Chapter 10 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first. You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.
It was hard for Eliana to accept that Willa had replaced her. She was used to resting in the role of prized disciple. Eliana went on telling herself that Willa still loved her, but she just didn’t need Willa in the same way that these new disciples needed her. But more troubling and confusing to Eliana than having to make room for the others, was that it seemed as if Willa needed them. To Eliana’s eye, these were just normal four-year-olds, yet Willa was desperately trying to guide them along the spiritual path.
Eliana, now fourteen, managed to convince her mother that she was old enough to be in charge of the daycare. It helped that Willa seemed to support this idea, even though she didn’t verbally consent. The family was under Willa’s sway, dancing to the music that she was playing. As Mataji, lifetimes ago, Willa never cared to force anything in the ashram. She allowed the disciples to repeat their mistakes over and over again, letting them progress at their own pace. But now, as Willa, she was determined to set her family and the daycare on a precise routine.
Eliana understood that she was the only one who truly saw what was going on. She took this as a sign that Willa was allowing her to be a partner in her affairs, but Eliana couldn’t understand why Willa wasn’t sharing her plans.
The daycare went through all the motions of a normal childhood safe place and pre-school organization. Eliana would lead a simple class each morning, helping the children sing their ABCs and playing number games with them. There was playtime, coloring and naptime like any other daycare facility. But it was story time in the early afternoons, when most of the family was tending to the property, that Willa’s training began.
Willa would tell ancient stories and compare each of the kids to the heroes as she tried to mold each one of them in their images. The other family members would have wondered how Willa knew all of these stories that she had never been told. Eliana, though, was filled with pride by her sister’s ability to be fully aware of her previous births and able to draw on the knowledge of the universe.
Willa often told the story of the Mahabharata war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. She would tell Sam that he was like the great warrior Arjuna. Sam developed a fierce need to protect Willa. He was her security. Eliana wondered what kind of security a four-year-old could provide, but realized that Willa must be grooming him for the future.
James was the storyteller. Willa would talk of great souls like Shakespeare who put words into rhyme and meter to sink those words into people’s consciousness. James often sang the group to sleep before naptime.
Caroline and Andrew were always compared to the martyrs. This was one thing that Eliana just couldn’t understand. Whether it was Socrates, freely acting in a way that would bring about his sentence of death in order to bring knowledge to his disciples, or the young mother Perpetua, killed for her unshakable beliefs, Eliana couldn’t understand what the purpose of these comparisons were. Nevertheless, the severity in the comparisons had a way of endearing them to Eliana, and they became her favorites among the young batch of disciples.
Once, Caroline asked to Willa who Eliana was, and Willa responded that, “She is like Agnes of Rome, killed as a child after being reviled by would be suitors, as she held fast to her piety, seeing nothing else but her Lord.”
Those words from Willa filled Eliana’s heart with joy and allowed her to let go of the need to know everything about what was going on.
It wasn’t just the daycare that Willa sought to control, but the family’s schedule as well. Willa seemed to want all of the men in the front gardens every afternoon by three o’clock, and all of the women in the back stables at that time. If ever she saw her father or one of her brothers wandering around the house after three, she w0uld speak up, asking if they weren’t needed in the front to help.
With the women, Willa tended to be a little less friendly.
“What are you doing here? You should be in the stables taking care of the horses.” She would seem angry, almost desperate when she told them.
No matter who she was speaking to, the family members would strictly follow Willa’s advice and hurry off to where she told them to be. They didn’t know why they felt the need to do whatever Willa said, nor did they discuss this need with each other. She had a mystical sway over all of them, and they simply obeyed.
“It was May 13th,” said James. Nicholas’ mouth started to fall open in mere anticipation of the story that he had never heard in full. Nicholas’ mouth was dry and he clung to his cup of hot chocolate with both hands, not thirsty, but needing something to hold onto.
“For me,” James continued, “I always think of it as the day Willa lost her smile. The group of us had barely been together three months, but it was like we were the highlight of each other’s day. We loved to be together. Although Willa wasn’t overly friendly with her family, with us she always talked with a smile.”
“You remember her smile?” Nicholas asked.
“Because of what happened that day, I remember everything about our short time together.”
Nicholas nodded, trying to contain his questions so as to hear the story.
“Willa seemed preoccupied. It was like she was watching an important news broadcast, and we were her kids trying to distract her. She didn’t want to be rude to us but her mind was somewhere else. And then it was three o’clock – story time – and suddenly she was desperate for our attention.”
James lips started to quiver slightly as he took a deep breath. It was the first time he’d shared this part of the story with anyone.
“Willa told everyone to get into a circle. That was normal for story time, but her face was like, now. She asked Eliana to keep her eye on the window. Originally I thought it was to keep a look out for the family but later I realized…” James paused for a second, and took another breath.
