Note: With the usual way of fiction it doesn’t always come out in order. Sigh. But context does emerge despite all that. There is nothing actively missing that is pertinent to know in order to make sense of what’s happening. There’s probably some continuity issues by now. If you are following feel free to call me on it, to remind me for later.
I dragged myself up the stairs into the apartment. I couldn’t face the menagerie right now. My chest felt tight and close and sore.
I curled up on the soft, springy, will devouring couch, and wrapped a newly laundered afgan around my shoulders. It smelled like lavender and fresh mowed hay. I couldn’t help but smile a little, but my heart was still heavy. I reached for the phone, and dialed Kendra’s number. It wasn’t so much defeat as surrender.
This at least was a touch tone phone, with big chunky buttons from a bygone era. But the andset was lightweight and streamlined. I curled up in a ball and waited as the phone rang. I heard a click, then another set of rings, and… Kendra’s voice, perky as always.
“RiverDance Metaphysical Center, this is Kend– Kelly-Cat? Is that you?”
I groaned, wounds already sore. I hated the name, but I let her use it.
“Yes. Just… call me Karrie right now. Please? It’s bad. I need you.”
There was a muffled silence, then Kendra’s hushed voice. “Um, just a minute, I’m still at work,” she whispered. “I’ll go get Jen from the back room. This sounds serious.”
I waited for what seemed like an interminable period. Then some loud static, then a thud, and hushed silence. The tinkly music the place was famous for wasn’t even sparkling in the background.
“I’m in my car, on teh cell. The signal should be good enough.” She rasped. I heard her take a long swallow of something.
“Okay, that’s better. Now. Dish. What the hell is going on out there? You sound awful.”
“Well… a lot has happened, but the bad thing… is bad. The… grave yard has been desecrated. Totally. They stole the Virgin, and destroyed the grotto. Every stone was wrenched from the earth and pitched and smeared with paint and… I don’t know what. RED paint. They even tore into the earth, and tried to take the cross. The sod is ruined, too. This was targeted, not just some stupid kids.”
There was a pause.
“Did you see anybody, or anything? Have you talked to the neighbors? Call the police while you are at it.” She said practically. Totally not what I was expecting. I took in several deep breaths.
“I called you first. I didn’t know what to do, until now.”
“Okay. Do those things, shoot, write them down, now. We can chat for a bit while you calm down, and I’ll swing by this evening. Is the apartment okay, did anybody get at the house?”
“I haven’t walked around much since the discovery, but… I’m sure the apartment is okay, and other things looked alright when I got here. I haven’t heard anything at all. But, the Yard is fairly out there, on the other side of the big hill from the house. I wonder if anyone saw anything near the road.”
“You’ll want to check The Pit when you get a chance. Wait till daylight. Maybe take something with you.” She said.
I shivered. I thought The Pit was creepier than an open grave. That was the broken mass of burned bits around the deep hole that was the basement. They’d put a cyclone fence around it, and a second sturdier fence with barbed wire above it to keep out trouble makers. but that’d been pulled down or cut into before. But they’d found their way in before.
I sighed. “Why… why do people like that place?” I asked.
Her velvety voice gained warmth. “See, that’s why you and I are friends. You still ask questions like that. I don’t know, but I think some people like that sort of thing. They feel sympathy with it, and are drawn to what they carry in their hearts.”
I sighed. I did not want to hear any woo woo crap right now. But… I had to tell her about the other stuff that was going on, and if that wasn’t woo-woo, I didn’t know what is, was or ever will be.
So we talked some more about childhood stuff, the boring stuff I could remember. Skinned knees, climbing trees, that sort of thing. Spending summers together with Auntie Phil, and horseback rides with uncle Frank at Sarah’s ranch. That white horse with the limp and the speckles that always had it out for me. And the branch he inevitably used to scrape me off his back.
My ass was still sore from being pitched off like that. And I never ever saw it coming. He always lured me into a false sense of security, then looped around to his favorite spot. I didn’t notice the familiarity of it all until it was too late and he was cantering toward my removal at a fair clip.
She laughed. Kendra loved those stories. Neither one of us had a great childhood, so the stories of happiness— even ordinary childhood embarrassment– we shared bonded us closer than sisters. My heart ached to see her again. But why couldn’t I stand her foibles? Then I knew I did not want to remember.
She promised again that she would be out there as soon as possible— and that she might be able to get off work early, but couldn’t make promises. They had a full day today with patients. But maybe Raven would come in and take some of her hours. He was always looking for over time.
“Call Sarah first, then Shelia. Sarah wont’ take it personal, and Shelia is…delicate. Her bones are buried in that plot.”
I nodded, writing down every step. I was already feeling woolyheaded, and my eyes were burning from dryness and too many tears.
