You’d think I’d feel something, my mother being dead. I don’t. I’m emotionally numb to her passing. From the moment Cherrie first uttered those two words, “she’s dead,” the ability to process my feelings without triggering severe panic attacks abandoned me. It didn’t help that my abundant stored life-force exploded from deep within and I blanked out and lost time. The next day, when I asked Cherrie who had destroyed my mom’s bedroom, she said I had gone insane, that I had torn the room apart looking for Dierdra. I had never seen such devastation; the bed lay broken, the mattress upended, her dresser split apart, mirror smashed, clothes thrown everywhere. Gaping holes in the wallboard indicated I had hurled things across the room. Even now, as I stand here in the open pit of snow while looking down on Dierdra’s coffin, I can barely wrap my head around my feelings and participate in the formality of laying my mother to rest.
I look up and purposely take in the scene, bit by bit, for I want to etch the particulars into my mind for future reference, should the SSRIs Dr. Oakly gave me to keep me from destroying everything around me, including myself, wear off.
There’s a dozen of us attendees, not counting the minister, who stand in formation around Dierdra’s coffin. Cherrie, of course, is here standing beside me, her lean directed toward me with intent of physical support and to affect a rescue should I slump to the ground. Ewald stands across from us. He has brought two friends—or they brought him—I guess, as Ewald can’t function on his own. Just when he found his soul mate, his goddess, she is ripped from him. Ewald’s friends hold him close, their arms laced under his armpits, propping him up like the ragdoll he has become. Principal Hertzog is here, too. Not, I suspect, because he feels personal pain for the loss of my mother, but as a show of support for me. He stands with my teachers, Joe Leach, (Art) Mr. Albom, (Spanish) Ms. Wroblewski (PE) Mr. Omes, (Biology) Mr. Mattingly (History) and Mrs. A. Carlisle-Steinberg, (Math) who, due to the limited space, stand outside the hollowed-out snowbank. They line the entrance to our ice room, as though they’re sentries posted to ward off evil spirits while we lay my mother to rest. Joining them is Officer Scheeler, looking sharply dressed in his Class A uniform. I see him, standing off to the side, looking away, an air of indifference pasted on his face.
One thing I vaguely remember is Officer Scheeler’s visit the morning after Cherrie informed me Dierdra was dead. He sat me down on the couch, the same way he did the day he questioned me on Louk Hollingsworth’s death.
“Miss Grant, I’m sorry for your loss,” were his opening words.
Without nudging or response from me, Officer Scheeler went on to inform me that Dierdra had died in a single vehicle accident while driving back home from Ashland. “The roads were slick. Iced up,” he said. But that was only part of why she lost control of the vehicle. According to other southbound drivers who were behind Dierdra, a driver had sped by them with reckless disregard. One of the witnesses testified that the driver—who she believed was drunk—had nearly sideswiped her car as he passed. As she followed him she wrote down his license number and dialed 911. In her conversation with the dispatcher she described the vehicle in question as weaving back and forth on the road. She was told by the dispatcher to drop back, to keep her distance, which she did.
“But,” Officer Scheeler said, “the witness remained close enough to see what happened next.”
I didn’t have to ask what that was; I already knew. But Officer Scheeler made it a point to pause to give me time to brace for what he was about to tell me.
“The witness,” he said, “saw the drunk driver pass and broadside your mother’s car.” Dierdra’s car broke into an uncontrolled spin. It was assumed Dierdra, in her panic, hit the brakes. All of this happened on a bridge where, due to surface exposure, a thick coat of rime ice had accumulated. Dierdra’s car, having spun completely around, broke through the guard rail facing backwards. It sailed off into the river, dropping thirty feet.
I don’t know why, but I felt I had a need to know, so I asked Scheeler; “Did she drown?”
“That hasn’t been determined yet. We’re waiting for the autopsy.”
Officer Scheeler went on to explain that the drunk driver’s car had been found right here in Shasta City, abandoned. The driver’s whereabouts were unknown, but Scheeler said, “We’ll get him. He couldn’t have gotten far.”
That was three days ago and now, as I stand here waiting to bury my mother and eyeballing Officer Scheeler, I wonder as to why he isn’t out there hunting down the murderer of my mother. Why is he wasting time attending the funeral of someone he barely knew? Why isn’t he pulling fingerprints off the car, identifying the drunkard who killed Dierdra, and kicking down his or her door? Why is he standing here, dressed as if on parade, displaying the apathetic look on his face as if my world hasn’t come to a screeching halt?
