“This is such perfect yet imperfect timing,” I said.
“You’re sick. I know. And yes, you should definitely apologize!”
My teeth were starting to jitter. Hoping that I would be left home alone for some time, I invited Punk inside.
“You can tell, huh? I must look terrible,” I said standing back. “I don’t want you to get what I have.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t get sick.”
“How did you know where to find me?”
“I have my ways,” he replied.
“Always elusive. Can I make you some tea?”
“Would love some.”
I invited Punk into the kitchen. It was hard to call him by that name, as he didn’t look like a punk anymore. He wore a black turtleneck underneath his jacket and a pair of purple cords. I, on the other hand, was a complete mess in dire need of a shower.
“When did you arrive?” I asked, filling the kettle with water.
“Just now,” he said as he leaned against the counter. “Literally just got off the train.”
“How did you know I needed help?”
“Picked up your message floating through the ether.” He made a gesture as if catching a speck flying through the air and I almost dropped the kettle into the sink. Punk was not an ordinary person and it didn’t take long for me to feel the space around and inside me fill with his ardor. I had so many questions to ask him. But I also felt that since we last met, I’d made progress on my own, which allowed me to understand him better even without words.
“You can communicate using telepathy?” I asked, placing the heavy kettle on the stove. The air was growing thicker between us, the air charging with electricity.
“You can call it that, but rather than complete sentences, the message is more of a feeling right here,” he said, tapping the middle of his chest, “and a vision right here,” he pointed to his head. “Plus, I was planning to pay a visit anyway. I made friends in this town back when we met,” he said, his words sounding almost too earthbound. “So, what’s new with you?”
“Where to start?”
“Anywhere you choose.”
I began by telling him about how right he was by advising me to go with my parents to the hospital where I met Daniel, who turned out to be my half-brother. I told him about the secret that weighed down my family like a storm cloud and often made me question my own sanity. I told him about Stan, and after our tea was made I had him follow me to my room and showed him the book Stan’s ghost had given me. Running his fingertips across the black leather cover, Punk absorbed my words without a hint of surprise. It was a relief to be heard and not be thought of as a lunatic, although I was also hoping for a degree of astonishment in response to my discoveries. “I think my grandfather has supernatural abilities. I can’t know for sure, but when I put the pieces together, he seems to be an intricate part of everything,” I said.
“Sounds like you are on the right track. And the angel? Any more visits? Or clues?” he asked, looking up at me.
“Yes. In fact, I got another gift,” I said, and opened Daniel’s notebook to the middle of the tome where I had stored the feather.
He took both into each hand. “Interesting.”
“I need you to help me find Daniel. This book belongs to him.”
“This is why I’m here.”
“You already know that, too?”
He nodded. “Told you. Your message stabbed me in my chest,” Punk used the tip of the feather to show me just how it had done it.
Based on what he had told me about picking up messages from thin air, Punk seemed already well versed in the practice I was trying to master. I relaxed knowing I no longer needed to strive to perfect it, compressing years of effort into days or perhaps even hours of concentration pasted with intent.
“And do you happen to also know where he is?”
“I’m afraid that part remains obscured.”
“Can you find out? Somehow?” I asked with pleading eyes.
“I need something that belonged to him. It would help with the visions—cut the time, shorten the distance.”
“You are holding it in your hands,” I said, pointing at the book.
But Punk shook his head. “Too long in the hands of a ghost.”
“I don’t have anything else,” I said, dismayed. Just when I thought all hope was lost, I remembered an object. “It’s a slight chance, but maybe I could find the picture that helped Daniel find my grandfather? Daniel told me he gave it to Grandpa at the hospital. If luck is on our side, the picture should be somewhere at my grandparents’ apartment.”
Punk inclined his head. “That would help.”
“I’ll go there as soon as I’m well enough to leave the house,” I said. “Grandpa’s just gotten out of the hospital. It would be a disaster if he got whatever I had.”
Punk nodded once.
“How is Daniel? Are you able to tell?”
“Not good.” Punk’s expression became strained. “When I first heard your call and connected the dots, my body went numb. I think he might be in some induced sleep. Or a coma.”
“I wish we could get on our way immediately. Darn! Why did I have to get sick?”
Punk set the book down on my desk. “Give me your hand,” he said and reached for my cold palm to take it into his warm hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you my energy. So you get better faster.”
I could feel his heat transfer into my body. The feeling was much like that of placing cold hands under the stream of hot water. My skin covered with pleasant shivers.
“By the way, you are no longer contagious.”
“You have many talents,” I said.
“They are useless unless I can share them.”
