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Ghosts compel Josepha Brown to travel back in time to the past she might have had, were it not for the interference of her stepmother.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed https://pszr.co/dlHtP
|Fantasy Young Adult|
|4 publishers interested|
JOSEPHA BROWN is tired; tired of the seemingly endless winter, tired of her job, and tired of her loopy stepmother Maggie calling her at all hours about weird things that probably don’t exist. Tonight, she asks Josepha to please come over, because there has been an intruder in her home, and she wants to hold a seance to talk to this intruder. She is certain that it is her brother Max, who died many years ago. Josepha would much rather curl up in bed with her cat and a good book. Instead, she reluctantly goes to see what Maggie wants.
As far as Maggie is concerned, the seance is an admirable success. Josepha stole the show by falling asleep, and letting her uncle Max speak through her. The other guests at the seance are thrilled over her performance.
Next day, Josepha discovers that her boss is under federal investigation, for vague charges that do not make sense to her. Now, she is out of a job, hoping she can do something to make sure that whatever charges are laid against her boss do not stick, and do not affect her ability to find other work.
Maggie calls again, asking Josepha to come over because she has an important message for her. Josepha goes, and is taken prisoner by the people who had been guests at the seance. From Maggie’s apartment, they cart her off to a little underground cell. These people are part of an organization — the Department of Controlled Communication. Their goal is to control what everyone in the world believes is right and true. They would have Josepha instruct the dead to tell people in their dreams that the State is always right and good.
Josepha attempts to get away from her nemeses. Uncle Max comes to her rescue by taking her back in time to the year 1845, when she meets her boss and her long lost older sister.
Josepha goes back and forth in time, attempting to stop the DCCs, while staying out of their clutches. One by one, she brings key members of the organization back to the 19th century, and has them installed in asylums for the insane. In those places, she hopes they may be cured of their desires to rule the world.
The people she brings back are also key players in the lawsuit against Josepha’s boss, who, it turns out, is also involved with the DCCs. Her boss is upset and worried over what she has done. How can he defend himself against their charges, if his adversaries are living in the 19th century where they do not belong?
Maggie takes Josepha back to the 21st century, and installs her inside the cell where she had been trapped at the beginning of the story. There she tells Josepha that she was the one who had brought her forward in time to 1980, when Josepha was very little, because the child would have died of diphtheria if Maggie had not intervened. The doctor gave Josepha antibiotics, and other medications, that cured her, and Maggie just did not feel like returning Josepha to her family.
Maggie also tells Josepha to bring the District Attorney, who had been pressing the lawsuit on behalf of the government, back to the 19th century. Maggie says it would be for the best, and that Josepha’s boss can just deal with it.
Josepha manages to bring the DA back, and he is thrilled to be away from the 21st century. He never had liked being a lawyer. He did not like working with corporations. He did not like the direction the Federal Government was taking. He just wanted to get away from all the pressures of modern life. He chooses to not be bothered at all with the lawsuit against Josepha’s boss, and to be a simple gardener in the 1800s, where he tends flowers for people, and plays music on his violin for anyone who would appreciate it. He refuses to have anything more to do with the lawsuit against Josepha’s boss.
Josepha decides that she will stay in the 1840s with her sister, but she is thankful that she has the ability to return to the 21st century. She still does not know whether she can trust her stepmother, but at least she thinks she can understand her better. Maggie feels satisfied that she has managed to teach Josepha some valuable life skills.
Josepha Brown arrives home from work cold and overtired. Snow covers her walks. Her stepmother Maggie calls while she is in the midst of preparing her supper. She tells Josepha there was an intruder in her home the night before. Maggie wants to hold a seance, so she can speak with the intruder, as she is convinced that he is her long dead brother, Max. Josepha falls asleep at the seance and Max speaks through her.
At work the next day, the DA sends junior lawyers to her boss, Rudi Strauss’, office to find any sort of evidence that they can use against him, as the Federal Government is pressing a lawsuit against him.
Not so Petty Annoyances
Josepha sends an email asking for advice to her old friend, Francie, from college. Francie tells her that the girls in the dorm used to wait until Josepha was asleep, and then ask her all sorts of questions about what would happen in the future. Josepha always had answers for them.
She falls asleep on the couch and Uncle Max has a long conversation with her. When she awakes, it is the middle of the night, and she cannot sleep. She walks up the hill to the park, to watch the sun rise. Uncle Max goes with her.
When Josepha returns home, Maggie calls, saying she has some important things to tell her. Josepha goes to see her. Timothy and Loretta, from the seance, are waiting for her. They immediately take her to an underground prison.
Is This a Rabbit Hole?
Josepha does not know why she is trapped in the cell, nor does she know how long she has been there. The guards take Josepha to be questioned by someone - she does not know who. When she wakes up she is back in her apartment.
Her car and handbag are missing. She calls Maggie to find out whether they are at the house. Maggie informs her that she left those things at her home two days ago. She tells her not to worry, that a kind gentleman, who looks like Uncle Max, is returning them.
It Is a Rabbit Hole
Josepha is transported back to the cell. There, she has a hazy memory of waking up on an operating table. When she returns to consciousness, she is in front of the DA, who has been asking questions.
After the meeting with the DA, a strange nurse drugs Josepha again and returns her to the cell.
Josepha does not know how long she has been unconscious. When she wakes up, she is in her own basement, in front of the washing machine, after an unknown period of time spent in the cell.
Harold Humphries introduces himself. Josepha, in her half-drugged state, believes he is there to take care of her while she is ill.
But Ghosts Do Not Exist
Josepha asks Harold what is going on. He evades her questions. Josepha struggles to maintain consciousness. Harold does an excellent job of making sure she sleeps.
The secretary from Rudi’s office calls to tell Josepha that she should get in touch with Rudi’s lawyer. She gives Josepha three phone numbers to call, and none of them work. Josepha does a search and discovers that the law office the secretary told her about has not been in business for many years.
Francie visits. She and Josepha talk about old times, then Francie disappears. Uncle Max’ ghost comes in to take Francie’s place. Later, Josepha asks Harold what happened to Francie. He tells her that there were no visitors at all that day.
What Happened to My Life?
Uncle Max appears in Josepha’s bedroom in the middle of the night. He tells her she must see her doctor in the morning.
Loretta shows up the next morning, wringing her hands over the trouble she has got Josepha into. She offers to take Josepha to see the doctor. After that she says, “I must now go into hiding,” as she has disobeyed orders from the DCC.
Francie sends an email to Josepha announcing that she has been dead for the last two years, and has been haunting her computer during that time.
Josepha calls Maggie, hoping to get some answers about her predicament. She offers to meet her at the café on the corner. Harold storms into the café saying that Josepha belongs in bed. and Maggie starts babbling about Josepha and S & M. Harold tells Josepha that he is under orders to keep her at home. He straps her into a wheel chair and pushes her back to her apartment.
Dream Upon Dream
Josepha dreams that both Uncle Max and Rudi tell her she should go to Wayfarer Park. A clerk from Josepha’s prison hands her a sheaf of papers, a contract with the DCCs and tells her she should sign it. In the morning, Josepha finds the contract in her bed. It states that she is to offer her conscious mind to the DCCs for their use. It adds that if she is injured in any way from their experiments on her, she will pay for medical treatment out of her own funds. She is also expected to hold the DCCs in complete indemnity.
The doctor calls to tell Josepha that she should come in. She manages to drive to the doctor’s office, where he tells her the results of an MRI that she did not know she’d had. He tells her they found a chip embedded between the bones of her spine, at the back of her neck. From the doctor’s office, the ghost of Uncle Max drives her to Wayfarer Park. There she meets some of Rudi’s friends.
Rudi presents Josepha with a Gypsy caravan, or vardo. He tells her it belongs to her, and that she should stay in it. He leaves, without explaining what is happening.
When Am I?
Rudi tells Josepha that the people who built the house she has been calling home are living in it. He tells her that on this plane, she is considered a Gypsy.
Rudi leaves and Josepha hikes down the hill to get back to her house. The trees in the park are older, and the woods are much more dense. There is no sound of traffic. The busy street Josepha has been living on is gone. The house where she had been living is brand new. A woman who introduces herself as Olivia Rice Brown lives there. Olivia tells Josepha that she may be her long-lost little sister. Everything is from the mid 1840s.
Olivia invites Josepha into the house. She shows her the little dresses Josepha wore as a child, and one of the toys she played with. Josepha wants to return to the caravan, but Olivia insists that the winter storm is too harsh, and that she should spend the night with them.
Questions and More Questions
Josepha tries to call Rudi to let him know where she is, and discovers that her cell phone will not work in 1845. Olivia dresses her in a gown her sister-in-law made. Josepha and Olivia get water and chop wood to build a fire and make supper.
Olivia and her father, Ethan Brown, explore the contents of Josepha’s handbag and wallet. Ethan says that everything is counterfeit. Gypsy-made stuff, not to be trusted.
Doubts All Around
Ethan and Olivia continue to examine the contents of Josepha’s handbag. Olivia finds a photograph that had been taken soon after Josepha had been transported to the 20th century. It is nearly identical to the sketches Olivia made of her little sister, before the child disappeared.
Josepha tells them the story of her going forward in time, and being found and adopted by Maggie. Ethan accuses her of making up a story. Charles comes home after spending a few days in Boston. Olivia introduces Josepha as a Gypsy. Charles complains about the accountant he’d had to work with in Boston. Josepha offers to work at his office, to save him the trouble.
That night, Josepha sleeps in the room Olivia’s sister-in-law ordinarily uses. There are household duties and chores in the morning. Rudi, known as Thomas James in 1840s, comes to visit.
When Do I Belong?
Josepha is not thrilled over the idea of living with her sister’s family, as many unmarried women of the 19th century did. But, there are some things she likes.
Rudi walks back to the caravan with Josepha. He says he will research options for removal of the chip from Josepha’s neck.
Josepha takes the horse Rudi has left with her, down to Ethan’s place. He is much friendlier, and says she looks a lot like his wife. He does take the horse.
Back and Forth
Olivia tells Josepha the story of the bench at the top of the hill and the commemorative plaque marking where the child Josepha was last seen. There is a large stone buried under the bench, which has writing on it that no one has been able to decipher. This stone can apparently transport people into the past or the future.
Rudi visits, telling Josepha not to explore the bench, but will not tell her why. Of course, Josepha does explore it. She winds up back in modern day Wilton, 2014. She goes to the library, to see what she can find concerning the DCCs.
From the library, Josepha goes to a diner to get some supper. Harold finds her there. Josepha escapes through a window in the restroom.
How to get Home Again?
Josepha sneaks down back alleys in order to elude Harold, and is followed by a homeless man. She spends the night sitting on and pacing around the bench at the top of the hill of Wayfarer Park.
Josepha wakes up in Mass General Hospital. The nurse comes in, to prepare her for discharge. The nurse tells Josepha that her husband is waiting to take her home. Josepha suspects that this someone is Harold, so she again runs away. She decides that mid-afternoon might be the best time to make the transition back to 1845.
Harold and a man with a German Shepherd follow Josepha up the hill to Wayfarer Park. She successfully goes back in time. Olivia is looking for her at the top of the hill. Josepha invites Olivia into the caravan, and attempts to convince her that she really is from the future.