“So, she told us to get in a circle,” he continued, his attention inward, barely seeing Nicholas any longer. “Then she told us to hold hands. We thought it was funny, but we always did as she said. She then explained that some people are able to see the world as it truly is, beyond just the physical reality, because they are tapped into the source of power that sustains all of life. She told us that everybody can develop that gift, but some were born with it. Willa said that both she herself, and-”
“and Eliana. Both she and Eliana were born with it,” Nicholas interrupted.
James was shocked out of his trance for a moment, “Yes, and Eliana.” James put his hand slowly through his hair.
“So,” continued James, “Willa said, ‘I want to speed along your process of connecting to this sight. You won’t understand it at first. You won’t know how to use it. You will have to learn over the years how to attune your minds to a space that makes this connection to the source fluid.’ Then she looked at each of us deeply in the eyes and asked, ‘Do you accept this responsibility?’ We each in turn said, ‘I do.’ Then her eyes rolled back into her head and we all held on to each other’s hands a little tighter. For a moment, it was like we were in some communal meditative space. There was no more circle. There were no more hands, or kids or individuals. There was just this… blissful awareness.”
“And then,” Nicholas started. James looked at him and saw tears in his eyes.
“And then Eliana screamed out, ‘Something is happening.’ We all kind of awoke, or came out of that meditative space. We were still holding hands. Willa told us to let go of each other and wait. ‘Whatever happens, just understand that this is part of the story,’ she told us. Then Eliana began frantically narrating what was going on outside.
“‘There are two trucks speeding onto the property’ she was yelling. ‘Dad, Terrance and Martin are running over to the road. The men in the truck – they have guns. They are yelling something at Dad. Dad is just yelling back at them.’ Then she screamed. Eliana just screamed.”
“They shot them,” said Nicholas.
“They shot them,” said James nodding his head. “They shot Willa’s father and brothers dead. Eliana, started screaming, ‘They shot them! They shot them all! They’re running here! The men are coming to the house!’
“Then it happened. One man burst through the door and Eliana jumped in front of him. Without hesitation, the man shot her in the chest; just shot her without even thinking about it. Eliana fell onto Andrew and Caroline and they were in shock just holding her as she was bleeding out – convulsing.
“Then this man came in, extremely angry, yelling, ‘Travis, are you crazy? Not the kids. What is wrong with you? Not the kids.’ This guy who was giving the orders was unreal. It seemed as if he were standing above the rest – almost magical looking. Like he had a glow about him.
“Another guy came in and said, ‘No. They all must die.’
“Then the magical one yelled, ‘Benjamin! We do not kill children.’
“Then, this guy Benjamin, yelled ‘The girl must die.’”
“‘She’s a high born,’ told the magical one.’”
“‘There’s no other way,’ said Benjamin and motioned to another man that seemed dedicated to this Benjamin, to kill Eliana. This man moved quickly towards Willa. Sam jumped in the way and the man just threw Sam to the side. Sam flew against the wall. I remember the magical one yelling, ‘No,’ but it was too late.
“It only took a couple of seconds, but it felt as if everything happened in slow motion. I couldn’t move. I was frozen. Benjamin’s man pointed the gun about a foot from Willa’s head and pulled the trigger. But the man fell. Willa didn’t get shot. The man fell. The gun backfired and killed the man who pulled the trigger.”
James could see tears flooding from Nicholas’ eyes, but he pressed on with the story. James was reliving it himself. “It was like, for one second, everyone in the room froze. Then the magical one started yelling, ‘You fool. She’s a high born. She’s protected. She can’t die until she’s meant to die. Put her in the truck.’ They grabbed Willa and ran towards the trucks. I ran after them, crying, and confused. I was next to the truck and somebody just kicked me in the face and then they all sped away.”
James’ body was shaking as he said, “The screams. I heard the screams of Willa’s mother and sisters as they entered the house. They had heard the gunshots and had come running from the stables. But it was too late. I walked back to the house and saw Willa’s mother grasping on to Eliana’s dead body and shouting, ‘My daughter! My daughter!’ And then after a moment she realized that Willa was missing and she started screaming, ‘Where’s Willa? Where’s Willa?’ The room was silent, other than her screams. We were all in shock and nobody could answer. All I could think of was that she didn’t even know her husband and sons were dead yet.”
James and Nicholas sat crying with each other. For James, the tears flowed freely, after years of holding them back. But for Nicholas, his whole body was vibrating in revelation. He was desperately holding on to James’ hands trying to steady himself. It was as if a lifetime of knowledge had suddenly entered Nicholas’ consciousness and his physical body felt as it were going to explode from the force of it.
“I remember,” said Nicholas through his tears.
“What do you remember?” asked James, confused.
“I remember. I remember everything.”
“What do you remember, Nicholas?”
“I remember dying in the arms of my mother and father. I was that girl. I was Eliana.”
The Guardians drove fast, determined not to stop until they had reached the pocket near Mt. Rainier. They had stored gas on their trucks so they wouldn’t have to pull over at any public places. The men all hid in tarps in the back of the trucks, ready to pounce if they were pulled over. In one of those trucks lay Willa, her feet and legs tied up and her mouth taped shut. Next to her lay Benjamin, unwilling to let her out of his sight. Their eyes met and were locked. Willa was not scared, but knew that this was only the beginning of the story. As Benjamin stared into Willa’s eyes, for the first time in his life, he felt doubt start to creep in.