“Who are you, really?”
Punk sighed. “I mistrust labels and adjectives. I’d prefer you get to know me and draw your own conclusions. It’s better to read a whole book rather than its summary, don’t you think?”
As usual, what he said made sense.
“I sometimes wish to hear what you really think of me. And yet, part of me is afraid of what you’d say.”
Punk smiled and looked at my hand. “True power comes from self-discovery and not being afraid to be you. How could I ever rob you of that with a paltry comment or a meaningless personal opinion?”
I looked at his hands cradling mine. The heat was now radiating to the rest of my body. His words inspired me to wonder about how this would could be if more people thought like him. But Punk wasn’t the only person encouraging self-exploration. Back at the hospital, Daniel told me about a friend he once had who encouraged him to search for his roots. Daniel said that they were of the same kind. The same kind… This was a long shot, but I felt the significance of this memory magnify the reason behind Punk’s coming to help me find Daniel.
Could it be that he knew my brother before he even met me?
“Your family is back,” Punk said, letting go of my hand. Soon I heard the percolating engine of my uncle’s truck outside the house. “I’d better go now.”
“Will you come back again tomorrow?” I asked.
“I may. In the meantime, try to find the picture.”
I walked Punk down to our basement and let him out through the garage door just as Mom and Rena were entering the house through the main entrance upstairs.
“Daniel was right. You are an extraordinary friend,” I said, taking a chance.
Punk stopped and turned around to look at me with surprise. “Can’t hide much from you for too long,” he said with smiling eyes.
The next morning, I awakened feeling rejuvenated, not even a lingering trace of my illness left. Without wasting any more time, I got dressed and went to see Grandpa. The day was wet, gloomy, and cold, but a sense of purpose added a spring to my step. I felt proud of myself for figuring out the link between Daniel’s only friend and the familiar stranger who came to my hometown, looking for a girl that showed up in his dream. I made another leap. But what filled me with the most
joy was the fact that I had managed to surprise Punk. All this time, I felt like I was at the mercy of his insight.
Grandma told me that Grandpa was asleep and took the opportunity to feed me more chicken soup. I ate, albeit slowly, still not having worked up much of an appetite. A half hour later, while Grandma left to the adjacent “cold room” that served as a provisional refrigerator during winter to finish making her batch of homemade pasta, I went to their bedroom to check on him. Sitting by his side, I took Grandpa’s veiny hand into mine and closed my eyes to administer my version of Punk’s therapy. As heat collected in my palm, Grandpa stirred and opened his eyes.
“Oh, look who’s here,” he smiled.
“How are you?”
He groaned. “Much better now that you’re here.”
“Can you feel the energy I’m sending you?”
He nodded. “Feels good.”
“Grandma told me your father could heal people. I thought I’d try it too, since I’m his great granddaughter.”
Grandpa winced. “Heal. That he could do. And more.”
“Was he a doctor?” I asked.
Grandpa shook his head. “He was a shaman.”
I straightened my back, wondering whether my blood lineage was at least in part responsible for my ability to see ghosts and attract fallen angels.
“Is that who you drew, that figure dancing around the fire?”
“No. That was me,” he squinted his eyes. “He trained me in early years. But we never finished our lessons.”
“Are you also a shaman?”
Grandpa smiled. “Let me show you something.”
He asked me to help him sit up and then go retrieve a small wooden box from a top shelf of the adjacent closet. I did so and handed him the box, flicking on the bedside lamp.
“I am not nearly as skilled as my father was, but there are a few things I still remember. These are his tools,” he said, opening the box with a dignified gesture. I wished for Punk to be here and see this. Carefully weighing each object with swollen-from-age-and-labor hands, he took out each treasure. “A veil for protection,” he spread a square of black sheer fabric over the comforter before him. “A wand to summon the spirits,” he placed a gnarly stick on top of the cloth, “and a stone for listening.”
“A stone for listening?” I said, peering at the black, glass-like piece he held in his hands reflecting light like a polished piece of coal.
Grandpa looked at me. “People lie. But an obsidian will always tell the truth.” I was trying to imagine how it was possible when Grandpa added, “My father knew how to hear the whisperings of stones. He’d say that they are the oldest living organisms on Earth. If you seek truth, which is every Shaman’s aim, you should learn to listen to stones. They are the chroniclers of history.”
“Where does this one come from?”
“Anatolia. Land far away, in the east, the place of my origin. And yours on this side of the family. All three artifacts have been passed over for generations.”
“A wand for summoning spirits?” I asked, nearing my fingertip toward the next artifact. But I didn’t dare to touch it. “How do you do that?”
