When she awoke, her eyes fluttered open. “Where am I?” she asked, trying to find detail in the pitch black room, where the glow of the pendant was the only thing that could break through the darkness.
It beckoned to her and she rushed towards it, feeling the bed and everything else evaporate.
Like them, she sank into a nothingness.
Opening her hands, she tried to claw at the air and scream. But there was nothing there. No sound. Or anything else more tangible to grab a hold of, because she was falling from a precipice.
Color faded from her eyes. She hit something and then she heard a sharp thud. Then the black nothingness was transformed into a grey dungeon. Lighted by a candle. There was even straw on the ground and metal bars hung everywhere. She gasped as her eyes fell upon a metallic sheen of something that appeared to be a piece of armor. How was that possible? she asked herself, thinking that they were living in the twenty-first century. Getting up, Brandi rearranged her hair, as her eyes grew accustomed to the light and the low vaulted ceiling.
And from among the rafters, she heard a voice call, “Trapped are we?” She strained to get a better look at the creature whose deformed head reminded her of Quasimodo, the famed creature from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, except that this one had arms that resembled vines. Arms that it was using to keep itself upright.
Brandi gasped, realizing that this was the closest she had ever come to seeing a chandelier.
“Who are you? And what do you mean by trapped?” she asked, feeling a faint sense of apprehension.
“Nothing except that for your family, dungeons have become a sort of trademark,” the creature said, as the side of its face opened up. And Brandi had to peer more closely to ensure that it wasn’t some sort of marionette trick. Racking her brain, she tried to think up some reason for being there, and almost self-consciously her hand reached down for the pendant, as the creature withdrew.
“I’d get rid of that thing, if I were you,” it said eyeballing her.
“What? This?” Brandi asked, brandishing the pendant. “It was a present from my father,” she gushed, unable to stop herself. The creature edged backwards, its arms wrapping around the metal bars that was keeping them locked in.
“But it would have been better if you hadn’t,” it said, tilting its head to one side. Extending its viny hands it poked against the her skin, as if to reassure itself that she was also real.
“Stop it!” Brandi said, brushing the vines away. “I’m sure he doesn’t want me to end up with a similar fate.” She pushed the pendant below the fabric of her nightshirt and examined her fingers slowly. Cracking her knuckles.
How can you be sure? the creature seemed to be saying as it looked at her without speaking. Like it knew more about her father than she did but had chosen to remain silent. To keep her in the dark. She scratched her chin, thinking that maybe their minds were on the same wavelength and nodded her head.
“Yes, he wants me to right his wrongs.” She smiled solemnly as the creature cast her a baffled glance at her bunny bedroom slippers. She tried to hide her feet and waved her arms, commanding him, it, to focus as her breath caught in her throat and she suddenly felt filled with a sense of purpose and determination.
Yet, the creature chose that moment to counter her. Its viny arms reaching around her waist, almost playfully. “Even though at times, the decisions of both parties can be clouded by unforeseen incidents?”
Brandi raised her head and shielded her eyes, refusing to be baited. “Whatever it is, I am sure that something can be worked out.”
The creature’s eyes fell to the floor. “Unfortunately his ills cannot be so easily mended,” it said. “Because a Seer should never be clouded by doubt, especially when they try to serve two masters.”
Brandi bowed her head, wondering how the words from the bible fit in.
Quasi looked at her as if staring straight into her soul and said, “The path that he has chosen will likely be the same for you.”
Brandi shook her head, wondering why it mattered so much. But she was too afraid to ask. Choosing instead to offer some speculation. “And if there is a choice, then maybe whatever happens, it will be for the best.”
The creature stretched out its arms and attempted to touch the pendant. It shrieked when it was greeted with an electric shock. Was she being naive? Brandi wondered, covering the pendant with her hands and moving away. Or did she have what it takes?
In the distance, she heard a bell ding and then she felt herself being transported back to her own time. Like the night before when she had been returned to her own room and bed. And just as suddenly as everything had appeared, things shifted. Fading to black as the dungeon disappeared and Quasimodo, the candle and the metal bars vanished.
