Saranne

Here is an excerpt from a book I am writing. Any suggestions or thoughts are welcome. Thanks, and Blessed Be
 
Sarrane
 
1.
Someone comes she winced to herself with the thought. She shuddered as a pain, sharp as a blade began in her belly just under her breastbone. Lighting a tea candle, she placed it in the oil burner. Adding some lavender oil and rose petals, she sighed. Help me Brigid and Airmid, Apollo and Askeptelis she prayed to herself as a soft knock at the door gave proof to her intuition. Shaking her head, she made her way to the foyer. Opening the door to the extent of the chain, she peered out to see a man, tall, a shadow of a beard, a nose straight and sharp, eyes of a hazel green, and lips were drawn into a grimace. His hair was cut neatly short, a dark brown with more than a sprinkling of gray showing. He wore a black Pinstripe suit, white shirt,a striking red tie, and well-shined black shoes. A black limo parked in the drive, the driver standing beside it looking around. A patient that she’d never seen before, yet a patient he was. Her pain was not her own, but that of the man before her. Always a choice she muttered. “Excuse me?” he cocked his head. She unlocked the door chain, “Well, Come in, or go away.” she groused. He drew his brows together into a scowl, then nodded his head, and stepped inside. With a quick glance out the door to be sure no others were around. She shut the door.
“Saranne? The healer? The man asked. She nodded.
“Pain here” she pointed to her own belly, and nausea, some vomiting, and the pain goes between your shoulder blades?” She looked at him waiting. He nodded his head.
“How did you know? Did some…”
Saranne cut him off, “No one told me. No one visits unless they are in need. Sit down, sir.” gesturing toward the sofa. “I’ll not ask how you found your way here, it only matters that you are here, now and that you are in need.”
“I’ve not even told you my name,” he sputtered.
She turned away a second, taking a deep breath. “Forgive me for being so brusque,” she said. “You… You just don’t really know what it is you are asking me. But, do sit, I’m going to prepare some tea while you tell me what you will.” She walked thru the door into the kitchen, a rather small room, with a table and 2 chairs, a chipped porcelain sink, a few saucers and a bowl in the drainer. A white refrigerator with several small magnets and notes covering the door. Barely glancing at the bright yellow curtains over the sky-blue trimmed window above the sink, she walked over, lighting an eye on the stove, she poured water into the old blue and white kettle to boil. Sitting out 2 cups, she opened her cupboard and chose a few herbs. Some she placed in one cup, and others she added to the other.
“I am Charles Cannon,” his voice came from the den. “I’ve heard you can help people when Doctors and Hospitals cannot. You see, I’ve got Pancreatic Cancer, They say I’ve only a month or so to live. I… I’ve three young children, and a beautiful wife at home, and I’m not ready to leave them with no one to look after them.”
Saranne winced again as the pain and a wave of nausea struck her again. Pouring the water into both cups, she set them both on a tray, took some cream from the refrigerator, and set some honey onto the tray as well. Carrying it into the den and setting it down on the coffee table. She eased herself into a chair, and looked at him for a moment as he clasped his hands together, fingers interwoven. “Well, Mr, Charles Cannon, I can help you, but you still don’t know what exactly you ask. I… Feel your pain, I feel all of it, I feel your worry, your anger, your stress. Know this. Know it well, and just ask yourself what you can feel obligated to pay or do in return. She leaned toward him, nudging a china cup toward him. “Add Cream and honey as you like, the herbs can be a bit bitter,” she said.
He looked up again, meeting her eye. “What is it?” he asked worriedly.
“For yours, Valerian and Chamomile, For myself, there are other herbs. Gods know I’ll need them” her voice trailed off to a soft murmur.
“Umm” he started, then nodded, and added some honey to his cup.
Looking up from the cup, he saw she was no longer sitting, but was standing and looking down at a small corner cabinet filled with many figurines and decorative plates and photos. She was rather young, he thought, almost as tall as most of the men he knew. Her hair was red tinted brown, twisted into a loose bun at the base of her neck. Wearing a long green dress that came to just above her ankles, and sandals made of hemp, he thought. No jewelry that he could see. As if she felt his eyes on her, she turned quickly and began to walk quickly toward him, her right hand raised over her head, her left toward him. He drew back, unsure.
“Don’t,” she said, urging him to sit still. She closed her eyes as she reached down to him. Her hand was cool as she placed it first on his forehead, then lowering it to over his heart, then over his stomach. She shuddered each time she touched, him. She murmured words that he was unable to understand, but he felt that is was a prayer. A tingling sensation rose and fell over him, followed by a warmth. Turning away quickly she staggered back to the chair and sat down, fell down almost, and pulled her legs up into the chair, held her arms across her breast, and rocked for a minute. Strangely, he no longer felt the pain he’d been living with for the past few weeks. Nor could he feel the pain from his shoulder from when he had a torn rotator cuff that had never completely healed after surgery. Hands trembling at what he had just experienced, he picked up his cup, and took a sip, watching Saranne over the rim.
“Mr. Cannon”, she rasped, her voice hoarse as if she had been screaming at a concert, “please, hand me my cup, I dare not move now. I’m barely containing it, the pain, the sickness.” He quickly grabbed the cup, and stood, leaning over to hand it to her…she was shaking her head, and her eyes were closed tightly.
He hesitated as she did not reach or the cup. “Ma’am?” You’ll have to hold the cup to my lips she whispered . I cannot hold the cup myself. Holding it to her lips, she sipped and seemed to be forcing it down. It did smell rather vile and was a muddy color as well, he saw. ‘I don’t really want to know do I’ he thought.
“No, you don’t.” She said answering his own thought. “But, you are well now. Please, leave me, please. I need rest and solitude. Go see your doctor, let them prove what has happened, Go be with your family, and cherish them. Follow your heart’s guidance.” Saranne said, taking her cup, and took another drink, emptying her cup with a grimace. As he left, she stood slowly, and stumbled to the door, and locked it behind him. Then turned and staggered back to her bedroom, and fell into her bed, curling up into a fetal position, and cried as the pains continued in arm and shoulder, and strangely, her womb.
Hours later, she awakened, feeling better. She held her hand up, pointing up toward the ceiling, and drew a design in the air above her. “Thank you, Gods, Thank you Goddesses.” Getting up from her bed, she went back to the den and stared at the cup that the man had drunken his tea in. She could see much of his past in her mind’s eye. Like most humans, not all was very complimentary, nor was all bad. She also had a feeling that she would be seeing him again.
A week later, Senator Charles Cannon, sat on the exam table stripped down to his briefs, and a hospital gown. The doctor was scratching his head and reading the lab and CT reports. “I just don’t understand this, I guess we made a mistake on the diagnosis before. But I’ll be damned if I know how.”
Charles grinned. “My shoulder feels better too. And you yourself said that the prostate was smaller. So, Yeah, Miracles do happen.” He chuckled.
“Miracle indeed! You have the best vital signs and labs I’ve seen in a while. Perfectly healthy as far as I can see. But how?”
“That, sadly, I’m not at liberty to say. I’m not fully sure myself. I do intend to find out.” He hopped down from the table and began dressing. “I feel great, though, and that, my friend, is a wonderful feeling. But, I need to go, My family and I are going out to eat and go see a movie or something.”
“Well, okay. And stay safe.” The doctor said, then started to read the report again, shaking his head.
Charles hummed softly to himself as he went out to the car, getting in he looked into his rear-view mirror. You are one lucky sonuvabitch he thought. Now, what, how can I ever repay that girl for whatever it was she did. Backing his car out, he drove home to see his family, not for the last time.
2.
 
