Friday, 29 October 2010

Chapter Ten

They left Wells Gate behind, passing through Camberwell, and eventually found themselves in Brixton.  Black people and white people jostled for space on the wet pavement, hurrying through the rain towards their homes or somewhere dry.  Rastafarians and business men and mothers with prams were huddled together under the entrance of the tube station; talking, laughing, sulking and smoking cigarettes. 
     Jamie glanced at the Ritzy Cinema as they drove past, a place where Stokes often took her to see independent films. 
     She loved the multicultural, electric vibe of Brixton.  She always felt safe and enthusiastic walking these streets with Stokes.  Here, nobody gave her a second glance when she walked arm in arm with a black boy.  That wasn’t always the case in Wells Gate, where some of the mostly middle-class population didn’t seem to live in the twenty-first century.  But Jamie didn’t feel safe or enthusiastic right now.  All of London would have felt like a hunting-ground.
     A few minutes later, Ryan Caller parked the Mercedes in front of a shabby-looking terraced house on Effra Road.  The paint was peeling and flaking, more grey with dirt than white.  The tiny front garden was overgrown with weeds and a broken television nestled amongst them.
     “Who lives here?” asked Stokes, his eyes roving over the face of the building.
     “A woman named Vivian Locke, a spiritualist medium.”  Ryan grimaced at what he was saying.  “She helped me out a few years ago.  She’s got a doctorate in psychology, like me, but she gave it all up to become a medium.  She’s very smart but I always thought she was a little ridiculous.  I thought I knew about the unseen world, but apparently she was way ahead of me…”
     As they got out of the car Jamie noticed a silver pentagram hanging in the front window of the house.  She knew from reading about magic that it was a powerful symbol, that people in the occult used it as protection.
     Stokes slipped his hand into hers, gripping it.  She looked at him and tried to smile.  The rain was slowing down now, but the skies overhead were still dark and moody.
     “I pray that she’s home,” muttered Ryan as he led the two teenagers to the front door.
     When he pressed the doorbell, an electronic version of the famous Swan Lake started playing.  Ryan Caller wasn’t amused enough to laugh.
     They waited.  The door finally opened and Jamie was taken aback.  She hadn’t really known what to expect.  Stokes glanced at her, looking just as off-balance.
     The woman was in a wheelchair.  She was white, in her late twenties or early thirties, dressed in a black evening-gown, with blood-red dreadlocks that fell to her cleavage, framing a strangely beautiful face.  She had a nose-ring that made her look sultry and exotic.  The overall effect was striking.  She grinned when she recognised Jamie’s dad.
     “Dr Caller, I haven’t spoken to you in ages…”  The woman sounded posh, but Jamie could sense warmth and humility in her eyes.
     “Dr Locke,” Ryan nodded in response, “May we come in?  It’s an emergency…”
     The woman immediately rolled her wheelchair backwards into the corridor, peering at him with a concerned expression.  “Of course, Ryan.  Please, call me Viv.  I’m not a practising psychologist anymore, you know that.”
     The three of them stepped into the woman’s home.
     The inside of the house was cloaked in semidarkness.  Candles burned in stained-glass votives on the staircase, and Jamie could detect the lingering smell of sandlewood inscence. 
     They followed the woman as she expertly swivelled her wheelchair and rolled her way into the living-room.  More candles burned in this room.  There was a widescreen television and stacks of DVDs on the floor.  Jamie recognised a scene from the Disney movie Aladdin – the blue genie was whirling around the screen with masses of comical energy.  Vivian Locke almost blushed, and stabbed a remote control at the television.  The screen blinked off.
     “One of my favourite movies,” she muttered, seeming almost girlish in her embarrassment.  Jamie realised that she already liked this woman, and she sensed a genuine ability in her.  Maybe she would be able to help them somehow.
     “Sit, sit,” the woman added, ushering them onto the sofa.  The three of them were forced to sit in a row. 
     Jamie felt awkward facing this interesting woman who might be their only hope.  She still couldn’t believe any of this was really happening.
     “You experienced something, didn’t you?”  She peered at Jamie’s dad, who nodded.
     He didn’t bother with small talk.  He launched straight into the story, telling her everything.  Vivian Locke just sat and listened with kind, worried eyes.
     When he was done, he added, “I don’t know what to do, Viv.  Do you realise that everything I’ve been researching since I was an undergraduate…I didn’t really believe it until now?  I tried to ignore the stuff you used to say about magic, I thought it was naïve. I should never have doubted you.  I’m scared for my kids…”
     Ryan’s words made Stokes glance at him, but he turned away before Ryan could see how touched he was by those words.
     Vivian nodded and pulled a hair-band from her wrist, tying back her blood-red dreadlocks.  “Let me feel this key you mentioned, ok?”
     Ryan handed her the mysterious key, and she flinched violently when she grasped it.  Her eyes flew as wide as coins.  A million different thoughts seemed to swarm across her face, and finally she peered at them with fear.
     “This key is a vortex, my guides are confirming it for me.”  Her eyes darted back and forth as she tried to think.  “There’s more energy in this thing than a nuclear bomb.”
     What?” Ryan spat in disbelief.
     “Dr Caller, listen to me, you could level an entire continent with this thing.  I’ve never felt anything as powerful in all my mediumship.  This key is an apport of some kind.  Someone manifested it from the other side, someone very, very powerful…”
     Jamie’s dad did the smart thing and swallowed his disbelief.  “Ok, ok, can you connect with spirit to find out who created that thing?  I don’t know how much time we have, Viv.  I have to protect Marcus and Jamie, but I’ve got to know what we’re dealing with…”
     Vivian Locke closed her eyes, the key buried in her fist.  “My guides are giving me two words.  ‘Finch’, like the bird.  And… ‘Labyrinth’.  Oh, Ryan, it’s bad.  It’s really, really bad…”
     When the woman opened her eyes again she stared at Jamie and Stokes.  Suddenly she burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably in the wheelchair.    
                     

