husChapter 5 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first. You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.
His eyes stopped on 360, and his heart sank. The 360 area code was western Washington, but outside of Seattle proper. Russell kept his life as small and confined as he possibly could. Besides an ex-wife and a troublesome friend in San Francisco, he didn’t receive any calls outside of the city limits. He didn’t actually receive any calls that he was interested in picking up, other than the occasional check-in from his daughter. The few other calls he got were from people who had decided he was their friend and wanted to confide in him the made up troubles of their day. He would listen to their problems because he had to keep up the act of caring. Russell needed people to think that he was as invested as they were in the whirlwind of complacency.
As his eyes took in the totality of the number, he recognized it. He had only seen it once before. It was from an only-in-emergency outlet phone. Russell didn’t keep the number on him, so that if something came up, he couldn’t be connected to it. He knew that if he was being called, then it could only be bad news.
Russell took one final, deep breath, knowing that his life was about to change dramatically, and picked up the phone. He didn’t say anything, he just listened. After a moment, the voice came.
“Is Elizabeth still with you?” As he feared, it was the cowboy – Gabriel. His voice was low and gravely as always, but with an ever so slight waver to it. Russell could tell that Gabriel was worried.
“Yeah, she’s in her room,” Russell answered. “Probably sleeping.”
“We have a problem.”
“We need to find out what she knows.”
“She doesn’t know anything.”
“We had a visitor today.”
Russell stopped breathing. He didn’t know what to make of the words he had just heard. “Who?” he finally asked.
“A little girl.”
“A girl?” Russell took a moment, and then realized what Gabriel was thinking. “It must be a coincidence.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“Well. Did you take care of her?”
“What about the cabin?”
“I don’t know – it got inside my head, or something.” They had never named what was inside of the cabin. It was easier that way. It was easier to just look at linked logs and not its contents. They had experienced too many questions, and had too few answers to explain the secrets that lay inside. It was easier to just shut the door and refer to everything that they didn’t understand as the cabin.
“It’s been so long now. Elizabeth is finally working and living a normal life again.”
“If it took this long, then maybe she was holding onto something. Look, you need to talk to her about Marcus. If Marcus was carrying a deep guilt about the situation, then he may be trying to change things.”
“How could she possibly know?”
“Look, it’s either you or Travis. If you’re not going to take care of this, then I won’t hesitate to get him involved.”
“Okay, okay! I’m on it. I’ll take care of it.” Russell couldn’t allow Travis to get involved with his daughter. Travis was responsible for getting her into this mess in the first place. Besides his being morally reprehensible and prone to violence, Russell just didn’t like Travis. He was the real deal, slick, city, manipulator-extraordinaire. Travis would have you walking in circles and believing that you loved doing it. It was tolerable when you didn’t understand him, but for Russell, who had spent so many years around him and knew how his mind worked, Travis was insufferable.
When she was a kid, Elizabeth lived with her mother in San Francisco. Travis’ main duty was watching Marcus and his family in Seattle. When Marcus’ family moved to San Francisco, Travis saw the opportunity to find his way into Marcus’ life.
Travis did what he had to do to become an English professor at San Francisco State University. He entered their Ph.D. program, became a star intern and started teaching his own classes. It was a ten-year hustle. By the time Marcus was ready to begin college, Travis was an established professor.
For years Travis had sent both Marcus and Elizabeth “random” free pamphlets from San Francisco State Unviersity about the value of English studies from the University. By the time they were thinking about picking a college, there was only one school they considered. Marcus was a year ahead of Elizabeth in his studies. Travis waited until Marcus’ second year and Elizabeth’s second semester and then casually recruited them separately to join his English Literature class.
Elizabeth was a Biology Student, and Marcus a Psychology one, but after years of receiving the pamphlets in the mail, they thought it would be fun to join the class. Their class was the first and only time Travis used assigned seating for his students. Travis made sure that he placed Marcus and Elizabeth next to each other in the back of the room. Sometimes he would insult them together so as to develop a bond between them. They had no idea that he was creating an ideal environment for their friendship to blossom. Eventually they became more than the friends he had hoped for. They became lovers.
