by Dr. D
Was her inward strength, forged through suffering, enough to face a family curse?
|Kat worked her way through the wood desks occupied by workers that were the public face of the firm. Some desks even had the new electric lamps on them. The building was in the process of being modernized, and most floors had electricity now with cloth cover wires tacked to the walls in long strings. One still kept a couple of oil lanterns going on each floor as the electricity was fickle and sometimes went out.They also had six telephones in the building, more than any other building she knew, but the telephone was just starting to replace the telegraph in business and was seen as the wave of the future. Kat approached the secretary’s desk with confidence carrying a pile of journals and letters. Most secretaries were men, which made Alice Watson unusual. Though Alice was a woman, she was formidable and got things done, and was perhaps the most effective assistant at Harding & Pullein. Everyone including Mr. Whinney called her Watson but Kat was the only one to call her Alice at work. Watson was even allowed to answer Mr Whinney’s telephone if he was not there. Kat stopped at the desk, “Is Mr. Whinney in Alice?” she queried looking at the desktop. She had learned a long time ago not to look people in the eye as her severely scarred face made them uncomfortable. This did not mean that she did not see Alice clearly as her peripheral vision was better than most people and revealed what most could not see. “Yes, Miss Kitty”. She walked to the door knowing that if someone was in with him Alice would have told her. She knocked once and opened the door that was stenciled in gold “Randalf Whinney”. Now Kat’s full name was Kathryn Tagma Shurhouse though her last name was somewhat fluid. She was born momentarily a McLachlan, raised till 7 as a Collin, formally trained as a Shurhouse but undeniably a Schallie. The ch in Schallie was pronounced ‘k’ and her aunt Lulu told her, when she was seven, that the name was a derivative of Gallic Scael which meant reflection. She quickly glanced around the room. The newspaper on the chair was dated Oct 13, 1881 was from yesterday. His personal business journal was missing from the shelf and was on his desk. She excelled at details and finding hidden things, which is why she reported directly to a full partner in the accounting firm of Harding & Pullein. Mr. Whinney looked at her from some papers he was signing “Come in Tagma.” She inwardly smiled, when it was business he called her Tagma. A year earlier she was allowed to assemble a group of four hand-picked assistants under her that she called the Tagma. By using her middle name it cemented who was in control but it also reflected their mission. Tagma in Greek means orderly, but it was also the name of the famed Byzantium forces that guarded the emperor. Many wondered how a twenty-year-old could be in this position, but those that knew her never doubted her ability. Kat set down the journals, “These are special interests you asked me to put together from the last audit. My assistants will have the official report done by this evening.” Mr. Whinney always had two missions in any audit. One was to meet the reputation of the firm and the other was to find information to exploit or determine which improprieties should be ignored to gain influence. Kat was very good at finding what was hidden and knowing which report it should go in. “Capital. Are you going to the Manor this weekend?” Hedgemoot Manor was the family residence of the Schalies for centuries, but everybody just called it the Manor.
“Yes, my Aunt seems to be getting worse.”
“I hope she turns around soon. Give this envelope to your Uncle.” She nodded and placed it in a pocket in her dress. He could have telephoned the information to her uncle as the Manor was one of the handful of houses in England that also had a telephone. My grandfather had already installed two telegraph machines at the manor so it was not too much to change one of them to a phone line. My family’s power depended on knowing information as quick as possible so it was worth the investment. The telephone was not really a secure communication as it needed operators at an exchange that could listen in so we still delivered sensitive information personally.
It was 4 pm that same day when Kat walked out the large wooden doors of the firm. Normally she was the last of the workers to leave and went out the back door when it was dark to be less visible in the London bustle. Her clothing was simple not stylish and black. She wore a bonnet with black lace in front, as if in mourning, to cover the scars that crossed her face. She was tired yet exhilarated as she had ferreted out another hidden scheme in an audit. She was proud of her position as a woman at the Harding & Pullein and worked hard to maintain it prove her usefulness in the family. Initially, three years ago when she was 17 her uncle got her the job at the firm through Fredrick Whinney as a favor. Mr. Whinney was a full partner, who had gotten where he was due to the money, information and influence of her family. Kat first was placed in the back rooms but because of her knack of working with numbers and documents and finding critical information quickly, she moved up in the hierarchy of researchers. She made certain Mr. Whinney took notice of her and she now reported directly to him. He knew that she would also report to her uncle but that did not concern him much. For an unscrupulous man he was surprisingly loyal most likely because that symbiotic relationship benefited him immensely. She raised her umbrella above as it was still stormy and hailed a cabby. She told the driver to go to the train station. Kat looked out the cabby as at the crowded street with her ‘onion sight’. Onion sight was the best name she could come up with for her ability that started when she was nine. She also called it her side sight, side vision but when she had seen all the layers of a sliced onion that became her name for it. Most people, from what she could ascertain, saw most clearly in front of them and their peripheral vison became less distinct the farther to the side it was. Kat’s peripheral vision was just as clear but when she saw people, in her peripheral vision, they developed something like layers of their true thoughts and emotions. She could not see distinct words but the essence of what they really thought or felt could not be hidden from her. She could tell when people lied which was hard for her initially in that Victorian society where duplicity was the norm. She learned fast not to confront people about it. When she told her Aunt Lulu about it her aunt was nervous, much unlike her usual self. She told me emphatically never to mention it to anyone not even her. A year later when she asked Kat about it she lied and said it was gone and Kat could see her aunt was relieved. Now as she looked at the people from her seat in the cab she felt amused and almost sad for them. Her onion sight could see frustration, hate, sadness of unfulfilled dreams and a few that were experiencing momentary happiness. Some were wealthy but most were not. But all were flotsam and jetsom in wild seas and it was people like her and her family that brought tagma or order to those seas so they could go about their inconsequential lives. It was not that she did not care for people, but she was careful who would benefit from her caring.