Saranne sat outside on a bench in her garden, enjoying the sunshine. It was a grand day, the weather not too hot, nor too chilly. Birds sang, a gentle breeze blowing her hair. A black and white Tomcat rubbed against her leg, and she obliged him, reaching down to scratch him behind his ears, and down his spine. He began purring in contentment. After letting her pet him for a few minutes, he took off to chase some butterflies around the garden. Fickle, just like a man, she giggled at him. He stopped and looked over his shoulder and gave her the slow wink. “I love you, too,” she said. She leaned her head back, and closed her eyes, watching the patterns of light and dark as the leaves overhead moved in the breeze casting their shadows across her lids. She opened her eyes when she felt a light touch on her cheek. Laying in her lap was a black feather. Its’ glossy smooth perfection was not lost on her. Picking it up by the quill, she looked up and saw no bird in the branches of the old oak tree. Yes, mother, I’m listening. She closed her eyes again and began concentrating on her breathing, letting go of any errant thoughts as they came. Soon, she found herself in an old growth forest. She walked along the path before her in the pale light of a waxing gibbous moon. Coming to a crossroad she sat down in her vision, waiting for the appearance of the Divine. Moments later, a shimmering light began to coalesce before her, taking shape of a woman of indeterminate age, and glowing with a radiance greater than a full moon on a clear night. Her gown swayed in a breeze that was not felt. Her translucence faded as she became more solid.
“Child of the Earth, sweet child, I have heard your cry, I have tasted your tears. I have heard your laughter, and I know your soul.”
Saranne bowed her head, “I only desire to help, but Mother, it hurts so much.”
“I know, but you have a gift. It comes from my consort and I. You do well, child. But you hide away from the world. You seek to avoid the path we have put you on. You have a calling that must be followed. The man you recently healed will have need of you again. You must listen to your heart in this, and do what is right. You have more power than you realize.”
Saranne looked up to meet her eyes. “My shielding from having shared pain of others is not strong enough, Mother Goddess, I cannot go out into crowded places. It’s why I had to leave the hospital, and seek refuge in this cabin. Well away from others. I know it is you that sends people to me for healing, but, Mother, can you not ease my pain? Must I always be alone in this world, this life? Or shall I always be filled with all of this, humanity’s pain and sickness?” She sobbed.
“No, my blessed child. You will have love again. You will find peace. Only have faith, and accept your destiny. There are two paths before you that you see. Know that there is a hidden middle path, that only comes from seeking me. You tread that path even as we speak. You will know the way.” As the woman spoke, there beside her was a male figure with horns like those of a deer. He smiled at Saranne.
“Strength on your journey I grant. A strength of character, strength to bear that which must be borne.” He held the female beside him by the waist. They smiled at each other, then turned to look back at Saranne. “Time for you to awaken, child. Return now to the physical realm.”
 
Saranne opened her eyes and sighed. “Yes, Mother Earth and Father Sky.” Rising from her chair, she walked to the screened back door, twirling the feather around between her thumb and finger. “I shall be the obedient daughter.” Opening the screen door, she laughed as her cat ran between her legs into the kitchen. “Silly boy.”
She walked to the sink and set the feather down on the window sill. She washed her hands, and drying them on a towel, she sat at the table. Tapping her finger on her lips, she wondered what was soon to happen. The Divine Powers above were not to be easily dismissed. Saranne knew it only too well.
She thought back to when she was a new nurse, her first assignment. The elderly woman had a stage four decubitus ulcer on her sacrum that tunneled through her buttocks. Slough and bone were visible as she removed the dressing. The CNA helping hold her over made a face. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad, Saranne agreed. She gasped as she felt a pain in her own buttocks, the CNA looked up at her with concern, “What’s Wrong?” she asked. She wasn’t seeing what Saranne was, that being the wound on her patient quickly filling in and healing. As it healed, Saranne’s pain was increasing until she felt she could no longer stand. Soon, some healthy pink skin was showing on her patient’s buttocks. Saranne sank to her knees, then fell over onto her side as consciousness left her.
She woke up as a Paramedic was starting an IV on her. She knew that he was upset, she understood, somehow, that his wife had just left him after many years of marriage. He got the IV started, and looked at her and smiled. “It’s odd, but somehow I just had a wave of happiness hit me. Anyway, I need to remove your pants. I need to see where all that blood came from.”
“What blood?” she asked.
“We were called by one of your nursing assistants that you fell, and there was a lot of blood noticed on your scrubs. I need to see the wound.” He helped her roll over to her left, and pulled the scrub pants down to expose her butt and hip. “That’s odd” he said.
What? My butt is odd?” she quipped.
“Umm, no, just, there is nothing wrong. I can’t find where that blood on your clothes came from.” He frowned thinking, and let her roll back over on her back. “Are you feeling anything?” Are you on your period?
“No” she answered the last question first. “Nothing wrong that I can tell,” she said, not mentioning her instinct about his marital problem, or his emotion that had washed through her. “I am not hurting or anything.”
“I think we should take you on to the ER to get checked out, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed.
Hours later, she walked out of the ER, wondering how she was going to pay the bill. She didn’t have any insurance yet, since she was still on her probationary period at work, not to mention a few thousand dollars in debt from college. There was also that memory of pain, and seeing another person’s wound completely heal in only a few moments. She had always been sensitive to the emotions of people around her.
She had always found it easy to relate to other people’s problems. But, to actually feel physical pain? The doctor’s had found nothing wrong, but while he was telling her, she knew suddenly that he was having a headache and heartburn. When he shook her hand, she felt both the heartburn and the headache. Damned strange she thought. Especially that both problems resolved before she could even say anything to him.
She sat down at the picnic table of the lawn of the hospital and lit a cigarette. Come on girl, get it together, and solve this puzzle. As she sat there, trying to reason it out, a black feather gently floated down and landed on her hand. Looking up, she saw a large Raven sitting, looking down at her with one eye. It seemed to wink at her, then launched itself and flew into the afternoon sky without a sound but the flutter of its’ wings. Her cell phone dinged, a text message from her supervisor, ‘Go home, rest, we’ll talk tomorrow.’ Great way to spend the first day on the job. I guess it’ll be my last too. She shook her head at the thought.
On the bus, she felt inundated, as if everyone was screaming their anger, their fear, their worries, and sadness. One young girl felt happiness, and Saranne tried to hold onto that feeling, but it slipped from her mind’s grasp. A young man behind her was nervous about a date he had made with someone he’d met the night before. The elderly black man was feeling a backache. The driver was angry about another driver that had gotten a promotion when he’d been there longer. She closed her eyes tight, trying to shut it all out. She felt like screaming herself. She practically ran off the bus at her stop, glad to be away from the feelings. She leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. Tears forming. Remembering the neighborhood where she was, she opened her eyes, and quickly walked to her apartment, glad to be home at last. She collapsed onto her sofa and cried herself to sleep.
She woke up later that evening to the sound of a Raven’s cry. She wondered if it was the same one that she saw outside the hospital. “I’m going crazy, that’s what it is. I’m full-on schizophrenic, hearing voices and shit.” She reached into her purse to get another cigarette and found the feather from earlier. Well, well. Hmm, either this delusion is still happening, or this is a real feather, and I’m not totally batshit crazy. The Raven cried again. A knock on her door broke her train of thought, and she went to answer it. No one was there, the hallway was deserted. At her feet was an envelope with her name in a fancy script. Inside, was money, a lot of money. It was more than her student loans, and her monthly bills combined. What the?!?
Setting the envelope on the table, she sat and tried to reason out what was going on. Should she report this to the police? Lost money? But, no, it had her name on it. She held up one of the one hundred dollar bills and looked. Not counterfeit as best as she could tell. She kept trying to think it through as she cooked some Ramen noodles for her supper. Keep it? Try to find where, who it came from? Her mind kept going in circles, the patient, the ER Doctor, the Medic, The people on the bus, the money, and as much as she needed. How did the person know how much she needed? Did she still have a job?
She sat at the table, eating, looking at the envelope. She shrugged her shoulders and mentally shook her head. I guess, just sleep on it or now. No need in making myself sick, she thought. Which brought back the thoughts of all of the pains and the events of the day again. Looking at the half eaten bowl of noodles, she shoved it aside. Getting up, she went and took a long, hot and very much needed shower. She wrapped her hair in a towel, and applied moisturizer to her face, wrapped up in a terrycloth robe, and went back to the living room, settling on the couch with her legs folded up under her. She chewed on her lip, still trying to puzzle it through. Empathy, she thought, damn, empathy. The teachers had spoken of the difference in empathy and sympathy. Empathy actually FEELS the pain. But, didn’t I more than just feel it? Did I just imagine that decub healing, right before I passed out?
She fell asleep, still trying to make sense of the day. She saw a bright light before her, and a voice calling her name, softly. Mist swirled along the ground as she walked closer to the light. As she got closer, she saw an aged woman, that reminded her vaguely of her grandmother that died when she was very young. Her heart pounding in her chest, she felt a wave of warmth and love wash over her. She smiled as the woman smiled down at her.
The elderly woman sat down and patted the moss covered ground beside her.“Saranne, child, we’ve been waiting for you.” she heard in her head, but did not see the woman’s mouth move.
“Who are you?” Saranne asked.
“I am one of many, and we are all.” she heard again. “We’ve chosen you for a gift, child.” the woman spoke in her head again with a sparkle in her eye. “We are those that were, those that are, and those yet to be. We have been called by many names, and we’ve been here since before the worlds were created. Know that we care for each of our children, all of our creations. We are the air that you breathe, the water of life, the bone of earth, the warmth of the sun. Gods and Goddesses all.” The woman put her arm around Saranne’s shoulders.
As the words reverberated in her head, Saranne tried to think, and finally, simply asked, “Why?”
“As one of our own asked Job hundreds of your years ago, ‘Where were you when I created the world?’ ” the woman’s voice spoke. “ We’ve chosen you for something special. We give you a gift to use for your brothers and sisters of the earth. We give you a higher empathy, as you call it, one that not only feels, but absorbs that which harms another, but we also give you a way to heal yourself, quickly, much more quickly than others.”
“I don’t understand, I don’t want this!” Saranne cried, reaching forward pleading. “Take it back!”
“Child, we shall not take back this gift, but you always have a choice.” the woman said. “To serve or not. To give succor, or not. Know also, when you do give aid, then we shall also give aid, when you do not, neither shall we.” The woman’s voice became harsher. “To deny us, is to deny yourself.” her voice faded, waiting.
Tears came to Saranne’s eyes and ran down her cheeks. She nodded. “I think I understand” she whispered. She looked up, and was surprised to see that the woman was no longer old, but seemed to be only a few years older than she. And she was not alone. Hooves on hairy goat looking legs up to a man’s chest, and a man’s face with a beard trimmed to a point, smiling eyes, and small budding horns on his head. She gasped.
He laughed.It was a happy sound, that evoked a laugh in Saranne as well. “Child, you’re not alone, Like My Lady” he nodded his head to the woman beside him. “ We shall be around, and we will grant aid as we may. Go back, go home now, and rest. Don’t worry about your job or petty concerns about money. Consider the lilies of the valley.” He grinned, “We’ve taken care of that already.”
Saranne woke with a jolt. Her neck hurt somewhat from her awkward position where she had fallen asleep. The dream already starting to fade, with it, the aches and pains that she had felt.
She brushed her hair and went back to bed. She did not remember if she dreamed anymore that night.
The alarm clock woke her up, and she jumped up, the events of the day before a blur, dressing quickly, she went into the kitchen for some coffee, the half-eaten bowl of noodles sat next to a bulging envelope full of cash. She sat down quickly. Remembering what had happened. What she dreamed. “Oh…My…God!” she said. Her cell phone rang then, startling her.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Saranne,” she heard her supervisor’s voice. “I’m sorry, but…”
“Don’t bother coming in, right?” Saranne finished. She sighed as she heard the answer. The call ended, and she sat there for several minutes and was again startled by the phone ringing. She did not recognize the number, so she ignored it. Making a decision, she picked up the money, shoving it in her purse, and grabbed her keys. She left and walked to the bus stop. There was an elderly couple sitting on the bench also waiting. Saranne felt her heart begin to flutter as she came nearer. The old man looked up, squinting his eyes at her, then smiled. The old woman covered her mouth and coughed. Saranne backed away. From them.
The couple both looked at her, a concerned look on their faces. The man drew his eyebrows into a scowl. “We don’t bite, young lady, we used to be just like you. We all grow old!”
“Frank,” the woman put her hand on his arm. “I think it’s my cough, It’s getting worse. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll catch something.” He looked back to his wife and patted her hand where it rested on his arm.
Then looked back at Saranne. She has the heart failure, hon, we’re going to see the doctor. You can’t ‘catch it’” he smirked.
‘Or, can I?’, Saranne thought while remembering the day before. Then another thought, There’s always a choice. Taking a deep breath, gritting her teeth, dreading what she felt she must do, she walked back toward the couple. She held out her hand to Frank. “I’m sorry, sir, Ma’am.”
“It’s alright. I understand how people can get.” He took her hand.
Saranne gasped, her heart became irregular, racing and fluttering worse than before. She closed her eyes tight and waited as it finally slowed down, and became regular again. As if from far away, she heard the man and the woman speaking, concern in their voices.
“Are you okay, dear?” the woman’s quavering voice finally came through. Saranne nodded, opening her eyes to look at the man. He was also worried, fear on his face.
“Are you sick, child?” he asked. “You got so pale, and looked like you were going to fall.” He said as Saranne noticed he was holding her up.
“I’m fine” she stammered, not too sure herself. Then taking another deep breath, she reached over and placed her hand on the woman’s shoulder. Immediately, she felt her lungs filling with fluid, she coughed into her shirt sleeve, again feeling her heart pounding. Slowly, her breath evened out. Looking at the woman and Frank, in turn, she saw them staring at her. The woman looked stronger, and no longer was she wheezing. Frank pulled his hands back and reached for his wife. They held one another looking at Saranne. “Are you okay, Gladys?” he asked. She nodded to him, still looking at Saranne.
Saranne turned quickly and started walking away, even while seeing the bus approaching. Faster and faster she walked until she broke out into a run. She turned into the entrance of her apartment building and leaned against a wall. As she caught her breath. She thought about the dream. Not a dream, she decided. That means they were God and a Goddess as well. Another black feather floated down in front of her.
 
