Medb: A Disappearance and Reappearance (excerpt)
Excerpted from Medb: a Novella (Chthonia Books, 2020)
Almost a year has gone by, and it still doesn’t make any sense.
Dan was gentle and loving, loved jokes and to tell long stories—those who disliked him usually were people who were jealous of him in some way. I heard the stories about his younger days. When things didn’t go well, he would smash things—guitars, amplifiers, walls, doors—whatever was in his path at the moment. He told me he had been an angry person, but with time and some learned anger management techniques, he was much calmer. I wouldn’t have married a violent person—we were together almost fifteen years, and I’d never seen evidence of his temper. His daughter—much older now and living in Germany—also claimed she never saw that side of her father. He loved playing with her, and would tell her long stories before bedtime. It was true that he left their mother to most of her care when he toured (fairly normal for that time), but she was a priority when he was home.
Dan and his first wife split up because of us. I was introduced to him at a party in Los Angeles, and we hit it off almost instantly. We had so much in common—both of us were hippies at heart, loved organics and being out in nature, raising animals—we got on really well together. He and his wife had been estranged for a long time, and when he asked for my number I was unsure at first whether I should get involved. But he was so sweet, and the tough-guy image he occasionally projected seemed more like a stage act than the real person. It wasn’t long before we were regularly dating, and within a couple of years we were living together. I’m American, he’s English, so we decided it would be a good idea for him to get US citizenship and to get married. He was always so reluctant about marriage; I managed to coax him into tying the knot after ten years together. We had a beautiful farm near a lake in California with chickens and horses, a dog, a cat, and it seemed we were also feeding a host of other wild creatures that came by.
I used to work as a fashion model, but Dan traveled so much, he always wanted me to travel with him, so I gave up everything just to support his work. He wasn’t making too much new music, just traveling with reunion shows of bands that had made him famous, but he was still making a ton of money. I had never been too keen on working; I had stumbled into the perfect situation, the celebrity husband who would take care of everything. I knew how fortunate I was, and took pains to make sure he didn’t have to focus on mundane domestic things. We would have staff tend to the gardens, the animals, and the house when we were away; when we were home I oversaw more of these things myself. We had a huge pond on our property, and there were many idyllic, lazy mornings sitting outside, listening to the birds, the rustling of the trees…
Then one day something happened.
We were in the house that morning, finishing up breakfast. Dan would bring in the paper, it always arrived at 6:00 sharp—and he would peruse it before we started our day. We had a morning like that, very ordinary—we did discuss something, I can’t remember what it was, it wasn’t important—and then Dan announced he was going to work on fixing up our fence outside. This was an ongoing project that needed to be finished, and he had volunteered to do it rather than calling in a professional. I remember that I had to do some shopping in the nearby city, so we went about our separate tasks for the day.
When I came home, Dan was in his studio. I started our dinner, and called for him to come down. I had to call him twice, and when he did finally come—he wore an expression on his face that I’d never seen before. He was sullen and troubled looking. I tried to talk to him about his day, but he only gave me very short answers. He only ate about two bites of his dinner before announcing he was going back to work in his studio, and didn’t want to be disturbed.
I was a bit taken aback, but I figured he was working on something, and maybe he had some ideas on his mind, something for some new work perhaps. So, I let it be. But this became the norm—he no longer smiled or kissed me, he barely ate, and he spent a lot of time either in his studio or his record room. If he slept with me, he didn’t touch me, and I could feel how tense he was. I tried to talk to him about it, but he would just say he “wanted to be left alone.” Eventually he stopped sleeping with me altogether, hiding out in his studio for the most part. I was completely blindsided by his behavior.
Then there was the notebook; around this time I would see him outside, or catch sight of him in his room, and he was holding a rather worn-looking spiral-bound notebook with a blue cover. He would have it open and would just be staring at whatever was on the page. If he noticed me around, he’d quickly close the notebook and hold it close to his chest. I really wanted to know what was in it—I assumed it was some kind of diary, though I don’t know why he would just stare at diary pages. However, whenever he ventured out and I dared to try to look for it, I could never find it.
After another uncomfortable breakfast one morning, I went out to do some errands. I came back about two hours later, and noticed that Dan’s car was gone. I was a bit relieved, to be honest, as I could have a little time to myself in the house without feeling the tension. But as the hours went by and he had not returned, I started to worry.
Where was he?
