If you haven’t dropped by Kindle Vella yet, all you have to do is type Kindle Vella into the Amazon search engine. The first three episodes of any Kindle Vella story are free, and once you log into your Amazon account, you can redeem 200 free tokens to use to unlock further episodes. Thus far, I have posted 13 episodes of The Lady in the Blue Dress. I hope you’ll drop by and try this new, innovative way of storytelling.
Mika Devalieur desperately wants to deny her beloved grandmother’s last wish, but she can’t. Reluctantly, she travels from New Orleans to rural Virginia to deliver a priceless Pre-Raphaelite painting into the hands of James Clairmont, someone she’s never laid eyes on before. But something isn’t right, and James Clairmont knows much more about her family and the painting than he is letting on. There are so many secrets about him, about her, and most especially, The Lady in the Blue Dress.
The first book I ever wrote was a collection of paranormal/esoteric stories called Breaking Through the Pale. Recently, I returned to that collection and decided to give it an overhaul. The new revised edition of this book has recently been released at Cornerstone Book Publishers and Amazon. I hope you check it out!
Journey with metaphysical author Evelyn Klebert into a collection of short stories that travel beyond the pale into the unpredictable realm of the paranormal.
In “A Grey Mourning,” a disillusioned man encounters a mysterious being on the foggy streets of New Orleans. “Contact” is a tale of automatic writing, when a young artist establishes communication with a spirit guide, and the victim of a car crash unravels the true nature of her existence in “Dancing on the Threshold.” The final tale is called “Isolation,” in which a confused and disoriented woman finds herself in an old, quaint house where she must piece together the mystical implications surrounding her predicament.
Recently, I decided to take a chance and dive into something completely different. If you haven’t already heard about it, Amazon has launched a new way to publish books called Kindle Vella. Instead of a complete manuscript, books are published by continuous episodes reminiscent of the old days when Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers like Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith, and Robert Louis Stevenson would publish in literary magazines in a serialized format. At Kindle Vella, the first three episodes of the novel are free and subsequent episodes are unlocked with tokens which are purchased.
The Lady in the Blue Dress is my first foray into this new publishing venue. It’s a book I actually began a good while back but have returned to often over the years, combining fantasy, paranormal, and my love of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I hope you’ll drop by Kindle Vella and read my first three episodes for free and then decide if you’d like to take this adventure with me. From what I gather, you get you’re first 200 tokens free when you join.
Mika Devalieur desperately wants to refuse her grandmother’s last wish, but she can’t. Reluctantly, she travels from New Orleans to rural Virginia to deliver a precious Pre-Raphaelite painting into the hands of James Clairmont, someone she’s never laid eyes on before. But something isn’t right, and James Clairmont knows much more about her family and the painting than he is letting on. There are so many secrets about him, about her, and most especially, The Lady in the Blue Dress.
Just in case you haven’t quite gotten Halloween out of your system, here is one more chilling tale for you. The newly revised edition of The Witches’ Own has just been released and is available at Cornerstone, Amazon, and most other online book and eBook retailers.
On the surface, things seem quiet and serene in the picturesque coastal village of Kilmarnock, Virginia. But something unseen roams its lush forests as the past and present collide and the unthinkable begins to wreak its vengeance. Young Lucy Bonner is executed for witchcraft in the town’s distant and brutal past. Her death triggers an unholy chain of events which grasp at the restless heart of novelist Peter McQuade, spurring him towards a quest to uncover the dark and terrifying truth.
Recently, as a bit of a change of pace, I wrote a foreword for the Cornerstone Book Publishers edition of The Astral Plane by C.W. Leadbeater. Leadbeater was a fascinating figure, originally a young English minister, who became one of the leaders, along with Helena Blavatsky and Annie Besant, of the Theosophy Society towards the end of the nineteenth century. In The Astral Plane, Leadbeater gives a rather matter-of-fact roadmap through the Astral Plame, a place he describes as the closest spiritual dimension to our physical sphere. It’s a fascinating and enlightening read for anyone even remotely interested in esoteric studies.
For the final story of Halloween Month, I’d like to take you to a darker realm where monsters run rampant and the unthinkable finds a way to permeate our reality. “The Soul Shredder” is a short story that first made its appearance in The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural. At its heart, it explores the idea of consequences. There is an old adage: You Are Free to Choose but You Are Not Free From the Consequences of Your Choice. At this very unique time, with the world poised in so many instances precariously on the precipice of personal choice, we might want to take a moment to consider the consequences we are choosing. Seen or unseen, eventually, and without fail, they always come around. Food for thought. I hope you enjoy “The Soul Shredder,” and do have a Happy Halloween.
The Soul Shredder
“Is the light bothering you?”
He had dimmed the lights in anticipation of her visit, but she silently shook her head in negation staring out of his office window into the waning light of the November evening. He settled behind his desk, waiting for his last patient of the evening to speak to him. It was a new patient, oddly enough referred by an optometrist — some sort of odd reaction to cornea surgery. Evidently, he wanted to rule out psychological ramifications.
“Quite frankly, Randall, this is a shot in the dark. I’ve no idea what’s going on here. I’ve done all the tests I can, and the eyes themselves seem healthy, unusually resilient after the surgery. So, all this junk she’s seeing, I can’t account for it. It goes way beyond floaters or adjustment or anything I’ve seen or read about before.”
“So, you think it’s in her mind.”
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. But Randall waited, if he was anything he was patient. It was a tool of the trade. He heard an exasperated sigh, strange reaction from a physician. Then again, he’d met more than a few who were enamored of their own ability and couldn’t fathom a problem eclipsing their talents. He himself did not suffer from such grand illusions. Time and life had showed him quite a different world. And then, after a protracted silence, his friend had relented, “I don’t know. I can’t call this one. She has a peculiar history. Bad eyesight all her life, until now. Maybe it was too much for her. I don’t know. Just see what you think.”
And so, the appointment was made and cancelled twice. That conversation had been nearly a month ago. But this evening, last appointment of the day, she’d finally shown up.
Randall Callahan leaned back in his large, dark brown, leather chair and tried to stretch out his neck a bit. It ached from the tension that he carried there. He glanced at the clock, six o’ five. His receptionist had already left for the evening, pleading personal obligations. She rarely as a matter of course stuck around past five thirty. It had been only for the last three months that he’d begun scheduling later appointments. His divorce was final, his house empty. There was nothing to go home to. So, he might as well allow the night to stretch on. He cleared his throat to gain her attention. She still stood by the window overlooking Poydras Street below. His office was on the twelfth floor of one of the taller office buildings in the area. But she didn’t move an inch in response, just remained standing with her back to him. “Do your eyes still bother you from the surgery Ms. Wilshire?”
“No,” her voice was soft, nearly imperceptible.
“Well, is it the light here? Is it too strong for you?” She turned around to face him slowly, her face still masked by the pair of large oval sunglasses that she wore. She was a slight woman, perhaps 5’4″, 5’5″ at most, small build, definitely on the thin side with shoulder-length blonde hair. Her face was hard to determine, given the glasses, seemed attractive he thought, but difficult to tell without seeing the eyes. He’d always thought the eyes the most telling part of a person’s appearance and personality. “Dr. Lariviera said that you complained of some light sensitivity. That is why you continue to wear the sunglasses. I did dim the lights in here in anticipation of your coming.”
“Does he think I’m having a breakdown?” she asked somewhat sedately.
Randall straightened up a bit, struck by the directness of the question. “Did he say that to you?”
“No, he did not. I suspect that would have been a tad bit blunt for him. He’s not a very honest man.”
“Why would you say that Ms. Wilshire, or can I call you Lila?”
She shrugged a bit, “It’s my impression. He tells you what you want to hear and then,” she paused, as if trying to collect her thoughts, “and then makes arrangements behind your back.”
“You mean consulting me.”
She nodded, “I wonder how many patients of optometrists end up in a psychiatrist’s office.”
“Well,” he laughed a bit, “perhaps those who have adjusting to do.”
“He thinks I have adjusting to do?”
“Well, what do you think Lila? Has your life changed since the operation on your corneas?”
“Changed?” she emphasized the word in an odd way. “Well, I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
He lightly strummed his fingers on his desk. “How would you put it?”
He thought she’d smiled but couldn’t be sure. The damn glasses, she would be so much easier to read if he could only see her eyes. “Dr. Callahan, is it? Or can I call you Randall?”
He shrugged noncommittally, caught a bit by her repetition of his earlier statement. “If you’re more comfortable doing so.”
Unexpectedly, she drifted closer to his desk. And he felt an impulsive chill transverse his spine. But she stopped, oddly right on the heels of that sensation. “What exactly did Dr. Lariviera say to you Randall?”
“Well, he said you’ve experienced some odd vision anomalies since the procedure. He told me you’d lived a long time with extremely bad sight, but the advances in laser surgeries allowed him to correct most of your problems. But there have been—”‘
And she interrupted, “Adjustment problems?” cutting him off directly.
“Is that the case?”
“If they were ordinary, I don’t imagine I’d be here.”
He shifted in his seat a bit and rubbed his bearded chin for a moment, as in some sort of contemplation. It would buy him time and hopefully put her off a bit. Her directness he found disconcerting. “He did say they were outside his area of expertise. He wanted to eliminate any other possibilities.”
He paused, deciding to refocus things, “Does the light bother your eyes, Lila?”
He swallowed, “I’d like to see your eyes. I connect more easily with a patient if—” and then his voice faltered, as he understood how odd his request must sound.
“Would you like to sit down?”
“You don’t understand. I’m tired of covering up, of lying. It’s using me up Randall.” Her statement he found a bit surprising. Her voice was so flat, devoid of emotion. It didn’t match this eloquent plea for help.
“You don’t have to lie here Lila.”
She shook her head in negation, “I only told him a little bit, Dr. Lariviera, just a little bit. And he smiled, told me it was all right, and then I ended up here. If I tell you, where will I end up?”
“I can’t help you Lila, if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
She stared down for a moment at the floor. And he waited, wondering if this was leading anywhere, feeling inexplicably unsettled by the whole business. But then, she raised her head again to face him. “It’s not the light that bothers my eyes.”
“It’s not?” he asked.
“No, it’s just that the glasses keep me from seeing them.”
He drew a breath, trying to process what she’d said, “Seeing what exactly?”
Her hands both lifted simultaneously. And as she placed her hands on either side of the sunglass frames, he could see that they were trembling, shaking nearly uncontrollably. Slowly, she pulled the sunglasses off her face and pulled them down so that he could finally see her. And in this most peculiar moment that he could only describe as odd, almost shocking, he wasn’t at all sure if he was looking at something exquisite or something bordering on hideous. They were blue, the eyes, but pale blue like a faded sky, or like something that had been shielded from the sun all its life. He stifled a gasp. But then the eyes widened and looked beyond him, suddenly examining every space in the room. “I suppose they come from all the different people who come through here,” she whispered huskily. “They carry them and leave them about.”
He followed her gaze and glanced about, seeing nothing but his office as he had always seen it. “What are you talking about, them?”
She wrapped her arms tightly around her, looking a bit stricken, but still not focusing on him, just somewhere else beyond. “It’s my eyes you see. He corrected everything too much. I see too much now.”
“So, Randall, you met with our strange case last night, Lila Wilshire.”
He checked his watch. It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet. He was just walking into the building, cup of coffee that he’d picked up on the way still clutched in his hands. He’d have to speak to Carla, his receptionist, about giving out his personal, cell phone number. “I’m actually just getting to my office George. How about I give you a call later?”
“Look, I’m not looking for anything in-depth, just an impression. Is she off the deep end?”
He paused in the lobby, scooping up a morning paper from the security desk. “It’s a little early for all that.”
The voice at the other end sounded oddly rattled, something he found perplexing. But then again, yesterday’s appointment had definitely left him in a similar frame. “Is that it?”
“I just don’t want to make a premature diagnosis. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“So, you’ll be seeing her again.”
“Yes, today, in about an hour.”
He was nervous. Last night’s appointment with Lila Wilshire had fallen somewhere in that gray area between unnerving and downright bizarre. His formal training as a psychologist should have immediately categorized her as a disturbed personality, fraught with extreme bouts of depression and hallucinogenic episodes. That is if it had been anyone else that would be his prognosis. But somehow, somewhere, she’d struck a deep chord within him that quite clearly told him she was credible. His intercom beeped, with Carla announcing, “Ms. Wilshire is here.”
Uncharacteristically, his heart picked up its beat. He was a bit surprised. Given her reticence in seeing him initially, he had half expected her not to come at all today, even though he’d strongly urged her to do so.
“It’s essential we explore these visions of yours Lila.”
“Why,” she’d asked quite flatly. “Do you think you can make them stop Randall? Do you really think that’s in your power?”
He answered the intercom, “Tell her to come in please.” Quite quickly, the door to his office opened as he stood up from his desk.
Again, she noiselessly entered, wearing the same nearly oversized pair of sunglasses. She was dressed in a fitted suit of light blue, an outfit that would be striking if not for the odd eyewear. He smiled, determined in the bright light of day to get on a proper footing, a place devoid of so many shadows as was the evening before. “How did you sleep?” was his greeting.
She shrugged, “My sleep hasn’t been good since the operation. I consider myself lucky if I get a few hours.”
“Really?” he sat down, as she seated herself in a chair on the other side of his desk. “That’s not good. I could prescribe you something for sleep.”
“I don’t know,” she murmured. “I like to be aware.” But she didn’t elaborate.
