Rachel was shivering. She felt like she was coming down with a bug. Her face was flushed, her eyes burned feverishly, yet she was cold to her bones. It was shock.
“Are you all right?” the figure in the long, black hooded robe asked quietly.
“No.” It was uttered quickly, almost desperately. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“The past did not evolve as you expected it would.”
“No, it didn’t,” Rachel agreed in a tight voice.
“Why is that?”
Rachel shrugged tautly. “I don’t know. I think you’re creating this to make me see that I did the right thing in joining the Legacy. You’re deliberately making this bad to put my real life in some kinda good light so I’ll wake up and say ‘thank God I’m here’.” She looked round, her eyes accusing. “That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Then what the hell are you doing?” Rachel demanded, holding on only by a determined effort.
“I’m doing nothing. My predecessor made one small change in the timeline. Instead of your husband and son dying, they lived. After that, you created your life, Rachel .. or, rather, she created her life. You are only watching it unfold. Don’t put the blame on me, or on yourself.”
“Your predecessor ..?”
“It is now two thousand, one – the present day. I am the Shade of Present Times, your second companion on this journey.”
Rachel nodded, accepting this without question but taking issue with the matter of the ongoing journey. “I’ve told you – I don’t want to do this anymore. You can’t force me to watch.”
“No, I can’t, but you can’t make a decision like that based on what you’ve seen so far. The past is over. The present is still unknown to you. Then there is the future, even more distant.” The Shade paused. “At the start of this journey, you wanted it to happen. You wanted to trade places. But life doesn’t remain static, Rachel. It isn’t some type of living photograph. People develop. They grow and they change and, sometimes, they change in ways we either don’t expect or don’t like. We can resist the change but it will happen anyway. You had imagined how an alternate life would have been. It was a fantasy to comfort you when you woke, alone, on dark nights. You saw it thru rose tinted glasses, and it was the best the world could offer you. You are hurt and angry that your fantasy isn’t matching what you’ve seen. Reality, even alternate reality, isn’t always so kind or so generous.”
Rachel let out a shuddering sigh. “You’re right. I had imagined that .. if Patrick hadn’t died .. we would grow old together, retire to some cottage by the sea, watch our children an’ grandchildren grow up. And then .. it all fell apart. He cheated on me.”
“On her. Your husband did die, Rachel. I can’t change that. I can’t take away the pain or the knowledge.”
“And you still say this is a special gift.”
“Yes. It is.”
“But not to .. make me out to be some kinda saint for joining the Legacy.”
“No. It is to answer the question. Nothing more. I have no more idea of what is going to happen to this other Rachel than you do. I am not creating her life. She is. We are only spectators.”
Rachel hesitated then sighed and raked a hand thru her hair. “Okay. Well .. I can’t quit so I guess I have to stick with it an’ see it thru to the end.” She looked around at the Shade. “I suppose I’m divorced now.”
“Let’s find out,” the Shade invited.
Rachel glanced at the clock. “Oh damn, look at the time … C’mon, kids! We’re running late!” She hurriedly put folders into her case and locked it.
“Mom, Casey’s refusing to get outta bed!” Kat called down to her.
Rachel shook her head and went to the stairs. “Casey Corrigan, don’t you make me come up there! Y’hear? Kat, Connor, down here, right now. Breakfast. If your sister doesn’t want to eat, that’s her business.”
She heard footsteps and then her two elder children came running.
“What’s she doing?” Rachel asked Kat.
Kat grinned. “Panicking.”
“As well she might,” Rachel muttered. “She is going to have to make an attitude adjustment when she grows up. Casey seems to think the world should revolve around her and what she wants. It’s going to be a big disappointment when she finally realizes it doesn’t.” She smiled at them. “Thank goodness you two figured that out a long time ago.”
“When’s Dad getting back from his trip?” Connor inquired, going thru to the kitchen.
“Tomorrow night,” Rachel answered.
Rachel turned to frown quizzically at the Shade. “Does she mean Patrick?”
“You know your children best, Rachel. Would Connor call another man Dad?”
“I don’t think he would, no.”
“Then it must be Patrick,” the Shade replied.
Rachel didn’t dare hope that the upset was over, just like that. “Did they have relationship counseling?”
“Mom, are we gonna take some time to go skiing like you said?” Connor asked.
“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” Rachel scolded. “I hope so, yes. Casey! I am not telling you again!”
