Something Reconsidered

Over the last several days, I’ve spent time in the quiet of a house without internet due to hurricane Zeta. I fully intended to post a different story at the end of this Halloween, this very unique and in many ways unprecedented Halloween of 2020. But in my “quiet time” I reconsidered. I thought about the journey we’ve all taken this year and wanted to leave you with something a little different to think about. I’ve never posted this story anywhere else except for the collection of short stories where it first appeared, The Left Palm. I hope you enjoy and know I wish you all peace, the most important commodity I believe that is available.

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 an odd 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. There was a sign, boldly taped on the door of The Left Palm, “Looking for Part-Time Help.”  Seeing it, she just sort of drifted in with no idea of what she was getting into. The front of the store itself was filled with books, candles, and even clothing, so quite naturally she’d assumed that it must be a sales position.

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.  Quite a striking image, she wore some 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, 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.”

“It’s part-time.”

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.”

Actually, 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, rather 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 largely commission, and before long she had developed a clientele. The work itself, at times, she’d found less than rewarding, and at its worse 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 stifling 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 breath.

As she entered the English building, hearing her sandals lightly tap on the stone floor, it struck her suddenly how deserted everything seemed. Granted, the summers were a quiet time around here, but this morning seemed exceptionally quiet. When she’d arrived, she’d noted a few souls wondering about in the parking lot and then sitting on the steps of the library as she passed by, but the English building now was 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 a 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. With one hand, she attempted to block the glare, 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 had somehow managed to drag herself into work for noon. Madame Christina stood behind the front counter with a bit of a frown on her face. Over the year that Claudia had been working 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 that 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 do have some new stock you could put out on the shelves while I go to lunch.”

Claudia nodded. Just for a passing 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 exactly 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 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 actually very nice padded, armchairs that 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 any 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 somewhat gage the man’s age, 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 in 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, 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 in 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, hadn’t held back. It wouldn’t do, she thought, to appear hesitant. After all, she’d believed that these people were seventy-five percent theatrics anyway. But now, her potential, and she used that word shakily at best, boss was glowering at her. Christina Duverje eyed her critically, slowly shredding away any feigned confidence that 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 really 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 really 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 of course the hermit that they’d started with. “Umm,” she started, 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 frowned, “Okay,” distractedly 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 will 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 that 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 unable to utter a sound, just like before. And then slowly, he turned over his left hand, and in 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 to 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 a bit 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.

“I’m busy.”

She stared at him blankly in bewilderment, “What?”

 “What I need is less 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. 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, and 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 kept him in her sight until he left.

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

Even in the Darkest of Times

My next short story for Halloween month is a tale about a young woman in the midst of one of the darkest times in her life finding hope and a new beginning in the most unexpected way. “The Tear” is a paranormal short story that I first published in a collection called Dragonflies. And it has always been one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy! Follow the link below.

The Tear (link)

Now For Something Completely Different

In need of a bit more Halloween right now? Here’s a spooky story about a disenchanted bookstore clerk who gets an unexpected customer late one Halloween and is unwillingly dragged into a terrifying supernatural battle. The lesson I guess is that you never really can predict what is just around the corner. Follow the link below to “Late One Night at Berstrums Books. “

Late One Night at Berstrums Books (link)

The Left Palm New Edition

Need something spooky but just a bit unpredictable to read this Halloween season? The recently revised edition of The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural has just been released.

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.

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The Tear

My final spooky short story is entitled “The Tear.” I chose this particular story as the last because outside of being a tale steeped in the paranormal, it is a story about hope. Even in the darkest of times, when circumstances appear insurmountable, there is always the hope for new beginnings — a message that I feel is timely and essential, always. I hope you enjoy!!

The Tear

Walking in this world on shards of glass.

Trying to evade the pain,

wondering what you are doing here

And it’s that question that is in need of an answer,

because—

Because you’ll be leaving soon,

And all the whys are just singing in your ears,

like echoes that won’t quiet.

She closed her fat little book. That’s what they called it where she bought it — a fat little book, now being filled with fat little nothings that she was writing.

