The Journal of Etta Castle Teague
~Moments are like pebbles. They are small and most of them seem so insignificant. But if you take a pebble and slip it in your shoe, you limp and if you limp long enough you grow numb to the pain and just keep pressing forward like nothing was ever the matter.
Same with moments.
But if all those tiny little stones, those silly, ignored, meaningless pebbles are rolled together and hurled forward in a single instant with just the right momentum, they can create a massive shift; an avalanche that brings chaos and turns the entirety of existence into a stillness you never saw coming.
It’s that stillness that everyone fears; the look, the word, the nod, the touch, the kiss, whatever! that blanket of change no one prepared for, its that moment that changes the world forever.
It’s that moment you change.
* * *
Jørn ran his hand down his face as he sat in the darkness of his office. He was completely exhausted, but at the same time could not find a moment long enough to relax. There were too many gears in his mind cranking to allow him any rest.
He had been at the hospital well past his fourteen hour shift. It ended up being nineteen and a half hours to be exact. Part of him regretted doing so. It had been almost a complete day since he had spoken to Etta, and even though she had made him mad as hell he still wanted to move past this mountain that was growing between them. If he let things keep going the way they were, there would be no turning back, especially if Baldwin was lurking somewhere in the shadows.
On the other hand, Jørn was glad he had stayed on the extra hours. One of the emergency room NP’s had called in and Jørn volunteered to cover their shift before anyone asked. He was the only NP available anyway.
Staying had allowed him to be present when Mayor Vanessa Wong came into the ER close to eleven that evening with a badly fractured nose, and bruises on the back of her head. Jørn didn’t work on her case, but he did overhear Doctor Rachel Steves complaining about it.
Being struck with a spell of curiosity, Jørn eased himself into the conversation she was having with two of the nurses.
He let the conversation replay in his mind.
* * *
“Can you believe her?!” Doctor Rachel Steves tore open several packets of sugar, and dumped them into her steaming cup of coffee. “Her nose was fractured, the base of her skull bruised like someone had punched her repeatedly in it, and yet when I am trying to get information from her as to how this happened, she reads me the riot act like I am overstepping boundaries?!”
Rachel snatched up her coffee. Some of the dark liquid splashed out burning her hand, and staining her scrubs. Setting the cup back on the counter, she cursed. “This is exactly what I need! It’s going to be a long shift.”
Jørn eased forward, showed her the napkins in his hand, and began to wipe up the coffee. “Did you ever find out what happened to her?” He asked.
Rachel dabbed at the coffee spot on her shirt. She frowned and shook her head. “Thanks and no. She refused to take an EEG. The woman refused any real care at all.” She looked at Jørn, and then at the other two nurse who were in the break room with her. “The only thing she wanted done was her nose fixed, and some pain meds. She was completely unreasonable. There was no talking to her.”
“Could have been a side affect of hitting her head, or the fact she is a complete vibora. I go for vibora.” Graciela Sanchez, the lead ER nurse, added. She couldn’t help speaking Spanglish whenever a patient rubbed her the wrong way. “In which case our dear mayor cannot help herself. It is her nature, which is why I didn’t vote for her. I voted for that other guy. What was his name?”
“Taubmen?” Rachel placed a cap on her coffee, picking it up with much more care this time. She blew into the tiny lip hole before taking a careful sip.
“Si! That infeliz. I mean choosing the lesser of two evils and all.”
“Mmmhhhmmm. Or the mayor was assaulted. May not have been a seizure, or a bad attitude.” The other nurse added, steering the conversation back into the right direction before taking a bite out of her ham sandwich. “And she was too embarrassed to say something.”
Jørn glanced at the woman’s lanyard. Meg Hash. He had seen her before, but he didn’t know her like he knew Rachel and Graciela.
“Oh I got it!” Graciela snapped her finger. “Our mayor is into that BDSM stuff! It went too far tonight and she didn’t want to tell anybody. How embarrassing!”
Rachel leaned back against the counter and snorted. “I thought that too. But then I remembered who I was dealing with, and went with plain old assault. With all the political stunts she has tried to pull I wouldn’t be surprised. Every one of her supporters loves to act like she is all straight laced, but come on.
“I even called in an officer who she didn’t hesitate to eat alive, and even threatened to have his badge taken away. All I was trying to do was to coax her into helping herself by telling us what had happened to her. Then to add insult to injury, Rick comes in out of nowhere—”Rick Henley was the Sergeant of the police force in Greenwich Pass. “—she obviously called him, because he looked like he had just tumbled out of bed himself. He makes all of us leave the area so he could speak with “madam mayor” in private. I was like what the hell?! This is an emergency room not a private conference center!”
