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   Chapter 5 5

Brownie Oxford and the Seabridge Surprise: Brownie Book 4 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 16985

Updated: 2019-06-11 15:07


Chapter 5

Sunday passed relatively quietly after my Swift encounter. I completed my homework, did my grocery shopping so my fridge and pantry were stocked for the week and finished baking the potato I abandoned the night before for Ricky and pizza. The parking lot did seem a little emptier than usual but I wasn't sure if my neighbors were taking advantage of the break in the ever more frequent rain storms to spend time outside. While still humid, the temperature was perfect for running around in. I thought longingly of my running shoes now living in seclusion at the bottom of my closet. Swift knew I ran and in truth there was no way I could figure out to run without sweat turning my hair curly despite the products.

I really missed running and after putting my groceries away, I had a harder time than usual talking myself out of going for a quick jog.

'And what would Ricky say if you were picked up by Swift before completing his gown for the Spring Gala?' I reminded myself, turning away from my sneakers.

Thinking of Ricky, I realized he would be asking me about my visit to the archives and more importantly about my conversation with Tom. While I thought Tom was attractive and interesting, I was more worried about his attempts at matchmaking should I chicken out.

I sighed and studied the contents of my closet. Since I knew Ricky would ask what I wore to visit the archives, I knew I had to make a reasonable choice. "Or at least one I can justify, " I told myself. "I want to look nice, but not like I'm trying too hard."

After some consideration I chose a dark blue dress with white detailing and a pair of matching flats to go with it. Satisfied with my choice, I made certain everything I needed for class was gathered and then I prepared for bed. When I slipped between the sheets, I looked at the ceramic elephant I kept on my night stand.

When Cecil Matheson tried to force me into the dream tower, I learned how to create a focus to pull myself out of the dream. I rubbed my feet together, feeling the rough shape of the scar on my foot. If I encountered the beast again, I wanted to be able to escape. While stench, fear and screaming was bad, it was the curious gaze of the beast I found I was most eager to avoid.

It was most unsettling.

When I was certain I could see the elephant in my mind's eye and pull myself from the dream if I needed to, I turned out the light and snuggled down beneath the covers. For a long time, I stared at the ceiling, hoping the beast was not there waiting for me once I closed my eyes. I realized I was fighting sleep, but couldn't make myself stop. Gradually, my eyes grew heavy and despite my fears, sleep claimed me.

The dreams started at once, but to my surprise, they didn't contain the beast.

The family was dressed and already in place around the table. As before, I was the ghost in this memory. The seated family and the bustling servants couldn't see me. As I watched them settle in and begin their meal, I wondered if it would be different if I visited the cemetery. If I went to the grave stones, called the spirits and introduced myself, would they be able to interact with me during this flashback or would it continue to play like a movie?

I wasn't certain. Nothing I read so far mentioned a scenario exactly like this. The books I read mentioned that if I didn't use my ability for long periods then the power would sort of leak out of me and call the nearest dead. For this reason it was advised that cemetery visits become a routine feature of daily life. No one mentioned memories surfacing from cemetery proximity.

This memory was the same as it always was. At the head of the table sat the father, William, the opposite end the mother, Margaret. The children were seated between them, three older boys on one side, one boy and two girls on the other side, all in varying ages between twelve and twenty. The three older boys were Johnathan, Thomas and Alexander, although I wasn't entirely certain which was which. The article I found on their murder listed all of them and their ages so I knew the names of the entire Bradford Family. Unfortunately, the three older boys each had only a year between them and I wasn't confident enough to pinpoint their ages. The other side of the table was much easier. Emily was the younger girl with Susannah as the eldest. Next to the two girls sat James.

"Do you think Congress will actually agree to war?" one of the older boys asked. He heaped mashed potatoes onto his plate.

"President McKinley…" another one of the older boys started to reply.

"Boys, " William said. "Politics are not discussed at the dinner table. Such matters are distressing to the ladies. Apologize to your mother."

The two boys' mumbled apologies and she accepted them as servants brought in bowls of soup for the family. As always I stepped back so as to be out of the way of the tureens. Theoretically, I knew the soup wouldn't spill if they ran into me, but I wasn't sure exactly what would happen if I touched any of the memories. I knew I couldn't pick up any items and I couldn't be heard. I suspected the people would walk straight through me, but I wasn't all that anxious to try it out.

The family dinner conversation continued. I heard it enough times that I could tune it out. Rain was coming and the family was short on housemaids.

"There are some flowers starting to come up in the back garden, " Emily informed the others and was reminded to stay away from the cook's garden.

