Sound of Seas
It was nearly dawn when an exhausted Ben Moss left Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Nothing seemed real to the British-born UN translator. But that was becoming the new normal ever since he and Caitlin had been delving into the long-dead world of Galderkhaan and its living emissaries—ghosts, spirits, energies, or whatever they were; during those few weeks he had lost his old perspective on what constituted “real.”
No, that is not entirely true, he thought. What is very real is that Caitlin is presently unconscious and nonresponsive.
Yet even as he thought that, his arms moved. He had been spending all his spare time trying to piece together and translate the language of Galderkhaan—so much time that it seemed almost unnatural not to make superlative hand gestures as he spoke.
That too was a new normal. Along with watching people who unconsciously moved their hands as they spoke, wondering, Are you descended from Galderkhaani?
Ben walked onto Third Avenue, into the lamplit darkness of the New York predawn. It was late fall and, in addition to the darkness, a cold wind swept in from the East River, adding to his sense of desolation. He was unsure what to do next. That unfamiliar confusion
frightened him. Typically, Ben followed the lead of the UN ambassadors. He didn’t have to plan very much, to think further than the next few words. The one time he had tried doing that, as a student at NYU—loving Caitlin—it ended with an estrangement that lasted for years.
Galderkhaan had brought back all the old fears of wanting something, of planning for something, of being disappointed. Now Caitlin’s life might hang on him reengaging.
Not being a family member, Ben was only able to get answers from attending physician Peter Yang because the linguist was the only one who could explain—more or less—what had brought Caitlin to this condition.
“You told the EMT that she was—self-hypnotizing in the park?” Dr. Yang had asked as they stood in the hospital waiting room.
“Yes,” Ben had said. That was the only way he could think to describe what he suspected was going on.
“Do you know why?” the doctor had enquired.
“She was . . . she thought she might be able to contact spirits,” he said. “It’s become a professional hot topic for her.”
“Several of her patients needed help in that area—she didn’t tell me more.”
“Several?” the doctor had asked.
“Similar reactions to psychological trauma,” Ben replied.
“That is what she was—exploring,” he said carefully.
“I see. No mental illness in her past?”
“Do you know if she has experienced visions, hallucinations?”
That had been a question full of dynamite. Ben had thought carefully how to answer. “Yes, but I don’t think there’s a neurological—”
“You’re a doctor, Mr. Moss?”
“No. But she chose to do these things,” he said with some annoy
ance. He didn’t like being challenged on translations, and he didn’t like being challenged on this. “As I said a moment ago, Doctor, she was self-hypnotizing. A choice.”
“All right, then,” the physician went on. “What about drugs, alcohol—”
“No drugs, no alcohol in excess.”
“Depression, schizophrenia, hysterical reactions, near-death experiences?”
He answered yes to the last two, explaining—once again, revealing as little as possible—that Dr. O’Hara had been treating patients who suffered from both of those and she had experienced a kind of empathetic blowback.
“Not uncommon with good hypnotists,” Dr. Yang mentioned. “Is this similar to the trauma work she did in Phuket, Cuba, and elsewhere?”
Ben brightened. “You know about that?”
“I’ve read what she has published.”
“Yes, that work and this are very much related. Back then she was seeking a way to—short-circuit PTSD, if you will. She was continuing where she left off.”
The doctor seemed less alarmed when he learned there was a context for the experiments. The diagnosis, for now, was psychogenic unresponsiveness. Dr. Yang said they would keep her in the hospital for more tests, but that was all he would say. Ben would have to find out more from Caitlin’s parents. He had phoned them, waking them, trying and failing not to alarm them. It was one of the few times his smooth British accent and composure had been a total fail. They were on their way in from Long Island.
So Ben left the complex, largely uninformed, not quite aware of what had happened, and utterly unsure what to do next.