I wrestle to free myself from this downward spiraling thought-train by gazing beyond where my teachers are huddled. Behind them stand, in soldierly formation, the Sons and Daughters of Belial. Outside the shelter of the trees the wind is howling, but here, shielded within the canopy of the pine mini-forest that lines and dots the cemetery, the constricted wind merely pecks at the hems of the Belials’ trench coats. Having donned knitted ski caps, scarves, gloves, and ankle long trench coats, I can see the Belials have come prepared to weather any storm. Nani, standing front and center, is flanked by Jason and Dreadlocks while the rest of the clan, in order of hierarchy, stand in formation behind their leaders. I search the faces, but I don’t see Jessie Nurge. I wonder; Did he die from the inevitable blast cell burnout? Despite the overcast day, Nani’s face and stance projects vitality and radiance. I pause in my canvassing in an attempt to reconcile her perceived joy with my numbed gut of emotion.
As Nani stares back at me with her deceptive half-smile, I can only imagine what she sees. Like the Belials, I’m wearing a ski cap and the cloud-wave beanie Aaron gifted me. Dad’s black scarf lays cinched tight around my neck. Over three layers of clothing I wear a black Polyester coat, graciously donated to me by Carson Gruen.
What I remember as to acquiring the expensive coat is knowing Carson had walked up to our cabin’s door and, after being greeted by Cherrie, (who was acting as my gatekeeper) an offer had been made by Carson to let him know if there was anything he could do. Cherrie, knowing my limited wardrobe—not withstanding Nani’s purchases of lightweight, sexually provocative wear—informed Carson that I did not have the appropriate outer attire to attend Dierdra’s funeral given the weather conditions. Within hours, Carson sent over the coat along with the gloves and boots I’m wearing, no strings attached.
Cocooned in the coat, I’m generating excess heat, which percolates up my neck in an effort to escape. Dad’s black scarf lays cinched tight around my neck, effectively trapping my body heat. Dad’s musky smell—liberated from his yet-to-be washed scarf—strafes my nostrils with the putrid odor. It’s what I need, what I desire, to be lost within my dad’s scent, acrid as it is. For what else do I have now that both parents are gone, except what they’ve left behind?
Notably absent are the Delmons, any of my so-called friends from high-school, and any of my mother’s professional contacts. Glaringly absent is my mother’s sister. (I’ve never laid claim to her as being my aunt!) But I’m not surprised by her truancy given Francine, by choice, was the black sheep of my mother’s family. She never showed up for any of the family get-togethers or other functions while we lived in Minnesota. And, as far as I know, she never said word one to Dierdra when Simon died. Why should I expect her to travel clear across the United States and suddenly appear for Dierdra’s funeral? But I do feel bad for Dr. Oakly, who spent hours tracking Francine down to inform her of her sister’s death.
Tons of snow has fallen on Shasta City over the past few weeks. To find ground to dig, the grave-diggers removed a chunk of the six-foot snow bank, thus creating a snow-tomb of sorts. It took them days to chip out the dirt to form a hole in the frozen tundra. So here we stand, the attendees, surrounded by three walls of snow, seemingly in a coffin ourselves, listening to our minister, Nakai Winans, offer up the eulogy.
I remember Dierdra raving about this shaman she had met up in Ashland. In listening to Dierdra talk about Nakai Winans you would have thought the second coming of Christ had already occurred. “The woman is profoundly gifted,” Dierdra had said. “She’s smart, articulate, and, having obtained her Masters of Divinity from UC Berkeley, well-studied in comparative religions.” And then I guess in a feeble attempt to impress me, Dierdra went on to list those religions. Nakai had studied Christian and Jewish theology, as well as the mystical traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islamic Sufism. Having been enamored with the idea that she, too, could become a shaman, Dierdra had signed up for Nakai Winans’ psycho-spiritual training seminars.
When Ewald suggested that Minister Winans give the eulogy, I went along with the idea because, mostly, I didn’t have an alternative. Although I’m sure any one of Shasta City’s ministers would have volunteered their services.
I remember Dierdra saying that the shaman’s name, Nakai, is of Native American Navajo origin, so naturally I expected to see a Native American dressed in Native American attire, which isn’t the case. Gray haired with a sun-scorched wrinkled face, clouded eyes, and a soft but firm voice, Nakai could be anyone’s grandma. She’s dressed in a beaded suede wrap, which is trimmed in lavender and deep colored beads. The end of the wrap has been left raw on the ends, which gives it a rugged, individualistic look. Due to the frigid cold, one would expect Nakai to be wearing multiple layers of heavy clothing like the rest of us mere mortals. Her dress is more suitable for a balmy autumn day than a sub-zero winter afternoon, and yet she seems comfortable without headdress or a coat. I swear I see tiny beads of sweat gathering on her forehead. I’m left to wonder if Nakai is one of the chosen, a pure-blood Lemurian, who is being protected from the elements by a life-force shield. Nakai’s words refocus my attention.
