Sybil

Posted on February 8, 2017

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She was seven when they started talking to her.  Fakhera didn’t know what they were but they loved to see her.  To help her.  They told her when her parents were asleep.  They told her when the cat was about to sneak outside.  They told her so many things.  Sometimes bad things.

They were at Tetah’s house when they told her one of the bad things.

“Mama?  Why is Mr. Case hitting Mrs. Case?”

Her mother’s head jerked.  “What are you talking about, Fakhera?”

“He’s hitting her.  He’s hitting her in the stomach right now.”

Her mother’s expression hardened.  “You can’t say things like that, Fakhera.  You can’t make up stories about people.”

“I’m not making it up, Mama.  They told me.”

“Who told you?”

“They did.  Can’t you see them?”

Her eyes widened. Her head shook back and forth.  “No, no, no,” she whispered.

Tetah came into the room.  Fakhera watched her friends swarm the older woman.  Her hand twisted and the swirl came to a halt.  Fakhera saw her head cock, like she was listening.  Then she swiveled to her daughter.  “I need you to finish in the kitchen, Kariima.”

“But-”

“Now.  You made this decision long ago.  It’s Fakhera’s time now.  You can’t help her.”

Fakhera watched Mother sway, watched her mouth start to form a protest.  Watched her shoulders slump and the words die before forming.  Then she turned and trudged into the kitchen.

Tetah stared at the door for a minute, then turned to Fakhera.  “Now, Hafidati, how long have the spirits been talking to you?”

Fakhera shrugged.  “A while.  What are they, Tetah?”

“They are jinn.”  Enaya shrugged.

“Jinn?  You talk to jinn?”  Fakhrea looked at the creatures surrounding them.  This wasn’t fun anymore.

“It’s just a word Fakhera.  They are no better or worse than anything else in this world.”

“But you said they’re jinn.  And we’re not supposed to deal with jinn.”  She wasn’t scared before.  Her friends were strange, and flighty, but they weren’t scary.

Her grandmother sighed, then sank onto a couch.  “Come here child.”  Fakhera scrambled onto her lap.  “You can see spirits, speak to them, command and control them.  I can too.  It’s an ability, a gift, like being good at playing the piano, or carving wood.  Some people are able to do things others can’t.  You will have to practice, and you will learn better control.  If you do, there are no secrets that can be kept from you.”

“But they’re jinn, Tetah.  Talking to jinn is evil.”  Fakhera liked her friends.  She didn’t want to believe they were jinn.

Her grandmother hugged her close.  “Have they ever done anything to make you think they’re evil?  Those are the words of small men confronted with something they don’t understand.  The spirits can help you, Fakhera.  And you can help people with them.  But you have to be willing to learn how.  It will be difficult, and you will never be fully accepted if others find out.  But it can make you great.”

Fakhera squirmed out of the hug.  “And if I don’t want to?”

Her grandmother held her gaze, Fakhera did not look away.  “If you don’t want this, I can do what I did for your mother.”

“Mom can see them?”

“Not anymore.  It wasn’t a path she wanted to follow.”

“How did you stop the jinn from talking to her?”

Fakhera stares into her grandmother’s eyes, and the older woman looks away.  “Ask her about the scars on her hand, Hafidati.”

They were both silent.  Fakhera felt the jinn pressing in, and she felt the weight of her decision.  She was scared, but if she did this there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t know, there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do.

In the end, the decision was easy.

“Show me.”

 

Tetah’s house was dark.

When she told Mom where she was going Fakhera expected another fight.  They always started and ended the same, with Fakhera pointing out most of her friends didn’t even want to visit their grandparents and her mother rubbing the scars on her left hand.

Tetah’s house was dark.

She hadn’t answered the phone all week.  When Fakhera asked the jinn all they said was Enaya was quiet.  This wasn’t the first time Tetah wouldn’t talk to her.  In the past seven years she could remember at least ten times when Tetah just sort of disappeared for a day or two.  But this time it was almost two weeks.  Fakhera was worried and she decided she waited long enough.

