Penult, Page 1A. Sparrow
Copyright 2015 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved
Jude 1:6 –And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Hebrews 13:2 –Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Chapter 1: Prison
Two cups of coffee and a crumpled wrapper sat on the table between me and the two exhausted detectives. Every time I pled ignorance to another one of their dumb-assed questions they looked at each other with incredulity and exasperation.
I almost felt sorry for them. Every eyewitness account coming from the crime scene was wacky beyond belief. In the world they thought they knew, bleachers don’t just get up and walk. Hundred year old beech trees don’t suddenly sprout fully rooted in the middle of a soccer field. They just don’t.
What was I supposed to tell them? The truth? That it was all me? That the guy they found encased within its heartwood was basically a ninja wizard assassin from one of hell’s anterooms? Yeah, right.
That jerk Wendell actually survived the ordeal. Go figure. A team of firemen and arborists cut him free with some nifty chainsaw work. Back when Wendell had locked my friend Urszula in a different tree, I hadn’t needed any stinking chainsaw to spring her.
So I kept mum, feigning ignorance, reinforcing their impression of me as some pimply, dumb kid from Florida. And it worked. They ended up treating me more like a victim than a perpetrator.
I was damned lucky the charges were limited to the premature withdrawal of one pickup truck from a probate lot. In the eyes of the law, I was a first offender—an orphan, no less. Things could have turned out way worse for me, considering.
FCI Coleman Medium. That’s my home these days. Sounds more like a brand of moderately-sized ice chest than a bona fide Federal Correctional Institution one hour north and east of Tampa.
After the incident at the soccer field, the New Hampshire cops tasked to sort things out found all kinds of outstanding warrants in my name. Go figure. The only charge that stuck was third degree auto theft. And that was for liberating a Ford F150 from the probate lot in Fort Pierce and crossing state borders with the allegedly stolen property. The truck had belonged to my dad. He had willed it to me and I just happened to take possession of it before all the t’s had been crossed and the i’s dotted. Nevertheless, I pled guilty for a sentence of six months in jail plus a year’s probation.
That was more than I expected for a first offense, but I can’t complain. I was lucky they could not tie me to any of the drug trafficking done by me, or subsequently by the Pittsburgh dealers had I traded it to. Dad’s truck had been worked hard for a month before the authorities managed to track down and impound it.
There was plenty of other stuff they could have charged me with, too. Homicide, for instance. People died in my presence, whether or not my actions were directly involved. And I’m not just talking about that old lady ex-assassin in Burlington, Vermont whose departure from this existence I had ‘facilitated.’
I had pulled stuff that, to lay people, might seem supernatural, but to me came as natural as blowing my nose. Twice, monsters summoned and conjured by my will had slaughtered a bunch of a drug trafficker’s enforcers.
In the old days they might have even hung me for sorcery. Good thing the laws regulating that sort of thing were long off the books.
So I can’t complain. Six months in Coleman Medium was nothing compared to what could have been. Yeah. Things could have turned out far worse. Considering.
A long time ago back in Fort Pierce, a girl I knew once looked deep into my eyes and told me that I had an old soul. She was one of those New Age, vegan, quinoa/granola types. Hippy parents. High on life.
I took her seriously at the time, because it was something that I had always suspected about myself. I had this weird feeling that I had been through this ordeal we call life at least once or twice before. This was not my first rodeo.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I caught her giving the same spiel to some other guy at a party. It was a throwaway pickup. She had no psychic ability. She had only been flirting, but I had been too vain and too dense to realize it. I was crushed.
I wonder what she would say if she could see me now. These eyes have gazed on things most mortals could never imagine exists. This soul has traveled to places from which most never return. I’ve been there and back again more times than Bilbo and Frodo and all the other Baggins and Tooks combined.
The day I got out of prison, I flew from Orlando to Boston and then rode to Vermont on a used dirt bike I bought with my last five hundred dollars. I stayed at the vacant cabin that had belonged to Ellen’s grandmother before Wendell had gotten ahold of it and turned it into an assassin’s lair. Poor Ellen was the latest victim of a friendship with James Moody.
My mission in Vermont was to retrieve an object that had haunted my dreams since my first night in prison. I had no intentions of dilly-dallying. I just wanted to find the thing and leave.
I half expected to find Wendell’s vintage Cadillac when I pulled up in the gravel drive, but the place was vacant, the garden overgrown. Blackberry bushes crowded in from either side and sent their runners reaching across the ruts like tentacles.
I went around back to the steep walk leading down to the lake. There was a big old tree there, some kind of maple with sprawling branches that would have made for a great tree house or at least a place to hang a rope for a tire swing.
I climbed the knobby trunk using burls for handholds. Halfway up was a tree hole, where a large limb had long ago broken off, I thrust my hand deep into a slimy hole filled with rot and rainwater, feeling amongst twigs and bits of dead bug till my fingers contacted metal.
I snatched it by its lanyard and yanked it out, a tarnished key with a string and the remnants of a paper tag, mostly disintegrated. Wendell’s friend, the old lady in Burlington, had given it to me. I had supposedly assassinated her though it was probably one of the most bloodless and effortless murders ever committed.
