The Wrong Note

byMagicaPractica©

"Do you?" Rita asked impulsively.

"Do I what?"

Rita waved a hand over the closed book. "Believe in this stuff?"

Tia Selena shrugged again. "I have known people who truly believed in what they were doing and some people who didn't really believe in it, who were just using it to intimidate people. I have never seen an instance where the person didn't truly believe, where it took effect. Of course, even more important is the belief of the person who was subjected to it."

"So, you don't believe?"

She looked down at the book and ran a hand across the cover. "Are they all wrong? Are they all right? No se, I don't know." Selena tilted her head back and sighted down her nose at Rita. "More important, do you believe in it?"

She didn't meet Tia Selena's eyes. It was hard to let someone in, to tell them what she had experienced, but she tried. "I've . . . heard things, that make me believe in something."

"Heard?"

Rita's eyes flickered over to the other woman and away around the room. "You know I was in an accident when I was a child."

"A car accident, that killed your parents, yes."

Rita nodded. "Ever since then sometimes . . . I hear things."

"Such as?"

"Voices." Her eyes flicked to the woman, waiting for "the look" but the other woman was inscrutable. "It's . . . like listening in on a conversation, or sometimes like someone is speaking directly to me, from a long way off."

Selena nodded. "And have you heard anything recently?"

"Yes."

"What?"

"Well, when the . . . present arrived, I heard a voice say 'Not everyone is as they seem.' " She also told Tia Selena about the night of the fire.

Tia Selena listened carefully, thought for a minute and nodded. "Then I think you'd better heed them."

"You do?" Rita was slightly surprised. She was used to people coddling her, saying okay or suggesting she see someone professionally. That was part of why she had stopped telling people.

"Even if these voices are completely in your head, they sound rational and logical. As long as you weigh whatever you hear against your own conscience, I think you are safe in listening to them."

Rita nodded. "That's what I had decided too." She said her good-byes and left, pondering the information she had gathered with Tia Selena. Taken together, the bungled ritual of the bird and the fire, it seemed more and more likely that it was just a prank. Why her? Maybe just a complete coincidence.

But then there were the voices. How much did she trust them? And there wasn't just one. What if one was reliable but others were less . . . correct? Or could some of them be downright malevolent?

Rita drove home with her thoughts running in a circle, like a dog chasing its tail. She felt tired and run down but she was worried. Perhaps it was a good time for a sweat lodge. It might relax her and open her up to some answers, either from her own subconscious or the voices. That was when the voices spoke to her the most clearly. Perhaps they had some information to impart that she could pass on to Teo, to help in the investigation.

She was home and had parked the car, already on the way up the sidewalk when an old woman's voice barked, loud and clear, "Go slow!" At first she was so startled, she stopped and looked around. Was there anyone there? No. It was dark already and the light from her front porch didn't illuminate very much down the flower and bush lined walkway. There was some ambient light from the rising moon but it didn't do much more than help make out shapes. She took two steps forward and heard a sound she hadn't heard since her teen years in New Mexico, but the rattle was unmistakable. She stood still and pinpointed the sound.

The rattler was about four feet to her right and ahead. Close enough to strike and hit her but once the primal fear passed, she relaxed. Rattlers warned people so that they wouldn't get stepped on. They weren't really as aggressive as some people would think. If she just held still, it would go away. And even if she did get bit, she had her cell phone, was right next to her house and the ambulance could be there in minutes.

The strange thing was that there was even one in her yard. Rattlesnakes lived in New York but they weren't terribly prevalent. Taken along with the other recent events, it suggested someone had helped it find its way here. She wouldn't want one of the kids she worked with, or anyone, to come upon it unaware. If she could get the garden rake and scoop it up, she could put it in something until someone from animal control could come collect it and relocate it. She didn't particularly want to be fishing around in bushes for a rattlesnake at night but she had to do something, she couldn't leave it out there to hide before morning, or for someone else to trip across.

Rita took one slow step backward, then another. Then another thought occurred to her. If they had bothered to bring one rattlesnake, could there be another? She stopped and pulled out her cell phone to call Teo.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Well," she said. "I'm standing on the walk up to my house and there's at least one rattlesnake. He could have gotten here on his own but I'm doubting it, which makes me wonder if there's more."

"I'll be right there with animal control."

"I'll be here," she said lightly. And that's exactly where she was when Teo pulled up ten minutes later with the animal control truck. Before they'd even stopped, she started retracing her steps. If she got hit now they could get help within minutes.

"Are you okay?" Teo asked, looking around at the ground as he walked towards her.

"I'm fine."

