Phoebe stepped off the elevator of her building into a creek bed of soft silt, her bare feet slightly sunk as cool water and shock took her breath and almost toppled her. Her size nines helped her balance, not for the first time. Above, an eagle soared on a robust wind that blew her untrimmed cap of hair away from her face and made her eyes water, wings edged in white tilted this way, then that, as the eagle swooped over distant pointy pines on a hill covered with heather, briars and bent grasses. Her eyes landed on twinkling stars against a blinding sapphire sky. Except, these stars had wings. Pulled forward by her curiosity, hope bloomed and she craned her neck to search for signs of Shana. A whorl of starlings appeared like a spinning iridescent spiral, their whistles and trills vying for Phoebe’s attention, but her eyes were glued on the circling Eagle, who finally dove into the dark-needled towers, and did not ascend. Phoebe could almost feel a rush of adrenaline from a victory she presumed; prey consumed piece by piece until the eagle was sated. “They cannot hide you from me”, Kaz laced his whisper into the high-pitched starling noise and broke her reverie, “You belong with ussss. Your friend begs for her Anam Chara, her sworn blood sister, to join her, to soothe her tortured soul. Can you hear her cries?” A flurry of feathered recriminations momentarily smothered Phoebe and she heard Shana’s plea, “Don’t you love me anymore, Phoebe? Phoebe, Pleee… aghhhh!”, Shana’s scream ripped through Phoebe’s heart and brought her to her knees in the cold stream. A spiral descended with her crumpled body at the center. Bluish black wings battered her head and blocked her view of the sky and silvery winged stars that weren’t stars. When Phoebe tried to raise her arms they pecked her with what felt like dull needles.
“Agree to be mine, Phoebe Monteer”. Her loins stirred as she envisioned Doyle muddy and choking for breathe. Her will submerged his head in a puddle of runny excrement. “I will give you this power over him for lifetimes, I promisssss”, Kaz’s maneuverings tickled her sacral chakra and snaked its way upward to her solar plexus in a steely grey line that sliced it open and spilled her self-esteem into his mouth.
Phoebe saw herself standing over Doyle’s wrecked and miserable form, her eyes golden reptilian bulges rendering her vison into slits; flames of orange and blue crowned her and licked over her hunched shoulders and down her back. Her throat constricted abruptly, a bright yellow utility rope around her neck pulled by demon’s birds. “I can’t breathe! I don’t want to be that, that… fucking monster! Let me go! I said “No”, damn it”, she struggled against the rope, both within and without, and raised her hands palms-up into the murmuration of starlings as far as she could. It was all the invitation they needed. Sprites of light, her stars with wings, zipped between gaps in the spinning murmuration, then entered up her nostrils, into her ears, and through her open mouth. As light energy radiated from her head and neck, the rope faded and loosed until it disappeared all together. A cough of slimy tar erupted as Phoebe regurgitated Kaz’s manipulations. Sprites cut through lesions and dark attachments from her mind to her bruised and abraded heart. She crossed her hands over her chest and brought Doyle’s handsome face and trim athletic body to her mind’s eye, complete with his smug grin, hair and eyelashes so blonde they almost glowed, and haunted eyes she’d not noticed before. Her heart clenched. He truly suffered, Phoebe realized. Maybe not for the same reasons, but he hurt without her help.
Saint Joan arrived as Phoebe retched and led her out of the stream and to the foot of the Eagle’s hill. The Angel smoothed her damp coppery hair away from her face, each touch a blessing. “You are not responsible for Shana’s choice”, Joan instilled in Phoebe’s sacral chakra, a pool of tarry guilt-laden vomit absorbed into rich brown soil and grown over with silvery thistle which bloomed before her eyes. “You are not alone, Phoebe Monteer”, Joan sliced a shallow ruby river in the center of Phoebe’s chest, her blinding blade brisk, and gently worked a mossy orb behind her sternum. Verdant tendrils decorated Phoebe’s heart chakra and instinctively twined between her bony ribs with spongy paddings of life-giving mycelium. Crevices and cracks inflamed with remorse received a trickle of grace.
