The Called: Chapter 1 continued

Hazel Guinevere Richards

Friday evening, March 16, Raleigh

Good evening, this is the CBS Evening News, with Daria Winchester, in New York.  For today’s headline story we take you to our Washington correspondent, Zoë Lasada, who is standing by outside the White House.  Zoë?

     Thank you, Daria.  Polls show the public, despite the Ordinary Union’s almost constant protests, supporting the president’s decision that, after the bloodshed and death last month on Super Tuesday for all the remaining party primaries to be conducted by mail-in ballots.  As every primary and caucus after February 14 has had to be re-scheduled, all have been delayed to either this month or April.  Polls show an increasing number of Americans feel the primaries are simply too dangerous, too much of a catalyst for further disorder . . . The OU has issued strident denials of any involvement in what President Gore has called an attack on the democratic process . . .

     Thank you, Zoë.  New polls released today show that although Vice President Warner still is ahead, Taylor Wilson, the OU candidate, is fast closing the gap and is almost in a dead heat with the Libertarians.  Democratic-Republican talks with the Greens, the Socialists, and several other minor parties are scheduled for this Monday; another coalition seems to be in the planning stages . . .  An unprecedented press release from the Joint Chiefs of Staff criticizing the president as being weak is being hailed by the OU as an endorsement.  The Joint Chiefs want martial law declared immediately.  This is the first time in American history the military has, in any way, intervened in the civilian government . . .  Editorials in newspapers around the country, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times . . . have condemned the Joint Chiefs’ action.  CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC have also criticized the Joint Chiefs.  The New York Post, The Washington News, and Fox News have come out in support of the Joint Chiefs . . .  

     The self-styled Crazy Caucus is meeting today to discuss the coalition.  Representatives of the Neo-Know-Nothings, Kennedy Monarchists, and Platonists are considering the Democratic-Republican power-sharing proposals . . . The Roosevelt Monarchists are picketing the Kennedyites . . .  The Neo-Mayans and New Agers and End-timers are calling the recent California earthquakes and landslides and last month’s earthquakes in China that leveled Shanghai as further proof of the truth of the prophecies surrounding December 21 . . .   Four  Temples of the Returning Quetzalcoatl, in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Charlotte were firebombed . . .

     According to astronomers at the US Naval Observatory and observatories across the country sunspot and solar storm activity has increased over 30% since last year.  The resulting disruptions in radio transmissions and the power grid has caused problems country-wide . . .  NASA reports increasing difficulty in maintaining contact with the returning Mars Expedition.  The one bonus of the increase in sunspot activity has been the visibility of the aurora borealis, which has been seen as far as south as Mexico City . . .  A spokesperson for the mother temple of the Returning Quetzalcoatl in Mexico City noted this solar activity is to be expected . . .

     In international news today, the Iranian government released a new report today praising a sharp rise in magicals’ deaths.  The Grand Mullah of Afghanistan, speaking from the balcony of his palace in Kabul, declared the massacre of magicals across Afghanistan, and in Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, to be the first shots in a new jihad, not a pogrom. The killing of a magical is not a sin, no more than the killing of a rabid dog or a—

     Hazel turned off the television.  She didn’t want to hear any more bad news.  Where was Malachi?  He promised her—he had promised Susanna—he would be home before nightfall.  I am going to kill him when he gets home.  She was, she realized, still mad from their fight in the morning.  Nighttime was dangerous.  Just like when we were children.  By six p.m. Hazel and the children and Father Jamey—Jamey as he kept insisting she call him, even though she could never remember to do it, his name, as far as she was concerned, was Father Jamey—and Ben and Larissa had been waiting an hour.  Father Jamey had been invited to dinner a week ago when he had told her everybody in his tetrad was going to be out of town on the same weekend.  After feeding the cat, she insisted they all eat, and one hour became two, three—she had to get the children into bed, Susanna first, with the cat, as the boys were eight and could stay up later, tell Susanna the story her father had promised her—four, and five hours, Hazel and Father Jamey and Ben and Larissa sat together in the kitchen, watching the phone and the back door—the door Malachi and everybody else used to enter the house. 

     Hazel, long past her anger and deep into fear, swept, for a third time, the kitchen floor in the house she had inherited from her grandparents, half-listening to the others’ attempts at reassurance.  She loved the middle-aged ex-priest, but sometimes she just wished he would shut up.  At least Ben and Larissa had little to say. Besides, her own interior monologue was almost loud enough to drown out any other voice: He’s in trouble because of me. I made him come back to Earth, leave Faerie, knock a hole in our tetrad.  The pain of Jeff’s and Russell’s faces still haunted her. But I was called back; I felt it; and he felt it.  And the connection to Jeff and Russell—I know it’s still there, just dormant.  Sort of.  But, if we had stayed, if we had stayed, he would be with me right now.  Why did he go to the damn police by himself with just a reporter?  Why didn’t he listen to me this morning?  Why didn’t I make him stay home?

     The phone rang at midnight.  Hazel froze.  She just stared at the phone in its little nook set into the wall by the kitchen cabinets that she had carefully wiped clean.  Each ring seemed to be the final countdown of a bomb doomed to explode.  The ringing stopped, and then almost immediately started again.  Hazel couldn’t make herself move from the middle of the kitchen, one hand on the cutting board where she had chopped up the vegetables for the stew a few hours ago.  She had been still angry then: it was Malachi’s turn to cook.  Father Jamey, moving quickly, picked up the receiver and listened.  He covered his face with his hand as he nodded, listened, and said uh-huh, yes, no, oh my God, okay, I understand, thank you, thank you for calling.  Then, Father Jamey gently placed the receiver back into its cradle.

     “Ginny Newman’s dead.  Her body was found—hours ago—in the Six Forks Road Bennigan’s parking lot.  They shot her with a laser.  Claims it took that long for the police to identify her, notify her parents.  No signs of Malachi at all, just his car. That was—somebody at the police department—anonymous—they aren’t all bad.  He didn’t explain why it took hours to call you.”

