The Journal of Etta Castle Teague
I have never really liked the phrase “No pain, no gain.” I think I dislike it not just because it is an overused cliché, but mostly because it is the truth. Anything of value will usually cost you blood, sweat, or tears. If you are unlucky, it will cost you all three.
* * *
Jørn kneaded his forehead before sitting back again and listening to what Dr. Harold Graham had to say. He already had a sour stomach from his quick disagreement with Etta. It happened right before Dr. Graham had called him with Mr. Albert’s test results. Jørn had to call a cab to get back to the hospital since Etta had taken his car again, and his bike was still in the parking garage at work.
What had caused the fight this time, if he could call it a fight? It was actually more on the lines of Etta trying to shut him down…again, and this after her being so fired up with him not opening up to her earlier that morning. She wanted to know where he had been last night. It was a fair question that he didn’t answer.
He just didn’t have the nerve to tell her he was seeing a therapist. He actually felt like he needed to go have a sit-down with Maryam right then and there thinking about Etta and their last conversation.
Once he and Etta had gotten back home Etta, seeming to be more emotionally sharp than usual, eventually began to calm down. He had the good pleasure of helping her there by way of several intent filled kisses and the close proximity of his body next to hers. It was a completely PG encounter—followed by a much needed nap—but it seemed to put them on the same emotional plain.
Jørn had waited until they were both completely awake and at ease before he attempted to talk with her about the matters of his heart. He was already batting zero as far as prior attempts went, but he was hopeful. What was their marriage if there was no hope? As reluctant as he was at first, he followed Maryam’s advice from last night, taking the initiative to talk about the hard topics while the atmosphere between he and Etta was at peace.
He began by reaffirming his love for her; how he loved the tone of her voice, her smile, the curve of her hips, her eyes, and her sense of humor. He even mentioned the subtle nuances that only someone close to her would notice, like the way she twirled her fork in a circular motion in between bites when something she was eating was very good to her. He meant every word. He absolutely loved Etta. He needed her to know that.
With that foundation laid, he slowly waded into the forbidden territory of starting a family, never failing to emphasize that there needed to be more communication between them, more trust. She needed to come clean with him about what was happening around them, what was happening with the Lotus and the ascensions, how deep she was involved?
He had mentally planned to lead things into a dialogue about his elusive cousin, Baldwin, and the rumors surrounding them, when the look in Etta’s eyes transitioned from misty, to horrified, to icy and hollow. Then came her famous end-of-discussion line, “You should cut your hair.”
She had suddenly disengaged, rolled out of his grasps and asked for his car keys. Just like that. Nothing he said could draw her back in, open her up again. She was out of the apartment before he could blink, all while completely armed in her familiar air of solid, cold, rude, control. With the blink of her dark eyes, all of her emotion and vulnerability had gone at his mentioning of having a baby. Not when he talked about the ascension, not when skirted around rumors, but when he said ‘babies.’
The woman was down right confusing! He was beginning to wonder if maybe her issues had more to do with genetics and not just outright bad behavior and slight aversion to him. He was being factious. Etta was as mental stable as anyone he had ever known. But he could not deny the aversion or the emotional aloofness any more. Something had to be done. His course of action had to change.
He tuned back into what Dr. Graham was saying.
“The shrinkage in Albert’s frontal and temporal anterior lobes is completely conducive to his condition, especially in light of the time table from diagnosis to now. Actually the fact that he has lasted this long and was even functioning at all is a miracle in and of its self.
“Assuming you don’t know, Pick’s Disease is a very aggressive type of Dementia. I had Albert on a few medications earlier on in his diagnosis, but that was for the Alzheimer’s. Picks began to show its self much later on.”
Jørn batted his eyes and held up his hand. Had he heard Dr. Graham correctly? “Mr. Albert has Alzheimer’s?”
Dr. Graham nodded. “Yes. The Dementia is surprisingly unrelated, but yes. It was most likely his Alzheimer’s that triggered the violent outburst this morning.”
Rachel touched Jørn’s arm. “What happened this morning?”
“I will tell you later.” Jørn addressed Dr. Graham again. “How long ago was he diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? My wife and I knew about the Dementia. Neither of us knew that it was Pick’s Disease. Etta and I definitely did not know that he had Alzheimer’s.” Jørn swallowed down the resentment that was rising up his throat. Mr. Albert should have said something! He should have confined in them.
That explained a lot of Etta’s behavior with Jørn, and her inability to let him in. It was obviously learned.