“Good, cos I wanna try snowboarding. Ricky said it’s the best.”
“It depends if I can take some time from the hospital. I’ve asked. I should hear today.”
“I don’t think they did have counseling, no,” the Shade answered.
Rachel tensed. “Did she use the book? Aunt Rebecca’s book?”
The Shade said nothing.
The scene shifted to an office in some building. A doctor’s office. Rachel saw out her patient, closed the door and leaned against it with a brief sigh. She returned to her desk, wrote up the case notes, then calmly opened the bottom right hand drawer. She took out the spell book, placed it on the polished wood of the desk and lifted the cover.
Rachel watched this with disbelieving eyes. “What is she doing?”
“Making sure she receives agreement to her request for a long weekend away skiing,” the Shade replied.
“She seems so .. comfortable with this. So familiar.”
“She’s had four years to practice the skill, Rachel, and witchcraft does run in your family’s blood.”
Rachel stared, backing away. “My grandfather sold his soul to evil. He corrupted my aunt. She never met either of them. How can she be falling under their influence?”
“Maybe she isn’t.”
“Using magic to get her own way?” Rachel pointed out angrily.
“Isn’t good but it isn’t exactly evil to ask for a long weekend, is it?”
“She used magic to take out her rival!”
“To keep her family together. To make her husband remember why he fell in love with her in the first place. Again, not good but done with the best intentions. Her rival is undamaged apart from a bruised ego and a little humiliation.”
Rachel blinked. “Is that all she did ..?” she asked in a small voice. “She .. didn’t take revenge in any way?”
“No,” the Shade said. “She was deeply hurt but, mostly, she was scared, Rachel. Scared of facing the future alone. You understand that, don’t you? The hollow dread of responsibility, of having no one there to lean upon when times get tough? She didn’t want to hurt anyone, she wanted things to remain unchanged.”
“But that isn’t gonna work, is it? People do change, if only to grow older. Their view on the world changes with them.” She watched herself mix the ingredients in a small bowl, say the words and throw in a lit match. She saw the small satisfied smile on her face when it was done. “This is the top of a very slippery slope. She’s hooked now. This is power .. and she has an addictive personality. It’s only a question of time before she slides into darkness.”
“You sound sure of that.”
Rachel laughed bitterly. “I should! I know myself an’ what I’m capable of doing if I let my guard down for just a moment.”
“That’s you. She follows a separate path. Maybe she has learned that she has a strength of her own.”
“If that’s true, she would’ve argued for time out using words, face to face, not a spell, alone in her office,” Rachel countered quickly. “If she knew half of what I’ve learned – ”
“Where did you learn this?” the Shade cut in.
“In the Legacy,” Rachel responded and fell silent.
“The Legacy,” the Shade repeated. “The monster which devours life and liberty and deprives people of the chance to be ordinary. The Legacy .. which is also teacher, protective hand and defensive shield. She stands apart from all that, living her ordinary life, beset by ordinary problems, at liberty to do what she wants whenever she wants. Do you judge her, Rachel, for following in her family’s traditions? Or do you judge yourself for making your own path?”
“I am trying hard not to judge anyone,” Rachel stated coldly after a moment’s pause. “But – ”
“I know. It’s difficult, knowing what you know, being who you are, seeing yourself make mistakes you avoided making. Life, inside or outside the Legacy, isn’t easy.”
The scene shifted on a few months. Spring came to the city and the Corrigan family moved house. Patrick looked well, but there was a strain in his eyes which one Rachel noticed even if the other one didn’t.
“He knows,” she told the Shade. “He knows something isn’t totally right. He’s lost something. An element of freedom.” Rachel shook her head. “This isn’t staying because he loves her, it’s staying because he can’t leave. She won’t let him.”
“You sound like you’d prefer him to go,” the Shade remarked.
Rachel couldn’t say anything for a moment, torn between two choices.
“Rach, honey, this house is really fantastic,” Patrick began as he straightened from putting down a box, “but .. how did we afford it?”
“The kids needed more room, Patrick,” she replied, unpacking china. “We needed more room to get some peace from the kids. A separate study for you, an office for me – ”
“Yeah, and, here, we have all that, but how did we afford it?”
“Well .. you’ve done a lot of excellent work – ”
“Not enough to buy this outright,” he cut in.
