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a Descendants novel
By J.J. Cross
Final Report: Descendant Jairus ESK Spoken and Composed simultaneously with the Sacred Pencil Submitted by Dr. Rev. Aloysius Parnell St. Michael Most Holy Father
Descendant ESK was identified early, through no fault of her own. Our preference is for complete anonymity, but if I might editorialize ever so briefly that is a standard harder and harder to meet in our contemporary society. Lives are so much more public now, more so than in any moment of our and the world’s recorded history. Hers has been a storied and much publicized life, in accordance to her time, regrettably so. Only six when she died of a broken neck in a car accident, ESK came relatively early to her gift. It was this accident that brought ESK to our, belated, attention. But not theirs. ESK’s mother, the driver, was killed in the accident, and the father, holding ESK in his lap, recovered, but was subsequently imprisoned. He shot the mother while she was driving. He himself had a gunshot wound to his left thigh. ESK was thrown through the front windshield, travelled one hundred yards or so and hit a tree before coming to rest on the highway, dead. Her neck had been broken, a paramedic shouted as they triaged the accident. The paramedic left the baby where it was on the highway, covering it with his jacket. As on-sight emergency crews were obtaining a gurney to collect the baby, something happened. It was so quick. Thankfully, it was one of ours. A man in a brown
3 suit, with white hair and barefoot, was seen tiptoeing through the broken field of glass, kneeling beside ESK, gently touching the baby and what exactly was performed is hard to say, touching ESK and then that ESK began to cry. Everything stopped. The commotion came to an utter halt. The baby cried. The man rose, took the same path back, and disappeared never to be seen again. A photographer across the street took a picture of a stunned medic holding the now wailing baby up in his arms, close to his chest. The paramedic opened up his jacket and slide the baby inside. The next day on the front page of the daily newspaper the headline was “Baby Back” and the cutline under the picture said what happened was “inconceivably true.” That was our Singularity some twenty years ago now. Other earlier incidents were kept out of the media’s reach. So, it was pertinent that we acted then, and acted as early as we did, which is highly unusual, we agree, but this final report should shed light on this early and prolong interventions on our part. The immediate circumstances that night took care of many of our initial concerns. The mother was dead. The father was incarcerated. The child was temporarily and then permanently installed as a ward of the state and a foster father was acquired through the demands of ESK’s biological father, in a deal with the DA’s Office. ESK was provided with a new name and home; the media attention soon waned, and fell off entirely. But we kept our vigil, as per Protocol 24b of the Descendants Standards and Protocols, Vatican II, “Surveillance and Chronicle Directives.” Weekly, and monthly reports have been composed and filed for the past two decades, which Bishop Buechner has been apprised of and discussed with me; this final report includes information from those briefs, and also brings the present matter to your holiness today.
5 Baby ESK was born December 25, 1991. She died June 12, 1991. And was alive again August 12, 1991.
Most Holy Father, that’s just the beginning. Shall I begin the full report now?
“Get up girl!” someone yelled from the encircling crowd. Eloquence Skylar Robinson got herself up from the dusty school yard, brushing away the dirt and fire ants from her jeans. Her left eye was slightly swollen, but no matter, there was a lo of fight in this feisty girl. Even standing, Bo Boudreaux, the eighth grader with man hands responsible for Ell’s troubles, towered over her; Ell fell back down again, and spider-walked backwards away from his shadow as drops of stinky sweat fell on her. OOoooo, went the crowd as Ell scurried to her Keds again. Time was doing crazy things, zooming and and out of her breathing. Tiny knives. Her heart pulsed in her head. “Not talking too tough now are-ya, bitch,” Bo said, spittle and all, leaning his chin into the space between them. OOoooAaahh, the crowd reacted. Ell leaned back as if to focus her attention. The crowd continued to close in and cheer, mostly for Ell who was popular for having a big mouth and a suicidal attitude, and therefore hated by Bo, a taxidermist’s son with thyroid issues. The issues made him a tad too large for anything but college, and so by default Bo was popular too, but his popularity was based almost entirely on fear. Ell wasn’t afraid of Bo; she wasn’t afraid of anyone. Ell sneered as her heart rate slowed to an easy march, and all the space around her sluiced more fluidly into her vision. She took a quick look at her badly scuffed wrist watch, a gold Philips Patek Celestial men’s watch even she was ignorant of its extreme value. Thankfully, the face was turned to the inside of her wrist before the scuffle, a move she’d long ago perfected with the heavy watch,
7 jiggling her thin wrist. Back in the here and now, incensed Bo not getting Ell’s full and undivided attention smacked her with an open hand to her head, “Got somewheres to goya? Go home to yo Momma!!!!” Bo turned guffawing at his own joke, lifting his shoulders and chest in tiny repetitious burps. “She aint’t gots no Momma,” he said to his pals, a scrawny duo of bad teeth and greasy hair. This turn, allowed Ell to inch closer. Smarting from the slap but having more important things to do, Ell turned, not jiggled, her wrist and glanced down to see the elegant gold second hand sweep silently across the night blue face of the watch. And looked up with perfect timing. No one talks about Momma. The school bell rang. In an awkward ballet of body and timing, Bo faced forward to throttle Ell again, but then instinctively turned, with his fist frozen in mid-air in front of him, to glance at the school where the clarion had sounded. As he returned to finish off the blonde beeawche-a Bo perfectly reeled his arm back and in turn placed his face in the wrong place, and the wrong time. Agile Ell was off her feet in anticipation to meet the dumb mug, her right arm cocked behind her, and as Bo’s face came front and center so did Ell’s knuckles. Her fist thrust under and up Bo’s bulbous nose, which moved, crunched and exploded in a spray of blood. Bo fell back, his arms up, his hands to his nose finding it not where it usually was, but over to the side. Ell straddled the fallen beast, “Never talk about my Mommy.” Bo was crying like a baby. OOoooAaahhh. Ell stepped over Bo and continued on her way into school to a chorus of approving cheers. She picked up her pace so not to be late. Ell jiggled her watch-face, right side up.
8 “Of course, of… if only I could find her…” said Sexton instantly regretting his words, which he often did; he wanted so badly to impress his guest whose presence filled his garage and the poor trembling Sexton with a toxic combination of overwhelming admiration and utter fright. The time had finally come, he thought. It’s finally here. He bit down on his lip. “I mean you know.” To look around for the twelve year old, he came out of his garage, which he regretted wasn’t in better order; it was a catastrophe with oily car parts on every available surface, and an array of tools were scattered everywhere. His rusty and faded red Ford truck he was working on, when the visitor came, sat there like a ancient and ailing beast, the hood up in a gigantic yawn. The air was laced with oil, old wood and stagnant water; noxious Spanish moss encasing the garage was riddled with snared tropic storm garbage. “Mr. Abe Sexton” his guest said pleadingly, which Sexton ignored. Sexton stepped out from the garage and looked up and down the sun-dappled road. Everything sizzled in the humidity. “Ah.” He didn’t have a clue where she was. His watch confirmed he was utterly irresponsible, since it was near dinner time. Sexton knew Ell was probably goofing off with Cesar Morales, her friend from across the street. The man behind him, Dr. Argus Fox, and his nasal-breathing made Sexton all the more anxious and impatient; he didn’t want to keep him waiting and of course worried too that Eloquence – everyone called her Ell – would arrived and somehow cast aspersions over his parenting skills. What skills. Behind Sexton, sitting erect at a picnic table in a three-piece suit, Fox looked to be sizing up his host. His face wore skepticism plainly; his eyes took inventory of the evidence to that fact. He’d expressed as much. It was remarkable though how many years
9 Sexton had fostered Eloquence Robinson without asking for a dime over the allowance sent for her care by the state, the doctor had said with eyes behind his ovals squinting. Fox had looked into the garage as if checking to see if there were piles of money stored there. Sexton prayed Ell came in with a good mood. He could use a beer. “Beer?” he asked looking back over his shoulder at Fox, who he thought crazy in this humility for wearing a steel-gray suit with vest, white shirt, and black bow tie. He hadn’t broken a sweat and didn’t look like the beer kind pecking the air now with his nose, his glasses ovals of white light, but Sexton was glad he asked anyway. “That would be nice,” replied Fox who rose and rocked on his heels. Back in the garage, Sexton glanced at the filthy numbers on a broken down microwave he plugged beside the fridge, when he hauled out two beers in bottles from the noisy ice box, where in the freezer he kept stacks of cash and idea so cliché, but given so, so tricky. He motioned for Fox to sit at the picnic table; it was relatively clean. “Ell should be home any time now. Right now usually she’s either shooting hoops with Cesar, across the street there, or down at the little strip mall at the end of the street, in the coffee…” When Sexton had motioned with his hand that Cesar lived across the street, he glanced over there to see Cesar, flesh and blood, atop a skateboard in front of his own house. Cesar and Ell grew up together and Sexton knew Cesar was madly in love with the girl. He also knew Ell was not that interested. “Cesar,” Sexton yelled out and rose to walk down his driveway. Cesar looked up and stopped applying a quick dismount. He tugged an ever-present single ear bud from his left ear, and shook his crow black hair out of his pimply face. “Cesar: where’s Ell?” The little
10 skateboarder trotted across the street, his skateboard tucked under his thin arm. “Ell? I don’t know, Mr. Sex.” “Cesar don’t call me that. Where was the last place you saw her?” Cesar thought about it a moment, “The little strip mall at the top of the street.” “Time was that?” “Right after school, on our way back home.” “Alright thanks,” Sexton turned to walk away. “Who’s the guy in the suit? What’s this got to do with Ell?” Sexton turned back, he didn’t really want to talk about it. Talking somehow made everything worse. “Someone who wants to talk to Ell.” “Is it about her mother?” Sexton shook his head and then pulled a large binder clip that served as his wallet from his back pocket. He pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Cesar, head over to that mall, find Ell, and tell her she needs to come home.” Cesar didn’t take the money. “I’ll go get her.” Sexton folded the five dollar bill back into the binder clip and slipped it into his back pocket. He turned, and nearly walked right into Fox. “I’m going ah…Cesar’s gone to get her.” On the walk back, he said to Fox, “Ell’s never been told about much about her mother, and even less about her father.” “That’s why I’m here.” What Ell knew was more than Sexton told her. She knew her mother had been killed by her father, and that her father was found not guilty based on insanity and was institutionalized. Her father came from a big Houston family -- The Kings, of King Oil.
11 The two men sat down at the picnic table just outside Sexton’s garage where two sweaty beers sat on the table top. After a few gulps of beer the two men sat in relative silence; cicadas in the trees served up a constant sizzle, and further away a river of commuters on an interstate all hummed the same tune with their cars. Sexton one-hand fumble-juggled a few hex nuts, which had been lying on the table. “Aren’t you scared?” he asked not looking up from the tumble in his palm. “Of the inmates?” Fox replied in a voice that suggested he knew full well what his acquaintance was after; work with the criminally insane, and everyone wants to know if there’s a Hannibal Lecter or John Wayne Gacy types. Fox was the director of a prison ward for the mentally insane in Huntsville, a few hours north of Houston. He scrunched his nose and nodded. “I suspect more are afraid of me. You know I’ve gotten to know Eliot quite well. Complex man, that.” Sexton stopped moving the cold metal, which he always thought felt and sounded like bullets. “Usually she’s here on the dime and well, she’s my little lady, really. What I say goes,” he said to change the subject. He regretted saying that. Fox started at him a beat, and said, “My?” This made him sit back. “I raised her is all I’m saying…” Fox inched forward over the table, “But she has family.” It was Sexton’s turn to lean over, and felt a thrill just doing so much so that he almost forget to say – “Had family. Had parents. One’s been dead over ten years now – died in childbirth we tell her, and the other is with you, which she doesn’t know about. She was told several years ago her father was on oil worker and had disappeared in Venezuela. She’s never known about who you have.”
12 The doctor stood and went to the entrance of the garage and spoke to Sexton without turning. He said, “Yes with me. Her mother? We have no idea, just one of his whores it was supposed. Her father was like that. A carouser and drinker who loved the low life, the common people. Eliot was never really well liked by the family. They thought he consorted with trash,” Fox said turning to look directly at Sexton. “But the father, regardless of his situation, remains her father – the family has never ordered a paternity test; maybe it would confirm their worst fears. And of course she was cut off not only in name, but also from the King estate, save the monthly allowance deposited in her account for her care, yes we know about that; the great-grandmother made that happen through her lawyer against the explicit wishes of the family. All discreet, but still.” “I thought that was from the state.” “Yes, it was made to seem so. But no, I’m to understand there were no records of this -- arrangement.” Sexton thought for a moment about the little girl he’d raised as his own. “So she’s going to find out everything. That her mother was murdered and that the man who killed her mother is her father, an heir to a billion-dollar oil company. Got that right?” Fox didn’t respond. Sexton was surprised about the money. He thought he knew everything; he knew Ell’s father, had known him since their days together working in the oil field for King Oil. Sexton could still hear Eliot’s frantic phone call; in his mind he saw the newspaper headlines, remembered the court case. He didn’t need a Huntsville doctor telling him what he already knew; he had to be careful though, he hadn’t worked all these years for nothing. He had to be realistic. Sexton didn’t want to lose everything. When it all went
13 down, the King family didn’t want anything to do with Ell, but Eliot said everything would be taken care of in due time. In due time, Sexton wondered exactly what that meant. He wished he did. The only document he had in his dingy file box was what he thought was a state contract awarding the daughter of Eliot Stearns King, Eloquence Skylar King, to Abraham Abernathy Sexton for guardianship until the release from prison or the child turned the age of twenty-one. Eliot had called Sexton while on the lam; they met at a Galveston bar where in a stall in the darkness the state social worker gave Sexton the form to sign; the family signed off too because there was no way a murdering crazy person could be held legally competent to make those kinds of decisions. Eliot told Sexton to go and never look back. There was no mention of money, at all. The form looked real. There was no mention of the child in the newspapers, no mention of her during the trial. She was only six months old. A family lawyer had visited Sexton a week after the trial and said they didn’t want anything to do with her and if Sexton attempted to profit from the child the family would respond most assuredly. A week later money the first of monthly deposits hit Sexton’s bank account, the number of which he could not recall ever providing. He assumed it was the state. Apparently he was wrong. When Eloquence was of age and out from under the control of Sexton there was a trust, a very well endowed trust with few restrictions provided by her father. The trust would be blind, and administered by a lawyer she would never meet. But nothing until then. The King family lawyer so many years ago said the only way Sexton would see a dime of King money was if Eliot dropped dead. Then money for Eloquence would go to her guardian. You the man said with such disdain Sexton thought his teeth were going to fall out of his skull. He had done it out of friendship to begin with and for a time a steady girlfriend,
14 Roseanne, helped raised Eloquence, but for the most part it was a job he solely undertook and one that over the years began more and more of his time, energy and own finances. He thought of giving her back to the Kings, blackmailing them, for some kind of compensation, but then no; he had grown to love her. When the bills overwhelmed him and his job at the Six Flags amusement park got to be too much, Sexton wished Eliot ill, that he would die in order that money might flow. He never told Ell the full story, and now it appeared there was more to it. The story he did tell was simple: Ell thought she was adopted, that her mother died in childbirth and that her father was an oil rig worker who moved to Venezuela, and died on a rig there in Lake Maracaibo. Sexton knew this day would come.
The gas station bathroom mirror had seen better days. It was rusted, and in parts, the mirror gave way through a series of pinprick holes, to the frame behind. Perpetually dirty and misted over this way, it made looking at yourself quite difficult. Ell tried anyway, leaning over the sink and into the murky reflection. Her earbuds were feeding her a steady stream of Detroit city rap. Her left eye was indeed swollen from one of Bo’s swats that actually connected. She was hoping the swollen eye wouldn’t be noticeable to Sexton, but that hope was dashed the moment she looked at herself. There was a knock at the bathroom door before it swung open. “Cesar, what’s up?” “Nice shiner. You didn’t need to do that you know,” he said sliding into the bathroom and sitting down on the toilet seat his skateboard in front of him like a
15 medieval shield. Ell flicked Cesar’s hat off, hitting the brim with her middle finger like she was shooing a fly. Cesar caught it and placed it back on his head, brim backwards. “So?” “Sorry. Sexton’s there with some other guy, drove up in one of those black G-man town cars. Sexton sent me to get you.” “He saw you?” “I had to skate by.” “Some secret operative you are. And please the next time you tell Bo his mommy’s a whore loud enough to get a lunch detention, give me the heads up.” Cesar shook his head sheepishly. “Anyway he pushed me first, big slob.” “This might be it.” No one spoke for a moment. Ell turned and sat on the edge of the sink. “All that stuff we read?” Cesar bobbed his head and got up. “Gotta go. You heading down?” Ell said she was and they left the gas station to walk the tree-lined street to where their homes sat facing each other in the Texas humidity. “Hoping you could wash away that swollen eye?” “I thought I could hide it from him for a moment.” “And then.” “And then the moment was gone.” She jiggled her Patek. The house was coming up. “Later Hail,” she said and broke into a run eyeing up the yard and the two men there waiting for her.
16 There was an ache. Ell knew it was hole inside her, that place left gaping inside her when her parents went crazy, one killing the other. She stopped believing Sexton’s lies about two years ago, hated him briefly for them, then Cesar helped her understand it from Sexton’s point of view. The ache in her did not feel good at all, it felt like love lost. Every one had that love, love that filled you and left you fulfilled, except for her. Ell was hollowed out, and not whole at all. Everyone was whole but Ell. Cesar her best friend had two parents. Millie the girl who sat beside her and picked her nose through Mathematics has two parents. Ms Rosa’s parents came to class one day talking about what it meant to be a new Americans. Two flags. Two of them. Ell only one. A foster dad. You can’t count on a crazy person, she told Cesar. You can’t count on a dead one. Even that jerk Bo the one calling her a “motherless bitch” had two. They were both dumb and ugly, but they were two. Bo had two. Not Ell. Her parents fucked it up, big time. A car accident, a fired gun, a dead mother, an incarcerated father. Abraham A. Sexton had been taking care of her since. One fine step-in father, but still a step-in. And certainly not two. Not a mother. Light sparkled from the yard where the two men sat a picnic table talking over beers. Ell hoisted herself up a large oak tree and spied on them a bit. Up there she could think about the right way to approach this, what way to go. Life about finding your way, she thought. Finding fulfillment. Ell wouldn’t be deterred by the ache inside her. She would live such a full life it would fill herself up. But she also knew deep inside her that one day she would find out everything that happened that day at the car accident. Maybe this guy in the suit knew; Ell didn’t think so. When she did find out on her won maybe
17 then the ache would be gone. Maybe then the hold inside her would fill back up. And she would not feel this way any more. Nearly all the day’s light was gone. In the garage exterior lamp she stood, lean and angular, like her father; her wavy blonde hair, nearly platinum, iridescent in the waning light, was said to come from her mother. Up close, the green eyes surprised Fox, who subtly flinched, even though he was told to expect them; they were a trait shared reportedly with her great-grandmother, long now dead. Ell was tanned as children who are the out of doors type generally are. She wore jeans covered in scrawled graffiti and torn at the knees. Ell wore a white T-shirt, grey via her scuffles, and battered black Chucks whose toes were misidentified as left and right. The two men had watched her with a level of wonder, their faces lighting up, more so Fox than Sexton. Ell easily bound over a prickly hedge and ran along the top of a short and decrepit fence. With ease and fluidity she stood on the picnic seat plank and like the little circus performer she was leaned over Sexton. “Hey Dad,” she said pecking Sexton on the cheek before jumping off the table, ever so lightly, causing barely a rock or roll in the table’s potential see-saw. Both men got up and truly while neither man could be said to be tall, they should by all rights be taller than a twelve year old girl -- and yet barely did they rise over Ell as she stood before them her thumbs in her back pockets. “Cesar said…” “Ell this is Dr. Fox. What happened to your eye?” Sexton said with formal candor, which gave away to a parent’s undisguised incredulity. “Nothing. What’s up?” The usual evasion, quickly supplanted by a misdirection.
18 Still, Sexton persisted. “It’s swollen…” Nothing giving. “He wants to talk to you.” Eloquence moved forward and extended her hand, which Fox took and gently shook. “Dad’s what’s going on?” Sexton sat back down and patted the seat beside him. “So it’s true?” “What sweetie?” “Eloquence,” Fox began. “You know my father?” Ell asked looking at Fox. “My mother?” “What, Ell, what?” Sexton asked. She already knew more than he thought she knew; he could tell. “I’ve known more or less the last year and a bit. Remember that reporter, when my picture was in the paper about the school play?” She turned to Fox, “I fell off the stage and landed on my head. I was out. Then I wasn’t. People thought I was surely dead. Right on my head. The reporter came around asking questions. That was the seventh grade, right? I started to think then, and then last year Cesar and I went to the library, to do some looking around…” “I’m sorry Ell.” “It’s okay Dad. My father’s a crazy person.” “I should have told you.” “Who killed my mother. And he’s…” “Really I should have…”
19 “Then what? My real family. No thanks. They sound pretty weird. I know. My parents are dead. Now, what do you want Mr. Fox?” Nothing but cicadas and the sound of distant traffic. “Eloquence your father is alive and wants to see you.” Ell looked from Fox to Sexton and tried to appear shocked; then she turned back to Fox. “Who gives a shit.” Ell left turning on her Chucks. Fox and Sexton called after her, but Fox said more: “Eloquence. Your father wants to see you. He’s dying.” She stopped in the yard. Now you’re talking.
Later that night Sexton sat on the edge of Ell’s bed. Long ago she’d told Sexton that he was her dad and she would always be from the Second Ward, even though she’d known for some time Sexton wasn’t her real dad and the story he told her about her parents was a made up one. Ell didn’t blame him for lying. Her mother had been murdered, and her father had done it. Not a story to tell a kid. But Ell found out, through the library periodicals. Someone at the library said she should do an Internet search, but she didn’t know what that was; plus, she wasn’t sure the search would uncovered her ruse -- Ell knew things. She always knew she was a foster child, and Robinson, her last name, wasn’t real. It was a fake name to cover up the fact she was a King. She hated that name. Ell wanted to kill Eliot Stearns King for murdering her mother. Sexton was her dad. Even though he told her not to call him Dad, he changed his mind quickly a long time ago. Now, sitting on her bed Ell saw her dad. “Weird day, huh Dad?” “Very,” said Sexton, and inhaled noisily through his nostrils. “I always told you the truth that seemed right,” he said now pulling the covers up to her chin.
20 “Dad, it’s boiling I don’t need,” she said, “the covers up to my eyebrows. And since when do you tuck me in? It wasn’t hard to find out all that stuff.” Sexton looked into her eyes. “Still, I…” “My father the rich man who kills his wife, and goes to jail, claiming to be crazy. Quite the family.” “Right. Now, Ell, your dad’s not well. He wants to see you. That’s not too much to ask.” Ell gave Sexton a considered look and placed her hand atop his own. “It’s just a little scary,” she said trying to sound like a little girl. “I know I’ll be there with you.” Sexton scrunched his lips together. “Sleep on it and decide then. Okay?” Ell picked up a book on the table beside her bed and opened it. “No reading passed ten,” he said and left, leaving the door ajar ever so slightly. It was passed ten and he knew it.
The Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville is also known as the Huntsville Unit. The prison’s nickname is the Walls Unit based on the large, medieval brick wall that surrounds it. First built in 1849, the prison houses criminally-insane inmates and serves as the pre-released facility for those who had served their term. The entire drive up Ell grilled her dad about Eliot, and regaled him with facts about the prison. Sexton nodded indicating he was listening to Ell when she knew he no longer was. They pulled into the parking lot, as instructed by the guard at the fence. “There was a famous riot in the early seventies, lots of hostages, and deaths,” Ell said getting out of Sexton’s truck, which
21 continued to knock and hiss. They were met by Dr. Fox at a walkway, lined with high wire fences topped with barbed wire. Fox escorted them into the main building, and then left down a long corridor to a set of heavy iron doors. His key card unlocked the doors. “There’s a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Hispanics in this facility, much like the case in most American prisons,” she deadpanned. The three walked in and at another set of doors Dr. Fox had both Sexton and Ell sign in; he reminded them the visit was to be short, five minutes tops. They went through another set of doors, this time one with the customary steel bars, Ell noted and took the second right into a room resembling a hospital room. A nurse was administering an IV and a doctor was reading a medical chart. The personnel turned in unison to note the visitors; the form in the bed did not. “Wait here,” Fox said and went over to the staff working King’s bedside. They talked. Fox returned and with him the medical doctor and the nurse who then left the room. Silence filled the room the kind that buzzes at the ear. It was punctuated only by the soft pitch from a nearby monitor. Presumably attached to Eliot King, thought Sexton, straining to see. Ell thought the room smelt of sour milk. Sexton was jittery beside her; he kept saying “King,” under his breath. Fox waved them over. He took Ell’s hand. Eliot’s face was turned toward the wall as they stood at the foot of the bed. He turned slowly as if recognizing their being there for the first time. His hair was gone, his eyes were blurry and his skin was the color of caulk. Sexton squeezed Ell’s hand. Ell coldly assessed the man they said was her father. He had been freshly shaved. A small fleck of blood marred his otherwise perfect chin. The blood resembled a small star.
22 “Mr. King, I’m sure you recognize Abraham Sexton,” said Fox standing on the other side of the bed and up near Eliot. He motioned as if showing off a new game show car, “And this is Eloquence…” “Eloquence Skylar King,” Eliot said suddenly. “Eloquence Skylar Robinson,” Ell shot back, uselessly. “Ell,” chided Sexton. “Dad,” she said with some emphasis. “It’s okay,” Eliot said and coughed several times into his fist. He finished his jag and asked, “Can I have a moment with Eloquence Robinson?” “That wouldn’t be possible,” said Fox. “You can stand over there,” Ell said surprising both Sexton and the doctor. They shuffled away and Ell moved into the place filled by Fox. There was a chair, she pulled it over and sat down facing Eliot. “I wanted to see you.” Eliot said. Ell could feel her pulse quickening, her blood warm. This was the man who killed her mother, put a gun to her side and pulled the trigger while she was driving. Her father said, “I’m dying. You probably know that. But still. You are my daughter. Have you been good?” Ell didn’t know what to same. She wasn’t scared, but she was angry. All her thoughts of having a good father, to find him one day and to be reunited as father and daughter all came rushing back and the thought of it being this man, this father, Eliot Stearns King, made her furious. If she could have punched him, she would have. After he pulled the trigger, and barely survived the accident, the consequences of what he’d done
23 drove him insane, is that what she was supposed to believe. His family had all the money in the world and Sexton had none. This was her dream and her nightmare and now, now as he lay dying, he wanted to know if she’d been a good girl. It took everything in her body not to scream. “You have a right to be angry,” he said and coughed. He didn’t sound insane. Didn’t insane people live in straightjackets and blather on and on about utter garbage? “You don’t sound insane,” Ell finally said, her thinking being to get him talking maybe she could ask him what she had waited for years to ask -- why did you kill my mother? Eliot smiled a knowing smile. “Money.” She didn’t understand. He could see in her eyes she was confused. “I’m not insane. Never was, really. But I had to pay. But I couldn’t do maximum security.” “So you…” Eliot began to cough and blood came from his mouth. Ell stood and Fox yelled out the door for the nurse and the medical doctor. They rushed back in and cleaned Eliot’s face and increased the flow of medicine flowing into his IV. Sexton and Ell turned to go. “Don’t, wait,” King said rather breathless. It took all his remaining strength: “Eloquence!” Ell returned to the side of his bed and through his labored breathing he turned his body to rise up on his elbow. Maybe he would now confess. Ell took in his face, tinged blue and looked into his darkening eyes. “Do you know you’re different?” he asked. And she stepped back.
24 There was a moment and the moment felt like it had everything in it. He glanced down at her wrist, at the Patek. Sexton called out to her. Ell touched Eliot’s cheek and he said, “I didn’t kill your mother.”
Eliot Stearns King died the next morning.
Chapter Two Five Years Later A boy. Not good timing. Before Ell left for Rome with the Kings on Christmas break, and completed her exams during finals week, the worst kind of distractions befell the college freshman -she fell in love -- with a boy, yes, but also Ell feel in love with a sport called parkour. It would happen in the yard, outside. Still, these new developments, coming at once, could not keep her from studying; she needed to study. Ell had Joanna Newsome streaming though her ear buds and was reading Othello for her Shakespeare seminar exam when a friend, Kaavya Narayan, text her. “WRD?” After a series of back and forth texts, Ell pleading, somewhat half-heartedly, resignedly placed Iago and company on her bed, grabbed her down-filled coat, burgundy and white scarf, hat and boots and thumped her way down stairs. As she descended, she heard noises coming from outside, thrilling sounds like squeals and cheers. A tingle when up her spine. There were times when she could barely believe she was a Harvard freshman. This was one of them. It was hard to leave Sexton when Eliot died and move in with the Kings, but he insisted, insisted it would be for the best. That was hard to quarrel with, thought Ell, as she came to her dormitory door; it swung open into a riotous Harvard Yard. Her friend, Kaavya, a beautiful Indian med student, was there at the door to Massachusetts Hall. Behind Kaavya a naked female student ran chased by another naked female student and a male
26 student in bright yellow underwear carrying a small digital video camera screeching “YouTube YouTube.” “Primal Scream,” said Kaavya as if sensing Ell’s utter confusion. It was cold out. It was Boston. It was December in the middle of winter. “Are they insane?” “Letting off steam.” “Literally.” Steamy bodies flew by. Kaavya threaded her arm into Ell’s. “Come on there’s a safe viewing areas by John Harvard.” “Don’t touch the foot,” they both said in unison. John Harvard, the university’s founder, was immortalized in a bronze, relief sculpture in the Yard -- it fact it wasn’t even John Harvard, but some stand in. Over the years it became custom for some to rub his foot for good luck. These people were mostly tourists who didn’t know any better, didn’t know students regularly relieved themselves by urinating on the foot of so-called John Harvard. As they walked over to John Harvard – don’t touch the foot – Kaavya told Ell all about the tradition. Amazingly as Kaavya went through what the tradition was, and what to look for, flesh and blood examples ran right up to and passed them. “Better than PowerPoint,” Ell said once. “So Primal Scream – it’s about screaming at the top of your lungs, releasing all that pent-up energy after being cooped up in the library for so long. “ “How long has it been going on?”
27 Kaavya looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure.” Ell knew Kaavya was not one to be stumped. “It’s a long-standing tradition, although I must admit I don’t know its exact history. What we know now is that it was once about screaming and screaming alone. Not now, not for the past, well, as long as people can remember, students thought the screaming was a little too, twenty-first century.” “On came the nudity. But wait, if this is such a tradition why haven’t I heard about it or saw posters…” “Posters? Ell you think campus police or the university condone this kind of behavior. It’s kept on the down low and the location changes from year to year.” A throng of students ran by completely naked, save winter boots, and the occasional, creepy, yellow underwear-clad videographer. “Why aren’t you doing this?” “Same reason as you.” Kaavya said. They had reached John Harvard, “I’d be embarrassed if someone saw me naked, especially someone I knew, like the guy who sat next to me in my Org Chem class all semester. Everyone’s taking pictures, so now imagine, how many millions of people could have access to these photos and footage on sites viewed by weirdoes or my parents in Bombay.” Ell had stopped listening. Through the flurry of bodies, across the yard, she could see the most remarkable thing. It was a flash mob, only it was moving. There was at least twenty people. Running. Jumping. Doing cartwheels and scaling the sides of buildings. In the mass of people, Ell found herself following one. A human. A human running along the Yard leaping and climbing over everything – benches, low walls, garbage cans and sculptures – that he came in contact with. Everyone was cheering and hooting. The body
28 of people moved with him, as if he were its heartbeat. They the blood traveling to be near. She stepped closer, to see his svelte body move with such liquidity, his black pony-tail, beautifully black and iridescent, fall like raiment on his shoulders. She could not see his face. His quickness made her breathless. And then they were gone. “Who’s that?” asked Ell gulping in air. Bad timing. A boy. Harvard exams. “Who, who,” she idiotically said again. “What is that?” She would soon find out.