She remembered the week that she became Tagma, a puller and creator of strings that brought order to a chaotic world and she stopped being a victim and someone’s castoff. When she first started at the firm, she could have stayed at the family residence in London but she wanted to be independent. Since she could not afford the closer flats to the firm, she lived ten blocks away, near to the docks, in a rough side of town. She was a little afraid to walk alone at night. It was not that she could not defend herself, she could. Up to the time she was seven she fought a lot with her Collins cousins and the other kids in Eyemouth. She then went through a period of a few years she was forced to be genteel but her Aunt moved her to Hedgemoot Manor when she was thirteen. When Kat was there she would train with her older cousin Roger Schallie under an Indian arms specialist we called Pan. Some said Pan was an assassin. He always told them “You can train all you want, but real people do unexpected things and the more there are, the greater the danger, so always divide and conquer quickly”. Three weeks after Kat had started at the firm she was on her late walk home when two young men stepped out of a doorway. That part of the street was dimly lit and when she turned her head to use her side vision and saw that they wanted to hurt something and hurt it bad. This scared Kat because she knew that she was their target. The bigger one grinned at her and said, “Come here, honey”. It seemed, since her accident, that no matter how uncertain she was or scared, when action was needed, she knew what to do. It was almost as if someone was guiding her. As she had learned from Pan, she walked up to him and kneed him as hard as she could and pushed him into the other stepped back and crouched to get the knifes from her boots. It was at that moment that she sensed 5 men in the dark alley to her side. They were not visible but that did not matter to her onion sight. In an instant she knew that they were not after her, nor would they help her, they were only curious, though one did have a familiar aura to him. Her smaller assailant rushed her and she drove her heel into his knee and as she twisted away, her knife sliced down his arm and he fell screaming. In the process, she had lost her cap and veil and was facing the alley. She was crouched on the balls of her feet with her knifes clenched in her fists blades facing out. The big man got up glaring at her and said “I am going to kill you witch.” He started toward her, but stopped when he heard a voice behind him. “Is that you Kitty?”, a voice said as a tall thin man in rough shod clothes stepped out of the alley. Relief flooded into Kat as she instantly recognized the voice of her adopted uncle Joseph Collin from Eyemouth. “Aye, it is.” Then an eerie confidence hit her despite the knots in her stomach and her shaking knees and she continued “If you can wait a bit for me to dispatch these, perhaps we could get a pint.” Joseph replied “I can wait” and leaned against the wall. The two attackers looked confused as they looked back and forth from the young woman with a patchwork face wielding knives to the rough man behind them. Joseph again spoke, “Have at her men, I’ll not stop you. But be aware that this is Kitty Collin, Heymooth raised and she has been gutting fish since she could walk and you two look like very big fish to me.” Another man in the alley called out, “That they do.” as the others in the dark alley laughed. The attackers knew that they were in trouble and outnumbered so they ran. Kat, still shaking a bit, put her knives back in the sheaths at her boot and said, “Thanks Uncle Joe” He walked up to her saying, “Good to see you Kitty” as he gave her a hug. “Maggy and the kids would love to see you, could you come see them?” She looked up at him and she could tell that her scared visage did not matter to him. “I would love to come.” said a smiling Kat. As Kat went to pick up her cap, Joseph asked, “What are you doing on these streets?” Kat replied, “I live two blocks that way”, as she pointed to the wharf area. Joseph looked concerned and looking at his men that had just come out of the alley, “Go after those lads and make sure they know my niece is off limits”, and they took off at a run. Later that evening, at her uncles small two bedroom flat she had caught up with the family news, but Kat notice the kids off to the side by the edge of the door were peaking at her and seemed a little fearful. She turned and looked at the older girl. “Ginny, come here.” Ginny turned red and came with a lowered head. “Look at me, did your dad tell you how I got these scars” She shook her head. “Well”, Kat began and turning to Maggy she winked then faced Ginny again. “I was way to pretty for a lass in Haymooth, when one day a foul mist hugged the coast. Blackbeard’s ghost ship came out and he saw me and took me to be his mist bound bride. To prove his love to me he carved a map on my face to his buried treasure. Now the whole village was afeared of his ghostly ship and crew but as soon as the Collins boys found out that I had a face to treasure, three boatloads of them came to rescue me. So Ginny, if I ever see you looking at me, I will know you are looking for treasure and it will make me happy to know the Collins blood is strong in you. Now show me your knife.” Ginny eyes, still wide opened, said softly “I do not have one”. Kat feigned shock and took one of her knifes and gave it to her. “This is not a toy and has a sharp edge, you will need to learn how to use it. Perhaps I can come at times to teach you.” “Thank you miss Kitty.” Kat put her hands on Ginny and said seriously “Ginny, you are 14 now and a woman, I am Kitty to you.” She then turned and said” Uncle Joe I will go now. Thank you, Aunt Maggie. I will keep in touch with you.” Joseph walked her to her building and on the way he said, “Your dad would be proud of you and you definitely have his gift of spinning tales.” They stopped at the front door and Kat decided to step out of the safe zone. “Uncle Joe, if you are not too busy with your job, could you do some deliveries for me?” His eyes narrowed and she nodded. Not knowing if anyone was listening, she used the smugglers code she had heard when young. “Thank you again and I will see you tomorrow night.” The next night, she brought an envelope with information of some things to take out of a warehouse that would not be reported stolen. It is amazing the amount of information that goes through an accounting firm and she was good at finding hidden things. Three days later she was invited to a wharf town ale house for a celebration with her uncle and his mates. The place was loud and raucous but to her onion vision it was a riot of images that she could mostly ignore as they were not very sharp. People wanting to find things and those trying to forget what was lost. Some trying to be noticed and some here to swindle. Most were lonely and unaware of many things around them. One man who entered immediately caught her attention as he was very focused and hunting for something. As he walked in scanning the patrons he locked on to her uncle and Kat knew immediately he was here to kill him. The man started working his way behind Joseph