“I’ve been doing well at the hospital and my private practice has grown. Plus the sale of our last house – ”
“Even that isn’t enough, Rach.”
“I inherited some money,” Rachel said with a glib, dismissive shrug. “Didn’t I tell you?”
“No,” he replied. “It slipped your mind? How much?”
She glanced round. “Enough to buy this outright. Property is an investment, Patrick, and not so volatile as playing the stock market.”
“And you never thought to tell me?” he asked, sounding hurt.
Rachel put down the china and turned to face him. “Do you tell me every single detail?”
“Every single detail .. no. If I’d inherited a few thousand dollars, yeah, cos that isn’t a little detail. It’s a big deal.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought to keep the financial side out of it. You’re a busy guy, sweetheart. I thought I was doing you a favor. Next time, I’ll tell you.”
Rachel and the Shade watched this. “She hasn’t inherited anything,” Rachel muttered. “She used magic.”
He nodded. “How much was it?”
“Patrick, how much isn’t important, okay? I’ve invested it in our home, our future together. I haven’t stuck it away in some account.”
“Sure. How much?”
Rachel sighed. “Around fifty.”
“Who died?” he exclaimed.
“Some cousin or someone,” she muttered.
“You don’t know? Rachel, you didn’t go to anyone’s funeral recently. Fifty thousand dollars .. an’ you don’t know who gave it to you?” He shook his head, his expression bewildered. “I don’t feel I know you anymore.”
“I am your wife!” she growled, her eyes abruptly blazing. “The mother of your children. The woman you married.”
“Yeah, you’re my wife an’ the mother of my kids but I don’t think you are the woman I married.”
Rachel’s nostrils flared. “What does that mean?”
“You’ve changed. There’s a hard edge to you now.” Patrick frowned. “I’m not sure if I like it.”
“We all change, Patrick. Learn to live with it.”
“I don’t know if I can, Rachel. Maybe .. I’d be better off staying with a friend for a while.”
“Y’see?” Rachel invited the Shade. “She thinks she can control things using witchcraft. It would have hurt immensely if they’d split up before but she would have come thru, learned about herself in the process, and they could still have been friends .. maybe. But this way .. he’ll end up hating her. Connor, Kat an’ Casey will have to choose which parent they want to be with and, if it’s her, she’ll make sure Patrick never sees them again.”
“You will stay right here!” Rachel thundered, flinging out a hand. Patrick froze where he stood, every muscle locked. “Do you understand me, Patrick Corrigan? You will leave this house only to go to work, and not at any other time. You will be a loving, dutiful husband and a kind, generous father.”
He swallowed, his eyes wide as he stared at her.
“Because,” she hissed, going closer, “if you don’t, you won’t believe how much I will make you suffer.”
The Shade glanced at Rachel who had her hand to her mouth. Tears had sparked into her eyes.
“That isn’t me,” she choked. “I would never make him suffer. Never. I love him … ”
Rachel released him and Patrick sagged slightly. “Christ, Rachel, what have you gotten into ..?” he muttered.
“I’m just standing up for myself,” she replied. “I’ve taken control of my life, Patrick. I’m not going to let anyone hurt me ever again. Live with it. You don’t have a choice.”
“This dream, this .. fantasy other life .. it’s turned into a nightmare,” Rachel commented in a dull voice. “She’s doing what she tells all her patients – take control of your life, stop being a victim .. and she’s making everyone around her into victims.”
“The atmosphere isn’t exactly pleasant,” the Shade agreed.
“And it’s her fault. No one else can take any blame.”
“That’s a little harsh. She is only human.”
“Sure, but with a supernatural power at her beck an’ call. Connor isn’t doing so well at school, she works a spell on him to make him a little smarter. Casey is being a typical child of four, she works a spell on that little girl to make her more amenable and convenient. Patrick … That poor guy. He’s going thru hell. If it isn’t her fault, whose fault is it?” Rachel inquired.
“Partly, Patrick must take some responsibility,” the Shade replied. “He had an affair. Rachel was not to blame for that and she had shown no interest in witchcraft before Patrick’s infidelity. It warped her perspective. She wanted to keep the status quo yet, to do this, she had to change .. and thus destroy it.”
“And started losing everything – her husband, her kids, her grip on reality. Witchcraft is a tool and one I don’t agree with, but I can see that, applied correctly, it has its uses.” Rachel conceded. “But she isn’t using it as a tool, not now. It may have started out that way, but now it’s become a crutch, just like the alcohol an’ the pills in the past. It’s seduced her .. an’ now she can’t say no an’ she doesn’t want to stop.”
