A cold breeze laced with pine and rich earth blew across her mind and erased every story, every reason why. Glimpses of a forfeited future flashed in a hologram first to her right, then her left, and back again. A visibly older her sat on a blue blanket on a lush lawn laughing while a well-calloused hand brushed a raven curl away from her face and tucked it behind her ear, her tiny gold cross earring catching the sunlight. At middle-age, she drove faintly blue vintage convertible along a shoreline highway, seagulls dove into sparkling waves and that same hand reached for a radio station dial. A strand of pearls fastened around her neck by younger long fingers. Her body jerked against the rope as a baby nestled into her shoulder. She kissed his downy hair. Mingled scents of baby shampoo, mother’s milk, and fresh laundry filled her briefly with an old familiar hope. What looked like heavy purple curtains tangled around her limbs, squeezed and constricted them relentlessly until she no longer had limbs. Something forgotten strained against her diminishment; a desire for sight grew as this lifetime blurred and receded into nothingness. How unfair that life still withheld joy, still punished her even to her last breath. Death laughed in the vestibule while Life pushed forward with all its might to give her a parting gift. His name was Seth. Tall like his Dad, he enveloped her arm in his and helped her slowly shuffle to a worn shiny pew at the front of the cathedral, where he bent down to receive her kiss as the sun fell on a stained-glass depiction of Mary holding the Christ child. I look happy, was her final thought as tiny vessels in her eyes popped and released their crimson sentence. Urine filled Shana’s favorite leather boots, the ones with roses embroidered on them, as a sea filled her skull and applied waves of pressure needed to oust a soul from its form: a mammalian human female of short stature, deep amber eyes and only medium wear. Life sighed and moved on as one silver-toed boot gave a final kick through the door.
“Whoah! Slow your roll there, Kazmir. This one qualifies for a hearing.” Oisin arrived at Termination chute #333 just in time to play the hero it imagined itself. Belief was everything; everything except for a tiny, infinitesimal bit. Feathers of nil swept Kaz to the side easily as they paid little attention to #333, which every being knew was highly protected. Kaz and servants much preferred descending Soul Mover #66, where souls with potential slid toward repetitive contracts nearly impossible to fulfill, except for those that did. Drool enveloped and dripped from them all as Kaz’s mouth inspected cracks, dents, and holes in search of the oldest and most damaged of souls with karmic contracts. Some writhed rather than jerked when he prodded their wounds with needles of searing blue fire, a fresh delight each and every instance. Kaz envied their torment and cut two in half in eagerness for Death’s worst rewards. Even if he could feel remorse, there was nothing to regret. Souls weakened over centuries with little personal care from Death’s demons would never withstand another initiation, let alone another lifetime. Oisin plucked Shana’s soul, still in a state of shock, from the crowd of first-timers yet to be sorted, and pitched it hurtling through nothingness until a tiny speck of blue appeared below. “Ok, so … Eddy asked me to cover this gig for him today and I don’t really remember exactly what I’m s’posed to impart. Knew I’d be picking you up, concentrated on that part because it seemed more important than a transmission…but, I’ll try”. Oisin extended a pink tendril toward her. “You fucked up. Wait, I mean… (Big inhale of nothingness) you were obviously hurting immensely, maybe even in a mentally ill vessel, so you have an exam and hearing to evaluate if you can finish your contracted missions in another vessel, or if your soul … um, yeah… not quite sure. Forgive me, but I normally work in the Birth Arenas.” It stepped aside as blue speck grew until it enveloped the soul and spun, faster then faster as loose bits of identity such as age, race, gender, and religion let go and vaporized. This Soul held tight to its’ name with an ancient ownership that defied Oisin’s abilities. Crimson and violet tendrils wound around concepts of good and bad, ripped them out, and left behind shreds of guilt and regret. Eddy didn’t communicate this possibility, nor the worrisome grey which tainted Oisin’s pure aura. One mammoth golden wing swept Oisin aside, who didn’t mind in the least. Not even a portion of a single soul minded Tri-Eloh’s graceful ministrations once they were beyond earth’s physical plane and limited valuations. Aura as clean as the first day of it’s promotion, Oisin felt entirely free as it floated left at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, consciousness erased of any concern for Shana’s soul. Eddy would understand. Surely, of any Ancient Ones, Tri-Eloh had Divine exemption. Oisin had little knowledge of, and no appreciation for, rules and processes. It attained its choice of exalted positions thousands of lifetimes ago after serving love in 15 lives, 5 of them entirely volunteer, and two in another galaxy. Having been healed by Tri-Eloh eons ago, it existed in bliss as long as it stayed within the Birth Arena, which it planned on every time it returned.
Three spherical beings slightly less bright than the Sun became one around the battered soul, lengthened into a shaft of starlight, then slipped into a disk galaxy 3 million light years from Earth. Shana’s soul rested in a tiny green star among the debris at the outer edge, just left of the Erasure Chambers reserved for Tri-Eloh descendant souls, prior to healing in a collective rainbow eligible for planetary re-entry. “It’s good to have her back, even under the circumstances.” Shana’s ancestor spun energetic threads of protection as it whispered, “You are cherished.’ “There IS a process for suicides”, one being intuited. “Yes, it’s true. Your descendant, or not, it should’ve been stripped entirely and put in Grief Empathy BEFORE erasure”, the other added, even as it floated toward the galaxy exit in anticipation of a negative reaction all three would find equally excruciating. But, typical separation that occurred with disagreement did not come. “It may happen so rarely that we forget their dire oaths, but Death’s demons have been known to cheat.” Tri-Eloh felt a surge of protective love snap their collective will back into alignment.
“Noooooo! Nooo!” a tormented scream of soul mate separation shot out of Earth’s atmosphere and reverberated throughout the universe until it landed on the tiny green star.