Dr. Graham pulled up Mr. Albert’s file. “I diagnosed Albert fifteen years ago with Alzheimer’s. The Pick’s diagnosis was six. That is why I said he is a miracle. The fact that he has been functioning as you say, goes beyond reason. Not to mention that he ceased taking any medication for his Alzheimer’s. I honestly have not heard from Albert since I gave him the diagnosis for Dementia. He stopped seeing me shortly after that.”
Rachel narrowed her eyes as she looked at the computer screen. The scans were mind boggling. Mr. Albert’s lobes had encountered so much shrinkage that they looked like dead tree roots. She wasn’t personally familiar with the man, but she had seen him around. He functioned as if he were in perfect health. A coma had not caused this kind of cerebral damage. Pick’s Disease was relentless and debilitating, and Albert showed no outward signs whatsoever. It just didn’t make sense.
She asked, “Dr. Graham, what do you think was blocking his symptoms? How in the world was this man even speaking let alone driving himself around and living alone?”
“Beats me, but I certainly would like to know. Whatever it was that allowed him to function even with massive brain deterioration could be a medical miracle. Albert Castle’s DNA could hold the very key to further Pick’s research, and bring hope to others who suffer from this disease.” He began to beam with excitement but coughed and sobered under the stone glare of Jørn. “That is not to say what is happening to him presently is not a tragedy.”
“So what about the coma and the seizure? Do you think that his neglect of his Alzheimer’s and Dementia could have triggered either?” Jørn kept his eyes forward. Rachel shifted in her seat at the mention of the coma. The issue of the cause of the coma had yet to be addressed. Jørn just wanted it to be clear it wasn’t Etta. His wife could be cold, but she loved Mr. Albert in her own way.
Dr. Graham removed his glasses and wiped them with a soft cloth he kept in his jacket, his brow raised as if he were unsure of how to answer. “Well, there are instances where Alzheimer’s can indeed trigger a seizure,”
“But?” Rachel interjected.
“But it is not always the case. You said he was in a physical altercation? Are you certain there were no blows to the head?”
“From what I was told by Etta the only blow to the head that Mr. Albert received was as a result of thrashing against the floor after the seizure hit. Other than that…” He hunched his shoulders, thinking to himself, “Down the rabbit hole, Alice, down the rabbit hole.” The more he searched for answers and explanations to things, the more confusion he unearthed.
Rachel chimed in again. “My previous scans did not show any evidence that a blow to the head triggered his coma.”
“Neither did it show you what caused the seizure, but then you weren’t looking for any of that.” This time Jørn and Rachel’s eyes did meet.
Rachel pursed her lips and turned her head forward. Jørn’s message of ‘back off and watch your step’ was quickly received through the glint in his eye.
Dr. Graham spoke again. “I can run a few more test, I would like to run a few more test especially in lieu of this anomaly. As far as my opinion about the coma—and this is just that; my opinion—it could be a result of Albert neglecting to take proper medical care of himself, and the fact that he is indeed in the advancing stages of Alzheimer’s.” He shook his head in awe while looking at Albert’s scans again. “As for everything else, with his ability to function under such cerebral deterioration, I am certain if we all put our heads together we can come up with something conclusive in no time.
“Jørn, have you and your wife considered sending him to a special unit? Not at all to say that Dr. Steves is not equipped to handle Albert’s case, but it could be very beneficial to call in a team that specializes in researching such medical anomalies.”
Jørn shook his head but Rachel spoke before he could. “Etta is currently not very receptive to other physicians treating her grandfather.”
Dr. Graham shook his head. “I can imagine she is protective over him right now. Fear and lack of control makes family members behave this way. You two know how it goes. Give her time, not too much time, but a few days. I will talk to her myself if that will help.” Dr. Graham began to stand.
Jørn followed his lead and shook his hand. “Absolutely, Dr. Graham. I really appreciate you coming in on this.”
“No, it is my pleasure. Albert Castle is a good man.”
“Whenever you are free, I will let my wife know and we can set up an appointment.”
“Excellent! I want to help anyway that I can, and I think that a team of specialist would also help a great deal to speed things along. It could be that the cause of Albert’s seizure and coma are not even related to his other conditions.” He grabbed his things and headed to the door of Jørn’s office. “Something caused the man to perform at a high level for several years even while his brain was deteriorating. We need to know why. The answer is somewhere we just have to figure out where to look. We need to consider all possibilities even those that seem far fetched.”
