Evil pursues Gwendolyn in the 17th century and Lyn in the 20th
Samhain (November 1, 1991)
A loud droning noise suddenly penetrated her sleep; it went on and on until, wrenched from unconsciousness, she opened her eyes and saw a ceiling.
A pale pink ceiling, this was, not the dark, smoke-stained beams of the croft in which she had slept last night. The dim light in the room told her it was morning.
Morning… so the loud noise was an alarm clock. The alarm always went off at six-thirty. It was time to get up, time to get ready to go to work, time to awaken her daughter.
Lyn sat up, looking around the room. Yes, she recognized it: it was her own bedroom.
She shook her head, feeling confused. But I was somewhere else—somewhere far away. I was someone else, with another name, another face, another life.
But no, she was Lyn St. John, doctor of medicine, and this was another morning in the late twentieth century in the United States of America.
But my name was Gwendolyn. I lived in Glenwilloch, the village next to Glencorrie. I was the village wise woman and midwife.
And I was afraid.
Lyn shivered and reached for the warm flannel dressing-gown that lay across the foot of the bed. “Get up, Snowflake, time for breakfast,” she said.
In my other life, you were a cat named Rumple. A jellicle cat, black and white… the best mouser in Glenwilloch.
Yes, in that other life as Gwendolyn, she had been afraid. And on the night before this Friday, November first, Lyn St. John had also been afraid, threatened by a nameless man who hated her and all she stood for.
She slipped into the dressing-gown, slid her feet into terrycloth slippers, and picked up Snowflake to carry her into the kitchen. Then she paused a moment, laying her cheek against the cat’s glistening white-silk fur. Snowflake responded enthusiastically by rubbing her head against Lyn’s chin. “You are a comfort, Snowflake. Come on, let’s make Wendy some hot chocolate.”
The twentieth century, with its central heating, electric light, microwave ovens, moist cat food packaged in tinfoil pouches, and the instant hot water and liquid soap she used to wash her hands, drew her back into its no-nonsense grip; but as she stirred cocoa powder and milk into a mug of boiling water she suddenly remembered a kestrel, soaring on a thermal on a warm May evening above the treetops in a Highland village.
Never in her life had she experienced such a strong dream—if it was a dream. Usually, her dream life tended toward the mundane or the ridiculous—being late with the payroll or hounded for unpaid taxes, for instance, or finding herself presenting a paper at a medical conference in her bare feet. And in all such situations she took comfort in the fact that she could escape the potentially unpleasant or embarrassing whenever she chose, simply by waking up.
But this hadn’t been like a dream. It had been more like—well, like being transported backward in time. She could still almost smell the lavender she had used to soothe the laboring Lindsay Fairgreves, still almost taste the warm, crumbly oatcakes fresh from the hearth of Goodwife Primm, feel the heat of Iain’s mouth on her bare breast, see Jennet’s russet hair, curling into ringlets like her own—
Like her own? Catching sight of her reflection in the glass door of the microwave oven, Lyn smiled and ran a hand over her smooth shining hair, cut as short as a boy’s. She’d worn it that way since her first days as a medical student, determined not to waste a minute in such trivia as hair care; her struggle to finish her bachelor’s degree and gain admittance to medical school had been hard and long.
The thought of school reminded her that it was time to prepare Wendy’s lunchbox. (“I can’t eat anything the school cafeteria makes,” Wendy grumbled at the beginning of the fall semester. “They put dead animal flesh in everything.”) Quickly, she spread mayonnaise on two slices of whole-wheat bread, slapped a square of low-fat cheese between them, and slid the sandwich into a plastic bag. Now for the fruit.
The crisper in the refrigerator yielded a red winesap apple and a small box of raisins. She put the raisins in the lunchbox, washed the apple, and reached for a knife to slice it. But somehow, without knowing why, she found herself slicing the apple through the center rather than through the stem end, and as the halves fell apart, she saw that the seeds formed a five-pointed star inside the circle of the apple half. A voice, unbidden, spoke in her mind: The pattern is a pentacle, symbol of the Craft of the Wise.
Momentarily paralyzed, she continued to stare at the apple seed pentagram as more knowledge from some source unknown flooded her mind. Apples are sacred to the Goddess.
