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   Chapter 13 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 30230

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:26

Chapter 13

Deciding that I needed to start getting my data together if I expected my new team of experts to be any help, I set up my laptop on the kitchen counter once my breakfast was complete and I started looking through my files. Concentrating on the accumulated files of stomach cramps and meal plans had the added benefit of keeping me from worrying too much about the dream. I pushed it to the back of my mind and looked for clues and patterns that I could bring to the cemetery group the following morning to give them something to start with. As I began to work, many patterns jumped out at me and I was encouraged to keep going, jotting down notes and feeling good about my plan.

Mid-morning I came across a calendar where I had kept track of my injuries sustained while working for the NCS. I was usually left to my own devices while I healed instead of consulting with Swift during those times and thought I could compare the number of pills taken then to those needed when I was actively helping Swift.

"The comparison could help, " I thought considering how little energy it had taken to converse with the entire Mayenfield Cemetery as opposed to providing enough energy for Swift to question the dead. Perhaps energy output was a factor.

In black and white I saw my notes on the damage I took and the length of time it took me to heal from each injury. While I had been adding to the list for a long time, I had never taken a moment to look it over. I don't know if my memory had merely faded or if I had deliberately pushed the bulk of the injuries out of my conscious mind as some sort of protective measure, but there were many things I had forgotten.

While I remembered the broken bones and massive stiches that kept me housebound for long stretches, I had forgotten the cracked ribs that had made taking deep breaths a painful exercise a few winters back. I had blocked out the sore and swollen throat from an attempted strangling that had made swallowing a torture and the twisted knee I had to ice down every night for a month.

Scrolling through the lists of accumulated injuries and recoveries left me cold. I felt a strange sort of anger building inside me and pushed it away for later thought. I grit my teeth to get through it and continued to look them over, marking down the dates and severity and matching them up with the number of pills taken. I then cross referenced them with the foods eaten during recovery and decided I had done enough for the moment.

I closed my files and powered down my laptop. I capped my pen and closed my notebook. I had enough to bring to the cemetery to start and no desire to continue looking at the moment. I took a shaky breath and rubbed my arms, trying to ease the goose bumps. The cold seemed to be coming from my bones.

"Okay, " I said to myself, figuring a change of focus was needed. "Time to try scrambled eggs." I opened my cookbook to the page and carefully read through the steps. "I can do this, " I told myself as I retrieved the necessary ingredients. I cracked two eggs in a bowl and added a dollop of milk before whipping them to a yellow orange blend. I placed my skillet on the burner, turning it on.

"I hope this constitutes a small knob of butter, " I muttered to myself as I cut a tablespoon from the stick with my plastic knife and dropped it into the pan. The butter melted, it foamed and then died down, all as the book said it would.

"Here goes nothing, " I said as I poured the egg mix into the pan. I held my breath as I followed the book's instructions to tilt the pan slightly and work the egg with my fork while it cooked to break up the curds. I hoped my plastic fork would not melt and moved it rapidly in an effort to forestall such a calamity. When the eggs looked done I tipped them out on a plate, set the pan aside and beamed at my accomplishment. I turned off the burner and took my plate to the breakfast bar. I settled myself on a stool and tentatively took a bite.

"I made eggs, " I said to myself incredulously. Granted they could have used a little salt and maybe some pepper, but I had made them and they looked just like the book said they were supposed to look. I felt like doing a victory lap around the apartment. I could now make tea, microwave popcorn and scrambled eggs. I wiggled in my chair in a form of sit down happy dance as I ate.

Feeling pleased with myself, I washed everything I used, brushed my teeth and decided to take my confidence to the library. If my luck remained good I might actually find something on dreams that could help me with Matheson.

"And if not I can always see if they have any local history books, " I decided, riding a wave of optimism as I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder. I had people to help me break free of the pills and I had made scrambled eggs. I could do anything.