It was then that I noticed the envelope on the table in the hallway, where we usually put the mail when it arrived. I hadn’t really paid attention to it earlier; there was no writing on the envelope, but it was sealed. I opened it up, and found a short handwritten note inside:
I’m going away for a couple of weeks. Don’t try to call me. I need to figure things out.
That was it—curt, to the point, and told me nothing, except that he’d gone away. Every part of me hurt; I’d been on edge, but not having the source of the tension there made me feel better and worse at the same time. On the one hand, I wanted time of my own to think; on the other, I was grief-stricken, because I had to face the fact that I was losing my husband—to what, I didn’t know. Given his state of mind, I wasn’t sure if I should call the police—maybe he would try to harm himself. I agonized over the note, and finally called my best friend. We did end up calling the police—mainly because I was worried about his mental state. But after reading the note, they said they couldn’t really file a missing persons report; if he didn’t come back in a couple of weeks, they would look into it. In the meantime, they’d keep an eye out, but they couldn’t stop him from getting away from his own house legally.
I had various friends visit me over the next two weeks. I hardly had time to think; Dan’s manager called, several of his bandmates called—he had turned off his phone, so no one could get through to him. At this point the story had leaked to the media, and everyone wanted to know where he was, what happened. But I had no answers.
All at once, two weeks later, Dan reappeared. He looked better physically, and was calmer. But he was still ice cold to me. He would not tell me where he had been, and did not want to talk about his trip. I told him that the marriage was over—unless he was willing to talk this out or go to therapy, I couldn’t live like this, and I felt if I was going to leave, I deserved an explanation of what was making him so angry. But all he said—very calmly—was, “Yes, I think you are right. That is a good idea. Whatever you need to get moved out, I’ll pay for it.” What about the animals? “I’ll get them all sold to another farm, there are plenty around here. And I’m selling the house and moving back to England.”
And that was it. Nothing else. No explanation, no attempt to save the marriage. I was confused, angry, heartbroken—ultimately I just threw my wedding ring on the table and walked out. He did not look moved, nor the least bit upset.
I received the divorce papers from the sheriff. They cited “irreconcilable differences.” I was numb; I don’t even know what that meant. Part of me wanted to fight, but I wanted this whole thing over with. I didn’t want anything from him anymore. We reached a settlement amenable to California divorce law, and he sold the house and moved.
About a month ago, I learned about Morgan. He claims to have met her after we split up, and claims she saved his life. From what? I still don’t know—all I know is that he married her after knowing her only three months. This really hurt. Was it a rebound marriage? It had to be—there was no way it could last.
But if he was as charming to her as he had been to me all those years…
It’s over. But I still can’t sleep thinking about it. And I can’t help thinking that the man who left me was not my husband.
“Heath! Glad you could make it. Come, let’s get back to the hotel and get a drink.”
It was the first time I’d seen Dan since his last tour. He was just like the old Dan I remembered—jovial, joking around, a twinkle in his eye. But more than that—he seemed very relaxed, and very happy, and he gave off a kind of—I don’t know—perhaps you’d call it an “aura”—of being perfectly centered and calm.
The concert was amazing—Dan had a great voice, and maintained much of his old range as he got older—but he sounded fifty years younger. He also tested out some new songs, which were amazing. He’d been puttering along playing the oldies for awhile, so this was a welcome surprise to his manager, and to the fans.
I was really happy for him—but I was also puzzled. It wasn’t that long ago that Theo was hysterical about Dan looking like he was on his deathbed, and then suddenly disappearing for two weeks, before returning to announce he was divorcing her. The two of them had seemed so happy before this. Theo had such a docile and sweet personality; it didn’t seem possible that she could make him so unhappy.
Dan was beaming as he sat across the table from me, and I couldn’t help but to comment.
“Mate, I’ve got to say, you’re looking extraordinarily well. What’s changed? Was marriage that terrible?”
Dan laughed. “It got to be bad. We had some—differences, and they turned out to be significant ones.”
“But she still says she doesn’t know why you split up.”
“No. No she doesn’t know. And I have no plans to tell her. If you knew my reasons, you’d understand why I’m not telling her.”
“Do you care to share your reasons?”
Dan shook his head. “No, not yet. I’ve only shared them with my new wife.”
“Wait—what did you just say?”
Dan smiled broadly. “ New wife. Her name is Morgan. Yes, I just got remarried and I’ve never been happier. She’s not here tonight, but if you want to meet her, I’ll be home for a bit after this gig.”