Josepha offers to walk Olivia back down the hill to her home. Olivia insists on heading out alone, and pauses at the bench, just as the sun is going down. Josepha dashes over, knocking Olivia down, to prevent her from going back to the future. But, they are both in 2014, when they stand up to brush the snow off their clothes.
Olivia explores this time and place. Josepha guides Olivia up the stairs to her apartment.
The Reality of Dreams
Josepha shows Olivia her apartment. Olivia explores the running water and electric lights and the computer.
Josepha discovers that Francie has sent her a number of emails over the last few days. Francie manifests and is introduced to Olivia.
Harold comes to the door and pushes his way in. Josepha and Olivia dash to get away from Harold as quickly as possible. Olivia remembers that there is a piece of the stone embedded in what is now Josepha’s kitchen wall.
Josepha, Olivia, Francie and Harold are all transported to 1845, trapped behind a large chest along the wall of Charles’ study. Harold attempts to handcuff Francie, whom he claims is wanted for insurance fraud.
Charles comes in and has a shouting match with Harold over who owns the house.
The Intruder is Trapped
Harold tries to use his cell phone to contact the DCCs and cannot place a call on it. He insists that it is his job to return Josepha to that organization. Francie discovers that she is alive again.
Harold tries to get Josepha to take him back to 2014 immediately. He finds a gun and tries to use it to force Josepha to act. “Take me back, or I will kill you,” he announces. Josepha suggests that Harold might be put in the barn until he has thought things over.
Josepha goes to get Ethan’s help. She explains to Ethan why she must try to stop the DCCs. The two of them return to find Harold tied hand and foot on the porch. Josepha asks him for information about who runs the DCCs, and Harold does not answer. Charles and Ethan take him out to the barn.
Aren’t Families Interesting?
The family is preparing supper. Harold hops over from the barn to beg Josepha to take him back to 2014. Josepha considers the problems of attempting to change the future from the past, in order to stop the DCCs. Her family from 1845 vows to help her in whatever she wants to do.
Fannie comes home late in the evening. Francie discovers that she is Fannie reborn in the 20th century. The two women immediately form a bond that is stronger than that of identical twins. Josepha hatches a plan to destroy the DCCs.
Next morning, Josepha, Olivia, Charles, and Ethan travel to the 21st century. Francie is again a ghost. She ties up the computer and cell phone connections to give Josepha and her family a few minutes to do what they will. She shuts down communication with the mayor’s office, the town council offices, and the police department, along with the local papers.
They take Chief Fagan back to 1845, where/when Maggie meets them, and offers to entertain him, while Josepha and her family continue to bring people back.
Time Travel Can Be Confusing
Josepha and her family meet Mayor Feather at the town hall, and take him back to the town hall as it existed in 1845, with the current mayor of Wilton in his office. They leave him with the 19th century mayor, who says he will be happy to make sure he is lodged in a home for lunatics.
Next, they take Timothy Abbadon back to 1845. They turn up in a farmyard that belongs to the Widow Crawley, Timothy’s sister.
They go from there to a diner to get some lunch. A town council member walks in, talking on his cell phone - apparently with the police. He pointedly looks at Josepha, and mentions her name twice during the conversation.
One More Man
Josepha, Olivia and Charles take the town council member back to 1845. He, Francis Drake, threatens to attack them with a gun. Josepha decides to take him back to the 21st century, but to the year 2020. She believes that would be far enough in the future to confuse him, and prevent him from causing further damage.
When they return to the house, they discover that Fannie has let Harold go.
Confusion and Uproar
Rudi comes to the house in a fit of temper. Josepha has moved several key players in the trial against him back in time. He also believes that she has destroyed the safe haven in the 19th century that he has spent years developing. He is also angry that Fannie has met Francie, her future self.
Rudi and Josepha set off to find Harold. He sends Josepha to talk to the minister in town, while he goes to speak with his lawyers. The minister tells her that Harold may be working at the law office. That is where she finds him, when she goes there to meet Rudi.
Is This the End?
Frederick Fisher sends Josepha an invitation to his office to discuss Rudi’s case. Olivia, Fannie, Francie, and Josepha go into town together the next day. Olivia and Fannie go to the mercantile and Francie and Josepha go to the law office. Harold is in the front office, copying documents out by hand. Josepha and the lawyer discuss bringing the principal players in Rudi’s trial back to the 19th century.
Josepha and Francie meet Olivia and Fannie at the mercantile and meet Franklin Drake’s Doppelganger, Cornelius Drake.
Francie slowly de-materializes, and returns to being a ghost. From there she moves on to the next stage of existence.
Mr. Fisher sees Josepha again in his office, and tells her she must go forward in time, as she is needed as a witness in Rudi’s trial.
Harold insists she must take him with her and that he will take care of her.
Josepha discovers that Harold has been telling lies about her to Mr. Fisher. That is why he wants her to move back to her own time, immediately.
Is Anything What It Seems?
The family says goodbye to Francie’s ghost.
Uncle Max reappears, saying he is keeping an eye on Josepha. He tells her that the ghost of her real mother wants her to stay in the 19th century.
Rudi comes for breakfast to talk with Josepha. He tells her that Harold spread lies about her to Mr. Fisher, making her look like a troublemaker. Josepha points out all the things that are changed, merely by being there, whether or not one wants to alter the past.
In the midst of their argument, Josepha backs away from Rudi. She attempts to sit down on a chair that she believes is behind her, and lands hard on the floor, knocking her head. When she opens her eyes, she is back in the brick dome-cell.
Maggie comes to visit Josepha in the cell. She tells her that the first time Maggie traveled back in time, she found Josepha as a small child, sleeping under the tree. The child was hot with fever and gasping for breath. Maggie rushed her back to the 20th century to the nearest emergency room. She says that Josepha would have died of diphtheria, if she had not intervened. Then she announces that they must take the DA back to 1845, immediately. She also tells her that any stone will serve to take her back in time.
Maggie transports Josepha back to the DA’s office, just in time for an appointment about Rudi’s case.
Possibilities in All Things
Josepha succeeds in taking the DA back in time. He loves it there and does not want to leave. He says he will not prosecute the case. He wants to remain in the 1840s and be a gardener instead.
Rudi returns to the 21st century to discover that there is no longer anyone to press charges against him. The DA would have to be replaced and more information gathered about him. He is able to go before a judge to have the charges against him dropped, as there are no witnesses and no case against him.
Josepha returns to the 19th century to explore what her life might be in that era. The minister expresses interest in wanting to know her better.
The audience for When Mother Calls would tend to be women between the ages of twenty and fifty. While some men may find the book entertaining, according to articles in Publishers Weekly, women tend to buy far more novels than do men, and fantasy/time travel novels definitely appeal to women more than to men.
The book is not a YA novel. However, because of the element of time travel within the story, there are young adult readers who would find this story appealing. The book is not Chick-Lit, as the notion of getting the right man is not the major theme of this story.
The protagonist in When Mother Calls is caught in the lonely grind of a job that is not quite satisfying, and a relationship with her stepmother that leaves her with more questions than comfort. These are problems that many women will be able to relate to.
Genevieve Fosa lives and writes in Wayland, Massachusetts. For many years, she worked as a ghostwriter, writing other people’s stories. Now, she is writing stories for herself.
It has been said that writers, especially writers of fiction, should have the right to sue their families if they were not dysfunctional enough to inspire the author with some good story material. When Genevieve was growing up, her family met that criteria beautifully. She has no reason for regret, and will never sue them, as they have given her inspirational material to last for many years of writing.
Genevieve loves good literature, with scenes of well-described drama, written by authors who love to play with words. She turns handsprings over text with captivating descriptions and well-turned phrases. Her boyfriend very kindly puts up with this. He prefers plenty of action, and believes that plots are only somewhat necessary. He says he likes her anyway. For this, Genevieve finds him adorable.
When Mother Calls was written to entertain. The notions of time travel and ghostly visitations seem to be interlocking, so Genevieve explored those possibilities in this book. If the book entertains you as much as it did Genevieve when she wrote it, she will have met her goal.
Look for her next novel in ten months. Meanwhile, you can communicate with Genevieve Fosa on LinkedIn and @genefosa on Twitter.
Whether Genevieve writes her own, or has a professional write them for her, she will be sending out a press release or several. She also plans to do speaking engagements at book clubs, bookstores, and libraries. She will be speaking at the local high school on the art of writing as well.
She will speak at women's clubs and the business organizations in her area - after all, writing and promoting books is a business. At one time she was a member of the Lions Club, and she definitely plans to speak to that organization, as well as others. Within the next few weeks, she will be completely rebuilding her website, to showcase this book and other books that she is presently working on.
She has joined Promocave through LinkedIn, and will be promoting When Mother Calls through that vehicle. She also has a Twitter account, which she will be using to that end. She also has a Facebook account, which is at present dormant. However, it will also be used to promote this book.
If her sister were interviewed, she would gladly say horrendous things about Genevieve.
Her goal is to continue to write fantasy novels, along with a few historical or alternate history novels. Her intention is to build up an audience of people who appreciate the sorts of work she writes.
At the present time, this writer's chief competition is everyone who has established him or herself as a fantasy fiction writer. Connie Willis comes to mind, as she has written alternate history novels about historians traveling into the past, and the problems that come up in their attempt not to change what they know happened.
There have been a number of Romance novels that use time travel to hook the reader's interest. Diana Gabaldon, with her Outlander series comes to mind.
When Mother Calls was written for entertainment purposes. It does raise some prickly questions as to the ethics of traveling back in time and changing what may have happened. However, this writer would rather keep her readers smiling, even chuckling, through the narrative, as it is purely a work of fiction meant to entertain.
Chapter One ~ Petty Annoyances
It’s up to the living to take care of each other. The dead have had their chances. That thought spun through my head as I rounded the corner in my trusty Saab 9-3, easing the brakes so I would not go into a skid. I had no idea why thoughts of the dead should be running through my mind, just then. Perhaps it was because I was overtired, and the roads were even more treacherous than usual. After a few narrow escapes from head-on collisions, due to black ice, death seemed rather imminent for at least a few people on the road. Facing the possibility of sudden death must be what brought that thought to mind. At least, that was what I told myself, as I drove home that evening.
I slid the car into my driveway, turned off the windshield wipers and the heat, and cut the engine. It was a relief to be done with the day. I leaned my head against the back rest and closed my eyes. I used to like winter. The first snowfall is special. It is the fairy snow, and I can always tell when it will come by the smell in the air, the ozone that smells of wet woolen mittens. However, middle of winter doldrums had settled in. After shoveling sidewalks too many times to count, and struggling to start a frozen car first thing in the morning so I could get to work on time, any sense of winter’s charms had long since been buried under snow drifts that were well over my knees.
I worked as an accountant in an attorney’s office with two other secretaries. One of them had quit the day before. I suspected odd circumstances at the office may have forced the girl to leave. In any event, it meant more work for everyone that day.
It would feel so good to simply go to bed and forget about problems for a few hours. I trudged up the walk, noting that the snow was too deep to ignore. I should come out right after supper with a shovel, and that was not the way I wanted to spend my evening. I huffed and puffed up the stairs to my apartment, turned on the heat and made myself a cup of tea, while waiting for the heat to kick in before I took off my coat. I sat at the kitchen table, holding the mug in both hands, to absorb as much warmth from the tea as possible.