The library was a small neat building that looked like it had joined my fridge in escaping the 1950s. The only difference between the two was that while the fridge had taken some damage the library appeared to have escaped unscathed. The lawn was winter brown and the boxwood bushes were trimmed ruler straight as though to emphasize the long, thin, deep red bricks of the library's fa?ade. The door was aluminum and glass and resisted a little as I pushed it open. In one corner of the library I could hear the slow measured voice of someone reading aloud to a group. I turned and saw a woman sitting in a low chair in front of a ring of small children. I smiled, nodded to the woman behind the checkout desk and turned towards the stacks.

I wandered through the rows of books scanning titles not just for books on either dreams or local history, but simply for something good to read. I had the feeling that my time in Mayenfield would weigh heavily on me if I didn't find something to occupy myself. Somehow I didn't think oscillating between the stark raving terror of a dream that could follow me into the waking world and jogging to the cemetery to talk about my nutrition would be the best way for me to spend all of my time.

Since I usually didn't have much free time due to Swift, having time on my hands was a novel experience. Usually the only time I got to read was when I was convalescing and the idea of spending a chunk of an afternoon reading because I wanted to and not because I could no longer stand daytime television was extremely appealing.

"Although I can't read all the time, " I muttered to myself, knowing I would get restless after the novelty of reading just for pleasure wore off.

I pulled a book dealing with dream interpretation from the shelf and began to flip through it. I frowned as I scanned the pages. Somehow I was fairly certain that my dream was not due to stress in the workplace or unrequited love. I was fairly certain that my dream originated in the mind of someone else, but the book didn't seem to cover that possibility or discuss how to defend from a dream attack. I was about to put the book back on the shelf when I spotted the term conscious dreaming. I opened the book wider and read.

The reading didn't take long. "Conscious dreaming is a way to manipulate your dreams to clarify your focus and envision the changes you wish to make in your life, " the book informed me. "If confronted with the image of a wilted and dying plant, the symbol of a faltering personal relationship, envision providing the nurturing care that plant needs to thrive. Taking this time in the dream state will make you more cognizant of the care you need to take in your daily life if you wish that relationship to thrive and bloom."

I shook my head, closed the book and slid it back onto the shelf. While I wasn't certain about clarifying my focus, I did wonder if I could control elements in the dream. I had managed to control myself and that was something. I had not been swept along unable to stop myself from going into the tower. I had realized I was moving forward, stopped and took a step back. Even when extra pressure was put upon me to move forward, I had managed to hunker down and not move, even if I couldn't move back. As I scanned the shelves for anything using the term conscious dreaming, I wondered what else about the dream I could control.

"Maybe I should look for something on elements, " I mused when I came up empty on the dream front. After all, the wind screamed and burned for Matheson, but the earth seemed to like me well enough. Thinking I might actually be able to help myself in the dream made me feel a little better about the situation. Having exhausted the admittedly small new age section, I continued down the aisles, scanning the shelves as I walked. I turned the corner and found myself in the section featuring hobbies.

"I could get a hobby, " I thought to myself as I looked. Bouncing between foster homes and Riverdale followed by splitting time between a regular job and the NCS had left little time for such pursuits. "And hobbies are what people generally use to

dummies marked forty percent off. I stopped to look, realizing that the dummy would make my life easier. I also realized that I would not be able to carry a sewing machine and a dress maker's dummy back to my apartment in one trip. I had reached this sad, but inevitable conclusion when one of the clerks decided to see how I was doing.

"They are great aren't they, " a woman whose nametag read June said coming to stand next to me.

"They are, " I told her. "Unfortunately, I'm on foot." I told her. "And I need a sewing machine. My old one went belly up and I can't carry both machine and dummy home." I smiled politely.

June looked thoughtful. "You could call Maryann, " she suggested.

"Maryann?" I asked.

"Sure, " June said. "She runs a van around town like a taxi. As long as you are in town or at one of the local hotels she'll take you. Her rates are reasonable too."

"Really?" I said. I eyed the dressmaker's dummy with a new appreciation. The forty percent off sticker was too much to resist. "Do you have her number?"