     “But the rest of these—mundanes—oh, my gods—Ben, tell them what happened today,” Larissa said, covering her face.

     Father Jamey and Hazel jerked their heads around to stare at Ben, who sat beside Larissa on the back of the table.  “I didn’t want to worry you.  On the back steps, our cats, their throats cut, blood all over everything.  An X in blood on the back door.  And—a regular letter, a voicemail, and God knows how they got my e-mail—all threats, promising worse if we did anything, that they were watching us.  They’d make me wish I was dead, sleeping with a fairy bitch.”

     Hazel wanted to go and hide under her bed and never come out.  It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.  Why do I have to be the one in charge?    Hazel closed her eyes, clenched her fists and teeth, wishing she were outside to draw in earth-strength directly from the ground.  She waited, feeling the glimmer of it through the floor.  There.  She made herself think.  “Ben, Larissa, stay here. We’ll disconnect everything back in Garner, as if you disappeared. I can do that—that will buy us some time—but what are we going to do next?  What?”

Nobody was able to answer her.     

Later, when she was alone in their bedroom, she emptied the laundry basket, hung up shirts and pants and dresses, folded sweaters and underwear, matched socks, took a deep breath, then dusted and straightened pictures on the dressers, collected loose change for the change jars, quarters in one, a Ocracoke Island mug, and everything else in the other, an old clear glass Swenson’s stein, matched and lined up shoes, and finally, finally, lay down in the middle of the bed, and closed her eyes. She knew sleep would be long in coming in a half-empty bed in a room in which she could hear the clock on the dresser ticking and not Malachi breathing. She knew eventually she would get up and hide the clock under Malachi’s socks.  And she knew when she finally did drift off, she would wake up and reach out to touch him, stroke his bare back, smooth his hair, and she would repeat the cycle—listen to tiny room noises, sleep, wake, reach out—over and over and over.

#

Thursday morning, March 28

When Malachi mindscreamed twelve days later, Hazel was back at work in the room she had slept in when she was a little girl—fittingly enough, she thought, the room where it all started for her, when the dreams of Faerie had seeped into this reality through her computer.  A different cat, Susanna’s little black tom, Festus, who had one all-black foot, the other three with white toes.  Alex, Hazel’s childhood pet, a Siamese lilac point, had stayed in Faerie. Hazel had no idea if he was still alive or not.  She had asked Alex to come with her and Malachi, but the cat had refused.  He pushed his great mountain-lion-sized head into her lap, ran his big sandpaper tongue across her face, and told her telepathically he couldn’t.  He was afraid; he wouldn’t be safe there; why couldn’t she stay here; he was too old; he loved her.  (He hadn’t tried to speak out loud; Alex had come late to verbal speech and never had the clarity of those born as Talking Beasts.)  Hazel felt so guilty and sad she didn’t know how Alex was.

She had been working at home since early December.  Her boss, an always-frazzled man who spoke English with an Anglo-African accent from his childhood in Nigeria, had come back to her office at Fun and Games, Inc. at the end of November.  She had just gotten in and was watching the coffee drip in the Mr. Coffee machine, when she looked up to see him standing in the door, looking even more frazzled than usual, staring at the floor, as if the words he wanted were written somewhere at his feet.

     “Desmond, what is it?  If you look down any harder, you are going to put a hole in the floor,” Hazel asked as she opened the cabinet to fish out a coffee cup.

     It wasn’t his idea.  If he had his way, this would not even be an issue.  But they had gotten calls and e-mails—from customers, from vendors.  Her ears.  Those silver eyes.  “We’re not firing you, Hazel; we want you to work at home—it’s just too dangerous for you be here for us and for you.  We’ve had—threats.”

     Hazel hadn’t minded working at home before Malachi had disappeared.  Now, the house felt empty when the kids were at school—if, she thought, she could keep them there, as she replayed what the principal had told her just that morning: more threats, whispers, phone calls, e-mails.  Other changeling children were no longer coming.  The Wake County School Board was talking about mandatory home schooling.  Miss Bigelow would never have given in to the darkness, Hazel had thought then, listening to the also-frazzled principal, whose eyes, she could tell, were just beginning to turn silver like hers.  She didn’t ask the principal if she knew.

Hazel had managed to put aside that conversation, and the memories of Miss Bigelow, her childhood principal, who had disappeared from her Kerr Lake-side retirement home a month ago, to get about halfway through her electronic inbox, when she smelled Malachi as strongly as if they had been side by side in bed.  Then, the first call, which froze her in place, the words surrounding her, Malachi’s voice: Hazel, get Dad, Larissa, the kids out of here, get them out of here, the Fomorii—She fell when his words cut off, and before she could get up, the second call exploded in her brain, bending her over in sharp, sharp pain, tears running down her face: Help, help, GET JeffRussWeNeedAllFourofUs, get help, the Fomorii are—She felt as if she were inside a huge bell as it rang and rang and rang.  With each clang, she saw not just Malachi, but also Jeff, and Russell, and she knew she saw them as they were right then, a universe away, and that they were hearing the same words, that those words were exploding in their heads as well: in their bedroom, Russell, contorted with pain, Jeff sick, puking.  When Russell staggered to his feet, she could see recognition in his eyes: he saw her.  Then the clanging of Malachi’s words got so loud, she could see nothing, only the sharp white of pain. Only when the last echoes died away, could she look up from where she found herself, bent over on the floor, her clothes soaked from sudden perspiration.  Festus was beside her, bumping his head into her legs, patting her thighs, mewing his concern.

     “Miss Richards, my God, what’s going on—you all right?  I opened the door and you were screaming.  I ran up here as fast as I could.  Are you all right?” 

