Chapter 15: The chapter wherein, Hero receives the “how-to” manual she so desperately wanted but is left with many more questions, yet she still chooses to become part of the preterworld.
I sat downstairs for about ten minutes. I never heard a sound from upstairs. Finally, I heard someone coming down the stairs. I saw Kyle and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He looked tired, but not exhausted as Jenny had.
“She’ll be ok.” He said before I could ask. He sat heavily in one of the chairs.
“Um, do you need anything, like water or something?” Everything felt really weird now. He was clearly uncomfortable with what he’d done, but I didn’t know why.
He shook his head. “No, I’m ok.” He gave a rueful grin and looked up at me, but still didn’t meet my eyes, “All this time I’ve been warning you about her. I guess I should have warned her.”
I frowned, “I don’t get it. What’d I do?”
“You took a lot of energy from her,” he lowered his head. “I know you didn’t mean to,” he looked up, “You probably didn’t even know you were doing it.” He finally raised his eyes to mine.
All I saw was embarrassment. I swallowed and tried to keep eye contact. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed. He’d probably saved Jenny’s life.
“You are… so powerful.” He whispered and pulled his gaze away from mine.
“You’re not mad about me, um, feeding Jenny?”
I shook my head, “God no! She could have died right?”
“I know I can talk to dead people and all, but I really like my best friend alive. You saved her life,” I reached over and took his hand. I squeezed it lightly. “Why would I be mad?”
He squeezed back and looked up at me. “Someday, I’ll remember how little you know about the preter world. For us, both me and Jenny, the way we feed…” he blushed, “It um it’s a kind of hardwired in us. It often makes us…” His words stumbled to a stop.
I took a deep breath, “I know my mythology. I’m guessing it’s… erotic?” I felt my heart beat a little faster. This was when he was going to tell me he loved her now, or really, really wanted her or something. Something that made me less interesting to him.
“Yeah, kind of.” He ran his free hand through his hair but kept holding my hand. “I feel like I just made out with the best friend of the girl I’m really into.” He said in a rush. “I feel, guilty, I guess.” He hung his head.
I blinked. He didn’t love her. He wasn’t interested in her at all. Ok so the make out thing was a little weird, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought at all. I laughed. I didn’t mean to, but I did. “So, you feel guilty for saving her life?”
He jerked his head up, looking confused. “You’re not mad, or like upset?”
I shook my head, “It’s really fine.” I said.
We both turned when we heard Jenny coming down the stairs. She looked better, but not back to normal.
“Hey, Jen,” I called, “You look like your feeling better.”
She managed an uncomfortable smile. “Yeah, I am.” She said without looking at me or Kyle.
I stifled a sigh. Ok, so the whole situation was weird, maybe a little awkward for them, but both of them were acting like they’d had sex. Eventually, maybe I’d understand all of the preter etiquette, but right now most of it seemed stupid. And we had far more important things to worry about. Aside from the colossal weirdness that was me talking to my dead mother, we hadn’t figured out who had brainwashed Officer Garcia or why.
Jenny sat on the couch with me, but I noticed that she stayed as far away from me and Kyle as she could. “So, what now?” She asked, looking at her hands.
I glanced at Kyle but noticed that he was very busy staring at his shoes. I sighed, “We might want to figure out who brainwashed Garcia, and why?”
Jenny raised her eyes, but wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Well, Kyle says that he can’t do that. I know a siren could if given enough time with a victim,” her voice was still quiet.
I considered that and wondered if Jenny had ever brainwashed anyone. I shook off the thought, “Well, do you know of any siren who would want Garcia to watch Dee’s house?” I asked.
Jenny started to shake her head and stopped. “I don’t know.” She bit her lip, “Yeah, I can think of a lot of sirens who’d want to know what you were up to.” She finally raised her eyes to meet mine, and I saw my fear reflected in her face. “I’d say most of my family would love to get a hold of you.”
I frowned, “Why? Other than calling up ghosts, what good am I?”
Kyle jumped in, “You can open a door to the Underworld.”
I gave him a blank look.
“Ok, there’s the world of the living and the world of the dead,” he explained.
“The veil, the energy field that keeps the two worlds apart, is well power. Circe and hecate could use that energy.”
I think I was following his explanation, but I had to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
Jenny caught my confused expression. “It’s like Star Trek,” she began.
She and I had both watched the series. Dee had called it our ethical education. But I was suddenly sure this was going to get more confusing.