Chapter Nine

They sat amidst the carnage of the lounge, confused and scared, and Jamie began to wonder if something bad had happened to her father.  She was about to call his mobile phone from the landline when she heard his Mercedes pulling into the driveway.  Her heart opened with relief and she jumped up from the mutilated sofa, racing to the door.
     The front and right side of Dad’s car was dented and badly scraped.  One of the headlights had been shattered in some sort of collision.  The open feeling in her chest was replaced with a squeezing sensation. 
     This was getting worse and worse. 
     Stokes came up behind her as Ryan Caller stepped from the car, with eyes like a hunted fox.
     “Get back in the house!” he barked at his daughter, and he bolted towards them.  He bundled them back through the door and slammed it behind him. 
     He pressed his eyes shut and held back a sob.  Jamie had never seen her father like this before.  Her heart squeezed tighter in her chest.
     “Dad, you’re scaring me…”
     He took a deep, harsh breath, like he was almost choking.  “Someone tried to run me into the path of a bus, Jamie.  This white jeep pulls up alongside me on the main road, and the guy behind the wheel is wearing a suit.  Had the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen, just casually broadsides me…sent me into the opposite lane of traffic.  I must’ve missed the bus by half a second.  It clips me and spins me up onto the pavement and into a phone box.  I nearly crushed a poor mother with her little boy…”
     Jamie lunged forward and hugged him, the only thing she could think to do. 
     When her father opened his eyes again he peered at Stokes, who said, “I think I saw that guy.  He was watching me in the psychology department at USL.  He must’ve followed you.”
     Jamie peered up at her dad’s face, still embracing him.  He stroked her hair almost unconsciously.  “Oh, honey, you were right…what the hell was Isobel involved in…?”
     “They trashed the house,” Jamie said, with no other way to say it.
     Had someone just tried to kill her father?  She peered at Stokes who could only stare back in quiet panic.
     They marched into the lounge and Ryan Caller saw the devastation.  “Oh, guys, this is really deep…”
     Jamie didn’t feel like her ‘senses’ were of any use right now but she said, “I think he wanted to scare you, Dad.  I think he could’ve easily killed you if he wanted.”
     Her father grasped that this was true, but he was badly shaken and he muttered, “Either way, we’re not staying here.  We need some help figuring this out.” 
     He looked and saw the vomit in a sticky puddle on the floor, and Jamie realised her dad suddenly understood something. 
     He turned and fixed her with one of his don’t-argue-with-me expressions, a look that had chilled even Megan Caller in the old days.  He tried to hold back the anger he was feeling. 
     “Jamie, you need to tell me everything.  You’re hiding things from me.  I can’t keep us safe if I don’t know the truth.”
     He glanced at Stokes who had to look away.  “I’ll get some stuff from my study, if it’s still there, and then the three of us are leaving.”
     Jamie watched her father hurry into the hallway and heard the sound of him pounding up the stairs towards his study. 
     Stokes pressed his face into his hands.  “This is not happening,” she heard him mumble. 
     In her jeans pocket, the mysterious key was throbbing and buzzing against her thigh.
       
