Chapter 30: I am a gifted individual
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
In my haste to track down Nash’s killers and safeguard Penelope, I forgot all about my weird near-drowning in despair. So did Hannah. Oh, we had good reasons. Penelope led us to the room where Stephen Nash had been killed. The bloodstains on the floor were sufficient evidence that Penelope wasn’t confused. That she still wouldn’t or couldn’t describe the two people who killed Nash was a bother, but at least we finally had the murder scene. And that told me two things. First, whoever had killed Nash probably knew about and used the secret paths. And they had probably intended to frame Alex Bancroft. (Unless Alex killed Nash and then arranged things to look like a frame, which seemed far too byzantine to be likely.)
Which led to my next move. I needed to stash Penelope somewhere safe. I remembered Alex saying something about how he was able to protect Jezebel in Lakeview, and decided to see if he’d extend the same protection to Penelope. So we went via the secret paths to Sacred Mountain, and I went from there to Lakeview to find Alex and ask for his help. Not only did he agree, but he also used the Lakeview/Hilltop Council’s phone line to contact Bonnie and let her know what I had found. She promised to get out there herself as soon as possible.
Alex was back in his usual good humor, and practically charmed Penelope out of her madness when Hannah brought her over from Sacred Mountain. Remembering their last meeting, Hannah was at first more reserved, but warmed to Alex as he treated her mother so nicely.
Nothing seemed to happen to me in Lakeview without Jezebel finding out. When she showed up as we were finding a place for Penelope and Hannah to stay, she was so excited to see me. I wanted to talk with Alex a bit, not to mention clean up, but Jezebel insisted on dragging me off, saying she’d explain as we headed to our destination.
Jezebel was practically skipping along, she was so happy. She smiled at me and said, “Guess what I’ve been doing today?”
I shook my head. “I’d guess that you decided to run for Stephen Nash’s Council seat, but that’s too predictable.”
Jezebel laughed. “No, silly. I’ve been helping your sister Stacia decode Lavinia Priest’s prophecy. She is your sister, isn’t she? Spacy Stacy?”
My turn to laugh. “Spacy Stacy?”
Jezebel nodded vigorously. “Tanya told me that’s what they used to call her when she was a kid. And have you seen the way she sometimes sits there and stares as if she’s living in a dream world? But she’s smart. We had a lot of fun unraveling Lavinia’s riddles. Sometimes Stacia would figure them out first, sometimes I would.”
Now I knew what I needed to do next. “Where is Stacia, Jezebel? I’d like to know what the prophecy says.”
“But that’s where we’re going, Emily, the bathhouse. Stacia and Tanya went down there about half an hour ago.” Jezebel paused, then looked up at me with a tear in her eye and said, “What makes you think I don’t know what the prophecy said?”
Whether she was a good actor, or was really hurt, she looked so disappointed that I had to stop. “Hey, come here,” I said to her, and give her a hug. Once I let her go, I apologized. “My fault, Jezebel. I tend to think of the older person as always being in charge.”
My apology met with approval, to judge from Jezebel’s smile. In mock exasperation, she replied, “Well, really. Alex told me what Hannah did to Angus. It just shows that sometimes emotions can trump almost anything else. Maybe I’ll have to try to seduce Angus. Do you think Hannah would share him?”
My mouth dropped open at the thought, which sent Jezebel into another fit of laughter. And so we came to the bathhouse.
Lakeview’s bathhouse was famous among the Children. It sat by the lake, had saunas, steam rooms, and cold and hot pools. No other village had such a luxury; it contributed to Lakeview’s reputation for hedonism. That and it was the nearest equivalent to a singles bar among the Children. It’s where they went when they were looking for sex with no strings attached, sex with strangers (well, other Children they didn’t know well), sex because one was just lonely, or whatever. It was not unusual to see people actually having sex in the bathhouse. At least that was the reputation. I’d never set foot in the place before this.
Considering how dirty I was, I decided I deserved spending some time in the bathhouse. One used the bathhouse in the nude. It kind of bothered me a bit, being naked in front of strangers, not being something I’d normally do. But I was filthy and uncomfortable, and the only people I was likely to see whom I knew were Stacia and Tanya, who themselves would be naked. To everyone else I’d just be one more naked stranger they didn’t know. So Jezebel and I went in together through the locker room, stripped, and put our clothes away. Once that was done, we headed off into the main hall to look for Stacia and Tanya.
