Chapter 34: Renunciations
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
Alex looked very uncomfortable. He hesitated for some time before answering. “Once your sister stole my pistol, Stephen Nash’s death was the most likely outcome.”
As I feared. And I could feel my anger rising. “And you let it happen!”
If anything, Alex’s discomfort increased, though he didn’t reach for his flask. “It was the best course available.”
“That’s not good enough!”
Alex sat back, rubbed his face with his hands, then looked right back at me. “Would you prefer that I let your sister try to kill herself again, and succeed this time?”
That stopped me short. But not for long. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Alex leaned forward, earnestness in his expression. “It was another possible outcome. Does your sister remember where she hid my gun after she stole it? No. Is that the sort of thing one forgets? Not normally. So, based on your very recent experience, Emily, why do you think your sister doesn’t remember what she did with my gun?”
I took the hint. “Someone controlled her mind. You?”
“Naturally not,” Alex replied, and something of his usual smile returned. “I can’t do that sort of thing, though I can stop other people from doing it to me, and sometimes to other people, too. I thought your sister would be immune to that sort of thing, for reasons not worth going into, but I was wrong. I’ve made sure it won’t happen to her again, but I couldn’t reverse what was done to her without causing her to think she was guilty of the things she was made to do. And that could easily have led her to attempt suicide again.”
OK, so you’ve made a point, Alex. But still, you’ve got some explaining to do. “So you know who killed Nash?”
Alex nodded. “I told you that back when we first spoke. But I can’t prove what I know.”
“Yeah, but if you’re that smart, Alex, you know I had no reason to believe you back then. I figured you were bullshitting me. Now I know better. So tell me who did it.”
Alex’s reply was simple. “No.”
“Because if I tell you, you’ll never be able to bring the killer to justice. You’re going to have to do it by your own methods.”
I blew up. “Damn it, man, you know who killed Nash. You’re an accessory before and after the fact, at least morally. You’ve implicated my sister in this, too. And that’s only the start. According to what you say, you’ve known everything that has happened since. That includes having three of my siblings roughed up by a mob and another screwed up by a ghost. I suppose you even knew we’d be having this conversation and that I’d get mad at you.”
Alex’s smile went away. In a flat, almost emotionless voice with just a hint of regret, he replied, “Not only that, Emily, I know what you’re going to say next.”
“Do you now, Alex?” I said to him. I got out of bed, ignoring the fact that I was clad only in a nightshirt, walked over to him, and slapped him hard across the face, twice even! “I hope you predicted that, too. God damn you for all you’ve done, Alex. Get the hell out of my sight, and don’t ever let me see you again. And stay the fuck away from my sister, or I’ll fuck with you in some very unpleasant ways. Got it?”
Alex had scarcely reacted, even to my striking him. His face remained expressionless, whether from surprise or because he was keeping his emotions under control, I couldn’t tell. Without a word, he stood up and left the room. I got dressed, and left shortly thereafter. I did not see him on my way out. Nor did I see anyone else I knew.
I’d made it to the outskirts of Lakeview when I heard a voice calling my name. I didn’t stop. She called again, and I could tell it was Regina. I sped up. I heard running footsteps behind me, and then Regina caught at my arm.
I spun around and gave her a hostile stare. “What do you want? Alex sent you to tell me something he couldn’t say to my face?”
Regina was trying to catch her breath, but got out, “Sort of.” I started to turn away, but she grabbed at me again. “But I have something to say, too.”
I stood there and waited.
Once she caught her breath, Regina told me, “Alex says that periods of mental confusion are common for several days after an experience like yours.”
Great. In a cold voice, I replied, “And you wanted to say?”
“Whatever your feelings about Alex, don’t count me among your enemies, Emily, for Elsie’s sake. And be safe.”
One advantage to being an empath: I could tell Regina really meant what she said. She didn’t want to hurt me and, I don’t understand how, she loved my sister. So I figured I owed her, no matter how I felt otherwise. And there was one thing she should know, being one of Alex’s lovers, no matter what Alex thought. “You know what Alex’s spiritual gift is?”
Regina shook her head. “Not really.”
“Ask him. Ask him to tell you exactly what we discussed before I told him to go to hell. And then maybe you’ll understand why.”
Regina looked thoughtfully up at the sky before she replied, “I’ll do that.”
She would, too, I realized. And I was immediately ashamed of myself for using her to vent my anger against Alex. Not ashamed enough to want to take it back, though. I couldn’t ask for her sympathy, but at least I could show her that I didn’t consider her my enemy. “Regina? One more thing.”