Her phone rang, breaking her train of thought. Again, she did not recognize the number, but this time, she answered.
“Hello? Saranne?”
“This is she. Who are you?”
“I’m Kristi, um, I’m a tech where you work. I was helping you yesterday?”
Saranne hesitated, “Yes, I remember you. Can I do something for you?”
“No ma’am, Nothing except..maybe we can meet and talk a little? I’m off work today?”
“Umm, okay, I guess. Where?”
“Do you know the coffee shop at Centennial Park?”
“Yeah, I know it. I can be there in, oh, around 9:30 this morning.” Saranne said. “Seems I have time on my hands today. I just need to stop by the bank.”
“Oh, did they fire you for yesterday?!?”
Saranne nodded, then said “Yeah, Great start in a career. Missing several hours of work on one’s first day.” She frowned. The dream echoed in her head, ‘Lilies of the Valley’.
“Yeah, bummer. I’m sorry.” Kristi said. “Look, if this is a bad time…”
“No, it’s okay. My curiosity is awake.” Saranne said. “I’ll meet you in a little while.” She said, ending the call. She saw the next bus coming. Steeling her courage, she climbed aboard. After making a deposit for $12,000, she took the next bus to Centennial Park, doing her best to try to ignore all the feelings that were bombarding her from everyone else. Breathing a sigh of relief, she walked across the freshly grown grass of the park, bought a cup of Cappuccino, seeing Kristi sitting at a picnic table nearby, she walked over and sat across from her. “Hi” she said. “Tell me something, are you sick or anything?”
“Nope, fit as a fiddle if shaped more like a cello,” Kristi laughed. Then held out her hand to Saranne.
Saranne looked at it for a minute, not sure if she dared take it. “I” she hesitated again, then took the hand. “Sorry, I seem to have gotten a phobia about touching people lately.”
“After yesterday, I can understand that.” Kristi came to the point quickly. “I think I may be able to help you. You need to learn to ground and shield,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” Saranne asked, letting go of Kristi’s hand. “Ground what? Carry around a shield like I’m some sort of knight in shining armor? Why did you want to meet?” she asked, looking Kristi in the eyes.
Kristi drew her eyebrows together, “I just want to help if I can. When I saw what happened yesterday, I knew.”
“Knew what?” Saranne snapped. “My life has just been turned upside-down, and shaken back and forth like a damned Etch-A-Sketch! And now, you are talking about some sort of.. of… I don’t know what!’
Kristi only smiled, leaning forward, “Some sort of Wiccen, meta-physical, psychobabble?” She offered.
Saranne gave her a double take and felt somehow that Kristi really meant, and believed that she could help.
Kristi nodded, “Yes, something like that.” She reached up to her neck and pulled a chain out, and there was a Pentagram, A 5 pointed star inside a circle.
“Um, Is that some sort of satanism stuff?” Saranne leaned back. Trying to distance herself from the other woman.
Kristi scowled for a moment, then relaxed her face, “No, This has nothing to do with Satan, we don’t even believe he exists. That is one of the Christian Gods. No, I’m Wiccen, I follow the Celtic Gods myself. Brigid? Cerridwen? Pan?” She looked for any hint of recognition on Saranne’s face. “Anyway, there are several pantheons, Like the Greek or Roman Gods and Goddesses.”
“You mean, like Apollo or Athena? Zeus?” Saranne asked, leaning forward again. She took a sip of her cappuccino looking over the rim to see if she was being pranked by Kristi. She really believes this stuff, Saranne decided as Kristi nodded her head, smiling. Setting her cup down, she took another breath. “Okay, you believe in some old myths. I can see that you really do. But how is that supposed to help me? Why would you want to help? She asked.
“There’s always a choice…” Kristi began, the words seemed to echo with the ones in the dream. “I was lead by the Spirit of the Divine to seek you out. I, um, got your phone number from your file on the Director’s desk. Sorry, But When my Goddess speaks, I listen. I Obey.” Kristin took another sip of her coffee. “Let me ask you, are you religious?” Saranne shook her head. “Okay, have you been seeing any particular animals or birds?”
“A raven” Saranne whispered. “And there are feathers dropped on or near me. Black, I think they came from the raven.” her voice still shaky.
“There you are then. Now I know for sure. Any dreams? Any other feelings you’ve picked up from others? Any other mysterious ailments to strike you, like, uh, yesterday with our patient?” Saranne nodded. “Do you meditate?” Saranne shook her head, too shook up by events to answer. “Empathy, itself, is both a blessing and a curse. Most empaths only feel, but it seems yours goes beyond that. You actually absorb the wounds, The sickness. Girl! That’s hell or you if you can’t shield. How can you stand being around anyone? I know, now, why you hesitated to take my hand. I can help you if you will. I can teach you how to protect yourself. And, maybe, how to talk to the Divine. Again, there’s always a choice.”
 