She directed the animal control officer and his assistant in their thick boots with a flood light to where she knew the rattler had last been. Teo and she sat in his car while the two men searched the foliage. Rita pulled out the notes she had made with Tia Selena and they went over them.

"I'm afraid it doesn't help much," Rita conceded.

"Doesn't matter," Teo said with a shrug. "We'll get to the bottom of this." He folded the notes and stuck them in his pocket. "Listen, Rita . . . "

Rita looked over at him and tilted her head. "What?"

Teo reached out and took her hand in his. "I . . . "

Rita went still and stared down at their hands. He was holding her hand in both of his. Teo was more demonstrative and comfortable with touching than she was, but he usually respected that and gave her some personal space. He was deliberately reaching into her bubble right now. Why?

She looked up at him. Their eyes met and held. She felt breathless and light headed, her normally rational thoughts overwhelmed by the warmth of his hands and in his gaze as he leaned toward her.

The knock on the window startled both of them.

Rita withdrew her hand and Teo let her, with a sigh, before he opened the door to talk with the animal control officer. Rita got out too.

"We've got 'em," the animal control officer said cheerfully. "They didn't give us no trouble, doesn't belong over here at all. Two rattlers, tagged from the plantation. We'll get 'em back where they belong. Can't imagine how they got all the way over here."

Rita knew there was a preserve where a particular type of rattlesnake lived. "Isn't that fifteen miles from here? Are they usually found so far away?"

"Never, I think they must have had some help to get here," he said solemnly. "Suppose one could have crawled into a car engine to keep warm and been transported but there were two, that we found. We're gonna leave a trap, in case there are any others."

Teo thanked the animal control people and they left to return the rattlers to their natural habitat.

Teo turned on Rita. "Rita, this is getting dangerous. I want you to come stay with me until this person is caught."

Rita looked up at her cozy, comfortable little home. "No, I'm not going to be driven off by anyone." Plus, being with him felt just a little bit dangerous to her sanity right now too.

Teo sighed. "Listen, Rita, there's something about the murders at the University that we haven't told anyone. Each of those young people who disappeared had a series of pranks played on them leading up to their disappearance."

Rita frowned over at him. "A dead bird? Burning shit?"

"No, not those specific things but similar in nature, menacing but silly, escalating."

Rita took a breath and let it out slowly, then crossed her arms. "I'll be careful."

Teo swore under his breath. "You are the most stubborn person I've ever . . . "

"Then you know arguing with me won't do any good," Rita interrupted mildly and started up the sidewalk to her house.

"Fine! But you keep your doors and windows locked, your cell phone nearby and call me if you hear a mouse squeak, understand?" he called after her.

She smiled but kept walking. "Yes, Teo."

"Night, Rita."

"Good night, Teo."

She felt churlish as soon as she got inside and flipped the deadbolt. He'd come running as soon as she called and she was brushing off his concerns. Well, not brushing off but . . . . She pulled out her cell phone and texted him, Door is locked, and waited. He wouldn't have even gotten in his car yet.

A minute later she got back a text, Good night, Rita.

Rita had walked into the kitchen and turned on a light. It was past her usual dinner time and she was hungry but she really wanted to meditate and see if the voices had something to tell her. She grabbed a small handful of trail mix to still her grumbling stomach and chased it with some water then went into her consultation room.

A recording of drum music on low helped set her on the right mental path then she lit a small bundle of sage and smudged the room. Slipping out of her shoes, she settled comfortably onto a thick rug on the floor and rested her hands in her lap.

The room was soothing, in the sunset tones of her childhood. It was sparsely furnished and her guitar rested in a stand in the corner. She took several deep breaths, inhaling slowly through her nose then out through her mouth, and closed her eyes.

Soon she was floating in a receptive state, watching the silly mundane concerns bubble up to the surface and gently pushing the bubbles off, to float away.

Murmurs came and went, talking in low sad tones. She wondered why. Then she heard her grandmother. "Oh, Rita . . . sweetie." That was all.

Then she heard another voice that she had never heard inside her head before.

"He's right outside, Chiquita."

An image of Brent flashed through her mind.

Rita's eyes flew open. "Teo?"

As the meaning of what she'd just heard settled into her bones, Rita's eyes filled with tears but she blinked them back. And she understood, he had never left, the last text had probably not even been from him. If she'd gone with him, if she'd only . . .

Rita heard the tinkle of breaking glass in the front room and her pulse quickened. She got up, went to her altar and opened a drawer, pulling out the ceremonial knife Joseph had given her so many years before. Then she turned and, walking silently, went out to end it.

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