“You be safe, too.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry, I will.” She gave me a quick hug, and then set off back to Lakeview.
Alex (damn him!) was quite right about the mental confusion. When I entered Milltown, I kept seeing it both as it really was, and as I guess it must have looked in Lavinia’s time. Bad enough that the buildings shifted from their present-day appearance to the past and back again. At least they stayed more or less in place. But I’d see people walking down the street from both eras, and had trouble telling them apart, although they looked nothing alike. It was as if the past and present were completely mixed up in my mind. I could even recognize some of the people from the past and knew things about them. That had to be from Lavinia.
The effect had dissipated by the time I got to the Burns Cottage, which was just as well, as the Burns Cottage postdated Lavinia’s era. I wasn’t sure I could deal with entering what appeared to be the cottage and a vacant lot at the same time. So I walked in through what was clearly the door, happy that my troubles were over.
I had barely shut the door and turned around when Tanya came out of what I still thought of as her room. To my astonishment, she got down on her knees in front of me, bowed her head, and said, “If you are willing, I would like to serve you again, Prophesied One.”
I stood there, absolutely speechless, wondering what universe I had dropped into. After maybe a minute, Tanya raised her head and gave me a puzzled and worried look. “Has my work been unsatisfactory, Prophesied One?” she asked.
It was too much. I lost it. I started laughing uncontrollably. I staggered into the kitchen and sat down. Just looking at Tanya, who had followed me and wasn’t sure what to do, sent me off into another round of laughter. I almost made myself sick, I was laughing so hard.
Once I’d finally got myself under control, I said to Tanya, “I’ll be happy to have you working for me again, Tanya, but I’ve got one or two questions to ask. OK?”
She nodded. “Yes, Prophesied One.”
“What about your parents?”
Tanya replied, “Eldress Hoopes told them to let me choose my own work assignment, or she’d have them up for charges from the riot. I choose to serve you, Prophesied One.”
Sonia, subtle as always. “Who told you I am the Prophesied One?”
“Why, Jezebel, of course,” Tanya replied with surprise in her voice, “and then Spacy Stacy . . . I mean your sister Stacia, Prophesied One. They told me about how they had decoded the prophecy.”
Oh, great. And Jezebel was now in love with me. Who else had she told? “And who have you mentioned this to?”
Tanya looked puzzled. “Why, no one, of course. Well, Eldress Hoopes, but she already knew. Stacia said it was up to you, Prophesied One, when it would be announced publicly.”
I gave a mental sigh of relief. Thank you, Stacia. Oh, I’ll announce it publicly . . . a million years from now, when I am far, far away from here. Now to deal with Tanya. Do I take the simple route or the hard one? Simple. “Since I don’t want it known yet, Tanya, I would appreciate it if you’d continue treating me the same as before, even in private. No calling me the Prophesied One, no kneeling or bowing down before me or anything like that. I’m Emily Fisher, still. OK?”
To judge from her emotions, Tanya found this puzzling, but was willing to accept whatever I decided. “Yes,” and she caught herself before she said the wrong thing, “Emily.”
“Great. The first thing I want is a proper meal.” And then I need to get the hell out of here for a while. I’m sick of this place, this assignment, and the weirdness.
I did get off the Children’s lands, but not immediately. I figured I owed a visit to Sonia, if only to see how Stacia was doing. Sonia greeted me on crutches at her door. She looked more worn than she had while she was confined to a wheelchair, and I soon found out why. We went inside, and Sonia called out, “Stacy, you have a visitor.”
We were standing in the middle of the living room. Around the corner of doorway, I noticed someone peeking out at us. A moment later a figure stepped into the room. It was Stacia. But not the Stacia I knew. She was petite to begin with, and the childish expression now on her face made her look as if she were perhaps eight years old. She was even clutching a doll in her hands. It was obvious to me that she didn’t recognize me. She advanced cautiously, and maneuvered herself to stand behind Sonia and peer at me from behind her.
Sonia coaxed her sister, “Stacy, this is your sister Emily. Say hello to her.”
Stacia came out from behind Sonia and looked at me curiously. After a moment, she held out her doll and said to me, “Hi, Emily, this is my doll Stacy. Stacy’s been a bad girl. So her mommy’s never coming home anymore.”
Sonia gasped. I reached for the doll and took it from Stacia and said to her, “Then Stacy needs a new mommy. I’ll play her mommy, if that’s OK, Stacy.”