Graciela lowered her voice. “You think Rick is the one that did it to her? Maybe he is her play partner or something. He is a sergeant. For all we know she is his madam.” She lifted her chin as if what she had just said was completely plausible.
The women all laughed, even Jørn couldn’t hold back a chuckle. Graciela couldn’t help but be funny even when she wasn’t trying to be. She made working the ER at night worth while. Even the patients loved her.
Rachel quickly pulled herself together. “No, no it’s not that,”
“Then what did he need to talk to her about in private? And please don’t pretend like you didn’t eavesdrop. I know I would have.” Meg chomped down on her sandwich again.
Graciela cocked an eyebrow. “How does your sweet Pastor Wesley feel about that, your temptation with eavesdropping?”
Meg blushed before shrugging her shoulders. “He knows I am a work in progress. Don’t be judge-y.” She poked out her tongue.
Rachel rubbed her chin, blankly staring forward. She had eavesdropped she just didn’t know if she should say anything about what she had overheard.
Graciela slapped her shoulder. “Andale, Doc! Spill it. You aren’t breaking any oath since she wasn’t filing a report with the police. They were having a private conversation that you just happened to hear.”
“But Rick is still the police sergeant.” Jørn added.
Meg waved him off. “Rick was in street clothes, night clothes actually. He was not here taking her statement. If that were the case he would have let the other cop handle that.”
Rachel still looked unsure. Jørn only stared at her. He wanted to hear what she had to say. He wasn’t a gossip by any stretch, but the mayor coming into the ER banged up with a broken nose, and refusing all of the proper medical attention just didn’t settle well in his stomach.
He waited for Rachel to speak, they all did. Finally she gave in, waving them all closer to her. Jørn felt like he was in high school the way his colleagues were behaving.
“What I heard was that the mayor wants Rick to make sure that there are heavy patrols out for the next week or two. She wants plain clothes cops securing her office and her home.”
“So she was assaulted then.” Jørn filled up his coffee cup a second time.
Rachel shook her head, her voice lowering even more. “No. That’s not it. She said something about civilian riots,”
“Riots?” Graciela leaned in closer.
“In sleepy Greenwich Pass? This place hardly has a pulse,”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “She said they just needed to be prepared, that they needed to have tighter security for her office, and for the streets for the next few weeks, especially for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That is all I heard.”
Meg cupped her mouth as if shocked by something. “Guys, what if what happened to the mayor has something to do with why church service was cancelled this afternoon? Doris put out a sign saying that we were to have service this coming Friday night.” Her eyes grew even larger. “Or Pastor Meeks is her play partner.” Meg winked.
Graciela snorted. “And what were you doing at Pastor Meek’s church? Pastor Wesley know you are feeding with another flock?” She giggled, hardly resisting the chance to pick on Meg and the pastor who was dating her.
“Pastor Meeks is married, ladies.” Jørn added.
“Wong isn’t. And rings haven’t stopped people from playing around before.”
Jørn’s jaw tightened. He glanced down at his wedding band, Baldwin and Etta jumping onto the forefront of his mind.
Graciela suddenly looked disappointed. “This is exactly why I didn’t vote for her. She has done something and everybody is about to find out, and when we do, we are going to be ticked. Somebody hit her for it. I don’t care what you say. And I bet she deserved it. It was probably Pastor Meeks, married or not, the drunk!”
Jørn shook his head. “Pastor Meeks has been sober for five years, Graciela. Don’t be like that.”
Graciela scoffed. “Yes, and I am from Japan and French is my first language. Meg, you are killing me! Give me a bite of that sandwich, already. It smells divine.”
“A small bite, Graciela. I shouldn’t even share with you after all your jokes about me in Pastor Wesley.”
Rachel’s pager began to buzz. “That’s me. I will see you all on the floor. But,” She pointed her finger, and looked all three of them in the eyes, one by one. “This doesn’t leave this room, okay? Last thing I need is for Vanessa Wong to come in here and have one of her big wig friends playing with my licenses. Gosh, I can’t stand that woman.”
* * *
Jørn clicked the switch on his desk lamp, his eyes narrowing as they adjusted to the suddne light. He pulled out a pen and a notepad from his desk drawer placing them in front of him. He continued to stare forward, drumming the pen against the pad until he finally settled into writing.
