Chapter 42: Problems with sisters
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
I woke up the next morning in bed back at the Burns Cottage feeling weird. I was pretty sure of everything that had happened up at least until dinner. Bad news just seems so memorable. But I had to wonder whether I had actually had that strange conversation with Alex, or the even stranger encounter with Sarah Priest. They seemed almost dreamlike, and the one with Sarah Priest had ended so abruptly. I didn’t remember how I’d gotten off Sacred Mountain or when I’d got home and gone to bed.
Tanya was sitting up in my bedroom reading again, keeping watch over me. She saw I was awake, and went down to get Regina.
Needless to say, Regina was feeling depressed when she came up. And she wouldn’t look directly at me as she sat down beside me on the bed to examine my bandages. So I figured I’d better break the ice. “I gave Alex a good piece of my mind when I saw him last night, Regina. I’m sorry.”
Regina had been reaching for my bandages, but she just dropped her arms and looked me straight in the face. I could feel her pain, and see tears brimming in her eyes. But she blinked them back, nodded, and bravely tried to give me the smile she certainly did not feel.
That done, Regina reached up to inspect my bandages. And then the next thing I knew, she had them in her hands, she was staring wide-eyed at my head, and saying, “What the hell?”
I did not need another problem, but it looked like I had one. So I closed my eyes, balled my fists in my lap, and said to Regina, “Tell me the bad news. I’m ready for it.”
“No, no, Emily, you don’t understand,” Regina replied. “It’s not like that. It’s just . . . unbelievable.”
My experiences among the Children had set a high hurdle for anything to qualify as “unbelievable.” So I opened my eyes, stood up, and walked into the bathroom to see for myself in the mirror. And then I ran my hand over the side of my head, just to make sure that what I saw was real.
Regina was right: it was unbelievable. The scabs and stitches all were gone, without leaving any scars. Even the hair had grown back, though how it had fit underneath the bandage was one heck of a magic trick. I turned to Regina, who had followed me into the bathroom. “This isn’t normal, right?”
I must have sounded completely clueless, because Regina just burst out laughing. It took her a few minutes to recover. And then she barely got out some comment about my mutant healing powers before she had another fit of laughter.
Meanwhile, I had another surprise. I had turned back to the mirror, and was just examining my wonderful head of hair, when I noticed I was wearing a ring I’d never seen before. It was a silver ring on my right index finger, and on its face were engraved three ornate initials:
The name came back to me: Sarah Dana Priest. Well, thank you, Sarah, for fixing my poor battered skull. If that’s the best you could do for this community, then I’d say Alex overrated you. But I’m still personally thankful.
Once Regina and I got sorted out, I got showered and dressed and went down to breakfast. Tanya and Regina met me at the door into the kitchen with big smiles on their faces. They bowed together and in unison announced, “Your breakfast is ready, Prophesied One.”
I wanted to growl at them for using the title, but was just feeling too good to care. Though I must have let a hint of annoyance cross my face, because Regina said to me, “C’mon, if you don’t want to be a religious figure, then stop performing miracles on yourself.” Well, I hadn’t performed the so-called miracle, but there was no point in saying so. Instead, I just sat down to breakfast with the two of them.
We were almost finished when there was a knock at my front door. Tanya went to answer it, and returned with Sonia, who had also recovered, I guess: she wasn’t using a walking stick anymore. She looked tired and explained why. “You haven’t seen Stacia this morning, have you, Emily?”
I shook my head. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s missing. She wasn’t in her bed this morning, or anywhere else in the house. I’ve looked all around Milltown and this was my last hope. I’m going to have to call out the Watch to search for her.” Sonia was terribly worried and on edge.
So naturally something had to happen to upset her even more. A voice came from behind her, “Stacia is with the Divine.”
Sonia turned pale and almost fainted. She turned around to see Hannah standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
The first person to react was Regina. “Stacia’s dead?”
Hannah shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
That was all Sonia needed. She managed to croak out, “Where is she?”
Hannah just repeated herself. “She is with the Divine.”
Wrong answer. Sonia’s worry and despair turned into rage. She marched over to Hannah, picked her up, and slammed her into the door frame. “Where is my sister?”
Hannah was too startled to even answer. Sonia voice got louder and angrier. “Where is my sister? Answer me!”
And then a change came over Hannah. I could feel her emotions change, and some of her emotions weren’t really hers. They were coming from the Other World. She became cold, and answered Sonia haughtily, “It is not for you to question the Divine.”