“Just go with me here. You know how the spaceships always have forcefields right?”
She waited for my nod, “Think of the veil that way. And you know in Star Trek the force field takes energy, and sometimes Captain whoever has them re-route that energy for like weapons or transporters or whatever?”
I nodded. Now I was beginning to get it. If I could touch that energy, in theory, I could re-direct that energy. “So, I can re-route the phasers?”
Both Jenny and Kyle nodded.
Jenny cut in, “And not only hecate and circe would want it.” She turned to Kyle, “Essentially you or I could use it too. Think about consuming that kind of energy, what could you do with it?”
He looked concerned by the question, “But would it even work for me? There’s no emotion in the veil.”
Jenny shot him a duh look and began listing off emotions on her fingers, “Um grief, pain, loss, happiness, sorrow. Do I need to go on? All of that is tangled up in the veil.”
I watched the exchange between them. At least talking about the theories of the Veil seemed to get rid of their embarrassment. Of course, this discussion wasn’t helping me. I was a walking drive-thru. If I learned how to access that energy, anyone could use me to overeat. Wait that didn’t sound like much of a threat.
“I don’t know about circes and hecates, but why would you two overeating be a problem?” I asked.
Jenny smiled, “Because the more we eat the stronger we are. With that kind of meal, I could take over the chamber of commerce and city council. And that’s thinking small.”
Kyle laughed, “She could take over the world, Hero. Like seriously rule the world.”
Ok, so that was bad. “And I’m guessing the circes and hecates could do a lot more?”
Both Jenny and Kyle nodded.
“So, this is bad, isn’t it?”
Jenny shrugged. “It depends on who’s looking for you. Even if my family would love to use you, once they discover you are immune, and I’ve already told Cousin Andy that you are, they’ll lose interest. They can’t make you help them. Most hecates and circes aren’t bad people or anything. But…” Her words trailed off.
Kyle picked up the slack, “If Sosostris is back, then it’s a big problem. I’m still trying to get some concrete information on them, but most of the legends are all about their other stuff, not so much the Veil or the Gate.”
I looked up at him, he’d mentioned the gate before, and from what I was learning I had an idea of what it might be. “Tell me the Gate isn’t what I think it is?”
Kyle’s eyes grew soft and his expression became sad, “The Gate to the Underworld. It’s the most powerful point in the world.”
I tried to smile, “I guess it is what I think it is.” I’d never given much thought to the afterlife. Dee hadn’t been religious, and she’d raised me the same. I wonder if it was different for preters. If I could talk to dead people, and I had in the last hour spoken to my dead mother, why would any of them need mystic answers for anything?
We sat in silence for a while and finally I had to ask, “Did Sosostris kill Dee?”
Kyle shrugged, “I don’t know. I told you that I’m calling in every favor I’ve got, but so far no one is talking.”
Jenny broke in, “What about your uncle? He was Dee’s friend.”
Kyle shook his head. “I don’t think friend is the right word. He worked for her. And before him, it was my grandfather. When she came to Fullerton, she set up my family to work in the police force. She wanted, no needed a preter in a position of authority.” He continued to hold my hand, “We’re supposed to keep any preter crimes quiet. And if any preter is risking exposure, we get rid of them.”
I broke in, “Wait, get rid of them? As in,” I pantomimed shooting someone, “get rid of them?”
Kyle nodded. “It hasn’t happened in a long time. But my uncle had to take out a nest of lamias back in the 70s.”
Before I could even ask, Jenny filled in my vocabulary hole. “They’re like vampires. Blood drinking and everything.” She turned to Kyle, “So that was your family that took care of them. I’ve heard stories about them.”
Kyle shrugged, “Me to, but I didn’t have anything to do with it.” He paused, “But I would if I had to. Any preter who goes public is a threat to all of us.”
I considered the need for secrecy. A million movies and novels all agreed with the idea. Humans and the monsters of legend didn’t mix well. So, I’d have to start lying to everyone too.
“So, what do we do next?” I asked feeling emotionally exhausted, but because of whatever Jenny had done, I was wide awake, physically. It was a weird feeling, like too much caffeine after being awake for 24 hours.
Kyle spoke up first. “I’d like to get you somewhere safe. Someone is watching this house.” He glanced out the window as if to see if Officer Garcia had come back. “I’ve already put in for some time off to work on investigating Dee’s murder. You could stay with me.” He looked at the floor, “Or I could stay with you.”
