Author’s Note: Call it a break in seasons. This entry took forever to spill out of me, but I wanted to do it right when I did it. I could easily delve into the debilitating nature of depression in this space, but I’d rather just let you know that I’m glad we’re still working on this project and I’m excited to see where we will continue to go with it. This story turned two years old on the 9th of this month. Seeing as how the tale began on the day of Halloween, I thought it fitting to publish this piece today. I hope you all are having a spooky and wonderful time.
Excerpt from Ella St. Clare’s interview of Nadia Taylor:
ESC: So, why do you call yourselves “The Spirit of Elissa?”
NT: Well, for starters, “Elissa” is the Roman name for “Dido”. When I was doing my undergrad, we read The Aeneid. That scene at the end of the 4th book always stuck with me, where Dido, distraught at being abandoned by her lover, Aeneas, stabs herself with his sword and then flings herself upon a great pyre. It may seem counterintuitive, I know, that a woman like myself somehow found beauty in a scene where a once powerful and competent queen is brought to her wit’s end and commits suicide simply because she is abandoned by some vagabond from Troy, but then I suppose I haven’t given you the full story yet. No, the beautiful part of the story is where Dido, lying upon the pyre and in the grips of death, commits her people to being enemies with Aeneas’ people forever. I don’t really want into go into how historically factual or feasible The Aeneid is, but suffice it to say that Aeneas and his people are said to be the founders of Rome.
ESC: So the “spirit” from the name refers to Dido’s ghost? Or is it more the spirit of her gesture, like, “This is a marked point in history where conflict was born between men and women?”
NT: Not exactly, though that is one of the layers of the name. I must add that I am very pleased that you’re asking me about this; I’ve always wanted to talk about why I chose this name and I’ve never been asked about it. I mean, I’ve never exactly been interviewed either but that’s beside the point. (Laughs) No, the “spirit” primarily refers to the spirit that Dido invokes as she is dying: “rise up from my bones, avenging spirit” I think is what she says. Again, I don’t really want to go into the historical accuracy of The Aeneid – I don’t think anyone is able to claim that it is truly what happened – but many people seem to agree that the “avenging spirit” refers to Hannibal. Hannibal was the general from Carthage that made the lives of Roman generals miserable during the First Punic War. The Second Punic War? I think it was the First. Doesn’t really matter. I preferred to think of the “spirit”, and this was my perception from the first time that I read the story, that the “spirit” was feminism.
ESC: (Laughs) Really? I mean, um, can you say more about that?
NT: Well, it’s as good a place to start in the grand scheme of – (Cuts off) Ella, can you give me a minute?
ESC: Yeah, of course.
Ella pushed “Pause” on the recording app that she had open on her phone and looked at Nadia who had picked up her phone from the coffee table and stood up. Nadia held up a finger and said, “So sorry about this, I’ll just be a moment.”
“No, no problem at all,” said Ella, as Nadia slipped into her bedroom. Ella looked around the living room of the stuffy single-bedroom apartment. She moved her eyes from one of the many cluttered bookshelves, across the Nirvana and Hole posters that framed the single window at the front of the room, past the jewelry tree that stood in the corner holding various necklaces with crystals and talismans on them, to the couch where Amanda Sanders sat adopting a simultaneously nonplussed and open posture.
Once Ella realized that Amanda wasn’t going to say anything, she said, “So, how am I doing?”
A thin smile worked at the corner of Amanda’s mouth before she said, “Have you done many interviews?”
“No,” said Ella. “This is my first one actually. It doesn’t come up very often in my major.”
Amanda tilted her head. “What are you studying?”
“I’m a Religious Studies student. In my third year.”
Amanda nodded. “What made you choose that?”
Ella chuckled. “I just thought it was interesting, I guess.”
Amanda brought her finger to her lips, and then said, “There’s more to it than that though, isn’t there?”
“Ha, not really. I’m honestly pretty boring.”
