Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Message from Violet

It is a ten-hour drive from Kansas to Maryland. I made it in eight to get to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center to see my best friend.

You know. The one I left in your care.

Let me explain.

Around 11:00 last night, Celie's father saw her storm out of the house -- all attempts to stop her failed, and she ran.

From what I've been able to gather from (the still only semi-conscious) Celie, she ran from the house and made her way through Rocks, alone, until she came to a local playground and fishing hole called Friends Park. She then called out Practical Cat, who, after some time, revealed himself to her.

The two had some kind of verbal exchange, but she wouldn't say very much about it other than what is stated below.

Celie pulled her gun and fired off three shots before the Cat was able to disarm her. The defensive wounds on her wrists and one broken toe suggest that she put up a hell of a fight, but in the end, she was defeated.

Okay, that's an understatement.

And you all deserve to know the truth, because it's partially your fucking fault.

He beat the ever-loving hell out of her.

I don't think there's a single part of her body that isn't cut or bruised. Her shoulder was dislocated. The nurse here said that when they brought her in, she was covered head to toe in blood, most of it her own.

Would you like to know the best part?

Zeke, you especially listen up.

He marked her.

At some point, he got her onto her stomach, straddled her back, and carved that fucking symbol into the back of her neck. That little spot right where her two shoulders meet. The doctors say if he'd cut an eighth of an inch deeper, he could have hit her spine and killed her.

In fact, it was her screams at he cut her that alerted the people living nearby -- because they thought a fucking animal was being slaughtered.

And do you know what he said while he was doing it? I'll tell you, because she's been fucking repeating it in her sleep:

"You're mine. Why can't you understand? You don't belong to anybody but me. You're mine."

And now, dear readers, I want a fucking explanation.

I told you to look after her. I told you to keep your eye on her because she would try to convince you everything was okay.

Her brother tells me she's been chain smoking like a fiend. She's been drinking herself silly. She's been snapping at people out of turn and not leaving her room for days at a time except to go to work.

How did somebody not fucking notice this girl going in a downward spiral?!

Maybe I should've made it clearer to you: Celie will not seek help on her own. It's practically the fucking first rule of Celie.

And now none of it matters, because she's in the hospital, beaten and marked.

And yes, I do blame you. No, I do not give a shit if you disagree. Celie loves you guys more than anything. I do not share that affection.

And as for you, Ezekiel Fucking Strahm. What the hell was that last night? "Herp derp, I promised to do everything I could to protect this girl, lemme go right ahead and insult the fuck out of her, THAT'LL CALM HER DOWN!"

If you feel like you're to blame for this, Zeke, it's because you are.

I'll keep you guys updated on her condition. Just know that she's stable for now.

And know that they say the scar on her neck will never go away.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fuck Everything

Do you know what I was doing a year ago?

I was ready to graduate high school. They told us our lives would begin and we would take the world by storm. We'd be successful and talented and brilliant. Angel was still sweet and not fucking insane. I was ready to take on the world with Rose right there at my side, and Violet on the other.

Now they're both gone. Aunt Michelle is dead and Rose is worse than dead and Vi is miles and miles away. She's moved on from Chicago and is somewhere around Kentucky. I can't even know exactly where.

The reading of the will was this morning, and I was outed as receiving even more inheritance than Aunt Michelle told me. The place in Ocean City, the fund for its upkeep and the taxes on it. But also a sizable trust fund that looks like it was started just before I was born. It doesn't have any legal stipulations -- I can use it for whatever I wish, according to the law -- but one note in her will said: "To assist in furthering her education and enlightenment."

I was right. Angel did exactly what I knew she would. They called me down not long ago and said they needed to have a serious talk with me about something. I've been sipping at my little hip flask of whiskey since noon; I didn't have the will to refuse.

Sure enough, thhey tried to get me to give it up. Not just part of it, either. They wanted me to give up everything. Well, I say they -- really, it was that near-eldritch cunt using my father as a mouthpiece. I won't bother writing down the exact conversation. They pretended it was for my own good. I'm too young, they said, to be ready for this responsibility.

I was fully ready to sit it out the exact way I have for my entire life: Keep my mouth shut, don't make any sudden movements. Pretend I'm a little porcelain doll. I was ready to let it slide off. But then, she spoke up, and she said:

"Quite frankly, it was a less-than-intelligent move on Michelle's part to leave it to you --"

The little porcelain doll in me shattered.

"Why is that, Angel?" I said. I looked up from my hands on my lap at them. "Is it because I'm so stupid and naive, or she was plotting something and using me? Because obviously, when a woman does something, it's usually specifically to make things more difficult for you, isn't it?"

"Excuse me--"

"I've been excusing you for way too goddamn long."

I lost my cool, and I don't give a shit. Eventually, the argument rose from the table and we stood, and I said things I've been wanting to say for a long, long time. I'm sure she did as well -- no one has ever spoken to me the way she did, so blatantly belligerent and hurtful. Right in front of my father, she called me every name under the sun, from a lazy and ungrateful daughter to a criminal slut.

