~The Journal of Etta Castle Teague
“Etta, you have the knowledge of the truth of the past. This truth is the power to propel you forward, never backward. Never retreat no matter the cost. Know what is behind you, use it to strengthen your forward movements. “ Mr. Albert used to say that to me all the time. I didn’t fully understand its application until Baldwin was gone and I had no choice but to push myself forward even in the face of knowing his condition was completely my fault, even with knowing I may never get him back again.
* * *
Rachel stretched her arms and downed the last bit of coffee from her Styrofoam cup. It was ice cold but she didn’t mind. She was in it for the caffeine. It had been a long day, not really any longer than her usual shifts, but far crazier.
Greenwich Pass had a propensity to be either black or white. Either things were as easy going and uneventful as the next mountain valley town, or it was full of bizarre occurrences. The people of the area didn’t need to have a full moon to behave like they were lunatics. The vein of crazy that ran through the valley clearly coursed in the blood of the locals as well.
Rachel wouldn’t have it any other way. She didn’t know any other way.
She rubbed her tired eyes with her knuckle and stifled a yawn as she leaned into her computer screen. Her shift had ended a few hours ago but she was too tired to drive. She took a cat nap in her office before diving right into Vanessa Wong’s case. Under other circumstances, knowing that her patient was stable would have been enough for her to head home, get some sleep and attack the “giant” of the unknown another day. But this wasn’t any other patient. This was the mayor.
The prodding of pride and the hope of being able to play passive aggressive while gloating in Wong’s face when she eventually came too, if she came to, was just too much for Rachel to handle. She had no proof that the cause of the coma-like trance she was in had anything to do with her contusions and head injuries from the week before, but then she had no proof of the contrary.
“Yes you do, Rachel. None of the test you had done proved conclusive.” She growled and glanced at the clock on her desk. It was nearing midnight. She had been at the hospital since five am. She needed to get some real rest if she was going to be worth a dime in figuring things out. She needed to figure things out for her own ego if nothing else.
She turned off her computer, grabbed her things and headed out her office door. She did a quick primp before heading to the nurses lounge. Dr. Michael Baxter and she had had a good evening of conversation between rounds. He like many others, wanted to know what had happened to Vanessa.
Rachel took her time in telling him. After a few well played hands of cat and mouse flirting, Rachel had landed herself a coffee date with the handsome doctor. He had even asked her to stop by the lounge before she left, a request she was more than willing to oblige.
Michael smiled warmly when she came into the lounge, he even stood. “I hoped you hadn’t forgotten about me. Do you have a quick moment?” He pointed towards the chair next to him.
“Sure,” She smiled but another yawn escaped her.
Michael’s eyebrows rose bashfully. “I won’t keep you too long,”
“I am sorry,” She blushed. “It has been a really long day.”
Michael smiled again. “Okay, I will make this quick then. I was thinking about your case with the Mayor and I might be able to give you a bit of a lead. No promises, but there is a possibility.”
“Oh?” Rachel perked up. She was all about making some grand conclusion of her own, but she was not so prideful to ignore help, especially when Michael Baxter was offering.
“Yeah, I don’t know if what I am thinking of is at all related but it sounds a bit similar,”
Rachel leaned forward. “You going to tell me already or are you going to make me work for it?”
“Work for it.” His grin broadened. “How about instead of coffee, we do lunch on Monday to go over what I am thinking? I will collect the information needed for your case and bring it along with me, and then we do dinner sometime soon, no work only play. Deal?” He extended his large hand to her.
“Deal.” She had obviously worked her magic on him. Graciela had helped a bit as well. She owed her. She owed Jørn more for calling off.
She hoped she hadn’t blushed again when she took Michael’s hand but she suddenly didn’t care. The way he kept hold of her hand and even helped her to stand was well worth the embarrassment.
“Alright then I will call you tomorrow to confirm. I know this great place on the Square called Dahlia’s. Have you been there before?”
Rachel shook her head.
“Excellent. Dahlia’s it is. I’ll walk you out.”
* * *
Jørn felt like he had been hit by a Mack truck. He sat in Doris’ front room staring forward as he inwardly gnawed on every word that she had said. Never mind the fact it was nearing midnight. Doris had been talking for hours and had only recently slowed her pace. Andrea had even given her perspective on things.
