I woke to Milly screaming in my head. I hesitated. I had answered a scream just after going to bed the night before. I had to remember that Milly was s a healthy teenage girl who was alone on a Friday night. I don’t think either of us have been as embarrassed in our lives. It’s obvious I was set up. But the reason for all of the false alarms, I was sure, was that there would be a real one.
Milly screamed again. I had to go in. She yelled, “Get out!”
I said in her mind, “Sorry, but use the word ‘Merlin’ if you really are in trouble.”
I got up. It felt as if my house was crowded. I could feel them, sometimes hear a whisper and on a rare occasion even catch a glimpse of a person.
It was late, much later than usual for me, yet I didn’t feel rested. Sleep still hung in my eyes as I got into the shower, the stall crowded with dozens of shadows of the past.
I was still stiff and sore. Every joint ached. My bruises had settled to blue, purple and a tinge of an ugly greenish yellow. Looking in the mirror after my shower I figured a third of my body was covered in bruises. As I inspected myself in the mirror I became aware of three young female faces giggling. For a moment I was embarrassed, but then I remembered they had been dead for almost two centuries. I turned around and said, “Boo!” but of course there was nobody there.
As I was eating Milly shouted out to me again, but she didn’t say the key word so I ignored it.
As I was brushing my teeth after breakfast the mirror seemed full of people, mostly Hawthorns with a few Hawkins faces mixed in, watching me.
And then they weren’t. They were gone.
There were no whispers.
There were no more feelings.
The house was empty. Emptier than it had ever been.
I went from room to room, and they all felt empty. There was still a vague evil feel to the master bedroom, but nothing else.
I reached out, but the world felt empty and damp, as if a huge wet blanket had covered the city.
I stood in the kitchen with a new cup of coffee trying to figure out what to do. The world tasted of silence. It was more than a lack of noise, it was the silence that comes when a constant but ignored sound is suddenly taken away. It had the wrong color, smelled off, tasted wrong. It was a total absence, a void.
My phone rang, a dull sound that did nothing to break the absence.
“This is Trevor,” I said.
“Hello, Mr. Harris? This is Lois Williams. You know, Winfried and Amelie’s mom?”
“Oh, hello Mrs. Williams,” I said. “How are you doing this warm Saturday morning?”
“I have to admit, I’ve been better,” she said. “The air tastes wrong, the sound of the day is exactly the wrong color. Can we talk? I’d like for you to come down to my church. I feel better there than anyplace on earth.”
“Sure, Mrs. Williams,” I said. “It’ll take me a little over a half an hour to get there, perhaps 45 minutes.”
“I’ll be waiting,” she said.
I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t try to tell me the directions. During our conversation I had reached out a small feeler and she knew I was there. She welcomed it.
Following her feel I found myself in a quiet corner of Cambridge. A church had been on the site for over 200 years with the present structure build in the 1880s. It had a small but very vibrant congregation. Mrs. Williams was a very important member and Winnie came most Sundays. Even Amelie still came by at least once a month, though it was a much longer drive for her.
I went in and found Mrs. Williams sitting near the back of the sanctuary, praying. I sat down next to her. She didn’t move, but I felt her welcome me.
The place had a very clean, wholesome feel. I understood why Mrs. Williams felt comfortable. As I sat I could feel a slight shadow of some of the lives that had passed through, but there were surprisingly few. I had expected it to be almost throbbing with the old memories of past parishioners.
As we sat there the bells rang noon. Mrs. Williams got up and motioned for me to follow. We exited the sanctuary and went into a newer side building and then into a Sunday School classroom, most likely for 10 or 11 year olds.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Harris,” she said.
“You’re welcome, though, after our last conversation I’m a bit surprised you invited me,” I said.
“I understand, but I do need to defend my own. I am a very religious woman, Mr. Harris, but I am not an idiot. I understand the families and the power. I can feel and see you and know you are a good man. And I know you have a special connection to my granddaughter.”
“Yes, Mrs. Williams, she is very special,” I said. “Why did you ask me to come here today?”
“I have felt a storm brewing for a while,” she said. “Even before poor Milly was locked in that crypt I could feel it in my bones. Since then it has intensified. The air has been electric with it. And then today, nothing.
“What did you feel in the sanctuary, Mr. Harris?”
“It felt very clean, but very quiet. Peaceful,” I said.