For weeks, Saranne and Kristi met one another frequently. Kristin was a witch, so she said, and Saranne believed it. She learned to visualize, and empower a field around herself, a bubble shield to keep other people’s illnesses and emotions out. To release unwanted or unused energies into the earth. Slowly, she came to believe in the Goddess. She began to learn about herbs and oils. How to cast a circle, speak with the Goddess, how to clear her mind to hear her call. Still, Shield or no, she was still being overwhelmed by being around people. She found that she ended up with enough money to buy the cabin she now lived in, only an hour’s walk from town, but surrounded by empty fields. Her student loan was paid in full. The hospital waived her bill. She was groomed to listen to her heart, and either go to see an unknown person or they would come to see her for healing. It hurt, oh how it hurt, but it was her choice. She did wish to help others, to end suffering. So, here she sat, at a worn ladder-back chair, at a table with a checkered oilcloth. Sipping tea. Wondering about that Mr. Charles Cannon, and what twist of fate he had to do with her. One thing she was sure of, She would do whatever was required.
3.
Charles sat in traffic on his way to work. It was always slow going getting in the gates of the Base. Every since 9/11, security was a bitch, but he wasn’t going to complain. He lost friends in the Pentagon. Being the Senator from Virginia, was an Honor, that he would not put aside. He may not agree with everything from the DoD, or from the President, but, he did his duty. Today, he was scheduled to fly to MCAS Cherry Point to see the new AV-8Cs in action. 10 billion dollars to have an upgraded Jet. Congress wanted it, The Marines deserved it. And he, by God, delivered it, and not before time. After getting past the gate, traffic thinned. He drove just under the speed limit of 30 mph. He slowed to a mere 10 mph as he started to drive past a company marching by. He nodded as the CO gave the orders and the troops went Eyes Right. He returned the Salute, proud of his Marines. Sempre Fi, he thought. He pulled into the parking lot outside the hanger. As he walked into the back door, a young Lance Corporal ran up, rendering a snappy salute. “Sir!’
Returning the salute, he said, “Yes, Lance Corporal?”
“There’s a VIP waiting to see you in the Colonel’s office, Sir.” he aid. “I was sent to wait for you and tell you your flight has been scrubbed, Sir.”
“Carry on, son,” Charles said. Turning down the hallway, and up a flight of stairs. He entered the CO’s office. “John?”
“Hey Charley,” the Secretary of Defense stood and offered his hand. “Sorry, I had to spring this on you and change your schedule like this. I know you were wanting to see your new jets.”
“I serve as you do, sir. What’s up?” Charles walked over to the coffee pot. Pouring the coffee, knowing it was going to be strong, it always was, and would probably be suitable for either an epoxy or fuel for his jets. He added some creamer and gave it a swirl. Turning back to John Aston, SecDef for the past two presidents, he waited.
“I need you to go on a special assignment. There’s a situation in Syria, again.”
“ So, what’s the mission?”
“The VP was taken hostage by some remnant of ISIL.”
Charles whistled. “Damn. When?”
“Last night around 0100. We’ve some Special Forces on the Ground that will coordinate with your Marines, I want you to go with them. There may be some diplomatic difficulties, and the POTUS and I thought you’d be best. Oh, and we’re sending the new AV-8Cs over for Air Cover and Support. Oh, I forgot, how is the Cancer?” John asked.
“Never better, it’s gone, completely,” Charles said. “In fact, I feel better than I have in years.”
“Wow! How?”
“I’m not sure how John, but it is gone now. When do we depart?”
“The Squadron is already en route. You’ll leave in the morning. Give my regards to your wife and kids.” John shook his hands and left.
Charles sat in the office for a few minutes thinking. Since when does a Senator go on assignment with combat troops? Something is very odd here. Well, since I have time I may as well go home, and pack. Taking a gulp of the coffee, yep, just as strong as he expected, he stood up and headed out of the office, The Colonel was waiting outside the door. “Stay safe, Charles,” Colonel Clarke murmured. Then he ducked into his office.
 