There were no phone messages. He hadn’t expected any; neither Anita Carter nor Flora Davies had his cell number. Anita was a colleague and friend of Caitlin’s, a psychiatrist who had stayed with Caitlin’s son,
Jacob, at the apartment; Davies was the head of the Group, an organization based in a Fifth Avenue mansion and which collected information and relics from Galderkhaan. Ben did not know anything about the latter. Neither had Caitlin before she went down to its headquarters, a visit that led directly to her collapse in the adjacent Washington Square Park.
Bundled against the cold, Ben decided to do what he always did: take small steps and see where they went. He paused in the doorway of an office building to call Caitlin’s landline, to make sure Jacob was all right. That was what Caitlin would have wanted him to do.
Anita picked up in the middle of the second ring. She said that the ten-year-old was in his room, up early after a restless night, but that there was something more pressing.
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked.
“There’s someone here,” Anita said with concern in her voice. “First tell me—how’s Caitlin? Where is she?”
“In the hospital.”
“Is she all right?”
“She’s unconscious—doctors wouldn’t tell me much.”
“Anita, who’s there?”
The woman hesitated.
“Just say it,” Ben told her. “Nothing would surprise me.”
“All right.” She lowered her voice, said closely into the phone, “It’s a Vodou priestess. And her son.”
“Madame Langlois and Enok?”
“Jesus, yes!” Anita seemed caught off guard. “How did you . . . was Caitlin expecting them? I assume she met them in Haiti—”
“Not expecting that I’m aware of,” Ben said. Caitlin had met the Vodou priestess and her houngan son while trying to help a young girl in Port-au-Prince. Gaelle Anglade was one of the youths whose trauma seemed linked to Galderkhaan. If the duo had been planning to visit, Caitlin would not have failed to mention it. “They just showed up?”
“About an hour ago,” Anita said. “They flew in from Haiti, came
right here, and the priestess flat-out announced that Caitlin is in the coils of a serpent.”
“The great serpent!” Ben heard a woman’s voice say in the background.
“Forgive me,” Anita said, lowering her voice. “The great serpent?”
“We did not come right here,” the Haitian woman added. “Should have. I do not like Miami. Too chaotic.”
“Right, right,” Anita said into the phone. “Ben, what the hell is going on?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” he answered truthfully. He did not know how much Caitlin may have told her about Galderkhaan and did not want to get into that now. Leaving the protection of the doorway, he saw a cab, hurried to the curb, and flagged it. “I’m coming over there. Has Jacob been in his room the entire time?”
“Yes,” Anita said. “He’s been in there drawing a comic book about Captain Nemo . . . he’s fine. Ben, I’m a pretty good psychiatrist and very good listener and there’s something you’re not telling me. What exactly happened to Caitlin?”
“Firefighters found her lying unconscious in Washington Square Park.”
“Oh, Ben . . .”
“I know. There were fires—maybe a gas leak. Perhaps she was overcome.”
“I got the alert on my phone, didn’t put the two together. Should I call her folks?”
“Done. They’re on the way to Lenox Hill.”
“Jesus. What does the doctor say? Or wouldn’t they tell you?”
“He was like the bloody sphinx, with occasional claws.”
“Jesus,” she said again. “Maybe if I call him, doctor to doctor?”
“From his questions, I don’t think he knows much. I’m more concerned about Jacob and your guests.”
“I understand. Look, I’ll arrange with my office to stay here as long as I’m needed. Meanwhile, what do I do about . . . them?”
“Nothing, other than keep them away from Jacob,” he said. “Have they asked about him?”
“No—but they’re obviously involved in this whole ‘thing’ somehow,” she whispered. “How else could they know that something was going to happen to Caitlin?”
“I just don’t know,” Ben said. “Look, Caitlin’s got a can of mace in her night table if you need it. I’ll be there in about ten minutes. And don’t ask how I know that.”
“Wasn’t,” Anita replied. “What’s the doorman’s name? In case I need him?”
“I think Elvis is on at this hour.”
“Yeah. He’s okay.”
“What about you?” Anita asked. “How are you?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” he told her. “Just moving ahead. See you soon.”