“It was peaceful, wasn’t it?” Mrs. Williams asked. “But you see, it is usually vibrant. It is full of life even if it is just the dead. I can feel it even when I’m miles away and it makes me feel happy. I know I’ll be part of that choir long after I have left this earth. It is comforting.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said.
“But this morning it went silent,” she continued. “It all went quiet. The world felt like a void. I couldn’t feel the girls. I called Winfried on the phone and she said she was fine, but I could tell there was a problem. If this is the quiet before the storm, I think this will be a wicked huge storm.”
She sat nodding to herself.
“I’m afraid I have the same feeling, Mrs. Williams,” I said.
She continued to nod. I could hear her faintly humming Amazing Grace. She paused.
“I reached out this morning, Mr. Harris,” she said. “I was looking for a familiar spark. Do you know you were the only one I could feel? And you were faint.” She made a “Hrmph” sound. “Sitting next to you now you are broadcasting loud enough to be heard in Hong Kong. Why were you faint when you were just across the city? Something is blocking us, Mr. Harris. Like when the military blocks radio and RADAR signals. And you know what, Mr. Harris? If your signal is being blocked it usually means they’re about to bomb you.”
She started humming again, this time a little louder. She stopped again and turned to me.
“You know, Mr. Harris, I haven’t heard from Amelie since Tuesday,” she said. “She doesn’t call her mother every day, of course, but she usually talks to me a couple of times a week. And then there’s Milly.”
She started humming again.
I hummed along without thinking. She stopped. She looked at me with piercing eyes.
“I don’t have to be a genius, you know,” she said. “No, I don’t have to be a genius and enfant terrible like some in this room to know. I don’t have to have a power greater than any of this generation to know. This all has to do with that mausoleum, with the Halley Branch.”
“The whole storm,” she said. “The blanket silence. The strange color of words, feel of sounds. The void that has engulfed the city. I know where it is from. And I know you’re in the middle. My sister Betty warned us, told us we needed to work with you from the time you were born, but mother wouldn’t listen and your parents barely tolerated us. A bunch of lunatic colored folk I heard your father once say.”
I felt very embarrassed. I never thought of my parents as racist, but they could be very insensitive. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams.”
“Are you sorry for what your father said or that you are at the center of all of this?” she asked. “I have a mother’s instinct. I know how you feel and wouldn’t do anything to discourage you, my son. As far as the other, you didn’t choose it, he chose you.” She patted my arm as she was talking. I looked into this woman’s eyes and saw something I didn’t expect, a deep pure love of the clearest crystal imaginable.
A man gently knocked on the door and entered. By his dress I knew he was a preacher, one of the church’s ministers. He walked over and put a hand on Mrs. Williams’ shoulder, an almost beatific smile on his face
“Sister Lois,” he said. “Today is your day to shine. You have a light in you as pure as heaven’s own, you know. And the spark of life. You gave life to your two beautiful daughters. You can still bring life.” He bent down and kissed her on her forehead. He turned to me, gave me a knowing smile and then left the room.
I looked back at Lois Williams. She had tears running down her cheeks.
“That was beautiful,” I said.
“No, you don’t understand,” she said. “The Reverend Dr. Kelley was pastor here when I was a child. He passed away at least 25 years ago.”
We spent most of the afternoon driving around the Boston area going to houses of the elderly and shut-ins to make sure they were doing OK with the heat and humidity. The Boston area is not known as being a hot city and most of the older houses don’t have air conditioning, particularly in some of the poorer sections. We found many people who were quite miserable and did everything we could to help.
As we drove I talked to this wonderful woman and got to know her better. And through her my understanding of her family grew. The disappointment of Winnie’s teenage pregnancy and rushed marriage being changed to pride for her achievement as she earned her degree as a recently widowed single mother. Amelie’s distrust of the world, and particularly what she saw as the white authorities. The bright light that was Milly. My respect and love for the older woman in the car grew as we talked until she became almost a second mother.
As we drove and talked, Mrs. Williams called her daughter Winnie every forty five minutes or so to check on Milly.
At about 5:30 we met Winnie, Milly, Lisa and Sarah for dinner at a family restaurant. Everyone seemed very downcast.
As we ate neither Sarah nor Milly looked at me, they both just frowned and picked at their food. We were all feeling it, but I’m sure the two teens thought it was just them. I remember my teen years and the emotional rollercoaster and have heard it can be worse for girls. A normal day could be bad enough. Today, though, with the beautiful, crystal skies, we all felt as if there was a dark purple fog over everything, the sounds were all muted and the joy was missing from life.