Help in several other countries, along with resources can be found Here
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A growling thunder grew louder outside the loft’s single-pane windows and provided cover for 3 deafening cracks like sniper fire, each earning a jump from Doyle as he grappled with memories played on an incessant reel since he awoke that morning. The tiny jade plant he’d hurled across the loft lay broken on the kitchen counter. “Bad karma for your own evil”, Kazmir whispered in his mind. Had he gone mad himself? His long fingers raked through his unwashed hair and made it stand on end. Phoebe’s channeled anger couldn’t possibly lift him, or rather slam his body, into a beam 12 feet in the air. Except his back sported a bruise the length of his spine, the width of the beam overhead, and his skull throbbed without a touch-a persuasive set of evidence. Then there were the dreams. Doyle remembered all but one of his “research subjects” had expressed doubts about reality, and this gave him a sliver of denial he mistook for a life raft. Phoebe had all but forced him to drink her “tonic”. His scattered mind forgot the exact order of last night’s events. “I don’t feel like myself, like my head’s in the clouds for real”, he remembered Shana had said one afternoon after he’d dosed her with two hits of LSD. She’d not been “herself”, or the Shana from before that trip, ever again. He saw her bare feet swinging over his head and pulled on one, but it was stiff and purplish… wait, that wasn’t Shana. The lace of her nightgown filtered sunlight in a floral pattern on the pink wall behind his mother’s dead body. Doyle slammed his hands on the table as a sob escaped his throat and urine soaked his jeans, just as it had once soaked his Pooh pj pants. Kaz whispered in his ear, “Did you drive her to it?” and “Admit it. You pushed Shana to it”. “Nooo! No! No!”, Doyle yelled, “They did to themselves. They did it! They left me”! Phoebe heard his anguished cries from the landing, unsurprised and unmoved for the most part, except for a sliver of enjoyment, an intriguing new feeling not entirely unwelcome. Thunder clapped and grief made way for anger as she wondered again why Shana hadn’t broken it off with him when it became obvious he had control issues. While the tail-end of Eddie Money’s If I Could Walk on Water streamed through the loft’s heavy security door, Phoebe hesitated a minute then drew back her key as Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love started, and decided to eat in the cafeteria for the first time without Shana. Her urge to distance herself couldn’t be denied, no matter what Dr. Pressman had advised regarding Doyle’s apology and atonement. The stench of pizza puke would likely ruin meals at home for a few days, anyway, and the radio was not her friend lately.
An almost black horizon to the east crackled with bright white jags as Phoebe zipped her jacket, pulled up her hood and made her way south, across the quad still littered with white and pink tree blossoms, colorful flyers and a few Styrofoam cups in the mix. Only a couple others were out, both headed in the same direction as Phoebe- toward the student center and hub of university life outside of classes. They had almost lived there during their freshman year between aerobics, the pool, their freshman dining plan, trivia and ping pong tournaments, T.V. lounges including movie nights, and the acoustically impressive performing arts auditorium where they’d seen P.M. Dawn and Bow Wow Wow. Memories made her smile a little. The girl’s tiny shared room in Lindbergh Hall had been stuffed with coats for every season hung on the end of the bunk, dozens of highlighted worn books in boxes under the bed, multiple mediums of art supplies in copy paper boxes labeled in black marker, records and cassette tapes along with a simple stereo set on the desk, and Shana’s boots and Phoebe’s picture albums scattered and wedged into corners. Thankfully, there were lockers in the communal shower room down the hall where they used one for jeans and sweatshirts-their “uniforms” that first year. Her mother would’ve been proud of how they coped and organized their lives after she died. The few times Phoebe couldn’t summon up her Mother’s voice within, Shana had stepped in with her stories of a better tomorrow. Her heart clutched in her chest and she found it hard to swallow for a moment until someone behind her cleared their throat, “Excuse me”. “Oh, yeah, sorry dude”, Phoebe moved aside and wiped her eyes quickly with her her sleeve. Rumbles overhead muffled what they said next as they turned their heads to reach under the sneeze guard, which was good because she didn’t want to speak to anyone at that moment. She wondered if Shana enjoyed her “better tomorrow” as the two friends wandered away chatting. With long sighs she built what her best friend would’ve called an “emotional mountain of a salad” and watched the storm arrive through a northern wall of glass. Charcoal rivers poured across the sky, painted over golden wisps of daylight, and cast the vast space around her in shadow. Mini cyclones of debris-laden wind bent trees this way and that and stripped them of their final blossoms while rain lashed against the glass. Shana would have loved the impressionist watery view, may have created a charcoal rendition of it in black and white. Perhaps I’ll do it, she thought as she blinked hard. Three golden orbs in the distant dark sky, obscured as if by smoke, moved further away until she could barely notice them. Storms usually reminded her of her mother, of standing at her graveside for hours until the rain ceased and a patch of white sky shone through, backlit by blinding sunlight. Phoebe didn’t think of her mother now, nor the parting clouds that day four years ago. Loneliness abated more and more as she planned Doyle’s metamorphosis in her mind’s eye. Kazmir stoked her anger with visions of Shana in the coroner’s drawer, a single pinprick on the inside of her arm. He’d pay. Each stab of her fork met with a sharp squeal. He’d pay much more than that, she decided, and was rewarded with a deeply pained groan from him as in her mind’s eye Phoebe imagined her hands, strong and pulsing with navy blue veins, painstakingly stretch Igor’s cervical vertebrae and hold the bones apart. Lightning cracked both in the sky before her and in his limbs as the nerve passages narrowed, shocks unlike anything Doyle had ever felt. Thrilling bloodlust throbbed upward from her base and allowed Death himself to will her phantom hands gleefully with a handsaw across bony protrusions, back and forth, back and forth. Flashes of brilliant azure and silver pulled one hand away in a vacuum of energy to her left as her mind appreciated her handiwork and joined her will to flare the smoothed bone outward. Phoebe’s teeth bit down on a carrot as her right hand stabbed a forkful of lettuce, malefic energy alone holding her nemesis in a vengeful stretch. Kaz tickled her heart and Phoebe giggled as Doyle gasped and sucked at the air, his throat constricted. Phoebe willed Shana’s final gasps for breath to play on repeat in his ears, then connected the pieces of bone with tremendous force, Igor’s bones fused with Death’s contribution, Phoebe’s intention and Doyle’s karma. Torturous heart-rending grief rippled across campus and up Budway Avenue