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Taking back forever, p.12
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       Taking Back Forever, p.12

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  “This educational lesson is sweet and all,” Shiloh said, “and usually I’m not a selfish person, but can we please get back to me and my house-of-mirrors vision problem?”

  “Sorry,” I said to Shiloh, feeling shallow and self-centered. “Yes, let’s get back to you.”

  “It is too soon to speculate.” Edgar spun his glasses between his thumbs. “But perhaps the alignment will bring about a change in all our gifts.”

  “But why now?” Faith asked. “Why didn’t it happen sooner?”

  “I hate to blow your theory out of the water,” Carson said. “I was waiting for someone else to realize it so I didn’t have to make everyone feel foolish, but this—” He waved one finger in a circle at the table. “This is not proper alignment.”

  “He’s right,” Harmony said. “Gregory didn’t die. We’re only in proper alignment until Maryah. Then Gregory throws a wrench in things.”

  Mikey giggled again, causing all of us to glance in his direction.

  “Mikey,” I whispered, walking over to him. His sky blue eyes twinkled as he looked at me. I touched his tiny hand and he held onto my index finger. “He’s eight days old,” I said. “You guys told me eight is a powerful number. Maybe that has something to do with it?”

  “Eight days old,” Amber murmured. “You’re right. And eight has always had significance for you. Have you noticed any changes in yourself?”

  I frowned. “Sadly, no.”

  “Has anyone else noticed any changes in their gifts since Michael was born?” Helen asked.

  We all glanced around looking at each other. Most shook their heads no.

  “Your hearing,” I reminded Nathan.

  He squinted then lifted his chin. “It was odd that I heard Edgar’s engine from so far away, especially with the other cars roaring so loudly.”

  “That was a couple days ago, so it rules out the connection with Mikey’s eight-day birthday.” Edgar studied Nathan and Shiloh over his glasses. “Perhaps Shiloh’s vision is naturally evolving along with Nathan’s hearing.”

  “I hope not.” Nathan slumped back in his seat. “I hear too much as it is.”

  “They’re both air signs,” Helen pointed out. “Maybe that's the connection.”

  “Hmmm.” Edgar tapped his glasses. “Faith, you’re an air sign. Have you noticed anything new or unusual with your gift?”

  “No, but I hope my ability strengthens.” She rubbed her hands together excitedly. “Maybe I’ll be able to make people feel a certain way instead of just being able to sense their emotions.”

  “Easy, tigress,” Carson laughed.

  Louise tapped the table in an almost fidgety sort of way. If I didn’t know better I might have thought she was hiding something. “As always, time will tell.”

  NAILED WITH THE TRUTH

  Harmony

  Three days passed with no more short-circuiting of Shiloh’s vision. But those few days felt like a year because there was no news or progress with the search for Gregory either.

  Friday after school I went to the Luna house. Louise was planting flowers around the fountain in the front garden.

  “Any news or leads?” I asked her.

  She was wearing sunglasses, but she still shielded her eyes with her hand when she looked up at me. “No. You?”

  “Sheila checks in every night, but so far she hasn’t found any trace of the Nefariouns.”

  “How much longer will you make her search?”

  “I’m not making her search. She agreed to help.”

  Louise turned her back to me and placed a flower in a pot.

  “Any progress with Maryah?” I asked.

  “Not yet.”

  I didn’t want to gloat that asking for Sheila’s help was the right decision. Maryah wasn’t improving at all, so she was no closer to helping us locate Gregory and I doubted she ever would be. I knew I had done the right thing.

  “Go on in.” Louise patted fresh soil around the fuchsia flowers. “Amber and Mikey are here too. Anthony and Dylan ran out to get pizza.”

  Louise and I had been keeping our distance from each other. I expected that wouldn’t change until Sheila crossed over. I almost defended my reasoning again so she’d stop giving me the cold shoulder, but Louise had an impenetrable air about her when she didn’t agree with someone. We had silently agreed to disagree on this issue.

