This is the first chapter for one of four converging stories in a book called “Through the Veil” (tentative). I’ve spent a great deal of time polishing this, in an exercise of “how good my self-editing skills can be”
Latest Revision: 2-2-2016
Chapter 1 – The Ascent
Once I regain consciousness my last clear memory is the large club leveled at my head. There’s no sensation in my limbs, no throbbing pain from what must have been a nasty knock to the head. Surrounded by total darkness I’m unable to move, as if suspended in the vacuum of space, weightless, frozen and without a sense of up or down. Count heartbeats but there are none, cry out but there’s no sound; I’m a speck of consciousness in a sea of oblivion.
I recall stories where soldiers awaken to find themselves locked inside bodies bereft of all senses, yet with minds fully capable of reason. If hell exists that would be it.
In an attempt to move my arms and legs I feel a tug, not unpleasant but extremely odd, like the slow removal of a rope from my chest. I’m elated when my eyesight returns, but repulsed by the pair of lifeless, unblinking eyes that greet me. Not a nice way to wake up, nose-to-nose with a corpse.
I begin rising upward like a feather in an updraft and the body of a young woman comes into view, sprawled on a dirty floor strewn with refuse, her arms and legs askew, face splattered by blood from a gash on her temple. The only light comes from a single barred window and the narrow, dust filled shafts of sunlight illuminate her delicate, angular head, which is surrounded by a mane of curly red hair the color of honey-laced rust.
Green eyes, fair, but pallid skin, and a thin scar that runs from just beneath her left ear to the chin.
I try to scream, but nothing issues from my non-existent mouth. I grope for my torso, to find my only connection with the material world is a silvery thread attached to my transparent, rising spirit, the tether unfurling like my dead body decided to go fly a kite. There has to be a way to regain my body, a way to conjure my powers and pull myself back from the brink. The ability to reason, to see, and experience emotions suggests I’ve only one foot in the grave, nearly a doornail, but not done yet. I try with all my might to gather the latent energy that fuels my spells, but the powers do not manifest fully and remain elusive like grabbing a fist full of water.
Death approaches and the thought seems unreal, a dream.
Will Mom appear soon, the unborn sister I never got to hold?
The possibility of being reunited with her, to meet my sister at last, momentarily makes me wish to let go of the scraps of energy I’ve gathered, to die and finally be at peace, but my weakness infuriates me and a deep-rooted stubbornness spurs me to redouble my efforts, to return to that damnable cage of flesh and blood. A thumping in my chest begins, insistent, rhythmic and powerful. As the summoned energy enfolds me a tingling spreads through glassy limbs that sprout from my silken, transparent spirit. Newly formed hands allow me to grab the silvery cord to haul myself back to my body, but as the ground inches forward an intense pain causes me to falter. Like ragged shards of glass slowly being inserted into my chest, the torment worsens the harder the pull and forces me to let go.
Perhaps I’ve gotten what I deserve, even wanted in some deep morbid corner of my soul. I chased after the demons that attacked my deadbeat Dad and I, and this is my penance: the pell-mell Darwin award for drunk, stupid witches who think they’re invincible.
I couldn’t loose him again, no matter what the cost. But, I did fail him, just as I failed to save Mom. Perhaps turn about is fair play, for he failed us. Failed me.
After years of being separated, I recently found him lurking in the Seattle underground, a witless vagabond. Our reunion should’ve been happy, but my temper got the best of me. Instead, he received the full blast of my anger, the blame for everything that’s gone wrong in my life, my fury that he’d left us all those years ago. On one of his more lucid days he claimed Mom encouraged him to leave. If true, she lied to me about what happened, and I find that hard to accept. He wouldn’t tell me more than that so I can’t shake the feeling the worldwide demon uprising is somehow his fault. But that’s unfair, I was angry that the man I found wasn’t the father I remembered.
Now he’s likely in some adjacent cell, dead or dying.
Mom where are you? Come to me like you promised!
Just before she died, Johanna told me the year leading to my 26th birthday would herald great danger, that the demons would become far bolder and aggressive. She said this with a glassy, faraway look and, though she looked my way, her gaze alighted upon me as if I stood behind myself. With great effort, her voice weak and raw, she promised she’d return and that we’d be reunited when things were at their worst. She summoned our family’s familiar; a white cat that has served us for centuries. Chester appeared, went wide-eyed and then disappeared as my mother drew her last breath.
I was left alone in a burning building, scared, covered in blood and filled with rage. I wonder if Mom watched me screaming at her side while she floated away.