* * *
Etta pursed her lips and tried for the ninth time to force the dark Lotus seed into the leather eye socket of the koala bear. Frustrated with her sudden inability, and the grating flare-ups of her emotions, she smacked the koala bear violently against her work table before launching it across the room. A trail of stuffing fell from its insides like smoke from the engine of a jet plane, littering the floor around her before crashing into the wall.
She clenched her fist and her jaw, pushing down the sparks in her feelings. They were dulling now, far less inflamed as they had been that morning and afternoon.
Leaning back she let a curse part her lips. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” She rebuked herself. “You are a kangaroo, not some useless rabbit, Etta! You know better. You know better.” What had she done? What had she done that was so wrong? She had let her guard down, that’s what. She had allowed herself to be saturated with emotions and susceptible to deadly weakness. She had let Jørn in, and now her body was reacting to it all like a live power line in water, spark after painful spark.
She rubbed her fingers across her lips. The way he had kissed her that morning, the way she had kissed him back was so unlike any other time they had kissed in years, at least on her part. It was so gentle and yet so intense that it had made her spirit hum as if sated from thirst, and her toes curl up in her boots. It wasn’t lust, or momentary passion for the sake of a buzz. It was true, heartfelt connection—a soul tie. If the Pulse caught wind of it it would have a field day. It was already focusing on Baldwin, just like Etta wanted. It didn’t need it’s attention torn.
Baldwin, the invisible man, was the perfect red herring, out of sight and completely out of touch. He was safe. The same could not be said for Jørn and Etta had known that. But life had happened. Hitting the dear had been a disaster that caused her to come completely unraveled. And what had she done, apart from melting in Jørn’s touch like a stick of butter in a warm oven, she fled, like a pathetic rabbit, from a deadly predator once he started mentioning them having babies, them communicating.
And then there were the painful sparks in her emotions which were most likely the result of the Pulse digging in her brain that morning. No pain, no gain. She hated it, no matter the necessary means to an end. Her pain had moved then several steps forward with the plan even if it had knocked Mr. Albert almost six steps back and six feet under, all while making her act like some moody, hormonal teen…a scared teen.
The collision last night had opened her up for a gruesome assault from the Pulse which left her skittering like a crazy person, a short fuse. She needed to get some control, get her head on straight again. She felt like she had handled herself well enough at the hospital and at home, but over the last few hours she had lost it. The koala bear was evidence of that.
“There are no rabbits here, only kangaroos.” She repeated the mantra several times and took in deep breaths as she did so, each breath pulling up another layer of armor around her inner man, pushing all the fear and dulling the sparks, forcing down the tenderness and naked affection for Jørn back into the deepest, darkest well of her person, so deep she would even struggle to draw it up again…she hoped.
She stood up to retrieve what was left of the koala bear when Baldwin’s light ebbed into the room. She shot him a fired glare. “Nice of you to show up.” Her tone was less than friendly. Sparks again, Etta. Get a grip.
Baldwin only stared at her, his grey-green eyes intense with raw emotions of his own, his face so similar to Jørn’s that it made Etta turn away from him and grind her teeth. She needed to get Jørn out of her head!
She pressed the koala against her temple. “Could you not look at me like that, Baldwin? Where have you been?”
“I’ve been around.” He scowled before turning away from her. “What happened here?”
His tone was surprisingly solemn. The shards around him were somehow dimmer than usual. They weren’t even shards anymore. Something had changed. Etta gave him a curious stare as she studied him. “The Lotus seed wouldn’t go into the eye socket. I got frustrated.”
“That’s not like you, to get frustrated.” He glanced up at her.
“No, it’s not. But I am getting back on track.” And by God she was getting back on track, no matter the cost. She narrowed her eyes at him again, but then shook her head. She would not push him.
“How is Mr. Albert?”
“Alive.” She didn’t bother to say anything more on the subject. She pulled the grey Lotus seed from her pocket that had come from Mr. Albert. Holding it in the palm of her hand she said, “I want to try something with these seeds, an experiment if you will.”
Baldwin tilted his head. “What do you have in mind? We don’t really have any to spare if the plan is going to work. We need to have the right volume in the frequency in order to destroy the Web. One Lotus seed short won’t hurt anything, but several…I don’t want to take the risk.”
“You don’t even know what I am thinking.” She put her hands on her hips.
“Does it involve using some of the white seeds?”
“It does,” She held up her hand to keep him from interrupting. “Which is why I want to program another Lotus with the frequency, get a whole other batch.”
“I don’t think we have time for that. We really need to stay focused.”