She offered her love and blessing, and we hung up. I wish I hadn’t. I felt unbearably lonely. But I also had to call mom. I even wrote it down. I decided to call Sarah next, then Mom, then Shelia. I needed to be toughened by resistance before I could support someone else’s pain.
I dialed. Sarah answered. She had a short clipped style that was very professional. “Barbary Kennel and Board, this is Sarah speaking.” She said professionally.
“Karrie?” Sarah queried, voice taught with concern.
“Has something happened? Do I need to call the ambulance, or a fireman?” she asked. Voice shrill. She was hot blooded, but also had two volumes. Loud, and louder.
“Maybe the cops, but the perp is gone now, I think.” I said. She read mysteries like popcorn. She would know what I mean.
“Was the house robbed? What… what can I do?” she asked. Her voice had miraculously backed off a fraction.
“No, not that. But the cemetery was desecrated. Not just played with. They set out to ruin it. Red paint all over Phil’s white stones. The cross is… smeared and damaged. Mary’s gone, and… the grotto is smashed.”
I couldn’t help it. I cried a bit, thinking how Phil would feel.
“Did they dig…anything up?” she asked distantly.
“Um… I don’t thinks so but they thought about it, the sod was scraped from the soil, and a skunk dug into it I guess. Which has ne’er happened before. They smeared… stuff all over it.”
“Manure?” Sarah asked practically.
“Um, I wish. It stank bad. Maybe dog or pig…” I trailed off, my throat twisted shut.
“Or human. That’s what did it, anyhow.” Sarah said grimly. She’s the salt of the earth and doesn’t mince words. That’s when I remembered that she and her husband were originally from a rough part of Ireland— not Dublin, but may as well have been. They moved to the States so they could get married— as politics were that complex. They didn’t want folks dying at the wedding, and as it was, folks still might have on the other side of the pond over it. She’d immediately immersed herself in Americanisms, angry that she had to leave to love properly.
I blinked back to what she was saying. “What?” I asked.
“I said, if I find the b’rogh who did this, you can be sure he’ll know he did wrong.” She said icily. Sarah had a shot gun. She knew how to use it, and she wasn’t shy. A fool can’t be helped if he breaks into her cheery little Victorian farmhouse.
Her hair was a dark auburn, nothing like Phil’s cherry red. But she was the one with the temper. Phil was always so easy going, you never saw it coming when she went nuclear. I was pretty sure Sarah wasn’t related to Mom, but… she was like a younger sister to Aunt Phil. Well, younger sister meets enforcer. Her fierceness made me uncomfortable.
“Um.. I think I should call mom. Or the cops,” I managed. I wasn’t ready, but…
“Call both. Don’t be shy about that one. Your mother could stand to become a part of the family from time to time. We’ll also need to check the Pit, too. If you need help with that you let me know,” She said, surprisingly tender.
“I will— I mean, I will need help. I plan on setting out first thing tomorrow morning. Is that okay with you? Dark seems like a bad idea, and we’re almost out of daylight,” I said.
“I can send the boys out in the jeep tonight to see if there’s mischief on. Will you have company tonight?” she nigh demanded.
“Yeah, I already called Ken. She’ll be out here as soon as she can get off work,” I replied.
I could hear her nod her head sharply with the muffle of her crisp ironed shirt. She paused briefly.
“It’s a shame you don’t have a brother, but she’ll do,” She said softly. “Do you want me to send Pat around?”
I closed my eyes. Things were… so weird. I did have my little army, but… I felt… both crowded and utterly alone. I didn’t know how much Pat was familiar with the profound weirdness all around him. That could be awkward. But.. He was easy on the eyes, and… maybe he’d help so Kendra didn’t have to do everything. I wished I could ask Ken how she felt about it.
She did ask you to call Sarah next. Maybe that’s what she’s thinking about. IF there’s real trouble, cell phones won’t get to the cops, and hey, just how long do you think they’d take to show up?
“Uh, sure.” I was actually surprised by my answer.
Apparently Sarah was a little, but wouldn’t have offered if she hadn’t meant it. For all I knew, if I said no, she’d send someone anyway.
“Oh, all right. I’ll call him in once he’s back in from the farm. There’s still chores to do. We had some rider’s through. Home schoolers from Hillsdale on a working vacation. The girls even helped out a little around the horses, and for once ‘helpers’ didn’t do anything stupid! But Fiona had a little accident, so he’s in tending with the vet. We think the foal’s okay, though.”
I sighed with relief. I hadn’t even known that Fiona was with foal. I could remember her roan coat when she was a foal. Sarah had fallen in love at first sight. Her mother had been an ordinary looking brown mare, too. Though Tip had a good personality, and one of her best teaching horses.