“Ah, you look unsatisfied.” She took off her sunglasses and smiled up at a friendly face. She hadn’t seen him approach the park bench that had been her custom to settle on every afternoon. Here, perhaps foolishly, she was trying to create something lasting for posterity — sometimes writing, sometimes sketching, or taking photographs. But none of it seemed to accomplish what she wanted. It simply wasn’t enough.

“Well, I guess I just don’t have what it takes to be a great poet.”

He sat down next to her. “It depends on what you term great. Most poets aren’t genius. They just find a moment that inspires them, moves them to tap into the finest part of themselves.”

“And if that moment never arrives?”

“Then have a nice cafe au lait instead, and don’t worry about it very much. These things can’t be forced.”

She laughed. He had a curious blasé manner that lifted her spirits, when often nothing else could. “But I could miss my inspiring moment, while I’m wasting time having that cafe au lait,” she teasingly retorted.

“Ah well, my dear, you must realize that enjoying yourself is never a waste of time,” and then he reached down and warmly squeezed her hand. And the anxiousness that she lived with, and quite frankly cultivated on a daily basis, slipped away unnoticed. He stood up, “Shall we?”

She rose to walk with him. Since she had met him in the park two weeks ago, she had never been able to, or perhaps been willing to, say no to the mysterious, engaging gentleman. A year ago, she would have treated this man who had befriended her with suspicion or at least a measure of caution. But there wasn’t time to be guarded now. She needed to experience and absorb everything that came her way. There was absolutely no time for second-guessing, only time to soak up what each experience had to offer.

It is unreal at times, listening to him speak to me with such ease, as though we have been long acquaintances. His voice is soothing, captivating, eliciting a peace that I find impossible to find elsewhere. Being in his company is like being drawn into that quiet sleep unawares. Am I being seduced into forgetting, into not resisting what is to come?

She sipped her overly hot coffee while he flipped through her notebook. It was crammed full of thoughts, impressions, and small sketches — a wealth of material that in most moments spoke to her of tedium and frustration. Letting him look at it might very well send him running off for higher ground somewhere, but she didn’t really care. Life’s incessant turns had left her stripped down of inhibitions, of any small worries. There were far too many larger ones looming close.

Glancing out of the large, picture window beside their table she noticed across the street, several buses had pulled in front of a school. The young girls dressed in their crisp white blouses and plaid skirts took her back for a moment to her endless days in private schools. It seemed so very far away now.

Resurfacing to the present she found his dark eyes watching her, studying her, “And you did not like school so much?”

She picked up the mug and took a sip of coffee. It had cooled to a tolerable level, “No, not very much, I guess I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in. And school is the worst place for that, because there is no running away. Fitting in is not only essential, it is a necessity for survival.”

Nodding slightly as though in understanding, he closed the notebook, “You are too hard on yourself. You are gifted. The writing is strong but dark and very sad.” He slid the notebook across the table to her, and there was an instant of contact as she picked it up. She smiled at him, not knowing how to respond.

She was struck again at how handsome a man he was. His eyes were a dark brown shade and his hair very black but touched by grey on the sides. His bone structure was strong, almost carved looking — classical, as her mother would say — a classical European. As a child, the image of what exactly a classical European was had eluded her. After all, Europe was a mish mash of different countries. But now, she believed she could safely categorize this man as such. It had something to do with old-world mystery and a strong but refined look. It was something that you just didn’t see here in the states, or she hadn’t at any rate. But she was not really a good judge. Her experience with the other sex was limited. Her mother was much more a connoisseur of men than she had ever been. For Moira there had been the one mistake — one emotionally catastrophic marriage. And then, she’d taken time to heal, too damn much wasted time. “Tell me something. Why do you look so sad when you think about your past?”

Quite expertly, he drew her out of her morbid reflections, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t known that much happiness. Much of my past feels depressing to me now.” She didn’t bother to cover with him. Their brief acquaintance had taught her how extraordinarily perceptive he was.

He looked out the window at the masses of teenagers pouring out of the school, and then there was a wistful smile. “I suppose we get into the habit of interpreting things a certain way. It’s really all a matter of perception.”

She smiled thoughtfully, “Oh, you are of the make lemonade philosophy.”

“Well, I suppose you might say that, as long as it keeps that smile on your face.”

“And are you taking care of yourself Moira? Are you sure you’re all right in that house all alone. You know you could move in with Roger and me.”

