Chapter 33: Consequences and questions
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
I woke up screaming, my legs on fire, and fell to the floor. Someone tried to grab me and I lashed out, knocking him away. I got up to run away and tripped over something, crashing to the floor and almost breaking my arm in the process. Someone fell on top of me, trying to hold me down. I kicked and squirmed with such fury that I threw him off. I swung around and sat up and raised my fists up together to bring them down on my assailant.
And then I abruptly stopped. The person on the floor was Jezebel. But she wasn’t present at the fire. What fire? I looked around. It wasn’t the burning church. No, this was some room, familiar somehow. It was a room in Lakeview. I’d woken up here before. I was . . . well, who was I?
“Emily, are you all right?” Jezebel’s voice captured my attention. I looked down. She was lying there, arms crossed over her face, as if to ward off my blow. Why was I going to hit Jezebel? Why would she think that? Why was I holding my hands clenched together as if I were going to strike her? Why was I in a nightgown? I sat there, motionless, trying to figure out what I was doing for so long that Jezebel’s looks changed from fear and concern to a seriously worried look. “Emily? Are you OK?”
Emily. Emily is Emily Fisher. That must be me. That is me. I’m in Lakeview, back in the same room I’d woken up in after a previous bad visit to Sacred Mountain. Which means I’d just come back from another bad visit to Sacred Mountain. Logical, right? The same effect must have the same cause. But exactly what the hell had happened?
I dropped my arms to my side, got up and looked around. There was no fire. This was Lakeview. I was Emily Fisher. Stacia had been screaming on Sacred Mountain. At the thought of that, I felt sick and dropped to my knees and vomited on the floor. The scream kept resounding in my head, and I was convulsed with dry heaves long after my stomach was empty. Finally, cold and clammy with sweat, I allowed someone to help me up and crawled back into bed again. Someone gave me a glass of water and I drank it down as quickly as I could. Hot soup followed, and after someone had fed me three or four spoonfuls, I stopped him and took the spoon myself.
I should say “her,” because the person feeding me had been Jezebel, again. Regina was down on the floor, cleaning up the mess I’d made. And Alex Bancroft was sitting at the foot of my bed, looking his usual cheerful, self-confidant self. “You’re doing quite well this morning, Emily,” he told me with a laugh.
I glared at him, uttered a few score of words I’d normally not use, and concluded by saying, “Your sense of humor is not appreciated.”
Alex looked unruffled. “Oh, no, I mean it truthfully. Compared to Hannah or Stacia, you’re in great shape.”
I must have been still collecting my wits, because I was having trouble figuring out what Alex meant. And I was being distracted by a feeling. No, strong feelings, and they weren’t mine. They were coming from Jezebel. I looked over at her, sitting near to hand at the side of my bed. She was looking at me with a rapt expression on her face. And the feelings that poured out of her were adoring and physically passionate. Jezebel was head-over-heels in love with me! When had that happened?
Alex must have caught on, somehow. He coughed and then announced, “I need to talk with Emily privately, so if you two would leave?”
I saw Regina stand up, and look uncertainly toward Jezebel. On Jezebel, the effect was more dramatic. She blushed, then turned white. With an effort, she stood up and faced Alex, pleading with him, “Can’t I stay?”
Alex looked positively mournful as he replied, “Now, Jezebel, you know what we agreed on.”
Jezebel turned to give me a long look, and I could see tears in her eyes. She turned back to Alex. “Please?”
Alex shook his head. Whatever Jezebel’s reaction was, it didn’t please him, because he sharply spoke. “Remember: no scenes. Emily’s been through enough.”
Jezebel nodded, and in a tiny voice said, “OK.” She turned to me, tears just running down her face, choked out, “I’ll see you . . .” and then just lost it. She broke down crying, quickly turned, and dashed from the room. Regina gave Alex a rueful glance and followed her out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
I’d never seen Alex look really unhappy before. But he stared at the door for some time after Jezebel had left, and then turned back to face me, looking as if the world had fallen on him. He reached into his trousers and pulled out a flask, opened it and drank down quite a bit of it. And then he saw my look and explained. “It’s whiskey, the only whiskey you’ll find on the Children’s lands. I spent a year trying to drink myself to death, and I still keep the flask around for those days when drinking myself to death seems like a good idea. Not that I ever will.”
This was news, Alex exposing himself. But I was more concerned about Jezebel. “What happened to her, Alex? When did she fall in love with me? Is she going to be all right?”
Alex shrugged and offered me the flask, which I refused. Instead, I took another spoonful of soup to emphasize my refusal. In turn, he took another swig and said, “None of those questions has simple answers. So let’s start with the background. You know Stacia made you an empath?”
“I’d kind of caught on. Lavinia told me Stacia was responsible. She didn’t explain why.”
“You must have said something to Stacia that made her think it was a good idea.”
