As I pulled onto Winnie’s street one of the houses seemed to be glowing. I couldn’t see the glow, just feel it since it was in my heart, not the air around the house. I pulled into the drive without checking the number. Something in me just knew I was where I needed to be.
As I walked up to the house the front door opened. A teen with frizzy hair open the door so I thought Milly must be doing better. Only it wasn’t her. As I got closer I could tell it wasn’t even a teen in the doorway, but a woman who looked a lot like the girl Milly. She was scowling down at me.
“Yes, what do you want?” she asked.
“Uhm, yeah, uhm, hi, I’m, uhm, Tr…” I said
“I know who you are,” she said. I could feel the warmth of her words almost scorch me.
“Yes, then I’m sure you know that your sister, Winnie, asked me to stop by, uhm, I forget, what’s your …?” I said. I was surprised I knew she was Winnie’s sister. It must have been the resemblance to Milly.
“How many times have you seen me, if not up close at least from a distance?” she asked.
In a flash I remembered this woman. I remembered her as a little girl holding Rosaline’s hand as they entered the mausoleum. I remember her with Winnie yesterday. I remembered her in the past by herself and with other members of the Hawkins’s branch.
“A dozen, maybe more,” I said.
“And you never thought to ask me my, ‘uhm, I forgot your…’?” she asked. She held her jaw slack as she said the last few words. A flame burned in her eye. I could feel that flame stir something inside of me. Fear? I didn’t know, but I began to feel the heat. My hands grew sweaty.
“Uh, I’m, yeah, I’m, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Do you always stutter?” she asked. I could imagine the flames dancing around her as the sarcasm burned into my skin. A sympathetic flamed burned from inside, painfully burning my brain.
“Only when I’m frightened, flustered or confronted with a beautiful woman,” I said.
“Oh, and which of those cases is this, pray tell?” she asked. Her flame could have turned most grown men to ash.
“Why, all three, of course,” I answered.
I noticed a hint of a smile and the heat, while still intense, became more soothing, less burning.
“As I was saying, I’m here to see your young niece,” I said, taking advantage of the reduced heat while she paused.
“Young, huh? How old do you think she is?” I knew this was a test.
“She is 17,” I said with upmost confidence. “She looks so mature, I thought she was a little older.”
“She is mature for her age,” the woman answered. The flames continued to sooth, not burn.
“Would you stop grilling the poor man and let him in?” Winnie called out from someplace in the house. I almost laughed. ‘Grilling’ was exactly the right term for the heat I was under.
“Maybe,” the woman answered. “As soon as he stops asking me who I am and why I’m here.”
“I know that,” I said. I felt the warmth grow, leap up to the clouds and consume everything around it, but this time it came from inside of me, not from the woman. “The reason you are here is that you’re worried about your niece, obviously. Amelie. She’s special. She was named after her mother’s baby sister. You. And she shares much more than a name with you, inside and out. She does take after you. I’m sure people have told you.”
Amelie smiled and stepped aside, letting me enter the house. I could feel the embers of her fire as I brushed past her. In response the fire inside me grew, but I hid it out of caution. I built a strong wall around it, keeping it out of sight. Not from her, but from the universe.
Once in the house Winnie rushed me upstairs into a bedroom, talking as we went.
“She’s not with us now, it’s the other,” she said. “The other has been here for a while and seems stronger. Please…”
“Ah, so you’ve come at last,” Milly said as I entered the room. But it wasn’t Milly’s voice. It was another, a voice I had heard before, filtered through Millie’s vocal chords. “I knew you’d come since that dead black bitch pleaded with you.”
Milly was sitting up on her bed. Milly, but not Milly. The eyes were wrong. I’d seen those eyes before. They looked cold and grey; unseeing yet all seeing.
“Yes, Benjamin, she did,” I said. Without moving I reached out to the girl. I was careful, I didn’t want him to see.
“Benjamin?” Milly asked. “Is that the limit of your imagination? OK, sure, that was me once upon a time. I did and can answer to Benjamin. In fact, yes, please call me that, Benjamin. This is going to be easier than I thought.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Perhaps,” I said. “Perhaps not. We’ll see.” I felt a spark. It was like a match that had recently been blown out and was no longer glowing, but still hot. I was still far away from this rapidly cooling match, but it was unmistakable in the nothingness of the void that surrounded it.
“You know, I have had my claws in your back since we met before,” he/she said. “I have been sapping your strength. You are not who you were destined to become. Oh, you would have been a formidable adversary, but then again, I would have just let you pass by, as I have with so many others. But no, I extinguished the fire long ago, keeping you grounded, a shell of the man you should be. Yes, storing you for later use.”
“As I’ve recently discovered,” I said. I tried to isolate the spark in all of the coldness and void. It was like finding a firefly at the far end of the Grand Canyon, but I had to be sure I had it. And I had to be careful. The game would be over if he discovered I was there, feeling around.
“I have been waiting for you,” he/she continued. “I’ve tried pulling you back in, but there have always been too many people, too much interference. And barriers placed by that witch, but they’re gone now, aren’t they? You understand, don’t you that it’s you I want? You understand that this n..er girl is just a vessel I can use to reach you, don’t you?”
“Of course,” I said. “Why don’t you come now?” I could feel his barrier go up. He knew the fight was on, that I was calling him out, calling his bluff. He didn’t know I had long ago gone behind the barrier.
Benjamin/Milly laughed. “No, no,” he/she said. “I’m not stupid. Well, maybe I am since by talking to you I’ve lost a bit of the surprise. But don’t worry, I will come when you least expect me. I’ve been biding my time for so long, don’t you think I can’t wait until I have the total advantage?”
“Then why are you talking to me?” I asked. I needed to keep him talking, keep him distracted for just another few seconds. I was almost there.
“Oh, you knew I was here,” he/she said. “I couldn’t deny that, and so I couldn’t avoid this. It also gives me a chance to take measure, to get under your skin a little more.”
“Take measure?” I asked. “What are these dimensions?”
A part of me that I didn’t know existed had found the spark in Milly. I transferred some of my new found heat to the spark and willed it to resist the void, to expand, to cast off the cold and dark.
I felt the fire grow inside Milly. It was her heat, her fire, only aided where needed by mine. It burst out, the new flame, and engulfed the room, while staying invisible. A great bubble, a burst of heat and light.
I heard Milly say, in a commanding voice, “Get out, now!”
The shock and surprise from the void was palatable. The room split open, then slipped into a hole, nothingness collapsing into nothingness.
And then it was just us, the two ladies, the girl and myself, in the bedroom.
“Milly, are you OK?” I asked.
“I’m tired,” she said.
“You fought bravely,” I said.
“Thank you for finding me,” she said.
Millie disappeared, but this time in love, as her mother threw her arms around her.
I looked over at Amelie. She had a funny smile. I realized she had witnessed the whole fight, not with her eyes, but with her heart. Somehow I understood that she was strong, very strong, but could not attack from without nor could she find Milly from within.
“Do you now understand why I had to stop you at the door, question you?” she asked.
I felt the fire inside me. It was the same fire that I had discovered while fighting Benjamin the first time. The fire he had tried to push from my soul, the fire he thought was quenched. I had rediscovered its existence last night in my dream, but before now I had only made it spark, it was still just a faint glow. Amelie had been key in rekindling it back into a flame, and it continued to grow brighter.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
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