Ben sat back in the cab, watched the video display in the seat, saw the news alert from Washington Square. There weren’t just fires; there were floods, water-main breaks, crowds of students who were being hustled from dorms into the streets. The driver was talking to someone in Nepali on his Bluetooth. Ben couldn’t even tune it out; he understood everything about the family’s dispute with the city over a dangerous school crossing in Queens.
Noise and unrest, Ben thought. It didn’t end with the tamping down of the tensions between India and Pakistan. It just went back underground, unsettling everyone at a low boil. Thanks to Caitlin and her commitment to helping, he was now acutely aware of it.
Caitlin, he thought, choking up for the first time. What happened down there, Cai? But it was more than wondering; it was pain and guilt. While Caitlin sought a way to rescue the kids who had been assaulted by Galderkhaani spirits—Maanik Pawar in New York, Gaelle Anglade in Haiti, Atash Gulshan in Iran—Ben Moss, linguist, had been pushing the Galderkhaani language on her, calling and texting and meeting
with her to describe with great enthusiasm each new discovery or supposition. He had made her part of a quest that should have ended, for her, with the curing of Maanik and Gaelle. He tried—and failed—not to feel resentment at the way she had kept him out of her research and discoveries. It brought up old feelings about the way she had conceived Jacob with a man she had only just met on a relief mission, someone who later became the very definition of “absentee father.”
Tears pressed against the backs of his eyes as he thought of the girl he had shared so much with, who he had strongly reconnected with over Maanik, who he was now helplessly in love with. He wanted her back not just from this crisis but in all ways, and he didn’t know how to go about any of it.
Baby steps? Ben thought with sharp self-reproach. His limited research into Galderkhaan barely translated the fragments of ancient language they possessed, let alone provided insights into the existence of souls in the Ascendant, Transcendent, and Candescent realms. How was he supposed to help Caitlin with this?
Maybe the madame has insights, he thought then hoped. The priestess had been helpful in Haiti. She certainly has some kind of second sight.
As the cab sped west across Central Park, Ben tried to be useful—and consoled—by applying himself to the purely scholarly side of the problem. He was amazed at how much cultural overlap had been revealed among Galderkhaani, Vodou, Hindu, and Viking lore—peoples who had no contact in the dawn of our known civilization. Yet, the same cultural archetypes appeared. Inevitability? Or was it something deeper. Was there a connection that went back to this civilization that predated all others?
How can that not be the case? he asked himself.
Nor was this the time to figure it out. He did not see how that kind of research would help Caitlin.
By the time the taxi reached Caitlin’s Upper West Side apartment building, the morning had already blossomed into early dog walkers, rattling breakfast carts, and loud delivery trucks. The bustle seemed
to be happening outside a bubble, a combination of exhaustion and distraction. Even the driver’s ongoing school-crossing issue seemed to belong to some other time and place.
And then, suddenly, there was a wave of fear—not unwarranted. No sooner had Ben emerged from the cab than a man stepped up to him. The newcomer was about five-ten, a little shorter than Ben, and in his forties. He was wearing jeans, work boots, and a black beret. His eyes were covered with reflective sunglasses with fashionable white frames. He held his smartphone in his left hand. His right hand was thrust deep into the pocket of his heavy leather jacket.
“Mr. Moss,” the man said. It wasn’t a question.
“Sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
“I understand,” the man replied politely, but firmly, stepping to block his way. “This will not take long.”
The man’s voice possessed a faint but distinctive accent, which Ben placed as Icelandic. It was uncommon here, and in spite of everything—or because of it—Ben gave the man his attention, but not until after he had looked around.
“There is no one else with us,” the man said. “You will not be accosted.”
“All right,” Ben said. “You have my attention. Who are you and how do you know who I am?”
“My name is Eilifir,” the man said softly, “and I followed you from the Group mansion, saw you speaking briefly with Dr. O’Hara.”
“I have a car. Actually, the driver followed you. I was busy watching.”
“But you just said—”
“That there is no one with us, and there isn’t,” the man said. “We are alone. From the mansion I came here, replaced one of my people. I’ve been waiting to speak with Caitlin—or you.”
“I see. You mentioned the Group. How do you know those people?” Ben asked.
