CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED and TWO
Monday mid-day— 12:02 p.m.
Dionne walked along side Yvonne as she was wheeled out of the rental house on gurney by paramedics. Maresol, Delphie, and Sam followed close behind. Yvonne and Gilfand had appeared out of nowhere a few minutes ago. They’d called 9-1-1. Yvonne would be taken for assessment to the hospital. Because there were a number of world class orthopedic hospitals in nearby mountain communities, it was likely that Yvonne would be moved by the end of the day. For now, she and Dionne were on their way to the small local hospital.
The paramedics closed the back door of the ambulance and the vehicle made a loud trip away from the house. Delphie glanced at Maresol and Sam before heading back into the house. Gilfand met them just inside the door. Sam slipped past Gilfand to continue cleaning up the kitchen after brunch.
“Are you returning to the tunnel?” Delphie asked.
“No,” Gilfand said. “The next part of the journey in the Marlowe Mine is for Abi and Jacob alone.”
Delphie gave him a curt nod and turned away. She’d taken two steps when he spoke again.
“I am going with you, Oracle,” Gilfand said.
Delphie stopped short. Maresol gave him a puzzled look before turning toward Delphie.
“What is he talking about?” Maresol asked. “We are waiting for Jacob and Abi to return. Right?”
Maresol put her hand on Delphie’s arm.
“We agreed that is what we’d do,” Maresol said. “We told Yvonne that we’d be here when they came back!”
“I need to go,” Delphie said.
“Where?” Maresol asked. Her voice rose with concern. “Where do you need to go?”
The sound of Maresol’s voice brought Sam from the kitchen. He was wearing a flowery apron and carrying a wet plate and kitchen towel.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked.
They stood in silence staring at Delphie’s back.
“Are we going somewhere?” Sam tried a different question.
“Delphie is going to the Fire of Hell,” Gilfand said.
“No. No, she’s not,” Sam said. “We agreed to wait for Abi and Jacob to return.”
Gilfand raised his eyebrows at Sam and turned back to Delphie.
“Gilfand is right,” Delphie said after a moment. “I’m going. I knew I needed to go the moment I saw Yvonne. The very moment she arrived. There’s nothing you can say to stop me. I’m going whether you agree with me or not. I must go. I have to go. I need to be there.”
“Delphie!” Maresol scolded.
“Wow,” Sam said. “We’re not going to even talk about this?”
“It’s not up to us,” Delphie said. “It’s up to me.”
“That is where you are wrong,” Gilfand said, softly.
Delphie turned to look at him.
“Go alone, and you stay in the tight box you were placed in as a child,” Gilfand said. “You will stay alone. No friends. You with be alone to face the incredible untouched power within you, facing all that come to take your power away. You stay a slave to misfortune and pain.”
When Delphie didn’t respond, Gilfand continued.
“Invite your lover, your friends, your Gilfand,” he said. “Let us fight shoulder to shoulder, together. You will truly see the end of what came before. You, dear Oracle, can live free.”
“ …end what has come before,” Delphie mouthed.
She shook her head.
“I know that you do not want to make such a change, especially now,” Gilfand said. “But the time is upon you. The soul stealer is dead. We have this chance now to get this done. To finish it. Done and over with.”
“I …” Delphie started. Her eyes flicked to Gilfand. “How can you be so sure?”
“It is what makes sense,” Sam said.
Delphie looked at Sam and he smiled at her.
“It’s time,” Sam said.
“Long past time, I’d say,” Maresol said with a snort.
Delphie shook her head and took a step away from them.
“Do something different,” Gilfand said, mildly. “Try something new.”
Like silent statues, they stood silently watching at Delphie. After a moment, her shoulders sagged forward.
“Good,” Maresol said. “I just need to use the restroom and I’m ready.”
She ran up the stairs to the restroom.
“I will finish up,” Sam said.
Gilfand snapped his fingers and the dishes were clean, put away, and the kitchen was tidied.
“Hey, thanks,” Sam said.
He set down the towel and took off the apron. Delphie looked at him and noticed for the first time that he was wearing his hiking boots. He grabbed the jeans jacket he wore while hiking and put it on. There was a backpack full of provisions at his feet.
“You’re ready to go, too?” Delphie asked.