to 333C at the top of steep wooden stairs, the loft Shana had insisted was kismet, then flowed back again to the dining hall to form a circlet of deathly energy shot through with daggers of blame, regret and revenge. Death and Kaz had a lot of material to work with for her soul’s imprisonment. The last of Phoebe’s loneliness abated, as did the powerlessness that had hounded her since her ambulance ride. “He thinks you’re weak“, came an unfamiliar voice as she thought of Doyle’s intrusion, his schemes, his selfish pleasure-seeking at Shana’s expense. At her expense. “He wants to control you like he did Shana”, Kazmir planted in her mind, “He plans to steal all your money”. That was crazy, but what if it were true? A poisonous vine sprouted as she realized again she was on her own. Phoebe’s soul stiffened, a golden thread in her star chakra severed even as her ancestors the Tri-Eloh petitioned The Marys for her salvation. “Why show him mercy? Make him earn your forgiveness with service.” The idea of cocky, handsome and brilliant Doyle as Igor took on more life, fed by her friend’s betrayal and absence. She envisioned her hands as they separated the upper trapezius and viewed the levator scapulae behind it. Doyle regretted ever meeting Shana, ever wondering what darkness resided within her. “I don’t deserve this”, he thought right before Phoebe remembered what that particular muscle did. Her thumb and forefinger pinched it resolutely and twisted it an infinitesimal tiny bit, which allowed Igor to take small gulps of air through his mouth. Thunder exploded overhead and the cafeteria emptied as tree limbs and loose lawn furniture hit the glass. Kazmir flashed memories of Shana pale and sickly during the last month of her life. “I should’ve helped her, made her listen, fucking done SOMETHING”, Her own spine tingled when Phoebe’s phantom hand caressed the ligamentum nuchae with her fingernails and left inch-long horizontal slices that deepened with accusation and made Doyle’s soul howl as she tinkered with his voice box. The tickle in her heart increased and spread to her belly. Death laughed and so did Kazmir as Phoebe, entirely given over now to her crude surgical maneuvers, sobbed Shana’s name. Eyes glazed and golden, together they pulled on tendons her probing fingers discovered underneath the fibrous nuchal sheet of cartilage until Doyle’s skull angled to the right at 45 degrees over his shoulder and his arms stiffened straight. “He knows his anatomy even better than me“, Phoebe thought when she realized his heart raced and entire body shook in stark terror, unable to get up from the floor. Drool covered his chin as he mewled, “peeee… sorrreeeee”. Satisfied and a bit excited to see him, she drew her consciousness back to her physical body with a backward count of ten. The storm was all but over, the wind and thunder gone, natural and man-made debris mixed at the bottom of the glass wall. Phoebe wiped her eyes on her wet sleeves, pushed her tray aside and appreciated a pink glow to the west before she said out loud to no one, “I suppose it’s time I go meet MY creature, my Igor.”
The Marys allowed familiar assistance for Phoebe, not the requested Guardian exactly, but the Tri-Eloh thought they might be able to convince a supremely soft-hearted Angel to inhabit a cat for a few years, or maybe a short decade considering how quickly Death and Kazmir corrupted Phoebe. Of course, it was all up to Oisin. The Marys reminded the Tri-Eloh of Doyle’s soul’s merkaba, how close he was to a cage of his ancestor’s bones, and urged them to review both it’s contract and lineage. The Tri agreed to assign a research angel to the task, however Saint Joan asked to be of service as she’d taken an interest in the endurance of the Anam Chara’s soul bond. Free will complicated the universe, however it also led to surprises Death never saw coming.
“We are fashioned creatures, but half made-up” ~ Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Originally, Frankenstein seemed an easy essay to knock out due to it’s familiarity, Phoebe insisted in her second session with Dr. Pressman since her discharge a week ago. “But it was Shana, not YOU, who was familiar with Mary Shelley’s work. I think it would be productive for us to focus on your enmeshment with Shana so you can move on and successfully finish university. This essay is as good a place to start as any. I’d like you to further make it yours by writing it in your space in the apartment, not you and Shana’s shared space, but yours alone. Do you think you can do that?” As always, Dinah Pressman’s tone remained even and confident, as if no one had ever told her, “No, I will not.” Phoebe would not be the first. Although it had been Shana in their senior year of high school who crafted her first “A” paper, the friends had discussed both the Creature’s and Victor’s motivations and torments at length, to the point of arguing. Only a few years later, death, alchemy, and the nature of the creature weaved a tale beyond imagining in Phoebe’s mind. Kaz’s whispered comparisons between her and Victor, Shana and the Creature, made her question her friendship and true feelings. Was she mindlessly motivated by a savior complex? Shana had saved her many times, and at other times they’d leaned on one another, like when they touched on their grief. Was she “enmeshed”, and where was the line between love and this handicap? “I’ll try. It’s an open loft, ya know? I usually wander around, look out the windows by Shana’s bed ever so often; helps me think.” “No need to be a purist, Phoebe”. “Trust me, Dr. Pressman. I want to get away from everything that reminds me of her, but it’s impossible. Maybe it would help if I start packing up a few of her things this weekend”. Or maybe she’d ask Doyle to do it, but she kept that thought to herself. The psychiatrist looked at her with kindness, but Phoebe didn’t sense pity like she did when they met in Resting Pines. She decided to take it as a good sign despite the doctor’s misunderstanding. She’d never needed Shana for school, but for writing projects they’d excelled by teaming. As her mother used to say, “what one doesn’t think of, the other will”. Shana usually said Phoebe overthought it, just as she currently did. If Mary Shelley could imagine such a psychologically complex tale, surely Phoebe could write an aspirational final essay without Shana’s input. “I’ll see you back here on Friday and you can let me know how it went. From what you’ve told me, I don’t expect any surprises from Mr. Regan’s progress report this week. I’m happy to hear the nightmares have resolved, but don’t be concerned if you have them until your mind is more settled about your new reality.” Phoebe couldn’t tell the doctor about the pain of being eaten alive or what it felt like as she slithered on her snake belly across the bottom of a lake, and certainly not about her recent journeys to unimaginably exquisite or horrifying spaces, nor angelically-guided reunions with Shana’s essence. Her secret existences were still better than her reality. Phoebe felt as if she hauled around a leaden head and heart, despite lighting a candle for Shana every day in a campus chapel. But, disturbed as she was, she still could not imagine how Shana felt in her last moments, couldn’t fathom what lies ran through her friend’s head, but she began to imagine.
Tchaichovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers played vibrantly from her dented and taped boom box and instantly grated on her nerves. Coke cans and Oreo crumbs littered her mother’s silver-flecked formica dining table; what Phoebe recognized as pages-thick advanced chemistry exams along with his rumpled test key covered stains, and by association-memories. Of course he’d set up right where she and Shana normally studied the most. Phoebe tossed a can into the kitchen sink, then another with satisfaction. He’d be up most of the night if he planned on finishing, she thought and heard the shower’s signature pipe rumble as if in agreement. “I’m ordering pizza!”, she yelled through the frosted pane of the bathroom door and stood transfixed as he turned the water off and stepped easily out of the tub. He knows damn well I can see him. Doyle stretched a towel between his hands and slowly sawed it back and forth on his backside. “Russo’s? Will you get onions and mushrooms on half? Sorry about the music, didn’t think you’d be home for a while yet”, he called. Barone’s was right around the corner, but Phoebe thought she could be a little flexible this once. She turned the music off with a shake of her head. Who, other than Shana, listened to The Nutcracker in May? “Please bring a 2-liter of Coke, too” she told the chill voice on the phone. Loose sweat pants and a high school track sweatshirt fraying at the cuffs and neck signaled a trickle of inspirational flow in her mind, the issue of Victor’s responsibility to his creation tugged at a thread of an idea, but it broke, again. Essays required her flavor, but for an “A” they required fresh blood, a profound realization. Professors got off on student’s epiphanies, the more vulnerable the better, unless it crossed into uncomfortable territory and kept going, as she’d mistakenly done only once. Did she have a responsibility to Shana? If so, she’d failed entirely. Phoebe caught her light blue eyes at the moment they turned golden in a star-shaped mirror swinging on a strand of wooden beads in a breeze from nowhere. Shana had held her steady on a wobbly barstool when she hung the mirror, her Christmas gift, from a rusty nail head. She’d called her a star, her very own true north. Am I a monster? Phoebe remembered waves of possessiveness and rejection she was ashamed of when Shana started dating Doyle, similar to the creature’s envy when he spied Dr. Frankenstein with his new wife through the window, the two happy and laughing with no care for him. Her stomach growled in time with a single hard knock. A couple notes to help her pick up this thread of self-reproach and, simultaneously, restrict her personal revelations on the page. Her eyes changed more often when Doyle was near, the only “trigger” she’d figured out, so far. Phoebe stuck her head out from behind a paneled screen painted with golden and bronze wild mustangs in full gallop and smiled at the delivery person before she stuck her tongue out at Doyle’s back. Although they’d settled quickly into a routine, both taking refuge in their schedules, she hated him living here, in her and Shana’s loft. It was perverse, but she reminded herself it was temporary several times a day. Clearly unamused, the pony-tailed teen rolled her eyes at Phoebe then smiled extra wide when Doyle handed her a five. “Have a good one, Dude”, he said distractedly as he flung the door closed and she was forced to step back. At least he was also pressured by finals. “Put it over there on the coffee table”. Phoebe waved at Doyle with a pack of doubly thick paper plates he’d bought when he got her cheerios, bananas and milk before her discharge, his first act as her “guardian”. He’d confessed he hated washing dishes, to which Phoebe gave him no reply. After a couple days, he’d mostly given up talking to her, except when he woke her from night terrors. Phoebe was lost in thought when he cleared his throat. “You can run it past me if you want, your essay. I’ve got a load of papers to correct, but I can’t go back to that right now. I’ll have just as many after tomorrow morning’s exam. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, which might work against me, but if it would help… up to you”, he ended with a shrug. Emotionless, she stared through Doyle, as she’d done dozens of times over the past two weeks. When she looked at him she always thought the same thing, but if she killed him, she’d never write the essay, never receive a final grade for the single class she didn’t drop. Desperate for another viewpoint, she reconsidered her tact and surprised him. “Any thoughts on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? I’m thinking about the doctor’s responsibility to the creature, to his creation” Phoebe wrestled a piece of pizza crust with her back teeth as she forced her eyes to focus on the man who might be responsible for her best friend’s death. “One of the saddest books ever. God, I hated the end. Lemme think. Oh yeah, freshman paper on Mary and Percy toward the end of the semester, so depressing. I cast him as a predatory type and her as a literary genius. Don’t some people believe they were cursed? I think a lot of my classmates took that angle.” He wasn’t an English major, Phoebe reminded herself, but he thought in an orderly, and linear fashion, suited for science. “Yeah, I don’t give a shit about Percy. This essay is about Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in other words-the subtitle’s inference” Phoebe watched Doyle turn Prometheus over in his mind, his hooded eyes slanted away from her and to the ceiling, brows flattened. “Well… what do you have so far? You’re saying Prometheus or Frankenstein’s ambition is the crux your thesis? I can’t remember how he… wait, ok, he was chained and pecked to death by a bird every day, a punishment from Zeus, right? How does that fit?” Phoebe let the question hang in the air for a moment as if she considered what he’d said, when in actuality she pictured Doyle chained to a mountain top, vultures feasting as other flew away with his entrails. Her breath quickened. “Yeah, for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. He over-reached, changed man’s fate. I propose Mary Shelley likened Prometheus to scientific experimentation with unintended consequences. At least that’s what my interpretation is right now.” She had to admit the pizza was better than Barone’s. As she wrapped cheese around her finger, Doyle rose and wandered barefoot over to a narrow window, dusky light . He ran one long-fingered hand through his still-wet blonde mane and let out a loud sigh. “Is that supposed to be directed at me?” His voice let Phoebe know she’d hit her intended target, but she didn’t expect him to hurl the little jade plant he’d given her when they first met against the brick wall behind her with surprising ferocity. Shards of green pottery landed in her hair, but stopped short of the pizza, thank goodness. Phoebe rose quickly, more than a little afraid, but even more angry at this person who had the audacity to insinuate himself into her life after he helped her best friend, her soul sister, self-destruct. Doyle realized his mistake when Phoebe’s eyes changed from blue to golden elliptical-shaped viper eyes, and with a gaze, lifted all two hundred pounds of him quickly until a beam on the loft’s ceiling cut into his back. He froze, suddenly afraid his struggles would plummet him to the hardwood below. “Let me down, Phoebe! I’m sorry; I swear it won’t happen again!” “No, it won’t.” She struggled to hide her shock at this ability, intent on keeping control now that she had it. “You almost had me fooled, you fucker.” Her face twisted with grief as she remembered what this man took from her, took from them. Doyle groaned loudly and doubled over on the ceiling. A voice inside cautioned Phoebe, but a different instinct took over as she envisioned her viper self ‘s hinged jaws take a bite from his center, right below the belly button. No thought existed for her when she entered his thoracic cavity. As the golden viper Doyle knew was Phoebe coiled inside him, it flicked it’s forked tongue like a whip and cut tiny slices in the tissues between his ribs. She slowed within his body and felt his wildly erratic heart call to her from behind a lung. He screamed as her flat head pushed hard against the pinkish lung and pinned it aside. “Noooo, Phoebe, Pleeeee…” his gasp ended, the pain a sudden suffocating blanket of dark mercy he mistook for Death. Kazmir could not be happier with his quick transformation of the girl.
