The phone rang.
Emily’s younger brother, Tyler was hiding in the basement. Dad was outside cutting the grass because Tyler was hiding in the basement. Mom was outside talking to the neighbor to avoid any serious work in the garden. All was right with the world, Emily thought. She could get a short nap if the phone would just stop ringing. She had not been sleeping well. Too many nightmares about Pierce.
The phone rang.
She loved Pierce, as much as she ever loved anyone. She did not care if he was a genetically engineered super soldier, or what. She loved him and he loved her, and that was enough. Life was good, but then he got activated. He was ordered to kill every student at New Jersey State University. She died when she killed him. It felt like stabbing a knife into her own heart.
The phone rang.
Emily did not want to be one of the elect anymore. She did not want to be one in a million. She did not want to be the woman warrior, empowered to defend home and community. Whoever came up with that idea could stuff it. Lisa said she was as strong as any man with an uncanny ability to fight with or without weapons. She was hard to injure, quick to heal, coordinated, agile, graceful… Emily just wanted to be Emily, not some freakish superhero.
The phone rang.
Okay, back at New Jersey State in Trenton, Detective Lisa and Latasha, a high school sophomore, were also elect. That made three women warriors in one little city. The odds against that were astronomical, but at least for Emily it was nice not being the only one in town. At that moment, what felt more important was she would not feel too guilty about abandoning the city if she decided not to go back to school.
The phone rang.
How could she go back? She would see Pierce everywhere she looked. That was what her dreams were telling her. That was what her nightmares were vividly pointing out. Stay home. There are good nursing schools in Ohio. But, “Damn it!” She promised Pierce she would go back and finish at New Jersey State. She promised that right before she killed him.
The phone rang and someone had the nerve to pick it up.
“Emily!” It was Mom. Emily tumbled off the couch and walked grumpily to the kitchen. “I think it is one of your friends from college.” Mom smiled and held out the phone.
Emily nodded. “Hello?”
“Emily! Are you all right? I have been worried sick about you.” It was Amina, her own personal Sybil.
“You’re the seer,” Emily had no patience at the moment. “You’re the one who sees things no one else can see. You tell me.”
“The dreams. You have been having terrible nightmares.”
Emily sighed. She had not told anyone about her dreams. The girl could truly see things. Amina was a bit of a freak herself. “Yes, I’ve been having dreams, but I think it is just my subconscious trying to talk some sense into me.”
“No, you must not listen. It isn’t you dreaming.”
Emily paused before she asked, “What do you mean?”
“You are being attacked. I have discussed it with Mindy. She is looking for possible causes, what it might be that is attacking you.”
Emily swallowed. “Attacked?” If that was true, her attacker knew just where she was weak and vulnerable. It was preying on her guilt and broken heart over Pierce and telling her not to go back to school in Trenton.
“We are coming. We will all be there on Saturday. Melissa is finishing her summer classes and working on a spell of protection. Jessica is anxious to find what it is and is harping on poor Mindy to identify it. Maria will meet them at Newark airport. She says she has been researching in her pharmacology books and may have something to help you sleep without remembering your dreams.
“Mindy will come up from Colombia, and I will come down from Chicago.”
“Your father is letting you go? I thought he was going to keep you under lock and key until you were twenty-one and married.” Amina was born in Chicago, but her family was from Morocco and strict beyond reason.
There was a pause this time on the other end before Amina spoke. “My family knows I have the gift. I told them it was a matter of life and death.”
“And is it? A matter of life and death, I mean.”
This time the pause stretched out into an uncomfortable silence and Emily felt the chills of that silence in the back of her neck. “I told my father I am going to go on a date this year,” Amina said. “Meanwhile, we will all be there Saturday. Please tell your mother not to make a fuss.”
“That will be like telling water not to be wet.”
“Try to rest, only don’t listen to your dreams, my queen.”
Amina hung up, and Emily griped. Being elect made her some kind of Amazon queen to these women. That was why at times they referred to Amina as the Sybil—the seer—and Amina referred to Emily as her queen. Emily shook her head. Despite the terribly prejudiced point of view, Emily’s picture of an Amazon was some big, weight-lifting, man hating woman with a moustache. She could not help thinking that way, and that was so not her. She went back to her couch.
“Oh, honey. Don’t you have to go to work today?” Emily’s mother began to dust around her.
“No,” Emily said. “A day without French fries is like a day with sunshine. By the way, Jessica, Melissa, Maria, Mindy and Amina are all coming here for a visit. They will be here Saturday, and Amina said don’t make a fuss.”
Emily’s mother quickly calculated and looked at the clock on the mantle. “I just have time to get some new bedding.” She whipped off her gardening hat as she walked briskly to the basement door. She shouted down the stairs. “Tyler, as long as you are down there, pull out the bed from the convertible.”
Emily heard Tyler shout back. “Is Aunt Matilda and the freak parade coming?” Mother shut the door without answering. She picked up her purse, paused by the mirror in the front hall and left. Emily lay back on the couch and thought, at last! Now she could get that nap, only now she could not get her eyes to close. The dreams were bad enough when she thought they were her own, but the idea that someone or something was getting into her head and attacking her in her sleep made the chill return to the back of her neck. The worst part of it was, given all she had seen and been through last year—her freshman year at New Jersey State, she did not doubt for one second that such a thing was possible. Heck, if Amina said it, it was a virtual certainty, in which case she imagined she might never sleep again.