Tetah’s house was dark.  The key wasn’t where it should be.  Fakhera swore at her grandmother in her head, then sent a cloud of jinn to scour the yard.  If this was another of damn tests…

A wind no one else could feel tugged at her.  She looked down, just off the edge of the steps, and the key glinted, half buried in the dirt of the dying garden.  Fakhera bent and picked it up, confused.  This wasn’t hidden.  It was discarded.

Tetah’s house was dark.  The TV in the living room was on, droning about the economy.  The dead light flickered from the screen, washing the room in blue.  Fakhera inhaled and almost gagged.  Rotting food laced the air. “Tetah?  Tetah, are you home?”  Nothing but the voices on the TV.

She went to the kitchen.  The plate of wasted food, the bowl of fruit, were covered with mold.  Fakhera dumped the spoiled meal into the garbage can.  The house was so quiet, so still.  She realized none of the jinn were with her.  That never happened.   She turned away from the trash can and barely restrained her shriek.

“Fakhera?  What are you doing here?”  Tetah’s voice was weak, sibilant.  Her hair was stringy, tangled.  Her eyes were barely visible black pits and her cheeks were obviously sunken.  Her hand reached for a kitchen chair, missed.  Fakhera rushed to her side as she began to overbalance.  Then she helped Tetah into the chair she was reaching for.

“What are you doing here?”  She asked again.

Fakhera crossed the room and turned on the lights.  Enaya quailed and lowered her head to hide her eyes.  Fakhera went to the sink.  “Let me get you a drink.”  None of the glasses were clean.  She picked the one that looked least dirty, rinsed it out.  “I haven’t been able to talk to you for two weeks.”  She filled the mostly clean glass with water then set it in front of her grandmother.  “What’s going on?”

Enaya took a drink.  Kept taking a drink.  She gulped audibly until the glass was empty.  “Two weeks?  Two weeks?  What’s today’s date?”  Fahkera told her and the older woman swore.  “I have to make a phone call.”  She tried to stand, wobbled, sank back into her chair, anger and exhaustion fighting to control her features.

Fakhera stood.  “I’ll get it for you.”  She went to the living room to find the handset.  It was on the base, fully charged.  Fakhera noticed there were over thirty voicemails.  She also noticed the jinn were starting to creep back into the house and was relieved.  Tetah’s house should never be so dark. So quiet and empty.

The swirl of jinn in the kitchen was almost overwhelming.  If they crept into the living room they had flooded the kitchen.  Fakhera could hear the flood of babble they directed at her grandmother.  She looked on the verge of collapse.  Fakhera pulsed a command and the jinn scattered, the flood of babble fell off to almost nothing.  She handed the phone to Tetah.  “Thank you,” she said.  Fakhera nodded and sat across from her.

Enaya stared at the phone for a moment.  Fakhera could almost see her trying to remember what it was for.  The older woman’s eyes narrowed and her expression cleared.  Her finger jabbed quickly and the strong figure Fakhera always saw seemed to be returning.

“It’s Enaya.”  She straightened.  “Yes, Gabriel, I found it.  Tell the Greysoul it’s called Hantu Raya.  There was a pact.”  Her grandmother’s head cocks to the right.  “Who?”  Enaya’s eyes narrowed and her voice deepened.  “I think it was the child’s great-grandfather.  Can you–”  She was silent for a while, listening to the person she called Gabriel.  “This one is bad, Cleric.  No probably not.  I will be.”  Her shoulders slumped.  “It was more than I expected.  I’m not sure I can do this again.  No, I understand.”  Fakhera is watching the energy drain from her grandmother.  She pushed the end button and the phone dropped from her hand.

She stared.  Past Fakhera.  Maybe at the jinn, maybe at nothing, maybe at something hidden even from her granddaughter.

“Tetah?  Are you okay?”

