by Earth Elemental 99, with Martin Maenza
Long before sunrise, Abigail Arcane Cable awoke. Valentine’s Day, she thought sadly without even looking at the calendar. It was a day to celebrate love joyously, but not for her.
Rising from her bed in one of the beachside faculty bungalows, Abby changed into a two-piece bathing suit and walked out onto the beach. Perhaps a morning jog will clear my head, she thought as she took off running. The tropical beach on this South Pacific isle was hers alone at the moment, save for the occasional seabird looking for its breakfast.
By the time day broke with a glorious tropical sunrise, Abby had returned to her bungalow for shower and a quick breakfast, the latter compliments of her roommate, Rose Psychic. Abby then dressed and prepared for yet another session to continue a most unique and rewarding educational experience.
The beautiful Eastern European immigrant with platinum-blonde hair longed for her beloved Louisiana, the southern marshland territory of the bayou that she had come to call home. But for the past six weeks she had been here on Grimoire Island. Known to the students and staff as Mrs. Cable, botanical studies instructor, this was another life for her. And despite the magical nature and untold mysteries of the school on this island paradise, it was a life she was starting to grow tired of.
Too soon, it was time for her first morning lecture. She made her way down the path to the forested area that was set aside for her lectures. Abby preferred to instruct her students among the natural harmonies; it made even the most basic lessons more interesting.
She sat confidently with her hands on her knees, her silky legs and bare feet crossed in comfortable Indian-style, clad in a white blouse and a pair of dark slacks. She would have preferred a simple a bikini top and blue-jean cut-off shorts, but Headmaster Gallowglass frowned upon that. “The school has an image to upkeep,” he had said to her.
Seated in the grass at the water’s edge on her designated swampland instruction area, Abby’s pupils of the day were assembled in meditation. Today she was surrounded with her youngest students, the first-years, for a brief elective session that had nothing to do with botany. Although Grimoire Academy was not a school of magic, per se, several of its students were from the magically gifted race of Homo Magi, and they required special nurturing. Abby had volunteered to teach the beginners what she could, based on what she knew of meditation. With some reluctance, the headmaster had allowed Abby to offer five sessions of the class as an elective.
The young woman explained her methods, hoping to impart her hard-earned wisdom to these knowledge-seeking young students, most of whom were still too young to manifest any of their imminent Homo Magi skills. “Meditation is the source of concentration that is necessary to use your coming gifts. It gives you a presence of complete being and inner peace. But you must practice your meditation in order to perfect it. Like swimming and diving underwater, which I do often, full meditation gives you an unbound sense of freedom. It is a natural high. Some call it zen, a moment of cosmic awareness.”
Abby looked around and viewed the full interest of the boys and girls. Mornings are good, she thought. Nobody’s bored yet. She also saw a dark-suited man standing at the edge of the clearing beyond the trees.
Headmaster Gallowglass. Abby felt a sense of emotional unrest. She tried to conceal her disdain for this strange man with one eye, but the man just stood there. Seeing no escape from this predicament, Abby decided to go on with her intriguing personal advisory lecture to the awaiting children.
She explained about her early development. “I first discovered my affinity with nature when I was in my late teens. The ability to empathize with the emotions of other people had always been with me since I was a young child, but eventually I came to use that gift as my tiny village’s only medic. Healing came naturally to me, and I truly felt a bond with my patients. Perhaps my strongest bond was my telepathic rapport with Alec Holland.”
Abby crossed her arms, feeling the confusion among the dimly comprehending children. “The Swamp Thing was my second husband,” she whispered tenderly. “After Matthew Cable. Despite what you may have heard about him, he has the heart and soul of a man. He was a good and decent supernatural being. I — I loved him as if he truly were my husband.”
Not caving into her sadness this time, Abby turned more enthusiastically toward the water in the huge lagoon and the adjacent creeks that spilled forth into the island’s great lakes, offering to momentarily lift her spirits in the glory of excellent swimming.
“OK, meditation’s over. I want everyone to remove their shoes. Boys, you can roll up your trousers.” She similarly did the same with her own pants. “Good. Now follow me down to the lagoon, so we can take in the plant life that grows in the water.”
Abby watched the distant Gallowglass walking farther away from the site, back toward the buildings inland. He didn’t appear to take very kindly to her unorthodox way of instruction, but she didn’t care anymore. “Watch your feet on the sharp rocks along the creek beds,” she warned the students. “Keep out of the poison ivy and ragweed thickets. Don’t get lost in the willows. Stay on the trails. Keep up the pace, and don’t be tardy!”
After a couple of hours of exploration and explanation, Abby dismissed her students and straightened up her own attire. It’s almost noon, she mused. I’d better attend that conference I have planned with Gallowglass.
Abby Cable had discovered that she would indeed be trapped on the island against her will until the so-called mid-year break on May 1st. But the prospective imprisonment and threats of insubordination were not what had infuriated her the most. It was the drastic changes in the students that worried her the most. Children were constantly disappearing without a trace. Abby received no explanations for this, but only lies and threats. And then the weird stuff began to happen.
That was just too much for her to take. Abby asked nicely to be given the chance to leave, even at the expense of never coming back. The island was becoming too miserable and frightening to stomach, anyhow, so Abby demanded her freedom. Gallowglass continued to threaten her and condescend her. It was easy for him to belittle her, so it proved a stop-gap measure for him to win every argument.
But not this time. Abby’s buttons had been pushed for the final time.
