Chapter 34: Nora (IV)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Nothingness can have a shape, a form. I fell into it, and found myself falling headfirst down a spiral nothing. There was nothing to grab onto, so I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t see how far or fast I was going, I had only my own internal sense to judge how I was moving. I was falling faster and faster, turning, turning, and yet nothing changed outside of me.
Then, suddenly, without feeling like I hit anything or slowed down, I stopped. I was lying on my stomach. There was a floor of some kind underneath me. But it seemed to be more nothing. I couldn’t see it, or feel any texture to it. It was just there underneath me. It was creepy.
A voice came from above. “What are you doing here, Nora O’Donnell?” It was female, and with an unfamiliar accent.
I pushed myself up off the “floor” and stood up. There in front of me was a woman I had never seen before. She had dark hair, an oval face, spectacles, and wore a dark sweater and skirt with flats. We were about the same height. “Who are you?” I asked. I looked around. There was a pillar of light nearby, but otherwise there was nothing to see, not even a wall or horizon. “Where are we?”
She pursed her lips, frowned, then looked relieved. “Of course you don’t remember me. I was posing as an old woman the time I brought you to see Shylock Kammen and Martha Fokker. My name is Ivy McIlwraith, and I’m a sorceress. Sadly, a ghostly one, which is why we are here. We are inside a ghost trap. Now tell me what happened to you.”
She was the old woman? Sorcery, indeed! But she was a respectable older woman, in that guise or this one, whichever was real. Miss (no wedding ring I could see) McIlwraith also seemed to know what was going on, so I replied, “I had just come back from church and went to the front door of my house when a stranger opened the door. I thought he was dangerous, so I turned to get away, and then I fell into nothing and kept falling until I came here. That’s all I know, Miss McIlwraith.”
She thought a bit, nodded, and said, “That’s Madame McIlwaith, child. Sorcerers are Monsieur and Madame, a quaint old custom which we retain out of a false sense of dignity. That explains why you’re here. But what were you doing at church in the middle of the night?”
“It was about one o’clock in the afternoon, Madame McIlwraith.” Odd mistake for her to make. In fact everything she said was odd. “You say that explains why I’m here, but I don’t understand.”
Madame McIlwraith shook her head. “Of course you don’t understand. You don’t understand anything.” At that, she smiled, before continuing. “I was trying to find a way to escape, you were trying to escape, and instead of my getting out of here, I dragged you in, instead. It’s the time difference that bothers me. As near as I can tell, I’ve been here for only a few minutes, and yet half a day has gone by in the world outside. And I need to speak with Martha Fokker as soon as possible. There must be a way out, and I must find it soon.”
Martha was not someone I wanted to consider after my discussion with Father Quinn. And now I was in the company of a sorceress. Could I trust her? I looked around. “There don’t seem to be any walls. Why can’t we just walk out of here?”
“Try it yourself,” was all she said.
So I did, three times, and each time quickly found myself back where I started. Madame McIlwraith just stood there, lost in thought. I looked around again, and asked her, “What’s that pillar of light over there?”
She turned and looked at it herself before turning back to me. “It’s a sentinel, a sorcerer turned into a form of energy by Edward Cross to serve as his slave.”
That raised so many questions I didn’t even want to start in. So I went for the obvious, instead. “What’s that dark object it’s . . . holding, I guess you’d say?”
“The actual physical component of the ghost trap. It’s how we got in here.” Madame McIlwraith dismissed the matter and resumed pondering our predicament, which I still didn’t fully understand.
If that was the ghost trap, but we were in the ghost trap? There’s an artist named M. C. Escher who does these drawings with impossible perspectives that give me a headache. Madame McIlwraith and this ghost trap were giving me the same headaches. But it seemed to me a good idea to get hold of the part of it the sentinel was holding. It might help Madame McIlwraith. So I walked over, stuck my hand into the sentinel, and pulled the ghost trap out of it.
The place we were in shook violently. I was almost tossed off my feet. And the sentinel flared up, and advanced on me. But it stopped just short of me.
Madame McIlwraith spun around. “What have you done, child?”
I held out the ghost trap. “I took this from the sentinel. Would it help you get us out of here?”
She stared at it. “You took that from the sentinel?” Before I could reply, she laughed and clapped her hands. “Oh, very well done, Nora O’Donnell, very well done. That is just the thing we need. And the sentinel doesn’t think it can take it back from you, so keep it. Now let me think.”
I didn’t want to interrupt her thinking, so I stood there quietly, with the ghost trap in my outstretched hand. It was a small, rectangular object. It could have been mistaken for a hand mirror. I tried looking into it once or twice, but it made me dizzy.
Madame McIlwraith looked up from her thoughts. “I have it. This is what we will do. You keep the trap in your right hand. Stand on one side of the sentinel, and I will stand on the other. We will join hands, encircling it. And then you just follow my lead.” She moved to take up the position for herself that she described.
I didn’t move. “Why did this place shake so much when I took the ghost trap?”
She looked a bit annoyed. “Oh, you disturbed the magical structure of this place somehow. Probably broke one of its connection to the outside world. But that’s not important. Take your place quickly.”
I still didn’t move, uncertain of what to do. Madame McIlwraith saw my hesitation, and in a kindly voice said, “You don’t know whether to trust me, do you, child?”
I nodded. “I don’t know whether to trust anybody. Father Quinn said Martha might have tampered with my mind. And even though she’s supposed to be helping my brother, she’s a killer. She killed him.”
“I could tell you Edward Cross is worse, child, but that wouldn’t help you. For now, for the moment, we need to get out of here, and I’m the only one who knows how, and I can’t do it without you. I can tell you you’ll find proof that you can trust me before we’re done.”
Far from making me feel better, that bothered me. “You mean you’re going to put some spell on me to make me trust you?”
“If that was what I was going to do, I would have done it already.”
To that, I honestly had no answer. And I did need to get out of here. So I walked a step or two closer to the sentinel. It tried to back away, but Madame McIlwraith was behind it. I closed in, and reached out to join hands with her.
I was totally unprepared for what happened next. Ivy McIlwraith’s memories flooded into me. I could remember all she knew. I saw the sorcerers torturing the vampire in the cellar. I saw how she had helped form Sherlock Kammen. And I saw her own terrible death.
Before I could recover from the overwhelming memories, Ivy yanked us together, pulling us into the sentinel. It was like taking on a huge electrical charge. It felt as if I could see to the end of the universe, I could turn the planets from their courses.
And then everything settled down and I was alone, alone in darkness. Not complete darkness, no. The ghost trap portal, as I now knew it was called, glowed with magical energy. It had changed, and so had I. I still had all that energy from the sentinel burning inside me, And I had Ivy McIlwraith inside me, too. I could see every bit of her. She could not lie to me, she could hide nothing from me. I could see that she feared Martha Fokker, too, because she was unsure of Martha’s aims or character, but that she had so far successfully worked with her. I could see her deserved hatred of Edward Cross. And I could see, from what she knew, how it was that Martha’s vengeance against the police for what happened to her lover Vic had inadvertently set up this conflict that never should have been.
What do we do now? I asked her.
We have the magical power and the means to escape, to go anywhere. We must go warn Martha, if it is not too late, she replied.
How do I get there?
Ivy chuckled. You know what I know. Take us to Martha.
I wasn’t happy with that choice. Did I have a better one? I thought a bit, and then said to Ivy, No, not Martha. Where we go to depends solely on how I think about the place, correct?
Then, I replied to her, we are going to go to where and when we can do the most good to end this foolish war and to help my brother.
I activated the portal and stepped out of nowhere, back into the real world.
End of chapter thirty-four