Dad had to go into work Saturday morning. The overtime was good, but that meant he could not pick up the girls. Mom was too busy making beds, putting out flowers and checking the cookie supply to drive. Emily was going to have to do it herself, but even as she got in the car, her manager called.
“I know you need the week off for police work. You know me, cooperating with the police is my first choice, but I need you. Can you come in for the morning shift? Paul and Debbie both called out, but Alesandra will be in at two. Please?”
What could Emily do? As tired as she was, she needed the money. Besides, she was not too sure about navigating the airport traffic lanes in her current condition. Flipping burgers or running a register designed for idiots should not be a problem. She called officer Marion. The woman was instrumental in setting up department seven in the Columbus police force to help her stop an outbreak of vampires last Christmas. At times, she felt like Emily’s own shadow, and Emily thought it was only fair to give the woman something to do.
“Where is Emily?” Maria asked. They had a half-hour wait for Amina to arrive from Chicago.
“Called in to work,” Mindy answered. She had gotten there an hour earlier and spent most of that time sipping her latte, going in and out of the bathroom, fiddling with her long red hair and not talking. She heard about the vampires, but offered little in return.
“Gee, Detective Lisa never offered us a ride in a police van,” Jessica said.
“I talked to your detective friend,” Marion said. “She seemed to think if you are all gathering here, there must be something going on.”
“She is a detective.” Jessica shrugged it off. “Naturally suspicious.”
“So am I.” Marion treated them to coffee and tea and then made them sit in a quiet corner. “As I explained to Mindy, Captain Parker set up department seven last Christmas to help Emily and Anna Lee with the vampires.”
“Anna Lee?” Melissa looked at her friends.
“Elect from New York City,” Maria explained quietly and Melissa nodded.
“Now, whenever Emily is in town, my job is to keep an eye on her.” Marion hardly took a breath. “I heard some of what you did at school last year. I am sure you can still probably surprise me about things that a year ago I would have said are not real and you are mad, but I need to know what is going on or I won’t be of any use. Besides, Lieutenant Anthony does not like surprises, so talk.” The women looked at each other, but said nothing.
“Which one of you is in charge when Emily is not around?” Marion tried again.
Melissa and Mindy spoke together. “Jessica.” But Jessica spoke otherwise.
Maria shook her head. “I am going to be a doctor. The doctor is never in charge.” She turned to Officer Marion. “Jessica,” she said, emphatically.
“I don’t want to be in charge,” Jessica protested.
“That is just what Emily says,” Maria responded.
“Hey!” Marion regained their attention. “So Jessica, what is going on.” Jessica just looked at Mindy who nodded to the look and finally opened up.
“I’ve narrowed it down to either ghouls or a bogyman. According to my reading, though, it seems to me ghouls affect the vision and daydreams more than regular dreams. Bogymen are the ones who turn night dreams into nightmares.”
“Bogyman. Like Nightmare on Elm Street if you ever saw that movie,” Mindy responded. From the look on Marion’s face it appeared she had seen the movie. “Emily is having bad dreams,” Mindy offered.
Marion took a deep breath and her imagination almost took over. She thought it wise to turn to Maria and change the subject. “So you are going to medical school?”
“I haven’t applied yet. I’m only a sophomore. We all are, but that is the plan.” Maria sipped her coffee.
“And you are in charge when Emily is absent?”
“Apparently,” Jessica said with a frown. “And despite the fact that I am the blonde one.”
“You are going into ROTC with Emily,” Maria pointed out. “You are going to be an officer. And besides, you are the business major,” as if that had anything to do with it.
“Antiquities,” Mindy interrupted and offered her own major. “The research information in Columbia is slim, but did you know New Jersey State has one of the biggest collections of old books, parchments, scrolls including papyrus and fragments in North America. There are clay tablets at the school from Byblos, Nineveh, Babylon, and dating all the way back to Sumeria. It is all such fascinating stuff. Professor Papadopoulos—.”
“I am sure it is fascinating,” Jessica interrupted and Mindy quieted.
“And what about you?” Officer Marion turned to Melissa who had said only that one peep to Maria about the Chinese woman from New York. “What is your part in all of this?”
Melissa spoke quietly and in a very shy and unassuming manner. “I’m the witch.”
Marion widened her eyes for a second before she appeared to shrug with those eyes. “Did you think maybe a witch is giving Emily the nightmares?”
Jessica shook her head. “Amina said whatever it is, it isn’t human.”
“The one we are waiting for,” Maria spoke up.
“Our seer,” Jessica said.
“Our Sybil,” Mindy said.
“Amazon term,” Mindy explained. “Amina says we are Emily’s Amazon tribe since she is…special.” Jessica stared at her again.
“We think of it more like a club,” Maria said. “You could be like an affiliate member.”
“Amazons,” Marion mused as the announcement blared over the speakers that Amina’s plane was at the gate. Marion wanted to see this so-called seer, and while she waited she changed her mind. Life still had plenty of stuff that could surprise her.
Amina had short cropped hair that cupped her face nicely and set off her deep set dark eyes. Her hair was black, like Emily, but her skin looked extremely well-tanned, like she spent every day in the tanning salon. When she got close and began to hug each girl in turn, Marion realized that this was the girl’s natural skin color.
Amina hugged Marion too, though they had never met, and she spoke. “My family came here from Morocco. I am glad the others explained things to you. That saves me a lot of trouble.”
Marion turned to Jessica as they left the airport. “Your seer?”
“Sybil,” Jessica nodded. “It’s her job.”