By the time Phoebe returned from the library with the name of the rock (Caucasus Mountains, likely Mount Elbrus) Prometheus had been chained to, she’d also come up with a solution to the problem of Doyle Regan. His entrails and organs were intact when he awoke on Shana’s bed behind a screen painted with a gloriously colorful garden, complete with birds, bees, a copper fox and Monarch butterflies. The viper was gone and Phoebe’s eyes were blue and intent as she watched him warily. He’d been having nightmares since Shana hung herself, but nothing had prepared him for the experience they’d had earlier. “There’s another one… another version of Frankenstein. Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein gave me an idea.” Doyle felt odd. Slowly he rolled over and put his feet on the floor. Phoebe put two frames and Shana’s fairy cards in a copy paper box she’d also gotten at the library. Doyle sprang up and ran toward the bathroom as three slices of pizza ejected from his roiling belly not only in the open toilet, but all over it. Ten minutes later he still dry-heaved into the bowl, face red as tears and snot flowed. Phoebe handed him a cold wet wash cloth, one of the thick white ones she’d given Shana for Christmas. “Don’t worry, Doyle. I’ll take care of you. And you will take care of me.” His stomach suddenly calmed. He wasn’t sure if he felt afraid or just very sick. “Here you go”, Phoebe handed him a dainty tea cup, “I know you said you didn’t like tea before, but this is like a tonic, a little medicine to help you go along. You see… you are going to be MY Igor. Now, sip it ’cause it’s really hot”. The sweet tea did seem to soothe his nerves and slow down his anxious heart. “What is it?” Phoebe smiled at him placatingly before she slapped him satisfyingly hard, like she’d wanted to for quite some time. “Don’t worry about it. You should get back to those exams, and I have an essay to write. In a couple of hours I want you to help me pack up some of Shana’s things and we’ll move her screen. Then you can have her bed for the rest of the summer.” He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t feel like arguing with her, of that he was certain. An hour later Phoebe wandered over to the window as Doyle sat at her mother’s formica table and corrected chemistry exams as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Phoebe’s essay flowed like a spring creek on a sunny day.
Healing is an ongoing process, seemingly without an end point, a path spiraling upward and down again as life deals hand after hand, a few winning, most reliant on how mindfully I play my cards. In a world where masculine energy is celebrated for achievement, athleticism, and material success, we often yearn for and bemoan a lack of feminine energy-compassion, acceptance, natural beauty and nourishment. While we all possess both Ying and Yang energies, our world is currently brash and incongruous with a surplus of violence, greed and unmet desires for more of everything. The more we want, the more we consume, our well-being sometimes clouded with overwork, frustration and envy. I began learning mind-body practices five years ago and as I made rituals of my own, my mind and heart connected in a profound way which eventually awakened my soul to a richer existence.
5 rituals for Balance and Resilience
Writing/typing a page/note helps me see where my mind is and corral self-defeating assumptions galloping toward triggering situations and people. Words are precious to me; how they can be curated, constructed, or destructed with an intention to relay a feeling or a grand idea is evidenced in quotes we refer to centuries later. Writing has been a purging and healing ritual since childhood.
Cleaning is often a ritual. I use a handmade turtle rattle as well as 432hz or 528hz music to move out heavy or unhelpful energy, and smudge with white sage, incense, or palo santo. I cleanse the front door, my desk, 2 small dressers on the sides of the bed and my altar with distilled water plus a few drops of peppermint or lemon essential oil to both disinfect and purify energy. My bedroom is a sacred sleep/intimate space and keeping it clean is part of Feng Shui for the bedroom.
Lighting a candle and staring into it for a few minutes , or closing my eyes after lighting it and sitting in stillness or meditation/prayer has given me profound insights and often solace. It takes practice for the mind to quiet, but focusing on breathing helps. I have an altar in my office with crystals, bits of nature and female statuary I find empowering. This is a personal choice guided by Spirit, however I know a few practicing witches and do not mind being called one. If I accept any label it is Writer and Friend, who’s interests are varied.
Gardening is ritualistic with it’s seasonal to-do lists, year after year of amendments, new life, relocations, death, and as of last year-food. It’s not a big garden, but every time I water the giant hostas, the pole beans or even the petunias in flower boxes, I feel motherly and grateful at the same time. There is a definite reciprocity and satisfaction to natural law with the ants, the droughts, the storms that have whittled down my sense of entitlement. Every year is different, seasonal rhythms often upset by something happening far away from my home.
Cooking with fresh foods and spices can be a creation ritual, as is making tea. When I was tired and stressed from working at a highly-pressurized job, I admit I didn’t appreciate good food as much as I do now. That’s the thing about being overworked-I spent a lot more on convenient frozen and packaged food only to become ill. Now I know health is wealth. This is also one of my favorite ways to show love.
These are small ways I cope with a busy digital world full of stressors vying for my attention. Rituals have signaled my spirit that I love me; a big difference from 5 years ago. I hope it sparks something for you because each of us adds to the whole, and most of us can use some lightness, a reprieve, however small. Namaste
Professor Fritsche kindly allowed Phoebe to submit both her and Shana’s essays on the topics of marriage, lust, and consequence, as portrayed in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Their deceased parents served the young women’s purposes as bad examples similar in scope to Anna’s, although they had different opinions about her karma. Professor F peered above his glasses at her and mumbled something about, “a waste of talent” and “Hope you’ve started your final despite everything”. He finds the ground under academics more stable than death‘s abyss of unknowns, Phoebe thought later over a cup of peppermint tea as she sat in the grass and pretended to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. With her urging, their 19th Century Lit prof agreed to submit a final grade for Shana, minus a final exam essay, if the Dean of the English Department, and one of Shana’s most loved professors, approved. Phoebe simply framed her request as a memorial to Shana, and gave the Dean a copy of her friend’s last and final essay. The Dean found Shana’s ideas about passion versus fidelity especially naïve and moving in light of her suicide. Shana would receive a grade for her favorite class that semester, and Phoebe would remember it as the last course they took together. Classmates gave her shy nods, their sad eyes relaying the words they didn’t find. A few were obviously surprised when she walked into chem lab an hour after being released from Resting Pines, not that they imagined what Phoebe ran up against after her best friend’s painful exit.