The rain swished and hissed as it hit the moving car, as it spiked the road ahead.  To Jamie they were dangerous sounds. 
     Her father sat behind the wheel of the battered green Mercedes, occasionally glancing at her in the passenger seat.  Stokes sat quietly in the back.  Jamie didn’t know where they were heading.  Her dad was driving close to the speed limit, but not over.  She guessed he didn’t want to get stopped by a police car, which might happen anyway with their busted headlight.  She’d already assumed that going to the police was out of the question. 
     She told him everything she knew.  She felt so guilty, and silently she cursed herself.  She should have told him from the start.
     With one hand on the wheel Ryan Caller held the mysterious key in his fist, shaking his head in frightened disbelief. 
     “It has power.  I’ve never held anything like this in my hands before.  Dear God in Heaven…”  He glanced at Stokes in the rear-view mirror.  “You pulled this from Isobel’s throat?”
     Stokes nodded.  “But she was talking.  She asked Jamie to help her.  She was talking and then she was dying in my arms…”
     In the passenger seat, Jamie was holding a stack of her father’s files and his laptop case on her knees.  She didn’t know what to say to him.  He’d nearly died because she kept the key to herself.  She wanted to melt away.  The Mercedes continued weaving through the Wells Gate traffic.
     “Maddeline Finch mentioned black magic?  She said this key was some kind of magical fire?  A portal?  Are you sure she said these things?”
     “Dad…”
     Jamie could see her father was more afraid than he’d ever been, yet his brilliant mind was working quickly behind his clear blue eyes.
     “If any of this is true, then we are in the middle of something very serious.  I mean, we would have to be talking about…an occult conspiracy.  Powerful men with a lot of money and influence.”
     It was Stokes who suddenly made the two of them silent.  “Ryan, you’ve been looking for proof of spiritual things all your life.  I think you’re holding that proof in your hand right now.  Don’t you think?”
     Ryan Caller glanced in the rear-view mirror again. 
     Mum had never been interested in the strange bond, but Jamie and Stokes had been inseparable for the past ten years.  Mum had always treated Stokes like he didn’t really exist, but at her funeral it was Stokes who delivered the most beautiful eulogy.  Jamie hoped that her dad knew that Stokes would sacrifice his life to protect her.  If something terrible happened, Dad wouldn’t be losing just one of his children.
     Right now she wanted him to be the capable father, the genius who would keep them both safe and make everything better. 
     “Where are we going?” she asked him finally.
     He grit his teeth and said, “To see someone I worked with once.  She believes in all this magic stuff, good and bad.  She was always a little too eccentric for me, but now…I think maybe she was a lot smarter than I realised back then.  If she can’t help us figure this out then I don’t know what to do…”
     Jamie guiltily clasped the files and laptop, as they hopefully headed towards a place of understanding.  She knew that the bad thing was still unfolding.   

Chapter Eight

They sat together on the top deck of the bus, wet and uncomfortable, watching ribbons of rain on the front windows obscuring their view of the road ahead.  Only a few other passengers were on the bus with them, despite the rain outside.  Neither Jamie or Stokes had said anything to one another.  They were heading back in the direction of Jamie’s house.  She could feel the waves of quiet panic coming from her best friend.
     “Stokes, please don’t go all silent on me,” she pleaded softly, “I need you.”
     “What the hell do you want me to say?” he asked harshly.  Jamie cringed at the anger in his voice.  It was so out of character for him.  She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d had an argument. 
     But she knew why he was so afraid.  It was because of the man he’d seen watching him in the halls of USL, as well as the weird atmosphere around them that seemed to be getting thicker by the hour. 
     Stokes was afraid that there was some truth to what Maddeline Finch had told them.  He wasn’t a fool, or the type of guy to ignore what was staring him in the face.
     “Partner,” he relented quietly, “I’m really scared for both of us, but mostly for you.  When I saw you lying in front of that car…it was only a few hours ago, but it feels like days.  I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
     “I don’t want to get hurt either,” Jamie told him.  The way she said it made him smile.  He nodded, forcing himself to take a deep breath. 
     “Ok, I need to keep it together,” he admitted.  Tiny beads of rainwater glistened on his dark, handsome face.  He put his arm around her shoulder, and for a little while Jamie was comforted.