He picked up a ballpoint pen from his desk. He realized dimly that it had been a present from his wife — an impulse gift last year, or had it been the year before? “Aware of what Lila?” he asked simply.
She leaned back in the leather chair that faced him and smiled he thought. “You remember Randall. We talked about it last night.”
He absently spun the pen around on his mahogany desk, “You talked about them, things you see.”
“And you didn’t believe me.” He glanced up. She was still, eyes focused on him, or as much as he could tell behind the sunglasses.
“That’s not true.”
“I didn’t disbelieve you.”
She laughed unexpectedly. It was a harsher laugh than he expected — not soft like the exterior but brittle like twisted metal. “Now that’s not the same as believing. I bet your wife had fits with you committing to anything.”
His eyes widened, trying to digest what he’d heard. “What did you say?”
“I said I bet your wife has fits with you committing. You equivocate.”
“That’s not what you said. You said had fits — past tense.”
She tilted her head a bit in surprise, “Did I? Well, you aren’t wearing a wedding ring. That would make it past tense, would it not?”
“What makes you think I was married at all?”
Then her head straightened, “Last night, when I looked at you. It was obvious. I could see it.”
“See it?” he echoed.
“When I took off the glasses, I could simply see it. I can’t really tell you what, but I could see.”
“Take them off now and tell me what you see.”
She shook her head. “It exhausts me. I don’t want to.”
“Are you afraid of seeing them, whatever it was you saw last night?”
“I’m tired Randall, not afraid but tired. Do you see the difference? Whatever is there is simply there.”
“Take them off. I want to know what you see,” he compelled.
She hesitated, “You want to know. I thought all of this was for me.”
He cleared his throat, “I can’t help you, if I don’t know what you’re seeing.”
And then he detected another smile, “You do equivocate Randall.”
Quite calmly, sharply in contrast to the drama of the night before, she reached up and took off the glasses as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Again, he was struck by the unearthly shade of her eyes, but in the morning clarity they seemed more normal, not quite so startling. She stared at him directly, quite calmly, not looking about her frantically as she had before.
“What’s changed Lila? Last night, all of this seemed quite disturbing to you.”
She shrugged, looking at him serenely and yet coldly. “I don’t know. I think I’ve given up.”
He leaned in a bit, struck by her words. “Given up? What does that mean?”
“I’ve decided not to fight what is, not to try to change it, not to try to make the world what I want it to be. I’ve stopped fighting it all.”
“So, then you aren’t seeing them today?”
Her cold eyes warmed, ever so slightly. “I am.”
“Now.” She repeated.
He glanced around. “Can you describe it to me?”
She nodded, rather blankly. “Your room here is infested with different things, some fly, some crawl. Most are smallish, no bigger than the size of my extended hand.”
He smiled, and then a chill flew over him that seemed to support her assertion. “And what do you think these things are?”
Her pale blue eyes widened. “I think they’re parasites.”
“Parasites of what?”
“Of living Randall, that’s all I’ve been able to put together. They come. They live off of us.”
“All of us?”
She frowned, with a look of fatigue marking her features. “I don’t know exactly. I’ve noticed people with problems, who are weak in some way seem to have more. I suppose they’re more vulnerable.”
He shook his head, “Problems? What do you mean sick?”
“Not always, emotional problems, I think it has something to do with energy fields. But then sometimes they just come in great hordes and attack no matter what.”
He was listening but glanced down at the hand that was gripping his pen more tightly hand than he realized. It was disturbing to him, this conversation, more than he cared to admit. “When you say attack Lila, what does that mean?”
She glanced away, toward the window that she’d spent so much time staring out last night. “I’m not really sure Randall. Just that they feed somehow from us, take something, because they get stronger.” He sat back, thinking for a moment, not at all sure where to take this. “You’re trying to decide whether to believe me. You know it doesn’t matter if you do or not.”
“Where do you think these things come from Lila?” was his next question, not willing yet to deal with what she’d just said.
“I don’t think they come from anywhere really. I think they’re just here, and now I can see them,” and then she swallowed hesitantly, “them and—”
He followed the direction of her eyes that seemed to be on the wall directly behind him. He looked, but again there was only an emptiness. Then, he turned back to her, “And what?”
“I’m not sure,” she whispered. “But I was worried about it. I came in your reception area last week and saw it. That’s why I cancelled. But then I was worried—” she was almost stammering, nearly unable to put into words what she was trying to express.
“Worried about?” he asked, feeling an odd panic surfacing in his stomach.
And then the eyes, unearthly pure blue eyes looked at him, and seemed to pierce him on some level. “There’s a real problem Randall, a real problem here. It’s following you I think, shadowing you — a thing, a dark thing hunting something.”
Her words struck him as fantasy suddenly, nonsensical. “What are you talking about Lila?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a soul shredder.”
There momentarily was a stillness that seemed to engulf them. “What did you say?” he asked, quite assured that he couldn’t have heard correctly.
And then her voice came to him in a whisper and yet felt like an odd discordant shout inside his head. “I said it’s a soul shredder.”
His eyes widened as her initial response was reaffirmed. As the cold hand of detached reason finally reached inside him and shook him soundly, he concluded the only reasonable assumption that was now available from his vast pool of professional experience. The woman was clearly, completely out of her mind.
The wind chapped her face as she walked away from the tall skyscraper that housed the office of Dr. Randall Callahan. It was a bright November day, so she was not at all out of place wearing her overly large sunglasses. But eventually, night would come and then so would the odd stares, but that was something she could bear more easily than the alternative. She took one last glance back at the building that she had exited merely moments before.
A sinking feeling of disappointment tangled around her insides. She’d misread him completely, the doctor. Initially, he’d seemed to have a greater capacity of awareness than nearly anyone she’d come into contact with in a very long time. It was less that she knew this, than she felt it — felt it as strongly as she had felt the shroud of disenchantment that he wore like a regal cloak. She’d always been able to read people, long before she could see through them, as she did now.
She headed into the parking garage where she’d parked her car. Her head throbbed from that morning’s session. She imagined that fear had gotten a hold of him. That was why he’d stopped listening to her, started greeting her with the psychological doubletalk of a well-seasoned professional, the demeanor of one who had already dismissed their patient. It was remarkably disheartening to her. In an odd way, in a very short time, she’d come to like the doctor. He wasn’t at all what one would call conventionally handsome, but instead someone who was well-worn, already a face showing signs of age, wrinkles around his dark brown eyes, but a warmth there, of course a shrewdness as well. The profession, she imagined, left one jaded.
And it was all a shame, because she hadn’t intended to see him at all, not until she’d seen it near him.
She reached the darkened second level and walked to her small beige sedan. Her hand hesitated near the handle. Guilt swept through her. She shouldn’t have done that, left him alone with it. It didn’t make sense, no sense at all — why him? Why him?
His 10:30 had cancelled. So, he had the option of waiting until after lunch for his next appointment or going out. But he couldn’t seem to drag himself out of his chair. It bothered him immensely, more than he could say —— her story, her long winding story, and then his reaction to it.
“So, this — what did you call it?”
She smiled, in that odd, removed way of hers, “Soul shredder.”
“Why do you call it that?”
Then a shadow had passed over her translucent blue eyes. “It’s very complicated.”
“How so? Isn’t this something you’ve only seen since the procedure with Dr. Lariviera?”
There was a definitive, prolonged hesitation, and he had concluded in this self-created fantasy that she was weaving, it took time to extrapolate out the details. So, he was placating and gave her the space that she needed to weave. “Actually, I remember it from before, maybe not this one but one like it.”
“Before?” he questioned.
“Yes,” she nodded. “You see, my eyes weren’t always bad. When I was little, they were quite clear.”
“Little, how little?”
“I don’t know, seven, maybe eight. Sometime after that I got sick, very sick with a high fever. That was when my eyes were damaged.”
He nodded, beginning loosely to get a picture of where this was leading. “So, this thing, soul shredder, you believe you saw it before, back then.”
Steadily, her gaze took his, and he felt keenly as though she was seeing right past him, past all those hidden places that even esteemed doctors of psychiatry kept locked away. “I did see it, Randall. The others, all the other things I didn’t, but this one I remember clearly.”
He swallowed on a bone-dry throat. It was beginning to annoy him how much all of this affected him. “Under what circumstances?”
The pale blue eyes were steady on him, but she was considering he thought — considering whether to continue at all. Perhaps, he had reached the secret core finally of all of this nonsense. And he would find something he could make sense of. “I would see one, like this one, but not completely the same, around my uncle.”
She nodded, “Yes, he stayed with us one summer. We lived in the country. I remember clearly that summer. And it would be around him, at first once and awhile then more, then always.”
He waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. She just sat in stillness before him, waiting for more questions, more prodding from him. Returning from that distant place of memory, she focused completely on him. “Are you all right Dr. Callahan?”
He had to smile. It wasn’t Randall as before. Now it was Dr. Callahan. And he wondered quite distortedly why he deserved that title. He pulled himself tightly back into his role. “Why? Lila, why do you think it—” And then his voice faded off, not at all sure what he wanted to know. “Why was it around him?”
Her voice was soft but deliberate. “I can’t be sure. I think I know, to feed. It fed off him. I would see it sometimes, doing that.”
“See it how?”
Her face seemed strained at the question, as though it were painful to recollect. And then he mentally corrected himself. It wasn’t a recollection. After all, he had decided she was weaving. “I saw it, a lot before he left,” her voice was nearly trembling as she spoke. “With its hand, it would reach right into his chest and pull something out and eat it. I know how bizarre it sounds, but it would.”
“What did it pull out? Was it blood, tissue? What did you see Lila?” he asked, with an uncanny need to know.
“It pulled out light. It pulled the light out of him and then ate it.” His head pounded at the vision that she had evoked in his mind. “I don’t know how I knew, but I did even then. I knew it was his soul. It was slowly eating his soul.”
He nodded, feeling an odd nausea boiling up inside him, “Soul shredder.”
She shrugged, “Just a designation, but it stuck with me all these years.”
“Was there anyone else?”
Her face seemed to blanche a bit. “What?”
“Was there anyone else that this thing attacked other than your uncle?”
“No, I—I never saw it. But there were other people around.”
“Well, what made him unique?” Question marked her face. “Why him Lila and no one else?” She glanced away, not answering, and he was sure that she knew. And just as sure that she must tell him before she left his office. “It’s important, especially if you’re seeing one around here.”
“But you don’t believe me.” Her voice was distant.
“You must have some idea why.”
She sighed wearily, a sound that seemed to come from deep inside, “Yes, I suppose. I think it hunts certain kinds of people.”
He nodded encouragingly, “What kind?” His voice sounded a bit hard to him given the circumstances, but there was the gnawing need inside him now to understand, to understand everything.
“People, I think, who’ve made themselves vulnerable.”
“Yes,” her eyes had wandered to that window again, where she had spent so much time the night before. He could see now that it was a kind of refuge for her.
“How did your uncle make himself vulnerable Lila?”
“I think he damaged himself, his soul maybe. He did things that, well, must have marked him some way.”
He breathed in deeply, as the picture began to solidify in his mind. Her voice, so vulnerable now, so young. He’d heard that tone before, so familiar, in victims, very young ones. And then he asked the question that made the picture complete. “Did your uncle, did he do things to you Lila?”
Her eyes turned on him, the blue translucent eyes, on him now, hard and biting. “Did he molest me, are you asking that?”
“Yes,” he asked coolly, “is that how he marked himself for this thing to feed on?”
Their eyes clashed in the moment. And he knew, he had his answer, and now a very easy solution to this self-concocted delusion that she had presented him with. “Yes, I think so Randall. But that doesn’t make it any less the truth, the fact that he hurt me. It doesn’t make it any the less true that one of those things is standing behind you right at this moment.”
He waited, feeling a distinctive chill pass over him. But he brushed it aside deliberately. “It is helpful for a child’s mind to concoct ways to lessen their pain, even creatures that might take on the role of the avenger, punisher, for them.”
She smiled grimly, “You really believe I’ve made this up.”
“No,” he said quite coldly. “I believe your uncle molested you. The rest I’m quite sure is a fantasy.”
She stood up, a marked expression of disappointment now marring her exquisite face. “What about the one I see near you? Aren’t you at all concerned that I might be right?”
“Have you seen it reach into my chest and pull out pieces of my soul?” he asked flatly.
She stared at him for a moment, then beyond him, finally shaking her head. “No, no I haven’t.”
He stood up, feeling quite justified in the growing disdain that he felt for the woman before him. “Well fantasy or not, Lila, I can assure you I’ve never molested anyone nor plan to.”
She looked at him a little sadly, a little beaten as though some battle somewhere had been lost. “There are other ways to mark yourself Randall. Please be careful. It wouldn’t be here for no reason at all.” And then picking up her purse from where she left it on the floor, she turned toward the door. Not looking back, but instead putting on her sunglasses, she opened the door and left.
The encounter had been incredibly draining for him. He considered having Carla call Lila Wilshire to schedule another appointment but then thought the better of it.
As he sat in his chair behind his mahogany desk, Randall Callahan considered things carefully. Considered his life, his anger, and mostly carefully rethought his plans to murder his ex-wife. Regardless of what he would do, he believed Lila Wilshire and knew that the soul shredder was only waiting for his next move.
Halloween is the time of year when that veil between worlds is thinned, and you can just catch a quick glimpse into the realm of the unknowable. In this collection of short stories, Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life splinters into the sphere of the paranormal.
