Here is the first third of the story "Philomena's Gift" from the book Eve of Valor: 25 Tales from the writings of Lorenzo Samuel (me). An assistant district attorney gets involved in supernatural events leading to new opportunities. In addition to her, a judge, an Arab businessman and a saint from the 3rd century share the story load. I present to you the 1st third of the tale "Philomena's Gift." Enjoy.
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PHILOMENA'S GIFT (1st third)
Time leaves marks that impinge on Mela’s world. Hues dissipate and turn the ruddy woman gray. Lack of tint pales her flab. This Thursday morning, she wheezes through the smog ‒ a filter trying to produce a patch of fresh air after that stifling rampulse ride.
One block from the uprooted-concrete parking lot that imprisons the rampulse station, she snatches her eyes off the sidewalk and slings them onto her destination, a building looming out of the night’s leftovers. The rising sun shrouds shadow around the edifice. In the building's crannies, mold wriggles into the grime.
Through the entrance she slogs. Hardly noticing the foyer, she hangs up on an oxymoron that seems to define her world: If the lives of people have got better, safer and more bountiful, why is everything so filthy?
The answer to that question might as well go to Panama; she doesn’t want to think about it. Besides, she believes that mindful answers yield little truth. The question had popped into her mind like an unreformed bully who suddenly appears. It surprised her, for she tries not to notice filth these days. She blanks out the query and shoves it aside while stumbling onto the people mover that will carry her from the foyer to the elevator bay.
The bay creeps closer, then, it vanishes, and she floats into a dark nothing. “What the hell!” she exclaims. The nothing becomes a space illuminated by pricks of light. She rubs her eyes, but the sparkles still glisten. She floats farther into this deep.
The lobby seems to have disappeared out of time; the elevators have disintegrated into motes, which vanish into the void. Light twirls, spins upwards and spreads into fantasy. Sounds fade away; gone the whir of lifts, the ratcheting of gears, the groan of air-conditioners and the hum of voices. And, the odor of fermented olives seeps into her.
The illusion trembles. She clutches her hands together, and the vision becomes more insubstantial. This world discovers itself more and more a part of her mind. As she binds to the phantasm, her shaking increases, and a scene springs out of the void ‒ past, present and future, all of a piece.
Iridescent forms zing by too fast to name. Togas dive like birds. Dancing hip hop, a vial of crimson blood leads a parade of criminals out of the catacombs.
The people mover has reversed and dumps her at the entrance to the building, at the beginning of her daze. She lurches back onto the mover. She glances at the clock on the wall at the end of lobby. Its seconds creep through her like cooled syrup as she rolls toward the bay. An elevator opens. She pushes the button to the 4th floor. A mind-dead workday starts; it pounds into her, same yesterday, same the week before and probably the same a month hence.
She expects nothing from her work; no cases on her qubit to excite her. She lumbers down the aisle to her workstation. Spreads her buttocks against the ergonomic chair seat. Nibbles the peanut butter and jam sandwich from yesterday then tosses it unfinished under the monitor. Blanking out the dirty slate-gray walls, ignoring the other 10 assistant district attorneys pretending to work, she recalls flitting into the void that greeted her when she first encountered the elevators. She mumbles to herself, I sure didn’t want to come up here.
That dream, vision, hallucination or whatever pulls on her again. Am I trapped in 2 worlds at the same time? Is one the escape hatch for the other? Oh, mud puppies. I'm a reasonable person. I don't buy a bit of it. She surges out of the fantasy into the middle of the 4th floor of a one-fifth-full office building in Midwest Center.
Fifteen years before, azure flagstone lustered the facade of the building's six stories. Now, with panels missing and the rest smudged, the building stands amid dead trees bordering cracked concrete coming from nowhere and wending through the smog to some other nowhere.
Like the tentacles of an squid, the scruffy milieu creeps inside the building, slithers in and out of the elevators, oozes across the floor, clings to the grime on her desk and establishes the center of her world. In this room, 40 assistant district attorneys used to bustle handling their caseloads, where now 10 dally on trivial assignments.
Since the janitors quit, the D.A.s are supposed to clean their areas. But they've given up. Like Mela, they’re used to the grunge covering every surface and filling all the nooks. Their dolor subtends their morale; they slouch in their chairs waiting for something to happen.