She's certainly one to talk.

After the argument, I stormed up the stairs and found something that was, naturally, exactly what I needed in this shit.

A note. Sitting prettily on my pillow and addressed to Little fucking Mouse.

It was simple enough to not even warrant a picture:

"i'm ever so sorry about Michelle's tragic demise. i hope that you find solace in her gifts.

Practical Cat"

You know what? No

He doesn't fucking get to say her name. He doesn't even get to know she exists. Ever.

I'm fucking tired of this. I'm tired of feeling like I need to watch my back. I'm tired of not even feeling safe at home. I'm tired of hearing the house make noises at night and wondering if maybe, just maybe, it's Angel, finally gone crazy and killing the whole family. I'm tired of those sorts of things that keep me up at night. I'm tired of my room being messy because I don't ever want to leave it if I don't have to. I'm tired of fucking Zeke and how he's so fucking stupid and won't listen to me. I'm tired of not being able to tell anyone about what's happening to me. I'm tired of drinking until I can't feel because I don't dream when I pass out and the hangover is better than those goddamn nightmares and that goddamn feeling. I'm tired of my voice getting scratchy because I'm smoking too much.

I'm tired of feeling helpless.

So I'm fucking done. I know he's got his eye on me. He's probably watching right now. I haven't seen his boss in a while, but damned if I don't know he's still tailing me. I can turn this. I can use it. I have a gun, and I have pepper spray, and if he gets past those I can kick the fucker in the head.

This can't wait. I'm getting my jacket now.

I'm going to find Practical Cat. I'm going to call him out.

And I'm gonna kill the bastard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Firstly, thank you all for your thoughts. It means a lot.

Last Thursday when I saw her, she gave me her hat, the same one I'd given to her years ago. I protested, saying it was a gift, but she just rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah, and it took me losing my hair to finally wear the stupid thing. After all, why do you wear that jacket?"

I shifted slightly in the jacket that once belonged to my best friend. "I don't know."

"It makes you feel safe, doesn't it?" she said. "It makes you feel like she's with you even if she's not. Now you can wear this, and I'll be with you too. I'll always be with you, Celie."

I blinked back tears and said, "I know."

The services for Aunt Michelle were held in the last two days. Her viewing was yesterday, and the funeral and wake were today. For the last week, most of my mom's family and some of my dad's have been pouring into the city, along with a lot of people I've never met before; people she'd met through work, I guess.

I feel...heavy. Every part of me feels like it takes conscious effort to move. For the last week or so I've been accepting condolences, greeting family and friends as they come into town for the services.

The funeral today was...especially jarring. We held it up in the country rather than in the city, at Saint Ignatius. There has been a tornado warning all day, so every now and again, a siren would blast out, interrupting the service. About a year ago, the county decided to switch the siren from its former setting, Vaguely Creepy, over to its current one, Gut-Fuckingly Horrifying, so every now and again Father Kelly would stop and we'd all have to listen to the siren start low, go up, and stay up for a good minute or two before going back down again.

It sounded again as we went up to pay our respects at the end. Nikki was right beside me and it went off just as I came up to the casket. For a moment, I was almost lost in that horrid sound, dazed, until she nudged me and I walked back down on legs that didn't feel like my own.

Spring is lovely here; for a month or so, the entire area seems covered in bright green and colorful flowers. The wind was wicked strong and the clouds were the kind of gray that makes everything somehow seem brighter rather than darker, washing out a lot of the color of the grass and flowers. Loose pink and white petals whipped through the place from a large cherry blossom tree in the corner of the cemetery, and every now and again a few drops of rain would fall.

As people were heading out for the wake at my Aunt Karen's house, I couldn't move. Soon enough, it was just me standing there as it started raining harder. The wind picked up and the siren blared out again, but I couldn't move. For what seemed like hours, I listened to that siren. It sounded like a live thing, screaming. If the Slender Man could speak, his voice would sound like that. Hell is that noise. It shouldn't have anything to do with Aunt Michelle -- not one thing, not even playing at the same time as her funeral.

"Celie." Nikki materialized beside me and touched my arm. I noticed that the rain had picked up even more. "Come on. You'll catch your death."

Nikki has really never thought too much about her phrasing.

The wake was pleasant enough, although exhausting. An entire house full of people who thought they knew the whole story, but didn't. About halfway through, I realized I was one of them. I'm realizing more and more than when I think I know the whole story, I don't.

The reading of her last will and testament will be held tomorrow morning, because everyone who attended the funeral and is mentioned in it will still be in town. I met her attorney -- and, it turns out, her business partner and longtime friend -- at her viewing, where he introduced himself as Scott Monaghan. He looked about as old as Aunt Michelle, late forties or early fifties. Gray speckled his black hair and goatee, and he was large in a jolly sort of manner, which was only reinforced by his deep, booming voice.