Enaya’s head shook.  “Hm?  I’m sorry, Fakhera.  I’m just tired.”

“Let me get you something to eat.”  She started to stand.

Enaya’s hand shot out, grabbed her shoulder before she was halfway out of her seat.  “Sit, child.  This is important.  We must speak, before I lose the opportunity.”

Fakhera eased back into the chair, leery of what was coming.

Enaya stared down at the table for a time.  Then she took a deep breath and lifted her gaze.  Fakhera could feel her grandmother searching her face, could feel the jinn stirring around them.  “There are others like us, Hafidati.  People who speak with the jinn, who can command them.  But the jinn are not the only spirits.  There are others.  Wild spirits.  Spirits that we can’t talk to, can’t see.  Our friends can.  There are those who will talk to, make deals with, command the other spirits.  There are those who attempt to commune with the dead.  There are those who try to bind them.”  She trailed off.  Her head turned.  “No, she must know.”  Fakhera hadn’t heard the jinn say anything.

“I have taught you to be careful.  We are outcast and pariah.  There are people who would still see us stoned, or burned, or simply dead in the street from blade or bullet for being what we are.”  She looked down again, and was silent for nearly a minute.  When she looked up the exhaustion was gone from her face.  “There are others who would seek to control us.  We are not invulnerable.  If someone is willing to pay the price we can be controlled, dominated.  If someone is willing to do the act we can be severed from our connection with the jinn.”  The thin scars, one on the back and one its twin on the palm of her mother’s hand, flashed through Fakhera’s mind.

“But we can undo ourselves.  Oaths have power with the jinn. They have power over our relationship with them.  We must be careful what we promise.  We must be careful who we promise to.  If we trade in betrayal we can become lost.”

“What happened, Tetah?”

“There is a man Fakhera.  His name, this life, is Anton.  He came to me twenty years ago.  He was trying to help a friend, a catholic priest, exorcise a possession.  We came to an agreement.  I broke the trust.”  She looked down at her hands.  “His name in this life is Anton.  But he has been called so many others.  The jinn can’t even see down through all of them.  And they are terrified of him.  He knows things, remembers things that are lost.  He’s called Greysoul.  I don’t know if there are others.  He knows things about us that even I didn’t.  And when I betrayed him I gave him a hold I can never shake.  He bound me to service.”  Her voice dropped, barely above a whisper.  “I am free to do as I will.  Except when he calls.”

“That’s horrible, Tetah!”

Her grandmother waved a hand.  “I was so sure of myself, Fakhera.  I spent forty years knowing everything.  When the jinn told me what he was fighting, when they brought me its bargain, I was sure nothing could stand against it.  I was sure there would be no consequences for my actions.”  She looked up and almost seemed to smile.  “He tore it to shreds.  Destroyed it more surely than if Allah had struck it down.  Then he came to me.  He knew.  He knew and he could have taken the jinn from me.  Instead he said I would help him if he needed, until I was no longer willing.  And he handed me the knife.”  Enaya kept twisting her right hand, staring at the scars that weren’t there.  She looked up to her granddaughter, tears streaming into the bitter smile.  “That’s the thing.”  Her voice started to pitch higher.  “He really doesn’t have a hold on me.  I can be free anytime I want.  I just have to give up everything I am.”  She broke, and the laughter sobbed out of her.

 

Tetah’s house was dark.  It would stay that way.  For the jinn, at least, and Fakhera.  They brought word, the jinn, right before the end.  They yanked Fakhera from sleep, so loudly, so violently they nearly woke her bedmate as well.

Fakhera rolled out of bed, landing nearly silent.  The past three years had brought so many warnings, so many shrieking alarms, she had become old hat at not disturbing those around her.

The jinn swirled, chatoic and loud.  She grabbed a shirt from the floor and shrugged into it on her way to the kitchen.  Thirsty. She needed a drink.  She grabbed a mostly clean glass from the counter, filled it with lukewarm tapwater and gulped it down.  She stared at the wall, nearly senseless from the chaotic assault of the jinn.  She was about to blast them with an admonishment when their tenor changed.