“First things first,” he said, folding the veil over the wand. “This is not to be taken lightly. In the wrong hands, magic can do more harm than good, mostly to the uninitiated practitioner. This is why preparation is critical.”
I nodded fervently. I was willing to do anything to gain access to his knowledge. “Why are you sharing this knowledge with me?”
Grandpa sighed. “I know you’ve been dabbling in esoteric books—and I don’t mean the scripture. I also know that once someone like you takes a step in this direction, she is not likely to stop.”
“Is this why you decided to share this knowledge with me? Because you know I won’t stop?”
Grandpa smiled. “You naturally sense the presence of spirits around you. And you are not afraid to go to dark places as some people are. Every shaman must make peace with his darkness before he can command the light. It’s not an easy process.”
It seemed that I was more transparent to him than I had thought. A massive weight lifted off my shoulders. Until now, two parallel versions of my life—the mundane and the magical—had to remain separate, at times even antagonistic. But this sharing brought down a wall, allowing me to dwell in the world of spirits and images, without feeling like I was losing my mind or alienating my family.
“Thank you. Your words mean that I don’t have to hide anymore.”
He smiled. “I don’t know how much longer I will be around. So I’d like to teach you what I know so that my knowledge, as scant as it is, doesn’t die with me.”
“How do we begin?”
“First, you need to know how to protect yourself. The world is permeated with invisible forces. If misused or treated with disregard, these forces can bring chaos and destruction. Still, it happens all the time. Some people get careless. The shaman’s task is to help restore harmony,” Grandfather said, his countenance austere. “That is what we do. This is now also your legacy.”
“How do you do that?” I asked. “How do you restore harmony?”
“It depends. Most often with a prayer or a blessing.
But sometimes more drastic measures are necessary,” he said, putting the tools back into the box.
“You mean death?”
But Grandpa didn’t answer.
“What about the protection? Will you teach me now?”
“We will have to leave that for another day,” he said, and handed me the closed box. “Your grandmother is coming.”
I put the box back where I found it. “Could we ever restore harmony between Mom and Dad?” I whispered, closing the closet door.
Grandpa’s expression shifted. He suddenly looked a hundred years old. Worry distorted his face, shadows moving across it, lips quivering.
Grandma entered the room.
“Look at my Jan! He is all up and talking,” she chirped. In her hands, she carried a metal cup and a kitchen towel. “I brought soup,” she said to him. “And you,” she spoke to me. “You should go to the kitchen and pour yourself some. You must eat more. One gust of wind and you’ll be swept away.”
I stayed over until Mom and Rena came for dinner. While they ate, I began my search for the photograph. I checked drawers, shelves and even under the sofa. Lacking success, I was tempted to just ask, but Grandpa was in a precarious state and Stan was very clear in his instruction. I was not to talk to my family, as that would only slow me down. I took Grandpa’s recent benevolence in letting me in on our shamanic lineage as an added bonus, not the foundation upon which to build my case. At the moment, finding Daniel took precedence over all else, including my growing desire to contact the angel and help my parents find harmony with each other.
Part of me still felt like I was operating blindly, though it was a great relief to now have a partner in Punk regardless of how little he was willing to share. Punk was a tough nut to crack. Not in the least concerned about the perceptions of others, he had no trouble blending in to remain hidden. I could only imagine the two of them—Daniel and Punk—one lost and the other nudging his friend to keep on searching. I got up and discreetly checked inside a credenza filled with papers and documents. I shuffled around the piles but found nothing. Quietly, I snack into the cold room and looked inside every drawer. But I didn’t find any photographs there either. Only stacks of napkins, plates and extra sets of boxed utensils.
Not wanting to go home empty-handed, I asked Grandma if I could stay the night. Mom was concerned that my recent illness might still be lingering, but I told them I felt great and there was no need to worry. I slept on the sofa and felt well that night, my body warm and my stomach filled with soup.
In the middle of the night, I awakened to a ring of light piercing through the ceiling. The light pulled me upwards and out of my body. As I ascended, I looked down and saw myself sleeping on the sofa, the angel stroking my hair that fanned over my pillow. I wanted to reciprocate his touch, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was look at him, and myself, from above, his sad smile accentuating the deep shadows on his face, dim yellow eyes tracing my resting features.
Sariel, how am I supposed to help you if I can’t even touch you? I thought in my dream. The futility of my contact with the angel suddenly hit me. He was an immaterial being
that visited me in my dreams. And I was starting to have real feelings for him.