A little while later I slid into the passenger's seat of a minivan with a sewing machine, dress maker's dummy and a couple of large bags of assorted purchases. I spent more than I had planned, but as I wouldn't need to buy much of anything else anytime soon, I figured it was okay.

The minivan had magnetic sign on its side simply stating that it was Maryann's Minivan with 'deliveries and taxi service' written in smaller letters underneath. A number completed the provided information and I scrawled it down for later use. Maryann proved to be a woman easily in her seventies with shockingly white, neatly permed hair. She wore a white oxford shirt, black slacks and black orthopedic shoes. She also wore black leather driving gloves with the fingertips cut out and I could see her perfectly manicured nails painted fire engine red and looking somewhat like bloodied claws. I shivered and pushed the thought away.

"You new to town?" She asked as she pulled away from the curb.

"I am, " I told her figuring there was little point in hiding it. "Just here for a little while though. I'm living above the Bait and Tackle." She nodded and headed in the correct direction.

"So you are Betty then?" Maryann said as she swooped through town.

"I am, " I confirmed once again marveling at the speed of gossip.

"Wendy at the Whistlestop is my niece." She told me. She neared the building. The healthy hike I had taken to get to the store merely a blink in the van. "Apartment entrance is in back right?" she asked.

"It is, " I replied. She nodded and turned, sliding into the back parking lot to let me out by my entrance. "Thanks, " I told her handing her the payment for the fare.

"Not a problem, " she said handing me my change and a card for her taxi. "Hours are on there, but if you know you'll need something after hours you can call in advance and we can see what we can do, " she informed me. I nodded, tucked the card in my bag and unloaded the results of my shopping excursion. I managed to get everything upstairs and lock both doors behind me with relatively little trouble, although I was panting and sweating by the time I was done.

Realizing I was hungry, I left everything on the loveseat and returned to the kitchen. I was pleased beyond measure when my success with the scrambled eggs was repeated. I decided I would wait until the next day to try my skill with the bacon as I was too worn out to deal with any problems should they arise.

Once fed, I set up my sewing station and took all of my new items out of the packaging. I pushed straight pins into a plump tomato looking pin cushion and stacked my patterns neatly to one side. I placed my material in another stack and looked to the dress maker's dummy.

"I think I'll call you Martha, " I decided. Realizing that I was too tired to start a project, I picked up a book and settled into a comfortable chair to read.

I read until my eyes started to blur. I set the book down and picked up my yarn. I began pulling it from the skein and winding it into a ball in preparation for knitting. My eyes began to sag closed and I forced them open again. I finished making my ball of yarn and yawned hugely feeling my jaw pop. My tired eyes slid to the door of my bedroom and I admitted to myself that I was stalling. I didn't want to go to bed. I didn't want to dream of a scalding wind trying to force me into a hungry tower.

I shivered and felt a cold sweat break out on my skin. I rubbed my eyes feeling them burn when I opened them again. "You have to go to sleep, " I told myself sternly. "You can't stay up forever." I took a deep breath. "Okay, " I commanded myself. "Time for bed." I slowly stood.

"Good night Martha, " I told the dummy, forcing myself to walk into the bedroom. My body obeyed under protest.

"You can do this, " I told myself, as though I needed a pep talk. I continued offering myself encouragement as I washed my face, brushed my teeth and put on pajamas. Normally I would just sleep in a t-shirt and underwear but tonight I couldn't force myself to be that undressed. Even though I had arrived in the poppy field wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I didn't want to start out that exposed. I added a pair of yoga pants and added a pair of socks for good measure. I turned off the overhead light, but switched on the small bedside lamp, unable to chide myself into turning it off.

The small childlike part of me didn't want to be alone in the dark when the monsters came. I had no illusion that the light would keep the dreams at bay, but I couldn't make myself turn it off. I slipped beneath the covers and pulled them up tightly to my chin. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on slowly relaxing my muscles. I envisioned the tension as water and that with each breath I was pushing it down towards my feet where it could drain out of me. I had it pushed to my belly button when sleep claimed me.

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