Isolation Part II
A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
Chester? Are you there?
Answer me, damn it! This isn't funny!
Please... I can't do this alone.
"Gone? Mattie, what the hell are you talking about?" Katy's hands reached out of the darkness, grabbed me by the shoulders, and shook me hard.
She tried to, anyway. Katy is short and skinny, and Chester's body hardly budged.
Chester's body. My body. Mine alone now. The wrong spirit had been exorcized. I was the intruder, the one who should have been banished into whatever waits for me. Instead, it was the original occupant who had been evicted. That wasn't the way it was supposed to work.
"You wanted this." Katy stood and stepped back into the darkness, the fear and concern in her voice giving over to anger.
"No. Katy, no. I never..." I started to stand and lost my balance. My chin hit the hardwood of the church floor where Ronald Dietrich had investigated his last haunting. The television ghost-hunter was lying dead somewhere out there in the blackness, lying face-down in the center aisle, the back of his head mostly gone. I was glad I didn't have to look at that.
Katy knelt beside me, pulling my head up by the hair. I hadn't heard her slip back next to me. With the night-vision glasses, Katy had no trouble seeing me. The barrel of her gun was warm on my cheek.
"Why should I believe you, Mattie?" She demanded. "You get to live again? And what happens to Chess? Is he dead now?"
"Please, Katy. I don't know. He did this to save me. I didn't ask him to do it, and I didn't make him do it, but it was his choice. I just don't know where he's gone." My breathing was punctuated by short sobs. I'd never cried before. Not since I came back. Not with Chester's eyes.
Katy held the gun barrel against my face until it was wet with my tears.
Finally, she stood. I heard her fumbling around, and then the beam of a flashlight shone straight up from her left hand. She was still holding the gun in her right, but she had that pointed down and slightly away.
Ronald Dietrich's dead body lay at the edge of the light in the aisle, and off to one side of the altar was the exorcist Hector Mendes. He was lying motionless as well, but he was hog-tied with a belt and gagged, so I assumed he was still breathing.
Katy holstered the gun and reached down to help me up. I lost my balance almost immediately and nearly dragged her down on top of me, and I felt her tense up before she realized I wasn't attacking her.
"What's wrong?" She stood over me, looking down.
"I don't know. I think it's because I've never been fully in control of the body before."
"But you have been," Katy said. "Nancy told me the two of you could switch control back and forth. Isn't that what you've been doing this whole time?"
I answered as best I could. "That's what I thought too. But I guess that's not really how it worked. Maybe even when I was in front, Chester was still working things in the background at some level. I'm sorry, Katy. This may be difficult."
Katy reached down again. "It's okay. We can do this."
She hauled me to my feet and I took tentative steps, finding my balance while she kept an eye on me and texted on her phone.
It was getting better. I could put one foot in front of the other and walk in a straight line.
Katy sensed that I was regaining my coordination.
"Okay. So, we're standing in a crime scene. One bad guy could wake up any time. The other one could come back with reinforcements. And we need to find a way to save Chess."
"What are we gonna do?" I frankly had no idea.
Fortunately, Katy knew where to start at least. "We get out of here. We bring this son of a bitch with us, and then we get help. That means we need to drag him out to my car. You're gonna have to help with that, Mattie. But don't worry if you're still a little uncoordinated about it. Doesn't matter to me if you drop the bastard a few times."
We were crossing the Zakim Bridge into the Big Dig tunnel, and Katy was talking into her hands-free mic while I kept an eye on Mendes.
Katy was consulting with Nancy Mateo about the situation and Nancy had decided that we needed more help than she could provide.
We came out of the tunnel near South Station, and parked on a little side street of darkened shops and dumpsters. One neon sign burned bright in a window two stories up and halfway down the street. One word: Magic.
We were gonna need some.
"This is Questions," Katy explained. "These people are not our friends. But they are enemies of our enemies. We need to be careful about this, Mattie."
I nodded. I'd dealt with this kind of bullshit all my life. Sometimes you just have to associate with unsavory company to get what you need. It's the way of things.
A woman emerged from a door beneath the sign. Her gaze swept the road in both directions.
We got out of the car as she approached.
"I'm Heather. Take him into the alley. Antonio is at the side door."
Mendes was awake by now, but he knew better than to struggle. Katy held a Taser at the ready just in case, and we hauled him over to the alley where a small door swept open for us.
Ten minutes later, we were upstairs, and Heather and Antonio were setting out the foci they used to perform rituals.
Heather, a stocky middle-aged woman with light auburn hair, was doing most of the work, while Antonio asked us questions about what had happened in the church.
"They're on the run," he said. "They tried to destroy us three years ago, and again two years back. Now the tide has turned. They're getting desperate. Making mistakes. Putting their trust in insane plans like what they tried to do at UNH."
I noticed Katy shudder at that last bit. That had been the first time I met Katy. I knew her from Chester, of course, but it was the first time I'd seen her in person. She probably thought it wasn't exactly her at her best, but I knew in some way that it was exactly that. Katy was strong in ways I could barely imagine.
I suddenly wished it was Katy who would be fighting for Chester's soul. But of course it wouldn't be. Only one person could do that now.
Heather was ready.