My orange tiger cat, Tango, came in from the bedroom and curled up at my feet. He had been part of a litter born in the downstairs neighbor’s apartment. When he was a kitten, he found his way up the stairs to my apartment, and decided he didn’t want to leave, even though I dutifully returned him to the home of his birth, at least four times, before admitting defeat. As the kitchen warmed up, I fixed a solitary supper; a cheese omelet with some vegetables left from the day before. I dropped a few pieces of egg in Tango’s kibble and gave him some fresh water, then sat down to eat while reading a science fiction book for company. The heat blew in through the register, warming my back. Between that and my mug of hot tea, I very nearly dozed off. And then the phone rang.
“Hello?” I hadn’t bothered to see who was on the caller ID, and I felt a pang of disappointment when my stepmother’s voice chirped through the receiver.
“Josepha, I’m sorry to bother you like this, but I need you over here now.”
“I can’t, Mother. I have to be at work early in the morning.”
“Look, sweetheart, it’s important, or I wouldn’t ask you to do this. I need you here for a seance.”
“No ... Um ... There was an intruder last night. Someone came in and I heard all kinds of stuff going on downstairs. I don’t want to be in here alone tonight.”
“You called the locksmith about getting an alarm put on your apartment?” I called it an apartment. My stepmother’s home was part of a Nineteenth Century row house.
“I did, but they won’t be able to come around till next week.”
“You want me to move in with you till then?”
“Not really, no. But would you come over tonight?”
“I’ll be there in an hour.” I sighed, hung up the phone, put my coat and boots back on and headed out the door to make a stab at clearing the front walk. Half an hour later, my hands were burning with cold, I put an extra portion of kibble in the bowl for Tango, and headed over to my stepmother’s home on the other side of town.
Her name is Maggie Brown, and she used to describe how she had found me wandering through Wayfarer’s Park, crying for my mother. She said I had been wearing a very old-fashioned dress, and little hand stitched slippers of red velvet, tied on with ribbons. I do remember insisting on wearing those slippers, long after I had grown out of them.
She said she had searched everywhere for my parents; running ads in papers from all over Massachusetts, and contacting child welfare agencies across the state. No one could give her any information as to where I had come from, and so, she applied to adopt me.
Every time I walk into her house, I feel as though I am walking into a time warp. The weathered brownstone facing on the outside, identical to the brownstone facing on the entire block of row-houses, is not unusual for a gentrified urban center. Inside, her apartment was a tunnel of small, dark rooms, each lined with dark paneling, wainscoting, that covers all the walls from about midway, down to the floor — like vastly overgrown baseboards. Over the years, Maggie had furnished the place with antiques that would have been appropriate to the house when it was first built, during the late 1850s. She even found a stove that burned both gas and coal for the kitchen, and had been tempted to have the heat for her apartment converted back to coal. After exploring that possibility, she decided it would be far too expensive and messy.
She met me at the door, her head wrapped in a silk turban, with tassels dangling at the back of her neck. “Mother, that thing on your head — isn’t that part of the old livingroom curtains? I thought you said they were too cruddy to use any more.”
“Yes it is, darling. But I couldn’t bare to throw the old things away. They are just my colors — and so appropriate for a seance — don’t you think?”
I almost grinned. That was definitely my adoptive mother. Fatigue won out, though. I was too tired to do anything but get right to the point. “I thought you said there had been a break-in.”
“There was. Last night. I heard someone slip the door open.”
“You didn’t forget to lock it, did you?”
“Josepha, you know how I feel about locks.”
“Yeah, I know. You were the only one in the neighborhood who never locked the door when I was growing up. I don’t know how you survived into the twenty-first century without getting robbed.”
“By being true to myself, dear.”
I could have said a lot to that one, but decided it would be better not to. “I’m nearly frozen, and something warm would be good. Shall I fix you something? A pot of tea?”
“Go sit down. I’ll warm up some of the stew I had earlier.”
When the two of us were seated at the kitchen table, I continued my questions. “All right. What is this business about a break-in and a seance? Tell me what happened.”
“Well, about the seance...” she glanced around the room, as though hoping an answer that would satisfy me would pop through the walls and save her. “Timothy Abbadon, from next door should be here in about fifteen minutes, and Loretta said she would come too.”
As soon as I heard his name, I truly wished I had stayed home, curled up in my own bed with a good book. Timothy, with his syrupy sweet voice always gave me the willies. “The break-in?”
“Well, that is why I’m having a seance. You see there was this curious tapping and knocking around in the living room last night, and it kept getting colder and colder. I was mostly asleep, and thought I was dreaming — otherwise I would have come downstairs and found out what the fellow wanted.”
“It could have been the radiators popping. Was anything missing when you got up this morning?”
“No. Just things moved around. Papers on my desk were not where I had put them — letters and things like that were pushed around. But as far as I know, everything is still here. I even found a message from him.”
“There was a note on the coffee table. I found it when I was putting things away. It was from my brother, Max.”
“He’s been dead for years! Mom, someone is playing a prank on you.”
“No. I know his handwriting.”
“Let me see.”
Mother showed me the note. It was written on a rumpled piece of note paper, and it said; ‘Daisy, I’m coming back. Max.’ it looked as though it could have been written at any time within the last thirty years. “Mom, the edge of that paper is singed as though it had been burned.” I held the note out so she could see it.
“That? No. He tore it from this note pad. It has a deckled edge, and it’s stained where I spilled some coffee on it.”
The doorbell rang, so I got up to carry my bowl to the sink. “You go answer your door. I’ll take care of the dishes.”
The thought I’d had on my way home from work, that ghosts and the spirits of the dead should be permitted to lead their own existences, without interference from the living, or being asked to guide the living, came to mind. Prophetic? I didn’t want to think so. I peaked around the corner to see who had come. Timothy stood in the entry, stamping the snow from his boots. “I’m glad you’ve come to your senses, Daisy. You know, I’ve been telling you for years this place is haunted.”
“Daisy,” I grumbled to myself in the kitchen, “Since when does that slimy man call my mother, Daisy? Her name is Margaret.”
Maggie took his coat and hung it in the closet, before sitting down on the couch beside him, with a flirtatious sigh. “You are so right.” Timothy is short and round, and with his pale coloring; wispy pale hair, eyes so pale they are colorless, and pasty complexion, he looks only half-baked.
I ground my teeth, and filled the kettle with fresh water for tea. Once it had come to a boil, I put the tea in the pot to steep.
Loretta James knocked at the door so quietly I almost didn’t hear it. She is so thin I wonder if she is malnourished, and always cold. Even on the warmest days in summer, she wore a heavy dress, stockings and a sweater. This evening, she did not want to take off her coat. “Oh, don’t bother with it,” she said when I offered to hang it up for her. “I’ll take it off when I get warm.”
Maggie invited all of us out to the dining room where I had arranged the tea pot and a plate filled with raisin cookies. Loretta filled her cup and sipped, huddling in her coat. I was so sleepy, all I wanted to do was go to bed. Timothy got up, saying, “Let me take over. I know more about this sort of thing than any of you. Aleister used to be my neighbor when I was a little boy. Oh, you may not believe me, but it’s true. He was our neighbor and I used to sit on his knee...”
As I recalled, the historical Aleister had been a charlatan, or at least a questionable character. I assumed that man had lived and died long before Timothy had even been a gleam in his parents’ eyes, as the saying goes. I wanted to throw something at Timothy, sitting there looking so smug, but refrained — it took some effort.
Maggie gathered up the tea things and took them back to the kitchen. She brought back four long white tapers with candlestick holders to the table. “Now, we’ll just light these and turn out the overhead, and then we’ll be ready to begin.” I sat down between Timothy, who said he had learned from Aleister, and Loretta. Maggie completed the circle.
The flickering candles, coupled with Timothy’s droning voice, repeating over and over again something about calling the spirits to communicate with us, had me struggling to stay awake. I tried to keep my eyes open, but it was a battle I could not win. Timothy’s voice continued to drone, as spirals of smoke from the candles made lazy circles around the room. The next thing I knew, the lights were turned back on and Maggie was standing in front of me, with her hands on my shoulders, beaming at me with a large smile. “Josepha, I can’t believe it!”
I stretched and looked around. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep like that.”
Timothy stood up, grasped my hand in both of his and deposited a sloppy kiss on my fingers. “You! You are ... I have never seen anyone like you.”
Loretta held my other hand and wept, dripping tears up my arm. I couldn’t wait for all of them to let go, so I could head to the bathroom to wash my hands, or better still, take a bath. I tried to stand up, and failed. “I think I need to get home to bed.”
Maggie put her arm around my shoulders. “No, dear. After what you have been through, you are going to spend the night right here. I’ll fix up the guest room for you.”
The guest room wasn’t quite as creepy as the rest of her apartment. The bed was only a hundred-years-old, and it did have a new mattress — at least it wasn’t original to the bed. I permitted her to lead me off to her guest room, while Timothy and Loretta let themselves out the door.
It was past midnight when I curled under the covers, hoping that I could just get to sleep so that I could get up early enough to get back to my apartment and put on a fresh skirt and blouse, before heading to the office. I did not want to have to call in late or sick. Truth to tell, it would be so lovely to simply forget any problems at work.
The wind howled around the corner of the building, waking me up from an uneasy slumber. I could see by the light of the street lamp that the snow was still coming down. It looked and sounded as though the storm was getting worse.
Just as I was beginning to doze off, again, the sound of a player piano, banging away at some rollicking melody that I could almost identify, woke me up. Uncle Max had given Maggie an antique player piano when I was little. My friends used to insist on running all the piano rolls through it, nearly every time they came to the house. One enterprising boy cut two of the rolls up, and taped them together to make a new melody. The experiment almost worked — until sticky tape got tangled and stuck to the inside workings of the piano. The mess had to be cleaned out at great expense before it would play again. Maggie had been pretty angry with me for destroying a valued antique.
It couldn’t be Uncle Max’ spirit playing the old thing. Absolutely not. And whatever had happened at the seance, I did not want to know. I dozed off again, for what must have been less than ten minutes, swearing that whatever Timothy had said or done, it was a parlor trick of some sort. He was reprehensible. How could Maggie be so utterly gullible? I would like to give her a piece of my mind. And, who was pumping the player piano at three o’clock in the morning? It was a wonder somebody didn’t call the police. Did the next door neighbor own a player piano? I made up my mind to ask Maggie about it in the morning. She might be loony, but I doubted that she would have been up playing the old thing. I truly wished I were sound asleep.
I scrunched around under the quilts, almost afraid to close my eyes, for if I did fall asleep, I was so weary I was certain to oversleep and be late getting started with my day. Maybe taking the day off, or even just half the day, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I lay awake until the alarm went off, then stumbled out of bed. My mouth tasted more sour than usual. I tidied myself up the best I could, and headed for the front door. Maggie waylaid me, saying, “You need some breakfast.”
I would have pushed past her, but years of training overpowered me. I turned the corner into the kitchen, where I found a bowl of hot oatmeal at my place, a plate of scrambled eggs, and a naval orange, peeled and segmented.
“Eat something before you go to work. Though judging by the condition of the roads out there, I doubt anyone will go out at all this morning. I heard on the radio that schools are closed, and a lot of other places too. Maybe you should wait till the storm lets up before you go anywhere.”
I looked up to see out the window and grunted. The world was heavily quilted in snow. The snow plow going down the street was heaping at least two feet of snow onto the sidewalk. She might be right, but I was not going to admit that. I wanted to solve the mystery of what had kept me awake all night. “Mother, does anyone around here have a player piano?”