“It isn’t evil.”
The Shade shrugged slightly. “What she’s done isn’t evil. Take away the spells, she could achieve the same level of control over others by ordinary means. Most everyone tries threats, coercion, emotional blackmail and straight out lies to get their own way at some point in their lives. It isn’t evil, just .. bad. Unpalatable.”
“Unpalatable … ” Rachel echoed, bemused. “An understatement.”
“The truth. One man’s truth is another man’s poison. You may be feeling sick to your stomach but she is happy.”
“So .. what happens next?” Rachel asked. “I watch the kids grow up and bless the day they can escape? I watch Patrick grow old in his jail cell with her as his chief warder, dangling the keys of freedom in his face but never unlocking the door?”
“I don’t think I could bear to watch that,” Rachel muttered, hugging her shoulders and shivering. “It’s inhuman. You say she isn’t evil an’ maybe you’re right about that, but I say it’s only a matter of time. Her grandfather, Aunt Rebecca … Family tradition,” she said and gave a short, bitter laugh.
“Rachel .. do you still believe that joining the Legacy was a mistake?”
“I never said it was a mistake. I have thought, in the past, that maybe I’d been precipitous an’ that Kat was being harmed, but I never said I’d made a mistake. And I refuse to believe this is how my life would have turned out if Patrick an’ Connor hadn’t died. What I’m seeing is just one possible outcome. There are too many variables for this to be the truth an’ all the truth.”
“You say then that husbands don’t cheat on their wives?”
“Of course they do! Not all but some. Patrick wouldn’t have done that, not to me.”
“But he did.”
“She’s you, Rachel. Until that night, your lives were exactly the same. You both went to that school, were both exposed to ritual and magic, both lost your childhood as a result and had the memory of it hidden. Both lost your mother too soon. You both married the same man. Had two children. She is reacting based on the experiences you’ve both shared. Maybe Patrick did change after his close brush with death, but she changed too because he didn’t die. You changed because he did. Why do you find it so difficult to accept? This is the life you would have had if you’d never joined the Legacy.”
Rachel shook her head.
“It hurts you because you know it’s true,” the Shade persisted.
She swallowed. “What happens next?”
“Let’s find out.”
The scene shifted. The family sat around the dinner table. Connor and Kat discussed homework assignments. Casey was telling Rachel about what she’d done that day in pre-school. Patrick ate in silence, watching, listening and nodding every so often.
In a lull in the conversation, he said, “Rachel, there’s someone calling round this evening. He’s got something urgent he needs me to work on an’ he called the office late. I’m sorry, honey. I had no choice.”
“It’s okay,” she smiled. “I’ve got notes to write up so .. I’ll be busy too. What time is he calling round?”
“Eight thirty, more or less.”
“Fine. That means I can look at your pictures, Casey, before you go to bed.”
Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “What’s going on?” she asked the Shade. “She’s so sure of her control over him that she can’t tell he’s lying to her. It doesn’t even enter the picture as far as she’s concerned. But he is lying.” Her head angled as she studied Patrick. “Or at least not telling her all the truth.”
“I can’t answer you , Rachel, but you’re right. He isn’t telling her everything. Those are the best kinds of lies.”
“What do you mean?” Rachel frowned.
“You’re trained to know the signs of a direct lie but, if it’s mingled with elements of the truth, it makes it easier to say and harder to detect. Even an expert would have problems picking the truth from the fiction and, if it’s buried well enough in the truth and sufficiently rehearsed, it could probably even fool a polygraph.” The Shade glanced at her. “It didn’t fool you though.”
Rachel smiled slightly. “I know him.” She thought about it and shrugged slightly. “I guess I’ve stayed more true to myself in these intervening years. The Legacy .. kinda forces you to face up to things you’d rather not face and it does strip away those masks we all like to wear. Put yourself on the line for others enough times, people get to see the real you .. and accept you, warts an’ all.”
The Shade said nothing but nodded slowly.
The scene shifted, moving on a few hours. Connor and Kat had finished their assignments and were playing a video game in Connor’s room. Casey was asleep. Rachel set out her case notes in her office and was making a cup of tea when the doorbell chimed. She looked at her watch. Eight twenty seven.