Mela yearns for the hour when the walls will beep the end of another unproductive day. Since she arrived this morning, other than trips into ennui and lands of make believe, she's fiddled with one task only. Maims her brain to think of it. Scratching her dull-brown hair, she wonders if what she's doing will ever lead to anything worthwhile.
Oh yeah, a greengrocer welshing on payment for a load of cabbage because it contained a few heads with brown spots ‒ Whoopee. Go Mela. Nail the fraud. The case fails to acknowledge her dead humor and fades into the rest of her drudge.
There seemed a time that work excited her ‒ when at 25 she entered the profession out of law school, married 2 months before and hot to impact the world. Remembering that uplifts her briefly, then she sinks back into reality, submerged in the stale air that threatens to suffocate her. She stares at the qubit screen. In the upper left-hand corner, it says 4:50 P.M. During the day, she’s written one paragraph of her who-cares brief.
Beeping from the wall, the trumpet calls end of work. She springs from her chair with vigor, her mind unfogging like mist over a lake at mid-morning. She opens the middle drawer under her workstation and scoops a moldy candy bar and the half-eaten sandwich into its disarray. Fruit flies follow the week-old plum she thuds into the waste unit. She shuffles papers and vid disks into a heap in the middle of her station over a glob of strawberry jam. Surprised by her sudden activity, dust leaps from her desk to powder the air. She promises the god of dirt that she will clean up tomorrow.
No sooner made, that promise evaporates into her mirage of intentions. She yearns for wine and whist, her once-a-week with the girls. Her lips crack a smile that changes into a grimace when the wall rumbles for her to stop by her boss's office. Something interesting for her. Her eye gleam flees, and grime reasserts its hold on her mood.
Oh, crapola. Always he waits until after quitting time. Interesting new case, bull. Some drudge job he wants to pass off. Give me a break. Once again boredom trumps excitement. She trudges toward the slave-master’s office like an elephant forced to carry logs along a jungle trail.
Eyes to the floor, she shuffles through the stations of her co-workers, each suffering from her or his own brand of apathy; they avert their eyes as she passes.
Why not one of them? Why me on the one night of the week when I can have fun?
Her pleasure postponed, Mela's mind wanders back to former days. How about those space-transport rackets? Jacob and I kicked tail there. Contract breach rules my days now. At least Jacob prosecutes pirates out among the asteroids. Lucky bastard. I need a challenge, a criminal case, dammit.
She had turned down going to the belt with Jacob. Her marriage to Rip enthralled her then. Tears form in the corners of her eyes, a remnant of past happiness. She maunders, I lost Rip too.
With soiled bandanna on her fleshy cheeks, she smears the tears of remembrance. Still dabbing, she lumbers into Gus Acropolis’s office, instantly feeling misplaced in his tidy sanctum. Her boss the D.A., perfect weight, perfect height, right out of some macho magazine, lounges with groomed fingers tapping to music flowing from clean rose walls. Something by the old-time Carpenters. Looking as if he came from wardrobe a minute before, he faces her in a picture-ready pose; Gus can go all day in suit and bandanna without ruffle or smudge.
I hate this office, I hate the Carpenters, she commiserates with herself as she flops her flab on the visitor’s bench and asks what's up. Viewing her from an elevated chair, Gus's mouth crinkles. Mela flinches. A cleaning robot scoots around gobbling crumbs that have fallen from her clothes.
Gus eyes Mela’s corpulence quiver, then warns her not to jump to conclusions before she hears his levy. Not a new case, mind you, but something much more. He needs her to attend a briefing at the FBI Academy tonight. He would go, but District Manager Burns has asked him to entertain some out-of-town moguls. No notes or record of the briefing required; handout disks will suffice.
Mela thinks, doesn't dare say, Why don't you go to the briefing if it will be so frigging interesting? This is whist night, damn it! With the only bright idea of her day, she grabs for an out, "How about I zip in, get the disks and split. No sense wasting time listening to some bore. I'll give you a report first thing tomorrow. No one will be the wiser." She winks then glances at a wall hanging, lying to herself that she has settled the matter.
Gus's face bores in deadpan ‒ no sauce flavors what he's cooking. He studies Mela as she wiggles. "That's what I like. The thing that makes you a good assistant D.A." Then he smirks. "You forgot something though. We always humor the feds. Never know when we'll need a favor." His eyes become titanium bullets, the kind with explosive caps. He shrugs termination. "Stay until the end and have a nice time. After all, this might mean a break in the crime lull."
