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episode five - being powerless part three

I'm not one to put up pictures of my family members, or even my friends, in my room. I do keep lots of pictures, but I don't bother with the formality of an album or frames on the walls or on my desk, or by my bed. Not even a picture of my mother. If she were dead, maybe I'd put a picture of her on the table by my bed. But, she's not dead. She's just at Cedar Cliff. As it is, all my pictures are bunched together in a drawer in my desk. When Olivia got quiet after her first few comments in my room, she started looking through my drawers, not bothering to ask if I minded--she'd done this three years earlier too, and I'd complained about privacy, especially when she found a note I'd written to Haley that I'd not had the courage to actually give her, and that I just couldn't bear to destroy. She happened upon the pictures, and shuffled through them. And, she must've gotten to a picture of my cousin Charlie, or maybe one of my Aunt Ellen, something that brought them to her mind. Maybe it was a picture of my mother, or of that old church. I'm really not sure. As she started speaking again, she put the bunch of pictures back in the drawer as they were, didn't tell me which one she'd seen, and I didn't ask.

"Charlie was a funny girl," she said. She meant funny odd, not funny ha ha. Having dealt with my cousin Charlie more than just that one time Olivia met her, I knew that at times that was quite an understatement. Charlotte is her name, but don't you dare ever call her that. I think the only person who might've been able to get away with it was her mother, and even that was rare.

Charlie's a couple years younger than me, maybe three or four, I can't remember exactly. I know, when she was here three years ago, she was older than Jaimie Cross was and younger than I was, somewhere between five and ten. And, she was a very opinionated girl, a very strong willed girl. When she came with her mom or dad up to visit, Charlie was the one who decided what they did while they were here. Even if her older two sisters came along, it was Charlie that made the decisions. I'm sure my aunt and uncle had some say, but it wasn't too noticeable.

Olivia walked over to my bed after closing the desk drawer. She looked at me rather strangely, then looked back toward the door to my room. It was closed. "Does it bother you, me being here? I know it's late and all, and this is your bedroom, but I wanted to talk to you." She skipped right past the obvious reason her presence would bother me, and I must apologize here, cause I'm gonna skip right past it myself. Gotta let you work up to it. Gotta let you see what happened three years ago.

"Maybe it woulda been best if Charlie hadn't wanted to explore that church," Olivia said. Then, she sat down on the edge of my bed. How's that for a segue?

It was Charlie's suggestion that we explore the old church. Olivia had mentioned it before, of course, and claimed she'd even explored the place when she lived in town before. Hell, she went as far as claiming she went there on Halloween night, which in this town is a huge deal, believe me. A burnt out, ruined church on the edge of town, right by the woods--on Halloween night, it's a freaky place. Older kids often hang out there that night, drinking and scaring us younger kids. Notice, I said "us younger kids." Haley and Kyle and I had gone over there ourselves the halloween before. Three nine year olds--we ditched Haley's parents while out trick or treating, and headed to the old church. Some drunk kid yelled at us, something that might have been a threat if not for his slurred speech, and we took off running, found Haley's parents, and went right back to trick or treating. Other than that, we'd never dared to go near the place after dark, and had hardly been near it during the day. We certainly hadn't been inside it. So, when my cousin Charlie, only in town for a few days, suggested it, and Olivia started bragging about how cool the place was inside, we all jumped at the chance. Stupid kids eager to do anything exciting. Sure, we liked hanging out at the playground in Memorial Park, but sometimes you just gotta branch out.

So, the day after Charlie and my Aunt Ellen arrived in town, the bunch of us, me, Olivia and Jaimie, Charlie, Haley, Kyle, Josh, and Barbara headed off to the old church. Dalton Phillips was actually there in the park that day, talking to Olivia, but he had to get to work, he said, when Olivia asked him to come with us. I assumed what he really meant was he didn't want to hang out with us kids any longer. Later, I'd ask Olivia something about that, and she agreed that he didn't like hanging out with kids. I pointed out to her that she was still a kid, and I expected her to be offended by that, but she just shrugged, said "go figure." She claimed the guy loved her. She claimed she loved him. But, she didn't talk about him much. And, he was not around her when any of us were much. So, who really knows what was going on there? Olivia never told me. And, Jaimie's claims that her sister and the older guy were having sex and that was about all there was to their relationship, though they made a sort of sense, didn't quite fit with the Olivia Cross I knew. The Olivia I knew was too worried about caring for her little sister to ever do anything like that. Except for the usual adolescent contempt for adults and authority figures in general, Olivia tried to set a good example for her little sister, I thought. Of course, I was too damn stupid and innocent to think much of those scars I'd seen on Olivia's wrists and what they meant, what sort of example they gave poor little Jaimie.