Mr. Monaghan told me that he was well aware of how fond Aunt Michelle was of me, and that he would do anything in his power to make sure that her wishes were filled out.

"I assume you know what I'm talking about?" he said. I nodded, almost sure that he meant the promises she'd had me make.

At the wake tonight, we drank dessert sherry -- customary for a mournful event -- and he told me about some of their adventures.

"Well, I met Michelle while we were still in college," he said. "At a lacrosse match, of all things. I hear that your brother is into lacrosse, isn't he?"

"He really is," I said. "He wants to go to Syracuse to play, but he would have to get his grades up."

"Well, with a school like that, of course," he said. "Anyway. Michelle and I became thick as thieves pretty quickly. I went off to law school as she started traveling, and eventually we entered into real estate and investing together. Did she ever tell you about the first time she saw Paris?"

I shook my head.

"Well, we took the plane from BWI with a stopover in Heathrow, and by the time we reached France, the sun had set. It was a beautiful clear spring night -- you could see all the stars above, and all the lights in the city below. And then we saw the Eiffel Tower, over a miniature ocean of light that was Paris. Michelle started crying and I asked her, 'What's wrong, what's wrong?' Do you know what she said?

"She said, 'I will never love a man as much as I love Paris right now, at first sight.'"

I was enthralled. Mr. Monaghan is a fantastic storyteller, and kept my mind off of the gloominess of the event with tales that sounded as wondrous as they did far-fetched (one involving a doctor, a soccer match inside a pub, and a screwdriver). Maybe he was even where Aunt Michelle got her own gift of gab -- and, indirectly, where I got mine.

When I asked him why we'd never met before, he got a sort of faraway look and said, "Well, we have met before, but you were just a tiny thing. At some point, Michelle and I decided that it would be better if we distanced ourselves personally speaking. The business can be a bit of a rumor mill sometimes."

"I see," I said, even though I had the feeling that I really didn't.

We only just arrived home from the wake not long ago, and already I'm nervous about tomorrow. I know, more or less, what Aunt Michelle left me -- she told me so herself -- and I have an idea of what to do with it, how to use it to help the fight. But that's for another time. Right now it's only an idea.

What will people say, when they hear that I've been given an inheritance? I tense up just thinking about how Angel may react. Aunt Michelle told me not to give up what's mine...but is it really mine in the first place?

I know it's early, but I need to get some sleep. I feel so heavy that it hurts to even type.

I don't know if I've told you lately, but I love you guys. Stay safe. I don't want to lose you, too.

After all, lately, I seem to be losing everyone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ma was there, and Nikki and Milo. I was there, too. It was like she was ready. I can't talk about this right now. I can't find the words. And I have a funeral to help plan.

She died this morning.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Un-Reveal.

I'm trying to think of a way to say all the things I need to say in this post. Just get ready for it to take a while.

For those who don't know (in fact, I've only just realized that you couldn't know), Ava Conquest and I have been exchanging emails and chatting and such quite often for the last couple of months -- you know...when it was possible. She's been a real comfort to me, and a good friend who fully understands the situation.

A week or two ago, Zeke posted an entry to his blog, and I commented on it. Ava was very angry about Zeke's actions (the post recorded his experiences in the red building), and said so. We engaged in conversation and...well, in case you don't feel like looking it up, here is the exchange (I've taken out some line breaks for the sake of space and comprehension):


Me: Ava, you wouldn't even tell us WHAT we weren't supposed to do -- now you're angry that we did it?

Ava: Celie. It was the Catch-22 to end all Catch-22s. Tell you and damn you. Not tell you and HOPE TO HELL you picked up on my animosity. Celie, please, are you SAFE from that woman?

Me: You mean Mary-Ann Compton? She's in Sheppard Pratt, Ava, she's not getting out of there anytime soon. Not that she's violent or anything in the first place. She's not dangerous, just creepy as hell. You've got to mean her, right? Who else could you mean?


Me: What...what are you talking about? I live with the bitch. I can keep away from her, but my bedroom door is my best protection. Why? Ava, why do I need to be safe from my stepmom?

Ava: Celie, I love you, you're the closest thing I have to a best-girl-friend. I'd email you if I could, but FUCK MY INBOX. She's not SAFE, Celie. And I have a feeling that she will SERIOUSLY fuck shit up if you don't GTFO ASAP. And that door will not save you.

Me: Where am I supposed to go? To my mom's? She barely has room for herself. If I can find a place before the fall, then I'll get out. But I barely make enough as it is. I'll figure things out, okay? And besides, if I'm not out before the fall then it doesn't matter, because I'll be at college, six states away from her. Don't worry about Angel. She's crazy...but I don't think she's violent. Yet.

