A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
Can you tell I'm stressed? Stress makes for fidgety, non-updating (sorry!), sleep-deprived, grouchy Katy.
Better soon. History paper done. Stats exam Friday. Criminal justice exam next week. Then Spring Break. Spring Break! Yay! Not sure what I'm doing yet. Not a beach person. Not a drinking person. Hey anyone on my FL wanna host a road-tripping Katy?
Hmmm…. Must ponder this idea when there is less stress.
Jan and Mellie just bounced into my room and announced our floor is hosting an anime pajama party. Yes, that is what we do for fun around here. Shut up. I shall at least preserve my dignity by making the announcement without the use of the word "squee".
It's a week from Saturday. If you're reading this, you're invited.
When it was all over, I was informed that I woke up screaming. That was how Steph described it. That wasn't exactly what I'd experienced.
I was still asleep when I started screaming, and I didn't wake up until Steph was shaking me, asking if I was okay.
Then I woke up. I woke up fighting. I busted Steph's lip pretty good. I couldn't see her. She was someone else. Someone trying to kill me, and I fought for my life. When I hit her in the face, she pulled back and I dove for the gun in the holster between my bed and the wall.
There wasn't anything there. I don't own a gun, and I sure as hell don't keep one in my dorm room. So I found myself finally waking up, realizing where I was and finally distinguishing between what was real and what wasn't, just as I landed face down on the mattress with one arm wedged between the wall and the bed. Steph threw herself on top of me, and that was pretty much the end of the fighting portion of the incident. People are always talking about me as "feisty little Katy". It's infuriating, really. Anyway, Steph is 175 pounds and a member of the rowing team. Feisty loses in that contest.
Kim was banging on the door by this time, and I'd settled down enough that Steph slowly backed over to the door and let her in. The rest of the girls from our hall were out there too.
Everyone wanted to know what had happened, but I honestly couldn't tell them. If it was a nightmare, then the details were lost. All I had was a sense of panic and some hazy notion that I was being attacked and that I kept a gun by the bed. I was sweating, shaking, and on a total adrenalin rush, all details that I was only beginning to take notice of.
Once it was clear that nobody need an ambulance, Kelsie led Steph off the bathroom to clean up her bloody lip and Kim shooed the rest of the gang out and sat down on the bed next to me.
She sat for what must have qualified as an obligatory awkward silence before starting with, "You might have to help me with this. It's my first time."
She'd gotten enough of my curiosity that I stopped trying to make sense of what had just happened.
"First time?" I asked.
"My first official dorm crisis of the year. I'm the RA, right? I'm supposed to handle this stuff. But I really have no idea what I'm doing. I mean, they give us training, but it just consists of telling us about all the horrible things that students can do to themselves and each other and then telling all of us to put on a happy face and show some sensitivity. Am I doing okay? Sensitive enough? Not in your personal space?"
"You're being weird, Kim. Look, just smack me and tell me what an idiot I am and be done with it, okay?"
Kim relaxed visibly. "Okay. But I'll skip the smacking part. You've apparently got a mean left."
"Great. I'm gonna hear about this until I graduate, right?"
"Maybe just until I graduate. Seriously, Katy, I've gotta ask…"
I nodded. "Ask, then."
"That wasn't on purpose, right? You two aren't in a fight."
"No. No, of course not. Steph's great. That wasn't me." I suddenly wanted to take back that last bit. Too late.
"Drugs? Flashbacks? Acid can do that."
"No. No drugs. No prescription meds. I don't even drink, really."
"Maybe a little." It beat leading her to the conclusion that I needed to see a shrink. And it was true, but not any more true of me than of anyone on 6A Alexander Hall. Hell, Steph pulls at least two all-nighters in the library a week. She's the queen of sleep dep. But Steph staggers in from the library, brushes her teeth, and falls into bed, and she's asleep before her head hits the pillow. I'm the one lying awake or, well, or waking up screaming, I guess.
Kim gave me a peptalk and a hug, and Steph came back in and gave me a hug. Kim reminded me that she's right down the hall if I need to talk about anything.
I tried to reassure her that she'd done a good job handling her first dorm crisis.
"You were great, Kim. Really great." I told her as she closed the door.
Steph hugged me again and assured me she was just glad I was okay.