and Kat leaned over and pulled her knives out. She stood up and, hiding the knives in the folds of her dress, walked just the right of her uncle’s chair. She was nervous, her eyes were facing the table but she could see the man clearly in her onion sight to the side. The man was nearing and his tension palpable to her. Joseph noticed her knife and looked up at her. She knew she had her uncles attention and need to convey discreetly what she was about to do. She said loudly over the others, “Kelly, tell the others how you met me, remember when I moved, the man fell to the side ”. The message was for her uncle, which is why Kelly looked surprised, as that was not what he remembered. The hunter was ready to strike. To her onion sight the man might as well shouted ‘Now!’, so she stepped toward him as his knife came out she was already moving to stab his hand with her left. Her uncle dove sideways and her knife went into the man’s hand and at the same time her other hand was bringing the second knife to his chest with all her strength. He started releasing his knife as a surprised look came into his face and her second knife buried itself deep in his chest where his heart was. As she had been taught she kept moving towards him and pushed, then pulled out the knife by pulling down to make a bigger tear inside. He staggered back a step, his knife fell to the ground and with his face in shock he stood a moment longer blood staining his chest, then he fell to the ground and did not move. It had happened so fast that no one had time to process and there was deadly silence around them and Kat was standing there with two knives out, one dripping blood. She turned around looking to see if Joseph was safe and he was getting off the ground. The rest were just staring at her. “He was going to kill my uncle, I couldn’t let that happen” The tension broke and some got up to see the body, while the rest started questioning each other, not believing what they had seen. Others further away were asking what happened. She turned around to look at the body again, a stain of blood on his chest widening. Joseph put his arm around her saying, “Thank you Kitty, that was a nice piece of work.” She nodded but she could feel the bile come up her throat. “Uncle Joe, I don’t feel good.” He took her out back to the alley and she threw-up several times as he rubbed her back. When she finally looked up at him he said, “The first is always the hardest. You could have told me and we would have taken care of it differently. But hard as this is, now it will be better for you down here. Talk is cheap, but now everyone will take you seriously. I don’t know many as could do what you did there and I am sure the retelling of it will be grander with time.” Some of Josephs men came out the back door carrying the body. Joseph said to them, “You know where to put that?” They nodded and went down the street. “Let’s go back in and get a bite” her uncle said as he put his arm around her shoulder and walked her in. When Kat was back at the table she was welcomed even though she had somehow lost her veil. They wanted to hear her version of what happened but her uncle waved them off and got her bread and some whiskey. When Kelly went to get more ale Kat heard a man ask him what was with her face. He said loudly “That’s Blackbeard’s widow and he carved a treasure map in her face and then she killed him. So don’t you be getting any ideas.” The man sniggered but she could tell that in an instant, from an absurd story, his view of her changed from grotesque to curiously exotic. Kat found this to be general true of people, once they felt they understood something or it fit within their world in a tidy place, they are willing to accept it as “normal”. Even the elite were not free from this, as seen in their clothing choices. No matter how impractical or ill-conceived an outfit’s design was, if it became fashionable, everyone wanted to wear it. She had been taught by her Schallie aunt and uncle that power is obtained in many ways, some direct and some indirect. But if you want to be the power behind the power, you need to direct the narrative, but that takes time and patience. Manipulate peoples stories so they trust or don’t trust, compel them to action or inaction, break partners apart or put them together, work their desires or feed their fears. But always have a far plan and build in contingencies as people rarely align perfectly or will fail in your designed world. Kat was now a part of the story of these wharf town people who knew her as Kitty Collins, but she knew as a Schallie, she needed to build on that. For the next two years Kat had been building a network of webs of connections and became known as a person, even at her young age, that made things happen. It was becoming well known on the streets that for good or bad if you wanted it done, go to Black’s Widow. On the other hand, in high society, she was known as Kathryn Schurhouse and that required a different approach to be a person of influence. There she used societies morbid curiosity of the grotesque to draw them to her at gatherings and as long as she wore the veil they felt safe. She could get them to trust her and they would tell her things that they might not have told others who they thought mattered. She focused on the younger women and men that looked like they may be coming to power. She became their confidant and advisor, a guilty pleasure for them as long as it was not in plain sight. Her onion sight allowed her to know with certainty, if they were truthful or lying, whether they believed her or not, to gauge the true intensity of their feeling or emotions. In the streets her power was in action but in high society her power was in information and influence. A year ago her Schallie uncle, Uncle Goeoffry, took notice of her work at the firm, her influence at in wharf town and her new social connections. Kat was invited to sit with him and her cousin Roger in their work on the family business, which was essentially consolidating power by being the controllers behind the scenes. Her uncle’s view of her as vestigial changed to see her as a viable member of the family. She started to conflate her efforts with theirs. Her uncle would request her to move something on the docks quietly and she would surreptitiously execute it. Kat would ask to be introduced to an influential commissioner in her district, and it would be done. At large social parties the three of them would divide and conquer the participants Her Uncle Goeffrey would manage a group of older gentlemen discussing the issues of the day, always directing their conversations to push certain events or ideas to the forefront of their thoughts. Her cousin Jeffrey would, with his usual ebullient flair of fashion and wittiness, gather a more lively crowd, and those involved did not realize he was subtly directing and molding them. Kat, at these gathering would be on the edges, redolent in dark mystery, attracting those that thought themselves aloof to the opulent excesses of proper society. The Schallies have been doing this for centuries and very few people in power did anything that was not somehow influenced by the Schallies, but like any machine, it needed to be maintained constantly.