Amanda shook her head. “Come on, now. I doubt that…There’s this weird phenomenon among people these days where they seem to give up on thinking that what they’ve got going on is interesting. I’m the opposite; I feel like everybody’s got a story. Some are better than others, sure, but that doesn’t mean that the less interesting ones have no value. Did you really commit four or five years of your life to a topic that you thought was merely ‘interesting’?”
Ella blinked a couple of times and then smiled. She set down her notepad and said, “If I’m being honest, I went into Religious Studies because I found out that it’s all bullshit.”
“Religion. It’s all just stories told to make people feel like they are a part of something but at the end of the day, it mostly just drives people apart.”
Amanda nodded, but was silent.
“I mean, think about it this way: There are no original copies of the New Testament. The pieces of the manuscripts that we translate from today were found in garbage heaps in ancient cities. Not only that, but every single time they were passed down they were editorialized; people added stuff to them or redacted from them to better illustrate what they thought the message of the text was or should be. On top of all of that, they are translated from Greek, which I might add, none of the people who spent any time with Jesus spoke, and then the people who are translating them also insert or redact their own biases into the text…Sorry, I just feel like, through all of that, there’s no way that we can possibly be getting the true, originally intended message. It just doesn’t add up to me. And that’s just the New Testament. The Old Testament is like twice as old, some pieces of it are three times as old, and even farther removed from current events. And there are people that choose three word phrases from these texts and live and die by them. Some of them take other people’s lives away or deny them liberty and justice. It’s just…” Ella trailed off, not really sure where to take her argument next.
Amanda smiled again, and said, “Sounds like you’re taking your studies seriously. That’s good. You were a Christian growing up?”
Ella laughed again. “Is it that obvious?”
“It’s just the religion you focused on when you were talking just now. And you seemed pretty passionate about it. If I had grown up Christian and come to the conclusion that it was all bullshit, I would probably have the same reaction as you. With the kind of zeal that only a Christian can have.”
“Huh. Well, yeah, I was a practicing Christian till I was 19 and then I started taking some courses that hinted at all of the stuff that I just talked about and…here we are.” Ella smiled once more.
Amanda waited a beat. “Here we are. You’re probably not going to do too many interviews then, are you?”
“Honestly, I hope not. I’m not sure that I’m cut out for it.”
Amanda laughed. “You’re doing just fine! Do you mind if I give you a couple of tips though?”
“Please do. Anything will help.”
Amanda leaned forward. “Well, the first tip I’d give you is to talk as little as possible. You want the person you’re interviewing to feel as though you’re glued to your chair and listening with reverence to what they have to say. It puts them at ease, and they’ll usually say more that way, even stuff they don’t really want people to know. When all else fails, give them silence. People hate silence; they’ll do anything to fill that void.”
Ella nodded her head, and began to feel excited. “Wow, I never thought about it like that! Okay, tell me more!”
“I guess the second thing is that you should avoid asking leading questions. Do you know what “leading” is?”
“I think so. Like telling the person how they feel?”
“Exactly! Again, say the bare minimum. Don’t put words in their mouth. Make sure they’re saying exactly what they mean to say the way that they mean to say it. You’ll get much more honest and varied answers that way. And you won’t just be confirming what you already know.”
“That makes sense…Didn’t you do that to me a minute ago, though?”
“Um, I don’t remember…Oh, wait. Yeah, I do. It was when you said I was a Christian when I was growing up. What if I had been Jewish or something?”
Amanda laughed. “Well, I wasn’t interviewing you then. That was just a conversation, you know?”
Ella tittered and blushed slightly, “Okay, yeah, you’re right. Sorry…”
“It’s all right. Don’t be embarrassed! Here, I’ve got one more tip for you, okay?”
Ella tried to shake off her self-consciousness and said, “Okay, tell me.”
Amanda nodded her head and said,“You should never laugh at the person you’re interviewing.”
Ella’s embarrassment immediately redoubled. With her cheeks flushing, she said sheepishly, “I know…I didn’t mean to. It happened without me even thinking about it. It just felt like what she was saying was so cliche.”
