“Rachel.” My eyes flutter as a cool hand brushes across my brow. “Rachel, wake up!” The night-lit place of the hospital dissolves as her voice breaks through. “Rachel?” I open my eyes and blink. The dream world becomes a shadow that collapses into cobwebs.
She gives a loud sigh. “Good you’re awake.” I focus to see mom, perched on the edge of my bed, expectant expression pressed on her features as she gazes down at me. “How do you feel?”
“Mom?” I groan and close my eyes again offering only a single word, “Tired.”
Worry makes her voice sharp, “Rachel, look at me!”
I blink my eyes open again. “What?”
“You scared me. For a minute I thought you weren’t going to wake up.” I feel her moving around my room. “Rachel,” she starts.
I cut her off with a growl. “Mom, please, I’m fine. Just go!”
“Rachel, I need to go in to finalize a few things before noon.” I blink up at her as reality cements. “You'll be okay here alone for a few hours?”
She is watching me and what she sees causes the furrow in her brow to deepen. I push myself up to sit but my body feels heavy, my muscles slow.
“Won’t you, Rachel?”
“Jeez. Of course, I will. I was up late,” I lie. “Just go.” I fall back and pull the covers over my head. “Don’t worry. I just want to sleep… a little… more.”
She gets up and goes to the doorway. “You'll call if you need anything?”
“Yes, Mom. I promise. Please, just go and let me sleep…” I mumble and I close my eyes. I don’t hear her leave for the darkness has already claimed me again.
White light falls across my face. My full bladder forces me up from my bed. I sit up and my belly rolls. My thoughts are disconnected, my head stuffed with cotton. I walk, eyes half-open, to the bathroom. I can't believe it when I glance at the clock and read it’s almost noon. Sleeping late means waking around nine or ten not letting half the day pass. I step into the shower and stand while the hot, soothing water rains down.
Shampoo is rinsing from my hair, flowing down my face when I first notice the quiet. I turn off the water, step out and can’t help but listen as I dry off. I wrap the towel around my head, find some clothes to step into, before I go down the hall, through the house and it is oh so quiet, every room hollow, even the kitchen empty. Though it is daylight, I pause to flip on the lights casting out the thin shadows from the room. Only the fridge looks inviting. I pull the door open and run my eyes over the contents. Milk and cheese, eggs, butter, jam and below a drawer filled with growing things. Still nothing looks appealing. I just shut the door again.
I skip the idea of eating and carry my laptop into the living room where I drop to the couch and click on the television. A show comes on and I pull my laptop onto my lap. I spend the next half hour flipping channels and reading Reddit.
Halfway through a show about an escape artist honey badger, a faint ringing tone sounds from my computer. I drop my eyes to see the call alert window of my Skype account flash an image of Babette Corleone as it opens. Babette is a sister medium and member of my psychic circle in London. I know I mentioned that I have a talent for seeing spirits, ghosts and energies, some days better than others, I don’t think I told you how Mom scrimped and saved so that I could acquire tools to deal with said talent. She enrolled me in a summer program to develop a true understanding of the mechanics of mediumship and for the past three summers I’ve attended classes at the College of Psychic Studies in London. Babette is one of the gems I’d met there, and I mean that truly. She might be closer to forty than my age but her spirit is young and loving. She has a way of making you feel like you’ve been friends forever and, I swear, she just sparkles with energy.
I run the pointer over the answer with video button. A window opens to show her peering out of the screen. “Rachel!”
“Hi Babette.” I lean down into the glowing screen and grin.
“I’m so glad you answered. I have a session in just a few minutes but Mahomet is fixed on me talking with you.”
“Me? Really? What about?” Mahomet is Babette’s helper spirit, her guardian and guide. His name is actually a long tripping compound of vowels that twist the tongue, so for short she calls him Mahomet. She’d met him when she was a child in France and now he looms over her shoulder, ever present, in the visage of a wizened Native American man cloaked in hides and an elaborate headdress for those who can see him. I never have except as a faint shimmer but I’ve always felt his presence there at her back.
“He insisted I give you a message. He wants me to tell you that,” she lifts her fingers to indicate that she’s quoting, ‘the wind carries your name’. I had to break away to call you just so he’d move on to other things.”
I draw my brows together as I lean closer to the screen. “What does that mean? The wind carries my name?”
She shrugs. “You know how he is. Just keep your eyes open and, you know, look both ways before you go crossing any streets.”
I sigh. I can’t help it. It sounds like she warning me, and Mahomet thought it was important enough to make her stop what she was doing and call. I roll her words though my thoughts and wonder at what they might mean. “Thank you Babette.” She gives me a small pleased smile. “And thank you Mahomet.” My eyes go to the spot over her shoulder and darn it if the shadow there doesn’t seem to be in the form of a man. As long as I’ve known Babette, no matter how many times I tried to see her guide I was never able to see more than a slight, shifting shimmer that afterward I was never sure I even saw, but now as I look I see him standing just where she always claimed he did, a clearly defined shadow in the form of a man with a deeply wrinkled face and a high brow wearing a tall headdress on his head, and as I watch he inclines his head.