Phoebe pushed away the light being hands of Saint Joan. “Can you bring her back? to my world, I mean? Or in dreams? like before”? She rubbed the ache in her chest, her eyes desperate and longing.
Joan considered what answer served Phoebe’s soul, and decided to bend the rules. “That soul is being healed, Phoebe, just as you will heal. Some.” The Marys had warned Joan not to speak of her Anam Chara’s location. “You will find your purpose. It will help. Some”.
Sickness swam in Phoebe’s belly, again. Of course there wasn’t any way Shana could come back, return to their future. Her empty mottled yellowing body, with it’s black ring of destruction around her neck, had been reduced to ashes, while her soul was only El-knew-where. All of it, every nightmare aspect, because of Doyle. Except, she couldn’t forget how she felt about Shana those last few weeks, nor forgive herself. “Neither of us will heal without the other, and you know it. You All KNOW”, to which Joan shook her darkly-capped head, her face serious, but her gaze manic with devotion, a happy and infuriating juxtaposition.
“Just leave me then”, she spat at the angel.
Not bothered, Joan pulled her by the hand, “Come. Climb with me”. Chainlink mail in gleaming silver encased Joan’s form from ankles to neck, and tinkled with her steps, while Phoebe found herself clothed in hairy sackcloth and slightly abraded with every movement. The Saint prodded her, “Should you be punished for your failures?” and her bare foot landed in more thistle on the hillside. More slivers needled her soles with every step until she cried from pain and left behind miniscule dots of blood. Her neck chafed against the rough fabric, already raw from Kaz’s rope. Still, Phoebe began to climb without being pulled.
John the Baptist-style penance, she thought. Thistle gave way to rocky ground, cool stones worn almost flat held with ribbons of moss, and roots of thorny bushes. “I don’t know… should I? I feel like I’ve been punished, like my life is a punishment now”. Into a knee-deep hole one of Phoebe’s legs descended. “You could at least guide me, Saint Joan”!
Joan lent her an arm to pull herself up, but did not lend her strength. “You have to pull yourself up, Phoebe Monteer, since the hole is yours. You create them as you go, like your mistaken need to be punished”. As any influencer knows, Joan of Arc included, humans rise to challenges.
Phoebe grunted with effort as her hands climbed the Saint’s arm and pulled on it so hard she fairly flew out of the hole and onto her backside. She yelped as tiny needles pierced her tenderest flesh. It occurred to her that Shana would still be dead no matter how much she punished herself. The sackcloth morphed into a cotton shift of white that blew against her ankles and tops of her feet. Climbing on the rocky ground she found fewer and fewer thorns as she ascended and her long feet seemed to heal the crimson dots as quickly as they were produced until they were not any longer. Her breathe came rapidly as the climb became steeper and the Saint walked a few feet to her right.
“Phoebe Monteer, you will make a difference for many souls on the earth plane”, Saint Joan of Arc placed this truth in a tiny diamond and approached her before she could take the final steps to the apex among the pines. With her fingers pinched, she put the diamond in Phoebe’s Third Eye chakra in the middle of her forehead. “We will guide you, as will a familiar who, although not a replacement for your friend, will bring you comfort in this lifetime”.
Phoebe found herself back in the hallway outside her loft, key in hand, a mewling sound at her feet, just as she took a final step and an eagle alit mere feet in front of her. Anxious, she looked down to find a kitten, black as a moonless night. Her heart pinged with recognition. “Oisin! Welcome, my little Angel”. Shana scooped up softness to look it in neon green eyes she could swear she’d seen before.
“Hello, Phoebe”, Oisin intuited and made her laugh out loud with delight. When she opened the door, Doyle stood in her kitchen, upright and unharmed just as she’d pictured. He smiled like a kid himself when he saw what she carried.