After finals, en route to Rome to meet up with her family – Roethke and Marilynn King, Eliot’s brother and sister in-law – she placed two books on parkour in her leather tote bag and during the transatlantic flight she consumed Traceur and Traceuse by V.K. Thigpen and began the classic parkour text L'art du Déplacement by Thierry Kinzie; it was in French, but Ell was sufficiently versed in the language that she felt comfortable translating as she went along. She used her iPad to watch parkour videos on YouTube, including the seminal “Art of Displacement” a documentary directed by Felipe Trevino. By the time she landed in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport she felt herself to be quite the expert. A thrill ran through her like her blood contained electricity as she read account after account of individuals, men, women, alone or together overcoming any physical and sometimes mental obstacle in their way. As she read she moved her body to and fro, her arms shot out; she gripped imaginary edges. Luckily for her, the grandmother in first class beside her was sound asleep. Even though she was highly competitive in high school sports and in her Harvard studies, Ell admired the non-competitive nature of parkour, how it was more about individuals working against the environment in concert
29 with others doing the very same thing -- the moving flash mob, the blood, the heartbeat. With high efficiency she’d run her life, ever since beginning her new one six years ago; there were no loose ends, everything had its place and her future was all mapped out in front of her. Harvard was step one – a degree in English and then Law school. She would spend a year in an undeveloped country doing volunteer work and then begin her position as counsel at King Oil in Houston, The Hague, Netherlands or Aberdeen, Scotland. Parkour felt like a physical manifestations of her goals, a way to exert with her body, what she constructed with her intellect. Her old energy flow from gymnastics flew through her bones when she moved absently while reading. The videos showed her people leaping through open windows, running along edges and bounding over fences and onto walls: all of it reminding her of the moves of a gymnast. But the gymnast like the traceur – male parkour practitioner – or the traceuse – the female practitioner – must perform their art with that utter efficiency, which meant with little else but the human body. Ell glanced around at her Versace tote, containing her iPad3, her iPhone5; she took in the clothes she was wearing, her light blue Chanel suit, azure Manolo Blahniks heels gold small hoop earnings, dangling necklace and her favorite bracelet, a simple silver ring floated over the Patek around her wrist; all this made her smile. Still, I could give it up. She had come into this life, from her poor one. She knew. The change had been a transformation, a resurrection of sorts. But it was also painful. Ell fought, but she could not win against the law. It was only made better when she was told Sexton would be taken care of; it was made better when she was shown a picture of her great-grandmother, Exquisite Summer King that she fully understood. The resemblance was obvious. Ell had been two people already in her young life. The Ell before and the Ell now. She could do it
30 again. Be someone else again. Shed everything; put on a disguise. It gave her a little thrill. The freedom of it. A primal scream. She looked out at the blinking wing light, the sky beginning to lighten. They would land and it would be morning. Light comes from leaving the darkness. Ell would do it: be this new Ell, but improved too. Ell would take on any obstacle; she already had the athleticism, the kind that carried her through her Second Ward childhood; she had the aerodynamic body; finally her flat chest would come in handy – breasts might just get in the way. Ell would work on her physical training. In her iPad she typed up some notes on kinds of routines she could do to get into better shape. She ran now, but she needed more muscle strength and toning. Ell closed her iPad. In the Kinzie book she’d noted that he talked about spatial awareness, of finding new uses for objects long ago taken for granted. In the end it all about efficiency and speed. She would study her surroundings and take them into her soul and she would train hard to garner the speed to move over whatever obstacles came her way. “Passe Muraille,” Ell said and moved to turn off her iPhone, which lit up the dark cabinet. “WAYN?” Ell looked out her window again. She typed in: “ORV ERP” “Cool. rBMOC?” Big man on campus, up on the sides of buildings, over the walls… Ell sucked in her breath. She and Kaavya had been attempting over the past few days to figure out who the traceur was – they’d done everything Internet searches, went to the Crimson office and looked through back issues. The Harvard athletic department was no help; they sneered at the whole parkour thing.
31 “Who?” Ell typed and then stared dumbly at her iPhone. She wasn’t sure why she needed to know so badly, why as soon as she’d seen him floating over anything that stood in his way with such fluid gracefulness she needed to know more. “Seamus Patrick.” She just looked at the letters, nothing but pixels. But it left her breathless. Kaavya text again, “NotHD.” Seamus Patrick wasn’t a student at Harvard, now it made sense why they couldn’t find him. She was about to text her back when another message came up. “Lk.” Ell clicked the hyperlink, the iPhone browser came up and there was Mr. Patrick, standing in a family portrait with his mother, Gabriela and his father, Michael Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts.
In the backseat of the town car Ell could take in some of the sites of Fiumicino and the sea nearby. She felt drossy and not a little hungry. The trip from the airport to Rome would take around forty-five minutes, enough time for Ell to get herself together. It was a special day. She hadn’t seen Roethke and Marilynn for over four months; they accompanied her, on the company’s private jet to Boston for her freshman semester, made sure she was all settled in and then left for Qatar, where Roethke had business. She liked him, Roe as he asked her to call him, was very friendly, tall like her, and always encouraged her to seek new heights. He had white hair at his temples and black hair combed back on top. He had one of those jutting chins and lean runner’s body. He had a fondness for fountain
32 pens, spoke several languages fluently and drank single malt Scotch. Nearing retirement he often said he was going to buy a Parisienne grotto and write his memoirs. He’d then burst into barely suppressed laughter. Ell watched Roe to appreciate what it meant to be the president of the company. Marilynn was a different story. She too was tall and athletic, but taciturn and ice cold toward Eloquence. She was a tennis player and an avid shopper. Roe and Mary, as Roe told Ell to call her, met at Harvard in 1985 both taking law. They have two sons Raphael and Reginald, twins, both of which work as executives in King Oil in The Hague. Both inexplicably, given their genes, unappealing in the looks department. Both guffawed like donkies. “Mama, we’re here,” said the driver in what Ell thought was a Slavic accent. She got a kick out of being called mama. The Slav got out and walked around the car to open her door. Ell had been leaning out cocking her head to look up at the apartment located on Piazza Febo, near the Piazza Navona, which was always filled with tourists. Ell loved to go anyway despite the tourists, spending time with her favorite fountain – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – which is fed by the Aqua Virgo aqueduct. She still had pictures of it on her iPhone. An obelisk forms over a rocky grotto, a lion and a horse emerge. The obelisk appears to be resting on an open cavity. The large figures represent the main rivers of the four continents known at that time: the Danube, the River Plate, the Ganges, and the Nile (with a veiled head to symbolize that its source was yet unknown at that stage). It is said that one statue of the fountain is blind-folded in order not to look at the Church of Sant’Agnese Agone. The door opened. Ell got out taking in some good cool morning air. The apartment was sheathed in vinery showering down the façade of the building like a waterfall. The driver opened the front door and escorted Ell to the elevator
33 who was carrying only her Versace tote. The doors of the elevator opened and there was Roe and Mary. “Eloquence,” Roe said and stepped forward his arms wide open. They embraced and he twirled her around; as he did she caught glimpses of the apartment, the art, and furnishings the carpets, the open windows and balconies. And Mary. And someone else. Roe held her at arm’s length. “I hope you have a good flight. You could have used a company jet,” he wagged his finger. “Great flight, thanks.” Mary inched forward, but kept her arms crossed on her chest. “Well. Would you like a drink?” “Mary,” Roe said. Ell couldn’t find the other person that had been there, but now was gone. Was she making it up? She didn’t think so. “I guess I’m a little tired,” she said as Roe and Mary began to retreat to the other room, a parlor with a balcony. “We got some, um, tea in here,” said Roe and walked into the parlor behind Mary. Ell followed them into the room and when she broke the threshold they yelled “Surprise!” There sitting behind a stunning white with yellow roses birthday cake with all of its candles lit was Kaavya Narayan. “Happy Birthday! Ell!” “Oh my God Kaavya?” They raced to one another and embraced. “What? How did…” “They brought me over. It was last minute. I wasn’t sure I could do it. My family is in England. But we all wanted it to be a surprise for your eighteenth birthday. I can only stay a few days and then I have to meet my family in London.”
34 “This is amazing. Roe thanks, Mary, th…” “It was all Mary’s doing,” said Roe startling both Mary and Ell. “Thank you Mary.” “I thought your birthday was a week away?” “It is, but supposedly it’s a very private King affair.” “As a Hindu the date doesn’t really do anything for me, but for you it must be kind of interesting…” Ell smiled and jokingly said, “To have the same birthday celebration as Jesus Christ? Yeah, it’s interesting.”
They ate the cake and drank freshly-squeezed lemonade. Roe and Mary gave Ell a black American Express credit card inside a birthday card. Ell loved the icing on the cake and the Italian sun coming through the window, but she would soon need to get some sleep. Jet lag was beginning its toil. Kaavya stood up and said she was going to her hotel and that Ell was to call her later. They embraced at the elevator and agreed that they’d text each other in a few hours, so that both of them could get some sleep. She watched the elevator doors slowly close. In the warped reflection of the highly polished elevator door, Ell could see the room behind her. There was Roe, Mary sitting down, and that figure, standing next to Roe. Ell turned. “Eloquence there’s someone I would like you to meet. Come sit down here please,” Roe said with nothing in his voice indicating Ell was in some kind of trouble of anything. Roe said something in a language Ell had never heard him speak before. The man responded in the same language. The man standing beside Roe was wearing a bright
35 red skull cap and a equally red and bright flowing gown or uniform. Ell thought of the Pope. She sat down in a chair near Mary across from the two men. “Eloquence this is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertollinni. He’s a family friend; our families have a long history together.” “Oh, hello Cardinal Bertollinni.” He moved from across the room elegantly and saw down in a chair near Ell. “Do you know who I am?” Ell considered this. It was said not like she was being interrogated, but more lightly, kindly. She nodded no, Ell had a vague idea. “I’m the Secretary of State of the Holy See,” he said and then smiled, “The Pope’s right hand man, you could say.” “Wow.” “Wow. I grew up in Lodi in the north. Do you know it?” Ell replied, “Um,” and looked over at Roe who gave her a warm smile. “Farming mostly, my family too. But you should come up to see the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary Crowned. It is covered in frescoes and paintings, some by Il Bergognone. Built on the grounds of a medieval brothel as a kind of almshouse, the church is a magnificent jewel. I’ll be your tour guide if you like. So, yes, wow. I was just a farm boy touched by God.” “Thanks, ah, Cardinal Bertollinni, what can I do for you?” He looked with his ancient moist eyes to Roe as if to poise a question. Slowly he turned to face her, the sun alighting all of the features of his face in relief, his eyes luminous, and he said: “Talitha koum.” A gentle hand on her arm.
36 The words sunk into Ell as if into her very skin. Simultaneously, her nervous system lit up in a startling fuse the likes of which she’d never felt before, coursing, sparking but also ebbing; she could have sworn her heart heaved, paused, and quivered before continuing a furious beat, which was inexplicably accompanied shortly thereafter by the fragrance of an ancient unidentifiable spice coloring every last breath. Then, she fell asleep.
“Jet lag?” Ell was still a little tired and light-headed as she walked the cobblestone street stretching out in front of her and Kaavya. It probably was for all she knew, what else could it be; the cobblestone enticed her. “That’s what they said. It was so strange. One minute I was talking to my uncle and aunt and next I woke up in bed.” Ell left out being visited by the Pope’s right hand man and the strange phrase he uttered. She wanted to know more about that before she said anything to her friends. Roe and Mary had simply said he was a family friend, a business associate of King Oil and his presence in their home was not to be spoken of to anyone for security reasons, both his and for their wellbeing. What about the phrase she thought she heard. “Happy Birthday,” in Latin she was told. Ell would Google it when she got the chance; she could in fact do it right now, one-handed, with her iPhone, but that wouldn’t be very secretive now would it? “Were you disorientated before you passed out? I don’t remember you being too out of it when I was there,” Kaavya said, an urgency in her voice. “Maybe, yes, no: I’m not sure,” she replied, which was true. Ell felt very disorientated when she first woke up; Roe nearly called off her planned shopping excursion with Kaavya to the Spanish Steps. “Are you serious? Here, sit down and I’ll order you a cappuccino.” They had come to a small coffee vendor on Via die Condotti. Ell sat down and watched the throng
38 of shoppers go by while Kaavya was ordering the coffees. Ell felt a little off, like she had a head cold or something; she was inside, and the outside of her was feeling the wind, hearing the soft thunder of shoppers’ feet. Her Harvard gal pal sat down across from her and passed a coffee all the while looking down at her own iPhone. “Symptoms include fatigue and general tiredness, inability to sleep at night, loss of concentration, and loss of drive, headaches and general malaise.” Kaavya read off her iPhone. “Did you have any of those – or something else?” Kaavya was pre-med, so Ell half-expected this kind of examination from her friend. “Stop being so nosey,” Ell said. She sipped her coffee and shrugged her shoulders before nodding that she didn’t have any… but then she knew her symptoms were different than what Kaavya had itemized and what a family doctor had told her. It was her birthday, she was in Rome, and Ell didn’t want to make a mess of things. She was here to read and shop. There was nothing to be too concerned about – she was fatigued and disorientated, causing her to fall asleep at the apartment, right in front of Cardinal Bertollinni. She had had a taste in her mouth; a shiver through her body, both probably side effects -- of? No big deal: jet-lag. She awoke with a headache, but did not suffer a lack of drive or general malaise. Ell couldn’t wait to get shopping. She hadn’t been raised with a mother, or sisters, to go shopping with, and here she was in Rome one the shopping meccas. Ell wasn’t going to miss it. An American doctor living in the building had been summoned by Roe to the King apartment to look her over. “Jet-lag,” Dr. Isabelle Liu said, “The body’s rhythms take a hit when you fly internationally, affected by the transition through time-zones.” It was Liu who went through the symptoms of jet-lag and prescribed activity, which Ell was
39 only too happy to hear. “It takes about a day for each time zone crossed for body temperatures to adapt completely. You may have difficulty sleeping the next couples of days, but activity and social contact during the day helps speed up the adaptation.” A prescription to go shopping! “Everyone thinks it was jet-lag. But I didn’t have malaise or a loss of drive. I want to be here.” “I’ve had jet-lag so many times.” Ell couldn’t help herself. “Did you ever feel like electricity run…” Kaavya sat upright in her seat, “Through your body?” “Yeah, and it felt like my heart rose up, you know it didn’t skip a beat, it was as if the beat was somehow a lot stronger.” Kaavya took in her friend narrowing her eyes, and then said matter of factly: “Anything else?” The future doctor. Ell lied and said no.
“Ingresso gratuito,” signs outside some of the shops of Piazza di Spagna read. Ell translated for Kaavya, “Come in, for free. They used to charge years ago to come in and browse. Not anymore; these signs invited you to come in and you don’t even have to buy anything.” They came to the steps and even in December found them mobbed by tourists and locals. “Let me take your picture,” Ell said and Kaavya stood in front of the throng. “One in front of the fountain.” Ell took her friend’s picture with her iPhone standing in front of the Fontana della Barcaccia; she immediately posted it on Facebook.
40 “Here let me take a photo of the two of you,” came a voice. accented, but in clear Rosetta Stone English. Ell turned and in front of her was a short man, the size of a child really. He was dark haired, with olive skin, and seemed out of place with the crowd of tourists in front of a fountain of a small boat. Still, a picture could be taken to include both the fountain and the steps behind. She wondered if the guy would snatch her iPhone. Kaavya stepped forward and gave him her iPhone. She gave him some instructions and then stepped back, lacing her arm through Ell’s. They smiled. He lowered the camera, smiled, and gave it back to Kaavya. While they examined the photo he disappeared. They took Via del Banbuino to the shops of Prada, Valentino, Gucci and Fendi giving out little squeals when they came to one world class designer shop after another. Exting one shop, Ell said, “We’re being followed.” She gave Kaayva instructions to use her iPhone reverse camera angle to look over her shoulder at the building with the red saint sculpture over the door. There on the corner. “The dude in the sunglasses.” “Who?” “Rubicon,” Ell said, “The family security detail. He’s been following us since the cappuccinos. He gave a little wave.” “We can take care of ourselves, two kick-ass Harvard girls.” “Got that right.” They shopped for almost two hours – Ell purchasing a Fendi Zucca brown leather Soft Shopping tote, a chartreuse linen scarf and some earrings while Kaavya bought a Red Valentino maxi-length twill Dresdens in cornflower blue and a pair of relativelyinexpensive sunglasses. Ell had her phone out to call for the car service, when Kaavya
41 placed her hand gently on her arm and pointed. Ell turned and looked up the street, through a gap in some dark buildings – through the shadows to the opposite side – to an eruption of color. “A farmers’ market,” said Kaavya – “let’s go.”
They moved down the street and between the two towering buildings before coming to the street opening, which exploded with vivid colors, from the yellow of gourds, green foliage, to the reds of awnings; nearly discordant music filled the space above the farmers’ market from several different directions mixing and mangling each other; its air was suffused with moisture and earth, with the myriad scents of innumerable blooms, roasting meats, and fresh vegetables. A stream of pleased people walked by with armfuls of fruits, vegetables and a woven basketwork of soaps and jars of redolently golden honey so striking as to seemingly contain the sun itself. Kaavya and Ell followed the river of people heading through the forge to the market, soon finding themselves tasting pungent cheeses, succulent cherries and drinking lime juice and soda. They walked from one end of the farmers’ market to the other, praising the plenitude; Ell thought it would be great to take some farm fresh ingredients back to the apartment. She lined her new tote with plastic bags and placed her purchases in there. Kaavya stood nearby and moved to open her bag to take out her iPhone “Perfect for my Wall,” – she needed to get a picture of Ell placing tomatoes and legumes into her Fendi bag – when someone ran from behind her, from the crowd, and yanked her bag off her arm. “Hey!” she yelled watching the man disappear with ease through the throng. “My bag!”
42 In an instant that was too quick for Kaavya to witness Ell, in the art of displacement, assessed the stall merchant in front of her, and in butchered Italian said she was leaving everything here – save her wallet (never leave your wallet, Ell was advised by Rubicon during security briefings). She then ran after the bag thief, Kaavya lagging in tow. The chase hit early success as the crowd thinned, briefly, and Ell could see the thief had turned left down a narrow avenue, which rose through a series of steps to a cross street. The man could be seen running up the street. They turned left and ran after him; Ell out front. Her speed had surprised her Harvard friend not for its athleticism -- she knew Ell to be an athlete -- but for its utter liquid speed, Kaayva later told Ell. The short man-child was fast, but Ell could tell they were gaining on him. “Come back you bastard,” yelled Kaavya as they gained on the man – who suddenly cut right. They gained the corner and turned right to see the man jumping incredibly high for a person of his stature, and running with great agility along entryways, fire escapes and walls. “You go there, head him off. I’ll go up after…” Ell commanded, not giving much thought to what they would do if and when they caught the diminutive pickpocket. Kaavya did a double take at Ell’s orders. She could not object. Before she could have, Ell began running and not losing stride leapt for the short wall in front of her, -- assess the environment, know what you are working with and adapt to it, rose in her mind -- it was all very graceful and without hitch; she ran along its top as if she were running on flat tarmac, and jumped to grab hold of a fire escape. Ell swung like a gymnast up the ladder and onto the fire escape. She glanced down to see Kaavya run off down the alleyway, turning briefly to look with incredulity.
43 From the fire escape, Ell leapt like a gisele to a nearby concrete awning her body wasting no energy; to the contrary becoming stronger as she moved from the awning, to the rooftop, where she could see ahead the culprit scampering up the side of another beautiful Roman building. All the parkour videos Ell watched played through her mind as she sprinted across the roof – keep engaged, keep looking ahead for your next opportunity – ran along a thin ledge and leapt to the adjacent rooftop. The man, who she now recognized as the one who took their picture at the Fontana della Barcaccia, was up and over the peak of the roof. Ell took to the cantilevered edge and used it as a grip to hoist herself up the roof as she ran. She jumped over the roof’s peak and without missing a beat slid down its slope to the edge, where she simply used her tennis shoes to stop her descent right off the roof. From there she stood and jumped onto a nearby balcony and through its maze of furniture and out the opposite side window to a rooftop below, where the man could be seen jumping over the ledge. When Ell got there she saw that over the ledge was an awning, which the man used to catch his fall, to bounce him onto another balcony. Ell did the same hitting the awning with a little too much power. Her body’s inertia propel her directly into the apartment’s now open patio door. She recovered from a minor stumble and headed for an open hallway door. She could hear something from the stairs and was horrified to see the man had jumped through the space between the winding stairs. It was only three floors so she ran down taking them in threes to the lobby and turned to see the back door swinging ajar. Ell ran down the hallway and through the door and could see about ten feet above her the man scampering up a drainpipe. She saw to her left one of those large garbage bins and above it a ladder attached to the side of the building, the ladder ascending all the way to the roof. Ell took a running leap to the side
44 of the bin and threw herself at the lowest rung – and missed slamming into the building. She fell back onto the garbage lid and watched from her prone position the man scaling the drainpipe. A door swung open and a young lady said something in Italian and motioned for Ell to follow her. She went down a short hallway to a lobby and there the lady said something in Italian Ell could not follow. The young lady pointed at the elevator. Ell took it to the top. At the top she found the exit to the roof. Up there it was by contrast very quiet and windy. Ell walked slowly around the utilities, around some pigeon coops and saw the man, his back still to her, standing over Kaavya. He raised his arm and in his hand was a dagger. Ell didn’t think – she reacted. She flew at the man with the knife in his hand and leapt feet first hitting him in the small of his back. The impact sent Ell back and onto the pebbled rooftop, but it sent the man up and over Kaavya and over the ledge of the building. “Kaavya!” “Ell.” She sounded hurt. “Are you, did he stab you?” Kaavya nodded. She had her bag. They stood and went to the edge of the roof and looked over. It was a five story fall into the trash bins. “There,” said Ell. The man was on the fire escape, a few floors below, and descending. They watched him finish his escape, hitting the parking lot and disappearing around another apartment block. He flipped them the bird. “Are you okay? Yeah just shaken. Got my bag.”
45 Ell sat down and tried to catch her breath. Kaavya look at her. “Thanks. Where did you learn to do that?” “I watched a couple of videos. Is it all there?” Ell asked as Kaavya went through her bag. “Everything but my iPhone.”
They called the police; the officers met them at the farmer’s stand where Ell had dumped her bags. Kaavya provided them a description of the mugger, while Ell picked up her bag. The chances of finding the perpetrator and retrieving the phone would be slim the officer told Kaavya, who shrugged her shoulders. Ell called for the car. They returned home. Roe and Mary were sitting on the balcony when she got home. Ell joined them and filled them into on the details of all the day’s events, leaving out how she pursued the thug jumping over walls and from rooftops. They insisted Dr. Liu come down to check her over. Ell sat on the edge of her bed and stared straight ahead as Dr. Liu flashed her pupils. She checked her pulse and her reflexes and said that it appeared everything was fine. “I bet you got your blood racing.” She nodded. “Might have helped get you right, with the jet lag,” Liu said standing. “Call me if anything changes, Roethke.” The sun was setting so they sat in the living room with a fire. Ell was tired and laid on the couch, and even so she asked, “Are you sure it was jet lag?”
46 Roe answered, as he sat down a fresh scotch in his crystal tumbler. “Oh course. Dr. Liu is a respected internist and physician. She’s seen jet lag, probably suffered from it on her many trips over here from Boston.” “Boston?” “Yes, you can continue to see her if you like. We can set it up.” “But I mean I don’t have the classic symptoms and the ones I do have don’t fit.” “It’s not always exact,” said Mary exasperated. “And what about Taleetha cook?” “Really Ell, as I said it’s Latin, I believe, for happy birthday.” They ate a quiet dinner, read their books, and by nine all were in bed sleeping, especially Ell since she was dead tired.
“*$” came a text shortly after seven in the morning. Ell was on her iPad surfing the web for Latin dictionaries. “Taleetha cook,” produced no answers popped up on the screen when her iPhone lit up. The text said it was coming from Kaavya – how would that be possible since she’d lost her yesterday? “NUiP” she texted as if in anticipation. “Quick” Ell wrote back. “*$” “BTWBO.” Ell was dressed in sweats and her hair was covered in a doo-rag. She put on flipflops, ran lipstick over her mouth, grabbed her bag and headed for the door.
47 “Going to Starbucks on the corner, got my phone, be right back,” she yelled as her finger pushed the elevator button. Inside she pulled up the browser search and typed in “taleetha kook.” The hit came back, “Do you mean talita kum?” She clicked on it and the doors of the elevator opened. She walked haltingly through the lobby with her head buried in the search engine. Holistic medicine, some blogs and rock band, but none of the links were very helpful. Ell thought at the very least – there, one blog said not to be confused with “Talitha koum” whatever that was, perhaps that was what the cardinal had said to her, before she fell in a deep sleep. Walking toward Starbucks she typed in “Talitha koum.” She got millions of hits, with the majority at the top of the list mentioning the Bible. Ell clicked on the link at the top. It brought up a page of the Bible. It was Mark 5: 41-43 and she read: “He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. (At that) they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat. The “He” was Jesus. The little girl of 12, who arose, had been stone cold dead. That was it, she said to herself, that’s what the cardinal said. Why? She wasn’t twelve, hadn’t been dead and – it was probably just the cardinal’s way of blessing her or something like that. Roe and Mary didn’t seem all that worked up about it. It was nothing, Ell reasoned: Nothing to worry about. Ell clicked the browser closed, and pocketed her iPhone.
48 Ell looked up to see Kaavya standing in the Starbucks with two coffees in her hands staring out at her. The look on her friend’s face surprised Ell, who tried very hard not to show she’d seen the oddest expression.
Ell was alone for the remainder of her Christmas holiday; Kaavya flew to London to be with her family. For her birthday, they took her to Venice for a gondola tour. They stayed in a hotel, drank hot chocolate and Ell was presented with a fur coat. “Faux fur,” Mary said quickly anticipating a protest from the young charge. For the remainder of her days, Ell read books in her bed finishing off her park our books and two novels of Jane Austen; when she felt like she absolutely had to get out, she took the book she was reading down to a nearby café. Roe and Mary did their own thing. They ate dinners together for the most part and kept out of each other’s way. Ell was tired from all the excitement, she supposed. Roe drove Ell to Fiumicino and put her on her flight back to the States. She promised to call when she got there.
Since Ell had a paid mentor help her go through the one thousand-plus page Harvard College course guide. Ell was going to have a full slate this spring semester; she could hardly remember the courses though. When she got back to her dorm room in Massachusetts Hall and booted up her PowerBook, Ell checked her personal e-mail account, the one she gave out to friends; she had ones for family and another for school. Eloquence@mac.com had a couple of e-mails from Roe about upcoming shows and concerts; Ell closed this account and opened another. There was an e-mail through the Harvard server from the mentor reminding her of all the courses she had signed up for before the deadline. The language class freaked her out a little bit, but she looked forward to her business and political science classes. Ell pictured herself in those classes, what she would say and how she would act. Harvard still impressed her, she still felt like that Second Ward girl from Houston with nothing but her toughness and all that uncertainty of what was going to happen next not knowing who you were in the first place. She saw it all different now. It was all planned out for her – degree in business, then Law. She would have a place, and it would be a place of power. No more going without. Ell threw her bags from where she’d dumped them at the door on her bed and went to the window. The turn made her feel the ache again, inside her, a glowing something that Ell thought was emptiness. In the pit of her stomach. It was her deepest feeling. One she didn’t share
50 with anyone, except perhaps the person it symbolized, its very shape as if an impression of once had been there -- her dead mother. Ell was a motherless child. With her hand on her stomach, Ell stared out at the frozen and white Harvard Yard. She fingered the inscription someone had years ago etched in her window frame: “Quentin Compson wuz here.” Outside her window and down on the sidewalks, Ell watched students come and come; a light snow was falling past the window. She watched a flake make its way from her window down, down to the yard. It would blend in with all the other snow and create one seamless blanket or alight on someone’s tongue and melt. The footprints left by the walkers remained faintly there only so long before vanishing with a dusting of snow. A miracle, Ell suddenly thought; there one minute, then not. As if in acknowledgement of this epiphany, the ache inside her receded. Ell thought of ebbing music. At the end of one sidewalk, someone slipped, shrieked, and fell. She watched the person right themselves, watched as the person looked around to see if anyone had seen. It reminded Ell of her missing the rung on the ladder in Rome while chasing the pursesnatcher. She could read about parkour all she wanted, eventually she had to do something about it or forever find herself unable to executive even the simplest of moves. She breathed on her window and using her index finger she wrote “Ell wuz here.” Courses and mentors could wait. Ell turned to her iPhone and research parkour training, found an application among several, which included a sequence of exercises and routines illustrated and in video, she liked and downloaded it. She got dressed in some running clothes and then covered herself up for the walk to the Gordon Indoor Track with a bag of new clothes, her iPhone and some toiletries. A security guard in a winter-
51 weather golf-cart gave her a lift to the buildings off North Harvard Street. Using her student ID she secured herself a locker, took off her winter coat, hat and boots and put on her running shoes. She went upstairs to the track, six lanes, oval rubber the color of red clay and stood watching three runners going by at a very quick pace. No bother. She glanced at her Patek, turned to the inside, and began running and didn’t stop until fortyfive minutes later. She took a short break drinking water and sitting down on one of the nearby benches. She had to get some paper towel to blot her forehead and neck. She drank more water and then headed down to her locker to get her iPhone. On her phone she pulled up the parkour application. There were fifteen poses or stretches; Ell went back up to the track and did the exercises there alongside the track. First, she stretched her chest by flexing her arms behind her back forcing her breasts outward. Ell laughed. “This isn’t going make them any bigger.” She held the pose for five seconds before moving on to the next, for upper back. There were poses and stretches for the back of her thighs, lower back, and torso. She held each and every position for the required five seconds. Out the corner of her eye, she could see the three male runners had slowed or stopped running and were watching her. Once she finished this regiment, she did thirty high knee steps and thirty lunges, which made her feel incredibly foolish. After these were done she shook off any lingering stiffness, rolled her neck, her shoulders, her arms, her waists, knees and her ankles. She was about to head back to the locker for a shower when she looked ahead and saw one of those indoor picnic tables. It was slightly off to the side, in crimson no less, and Ell wondered if she could do a Monkey vault – she’s seen a guy do it in a YouTube video. He was kind of cute in his Texas Parkour T-shirt, red hair and
52 beard. She pulled it up and watched it several times before she felt she had it in her mind’s eye. She closed her eyes and visualized it. Took a deep breath and broke out in a easy run. As Ell came to the picnic table, she leaned forward planting both of her hands on its surface. Her running moved her forward, she brought her head up along with her body across the plane, tucking in her feet to her chest, pulled her feet through and planted them on the other side. She smiled; a delicious thrill ran up her spine. Hey if I can park our in Rome, she thought. There was a round of polite, soft applause from the runners, who had retaken to the oval. Ell waved them off. She tried the Monkey vault three more times, each time she felt she’d performed it better. She was tired, but loose. Then she thought of the Kong vault – a little bit more dangerous. She closed her eyes visualizing the vault’s components. Ell opened her eyes and ran methodically toward the picnic table. Near the table she leaned forward planting both hands on the table top and then instead of rising up through the motion; she dove head-first, before rising in motion – head, chest, legs, feet, pivoting out her legs and feet for the landing. She did a little dance when landing safely, which produced a round of applause, which she waved off without turning around. Seamus Patrick clapped and smiled. Then he turned around and left before the tall beautiful traceuse saw him. Instead, Ell turned to find the indoor track empty; the blithe runners had gone. She left, had a shower and returned to her dorm room where she had a very long sleep.
Soon she was in the thick of a new semester, with too much reading to do, papers to
53 research and write and tests seemingly every other day. Ell got up in the morning, got dressed in her winter coat and boots and trudged outside for breakfast with Kaavya at Cereality or Einstein Bagels. Mostly it was too cold even the thought of going outside, she stayed in her room, ate a granola bar instead. She showered and dressed for the day. On most days, her schedule didn’t allow her to get back to her dormitory room, so she had to load her back pack carefully. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon she resumed her parkour training, adding in some light weights. The day accumulated like the precipitation on the growing snow banks outside, and weeks flew by; Ell forgot about Rome, about the mugging, and she forgot about the strange episode with the cardinal. It was easy to forget, it was jet lag, nothing more. Ell was embarrassed about the whole thing.
Spring break came and Ell went home to Houston, before heading down to Mexico to be with Kaavya and some of the other Harvard girls. The semester was going well and people began to notice that not only was she tall, slim, but that she also had some serious muscles in her arms and her shoulders. She met Cesar at Brazil, a café in the Montrose area of Houston. On the outdoor patio, they shared a breakfast burrito, drank lattes and gossiped endlessly about their lives; well, Ell did most of the talking while Cesar just stared. Ell ran her fingers through his hair. “That Marine haircut. Still can get used to it on you Cesar.” Cesar had joined the Marines and had been in training for the past year. He was about to be shipped off – to where exactly he couldn’t tell her – “Afghanistan is about all
54 I can say…” He pointed at the photographer on the sidewalk (Ms King, Ms King!). Ell turned and waved, the photographer waved back. “Chronicle: Social pages. Took my picture coming out of Tonic last night; you should have come. Sonja was there and J. Mark B…the whole gang.” “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t.” “I miss this place. It’s not like I’m giving Cambridge any shakes I’ve got my head so buried in my books. And stuff.” She wasn’t telling him about the parkour; he would think she was really nuts, but then again as kids they had gotten into some pretty crazy things. “But it’s going well?” Ell nodded. It was true. She was enjoying it and she got great grades, but deep inside her she felt like she needed something more, she was made for something more. Maybe the law would give her that, a sense of purpose for something beyond herself. Cesar was staring at her. “What?” “You’ve changed.” His tone was that he was both surprised and wistful. “No, not at all,” she replied furling her brow. Ell wondered if her parkour training was showing. She more or less felt the same. He pointed at her, “Yeah you have. Did something happen?” It was more than a question, it was like an interrogation. “No.” Ell blushed. This made Cesar lean across the table, -- The camera’s shuttlecock went multiple times – but he moved back a bit aware now of the
55 photographer. He didn’t need to get his picture taken. “Nothing,” she said, and laughed, maybe he was thinking about her virginity: “Not even that.” “You sure?” “Cesar, really?” He was persistent. “There’s something, it’s in your eyes.” The camera’s shuttlecock went multiple times. Ell sat back. It took all that she had not to Kong vault over the table, and Cesar, scale the black wrought-iron patio wall and alight on the sidewalk beside the photographer she would slap across the face. And do it in flip-flops. She held it back. Just barely: Goosebumps rose on her arms, despite the humid air.
