~The Journal of Etta Castle Teague
“Sometimes I am convinced that the Towes are nothing but human beings with the typical false sense of entitlement, and now the rest of the world has to pay for it.”
* * *
Etta’s cell phone slipped from her hand and fell onto the floor. She couldn’t even register the sound of the Emergency Dispatch Operator’s voice as it echoed against the tiles of the store. She did however manage to end the call with a quick move of her fingers.
“What is that? Is that a Lotus seed?”
“Yeah! It came out Mr. Albert’s pocket,” She leaned forward and slowly reached for the smoky grey orb.
“Don’t touch it!” Baldwin’s sharp rebuke made her hand recoil and her pulse hiccup in her veins. “There is obviously something wrong with it. It could hurt you too,” Baldwin drew even closer, looking at Mr. Albert’s still body before splitting his attention between Etta and the Lotus seed.
Etta considered what he said as she studied the orb. Its glassy exterior was fractured and grey with bits of white slicing through it. White. All Lotus seeds were red or black. The only white ones were…“Oh God,” Ignoring Baldwin’s advice, she plucked the seed from the ground. Baldwin called her name again. “It’s one of ours, one of the white seeds.” She stood and held it out to him, before drawing it closer to her face for further inspection. Her brow was drawn and twisted. She could feel the frequency humming within it. She had written the sequence herself.
“How did he get his hands on it, and what in the world happened to it?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know,” She quickly hid the seed within her fist and shoved it into the pocket of her jacket, her head snapping in Kyle’s direction.
“Whoa! Is he-is he…dead?!” The little bit of color that Kyle had quickly drained from his face. He froze still at the store entrance and stared at Mr. Albert.
Etta bent forward and picked up her phone, redialing the emergency line. “No, he is not dead, not yet. Clive did something to him and I had to put him in a coma,” She turned her back to him once the Dispatcher answered her call. “Yes, I need an ambulance. My grandfather was having seizures and is now in a coma…Eaton Mall, third floor, Forever Friends…I don’t know why he seized, it just happened…Can you just send an ambulance already?! Thank you!”
She hung up the phone and dropped it on the counter behind her. Cupping her mouth with her hands she stared down at her grandfather again, ignoring the throbbing in her head. The Pulse had caused her less pain this time, but it was pain nonetheless. The peaceable expression upon Mr. Albert’s face was so deceiving. He had to have been in some level of pain after the hard thrashing his body had just done.
“What did he do? Why are there Lotus here?” Still keeping his distance from him, Kyle moved closer to Etta until he was standing at her side.
She shook her head, and sent the Lotus away. She then clicked her teeth with frustration for the tears pricking her eyes. “I called the Lotus. He and Clive ambushed me,”
“So you put him in a coma?!”
“No, it wasn’t like that.” Her brow came together again as she thought about what had taken place. It had happened so fast. She had sent out a frequency calling for the Lotus. Clive and Mr. Albert let her go, but Mr. Albert grabbed for his leg. The Lotus seed must have responded somehow. It was in his pocket then.
Her scowl deepened. “What I know for sure is that one minute Mr. Albert had my arms pinned and Clive was somehow digging around in my brain, and then they both let me go and Mr. Albert was trying to kill him,”
Kyle’s mouth fell opened. “Did they fight?”
“Not exactly. He just drove Clive away from me, and then Clive touched his head and he started to have seizures. They were so violent I couldn’t think to do anything else but put him in a coma.” She let her eyes meet Kyle’s, her voice was almost apologetic. “Don’t say anything about this, okay. I need to figure some things out. If anyone asks you, it was just seizures.”
Kyle shook his head. “My lips are sealed, man. But just to clarify, Pastor Meeks has alien powers, and can dig into my brain, see stuff, my thoughts and what not?”
Her expression was answer enough but she added, “Now do you see why I don’t tell you everything, why you get information in fractured bits? Because of this kind of stuff, and trust me it hurts like hell having some alien entity digging around in your brain.”
“Thanks for the heads-up on that.” He cupped the back of his neck with his hand.
The paramedics were in the store just as soon as Kyle had finished talking. Etta left the store in Kyle’s hands and followed behind the paramedics. Baldwin was with her.
“What aren’t you telling me about what happened?” He whispered as if anyone other than Etta could hear him. He could tell by her body language that something was up.