Even the momentary thought of living with her mother and her latest husband in that big drafty house on Napoleon Avenue gave her a sensation of claustrophobic panic. “No, really, I like it here Mom.”

“But baby you’re alone, what if, what if —”

“Mom, I told you I’m feeling fine. The doctors say I’m stable, and I truly need to be by myself right now.”

There was silence at the other end, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes, I know where to find you when I need you,” More silence, even in the whirl of her largely superficial existence Christina Redford had a sense of things, especially when it came to her daughter.

“Baby, let me help.”

“Mom, just give me some time. That will help.”

“Oh, do you still see that man, the foreign one? You know the one you met at the park.”

“Yes, I do every once and awhile.”

“What was his name again?”

“Jean, his name is Jean.”

Lying, lying to everyone.

Is that what it all boils down to?

She died, and she had lied to everyone.

“Are you all right?” She looked down at the cracks in the cement sidewalk beneath her feet. Her vision blurred for a moment, and then a strong arm linked beneath hers to prop her up.

It was a fight to catch her breath. She was stupid to be out, after this morning’s treatment. She was too drained to be out in the heat. But she couldn’t stop herself from going to the park. He was waiting for her there, just as she knew he would be. “We can stop, Moira.”

She nodded, too tired to respond. He pulled her toward a stone bench, and she gratefully dropped down to it. “You went to the doctor today.”

She smiled at him, “Yes, I did.”

“I see,” and he looked away from her. “Why did you come here? You are too ill.”

“It will pass,”

And then she felt him put his arm around her and pull her closer. “Yes, I promise. It will pass.”

These moments we share, they seem so removed to me, as though real life has already slipped away.

He had taken her home, to her small two-bedroom house on the corner of Canal Street that she had rented only a few months before. She watched as he put the keys into the heavy wrought iron gate that surrounded the front patio. In moments, they were in the den, the largest room in the house with its large picture window looking out onto the street in front of it. She actually liked being so close to a main traffic route, where life with consistency continued to go on daily.

She sank onto the sofa and nodded as Jean murmured something about getting her a cup of tea. Closing her eyes, she let the pure flood of fatigue take her.

“Why this house Moira?” her mother had asked. “Just the noise of the traffic on that busy street will stop you from getting any rest.” But it hadn’t. It had been a comfort to her. She had always liked living right in the midst of activity, and now that it was all ending, she preferred not to have things any different.

The sleep is heavy, dragging me along somewhere. The weight on my chest feels so heavy, as though it will plunge through me.

When Moira awoke, her body felt different. The sluggish heaviness that had seemed to enmesh her for so long seemed remarkably lightened now. Her very breathing came easier. Sitting up, she felt a distinct chill in the air and then, in the same thought, detected the unmistakable aroma of burning wood. Across the den was Jean kneeling next to the fireplace that had been unused since she moved in. She rubbed her head. The headache was gone, but there was a slight feeling of disorientation in its place. “Lay back and rest. I’ll have this done in a minute,” he called to her, not even turning around to see that she had indeed gotten up. “Use that throw on the couch to cover up until I get the chill out of the room. The heater here isn’t working too well.”

She did lean back and pull the dark green woven afghan around her. And then, as reason slowly began to filter in, she wondered why it was so cold now. It had been almost balmy outside earlier. New Orleans only seemed to catch a substantial chill in the dead of winter and right now it was early May. And then, as her eyes casually began to scan the room, she abruptly froze on the spot. Her mild bewilderment now exploded into tremendous proportions. This was indeed her house, but that was the end of it. Nothing beyond that was the same.

She sat up and rubbed her eyes, beginning to take inventory. Her television was gone, and in its place a short light-wooded bookstand. There was a small dinette set across the room that she had never laid eyes on and what looked to be a computer desk against the wall. Then she looked down at the sofa she laid on that wasn’t her old blue overstuffed couch but a tan rustic looking piece that, “Where’s my stuff?” The words flew out of her mouth.

It was then that he stood up from the fireplace and turned toward her smiling, “I think that will do it.” She took a sharp breath. It certainly was Jean, but even he was noticeably transformed. His hair was longer. He wasn’t clean-shaven, as he’d been earlier. There was several days’ growth on his face, and his clothes were different. When she had gone to sleep, he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a pair of dark pants. Now he stood before her in a beige pullover sweater and blue jeans.

