An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.—Charles Dickens
At 8:45, there was a knock on the door. Fred was up in a bound to open it, and found, as expected, Esmeralda, wrapped in her black cloak, wearing a look of concern.
“I flew over here as fast as I could; cut the class a little short.”
She noticed Ike stretched out on the couch watching a Pens game, laughing at her metaphor.
“Do you really fly around on a broom that you’ve magicked up to look like a late-model Cadillac?” he said, lifting his chin to look at her upside down.
“Of course, sweetie. But whatever would your neighbors think of a broom? You boys would never keep such a useless thing lying around. It might look suspicious; people would talk.” She smiled her curly smile at Ike.
Fred interjected nervously. “Where should we start for this thing?”
Esmeralda had called to check on him earlier, to make sure he was still OK. He needed a favor. He’d been too wrapped up in his alienation to think of it at lunch, but the moment he stepped back into the house, he felt something weird in there, something that didn’t belong.
“You think it’s—what?” she had asked him. She was in the office, emailing Monteith during daylight hours Australia-time, in the hope of a quick return reply. Of course, Monteith was not the sort to keep any sort of regular hours at all.
“Hector—my rabbit. He, uh—came to me in a vision, I guess you’d call it—at the party.”
“—of my rabbit. Yes.”
“I need for that not to happen again.”
“What did he have to, you know, say?”
“He said I was miserable and need to see my mother. Can’t you do some kind of ritual or something?”
That brought her up short—something that hadn’t occurred to her, oddly enough. Of course, Fred had a mother, naturally, except that Esmeralda couldn’t imagine such a creature. Some young girl with a dark-haired baby in her arms…her vision never went beyond that. Whoever she was, it was clearly an estranged relationship. That rabbit had struck a nerve.
“Yes, hon, of course I can. I’m teaching a class tonight in Dormont, but I could stop by around 9:00, if that’s not too late.”
And so, here she was, as promised.
“We ought to start inside and then go out; push the energies out of the house, then sweep the yard and seal the property lines. Sound good?”
Fred nodded dumbly.
“Give me a few minutes to ground myself here, and feel the energy. If you could find me a candle, it would be real helpful.” She took off her cloak and folded it over the arm of the chair, as Fred headed for the kitchen.
She sat down on the ottoman and began to meditate. Ike watched her for a few minutes.
“Is the rabbit here?” Ike asked, when he couldn’t resist any longer. He felt that weird sense of anticipation, a mix of fear and excitement that used to thrill him as a kid reading horror novels.
“No. He’s in the yard.”
Her matter-of-fact tone really did not reassure him. “Why are you doing this then?”
She did not open her eyes, continuing her deep, steady breathing. “Because Fred is in trouble and I can help him.”
Ike felt a lot less like making fun of her. He didn’t know what else to do; the game wasn’t holding his interest.
“I’ve got it,” Fred said, holding up a taper in a tarnished silver candlestick.
“Perfect, hon. Let me light up my smudge stick and we can go upstairs. We’ll work our way downstairs and go through the rooms in a counter-clockwise path. After we’re all done outside, we’ll need to eat. That sound, OK?”
Fred seemed to be standing a little straighter, and had nodded in the affirmative.
“You’re welcome to come, too, Ike, if you want to.”
He was actually curious to see what this was all about. The Navajos had used smudge sticks like this in that X-Files episode where Agent Mulder was nearly dead from finding alien corpses underground, and now here it was, for real.
Esmeralda started in the bathroom, waving her smoking smudge stick in great circles as she muttered something, probably in Latin or some other dead language that Ike didn’t recognize. She moved from there to Ike’s room—she glanced at him for permission before she went in—again with the chanting, and the earthy smoke clouds. She made a similar circuit of Fred’s room and then the library, before heading downstairs again.
Fred suggested they clear the basement, since it was one of his favorite places, so she did that before chanting her way through the kitchen, the dining room and the living room. She spent an extra-long time in the last two rooms. All the time, Fred followed behind her with the candle and a plant mister, and as they left each room, Esmeralda rang a small silver bell. Ike did not attempt to hide that he was a little moved by the whole thing, reminding him as it did of the games he and Ange played as kids, imitating what they understood of Sunday worship services, playing their game to understand something bigger out there, a thing he still had no idea or word for, though it was always a part of the vision he chased. He bundled into a jacket and followed Fred and Esmeralda outside.
They began at the driveway, walked to the outer edge of the hedges, followed them to the corner of the house, then down along the fence (Ike gave Esmeralda a boost over the rusted iron fence at the far end of the property) along the little hilltop path, up the watercourse and back to the front porch. It was cold enough that the three of them made an eager retreat back to the house.
“We must eat now, is that correct?” Fred asked.
“It is important to re-ground ourselves and connect with the earth. It can be done through meditation, of course, but as we are all natural creatures, food and drink are probably the surest method.”
Fred grabbed a tin full of breadtzels, nodded toward a cupboard. “Grab a jar for yourself. The elixir is downstairs. I’ll stoke up the fire and we can hang out down there.”
Ike glanced around and decided on one of the big, unmatched chairs that surrounded the dining room table. Hoisting it over his back, he followed them down the stairs. It was only when she had arrived in the basement, with its two lawn chairs and stained coffee table set before a pristine, black enameled potbelly stove that Esmeralda understood what Ike was laboring under. He set the wooden chair beside Fred’s customary spot, and without further ceremony, retrieved his glass from the table and hit the elixir tap.
“Thanks, Ike,” Esmeralda said as she settled into her chair. Fred filled two jars with elixir, and handed one to her.
She took a deep swallow of elixir and chewed a handful of breadtzels before speaking. “He was in the yard, Fred, and I left him there. It didn’t seem right to cast him away. I told him that, for now, it might be considerate to give you some time. I don’t know if he got the message.”
“Thanks,” Fred said, taking a handful of breadtzels. “I don’t know anyone else who would even attempt it. It means a lot to me.”
“That’s my job, Fred.” He looked at her quizzically. “OK, my other job.” And she laughed.
“Oh, and one other thing. There was a big, old cloud of hate in here on the ground floor. Nasty business that didn’t seem to want to go. I did what I could, but I think it’s going to take a little effort on your part to sort that out, if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. I tried, this afternoon, but I didn’t get anywhere.”
“Give her time, sweetie. Give her time.”
She turned her attention to Ike. “How about you, Handsome? How’s your love life?”
He blushed till his ears turned pink. “Nothing to speak of,” he mumbled. He seemed to be studiously investigating the nature of the concrete floor.
She’d never have guessed him for shyness, but something was seething between those pink ears. It was a pleasant reverie—the boys of her youth, with their raw libidos and tender hearts—which made her suddenly rather fond of the troubled young man sitting on the other side of Fred. Tread gently, fair maidens, she thought.
It had been a good night’s work. Esmeralda was content.
You can find chapters 1-19 here.