Etta matched his tone. “I am still trying to figure it out. But I am pretty sure that Clive or the Pulse was trying to kill Mr. Albert. The Lotus seed protected him somehow.” She glanced at him. “He was completely committed to helping the Pulse extract whatever it was that they were after until I sent out the frequency and called for our Lotus. That’s when he grabbed his leg and tried to kill Clive.”
She looked at him again before heading out the front door of the mall. “He was protecting me, Baldwin. It was like he was his self again, that or the call for protection from the Lotus somehow triggered his protective instincts through the seed I his pocket. I don’t know…”
“And then Clive hit him?”
“He just touched him and then Mr. Albert started seizing. I know Clive was trying to kill him, but the seed blocked it, broke the Towes hold from off of him.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, for starters his aura, the thing the Towes used to stay tethered with him and everyone else, is completely gone now, but the seed looks exactly like it used to.” She touched one of the paramedics’ shoulders. “I will follow you in my car.”
She shut her car door behind her and jammed the key in the ignition. “I can still see yours though, and everyone else’s for that matter. Worst of all, there are a lot more grey auras today than there were last night.” She glared at a couple who was entering the mall. They glared right back. “Which means the Pulse is feeling desperate.”
“Do you think it was able to retrieve anything from you about our plan?”
She thought about the images that she had fumbled within her mind. Most of them were useless, some of them personal, but the ones that the Pulse seemed to snag at the most were things that had to do with Baldwin.
Etta shook her head. “It only got what I wanted it to.”
* * *
Jørn closed the door to Dr. Philips’ office behind him. He didn’t know how to process what had just happened. From what he had been told, the Chief had plans of skinning him alive for the way Etta had acted the night before, but now, after sitting with the woman for a good hour, Jørn was pretty sure everyone else had gotten it wrong. That, or the emergency call she had just received had kept her from getting to her point. He would have almost believed the latter to be true if not for the conversation that they were having up until she received the call.
Instead of Dr. Philips coming at him with fire and daggers, she was extending him an olive branch of sorts. Even though the woman comported herself with nothing but professionalism and grace, she could not hide the very real fear that was in her eyes. It seemed she was very much afraid of Etta and by default, Jørn.
What had she said before he left her office; something to the tune of a measure of good faith? What did that mean?
He had made it halfway to his own office when Rachel touched his arm. He hadn’t even seen her coming. “Hey. I called you. Did you get my messages?”
“I didn’t get a chance to listen to them. A lot has been going on.”
“I know. I actually wanted to have a word with you in regard to some of those things. Do you have a minute?”
He honestly wanted to say no. No, he did not have a minute. No, he did not want to talk about Heidi Flagg or Vanessa Wong. No, he did not want to talk about anything that might involve Etta, but he knew that it was better to get it over with than to wait. After all, he had his own questions he wanted answered in regard to Heidi.
“Sure, I actually am free for the next hour.” He unlocked his office door and held it opened for her. Rachel helped herself to a chair, placing the folder she had brought for Jørn on his desk.
“What’s this?” He sat down across from her and pointed at the folder.
Rachel waited until she held his gaze. “It is everything that I as able to collect regarding Heidi Flagg, your fiancée.” The look she gave him was like that of a disappointed mother.
Jørn leaned his head back and let out a deep breath. “I actually wanted to talk to you about that as well.”
“Did you?” She leaned forward, skepticism all over her face.
“Yes, Rachel. I did, I planned on doing so.”
“Well, Jørn it really doesn’t seem like it. Which begs the question, why? What happened to her? What does your wife know? She has to know something. She is listed as her next of kin, ad a witness to accounts.” She flipped the folder open and pushed the papers towards him. “She is being accused of being responsible for not only Vanessa Wong’s coma, and the other two victims,”
Jørn held up his hands. “That is all they are, accusations. People are constantly passing rumors. I think I heard at least ten different versions about what happened to Wong. The fact of the matter is that neither of us was there, so we don’t know what really happened. And it’s hurtful that people are blaming Etta.
“I don’t even know why anyone would want to for that matter since she supposedly stopped the ascension. Besides all that, you can’t prove she had anything to do with this. How could she even put a person in a coma like that? It’s not like she beat any of them.”
“Yeah, well she did stop the ascension so I would not put this possibility beyond her.”
He sighed. “Rachel, really, I would like it very much if you would not accuse her like this.”
Rachel tilted her head to the side and studied his face. “I talked to Amanda, the nurse who was on staff last night. She said that Etta bragged about putting them in comas, and would do the same to her and others. And it really doesn’t help matters now that your grandfather-in-law is in a coma too.”