     Hazel, startled, looked up: the company messenger, a very nervous and very tall boy—what was his name?—Mihir.  Mihir Patel.  She had left the door unlocked for him.  What had she been thinking?  “Just help me up, I slipped; I’m okay.  Thanks, Festus, you can get back on the bed, I’m okay.”

     Hazel made sure the messenger was gone before she left.  She knew she couldn’t get any more work done, that she was done working for Fun and Games for good.  Advanced WorldBuilder 10.2 wouldn’t be finished.  Twenty minutes later she was at Father Jamey’s tetrad’s house—the house once owned by Jack Ruggles.  She never failed to think of the NCSU professor when she went there: brown hair in spikes, sweet, sad man.  If only we could have given him a decent burial.  Sighing, she knocked and waited for the ex-priest to open the front door.  She turned to look around the yard, up the street, uncertain of what or who she was looking for.  The house she always remembered as being next door, where Ben and Malachi had lived before they had all walked the Straight Road, was long gone, burned down in some of the craziness after the Change.  It had started snowing again.  A bit late for March snows—is the weather going goofy the way it did back in ’91?  The kids should come home early then.  I’m not sending them back. Ben and Larissa are at the library; I’ll go there next.  I wasn’t followed.  I don’t think—

“Hazel? Come on in.”

The haggard, bags-under-the-eyes, beard-shadowed man who greeted her was a shock.  She followed him inside to the living room and the old couch Karla, one of his tetrad, had rescued from a thrift store.  The room was a mess of scattered newspapers and stray magazines and pillows piled haphazardly on the couch and in the armchairs. 

     “Father Jamey?  What happened—no—let me tell you first.  Malachi called—telepathically.  Said to get everybody out.  The Fomorii are back.  Get Jeff and Russell to come and help.  Then he was cut off.  But—if we run away—”

     “Hazel, you have to do what he says.  If they got a full fairy like Larissa—think of the power they would have.”

     “They being the Fomorii, right?  Malachi told me—but running, I don’t know—”

     “You have to.  My God, Hazel.  I haven’t seen any of them, not Karla, Annie, or Reggie in twelve days.  And Reggie took the dogs, too.  They never came home.  You must take the children and Ben and Larissa and get them out of here.”  Father Jamey said his last words to the floor.  Then he paused, and looked up.  “Then today, I felt them die.  They—hurt Karla and Annie before they killed them—I felt it—I still feel it.  You must get the kids out.  Reggie’s dead, too; I felt that, I feel it still.  You won’t be able to rescue Malachi without Jeff and Russell—and you have to rescue Malachi.”  Father Jamey stopped, took a deep breath, and kept talking.  “I’ve never been called to Faerie.  My call is to fight the dark here; it always has been.  Hazel, get the children to safety.  Tell Jeff when you dream-speak him—tell him I think his father might be involved in all this; he has to know that.  That’s the word I’m getting from the network.  I hurt so much,” he added in a whisper, and then he broke down and wept. 

Hazel pulled him into her arms and rocked him for a long time. This is weird.  This is what I came here for, but it is his turn.  To have lost everyone, his entire tetrad—I don’t know if I could bear it.  Father Jamey felt them die.   A part of him must have died, too.  She ached for Malachi, but at least she knew he was alive.

Father Jamey started crying.   Father J’s always been the responsible one; he looks after everybody.  At least I can give him this.

“It’s okay, I know it hurts.  I know, I know.”

#

Friday morning, March 29

“Hazel?  Have you given any thought as to how you are going to get the kids and Ben and Larissa and yourself to the nearest gate—in  Cherokee, right?  That’s where Jeff and Russell will have to come, since the Devil’s Tramping Ground Gate was destroyed,” Father Jamey asked Hazel early the next morning.  Everyone else was asleep: Ben and Larissa, downstairs in what had been Hazel’s grandmother’s pottery studio, now two more bedrooms, and a bath; and her children, the twins and Susanna, upstairs.  For a little while, Hazel and Father Jamey had the downstairs to themselves, except for Festus who occupied Father Jamey’s lap.  “Were you planning on just driving up on I-40?  And what about this guy here?”

     “What?”  Hazel asked, looking up, startled, from the kitchen, where she was staring into the refrigerator, trying to decide if she needed to get more eggs and soy bacon.  She yawned and turned to look at Father Jamey who sat in the breakfast nook, already on his second cup of coffee.  Hazel still wasn’t sleeping well; she had lost count of how many times she had turned over to stroke air. When she had come down, she had found him waiting, and Festus head down in his food bowl, and the Mr. Coffee pot filling up.  She had insisted he come back with her yesterday and spend the night, stay forever, if he needed to.  “Just drive? I don’t know; I haven’t even sat down with Ben and Larissa to talk this out yet.” 

Hazel glanced out the window:  just enough snow to take off the world’s rough edges, at least for the morning.  The afternoon high of forty-something should take care of most of the white stuff that looked like lumps of sugar or frozen sea foam on the dogwoods in the backyard.  She wished she could have gone flying yesterday while the snow fell, as she did in the White City, as she had done here, when she and Malachi, along with Ben and Larissa, had first returned.  We did that together in the White City—all four of us.

“It’s my fault, Father J—all of this.  I made Malachi come back.  I made him leave Russell and Jeff.  And Ben and Larissa came to be with him, with us,” Hazel said as she closed the refrigerator.  “Looks like cheese toast.  What about the network for Festus?  We can’t be the only fey family with a pet.”

“Do you think he would have come back if he hadn’t wanted to? Or Ben and Larissa?” Father Jamey asked quietly, as he got up to get more coffee.  “You know better than that.  Never mind.  I contacted the network last night: you, the children, Ben and Larissa, need to go today.  Tonight.  Malachi isn’t the only high-profile magical who has suddenly disappeared with no official notice in the past thirteen days.  What I hear on the network is that it’s getting worse: there are base commanders who are waiting for orders to start an American holy war.  This change in the elections might just be the excuse they need—to save American democracy.  And now those monsters—the Fomorii—are back.  God knows how they did it; I thought they all died when the color circles spread out from the Devil’s Tramping Ground. Anyway, I could take Festus to St. Mary’s; there’s a lady there who rescues cats.  I’ll know she’ll take him.  If he could talk—he’d be part of the network,” Father Jamey said after a pause.  “The Talking Beasts have semi-come out of hiding.  Have you ever tried mind-speech with him, the way you did with Alex?”