Jenny cleared her throat, “Or I could stay with her. I’m just as capable of protecting her as you are.”
I laid my head in my hands. I couldn’t take them fighting again. “Guys, seriously shut up.” I tried to temper my words with a smile, but I just sounded bitchy. “If you’re both so worried, we can all stay here tonight.” I tried not to glare at both of them. “Maybe after the funeral things will quiet down again. Once whoever was after Dee realizes that I don’t know anything, they’ll all leave.” Ok, so I didn’t really believe what I was saying, but if it would give me a moment’s peace I’d take it.
Both Jenny and Kyle looked chagrined and mumbled apologies that I waved away.
I looked at Kyle, “Is it possible that someone from Sosostris will be at the funeral?”
Kyle shrugged, “If it was me, I’d show up. Even if it was just to see if you’re as powerful as your supposed to be.” He paused, “I’d probably try and make nice with you too, and see if you know anything.”
I nodded slowly, “Ok, so tomorrow we start investigating. I’ll keep pretending that I don’t know anything about the preterworld. I’ll just be the mourning niece.” It wouldn’t be all that hard to pretend anyway. I didn’t know enough about the preterworld to feel like I was part of it anyway. Maybe I could convince Sosostris that I didn’t know anything, and Kyle could track down all the guests and see if we could find who murdered Dee. It sounded like a solid plan.
Jenny chimed in, “Maybe you should check out the book Dee left for you. Some preters can mask what they are, maybe there’s a way that you can do that too?”
It wasn’t a bad suggestion. If I could convince everyone in the preterworld that I was human, it would make everything else easier. “Ok, I’ll start checking out the book.
Jenny, I’ll need you to go by my place and pick up something for me to wear tomorrow.”
I turned to Kyle, “For now, you can see what you can find out about Officer Garcia, and call your uncle. I need to know everything that he does. If he worked for Dee, then he works for me now.” I tried to make my voice sound authoritarian, I’m not sure if it worked or if Kyle and Jenny were just humoring me. Either way, they both got to work.
Kyle went outside to start making calls and mentioned going over to the police station, and Jenny left with a promise of bringing back dinner and my clothes.
I went into the dining room and started paging through the book. The book was pretty nondescript on the outside. It was plain black leather and only a little bigger than a paperback novel. I opened it to find it was handwritten. At least the handwriting was mostly legible, I told myself. But there wasn’t a table of contents or anything. It looked like someone wrote down rules or suggestions as the author had needed in his or her life.
I sighed and turned back to the first page. Whoever had written the book started with a brief history of the lemuria and a list of our potential powers. Spirit communication and talking to the dead. I wondered why those were listed twice, weren’t they the same thing? If they weren’t I wasn’t sure if I was ready to know the difference. One word jumped out at me “cerberus.” That was one I knew, he was the three-headed dog who guarded the gate to the underworld. But according to the book, it was a race of “extraplanar” creatures who could act as protectors of lemuiras. I considered this information. Was extraplanar a synonym for ghost? I guess it meant I could have a ghostly guard dog. But what good would a ghost dog be, I wondered.
I moved on to the book. Whoever the author had been, she was thorough. She started with the legends and worked her way through them all. Most lemuria believed they needed a lot of wacky ingredients to summon a ghost. Everything from candles, herbs, bells, an object belonging to the deceased, and even blood. According to the author, a lemuira didn’t need any of that stuff. So, I’d already figured that part out, but I wondered if other lemuira knew all of this.
The book started to remind me of a science project. It started with an idea, a hypothesis, and moved into experiments. And ended with an explanation of how to duplicate the results. If it was better organized, it would be incredibly helpful. There was a brief section on radios and telephones, and I was guessing from the language that both were fairly new inventions when the book was written. At the end of that section, the ink color changed and some additions were made in different handwriting. It mentioned that ghosts could be contacted through telephones, radio, television, and movies. And that a truly desperate or annoying ghost could try and use these devices to contact a lemuria.
I felt a chill thinking about the television talking to me and thinking about my photography. Could Dee’s death explain the orbs in the photos?
According to the first set of handwriting, Jenny and Kyle were right in admonishing me for saying, Charon. According to author one, he could show up. Kind of like the Bloody Mary urban legend. If I said his name three times, he’d show up. The author didn’t detail what would happen if he did come, only that it “wasn’t desirable.” The second author amended this and said the Ferryman could be a lot of fun. I blinked at that. I wondered what the second author meant by fun?
