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“Mommy, look!” Lynn pointed, squealing with delight. “Goats!”
Lynn and Kimberly were walking around the fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maine.
It was a beautiful, crisp fall day. There was a pleasant breeze, and the sky was clear with a few puffy clouds scattered about, almost as though they’d been painted on as an afterthought.
Kimberly reached into her camera bag and took out her Nikon. She snapped a few photos of a farmer tending to two adorable pygmy goats.
Lynn took out her small digital camera and took a few shots of her own. “Can I go feed them?”
Kimberly smiled. “Sure, let’s go.”
They’d arrived in Maine yesterday and were staying at a hotel despite her father’s insistence that they lodge with him.
“It’s a huge house, Kim,” George had pointed out.
“That’s quite alright, Dad,” Kimberly had said, still feeling awkward using the familial term. “Lynn and I will be much more comfortable in a hotel.”
George had acquiesced. After all, deep down he knew his daughter still didn't trust him, and he couldn't blame her for that.
Seeing her father for the first time in nearly a decade had been a visceral shock. The tall, powerful man she'd once feared had withered with age. He was stooped, his once thick mane of dark brown hair was almost gone, and what remained at the sides had gone gray.
Even in this elderly appearance, Kimberly still had to resist an instinctive urge to recoil from him when he’d opened the front door, if only for Lynn’s sake.
“Dad…” Kimberly had begun with a forced smile. “This is your granddaughter, Lynn.”
Lynn's face brightened into an immediate smile, but when George had bent to shake her hand, the little girl had rushed him with a hug full around the middle.
George’s eyes shined at this, and he’d returned the child’s embrace tentatively, taking care to glance at Kimberly to gauge her comfort level at this type of contact. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Lynn.”
“You too, Grandpa,” Lynn had said and then added, “Can I call you that?”
George chuckled. “Of course you can.”
He then lead them inside where they’d taken a tour of the house.
Lynn gasped and pointed as though at a fireworks display. “There are so many rooms!”
When Lynn saw the in-ground swimming pool in the backyard, she about fell over herself begging to go swimming.
Kimberly relented, and she and George sat out on the deck while Lynn paddled around in the heated water.
“Pretty warm for September, eh?” George had begun by way of conversation. He'd pulled up a folding chair and sat next to her.
They’d continued to make small talk for about 15 minutes while George watched his granddaughter with something akin to awe as she splashed about in the water.
He asked to know all about her. It was all Kimberly could do to not tell him everything that had been going on. The strange incidents had taken up so much of their lives that avoiding the subject seemed nearly impossible.
“So, how’s Mom?”
George’s face fell at the question, and he seemed to visibly sink into the deck chair. Grabbing a tissue from his front pocket, he dabbed at his nose.
“She’s not doing so well, Kim,” George told her, looking her in the eye for the first time since the day began.
Kimberly hadn’t dared try to speak around the lump in her throat.
“Is Paul coming?”
“Yes,” Kimberly told him. “He said he needs to get somebody to cover his practice, and then he’ll be up to see both of you.”
George nodded, stuffing the used tissue back into his pocket.
“I’m not sure how I feel about Lynn coming to the hospital with us,” Kimberly said. “I mean, of course I’ll take her, but I just don’t know about her going into the room.”
“Oh, it shouldn’t frighten her,” George said. “I mean, I know I said Mom’s bad, but she’s got a private room, she’s not hooked up to a bunch of tubes and monitors or anything like that, and, believe it or not…” George chuckled, "She still looks beautiful.”
An ironic smile had formed on Kimberly’s lips as she looked out toward the pool. Lynn looked so carefree and happy right now. She wanted her to stay like this. But she knew better now. Even when Lynn didn’t have an incident for a few days, there was always another one brewing somewhere in the recesses of her mind… or wherever they were coming from.
“Is she still insisting on putting on her makeup before you come into the room, the stubborn woman?” Kimberly asked, a touch of amusement in her voice.
Annette Cole had been one of the most beautiful women in Maine. When she was 18, she’d been crowned Miss Maine and had wanted to go on to compete for Miss America when a terrible bought of mononucleosis laid her up for months. Even during that time, she’d had insisted on putting on her makeup every time her boyfriend at the time, came to call on her.
In all the years she’d been married to George, she’d only let him see her without her makeup first thing in the morning before rushing off to do her hour-long beauty routine.
George nodded at Kimberly’s question. “Yes, believe it or not, she has a private nurse doing it for her.”
“When were you planning on taking a ride up there?”
“Whenever you and Lynn are ready,” George said. “I could fix you two some lunch and then we could head up. You can come in alone first, and if you feel it’s something Lynn can’t handle seeing, the nurses will be more than happy to look after her while we visit.”
Now, here at the fair, Lynn was putting a small, purple bottle into a goat’s mouth. Kimberly snapped a few pictures and marveled at how surreal the visit had been between Annette and Lynn.