Enough of having his suspicions flapping around in his head, he needed to put them on paper. Maybe by seeing them, he could narrow things down.
- Who are the holders of the Seats of the Silence Council?
~Mayor Vanessa Wong
~Pastor Clive Meeks
Jørn already had his suspicions about his wife being on the Council, he still wasn’t completely certain, but Vanessa Wong, Clive Meeks? He didn’t know why he had not considered someone like Vanessa Wong to be one of the Council members in the first place. Had she not come in and acted so strange that night, he probably would have continued to overlook her.
He was only really suspicious of her after listening to Rachel talk about her not wanting to explain her injuries, threatening peoples jobs, and then calling Rick in. Even that could have been overlooked to some degree. Both Rick and Vanessa were single, middle aged people, maybe they did have something going on besides BDSM. Jørn was pretty certain neither of them were into that. He would be shocked to learn the converse.
It was the statement about plain clothes cops, and potential riots that nudged Jørn’s mind, and made Mayor Vanessa Wong look even more culpable. And then Meg throwing in the bit about church being cancelled until Friday, which cast his gaze to Meeks, and Wong needing security, especially on Friday and the rest of the weekend, it was all too bizarre.
Then there was the Lotus that had gone zipping past the windows at the front of the hospital. That was a little over two hours ago. All of these events were too close, and out of the ordinary to be called coincidence.
The Lotus passed by right when he was about to leave the hospital and head home, and he, acting as if he were superstitious and a black cat had crossed his path, turned on his heals and hid away in his office.
He did cut himself some slack, the thing had peppered holes through his nerves like buck shots to raw meat.
There should not have been any Lotus out, at least for the next few months. Ascensions took place no more than four times a year, and no less than two. It was a sequence. There had been one just the other day, and now the Lotus were on the hunt again.
No, something was off, and Wong had something to do with it. He kept writing.
- Why are the Lotus out again?
~Sudden Change in sequence
He scratched off his second thought. He may not have known who it was that the Council answered to, but he did know that They were all about maintaining sequences. There would be no ascensions if that were not the case. They, whoever they were, had worked overtime to indoctrinate the whole of the earth with the ideology of “sequence.”
` 3. What is being negotiated?
That was the only logical answer. Humans were the only beings called up in the ascensions.
His pager went off. Dropping his pen he looked at the message. Maryam Pak Nejad was having heart palpitations.
“This can’t be good,” He quickly tore off the paper he was writing on, folded it into a tiny square, and tucked it into his wallet before going to see about Maryam.
There was a nurse in the room with Maryam by the time Jørn made it in. “What’s going on, Maryam?” He asked, not making eye contact with her, instead he looked at her stats on the computer screen.
The nurse answered. “We had a visitor, a Lotus came in through the window, pried it open. Liked to have scared Maryam to death! It nearly made my heart leap out of my chest.” The nurse was angry and frustrated, rightfully so. Jørn even noticed her brush away a tear.
He tightened his fist, squeezing away the sudden tremor that shook his hands again. He had waited in his office until he had stopped trembling before, and now it all seemed in vain.
Maryam pried her eyes open and immediately smiled once she saw him. She had been too busy concentrating on calming down to notice him when he entered. She hadn’t even heard him say her name.
A tear slid down the side of her face, but she quickly brushed it away, but with far less fire than the nurse had. “Jørn, didn’t think I would get to see your handsome face so early in the morning.”
Jørn did a few more reads before answering. He painted on a smile just for her. “I was actually on my way out when I got the page.”
“And you stayed just for me? Such a sweetie.” She touched her forehead and leaned back into the pillows before looking him over. Her smile broadening. “Do you always wear scrubs?” She was clearly asking the questions as a way to distract herself from the Lotus intrusion.
Jørn glanced down at his outfit. “If I wore a tie and dress clothes, one of us would be over dressed, or underdressed, for the occasion of meeting, don’t you think?”
“You have a point there. So am I going to live?”
Jørn’s smile quickly faded and his eyes darkened. Heidi hadn’t survived her encounter with the Lotus. He cleared his throat hoping that would knock him back into the right mental state. It worked. “Your numbers are leveling out again, which is a good thing.”
“Gosh, that was intense.” Maryam shook her head and exhaled deeply, another tear falling.
“Heart palpitations can be scary when they hit with that kind of magnitude.”
Maryam shook her head. “Not talking about those, I am talking about being scanned.” She grimaced. “It is so…violating. I don’t even know if that is the right word to use.”