There was something about the way that Alex put it that jogged my memory. That night on Sacred Mountain with Stacia, I had said something about following people’s characters and emotions, and then the plaza had briefly switched to the Other World. “Yeah, I guess I did.” And then a thought struck me. “Why didn’t she tell me she’d done that?”
Alex resumed his usual grin. “Oh, that’s simple. Well, not really. You saw how Stacia looks in the Other World?”
I nodded to that.
“That’s because Stacia isn’t Stacia, really. You weren’t the first of your father’s children Selena took to Sacred Mountain to test. Stacia was. Stacia’s mother was a famous Instrument, Emma Fletcher. She went with Stacia and Selena to safeguard her child. Well, the mountain didn’t throw Stacia into convulsions. Instead, it just began consuming her soul. Emma realized what was happening, and stepped into the pentagram to save her daughter. It worked, sort of. Emma’s body was killed, but Stacia came out of the pentagram with fragments of her own soul and fragments of her mother’s. She was a mental case for years afterward while she tried to make sense out of what she had become. And she never fully integrated her personality. She probably didn’t tell you what she’d done because she didn’t remember actually doing it. Just like she probably doesn’t realize that she was the one who put Hannah in communication with the Divine the day before your trial, not vice versa, no matter what she said to us.”
Weird. “I was told that Emma had hanged herself.”
Alex shook his head. “Selena was very embarrassed by the whole situation, as well she might. I gather she circulated several false stories to cover up the truth. She couldn’t even admit the full truth to me. It wasn’t until I’d actually met Stacia that I figured out what must have happened.”
“So how does this connect to Jezebel?”
Alex laughed. “I told you it wasn’t simple. You remember what happened in the bathhouse?”
I thought a bit before answering, “Mostly. Though if you want details about who was having sex with whom, I couldn’t tell you.”
That got Alex chuckling some more. “Some of the other people who were there had a similar problem. They all seemed to think they’d been several people at once. It didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying the experience. And Tanya has a new boyfriend thanks to what happened.”
I was ashamed to admit to myself that I’d forgotten all about Tanya. It was a relief to know I hadn’t harmed her.
Alex went on. “Jezebel figured out you were somehow responsible for what was happening, and that you couldn’t control it.” Alex paused and smiled. “Never underestimate Jezebel’s intelligence. She tried to get you out of there.”
I nodded vigorously to that. “I remember that. She was right: I couldn’t control myself, and I was trying to make Jezebel feel aroused like everyone else. But she seemed immune. It was as if there was something blocking me.”
Alex’s grin turned wry. “There was. Because of the way she was abused, even though she’s sexually mature, Jezebel had never had sexual feelings before. The feelings were all dammed up. Intellectually, she knew all about sex, she’d seen people having sex, in fact, your sister and I arranged one such occasion in hopes of stimulating those feelings, but nothing ever happened.
“And then you came along and with your empathic talent did break through. You dumped a bathhouse full of sexuality into her brain and body, which had never felt anything like that before. Did you ever have a massive crush on some guy when you were a teenager?”
The question was unexpected, but the answer was obvious. His name was Richard, and I mooned after him for months even after I learned he was sleeping with Angie Wilkes. “Yeah.”
“Well, just imagine what it would be like to feel just like that, twenty times over. Because that’s how Jezebel feels about you right now.”
No other words would do. “Fuck.”
“Bad choice of words. Too appropriate to Jezebel’s feelings about you.” Despite the joke, there was no trace of humor in Alex’s voice as he said that. He pulled out his flask again and offered it to me. This time I put the soup aside and took a swig.
Once he had retrieved it from me, Alex went on. “It’s even worse than that. Jezebel isn’t stupid. I’ve explained to her what happened. Intellectually, she understands. But emotionally, she simply doesn’t have the experience to cope. It’s driving her crazy that she simply can’t stop wanting you desperately, and that she doesn’t really even want to stop. It’s the first time in her life since I took her in that she’s been unable to handle her feelings. I let her take care of you overnight while you were delirious, but only on the condition that she would not upset you further. And you saw how that worked out.”
I had to put in a word for Jezebel. “She did leave.”
Alex closed his eyes for a moment. “It’s only the beginning. She still can’t control her feelings toward you. And I’m afraid you’re going to have to deal with most of it yourself. I’m sorry.”
I did not want to deal with the thought of confronting a lovesick Jezebel, so I switched the subject. “How are Stacia and Hannah?”
Alex didn’t reply immediately. His eyes narrowed before he asked, “You remember how Stacia screamed after she swallowed Lavinia?”
I was confused for a second, remembering only that horrible scream before Stacia attacked Lavinia. And then I remembered the other scream, and I almost threw up again.
Alex didn’t even wait for me to answer. “I see you do. Well, it threw Hannah into convulsions, and she’s been in and out of delirium ever since. Had any bad dreams yourself?”