Assisted suicide was a better description of my deed. She was finished with this world, and wanted nothing more than to free her soul and enter the Sanctuary at the heart of Frelsi. She had been a Hemisoul like me, oscillating between life and the afterworld some called ‘the Liminality’ and others simply called ‘Root’. Only Freesouls could enter the Sanctuary, but Hemisouls could not be freed by a death from one’s own hand. Suicide was a ticket to a nastier place called ‘the Deeps.’ Hired assassins like Wendell had to end their lives.
I was Wendell’s apprentice at the time. The key was my payment. I was told it opened a safe deposit box at the Rutland Savings Bank. First thing in the morning, I would head down to Rutland to reap my reward.
I got plastered that night on warm whiskey and zinfandel. The fridge was empty and unplugged, but I found some crackers and canned beans and Vienna sausages in the cupboard and made myself a meal.
The woods around the lake were dark and creepy, but the liquor numbed me enough that I wasn’t so spooked by every bump in the night, and there were a lot of bumps that night. Raccoons, I hoped, but they made enough noise to be bears.
I conked out under a reading light with a Vonnegut paperback in my lap, eking out a few hours of restless unconsciousness that would have to pass for sleep. When I roused, the first smudges of dawn light were sketching out the details of the surrounding forest. I didn’t even wait for the sun to rise over the hills before I was back on the motorbike heading south to Rutland.
The Rutland Savings Bank and its staff looked like something out of a
Jimmy Stewart movie—a little too quaint to believe. An old lady with chained glasses led me into the vault to retrieve the box. I was expecting one of those flat and skinny bento-sized things but safe deposit box #3234 was big enough to hold a pair of construction workers’ lunch pails with room enough for a loaf of bread. The dang thing felt like it was packed full of rocks.
The lady left me all alone in a cold, dim room sitting on a wooden chair before a Spartan desk. Opening that box felt like a mix of Pandora and Christmas. No demons swarmed out, but as it turned out, what made it so heavy were the weapons. Not just handguns and ammo but weird, exotic stuff. A foot long knife with a wavy blade and a jeweled hilt. A nasty stiletto, slender enough to roast marshmallows. Some kind of compact dart blower complete with leather case packed with poison darts.
There were all kinds of keys in the box, too. One had a keychain bearing the distinctive three bladed propeller logo of that famous car company. It was for a car, obviously, but where was it parked? Back in Burlington, maybe? In the lot of the old folks home? Not very helpful.
One key, a big, brass Baldwin, had a tag that read: “If found, please call +44 20 7660 7660.” I knew that country code. I was about to toss it back in the box. What use was a key from a country I was no longer welcome after my deportation? But then I found the fake passports. Four of them! Canada. Australia. USA. New Zealand. Each bore my mug but with different fake names, none of them anything close to James Moody.
I pocketed the keys and documents and went after the valuables. I avoided anything that looked like assassin’s gear. There was gold—rings and chains—among stacks of Euros and Yen and dollars both Canadian and American. I mainly went after the Euros but I took a few hundred USD for pocket money. I grabbed one incredibly pretty chain with a four leaf clover charm as a gift for Karla.
Inside an envelope of crinkly, brown crepe was a card all matte black and carbon fiber. It was totally non-reflective apart from a nine-pointed star made of three superimposed and overlapping triangles, the numbers and my real name, James B. Moody, in raised glossy lettering.
It looked like a credit card, so I snatched it and tucked it into my back pocket. I left the box on the desk for the old lady to put away and burst out of that bank in a cold sweat. The first thing I did was to bop into a nearby CVS and use the automated checkout to buy some iced tea and a box of Tylenol. I swiped the black card in the reader, expecting alarms to go off or something but it worked like any old credit card. Instead of VISA or MasterCard the receipt read ‘Frelsi.’
The very next thing I did was find the nearest travel agency and book a flight from New York to Rome. Turned out, they also accepted Frelsi cards. Freaking awesome!
Chapter Two: Belinda
An oak leaf rests on my dinner tray, thick and leathery, glossy and brown like the last leaves to fall in November. It had been a maple leaf a little while ago and before that a chestnut. But it had begun the evening as a simple white cocktail napkin.
I’m on Alitalia Flight 611 nonstop to Rome. Seat 7A. I upgraded to business class at the terminal. The seats are sweet. One press of a button and they unfold into beds. The ones in the front of the cabin are even nicer. Now I wonder why I didn’t upgrade to first class.
That little black credit card works like magic. With each swipe, a whole new world opens up to me. I bought myself an iPad mini from an Apple vending machine. I picked up Karla some earrings from the Duty Free. Now I’m thinking of getting myself a brand new wrist watch from the SkyMall catalog. A guy could get used to this kind of living.
I’ve downed two Heinekens so far and am ready for something harder. The flight attendant didn’t even bother to card me. Maybe it’s all the grit and gravitas I acquired in prison. Or maybe all that warring with denizens of the afterlife is starting to age me.