“Only the Fomorii here died; the ones still in their universe must have found a way back,” Hazel said, and then looked out the window.  “It’s snowing again,” She wondered if anything they had done in the past eleven years had made any difference.  Wearing those stupid T-shirts (“This is what a changeling looks like”).  Visiting school after school after church after public library for magical Show-and-Tells, getting shamans and witches to come out . . .  Hazel had hated the Show-and-Tell visits the most, even though Malachi had insisted that letting mundanes see a magical as a real person who just happened to glow and fly would make everyone see the common humanity. Yeah, right.  Right now the only visible impact she could see was in the room she was in, the kitchen.  Her grandmother had cooked out of necessity, not out of joy.  She had died not long after Malachi and Hazel had married and the first thing they did that was their doing in the house had been to remake, more or less, the kitchen.  Bright yellow-and-cream walls, cheerful red-and-orange trim and accents, a table made of honey-colored wood that glowed in the right light, a room where they cooked together, talking, chopping, cutting, mixing, tasting, cleaning up.  To say she missed Malachi was too simple; those words couldn’t begin to cover her ache, the pain.  If only she had touched him before he left.  Hazel shook herself and looked at Father Jamey.  “In the White City when it snowed, sometimes the oldest Daoine Sidhe would make the flakes glow.  Today?  Tonight?  Leaving Festus will kill Susanna,” she added, although she knew it would be too dangerous to take him to Cherokee, unless he was drugged.  Maybe that would work.  I wonder if some of those Talking Beasts have been hiding in plain sight—clearly not Festus.  “Yes, I have, but not like I did with Alex.  Malachi was teaching Susanna. It’s different, you know—the intelligence, the awareness, between a regular beast, and the Talking Beasts.”

“Jamey’s right: we need to go as soon, as soon as we can.  I’m pregnant, finally.  Do you know how much mana—magical energy—is released in a fey birth?”

Both Father Jamey and Hazel turned to see Larissa standing in the kitchen door, her arms wrapped around herself.  Ben stood beside her, carrying an overstuffed cardboard box that was obviously heavy. He set it down on the floor.  He looked exhausted. The short fairy woman looked tired, too, as if she hadn’t slept well, and Hazel could see in the wrinkles of her eyes the beginning of what would be, eventually, an undimmed maternal glow.  Finally pregnant—and how old was Larissa, in Earth years?  Just the other side of two hundred—or older?  That fairies lived so long, Hazel thought, perhaps was one of the reasons for the old stories about a night in Faerie being a hundred years on Earth.  That, and there seemed to be real differences in time passage.  When they had returned, nine years had passed for them in Faerie, ten on Earth.  Or had it?  They had left in 1991; when they returned, it was 2001. The Daoine Sidhe didn’t assign years numbers.  At least it hadn’t been like returning from Narnia to the exact moment they had left. Hazel shuddered at the thought.  The worst any of the children in the Chronicles found waiting for them had been school bullies.  Not monsters and black witches.  It wasn’t fair, but never mind.  Had being on Earth streaked Larissa’s golden hair with silver?  Her bronze-gold eyes seemed as young as ever; like Malachi, she was an Air.  This was her first child. 

     “I know how much energy is released.  Malachi told me—well, he told me the story Ben told him about when he was born,” Hazel said, nodding, and looking at Ben who was nodding in agreement.  She had never gotten over her awe of Larissa, even now that she was grown and in a world where she was the knowledgeable one.  There was something about Larissa’s long, long life, what she knew, what she had seen, the power encoded in her genes.

     “That seals it: you go into the network today—tonight.  The gate doesn’t open until midnight on April 30, but waiting that long is too dangerous.  You’ll be safe—safer, in Cherokee, near the gate,” Father Jamey said.  “If the house wasn’t being watched, I’d get you going right now.  Surely you didn’t think Malachi Tyson’s house wasn’t being watched?” he added at the expression on their faces.

     “Russell and Jeff will come through one of the Cherokee gates.  I told them I would meet them there; I dream-spoke to them last night.  But today?  Can’t we wait—tomorrow, get ready?  Watched?” Hazel said.  Russell is not happy with me—just like when we were kids at Nottingham Heights Elementary.  Twenty-one years, more or less, traveling from one universe to the next, growing up, and we are back where we were when he was twelve and I was nine.  But it’ll be better when they get here; I won’t have to be the only one in charge. And how in the hell did I miss any watchers?  Hazel put the bread in the brick oven to toast on one side while she sliced the dark yellow cheddar.  Ben came into the kitchen and opened the cabinets and pulled out plates and cups and started passing them to Larissa, who set the table. 

     “Can we get ready that fast?” Ben asked.  Hazel looked at Ben.  He’s about sixty, I think, but he doesn’t look it.  Those years in Faerie kept us all younger longer.  But, he’s tired and he’s afraid and that box—his research.  All those years of trying to figure out just what the connections are between humans and fairies, what hasn’t been told, what was lost, hidden—he’s afraid his research, his book, the truth, will be lost, too.

“Hazel, Ben, Larissa: tonight.  I can’t say this strongly enough,” Father Jamey said slowly. “There are times when you can’t look back, when things have to be left behind.  The bridge has to be crossed, and yes, it’s on fire.  Clothes for a few days, that’s it.”

“My book—my notes—”

“Okay, okay, take that.  It will be safe in Cherokee.”

