Mechteld knows Marquita is close to breaking, but she reminds herself that the breaking point will also be the time when Marquita will be at her most desperate. She knows that she can keep Marquita quiet by force if needed, but she also believes that a more delicate approach will be preferable. Mechteld knows that she won’t be able to build Marquita back up if she does too much damage to her.
Mechteld figures that if Marquita wants better evidence, she can supply it. She turns to Marquita and says, “If you want proof I guess I can cut my wrists, but it might draw attention in the communal bathroom.” She then looks down at the spotted carpet and says, “Then again, would anyone really notice another stain on this carpet?”
Sarcastically Marquita suggests, “Perhaps you can jump off the Queensboro Bridge.”
Mechteld gives a small laugh and nods, “I could do that. I’d have to take you with me. I can’t have you running away while I’m in the water.”
“The only place I’m going is home.” Marquita answers, speaking into her knees.
They sit in silence listening to the afternoon rush of Astoria and watching the colors of the room change as the sun dips further behind buildings. Mechteld looks over at Marquita and sees a stream of blood starting to run from the fresh stitches and says, “Hold still, your bleeding again.”
Mechteld takes a tissue from her pocket and begins to wipe the blood. Marquita can once again feel the prickle from Mechteld’s touch and see gray static. As Mechteld puts pressure on the stitches Marquita plots her next maneuver.
Marquita asks, “You said a man came and changed you?”
“Yes, he first came when I was a girl, but he changed me when I became older.” Mechteld answers, the static once again pulsating.
In a calculating move Marquita then asks, “Were you taken from your family?”
“No.” She answers, her voice giving the faintest quiver. “My family was dead. There was no one to take me from.”
When she says this, Marquita can see a break in the static surrounding Mechteld. Marquita knows that if she pushes her mind forward she might get a glimpse at the thoughts Mechteld hides. Despite fearing what she’ll see, she moves forward and is hit with a force as powerful as a bolt of lightning.
Marquita’s mind floods with the image of flames upon flames and she knows that behind it are Mechteld memories. Marquita focuses her mind and she sees Mechteld with a beautiful face, unblemished by scars and her long golden hair covered by a white bonnet. She sees her sitting at a table in a dark room, lit by lanterns, with several men. The room looks like no room Marquita has ever been in. It’s furnishings and people look like they are from another time. Marquita can see that Mechteld’s face is nervous yet defiant as a man attaches a metal apparatus on her hands. The man says something to Mechteld in a language Marquita cannot understand. When Mechteld doesn’t respond he turns a knob her beautiful face contorts and screams in agony as thumbscrews are tightened. Quickly the memory changes and Mechteld is on her knees with her hands clasped in prayer with a rosary wrapped around her bruised and broken fingers. The memory fades away and now Marquita sees Mechteld with a rope tied around her arms and torso submerged in water. Then Marquita sees a weak and almost catatonic Mechteld being led to an empty stake. Mechteld’s face is now bruised with a long cut from under her nostril to the bottom of her chin. Her eyes are wide and terrified. She lifts her face to look up at a group of black birds in the sky flying over a castle tower where the shadowed outline of a man is standing.
Then the pain in Marquita’s head becomes more intense as the memory changes and now shows a cave with several rows of severed heads with beating hearts below them.” Mechteld pulls her hands away from Marquita. Her eyes are furious as she recoils from Marquita. She shouts, “Stop it!”
Mechteld gets up and leans her body against the frame of the window. For a brief moment, Mechteld face looks like she may cry, but it quickly changes into an angry grimace before she buries it in her arms.
Marquita feels like she has been submerged in ice water, yet her head and spine feel like they are on fire. All the muscles in her body clench and her nose begins to bleed. Unable to move, she shakes and cries. In her mind she continually repeats, “It’s true. It’s true.”
The images play over and over in Marquita’s mind. Now each scar on Mechteld’s face seems even more gruesome. As she recounts each torture she just witnessed, Marquita can feel every cut, bruise, and burn on her own skin. Her mind then races to the last memory she saw. The faces in the cave were moving and some were the same faces as the men from the room. A particular face haunts Marquita’s thoughts the most. She cannot get the image of the head, with his lips sewn shut, out her mind. Despite his mouth being tightly bound by string, his lips still tried to form words all while his eyes gave a wrathful glare. Marquita recognizes that he was the man who crushed Mechteld’s thumbs. She also realizes, this man haunts her most because it haunts Mechteld most.
Marquita wonders, “How is it possible to be alive without a body?” But she is quickly answered by the memory of Mechteld’s words,“…your heart will continue beating forever.”
Finally Marquita feels her muscles relax and she asks, “What is that? In the cave?”
Mechteld stands and walks away from Marquita and the window. She goes to her bag and kneels beside it while taking a deep breath. She starts collecting items from the floor and packing them, placing the wooden box in the bag first. After a few minutes she then closes her eyes and breathes in deep again. She then stands up and she walks to the window beside Marquita and looks outside where the setting sun had turned the buildings and street orange. She keeps her eyes away from Marquita and instead watches the people below walking while casting long shadows on the street.
Finally she says, “I’m not an open person.” She pauses for several moments and then says. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in contact with someone who has the ability to look into my mind. You may not know it, but that ability makes you extraordinary.” Mechteld and Marquita could now hear voices and footsteps outside the room, but both women stay still and quiet.
Mechteld continues, “I like my privacy and I like my isolation. It’s rare that I allow anyone near me.” She stops and then breathes deep. “But it’s my duty to train you. Before we go any further you need to know that my mind is forbidden. There are things that are hidden for a reason.”
Mechteld sits back down and looks at Marquita. Her blue eyes now have a great intensity that scares Marquita. Unable to speak, Marquita stares back with her eyes wide and questioning.
Mechteld breaks the silence by saying, “You get three questions.”
Without hesitation Marquita asks, “What is that in the cave?”
Mechteld quickly responds with, “Not that question. Choose again.”
Marquita takes a few moments to think of another question and then asks, “What’s your real name? I’m guessing it’s not Nurse Lazarus.”
Mechteld nods and says, “You’d be right. It’s Mechteld.”
“How old are you?” Marquita then quickly asks.
“425.” Mechteld answers.
Marquita can think of many questions she wants to ask next. After a few seconds of consideration she asks, “You talked about learning control.” Marquita pauses, surprised at herself for choosing this question, “How is it possible?”
“It takes time. It takes a lot of practice. It will take a lot of dedication, patience, and endurance, but if you work hard you will be able to keep people out, too.” She pauses before adding, “And you can learn keep yourself out of others minds. I know you struggle with that.”
Mechteld leans over Marquita and picks up a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from the table. She takes one out, places it in her mouth and quickly lights it. She inhales deeply, sets the cigarette pack and lighter back on the table and looks down at Marquita.
“I think that’s three questions, no more for now.” Mechteld takes another drag from her cigarette and continues, “If I want you to know something about myself, I’ll tell you.”
Mechteld starts to get up from the chair, but Marquita puts a hand on her knee to stop her. Mechteld is surprised by the contact; not many people willingly touched her.
“Wait, please.” Marquita’s voice shakes as she continues, “If this is true…If this is what I am now…I need to know….” Cautiously she asks, “What happened to you?”
Marquita gazes deeply into Mechteld’s face, taking in each scar that mars her face. Mechteld looks into Marquita’s hazel eyes and says, “We’re the same Marquita. We both inherited a curse.”