This time she whispered to him shakily, “What’s going on? Where’s all my stuff?”

He smiled gently, “Are you warm enough?”

She pulled the throw more tightly around her. Then, looking down at it, realized that this too was not hers, “I — what the hell is going on?”

Sitting beside her on the couch, he quietly took her hand in his. “It’s all right Moira. This is not what you think. Just think of it as a dream.”

Her eyes widened, “A dream? You can’t be serious.”

“Well, that is all I can say for now. Why don’t you lay back and relax? Dinner is almost ready.”

She didn’t resist as his hands calmly but firmly pushed her back to a reclining position on the sofa, “Wait a minute now. I have to tell you that this doesn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had.”

His hands were smoothing her hair now, like he was comforting an upset child. “Don’t try so hard to figure everything out right now. Relax and enjoy.” His eyes were so gentle, “Sleep.”

She closed her eyes as though unable or unwilling to resist his suggestion. Sighing deeply, she murmured, “I thought I was sleeping.” And then there was stillness.

When she awoke, she found herself still within the dream. Jean was no longer in the room, but the fire was blazing warmly and comfortably. There was a glass of red wine sitting on the coffee table beside her. She picked it up and took a sip. It was cool on her lips. And in that instant, she decided not to fight this anymore. It was as though she were under a spell, compelling her not to resist what this moment was offering her. She felt drowsy and relaxed. She rose and let herself meander across the room, studying its strangeness. As her eyes took in all its details, she realized that for some reason it now offered more comfort to her than when it was filled with her things.

For some time, she had felt her furnishings to be oddly tainted, as though there was a history of anxiety stuffed deep within all her possessions. Most of them had traveled with her through her disastrous marriage. She had considered dumping everything and starting fresh. But that fresh start had become indefinitely postponed, and then ultimately scraped when she became ill.

“I’m glad you found it.”

She turned toward the sound of his voice and found Jean standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “Well, I hoped it was mine,” glancing briefly down at the glass of wine in her hand.

Then he moved toward her, “If it wasn’t, I’m sure it would have taken little provocation for me to give it to you. Everything is almost ready. I hope you like fish.”

“Yes, but I thought that went with white wine.”

“Well, as they say overseas, anything goes in America.”

“Is that what they say?”

Smiling, he ushered toward the small wooden dining table that was now fully set, with a single white rose in the center, “A young country allows a lot of flexibility from tradition.”

She sat down in the chair that he had pulled out for her, “And this is good?”

“That does depend on who you are talking to.”

Taking in the setting, she whispered, “Everything is lovely.” She let her hand lightly brush the petals of the flower, “You’ve gone to a lot of trouble.” And then she felt him lean over and lightly brush the top of her head with a kiss.

“I’ve been planning this for some time. I’ll be right back.” He disappeared into the kitchen, leaving her wondering, but swirling in the contentment that was blooming inside her.

The fire was becoming embers as Moira sat on the couch, watching quietly as Jean tried to resurrect it. She sipped her coffee from the white, ceramic mug that she did not own, feeling contentment in the fact that she was unconcerned by it all. Dinner had been light, filled with smiles, and witty talk. She found him more relaxed than the other times that they had met in the park. It was as though now he was in his element, though precisely what that element was she didn’t let her mind wander to seek. He had told her it was a dream, and she was buying it. The fact that none of this was real had ceased to bother her. So what if she was losing it. What was so darned important in her life, in her mind, that she couldn’t afford to just let slip away?

The flames before them finally managed to reemerge. Being successful in his task, Jean left his work at the fireplace and joined her on the couch that she still did not recognize but was becoming increasingly fond of. “I think I’ve prolonged its life a bit,” he remarked, picking up his mug of coffee that was resting beside hers on the table.

“I’m sure it’s enough to fight back the chill, although I still don’t get this cold weather in the spring. Or has the world just turned upside down?”

He nodded, “Perhaps, it would not be so terrible if our little corner of it is comfortable.”

She laughed instinctively, “Yes, my mother has always said that Europeans are more concerned with their recreation than anything else.”