“Rachel, are you okay? You look a bit lost.” She turns away to glance over her shoulder. “Oh dear, it’s time. Sorry to just spring this on you and fly.” I shift my eyes back to her. “I’ll call you again tomorrow. Maybe we can pull a few cards?”
“Sure, Babette, I’ll be here.”
“In the meantime promise me you’ll be careful.”
I offer her a smile. “Of course,” I promise but she’s already signed off.
The wind carries my name. The phrase nestles in my thoughts and lodges there as I wonder what it might imply. I sit with it for a few moments until a glance at the window with the bright day outside makes the decision that I can’t be inside. I have to get out. I shove my laptop over and stand and stretch as an idea begins to form entailing walking to the corner Starbuck for a caramel macchiato and maybe a slice of lemon cake. So I slip on my shoes, stuff my wallet and my cell into my pocket and grab my keys.
The first thing I spot as I step out on the porch is my car parked at the curb. I give it a long look as I walk to the street my thoughts on how I promised mom I wouldn't drive. She will never know…whispers a small voice... Immediately I put the temptation behind me as I turn away from the car and walk out to the street.
It is a beautiful April Arizona day. The big sky is a deep and cloudless blue. The sun is deliciously warm on my skin. Soft whispers of a cool breeze are just enough to keep the day from becoming too hot. Spring with its bursting life is there all around me. Bees are buzzing. Butterflies drift from blossom to blossom. Dozens of different kinds of birds flit here and there, thrilling and chirping filling the air with their songs. A mocking bird trills, a woodpecker shrieks, a towhee cheeps, as bevy of sparrows chirp and a chorus of doves coo. Off in the distance I hear the high forlorn cry of a quail. I round the corner and startle two cottontail rabbits. They stop foraging and turn to look at me.
Many think the desert is void of life but in reality is it more alive than most of the other places I’ve traveled. Scottsdale may be a big city but the wildlife thrives alongside the population. While the larger antelope, deer, javelina and mountain lion might stick to the more desolate areas, rabbits, ground squirrels, road runner and quail are frequent visitors to my neighborhood. And in the evening owls and bats take to the skies while coyotes lurk in the alleyways and raccoons come out to explore.
I reach the corner where the residential street meets the main one. The majestic peaks of Camelback Mountain rise in the distance looking purple today instead of its normal blue. The wide cement sidewalk stretches off, the busy thoroughfare on one side and a large fenced canal on the other.
I tilt my head away from the street, eyes to the area beyond the fence. The water way is not visible from the walk. It is hidden behind a long sloping hill planted with trees and desert landscape and left to become a wild place choked with foliage and shadowed places for creatures to lurk.
I turn and set my eyes upon my destination. It is two lights up and a block to the left, not real close but not too far either, certainly a walk worth a macchiato. It’s a nice walk and I take it leisurely, after all I have a whole week to kill. With a lift of my chin and a smile on my lips, I turn my face into the breeze as the wind stirs through the overhead branches, setting sunlight to shift and shimmer in a dance of quaking leaf-shaped shadows that fall across the sidewalk all around.
The chatter of a squirrel pulls my eyes, beyond the fence to where it sits up high overhead on a branch. I look for what has him so upset but I can’t spot anything. Then a little father up, there is a burst of movement as something small erupts from its resting place to scurry away, crashing through dry leaves, setting the grass to sway and my attention flits from the street traffic to follow. The creature, probably a lizard but possibly a snake, rustles through the dry underbrush until it reaches the foot of a group of scrub oak trees. There in the shadows it falls still, and with no other movement, there is nothing to snag my focus. Though I try to spot it, fingers wrapped around the chain link, eyes searching as I peer through. The shadows are too dense for me to discern anything. Still I stand there watching while traffic flows in a steady stream and me alone on the walk. A moment passes, and I shift. Eyes ready for any movement. Then I see it, a slow, deliberate repositioning of something large shifting, a measured change meant to garner my attention, to set me forward on my way…or call me closer… as only my nature would determine and I hold my breath as I stare at the place, at the dark spot where something huge rests…watching.
I blink. While my head might not believe, my heart responds by quickening its beat, and in that second, I catch a glimpse of a large, ragged man resting in the shadows. His huge head is set with a gigantic, bulbous nose, great cow-like ears poke up through matted, frizzing hair. His lips parted and I swear I see two large tusks protruding from his lower jaw. Then I blink, and the image is gone, before me only a shadow-filled place. I blink again, eyes starring hard, but nothing changes, there is nothing there to see. But there was! You saw it! The still small voice in my head chants, It was there. Right there! You know it was!
Goose bumps prickle my arms as I stand staring at the spot my eyes played their trick. For what could it have been but a trick of light and my imagination? A gust of wind blows catching back my hair and I let go of the fence to catch it back, eyes still on the shadow-filled place watching as the branches overhead sway and set the dappled light to quake and dance upon the earthen ground.