  I entered the house and found Maryah in the living room with Mikey. A blue and yellow quilt was spread out on the floor under them. Mikey wriggled around on his back, kicking and cooing while Maryah lay on her stomach watching him. Eightball snored at her side. None of them seemed to notice me come in.

  “You’re staring at him like he’s an alien.”

  Her head snapped up. “What? Oh, I don’t think he’s an alien. He’s just fascinating to watch.”

  I smirked, wondering if she had opinions on aliens, but I didn’t have the time or patience to get into a conversation that extensive. “Babies don’t do much at that age. He’ll be much more fun in a couple months. Even more fun in a couple years.”

  She nodded and placed her finger in his bouncing hand. “I’m trying to predict what his gift will be.”

  “We’ve got at least three years until we find out. Spend your time more wisely. Where’s Nate?”

  “Right here.” He strode into the living room carrying a plate of sliced apples. “Apple?”

  “No thanks. Is this what you two do all day? Sit around snacking and playing with Mikey?”

  Nathan bit into an apple slice while grinning. “No, a good majority of the day we make out.”

  I groaned and rolled my eyes. He winked at Maryah and she smiled. I almost choked on all the love and happiness clouding up the room. I shrugged my bag off my shoulder and collapsed onto the couch. I hadn’t been sleeping much at night and it was catching up to me.

  Maryah was looking up at me when Mikey grabbed a chunk of her hair and yanked her toward him. She squirmed out of his grip right into the path of his kicking feet.

  “Ow! He just nailed me in the mouth with his foot!”

  “Maryah,” I chafed. “Do you even know what getting nailed means?”

  She sat up, keeping a safe distance from Mikey’s bouncing limbs. “Punched.”

  “My, how time has a way of changing a word’s meaning.” I glanced at Nate and we both smirked.

  “So what’s it mean?” she asked.

  I waved my open palm at Nate. “Clearly this is one story from your past you haven’t told her yet.”

  Maryah turned to Nate questioningly.

  “Really?” He glared at me. “Of all the feel-good stories to choose from, you want me to tell her about a gruesome one?”

  “I can’t help it.” I clasped my hands together and scrunched my shoulders. “It’s one of my favorites.”

  Nate shook an apple slice at me. “You, my dear, are demented.”

  I kicked my boots up onto the coffee table, crossing my ankles and getting comfortable. Eightball stirred awake. I locked my focus on Maryah. I didn’t want to miss any of her reactions.

  Nate sighed. “I was nailed once long ago. Once was enough to know I did not want to experience it again.”

  “Nailed?” Maryah repeated. “I’m guessing you don’t mean punched or kicked.”

  I resisted rolling my eyes.

  “Far from it,” Nate continued. “Several lifetimes ago, crimes were accused based on opinion and interpretation and punishment was very uncouth.”

  “Uncouth.” I snickered. “Try savage.”

  “Times were much different back then,” Nate said, putting it mildly.

  Maryah’s back slowly straightened. “Oh no. Please don’t tell me you were nailed to a cross like Jesus.”

  “Not quite.”

  “Wasn’t the pillory shaped like a cross?” I asked, half instigating and half genuinely curious.

  Nate pointed at me. “Be quiet and bask in the sick amusement you’re gaining by making me tell this story.”


  “Fair enough.” I held up my hands. “Toss me an apple slice.”

  “What’s a pillory?” Maryah asked.

  “It was a deplorable device where people were publicly punished,” Nate explained. “And yes, the wood beams were in the shape of a cross, but don’t picture all the images you’ve seen of Jesus being crucified because it was nothing like that.”

  “Yes,” I agreed. “Jesus didn’t have his head and arms clamped into holes so he couldn’t move.”

  “Oh!” Maryah said, a little too perkily. “I’ve seen one of those at Disney World. Mikey and I stuck our heads and hands in it and had our picture taken.”

  I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

  “What?” Maryah asked snidely.

  “Did you experience déjà vu while you were in the pillory at Disney World?”

  “No.” Maryah squinted. “Why?”