I flipped through the rest of the book, sometimes stopping if something caught my eye, but mostly just trying to gauge how much information was actually in the book. Towards the end, the pages in the book were blank. I guess the authors were leaving space for the book’s new owner. A smattering of writing in the blank pages caught my eye.
I flipped back and found a family tree. The authors were my grandmother, Ellenore, and my mother, Thana. I noticed that the family tree went back a couple of names before my grandmother and stopped with my name. Neither I nor my mother had any father listed. I paused considering that. Was it possible that I or my mother had human fathers? Was that lemuria issue, like Jenny said it was for sirens? Is that why we didn’t have fathers listed? Or were my mother and grandmother embarrassed by being unwed mothers?
It suddenly hit me that I didn’t have to wonder anymore. If I wanted, I could ask them. I could call my mother, my grandmother, and Dee whenever I wanted. Or at least, I could once I got a little better at playing the operator of the ghost phone. I wasn’t about to attempt calling up another ghost that would drain me the way talking to my mother did. And according to the book, calling Dee was a terrible idea. Even if she wasn’t a blood relative, she meant more to me than any blood relative did.
I leaned over the book with my elbows resting on the table and my head resting in my hand. I idly flipped through the book again. I decided that I needed to get organized. Maybe Dee’s insistence on “having a plan” and “organizing my thoughts” was finally wearing off on me. My first priority had to be to find a way to protect myself. There was nothing in the book about a way to hide my ring-tailed lemurness. So if I couldn’t hide what I was to deter Sosostris, I needed a way to scare them. I remember the conversation with Jenny when she said that her family wouldn’t be interested in trying to use my powers once they realized I was immune to siren powers. If all the preters thought I was all big and bad, then they’d leave me alone. At least that was the theory. I smiled realizing that was exactly what Dee had done. Her reputation seemed to have been enough to scare all the other preters into, if not following her, at least not pissing her off.
I flipped back through the book, with a stack of sticky notes in front of me. I found the section I wanted, and I re-read it quickly. I wrote cerebus/protection on the sticky note and stuck it to the page. According to the book, cerebuses were the protectors of the ghost-whisperers. And according to both my mother and my grandmother, it seemed that only a fairly powerful lemuria could call one. Something tugged at my memory. Something about three-headed dogs. I felt the blood drain from my face recalling the night that Dee had been murdered. I remembered the dogs I’d heard when I was leaving the wedding. The dogs I’d seen or at least the reflection of their eyes that I’d seen. “The purple eyes I saw,” I whispered. “Did they show up in that parking lot to protect me?” I said aloud.
I glanced back at the book. According to it, only lemurias could call cerebuses. So Dee hadn’t called the dog to protect me. I shivered to wonder who had called him. I pushed the concerns away and looked back at the process laid out in the book. Just like the rest of the book, my grandmother had experimented and at least she’d found out that I wouldn’t need dog bones, or the wealth of other creepy stuff, legend said I needed.
I glanced at the instructions one last time, making sure I could do it. It sounded simple enough. I took the book and went outside.
The backyard was mostly in shadow. The large lawn stretched in front of me, broken only by a large metal table and a few scattered chairs. The edges of the yard, filled with trees and shrubs were masses of darkness. The light over the backdoor and the solar glow lights sprinkled across the lawn cast some light, but only a few feet. The yard was fairly large. But all the older houses on this block larger plots of land.
Looking over the yard, I wondered again about Dee’s BBQs. The guests must have been preters. Did she stop having the parties because she was worried I’d learn her friends weren’t human? I tried to remember the people she’d invited. As a child, they’d all seemed weird or eccentric, the word Dee had used. They were artists and writers and scholars, so being a little odd seemed ok. Now I wasn’t sure. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of this world.
I stood on the back steps for a minute, reminding myself to breathe. Taking a step down the stairs was the start of me walking into the preterworld. It wasn’t like talking to my mom’s ghost. If I called up a cerebus, I was choosing to step into the preterworld. I took a deep breath. Was I ready to do this? To enter this world of myths made real?
I stepped down into the yard. I walked across the grass and shivered as I stepped out of the small circle of light cast by the light over the door. My skin prickled in the cool April air. I rubbed my hands over my arms, trying to banish the goosebumps. I walked a few more steps and sat cross-legged on the grass. “Great,” I muttered as I felt the damp ground start to soak through my jeans.