Lynn hadn’t shown any signs of fear. All three of them had walked into the hospital together and the nurses had greeted them warmly, calling George by name. He'd made introductions, and they made small talk for a few moments before going in for their visit.
George had not been wrong in the way he’d described the set-up. The room looked more like a private suite at the Hilton than a hospital. Two soft, beige watercolors hung on the walls on either side of the full-sized bed and a fresh bouquet of flowers stood in a beautiful crystal vase atop the nightstand.
The woman lying on the bed looked peaceful, her platinum blonde hair piled neatly on top of her head, her ivory features accentuated by a touch of blush and eyeshadow.
Her eyes had fluttered open, and she smiled as she reached for George’s hand but stopped when she caught sight of Lynn.
She gave a sudden cry and Lynn drew back.
“Oh,” Annette breathed.
Kimberly was surprised to hear how frail her mother’s voice sounded.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Annette cooed, making an effort to smile. “You must be Lynn. You look so much like your mother.”
“I’m adopted,” Lynn said, looking up to beam at her mother, “but everybody says I look like her.”
“Well, I’m your grandmother,” Annette said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Lynn had walked over to the bed and taken her grandmother’s outstretched hand. They both squeezed.
Annette smiled. “You’re a beautiful little girl.”
George kissed his wife’s forehead and asked how she was feeling.
“Oh, they’ve got me on a lot of medication, so I’m not feeling much of anything right now.”
Annette's eyes floated upward from Lynn to her daughter, and she smiled. “You’re looking well.”
“Thank you, Mom,” Kimberly said, reaching down to give her mother a soft hug. “So are you.”
Lynn had seemed transfixed by Annette, letting her large gray eyes travel over the frail woman’s body over and over again. It wasn’t a rude stare. When Kimberly caught it, she’d found herself wondering what Lynn was looking for.
Annette seemed just as interested in her young grandchild. She continued to smile, the medication from the IV maintaining its soothing effect.
“You really are an angel,” Annette said.
George smiled and leaned closer to Kimberly.
“She’s kind of in and out of it most of the time now,” he explained, “They have her on a pretty high dosage of morphine.”
His words were like a fist closing around Kimberly’s heart.
“God, is it that bad?” Kimberly whispered back.
George’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he nodded, turning his attention back to his wife and granddaughter.
Lynn placed a hand on Annette’s abdomen, and the sudden look of despair on the child’s face stabbed Kimberly in the heart.
Before Kimberly could react to what she thought was a prelude to tears, Lynn smiled into Annette’s eyes and stepped back so she was leaning against her mother.
“Such an angel,” Annette repeated, slurring her words now, “She knows…”
As Annette drifted off to sleep, her family quietly left the room.
When she and Lynn had returned to the hotel that night, Lynn was having so much fun in this new environment, Kimberly refrained from asking Lynn the question that had been burning in her mind.
Could Lynn somehow see her grandmother's illness?
Watching Lynn now, the sunlight streaming in her hair, her eyes shining with happiness as she fed and stroked this little barnyard animal, she really did look like the angel Annette seemed to think she was.
“What else do you want to do?” Kimberly asked, noticing that the bottle of milk was almost gone.
“Oh, I could do this all day!” Lynn cried. “They’re so cute!”
Kimberly smiled and snapped a few more photos of the goats.
“You want to try out the Ferris wheel?” Kimberly asked, looking over to the other side of the fairgrounds.
“I thought you didn’t like heights,” Lynn said, setting the bottle down on the ground and reaching through the wooden slats to stroke the animal.
“Well, that doesn’t look too high, I think I can manage it. But just in case, will you hold my hand?”
Lynn laughed and pulled her mother toward the ride.
A few minutes later Kimberly’s stomach lurched as the ride jerked to a stop.
Why do they always have to stop these things at the top?
Swallowing her fear and forcing a smile, she looked over Lynn’s head at the fairgrounds below. The view was beautiful.
Kimberly pulled the Nikon out of her bag and took photos of the skyline just as the mid-afternoon sun came out from behind a cloud.
The smell of hot apple cider and fresh bales of hay mixed together on a light, almost-autumn breeze that had begun to stir.
The ride gave another stomach-squeezing lurch before starting up again.
Kimberly watched the people milling about. Parents with their children, elderly couples, brothers and sisters pushing and shoving each other toward rides, and farmers tending to the animals.
Kimberly stifled a laugh when she saw two teen girls decked out in all black with silver lip and nose rings.
A middle-aged couple in attire more suitable to a Sunday service then a day at the fair kept glancing behind them every once in the while, and Kimberly found herself wondering if they were the parents trying not to be seen with their sullen teens, or if the couple actually thought they were being stalked by modern-day witches.