“But—wait—who is this woman? When did you meet her? Were you seeing her while you were still married?”
“No! Believe it or not, I wasn’t. I only met her in the last few months.”
“Is she someone I know?”
“No, I don’t think so, unless you’ve read her writings, or followed her YouTube channel. I met her…under strange circumstances. It would take hours to explain. But we ended up communicating by email, then by Skype. After a few weeks of this, I really wanted to see her in person—I had a terrible crush on her, and I wanted to be with her, though I didn’t want to rush things at the same time. Fortunately she was amenable to my staying with her. So, I stayed at her house in New York for a few months. We managed to adapt to our different styles of living—she is so different from me in some ways, but we do have things in common—and finally I realized I had to talk to her about the things that split up myself and Theo. The conversation went much better than I could have hoped—and I realized then that this was the woman I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. So, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes! We got married rather quickly, as I was anxious to move back home, but we had a lot to settle state-side before we could go.”
I was truly perplexed. “I…I can’t believe you married her. It’s so SOON.”
“Oh yes, I’ve been hearing that. I’m surprised at myself, honestly—I’ve never been a fan of marriage. She really isn’t either—but this was—well, it was just right, and we both knew it.”
“I’m glad to hear it—but I’m wondering what this mysterious issue is that broke up you and Theo.”
“Hmm, well, it’s something that’s been an issue my whole life—I’ve just avoided it. I can’t avoid it any more. It’s part of, of—my vulnerability, I guess. But Morgan has really helped me with it ways I would never have expected. And my life feels totally different—I’ve had happy moments before, but now it’s just like everything has fallen into place.”
“Well, you’ve certainly made me curious.”
Dan grinned broadly, and toasted me with his whiskey. “Stop by and meet her. I think you’ll have a lot in common.”
It came up about ten minutes into our conversation.
Dan and I had been having video chats for a few weeks. He asked a lot of questions about my writing, though I had the impression that he hadn’t really read any of it. He also asked a lot of personal questions. This time we were talking about other interests, and I made a casual reference to reading Tarot cards.
“Do you do that? You do fortune telling?”
I laughed. “I wouldn’t call it that. I’m not looking for tall, dark handsome strangers. I use cards to help people understand what’s going on in their life currently, and that usually shows a path forward as well. To be fair, I mainly read for myself these days.”
“Oh, I see. Could I ask you—would you mind reading for me?”
“Not at all. What do you want to know?”
Dan sat back and looked thoughtful, and a little nervous. He pulled at his fingers restlessly. “Well, I guess—as you know, I’m getting divorced, I kind of…well, I kind of want to know about the stuff around that.”
“By ‘stuff around that,’ do you mean financial and practical stuff, or emotional stuff?”
He considered for a moment. “Emotional stuff I guess. Whatever you get.”
I nodded, pulled the cards down from a shelf, and began to shuffle.
I started to look at the past events, and for information about his wife. It was a surprising start—the Empress, Strength, Six of Cups reversed, Emperor reversed.
I looked at him through the camera. “You have a secret.”
His eyes widened.
I continued. “It’s not something…bad…but you think it is. You had some past trauma connected to it—looks like you were six years old? Something about a confrontation with your father. And it has to do with…a female.”
Dan said nothing, but was visibly trembling.
“Whatever it is, it’s burdened you for a long time. You’re on your guard about it, and secretive. There’s the Hierophant—I feel like you have tried to obey what you think are the rules. But you are not happy. And you have the Wheel of Fortune reversed—it comes up over, and over, and over again…”
Dan’s expression had not changed, but I saw him starting to nod slowly.
“OK, so I think you’ve been confused about what to do—you have Judgment, so you reached a point where you felt you had to solve the issue, to stop repeating this and put it to an end. But you have the Seven of Swords—you did not approach this directly. I get the sense that you never have.”
“No,” he blurted out. “I can’t!”
I looked at him for a moment, waiting to see if he would say more. But he didn’t, so I went on.
“These next cards represent your wife—Queen of Cups, clearly a beautiful compassionate woman, or at least she seemed that way. You have the Five of Swords—not good, that’s someone cutting you off, placing a limit. It could mean jealousy, but I don’t think that applies here. And you have the Fool reversed, so it’s clear that you wanted to take a risk, but you got a clear message that you’d better not.”
Dan stood up and began to pace the room on his end of the video call.
“Are you OK, Dan?”
