Note: I will be posting a chapter from The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle each day until the book has been fully posted. I am doing this as a way to entertain those who have been coping with the new life of social distancing, social isolation, and quarantine in the world right now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle
by Jeremy C Kester
(c) Jeremy C Kester – All Rights Reserved
The girl with the fiery red hair sat alone on the stone wall behind her home, her head buried in her arms, fiery red hair billowing over like a waterfall. Behind her there were dozens of people dressed in suits and dresses milling about in her home. Many were people whom she knew; many more were those she did not know. She wished that they would all just go away.
Though the house was full of people, it no longer felt full to her being absent of the two people she cared about the most.
She sighed, bemoaning her circumstance. She wanted to mourn her parents without the show. Moreover, she just wanted her parents back. How could they have been gone? Such possibilities seemed impossible to comprehend even as she was given the stark evidence that yes, they were possible.
In protest of the depressing event she had worn the bright dress her mother had made her earlier that year. It was light blue with subtle violet flowers wrapping around it in varying patterns. It contrasted well against the dark tones that funerals so often brought. Black was Agnes’ least favorite color now.
Over the dress she wore a cardigan her mother made for her some time ago. Although the weather was a little warmer than she would’ve liked, she felt better wearing it. Like her mother was hugging her. It was a light olive green with old-fashioned brass buttons. She loved the buttons and would constantly fiddle with them as she sat there trying to decide if she could just run away. That would work wouldn’t it? Running away was certainly more enticing than staying behind to deal with him.
She gazed at the emblems on the buttons as they rested between her fingertips. Inlaid on the surface of each was a Scottish flag crossed with a basket-hilt broadsword. Behind them was the image of a diving red kite, a raptor long since gone from Scotland’s shores. The images were small, but very finely detailed. Something about them being an old family heirloom her mother told her. They were the same buttons on her great-great-great grandfather’s coat when he first came to America or something-or-other. Needless to say Agnes was never paying much attention to the stories themselves. It was her mother’s voice she enjoyed.
Continuing to ignore the scene behind her she tried to memorize every scratch, every blemish upon those brass buttons. Whispers and hushed tones of the funeral flourished regardless on how hard she tried to pretend they weren’t thre. “How is she going to survive?” Agnes heard one of the guests ask. They all whispered as though they were trying to spare the feelings of the poor girl out on the stone wall.
“Does she have any family to stay with?”
“There’s a name in Kyle’s and Olivia’s will. They left her care to that person. I cannot remember his name.”
“I didn’t know they mentioned something like that in their will.”
“It must be family.”
“I didn’t know that they had any family.”
“He might be a cousin or something like that.”
The voices irked the young girl. She knew who they were talking about. It made her angry that her parents could do that to her. How could they leave her to be cared for by him? He was insufferable. She hated him. Or at least she thought that she did. Then again, she liked his apprentice. Could he be that bad if she was so nice? Couldn’t’ve been from his doing. THAT she was sure of.
“There was that young girl that lived with them for a while,” another voice interjected.
“Was she like a sister or something?”
“I don’t know. I think that she was a Muslim or something? Maybe a foreign exchange student?”
“Has anyone talked to her?” another whispering voice asked.
Strange that the conversation had moved to Safiya. Her mother’s apprentice. After the apprenticeship was completed, she returned to Syria. Agnes hadn’t heard from her in over a year. She wondered if Safiya even knew what had happened. It would have helped at least a little if she could see each other. A little.
Agnes could feel them all watching her through concerned glances even though she had her back to them. It was tough listening to them all pretending to be so upset. It angered her. She was the only one who deserved to be upset. Even those who thought they knew her parents were all a part of a scheme. The parties, the gatherings, their entire life was a lie right out in the open. No one was to know what either of them really did. Who would believe it anyway? It was all a lie to keep them away. They all needed to go away.
“What did they do for a living?” voices continued on their quest to show themselves as ever so remorseful.
“I don’t think that they ever said. Did they tell you?”
“No,” a third voice said. “They were out of town a lot on business though.”