Jørn flinched. Did he hear her correctly? “Mr. Albert? Albert Castle has been emitted? When?”
“Just this morning. He is in a coma. He has several abrasions and a dislocated elbow, from what I understand, but he is in a coma; same as Wong’s same as the others, and same as Heidi Flagg’s. They ran a few test on him, well, anyone that your wife would let go near him has been able to run test.”
She grimaced. “Your wife is being very irrational. And she is scaring the staff. She has threatened three other doctors and a few nurses already today. No one wants to work on this case, and your grandfather-in-law needs help. He could have cranial bleeding or swelling. He could be at death’s door right now and we won’t know because she won’t let us do our jobs.”
“So you are blaming Etta too then? You think she did this somehow, to her own grandfather, to Wong, to Heidi?!” Jørn tightened his jaw. Rachel had not said so specifically, that she thought Etta had caused Mr. Albert’s coma, but she had insinuated it.
Jørn had shamefully had the same thought himself, but the protective urge to defend Etta was causing him to become highly sensitive, which only meant he would become verbally aggressive. He schooled his tone. “We can talk about this later. Or not. I vote for not. But I need to go and see about my family,” He stood up to leave.
Rachel followed suit, her hand extended forward to stop him from leaving. “Listen, I am not trying to accuse anyone of anything. I am just bringing you information that you clearly have not considered. I mean at the end of the day, we don’t know what is going on, or what, let alone who we are dealing with.”
He narrowed his eyes. “So what are you saying then?”
“I am saying look at the facts, Jørn. Etta is the one who called for the ambulance. She was there when it happened. She was there when Wong went into her mysterious coma, as well as the others. She is somehow causing this—”
“You don’t know that! Just last week you were blaming Wong’s coma on her head injury from that previous Sunday. Now you think my wife is magically putting people in comas.”
She blushed. “That was before I knew what I know! That was before I started following the arrows and they all point to Etta! She is the common denominator! She stopped the ascension which means she has some kind of power or ability. She could easily be doing this! I am a rational person, and I am beyond convinced,”
Jørn shook his head and began to walk past her. Rachel grabbed his arm. “What are you two hiding?!” Her voice rose and her brow descended. “What did she do to Heidi Flagg, what is she doing now?!”
“She didn’t do anything to Heidi!” He pulled his arm from her grip, her words making him see red.
“You don’t know that!”
“I was THERE, RACHEL! Etta didn’t do anything!”
The growl in his voice made her stumble backward. Her jaw clamped shut and her face began to burn. “You were there? Then,” She hesitated.
“Then why am I not the next of kin? Why haven’t I said anything? Because I went on a binge, if you must know. I couldn’t deal with her death.” He looked away from her and towards the door, wanting to retreat again, before forcing his eyes to meet hers again. “But I am telling you, my wife didn’t do anything to her.”
“But you don’t know that—”
“Rachel!” He cut her off. She glared up at him. “Let me make myself very clear to you, so that there is no room for misunderstanding later. First, I didn’t know that Heidi’s case was an any way similar to Wong’s, so when you brought it to me the other day, I was caught off guard. I have been doing my best to deal with her loss for over a decade. So you have to understand it was a bit much to have it brought up again in casual conversation.
“Now having this information in regard to Heidi, having the opportunity to find out what exactly happened to her that day, puts me in a position where I have no choice but to help you figure it out. Why? Because I need that closure. Because I loved her.” His voice caught in his throat, but he quickly forced it free.
“But with that being said, you need to know you are towing a very thin line when you talk about my wife.” The tension that had already filled the room like stifling steam from a hot sauna, thickened even more.
Rachel’s eyes widened. “Are you threatening me?”
Jørn huffed, a disgusted look washed over his face. “Who do you think I am? I am not threatening you. I am giving you information. I like you, Rachel. I count you as a friend of mine. But I will not allow you, or anyone else to bring me bones about my wife. I take it beyond personally, same as I would if you were physically attacking me. So if you want my help, like I want to help you, I suggest you stick to the cold hard facts and leave the speculations about my wife to the gossips.
“Etta would never hurt Heidi or her grandfather. So leave the thought alone. If you can’t do that then you are on your own with the patients from here on out. Are we clear?”
“What about the mess that just happened with Etta this morning, Jørn? You want me to just turn the other cheek and pretend that none of this is at all suspicious, when the answers most likely lie with your wife?”
“Are. We. Clear?” His eyes bored into hers.
Rachel stared hard at him before slowly nodding. Her lips were pressed in a tight line and her fist akimbo before she finally spoke. “We are clear.”