Mela’s elan flees; she plunges into her dark space, barely missing fantasia. Shuffles hang-dog to the door. Gus adds, "And wear a decent outfit."
Drab blouse and pantaloons match her mood. When she first started with Midwest, back when criminals abounded, she'd flaunted a trim 125, stunning in tight pantsuits. Now a divorced slob at 40, 165 pounds, she wears clothes that attempt to hide the flab hanging from a protruding belly. Missing her bouncing buttocks by a millimeter, the office door hisses shut. Back in the sewer again, befouled, she staggers into the gloom.
Ashes shed off the pilgrim's sackcloth. With each step, brown pus oozes through his torn-canvas shoes. His cloak stinks of rotten garlic; the odor sticks to his defoliating skin. He limps out of the desert trailing powder that marks his path toward the Little Saint. He stops, leans on a crutch of friable wood, his eyes nearly clotted shut, his ragged hair puffing dust, his features indeterminate in the blazing sun. He pleads through cracked lips, "Help me, help me, Little Saint." He grovels at the Lady's feet. Bleating like a sick goat, he begs Holy Philomena to cure him of his running sores.
She refuses and berates him for malingering. He sneers. Rotten black teeth clack in his mouth. From out of his robe he pulls a dirk.
"You incorrigible beggar," Philomena hisses and signs the cross. He raises the weapon, but when the knife plunges to a millimeter of her left breast, she evaporates like perfume in the desert.
Ibn Saíd trembles from the vision. Under the sheet, his right hand makes the sign of the cross. Already the day broils, but his sweat doesn't cool him. With a hand-smash to his head, he jerks himself erect. “What have I done? No one saw me, praise the Prophet. Perhaps that scrofulous beggar’s to blame. Yet, my hand did make the idolatrous sign.”
His eyes scouring the room, perplexed by his blasphemy of forming a pagan motion, he lunges out of the fog of his dream, His gaze darts into the shadows. He finds nothing, only the gauze curtains billowing in the open window like sails before a favorable wind. As he rolls out the mat for the day's first prayer, he whiffs moldy garlic and realizes that the supplicant has left a trail.
One does not fool Ibn Said. So says his trimmed goatee; so attest his flint eyes. A trader in ivory and antiques, he demands respect and gets it, if not sincerely then through force of will. He makes money sufficient to live commodiously and eat the most tender goat meat. A practical man, he gives no alms for need, only for information or other advantage.
He shuts his eyes, alert to the whispering of movement. No sound ‒ silent as a bankrupt merchant's stall. Out the window, only a mangy dog pads through the blinding light. Still, that odor of garlic stagnates, suffocating him with the memory of his dream.
After his prayer towards Mecca, the garlic odor vanishes. He scrambles to the bazaar. His three friends sip syrupy coffee in the dusty canteen. He collapses into his customary chair. The boy brings a cup. In silence the four nibble dates, swish the bitter coffee around in their teeth to wash pieces of date skin down, then relax with Algerian cigarettes.
Only then does Said complain that every night, the same tramp accosts him and calls him by that alien name. "I'd pass it off to the dream," he stammers, "yet when I awake, the beggar’s stench clings to the air. I've sworn off garlic. My woman changes the linen and airs the room daily, but it remains. Four nights now, same dream, same garlic stench."
Assir, the eldest of the three friends, maintains it abnormal to suffer a recurring dream. "Come with us to the gypsy," he implores. "She'll make clear its meaning."
Said's dried-fig face wrinkles further; he scoffs, "Only dung eaters make fools of themselves with gypsies." Still, he struggles with his perplexity. He examines a fly buzzing around his cup. Flies always seem confused, flying here, flying there, for no apparent reason. Leaving the fly to its business, he wipes his mouth with his right sleeve and says to Assir, “I'll go only to amuse myself.”
As he and his friends stride from under the awning, a caravan of jeeps wheels by, fogging the area with grit. Like heat from a pita oven, the sun cooks Said's head. His words jingle in the twirling dust. Under their hijabs, houris swivel surprised; Ibn Said never speaks to himself. Yet before them, he mumbles into the sky like a mendicant banned from Paradise.
Assir guides him by the elbow through the stalls. Hundreds of men and women languish, examining wares. Children dart by chasing balls and hoops. Said’s eyes cast around; the supplicant could hide behind anyone, poised to leap out and slit his throat. Passersby mark Said with side-way glances, fouling his skin. Little do they care for his faithfulness to the Five Pillars....