From the expressions on their faces, she really couldn’t tell.
The two girls walked past the Ferris wheel as it looped around, and one of them looked into Kimberly’s lens as she snapped a photo.
The young woman was just about to raise her middle finger at Kimberly when Lynn’s voice drew her attention away from her unwilling subject. “Mommy, what’s that?”
Kimberly looked over to where Lynn was pointing. At the far end of the fairgrounds, away from all of the other fixtures, games, and rides, was a small, purple tent. The fabric fluttered in the slight breeze, causing it to shimmer like a mirage.
“I don’t know,” Kimberly said.
“Can we go see?” Lynn asked, turning in her seat.
“Sure, why not?”
She raised the camera, trying to get a closer look at the tent through her zoom lens. There was a sign next to the entrance to the tent, but from this distance, Kimberly couldn’t quite make out what it said.
The ride circled around two more times before they were let off. As soon as they stepped off the platform, Lynn began dragging her mother past the games and animal exhibits toward the lone purple tent.
“Lynn!” Kimberly cried with a laugh. “What are you so excited about?”
Lynn let go of her mother’s hand and broke into a run.
Kimberly didn’t bother to scold her. She had a clear line of sight, and there was nothing around for her to disappear behind.
A sudden silence made Kimberly stop. She frowned. The music that had been coming from the bandstand had become so quiet she’d thought the musicians had stopped. No, they were still playing. Oddly, Kimberly could no longer hear the bleat of animals, the squeals of children, or the hollers of the game attendants as clearly anymore. The sounds were still there, but they were muffled. It was as though Kimberly had not just stepped a few yards from the main event but was straining to hear the sounds of the fairgrounds from miles away.
“Mom!” Lynn cried.
Kimberly had been so absorbed in the sonic oddity that she'd bumped into Lynn.
“Sorry,” Kimberly said.
The sun had disappeared behind two more clouds and soft, ethereal rays of light peeked out once more. They touched the grass and widened, encircling Lynn as though nature was creating her own personal spotlight.
Lynn raised her hands to the sky and twirled.
Kimberly broke out into a grin and snapped several photos. The natural lighting was perfect.
Gradually, the clouds broke apart and the beam of the sun returned in its full glory, now illuminating the tent before them in fantastical colors of blue, purple, pink, and red. As Kimberly stared at them, transfixed, the colors seemed to overlap and shimmer as they moved in the breeze.
“Mommy, look at the sign!”
Lynn pointed to an old-fashioned wooden sign bedecked with sequins and glitter.
It read, ‘Psychic Readings with Madam Roberta’.
Kimberly wrinkled her nose.
“Oh, nothing,” Kimberly said.
“What’s a psychic?” Lynn asked, sounding out the word.
“That, my dear, is somebody who can tell the future.”
The answer came from the striking woman who had just stepped out from the shimmering tent as though she’d passed through the fabric gliding on air.
She was tall and thin, with blue-black hair and large, dark eyes the color of coal. She was dressed in a long, tiered emerald green skirt, with a long-sleeved fitted top in the same color. A black corset trimmed with emerald laces completed the ensemble.
Her smile was warm as her eyes scanned Lynn and her mother. “Hello, I’m Madam Roberta,” she said with a bow.
Kimberly smiled. “It’s nice to meet you. This is my daughter, Lynn, and I’m Kimberly.”
“Would you like to come in, or did you perhaps get lost looking for the bathroom?”
Roberta’s tone was light and playful despite the deep timbre of her voice. The corners of her mouth twitched as she spoke.
Lynn giggled as Roberta arched an eyebrow.
“Oh, you think that is funny, do you? It has happened twice already today. You should have seen the mess.”
Kimberly laughed. “No, actually we saw your tent hiding all the way out here and we decided to come out and visit.”
Kimberly laid a tender hand on her daughter’s shoulder and smiled down at her. “Well, Lynn decided.”
“Do come in, then.”
The tent was much larger on the inside than it looked from the outside.
“Everybody says that,” Roberta said, arranging herself behind her table and crystal ball.
Kimberly and Lynn both said this in unison and laughed.
“You and your daughter are very close, even though she is adopted.”
Kimberly’s eyes widened as she took a seat across from the psychic. She was struck by her bluntness. However, the woman’s tone and manner were so warm and inviting, Kimberly was not offended.
However, a sudden feeling of curiosity mixed with a feeling she could not yet name rooted her to the spot.
“So, who would like to have her fortune told first?” Roberta asked, looking from Lynn to her mother.
“I would!” Lynn cried.
Roberta's gazed flitted to Kimberly for confirmation.
Kimberly shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
“Well, let me gaze into my crystal ball, then.”
Roberta made some showy hand gestures and glared at the orb before her such intensity that for a moment, Kimberly feared the glass would crack.