“Not that I know of. I still have the one we used to own, down in the cellar. Since Max died, I haven’t wanted to do much with those old things of his.”
“He had quite a collection of stuff, didn’t he?”
“The gramophone is still down there, and the penny-farthing bicycle."
“Yeah, I remember Uncle Max tried to get me on it once. I always liked riding a bicycle — but that? They used to call them bone-breakers for a reason. Ugh! Wooden wheels and no brakes!”
“Max acted like a little boy sometimes. You know I really want you to stay home today.”
“I’m going to call in to see what’s happening before I make up my mind about that.”
Maggie fidgeted around the kitchen, arranging and rearranging boxes and canisters on the counter before saying, “I can’t understand it. You and Max are so different. Why would he choose to speak through you?”
“Mother, I just fell asleep last night. I was so tired that as soon as I sat down in that chair, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
“Max was speaking through you.”
“He was not! It was a parlor trick. It had to be.”
She turned around to face me, with her hands on her hips. The bells on her shawl — did I say she was wearing a shawl with bells stitched to it? The bells on her shawl jangled as she spun around. “I saw and I heard what happened, Josepha.”
“Timothy was playing games with you and Loretta, and the two of you are so naive you believe everything he says!”
Maggie leaned over and kissed the top of my head, as she gathered the dishes to put in the sink. “You know, honey, we need to explore this further. For your own sake, you should learn how to control it.”
“Mom, there’s nothing to control. I fell asleep at the table.”
“It was more than that, dear.”
The argument was going nowhere. Besides, how can you argue about what you may have done when you were asleep and dreaming? It really was time to get out of there before we both said things we would be sorry for. “Well, I hate to eat and run, but I’ve really got to go.”
The side streets were still snowed in, but the main roads were plowed and sanded, and when I turned on the radio the weather announcer was predicting that the storm would be over by noon. I called my boss on my cell phone as I headed down the highway back to my apartment. “Hello, Rudi? I’m going to be about a half hour late.” Rudi told me not to worry, that he would be late this morning as well.
“The fact that you’re facing Federal charges has me rattled.”
“Yeah, well, I should have seen it coming. I did see it coming and I made a conscious decision to continue helping people, because it is the right thing to do.”
“You are a good man to do that.” That was one thing I liked about my boss. He stood up for what he believed in. Sometimes he had to deal with some fairly odious characters. He wasn’t afraid to sue corporations on behalf of people who had too little money to pay him. And, he had a reputation for winning cases that most people thought were hopeless.
For safety, I followed the snow plow down the road. Perhaps, if I took my time to bathe and dress, most of the snow would be cleared away by the time I was ready to go back into town. I clicked my cell phone off, parked the car in my driveway, sat back and took a deep breath before getting out.
Come to think of it, when I was in college, I awakened from a longish nap to find my dorm mates standing around my bed, giggling hysterically. “All right — let me in on the joke. What is it?” I shouted at them. They burst out laughing even harder at the sound of my voice. I recalled sitting up and rubbing my eyes, trying to get my bearings. “Explain to me what happened.”
“It’s you. You talk in your sleep!”
“So?” I was unimpressed.
“I mean, you really talk in your sleep!”
I hadn’t cared at the time. The girls were pretty silly, anyway. So, I might have answered some questions, or said something odd. When you’re in the midst of dream sleep, who knows what crazy things you might say? There were probably some studies on that. I made up my mind to look up some of those studies and confront Maggie with them when I saw her again. In the meantime, I needed to get to work.
Three calls were blinking on my answering machine when I walked in my living room. As soon as I had bathed and changed my clothes, I sat down with a tablet and pen to write down any messages that might be important. Two of them turned out to be sales pitches. The third one was a voice I thought I recognized, but it couldn’t be — not Uncle Max. No way. The man had been dead for at least fifteen years, and he was not reappearing in my life, or Maggie’s, for that matter. It had to be somebody who sounded like him. I didn’t know anyone who would play a prank like that. I played the message back to see if I could figure out who it was. It sounded as though there was static on the line, or he’d been calling from his cell phone while driving. I have no patience for that. People shouldn’t make calls when they are driving, even though I do it myself. It was a man’s husky voice saying, “I will return,” and something else that was lost in static. It left too much unfinished, and I would not believe it was Uncle Max. There was no callback number, and there was enough static on the line it could have been anyone — even a wrong number. That had to be it — just a wrong number. I deleted all three of the messages.
By the time I left my apartment, the sun had come out. What had been snow was rapidly turning to slush. Driving was easier, though it was slippery where I didn’t expect it to be.
When I arrived at Hermann and Straus, the office was in turmoil. Three lackeys from the District Attorney’s office were turning files out onto the floor and sifting through them. They had Rudi’s secretary copying hundreds of files for their records. The DA had laid an injunction against all the files, both on the computers and on paper. No work could be done until his lackeys had completed their investigation of Rudi’s office, the crime scene. Investigation of what crime? No one knew for certain, including the DA. No one said what accusations were being laid against my boss, or what they were using as evidence to bolster those accusations. I was not even permitted to speak with Rudi, as that would be considered tampering with a witness. He quietly let me know that I would be paid when the DA’s Office unlocked his bank accounts. They had all been impounded for investigative purposes. That one little aside was the extent of our communication that day.
Up until then, I had been the accountant in his office. I knew how much he charged his clients, and when and how he paid his bills and his employees. I also knew he had been doing nothing dishonest — not with his money. He was one of the few lawyers I knew who had a social conscience. He had a reputation for taking pro-bono cases at the expense of earning a living. I respected my boss, and cared about him in ways I wouldn’t if he had been more like other lawyers I had known. For Rudi, money was not the bottom line. He wasn’t a good business man, in that way.
I left the office around two that afternoon, after spending a couple of hours pulling files out from storage so the DA’s minions could cherry pick their way through them. I felt as though they were looking for something they could charge my boss with, and coming up with a blank slate. There was nothing I could do to stop the investigators. I drove home feeling depressed that Rudi had to put up with this indignity, and angry at the world for being the way it is.
The sun was shining more forcefully and the storm of the last two days had become a gray, slushy mess. Sunshine on dirty slush only added to my depression — my sense of disillusionment with the world. I parked the car in the drive and sat for several minutes, feeling the weight of sadness bear down on me.
I could deal with being unemployed for a few weeks, but beyond that, it would be too much of a strain on my savings. I thought I might be able to pick up some clients on a freelance basis, cutting down on the amount of money I would have to pull out of savings. There should be some work out there, if my job in Rudi’s office didn’t get into the papers. However, I had a feeling that once people became aware of my connection with his law office, any clients I might have would want to drop me right away. At least, that was what ran through my head as I sat in the drive in front of my apartment.
Chapter Two ~ Not so Petty Annoyances
I slowly climbed the stairs to my apartment, fixed myself a toasted cheese sandwich and gave Tango, my tiger cat, a spoonful of tuna. After I washed the dishes, I curled up in my favorite easy chair with a book, hoping I could relax. But my mind kept spinning. I was still exhausted from the night before, and very angry with Tim Abbadon and his affectations over Aleister. Yes, there had been a famous mentalist years and years ago named Aleister Crowley. The only thing I had ever known about that Aleister was that he was considered to be a charlatan.
I sat for a while, trying to read a novel by one of my favorite authors. The first paragraph was full of words. They went on, and on, and my mind could pay no attention to them. Instead, it circled round and round over the events of the night before. So, I read the paragraph again. My eyes again slid over the words, and my mind refused to connect with what they said. I put the book down in disgust and paced back and forth across the living room floor. The smell of cigar smoke began to permeate the air. Ellen, the elderly woman who lived alone downstairs, surely wouldn’t be smoking cigars, though she might have a friend who did. But Ellen was always very particular about her apartment, and had made it a rule not to let people smoke in it. This smelled like a brand of cheap cigar that they probably didn’t make any more. It smelled like the cigars — the Swisher Sweets — that Uncle Max used to smoke. This could not be happening.
I picked up the phone to call my mother, and then slammed it down. “No way! I will not add fuel to that woman’s delusions,” I shouted into the air. The air appeared to vibrate in response, producing a sound that was not a sound at all. Was it a ghost coughing? No, it had to be my overactive imagination.
I often exchanged emails with Francie, my roommate from college. We did this once every few days, to remind each other that we were still alive and kicking, though it had been almost fifteen years since we had seen each other. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to see her again, as she had been one of the young women giggling at me when I awoke from what I had thought was a sound sleep. She later told me that I had been talking wildly enough to keep her friends entertained for a full hour. They were scatterbrained and totally lacking common sense. Just the same, writing to Francie sometimes helped keep me grounded.
I did not want to tell her what might have been said the night before when I fell asleep at the table, as it flew in the face of everything I believed. Reality could and should be neatly explained and there is no such thing as Santa Claus or Tinker Bell. Still, maybe it would be a good idea to ask Francie what happened that day when we were in college and I woke up from that nap, even though it couldn’t possibly have been anything more than just silliness.
Some odd things have been happening here that reminded me of the time I woke up from a nap to hear you and Linn laughing over something I may have said in my sleep. I never did ask you for all the particulars, partly because I was too embarrassed, and partly because I didn’t want to believe anything unusual had happened. So now, after — what is it — fifteen years? Do you even remember? Did I say anything ridiculous, and what was it? I’m sure I was dreaming at the time and just said something incongruous. You know what dreams are like.
She answered my note within the hour, as though she had been waiting at her computer especially for this question.
Actually, it was a little odd. There was more than one time when this happened. You had quite the reputation back then for being able to tell the future, or some such. You were better than a Ouija board. It’s a pity we didn’t tell you about it. We all swore to secrecy, though it’s been enough years I think I can tell you. No, I should tell you. You have more right to know about it than we did. You had quite a talent then. And who knows, you might be able to profit by it: Perhaps the female Edgar Cayce?
"There were four or five of us. You remember Pam, our roommate, and Kathy and Eve, from across the hall? Linda might have joined us a few times. We used to tip-toe around you as soon as you fell asleep. Usually it was midnight or later, by the time it was safe to start asking you questions. They were about silly stuff; our current boy-friends, or ‘will I be able to pass my chemistry test on Friday?’ The uncanny thing was that you were generally right. I don’t know why we didn’t want to tell you. Probably because you absolutely refused to admit that anyone could have anything bordering on a supernatural experience.
"One night was absolutely spooky. Kathy’s uncle had died that day. He was fairly distant — she might have seen him once or twice when she was little. She didn’t even know he had died. None of us did till you announced it, at midnight, when we had gathered to ask you about some drivel — boyfriends, no doubt. You spoke saying you were Katherine’s Uncle Fred, and you were sorry you had never taken the time to get to know her when you were alive. You had all of us shivering by then. That was just before our graduation. Kathy and Pam were a year behind us. You and I went our own ways and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard from either of those girls since we left school.
It must have been the longest email she had ever sent. I read through it three times, turning my computer off and turning it back on again, at least twice. I was about to delete the message, when something compelled me, perhaps the smell of cigar smoke strong enough to make me gag, to print the letter out. I tucked it in my desk drawer under a pile of papers, and fixed some hot cocoa. The milk scorched, because I couldn’t pay attention to what I was doing. When it was done, I poured it in a mug, and spent the next twenty minutes pacing back and forth, intermittently blowing on the cocoa to cool it. I didn’t stop to sit down with it, till Tango dashed between my feet, nearly causing me to trip and fall.