“What do you mean?”
“I guess it’s just that I’ve taken some Women and Gender’s Studies courses and some of those girls relate everything back to feminism. It can be something completely removed from feminism entirely and they find a way to steer the conversation right back to it. I guess I thought it might be something that people grow out of when they get older?”
“I mean, is it feminism that you find funny, or…?”
“Not at all. Honestly, I think that it’s impossible for a woman to be alive today without calling herself a feminist.”
Now it was Amanda’s turn to try and stifle a laugh. Failing, she said, “Sorry, sorry, I just…I think you’d be surprised.”
Ella pressed on saying, “It’s not that I have any issues with feminism, I just think that there’s a way that some women go about it that hurts the cause more than it betters it. I don’t know what I expected though; I heard about that demonstration or whatever you want to call it that happened downtown the other day and I knew coming into this that Nadia was involved with it. Organized it, even.”
Amanda nodded her head and then waited a beat before saying, “Nadia is a smart woman. She has her quirks like anybody else, but I think that she does what she does because she thinks it’s for the best. Don’t be too quick to set aside other people’s opinions simply out of preconceived notions. You could learn a lot from Nadia, answers to questions you didn’t even know you had, but you have to be willing to listen.”
As Ella took a moment to think on what Amanda had said, Nadia reemerged from her room and said, “Well, that was not the call that I was expecting at all.”
“Who was it?” asked Amanda.
Nadia began to answer, but then looked at Ella and said, “This has to be strictly off the record. Not a word of it can go into the paper you’re working on.”
“No, of course,” said Ella. “Not a word.”
“Okay, good. Thank you. Now that we’re all sworn to secrecy, I can say without hesitation that that was somebody with the police department, asking me if I can come in and answer a few questions about…an incident that occurred downtown a week or so ago.”
“Does it have anything to do with the stunt you pulled at that law office that everybody knows you organized?” asked Amanda.
“I can neither confirm nor deny. Suffice it to say, I’ll be paying them a visit after we get finished up here. We’ll get everything all set straight. Anyway, did you have more questions for me, Ella?”
Ella picked up her notepad and looked at it for a moment, and then said, “Actually, I think I’ve got everything I need here. But can I ask you one more question, just out of my own curiosity?”
Nadia came back over and retook her seat. “Of course,” she said.
“Why did you decide to go with the name “Elissa” instead of “Dido”?”
Nadia laughed. “That one’s simple. I chose Latin as my language during my undergrad. We translated excerpts of “The Aeneid” in class and the name “Elissa” was present in my mind more often than “Dido” when we were dealing with these concepts. Of course, the whole thing was a huge mistake. If I could go back, I’d have chosen a different language.”
“Latin’s a dead language. There’s no practical use for it. If I had focused just as much time on learning German, I could be giving interviews in Hamburg. Let me give you a piece of advice, Ella: Make sure you choose a language that’s gonna be worthwhile to you in the long run. You’ll do so much better with it.”
Ella laughed. “Okay, got it.”
“Have you chosen a language yet? When do people usually get started on those?”
Ella laughed even more. “I did! If I’m being honest, I’m in my second semester of Latin!”
Nadia froze for a second, then looked at Amanda, and the two of them burst out and joined Ella in her laughter.
A few minutes later, Nadia told Ella that they needed to say their goodbyes so that she and Amanda could go down to the police station and straighten things out.
“Oh, but, you should come to the protest next week! We’re going down to Deercliff to protest their local police department. A girl was raped and they haven’t done anything about it yet. No arrests, no action whatsoever. I think they need a dose of culture and we’re just the women to do it. You’ll get so much more awesome material for your paper!”
Amanda nodded slightly behind Nadia’s shoulder and, after a moment of thought, Ella said, “Okay, great! Lemme know when and where to be and we’ll make it happen!”
