Chapter 30: The End is Another Beginning

     Then the gong dinged.

     Brandi was no longer at the beach. Or on the shore, watching the crabs move. Instead, she was inside the beach house; viewing the projector with the Nameless One. Images flashed across the screen. Parents rushing to collect their fallen children. Trying to keep them safe.

As she stood there, she could still see Roger. Dwight leaning over the boy’s body, a hand pressed comfortingly on his arm. As if he was waiting for some motion that would never come. While Teresa’s mother nudged Brandi’s father outside the door.

A little way off, the Nameless One turned to appraise the girl. Her figure uncontrollably still, as another woman rushed through the still open door. A woman who if Brandi looked closely enough, she could almost swear, resembled her mother.

The girl blinked. Shut her eyes against the sight of undulating bodies. The sound of unruly chatter and the final stillness as the woman fell to the floor, beside Brandi’s bag. On the screen, something beeped and that sound carried her further away into the past. On another journey to uncle Ken’s hospital bed, where her mother had kept a two day vigil. Until Avery and Aunty Pam had walked in.

That had been the last time that she had seen her mother cry as she had screeched to one of the nurses that something was blocking his feeding tube. Killing him….She looked away now, feeling something well up within her throat. Feeling as though she couldn’t go on and had no reason to live, when the Nameless One walked up towards her and put an arm around her neck.

And with a voice almost as measured and controlled as uncle Ken’s she said, “This too shall pass.” The girl nodded, wiping away the stray tear, that threatened to overpower her. Dark and heavy like a flood. Sniffling, she turned her head back to the screen, forced herself to look.

At the hysterical woman who was leaning heavily against Nicholas’s arm, as though she had just received some bad news. Brandi suspected, news that concerned her own disappearance, and she bowed her head, feeling something tug at her chest. As her mother raised a hand to clamp it down over her own lips. The strands of hair that Brandi had always thought possessed a type of military precision were now flying as though, everything had been thrown to the wind. She watched her mother, hug the bag and back up into a wall, taking on the entire scene. Uncertain about what they would all call it in the end. Uncertain, about who had been brave and who would seem guilty.

She nodded towards Nicholas, thinking that he was an even better life raft than her father had been. That somehow like Roger, she knew that he would keep her mother safe. Brandi untangled herself and walked towards the screen. Stopping a few feet away, wanting to touch it, but then being unsure, afraid that like Quasi, maybe, she too would be shocked.

“Go ahead,” the Nameless One said, her voice gentle. Knowing that the girl would soon have to face her own demons and do what was necessary, for them to round up the two fugitives. As Brandi leaned forward as if considering her loss of power. The pendant glittering in Dwight’s pocket, in that other place that now seemed like something beyond.

“Everything you need is right here,” the woman said, pressing a hand to her chest. “Inside of you.”

Brandi paused as if considering the journey that she had just taken, the boy she had loved and then lost. Biting down on her bottom lip, she thought about how Roger had told her that some people could not be saved. And she remembered her uncle. Grandma Rose and Roger. He was right, she thought with a jerky movement as she looked around the room. Nicholas would see to her mother and like she’d done with Teresa, she would do whatever it was that was necessary to take care of her father. She made a step towards the Nameless One and held out her hand, “What would you have me do?”

THE END

Chapter 29: The Thing About Reality

Her friend had tried to warn her. But there was no scathing predicament. No tumultuous outcome that could have prepared her for this. Nothing that the Nameless One hadn’t told her about half a dozen times before. To become a Seer. There are rules. Rules you must follow.

Brandi heard those last few words now and everything passed through her. Even the image of the man at the door. She shook her head. Sad that her mistake had come at such a high price. And so instead of going to the man, she rushed over to Roger, because this price was too steep. Something she couldn’t pay. Wouldn’t.

The man followed her with his head as if waiting for her to say something. Do something, as she picked up the boy’s body and brought it closer to her chest. Even as she wiped away the tears that were trying to force themselves out through her closed lids. She put her lips to her arm, trying to strangle an already muffled cry. As she kissed Roger, hoping to bring him back to life.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, rocking him as though he were a baby. Then, her eyes went to Teresa. If it wasn’t for Teresa, she was almost certain, everything would be alright. Her eyes opened. Closed. Opened. She tilted her head down, focusing on the silver charm bracelet and bit her bottom lip. Tasted, the metallic tinge that she suspected was blood. And needing to be vindicated. She swore. The way she had heard Teresa do it over the phone, that first time, when they had been discussing Roger.

