72 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO In the end, it didn’t take nearly so long to explain things as I would have thought. I guess that’s the way things usually go, you always think that they were so very complicated and would take so long to explain until you actually try to do it. Then it turns out that there’s a simple way to say it.
John Smith’s brother died and he came to visit you. He thinks that you somehow managed to raise him from the dead. He came calling here tonight and wacky hijinks ensued. You somehow managed to fight him off with some sparklers and a lot of shouting, but now you don’t remember a thing.
And that was the thing. She really didn’t seem to remember anything. She nodded in all the right places, just as if she were hearing the story for the first time, shook her head when it made sense, gasped on cue. So far as I could tell, she wasn’t faking it.
She remembered me and John Smith, she remembered him shooting… at something. The more she tried to remember that particular detail, the fuzzier she claimed it got. It was strange. She didn’t remember Alex at all. One would think that at the very least having an actual visitor from the great beyond would have more of an impact on a self professed psychic.
The more she talked, the more confused I became. But there was one thing that remained constant throughout the entire story and eventually I just had to ask her about it.
“Where did you get that?” I pointed at the piece of pottery in her hands. I knew that piece, how could I not?
She looked down at the curved shard of pottery in her hands, the grooves so familiar to me. She’d been running her fingers along them the entire time, not even seemingly conscious of the fact. It had been hard not to ask about it while we’d been discussing her recent memory lost, but somehow I’d managed.
“This old thing?” she asked. Her tone implied that it was nothing special, that she didn’t care much about it. but the way she was holding it, almost cradling it in one hand and stroking it with the other? That implied something entirely different. “It’s just one of my props. I picked it up at a flea market a few weeks ago.”
“Where was that?”
I couldn’t believe that it had appeared here, now. The thing had been nothing but trouble back in Baghdad.
“There’s a place only a few blocks from here. Just called Flea Market so far as I can tell. At least that’s all that the sign says.”
When I’d left I’d sworn that the whole thing was behind me.
“And you didn’t think that it was strange that they’d be selling a broken piece of pottery?”
Apparently fate had other plans though. Fate or someone more.
She shrugged. “I never really considered that.” Her look grew thoughtful. “Come to think of it though, the shopkeeper held onto it harder than I would have expected.”
It made me wonder how Amira was doing. I hadn’t heard from her in far too long.
“And it never occured to you to ask where it had come from?”
We’d kept touch at first, the miracle of modern technology bridging the gap across half a world.
A shake of her head. “It looked special. That’s all I really need. The more something looks like a part of some sort of spell, the more my clients believe. And the more they believe, the more they’re willing to pay.
But there were complications. There always were. We’d met at an intense point in both of our lives. There would always be something between us, but over the years, we’d just had less and less to talk about. Her last email had been on New Year’s Day, three years ago this winter.
Mrs. Claire continue, her look suddenly sharpening. “Why? What do you care about it?”
73 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO “Why are you helping me?” I hissed into the darkness. never mind why he was here in the first place. he should have been dead.
“It’s the least I could do.” His voice was coming from the general direction of the door, but that’s all that I could tell. “After all, you at least tried to save my life.”
It felt like so long ago now, but I could still feel the weight of him, that race against time. The race that I most definitely had lost. “Why should I trust you? For all I know, you’re just a hallucination or something.”
He actually chuckled. “Oh padre. Why is it always men of the cloth that have such a problem with actual matters of faith.”
I spluttered at him, but really, he did have a point. I know what I’d seen back at the medic’s and I knew what I was I was hearing now. If it wasn’t Private Johnson standing there, it was an impressively convincing simulacrum. The how of it… well, for the moment, that was just a matter of faith. “Fine. What’s your plan? How am I going to get out of here?”
I swear, I could hear him smiling even in the complete darkness. “We walk out the front door.”
That’s helpful, I thought. I raised my hand, thinking to demonstrate to him that one handcuff shaped reason that might be more than just a bit difficult. But to my surprise, my hand moved free and unencumbered off into the darkness. “What in the…”
I heard the faint sound of a chuckle. It sounded closer.
It doesn’t matter, I told myself. If I’m free, I’m free. I can figure out the why of it later. swinging my feet out to the side, I stood. There was a feeling of lightheartedness as I stood, but it faded quickly. Then all that was left was finding the door. “Where are you?” I asked, for the moment ignoring the fact that I was addressing a dead man.