Jørn had all but completely tuned them out, their voices falling into the background of his pounding thoughts. Etta, his Etta, his wife had stopped the ascension.
How in the world had she done it? The whole idea of it seemed utterly impossible. What hit him even harder was hearing his cousin’s name. Baldwin Falk was apart of it. Where the hell had he been all of this time?! Hiding somewhere only Etta could find him, that’s where! Etta knew all along!
“You want some more coffee, Jørn?” Jørn snapped out of his thoughts, his eyes glanced down into the dark liquid. It had been neglected the same way the Sheppard’s Pie she insisted he eat for dinner had been, a few bites here and there, a few sips, but otherwise his appetite was completely gone.
Doris’ held the coffee pot in hand, tilted at the ready. Jørn shook his head. “No. No, thank you, Doris.”
She handed the pot the Andrea and sat down in the chair next to him, rubbing her hands against her knees. A sudden calm and solemnity filled the room. Only the sound of the grandmother clock’s ticking on the mantel could be heard. Jørn remained for almost a complete ten minutes longer in silence before finally speaking.
“I should probably go now.”
“Oh, honey you don’t have to rush off.”
He stood. He wasn’t rushing. He needed to change environment. “It’s almost midnight and you need to get some rest. Today was intense.”
“I hadn’t really given any mind to the time.” She stood up and eased into his stiff embrace. Andrea came back out of the kitchen with a bag filled with leftovers. Mark was right behind her. Thomas stayed glued in front of the television.
Mark took his place beside Doris and squeezed her tight, kissing her temple and rubbing her back. Doris rested her head on his shoulder and her face grew pink. She was having a moment. They were having a moment as husband and wife, partners, friends, trusted confidants. Jørn looked away from them and his eyes collided with Andrea’s. He smiled and took the bag from her hands.
“Thank you for, dinner.” He chanced a quick glance back at Doris and Mark. His head was beginning to pound. He had had enough. He wanted to run, needed to run, clear his head.
Mark extended his hand and shook Jørn’s vigorously. “No, thank you Jørn, and thank that wife of yours.”
Jørn nodded but his jaw clenched. He needed to process what he had heard before he said anything to Etta. He needed to find Etta in order to say something to her. But he suddenly had no desire to find her, not now, not with all of this in between them.
Mark continued, a tear streaking his cheek. “You tell her thank you for giving me my life back. A man is nothing without his heart. Doris is mine, just like Etta’s is yours. You understand what I mean. And that Baldwin fellow, whoever he is, if you see him, you thank him for me too.”
Jørn gripped the bag and forced a smile before saying goodnight and pulling off on his bike. He drove towards the hills, his mind on auto pilot. He had not packed any running gear with him but he was going to run anyway. He couldn’t go home and he could think clearly. He was inwardly imploding.
He didn’t know what was putting his guts in the meat grinder more, the fact that not only had Etta kept this ability or whatever it was that she had used to stop the ascension from him, but she had kept it a secret that she knew where Baldwin was. She had known he was alive, had been in contact with him, and had not said a single word!
It had been over a decade since he had heard from him, almost that long since he had moved his life into collision with Etta’s before completely intertwining with hers, all on the pretence that Baldwin Falk, his first cousin, her fiancé, was gone.
But that wasn’t true. Jørn stayed because he loved her, didn’t know when he had started to but he knew he did, but he was suddenly questioning if she ever loved him back.
He felt like it was a stupid thought but he just couldn’t shake it. The realization troubled him so deeply that he began to doubt everything about himself and Etta.
He came to a rough stop upon the hills, his tires kicking up dust and rocks and shooting them like bullets into the darkness. He flung off his helmet, leather jacket and even his scrub top, tossing them on his bike and without a second thought ran off into the darkness.
He could hardly see a thing in front of him, but he kept on running. The imagery of it all was reminding him of his life: he could hardly see anything, not with the ascension, not with what they were about, not with Etta, not with Baldwin. He had been running in the dark all this time.
“Father God, where are YOU!” He shouted into the black, his growling voice echoed into the shrouded tree line. He heard no answer and felt no peace only the intrepid role of howling questions and a thousand wayward thoughts as he considered everything Doris and Andrea had said.