"Mendes doesn't really banish souls," she explained. "He locks them away and feeds on them. Chester placed himself in Mendes' trap to save you, Mattie. You're the only one who can free him, and you're going to have to go back there and face him."
I remembered how strong he had been. I shook my head. "I don't think I can."
Heather looked from me to Katy to Antonio. "You're the only one who can do this, Mattie. All that I can offer you is the chance to try."
I could see the fear in Katy's eyes. She was afraid I'd refuse. But her doubt in my intentions was gone. We'd come this far. She no longer believed I'd sent Chester away on purpose. She was counting on me to make things right.
"I'll do it," I said.
"I want to help," Katy announced.
Heather gestured to the chair where they'd secured Mendes. "If he so much as squirms, hit him."
Katy grinned. "Okay. I can do that. No problem."
I took Katy's hand in mine. The smallness of it felt strange.
"I'll bring him back."
She nodded. "I know."
Then I turned to Heather. She gestured to a chair that faced Mendes. Around it, she'd positioned four candles.
Mendes' gaze met mine as I sat. It bored into me, relentless, hungry.
But when Heather lit the candles, there was no overpowering rush of his will. He didn't need to drag me into his mind this time. I was going willingly. He waited, and when the fourth candle was lit, it was like falling into the embrace of a lover.
I didn't mistake it for heaven this time.
I was barefoot on the rocky plateau, with the San Francisco Peaks rising out of the horizon. Those were the mountains of the highway west. They rise up around Flagstaff and you can see them forever before you finally reach them.
Those are the mountains that the Katsina return to at the end of the season, and they mark the turnoff for families in station wagons making the Route 66 trip out to the Grand Canyon and then on to California.
Except that sometime after I was dead and buried, they decommissioned the last stretches of Route 66. I guess it never mattered to the Katsina. Besides, I didn't have to walk all the way to the San Francisco Peaks.
Mendes was waiting for me somewhere closer.
Whatever he'd done couldn't simply be undone. If that were the case, they could just beat him into undoing it. I was pretty sure Katy would be the first to volunteer.
What Mendes had done needed to be undone here, in this desert of his making. And no one was here to help me fight him.
You are wrong, you know.
I looked around for the source of the voice.
Nothing. It wasn't Mendes' voice. It wasn't Chester's. It wasn't a voice I recognized.
Something in the dust caught my eye, a little bit of red and blue. I reached down and picked it up, wiping away dirt from the delicately carved wood.
A Katsina. The longhair Katsina that the Hopi carver had given my mother when we visited Arizona so long ago. The doll felt so light in my hands. It felt like air. I remembered how I'd set it next to my bed every night, how the long straight black hair carved into the figurine had always seemed a reflection of everything that I was.
I cradled the figure to my breast, suddenly aware that in this place I walked in my own body. And while I might not have the strength of Chester's arms, my feet were hardened from a lifetime of walking barefoot, and I felt the first beginnings of confidence as I set out down the rocky path.
"How am I wrong?"
You are wrong to think you are weak.
"I know. But that comes from a lifetime of lost fights."
I could see the rocky cliff ahead where it had ended last time.
You are wrong to think you are alone.
"But my friends are beyond my reach, and you are the most distant of memories."
I could make out the figure of Mendes, waiting by a mound of dirt, attended by four mountain lions. I hesitated, nearly stumbled.
You are wrong to assume this is a desert of his making.
I smiled suddenly as the puzzle came together for me.
None of this was his. It was me. It was all me.
The Katsina was gone from my hand, a stone axe in its place. Marked with petroglyphs.
I ran at Mendes, and four wolves appeared at my side as I ran.
"You don't belong here!" I screamed. "This is mine! Everything you see!"
The wolves and the mountain lions collided in a dusty whirlwind of fur and claw and blood.
I raised the axe and Mendes caught my wrist and my throat, still terribly strong, and I slammed my body into his with the momentum of the run and punched with my free hand, hitting him every way I knew how.
Mendes gave ground. One step. It was enough.
His heel touched the mound of freshly shoveled dirt that covered the shallow grave he'd originally intended for me, and Chester Hall's hand burst up out of the dirt and gripped Mendes' ankle with all the sudden fury of the horror movie shock scene that Chester's mind had conjured. Mendes lost his balance. He lost his grip on my wrist. And then my axe swung down in a clean arc and Mendes lost his head.
I dropped to my knees and tore into the dirt and gravel, clawing at it until Chester was free, and when I kissed him I tasted the sand and dust of a desert of my own making.
They will demand a price.
And they did. They wanted Mendes. Mendes had other souls he was keeping. Heather and Antonio were planning to free all of them.
Leave him to his fate. He's got a lot to pay for.
And so I did.
Katy walked back to the car with me, quiet, waiting. We got in and she drove us over to the Mass Pike and we headed west toward Worcester where Nancy Mateo was waiting with hot tea and cleansing wards.
Katy hadn't asked if Chester was back. I think she could see it in the way his body moved.
He was weak and tired, but I could feel us both regaining some of what we'd lost as we drove west.
I think I'd like to talk with Katy. It's overdue. For both of us.
I slipped back and rested, thinking of the longhair Katsina, and glad of the things I'd been wrong about.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2009