“When the actor reaches his death
You know it’s not for real,
He just holds his breath.”
— Kate Bush, Wow
FBI Casefile 4815/1523-42
Tenth handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
Little Wing, I’m sorry. I can sense your impatience with me. I know. You want me to write down everything and I’ve told you only a little of it so far, and I’ve told it poorly. I’ve held things back, I’ve written things out of order and all in pieces. I’m wrapped up in this ending of mine that’s happening. It’s hard to think back on beginnings or the middle of the story. Your mother would have told me to stop talking like I wanted to charm down the devil: just say it plainly. But she didn’t know what I really am, and neither did you, and the best way I can make you understand is to show you.
It’s been some time since I’ve written in this book. I’ve been avoiding it because of what happened. Didn’t want to write about it. Not at all. But it’s time. No choice now but to finally write these words I’ve avoided with the aid of my ego and my pride.
It’s all my fault. All the blood, all the death. My fault.
We have to go back to that night now. I’ll write down everything that happened. Then we’ll see where we are.
It was the party at the mansion. Linna’s mansion, her family’s home. Somehow she had got it in her head that I should go. I think I told her no a hundred times. Of course I had no intention of leaving the Sanctum. It was risky, it was foolish—what was there to gain from it? And then she foxed out a way for me to attend—my identity would be concealed—it was a conceit of hers that certain guests would be costumed and masked and she had thought of this only so that I would be able to come.
It gave me pause. And when she realized that I was considering it after all, she knew she had me.
Everything was going so well, Little Wing. With Linna’s intervention, Karen was improving and had nearly flourished back to full health. It might have been a side effect of the use of Linna’s powers, but Karen had grown extremely fond of her and had come to dote on her in a maternal way that surprised both Jenny and myself. I will say that it wasn’t unwelcome in that house. While Jenny and Karen were childless—they hadn’t ever thought about having a family—it was clear that the affection between them could easily overflow and provide a loving home for another.
Linna said, one afternoon, “I’m bringing the adoption papers over tomorrow and I’m not joking at all.” The three of them were on a blanket in the back yard, out past the Koi pool, the detritus of their picnic lunch strewn about their feet. Karen sat cross-legged behind Jenny, braiding her long hair. Linna was apart from them, propped up on one elbow, watching.
“I think your dad’s top custody lawyers would make quick work of us,” Karen said.
Linna said “He’s not my dad,” in a dead-straight voice. Karen regarded her sharply. “I mean to say,” Linna continued, “he’s never been much of a dad. I don’t think he’d care if I stopped being a Severand.”
“I’m sure he’d care, Linna” Karen admonished, “and stop being such a drama queen.” Jenny snorted with laughter as Linna scowled at Karen, then pouted, then sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Well you’ll always be welcome here, Linna,” Jenny said warmly. “Anytime you like, for as long as you like.”
Karen turned her head slightly toward me. I was seated at one of the patio tables with an open book in front of me, though it must have been obvious I was listening to them rather than reading. Karen said, “We’ll reopen for business soon. Still, we’ll keep a room for you.”
Linna and I exchanged a look. Linna sat herself up. Closed her eyes. Reaching down, taking hold of her strength.
Karen began to take in slow, expansive breaths. Her hands froze, stopping their weave-work on Jenny’s single braid. Then she said, “Of course we may take some time to reopen. I forgot that we want to do those renos.”
Every day it seemed easier for Linna to enter Karen’s mind. I thought this was excellent. We still needed this Sanctum. For my protection. For Linna’s.
She had offered Karen and Jenny invitations to the fundraiser but they had politely declined: though Karen was much better she still wasn’t up to attending any kind of formal function. That left only me.
My invitation appeared, delivered by courier, on the morning of the event. There was a note with it, written in Linna’s angular cursive: I’ve arranged your transportation and your costume. Can’t wait to see you there! Delivered along with the invitation, deep rectangular cardboard box now sat on the floor just inside the front door of the bed and breakfast.
Jenny had handed me the invitation and sat down next to me in the kitchen. “You’ll break her heart if you don’t go,” she pointed out. I didn’t say a word. She looked at me, then said, “Except that you’ve decided to go, haven’t you?”