“She just rolled in out of nowhere like John Wayne, bullhorn a blazing!” Doris had said. She smiled and even lifted up off of her seat with elation. Her arms and shown signs from her fall as she fought to get out of harms way once the human stampede began. “She said, as of today no more ascensions,”
“No, she said from the order of Baldwin Fawn,”
“Falk, honey. Baldwin Falk.” Doris gave Jørn another strange look after she corrected her niece. “That’s the other good news. Your cousin is alive. Did you know that?” Jørn did not move. “None of that nasty stuff people used to say about Etta doing something awful to him was true, not one lick of it. I never believed she did anyhow. And neither did you. You married her.” She smiled. Jørn stayed corpse still.
He kept running, picking up the pace, the impact jarring his knees. He felt heavy, and rightfully so. He was carrying a massive load on his shoulders. Etta had looked him the face day after day, night after night, and lied to him. Each time they made love, when he was feeling hit with guilt, not just for breaking his faith covenant with God, but for breaking the unspoken oath to his cousin, she lied. He would ask her what they would tell Baldwin about what was going on between them, or what about Baldwin period. She would change the subject or give the same old cryptic response, “Don’t worry about, it’s all my fault.”
Now he understood why. What had she told Baldwin about them? He had to have known. She had clearly not broken contact with him. The memory of finding Baldwin’s picture in Etta’s drawer made fire burn in his chest and again he picked up his pace. He wanted to smash it to bits the same way Doris described Etta’s Lotus destroying the ascension pods.
“Jørn you should have seen it! Those things could walk! They came out of nowhere, just like Etta had and they flanked her like this,” Doris gestured with her hands. “Then Etta told them to break up the pods. I didn’t hear her say it, but I could tell because she didn’t look at all shocked with they smashed those stupid things to smithereens.”
She laughed. “There was also that strange wind that knocked all of us down too. I think it gave me whiplash, it hit so hard.”
The tip of Jørn’s sneaker rammed into a rock and he went tumbling head first into the darkness. He braced himself for the fall, his forearms sliding across the unforgiving terrain, stopping him completely in a wash of painfully torn skin, blood and sweat.
Gasping for breath, he rolled over unto his back and waited for the pain to ebb away. Silence again flooded around him. The chill of the night air slid across his pebbled chest. He thought about Vanessa Wong as he lay still. Doris said she had been laid out too.
“Did Etta,” The words seemed to escape him. “Did Etta shoot her, did she?” Jørn winced as he asked the question.
Doris looked confused. “There was no gun shot. I mean I didn’t see one.”
“There was that Lotus that had cornered her though.” Andrea added.
Doris grabbed Andrea’s arm. “Yes, there was that!” She turned her attention back to Jørn. “But that thing didn’t do anything to her either at least not from what I saw.”
Andrea spoke again. “Etta, your wife, she stuck out her arm like this, and then the mayor fell flat. I can’t say that she shot her because that is all I saw, but then who knows. As bad as it sounds, I don’t even care. The mayor was trying to make everyone ascend and because of Etta my auntie is still here.” She kissed Doris’ check and wept.
Jørn pushed himself up from the ground. The fire in his chest and arms had lessened but the pain in his foot and heart was another story all together. He rotated his ankle and checked for a sprain. Then he checked his toe. He could thank God for that much. He was intact enough to head back to his bike and then back home.
He slowly walked back down the trail, taking his precious time. He was still in less of a hurry to face Etta. His fear for her had morphed into something else. He didn’t know what it was, couldn’t describe it. He just knew he wasn’t prepared to face it, not yet.
It was easing into three in the morning by the time he made it home. The apartment was quiet and eerily still. He crept into the bedroom and peaked in. The bed was completely empty. He suppressed the anger that was rising up in him again and settled for a shower instead, and then bed. He could do those things at least, get clean, get bandaged, and then get rest. He would settle for getting understanding some other time.
* * *
“I think my ankles are swollen.” Etta leaned back in the coolness of the hidden room, wishing for some heat. Her feet were screaming from all the walking she had done over the past few hours and she was damp and smelled less than pleasant from all the digging and burying she had to do in the woods. She suddenly wished she had let Kyle do it as planned.
She rubbed her hands together and blew into them. It was always cold in the secret room, it didn’t matter the season. Whoever had built it obviously didn’t give a thought to heating. The only thought they had in mind was reinforcing it like a bomb shelter—sound proof and virtually escape proof.