The soup bowls were cleared away and more plates brought in for the second course. An upcoming dinner party was discussed and servants fluttered in and out of the room, bringing each new course and clearing away the completed ones. I knew from following them that as soon as they were out of the room they disappeared. Unlike the family, they were buried elsewhere and only existed in Emily's memory.

Where were they when he arrived?

The thought surfaced in my mind, whispered across my consciousness. I shivered. The question wasn't mine, or at least I didn't think it was. But who else could it belong to?

'It is a good question though, ' I thought wondering why the thought didn't occur to me before. 'What happened to the servants when pork chop man came?'

I thought about it as I watched dinner proceed. I knew the family was shot by the invader, the gun loud in the dining room. The final shot he fired was a shotgun blast that more or less turned William's head into small bits decorating the wallpaper. Even if the servants missed the first few shots, there was no way they would have missed the final one. 'Yet none of them came to investigate.' I thought about it. 'At least not while Emily was alive anyway.'

Maybe the servants cowered until it was completely silent and then came to check things out. 'Or maybe they heard the shots and ran off with the silver.'

As the family discussed the neighbor's dog and his unwelcome presence in their garden, I heard the soft creaking of the front door as it opened and closed. I knew what it was because I didn't always stand in the dining room listening to the family. In my quest for answers about the family, I searched the house as well as I was able without being able to touch or move anything. On one of my trips through the house, I was in the front room when the gunman let himself into the house. Even though I heard the creak of the hinges and knew death was approaching, the family did not hear it.

'Well clearly Emily heard it, if it's a part of her memory, ' I corrected. 'But none of them knew what it meant.'

I swallowed hard and felt my entire body tense. I knew I could think of my elephant. I could focus on its happy face and pull myself out of this dream, but it always seemed somehow disrespectful to listen to the conversation and watch the meal then disappear just before the bad part. So I stayed. My teeth were clamped shut and my hands balled into fists by my side as I waited.

The wait was not long.

The man entered silently, his large frame filling the doorway. He had a square jaw decorated with stubble and every line in his face conspired to make him look hard. His long hair was tied back into a ponytail, the greasy blondish locks hanging straight down his back like muddied straw. There was no mercy in his eyes. There were a few mended spots on his shirt and his pants had a small patch, carefully

sewn and almost invisible on one of the legs. The cuffs were slightly frayed. While the gunman wasn't as well off as the family, care was still taken with his clothing.

Who is he?

The thought blew through me and I knew this time it wasn't mine.

'Emily?' I thought projecting the question out as though I were speaking to the dead in a cemetery. Could the spirit speak to me through the memory after all? There was no response.

'At least he is quick, ' I thought as the man fired several shots in rapid succession, dropping each one of the family members where they sat. I jumped with each shot, unable to do anything other than bear witness. He holstered his gun and picked up a shotgun I hadn't seen him set to the side. He strolled around the table almost casually as he took the sight of the family in. Some were slumped over the table, others were flung back in their seats. None had time to rise at the sight of their attacker.

Even though he couldn't see me, I shrunk back from him, not wanting to draw his attention as he did a quick check of each body to make certain they were dead. Somehow he missed the fact that Emily was still breathing. I doubted it was his lack of skill. William was the focus and the others were mere collateral damage. They were just something to dispose of as quickly as possible so they wouldn't interfere with his business.

William groaned, the sound low and painful to hear. The gunman smiled and tilted William back in his chair. He reached onto the plate and picked up one of the remaining pork chops. He sniffed it and then took a large bite out of the meat. He chewed as William struggled to breathe. The sound was wet and gurgled. Bloody foam appeared on his lips.

'I guess he hit a lung or something, ' I thought, still standing pressed against the wall, unable to look away.

The gunman continued to eat until the bone was clean, his eyes never leaving the gasping dying man. He finished and tossed the bone down onto the plate with a harsh clank.

"Not bad, " the gunman said. "My compliments to your cook." As he spoke, he wiped his greasy hand off on the dying man's shoulder. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for dessert. My most sincere apologies."

The gunman pressed the muzzle of the shotgun against William's chin and leaned in as though sharing a confidence with the dying man.

"You know, " he said. "You never should have crossed Mr. Ellis." He leaned back. "You brought this on yourself." The gunman pulled the trigger and the man's head exploded, coating the wall behind him in blood and gore. The gunman shouldered his shotgun and sauntered towards the door. At the door he paused, turned and gave a slight bow.

"Thank you for dinner and an enchanting evening, " he complemented the table.