Where was this coming from? It was rather alarming to think that the strange experience she’d just had was going to invade her waking thoughts as well as her dreams. The Goddess, presumably, was the being Gwendolyn had thought of as Her Whose Name Could Not Be Spoken, the one who had presided over the birth of Lindsay Fairgreves’ baby on that May afternoon and smiled on Gwendolyn and Iain, her worshippers, later that night as they made love.
It was clear from the dream that Gwendolyn, wise woman and midwife in that long-ago Scotland, had loved and revered the Great Mother Goddess.
So had they all—Iain, Angus and Lindsay Fairgreves, the Widow Throgmorton, and Piers. Lyn had always supposed—when she considered the matter at all—that Scotland, along with the rest of Europe, was monolithically Christian. But if that strange dream contained any truth, it appeared that at least a few people had reverted to a much older religion.
Bemused, Lyn shook her head to clear away the last wisps of that strange other life.
She heard the stairs creak as Wendy ran down, then a thud as she jumped the last two. “Morning, Mom,” she said as she came into the kitchen. She took the cup. “Gee, thanks!”
Watching the steam curling from Wendy’s chocolate, Lyn felt grateful that she hadn’t had to drag her daughter out of bed this morning and so start the day with unpleasantness. “You’re up early, sweetie.”
“I wanted to get on the computer for a few minutes,” Wendy said. She slurped the last of her drink, then opened the cupboard door, presumably in search of breakfast cereal. “Guess what! My friend Jeff, at school, is going to show me how to sign on to a couple of computer bulletin boards. There’s one that helps people with their math homework.”
“Oh, good. Speaking of computers, I might want to use ours tonight after you’re finished.”
Wendy looked up from pouring cereal flakes into a bowl. “Are you going to write letters or work on the house books?”
“Neither, sweetie. I just want to write something down before I forget.”
Truly, she did not want to forget that experience. She must ask someone about it. Did this happen to other people? Was there a whole cityful of people who traveled backward and forward in time every night into strange dream worlds?
And what had triggered it? The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was sending out that anguished cry, in her mind, to Philip, asking him to come back from wherever he was to help her.
Was it Philip, then, who had sent Gwendolyn?
To one who had never had any use for religion, that was a disturbing thought indeed. Of course, it was probably just a coincidence—her desperate, unspoken plea to her dead husband, on a night of the year that folklore held to be powerful, followed by that strange dream. No doubt it was the fear engendered by the death threat that had made her jumpy and predisposed to strange fancies.
But it was the strangest experience she’d ever had; not even the rituals conducted by the village shaman in the Brazilian jungle, where she’d spent her two years of Peace Corps service, could compare to it. And she didn’t want to forget any of it— the people and events had seemed so real.
Yes, tonight after dinner she would record what she remembered of that other life.
But by nine o’clock that morning other matters had driven the strange experience out of her mind.
The Old Dominion Women’s Clinic stood squarely on one side of the main road that ran through the prosperous town of Falls Landing. Founded in 1665, the town for most of its three centuries had existed in sleepy tranquility on the Virginia side of the Potomac River that separated it from Washington, D.C. The postwar boom had tripled the population, so that now the town, once little more than a bedroom community, boasted an economy of its own: offices, hospitals, restaurants, retail stores.
As Lyn turned her car into the driveway by the side of the clinic, heading toward the parking lot at the back of the building, she noticed with alarm that protesters were marching up and down the sidewalk in front.
But how could this be? Today was Friday. Protesters on Saturday were such a regular occurrence that she had grown to expect them, but they usually gave little cause for worry. Now that the large demonstrations of the 1980’s were over, the antichoice faction had taken to conducting prayer vigils and picketing on Saturday mornings. One of the picketers, a young woman with drooping hair that looked like spaniel ears, usually stationed herself in a hole in the hedge that separated the clinic grounds from the church next door to scream at patients as they entered the building. But on the whole, the Saturday antis were more or less law-abiding.
Now that she was turning into the driveway, she could count the protesters. Ten—no, twelve. Twelve antis, on a weekday. And these carried signs with messages that differed from the usual “Babies killed here” and “God will smite the abortuary”: these signs proclaimed “The Witch of Satan shall die” and “Kill the Babykiller.”
