Part 3: Heart of Flesh
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
That night/early next morning
She ran as fast as she could, the hot breath of a wild animal panting behind her. The jungle itself seemed to close in on her, tangling her, tripping her. She couldn’t stop, couldn’t rest. The young blonde woman tripped again on a vine that seemed to jump up out of nowhere. She tumbled down the bank of a river and landed face first into the raging waters. Water rushed into her lungs as she gasped for air. She scrambled onto the bank, coughing furiously. Her throat and lungs burned as she slowly found oxygen again. Maybe the beast chasing her would lose her scent if she stayed near the water, maybe… A low-throated growl behind her sent a sudden, stiffening chill up her spine. She knew she shouldn’t move, but the woman slowly turned to look at the thing that had chased her for so long. A jaguar. A man appeared from the jungle behind it without a sound.
Her eyes burned with venom, her voice raspy. “Sic my own animal guide on me? What gives you the right to judge me, you primitive little freak?”
“I have not judged you. You judged yourself. You fled in fear from your own spirit guide. Even a soul as tainted as yours knows it is unworthy of the gifts you have been given. You have revealed yourself to all who have eyes to see. Those eyes have turned from you.”
“So now what? I obviously don’t have the power to stop you in this place.” She licked her lips slowly, her eyes smoldering darkly. “Does it turn you on to have all the power? Are you going to punish me? That could be…fun. Maybe we could work something out after all.”
“Your hateful words have no meaning to me. I know they hide the pain and fear you have tried to bury. You were strong enough in body to accept the Sentinel gifts, but your soul was too weak to rise above your past. I should have foreseen this and chosen another—your failure is my burden. The jaguar will no longer accept you. Never again will you know its company. You are too damaged.”
“Damaged? Come here without any of your little magic tricks and I’ll show you damage!” She started to get up, but the jaguar advanced, snarling, until she sat back down.
Incacha shook his head. “To destroy the taint within you, the memory of it must not remain. Seeds of fear and abuse were planted in you long ago and grew into a gnarled, rotted thing. Now I will uproot it.”
“What are you babbling about? Why am I even here? So you can lord it over me?”
“Spirit guides come to those newly born into the world. Most people never see theirs, but the spirits are always there. You must become new again—then a different guide will come to you. On this plane and another.” He waved a hand in front of him in some strange gesture. “Alex Barnes is dead.” He began to chant in another language.
The young woman felt a prickling under her skin. Then she became disoriented as her thoughts jumbled around in her head. Chunks of memory were disappearing, being ripped out of her mind. At first she was terrified. What was he doing to her? Was this her punishment—to be turned into a vegetable? But then the feeling became like a slow river, gently washing away horrible things that she thought she knew once. But they were far from her grasp now. As she drifted lazily and contentedly, she looked up at the trees and the sky. The clouds were so pretty and fluffy. Some of them looked like animals. A poofy cat-cloud glided across the sky. It had a funny-looking head that made her giggle. She wanted a kitty of her own. Not a puppy. A kitty. Oh, look! A big, fuzzy bear! Nice fuzzy bear.
Maggie was dreaming, a strangely vivid and prescient dream. She was in a clearing in the woods. She hadn’t had one of these dreams since… A large wildcat—a bobcat—gazed at her from the other side, eyes wary. It seemed almost frightened. It hung its head and backed up, low to the ground. Strangely, Maggie didn’t feel afraid. On the contrary, she had an urge to reach out and sooth the poor thing. She whirled at a rustling sound behind her. A huge black bear stepped out from the trees. It wasn’t just any black bear. It was THE bear. The one that she’d dreamt of before. The bear held her gaze for a moment before it brushed past her, walking towards the bobcat. It stopped a few feet away from the shaking creature. The cat cowered at first, sniffing the air. The bear did not move. As if it had caught a whiff of something good, the bobcat slowly got to its feet and approached the bear, circling it with growing curiosity. Suddenly, the cat started bouncing around it happily, acting like it had made a new friend. The bear placed its paw gently on the cat’s back to calm it down. The bear sat down on the ground, the cat snuggling up next to it. Then the cat was gone, replaced by a young blonde woman sleeping peacefully by the bear’s side. A booming voice shattered the stillness of the forest. “Go to the Asylum! Help her.”