“We knew you’d do something like this. We thought we might have to chase after you!” Sam said with a grin. “Go get ready. We’ll wait for you.”
Nodding, Delphie jogged up the stairs. She put on her hiking boots and wore the protective jacket that Jill had infused with her healing touch. She jogged down the stairs to find Maresol and Sam waiting for her. Gilfand was wearing a more human-looking body.
“I have water, oranges, and some of those snack bars we like,” Sam said. He held open the backpack. “Anything else?”
“Sage from our garden,” Maresol put a dried bundle of sage into the backpack.
Delphie added a lighter, a few tea light candles, a small charcoal disc, and some of her special, super noxious smelling bad energy clearing incense. Sam added a small tin of chocolate chip cookies to the backpack.
“Then we are ready,” Gilfand said. “Shall we walk?”
“I think we have to,” Delphie said.
“Very well,” Gilfand said.
Sam opened the door, and they set out across the open fields toward the Littleton Evergreen Cemetery. Sam stopped to lock the door. He had to jog to catch up. Delphie smiled at him in welcome.
“Thanks,” she said under her breath.
“We take this challenge on together,” Sam said. “Like everything else.”
She smiled at him and took his hand. They walked together toward the cemetery.
Deep in the Marlowe Mine
Jacob and Abi had been walking for what felt like hours. Jacob dared not speak on the off chance that this “Fire of Hell” thing might hear their conversation echo through the tunnel. He glanced at Abi but kept walking.
“Jacob?” Abi asked.
“Yes?” Jacob asked.
“You may ask me anything,” Abi said.
“I was wondering if you had an idea of how much farther we needed to go,” Jacob said, fumbling on his words.
“No idea,” Abi said. She stopped walking and turned to Jacob.
“Why aren’t we just jumping there?” Jacob asked.
“We don’t know exactly where we’re going,” Abi said. “We don’t know what we’ll find. In situations such as these, it’s better to walk. Are you tired? Shall we rest?”
“Tired? Not really,” Jacob said. “Bored, maybe.”
“Bored?” Abi snorted a laugh. “Why don’t you speak with me?”
“I was giving you space,” Jacob said.
“I was giving you your ‘man space,’” Abi said.
“Man space?” Jacob asked.
“I saw this concept on a television program that Valerie was watching,” Abi said. “Human men need time of quiet and peace without the chattering of women.”
“Do you chatter?” Jacob asked.
“Not really,” Abi said.
“I happen to love the ‘chattering of women,’” Jacob said. “I used to study at the kitchen counter to listen to my mother ‘chatter,’ although the word ‘chatter’ is kind of a derogatory.”
“What does it mean?” Abi asked.
Jacob laughed. They continued to walk. They’d walked for a few minutes before Abi touched Jacob’s arm.
“No really, what does it mean?” Abi asked. “I thought it was just that kind of talking about nothing that women tend to do.”
“I will tell you that I’ve never heard a woman talk about nothing,” Jacob said. “Even when they are just talking about nothing. There’s always something there — something about them. Something about the world. Sometimes something about me. My mother used a lot of words to talk about her anxiety. She was terrified for Valerie and for me. Always. She had a sense that she wouldn’t live very long. That feeling would overcome her and she would talk for hours about … nothing.”
He sighed and nodded.
“I loved the sound of my mother’s voice,” Jacob said.
Abi touched Jacob’s arm in silent appreciation for him.
“I love to hear Jill talk,” Jacob said. “When she talks about nothing what so ever — that’s my favorite. I listen to her words as if they were a river or a wave. There’s often an emotion underneath or possibly something that relates to the way she sees the world.”
Abi grinned at him.
“Mostly, I like the sound of her voice,” Jacob said.
“As you loved your mother’s voice?” Abi asked.
“Yes,” Jacob said. He grinned. “My mother wasn’t just anxiety and melancholy. She could get really worked up over … politics or maybe something someone said … She loathed bullies or people who treated others as if they were garbage. And let me tell you, she had a lot to say about the great injustice in the world.”
“The great injustice of the world?” Abi asked.
“That so few have so much and so many have so little,” Jacob said.
“You mean that a few people have money instead of a life and others live life to the fullest but have little money,” Abi said.
“Do they?” Jacob asked.