I was wondering why Tanya was here, so I didn’t see Stacia until she was only half a dozen feet away. It took me a few moments to realize that’s who it was. That was because Stacia was wrapped around a younger man who was passionately kissing her breasts while the two of them were having sex.
Sexual morals among the Children mean it was not a problem that Stacia was having sex in the bathhouse, nor even that I was watching. But those weren’t my morals. I tried to look away, and found to my consternation that I couldn’t seem to. It didn’t matter how I turned my head, or even closed my eyes, I could still see Stacia. And then I discovered I wasn’t just watching the two of them. It was that I was feeling aroused. It was so powerful I could barely think enough to realize it wasn’t my arousal I was feeling. It was Stacia’s. It was intense, it was powerful, and it was incredibly complicated. It wasn’t just what she was feeling, but what she was imagining. And it seemed to be taking place on two levels of reality at once. One was clearly the union of bodies in this world. But something I couldn’t comprehend, something unimaginable, was taking place between the two lovers in some other reality.
People watching other people having sex get aroused; that’s the whole reason for pornography. But this was something different, something more. I wasn’t seeing, I was feeling what Stacia was feeling. So I was now powerfully aroused, too, yet Stacia’s feelings on both levels and in all their complexity kept spilling into me, becoming more and more intense. I couldn’t hold it all in. It came spilling out of me, pouring out, flooding the bathhouse. And I could feel the other people in the bathhouse. The feelings spilling out of me began to affect them, and they were becoming aroused, and taking interest in whatever potential partners might be nearby.
I could feel all this happen. But there was nothing I could do about it. I had lost all control of myself, let alone what was happening to me. I no longer had any idea where I was, what I was doing, or even who I was. I was just part of a developing orgy, taking in the sexual feelings of everyone around me and pouring them out again in a reinforcing circle of arousal.
Dimly I realized that someone had grabbed me and was trying to tell me something. I didn’t even recognize who it was consciously. But I could feel her emotions and knew that it was Tanya. She was trying to fight what was happening to her out of concern for me. That didn’t matter. She should be part of what we were experiencing, it was so wonderful, and so we poured our excitement into her, more and more, until Tanya could no longer resist, joined us, and went off hunting a boy she had seen earlier.
Almost immediately, someone else grabbed me and told me I had to get out of here. It was Jezebel. We naturally just poured our pleasures into her, but Jezebel resisted. No, she didn’t resist: she was immune. It was as if she could block out what was happening to us all.
Somehow, she got me standing up and walking toward the locker room and out of the bathhouse. Once we got into the locker room, I developed some sense of myself again. But I was still dominated by the feelings in the bathhouse. I liked Jezebel, and those feelings twisted that liking to make me even more determined to bring Jezebel into the same sexual pleasure everyone else was feeling. I pushed on her as hard as I could. Suddenly it was as if a barrier gave way, and the full force of everyone else’s passion poured into Jezebel’s soul. And at the same time, terror seized me, and I blacked out.
Something was wrong. I’d done something wrong. I was sure I’d done the right thing, but I was wrong. How could that be? I’d done what I was told, but no, I hadn’t. I couldn’t do anything right. There was no way to do anything right. I tried to do the best I could, but it wasn’t right.
I was going to be punished. I’d done the right thing, but it was the wrong thing. I was going to be punished. It was unfair. Unfair, unfair, unfair. No, I’m wrong. Unfair.
Please don’t hurt me. Please. I’ll do anything. Just tell me the right thing to do and I’ll do it. But I did the right thing. You said so. And now you’re going to punish me. No, I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. Please, I’m sorry. Please, no. No, don’t hurt me. Please, please, please. Unfair.
No I don’t want to be a bad girl. No, I don’t want to burn for all eternity. No, I’ll do what you say. Just tell me what to do. No, don’t hurt me. I’m trying. I’m trying. I don’t understand. Please, tell me what I did wrong. No, don’t hurt me.