“This Eloquence?” Rosa asked throwing the paper down on Sexton’s lap. They were unaware Ell was hiding in the kitchen, getting into the house by the back screen door -making sure not to let it slam behind her. From a mirror near the pantry, Ell could see into the living room. She saw Sexton picked the newspaper up, folded it in half and placed in on the sofa beside him barely taking a look at it. He was drinking a beer and didn’t at all appear interested in talking to Ms Rodriquez, who’d just a moment ago knocked on the front door. Ell had just snuck in. She knew Sexton would have pretended not being at home, but for the big front window, which clearly showed him sitting on his arse with a fresh beer. The picture was on the society page of the Houston Chronicle a paper Sexton did not have delivered. “Already saw it.” “Well.”
56 “Quite by accident, at the gas station getting a six pack.” He quickly glanced down at the picture in the paper Rosa had handed him as if to confirm it was this same picture, which showed Ell pushing her long, blonde hair back off her face coming out of a bar with some friends. “King Heiress hits the town” it read above the picture in black type. Below the picture were the names of friends in the picture with her, they were standing more behind her as if wishing to avoid the flash. “Thought she’d be back, holidays.” Ell knew he’d been discouraged from contacting her – she could if she wanted to, but not Sexton. It was part of the deal he signed six years ago. The deal that kept the air conditioning on and groceries in the kitchen, the deal that allowed him to quit Six Flags and retired to do something else; bow hunting maybe or deep sea fishing from Galveston – he hadn’t made up his mind just yet. He thought about moving to Alpine, he said once, but then decided with some advice from friends to stay put. She had been his little girl, and then she wasn’t. And he was told in no uncertain terms that he never really had a claim on her. Sexton missed her dearly, he told Rosa. He said looking at something on the carpet that wasn’t there, that he felt she was his daughter. So it hurt even more that she never showed. As long as Ell could remember, Rosa had been a part of her and Sexton’s life, popping in now and again. She had changed jobs moving from one club to another, from being a cocktail waitress at the Men’s to being a teller at Sam’s -- Ell kept track. She got Sexton deals sometimes on damaged groceries or appliances and always asked after the girl that had gone. Rosa had gotten more beautiful, Sexton was more needy around her now than when Ell was younger.
57 Sexton was drunk already. Ell could see it in the way he held his body, swayed in the armchair. “Do I need to answer that?” he finally said staring through the sheer curtain on the front window. He liked the way the shadows moved across the curtains, even in the humidity of a new spring day, Ell knew. Back and forth, swaying like waves. The mirror lost them. “Jefe, that’s our Second Ward girl,” she said and sat down on the couch beside him, the sofa giving out a sigh of air. She rustled the newspaper and snapped it open; the fold had cut the picture – and Ell – in half. “She’s so pretty.” Sexton snatched the paper from Rosa, folded it and threw it into the corner of the living room, causing the paper’s pages to open and flutter and fan out and fall into a heap of newsprint. “What the fuck Jefe?” “I don’t give a shit about that anymore.” “You’re paid not to.” Sexton turned to look at her. “Nice, thanks.” “It’s true. You should have fought.” “Fight the Kings, that’s rich. How was I supposed to do that?” “You took care of her for all those years; it had to have counted for something. I mean when no one was there, you were.” Sexton downed his beer in great gulps. The sound of Styrofoam. He got another from a small cooler at his feet. He snapped open the beer and took a sip. “I was her
58 guardian. Just her guardian. Nothing else. Anyway, It’s too late. And I don’t know anything about her now. Nothing. Just what Cesar tells me or stuff I hear on the news.” “She’s one of us, not one of those,” Rosa said looking at the picture. In the kitchen Ell inched closer to the entrance to the living room. She used the mirror, but also took a look around the corner a time or two. “And what are we?” Sexton asked turning toward her and taking another look at Eloquence’s picture. A society shot, money, black and white, pushing her hair back. A canopy that read: Toxic. “Real people.” “And we are? “More so than this,” Rosa said and nodded toward the photographs. “Someone in their family gets lucky, and the money just pours in and for everybody it’s the same, just turn the tap, fill the glass and drink it up.” Sexton was about to reply but then he realized he was put in the position of having to defend the King family, something he wasn’t entirely comfortable doing. It was something he had to undertake every month when his King check was deposited into his bank account. “Jefe they all drink the Kool-Aid.” “What are you talking about…?” “And the Kool-Aid makes them think they’re better than anyone else, because of that someone in their family who invented a new way to hang clothes or how to get crap oil out of the ground. They drink the Kool-Aid and they think they’re smarter, or more beautiful, that the world is theirs and theirs alone.”
59 “What does this have to do with Ell?” “Everything, Jefe. Just look at this picture, you can see she’s been led to the tap, she’s been told how to drink and now she’s fucking full of it. So full she’s got blind with it. People are fucking starving and these fuckers are out spending five hundred dollars for champagne. And once you’re in – Ell’s in – and you’ve drunk enough, you forget about the real world, this new one takes over and you feel only a righteousness and a rightness, and a privilege; it’s a self importance that is so staggeringly humongous it smothers everything else. ” “No, it’s not like that. People are good; they work hard and are paid well because of it. So many things these so-called fuckers discover – oil, hair product – scrimped and saved to get there, to work and find things and make society better. Everyone gets a piece of it. And yeah, some get bigger pieces, but still…” “Jefe are you John Galt?” Sexton shook his head and turned toward Rosa. “I don’t know who that is. Listen, Ell is a King now. She once told me she’d always be a Second Ward girl and a part of me believes that’s true, or wants to believe it. The King family is very, very wealthy, but I don’t think at heart Ell will be changed by that. She was raised here.” It was Rosa’s time to shake her head. “You believe that? Ell’s a Second Ward girl. The Kings haven’t changed her. Got that right. I gotta go. I gotta go get dressed and take the bus over to work where people will roll up to my till with a gigantic cart of peanut butter, DVDs, and toilet paper, not because they need this much of any of that, but because they want this much of any of that. We are hot-wired to assume more is better. Ell’s in the thick of it now. Heck she’s long gone, Jefe.”
60 Rosa got up and stood at the door, holding the handle. She looked back at Sexton who turned, and asked: “Why did you come?” She gave out a little laugh, “To tell you I saw Cesar driving in the neighborhood, with Ell.” Rose moved to go and then stopped herself. She stood there a moment with the door open and said, “Tell her I was asking after her,” and left, slamming the door behind her. Sexton threw a beer against the living room wall and curse.
The debate made her skin hot and Ell wanted to engage, but she remained still in the kitchen, sitting in a chair now looking at a picture of herself as a little girl at the rodeo. Sexton had taken the picture with one of those disposables. The faded photograph was on the fridge door, secured with tape, in exactly the spot it was first placed well over six years ago.
Sexton walked into the dark kitchen and the surprise of seeing Ell nearly caused him to fall down. He grasped his breath, clutched at his chest, and flung himself against the counter. “What, are…how long have you been here?…” Ell rubbed at her eyes. “I just…” She didn’t mean for this to happen this way. It had been a few years since she’d seen Sexton in person; they’d exchanged letters from time to time, but that wasn’t the same thing, and Sexton was terrible at it. She really had wanted to simply say hello and visit for a short while. But she saw Rosa in the front room and would have left, but Cesar had already left in his truck. Ell didn’t want to disturb them. She always thought one day Rosa and Sexton would become more than just friends that Sexton would have a wife he adored and Rosa would have a husband who wasn’t a
61 total pig. Things had happened quickly when Eliot had died. She was more or less gathered up by the King family and taken away. At first she fought it, running away, but was always caught, brought back home and reassured that everything would be fine. It did not take Ell long to discover the Kings were not evil and were not out to harm her. One night in particular, they sat her down in the library and handed her a picture of greatgrandmother, Eudora. It was like looking at an older Eloquence. They left her alone in the library with the picture. She turned it in her hands, and something told her to open the back of it, sliding the black felt board and stand off the metal frame. Behind the board, was a letter, addressed to Ell.
My Dearest Ell: By now, you are back where you belong -- with family. You are a King. I’m so sorry you had to go through so much pain. But it will be worth it. You’ll see. You are a very special girl. You come from a long line of very special girls. We have a gift. Soon you will come to know the gift. But you must always remember there will be those who want to take your gift away. Be careful. Love, E
The Kings were sweet and caring and Ell could clearly see they loved her and wanted only the best for her. Still, it was head-spinning. Something told her what they were saying was the truth; she could feel it in her bones. What felt sometimes made her
62 very sad. Ell was told to stay away from Sexton and that he had been and would be handsomely paid for her guardianship. Stay away, she was told, because he would not understand how special Ell was, or how to protect her. She ran away. They found her and brought her back. How ould this be? Ell was to stay away because it would be less difficult for Sexton in the long run and in not a terribly mean way the Kings told Ell that Sexton was not the kind of people she should associate with. She ran away, toward Sexton, and they found her as if, she thought, they had her under surveillance, which as she grew older she knew to be true. Sexton, she was told, was not to be feared, but as she moved through life Sexton was not someone you spent time with. What was the point? Leave that past behind. Cultivate new alliances and work on your own new beginnings. Fashion a life as you were called to do, a life that is more and that has extraordinary meaning. The Kings could sense her suspicion, her concern because Ell vocalized them loudly and frequently. If you must: write letters, they said helpfully and provided her with her own embossed light blue letterhead and envelopes. Her name spelled out: Eloquence Skylar King. “Eloquence Skylar King,” said Sexton after righting himself and blowing out a breath of undigested air. “Did you break into my house?” Ell was back in the house she grew up in, the one she was later prohibited, well maybe denied, from visiting. Only later would the Kings ease that restriction. Now, she sat in the kitchen and began to laugh, which made Sexton laugh too. “Easy sneezy.” “You always did know how to make me proud,” he said walking across his kitchen. Ell could tell he regretted his fatherly tone. It was hard to break a habit, but it was a habit he had to break no doubts about it, Ell mused. One thing about Sexton, the
63 facts could not be denied. Once the facts were in the case was closed. He didn’t argue the facts and simply took them for what they were not matter how much he wanted at some level to cuss, and fight and punch something to make the facts change in his favor, whatever favor that might be or want to be. Ell stood and they hugged, Sexton twirling her around the kitchen like he had when she was little. She would always squeal, “the world’s spinning, spinning, spinning out of control…” Eloquence did this now mimicking the announcer at a whirling ride at Six Flag, as Sexton continued to move through the kitchen in these gyrations, which caused her to laugh and giggle in some resurrection of her former self. He let her go and she nearly fell. They stood at arm’s length from one another. “Look at you,” Sexton said, “Tall and beanpole thin.” “Same old Ell.” “You know you always hated your height, always. You weren’t gawking or anything. You didn’t embarrass yourself in front of boys you liked by tripping over your feet or smacking yourself with your hands.” “I never felt gawky.” “But you didn’t appreciate it until you were around twelve or so. I think by then Cesar was using you as a ringer in playground basketball and stuff. And you were always so acrobatic. I’d see you on the fence out there running along the top beam and I’d be shitting bricks thinking you’d take a nosedive, but nope, you just flew like some beautiful bird.” “Sexton.” Ell thought he might be crying.
64 He had moved to the fridge. “Remember this? Mutton Bustin’ You outlasted everyone. Your feet dragged on the ground on account of them being so long, which might have helped you win. I took this picture right after the announcer boomed out your name and said you’d outlasted everyone – even the boys.” Ell looked at herself again. Forget that past, she heard in her head. But she remembered being on the sheep, its fur soft and spongy smelling like hay and water. She recalled gripping the fur and having her body across the entire length of the small animal who scooted and ran around the rodeo pen. The crowd cheered and Ell hung on not thinking too much about it because she wasn’t at all afraid. “You weren’t afraid. In fact, you were never afraid. All those hurricanes and all you wanted to do was look out the window and watch them come.” “All those rides.” “Children must be this height….” Sexton said and gave out a full laugh raising his hand in the air indicating even as a child Ell was tall. “It didn’t matter; you took to every ride like it was nothing at all. Every other kid was puking his guts out – not you.” His smile faded. Sexton turned and picked up a dish towel. “Come in the living room.” Ell followed Sexton into the living room and watched him clean up the beer that has splattered on the wall when he’d thrown his beer can. He was wiping when he said, “Rosa. Did you hear me and Rosa talking?” Ell had the crushed can in her hands. She shook her head. “Sorry you had to hear all that.” He gathered up the newspaper and put in a magazine rack. As serendipity would have it, Sexton had folded the paper in just the right
65 way that so when it was slotted in the rack, Ell’s photographed face poked through the tines that resembled prison bars. They sat on the couch together, Sexton opening another beer. He asked Ell if she wanted anything and she waved him off. It was some time before either of them spoke, the initial joy of seeing each other and having a few moments so briefly to recall when they were closer was priceless, but it took some pause for the sheen of that to lessen and for them to speak of more prosaic things. They discussed how school was going, the length of her holiday, where she was going in Mexico, what her studies were and what eventually she thought of the King family. “Unexpectedly, I find I quite like them,” she said, surprisingly herself. “Why unexpectedly. I always thought Eliot was a good man, well… he was no murderer… something went wrong and he got swallowed up in it pretty dark quickly…” “There was all the stuff before, the mysteriousness of not wanting me and then when everything happened the family was so quick to reclaim me as one of their own.” “You thought you would have ended up hated them,” Sexton said. “For taking me away from you.” A silence filled the room produced by the machinations that tore them apart, by the arrangements that kept them isolated and by the time that had indeed lapsed and accumulated from their absence. And to, the silence was for the love that sunk into room. That too. “Never away, completely,” he said obviously trying hard not to cry. Ell tilted her head and placed it on Sexton’s shoulder. “Always in each other’s heart. I don’t know if it makes it worse or better that their not bad people. And they have a lot of money.”
66 “That they do,” said Sexton. They both chuckled, for both had lived the entirety or the most of their lives without money, let alone within the soft belonging of vast wealth. “Is money making you a different person?” asked Sexton. It was a continuation, perhaps, of his conversation with Rosa. Ell knew this too, and because she’d been a latent partner in the conversation had provided responses silently, responses not only to their volleys, but also to her own that came and went over the years of simmering guilt and feelings of unworthiness. “No,” she answered defiantly lifting her head off Sexton’s shoulder, and then more softly, “I suppose. I mean how could it not?” Sexton took in his former charge. “You don’t think that if you’d stayed here, with me, that you wouldn’t be in pre-law at U of H or Rice?” “And how would we have paid for it? But that’s just it isn’t it. Money isn’t everything, until it really is.” Sexton muttered that he had to admit he’d not thought of that in this instance. Of course the first consideration of taking an advanced degree for most would be a financial one. He knew that, but still, “scholarships,” he said. “You are very bright. You would have gotten a free ride to either of those schools…” “Maybe but not entirely sure. At Harvard the scholarship kids are not exactly looked up to. They get a reputation for being vulgar or hayseeds from Iowa or wherever. “You don’t believe that.” “Well, of course I don’t but there is a clear delineation of rank in my classes at Harvard; I’m sure they would be the same at U of H or Rice or anything other top notch
67 school I would have gone to. There’s the lower classes and then there’s the higher classes.” “The Kings. Their own class, you might say” “We simply have things to do that people in the lower classes just wouldn’t understand.” “What like me? I wouldn’t understand” “No, that’s not what I mean. We have the money to do great things, to make things happen, to change the world…” “Money can do that? Who are you John Galt?” Ell furrowed her brow. “You haven’t been reading Ayn Rand have you?” “Who?”
Continental Flight 1534 from Houston to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico took just over two hours. Ell, Kaavya and their friends; Jillian and Keonna, from Mass. Hall, got their bags, went through security and jumped into a convertible Jeep for the short drive to Villa Luna Nueva – which sat in the hills above Cabo San Lucas and the beach below. Their had been some protests over the villa’s location vis-a-vie the beach, but they were weak considering the accommodations for all the girls was being provided by the King family. Roethke had insisted that if Ell was going to be in Mexico with her Harvard friends she would not be staying down in the city itself, near the bars, but up high in a villa of their own with a pool, on-site beauticians and masseuses. There was satellite TV, ice makers and of course free Wi-Fi. Ell remembered how much Roethke stressed this -- WiFi; he knew the girls couldn’t live being able to text. The villa protests grew even weaker when they arrived at the private, gated compound. Opulence was in the air as thick as suntan lotion. “I wonder how the poor people live,” Jillian, a short stout blonde from Iowa said standing up in the back of the Jeep. From the drive the city of Cabo and its beaches could be seen. The drive from the villa to the city wouldn’t take long, but the road was winding and Ell was told it would be easy to get lost if one weren’t paying attention. Driving up, Ell had noticed quite a few side roads, which made getting lost plausible, not avoidable.
69 She also notice Rubicon, not so secretly tailing the Jeep. Ell was told she’d see security from time to time in order for her to know they were there, if needed. It was spring break, what would the girls need with security. Ell thought of all the drunken Frat boys trolling Mexico for easy girls and how often they would confuse girls having fun with girls wanting to put out. The security detail could stay. Ell told Kaavya, but not the others. It didn’t seem necessary. They settled into their rooms; Ell had been adamant that she and Kaavya be roommates. Jillian and Keonna gladly shared the other room. Every room exited onto the patio and pool area where chaise longs waiting amongst tropical plants begged to be used; rattan and leather furniture and the curvaceous pool provided an atmosphere of relaxation, if not decadence. The floors were marble, the bedroom walls white and all the woodwork was teak. “Beach or pool, beach or pool,” Kaavya was saying as she unpacked. “Beach or pool.” “Beach,” said Ell doing her best not to tear her luggage apart to find her bathing suit. She unpacked a crushable fedora and placed it on her head. She glanced over to see Kaavya booting up her computer. “What are you doing?” “Checking e-mail just before we head out, plus I told Papa I’d shoot him an email when I landed.” “Call him.” “Right now he’s probably fast asleep.” “So why…”
70 “He’ll look at the time I sent it.” A tinge of sadness in her voice -- or what Ell took for sadness. Ell found her bathing suit and it was all she could do not to squeal like a little girl. She threw off her clothes she’d worn on the flight and put on her top and then bottoms of her suit, purple with white polka dots. She had to admit it was pretty skimpy; she got out a red Indian sari and wrapped it around herself. The Patek was on her wrist, and she gladly knew it was water-proof. “Oh my God.” It was mild shock, not at all frightening. Kaavya was hunched over her laptop peering at the screen. “Remember Seamus Patrick?” Ell did, but only as a passing hunk. “Yeah, pakour dude, Governor’s son. Why?” Ell said going over to see what Kaavya was looking at. She was looking at the Boston Globe online and there on the front cover was a picture of Seamus Patrick in wool cap and handcuffs. The headline read: “Gov. Son Arrested: Freegan House Protest.” It was nothing serious. “I forgot all about that guy. Looks like he got himself into some trouble.” Ell was turning. Kaavya followed grabbing her beach bag, slinging it over her shoulder.
In the Jeep all packed in to head down the hill toward The Corridor – Cabo San Lucas’ shopping and dining district that rimmed the beach and the gulf coast waters, Ell asked: “What’s a Freegan?” Keonna, who was from Portland, Oregon, and many Harvard girls found too progressive said right away, “Someone who doesn’t pay for anything. They try to eat, dress and house themselves for free.” She shaved her head and had a pierced right
71 eyebrow. “It’s about making a commentary on all the waste in the world. Freegans: everything free.” “There was some protest at the Freegan house yesterday,” said Kaavya. Keonna shot back: “Which one – there are at least three or four I think. They’re always having these ginormous parties,” Keonna said as an aside. Kaavya didn’t know which house; she couldn’t remember from the article. Keonna asked, “Why Ell, what’s going on?” “I thought you weren’t interested?” Kaavya said to Ell in a half whisper. “A guy we… know was arrested outside one of them yesterday in Boston, that’s all.” Ell had indeed forgotten all about Seamus Patrick. But as soon as she heard his name again a picture developed in her mind of his graceful leaps, stretches and arabesques; and he was beautiful to look at. She knew he’d watched her parkour training, but only a few times early on and then he disappeared. When he was gone, it was like out of mind out of sight. Ell had better things to ponder. Then there he was on the front cover of a newspaper, being arrested, standing up for something she knew nothing about. But she was interested nevertheless. She didn’t want to show that she was, but at the same time she wanted to know more. She chastised herself for being such a fool and not waiting to do a private search on her iPhone while she sat on the beach. She would do this too, but she wished she’d kept her curiosity to herself. Now blabber mouth Jillian knew, and Keonna, who Ell knew wouldn’t talk about her behind her back, but was such an acquisitive person. Any interest on her part would pique Keonna’s wont to know more. Ell thought of a tact. “I’ve just never heard of that before,” she said to Kaavya in a low voice.
72 “You’re allowed to be interested in a guy,” she replied, picking a strand of silky black hair out of her mouth driven there by the open air. The drive went along shaded portions of the road, round long curves, slowly declining down the face of the hill. Ell looked down a road or two into the aqueous green shade and dark structures that constituted small neighborhoods of workers; their streets little more than juts into the foliage. Silhouetted figures played in the road. undergrowth engulfed them. From time to time looking back the villa could be seen; it soon vanished amongst the trees and would not reappear – as if magically – while on the Corridor esplanade. Ell parked the car in the shade of some trees. “Shopping or beach?” “Beach,” they squealed in unison. Through a short passageway between restaurants, the girls found themselves on the sandy beach, the smell of ocean water and suntan lotion in the air, the feel of the gritty sand at their now bare toes and the sound of music, various strains of it coming from nearby bars. But most of all every pore of their bodies and every sense rose to the sheer volume of people, the young greased against the harmful rays of the sun; people were drinking, running and crashing into the waves, sun-bathing on long luxurious terry cloth towels – and people walked, cruised, up and down the boardwalk and the beach in a seemingly endless meat market. They walked along the boardwalk briefly, rented two umbrellas and set out for a patch of the beach facing the great Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t easy. Finally, they decamped; oiled up, surveyed the neighbors and began spring break. Ell put earbuds in and checked out to the sublime Adele.
Not far away, on the boardwalk, he watched Ell.
73 He tried to look inconspicuous but he wasn’t very good at it. The dark black socks in the open toe Birkenstock sandals didn’t help and his ghost white skin was a dead giveaway. He wore a cream colored straw fedora its brim in the shape of a cresting wave, with black trim and black horn-rimmed glasses he’d inherited from an uncle as well as a solid black pipe, which at the moment streamed a blue-white plume of fragrant smoke at frequent intervals. A pathetic white singlet barely covered his pale body, and white hairy chest. Madras shorts finished off his outfit. But all that could have been forgiven if not for the fact it was clear this man was well into his seventies and so therefore clearly not in Mexico for Spring Break with throngs of sex-starved, drug and alcohol crazed collegians. His name was Father Aloysius St. Michael Parnell. The Jesuit was based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Parnell, as a lad of thirteen, had been present for two days of the infamous 1949 exorcism which inspired the movie “The Exorcist,” which his uncle Fr. William Bowdern had taken part in. Parnell was there the day the exorcism ended and the young boy was freed of the demon. When Parnell entered the priesthood he did so with a special designation on his personnel file; as to what it signified Parnell never knew and has never asked. Jesuits don’t bother their superiors with petty questions. He maintains to this day that he saw the devil – a black serpentine column of twisting smoke – when he was twelve – maybe that was his special designation. But he wasn’t in Mexico on account of that or the devil or for Spring Break, which he half jokingly thought was clearly manifestation of Satan. He had been woken from sleep two nights ago with an overseas phone call. When the phone chimed, he jerked awake as if lightning had struck the house. He sat upright and somewhat still asleep and turned when the chiming continued unabated; without his glasses he fumbled with the receiver, finally getting it to his ear.
74 “Hullo?” he asked in a craggy voice. He raked his hand through his the unruly pure white mess of his hair; it billowed off his head like a cumulus cloud. “Descendant E. Cabo San Lucas.” Fr. Parnell gathered up a small Postalco notebook he kept by the phone and twirled his Mont Blanc ballpoint pen point out to write with one hand. The pen, an extravagance, was also a gift of his uncle’s. He wrote down what was said in the darkness, regretting having not turned on the bleeding bedside light. “Goodnight, Al,” the voice said and the line went dead. Parnell placed the receiver on its cradle, turned on the bedside light and leaned back against the headboard. “You’d think he’d know time zones,” he said looking out the window at sheets of illuminated rain. “Cardinals. They think they rule the world.” Back on the boardwalk Parnell scanned the beach and spotted her. “Descendant E. There you are,” he said matter-of-factly under his breath, opening his canary yellow Postalco and turning the Mont Blanc with one hand. He jotted down a note in his nearly indecipherable script that apparently only grew legible when it was writing Latin. “Now time for a coffee.” Parnell turned and left. The note in the canary yellow book: “D-e looks like a young JoArc.”
Ell loved shopping and loved to do it with Kaavya. It wasn’t about finding something they didn’t have, the likelihood of this actually being the case bordered on the impossible. No, it was a fine distinction they both had to make; they shopped for the one thing they
75 didn’t have but also for the one thing everybody wanted, but few had. This might have meant the very same thing, but time and time again out shopping they either in unison fulfilled the latter but not the former. Rarely was the former acquired, and if so, acquired for anything less than a breath-taking amount of money. Both Ell and Kaavya came from money – Ell was an oil dynasty heiress and Kaavya’s father was one of India’s bestselling authors of all time. Few knew of Kaavya’s connection to money. No one at Harvard knew who Kaavya’s father was and she never told them, even when his books were bandied about in class or in discussions. Ell knew though and Kaavya had her swear an oath of silence and loyalty. Kaavya’s picture was never taken and therefore never published in newspapers and magazines. An Internet search for Satish Narayan’s would produce his Web site, books, book reviews, book jacket photographs, readings, award ceremony photographs, magazine articles, fan sites, and all the rest Bing and Google can cull, but – no family photographs, save one, taken in 1996 when Kaavya was twelve. In the picture her long black hair was cropped and her characteristic smile was nowhere to be seen. She looks like her brother, Saachi, to her right in the photograph, which is not out of the ordinary for identical twins. Her mother, Dr. Tempest Jackson, a literary theorist in England, smiles and stands out quiet severely being the lone non-Indian in the picture. Ell was a different story. She and her visage on the other hand have been everywhere. It began when she was just a baby. There’s a newspaper story and picture of baby Eloquence King in the branches of a tree on the King family Westheimer home. The story goes that Eliot King and an unidentified woman were on the balcony arguing and she holding the baby had stepped backwards, spun around and watched helplessly as the
76 baby, Eloquence, bounced off the stone banister over the edge and into the bramble of the twelve foot tree. The child could be heard giggling the report said. Then the reports of being sent to a guardian, on the behest of her father Eliot as he began his life sentence for murder, imprisoned in a prison for the criminally insane. For a few months afterwards plenty of pictures and stories appeared and then for more than a decade it all dried up. Eloquence who? Once Eliot died and Eloquence was once again under the wing of the King protectorate there wasn’t a publication that didn’t carry a picture of the heiress. When Ell went off to Harvard she pleaded to Roethke to allow her some privacy and he relented by having Ell trained for self-defense, but also by providing her with the number of a private security firm, Rubicon, in Boston she could call at any moment for anything from simple car services to 24/7 security coverage. Roethke didn’t call off the security firm entirely, paying to have a man monitor Eloquence’s movements and to ensure her safety. The man kept back and must never be seen by her and if she saw him the assignment was completed and King Oil would never again work with Rubicon. It was at this time, while Ell was asking for privacy that she told Roethke and Mary that she would be staying in the dorms, not an apartment they had purchased for her in Cambridge. She needed to be normal. Shopping with the girls without security was all a part of it. Of course, Ell knew she had some form of surveillance in Boston and in Houston when she visited. But she never said anything. It hadn’t been much of a bother, to date, although she found the latest tail, an old man in a black horn-rimmed glasses and a pipe in his mouth that had been tailing her since the beach to be insulting. How could that guy do anything in a fight? It was hilarious. Blacks socks and Birkenstocks?
77 Ell was worn out after the day’s shopping excursions and time at the beach. After dinner she took a short walk down the hill and came to one of the side streets she’d seen driving by in the Jeep. The street drew her because she had to know what was in there. The street was dark and both sides of the road were shanties of bleached wood atop dirt yards surrounded by the hillside’s darkness. A few people straggling here and there, some sitting up on their porches; Ell said good evening in Spanish, which was greeted mostly with cordial smiles and responses. Ell looked without looking: Their clothes were dirty and their hair ruffled and oily-looking. There was nothing here. Very little and it wasn’t good. Ell thought she could easily knock down one of the houses simply by leaning on it enough. If she attempted any parkour the structure might come away in her hand. You’d have to use the trees, she thought inexplicably. Further down, two young boys played with a small object flying back and forth between them. It was a hacky sack. One boy kicked the sack up in the air and toward Ell. In the dappled light Ell could see it and raced for the sack extending her left ankle to catch and then flip the sack back up into the air toward the boys. They took the sack and passed it back and forth before sending it over to Ell again. She stood there and played for some time, but then the wind was picking up swaying the large fronds and trees limbs that canopied the street and houses before her. They stopped and introduced themselves, Ernesto, 11, and Oscar, 8 and invited Ell to a nearby porch. There she drank a cup of papaya lime juice offered by one of the boys mother. No one spoke English. As Ell handed the sack back to the boys she gave Ernesto a fifty dollar bill and winked at him. As she was walking back home she pulled her iPhone out of her pocket. She wrote an email to Roethke.
To: email@example.com From: Eloquence@mac.com Subject: Having Fun in Mexico
Dearest Uncle Roe: Having a great time in Mexico & Safe and Sound. Any chance I could get $250k for a good cause down here? Best regards, Ell.
She pocketed her phone and started for the villa, noticing suddenly that the temperature had dropped; goose bumps formed on her skin. She picked up her pace and ran the rest of the way up the steep incline to the villa. She went back to her room – the other girls had gone out to a club with some guys from Wisconsin – and crept into bed. Ell pulled out her iPad intending to read for a while, but fell fast asleep almost immediately. Ell was awakened suddenly by a loud banging. The power appeared to be out. She looked at her Patek: 11:45. She lurched out of bed and to the patio’s sliding door. She slid the glass door open and instantly felt the bracing wind, which made her take a step back. She braced herself against the doorjamb, took a cautious step onto the patio and walked against the wind to the edge of the villa to get a better look. En route, she noticed upended chairs and saw lamps swaying back and forth; the wind dashed the tree limbs
79 quickly one way before knocking them another. Down below at the bottom of the hill, Ell could see Cabo San Lucas silhouetted against the overcast sky. It was not raining. The sea was black mass further beyond. Beyond that, the darkest cloud Ell had ever seen raced across the face of the ocean like the blackest crest of an enormous wave. It would be raining soon, and it will be raining a lot. Ell turned. The wind was picking up. Picking up fast.
“We’re going into the cellar,” the villa manager said to Ell when she arrived back there panting from her run. “What do you want me to do?” “We have blankets that need to be carried down and a lot of things should be stowed quickly before the storm hits.” “What about your guests down the hill?” Ell asked thinking of Kaavya and the girls who were still out there clubbing. She started texting. “There’s no time.” “What do you mean there’s no time?” “The storm was supposed to go out to sea, but at the last minute it swung north. We’re going to get lots of rain and this hill is going to produce a lot of mud. We need to get into the cellar within the next ten minutes.” Suddenly sheets of rain began to hit the villa with striking force. It caught Ell off guard and she nearly dropped her iPhone. “WRU?” Nothing in return.