Sarah promised Pat would be out tonight, and Sean would be by in the morning, and she’d meet up with us at the house to go see the Pit. Trouble always seemed to gravitate around the Pit, no matter what it was. So it seemed sensible, if superstitious.
I met Pat at the door. He was tall and light haired like his father, but had an almost swarthy complexion like his mother. His cheeky blue eyes, were colored like dad’s but were set like his mothers. He was a quiet in a somewhat surly way, and I could imagine him growing up as a bruiser on the streets of Belfast. If… he wasn’t wearing sucha pleasant expression, and clothes that spoke of clean middle class upbringing.
Horse chores are always a bit grimy, so he probably still squeaked from his shower.
This time he was sporting a couple day shadow, that glinted on his chin. “Growing it out?” I asked mischievously.
He chuckled at me. “That’s what mom shouted at me as I was leavin,'” he said, “Said it wouldn’t impress ya.”
He gave me a charming smile. Meant to be devastating, I’m sure. I was still too raw to be entirely susceptible.
I shrugged. “I’m tough to impress.” I said.
“Challenge accepted,” He said with a smirk as he walked in through the door. Yep, he had an AR strapped to his back. That is what the bandoleer that cut across his (well sculpted) chest was for. Yes, he was wearing a fashionable heather tee, not too tight, not too lose. Tan slacks, clean work boots, and his hunting cap. He was in fighting trim as ever. Ahh, the joys of rural living…
He laughed as the horde of dogs came charging in to greet him. Theyd’ been barking earlier, but I had hardly noticed. Hrm. Maybe he was having an effect. He gave the first greeting to Bilbo because he knows the house. Then to Cherry the basset hound, then the Belle, Irish Setter, all the way down the line. He shuffled past the canine horde to greet Hello Kitty, then found Zanzabar curled up on the back of a couch. He petted her luxurious chocolate and camel fluff, and she purred and stretched and exposed her belly to a better angle. He laughed and petted just enough, before she tightened the coil to play with his hand.
Zan was mostly Maine coon and was missing her rear left leg.
“So you keepin up with the brood? I don’t know if I could keep them all straight.” He said.
“I don’t. I just water and feed them. And play and… clean the kennels, the pads, and change the litter boxes. Though I think Zan uses the toilet. I hear it flush when I’m not in there. So I hope it’s her.” I did not want to think about what arrangements the other tenants made.
“Is it enough to do, or do you need more?” he quipped.
“Well, I did used to volunteer for the animal shelter, so it’s kind of like that. Except that there’s an endless budget for food and litter, and… well, Phil has better facilities, but no vets office. But the vet.. Is going to be fun. I hope it won’t be necessary… It’s three months. A lot can happen.”
“I’m sorry to hear about Phil’s.. Yard.” He said softly.
“Yeah. It sucks. The scum. I have no idea who would want to do that. I don’t live around here, and I dint’ know what her relations are with people, other than you and a few others I remember from childhood. This has got to go deep.” I said.
He nodded. “You remember… much?” he asked.
I sighed. Of course he knew that I had a memory problem about childhood stuff. Seemed like good memory was a disease that everyone fostered around here.
I shrugged. “This, and that. Some stuff, mostly mundane. I remember the paper, where the kids were caught stealing the dinosaur. I remember the horseback rides. I remember, Ken and I goofing off with you boys near the pond that year when it was so…hot.”
“Do you remember the year you stayed the winter?” he asked hopefully. /in a weird voice.
I blinked. “No.” I said. I remembered cold and snow and…that I didn’t want to remember.
There was a pause. “Okay.” He said. Things were quiet after that.
“But… I do remember that things get, weird here. That we have…visitors from elsewhere, but… not what happened. And I know they aren’t tourists. They aren’t…all…human.”
He regarded me. “But do you think those Fair Ones and Wee Folk are just… childhood things to be left and abandoned/forgotten?”
“I want to. I wanted to… but… they are in front of me now. And if I don’t’ remember… it all will be lost for ever.”
His look was exasperated pity.
“It’s a tenuous place, with a tenuous hold in this place. But both…both worlds would suffer if the gate were broken.” He said softly.
“What?” I asked, ever on the ball.
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on Grace. Yes, I’m using your real name. He was a bastard, but he was plugged in. He gave you your true name, nice dad or not.”
It felt like a slap.
“We know what happens out here. We are neighbors. That thing that tried to kill you, oh, you think Sarah would’t want to know about that? Fortunately your little friends are much better neighbors.”
He said. His voice rasped my tender skin.
“I… I…just started remembering a few days ago. Give me a break! I have no idea how much stuff you guys know. Do you think I wanted to be crazy? Do you think I want to be disowned? I KNOW what happens with crazy in this family, and I want no part of it! Dad’s treatment sure helped him!” I shouted. I’d…never done that before.
