Keeping Willow out of the field proved more than a little difficult for her family. Depending on which person she was talking to, she could get a halfway decent idea of what was happening, but everyone seemed to be more than a little conflicted about the idea of letting her get back to work. Part of her was itching to get back out there because she thought it would be the best, fastest way for her to get answers to all of her questions, but part of her was so afraid of going back out there without a plan for how to prevent herself from doing more harm. She was convinced now that she had done grave harm to people lost in the space between this world and the other world in the past, and she could not allow herself to do it again now that she knew better.
Regardless of her reservations and the reservations of her entire family, the fact remained that they needed Willow to lend a hand. Aspen had been doing it all on her own for far too long already, and the strain was starting to show. She needed a break. The least Willow could do was lend her a hand.
Aspen kept the jobs in people’s home for herself. It seemed her family remembered that Willow never really mastered the art of dealing with clients while they hovered nervously over her shoulder. Instead of being bothered by the lack of confidence like she might have been in the past, she was grateful. She really did not want to deal with people any more than she had to these days. Her patience was worn even thinner than usual now that she knew there were real people from another world getting lost in a space between worlds and their influence on this world was unintentional and accidental.
When Aspen dropped her off at a barn some distance from the owner’s home, Willow expected to have the place to herself and get in and out with minimal interaction with the clients. At first, it seemed like she might even be lucky enough to get away without having to see the people requesting the job at all. No one was there to greet her when she was dropped off at the barn. Since Aspen had given provided her usual detailed notes from the information provided by the clients, Willow did not see any reason for anyone to need to be there to explain anything to her.
All it took was a business mindset for Willow to be able to do things that she would never dare to do as an ordinary person. Today that state of mind allowed her to open up a complete strangers barn, roll up her sleeves and step inside to see the problem for herself. If she was not working, she would never dream of barging into someone’s barn without them being present and inviting her in. Being on the job gave her a facade of authority that made herself and others confident that she was doing exactly what was necessary.
She was just starting to look around when four people entered the barn. Without saying a word, she turned to face them. It was easy to assume that they lived here and she wanted to give them a chance to speak their piece so she could get back to her work.
“Hi,” one of the two women said. “We saw you get dropped off and we wanted to see if there was anything we could do to help.”
All four of the people looking around the barn with tense, cautious expressions looked like they were about Willow’s age. People in their twenties usually did not believe in the sort of work her family did. If they grew up here, they were skeptics because they never saw anything particularly terrible while they were growing up—all thanks to the efforts of Willow’s parents and grandparents—and therefore had no reason to believe. Many of the younger people living in the area were from far away, living in the countryside within commuting distance of a few small cities and came from areas that never had widespread issues with the supernatural. Seeing people her age not only believing, but afraid made her nervous.
She was brought out here to take care of their barn. For unfamiliar, nonbelievers to notice something in a barn that was not even terribly close to their house made her wonder just how bad things might be out here.
Her attention was on them, but she could not turn off her senses. There was something happening in this barn and it was making the hairs on the back of her neck and her arms stand on end. The full extent of the issue might not be clear just yet, but she could tell this was not good. She had felt this before and each time it was because a bona fide portal between worlds was opening up.
These people thought they were helping, but she now realized that they were likely to get themselves into trouble or at least see something that they would never be able to comprehend. She needed to summon all of her customer service skills to make these people feel heard and get them out of this barn as quickly as possible.
She forced a smile onto her face. “Hi. I read the report of everything you said about your problems to Aspen. I should be able to take care of everything today if I get started right away.”
The four homeowners exchanged uncomfortable glances while Willow waited for them to turn around and leave. She held onto the hope that they would do just that but she felt the likelihood of that happening dwindle away to nothing.
The man who had come furthest into the barn spoke up. “Our neighbors have been having trouble too. We wanted to see if our barn is really haunted.”
Willow did her best to keep her expression neutral. This was terrible news. These people were obviously worried, but they did not understand the actual situation. As far as they knew, their barn was haunted and their neighbor’s homes and barns were haunted as well. Part of her wanted to tell them the truth so they would leave her alone and they would understand that this was not interesting or a fun anecdote to share online. Explaining to them would take too long and it would potentially lead to even more questions. Based on what she felt as soon as she walked into this barn, she knew she did not have any time to waste. If the neighbors really were having similar problems, she needed to do a fast, efficient job here and figure out how to take care of the portals on other properties. With that prospect ahead of her, she found her patience for dealing with the clients in front of her right now dwindled faster than ever.