A small tear slid down from Agnes’ eye down her freckled cheek. She sighed. Nothing would be the same. She bemoaned that fact. Like it was the medicine she had to swallow no matter how bitter it was.
To the side, along the bushes that lined the edge of the yard, hid two small goblin-like creatures arguing over the young girl. “She’s not ready,” the one said in a piercingly squeaky voice.
If Agnes knew that they were there she would so not be happy. She wasn’t happy at the moment, but that’s a different kind of unhappy. It would make it worse. If that was even possible would be answered quite well if she saw them.
“We don’t have a choice. There are too few of her left,” the other argued, its voice sounding like a small dog growling through a chewed up squeak toy.
“She’s too young, 3 years left almost before she trains.”
“Brandt will take her as his apprentice. The directions were given to him.”
“She does not like him. Brandt already has a squire. This will not work. She will not work well. Another can take her.”
The creatures worked with her parents so often that they may have very well been family. They were not though. And Agnes never welcomed them.
The Lokapāla, or as they were more often called: conduits (or trolls, or vermin, or… well think of some more or less colorful things to call something you don’t like), were the spiritual guides or masters to the Sentries. They were small, barely over 2 feet tall to the top of their long pointed ears. They were often a dark greenish grey in color with dark purple eyes having no pupil or iris. These two in particular were unique in that they had one black eye on opposite sides as the other and worked in a pair. They had small, pointed noses that scarcely shown evidence of nostrils. Below their noses were snarled little mouths with tiny serrated teeth. They looked demonic despite their supposed benevolent presence. Those they served, Sentries, were the protectors of the barrier between the mortal realm and the spirit realm.
Agnes was a thin and tall girl. Her father always commented that she looked like a proper Scottish girl with her pale freckled skin, green eyes, and hair that shone of fire and cared little of maintaining order. She did not like it though. She wanted to, but being so different from all of the other kids was difficult. When they did notice her they tormented her relentlessly.
Only her two friends did not. Behind her, Emily and David peered from the doorway. They were hesitant. She needed her space, right? It certainly wasn’t that they didn’t want to go to her. They hadn’t seen her since before her parents’ deaths. They were still young, still so unsure of what to do when someone they care about has a parent die. How would she respond? Neither could imagine what she was going through. Their faces were nervous as they crept closer to making the decision to go to her.
First David stepped out. His movement matched the hesitation he felt. Before long, Emily followed suit and then they both ran to their friend. Agnes heard their steps and looked up to just in time for them to crash into her, their arms wrapping around the girl. The surprise brought a faint smile to her face. For the moment she didn’t feel quite so alone.
It was the first moment that she felt comfortable, felt happy.
“My mom brought us,” David said as-a-matter-of-factly. That was just like him, pointing out the obvious.
“She knows that,” Emily argued. “And she probably doesn’t care.”
Agnes smiled. She enjoyed the banter. To her it was what it was supposed to be: love. She craved it. Emily and David usually argued incessantly.
“We’re not staying long. My mom gets this weird thing in funerals,” David said with a frown.
“Yeah, we asked if she could just pick us up later and she said ‘no.’”
David wasn’t kidding. Some get anxious at funerals; David’s mother would not be well described by just using the word accurate. Unfortunate for the pair, they didn’t have anyone else that could take them other than her. As soon as the poor woman stepped into the yard, she began to sweat to an unreasonable degree. Anxiety medication helped to some degree, but it was only like going from lava to boiling water under high pressure: you’re still getting burned.
“That’s ok,” Agnes said meekly. She didn’t want to admit that the news was disappointing. Couldn’t David’s mom just leave them there? Didn’t she realize Agnes needed them?
“You can come stay at my place,” Emily said, trying to make it sound as though it would be a fun opportunity for a slumber party rather than the only other alternative to living in her parents’ empty house. “My dad said it was ok.” That bit was exaggerated but only by a small margin. Sure, he agreed, but only begrudgingly so after a barrage of Emily.
