Chapter 16 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first. You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.
The halls had become her garden. Beth would walk them for hours every day. She would poke her head into rooms and breathe in the beauty that the other patients had to offer. If she ever saw trash on the floor, she took it as weeds to be removed. The doctors were the worms. Even though they sometimes made her nauseous, they were good for the over-all health of the soil that the patients were growing in.
Her own room had become a cave to escape the world of flesh and blood. She would sit on the floor, with legs crossed, for hours, and allow herself to fall away from the mind that sought to contain her. Beth would rest in the peace that was all around her.
In the hospital, Beth had come to be known as a shaman of sorts. When patients were with her, they regarded her both as one of them, and someone who could help them. Though she wore a patient’s garb, she received a doctor’s respect. Even the accredited doctors and nurses appreciated the peace that she brought to the environment.
Beth, however, was not living to give peace to others, but simply running out the clock on a life she’d given up on. Though others benefitted from her meditation, she had dedicated her life to going inwards simply because that was what retirement meant to her – to stop looking for meaning in the outside world and find it within. That goal was all she had left.
Beth attended weekly sessions with Dr. Robert Thomas, where he would sit agitated and she would be waiting for the hour to end. The death of Marcus had left Beth without a purpose, and seeing his replacement was a constant reminder of that. Robert, for his part, knew she was not interested in him, and while at first he regretted that he couldn’t help, he came to resent the time that they had to spend together.
Beth had given up on ever having a reason to live again, until Willow, after ten long years away, finally appeared before her again.
Robert looked at Beth, and Beth at Robert. This was what they did as he tried to pretend he was anywhere else in the world but in the room with her. Robert could feel his pulse speeding up, and he tried to calm himself. It will be over soon. Only 58 minutes to go. After a few minutes more, he realized that Beth had a different expression on her face that normal; her eyes were focused, waiting.
Realizing that she finally had his attention, Beth opened her mouth. “I need to make a phone call,” Beth said dryly.
Robert looked at her, amazed. He understood her words, but immediately started telling himself that it was his imagination.
“I need to make a phone call,” Beth repeated.
“What? You spoke? You’re speaking?”
“Is that a question?” asked Beth.
“Why are you speaking?” asked Robert.
“Because, I need to make a phone call.”
“Beth, my love, how are you?”
“How do you think I am?”
“You look tired.”
“Tired? Not tired. Just purposeless.”
Willow took a moment to allow Beth time to register that she was really there and would soon have a purpose again. “I need you to get out of this place. You have work to do.”
“Out of this place? Do you mean physically?”
Willow could see the lack of enthusiasm on Beth’s face. She had spent a long time in the hospital waiting, and would need a little coaxing to get back into the mood for adventure.
“Do you remember the days when we were mediating in the Himalayas? You were my sister then and you were angry because you thought I had destroyed your daughter’s life.”
“Lifetime’s of memories have come back to me as I sat here in this hospital. One memory that I will never be able to forget is that of my daughter Reshmi.”
“Well, Reshmi is alive.”
“What do you mean, alive?”
“She has taken birth, and she is now a young boy, Nicholas, who is essential to our story. Her parents were part of my group, children at my house, when I was taken all those years ago.”
“Reshmi is here?”
“She’s – well he’s – in Seattle.”
“Who do you want to call?” asked Robert.
“Elizabeth? You mean yourself?”
“My name wasn’t Elizabeth, it was Bethany. And I don’t want to talk to myself, I want to talk to Marcus’ widow, Elizabeth Kelly.”
“The Marcus that was your doctor before me?”
“Do you know any other Marcus Kelly?”
“What do you want with her?”
“She is going to be my sponsor. I’m going to be leaving this place. So, I need her to come and pick me up.”
“Presently,” continued Willow, “Elizabeth is about to tell her father, Russell, who was one of my captors, everything that Marcus knew about me. If she reveals any of her knowledge, Marcus will be in danger.”
“Why do they care now, after so many years? How can they be of any harm to him?”
“Because Marcus has also returned. He is now a ten-year-old girl. She wandered upon the cabin earlier today and so they are trying to piece her story together. You have to get to her before they do.”
“How will I do that?”
“First you need to convince Elizabeth to help you, and then you’ll need to find Reshmi.”
Beth could feel excitement start to build within her. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel anything for years. When she heard the phone ring, for the first time in a long time, she allowed her imagination to run wild.
“Hello?” she heard a hesitant voice on the other end say.
“If you haven’t already given it away, don’t let on to your father who you’re talking to.” Beth hadn’t spoken out loud in twenty years. She was not used to the amount of time it took to convey something.
“Yeah, ok.” Beth could feel Elizabeth’s hidden excitement on the other end. She would be wondering how Beth knew that she was talking to her father. Beth didn’t want to explain everything to her over the phone.
“Dad, I have to get ready for work,” she heard Elizabeth say.
An excruciatingly slow twenty seconds passed before Beth could hear a door close and a water faucet begin to run on the other side of the connection.
“Who is this?” Elizabeth asked. Beth could tell she was trying to hide her curiosity behind a fierce demeanor.
“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.” Beth knew that Marcus would have talked to his wife extensively about her. Their connection was something he would have taken home with him.
“I thought you didn’t talk.” Beth smiled hearing Elizabeth’s words, confirming how well Beth knew Marcus.
“I never needed to talk until now,” said Beth, “but now I need your help.” Beth listened to the silence before saying, “I need you to come and get me.” Beth heard choked gurgles, the sound of Elizabeth’s surprise.
“I should come and get you?” she finally asked.
“They’ve agreed to release me to your care.” Beth continued to smile, as the thought of leaving the hospital overcame her. “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?” Beth could imagine the look of confusion on Elizabeth’s face.
“I’m not crazy. I was trying to help your husband.” Time was running out, and Beth decided to take a more straightforward approach, and hope for the best. “We were working together. We didn’t get a chance to finish that work.” Hearing the continued silence, Beth decided to jump off the deep end. “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.” Did I really just say all that?
“Who are they?”
“I will explain everything when you pick me up.” Stay positive. Be positive. “Elizabeth,” Beth pressed on, “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,” said Elizabeth. Beth sensed that Elizabeth was saying okay to herself, more than she was saying it to Beth.
“Act as if you’re going to work,” continued Beth, “and then fly down here. The receptionist will be waiting for you.”
“Okay Beth,” she said and took an audible breath. “I’m coming.”
“I know you are.”
Beth walked to the reception area and saw Elizabeth standing near the door. Beth wondered if she was considering making a run for it. Elizabeth looked so much like Beth that they could have been sisters. They both had stringy hair, parted in the middle, and falling past their shoulders, with more grey than brown in it. But their natures were different. Elizabeth was tentative and soft. Beth was hardened and excited.
Beth walked directly up to Elizabeth and took her by the hand. “Let’s go,” she said as she led Elizabeth out the front door. “We’ve got places to go and people to see.” Beth looked back at Elizabeth with a smile and laughed at her bulging eyes. “This is gonna be fun.”
I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 17.
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