“Like a vine that grows in the deep, dark forest, may you be turned into something that no one can fix.” She held up a hand, dropping the boy as Teresa raised her head. Stricken, her eyes darting around the room, as she looked for some way to explain her actions. Brandi took a step forward. Continued. “May you forever suffer like you’ve made me suffer. May you see the world through another’s eyes.”

Teresa lifted her hands in the air. “This isn’t what it looks like.” The girl let go of the spray can. “My mother…”

Brandi raised a hand to her lips as though she had already heard too much when Stephanie rushed into the room. Her eyes focusing on the fallen boy.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid youth,” she said, her eyes going towards Brandi, who appeared too dazed to even see her.

But even as the young woman stopped to look at the brazen girl, another type of transformation had already begun as Teresa fell to the ground and groaned. It sounded as if she had been cursed.

Bringing her hands to her lips, Brandi watched the girl grow. Like vines, her hands reached out to touch the pendant, and when they connected, there was a spark. The hand drew back. Brandi smiled at the aborted attack and licked her lips as her friend’s bracelet dropped from her wrist. At her side, Stephanie changed shape, transforming into an older version of Teresa. Brandi watched her sudden appearance and realized for a second that her face seemed familiar. She took a deep breath, her mind finally making the link between this woman and the person in her parent’s wedding photograph.

Brandi felt something in her gut shift. Wrench free. As the woman took a step towards the man purporting to be her father. Like a reunited couple, they joined hands. Clasped wrists.

There would be no saving herself, she thought, watching Quasimodo assume her un-natural shape. Near the door, Lucien appeared and Brandi steeled herself as he took a step towards Roger, knelt, and placed a ball within his closed fist.

Doggedly, she gazed at them. Her face consumed with rage. It took a few minutes, but eventually she stilled herself. Yanking off the pendant, she threw it at the messenger, telling him that she had had enough of his games. When he removed the red baseball cap, everything within her shifted as she realized that she was staring into the face of Dwight. The boy she had once told that he was connected to Roger.

She looked at him glumly as if sad for the way things had turned out. While he pocketed the pendant and buried his face in his hands.

It was then that the other man, her father, stepped forward. Touching her arm as Brandi sniffled, his hands reaching around to embrace her neck. “In the end, I’m glad you did what you did,” he said, kissing her cheek. His face solemn.

She looked at him, perplexed as he too appeared more familiar. Younger. She let go of him, moving backwards to put some space between them. As she caught sight of something forming on his wrist. A string of rosary beads and a familiar pendant.

“Did you cause this?” she asked, her eyes going briefly to the other woman. The broken window. The dying fire and then at Roger.

He shook his head, touching her chest. “No. You were the one who wanted to come here.” He nodded. “The one who thought that having a mysterious object would make you great.”

She stiffened, realizing that it had all been a mistake. Because he had never been who she had wanted him to be. A mirage. She shook her head. Part of her imagination. She looked at Dwight comforting his fallen son. Roger. The boy who had tried to save her. How her mother and Nicholas had also been trying to make her do the right thing. To see beyond everything that was there. She bit her lips, knowing that she would miss them. But there was no other way. No other choice.

“You’re wrong,” she said, going over to her bag and unzipping it. She removed the document she had signed earlier that morning and waved it in the air, as if it were a peace treaty. Cease fire. Or truce. “Unlike you, I choose to forget. To move past my fantasies and step into the future.”

And she closed her eyes and imagined herself back on the beach. Certain that she would have to pay for what she had done to Teresa but almost sure that her mother at least would be safe.

Chapter 18 : Don’t You Mind About the Future

She awoke with a gasp, and found herself in her own bed. She turned, kissed her pillow gleefully as the alarm clock sounded, reminding her that Monday was just another school day. She shook her head. Groaned. She didn’t need reminding. Pushing the covers aside, she dashed out of bed and stretched. There was an ache in her side. Lurch in her chest, she took a breath and waited for the sensations to subside.

