~The Journal of Etta Castle Teague
“We, the Towes included, tend to only search for answers when a problem presents itself. To most that may seem logical, but we don’t live in a logical world. Because by the time the problem has made its grand debut, it has already prepared its next act, with several other cards up its sleeves, and by the time we start searching for solutions to the first fist to the gut, it is usually too late. Maybe if we, as race, read more we would be more inclined to foreshadowing, probabilities and building hypothesis.
Good thing some of us learned early on how to plan ahead.”
* * *
Traffic was bad, very bad. Road rage and anxiety had ended up causing several minor accidents and a few curbside scuffles that the police had to break up. Baldwin had been right, it felt like the whole of Greenwich Pass was headed straight towards the mall, and not only the locals, but people from within a 200 mile radius had made the journey as well.
There was absolutely no parking available, which meant Etta had to park several blocks away and then walk briskly just to make it in time to hear half of what Clive Meeks had to say. Had she known the local news would be broadcasting live, she might have stayed home. But then she had made Doris the promise that she would be there in person to show her some support.
She pushed her way through the crowd but had to stop halfway to Doris. If she pushed herself any further she would have gotten in a physical altercation. People just were not in the mood.
“Good thing Jørn decided to stay home.” Baldwin stared at the Greenwich Pass P.E teacher. The man had all but threatened to toss Etta down the escalators if she tried to take his place in the room. Etta snorted in agreement. Jørn may have turned lily livered during ascensions but he would have fought the man had he heard his threat towards Etta.
She whispered back, “Maybe he should have come, then he would have had to spend the weekend in jail and then I wouldn’t have to worry about him drinking his face off right when we are about to shine for the Towes.”
Baldwin shook his head but then tapped Etta on the shoulder as if she could feel it. “Doris sees you.” He pointed in Doris’ direction and Etta’s eyes followed. She made eye contact just in time to see the sullen expression on Doris’ face brighten.
She began to wave her forward but Etta shook her head no and pointed at the scowling gym teacher. Doris stood up and whispered in the ear of one of the police officers and then pointed back at Etta. Within a few short moments, Etta was being escorted to the front of the chapel much to the gym teacher’s chagrin. Before she could even sit all the way down she felt Doris’ arms wrap around her bicep with a bear like grip.
“I am so glad you made it. I thought you had stood me up.” Etta had to read her lips in order to understand what she was saying over the din of voices in the room.
Etta patted her thigh. “Never. Traffic is horrendous. Bad enough that I think I might crash here to night.”
Doris looked horrified at the thought of sleeping in the mall.
Etta gave her a gentle rib jab. “I’ve done it before. It’s not that bad. What did I miss?”
Doris rolled her eyes. “Mostly arguing and accusations. Pastor Meeks hasn’t even really been able to say a single word as to why he called us all here. He did say the ascension is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon though.” There was a sudden sorrow in her eyes that quickly blinked away. “Besides that, all that has really gone on in the last hour is crowd control. Even Mayor Wong had to step in a few times. Do you have any idea what happened to her nose? She looks terrible.” Doris crinkled her own nose and touched it with her fingers as if she were molding it back in place.
Etta shrugged her shoulders. “That bad, huh?” She narrowed her eyes as she looked in the direction of Clive Meeks. The man’s face was almost as red as the glossy enamel on her fingernails. His fists were clinched and his chest stuck out in indignation.
He blew out a force of air from his nostrils in the same manner a charging bull would, and jabbed his finger in the direction of the brunette standing five pews back. “Now you listen here, Mary Alice! No, as a matter of fact everyone in this chapel had better listen.” He gave the room a slow scan with his pale eyes.
There were far more people jammed into the chapel than was permitted by fire code, but no one bothered to bring that up. The stuffy air was enough to rile up the sweetest of saints. What Clive had to say was not going to make things get even hotter.
“First, I have been the pastor of this chapel for four dedicated years. Four!” He held up his fingers. “I have been faithful with counseling, doing funerals, marrying off your children, and preaching the gospel to you every single Sunday, even when most of you didn’t bother to show up!”