“I’m right here, padre.” The voice came from one side of the room now, to my right as I shuffled slowly forward in the complete darkness. “Not that it matters.”
“Why wouldn’t it matter?” I asked. “I don’t want to run over you here in the dark after all.”
There was a moment’s pause. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. When you get to the door, wait a moment. I’ll see what I can do about opening it.”
I didn’t know what to make of that, but neither did I question him. If he wanted to be mysterious, so be it. So long as I got out of there. Still, I kept an eye out for him moving to the door of the cell, yet like each time before, I heard absolutely nothing.
I reached the door a moment later, bumping first into the wall right beside it with my outstretched arms and then correcting slightly. It was deceptively hard to keep one’s bearings without anything to get one’s bearings off of.
Obediently waiting, it suddenly struck me that perhaps being up and about wasn’t my brightest idea. If overly average Joe came back, it surely wouldn’t go well. And after all, hadn’t he said that he would let me go anyways? Perhaps I should just go back and wait for…
The door slid open a crack, letting in some light from the hallway.
“Now.” Private Jackson’s voice floated in through the crack.
I didn’t need to be told twice. Pushing the door the rest of the way open, I stepped out into the hallway.
74 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I had the feeling that Mrs. Claire had suddenly sensed a business opportunity. That piece of pottery was nothing to her–or so she claimed at least–nothing more than a prop. Yet here I was, asking all about it to the exclusion of anything else.
I wanted none of that though, nor did I particularly want to tell her my whole life’s story. We’d just met for crying out loud. There were some things that you just didn’t do, even when you’d both faced a ghost together.
Instead, I tried to turn the topic back to something more reasonable. “So why do you think you forgot everything?”
For some reason, she looked down at the burnt circle she was still half sitting on and for a long moment didn’t answer. Finally, she said “I don’t know.” She hesitated. “Your story just sounds so fantastic. But i don’t think you could have just made it up on the spot like that. Not and still be able to account for all of the details, like the gun and the sparklers.”
I just stared at her. She didn’t believe me? At first, I was indignant, but when i actually looked back to it, the whole thing did sound pretty hard to believe. If I hadn’t experienced it, I wasn’t sure that I would believe it my own self.
And come to think of it, her idea of accounting for details was somewhat different from my own. If I’d been making it up, I was sure there wouldn’t have been such an abrupt ending, what with the chanting and the fireworks.
“So you’re saying that you’ve never experienced something like that before? The memory loss?”
She shook her head but then hesitated. To my surprise, she actually smiled. “Well if I’ve forgotten anything before, I certainly don’t remember it.” She had a particularly toothy smile with nice and even teeth.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “Well, you’d remember the gaps at least.”
Her smile faded. “I know. and I don’t think so. The past always seems so hazy though, don’t you know?”
I shook my head. I didn’t actually. I didn’t have a photographic memory or anything like that, but my memory had always been pretty good at least. I could think back to my childhood and pull out details that even my parents had long since forgotten. That wasn’t something that most people seemed to be able to do. But on the flip side, I didn’t think most people would describe their pasts as ‘hazy’ either.
“Weird.” It was all that I could think to say. I stood, not sure what to do next.
Something strange was going on and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it. At the moment, I was more than convinced that Alex actually was a ghost of some sort and that he actually had been raised from the dead. I had a feeling that Mrs. Claire had something to do with that–even though I’d never actually gotten the entire story of John Smith’s previous visit to her–but I was having a bit more trouble trying to figure out how it was actually any of my business.
The boy had come to confession, that much I thought I understood. And he’d been long dead and recently risen when he’d done. It was definitely the sort of thing to tell your grandkids around the fire someday. Except I would never have grandkids. I thought about that from time to time, wondering if I had made the correct decision. I didn’t doubt that the seminary was God’s plan for my life, but every once in a while, I still played a mental game of ‘what if…’.
Confessions were sealed anyways, known only to the two of us and God. I could probably have changed the names or something, but that was definitely skirting the spirit of the law, if not the letter. Not something that I particularly wanted to risk, not any more than I already had just admitting that Alex had even come to confession to his brother earlier.