I was still agitated about Rudi being under investigation by the Federal Government. The lawsuit was too outrageous. Though many of his lawsuits had been against large corporations, and there were a few where he had won some sizeable recompense for his clients. Of course, the corporations don’t like losing to a lawyer who is representing a mere human. Why would they? The basic philosophy of the publicly traded corporations is that all money should be theirs. People are free to figure out how to get along without any, unless they figure out ways that work too well, in which case, it becomes time for the corporations to put a stop to it. Still, worrying about the lawsuit wouldn’t help anything. I sat sipping on the cocoa till I burned my mouth. Then I got up, dumped it down the sink, and headed back to the couch to try to relax. I picked up the novel again and put it back down, as the masses of words still didn’t make sense. I got up, pulled the copy of Francie’s letter from the desk drawer, and read it over for the fourth time, hoping that without the back-light of the computer screen it would make some sense. It made even less sense than it had online. I thought again of calling Maggie and decided not to. It would only fuel her belief that Uncle Max was really trying to communicate with us. I absolutely did not want any more of that kind of attention from her. Those odd things that had happened more than fifteen years ago, with some girls who could hardly be trusted to get across the street safely, belonged in the past. I had been foolish to think there could be a connection.
The smell of cigar smoke was overpowering. “I need a drink,” I grumbled, slapping the paper down on my desk and heading back to the kitchen. The strongest substance I had was half a bottle of red wine that I liked to sip in small quantities, about once every other week.
By then, it was too late to go to the liquor store — at least I was too weary to put my coat on to go out for some booze. “I’ve got enough real problems, without having to worry about people who have to look for what isn’t there, in order to make sense of their lives,” I shouted at the cigar smoke that was giving my livingroom an overcast, foggy appearance.
I took a large coffee mug out of the dish drainer, filled it with wine, and drank till my bottle was empty. It left me with a disagreeable feeling of disconnect from my legs and arms. I collapsed on the couch, too weary to get ready for bed. Tango curled up on my lap. The wine did nothing to alleviate my nervous tension. I picked up the remote and began clicking through the television channels. Nothing good was on, at least nothing that I wanted to see. The one movie channel I was able to get featured a flick about a haunted house. “That’s all I need,” I muttered. I clicked through the channels again, but nothing better was on, so I let the movie play through. It would appear that everything in my world was conspiring to compel me to take another look at the supernatural.
Tango curled into a purring ball of fluff on my lap. I carefully turned around so I could stretch my legs out on the couch, without disturbing the cat. Then I pulled the afghan off the back of the couch to cover myself, and propped a cushion behind my back. Perhaps it would be nice to just let the world take care of itself for a while. I decided to put off thinking about what to do about staying solvent, while the grand inquisition continued at work. I hoped that if I did not say anything, Mother would stop this nonsense about Uncle Max having chosen me to speak for him. I was not and never had been a clairvoyant.
The movie was dull, to say the least. Predictable. I guessed right away that the villain was not the supposed ghost, but the evil uncle who was trying to cheat the lovely young girl out of her inheritance. The poor young girl was so breathtakingly lovely that the movie came across as sappy. I watched about half of it, till I was certain I had worked out the plot, and then dozed off.
Never before this had I set much store by dreams. They were things that mostly got in the way of reality. The only reality a dream holds is based on the mind working through the input of incidents and feelings from the waking world. That is all dreams represent. I refused to believe in what I could not see, hear, touch and smell, though smell had become unbelievable. The last thing I was conscious of as I dozed off, or was it the first thing as I woke up, was Uncle Max seated in the arm chair across the room, carrying on some sort of conversation with me. I gradually became conscious of his telling me about games he had played when he and my stepmother were children. He talked about their playing marbles and kick-ball and locking each other up in closets, and then telling their mother that the one locked in the closet had run away. It was fascinating stuff.
What woke me up was my uncle’s apparition saying, “A lady shouldn’t sleep with her shoes on. Here, let me take them off for you.” For some reason, letting a ghost take my shoes off just didn’t sit right, and I had to wake up, immediately.
Once I was fully awake, I wondered if any of what I remembered him saying was true. But of course it couldn’t be. It was only a dream. There could be no way to prove any of those stories, even if I wanted to. Put it away, let it go, I told myself. But golly, the smell of cigar smoke was intense. I could see it furling and unfurling around the room.
Tango had long since settled himself on his favorite cushion on the top shelf of the coat closet. There was, of course, no one else in the room. The light beside the arm chair across from me was turned on, as though someone may have been sitting there. I could hear the clangor of a player piano, softly, as though coming from a distance. The clock on the shelf bonged twice — two o’clock in the morning — and all was otherwise silent.
At least there was no point in going to work this day, though I wished I could call Rudi. But I couldn’t. If I did, I might find myself facing a lawsuit. I had better just keep out of that situation until I was called by someone from the DA’s office. I tried to think about what I should tell the lawyers when they did call me to testify, then I decided that thinking about it at this hour of the morning would only cause my nervous tension to escalate.
It was time to go to bed. Except, the player piano was getting louder and more raucous. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and put on my pajamas, and decided to take a book to bed with me. I lay, with my quilt tucked under my chin, reading until the words danced on the page, which didn’t take long because I still couldn’t concentrate. Then I rolled over and turned off the light. But sleep would not come. Along with the clangorous piano, voices from the apartment upstairs kept me awake till nearly four in the morning. At first, it sounded like whispering; not loud enough that I could distinguish any words, but incessant. No, it wasn’t the wind soughing through trees, and it wasn’t birds calling to announce the sun rising. It was more like the sort of sound you would expect from a grade B horror flick, when the director wants to build up tension and the actor is staring wide-eyed at the camera, waiting for everything around him to explode, so the movie can end and the audience can go home.
I slammed a pillow over my head to block out the sound and tried to sleep. But dreams of Tim, with his boasts of Aleister, whoever he may have been, came unbidden. Tim was floating around my room, telling me that it was time for me to get up and pay attention. My Maggie featured in that dream as well, though why she was there I didn’t want to know. She was hanging on Tim’s arm and saying, “You had better listen. I’m telling you this because I love you ... Because I love you ... ” Uncle Max pushed his head through the wall to add, “Because we love you ... ”
This was one weird dream. I tried to block it out, but instead of waking up, I found myself back in my stepmother’s house. Tim, Loretta and Mother were seated around the table. The candles were lit, and they were all black, except for the one in front of me, which was blood red. They all expected me to lead the ceremony. All I wanted to do was escape, or wake up.
“Oh, Josepha. We knew you would come! You are one of us. You are our leader and we will bow down to you.” Loretta said this. She was lying prone, six inches above the floor, peering up at me, and looking like some sort of fish, as she floated gently from side to side and back and forth. In this dream, Loretta was quite a bit more talented than in life, as while she floated above the floor, she was also seated at the table, holding my hand in her cold, slimy clasp.
Tango crawled under my pillow and began to lick my face. I was never so glad to be awakened as I was in that moment. “Are you cleaning me up, Tango?” I rubbed the cat behind his ears and decided to get up. To heck with the time. If my dreams were going to play tricks like that with me, I had better be up and about. I stretched, put my robe and slippers on, and went out to the kitchen to fix a pot of tea. There was no way I could face the day without some. Didn’t Uncle Max used to say that courage put the tea in humanity? He had taken his cue from the Cowardly Lion, in the classic Wizard of Oz movie. I wished I could get him out of my mind. Still, a cup would be good. I stood next to the sink drinking it, and stared out the window.
I remembered a man I once knew who always insisted he never had any dreams. How enviable. How sweet not to dream. My dreams had become darned pesky, forcing themselves onto my consciousness, and compelling me to question reality as I never had before. I wished that, like him, I could either forget my dreams before they distressed me, or better still, that my mind would not conjure them at all.
The clock on my stove said five a.m. I wasn’t hungry, and I was in no mood to try to read, or knit, to pass the time. The sun would be up soon, and going out to watch it rise might help me reconnect with reality — in a peaceful sort of way. I put my coat and boots on and took my flashlight out of the odds-and-ends drawer under the telephone to go for a walk. Some fresh air should go a long way towards clearing my head. It would be quiet. There was a park up the hill where I would be able to sit quietly. I might even be able to think reasonably about things afterwards — or if nothing else, get some rest that was not broken up with those odd dreams.
I headed out the door and trudged up the street, till I found the turn off onto the back road that led to the park, known as Wayfarer’s Park. It’s a name that has something to do with the history of settling this town. My grandmother used to describe Gypsies that camped there for a week or so every summer. It was just a patch of woodland yielding to a rocky hill and furnished with a park bench at the top of the hill. Some civic minded people had planted some rhododendron bushes and some perennial flowers. Three or four times a year, the town would send someone up to mow the grass. Otherwise, the area was left to nature. It’s half wild condition always appealed to me. At any rate, it was the perfect place to watch the sun come up.
I sat down on the bench with my handbag balanced on my knees, and faced east. I didn’t want to believe it, but the smell of cigar smoke had followed me through the woods and up the hill. Was it clinging to my coat and scarf from the apartment? I sniffed at my coat sleeve, but it just smelled like wool. Perhaps if I ignored it, the cigar smell would go away. It was a bit windy, after all.
The sky turned deep violet, then rosy, with at last that piercing golden orb showing itself at the rim of the horizon — “As though to slice through the heavens and the earth.” At least that is what I thought the elderly gentleman seated beside me said. He clutched a cigar between his teeth. I had no idea when he’d sat down, though he could have been there when I climbed the hill. He wore an old Burberry trench coat and a fedora. In fact, he did remind me of my uncle Max, the way he used to dress when I was a little girl. He even spoke with the same mild Southern drawl that had always softened my stepfather’s speech.
“I didn’t hear you come. Do you often watch the sun come up?”
“No. I just thought it was an odd time of morning for my niece to be out alone, so I said to myself I’d better keep an eye on her. Especially as the man she works for is under Federal investigation for fraud.”
I turned around to face him, only to find that the bench was empty. The only thing beside me was the flashlight, which I had forgotten to turn off. The world slowly turned glistening bright as the sun rose in the sky. A chipmunk ran up a nearby tree and hopped out on a branch just over my head. He dropped an acorn that landed squarely on my hat and chittered at me loudly and impertinently till I got up to return home. At least the smell of cigar smoke was not following me down the hill. If that had been Uncle Max, he was certainly talkative, for a ghost. He didn’t frighten me. He just left me feeling very nonplussed.
There would be no work at the office till after the investigation and the trial — and no one knew when that would be. Everything I had heard and read about Federal investigations made me feel sick. It appears that the primary function of the law is to protect the interests of the large corporations. Today, I would try to take it easy and begin to explore the market for freelance accountants. Perhaps, if I didn’t charge too much, some of the smaller businesses might be interested in my services. I would check the newspapers and any other listings I could find online. And, I might write a few letters and update my resume, once I had looked to see what work was available.
My cell phone rang as I hiked down the hill to my apartment. It was Maggie wanting to know if I would please come over that afternoon, as Tim had some important things to tell me.
