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Taking back forever, p.9
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       Taking Back Forever, p.9

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  What amazed me was Sheila told us she was dying this week, yet still, conversations were put off. Things were left unsaid. We might be Elements, but some of us were most certainly still wasteful humans. Time waits for no one.

  I thought I’d tap a hole through my boot waiting for Krista and Sheila to finish their farewells to each other. Normally, I wouldn’t be so impatient while playing medium, but I had serious business to discuss with Sheila on my own behalf.

  Normally, it was spirits asking me for help. Now, the shoe was on the opposite foot. I wasn’t a big fan of asking anyone for help, but given my current predicament, I had no choice. Maryah’s rant about how it wouldn’t work unless Sheila was with us may not have been clear to her, but I knew exactly what it meant.

  Sheila was my key to finding Gregory.

  I wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, but my hunch about Damanhur wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. It was more like a wild goose chase. New circumstances meant a new opportunity, and I planned to embrace it.

  I relayed messages between Krista and Sheila absentmindedly. If someone asked me what their final words were to each other, I couldn’t say because my mind was somewhere else. Which was probably for the best anyway—almost all final goodbyes are very emotional and personal. It’s why I was a big advocate for expressing feelings while both parties were still alive. Once a third party like me was brought in some feelings and sentiments were lost in translation.

  “Any final words you’d like to say?” I asked Krista when their conversation became redundant.

  Krista brought her hands up to her mouth in a prayer position. “This doesn’t have to be the end, Sheila. Trust in Maryah. She has never let us down in the past.”

  “She said she loves you, Krista. And now she must go because the stars are waiting for her.”

  Krista sobbed. Tears spilled down her cheeks. While Krista was hunched over Sheila’s body, hugging her, I held up my hand, asking Sheila’s spirit to wait a minute.

  Krista didn’t walk out of the room like the other members. She said she couldn’t. Even though Sheila’s soul was no longer in her body, Krista sat beside her on the sofa, holding Sheila’s hand as if the physical connection might keep Sheila with us. It wouldn’t.

  “I’ll be outside,” I quietly said to Krista, but as far as Krista was concerned, I had left the room a long time ago. All that existed for her at that moment was grief. She was being swallowed by the huge hole left in the world by Sheila’s departure. I had been there. I knew how lonely that hole could be—no matter how many people were in it with you.

  I tilted my head and motioned at the door. After embracing Krista with her energy one final time, Sheila’s spirit followed me out.

  “Is she okay?” Maryah asked.

  “You should probably go in and be with her,” I said. “Grief is lonely enough without having to suffer it alone.”

  Maryah dashed inside. I said goodbye to everyone else as they sat on the deck and did what they always did when a loved one passed. They told stories about their best memories of that person. And because it was Sheila they were discussing, they’d be there all day and night. Maybe all week.

  I walked up the garden path and into the garage. Sheila’s spirit followed and I shut the door behind us so no one would overhear me.

  “I’ve never asked this of anyone before,” I began, “but I’m begging you, please, don’t cross over yet. I desperately need your help.” She asked what I needed from her and I answered honestly. “To search for the Nefariouns and tell me where I can find Gregory.”

  She was quiet for a long time.

  “I know it’s a lot to ask,” I said. “I’m sure you’re ready to see what the Higher Realm is like, but you’re the only hope I have right now.”

  ∞

  Louise called me later that afternoon.

  I couldn’t answer fast enough. “A new lead?”

  “Nooo,” she drew out the word in that authoritative tone of hers. “Do you have a new lead?”

  “Me? What lead would I have? I didn’t go to Damanhur because of Sheila’s passing.” I pulled the phone away from my face so she couldn’t hear me swallow hard. It wasn’t a complete lie, just a manipulation of the truth.

  “Maybe lead isn’t the right word. How about a new source? Or spy?”

  I stayed quiet because I knew I was busted.

  “Sheila lived a long and sometimes very difficult life, Harmony. She deserves to transition to the Higher Realm quickly.”