“I can’t. He’ll be picking me up soon. My mom and dad’s lawyer told me.” She was talking about Brandt. Not until her parents’ deaths did she even admit that she would have been going to live with him anyway if not for a few more years.
“You don’t have to go with him do you?” David asked. David was short with a very dark complexion. His eyes were wide set apart behind coke bottle lensed glasses making them appear even larger than they were. He was also pudgy, often wearing shirts that were just large enough to cover his frame.
David was also intelligent. Children were not so kind about that characteristic though. Coupled with his being overweight and black, it brought with it vicious torment. But it was how the three came to meet. Emily and Agnes separately came to his defense during one of the more brutal of tormenting sessions the other kids were giving him after school one day. Since that moment they were inseparable. And no one dared mess with him beyond chiding remarks. They did not want to face Agnes directly.
Emily was taller than David, but an inch or two shorter than Agnes. She was a thin and beautiful young girl behind the oversized, odd colored glasses she insisted on wearing. She was a stellar student and athlete, but felt often inadequate in either realm when compared to her two friends.
The three sat for a few moments in an awkward silence. Agnes was ok with it, however. Nothing that could have been said was better than having the company. At that moment she could have gone a lifetime without a single word being said and she would have been happy. Or at least she would be content.
Emily’s face contorted in a strange manner unable to contain the quiet any longer. “I dunno what to say,” she finally blurt-ed. David looked at her. “What?!” she said defensively raising her arms in the air. “I don’t! Everybody says ‘sorry about your mom and dad dying!’ She knows we’re sorry!”
“It’s OK,” Agnes said. She faked a half-hearted smile. Normally Emily’s reaction would have made her laugh. The moment didn’t offer itself for the humor.
“We’re sorry about your parents,” David muttered repeating Emily’s sentiment. He again glanced over at Emily as though he were chastising her further. Emily stuck out her tongue. Agnes repeated her half smile when David got up and hugged her. She didn’t respond save a few tears that escaped her eyes. Emily followed David’s lead and hugged the both of them.
They hugged for a few minutes. Agnes cried. The moment could have lasted forever. Crying didn’t matter. Having her friends there, hugging her, was all that she cared about.
The trio sat again in silence until David and Emily were called to leave. Agnes winced as though it were a band-aid being torn from her. It was what Agnes needed for that time. Just being there with her friends was enough.
“Let us know where you are when that guy takes you,” Emily said as she let go.
Agnes wiped a tear away. “I don’t know if he has a phone,” she bemoaned. She knew he had, but the memory escaped her in the moment. Smart phones were certainly out of the question.
“Tell us when you come back to school,” David said confidently.
A feeling of regret swept over her. Would she be back to school? Would Brandt allow that? Did it matter. Friends were the only reason to continue school. The thought saddened her more. A few more hugs were exchanged between the three of them before Emily and David left Agnes alone once again.
As Agnes watched her friends turn from her sight, she remembered the last time that she saw the both of her parents. She had a bad feeling about this particular adventure. Something wasn’t sitting well with her. Besides the fact that she lost her parents. There was something off in the balance of things. She had always been overly sensitive to that. Her parent’s used to think that she was just scared. It wasn’t normal.
The time leading up to her parents’ last mission was difficult. Agnes debated long about whether to approach them about what she was feeling. Something was telling her that they wouldn’t return, but as so often her sense was doubted, she eventually chose to ignore it.
The night she believed it happened she had leapt out of her sleep. Sweat covered her as though she had been asleep in a pool. Something had happened. A dream. It had to be a dream, but it was all too real. It felt too real. It was.
It took days before a police officer arrived to notify the young girl. She could barely open the door when she saw the officer, Filip, standing there. It was most certainly the bad news she had been expecting.
Agnes blamed herself. Why couldn’t she stop it? The doubt consumed her even more. And now she was alone.
And she was angry.