  “Harmony, may I continue?” Irritation bubbled in Nate’s voice.

  I waved my half eaten slice of apple. “Please do.”

  All I could think about was how much I’d enjoy telling Carson about this conversation. Mikey had fallen asleep and Eightball stretched out beside him and did the same.

  Nate sat on the sofa near Maryah. “Do you want the long delicate version, or do you want me to give it to you in one quick punch?”

  Maryah hugged her knees to her chest. “Quick.”

  Nate leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “In the late 1600s, you had a dear friend whom you believed you could trust with our secret. She told the wrong people about it. You were accused of witchcraft and found guilty. I was punished for being an accomplice and listening to your gossip.”

  Maryah’s eyes were wide as wide could be. “We were burned at the stake?”

  “No.”

  I snorted. “That would have been a lot easier.”

  Nate ignored me and continued. “You were brank’s bridled.”

  “As if I know what that means,” Maryah said.

  Nate stayed quiet. I could tell he didn’t want to tell her any more.

  “Come on,” I encouraged Nate. “Tell her the rest and stun her into silence.”

  Nate glared at me. “You are demented and cruel. You do know that, right?”

  I shrugged.

  He took a deep breath and crawled onto the floor, almost sitting against Maryah’s legs. “Back then, they had a heinous contraption which resembled an iron cage that went over your head. A heavy spiked iron bit went into your mouth as a gag so you couldn’t speak or swallow.”

  She stuck her tongue out and quickly retracted it, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh, good god!”

  I had been wrong. Now Maryah’s eyes were as wide as wide could be. They darted between Nate and me. “Is this a joke?”

  “It gets better,” I said. “Nate was sentenced to parade you around town on a chain while the bridle was on your head so your neighbors and so-called friends could beat you, throw rotten food at you, and verbally abuse you as part of your punishment.”

  She gasped. “What?”

  “I refused,” Nate said grimly. “I would never do such a thing.”

  “Even though they warned him of the consequences of his refusal,” I added.

  Maryah’s voice shook. “What consequences?”

  “Our punishment was the pillory together, in the town square on public display,” Nate explained. “To make an example of me, and to warn others not to listen to your malicious gossip.” He winked at her. “Nails were driven through my ear and I was pinned to the wood beam.”

  I shouldn’t have been entertained by Maryah’s mouth hanging wide open and her face scrunched up with wrinkles of repulsion, but I couldn’t help it. This was good stuff. People nowadays didn’t appreciate how civilized our society was. Humans were lucky to be able to erase memories of their past. Some of it was too terrible to think about.

  “That’s so...barbaric.” Maryah squeaked.

  “They were kind enough to offer him options,” I added. “He would have been pinned there for two days with no food or water, but he chose option two.”

  “Option two?” Maryah said almost inaudibly.

  Nate touched her pale cheek. “That’s all you need to know. It was long ago and isn’t important.”

  Maryah was subtly swaying and paler than usual. “Tell me.”

  Nate shook his head. “Just be glad crimes are handled differently now.”

  I honestly didn’t mean to speak. The words came out of me with no conscious effort. “He ripped himself free.”

  Maryah shuddered and gagged.

  “Harmony!” Nate hissed.

  “Sorry. I don’t know what happened. I was only thinking it but the words slipped out.”

  Maryah stammered through her disgusted shock. “You...ripped yourself free from...nails...in your ear?”

  “Pain is temporary.”

  “Why didn’t you traverse?”

  “That might not have boded well for our defense against not practicing witchcraft.”

  “Right,” Maryah muttered.

  Nate pursed his lips and sighed. “We had many more good times than bad. Keep that in mind.”

  She silently stared at her hands in her lap as she took some strained breaths. “That happened because of me. My big mouth got us punished.” She looked up at Nate. “You didn’t even do anything wrong.”

  He held her hands against his chest. “None of that is important anymore. It’s in the distant past.”

  “There is one importance to it all,” I reminded him.

  Through gritted teeth he said, “Not now, Harmony.”