“This coming from King-disappearing-acts?!” She palmed her forehead and closed her eyes. “Out of line, I am sorry. Still a little raw. What I should have said is that we will have time because I intend to change the frequency, just a little bit.” She held up her fingers in a pinching gesture. “May take a week of gestation, tops.”
Baldwin folded his arms across his chest, looked at her hand that held the Lotus seed, then back into her eyes. “Change it how? Why?”
Etta knelt down and began to scoop up the stuffing that had spilt from the koala. She was buying herself a little time in how she wanted to answer. She wasn’t keen on lying. She much rather preferred to just stare silently and say nothing than to flat out lie. She chose the route of redirection and slight omission.
She placed the koala, stuffing, and seed on her work table. “While you were away, I overheard a very interesting conversation that Clive, or the Pulse, was having with Rick Henley.”
Baldwin cocked his brow. “You are not answering my questions, Etta.”
“Yes I am.”
“And wait a minute. You tapped into the Towes frequency without me? You put yourself in at risk? Why would you do that?!”
“It wasn’t intentional! Let me tell you that right now. It just happened. I was heading over here and all of a sudden, I am tuned in, like I was sitting in the room with them.”
“Did it hurt you?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “No. It was like listening to the radio. It was also disturbingly euphoric and yet intense, like my emotions were panting. I am okay. I promise.” Baldwin’s face was a wash of instant concern. “Seriously. It’s probably just aftershock from this morning.”
“Like the aftershock from the Yard. Only thing is that wasn’t an aftershock. You still see the shards and you can still hear the frequencies at a much higher volume. Am I wrong?”
She shook her head. She could still hear and see, but it was on a different level, far less visually volatile. She hadn’t initially noticed until Baldwin appeared and then mentioned it. She had been so caught up with everything surrounding Jørn, the seeming electric shock of shifting emotionally outbursts, and what she had overheard that she just had not paid attention.
However, she much preferred this way of seeing and hearing. The hard-lined shards now looked like silver linings on dark clouds. There was a strange beauty to it all that was far easier to decipher, a language that played a rhythm that she could read with her eyes. She wondered if this is how the Towes saw humanity, if this is how the Lotus chose them.
Baldwin’s expression hardening and the rhythm around him shifting pulled her back to attention. “Rest assured I am perfectly fine. Better actually.” That was mostly am pretty certain the Pulse would have attempted to kill me again.
“What I am beginning to realize is that the Pulse would be better off keeping its hands to its self. Each time it connects with me, something…something happens. I change a little bit.”
* * *
There was a far away look in Etta’s eyes. Hearing her words dance around the idea of changing at the hands of the Towes and sounding comfortable with it caused his chest to constrict. He had changed because of them and there was nothing to do to reverse the affects. Etta didn’t know that. Not yet. He would eventually come clean later on in the game, right as they crossed the finish line, and sent the Towes away from earth for good.
“What did Clive say that has got you wanting to take more seeds?”
“He basically took over Rick’s mind and Taubman’s. The Pulse converted them like it did Clive, sort of.”
“What? I-I don’t understand.”
“Rick and Taubman are now Towes dolls. The Pulse will be pulling their strings from here on out in an attempt to turn the whole of Greenwich Pass against us. Taubman will smear me to the people, try to become interim mayor—political protocol be darned—and Rick and the police force will be the muscle, should there be a call for it. Clive needed an army. Now he has got one. He needs to sway the masses back into complacent compliance, and so he is going to use Taubman to do that.
“Why do you keep saying ‘Clive’ when it is the Pulse that is doing all of this?” He couldn’t help but feel angry, not at Etta but at the entire situation.
“Oh no. Clive is just as guilty as the Pulse. He is participating of his own volition, not out of force. Not anymore, which makes everything far more dangerous, as if that were even possible.”
“So what are you proposing?” If Baldwin had been stressing before, he certainly was now.
* * *
Keep it simple, Etta. Say too much and he will question you right into a corner. “I want to see if the lower frequency is enough just to wake people out of their coma’s. I want to see if I can get someone like Vanessa Wong, free of the Towes hold. It may make things easier for us in the long run, when we finally pull down their Web. This has cost us so much already. The less people to free from their grasps the better. Heck I might even try to turn Henley back over.” And I want to see if in the meantime, I can use the seeds and frequency to direct people just like the Pulse is directing them. The Pulse is building an army of dolls. I may need one too. She raised her brow. “So what do say? Are we green for go?”
Baldwin bit down into his lip. He was beyond conflicted, but what choice did he have? “What are our other options? I mean If you think it will make things easier for us in the end…”
“Then what are we waiting for?”