Stacia thought about it a second, and then replied, “OK. You want to come play with the rest of my dolls, too?”
I looked to Sonia, who bit her lip and nodded, and agreed. Stacia lit up with a smile, and we went off into another room to play dolls. Apart from the odd way she referred to the doll called Stacy as if it were a doll and as if it were herself at times, she acted just like any other little girl. And her emotions were appropriate to a child, as near as I could tell. It wasn’t like I had a lot of experience reading children’s emotions the way I could now.
But there was one time she acted differently, and that once made me wonder. We were playing, and I started to get confused again. I started reliving my experience in the bathhouse, seeing both the child-like Stacia of this day and the sexually very active adult Stacia of a few days ago both in front of me. I couldn’t tell which was real. And then the real Stacia got this very odd expression on her face. I really don’t know how to describe it, save that it didn’t look like one of her own facial expressions. She reached out with one hand and touched my forehead. Immediately the vision of the bathhouse vanished. And in a voice that was as unnatural as her facial expression, Stacia said to me, “No more of that, Emily Fisher.” Another moment, and she was back to being childlike Stacy, as if nothing had happened.
After a while, I grew tired and excused myself and went looking for Sonia. I found her in what I presumed was her work room, surrounded by papers. Her eyes were red. Maybe they’d been red when she first came to the door, I hadn’t noticed, but they were definitely red now. She’d obviously been crying. But she said not a word as she asked how Stacia was. I related what had happened, suitably edited so I didn’t have to explain exactly what I had been experiencing.
Sonia’s brow furrowed before she spoke. “That odd voice might have been Emma. That’s . . . that’s what . . .” She broke off and turned away. I could see her get out a handkerchief, no doubt to wipe away her tears. When she turned back, her eyes still glistened. “Emily, I don’t know how to put this, but . . . you’re the Prophesied One, aren’t you? Stacia told me so.”
I wanted to say “no,” but I was worried I would upset Sonia(!), so instead I said, “So I’ve been told.”
Sonia was not to be discouraged by such a reply. “The Prophesied One is supposed to save the Children. Is . . . is there anything you can do to save Stacia? To fix her, to bring her back?” She could see I wasn’t enthusiastic about this, because she added one more, “Anything?” in a pleading voice.
What to say? What to say? And to Sonia, of all people? Stacia had made me into this empath: I could read and change people’s emotions. But was that enough to fix what had happened to Stacia? Integrate maybe three people back into one? It might be possible. Might. But I knew nothing about how to use my abilities. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Lavinia had somehow taught me to use them in certain ways, few of which seemed useful for Stacia’s situation. And yet I had Sonia sitting in front of me, clearly begging me for help. What could I say to her?
I hedged. “I don’t know for sure, Sonia. It’s not like being the Prophesied One came with an instruction manual.” I had another thought. “I should talk to Hannah first. She has more experience in counseling people, and besides, she’s our sister, too. Really. Her father is our father.”
Sonia nodded, to signify she understood, although that revelation didn’t seem to matter much to her at the moment. And then with a rush, she got up and hugged me, hard. I could feel her tremble, and thought she might break down in sobs. Instead, she pulled away far enough to look me in the eye and say, “I’ll make the Eternal Pledge to you if you bring her back.”
I was stunned. The Eternal Pledge is a terrible element of the Children’s theology. Basically, a person pledges to serve another person for all eternity, even in the afterlife. In effect, the person pledging is giving up control over her life and the fate of her soul in the afterlife. Needless to say, it’s not something one should do lightly. In fact, one shouldn’t do it at all. And for Sonia to pledge to me, who was not even of the Children, was to doubly damn herself, once because I was damned in the afterlife, the second time for giving up control of her fate to me. What Sonia had just said was enough to have her convicted of heresy and kicked out of the Children.
I wouldn’t accept this. And for once I was quick to find the right argument, the only one Sonia couldn’t argue against. “Sonia, not too many days ago, you and Stacia stood with me when I was going to trial before the High Council. You didn’t ask me for the Eternal Pledge. No, you stood beside me because I was family. If I’m going to be the Prophesied One and save the Children, I’ve got to be at least as worthy as my sisters. So, no pledge, Sonia. You and Stacia are family. OK?”
Sonia gave me a smile, the most genuine one I’d ever seen on her. And then she turned away. Without looking back, she said, “Thank you, Emily. Now go. I don’t want you to see me cry.”
I heard one sob before the door closed behind me as I left her work room. And I wondered just what I had committed myself to do.
End of chapter thirty-four