The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder,” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers,” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm,” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.
Just in time for Halloween, the new edition of The Broken Vow is now available at Cornerstone Book Publishers, Amazon and most other online book and eBook retailers. I hope you’ll check out this pivotal episode in the adventures of my favorite lycanthrope Ethan Garraint.
In the heart of every man, there is a history. In the heart of every monster, there is a story. In The Broken Vow, (the first installment of The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf), Ethan Garraint is on a vendetta that begins in the heart of the Pyrenees with the fall of Montségur and leads him to the streets of New Orleans nearly five hundred years later. But the person he chases isn’t really a man anymore, and Ethan has been a werewolf for almost a millennium. With the aid of a gifted seer, he is on a blood hunt that will culminate in a journey that crosses the line between heaven and earth and ends somewhere in between.
My fourth story for Halloween Month is a tale of a werewolf and a woman seeking vengeance at any cost. Ethan Garraint made his first appearance in this short story in a collection entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural and then later surfaced in another story called “The Broken Window.” At that point, I felt as though he’d truly earned his own novel, so I penned The Broken Vow: Vol. I. of the Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf whose newly revised edition has just been released. Currently, I am finishing up its sequel, so only time will tell what further adventures this particular lycanthrope will have. Enjoy!
His eyes widened from behind the rather well-worn spectacles that he wore precariously perched on the edge of his nose. He wasn’t a young man, but in contrast a wiry, elderly fellow, who didn’t much like change and even less surprises. So, in a procrastinating fashion, he removed the glasses, pulling an old handkerchief from his back pocket and leisurely wiping the lenses while his still razor sharp mind contemplated a backdoor out of this dilemma. He sighed, again positioning the glasses on the end of his nose and giving just the hint of a smile that said he was just an old fool, running a curio shop in the French Quarter. Taking a deep breath that felt clearly as though it rattled deeply somewhere in the recesses of his brittle ribs, he played his best cards. “Is there something in particular I could help you with today?”
There was the finest flicker of a smile across a pair of young and dark red lips. The eyes in a fine-boned oval face stared back at him as though they were neatly and concisely ripping away the layers of his well-contrived façade. The eyes were green. His wife Roberta of nearly sixty years had green eyes as well, but not at all like these. His wife’s were filled with light and color. But not these, these were dark like a forest on the verge of night. Any light that tried to reflect was muffled out by something unseen within.
The mouth was moving, and he was watching it in a curious way, compelled perhaps, he thought, somewhat distantly. Was she trying to entrance him or suffocate him? At this moment, both felt like a tangible probability.
“Wolves,” she murmured again. Of course, he knew of what she was speaking. He might play the fool from time to time, but he certainly wasn’t one. Long ago he was told when it was first placed in his keeping that someone would come for it one day with only that single word as their calling card. And he out of more than obligation — out of a binding indisputable agreement — must surrender it. Of course, at the time he was well-paid, in fact had never been better paid for any single acquisition in all his years. But it was so long ago, thirty, perhaps closer to forty years back. And that payment was just a distant, fleeting memory now. While the object itself, well, it was worth an untold fortune.
Abruptly interrupting the meandering of his mind, he felt a slim hand come to rest on his. His eyes looked down. They were long slender fingers, flesh that was paler than warmed by the sun. But then the delicate hand began to squeeze with a strength he did not understand. “I don’t have time for this old man. Give it to me,” she rasped. Those lightless eyes were wide now and so very frightening to him.
“Give you what?” He choked out. But it was his final lie. For in his mind as clear as though he were seeing it before him, his building, his store of so many years, and him within were being engulfed in flames. It must be happening now, in the moment, for the flames were wildly everywhere, burning him, scorching his flesh on his arms, until he could see the white of his very own skeleton. “Uoohh!” he gasped, the unintelligible and desperate words of a dying man.
And then clearly, sharply penetrating into the horror of his own hell, he heard a voice; a voice speaking to him within his own mind. “Now let’s try this again,” she whispered, because there was no need to shout. She had won. “Wolves,” this time it rolled off her tongue like the sweetest poetry.
“This is foolishness, pure foolishness my dear.”
She grimaced, “So you’ve said.” She perched the cell phone a bit unstably on her shoulder and checked the rear-view mirror. What was foolish was taking a call on an unfamiliar highway while she was driving an unfamiliar rental car.
“Where are you now?”
“I’m driving.” Luckily, it was a clear stretch — this last piece of the journey between New Orleans and the small south-central city that was her destination.
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“It’s best not. I’ll fill you in when everything is done.”
“And you my little sister, will you be done too?”
She sighed deeply. How she loved her older brother, his protectiveness. Ostensibly, he was the only family she had now, except for certain unknown factions. But just now, his protectiveness felt more than a bit smothering. “Well, let’s hope not.”
“Are you sure you’re reading that thing right? What if you end up with the wrong one?”
“Charles, you have to have a little faith. I am not without my own gifts.”
“Cecile, I don’t want to lose you.”
“I know. Just have a little trust in me.”
On the way into town, she picked up a street map so she wouldn’t be entirely clueless as to where she was going. And then just off the highway she checked into a motel. It was one of a moderately priced chain. She’d stayed in better. She could most certainly afford better. She and her brother had money. Her parents had left them well off, well, when they died. But just now, the surroundings didn’t matter much. She only needed a place to regroup.
Cecile placed her small suitcase on the bed and sat down quietly beside it, contemplative. What she’d done to the old man in the antique shop had been cruel and unfair. And certainly, on some level, she was ashamed. But she’d sensed his greed, his reluctance to relinquish it, the thing she needed.
Steadying her nerves, she reached into her black leather purse and drew out the bundle of material that she’d wrapped it in. It was a fine white, raw silk piece of fabric. Rather gingerly, she laid it on the bed and began to unwrap its folds. Already her fingertips quivered from the emanations of power, although she had not even touched it. It sat there in its own mahogany box latched with a clasp of pure silver. It was quite valuable, perhaps priceless in its construction, certainly in its origin. It was understandable that the old man did not want to part with it.
She rubbed the palms of her hand together briskly trying to drive away the chill that had settled in her fingers. She had spent enough years studying the magical arts to know that handling such powerfully enchanted tools did come with a price. Taking a nearly painful breath, she quickly flipped the latch, opening the box of the Houdin Trouveur.
That it was stunning was undeniable — beautiful, quite ornate, constructed purely of platinum and black onyx. The platinum arms of the antiquated compass fluttered for a moment and then swirled in a deliberate direction, markedly toward the southeast. She sighed. He would be there. The murderer of her parents was somewhere in this city.
Something was off. He’d felt it all day, deep down in his skin, actually the night before as well. And irritatingly, the dreams had come, a sweep of redness and then fire, fire exploding pure and white. What it all meant, he wasn’t so sure. He’d given up this divination business, this reading of dreams some time ago — in fact two hundred years ago to be exact. For some time, with the exception of a few minor lapses, life had become quite placid for Ethan Garraint. That was the name he’d adopted several decades earlier. And he had to admit he’d grown fond of it. This part of the country was quite welcoming to those of a French descent.
Ethan continued to polish a heavy, black oak wardrobe mirror that he’d just put the finishing touches on for the festival today. He enjoyed working with black oak. There was something depthless about its sheen. But then again, black oak, pine, maple, cherry wood, they all had their respective charms. For a moment, he glanced at the reflection serenely staring back at him from the long oval mirror. From his appearance, he could not be mistaken for a man of more than thirty. His light blue-grey eyes and thick blonde hair suggested an almost innocent quality that his soul did not agree with. He’d been alive too long and seen too much to be naïve about much of anything.
He finished polishing the wood of the mirror, more interested in his creation than anything else. He’d found some solace through the long years and endless solitude in developing this craft. There was a strange contentment he’d found in working with the wood that eased the burdens that his unusual life had deemed he should carry. In some ways, he felt as though he imbued his creations with small pieces of his soul. After all, even he couldn’t live forever, not with so many people trying to kill him.
“How will you be able to find him with it? Doesn’t it just seek out any werewolf?” Charles had asked her this among other questions before she’d set out from Boston nearly five days ago.
“Well, I haven’t spent all these years studying and developing my own gifts without the intent of making use of them. As an insurance policy, I will work an incantation that will affix the Houdin Trouveur solely toward him, toward our parent’s killer.”
He’d stared at her with a great deal of anxiety within his acute, dark eyes. “I don’t like it. And regardless of your intentions, I don’t think our parents would like it either.”
She frowned explicitly, “Well, they’re not here to give us an opinion, are they?”
He looked away, clearly disturbed by her words. “I know they would want you to get on with your life Cecile, not become obsessed with vengeance.”
She sighed. They had this discussion before, countless times. But evidently, Charles felt it worthwhile to try one last attempt to dissuade her. “They weren’t the type to look the other way. They wouldn’t have allowed an injustice to stand. You knew them. You were older when they died.”
His eyes flickered gently across her face. He was a strong man, a stern man, except when it came to his younger sister. He had always reserved his kinder nature for his dealings with her. “They had limits Cecile. They were human. I know they wouldn’t have approved of how deeply you’ve gone into these dark arts.”
She hardened herself. Now was not the time to be thrown off course. Not when she was so close. “I’ve only done what was necessary. I can’t go after Le Guerrier unprotected.”
He smiled grimly, “Don’t call him that. It makes him sound too much like a mythology. No, I know that you feel you’ve done what you’ve had to. But at what cost Cecile?”
She blocked his words from her mind. She couldn’t afford to question herself now, not now. “It’s time Charles. Did you get me what I need?”
“Yes,” he said quietly, seemingly resigned for the moment. “The location of the seeker.”
She’d smiled broadly. If he was nothing else, Charles Bissett was thorough. “And the password to get it?”
“Yes, my dear one, all of that. But finding the monster won’t kill him for you.”
She so wished he was not so anxious. If anyone should be, it should be her. But an odd sort of serenity had settled within her. Perhaps, it was the acknowledgement of what she must do — her acceptance of what her long years of aimlessness and restlessness had brought her to. “I know that. I’ve spent years tracking Le Guerrier. I’ve researched, learned every scrap, every nuance that is knowable about him.”
“But these last fifteen years he’s completely fallen off the radar. Even with my extensive connections, no one knows anything. How do you even know he’s alive?”
“I know it.” She stated flatly with complete conviction. “I would know if he were dead.”
He straightened up in the brown leather chair situated by the fireplace in their study. In that moment, it struck her quite poignantly. She remembered all of the nights that she’d curled up in it as a little girl when her nightmares kept her from sleep and wondered in a fleeting twist of yearning if she would ever see it or her brother again. “How would you know it, Cecile?” he asked.
A simple question with such a complicated answer, “Because I would feel peace if he were dead.” There was a look in his eyes at this — perhaps sadness, perhaps disbelief. “Don’t worry Charles,” she murmured.
“I can’t help it. I don’t want to lose you too.”
“I can beat him. I know him completely.”
And then he smiled grimly, “But what if he’s changed?”
She’d packed the tiny pistol deep within her purse. It was loaded with three silver bullets that Charles had managed to get blessed by a Bishop in Northern Massachusetts. Anyone else making such a request would probably been tossed out unceremoniously on their backside but not Charles. Charles was a rich man, and money and donations often made the ridiculous become acceptable.
Late the previous night, Cecile had performed an intricate locator spell on the Houdin Trouveur. It had enabled her to gain a more precise fix on his location. But as a consequence, it had drained her terribly. It seemed the magical compass had to pull in a great deal of energy from its user to fulfill its purpose. She hadn’t anticipated the severity of this complication. It was clear she should use the Trouveur as seldom as possible lest she lose too much of her own power. She slept deeply that night and dreamed of crowds of people laughing, and dancing, and colorful booths and exhibits all about her. Then she saw fire, white blinding fire, somewhere else.
When she ventured into the lobby that morning for coffee, she noticed the signs hanging up promoting the festival. It was then she made the connection. Clearly these were the images from the night before. Donning blue jeans, a white cotton shirt, and a pair of lace up, black leather boots that she’d bought on a trip to France the year before, Cecile then obtained directions to the festivities which oddly enough turned out to be exactly southeast of her location. Everything was falling into place, and that more than anything made her extremely uneasy.
Amelia Gerard had just turned twenty and was majoring in communications at the local university. As the crowds milled around her on this bright Saturday in October, she felt annoyed and a bit preoccupied. She’d left behind a group of friends near the stage, listening to one of the musical acts booked for the festival. She’d told them she was going for another beer, but instead, she bypassed the refreshment stands and wandered most deliberately into the artisan section.
Although there was quite a mixing of people and more than a little stirring of dust from the ground, she was able to locate the man she sought quite readily. She stood to the side of the booth where he’d set up his collection of furniture pieces for the occasion. She waited quietly but not entirely patiently as he finished talking to what she surmised was a potential customer. It was some minutes before he noticed her, but he did greet her with a welcoming smile that at that moment felt well worth the wait. “Ms. Gerard.”
“Mr. Garraint,” she responded lightly.
He wore a dark T-shirt with khaki pants that she thought made him look particularly handsome, but then again, she was completely smitten with the man. “So, are you enjoying the festival on this fine day?” He asked with his fluid drawl that she had never quite been able to identify. It wasn’t exactly local, but in some ways, it did seem a bit French.
She tipped her head a bit, warming under his gaze, “Well, it’s a bit crowded and a bit loud. But other than that, I’d have to say yes.”