On the way to the church, Jaimie walked with me, asking me a bunch of useless questions, about her favorite cartoons, her favorite dolls, like I was some girlfriend of hers with all the same interests. I did my best to carry my end of the conversation while listening in on everybody's else's talk. Charlie and Olivia and Barbara were talking about boys. Every once in a while, Haley would jump in to comment about something. I couldn't always tell what she was saying, but a couple times, she glanced over at me as she spoke. I took that as a good sign. A good sign of what, I don't know. But, a good sign of something. I was still having trouble talking to her like I could before. Sometimes, I could hardly even look at her. She'd say I was being silly. She'd say I couldn't have been expected to pull her out of those bushes below King's Fate. She'd say I was still her best friend. "Best friends forever," she'd say. Then, she'd smile sweetly. I'd force a smile, or something approximating one. And, she'd think all was fine. But, it wasn't fine. Olivia told me I was being silly too. Actually, I think she called me retarded. She hadn't been there. I made sure to point out that fact. She hadn't known me and Haley before. She couldn't see how things had changed. I made sure to point out that fact too. Olivia just shrugged. "If you like the girl, you like the girl. So, you couldn't save her life. Just, do something else to make up for that, if you have to. Make every day of her life a good one, now." She went from calling me retarded to giving what sounded like good advice. Well, good advice if I could figure out how to do it.

Josh kept quiet, walking behind everyone, all alone.

Kyle, also walking alone, took the lead, and he'd keep saying "this way, men" like he was some military commander and we were his platoon. He had some game going on in his head, his own making, his own rules. We were just players.

When we got to the church, the conversations died. Barbara was saying something about Olivia and Dalton, and she stopped in mid sentence. Jaimie was saying something about horses, I think, and she too stopped in mid sentence. Kyle was the first to speak. "There she is, men," he said. "Let's deploy and move out." I don't think he even knew what that meant. I know I didn't. But, it sounded good. And, somehow, that pretense of a military mission got us all moving again--along with the conversation, our walking had also ended rather abruptly upon sighting the church. We marched toward the ruins, following Kyle's lead. Jaimie and I followed right behind him, Olivia and Charlie behind us, Haley and Barbara behind them, and Josh still at the rear.

Now, if you've never seen the place, that won't be a problem. It's just like any old church, like a house, with a steeple at the front, except this one was a little bigger than most. Plus, it had an extra wing off of one side, where the minister had lived before the fire had closed the place, however long ago that was. I should mention now, since that memory of that church makes me think of it, that my Aunt Ellen would die in a fire at the place where she worked not long after that visit. That particular trip to Reverence was her last. The visit to Cedar Cliff the day after we all went to that old church would be the last time she and her sister, my mother, would ever see each other. My mother wouldn't even get to go to the funeral down in Fort MacKenzie, as she'd be going through one of her worse spells and my father's plans to take her would be canceled at the last minute. That visit was also the last time I would see Charlie. Though she's still alive, and doing pretty well as far as I've heard, her father never bothers to bring her or her sisters up to see us. And, we haven't been down there either. In fact, I've only ever been there once, when I was real little. But, nothing interesting happened there, and I only bring it up now, because I thought you should know that my Aunt Ellen is dead now, and Charlie's never been back to visit since three years ago. That it was a fire that killed Ellen and a fire that ruined that old church--that's not even much of an interesting coincidence. But, the two are still connected in my mind.

There was no longer any bell up in the steeple, though I know there had been at one time. At least, I'd heard there was one, and it's got that little open area near the top for a bell, kinda like some old schoolhouse more than a church in that respect. As we neared the front steps, I remember looking up at that opening where the bell should have been, and there was something up there, a bird of some kind, its head barely poking up. Up higher on the cross, there was another bird, a blackbird, more bold than his friend, right out in the open rather than hiding. As Kyle stepped onto the first step, and it creaked, that bolder bird looked down at the lot of us, then took off into the air. I watched it fly away for a second, forgetting altogether where I was or what I was doing. When I looked down again, it was cause Jaimie was tugging on my hand. I hadn't even noticed her grab it, but sure enough, her little hand was in mine. And, she was on the first step, pulling me. "Come on, Travis," she said. "Let's go inside."