The gypsy makes short work of Ibn’s three companions, then turns toward him with eyes that dig in. She says, "Philomena?"
To keep from falling to the floor, Said grabs his seat. Why did he come to this fraud? Yet, she draws him. From her flows blue balm. Like a clean shower, penetrating eyes caress him. The gypsy’s mouth emanates waves of cooled air, breath like an orchard of sweet plums. She offers him chilled mint tea.
Despite his caution, he lowers his defenses before this olive-skinned girl. She's no more than 13 years old, though her visage vouchsafes ancient assurances. “Demon of false magic,” he says. “I do not need fortune telling. Still, you must know something, calling me by that foreign name."
With her dreamy eyes, the gypsy glances at the top of the tent and says, "Philomena swells from afar to succor your soul, your faith, your way of life. To her, you must offer joining; after all, she came before you were born into Tunisia." The gypsy's glare fixes him. Said tries to hold her gaze. He has stared down many a man in trading, women too, but his eyes waver.
The girl continues, "I'll give you proof that I know what I know: You had a dream in which a pilgrim dressed in ashed sacking begged you to cure his running sores. He called you 'Little Saint'."
Said's face flushes. He shouts, "I am Ibn Saíd and none other!"
The gypsy doesn't flinch at this ado. Instead, shifting under her caftan, she says, "True, but Philomena none the less."
Said holds his hand aloft to disagree, but reasons have vacated his head. He tells the gypsy, "Philomena died nearly 2500 years ago. I checked. She can't live again other than as some construct of mind."
The gypsy's eyes flare, rolling out smoke. Her body blends into the wisps, which swirl in under her robe. Like a helicopter landing, her garments whoosh to the dirt floor. Said gawks at the pile. He lifts her caftan with his left big toe. Nothing there besides miniature dust devils twirling across the floor.
Something snaps his head up. Above the caftan another figure forms from the vapor, a young lady in a toga; she glows like Paradise. She's northern rain from across the sea. Said's djellaba rustles in the breeze that drifts from her. The lady's eyes sparkle with Allah's fire. She announces that she answers to "Philomena," although she retains no monopoly on that name. "We spring from the mysteries," she whispers. "This is no religious thing. Decide, and we appear."
The dance of these words sparks radiant tears cascading down Said's cheeks. His mind opens to Paradise and its bubbling streams. Does he dream a vision? In the diffuse light of the tent, he blinks for the answer. The lady places her hand on a hip and nods, and Said interprets this as Allah’s blessing. The Lady smiles, fades, and before him, like a quilt patched together, the gypsy reforms.
She laughs. "Some missions have fuzzy beginnings. Yours, you accepted long ago." Under a round tablecloth stitched with camels at an oasis, her hands vanish. She shrugs her shoulders and seems to manipulate something under the table. Said bends down, pulls the tablecloth aside. There's nothing visible in her hands although her motions are those of stacking paper.
She stares at him and asks, “Do you really want what I have here?” His eyes must have returned a "yes" answer, for her left arm levitates. In her hand rests a bundle secured with a string of camel gut. Not a mirage, solid as iron, she plops it on the table. Off the ancient cloth, dust rises two centimeters into the air then lazily resettles. The gypsy cuts the string and unfolds the covering to expose, faintly lambent, a bundle of plastic-encased parchment leaves. Holding the 2 dozen pages under Said's nose, she says, "The writing's Old Latin. Get it translated and you will learn the truth whereof I speak."
"Where did you get these documents?" Said asks.
"Philomena guided me to them before her martyrdom. You see, her plans were forming even then. Much later, I had an archivist preserve these pages. I am the first actor; you are the second, a manifestation of Philomena in the current day. There are others lining up for their parts in a grand play."
Ibn Said stumbles out of the tent speaking into the dry air, “Philomena came to the gypsy long before me. However, pronouncements do not make objective truth.” He hefts the bundle close to his right hip. The package of vacuum-processed sleeves lies firmly in his hand.
He tries to avert his gaze to a camel cruising by; his eyes won't shift from the vision before him, a prepubescent girl in a toga, dancing the Bibasis, springing high into the air, striking her feet several times behind her, and beckoning him with a vial of crimson blood.
Dark thunder clouds roll through a blood-crusted sky. The few trees, survivors of neglect, bend in the wind. With their plans tucked in, people scurry trying to beat the storm. Reasons for the end of day hesitate in their rush to fulfillment.