What were they going to do about Festus?  Make him sleep, take him, or give him away?  Susanna adored the little sausage-y cat, his tail arched over his back.  Cast a glamour over him?  Would that make him sleep?  Hazel sighed, knowing somehow she was going to take the cat, and then she went to find Festus and tell him not to worry, she would never give him away.  Yes, he was a good boy. 

#

We must be somewhere in Chapel Hill, Hazel thought.  We’re going too slowly to still be on I-40.  They had been on the road for at least forty minutes since transferring to the third church van at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh on Wade Avenue.  Father Jamey had shown up with a St. Mary’s church van, then they had switched at St. Anthony’s downtown, and now, this bit-more-battered van from the Unitarian church on Wade Avenue.  For a moment, when Hazel saw the St. Mary’s van, she had frozen, remembering the nightmare trip back in 1991, in the storm, with the monsters swooping down, shredding the glamour.  Father Jamey didn’t explain how an excommunicated priest could get a church van; no one asked.  Besides, as Hazel knew, Father J’s status in Garner’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church was a bit ambiguous.  When the stunned years had passed, the Pope had taken a hard line against changelings and the seemingly fluid sexuality of their tetrads: repent, abandon the magical, embrace the mundane, or be excommunicated.  Many American Catholics had resisted; St. Mary’s had insisted Father Jamey stay; the Bishop of Raleigh came and had the church doors nailed shut.  Now, they met in houses, and the Pope’s sermons stopped just short of holy war and a second inquisition.  North Carolina had been singled out as a cancer of apostasy and heresy.  The Bishop of Raleigh and the Bishop of Charlotte had even threatened each other with excommunication.  And here Father J was, a man bereft of his tetrad, driving them once again on a night journey—at least for the first part.  Now, he sat across from Ben, nodding off, as the UU van maneuvered through Chapel Hill.

     The UU van would be the last church van until Waynesville.  Last time, during the Change, churches, synagogues, and some mosques, had become sanctuaries, stopping-off places on the way to the different gates.  The ancient protective magic of such places that warded off evil still held, but it was no longer enough, and everyone knew it existed.  Houses of worship were suspect, and the black witches had found ways to weaken the protection, sometimes, even break it.  The other haters—the true humans, the mundanes, the ordinaries, the would-be crusaders—sometimes under the guise of protecting the faith, doing God’s work, would attack suspect churches.  More than a few had been burned down.  Now, there were other safe places as well: country stores, libraries, schools, behind restaurants, certain homes, always marked by a hidden sign, such as a pentagram, signs that moved from one place to another, to prevent exposure.  Wherever the UU van was taking them, somewhere in Greensboro, Hazel knew the next place would not be a church. 

Larissa lay curled by Ben, wrapped in a spread, and her barely perceptible glowing soft white auric shield.  She had never gotten over her fear of cars and vans and trucks, and all the steel hurt, even within her auric fire.  Hazel only talked briefly with the Unitarian driver, a NCSU graduate student, who had helped her carry a drowsy and grumbling Susanna, who refused to put down the cat’s carrier, from the St. Anthony’s van.  But his aura had been good: white, a pale yellow, green, pink.  And he had touched her, held her hand, told her his name was Duncan Russo and he was honored to meet Hazel Richards, the wife of Malachi, and that she had to leave like this, running away into the night, was wrong. 

     “Are the kids asleep?  That cat still wrapped in his glamour? Larissa is asleep; so is Jamey,” Ben whispered.

     “Check, check, and double check,” Hazel said.  “You should sleep, too, Ben.”  From Chapel Hill to Greensboro, on Highway 54 and then Alamance Church Road, was a little more than hour.  She imagined a string of pearly white lights laid across a map of North Carolina, each one glowing where they would change to yet another van or car or truck:  Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Statesville, Asheville, Waynesville, and Cherokee.  She wished she had been able to take one last walk through the house, just to check—for what she wasn’t sure, but still she wanted to let her fingers trail on the wall by the stairs one more time.  Hazel knew she would never return; she hated leaving the house not straightened up.  At least she had remembered to check to be sure the stove was turned off.

     “Hazel, I need to tell you about this book.  What I have found out about humans and fairies.  I wanted to wait until I was finished, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, if at all—”

     “Ben—”

     But he wanted her to listen, and so Hazel did, as the wheels of the van hummed on the pavement, as the miles receded behind them, as their past lives slipped away into darkness.  Yet another time when everything changed, when there could be no going back to what had been, as their very leaving had changed what was behind them.  Evil again had them on the run.  Hazel had finally felt the watchers when the van had pulled into the driveway.  How did I miss them before?  Was I that distracted?  She knew the glamour she and Larissa and Father Jamey had cast around the van would hide it, but for only so long.  And surely the Fomorii and their minions now knew how to break through the gossamer walls of a glamour, as their monsters had shredded the glamour hiding the van they had escaped in twenty-one years ago.  But maybe not so they couldn’t drive away without being attacked.  Ben’s words soon matched the rhythm of the tires as he told Hazel about ancient legends and fragmented records found in Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and Cornish caves, and in old fortresses and monasteries in the far islands north of Scotland, hidden in the lighthouse islets of Muckle Flugga, gathering dust in Skara Brae’s prehistoric ruins on Orkney.  Odder fragmented records in the Channel Islands, a curious fragment in a cave aptly named for Merlin at Tintagel.  Suggestions, hints: tales of Lemuria and Atlantis and floods and cataclysms in both universes, names legendary in one universe, real presences in the other . . . and the Cherokee myths of the Nunnehí, the gentle people, and the beautiful place they came from, through a door in the mountains—clearly about fairies and Faerie.  That there are so many Cherokee changelings is proof . . .