The carriage stopped at the station and she hurried to get her ticket. She did not have any bags because she had everything she needed at the Manor, her second home. She entered the train and sat down on the red cloth seat. Fifteen minutes later the train lurched in motion and picked up speed. A young couple across from her tried not to stare at her and then started talking in low murmurs to each other, but the girl continued to watch her through the reflection in the glass. People loved reflections especially of themselves. Kat had many times noticed people glancing at themselves in mirrors or reflections. They tried not to look self-absorbed, but they would make faces at themselves. She rarely looked at herself in the mirror as she did not want to see her damaged face. Ironically her family name meant reflection. Kat giggled slightly which startled the couple. ‘Who is her family?’ she mused and she started going over her history in her mind.
‘My mother, Jessie Marie, was rebellious and did not want anything to do with the Schallies, her family, and my grandfather, Baron Chesterfield Schallie, disowned her. She married a poor man Albert McLachlan in Scotland and had two children but when I came along my real father was sure that I came from another man so he made it known he would not keep me. When it was time for mother Jessie to give birth, her older sister Vivian Luella, my aunt Lulu, secured a place for me to be born. Jessie, because of the hate for her own father, named me Kathryn Tagma Mclachlan in some hope that the name might have some mystical shielding effect. Kathryn was for purity from evil and Tagma was for both senses of the word, to have an independent orderly life and in the military sense as a bulwark against enemies. I was a Mclachlan for only a week. My aunt secured a family, distance cousins Patricia and Haney Collins, in Eyemouth to adopt me. Presumably she chose that rough fishing village in Berwickshire to keep me out of sight of my grandfather. A year after I was born, my mother was the accused in the famous Sandyford Murder case of 1862 and was sentenced to hang, but was commuted to life in prison at Perth due to public outcry. My Grandfather would have let her die but I believe my uncle and aunt’s influence was instrumental in the change of sentence. My Aunt made sure I knew who my true mother was when I was six. She would bring me to visit my mother in prison every one or two years. My real father fled to Canada to get away from the unwanted attention. It was made clear to me that this was to be a secret not told to others, except to my Collins mother and father who knew the situation. When I was seven Haney Collins, my father, died and my mother Patricia was struggling financially. My Aunt Lulu came and brought me to the Shurhouses, a well to do family outside of London. Edward and Vera Schurhouse, who’s estate was next to my Aunt’s, were from an old and a well-respected lineage, though in terms of nobility, were considered a minor house. They adopted me, I am sure now by pressure from my Aunt, so I now I had third set of parents. There I was educated in the ways of high society and my learning curve that first year was high but fast. I was good at picking things up quickly. I learned to read literature and speak proper English, not the Scottish brogue of Eyemouth. I also learned Latin and French and how to ride horses. My accident happened when I was eight. My new adopted father had procured a rare Egyptian cat shaped urn that was perhaps ten inches tall, that he had put on top of a high bookshelf. The maids had moved a mirror table next to the bookcase so the burnt wood on the floor could be replaced. Since my name was Kitty, I wanted to look at the cat statue. I came downstairs in my nightgown early in the morning, before any one was up, scrambled up on the mirror table and climbed up the bookcase. Rex, the family dog, a golden Irish setter and my nemesis, came in and seemed agitated and started barking. This made me nervous as I did not want to get punished again, but I had to see the statue up close. When I got to the top I tried to hold the statue but it slipped and fell. I tried to grab it but I lost my grip and I fell. I remember clearly watching myself fall in the mirror of the table and when the statue hit the glass it started to break and a force hit me and time slowed down. The entire table top shattered at once and a puff of smoke, more like a mist, exited up from the cracking statue. I slowly fell into it and when it touched my face it felt like fire and ice at the same time and I involuntarily took a sharp breath in. Instantly I was in normal time again and I fell into the glass shards that were just hitting the floor. I exploded in pain and I could feel that the glass had pierced my body everywhere, but somehow it seemed a bit distant. I turned my head towards Rex and he pounced on me with a paw on my back and on my head growling at me which forced glass into a new part of my face. I wanted to move but my body did not respond. Rex then grasped the neck of my now bloody nightgown in his teeth and pulled me through the glass doing more damage presumable to save me but I suspected it was sweet revenge. By this time my new parents entered the room and Vera, my mother, screamed. Why I did not bleed to death with all the mirror shards in me was a miracle. It took six months for the scars to heal and the doctors said that there may still be pieces left in me. It was about that time I started to get my onion sight. I quickly learned to keep it to myself and tell no one, including my aunt, who I could tell was frightened of it because she feared for me for some reason she would not reveal. The Schurhouses kept me till I was thirteen but it was becoming socially awkward to have a maturing damaged child running around. My Aunt Lulu brought me back to the Hedgemoot Manor to live and train as a Schallie. My grandfather, who never liked me as I reminded him of my failure mother, died when I was fifteen, leaving my Uncle Goeffrey to take over the family affairs. My uncle did not love me, but I don’t think he loved any one, either you were useful or you were weren’t. I would hang with my cousin Roger all the time, four years my senior. Roger was the first to call me Kat not Kitty and I never felt odd or out of place with him and he never treated me like I was ready to break like others did. Whatever Roger did, I wanted to do better. Whether it was learning languages or arithmetic or fighting or racing I was competitive with him. When my uncle saw Roger performed better at his studies when I was around, I was formally included in his lessons, even the personal defense lessons with Pan. One day when we were in the parlor room studying languages, Roger laughed and said “katagma” and closed his Greek book. I came over to him assuming he had said my name ‘Kat Tagma’. He got up and grabbed my hand and brought me in to the hallway and brought me close to a Chinese Vase. “Notice all the tiny cracks all over the surface of this vase.” I nodded. “Once you step back and look past these fractures what do you see?” I told me I saw a pretty vase. He said, “I see beauty and design that transcends the ages and its value is immeasurable.” He then put his hand on my scared face ,“I just read that the Greek word katagma means fractured and I think you are more valuable than this vase.” It was awkward for a second then he pushed me and yelled “First to the fountain wins.” I could tell by my sight that he was perfectly honest. I had been called so many hurtful names since my accident by other children, that I myself was in shock that word fractured, that sounded like something others would beleaguer me with in derision, came from my cousin with genuine affection. Since that time, whenever he called me Katagma, my spirit would revel in fierce pride, and my demeanor would be lifted. He was my only true friend and Roger helped me realize that my scars did not define me. When Roger was twenty one he was sent to the continent for two years to practice his language skills and put a face to the family concerns there. I was sent to work in London to become less useless.
