For a little update on what’s happening at Kindle Vella, I posted my last episode of Dumaine Street this past Thursday, January 26. As many endings often are, this was bittersweet. Dumaine Street is a paranormal romance novel I began several years ago. I was so taken by the neighborhoods off of Bayou St. John, particularly the Faubourg St. John area of New Orleans, that I was inspired to write this story with this lovely area as a setting. Dumaine Street, at its heart, is a romance. At its core, it is the tale of two somewhat damaged but extraordinary people who find a way not only to help each other but fall in love in the process. To date, it’s the second and longest Kindle Vella story I’ve ever written. I should begin working on getting it ready for publication as a novel next month. But if you’re not interested in waiting, it will remain posted on Kindle Vella.
In addition, presently, I have two other ongoing Kindle Vella stories. One is my newest, The Alchemist’s Bride, and the other is my werewolf tale, The Story of Enid. I should be posting a new episode for that one sometime this weekend. I also have two other completed stories at Kindle Vella. One is The Lady in the Blue Dress, published recently as a paperback and on Kindle. The other is a long short story, The Most Unlikely of Places, which is a time travel tale.
So, if you want to check out Kindle Vella, type in Evelyn Klebert to find my tales. Also, as always, the first three episodes of any Vella are free to read.
I’ve made so much progress on my Kindle Vella story, Dumaine Street, today. I am two to three episodes away from completing it. To date it’s my longest Kindle Vella story. If you like paranormal romance, make sure to drop by Kindle Vella and check out Dumaine Street. Amazon will give you 200 free tokens if you’re just signing up, and of course, the first three episodes are free to read. Hope you drop by.
Voices in her head, catastrophic emotions, hallucinations, Rebecca Wells is more than convinced that she is losing her mind. And as a last-ditch effort, she contacts a self-professed counselor who seems convinced that he can help. Gabriel Sutton has abandoned the world of medicine to navigate a realm filled with psychic phenomena. Diagnosing Becca with extreme empathic abilities, he struggles to help her stabilize her gifts while trying desperately not to fall in love with his patient.
Well, I’m wrapping up Halloween week here at evelynklebert.com with a short story entitled “The Armstrong.” It’s a tale of two people taking an extraordinary leap of faith to find each other. And given the chaotic state of the world right now, I thought it was important to close this Halloween celebration on an upbeat note of possibility. After all, what extraordinary things could flourish if we could embrace change and perhaps take that elusive leap of faith? I wish you all well and hope you enjoy “The Armstrong.”
It was an old hotel. That was something that could be felt, its history, on her very skin.
She would have preferred something new, walls that hadn’t been around for so many years. Of course, the lobby was impressive with its chandeliers, effigies on the ceiling, vast spaces trimmed with mahogany accents.
But she would have preferred something new, not so vast, not so impressive.
Once she got upstairs, the halls were more narrow, skinny even, filled with rooms facing each other, past the elevator, and at one end, a painting slapped on the wall, an old plantation. Not much thought, someone just thought it looked pretty.
She moved quickly, swiping her room key, then slamming the hotel door behind her. Throwing her shoulder bag down onto the king-sized bed, she checked her watch. It was late, eight-thirty.
She didn’t know why she was here, why she’d come. This was pointless. All of it, but she couldn’t stop. She had no idea how to begin to stop.
After having been dropped off by a handsome cab, the lobby was full when he checked in. It was well into the evening, but there were all manner of individuals milling about The Armstrong — evidently serving as a center of social activity as well as a hotel. A valet had offered to carry his trunk and greatcoat, but he declined. As he took the lift to the third floor, he focused. It was necessary to achieve great concentration.
Fortunately, the narrow hallway to his room was deserted, unlike the downstairs. It could be any place, anywhere, and more than that, any time. He held the key that he’d been given tightly in his hand. And then he closed his eyes just before he put it in the door.
He allowed himself to be pulled, pulled by the life force he sensed. After all, time is an ephemeral construction. What is real power is energy, the magnetism of energy. He allowed himself to be drawn in, and then he opened the door.
“Lydia,” her eyes fluttered open.
Surely, she’d been dreaming. Then the fatigue swept over her, and her eyes drifted closed again. “Lydia, focus.”
Someone was talking to her, but she was asleep. Wasn’t she?
“It’s an in-between state of awareness. Not sleep, not awake. That is how I am able to contact you.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Just listen, my name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor of sorts. And I’ve been looking for you for some time.”
That’s how it had begun, slowly, insidiously. These were contacts that she could attribute to imaginations, indulgences, then later even mental illness.
At times, they’d talk at length in that in-between state. “You’re not ill. You’re gifted. There is a vast difference.”
“What is it you want?”
“I want us to meet.”
“Meet? How? When?”
He seemed somewhat befuddled by her questions. He could see her, and she could see him in that in-between state, often just across the room from her, but the trouble was that he seemed so insubstantial, passing in and out of vision as though he was made of mist at times, a fluttering photo on a blanket of vacillating haze.
Befuddled, yes. “How? Might be a bit easier than the When.”
“Yes, Lydia.” He called her Lydia. Her name was Lilly Page, but Charles insisted on calling her Lydia. He claimed to have known her as such.
“I don’t understand.”
“We need to meet in a particular place, a place where there is a link.”
“What sort of link?”
“It has to do with the When of things.”
She was sitting in the corner of the room, of the shadowed room, waiting quietly when the door began to open. She should have been scared, should have been terrified at what was happening. But she had slipped into the mindset, the altered state that he’d taught her. The one he had drilled in fact, nearly over an entire year, a few evenings a week, then in the last few months every day, every day striving to achieve a sort of mesmeric trance that he taught her.
And she sat quietly as the door swung open. He stepped into the room, not a mist, not part of an imagination, not a dream manifestation. But real, in the flesh. Silently, he closed the door behind him, turning a lock she did not recognize. He placed his oversized black suitcase on the ornate rug covering a wooden floor and draped his long coat over a golden crushed velvet wing-backed chair. She breathed in sharply, somewhat shakily shifting her state. Lilly had become cognizant that her surroundings had shifted around her.
He stared at her from across the room. Blond hair, dark eyes, and dressed — her breath caught in her throat — dressed in a suit “from another time,” he finished. She straightened up in a chair she no longer recognized. He had completed her thought. “It’s a side effect,” he murmured. “From all the intensive alignment we’ve been working at.”
“Alignment?” she murmured.
“Yes, to make this possible. As I said, the When of things was always going to be more problematic. But we’ve overcome that.”
She was coming to herself now, out of the trance. The room had grown. In fact, they were in a sort of sitting room, and beyond an archway was another room. It was a suite, whereas she’d been in a single room. And the décor was more elegant, like the hotel — mahogany furniture, velveteen, and tapestry chairs, paintings of soft country-side scenes, placed on the walls as though someone had given it thought, not just haphazardly hung them.
“I don’t understand—”
“The place is a mix of your time in 2019 and mine in 1904.”
He had moved closer to her and was standing in front of her. “It doesn’t seem like a mix. It seems to be wholly in your court.”
“There are subtle differences,” he murmured, though his eyes seemed purely transfixed on her. “Can I take your hand, Lydia?” he said rather abruptly.
“Lilly, my name is Lilly.”
“I’m sorry,” he held out his hand for her as though she’d agreed. But she did allow it, allowed him to take her hand, and he rather firmly pulled her to her feet and then into a warm, intense embrace. “I don’t know if I believed it was possible to really reach you.”
It was the writings that he began to find first, in odd places, tucked away in books, in his desk, and on the pages of his own personal journal.
The penmanship was odd, not flowing, and well composed as most writing he’d encountered. But rough, and not in script at all, but rather some blockish-looking print.
It’s odd. I’ve been having these headaches more often lately. The doctor can’t find anything in particular wrong with me, just stress, she said.