He moved a rocking chair that he’d been showing to someone further back into the open booth as he spoke to her. It felt odd to think that she’d actually met him only a few months earlier. Then she’d been involved in a project for a journalism class, interviewing local artists.
Initially, perhaps to her ignorance, she hadn’t considered furniture making an art. But once she met Ethan Garraint, she was enlightened, and that opinion was radically revised. Intriguing truly seemed too ineffectual a word to describe him. There was an aura about him, a subtle but powerfully enigmatic aura that captivated her. She was quite sure he was a good ten years her senior, but that hadn’t stopped her from forming a romantic interest. After all, she always considered herself quite mature for her age.
He nodded, “It is busy today. But that’s good for everyone’s business.”
His eyes had flickered over her only briefly, and then continued to glance around the crowds as though he was watching for something.
“Is everything all right Ethan?” She asked, wondering why she was not holding his attention today.
He glanced up at her, looking a bit pensive then smiling. “You should go find your friends Amelia and enjoy yourself. I’m afraid I’ll be quite busy with things here today.”
Her eyes widened, and then he nodded, reaffirming his previous declaration. She was being dismissed, and it chaffed, particularly his abruptness. But she did have to admit, there was something else in his voice that was quite grave, that told her that this was for her own good. Although why, she couldn’t quite put her finger on. “All right then, have a good day.” She murmured reluctantly.
“Yes, yes and you as well.”
From some yards away, Cecile watched. It must be him, but she couldn’t be positive, and she certainly couldn’t confront him in the middle of such a crowd. Werewolf or not she would be arrested for shooting an unarmed man. The only way to be positive was to use the Trouveur. But that too was risky. It was too powerful to go unnoticed by such an ancient magical being. In addition, it would tip her hand and, in all probability, leave her to the same fate as her parents.
Her eyes locked on and carefully followed the young blond he’d been speaking to.
With great focus, she sent out an impulse that encouraged her to pass near Cecile. As she did, Cecile propelled a discreet energy marker toward her that landed on the woman’s arm. With this in place, she could be easily traced when Cecile had need of her.
Amelia left the fairgrounds around five. Her friends intended to stay much later and move on to some downtown clubs as the evening progressed, but she had been seized by a strange fatigue and melancholy. She knew she was being silly. There was nothing between her and Ethan Garraint, nothing but her own fantasies. The man had always been kind, cordial, and charming in a way that some might construe as flirtatious, but then again, it could just be his manner.
She flung open the door to her dorm room, shutting it loudly behind her and flopping vigorously onto the bed. If she was anything, she was practical and knew when to cut her losses. Tomorrow she would remove Mr. Garraint from her consciousness and her radar. Then she would take a look around to find some other, more attainable fish in the sea. She closed her eyes, allowing the excessive tiredness she was feeling to take hold. It could have been moments, or even hours later when she awoke to the sound of a very quiet knock on her door. Amelia glanced at the clock by her bed. It was six-thirty. Sara, her roommate, wasn’t due back for some time yet.
Slowly sitting up, she was feeling a bit disoriented. But again, merely seconds later, there was another light tap on the door. “Just a minute,” she called out, her voice still croaky from sleep.
She rose on shaky feet, trying to smooth out her long blonde hair as she approached the door. She wondered distractedly if she was getting sick, because the room actually felt as though it was swirling around her. Her trembling hand touched the knob of the door. It felt cold and moist beneath her fingertips. But then maybe it was her. Her hands did feel strangely clammy right now.
Just before she turned the knob, it occurred to her, like a flash through her mind that she shouldn’t. But her pragmatic sense pushed that impulse aside as she opened the door. In that instant, time seemed to rush around her in a blur as an impossibly strong hand reached out and grabbed her by the throat.
Ethan began to close up his booth somewhere around seven in the evening. Others set up near him had left earlier, but he waited as long as he could. He was expecting something. He was no clairvoyant, but he did have very acute feelings and a sense of things. Today, he sensed a menace about. And more to the point, he smelled it. There was dark magic in the air.
So, he waited and watched all day. But this menace was a clever one and remained hidden. This, however, did not overly concern him. One thing he did have that all these extraordinarily young souls milling about him seemed to lack was patience, infinite, inexhaustible patience. He could wait it out.
As he loaded his small van up with the pieces of furniture that did not sell at the fair, he heard from quite a distance the footsteps approaching the truck. His powerful sense of smell identified their author rather quickly. He smiled to himself, even before she reached him.
Persistent was a word that seemed appropriate.
He allowed her to approach without turning around as he finished packing up the van. This type of complication he felt quite sure he could manage with very little peril to himself.
“Ethan,” she whispered.
And then he turned around with a smile. “Amelia, this is a very isolated place now for you to be all alone.”
She did not smile back at him in her usual, coquettish manner. “I’m not alone. You’re here. Aren’t you concerned about it being so isolated?”
He sighed. She was in a very serious mood tonight. Not her ordinarily light-hearted self. “I am not a young beautiful woman, and I can handle myself.” He frowned, “What’s the matter little one? You seem very grim tonight.”
She tilted her head, and those lovely blue eyes looked at him oddly in the semi-darkness. “I need to talk to you Ethan about something very serious. Can we go somewhere private?”
He grinned a bit, trying to put her more at ease. “Now that might ruin your reputation.”
But he was a bit surprised. It did nothing to thaw the gravity of her demeanor. “It’s important, please.”
“I was headed back to the store to bring the furniture.”
“Could we go there and talk?” Her voice sounded nearly pleading, but it didn’t reach the eyes. They remained distant. Something was definitely amiss. It seemed clear to him now that it was best to discover what all this was about.
“Where is your car?”
She shook her head, soft blond hair whipping about her shoulders. “A friend dropped me.”
He nodded, “Fine, then let’s go.”
She said nothing but quietly climbed in the front seat of the van beside him.
It becomes quite odd when a scenario you’ve built up in your mind since literally you were a child finally comes to fruition. Every nuance is painstakingly planned, pulled somewhere from an endless well of grief, then later disappointment, and nursed to an excruciatingly fine point of razor-sharp detail.
She had rehearsed the scene all her life; put endless preparations into the part; and lived and breathed for just these few paltry moments. And nothing, absolutely nothing was as she expected.
Cecile retreated into some quiet place, where the observer watches and marvels at the contradictions that reality unravels. The man next to her was charming and warm — not cold and brittle like the killer of her dreams but something else entirely. As they walked into the dimly lit front room of his St. Julien Street establishment, his calm, soothing demeanor sickened her and twisted at her like a poorly placed knife, lodged somewhere precariously between her ribs, making breathing a bit difficult.
As she crossed the threshold, a sudden blurriness swept up in front of her eyes. She forced her mind to concentrate and funnel even more energy into her façade, although she knew that it was ill-advised. Taking on the form of another visage was a gamble, risky, stretching well beyond her own limitations. It couldn’t go on for long. Besides it was best to finish him off before he was onto her, best to be done with it. But the idea of just killing him now and leaving, that felt oddly empty. She needed more to put this all at rest. She needed —
He grabbed her arm to steady her. “Are you all right, Amelia?”
She nodded and murmured. “Yes, just feeling a little weak. I haven’t eaten.” She tried to avoid his eyes. She had read an account once, from a seventeenth century monk chronicling the history of Northern Gaul. It was a local uprising, in some obscure way involving Le Guerrir. The monk referred quite pointedly to the hypnotic quality of the foreigner’s eyes. She remembered it now, thinking it strange at the time. After all, wasn’t it vampires not werewolves who held the hypnotic gaze? Then again, he had lived an abnormally long time and had no doubt picked up a few interesting tricks along the way.
She felt his hand gently grasp her chin, deliberately tilting her head up to face him. She had no choice. Her pistol was in her purse, not exactly accessible right at this moment. She allowed her gaze to meet his, concentrating heavily on the incantation that separated her from disaster.
The light was dim, but in this moment, his eyes appeared markedly darker than she remembered them at the festival grounds. They were blue but also a grey, not a light grey but a dark turbulent one. He was looking for something. He felt the difference. She was sure of it, but hopefully hadn’t fleshed it out yet. “Tell me what’s really wrong,” he murmured.
Her heart was beating wildly with fear. She dug, dug deep into the flashes she’d picked up out of Amelia Gerard’s mind even as she ravaged and drained her life’s energy earlier this evening. Then she hadn’t thought about how ruthless she’d been, and now there was no time to reflect on such collateral damages. In desperation, she hooked onto something — her affection for this man, unrequited affection. It was just enough to throw him temporarily off-balance. With deliberation, she put her arms around his neck, reaching up and giving him the most passionate kiss she could muster.
At first, she felt him freeze in total surprise. Good, that’s exactly what she wanted. Keep him surprised, off-balance. And then in a startling movement, he pulled her more closely against him and returned the kiss with a fervor that she found completely unexpected. She expected a rejection, not capitulation.
In reflex, forgetting where she was and what the goal was, Cecile abruptly tore herself out of the embrace. “What are you doing?” she spat out without thinking.
He stood there staring at her, and then his face broke out in a smile she could only describe as quite engaging. “I was kissing you back my dear. You know, you really should decide what you want.”
She quickly regrouped, coming back with the most insipidly, vulnerable expression she could concoct. “I want you stop toying with me Ethan. I want to mean something to you, not be a passing fancy.”
The smile drifted away from his mouth, and a grimmer expression replaced it. “Perhaps, we should sit down and talk this out Amelia. He motioned to a small cherry wood dinette at the back of the shop. “Why don’t you sit down, and I’ll make us a cup of tea.” She nodded, still trying to look the part of a confused, lovesick female. She kept her purse clutched close to her side and slowly sat down at the table.
Softly, he patted her back and whispered in her ear, “Be back in just a minute.” And then he disappeared into a back room. She looked down. Her eyes were blurring again, twenty minutes to half an hour. That was the very longest she could retain the appearance of Amelia Gerard. Her hand reached down into her purse and fingered the pistol, but the back of it brushed against the cloth that held the Trouveur. Even through the material, it burned against her hand.
She was sure it was him. It must be. But she would like to confirm it before she took his life. This much she owed to her parents, to be absolutely sure. She grasped the Trouveur and placed it on the table.
He had a small kitchen in one of the back rooms of his shop. It was a galley across from which was the larger studio where he did much of his woodwork. There was an old-fashioned kettle that he was using to heat up the water for their tea. Of course, the microwave would be much faster, but he wanted to take the extra minutes to contemplate. It seemed as though all the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, alerted in nearly a violent fashion to a danger in his proximity.
But all that was present was Amelia — beautiful, unpredictable and dare he say unstable Amelia. He placed the teabags into the two mugs as the copper kettle began to rattle on the stove. He enjoyed the simplicity of his life these days, minus all the trappings that people become so intertwined with that they can no longer see the truth.
He took the kettle off the stove, poured the steaming water into the cups, and watched quietly as they steeped. In a life stripped of those things that separate one from clear vision, it is easier to discriminate truth from illusions.
The things he’d felt essentially about Amelia were oddly distorted tonight. She was not a person to behave erratically. She was conservative, practical, would not gamble unless it was warranted. But tonight, he swirled one of the tea bags in the hot water until it bled its color throughout, did not add up. He didn’t smell alcohol. He didn’t detect drug use, and for her, that too would have been completely out of character.
He turned toward the front room reacting to something, something subtle — a sort of crackle in the air. And then suddenly directly in his heart area he felt a pressure so acute that he flinched at its impact.
What he did next was foolish, but he had come to live a simple uncomplicated life as much out of the shadows as was possible for a creature like him. So, he walked, without caution, quickly into the front room.
The table where he’d left her was unoccupied, but even from across the room, he could see a nearly luminescent object sitting on top of it. The gentle pressure in his heart only became stronger as he approached, but nothing could quell his curiosity. It was perhaps a yard away from it that he stopped, his curiosity quite satisfied as he clearly identified what he was looking at. One piece to an irritating puzzle had fallen into place. “That bastard Houdin,” he muttered with part contempt and part amusement. “He swore he’d destroyed the damn thing.”
And then from behind a large, cypress armoire a rather shadowy figure emerged. Her voice was not mellow and fluid like Amelia but instead deep and raspy “Too bad for you that he didn’t.”
His eyes first took in the tiny pistol that was pointed at him and second the features of the woman that held it. The hair was long, thick, and auburn, and the eyes, as far as he could perceive, a dark mossy green shade. At this, the rest of the puzzle fell into place, for the resemblance was unmistakable. He smiled broadly, never one to face his own demise without a light heart. “Well, if I’m not mistaken you must be Cecile. I’ve made it my business to keep track of the Bissett children.” She frowned. Evidently that wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting. “I knew your mother. She was a resourceful woman, but evidently not as resourceful as you are.”
Her voice was quiet and steely, “I’m here to kill you.”
He nodded, “So I see, but not before we have a nice visit, I hope. After all, I’m the only one who can tell you the truth about your parents’ death.”
The noise in her head roared around her in the room, but it was clear he didn’t hear it. She steadied herself, although her knees shook with weakness. With extreme concentration, she gripped the pistol, although her hands were so chilled that she could scarcely feel herself holding it.
She could see Charles in her mind as clearly as if he stood before her. “At what cost Cecile, revenge at what cost?”