80 “HomeNow.” Nothing in return. Ell grabbed blankets from a pile in the lobby and followed the manager down a set of winding stairs to a cellar where guests and villa staff were located. Everyone looked a little scared. The sound of rain was pounding on the roof of the villa in great volume and force. Nothing in return, yet. Ell pocketed her iPhone and dashed back up the stairs with a few of the hotel guests and began stowing away anything they were instructed to move. Ell took a moment to run to her room and throw some of her personal belongings in a beach bag. She took the bag downstairs and placed it against the cement wall. She ran back up the stairs and met the manager halfway. “Is this the only way out?” He shook his head and pointed to a door down in the cellar on the south side. A passageway out and in from beneath the entranceway, he said wearily. It was if it had just dawned on him that both portals could be compromised in the storm. Nothing in return. Ell returned to the bunker to hear the beginning of the manager’s speech to guests and his staff. “May I have your attention,” he said in English and then repeated himself in Spanish. “I have been informed that a hurricane-force storm has just hit Isle San Quinto. I have asked everyone to the cellar as a safety precaution.” “How bad is it?” a guest asked. “No way of knowing. The telephone lines are down, and we are running on a generator as of twenty minutes ago. We have an emergency radio, which my staff will
81 monitor. Right now, we’re in for very heavy rain, high wind and given the history, some mud slides.” Ell was beginning to really panic when Kaavya ran down the stairs with Jillian and Keonna. “Thank God.” “Thank your Jeep,” Kaavya said and hugged Ell. She was soaked through from the rain; Jillian and Keonna were both soaked too. “There’s some towels over there,” the manager said. The girls toweled off and gathered around Ell where she had placed her bag. Ell watched as a few remaining villa staff, locals, hurry into the cellar. The manager was about to close and seal the door when Ell walked over to the manager. “I supposed everyone will be going down into their cellars, because of the mud slides,” she said. “Unfortunately ours is one of the few cellars on the hill. Some will come here seeking shelter. “What about the rest?” “The ones that don’t have cellars?” The manager gave out a chuckle that sickened Ell. “They’ll huddle in their shacks and trust in God.” Ell ran up the stairs and through the lobby and out of the villa entrance into the driving rain. Ernesto and Oscar. She heard the manager call after her, but she did not stop to explain. The mud will sweep them and their home away. Ell ran down the sweeping driveway staggering in the gale that tore at her body. The headwind made her reel as she struggled to get down the hill on the slippery concrete. She had never felt such heavy rain, its weight utterly surprising and frightening. It took about ten minutes for Ell to get to the road where Ernesto and Oscar’s families lived,
82 where just a few hours ago she stood playing hacky sack. As she came to the road she slipped in a rivulet of rainwater gushing down the ditches; as she fell Ell threw out her arms and grabbed hold of a tree trunk. She swung her body over the stream of rapid water and ran into the darkness of the street. Ell did not see a living soul. There, she thought, she could see a small light emanating from the blind blackness. It must be a kerosene lamp of some kind. Repelled by the rain and mud beginning to swirl around her ankles, Ell moved forward calling out “Ernesto! Oscar!” The torrent was deafening. Ell finally got to the porch and began to pound on the door. Great rivers of mud flowed all around the shack looking black and ominous in the darkness. The door opened a crack and a small man’s face appeared. “You have to come with me. Now.” Ell ran to the next house and banged on the door. There was no answer. She returned to find Ernesto at the door, with his father and mother; Oscar, his Maria sister and Lupe, his mother. “We’re going up the hill to the villa,” said Ell. To this Ernesto disappeared and came back with two long ropes. “Everyone,” he said holding out one end. Ernesto and his father helped tied the ropes to everyone. Ell stood on the porch, which offer a modicum of shelter; but it was leaking. The house creaked, moving slightly. Ell had to catch her balance. Ernesto turned toward her and gave the thumbs up and gave her a length of rope. She was beginning to worry, the roar of rain and the force of the wind was horrific. She couldn’t do this on her own, what was she thinking. Ell took the rope in her hand and as she bent over to tie it she realized she had nothing to tie it to, nor was it long enough to go around her waist. She would hold on to it. A dread filled her – how stupid was she – broken only by a hand on her shoulder. Ell turned: Kaavya.
83 “Need a hand?”
They moved cautiously down the road, which was fast being covered with mud, a muck calf-high and climbing. As a group they took to the edge of the street, clinging to trees branches and limbs for support. Rain continued to gush unabated and the wind drove at them fiercely. At the end of the street where it intersects with the main road up the hill everyone was shocked to find a violent flow of mud. Here and there, inexplicably the road was visible, but for the most part it had long ago been buried in a steady stream of sediment. It was decided they would have to stick to the ditch, which was also filled with mud flowing downhill, but at least trees and brush could be used for purchased as they moved up the hill. Ernesto’s father took the head of the line, followed by Kaavya, Maria and Lupe; Ernesto and Ell were at the end. Everyone was instructed to grab on to whatever they could as they made their way up to the villa, which could barely be seen above them. It was this or nothing. They couldn’t go back and the storm was relentless. They proceeded slowly through the knee-high water and mud coursing down the hillside, grabbing onto boulders, trees and old fencing up the hill against the bewildering hurricane-force storm. Looking forward was falling mud and darkness, backward a vortex of mud and darkness. It was an eternity where everyone was blind, drenched and deafened by an insistent roar. The villa came into view, like a ship upon the ocean emerging from a fog. It rose amid tributaries of mud, looking solid in spite of its present predicament. Progressing the line moved from the road into the brambles at the base of the villa. Kaavya and Ernesto’s father were heading for the door to the cellar that lies beneath the entranceway road.
84 Ernesto untied himself at this point, wanting to join his father upfront, when a draught of mud knocked him tumbled him backwards down the ditch. He oscillated to and fro, before being launched upward and then into a large tree’s eager limbs and roots. He was snared, the mud rising on his chest, to his chin, imperiled. Ell let go of the rope instantly and slide down the road to where Ernesto was and saved herself a further fall by grabbing a hold of Ernesto’s leg, which was submerged. Ell was able to free the boy and together they made their way back up the ditch to the face retreating rope. At head, Kaavya waved, Ell waved and the line moved forward. They must be entering the cellar Ell thought, letting go of the rope briefly to wipe her hands. It was enough for the monster mud to push her down into the glop and down the hill. Ernesto failed to notice as he advanced up and through the brambles. But someone else noticed. Ell suffered the mud stream backward, trying desperately to find purchase or in some way right herself to stop the descent into the vortex of rain and mud below. Ell flayed and turned trying to no avail all the park our moves she could. Ell was bashed against trees and protruding hill. The iron of blood rose in her mouth. She felt the road beneath as the mud moved her body from ditch to road and back again. It was a black bending monster whose strength could not be bested. It maliciously threw her back into the ditch where Ell, exhausted and facing the villa, could not see the colossal stone in the ditch behind her. As she was slammed with bone-crunching velocity into the boulder Ell saw in a flicker the old man, the old with the black socks in the Birkenstocks. But it didn’t make sense what she saw. He was surfing. Surfing, with arms akimbo. Surfing on the mud.
85 This just before she wheezed and died.
Kaavya traced the now faint scars that ran the length of Ell’s back; one, the longest running perpendicular to her spine, the other intersecting higher near her shoulder blades. Kaavya had told Ell the scars resembled the Christian cross. Everyone who saw them said so. But not Ell. To her the scars’ religious associations simply added fuel to the fire that her survival out in the storm (Tropical Storm Astrid) last Spring Break in Mexico had been some kind of miracle. If it had been a miracle it couldn’t be corroborated, because no one witnessed it. After the storm had passed and vehicles and rescue teams could safely go out, the rescue of the living and the recovery of the dead began in earnest. Ell was found at the base of the hill, in a ditch, propped up against a rock. She was unconscious, but breathing and very much alive caked with mud from head to toe. When rescue workers and emergency medical technicians turned her over her wounds, mud and blood soaking her back, were evident. Ell groggy and disorientated said, “St. Michael,” before being deposited inside the emergency vehicle and taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cabo San Lucas. “No St. Luke’s,” the emergency medical technician said. Ell had little memory of what happened once she was walloped by wind and mud down the hill. Next thing, she woke up in a hospital in some pain. Roethke and Mary found Ell in the hospital and they instructed the family physician, Dr. Isabelle Liu to fly home with Ell on the King Oil corporate jet. It turned
87 out Ell would have some aches and pains and a few stitches to the wounds on her back. The scars would fade Liu told Ell; a month out from Spring Break the wounds were less raised welts, and more pink stains upon the skin. At the time of the accident, the Kings took care of the others too: Kaavya, Jillian and Keonna were escorted to the airport by King family business associates. These were the associations who also represented the corporation when presenting a check to the family of Ernest Gonzales in the amount of $250,000 to restore their neighborhood. Roethke rationalized that since King Oil employed Mexican nationals and drilled in the country’s gulf waters, the money was a donation not to mention Astrid’s utter wrath devastated the hillside where Ell had called home ever so temporarily. Ell’s story was front page news in the Harvard Crimson and was featured in Tuesday Magazine, both exhorting her work to help locals during a tropical storm and her subsequent injuries. In Tuesday, Ell was convinced to pose partially nude, facing away from the camera, looking over her shoulder; the angle and closeness exposed the cross on her back. It did not take a lot of convincing. There was a part of Ell that wanted the attention like any young girl would, but she was ignorant as to how much of that adoration she could or could not control. Ell chided herself on not making a better decision. She was vain. She was human. Someone had slid a copy of the magazine under her dorm room door with a note that read: “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” Ell didn’t know what it meant, but she knew where it had come from – Ecclesiastes 4:6. Or if she knew what it meant, she didn’t know how it had anything to do with the picture, let alone her. The message was written in ink, black ink, and was almost illegible. She kept it, thumbtacking it to a bulletin board near her computer; over time new notes and posts began to
88 obscure it, but she knew it was there, like she knew that beneath the snow there was grass. Kaavya thought it was creepy and told Ell so; still she was utterly and obsessively interested in the scars. “How could they not be a sign,” she said in that voice that hinted at her accent she tried so hard to hide, and stared at her friend’s back. Ell could feel her behind, assessing. It was becoming increasingly a problem between them. Ell was always too polite and didn’t want to hurt Kaavya’s feelings. Then she touched her. They had just finished lifting weights and were dressing after showers. Ell gave out a little shudder as Kaavya’s fingertip traced out her scars between with the so-called crossbeam followed by the shaft that ran along her spine. “Kaavya!” The tone belied nothing but anger. “What, I’ve just never touched them before…” the voice sounded like an old witch to Ell. “And you just thought now would be the right time, both of us naked in a locker room, for Pete’s sake.” “They are a sign.” “Don’t start with that.” Keonna arrived and opened her locker, clad in a towel wrapped around her body and her shaved head glistening. “Start what?” “Nothing.” “She still maintains the scars are nothing that’s what.”
89 Keonna leaned her head to one side. She was going to be a social worker. “I think it’s important to honor was the vic…what Ell went through out there. We weren’t there, we up in the villa safe and sound – thank God we had the Jeep.” “I’m just saying,” Kaavya said her voice indicating her feelings had been hurt. She began to dress and kept her face away from Ell’s. Ell was dressed and was closing her locker. “It’s pretty clear. I fell, a mud slide took me down the hill and my back hit that rock. I got knocked out and woke up in a hospital with these scars and little else…” “You saved all those people,” Keonna said. Ell didn’t respond. She checked her iPhone for messages and threw it in her tote bag after seeing that she had none. Kaavya turned again toward them, now dressed, but perhaps a little vindicated by Keonna’s assertion. “Got them up the hill, before…” They had all talked about this before, but then as would be the case now, Ell would not provide them with what they all desired – knowledge of how someone like her suffering such a blow, could survive it and do so without much in the way of permanent damage – not that a large twelve inch scar was nothing – and on top of that to have no memory of the crucial time when Ell teetered between life and death. “Before I can’t remember. I didn’t remember then, I didn’t remember a few weeks ago, and I don’t remember now,” she said with a little more force in her voice than she intended, for the locker room drew silent and all eyes were on the girls. “Memory comes back,” Kaavya said. Ell turned and left.
Keonna had told them the Freegans were having a party in Charlestown. “A guy in my Heidegger class told me about it.” “The cutie in the dreads?” asked Ell. Keonna grinned and quoted Heidegger. “And you know existence is being.” “Being hot on the cutie with the dreads,” Kaavya added. Prior to heading out, Ell snuck up on the Rubicon dude, and tickled his ribs. He reacted red-faced and stern. His dark glasses hid his eyes. “You’ve got me on GPS.” H nodded. “Here,” she said and handed him her iPhone, “Give me a quick dial to hit.” She knew it would work; Rubicon had been following Ell for several years, and although they’d been reamed out about Mexico it was understood it was rather difficult to be at her side during a hurricane (Ell hadn’t told anyone about the surfing, black-sock wearing hero). He took the phone, opened up the keypad and punched in a series of numbers. “Press 0.”
Ell paid for a cab to Bunker Hill. They got out at the base of the monument hill -- Keonna had directions from there, walked into a residential area. It was a Saturday night and there was nothing else to do. There was, to be expected, a discussion as to exactly what a Freegan was and Keonna made it seem like these harmless folks were neo-hippies who rarely spent money for items that could be regularly discovered for free. Some Freegans went years without paying a dime for the free things they found or recovered. “You mean trash,” Ell said. “One man’s trash is another man’s … “
91 “Trash,” added Kaavya, and they all laughed. It was decided that they would go and if the party blew they would be out of there in five minutes. From the hill, they walked a couple of blocks down and four over toward the Navy Yard, to an area of older homes, row houses of red brick, turn of the century walkups. Most of the homes on the street were deserted; much of the street was in a grey darkness. The row house at the end near a chain link fence and near some railway tracks stood out as golden light and as yet identifiable music poured out from its hold. “That must be it,” said Keonna. The three girls walked on toward the house, opened the short gate and took the sidewalk up to the small stoop and quarter porch where several people lounged on porch railings smoking cigarettes and requisite marijuana. The Roots could be heard coming out from a stereo inside. Through the smoke and hip hop, a voice came from the porch. “Hey Keonna!” She raced up into the relative darkness of the stoop, which was lit in small warm pools of light from time to time by hanging votives and white candles plunged into the open necks of wine bottles. There was a good vibe, Ell thought. The yard looked groomed, at the very least it was free of stray garbage; the house was old to be sure, but not deserted like its sisters nearby. People wore their hair in dreadlocks, enfolded in bandanas like burritos. Tattoos were plentiful, many sported tattoo sleeves and piercings, which highlighted lips, cheeks, eyebrows, nostrils and septums. There were those ironic T-shirts – brand new vintage, biker clothes of messengers and enthusiasts, and that neo-hippie aesthetic of looking as if you could farm or climb a mountain following any social engagement; the Foxfire Books and Whole Earth Catalogue browsers and followers. Ell found it non-threatening and
92 intriguing. These people stood for something. They knew where they belonged and with whom. “This seems normal,” said Kaavya in a rather shaky voice as if reading Ell’s mind. They had resolved their differences and were once again friends, even though each held the other in some reserve. Ell nodded and they went into the house. Not as tranquil. The subdued hip hop emanating onto the warmly-lit quarter porch and cleared yard was of course much louder and the brightness of the indoor light, while a engaging yellow, brought everything out in starker relief. There were many drunks stumbling about and pockets of people ingesting what looked like magic mushrooms to Ell -- noshed fungi gathered from tinfoil: what else could it be. The furnishings in the room were few, but the ones there were more indicative of what you might call the cast-offs of one to be turned into a treasure by others. There were random areas of people dancing and much traffic up and down a large staircase to their right. Down a short hallway was the kitchen. The kitchen was crammed with people, sitting on the counters, on a table, or standing talking in groups. It was there sitting on the counter near the sink, nursing a beer Ell saw Seamus Patrick. She saw him and he turned immediately and made eye contact. Kaavya nudged Ell, breaking her stare. “Why does he keep showing up?” “He’s a Freegan?” “Well that makes sense. Remember when we were in Mexico and I was online with the Boston Globe and there was his photo.” “He’d been arrested…”
93 “For protesting at a Freegan house.” “This one?” “No it was the other one on Adams there,” said a short and skeletal red-headed Rastafarian. “Beer?” he asked holding the bottles up to his face. The bottles were capped. “Name’s Iggy Morgan,” said the Rastafarian who opened the beers with an opener he had alongside his keys attached to his belt loop. “Never leave home without your church key,” he said holding up the opener. He handed both their beers. “Thanks Iggy,” said Ell who took a slurp of beer. “What was going on over there…?” Indicating the house where the protest was held and covered by the Boston Globe. “Adams? Eviction. Some of the neighbors didn’t like us there – as if we could possibly reduced the property values anymore, in fact we improve them – so they called the cops. But we had the judge’s approval to live in the house…but she went up and died and the agreement well, gone too, couldn’t find it we were told, blueshit for all’s I’m concerned…yada yada yada. We moved here. A lady-owner said we could have it as long as we didn’t burn it down. She was here for the first party. Huge. Epic in the basement. Everyone was passed out and such the next morning none of us able to remember a fucking thing, we all got inked...” Iggy gave the lay of the house, pointing and speaking like docent, but it was a little hard to hear, plus Ell’s attention was elsewhere. She peered up over Iggy to locate Seamus and couldn’t; he’d moved and was no longer in the kitchen. “See I told you he’d be here,” Iggy said to Kaavya as Ell surveyed the kitchen. “Well, he was where’d he go?”
94 Ell turned and gave Kaavya a look. She sheepishly shrugged her shoulders and held up her arms as if to say “I’m guilty.” Kaavya walked away with Iggy. She gave Ell a look that said I’ll see you much later.
The house had a basement, but it was not at all pleasant – the aroma rising from the darkness was enough for Ell to slam that door and never want to open it again thinking that might have been the desired effect; there was the main level with a kitchen, dining room, living room and a small front space as you came in, which might have been a den at some point in the home’s history, was now a place to store the bicycles of the residents. The staircase took you to a second floor of bedrooms (all open, all littered with bedding, clothes and bike parts), and a front landing, a kind of captain’s widow’s walk, big enough for maybe four people standing. There was a third floor up a short set of black lacquered wood stairs to a padlocked door; Ell was told it was the attic, but stoned girl in front of her could not say why of all the rooms it needed to be locked. In every room the Freegans roamed amongst their guests of skaters and university students, and it became easy prey for Ell to pick them off. They were the skinny ones with eyes lit up with euphoria; up close each Freegan gave off a funk that wasn’t nasty necessarily, but had seemingly been produced utilizing unorthodox cleaning materials, or in some cases, no cleaning products at all. Inexplicably Ell thought she could smell brine. To each their own, she thought, of the residents -- they seemed all very happy. Somewhere in the range of twelve to fifteen people lived in the house at one time and the house was run on rules each and every member had to abide by to remain a resident -- or face eviction.
95 Ell found herself in the oddest of the rooms – at least of the ones she could or would go into. Most of the rooms upstairs contained a miniature party in and of itself. Often it contained couples engaged in mauling each other with their tongues and lips. The room that stuck out was the quietest in some respects. It was located near the front of the house, at the left. It was largely quiet, save only the hum and song of many quiet conversations going on at one time. There were pockets of people, leaning into one another, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. A large front picture window was open and even then the window contained a few holes all on its own. One conversation caught her attention, not for its tonal signals, but rather for a young man. The young man had blond dreadlocks sheathed partly by a shockingly pink bandana; he was wearing a white sleeveless T-shirt, which exposed his sizable biceps, but also, and more importantly, showed Ell his left arm, which was literally covered in an elaborate tattoo. The right arm sported only one tattoo up on his shoulder. This could all be seen from a distance, the room lit in a golden shower from a bulb on the ceiling. As she inched into the room under the pretense of going to the window, Ell glanced once more at this alluring figure and saw rather surprisingly that he wore a sari of goldenrod yellow and cornmeal blue and that on his feet he wore combat boots; the flowing sari made him look like a rather large fish. The young man sat on a crate on what was the west wall; people nearby sat lotusstyle or cross-legged on the floor. Some leaned up against the wall and stood. Even though there were other conversations, all the energy of the room appeared to Ell to be directed at this young man. Or perhaps it came from this young man. Ell leaned against the window frame and crossed her arms across her chest. It was then she noticed that one of the people sitting lotus-style listening to the young man was none other than Seamus.
96 “This guy,” incredulous she said under her breath. Soon, Ell could begin to hear what he what the young man was saying. She could get closer but that would mean signaling her intent to step over people and sit down on the floor. Oh what the hell, she thought, and she did just that. As she sat down beside Seamus Patrick the young man stopped talking and looked at Ell. “What’s your name?” he asked without hesitation. “Ell,” she answered equally with ease and quickness. But she did also blush. Her back gave out a quick shiver. Her name seemed to register something in the young man; she could see it on his face, but if it was anything he didn’t say so. He turned away to resume talking when Ell interrupted by asking, “What’s your name?” He smiled broadly. “Of course: how rude of me. I’m Quinten Compson. Friends call me Q.” Ell wondered if that was an invitation, to be his friend, but then she stopped. That name? But it was gone. Q made him sound mysterious, Ell thought, or else made him a Brazilian soccer player. She laughed a little to herself in awkward reflex and turned involuntarily to her left to confer in a wordless glance with the person there and found herself smiling idiotically at Seamus. He smiled back, but in a way that suggested he was empathizing with her grinning idiocy. She turned back. Her inclusion produced a hidden wave and the group disassembled and reassembled itself with people getting up to leave or smoke; others came sitting down in a drunken collapse, passing around a bottle of expensive vodka. Ell wondered about the Freegan creed. Could this possibly be something found and therefore free? The Freegan,
97 Stu Blue, explained that he and Murmur, another Freegan and resident of the house, helped a guy cart liquor into a nearby hall for a wedding reception and in thanks had been given two bottles of vodka. He pointed at the light white bottle making the rounds of the immediate circle. Q handled the bottle examining it briefly before passing it on and not imbibing. Ell took a pass too – it was flu season after all. After she’d passed the bottle to Seamus, Q leaned in front his crate perch and asked: “Do you think people can do right things for the wrong reason?” Ell blushed again. Sweat trickled down her shoulders and as it came to her spine, turned oddly tingling. “Why are you asking me?” Harvard Freshman a Mexican Hero. Q sat back. “We’d just been talking about doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and I thought you might have a take on it.” What a bizarre party topic, thought Ell; but then she thought it bizarre to even have topics for discussions at parties. Ell prized herself on quick answers in lecture halls, but found herself without a response, other than – “Can you give me example?” “Let’s see: How about someone who helps a person, or persons who are in dire need – perhaps even in danger of dying – but does only as a way to get her own name in the papers, rather than out of a any concern for the person or the fact that it would be wrong not to help.” She had a choice and she knew this immediately. Q was subtle and Q was obviously devious. The female personal pronoun. He was referring to the stories of her rescue of some Mexicans in Cabo. Ell could explode – which he probably expected, stomp out of the room and never turn back. She didn’t owe these people anything. Ell
98 could also sublimate her rage, which Q probably did not expect, in order to deny him the satisfaction. “Interesting, what has caused you to examine this? I mean have you found yourself doing something for dubious reasons? I mean to ask the question means of course a need of an answer, an answer perhaps being sought by the asker?” “I have.” It was Seamus. “Mr. Grumbler.” Q knitted his eyebrows – Ell took this to be exasperation for having foiled his plan to embarrass the heiress. “Mr. Grumbler?” “This was back in Norfolk. I was fifteen and I had a job delivering the town newspaper – the Enterprise – and Mr. Grumbler was on my route. It was great having him on my route because he was a big tipper, probably because he was generous, but also because he was a little addled. He couldn’t remember if he gave you a tip so if he was at all distracted when he gave you money, he would turn around and give you some more as if for the very first time.” Ell looked at Seamus as if he’d been some kind of miracle, the way he poked in and out of her life, or how her notice of him increased exponentially from the moment she saw him on campus vaulting over benches and railings, climbing up eaves and balconies with a gracefulness that was breathless. Q was steaming. “What does this have to do with…” “Right thing, wrong reason,” offered Ell. Seamus pointed at her and smiled.
99 “So it became common knowledge that if you helped Mr. Grumbler with anything, he’d tip you. Bring in his trash can – money. Collect for paper delivery – money. Bring his cat home – money. Bag his groceries – money. Let him know his fly was down – money,” said Seamus. “Help him across the street.” “Money,” said almost everyone in the small semi-circle. “Now those are all right things, right?” “I suppose,” said Q. “Thing is. I did them all. And for most of them I would do it more than once in an hour. He would have forgotten. I brought his cat Glimmer home and as I stood there at the door with the cat in my arms, when Mr. Grumbler turned to get his wallet for my tip, I’d shoo the cat away. “His zipper was busted…” he said and people groaned. “I moved his trash can back and forth…” Groan. “That’s just mean,” someone said and Q agreed shaking his head. “Only when I needed money,” he said standing, “Only when I needed money, but otherwise I did it for free.” The circle disassembled and assembled exchanging different people in a messy mix of drunken happenstance and eager wont; Ell rose and watched Seamus go. She followed behind, but before leaving the room she looked over her shoulder and stared at Q who stared right back their exchange unfettered by neither the mass of people nor the bejeweled yellow light. Their glances were laser beams. Out in the hallway, Ell had to move quickly turning left to see Seamus -- diving! -- through the window onto the roof.
100 A high-pitched whistle startled her for a second, then she forgot about it. Ell dove too and found herself sliding down the over-hanging quarter porch roof rapidly and without purchase to stop her from falling off the roof completely. The prospect became very real as Ell attempted to right herself and stop her fall – Seamus grabbed her at the calf. He was holding a substantial tree limb. “Never stay face first for long,” he said pulling her up. She caught her breath. “I’ll remember that.” They stood briefly on the roof the three storey house silhouetted by moonlight. “Always look to see the roof has a ledge, an eavesdrop your heels can stick to; but always make sure the ledge is stronger enough, and not too old for the force of your weight. Sticking your heels into an eavesdrop should cause your legs to buckle at the knees. Your next move is to use your hands, so you must have already in mind what you will grip, and swing from to get off the roof and onto another surface.” “Right,” she said. “So what would that have been?” He grabbed the tree limb. “Never power lines,” he said nodding over to the other side of the house. “You never know.” “So through the window, face-first, but not for long; on your ass kinda of a Monkey, feet first, buckle up, grip tree, swing over --” Ell said and looked over the lip of the roof, “onto the roof of that garden shed. Hop to the ground.” Seamus smiled. “Want to try again?” Seamus ducked back into the window.
101 Ell followed suit blowing a burst of air out of her mouth and aimed at a strand of her hair. Inside Seamus began, running through the window using the sill to complete a monkey vault, which propelled him down the roof; feet first, to buckle up on the eaves that took the pressure, stand, grip the tree limb and disappear over the ledge of the roof. Ell executed the same. Neither of them saw that Q had watched the entire episode from the window of the front bedroom.
On the dark street they walked slowly their bodies tingling and warm from being put through some impromptu gymnastics – Ell’s back was particularly warm as if her scars themselves were heating up. It wasn’t too weird for her; Ell had to admit she liked the sensation. Up and down her spine, a warm tingle; across her shoulder blades a flutter of warmth. Her hands throbbed too on account of the blood flow and her heart beat like some animal. Thankfully the Boston night was early spring time cool. They walked in silence, catching their breath. It also provided Ell a chance to compose herself, she could tell neither knew what to say to the other. Finally Seamus spoke. “I’ve seen you training on campus.” Ell knew of course. “Stalker,” she taunted. Seamus stopped. “I’m kidding.” “Your training was pretty intense.” Ell liked this and smiled, but it was largely wasted on herself for the street remained darkened by the overhanging trees. A light wind moved them, the heavy knotted limbs ever so briefly breaking the spell they were immobile sentinels. She could
102 have used the moment to tell Seamus that he was her inspiration. Ell could have told Seamus that she saw him on campus last year and from that moment on wanted to know more about parkour and more about Mr. Patrick. But she didn’t. Something told her it was the wrong moment, the wrong time. Instead she said: “I tend to do that. When I want to do something, I give it 100 percent.” “It shows. You’re very good for a newbie. A little awkward…” Ell had never been called awkward, even when she was younger and taller, and it was expected she was to be gawky. She wasn’t then and wasn’t now. “Really?” “Just a smidgen,” Seamus said as they emerged into some streetlight, where he had stashed his bike behind some bushes. “Your chariot.” Seamus got on the bike and Ell climbed on behind him, threading her arms under his. They glided. They weren’t a few blocks away in an area of Charlestown’s tonier homes, when they both sensed something wasn’t right, and at the same time, they both turned – the street, the shadows, was moving, but not the street, the seamless darkness itself undulated and waved. Portions of the darkness, shifted. They got off the bike to look. Ell’s warm scars flushed cold.
The darkness began to take shape, many shapes, bodies dripped from the inky gloom clothed in tight black uniforms with blood red hoods that fell down their backs in tentacles and covered their faces, clad in red mesh shields over the eyes. They inched forward as one. Black bodies, red heads emerged from the obscurity of night moving deliberately and fluidly. It was too late to get back on the bike. Then –
103 They darted. Ell bowed back and flipped herself up and away from an attack of what resembled an array of tiny, thin razor knifes thrust in her direction from their black hands. From atop the car she found herself joined by several silently pursuing her. Ell grabbed a tree limb on her left, hoisted herself up into the brambles and threw herself over a fence, glancing backward at menace in pursuit. She was also able to see on the fence behind her, a few of the hoard running along it tightrope-style toward her. In the yard, she found a trampoline (too easy she thought) and performed a somersault into the sweet spot of the trampoline, which sent her up into the air and high enough to grab hold of the house’s second-floor balcony. She gripped hard and pulled herself up and just nearly escaped when… “Ouch!” something dug into her leg. She looked down as she scaled to the roof using drainpipes, to see her jeans were torn at her calf. The beasts were on the roof now. Ell sprinted to an opposite ledge scanning her surroundings for her next move. A tree. Another yard. Doable. A dark thing was upon her and grabbed her as she leaned back for the jump; Ell punched furious and grabbed hold of the blood red tail of the hood and pulled, but nothing. Instead she wrapped it around the neck of the dark thing and pulled tight as she leapt, the roof giving way to air. Through the branches, being bandied about, and scratched, Ell fell, threw up her arms and looked below – A swimming pool. In Charlestown? Feet first into the water, Ell splashed down instantly being hit with the shockingly cold water. As soon as her heels hit the pool’s bottom, Ell sprung herself up and to the edge of the pool where she dragged herself out. She lay panting when she heard the guttural groan of a very large dog. She turned to see that on the other side of the pool five
104 dark things were being attacked by two very large dogs. Ell was relatively safe, but needed to get out of the yard – now. She sprang up glancing behind her at the carnage – beasts upon beasts. Ell saw too in the limb of large oak tree she fell through en route to the pool, up high in its twisted fingers wiggled her dark thing, reaching up in vain to untie the blood red bow ensnarled in ancient and strong tree. It flapped about like a fish out of water.
Ell called a cab on her iPhone and she was picked up on Chelsea. She reached the campus keeping a sharp eye out for the return of the dark things – the dogs seemed to stop them. She hoped Seamus had gotten out okay – she couldn’t go back to find out. It was only then that she allowed herself to think about what just happened. Why had she been attacked? What could they possibly want? And who or what exactly were they? On campus, under a light, Ell knelt and examined the cut on her calf. The tiny blade had made it through her jeans, but thankfully had only sliced her skin. There was blood but not a lot. A hand reached out to touch her shoulder, and she reacted by leaning back and unleashing a forceful kick up at her assailant. It was Seamus on his bike. He fell backwards, bike crashing to the ground, grabbing at his nose, into the hedges. Ell pulled him from the hedges. “I’m so sorry. You scared me,” Ell said. “It’s okay,” he said placing his bike against a streetlight. He bent forward and covered his nose. He stayed like that for a few minutes and then righted himself. Seamus looked at his hand. “No blood.” “I’m sorry.”
105 Seamus sat down on a bench moving his nose around his face by grimacing and opening and closing his mouth. “I’ll live.” Ell sat down beside Seamus. “What was that about?” Ell asked. “I have no idea,” said Seamus, “I was hoping you did.” They sat for some time in silence, catching their breath, trying to think. “Someone playing a joke?” “What about those getups?” Seamus reached into his back pocket, “You mean these?” He held up a blood red mask. “I found it in an old oak tree all knotted up.” Seamus handed the hood to Ell who held it in her hands as if it were an alien artifact. “It’s very fine chain mail.” “These marauders were Medievalists?” A beat, then laughter. Ell looked at Seamus, still playing with his nose. “How’d you get out?” “Same as you. I ran along the fence and lost a few there, was able to grab a hold of tree and make my way over to the other side and down onto a garage of something, saw you jumping the fence and the dogs on the attack. Saw them run as fast as they could, one of them getting bit on the leg. I was about to leave the way you did, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.” “The mask.” “Scurried up the tree, untied the mask and walked the roof over to the front lawn where there was a tree I could use to get down on the side of the fence without the dogs. Then I tried catching up with you…”
106 “Until I kicked you in the nose.” Seamus smiled and grimaced. And then laughed. “Ouch, ouch, that hurts.” “What’s your story anyway?” It seemed the right time. They had been through something tonight – exactly what was a mystery. “My story.” “Governor’s son. Freegan freedom fighter.” He laughed at that. “My brother’s a Freegan…” “Brother?” Seamus turned, “Yeah. Declan goes here, Harvard. Lives at the Freegan place we were at tonight. Harvard-Freegan, Freegan-Harvard. He’s a little confused. The newspapers are always calling him Seamus…” “What about you?” “Two tours in Afghanistan.” Seamus held up his left hand and Ell was instantly embarrassed to not have noticed earlier. The last two fingers, the pinkie and ring finger, of the left hand were gone. She sucked in a breath, and then asked, “How?” “Sniper shot at my trigger hand.” “Hey wait, I saw a picture of you or your parents and a son – and it was you.” “Ell. You knew this was coming really…” “What?” “Identical twins. Declan’s my identical twin.” Seamus smiled. Ell’s scars grew warm.