He sat down again, “Yes, yes, I’m OK—sorry, it’s just…this is so spot on, it’s making me very emotional.”
I smiled and nodded. “Well, let’s see what else we have. Wow—the Tower, Ten of Swords, and Death—that brought something crashing down. I don’t know why, but I feel like you’ve had some intense experience—intense dreams, perhaps a mental breakdown, perhaps both…still connected to this female, somehow.”
He looked at me pointedly. “Yes. You should know about the dreams.”
I was puzzled. “I should?”
“Yes, you…well, I should stop, and let you finish. Go on.”
“Well, at any rate—the outcome is very good. Another woman shows up here—not the same as the first woman—perhaps a fire sign—but the outcome is the Star and the Ten of Cups. That’s almost a 180 degree turn from the other cards—it signifies hope, happiness, and wishes fulfilled.” Suddenly, I heard a voice loud and clear in my head. I looked at Dan and said, “I don’t often get direct messages, but I have one for you now. What I’m hearing is: You are not wrong. At all. It is everyone else who is wrong.”
Now Dan burst into tears. He sobbed for a few minutes; I felt a little bad, as I could not reach out and hold him. He wiped his eyes with a tissue. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to get that way…but…I very much needed to hear that.”
“It’s OK, Dan, it really is.”
“Do…does it say…what the secret is?”
I sat back. “Well…I have a feeling I might know what it is. If it’s what I think it is, then there’s definitely nothing wrong with it at all.”
He now leaned forward, and stared at me seriously. “I want to tell you…and you’re the only person I feel safe telling…but not over a video chat. I need to tell you in person. I need to come see you.”
It’s been almost twenty years, yet here I am.
I never thought I’d get married again. I was raised to believe that having a husband and a family was a foregone conclusion. All women married and had kids, it was the measure of their success, and a measure of their desirability; those two things went hand in hand. Your value was determined by your desirability as a sex partner, and later as a marriage partner.
We were raised on the Cinderella idea; Prince Charming would come along, and everything would be perfect. Marriage was the happy ending, the happily ever after, you could coast through life after that.
What bullshit that turned out to be.
Thankfully my first husband and I never had kids. He was something of a loser, very smart but not motivated to do shit. I worked my ass off, and he still expected me to keep the house, be the perfect lover, and be in love with him all the time. It was early on in our marriage when he let me know what a disappointment I was to him. I was (he told me) supposed to fix all his problems and make him happy, and I was falling down on the job. Initially I swallowed this festering pile of crap, but it didn’t take long for me to disgorge it. If you’re not happy, asshole, it’s your own damn fault.
Still, we hung in there for some time—I’d wondered if time and maturity would change us, change the situation. It didn’t. So I left him, and I was never happier without someone. I made my own life and career, working in higher ed for many years, and then had some pretty good success with my novel, Dark Fictions. I’ve written other things, not fiction, for certain audiences, but I managed to make a lot of money on social media related to that particular work. Volume two of that series is in the works, and to be published soon. Dark Fictions brought me money I didn’t expect— it’s unusual to make money from publishing these days—and it also brought me my new husband.
I was checking my Patreon account one day, as I had an email about a large donation from a new subscriber. It was a huge sum of money; I won’t name it here, but it is far from typical for anyone, even a big fan, to donate that amount. I read the name of the donor: Daniel Sampson. I laughed, and thought, Wouldn’t it be funny if it was THAT Daniel Sampson? You know, the singer who’s been around forever? I looked at the geographical info connected to him—he was in Northern California. Hang on a sec—doesn’t Daniel Sampson actually live in Northern CA with his wife? I’d read that in an article about him somewhere. Still, it could have been a coincidence.
I wrote to Daniel to thank him personally—it’s hard to know what to offer to someone who gives that much money. He wrote back, saying he really liked my book, and wanted to know if we could have a Skype conversation. I had no problem with this; it’s not an intrusion, and I was glad to be able to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not this was “that Daniel Sampson.” And as it turns out—it was. I was a little nervous seeing him there on my computer screen, having this conversation. But he turned out to be very easy to talk to, and we would talk for hours. He made offhand comments here and there that could be characterized as flirtatious. But he told me that he’d just divorced his wife, and I assumed he might be a little lonely out where he was living. I was sure he’d have another girlfriend in no time.
