There weren't many places to hide it in the orphanage, where personal property was something to be frowned upon, a misguided attachment to a past best forgotten if you wanted to cope with the cruel present and bleak future. But Kellie soon discovered that she could make it Go Away for short periods of time, if she thought hard about it. It gave her a headache, but the locket was well worth it. She couldn't do it with other things, though, not the tiny link of gold chain she found in the gutter on day, or the extra half-biscuit she saved from supper when she was too sick to eat it. Just the locket.
So she knew there was something special about it, and her. Somewhere someone else had the other half of the locket, and would find her. There would be a joyous reunion with the rest of her family, long separated(there were no pictures in the locket, unfortunately). Or Keelie would even settle for a twin sister she had been separated from at birth. Or an uncle. Or anybody that could take her out of this rathole and away from Mrs. Gralley and her snitches.
When she had such thoughts, she could feel the locket growing warm wherever she'd tucked it under her clothing. It knew her thoughts, and encouraged them. It didn't want her to give up hope.
One day, when Mrs. Gralley had locked Keelie in an upstairs closet for making noise after lights out(she hadn't thought anyone could hear her crying, but apparently Jacob, the snitch, had been kept awake), a woman came to the orphanage. Obviously a rich woman, as Keelie could hear from the obsequious tone in Mrs. Gralley's voice.
"I want a girl," the woman said, and Keelie's pulse quickened. Could it be? She'd been disappointed before, but she kept faith because of the locket. And the locket was growing warm, warmer than it had even been before. Could it be?
"Oh, we have many nice girls here," Mrs. Gralley said in an unctuous voice. "There's little Agnes here--quite an angel!--and Edie, who's a bit older and doing quite well at her piano studies, and Yvonne, who's becoming a very good cook--"
All lies, Keelie thought savagely, knowing that Agnes was a vindictive brat who hated Keelie for some imagined slight inflicted a few hours after her arrival, and Edie was practically tone-deaf, and none of the children, even Mrs. Gralley's favourites, were allowed into the kitchen, because(or so the whispers were)she was afraid to be poisoned like she'd poisoned the last proprietor of the orphanage.
But the rich lady had interrupted her and said, "No, none of them are quite what I'm looking for. I want a challenge, you see. It is no credit to me to bring an angelic child into my family, when I know I can, with devoted effort that I will not shirk, make an angelic girl out of the sullenest tomboy."
Mrs. Gralley was caught quite off-guard at this, and Keelie took advantage of the momentary silence to pound on the closet door. "Shut up, you little brat," Mrs. Gralley said automatically, and then realized her mistake.
But there were already footsteps on the stairs. "A brat is just what I have in mind. A discipline problem, that doesn't respond to severer methods, but which I have confidence I can tame." The steps came to a stop outside the closet door, and then tapped. "Well?"
Mrs. Gralley grumbled, but her greed, and fear, overcame her loathing for the girl inside, and she unlocked the closet door. It opened, and Keelie blinked in the bright light.
Her saviour was a tall, slender woman, immaculately dressed, with short dark hair cut stylishly. The picture of wealth and sophistication; Keelie understood immediately why Mrs. Gralley had kowtowed to her from the first. Remembering that the woman seemed to want a hellion, Keelie made to dash between her legs, but let the woman catch the back of her shirt.
"Well, well, what's your name?" she said as Keelie struggled--not too hard--in her grip. Keelie stayed silent, and, when the question was repeated, mumbled under her breath. "I can't hear you."
"Keelie," she said more audibly.
"Well, Keelie, my name is Jillian. Do you want to come home with me?"
"Gob off," Keelie said.
"Keelie!" Mrs. Gralley said, and she probably would have smacked her had Jillian not been there.
"Let me put the question this way," Jillian said sweetly. "Would you rather come home with me, or stay here with Mrs. Gralley and all your friends?"
Put that way, Keelie could only nod. She thought it appropriate here to burst into tears.
Mrs. Gralley's expression was mixed relief that she would be getting rid of Keelie and annoyance that she hadn't been able to give such a favoured opportunity to one of her favourites. She seemed to be resigned to Jillian's eccentricities, though. "Well, Ms. Peace, there's some paperwork to do here..."
Jillian opened up her purse. "I really should get this child to her new home and settled in as soon as possible," she said.
"...But I'm sure that, under the circumstances, I could take care of it myself, if you're in a hurry." There was the rustling of bills changing hands, exactly how much Keelie couldn't quite see.
"Do you have anything you want to take with you?" Jillian asked her.
She shook her head. She had her locket, and Mrs. Gralley had made sure that nothing else here was hers. Besides, Jillian could afford to buy her whatever she needed, and seemed all too willing to do so. Without much more ado, they were out the door and into Jillian's glitzy car.
Once Keelie was sitting in the passenger seat, feeling like she was getting indelible stains on her upholstery, Jillian took off her jacket and got into the driver's seat. She turned towards Keelie for just a moment, and she saw, on a gold chain around her neck, a locket. The twin to her own. Her heart filled with a mixture of disbelief and hope.
"Yes, you can cut the hellion act now," Jillian said as she pulled the car out into traffic. "I knew what I was looking for, and, knowing Mrs. Gralley's, the kind of situation you would be in." She smiled at me obliquely. "You did do a good job, though, of living up to my supposed requirements."
"Are you--" No, start again, Keelie thought. "How did you find me?"
"The locket," she said simply. "The two halves are attracted to each other."
Keelie wasn't sure about that, but she couldn't explain it any other way.