Lyn parked the car and went inside the building. Patients entered the clinic the same way, through this back entrance. Over the years Lyn and her staff had found this to be best, for if patients tried to go through the building’s front entrance, they were all too likely to be harassed. As she couldn’t afford to install video cameras on the front of the building to film the antis’ every move, any action the patients brought against the antis for harassment or incommoding was useless: the evidence presented in court amounted to the word of one or two patients against that of a dozen antis. And as the antis didn’t seem to mind lying under oath, few court actions yielded satisfactory results.
So on Saturday mornings Lyn’s volunteer clinic escorts, wearing their bright orange escort vests, approached the patients as they parked their cars in the back parking lot. They then escorted the patients from their cars to the back door, aware that if the antis stepped off the public sidewalk to walk on clinic property all the way to the back entrance, the clinic had grounds for legal action against them.
“We keep up a running line of chat right in the patient’s ear all the while,” the escort coordinator, Tessa Davies, once explained to Lyn and Juana. “It really doesn’t matter what we say—it’s like, ‘did you have far to drive, isn’t the weather warm (or cold, or whatever), and don’t pay any attention to those people yelling from the hedge. And if they try to give you anything, just throw it away. There’s a large trash can right inside the door for that purpose.'”
As Lyn walked into her office she found Juana Goh, M.D., waiting for her by the coffeemaker in the corner. Juana was more than an employee and professional colleague: she was also a friend. The offspring of a Mexican mother and a Chinese father, Juana possessed an exquisite face that sometimes deceived people into thinking that she had no brain. The people who made this assumption often lived to regret it: Juana’s tongue was as caustic as her mind was brilliant. Now, pouring a cup of coffee, she looked up as Lyn came in. “Morning, doctor. Did you see our little flock outside?”
“How could I miss them?” Lyn took off her outdoor coat, put on the white clinic lab coat she wore during office hours. “Let me have a cup of that coffee, will you?”
She took the coffee that Juana poured for her, added milk, and sat down at her desk. “What’s it about, Juana? Why on Friday and not Saturday? Is this a surprise hit?”
A “hit” was an action orchestrated by the antis’ militant arm, Mission Deliverance. In other jurisdictions a hit meant a massive blockade of clinic entrances to prevent the patients’ getting through, but here in Northern Virginia it generally meant sermons shouted from bullhorns, placards brandished, and hymns roaring from thirty to fifty anti throats.
“I don’t know—it could be. But it’s very unusual to have a hit on a weekday. Anti women don’t usually have outside jobs, but their men do, and most of them work Monday through Friday.”
Lyn sipped her coffee. “You’re right. And if it actually were a hit, the Defenders would have let us know. They have ways of finding out things.”
“Yes.” Juana paced uneasily up and down the room. “I’ve got a patient due for consultation in a minute. Lyn, I think we’d better call the Defenders and see whether they know anything.”
“All right.” Lyn stretched out a hand for her Rolodex. “I’ll call Tessa.”
Tessa answered the telephone on the first ring. “Yes, Doctor St. John, there is something going on. Not the usual thing either. I’m glad you called, because I was planning to call you. Do you have a free half-hour soon?”
Remembering the death threat on her answering machine yesterday, the fear and dread it had aroused in her, and the strange experience that had followed on its heels, Lyn decided that she did. “Yes. Can you possibly come at five o’clock today?”
“No problem. And Doctor, I’ll be bringing a couple of people with me. There’s someone new taking over the job of escort coordinator, a guy named Black. And Stacey you know already.”
“Yes, she’s been a good friend of the clinic. All right, Tessa. Five o’clock today, here in my office. Thanks—I’ll see you then.”
She went about the rest of her day mindful of the police officer’s instructions: check that all is well, notice anything unusual, report anything suspicious. But aside from the protesters, who disappeared at ten o’clock, nothing seemed at all amiss. Even the patient caseload was quite ordinary: three routine ob-gyn exams; two counseling sessions for contraception, one for the pill and one for the diaphragm; three examinations that resulted in confirmation of pregnancy in three patients, two of whom were married women overjoyed by the news, and a fifteen-year-old who greeted the diagnosis with sobs; and several checkups—six-week postpartum checkups for two new mothers, two three-week post-abortion checkups, and one six-week post-rape checkup. Now that she’d received the results of the tests that had been conducted shortly after the rape occurred, Lyn was glad to be able to tell the rape survivor that she had not contracted gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, or AIDS.