  Maryah looked at me. “What? Tell me.”

  Nathan closed his eyes and dropped his head.

  She needed to know. How would she ever make progress if we kept her in the dark about some of the most influential parts of her past? Nate would be angry at first, but he would forgive me when he realized it served a greater purpose. I wasn’t telling her to be unkind. I was telling her because it mattered.

  “The woman you told,” I began. “She married a prominent and successful inventor several years later. And because she was obsessed with your dirty little secret, she of course shared that information with her husband. Her husband believed in witchcraft. He believed it could make him more successful and powerful. And he has been obsessed with you and our kindrily ever since.”

  Maryah’s eyes were glassy. She sat there quietly staring at me. Layer upon layer of realization, guilt, and regret, piled on top of one another. I could see it all building inside of her until it spilled out and rolled down her face in the form of tears. “Dedrick.”

  Nate wiped a tear from her cheek. “We all make mistakes.”

  “The Nefariouns,” Maryah whispered. “The massacre, all the people they’ve hurt and killed. All of it. It all started because of me.”

  I stood up and left them to finish the discussion in private.

  My work was done—for the time being.

  ∞

  My intention for sucker-punching Maryah with the biggest mistake of her past was to spark some genuine and intense emotion so her guilt would spring her into action. Logical progression of thought would be that she’d realize her mistake caused the initial connection to Dedrick and everything that followed was partly—mostly—her fault. She’d follow the line of progression to this lifetime where Gregory was missing and she’d be more motivated to find him. To make things right. Sure, it would be out of guilty obligation, but that was good enough for me.

  My plan never had time to work. Sheila succeeded with her mission.

  I darted down the hall as quietly as possible then shook Faith awake. “Round-table meeting. Now.”

  “Right.” Faith rubbed her eyes and slid out of bed. She headed toward the bathroom but stopped when she was awake enough to wonder what the meeting might be about. She turned around. “Gregory?”

  I nodded.

  That woke her up. “Get the car started. I’ll be
out in two minutes.”

  I ran my fingers over Dakota’s closed door. I wished he was an Element. I wished I could include him in our meetings and our adventures. But this one was dangerous, and I was relieved to know he’d be safe at home.

  I had already called Edgar and Anthony while waiting for Faith to come outside. I was just hanging up with Dylan when she climbed into the car, already dialing Shiloh. “Sorry to wake you, babe, but round-table meeting pronto. It’s about Gregory.”

  As I backed out of the driveway, the car was so quiet I heard Shiloh say, “Okay. See you soon. Love you.”

  “Love you more.” Faith hung up and looked at me. “Spill it.”

  I focused ahead on the empty road. “Sheila located the Nefariouns in—”

  “Sheila?” Faith’s mouth fell open. “You didn’t.”

  “I did.”

  “Ooooh,” Faith said in her best Ricky Ricardo imitation, “Lucyyy, ju got a lot of splainin’ to do.”

  I took a deep breath. “I am well aware of that.”

  ∞

  What felt like an eternity later—even though it was only several minutes—all members were seated at the table. All but Gregory.

  My hand rested on his empty seat beside me out of habit. “Dedrick is in Calgary and Gregory is with him. How long will it take to have the plane ready?”

  Louise sat up straight. Anthony didn’t budge as he said, “Just under an hour if we rush it.”

  “Let’s go.” I pushed my chair back and stood.

  “Wait.” Edgar glanced at Louise, seeing that she wasn’t aware of the news and she had been the one working on tracking him down. “How did you find out about this?”

  Louise didn’t look up at me. I was on my own to explain.

  “You can scold me and give me an ear full when I get back, but I don’t have time for it right now, so I don’t want to hear one word from anyone. I asked Sheila to find him and she did.”

  Edgar's and Anthony’s brows both shot up. Helen folded her hands in front of her. Dylan and Amber exchanged disappointed glances. I didn’t have time to see Maryah and Nate’s expression because Krista jumped to her feet and slammed her palms against the table.

  “You what?”

 
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