"And no, I'm not your mother. Now, now, don't look so crestfallen. She couldn't be here to get you, so she gave me the locket and sent me. I'll send you to her soon enough. First I'll take you home, get you cleaned up, give you some soup..."
Keelie's mind whirled so much with concocted stories behind her mother's identity, why they'd been separated, why she couldn't be here herself, how she'd known Keelie was still alive, that she couldn't formulate a coherent question. She found herself bursting into tears again, genuine ones this time. They didn't start to subside until Jillian pulled the car into the driveway of a huge suburban home. She gave Keelie a handkerchief and led her inside.
"First, some soup. I had some simmering on the stove, and it's just the thing for you. I imagine you didn't get very well fed in that place."
Keelie shook her head, and gratefully ate the hot soup, which was full of spices and flavours she'd never encountered before and couldn't describe. When she was done the bowl, though, she was yawning.
"Well, I was going to give you a bath next," Jillian said with amusement, "but it won't hurt me to wash a set of sheets. I'll take you to your room."
Keelie was barely awake enough to remember being carried into the bedroom. She vaguely registered that Jillian was stronger than she looked, before she slipped into oblivion.
She opened her eyes. She hadn't gotten a good look at the bedroom before she fell asleep, but she didn't think that it had looked like this. The candles were the only light, and she supposed she might have slept through to the night, but there were other smells too, the mustiness of disuse, and something else tickling at the edge of her nostrils...
"Ah, good, she's awake," a male voice said. "I was beginning to think we'd have to postpone until the next conjunction."
"She was more ill-nourished than I thought," Jillian said. "I honestly didn't intend it to knock her out for this long."
"The paralytic's still active, it looks like," the man said again. "Maybe we didn't need to tie her after all."
Panicked, her last hope betrayed, Keelie wrenched at her arms and legs, trying to leap up and run away. She could only move them enough to confirm that they were in fact tied. She managed to move her head to glance around the room. She was on the floor, surrounded by a circle of candles. Jillian and her companion were above her head, where she couldn't see them, but as she tried to bend her head back Jillian came into her field of vision. She was wearing a black robe with the hood thrown back.
"You are a fighter, aren't you?" she said. "Well, that's unfortunate. A nice well-pampered girl with no resistance would have been better--"
"Although they scream so godawfully," her companion put in.
"--But I'm afraid we didn't quite get to choose. The locket only works on a certain bloodline, you see, and you were the only one likely to be of use to us at this time. I checked, you are still a virgin, so Mrs. Gralley's not as much of a monster as I might have thought. Not bleeding yet, but you will be soon enough, if all works aright."
Now Keelie could struggle a bit more at her bonds. "What did you do to my mother, you bitch?" she shouted, her mouth a little mushy still.
"I didn't lie to you earlier," Jillian said. "I am going to send you to her. I'll send you the same place I sent her, the same place I was trapped for longer than the oldest member of your family can remember." Her voice was filled with anger.
"Almost time," the man said. Keelie noticed that he stayed outside the circle of candles, while Jillian was inside.
"Very well," Jillian said. She pulled the locket out from under the robe and knelt over Keelie. "Do you know what this is, my dear? It's like a gate. But unlike most gates, it is only open when the two halves come together.
"Of course, you don't want to open it just anytime. Who knows what might come through? But what we're doing tonight is because we know what, and who, is coming through. We've taken pains to assure it. And once she is through, I'm afraid she's going to need somewhere to stay. Think of your body as...as the gatehouse." She took the chain from around her neck and put it over Keelie's, easily overcoming the girl's attempts to hinder her. Then she slowly brought the two halves of the locket together.
Keelie only saw the halves meld into a seamless whole before she was blinded by a flash of light. The gate was open. She could feel it in a way she could not have explained. She understood it with all of her being. All of her life had been leading up to this moment, when she could open the gate. She felt, distantly, a warm rush of fluid from inside her, which opened the gate even wider.
Something was there. She supposed it might be a person, since it looked how she would expect a person to look without a body. Though she knew she wasn't seeing it with her eyes, which were still dazzled.
The person dove at her, and suddenly the gate loomed closer. No, she was closer to the gate, her grip on her body loosened by the sudden invasion. She struggled to get back to her body, and she thought she was winning, despite the gate's beckoning to her, but a sudden gust of wind drove her backwards. The invader pried her loose, and she was sucked into the beyond, the gate closing behind her.
Keelie's body stirred on the ground. Jillian struggled to her feet and pulled the knife from her belt. Nicholas was waiting outside, helpless until she broke the circle from the inside, but first she had to break the bonds. Her hands almost too weak to hold the knife, she managed to cut the ropes, and then staggered to the edge of the circle. After taking several tries to summon up enough saliva to wet her fingertips, she extinguished one of the candles.
Once she did so, she felt instantly better, the energies of her home returning to revitalize her. Nicholas started to snuff the rest of the candles, while she went back inside the now disempowered circle and started to chafe Keelie's wrists and arms.
The child's eyes flickered. Jillian snapped her fingers and Nicholas brought her a cup of water, which she dribbled on Keelie's lips. She took it in thirstily, and soon was able to sit up and sip while Jillian held the cup, her arms still mostly useless.
"What's my name?" she whispered.
"Keelie," Jillian replied. She set down the empty cup and took her in her arms. "Welcome home, mother."
Based on one of Elinor Glyn's 19 Plots to Avoid:
1. The stolen child, kidnapped by gipsies usually, and finally restored
to its parents by means of a locket, birthmark, or some equally foolish
1. The stolen child, kidnapped by gipsies usually, and finally restored to its parents by means of a locket, birthmark, or some equally foolish means.
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org