Chapter 43: Trouble is not always where you find it
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
I was roused the next morning at dawn by Regina, who gave me the bad news about Hannah, and suggested I get out to see Sonia before Jezebel awoke. It was a good idea.
Sonia was awake, too. But that was because Sonia hadn’t slept. She looked haggard. I had to admit to myself I probably didn’t look much better, having slept in my clothes and all.
She had been anxious and worried yesterday. This morning, I could feel that Sonia was giving way to despair. She could hardly tear her eyes away from the window, hoping for some glimpse of Stacia, and yet she was almost out of hope. I tried to talk with her, but she could hardly manage a sentence before she drifted back to staring out the window. Some of the other adults in the house had gotten up and brought us breakfast. It was a welcome relief. We ate together, mostly in silence. I quickly polished off my food, while Sonia just picked at hers.
I was about to suggest to Sonia that I take away my plates when it suddenly felt as if an electric current was shooting down my right arm. My arm swung up and I found myself pointing toward the door. It wasn’t something I had intended to do, so I tried to pull my arm back. It was difficult. Something was tugging at it. After struggling with it a bit, I realized that Sarah Priest’s ring was the source of the tugging.
Sonia had glanced over and seen me struggling with my arm. She’d been indifferent at first, but that had been succeeded by puzzlement. “What’s wrong, Emily? Are you having some sort of muscle spasm?”
I shook my head. “I think the ring on my finger is telling me to go somewhere.” Probably, I thought to myself, to meet Sarah Priest for . . . something.
Sonia stood up, came over, and grabbed my hand to look at it. “SDP,” she read, and then gave me a small smile. “Former boyfriend?”
“More like recent female acquaintance, the one that fixed up the damage to my scalp,” I replied, and then added, “The P stands for Priest.”
So preoccupied with her own worries had Sonia been that only now did she notice the bandages on my head were gone, replaced with a full head of hair. She looked back and forth between the ring and my head, and then announced, “I’m coming with you. If she can fix injuries, maybe this new friend of yours can help us find Stacia.”
I thought that a bit of a reach, but I wasn’t going to say so. If Sonia needed something to hope for, I wasn’t going to take it away from her. Besides, for all I knew, it might be possible to get Sarah Priest to help us find Stacia, once I addressed whatever news she had for me. So I agreed, and we set off to follow wherever the ring took us. I found out that as long as I took a bearing every so often and followed it, that the ring would cease pulling at me and I could use the arm normally.
We headed out the door, and soon found ourselves on the path to Lakeside that skirts Sacred Mountain. I figured that we might be going to the plaza, but I was wrong. The moment we reached the mountain, the ring directed us off the main path onto a vestigial track that ran around to the far side of the mountain, away from the lake.
As we walked, I tried to explain to Sonia just who Sarah Priest was. Considering I didn’t know all that much about her, my explanation was very muddled. Sonia summed it up by saying it sounded like she was some sort of Instrument from the outside world. That was as good as any idea I had, so I went along with it.
Her words opened up an opportunity for me to ask a question that had been bothering me since yesterday. “Speaking of Instruments, Sonia, did Hannah hurt you much? She said she was making you feel what it was like to be eternally damned.”
Sonia didn’t even break her pace. In a strained voice she said, “Hannah made me experience the hell of the heretics.” She turned to me with a ghastly smile on her face. “Compared to missing Stacia, it was a relief.” And then she turned forward again and kept walking.
(I don’t remember all of the features of the hell of the heretics. The one that has always stuck with me is that their eyes are repeatedly gouged out and grow back in an equally painful process. The gouging out of the eyes is supposed to represent the blindness of heretics to the truth, the repetition of the process the stubbornness of heretics even when presented with the truth. The Children don’t have a very high opinion of heretics. I had to wonder if Sonia realized she was actually one herself.)
Most of the trees on Sacred Mountain were evergreens, but we abruptly found ourselves among apple trees. Sonia looked around and observed, “These trees might have been planted as an orchard at one time. I’ve heard it said that the Children farmed all the Sacred Lands a long time ago.”
Interesting. That might help explain the deserted village’s existence. Maybe it wasn’t just some sort of doctrinal struggle that doomed it, but a decline in farming.
I was thinking about how little of the history of the Children I knew when Sonia gave a cry and took off at a run. I looked up, puzzled, and then I saw what Sonia had seen. It was, well, I couldn’t be certain, but it had to be Stacia, with her back to us, inspecting one of the apple trees. Sonia had no doubts, herself. I could feel relief and joy erupt out of her as she reached Stacia and threw her arms around her.
I caught up to them a few seconds later. Sonia turned and beamed at me. It was as if finding Stacia had dropped ten years off her age. But Stacia looked puzzled at seeing me. She hesitated before holding out her hand. “Hello, I’m Stacia Fletcher,” she said.
I’m not sure which of us looked the most puzzled. I took her hand and shook it. “And I’m your half-sister, Emily Fisher.”
Now I did know who looked the most puzzled: it was Stacia. She was looking at me as if I couldn’t be who I said I was. She turned to Sonia and in an undertone said, “Sonia, this is going to sound odd, but what year is it?”