“We—their sponsors and my people—once lived together.”
“On Fifth Avenue?”
“No, Mr. Moss,” the man replied with a little chuckle. His unshaved cheeks parted as he smiled for the first time. “Our ancestors lived together. In Galderkhaan.”
Ben was a little rocked by that—not just the fact that someone else knew about the place, but obviously knew more than he did. Then his mind returned to what he had just been thinking about, what he knew of the postapocalyptic trek of the Galderkhaani up through Asia to points north, including Scandinavia.
“You say you ‘once’ lived together,” Ben remarked. “That, plus the fact that you didn’t go up to the mansion and knock on the door tells me that you are no longer very sociable.”
“Their ideas are different from mine.”
“Are you some kind of rogue scholar?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” the man replied.
“ ‘Not exactly?’ That’s all I get?”
“Uh huh,” Ben said, and moved to go around the man. “Sorry, Eilifir. I have a lot to—”
“Not yet,” the man said with a hint of menace now. He moved closer.
Ben hesitated. He had been around enough diplomats to know when polite insistence was about to shade into a threat.
“Do the doctors know what is wrong with Dr. O’Hara?” Eilifir asked.
“How do you know anything’s wrong with her?”
“I have a man outside the hospital,” the man replied. “You departed. She did not. Must we do this dance, Mr. Moss?”
“Caitlin is unconscious but it isn’t a coma,” Ben answered. “They don’t know what it is. You probably know that, if you’ve been watching her.”
“No, I only suspected,” the man said. “We make it a policy not to
crowd people. The others—they do that. Empathetic souls like Dr. O’Hara pick up on it.” He turned his face toward the brownstone. “The man and woman who are upstairs, why are they here?”
“I don’t know that either,” Ben said. “How do you know about them?”
“Someone was here, watching, until I could relieve her.”
“That’s at least three people,” Ben said. “You have a curious definition of ‘alone.’ ”
“As you know, words have nuance.”
“Right, but I don’t have time for subtleties. So that there are no more surprises—how many helpers do you have here?”
“Too few,” Eilifir replied. “Do you know Casey Skett?”
Hell, couldn’t the man answer a question directly? “No,” Ben said to move this along. “Who is he? Or is it a waste of breath to ask?”
“I guess you would call him our general,” the man said. “He and I are the leaders of a handful of other field personnel who want to help you save Dr. O’Hara.”
“Becoming lost in the past,” the man said.
“How do you know . . . what do you know?” Ben asked.
“That any form of cazh or the lesser mergings is tricky, dangerous, as I’m sure you well know.”
“Is that what happened here?” Ben asked with alarm.
“I’m honestly not sure,” Eilifir replied. “That’s what we’re trying to determine. If it has, then she is in great danger.”
Ben did not tell the man that it was the second time that morning he’d heard that sentiment.
Eilifir drew his hand from his pocket, handed Ben a card. “Call me when you learn anything, when you need something.”
“You seem certain that I will.”
“No one can face these forces alone,” he said, “the more so when he or she doesn’t know what they are.”
The man was quiet for a moment—contemplative. “Not entirely, no. But we have tools you lack, tools you may need. And before you ask what they are, I can only say this: Caitlin O’Hara has forged an energetic relationship with just two Galderkhaani tiles. That was enough to send her soul through time and wreak havoc across several acres of New York.” He moved closer to Ben until they were inches apart. There was a new, more ominous quality in his voice. “There are thousands of tiles buried beneath the South Polar ice. If Dr. O’Hara taps into them, wakens them in an effort to get home, the forces she will release would be exponentially more destructive than what we saw last night. And not in the past, Mr. Moss. She would pull that fury with her, into the present. It would travel through her. You can imagine, I think, what would be left of her after that.”
It was as fantastic and sobering a monologue as any Ben had ever heard—and, in the United Nations, he had translated many of those.
“Where will you be?” Ben asked.
“Right here,” Eilifir said, backing away.
Though the air was warming slightly, Ben felt cold inside. Without another word, he turned and went into the apartment.