“Oh, and she has made such a broad study to draw this conclusion.”

“Well, of course she has. She has met at least one, and that is enough for her to pronounce a judgment.”

“She sounds like an interesting woman.”

“She is colorful anyway, not like her daughter.”

He sipped his coffee, momentarily focusing on the mutating firelight. “And what does that cryptic statement mean?” he murmured.

She leaned back on the couch frowning, letting herself speak without caution. After all, if it was just a dream, there was no accountability here. No reason to shroud the truth in tactfulness. “Mom has always been very flamboyant and aggressive about her life. She’s had several husbands, probably more lovers than I know about, has traveled, seen things, and does not second guess herself the way—”

He filled in quietly, “The way that Moira does.”

“Well, I suppose it is predictable that such a mother could only produce an inhibited, cautious, conservative little thing that couldn’t run fast enough to get out of her mother’s shadow.”

“Predictable, that’s interesting. I don’t find you in the least predictable. So, this pathetic description is truly how you see yourself?”

She supposed she should bristle at his comments, but she felt so relaxed and peaceful that she didn’t feel like it. “At times,” she sighed deeply, feeling any concern for anything in particular slipping away.

“It’s a pity, that people spend so much time in self, how can I put it, mutilation.”

“Mutilation? Hmm, is that what you’d call it?”

He’d picked up at her hand and seemed a bit stern at the moment for some odd reason. “No, what I think is that what you call inhibited and cautious, I call sensitive and intuitive. What you find conservative, I see as thoughtful and caring of others. Being aggressive about life isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s just callous. When you are so anxious to reach something, you often miss the journey, the beauty around you, and your successes are without depth, without substance. So much is missed that can’t be recovered.”

His hand felt very warm around hers. She tried to consider his words. “I see your point. I am afraid of that, that I’ve missed too much and now.”

“But Moira, being afraid is a waste of time too. Too much time is lost in fear.”

She bent her head down and whispered, “What’s going on here? Am I really dreaming all of this?” And then she felt his hand caressing her cheek.

“Can I ask you just to trust me for a little while?”

She looked up into his face, such soft dark eyes, “I suppose.”

He smiled, “But it’s not easy.”

She shook her head. “I haven’t been the trusting type.”

“Then it’s time for a change, yes?”

And before she answered his lips were on hers, kissing her, and he was pulling her into a warm embrace that made her forget all the questions that were floating around in her mind.

The heat was unbearable. She felt like she was being drowned in the thick humidity. The sleep was exhausting and smothering.

She awoke from the dream drenched in her own sweat. She was lying on the couch, her own couch, and it was night-time. Her watch read eleven’ o’clock at night to be exact. And every inch of her body ached, as though she had just run several miles. Her stomach rumbled with the familiar nausea of the treatment from earlier that afternoon. Forcing herself to get up, she stripped her damp clothes away as she stumbled to the shower. It took a moment, but the cool water hitting her body began to revive her. The images in her mind were blurry, but she remembered his touch — being held close and being kissed. He had kissed her with passion, and she returned it. After that she recalled no more.

It must have been a dream, perhaps brought on by the powerful pain medicine the doctor had given her. Because beyond that she could find no rational explanation. Anything else was simply not possible.

“What’s the matter with you Moira?”

“I told you Mom. I’m just feeling a little tired.”

“You know. It’s been nearly a week since I’ve seen you. Honey, I’m really beginning to worry about you — the way you’re cutting yourself off from everyone.”

“Really, I’m not. In fact, Jean cooked me dinner last night.”

“Really? He did. You didn’t mention that.”

“Well, it was spur of the moment,” she breathed out deeply, stupid, stupid to bring this up.

“Oh where did—”

“Here, he fixed it here.”

Then there was a silence. “I’m glad you aren’t just staying in that house all alone.”

“No Mom, I’m not alone.”

Where am I Going? I feel so disconnected as though I am not resisting anything now.

“Am I privy to your thoughts today?”

She looked up from her writing. It was Jean, looking as he usually did — his hair short, clean-shaven, not at all like the dream. “I don’t know if they’re worth looking at really.” He sat beside her on the park bench, where she had come to sit only moments earlier. His timing in finding her was always remarkable. She’d never given it much thought, that was until today.