By five o’clock she was tired, more than ready to sink into her comfortable office chair and surreptitiously kick off her shoes. The bulk of her desk would hide her stockinged feet from view.
The sky outside her office window had darkened by the time
Juana showed three people into the room: Tessa, whose Italian ancestry was evident in her glowing olive skin and the dark-brown satin hair that fell to her shoulders; Stacey Wrubleski, tall and fair, whose face in repose always made Lyn wonder what sad secret her life held; and a man she didn’t know, whose height and almost overpowering masculine presence seemed to fill the room.
“Doctor St. John, this is Darian Black, our new escort coordinator,” Tessa said.
Darian offered his hand. Looking up at him, Lyn first noticed that while his long, rather frizzy blond ponytail and denim jacket and jeans matched the other Defenders in style of dress, his age did not. Tessa and Stacey were in their twenties: this man was much older. Late thirties, perhaps. She noted the gleam in the blue eyes—he probably had a sense of humor—and the curve of his mouth. His very large, almost hawklike, nose saved him from being too handsome.
She shook hands quickly, noting that there was something about him that didn’t add up. What was it? His aftershave? Exotic, too expensive for a man who was wearing jeans at this hour on a Friday afternoon. She knew that scent. Crisp and dry, bringing a whiff of cedarwood into her medicinal-smelling office, it was the same that Philip had used. And she knew perfectly well how much Nights Templar aftershave cost.
“Please sit down,” Lyn said, looking around the room. She noticed that Juana had positioned her chair so as to be able to observe Darian Black without obstruction.
Lyn addressed Tessa. “Can you tell me why the antis were out there this morning? A Friday morning?”
“Yes. I’m afraid there’s bad news. Darian—” Tessa glanced over at Darian, who nodded confirmation, “—and I infiltrated one of their meetings Wednesday evening. We dressed up like antis and went to the church for the regular prayer meeting. Afterwards, the Reverend O’Brien outlined his plans.”
“Excuse me,” Juana said. “You dressed up like antis? How did you do that?”
Tessa shrugged. “I wore a flowered dress and my hair down—like this—and carried a Bible. And I walked a little behind Darian.”
Darian grinned. “I wore a suit with a white shirt, and a glazed expression. You know—like this.” He opened his eyes wider and fixed them on an invisible sight in the distance, as if spellbound by something not of this world.
Juana giggled. “What did you do about your hair?”
“Wore a short wig,” Darian said. “And glasses.”
Apparently satisfied, Juana settled back in her chair. “So that’s why they didn’t recognize you.”
Lyn held up a hand, signaling that she wanted to get the discussion back on track. “All right, Tessa. What plans does O’Brien have?”
Paul O’Brien was a preacher whose church represented one of the fundamentalist Christian sects. The Washington area prochoice community regarded him as the driving force behind the local branch of Mission Deliverance.
“Well, of course, since the arrests and fines have started being handed out they don’t want to blockade,” Tessa said. “They know what will happen if they try. So if they can’t stop the clinics from operating, O’Brien has decided to go after patients and doctors. He wants to harass doctors so much that they’ll stop doing abortions, and to humiliate patients so much that they’ll suffer because of going to the clinics.”
“But they can’t physically touch the patients,” Lyn objected. “They can yell, they can pray—but they can’t actually lay hands on a patient.”
“No, but they can photograph the license plates on patients’ cars.”
Everyone looked at Stacey, who met their combined gaze with her usual grave expression. “They have some kind of ‘in’ with the Department of Motor Vehicles. So they get the license number, find out who the car belongs to, and then call the house in the evening. They say to whoever answers the telephone, ‘Did you know your daughter—or your wife, sister, whatever—was at the abortuary today, killing her baby?'”
“Oh, no!” Lyn crashed her fist on her desk in rage.
“Oh, yes,” Tessa said. “That’s why we’d like to have a highly visible presence outside this Saturday if you agree, Doctor. Darian will coordinate the escorts, but we want to be able to videotape and photograph the antis in the act of photographing the patients and their cars. We’ll have our usual legal observers and shadowers too, following the antis and making notes. We’re going to see if we can build a case on the grounds of conspiracy. Our lawyers are already at work on it.”