Then Brandi opened the bedroom door and listened for movement, wondering if her mother had already left. Hearing nothing, she ran back to her bedroom window and peered down. But her mother’s car was nowhere to be found. So, she rushed to the closet and threw some clothes out onto the bed – a pair of blue jeans, grey t-shirt and loafers.

She dashed into the bathroom, trying her best not to think of the homework she should have done as the Nameless One’s words, about making a decision, came back to her. “You will have to choose.” Brandi nodded, feeling dazed as the water changed from cold to warm. She lathered up, not sure, if she could ride her bike on a morning like this, as she rinsed off the soapsuds and then wrapped herself into a towel.

Drying her hair and the rest of her body, she changed quickly into her clothes and then dropped onto the bed to put on her socks and shoes.

Something squished under her shoes and she leaned over the bed to retrieve it. She saw a crumpled, white object. She unflattened it. It was the paper. Contract, she corrected herself as she held it at arm’s length; no longer certain about what she wanted. Thinking, that she might need to discuss a few things with her mother.

She moved towards the door and shoved it into her bag, without another thought. Dismissing the idea of the school bus, which she had seen at the top of the hill, she gravitated towards her bike, which was outside on the lawn. It lay there, deflated.

As if she could kick it back to life, like she could bang on the cable-less tv to make the antenna work, she issued two swift kicks before rendering such action useless and she strolled towards the bus stop on the corner.

There, she waited for the bus to stop before getting on. What else could happened? she wondered, thinking that there was nothing she could do to circumvent the future. Nothing she could do to find out more about her father.

Chapter 17 : Destiny and the 3 Simple Rules

Brandi pulled back, as the woman’s lips curled into something that appeared close to a snarl. Thinking that this wasn’t anything like what she had expected. The woman, Yin passed her hands through her hair and looked at Brandi again as a large television screen appeared in the center of the room. There the girl saw two men whose ages seemed closer to twenty-something. One of the boys had curly black hair like Roger and wore glasses; while the other one seemed a bit more tame, in a plaid shirt and dockers khakis.

Brandi edged closer. A hand reaching to her lips as she almost swore that he, the second young man, looked like a Van Elder. “Does this have anything to do with my father?” she asked, turning back to the Nameless One. “Is that really why I’m here?”

“Just watch the screen, my child,” The creature said. “Watch the screen.”

In the background, not to far from the man who appeared to be her father and his guardian, she caught sight of three young women. All of whom projected pointy objects that she suspected were wands. She reached across, touched the screen, and felt a sharp surge of electricity rush upwards into her arm.

The Nameless One shook her head, as if to say don’t do that, when the voices suddenly became audible.

“Darkest of night, and strongest of day, help us to see with sight beyond sight,” the women cackled, looking at the two men, whose apparel changed to some flashy metallic costume that Brandi could barely recognize. Was that also something that she could do as well, she wondered as she saw the women begin to fire.

“Van! Get back,” the boy with the glasses said, trying to act as a barrier between Van and the group of women.

He ducked behind a wall as the young women continued mixing the contents of their caldron.

The other boy tried to sneak past them, but one of the women kept throwing her wandering gaze at him and uttered something like a hex that seemed to keep him rooted to the spot.

“Without a guide, the Seer is unable to act,” the woman said, moving closer to the bespectacled man. The other two women laughed. “Stronger are we. The sisters of three.”

Brandi saw the man behind the wall stand up and point his sword towards them, as if he was issuing some sort of a challenge.

“Let Dwight go. He’s done nothing to hurt you.”

“A friendship so strong that nothing can break. A Seer, a daughter and lasting heart ache.”

The man edged closer. “What is to come will happen without us, you cannot name her for she is beyond.”

Brandi looked at the Nameless One, wanting to ask if he was referring to her. But the Nameless One held her breath. Remained silent. She was almost as silent as Brandi’s mother who had kept almost everything about her father hidden – the few things she had learned were gleaned either from picking her grandmother’s mouth, or making inferences about the things she saw.

She watched the men in silence as Van rushed at the furthest woman who seemed closer to him in age. He creeped up on her, then roped a hand around her neck. At first Brandi wondered if he was trying to smother her and then she saw something glint, and realized that he was reaching for something. A pendant. No, the wand.