  “I know that,” I offered meekly.

  “So then please tell me you weren’t sneaking off with her spirit today to ask her to stay in limbo and help with our search for Gregory.”

  Silence.

  “Harmony,” Louise hissed.

  “I was desperate.”

  “You were selfish.”

  “It’s to help Gregory. How is that selfish?”

  “I won’t waste my breath answering a question you already know the answer to.”

  I sighed. “How did you even know she followed me? You can’t see spirits.”

  Louise’s bracelets clanged together. I could picture her on the other end of the line, rubbing her forehead. She was deep in thought. “You’re right. I’ve never been able to see spirits. But I could see Sheila’s aura today just as clear as I see the auras of living souls.”

  “What?” I gasped. “How is that possible?”

  “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

  More bracelets clinking together. “Stop it, Louise, or you’ll rub a hole through your forehead.”

  “I can’t help it. This one has me stumped.” She paused. “But don’t change the subject. Sending Sheila’s spirit to search for Dedrick is unfair to her. She was at peace with her death. She’s not tethered to anyone or anyplace. What if she gets lost or disoriented and ends up stuck in limbo?”

  “I won’t let that happen. I’ll guide her through crossing over if it comes to that.”

  “What if she loses track of us and we never hear from her again? We might not even know that she’s still spiritually shackled to this world. She’s not an Element. We’ll never know where or when she returns for her next life. You have put her soul in jeopardy, Harmony.”

  “What about Gregory’s soul? Maryah can’t find him. You can’t find him. All your connections haven’t found even a weak lead since the London encounter. What else was I supposed to do? Just sit around twiddling my thumbs and aimlessly searching the world while Gregory is being controlled like a demonic puppet by Dedrick?”

  Louise sighed. It was her turn to be silent.

  “I wouldn’t have asked Sheila for help if I didn’t know she could handle it. She’ll check in with me every night.”

  “So she agreed to do it?”

  “Of course she agreed. She’s Sheila.”

  Louise’s worry practically buzzed through the phone. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

  “It will be okay.”

  “I hope so—for your sake. Against my better judgment, I’m waiting to tell Krista about this. Only because I don’t think she’s strong enough emotionally to handle it right now.”

  I didn’t want to imagine what might happen if Krista found out I had put Sheila’s soul at risk. “And please don’t tell Maryah either. She’ll tell Krista.”

  As much as I tried convincing myself it was only Krista’s wrath I didn’t want to deal with, the truth was I had sensed Mary’s fierce loyalty bubbling beneath Maryah’s weak surface today. Maryah I could easily handle, but Mary had been the only soul who ever intimidated me. And by some miracle, if Maryah remembered her past and Mary’s strong will and determination returned, I did not want to be on her bad side.

  FINISH LINES

  Maryah

  I curled into a ball on my bed, quietly sobbing into my pillow. I was sure Krista was down the hall in her room doing the same.

  In a previous life, Sheila had been my adopted daughter. Some part of my soul must have retained
memory of that love because I felt as if a part of me had been ripped away. Though all I had to remember was an image of an elderly and saintly woman who could have easily been a great grandmother to me.

  So frail, so delicate, yet she depended on me to reunite her with the supernatural family who loved her. She pretended she had no fear of death when in reality, we all knew she was scared of the choice that awaited her in the Higher Realm—torn between erasing or retaining.

  “Please make the right decision,” I whispered into my pillow. “Please, Sheila.”

  I closed my eyes and imagined what the Higher Realm might be like. I envisioned a lot of puffy clouds and bright light, even pearly gates—as if my imagination could have been any more cliché. The rest of the kindrily knew what the Higher Realm was like. They had been there. They remembered being there. I envied them because of that. I envied them for so many reasons I had lost count.

  Not even a whole year had passed since I lost my parents and Mikey. Well, before Mikey had come back. And now Sheila was gone. It was too much. Death was an unfair, merciless bastard.

