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Taking back forever, p.8
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       Taking Back Forever, p.8

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  I had stopped chewing my food. I swallowed it down in one big gulp. “So you're saying you feel like you're trapped in a cage?”

  “No.” She sighed. “Gregory is trapped in that cage. I have no idea where the cage is or who holds the key to unlock it, but I will find him. And I will fight to the death against any vulture, rat, or coyote that comes between us.”

  Nathan stood behind Harmony and gripped her shoulder. “Just give us a bit more time. Maryah will be able to help you find him. I'm certain of it.”

  I nodded, even though I wasn't as confident as Nathan. Plus, I was terrified of what we might find if and when I did locate Gregory.

  Harmony stood and walked toward the door. “Each day that passes I know I'm one day closer to losing him forever. I can't wait any longer. I have to find him. And when I do, even if he is corrupted, even if he is no longer pure and good, I will love him and bring him back. Because as science has proven, the heart remembers.” She slid her sunglasses on and smiled at me. “And you proved that the soul never forgets.”

  But apparently a soul could forget, because there was so much I couldn’t remember.

  “Good luck,” I told Harmony. But secretly I was hoping she wouldn’t find them. I was hoping she didn’t go anywhere near the Nefariouns. I had seen firsthand what cold and ruthless killers they were.

  “I don’t need luck. I have love.” She opened the door and called over her shoulder, “See ya in a couple days.”

  Nathan stared at the empty space she left. “I was hoping she might have changed her mind after sleeping on it.”

  “I tried talking her out of it,” Faith said, “but you know Harmony.”

  “I’m surprised we kept her restrained for this long,” Nathan said. “It will be fine. I’ll look after her.”

  “You’re going with her?” I asked.

  “Yes, but I’ll check in a few times a day.”

  As much as I wanted Nathan here with me, I wanted him to help Harmony even more. The thought of her running into the Nefariouns made the hairs on my arms rise. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”

  “Always.”

  I glanced around, feeling the urge to do a safety tally on all kindrily members. “Where’s Krista?”

  “She’s in the laboratory with the mad scientist,” Shiloh said. “Carson is doing a test run on her.”

  “Test run?” I asked protectively.

  Just then Krista and Carson appeared from the hallway to the other wing of the house.

  Krista looked up at me. “Oh, Pudding, wait ‘til you go in there! It’s amazing!”

  “Go in where?” I asked with confusion.

  “Carson’s sensperience room.”

  “Did it work?” Faith asked eagerly.

  Krista nodded. “Yes. I could only do it for a few minutes, but now that I understand, my practicing will be much more productive.”

  Faith twirled around holding a spoon above her head. “Carson, you’re a stellar genius.”

  “Maryah, prepare to have your mind blown.” Shiloh waved his spread fingers around his long braids.

  Carson nudged my elbow. “You ready to see life in a whole new way?”

  I set down my cereal bowl. Mind blowing took precedence over my growling stomach. “My feeble mind has never been more willing.”

  Nathan held my hand as we followed Carson to the game room, but when we got to the double doors, Carson paused. “Bro, you can’t go in with her.”

  Nathan didn’t verbally respond, but his eyes said something because Carson stammered. “Try to understand—it’ll be—she can’t have—”

  “Spit it out, Carson,” I said.

  “You’ll be distracted.” Carson explained to me. “Think about it, you're newly lovestruck right now. Nathan stands within a foot of you and you get all googly-eyed and can’t think straight. I need your mind to be focused.”

  Nathan watched me throughout Carson’s embarrassing speech. He smiled when my cheeks flushed. “He’s right. You’ll have to explore the heavens alone for now.”

  Any activity that involved the words exploring or heavens should involve Nathan, but this experiment was in the supposedly genius hands of Carson.

  “I’ll let you blindfold her,” Carson said.

  “What!” I swatted at the scarf Carson handed Nathan. “Why do I need to be blindfolded?”

  “Just trust me,” Carson whined.