The train was slowing down bringing Kat out of her reverie. She got off the train and was met by the family driver. When she arrived at the manor she was told her aunt, was dire and wanted to see her. She raced up the stairs to the east wing , quickly traversing the wide hallway and went in to the light blue door of her aunts room. The fire and a single lamp was the only light in the room. Her uncle was standing to the side talking to the doctor. Kat quickly gave the letter she had gotten earlier to her uncle as it was business first, family second in this house. She went to her aunt’s bed and noticed with her onion sight that the extra shadow that had always followed her aunt was gone. Aunt Lulu whispered, “Closer.” She leaned closer and her aunt continued in a barely audible voice. “He doesn’t know who you are, do not look in the mirror…… The red door…”, and then it was incoherent mumbling. I knew what she said was truth and important, but I was not sure what it meant. My Uncle came over to me and I could tell from my side senses that he was angry and a little scared. His shadow was still strong. “What did she say to you?”, he said with tension. Kat did not know why, but she knew she could not tell the truth. “She said to remember that I am beautiful.” Her uncle visibly relaxed and said “That is true Kitty. Yes, we see you as beautiful too.” When Kat looked back down her aunt’s eyes were closed and her breathing shallow. Her onion sight told her that she would die soon. She walked to the window and looked out, but the rain and the dark was obscuring any view. She did not need to see the garden below to know that it had fallen into desuetude. That was Aunt Lulu’s domain, but she had lived at her estate these last few years and she had taken her gardeners with her. Recently Uncle Geoffrey had brought her here due to her declining health. Kat walked away from the window, took a chair and brought it near her aunt’s bed and sat and thought. She never took time to appreciate her aunt or thank her for all she had done. She was just a constant in her life and she always seemed to believe in her. The red door she had mentioned was in the library and always locked. She was told quite clearly she was never to go in there. There was another door in the library, a secret passage she was not supposed to know about. She had seen her uncle go in it once when he thought no one was in the room. Kat did try to open it, but she could not figure how to do it and supposed it must have also needed a key so she gave up. The room behind the red door was ever a source of mystery to her. Only her aunt, uncle and grandfather went in there and they were the only ones that her onion sight showed a separate shadow. Four years ago, when Roger was twenty, he started going in and he acquired a similar but fainter shadow. What was it about that room that changed one so? After he got his shadow he started to become more distant. She inwardly knew that nothing good for her was beyond that door. Kat looked up. Her onion sight saw the weak layers of her sixty-one-year-old aunt suddenly dissipate. That Friday night October 14 at 11:30 she lost her anchor. She got up and stopped the clock on the mantle and, looking to the right, said, “Good night uncle” and left the room. She went somberly to her room which was across the hall and fell on her bed and wept quietly to sleep.
The next day, men came to prepare the body and the body was placed in the parlor for others to visit. By Saturday night she get news of what became known as the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster that happened on that same Friday. Eventually Kat found out that of the 129 men dead, 14 were her Collins uncles and cousins. She knew or was acquainted with most. The locals in Eyemouth call it Black Friday and for her it was a double black Friday. She immediately took a train to London and when she got to her Uncle Joseph’s place he and his family were packed and ready to leave for Eyemouth. They talked briefly together and hugged and she left him some money and after settling some affairs she returned to the Manor on Tuesday. When she approached her uncle, she said in a matter of fact manor, “Eyemouth will need help”. Her uncle was quiet for a moment and his face was blank but to her side sight he was a roller coaster of change. Though no one could tell from the outside, she knew that at first he was adamantly against it, then slowly transitioned to agreeing in the space of a minute without saying a word. She could almost sense the logic, as it would have been her logic. He was probably thinking what is the profit? Then he would consider that these are Kitty’s cousins and she may care for them. It would probably her happy and more likely stay focused on her work. Her uncle Joseph was big part of her control in the docks and that meant he would feel more obligated to her and keep Kitty’s influence high. This might work to get political favors in Scotland. Sometimes one needed to give a little now, to get more later on and so forth. This took only moments for the dominoes to fall in place and he answered, “I will take care of it.” Kat knew that her uncle cared deeply for his sister but the Schallie blood would not allow them to mourn internally til later. As a flow of people came to the viewing and the funeral, her uncle worked visitors as this was one more opportunity to cast threads and collect some of his sisters acquaintances into his web. Kat and Roger were no better. It was always business first family second.