“Do they what?” Abi asked.
“Live life to the fullest?” Jacob asked.
“Suffering,” Abi said. “It is the human condition. People with lots of money surround themselves with luxuries with the idea that they will not suffer. Even the smallest pain is too much. Little do they realize that the entire point of being here is to feel … everything.”
“The point of life is suffering?” Jacob asked.
“Of course,” Abi said. “Or better said, the point of life is to overcome suffering so that pain is merely another experience, another sensation. Life is about feeling everything. That is the nature of life.”
“It’s good to eat,” Jacob said, in mild chastising.
“Yes,” Abi said. “If you look at the research into poverty, the reason poverty is stressful is that people feel poor. They endure the shame and humiliation of feeling less than someone else.”
“Aren’t they poor?” Jacob asked.
“No,” Abi said. “Those with the most money are the most lacking in authentic love, real relationships, and genuine living of life. This vacancy is not living.”
“Suffering is?” Jacob asked.
Abi nodded. They walked along for a while in silence.
“Are you alive?” Jacob asked.
Abi glanced at him and laughed. She fell silent without answer. They continued to walk. After more than ten minutes, she looked at him.
“It’s a good question,” Abi said. “Gilfand and I cannot die, so are we alive?”
“Do you suffer like the rest of us?” Jacob asked.
“Oh,” Abi said. “We suffer.”
“Gilfand and I have suffered greatly in our long lives, less so now,” Abi said. “But that’s the nature of living.”
“Hmm,” Jacob said.
“We have also lived, experience, enormous wonder,” Abi said. “You can’t imagine what it’s like when the continents come together. You’d think that every creature on earth would fight or struggle for dominance.”
“They don’t?” Jacob asked.
“Some do. Not many,” Abi said. “Most rejoice in the homecoming.”
Listening, Jacob didn’t respond.
“That’s one of my favorite experiences,” Abi said. “Gilfand loves it when the sea rises to cover most of the land. He hasn’t done it in a long time, but he used to spend most of his time in the ocean. That’s where he found Manannán, you know, Queen Fand’s consort.”
Jacob nodded. After a while, Abi sighed.
“I believe that I am a part of this earth,” Abi said. “I was created when the earth was. I will likely die when she does. This sun will not last forever. When it dies, Gilfand and I will pass away. For now, we are here.”
Abi lifted a shoulder in a shrug.
“Have you ever taken a break?” Jacob asked. “Hibernated?”
“No,” Abi said. “There is too much to see and do. This planet seems so stable to humans, but it’s changing all the time. There is always something new to see, something fun to do, someone to interact with.”
“Chatter,” Jacob said.
“We’ve come full circle,” Abi said. “Shall I chatter at you?”
“It doesn’t seem like your way,” Jacob said.
“It’s not,” Abi said. “I’ve spent more than a few millennia without saying even one word.”
“Because you were angry?” Jacob asked.
“There was no one to speak to,” Abi said. “Gilfand was underwater and … Really, how much conversation can you have with a single celled organism?”
“Well, feel free to speak if you’d like,” Jacob said. “I’m here.”
“Thank you, Jacob Marlowe,” Abi said.
Grinning, they continued walking toward the Fire of Hell.
Monday afternoon — 1:42 p.m.
Near Evergreen Cemetery
They’d climbed down a short hill to the bottom of a dry drainage ditch. They needed to get back up. Even though Delphie was strong and healthy, they were at 10,000 feet in Leadville. The air had much less oxygen than she as used to. After her stroke, Delphie still struggled with heart disease.
Sliding and stepping down the hill, Delphie was covered in sweat and breathing hard. Sam waited for her on the other side of the hill up. Maresol and Gilfand waited near the top. Sam held out his hand. She took his hand and he pulled her up the hill. With his arm around her, he practically carried her to the top. Gilfand took one look at Delphie and gestured toward a nearby tree.
In a blink of Gilfand’s eye, there was a festive blanket sitting in the shade of a nearby tree. They sat down under the cool shade. Gilfand nodded and cold oranges, sparkling wine, various cheeses, long baguettes, ice water, and chocolate appeared.
“May I get anything else?” Gilfand asked.
“This looks perfect,” Maresol said.