  Eightball whimpered from his dog bed on the floor. He waved one paw at me and whimpered again so I leaned down and scooped him up. His nubby tail wagged as he licked my face and nuzzled against the pillow with me.

  “I’m sad,” I told him.

  He stared at me, his little bottom teeth showing because of his bulldog underbite.

  “You’re probably sad too, huh?” I sniffed. “Sheila liked you a lot.”

  His ears perked up and he licked my chin.

  “We’ll snuggle and be sad together.” I scooted closer to his wrinkled face and petted him. He sighed and together, with our frowning faces less than an inch from each other, we fell asleep.

  Sometime later, someone knocked on the door, but I didn’t answer or turn around. The door creaked open and footsteps approached the bed. Nathan’s strong hand rubbed my shoulder.

  “Come with me,” he said.

  Eightball grunted and covered his eye with his paw.

  I felt like doing the same thing. “We want to stay in bed.”

  “I know that’s what you want to do, but I highly recommend you resist that desire and come with me.”

  I rolled over. “Where?”

  “It’s a surprise.”

  “Hardly seems like an occasion for surprises.”

  “We have our own traditional ways of mourning.”

  “I don’t want to sit around hearing about all the great times everyone had with Sheila. It just makes me feel worse about erasing.”

  He reached over me and rubbed Eightball’s ears. “I realized that, which is why I didn’t encourage you to stay and reminisce with us. This is something different.”

  I swallowed. I didn’t know if I could handle a viewing or a funeral. Saying goodbye through Harmony was hard enough. I believed Harmony was communicating with Sheila’s spirit, but I couldn’t hear her or see her for myself. And I couldn’t shake the image of her lifeless body on Edgar and Helen’s sofa.

  “Maybe later,” I said, turning away from him.

  He lifted Eightball off the bed and held him in his arms. “You are part of our kindrily, and you should participate in traditional activities because it may help reignite some memories—especially this one because you used to love it.”

  I sighed and threw back the covers. “Fine.”

  He stood and walked to the door, taking my snuggle buddy with him. “Wear something comfortable. Any color except black.”

  I suspected that whatever we were about to do wouldn’t be like any kind of funeral I’d ever experienced.

  ∞

  I climbed into Nathan’s passenger seat. The heavy thump of my door shutting ricocheted off the garage walls. Faith and Shiloh were in the backseat.

  “Ready?” Anthony asked from the driver's seat of his old Mustang. Louise waved at me from the passenger side.

  Nathan nodded at him.

  Anthony’s engine roared to life. Then Dylan’s. Amber was twisting in her seat, keeping an eye on Mikey in the back. Nathan flashed me a smile as he turned his key, and our car shook and rumbled. Carson's car roared to life a second later. I looked over at Krista who was riding shotgun with Carson. Harmony and Dakota were in the back of his car.

  And then just as methodically as their engines started, each Mustang pulled out of the garage and fell in line as if choreographed.

  “Where are we going?” I asked, eyeing the parade of Mustangs in front of us, and Carson’s behind us in my side-view mirror.

  “You’ll see,” Nathan replied.

  Faith shook my seat excitedly. “You’re gonna love it.”

  How could she be happy or excited at a time like this? Sheila had just passed away. Sheila wasn’t an Element. It’s not like she’d be back in nine months. Couldn’t they at least pretend to be sad for a day or two?

  We drove for fifteen minutes until we reached a clearing of dirt outside of town. In the middle of absolutely nothing sat weathered wood bleachers. Louise and Amber climbed out of the cars and walked toward them. Mikey’s carrier had a visor shielding him from the sun.

  “Should I go with them?” I asked Nathan.

  “And miss all the fun? Absolutely not.”

  “But you do need to let us out,” Faith told me. Nathan and I climbed out and pulled our seats forward to let Faith and Shiloh exit the car. Before we were back in our seats, Shiloh had jogged around to Dylan’s passenger side and hopped in.

  Harmony tapped on my window so I rolled it down. “You’re lucky I’m giving you my spot.” She slid her black sunglasses on before sauntering over to Anthony’s car and claiming his shotgun position.