“What could that man have to say to me?” I knew I sounded cranky, but this business with my uncle coming back from the dead, no doubt to impart some timeless wisdom, was too much. Besides, I did not want to talk with Mother about any of the things that were happening in my life, at least not until they were settled. So instead of waiting till evening, I went over right after breakfast, swearing under my breath as I drove the six miles across town to get there. I would give her a piece of my mind and hope that the nonsense would end — the sooner the better. Sometimes, I wished I lived more than a hundred miles away from her. I especially wished I lived too far away to make the trip that day. With miles and miles of distance between us, I would have had no excuse to get involved in my Maggie’s notions of ghostly appearances. I also wished that visions of Uncle Max would stop interrupting me every time I turned around.
A car pulled up behind me at the traffic light. I suspected that Federal agents might be following me, just to see if they could find evidence that I was involved in some sort of crime. Their method, from what I had heard other lawyers saying, was to simply start throwing the so-called shit at the fan to see what stuck on the so-called walls, when the so-called fan was turned on. In other words, they would look for some vague law that could be interpreted a dozen different ways, and then claim that their victim had broken it.
But this was not the sort of car that your average undercover agent might use. For one thing, it stood out too much. I had never been an antique car enthusiast, but this car must have been worth a lot. To my untrained eye, it looked as though it dated back to the late 1940s. It may have been a Hudson.
No matter which way I turned, the car stayed right behind me. Even when I barely made it through the stop light, on yellow at a busy intersection, the car continued to follow me, gunning its motor and blaring its horn. However, when I pulled up in front of my Maggie’s house, the car was gone. “Like a figment of my imagination,” I grumbled as I climbed out of my Saab.
I marched into her home, intending to tell the old lady off. Loretta and Tim were seated on the couch looking exactly as they had two nights before. Loretta was trembling — I could not tell whether from fear or excitement. Tim was smiling his unctuous smile. Mother was fluttery motion in layers of ruffled shawls. “I just want you to relax, baby,” she said, nearly dragging me to the couch.
I was about to sit down, reluctantly, when Tim rose from the couch, took me firmly by the elbow and snapped my wrists into a pair of manacles, behind my back, before pushing me firmly onto the couch.
Maggie stood in front of us, twisting her hands in her shawls. “Oh, please, Tim, you didn’t tell me you were going to do that!”
“Mrs. Brown, I told you that you need to trust me. I’m only doing this so your daughter doesn’t hurt herself.”
She dabbed her shawls at her eyes, with shaking hands. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. This is not what I expected from either of you.”
Loretta jumped up, remarkably spry for an elderly woman, and attempted to wrap her arms around Mother’s shoulders. “Just keep calm, Mrs. Brown. You know Max is watching.”
Mother immediately stepped back out of Loretta’s reach. “Right now, I don’t think I know anything of the sort. What are you doing with Josepha?”
“Yes, what are you doing with me?” I attempted to sit up straight, but could not make much headway without the use of my arms. I grimaced up at Tim, too surprised to be frightened.
“The handcuffs are merely a precaution. Now, Josepha, I am going to tell your mother to stay here and wait till I tell her it’s all right to go out. You just stand up slowly. I don’t want any funny moves. That’s right, stand up slowly. I’m going to take you downstairs and across the street.”
No one assisted me to get up from the couch, so my progress was awkward. I had to lean forward and push myself up with only my legs. I nearly lost my balance. Mother made a hasty move to steady me so I wouldn’t fall. Loretta thrust her hand in the way. “Do not touch the conduit!”
The last thing I heard from my Maggie was a cry of dismay, as Tim led me outside. Loretta followed behind, like a dog after her master. Tim opened a bulkhead door at the side of the house, and led the two of us down a long flight of stairs. I had never had a hard time with balance, but having my hands fastened behind my back, turned that flight of stairs into a frightening exercise. Time turned around several times to shout at me to, “Hurry!” At least I made it all the way down without tripping or falling.
Of all the things I thought might happen, I had never expected to be taken prisoner by a mad man. Not only was he mad, but the whole situation was mad. He led us into what appeared to be a sub-basement where office and storage rooms blossomed off a warren of hallways. It was a world that I had not suspected existed. Through a doorway, I glimpsed what appeared to be a conference room of some sort, with three or four people seated around a table, chanting a dirge-like melody. The room appeared to be round, or oval, and was apparently lit by a burning torch, perched in a bracket. Smoke from the torch made everything hazy. As soon as I saw those people, I tried to scream for help. Tim put his hand over my mouth and dragged me past the room and down another hall to what appeared to be a vacant storage room. He unlocked my handcuffs and told me to sit down on a wooden stool that was near its center. “Someone will see you, sometime,” he said. He and Loretta left, locking the door behind them.
I have seldom felt claustrophobic. I like living in small apartments. Small spaces can be easier to keep clean, as long as they are well organized. It’s really a matter of having space for all my projects. However, the bricked over walls and concrete floor, along with a single bulb dangling by a cord from the brick ceiling, were too much like a dungeon. The bricks were small and reddish, and the room was shaped like a dome, with no apparent opening for windows, or even doors. Once the door had been locked, the illusion of unbroken brick wall where the door had been was disconcerting. I turned around once and no longer knew where the door was, as the room was perfectly round. There was no way out, as far as I could tell. I was stunned, unable to process what happened enough to be able to act. The only furniture was the three legged wooden stool Tim had told me to sit on. I scratched the surface of the wall, and felt the brick clay crumble under my fingernails, so I was certain they were real, and not the fake brick wall covering that is often used to redecorate the outsides of buildings. It was like a womb, with no entrance or exit. My watch said it was ten o’clock. The thought did cross my mind that this could have been part of the government’s plan to eliminate pesky defense witnesses for Rudi, but I dismissed that as being paranoid. Nevertheless, there I was, and no one had told me why, except for Loretta’s saying that I was a conduit. That had me worried. Conduit? Conduit of what? The voices of the dead? No. That was purely someone’s over-active imagination.
My prison cell was getting cold. In fact, it was getting downright frigid. I buttoned up my coat and blew on my fingers to try to keep them warm. I stamped my feet on the floor, to keep the circulation flowing. None of these things did much to warm me.
I sat down on the stool, huddling, with my coat wrapped as far around my knees as it would stretch. Then I got up again and paced back and forth.
“Surely, there is some logical reason why I am here.” Grumbling felt as though it would be better than screaming, though the urge to shriek for help as long and loud as I could rose up until I could almost hear it entirely filling my lungs.
Conduit — that word, which could mean so much, and so little, ricocheted about in my head. Obviously, whoever had authorized me to be put in this cell would not leave me here indefinitely. This was the most frightening waiting room I had ever been forced to stay in. And for what was I waiting? I looked at my watch again. Five after ten. Hadn’t hours gone by? To maintain sanity, I began to sing odd bits of doggerel that came to mind. I had never been able to memorize music easily, particularly the words to songs, though melodies sometimes came back unbidden, like the player piano melodies that had kept me awake the night before.
“Mairzy doats — and doezy doats — and little lamzy divy — A kid’ly divy too — wooden shoe?” it was a nonsense rhyme my grandmother used to sing when I was little. As far as I knew it had no meaning and no other verses, but I stood in the center of the room, stamping my feet and clapping my hands to my sides in time to the melody, slowly turning in a circle to see if I could discern any differences in the wall and floor at all, in order to figure out where the door must be. I knew I was losing my mind entirely, when a much older nursery rhyme popped into my head; “Cowzy tweet and sowzy tweet and liddlesharksy doysters...” but it wouldn’t scan to the melody. It needed another line and I was in no condition to figure out what it should be. This quickly lost its attraction, so I moved on to that all-time favorite, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, while I stared up at the light dangling from the ceiling. When I took a closer look at it, it turned out to be an oil lamp, rather than the exposed lightbulb I had first thought.
I had once thought that it would be interesting to really live in an older time. Being a docent for one of those walk-about museums, showing off old homes and villages seemed to be the only way one could do that, and it was something I would have liked doing, perhaps. But this was jarring. The light would have to burn out, unless there was a source of oil for it, flowing down from the ceiling. The flame must be using oxygen from the room, which, with no obvious doors or windows, had very little. And why go to all the trouble to build up this dungeon? How large was it and what purpose did it serve?
Surely someone would come for me to tell me what was happening. Why would Tim want to put me in a prison? I stamped across the room and back, tracing stars by pacing up and back and forth, from one side of the wall to the other, until the futility of that exercise became unbearable. I checked my watch again, and saw that most of an hour had passed. Still, no one came. I cupped my hands around my ear and pressed them against the wall, listening as closely as I could — but no sounds came through.
Suddenly a trap door, level with the floor, snapped open, and a bucket was swiftly pushed into the room. The trap door closed, just as quickly as it had opened. I sprang to the wall, pushing the bucket aside and feeling along the brickwork, but again, could find no mark or crack that would indicate there was a door, or opening, of any sort.
Chapter Three ~ Is This a Rabbit Hole?
I did not at first comprehend what I was supposed to do with a bucket. It was a red plastic thing, similar to the one I used at home when I mopped the floors. I put it next to the stool and continued to pace the room. Five more minutes passed, and then ten. The second hand crept around the face of my watch at an amazingly slow pace. The light continued to lend its low-level glare to the room. Fifteen minutes went by. The desire to scream and shout at the top of my lungs was always with me. But not yet. “Only fools waste their energy screaming,” I told herself. I did not believe that the time for panic had arrived. That thought sounded like a slogan for those motivational posters I like to make fun of. The time for panic has not yet arrived. The slogan would be superimposed against a grassy meadow, surrounded by woodland. There would be an eagle soaring high over the meadow, and butterflies flitting among the pink and yellow flowers dotting the grass. Peaking out from behind the trees would be a row of garden gnomes, wearing peaked hats and sly grins on their faces.
I was beginning to feel hungry. Stories of people slowly starving to death in dungeons like this one danced about in my head. Visions of me as a skeletal corpse dominated my imagination. I would be toothless and my hair would fall out by the time that happened. No one would recognize me, least of all Maggie. My body would be cremated somewhere, and my existence forgotten. I had read about people simply disappearing. Often such disappearances were associated with cults that have enormous power to gain adherents, along with the adherents’ money. Rudi had fought and won against such a cult. I remembered that case, because no one paid him. He knew the family that came to him asking for help had no money when he took the case. Two months after he had won the it, he stopped bothering to bill the family. As far as he was concerned, the fact that their daughter was home and safe was what mattered. There had been a settlement of funds from the cult, but Rudi gave it all to the family.
Was Timothy part of such an organization, and had Maggie been gullible enough to become involved with anything so deadly as what this appeared to be? Fear and trembling or not, the cold made me drowsy. I sat down on the stool and started to doze — after all, I hadn’t slept well the night before.
I awoke with a start, when a trapdoor, this one about waist high, clanked open and a small tray with a mug and a brown paper bag appeared. I hopped up and grasped the tray, then stooped down to peer through the opening. “What’s going on here?” I shouted. Before the words were half out of my mouth, the door slammed shut. I took the mug. Its contents smelled a little like hot tea. I stuck my finger in, nearly burning it, and licked it to see what it tasted like. Bitter, but not too bad. I sat down on the stool and took a sip of the tea. I had left my apartment without eating breakfast, so I was hungry, and it was now about noon, according to my watch. I opened the bag. It held a hard, dry doughnut, covered with dayglo colored sugar sprinkles. I wondered if the food were drugged, and came to the conclusion that if it were, there would ultimately be nothing I could do about it. I was completely at the mercy of whoever had me in this prison. I spent half an hour dipping the doughnut in the bitter tea, and taking small bites of it. When eaten that way, the doughnut was at least palatable, if not filling.