Watching them struggle, she was relieved when it clattered to the floor. But then, the woman’s sisters could only look over at them with concern. But that didn’t prevent them from stirring their mixture as the cauldron bubbled and steam rose to the surface.

“It’s too late,” one of them said, pointing towards Dwight. “He’s going to leave without you.”

Brandi saw her father gasp and push the woman away. The look on his face more skeptical and doubtful as she grabbed the wand, pointed it at his friend and uttered a few words. Before Dwight disappeared. Leaving him alone.

Standing there, Brandi shook her head. Before now, she would never have thought that witches were real. No, to her, they had only been part of the myth and lore of centuries that storytellers used to frighten kids. Make them see reason. She held her breath, trying not to consider the idea of vampires and werewolves. Her hopes dashed because it looked as though her father had failed.

Just then, the screen collapsed. Closed in on itself and she took a moment to remember that she wasn’t the only person in the room, who had gone over the consequences of his actions.

“There are only three rules,” the redheaded woman said by her side. “You are asked only to memorize them. Know every detail.” She turned, a slight edge developing on her last three words. “Because when you first received the box, you were told to follow the rules. Knowing them can help you escape a much worse fate.”

Brandi looked down at her hands, wondering what could be worse than being deserted, as she passed a finger over the cuticles that she had wanted desperately to return. Did the woman know that already, she had partially failed? She averted her face, thinking of this as only a warning because, the woman couldn’t be serious, she thought, expecting her to live up to some age old rules that didn’t really apply to her. Or her father.

The Nameless One arched her back and pointed a finger into her chest, realizing how much things had changed over time. How people now sought fame as position as those things were more important than living rightly. Justly. Her features hardened. “Being chosen doesn’t make you a celebrity,” she said, looking down at the girl as if she was someone’s spoilt daughter, who needed to be chastised. Made to see reason.

“You are only here to help others. Your friends, family, they are no longer your concern.” She extended a hand. “You must promise this.” The Nameless One faced her. Appraised her as if she had been the one who had sounded glib.

Brandi closed her eyes, remembering Mrs. Jenkins and her need to instill order into the world. Was this woman any different? she wondered, realizing that for her, things were about to change. Could she follow such orders? she wondered, slowly looking around the room. Could she make the necessary adjustments? Follow suit.

The Nameless One retracted her arm, pulling out a pen and paper. “This is the contract, if you intend to be a Seer sign it and get it back to me.

Brandi watched them for a few seconds and then with a slight nod, she accepted the pen and the paper. Having watched a few lawyer shows with her mother, she knew better than to just sign on the dotted line and return it. Instead, she would go through it like a woman undoing box plaits with a fine tooth comb.

“Is this standard issue?” she asked, as if the papers were some sort of weapon that people like the Nameless Ones used to make them do what she wanted.

She hung her head. Uncertain. Wanting someone else to be there. Someone perhaps like Roger. The Nameless One shook her head, smiled. Reaching across at Brandi, she gave her shoulders a light squeeze. “You can decide on your own time,” she said, as the girl folded the papers. “But bring it back to me when you’ve done what’s required.”

Brandi stopped for a second, drew in a sharp breath. She had to decide this. She had to figure out for herself what could be done. She nodded to the Nameless One as the house started to disintegrate and then she found herself alone. The paper wrapped neatly in her hand.

Taking a deep breath, she walked back down to the water, and took a seat, trying not to think of her father. Trying only to imagine, her way back home.

Chapter 16 : An Encounter with the Nameless One

It wasn’t as if Brandi had any sort of confidence in her powers. All she knew was that something was coming after her, and in her head that something had changed from one thing to another. Like Tom, the boy she had met and liked in New York who hadn’t even noticed that she existed. Her uncle’s illness that was slowly causing him to wither away. Her friendship with Teresa, that she was trying so steadfastly to restore. Her mother’s new interest in Nicholas.

Brandi closed the window in her room and took a seat on the floor, wondering what her father had learned growing up where he had, because as far as she could see the effects of the environment seemed far more insipid than she had first thought when she had gotten there. Now, she could almost count on one hand all of the trouble that had befallen her and all of the people who had come out to counter her. Not that she believed in conspiracy theories. Only that life had a way of making things seem even more coincidental than they had appeared at first.

