” I try to fix my eyes on him as he leans close to peer at my face. Then he’s gone as it is just me. I close my eyes as numbness presses in
“Rachel.” There is a hand on my shoulder. It shakes me roughly and I open my eyes to see that Tom is back with a mug that he presses into my hand. His voice has a strange echo to it when he says, “Drink Rachel.”
He helps me lift the cup to my lips then releases it when I take a long drink. The hot liquid is instantly soothing, even the steam, a heady balm and I hold it close and breathe it deep. Suddenly the fact that I am sitting in the chair at the table in the room becomes much more real as my senses open. Intensity floods me as I lift my eyes to see Tom standing there peering down at me...“Tom?”
A small smile turns his mouth. “Ah, you’re back. Just take a moment to finish your tea. Then we will begin.”
I do as he says and sip until the cup is drained and soon the floaty feeling is gone and I return to being just a girl sitting in a chair at my neighbors. I feel the weight of his eyes measure me and I drop my eyes to the table suddenly feeling completely inadequate weighing in a slim one-hundred-and-ten-pound average high school girl.
He gives me a kind smile. “Rachel, as you can walk the astral and have the touch of healing, you are anything but average.”
I blink …Is he reading my thoughts? Or did I just say that out loud and this strange feeling is just residual weirdness left from…well, everything? I look back to see that he seems to be pondering something… “I've been witness to the way you send power to heal another but have you ever tried to draw it back?”
Draw it back? Into myself?
His voice gets sharp again. “Come on, Rachel. Focus.”
I sit up straighter and try to answer, “Uh, I draw earth energy up from the earth to ground and center or to nourish, heal and restore…” Where the heck did that come from? The statement startles me and I wrinkle my brow.
“If that is the case then why did you only use your own tonight when you healed the boy?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper. And that’s when it hits me that I really don’t know. I don’t know how I did it. Frankly at this point I don’t even know if I really did do it…But I did…Didn’t I? I think I might have. I slide my eyes up to his and become certain he is reading my thoughts when he makes a face.
He gives a loud sigh. “It is dangerous to become so weak.” Dangerous. It is dangerous. My thoughts start to muddle and I blink and pull them back to his lecture. “You are of no one’s assistance if you allow yourself to become so weak.” He stretches out a long, thin finger to point to my mug. “Drink your tea.”
I thought I did finish it. I curl my fingers around the mug and peer in to see it is still half full. I lift it to my lips. The image of Jared at the café burns bright and I shiver as I take a long drink.
“Have you ever worked with the energy of air?”
The energy of Air? No. I shake my head.
“Do you know the art of visualization?”
Visualization? Yes, I am well versed in the art of visualization. I nod and add, “Sure.”
“Then we have a place to begin. I'm going to teach you a trick even the smallest animal knows, the trick of blending into the background until you are invisible. First you become completely still. Then you will yourself not to be seen. This does not always work, but employing the element of air will act as shield and hide you better.”
When his voice falls quiet I glance up and nod. He returns my nod and continues. “Close your eyes and take a breath…
“Air is a masculine energy. It can be a gentle playmate and your fiercest ally. Feel it pressing around you, stoking your face, smoothing your hair, wrapping around your shoulders…” His voice takes on a hypnotic tone and I let my hands drop into my lap as I slip into meditation mode. “It is always with you, filling your lungs, becoming your very breath, bonding with your very blood…”
I absorb his words and follow my breath deep into my body where it links with my blood cells and surges through my veins.
“It is your friend, it is your lover. Hear it call as it rushes over our heads, rattling the windows, rustling through the leaves…”
My ears fill with the sound of wind.
“Draw it to you… feel its power as you wrap it close.”
I feel the energy and I draw it to me the same way I've always drawn the energy up from the earth. Only instead of using root imagery, I lift my arms to the sky and see my hands and finger become twiggy braches. I call to the energy and when it responds I suck it in through my fingertips and the crown of my head.
As draw it in, I become aware that this energy is not like the fluid and flowing earth energy I'm used to working with. This energy is wild. It feels more alive and I have to keep my fingers and mind locked on it as it squirms under my touch, shifting and balking as if it’s trying to break free.