“I won’t push, some things should remain private. You look as though you are feeling a little better today Moira.”

She smiled, now vigorously debating with herself, whether or not to bring it up. And then, he took her hand in his and squeezed it in his own. It was something that he’d done before, but now oddly felt much more intimate and familiar. “I wanted to tell you something.”

“Yes,” but his eyes were looking forward, watching the young children playing on the swing set before him with great pleasure. There was the trace of a smile on his face. “Look at them Moira. This is life being played out in front of you. Now, this moment, they don’t worry about the future or carry pain with them from the past. They are simply enjoying what is. That is what we forget to do when we become tied to the world.”

And then she let her eyes follow his and travel to what was in front of her. She watched one little girl playing. She wore a short off-white dress with leggings underneath. Running around the swing set like a hellion, her neatly bound hair was becoming unraveled and her pretty lacy leggings getting smudged with dirt as she tumbled on the ground with her playmate. But her face was beautiful. It was lit up with joy and abandon. And Moira felt herself smiling with her. It must be wondrous to be so happy, not worried, not being cautious or regretful, just being. She felt his hand on her knee, “You see. It’s not so hard to be happy. Let them be your teachers.”

And she spoke low, “Was it a dream?”

“It was whatever you wish it to be.”

Winding down the Path, where it ends is not possible to know.

“Where are we going?”

“For a drive around the city, just lean back and rest.” They had walked to his car, which she had never seen before. It was parked on a side street not very far from her house. It was a beige car, some sort of sedan. The day outside, when she had headed to the park, had seemed very hot, but that had lessened. There was almost a breeze now. She didn’t question it. She just leaned back against the soft upholstery and let herself drift into a light sleep. The last thing that she felt was his hand softly brushing against her cheek as the car headed down the narrow, well-traveled roads behind her house.

Her eyes opened and a shiver passed through her. “Are you cold?” he asked.

She rubbed her arms, feeling goose bumps all over them. “Yes, I guess I am.”

“I have a sweater for you in the back seat.”

She turned and saw an ecru colored sweater lying on the seat behind her. She drew it to her, feeling its softness and noting the delicate craftsmanship that went into its making. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s a gift.”

Her eyes focused onto Jean, and it struck her immediately. He was different again. “Oh God.”

He smiled, “You like books, don’t you?”

“Yes, but—”

“That’s where we’re headed, to a book sale on St. Charles.” And then, she noted the elegant mansions quickly passing by her. There was no mistaking the opulent homes on this route.

“Jean,” and then she looked over at his smiling face, “another dream?”

“Well, maybe everything else has been a dream, and this is reality.”

“Oh, shut up.”

He laughed with real amusement as he pulled the car in front of a palatial house on a small hill. It was an elegant mansion that had been converted into a public library. People in their winter wear were mingling across its lawn under tents which evidently had been set up for the sale. Jean, this particular Jean, who was now dressed in a pullover sweater, walked around and opened her car door. “You better put that on. It’s a bit chilly.” And as she stepped out into the air, she found that it was indeed.

“I am so glad that you could make it. We’ve had a nice turn-out today.” The silver-haired lady, well up in her sixties, that addressed Jean was dressed in a royal blue sweater dress. She seemed to be officiating in some capacity at the party/ book sale. Moira, who now held a glass of white wine in her hand, had gleaned that this was some sort of a preshow fundraiser before the book sale opened to the public. She then turned to Moira, smiling broadly, “I’m sorry we haven’t met. I’m the managing librarian here, Bess Wilcox.”

Then Jean stepped in, “Yes Bess, this is a good friend of mine, Moira Claiborne.”

“It’s good to have you here Moira. I’ve only known Jean about a year, but I’ve found him to have excellent taste in books, as well as friends.” Moira smiled and sipped her wine, vaguely wondering why Bess Wilcox was in her dream. As Bess moved on, greeting other potential customers, Jean smoothly squired Moira to a table of books in the corner. She picked one book up entitled The Psychology of an Abnormal Psyche.

“Are you trying to tell me something?” she murmured. Jean looked down at the book in her hand.

A bit abruptly he took it from her and put it back on the table. “No, just trying to get you away from the crowd. How are you doing? And no, you are not crazy.”

