Verna rang the doorbell impatiently while looking once again at the list.
“How’d I miss that, Alice,” she said, mentally kicking herself that she hadn’t at all connected the Chloe that had started her whole frantic investigation into the San Francisco situation to begin with to the current case.
“Well, you did keep putting off reading the list,” Alice chided mockingly. Her good humor seemed to be slowly fading back into her. More likely, Verna thought, she was using the same energy and focus she was to try and put out of mind Mel’s hopeless situation.
“Still, it’s unprofessional.” Weak sauce, Verna thought
Alice rather agreed. “I will keep that in mind,” she responded letting the terms drip with sarcasm.
“Hello?” A young woman opened the door and straightened what looked like an apron. “I was just making dinner for my father.”
Verna balked at the statement, but forced herself on. “Are you Chloe Steele?”
“I am. I’m sorry, but how do you know my name?”
Verna shook her head. “Sorry, we’re from The Center, you called us about a week ago in a bit of distress.”
“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t fully remember that. But it might be true, I’ve been most upset about my mom and brother. They were lucky enough to be taken by Jesus, you know. Are you from New Hope Church?”
Verna tried to unpack and parse the sentence, but was unable to. She flipped over the sheet and just began writing as much of it down as she could in pure journalistic fervor.
Alice again took over the reins Verna had once again let falter. “Forgive her, she was just worried about her. Yes, we’re definitely related to this New Hope. If you’d be a doll and tell me more about it and your father Captain Steele, that’d be great.”
Chloe’s eyes tilted, but if she suspected the brazen lie, she didn’t let on. “Oh New Hope is brilliant, it really opened my eyes. Or rather, my father’s eyes first. I’m sorry, my roast is burning, would you join me in the Kitchen?”
Verna watched as Alice followed into the kitchen as she began to investigate around the hideous suburban house. Verna was not much for judging decorations. She had always lived pretty spartan, so she never really felt like she couldn’t judge anyone else’s idea of a good home to have, but this house looked like something out of her worst nightmares. Covered in nothing but desperate kitsch and lace, it looked like what a maniacal grandma would put up to line her own prison cell. There were entire walls with more and more complex embroideries as if the creator was desperately trying to stitch back to tendrils of Cthulhu himself.
There were photos everywhere, showing off an older nervous wreck of a woman nervously twisting an ancient pearl necklace while occasionally holding a baby boy or proudly clutching a young boy with that exact type of haircut you only see on a person when they cannot choose their haircut. There was also an older man as well festooned in an airline pilot’s uniform. No wonder the military leads hadn’t panned out. There was also the woman who had opened the door. The photos of her, seemed normal for the most part, but she noticed that teenage Chloe had been a little loud, as it were.
The voice she had heard had been the same one weeping to her on the Crisis Hotline. But why then, did she not have any idea what she meant by the Center? Even worse, how did Chloe not know or respond to the rainbow pin on Verna’s baseball cap? She shuffled around more and more, looking for some form of clue. Moving upstairs she looked around first the parent’s bedroom. It was oddly septic, like a sleeping pod and there was some weird aura surrounding it. She entered briefly and looked around but she was feeling overwhelming energy to leave. She began to turn around, but caught a glimpse of something on the floor.
It was an old straight edge razor, covered in old blood. She pocketed it and then fled.
Dinosaur mobiles hung from the ceiling with little people riding them. Books like The Good Christian Science Book were strewn on the floor while posters proclaiming, “I like Jesus” were hung on all the walls. Verna scoured through the room for any additional clues, but there was little accept a small bundle of perfectly draped clothes that had recently been what looks like forcibly hugged. Verna felt the need again to immediately leave.
The final room seemed to be the right one. There were pictures of female musicians on every wall and what looked like a duffel bag. She dug through briefly, looking over the artifacts within, but they were mostly clothes. She had apparently packed light. Shrugging her shoulders, she tore around the room, but most of it was innocuous, but oddly, that creepy sort of innocuous that comes from someone desperately trying to present an innocuous room. She began feeling around wallboards and ceiling tiles and drawer bottoms, before finding Chloe’s secret stash. Magazines of Curve and old playboys likely stolen from her father.
She felt around some more, finding a discarded pair of jeans with a wallet inside, containing photos of a rather beautiful girl in a halter-top signed From Maggie with Love.