To be honest, this freaked me out more than the visit with Mary-Ann Compton. I didn't know what to do about it. I don't feel safe in this house as is, and now this warning. And Zeke has been told that the proxies are getting more aggressive, more confident. And they're marking their victims. Maybe they're mocking the idea that the symbol keeps him away? Maybe they're planning something bigger? I don't know. I'm not sure I should know, although my immediate instinct is, as always, to investigate.

Now for the next part. This might be a little harder.

91.9 percent of Americans receive no inheritance. None. I've looked it up.

Today, I went to see Aunt Michelle, like I have every day for quite a few weeks now. I wish I could say she's still as good at conversation as she was a month ago, but she isn't. Sometimes we only talk for twenty minutes before she has to rest, and I stay with her while she sleeps until I have to go. Fortunately, those are only the bad days. On good days, she can keep up with me for my entire visit.

She's fading fast and we all know it -- her most of all. Maybe that's why she told me all she had to tell me today.

The visit started off as it always has; she was sitting up in her adjustable bed in her room, reading. I came in, said hi, we talked about how work and things were going. She asked about when I would set up my housing information with Miskatonic, what the student forums were like, whether I'd already met any nice people who'd be going to school with me (incidentally, there is one person I've already kind of made friends with). After we finished talking, she looked at me strangely for a few minutes. Like she was suddenly really really happy about something, but also very sad about it. If that sounds like it doesn't make sense, then that's too bad.

"Celie," she said. "You know, when you were born, we didn't think you'd make it."

I'd heard this story before. I was born two months early after my parents had been in a car accident on I-95; the actual damage wasn't bad, but the stress from the crash sent my mom into labor and they couldn't get her out of it at the hospital, so there I was, a December baby instead of February. I kept quiet; I didn't want to interrupt.

"Your mom gave you the middle name Victoria because she knew you'd beat the odds," Aunt Michelle said. "And I knew it was right for you. Your name was queenly."

I smiled a little. I'd heard this before too --Victoria, after mom and Aunt Michelle's favorite queen.

She paused for a minute and looked at me. "You've come so far from there."

"Well, yeah," I said. "I'm older now."

"We never expected to see you kids grow..." her voice trailed off for a moment. "...grow up so fast."

She reached over to her bedside table and sipped the glass of water sitting there.

"You've been wearing that jacket a lot more often lately," she said, gesturing to what I was wearing -- Rose's jacket, the gray one. "I guess you've gotten over your qualms about it."

"'s kind of weird, but I guess I have," I said, not really thinking. "I guess it's sort of a safety thing --"

I nearly jumped out of my chair. The realization was like a physical slap.


Aunt Michelle laughed so hard she started coughing. I waited until she calmed down.

"How did you --"

"I read your blog, stupid," she said. "Believe it or not, I'm not too old to use a computer."

I blinked. My throat was too closed with shock to speak.

"You don't have to look so surprised by it," she said.

"No!" I nearly shouted. The smile faded from her face as I ranted, "No, no! You can't know. Nobody's supposed to know, but especially not you! You can't even know what this -- about -- him -- and -- Rose --"

She'd struck me speechless. She watched me calmly for several minutes as I sputtered and faded, trying to make sense of exactly why I didn't want her reading this blog. I was trying to say that she was just too inherently good to be aware of anything as evil as the Slender Man, but any attempt at spitting it out just sounded silly in my head.

"Celie," she said, cutting me off. "Celie. My Celie."

She looked at me in that way again.

"I am so. Proud. Of you," she said, emphasizing each part.

"I...what?" I said.

"You heard me," she said. "In fact, it's about damn time you heard it from somebody."

One of the interestingly annoying things about me: I don't cry when people say negative things about me. Not when my dad yells at me, not when Angel screams and bitches me out, not when anybody else insults me or says awful things. I didn't bat an eye when I was scared when Keaton questioned me or when Mary-Ann Compton freaked me out. But for some reason, any time somebody says something positive about me, I'm caught completely off guard and start gushing tears. And I wasn't expecting her to say anything like this.

"You are everything your mother and I hoped you'd be, Celie. You and Nikki and Milo are the most amazing souls. You never should have happened, but you did, and all three of you are talented, and smart, and completely your own, even so young," she said. I grabbed a tissue from my purse and she ignored my pathetic sniffling. "You mom and I didn't deserve to have such amazing things in our lives. But now Nikki and Milo don't ever have to know, because you're so strong, and I know you'll stay strong. With your inheritance, you'll know exactly how special you are. There'll be poems and songs, baby girl. If I had the strength, I'd write them myself."

"Wait," I croaked. I blinked several times and got a hold of myself. "What did you just say?"

We stared at each other for a long, long moment.

"Celie, I'm so sorry," she said. "There's something I need to tell you."

"A lot of people seem to need to tell me things lately," I said, thinking about Ava and Mary-Ann Compton.

Aunt Michelle took a slow breath.