“The energy is all around you. It settles around your shoulder like a cloak concealing you from prying eyes…as it protects you from every threat.”
I pull the energy around me like a cloak, tucking my chin to let the hood fall over my face. I see myself nestled under a cover of shadows… you don't see me… there is nothing here to see…nothing at all…don't look at me…
Tom's voice falls silent as I hold the intention firm. He gets up and I hear him running the water, filling something. I try to ignore his movements. I am hidden…invisible… there is nothing here to see…nothing at all…don't look at me…
The refrigerator creaks open. I jerk my thoughts back to my exercise, shielding my image as I work the energy of the air around my aura. Wrapping it, working it, holding it tight. Then I breathe it in. I draw it deep so that the energy not only flows around me, but through me, nurturing my cells as it restores my chakras and suddenly I begin to feel myself again as I send it out to fuel my aura until it’s glowing bright…The sound of a knife clinking on a plate stops and I register the soft clatter of a plate being set upon the table in front of me. “What happened, Rachel? You were doing quite well and now you are, well, just sitting there glowing.”
I open my eyes to see Tom watching as he takes an apple slice from the plate piled high with fruits and nuts and bites into it waiting for an answer. A tiny spark of irritation flares to life and I quip, “I guess I lost my focus when you started milling around.”
“Do you think those that hunt you are going to wait politely while you try to concentrate?”
Oh I get it. It was part of the test… and I seemed to have failed…
Then it’s as if he's again reading my thoughts when he tells me, “You may have lost your way, but you did remarkably well, for a first try.”
I squash my irritation back into a tiny spark and give him a smile.
“Drink your tea and tell me how it was to work with the element and how it was different than the way you usually work.”
I weigh the question as I lift the cup to my lips and take a tentative sip before I reply, “It was different. The energy felt much more active.” And we fall into what might be our first comfortable conversation.
Almost an hour later we are back on the steps. I start back to my house as he calls, “I want you to try it twice again tomorrow, once in the morning, then again at noon. Record the details so you may tell them to me tomorrow evening when you return.”
I turn to toss him a question, “Return?”
He nods. “We will practice here again. Say, at sunset?”
I don't reply but I feel his eyes follow me all the way to my front door. I turn the handle and go inside. Anna is still at the table with Michael. They fall quiet when I come in, eyes fixing on me.
Anna is the first to speak. “So what did he say?”
I’m not sure what to say. “Uh, he made me some tea and asked me questions.”
A glance passes between them before she asks, “So what did you tell him? And what’s going on with Jared?”
I sigh loudly.
Anna pats the table and says, “Sit down, Rachel. Join us. Want another cup of tea?”
She picks up the teapot, but before she can pour, I put my hand over the cup. “No. No more tea. Thank you, but I'm beat. I – I – I have to go to bed now.”
She gives me a long look then Michael turns to glance at the clock. “I guess I should be going too.”
Anna’s eyes are still on me searching as I turn away. Then I hear her ask, “Need a ride?”
“That would be awesome, if you wouldn't mind.”
“Let me grab my keys.” She stops in midstride. “Rachel, will you be alright here by yourself?”
Then Sara's at my elbow. “Tell them you're not alone.”
I start down the hall. “Don't worry, Sara's here.”
At the mention of Sara's name Anna's posture becomes stiff. “And you're sure that's okay?”
At Anna's tone, Sara slumps with dejection. I pause to turn back to Anna. “I told you she was under Jared's control. I was there when he released her. The moment he wiped the glyph from her forehead she became her old self again.”
Michael narrows his eyes. “Who’s Sara?”
Anna shoots him a glance. “Sara is a ghost from the bookstore.”
I look at Sara. After what I saw happen between her and Jared, I suspect that she is much more than just the ghost of some forgotten child. Michael's retort pulls me from my thoughts. “A ghost…of course she is. Why am I not surprised? And you can see her? This ghost?”
“No, only Rachel can.”
“Oh, good I was beginning to feel left out again.”
She playfully elbows him. “So how far away is your house?”
“Seven, maybe eight minutes tops…”
“I going to take a hot bath,” I mutter as I leave them to their fussing. Sara follows me down the hall and I begin to wonder if I really ever have been alone…If any of us are ever all alone…..