107 “The picture that ran in the Globe was taken when I was on tour. Hadn’t lost my fingers yet.” Seamus held up his hand, which if angled hid the fact there were fingers missing. Turned again and Seamus’ hand looked somewhat alien. “Still strong – after the physical therapy of course. They wanted to give me two prosthetic fingers, attached to my hand like two fingers on a leather glove. I said no.” “Why?” she asked. “It’s complicated, Ell. It’s a miracle I wasn’t killed. Snipers generally don’t miss. I just thought putting two fake fingers on my hand would somehow dishonor God.” They sat quietly for a moment, the sound of the city surrounding them. Finally, Ell asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” “I’m not entirely sure – yet.” Seamus got up from the park bench and Ell rose too. “So what are we going to do about this,” she said holding the blood red mask up in her hand. “Call the cops – doesn’t seem the right thing to do.” Ell agreed. “Can I hang on to this and maybe I can find something out.” They begin to walk toward Ell’s dormitory. “Mr. Grumbler?” Ell asked. “Norfolk?” Seamus pursed his lips. “Who? Where? I’m from Boston. Born and bred, the saying goes.” They arrived at Ell’s building entrance. “Will you teach me?” “Parkour, Free-running? Seems like you know a lot already.” “But I want to know more, get better at it. Why do you do it?”
108 “Meet me tomorrow around two at the Common. I’ll tell you then.” She told Seamus he’d meet him there, but not before he told her why. Why parkour? “After Afghanistan, I wanted to be able to run free, really free. I know it sounds silly.” “No it doesn’t” “After you dodge so many bullets and find yourself running for your life every day, you promise yourself some freedoms if you should live. One of mine was to run free, to not let anything get in my way. I was trained in Afghanistan to run for cover, here in Boston I run to for the open spaces.”
Ell was excited. She would begin some intensive park our training tomorrow with Seamus Patrick. She undressed in her room and examined her cut – nothing more than a scratch. She had a shower and changed into some fleece pajamas. Ell took out her iPad and searched the Internet for information on the blood red chain mail. There was a lot of information on chain mail in general, how it came to be the armor of choice in the Middle Ages but today was considered a fetish fashioned into slinky bikinis and renaissance festival headdresses. But her search brought up nothing on blood red fine chain mail. Some stuff on spider silk. That couldn’t be it. Ell found merchants who specialized in chain mail jewelry and a few of them advertised colored chain mail, such as black or red. She put her iPad to sleep and got up to close the window blinds. She was tired and wanted to go to sleep. She looked briefly down at the yard and could see him again, the man she’d seen since she had returned from Mexico. He hid himself only partially; Ell had to know where to look and when she stumbled upon that special piece of geography,
109 she always knew from that time forward where to look. He stood behind a tree, but not right up close, a few steps back and to the right so that the tree effectively covered him in darkness. He peeked out now and again. Roethke’s men she thought… And she was wrong. It was the priest. But it didn’t really matter. He too was sent to watch over her, to protect her when needed. Not to get in the way, but to be there when it was all but certain things would not turn out well. Tonight he watched the attack – the first of many, he supposed. It took all his strength not to compromise the endeavor. But when he saw the blood red hoods and masks – he knew; this could not turn out well. He knew exactly who they were, what they were up to. The mask was ancient. The mast was danger. The mask was death. Death wore many masks. On the floor of Ell’s dorm room, the purloined mask slowly, but surely, disintegrated into useless grit.
They became a novelty. Something to see; that is, if you could find them. It was somewhat difficult given their speed and the fact that where they were was where no body should be. Others joined in, friends of Seamus’ and soon there were enough of them to cause crowds to stop, stare and point at the leaping youngsters. In the months of training the troupe of free-runners became a regular oddity to witness. And even though they drew such attention, Ell and Seamus never saw the dark things in the strange red chain mail, again. They stopped looking out of the corner of their eyes. They concentrated on what they could see, and what they could do. Ell and Seamus were so quick, quicker than the other PK kids -- a milling hoard of tattooed, pierced, bearded, bandana-wearing agile people -- scaling buildings and vaulting benches and cars. They were nimble. How Ell and Seamus could vault over fences and scurry up drain pipes and fire escapes made people stand, once their initial shock or worry subsided, in gap-mouthed wonder. It wasn’t as if they had erected grandstands and were charging admission. Their exploits were seen by regulars here and there, and frequently surprised a few pedestrians from time to time. Sometimes Seamus led them through a maze of obstacles, hurdles and buildings that left both breathless; and sometimes she led them through a course of barriers and opportunities that left them wanting even more. The parkour troupe cheered. People actually cheered, people
111 applauded -- these being the regulars, who worked nearby and happened to pass there every morning or lunch hour. “You’re such a cute couple,” some shouted at them as the couple dangled from tree limbs or bound up and over fences and up nearby walls. Seamus’ hand over feet somersault always got a big round of applause. The traceurs and traceuses nodded their approval.
One day in particular their dexterity and speed reached an even larger audience. It was an old-fashioned purse snatching. Ell saw it happen. She and Seamus were on a fire escape. “Not the strongest drainpipe, that,” Seamus said, and Ell, took a moment to catch her breath. “Looked better from afar.” Ell looked down to gauge their height and saw a blond kid, probably not yet fifteen, dressed entirely in black, ride his skateboard at great speed down the sidewalk behind a woman whose over-large gold purse dangled on her arm while she talked into her cell phone. All the motions, even from her height, looked like a crime about to happen. “Hey look out,” Ell shouted down anticipating what was to come next. Seamus was already climbing up the fire escape, turned, and looked down. Ell’s voice had ricocheted off the buildings like an echo in a canyon. They watched together as the skateboarder had gone past the woman snatching from her the ludicrously gold purse. “Let’s roll,” Seamus said and began to quickly ascend the fire escape up the side the building to its roof. Ell took the lateral route jumping from the fire escape to another on the warehouse and then onto a small window ledge. She looked down to see where the skater was headed and could easily make out his blond mop, black clothes and gold purse.
112 She could hear the woman yelling after the skater. End your call and call the police. Ell looked up to see Seamus throw himself over and onto the roof – he was taking the high road she thought. Ell continued from the ledge, around the corner of the building; from there it was a jump to the adjacent building, which she did without much of a breath of hesitancy. She ran along the roof, staying close to the edge to see how she could get down, at the opposite side she saw there was a drain pipe. She checked it for stability and found it solid. Ell stepped over and gripped the pipe and shimmied herself down the three storey building; to her left Seamus was jumping from the roof to the roof of the adjacent building. He was staying high. She was going low. A Rubicon tail scrambling on foot. At the bottom of the drainpipe, she flew down the alleyway jumping over garbage cans and scaling a short chicken wire fence at the street entrance. When she was on the street she quickly glanced right and saw the blonde skater turning the corner, a street ahead. Ell ran sliding across the hood of a parked car, dodged between cars going in opposite directions and hit the opposite sidewalk at a full sprint having to hurdle a baby carriage and run through a rack of clothes being delivered to a nearby business. Around the corner, she saw the blonde skater ahead. Ell took a moment and looked up to see Seamus making his way across the roof of another building; soon he would be out of buildings, and out of places to land. And the kid was fast on the board. Ell headed back into traffic deftly alighting on the bumper of a delivery truck going by, handing on to a strap at the roof. She rode the block to the skater and as she
113 was about to jump off, when Seamus dropped down on the roof and they alighted together Seamus running ahead to cut off the skater. This caused the thief to stop, and turn around and ride his board back in to opposite direction. Right where Ell, her heart beating in her ears, her scars warm and then cold, crouched hidden behind a car. She bolted onto the sidewalk and clothes-lined the youth. She easily snatched the purse back pulling it from the squirming teen’s hands; Seamus’ foot was on the skater’s neck. Ell dialed the police on her phone. The woman came around the corner cursing the skater and praising Seamus and Ell. As they stood there, holding the purse, and holding down the culprit awaiting the police the woman took their picture with her cell phone. A young couple across the street watching the chase down and the purse recovery got it all on their cell phone video camera. The police came and picked up the youth – a known offender. The woman got her purse back. But before the police could get statements from Seamus and Ell they backed away, laughing and running, down a nearby alley. The woman took her somewhat fuzzy cell phone photograph to the Globe. It was front page news the next day. It hashtag trended: #flyingPKs. The duo remained anonymous; Seamus and Ell’s names didn’t appear, but those who knew, knew. And mostly that’s good. And sometimes that’s bad, thought the priest reading his morning Globe. He twirled his Mont Blanc and made a note.
114 Seamus had a small apartment, with great windows, on east Boylston Street not far near Boston Common. Ell had been a few times in the past couple of months, but only briefly each time. This time she was coming for dinner and bringing Kaavya with her. Earlier that day at their park, the lady whose purse had been snatched insisted that the two drop by one of her boutique grocery stores to redeem their reward -- groceries. They hesitated at first, but then relented with one condition – she not ask their names. The woman, Siobhan Sully, took a business card out of her gold purse and using a bright silver pen wrote on the back that the bearer was to be afforded $250 worth of groceries at no charge. She signed the back of the card. Seamus and Ell had been shocked by the amount and seeing this shock, Mrs. Sully added, “Remember it’s a boutique grocery store, you’ll use that up buying designer water.” To this she smiled, closed up her purse, turned and walked away talking on her cell phone. It was agreed upon that Seamus would keep the groceries at his place, since the dormitory wasn’t known for its great food storage. Hence dinner. “How are things going?” asked Kaavya as they walked toward Seamus’ apartment. It was beginning to get dark. “What you mean?” Ell asked suspicion hardly masked. The sheen of their once entirely above reproach relationships was long ago gone; ever since the Mexico incident, and Ell’s mysterious adventure that left her with a scar on her back. Kaavya hadn’t seen the accident, hadn’t been part of the rescue, she was safe and sound in the bunker under the villa. She didn’t have scars. Sensitive scars. She had suspicions, Ell could clearly tell. “Sorry. You know Seamus?”
115 “Seamus? He’s like a brother…” “Really? You seem to be spending a lot of time with your brother.” Ell was tiring of Kaavya’s questions. She’d always been one to ask too many questions, and not know when to stop. But lately, well, at least since Mexico the questions had become more and more a problem and even if they asked simple things, Ell wanted more and more to hide things from her friend. Every time she began an interrogation a shiver ran down her back, her scars grew cold. It was like it was a warning of some kind to clam up, to be careful. “It’s about the parkour.” “It’s so cool you guys have that, did that thing, saving the lady’s purse…” Ell pushed the button to Seamus’ apartment. He answered buzzing them in. They took the stairs. “That’s pretty random and I’m sure it will never happen again. Spur of the moment type of thing.” At the door they were greeted by Seamus and his brother Declan whose dreadlocks and geek glasses made him look like a badly disguised Seamus. They exchanged handshakes and embraces. “I’m here for the free food,” Declan said getting a laugh from everyone. Seamus gave everyone a tour of the apartment, even though both Ell and Declan had been there before. Ell had not since beyond the living room and kitchen, which shared a large space separated only by a kitchen island. The feature wall was a bank of windows overlooking old buildings and the river. Ell wondered how Seamus could afford the apartment, which wasn’t ostentatious by any stretch of the imagination, but was hardly a place a wounded Vet could seem to afford. Just the other day Ell had finally
116 found out where Seamus worked – at the local VA hospital it turned out as a nurses’ aide. He had sheepishly said his parents paid his rent. Declan squatted in a Freegan abode so the Patricks probably had a little extra sitting around, Ell thought and then admonished herself for such a catty thought. With the tour over, Seamus brought everyone to dinner. A beautiful table had been set, with bright and steaming vegetables, a pot of beans, some baked sweet potatoes, a basket of rolls and wine. Morcheeba played low on the stereo. “Please have a seat,” Seamus said and all sat down while he gathered up plates and placed them one, two, three down in front of his guests. “Dig in.” Soon everyone had a plate full of food and was eating. “So you guys are superheroes,” Declan said a fork en route to his mouth. “I know right,” added Kaavya. “Hardly,” Seamus said. “We just were there when help was needed.” “Sounds like a superhero to me,” Declan said buttering a roll. “I clothes-lined a kid,” Ell said in her own defense and thought her defense sounded strange. “Some kid,” Declan interjected. “Crime record as long as your arm,” added Kaavya. Declan got up and from his back pack he pulled out a battered laptop covered in stickers, opened it, and gestured for everyone to gather around. He’d opened the Web browser and headed over to YouTube, where he clicked on a video entitled “The Flying Free-Running Heros.” It was the video shot yesterday by that couple across the street,
117 Seamus had said. They watched as the video, forty-five seconds long, shows how Seamus and Ell took the kid down. “Look at the hits,” said Declan. Over five thousand hits: overnight. Seamus and Ell exchanged glances. “It was kind of fun…while it lasted.” Ell sat back down crossing her arms over her chest. Ever since she was a little girl she held this fantasy that she had a double identity, one person everyone saw, and another hidden one. She thought of herself then as a royal masquerading as a commoner, not out of sense of entitlement, she rationalized now years removed from the fantasy, but more as someone whose true identity, true purpose, was masked, but that one day would be revealed. Today’s exploit felt like a revelation. It was also dangerous. Her own mother had been killed, Roe told her; she came from money. Ell had to be careful. “It was a rush. But come on we can’t go around looking for trouble.” It was Kaavya and Declan’s turn to exchange looks. “Sounds like you might actually do it again?” asked Kaavya. What was it with Kaavya? Ell had already talked about it with her and was polite when she said she really didn’t want to talk about it. But now here it is again, and Seamus and Declan in the room. Her scars tingle briefly cold, and then warm. Ell readjusted her weight. “I mean your adrenaline is pumping…” “Like in combat,” Seamus added. “I think it would be cool,” Declan said with his mouth full. “It was cool don’t get me wrong. But only after. In the middle of it your focus is solely on what’s right ahead of you and there’s this push, this thing pumping through
118 your veins, an energy that tells you to avoid the danger, but strive to capture what you’re after.” “Like Mexico?” Ell turned sharply to look at Kaavya. Her scars were burning cold. Declan asked, “What’s Mexico?” “Ell was down in Mexico, there was a tropical storm. She rescued a local family and was injured in the process. It was in the papers – don’t you read,” Seamus told his brother and pushed his shoulder. “That’s right, some bizarre scar on your back.” “Declan.” “Seamus, it’s okay. Yes I have a scar on my back.” “How did you get it?” “From a rock…I don’t remember. All I remember is seeing the family make their way up the stairs of the villa where they could find shelter, next thing I know I woke up in a hospital.” “Wow. You can’t remember anything?” “No!” she answered a little too loudly. It brought silence to the table and every one continued to eat, especially Declan. “We’re not going to do that again. It’s insane to think otherwise,” Seamus said. Ell offered a muted, “No. We’re not cops.”
After dinner they sat in the living room on an orange suede L-sectional couch, Ell flipping through a catalogue of Gerhard Richter paintings and Seamus sitting lotus-style
119 watching her. Off near the stairs to Seamus’ loft bedroom, Declan was showing Kaavya some Tai-Chi. “Don’t concentrate on what it might be, but rather how you feel,” Seamus said watching Ell turn the pages of the Richter book. “Because sometimes to evoke, and elicit, the emotions a painter will use brushstrokes and or images of something entirely different from the intended content, in order to get at that emotion, the emotion that the real life object might have produced -- defying in a way -- representation.” Ell opened the book wide and showed Seamus. “Everyone thinks that looks like the Berlin Wall, when it fact it’s ice, and the crud ice and snow leave behind. Feel cold, feel something momentous moving, see the thaw – feelings and emotions associated with the Wall and the Wall coming down.” “So the image is not the thing, the emotion is?” Seamus nodded. “January, December, November. “The whale in Moby Dick is frightening not only because of its size and the lives it had taken but all the more so because the whale is white.” “What because they’re rare?” “True, but also because we do not expect horrifying things to be white.” “Why not?” “We’re indoctrinated to perceive certain things in only one way. White is almost solely the color of purity. White is good.” “So when we see something we might associate one way – the only way – and it acts another, it’s scary.” “John Wayne Gacy.”
120 “What, the serial killer? Horrible any way you look at it.” “Dressed as a clown? Scarier even more so considering he murdered children.” Ell shook her head and returned to Richter’s abstractions, his blurry photographs. Evil and beauty in equal measure -- Ell wondered to herself. Evil clowns, white whales, emotions without form. Ell the young princess, hidden in her room. States remain, when states are allowed. Ell gazed at a picture, she nearly drew tears. There is so much beauty in the world, but you have to know where to look. “Should we?” she asked not looking up as if this were enough to establish secrecy. Seamus knew what she meant and slid down onto the flood; he leaned against the couch and looked up at her. It was intoxicating. “I’ve thought about it a lot since we caught that kid.” Ell turned, closing the book and looked at Seamus there in front of her; her scar breathed warm. “Me too.” “It felt right.” “But risky.” “I mean to actually think about doing this. With the kid, we just reacted to what we saw.” “We’d be doing the same thing.” Seamus whispered, “In a way, but we’d have to set out with the intention of finding trouble and fighting crime.” Ell was scared, but something here felt right. Her scar. “What’s so wrong with that?” “The bad guys sometimes carry guns. And knives. Aren’t you afraid?
121 Ell considered this and said in a hushed tone leaning closer to Seamus, “I guess not. It hadn’t occurred to me. Are you?” “Yes,” he said looking up at Ell, inches now from her beautiful lips, “Of you getting hurt.” He rose up from his sitting position like his legs were on hydraulics, and kissed her on the mouth. She kissed him back. “What are you kids talking about?” Declan asked standing over them with Kaavya there her eyes narrowing. Ell gripped the book in her lap and said, “How things don’t always appear as they seem.”
Two nights later, Seamus took Ell somewhere different. Every avenger must have its liar, he told her half jokingly. She loved that sometimes what they were doing was more than free-running, or even stopping criminals, but part of mythology, part of the night, part of the city. It was a half abandoned building on the harbor, during the day the bottom floors were used to lathe small water craft parts, box them up and ship them; the upper floors were used for administration, but the top floor of the four six building had long been abandoned. The elevator in the building didn’t work, people had to take the stairs if they needed to, and the door to the top floor had been bolted shut from the outside. The only way in to the vast floor was through an fire escape door, which had as a front step a fire escape that eons ago had been removed. There was a small platform to land on from the roof, easily accessible by drain pipe and window ledge; a little precarious but not too
122 dangerous for them (a deterrent to most). Two PKs did it with ease. The door was pried open using a screwdriver, working at the deficient seal. The first time Seamus took her there he had packed in his knapsack candles, a small bottle of wine, glasses made of plastic of course, a picnic blanket. They laid down on the blanket encircled in the glow of candle light. Seamus took his iPod out and attached small speakers to it, and played Washed Out at low volume. They drank wine, and read to each other from a book of Kay Ryan poems, Ell had on her phone. They kissed, helped each other undress in the light -- part moon, part candle; they made love, and held each other for warmth afterwards. They stared into each other’s eyes. “We you scared?” Ell kissed Seamus’ hand. “Always afterwards, never during. During the adrenaline has you going and sometimes you’re so mad for being shot at, that carries the day. But you’re scared afterwards, always. Amazed you made it through another day of patrols.” “And the day this happened.” “Much the same. I went into instant shock, and it was only hours later, in a hospital bed did I shake with such fear, the kind I’d never felt before. I had this one staff sergeant, one of the, if not the bravest man I ever met. St. Sgt. Kung. We called him King Kung, because he was such a big guy. We came to see me before I was airlifted to Germany. I told him I was scared and he said he’d be worried if I hadn’t been. Half of your hand’s been shot away he said, rolling that toothpick in his mouth like always did. He said everyone gets scared, there’s always a modicum of fright, the idea is to departmentalize it, put it in a the box. Kung said it’s got different names, hurt locker, personal panic room, he said it was the circle. Inside. Find that circle inside, and
123 emotionally go there to recover. It goes everywhere, he said, but its circumference will never be found. It’s not about shutting yourself off, it’s about finding your strength, finding the optimum place from which to battle the forces that would destroy you.” They lay for sometime in the blue of the moonlight streaming through the windows, The Bad Plus on the iPod. Their skin looking the color of skim milk. Seamus drew a circle on Ell’s torso; she drew one on Seamus’ chest. “This place will be our circle,” he said. And they slept.
Metropolitan Boston and Cambridge aren’t the most crime-riddled urban areas in America, but they also weren’t the safest and similar to any large American metropolis it has its daily share of misdemeanors, petty thefts, and major crimes. The night after the dinner party, Seamus and Ell headed to a neighborhood near where Seamus lived knowing it was experiencing a crime spree of liquor store robberies. They found a few stores and cased the areas around them for ways they could maneuver before and after any crime was to take place. “A traceur or traceuse must always know his or her surroundings, the lay of the land. A great part of PK is understanding what you have, what you can do with it, and where it will take you,” Seamus said hopping over a short wrought iron fence. Ell followed him through the gloaming of the small urban park. Inside the small park, a water fountain, with no running water, was circled by black benches, several of which were occupied by vagrants sleeping or talking in groups. Seamus and Ell stood in a thicket of bushes unobserved. They were slightly selfconscious of the fact they were spying on others and checking out an area for their use in tracking down and apprehending a criminal. The night grew dark and their insides
124 fluttered with a mix of fear and excitement. From where they stood, down the street they could see a liquor store’s sign, lit up advertising “cheap spirits.” “I guess we don’t go inside,” Ell whispered. “I think it’s best if we didn’t, we could be in there forever before someone came in wielding a gun – and we don’t want to be in that position anyway. In front of a gun, we want the gun in the guy’s pocket so when we tackle him or what have you, his hand is no longer on the trigger of the gun.” For an hour they stood there, alternatively watching the vagrants behind them – reports had been that the robber or robbers had been dressed in clothes a homeless person would wear. Nothing was doing. The store was having a busy night, but no one with a gun had gone in demanding the till. They moved jumping over the fence, over some cars and down one side of the building across from the liquor store to its back and around the other side to utilize the fire escape Ell had seen earlier. They hoisted themselves up and sat back to watch the front of the building for two more hours, before calling it a night. The same thing happened the next night – nothing. The store was busy, but not being robbed. Back at her dorm room, Ell used her iPad to comb through press reports to make sure that liquor store they were casing hadn’t already been hit. It hadn’t. So the next night, they went back. They both expressed their doubts and began to have serious reservations about what they were doing out at night looking for petty criminals to run down. “Is it because we want to feel better about ourselves?” Ell asked. Seamus nodded. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
125 “You do hear about police department cutbacks… thanks to your father…and they can’t be everywhere.” “Love my father, but I rarely agree with any of his policies.” “You never talk about your mother.” Seamus looked away as if to check the alley behind them. “Nothing really to tell.” “What does she do?” “Spend money.” Ell let it drop and glanced up at the store to see a man running out of the entrance clutching a large paper bag to his chest – and he was being chased by the owner who was firing a pistol in the direction of the robber. Ell sprang up and somersaulted over the lip of the fire escape and dropped onto the top of a large garbage bin. Seamus followed and then both ran down the alley toward the street. Around the corner and across the street from the robber and the store owner they ran watching the two exchange gun fire. Sirens could be heard. Suddenly the store owner when down clutching his leg; Seamus ran across the street to aid the fallen man and Ell sped up racing down the sidewalk across and slightly behind the man running with the bag of money. When she saw an opportunity she took it, running through two parked cars and jumping onto the back of a panel van going down the street. She lost sight of the robber briefly riding on the back of the van, until she could get herself to the right side of the van. It was then she saw the robber turn and run down a back alley, the bag of money tearing and beginning to spill paper bills onto the dark oily lane. Ell jumped off the van and did a monkey vault over a Mercedes Benz before throwing herself down the dark lane with great speed, speed that surprised even her. As she entered the alley she looked quickly all around her to see what
126 was available, what she could do with it, and where would it take her. Garbage, window ledges, doorways, fire escapes, hanging wires, and ahead what looked like a shopping mall, brightly lit from within silhouetting the robber who in Ell’s gaze looked small and… The robber suddenly turned and faced Ell. “Stop right there bitch.” It was a woman. Ell stopped. The voice. And the woman fired. Rubicon was in the alley -- too late. And the bullet hit Ell in the stomach. And the heat spread. And it was like gas. And she inhaled. And caught a glimpse at what resembled a fleeing witch. And she doubled over. And fell down. And it was like sleep.
Seamus still covered in blood could not believe what he was hearing. An ER nurse had recognized the governor’s son and sat him down to give him the news on the patient he brought in. Ell had been shot with a .32 caliber revolver. The bullet entered the left side of the body at the level of the seventh rib. When she arrived her pupils were dilated and the
127 heart and lungs were responding poorly. The wound made by the bullet was found on the left side of the trunk over the seventh rib, in the anterior auxiliary line surrounded by an area of burnt and discolored skin roughly three inches in diameter. Her legs were paralyzed, her heart and lungs responding very poorly. A vertical incision six inches in length allowed the surgeon to examine her for internal damages, and extract the bullet. But she did not survive. But she did not survive. Seamus slumped down in disbelief. She did not survive. Eloquence Skylar King was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m.
At 11:39 p.m. Eloquence Skylar King wiggled her toes. Words rose up in her as if she’d inhaled a whisper and this soft utterance ascended through her body. Her nervous system lit up in a startling fuse charging her entire being, coursing, sparking but also ebbing; she could have sworn her heart heaved, paused, and quivered before continuing a calming beat, which was inexplicably accompanied shortly thereafter by the fragrance of an ancient unidentifiable spice lacing every last suffused breath. Her eyes opened. At the end of the bed stood a woman dressed in muslin the color of oatmeal, a beautiful flower pinned to her chest; her long hair, past her shoulders, was pure white and iridescent and she had the bluest eyes Ell had ever seen. The woman smiled and patted Ell foot, turned attaching an IV and monitor line to Ell’s wrist and disappeared through the door. Ell could hear a monitor ping. Her monitor. Ping. Ping. And a nurse ran into the room, took one look at Ell there with her blinking eyes open and promptly dropped the chart she was carrying. Ell was tired. So she slept.
Some time later in the middle of what felt like night (everything was dark or dim), Ell awoke. A nurse was standing beside her bed, looking as if flying aided by invisible wings. A doctor was there too, a thin flashlight beam scanning her face, her pupils. “Do you know where you are?” “Hsptl,” Ell said groggily. “Good. I’m Doctor Buechner. What’s your name?” “Kng.” “Good.” “Do you know you’re a miracle?” “N.”
The next morning, Ell awoke in a private room, brightly lit with a bank of windows and an array of flowers scattered about her bed. She took in the yellow walls, the machines around her, and saw Seamus there at the window. Kaavya was asleep in the chair. Roethke came in through the door as she turned her head. He was running his hands through his hair. Ell recongized in his face a deep worry, but also something else. “I still can’t fathom…” he began saying rather unconvincingly it seemed to Ell, but stopped after seeing Ell was awake. He went to her side. “Ell, honey.” “Hey Roe.” “How you feeling?” “Groggy.”
130 Ell turned. Both Seamus and Kaavya were bedside. “You are amazing,” said Seamus touching Ell’s hand. “You’re expected to make a full recovery. You were shot in the abdomen and there were fears,” Roethke said looking up at Seamus and Kaavya, “that you had some organ trauma…” “But you made it through,” said Seamus. Roethke pulled Seamus aside. He was pointing his finger at Seamus and gripping his arm tightly. Kaavya was inching closer to Ell and was saying something, but she wasn’t listening; she was trying to get away from Kaavya, to figure out what Roethke was saying to Seamus. But she only got a partial view and couldn’t hear their conversation. Seamus threw up his arms, and left the room. Roethke turned but didn’t go after him, instead he stood at the foot of her bed with his hands on his hips. He dropped his arms and turned to face her, smiling. “You’re a miracle,” Kaavya apparently repeated what she was saying as she leaned into Ell. “A big time miracle.” Suddenly the flash of a camera went off and Roethke turned and chased a news photographer out of the room saying, “She needs her rest, we told you not now.” With Roethke out of the room Kaavya leaned in even more and asked, “What do you remember?” her black eyes sparkling. Ell fell asleep.
Ell opened her eyes and scanned the room, which was empty. She was numb but could
131 not find a point of pain. The machines were still there. The curtains were drawn and the room’s brightness was muted. A nurse appeared in the doorway and entered the room. “Ms King. How are you feeling?” She looked over a chart that hung at the end of Ell’s bed. The nurse had a flower pinned to her white coat and the bluest eyes she’d ever… “Good. Tired, and numb, but good.” “The morphine is numbing, just let us know if you get itchy or something or have a persistent headache.” The nurse clipped the chart back on the end of the bed and walked around to the side where she could hold Ell’s wrist. She took her pulse and while she was doing so Ell stared at the flower. That flower. “Beautiful flower.” “Grape Hyacinth bloom… it’s for my grandmother.” “She likes them…” “Were her favorite,” the nurse laying Ell’s wrist back down on the bed. She check the IV tube and the monitor the one the other nurse swore were disconnected from the body of Ell Skylar King and then magically reattached. “You’re quite the miracle you know,” the nurse said. “So people keep telling me. But don’t people survive gunshot wounds all the time?” The nurse turned her near aqua eyes on Ell. “Sure, but not many people at all come back from dead.” “What?”
132 “Sweetie didn’t anyone tell you? You were pronounced dead last night at, at, 11:34 p.m. and at 11:40 or so you just suddenly sprang back to life.” “What?” “You were dead.” “But…” Ell tried but could not fathom what she was being told. “Then you weren’t. Maybe it’s true,” the nurse said distantly. Ell thinking it was something about her asked “What what’s true?” “When there’s a death, there’s a birth. God takes one and gives one. That sort of thing. My grandmother,” the nurse said touching her hyacinth, “died last night in this hospital, pronounced dead 11:30 p.m. right around the time you came back to life.” “I’m so sorry,” said Ell. “Oh, don’t be. She was ninety-six and had lived a great life. Nurse like me. Pure heart that woman.” “You got her clear blue eyes didn’t you?” “Why yes,” the nurse said fluffing Ell’s pillow, then stopped, “How’d you know?” “A guess.” The nurse seemed to weigh this. She smiled and said as she was leaving the room. “Friday’s the funeral. Remember, if you need anything or you need more pain medication push the button pinned to your arm there.” And she was gone.
Ell asked an orderly to open the curtains. She wanted to see the lights of the city, but also the brilliance of the setting sun. The haze was orange, tinged with red and purple,
133 the hues of her bruises. The cloudless sky provided an undisturbed canvas that would simply become darker and darker as the day gave way to night. Lights on buildings sparkled like magical gems and windows lit up here and there revealing little scenes of domestic or business life. Ell felt safe, and still numb, but grateful and filled with an emotion beyond her pain medications – an ebbing and flowing of resilient joy. She had been dead. Dead. In that way she could feel all the more appreciative for what she had and what she could do. It was a gift, an incredible gift, an inexplicable gift and she had been given it. It was showered on everyone; it fell on the safely sleeping babies, on mothers carrying new babies and on fathers teaching others to ride bikes, to build magical bridges out of blocks of air. The gift was showered blindly upon those in need and those with more than they could ever need; it was showered on the benevolent and on the stingy; on the valorous and violent. It was given so that it could be appreciated and understood it was the bestowal of love and the deepest love it was. A love so immense and stupendous that the words used to describe it were not enough, the thoughts of it were not enough, not even the love in return was enough to sing praise and humble thanks. The only way to honor the gift was to graciously accept it and be. Be. Be the gift. Be. Ell’s eyes welled up with tears.
Seamus and Kaavya came to visit most days and she politely bothered them about their
134 views on mortality, life, spirituality; Roethke only checked in before leaving Boston on business to Europe. It was plainer with him. There was a God. There was Jesus. He died so we may live. Roethke said it all as if it were the details of a TV show he’d been watching the night before. She asked him if he believed in miracles. He nodded that he did. They sat quiet both contemplating the largeness of what they’d been discussing. Finally, he asked, “You want to stay?” “In Boston. Why wouldn’t I?” she asked in return. She had come to hold a special affection, maybe even love, for her family, the King family. At first she resisted any attempt to bond with the Kings, but they turned out to be nothing like what she expected. “You’re stubborn.” “Like my father?” she asked. Roethke turned away and looked out the window at the overcast sky as if he were a weather man. He turned and smiled, “Yes. The King genes are very, very stubborn.” She giggled because Roe was speaking about family, something he almost never did, “What was he like?” “Intelligent…and super, super stubborn.” Ell let go a full belly laugh and winched in pain. “Don’t make me laugh…” Roethke laughed, “So it’s settled you want to stay?” “Yeah. I want to finish what I can; my professors have been really good with me missing so much school.” Ell said and looked over at the pile of books and papers on the table beside her bed. She had to write a paper and study for an exam she would have to write the first day back at Harvard.