Etta crossed her legs. She felt a smile creeping up the sides of her mouth but she held it at bay. Clive was rotten to the core indeed. He preached the gospel every Sunday? He preached something, but it certainly was not the gospel.
Etta had never once read that the Three Hebrew Boys didn’t burn in the fiery furnace because it was not their time to ascend, and Jesus told them so while in the fire with them, or that the resurrection of the dead was being foreshadowed each cycle with those chosen to ascend. Last Etta checked, resurrection for the righteous was supposed to be a glorious, happy occasion. All she ever witnessed was sadness and glossed over emotions during ascensions. She always watched form a distance. Her favorite of Clive’s lies was when he had likened taking one’s number in the ascension to taking up ones cross and following Jesus.
She almost laughed out loud thinking about it.
Clive kept speaking. “I have told you all the truth and given you my all in preparation—”
“If you gave us your all, Pastor, then where the hell have you been all week?!”
Etta turned her head to see the gym teacher jabbing his finger right back at Clive the way he had done the congregation.
Clive slapped the pulpit with such force that he nearly knocked the wooden stand from its foundation. “I am just a man! I can’t be everywhere at once! And I certainly can’t hold all of your hands at the same, daggum time!”
That got the crowd riled up. The shouting was so bad Etta almost missed the scuffle that had broken out on the left side of the sanctuary. A few cops stepped in to break it up around the same moment that Mayor Wong took the mike from Clive and called more attention to the brawlers, her voice strained but clearly angry.
“If you have come here to earn a weekend in jail, then Sergeant Henley will be more than happy to ready your accommodations. Just line yourselves up right outside the chapel and let those who came here in peace hear what Pastor Meeks has to say!”
“Weekend in jail?!” The gym teacher was back at it. “My son was chosen for the ascension, tomorrow. I am loosing my boy tomorrow and you threaten us with jail?!” He began to push his way through the crowd, his eyes deadlocked on Wong. It was clear he intended to do her harm. “I have called Meeks and I even called your office about this sudden ascension crap, and both of you want to stand up there behind a wall of cops and waste our time?!”
Two officers cut him off halfway to the pulpit. He swung at them, catching one in the jaw before three more officers intervened, overpowering him and bracing his arms behind his back. He swore at them too.
Vanessa Wong looked less than amused, rolling her raccoon eyes at the man. He managed to break one arm free and shook his fist in her direction.
“You don’t even care! My wife ascended three years ago and now my son. He is only 17, the only part of her I have left and you don’t even care! Where the hell is the Council?! This should have been renegotiated!” His voice choked with tears.
The officers pulled him out of the chapel and forced him on the escalators. Even with his downward movement everyone could still hear his shouting. That was enough to bring about some order and relative silence in the room. The intensity of his emotions had sobered everyone.
It was as if they had forgotten why they were there in the first place. It wasn’t to shout accusations at the Mayor or the Pastor. It wasn’t to scuffle in the corner with the neighbors. It was to get answers as to why after only a day, were the Lotus out again? Why were the people of Greenwich Pass losing more family members, and why were they feeling it like this when they never had before?
Etta’s face immediately washed smooth, a stoic expression now fully fitted upon her brown skin as she watched Mr. Albert climb the three steps to the alter. He gave Vanessa Wong a disappointed and impatient glance before gently removing the microphone from her hands.
Mr. Albert held the microphone in silence for several short moments, staring down at his brown leather shoes before finally making eye contact with the crowd. Everyone went completely silent.
Doris leaned over towards Etta, but never once removed her eyes from Mr. Albert. “Your grandfather sure knows how to control a room. My word, you can almost hear a mouse peeing on cotton, it is so quiet in here.”
Etta kept watching him, but answered Doris in turn. “He is a doll, Doris.”
“He sure is.”