The angel kept stroking my hair until I heard his whisper: Ninsal, come back to me. Come back, Ninsal…
The following morning, when Grandma was giving Grandpa a bath, I set off to rummage through his closet and dressers. I even checked under pillows and in his pajama pockets. Everywhere I looked I found no trace of the photograph. Just before my grandparents staggered back into the bedroom, I reached into the drawer of his end table and retrieved a copy of the Bible, planning to read a little to reset my brain before trying again. I took it with me to the living room to get out of their way.
Sitting down, I closed my eyes and asked for more clues. Maybe my eyes would land on a passage that could illuminate things? Flipping all the pages to one side, I fanned them until my eyes stumbled on something odd. Grandpa had used the picture as a bookmark, marking a page in Ezekiel. I spotted a faint dot marked in pencil next to a passage:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
I heard Grandpa’s muted voice calling me into his room. Leaving the photograph inside, I closed the holy text, tucking it between the cushions, and went into his room. He reached out his arm for mine and told me how much he liked my being here, keeping him company.
“Evelina, I’m feeling better today and wanted to continue our teaching,” he said. Looking into Grandpa’s almost translucent blue eyes, I felt a pang of guilt for wanting to go home now that I had located the object of my search. He wanted to pass his knowledge on to me, but all I could think of was Punk coming over to see me, and the two of us devising a plan to find Daniel.
“Thank you, Grandpa,” I said with downcast eyes. “I’d like that very much.”
“The first law of magic is self-knowledge,” he said, “Most young practitioners are very sensitive, too sensitive. Self-knowledge allows you to feel another’s feelings without mistaking them as your own. It also helps to discern when to trust, when to confront and when to turn away. So before you even get to conjure anything, you need to know where you end and others begin. It will help you protect yourself better.”
“Is it the same with spirits?” I asked, thinking of Sariel and the dream I had this morning.
“Yes, but it is best to not engage with spirits unless it is absolutely necessary. Spirits never offer anything for free. They always want something in return; there is a price to pay. If you used them for some purpose, it is very difficult to reinstate the order of things that existed before.”
“Why is that?”
“Once they depart, the spirits leave behind a void that needs to be filled, often at the expense of the living.”
“The sacrifice,” I muttered.
“Please do not speak of this to anyone.”
Grandpa’s sharing put many things in perspective. He expressed his desire to protect me, and our family, from harm. But the spirits were already among us. As he looked at me with his tired eyes, the image of the angel flashed before my eyes. Was it too late? Neither of us said anything.
Even if I still could, I knew that if I turned away now, abandoning my search would only lead to more questions later. I needed to know not only why Sariel came into my life but also what was it that he was making me remember. I also needed to know why Grandpa never brought
up Daniel’s existence, and what was an angel doing in his drawing, not to mention the words forgive me underneath his cryptic poem. So much still didn’t make sense.
“Have you ever practiced any spirit magic?” I asked.
“Once, when I was younger,” Grandpa said, his eyes fixed on mine. “But I made a mistake. I spent the rest of my life paying for it. This is why I’m cautioning you.”
I was tempted to ask about Daniel but then I remembered Stan’s words.
“What did you do?”
“I summoned a spirit in a moment of fear and the effects are plaguing me to this day. I just hope that it all goes with me,” he said.
“But there must be another way! If you feel you did something that bad, there must be something equally good you can do to balance it, right? Restore harmony?”
“Dear Evelina, you are a smart girl. But I have reasons to believe that I alone must pay the price for my deed and no one else must be involved. There, I said it. If I were to share more, the curse would spill and infect the very ones I want to protect. Please don’t ever bring this up again or mention it to anyone.”
The pain on Grandpa’s face said it all. But what he didn’t realize was that whatever he had done already affected us all, and I was getting close to peeling the scab that grew over his secret. It even made me wonder whether perhaps this long unexpressed anguish was what had solidified into the cancerous cells that ravaged his body.
Grandma came into the bedroom to help Grandpa walk into the kitchen where she had prepared their midday meal. I returned to the sofa, took out the Bible and reread the marked quote. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Ezekiel’s words were starting to gain more meaning. Did they point to Grandpa’s guilt?
I wished I could make him realize the absurdity of keeping things secret from us. Maybe what he needed was Daniel’s forgiveness but felt he didn’t deserve it after what he had done? After all, it is what he wrote in the journal. That must be it! Besides the picture in my hand, I felt that I held a key to Grandpa’s healing.
I put the Bible back in the drawer, said goodbye to my grandparents, and stuffing the photograph deep inside my pocket, flew down the stairs, anxious to share my discoveries with Punk.