They hurried down Elmwood Road, through the heavy rain that turned the streets into mirrored surfaces.  Parts of the grey sky were darkening to the colour of lead, and Jamie wondered if there might be a storm later tonight.  Spooky weather – that was all she needed to push her over the edge. 
     As they approached the front of her house, Jamie sensed immediately that something was wrong.  She grimaced and rubbed her forehead.  Another sick feeling flooded her body, all the way to her fingers and toes.  Suddenly she wanted to run away from everything and never come back.  She cursed herself.  Damn it, she should have known better.  Something was just getting started, and it was not going to stop.
     From the outside the house looked perfectly fine, but she knew it wasn’t.  She grabbed her friend’s arm and they froze in the driveway.  She realised her dad’s car wasn’t parked beside them.  He still wasn’t back from work.  The rain poured down on them from above.
     “What is it?” asked Stokes.  He knew that she was sensing something.  They’d been friends since they were five years old.  He’d grown accustomed to Jamie’s strangely accurate ‘feelings’.  Despite his natural scepticism, he trusted them.
     “Something’s not right,” was all she could say.
     “Then to hell with this, Jamie.  Let’s not go inside.  Let’s go straight to the police instead.  I don’t want to find somebody in there waiting to gun us down in cold blood.”
     “I’m not running,” she said, trying to sound braver than she felt.  She blinked the water from her eyes and stepped under the awning, out of the rain.  The door was already ajar.  Someone had been inside the house.  Maybe Stokes was right, perhaps they were still in there.  It wasn’t the wet clothes that chilled Jamie so completely.
     She heard Stokes say, “Man, I’m not liking this one bit.” 
     Despite his concern, she pushed open the door and stepped into the house.  She took a few steps and then paused, straining to hear movement from somewhere upstairs.  But the place felt as still as a tomb.  When they finally wandered into the lounge, Jamie realised why she’d sensed something.
     The whole room had been trashed. 
     Someone had gone through the cabinets and had scattered papers, ripped paintings off the walls, pulled books from their shelves, and slashed the sofa cushions wide open so that white clouds of stuffing littered the floor, drifting with the slightest movement around their feet.
     “Somebody went psycho on this place,” Stokes muttered.    
     Jamie felt sick at the violation of her home, her safe place, but she said, “I bet the whole house is like this.”
     She dreaded to think what had been done to her own room and her father’s study.       
     “They were looking for the key,” said Stokes, “Right?” 
     Jamie was so cold inside now.  Somehow, seeing her home gutted like this made everything seem far too real.  It wasn’t a mystery anymore.  It wasn’t just something she could solve like an amatuer detective.  It was a genuine threat that might snatch their lives away.  
     Before she knew exactly what was happening, Jamie was doubled over and puking last night’s pizza all over the hardwood floor.  She realised Stokes was suddenly at her side, holding her hair out of the way while her stomach clutched, heaved and rejected its contents. 
     When it was over she stood upright, embarrassed but relieved, holding her belly for comfort.  Stokes frowned and leaned forward, wiping a trickle of vomit from her mouth with the cuff of his jacket.
     “You okay, partner?”
     She nodded.  She couldn’t afford to break down right now.  Not now, not here.
     She murmured pointlessly to herself, “Why is this happening?  What did I do…?”  