Her fists slid off it’s slick stark white scales as a serpent with Doyle’s dark eyes fully consumed her. Phoebe discovered herself a golden serpent who slid across symbols carved on tangerine colored walls within her Grandmother tree, an ancient cedar in the Northwoods of Michigan. The symbols pulsed with heat as if alive, but the Ankh is where she fit her slim viper form. Her head rested in the opening of the key of life and Phoebe finally surrendered all she was before Shana’s suicide. Intelligent and witty, her well-crafted college persona came apart at the seams like a sun-bleached scarecrow, mere stuffing of knowledge, sarcasm and friendship scattered, buried, and carried off by crows. Or snakes. Phoebe dreamed of a snowy white python with hinged jaws thanks to Kazmir, Death’s demon who orchestrated these nightly feasts. Warm blood pulsed and squirted into her eyes and mouth as she yelled out, foot, ankle, tibula and fibula crushed like glass in a grinder with each agonizing swallow. Smothered screams with the last gulp of her skull and then nothing until she opened slits and felt her essence in a snake’s condemned existence. “As low as a snake”, Kazmir whispered as she envisioned her cedar sanctuary finally on the third night. In the Ankh, considered in Hebrew as the “Key of Life”, Phoebe’s essence glided among reeds along a lake’s shoreline, her slim serpent body a ribbon of gold amongst the cat tails and lily pads. She dove and swam along the bottom between weeds that rose toward the light above, rocks risen from below, and an occasional clam, the silt velvet against her tender underbelly. Deeper and deeper into the dark she searched and undulated her length as she came to embody the viper and her eyes adjusted to see every shadow. Unsure of what she sought exactly, Phoebe swam until far away she thought she heard a song one only ever sung for her, in private. Ahead, a blushing glow grew and beckoned with a sad melody where only friendship existed before.
“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.” Shana sang Bette Midler’s The Rose for Phoebe not long after their blood sister ritual at the end of 7th grade in 1985. She’d sang it to her countless times over the past seven years, when Phoebe felt like anything but a rose, and it served as a soothing balm. Although she’d never been able to express how special it made her feel, she didn’t have to. For Shana, Phoebe’s patient tutoring, whenever she needed her, felt like acceptance during the years that followed her parent’s abuses. Phoebe had never made her earn love, and forgave easily, but Shana had never skipped out on classes before. Her personal drug usage consisted of a couple puffs during marijuana movie nights at a friend’s apartment last summer. Her parent’s addiction served as a constant reminder of how drugs and alcohol changed people for the worst, hard-won knowledge which kept her straight until Doyle’s manipulations opened the door for Death. During the last weeks of her life, paranoia about losing Phoebe’s love grew as Kaz gleefully watched her create her own scenes of rejection, including burning insults it planted in her psyche. The two friends had never exchanged insults, had never even had a blowup disagreement, but Shana’s artist’s imagination had always been powerful. If they had fought, Phoebe would have explained how it was simply impossible to lose her friendship for a mistake. She would have said “Love forgives”. As Phoebe the golden snake entered the pink glow of a temporary healing chamber, miles deep in a Great Lake, their human essences reformed as womanly silhouettes. Shana and Phoebe hugged and cried dry tears as they held onto one another. No words sufficed, so none were exchanged.
Phoebe awoke to Doyle’s yell from the kitchen, “Time to get up, Phoebe! Gotta fly, but there’s hot water in the kettle. You awake?”. “Yeah” she croaked followed by a stronger, “I’m up! I’m good!”. Her voice squeaked a bit. She prayed Doyle didn’t check on her behind the privacy screen and spy the perfectly shed golden-hued snake skin complete with eyelids stretched out on her bedspread. Doyle flipped the switch on the radio and turned up the volume so she’d get up for sure. Paula Abdul accused her of a being a “Cold Hearted snake”, a dark start to her first day of crafting a final essay about the merits of Dr. Frankenstein.
Sha’s trite confession hung in the air and multi-hued stars holding space for her form recessed into inky shame she’d secreted away in a secured heart chamber. An imaginative 11 year old constructed an almost impenetrable locked space for memories incomprehensible to her young spirit-beginning with a plastic picnic table stained with blood not her own, her father’s voice bitching about Bertie’s fee while she yelled he would pay or she’d call the cops on his perverted ass. He said she could at least knock 10 bucks off for disposal; the girl would bury it herself. A single snake stirred from her soul’s essence and slithered out from between her legs. A hiss boasted of soul ownership, “She belongs to meeee. Master Nidhug promised me the next light being turned murderesss.”