"When I die -- don't argue, lass, just listen -- when I'm dead, you'll be summoned to a reading of my will. It's very specific as to what I want done, trust me. I've left a lot of things to a lot of people, and you're one of them. Do you remember the little condo in Ocean City where you went for a few summers on vacation?"

"Umm...a little," I said.

I did remember, vaguely. The Ocean City place was one of Aunt Michelle's first aquisitions. Mostly, I remember staying once when I was little and going to a beach bonfire one night. My dad played a guitar for a group of strangers around a driftwood flame like we were all good friends. He doesn't play anymore. I don't think he remembers how.

I was so caught up in trying to remember that almost didn't catch it when she said, "I'm leaving it to you."

I blinked. "What?"

"You heard me," she said again. "I know how much you love the ocean, and I've made preparations. But you have to follow a few rules, Celie. Call it making me a few promises."

"What?" I said again.

"First, and maybe most important," she said. "Don't let anybody take it from you. I've left you the apartment, but also everything in it. And it is rightfully yours. Don't let them guilt you, don't let them convince you you're too young. I've set up a fund specifically so that you don't have to worry about the taxes or upkeep until you're out of college, so they don't have a single excuse. I left this to you."

"O...okay," I said. I wasn't sure what else to say.

"Promise me, Celie."

"I promise."

"Second," she said. "You're going to learn some things. And you're going to be angry at them."

"What things?"

"In good time," she said. "But rest assured, you'll know. And you won't like it. But try not to let them come between you and your mother. She did what she could. You can be angry at her, but just don't let it end you two. She loves you, Celie. One day you might understand how much."

"I don't understand."

"I know," she said. "But that's all right."

We sat in silence for a little while. For a moment I thought she'd fallen asleep.

"When she left your father, she wasn't abandoning you, you know."

I looked at the floor to try to hide the tears of mixed shock and surprise that were suddenly in my eyes.

"I know," I lied.

"Good." She took another slow breath. "You have the advantage of not being alone. Don't waste it, Celie. Help whoever you can. But don't be afraid to ask them for help, too."

"I won't," I said.

"You don't know how much hope you bring."

"How do I bring hope?" I said, suddenly finding my voice through the shock and emotions. "I can't do anything! I'm a stupid teenage girl! How can I change anything?"

"You'll find out. Soon enough," she said. Then she added, after seeing me open my mouth, "And I know -- you want to know. Your desire to know things is what makes you who you are. But don't let it get away with you."

"Fine," I said. I didn't feel like arguing with her.

Eventually, I had to leave. She made me promise again that I wouldn't do anything stupid. I told her I love her. I came home. I haven't told anyone in my family about what happened; just Violet, and now you guys. I don't know how to do it.

After thinking about it for a good portion of the night tonight, I feel really angry about this. Am I supposed to just sit back and let information come to me? I can't do that. I've never been able to do that. It's why I'm a journalist.

And there are lives at stake here. People could be dying -- people have died already -- and I'm supposed to just stay here and!

I love my Aunt Michelle. But I can't do that. A good journalist doesn't do that.

She knows something I don't. She knows about him, obviously, and I think she may have before she read my blog. Does she know about Zeke? About Ava? About Zero and Ulryc and Lucien?

The last few weeks have been hell. I don't know if Practical Cat is still around, and I'm always looking over my shoulder. I can't feel safe at home with Angel. I'm constantly worried about my friends, and especially Vi and Ava and even Zeke -- the latter of whom seems to not want to listen to me about anything. I feel like I've been too passive a player in this big game.

If I'm not a Runner, I'm technically a Fighter. And if I'm a Fighter, then what the fuck am I actually doing to help the fight?

I won't pester Aunt Michelle for her knowledge. I wouldn't do that to her.

But it's time to get productive.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I have quite a few bits of news for this portion of the week. Luckily, they're types of good news -- a welcome change from last week -- but unfortunately they each have their own bit of bad news.

For example, the kickass news is that using the flexibility gained by doing his hard-ass stretches, I successfully kicked Michael Goldman, third degree black belt, right in his stupid head. Twice. (Granted, he was bending down a little at the time.)

The bad news is, that's not what I meant to do. Or what we'd been practicing. Or even a part of what he'd been teaching me at all. It was just kind of a reaction...twice. After our session today, he discussed with me whether I really thought martial arts was my "thing," and suggested that we eventually stop the lessons.

I can only assume that this is at least a little bit of a result of me being so rubbish at this that when I finally did land a good hit, it was practically a freaking accident.

(They were good hits, though -- he's got bruises and everything. That's for making me so sore all the time and giving me bruises, you jerk!)

Slightly-scary-but-also-kind-of-kickass news is that my father decided to go through it and spoke to Sheriff Thomson about getting me a gun for defense. I've already been safety-certified in firearms, so as a result of the sheriff's connections, I'm now the owner of a Beretta Px4 Storm, a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol that also happens to be the same type issued to the state police. And, like most things meant to intimidate criminals, it is a big, black, scary fucking gun.