“Against every principle of reason I believe in—yes, I’ve decided to go.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s great. I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”
Because I’m being hunted by the Watchers and they’ll kill me if I’m found. Who knows what they’d do to Linna.
Sometimes I wanted very badly to speak the truth out loud. Maybe I should have said it out loud. Maybe hearing the words, spoken in my voice, would have brought me to my senses.
Instead I opened the box that was delivered with the invitation. I looked over the contents inside of it with a measure of delight I could not have guessed was left within me.
Later, I was showered, shaved, and ready to depart. I observed myself in the bathroom mirror. These many years of running from the Watchers had aged me, there could be no doubt, despite the life-prolonging works of power I had completed in the distant past. The man I saw, scrubbed clean and well-fed now for several weeks, was older—somewhere out well beyond late middle-age—yet he looked to have some fight left in him.
One of Linna’s family’s Mercedes was parked on Mayfair Street, waiting with the engine running. From my bedroom I descended the stairs in the fine apparel that I had been given: a shirt, tie, pants, and dress shoes of the best quality, fit to me perfectly; a long jet-black suit coat with tails; a long obsidian-black cane with an ivory wolf’s head handle; an absurdly-tall black top hat; finally a black lacquer half-mask that hooked into the top hat, concealing the upper portion of my face including the eyes, leaving the mouth and jaw and chin uncovered.
Karen and Jenny applauded as I came down the stairs. I lifted the top hat and twirled the cane like a vaudeville villain.
I should have known. These pleasures that honor vanity are only ever a prologue to pain.
The Mercedes took me from the bed and breakfast to the mansion, the estate, the event. I didn’t think of the exposure I was subject to as I strutted down the front walk to the street, sweeping off the top hat to enter the back of the car, letting myself sink down into the cushions of the seat with a sense of luxurious release I hadn’t felt in a long time.
It was only when I had been dropped off at the front gates of the estate and was making my way up the path toward the mansion, now surrounded by other people who glanced at me with curiosity, stopping and staring even—I was a “celebrity,” though Linna had said it would be fixed so that no-one could bet on me—that I finally remembered my dream. It was what had begun all of this, the dream of encountering Linna and her brother on the street in L.A., and then the dream of this very night.
And as if I had summoned them with the thought of the dream, they appeared. Linna touched my arm and I turned and she was there, her brother with her, standing slightly back from us.
“I knew you’d be here,” she said. Her beauty was genuinely dazzling.
“Thank you for all of this,” I said, gesturing at my costume, my ridiculous top hat. “I’m enjoying myself. But I should have brought you something, a gift for your hospitality.”
“I don’t need anything,” she said.
I looked at the brother. Though he shared the characteristics of Linna’s facial features, I saw that he could claim little if any of the inner light, the fire, the strength that she possessed.
“Gabriel, this is my brother, Will.”
We shook hands. Then I realized that he was holding something in his other hand, pointed down toward the ground.
It was a card from my deck.
He held it up. “Linna was just showing me one of your amazing Tarot cards. It’s incredibly beautiful.” The card was Night’s Dream. It depicted a blue circular body of light rising or setting in the sky over an oceanic expanse of crashing, unfurling, enfolding white-blue waves.
“Son,” I said carefully, “you might think about giving that back to me right now.”
“Of course,” he said. When the card had been passed into my possession I felt an unfamiliar weight coming from it, as if time spent in others’ hands had tarred it with a banality that deadened its power. The brother was laughing. “Did Linna steal that from you?”
I didn’t look at Linna. “No,” I said, “I’ve lent it to her. But it was meant for her safekeeping, not yours.” I don’t know why I thought to shield her with this lie. She was my Linna, I suppose. It seemed that I would indulge her and forgive her, perhaps no matter what.
And then, at the end, she would kill me. Or I would cause her death. I had not forgotten.
“I’m not sure I understand what she sees in all of this,” the brother said, talking to me as if Linna wasn’t there right next to him. “She said you’re supposed to be some famous mystical guru self-help guy. I googled your name but nothing came up.”
“I’m not that famous.”
“How much is she paying you?”