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Chapter Seven

When the strange nurse told them that Maddeline Finch had her own room, they half expected it to resemble a prison cell.  Instead it was surprisingly ordinary. 
     It was a small white room, with a hospital bed covered in a patchwork quilt.  Bedside cabinets were scattered with eyeliner, lipstick and foundation products.  There was a bookcase beneath a massive barred window that flooded the room with grey light.  A portable CD player on the floor was playing trip-hop music that had African voices and drums in its melody. 
     Maddeline Finch was sitting on the bed, her back to the door.  She had hair the colour of night, but neither Jamie nor Stokes could see the girl’s face.
     “Thanks Carla,” they heard her say to the nurse, without turning to look at them.  “I’ll be fine.  You can leave us alone for a few minutes.”
     The nurse slipped out of the door and closed it behind her.
     “This is all very painful,” the girl said.  “But you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”  Finally she turned round on the bed.  Her eyes were a little bloodshot and heavily ringed with eyeshadow.  Jamie realised how pale and thin the girl was.  She looked like a goth who was wasting away, except she was simply dressed in jeans and a white camisole.  Maddeline Finch smiled at Jamie.
     “They’ve got the fire in their hands now,” she told her.  “It’s never good when powerful men get a hold of fire.  They end up burning everything alive.”
     “Fire?” asked Jamie, unnerved by the girl’s words.  “I don’t know what you mean.”
     The girl just chuckled.  “Magic fire.  They killed my mum to get their hands on it.  She tried to stop them, but…you can’t really stop powerful men.  Only in the movies.”
     Stokes was staring at the girl.  He said curtly, “The police think your mum committed suicide this morning.  Are you saying they’re wrong?”
     “Yes,” the girl replied simply, looking Stokes up and down.  “Aren’t you a handsome boy.  Jamie’s a very lucky girl.  Some girls are a lot less fortunate.”
     Jamie frowned and tried a different approach.  “Maddy, will you help us?”
     A look of sadness flickered across the girl’s face.  “I don’t think I can.”     
     Jamie slowly approached the girl and sat down beside her on the bed.  When she glanced at Stokes she saw that the wall behind him was covered with newspaper articles and pages torn from magazines.  Stokes glanced over his shoulder and saw what his friend was looking at.  Some of the articles on the walls seemed to describe murders and accidents, but others seemed to be taken from science journals and essays on literature.
     As Jamie peered at the collection she asked, “What is all that, Maddy?” 
     Maddeline Finch smiled again.  “It’s just me trying to understand the world we’re living in.  Everything in reality is connected, you know.  Science is connected to magic, words are connected to images, a butterfly beating its wings is connected to a murder or a disaster halfway around the world.  The key is trying to figure out how.”
     Jamie suddenly remembered the mysterious key that Stokes had found, and dug it from her pocket.  It was still buzzing and vibrating, stronger than ever.  Maddeline Finch pulled back slightly when she saw it.  Tears welled in her eyes and began rolling in black trickles through her eye-shadow and down her face.
     “Your Mum tried to swallow this,” Jamie told her.  “Why?  It has power.  Is someone looking for this key?”
     The girl nodded, a strange look of pride in her expression.  “I didn’t think Mum would get that far.  Didn’t think she’d get her hands on a portal.  I’m surprised.  It feels nice to be surprised, but…you need to get rid of it.  Bad things are going to happen.”
     “A portal?  Tell us who’s looking for this key!” Stokes demanded suddenly.
     Maddeline Finch laughed uneasily.  “Very bad men.  Black Magicians.  One of them is my father.”
     Jamie was terrified now.  Her senses were flaring like a beacon inside her skull, and suddenly she didn’t want to be there anymore.  “Your father?  Are you serious?”
     The girl just said, “Look around you.  I’ve got no reason to lie.”
     “Did you tell this to the police?” Stokes asked with sarcasm.
     The girl burst into fits of weird laughter, peering at Stokes as though he were making a very funny joke.  “What good would that do?” she grinned at him.  “Everyone already thinks I’m insane.  Most people don’t even believe in an afterlife, so how could I get them to believe in things like black magic?  Do you think the police wastes their precious time listening to crazy teenage girls?”
     Jamie said, “Wait, wait…when you say black magicians, what do you mean exactly?  You think these men worship evil?  That’s a movie-world, that’s not real life.”
     Maddeline Finch stared at her and the grin disappeared.  “What do you know about real life, little girl?”
     Jamie felt the mocking in her words and squirmed inside.  This girl was apparently only a year older than her, but her eyes looked ancient.  Even though Stokes was in the room with her, Jamie felt very alone.  The sound of African drums and chanting came softly from the CD player on the floor. 
     “Maddy, I’m just trying to understand why this is happening to me…”
     The girl’s expression softened.  “You have the gift of inner vision but it’s happening to all of us, not just you.  It’s just that you can see what most people can’t.  They’re gonna make you pay for that vision.  Like they did with me.”
     “Help me.  Tell me what I should do,” Jamie almost whispered.  She’d never been more afraid than she was now, even when the unstoppable cancer was eating its way through her Mum’s insides.
     Maddeline Finch sighed.  “If I knew how to help anyone, I wouldn’t be stuck in this place.  I’m a loser.  I’ve always been a loser, and I’m going to die a loser.  I can’t help you.”
     Jamie glanced at Stokes.  He had his eyes squeezed shut, perhaps in fear.
     “Do you believe in monsters, Jamie?” the girl asked, turning away.
     “No, I don’t.”
     The girl nodded and muttered, “Then you’re in deep trouble.”