I was right—he eventually did have another girlfriend: me. While I don’t think I’m unattractive, I don’t see myself as the typical rock star girlfriend; perhaps I am unfair, but the lot of them seem to have blonde hair, emaciated bodies, big smiles, and vacant eyes. They are what I call “accessory spouses”—they act as decoration to their illustrious spouse, and that’s their role. I assure you that I would have extreme difficulty trying to fit this role; even if they found me attractive, I am not anyone’s accessory, and I’m not there to smile and giggle. I can step aside when they need to be the center of attention, but I’m not playing a secondary role in anyone’s life. If those are the terms, I’d rather pass. I didn’t understand his attraction to me at the time, and I was skeptical. On the other hand, I remember a colleague once saying about our change in managers—“when you get sick of A, you tend to make a one-eighty degree turn and choose B.” Maybe that was happening here in his relationships. (Of course, that was before I knew about the notebook…)
Not to digress, but it’s probably worth mentioning that I’ve practiced magic for years. Most people don’t know what that is; their association with magic generally comes from folktales or children’s books, the “Harry Potter” variety of wizardry. That is pure fiction. Real magic is a bit more mysterious; it involves a deeper knowledge of the workings of the world, and more akin to science in its goals—at least some varieties. It makes one realize that there is more than meets the eye in our world. I have always been fond of Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious; he looked at the mythical side of life, and proposed the idea of archetypes, autonomous (and numinous) constructs that are projected from the collective unconscious when they are prompted by disruptions in our conscious life. When they are projected—or constellated, as they say—we are not in control of our own actions. It has been theorized that “spirits” are also a kind of constellated unconscious content—but the practitioner always has to wonder if experiences in magical experimentation are these very constellations—or if the spirits are real in and of themselves. Or both. It is easy to assume they are projections if you don’t have actual experience. I allude to this somewhat in my novel, and weirdly, it’s this very thing that drew Daniel to me. Daniel himself has no knowledge of magic, or any real interest in it. But without knowing it (exactly), he knew I could solve certain problems for him—ones that required more than normal intervention. He had a lot of questions about “spirits.” And the question of “what is real” was more relevant here than either of us realized.
Anyway, we had been talking for about a month when his intentions became clear. He had asked me about my workplace, wanted my home address, my work address. I sent a photo of my business card, and my personal info card. The next thing I know, I had flowers appear for me at my office. I asked him about it during our next Skype session.
“I hope you got a delivery today?”
“Yes I did, thank you! Are you trying to tell me something?”
He smiled, and I could see him blush even with the poor lighting in the video. “Well, I guess I should just admit it, I have a terrible crush on you. I…I’m moving soon, I’m hoping…well, that we can spend some time together, that I can be with you in person. But I don’t want to be pushy.”
Long story short, I let him come stay at my house—he stayed for two months, and it was probably after about six weeks that he popped the question. I have rarely been treated to anything labeled “romantic” in my life, even in my relationships, so he went all out, whisking me away for a weekend at a country estate at a gorgeous B&B that had every amenity—fireplace, Jacuzzi, antique furnishings, canopy bed, lavish room service. He took me for an expensive dinner nearby, and got on his knees to ask me to marry him. It was surreal, and I found that I couldn’t say no. When I posted about our engagement to social media, it felt like another fiction story I was making up. But it was real.
Why did I marry him? People couldn’t believe it; we hardly knew each other. Both of us took some time before getting married; Daniel waited almost ten years to marry his last wife. We both rushed into this one. Part of it was practical; neither of us are getting any younger, and Daniel needed to move back to the UK. I couldn’t go with him if we weren’t in some kind of legal partnership. Some people thought it had to do with money, but that’s just rubbish. I could never marry anyone for money, and I had enough of my own to live comfortably.
Ultimately, what made up both of our minds was the notebook.
You see, Daniel carried around this rather tattered spiral-bound notebook that had things pasted inside, and some writings. He is very secretive about the contents; I think I may be the only living person outside of himself who has seen what is in it. Anyone who saw it wouldn’t know what to make of it; it requires some explanation, and for three hours one evening, Daniel explained it to me. He was nervous about doing so; he had never received a favorable response when he made even a general reference to its contents. Everything exploded when he had a series of dreams that told him his notebook was—well, not just a notebook. Its contents only touched on the bigger issue, a symptom of the one that overwhelmed him, and that actually threatened his life and his livelihood.
But I did understand once I had the whole picture. He realized I understood, and this had a healing effect on him. And thus we came to be married and live in Cheshire. He fixed up a house that was on family property he inherited, and we moved in—myself, Daniel …
and a woman called Medb.