She turned from the sink and they began to swirl.  Barely visible forms seemed to stretch and join, until it almost looked like they formed a tunnel.  Fakhera stared, almost frightened by their behavior until a hazy form emerged.

“Fakhera, I am proud of you.”

“Tetah?  What?”

“Hush child.  I don’t have much time.  This is the final gift of the jinn to me.  Soon I will be beyond their reach, or yours.”  The form grew more solid and Fakhera could make out the features of her grandmother.  “Your gifts are for the world of the living, not the dead.”  The form began to fade.  “Follow your own path, Hafidati.  Take care of yourself.  You don’t need to do as I did.  Stay away from the cleric.  Stay away from the Greysoul.  Never be commanded.”  Tetah was nearly gone.  “I love you.”

“Wait.”  Fakhera whispered to the empty in front of her.

Silence.  The jinn were still.

Silence.  The jinn faded.

Fakhera sank to the bed, not knowing how she got there.

She sat, staring into the dark.  The jinn left her alone.

Movement behind her.  The bed shifted.  “Fakhera?”  Kayla’s hand rested on her shoulder.  Fakhera reached up, grabed the fingers, laid her cheek to the warmth.  “What’s wrong, baby?”

And Fakhera began to weep.

 

There was an extra car, a Merc, in the driveway and Fakhera started to swear.  Lunch.  Her mother asked her over for lunch and it looked like the bitch brought a lawyer.  She couldn’t let go.  Tetah made no secret that Fakhera would get most of her estate.  She said it was because mother was well off and established.  Her practice and the divorce settlement meant she wanted for nothing.  All three of them knew, without saying, it was because of the scars.

Fakhera didn’t understand why she couldn’t let go.  Her car sputtering to a stop outlined how little Tetah left her.  She would be able to finish school without having to work if she was very, very careful.  She sat in the car for a minute, wondering if she should just drive away.  Then she sighed and got out.  If mother wanted to make war best to learn the battlefield.

She was wearing a hijab.  Since the divorce mother had taken to wearing it more often. She introduced the man sitting at the kitchen table as Dr. Ghazi Abad.  Fakhera shook the offered hand.  The jinn swirled around him, around her mother.  Fakhera pulsed a command to them and they scattered.  She took the seat across from Abad, wary.

Mother scurried around the kitchen, nervous energy making her fidget.  Fakhera divided her attention between the conversation Abad was trying to hold with her and what the jinn were telling her about him and mother.  She struggled to keep her expression even, but a tight lipped smile creased her face.  Abad didn’t notice.

Finally, her mother couldn’t find anything else to avoid joining Fakhera and her Abad at the table.  Fakhera was almost relieved.  This was about to be exceedingly unpleasant.  She just wanted it finished.

The meal was nearly finished when Abad stopped talking.  Mother twisted to him and he nodded.  She turned to Fakhera.  She opened her mouth to say something and seemed to lose the words.  She tried again and failed again.  She turned to Abad and recoiled from what she saw there.

“Is something wrong, Mother?  You look like a stranded fish when you do that.”  Stab and twist and repeat.

Mother’s head snapped back.  Her eyes were narrow and anger paled her face.

Good.  She didn’t adapt quickly when she was angry.

“Yes.  Yes something is wrong.”  Mother took a deep breath.  “I know you were close to your grandmother.  I know she was a mentor for you.  But I’ve been talking with Ghazi and I, we, think you might be, there might be,” she drew a deep breath.  “I think you’ve strayed too far Fakhera.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.  You have no contact with the rest of us.  That woman you,” she fished for a word, “associate with, is no good for you.  You’ve been doing things your grandmother taught you.  They’re wrong.  They’re evil.  And Ghazi thinks there might be problems with your Grandmother’s will.”  She stopped, flushed with excitement.

“So?”