She tried to formulate a way to explain the situation that would not make these people more curious. It was even more complicated than usual because there were four of them. One person or a couple would be easy enough to placate and convince to go back to the relative safety of their home, but with four of them, they probably felt that they had safety in numbers. They were wrong, but convincing them of that would be nearly impossible for someone with less than stellar social skills.
“Haunted is not exactly the right word,” she tried to explain as nonchalantly as possible. She knew she needed to make it sounds as uninteresting as possible, but it was a lost cause as soon as the said “haunted”. People were obsessed with hauntings. The worst time was from about halfway through September when the nights started getting chilly until this first week of November, but it did not stop people from getting the idea in their head at other times of the year and latching onto it like their belief gave them access to some sort of forbidden knowledge.
She sighed. They did not appear to be dissuaded but she had their undivided attention. “There’s a presence here. I’m sure you can feel it. It is not a ghost, but if we don’t get your barn cleaned up, your life will get infinitely more complicated. I can help you, but I need to be able to concentrate on my work.”
A ripple of unease traveled through the group gathered before her. The couples each linked hands almost simultaneously. Seeing them do it sent a shiver up her spine. She knew now without a doubt that they were feeling the strange energy in this barn too. What they felt would pale in comparison to what she was experiencing, but it still appeared to be enough to upset them. Really, at this point, staying here any longer would only make them more uneasy. They needed to go.
Her first impulse was to tell them more. They needed to understand the danger if they were going to walk away and leave her to work in peace. Then she stopped herself. Willow saw a glimmer of curiosity in their eyes. It was hard to perceive while they were also so afraid, but she spotted it just in time. She held her tongue, squared her shoulders and stared them down.
A moment passed and she started to wonder if this was actually the most efficient way to compel them to leave. then she saw a shift. It was small, so small as to be imperceptible if she had not been watching them so closely, but she knew that she had succeeded in getting them to leave.
“I guess we’ll leave you to it,” the first woman said and finally broke the spell that seemed to be holding everyone in place.
The four of them left the barn, but far too slowly for Willow’s taste. They seemed to still b trying to have a look around as they went. She knew there was nothing for them to see so she had no reason to be worried, but the fact that they still wanted to try at this point made her doubt whether they really understood her meaning.
Once the barn door was closed and she was alone again in with the strange energy emanating from the portals between worlds, Willow felt ready to get to work.
This time the problem was simple enough for her to solve. After being around so many of these portals, and learning as much as she could about them while she was in the other world, she felt pretty confident about the nature of this disturbance. With no one here and no actual living beings involved, she had no qualms about closing this portal.
She knew she might not be so lucky when she went to check out the issues on her current clients described their neighbors having. It might just be more portals, but that seemed like ti would be unlikely considering how rare they seemed to be while she was trying to find a way back home. She worried that someone or something had managed to find their way through a portal on the other side and was trying to find where way back out now. She did not think it was right to let them through to this side, but trapping them in the space between worlds did not seem right either. She was not sure what she would do if she encountered something like that.
In the past, she relied on the training she had been given by her family. Based on what they knew and had passed down to her, the entities needed to be banished. Now that she knew the entities were people not so different from the people that lived in this world, she was not sure she could bring herself to do that anymore. It would be one thing if she knew she was just sending them home, but she was anything but sure of what her magic did to the people from the other side. She knew her powers were strange and often destructive in their eyes. She might end up hurting or killing someone whose only crime was getting lost somewhere the did not even count as a place.
She shook her head. These worries were valid, but they were worries for another day. Her task now was straightforward enough, but she needed to pay attention or she might not perform it correctly. She turned her attention back to the work at hand and placed down each symbol with more deliberation and care than she had in years.
Knowing that the work her family did was real brought back her pride in her work, but realizing the harm that could be done by it made her extra careful to only close the portals with no extraneous flourishes to her work. Until she knew exactly what effect anything she might do would have on this world and its connection to the other world, she would not allow herself to stray one iota from the rituals she had studied long enough to perform without being crushed by guilt and worry later on.
This problem was one she felt certain she could fix without doing any harm, but next time that might not be the case. If she was going to be going out on house calls again, she realized she needed to do a lot more research. She needed to find someone who could help get closer to understanding the truth. Her family’s blind faith in tried and true methods was not going to cut it, but there had to be others out there that had wanted to understand rather than just believe. Perhaps if she found those people they could help her take her research further than her family’s resources could.