Etta had her speculations about the mysteries room. She had heard rumors as a child, that years before she was born, there was a serial killer who lived right in Greenwich Pass. It was said he worked as in usher at the movie theater. At least five people in Greenwich Pass were abducted and killed having been last seen at some slasher flick. Their bodies were found but no one could ever locate the actual murder scene.
The man who was the number one suspect had no family, and no friends so when he disappeared from Greenwich Pass without a trace no one really put two and two together. That was until the killings stopped.
It all made sense in Etta’s mind, this creep of a man killed people and used the secret room to do it. It was all just wild guessing on her part. Nevertheless, the serial killer did exist and Etta hoped the Towes got him.
“You’ll live.” Baldwin poked his head through an adjoining wall. “You have some sweat pants and a hoodie in there. You should get changed and freshen up before you catch a cold.”
Etta limped away and did as instructed, letting the hot water from the bathroom soak into her hands. She wished she was at home so she could take full advantage of a bath but she was too exhausted to drive. It didn’t help at all that her car was parked several miles away from the mall, hidden away from sight.
She had started replacing the stationed Lotus throughout Greenwich Pass right after her encounter with Mr. Albert. It had taken her several painful hours, not to mention the backbreaking dig and recalibrating she had to do in the woods. She would have killed to have had a helping set of hands, but using Kyle wasn’t worth the risk. If Mr. Albert suspected him of being involved with Etta, it was only a matter of time before he let the Towes know.
She needed to give Kyle the heads up on that one.
In the end, swollen feet, and smelly flesh aside, it had been a fruitful day. She unrolled her sleeping bag and dropped her weight upon it. At least she had planned ahead in that regard. She had only closed her eyes for a brief second before Baldwin started talking to her again.
“Show me what you used on Wong today.”
Etta pealed open one eye and stared at him. He was serious. Rather than argue she pulled the thing out of her sweat pant pocket and showed it to him. It was no larger than his thumb, curved slightly like a claw, and was white in color. When he looked away from it, she tucked it back in her pocket and closed her eyes again.
“How does it work? What is it, exactly?”
She didn’t bother opening her eyes. She wasn’t even certain she could if she tried. “What it is, is an isolation of Lotus frequency. You know, the stuff they use to put people in a trance while they scan them? This is that in a more pressurized volume.”
“So its concentrated coma in a spray bottle?”
“Baldwin, it is necessary is what it is.”
“How do you know its safe, Etta? How do you know Wong will wake up from that?”
She mumbled something under her breath but forced herself to sit up. “I know its, safe because the Towes use it on humans every pre-ascension both on the ascenders and the rejects.” She thought about Heidi Flagg, how the Lotus had put her into a sleep she never woke up from all those years ago. Doing so to Wong was like getting revenge for her.
She continued, “I know it can be reversed because I have used it on a raccoon or two or five. The point is it that if I hadn’t used it today on Wong the Lotus would have rippled her apart. So technically I saved her life.”
Baldwin studied her. “That’s not all of it. There is something else to it.”
“What Baldwin, did you want me to get shot?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“But that is the reality you seem to be missing. Everyone was watching me. If I would have let the Lotus kill Wong, Rick Henley would have opened fire on me.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t be naïve! Be mad about me leaving you in the dark about it, but don’t play dumb. It would have been a blood bath out there. But because I put the mayor to sleep for a while, everyone else backed down. Gosh Baldwin! Wake up! And let me get some sleep!”
“When do you plan on waking her up?”
“When it is necessary. Goodnight.” She dropped her head back down on the sleeping bag and pulled to top layer up to her ears.
* * *
She was out like a light. Within minutes she was breathing heavy and a slight snore was coming from her nose. She only snored when she was exhausted. Baldwin had many more questions on the tip of his tongue but it wouldn’t profit to wake her up with them.
He was still tense about earlier. No matter her explanation, no matter how absurd it was, he just couldn’t get past the betrayal. It had brought back the first time she had ripped out his heart with Jørn. He comforted himself with the knowledge that that time her betrayal wasn’t planned, but it had still caused a fisher in their relationship, today only brought the fishers back to remembrance with a threatening vibration of widening even further.
He sighed. “Goodnight, Etta.” He laid his body next to hers and closed his eyes, knowing full well he wouldn’t get any sleep. He had not slept in years, had never felt tired.
He was beyond surprised when he woke up in the midst of a dream.