Her vision was blotchy, parts of the room completely blotted out. When she’d used the Trouveur, it had been different. It glowed and shook, and then the pointer had spun to the direction of the back room. But before it was finished, she’d felt it emanate something, a force that had been subtle before. It pulled energy from her as if it were tearing it directly out of her heart. But she couldn’t let him see. She only had to finish it. That was all that mattered.
“I’m not a fool Le Guerrier. Do you really think I’ve come here for a chat?”
He moved slightly, but she wasn’t sure. Her vision was so bad now. Everything was indistinct light and shadows. “Your mother was a very determined woman. I think finishing me off might have been a feather in her cap. But your father, I don’t think he cared much, except for her. She was everything to him.”
He’d moved now. She was sure. “Stay still, or I’ll end all of this now.”
The movement stopped. The only way she could see him was reflected in light. Was this what it was like going blind? She followed the impressions that were left in her vision. “It was in Italy, you know. I don’t like to travel much now, but I did that year. They didn’t know it, but I came there to learn from a master furniture maker. Isn’t that amusing? The werewolf hunted down because he wanted to make furniture better?”
She breathed deeply, raggedly. She could see her parents in her mind, and then Charles and then Amelia. She’d left her on the floor of her dorm room, not dead, but close to it. “Stop talking,” she rasped.
“You know, they thought it would be safe that night. It wasn’t a full moon. It would be an easy kill for them, they thought. But the wolf came out that night.”
There was deep ravaging, painful breaths now. “What do you mean?”
She looked around the room, but she’d lost sight of him. He wasn’t moving, just hidden in the shadows. “I learned how to control the wolf, summon it at will without the necessity of a full moon. An old magician helped me perfect the technique.” She focused on the direction of his voice, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere. “His name was Houdin.”
It seemed moments before the reality rolled over her. “What, what did you say?”
“A 19th century magician, cantankerous fellow, but loyal and brilliant. Haven’t you figured it out yet Cecile?”
“What?” she murmured. She couldn’t feel her hands at all. They were like ice, as was her skin, as was her mind.
“That thing, the Trouveur that you’ve been using, has been killing you, feeding a poisonous fire into your veins.”
“That’s impossible,” she barely was able to get the words out. He was standing next to her, but she couldn’t stop him. She couldn’t feel the gun. It might have dropped. She didn’t know.
“The Trouveur kills the person who uses it. Slowly, I grant you, but my friend was a merciless bastard.”
She slipped down to her knees, seeing Charles taking her out of the chair in the study when she was a little girl, whispering away the nightmares. She barely heard his voice. “He was merciless. But I am not.” She heard the low growl beside her but did not see the wolf. She’d already walked into the white fire.
Two days later Amelia Gerard woke up in the hospital. Her mother was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Tears were running down her face as Amelia first opened her eyes. Two days after that an arrangement of yellow roses arrived with a card that read, Best Wishes on a Speedy Recovery, All My Regards, Ethan. That was the last time she ever heard from him.
In the heart of every man, there is a history. In the heart of every monster, there is a story. In The Broken Vow, (the first installment of The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf), Ethan Garraint is on a vendetta that begins in the heart of the Pyrenees with the fall of Montségur and leads him to the streets of New Orleans nearly five hundred years later. But the person he chases isn’t really a man anymore, and Ethan has been a werewolf for almost a millennium. With the aid of a gifted seer, he is on a blood hunt that will culminate in a journey that crosses the line between heaven and earth and ends somewhere in between.
Sometimes the supernatural crashes in on you in an abrupt and jarring manner, and at other times, it’s a slow, languorous journey that unfolds in surprising and unexpected ways. My third story for Halloween Month is the tale of a woman who essentially is running away from her life, if only for the holidays, and how a chance encounter on a beach along the Mississippi Gulf Coast changes everything.
White Harbor Road
It wasn’t exactly as she’d intended, but the truth of the matter was that nothing ever was, exactly as she intended. It was Christmas, the Christmas holidays, and she had three weeks off at teaching at the University. But she wouldn’t be travelling home. Her parents were off to visit her sister’s family in North Carolina — a trip that she simply couldn’t face. So instead, Helen had decided to do something odd and spontaneous that no one really understood. She’d decided to rent a beach cottage and spend Christmas alone.
“You can’t spend the holidays alone dear.”
“That’s just odd.”
And a maelstrom of other responses, but she was thirty-six years old, unattached. And her heart craved something indefinable. But as was not unusual, her plans did not turn out as she expected.
“This is not a beachside cottage.”
The manager, a woman in her early sixties with abundant white hair, smiled at her broadly, clearly unruffled. “If you follow this street down White Harbor Road, you will hit the beach in no time.”
Helen frowned. On the internet, it had advertised a Gulf Coast beachside cottage. “That’s not exactly the same as a beachside cottage. I wanted to be near the water.”
Mrs. Haughn smiled broadly again, smoothly, as though completely untouched by misunderstanding. “You know Miss Ellis, it is Miss.”
“Lately it’s been Ms.”
Another smile, “Ms. Ellis, I would be happy to refund your deposit, but I must tell you I think you’re making a mistake. This sweet little cottage is right in the midst of historical Crystal Springs. Just turn a corner and you’re walking down a lovely street filled with shops owned by our artistic residents. And my dear, you can walk to the beach. It’s only three, well, maybe four blocks down, a lovely jaunt in this cool weather.”
Her head spun a bit. It wasn’t what she’d planned. She’d planned to be well isolated, work on the novel she’d been piddling with for the last two years and listen to the sound of the water, not of cars driving by. “I don’t know Mrs. Haughn. It’s just not exactly what I had planned.”
“Well, my dear, why don’t you try it out for a few days. Plans can change sometimes, change and often for the better.”
It was a lovely cottage, wooden floors, a cozy bedroom with a full-size bed covered in a light blue chenille bedspread that reminded her of her grandmother for some odd reason. There was also a small sort of den with a comfortable overstuffed chair and a television that she did not intend to use, then a connecting open kitchen with a small dinette table. All in all, very comfortable, very solitary, and there was free wireless. It fit the bill for what she wanted, except she wished all of it were sitting right on the beach.
“It’s not too late to catch a flight out to North Carolina. I hate the idea of you spending Christmas alone.”
“No, no don’t worry. I need this time to myself to figure some things out.”
Actually Mrs. Haughn was just slightly off. The beach was a five block walk from the Seaside Cottages. That was even their name, Seaside Cottages. But the first morning, actually a Sunday morning, Helen bundled up and made the jaunt. Living in the South, one would think the winters weren’t as terribly cold, but they’d be wrong. There might be an absence of snow, but there was also the moisture in the air that made the cold so penetrative. As she walked, Helen pulled the heavy teal colored scarf that she’d wrapped around her neck up to cover the bottom part of her face.
The beach itself was definitely worth the walk once she arrived. The day was gray, overcast, but the white sand gleamed. The water soothingly lapped up on the shore. She sat on a cold granite bench for a moment that had been placed in a park like area leading up the sand. She breathed the cool air into her lungs as she considered for the first time that perhaps she’d made a mistake. Christmas was in four days, and she would be alone. It hadn’t bothered her before, not really. She’d felt determined, possessed in some way to be isolated, but now there were doubts — the best laid plans.
She bowed her head, overcome with a sudden surge of confusing despair when out of nowhere she felt a long cold nose nudge her. Her head pulled up, and she met the large dark eyes of a black dog. It aggressively pushed its face into her hands, so she would pet it.
Finally, regaining her bearings after being so startled, she noticed the long slim dog was leashed and followed its long connection to a man standing quietly a few feet away. “Don’t worry. She’s harmless,” he commented. Helen slowly stood up, though the dog was still intent on nuzzling her. “You know, she doesn’t take to everyone but seems to like you.”
He was tall, tall with a big blue jacket on. “Well, she’s beautiful. I didn’t notice you two walk up.”
He pressed a button reeling the leash in a bit tighter as he approached her. “You seemed like you wanted to be alone. I was planning to walk by, but then Hazel had other plans.”
She laughed, “She’s a lab?”
“Lab, collie, a mix of other things.”
She smiled nodding. He was closer now. Brown hair, beard and mustache, maybe forties she thought. “Are you—” then she stopped.
“Are we—” he echoed in a friendly manner.
“Sorry, I was going to ask if you were from here.”
“Ah Crystal Springs, not originally, but I have lived here for the last three years. It’s a lovely little antiquated community. And I would say quite definitively that you are not.”
She laughed nervously, “No, I guess that’s obvious.”
“Yes, but not for reason you may think. Visiting?”
She nodded, “Yes, I rented a cottage.”
“Ah, one of Mary Haughn’s cottages down White Harbor Road?”
“Yes,” she answered a bit surprised.
“Over Christmas here alone?”
She sighed a bit in response, trying to decide how to respond.
And then he smiled, “Would you like to get a coffee. It’s just into town.”
Now that was quick and unexpected, seeing as though they’d literally just met. “I suppose,” she answered a bit hesitantly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”
“No you didn’t. My name is Billy Struve.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Helen, Helen Ellis.”
It was a small café/coffee shop just off Main Street. And by the time they arrived, she was grateful. She’d thought she was in good shape, but all the walking this morning had proved differently. Mr. Billy Struve had tied Hazel to the white wrought iron chair across from hers on the café’s patio asking her to keep watch as he disappeared into the restaurant. The patio was positioned just off the street where she could observe people milling around, wandering from shop to shop. It was actually quite soothing, a different pace from the city where these days nothing much felt languid.
In moments, she was pulled from her thoughts back to the presence of her companion arriving with two steaming cups of coffee and two almond croissants. He smiled, sitting across from her. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought you might be hungry. Breakfast went right by me today.”
Strange, she hadn’t given a thought to breakfast this morning, just focused on the necessity of getting out by the water. “Oh, actually it’s perfect, thank you,” she answered.
She hadn’t looked too closely at her companion on their jaunt here. There was some conversation, but purely superficial, about the lovely houses near the water, the weather, the beautiful day, and Hazel. She learned quickly all there was to know about Hazel — an SPCA dog he’d adopted as a puppy just after he’d moved here. He took a sip of his coffee and more than a few bites of his croissant and then leaned back in his chair, eying her amiably. “So, you work here?” she asked a little awkwardly.
“Yes, I own one of these shops here. It’s a bit of a gallery for painters, sculptors, other artists. “
“Oh, that’s interesting. What about you, are you an artist?” It was an odd question that had simply popped into her head. But he seemed to take it in his stride, as though he were not surprised.
“Yes, Helen, as a matter of fact, I am a painter and I make pottery as well.”
She nodded, “So you sell?”
“My work as well as others,” he answered, smoothly completing her thought. “And you are a writer?” he asked, as he took another sip of his coffee.
The question hit her strangely. “No, not really, why would you say that?”
He hesitated, almost as though he didn’t believe her, then shrugged, “Felt right.”
She glanced away, feeling a little uncomfortable now. “I’m a professor in New Orleans. I teach English.”
He slowly lowered his coffee cup to the table. “Hmm, strange, you just have that writer vibe, you know.”
She turned back to him adding, “I guess I dabble in it a bit, my own writing.”
“Well, Helen Ellis, I have a sense of these sorts of things, and I think you should do more than dabble. You should commit to it. I’m sure you’d be wonderful.”
She felt a bit stunned at his pronouncement, at how personal he was getting. “And this you know from our short acquaintance?”
“Hmm, don’t mean for you to get your back up. In my experience, it’s just important to do what your soul craves. “And then he smiled warmly, “And if you don’t, it won’t give you any peace. You see, I used to be a lawyer, practiced out in Georgia for many years. Then I gave it all up and came here.”
“Really?” she asked a bit surprised.
“Seems reckless I suppose to some. But I don’t think you can put too high a premium on peace.” She felt stunned, having no idea at all what to say. “So Helen, since we’re being candid, is there anything else you’d like to know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m not married, have been, have been divorced, have no children.”
She nodded, not at all sure where he was going with this. “Oh, well, that’s nice.”
He laughed, “Yes, my point being that if we’re finished with me for the moment, I would like to know about you. About why such a lovely woman has come to this place, a place she clearly doesn’t know, alone for the holidays. Why?” and then he smiled in that warm way of his, “And why again?”
She sipped her coffee, wondering if it was time to leave and start closing doors. “It’s not a mystery. I wanted to get away, alone. That’s all.”
“And write?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she hesitated.
“Been married Helen?”
Another odd moment in a series of odd moments since she’d met this man. “Yes, once, a while ago,” she answered with a distance in her voice.
He nodded slowly, as though it was of no surprise. “Thought so.”
“Why, why would you think so?”
And then he looked past her to the people milling on the sidewalks, “Because these things leave marks.
After coffee, they walked around Main Street with Billy Struve amiably pointing out this establishment and then the next. She found herself drifting into a peaceful zone, one that was not contemplating her next move, or analyzing the implications of what was happening. She was simply moving in the moment, a soothing place to exist.
“Are you getting tired?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe a bit, I’m not really used to walking this much.”
“Well, we don’t want to wear you out on your first day. How about I walk you home?”
“All right,” she answered, as he changed directions, she following his moderate strides back towards White Harbor Road.
“You know, I was thinking Helen Ellis. Why don’t you let me fix you dinner tonight?”
She breathed in the frosty air, her city upbringing creeping back into her mind with doubts. After all, Billy Struve was a virtual stranger. What did she really know about him, except that he was pleasant, laid-back and —
“Only the things he has told you he is.”
She halted in the middle of the road at his strange pronouncement exactly mirroring her thoughts. “What did you say?” she asked.