“Are you sure? I have my doubts. And you evidently spend a lot of time here.”

“Some, did you know this place used to be a private home owned by a silent screen, movie star.”

“Really?”

“Yes, and it was donated to the city and converted into this library. Finish your wine, then we’ll take a walk around the area.”

She took the last few sips and put the glass on a nearby table, “Are you sure Bess won’t miss us?”

“Yes,” he bent to her and lightly brushed her lips with a kiss. “I am sure it will be fine.”

The sidewalks around the library were largely uneven and cracked from the huge tree roots bursting through the cement. But she found it calming and peaceful as the winter breeze swept through the branches overhead. Winter breeze and it was April? “Do you like it here?”

His voice interrupted her contemplations. “Yes, it’s lovely. I spent a good part of my youth in this city, but for some reason I never stopped here before.”

“Maybe you were waiting for me to show it to you.”

She glanced over at him. “Yes, and what a unique way you have of doing it. You know, I can only glide along for so long before I have to get my head screwed on straight again. All of this is not fitting well into my perception of the world.”

“And is it essential that everything makes sense to you. Can’t you just enjoy the moment like the little girl in the park?”

“I’d like to, but I’m not the little girl in the park.”

“No and yes, part of us is always a child. We just tend to push that part aside and give it no importance, which is unfortunate.”

“I feel sometimes like you’re speaking to me in riddles.”

“No, I’m feeding you pieces of the truth a little at a time, so that you can feel them out before I give you more.”

She asked with genuine curiosity, “Is that what you are, some kind of teacher for me?”

“Aren’t we all teachers for one another?”

“Can’t you give me any straight answers?”

He nodded, “Yes, here is something concrete. There is a coffee shop not far from here.”

“You Europeans and your coffee.”

“Now you sound like your mother.”

She laughed, “That’s really wounding.”

Home again, or am I? This place with my things is beginning to feel less and less like home. The dream is becoming my real life. Is this what insanity is? If so, why does it feel so comfortable?

She awoke on her couch again, her head pounding fiercely. She had to sit up slowly, because there was the dizziness also. What had happened?

She remembered the library sale and then the stroll to the coffee shop. It was casual, unhurried, both of them simply enjoying the crisp cool day. The coffee house was inside a small wood frame house that had been converted into a restaurant. They had settled out on the patio beneath an umbrella table sipping cafe au laits. It was all that she seemed to order these days. The wind was blowing cool on her face, but it didn’t bother her. She felt warm. The familiar heaviness that was always present in her chest was absent, and she scarcely had noticed its departure.

And there was Jean. She knew that somehow, he was deliberately striving to distract her. It amused and charmed her at the same time. They talked of books, of music, even of unsuspecting pedestrians who were walking by. “Have you ever wondered what their lives are like?” he had said to her.

“No,” she had answered sheepishly. She hated to admit how very ostrich-like she had been in conducting her life, so wrapped up in her personal dilemmas that she had never looked very far beyond her own backyard.

“How do you suppose they live? Can we ever really know what sort of joys or burdens each carry? What secrets?” He seemed to enjoy prodding her with questions, making her dig deeply within herself.

But at moments, she would only deflect him. She’d laughed and told him that he sounded like a voyeur.

He smiled at her with genuine warmth, “No, more like a voyager, a voyager of life.”

Soon after they had gone back to the car, he’d touched her hand and then asked her to rest. That was the last thing she remembered, until now.

The phone rang, shattering her pensive recollections.

“Yes,” her own voice sounded distant and groggy to her.

“Moira, it’s Jean. I wanted to see if you were all right.”

“I—I think so. I just woke up.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Confused, I can’t remember coming back here.”

“It’s all right. Don’t be concerned.”

“Hmm,” Rubbing her forehead that seemed to be throbbing a bit at the moment, “this is so strange. Yesterday, this afternoon, I don’t know.”

“Don’t try to sort it out now. Rest for a while. We’ll talk later.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I am tired.”

“Please rest.” Then he hung up. And she was left vaguely comforted but also wondering. She laid back on the sofa and let the fatigue take her. There was no resistance left within her.

When she awoke again, it was sharply to the sound of a bell. The clock on the wall read 4:00 P.M. She had been asleep nearly an hour. Pulling herself up, she shakily walked out onto the wrought iron patio. Peering through the decorative bars on the front door, she could see Janice Deveroux waiting on the landing.

