Willow had been sure convincing Aspen to let her borrow her new (to her) Jeep would be a nearly impossible task, but her aunt acquiesced quite willingly. The only, slightly painful stipulation to her request was that she fill up the tank when she was done using it. Ordinarily, she would not bat an eye at such a simple request, but she had already learned that the Jeep was the worst sort of gas guzzler. Even that would not have been nearly as irritating if she had a decent, steady flow of income. As it was, most of what she made from her work in the shop went to repaying her parents for the debts they handled for her when she unexpectedly disappeared.
Outside of her grandmother, no one else in her family understood where she had been or what she had been doing when she disappeared. She considered trying to explain it to her aunt, but every time she started, she felt frustrated and unable to back up far enough to begin where her aunt would be able to understand. Without an adequate explanation, her aunt and her parents were left to believe she had been negligent and irresponsible. She could not exactly dispute that charge, but she knew in her heart that there were extenuating circumstances that kept her away for so long without word or warning. It frustrated her to be on probation at her age when she felt that she did not really deserve the punishment, but she acknowledged she had no way to absolve herself in their eyes. Instead, she needed to be patient and wait for them to feel that she had paid proper penance.
It was going to break her budget, but she needed to be able to transport herself today. Other favors had been called in through her grandmother so she could do more research about the nature of the portals to the other world that were appearing with increasing frequency. At the rate she was going, she would end up broke and repaying favors for the rest of the year.
She wanted answers. After she noticed the increased frequency of the appearance of beings from the other world influencing this world. Her family’s business was booming, but none of them were interested in anything but the practicalities of what their community needed them to do. It was part of what made Willow doubt so much in the first place. She wanted to know the reasons for the things they did and no one else in her family felt up to the task of explaining the logic of it all to her.
Now she was older. Not only that, but she was also wiser. She had experienced things that she had not thought were possible. Certainly, no one in her family had experienced anything like it. She had even more questions than she did growing up, but there was one critical difference now, she knew for a fact the things she was asking about were real. Apparently, that made all the difference in her grandmother’s eyes. From Willow’s perspective, she was asking the same questions she had asked a dozen times before, albeit her attitude had changed drastically since she came back home. Once she stopped being a skeptic, it seemed her grandmother was more than happy to arrange for her to meet with people that made an effort to explore how and why these things happened. Perhaps they were not welcoming of skeptics and would not have entertained a conversation with her when she was looking to be convinced.
The reason why these doors were opening for her now was not particularly relevant. Willow knew she needed to worry more about making the most of the opportunity she was given.
On the drive to the first person on her grandma’s list with time to see her, Willow tried her best not to think about what she wanted to ask too much. She was acutely aware that Ms. Lidia was an extremely particular woman. That became apparent as soon as Grandma explained that Ms. Lidia was to be called Ms. Lidia and nothing else. Miss and Mrs. were out of the question and she was never to call her just Lidia. With that sort of warning being put in place before she even got to the woman’s door, Willow felt like she was walking into a minefield by agreeing to meet with this woman. If she was any less desperate for real answers, she would probably have backed out of this meeting by now. Someone this particular would be stressful to deal with. One wrong question could end the interview.
Her mind was preoccupied with thoughts of how she would avoid incurring the wrath of this fountain of knowledge. There was no time for her to decide what sort of questions she wanted to ask.
Before she knew it, the GPS was telling her to pull into a driveway. She thought she had been worried before, but now she knew she was out of time.
She had no idea what to expect upon meeting Ms. Lidia and once she actually did meet here, Willow still could not get a handle on any concrete facts about the woman. She was older than her, that much was for certain, but both her energy and her looks made it impossible for her to tell if she was 50 or 70.
Ms. Lidia’s home was not at all what she expected. For some reason, there was a feeling in the air that suggested that this space wanted nothing more than to become the home of a crazy cat lady, but the occupant was fighting that tendency with every fiber of her being.
The decor of the home was immensely practical but in a way that was not immediately obvious to a casual observer. Willow knew enough about the practical side of the occult to know that the crystals and symbols decorating the room were far from purely decorative. Ms. Lidia had her home locked down like a fortress. It would be next to impossible for there to be any sort of interference or disturbance here. Willow did not want to think of how strong a rift would have to be to push aside this level of warding.
“So you’re Hazel’s granddaughter,” Ms. Lidia said while leveling her with a critical gaze.
Willow nodded, afraid she would say something that would get her scolded if she opened her mouth just now.