Okay, so it's not that big -- as far as handguns go, it's actually in the medium-to-small range, and it fits my tiny, tiny hands very well. But to a small human, it's a big gun.

I can't carry it in public yet, because the paperwork hasn't cleared for my permit, but Detective Goldman says it shouldn't be a problem; if a crazed hillbilly out in the mountains in Garrett County can carry a rifle to protect his barn from aliens, Jews, and smart people, then a noticeably frail and uncoordinated (hey!) teenage girl about to go to school all by herself in need of protection will certainly get through.

Which leads me to a problem -- this would be the bad news to go along with this, and it's actually kind of a long story.

See, once my permit clears, I actually need a method by which to carry this big (okay, small) badass gun. It comes with a holster, but it fits onto a belt and the State Police are a bit "no me gusta" when it comes to carrying your pistol out in the open, wild-west style. As a joke (she's very anti-gun, and, you know...anti-my-father), my mother got me an honest-to-god thigh holster, saying that if my dad wants me to carry a gun, I may as well make it sexy. Cue several spy jokes and an impromptu singing of that secret-agent-man song.

I laughed it off at the time, but honestly, I don't have any other holster and I cannot describe how uncomfortable the idea of keeping a gun in my purse, even with the safety on and in the hip holster, makes me.

I could go out and get another kind of holster, but I don't know of any other kinds that are really subtle -- because I do not want to advertise that I'm packing heat, not when rumor has it that the proxies are gaining confidence and aggression. Practical Cat may be down, but something tells me he's not out, and just in case he's not, I want to look like the least threat as possible. Most other holsters are designed for middle-aged men, either fitting into the waistbands of pants or making it easy to tuck a shirt in over them. An ankle holster is one option, but I want something that's a quick draw as well.

And I have tons of foofy skirts, the kind with plenty of drape to cover anything under them. And I've noticed that if I wear a pair of jean shorts under them, I can still wear the thigh strap, and it sits right where my hand naturally falls -- no discomfort from being in a skirt, no worrying about anyone seeing my lady bits if the wind blows the wrong way. One flick of fabric, and I get the drop on anyone who gets any ideas. I have to be honest; gag gift or no, I'm warming to the idea of this thing.

So Special Agent Keaton, meet Secret Agent McLachlan.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I took your advice -- which was surprisingly unanimous -- and after some deliberation, I went and saw Mary-Ann Compton at Sheppard Pratt today.

I knew the visiting hours, but I called ahead anyway and spoke to her doctor. Dr. Madison is an old friend of Craig's, it turned out, and it was a stroke of luck that he was Mary-Ann's doctor; he said he would give me full cooperation. It was a good thing I called; if I had just shown up, I wouldn't have found her. They've been keeping her in a solitary room and moving her to a specialized room for her therapy and visits, removing her from group therapy altogether. When I asked why, the answer was simple: Since she started talking, she hasn't stopped.

And what she's been saying has deeply disturbed the other patients.

The doctor told me a surprising amount after learning that I was the one Craig had told him about, although he didn't say what exactly Craig had said. Although she does have very brief periods of lucidity, he said, mostly she didn't make very much sense -- a hallmark of a psychotic break. He said it was rather complicated, and that he would explain more when I arrived.

I went to the hospital and asked for Dr. Madison, and after a few minutes of waiting, he came down the hallway to meet me. He's an older man, maybe late forties or early fifties. I wondered idly how he knew Craig as he led me down several hallways.

"Please don't be alarmed by the room," he said. "We typically use it to do therapy sessions with violent or potentially violent patients."

"Why are we using it for her, then?" I asked.

"It's the best-suited room for observation without alarming her," he said. "You've got to understand, Mary-Ann Compton has been given interest from the entire Mid-Atlantic psychiatric community. I've personally been practicing for nearly twenty years, and never seen anything quite like her case."

"But she's not dangerous, is she?"

"Not as far as we've seen -- but, as you know, she only just started talking a few days ago."

I was starting to get nervous. Get a grip on yourself, girl, I thought. I took a deep breath and dropped into journalistic mode.

"What's so unique about this case?"

"It's rather difficult to explain to a layman," he said. We stopped walking for a moment while he collected his thoughts. "You see, catatonia isn't, in itself, a disorder. It's a symptom of a disorder -- in Mary-Ann's case, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, due to her family history, we also believe she could have manifested late-in-life schizophrenia, although she hasn't responded to medication so it's impossible to know for sure.

"There are three types of catatonia. The one people are most familiar with is a stupor -- a motionless, apathetic state in which the patient will not or cannot respond to external stimuli. Another type is catatonic excitement, which is just the opposite; an inability to stop. A constant, purposeless agitation. Mary-Ann's inability to stop talking -- even without having to constantly be moving -- strongly suggests that she has, quite literally, switched in her catatonic state."