I remembered quite a mishmash. “I woke up out of a nightmare thinking my legs were burning.”
“That was one of Lavinia’s memories, probably. She almost died in a church fire in Massachusetts, the same fire that sent her and her fellows up here to found North Village.”
This was troubling. “I’m not Lavinia.”
“No, but you were under her domination for quite a while.” Alex waved the matter away, as if not worthy of further discussion. “Penelope’s been at Hannah’s bedside ever since we brought her back from Sacred Mountain. She may be crazy, but she’s devoted to Hannah now. And of course we carried Stacia over to Milltown. Sonia may be on crutches, but she’d never let anyone else take care of Stacia. You understand why.”
I did. When Stacia told me she and Sonia loved each other unconditionally, I had not considered just what that meant. But my probing of Stacia’s emotions under Lavinia’s control had revealed the truth. “How is Stacia?”
Alex shrugged, looked perplexed. “Hard to say. I think her identity has fractured again, and taken in something of Lavinia. She seemed to be in shock when we left her with Sonia. You’ve recovered, more or less, and I expect Hannah will recover within the day, but it could be years before Stacia ever recovers, whatever that means. As I told Lavinia, it’s harder to read the future of people with spiritual gifts, and Stacia is really parts of three such people now.”
I had almost forgotten about that, amidst everything else, but I knew that it was important. “So what you told Lavinia was true? You can somehow read people’s past and futures from their present?”
He regained his old amused look. “It’s true. The better I know them, the better I can read their pasts and futures. Other people’s spiritual gifts make it harder, but that’s all.” Alex turned serious. “Neither Hannah nor Stacia was aware of what was being said at the time, so you’re the only one here who knows. For obvious reasons, it’s not something I broadcast, and I’d thank you to be discreet about it.”
I recalled, “Stacia said you were hiding your spiritual gifts.”
That got him to chuckle. “Stacia’s a bright woman. She and Jezebel had a great time together working on Lavinia’s prophecy. I hope she recovers quickly.”
I needed time to think about the implications of what Alex had just said. So to buy time, I changed the subject a bit. “Why did you try to drink yourself to death, if you don’t mind my asking?”
He shrugged at first, then gave me a half-hearted smile. “I suppose I asked for that, parading my own sad past as if I deserved sympathy, too. Well, it happened when I first acquired this so-called spiritual gift of mine. It was depressing, understanding people so well. I couldn’t handle it. And, unlike your sister,” and here his smile changed from half-hearted to sad, “I wasn’t into dramatic methods of ending my life. So I drank. Ruined my marriage, which ended in divorce, got myself institutionalized, and probably would have spent the rest of my life in an asylum . . . um, a ‘psychiatric rehabilitation center,’ if one of the doctors there hadn’t figured out what was really going on, and told me I had to learn how to use my ‘gift’ instead of letting it ruin my life. So here I am.
“It’s a real downer when I know that what I’m going to do will hurt someone, but has to be done to make things better in the long run. That’s about the only time I still take to drink. And I’ve just had to hurt Jezebel worse than she’s ever been hurt, knowing what I know. So there you have it”
“You think what you just did, making Jezebel cry, will be good for her in the long run?”
Alex nodded. “She’s got to get over you and have normal sexual attachments, whatever that turns out to be for her, and the sooner that starts, the less damage to her in the long run. Not that this is going to be pleasant, by any means. I’ve already gotten a taste, but you are going to get it in spades. Still, I’d rather have Jezebel in tears for months than a permanent emotional cripple.”
I could almost feel gears turning in my head. Alex’s explanation not only made his gift more intelligible, but it also gave me insight into how he thought. And that was leading my thoughts to unpleasant places. “You knew I would be taken over by Lavinia?”
“No. Lavinia hadn’t played an active role among the Children since I arrived, and unlike Stacia I’d never met her ghost, so I had inadequate information to predict her actions. However, once I saw you on the floor of the bathhouse locker room, I knew immediately. That’s why we organized the ambush at the Burns Cottage. Sorry I had to hit you so hard.”
I dismissed the apology. It was no longer important. “Then you knew what would happen last night?”
Alex nodded, a thoughtful look on his face. “Mostly. As I said, I had a fallback plan if things got out of control, but I had it pegged pretty well.”
Now we were getting closer to my concern. “So you knew Stacia would . . . would do whatever she did to Lavina.”
“Destroy her? Consume her? I’m not really sure myself what she did. Whatever, that’s why I didn’t promise Lavinia she would survive our agreement. Fortunately, Lavinia didn’t consider that someone else on the plaza would kill her. A lapse of judgment on her part, and by no means her first. I don’t think she realized just what she was risking, using you to tamper with Stacia’s emotions that way.”
OK, now to the payoff. I looked Alex straight in the eye as I asked, “Did you also know that Stephen Nash would die?”
End of chapter thirty-three