When she finally turned out the lights, I discovered I couldn't sleep.
Night terrors are different from nightmares mostly in that you don't remember night terrors. There are some technical differences as well. Pavor nocturnus is the Latin term. I looked it up on Wikipedia after the third time. Night terrors occur during slow-wave NREM sleep, as opposed to REM nightmares. They don't wake the dreamer up and they leave the dreamer with little or no memory of them.
At least it stopped being violent. Just cold sweating, half-awake, half-asleep horror of something unseen and unknown.
Steph would just smile sweetly and say, "Bad night, Katy? I'll make tea."
That was when she was there. She started pulling those library all-nighters more often. I could feel the stress getting to me. I brought the kitten over to Greg's dorm for him to take care of. We were supposed to be alternating kitten duty every two weeks, but I'd just started my shift. I must have looked like shit, because he didn't even question me about it.
At the end of the second week I was ready to admit that something was badly wrong. I could have gone to Kim, and she could have referred me to counseling for stress or depression. But there were things that Kim didn’t know. Things that none of the Alexander 6A girls knew. It hurt keeping it from them. They all wanted to help me, but it would take one hell of a leap of faith for them to understand the things that I'd experienced.
The first free Saturday I got was about two weeks into March and I got up early, filled my plastic Dunkies travel mug with water, microwaved it, threw in two Earl Grey teabags, and hit the road.
I thought about calling Nancy Mateo from my car, but I decided it would be better just to show up. Nancy owns a secondhand bookstore in Worcester, Massachusetts, and she's the only person who might understand what I was afraid of. Well, she's the only person I trust who might understand it. I'd left early. Nancy was opening up the shop when I arrived, and it was a raw, damp Saturday morning with nobody out on the streets.
"In like a lion." Nancy looked up at the sky as she met me at the door to Gaslight Books. "People wake up and they feel like it’s still winter. And no one comes out. Bad for business, but good for visiting. Nice to see you, Katy. How's school?"
It took me about an hour to explain everything that was going on. I wanted to be thorough. I didn't know what might be important. I told Nancy about the Pavor nocturnus. And I also told her about my investigations with Greg and about the flash drive and the tuckerman13 audio file, and pretty much all of the other weirdness on campus in the last few weeks.
Nancy has a kind of business-punk look. She's tough in ways she won't admit to. Not tough in the way that makes people giggle and refer to her as feisty. Tough as in putting in the hours it takes to run a business while she's getting ready to be a single mom. The baby is due in late summer. I'd be terrified. Nancy just minds her shop. And she knows the sorts of things that a rare book dealer should know. I think she knew the answer to my problem in the first couple of minutes, but she waited to hear everything I had to say.
"You're under psychic attack, Katy."
Yeah. I knew it. I just needed someone else to say it.
"Who? And why?" I realized my mistake even as the words came out. I've worked for a private investigator. I'm a criminal justice major. And if there's one thing that I've learned it's that sometimes you need to ask the right question.
"Wait," I said before Nancy spoke up. "I know those answers. Tell me this: Why now?"
"Maybe they've just gotten to you on their list?" Nancy offered.
I met Nancy tracking down the enemies of my former employer. He'd run afoul of… Well…
"Nancy, when do we get to the part where someone explains it all?" I hadn't realized how bad my need was to talk about these things out loud. All those months at UNH with no one to confide in had taken their toll.
"You know," I continued. "Where's the guy to come up to us as tell us that now that we've all agreed we're dealing with vampires, here's how you kill one. I want rules, damn it!"
"We need Van Helsing." Nancy walked out from behind the counter where she was sitting and refilled the water in my tea.
"Sorry. I didn't see that movie. I'd settle for Giles from Buffy, though."
Nancy, walking to the microwave in the back, mumbled something that sounded snarky from the tone. I was done kidding around, though.
"Seriously, Nancy. We're caught up in this fight and we don't even know what to call our enemies."
She came back into the main store and put down the two mugs.
"I just call them the bad guys, Katy. They seem to have some otherworldly qualities, but I don't think they fit into any of the traditional archetypes. People look for too much truth in myth. Myths get distorted for the simple reason that people have imaginations."
"So we know… What, exactly? Our bad guys are immortal?" It felt good not having to worry that someone would want to refer me to counseling or ask if I'd been dropping acid.