"So...nothing has changed?"

"Oh, I certainly wouldn't say that," he said. "One of the very key problems in treating patients with stupor catatonia is that normal therapy can often be lost. Speech therapy is, obviously, worthless, so often more unorthodox methods are used, like pictures or writing."

"I see," I said, my thoughts flickering across Matthew Selby.

"But it can take years of treatment before a catatonic patient begins to respond, even in the slightest way. Mary-Ann has, in a way, jumped forward in a manner that may allow us to try other, more convential means of treatment."

"I thought you said she's not making sense?"

"She often isn't, at this point, which has inspired a good deal of argument as to whether she's schizophrenic or has simply suffered a psychotic break from the memories of her trauma."

"Is that possible? The attacks happened months ago..."

"Memories can be very, very powerful things to the mind," he said. "And besides, at this point we don't fully know if she's not making sense."

"What do you mean?"

"It could be that she knows what's happening, but doesn't understand how to express it just yet. It's possible that her mind is more or less resetting itself, and as a result she's just saying whatever odd random things can keep her voice going. She may hear us say something, and remember an event in her past that made her feel similar to her reaction to what we said, and so say what she felt then instead of what she's feeling now."


He laughed slightly. "Well, it's just a theory, and probably not the case anyway."

We continued walking.

"Your family has extensive history with Mary-Ann Compton, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Well...yes," I said. "She lived in the same town as us in New Jersey and knew my parents and grandmother. A few years after we moved here, so did she with her new husband. They said the schools were better here and they knew someone -- that is, us -- and that they thought this area was better to raise a family. But that was some six or seven years ago, and we hadn't talked to them since except my grandmother in her church group. Honestly, I'd forgotten she even existed."

"I see," he said. "I'm sorry, I only ask because it seemed so odd that she would ask for you."

"Has she asked for anyone else?"

"Yes," he said. "During her short lucid periods, she's alternated between asking to see you -- and asking to see her daughter, Lucille."


"She seems to believe that we're keeping her daughter from her intentionally. She's antagonized some of the staff because of it, demanding that we bring Lucille to her, but nothing more than some verbal abuse. Physically, we don't think she's dangerous," he said as we stopped at a heavy-looking door. He held it open for me.

As soon as it opened, I could hear her singing.

As we entered the antechamber leading into the room, I realized what Dr. Madison had meant when he said that this room was better for observation; it looked like an interrogation room from some cop TV show, only creepier. The antechamber was a dark, plain hall of a room with a long window on the far wall. A door led into the actual room itself, which was brightly lit and painted white, with a black faux-stone table and two chairs in the center. She wasn't sitting in a chair. She was pacing.

"She can't hear us," Dr. Madison said. "Or see us. It's a two-way mirror."

I walked forward to the glass and listened close to her. The melody was so familiar to me, but I couldn't place it. The words, I could tell, were Latin, and I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying, but I caught a few words that I recognized, from church if nowhere else.

Words like suffert. And eleison.

The haunting melody and the way it was so familiar without being placed made me start to shiver. I swallowed hard and took a deep breath and tried to get professional again.

"Does she sing often?"

"From time to time, yes. And she quotes scripture a lot. We think it's what she does when she simply has nothing else to say. One of the nurses told me yesterday that she usually sings this particular one after she's asked for you."

"Did she know I was coming today?" I asked, turning my head away from the glass to look at him. The light coming through the window highlighted the wrinkles in his face.

He shook his head. "Not as far as I'm aware."

I began to turn my head back to the room. "Are you sure one of the nurses couldn't have told her anyth -- AH!"

I tried to stifle my yelp of surprise, but it came out anyway. Mary-Ann had stopped singing; she'd also stopped pacing directly in front of me. She was staring at the glass. Right at me, I swear to god. Right at me.

"She can't see us, right?" I asked, in a hushed voice, afraid to be too loud or look away.

"No, she can't."

Mary-Ann smiled. It looked like she was whispering something, but I couldn't tell what. Then she stopped whispering, and just for a moment, everything was silent.

Then she said, "I have a message for you."

My hand shot to my mouth to keep myself from yelling again, because it probably would have involved some pretty prolific swearing. I started shaking again. Mary-Ann, still whispering indistinctly, walked over quite calmly and sat at the black table in the chair furthest from the door, facing us. She stayed there.

"You don't have to go in if you don't want to," Dr. Madison said, obviously seeing my face.

Yes I do, I thought.

"It's fine," I said.

I opened the door and entered the white room. It was quite quiet in here with only Mary-Ann's whispering to break the silence. In the upper corner of the room was a security camera. My heart was racing as I sat down in the chair opposite her.

For a while -- a very long while -- she didn't say anything I could make out. She stared at me, so intently, and kept whispering. Eventually, I was able to make out a little of what she was saying; it sounded almost like she was describing me, every aspect of me, saying it out loud as though she were taking copious notes.