She’d been right in one respect; in the past year I’ve been Buffy the Demon Slayer, with the unexpected bonus of protecting an imbecilic father, but so very wrong in the only way that mattered to me. She failed to come back. Yesterday had been my 26th birthday and … nothing, nada, bubkis, despite her reassurances. The day crept by, hour upon excruciating hour, Dad and I cooped up in our hideout. As the day waxed and waned my despair grew and one drink led to another as my anxiety got the best of me. I’m not sure what I expected, her ghost to come floating out of the wall like some beneficent Jacob Marley with answers to all the questions about life and death? As stupid as it might seem, that’s exactly what I expected, because I trusted her, because the thirteen-year-old girl that watched her mother die never really grew up, clung to her promise, and so desperately needed to be held and comforted.
But, instead of being visited by my own ghost of Christmas past at the stroke of midnight, I awoke to a pack of demons and a serious hangover.
Mom would’ve been 169 today, if I’d been strong enough to save her. We should be wearing pointy little hats – the one’s with cartoon ribbons and balloons, not the other kind – and eating cake. Instead I’m mostly dead, and she’s pushing up the daises. Pretty damn unfair, but that’s life isn’t it?
The impending likelihood of my departure from this world gives way to a whole series of regrets. I’ll miss Seattle, with it’s cloudy, but mild, winter afternoons, the white peak of Mount Rainier peering down on the coffee capital of the world. I’ll miss Pike Place Market, walking along the piers eating clam chowder and feeling sorry for myself, or pretending to read books in Pioneer Square, but really spying on happy couples as they walk along James street, browsing shops or strolling toward the Seattle underground.
I’ll miss watching Cedric perform at the 5th Avenue Theater and to never again have the opportunity to repeatedly loose my nerve to approach him. I couldn’t live with myself if a demon took his life because of me, so I shadowed him for years, gritting my teeth when he went out on the town, wishing it was my hand he held, my lips he kissed, instead of his girl du jour. After our imaginary dates I’d lick my self-inflicted wounds at the aptly named Rock Bottom Brewery, where I could drown my cowardice in a strong Irish coffee. Or two. Or three. Sometimes minus the coffee.
Coffee. I’ll miss that as much as the whiskey. I’ve the notion to summon a mouse with a little waiter’s apron carrying a latte, and have the rodent force it down my throat. Perhaps the caffeine would jump start my heart. I’d lean against its little chest and drone on about the inequities of life, lament the conviction that my dream of being reunited with those I love is nothing more than an illusion, a sick practical joke.
Just when I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse my life begins to flash by, a barrage of memories that fill me with happiness and a deep melancholy. Life before my mom died. Carefree days. Happy times with my parents, before Dad left. How handsome and confident my father once was, so gentle and loving. I’d been so safe and warm in his arms. Not like now, with his unkempt hair, terrible BO, and constantly shifting moods.
I want to scream, why did you leave!?
The demon should have swung harder. If my brains had been bashed in I might have awoken on my comfy little cloud with harp in hand, and not been subjected to this slow, excruciating ascent to the afterlife.
Happily, the Memorex moments end abruptly when I butt up against the ceiling like a helium balloon. The pain has returned, the silver cord taught and humming like a plucked string. The tether goes lax and the room becomes pitch black. A tunnel opens beneath me and I fall faster, and faster, and faster toward a white light.
Here comes Heaven; my ticket has finally been punched, but no pearly gates greet me on the other side. Instead, the after life is a bright blur that smells like salt water. When my eyes focus, the brilliant blue of Puget Sound spreads out below, covered in whitecaps and dotted with the backs of gulls that dip up and down, much as the rolling waves beneath them. A ferry tosses on the chop, the bow slicing into the water with V-shaped plumes that wash the sides of the boat in white, glittering spray.
I know this day. The day I lost everything.
A redheaded girl leans over the railing, arms outstretched, laughing when the wind blown water covers her face. Behind her, Johanna steps onto the observation deck, her hands folded across a swollen belly.
Just before I fall feet first through my younger self’s brain cap, I wonder if the outcome could be changed, our fate altered.
My descent ceases with a jolt. A plume of ice-cold spray covers my face and arms. I’m elated, joyous, because we’re close to Victoria, where Mom will give birth, safely guarded by the others in our coven.
“Happy birthday, Sibyl,” says Johanna leaning her hip against the railing.
I try to scream RUN, but say instead, “What are you going to name her?”
“Petra, and she will be powerful.”
Johanna covers her mouth, eyes widened. “I’m sorry,” she says at my deflated countenance, her eyes soft, filled with the unspoken sadness that those shortcomings evoke. “I didn’t mean it like that… Your powers will come, I know they will.”
“You know I love you. Forever, no matter what.”
I swallow hard to tamp down the knot in my stomach. As my conscious melds and fades, I know there’s nothing I can do but watch Mom and my unborn sister die again.