He’d found the writing on an unfamiliar stationery stuffed in a book on Animal Magnetism that he was reading by Franz Mesmer.
She even did a CT scan, but nothing. Stress — the convenient diagnosis when they have no idea what is wrong with you. It’s frustrating, and I didn’t even bother to tell her about the dreams. After all, they are just dreams.
The paper was thin, filled with lines, and the ink was an odd color, a forest green shade. He had no idea where it had come from, perhaps just the shop where he’d purchased the book. But such a strange note.
And then he found another.
I’m starting a dream journal. Not sure why except I’m desperate to get things sorted out somehow.
He found this one on the same sort of paper stuffed in a nightstand by his bed. It was quite impossible unless the housekeeper or a maid had left it there. He would question them thoroughly as the hour was quite late when he’d discovered it.
Last night I dreamed I was walking through an unfamiliar house, a large place old-fashioned with a great staircase just past the entrance. As I ascended to the second floor, I put my hand on the rail, a heavy dark wood. I turned the corner past the stairs, and there was a long hallway filled with doors. Then someone was beside me, but I couldn’t turn to look. It was like a paralysis, but he whispered in my ear, a deep voice. “Which door will you choose, Lydia, or will you go back to whence you came?”
It shook him, the name Lydia. It was an odd sensation, not a word that was precisely in his memory but in his other memory, sense memory he’d read about in a book on magnetism. This was a deeper sort of holistic phenomenon attributed to the spiritual plane.
He sunk down onto the mattress of his queen-sized bed. The scrap of paper he held in his hand was fluttering. And given his usually methodical nature, it was a bit shocking. But his hand was shaking, not just that he was trembling, trembling all over. He schooled himself to breathe deeply, calmly, but it was next to impossible. His eyes again scanned over the curious script. It felt familiar, something he should know or would know.
Of course, he would check with his housekeeper, Mrs. Farrow, and the two maids, Cecily and Lucy. He didn’t really need two. He was a widower, but Lucy was Mrs. Farrow’s daughter, and she had asked for her employment, a sort of favor to help her find her way. There was still that possibility that it was one of them. He folded the paper over, putting it on the nightstand. The name Lydia, he knew it but from where?
Her head spun with dizziness. “Try to anchor yourself,” he whispered in her ear. She did. She focused on the reality she was experiencing now, in her mind accepting that this new place was now her plane of existence.
He continued to hold her, gently rubbing her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t know if it was helping or distracting, but she liked it, allowing herself to relax in his embrace. “I cannot tell you how pleased I am to meet you finally,” he murmured. And she felt it, through his touch, the emotions she felt in his thoughts seeping through the embrace. “You’re so sensitive.”
“I—” she began, having no idea where to begin.
“You must tell your mind that this is real.”
She felt her knees begin to buckle as the reality of her exhaustion swept over her. She felt him sweep his hands under her knees and scoop her up just before she collapsed. “I can’t—” she whispered as she lost consciousness.
When had all this started? She couldn’t remember, probably with the journal. It was supposed to be a dream journal but turned into something else, something she would scribble thoughts and feelings in at odd times during the day. She’d taken a semester off from work. She taught English Literature at a local university, but the inexplicable medical issues had made things too complicated. Kindly, they’d given her time to sort things out, though she was several months in and felt no closer to anything being settled.
One day though, a chilly day late in September, she’d opened her journal to find the curious writing just below her entry.
It was a fine penmanship and strange ink, completely different from her thick green ballpoint pen.
To Whoever May Receive This,
Please take note this is an experiment on my part, an indulgence if you will. The headaches you are experiencing may be connected to a hyperconnectic experience. Do not assume that they are traditionally physiological in the sense that most may experience.
She remembered staring at the page in total confusion. Lilly Page lived alone in a townhouse in New Orleans. No one else had access to this journal. Of course, the panic had surged up inside her. Maybe she was losing her mind. Maybe this was some sort of multiple personality disorder. The possibilities that she concocted were quite horrifying. So, she did the only thing she could think of, she answered.
Please tell me, who is this. You are frightening me.
Two days later, there was an answer in the same formal antiquated script.
Forgive me. My name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor.
How are you doing this?
I found your journal in my bureau some days ago. I believe I am supposed to help you.
It’s difficult to know what to believe and what not to believe once events step out of your ordinary parameter of thinking. Lilly left the journal alone for about a week. She considered all sorts of things, primarily among them all that she was having some sort of a break from reality — schizophrenia, multiple personalities, a brain tumor. But no, they’d done a CT scan. That wasn’t a possibility.
She thought to throw the journal out into the trash. But she couldn’t bring herself to. The headaches continued, and she was becoming desperate.
Look, I can’t deal with much right now. I’m in too much pain. If this is some kind of trick or worse, or if it’s just me having some sort of breakdown, then have a little mercy and —
She stopped writing. What else could she say?
She closed the journal, put it on her little white desk in the corner of her bedroom, and pushed it away for a few moments.
Then tentatively, she slid the old-fashioned looking leather-bound book she’d purchased from Barnes and Noble back towards her. Taking a breath, she flipped it back open to the ribbon-marked page that she’d just written on. Just under her writing was a new entry, scribed in that exquisite penmanship.
So, I believe it falls upon me to convince you that I am not a delusion elicited from the depths of psychosomatic illness. Very well, as I said, my name is Charles Del Couer. I am a practicing physician at the Hotel Dieu, French Hospital, Charity Hospital, and Mercy Hospital. I am a member of The Society of Magnetism in New Orleans. I live in a house along the Esplanade Avenue near The Bayou St. John. I am a widower.
Her eyes blinked. Some of those hospitals he listed she wasn’t even aware had ever existed, and the Society of Magnetism. What exactly was that? So how could she create something that she had no knowledge of?
Her head had begun again to pound unmercifully. So, she wrote with a shaky hand.
I’m not trying to insult you. I just have to be sure. It’s been difficult. She closed her eyes and let the pen drift from her hand, trying to mentally will the pain to subside.
She could hear the sound in her ears, a voice murmuring in her mind. She began to take long, measured breaths, in and out.
“Try to focus on allowing the pain to subside. Let it drift away slowly with every breath.”
Again, she focused. With every breath in, she concentrated, and with every breath out she relaxed, allowing the pain to slowly drain away from her temples and forehead. And it was helping, she could feel it. The pain was still dull but a ghost of the intensity that it had been.
“Good, now try to lie down on your bed and rest for a bit. I will continue to focus energy to you.”
She didn’t reply. She simply groggily did as she was directed to do. She didn’t mentally put it together at that moment who was speaking to her and leading her. She was just grateful for the help. She drifted effortlessly into sleep, moving into quiet, until she dreamed of a great house near the water and a man speaking softly to her.
Dreams became a link between them. Perhaps from the first time when she’d read what Charles had written in her journal and then when he’d directed her, helped her, and perhaps mesmerized her into a deep sleep as was his way.
In this dream, she was still in her room, in the bed but now it was layered with a different room — one she didn’t recognize. She sat in the bed and saw the enormous mahogany rolltop desk against the wall and the man sitting in a straight wooden chair next to it.
He was there, but insubstantial as was his room, quite different from the usual space she inhabited.
“What is this?” she meant to speak but felt it as something else emanating from a place that wasn’t exactly sound.
“You should be resting Lydia, not forcing a connection at this juncture.”
“What does that mean? Forcing a connection?”
His clothes, suit rather, was antiquated, but his tie hung loosely untied at the collar of his white shirt. “We, you, and I clearly will be communicating. Somehow we’ve bridged the space that traditionally separates us.”
“Space?” she murmured.
“Yes, space is the only adequate description of what separates us. Time is an artificial construct.” Her eyes were examining him. He wasn’t old, older than her but not by much. His hair was a dark blond shade, and he had a well-kept beard and mustache.”
“You’re Charles,” she murmured.