The first time that Elizabeth brought Marcus home to meet him, Russell vomited right at Marcus’ feet. Russell had recognized Marcus immediately. He feigned a fever, but both of the kids thought there was something Russell didn’t like about him. To cover his horror, he tried to act like an over protective parent. Eventually, he calmed himself enough to ask how they met.
“Oh, you know, ignoring the teacher in the back of our English Lit class,” Elizabeth laughed.
“Yeah, we kind of failed out of that class together,” added Marcus.
“English Literature?” Russell asked, confused. “Why were you taking that?”
“The teacher seemed really cool, and wanted us to join up. He was recruiting students and I thought, why not, it should be fun.”
“Recruiting?” Again, Russell felt sick. He already knew the answer but had to ask. “Who was your teacher?”
“Professor Travis Gramm,” Marcus piped in. “But he turned out to be a real ass. Always harassing us for not knowing things that weren’t even in the assigned reading. Guess he expected real go getters, but English is not either of our fields.”
Russell had always wondered why Travis had chosen teaching as his work cover. The Guardians had more than enough money set aside to support them. The best thing they could do in the world was to live simple, unassuming lives. Besides that, nothing about Travis seemed interested in the enlightening of young minds.
Travis had always been a power guy. He was never the guy that was interested in religion for the sake of worship, but for the status it gave him with others. As a Guardian, he could hold the future of the world in his hands, and that was all of the recruitment pitch he had needed.
Now Russell realized that Travis had this endgame in sight all along. He needlessly put Russell’s daughter in harms way just because he could; just to feel the power of pulling the strings.
When Russell confronted Travis, Travis explained that now they would have front row seats to Marcus’ life. They wouldn’t have to guess what he was up to or what he remembered, but could use Elizabeth for that purpose.
“Elizabeth is not, nor will she ever be, involved in this!” Russell had yelled.
“It’s a little too late for that my friend,” Travis smiled, the twisted grin of a socio-path. If he could have gotten his own daughter involved, he would have, but she was never swayed by his manipulation. She read him too well.
“Anyways,” continued Travis. “Gabriel gave his blessings.”
“Gabriel knows about this?” Russell was beside himself. Without composure or reflection he stated in a low tone, “He is not the boss here.”
“Really? Should I let him know that?”
Since Matthew, their original leader, had died, they had never received instructions on how to proceed. Matthew had been the only one of them with the sight. He had always talked as if the Guardians were a worldwide operation. But since his death, no one had ever contacted them. Russell wondered if the group had been limited to Matthew’s local chapter all along, or if it had similarly disintegrated into power struggles everywhere else.
While Matthew was alive, there was never a want of money or open doors. At that time, Russell had been confident that the Guardians’ reach stretched to the highest levels of power. Either they had been left to fend for themselves, or it had been an illusion from the beginning. Either way, they were holding on, having known no other life but the brotherhood for too many years to turn away from it. Though he had become a skeptic, the other survivors kept the faith religiously. Gabriel, having been Matthew’s number two, naturally filled the power vacuum.
Russell couldn’t break up Elizabeth and Marcus without revealing himself to his daughter. That would put her in more danger than she was already in. Instead he attempted to ignore the situation until his worst fears were realized – they got married. Russell demanded that he himself watch over Marcus and that Travis should be reassigned. Gabriel agreed and Russell saw Travis as little as possible – not more than twice a year when they would all meet up at the cabin to reevaluate their situation and schedules.
It had been nine years since Marcus’ plugs were pulled and he had passed away. Elizabeth stayed in her father’s apartment where she had spent the previous three years while Marcus was in a coma. The first year after his death, she had barely come out of her room. Now she was working nights stocking shelves in a department store.
Russell had hoped that, with Marcus’ death, the drama would be over; that there would be nothing left for him to worry about. But now, with Gabriel desperate, Russell knew that he had better sort things out before other members of the brotherhood, came to do it for him.
Walking into his daughter’s bedroom, he touched her shoulder. He knew that she wasn’t sleeping. Rolling over to face him she simply stared, without saying anything.
“I have an idea for you,” he said. He thought he might be seeing an eyebrow struggle to raise.
“Maybe you should go back to San Francisco.”
“San Francisco?” she asked. San Francisco was actually the last place that Russell wanted her to be right now, but he needed to get an immediate rise out of her. If she felt he was pushing her away, she would fight back.