     “The City of the Dodecagon, I remember learning about that,” Hazel murmured, fighting sleep, knowing she had to listen to Ben’s testimony of his research, even if she wasn’t retaining it all, that he needed someone to listen, to bear witness to his work, and that what he had learned was important.  She just hoped he wouldn’t ask her to promise to finish it.  “I read all of Tolkien when we came back, when I was at NC State.  There is a passage in—The Silmarillion, in the story of the fall of Númenor.  The ‘fashion of the world’ was changed and Númenor sank, earthquakes, volcanoes. And last of all the mounting wave, green and cold and plumed with foam, climbing over the land.  I remember thinking how alike the stories were and wondering how did Tolkien know.”

     Hazel felt Ben nod in the dark, his body swaying, as hers did, as the van did.

     “I studied Tolkien, too,” Ben finally said, his words warm and close.  “He wrote in a letter to W. H. Auden of a ‘terrible recurrent dream’ of the ‘Great Wave, towering up and coming in ineluctably over the trees and green fields.’  He told Auden it came with memory.  His son dreamed it, too, and the dream seemed to give Tolkien a sense of connection to history.  Atlantis is only the most famous of such legends; Plato is one of the first tell it. There are many others: Lyonesse, Ys, Cantre’s Gwaelod.  All the stories about great floods, Noah’s and the rest.  Lemuria, I thought, was some twentieth century fantasy, but I don’t think so anymore.  All are inundated because of some grievous sin, like pride, hubris, treachery—”

     “The Great Revolt is like that,” Hazel said, remembering another lesson learned in the White City.  “The First-Borns’ arrogance in creating the Second- and Third-Born.  But that’s not a flood story, like the City of the Dodecagon.”

     “It’s not?  Hazel, I am so close to something—maybe there was a First and a Second Great Revolt, or a flood was part of the Revolt, or there were two floods—there’s something else.  I tried to get the elders’ advisory council to talk to me; they refused.  I mean, I’m only the father of a half-fairy son; I just raised changelings; I’m still a human.  Never mind being the husband of two Prime Movers.  I didn’t even know the elders’ council existed before we got there.  Valeria never mentioned them—and I found out not even all fairies know about it.  I never found out the nature of space there, either—I mean, President Gore, and the three presidents before him, tried to distract everybody with the Mars expedition—are there other planets in Faerie?  Why’s there a truth for Faerie and for Earth . . . ?”

     The van slowed down, and Hazel felt it stop, wait, and then start again, this time more slowly.  They must have gotten into Greensboro and were being caught by stoplights.  She wished there were windows; not that she knew much about Greensboro, but still, she wanted to see out into the dark streets.  She wondered if there were more snow in Greensboro than in Raleigh; there usually was.  Another stop, a turn, a stop, and this time Hazel could hear the tires crunching on gravel, and the UU van was going in reverse.  A driveway?  She felt Ben shift beside her, adjusting the box he held in his lap.

     “ . . . The council of elders meets so rarely and fairies just don’t talk about them.  We’ve stopped,” Ben whispered.

     “Next van change, I guess,” Hazel whispered back.  Neither one of them said anything more as they heard the van front door open and close, and then the panel door slide open.  Cold air rushed in, as Hazel eased herself up, taking Susanna with her.  The little girl grumbled, but kept her hand tight on the cat’s carrier.  Ben reached down to wake Larissa, then the two boys.

     “Their car is ready—y’all better hurry,” the Unitarian driver said, his body a silhouette.  He helped the sleepwalking Susanna and her cat out first, then Hazel, into a backyard filled with the deep shadows of what looked like old oak trees, high grass sticking out of the thin snowfall, and a dense grove of bamboo.  The van had backed into a driveway, right up to a station wagon.  God, it’s cold.  Shivering, she pulled Susanna to her, and looked up into a clear night sky to see Orion the Hunter, the three stars of the belt pointing to the brightest star of the Hunter’s dog, Sirius.  She had only learned the constellations and their myths when they had returned eleven years ago—Malachi had thought it important to learn Earth’s stars as well as Faerie’s.  No aurora borealis tonight.  Probably a good thing, Hazel thought, no matter how beautiful the shimmering curtains and ribbons were, the last ten-day cycle had caused the Raleigh power grid to crash for days.  She wished she had asked Ben about the stars of Faerie—were they like Narnian stars, were they sentient beings, too?  Behind her she heard the muffled voices of Benjy and Jack, half-awake, and Ben murmuring to Larissa and Father Jamey.  The only light was moonlight, which shown on the snow.  She wondered just where in Greensboro they were, and whose house was providing this temporary sanctuary.  Hazel looked around again.  No one was waiting by the station wagon to take them to the next bright light in the network’s chain of safe places.  The house was completely dark. They’re not ready.

     Still holding Susanna against her, Hazel stepped toward the UU driver.  “Duncan, what’s going on?  Where’s the next driver?”

     “Supposed to be the college professor who lives here, 935 Carr Street.  He used to be a street preacher, wild and crazy stuff in the 60s; I met him once; he spoke at the UU in Raleigh.  Old guy.  You’ll like him.  Let me go check in the house,” the Unitarian driver said and started up the steps to the back porch.

     “Stop right there.” 

A young, dark-haired man stepped out of the bamboo.  He was holding a gun; a gold-and-yellow UNCG baseball cap was pulled down low over his face.  “Which one of you is the goddamned fairy?  I know the rest of you are fucking changelings, aren’t you?” 

     The driver froze on the back steps.  Hazel held Susanna tight, grateful the child wasn’t moving, even though Hazel could feel her daughter’s tense body was completely awake.  She prayed the cat’s glamour would stay intact.  She glanced behind her:  Father Jamey had made sure he was standing in front of Benjy and Jack; Larissa stood behind the boys; Ben was between Hazel and Father J.

     “Someone betrayed us,” the UU driver said, taking one step down.  “I can’t believe Dr. Lester did—not him.”