Lyn knew that the Defenders enjoyed the benefit of pro bono efforts on the part of several lawyers at Washington’s most prestigious law firms.
Darian looked at Lyn. “Doctor St. John. Have you experienced anything unusual in the last few days?”
“Yes.” Lyn described the death threat and the sound of recorded machine-gun fire.
“Was it O’Brien himself, do you think?” Darian asked.
Lyn shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ve never heard him speak.”
“It’s very unlikely,” Stacey said. “He generally gets other people to do his dirty work for him. One thing you have to understand about Paul—this antiabortion movement has given him the only chance he’s ever had to get his name in the papers and his face on the evening news on TV. He’s failed at everything else he’s tried—he couldn’t even make it as a Jesus jock on Christian radio. He’s organized Mission Deliverance like an army, with himself, of course, as commander-in-chief. So he wouldn’t do anything like leaving a death threat on your answering machine—he’d get one of his lieutenants to do that.”
“Do you still have that tape?” Darian asked Lyn.
“Yes. I took it out and put it away. It might be evidence someday, although I don’t know how.”
“Good. Anyone who records a message will leave a ‘voiceprint,’ and the police can generally match it up if they have a suspect.”
He seemed to know what he was talking about, which impressed her. In fact, the extent of their knowledge was one of the reasons Lyn was so fond of her clinic defenders—they could recite chapter and verse of every bill before the Congress related to protecting abortion rights (or taking them away, as the case might be). They knew the names and telephone numbers of every official in the Washington, D.C., city government responsible for influencing any ordinances to do with trespass, incommoding, and physical battery connected with clinic visitors or clinic property. They also tracked every piece of legislation pertaining to abortion rights in the Virginia and Maryland legislatures, and knew the names and political views of every legislator in those states.
The Defenders all either worked full time or attended the various universities in the Washington, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland area, but they were never to be found sleeping late on Saturday mornings like most people. They got up at five o’clock to arrive before the antis at the local women’s clinics, the better to escort the patients safely inside. And when major hits were expected, they got up at four in the morning to deter anti attacks by linking arms and legs to form a human wall around the clinics. Week after week they did this, without pay and without official recognition or thanks on the part of the local governments, because they believed passionately in the right of women to control their own bodies.
They were mostly young and poor, and sometimes even a little scruffy-looking in their tattered jeans and faded tee-shirts, but Lyn loved them all. They let her know that they believed in the work she was doing as fervently as she did herself.
“Doctor St. John, if I were you I would be very careful at home,” Tessa said, throwing Lyn an anxious look. “You might want to think about separating any papers from your trash and shredding them, even the envelopes your bills come in! We’ve heard reports from around the country that the antis have gone through doctors’ garbage to find out where they buy their cars or clothes. Then they call up and threaten to boycott the department store or the auto dealer for selling to people they refer to as ‘babykillers.’ They’ve even followed doctors and their families to fast-food places and video stores, places like that, and picketed outside.”
Lyn sighed. “We already routinely shred all the waste paper from the clinic so they can’t find out patients’ names and addresses. Our medical waste is dealt with in a special way. We have cipher locks on all the doors and every month we change the combination. Now I’ve got to do all this at home?”
Stacey stirred in her chair in the corner. “I’m sorry, but Tessa’s right. They’re going after doctors in a big way. I monitor Christian radio, and you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard.”
“They’ve squirted butyric acid into some doctors’ houses,” Tessa said. “It makes everything smell like vomit. It’s awfully hard to get rid of that smell, once it gets on furniture and carpets.”
“God above.” Lyn looked around the room at the others, lifting her chin. “Well, all I can say is that I’m going to continue to provide a service that some women need and all women are constitutionally entitled to. The antis will not prevail.”
She stood up, to show that the meeting was over. The Defenders came forward one by one and shook hands with her and Juana.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Doctor,” Darian said. “I’ll be coordinating the escorts. Stacey’s going to coordinate static defense.”
Static defense meant the stationing of at least a dozen Defenders around the front of the building and at the street corners on either side of it, to show the antis that the clinic was defended.