He eyed her oddly, with curiosity, she felt, because she was feeling so many things. “Yes, yes, I am. You should rest.”
“My name isn’t Lydia,” she said, while she felt the fatigue take her over again.
“I know,” was the last thing she heard him say.
She slowly opened her eyes but wasn’t sure where she’d be when she opened them. She felt the pressure of his hand atop hers. Flesh upon flesh, not that insubstantial contact that she’d come to expect between them.
“Lydia,” he murmured, softly brushing her hair away from her forehead.
“Charles,” she whispered. “Where are we? Still in between?”
He nodded, “Seems so,” squeezing her hand. “How are you feeling?”
She glanced around the room, again seeing the ornate vintage furnishings but noting now tapestry-type wallpaper that she did not remember before. “It’s changing,” she whispered.
Again, he squeezed her hand. His eyes were blue with amber flecks. She’d never been so close to him to see that before. They were actually together. It worked.
“Yes, it has,” he said softly, looking at her with quite a degree of tenderness. He’d read her mind, heard her thoughts as he’d done before. And she remembered now how along the way she’d completely fallen in love with him.
“I don’t understand how this is possible.”
He’d led her through a guided meditation, initially writing her the instructions in her journal. After guiding her with his voice in her mind a few times, he then communicated with thought transference once she was deep in the meditation.
“Is this like hypnosis?”
“Not exactly, it travels well beyond simple mesmerism. We have genuinely connected on an astral plane.”
And it was dazzling, talking to him as though he were right next to her and sometimes seeing impressions of him in his home, but not concrete, more translucent.
She was sleeping soundly, and he knew he dare not disturb her, no matter how tempted he was. He paced the room, noting that it did indeed seem to be slipping away from her timeline and more into his. He wasn’t sure why exactly, only that things seemed unstable.
“The headaches, my love, are they worse after our sessions?”
He didn’t know when it had started, when he’d started referring to her as my love. It just seemed to have popped up organically, and she didn’t stop him. It was easy, easy to slip into. She seemed so vulnerable and accessible in some way though insubstantial, like some sort of a dream.
“No, they’re actually better after I spend time with you. They crop up when I’m doing other things, going to work, doing things in the outside world here.” He was extremely focused on her as she spoke, having glimpses into her life, flashes of her moving through her life. And then deeper, slipping deeper into the physiology of what was happening.
He could see her, see her body in two spaces. There was tremendous stress on her energy systems. In her modern era, Lilly’s aura was becoming chaotic, bleeding energy to stabilize itself.
He questioned if he’d caused this, if their contact resulted in this divided stress.
“Can’t you rest, my love?” he’d asked.
“It’s difficult. I’m always tired, bothered, even when I sleep.”
“Sleeping isn’t always rest, you know,” he murmured. “Some believe it’s traveling to other realities.”
“Yes, this life, this awareness we experience in waking hours is only a small part of actual living.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Give it time Lydia,” so odd how that name kept slipping out. “Then you will understand.”
Of course, she fell in love with him. Why would she agree to attempt such a thing, such an unthinkable meeting, attempting what rationality told her was impossible? But what was really rational and what was not?
She opened her eyes to look around the room. On the bedside table was a platter of fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine next to it.
She sat up shakily in the unfamiliar bed as it wasn’t the one that had been there once she’d checked into the hotel. “Are we celebrating?” she murmured.
He was across the room, back to her, staring out a window whose heavy brocade drapes he’d pushed back with his hand. He turned around quickly in response to her inquiry. “How are you feeling?”
She smiled, “I’ve no clue yet. Dizzy, I guess.”
“I thought you’d want to eat something.”
He sat beside her on the bed, taking her pulse without asking, then lightly feeling her forehead. “Will I live?” she asked lightly.
He squeezed her hand, and she felt that draw to him. She’d always felt it before, but not concrete, not like this with his skin next to hers. “You better. I’ve put a lot of effort into this.”
She nodded, “What now, though?” She wasn’t sure she wanted an answer. If they succeeded, they hadn’t really discussed it. And now that they had what was on the other side of this moment was the question.
“Why don’t you eat something? Then we can sort things out.”
She reached for a strawberry holding it in her hand for a moment, and a curious thought crossed her mind. She felt a bit like Persephone, eating the pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Once she took a bit, would she be unable to go back? Would she be forever linked to where he was? She looked at him oddly, wondering, feeling as though he indeed did know the answer. She didn’t really hesitate. She didn’t regret anything. She simply took a bite.
“The Armstrong” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with theUnknown: The Hotel Stories.
In “Too Many Pens,” an artist finds a very routine stay at a hotel slowly transforming into a place of romance and mystery. “Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. Two unique travelers find love and themselves trapped in a French Quarter hotel during an unexpected tropical tempest in “The Storm.” In, “The Armstrong,” two people from different eras try to bridge the gap of time itself in an old historic hotel. “Variables” tells the story of a dimension traveler battling to rescue a man from a devastating fate. And “Hotels in the Time of Covid,” explores a relationship between a news reporter and her spirit guide.
Follow the unpredictable lure of the supernatural in this collection of Hotel Stories.
What if every choice you’ve ever made is much more impactful than you could truly imagine? A young woman confronts this reality and a very terrifying customer in my next Halloween Story, “The Left Palm.”
The Left Palm
Fear, a manifestation of fear, certainly this was it. It was the only explanation, the one that made any sense she could live with.
She looked outside the bedroom window of her apartment onto her small secluded concrete patio. Hopefully, this time it would be gone. Shakily peering through the blinds, her heart clutched in her chest. It was nearly midnight, but the nearby streetlamps still illuminated the enclosed space, reflecting off its thick black coat. It turned its face toward her, unmistakably a pure, black wolf with eerily pale blue eyes.
She stepped back, allowing the blinds to snap back into place.
Again, it feverishly crossed her mind to call the police, or the SPCA, or the fire department — frankly, anyone. But each time she moved to pick up her cell phone, a paralysis crept in. Something inside her refused, absolutely refused to follow through.
Silently, she crept back onto her daybed, pulling the covers tightly around her. In the morning, it would be gone. It always was. After all, this was the third night in a row she’d seen it.
It was summertime, unbearably hot and humid in the city. But she made her way to the college by the lake, where she was taking one graduate course in Victorian Literature. It was a nine o’clock class. After lunch, she would head to the French Quarter for the rest of the day, where she worked oddly enough as a Tarot card reader at a small shop on Chartres Street.
Granted, it was a unique profession, but one that she literally fell into. She’d been working at a gift shop on Decatur Street and, feeling the pinch of inflation, began looking for a second job. A sign was boldly taped on the door of The Left Palm, “Looking for Part-Time Help.” The front of the store itself was filled with books, candles, and even clothing, so naturally, she’d assumed that it must be a sales position. She just sort of drifted in with no idea of what she was getting into.
The lady that greeted her from behind a glass counter was older, at least late fifties. She had substantially long black hair, dramatically streaked with gray, which was piled up in a low bun behind her head. Presenting quite a striking image, she wore a sort of electric blue caftan dress and an ornate oriental scarf draped across her shoulder. But when she’d met her eyes, there was no smile but rather an almost suspicious expression reflected through her intently plucked black eyebrows. “Yes,” she’d asked nearly sternly.
She breathed in deeply, suddenly feeling as though she’d like to slink off somewhere and forget the whole thing. “Well,” she hesitated, quelling a bizarre combination of panic and curiosity, “I saw your sign outside about a job opening.”
The slim dark woman who’d been leaning over the glass counter in front of her now straightened up. It was difficult not to be struck by the regalness of her bearing. “You’re looking for a job?” She asked flatly.
“Yes, I am.”
She nodded, feeling amazingly uncomfortable, “Yes, that’s fine.”
And then she outstretched one of her hands that were ornamented by very long, bright red nails and placed it flatly on the glass case in front of her. “So, you’re a reader.”
She hesitated, “A reader?” asking with surprise.