Is that all it was, just a trick of the light? I hang there for another second before I let go of the moment and turn away. The unsettling image stays with me as I start my feet moving again. A few feet up I find a large hole in the fence where someone, or something, has clipped their way through the wire. I pause, my eyes darting to look through as a cold shiver zaps down my spine and I’m just turning away when from behind me, I catch the low rumble of a laugh. I spin around to stand like a deer starring for a very long moment, but there is nothing to see. There is only me and the traffic of the street, the wind gusting through the trees, and the shadows shifting across the ground.
Oh this is weird, really weird. Then my rational mind begins to whisper that the whole thing might just be the workings of my own mind. And I start to wonder, even as another voice mutters, That was not imagined. It wasn’t. My hand goes to my phone as I become frightened that I might be on the cusp of another episode. I’m about to poke the number for my mother. The only thing that stops me is the memory of the worry on her face because, really, what would I tell her? That I was seeing and hearing things? I don’t think so.
I just stand there on the walk, fingers squeezing my phone, as my heart thunders, breath held, eyes fixed to the shadows that I know must only be shadow. Still I wait watching to catch another motion, waiting to see whatever might choose to show itself to me. I wait a long moment, eyes searching but the only movement is from above where a group of sparrows chirp in the high branches. And when nothing else moves, I turn and hurry on.
I make it another block. My heart starts to calm. A laugh tumbles out at the absurdly of it. I’m shaking the weirdness off when, from the corner of my eye, I spot a quick flitting movement that fills the side of my vision. Curious, I slide my eyes to find there is nothing there. A few steps further, I see it again, this time on my left, a dark patch about the size of my hand moving fast to flit across my peripherals in a blur of black shadow. It flutters just out of sight even when I jerk my head to try to fix on it. Eyes straight on reveal there is nothing there and I begin to rationalize that I must be seeing shadows. Now the motion is too large to be from insects, so it must be from birds above. Yeah that must be it. I decide to ignore it, and I press forward only to find that the experience continues, following me, harrying me as I hurry along. Here and there I catch the quick blur of shadow movement that stays just out of the range of my interpretation like a mean game meant to confuse or frighten me. Fear seeps into grip me as I begin to wonder if it might be the conjurings of my own brain. Don’t let it happen again…please not again…not now, not here…My breath becomes shallow and the next moment it happens I cringe, fearing I might be on the cusp of another episode. I squeeze my eyes tightly closed for a second before lumbering on. And though my heart flutters, no pain knifes through my head. My knees do not buckle instead my steps remain firm. Yet the phenomenon continues to plague me following me until I cross the street. Then strangely, the moment I cross the lot and push through the door of the Starbucks, it stops.
With clear vision I blink at the crew behind the counter. I draw a breath and make my way to the register. “A grande caramel macchiato, please.”
“Would you like some crumb cake with that today?” asks the nice-looking woman at the register.
I eye the tempting slices of iced lemon cake behind the glass. “No thank you.” I hold out my debit card and I must pass muster because she only gives me a smile when she takes my card.
My hand trembles as I take the tall cup. I have to quickly reach out with the other to steady it. I slip into a table near the window and set the cup down before I turn my attention on myself. Other than a case of jumpy nerves and a rapid heart rate, I discover I feel perfectly normal. I draw a breath and sit, my thoughts jumping on one another as Babette’s caution rolls through my brain.
People come and go as I sip the warm drink casting glances out through the glass. I pick away at the tangle of strange fearful thoughts but this time I cannot rationalize away the fear. It sticks with me looming as I linger, too shaken to leave the sanctuary and brave the walk back. So I take slow sips, nursing my macchiato sparing an occasional glance at my cell to count the minutes as I try to muster up the courage to make my way home. I start when my cell begins to ring. A quick glance at the display reveals that it’s Mom. “Hello?”
“I was on my way out and thought I'd bring you some lunch. What do you think sounds better? Pizza from Oregano's or bean tacos from Frank and Lupe's?”
“I'm kind of sick of pizza. How about a cheese enchilada plate?”
“I was leaning more to Mexican myself. Feel like getting out? Want to come with me?”
“I'd love to,” I tell her. Then I confess. “But I'm already out.”
Mom squawks. “Rachel you promised you wouldn't go anywhere!”
“No, Mom,” I correct her. “I told you I wouldn't drive. I walked to Starbucks.”
She lets out a loud breath. “You couldn't just stay home?”
“Sorry, I got bored.”
“Well, sit tight. I'm on my way.”
“I will,” I say and I mean it. I’m smiling when I end the call and brave enough to wait out front. Five minutes later Mom pulls up. She gives me a long look as I slide into the passenger seat.
The food comes quick at Frank and Lupe's. I'm halfway though my enchiladas when she finally puts her phone down. I shove another bite into my mouth when she looks at me. I see the guilt as it glides behind her eyes. “Sorry I had to take that.”
“It was time sensitive—” she begins.
“I know, Mom. You don't have to explain it to me.” I nod to her plate. “Eat. Your burrito is getting cold.”
“So how is it?”
I grin as I shovel in another ooey gooey bite of goodness and say with a full mouth, “Delicioso.”
After lunch mom drops me back at home. I lock myself inside and spend the rest of the day reading, my thoughts slipping to wonder as I wait for Babette to call.