“Thank you.” Lyn turned to Tessa and said, “We’ll miss you. Are you moving on?”
During Tessa’s explanation that she was now a roving coordinator, who would move from clinic to clinic on Saturday mornings to assess the strength of static defense and the availability of escorts, Lyn could hear Juana questioning Darian.
“I didn’t realize you lived in this area, Mr. Black.”
“I moved down here a couple of months ago. My ex-wife wanted to be nearer her parents, they’re old and unwell. And we share custody of the children, so she has them on the weekends. They’re both teenagers.”
“Well, thank you for helping out. We appreciate it.”
As the Defenders left the clinic Lyn sat down again, and waved Juana to one of the other chairs. “Do you know this new guy, Juana?”
“God, Lyn, you are so out of it, sweetie. Don’t you know who he is?”
“No. Who is he?”
“D’you mean to say you’ve never heard of Darian Black? Don’t you listen to the radio, ever?”
“I do when I drive,” Lyn said. “Talk radio.”
“Well, tune in to a soft rock station, for a change. Darian Black is a singer, just on the verge of making it really big all over the country. I’m amazed that he has time for this kind of stuff, but I suppose if he’s not on tour, he’s got to do something. I thought all these rock stars and singers lived in New York or Hollywood.”
“No kidding. What kind of songs does he sing?”
“Sexy. Romantic. I think he’s fantastic.”
“So that’s what you meant when you wanted to know whether anyone recognized him,” Lyn said, suddenly recalling part of the discussion. “I thought you simply meant, did the antis recognize him as being on our side.”
“The antis probably disapprove of Darian’s kind of music,” Juana said. “It makes women feel romantic, and of course that leads to sex, and the antis think sex is dirty.” She stretched and yawned. “Good Lord, what a day. I don’t feel like cooking tonight. What on earth am I going to give The Man for supper?”
Juana had referred to her long-suffering husband as “The Man” for so long that Lyn often found that she was unable to remember his real name. However, for the moment she gave her attention to the subject at hand. “Stop by the Supersize store,” she suggested. “They have a nice gourmet deli section.”
“Yeah, I think I will. I’ll get them to cook a lobster, then I’ll pick up a loaf of French bread and some kind of salad from the salad bar. And ice cream. And what kind of wine shall I have?”
“Champagne.” A reckless suggestion, but it wasn’t Lyn who would do the buying.
“No, I can’t let him have champagne, that’ll make him think he’s going to get sex again. And it’s much too soon after last time.”
Lyn burst into laughter. “Juana, you don’t mean to say you ration him?”
Juana opened her eyes very wide and assumed a demure expression. “Of course. It’s the only bargaining chip I’ve got, you know.”
Lyn doubted that. Juana never ceased to amaze her, even though this was the fourth year of their partnership. She worked three days a week at the clinic and the other two at the National Institutes of Health across the river in Bethesda, Maryland, where she currently served as Special Investigator on a complex medical research project. That her intellect and abilities vastly outclassed those of the men who worked under her as research assistants was no surprise; that they outclassed those of the Chiefs and Directors above her provided Juana with a great deal of malicious amusement, Lyn knew.
“I hope your dinner turns out well. Wish me luck—I’m not looking forward to coming here tomorrow, if we’re going to be under siege.”
Juana rose from her chair, looking disdainful. “I can’t believe we have to work under such harassment. Those bastards! It’s not that I mind people being against abortion—this is a free country and they have a right to their opinion. But I do mind their ramming their beliefs down our throats and trying to prevent our patients from having access to a legal operation.”
“Yes, well, they’re furious because abortion is legal. They can’t stop it, but they sure can make things difficult for us.”
Juana, on her way out the door, paused. “If they do get their way and make it illegal again, we’ll have to wake up the Sleeping Beauty.”
“You mean Jane,” Lyn said, referring to the grassroots self-help abortion group that had operated in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. “Jane was in Chicago. Can you imagine the logistics of establishing a group like that in every city in this country? I hope it never comes to that.”
“The way things are going, I wouldn’t bet the family farm on it. There’s already a gag rule in publicly funded clinics. Ten gets you twenty that Bill Rehnquist and the rest of the Supremes will make it illegal by this time next year.”