“Yes, we need a Tarot reader.” Suddenly Claudia glanced around the store and took it all in — crystal balls, new age paraphernalia. Of course, now she understood. It wasn’t a sales position at all. Again, the woman repeated in low tones, “You are a reader.”
And Claudia, with great confidence, met her dark eyes and answered quite directly, “Yes, I am.”
Prior to working at The Left Palm, it had all been a hobby, an eccentric interest. She’d done Tarot readings since high school for friends, relatives, but never herself. Long ago, she’d recognized that she simply couldn’t read for herself. It was too personal, as though she was always searching for something. And it was frustrating because more than she wanted to know anything, she wanted to understand about herself. She needed to know why all her romantic entanglements ended disastrously if she’d ever finally finish her degree, if she’d stop having to work so much, and if her life would ever settle down. But The Left Palm had proved to be more lucrative than she imagined at first. The pay was primarily commission, and before long she had developed a clientele. At times, the work she’d found less than rewarding and, at its worst, completely draining.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, the money was too good to relinquish. Even with an assistantship at school, there were too many bills to pay. So, Claudia continued to read people’s fortunes, all kinds of people.
And on the early morning drive to school in late July, she wondered if there was some connection in this, in her work and the black wolf that had prowled her patio for the last three nights.
It had rained earlier in the morning, which increased the humidity to an almost oppressive extent. She’d always loved this city but did not love the summers. She yearned for the fall again, when it would be easier to breathe.
The summers were a quiet time around here, but this morning seemed exceptionally quiet. As she entered the English building, hearing her sandals lightly tap on the stone floor, it struck her suddenly how deserted everything seemed. When she’d arrived, she’d noted a few souls wandering about in the parking lot and then sitting on the library steps as she passed by, but the English building was now virtually empty.
Then, as she finally reached the door of the classroom, she understood at least one of the reasons why: A note on the door, “Class Cancelled.” She thought longingly of how she could still be in bed catching up from another largely sleepless night.
Her thought was to go home, try to catch just a few more hours, but such fatigue suddenly filled her that she couldn’t even muster the effort. So, instead, she wandered outside and sat down on the first bench that came along. Just a few minutes, she thought, only a few to regroup. She leaned back against its wooden frame and closed her eyes, trying to draw energy from anywhere.
It was some moments before her eyes flickered open again before she noticed that a rather substantial shadow had fallen over her. But when she did, she instinctively straightened up in a jolt. It was quite unexpected. Not a cloud passing over, but a man standing in front of her. a man dressed in a black suit, standing a few feet away, just watching.
The sun shone directly in her eyes. She attempted to block the glare with one hand, trying to get a clearer glimpse of this stranger. Bearded, dark, possibly black hair, but skin fair, she straightened up a bit more, expecting something from him, some sort of conversation, but nothing.
“Umm, can I help you with something?” she asked in puzzlement. And then, an unnerving wide smile spread across his face. Suddenly, a flash of sunlight stung her eyes so painfully that she quickly squinted. But more disturbing than that was that when she reopened them, the stranger was gone. She bolted up, quickly scanning in all directions but seeing no one that even remotely resembled his form. He’d simply vanished. An unexpected chill of fear traveled up her spine and spread out, making her skin feel like ice. She quickly began heading back to her car, moving so fast that it nearly felt like a run.
“You look awful.”
After an hour of sleep and a quick shower, she somehow managed to drag herself into work for noon. Madame Christina stood behind the front counter with a frown on her face. Over the year Claudia worked at The Left Palm, she’d come to a plateau of understanding with the shop owner. Christina Duverje rarely smiled, had a sour disposition, and was profoundly psychic. Once you accepted all these facts about the woman, life working at the French Quarter shop could be bearable. “No sleep,” she murmured as she crossed the threshold. “Any appointments today?” she asked, secretly hoping there were none. Between the wolf literally at her door and the disappearing stranger at the University, her nerves were frayed to the point of unraveling. What would be most medicinal would be a nice quiet, uneventful afternoon.
“No, my sweet,” the older woman commented. “Just a few stray walk-ins this morning. Wednesdays, as you know, are notoriously slow around here. But I have some new stock you could put on the shelves while I go to lunch.”
Claudia nodded. Just for a moment, she thought about confiding the recent bizarre occurrences in her life to her boss. But something kept her silent. Somehow talking about them felt as though it would become more real. Madame Christina had already gathered her things from a locked drawer beneath the counter. “You can ring me on my cell if things get too busy. Marguerite will be in at one. And I probably won’t be back for a while. I’m meeting an old friend.”
Claudia smiled with distraction as her boss noiselessly exited, except, of course, for the delicate chiming of the bells positioned strategically over the entrance. She breathed out a deep sigh of fatigue. It would be an hour until their very high-energy palmist swept through the door, hopefully, a quiet hour to regroup. She sat on a stool behind the glass counter at The Left Palm and attempted to clear her mind. It was stress that she felt all over her, crawling over her skin, sapping her strength. She should have simply called in sick, but the truth of the matter was she didn’t want to go home. The memory of the black wolf last night prowling her patio left a fear wrapped around her heart. It was clear that whatever was happening couldn’t continue. She needed help, but precisely what kind of help was the ultimate question.
Claudia was deeply lost in thought when the bells at the doorway of The Left Palm chimed to signal the entrance of someone. She came to her feet quickly but, in the next moment, stood literally rooted to the spot as a man rounded the corner of a book display. Her breath caught. There was no mistake, the black suit, pale face, and now, as he approached the counter, she could see very clearly the ice-blue eyes.
He stood in front of her, not unlike what he had done earlier at the University. But there was no hint of expression on his face, just a calm appraisal. They stared at each other silently, and then, almost against her will, the words slipped out, “What do you want?”
Now, there was a smile, the kind that didn’t touch the eyes. He spoke in a low voice with a clipped British accent. “Why, I think I’d like a Tarot card reading.”
They were like booths, partitioned with long red curtains at the back of the store. Madame Christina had set up the first one in particular with a slim sightline through the curtain to the front entrance. Business wasn’t booming enough that there would always be more than one person working at a time. So, this was a way to alert a reader if there was another person in the store. Within each booth, there was a card table covered by a soft white, silken scarf and two chairs on either side. They were very nice padded armchairs Christina had obtained from a friend at a nearby antique store. It was all very atmospheric, which was necessary, given that they charged sixty dollars for only a thirty-minute reading.
And today, Claudia was giving that reading to a man who called himself simply “Neil.”
She had no idea why she was doing this. It was crazy. It was crazy. A thousand excuses, a thousand lies had flooded up to her mind the moment he asked for a reading. But she seemed incapable of uttering even one, just stood there staring at him blankly, as though he had just asked to clean out their cash register. And then he’d asked quite calmly, “Is that all right?”
And she answered too quickly on its heels, “Yes,” without paying attention to what her brain was screaming at her. The man himself was calm, collected and showed no indication whatsoever that he’d ever laid eyes on her his whole life. And then, the doubts crept in. Perhaps, it was her. Perhaps, she’d had some premonition of their meeting. That was why she’d seen him before. But why and what did it mean?
And now, here she was only moments earlier feeling content and pleased to have the shop to herself, and now literally counting down the minutes until Marguerite flew in the front door like a tornado. Blessed tornado, for once in your life, please be on time.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
She glanced up at him, again entertaining the gaze of those strange, blue eyes. She’d tried to avoid looking at them too often. They were pale, disturbingly pale. She had tried to gage the man’s age somewhat, but found it difficult — late thirties, early forties, hard to say. And that suit, that was one of the oddest things of all. It was a nice suit but so unsuitable for this time of year — so heavy, so hot. Then again, maybe he worked in a funeral parlor. She started to shuffle the oversized Tarot deck in her hands and leaned back in her chair. “No, everything’s fine. Have you had your cards read before?” she asked, her eyes still downcast, concentrating on the cards.