"Unlikely. But what we've seen suggests they live for a long time. They can be killed, certainly. A bullet to Richard Harrington's head proved that."
"You just accept this stuff, Nancy. I don’t know how you do it."
She put down her mug of tea. "No. I am open to the possibility of accepting it. You're the detective, Katy. Where is the evidence pointing?"
"It's pointing to me being up shit creek with no paddle. So. I'm under psychic attack. What do I do about it?"
"What's your theory of magik, Katy?" Nancy spun around in her chair and clicked the mouse on her computer a few times to wake it up.
"I don't know. I'm not Wiccan if that's what you mean."
She turned her attention back to me. "Well, clearly we don't have magik like in some fantasy novel with wizards walking around turning people into toads or throwing fireballs. But you and I have seen enough shit to convince us that there's more to it than just superstition, right?"
Nancy opened her instant messenger and took a quick look at her email. "So, there are some folks who say the power comes from the ritual. Others would tell you it's genetic. Either you've got the magik or your don't. Or, option three, it comes from belief. Believe deeply enough, you tap into power that everyone has. The rituals are just a way of focusing."
"You practice under option three?" I asked.
"Not necessarily. Remember, I didn't practice active Wicca for years. I was as good at being a lapsed Wiccan as I was at being a lapsed Catholic. I only just got back into some very basic kinds of work. Just to protect the store and the baby." She typed as she spoke.
I pressed the issue. "But that's what you believe? I need to find my own faith to fight this."
She shook her head. "I'm covering my bases. For option one or option two, I just need to get a skilled witch to ward you. I contacted someone. Consider it done. But if you need to fight this with faith, well, that comes from within."
I didn't like the sound of that one bit. "I don't think I'm strong enough for that. I'm sorry, Nancy. I'm trying very hard to understand all of this, but I don’t think I can fight something on faith if I don't understand it. That's just how I am. Put Christina Kenney or any of the other bad guys in front of me and give me a baseball bat and I'll show you a fight. But this… I don't even know what I believe."
She came over to stand beside me. "Then get help, Katy. No one says you have to fight this alone. You're going to need allies. And not just ones that are three hours drive away."
I'd tried so hard to keep my new friends at UNH out of all of this. Nancy seemed to understand. She put her arms around my shoulders and held me for a few seconds before moving back to answer the messenger icon on her computer.
"Your wards are being set up. I'd like to help too. Are you okay with sympathetic magik? I'll need something of yours. A couple of hairs will do. I'll work it tonight."
I agreed. I was thinking of my friends back at UNH now, and it occurred to me they'd be wondering where I was around dinnertime. I opened up my cell phone to send a text message to Steph's IM when a new text flashed on the screen, sender unknown.
[how r u sleeping L8tly?]
Nancy offered to look into the text message, but I told her I'd handle it. This was reassuring, really. The bad guys had made a mistake. The psychic stuff scared the shit out of me. I didn't know how to deal with someone messing with my head while I slept. But this new thing was plain old cyberbullying. I was well equipped to handle that.
I didn't drive home immediately. I texted Steph and let her know I wouldn't be around for dinner, but I'd show up for the anime pajama party. No way I was missing that.
I walked around Worcester for an hour or so after I left Gaslight Books. I wanted some time to think, so I poked my head into a couple of stores and got a sandwich at a corner deli. I was on my way back to my car when I noticed a little antiques shop about a block up from Nancy's store.
My parents are both antique hounds, although my mom leans more toward classy stuff and my dad toward tacky nostalgia. It actually works out pretty well. Since it’s so seldom they can agree on anything to buy, they end up doing a lot of looking and very little spending. Suffice it to say I got dragged to a lot of antiques shows and garage sales as a kid.
I was thinking about which would be "mom items" and which would be "dad items" when I had the beginning of an idea. Sympathetic magic. If my friends could really help me, then maybe some sort of symbol might be useful. Maybe a whole set of symbols.
I bought a small leather and brass picture frame for five bucks and hurried back to where I'd parked.
Hallway 6A looked pretty empty when I arrived back at UNH. The party wouldn't be getting underway for a couple of hours. The TV lounge had some basic party decorations in various stages of being hung up, mostly posters picked up at Anime Boston last year. There was also a large box full of Pocky packages. A sign had been scrawled with a sharpie on the back of one of the party flyers and affixed to the box. It warned: FOR PARTY. LATER. DO NOT TOUCH UNDER PAIN OF DEATH. THIS MEANS YOU.