135 “Maybe once the year is finished we can talk about maybe attending Rice,” Roethke said and rose. He looked at his watch. “I’ve got to go.” He leaned over her and kissed Ell on the forehead. She didn’t want to go to Rice in Houston, but she didn’t think it was the time to get into it. “Have a safe trip,” Ell said as Roethke strode out of her room and off to catch his plane. She wondered why Roethke never wanted to talk about his brother, her father and Ell’s mother; why whenever the subject arose he said something quickly and insufficient before changing the subject. Ell knew so little of her parents, and only remembers meeting Eliot up in the Huntsville prison when she was twelve. People said he’d gone mad. Ell wondered if she had that in her genes too: intelligent, stubbornness and madness.
Ell was allowed to walk the hallways and for that she was very grateful; she started to get a bad case of cabin fever. She wanted to be released from hospital and return to her life at Harvard. It was an overcast and boring morning, so Ell got up and out of her room with her iPad tucked under her arm. She walked down the hall to a lounge area, with plush seating and coffee and candy vending machines. Ell bought bottled water, infused with peach, and sat down on one of the chairs. She opened up her iPad and launched a browser. She had found a discussion board on miracles and spirituality issues and had signed up, but didn’t join any of the ongoing discussions instead she lurked. She read testimonies of people who were cured of so-called fatal diseases, of hungry families winning the lottery, she read about someone seen walking on water, which she laughed over, and a story of a
136 young boy who drowned, was pronounced dead, but regained consciousness. A loud and heavy wave of rain suddenly hit the lounge window startling Ell and she glanced up. “Beautiful isn’t it?” a woman Ell had not known was there standing by the window asked. She didn’t know what else to say, “Oh!” “Sorry, sorry I didn’t me to surprise you,” the woman said and fondled a small cross at her neck with her fingertips. Ell put her iPad asleep and went over to the window and stood beside her; she could feel the woman’s gentleness. Her scars throbbed lightly, a sensation she began to recognize, heat for good, cold for bad. No threat. “But the rain is magnificent,” said the woman who was tall and athletic – Ell instantly picture here in a baseball uniform, a sassy, lanky fielder. The woman had short grey hair, worn without curls or any other embellishment. She wore a peach cashmere sweater perfect for the spring, light blue linen blouse, and comfortable khaki pants. A very white pair of tennis shoes poked out from beneath the khaki pipes. A satchel of ancient-looking brown leather hung across her body. Ell looked out at the trees swaying – dancing, waving – and the lashing rain; Ell watched the sky’s color subside in great washes of rain from a violent dark to a lighter shade of grey. The rain looked suffused with light. It was beautiful and it made her scars heat up slightly something that had been temporarily stunted during her stay in the hospital and only in the past day or two returning – it was time to leave the hospital. Ell reached around and touched her own back, touching what would be the base of the larger of the two scars.
137 The woman noticed this and smiled. “I’m Sister Mary Carol,” she said and extended her large but slender hand, which Ell took and introduced herself. Sister Carol’s face rose up from its bevy of wrinkles and dark freckles as she smiled. They stood at the window enraptured by the rain, its undulating dark and light flourishes, and its force against the window. “When I am afraid of what the future holds, help me find trust,” Sister Mary Carol whispered placing her hand on the window as if she were holding a private intercessional vigil. Instinctually, certainly without agency, Ell placed her hand on the window, cool and smooth. I am afraid? Find me truth? “Are you afraid? In search of the truth?” She turned to speak directly to Ell. “Do you have spiritual questions?” Ell turned – had she spoken her thoughts out loud? The rain abated suddenly and the windows shone. They stood there in the white light. Trust? Ell nodded. “Father John Wooster, the church on Arch Street.” Sister Carol moved to leave and Ell touched her arm, “What church?” “St. Anthony’s Shrine – the patron saint of things lost,” she smiled, handed Ell a white lily retrieved from her satchel, and was gone. Ell never saw Sister Mary Carol again.
Two days later Ell was released from hospital with instructions as to how to keep the wound from getting infected; she was told not to stretch her abdomen excessively and
138 to continue getting plenty of rest. She was in her dorm room when there was a knock at the door – it was Kaavya. When the door was opened Ell could see that Kaavya’s arms were filled with books and papers. Ell had a feeling there was something she wanted to say, but she quickly forgot it. Things were blurry. “Here’s your sociology paper,” Kaavya said placing the essay on Ell’s dorm room desk. Then she plunked down a stack of books. “Sophocles paper is due by the end of the week. And the exam, you remember the exam don’t you, is on the twenty-third.” “Thanks again for helping me out like this,” said Ell who gave Kaavya a long bear-hug. Kaavya back up but held onto Ell, “What’s going on?” Ell blushed and her scars grew hot and cold, like they were vibrating. “Can’t I hug my girlfriend for helping me out?” “Of course, but you seem a little more emotion than usual. Talk it out.” “There’s really nothing,” Ell said, which she hoped was actually true. She sat down on her desk chair turning it around to face Kaavya. “But…” The hesitation was too great. “But what!” “What are you doing Thursday, say after lunch?” “Ell?” “Want to come with me to Arch Street?” Kaavya cocked her head like a confused puppy.
Thirty feet in the air an oxygenized bronze Christ hovered, splayed on a green and
139 weathered cross, the chief feature of St. Anthony’s Shrine. The entire edifice of the building was an impressive assemblage of architectural marvels; first, unbroken stone plane; with half of the building from ground level to about twenty feet featuring angular narrow windows. Above this further, atop the sculpture of Christ, were more windows, small boxes really, and then higher still there were larger, and more elaborate windows. Ell and Kaavya stood at the entrance, looking up. Ell held a hand to ward off the new Rubicon tail, a tall red-head, and continued looking up. Ell was being secretive and she knew it would drive her friend and her security detail insane. “What are we doing here?” A hint of distaste in Kaavya’s tone. “Let’s go inside and I’ll tell you.” The church was a hive of activity – nearby there was a Franciscan food bank and it was in full swing with helpers and those needing a hand, a sign said a rosary group was meeting and near that a directory of offices. A name rose up in her. Ell ran down the list, “Wooster, John.” “What are you doing?” Ell pulled Kaavya down onto a nearby pew roiling with conviction this was the right thing to do. She could feel it on her scars. “I’m seeking spiritual direction.” “Spiritual. What? Why?” “Being shot and living is one thing, yes, but being shot, killed, pronounced dead and then found to be alive again is another,” Ell said without a hint of rancor. “And how is coming here going to do anything to change that?” asked Kaavya her voice clearly betraying her secret irritation. “It will change nothing that’s happened.”
140 “Then why come at all?” “So that I might know?” Kaavya’s brow furrowed. “Know what?” “Know why it happened, why me, why I feel different…” “Different, different how?” Ell took Kaavya’s hand. “Different on the inside.” Her plan had been to take Kaavya with her into the spiritual direction session, but seeing her now and her concerns, she thought it best to go alone. Kaavya said she’d be fine. She’d look around and read her book; she pulled a soft cover book from her purse. “Go,” she said. Ell walked the marble hallway to a set of stairs that wound up to the floors above. On the third floor, at the end of the hallway near a beautifully tall stained-glass window, Ell came to a door, part wood and part frosted window pane, with “Fr. Jonathan F. Wooster, OFM.” The door swung open before she could knock. “Whoa,” the man who opened the door said. “Sorry my friend… I was heading out for a coffee… “ Ell said, “I can come another time.” He was out in the hallway stooping down to smile at Ell. He looked like a gigantic crane with extra long arms and legs. He stooped, he swayed and he smiled. “No no you mustn’t. Um, why don’t you come with me… Down the street on the corner there’s a Starbucks. I know I know it’s gauche to drink that corporate swill, but I like their coffee. There I’ve said it.” He smiled mischievously, then said, “Their lattes are perfect.”
141 Ell didn’t know what to say or how to respond, she just wagged her chin and followed as he folded and unfolded his way down the hall to a stairwell. He held the door open for her. “I’m Wooster,” he said. “Ell …” “King. I know my sister the sister told me you might show up. She trolls the hospital for souls…” “Mary Carol.” They took the stairs together. “Mary Carol Wooster.” Ell almost laughed. She wasn’t a figment of her imagination. The stairs emptied them into a side alley. Wooster led the way slightly guiding Ell to the street and then down to the corner where a busy Starbucks was. Wooster walked in, held up his right hand in a peace hand, and began conversing and nodding to the entire store as it appeared all the customers and the staff knew him. He held a conversation with one man as he was heading out in the opposite direction. He patted a dog in a woman’s lap and he didn’t even need to order, the drink and another one just like it was presented to him as he took a seat at the window. “That’s for you.” Ell picked it up and took a sip. She liked her lattes a little less potent than Fr. Wooster, but it was good nevertheless. “Thank you very much.” “You’re welcome. So if you’ve come to me, you’ve come for spiritual direction. Are you a Catholic?” Sheepishly, Ell said, “Not practicing.”
142 “Tell me a little bit about why you come here today; what questions do you have that we might work on them together? Ell decided to tell him everything so she told him about her childhood, about Mexico, about her scars, about being shot and about being brought back to life. “Excuse me?” “What?” “That last part…” “The back from the dead part?” Wooster nodded. Ell told the father about the woman with the aqua eyes. She told him about the hyacinth. Ell told Wooster the surprise of her doctors and the nurses of her recovery since she had been pronounced dead. Wooster didn’t say anything. He pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket and wrote copious notes in a furious pace with a red barrel Parker Jotter. After his furious scribbling, he put his pen down and looked at the top of his latte as if its surface provided him divination of a sort. He pursed his lips, looked down and then up at Ell. “Can you come back tomorrow?” Ell felt the urge to ask why, but something told her not to that she couldn’t. This was important. “Yes.”
143 He nodded and was about to gather his notes when a man came over and they argued over the Celtics giving Ell the opportunity to look at the notepad and the upside down scrawl there in blue ink. “Parnell,” it read in deep furrows on the top of the page, with a circle in the middle of the page the father had drawn over and over again. The word inside the circle was odd and hard to read. Finally, Ell saw it: “Jairus.”
Wooster left Ell sitting in the booth at Starbucks. He said with utter distraction, looking every which way, like he had another scheduled appointment. Ell could tell the father was thinking, he was so deep in thought he rambled out of the coffeehouse bumping into things. He bumped into Kaavya as she walked in. Wooster mouthed a muffled apology and with hunched shoulders left through the door into the gloaming. Kaavya plopped herself down beside Ell. “How did it go?” Ell slowly turned to her college friend and didn’t know what to say, or how to sum up of her conversation with Fr. Wooster. What could she say about his scribbles, his sudden silence; his near insistence that they meet tomorrow. She had scars on her back and on her abdomen, she been dead; things kept happening to her and these things could not necessarily be explained. Even religious people, religious leaders acted strange with her. She stands at the window with a sister and she somehow knows what Ell had only been thinking – that she wanted some spiritual direction. But then today the amicable and gentle Wooster so quickly turned taciturn and odd. Could she come back tomorrow? Why? What was going on?
144 Ell got up suddenly and so in deep in thought herself she almost forgot Kaavya was there at all. “I need to be alone.” And she walked out of the Starbucks and into the late afternoon. Ell had begun to know the city fairly well since being a student at Harvard and her forays into crime fighting with Seamus. Ell pulled her iPhone from her pocket and checked her messages. She had a few texts from Seamus, who was working until seven. There were going to meet for dinner at his place around eight. The phone dropped back into her jacket pocket. She just walked not caring for her safety or her whereabouts. She walked. Maybe wandering aimlessly would help her come to terms with what was going on because it was all so utterly confusing and mystifying. The father who she thought would have helped, was nothing more than another hindrance. Jairus? Ell leaned herself against an apartment block and puller her iPhone from her pocket. She opened the browser and did a search for “Jairus.” The scream made her drop the phone. Her foot crushed the iPhone as she sped off and into the apartment block where three floors up flames could be seen coming from the windows – red tongues, and great plumes of dark gray smoke. Ell ran through the lobby passing several residents on their way out some running from the fire up above, some, incredibly, simply leaving their building seemingly on their way to restaurants and bars. Ell took the stairs as the elevator was not a safe bet. A few more residents met her on the stairwell, leaving because the third floor was filling with smoke. “Three people in 3b—second door on your left, I think it’s the Royce family,” an elderly black man said clutching two Chihuahuas in his arms, one fawn, the other sable. Ell nodded thanks and took the third floor entrance at the stairwell and instantly fell to her feet; smoke filled the hallway. Ell crawled to the second
145 doorway and found the door unlocked, but obstructed. She pulled a headscarf from her belt loop and wrapped it around her mouth and nose for some kind of filtering system. Ell stood and pushed at the door, pushed and pushed again until the force was enough to move what was on the other side of the door. It was a body. The body was of a woman and she was unconscious. The apartment was filled with flames mostly in a kitchen and a living room. The wall down the hallway to the bedrooms was warm to touch and where it meets the roof flames and smoke were beginning to billow; the apartment was quiet save the flames. Ell could hear some sirens. She pulled the woman into the hallway and as she was going back into the apartment, the unconscious woman awoke and said weakly – “my kids.” The smoke was thicker and the roof of the hallway and half of the wall was blistered and smoking. Ell ran down the hallway and checked the first bed room, a child’s bedroom – filled with flames. The second bedroom, also a child’s, was empty. The third bedroom, an adult’s, Ell check under the bed, in the en suite bathroom and finally in the walk-in closet beneath the hems of a line of skirts were two girls. They took Ell’s hands and as she instructed they all stooped below the menacing smoke racing out of the apartment into the hallway just as the hallway roof inside the apartment collapsed. “Mommy,” the two children screamed and raced over to the woman who was still on the ground. She was bleeding from a head wound. “We’ve got to get out of here,” Ell said and helped the mother to her feet. As she did this a fire fighter stormed the hallway. The fire fighter spoke into his two-way radio. “Everyone’s out,” Ell said continuing to hold the mother and help her out of the building.
146 The girls followed. When they got to the street they ran out into a crowd of fire trucks, police vehicles, media and the gathering crowd. A great cheer went out. Cameras captured the moment on video, digitally and for distribution on the World Wide Web. People were starting to recognize the miracle girl. “PK girl,” the media called her, PK short for parkour. PK girl.
Later than night, Ell met Seamus at his apartment. “Thank God you’re okay,” Seamus said after opening the door -- they stood looking at one another for a brief moment, he conducted a survey of her general wellbeing, she to gauge the level of her affection’s concern. She had called him using a firefighter’s cell phone. “I’m fine really,” Ell said entering the apartment. “PK-girl.” The TV was on, with the sound muted. Seamus turned if off, just as a picture of Ell talking with firefighters came in focus. He tossed the remote into a nearby straw basket of remotes. The news coverage of the Harvard freshmen was increasing; surviving a robber’s bullet and now this. A few of the Web site linked to YouTube videos, first-hand accounts, discussions and polls. Everyone was calling her “PK-girl. The heiress superhero, PK-Grrrl.” Ell was by now in the living room, and having seen a flicker of herself on Seamus’ open laptop, she turned and smiled at Seamus. Wall to wall coverage. They sat down and for a moment Ell thought he was going to take her hand. Ell relaxed, and she told him all about the fire rescue and then told him about meeting the spiritual advisor – and what he did and did not say to her. She could barely get the words out. He looked stunned. “I...what? Ja...” he kept saying and staring off into space before zeroing back in on Ell. It was like someone had told him an incredibly complex mathematical formula for staying
148 young forever. Burning up and fatigued, Ell relaxed further on Seamus’ sofa, and sunk like a stone in water and was soon fast asleep. In her sleep she dreamed of being someone else, lying as she lay, but in a wooden bed with straw. Ell was in a room with terra cotta colored walls, the room was filled with people milling about. They were dressed in what looked like potato sacks; all were dark with dark eyes, long hair, beards. Their skin was the color of weak tea. They grasped their hands together and shook them; they looked at the ceiling with their dark eyes. Somewhere, outside the room, there was a great commotion, some very loud and persistent sound but as this rang out the dream grew darker and darker, forcing everything in shadows. Slowly, like lapping water, the darkness flooded the dream, soaked it, and eventually drowned it. The bed was under, she was under, and the room, the people were gone. The commotion thrummed, but weakened, beating only weakly, then not. Silence. Darkness. Cold. Then. Luminous – her soul, her bones, her skin, the clothes she wore, the bed, the floor, the walls, the people, the roar. Everything made of the same substance. Then. A whisper. Talitha koum – and Ell awoke sitting bolt upright on the sofa. Seamus startled, reared back, but kept his hand on her foot. Her very skin. Simultaneously, Ell felt her nervous system seemingly light up in a startling fuse the likes of which she’d never felt before, coursing, sparking but also ebbing; she could have sworn her heart heaved, paused, and quivered before continuing a
149 furious beat, which was inexplicably accompanied shortly thereafter by the fragrance of an ancient unidentifiable spice coloring every last breath. She gazed at Seamus. Sparking but also ebbing. Smiled. Then, she fell back asleep.
Her scars were the warmest. The warmest they had ever been. Because of the priest? He was so familiar to her, so connected to her by invisible threads. Wooster had introduced them and before sitting down she asked Fr. Aloysius Parnell what Talitha koum meant. The priest smiled and motioned for Ell to take a seat. He sat next to her with all the familiarity of a uncle. Her scars told her he was indeed someone to trust, she’d learned that much about them. Hot for good, cold for bad. “Girl get up.” There was silence in the room. Wooster was behind his desk chewing on an unlit pipe. Ell looked over to get some read from him. Nothing. Lukewarm scars. “Or some variation. My child, get up,” the priest continued looking directly at Ell. He wasn’t studying her as much as he appeared to be appreciating her for what she was in his eyes. Black socks, thought Ell Ell really didn’t know where to go from there. There were simply so many questions. Finally, her nerves settled down and Ell sat back in the leather chair. Hot for good. “When I was in Rome a cardinal came to see me.” Parnell kept his eyes on Ell. “And?” “He said those words to me. And I’ve heard them since or thought I heard them. A month ago in the hospital… and then again yesterday in a dream. It seems those words
150 mean something to me. Something to do with why I seemingly came back to life, how I survive a pretty horrific accident in Mexico.” “You are touched.” Ell sat up furrowing her brow – “What? Are you saying I’m nuts?” Parnell grinned, “No no. Touched in a good way.” “How’s that?” “You’ve been touched by God.” There was silence so bright Ell had to box her ears. Then, “The exact number of miracles Jesus is said to have performed is hard to ascertain. Many. He performed so many things it is said if these things were written down there wouldn’t be enough rooms in the world to house them,” said Parnell. “Or, put it this way, the Internet would crash.” Ell didn’t know why the father was telling her this. “For our purposes, we like to say that Jesus in his life time performed 39 miracles.”
Ell must have blacked out. Both Parnell and Wooster were standing beside her. “Here, drink this.” It was wine, and it tasted incredible. “Are you okay?” She shook her head. As good as could be. “The 19th miracle was you. You are a Jairus daughter.”
Ell blacked out again. “You are a miracle. You are what is called a Jairus daughter. A leader of the synagogue named Jairus came to Jesus, and begged Him to come and lay hands on his
151 little daughter who was near death. As Jesus went, the crowds pressed in on Him and He felt power had gone forth from Him. It was at this point He healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. While He was still speaking to the woman, someone came from Jairus' house and told him his daughter had died. When Jesus heard about this He replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ Jesus entered the house with Peter, John, James, and the child's father and mother. The people in the house were all weeping and wailing for her, but Jesus said, ‘Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.’ He then took her by the hand and called out ‘Child get up.’ Talitha koum. Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then He directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded, but He ordered them to tell no one what happened.” “What does that have to do with me?” “What that means is that you can be brought back from the dead. It’s not that simple of course, but that’s it in a nutshell. You will die just like everyone else, but if the right person touches you after you’ve died, and you haven’t been dead for long, you can be brought back to life. For such a mysterious and complex thing, it is a right person, simply, with a pure heart that revives. The person can either be living or recently deceased. They touch you and something in your very special blood and soul remembers back generations and generations the touch of Jesus Christ and the words -- Talitha koum.” “I don’t understand how that’s even possible.” “We don’t either even after thousands of years. All we know – and I must say here and now that what I am about to tell you few on this earth know and it must be kept a secret for reasons I’d willing to share with you later – all we know is that every one of Jesus’ 39 miracles have continued to reverberate through time, even to this very day,
152 yourself being proof. It happens, the miracles, so seemingly out of nowhere few are able to put the events together to see their Christian origin. The paraplegic walks again. Matthew 8: 1-4. Five thousand find food. Luke 9: 12-17. The newly dead arise and live again. Matthew 9:18, 23-25, Mark 5:22, and Luke 8:41.” “I’m related to a girl in the Bible?” “Yes. And the five thousand are related to the five thousand in the Bible, and the subsequent five thousands throughout the years. All the miracles reappear, and die away, and are reborn, generation after generation, after generation. The accumulated force of presence brings Christ back in spirit and we are of the mind that if all the miracle descendants were to be in one place or of one mind at one specific time… well: Heaven. A Second Coming.” Parnell smiled briefly. “Why are you telling me, I mean… if there are others.” “We only contact those that actually are publicized. Can you imagine if we contacted everyone? Not enough rooms. Everyone is a miracle. But there are those we need to step in.” “Step in?” “Descendants are known to us by a few things. Miracles are recorded, reported on by media and such as we file those. We also chart Descendants through the years from place to place. And there’s one other factor, piece of information that we glean to authenticate the descendant.” “What’s that?”
153 Father Parnell told her all Descendants had scars, specifically scars in the shape of a cross. The scars could be a small as half an inch and as large as the ones to cover a back. Ell told him and Wooster about her Mexico trip and the storm and how she flew down the face of a hill and rammed her back into a large rock. “Someone,” she said, and turned slowly to directly look at Parnell, “was there….” He smiled. “You?” Parnell nodded that it was him. “I got lucky with the mud sliding like that. I didn’t think I could pull it off. Saving you is really not my job. That’s for the Guardians and you have many sanctioned and non-sanctioned. The level of your guardianship is about to escalate so you might now actually see the Guardians. I’m your Chronicler; I keep all the information on you in files that go into the Vatican archive. I can and will act to safeguard you. However, my prime directive, my job, is always to be there when you need to know what was going on.” Ell looked at both men. “And what is going on?” “You’re to be annulled.” The room feel silent, Ell’s mind raced with a million possibilities. None of them were good. It didn’t even sound good coming from an old reverend. “That doesn’t tell me what’s going on.” Parnell looked over at Wooster as if gauging the temperature of the room or the level of his approval for what he was about to reveal. “The Nullification is an organization three thousand years old. Its job is simple: void anything to do with Jesus. It works through a vast network of followers whose sole function is to remove any traces of Christ. That includes miracles, miracles like you. As much as you have within you the blood of a miracle decadency, the Nullification has its own bloodline and responsibilities.
154 Their blood is pure evil. There are two broad legions –Arob (meaning swarm), which apparently you have already come in contact with; it is a vast army of dedicated warriors who know only what to do and when through a signal in its blood, an activation. The warriors were involuntarily conscripted; they’re hostages, really, usually homeless people or a group of aimless individuals. They’re surveilled, and recruited to attend a party where they are served a toxicant in alcohol, which renders them unconscious. A swift team of technicians arrive on the scene and inject every member of the party with the DNA of cephalopods, a plasmic emulsifier and a nano-receiver. A signal at the frequency audible under forty phantoms sets off the tiny transmitter, which releases the change agent, a substance we have never been able to discern, replicate or harvest. The signal comes from the presence of a special member of the Nullification – there is no name for this member, its role is so old and secreted, we have never been able to ascertain what moniker it goes by other than The Perfection. All we know is that it has two states of being – and this is complicated – the blood of Jesus awakens it, and depending on which arises first Urim or Thummim. Say Thummim arises first, in a person, then someone very near usually in the same family but not always, becomes the Urim. It could just as easily be the other way around since neither the Thummim nor Urim is evil or good, it is in contrast to the other that the one compensates for. So, a Thummim arises – the initial are always good and therefore the Urim, in this Perfection, must be evil. In another an Urim arises; an evil Thummim must follow. The person or persons with this blood have no choice; it is an ancient process that does not pretend to care what we think. As a Descendant you have awoken hundreds of Perfections unwittingly and it is in their blood
155 to kill you as part of the Nullification or to protect you from obliteration. There are those closest to you now that have undergone this turn for bad and for good.” “To be annulled?” “Is to be obliterated by either Arob or The Perfection -- the Null and Void we call it. In their world you cannot exist. And by obliterate it means taking the lives of your friends, your family, and your loved ones. The Nullification means to erase you from the face of history.” Ell threw herself back into the seat unable to speak. Her mind was racing. “There must be a way…” Parnell leaned in, “Way to halt the Nullification, this Null and Void?”
Ell felt sick to her stomach. The cold night air cooled her hot face; her cheeks were a burning red. People would wonder about her state, but she didn’t care leaning against the outside of the church its stone oddly comforting against her body. Head down, she wasn’t looking at anything on the sidewalk beneath her so much as the air between her and the physical world. It was good to breathe again without pain, without her heart beating through every limb. Rev. Parnell had said so much, and there was more – but it could wait, he said. Really? She wondered; wait! Ell’s ears ached with violation. Ringing couldn’t possible describe how they throbbed with a thrumming beat to some ancient mysterious melody. Parnell said it would be okay to walk home; there were eyes on her and they were never more than a few body lengths’ away. Yeah her own! They’re quick, he answered.
156 She’d seen The Arob. They’re quicker. The black pipe was wedged in the side of his mouth; a blue tinged plume arose and a sweet aroma filled the office. Parnell winked. Go home, he’d said. What did this all mean? Moving her body, in stretches and twists, Ell could feel no wonder, no special coursing blood; her bones felt stupidly young, not at all the bones of someone whose family countenance included resurrection. She thought of her family – The Kings and Abe Sexton – did they know? Could they too be brought back to life? What did life mean if you could cheat death? You will die, Parnell said. It happens only a few times. Once when she was a baby, he said startling her. Thrown out a window. Into a tree. An unseen, but felt past. And then, a broken neck. Another in Mexico, thanks to Parnell himself. And just this week when she’s survived being shot in the abdomen. Only a few left. A quizzical look. Don’t know. Two? Ell thought of all the ways she could die. Before it was her time. There were too many, too many opportunities to waste the precious gift. It’s a gift no matter how many times we die. Ell turned suddenly. Parnell was not there. Had he said it in Woolsey’s office? It’s a gift no matter how many times we die. Ell turned again and this time shock of shock there standing before her in the semi-dark of the Boston city street was her childhood friend – Cesar.
157 “Who are you talking to?”
After embracing there on the sidewalk, throwing each other to and fro causing other pedestrians to veer from their enclave; after they exclaimed that time and space had somehow conspired to bring them together, they held each other and looked into each other’s eyes. Her Cesar. His childhood friend – right here, right now. Cesar was the more incredulous even though he was the stranger in town. “I thought you were in Iraq?” “Afghanistan. I can’t believe I’m seeing you. You, you look fantastic.” Fat chance, she thought, her eyes had just been filled with tears and her hair was mess. Snot ran out of her nostrils moments before she turned to see her childhood, Second Ward Houston boy in front of her. Not wearing his uniform. Cesar glanced down sensing Ell’s confusion. “Last tour – I’m out!” She began to cry – “You’re not hurt?” Not in any way Ell could see with her own eyes. He gave her a broad grin. “Everything’s going to be fine…” “Going… what’s?” “Nothing nothing, I mispoke.” He put his arm around her; Cesar had grown into a full bodied man and his tours over there further assisted to enlarge and harden him. He once wrote her an e-mail saying he hit the camp gym to lift weights twice a day. “There’s nothing else to do here. It’s boring.” They walked clinging to one another down the street in the darkening gloam. It was cold and there was a hint of moisture in the air as if it could rain or snow any instant. They embrace made them look like lovers, and lovers that hadn’t seen each other in a
158 long time. But Ell knew better; she’d always seen Cesar as the brother she never had. He of course thought differently and had told her so in letters from Afghanistan. Ever since they met when they were kids in Houston, Cesar had been in love with Ell, he’d told her. He was supersensitive to her needs and her moods, so it did not take him long to ask what was bothering her. They had just reached the outskirts of campus and were moving into the darkness of Harvard’s sentinel trees. She had to tell someone. It was eating her up inside. She could be resurrected. Some ancient blood flowed in her veins. Jesus touched one of her relatives? Girl, get up! Seriously? Where does one start when one was started (and restarted) by miracle. Miracle! But she had to tell someone. She’d been dead and then was not. People knew that: it had been in the papers, all the papers throughout the country and just a few over in Europe and Southeast Asia. She had been dead and then not. She had been dead too long for her to awake without much as a headache. It wasn’t possible. Miracle. Yes, but. She could be resurrected. Some ancient blood flowed in her veins. Jesus touched one of her relatives? Girl, get up!
159 Ell turned to look at Cesar. If not him, them who else – Sexton. Yes, Sexton eventually. But probably the Kings first. Here was Cesar though. And she was sick, sick to her stomach over what Parnell had told her – he even told her she would probably be sick. Something about the Descendant almost willing the ancient blood out of its system. An over-exertion of one’s mental will produces some real physical effects. He warned too: A blood transfusion would not quell it. For some reason it’s not simply the blood, but also the recepticle. “Your blood in someone else doesn’t make them a Jairus. You are a vessel and the water in it too.” But she had to tell someone. Girl, get up! Students walked by them starting a steady stream of people – late afternoon classes and seminars were letting out, and Ell thought it best to talk to Cesar where they had more privacy. Pulling him by the arm, Ell cut through the campus, and took him to her dormitory, where it was noisy and filled with people in the hallways, but where it was quiet and private in her room. She opened the door, pleased to be home, and safe and breathed in a good amount of its air; Ell walked to the window to open it to let in some of the cold air to gaze at her trees – she felt she needed it, and turned and as she did what appeared in front of her, advancing, shocked her so much that before she comprehend what was in front of her, she’d turned quickly and dove out of her dorm room window into the worry of the tree limbs, grasping as she flew a sturdy limb of the tree and swung over and around it before coming to a stop. Hanging there she could see Cesar at her window – holding a very large knife – looking for her. It was only a second because
160 someone, a dark form, entered her room behind Cesar, who turned instantly and stood upright taking in the dark form, which proceeded to turn out the lights. A whistle came from below. Ell clambored down the old tree. “Good to see you Rev. Parnell.” A puff of smoke from his black pipe rose like a tiny silver cloud. “I told your Rubicon shadow to beat it. Since she’s a Catholic girl, she was only too willing. We ourselves gotta go,” he said grabbing a hold of her arm and pulling along with him. She was still in shock – her childhood friend had just attacked her with a very large knife. “What’s going on, Parnell. This is insane.” The reverend quick on his feet for an old guy ushered her quickly through the yard, down one street and up another to some stairs to a building where he stopped. “Your friend is out there looking for you, looking to finish this.” “How is that possible? I’ve known him my entire life. He knows everything about me.” Ell was crying. She fell to the ground her knees buckling. Nothing made sense. She hurt everywhere, especially her heart. It tugged inside her chest. Her crying came in jags. Parnell kneeled beside her, and wrapped his arms around her; she could smell his sweet tobacco. “There must have been an Urim or Thurim nearby; someone good, to set Cesar off.” He rocked Ell. Sexton. It had to be Sexton. The good balanced by the bad. The door, almost hidden in the wall behind them, opened. Parnell said something in Latin over his shoulder and the door widened. Parnell helped Ell up to her feet and was leading her through the door when from the alleyway came a great shout. It was Seamus. Ell turned, “Seamus.” Between them the shadows stood and grew into a line and
161 advanced on the young man, who leapt for the wall and was attempting to vault over the line of shadow, which only seemed to grow taller in its defensive stronghold. Seamus was swallowed. Inside the door, its closure cutting out all noise from outside, Parnell said, “He won’t be harmed. That was Thwart – the mute shadows that guard this place and others. “Come,” he said leading her further. They entered a very large room with vaulted ceilings and a enormous fireplace with a roaring fire lit heating the room. Ell’s head was aching. She couldn’t stop her tears. Her legs were feeble and she felt dizzy. She had been shot before trying to help others. What would happen this time? Hadn’t he told her she could be brought back to life only so many times? She found herself sitting on a chaise longue; she laid back. “I know I’ve told you a lot already, but I feel I have to tell you more and now because you and your family and friends are in grave danger.” Ell sighed. “This is the Blood Bond.” She sat bolt upright. “The what?” “Your blood is special. In it is carried a miracle thousands of years old. This is what awakes you when you die. But it’s not without its limits – and problems. Like I said you can only die and be brought back to life so many times before the blood is spent, and it no longer contains what you need to be resurrected. Your blood is so special the Null and Void will stop at nothing to kill you and extract it. They want your blood. In the centuries since this miracle has been known every descendant with miracle in their blood has been hunted and killed – through our efforts the blood has never been drawn.”