Chapter Six

Stokes was looking particularly unnerved when they stepped out of USL’s main entrance.  It had finally started to rain, a light spatter of diamond-like droplets on the pavement.  Jamie sighed and pulled the hood over her head.  Her body still ached.
     As they walked briskly down the street, Stokes said, “Listen, partner, I don’t want to scare you, but there was someone watching me while you were talking to your dad.  This guy in a suit standing at the end of the corridor.  He had the most piercing eyes I’ve ever seen, just watching me.  Then he walked away, like he wanted me to know.  I didn’t see where he went.  I really don’t think he worked at the university.  I think he’s connected to all this, which means somebody knows every move we’re making.”
     Jamie stared at him as they walked.  She knew he wasn’t making it up, even though it sounded paranoid and creepy.  Stokes had never been too fond of authority, and he’d always been amused or intriuged by conspiracy theories and stuff like that.  Even the idea of UFO’s and aliens wasn’t too far-fetched for his hungry imagination.  But he was also the most perceptive boy she had known in her young life.  He wasn’t one to invent crazy stories like this.
     “Sinister guys in suits at the end of hallways.  That’s just great.  Did this man have an ID card clipped to him?”
     Stokes nodded, fear in his expression.  “That doesn’t mean he was supposed to be there, Jamie.  ID’s can be faked.  I could just feel that he didn’t belong there.”
     “I believe you,” Jamie assured him.  “I almost feel like I’m dreaming, you know?  Everything feels surreal.”
     “It’s because we’re afraid.  There’s some kind of presence around us.  This isn’t kids stuff, whatever’s going on.  I think we’re in way over our heads.”
     The rain began to fall a little heavier around them.  They picked up the pace.
     Jamie took her friend’s hand and gripped it.  “I need to know what’s unfolding here,” she told him plainly.  “I’m tired of denying what’s inside me.  So, for now I have to look at all this as a big mystery.  And mysteries demand to be solved.” 
     Jamie could still sense his unease.  She took a deep breath and started telling him what she’d learned about Isobel and Maddeline Finch.  

Asking directions from sullen people in the rain, they eventually found their way to the Ensler psychiatric-unit, hidden within a residential area on Dascus Road, about twenty minutes walk from the university. 
     It was still raining when they got there, and they were soaked.  The building was partially contained by tall iron railings.  It didn’t look particularly gothic or menacing like the asylums in Hollywood movies, despite the rain and grey skies.  Yet the quiet atmosphere of the place was still unsettling to Jamie.  She had left a hospital only a few hours ago, and here she was outside another. 
     The main entrance was a clinical, brightly-lit space.  Jamie shook the rainwater from her hair and asked one of the staff about their visiting procedures.  She gave Maddeline Finch’s name and waited as the clerk checked his flat-screen computer terminal. 
     With a flush of paranoia Jamie thought they might be stopped from visiting the girl, but the clerk nodded as though it were business as usual.  He directed them to a wing that was called the ‘Children’s Care Facility’, on the opposite side of the building. 
     It was strange walking around the outside of this place, wondering at the kinds of people that must be inside.  All the people here were damaged or different in some way.  Jamie wondered if any of them were able to get better.  Perhaps she herself might have ended up in a place like this, under different circumstances.
     The Children’s Care Facility was totally different from what Jamie or Stokes had been expecting.  The reception area was painted in pleasing shades of sky blue and sunrise yellow.  There were small rainbows and cloud designs on the walls.  The place looked sophisticated and innocent at the same time.
     There was a fat, attractive nurse at the desk, watching them both as they surveyed the decor.  The woman looked like a supermodel who had put on far too much weight, but who still couldn’t disguise her natural beauty.  She had quick, playful eyes and Jamie noticed a vague smile on her lips.
     “Not what you were expecting?” the nurse asked them.  Jamie shook her head.  “Well, we have a range of kids here from ten to seventeen years old.  We try to create an environment that fosters a sense of general mental health.”
     They approached the desk and Jamie was about to speak when the nurse added, “I don’t want to alarm you, but are you someone called Janey or Jamie?”
     Jamie froze, her mouth half open to speak.  Stokes shifted nervously on his heels. Jamie could only nod at the fat, beautiful nurse.
     “It’s just that we have a patient here – Maddy Finch.  She was certain that someone called Janey or Jamie was going to show up today.  I don’t know how she could have guessed.”  The vague smile didn’t leave the woman’s lips.
     Jamie glanced fearfully at Stokes and then back at the nurse.  “We wanted to visit her, as soon as possible, if that’s ok?  It’s kind of an emergency.  It concerns her mother…”
     The nurse’s playful expression seemed to evaporate.  “Oh, Maddy already knows about that.  A policeman turned up this morning.  She’s a tough little cookie.  I think she’ll definitely want to see you.”             