When the meal was over I asked Milly how she was doing. She looked at me with anger in her eyes.
“Why did you keep bugging me?” she asked. “I mean, a girl needs some privacy.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I have been receiving ear piercing screams from you almost constantly since yesterday morning. Some loud, some soft, but they all sound real. I think they’re echoes from when you really need me.”
She picked at some scraps of food on her plate, not looking at me as she spoke.
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I’ve heard them too. I’ve heard myself and I’ve heard you answer when I knew you weren’t there. It’s just that, last night….” Her cheeks flushed.
“I’m very sorry about that, really, I wanted to die,” I said. “But I promised your Aunt I’d keep you safe. I have to. You know the code word. Shhh, don’t say it out loud.”
“And direct it at me like a bullet and I’ll come roaring to find you like a B-29.”
She looked at me puzzled.
I laughed. “Sorry, it was an old analogy.”
“I know Uncle Trevor, and I will call,” she said. “I know you’ll be there.”
“What about me?” Sarah asked. “Do I get a secret code word?”
The girl had a strange expression that I couldn’t read.
“Sure,” I said. “Hang on, and prepare yourself.”
I entered her mind slowly and easily. It was a turmoil of flashing colors. Hawkins hot mixed with Halley cold. But a bright, clear light shown like a beacon through it all.
“Guinevere,” I said in her mind.
She started to mouth it, but I put my finger in front of my mouth. “Don’t.”
I pulled out. Her expression was now one of wonder.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” she said. “Can you do it again and I’ll tell you the keyword back, just to be sure?”
“Sure.” I reached in again. The turmoil was even greater.
“I’m your Guinevere and I love you,” she said in my mind.
“Just ‘Guinevere’ is enough,” I said and pulled out.
I knew I was turning red. Everyone was looking at me, making me even redder. Sarah had a self-satisfied smirk.
“OK, so we all have a key word we’ll use,” I said. I was trying to make light of it.
Mrs. Williams saved me. “Well, I need to be getting home,” she said. She looked at me. “Call if you need anything, honey. With your mind if you have to be quick. Don’t worry, I’m too old to have any secrets or do anything embarrassing. But if you do catch me doing or thinking something embarrassing, maybe you should broadcast it so people know I’m not dead yet.”
“Actually I was about to tell you to call out in an emergency,” I said.
We all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, Winnie taking her niece and driving her mother home. I wanted to scream, “We need to stick together until this evil night is done!” but something inside resisted.
When I got home the sun was setting. I couldn’t believe how early night was coming on, being used to the long summer evenings of July.
As I watched the afterglow of the evening from my dining room I thought that we only had a few more hours and the day would be over. If he didn’t strike today, I didn’t think he’d strike for a while.
A little later I was beginning my preliminary routine for bed when I thought I heard “Guinevere” very lightly in my ear. I froze. The house was a silent as it had ever been. I walked out to the back patio and listened harder. Was that the word “Merlin” in a high pitched cry, almost too soft to hear?
I watched the full moon rising and concentrated. I thought I heard them both again, “Merlin”, “Guinevere”.
I reached out with all of my might to Milly. She wasn’t there. It was void. I tried Sarah. She wasn’t there. I knew where the girls should be, Sarah spending the night at Milly’s house, but there was no feel of them in the house. I could very, very faintly feel Winnie in her room, working on her computer. I sent a bullet to her as loud as I could, “Check Milly now!”
I waited watching the moon, searching the city for the girls with my mind. Very faintly I heard Winnie, “Oh my God, where are they?”
I shot back, “I’ll look.”
I sent a bullet at Lisa, “Girls in trouble.” I then turned to Lois Williams and sent her the same bullet. I didn’t wait for a response, I went to my car.
I started driving, being very careful. I no longer felt anything so I had to depend 100% on my other senses.
As I cruised through the suburbs of Boston, the full moon made the world brighter, almost like day. Yet for some reason the night grew darker. I drove towards that epicenter of darkness, the point that seemed to be sucking all of the light of the world into its maw. I drove towards the “Halley-Hawkins Cemetery” and the Hawkins Mausoleum that stood at its heart. For I knew that, even though I couldn’t feel them, it was there, at the heart of darkness that I would find the girls. And I would find him.
His trap now set, he was waiting for me.
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