“Your mother would love to see you. She says that your old job at the lab is ready to take you back.” Elizabeth had been a biochemist before their trip to Seattle, studying the differences between wild and inbred carrot cells’ effect on human health.
“After twelve years, you really think they want me back? Why are you calling mom anyways? Do you want to get rid of me?”
“I was just thinking that maybe you needed a fresh environment. After twelve years I think that Marcus would want you to get on with your life.”
“I have gotten on with my life. Why are you talking about Marcus all of a sudden? You never cared to talk about him before.”
“I was just thinking that if Marcus is looking down on you-”
“Looking down on me.”
“Yeah, you know, from heaven.”
“I mean, you know, Marcus never did a bad thing in his life. He didn’t even have one thing to be guilty about after having walked such a kind and forgiving path.” Russell was having trouble keeping bile from seeping up from his stomach, as he was nauseating himself with his own words.
“Dad you never liked Marcus.”
“That’s just because he was too… perfect.”
“Dad, he wasn’t perfect.”
“I mean he didn’t have any issues. He wasn’t sad about anything. He had a clean past.”
Elizabeth looked towards the floor and started shaking her head. “Dad, he was troubled like anybody else. Very troubled about some things.”
Russell could see her eyes starting to water and knew he was getting to her.
“He was just such a good man. That’s all I’m trying to say,” continued Russell. “At least you can be assured he’s in a better place now.”
With the last line, Elizabeth burst into tears.
“Baby, what’s wrong,” asked Russell. It killed him to see his daughter crying, but he knew this was the only way to protect her.
Elizabeth sat up in bed. Russell sat next to her and held her hands.
“I just have a bad feeling,” said Elizabeth. “I just have a bad feeling that Marcus maybe didn’t go to such a good place.”
“How can you say that? Marcus was one of the nicest guys I’ve met. I mean, I know that I never gave him any love, but I always appreciated that he was there for you.”
“I know you did. And he knew it too.”
“So what are you worried about?”
“I was never worried about Marcus, but death was always a serious subject for him. We never talked about it flippantly, because Marcus was scared of it. He didn’t believe he was going to heaven. I mean, I’m not sure that he believed in heaven at all, but when he let himself talk about it as a possibility, he would say that we wouldn’t be going to the same place.”
“What are you talking about?” Russell was shaking his head, trying to encourage her secrets out of her.
“I never feared for Marcus, but since his death I have felt… uneasy. Like maybe there was some truth to his neurosis. Marcus lived as good a life as he possibly could, but he was always trying to make up for his childhood.”
“Just one incident actually. One mistake from when he was a kid.”
“We all do things when we’re young.”
“No, it’s not like that. He saw something.” Russell saw that she was ready to share and decided to just keep quiet and let his daughter tell it at her own speed.
“A little girl,” she said, as tears started to stream down her cheeks. “Marcus was seven years old and he saw a little girl, maybe four or five years old. She was being dragged into a house. It was a little black girl.” Russell tensed. He wanted his daughter to stop. He wanted her to know nothing about what she was speaking of, but he couldn’t shake his duty to the Guardians.
“The girl, she wasn’t fighting, but she wasn’t helping either. There was a strong white man that looked like a cowboy or something, with the hat and boots, and a shotgun, that was just dragging the girl by her collar, like a ragdoll.”
“Why didn’t he call the police?” Russell couldn’t help himself from asking. Though he knew the story, he didn’t know the whys and wanted to fill in the gaps.
“It’s not like that.” Elizabeth sighed and looked into her father’s eyes, “It’s complicated.”
“So, tell me then.”
“He had gotten lost in some forest while hiking with his parents. He came across a cabin and you know kids, he couldn’t help himself – it looked abandoned, so he went inside. He was hungry, so he opened the cabinets in the kitchen and found stacks of money there. He filled his pockets with as much money as he could carry. He was basically robbing the place when a truck pulled up. He ran out the back door and into the woods.
Marcus watched from the tree line and saw two tall, dark skinned men with guns come around to the back door. They were yelling at each other. They looked foreign to him, but at that age he couldn’t tell. He said he thought one might have been an Indian, and one might have been an Arab, but he just didn’t know. He was scared that they would discover that he had taken the money. He worked his way behind the tree line back to the front of the house and that’s when he saw the cowboy pulling the girl out of the back of the truck. She was all tied up. The guy untied everything but the cloth around her mouth and told her to get in the house. She didn’t move. So the man just grabbed her by her shirt collar and dragged her inside. Then he sat there on the front porch with his shot gun just looking out into the brush.”