Chapter Five

They took a bus towards the University of South London, sitting in frightened silence.  Jamie could feel the mysterious key buzzing against her thigh as it lay nestled in her jeans pocket.  She wasn’t going to avoid whatever was happening.  She needed Dad's help to try to understand it. 
     The security-guard at USL’s main reception knew Jamie from previous visits, so he gave her and Stokes two visitors passes that they clipped to their jackets. 
     It had been Ryan Caller’s enthusiasm that helped create the new 'psychology' department, a specially designed clinical wing, but there were only a few people around on a Saturday.  The halls were mostly empty.
     Luckily, Dad was in his office.  They saw him through the window in the door, his eyes in his laptop. 
     He looked surprised when he turned at the sound of Jamie’s knocking and saw her outside.  He must have seen the purple bruise that covered half her face.  He got up quickly and opened the door.
   Oh, Jamie,” he said with a look of concern, glancing quickly at Stokes and then back at his battered daughter.  Dad and Stokes had always been very close.  Jamie often thought they had an almost telepathic connection.  A lot of the time they didn’t need words to communicate.
     “I’ll wait outside,” Stokes murmured and wandered casually back down the hall.
     Jamie hurried into the office and sat in the leather chair opposite the desk.  She sighed and muttered, “It looks worse than it is.  Don’t get freaked out, ok?”
      Her dad pulled up a wooden chair and sat right next to her, taking her hand.  “Tell me what happened to you.”  He could already sense that something else had occurred besides the bruise on her face, something much stranger. 
     She told him almost everything – the naked bleeding woman in the canal, getting clipped by the car, waking up in St Francis Hospital, everything except the mysterious key that Stokes had found.  She wasn’t ready to tell anyone about that yet, not even her father, not until she had some answers herself.  Ryan Caller listened to the whole thing with an uneasy mixture of fear and interest.
     “Wow, I’m just glad you’re not too badly hurt,” he said, leaning forward and kissing her good cheek.  “But you did the right thing trying to help this woman.  Let me see your phone.” 
     She removed the charred mobile and handed it to him.  His eyes widened a little. 
     “Dad, Stokes said that he overheard the police say this woman's name.  Isobel Finch.”
     A look of disbelief crossed her dad’s face.  That look quickly became one of fear.  “Oh, Isobel, no…”
     “She’s someone you work with, isn’t she?” 
     He nodded and pressed his hands to his eyes, maybe to stop himself from crying.  He sighed and stared at Jamie again.  “She worked in the department until about four months ago.  She got fired.  I can’t believe it…”
     Jamie felt a desire for the truth collecting steadily inside her.  “Who is she, Dad?  Tell me everything.  I need to know.”
     Ryan Caller simply nodded, perhaps realising he should have paid more attention to his daughter’s obvious gifts.  He knew his daughter was special, different from most children.  He’d known it soon after she was born.  He hadn’t wanted to turn her into a test-subject, but he didn’t want to ignore it either.  If he couldn’t protect her from it, he could at least arm her with knowledge and courage.
     “Isobel Finch worked on lots of quiet projects with the department.  ESP, mostly.  She was quite a brilliant researcher, used to be a psychoanalyst for the Army.  Last year she brought her daughter into one of our experiments.  She thought that Maddeline had some kind of psychic potential.  I think she did, but…it all went wrong.”
     Jamie was getting cold just listening to this story.  “What happened?’
     “Maddeline Finch was only a year older than you.  Maybe the environment was too restrictive or something, but…basically she went crazy.  She attacked one of the technicians…stabbed him in the hand with a pen.  Screaming about evil spirits and all sorts of things…” 
     Jamie could see that her dad was frightened.   “It could have been a lot worse, honey.  They could have shut us down, but Maddy ended up being hospitalised.  I don’t think Isobel ever got over it.  After that she lost her motivation at work, she became erratic.  Eventually the faculty fired her.  That was back in August, I think.  Didn’t hear from her since.”
     Jamie didn’t want to believe what she was hearing, but she did believe.  “Isobel knew my name.  Did you tell her about me?”  He nodded.  “But that doesn’t explain why I happened to walk past at the moment she decides to strip naked and slash herself with a razor.  Plus she was bleeding from between her legs, like she was on her period or something…”
     Ryan Caller looked deeply at his daughter.  “When we tested Maddy, she would sometimes spontaneously get her period.  It was embarrassing for her, and it frightened some of the technicians.  We never did explain it.  Maybe Isobel had some kind of precognitive ability like her daughter.  Maybe she passed it down to Maddy on a genetic level.  Oh, Jamie…you knew this was coming, didn’t you?  Why couldn’t you tell me what you were sensing?”
     Jamie frowned.  “I thought I was being stupid.  Sometimes I wonder if I can really sense those things.  Maybe I just wanted to be special…”
     In a whisper her father told her what she already knew.  “You are special. You can’t run from it.  It’s who you are.  I tried to explain that to Megan, but she didn’t want to know…”
     They both went quiet at the mention of Jamie’s Mum.  A heaviness descended in the office around them. 
     “Dad, do you know where this Maddedline Finch is now?  I think I need to meet her, talk with her.”
     Ryan Caller pursed his lips like he was deciding something.  “The last I heard, she was a patient at the Ensler psychiatric-unit.”
     Jamie shot up from her chair and marched to the door.  She glanced back at her father.
     “Stokes will take me.  I need to see her, Dad.  I’ll meet you at home when I’m done.  Don’t try to stop me.  I’m not going to run away this time.  If I’d trusted my intuition, maybe the doctors could’ve got to Mum’s cancer before it was too late.”
     Dad looked anguished, hesitant.  “Wait, honey, that wasn’t your fault…”
     Jamie held back the tears.  “I’m not running away this time.”