162 Parnell let this sink in. “You weaken every time the blood awakens you. Incredibly,” he said and actually laughed, “your blood is strengthened, fortified by love, the love of family, the love of friends. Love makes you stronger. The Blood Bond is that with all those around you that are your loved ones they come to be your ultimate power source.” “So. If the bond can be weakened in any way – you are weakened.” “Weakened?” “The Null and Void are now beginning to make plans, to hunt down your friends, and your family and will kill them one by one until you are so weak they can apprehend you and drain you.” Ell was on her feet at once all her strength returned and her anger ramped up. Parnell took in her stance. “When do we leave?” she asked.
Of course he didn’t explain himself, what could Ell be thinking actually getting some straight talk out of a priest – ha! They fled through the airport an odd sight, a black clad priest with a shock of messy white hair and a striking blonde haired sylph both galloping. Parnell did say during the ride to Logan that the Null and Void would target family and friends all in an attempt to have the Descendant in her place of birth, and place of most vulnerability. Houston, she said, proudly. Parnell said yes, but in this sense her birth was as a Descendant -- so they were going to that place where the miracle was enacted for the first time, usually the place of your birth, which is: Houston. “The epicenter of greatest threat is where the miracle first happened; there is your greatest strength, there is the greatest payoff,” the priest said. “Your blood is the richest.” Ell continued tapping away on her iPhone to friends in Boston and to family and friends out in Houston, just to be careful, she texted; Ell knew her text would be seen as plain old nuts; she’d explain later. Ell was tapping when – she stopped cold: Cesar. He had attached her? Ell was confused. What had happened? He was an Urim or a Thummim -- whatever they were -- and he had attacked her, with a knife, her childhood friend. Utter disbelief filled every cell of her body. Was he a Thummim and Kaavya was a Urim; or Seamus? Her -- what? -- boyfriend could easily be turned one way of the other, Ell feared. Luck of the draw. Cesar? Who had set him off in our old neighborhood back
164 in the Second Ward? “Sexton,” she said aloud startling Parnell and some nearby travelers. He turned and waved shushing her. How was she going to text… she dialed Sexton’s number off by heart. One ring. What if he’s already dead? Two rings. What if he’s turned? Three… “Hello Ell is that you?” Call display. “Sexton, Sexton…” “You sound a little freaked out; is everything okay?” Ell had to slow down and get herself together. She couldn’t just go around and tell people she had special blood and that there were people out there looking to kill for it. “I’m fine. I’m going to be in town tomorrow and I’d love to see you…” Parnell was standing over her. Ell had slouched down a column of polished marble and was splayed on the floor. He flicked the ticket. “I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow okay.” “Right.” “Be careful and good night,” Ell said and hung up. They walked briskly to their gate, went through the gate check-in and found themselves in the back half of the plane, somewhere Ell was not used to sitting. Parnell offered her the window seat, but she declined instead snagging the aisle seat. The plane and crew went through all the preflight rigmarole and soon the plane was banking over Boston and was headed south. Parnell killed the light over his seat, pulled down the window shade and leaned against the fuselage. “Oh here, light reading,” he said and pulled from his jacket pocket a small
165 leather pocket book. It was made of dark blue leather, its pages were wafer thin, and there was a blood red silk ribbon attached to the spine that could be used as a bookmark. There were no markings on the book except for a small crucifix on the bottom right hand corner of the front cover. “It’s yours to keep,” Parnell said his eyes still closed. Ell opened the book. The title page was in Latin, with red ink. She turned to ask him what it meant, but he was fast asleep; so fast she wondered if he was just playing duck to avoid her. The pages were small, holding two columns like a bible, and were in English, but in code, with letters juxtaposed or missing. It was not a hard code to break, and soon Ell was able to read; every once in a while she needed to stop to double check her code breaking skills. She felt confident she had broken the code and was reading the history of her kind – just as Parnell had told her. There was a section on how many times she could die and what happens each time she’s resurrected. The Null and Void had their own sections with diagrams as to what they looked like and an explanation of what they were, Ell skimmed -- she knew they were dangerous half human/half cephalopod. The Urim and Thummim section was very difficult to understand, but she felt she got the most of it. It was the last section that made Ell pause and consider. She couldn’t be sure, but the section might have been called “Bloodletting.” And there was a diagram. “Disgusting.” Parnell said it was more phlebotomy, before continuing. “Just small amounts.” He looked of the window. “I think it says I drink it.” “Right.”
166 “Why in the world would I drink my own miracle blood?” “To fight the Null and Void,” Parnell said in a hush. The pilot came on the intercom and announced their imminent descent into Houston. “If, in your blood, lies the miracle of resurrection, shouldn’t drinking it somehow increase your... vitality.” Ell kept staring at Parnell, but he wouldn’t say anymore – he simply took out his black briar and placed it in the crook of his mouth. The priest turned and looked out the window.
They rented a black SUV. “You never know’” Parnell said to Ell’s befuddlement. You never know what? This being her town she drove, although the reverend protested saying he’d been in Houston quite often – but his protestations were drown out by Ell gunning the tank of a car down JFK for the downtown route to Houston. She would be in the Second Ward in twenty minutes, barring any snarling traffic. At this time of night, the roads were filled with ice house drunks and tired shift workers. The night was exceedingly dark, filled with the susurrant cicadas and the fulgent humidity of Texas in April. Ell had the air conditioning on full blast. She couldn’t remember making the decision to see Sexton first, rather than the Kings (they had Rubicon after all, which Ell and Parnell dumped in Boston), but that’s exactly what she’d done thundering through the night. “So where are these so-called Guardians,” Ell asked steering into the bible-black night. “They’re always around you. Some of them even are aware of it,” Parnell said. Ell looked over to gauge the level of seriousness in the priest’s comments. “Well, they
167 volunteer, but it’s often at the last minute,” he smiled. “I can tell you, one of the girls that went to Mexico with you is a Guardian -- her family centuries in being Guardians to Descendants.” “And she…who?” The priest was saying, “I will have to…” crossing under a fly-way. Parnell’s voice was interrupted by a thud on the roof of the SUV; the sudden weight of whatever was on the roof made the vehicle swing slightly. “What was…” Ell said and then screamed as the blood-red menace that is the Void appeared at the front windshield, metal gleaming insanely in the alternative sodium lights of the byway. Ell screamed until Parnell put his hand on her arm. “Steady girl. Accelerate.” And she did. “Slam on the break when…” She did. The Void flew off striking a light post and fell into a ditch as one, disengaging into its individual members, fluttering like fish on land. “They’ll be more,” he was saying as he turned to look out the window at the Void in the ditch… “There’s more, there always are, he said. Ell looked in the rear view as the SUV flew down the parkway, and saw the Void on near-silent jet black motorcycles in hot pursuit. There might have been twenty of them. “Looks like fifty.” “Shit what do we do?” “They’ll be on us soon. We have to change drivers” Ell face felt as cold as ice. Her scar colder still. “We what?”
168 “Change drivers. You need to go into the back seat and do as I say.” Ell looked up at the sky and said a short prayer. “Is this the part where…” “You drink your own blood. Yes. Quick Ell quick.” Parnell took the wheel in his hands and looked out the front windshield. “Don’t look back for now. No, keep your foot on the gas, stomp it,” he said. Parnell, thankfully was a small and not a heavy man; he sat down on Ell, who squeezed out slowly moving her body sideways and took her foot off the accelerator for the reverend to jam his own down – the move had caught one Void rider off-guard driving headfirst into the back of the SUV and crashing spectacularly. Parnell kept the SUV in motion and straight. “Crawl into the back seat, and lay down,” he said. Ell did as he instructed, lying down in the leather back seat. Without turning Parnell said “Reach into my bag on the floor and inside you’ll find a bible. Open it to your passage, and…got it?” In the bible, when Jesus says “Girl, get up.” The minute period had texture, like a raised bump of skin, but small, almost minuscule. “Push the period.” Ell was shocked to find the period was a button. “Push the button.” Ell pushed the period-button and the pages of her passage splayed open, exposing a small cavity. Inside was a metal object, attached to a small vial. “Do you see it, lift it out?” “How did you get this through security…” “There isn’t time. Lift it out.”
169 Ell lifted out the metal and glass contraption. “Listen very carefully now; it is very light, but very very sharp.” The metal shone and the glass was light, yet thick. The instrument was as light as a feather. It was beautiful. Almost alive. “Turn it over. You’ll see three rows of tiny numbers. With the glass facing you, dial the numbers to 3-0-0. The time Jesus was crucified, 3 p.m. Quickly.” Ell clicked the tumblers to 3-0-0 and she was stunned to feel the instrument warm up, opening itself like a paper thin and majestic wing: a very thin gleaning blade. “Now carefully,” he said as the SUV swerved; the Void were swarming the vehicle by now. “Sorry, carefully, you’ll find a rubber string around the glass throat, attached to the knife, take it off, down over the glass, and place this string in the crook of your arm, forcing blood into a vein in your forearm.” Ell did this, slowly with nothing more on her mind than this task. “Turn the knife, slowly, carefully, if it touches your skin it will cut you. Take the knife and run it along one vein for no more than half an inch…” “What about the blood?” “The bottle.” Ell glanced at the glass orb on the end of the knife. “What about the cut?” “Unscrew the clear bottom off the glass bottle…false bottom. Apply whatever is in there to the cut.” Ell did this, cut herself, watched the glass bottle fill up with her blood, and used the paste in the concealed compartment of the bottom. It stuck to her cut like glue and no blood escaped.
170 Ell stared in wonderment at the small glass bottle of her awesomely red blood. Time had stopped; she could hear and feel her pulsing heartbeat. Persistent and beautifully musical. Parnell was talking but she couldn’t hear him. What now? What now? “What now?” Ell asked out loud. The van filled with noise and the scent of danger; iodine – could be the associated taste of blood. The Null and Void were on the roof. What now? Parnell had turned in the driver’s seat. His eyes are on the blood. “You need to drive now.” Ell didn’t understand. But she rose anyway as if under a spell, making her way through the two front seats, carrying carefully in her hand the contraption with her blood. She saw at once The Null and Void were at each window – the driver’s, the passenger’s, on the hood at the windshield (they are covering the windshield with a tarp – and each is rearing back a massive Bucky Ball of red metal in their fists. “Now Ell: Now!” In a complication of arms and legs and quick, slow motion the exchange is interrupted with – THWACK – gLaSs. THWACK – gLaSs. AIRAIRAIRAIRAIR “Hold on to something’” Ell screamed and slammed on the brake. The windshield showed The Null and Void and tarp being sucked back and to a tumbling end on the side of the road. She accelerated and spit by the carnage at top speed. But there was no time to dwell. Menace came through the broken glass. The Null and Void their red arms tentacles,
171 clawing. Parnell threw haymakers at the gaps, Ell followed suit throwing punches to her left, while continuing to ram the SUV through the swarm and darkness. Progressing down the strip of cement, dodging vehicles and road kill – “Gosh I love Texas” – she rocked the SUV on its speedy way making it difficult for The Null and Void to hold. Parnell saw a few launched from vans onto their SUV with a thunk. “Magnetized appendages.” Ell looked over now for the first time since they had changed drivers. Parnell was cutting himself. And draining his blood. Into the bottle. With her own blood. “Parnell!” He did not look up. “The guide leaves some stuff out – deliberately.” “Such as?” “The blood must be mixed –“ “With?” Parnell looked up, punch at the space beside him, and looking straight at Ell said handing the detached bottle to her. “Here: Take and drink from it…” The blood is the bottle that Parnell was handing Ell did not look normal. Ell was in shock, not really driving anymore, but steering the SUV down the road. The Null and Void were still clambering to get inside – in fact. Parnell jumped from the passage seat and headed for the back of the SUV. A lone Null was entering, its red suit glimmering in the sodium light. Ell watched in the rear
172 view mirror as Parnell wrestled with the minion. She returned her gaze to the small bottle filled with her blood and the blood of the revered. The blood was not normal. It was purple. Ell looked through the rear view mirror and saw Parnell take the knife they’d both used to draw blood. Parnell actually twirled the dangerous blade in his left hand and drove it into and through the eye holes of the Null and Void swarm soldier; Parnell withdrew the knife as quickly and without looking twirled it in his left hand, closing it and shoving it into the left hand pocket of his black jacket. The minion screamed in agony, and Parnell pushed unforgiving at the red suited enemy, pushing him back through the window hole he’d come. Parnell said, “The knife only works in the eye slit; the suit is too strong for the knife. You cannot cut their suit. You cannot burn the suit. The suit is bullet proof. It’s weaknesses are the eyes, and at the seam between the neck and the body. Hit there and you will most certainly incapacitate the minion.” He slid into the passenger seat and turned toward Ell. “Drink of this. But first pull over there,” he said pointing. Ell turned the SUV onto a feeder road near an overpass. There was a mall in the distance. “Drink of this,” he repeated. Ell put the bottle to her lips. She opened her mouth and emptied the small bottle of warm purple blood into her mouth. And nothing. It was not offensive. She didn’t feel any different. “Get out of the car,” Parnell said, “I want to show you something.”
173 Ell got out and Parnell walked around to her side. He glanced about and saw no other vehicles. “Lift the car.” “Excuse me?” “Put your hand here, bend your knees, and lift…” Ell stooped, bent her knees, placed her left hand beneath the cassis of the SUV and lifted it up and almost all the way over if she’d not caught herself. “Whoa!” “See that overpass…up there, that one. First, visualize jumping up and landing safely on the railing there.” “It’s got to be fifty feet in the air.” “Visualize. Do it quickly.” Ell visualized the absurdity of the task, closed her eyes, bent her knees and when she opened her eyes she was teetering on the railing with 100 mph traffic zipping by; Parnell was below flashing something at her. She heard him say… “Jump down.” Right. Sure. Ell closed her eyes and jumped. Parnell touched her shoulder. “But…” she said. “But you don’t feel any different,” Parnell said. Ell shook her head. “That’s the way it is.” “So I can pretty well do anything physical I need to do if I think about it…” “Until it becomes second nature and then you don’t have to think at all; just do it.” Ell turned and made for the SUV. Parnell followed. “I’m thinking about all the ways I’m going to kick some Null and Void.” She gunned the SUV and they headed for the Second Ward.
Even before Ell and Parnell arrived they knew. Something was terribly wrong. The rotating lights – red, blue and white showing up in the smoke-filled sky – came first, then the billowing smoke itself and finally the sounds of calamity; sirens and commotion, barking dogs. Ell’s childhood street was a mess of snaking hoses, emergency workers running to and fro; the surface wet with ashes and dirty water. The sidewalk was filled with gawkers and agitated neighbors. She recognized a few. And tried in all their faces and shadows to come up the face of her Sexton. No Sexton. “Oh no,” she uttered a quiet pang that undulated in her gut. Parnell turned toward acknowledging what he knew as she drove into the neighborhood. What else could it be? Who else but the Null and Void. Ell parked the car and was the police line before Parnell could tell her to be cautious. They’re still here. She scanned her surroundings and moved. Ell came to the line and before the officer there could blink she was around him and over the police line toward the house. As firefighters were coming out – she dashed in unnoticed by them because of her speed. The flames were high at what remained of the back of the house, and the heat intense. For the most part, the house was gone – had
175 Sexton gotten out? Ell dashed through the remaining blackened timber, and out the back to the untouched garage where Sexton worked on his vehicles and various mechanical projects. Nearby there sat the ambulance crew. There she saw the vehicle empty -Sexton’s truck. “Was there anyone in the house?” A paramedic turned and said, “We already transferred one, a male to Ben Taub…” Ell was back at the van. But Parnell was nowhere to be found. Ell quickly scanned the crowd and spotted him walking in their midst. What was he looking for? Quickly and silently she was beside Parnell, impressing herself with her speed, marveling at what vitality her blood provided. He turned and said instantly, “Looking for Urim and Thurim…” “I have to go. Why are you looking for…” “Sexton was Urim and someone in the neighborhood was Thurim…” It was then she saw Cesar’s truck, and saw it speed off. “I am going to Ben Taub, after that truck, which is probably got that Thurim in it.” Ell was temporarily fixed with rage. “Be careful,” said Parnell touching her arm. Then, she was gone.
Ell watched as Cesar parked his truck outside the emergency ward and move toward killing a a security guard, when she her childhood friend from behind, hoisted Cesar into the air and threw the Marine headfirst into the windshield of his truck. The windshield and Cesar’s head hitting it, made a sucking sound. “I didn’t throw him that hard,” she said to the stunned security guard. “Call HPD, tell them the Second Ward arsonist is right
176 there. There’s enough flammables in that truck bed to light up a thousand Fourth of Julys.” The security guard did as he was told by the svelte blonde who sped away into the emergency ward. Inside the florescent-lit ward Ell raced by security and reception by flicking the set of light switches, dashing down the hall, and flicking another set which turned the lights back on. She came to the ER where on any given night patients and ailments will nearly overcome the dedicated staff. It was no different tonight. Ell walked the hallway looking for Sexton. But he was nowhere to be found. She exhausted all the possibilities and then found a room down the corridor, empty of doctors and nurses with a gurney, a white sheet covering it. Ell walked to the gurney and pinched a corner of the white sheet to uncover the body beneath. It took an instant to recognize Sexton. It took longer to convince herself it was him. Through her tears, her body throbbing cries, Ell said she would see this through to the end. She had special blood. She could be raised from death. Sexton had been the closet thing she’d ever had for a father. He raised her to give a damn, to give her most, and to never, ever give up.
Ell jackknifed a brand-new hot-wired Escalade out of the hospital parking lot. The evening smoldered with red light smoke and sirens from the Second Ward; Ell took off in the opposite direction toward Rice Village taking the corner at University with a wild squeal of the tires. Normal traffic congestion made University a bad choice and she knew
177 it almost immediately, but she was so mad she could spit and her foot went down on the gas pedal. Ell jumped the line of traffic and darted back in when oncoming traffic feared to ram through her. She got to the village and turned right for South and North Boulevards, where the Kings’ homes were -- they were not mansions, but they were exquisite. Three linked houses on the last cul-de-sac on South was home to the King family. The street was dark. It usually was for the Spanish moss and the lack of streetlight, a choice the Kings and most of Houston’s rich families made long ago. Light attracts the bugs too. So it didn’t help Ell; she could adjust to the light, but she was surprised to find there was little else for – something moved ahead in the ferns in front of the house. Ell doused the lights and she too was under the cover of darkness. She got out and heard only the distant din of traffic and the sizzle of cicadas. She took for the middle driveway, it being the only way into all three houses. At the back, a gate, locked. Ell easily scaled the fence and was on the other side in no time. Something wasn’t right. The security lights didn’t come on. Ell grabbed the handle on the back door and tugged. Nothing. She hoisted herself up the side of the landing onto the roof to a window in an upstairs office. The window had no seams. The house was so climate controlled there were no need of window openings. Ell spied the chimney. Was she small enough? Hey where was her strength?
178 She would have to ask Parnell when she saw him again. Ell climbed into the chimney and inch by inch lowered herself in the King household. At the bottom she had to kick open the grating, which had been latched, closed, but thankfully not locked. She stood in the living room dusting herself. The house was deadly silent. She checked every room, and found nothing – no signs of struggle, nothing. Ell took the underground tunnels to the other houses and found the same conditions. Nothing. In the last house the phone’s answering machine was blinking. Ell pressed the play messages button. “Mr. King this is… Eyquem, I’m sorry I’ll call you in Rome.” Rome? What were the Kings doing there? Ell looked around for anything, an itinerary or something and came up empty handed. Her phone vibrated in her pocket; she had a text. Ell pulled her iPhone from her pocket and stopped for a moment – she went over to the answering machine and played the message again. The voice? Who was that, was that someone she knew, someone whose voice she’d heard before? Eyquem? The name vibrated somehow in her ribcage. She couldn’t place the voice and the name was too strange, Ell would have remembered such a name. But no it wasn’t there in the back of her mind. She turned to her text. It was Kaavya. “Where R U?” Ell texted that she was home, and that she’d explained when back in Boston. “Home?” Kaavya shot back.
179 “Ltr,” Ell texted and look around for an exit. All the doors and windows would be rigged for the alarm. Back where she came from? Ell dreaded having to shimmy up the sooted chimney, back up through the narrow flue. It was always harder to back than it was to come from something and keep on moving forward, she thought. Ell looked about the rooms and at the back entrance came to the alarm box. She pressed the “password” button and then put in “123456,” on a lark. The alarm was turned off, and she turned as she passed through the back door and reset the alarm using the so-called password. On the dark tarmac of the driveway her phone vibrated again. Quite by surprise it was a text from Parnell. “What? I can text. Where are you?” “Near Rice U.” Then her phone vibrated. It was Parnell. Ell lightly thumbed his number and the call came through. “Are you safe?” Ell told Parnell about the hospital, about Sexton and Cesar; she told him about the house and the message on the machine. “Don’t text anyone but me,” he said after she’d given him the run down. “Why not?” “The Null and Void have developed sophisticated software that takes advantage of cell phone technology. Feel along the bottom of your phone.” Ell did and was surprised to find a very thin rubber strip.
180 “I put it there. It disrupts GPS. Simple stuff really. But through texting they can track you. Through voice easy as pie. Texting gives them an appropriate location. They read all of our texts.” “What about yours?” “We developed an equally sophisticated program that cannot be traced nor corrupted in anyway. While they can read all of your texts, they can read none of mine. One thing you can do is monitor who texts you and what they ask. There are dead give aways.” “Such as?” “Asking – where are you?” Ell was silent for a moment. There was no way to figure what was next, her head was swimming and she felt she wasn’t thinking straight. “Ell?” “What now?” “Meet me at the hospital. We have to find out if you were really born here – or some place else.” Ell’s back grew cold.
Ell met the father outside the King compound in the soupy and noisome dark of a Houston night. He was looking at his phone standing beside a car. “Borrowed, from a friend,” he said without looking up. “You sure are connected,” Ell offered and leaned against the running vehicle.
181 Parnell pointed at the sky. “All the way up.” He gave out a chuckle the likes of which Ell had not previously heard from the mysterious man. He pocketed his phone. “My power didn’t last long.” Parnell looked at her and puckered his lips. “It’s a sign.” “Oh great, more signs.” “This is, ironically, a good one.” “Do tell dear Father.” “You are your strongest when evil is near. Your scar runs coldest.” He stopped to survey the street noting nothing but darkness interspersed by the outlines of large homes, trees and the sound of a million singing cicadas. “You are your weakest, relatively, when evil has all but gone. Your scar runs to neutral. And when you are nearest a pure soul, it runs…” “Warm to hot,” she interjected. At present her scar was doing just that, running warm because of the man before her. “What is a bit of a puzzle is why?” “Why as in now?” He nodded. “We came here to help your family and friends, and we’ve been attacked. Now we find ourselves all alone.” Ell straighten herself. “If we’re alone.” “Where’s everyone else?”
In the car Parnell turned the car for nowhere in particular. It was just best to be away from the King household. Privately, he wondered aloud why the entire clan was absent
182 and parts of it in Rome. It made him think. Ell was more than a little freaked out; Houston appeared to be a ghost town for all intents and purposes. The Null and Void were nowhere to be found. Sexton was dead. Cesar was dead. What were they to do now? It was as if Parnell read her mind. He came in and out of shadows as the car advanced along the road cutting through pyramids of streetlight. “We need to see some hospital records?” “Why?” “To confirm birth, and the place of miracle.” “Ben Taub.” “That’s the hospital we were at already tonight?” “Yes. I was born there — what’s going on Parnell?” Parnell turned down a side street and aimed the car toward the hospital. “We need to confirm that.” “That I was born?” “Not born — but where. Our records always had you being born here, at Ben Taub.” “But?” It was all in doubt, he thought, maneuvering the car through the winding streets. The hospital was in sight. “There’s no one here. That means they’re somewhere else and where that is will be where you were actually born. The Hive draws in all like a black hole drawing in all the light in its grasp.” Ell watched as Parnell glowed and dimmed; glowed and dimmed until he grew orange from the hospital’s sodium lights showering the car’s interior. He parked the car.
On the third floor, Parnell and Ell found an office with a computer still logged onto the hospital network. It was password protected, however and a quick scan of the office in the semi-dark didn’t provide them with much in the way of clues as to what the password might be. Ell sat down in front of the computer and typed in a password: it worked. “How did you do that?” “1234 is the most common password there is. I gave it a try. Viola,” she said and turned to the computer. “What am I looking for…” Parnell touched the screen near the top. “Administration.” She clicked on the tab and a new screen popped up. Down the left hand side ran a column of links. “Records,” one read. Ell clicked on it. A screen came up with a template of blanks and prompts. Ell put in Births, her birthdate and hit “enter.” Up scrolled 456 entries. Thankfully they were alphabetical. Unfortunately there was no Eloquence Skylar King. “How can that be?” “Are you certain of the date?” Ell nodded. She was sure. Ell went up and down the list making sure her name hadn’t by some chance been filed incorrectly. No. No one by her name was born at Ben Taub, December 25, 1992. “If I wasn’t born here, where…” Parnell had a look on his face. A look that horrified Ell. “What, what is it?”
184 He sat down in one of the office chairs. “What city were you first resurrected? You and I think it was Houston, but it was somewhere else.” He shook his head as if he knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it from her. “Houston. Why?” “That’s where you were born, we thought, but no. Somewhere else.” he said with great resignation in his voice. “The Descendant is usually awoken in the city they were born. We know of the incidents here. So. Wait. It was a rumor, but I think I know, it was…” “Rome.” Parnell shook his head a wide grin running across his face.
Their trip to Rome would run through Boston. “You need to make sure everything is covered in Boston,” said Parnell. They were on a flight back to Boston. Ell was exhausted. She was about to fall asleep when a text came across from Kaavya. “Need 2 C U.” Ell texted back that they were flying back to Boston and would be back in the square by early morning. She turned off her iPhone, pulled down the window shade, turned off the light and fell fast asleep. Parnell watched her closely and wondered if she had the strength to complete what was ahead of her.
Ell had memories, memories she told no one about: of darkness, of flying. Cold stone. Scratchy tree limbs. Parnell said she had to tell him everything or else there could be no going forward. That was rich, she thought, she had to tell him the truth, when he had given her over the past few weeks a truth that was utterly unbelievable. Her entire life had been a lie; the past few years clearly showed that. Sexton was not her dad, Eliot was; he may or may not have been crazy; her mother was dead. She was a King, but felt like someone else – Ell couldn’t be sure of anything and she was beginning to be nauseated by the whole thing. It was all-important to know: Her first resurrection? It was all so confusing. How could she possibly know that, wouldn’t it be as such a time as to be without the possibility of creating memory. You would need… Parents. Both were dead. Ell was in one of those airport electronics stores looking for a power cord, for her iPhone, while Parnell purchased tickets for their trip to Rome, Italy. What was she to do exactly when she got there, he told her he would explain. He was suddenly beside her, as she gazed upon the boxes of power cords and computer supplies. “The story goes,” he said and Ell turned to look at him. Parnell told Ell everything about the car accident, her mother’s death, and her resurrection. It was something she’d
186 found out while researching her past. “That was your first resurrection -- we thought. But it was probably in Italy. When you were just born.” “How could it have been?” “We heard accounts of a strange incident, in a small rural town…” Ell grabbed a cord and gave it to Parnell who paid all of their purchases on a special untraceable credit card. He handed the sack to her. “We have to get to our gate.” At the gate they sat exhausted, gazing out over the heads of the other passengers. Ell had to keep her voice down as people were sitting right behind them at the gate’s waiting area. “It happened in Rome, I know that now. It felt so strong, it must have been here…” “That’s looking more likely. Likely Cardinal Bartolucci in Rome knows, or knew. He probably said something to do, but unfortunately he died last month.” “I wish we had access to your family’s papers.” “Which one?” “The Kings,” Parnell said and gave out a short laugh. The gate attendant announced the arrival of their plane. “What difference would that make?” “Well, it customary for knowing Jairus families to mark the occasion of the first rising as one would commemorate a baptism or first communion.” “A special paper… or” Ell flicked her wrist. And Parnell looked down. “How long have you had that?” “Since as long as I can remember…”
187 It was off her wrist in a flash. “We begin boarding first class…” the announcer said. And they examined the heavy timepiece that had been on Ell’s wrist since she was a little girl; the only thing changing over time was the band. The face of the watch was in a deep stunning blue with gold highlights, dials, casement and backing. There were no special initials or engravings other than a stylized “E” on the back of the watch. Parnell pulled from his pocket a small three-prong pipe-smoking tool, which consisted of a spade, a tamper, and poker. “First class final call…” The Father used the small poker lodging it into one of the slots encircling the back of the watch. He peered up at Ell. “You’ve never done this?” “Why would I?” “Every had the watch fixed?” “Never had to. No battery. Self-winding.” Parnell worked at the slot, trying to move the back casement off. More passengers arose to board the plane. The backing would not budge. “Here let me try,” said Ell. Parnell handed her his small tool. Gently she slid the poker into the slot, and in her mind she imagined its edge coming to purchase on the side of the slot wall. While pushing down ever so slightly, and applying pressure up and then down the poker held and forced the casement to rise, slightly. With a few more tries, the back of Ell’s watch was loose and could be taken off with a thumbnail. Ell held the watch up to their eyes and Parnell slowly took the back of the watch off. “Last call for Flight 1038 to Rome,” the attendant announced.
188 Parnell lifted the backing away and they both peered inside the back of the watch and there inside etched in glass were two words.
At the Rome airport they rented a car. Parnell took the wheel and Ell entered into the GPS one of the two words that were etched in glass hidden inside her watch. It was a town. Lodi. It was so familiar to her. The other word was Eyquem, which was familiar to her only because she’d heard it on the King’s answering machine last night. Lodi. Eyquem was a name, it was French. Lodi, “It’s in the north,” said Parnell pulling away. “Small, rural.” Ell shouted, “That’s it.” Parnell applied the breaks. “It was Cardinal Bertollinni.” “You met him in Rome.” “He told me that was where he was from…” “He was born in Trapani in West Sicily. What did he tell you about Lodi?” “Ah, farming it’s really a farming village…” “Anything else?” “He recommended a chapel or…” “Church, he mentioned a church in particular?” “Virgin Mary.”
189 “Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary Crowned?” Ell nodded. “It is covered in…” “Frescoes and paintings, some by Il Bergognone.” “Yes,” Ell shouted out. It was like her brain was being rid of cobwebs. Parnell put the car in gear. “Built on the grounds of a medieval brothel, for the poor.” “Why is that important?” “That’s the exact spot you were born, died and were resurrected.” “How do we know that?” Parnell shook his head, “Of course we don’t. We only can go on what Bertollini told you.” “You think he would have said something about the hospital in Lodi, if I’d been born there.” The priest smiled. “He was quite specific.” “Then who’s Eyquem?” Parnell turned, “That I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”
Parnell parked in front of the sanctuary, which was lit glowingly by floodlights and a full moon. The building itself was locked; Ell tried the doors. But the grounds were open, and Parnell and Ell took to the path around the side of the massive and beautiful sanctuary. They were soon not alone, Ell could feel it. Someone or something was following them. “What are we looking for?” she whispered a little afraid to get the answer. “We’re looking for your hive.” “My hive?”
190 “Every Descendant has a hive, always found in their epicenter. Most hives just die away.” “Why?” “Because most Descendants never know about their gift. They’re never tried, and their never have to rise to an occasion to force the miracle out into the open. Which is what we prefer.” “You’d rather people not know,” she said incredulously. “Why?” “Because history has taught us, the miracle is is either abused or annulled.” “Is that why for most of my life no one paid me any attention...” Parnell stopped. “No one. Hardly. But as soon as you know we know, and when we know they know, and then it’s game on. Listen, simply by being a Descendant you pour into this world an amazing amount of pure love and spirit -- the spirit of Jesus Christ. It’s what sustains us.” “But.” “If we get too self-conscious about it.” “The spirit... dies.” “Is killed. It’s wonderful on its own. And from time to time there is an individual, a family, a line of Descendants in full knowledge of their gift and they find a way to share it, without acquiring too much of a tan from the limelight or by taking the miracle as their own personal power to exploit others with....” They found themselves walking through an ancient graveyard. Ell’s scars were fluctuating in temperature. “What exactly are we doing here again.” “We must get to your Hive.”