He frowned, “Sorry, I told you I get a sense of things. You’re worried about whether you can really trust me.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“Helen, it’s not such an incredible jump to make. Tell you what. I’ll take you out to dinner, into Biloxi. Things roll up early here in this sleepy little town. Would that be better?”
She started walking again but slowly this time, a bit taken aback by what had just happened. “I don’t know.”
“Hmm, look, I like spending time with you. You seem, how can I say this, kindred to me. So, don’t over think it, all right.”
She didn’t answer just let his pronouncement float solitarily in the air as they turned another corner that led into the parking lot of Mary Haughn’s cottages.
“So how’s the great experiment going?”
“Fine, it’s beautiful here.”
“You know, we could still get you a last-minute ticket to fly up here for Christmas,” Helen could hear a bit of strain in Lydia’s normally cheerful voice. It was evident that her mother had put pressure on her to make this scenario happen.
“Thanks, but I’m all set up here. And I think it’s doing me some good.”
“Oh, okay, met anybody interesting?”
She sighed, questioning whether to open this up or not, but in truth, it would be reassuring to them to know that she wasn’t completely alone. “Actually yes, I met a man on the beach this morning, and we’re having dinner tonight.”
Helen dressed in one of the few slightly dressy outfits she’d brought with her — a dark green wool skirt and matching sweater with boots of course, her favorite cold-weather accessory. It was just after six when she heard the light quick knock at her cottage door. She’d spent most of the afternoon resting and then actually for the remaining hour or two writing. She was gratified at actually getting some of this work done finally. The normal distractions that always seemed to vex her were absent here. Truly, it was as though she’d escaped, at least temporarily, to a different reality.
“You look beautiful,” he immediately commented as Billy Struve crossed the threshold into her small den.
“Oh thanks,” she responded. He was so gracious, so smoothly attentive that it took her by surprise. Most people who had been orbiting her sphere of contacts lately seemed more self-absorbed, completely focused on keeping their personal realm intact. As a result, giving wasn’t a high priority.
He was dressed nicely too, a sweater over dress pants and a long trench coat that gave him a different look, sharper, as though she could now imagine him as that lawyer he had claimed to be.
“Look, I’m sorry about brushing you off, I mean about dinner at your house.”
“No, don’t give it a second thought, too soon. That’s my problem. Once I set my mind to something, I’m ready to move ahead full steam.”
She picked up her long gray coat, and he immediately took hold of it, helping her into it. “Set your mind to what exactly?”
He grinned a bit, “Yeah, hmm, how about seafood? I know a good restaurant.”
“Sounds fine,” she said realizing that he was not going to answer.
It was dusk, and they traveled the long quiet stretch of beach road into Biloxi. Billy Struve drove a Jeep Cherokee that seemed to be filled with various extraneous equipment in the back that denoted a more rural style of existence than she was used to. It was strange. The pace here seemed more mellow, calmer, but the further they traveled away from Crystal Springs that feeling of tranquility seemed to dissipate a bit.
“You feel it?” he murmured.
She turned to him with curiosity. The conversation between them had died off since he’d initially picked her up at the cottage. In fact, so gradually that she hadn’t even acknowledged it. “Feel it?” she asked.
“The change,” he said.
She smiled. He certainly was being opaque. “I’m sorry. Maybe I’m a bit thick, but I don’t follow.”
He shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the long curving stretch of beachside road. “I just mean the feeling. It changes once you get out of Crystal Springs. Of course, it’s lovely here along the water, but there is something particular and special about that little town. That’s why I originally suggested cooking you dinner, all decorum aside. I thought you weren’t ready to leave yet.”
“Ready to leave?” she echoed with some confusion.
He sighed, “Sorry, I mean never mind. Here we are,” he noted, as she looked up seeing the corporal limits sign for Biloxi.
Helen Ellis was a blond, a blond with rather large hazel eyes. And he had to admit, she was beautiful. All these facts sort of hit him like a rock in the side of the head. They’d settled into their table at The Seagull, a nice table where they could see the water, even though the light of the day was nearly gone. The waves felt a bit more turbulent tonight, just a bit, by degrees. Perhaps, there was a storm coming, but none was forecast. Then again, perhaps, he was projecting his own somewhat tumultuous thoughts onto the scenery. He’d felt sure that when he came here, that when she came here, he would be prepared. But now, it didn’t feel that way, not nearly.
She glanced up from behind the menu, a lovely smile but something else, a pensiveness. “What do you recommend?” she asked lightly.
He breathed in deeply, coaxing patience to himself. He’d tried to refrain as much as possible canvassing her thoughts. No matter how tempted he was. And he was tempted. Helen wore a veneer, a protective veneer. It wasn’t so obvious who she was, one had to dig to find it. On the surface, she appeared to be a smooth serene pearl, fluid, pleasing, lovely. But beneath, and it was beneath that he was interested in, it was a different story. “Well, that all depends on how hungry you are.”
She smiled smoothly, “Not really all that hungry.”
“Then the redfish or the flounder.”
She nodded, closing the menu and putting it softly down in front of her. “So, tell me Mr. Struve. What did you mean about Crystal Springs and the feeling there?”
He placed his menu down in front of him as well. Tactful buddy, not too much too soon, or she’ll scare away. “You know, the Indians originally settled that area. They felt there was something special there, mystical energy if you will. It’s my experience every place has its own energy. Your city, New Orleans, being so large is overlaid with many different energy imprints. But this little town, there is something encased about it, strong, pure, consistent. It’s healing.”
Her eyes had never left his face, those large deep eyes. “Do you believe all of that?” she asked hesitantly.
“Okay Billy, do you believe all of that, about the city, I mean?”
“Well, there is more than is dreamed of in our philosophy Horatio.”
She’d almost asked him another question, but then the waiter arrived just in time. It was better this way, small steps, small truths to digest a little at a time.
She’d decided. This was it. She would have this dinner with him, and then the rest of her time in Crystal Springs would be reflective, solitary, and uncomplicated. The man sitting across from her, engaging her in relaxed, entertaining conversation, was anything but uncomplicated. On the surface, he was handsome, in a rugged kind of way, intelligent, thoughtful, and at first glance easy-going. But this was not her first time around the block, and she had the intense impression that she was being handled.
“How’s the fish?” he asked.
She glanced up, pulling herself out of her troubled assessments. “Oh, you were right. It’s great.”
He hesitated, his eyes on her face, and it disturbed her. All evening she would catch him doing this, weirdly looking beyond what she’d said. “What’s wrong Helen?” he asked.
That was it, too perceptive. He was too damn perceptive. “Oh, nothing really, I just have a lot on my mind.”
Again, with that stare but the warm bluish eyes at the same time put her at ease, put her at ease and made her nervous. She worked to steady herself. This wasn’t happening. Whatever this was, wasn’t happening. “Am I making you nervous?” he said placidly.
She shook her head in reflex. Her mother’s influence, never hurt anyone’s feelings. Be tactful. “No, no this is all lovely. I just. . . I’m not sure how to say this.”
He frowned a bit, “Well, if you have to be that anxious, it’s best just come out and say it.”
Directness, refreshing, disarming. “I just don’t want to give the wrong impression. I came here, well, to figure some things out quietly. I don’t want things to get complicated.”
“Friendship.” He stated a bit bluntly.
“What?” she answered with confusion.
“I’m just offering friendship. I like you Helen, and I could use a friend. Is that acceptable?”
She eyed him with confusion. It sounded so, on the surface, perfectly acceptable.
“You know, your abilities are getting stronger William.”
He frowned, “I know. Sometimes it’s difficult controlling them. I don’t want to see auras bleeding out of everyone as I walk down the street.”
“Sometimes, it takes time for natural talents to develop, and, of course, this place is especially conducive to the psychic energies.” Sara Morgan, the lovely lady that he sat across from on the rug in her den began to cough very lightly, and then reached for a cup of tea, she’d placed on the coffee table beside them.
“Are you sure you’re feeling up to this Sara?”
She smiled softly. She was a slight silver haired woman in her late sixties, and she was a bona fide psychic. She’d come to live in Crystal Spring just six months before he’d settled there. She ran a small metaphysical bookstore and gift shop. After a brief acquaintance, he’d begun taking classes from her; first for stress control, and then later for other pursuits. “It will pass,” she murmured. “Anymore dreams?” she asked.
“Yes, several times a week.”
“The same woman?”
“Yes, we meet on the beach, and then we talk, talk about everything, and then sometimes just sit there. I can’t really see her face, but her energy I know. It’s so familiar.”
She nodded, “She’s coming, maybe another year,” she murmured.
And it had been as Sara had predicted. And unfortunately, six months earlier, his teacher had crossed over, passing away from an affliction she had opted to keep private.
He’d scared her. Too much too soon, that’s a lesson that Sara had often stressed that he needed to learn, patience — the ability to allow things to unfold in their own time. They were traveling along the long dark road back to Crystal Springs. The darkness of the winter night was thick just now, heavy and dense. And her mood reflected it. He could feel that her thoughts were somber, somewhere else. Stuck in some painful rivet from the past, he suspected. “Doing all right?” he asked.
She roused from that gray misty place where she’d resided in only moments before. “Yes, sorry,” she said. “It’s so dark tonight. Is this the way it usually is around here?”
“At times, seems more so in the winter.”
She sighed deeply, “You didn’t tell me. Do you have family?”
“I have a brother up North and a sister out west. My parents have passed on.”
“And they didn’t want you to visit for Christmas?”
“Well, I have to say it didn’t really come up. They have their own families, their own lives, and we were never what you would call a close knit family.”
She responded pensively. “This is really my first Christmas away from some kind of family. And you’d swear I was stealing the Crown jewels, the way everyone is reacting.”
“Good to know they care.”
“Hmm, I don’t know if it’s that or them just being shocked I’m not doing what they expect me to do. They don’t take to change very well.”
“How about you?”
“How do you take to change Helen?”
There was a pause, and he could feel she was actually genuinely considering the question. “I’m not sure. I haven’t had very much lately.”
It was strange, unexpected. She was comfortable being with Billy Struve and yet not — relaxed and yet tense. She’d decided to not see him again and yet couldn’t seem to follow through.
The dinner was nice, and he’d taken her out to a coffee shop later. Nothing earth shattering happened but it felt as though something, something had happened. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. And then he’d taken her home. He talked about his shop off of Main Street and invited her to drop by.
Her response was vague, and he seemed undaunted. A good night at her door, a slight hug, and then he was gone. And she felt, well, clearly not quite herself.
It was after eleven and the darkness of the cottage wrapped around her. Silently, she eased out of the bed and wrapped herself in a soft fluffy pink robe that she’d brought from the city. It was comforting. There had been many sleepless nights like this one when she’d wrapped up in it, settling into the large blue-gray lazy boy that she’d taken with her when her marriage had ended.
Here, there was only the large over-stuffed armchair in front of the TV. But it would have to suffice, and she curled up in it, tucking her feet beneath the robe. She’d tried not to think of it much, but she supposed that was when everything changed, at least when she changed. As marriages go, hers was short lived. Just two years, and most family and friends had commented supportively, “Well, at least you didn’t invest too much. There were no children, no real entanglements.”
At the time, she’d responded numbly to such comments, but in retrospect, she wondered exactly what they could be thinking.
She’d come out of it changed. The sparkle had gone out of things, the enthusiasm from youth, and yes, the innocence. She’d left much on that doorstep, so strange. Kevin wasn’t a bad guy by any means. But together, well, it drained something out of her, something she didn’t know how to get back.
There was a chill in the air. She supposed she could put the heater on, but that would take effort and a perceptible grogginess was slipping in. She let her head rest softly on the back of the chair and closed her eyes, not even willing to make the effort to return to bed.
Hazel was restless when he returned home. She knew as well. She’d taken immediately to Helen Ellis as had he. For a full two years, he’d been aware of her presence. It was something that had slowly seeped into his dreams and then his waking thoughts. At first, it seemed like some sort of fantasy, perhaps like an imaginary friend of from his youth. But then, the impressions became more insistent.
And tonight the pull was strong, maybe because they’d finally met in the flesh. But her flesh, her free will, was resisting this, even though her spirit felt differently. He heard the rush of wind chimes just outside the French doors in his bedroom. The doors led onto a secluded patio. Patting Hazel lightly on the head, he gently put her out of the room and then pulled on his jacket. As he opened the doors, he could make out shadows, but he reached for the lights on the wall to light up the stone patio.
It startled him at first, the figure he saw down the steps moving across the granite stone pattern he’d designed himself. She was dressed in a long white nightgown, just silently wandering barefoot across the patio. It was startling to find her here, such a direct contact. But he cleared his mind and directed his thoughts to Helen.
“What do you need?”
The figure stopped and turned to him with no expression on her face. It was her and not her — a spiritual manifestation, reaching out, feeling the powerful connection between them as had he. There was silence in response but also confusion, yearning.
“How we make our own prisons,” he murmured. And then she was gone. Shakily, he sat down in one of the wrought iron chairs near the patio table. He felt shaky all over. She would seek him out again. He was sure of it. After all, it was what her spirit wanted.
It was her intent to resist, instead, to spend the day writing or perhaps taking another walk on the beach or perhaps even a long ride along the coast. All of these were distinct possibilities. But what she had decided against was walking into town and heading in the general direction of Billy Struve’s place of business. Helen had decided after a somewhat restless night that she would avoid this and him. But of course, just after lunch, after one, her feet were itchy for exploration. And they began to draw her in the direction that she had decided against.