“Oh, they can’t keep me here indefinitely,” I began to chant to the tune of Oh Susanna. “They can’t do that at all. I’ll beat them at their game so well, they’ll have to let me go.”
The doggerel made no sense whatever, but it almost calmed my nerves. Another half hour went by and I began to suspect what the bucket had to be for — except that I didn’t want to use it. I did not feel unwatched, even though there were no obvious places where cameras or microphones might be hidden, I could not shake the feeling that I was being observed. I sat, huddled on the stool, and I may have fallen asleep. My cell was tomb-like. No sounds entered it and, as far as I could tell, no sounds escaped it. The next thing I knew, two guards had materialized in front of me. They tied a kerchief over my eyes so that I could not see, and directed me quick-step down one seemingly endless hall after another. It was all I could do to keep from tripping and falling.
They brought me to an abrupt halt, untied the kerchief from across my face and spun me around so that I faced a wizened old man, seated behind a large, mahogany desk, in the middle of a round, book-lined cave.
He looked up at me with pale eyes, magnified twice their size, with a pair of wire rimmed spectacles. He could have been an illustration from any of the Charles Dickens novels, with his elongated and rather sketchy features. Besides, there was a wood-grainy aspect to him. “Your Maggie tells us you speak with the dead — that you have done this since you were a little girl.”
I stood before him, shaking, not wanting to give him any ground. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The woody little man continued to speak, like a puppet on strings. “We have assessed this. If you cooperate, you will participate in some important experiments. You see, my dear,” the man waved his fingers in front of me. They appeared preternaturally long, more like spider legs than human fingers, “These experiments could have a profound effect on world government. We could control both the living and the dead. Cooperate with us and things will not be bad for you.”
The room was warm, almost too warm, but I could not stop shivering. “Believe me — there is no communication. All I have is dreams.”
“And you think this is anything but a dream?” he shouted at me.
I awoke back in my cell. I had to relieve myself, so I used the bucket, after much pacing back and forth. Then I sat down on the stool to wait some more, as that was all there was to do, until the light began to dim.
It went down slowly, seeming to take life and breath with it, till there was only the faintest glow coming from the lamp. With the room in almost total darkness, unbearable panic rose in my chest. I gasped for air and could not get enough. My hands shook and my fingers went numb. I heard a tremendous scream arise and held my hands tight over my ears to shut out the sound. I did not at first realize that the scream was coming from my own throat, magnified by what had to be a sophisticated sound system. I shouted and cried, “No, please — let me out.” My voice came back in crushing decibels.
The light dimmed out completely, and I collapsed on the floor, my sobs pounding in my ears. I scooted back against the wall, attempting to hold my breath, as even the sound of my breathing was magnified, so that it reverberated around me like a saw operated by a mad man, rasping up and back through a stack of boards. My head felt as though it would burst from the pain of such magnified sound. I crouched down with my back to the wall, my knees drawn up to my chin, and my arms clasped tight around my legs, trying not to whimper, as even that sound was unbearably harsh.
The next thing I knew, it was morning. My shades were drawn, and my curtains pulled closed. Tango was curled up on the bed at my feet. Had the day before been nothing but a dream? No — it couldn’t have been. I had gone over yesterday morning to face Maggie down, after she asked me to meet her that evening to talk with Timothy and Loretta.
Nothing that had happened after my precipitous visit with her made sense. I rolled over in bed, and discovered two things. First; I was extremely hungry, and second; when I stretched, my left arm was sore and a little swollen, as though I had received an injection. I got up and headed to the kitchen to put on a pot of tea. Once there, I decided to cook up some cream of wheat. Then I went to the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of eggs to scramble, as well as an orange and a piece of cheese. “So, I’m eating a big breakfast. Maggie would be proud of me.” The thought of that woman being proud of me, after what she had instigated the day before, turned my stomach and I almost lost my appetite.
Tango twined around my ankles, nearly causing me to trip. So once my eggs were cooking, I opened a can of cat food and put a spoonful in his dish on the floor. I would put out fresh kibble and water for him once my own breakfast was ready.
The day before had been surreal, so I checked all the windows to make sure I really was in my apartment, and not some elaborate stage set, as those deep cellar regions where I had been the day before so obviously were to me. Thankfully, everything outside appeared to be as it should be. Was everything that had happened then only a dream? I was tempted to call Maggie to make sure that was so — but then again, I really didn’t want to talk with her. I was afraid she would tell me my creepy dream was true. Whatever it had been, none of it could possibly be real. Which meant that I must be hallucinating. Would that be preferable to believing that my experiences in the cellar had been real? I wasn’t sure.
After eating, I showered and dressed. In the shower, I discovered how puffy and sore my hands were. It was difficult to hold onto the washcloth, and my wrists were bruised, as though they had been constrained in handcuffs. Once dressed, I poked around in the kitchen long enough for it to become obvious that I was running low on groceries, and that I should go to the store, or I wouldn’t have anything for supper that night.
I was all set to go, except that I could not find my hand bag. It held my keys and wallet, my drivers license and my check book. Everything in it could be replaced, but it would be a pain to have to do that. I looked out my bedroom window for my car. It was not in the drive where I always parked it.
“Don’t tell me. I didn’t leave my car at Maggie’s place, did I? Why do my dreams have to be so absurdly real?” I shouted, as I dashed frantically from room to room, hoping that my handbag would be some place reasonable. And if I really had left the car at Maggie’s, how had I got back home?
If I could possibly stay away from the old bat for the next several years, or better still; not speak to her again at all, I would be quite contented. However, there was nothing for it but to call her, to find out whether my car was still there, or whether I had dreamed everything and somebody had stolen both car and purse, while I slept. But that didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
Everything about the day before, from the man in the fedora first thing in the morning, to the trip to my stepmother’s home, and then that freak experience in the basement cell was too outlandish to be real.
After an hour of dithering, I did call her. “Hey, Mom — did I leave my car and purse at your place yesterday?”
The voice at the other end of the line quavered. “No, dear, you left those things here two days ago.”
Two days ago. Would wonders never cease. Actually, wonders like this I could happily live without. “I guess I’ll have to call a taxi and go get them. But, Mom, that was only yesterday. There’s no way I could have lost an entire day.”
“Well, I’m not supposed to tell you, but Timothy said you were wonderful and they kept you under for hours, almost too long to be safe, but they couldn’t get enough of hearing what you had to say.”
“Mom. That’s outrageous!”
“Now that they have seen what you can do, I don’t know that there is any way to stop them from doing it again.”
“There has to be! I’m calling the police.”
“Josepha, Timothy’s father is the Chief of Police. They are all part of it.”
“What do you mean? Mom, Timothy is involved in a dangerous cult. Don’t you see that?”
“It’s important that they communicate with the dead, sweety. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t understand it.”
“That’s because there is no good reason, Mother. If the dead are any place where they can really communicate with us, it’s just our memories bringing them back, and our desires and fears putting words in their mouths.”
“Then how is it you are able to talk to them so easily?”
“Tell me about it.”
“Ever since you were a little girl, whenever you fell asleep, you were able to express ideas that were beyond your years, and you knew things that it was not possible for you to know.
“I never told you this, but I used to be afraid to put you down for a nap in the afternoon, because if anyone said anything, you would talk. My brother once, just to be silly, asked you which horses would win the race that day.”
“What did I say?”
“You told him that the spirits didn’t concern themselves with that sort of thing.”
“Sensible of me.”
“You were five-years-old. This was right after we first found you.”
“Mother, this is crazy. I hope I never see Timothy or any of his buddies again. Do you understand? If he dares to come around here, with his talk of Aleister, whoever he was, I will get a protective order against him.”
"Well, I don’t think it’s possible, honey. They’re like the Ku Klux Klan. All the important mucky-mucks belong to that association, but it’s for a good cause, sweetheart. An important cause.”
“Frankly, I find this unbelievable. Mom, I’m coming over to get my car.”
“Don’t bother, dear.”
“Because somebody just took it.”
Usually, I try to keep from yelling at my stepmother. Blame it on being over-wrought; I could not contain myself. I screamed at her. “Why didn’t you stop him — whoever he is?” I could almost hear her cringe.
“For one thing, he looked like he knew exactly what he was doing — oh, look — he just pulled out onto the highway. And, for another, he looked an awful lot like your Uncle Max, the year before he died. That old brown fedora that he always wore, and the Burberry trench coat, no matter what time of year it was.”
“You can’t let some strange guy take my car, just because he happens to look like your dead brother!”
“Josepha, I would suggest you sit tight for a few minutes, and if he doesn’t bring your car over to you, then you may call the police. Unless of course, he is part of the experiment that Timothy and his friends are conducting. But really, dear, I wouldn’t worry about anything.”
“Look — Mom — you saw the handcuffs Timothy put on me yesterday — sorry — the day before yesterday — didn’t you?”
“What handcuffs, dear?”
“You mean you didn’t see them? Mom, you were right there.” I rubbed my sore wrists in exasperation.
“No, I saw you and Loretta follow Timothy out the door, and you kissed me goodby as you left.”
“When did you come up with that? I was in handcuffs and I nearly tripped and fell as Timothy pushed me out the door!”
Maggie poo-pooed my account of the events.
Had the man in the fedora picked up my car or was Maggie entirely potty? Potty, a wonderful British expression, meaning not all there. It summed her up very nicely. Well, even if the old biddy were going through a second childhood, I needed to get some questions answered, immediately.
“Didn’t you tell me to meet you in the evening because your Timothy had some important things to tell me?”
“What? No. You just came over.”
“Well, the three of you, at least Timothy and Loretta, were certainly prepared for me.”
“They were as surprised to see you as I was.”
“They were prepared. He wouldn’t have had the handcuffs...”
“Dear, there were no handcuffs. The three of you just marched off, with hardly a word to me — oh yes, you did kiss me on the way out.”
“If there were no handcuffs, why are my arms sore and bruised?”
“Don’t ask me what you do at night, or where you go. I tell you I wouldn’t want to meet any of your boyfriends in a dark alley!”
“My boyfriends? Mother, I haven’t gone out on a date for almost a year. What are you talking about?”
“The last I heard, you were involved in some sort of S & M club. God knows, dear, I’ve been so worried about you, though I haven’t wanted to say anything.”
“Mom... Let’s talk later.”
Now, on top of everything else, was Maggie delusional? Though the fugue I had experienced may have been two days, rather than just one, and would point to my being the delusional one. I clearly remembered some sort of office and a dungeon deep underground. I couldn’t believe that nobody else knew about those things. Who would believe me?
But, S & M? I doubted Maggie knew what those initials stood for. I could only imagine what certain twisted people might do to each other in order to become sexually aroused. The thought of it was revolting.
Help would be great, but where could I go to get any? I stepped outside to get the paper and found two newspapers rolled up in their plastic sleeves by the door, along with a large pile of junk mail in the box.
A car coming down the street caught my attention, as it looked like mine. It turned the corner and parked in my driveway. I stood at the front door waiting for someone to get out of the car, not certain who to expect. Perhaps the old gentleman I had seen the morning before. But, no one got out of the car. The longer I waited, the less likely it looked as though anyone would. I tip-toed down the walk, half expecting that someone would pop out of the car to ambush me. When I arrived, there was no one in the car at all. My purse was on the front seat, and my keys were in the ignition. I peered down at the floor, both in front and in back, as though anyone other than a child or a contortionist might be able to hide there, before I opened the drivers’ door to retrieve my possessions.