Jackson had always thought it was stupid how in a bunch of scary movies, there was a scene where a young man or woman was running through the woods, fleeing some abject force that had come to seize them in the night, and, inevitably, the character who was running tripped and fell at some point. It felt like every single time. In those scenes, the moon was always so bright that every detail of the woods could be seen; every low-hanging branch or foot-snagging root seemed so obvious that it felt foolish to watch these characters running for their life and getting done in by something that could so easily be avoided.
He had brought it up to Ethan multiple times on sleepovers as a kid, “Ah, man! Are you kidding me? Another one of these scenes?” He and Ethan would laugh about it through the entire scene and mock the half-assed ways the characters ran and fell. Those were the times that Jackson remembered when he thought about trying to figure out this whole mess. Those were the times that drove Jackson to try and find out what had happened to Maggie Nice so that they could clear Ethan’s name.
These were all thoughts that sparked through Jackson’s mind as he and Todd dashed off into the woods that surrounded Pilgrim Falls. Todd had hauled him up off the ground after running into him, yelled “Run!”, and with that, they both took off.
Jackson would be the first to admit that he had spent very little time running through the woods at night time, and that he was shocked at just how dark and sketchy the whole operation was. Add on top of that the fact that they were essentially running down a hill that would have been hard to keep your footing on in bare light with no trees and it made for a very perilous affair indeed. Todd’s sense of fear and urgency had transferred into Jackson with ease and he could hear Todd continue to run with haste very near to him. Soon, the sound of Todd near to him dissipated and it became clear to Jackson that they had moved farther and farther apart as they were running. Jackson slowed and tried to see if Todd was nearby, but the sound of other people running and yelling indistinguishably at each other pushed Jackson onward, as fast as he could. He and Todd would find each other when they were safe, if they ever were again.
Jackson bolted on, becoming more and more aware of the fact that it was pure luck that he had not fallen or run into something at this point. The air in his lungs grew labored and hot, and soon he felt as though he could not run for very much longer. Still, he labored on until he came upon a narrow opening between two trees that had a fallen tree laying between them.
It all happened in the space of five seconds: He tried to reroute around the opening, but immediately discovered that he was moving too fast and that the forest had grown too thickly around him. The only possible route was through. He tried to slow as much as he could, and then leapt over the fallen tree in the opening. It was a successful jump, but as Jackson sailed over the fallen tree, he discovered that beneath it was even more fallen trees laying in close proximity to one another. He managed to land one of his Converse clad feet on one of the trees, but his other leg found no claim. He tried to brace for the impact but his left leg took the full force of the fall and he felt something in it snap as it took the full weight of his body.
Jackson cried out in pain and rolled off of the log, falling three or four feet and getting the wind knocked out of him. His already labored breathing became much more difficult to maintain and his oxygen starved body began to feel hot all over. It felt like he simply could not get enough air to recover. He continued to breathe as deeply as possible over and over again until finally, he felt as though he was beginning to catch his breath. His leg, fortunately, was completely numb. He laid on his back with no desire to look at the damage.
Slowly, his wits came back to him and he began to hear the unmistakable sound of twigs snapping and leaves being kicked aside: People were still moving towards him. As they moved closer he could hear one of them saying, “Did they seriously both get away?”
Another voice: “My boots are no good for climbing over all of those trees. Go on and have a look down there, between that opening. I thought I heard him running this way.”
The first voice: “Seriously? Your boots are no good? Do I look like a fucking moron to you?”
The second voice: “Jesus Christ, you wouldn’t help your own mother bury your father. Gimme the goddamn flashlight.”
The first voice: “I’ll stay up here. Holler if you see anything.”
More twigs snapping and dust being kicked around as the owner of the second voice moved through the trees, circumnavigating the dark and dangerous bed of trees that laid out before him. The sound of movement ceased close to Jackson. He opened his eyes and could see a beam of light moving over the trees that he had landed on.
Suddenly, he heard another movement and then felt the light hit his face. The man had had the good sense to crouch down and see what was beneath the trees.
“Hup!” the man called.
“See something?” the other voice called back.