The next month was not that unusual except that Kat was missing a big part of her life. When she finally came back to the Manor, her uncle said that he and Roger were going to America for a month to meet with their counterparts. Kat casually said, “You mean one of the twelve.” Her uncle asked anxiously “Where did you hear that?” She replied “Once when I asked Aunt Lulu about the Revelation 21:21 carved in the mantle of the library she said we were one of twelve families that had very long ago decided to work with each other. They started together but eventually spread throughout the world always working somewhat together in some sort of alliance. She told me that in the middle ages one of our ancestors thought the verse described us and the other eleven, and that we were to lead the world into our vision of heaven. Aunt Lulu then pointed out the absurdity of that because we were more Hell than Heaven, and she laughed. She made it clear to me that outsiders were not to know, as this as it was a family secret.” Her uncle stared at her as if searching then said carefully with a smile, yes we are more Hell than Heaven and there are other families of influence that we occasionally deal with like the one in America. I want you to take care of the Manor for me. Can you make arrangements at the firm?” She nodded affirmation. It took two weeks for everyone to make their preparations, and she was given instructions on the people she was to see and items to take care of. There was not much for her to do at the Manor as the servants basically took care of everything. She was really only needed in case of emergency, so the day after she saw them off she went for two days to London and then returned. It was odd, she had never been alone at the Manor, Early in the morning she had the butler bring in tea to the library and told him to not disturb her as she was going to read. She picked up an edition of Plato in Latin sat down to read it, when she noticed the red door that she usually ignored. She walked to the door, and as usual, it was locked. This made her think of the hidden passage. She went to the side fifteen feet to where she remembered it was and looked at it carefully, but could not see any obvious mechanism or a place for a key. She stepped back several feet and turned her head to the side and tried using her onion sight. With inanimate objects, if she concentrated, she could see colors or patterns not normally visible. There were a few books that were touched more than the others, but when she tried to move them they were just books. She went back and looked again. Now she looked a little wider. One foot to the left of the bookcase was a sconce that drew her attention. The sconce was unusual in that it went all the way to the floor, though not unusual for this room as there were six identical ones, two to each wall. The entire sconce was bronze and had two parts affixed to the wall. The upper part was about six feet up, and had three equally spaced candle holders coming out of it. From the top section, there were two cylindrical bars that went to a rectangular base. The base at the bottom was also attached to the wall, and it had three small rod loops coming out the bottom, one in front and the other two on the side further to the back. She noticed that three parts of the sconce, by her sight, had slightly different colors from the rest; the two side candle holders and the left loop on the bottom. She first tried the candle holders and they would not budge. When she put a lot of weight on the lower left loop it allowed the right candle holder to be pulled down. When the right candle holder was down, then the left one to be pulled down which resulted in a click and bookcase door opened. She was quite impressed as it would be almost impossible to accidently activate the door even by those servants that polished the bronze. When she opened the door there was a tiny room with a small table that had a candelabra on one side and weapons hanging on the wall on the other side including a hand gun and a rifle. The room ended in stone stairs leading down. Kat lit the candles and holding the candelabra she went down the stairs. When she got to the bottom she found an extensive network of rooms. She glanced into many of them and they had items of antiquity that many museums would have been proud to have. Every item seemed valuable either because it was gold or it was unique like paintings or suits of armor. Two rooms were devoted to books and scrolls and some looked ancient. The last room she looked into was to the right of the stone stairs. It looked like a work room with a very large table with maps over it. On one end of the table, it looked like someone was copying an old book and on the wall was a large map of the world with a detail she had not seen before. There were 12 pins in different places of the world one of which was on England about where we lived. As she was leaving the room she noticed board attached to the wall that had 3 identical keys on it. Could these be to the red door? She took one and went upstairs. She blew the candles out and put the candelabra down and as she exited into the library she closed the door. With a deep breath Kat walked down to the red door and found that the key fit.