In front of her, a short man dressed in a well-tailored suit approached her. She knew him as Gael, her parents’ lawyer, and he was also a Sentry.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her choosing to sit beside her. He smelled nice. He always smelled nice. Agnes liked that about him, besides that he was kind. That was a contrast to Brandt. Most of her kind who didn’t have to fight like her parents did, like she would have to were nice. It must’ve been the jobs.
“I’m fine,” Agnes mumbled in reply. She was indeed hungry. Admitting it wasn’t happening though. Eating was not an activity she considered worth taking part in. Hunger barely crossed her mind.
“Sure you are,” Gael said. He paused for a moment while assessing the young girl. “Your parents knew a lot of people,” he said sounding exasperated. “Didn’t expect there to be this many people to have to deal with.”
“I want them to go away. None of them care. They didn’t know us. They just want to feel better.”
“You should let them have their time. People need to mourn in their own way, real or pretend.”
Agnes wanted to listen, but she didn’t care. The people needed to leave. Her parents needed to come back. Anything else mattered so little it was not worth a thought. So she sat in continued silence with her family lawyer.
“Brandt should be here soon enough,” Gael said interjecting into the quiet. “Would you like me to get you something to eat before he gets here?”
Agnes shook her head.
“Ok,” Gael said as he stood. “It might be better than talking to your conduits waiting in the bushes.” He pointed over to the bush before walking back to the house.
It was that moment that Agnes noticed the small grey toes with dark purple nails poking out. Of course they were there. How could she not have known? Was she that distracted that it took for Gael to call it out?
Stepping off of the stones she marched quickly over to the bush.
“Here she comes, finally,” the squeaky one said before Agnes’ hand grabbed him by the ear and yanked him up careful not to drag him out of the bush. The others at the funeral wouldn’t understand what they were seeing. “Let go you little ingrate!” the squeaky one exclaimed as its legs dangled helplessly in the air.
“I don’t want you here!” Agnes yelled.
No one took notice to the distraught girl. Many had moved away from the door as to not have to face the young girl who lost her parents. Having to engage people mourning more than they were was awkward.
“You have no choice, child,” the other said.
“I don’t care! I’m not doing it! I don’t have to listen to you!”
Krag, the growling sounding conduit, remained calm unlike its counterpart. Growling is being generous. Lef continued to grab at Agnes’ hand, unable to release his ear from her grip.
“You will be Brandt’s apprentice. His binding to your care is final,” Krag said.
“Let me go! Let me go, stubborn girl!” Lef continued to cry.
“I hate Brandt!” Agnes cried finally throwing Lef back down.
“He hates you too,” Lef squeaked snidely, glad to get that last insult in.
Agnes sat down next to the bush in a huff. She crossed her arms with a scowl. There was no genuine hate there, although she’d swear that there was. Brandt always seemed tough and cold to Agnes, nothing like the way her parents were. Fear drove most of it. She was afraid of him. “Doesn’t he already have Cadence?” Agnes asked as though she believed that it would change the situation. She foolishly hoped that they forgot about Brandt’s apprentice.
“You both will be in his tutelage,” Krag explained. “You are too young for training, but we have no choice.”
Agnes cried. She felt what was left of her fragile world crumble around her. At the tender age she was, Agnes never had yet considered her fate as a Sentry. She still had years before her apprenticeship was to begin. She was set to work under her parents until then to learn the arts and how to hone her powers.
Though she was years away, there was not much choice but to train her, to prepare her. Or else she would be in grave danger.
“Why do I have to go with Brandt?” Agnes asked, tears dripping from the side of her face.
“Your parents deemed it so,” Lef responded. “Brandt was unhappy too. Neither has choice though. You must accept.”
“Lef is right,” a smooth, dark voice came from behind her. “We don’t have a choice.”
Brandt was tall, stocky and wore very dark clothing normally with a trench coat over it all. That was often to hide the large volume of weapons and tools he carried. This day was nice enough that the coat was absent. There were enough of their kind around that the weapons would have been excessive. He kept his dark black hair cut short and often wore sunglasses to cover the one permanently red eye that he received during a fight with a dark spirit.
The overall presence that he portrayed was ominous and foreboding.