“I have one other thing,” Gilfand said. He held up a metal flask. “Abi makes this for her Fairy Corps. It is an elixir of herbs and magic.”
They turned their attention to him.
“Jacob compares it to alcohol,” Gilfand said. “It has… strange effects. For each person, it is unique. I have once in my life given it to another Oracle.”
“How did that go?” Delphie asked with a tired smile.
“Strangely,” Gilfand said. “I am right here and at your service. We’ll do it together.”
“Then why are you giving it to us?” Sam asked. “You can see that Delphie is struggling! We don’t need to go on some mind altering trip.”
“It will protect you from all dark magic,” Gilfand said. “Even though we have destroyed the soul stealer, there is no way to know what creature is living in the Fire of Hell. The shadow is wide and deep. There is a lot of dark magic about.”
Sam gave him a nod. He took the flask, opened it, and held it up to his nose.
“It doesn’t smell like anything,” Sam said. “Cucumbers, maybe.”
Nodding, Sam took a drink of the elixir. He passed it to Maresol, who took a drink. Maresol gave the flask to Delphie.
“Ooh, odd magic coming off this,” Delphie said.
“Odd?” Gilfand asked.
“Old,” Delphie said. “Ancient.”
“That is true,” Gilfand said.
Delphie took a drink from the flask. She blinked and then blinked again. For a moment, she could see every dimension and all of the creatures made of dark matter. She shook her head to clear her eyes.
“Too much,” Delphie said in a soft tone.
Gilfand put his hand on her wrist.
“Try it now,” Gilfand said.
When she opened her eyes, she could still see all of the dimensions and all of the dark matter. This time, she wasn’t afraid. Everything looked familiar and friendly. She smiled. The closest creature made of dark matter turned to look at her. It nodded in greeting.
“I wonder if they’ll help us,” Delphie thought.
“As always, Oracle, we are at your service,” the creature made of dark matter said. He bowed.
“You are loved in every realm,” Gilfand said, softly. “Protected. It is part of the universe. Your kind are protected by all because you protect all with your visions and manipulations.”
“I …” Delphie said.
“You never knew?” Gilfand asked.
Delphie shook her head. In response, Gilfand kissed her cheek.
“You are very brave then,” Gilfand said.
“Why do you say that?” Delphie said. She placed her hand over the place where he’d kissed her.
“Most Oracles know that they are protected and loved,” Gilfand said. “They have no fear to be just what they are. You, however, have never known that and yet still you are one of the strongest Oracles I have ever met. And that’s saying a lot.”
“Sam and Celia saved me,” Delphie said.
“Yes,” Gilfand said. “Sam Lipson is truly an incredible being. I’ve never met a human quite like him. I doubt I will again. Abi adores him and his humanness.”
Smiling, Delphie nodded. When she blinked again, her vision returned to more normal. She saw that Sam and Maresol were laughing and talking. They were sitting in the shade of a tall Cottonwood. Gilfand was sitting by her side.
“What if I want it again?” Delphie asked.
“You just have to touch the spot on your cheek where I kissed you,” Gilfand said. “On. Off.”
Delphie practiced for a few times before nodding to Gilfand. He winked at her. Leaning over, he picked up the sparkling wine and pour glasses of the bright yellow liquid.
“You okay?” Sam asked Delphie in a low voice.
“I am,” Delphie said.
“This fairy stuff is …” Sam said and shrugged. “Weird.”
“Fun weird?” Delphie asked.
Sam grinned at her and nodded.
“You?” Sam asked.
“Weird weird,” Delphie said. “But Gilfand gave me a way to control it a bit.”
“That was nice of him,” Sam said as if that was an oddity.
Delphie grinned at him.
“Are we near this thing?” Gilfand asked in a louder voice.
“Yes,” Delphie said. “It’s maybe five minutes from here.”
“Then let’s enjoy our break,” Gilfand said. “Draw deep my lovelies. The battle is near.”
“Battle?” Maresol asked.
“Unfortunately, my dear,” Gilfand said. “We enter the battle all the while hoping never to fight.”
“I hope not to fight,” Maresol said.
Sam and Delphie nodded.
“To the battle ending peacefully,” Sam held up his wine glass.
“To the battle ending peacefully!” They said in a robust cheer and clinked each other’s glasses.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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