Mr.Albert finally brought the mike up to his lips and began to address the crowd. He had done so many times before, his voice the very water that put out the flames of several small protests that had swept through Greenwich Pass. After all, there were others who held the same views as Etta, views that even Mr. Albert once spoke to her about.
“Listen folks, I am not one to blow smoke. You all know that. You all know my beliefs. This week has been hectic. To put things plainly, it has been hell. Everyone in this room has a right to be upset. The sequence seems to have been broken.
“The very order that many of you bank upon on a day to day basis has been disrupted. I get that, we get that.” He pointed towards Vanessa and Clive. “We all have our difference, we may not all believe the same things about the ascensions but this week we have all, all of us, felt the affects of the Lotus being out this week, right on the cuffs of a completed ascension.”
He took a step down from the pulpit, his deep voice continuing to fill the room. “But what you all need to understand is that although, this man and woman hold leadership positions in our society, they are only human. They feel pressure just like all of us,”
-“But they chose their positions and neither one of them were at their post this week!” Someone shouted from the balcony.
Several others attempted to put in their opinion but one hand raise from Albert had them silent again. “They were at their posts.” He said as he took a step back up to the pulpit and stood along side them. “We…were at our post this week.”
He planted his hand on Clive’s shoulder. “That is why Pastor Meeks has called you all here. As you all know for the last five years there have been negotiations, talks more like, with the Them. All over the world, people were selected to hold these talks, to act as mediators between each party, to bridge the gaps of miscommunication, if you will. Things changed five years ago and things are changing now.”
Etta spared a glance at the faces in the crowd. Everyone was on the edge of their seats.
“Here we go.” Baldwin said, prefacing the moment he and Etta had known was about to come.
“We, myself, Mayor Vanessa Wong, and your devout Pastor, Clive Meeks, have been the three chosen as the voice of this Junction for the past five years.”
A wave of whispers broke out with in the sanctuary. Baldwin spoke again in Etta’s ear. “Put on your face. Don’t let on to Albert that you know.”
Etta flinched at the reminder, but quickly shifted her expression from one of stoicism to confusion and shock. Not a second later did Mr. Albert’s eyes find her’s. His bushy brow hung low in a stern manner at the sight of her.
Etta managed to force out a few crocodile tears at Mr. Albert’s confession and with the swipe of her hand that she used to brush them away, Mr. Albert turned his head.
“Well played,” Baldwin complimented. “But I think it is time that we made our exit. There are enough secret keepers here for us to listen from a less volatile distance and I fear it will get violent in a few short moments.”
Etta dipped her head and uncrossed her legs.
Doris grabbed her hand. “Are you leaving?! Now?!”
Etta continued her rouse. “I think I have heard enough.” She stared at Mr. Albert.
Doris turned back towards the three Council members. “I suppose that was a large pill to swallow. You think you know a person and then…” She shook her head. “Pastor, the Mayor, and your Granddaddy being the Council members for this junction,”
Etta stood only to have Doris grab her by the arm again. “Well honey don’t you want answers? Don’t you want to know why things are happening the way they are. You need to know, we all do. He said things are about to change.” The look in her eyes was that of a worried mother.
Etta kissed Doris’ forehead. “I already know why, Doris, and I believe you do too. They failed us, plain and simply, and there is no amount of negotiating or talking that can fix that. Change is coming? Things changed a long time ago.” She started to move towards the exit.
Doris shot to her feet as well, the din of the room growing even louder. The heat was definitely stirring in the room. The news had clearly not been taken kindly. The people of Greenwich pass were out for blood as it was. They already wanted to hang Vanessa Wong and Clive Meeks as scapegoats for their pain, but now they wanted to hang them as guilty offenders. They even wanted Albert now.
Etta turned around quickly and gave Doris a quick hug. “You should probably get out of here too, before things get out of hand,” She waved her hand about the room. “See you tomorrow, Doris.”
* * *
Jørn quickly spun out of sight before Etta could see him in the sanctuary. He waited several seconds before easing his way out of his hiding space just in time to see her heading up the escalator and towards her shop.