“You must be kind to her, Brandt,” Krag demanded. Brandt shot an evil glare to the conduit. He hated them. And accusing him of not being kind then was further enforcing that.
“I HATE YOU!” Agnes screamed standing up aggressively.
Brandt didn’t know how to handle the young girl standing in front of him. Red flushed through the girl’s face matching the tone of her hair. Although Brandt understood her sorrow, he had no idea on how to respond. All of his prior apprentices were older at the very least. Not having any children of his own, he didn’t need to care for anyone until they were 14. Fourteen was difficult enough.
A 12-year-old girl who had just lost her parents was beyond his tolerance. What could he teach her anyway? He was aware of the rumors to her developing the abilities early. It couldn’t have been anything more than uncontrolled bursts brought on by puberty.
Frozen in place, tears flowed down her face. She wanted so badly to strike at Brandt. She hated him so much in that moment. She resented him for being chosen to be her trainer, and worse: her caregiver. If she had a say she most certainly would have asked not to be placed into Brandt’s care.
The two creatures and Brandt stood waiting for something more. Eyes glistening with tears of sadness and frustration stared back at them. Agnes had no idea what to do. Finally, she turned and ran off into the house.
Brandt shook his head. Looking up, he saw that no one had paid any mind to the young girl or to him. There was a momentary sigh of relief for that. “I cannot take her into apprenticeship,” he stated plainly. “Cadence is –“
“Far more advanced than you care to admit,” Krag interrupted. “Your training is high for its necessity.”
Brandt knew that he would lose the argument. The decision had been made by powers far greater than he. “She will not train willingly,” he stated watching the funeral goers while still at the bush with the two conduits. “She is already bordering at refusing her destiny. Some will not see it as a reaction to her circumstances as I do.”
“Not her decision any longer. She is not the age she can decide,” Lef indignantly stated. “Not that the brat deserves to be Sentry.”
“There too few are left of you,” Krag added.
“So it is true then? The rumors?” Brandt had been hearing of his kind being killed often lately. Nothing at first seemed out of the ordinary. Sentries die. It is a risk. When it kept happening, when more of his friends were being cut down and not appearing in the other realm, he began to get suspicious.
“Agnes is another we cannot lose,” Krag continued. As Brandt expected, the answer was not an answer.
Inside of the house Agnes stood, eyes clouded with grief, staring at all of the people she didn’t know. It was a reminder of what her life was to be now, and it frightened her. It frightened her knowing that she would be alone.
Emotions were on the verge of eruption as Gael put his hand on her shoulder. The sudden feeling of the hand jolted Agnes to her own awareness and she then ran towards the stairs and then up to her room.
Brandt followed when he saw Gael. The two had spoken far more in the last few days than they had in the lifetime knowing each other. At the entrance of the room Brandt stood watching the crowd. Several people milled about speaking to the vague life they believed the Pyle’s had lived. A small grin curled on his lips at their ignorance. The feeling was short lived as the lawyer came closer.
“Brandt,” Gael nodded.
“Gael,” Brandt said. “I wish that I could say that it is a pleasure to see you here.”
“Likewise. I trust that you aren’t happy with the arrangements. Seems a lot more work than you would be ordinarily tasked with.”
“Cadence is self-reliant. She doesn’t have much more that I can teach her. Agnes will be interesting I am sure. How’s dealing with the mortal rituals?”
“It is just tedious. But one of us has to tend to the estates in these cases. It’ll all be hers once again if all goes well. It’s just everything we’ll have to deal with until then. Is she ready to go with you?”
“She doesn’t want to, but I am sure she’ll come around.”
Gael turned to look at all of the people around. “Those two knew a lot of people. It surprised me the numbers here.”
“Too bad our kind don’t normally attend these formalities.”
“I am worried that there’ll be far more to attend.”
“You hearing the same?”
“Yes. Though the conduits aren’t saying much.”