“Good. Would you still like my help?”
She huffed a smile, turned and headed for the door. “Yes actually. I will take what I can get. Something is better than nothing, right? I will leave that file with you then. Look over it when you have a chance and get back to me when you can, the sooner the better.”
She lingered at the door, folding her arms across her chest. “What is it?”
He moved towards her. “If Etta is resisting other doctor’s help, maybe she will let you see to Mr. Albert. It might help with your other cases, assuming that they are indeed related. I can also tell you his personal health history to speed things along. I’ll even fill you in on Heidi.”
“That would help a lot. But as far as Albert Castle goes, what makes you think Etta will be willing to allow me to work with him? She hasn’t really let anyone else.” Her brow rose and she chewed her lip. She was still angry but her curiosity ruled out.
“She will let you because I will vouch for you. Deal?”
* * *
Etta spun around at the sound of her name echoing down the hall. Jørn’s voice had cut through the din of other voices, and even silenced her own as a fresh rebuke was lingering on the tip of her tongue.
She met his gaze and felt herself still in that moment. The starchy anger in her face only waned a little before drawing back up with full force. The conflicted feelings she was having about Jørn since that morning, coupled with the searing headache she was having brought on by the Pulse, and her lingering concussion, did not help her attitude one bit. Neither did the onslaught of Towes dolls with grey auras that had come to “help” her grandfather. She had already decided to lay out everyone in that wing if any of them went near him. She was feeling that raw. She almost wanted them to try her.
Keeping his eyes locked on hers like a magnet’s, Jørn took hold of her arm and eased her towards the entrance of Mr. Albert’s hospital room. “Will you excuse us, please?” He met eyes with the Chief and the other staff members who were present.
The Chief, Doctor Philip’s, nodded her head. “I will be right out here. We need to have another word, please.” She backed away from the door and instructed the others to leave as well.
Etta swallowed down the rest of her pointed words and allowed herself to be towed into the room. Jørn closed the door behind them before whispering something to the other doctor who had come down the hall with him.
She felt her body grow even tenser standing there in the silence with Jørn. Part of her was waiting for him to challenge her just like everyone else had. Part of her wanted something else. She didn’t know what. She kept her mouth closed.
Jørn walked passed her and stood at the side of Mr. Albert’s bed, his mouth drawn and his brow line lowered as if in deep thought. “How is he?”
The question had actually taken her off guard. No rebuke for her standoff with the Chief or his other coworkers? “I don’t know,” She answered honestly. She didn’t know. What she knew for certain was that all evidence of the Towes in him or on him was gone. That was excellent news, but she didn’t know what that meant in regard to Mr. Albert’s mind, what that meant for his dementia especially after such a massive seizure.
She had never liked her grandfather, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t love him. She did love him, and after the Towes had converted him into one of their dolls a few years back, she had believed that he was lost for good. She had quietly mourned his loss and managed to move on with very little emotional evidence. But having witnessed his lucid self, one last time, rising up against the very enemy he had raised her to hate, and then coming so close to death just to protect her, brought with it a rawness that she had not prepared herself to deal with.
The good news was that there was hope that all of the Towes dolls could be set free from the dark, but there was also the chance that Mr. Albert, though free, would not live to enjoy that freedom even if he still faced the deterioration of dementia. Etta would never get to tell him thank you, or tell him she loved him again. She hardly had before, as par his rules.
Baldwin pointed towards the door. “I am going to leave you two alone.”
Jørn pressed his hand against Mr. Albert’s forehead. “What happened to him?”
Etta studied his aura. The shards around him were filled with compassion, not the judgment that everyone else was displaying, and almost no evidence of their fall out that morning. The fact that he seemed “over it” somehow irritated her. She folded her arms around her chest. “He was at the store this morning. Pastor Meeks came in, and we all got into somewhat of a disagreement.”
Jørn turned to face her. She watched his eyes, still waiting for the shift in his shards, a glint in his eyes, judgment, anger. Nothing came. She went on. “Everything got really heated, you know with me against the two of them, but then, Mr. Albert just snapped. He started choking Pastor Meeks—”
“What? He choked him?” A flash of color burst throughout his aura. He was shocked.
Etta nodded. “Mr. Albert seized after that. It was so bad, Jørn.” She looked at Mr. Albert’s long body, lying in helplessly in the bed. Casualty of war. She thought. A rebel tear slipped out of the corner of her eye before she brushed it away and scowled. “I don’t think he is going to survive this.”