Russell stared at his daughter, waiting for more.
“Another truck pulled up with a bunch of men in the back of it – all shapes and sizes and colors. The only thing in common between them was that they all had guns.”
Russell was one of those men in the back of the truck. He could still see the day’s events clearly in his own mind, and was fascinated to hear it told by an outsider.
“But the driver of that second truck, was different from the rest, Elizabeth continued. “He was this tall, dark black skinned man. Marcus said, that he looked almost magical. Like he wasn’t fully present in the world, and at the same time, was more than present in it. That was all probably his adult psychologist reinterpretation, or reinvention. Whatever. He said that this was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. He was definitely the boss, because everyone deferred to him. His posture was stately. He was muscular, but thin. Marcus said it seemed like his cheeks were sunk in, as well as his eyes. But even in the severity of his features, his beauty was paramount.
Russell was amazed that he had never heard this story before. “So what did he do?”
“He was staring at this man, the boss. He didn’t seem to have a gun, but everyone seemed to fear or love him, he couldn’t tell. Marcus said he was so drawn to this man that he didn’t even notice it when the guy made eye contact with him. Suddenly he realized they were staring each other in the eye. It seemed like they were both frozen for a moment and then Marcus heard a voice in his head that yelled, ‘Go!’ So he took off running and didn’t look back.”
“Was it the man’s voice?” Russell asked, both shocked and confused.
“No. It was a girl’s voice. He always thought that it was that little girl’s voice. But, I mean, how could it be? Anyways, Marcus just ran and ran and somehow he found his way back to his parents. But he had the money stuffed in his pockets, so he was scared. He didn’t say anything.”
Russell marveled at the story. He remembered that this was the first time they had felt the power of the cabin. They had all froze under some kind of trance, and when they came out of it, Matthew had informed them that there’d been a witness. He told them to monitor the police stations for reports that might lead back to them and to pay whatever investigators they needed to pay off in order to keep things quiet.
“After about a week, Marcus told his parents about what happened, though he didn’t mention the money part. His parents informed the police, who came and talked with him, but they never found the cabin. Marcus thought that maybe they didn’t believe him, but he had come across the cabin by accident and he didn’t know his way back.
A couple of times, he offered to take me there, but I didn’t want to see it. I should have gone with him just for support, to end the struggle within him, but I guess I didn’t take it that seriously. Whenever he talked about it, it was so far in the past, like a bad dream. I didn’t see any reason for bringing it into the future. I should have at least gone hiking with him. We probably wouldn’t have found it anyways.”
Russell and his daughter sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Everything he did in his life,” she continued, “was all in memory of that little girl. He never said it, but in retrospect, I can see it. The way he talked with children. The way he was so protective of them. Knowing his pain, and the goodness with which he lived his life, I never for once believed that he would go to hell. But after he died… Since he died, I’ve just had a bad feeling all the time. Like he’s in a bad place. Like he’s in danger.”
Elizabeth’s cell phone rang. She saw the 415 area code for San Francisco, but it wasn’t her mother’s number.
“Hello?” she answered hesitantly.
“If you haven’t already given it away, don’t let on to your father who you’re talking to.”
“Yeah, ok.” Elizabeth felt a rush of emotion fill her chest. There was something comforting in the woman’s voice.
“Dad, I have to get ready for work.”
Russell, never knowing his daughter to lie to him, said, “ok honey. We’ll talk later.”
She listened as her dad walked down the hallway and into his own room. She then locked the door, entered her bathroom and turned on the shower.
Sure that she wouldn’t be heard, she sat down on the toilet to talk.
“Who is this?” Elizabeth asked.
“My name is Beth. I’m calling from the psych ward where your husband used to work in San Francisco. I was one of his patients.”
Elizabeth knew very well who Beth was. Beth was Marcus’ favorite patient. He couldn’t explain why, but he was fascinated by her. Even on days when he didn’t talk with Beth, Elizabeth would still hear stories, or ideas that Marcus had about her.