     “Stay right where you are and shut the fuck up.  If you’re talking about the old fart that was supposed to be here, he’s back here in the bamboo.  He tried to fight us.  We took care of him and his wife—and their neighbor across the street, even if he was the one who blew the whistle on these fairy-lovers.  We don’t want any witnesses,” a second young man, fair-haired, said, coming out of the bamboo to stand behind the first.  His dark-blue baseball cap, pulled equally low, was marked with the UNCG logo in gold letters. “It’s you, isn’t it?  The little one with the long hair.  You’ve all got the ears—except these two—she’s the smallest.  It’s her.”

     “Let me do this,” Ben said over his shoulder.  He sat down his box, and walked forward slowly until he was just in front of Father Jamey.  His feet crunched on the gravel.  Hazel could see someone had just shoveled the snow off the driveway.  Dirty white piles framed the gravel.  “What do you want?”

     “You are all running away and there are folks who paid us to make sure you don’t get away, that you get what’s coming to you,” the gold baseball cap man said and spat on the ground.  Hazel inhaled: fresh blood, recent death.

     “Bounty hunters.  You make me sick,” the UU driver snarled.

     They are going to kill us all, Hazel thought as she tried to make herself stop trembling, her teeth clenched to contain the screams battering against them.  Here or somewhere else, they are going to kill us.

     “You shut the fuck up, you damn fairy-lover God-hater.  You know, they didn’t hire us to fetch fairy-lover God-haters.  Just faggot fairies and cocksucker changelings.  So, you first,” Gold Cap snapped, his gun in the hand he was using to scratch his head. Casually, he dropped his hand, aimed, and shot twice.  The UU driver grunted once in surprise, and stumbled, holding his chest, and then fell, bumping, down the stairs.  He didn’t move again, a still lump in the dirty snow.

“We’ve wasted enough time,” Blue Cap snarled.  “Fairy bitch, get in the car.  Now.”

     “No, no, no, you will not hurt her,” Ben yelled and ran straight at the men, crazily wielding a pen as if it were a knife.

     “No, Ben, don’t—” Hazel screamed, and covered Susanna’s head and ears, as Blue Cap fired again, two more times, hitting  Ben directly in his chest, the bullets knocking him back, then down to his knees, groaning, trying to hold his blood in.  The man, sighing at the inconvenience, stepped over to where Ben knelt and shot again, this time in Ben’s face, which exploded in blood.  Hazel felt her body react: rooting to the earth on which she stood, pressing against her feet, the chthonic magic coming into her out of the ground, warm, warmer, a rising fire.  I’ll push Susanna down and—Larissa flared first, her body becoming a white flame so bright that everyone and everything seemed frozen in light, as if a huge camera flash had gone off.  Then, fueled by anger and grief, Hazel, her body an even whiter flame, couldn’t stop herself and released her own fire, a second volley burning behind Larissa’s.  Fireballs burned over the grass, into the darkness, smashing into both men, enveloping them in flames that quickly burned away their dying screams.  The fires light up the yard, casting flickering shadows on the snow.

     Hazel picked up Susanna and held the shaking child close to her chest.  Father Jamey held Benjy and Jack.  All three children wept.  Now Festus was awake and he yowled and yowled.  Larissa knelt by Ben, sobbing and keening a low, low sound of pain and grief and loss.  Still glowing, she touched him, the glow spreading from his feet as if she were pulling a blanket of light over his body.  The two fires burned.  Father Jamey finally spoke, his voice grey and wet: “Hazel, get the kids and Larissa into the station wagon.  Susanna, be sure Festus stays quiet, okay?  Then we’ll take care of things out here.  I bet the keys are on the professor’s body.”  Then, he knelt down, and leaned over to lay his hand gently on Ben’s head.  He held his hand there for a long moment, and then he leaned all the way down and kissed Ben’s head.  Father Jamey seemed to whisper something into Ben’s ear, then he sat up.  He looked once at Hazel, and spoke in a soft, wet voice that Hazel could barely hear: “Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the soul of Thy servants, Ben, and Duncan, from every bond of sin, that being raised in the glory of the resurrection, they may be refreshed among the Saints and Elect.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

     Hazel stood by the car and watched him, wishing she could pray, wishing she could believe with the same assurance and faith as Father Jamey.  She knew she could not do what he did before coming over to the car: make the Sign of the Cross and pray for the two dead bounty hunters.  All she could do was say the same thing over and over again in her head: He’s dead; he’s dead; he’s dead.  They’re both dead.  They’re all dead.  We are in a nightmare.

#

Saturday afternoon, March 31

The dark green Ford Mountaineer that belonged to the President of the Women of the Church of First Presbyterian in Waynesville pulled into the parking lot of the seven-sided Cherokee Tribal Council House late in the afternoon.  Snow lay on the ground in dirty patches and thick grey clumps.  They had only stopped once since driving away from 305 North Main, Waynesville, and the cheerful church ladies who fed them lunch in the church’s long, white fellowship hall and education wing: tuna, lettuce, and cheese sandwiches, lemon pound cake.  No fresh vegetables and fruit out of season; it was almost impossible to get any from California and Florida these days, the ladies said, and if they could, ungodly expensive.  More canned tuna for Festus.  The ladies loved him.  Hazel had been relieved to see First Presbyterian, despite her constant worry that churches were too suspect and easy targets.  No one in the back parking lot at the TrueValue Hardware Store in an Asheville strip mall, their last stop, had thought they might be hungry, and had seemed surprised Hazel had asked for the Lance crackers and peanuts she knew were by the cash register.  Those had lasted for about five minutes: the boys had inhaled them, just as they had inhaled the church ladies’ food.  Susanna had refused the crackers and now only eaten half of her sandwich and drank her milk at her mother’s insistent prodding.  Grief, Hazel knew, measured itself out in many shapes and forms.  Susanna had been Ben’s favorite.