Driving home, Charles had a feeling, an intuition, hit him, and on impulse, he turned down the road he had only driven on once before today. What was that woman’s name, he mused. Sarah..no, Saranne, That’s it. Soon, he was pulling up at the front of the small cabin. He sat there a minute, wondering why he was here. He saw the curtain move, then the front door opened. There she stood. Wearing a floral print sundress, and sandals. Her hair still up in the loose bun. She looked at him, waiting. She gave the impression that he was expected. He mentally shrugged his shoulders and got out of the car. As he walked up, he noticed that, although she had a faint scowl, she did not have the look of pain she had when last they met. Nor, do I, he finished the thought. “Ms. Saranne?” He held out his hand.
She looked at his hand or a moment like it was a snake, then took it in hers. Her hand was calloused, and there was some dirt under the nails, and on her dress, as if she’d been working in the garden. A faint sheen of perspiration on her brow showed as well. Her grip was firm. “I apologize if I am interrupting?”
“Come in, Mr. Cannon,” she said with a musical lilt. “I’ve been rather expecting you, but I do not know the reason.” She looked up, her brown eyes meeting his hazel eyes. She had a secretive smile, he decided. And her eyes smile too. She was pretty, he noticed, where he had been ill before and hadn’t noticed. She seemed to be about mid-twenties, and slim, not thin. Her skin was clear, with only faint crow’s feet near her eyes. Deep eyes, Knowing eyes. She turned away, and led him back into the den, and sat down, indicating that he should as well. He did. “I’ll be leaving with you?” she asked suddenly.
“If you will,” he said sitting. “We’ll be going to Syria. I don’t know why. I just felt compelled to see you. Also, I must ask you to tell no-one.”
“Mr. Cannon, I no longer have a phone, and as you can see, I have no car.” she pointed out.
“Then, how?”
“Did I know? I have my ways. Anyhow, I was told to expect you, not when, or why, but that you would be needing my help.” She looked at him to prompt a response. He sat there with his mouth open, trying to think of a way to respond. “I see you don’t know, yet, either.” She sighed. “Well, well, well. Can I offer you some tea or coffee? It’s instant on the coffee, I’m afraid. And no special tea this time. Just Earl Gray.”
“Coffee, please,” he said. She nodded and stood up. I’ll be right back then. He watched the sway of her hips as she walked away. Graceful lady, he though. A few minutes later, she came back handing him a cup, and he noticed it had cream already in it. He started to take a sip, then hesitated, looking at her. She leaned forward, took the cup and took a sip.
“I prefer tea, myself, with honey, but, I want you to be at ease.” She said, offering the cup back. “So, how soon do we leave?” she asked.
“We fly out tomorrow mornin,.” he said simply. He shook his head. ‘This is all a bit weird” he said, then took a sip of the coffee. “Thanks,” he held the cup up in salute.
“Mr. Cannon, Weird has been the story of my life the past few years.” she grinned. “We always have a choice. We are beings of free will, but there are higher powers that command obedience. We do as they ask, or demand and they can be magnanimous. I was told you would need my help again, but not how. I sense that you are quite healthy, and so, it will be something else. Far be it for me to gainsay the Goddess.”
“You really believe?” he asked.
“I’ve been convinced. Don’t worry, Mr. Cannon. I’m not some Evangelical or Jehovah’s Witness out to convert you. The Gods and Goddesses come in many forms and have many names. There is no one right way to the mountain top.” She said. “Enjoy your coffee, Mr. Cannon. I have things to prepare.” and Saranne stood, and first went to her kitchen, She packed a variety of teas and herbs in a bag. Walking thru the den, she set the bag down on the sofa, then went to a back room. A few minutes later, he heard water running. Later, she came back into the den and sat a small suitcase beside the other bag. She was wearing a long black dress, with a scarf over her hair. She looked around the room one last time, then fixed her eyes on him. “I’m ready. I look forward to meeting your family, Mr. Cannon.” and she smiled.
4.
Driving thru the city, Saranne sat with her eyes closed. She talked small talk, asking about his children, his wife. Otherwise, she did not look around. “Are you okay?” he asked once, finally.
“So many people, so many strong emotions, so much hurt,” she sighed. “I sense them all, Mr. Cannon. It can be overwhelming.” her eyes were still closed as he pulled into his driveway. He lived in a two storied brownstone house. A small yard with a tricycle and two bikes, one with training wheels still attached sat near the sidewalk. Neatly trimmed boxwood shrubs lined the walkway. The front door was open, and he could see the kids running up to the door. His wife walked up behind them and looked out at the woman getting out of the passenger door. He could see the questions in her eyes. He held up a hand to say, later.
 
Saranne was a hit with the children. After only a few minutes, Tim, the youngest at 3 years old had climbed into her lap. Saranne closed her eyes for just a barely noticed clearing of her throat, and a sniff then began talking to the fair-haired boy about his books, his brother and sister and always Dada. She smiled. Seeing their baby brother chattering, both Claire the 4-year-old sister, and Greg, the 6 years older brother both settled on either side of her on the sofa. Watching the children, Charles grinned, seeing Saranne visibly relaxing. He held his hand out to his wife, Linda, and they walked together into the kitchen to prepare for dinner. They spoke softly to one another, and he explained to her about the impulse that had led him to seek her out for the mission coming up. “I think she is a real witch. And she has some odd powers that I’ve witnessed first hand,” he stated.
Linda placed her hand on his chest, “you mean about the pancreatic cancer resolving?” she asked softly. He nodded once, and she said, “In that case, I can accept you bringing a strange woman home with you just don’t make a habit out of it.” She smiled up at him. “You think she’ll be doing any weird stuff here?” He shrugged. “We’ll wait and see. I think she only tries to do things to help people, or, at least the ones she can’t avoid. No, I doubt very seriously that she’ll be, I don’t know, dancing naked around the house or anything like that.” he chuckled at the thought.
“Only on a full moon, and in my own backyard, and never in winter.” Saranne giggled, walking into the kitchen with young Tim on a hip. Claire was leading her by the hand over to the table. Greg being a perfect gentleman, pulling out a chair for her to sit. Linda tried hard to hold back a laugh at her husband’s face after being overheard.
“I, um” he stammered.
“It’s fine, Mr. Cannon,” Saranne winked at Linda, “But, I do wish to ask that you allow me to burn a little sage here in the house,” she said turning serious. “Just for a little while, It will help clear away any lingering negativity. Also, I wish to ease your concerns about Claire’s bronchitis. It won’t be a problem anymore. Well, unless she catches it again at a later date. And, this big man here,” she chuckled Tim’s chin, “No longer has the ear infection, and this is just some residual snot.” She laughed. Charles decided he liked hearing her laugh. Feeling Linda slide her hand around his waist, he put his arm on her shoulder.
“I think that will be okay,” Linda told her. “Spaghetti okay with you?”
“Fine with me, What do you think, Tim?”
“Pagehee!” he agreed enthusiastically.
 
“Dinner was great, Thank you, Mrs. Cannon.” Saranne nodded her head to her hostess.
“I’m glad you liked it, Sorry for the rambunctious and rowdy noise-makers” Linda chuckled.
“Not at all,” Saranne said, then turned her attention to Charles. “I suppose you need to hear about my background?”
“Well, perhaps then I might understand why I felt compelled to seek you out, this time at least.” he said with a guarded look.
I was a nurse, with a career that lasted all of one day working after getting my BSN . My talent awakened that first day on the floor.” she looked back to Linda’s eyes. “It seems that I have this ability to heal anyone, as far as I can tell, anything. Oh, sure I can’t have body parts grow back, and there is no cure for death, rather it’s the ultimate cure. But, illness, wounds, injuries and so on, I absorb, or transfer to my body, and then I heal quickly. I’m also sensitive to other people’s emotions.
Linda raised her eyebrows as Saranne spoke. “That’s how…”
Saranne nodded her head in acknowledgment.
Charles sat up straighter, “That’s it! I have an idea! Wait here a few minutes, I’ve some phone calls to make and strings to pull.” He stood and left the dining room quickly.
“Does he know you’re pregnant, again?” Saranne lowered her voice as soon as he was out of hearing.
Linda’s eyebrows really rose higher. “I just found out this morning with a home test, I haven’t even scheduled an appointment with the doctor yet! How did you know?”
“ I just had an intuition, a feeling. May I?” Saranne reached her and across the table for Linda’s. She closed her eyes. Ah, there you are, you beautiful girl.” she murmured. Opening her eyes, she smiled at Linda. “She is going to be just fine.” Saranne furrowed her brows. “I wonder if I’ll ever have any, I don’t know that I could handle being married to someone, There are some emotional vampires out there. Narcissistic people that would feed on an empath like me.” She sighed.
“Where there’s life, there’s hope, or so the saying goes,” Linda said
“True, of course, it could be a mite difficult when one is living a life of a hermit.” Saranne sighed again. She lifted the glass of wine that she had not drunk from yet, and dipped her finger in, and reached over and let a drop fall onto the candle, bowed her head a second and murmured a quiet prayer. She looked back up to Linda with a twinkle in her eyes. “I don’t do curses or voodoo. But, as I told Mr. Cannon, I’ve been convinced about the deities I have been following the past few years. Is that St. Brigid that you are wearing?
Linda reached up to the medallion on her neck. “Why, Yes it is.”
“She is one of my Goddesses that I call mine. Also, the Virgin Mary, We call the Mother Goddess. I believe that they are different aspects of God, kinda like the facets on a diamond.”
“That kind of makes sense,” Linda tapped her lip with her finger. She raised her glass, “To Freedom of Religion” she toasted.
“Freedom of Religion” Saranne agreed and took a sip.
Charles came back into the dining room long enough to take a few photo’s of Saranne against a white background with his phone, then went back to his study. A few minutes later, he brought in several pieces of paper for her to sign. Saranne cocked an eyebrow at him when she looked at the papers. “What’s this?” she asked.
“A certificate of need. A non-disclosure agreement, and a statement of you being an expert in PTSDs, also an FBI background clearance. You are about to become an agent of the CIA, and Department of State. Also, Group Life insurance, just in case. You’ll also need to list a beneficiary for that.
Saranne and Linda both gave wide-eyed looks at him. He cleared his throat, “I can’t explain, but, I need you for this, Saranne, and Linda, it’s work, so I can’t say more.” Saranne signed.
 