“I want to know what the hell is going on here!” Abby screamed at the callous man standing before her. “If you have harmed Joshua or Alfred in any way, I swear I’ll turn you over to the authorities! Child abuse is a state crime!”
Gareth Gallowglass chuckled to the neutral Rose Psychic and the sinister sadist Emma Peel, both of whom supported all of Gallowglass’ mandates. “She actually believes I have to answer to her, doesn’t she?”
Turning back to Abby, the headmaster replied menacingly, “Need I remind you that you are the only faculty member present on this island with an criminal arrest record? A desperate, bail-jumping sex-offender such as yourself should never make such wild, immature accusations, Mrs. Cable! Only bad things can come of such behavior as yours. As to the disciplinary measures taken on this island, that is my place to decide, and mine alone! Need I remind you that you are not immune to punishment yourself?”
This was the last straw. Abby exploded into fury. “How dare you threaten me, you bastard! You son of a bitch!”
“Get out of my office, woman!” Gallowglass said. “I’ll hear no more from you! You are under contractual obligation, and that is that!”
Abby stomped her sandaled feet and stormed out of the office. Nervous sweat began to pierce her clothing as she walked outside the main building.
Now what? she asked herself. Her personal rights, her freedom, and her piece of mind were on the line. Those were the most valued aspects of her life she had cherished the most, now that her beloved Alec was gone.
Simon Belmont had seen Abby Cable leave Gallowglass’ chambers, and he called her over. He whispered something to her, and she nodded.
Abby went back to her room, undressed, and showered again, then hurried outside to the jungle lagoon. Once more comfortably bikini-clad and barefooted, Abby hiked the familiar, grassy beachside trails to conduct her final outdoor session with her students. She had hoped the tropical environmental, meditation exercises, swimming, and playing with the students would ease her mind, but they did not.
In short, the enjoyment and sense of fulfillment from mentoring these children was gone. Abby just wanted to go home. Dear Alec, bless his soul, would have wanted only her happiness at a time like this. That was all that mattered to Abby now.
Abby returned to her room and promptly changed back into another set of her formal clothing, packing her things for departure. She knew that Belmont’s promise was her only hope for escape now. She had to take it. Abby had to take advantage while the window of opportunity remained open. Her confident, unshod feet took to the grounds once more, and they certainly did not fail to take her hence.
She raced across the island and ventured into the clock tower, where the clock room resided. She had been here before in the previous weeks, so she knew what sort of secrets the room held. Belmont was waiting for her.
“Hurry inside,” he said as he ushered her in. “We must hurry before we are discovered!”
“If what you offered me earlier is true, it will put you at great risk with Gallowglass,” Abby said.
“Bah!” Belmont said. “I will take the risk. Now, do we have a deal?”
Abby looked at him reluctantly. “You do this favor for me now, and in exchange I promise to do you a favor at a future time.”
“Yes, yes,” Belmont said. “Do you agree?”
Abby knew she wanted to get far away from this place. Belmont’s request seemed minor compared to all that. “Yes,” she said. “I agree.”
“Good,” Belmont said. He went to the mystical clock and activated it. A shimmering portal began to form. “Louisiana, you said?”
“Then Houma it is,” Belmont chuckled. In the portal that formed, the background began to become clearer. Abby could see the familiar swamps that she called home in the distance. “Hurry, now, hurry! Through the portal you go.”
Abby grabbed the small bag of belongings that she had been able to gather without being obvious. Material things could be replaced, but her freedom could not. “Thank you, Belmont,” she said. And then she stepped through the portal and was gone.
Belmont merely smiled as he deactivated the mystical doorway.
It was now late evening on Valentine’s Day at Abby Cable’s residence in Houma, Louisiana. After six weeks of uncertainty, lies, suspicions, torture, murder, and confrontations, Abby was finally able to make her escape from the threatening imprisonment, free of any and all obligations to Grimoire Island and its fear-inspiring headmaster. For Abby, it was another horror show in her life averted.
She thought about the conference she had attended earlier that day, which was really more of a clandestine meeting. It was the last thing I would do at that school, she thought, but it was an important one. It had led to her freedom.
How she wished someone had come to her rescue — a gallant hero like those found in the Justice League, the sharp-tongued John Constantine, or even her beloved Swamp Thing. Abby’s poor, beloved Alec was gone, only a tortured memory left in her lonely heart. Abby realized that she would only escape if she took action herself. The recent visit by Adam Strange to the island only made her realize how important it was for her to act.
Abby continued to suspect that every innocent child trapped in that horrible place would be dead, corrupted, or damned to Hell, along with the so-called instructors she had worked with and trusted for those first six tragic weeks of the year. She thought of those with whom she had developed a bond: the gentle giant Adam Frankenstein, the wondrous Timothy Hunter, and even her roommate Rose Psychic. She bowed her head and said a silent prayer for each of them.
“Horror seems to follow me everywhere I go. At least I was able to walk away from it this time.” She had already been down that darkened road before when she had been tortured by her uncle, the evil monstrosity known as Anton Arcane — the demon who had beat his own path to Hell.
No one needed to tell Abby that her boss, Headmaster Gallowglass, and all of his pathetic lackeys were surely going to Hell for their heinous sins. But they would certainly take every cursed child trapped on that Godforsaken island along with them into the netherworld.
Really, Abby had seen this sort of thing happen before, several times in her life, in fact. This time she would have no part of it. No more.