“How old are you?” She looked up, a bit surprised at the question.
“I’m twenty-four,” she answered a bit guardedly.
He nodded, “Seems young.”
She stopped shuffling and, perhaps a bit too abruptly, placed the cards on the table. “If you’d prefer a more seasoned reader, Madame Marguerite will be back this afternoon.”
“No,” he murmured. “That’s not what I meant. And yes.”
She looked at him with puzzlement, “Yes?”
“You asked if I have had my cards read before.”
She looked down again, nervously picking up the deck. “Oh yes, well, is there anything, in particular, you’d like to know about?”
Again, he answered “Yes,” rather quietly.
She glanced up. He was watching her again with that odd curious expression as though he were expecting something. “Well, then, as you shuffle the cards, you should concentrate on it.”
She reached over, handing him the deck and feeling the brush of his fingertips as he did. The contact was startling, disturbing. The only way that she could describe it was electric and cold at the same time. She pulled her hand away, feeling an absolute numbness in her fingers now. Instinctively, she glanced through the slim opening in the curtains toward the front door, but nothing, no movement. And then she glanced at her watch, forty minutes until Marguerite. Murmuring to him, she said, “We’ll begin now.”
She glanced up, noting that he’d stopped shuffling the cards. Suddenly, she realized she’d neglected to pull out a significator. “I’m sorry, I forgot—”
But then she stopped mid-sentence as the man who called himself Neil was holding out a card to her. “It’s all right,” he said. “I pulled it myself.”
She hesitantly took the card in her hand and flipped it over. “The Hermit,” she read. “That’s an unusual choice. I mean for someone whose—”
“Not old?” he finished. She looked up again. He was smiling that slight odd smile as though he was somewhat amused. “Well, I might be older than you think.” And then he handed her the deck.
“You really should cut them three times.”
Slowly, he shook his head, “Not necessary. They’re fine.”
She nodded hesitantly, placing the Hermit in the center of the table as she began the spread.
“You have a strange style.”
It was her job interview or, rather, her audition as a Tarot card reader for Madame Christina Duverje. At the time, she’d smiled back at the dour older woman feeling without question that there was no way in hell she was getting this job. She had no professional experience as a Tarot reader, and this woman, well, she oozed experience in so many spheres.
She continued driving home her point, “You’re very weak on specifics.” She glanced at her over the Tarot spread that Claudia had just boldly read for her. Naturally, she had given her all and hadn’t held back. It wouldn’t do, she thought, to appear hesitant. After all, she’d believed these people were seventy-five percent theatrics anyway. Christina Duverje eyed her critically, slowly shredding away any feigned confidence she’d brought with her. “You know,” she went on, “Clients like specifics. The man they’re going to meet, who’s going to have a baby, illnesses, even who’s going to kick the bucket.” All of this she delivered with a straight face, as those these were only the facts of the business. And then she pointed one of her menacingly long fingernails at her, “But you, you’re too vague.”
She nodded, mentally considering what her next plan of action would be. Maybe a job at a mall, although she did hate the late hours. And then Madame Christina had completely surprised her. She had reached out with one of her elaborately manicured hands and placed it atop Claudia’s. She looked up into the older woman’s dark eyes. “But you know, I think there’s something there. With a little coaching, you could do this.” She literally couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And, good to her word, she had coached her, albeit briefly, just enough to get her up and running. But today, this day, in front of this man, she could literally feel all of that confidence that she’d built up over the past year slowly melting away.
She swallowed on a dry throat as she finished laying the Celtic spread, her hands hesitating over the cards. Again, it was crazy. This not only seldom happened. This never happened. It was all major Arcana cards. The first twenty-two cards of the Tarot, the most powerful cards in the deck, and this guy had ten of them, plus the Hermit that they’d started with. “Umm,” she began, just stunned. “Are you sure you shuffled these well?”
“Yes,” he answered pointedly, “as did you.”
She nodded. That was right. She had shuffled them. And she did see him do so, or at least she thought she did. “This is just very strange.”
“Really?” he answered with little emotion.
She glanced up, “Would you like to redo it?”
“No,” he stated flatly.
She distractedly frowned, “Okay,” placing the rest of the deck down on the table.
“Do you read palms?” he asked.
She looked up, “No, our palmist will be arriving very soon if—”
“No, I was just wondering if you did.”
She forced a smile and shook her head, “No, sorry. No, just the cards.”
“I wondered because of the name of your shop — The Left Palm.”
“Madame Christina does read palms as well,” again seized with the hope that their interaction would be cut short.
“Do you know what that means?”
She stared at him blankly. “I’m sorry?” she said with genuine confusion.
“The Left Palm, do you know its significance?”
She shook her head slowly, “No, not really,” feeling that chill sweep over her again, the one she’d felt at his fingertips.
He spoke slowly and deliberately, “The left palm charts the path of the spirit. Did you know that?” he asked with deliberation. Again, she shook her head, feeling greatly unnerved by this turn in the conversation. And then, he placed both of his hands face down on the table in front of her. “I’d like to show you something. So, you can get an idea of who I really am.” She stared at him with confusion but was unable to utter a sound, just like before. And then slowly, he turned over his left hand, and at that moment, time just truly seemed to stop. Her eyes blurred over in disbelief at what she was seeing. His hand, his entire palm, had no creases, no lines in it at all. It was entirely blank.
“Oh God,” she finally managed to mutter brokenly.
“So, now Claudia, I would like to spend these last minutes we have together not reading my cards because, as you might have guessed, I know exactly what they say. But instead, having a little talk that is long overdue.”
It began when her grandmother died. She’d been ill for some time and had stayed with her family at her parent’s home toward the end. She’d even briefly shared a room with Claudia, which had made the little girl, who was only eight, somewhat uneasy. It wasn’t the recognition of her grandmother’s failing health or even that particular sensation of agitation that seemed to surround the older woman at the end. It was as if her soul was fighting the change. It created a discordant feeling between the body and the spirit that felt the pull to escape. Of course, all of this she didn’t recognize at eight. But she did see them — all around, and in the end, all the time. Some were spirits that looked like a bright glow of light, and others came in more tangible forms, people moving around the room, talking to her grandmother — whispers all the time whispers, and then, the last night, right at the end, the angels. Beautiful lights, white, gold, long robes glowing, when they took her with them. When her grandmother did pass on, it hadn’t registered at all to Claudia that there was still a body there. She had already left with the angels, and there remained a disturbing emptiness once they were gone.
She breathed in deeply, deep painful breaths of fear. “Oh God, what do you want?” she asked.
He smiled coldly, so coldly. “Now, we get down to it. There’s no reason to panic.”
“The wolf,” she whispered.
“A messenger to let you know I was coming. But I see you didn’t quite get that did you.”
She glanced around, looking at the door. Still no sign of Marguerite, and it was ten to one.” She’s going to be late,” he stated flatly. “Late enough for us to finish this.”
“Finish what?” she snapped out.
“I need a promise.”
“You’re out of your mind. I’m not signing anything.” She almost yelled emphatically.
He laughed softly, leaning back in Madame Cristina’s antique chair, “You’ve seen too many movies. No, my dear, you’re not important enough for that. I just want a promise.”
“What kind of promise?” she knew that she shouldn’t have asked. She knew she should have run, run like crazy to the nearest holy ground. But instead, she asked what should not have been asked.
She stared at him blankly in bewilderment, “What?”
“What I need is fewer complications.”
“And I need a vacation. What’s your point?”
He smiled, “Actually, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You need a vacation, and I need less complications. All I ask from you is that you live your life, a nice life, a comfortable life perhaps but stay out of my way.”
She stared at this strange aberration of a person in complete confusion. “What?” was the only response she could think of, “What does that mean?”