“Remember Olivia’s apprentice?” Brandt asked. Gael affirmed it. “Make sure she is safe. And try to keep the conduits from being involved. I’ll let them know to give her the news. But get any of us in the area to be on their guard.”
Brandt exchanged a few more pleasantries with Gael before he stepped over to the stairs. No lights were on. It was dark despite the daylight outside. Expecting a young girl who lost her parents to turn on the lights when she went upstairs was a bit to ask. He turned away deciding that it was better to let her be alone until the evening when all of the guests had left.
He sat when he noticed a picture of a young girl smiling with the family. Had he forgotten so quickly about her?
The seat had barely recovered by the time Brandt stood once again at the bush where the little creatures had been hidden.
“Trolls, make yourselves present,” he said.
“We had not to leave.”
“Does Safiya know?” Brandt asked plainly.
“Not of yet,” the pair of creatures simultaneously replied.
“See to it that she is made aware,” Brandt said before walking back into the house.
Bored of the waiting he snuck himself to the basement. There would be a small passage leading to the weapons. He needed to assess their stocks and protect it appropriately. Dust covered nearly everything except for a small path that appeared to have been tread often. He followed the prints until the creatures appeared once more in front of him.
“You understand that Agnes must be protected. This house is no longer quarter for her.”
“Why do you mention this?” he asked. The question confused him.
“Cadence is accelerated, yes?” Krag asked. The two creatures were now standing sideways along the wall beside Brandt.
“She’s one of the most lethal of our kind I’ve seen,” Brandt replied. His eyes narrowed at the small creatures as he wondered to what their intension was for asking. “What are you trolls getting at?”
“If it is believed, she’ll be a fragile doll compared to the young girl.”
Brandt shot them a glare. “What are you talking about?”
A rare snicker came from Krag: “did you believe not it funny that she is only 12 and yet we are forcing her training to start now? She has power already.”
Brandt’s eyes narrowed. “What are you trolls not telling me?” he asked before he heard the distinctive low whistle sound of the two creatures disappearing.
“Dammit,” Brandt whispered under his breath. “Why do they always have to be so cryptic with everything?” he bemoaned. Each word that those two spoke was not to be trusted. But he had other work to do. Protecting the weapons was second only to the girl. And she was fine for the moment.
It was another hour before the house cleared. It felt no better than any other time, but Brandt decided it was the best time for him to now go and try to talk to the young girl.
He knocked on the girl’s door, but Agnes didn’t reply. Knocking again, he finally heard a muffled voice yell through the door: “GO AWAY!”
“Why am I agreeing to this?” Brandt quietly questioned himself. He looked around the halls. Pictures adorned the walls. Each portrayed a happy family. It was how he had remembered them: a happy family.
Silence filled the house. Brandt couldn’t decide to walk away or burst through the door and just drag her along. It would be made more difficult either way and he knew it. She had to go with him, but he knew it would take time to convince her.
Rest would do her well. Harm shouldn’t come to her in one night staying at her house, provided she didn’t try to run away. “I’ll be back in the morning for you,” Brandt instructed. “Get some sleep. You need to rest. I am sorry that they are gone-“
“GO AWAY!!” Agnes shot out again. Brandt could almost feel the force of her breath through the door. There was the muffled sound of crying as well. He didn’t blame her; he just didn’t know what to do.
Inside the room Agnes found no reason to acknowledge Brandt. She was still too upset to even believe that she had to go with him.
But who else would take her in? She had no family to speak of. None of her grandparents were alive, and her parents had no siblings. No aunts or uncles even existed to be able to bring her into their care.
One option was always the government to take care of her, but she figured the situation would be as glum as with Brandt.
Quietly, Agnes got out of her bed and crept to the door. As adept as she was, she was able to move in complete silence. It helped knowing as to which floorboards creaked so that she knew where to step. Kneeling down, she peeked under the door to find that Brandt had indeed left. Feeling comforted by this, she went back to her bed less concerned about making any noise and laid down again to ponder her situation. Next to her bed, a photograph of her parents watched over her. She just wished that they were there with her now.
READ ON!: Chapter 2
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