That night, As Saranne lay in bed, she heard the silent call, beckoning her to meet in the dream that was not a dream. As her steps in the twilight lit path through dark trees led her toward the crossroad, she was surprised to not see the Goddess as she had come to expect. A rather large, muscular and handsome man sat on a tree stump, sharpening a great two-handed sword. His olive skin glistened as his muscles flexed while stroking the stone the entire length of the blade. At his back, a long bow and a quiver were strapped. His eyes looked up over his task at Saranne, compelling her to give a slight squeak. He nodded to her, and spoke, his deep voice saying, “Greetings, young one. I have been waiting for this chance to see you here.”
Saranne waited, then stepped closer. “Ares?”
“Yes, I am Ares, Mars, and War in general. There is not much time, and I grow weary of the battles without honor, without pride, with no clear victor that has been ongoing in the world these past years.” He looked at her to see if she was understanding. “I wish for you to aid in the days to come.”
“How am I to do this? I’m just a woman that feels too much. I am not one of the powers in this world. I just do some small things to help people around me.”
“Enough!” He thundered. “Drop by drop, the oceans are filled. From a small pebble, a great avalanche can come. If I, and others deem that you can make a difference, then know it is so.” He looked at her, then relaxed his face into a grin. “You have strengths you have not discovered yet.”
“He speaks truly,” a woman’s voice came from a tree limb above her. A flapping of wings from a Raven became a woman in a black dress solidifying on the road near them. “You know me, child?”
“The Morrighan, My Lady,” Saranne bowed her head. “I seek to follow your will, My Lord, My Lady, But I still fail to see how.”
“Listen to your heart, you will find wisdom, and courage, and strength along the way,” Morrigan said.
“Stay true to who you are, fight the good fight, do not give up before the race is won,” Ares said.
“As you say, My Lord, My Lady. So mote it be.” Saranne bowed.
 
She awoke at the knock at her door. Charles and Linda were both in the kitchen when she finished dressing. “Coffee?” Linda offered, reaching for a cup.
“Yes, Please” Saranne answered trying to stifle a yawn. “It’s a bit early, no?” she said.
“I apologize for the early awakening.” Charles said, “But we have to meet a courier at Reagan International before the flight.” he looked at both of the women, I wish I could tell you where we are going, Linda. Saranne, You will know more once we are aboard. Until then, Security trumps my heart,” he hugged his wife.
“I know, I understand, but I will never like it.” Linda said. She looked to Saranne. “Please try to bring him home safe for me and the children.”
Saranne inclined her head, “I’ll try.”
 
Hours later, Saranne and the Senator sat in the First class section of a flight heading to Damascus, Syria. A war torn country still struggling for stability and rebuilding. Charles looked around, then turned toward Saranne. Okay, here’s what is going on. Two days ago, Vice President Kaine was abducted during a trip to see Aleppo, and hoping to salvage diplomatic relations between the Turks, the Syrians, and Russia. We need to find and release him, quickly. I do not intend on having our VP beheaded for some screwed up individual’s benefit. It’s not going to happen!” he growled. “Now, Where you come in, I still don’t know. Maybe it will be to help with healing,” he stopped as he saw Saranne shiver and go pale. “Perhaps it’s some sort of intuition to lead us to him, I don’t know. That is going to have to be your main mission, to discover your role in this circus.”
Saranne nodded. “I understand, I think.”
“For now, I suggest we get some sleep. Jet lag is going to be a bugger.” He said.
5.
 
The sky was a pale pastel blue with a beautiful sunrise when they landed. Saranne’s view of the Mediterranean sea was breathtaking but the contrast with the many buildings still reduced to rubble from the many year’s long civil war, followed by the coalition’s many airstrikes was bitter. The people she saw all seemed to have a haunted look in their eyes.
She stood in the clothing store near the hotel that had been procured for Charles and her. She deliberately tried to ignore the guards that had been assigned to escort her. She spoke with the sales lady about the burka she was holding. After a few minutes of haggling, she handed over her money and asked to use the dressing room. The guards, from both the Marines and the Government of Syria,watching one another with deep suspicion, moved over to stand outside the door while she donned the burka. Coming out, she heard the Syrian muttering that it was much better. She wondered how hot it would be once they left the air conditioned store. Surprisingly, It was nowhere as stifling as she feared. At least it will cut down on unwanted attention, she thought.
She still looked around in wonder and dismay at the city. Such history, and art, and a culture torn by war. Fear and suspicion were the main emotions, sometimes outright hatred were her constant companions since they had arrived in Damascus. The trio hurried along back to the hotel. Hotel security with automatic weapons patrolled and checked credentials as they neared the doors. Waving them through, they still kept a wary eye roving. A guard standing at the elevator waved them away and pointed to the stairs. Out of order again, Saranne sighed. As they started up the stairs, they met Charles coming down, another young marine was carrying Saranne’s bag.
“Finished shopping? Good, We need to go, no,.” he said. Saranne reached for her bag from the Marine. “Thank you, I’ll carry it now,” she said. They were escorted out the back of the hotel and into one of five Humvees that were waiting, the engines already running. She and Charles sat in the back seat of the one in the middle. Within minutes, they were heading down the highway going north. “You know, the burka suits you, just a little,” Charles said. “Enhances the whole mystery feel to you.” He laughed. She rolled her eyes. “I just hate that it is necessary that you wear it.” he continued, “I’m still shocked that you speak Aramaic, You could have told me back home, and I could have simply gotten you hired in as a translator. We are always looking for more.”
“I couldn’t have told you that back home, Mr. Cannon. I didn’t even realize that I was speaking it.” She began again. “I thought that we were speaking English until I saw the look on both of your faces when we met the Syrian Diplomat.” She shrugged. “I think it must be connected with my…ESP, if you will. Seems it gifted me with a grasp of the language directly from their minds. I could have used it when I was taking German in High School.” she laughed.
Charles laughed in agreement. “I imagine so, I would not have minded that ability many times.” he handed her a bottle of water. Best hydrate, and hydrate often. You can overheat rapidly here.” he said and gave a meaningful glance at the driver and gunner riding with them. They took the hint and took a few drinks from their own bottles. She looked at the marines in their helmets and flak vests, Desert colored fatigues with the sleeves down. “And I thought that the burka would be stuffy and hot,” she said. “You devil dogs have got to be sweltering.”
“Just a bit, Ma’am” the sergeant driving answered, never taking his eyes from the road.
“It was hotter in Iraq when I was there, last year, Ma’am,” the captain in the passenger seat said.
“I thought it was all desert here,” Saranne said.
“There’s a lot of desert areas here, but along the Euphrates river basin, it’s quite lush. Who knows, maybe we’ll see it” Charles said. “Okay, we’re entering Indian country,”he said as they approached the city limits, “Please, put the helmet on, and when we stop, put on the flak jacket too, Saranne.”
“Sargent, don’t get too close to the vehicles ahead.” the captain spoke up.
“Aye, Sir.” he responded.
“IEDs” Charles answered her look. “Improvised Explosive Devices, and to avoid bunching up if there’s an ambush.” he went on, “Like I said, it’s the wild wild west out here.”
“Oh great! Now I’ve got that theme song going in my head,” Saranne laughed nervously. The Marines and Charles all joined in the laughter.
“The movie with Will Smith? Or the older TV show? The captain joked.
 