“I’ll get it!” Patrick called.
Rachel and the Shade followed Rachel to the kitchen door and all three peered out into the foyer.
“Yes, that’s right. Come on in. We’ll go to the study.”
Rachel’s eyes widened with instant interest. The other Rachel blinked, not sure to be pleased or alarmed.
“Patrick .. are you going to introduce me to your client?” Rachel inquired, easing out of the kitchen.
“Sure, honey. Rachel, this is Derek Rayne. Mr Rayne, this is Dr Rachel Corrigan, my wife.”
“A doctor? Of medicine?”
“That’s right. Medicine and psychiatry,” she nodded, smiling, and held out her hand.
Derek grasped it and shook it. “I’m hoping your husband can help me with a small architectural project. I’ve heard some very good things about his work.”
“You won’t be disappointed,” Rachel replied. “Patrick is exceptionally talented.”
“If I can cut into this admiration society meeting,” Patrick laughed, “we should make a start on what exactly you need from me and if you have any of your own ideas.”
“Of course. I’m calling at an inconvenient hour. My apologies for disrupting you,” Derek murmured.
“Can I get you some coffee?” Rachel asked. “Tea?”
“Tea would be most pleasant, thank you.”
“I’ll fetch it thru, Patrick. You go start your meeting.”
“What’s he doing here?” Rachel asked the Shade.
“I think you know the answer to that, Rachel,” the Shade responded. “He’s here to see Patrick.”
“But not about an architectural project,” Rachel countered.
“No, that’s true.”
Rachel blinked. “About me.”
The Shade indicated they should follow Patrick and his visitor into the study.
“She’s going to her office to write up case notes,” Patrick said in a soft voice. “Until she does, let’s keep this professional, okay?”
“I understand,” Derek said briskly. “I have a .. conservatory at the end of one wing of my house and it is in need of being rebuilt. I want to enlarge it, make it taller. Turn it into a proper interior garden room.”
“I see.” Patrick picked up a sketch pad. “Victorian Gothic arches maybe ..?”
“Yes, that would be appropriate.”
“Uh huh. What kind of scale are you thinking of? I would really need to visit to get some accurate measurements and a feel for the place.”
“Of course. Come at any time.” Derek turned slightly as the door opened.
“Here you go,” Rachel said as she carried in a tray. “I’ll leave it here, out of the way.”
“Thank you. It’s very hospitable of you,” Derek responded.
“So .. what’s the project?” she asked.
“A garden room to replace an existing conservatory.”
“It sounds wonderful.”
“I’ll have to go get some measurements,” Patrick remarked.
“Of course,” Rachel agreed.
“How soon can you come?” Derek asked.
“I’ve got some free time tomorrow,” Patrick replied. “Around .. three?”
“Excellent,” Derek nodded.
“I’ll leave you two to your discussions,” Rachel murmured. “Very nice to meet you, Mr Rayne.”
“Likewise, Dr Corrigan.”
Rachel backed out, leaving the other Rachel and the Shade to listen in to the conversation. For five minutes, they discussed the plans for the conservatory then Patrick paused, listening.
“We should be okay now,” he breathed, “but keep it low.”
Derek leaned forward. “You say you think your wife is involved in witchcraft.”
“I don’t know exactly what she’s involved in, Derek, but it scares the hell outta me. I feel like .. I’ve got a noose around my neck the whole time an’ that I’m running on tracks. I have no life outside this house an’ my office because she won’t let me have a life. She told me I only leave here to go to work and come home again. I’ve tried – a drink after work with one of the partners – I couldn’t do it. It was like trying to walk thru a wall even though there was nothing there.”
“It does sound like she has cast some kind of spell over you,” Derek murmured. “Is that why you deliberately said about visiting?”
Patrick nodded. “It might have worked cos she thinks it’s about my job – an extension to being in the office – but I figured if I got permission – ”
“I understand. The Luna Foundation will do whatever it can to free you, Patrick.”
“Does that include letting me stay?”
“For as long as it takes.”
“She’s gonna be royally pissed when she finds out.”
Derek considered. “Fortunately, we have skills in dealing with angry people. Have you thought what you will do once the spell is broken?”
Patrick sat back, and shook his head. “First, I wanna see if you can do it. If you can .. I guess I’m heading for the divorce court.”
“You have children?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Three. A boy an’ two girls.”