His pale face seemed to harden a bit. Evidently, she wasn’t giving quite the expected answers. “Let me paint you a picture, my dear. One life, things go smoothly. You finish college. You get a nice job. You get a house, a car. You marry a nice man, have children, live quietly, peacefully, sound nice?”
She shrugged. Did he really want an answer?
“Another picture,” he continued in a silky low voice. “A life of struggle. It takes a while to finish school, not enough money. Not so easy to land a job. Things interfere, unfair things. You continue to work, sometimes several jobs. No house, not enough money. Maybe no husband, maybe no children. Always a battle, always some impediment. Sound nice?” he asked with an edge of sarcasm.
“So, you’re saying if I stay out of your way, I get the first life. And if I don’t?”
“The wolf will always be at the door,” and then he smiled coldly, “So, to speak.”
Her heart thudded loudly in her chest. Her head was spinning. Was this real or some sort of deluded dream? Impossible, how could it be?
And then the answer came to her softly, almost silently, in a whisper — angels. She remembered now from back then. She’d told her mother about them, expecting, completely expecting her to say she was crazy, or that she had imagined them.
“You didn’t,” she’d said. “It’s a gift that you could see them; they’ll always be there for you when you need them.”
And she had. She’d seen them again five years later when her mother died unexpectedly. She knew then that she was right. It had been and was now a gift.
For a moment, the coldness seemed to lift enough for her to think clearly. So, she reached out slowly and gathered the cards together, quietly glancing down at her watch. She met his ice-blue eyes and said calmly with confidence. “Your time is up.”
He frowned explicitly, “Are you sure you’re making the right decision Claudia?”
She nodded with assurance, “Yes.” And she kept him in her sight until he left.
“The Left Palm” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural.
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.
It’s that spooky season again and Halloween Month here at evelynklebert.com. Every week I’ll be posting a creepy/paranormal short story. My first story features my favorite werewolf Ethan Garraint as well as some of his more unusual friends. I hope you enjoy, “The Broken Window.”
“I’m not sure, not at all sure what the problem is.”
“Is it the glass?”
“Doesn’t seem to be. It’s made of the same glass as all the other windows along the wall.”
“Perhaps the sizing of the glass is off.”
“I don’t know. That seems to be a bit unlikely. After all, this is the third time.”
“Are you serious? The third time?”
“Yes Ma’am, last Thursday, Tuesday, and then today.”
Moira frowned. It was Saturday evening at the East Bank Regional Public Library, and she was staring at a two-story tall wall of plate glass windows — in particular, one pane whose glass was not shattered but oddly cracked from the center out.
“You want me to put up the yellow tape?”
She shrugged with distraction. “I suppose. I’ll call someone to fix it, but it’s the weekend. They probably won’t do anything until Monday.” She continued to stare for a moment, oddly transfixed for some inexplicable reason. After all, it was just a window. It didn’t mean anything.
Moira was a part-time librarian at the library, at least for the present. Her plans were uncertain, her life in flux. She didn’t intend to make a career here, just fill a gap or a chasm as she often looked at it. She’d actually only been working here a month, and the window problem. Well, the night watchman had indicated it had started about two weeks ago. She tapped her pen on the wooden counter in front of her, just two weeks.
“Working late tonight Moira?”
She glanced up from the computer terminal where she’d been constructing an inventory form. “Yes, until nine. How about you?”
Sally Clark stared at her with that wild animated look that she always seemed to possess. “No, no, I’m out of here at six. Wish you were coming. My boyfriend has a friend—”
Her voice droned on in Moira’s ears, but she had tuned her out. Sally was, well, predictable. She was closing in on forty, and although Moira was only several years her junior, she looked on in trepidation with anyone Sally could set her up with. Sally was a lovely woman, but Moira was sure their taste in men might not even rub elbows in this universe.
She snapped a book closed, looking up at Sally, whose hair had been dyed an odd reddish-blonde color when Moira wasn’t paying attention. But it seemed as if she’d concluded her ramble. “You have a great evening.”
“Maybe some other time,” Sally tacked on enthusiastically. She was actually a nice lady, and Moira should be nicer. But, well, she wasn’t. So instead of responding, she just smiled, waiting patiently for her co-worker to exit.
It was Saturday evening, but the staff tonight in the whole two-story structure of the East Bank library would be there tonight; however, only four, as opposed to the usual six, were closing.
The desk in reference where she stood had a clear view of that problematic cracked window. It was odd, disturbing, and alerted her to something deep within her skin that perhaps told her it was time to move on, although she’d only been here a mere month.
She sighed deeply from somewhere at her core, glancing down at her hands that were spread out on the wooden counter. And there, right on the ring finger was a tell-tale white mark indicating where a band had once been, a band that was now missing.
Instinctively she balled her left hand up in a fist almost protectively.
She ran her hand through her short brown hair. It was a sensible haircut that she’d gotten just before she came to work here. After all, if Moira Archer wanted to be a librarian, she needed to look the part. But she missed her hair, her long auburn-colored hair that she’d dyed a shade of dark brown. It was best not to stand out. Nervously, she strummed her fingers again on the counter, staring at the broken window, broken strangely, almost as if it imploded internally from pressure but pressure from an odd point.
She breathed in deeply. It was unfortunate because she’d hoped to stay longer. It was unfortunate but unavoidable. Tonight, after work, she would go home to her small apartment on West Napoleon Avenue, pack up her car and leave. She would leave behind the furniture that she’d just bought and decorated with, leave behind the friends, although just a handful that she’d just begun to make, leave behind everything, and start over somewhere else. She thought perhaps of the mountains, maybe driving up into the Ozarks. There it would be more difficult. There were so many varying energies that would block things. But then again, that was why she’d come to New Orleans with the same thought, perhaps if she’d settled deeper in the city.
But she shook these second guesses out of her mind. The broken window could be a coincidence, but she was not in a position to gamble.
She tried to focus on the screen in front of her. It was just after six. She just needed to get through the next three hours, although she was not beyond walking out. That indeed was a possibility.
Again she stared at the computer screen in front of her, mind cluttered, unable to concentrate. It wasn’t as if it mattered if she worked much tonight. She’d already decided she was leaving. And the fatality of that understanding left her with a heavy heart. She liked her little apartment with its light wicker furniture and the pretty floral pictures she’d hung on its walls. It felt like life.
She shook her head and headed to a shelving cart by the side of the desk. This she could do right now. It required little brain power.
The long aisles of the library were narrow and smelled musty to him — but then again, his sense of smell was of the acutest kind, a blessing and a curse. Of course, he thought with little humor; this seemed to be the theme of his life.
Ethan wore a long trench coat of which he was of half a mind to divest himself. After all, he had spent enough time over the centuries in Southern Louisiana to be aware of its humid climate. It was only two days until Halloween, late October, and still summer as far as this area of North America was concerned. But he was on a delicate mission, and so as his indulgent nature demanded, he had wanted to dress the part.
Then on the other hand, he was also suffocating, so in expediency, Ethan pulled off the trench coat and flipped it over his arm shaking out his longish blonde hair. He checked his watch — eight o clock. Well, that gave him about an hour to exercise his diplomatic powers. Lucky for him, there would be no full moon this Hallow’s Eve. A full moon on that particular night or in the days leading up to it could be particularly, well in his case, unraveling.
He took in a deep whiff of the musty air around him, trying to focus beyond the well-worn stench of book covers that had been untouched for far too long.
No, it was beyond the human occupants of this building where he focused, well beyond.
A slight smile crossed his lips. Yes, he had marked her.
Moira was trying to relax, but her skin prickled. For some time, the mindless shelving of books had placed her into a sort of thoughtless reverie. But that had seemed to pass now. Something had changed. Only four were on duty tonight, but they could close up without her if she feigned illness. She moved the cart of books she’d been pushing around all evening around the corner of a bookshelf, then stopped.
Several sections of books away down at the other end of the long stretch was a man, a tall blondish man dressed in black with a coat draped over his arm.