Here it was again — the supernatural intruding on what should be an ordinary event. Someone had kindly returned my car to me. Why should that person have slunk away, in broad daylight, without letting me thank him? The only thing indicating who it might be was the sweetly sickening smell of cigar smoke. Uncle Max. It was a pity he had died when I was a little girl, and I had only a vague memory of him. Old — perhaps, but anyone over the age of thirty seemed old to me then. No, whatever was happening had to be a hoax, and I wanted to get as far away from it as possible.
Marching over to Timothy’s place to have it out with him could get me into more trouble than not. And now, I was afraid to even speak with my stepmother. At least, I didn’t want to discover any more of her delusions.
I couldn’t leave town, because I would be wanted to testify on behalf of my boss. Rudi must be going through his own version of Hell and I really felt bad for him, but I couldn’t even call him up to let him know I was thinking about him. Any communication, even the most innocent would be construed as tampering with a witness, and was strictly not permitted.
It appeared that the only thing left to do was to get drunk. But, that wasn’t an option either. I hadn’t tried to get drunk since my graduation from high school. The sense of losing control had been distasteful then, and it had little appeal to me now. Besides, I wanted to keep my senses alive, to know where I was and what I was doing. I grabbed my handbag and keys from the car, picked up the two newspapers that were on the sidewalk and marched inside.
Begin with the simple and stick with the possible, had always been my motto. Obviously, my car could not have driven itself back to my home, and there were no ghosts capable of materializing to such an extent that they would be able to drive it back for me. Could someone have driven it back and then snuck away, while I watched from the front step? No. That would be ridiculous. Besides, I couldn’t imagine what I have that someone would go to the trouble to build up such an elaborate hoax in order to get it. I could not come up with any ideas that made sense.
There were more important things to consider. First, I needed to know what day it was. My cell phone was still in my handbag. I opened it and yes, there was the day and time... 10:30 in the morning, on Tuesday, January 21. Hadn’t yesterday been Sunday, the nineteenth? I turned on the computer to make sure. Both my cell phone and the computer agreed that it was Tuesday. I only have the evening paper delivered, as I like the small town feel of it. When I want the world news, I can pick it up on the internet, in all its glaring awfulness. But there were Sunday’s and Monday’s papers. The newsboy would deliver today’s paper by five o’clock. Splashed all over the front pages of Monday’s paper was news about Rudi Strauss and the nefarious doings at his office. There was also news that I could be in trouble, as no one had been able to find me for the last two days, and that I had been called by the D.A.’s office for questioning on Monday morning.
Now what? I could be fined large dollars, or even sent to prison for contempt of court. I could only pray that Maggie hadn’t told anybody that I had spent the last few days performing acts of S & M with some unsavory men. But no, if she had even hinted at such a thing, the news reporters would be lining my sidewalk. Thank goodness for small favors. I would have to call the D.A.’s office and let them know I had not left town. Except, I had no idea what I could say about where I had been. Should I tell them that I’d been trapped in someone’s cellar for almost three days, possibly drugged out of my mind? That wouldn’t fly. What kind of witness would that make me, if I’d been drugged — all because some people think I can speak to the dead when I’m asleep.
Perhaps I could tell the D.A. I had been sick or delusional, or simply incapacitated. I was certain they would love that.
Who did I know who could run some blood tests for me, and keep quiet about it? If Timothy and his friends had drugged me, and it seemed likely that was the case, news reporters could easily run with the information and make it sound as though I were an addict of some sort.
Rudi had dealt with a number of doctors — men who were willing to sit down and analyze the data from some of the cases he took. Perhaps, one of them could have the blood work done. But most likely not. These men were specialists in their fields, and highly expensive.
I don’t have a doctor who I like. The last one I saw had mainly shrugged off my reason for seeing him — a trick knee that was getting painful — saying the discomfort was all in my head, and told me I should see a psychiatrist. “He’ll give you a little pill to take,” had been the doctor’s words. But, I did not want to take a pill for mental illness. I had always had a perfectly good hold on reality — up until a few days ago. And, I was certainly not interested in being diagnosed with cancer, thank you very much. That had been the doctor’s second choice for me. That last visit had been more than ten years ago. If my knee had been cancerous, as he hoped, wouldn’t I know it by now? It’s best to stay away from such things. When somebody — especially a doctor — really looks for trouble, he’ll find it. I saw an article supposedly written by a doctor on the internet. He said that the best way to stay healthy is not to go in for yearly checkups. My feelings exactly. That old nursery rhyme came to mind: I do not like thee Doctor Fell; The reason why I cannot tell. But this I know, and know full well; I do not like thee Doctor Fell.
I wracked my brains until I recalled a conversation Rudi had with another lawyer. They were talking about an elderly doctor in town who had fairly advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The lawyers both agreed that the old man should not be in practice, but he was, thanks to the local chapter of the AMA, of which that doctor was president. None of the members wanted to take away their fellow practitioner’s license and dignity as a physician. After all, the old man had published a few good articles in the medical journals, back in his day, and he hadn’t hurt any of his patients — badly.
“It’s MDs like him that keep us in business, isn’t it Rudi?” the other lawyer had said. And they both laughed.
The thought occurred to me that such a doctor might not be likely to ask many questions, and would probably not disclose the results of my blood tests to the legal eagles. Now, which doctor had it been? There were at least a dozen internists listed, who I didn’t know anything about.
I wandered online through the yellow pages, looking for a name that sounded likely. Perhaps, I should see someone out of town. Maybe, if I paid in cash I wouldn’t have to give any ID and I could give them a false name. But I’d have to give the doctor’s secretary my real phone number so she could call me with the results. That was the problem with being involved as a witness, perhaps a key witness in a Federal case. If I were found to have consumed some strange concoction of drugs, every word I said on the witness stand would be called into question, just as surely as if I wore a sign taped across my chest, saying Unreliable. No, Rudi meant too much to me. I could not permit the D.A. to make mince meat of my testimony.
Still, I had to learn what had happened to me. A stiff dose of psychedelics, Sodium Pentothal, or some cocktail of drugs that some misguided person had dreamed up? I didn’t want to credit Timothy with the intelligence to do that.
The smell, or should I say the stench of cigar smoke suddenly became overpowering, and it was all I could do to keep from gagging. Then the computer screen went haywire, scrolling automatically all the way to the bottom of the page, and staying there. I tried to bring it back to the top, as I had not been able to decide whether Dr. Abelard or Dr. Kraut would be more to my liking. But the only name I could access on the screen was this Dr. Wozysnouski.
“Is that you, Uncle Max?” I called in the general direction of the cigar smoke, as it billowed over my shoulder.
I clicked on Wozysnouski’s name and up popped the photo of a white bearded fellow who looked like a stand-in for Santa Clause. His beard covered his chest, and was bushy enough to hide birds nests. He also had apple round cheeks and a round nose, which had to be bright red, though his picture was black and white. The curser zoomed in to point at the doctor’s phone number. Hmm. Santa Clause. Did I have any feelings one way or the other about that myth? Not really, only that Christmas was often disappointing. I tried to scroll back to the top of the screen again, but could not. So, whether my uncle had pointed this doctor out to me or not, he was the only doctor I could access.
The secretary answered right away. “Dr. Wozysnouski’s office. May I help you?”
“Yes. I’d like to have some blood tests done.”
“What do you want to be tested for?”
“Well, you see, it’s an odd situation. Or at least I’ve had some terribly odd experiences over the last few days, and before I say much more, I’d like to know if I have been drugged, and if so, what with.”
The receptionist called for the nurse, who told me there were several tests, and they would need to have an idea what sort of drugs to look for. She added that if my experience was more than a few days old, any drugs that might have precipitated it could have already been flushed from my system, and not be found in a blood test. “Besides, blood testing sometimes yields false positives for certain drugs.” The nurse went on to say that if my experience was a one-off, I could be better off forgetting about it, and she explained that there are so many things that can cause hallucinatory experiences that it may be impossible to pinpoint what the cause was of a particular event.
While I appreciated her explanations, I had to know what had been happening to me.
“Could I make an appointment to see the doctor right away?”
“Why don’t I send you directly to the lab we use?”
“Um, yes — except I’m not sure which drugs to have them test for. Hallucinogens, maybe? That would be a start.”
“If your experience was that much out of the ordinary...”
“Very much so.”
“Then that would be a good place to start and as I said, the sooner you get tested, the better. Miss?”
“Brown. Josepha Brown.”
Why is it that when I’m nervous, or in a tight situation, I invariably blurt out the truth? Or, when I am in situations where there is no reason to hide the truth, I tell a fib. This time I told the truth, even though my name had been splashed all over the front page of Monday’s paper. At least the nurse only sounded grave. With any kind of luck she wouldn’t recognize my name. Or, maybe she hadn’t wanted to embarrass herself by asking if I were the infamous Josepha Brown who had disappeared at the beginning of a juicy legal investigation. She calmly gave me the address of the lab they use and told me to get down there right away.
My next step was to call the D.A.’s office and let them know I was back in town. The secretary who answered the phone was prime ice. Not a word of encouragement. “Where were you? You were instructed not to leave town.”
“I’ve been sick.” Well really, what else I could say? “Running a fever.”
“So, you spirited yourself away in a feverish state of malaise?”
“I... I stayed with a friend.”
“We’ll let you know when your next appointment to see Attorney Mulhouse will be. Do not miss it.”
I felt as though they could have arrested me over the phone. I ended the call with the secretary as quickly as I could. I wanted to cry, but instead I put my coat on and headed immediately to the lab. Well, Uncle Max may have been right. Dr. Wozysnouski’s nurse had called the lab and told them to expect me, so all I had to do was waltz in. In truth, I wasn’t waltzing, I was cringing in fear. Would someone at the lab, or in the doctor’s office report the fact that I had sought medical help to the newspaper? Would I be able to keep Timothy and his friends from knowing what I was attempting to do? The fact that Timothy’s henchmen may have dosed me with LSD, or other such drugs, was secondary. I wanted to figure out what was happening, without making things worse.
At least no one at the lab asked any embarrassing questions. The phlebotomist efficiently stuck a needle in my arm and drew out three large looking vials of blood. The receptionist told me at the desk that it would be several days before I would hear the results, but that they would call Dr. Wozysnouski with them as soon as they were in. There was not much more I could do but head back home and wait for the call from the D.A.’s office. This time, I would be there for the appointment.
There was no call from the D.A.’s office that day, nor was I served with any papers. I sat around my apartment, all afternoon, not even daring to go down to the cellar to do my laundry. That evening, I ate my supper and then dashed off an e-mail to Francie, not certain what to tell her of my adventures underground. This was beginning to sound like Alice in Wonderland. Francie had always known me to be super grounded in reality. If I told her what had been going on she would think I had gone bonkers. Besides, e-mails are not precisely private, are they? In some ways they are even more public than the old-fashioned post card used to be. At least those were only read by the post man, and he was seldom interested in that sort of stuff. Now, I read that our government is monitoring all our e-mails. Except, that is a conspiracy theory, and believing conspiracy theories to be true is considered to be a sign of insanity. So, I suppose I am insane.
By nine that night, I came to the conclusion that I was not likely to be served with any papers, at least not that day, so I gathered up my laundry and hiked it down the stairs. I had just got it into the washer when Timothy tapped me on the shoulder, saying,
“Pardon me, but you are wanted.”
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