Sonia might be bewildered, but she would not leave Stacia hanging. “2013,” she answered promptly.
Stacia turned back to me, looked me over, and nodded to herself with a giggle. To me, she said, “My apologies, sister Emily, I’ve been ill recently.” She paused and then laughed out loud. “You might even know more about it than I do. My memory seems to be full of holes. I still thought of you as the child you were when you left here. But you couldn’t be, could you, if we’re all older?” And she giggled again.
Sonia could hardly restrain her happiness, but she had to find out. “What are you doing out here? Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?”
Stacia matched her sister with a great big happy smile. “I’m sorry, Sonia. I guess I just woke up and realized I’d been shirking my work and decided to go do some of it. And you know how I sometimes lose track of time.”
Sonia was so happy to have Stacia back that she swallowed that lie without a qualm. Me, I was wondering what had really happened. When we were on Sacred Mountain, Stacia had told me she would lie to Sonia about spiritual matters. I debated in my head whether Stacia had run into Sarah Priest or been on top of Sacred Mountain.
We got back to Sonia’s, and then Stacia announced she had business with me. Sonia clearly wanted her to stay, but she acquiesced. She was still so happy just to have Stacia back.
It was not far from Sonia’s to my place. We had hardly started when Stacia said to me, “Nice ring. Know much about the person who gave it to you?”
I hadn’t even seen Stacia notice the ring. “Not enough. She claims to be a remote cousin. And Alex Bancroft once described her as a powerful magician.”
Stacia shook her head. “Well, whoever she is, she was the one who abducted me out of my bed a day ago. She said there was something wrong with me.”
How much did Stacia understand of what had happened to her? “You’d had some sort of breakdown and were acting like a child.”
Stacia gave me a curious look. “Was I? What caused it?”
Talk about holes in her memory! I wasn’t sure how much to explain. Might I drive Stacia back into a breakdown? So I started slowly, “Well, Lavinia Priest said something about the relationship between you and your mother . . .”
Stacia interrupted. “Stop pussyfooting around, Emily Fisher. Get to the point.”
OK. “Lavinia claimed you’d never accepted that you were partly yourself and partly your mother.”
That stopped Stacia dead. She turned to me, incredulity on her face. “That’s it?”
“Well, um, she did say something about how you might have killed your mother, or vice versa, the day Selena took you to the plaza.”
Stacia was baffled at first. She looked down at the street as she thought. And then a knowing smile crossed her face. In a low voice, as if speaking to herself, she said, “So that’s why my memories are in tatters.” She looked back up at me and told me, “Thanks. That’s cleared things up. Let’s go.” And she resumed walking.
I started after her. “What do you mean, that clears things up?” But I got no answer. Not right then.
We had settled down in my study about half an hour later. My first question to Stacia was, “What did you say to Hannah?” For when Stacia had arrived at the Burns Cottage, she had headed directly upstairs and woken up Hannah by whispering something in her ear. Oh, and doing something involving spiritual energy.
She casually replied, “Told her the Divine ordered her to wake up and get about her work. And mentioned something to her that only the Divine would know.” Stacia gave a pointed glance at my ring. “It was part of the deal that this Sarah Priest negotiated with the Divine yesterday.”
My raised eyebrows conveyed my feelings adequately. Stacia was amused by my reaction. “Oh, it gets better. As near as I can tell, Sarah Priest was arguing with the Divine. Not something I’d want to try. I can’t tell you what they were arguing about, though. That’s another bit of my memory that’s missing. At least I know why now.”
I gestured with my hands to indicate I was waiting for an explanation. Stacia caught on, and added, “Oh, sorry. Since you told me what I needed to know, I thought you’d figured it out, too. Look at me. I’m Stacia Fletcher. But I’m not, not really. Stacia was a child when she was almost destroyed by the energies on the plaza, and very little of her personality survived. No, it was the parts of Emma’s stronger personality that shaped me. So I’m really mostly Emma, Emma in Stacia’s body.”
I still didn’t quite get it, and Stacia saw, so she continued. “Don’t you see? Stacia couldn’t accept that she was mostly Emma, and the Emma parts of her couldn’t accept that she hadn’t saved her daughter. That must have been the problem, based on what you told me. It’s the only way it could make psychological sense.” She snickered and added, “It sounds weird to talk about my past self as if I’m someone else.” After another pause, she continued, “But I don’t have that problem, not anymore. I don’t have the identity crisis, or the guilt. Somehow when the Divine and that Sarah Priest were putting me back together, they must have eliminated those problems, and any memories associated with them.” She giggled. “It’s funny, because I can tell I’m missing memories. I remember working with Jezebel to decipher Lavinia’s prophecy about you, but I have no memories of you as an adult. And I know that can’t be right.”
But it made a certain amount of sense, all taken together. And suggested a question. “What about Lavinia? Do you have any part of her?”
Stacia suddenly looked grave. “Yes. That’s the bad news, Emily Fisher. I can’t take your place and be the one who controls the plaza. Sarah Priest explained what’s going on there, and I insisted she take me up to the plaza. The moment I set foot on it, the Lavinia parts of me try to take over. If I stayed, I’d turn into Lavinia, or something like her. That would not be a good thing.”