She didn’t know who he was, but she could clearly see what he was — a werewolf standing right in the middle of the East Bank Regional Library.
Moira took a deep breath and braced herself. After all, they were in a public place, and the last she’d checked, the moon was at a very slim crescent. So all she had to do was play dumb — be the reclusive little librarian that she had chosen to be.
She glanced at the stranger, a brief acknowledging smile, then turned to her task of shelving books, focusing intently. Perhaps his presence here had nothing to do with her; maybe it was one of those odd random coincidences that the universe seemed intent on perpetrating on ordinary folk.
Another deep breath to stabilize her, yes indeed, that was what she had chosen to be, ordinary folk — just like Sally, or dour Tom at the front desk, or combative Jessica Renard up in Special Collections. Yes, indeed extraordinary in their unique ordinariness.
She grasped the three hardback Nora Robert’s novels from the cart and placed them on the shelf. Then she froze, on the spot still facing forward. But she could feel it all over her back, as tangible as if he’d directly placed his hands there. Of course, he hadn’t. He was just standing there quietly, now behind her.
With little choice, she slowly turned to face him. He looked to be in his thirties, bearded with a mustache, longish blonde hair grazing the top of the black turtleneck he wore. And his eyes, which she was close enough to see, were an eerie blue-gray color staring at her as though he hadn’t a care in the world.
And everything, still everything about him screamed wolf to her.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked softly.
It was odd what hit her most acutely in the next moment. A touch of compassion seemed to reach his eyes — something she found most unexpected. “I think perhaps maybe I can help you, Moira Archer, is it?”
It was a strange moment filled with some duality. Indeed there was the disappointment that her hopes had been crushed. Oddly enough, and there was no denying her existence had always been filled to the brim with oddities, she also felt a measure of relief.
Although she’d pegged him as a werewolf, she was also sensing no malice, no threat — quite unexpected.
Ethan felt oddly frustrated as a lingering thought floated through his mind. “Why were all the good ones taken?”
There was a coffee shop or a small coffee bar with accompanying tables situated in the library’s foyer. He and the woman who was calling herself Moira Archer sat there. She sipped a hot mug of peppermint tea and he, a hot coffee mocha, something that called itself coffee but tasted a bit more like hot chocolate. But given that he’d nurtured his sweet tooth through the many centuries of his existence, it suited him well.
A brief interlude having a sweet and spending time with an intriguing woman didn’t seem like a bad deal for an old lycanthrope like himself.
“So,” he smiled engagingly, “how do you like the city?”
She slowly placed her hot, in fact still steaming cup of tea on the table and stared at him with eyes that were large and dark, but for some odd reason, reminded him of some strange violet tone. Of course, that couldn’t be so — what human had violet-colored eyes? And then he stopped himself. Yes, what human indeed?
“My break isn’t that long, Mr.— I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?”
She nodded slowly. “And may I assume that you were sent here by—” she paused, so he obligingly filled in. After all, there wasn’t time to be coy. In fact, there didn’t seem to be time for much of anything.
“Well, actually, an old friend — your husband.”
Her face showed no surprise, in fact, not much emotion of any kind. But then again, for a woman like this, it was most predictable that her husband would attempt to get her back.
“I am not wholly unacquainted with my husband’s acquaintances, but I don’t recall—.”
“We go way back,” he replied, taking a quick sip of the cocoa/coffee concoction. “Actually, early Renaissance, in Italy, we first crossed paths.”
“I see,” she pronounced a bit definitively. “I’ll get to the point, Mr.—”
“Ethan,” he interrupted. He had to get this on a friendlier plateau, or it would be a wasted effort before he even began.
“Ethan, you can tell my husband that I am not —”
“Yes, yes, that you are not coming back.”
Now she looked at him a bit oddly. Finally, he’d said something that had elicited a reaction. “Yes, isn’t that why you are here?”
“Well, Moira, not exactly, he is concerned about you. You see, it seems your absence has created a bit of, well, imbalance.” He sighed deeply, trying to find the appropriate avenue to navigate around the truth.
Her brow wrinkled slightly, but it did nothing to mar her delicate loveliness. He was not at all at a loss to explain his friend’s fascination, dare he say, obsession with the woman before him.
“What do you mean imbalance?”
He leaned in a bit closer to her. “Moira, haven’t you felt ever since you’d left that you were being followed?”
A slight downturn of her finely shaped lips, “Well, yes but I thought that was just him, well, trying to get me to come home. After all, he sent you.”
“Yes, but he sent me to warn you. He hasn’t been trying to get you back, just protect you.”
There was a hesitation, clearly a moment to soak in unconsidered information. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ethan,” she almost rasped out in what he unmistakably pegged as mild panic.
“Think Moira, the window. They’re coming for you — the minions breaking in from their dimension to disrupt the order of things.”
Again she stared at him with violet-colored eyes. Perhaps they were violet, and with indulgence, he thought perhaps he was the only one who could see that.
She leaned back a bit in her chair, contemplating, he thought, sipping her tea. “What are you trying to say that to restore the natural order of things I have to return?”
He shrugged a bit. Who was he to get in the middle of another’s marital discord? He’d tried it himself once so long ago and found not only was it impractical for a werewolf, but he wasn’t exactly the best marital material. “I don’t know if it’s that simple, Moira. It has more to do with discord, ill-feelings. If you both could come to an understanding, it might stabilize things.”
And then the unexpected happened. Her wide violet-colored eyes seemed to tear up as she shook her head. “You don’t understand, Ethan. I am a free spirit — a creature of the light.”
He smiled a bit sadly. She tugged at his heart, and he truly wished he could tell her what she wanted to hear. But as it was, “I do understand Moira. But I also understand that each of our lives comes with burdens. Burdens we must learn to carry.”
She stared at him a moment, so long that he wondered if she’d understood what he’d said. And then she stood up, “It was good of you to come, Mr. Garraint. I will certainly consider what you have told me.” And then she walked away, and he took one more sip of his coffee before he gathered his things and left.
As Ethan exited the library doors, a chill hit him that he had not expected. It seemed that when he arrived, it would be a balmy autumn night which was not so unusual for this part of the country. But something in the air had changed; something that he had an instinctual feeling had nothing whatsoever to do with the weather.
Slowly he descended the granite steps, never letting his eyes leave the shadows which seemed to be unnaturally gathering in the parking lot. Once he reached level ground, he waited patiently for what exactly he had no idea. But something, every inch of his skin, told him something was on its way.
Then finally, as if in direct answer to his anticipation, a figure stepped out of the darkness — a tall, lean man dressed rather immaculately in a grey suit with shoulder-length black hair.
He breathed a sigh of relief that would be tangible to no one but himself. It wasn’t exactly that the new arrival was devoid of danger — just not particularly dangerous to him. After all, he was simply a bit player in this particular drama.
Being in no particular hurry, Ethan Garraint waited patiently for the man to approach, who, when doing so, paused just in front of him with a very slight smile crossing a particularly distinguished face.
“You might have given it a bit more time,” Ethan directed toward this very old acquaintance, although in reality, the man physically didn’t look a day over forty.
“There isn’t time,” he responded with a sereneness that Ethan always recalled seemed to be present in his manner.
Even in the very pale lamplight of the library steps, he could see the very dark blue eyes that he remembered his old friend possessing. It was the most animated aspect of his persona, those eyes that seemed to stretch deeply into infinity if you were foolish enough to gaze too deeply within.
“Well, that’s a pity Nathaniel. She is confused and could use more time.”
He nodded slowly, staring beyond him towards the library’s front doors. “There is no choice. Even now, the others are planning their strike. If they succeed —” then he stopped.
Ethan instinctively reached out and patted his friend’s shoulder, instantly recognizing the chill he’d sensed in the air earlier. Of course, it had emanated from this ancient and powerful being. “Then let’s make sure they don’t.”