Sonia leaned forward, until her face was only inches from Hannah’s. She didn’t shout this time, but the tension in her voice conveyed just how serious this was for her. “I am questioning the Divine. I was willing to have myself eternally damned to get my sister back the way she was, Hannah. So I sure am questioning the Divine right now, right this very minute. And you’d better hope the Divine gives you an answer.” Then she yelled right in Hannah’s face, “WHERE IS MY SISTER?”
The two of them stood that way for perhaps ten seconds. And then Sonia’s entire body was racked with spasms, and she collapsed on the floor. She turned and twisted, no longer conscious of her surroundings or even her own body, just the pain and agony she felt.
I knew what had happened. Hannah had become possessed by the Divine, and she had done this. She had struck down Sonia. I had to get her to stop. Hannah was standing by the doorway, watching Sonia with no sign of emotion in her face. I stood up and walked directly in front of her, cutting off her view of the writhing Sonia, and told her, “Stop this now, Hannah.”
Hannah looked at me indifferently. “She was willing to be eternally damned. She is getting a foretaste of what that will be like. This is not your affair, Emily Fisher. Do not interfere.”
She seemed so cold, so alien, so unlike Hannah. And she was connected with the Other World. This was not Hannah, no, not really. She thought it was the Divine, at least. And I’d already seen what Hannah possessed by the Divine could do, twice now. I could feel Sonia’s agony. This was a dangerous creature. I could not stop her.
But then I was reminded that it was that same Divine Hannah who had called me sister at my trial, and that gave me courage. I might not be able to stop her, but I could damn well try. I took another step closer to Hannah and said, “And if I do interfere?”
Divine Hannah’s response was direct. “Then you will suffer the same fate.”
Which is what I wanted and expected to hear. For there was one appeal I was sure even a Divine Hannah could not dismiss. I stepped forward again until we almost touched, face to face, and told Hannah, “Then strike me down and leave Sonia alone. You’d have taken a bullet for me. I can do no less for any of my sisters.”
It took Hannah a second or two to realize the enormity of what I was charging her with. I was accusing her of betraying her sisters! I was calling her no better than Susan Knowles! And whether she was Hannah or truly the Divine, that was more than she could bear. Her eyes opened wide, then she backed away from me into the hallway, struggling for words all the while. Her emotions became a dreadful tangle. And then the Divine left her. Hannah, now all herself again, wailed for her loss but an instant, before collapsing to the floor, unconscious.
My bedroom became an improvised hospital room that day. Hannah did not recover. She did not wake. After an hour or so of this, her vital signs began to drop, ever so gradually. Under the circumstances, no one wanted to move her far, which is how she ended up in my bedroom. Regina called on the Children’s medical resources, and when that didn’t work, the doctors in Quasopon. They could find no obvious signs of organic damage, so ended up with a diagnosis of idiopathic coma, and put medical gear in place to help keep Hannah alive.
(“Idiopathic coma, what does that mean?” asked Tanya. “That they don’t know anything,” replied Regina.)
Regina was a trouper about all this. Besides coordinating all the medical care, she also took it on herself to bar anyone else, save Penelope, from visiting. It was one of my few pleasures that day to see Regina give a member of the High Council a thorough dressing down when he barged past Tanya at the front door.
Though when I say that Regina barred everyone but Penelope, I have to include one other person. Not knowing what else to do with her, and not wanting to leave her alone, Penelope brought Jezebel. It almost broke my heart to see her fighting for emotional self-control and losing time and time again. She clung to me when she could, and to Tanya when I wasn’t available. I think Tanya did her more good than I, because the two of them had been peers and Tanya was not so preoccupied as I was with other affairs.
One of the other things Regina did was to chase me out of the cottage every so often, saying she didn’t need two of the Children’s religious figures falling sick on her. So I went to visit my sister Elsie, who was better, if only slightly, and Sonia, who was not.
Sonia’s torment had ended the moment Hannah fell down. She’d needed only a few minutes to recover. She had waited for a while to see if Hannah was going to awaken, no doubt to demand answers again, my oh-so-stubborn half-sister. But when Hannah remained unconscious, Sonia headed off to continue the hunt for Stacia. By late afternoon, she was a mixture of intense frustration and worry. She had called the Milltown Watch to hunt for Stacia, but they had produced no results. On their own initiative, the Milltown Watch had called on all the other village Watches to search for Stacia. But they, too, had nothing to report.
That night, I slept in a chair in my study. Jezebel slept with Tanya, Regina catnapped in my living room, and Penelope dozed in my bedroom, worrying and watching her only child.
Hannah continued to slowly decline during the night. And the combined Watches of all the villages could find no trace of Stacia.
End of chapter forty-two