  Nathan had an overly pleased look on his face as he waved the silk scarf in front of me. I shook my head, but turned my back to him so he could tie it around my head. The door in front of us clicked open and Carson guided me blindly into who-knows-what.

  Carson sat me down in what felt like a floating chair. My feet weren’t touching the floor, and I bobbed up and down whenever I moved. “What am I sitting on?”

  “Don’t ask questions, and don’t analyze everything after I take the blindfold off. Let your mind remain open. Okay?”

  “Okayyy,” I said hesitantly.

  The blindfold fell away and I opened my eyes. It looked like the inside of Space Mountain at Disney World. The game room had been transformed into an expansive night sky. Stars floated around me: in front of me, above me, below me, literally all around me. Carson had created a 3-D planetarium.

  “You did all of this overnight?”

  “Pshh, it was nothing. You ready to start?” Carson’s voice came from speakers somewhere above me, but physically he had disappeared.

  I chuckled gazing around at the starry sky surrounding me. “Are you playing the role of God?”

  “No, I’m coaching you through this. If anything freaks you out say racecar, and I’ll stop.”

  “Racecar?”

  “It’s a safety word if things get too weird for you.”

  “Gotcha.”

  “From here on out don’t talk unless it’s to say your safety word. Now, relax your eyes and try to clear your head.”

  My chair started moving. I gripped the sides of its rounded edges. I was sure the floor was only inches away, but through the illusion of the darkness it felt like I’d fall for miles into the star-filled space.

  “Relax, Maryah. Forget about your body and focus on the stars.”

  An illuminated blue and green sphere whizzed by me, getting smaller as it moved farther away. When it came to rest I saw it was Earth.

  “Imagine you’re no longer human.” Carson’s voice was in surround sound. “You’re part of the heavens. You’re able to see more, understand more, and experience more.”

  A subtle electrical current buzzed against me. I flinched but Carson continued.

  “You’re pure aether, light, and energy. Because you’re a supernal being, you see the stars differently.” I grinned, amused by Carson acting so serious and wise. He was even speaking in a deeper voice than usual.

  The stars closest to me grew brighter. Hundreds of smaller stars emerged near and far. The chair continued vibrating and I wondered what Carson used to create the buzzing bees feeling.

  Don’t try to figure out how it works, I reminded myself. I refocused on the stars pulsating in different levels of brightness.

  “Look deeper and wider. Expand your expectations of how infinite the sky is. See that a star has many dimensions. It’s a living, intricately woven energy field. Now, truly look. Go further. Expect to see more.”

  For a few seconds several of the stars opened up like petals of a flower, exposing oscillating beams and three-dimensional—no, four-dimensional—shapes of light. Every side of the star was visible even though I was looking at it from only one angle. It was incredible, like the shapes and colors I saw in Nathan’s eyes the night at Montezuma Well.

  Carson’s voice faded away. The stars turned into bright blue four dimensional shapes. The darkness lifted, and white light surrounded me. I watched the floating shapes morph like shimmery orbs of water. A turquoise bubble floated below me. My body had disappeared. The sound of waves crashing on a shore rumbled in my ears as more bubbles swirled ar
ound me, each of them mutating into peacock feathers.

  Thousands of peacock feathers fell like rain all around me. One silver streak of lightening cut through the pearly sky, its sharp and crooked line pointed to a single feather suspended in air as the rest fell around it. The feather spun in a straight path until it stopped in front of me. When I reached out to touch it the roaring waves grew louder. Each of the feather’s barbs slowly turned to black as if being painted by an invisible brush.

  The black feather grew bigger and wider until it filled the entire sky with darkness. The roaring stopped. A breath blew strong in my ear, like someone had blown out a candle.

  Black silent stillness surrounded me. A raven cawed.

  “Maryah, you’re not supposed to fall asleep.” Carson shook my shoulders.