“Not a cent.”
“I find that hard to believe. She’s had sessions with you almost every day.”
Linna broke in. “They’ve been really helpful!”
“Well.” He bowed slightly to me, but there was no friendliness in his opaque eyes or in the sliver of his smile. “You’ll understand if I feel protective of my sister. She’s been known to make some strange decisions. If you’ll excuse me.” He took his leave of us.
“You told him that I was a self-help guru?” I said to Linna.
“He’s an idiot. Don’t worry about him.”
“And why is it that you have one of my cards?”
“I like it.” Linna took note of my open disapproval and added, “I wasn’t going to keep it. I wanted to show Will how amazing it is. Come on,” she said, sliding her hand around the inside of my arm, “forget about that. Let me show you around the place.”
We walked around an ostentatious marble fountain where a number of party-goers already clearly deep in their cups were seated on the granite lip, shoes cast off on the grass, trailing bare feet in the dark water.
“Are you going to introduce me to your father?” I asked her. I could feel her stiffen with tension, her arm in my arm.
“I’m not ready for that, no.”
“All this exorbitant display,” I said. “If it’s a fundraiser, couldn’t your father have simply donated the money that was spent on all of this?”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure he did that too,” Linna countered.
“And your brother. He has no idea about you.” It wasn’t a question. “About what you are. Your abilities.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
“You’ve grown up together. And you believe he has absolutely no knowledge of your differences.”
Linna didn’t need to think about it. “In many ways he’s just like me. He’s self-absorbed. Deep down he doesn’t care that much about other people. I’m sure on some level he knows about me, or he suspects something, but it doesn’t matter to him, so he can’t see it.”
“Why did you want so much for him to meet me?”
Her answer was terse. “I love him.”
There was a large tent on our right where music was being played live by a string quartet seated up on a platform in the corner. Some kind of makeshift flooring had been laid out on the grass and men and women were dancing. It was one of those famously saccharine Viennese waltzes that give people the impression of culture.
To my surprise, Linna jumped out in front of me and extended one hand, curtsying low in a mockingly old-fashioned way, both knees bent and head bowed. “May I have this dance, Monseigneur?” she said in a horribly fake pan-European accent.
“Naturally, Mademoiselle,” I said. I took her proffered hand and led her onto the dance floor, where we stepped into the one-two-three, one-two-three timing of the smarmy old world waltz.
Linna said, “Well aren’t we just fucking grand?”
The string quartet played the waltz out to its cloying conclusion and then struck up something much slower, more romantic, a rendition of a popular love song perhaps. Linna and I disengaged from one another.
And then another surprise. While Linna looked up at me deciding if we were going to continue dancing to this slower music, and what kind of dance that was going to be, a young man came up at my elbow, looking directly at her with some intensity. “May I cut in?” he said.
“Jesus Christ. Dylan,” Linna snapped at him, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m with my parents. They’re Wellness Centre donors.”
“Uh-huh,” she said.
“Are you going to dance with me or not?” the boy said abruptly.
“When you say it like that,” she returned sarcastically, “what choice do I have?”
“Good,” he said. Then he took hold of her, more roughly than I liked, and pulled her away into the crowd of dancers. Linna looked back at me. The sideways smile on her face let me know that she was in control.
And indeed, after the boy, Dylan, had been speaking harshly to her in a one-sided conversation which I was too far away to completely overhear—something about Linna never calling him back yet somehow also leading him on, then something about how he’d never stop thinking about her—before the song was over, she stepped back from him, turned quickly, and walked away.
There was a gasp that went up from the middle-aged woman next to the boy, followed by others. He was staring down at himself in disbelief. A spreading damp stain of urine had soaked through the front of his pants. Then he started sobbing uncontrollably, hunched over, as the rest of the dancers around him backed slowly away.
“Let’s get out of here,” Linna said, going quickly past me, out of the dance-hall tent and onto the lawn.
Behind us, the boy seemed to regain control of himself, and he fled the tent in the opposite direction. Linna went through the grass as fast as her narrow-soled platform shoes would allow her. I followed.