Like the two dragons that danced outside her window. She was almost certain that for kids in China, they still held some significance, something that she would have previously wandered at, as she passed through the streets of Chinatown. Now, far away from the action she could barely think on it. Barely see the connection.

Passing her hand along the side of her bureau that her mother had said had once belonged to her father she saw a carving that reminded her of the Chinese symbols for yin and yang. Using her finger she pressed her hand into it, thinking about how similar it looked to one of those hankos that Japanese teachers used in place of their signature.

She was almost sure that someone like Mr. Chen would have something like it and she told herself that when next they met, she would ask him about it.

Not thinking too much about the insignia, she pulled back when she felt a sudden heat, and saw that the skin on that part of her flesh was growing dark. How was that even possible, if this bureau had been made so long ago. Surely such heat, or spark was something that would be unheard of, she said to herself, getting up to retrieve some of the healing salve that her mother had given her for her abdomen.

Maybe, something said behind her, as the room began to spin and Brandi found herself once again on a journey back in time.

#     #     #

But when her body hit the ground this time, she discovered that she had fallen on something that resembled sand. She pushed out her hand and let the grains fall through her fingers. It had been a while since she had last seen the beach, much less been able to feel the grainy texture of sand.

She blinked, pinched herself and licked her hand. Thinking that all of this had to be nothing more than a dream. But the sand was real. She found herself crunching down on them as if they were pieces of black pepper and she wiped her tongue in her t’shirt, trying to get the salty, acrid taste out of her mouth. She sputtered, coughed and then ran to the water to rinse her mouth.

How could she have been so stupid? she wondered, thinking that a pinch would have sufficed. Beside her a crab, clicked its claws as it observed her. She watched as its colour changed from red to green to blue. She rubbed her eyes, thinking that maybe she was seeing things and then she shrieked, remembering the sand and not too long after, she was back in the sea, washing her eyes out. This time though, forcing herself to keep her eyes closed because sand, saltwater and clear eyes were not a good mix.

“Merde. Really!” she said, reaching her arms up in the air as if begging the heavens to take pity on her because she was doing something foolish. Something that maybe she could be excused from.

Another crab crawled closer to her and then after a while, she found that at least ten of them, sat close by, clacking their claws as if they had seen something humorous. As if she was providing them with some sort of entertainment. She passed her hand in the water, this time collecting some in her palms and threw it over then. How dare they choose to make fun of her. To see her plight as something bemused?

“Life is better served with laughter and mirth,” the first crab said, staring up at her.

Brandi dusted her hands off in her pants and moved herself back further. Was she also hearing things? she wondered, looking from one to the other.

Again, the crab edged closer. Spoke. “You are here Brandi because there is no time like the present. Nothing greater than to see and be seen.”

The crab drew back, waiting for her to acknowledge what it had said, before all the crabs drew together and formed another body. This time, though, it was a rusty colored cocker spaniel and it wagged its tail.

Brandi stood up, knowing that this was the present time, which didn’t have anything to do with her. “Were you the one who called me here?”

The dog barked, racing up towards a clearing that Brandi realized led to a house when she got further up the path. Looking across the wide expanse, she wondered how something so small could create something so grand.

“To the human mind everything else is always a mystery,” the dog said, after issuing another bark. Then the dog’s body changed into that of a human, who after walking up to the verandah, threw on a robe that hung loosely on the back of a deck chair. Standing there, it extended a hand and drew Brandi closer, eyes almost sparkling. “Yes, I am the one who called you here.” Her hands cupped Brandi’s. “I needed to know if you have what it takes.”

Brandi’s hands dropped. Her mind racing as the woman’s red hair fell onto lithe shoulders and the robes’ straps tightened. While Brandi clutched the pendant, thinking that just having it had made her position more secure.

Beside her, though, the woman leveled her gaze and as their eyes met, she shook her head. “No, not necessarily. But every man, and in your case woman, is called to fulfill her destiny.”

Chapter 15: Kinship

Maybe if Roger had been more forthcoming and truthful, he would have told Brandi that, at some point or other, he had met her father. That once, they had even been friends. But revealing that he unlike her, could travel the bounds of space and time, he presumed might have seemed unfair since she was only now just getting the hang of it.