“Don’t say that,”
“It’s the truth. You didn’t see it. He hit the ground so hard,”
“Well, what has his doctor said?”
Etta ground her teeth, her anger and frustration rising. “They haven’t said anything! The only thing they are focused on is this stupid coma! What about the seizure? What about his dementia? What about his age? They all just want to pile in here and stare at him. They can stare at someone else!”
Jørn closed the space between them. The warmth of his body caressed her skin even though he had not touched her. The welcome in it made her step away from him.
Jørn sighed, clearly noting her resistance towards him. “He hasn’t shown any evidence of dementia in a few years, Etta.”
“That doesn’t mean anything and you know it. He has been showing signs of it for a while now. Just yesterday he yelled at me like I was six years old again, and I don’t mean like he was trying to belittle me. No, he was looking at me like he did when I was a child. He thought I was a child. He specifically called me Etta Castle, like he did whenever I was in trouble as a kid.
“You know we have had our run-ins since I have been an adult, and he has never addressed me like that. Nor has he ever looked like that. The entire conversation was bizarre. And then he just snapped out of it like it didn’t even happen. His facial expression, body language, all of it changed.” The aura around him changed.
Jørn rubbed his lips with his fingers, again the expression of intense thought bloomed on his face. “You know, he had a similar incident with me a few nights back, but I didn’t even consider that it might have been dementia. It may not be. With the recent changes with the ascension it could be something else. Stress, maybe? I don’t know. But if you want, I can call his old doctor, Doctor Graham, to come in to see about him, to see if it is indeed dementia.”
Etta plopped herself down in a chair in the corner, closing her eyes as she gnawed on her situation. It was hardly passed midday, and she was beyond exhausted. She also needed to test the Lotus seed that had come out of Mr. Albert’s pocket. She was certain that it had somehow freed Mr. Albert from the hold of the Towes, but she also believed it had left his mind exposed to rapid deterioration, not to mention whatever it was that the Pulse had done.
“He needs other assistance. That seizure was insane. Do you understand that?” She opened her eyes to look at him.
“I do. That is why I,” He paused. Dr. Philips had knocked on the door, calling his name. “Give me a second, Hun. I will be right back.”
Etta waited for a good ten minutes before he returned, his white doctor’s coat exchanged for his leather jacket, his bag and keys in hand. Another doctor, the one who had come down the hall with him, was with him. “Sorry about that. The Chief just wanted to make sure that everything was being properly handled in regard to Mr. Albert.”
“Is it?” She cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes. I have asked Doctor Steves to monitor Mr. Albert, run the necessary test. I have informed her of the seizure and the history of dementia as well. Etta you know Rachel.”
Etta gave her an appraising look. The woman showed no signs of grey in her aura, but judgment was all over her. She also had some tension going towards Jørn. The expressive shards only meant that the Pulse had not bothered to latch on to her. Etta had already encountered seven newly converted Towes dolls that afternoon alone, three of them had been out in the hallway arguing with her, all of their once colorful auras ruined with complete washes of dull, dark matter. There was no telling how many more people of Greenwich Pass the Pulse had turned over to the dark since last night, which only meant that now Etta had to figure out a damage control response for that.
Nevertheless, it was a nothing short of a blessing that Dr. Steves was clean, judgment aside.
She gave Jørn a quick glance before offering Etta her hand. “Hello again, Etta.”
Jørn cleared his throat. “I asked her to call me if anything changes with Mr. Albert. I also called Doctor Graham. He will be in this evening to run some test on him for his other condition. I plan to come back in later to find out about the test results.”
“Are you leaving?” Etta stood up, resentment straightening her back. He wasn’t there for her last night, and now he was just going to leave?”
“We are leaving.” He pointed between himself and Etta. She was about to protest when he cut her off, gently taking her by the arm, and hooking her around the waist as he pushed her towards the door. “You have a concussion. This is a lot of stress on you. You need to get some rest. I know you are concerned about Mr. Albert, so am I, but I am more concerned about you.” She shook her head. Jørn kept pulling her forward. “Please, he is in good hands.”
Etta’s head was pounding and she was feeling more awful since the encounter with the Pulse. But the last thing she wanted to do was to straddle Jørn right now on his loud bike? “I am not riding on that bike.” She glared up at him.
“Give me my car keys. I can get my bike later.”
She reached for her purse and handed Jørn the keys, before giving Mr. Albert one more look. She was going to make the Pulse pay for this. “Fine, let’s go.”