Brandi awoke with a gasp. She was back in her own room, lying down on her own bed and listening to the sound of the alarm clock going off. She leaned over and pressed the snooze button. It was already nine thirty. She looked around, trying to find the pendant in her pocket and under the covers, only to realize after sitting up, that it was still there around her neck. With deft fingers, she felt the details of the crest that had been etched onto the pendant.
And she closed her eyes, doing her best to forget Nicholas’s words which suggested that things could be planted. Was that what had happened just now? she wondered, bringing her hands up to remove stray strands of hair out of her face as she tried to stifle a yawn. Under her clothes, she could still feel the tape against her skin and she pulled the fabric of her clothing free, so as not to disturb it, as something tugged against her chest. Was what had happened that night also real? she asked herself, turning over, not wanting to get out of bed. Or examine the wound.
School could wait, she thought, pushing aside the clock and dropping back onto the bed.
She groaned and pulled the pillow over her head, remembering the fight that she had had with Teresa. Had her best friend really just let her have it, because of a few choice words like chance and destiny? she wondered, her grip on the pillow tightening as she shrieked into the comforter. Her muscles quivered and her body tensed.
She was willing to concede that her thoughts might have been excessive. But she wondered why her friend had been unable to side with her. She knew that if the tables were turned that she would have done the same for her. She beat the other pillow with her fist and then she kicked off the covers and stood up. The evidence inconclusive.
Or maybe the fight was inevitable, she thought, as in the past few months Teresa had seemed more agitated about everything. First there was the boy in the lunchroom who she had tripped for stealing one of her cheesy fries, and then there was the brunette she’d elbowed during volleyball for getting in her way. Not that they had discussed it. Brandi shook her head, wondering if it had something to do with her home life. When they were together they had learned to avoid such discussions. Or talks about their parents, which had been fine with Brandi before, when she wanted to avoid things. But now though, she wanted to get to the bottom of things. Things like her father. No, she thought. Teresa was her best friend. And she wanted to do whatever it took, to help.
Even though she had been the one to put Brandi in her place and demand that she listened. While giving her no chance to defend herself. And yet, Brandi could forgive her because their friendship mattered. Meant something.
Moving towards the bureau, she appraised herself, wondering if she too was changing. She shrugged, not wanting to believe it, although the wound seemed to tug at her and the pendant gleamed. Today was an ordinary day, just like all the others, she assured herself. Thinking of the pendant as only a minor change. Something almost insignificant like the man with the red cap. Or Roger Barnes.
Then she thought of the photograph of her grandmother that hung in the foyer. Mrs. Van Elder. Her mother had once called her the cruel witch. Or the wicked queen of the manor. And remembering her imposing features, Brandi was almost certain that if she had been alive, she would have ordered them to have a sit down, where both parties could list their grievances. Like her parents, who had been forced to hash things out, according to her grandma Rose. She thought of the navy blue blazer and the pearl necklace and she imagined that even if the woman was impassive or imposing when it had come to her parents getting married, that at least with her, she had at least tried to mend the errors of her ways, by taking her shopping on her seventh birthday, when they had bought a white, vestal, lace frock that she could wear to outings, like their stint at the MET.
She bit her lip, trying not to think about it, and remembered that before the outburst in the school’s hallway, she and Teresa had agreed to meet in the library for ten thirty. On Saturday. Today? She scooped up some of the things off the floor, wondering if it still made sense to go, as she looked across at her mute phone, that hadn’t beeped once during the night. Was she the one who was supposed to apologize? she wondered, in the wake of their disagreement. Although she had been the one who had been left standing there, in the aftermath of their squabble. Or should she have tried to catch up and explain.
Turning over the phone in her hand, Brandi tried to ignore the nagging feeling in her gut that was telling her that now was the perfect time to act. And instead, she removed the pendant and tried to examine the intricate nature of its designs with its lush coconut trees, birds and ships. Besides, there was no one else there except her mother. She stuffed the pendant into her pocket and gripped the phone, deciding finally to enter Teresa’s number.