“Just friendship,” that was what he was looking for, that was what he had said. But as had been her experience, what one said was not exactly always what one meant. Kevin, her ex-husband, had said he supported everything she wanted to do, was enamored of all she was. But that was before they were married, before he began to chisel away at her dreams piece by piece, slowly and methodically, until it almost went unnoticed by her. Of course, upon reflection, she never felt as though he did it deliberately. It was just his nature to absorb what was around him and funnel its energy to benefit himself. She often chastised herself for not being more of a fighter in the relationship and less of a giver. But then again, she had never envisioned a relationship where she would have to fight. It went against her grain.
She drifted toward Main Street and noted how busy it was but more of foot traffic than cars. “A right off of Main Street onto Pine.” That was what he had told her. Again, she questioned the wisdom of seeing him again. Would that denote too much interest on her part? But something pulled her, something unconscious. And she disregarded her better instincts. She smiled in appreciation as she turned the corner and spotted his establishment. Artistically scripted across the window was the word Illuminations. He hadn’t told her the name of the store, but she knew it was his. With a deep breath and not another thought, she turned the knob where she was greeted by the happy bark of Hazel that drifted in from somewhere in the back of the store.
She was initially overwhelmed, actually stunned, by an impressive array of glass shelves decorated by all manner of artistry imaginable. She simply stopped in the middle of the significantly large room and allowed her eyes to travel and soak in all that was around her — pottery, jewelry, paintings, baskets, all manner of decorative items formed from seashells. And it felt, it felt as though light and energy poured through the room, so much that it was dizzying. “What do you think?” His voice took her by surprise, but she was more surprised by that fact that he was right beside her, evidently moving next to her while she was completely distracted by what she was seeing.
She turned to him a bit shakily, “You startled me.”
He smiled, his face more pensive now as though he were a bit preoccupied, “Sorry, I wasn’t sure if you’d come today.”
“To tell you the truth neither was I, but I’m glad I did. This place, it’s amazing.” She said as she drifted over to a lovely curling, bluish vase made of glass.”
“I try to pick pieces that are conductors of energy.”
She stopped focusing on the beauty of the items around her, then looking at him curiously, “Conductors of energy?”
“Yes, you could feel it when you walked in.”
She answered thoughtfully. “I felt light, and yes, I guess you could call it energy.”
“Everything carries its own energy, and some objects serve as conductors. It’s very helpful to any environment it’s placed in.”
She turned to him, smiling. Clearly, he was quite serious about this, “Sounds like you’ve made a science out of this.”
He nodded, “If you had come earlier, I would have taken you to lunch.”
“I wasn’t really sure what my plans would be today.”
There was another bark from toward the back of the expansive shop. “I think Hazel wants to see you as well. Come on. I’ll show you the back.”
Windows and light, that was what struck her about the backrooms of Billy Struve’s establishment. It was winter, icy and cold outside, but it felt warm in here, and not just from artificial means. The first room was a stock room with shelves of items that had yet to be placed on display. The next seemed more of a studio — a table for pottery, an easel, counters for all variety of work. She was envious. It was charged with energy. Oddly, she could imagine herself having a desk near one of the large windows and writing, writing in a way that she’d never been able to before.
He’d disappeared in the front, hearing the chiming of the front doors. She was left here, not quite alone. Hazel lie curled up on a bed just under a light wooden table against the wall. Clearly, it was a spot she’d made her own. There were dual impulses she was feeling. One was to bolt and return to the life she knew, forgetting that people lived like this on their own terms. The other, even more perplexing than the first, was to sit down on the window seat and pull the soft afghan throw that was draped across it lightly across her shoulders and relax — allow herself to let go of all the tenseness and all the baggage from the past that she seemed to carry around with her and simply be.
She looked up and saw him standing there in the doorway. Again, he’d surprised her while she was deeply enmeshed in her own thoughts. He frowned, “All right?” he asked pointedly.
She wondered, simple question but what was the answer. “It must be wonderful to work here,” she said, sidestepping the question entirely.
“Well, it is great, at times. But the retail thing interrupts.” He stepped off the small landing and in a few direct steps had made it to the space directly in front of her. “So, I have a microwave. How about a cup of mint tea?”
He nodded, turning away from her, but then adding just over his shoulder. “Then after that maybe you’ll answer my question, Helen.”
It was disorienting, having her here, having her here after seeing her last night on his patio. He’d done his best. He’d concentrated on sending energy to her, but then he’d done something else, something that he wasn’t at all sure that he should. He’d brought her here today, funneled all his concentration on luring her to him. Truthfully, for all intents and purposes, he’d felt as though he’d failed, until he found her standing in the middle of his shop in an almost mesmerized state.
He debated within. Was this really fair to influence her like this? After all, he wasn’t some sort of vampire beckoning his intended victim to his side. He wanted to help Helen. He wanted, and then he stopped. What exactly did he want from her? If it wasn’t even clear in his mind, he shouldn’t be playing around with her life.
He brought two cups of steaming tea from the small kitchen galley to the studio where he found Helen sitting on the window seat with Hazel curled up beside her as she stroked her. “Now that’s a pretty picture,” he commented, as he handed her the tea.
“It just kind of happened,” she said, taking a sip. “It’s good. Do you do a lot of painting?”
He’d grabbed one of the metal chairs lurking around the studio and pulled it up beside her. “When I’m inspired. The shop brings in enough money that I don’t have to paint, but, of course, I have to stay creative, the ener—” then he stopped.
“The energy,” she finished for him.
“I’ve been bantering that word around a lot today. So—” he said.
“So,” she repeated, continuing to stroke Hazel’s heavy black fur. She felt calmer now, not thinking as much. He could feel it. This place was soothing her, clearly exactly what she needed.
“You seemed very bothered earlier.”
She didn’t answer at first, just quietly sipped her tea. And he was struck again at how physically beautiful she was, her hands long and elegant, an aura of delicateness, and now rather fragileness. “I don’t know. Like I said at dinner, I came here to sort some things out, reassess I guess.”
He nodded, “How’s that working out?”
She smiled lightly, meeting his eyes with her large green ones. “Good question, sometimes I think reliving the past is maybe just that reliving the past. Doesn’t really change anything, just stirs up,”
“Pain?” he asked.
“Maybe, I mean it’s not a huge secret to me why things happened, how they happened. But it is a secret how I can let go of all that.”
“Hmm, there’s the trick.”
Her long elegant hand started to scratch Hazel just under the ear, and she settled against Helen as though she was in bliss — odd to be jealous of his own dog. “You seem to have made peace with things William.” He felt a bit startled. The last person who called him William was Sara Morgan, his teacher. But here in the small town of Crystal Springs, he was just Billy or Struve to some. Her eyes widened. She was perceptive. “I’m sorry. Would you rather I call you Billy?”
He smiled, shaking his head, “No, no William is fine. Um oh yeah, making peace with things. That’s a bit of a tall order. I don’t know if you can ever completely get rid of the old stuff. I don’t know if we’re meant to .It kind of reminds us of where we’ve been, who we’ve been — a benchmark so to speak. But it’s important to learn from it but not to keep beating yourself up for it. After all, you wouldn’t make the same choices today that you did say five years ago.”
Her eyes were wide and filled with shadows. “I hope not,” she murmured.
“And the rest of the cure is living. Just moving on and filling your life with new things, better things that bring you joy.”
She sipped her tea, her eyes focusing on something beyond him. She was considering. He could feel it, considering carefully.
She hadn’t intended to stay here as long as she had. In fact, she hadn’t intended to spend much of any time at all with Billy Struve. But the hours of the afternoon stretched on. There was a comfortable, languid feeling throughout the rooms of Illuminations. And Helen was not in much of a hurry to relinquish the feeling.
It was approaching four, the hour at which he would close up shop. There was a door at the back of the store that led to the back patio. While he took care of business up front, Helen wandered outside. It was a bright winter day and she inhaled deeply. The cool air flooded through her lungs, and she felt peace float in, a peace that she had never comprehended as possible.
He appeared in the doorway, quietly waiting for her to notice his presence. “So,” he said quietly. “All closed up.”
She smiled, “So soon?”
“Well, I’m the owner. It’s my prerogative.” He walked out further onto the patio. “And today feels like other things take precedence.”
“I hope I’m not interfering with your business.”
He nodded, “You are, but it’s not unwelcomed. So, can we try dinner again?”
Her head swirled a bit. It was not unexpected but still caught her off guard, “Dinner?”
He smiled, “Yes, but at my place. You know, Hazel and me.”
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Too late to be cautious, we’ve spent the afternoon together.”
“Oh, you think it’s too late, do you?”
“I think it’s time to let things follow their course. Don’t you Helen?”
Her heart was hammering in her chest a bit more profoundly. But she didn’t want to think about it too much, didn’t want to let go of this peacefulness that was wrapping around her like a cocoon. So all she said was, “I suppose not.”
It struck a chord. They’d stopped on the way to William’s house at a small grocery just a few blocks away from Illuminations. It was like everything else that she’d seen of Crystal Springs, homey, personal, and creative. The owner knew Billy Struve on a first name basis. She waited in the café portion of the store with Hazel while he shopped. Mr. Deangelis, the owner, and his daughter came from inside the store to greet her and play with Hazel. It seemed no problem for the dog to be there. It was so different, so alien for her. Where she came from, people were generally aloof, and you’d never see a dog in a grocery. Oddly enough, it felt destabilizing. When William returned to her, he looked at her with concern, “Something wrong?” he asked. “You look a little pale.”
“I’m just tired,” she lied. And he looked unconvinced. It was second nature for her to cover like this, to cover the truth of her feelings. Why exactly, she’d never particularly examined except that it had begun in her marriage.
“What’s the matter with you? Can’t you be satisfied with anything?”
And then it became, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I’m just tired.”
But the truth seemed to bring caustic, painful confrontations. So, she began to avoid them. But this man, this one next to her, was not content to accept platitudes.
It was the house, however, that struck a chord. This shook her a bit, because it seemed so oddly familiar. When they pulled up in his driveway, it nearly took her breath away. It was a wooden frame house, sort of warm beige in color, the front with several steps leading up to a porch — nestled comfortably in trees surrounding it, protecting it she thought a bit abstractly. It was lovely, not the most extraordinary house she’d ever seen, but in some other, indefinable way it was the most extraordinary house she’d seen.
He patted her hand softly, not questioning her this time. “Come on,” he said, but she hesitated. She couldn’t help it. She knew that if she went inside things would change. That thought resounded through her mind. But then she stepped out of the jeep, knowing that she would. It was inevitable.
She was wandering around his house, and it made him feel odd, as though some electric sort of energy was weaving its spell around them now. He didn’t know he would feel this way, didn’t really think about it at all. “You really don’t get it William. When the two of you finally come together, it will be extraordinary, powerful. Change both your lives in ways you can’t imagine. Your spirits are a perfect fit, created together for each other.”
“That sounds a bit overwhelming,” he’d told Sara Morgan.
“I imagine it will be,” she’d answered. “But you have never struck me as a man who would shy from a challenge.”
And here he was, watching Helen Ellis, absolutely incandescent in the way she was subtly connecting with everything around her. It was profound how drawn he was to her, physically, emotionally. He wanted so fiercely to get past all those barriers that she’d erected in the name of self-preservation. And he’d only known her a few days.
“So, what do you think?” he said wandering into the den where she was standing near the fireplace.
“You have a wonderful place. Did you do this?” she asked in regards to the landscapes that were placed on either side of the fireplace.
He handed her a glass of white wine. “Yes, some of my early work. I hope I’ve improved.”
She shook her head. “They’re wonderful William. They feel peaceful to me,” she murmured. And the she looked at him oddly, “Have you found that here? In Crystal Springs, peace?”
He sat down slowly on the small moss green sofa. “Sometimes Helen, I think peace is something you have to work at. It’s something earned, not just a natural state of being.”
She nodded, sipping her wine. “I guess that’s why I don’t have it. I never thought I’d have to earn it.”
“Well, it helps when you’re in a place you want to be, doing things because you enjoy them, not just because you have to.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?”
“Actually, I was talking about myself. I had to remove myself from an environment that was, well, toxic to my spirit. That was the first step for me, I guess caring for my inner self.”
“Some of us don’t have that luxury.”
“Some of us don’t give ourselves the luxury.”
She turned away from him, facing his pictures again. He stood up and walked over to her putting his hand on her shoulder. He could feel it, fear. Her experiences had taught her fear. “I’m sorry Helen. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“We’re just very different William. Come from different places,” she murmured.
He put his glass of wine on the mantle and put both hands on her shoulders, beginning to gently rub, trying to drive some of her tenseness away. “I’d like to help you relax some, Helen,” he said. But she didn’t answer. He could feel so much, just connecting with her skin — confusion, tumultuous emotion, but it was helping. She was calming. “That’s it,” he said.
“William,” she began.
“Just relax Helen.” She was leaning back against him a bit, not realizing at all what she was doing. It was completely unconscious. He breathed deeply, feeling it as a languid and yes sensual feeling traveling through his veins. Sara had said they would be powerful together, but he hadn’t realized to what degree. There was a decision to be made now. Move forward or wait, give her a bit more time.
He pulled his hands away from her shoulders and whispered into her ear. “I better get dinner going.”
She straightened up, turning around to face him, “Yeah sorry, that felt good.”