When she opened the door Kat peered into the darkened room and immediately noticed the lack of love and attention this room received compared to the rest of the Manor. The furniture was in disarray and some chairs overturned on the floor. The thick dust all around bespoke the desuetude of the place except for one lone path leading straight to the far wall. At the end was a mirror that was framed by a gilded gesso Florentine pattern, a vestigial memory of an opulent era redolent of excesses. It was on a stand about 2 feet off the ground. The mirror itself looked four feet tall and two and a half to three feet wide. As Kat entered the room she could see herself approaching in the mirror. When she was 10 feet away it started to shimmer and then became a confused amalgam of chaos and design, as if one were trying to conflate dissidence and harmony. She stopped and used her side sight, and the mirror became an awesome wonder. The thing before her was the most beautiful and complicated object she had ever seen. She could tell the glass was not glass, but a shimmering rainbow-like container, like an envelope and a door at the same time. Inside was layer on layer of images or reflections, like one might see if you were to look at a mirror with another mirror behind you. Strangely out of place was shadowy mist that was flowing through the layers. The layers almost looked like what she saw in people, but less distinct, and there were hundreds of them. She continued walking toward the mirror until she was about a foot away. She saw a lot of smudges on the glass as if it had been touched many times. As she approached, the image became distinct but blurry, but soon coalesced into a picture of open village square as if it was a window on a slightly elevated platform. She was looking sideways at a crowd of people in a semi-circle around a finely dressed man. He looked worried and his gaze was searching fervently their distraught faces in the eerie silence. She stood looking at the scene a while and then she suddenly knew that if she willed, she could be there. She never fully understood how she knew things, but it has always that way since her onion vision came to her, as if somebody was beside her helpfully prompting. She instinctively pushed her mind toward the glass that was not glass and suddenly she was standing in the town. Kat felt energized and more alive that she had ever been. It felt like a home she had always imagined, but had, before this time, never experienced. She felt like she was in this place but still knew that she was still standing in front of the mirror. For all its warm invitation it she had a feeling of something wrong or out of place. Looking around Kat found that she was on a porch of what looked like some old village hotel. There were many other building surrounding the open square. Out in the distance, she could see mountains covered by forests, but the color of the foliage was an odd purple. She saw a small green bird fly by, chased by what looked like a lizard with bat wings. As she looked at the villagers in the square. Each of them, to her onion sight, had two layers. The front one shadowy, kind of like what her uncle and aunt had, and the back layer more real. She felt much sadness and hate from the back layer. The fine gentleman was the reverse. The front image was more real and exuded confidence and control but the back layer was very dark, and hungry, and angry, and did not look like anything she had seen before. Her eye was drawn to a young woman at the back of the crowd with her arms around a post as if securing herself. She reminded Kat of a younger version of her Aunt Lulu. When she looked back to the front she saw a young man that looked familiar but could not place him. His eyes suddenly met hers. He looked shocked and tried to raise his arm toward the fine gentleman and croaked “Daemon”. It was not quite an accusation but more of a plea in his eyes. Was he referring to her? The well dressed man’s head whipped around and saw Kat then quickly stepped to the young man. His ebullient anger cowed the crowds as he struck the man forcing him to the ground. She could palpably feel their fear, their hate, their powerlessness. What made him beleaguer these people? The man then turned and stared at Kat with a calm, smiling face. A surreptitious thought, almost an imagined whisper, caught her by surprise. “Come…..Come to me.” She could feel a small compulsion and impulsively she stepped back one step and he looked confused. She closed her eyes and willed her self back and the warmth of the place was gone. She opened her eyes to see mirror/window in front of her. Kat could see the man looking around in her direction but she knew he could not see her now. Frightened by what she had just experienced Kat turned and ran out the room and after closing the door leaned against it breathing heavy. Across the room the clock chimed and it was twelve o’clock. She crossed the room and unlocked the door and went to tell the staff she would be eating in the garden, as she needed to think. As she went to the west wing, a picture caught her eye that was the same young man she had seen in the mirror standing with a dog at his feet. She did not know who it was, so when she saw Haney, their butler, she asked him about it. He told her it was her grandfather when he was young. She told Haney she would take her meal in the garden and walked that direction. Her head was reeling. It could not be a coincidence that two people there, looked like her relatives that were dead. Even though the air was chilly that November it helped her to focus as she paced among the thick rose bushes that needed trimming. ‘Why were they apparently alive in there and was it the creature that gave them their shadow? If it was her aunt and grandfather how could she rescue them.’ She needed more information and she was sure that it was in the hidden cellars.
Kat spent the next two days in the archives of the cellar with the same intense scrutiny that she would have used on audits at the firm. Most of the scrolls and old books were in Greek or Latin but she knew how to read both. Apparently, some men found the 12 orbs in a cave that was opened in an earthquake at about 100 AD. They could communicate with each other even at a distance through them. One hundred years later the creatures within started appearing and helping them. In about 800 they could go inside the orb to strange country and in the 1400’s the creatures stopped being mentioned. Two of the orbs were melted to make mirrors presumably to release the creatures but it only had the effect of giving them great pain which the writer describes as being not desired. One person wrote that they tried to go without a visit but the pain they endured was too much and they went back. Kat did not read everything but only scanned the papers. It was enough to see that for ages members of her family and others were being trapped and manipulated by these creatures.
