When Artemis Lamb was a young girl, she never battled with her parents before her nine o’clock bedtime. Never. She bathed herself as instructed by her mother with just enough coconut butter soap and foamy lavender shampoo. As the bathroom water vapor dissipated into the heavens, she dried off with a thick white cotton towel. She folded the towel in half with the seams side-down, smoothed out any lumps, and hung it at the center point over a polished nickel rod. She buttoned up her pink, sea island cotton pajamas that her mother had taught her how to press out the wrinkles with a hot electric steam iron. With the aid from her digital wristwatch she brushed her teeth for two minutes. She then washed away any tub residue, wiped the vanity and mirror, and checked her bathroom for the unclean.
Artemis pranced downstairs into her father’s expansive den paneled with quarter-sawn cherry panels and a coffered ceiling that had a aged, comforting aroma. She stood like a soldier on an antique maroon and dark-blue patterned hand-knotted wool rug as she faced her parents for inspection. They smiled as they reached for her, as she climbed up between them and onto the soft vintage tufted, dark-brown leather couch as a mindless prime time television show spewed bias light.
“I love you, Daddy,” Artemis said. She hugged him around his neck. “Good night.”
“Love you, punkin,” her father said. He kissed her forehead. He smiled at her with blue eyes that shared a father’s wish for his daughter to experience happiness and joy.
Artemis giggled as she twisted over to her mother.
“I love you, Momma,” Artemis said. She kissed her mother.
“Love you, my darling,” her mother said with a velvety Irish accent. She hugged Artemis. “You completed all your tasks?”
“Yes, mother,” Artemis said.
“Now off you go, snuggle in tight,” her mother said. She checked her daughter’s cotton hair scrunchy, colored in green, orange, and white, and rubbed her diminutive shoulders. “Dream you earned a gold medal. We earn our things.”
“Listen to your mother,” her father said. His distinct snicker reassured Artemis that he would always protect her. “Be our future Olympian. I’ll come tuck you in and tell you a mythological story about gods and goddesses. And then you’ll dream about great adventures and mysteries.”
Artemis hopped off the couch mimicking her father’s snickering laugh as she scampered off toward her bedroom. Mr. & Mrs. Lamb swiveled back to follow their only child with a floppy red hair ponytail and a sly grin on her cherubic face, as she crawled back up the wooden stairs centered by a cushioned maroon carpet runner with brass rods.
Her parents certain her behavior odd.
At parties and gatherings, they scrutinized their friends and neighbors’ wrestling matches with their offspring before bedtime. The tears, the sobbing, the begging, or the demonic screeching for more playtime. So they shared Artemis’ kittenish nighttime rituals with their close friends, and they all agreed, she was different.
The Lamb’s trusted in science and facts. To best care for their precious child, they engaged physicians and therapists. But the healthcare professionals never diagnosed Artemis with anything pathological. The therapists dismissed her claims to have encountered wandering spirits as childhood fantasies. Hallucinations that would cease as she aged. Otherwise, she presented them no clinical symptoms for profound mental illness; She had not checked off any new diagnostic boxes. The experts determined she was peculiar, but otherwise an engaging, happy redheaded child in good health. They speculated with Mr. and Mrs. Lamb that being an only child allowed Artemis to play inside a powerful imaginative inner world. She was a clever, calculating girl, and their observations matched up with her upper ninety-nine percentile intelligence quotient score. And they had deduced she was ambidextrous, but nothing else to worry them.
Every other night back inside her bedroom, Artemis had had a practiced routine. After her father tucked her in and told her a magical story, she set an alarm with her black rubber digital wristwatch, stuffed it under her soft pillow, and slept for several hours. It vibrated and awakened her. Sneaking into her parent’s bedroom. She sat American Indian style and waited for her parents to snore. Once she was confident they had drifted off into their deep dreamland, to reduce sound she scooted her socked-feet back toward her bedroom along the home’s hallway carpets and tongue and groove wide-planked hickory flooring.
Artemis sat on her oversized beanbag chair within the silence sensing the home’s HVAC system cycle on. It blew warm air through a Victorian themed cast iron grille work above her. It clicked off until the room cooled. It clicked back on. She sat back spellbound. Beyond her thin double-paned window she saw along her tranquil midwestern town’s blacktopped streets, lined with pruned mature oaks and maples, were a bustling host of wandering spirits. All hallowed over by a golden meridian. They emerged from pitch darkness as illuminated golden particles. They were fast blips down her street as if shooting stars toward undisclosed destinations. Others floated above the manicured lawns like summer fire flies appearing curious and hopeful even during the depths of a frosty winter.
If the Lamb’s traveled late in the night, Artemis realized her parents never noticed the nearby wandering spirits. When she asked about them or pointed out a spirit zipping by their four-door sedan, they never believed her.
“Stop with the make believe,” they said to her. Her father watched her from the car’s center rear-view mirror.
Her mother looked back at her from their car’s front seat.
“You’re imagining them,” Mrs. Lamb said. She winked at Artemis. “Nothings out there, my darling. Someday, when you’re older, they’ll not be there. I promise.”
Artemis gave her mother a tight-lipped smile from the backseat, and she decided never to tell her parents, or anybody, anything else she saw. She concluded no one believed her.
At high school during an ancient world history class, she understood that there are unique events in this world’s evolution, or mysterious happenings that occurred that were difficult to explain away. But at college, Artemis’ instincts nudged at her that someone was following her. She sensed something nearby her during the foggy morning walks toward class or at Saturday night inside a loud dive bar hanging out with her friends. It was always beyond her visual reach; She knew it. In time, she dismissed the feeling as mild paranoia from school stress; It was not God, or any other hokum she had learned about in her liberal arts college’s mandatory religious studies class. Her family had never walked into a church, synagogue or other; She, like her parents, were not Bible thumpers. The only statement Mr. and Mrs. Lamb ever told Artemis before their tragic accident was that there might be a higher power protecting her. She thought it implausible. She suspected it was just random wandering spirits she had grown accustomed too that from time-to-time tried to interact with her. But they were always peaceful spirits searching for answers and seeking a bright diamond shaped crease in the visual spectrum for them to emigrate.
One day, Artemis was in a work meeting; A new file was being assigned to her. She was unaware that soon she would meet her praetorian minder. And her understanding about the supernatural world was about to transform.
From Chapter One, an excerpt from the forthcoming novel, Amanita.
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