Kyle was already opening the front door, which hung a little crooked on just one hinge. Charlie and Olivia had passed up Jaimie and I. They were standing there waiting for Kyle to open it already. Charlie was looking like one of the most impatient people around right then, as she sorta rolled her eyes and blew her hair out of her face. Haley and Barbara were still behind us. Josh was off on his own, looking through the remnants of a window.

"What do you see," Barbara asked him. She left Haley behind and joined Josh by the window.

Kyle got the door open. Charlie went in first, Olivia right behind her.

"Cool," Charlie said from inside. Jaimie tugged on my hand again. Haley, I could somehow tell, was about to step past us and go up the steps. Kyle was clearly having to expend some effort to hold the crooked door open, though not as much as he was pretending to. "How long ago did this place burn down," Charlie asked from inside. Olivia looked out at me from next to her, well, at me and her little sister, a look that asked if we were ok. There was nothing wrong of course. I think maybe she thought I was scared to go inside or something. But, I wasn't. That bird had just mesmerized me for a second, that's all. To prove I wasn't scared, I stepped past Jaimie, and headed up the stairs and into the church, Jaimie's hand still in mine but me pulling her now. Haley went in next. Then, Josh and Barbara together. And, finally Kyle, letting the door swing shut with a loud clunk that sent a few more birds and maybe even some bats panicked out of their slumber fluttering about inside the church. Of course, since there wasn't much of a ceiling or roof anymore, that fluttering quickly turned to escape, like that bird on the cross. For some reason, I remember wondering if that other bird in the bell space was still there, or had it flown away now too, this sanctuary invaded by a bunch of kids on a silly adventure.

Charlie was heading up the main aisle now, between remnants of the burnt pews and gaps from which the pews that hadn't been damaged in the fire had been removed to be used in some other place, maybe the very church where I'd gone many times, where Barbara and her family went weekly. At the end of the aisle was the stage area, the pulpit. There was a mostly intact podium up there. And, beyond it, there was a large crucifix and what had probably once been a very nice stained glass window, now reduced to only pieces of its frame and none of it's glass except for a couple purple triangles at the right edge. Charlie went right up onto the stage and had to get on her tippy toes just to peek out from behind the podium. Kyle was looking around off to the left side of the place, by some closet, on a recon mission no doubt. Josh and Barbara had gone off to the right. Olivia, Haley, Jaimie and I were in the center aisle. Charlie pulled herself up so she was above the podium from about her chest up. I wish I coulda been behind her right then, cause she would have looked rather silly, her feet a foot or so off the ground, her arms barely holding her up there.

In a surprisingly loud voice, Charlie said, "ladies and gentleman, please take your seats." Before I even realized I was doing it, I'd sat down in one of the old ruined pews. Jaimie laughed, at me or at something else, and sat down next to me. Olivia looked at her little sister, then at me, smiled, and sat down in the pew in front of us. Haley stood in the aisle, looking up at the fractured roof, mostly oblivious to Charlie. Josh and Barbara appeared off to our right. "What's she doing," Josh asked to no one in particular.

"I'm giving a sermon," Charlie said. "You got a problem with--" Right then, she lost her grip on the podium and fell to her feet behind it, almost disappeared from our view. We all had a good laugh at that. Then, a moment later, there she was again holding herself up, hardly flustered. "Fear the Lord," she said.

From off to our left, suddenly returned from his recon mission, Kyle spoke, his hand raised. "Aren't we supposed to fear the Devil," he asked. Haley gave him a weird look then went right back to examining the roof. Josh had himself a nice laugh for some reason. And, Charlie looked over at Kyle, her eyes shooting invisible lasers at him. "No more comments from the peanut gallery," she said, a hell of a lot more humor in her tone than in that glare.

"What are you kids doing here," a voice said from behind us. Charlie looked over us toward the entrance then dropped behind the podium again. I got the distinct impression she was trying to hide. I turned around just as everyone else looked back. And, there was a man, someone I'd never seen before, someone I'd learn none of us had ever seen before. He was dirty, disheveled, but somehow he still looked sorta dressed up, wearing a dark brown suit, an old dress shirt, stained and torn, untucked.

"Nothing," Barbara said.

"You're trespassing," the man said.

"We're sorry," Barbara said, the first to cower at the idea he might be someone who could get us in trouble for being there. "We'll leave now." As she said this, Josh moved a little so he was between her and this man.

"No we won't," Olivia said. She got up from her pew and stood in the aisle by Haley. "There's no sign outside that says we can't come in here, and I don't know who you are, but you don't own this place, so you can't tell us to leave either."