The deep blue eyes focused on him again. He felt compelled, even drawn to a place where his particular immortality had prevented him from ever finding — that place beyond in another sort of eternity that undeniably a part of him craved.
“Did you pave the way?”
He hesitated. Had he indeed done all he could have? Hard to say, not knowing what the outcome might be. “I did my best Nathaniel. The rest is up to you.” Then he stepped away from him, donning the trench coat he’d been carrying across his arm, and headed toward the shadows before him. However, he paused for just an instant and called over his shoulder.
“Nathaniel, I have no evidence of this, but I feel it. I believe she still loves you.”
And then he continued to walk away, not particularly interested in waiting for a response because the dominant emotion he felt at the moment was envy.
Moira Archer’s head began to swim. It was just thirty minutes until closing and then — and then. There was the rub. What would she do? Where would she go?
So much she had deliberately blocked from her mind so she could do what she wanted. Her legs felt like lead as she walked, was compelled to go there — just take one more look to see if what Ethan Garraint had told her could possibly be true.
She moved beyond the information desk to right in front of the tall wall of glass where the fracture had occurred.
Her eyes slowly drifted into another state of seeing. Now it became more apparent. It was a glowing light, gathering, not outside, not inside but within the cracks of the panes — glowing like some strange insects, fireflies perhaps, but those which gave off a ruddy, irritated-looking, reddish-pink glow.
“You have the gift of sight, Mneme,” her mother had told her. “And the gift of healing, and merging the light with the darkness. So many gifts my child. Your life is one filled with destiny. You are the bridge.” So young she’d been told this, so young she’d been given away in an arranged marriage so long ago. It had been frightening and then uncanny. It wasn’t as if she were unhappy, just puzzled, curious as to what she did not have.
Her eyes were drawn back to the window. She could feel them near her skin, buzzing angrily, hungry, ravenous, in fact. She could feel them gathering strength, pushing against the cracks in the glass, determined to spread the opening further and further.
“Until they gain entrance to this world.” The voice came from behind her and sent an instinctive shiver up her spine.
“To what end?” she murmured without looking back, although she felt him move beside her.
And then she began to feel that instinctual draw toward him — the one she had felt on her wedding day. She’d been so filled with terror learning she would be the bride of the master of death, but then she’d seen him, and all the fear had melted away. And there had been the magnetic pull that had been so nearly impossible to overcome.
“They feel the balance has been disrupted. It is their chance to enter and feed on humanity.”
“Feed?” she whispered.
“In all kinds of ways. Energy to begin, then life itself, so there is no peace, no transition.”
“I thought that was your domain.”
She felt him sigh. He was weary. She could feel it within her as it had always been with the two of them. “That’s not really fair, is it my dear? I do not take life. I am simply there to ensure transition once it is time.”
She turned slowly to Nathaniel, feeling tears slipping down her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“This goes beyond you and me,” he stated softly. “But you could have come to me if you were so unhappy.”
Her heart hurt like a tangible stab. How she’d missed him; how she had fought so hard not to acknowledge it. “I needed to be here, to remember living. To remember who I was. If I’d come to you.”
“If,” he repeated.
“I would not have had the strength to leave.”
Slowly he nodded in understanding, she thought; his dark eyes filled with so many layers of emotions that she could easily allow herself to drown in them. “And did you? Did you find what you sought, my beloved?”
“Maybe, I think I’m still looking. I don’t know, but it seems it’s over.”
And then he smiled softly. “All that is needed is the balance between us, death and memory. The balance must be restored. The discord must end.”
“I don’t understand,” she said in confusion.
“If you wish to stay for a while, you can. If you only return sometimes and, of course, allow me to visit you.”
She looked at him with surprise, a compromise quite unexpected. “You mean something like six months of the year?”
His dark eyes sparkled. “Something like that if you agree to take me back as your husband.”
She smiled, noting that the ugly fireflies at the broken window had begun to thin bit.”
“I’ve missed you, my love,” she whispered.
She felt Nathaniel softly take her hand in his. “We have much to talk of,” he said as she gazed at her husband, feeling her heart begin to lighten.
If you’d like to spend more time with Ethan Garraint, check out his stand alone novel.
The Broken Vow: Vol. I The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf
In the heart of every man there is a history. In the heart of every monster there is a story. In this 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.
Also check out the sequel to The Broken Vow, The Story of Enid at Kindle Vella.
When one realizes that a long-lost soulmate has been reincarnated, it poses some complications. When you have been a werewolf for nearly a millennium, the complications explode exponentially. Ethan Garraint understands that he should stay far away from Erin Holt, but she is in his city, New Orleans, and possibly in danger. And the truth is, he doesn’t want to stay away. He only wants to remind her of the lifetime they lived long ago, when they were more than lovers, when they became legend.
I have a little writers’ club within my family, as every one of us is a published author, though granted, all working in different mediums. During our get-togethers/meetings, we often have long discussions about movies, television series, books, short stories, video game plots, limited series — pretty much everything under the sun that has to do with writing in some aspect. We analyze what works, what doesn’t, and what we can learn from it all.
And turning back the clock even a bit further, I used to appear in a number of stage plays while I was in college. During that time, I came home one summer and agreed to take part in a locally produced soap opera. It was the era of the over-the-top nighttime soap-operas like Dallas and Dynasty, so our little production on the local open channel was a bit of a parody of these sudsy offerings. What I did find interesting was that coming from a background of stage performing, it was important I adjust my acting and dial it down quite a bit for the subtlety of the small screen. On the stage, you are always encouraged to go bigger so the people in the back seats can see you, but the camera, being so close up, catches all the small nuances. And if you don’t adjust, you seem to be overacting.
Getting back to writing, just like acting, working in different mediums of writing demands its own rules. A short story is very concise and focused on perhaps one element of the narrative. A novel is a different beast, depending on its length. It can be very focused if short, though needing usually more complexity and more characters, and several threads or layers of plot — maybe more if an exceptional length. Now a book with intended sequels is really just a piece of a book, a part of an overarching narrative — big picture and little picture stuff. And of course, all of these loose rules are made to be reinvented and broken at times by a skilled writer.
In my writing, I’ve primarily come from a background of short stories and novels. Some of my novels are longer, but I would say predominantly on the shorter side. I usually have a plot worked out or at least the endgame of a book, though I have found some narratives like to take a twist and turn that is unexpected. I did write one series of books, The New Orleans Paranormal Mysteries that weren’t hard sequels as each book focused on a different character.
And this meandering brings me to my point — Kindle Vella. As you might know, the last three books I’ve been working on have been in the Kindle Vella medium, a sort of episodic/serial format. It is really up to the author how long the story goes on. For me, as I’ve said, I like to have an end game in mind. This format has brought its own “gifts” for me so to speak. As well as developing some narratives that needed to get jump-started it has also taught me patience. These stories I’ve found have to unfold at their own pace. Some episodes are character-driven, fleshing out that aspect of the narrative, and some plot-driven. There has been an interesting flow in writing this sort of episodic tale, definitely trying to always leave the reader with a reason to return as well as taking my time with developing the story without overstaying my welcome. It really has been a gift working in this medium. I suppose the old adage there are lessons in everything is true. I am about to begin the final arc in my paranormal romance, Dumaine Street. I confess, when I began, I couldn’t clearly see where this story was going but now, I see the path home. Of course, there are always opportunities for unexpected turns. And I, as well as the readers I hope, look forward to those.
Thanks for Listening,
Voices in her head, catastrophic emotions, hallucinations, Rebecca Wells is more than convinced that she is losing her mind. And as a last-ditch effort, she contacts a self-professed counselor who seems convinced that he can help. Gabriel Sutton has abandoned the world of medicine to navigate a realm filled with psychic phenomena. Diagnosing Becca with extreme empathic abilities, he struggles to help her stabilize her gifts while trying desperately not to fall in love with his patient.
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.
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.
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.