She remembered that name. The panicked girl who had called her had been frantic for any help reaching San Francisco, worried sick that she had to tell Maggie something before it was too late. Slipping the photo into her pocket, she went back downstairs, where Alice was helping sautee some potatoes.
“We were just talking all about Captain Steele. Did you know he lost a wife and son and helped bring our Chloe here to Jesus?” Alice said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Verna just nodded and grabbed Chloe by the shoulders.
“What are you doing,” Chloe responded angrily.
“I know you called us Chloe. Tell us about Maggie.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just cooking dinner. My father will be home soon. Supper must be ready. A dutiful daughter,” Chloe’s eyes darted frantically to the pot roast as Verna shook her.
“Bullshit,” Verna cursed bitterly before pulling the photo out of her pocket. This Maggie, your girlfriend in the San Francisco area.”
“Liar. I’m a good Christian woman. I am pledged eternally to Buck Williams.”
Verna heard a spoon drop behind her and a voice speak up.
“What was that, dear?”
“Buck Williams. God chose him to be my lord and master as it says in the Bible. I prayed for him and then he God got him seats directly next to mine the day after I met him and I knew then I’d be with him forever and ever because I am a woman and he is a man and he bought me a cookie at an airport.”
Verna blinked trying not to let the creepy overwhelm her moral outrage. If she was going to get to the bottom of this she needed answers from those most afflicted.
“You mentioned you were scared of something. Something inside of your father made him change. Is it related to something called The Deity?”
“Jesus Christ is the way, you heathens! My father corrected me onto the path from a life hell bound for my sins. Now I can be with my mother in Heaven. She’s the greatest person of all, better than us left behind.”
Verna felt like she was close to it. Now she had to gamble.
“You tried to meet with your mother didn’t you. Tried to kill your self with this,” she pulled out the bloodstained straight edge and held it up. “But then this Jesus or maybe Captain Steele did something to you.”
“Oh, god, what is that. I never tried to kill myself. Help, help! The robbers have returned for more of Raymie’s things.”
Verna grabbed Chloe’s wrist harder and wrestled down her sleeves. “I’m afraid you can’t hide it any longer, the evidence is right…here.”
Verna looked down on perfectly unscarred wrists.
“But that doesn’t make sense.” Verna felt the aching gap fill once again, a filling of deep and abiding chaos delicately straddled as the world crumbled down inside of her. “I was onto the answer. Eliminate the impossibilities and whatever’s left no matter how improbable must be true…”
“We got to get out of here,” Alice tugged frantically at Verna’s plain sleeves with absolute terror. “I have a really bad feeling.”
“We need to get out of here now.” Alice wasn’t usually inclined to throw weight around, but Verna wasn’t the most butch of dykes to begin with. Without much commotion she found herself dragged along hopping on one foot before gaining a running speed as Alice frantically searched around for an empty house to throw them into and lock the door.
“I think we’re safe now,” Alice muttered, keeping low from the windows and still trembling all over.
“Why did you-“ Verna began, the chaos still shattering her careful faith in order and control.
“I felt it Verna. Again. I think it might have been The Deity,” Alice collapsed against the floor and began to cry. “God, it’s not really over. It’s not actually going to let things become normal again.”
“Alice, what’s going on?” Verna tried to rally desperately.
“The Event, I think I know what caused it and I think it’s somehow fixated on Buck and Captain Steele and maybe that weirdly popular Carpathia guy.”
“So…” Verna violently shook her mind for the core of her essence. Once found, she grasped it tight and fell.
“What do we do, Verna?” Alice continued sobbing into her pretty dress.
“We’re reporters, Alice,” Verna said quietly. “We investigate.”
“It’s probably watching the house now.”
“Then we find another source,” Verna said, pulling up her distraught friend. Now let’s get back to civilization.”
Back at the Steele residence, Chloe Steele cried and prayed as The Deity circled around gazing her this way and that.
“What is it my puppet?” It hissed into the air.
“There were heathens here and they were saying the most horrible things,” Chloe responded, weeping openly. “And then you came and made them stop.”
The Deity chuckled. The new Chloe was so much better than that old insolent whelp. It smiled deeply and then replied in a voice full of what it considered love.
“Well sound the alarm if they come back, the Godless must be punished.”
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