Derek frowned. “It depends how deeply your wife is involved with the art. We may be able to free her of its influence as well but, if we can’t, it’s best the children stay with you or they run a huge risk of contamination and eventual corruption.”
“Jesus … ” Patrick whispered. “Okay. Well, I’ll petition for custody. God knows, I have grounds – ”
“You cannot state witchcraft in the petition,” Derek warned. “You would be laughed out of court. Find something else, something that will stick, and keep it ready. It may get dirty and nasty, but you must think of your children and how they will grow up if they remain with their mother.”
The Shade glanced at Rachel. She was pale but bearing up. “Do you find this painful?”
“Actually, no, I don’t. I understand it completely. If it were any other family, I could see myself advising the same thing as Derek’s suggesting. And .. it may be this is the best thing that could happen to her.”
“Think about it,” Rachel invited. “She first got involved with this when she thought her family was going to break up. Now it’s going to break up because she is involved with witchcraft and, this time, she isn’t just going to lose her husband, she’s going to lose her children as well. It could be enough of a catalyst to open her eyes, and make her step away from it.”
“Maybe it will,” the Shade agreed.
“But you don’t know.”
The Shade shook her head.
“Well .. let’s find out,” Rachel urged.
The scene moved on. Fall had come to San Francisco. The gardens and parks glowed under the sun and the cool nip in the air had started to turn leaves scarlet and orange.
Rachel sat in her kitchen. Her face was pale and strained; her eyes, by contrast, were red and puffy. It was clear she’d been crying. Spread on the table in front of her were photographs. Her and Patrick. Patrick and Connor. Patrick and Kat. Connor, Kat and the baby. Patrick and Casey. Rachel with her children. The house was silent …
“What’s happened?” Rachel whispered to the Shade.
“Patrick has taken the children to refuge on Angel Island,” the Shade answered.
Rachel’s numb fingers fumbled with the envelope and she dropped it.
“Divorce petition,” Rachel guessed. “This is it. The moment of choice. She’ll either step away an’ give up that damned book. Burn it and scatter the ashes. Or she’ll sink into it with no hope of ever becoming free again.” She shook her head. “It’s at times like this I really wish she could hear me. If she won’t listen to anyone else, maybe she’d listen to herself.”
“You sound as if you speak from experience,” the Shade remarked.
“In a way, yeah, I do,” Rachel replied. “Not witchcraft .. although I have been forced into involvement with that. Kat made a bad choice of friends a few years back, and my involvement was the only way I could save her. But that was a desperate measure for a desperate time – ”
“And this Rachel’s actions weren’t?”
“Not in the same way. She was facing what hundreds, thousands, of women face every day. I faced losing my little girl to a supernatural force. There’s no similarity at all. And my involvement was very carefully monitored an’ controlled by the Legacy. I had good backup. Soon as I knew Kat was safe, I stopped, I got rid of the power by destroying the tokens of that power, and I have never been tempted to try to regain it. But .. having said that, I know how she’s feeling right now.”
“The alcohol and pills you mentioned.”
“That’s right,” Rachel agreed. “When you get that low, you need .. someone to talk with. You know in your heart that you have a problem but you can’t admit it, not to yourself, not to anyone. You need someone to sit there and tell you what you already know, to act as the voice of your conscience. Then .. it makes it easier to say ‘yeah, you’re right’. It’s the confession you have to make before you can start clawing your way back.” She looked at herself, sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by the memories of her shattered life. “She doesn’t have anyone left.”
“You sound sympathetic,” the Shade commented.
“Yes, I am. Don’t sound so surprised! I see people like this every week and, while I try hard to stay objective an’ detached, of course I feel sympathy. Plus .. she’s me. There, but for the grace of God, go I. Y’know .. looking at her .. I’m reminded of how I was just before I was invited to join the Legacy. Overwhelmed by terror and crushed by grief.”
The Shade paused for a moment. “Rachel, you remember how I told you that you and she come from the same beginning, the same root experiences?”
“Yeah,” Rachel nodded.
“Then she has already been in this place. You spoke from experience which predates Patrick’s death. She has that in common with you. She knows what she has to do because she’s already done it once.”