“And as it says in Psalm sixty-one, verse two, from the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
From the moment I hear this verse, I’m confused as to whether Nakai is talking to me or counseling Dierdra. As my heart grows faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Is this about me? My heart has indeed grown weak. Having lost and lost again, my heart, for fear of being torn from its moorings, won’t love anymore. This I can bet. It’s gone cold, dark, barely trickling life through my veins. If I’m to be led, who will lead me to the rock that is higher than me? And what rock? I know of only one that fits the description; that being Mount Shasta. Am I to go there? Again? Is this where I will find wellbeing?
Or maybe I’m being called there to die, to end it all, for where is the reason to continue living? All that I’ve loved is gone. First Chuck dies, then Dad is forever lost on Mount Hood, then Aaron disappears below, and now Dierdra is killed in a car crash.
As much as I sometimes loathed my mom, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for her. What child wouldn’t feel a connection to their mother, no matter the parent’s shortcomings? I truly did love her, but I couldn’t know just how attached to her I was until she was gone forever. I ache to have her back, to sit at the dining room table, to exchange barbs over hot tea spiked with whiskey, while our pot-pies simmer in the oven and a fire crackles in the Heatilator.
Like a vessel filling from the bottom up, the welling rises within me. It overflows through my mouth and eyes, the sputtering, the cascading of tears, the pouring of burbling emotion out through the mouth. My legs weaken. My extremities tremble. My face collapses into folds of agony. Cherrie reaches out and wraps her arms around me. She cradles me with her vise-like grip. Those observing me burst into tears. Together, we rain sorrow down onto my mother’s coffin. The tears freeze on contact.
Nakai is merciful. She ends the eulogy with an Indian prayer.
“When I am dead
Cry for me a little
Think of me sometimes
But not too much.
Think of me now and again
As I was in life
At some moments it's pleasant to recall
But not for long.
Leave me in peace
And I shall leave you in peace
And while you live
Let your thoughts be with the living.”
Cherrie guides me out of the snow-tomb. As we pass Principal Hertzog and my teachers, they reach out with consoling hands, extending apologies for my loss and offerings of any help should I need it in the following days. Despite having to trudge through ankle deep snow, Cherrie diverts our route away from the Belials. Nani and her entourage, as if skating across the top of the snow, move to intercept and block our passage. Nani sidesteps Cherrie. She moves in close. She cradles my hands in her hands.
“I-we just want you to know how deeply sorry we are for your loss. Let me know if there is anything you need.”
As Nani grips my hands in hers, I feel a sensation sweep through my body, one like you feel when the first stages of hypothermia set in. Because we are both wearing gloves, I know Nani cannot have anything physical to do with this feeling. But my intuitive sense is picking up negative vibes, as though what Nani is saying isn’t entirely true. She’s not at all sorry that Dierdra has passed. I read it in her eyes. I yank my hands from hers, jerk toward Jason, and childishly vent.
“How could you bring her here? She tried to kill me!”
Cherrie angles me toward the car, pushing and guiding me along. But I can’t let go of the fact Nani wanted me either impure or dead. I scream vulgar words back over my shoulder, aiming vocal darts at Nani’s heart. I see Principal Hertzog and my teachers shaking their heads. Looks of dismay and sympathy grace their faces. Officer Scheeler steps out of nowhere, grabs me by my other arm, and assists Cherrie. I struggle to rip free. A raging inferno of energy erupts from within. I throw myself up and over, basically doing a backward somersault in the air.
Because Cherrie and Officer Scheeler have such a tight grip on my arms, I do not break free. Instead, I slam to the snow-packed ground on my backside. My momentum yanks them with me. The three of us scramble to our feet. Cherrie and Scheeler move to block me from charging Nani. With the wind knocked out of me, I gasp for air. It gives me the pause I need to rein in my anger. I close my eyes, raise my face to the sky, and draw air into my lungs until they feel as though they are going to burst. I exhale, slowly. When I open my eyes, I see Nani and the Belial gang standing but feet away. Jason is tugging at Nani’s sleeve, urging her, “Let’s go.”