“No. Not until you’ve had your breakfast,” Mrs. Daniels said, grabbing the phone. Brandi shrank back, knowing the drill. She would have to shower and change if she wanted to see it again.
So without looking across at her mother, she rushed into the bathroom, brushed her teeth and showered, and changed. Doing her best to avoid soaking the bandage, which would probably need to be changed soon.
Silently, she followed her mother down the stairs, where a platter of bacon and some eggs waited for her. She turned it around on the table, suddenly remembering the sights and sounds of the diner, where she had waited for her water to arrive. She closed her eyes feeling nauseated, as she remembered seeing the sight of her own blood, when she was crouched down by the door.
“Are you alright, dear?” her mother asked, getting up to tend to her.
Brandi raised her hand and nodded her head. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said behind gritted teeth, forcing a smile. Then she extended a hand to grab a hold of the jug of orange juice that lay just before her. Her fingers tightened around the handle and she began to pour. Sensing her mother’s eyes, still pressed upon her, she glanced across the table and inhaled sharply.
Her mother’s eyes opened wider.
“Brandi, the cup!” she said, pointing towards the table where the yellow liquid was racing over the rim and forming a pool around her. Her daughter’s face flushed as she jerked to set the jug back down and then scrambled to get a handful of napkins from the slim holder. Mrs. Daniels joined her, biting down on her lower lips as if she was the one who had erred.
Then she offered Brandi a smile and let out an exasperated sigh, as they returned to their respective sides of the table. And as Brandi struggled to get her fork into her sunny side up, Mrs. Daniels attacked her muffin as if it was the one who had been giving her trouble.
Brandi averted her eyes, as her mother cleared her throat, and waited for the impending sermon that she knew would soon come. Waiting for it, she lifted her glass and gulped down half of her juice, because whatever it was, she was almost certain that she didn’t want to hear it; and her body stiffened as her mother’s voice filled the room.
“This isn’t some game, Brandi,” she said, smoothing the edge of the tablecloth. “According to Nicholas, men with weapons aimed at you, so whatever it was that you thought being a Seer was, it doesn’t make you invincible.” Brandi scraped her chair back and rose.
“Then you tell me. What am I supposed to do?” she asked, lifting her hands in the air. “How am I supposed to figure things out when Dad’s not here to guide me?”
Mrs. Daniels turned away, tight-lipped. Feeling insulted. Then she rose too. Captured her daughter’s hands and looked into her eyes. “And even though he isn’t, Nicholas is here. And he’ll see to it that you are not alone.” She embraced her daughter.
“Great!” Brandi said, leaning against her. “But I think he’s more into you.”
Her mother blushed, turning to inspect the little kitchen as her jaw slackened. “No, he’s been a great help since your father…” She brushed loose strands of hair from Brandi’s temples with her finger.
“Please mother,” Brandi said, backing away. The last thing she needed was more adult supervision. As if her mother wasn’t overbearing enough. She shook her head. “I don’t need Nicholas to tell me what to do.” She pouted.
Mrs. Daniels grabbed her arm. “Don’t be foolish, niña. ¡Ten cuidado!
“What do I have to be careful about?” Brandi asked, hating the way that her mother could switch back and forth from her native tongue. It seemed like ages since she had last done it, Brandi thought, remembering the row that she had had with Grandma Rose, over the phone when they had first gotten there.
“Por supuesto,” she said glumly, looking across at the cuckoo clock as she headed towards the staircase. “I’m meeting Teresa in the library so that we can finish and English assignment, unless there’s something else.”
Mrs. Daniels paused, as if thinking of something else to say. But then she shook her head and moved back into the dining room where she started to clear away the breakfast things.
Brandi watched her for a minute and then headed up the stairs; thankful that for now at least she didn’t have to hear anything else about her mother’s precious Nicholas. Her back stiffened.
Her mother didn’t understand what it was to be her, she thought, remembering the pictures in the photo album of her mother’s prom that her grandmother had shown her. She had had a date, and a father. And memories. While Brandi only had one picture, that seemed to taunt her every time she looked at it. Her father’s face staring across at her from in the frame, even though in some way it was no different from any other stranger’s.