Rachel smiled briefly. “That doesn’t make it any easier to face. In fact, it’s worse. First time thru the loop, you don’t know what to expect. She knows how hard this struggle is gonna be. She needs a friend. Someone to .. be there, to hold her hand, tell her it’s gonna be okay. Patrick was there for me. She’s driven him away …”
The doorbell chimed and Rachel jumped. “Patrick ..?” she whispered then laughed quickly, without humor. Patrick wouldn’t ring the bell. He had a key. But he didn’t want to speak with her.
Her limbs as heavy as lead, Rachel pushed herself upright and walked to the front door. When she saw who waited outside, her face blanked even as her eyes blazed with cold fire.
“Rachel, can I come in?” Derek asked.
“Tell me why I should invite you into my house,” she demanded, spitting the words at him. “You’ve taken everything of value to me. I have nothing left!”
He frowned. “Rachel, I’m here to help you. Please, let me in and we can talk.”
“Will your ‘help’ bring my husband back to me? My children?”
“I don’t know, but you have to admit you have a problem. I’ve helped others in your situation. It may be that, once you are free of .. the forces devouring you, Patrick will return. Right now, he is too scared.”
She laughed again. “That’s honest, at least. Sure, come on in.”
Rachel glanced at the Shade. “Is he really going to help her .. or is he, or she, walking into a trap?”
“His motivation is genuine, Rachel. And, if nothing else, she is no longer alone. She has that .. voice of conscience she needs. I guess it depends on what is motivating her.”
Derek came in, his expression one of concern. “You look in a bad way. When was the last time you ate anything?”
She shook her head, the fire dying away to leave her eyes cold and dead. “I don’t remember.”
“Then it is past time for action. What do you want?”
“My family, back here, where they belong.”
“That isn’t going to happen unless you pull yourself together, start taking care of yourself. Which way is the kitchen?”
She pointed, her hand listless. “Isn’t this a little hypocritical? Aren’t you sitting on both sides of the fence?”
“I can see how you would think that but I’m not. There is one problem being attacked from two angles. The immediate threat has been neutralized. Now we must start work on the root cause.”
“Treat the symptoms then cure the disease.”
“Exactly,” Derek agreed with a brief smile. “I should have put it in those terms. A doctor, like yourself, can understand them.”
She sat down at the table again and tidily put the photographs in a neat heap, the envelope on top. “The problem is .. I don’t have a disease which needs a cure.”
“Not as such, no, that is true, but you are under an influence which is dragging you deeper into its coils every day. My task is to loosen the coils and set you free.”
“That sounds easy enough.”
“It can be. It depends on how much you want to be free. If your heart is strong and your soul is willing to fight, it can be quickly done. If you are .. only paying lip service, it could take years.” Derek watched her. “What you have to ask yourself, Rachel, is how much do you want your life to be normal again? How much do you want to be a wife and a mother?”
“Listen to him,” Rachel urged. “Listen to yourself, to your heart.” “Tell me, how did it begin?” Derek asked, filling the kettle for tea.
“Patrick had an affair. It crucified me when I found out. I .. couldn’t bear to lose him.”
“Is that how it really started? You .. found out and then you went and looked for a book?”
“No. I already had the book. It belonged to my Aunt Rebecca.”
“If you are serious about getting help, destroying the book is a good first step.”
Rachel nodded again. “Okay.”
Derek sat down and reached across the table to take her hand. “It will be all right, Rachel.”
She smiled at him, weak, watery, but a smile nonetheless.
The scene moved on a few weeks. Rachel looked happier, more settled and content as she decorated the Christmas tree in the lounge. Gifts were heaped on the sofa ready to be placed around the base. Rachel and the Shade stood in the corner and watched.
“She burned the book.”
“She did,” the Shade nodded.
“Then she’s free,” Rachel said. “Even if she and Patrick divorce, they can learn to be friends. Share custody of the children.”
The Shade said nothing.
Rachel frowned. “She is free, isn’t she?”
“Not yet,” Rachel persisted, her heart going cold. “But she will be.”
“Possibly. That is in the future, beyond my province. My time with you is almost done.”
The bell chimed and, smiling, Rachel went to the door. “I thought you weren’t going to make it.”
Derek stepped in and took her in his arms to kiss her. “I’ve missed you, Rachel. My heart was aching to be with you.”
Rachel blinked. “What’s going on? I thought he was going to help free her! She burned the book!”
“She could afford to do that,” the Shade nodded, “because the words were memorized. Now she has him in her coils.” Rachel stared as the Shade concluded, “The entire Legacy is under threat.”