I don't think the man expected that. He thought we'd leave just like we might have if it were halloween and some teenager jumped out to scare us off. But, Olivia was standing her ground, standing OUR ground.

"Who are you," the guy said to Olivia. Like a King wondering which of his subjects would dare defy him.

"Olivia Cross. Who the hell are you?"

"They call me Enoch," he said.

"Well, Enoch," Olivia said, "why don't you go back to whatever you were doing a minute ago, and leave us alone."

Olivia was holding her hands together right then. Well, not exactly. The fingers of each hand were on the wrist of the other, touching her scars. For strength, maybe. For courage. For power. Enoch took a moment to think about what Olivia said before responding, and as the seconds passed, Olivia began to scratch at her wrists. Jaimie, next to me on the pew, on her knees facing backwards, spoke, her voice barely audible. "'livia?" There was a sadness in her voice that made my whole body shiver for a split second. Then, Olivia turned her head towards us, smiled a weak smile, and her hands dropped to her sides. A sign that everything was ok, though clearly everything was NOT ok.

"I like her," Enoch said to someone who wasn't there. Briefly, I thought he really thought someone else was there next to him, but something about him made me reconsider that only a second later. He looked around at each of us. He paused for a moment as his sweeping glance passed the center aisle and the podium. "You can come out from there," he said. "I won't hurt you. I'm harmless." I believed him for some reason. I guess I just couldn't imagine that some psycho killer would be hanging out in an old church in our little town. And, if one were, I didn't think he'd be wearing a suit, even an old, dirty one. Whether I should have been wary or not, I wasn't. I trusted him. And Charlie must've too, as she popped out from behind the podium right then.

He took a few steps up the center aisle, and though I didn't feel any inclination to get up off that pew and back away from him, it surprised me that no one else did anything like that. We all just stayed right where we were. I think Kyle and Charlie may have even moved closer to the rest of us, closer to Enoch. "So, your name is Olivia," he said to Olivia. "Who are the rest of you?"

I fully expected Olivia or someone to say, "what business is it of yours?" When no one did, I considered saying it myself. But, then, Kyle stepped into the center aisle and introduced himself. "Kyle DeMetz at your service," he said. He even went so far as to offer his hand, which Enoch promptly shook.

"DeMetz, eh? I think I might know your father, or your brother. David?"

"My oldest brother," Kyle said. Enoch nodded.

Haley went next. She didn't offer her hand or make any gesture like that. She just said her name. "Haley Manning." And, I loved it, the sound of her voice, the sound of her name. Haley Manning. I closed my eyes briefly, took a deep breath. When I opened my eyes again, Enoch was looking at me.

"Travis Adams," I said. Like I'd been called on in class, I said it without even thinking.

Enoch looked at me a moment longer, then turned his attention to Jaimie, still on her knees next to me. She didn't speak. She just stared right back at him, wide eyed.

"That's my sister, Jaimie," Olivia said.

Jaimie gave her sister a stern look. Why'd you tell him that, my name's none of his business, that look said.

Josh stepped forward, putting himself even more between Enoch and Barbara. "Josh Doyle," he said. He offered his hand, just like Kyle had. Enoch shook it. Then, he looked past him at Barbara.

"You're a McMasters," he said. It wasn't really a question.

Barbara smiled as if he'd just paid her some huge compliment, nodded. "Barbara," she said. I think she even blushed. It was weird. Hell, the whole situation was weird. Sorta surreal. Of course, considering some claims Enoch would make about himself later, I guess that surreality was fitting.

Finally, he turned to Charlie, now in the aisle by Haley and Olivia and Kyle. "Charlie Dennis," she said.

He nodded. "Charlie?"

"Charlie," she said. We all might have been feeling quite free about offering up our names, but she wasn't about to let him know her name was Charlotte, lest he maybe call her that.

He nodded again. He understood she wasn't going to offer anything more just yet.

Then, the introductions overwith, Enoch stepped past us all, walked up the aisle to the pulpit, briefly paused, looking at the crucifix, then turned around to face us. "You all want to hear a story," he asked.

Whether we would have wanted to hear one under normal circumstances or not, these were not normal circumstances. There was something strange going on, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. And, later, no one else could either. There was always Enoch's explanation for things, but it's hard to believe, very hard to believe. As it was, Kyle, Haley, Olivia, and Charlie got out of the aisle and sat down. Josh and Barbara also sat down. And, Jaimie turned back around, getting off her knees and sitting by me again. And, Enoch told us his tale . . .