Kat needed to go to London to take care of things, but she resolved that when she returned she would go in the mirror again. Three days later at midmorning she opened the red door for a second time. Kat walked cautiously to the mirror, and when it resolved into the image of the village again, she did not see many people around. And the ones she did see were carrying things or pushing wheel barrels full of stuff. She did not see the creature/man. Kat saw her aunt come out of a door of a different building than before and stretch. The door was open behind her. Kat started thinking that if it only had to will herself into that place couldn’t she choose where to enter? So she closed her eyes and thought of herself inside the door behind her aunt and instantly she was there. Kat turned around and her aunt had her back to her. Kat whispered “Aunt Lulu, come here”. Her younger version of her aunt turned around quickly, saw Kat, then carefully looked side to and slowly walked into the door and closed it. Her eyes appeared panicked. She looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t. Kat turned her head slightly and focused on the other image behind the shadow with her onion sight, and she could hear her aunt repeating “Kitty, leave now” over and over. Kat looked her in the eye and said, “I am not leaving, I want help you get away from that man.” Her aunt looked surprised, “You can hear me? We got our spirits culled yesterday and we can’t talk to each other for at least two days after. You are not safe here. If he finds you he will never let you go. He is very angry that you disappeared and he has been searching for you. You did not arrive in the middle of the square and he did not even know you were here until my dad saw you and tried to warn you. You are the first person to arrive here that did not leave a body behind.” “Leave a body behind?” Kat exclaimed. “Yes, it seems when a person first arrives, a copy of their body is made here to hold their spirit, but the spirit can only inhabit one body at a time. When you are returned to the normal world, the body here just falls and is like it is in a coma. The Nexus has us put them in a special room on beds. When we return he immediately knows and we see a mist appear that goes directly to the body and the person wakes up on the bed. While you are alive you never know this, you just touch the mirror or orb and you wake up on the bed. When the body awakes, but no spirit is seen to come and you do not remember touching the glass, it is a good chance you are dead, and your spirit came back to the only living vessel remaining. You can’t be sent back if you are dead.” Kat asked, “His name is the Nexus?” Aunt Lulu replied, “We do not know its name, but we call it the Nexus because we are all tied to it. It is an incubus that draws you in and found a way to bind you to it and sucks your energy from you. It needs to let the energy of our spirits regenerate, and then about once every week or two it culls us which is extremely painful, but we cannot resist. He apparently drains us to feed himself and give him power, and in the process we stay young looking. He has a hold on us and will not let allow us to harm or kill ourselves. We still need to eat and sleep, so he makes us grow food or hunt. Everyone in this village is one of our ancestors and some have been here over a thousand years.” Kat was dumbfounded “Where did it come from?” Her aunt shook her head “We don’t know. From some of the older ones, that he used to talk to, they say he confessed there were two great empires in the stars that hated each other. They were soldiers that came to destroy an enemy colony on our world. When the colony discovered them, they were imprisoned in the orbs, but it was too late. They had already let loose something called a sun ball that most likely destroyed the A’A La’nt group and most likely the soldiers original bodies. The Nexus has a limited distance he can go from the center of the town. We can go a lot further, but his hold on us forces us back, so we can’t escape.” Kat felt anger and frustration, “How can I rescue you?” Her Aunt Lulu looked at her sadly, “You can’t. Most here, and I agree with them, just want to die and end it all. We are all just one scar on top of another inside. If you ever get out, do what we never could, destroy the mirror. We believe it may kill the creature and us, but if it doesn’t, at least no other family members will have face what we have.” Her faced suddenly contorted. “He is searching my mind, he knows that you are here. Go now.” Instead, Kat walked out the door to the street and the Nexus stood there. This world seemed slowly enhance her onion sight here so that now she did not need to turn to the side to use it. She could see his shadow and could hear the Nexus’s thoughts as whispers he could not control. “I will have her. I will feed on her. She will obey me. I will be the master” and she felt his compulsion to come to him get stronger. She imagined that she was surrounded by slippery plates that forced him away and the compulsion became muted but was like dog paws scratching on glass. He started walking to her with a hand raise reaching for her. His power became more forceful and his whispering did not abate. “No one can resist me. It will be my servant and help me find a way to escape. I am hungry and I will feed on her.” But outwardly it was silent. Kat knew it was time to go, so she closed her eyes and willed to be back and she was in her body again, but the raging against her shield did not stop. She knew what she needed to do. She ran to the unused fireplace, grabbed a poker and came back to stand in front of the mirror again. She could feel the Nexus struggling to pull her back, but she kept it slipping away. She lifted the poker and struck the mirror with all her strength. She felt the Nexus reel, then felt a concentration of power as mirror fractured and each piece became energized. The Nexus could not stop its whispered voices as the pieces started floating. She knew from the voices that it had a short time to reassemble and that this had been done before. What could she do to stop it. The anger in the Nexus caused the shards to swirl around Kat cutting her and hurting her so she would bleed to death and she screamed. Then an urgency took over the Nexus and it started moving the pieces back toward the frame and to each other. Kat was in so much pain yet she knew that she needed to do something to stop this foul creature. She realized that she must sacrifice herself. She knew what to do, but she did not know how she knew, perhaps her phantom guide. She reversed her angles on her spirit shield so that the Nexus was slipping to her, not away. The Nexus was confused at first and then was in a panic to get away from her but it could not and it was losing hold on the other pieces of glass with some falling to the floor. In some of the falling pieces, she imagined she caught glimpses of tiny people. She could sense that the foul creature was summoning a final burst of power. Raising her hands she started summoning all the strength that she had and it was like a door opened that she did not know was there. She shouted “COME!” and the Nexus’s power imploded. The final third of the glass shards that remained suddenly shot towards her and she again exploded in pain and screamed. She found herself limping toward the door dripping blood yet she was numb and grinning. The voices of the Nexus were silent she thought as she stumbled through the red door pulling it closed behind her and then she fell to the ground crying and the world faded around her.
The doctor stood at the door to the hospital room and shook his head. He was talking to a colleague, but looking at her.
“This case has baffled me from the start. She was brought in two days ago by her staff, with glass imbedded in her from head to toe. Much of it was below her skin and the skin was already sealing with pink lines as if healing and I could feel the perturbances below the skin. We tried to dislodge a few pieces but they bled so profusely that we cauterized them and left her. Two large pieces, one in her leg was lodged into the bone and one in her rib cage at her heart. We knew that there was nothing we could do but give her laudanum to drink to ease her pain and let her die mercifully. By yesterday morning most of the glass had sunk below the surface, even the one in her leg and chest were mostly submerged, yet she still lived. As you have just seen by examining her just now, you cannot feel any of the glass below her skin and all the wounds are near healed with the pink network of scars on top of her old scars. I am at a loss why she is still alive.”
The other gentleman only shook his head and said, “It is only a matter of time”.
As they walked away, the nurse adjusted the pillow under Kathryn’s head and dared to take a look at her grotesque caricature of a face. Kathryn’s eyes blinked open revealing an iridescent swirling pattern that caused the nurse to back up and then she saw herself lying there in the bed as if looking in a mirror. But as quickly as the image appeared it dissolved to leave the patient staring at her with piercing eyes. With a strong voice Kathryn said, “Feed me.” Her eyes quickly closed tightly as if in pain or conflict. Moments later she opened them again and turned her head to the side softly saying, “Could I get something to eat please?”