On this side of the estate grounds there were high hedges, perfectly squared, that created partially-enclosed, more private spaces on the periphery of the party. We found one that was unoccupied. The light from Tiki torches and lanterns in these miniature gardens fought the growing shadows of early twilight. Linna sat down heavily on a wrought-iron bench, red-faced and breathless. I sat down next to her.
“I think I winded myself,” she said.
“Take your time. Control your breath.”
After a few moments she said, “I didn’t know I could do that. I took over his autonomic nervous system. Just for a moment, for just long enough.”
“You made him piss himself,” I said. “And then weep like a child.” Linna nodded her head. “You were angry.”
“I was definitely not happy.”
In my expression I held a mild reproach at her actions, which was only proper. In my true inner thoughts, I celebrated.
Linna was magnificent. She was something the world had never seen. A young woman with the powers and sensibility of the long-lost Chantresses, but with so much more than that. She held in her mind a razor’s edge of wielded violence. Held it easily. Her daring, her reach, her anger: they were breathtaking to me. I had not expected this kind of growth in the few weeks I had been teaching her. It was dangerous, I knew this, but also I admired it. How could I not?
She was going to be my weapon of war against the Watchers.
I posed a question to her. “Do you think he deserved what you did to him?”
“Perhaps he did.” I kept myself from smiling. “But your working of power against him creates an imbalance.”
“You hurt him. Not permanently, and not severely, but nevertheless it was a violation. Against his will and control you forced the body to betray itself.”
Linna was looking at me darkly. “That was the idea, yes.”
“And so your power has bent reality around a wedge, however small it is. You created suffering. It may linger here, now.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. You think the Watchers will be able to track me down from what I just did?”
“Probably not, no. There’s a confluence of energies that takes place on a night like this and it should mask what you did. Besides, I’m not entirely sure the Watchers are attuned to the kind of power you have. They wouldn’t be looking for signs of a Chantress’s workings.”
Linna asked me something tangential. “It’s really true that a Watcher could be here, at this party tonight, and they wouldn’t know what you are, and you wouldn’t know what they are?”
“Not unless one of us drew from our power. Of course I’ve fought many of them. I should think I would recognize one. As I’ve said before, their numbers are limited and their appearances have never changed.”
Linna held my gaze for a moment. Then she said, “You were clumsily trying to give me a lesson in something important?”
“Yes. You need to work an opposite effect now. Something positive, something helpful or beneficial. To clear the trace of the harm. When you leave behind the effects of the working you did on that boy, it’s like a seed. Do you understand? You’ve altered the world with the force of your will. Reality may heal itself, and it probably will in this case, but sometimes it doesn’t. The energy of pain that you created here: it can remain, it can spread like an infection, and it can have consequences.”
“Alright,” Linna said. “I get it. What do I do?”
“Access your power. Reach out. Extend yourself like I’ve taught you.” Linna closed her eyes. I gave her some time before I continued. “Find someone here, at this event. Someone who is feeling distress. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe they’re shy and they need your help to overcome it. Maybe they’re unable to put aside worries and problems in order to enjoy themselves.” Linna’s breathing slowed. “It’s a small thing we want you to do. An equal yet opposite reaction to the pain you caused that boy. An equal amount of given help.”
“I could help Dylan,” Linna said, smiling in that lopsided way of hers. “I know that he needs it.”
“No. He was rude to you. Someone else.”
“I’m sure there’s more than a few people here who are fucked-up beyond belief….” Her voice trailed off into a devouring silence.
And then she twisted around, springing up from the bench. Her hands flew into the air. She made an agonized sound, a choking, sputtering, strangled laugh that was wrenched from her involuntarily.
Then she was absolutely still.
“He’s in the woods,” she said. “He has a knife. Oh he has a knife. He wants to use it so badly. Cut himself even, it would be sweet to cut himself with it. No! Someone’s coming. Be quiet. Wait for it. Someone’s coming closer and closer.”
Linna’s eyes flew open.
“It’s Tess! Tess! Oh my god Tess doesn’t see him and he’s right there!”
She was screaming. “Tess no! Go back! He’s right there! He’s right there!”
© 2017 by C.D. Miller
NIGHTFALL will continue with Episode 3
15 September 2017