Later that evening, Saranne sat in the small tent that she shared with the Navy Corpsman, a no-nonsense young woman from Tennessee, who was doing duty at the small aid station. She had been thinking about the recent visit with the God of War. She was beginning to fear that, He, was about to really unleash some hell on earth if the current mission failed. She still had no idea exactly what she was here to do. She had been pulled from her quiet home, across the sea to sit here in a tent, in the midst of a small military camp beside a mostly long abandoned village just to the south of Aleppo. It was dusty, hot during the days, and dusty and chilly at night. She often heard jets and helicopters going by overhead. The nonstop rumble of the large diesel generators, with the occasional music from someone’s radios to break the monotony.
She held a pendulum, a small quartz on a short chain, over a small chart, asking a series of questions that could be answered with either/or type choices, Yes or No. She was still no closer to finding out her purpose. Yes, she had accepted the journey, and accepted the onus of carrying out the will of her versions of the Divine. She knew it was wrong that she still could not accept her gift as a gift. She often felt it was a curse.
She laid her head down on her arms, closing her eyes with these thoughts, adrift in her own self-doubts and insecurities.
She sat up with a start when she felt a touch on her ankle. She looked at a cat that was rubbing its’ head on her leg claiming ownership of her, her eyes widened thinking that her own cat had managed to track her even here. But on closer examination, she noticed that the black and white pattern was not exactly the same, but the gold tinted green eyes looked up at her were the same. “Well, hello there handsome,” she said, reaching down to let him sniff her fingers before he allowed her to give him a few strokes and a scratch behind the ears. He walked over to the entry flaps of the tent, sat down and looked back at her. Saranne sat there watching to see if he was going to leave. He stood up, walked back over to her, and sitting back on his legs, he reached up onto her knee. Saranne smiled and gave him a few more long strokes along his head and back. He turned and walked back to the entrance again, and looked back at her. He gave her a soft meow and stood there looking back at her.
“What is it , boy, she asked him. He meowed again still standing there looking. Saranne shrugged her shoulders and stood up. He waited while she got up, and started to walk over, then slipped outside. Saranne ducked thru the entrance and saw him next to the corner of the tent, looking back at her, waiting. Stranger things had happened in her life this past couple of years, she thought, why not a familiar to guide her? “Okay, fur-baby,”she said to him, “Let’s see what we’ll see.” She adjusted the burka and covered her head, and started to follow the cat.
He led her past the sentries and rolls of concertina wires surrounding the base, into the village proper. She kept a wary eye around her as she followed him further from the camp, past few bombed out shells of buildings. Past piles of rubbish, keeping well away from a scrawny ribbed dog nosing thru the garbage. She saw rats scurrying along in the old abandoned homes and shops. She watched him turn into a side street from the main road, and when she turned the corner, she no longer saw him. Puzzled, she walked down the narrow alley looking for her small guide. A noise behind her caused her to spin around, seeing no-one she turned again to try to follow and find the cat and gasped as a bag was pulled over her head, and strong arms grabbed her holding her arms behind her back, and her hands were quickly tied. She was lifted onto a man’s shoulder and carried to, and then pushed into the back seat of a car. The engine revved, and they were moving. There were men sitting on both sides of her, and she heard some softly spoken words from the front seat, too low for her to make out what was being said. The two in the back seat with her said nothing, but both kept their hands on her arms. ‘Dear Gods and Goddess, what have I gotten into here?’ she thought furious with her heart pounding in her throat and all but panting as panic was at the threshold of her mind.
 
After what seemed like hours, the car stopped. She was pulled out of the car and led into a building. A door closed behind them, and she was pushed down onto a chair, and the hood was pulled off her head. She blinked as her eyes tried to adjust to the glare of a light shining into her face. A man sat with his face barely seen in the shadow behind the light. Her captors stood behind her, on either side of her chair. Saranne was scared, and she also felt a mix o anxiety and hatred from the others in the room. ‘This can’t be good,’ she thought She waited, saying nothing, waiting out the men to say something. The man at the desk lit a cigarette, the light briefly showing him to be older, perhaps in his late forties. Blond, short hair, and a clean-shaven face with piercing blue eyes. He drummed his fingers on the desk, just looking at her thru the smoke of his cigarette.
“You are not a Syrian”Saranne gave in and spoke first.
“And you are not either. You are American. Do not lie, I already know some things, but I want to know more. Much more.” He spoke.
He raised his eyes and spoke a few words in Russian to the men behind her. The one on her left took a few steps behind her, and she heard a refrigerator door open, then closed. He handed a bottle of water to the man at the desk. The blond man opened the bottle, and poured some into a glass, and handed the bottle back to the other man. The man on Saranne’s right cut the binding from her hands, as the other held the bottle to her. Blondie took a long drink from his glass. “You can take it, I drank to show you that it is safe, he smiled.
Saranne accepted the bottle, and quickly poured a small amount onto the floor, then drank the rest, grateful.
“Now, shall we speak,” Blondie spoke again, making it a statement, and not a question.
Saranne nodded, “sure, we’ll talk,” she said in Russian. The man’s eyes widened. “You are, a spy?” He asked.
“I am not,” she answered. “I am a witch”
“Don’t try to play games here,” He said leaning forward. “This is not, how is it said in America? Kindergarten! I want to know why you are here!”
“To be honest, So do I,” Saranne said. “Not here in this building with you and your men, only, but also why I was led here, from my life alone, in the USA.” She quickly said.
“We know about your Vice President being taken. We know that you arrived here in the company of your Marine Corps and some special forces. What we must know, is your intentions!” He demanded. “I must know more, much more about you. You are not military. We will know, you will tell us much more about yourself, and your role here.’ he said. Leaning back into his chair he said, “This can be easy, or it can be difficult…for you.” he ended with the menacing promise of pain in the tone of his voice.
6.
Stev Gregorovich sat back as the woman was taken from the room. For 23 years he had served in the GRU. Now, he kept his own thoughts carefully hidden. It was an automatic response that he had developed over the years as he became more disillusioned with the policy makers in Moscow. He had seen the GRU sink in power, only to rebuild itself into a powerful force. He had personally led operations the had led to the Ukrainian rebels to fight for Russia. And handed the GRU, and Moscow a prize. Now, here he was, in a small building near Aleppo, Syria, having a young woman that seemed clueless, interrogated, not torture, he tried to make his heart believe. He stood, and walked over to stand beside the small high window, careful not to leave a silhouette. He looked at the dusty horizon as the sun began to set. The Syrian government had their own tyrant in Assad. The authorities in Moscow had deemed it in their best interest to keep him in power, thereby snubbing the USA. Turkey, now that was one problem, not to mention the filthy IS terrorist that he had to sift through. So many different factions at play, until even he was unsure who was who.
Worse, he scowled, was the nuclear bomb that had been stolen. He had traced it here but had now lost the trail. And these idiots bring me some young woman, barely off the plane from America. She will have no knowledge of the bomb, or the many players here, so why do we have need of questioning her? He ran his hand through his hair, then rubbed his face tiredly. His superiors did not deem it appropriate to inform him, yet it would be his head on the chopping block. He sighed. Another body lost in the desert. He straightened his back stubbornly. Nyet! No. Not this time. I’m an agent, with skills. I can have a choice, he thought.
 
Senator Charles Cannon kicked the folding chair across the room. “What do you mean, she just wandered off?” He thundered at the lieutenant. She is here on my behalf, and on my authority. Find her, Now!” The lieutenant saluted, and rushed out of the Command Tent.
He motioned his squad over as he jogged toward the humvees. “Mount Up!” he ordered. The small convoy sat there waiting while he checked his maps. “Head over towards the old mosque,” he told the driver. Once there, he waited as the marines dismounted the vehicles, and set up a quick defensive perimeter around the convoy. Then he got out and walked toward the building. He looked a man with a slight beard, and hair around his ears approached. He gave a challenge, and the other replied with the proper password. “Captain, the Senator wants that woman found, ASAP.” He said.
The Special Forces Captain looked around, spotting his men, and waved one over, he spoke a few words into the throat microphone he had as the other came to him. A quick conference passed between them, and the Captain turned back to the Marines. “She was spotted north of here in a tan 4-door. You won’t get within 20 kilometers with your Marines without a fight. We’ll get on it. Go inform the Senator that we’re sending a team after her.” He pulled out a pad of paper and scratched some numbers with his pen. Handing it to the lieutenant he said, “This is my frequency, and call sign.” he turned, and with the other special force soldier, they trotted away.
 
