It took me twenty minutes to finally convince myself to admit that I was ready to leave the penthouse. There wasn’t a whole lot I could really do beyond breathing in deep and keeping close to Jen, feeling a sense of false security in being a close proximity to my friend. Still, my nerves rattled alongside my bones as we stepped out of the lobby and onto the street. Though it was only a short walk, we called a cab and clambered inside.
“Starbucks on Lexington,” Jen said, ripping off the cab driver by a dollar. The car jerked into the traffic and crossed the few intersections that lay between my apartment building and the Starbucks. I remained silent, my eyes quickly darting about the window to ensure that there weren’t any black vans or vengeful women murderers coming out to get me. Before I knew it, we were both inside Starbucks, with me sitting down to a delicious white chocolate mocha frappuccino and Jen devouring an espresso frappuccino.
I slurped down my mocha, enjoying the coolness of it against my tongue despite the coldness of the late autumn haunting the outdoors. Wind pounded the storefront, pouring down bucket loads of rain outside and onto those who braved the sidewalks in this wild weather.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of catching up on this not-so-fine day?” Jen asked, burning with curiosity as she practically inhaled her frappuccino.
“I have a… issue. And I don’t know what to do,” I admitted. “I didn’t know how to stop being so scared.”
“Wait! You’re not…” She rubbed her belly suggestively and I laughed, shaking my head.
“God, no!” I told her. “Not possible unless my name has been changed to Mary.”
“Oh…” she said, trailing off awkwardly. “So, what do you need my friendly assistance with? Mates rates are free.” I twiddled with my fingers, biting my lip.
“I was at the accident, with the black van,” I murmured. “I kind of… made a lady appear.” Jen’s jaw dropped open and she stood up, grabbing me by the arm roughly and practically dragged me out onto the street. I almost dropped my frappuccino, her grip on me was so tight and rough. Dragging me to the nearest available cab, she pushed the nearest woman out of our way who consequently stumbled and fell onto the wet concrete below.
Inside the heat of the cab, she paid the cab driver but didn’t offer a location. Simply pressing up her sleeve, the driver cranked the engine and we sped off through the streets. I could vaguely see a marking on her wrist of some kind, but I couldn’t make out what it was before she pulled down her sleeve. Quarter of an hour passed and we finally came to a complete stop in a part of New York that I didn’t recognise. Ahead, a sign warned New Yorkers and tourists not to go past that point due to the danger imposed on them.
“What are we doing here?” I whispered, alarmed to find Jen dragging me out of the cab. The vehicle sped off immediately, leaving us drenched in the pouring rain. Hunching her shoulders, Jen led me down and into the dark alley, past the warning sign and down a flight of cemented stairs to an iron door. She tapped three times and the door cranked open, revealing a series of men, heavily tattooed, armoured and tough.
They gave us the once-over, revealing to me that we didn’t belong here. I tugged on Jen’s arm, trying to get through to her but she flashed her wrist once again and stepped inside. I tried to follow but one of the burly guys held out an arm to stop me, thudding across my chest.
“She’s with me,” Jen said, pausing to glance over her shoulder at him. “Now let her through. Unless you’d like to answer to the wrath of Lilaine…?” She smiled sweetly at him and he lowered his arm, obviously frightened by the threat. I quickly followed Jen inside, keeping close to her side. The room was dim, lit only by disco lights reflecting off mirrored balls that dangled from the ceiling and writhing dancers. Despite the dangerous neighbourhood outside, they appeared to be undeterred by the danger. In fact, they seemed to be lured by it, attracted somehow by the fantasy of a thrill.
We bypassed these people though and continued into the back rooms, the light even dimmer still and cast in dark purple tones. The hallway alluded to smaller, private rooms created by dark, draped materials that were partially see-through. One didn’t require an imagination to see the frolicking that was occurring. All I could hope for was to keep my eyes on the floor and focus on making my ears as deaf to the moans as possible. Jen didn’t seem at all deterred, rather, excited by the prospect. Her eyes drifted through the transparent materials, taking in the bodies engaged in pleasure. Feeling awkward, my eyes returned to being firmly planted on the ground.
We passed through into a larger, more heavily privatised room featuring armoured guards stationed by the far corners. They resembled statues, their stances still as a tall and darkly beautiful woman stepped into the room. Her dark features caused her emerald eyes to glow with omniscience and her movements reminded me of the feline grace of a stalking panther. She sauntered into a heavily cushioned seat across from us, resembling a queen overlooking her court.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded; her eyes severe as they watched Jen bow before her. I followed suit quickly, feeling awkward and jerky in my movements. When we rose together, she stared me down with her critical gaze and recognition flashed before me. “You’re her, aren’t you? You’re Katherine MacLaine.”
She rose from her throne and walked over to me, her beautiful thin hands fluttering over me before she pulled me into a tight hug. “Your mother told me you would be coming here someday,” she said. “Now the time has finally come! Now we can fulfil our destinies and destroy the Shadows!”
“Wait-” I said, cutting her off. “What is she talking about?” I looked to Jen for answers but she merely bowed her head and took a few steps back.
“Dearest child,” the woman said. “I’m Lilaine Hartley. I’m an illusionist just like you are. I’ve seen the magic you can wield and you are a powerful woman. You will be a great leader of our people, the Spirit Bearers. You will lead us to peace and freedom!” I took several steps back, breaking free of her hold on me. I shook my head, my hands in the air in an expression of dismissal.
“Jen, what is she talking about?” She wouldn’t meet my eyes, merely focusing on the ground below her feet. Annoyed, my tone turned frustrated. “Jen! What the hell is she talking about?” Still no reply. Scared and confused, I turned on my heel and fled, running back through the club and toward the exit. This time there were hardly any guards at the door and I hurried outside, surprised to find that it was late night outside. Disoriented, I looked up above the door to find that I’d exited the Glass Witch, the newest club in town.
Confused, I managed to return to a street that I vaguely recognised and hailed a cab, barking my address to the man and flinging what money I had in my purse at him. Surely I had not just spent a whole day in that club, talking to a friend I now barely knew and a crazy woman who was as much a maniac as she was beautiful? My feet ached terribly by the time I managed to return to my penthouse and climbed into bed. I considered idly of typing up Google and using their search engine to research on that new term – was it Spirit Bearers? – and the magic of illusionists.
Surely that woman wasn’t serious about illusionists and magic and Spirit Bearers. Surely they weren’t real and living and walking? I bit my nails, double and triple and quadruple checking to ensure that my penthouse was secure before storming into the shower. It was possibly the fastest shower I’d ever had, but it was hot enough to make me sleepy to the point of almost passing out. Climbing out, I dressed into my most comfortable pyjamas and dragged myself into bed, switching off only the main lights enough that the street lights of New York could light my entire penthouse.
When I finally managed to fall off to sleep, I dreamt of stages and lights, of crazy women and murderous models. Trapped inside the vicinity of the darkened club, I saw illusionists and magic, swirls of golden glitter choking me to the point of tears rising in my eyes. There wasn’t much I could do though, even to the point of pinching myself to no avail.
What was this strange, new world? Who was Jen really? Who was Lilaine and why did she know me?
Waking suddenly, I rose from my bed with the sudden realisation of where I could get answers. Dragging my laptop from my desk, I sat on my bed with it resting over my lap and brought up Google. With a quick word search I was able to scavenge together just the person who would either clarify for me the madness, or have me locked away in a loony home for the rest of my life. Still, it was better than nothing. Luckily for me, I had a feeling she’d present the former for me.
Doctor Frevaine Hindler, psychologist – and one of New York’s finest.