He smiled, “Just relax awhile. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
He headed out the room, trying to shake the almost overwhelming need that was coursing through him.
William had a lovely natural wood dinette set in a small sunroom just off the kitchen. But instead, they ate in the den on the coffee table, sitting cross legged on his large Aztec pattern rug in front of a crackling fireplace. Of all things, he’d made spaghetti, but it was actually quite good.
“This is really great. When did you learn to be a great cook?”
He laughed, “Well, I’m not a great cook but generally out of necessity. After my marriage fell apart, I decided either I would learn to cook decently or eat take out the rest of my life.”
“That makes sense.” She picked up her glass of wine off the coffee table to take a sip. Her plate was somewhat precariously perched on her lap, but truth be told, she didn’t care. This was her second glass of wine, her limit usually was one, but she felt warm, cozy, and watchful of Hazel who more than once had tried to abscond with her dinner. “I can’t believe Christmas is in two days.”
“It’s true, any regrets?”
“You mean coming here?”
“Not being with your family.”
“No, oddly enough, it feels right. I guess though I feel some pressure not doing what I feel I should be doing.”
He put his glass down abruptly on the coffee table. “Okay, you’re going to have to explain that one to me. Not doing what you feel you should be doing?”
She laughed. It was true. Once she voiced it, it sounded remarkably nonsensical. “Okay, let’s see. Christmas comes with pressures. You feel if you don’t celebrate it in a certain way, you’ve failed somehow.”
“Wow, that sounds joyous!”
“Now you know what I mean. If you don’t have a tree,” she gestured to the small live pine tree he had in one corner of his house, sparsely decorated with ornaments from his shop. “If you don’t have a family around you, if you don’t exchange presents, if you don’t send out Christmas cards.”
“You send out Christmas cards?”
She sighed, “I used to when Kev,” then she stopped.
William put his basically cleaned plate onto the coffee table. “Okay, you want to finish that thought?”
She swallowed, good question. Did she really? “I was going to say I did when Kevin and I were together, then for a few years after. I guess to make it seem like I was okay, then I let it go.”
“I see, and all this was because you felt you should.”
“It’s part of the trappings of Christmas. Come on, didn’t you send out Christmas cards when you were married?”
“Honestly, I think Laura did, but I let her handle all that stuff I’m ashamed to say.”
“I see, a bit of a workaholic husband.”
He nodded, “Yeah, ambitious, self-centered, all the trappings that go with it. It isn’t a wonder she left me.” He took a sip of his wine.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you think about unhappy things.”
“No, no she did me a favor. Made me wake up, re-examine things.”
“Did you ever try to reconcile, I mean, once you changed things?”
He shook his head, “No Helen, one thing I’ve learned emphatically is that not everyone is a good match for you. Two people can be very nice, but once you put them together, they just don’t bring out the best in each other.”
“Sounds like you believe in soul mates.”
He smiled, “That’s one word. Kindred is another. Twins, twin spirits, is another.”
“Then I wonder why so many people wind up with the wrong match?” she said softly.
“It’s all about learning Helen. We’re all here on this earth to learn, to evolve. And that’s hard to do if you always do things perfectly.”
She glanced at a clock on the wall. It was already eight. The evening had been flying by, great food, great conversation, and she wasn’t in all that much hurry to go back now to her lonely cottage. They’d just had coffee, and she knew she should leave. “Ah, I see thinking about leaving now.” He spoke from across the den.
“You know, sometimes I get the strange feeling that you’re reading my mind.”
He walked in further, coming to stand just next to her near the fireplace. “Would that I could my dear,” he said laughing.
“I really should get back.”
“Because you think that is what you should do Helen?”
It was awkward. He was too honest, too unvarnished about what he was thinking. “I had a lovely time. In fact,” then she stopped.
“You know, before you vanish back into your old life, it is my quest, my most earnest desire, to get you to say what you really mean.”
She frowned, “Are you implying that I’m insincere?”
“No, I’m saying that you’re guarded and defensive and protective of yourself. But you don’t have to be around me.” He reached out and softly touched her face with the tips of his fingers. It made her literally catch her breath.
“I wanted to say that I can’t remember, at least not for a very long time, having such a wonderful evening.”
He nodded, “That’s high praise, and may I say that I feel the same.”
He moved in a step closer, and her heart began to race. “William, I,” she tried to say, but he was touching both sides of her face now with his hands, softly caressing. “You said you were only offering friendship,” she murmured.
“I know, we can be friends, and more,” he whispered.
She thought to answer, but then she didn’t because he was kissing her now. Softly at first, so gently he eased her into an embrace. And then more intensely, as he folded her deeply in his arms, against his chest, more passionately. It was unexpected, and yet more than reasonable.
He drove around the city after he brought Helen home. He was rattled, completely overwhelmed, but delightfully so. “It’s control that you need to work on William,” Sara Morgan had said.
“I don’t know what you mean. I’m always in control of myself, my life.”
“That’s the problem,” she’d said. “You have to learn to let go, allow life to have its flow without you impeding it.”
He hadn’t really understood what she’d meant, until tonight. He felt as though he were caught in a tidal wave. Helen would have stayed with him the night. He was sure of it. She was caught up just like he was in the passion igniting between them, the electric crazy flow of energy. She would have stayed, against her better judgment, against what she believed she should do, and all of that would have come crashing down on her the next morning. She wasn’t ready for this. Hell, he wasn’t ready for this. But it didn’t matter, not really, because it was going to happen. The feelings, the sensation, the connection was like a deluge. It wouldn’t be denied. But tonight, he’d pulled back. And he didn’t know at all if he was happy about it or not. She’d seemed confused, scattered. But once he’d brought her back, he’d stepped into the cottage, closing the door behind him.
Her eyes were wide with a bit of surprise. But he pulled her, without asking, straight into his arms again, kissing her softly, but trying to stave off the intense passion. “I want to see you tomorrow,” he’d said.
She was breathing deeply, “I don’t know.” She was confused, but he wouldn’t let her pull away from him now.
“It’s all right Helen,” he whispered into her hair. “Don’t worry. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She nodded and again he kissed her. This was crazy. All he wanted to do was scoop her up and take her back to his house, into his bed — such an incredibly powerful need.
But he didn’t, instead he wandered the darkened streets of Crystal Springs, trying, trying to get a handle on things.
Helen woke from a heavy sleep. It was late for her, ten o’ clock, but she felt well-rested, calm. As she wandered around the small cottage, it distantly registered in her mind that it was Christmas Eve. Presents weren’t something she needed to worry about. She’d mailed a package filled with them up to North Carolina. But then of course, there was one person that she hadn’t bought anything for yet — William.
Her breath hitched a bit in her throat at the memory of last night. It was the point at which their understanding of friendship had evolved into what she could only describe as passion, uncontrolled passion. She watched the small coffee pot that the cottage provided slowly drip. Coffee was such a wonderful aroma. It connected her with peaceful soothing things. There were actually just four more days that she would spend in Crystal Springs. The time was flying now.
She poured herself a cup of the morning brew and curled up in the overstuffed chair. She didn’t want to think too much, about the future or the past, just allow herself to feel now, to feel joy.
Her cell phone rang, and she answered without even looking at the number.
“Hello back, and how are you this morning?”
She sipped her coffee, “Good, a bit lazy though. I only got up a little while ago.”
William laughed a bit on the other end. “Well, maybe you needed the rest. I was hoping you’d meet me for lunch. We’re closing early today because it’s Christmas Eve.”
She straightened up, thinking about the gift she had yet to buy for him. “Are all the stores closing early?” she asked.
“All of them around here. Why? Have some last minute shopping to do?”
“Well, a bit.”
“There’s still a little of the morning left. Do your shopping, then meet me at the store. Can’t wait to see you.”
It felt like butterflies, and she was much too old for butterflies. “Okay, that sounds good.”
“Great, see you later.”
“Okay,” she’d already said that, just like a flustered teenager. And then she hung up.
She looked up at the clock, ten-thirty, enough time to hop in the shower then make a mad dash into town. She wasn’t thinking, wasn’t examining too much. That, she felt acutely, would ruin everything.
He watched the clock. The morning was busy enough, a steady stream of customers to distract him. But then, it was eleven and eleven-thirty and his mind wandered, lingering on the wild energy last night passing around them, through them, within them, when he touched Helen, when he kissed her. He’d been warned of it but still hadn’t really expected it.
“When the two of you come together, it will be extraordinarily powerful.” Sara Morgan had told him serenely, as though it were quite natural.
He’d frowned at her a bit. It was undeniable. At that point in his life, there was still a hefty dose of pessimism within him. “What do you mean powerful?”
She’d smiled at him, almost indulgently. “William when two spirits reunite who are a perfect match, it is extraordinary. Energy is created, healing occurs. And there is a need between them to be together that is like an unstoppable storm. It will defy logic, judgment, and reasoning. It is simply undeniable.”
And then she’d said something odd, that he’d forgotten. “I envy you William, what is to come. Don’t let anything come between you, especially yourselves.”
“Especially yourselves,” he murmured to himself. Yes, he could easily see that possibility looming — fear, wounds from the past, and a host of other things perceived as stumbling blocks. But if he’d learned anything in his years of life was that perception did not necessarily equal truth.
The front bell chimed, and Helen crossed the threshold of Illuminations.
She was holding a small decorative bag in her hand and smiling as she approached him.
“So,” he said kissing her softly on the cheek, “what’s in the bag?”
“None of your business,” she laughed. And he knew it was a Christmas gift for him. The truth was that he’d already picked one out for her on that very first day that they’d met on the beach.
There was a change. At first, he’d felt it, then he’d seen it, in Helen’s aura — the colors of the energy around her. When he’d first met her, in fact before he’d even introduced himself that first day on the beach, he’d taken a moment to look at her, really look at her. Seeing auras wasn’t something that had come easily to him. It had begun first as picking up random splashes of energy on people, objects. At first, he’d thought it was his vision going, but an eye doctor confirmed that this was not the case. Ever since he was a child, he’d had extremely good vision, and that hadn’t changed as he got older. So, he’d mentioned it to Sara Morgan in one of their sessions, and she had introduced him into the world of energy, the colors of energy and its significance.
And with much practiced meditation, he’d begun to see clearly, the auras surrounding people.
Helen had been low on energy and surrounded by great splashes of pink and orange. The pink denoted confusion within her emotions and the orange a strong connection to other people who might be influencing her. But rather quickly over the last few days of their association, he was noticing a difference, less pink, less orange, more white and blue-green — strong energy colors. There was a lighter mood to her, more buoyant. And with no humbleness, he knew he could claim credit or rather their association could. They were helping each other already, because he also could feel the energy shifting within himself for the better.
He’d just closed the shop, and they were sitting in the back room with Hazel at their feet.
“So, what do you want for lunch?”
She smiled, “This is your town, what do you recommend?”
He grabbed her hand and impulsively brought it up to his lips kissing it softly. “Well, we can pick up some po’boys at a little seafood place I know, then go picnic somewhere.”
“Sounds nice,” she murmured. But it was clear, her focus was on the hand he was still holding. He breathed deeply. It was difficult. Last night they’d pretty much let the genie out of the bottle and now. Well, there seemed as though there was no going back. Again, he brought her hand up to his lips, kissing it more lingeringly this time.
“Or we could go back to my house, and I’ll fix us something.” She was breathing deeply, and it felt like a spell wrapping around them.
“What are we doing?” she whispered softly but with intent.
He shook his head, “Not really sure Helen Ellis, feels a bit like falling but not in a bad way.” He turned her arm a bit and now brought her wrist softly up to his lips.
“You know, this isn’t really like me.”
“This isn’t like anything. This is all brand new.” And then he reached over, softly drawing her to him, and began kissing her. He kissed her again and again, and he could feel she was not holding anything back. “Let’s go,” he whispered to her. He thought he read some confusion in her eyes, but then it was gone, just acceptance. She nodded then he stood up, soon after pulling her to her feet.
She was going to have an affair. This was the only way Helen could interpret what was happening. It didn’t fit into any other construct that she had been taught since she was a child.
Of course, it was still new to her. She’d never had an affair, although there had been a few opportunities. Several she could remember after her divorce from Kevin. And she had considered it. She was lonely, feeling terrible about herself, but something had held her back — something that clearly was not holding her back now.
They were largely silent as they drove to William’s house. Hazel barked occasionally from the back seat, and once William had reached over to squeeze her hand. “Okay?” he’d said.
She’d nodded, saying nothing. She was afraid a bit, but it had such an edge of excitement, like the unknown. This was her plunging into the unknown, whatever it might bring, but feeling intoxicatingly alive. They pulled into his driveway, and he turned off the car. But he made no move to get out. Finally, after a few moments, he spoke, “I guess I should ask you if you’re sure you want to do this,” he murmured.
She waited, smiling a bit. “Was that a question?” she couldn’t help but saying.
He turned to her, also smiling a bit. “I think that was the lawyer in me trying to cover the bases.”
She nodded, “I’m sure.”
There seemed to be a slight sigh of relief from him. Then he opened his door and stepped out of the car. She did the same. Her answer had been true. She was sure. Whatever would come, whatever it would bring, she was sure. Breathing in the cool mist around her, she noted happily that around them it was a sunny day.
A psychic soul mate, a time traveler, a horror writer, and a enigmatic stranger take a selection of resilient, life-battered heroines to a place of paranormal healing and transformation. In this collection of short stories, White Harbor Road is the last stop where life’s burdens and hardships evolve into something unexpected.