I took the blow full in the face. I could feel it in my bones. I could taste the blood in my mouth as I fell. I knew, even without looking, I was going to be hit again. I heard a loud whack and fell back with the impact, banging my head against the floor. But even the pain couldn’t prevent me from hearing the swish of the bat as it came through the air to hit me again. I screamed in anticipation of the next blow.
Nothing happened. I didn’t feel it hit me. It wasn’t a bat, but a book. The book was in front of me. It was the book I had been hit with. I could see my blood on it. I picked it up and wiped it off. To my surprise, I knew this book. I’d read this book. I was eleven when I read this book. I read it in the library.
I looked up. There was the portrait, the portrait of Miss Artemisia Arabella Sibley, my Miss Sibley, the library’s Miss Sibley. I took my book and sat in the chair under the portrait. From there I could look out on the town through the window. But no one ever looked in. In this alcove, I was always alone, unless one of librarians came by to see how I was doing. They always smiled at me.
I opened the book and began reading. And every so often I looked up and saw who was passing on Town Square.
I read for quite a while. And as I read, I became aware that things were not as they seemed. I was Emily Fisher. I wasn’t eleven anymore. I was an adult. And the last thing I recalled was that for the second time in one day, I’d been overwhelmed by the feelings of others, there in the Lakeview bathhouse.
Jezebel! What had I done to her? Where was she? I put the book down on the table and stood up in alarm, looking about me. It was my old familiar library, all right, but there was no one here.
Save one person. Sitting with me in the alcove was a woman, perhaps about my age. She wasn’t Miss Sibley, but she had a sophisticated look: clear skin, slim build, pleasing features, and an elegant gray gown. Only the expression on her face was at odds with this impression: her expression conveyed a fierce combination of will and violent emotions.
I could feel and smell the library. So I said to the woman, “I’m not dreaming anymore, am I?”
She shook her head. “No, you’re still lying unconscious on the floor of the Lakeview bathhouse. You had absorbed some of that girl’s bad childhood memories, and they threatened to destroy you. So I gradually turned you to more pleasant memories of your own childhood.”
I sat down. That confusion, those were Jezebel’s memories? No wonder she had been so screwed up. But how . . .?
The woman answered my unspoken question. “The creature you think is your sister Stacia made you an empathic person. You can interact with others’ feelings, receiving them and changing them. Obviously, you haven’t learned any control of your abilities. And since I need you to be the Prophesied One, I can’t have your incompetence ruin my plans. So I intervened.”
Ask a question, get an answer that raises even more questions. Story of my life here among the Children. At least I now have some idea of what happened to me in front of Hannah’s and in the bathhouse: I’m somehow absorbing people’s emotions. Moreover, the way the woman talked gave me a clue to her identity. Who would want me to be the Prophesied One, besides Alex Bancroft, and who might also be wearing an Instrument’s gown? The obvious answer was impossible, but the normal rules didn’t seem to apply anymore. So I asked, “You’re Lavinia Priest?”
I was scared, because this was the ghost of a madwoman, and she seemed to have some sort of power over me. I tried to be nonchalant as I told her, “Well, thanks for helping me out, Lavinia, coming back from the dead and all. I do appreciate it. But I’m not the Prophesied One and have no intention of playing that role.”
If anything, her look of determination became even sterner. “I don’t think you understand your situation, Emily Fisher. You are of my blood, and owe obedience to me.” She paused for a moment, and then a crafty look spread across her face. “But if you will not give it freely, there are other ways. You do not realize how vulnerable you are when you have no control over your gift.”
That did not sound good, at all. I turned away from Lavinia to leave the alcove, figuring I’d walk out of this, or at least get away from Lavinia, dream or no dream. But before I could take a step, emotions came pouring out of Lavinia, emotions of loyalty to family, obedience, and submission.
Not that this was a problem. After all, Lavinia was my ancestor, and I owed her my life. She wanted me to be the Prophesied One. Naturally, I wanted to be the Prophesied One, too. I turned back to her and, using the proper honorific for such an ancient ancestress, asked, “What do you want me to do, Grandmother Lavinia?”
End of chapter thirty