     The SUV’s only stop had been at a tribal checkpoint on Highway 19.  No guns, but Hazel was sure it wouldn’t be long before the Cherokee armed themselves, given what had been on the news after they got on 19 and had survived the first of its many hairpin curves.  According to the NPR reporter the federal government’s withdrawal of all personnel from national parks and forests and historic sites in the Southeast, starting with North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, in response to an emergency budget reduction in February, was complete.  The President of the Women of the Church and Father Jamey had both snorted.

     “Budget reduction, my ass,” the Waynesville First Pres woman had said.  “The OU’s in Congress are behind that, I bet you.  That and all the money spent going to Mars.  The damn Greens and the Socialists can’t get their act together to back up the Democratic-Republican Coalition—boy, are they going to regret that.  God knows what the Crazies are going to do.  Did you see the Naturist Party’s Malling Nude Year’s Eve Party on TV?  I couldn’t believe it.  Plus those poor fools nobody seems to be listening to going on and on about December 21.  The country is going crazy for sure.  I just hope the Cherokee can take up the slack; I know they are trying to take over in the Smokies.  Lots of the rest of us out here are helping ’em.  It’s not as if Raleigh’s going to be much help: it looks like more craziness in North Carolina, like back in ’91.  The damn National Guard is defying the governor; never mind what the commander at Bragg is doing.  The law’s getting thin out here.  They’ve started blowing up mail boxes and post offices—keep the elections screwed up.  And those monsters in the Great Dismal Swamp—I hear they are starting to scream at night and go flying.  You know Norfolk and Portsmouth were evacuated—not supposed to be a soul in either city.  You know something else?  I sure do feel sorry for those Mars astronauts.  They are on their way back to this mess.  I bet they wished they had stayed on Mars.”

     “The law is going to get a lot thinner before all this is over,” Father Jamey said, and Hazel wondered just what this was and if this would ever be all over, and wasn’t this just more of the same what happened twenty-one years ago, with maybe a slightly different cast of characters?  I mean: here we are, running again from the bad guys.  Dear God, haven’t we done enough in this Good vs. Evil battle of yours?

     After passing through the tribal checkpoint at the bridge over the Soco River, Hazel wanted to shut her eyes.  She didn’t want to see what looked like a refugee camp in the parking lot of the now-closed Harrah’s Casino: campers of various sizes, a scattering of tents and sleeping bags, AirStreamers, Winnebago’s.  Later, Hazel learned they were refugees: tourists ordered out of the national parks, as the government pullout had progressed.  The ones still here were afraid to go home, or had already run away from home.  They had no place to go.  She didn’t want to see the next bridge, over the Oconaluftee, the elementary school, the Council House, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Stores offices.  She and Malachi had come here on their honeymoon—feeling foolish they were behaving so like the mundanes—and they had bought baskets hand-made out of white oak splints.  Baskets she had had to leave back in Raleigh.  There had been an old woman basket maker, who had just wanted to touch Malachi, feel his ears, as she talked in Cherokee about the Nunnehí.  Hazel’s heart ached, as she pointed out the places she remembered to the children, wondering as she watched their still-stunned faces, if they would remember anything she was saying.

     After hugging everybody, the Waynesville First Pres woman driver left then in the parking lot of what had once been the Oconaluftee Living Village—a show-and-tell for flatlander tourists—and was now the home of the chief.  Three council women, including the chief, met them there and took Hazel, Father Jamey, the shell-shocked Larissa, and the children up Drama Hill to beds and rooms and dinner in the A-frame house, part of what had once been the cast quarters of the old outdoor drama, Unto These Hills.  Ben’s box they took to the tribal archives below the high school/public library to be locked away.  Hazel didn’t try to thank the Cherokee as much as she wanted for not talking about what happened, and for just listening to her prattling on, to fill up the silences of grief and shock, about little things: the weather—more snow, not so unusual for the mountains—the drive from Waynesville on 19—wasn’t it lucky no one had gotten carsick from the curves?—and where the children would sleep and where were the blankets, towels, washcloths, soap, shampoo?  She remembered later the Cherokee weren’t big talkers.  The chief did ask if the children had seen the dragons way back in the west, and had pointed out the right direction.  Most of the ones that appeared in North Carolina after the Change had come to roost in the Smokies.  Unicorns, too, those that had survived the idiots after their horns.  (Not every detail of the old stories had turned out to be true.)  A flock of pegasi flew over from time to time.  And a whole lot of the Talking Beasts.  When only Benjy had managed to say something to the chief, Hazel kept talking: yes, maybe they would see a unicorn or a dragon or a pegasus, chat with a friendly Bear, letting her words become like a calming rain, a river of comfort, until her children were in bed and asleep.

     Hazel wished she could give herself the same comfort, that her words would fall on her in a calming rain.  She couldn’t.  Tomorrow or the next day, she knew, they would all have to talk of what had been seen and heard: the sounds of the guns that had killed Ben and the UU driver, the sounds of their bodies hitting the cold ground, Ben’s face and the blood and bits of flesh and bone and teeth, and what she and Father Jamey had done with all the bodies, and of the grieving, the mourning, that had to be done.  She knew she would have to help her children weep.  Perhaps in the helping she could find her own tears.  She didn’t know how she would comfort Larissa. The next four weeks before she met Russell and Jeff at the Ukteniyi Gate in the Oconaluftee River, on April 30, were going to be very long.  She missed Malachi so much.

     “They asleep?”

     “Yeah, and Festus is right by Susanna,” Hazel said as she came down the stairs to see Father Jamey on the couch, his eyes as wet and dark as she imagined her own to be.  She nodded and went to sit beside him. 

     “Hazel, I—I loved Ben.”

     “We all did.”

     “I mean, I loved him.  I loved him,” Father Jamey said and leaned into her.  “And I never told him.”

     “Shhh, it’s all right; it’s all right,” she whispered, thinking how brave Father Jamey was.  He kept going on even after losing everything.

She didn’t want any more words, no more secrets; she wanted to lay her head on his shoulder, feel his body rise and fall.  Instead she stroked his hair as he wept.  She didn’t want words.