Saint Joan materialized between Sha’s essence and Nidhug’s Collector serpent, who grew fatter by the second with smugness as his potential mate refused to lay her soul bare. His forked tongue tried to move around her to kiss its’ prize. Joan’s copper form swirled, flames of orange and blue green ignited in her center as she whispered, “You have no claim”, and deflected it’s aim with holy fire. Mary the Maiden, still connected to Sha with thorny vines, pulsed sacred light energy toward her form. “She will bear me thousands. You cannot shield a murderesss without sacrificesss.” Archangel Auriel’s wings beat furiously and emitted ten phosphorescent orbs which floated into place around the Divine Sister circle then raised it above the temple, through Archangel Haniel’s opened wing, it’s feathers of silver fluff a blessed tickle on the serpent’s underbelly as it followed. Sha heard her parent’s dealer, “Tell ‘im it’s uncut, Baby, a lil’ thanks for taking care of your situation”, and felt familiar disgust swell in her locked heart chamber as she envisioned his gold-toothed grin and felt his filthy hand pat her aching belly under her mother’s Coca-Cola t-shirt. Blood had run down one of her legs in a rapid trickle and stained her new Converse high tops as she returned to her parents at the condemned flop house that was her nightmare. The circle hummed with combined harmonies from Mary the Maid, Saint Teresa, Saint Brigid, and Archangel Auriel. As the serpent coiled and snapped its’ jaws in irritation they sang, “I am loved, I am forgiven, I am whole, I am healed” in lilting and low voices layered onto Sha like silky warm blankets around her shoulders and over her head. Meanwhile, her form’s legs, one white and one black, fused together in a single grey slimy appendage as Sha’s stubborn unwillingness divided her soul between Nidhug’s guilt and Divine acceptance-her birthright. “She called me a baby killer and he made me bury it in the alley”, Sha sobbed as her form steadfastly gripped a memory of her human self as a girl knelt over a hump in gravel, blood and dirt under her fingernails. She further devolved into a grey serpent and the Collector hissed in happy anticipation of its’ progeny of snakelets in Nidhug’s pit below the Tree of Life on earth. They will eat her roots faster than she grows them, he fantasized. Archangel Haniel enveloped the circle of Saints and angelic belonging, Sha’s soul in it’s center. Haniel’s impenetrable massive wings of protection closed the Collector outside and infused the space inside with El’s loving Sun energy. Darkness often celebrated prematurely. Sha’s essence stated plainly, “I wanted them to die. I hated them.” Her skull painfully changed into a Dragon’s head and circled around to swallow her own scaly tail.
In childhood, the injuries to her soul could’ve been healed enough for an allowance of her and Phoebe’s soul contract, but none of Shana’s helper humans knew. She’d almost told her first counselor, Holly, a no-nonsense Grandmother who hugged her at the end of sessions and said it was a shame her parents didn’t teach her Spanish. But, Holly moved to Sedona after only three months of therapy, and Shana vowed to never reveal what was an even bigger shame. Instead, she excelled in school and resolutely did her best to appear “normal” and happy living with Phoebe and her Mom. And she was happy quite often, as long as she didn’t allow herself to think about, let alone emotionally process her rape, abortion by Bertie, and her parents’ betrayals and overdoses. How would a twelve, or sixteen, or twenty-year-old even begin to heal from that? In reality, almost everyone preferred to believe that whatever horrors she survived at other human’s hands were in the past, hurdles she’d jumped with ease thanks to the solicitous care she received. Until she met Doyle, who sensed she was not nearly as contained and content as she looked at first meeting and set out to pry her open for a closer look inside.
Saint Joan let out a warrior cry born of her earthly mission at Orleans, France, when she helped restore the earth’s balance of power with Archangel Michael’s, Archangel Margaret’s, and Archangel Catherine’s help. Sha felt Joan’s tremendous faith surround her serpent/dragon form with motivational wisdom as she devoured her own shadow essence. Round and round the Saintly circle, their song grew deeper, resounding clashes and thunderous groans echoed throughout the universe as Sha released lies about her own culpability and accepted unconditional love on offer to staunch a flow of exposed agony. Fully dragon, Sha’s soul embraced herself as a survivor and fire from her nostrils blazed across the ethereal realms. In the same instant, Nidhug’s Collector returned to his place in the pit below the tree to wait for his murderess bride. Perhaps her Anam Chara, her soul friend, if Kazmir’s boasts proved true.
Phoebe screamed as a snake swallowed her feet and ominously advanced up her legs, each movement accompanied by a loud crunch she felt as well as heard. “Wake up, Phoebe. It’s ok, I’m here.” Awakened for the third night in a row, Doyle wondered if her release from the hospital was a mistake as he called out to her from a futon in the open-concept loft she shared with Shana, or rather Shana’s ghost. The first night she’d gifted him a black eye when he shook her awake, an intrigue for his advanced psych seminar students who all knew about Shana’s suicide. “Ahhhhh!” Phoebe howled as the snake swallowed the rest of her alive and said, “Since she’sss not here, you will have to do.” Inside, it continued to squeeze and break the bones in her face until she heard her skull crack loudly and the snake, then tremble excitedly in enjoyment of its’ meal.
a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment
Most of us on earth right now share common experiences of changing landscapes both external and internal. Over the past two decades the entire skyline changed in the smallish city where I grew up. While development spreads cement like an invasive species, bureaucracy often moves more like a sloth, bogged down in habitual “this is the way it’s always been done” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It is broke, though.
Over the past few years, millions rejected the limiting mantra of “no religion, politics, or money”, and more people across our planet than ever before embraced a right to free speech. We became uncomfortable with humans expressing differently from us in massive numbers, while some became unable to control their stored anger. Others became enmeshed in a struggle, while others chose to ignore the changing world and hold fast to the past.
Now we are here, in this place of knowing the center isn’t holding, in this place of void. What do I create for my timeline given what I now know and also what I don’t know?
I am adapting to supply chain challenges with fresh food by growing green beans and herbs (anyone can, SO EASY), and not buying food from across the country in drought spaces. I am adapting to sketchy quality of mass-produced food by upping my game with organic fresh foods and local organic meat. Honestly, I am willing to spend more on groceries right now since most prices are higher than normal, anyway.
I’ve adapted to 24/7 media by using discernment a.k.a. “being picky” about not only who and what is healthy for my mind and soul, but also worth my time, a precious resource. I no longer justify what I do to take care of myself, as it’s kept me alive and on this side of sane. My outlook on health continues to evolve as I develop a holistic approach and utilize what I need from differing systems. Past work experience in medical education made me over-value data, which isn’t a match for my intuition. My intuition tells me I can lower my cholesterol without a pharmaceutical med, but I cannot control Rheumatoid Disease naturally… yet. A healing gut and diverse microbiome is adaptive for my body’s hyper army of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Food as medicine is my reality.
Nothing is more adaptive than my meditation and spiritual practice, which gifts me with heightened intuition and a will to change what needs to be changed so I can be comfortable for a minute.
I am staying open and accepting of changes in resources which may not be convenient, but may also provide a practical way of doing something or a new opportunity to socialize.
Adapting to a constant state of stress the collective is experiencing as war wages, tired and worn-out practices die away and new ventures and ideas require Herculean efforts to launch, books are an escape where we learn compassion, empathy, and what courage and integrity looks like when it feels like the real world is in short supply. Stories are always waiting to be retold, even refashioned.