"Yes, yes, the glasses, they're broken, a safety pin on one side, holding them together," it sounded like. "The other side has a piece of frame missing, nothing holding the lens in, just sort of perched...." I couldn't make out the next bit. "...Ample busom, bit of a tummy as well, long fingernails, dirt underneath them, stubby little hands..."

As she went on, slowly getting louder and clearer, listing every physical aspect of me -- everything, all the things I loved and all the things I hated -- I began feeling like a piece of art being appraised, but not in a positive way. I was no Mona Lisa to be applauded. I was a student sculpture to be critiqued.

Just as she was getting up to normal volume, she said, "This is the one who was chosen. She doesn't look like much."

Then, nothing. She simply stopped, and kept looking at me.

"What?" I said, coming out of shock at what she just said.

She remained silent. We sat like that for...minutes? Hours? Each second felt like days as her blond hair hung quite close to her bright blue eyes. She did not brush it away. She did not move.

We stayed like that for so long that I jumped when she suddenly spoke, at normal volume and in a conversational tone.

"I used to babysit you and your sister and brother when we all lived in New Jersey. Do you remember that?"

For a moment, I thought that I had forgotten how to speak. Then I shook my head.

"I didn't think you would. You were so little. Milo was still in diapers. He could barely walk, but he followed you around no matter where you went. You hated that. You hated being followed, even if it was just little Milo toddling along behind you.

"Do you remember the woods, Celeste?"


"We'd gone with a bunch of family and friends to the park where you guys loved to go. There was a hiking trail back there. One minute, you were on the slide, and the next thing we knew, you'd disappeared down the path and wandered off it. We found you crying for your dad near a little stream back there."

"I don't remember any of this."

"What about the fire, Celeste? The fire in the school? The little boy a couple of years ahead of you who got stuck in the building. You hated fire after that."

"Stop it."

"Maybe that's why you feel such a powerful connection to the ocean."

"You said you have a message for me," I said, loud, trying to steady my voice, trying not to imagine that pretty face contorted into that scream.

Her head twitched to one side for a split-second. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."


"Blessed is he who endureth temptation, for when he hath been tested, he shall be given the Crown of Life."

"I don't --"

"Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings."

"Is that --"

"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

"What the hell?"


She stopped for a moment.

"You don't know anything about hell," she said, almost smiling. Then she looked slightly afraid and whispered again: "Ignis divine, eleison. Exilis everto, eleison."

Something in me clicked. I leaned forward, onto my elbows on the table.

"What did you say?"

She ignored me. "You must tell him not to go."

"No, what did you say, before? I know that name, that phrase --"

"It will come to pass, but not as he wishes, he cannot face the angel yet."

"You were praying for someone to have mercy!" I nearly shouted. "Who was it?"

She stopped and leaned forward on the table as well. She reached out and touched my face. "Oh, little Celie."

As soon as her hand touched me, the wrong feeling started. It radiated from her fingertips like a poison, just a little at first, then more.

"You know exactly who, don't you?"

Then she smiled.

"Are you afraid?" she asked.

I waited a moment, felt my racing heart, and said, "Yes."

"Not nearly as much as you should be."

I swallowed. "When will I see him again?"

"You have a much more pressing worry in the nearer future."

"What?" I asked. "What worry? What's going to happen?"

She let go of me and leaned back. The feeling subsided a little.

"Ask him."

"Ask who?"

"He who was once the Seeker."

"The what?"

"The Prophet. The Mystic."

"Wait, do you mean Zeke?" I said. I blinked a few times. "How would you know anything about Zeke?"

"How would you know anything about fear?"

"Is..." The question caught in my throat, but I pushed on. "Is something going to happen to Zeke?"

"The bird will appear like a parasite, a runt to be drowned," she said. Her voice was slowing down for some reason. "But he will bring ruin. Only ruin and death."


"And you will want to look away," she said. She leaned forward onto the table again, her eyes boring into mine. "You will feel the base, sickening fear that is older than the ancient stones, and you will want nothing more than to look away. Don't. Don't turn your head, don't focus on anything else. If you value him, her, God or yourself, don't close your eyes. Don't even blink, little one. You were meant to see. If you do not, no one will. If no one sees, he will never know. And if he does not know...then all hope is lost, and we are defeated."

I couldn't breathe. My entire mind was wrapping itself around what she had just said. The door opened again and Dr. Madison said that he felt that this visit had run its course. As I walked out, still half-dazed, I heard her chair scrape the floor as she got up and her voice say, "Send Lucille in on your way out, Celie, dear."

After I'd gotten out to my car, I sat in the parking lot for a while trying to gather my thoughts. Finally, I drove home.

I've got to be honest, I'm disappointed, but what did I expect? Answers, I suppose. I should have known better.

Now I still don't have any answers.

Just more material for my nightmares.