He waited until she was well within the entrance with the gate down and locked from the inside, before he left out of the chapel all together. It was not a moment too soon. Just as he had descended halfway down the escalator did the shouts begin to rise once again.
He turned around and stared at the chapel entrance, asking God to give him an answer. Should he go back? Should he help Albert out of the riot that was sure to ensue if the cops didn’t get a handle on things?
Riots. He thought about what Rachel had said at the hospital. Vanessa Wong, Pastor Meeks and Albert had clearly done something terribly wrong with Them for this to be happening.
It made him sick to his stomach. His dark eyes turned once again towards Etta’s store. He was wrong about her. He had assumed she was apart of the Council and tonight had proven him wrong. He turned to head back up the escalators but then thought better of it.He had raised such a fuss about her not going to the meeting tonight and there he was.
Hypocrite. He thought. A sudden wave of uncertainty hit him in the gut. If he showed up at the store and asked her to come home she would only pull further away from him, wouldn’t she? If he thought of himself as an unreasonable hypocrite, why wouldn’t she?
No, he would call instead. He jogged towards the other end of the mall to the food court and dialed her cell number. There was no one there in the food court, but the large screen tv’s were still on, showing everything that was going on in the chapel. It was a mess but the police were holding their ground. They had even formed a barricade around the three Council members and were escorting them out of harms way.
That was good. Albert being safe was one less thing for him to worry about.
Etta’s voice mail came on so he ended the call and dialed the number and watched everything continue to unfold on the television screen. Etta finally picked up the second time he called her.
“Etta?” He didn’t bother to hide the urgency in his voice. “Are you okay?”
She was silent for a moment before finally answering. “Yes, where are you?”
He closed his eyes and chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to lie to her. “I am watching the meeting on the news. They are recording live. You were right, we needed to hear this. I am sorry I made such an issue about this earlier. You were right”
“Etta, are you there.”
“You should probably head home now. It looks really bad in there,”
“I am in my shop. I will be okay, Jørn. Besides it would probably be a lot more dangerous for me to try to walk to my car alone right now. It sounds like from here that people are leaving the chapel.”
Jørn looked at the screen again. He had to end the call quick or call her from a quieter place. He felt horrible for lying even without having told an actually lie. Pretending was just as bad. “They are,” He said. “If you feel like you are safe, then stay put. I can come and get you in a bit. This has me really nervous. I just don’t want you to get hurt when I could have been there,” He pinched the bridge of his nose. That was the truth. The helpless feeling that he had the day Heidi was selected to ascend rolled up his back and made his skin burn. The urge to protect his wife was making him feel even more out of wits.
His mind was made up. He couldn’t risk it. Finding out that Albert was apart of the council was enough of a shock tonight, he couldn’t bare it to find out that he stood by and let Etta get hurt all while he was trying to save face when all he had to do was go and protect her.
He turned and began to rush back towards the other end of the mall, the sound of the angry mob drawing even closer.
“You wanna turn the t.v down? That’s really loud.”
“Don’t worry about the t.v. I am coming to get you.”
He cupped the phone with his hand. “I said I am coming to get you. I will be there in a bit.”
“No, Jørn you stay put! I will be safe in the shop. You stay safe at home. The cops have everything under control, people are heading out now. If you try and come up here you will run the risk of a mob or worse, some anxious cop out to make an example out of anybody who crosses his path tonight. I am safe where I am. Don’t you take the risk!”
“Just stay home, please.”
He dragged his fingers through his hair and clenched his jaw. He hated feeling hopeless, he also hated feeling himself acquiesce to Etta’s demand.
“See you in the morning. Don’t wait up. Love you.” She hung up the phone.
“But I have to work tomorrow!” He rushed to tell her but only met the silence of the phone. He suddenly regretted taking up the extra shift in the emergency room. He pinched the bridge of his nose and headed towards the side exit of the mall. By the looks of things there was no way he was getting out the front door, and no way he was going to get any sleep either. He would just have to call her again later.