“So?  So?” Mother’s voice rose to a shriek.

“Adara!  Enough.”  The command snapped out from Abad and mother sank back into her chair.  Silent.

“Fakhera,” his voice slimed good will and reasonableness.  “Your mother is just concerned.  There were always some suspicions about your grandmother.  Adara confirmed them.  If we had known earlier, we may have been able to do something about it.  There’s still time for you.”

“Time for me to what?”

“They’re jinn, Fakhera!” her mother shouted.  “Jinn!  They’re evil!  They’re tainted and unclean and they’ve made you unclean!  I can’t believe I let mother do this to you!  I should have stopped it earlier.  I will now.”

“Really?”  Almost there.

“Yes really,” Abad said.  “There were always suspicions about Enaya.  If your mother had come to us, come to me earlier, it could have been stopped.  We want to do what’s best for you.  There’s still time.”

“Still time for what?”  The jinn told her, already.  But Fakhera wanted to put paid to this mess.  Now and forever.

“Time for you to come home,” said Adara.  You can come home and I can help you.  I can help you find a nice boy.”

“I don’t need to come home,” said Fakhera.  “Tetah made sure of that.”

“You do, Fakhera,” said Abad.  “When your mother came to me, came to us about this, I had some friends go over the will.  There are irregularities.  If you do not obey she will challenge it.  You won’t have the money to fight.”  He smiled.  “Come home to your mother.  Come to the mosque with her.  There is still time.  You are not lost to Allah yet.”

Fakhera tilted her chair back, head swiveling between her enemies.  Then she looked down and started digging in her purse.  “Let me make sure I have this right.”  There it was.  “You want me to give up everything I am.”  Her hand wrapped around the item.  “You want me to sacrifice my independence because of what I can do.  To do it, you will threaten to cast me out of a society I don’t belong to and with financial ruin?”

“I just want us to be family again.”  Adara’s voice was soft and thin and strained.  Abad nodded, not bothering to hide the vicious smile Adara couldn’t see.

Fakhera waited.  The silence stretched for nearly a minute.  Abad’s smile started to fall.  Adara looked like she might explode.

“Get fucked.  Both of you can fuck off and die.”

“What?” Adara shrieked.  The blood drained from Abad’s face.  His neck tensed and he started to rise from his chair.

Fakhera exploded from hers.  Her hand flashed out of the purse and the knife in it thunked an inch deep into the table.  Abad fell back into his chair.  Adara cowered in hers, eyes wide in terror, unable to leave the knife.

“Do you know why men fear the jinn, Abad?  They fear the jinn because they know the two of you have been fucking for six years.  If my math is correct, that’s two years longer than you’ve been divorced, mother.  That’s eighteen months longer than father was fucking around.  They know you’ve been treated for gonorrhea five times in the past four years, Abad.  You really should get tested, mother.  They know about the other women you’re sleeping with.  They know about the one you fucked before coming over here.  They know about the girls your sons have raped.  The ones you’ve paid.  They know about the crooked property deals.”  She turned away from the man quivering in anger and fear.

“And you, Adara.  I don’t and never did care whose dick you were sucking.  You were small and afraid but I thought you did want what was best for me.”  She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “Do you recognize this knife, Adara?  You should.  It’s your fear made manifest.  It’s the one you forced your mother to use on you because you didn’t have the courage to use it yourself.  This is her last gift to you.  Be small and afraid Adara.  It’s all you’re good for.”

Fakhera looked around the kitchen for the last time.  Then back to the roaches cowering before her.  “We are done.  If I get so much as a hint that either of you are coming after me I will burn your lives to the ground and dance in the ashes.  Do you understand?”  They nodded.  She stared at them for a moment longer then turned and began to make her way out of the house.  The jinn swirled around her, turning the air behind her nearly opaque.  She didn’t hurry but she didn’t linger either.

She made it almost ten blocks before she began to weep for the death of her childhood.

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Posted in: Writing