The nurse patted her arm. “Would you like something to help you sleep, sweetie? So you don’t have to think about it?”
Maryam giggled nervously. “No I would not like to be put to sleep so that I can have nightmares about what just happened. No thank you. I will manage. Jørn here says I am fine, I will take his word for it. Thank God that thing went horizontal after leaving here, and not vertical. Then I would not have been fine.” She blew out a breath through her lips. “I imagine ascending is glorious and all, but having to die a ripe, old age seems more appealing. To me anyway.”
The nurse nodded and exited the room. Jørn glanced out the window, but didn’t go near it. He stayed planted near Maryam’s bedside. He didn’t even notice that he had begun to tremble more fiercely until she touched his hand.
“Are you alright?”
He flinched and glanced down at his hand, her fingertips on his skin.
Maryam slowly pulled away. “You’re shaking.”
He jerked his head, coming out of his daze. “I am fine,”
She cocked an eyebrow. “You sure? From one health practitioner to another, I don’t know if that is the whole truth. Those aren’t chill shakes.”
Noticing his discomfort, she eased back a bit. “Granted, I only just met you yesterday, but I am not oblivious. It’s okay to be afraid. Goodness, I was scared out of my mind a second ago. I am still shaking. See.” She held her hand parallel to the floor. It trembled like Jørn’s. “Have you had that happen to you before?”
Jørn’s eyes were still glued to the space where her hand had been. He answered without really understanding why he had. He didn’t know Maryam. This was not a conversation he should have been having with a patient unless he was the one calming them. But for some reason he couldn’t keep himself from opening up, even a little. First it was the bond of alcoholic dependence, and now the tremor.
Maryam asking, right in the moment when he thought he would explode had come as surprise. Something about it made him desperate to speak, but he guarded his tongue. Etta never asked.
“The only do it once.” He said. “The first and last time it happened to me was a long time ago.” He glanced down at the puffy scar that ran from his right thumb joint across the back of his wrist. A Lotus gave that to him on the night he learned he was going to lose Heidi.
He pried his feet from their rooted place on Maryam’s linoleum floor and skirted her bed, heading for the door. He needed to get some air, or some sleep, or a combination of both. “If there is nothing else, I am going to head home. I have been here for nearly 20 hours.”
He didn’t bother looking at her. He was suddenly feeling a great deal more uncomfortable, almost as if he had stayed, he would tell her everything about himself, everything he wanted to tell his wife. It was too intimate.
“That’s fine. We all need our rest.”
“Alright, then you have a good morning, and I will see you soon.” He chanced a quick glance over his shoulder stopping only when she called his name.
“Jørn,” Maryam pushed herself further up in the bed, her countenance shifting from that of patient in need, to doctor offering help. “I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but if you need to talk, get some of that weight off of your chest, I can listen. Strictly professional offer, I will charge you and everything.” She smiled.
He dipped his head and waved, turning the corner outside of her room before he found himself taking her up on the offer.
* * *
Etta woke with a start, the sound of the front door opening and closing, made her sit up on alert. She had waited up for Jørn for most of the night before passing out on the couch. When he finally did get home the sun was already shinning through the window.
She stretched, and then grabbed her neck. The muscles had locked, and were protesting now with ever attempted turn of her head. She stumbled into standing position, and followed him into the bedroom. He had already slung off his clothes, and had jumped in the shower by the time she made it there.
Fifteen minutes passed before he came out again. She sat up off the comforters, having dozed off again. “Jørn, how does a 14 hour shift drift into nearly 24? I waited up for you,”
Sitting on the bed, he glanced at her, one brow arched.
“I waited up as long as I could, obviously. I am still in yesterdays clothes, and I was on the couch in case you missed it. I thought we agreed that you would call when you did overtime.”
He didn’t say anything.
“He is agitated.” Baldwin whispered as if Jørn could have heard him if he didn’t.
Etta frowned. “So am I.” She mouthed. She hadn’t even notice Baldwin’s return. She reached over and touched the bareness of Jørn’s back. “Jørn,”
Jørn quickly turned towards her. “You’re right, I should have called. I am sorry. Thank you for staying up.” He pecked her lips with his, and then scooted underneath the covers. “I just want to go to sleep now. It was a long day.”
Etta stared at him completely unprepared for his clipped response. “Right,” She pushed herself off the bed, and headed to the shower. She knew why he was late, knew why he was acting so bizarre. Besides the ascension pods growing on the Yard, she had seen the Lotus earlier that morning, clearly he had too.