Sister Margaret awoke with a start. That dream—like the ones that had saved her life a few times over the years. The black bear, the powerful voice. But the bobcat…that was new. “Help her”, the voice had said. “Her” who? The woman in her dream had seemed familiar, but she couldn’t quite place her. She hadn’t seen her clearly in the dream. Who was she? She knew her from somewhere, met her recently... That young woman from the asylum. The catatonic one! Maggie had visited her and read to her only yesterday. It had to be. That was the “her” the voice wanted Sister Maggie to help! Why else would she have felt such a strong connection to her at the asylum?
She popped out of bed, feeling a twinge as tired muscles rebelled with every movement. Sister Maggie wasn’t all that old, but she needed a good night’s sleep more than she used to a few years ago. Last night certainly didn’t give her that. She dressed with a weary sigh and headed down the hall.
She hoped the Mother Superior would let her go. The sisters at the Mary of the Woods convent and orphanage on the outskirts of town had been curtailing their excursions into the city whenever possible since the killings started. Crossing herself, Maggie said a quick prayer for the murdered dead. She took a deep breath and knocked on the Mother’s door. “Mother Agnes? It’s Sister Maggie. I know it’s early, but I really need to speak to you.”
“Come in.” Mother Agnes stood by her desk, waving her to a seat. She was a wrinkled old woman who went with a cane, but no one ever mistook her for weak.
“I need to go into town today. Please. I need to visit the sick at the asylum.”
Agnes put up a hand to stop her. “It’s commendable that you want to go about the Lord’s work with all that’s been happening lately, but you know we’re shorthanded for the rest of the week and I have no one to spare to accompany you. No one goes into the city alone now. Groups of three or more only. You know that.”
“But I…I had a dream.”
“One of those dreams.”
Mother Agnes scrutinized her with hard, drill-like eyes. “It was like the other ones, then? The one in Nicaragua, the one on the bus to Seattle?”
The Mother Superior seemed to slump slightly before she turned to the window, sighing with resignation. “Go. I didn’t listen to you at the mission in Nicaragua. Two sisters died for my blindness. Do what you are called to do.”
Maggie left the office feeling relieved and strangely anxious at the same time. She had permission to go, but what would she do once she got there? She shook her head in exasperation. Why didn’t vision-dreams come with instructions? She turned the corner and bumped into Sister Catherine.
“Watch where you’re going!”
“If you weren’t in such a hurry all the time, you’d be more careful. Well, now that I have you here… You need to take Sister Emilia’s kindergarten class for the next few days. She has the flu.”
“I can’t today. I’m sorry. I have to go into town.”
“We don’t have enough nuns to go with you. You’ll have to stay here.”
“I’ve already talked to Mother Agnes. She gave me permission to go alone.”
“What?! And just how did you manage that?”
Without thinking, Maggie mentioned the dream. She shouldn’t have. Some of the others nuns found the subject awkward—a few of them didn’t take it even that well. Sister Catherine’s leathery face drew tighter, her eyes disdainful. “I see. How convenient it is to have something that you can trot out as an excuse whenever you want to get out of work. They say that idle hands are the Devil’s tools. Perhaps these dreams aren’t from God, Sister.”
Why did she always feel like a helpless, little girl whenever Sister Catherine was around? Maggie forced herself up to her full height of 5’10” so she could look down slightly at the hardened woman before her. “These dreams have never given me bad advice. They’ve saved lives! I ignored them once and people died. I won’t do that again. God has given me a gift and I will use it as wisely as I can.”
“So God speaks through you, now. Perhaps we should all feel blessed to bathe in the light of someone so ‘special’.”
Maggie didn’t like the way she snarled the word “special”. Maggie had felt the sting of that word too many times before. “Spite is very ugly—especially in a nun, Sister Catherine. Maybe you should pray for more understanding and patience. I know I certainly do.” She turned from the smoldering older nun, letting the swish of her clothes have the last word.