“I thought you didn’t talk.”
“I never needed to talk until now. But I need your help. I need you to come and get me.”
“I should come and get you?”
“They’ve agreed to release me to your care. They don’t actually want to keep me here, they just need somebody to take responsibility for me – to sign me out.”
“I should sign you out?”
“Look, I’m not crazy. I was trying to help your husband. We were working together. We didn’t get a chance to finish that work. Before, when he was in his body, he was safe. They couldn’t mess with him. They were organized and they wanted to keep the death toll down. But now, they are desperate and he is in trouble. I need you to help me help him.”
“Who are they?”
“I will explain everything when you pick me up.”
Elizabeth noticed she had tears running down her face. There was something in Beth’s voice that didn’t allow for the normal doubts to surface. Beth couldn’t be speaking anything but the truth. Her voice was pure. Her voice was Godly.
“Elizabeth, you can’t trust your father. I’m not asking you to do anything against him. Just don’t tell him anything more about Marcus.”
“My father wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.”
“Not to hurt you. But Marcus is another story. They have divergent interests. Do you think that there is any coincidence that I’m calling you on the first day in years your father has mentioned Marcus’ name?”
“How could you know that?”
“I am on Marcus’ side. I want to help him. If you’re worried about him, then you need to help me. Get me out of here.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth wasn’t sure why she was agreeing, but she felt as if she didn’t have any choice. If this was Beth on the phone, she knew that Marcus had loved her in some sort of familial way. The same couldn’t be said for her father.
“Act as if you’re going to work,” said Beth, “and then fly down here. The receptionist will be waiting for you.”
“Okay Beth,” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I’m coming.”
“I know you are.”
Gabriel finally hung up the phone. He had been standing with it in his hand just staring out at the forest, wondering if Russell was actually up to the task. It was the first time he had used this phone. It was connected to the side of his provisions hut. The hut was something they had built after the coup. Only those who had gone inside the cabin, sympathized with the girl – were part of the revolt. For if you look Satan in the eye, Gabriel had thought, surely he will sway your mind. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their work.” (2 Cor 11:13-15).
Matthew had divided them up into groups. Russell, and Travis, along with eight others were under Gabriel’s command. They were security. They came and went from the cabin grounds, but they never went inside. Their job was to keep the place a secret, and to guard it against trespassers. The trespassers bit was the easy part. Paying off various police, judges and politicians was what kept their blood flowing.
The other group moved about within the cabin. They were the keepers. Their main job was to feed the girl and keep her out of trouble. Gabriel knew that there was a problem when the keepers stopped referencing the mysticism of the cabin and started attributing it to the girl. Gabriel didn’t understand what she was, but he certainly wasn’t going to bestow upon her divine powers. The Guardians moved in God’s world. God had protected him up until now. If Gabriel was going to go down fighting, he would be fighting on the side of tradition, of scripture, of the one who had always been. If he had to give his life in service to the Lord, he was ready to make that sacrifice. The heathens were not about to rise on his watch.
Dave was one of the men posted on the inside, but was also a coward. The day the keepers decided to try and free the girl, they came out, guns firing. They shot Matthew first and it took the rest of the security team a second to get over their shock. In that second of hesitation, half of the security team was killed.
Gabriel, Russell and Travis made it to the tree line and picked the keepers off one by one. They thought they had killed them all, but when they entered the cabin, Dave was sitting next to the girl – cowering. Dave put up his hands and begged for his life. He explained that he wasn’t really involved in the escape attempt, but Gabriel knew he was just not willing to die for the cause.
They decided to let Dave live. He wouldn’t be an issue by himself, and they had already lost so many of their brothers. Dave had failed and was totally humbled. Gabriel was not a malicious man and didn’t look to kill needlessly.
From that day, Gabriel decided that no one should ever enter the cabin again. They built a hut fifteen feet back from it, where they kept provisions.
Gabriel took his hand off the phone and opened the door of the hut. He took out a loaf of stale bread and walked back to the cabin. He opened the door and saw the girl, now a woman, sitting in the center of the dark room, on the floor. Her eyes opened and she looked directly at him. So beautiful, he felt a voice within him think spontaneously, as he always did. Disgusted, he threw the bread on the floor in front of her, and shut the door.
I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 6.
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