  My eyes flung open. I leapt from my chair and ran out of the room, tripping over a wire or cord but staying on my feet as I stumbled to the door. I flung the door open and squinted at the blinding light pouring in the windows.

  Nathan, Krista, Shiloh, and Faith were gathered outside the door. I shouldered past them and ran through the living room, out the back door, and through the garden, the entire time chanting, no, no, no in my mind.

  I threw open the front door to Helen and Edgar’s cottage. “Where’s Sheila?”

  SAYING GOODBYE

  Maryah

  It all happened in ultra-slow motion.

  Edgar rose from the sofa, but my feet were rooted in place. Every step he took toward me sounded hollow and amplified. Every breath I struggled to breathe sounded like a steam engine inside my head. He took off his glasses but I focused on his mouth. The two words he spoke stretched from his lips to eternity. “She’s gone.”

  “No.” My voice rumbled through me so deeply it didn’t even sound like me. I would have fallen to my knees, but Nathan was behind me, holding me up. “No!”

  Krista pushed past me. When she reached the living room and looked down at the sofa she did fall to her knees. She made that involuntary sound people make when they find out a loved one is dead: the pure sound of human agony reverberating off the walls, seeping through skin, rattling bones, and etching permanent cracks in souls.

  It’s the sound I made when I woke up in the hospital and learned my parents and Mikey were dead. The sound I was making again, inside of myself.

  The room spun. My head fell back and Nathan turned me around, hugging me tight to him. He lifted me up, carrying me into the living room and stopping beside the sofa. At first I refused to look. If I didn’t see her dead then I could live in denial. But that hadn’t worked for me with my parents. I knew I had to face the truth, so I forced myself to turn in the direction of Krista’s sobs.

  Sheila lay there, stretched out on the sofa, her hands folded across her stomach. Krista pressed her forehead to Sheila’s, whispering things I couldn’t hear. I buried my face in Nathan’s shoulder, clutching his t-shirt as if holding onto him meant holding onto Sheila too.

  He pressed his lips to my ear and said, “I’m so sorry, my love.”

  “Stop, Krista,” Edgar said. “We forbid it.”

  I turned my head to see why he sounded so stern.

  “She’s my sister!” Krista shouted.

  “It was her time,” Helen said calmly, struggling to keep Krista’s face cradled in her hands. “You can’t bring her back this time.”

  “I can and I will,” Krista argued, trying to pull away from Helen.

  I wriggled down out of Nathan’s arms and knelt beside Krista. “Kris, no.”

  “You don’t understand.”

  “I do.” I held her hand. “I do understand, but you can’t give up your life for her again.”

  She wiped her eyes. “I’ll give up my life as many times as it takes.”

  “No, Kris. We already agreed on this.”

  “She’s ninety-nine.” Louise stroked Krista’s back. “She wouldn’t last more than a few years at most, even if you did bring her back. It serves no long-term purpose, Krista. I know this is hard, but you have to let her go. She was ready. She was at peace with it.”

  Krista’s bottom lip quivered. She laid her head on Sheila’s chest. “Don’t go yet. We didn’t say goodbye.”

  So many bodies had crowded into Helen and Edgar’s cottage and surrounded Sheila. Louise, Anthony, Faith, Shiloh, me, Nathan, Krista, and in the doorway stood Carson, watching from afar.

  “It’s Sheila’s time to pass through the unseen curtain,” Louise said.

  Faith sniffled. “I’ll call Harmony and tell her to come back so we can all say our goodbyes.”

  My heart leapt in my chest. I had forgotten about Harmony’s ability. She could still communicate with Sheila’s spirit.

  I had one last chance to convince Sheila not to erase. One chance to tell her Carson’s sensperience room worked and I could astral travel. One last chance to lie and make her believe me.

  ∞

  Everyone else waited outside as each kindrily member took their turn saying goodbye. I was second to last. I’d had a long time to plan something convincing to say. It wasn’t long enough.

  Harmony’s dark eyes stared at me, unblinking, until finally I said, “Tell her I can astral travel.”