I’m not even legal yet, but I’m no teenager any more. I turned twenty just the other day, celebrating my birthday alone in that cabin in Vermont, just me and a book and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I’ve been drinking like a fish ever since I got out of jail, not because I need it, just because I can.
Six miles over Newfoundland I bid farewell and good riddance to North America. For every sweet memory on this continent, I had three tainted with bitterness and blood. Not that the UK had been any better to me, not that I would ever be going back there again, at least not legally.
Italy was another story entirely. I truly enjoyed my first time there even if it did turn out to be a wild goose chase. I could see myself living, if not in Rome, then someplace in all that crazy beautiful countryside I saw from the train. Of course, knowing Karla is there waiting for me is no small bias.
I have to say that my most happy and thrilling days all happened in the Liminality. Nowhere else but this foyer to the afterlife have I felt more alive.
There were plenty of dark days, the darkest of them being Karla getting killed by that Fellstraw. For the most part, though, good memories prevailed. Hanging with Karla in her cozy little dome deep in the caverns of Root. Cruising the mesas and valleys of the surface world on the backs of giant mantids.
No chance of me going back any time soon. I was way too excited about my prospects in this world. I mean, I just got out of jail and now I’m jetting off to see Karla. In fact, I’ve felt this way for some time now. The roots haven’t come calling in months.
Early in my sentence, bored out of my skull with the days creeping along, the roots would visit me regularly. I welcomed them like friends come to take me out on a joy ride.
Karla would meet me in my favorite hollow with the pond and the waterfall and the willow tree. She had a knack for crossing over at will, a skill she called ‘surfing.’
We would have tea with Lille and Bern at their cabin on the pitted plains and go on long hikes up to the mesas where the new Dusters were settling into a ‘life’ out of the Deeps. We even visited with Luther in his new palace, roaming the alleys and avenues of the sprawling city that the Burg had become.
But once I got past the halfway point of my sentence, the visitations abruptly ceased. When I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, the roots were no longer interested in me. It has been three months since I stepped foot in the Liminality.
Optimism and excitement were toxic to the forces that recruit souls to places like the Liminality. They avoided me like I was strychnine.
I still had my bad days, but none ever bad enough to drive my soul to the depths it needed to reach to execute a crossing. Even when I started missing Karla again, it could not outweigh the expectation that I would soon be seeing her again for real in the living world.
I’m thinking it might be nice to have a little out of body excursion to shorten this plane ride. No chance of that happening. I am way too buzzed and tingly at the prospect of seeing Karla. My life forces have shifted into a rarely engaged gear, a special kind of overdrive. I think it’s called love.
The flight attendant comes by to offer me another drink. The oak leaf that had been a napkin startles her momentarily, but she whisks it off the tray with the other trash.
Small-scale weaving comes to me easy as breathing these days. Prison time only honed my skills. Any mass of carbon or water less than a kilo or so is no match for my mind. That frost on the window that marred my view of the Newfoundland coast? Gone. Vaporized.
My napkin? I had cycled it through an entire herbarium’s worth of leaves—big-toothed aspen to serrated elm, sugar maple and every oak I knew from red to black to white.
I have yet to master larger scale transformations. I can do it now and then, but it takes way more effort and concentration to make it happen. I almost have to be on the verge of a panic attack to get something as large as a tree or a house to shift. It’s a rare skill, they tell me.
Yet, there are Weavers in this world and some of the others that can execute such transformations with ease. I’m talking about souls like Victoria and Luther and Wendell. I’m not quite on their level yet.
Prison gave me tons of time to p
ractice. I would animate dust bunnies, make them sprout legs and eyes and send them running down the corridor, to give me a head’s up on what was for dinner or to eavesdrop in the warden’s office.
I could even give my creation wings and send them flying off into the suburbs on vicarious jaunts that did wonders for my mood. They would swoop through yards past little kids playing soccer, old men trimming shrubberies, coyotes circling the carcass of a deer that had been hit by a truck.
Don’t believe all the hype you hear about the American prison system. The food isn’t nearly as bad as they say. The violence? The sexual deviancy? All over-rated. Boredom was the biggest threat to my mental health.
Maybe things weren’t so bad because I was in Coleman Medium, a place devoid of hard-core criminals. Maybe Florida State Prison would have been much worse. Though, I think I could have handled it. It was hard to imagine anything worse than Edmund Raeth’s church basement dungeon.
Six months in the slammer healed my brain and made me stronger both emotionally and physically. I took advantage of the gym, the books, the classes in Biology and History and Trigonometry. I worked in the wood shop for a while, but had to quit, because I couldn’t restrain myself from weaving the wood instead of cutting and carving it like my shop mates.
Weaving was not a skill I was ready to go public with. It had been awkward enough during the court proceedings trying to explain how a hundred year old beech had been made to appear in the middle of a Dartmouth soccer field and how its wood had come to encase a dapper gentleman named Wendell Frank who had a taste for cigars and fine handguns.
The case against Wendell didn’t even make it to trial. The happenings on that Dartmouth field could not be distilled into in words. The weirder stuff was downplayed and an alternative rationalization was fabricated involving bombs and bulldozers. Just like me, Wendell was treated more like a victim than a perpetrator.