  I looked at Nathan questioningly.

  “Harmony’s been my co-pilot for the past few years.”

  Dylan shouted to Carson through our open windows. “I see you’re sand-bagging it, little brother!”

  Carson glanced at Dakota in his backseat then lifted his chin confidently. “Even with the extra weight, I’ll still leave both of you in the dust.”

  Shiloh laughed from Dylan’s passenger seat. “Gentlemen, such trash talking! It’s so uncivilized.”

  Faith danced her way to the space between Dylan and Nathan’s car. She paced out about ten feet, holding a bright flag that coordinated with her pink and white hair.

  Excitement crackled in the air as the four Mustangs revved their engines. Every driver and passenger grinned—except me. Why were we racing on such a tragic day?

  Faith lifted her flag into the air, its shimmering fabric rustling high above her head.

  Then, suddenly, Nathan shifted into park and vanished from beside me without saying a word. For a second I panicked, but he appeared beside Faith. He grabbed the flag from her hand, said something to her, then together they jogged back to the line of cars.

  “What are you doing?” Dylan yelled over the engines.

  Nathan gestured to shut off the cars. The deafening rumbling quieted as Nathan reached through his window and shut off his own engine. I jumped out, worried something was wrong with him. He rested his arms on the roof of his car and pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head. “Do you hear it?”

  We all glanced around, clueless.

  “Hear what?” Harmony yelled from Anthony’s passenger seat two cars down, but then her chin lifted and a grin flickered across her lips. “Ohh. I’ll be damned.”

  I was confused as I listened to the silence of the desert, but every other kindrily member eventually gazed off into the distance at some imaginary object. Then, finally, I did hear it; the faint rumbling of another engine.

  Nathan beamed as Edgar’s vintage red Mustang crested a hill. I glanced to my right and Carson was smiling almost as intensely as Nathan.

  “How in the world did you hear him coming?” I asked Nathan. He just shrugged and kept his focus on the horizon.

  Edgar’s old but pristine Mustang crept toward the line of cars, as if he purposefully took his time get
ting to us. But when he was only a few yards away, he fishtailed, coming to a perfectly aligned stop at the beginning of the line beside Anthony’s car.

  “Well, well, well,” Dylan said. “The old man decided to come out and play.”

  From the passenger seat, Helen fluffed her curly black hair.

  “A little fun now and then keeps us young.”

  “Woo hoo!” Nathan howled, clapping his hands together. “Now it’s a race!”

  He leapt into his driver’s seat, so I followed his lead. He kissed me on the cheek as he buckled his seatbelt, which amused me. If he needed to he could vanish out of a crashing car in under a second. Knowing I didn’t have such a reassuring liberty, I tugged securely on my own seatbelt. All the engines roared to life again. Louise and Amber stood on the bleachers, cheering and pumping their fists in the air.

  All eyes were locked on Faith as she bounced up and down, the colorful flag waving in the wind again, as one engine after another revved thunderously. Once she whisked the flag down, it was all a blur.

  My head flung back against the headrest, my hands instinctively gripped the “oh crap” handle, the wind rushed through the window so hard it felt like we were flying. There was no squealing of tires like I expected; it was one long smooth ultra-fast progression forward. I couldn’t turn my head—gravity wasn’t allowing it—but in my peripheral vision I could see a blur of white to my right and tropical blue to my left.

  Nathan’s hand reached between us, shifting as we catapulted into what felt like supersonic speed. I was shocked to hear myself screaming, but eventually I was calmed by the thrilled shouts coming from Nathan, who was demonstrating complete control of his impossibly fast car.

  Finally, but almost too soon, we came to a smooth stop. A cloud of thick reddish-brown dust billowed up around us, blinding my view of the other cars sliding to stops beside us.

  Nathan reached over and squeezed my thigh.

  “Did we win?” I asked breathlessly, trying to loosen my white knuckled grip on the handle above my head.

 
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