  “But you can’t.”

  “Carson created a sensperience training room and I saw stars in four dimensions and it’s going to help me astral travel.”

  Harmony’s gaze didn’t so much as flicker from me.

  I glanced at Sheila’s body, which still looked so alive. It was hard to believe her spirit was hovering somewhere else in the room.

  “I will do it,” I vowed. “I’ll learn to control my ability and I will find her.”

  “Why are you telling me? She can hear you. Talk to her.”

  I rubbed my lips together. They were drier than the desert outside the cottage. I stared at the empty space beside Harmony. “Sheila, please have faith in me. I will find you. I will train harder. I memorized your eyes, I know I’ll be able to find you. Just please, don’t erase. If you won’t do it for me, do it for Krista.”

  The room was so quiet I could hear Harmony breathing. She inhaled and exhaled three times before speaking. “Do you know what letterboxing is?”

  “What?”

  “Letterboxing,” Harmony repeated.

  I shook my head.

  “Ask Nate to explain what it is in detail, but it’s an old-fashioned treasure hunt of sorts. You got Sheila into it when she was a child. It was one of her favorite hobbies. You two kept a journal of all the boxes you found. She wants to be sure you keep the journal. Visit any of the places that seem familiar. Maybe it will help spark some old memories.”

  “What has this got to do with her erasing or retaining?”

  Harmony smirked. “Nothing. She doesn’t want to discuss that anymore.”

  I took a deep breath, feeling anxious and frustrated. “I don’t know how this works,” I admitted. “I don’t know what to say.”

  “Say what’s in your heart.”

  “What’s in my heart is that Sheila shouldn’t and can’t erase, but she won’t discuss it.”

  “Then say what else is in your heart.”

  I twirled my ring. Final words should be poetic and meaningful, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that felt appropriate or important enough, so I just stammered whatever came to mind. “I love you, Sheila. Technically, I don’t remember our past, which means we just met a week ago, and to some it might seem impossible for me to love someone I’ve only known for a week, but my soul loves you. I feel that and I know we’re connected.” I kept my focus on my ring. It was easier to talk without looking at Harmony. “And I really hope you don’t erase because if you do, I’ll be devastated, so will Krista, and probably the rest of the kindrily too, and then, even if they won’t admit it, deep down everyone will blame me and resent me for erasing and not being able to keep you connected to us. And trust me, I feel horrible that I’ve screwed everything up so badly. I know asking you
to take a chance on me and my abilities is asking a lot, but...” I rubbed the back of my neck. A headache pinched the base of my skull. “But I want to make things right and on some deeper level I know keeping you with us is a major key in making things right again. If you leave us forever then it’s not going to work. I don’t even know what it is, whether I mean my memories coming back, or my power, or what, but I know it’s something big, and you need to be with me—with us—for it to be right.”

  I inhaled shakily. Where the heck did all of that come from? I raised my eyes and swallowed.

  Harmony was still staring at me, but her lips were parted and her forehead was wrinkled. She didn’t say anything, which made me squirm in my seat. The tense silence and Sheila’s lifeless body an arm’s reach away from me was too much for me to take. “I love you, Sheila.” I stood up. “I’ll love you forever no matter what. That’s what it all comes down to.”

  Harmony nodded, still looking at a loss for words, which was weird for Harmony. “She said she loves you too.”

  “Goodbye,” I whispered to Sheila’s body, and then I walked to the door.

  I should have said more. I wanted to say more, but only blank words swirled around my empty canvas mind. “Krista wanted to go last. I’ll send her in.”

  ONE LAST TRY

  Harmony

  Final goodbyes always took a long time. At least our kindrily were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to say goodbye after someone departed our world.

  Most people assumed they’d have more time to do things, say things—especially when it came to relationships with loved ones. Everyone thinks they're invincible, everyone assumes they have more time, until death shows up, and then all the unsaid stuff comes gushing out.

 
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