Lynn was pursing her lips together to keep from laughing but burst into another fit of giggles as Roberta’s glance flashed onto the her, her eyes narrowing into mock-angry slits.
“Hush now, child, I must commune with the spirit world.”
She dragged out the word ‘commune’ so long it was comical, and the word “world” seemed to have somehow lost its “r” behind the psychic’s brightly painted lips.
This is great. Kimberly thought with amusement. She really gets into the act.
“Now, is there anything you wish to know, Lynn?”
Lynn raised her eyes to the ceiling for a moment and thought. “Well…”
“Are you really psychic?” Lynn asked, her face suddenly seriousness. “And, can you only tell the future, if you are?”
“Hmmm.” Roberta’s tone was thoughtful. “I can read the past, present, and future, and yes, I am really a psychic. Why do you think they stick me all the way out here? They’re afraid I’ll cast a spell on the animals.”
Roberta’s face peeked out from behind the crystal ball and she winked one large, glitter-painted eye at Lynn.
“Oh…” Lynn said with an awed smile. “Well, then I’d like to know something about… the present, then. Or, maybe it’s the past. But it keeps happening.”
Kimberly’s heart jumped into her throat when she realized where Lynn was heading with her question. “Oh, um.”
Roberta gave Lynn a long stare. “You’ve been thinking of an animal. You’re wondering if you’re going to get a kitten.”
Lynn’s face brightened into a smile. “Yeah! How did you know that?”
Kimberly laughed with relief at the skillful change of subject.
“I know all. I see all,” was Roberta’s mysterious reply.
The woman gazed once more into her crystal ball, but Kimberly noticed that her gaze was going through the orb. In fact, it was very intense and entirely focused on Lynn.
“You will get that kitten,” Roberta promised, leaning away from the crystal ball. “And you will get a surprise very soon. You’re a very creative little girl, Lynn. You can do anything, you know.”
A black cat hopped up onto the table, causing both mother and daughter to jump.
“That’s Velvet,” Roberta said, reaching to stroke the animal.
The lithe cat padded around the table and then hopped down, staring up at Lynn with luminous green eyes.
“Hello,” Lynn cooed, reaching out to pet the animal. “Is it a he or a she?”
“Velvet is a girl,” Roberta said.
“She’s beautiful,” Lynn breathed as the slim feline darted off outside.
“You can play with her if you’d like,” Roberta offered. “She never wanders far from the tent. She doesn’t like the other animals.”
“Can I, Mom?” Lynn asked, already half off the chair.
Kimberly could see the cat had stopped just outside the door. It plopped down and was now grooming itself in the sunlight.
“Sure, sweetie. Just stay where I can see you, okay? Stay in the doorway.”
Lynn was outside before her mother had even finished getting the words out of her mouth.
Wasn’t that odd? They’d just been discussing cats when--
“Kimberly.” Roberta’s voice burst into her thoughts.
When she turned to face the woman behind the crystal ball, an icy chill shot up her spine. Roberta's dark eyes were no longer warm and jovial, they were wide and almost frantic.
“What is it?” Kimberly asked, her throat going dry.
Roberta’s stare was unnerving. The two votive candles perched on either side of the crystal ball had gone from flickering and dancing to small and unwavering, as though somebody had frightened two small children into submission.
“There is something I need to tell you that I didn’t want to say in front of Lynn.”
The woman’s already husky voice had deepened even further as she stared at Kimberly.
“What is it?” Kimberly repeated.
“Your daughter’s soul is twinned,” Roberta said. “She has been suffering from something terrible these past few months. She is plagued.”
“How… How do you know this?” Kimberly stammered.
“It is what I see. She is being… observed by a presence, something that is very much like her.”
“What do you mean?” Kimberly asked, her heart hammering in her chest. She gripped the edge of the round table, the tremor in her hands causing the crystal orb to vibrate. “Does this mean she is possessed or haunted?”
The woman winced as though struck with a sudden headache. She closed her eyes, and her brow furrowed in concentration.
When Roberta spoke again, her voice was a whisper. “I cannot see what the presence is, but it is getting stronger.”
How did this woman know all of these things?
“What can I do?”
Roberta’s gaze once again leveled on Kimberly, and the two women stared into each other’s eyes. “Listen to her.”
In that moment, Lynn carried Velvet back inside the tent. The cat squirmed out of Lynn’s arms and landed soundlessly on her feet.
“Listen to her!” Roberta hissed.
“Mommy?” Lynn glanced from Kimberly to the psychic and frowned, sensing something amiss.
The bleak feeling immediately left the tent as though it had never been there. When Kimberly glanced at the table, the candle flames were moving in their former carefree dance.
Velvet brushed against Kimberly’s leg before disappearing under the table.
“Your life will be beautiful again,” Roberta’s tone was lighter now. “After all, it is only once we have gone through darkness that can we find the light.”