Mela voice-passes through the rail-station stile. Frustrated at Gus’s assignment, her mental gears hang up in a purgatory that should have ended in personal time. When she enters her pad, however, she brightens up and utters "wine" to the food unit. Her favorite brand pops out; the lid disintegrates. Breathing the aroma deep, she plows her way to the video system, shuffling through assorted food containers, shed clothes and stuff you can't see that accumulated since the cleaning robot broke.
She collapses into her electro-stimulator exerciser. She doesn't notice the dirt and clutter, the grime clinging to the muddy-blue walls or the rouge carpet lying under papers and containers. The apartment absorbs her; she becomes part of the mess. She sighs and orders up the evening news. The system hums if she wants to disable interaction. Damn straight. She punches a button; the joy stick's lights fade out.
Peaches, her orange tabby, whom Mela rescued from the rubble of a torn-down tenement, sneaks out from under a pizza box and jumps onto her lap. She accepts the filth of her abode. She nuzzles Mela’s flab and meows for a chuck under the chin. Mela complies and relaxes.
On the screen, appears an interview ongoing with her ex, science-writer Rip Dorn of the Daily Vidscan; something about the paranormal replacing scientific investigation. She sees more of him on vid these days than in the flesh when they lived together. He blathers to the interviewer, "Science should be encouraged, not replaced."
Mela reminisces, To think I once loved him, maybe still do even though he wouldn't let me keep my cat. Still, I can't blame him for turning hard. At least he lives an exciting life, not one like mine.
The video holograph skips a beat, disrupting the interview and leaving in its place a reflecting surface. Mela examines her face, ruffles her clumpy hair. Why would he want me? I'm no prize.
The interview floods back on. She pays scant attention to Rip's report of government agencies taken over by paranormal dogmas. She turns off the program, shuts down the exerciser and escapes into a before-dinner nap. She wakes. Why am I thinking of undetected crime, and that because of it, I stand a fool? She has no answer, promptly forgets, shimmies out of her pantaloons and hollers across the room to the food unit, "Spaghetti and meatballs, micro-zap queue."
The contraption whirs for 2 minutes, then pops out Italian delight. The unit collects the savor, intensifies it then shoots it back into the room. Mela grabs the plate. Ordinarily, she’d fall to rapturous feeding, but tonight the enjoyment hangs off because of that damn FBI trip. She shoves containers from the last three days off her dinette and dallies with her dinner. Sensing the speed of food disappearance, the plate tweaks the flavor to where Mela wolfs down her repast, each bite adding bits of flab to her midsection. She slurps in the last morsel, skids the container to the floor, showers off food spatter, and puts on her only dress suit. She hangs her cleanest bandanna about her neck. Doesn't bother to check her appearance in the enhancement mirror, thus misses that some of the blotches on the scarf weren't there when she bought it. No sense brushing her hair; won't make any difference.
She drags herself to the landing off her 2-room flat, down the unscrubbed stairs, through the dingy foyer and onto a street sprinkled with struggling mom-and-pop stores and vacant markets. In the 3 blocks to the rampulse station, bars and clubs mimic success in an oasis of dull lights. Chatting, gazing at offerings, checking their cash and credit, ready to purchase, the customers depress her. Her mind runs to another time when robbers and pickpockets would work the crowd. Those halcyon days have gone the way of her waistline.
At the station, the groundliner that's her ride to the Academy feeds on energy from tectonic plate movement; travels at nearly mach 1, the fastest ground transportation in the Federation. In 15 minutes, she zips the 300 miles of tunnel to the FBI Academy campus in Quantico. She exits the station, ruminating, If only this rampulse could travel in time ‒ take me back to when criminals played their provocative games.
The one-block walk from the station to the FBI dungeon takes her 1/4th the time of the entire trip. She shelves that perception as she approaches the Academy. The FBI building’s facade has degraded in the years since she attended ho-hum briefings on FBI-regional police cooperation. Trash litters the street in front of the building. Weeds have taken over the lawn. She stumbles over broken tiles in the entrance. Rather than curse, she smiles. Even the suits feel the bad effects of good times.
She deslouches and presents a blank face to the agent who clears her through to a patio surrounded by two-hundred-year-old murals depicting the history of the Bureau. There among smudges on the walls, J Edgar still attempts to direct operations via his coffee-stained portrait. He set the agenda for decades after his death, but crime waned; only fresh ideas could keep the Bureau alive and working on something worthwhile. Instead, the place subsists on dug-up governmental-contract breaches, which makes Mela feel a bit better about her own dreary life.