So much for one hope I hadn’t realized I was nursing. “Any other bad news?”
Stacia looked at me as if she was trying to figure out something. “Possibly not from your perspective. Hannah Wyatt is never going to get her Inspiration back. She will be an Instrument of the Divine in name only henceforth. Sarah Priest seemed to think you’d be happy about that. She didn’t say why.”
So Sarah Priest hadn’t explained Hannah’s situation to Stacia. In fact, she didn’t seem to have explained Stacia’s own situation to her. For that matter, she hadn’t told me what she was going to do. This bothered me. And yet, what would I have had her do differently? She’d fixed Stacia, Hannah, and my head. Stacia had lost some memories, and didn’t seem to act quite so bipolar as she used to, but that was minor stuff.
I hadn’t realized that I had been sitting there thinking, and that Stacia had been watching me carefully. She suddenly spoke up. “You’re not so sure about this Sarah Priest, are you?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know her well enough. She promised to help, and that’s what she’s done. I’m just worrying the details, I guess.”
I could tell Stacia was not satisfied with my explanation. Still, she didn’t pursue the point. Instead, she said, “I gather we were on friendly terms before I lost most of my memories, Emily. And we are sisters. So I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a personal question. You’re the Prophesied One, the real one. What do you intend to do about it?”
I shrugged in irritation. “I don’t know. I have to leave, to take Elsie and Jezebel away. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
Stacia cocked her head to one side. “Hmmm. You really don’t know, do you? Well, I’m one of the two experts on the Prophecy itself.” She laughed. “I’ve even got what’s left of the author inside of me. Let me know if I can help.”
To my surprise, the High Council made no demands on me over the next week. And neither did just about anyone else. I’d obtained Elsie’s and Jezebel’s agreement to come with me. And with my report back to the agency filed, I actually had nothing to do . . . if I ignored being the Prophesied One or the problem of the plaza or how I would cope with a lovesick Jezebel in D.C., all of which I ignored as much as possible. I spent some time with Elsie and my parents. Joy of joys, I also found the time almost every day to curl up with a book in the library, sitting under Miss Sibley’s portrait as I had done as a kid.
No doubt one reason the High Council left me alone was that they had their own problems. Alex Bancroft’s abrupt departure without even a forwarding address left them dumbstruck. Their Prophesied One, like him or not, had abandoned them. And so far as I knew, none of them knew that I was, in effect, Alex’s replacement. Not that that would have been an easy story to sell the High Council, or the Children as a whole. So the High Council made no statement on the subject, hoping people would let the matter drop. People didn’t let it drop. Tanya told me there was a steady undercurrent of murmuring against the High Council.
And then the High Council trumped that minor error with a major one. They selected two candidates to fill the vacancies in their numbers. Whether they knew it or not (afterward they claimed not), one of the two candidates had played a leading role in the mob that had attacked my half-siblings in West Village.
Sonia did not blow her top when she heard. So witnesses tell me, else I’d not believe it. She must have been biding her time. Because she went to the meeting of the High Council the following night, when the candidates were formally presented to the public, and announced that she was offering herself as a candidate. Then she shocked the Council and the audience by pulling out a whip and saying she’d withdraw her candidacy if she could whip the offending candidate as badly as he had helped whip her. There was an uproar, and it did not go well for the High Council. Whatever people had thought of Sonia before, they applauded her guts, and her candidacy proved to be popular.
Stacia proved to be an unexpected asset to Sonia’s candidacy. She had decided she had to make up for lost memories by doing a walking survey of all the fields, gardens, greenhouses, and orchards of the Children as part of her job. And unlike the old Stacia, who was not very sociable, the new Stacia stopped to talk with people all the time. People were favorably impressed by her engaging manner. They were also reminded by her talk about finding a new home that she, too, had been a victim of mob violence. So their conversations with her often led into discussions about Sonia, and Stacia could say nothing wrong about her sister.
Along with Stacia went Jezebel. Stacia had asked Jezebel to join her, telling Jezebel she needed someone bright to help her when her memories failed. Jezebel could never resist an appeal to her intelligence. And after having been mostly cooped up in Lakeview for the last several years, she enjoyed the chance to visit the other villages. I don’t know if Stacia was deliberately trying to help Sonia with her walking tour, but I know that she was trying to help Jezebel. And I suspect that the benefits ran both ways. You can’t tell me that some of Stacia’s talkativeness wasn’t due to spending the day in the company of the verbally uninhibited Jezebel.
Jezebel’s behavior surprised me the most. Not that she followed Stacia around. It was her attitude toward me. The first few days she acted love-struck and embarrassed every time she saw me. Then she changed. She became much more comfortable around me. It was as if she still loved me and lusted after me, yet was able to keep those two emotions distinct in her own mind. We were able to get back to our old friendly footing when her love for me was uppermost. But when her lust predominated, she would look at me in such an openly sexual way that I became embarrassed. Still, overall it was an improvement.
For a week, I was able to set my problems aside and enjoy my days in Quasopon. And then a problem I thought resolved returned, and it brought all my other troubles back in its wake.
End of chapter forty-three