As they neared the campgrounds, Matthew took the wheel of his vehicle. The pocket that he had found had a couple of entrances, but if you didn’t hit it directly you would just bypass it. As they drove up the back roads slowly enough for the second truck to follow in line behind him, he pulled over to the side of the road for a few minutes. When he was sure there was no other traffic in sight, he suddenly drove off the road in a thirty-degree angle towards the forest. If anyone had been watching, it would have looked as if he was about to drive into a tree, but just before hitting it, both vehicles disappeared.
Once inside the pocket, they appeared on a clearing of grass surrounded by a forest. They drove through a patch of forest and into another clearing where a cabin had been constructed for their purposes. Matthew let the other truck pass him and yelled inside their window, “Post guards at all of the entries to the cabin. Have Benjamin check and secure the inside.”
Matthew sat still for a moment and watched the other vehicle park next to the cabin. He saw the men jump out, some heading for the back door and some for the front. Matthew watched as Benjamin climbed out of the truck and stood for a moment looking at the sky. The driver said something to Benjamin and then he could hear Benjamin as he turned around and said, “Gabriel, get the girl. I’m going to check things out.” Benjamin seemed irritated – angry. The men before Matthew seemed to be arguing with each other. This was not usual among the Guardians. They were always composed, and efficient in their speech and movements. But the incidents at the farm and with the astrologers in the theatre were still fresh in all of their minds. They were not killers, but they had become a violent group in their fight for survival.
Matthew watched the girl, as she was untied. Gabriel was telling her to get into the house, but she wasn’t moving. Eventually Gabriel grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and dragged her inside. Matthew took a deep breath. God help us, he thought, as he drove his truck closer to the cabin and parked. He put his hand out the window and hit the side of the truck a few times so that the men knew they could come out from beneath the tarp.
The men started jumping out of the truck and Matthew forced himself to also get out. As he stood there taking in the situation, he realized that something was wrong. Becoming quiet within, he realized that they were not alone. Scanning the tree line, he saw a boy hiding just inside the brush, watching them. Matthew was staring at the boy for a few seconds before the boy realized it.
Marcus heard Willa’s voice in his head yell, “Go!” and suddenly the boy jumped up and started running through the forest.
Matthew wanted to yell out, but he was unable to move. There was a power freezing him in his place. He saw that it wasn’t only him, but all of the men seemed to be experiencing the same thing. Knowing that there was nothing he could do, he waited. God will see me through this.
After a couple of minutes they were all able to move again. Matthew turned towards his men. “Russell,” he called out to the closest one, “get Benjamin from the house. We have a problem.”
Matthew knew that all eyes were on him as he explained to Benjamin that there had been a witness watching them from the forest. Matthew described the boy and where he was going and the pocket he had run through. He told Benjamin to have his men pick up the boys’ trail.
“Find out where he’s headed and follow him. Make sure the local authorities are notified not to follow any leads related to him or from where Willa was taken.” Matthew lowered his voice so that only Benjamin could hear him say, “Willa’s power is greater than we had even imagined. You need to have people watching her family and all of those kids that were with her. Make sure that none of the others know anything, or have learned anything from her.”
“Should we bring them here?” asked Benjamin.
“No. They will fight for her. That’s the last thing we need. No more killing Benjamin. Just watch them. This will all end if the killing goes on.”
“No more killing,” Benjamin agreed.
“And the girl, doesn’t leave the house.”
“Fine. I’ll set up a rotation, and I’ll move into the cabin myself.”
They stood outside of the coffee shop looking at each other for a moment. The two women knew they needed to walk in, but were working themselves up to it. They nodded at each other over and over again, encouraging the other to take the first step. One was excited to the point of not moving, while the other was wondering what she was getting herself into. Finally, the excited one grabbed the hand of the other one and they walked in.
Even in their tears, James and Nicholas felt the presence of the women as they entered the shop. The four of them made immediate eye contact. James was confused upon seeing the women, as they seemed to have come to the shop to find Nicholas and himself. Having come to the coffee shop on a whim, James didn’t understand how anyone could have known they were there.
The two women looked like polar opposites. One of the women seemed crazed, wild, excited beyond containment. The other was unsure, and hesitant. After a moment the women walked towards James’ table.
“My name is Elizabeth,” said the hesitant one. “And-”
“And, I am Beth,” said the wild one, smiling fiercely and staring directly at Nicholas, as she sat down next to him.
Nicholas felt his heart explode, but wasn’t able to understand what was happening to him.
Beth stared at Nicholas, smothering him with her eyes. Though they held no biological connection in this life, inside Beth still felt as though she were Sneha, looking upon her daughter Reshmi.
“Do you remember me?” asked Beth.
“Something inside of me does,” answered Nicholas.
I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 11.
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