Cherrie and Scheeler, in anticipation of me waylaying Nani, corral me with their arms. “Come on,” Cherrie says. “Let’s get out of here.”
I can see Nani weakening, her ear bent Jason’s way, her eyes indicating she has heard his plea. She lowers her head and makes ready to leave. I stop her withdrawal cold.
“I’m pure, you bitch.”
Nani raises her head. She gazes into my eyes. She studies them for deception. She finds none. Nani looks to Jason. She doesn’t say a word, yet her stance leaves no doubt; she’s pleading with Jason to tell her that what I just said isn’t true, that he did not deceive her, that he did indeed make me impure. Jason, a look of shock on his face, backpedals from the Belial gang. He moves toward the safety net of Principal Hertzog and the teachers. He’s shaking his head, astonished that I would betray the secret we held, especially since it could lead to my death.
Cherrie and Scheeler shuttle me toward Cherrie’s car, the Lincoln Continental, AKA the Tank, while manhandling me by the arms. They push me down into the passenger’s front seat. While Cherrie walks around and drops into the driver’s side, Officer Scheeler blocks the door. He leans down so he can get a better look at me.
“You all right?”
“You should know I’ve contacted your aunt in Minnesota. She’s waiting for you.”
“Your aunt Francine. In Minnesota. Now that your mother is gone, she’s going to take guardianship of you.”
“No. I’m not leaving. I don’t want to go back to Minnesota.”
“It’s set. I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning. Drive you to the airport. Have your things packed.”
Scheeler closes the door. He waves a salute. We drive off.
I look to Cherrie for support. “You can’t let them take me back to Minnesota. I don’t even know my aunt. She’s never been part of the family.”
“Not my call, girl. What’s this about you still being pure? Did something happen in Sedona?”
“Nothing? Jason looked like he just saw Louk raised up from the dead! And Nani, she almost wet her pants. It’s a little more than nothing, I think. Fess up or I’m turning this car around and we’ll go have a talk with Jason.”
I mentally kick myself for opening my big mouth. Why couldn’t I leave well enough alone. How am I to tell Cherrie her boyfriend, ex or not, offered to rape me.
Cherrie brings the Tank to a stop. “Okay. Have it your way.”
“Jason won’t tell you anything.”
“Oh, I think he will. From what I just saw back there, I may be the only friend Jason has left. He’ll talk. Believe me. He will.”
Cherrie puts the LC in reverse.
I blurt it out. “Jason was supposed to rape me.”
“He didn’t of course.”
Cherrie, her foot resting on the brake to keep the LC from going backwards, freezes. I can almost hear her brain grinding away. Finally, after elongated seconds pass, Cherrie rams the shifter in drive, pulls the LC over to the side, and turns off the engine. She leans into me.
“So, what did Jason do?”
“Kept me from being murdered.”
“Save the drama for the three queens.”
“His words, not mine.”
“Jason told you you were going to be killed.”
“Yes, either that or I would have to be made impure.”
“By being raped.”
“Having sex, yes.”
“I don’t think it mattered.”
“But Jason offered.”
“In order to save me, yes.”
“So, let me see if I have this straight. Nani—it was Nani who ordered you to be made impure, wasn’t it?”
“Nani wants you dead or made impure, so Jason steps up and offers to rape you, but doesn’t. And you two pretend that you were raped so Nani wouldn’t kill you.”
“You do know how silly and far-fetched that sounds.”
I nod. “But not if you were listening to the Foretold.”
“Remember? In the room behind your grandfather’s bookcase? When I read the Record of Ancient Matters?”
“Yeah, so you said.”
“I know. You didn’t hear me, did you?”
“Never mind that. What’d it say?”
“It says a man from below will rise up and look for a surface-equal.”
“Alright. I’ll bite. What the hell’s a surface-equal?”
“Someone with pure Lemurian blood in them. Someone he can love. A virgin who can bear him a child.”
“So how do you fit into all of this? You’re not Lemurian.”
“No, I’m not. But I do have pure Lemurian blood in me.”
“I’m not even going to ask you how that happened or even if it’s true. My guess is the man you’re referring to is Aaron Delmon.”
“I think he’s the man the Foretold is talking about, yes. But I don’t know for sure.”
“And he’s chosen you to be his surface-equal?”
“Not yet. But he will. If I’m here. You have to help me. I can’t go back to Minnesota. He’ll never find me there.”
“Wait a minute. Let’s back it up. When you say Aaron is below, are you saying he’s in Telos? The mythical city under Mount Shasta?”