"They went out for dinner in Durham." Kelsie stood in the doorway I'd just entered through. "Hey, you wanna hang out?"
Kelsie can be hard to figure out, but all the way up from Worcester I was wondering how I was going to start opening up to my friends about at least some of what was going on. This seemed as good a chance as any.
Except that Kelsie was apparently looking for someone to open up to as well.
I was sitting on Cathryn's bed, looking at Kelsie's side of the room. The whole room was pretty sparse. Rachael had covered her walls with faeries and dreamcatchers, and walking into Jan and Mellie's room was like entering an anime convention. Kelsie and Cathryn weren't really decorators. Kelsie just had a collage of her family down in Disney World when she was little, and a small picture of her and Greg on her desk. That last one was recent, maybe a couple of weeks back.
"I've been wanting to talk to you, Katy." Right to the point. This was unusual for Kelsie too. For a second I worried there was some issue over my friendship with Greg. Kelsie didn’t seem angry, but I realized that none of us really knew what an angry Kelsie would look like.
"There's something that's been going on in my life, that I've been afraid to tell any of you. Can I ask you something?"
"Do you believe in God?"
For a second there I'd been feeling this weird connection, like Kelsie was about to throw my own story back at me. Turned out she had a story all her own.
"I was just lonely at first. You guys are all great, and Greg has been so sweet to me, but I can't stand the frat parties, and I just sit in the back of my classes never talking. I've never been good at talking to strangers, making friends. So when that girl from the Christian Fellowship was so nice to me, I figured maybe if I went to their meetings I might find some new friends. I think I found a lot more."
"You found God?" I asked.
"Would you be okay with that?"
"Hey, if it brings you some peace with the universe, it's all good, right?"
Kelsie smiled. "Can I give you the formal version?"
"I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. There. Now if I can just tell Greg… And 6A."
"Are you still okay with us? I mean, Jan and Mellie? Rachel?"
"I know. That's what I've been scared of. Look, I'm reading the Bible online. The site is great. It tracks progress, lets me compare different translations. There's a lot to take in, and I'm only beginning. But you guys are just gonna have to have some faith I'm not turning into some gay-bashing, warmongering monster. I've changed, but I'm still me, right?"
"Yeah, I know. People change. And that scares people. Just keep telling them what you told me. It's still you. And it's not going to help you to hide who you are. You're gonna need allies, Kelsie."
And of course by this time, it was pretty obvious to me that I needed to take my own advice. I didn't give Kelsie all the details, but I told her enough. When I was done I asked her if she could pray for me. That brought things back to a place she was comfortable with.
When we heard the 6A gang getting back to work setting up for the party, I noticed the little wooden cross Kelsie had hung from a hook near her desk. I asked her if she could get another one from the Christian Fellowship. Turned out she already had one.
Sometime between episodes of Bleach, I set my camera up on the TV set and got a picture myself with the rest of the geek girlz of Alexander 6A snuggled on the sofa. Late that night, when we were cleaning up from the party, I told them as much as I felt safe telling. I told them that I didn't expect them to believe any of it, but that I wanted them to know some of what was wrong and how I thought they might be able to help.
Kelsie told them a little about her newfound faith as well, and we both assured everyone that neither of us was out to make converts.
I explained my idea, naïve and childish as it was. I asked them for something little to represent each of them. I had the cross from Kelsie. I removed all the books from the top shelf of the bookcase in my room while my photo printer spat out the picture I'd taken in the TV lounge. Rachael brought in one of her dreamcatchers. Jan and Mellie brought plastic anime figurines. Kim left a fossil she'd found while digging through the mud on one of her field studies. Cathryn gave me her badge from the SWE convention, and Steph took the high school crew pin off her letter jacket and placed it beside the other items.
I put the picture in the frame and set it up in the middle of the shelf. I'd cleared too much space. The whole thing still looked bare, a thin and fragile defense. But it was three in the morning by that time, and I figured it would have to do. Maybe whoever was messing with my head would take notice that I wasn't alone anymore.
When Steph turned out the lights that night, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2008