191 “Find the Hive. Find the Queen.” “Right. And render her or him powerless.” “The Queen can be a male?” “Well then it would be a King,” he said sheepishly. “Render the Queen and so goes the Hive; the Null and Void, after you, disappears. The memory of the Queen and the Hive are wiped and you can go on with your life as a private citizen. We’re here because you are strong right now, few of your loved ones have been affected and therefore the blood bond remains strong. Right now you are stronger than the Queen. But soon you will not. That is why we needed to take the fight to him or her.” “A preemptive strike.” “Something like that...” As they rounded a warmly-lit corner, Parnell and Ell came upon an old man having a cigarette. He quickly threw it on the ground and stubbed it out with his boot toe. He waved the air in front of him comically. “So sorry your Eminence, I was just trying it... “ “Easy, there’s no problem. And I’m just a father, you can relax; in fact,” Parnell said and took his pipe from one of his pockets and proceeded to stuff the black pipe with fragrant tobacco. Ell gave the priest a look. Smoking now? Parnell ignored her. He struck a match and lit the tobacco and sent a plume of blue smoke into the air. Ell introduced herself and the man said his name was Antoine Gerard, smiling a bright toothsome grin. “I am the chief caretaker. I have always liked working at night. I paint during the day, you see. What are you here for, at such an hour father?”
192 Parnell removed the pipe from his mouth, “Ell was born here...in the sanctuary I believe and...” Gerard fell against the wall as if being punched, and looked from Ell to Parnell, and back. There was obviously something wrong. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out his cigarettes and lit one. “You were born here?” “Apparently,” said Ell. “Come with me,” Gerard said and walked down a path from the sanctuary through an opening of a large stonewall to a series of small stone cottages, one of which was Gerard’s. As he walked ahead of them, he constantly turned to look at Ell over his shoulder. They came to what was a small tool shed, which over the years became a place where Gerard had his naps, he told them, his coffee breaks and stored his cleaning and maintenance supplies. Inside, dimly lit, there was an armoire so large it covered much of one entire wall of the cottage. It’]s two large doors were covered in photographs. Gerard had the priest and the girl stand front and center. He stood beside them, wheezing, and pointed. “There,” he said in accented English. Amongst all the pictures, of Gerard standing with tourists who came to the sanctuary at night, and he’d allowed some access for whatever compensation they could muster; of tourists smiling at the camera, of close ups of stonework and shadows, there in dead center was a picture of a what looked like a young couple and their baby. The unsmiling woman was slight, beautiful and blonde, the baby round and staring off at something. The young man was Eliot Stearns King. Ell inhaled. Her scar burned. “That’s me!”
193 Gerard turned to her, “That’s you, your father and your mother. I know too well because I delivered you in that very sanctuary that night almost twenty years ago. I delivered you, and my sweet, my heart, you were stillborn.” Silence filled the cottage. Ell felt she was in a stage play and she’d forgotten her dialogue. Her heart beat in her eyes. “You were as still as cold stone,” he said. “And I wrapped you up and took you to the foot of our Mother and said please, please, please, and then said the only thing from the Bible I thought would work.” “Talitha koum,” Ell said. “Talitha koum,” Gerard said smiling pointing at her. “Talitha koum.” “Oh Mr. Gerard, thank you thank you,” Ell said grasping the small, old man, and hugging him. “I can’t thank you enough.” “Please yes, thank you, please Ms Ell, Father Parnell, call me Eyquem, all my friends do. Call me Eyquem.” His expression fell as soon as it had risen. He stood back from Ell. “There’s something else?” Parnell asked advancing. Eyquem sat down. “I’ve had the number for years. It’s on the back of the photograph. I called Mr. King the other day. Eliot’s brother, like I was told to do.” Ell recalled the answering machine in Houston. A buzzing in Ell’s ears intensified; she felt faint. “There’s something else?” She looked at Eyquem who tilted his head, and clasped his hands before him, shaking them ever so slightly. “That’s why... when I saw you.”
194 “What is it?” “Your mother.” Eyquem gestured toward the old photograph, one of those Inst-amatic ones. Eyquem had one such camera hanging from the armoire. “What, my mother’s been dead for decades. What about her?” The maintenance man shook his head. “She’s here.” “Alive?” “She lives nearby. Has for over a year. She comes here everyday -- looking…” “For?” “You.”
Eyquem told them the whole story, how about twenty years ago on a Christmas Eve of torrential sleet a young American couple driving through rural Italy banged on his door. They needed out of the storm. He took them in to the sanctuary -- what else could he do, he could see that she was pregnant and having problems. In great pain. Not a step into the sanctuary the woman went into labor near the confessional pews. Eyquem had seen and done things in the war, so he said he would deliver the baby. Eliot consoled the mother by dabbing her forehead with cool water applied with a bandana. The delivery was fairly easily, and took no time at all. Eyquem used gardening shears to cut the umbilical cord, But there was something wrong. The child was not breathing. The child was not moving. Eyquem gave the baby to the father, who stared at the baby in utter confusion; he handed the child to her mother, and the mother did little but look at the face of the baby, and then placed the baby aside. “She spat on the church floor, and cursed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” Eyquem gathered up the baby and went to the foot of the mother, and
195 prayed, and pleaded, and used the words of the Bible he’d only read that day -- talitha koum. The baby jerked, and sputtered like an engine, Eyquem said, and then let out a cry that resounded throughout the sanctuary. The father was on his feet and ecstatic, a bright smile on his tear-stained face. The mother was quiet. A stone on the floor. A look, such a look, he told the priest. Eyquem hadn’t expected that. The mother wouldn’t even look at the child. “What kind of mother doesn’t even look at their child?” Eyquem asked. Eyquem said he sat beside the mother because it seemed so strange. “You don’t want...” “No.” “But it’s your child.” “Mine?” “Your child.” “From my body, but not of. It was supposed to be dead. It should have stayed dead,” Eyquem said uneasily, twenty years erasing in his heart into a split second gazing into the eyes of a miracle.
Ell and Parnell walked to a nearby cottage, thanking Eyquem for his directions, but telling him to stay behind. As soon as the sanctuary custodian was out of sight, Parnell drew out his Bible, and retrieved the bloodletting knife and bottle; this time he withdrew two knives. They performed the procedure, silently, quickly; both drank their share of blood. Parnell handed her the knife. Ell’s body felt infused with electricity; her scar was pulsating hot and cold.
196 A light, fragrant rain began to come down in the darkness. Ell wondered if this was the right time, the right place, to meet the women that was her mother. “Marina Sarton, is all I could ever find out about her. The accident. They said she was dead, killed by gunshot,” Ell said to Parnell. Could another be like her and cheat death? She turned to Parnell. “It’s possible your mother was... Jairus -- but I have serious doubts, not only in terms of the mathematical possibilities, but also because there is no record, I’m aware of, of one Jairus harming another Jairus. The Hive is evil, pure and simple, it wants to eradicate the world of magnificent, of wonderful individuals whose miracle is not that they are alone, but that they are a part of something so much bigger than they are.” “Are the Null and Void, the devil’s minions?” “Definitely one possibility. Their legion are comprised on many groups. More likely dead souls, which are immortal, the dead souls of the violent, and the disturbed, the pedophiles and murders. In the underworld, they are allowed to choose what to inhabit; over millennium as Ovid correctly put it these dead souls live on in transmogrified forms all mixed together, so that at will they may move from one form to another. Another possibility, is a large group of individuals who share a space, both intellectually and physically, and as such are easily rounded up and swayed, so to speak. In each case, the group structure remains, for they act as one, but individually they physically and mentally change.” “Through shape-shifting.”
197 Parnell nodded. “This transmogrification has been used to create an army of dead souls, whose form can appear to be as harmless as a boy on a skateboard one minute into a menacing Null and Void minion the next.” “Like those Freegans?” “Yes, we’ve been watching them in particular. They shift involuntarily. If killed, as a Null and Void, the human form is left, but not the soul.” “Who controls them?” “The dark architect, who can transfigure with such liquidity it exceeds the speed of light.” “Shape-shifters, Satan? Then what is she? What happened to my mother?” Parnell reached for her hand. “I’m afraid she died along time ago, and what’s left is but a twisted disguise.” “Can’t she be saved?” The priest was silent. Before them the darkness, the rain, began to form a vicious circle. “Perhaps, but not before we save ourselves.” The priest leapt forward. Ell followed taking the wall beside her in a series of clutches before she was upon the wall’s top and could see the army of dead souls. Shots rang out behind her, and the darkness was suffused with dead souls departing. It was Eyquem, and a machine gun.
“Enough,” the mother cried out. The slaughter continued. “Enough, come to me,” the mother bellowed. In a matter of ten minutes the red hooded menace were banished;
198 several were killed, as they did, all that remained was black sludge and sticky red and gold spider webbing. “Don’t touch it,” Parnell instructed Ell and Eyquem. The three watched the hoard flee over the cobbled fences and through the dark trees. “They’ve been called away,” the priest said housing the knife in his Bible. “Eloquence come to me!” Ell handed over her knife, which had blood on it, already dried black and falling off in flakes. Parnell inspected the knife and sheathed it too in his Bible, which he closed up with one hand, and without looking pocketed inside his black jacket -- Ell had never noticed until now that inside Parnell’s jacket hung a black leather satchel. “To where?” asked Eyquem, “where are the beasties going?” “Back to America,” said Parnell. “Every Null and Void is attached to a particular Descendant -- in this case Ell. They have been called away because she is too strong right now. They have been called away to weaken her for what’s inside that cottage.” It was the cottage Marina Sarton has gone into, the cottage where Ell’s long-lost mother was housed. “If you’re going to go, go now,” Parnell said not taking his eyes off the small abode in front of them. He handed her a small package, wrapped in cloth, which she held in her hand. “We need to talk,” said the mother aloud. Ell’s scar pulsed, hot for the men who fought to keep her alive, cold for the dreaded encounter before her. She inched forward an inch she had been thinking about the entirety of her life, toward the person who carried her, gave birth to her, her flesh, her blood. Ell inched closer toward the one horror she held in the deepest recesses of her heart, that she came from a nothing so dark, it was evil incarnate. She inched closer.
199 “What do you want?” Ell asked at the door. “To finally see my daughter.” “What kept you from finding me.” There was a silent. The night was slowly beginning to fade into morning. Birds flew overhead and through the shattered nigh-tscape. “I was afraid.” Ell stopped, “Afraid of what?” “That you wouldn’t love me. That you’d reject me.” The voice was soft, lilting. “You were dead.” Stone cold came the reply: “So were you.” Ell remembered what Parnell had told her, about what happened to Eliot, to her mother, to herself that day in Houston. Gunfire, an accident, the mother was killed, killed by a bullet shot from Eliot’s hand; a child was thrown from the car, through the windshield, neck broken, how a lone man in bare feet walked through the glass toward her, bent down, and touched her, and how the dead came back to life. “Who killed you?” The door opened slowly and Ell peered inside. “Who killed you?” The stench, stale and sour, was almost over-powering; Ell covered her mouth with the small package Parnell has given her. She could feel it on her lips. The cottage was very cold, her breath fogging on the air, her teeth beginning to chatter. Ell could not see where her mother was until the door behind her was slammed shut and turning all Ell saw were terribly green eyes towering above her and through the fractured light coming from
200 the ineffable dawning light forcing its way into the dank hovel, the silhouette of two expansive bat-like wings. “You did,” came a booming voice, guttural and accented, “You did you little bitch!” Ell could smell the rancid breath, felt spittle hit her cheek. Supine, she turned, for the words ignited a fire behind Ell, instantly and powerfully. The flames rose with a roar and the fire’s heat and light filled the small cottage with charged orange light. Turning back Ell was confronted by a winged monster rising above her on black and bruised talons and arms attached to veined fleshy wings; the face hideous with boils, puckers of puss, green eyes sore with blood and a mouthful of dead yellow teeth. The eyes closed in ecstasy as it inched toward her on the floor inches from the fire. Ell unwrapped the package and exposed a six-inch silver crucifix, which when the beast opened its eyes caused it to rear back with a sneer on its mealy mouth and swipe the cross from Ell’s grip with a slight and sonorous backhand. It flew with such force it stuck into the cottage wall. “Trinket,” the voice boomed, the face rolling around the backhand returning to within inches of Ell’s turned face. “You greet me with…” Ell uncorked the bottle and through the water onto the monster’s face, which instantly made it recoiled, its flesh burning, its hands and wings accordion-like, holding to allow for palms to press at the dastardly water. Ell scooted up on her haunches and began spraying the beast with the water, which she noticed was nearly spent. It was then the door was pried open, causing the beast that could have been her mother rear up on its hind legs, turn toward the new threat, and back up into the corner. This allowed all three, Ell, Parnell and Eyquem to advance with bottles of holy water ready. But to their surprise, the beast bellowed in a warped cacophony of tongues, shrunk shudderingly into the
201 human form of Marina Sarton, and with one push off from that dark corner burst through their flimsy line. They watched the form smash through the barred window and with a wrenching yawp and liquid speed escape into the grey morning. Ell was on the ground. Girl get up she said inside her head. Girl get up and kill your mother.
“That’s my mother? That hideous thing?” Ell shrieked and took to pounding Parnell on the chest. There was little he could do but to fall back and take her in his arms. “That monster, it can’t be my mother,” she continued, shaking, pounding and crying, slowly, stilling her body to allow the priest to hold her. “Was your mother.” “Are you saying that...” “Not her. Hasn’t been her for years. There might have been some time when the form was left alone. Years maybe. But it would always become occupied again when needed.” “You mean possessed.” Parnell looked at Ell, her beautiful green eyes, the miracle that she was. “Yes. Possessed is the word. The word we use in the rite.” Ell took this in, and wonder who in their right mind would ask. “Would she be tortured?” His face became pained, it was clear he was uncomfortable talking about it. “It’s hard to say. If she were already dead -- the accident -- the news reports said she was DOA, then no not tortured in a way we would understand.” “But if she’d been alive.”
203 “Yes different story.”
They said their goodbyes to Eyquem and his Baretta machine gun at the sanctuary door quickly because they had a long journey ahead of them. Ell checked and could not locate the Kings in Rome. That might have been a ruse. It was back to Boston, where the Null and Void, where Ell’s mother, or what remained of her mother, would certainly go, to eliminate the rest of Ell’s blood bond, to weaken her for the soul and the blood of her body to be taken away for good. Back to Boston. To ensure the safety of family and friends, there, but also, and perhaps more importantly to confront the beast within Marine Sarton, to confront it, and expel it for good and in doing so collapse and destroy the hive of Descendant-E. On the plane Parnell gave Ell another small book, “Rite of Exorcism.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” Ell asked gripping the strange new book in her hands. Parnell turn toward her and glanced down at the book. “The devil needs to be invited into your life. Possession isn’t something that just happens to people walking down the street. I felt that if you were to survive, you would need time, time to prepare yourself for your biggest battle. To collapse the Hive and kill its Queen.” Ell looked at the book and flipped through its pages, not registering much, other than the rite was long and contained a lot of repeated words and phrases. “Why give this to me?” “An exorcism can take weeks; at minimum several hours. I can perform the rite, I’m sanctified by the church, but I can’t do it alone because it would overwhelm me.” Ell thought the priest was holding something back. “But with me?”
204 “With you, and your blood, the power of Christ is too much for the demon or demons inside the human form.” “Demons?” “There could be more than one. I heard a few distinct voices back there in the cottage, so that leads me to believe there’s more than one.” “With my presence the rite should go more quickly?” “Yes.” “How?” “It’s like having Christ in the room, in your corner,” Parnell winked and tapped the book. “Now start studying.”
Thankfully they both slept on the plane because they would need to hit the ground running in Boston. Time was running down. The Null and Void were undoubtedly making attempts at the lives of Ell’s family and friends -- Roe and Marilynne; Seamus and Kaavya. Not to mention where the beast was taking Marina Sarton. Their plane was met by Fr. Wooster and black town car. Once inside the car, Ell went to get her iPhone out of her back pocket when she realized it was gone. All her contacts. There was no way to text anyone. “What is it?” Parnell asked attuned to Ell’s look of concern. “My phone. I’ve lost it. There’s no way to contact anyone...” “So we’d better hurray. To Roe and Marilynne’s first...”
205 They looked like they were sleeping. But they weren’t. The Rubicon agents had had their necks broken. The Null and Void hadn’t even bothered to turn off the SUV, which sat idling across the street from Gloucester Apartment Tower. Behind the tower, the story was the same: two agents killed, swiftly, their vehicles left running. Ell knew the Null and Void were simply waiting for her, which meant Roe and Marilynne were at that very moment in deep trouble. The priest initiated the bloodletting, pulling the Bible from his satchel, and beginning the process. “You never told me what this does for you?” Ell asked. Parnell passed the instruments to Ell, “Gives me a boost.” “But not the same as me?” The priest shook his head. “I wasn’t a miracle.” Ell cut and bled into the bottle. She passed the instrument back to Parnell. “So what are you?” “I’m 86.” Impish grin.
If anyone had trained an eye on the exterior of the Gloucester and happened upon the south, back, wall they could discern if lucky the shape of a human scaling the tower window ledge, by window ledge, balcony to balcony. Ell was determined and worked quickly, and without fear up the side of the tower to its twenty-sixth floor where the Kings had their Boston home. The man she knew as Father Parnell, 86, and running up the stairs without hesitation the years of Gospel ink in his body, his blood mixing with the miraculous blood of Christ. They were to attack the room at the same time, she
206 waiting to see Parnell come storming through the doors special weapons he boosted would make her smile. No one was on the balcony, a long but narrow affair that would require from the roof someone to repel as is descending an mountain face before swinging oneself, throwing oneself, into the balcony. The Null and Void would not be expected someone to climb up the face of the tower. Ell alighted, and hid behind a large tropical fern. The balcony windows gave no indication as to what was happening inside. There were no lights on, save a distant white light, a thin sword Ell took to be hallway light coming under the door from outside. That would be where Parnell was to come. But he did not come. Ell crouched there, and was unaware and was not paying attention to her scars, too busy surveying the darkness before her, to notice the set of teeth and jaw protruding from a blood red mask hover at her ear ready to strike, the black body hanging upside down, tethered to the balcony ceiling. And Parnell did not come. Did not come in alone. The door burst open, and the sword of light arose like fire as the priest came into the room, covered in shadows and black scars, two Null and Void at his arms as if carrying him; his head bobbed on his chest. Ell rose, and as she did, the dark thing hanging behind her lurched its massive snapping jaw and grappling arms towards her and in some hideous ballet they coupled, with Ell holding off the attacker while wrapping her legs around its form. The two swung crazily from window to edge of balcony, to balcony to window, smashing hard against it. Ell continued to push and could see out the corner of her eye, more red hoods emptying the apartment and out onto the balcony. She climbed the black form and at the same time kicked at its jaw and face; up up she went to
207 where the cord was tied, and with her bare hands and in one motion tore the rope from the ceiling, used the wall as leverage, swung the howling black form like a baseball bat at the advancing hoard, which came the form and two of the three awful companions up and over the edge of balcony. Ell looked into the room briefly to see Parnell somehow lifting the two forms -- one each side of him -- off the floor. She dropped to her knees then, as the lone Null and Void swung at her, and she rose with great force at the beast’s waist and pushed toward the railing. There she upended the beast, its yapping and clawing getting to her greatly, and it grabbed her hair. She was going over. The beast was holding on. Ell’s hair was a rope. Through her blurred vision, she could see the priest. He hoisted the two Null and Void up and aside from the knives he had implanted in their backs; Parnell ran to her, up over grappling dark things, through two others, each getting stabbed in the throat, and rolled over another all the while circling the air in front of himself with the extra sharp blood letting knives. Parnell ran through the balcony entrance, a Null and Void on his back, which Ell punched and chocked as Parnell with one motion, sliced the air and cut Ell’s long blonde hair, rolling to one side and allowing Ell to once again sock a dark thing in the face. Two flew to their deaths, along with some blonde strands of hair. Two sat on their haunches. Parnell gave Ell one of the knives. “Neat trick,” she said as they walked into the apartment, throwing lights on when they could find them. The floor was littered with the mess left when the Null and Void is killed. Parnell pointed down a hallway. Another sword of light.
208 Ell opened the door to what she knew was Roe’s study. There, before a fireplace smoldering with red hot embers, sat gagged and restrained to chairs were Roe and Marilynne. They looked sadly upon Ell moving slightly in their chairs making the legs rock and sound on the hardwood floor. A lone beast stood behind them, taller and bulkier than most, she’d encountered. It had leveled at both Roe and Marilynne’s neck a glinting scimitar in one swoop, halting the brilliantly shining curved blade inches from their skin. It said something in a gravelly voice, in a language Ell did not know; she turned to Parnell. He shook his head. The beast repeated the words, this time more slowly. It swung the scimitar again, and once again stopped just short of hitting both Roe and Marilynne. “We can’t understand you,” Ell pleaded. “Cm wth m lqunc,” it said angrily, louder. Swinging -“Stop,” yelled Parnell. “Cm wth m lqunc,” the priest said and pointed at Ell. The thing let this set in, and turned to consult something inside itself. “Ys” “His speech has no vowels,” said Parnell. “I know what he wants, I don’t need...” she moved. “He wants you to go with him, Ell.” watching he said as Ell threw herself at the feet of Roe and Marilynne’s chair, sliding across the floor on her knees, grabbing forcefully the front legs of both chairs and pulling. The scimitar sung in the hot air, again, and did not stop. Both Roe and Marilynne and the back of their chairs hit the floor as the sword sliced the air above them. Ell rose to her feet quickly between them, hopped atop the
209 chairs and using them as support, jumped at the beast whose scimitar was in the air behind. It yelled out and attempted to bring the sword back around, but Ell was too quick, standing on the arm holding the sword and driving her knife into the eye grill of the blood red mask. The beast fell, with Ell on top of it, yelling out in words with no vowels. Ell was exhausted. She slumped to the ground and watched as Parnell untied her Uncle and her Aunt. They rushed over to her, and they embraced. Parnell tried as best he could to explain it all. “Eloquence has what your great-grandmother had,” he said to Roe. “She can be resurrected,” Roe said. “Yes, my grandmother, Ell’s greatgrandmother told us when Eliot’s girlfriend Marina got pregnant. We weren’t told as children, you see. The pregnancy was a problem from the beginning we could tell. They fled to Italy; Eliot knew all about it, but she was going slowly mad and wanted the baby out.” “What do you know about my mother?” Roe looked at her and shrugged his shoulder, “Not much, really. Eliot met her while living in Rome for a few years. Brought her home briefly. It was a fling, she was from England, and...” “Then me.” He shook his head. “Eliot was wild and he never really cared about what the family wanted, or what Mother and Father requested. It was important to know who was being invited into the family, they said, and only years later would I come to know why.” “But why did my father end up shooting my mother. He went crazy?” “A convenient lie. One even Eliot wanted to believe. But it was clear, it was she that crazy, not Eliot. Something had a hold of her and wouldn’t let go. The night of the
210 accident, she was going to throw you in the river. Eliot stopped her. Eliot said he saw things, heard things, he couldn’t repeat. When Eliot left Europe with you, and came home; she followed. Near the end, she told Eliot she was sent to kill you. She threw you out the window, and a tree outside the window almost as if being compelled by the wind swayed to catch you. You were breathing until we put you in my great-grandmother’s arms. And there you were.”
Much of the apartment was trashed, and in piles here and there, a goo sat where a Null and Void had fell. Ell flopped down into a chair, and Parnell came to stand before her. “You’re losing strength, sweetie.” “More blood?” she asked looking up at the priest who had now become her faithful companion. He shook his head. “What I mean is that she is gaining strength.” He sat down beside her on the couch. Marilynne gave them both bottled water. “Thank you, Ell,” she said, and Ell rose to give her a hug. While hugging her, Roe brought over the Globe and with Marilynne still in her arms, Roe showed Ell the front page. Two horrific stories caught her immediate attention. “Just yesterday...” The Governor’s Sons. One Found Dead. The Other Missing. Fire at Harvard. Residential Hall burns to the ground; twelve dead. Kaavya Narayan among the missing. With the paper in her hands, Ell fell to the ground weeping. Then she hiccuped.
211 The picture of the Governor’s son. Picture of someone who has jumped from a very great height. She turned to Parnell. “Seamus.” He glanced at the newspaper, and shook his head. “What? I’m not sure...” “That’s not Seamus. He has a twin brother: Declan. Look at the picture of the left hand there,” she said pointing at the picture. She went over to a laptop on the kitchen counter, called up the Boston Globe, and the picture it was running on the front cover of today’s paper. She clicked on it, and enlarged it, focusing on the left hand, a hand peeking out from beneath a tarp thrown over the vehicle the jumper had landed upon. The hand. “How many fingers?” she asked. Parnell scrutinized the picture. “Four and a thumb.” “Seamus has two fingers and a thumb on his left hand. Afghanistan. He’s not dead, the paper’s misidentified him. Sadly, unfortunately this is Declan his identical twin. So Seamus is out there right now looking for me, and looking for the killer. He’s not missing.” “They’ve got him,” Parnell said glumly. “But where? But where do you start?” asked Roe. “Where Ell is,” said the priest. Ell knew exactly where. “The circle.”
To make sure Ell had Parnell drive by Seamus’ apartment; she climbed the back fire escapes to his floor and was able to peer in and see how much of a mess had been made.
212 They threw Declan off the roof here, Ell pondered, thinking it was Seamus. Poor Declan. She climbed back down to the awaiting car, Parnell behind the wheel. “No one there, right.” “Right,” she said. “They’re gathering.” “In one place.” “One place.” The car did not move. “Well, let’s go,” Ell said impatiently. “We need a plan,” said Parnell. “I’ll need to make one stop.” Leaning her head against the headrest, Ell sighed, “Right,’ and then smiled broadly while looking at her very special knife.
Faint light could be seen from six storey below, light coming out of the dirtied windows of the top floor of the small water craft parts plant and warehouse. Ell ran the length of the black back alley, launched herself into a Monkey vault atop a large garbage bin, flipped and her hands found purchased on the girder on the nearby building. She gripped hard and shimmied up the steel pipe, and then once about half way up the building she used window ledges to move up to the roof of the building. This allowed her to jump the expanse to the warehouse, go to the edge of the roof where the abandoned fire escape was, climb down and open the door, which had not been closed. Inside was as cold as her scars. Hanging from every available rafter space was a Null and Void, hanging like bats, not in neat rows, but bunched up, one, and threes and in fours, and twos; and all were in unison
213 chanting low, some phrase in a language Ell did not recognize. She saw Seamus. He was hanging upside down, his arms thrown open wide, his feet together, as if crucified. He was alive, but looked unconscious. At his head, Marina Sarton, sitting lotus-style and naked. Her eyes were closed and she appeared to be sleeping. Ell could try to cut Seamus free, but they wouldn’t make it far in a room filled with Null and Void. And Marina would have a thing or two to say about it. She needed to stick to the plan. She glanced down at her Patek. Just then Parnell crashed through once barred door carrying two weapons each sticking out from his armpits like colorful lances. Just then Ell screamed out: “IF YOU WANT ME HERE I AM.” Ell turned back to see her mother standing, still full nude; awakened, expansive dark wings unfolding, her eyes the color of ancient gold. Parnell was running into the room, weaponing fanning out spraying the awakening Null and Void with a startling dose of holy water from two ordinary, but large, Super Soakers. Parnell ran around the room in this fashion, yelling out admonitions in Latin, spraying the beasts down from their ceiling perches; one after another reacting as if doused with battery acid and falling to the ground in a soup of red spider threads and little else. Ell caught the beast that was her mother advancing on her, so she had little time. “CUT HIM FREE AND I’M ALL YOURS!” And this stopped her, turning Marina used a talon on the end of her wing to slice the ropes at Seamus’ limbs instantly free him from the ugly crucifix. He tumbled to the ground and as he did Ell said a little prayer, the Jesus Prayer, to the maker of miracles, to the Second Coming and in the maelestrom of baying Null and Void, their guttural chanting contorted into death throes; the screeched Latin, she pulled from her belt loop
214 the bloodletting knife, the very sharp tip Ell held away from her and just moments before the outstretched clutches of the winged-beast, touched her, drove the knife deep into her abdomen and staggered back, blood spluttering immediately from her mouth, blood seeping and spreading quickly from the wound, Ell fell to her knees, looked up at the devil-mother, and fell back. Dead. Dead. Dead... Marina clutched the girl before she could hit the ground, and held that limp body in her hands, turning the head to expose the neck and moved to sink her teeth into the neck of miracle daughter when she heard: “GIRL GET UP” roared Seamus holding Ell’s foot. “TALITHA KOUM,” said the priest holding the other looking over at Seamus in surprise. Marina turned to swat the men away, but she was too late; they have thrown themselves back for what rose up before them in in front of the beast was Ell who threw all her weight atop Marina knocking her down. With Ell on top riding Marina like a bucking horse, Seamus and Parnell tied Marina’s arms and legs to the steel columns. Marina thrashed, and bent those columns. “We must act fast,” said Parnell. “Seamus you should leave.” “No I’m staying.” he saying hugging Ell. “I’m not afraid.” Parnell took a purple stole from his satchel, and placed it on his shoulders. He turned and blessed Ell. “As we discussed. We begin with the Saints.”
215 The exorcism took well over three days to complete. What Ell saw on that third day, and would later discuss with great wonder with Seamus, was at that the demon arose from the form that was Marina Sarton fought with another form, one with broad shoulders, of tall stature, with wings twice that of the beast, rise from the nearly spent Father Parnell. The apparitions fought, and it was the one from Parnell that won. The subdued demon flew out of the form, out of the building and was gone. The form that came from Parnell stayed, and receded back into Parnell, who fell then and there to the floor utterly exhausted saying: “May we no longer,” a puff of air. He lingered, “May we no longer fear any evil,” Parnell said Seamus wiping his brow. “Since the Lord is with us; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “God, forever, and ever.” Ell touched her dead mother’s hand and said her own prayer: “Talitha Koum.” And her mother’s skin went from stone cold to warm, to hot, and soon Ell stared in utter amazement as her mother sat up. Ell had her knife ready. “Wait!” said Parnell. Marina look around her, looking as is she’d been lost or in a dream and just now was getting her bearings. She gazed at Ell. And smiled. “I know you.” Ell said, “who am I?” “A mother always knows.” “But she was dead,” Seamus said hoarsely. “Um Parnell?” Ell asked turning to see the priest laughing. He was sitting there gripping his knees laughing like a school boy. “Marina?” Impish grin.
216 “I don’t know how I got here, what’s going on….?” “Do you know the story of the Jairus Daughter?” Parnell asked.
To end is to go back to the beginning, Most Holy Father. The story goes like this. Twenty years ago, when Eliot Stearns King brought home from Rome a wife and a new baby girl things didn’t go so well. The woman became quite sick. Mentally deranged they say. Contorted her body. Spoke different languages that she’d never spoken before. Her body went through so many changes, cuts covered her body, everyone thought Eliot was behind it. We now know Marina Sexton had been dabbling in the occult in Romania. Eliot said his wife was a demon -- and he was right. Was possessed, true enough. Eliot had always been seen as an eccentric person, but he acting out in society and the like got worse and worse. No one believed him. One night it’s reported Marina tried to kill her own baby. She fled the King house with the baby in the car with her. Eliot gave chase and soon convinced Marina to talk it through. This didn’t last long and she bolted for the car, Eliot was able to jump in the passenger seat and when she was about to throw the baby in the river, Eliot shot at Marina. She dropped the baby, which Eliot grabbed and placed in his lap. The mother drove crazily saying she was going to kill them all. Then the crash. Eliot survived, Marina was said to have died from gunshots, and the baby.
218 The sweet baby. Survived. However, Marina also being a Jairus, meant the next person to touch her revived her allowing the demon that began to possess her in Rome, to continue to do so. The beast watched from the back of the ambulance as the old man in the brown suit knelt down to bring Eloquence back to life. The form that was Marina took it all in oblivious to the fact that what it sought, what it hunted and killed for, was the very same thing that was inside it all along. Evil is dumb. There was some silence. The mother sir. Back to England. She doesn’t remember much. Her parents lost their daughter twenty years ago. Ell said she go to England to visit. And, yes sir? Did I tell her? About me? No. I thought it best. I always enjoyed your laugh your Most Holy Father. Yes, the Judaic people aren’t the only ones with thirty-six hidden just men. Impish grin. Do you mind if I… he said raising his black pipe.
Seamus and Ell lay on warm blankets, listening to Cole Porter and reading poetry. The day was bright and the expansive room filled with great light. Ell tried to relax. There were so many mysteries still -- the Freegan house was razed to the ground, no one survived the blaze; on the road in front of the house someone has lit a gigantic “Q.” And
219 perhaps the biggest mystery of all Kaavya Narayan. Seamus and Ell searched but could not find her, not in the morgue; a Web search for the author Narayan showed he was indeed married to an American and they had two children -- boys, twins. No girl. The girl Ell knew as Kaavya Narayan had simply disappeared. Ell rolled over into Seamus’ embrace. He touched the new necklace around Ell’s neck, a beautiful coin medallion. “What’s this?” he asked taking it in his fingers and looking at it. The round medallion was of a knight, whose chest was emblazoned with a cross, from the knight’s shoulders unfolded wings, from his left hand dangled scales, and in the right hand the knight held a mighty spear. The knight was standing atop a demon. Ell smiled and said, “A lifelong friend.”
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