I was afraid he was going to hit me, but his body was relaxed, and his eyes docile, though lit with intensity.
HIs eyes widened. “I thought you didn’t remember.” He said softly.
“I… I still don’t know what happened. Those words, just came out.” I said, confused.
He smiled weakly. “That’s the memory starting to come back. It happens.”
“How…how do you know?” I asked, startled. His next smile had a bit of warmth. “Because I have brothers. And sisters. Some have left like you did. One came back. It didn’t … end well, but… it happened for a while.” He said simply.
“Did you call your mom?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I said.
“How’d it go?”
“As you’d expect.” I returned flatly.
“Yeah, me too. At least I can feel virtuous.” I said.
“What about Shelia?” he asked.
I smacked my forehead with a meaty palm. “Crap.”
He was grinning a little bit. “Give her a few minutes. She’ll be back at the house by 4:00 anyhow. She always has tea at 4:30. Or maybe we can swing by and have tea with her. If so, we should go soon. We can call on the way. She lives just off Telegraph.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I said.
“Well, if you don’t want to go, you can call. But you should at least call.”
I sighed. “I know and I want to do the good thing. Can I.. Chill for a few minutes before we go? Maybe get something better on than this?”
He grinned. “Suit yourself. I’m wearing a clean teeshirt, that’s pretty fancy for me.”
“You make it snazzy somehow. Anyway…I’ll be right back, okay, feel free to… well, you already are covered with furry animals. Should take me 5 minutes.”
He nodded and waved, and resumed giving Bilbo and his due in attention. Dolores the foxhound was curled on his feet, looking ridiculous. Zan had grown bored with his lap and was standing on his shoulder. Hello Kitty and Puddin’ and Kiayoga were vying for his lap. I think Bilbo was angling for treats.
I went to my bedroom, closed the door and set my clock for a five minute bell. I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. I had this disturbing sense that Auntie Phil was trying to get a hold of me. Yet the phone did not ring, and the mail was devoid. The bills were on autopilot, and the post office was forwarding or keeping the rest.
The buzzer went off, I got up and tossed on a corduroy dress. It was here from last time, and oddly still fit. I thought I’d gained a few pounds since then, but apparently not as much Is I’d thought. It was cranberry colored with a white collar. It looked innocent, didn’t quite go with my sharply bobbed hair, but I went with it. I still had oxblood sandals and my little ruby bracelet that grandma got me. I ran a brush through my hair, spritzed some stuff on it, freshened my lip stuff, and touched up my eyes. I walked out, and Pat eyed me appreciatively.
“I remember that dress.” He said, his expression odd.
“I remembered it was here. But not much else. It’s been washed recently, too.” I said, as blankly as I felt.
His eyebrows raised. “You didn’t do it?” he chuckled. “Maybe the brownies still like you after all.”
I shrugged, and made sure the fish were fed before I left out the door. In two days it would be time to feed the snakes.
The boys whined and followed me to the door. I looked at Pat.
“How long are we likely to be gone? Shall we leave them in the pen?”
He nodded. “Might be a good idea. Let Trapper John out with the rest, and then let him inside. He’s paper trained, as I remember. He can be a bit of a surprise if anyone gets past the alarms out here.
Trapper John was Phil’s token Great Dane. He was big, even for the breed, and on the shaggy side, even if his hide was pretty short. He was a dark tobacco brown with a white patch on his chest. He was bred to intimidate, and was sort of half trained as a guard dog. He was sweet and loving around family, but didn’t like strangers. I’d had to be careful around him when I first got here, had to leave him in his cage for a bit longer than I should have, and get to know him gradually so he’d like me. It finally worked, and he forgave me for the delays. Especially since I was prompt with the pads. He had a hang dog expression as I approached him. I think it’s genetic.
I scruffed up his head, and he squeaked though his nose, as dogs do. “Boy, you wanna keep the house safe?” his ears pricked up. He could tolerate a crowd, but he was happier by himself.
I walked him around the back yard with Pat dutifully following apace. I showed TJ all the interesting things in the yard, chattering to him all the while. IT was soothing, and got me strong enough to go see Shelia. Once he was set, I put two pads in his kennel, left the door open, and showed it to him. “This is where you go if you need to.” I whispered to him. He nodded gravely. Then I showed him the door. “Don’t let anyone through here.” I said. “Unless it’s the little guys. You know them. But if you don’t know the folk, don’t let them in.”
The dog regarded me stolidly as if daring me to suggest otherwise could happen.
“I think that’s a 10×4, Cat.” Pat said.
We finally left in Pat’s truck. It was nearly 4:00pm already.