Saranne had lost all sense of time. She was naked, sitting on the bare concrete in the dark. She hurt, everywhere it seemed. One man had kept asking so many questions, and another kept hitting her, first with fists, then with cords. He had applied electrodes to her and administered jolts. He had tied her onto a table, and they held a towel over her face and poured water on her face until she was sure she was drowning. Now, she sat here in the darkness, bruised, sore, tired, shivering, her hands and feet bound tightly with some sort of plastic zip-tie until they had started to go numb. She had no answers to all the many questions that had been asked.
Hearing footsteps, she shivered as they stopped outside the door. She heard a key inserted, and squinted her eyes tight as the door opened, flooding the room with light. She gasped as a booted foot kicked her hard in the ribs. Gloved hands grasped her and began dragging her from the room. She tried to struggle, but she could get no traction on the floor, and the hands were gripping her tightly. She began a wail of despair, moaning her anguish as he gripped her hair and yanked her head back, shoving her into the room they had been using to torture her. “Please, no more,” she begged. A cruel laugh came from the man that had actually administered the beatings. He enjoyed it, Saranne realized. She felt the tears sliding down her face as he removed his gloves, and grasped her breast, squeezing it painfully. She screamed forcing all of her humiliation and degradation and pain into it. She heard an answering howl and a hiss from a cat nearby. She watched the man pull out a knife, and throw it at, the black and white cat? She grabbed his arm with her bound hands, trying to hold him back, his eyes widened, and he began to scream as Saranne’s pains began to subside. He fell to the floor, writhing in pain, but Saranne, to her astonishment no longer hurt anywhere. She watched as many bruises appeared on the man, as he began choking, his airway closed up. His lips turned blue, and then he lay still.
She scooted back from the corpse breathing heavily, in shock at what had just happened. From the doorway, a furtive movement caught her attention, and in strolled the same cat that had led her out of the tent. She was sure of it. It walked toward her and rubbed his head against her thigh, it’s purr soothing. She rested her head on her knees for a few minutes and cried, feeling pity for herself. The cat persisted in rubbing against her until she gave him a pet as well as she was able with her bound hands. The cat walked over and stood next to the knife that had been thrown at it, sniffed it, and looked meaningfully at Saranne, his ears flicking forward. She began trying to scoot across the room toward the knife when she heard footsteps growing louder in the hallway. She sobbed softly as she tried to roll closer to cat and knife faster, and gasped as the booted feet entered the room. She froze as he spoke.
“I’ll take this,” Stev said, bending to retrieve the knife. She looked up fearfully at his cold blue eyes, watching as he stepped over her toward the body, and felt for a pulse. She huddled there watching to see what was to happen next. He stood straight, and flipped the knife up in his hands, and strode toward her. As she began to shrink back from him, dreading what was to happen, she gaped as he sliced through the ties on her ankles, then her wrists. He straightened again, and walked to a corner, and picked up a blanket, and brought it over, handing it to her. She grabbed it and quickly covered herself. Not daring to say anything. The cat had wandered over to sit beside his feet as well as he stood looking down at her, questions forming in his eyes. He squatted before her and reached toward her face.
“Don’t touch me” was all she said.
He nodded and withdrew his hands. “Miss Saranne Reese, age 26, from Richmond, Virginia. No brothers or sisters. Adopted only child of Peter and Mary Reese, both dead from an automobile accident when you were 19. A Graduate of the University of Virginia in nursing. So much I know already, but, you are still a puzzle to me.” He tilted his head forward. “And now, you are here, speaking Russian, though you never studied the language. You are here with a U.S. Senator, surrounded by your military, in this hellhole.” He leaned closer. “I just want to know why.”
“I’ve told your henchmen all I know,” she spat. “So, you can take your many questions, and choke on them!”
“I think not,” he began, “There are others that will be coming soon, and I do not intend to hand you over to them. I must insist you come with me.”
Saranne furrowed her brow at him. “Why should I? Why should I go with someone that ordered me tortured for the little amount you seem to have gotten? Why should I trust you?” She demanded.
He sat back and nodded. “If you and I were in the others place, I would have the same thoughts. But, I still do ask you to try to trust me, and perhaps, both will find the answers to the questions we both are finding? Yes?”
She sat there, her eyes dropping to look at the cat again. It’s golden eyes watching her as did the blond headed man. “It seems I have little choice in the matter. But don’t touch me.” she looked around. You don’t expect me to wear only a ratty blanket, do you?”
Stev rocked back on his heels and began to laugh. Saranne watched to see if it were mocking but realized he really did find humor in the situation. “No, you are right. I will go get you something more appropriate. Please, stay here, and stay silent. Others are still about here.” He stood, and walked out of the room, drawing the door closed behind him. Saranne sat, rubbing her wrists and legs trying to restore circulation. Looking around the room. Again her eyes fell on the dead man still laying where his thrashing had ended. Her heart ached. She had always, always believed in the Rede. Harm None, echoed in her head. She remembered something Kristi had said when she had first read the Wiccen Rede. “But take no shit.” Kristi had laughed, then turned serious. “One cannot heal, without learning harm. The Magick is just a tool. It’s neither good nor evil. It is only a tool to be used. It’s what is in your heart, and your intentions. Knowing the consequences of any action, or inaction is wisdom.”
Saranne started as the door reopened, and the man came back in with a bundle in his hands. “Who are you, anyway?” She asked as she took the bundle from him.
He turned away so that she could dress in the tan, brown, gray colored trousers, a brown tee-shirt, and a matching jacket. “My name is Stev Gregoravich,” he began. “Please dress quickly, I will tell more, later. But first, we need to be own our way. I was not sure of your boot size, nor do I know if I can get a pair soon. We do have your sandals.”
“They’ll do, Mr. Gregoravich.” She said. “I’m dressed now.” He turned back and gave her a slight grin.
“Then let us make haste.” He picked up the cat. “My pet,” he explained when she looked startled at the move. She nodded, and he led her out the door, down the hallway, ducked into a room, and brought out her sandals. Handing them over, he led her to a doorway and waited to peer out the window. Outside, he handed the cat over to her to carry, as he picked up a backpack that sat there, along with a rifle that was beside the door. He slung it over a shoulder, and they quickly walked around the building and past a low broken stone wall. Stopping and ducking down behind an empty truck, they watched a patrol march across a street. Once the patrol had turned a corner, they hurried on towards some parked cars. He led on to a white plain Honda, and opened the passenger door for her, then went around to the driver’s side. Tossing his pack in the backseat, and the rifle on the floorboard between them. He looked around, then he put in the key, and started the engine. Within moments, they were heading south from where she had been kept.
 
 
 
 
 
 
7.
While they drove, Stev told her about his life growing up in the farms around Kiev. He told her briefly of his career in the Army and the GRU. He spoke about his growing dislike of many of the world’s problems and some of his own involvement in events in the past. She listened to all that he said, barely speaking herself. She was still troubled by the death at her hands, by a twisting of her own power that she had never known could be done. But, she felt that she could trust him. She wondered at that as well. She still held a small doubt in her mind, that this could all be some prearranged play to trap her in some way. But she said nothing of that fear. As the sun began to rise, he drove to a small abandoned house riddled with bullet holes. One entire wall had fallen. And, there was a metal fence partially blocking the view from the road. They went inside, and he set up a small portable stove, and they prepared a small meal of canned food. The cat prowled around, chasing after a mouse while they ate. She still kept herself out of his reach, watching as he ate. She stood, and walked into another room that had once had a toilet, but now was just a hole in the floor. She relieved herself. And went back to the room, to find he was not still there. She went to a corner of the room and sat with her back to it. She was fatigued and felt emotionally drained. She fell asleep before he returned. Her dreams were troubled and disjointed. Images of the torture, and then, the dead man’s wounds opening up while she shrank in horror as he began to rot before her eyes and in her hands. Then she was running in her dream from something that she could not see, but could only sense chasing her, and that no matter where she ran, it still followed. She saw Mr. Cannon, and Linda holding their children close as something reared up in the shadows behind them. She tried to call out to them, but they could not hear. Still closer the unseen presence chased her. She watched as Stev fought in a cloud of dust with another unseen creature. She called a warning to him and cried out as he was drawn into the cloud. She awoke with a gasp, sweat drying rapidly in the dry air. Stev was sitting, keeping an eye out of the window, the cat curled up in his lap sleeping. He looked around at her, his eyebrow raised. She shook her head. “Just some dreams,” she said. Then picked up the bottle of water he had set near her. She drank, grateful as the warm water soothed her dry throat. “Have you slept?” she asked. He shook his head. “You should. I won’t go anywhere.”
He nodded once, “yes, I think I will. Wake me if anything happens, or at sunset at the latest.” He stood, holding his cat, He carried him over to her.
“Before you do, may I ask you something? About the cat?” Saranne asked.
He looked at her questioningly. “Da.”
“Where you with the men that took me? Your cat was there.” She looked him in the eye, reaching

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