Then, chuckling to himself, he turned and walked out of the room. I heard the front door open and close. At the table I heard Emily breathing. It was a soft sound that ended in a low rattle as her final breath tumbled out of her throat. Emily lay still, her head resting on the no longer white tablecloth next to her plate.

Darkness fell around me and as I blinked, the scene reset, prepared to play again. While I wouldn't avoid watching the bad parts out of respect for the dead, I had no desire to sit through another viewing. I thought of my elephant and woke myself up.

For a moment I lay in bed thinking about the not quite dream. Emily never spoke to me before. Truthfully, I wasn't sure she had now and it was, at the moment, not the most concerning part of the dream. Usually, the dream only occurred when I skipped my practice at the flea market for some reason. If I went to the flea market, my conversations with the dead and my practice of shielding myself to John's satisfaction drained off the excess energy. I was no longer twitchy and I didn't need to worry about the dream's arrival.

'I went to the flea market yesterday as usual, ' I thought. 'I did the same I always do so it should have drained all the excess energy for the week. I shouldn't be having the dream.' I frowned, but my eyes felt weighted and I could feel sleep waiting to suck me back in. I decided to worry about it when I was better rested. I closed my eyes.

This time the beast came.

I was back in the parking lot. I barely had time to register where I was before the beast was upon me. His shadowy form enveloped me and I was deafened by the shrieking. The stench filled me up as though it was a solid presence. I felt my back pressed against the side of my car and I slowly slid down the side until I was crouched on the ground. Every part of me wanted to curl up into as small a ball as I could manage. I wanted to scream, but I also wanted to vomit so I clamped my teeth together hard enough that my jaw ached. I didn't know if anything could follow me from this dream into the real world like the flower petals of the Matheson dreams, but I didn't want to wake up covered in vomit.

I pressed my hands against the rough asphalt of the parking lot. I scraped my hands against its surface, the pain of the action helping me focus somehow. The creature backed off. As soon as my head was clear I drew in deep breaths, panting like I had just run a marathon as I pulled clean air into my body. The beast stood a few feet back and stared at me as I tried to recover myself. Its head was tilted slightly as it studied me. It looked confused, as though I was not what it was expecting.

"I wasn't exactly expecting you either, " I told it, before I could stop myself.

I let go of my grip on the parking lot and forced my wobbly knees to help me stand. Being surrounded by the miasma of the beast made me want to curl into a ball, having it study me, made me want to stand. I didn't have any illusions about outrunning it; I just hated the way it towered over me.

Even at my full height, the beast was taller than I was, but I felt better for standing, less helpless somehow. My head only reached its shoulder; a shoulder that was densely muscled I noticed and thicker around than my thigh.

'Not helping, ' I reminded myself. I took a deep breath and realized my hands were shaking. I pressed them into my jeans and realized that in my dream I was dressed as Brownie. The t-shirt I was wearing was one I put into storage in case Swift recognized the decals and when I lifted a hand to my head, I found my curls were once again in place. I couldn't see my eyes, but I suspected they would be back to my normal green.

The beast was still studying me so I dropped my self-inspection and stared back, bracing myself. For some strange reason, it didn't look like it was planning to attack. It was just…watching me. I gathered my courage.

"What do you want?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.

I think part of me was hoping it wouldn't hear me. I was pleased that my voice wasn't as shaky as my hands. The beast lowered its head so that it could look directly into my eyes. I swallowed hard, but still the beast did not attack. I stood my ground and stared back.

"Who are you?"

The voice was dark and gravelly. It came from the direction of the beast although his mouth remained shut. My wobbly knees turned to jelly and threatened to drop me back to the ground. I didn't expect the beast to talk. I gripped the side mirror with one hand and the door handle with the other and willed my knees to solidify.

"Names have power, " I said aloud before I really thought about my answer. "I can't tell you."

The beast nodded as though I managed to say something wise. Its horns glinted in the light and I realized that despite the horns, the beast appeared to be covered in feathers rather than fur and while its front two paws reminded me of a lion I saw at the zoo, it's back ones looked like giant chicken feet.

"My name is known and I am imprisoned by it, " the beast said. "I am Anzu. You are small for a warrior of such might. You have stood against me three times, and have earned the right to call upon me, even though you are not yet my master. Say my name and I will come."

"Okay… Anzu, " I managed to say.

The beast inclined his head, turned and strode away. The dream faded around me and I woke up in my bed. My scarred foot ached, but it was not burning as it was the night before. I once again stared at the ceiling as I digested my not quite dream.

"John has a lot of explaining to do, " I finally decided.

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