Retreating down the driveway, he tried to think of another reason for Nicholas being there, besides his apparent need to protect Mrs. Daniels. He had after all done a shoddy job of rescuing Brandi, making sure that she was safe. Yet, it wasn’t like Roger’s intervention had gone any better. The bracelet snatching had only been an after-thought, like Lucien’s play on time.

He looked up at the clock, wondering if he should tell her about his father. How he had failed at his job. And now Roger had to save not one but two Daniels. He shook his head, thinking that things were coming to a head too quickly and if they didn’t make some type of plan soon – to help her a avoid the past – the future would be doomed to repeat itself.

At the corner of the street, one of the lights flickered on and Roger looked up at the sky, thinking that the nameless had been right to save him. To let someone of his clan carry on his father’s name. Pulling up the zipper, he took comfort in finding his father’s jacket and carrying his baseball. Sometimes when people died, they said that remnants of them could be found in the ordinary things that they loved. He took comfort in that thought, and the fact that he’d see Brandi at school tomorrow. Even though, he was almost certain that she would pressure him for answers, now that her mother and Nicholas had chosen to open up.

What would he tell her? he wondered. And how was he going to explain that his father had deserted hers, leaving him to rot in a dungeon, decades earlier. He looked up at the sky, cursing himself for forgetting his watch. There would be no sure way to explain that his family were a bunch of nomads. That they often changed direction to suit the wind, and moved whenever feelings of fear and danger threatened to overthrow them. He whistled, ruffling the strand of hair on his head as if they were feathers, the way his father had done when he was younger. But he was no a coward.

He would stick with her through thick and thin, that had been his promise to them, his assurance to her. That whatever happened he would be on her side. He rubbed his fingers together as if, trying to suppress the cold and pulled a pack of chewing gum out of his pocket. While his stomach groaned. Tangled. Truth be told, the people in his clan weren’t brave. Not like in Brandi’s. But he was trying to be different. To change things.

Because the nameless one would appear to her, and show her all of the things that he had somehow hidden. Or just, failed to mention, and then she would know what his father had done, by choosing to leave a realm that wasn’t really meant for him. Then she would know that he had trapped her father and sealed Brandi’s fate.

Roger sank down onto the concrete as if he was trying to find something that he had lost. But there was nothing there. All that he possessed were the deck of cards that he kept in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Clothes he could make change into anything because like Brandi he possessed the touch.

He alone could show her what she was meant to be. Perhaps even destined, but she alone would be the one to choose. To accept the battle.

The wind picked up and he dragged himself over to the grass and shuffled the deck of baseball cards that some say (for them) predicted the future. Who would you be if you could choose to be one of the greats? he thought, laying Joe DiMaggio, Hank Arron and Albert Pujois face down. He shuffled the rest of the cards and added Chipper Jones, Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera. Uncertain as to which one lady luck would prescribe, when the wind blew and he came face to face with Jackie Robinson.

One of the African American players whom he head learnt, had had it tough, starting out. No. He scratched his head, as another Hank Arron also revealed itself. Brandi wasn’t going to be a wanderer like her father, he thought, re-shuffling the deck. Ashamed that he had allowed Lucien get the upper hand. Only this wasn’t a game.

And she was nothing like her father, he thought because she has everything to live for. He would show her. Because like her, he was doing something that his father could not.

Roger nodded, wiping his eyes, pretending that it had only been the dust. Knowing that this thing between them was only a part of the deal. And he had to make sure that she chose wisely. Not because he truly cared. Or because she seemed lost. With or without him, she would have to learn that life was fraught with risk. Challenges. And if she still chose to be a seer, then he would have to make everything that much harder so that she eventually decided against herself.

Roger stuffed the cards back into his pocket, no longer caring about its order or the sanctity of a reading because Brandi wouldn’t be made to see the cards. Wouldn’t be made to choose, he assured himself, brushing his hands in his jeans and getting up. Ready to make his way home. With or without Nicholas’ help, he would see to it, because revelations were a thing of the past. Something he wouldn’t have to consider because on any journey that she pursued, they’d be doing it together.