Chapter Four

It wasn’t Café Rio but the place was quiet and almost empty.  They sat at a table near the windows, away from two builders in fluorescent yellow jackets who were tucking into plates of egg and chips.  Stokes went and ordered some coffee and sandwiches.  Jamie just sat in achy confusion until he returned.  He sat across the table from her and sighed deeply again.
     “This has been one strange morning,” she muttered, and thought she might start to cry.  Why was she crying?  So she got clipped by a moving car, so what?  Stokes was the one who had to feel the naked woman bleeding and dying in his arms.
     “What happened to her?” she wondered out loud.
     Stokes leaned back in his chair and grimaced.  “Before you got hit, I was down in the water with her and I thought she wasn’t breathing – so I checked her mouth.  She had something…something lodged in her throat.”  Tears were welling in his eyes now.  “I pulled this out of her throat, Jamie.”
     He reached across the table and shoved something into her hand, closing her fingers around it.  Whatever it was, it was vibrating and buzzing in her grasp like something electrified.  She opened her hand and stared down at an old iron key.  Even with her open hand it felt like the key might leap up off her palm and start clicking around on the floor like it was alive.
     It was unearthly, and Jamie got chills again.
     “It’s powerful, isn’t it?” Stokes said bluntly.   “I mean, it feels like there’s some real energy in that thing.  Something is happening here…”
     Jamie was still reeling from the buzzing sensation the key was giving off.  She murmured, “How…how could she call out to me when she had this…thing lodged in her throat?”
     Stokes looked afraid but she could tell that he was trying hard to keep it together.
     “I don’t know how, Jamie.  This is more your territory, right?  But I know that key is spooky.  Everything about this is spooky.  I’m not a fool.”
     Jamie remembered trying to dial an ambulance when she was standing beside the canal.  “My phone, Stokes, it started smoking in my hand.  It got so hot I had to drop it.”
     He nodded.  “I found it when I got up there.” 
     He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved her blackened mobile, dropping it on the tabletop.  The phone was cooked.
     Stokes said, “I don’t know if she did it on purpose, or what, but that woman somehow caused your phone to destroy itself.”
     Suddenly Jamie had a sense of the implications of what they were saying.  Something completely beyond the normal order of things was beginning to happen.  She had felt it in the air all week, especially since last night and her dream of teeth like knives. She’d thought she was being childish. 
     “Jamie, do you think this is some kind of…dark magic?”  The words came out of her friend so slowly, like he was afraid that saying it would somehow make it true.     
     “I need to speak with Dad,” Jamie blurted suddenly, now genuinely terrified.
       Stokes nodded with wide haunted eyes.  “There’s something else I have to tell you.  The policeman I spoke to, he said this woman did it to herself.  They found her clothes and her bag caught in some weeds further up the canal.  I heard him tell another guy her name was Isobel Finch.  They said she stripped out of her clothes and cut herself up with a razorblade.  God only knows why.  Jamie, apparently this woman worked at USL.  That’s where your Dad works.”
     Jamie felt like she was carrying around icy slush in her belly.  She said, “I really need to talk to Dad.”