She imagined that her mother’s life had been almost perfect. But the truth was that, she hated school. Hated the way that the teachers talked down to the students, and made them seem inadequate and useless. People like Mrs. Jenkins, who was so old that Brandi was almost certain that she had probably known her deceased grandmother, Mrs. Van Elder, the woman who hung around in the gold frame in the foyer. In her room, she pulled most of the books out of her bag and added a sweater. The truth was that she didn’t want to be here. New York was her home. Not San Diego. Or California. Even though, she had agreed a year ago to go to the West Coast.
Although Teresa had chosen to be her friend when some of the other flaky kids, who didn’t seem to know much of anything besides the beach and suntan lotion. Because she couldn’t stand to be a loner in a town that wanted followers instead of leaders. She groaned inwardly feeling a throbbing sensation in the pit of her stomach as her chest tightened. Slamming the door, she promised herself that she would give her best friend another chance because she deserved it.
Brandi rushed out of the house an hour later. By then her mother’s blue Volvo was nowhere in sight, so she took her bike instead of depending on the local bus for navigation.
It charged ahead of her and she tried to chase it as it made a right on Scott’s Field, instead of going straight on Carrington.
She took her foot off the pedal and tried to slow down as a middle-aged woman cropped up in front of her, carrying a large grocery bag. Brandi dinged her bell, and saw the woman fiddle with something that appeared to be an antiquated SD player. She pressed down hard on the handle bars, hoping to ignite the handle bars.
The bike screeched to a stop and Brandi adjusted her backpack as a voice wafted in the air around her. “If you go, then they will come.”
She whispered her apologies and peered at the woman, wondering if she was some kind of a witch. But the woman seemed to see beyond her and she felt in her pocket for the pendant and slipped it on; feeling slightly shaken. Then she pulled on her t-shirt as if inviting the breeze to cool her skin that now felt warm. Grateful at least for the bandage that covered the broken part of her abdomen. Nobody else needed to know about what had happened, she thought, feeling a newfound sense of exhilaration. Because she had had an an adventure, but couldn’t tell anyone. Not unless she discovered her guardian, she thought, looking across the street for signs of life and movement.
Yet there was hardly anyone her age about and looking down at her watch she chided herself knowing that the library wouldn’t stay open forever. And Mrs. Jenkins homework would need to be done. Yes. Her head bobbed up and down. She needed to complete the assignment, she thought, remembering the threat of Mr. Perkins and detention, since the woman would definitely not let another indulgence go.
At the intersection of Warrency and Main, Brandi continued straight for three blocks until she met with gridlock. Not too far off, she saw another cyclist dressed in black and orange make a sharp turn and headed down one of the side streets. Looking at her, she wondered if she knew a shortcut and decided to follow; hoping that Teresa wouldn’t mind the slight delay, as the young woman whizzed past her.
Brandi bit her lip and frowned, thinking that she had probably been mistaken, because she swore that her hazel eyes and slender nose reminded her of Teresa. And as far as she knew, Teresa didn’t have a sister. She held her breath, feeling uneasy as the long eyelashes, petite nose and slim figure inched past her. They eyes almost appraising Brandi’s face for an assent.
Her hands shook on the handle bars and she racked her brain, trying to piece together the mini conversations that they had had since the term had started. Conversations that had happened during winter break when they had enjoyed a few sleepovers at her place and outings to the movie theater. She angled her body and turned the bike, thinking that seeing that girl was no coincidence. She needed to get to the bottom of that mirage, because she was almost certain that two versions of one thing couldn’t exist in or at the same time. Certain that quantum mechanics wasn’t something taught to high-schoolers until they were in college. Or at least that was what Jeff, her old neighbor from New York who attended NYU had said.
Either way Brandi was spooked enough to change her mind again and headed directly for the library; hoping that her friend would confirm the impossibility of what she had seen. So, she moved forward, racing on the wind and ignoring the pain in her side, because she thought that it would all be settled soon and she could do without the confusion and the doubts that were now building up inside of her head.