I flipped open the book again but realized that it was way too dark to read it. I considered giving up, just going back inside and hoping that whoever was after Dee would forget about me, even if I knew it was a lie. I remembered the night someone broke into the house and the flash of bright light. Whatever had happened had left me unconscious for at least an hour. If someone could do that to me, what was to stop them from really hurting me next time? No, I told myself, you have to do this.
I held the book in one hand, the soft leather cover almost comforting. I thought about my grandmother and my mother both using this book, learning from it, and adding to it. I’d never known my grandmother at all and calling my mother’s ghost was the longest conversation I could remember having with her. Using the book connected me to them. Would I add to the book too?
I finally pushed all of those thoughts aside. I had to get myself a scary underworld dog, or the people who killed Dee would most likely kill me too. The book had said to clear my mind or think about nothing. I still protest that thinking about nothing, is, in fact, thinking about something, but I had to try. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the darkness. Darkness was nothing, right?
Stray thoughts kept intruding. Events of the last few days kept popping into my head. Thoughts of a million mundane issues drifted through my mind. Needing to do the laundry, wondering if I’d left the lights on back at my apartment, the photos I needed to work on, which led to realizing that I didn’t need to work on the pictures at all. I didn’t need to work ever again. Before my thoughts could take off in that direction, I forced my mind back to darkness, to nothingness.
I took a few deep breaths. According to my grandmother, I was supposed to focus first on my kundalini energy and move that energy into my sahasrara chakra. I wasn’t sure what any of that meant, but she had included a picture. It was a sketch of a person with a series of circles traveling up through the center. From her labels, I knew the sahasrara chakra was at the top of my head. According to my mother, the “eastern philosophy was deep but totally too binding with its rules.” She wrote that all it took was visualizing pulling energy from inside and directing it outward. Both agreed that after that, all I had to do was call a cerebus.
I kept trying, but neither method seemed to work. Maybe it was just that the chakra thing was so alien to me, but that seemed to get me nowhere. My mother’s method was far too vague. I wasn’t sure how to visualize energy, much less move it. I was getting frustrated and was ready to give up. All of this New Age stuff didn’t have any meaning for me. Then I had a memory of Kirlian photography. They claimed to be taking pictures of auras. Sure, Kirlian pictures could look cool. With a careful application of electricity to the film, even the most mundane objects had surreal, colorful, auras. Of course, they weren’t auras, just a response to the film and electricity. I’d once done some work with it, and one of those pictures had been on my hands. The aura had been sweeping, feathery lines of white and violet, turning fuchsia in some places.
I thought about that picture. I tried to imagine the “aura” lights surrounding me. The flicking violet and white, and the sudden splashes of fuchsia. I tried to imagine what the “aura” would feel like. The white light would be warm and soft, like a blanket straight out of the dryer. The violet would be crisper, and cooler. Like the night air around me. And the fuchsia, sudden hot flashes, but not painful. I’d once gotten one of those hot stone massages, and at first, the stone was jarringly hot, but it quickly became a deep, penetrating warmth. Maybe my imagination was better than I thought, but I could feel all of the physical sensations I’d created. While I had my eyes closed, I could almost see the glow of the colors I’d chosen.
I took all of those feelings and froze for a moment. Should I focus up, as my grandmother said? Or just out like my mother claimed? Up seemed wrong for the underworld, it had under in the name. Out seemed too nebulous, out where?
I decided I was over-thinking it, I wanted a dog, and that dog needed a way to get to me. I pictured a doggy door, the kind of hanging flap people installed in their doors. I pictured the glowing colors and warmth moving from me to the flap and pushing it open. Then I spoke, “Cerberus, come here boy. Come on puppy. Cerberus.”
Ok, so it wasn’t high falutin words, but otherworldly or not, it was still a dog I was calling. And that’s how people talked to dogs. I repeated my call, and this time, my voice seemed to ring out through the yard. Not an echo exactly, but a reverberation. I swear I heard a howl, the same yowling, yearning cry I’d been hearing since Dee died. I called again, “Come on boy, come on Cerberus.”
I felt something cold and wet shoved against my hand. I jumped and lost all focus. I felt a pinch, like a rubber band snapping against my skin, but it was over my entire body. I opened my eyes.