Cherrie rocks back in her seat. “And you expect me to swallow all of this…this fantasy?”
“Not really. Just asking that you be my friend, stick by me, and help me figure a way out of not going back to Minnesota.”
Cherrie shakes her head. “Doesn’t make sense.”
“If what you’re saying is true, how do you explain Aaron’s coming topside more than a year ago? You weren’t even here. What if you had never come to California? Who’d be his surface-equal then?”
“But I did come. And he chose me!”
“More like you chose him, but that’s beside the point. He didn’t know you were coming, did he? Or did he? Do you think he can see into the future?”
“Doubt it. But he knows about the Foretold. It predicts what’s going to happen.”
“But it doesn’t say, specifically, that you’re his surface-equal.”
My heart sags. I’ve let this very thought run through my head before, that I may not be the chosen one, the surface-equal, but up until now I ignored the little voice inside me that raised this doubt. Now that Cherrie has spoken those words out loud I can no longer discount the suspicion.
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Who else has pure Lemurian blood running through their veins?”
Seconds tick by as I ponder the question.
“Well,” Cherrie says, “doesn’t add up, does it?”
“It does if you know that Nani and her friends are pure-blood Lemurians.”
“Really. And how would you know?”
“Aaron told me she’s Atlantean, that all Atlanteans are descendants of Lemuria. She’s pure-blood.”
“And that’s why she wants to have you killed? Because she wants Aaron for herself?”
“Doubt if that’s true. They just don’t want Aaron to have children.”
“Bernard told me the Lemurian race is dying. They need an infusion of new blood. New DNA. Without it they become extinct.”
“And you’re supposed to supply the cure with a baby?”
“That’s what’s been foretold. A baby will be born. And he will be named HeIs.”
“Ask me, you’d be better off going back to Minnesota and letting Nani and Aaron duke it out. Get away from her and her gang of Belials. Aaron may never come back topside. What then?”
“You don’t understand. The Foretold says a new world will be born. If the Atlanteans rule, it will be a materialistic world, full of greed, wars, and gutting of the earth.”
Cherrie looks out through the windshield. “Kind of like what we have now.”
“Yes. But if the Lemurians survive and rule, there will be sharing, peace, and love.”
“Kumbaya. That it? We’ll all sit around a campfire, sing and be happy?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m only telling you what I’ve been told.”
“What you think you’ve been told.” Cherrie throws the shifter into drive and steps on the gas. “None of it matters, now that you’re headed back to Minnesota.”
I can’t imagine leaving California to go and live with an aunt who I barely know. But then what’s left for me here? Mom’s dead and gone. I’ve managed to alienate Nani, Jason, and the rest of the Belials in one grand swoop. My teachers think I’m crazy and headed for an insane asylum. My classmates think I’m a joke. All of social media thinks I’m a sexpot, willing to display my wares for the pittance of a head-turn. And Cherrie, arguably my best friend and partner-in-crime, thinks I’ve succumbed to living in a fantasy world of my own making.
As Cherrie maneuvers the Tank into her driveway, I feel an overwhelming sense of heaviness that is so strong it’s like I’m being sucked into a black hole. I’m hot and cold at the same time. My brain scales up to overdrive. My heart pounds like a jackhammer against flesh and bone. I want nothing more than to be alone, yet loneliness is what I fear the most right now.
I make an excruciating effort to mask my anxiety attack before turning to Cherrie and asking, “Can you come over? Just for a little while.”
“Sure. I’ll come over in a bit and we can talk.”
Cherrie eyes me. “You’re not going to stop breathing on me again, are you?”
“Then maybe I should be taking you to the hospital.”
“I won’t. I promise. I’ll keep breathing. But only if you come with me right now.”
Cherrie peers into the rear-view mirror. She hooks a thumb over her shoulder. “There’s your buddy.”
I look over the seat and out the back window. Cen Morton, the California Highway Patrol officer, is getting out of his black-and-white patrol car. Instead of walking up to the door of the cabin and knocking, he leans up against his vehicle, folds his arms and looks across the street to where we sit in the LC.
“Wonder what he wants,” I say out loud.
“Imagine he wants to talk to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to him.”
“I can’t Cherrie. I just can’t face any more sad-eyed people. Not today. I’m done. Can you get rid of him?”
“Yeah. Right. He’s the big, bad cop. I’m supposed to walk up to him and demand that he leave. I don’t think so, girl.” She motions for me to get out of the car. “C’mon. I’ll hold your hand. Walk you across the street. He says anything, I’ll just tell him he’ll have to come back later.”