“You’ve decided you want to know the reasons behind your family’s work.”
“Yes,” she replied enthusiastically. She blurted it out before she could hold herself back and remain cautious.
Now with caution thrown to the wind, she felt the urge to bombard Ms. Lidia with an abundance of questions building up within her. She restrained herself only through her desire to have some sense of order and reason to the questions she asked.
She fumbled with the satchel she brought in with her and pulled out a notebook and pen. There were answers waiting for her somewhere and once she got them, she was not going to risk forgetting anything.
Somehow in the scant seconds she spent looking down to prepare for note taking, Ms. Lidia had brought them both a cold glass of lemonade. The drinks were sitting on coasters on the immaculate, glossy wooden coffee table between them.
Willow cleared her throat and began to explain exactly what she needed to know. She tried her best to remain reticent regarding the reasons she needed to do this research and hid the way she had come to know the things she knew to be facts. It was not that she wanted to be deceitful, but she got the feeling that Ms. Lidia was a researcher first and foremost. Revealing that she had been to the other world might turn her into an object of study in this woman’s eyes. She needed to study, not be studied.
Her explanation seemed to satisfy Ms. Lidia, but she got the feeling that the older woman knew it was not the whole story. Fortunately, instead of being drilled about the parts of her story she had conveniently left out, she was led to a study stuffed with more books, maps, and documents than Willow thought could be possible.
The room was relatively small, as was the custom in old homes, but the bookcases ran from floor to ceiling. Ms. Lidia even had a stepladder in the room to reach the highest shelves. There was more information contained in this room about the portals and the other world than she had thought possible.
She looked around, trying to find the words to express her amazement and utterly failing. Instead, her mind started racing to figure out where she begin with her research. Her clutched her notebook tight against her chest and tried to figure out where she should begin.
Ms. Lidia sighed. “There’s a scanner on the desk. You can make copies of anything you want, but nothing leaves this house.”
Willow nodded. “Got it.”
Without another word, Ms. Lidia closed the door and Willow was alone. She wanted information and now it seemed that she got it. The most overwhelming part of it all was being left alone with all this information. It had been a long, long time since she had to do research on her own in a library and a part of her had thought, or rather hoped, that Ms. Lidia would do more to point her in the right direction.
She sighed and started scanning the titles on the spines of the books. Soon enough her problem was no longer finding information, but finding information that was digestible at her current low level of understanding was a new challenge.
Once she stopped agonizing over where to begin, she started to make some semblance of progress. Granted, for every tidbit of information she managed to unearth, she seemed to be writing two new questions in her notebook. The minutes started to fly by once she found her rhythm. She took notes and made copies of the pages she discovered that seemed like they had more than a single line of information relevant to her studies.
Her research lulled her into a trance-like state. She was too absorbed in taking in the words of people with much greater understanding than her to have thoughts of her own. Then the phone rang.
Willow jumped. She was no longer used to the idea of home phones. Although Aspen’s shop still had a land line, she had come to assume that everyone used their cell phones for personal calls.
She tried to calm her racing heart and get back into the researching state of mind. Before she could regain her sense of calm and get back to work the door to the room swung open and Ms. Lidia poked her head in with an exasperated scowl on her face.
“It’s for you,” she said curtly while thrusting the handset into the room.
For a moment, Willow was too dumbfounded to react. Who would call her using the home phone of someone she only met today?
She took the phone hesitantly and managed to squeak out a quick thanks before putting the phone to her ear.
“Willow!” It was Aspen.
“What’s going on? Why did you call for me on Ms. Lidia’s phone?”
“You weren’t picking up. I had to track you down.”
Willow frowned. She had put her phone on vibrate and then promptly left it in her bag. Before she could say anything more, Aspen continued.
“Something’s happened. You need to get back here now!”
“What is it?” Willow’s heart started racing as she worried something had happened to one of her parents or grandparents.
“I-I don’t really know how to explain it,” Aspen stuttered but still sounded somewhere between excited and panicked. “Someone just appeared outside of town.”
“Yes! Appeared! One second no one was there and the next someone was! Mom says you’d know what to do so you need to come home.”
Willow thought she knew what this meant, but she tried her best not to jump to conclusions. She was shaking now but told herself not to worry until she saw for herself that there was something to worry about.
She packed up her things and returned the phone to Ms. Lidia with a quick thank you for access to her library and hurried out the door. She tried not to think about what someone appearing out of nowhere might actually mean, even though she had a pretty good idea what had happened.