Gypsy, another seasoned whist player, saunters around a fountain that spurts pee-yellow water. After a few seconds of banal hugs, they set up a game at a lounge far enough from the Academy to hinder agents from showing up. Splitsville, soon as they can. Chaka, a cigar-smoking detective from Baltimore, and Rose, a transgender prosecutor from Philly, all crazy for little to do, join the plot.
The conspirators drift into the auditorium. 1/5th of the worn-out seats, sectioned off for the briefing, await them. Holding the grimy dark at bay, a lonely ceiling light struggles to illuminate the occupied section and the stage.
Mela leans left to counter the broken spring in her seat. Bracing her port leg, she keeps her butt from sliding off. As the light dims, Rose tenders a joke. The other girls guffaw. Mela passes it to the next row. By the time the host mounts to the podium, he faces a madhouse of prosecutors and cops.
"Must be a science briefing," Gypsy offers. She points to reporter Rip Dorn setting up his devices. Dorn's shaggy hair and wrinkled clothes remind one of the long-dead Albert Einstein. In one article Dorn tried to convince Vidscan readers that Einstein's theories were unscientific, paranormal in fact. Reader interest in his conjecture proved nil. Nevertheless, he doesn't give up; keeps pumping out exposés. One row back of the girls, he wiggles on his seat as if his undershorts chafe.
Mela sees through his guise, views him as through a backward glass ‒ 20 years past: young, natty, eager and self-assured. We made quite a pair back then, she pines.
Her attention drifts back to the agent at the podium. His mouth moves. He tells a joke that bombs. Still, it achieves silence. Agent John Lawless begins, "Tonight’s briefing might seem bizarre, but I assure you that, unlike the joke I told, what we have to say is serious." Giggles and groans drift from the mob.
Lawless smiles though he doesn’t understand what's funny. "First, some statistics." The right-hand display flickers on a yellowed screen. Nothing new: Crime down 80 percent over the last 20 years. Many prisons closed or converted to productive use ‒ tool and die, small manufacturing, cloud-storage fumigation, virtual-document destruction, IoT enhancement, sleep learning. "Although we are pleased," Lawless states phlegmatically, "none of us has anything to do except diddle in contract breach."
Frigging A, ain't that the case? Mela thinks.
The display flutters ‒ unsolved crime stats appear: 5 percent now, 75 percent 15 years ago. Legislation eliminated much crime. Many criminals went legit, others were grandfathered in by new laws that narrowed the definition of crime. Governments cut budgets. Until bureaucrats started losing their jobs, no one considered reversing the trend.
Only the populace thinks less crime an improvement. Of course, they don't understand human nature. Rumors abound among law-enforcement junkies about conspiracies to cut crime budgets to fund education and business opportunities.
Mela nods off; her numb mind conjures up dreamy headlines: Waters solves another closed case from years ago.
The host clears his throat. Mela sucks in the sweaty torpor from 100's of stale bodies. She turns to Rose, “No air conditioning. Must be their budget.”
Like robots joined at the hip, the prosecutors and cops sway in their seats, their mental adventures kilometers away, half listening, not expecting any change in their dull lives. Mela tells herself, I can't stand this anymore. Under her breath, she mumbles, “No crime is boring. Something has to happen.”
Off stage in the speaker waiting area, a small man in a gray suit fidgets. In the air above him, a piece of parchment floats. Tapered feminine fingers hold a quill that’s writing on the insubstantial surface. To dispel the illusion, Mela smashes her right hand onto her forehead. Hurts, but doesn't vanquish the image.
Still holding the quill, a hamster-sized ghost morphs into a 5-foot-tall lady in a toga to mid-thigh. Fine chin, nose, neck and hands like jewels. The lady waves the parchment over her head, then points at Mela. A phosphorescent wave from the apparition’s extended finger smokes through the air to Mela's forehead. The wave spatters against her brain, making Mela tremble. She blinks 10 times a second. Hyperventilates. She studies her own pudgy hands and feet. Stares, squints, shakes her head. The shiny smoky line curls, cradles and wraps around her body. Vroom; the tether snaps to her.
The 2nd third of the story "Philomena's Gift from the book Eve of Valor: 25 Tales will post on or about Dec 1.