We seem to be in flux, so I’ll stay as open-minded and flexible as I can be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned-there’s almost always another option. What adaptations have you made that make you happier?
The Tri Eloh spared a moment between earth’s recently transitioned souls and contract reviews for an overdue visit with Shana’s soul. Although time was not a concern of those in ethereal realms, names were a known contaminant of mending a soul’s core identity, and she tenaciously held on to hers. A soul no longer had need of a name until: 1. reincarnation or 2. the soul took an etheric assignment, like Eddy, Oisin, and countless guardian angels. The Tri encircled her soul in a column of original gold and teal star sand within her merkaba. Normally, souls were eager to shed their earthly identity along with the inherent pain of existence and bad memories. Souls who belonged to Death replaced their merkaba with cages made of their ancestor’s bones, an indication of loyalty to no other soul or light being. These souls manifested in humans who did not connect with any of Mother Earth’s creatures, nor any cosmic gifts such as faith, creativity, a child’s love. No soul was irredeemable, however.
With El’s love and forgiveness, Shana’s eternal soul contract as an Anam Chara held strong, but her identity still housed a fortress of self-judgement. Stone by stone, the Tri’s combined divine energy blasted apart what she’d built with Kazmir’s needling guilt-ridden messages. Memories of leering faces of the caged ones who hurt her as a child with their brutality flew into the sun in jagged chunks. Shana’s ancestors struggled heartily and pulled slimy cords from her merkaba, each tossed into one of Death’s bottomless black holes. Some cords had rotted and broken as Shana refused to relinquish her shame. Death watched from afar and doled out a treat of agony for Kazmir. The merkaba must be opened fully, the Tri intuited to her ancestors, who ceased, and gravitated back to various ascension chambers. Ascension always needed help, a recent resurgence of mind-body practices on earth successful beyond expectations.
Tri Eloh escorted Sha’s partially cleansed merkaba carefully through a portal found in a solar storm, their plutonic oval shields of fire and water flowed with rubies for love, quartz for clarity and light collection, and tourmaline for protection, pushed to maximum capacity. Tentacles of sun fire sensed defeat and reached further than usual after the Tri. Unhealed energy drew destruction. Nine disk galaxies led the angelic trio and their descendant soul to a brightly adorned veil nebula which housed an almost undiscoverable temple. Four pillars of starlight shot upward and downward to infinity. Beams of golden light above were hung with immense crimson and violet veils minutely disturbed in soft cosmic breezes in this region of heaven above The Gardens. Lady Haniel’s, Lady Shekinah’s, Lady Seraphina’s, and Lady Aurora’s immense Archangel wings of fire, light, water, and air respectively, touched above, below, right and left to form a cube around this Divine feminine sacred space. Souls with divine contracts often required rare, pure light as Death’s demons rained on them for prolonged and successive periods in communities of oppressed and/or poor souls incarnated on earth. Those hurt humans hurt other humans. Death’s demons’ favorite dirty tricks piled on during a human’s effort for redemption or karmic restitution. Losses to the light met with Death’s total isolation for an eon or two, which proved inspirational enough for most souls who coveted demon statuses like Kazmir’s or even one of the snakes in Nidhug’s realm.
Inside one of heaven’s temples the merkaba opened slightly and let Joan’s essence in as Mary the Maiden gave Sha a welcome blessing, “Come, Sister. Bring yourself here, in our circle, and share your burdens. Share your love with us, too, as we share what we know-the truth of your being.” Sha entered the temple timidly, her womanly form indefinite-cherry, plum, and black stardust in a fluid expression. Mary’s oval form sparkled with translucence; deep greens and silvery blues swam together and apart again within her golden framed silhouette, while Joan’s form had no frame, but a sheer coppery shimmer to her essence that made Sha feel accepted and known when she came near, as if they were old friends. Teresa and Brigid entered from opposite directions and brought waves of pleasant blue comfort and the scent of a summer rain storm to their first circle with Sha’s soul. The first circle was always the most important, as it informed the remainder of her time in this Sister Temple and who Mary the Crone appointed as her guardian healer. In the center of this circle of five, Archangel Auriel appeared with her fairy-sized busy wings of seafoam and minty green, her form of verdant green strung with flower-shaped stars on a silver chain around her hips. Her calm eyes belied the urgency of Sha’s soul healing as she smiled and extended her energy, a melodic harmony tinkled like windchimes then deepened in tone like a bass drum and circled back again. Sha’s energy vibrated within her form after a time and dark tendrils protruded from her head like worms. Vines of neon green and brightest blue sprouted from beneath Mary’s form to connect with Sha’s soul who formed one white leg of flowing energy and one black. As the vines wound around her they pierced her soul with shocking thorns and caused Sha to howl and cry as wounds she’d buried rose and blistered on her appendages; a foul odor confirmed rotten infection. “Only that much and no more, Auriel!” Sha’s soul flooded with images of Doyle Regan and the last night of her incarnation. She shook and sobbed as she remembered every nuanced slice of her heart. Doyle stuck the needle in her arm after he smacked it red with two fingers. His voice a low growl, “Hold still or you’ll make me waste it.” “I’m not sure about that much, Doyle. Don’t push it all, K?” He’d looked up at her with his brows drawn down and she saw her mother’s angry eyes when her father brought Shana home from the “clinic” in Bertie’s kitchen. “You’re never going to remember it if you’re scared, but you aren’t weak, are you? Have courage, my love. Be the fully real woman I know you are underneath the scrubby little hood rat who got sold for drugs.” As much as Shana wished she could forget, she remembered everything. She often imagined what he, or Phoebe, would feel if they found out, how disgusted or maybe even afraid they’d be. Doyle had pushed the remainder of heroin into her vein and she’d risen to the ceiling in a welcome cloud of euphoria, her mother’s eyes forgotten. Addiction’s many facets of demolition almost always began with unmet needs, either in childhood or another relationship with widely unequal power dynamics such as slavery or poverty wages. Sha’s steep and quick decline into addiction was considered by Mary, then tossed aside as an effect rather than cause. “Show us what you cannot forgive despite being forgiven by The Most High” the Saints chimed together. Brigid moved from her place in the circle to the center with Auriel and began to chant in a tongue Sha did not know, but felt she should. Something moved inside her form as if it responded to Brigid’s powerful voice. From Sha’s throat the words were pulled one by one. “I…killed…them”.