Wonderful, she was hardly in the proper frame of mind to entertain her somewhat gregarious landlady, but there was no help for it. Moira smiled widely because she knew she had been spotted.

Immediately, the words began to bubble over as she opened the door. “Moira, I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d save you the trouble of mailing your rent check. Unless you’d prefer to wait—” Janice continued to prattle on as she, with reluctance, escorted her inside.

Several cups of coffee and a half an hour later she was disconcerted to see that Janice Deveroux showed no indication of leaving. Moira had heard the dish on the neighbors, the latest successes of Janice’s real estate firm, and more details on the exploits of her two-year-old nephew than anyone could imagine ever wanting to know. As she sat in her glider rocker across this very vivacious yet disturbingly obtuse woman, she plotted quietly and somewhat desperately how to encourage a departure. Her patience was deteriorating at the same rate that the pounding in her head was escalating. She really had to go lay down for a while.

“You know you are looking a little pale. Are you feeling well?”

She responded, “Just a little under the weather.” There was no way she was confiding her chronic medical problems to this woman.

“Well, you should see about it. It’s very dangerous to let these things get out of hand. Like that poor man who lived here before you, it was terrible what happened with him.”

“What happened?”

“Oh,” and then there was an awkward silence. Evidently, something had slipped that wasn’t supposed to. This was confirmed by the red tinge of embarrassment that had crept into Janice’s round face. “I thought I’d told you.”

“I seem to remember something about it, but the details escape me. What happened again?” This was in fact the very first that she’d heard about the previous tenant. But it was potentially the most interesting tidbit that had come up during the visit.

“Oh, well,” there seemed a bit of relief in her with the possibility that Moira already knew whatever it was she was going to reveal. “The gentleman who had rented the place before you, he was a quiet sort, kept to himself. And then suddenly, one day out of the blue, he had a heart attack. Didn’t even go to the hospital, just died. It was terrible. You know. He wasn’t found for several days. And although some relatives did claim the body, some of his things are still boxed in the attic. They weren’t very interested in his possessions. I’m still trying to track down someone to take them.”

“That’s very sad. When did it happen?”

“Several months before you rented the house. January or early February, I believe.”

“I had no idea,” her astonishment overwhelmed her attempt at subterfuge.

Her eyes widened a bit, as though she’d been caught in something. “I thought you said you knew about it. It’s not something I’d advertise to would-be tenants. Some might be unnerved by it.” And then she looked at Moira a bit sheepishly, “Are you?”

“No, not really, it’s just sad. That’s all. Is he buried around here?”

“Oh no, they took the body back to France.”

“France?”

“Yes, he was French. He had only been here for about a year.”

“Really?” And then Moira felt the pounding in her head become stronger, as a distant uneasiness crept in.

“Yes, he was very distinguished looking. And polite, I remember that especially. You know, these days you don’t find that as often, well, as you used to.”

“Yes, that’s true.” For some reason, she wanted her desperately to stop now, no more about this man who was no longer here.

“He seemed very much a loner. You know, Mrs. Gallows next door said she did see a young lady here occasionally but only from a distance. Have you met Mrs. Gallows?”

“Ah, no, I guess I keep to myself as well.”

“Yes, well, I suppose I should be on my way. You look like you need some rest.” Moira nodded and walked with her to the front door. “And, of course, if there are any problems with the house, do call or give me a page on my beeper. I’m on the go so much.”

She nodded, “Yes, uh—”

“What, what was that?” She had turned around in response to Moira’s almost incoherent murmur.

Something compelled her, as though she had no choice but to ask. “The man, who lived here before, what was his name?”

“Oh, didn’t I say? It was Jean Soule.” And then the next few things that she said Moira did not hear. All she heard was the pounding in her head that had magnified to almost intolerable proportions.

She was alone in the house, sitting quietly and catastrophically stunned on the couch. It was simply a bizarre coincidence. She had just seen Jean. She had just spoken to him on the phone. This man, who had died in this house, was simply someone else. She touched her face and felt the tears that she did not realize she was shedding. They felt hot against her fingertips. Her whole face felt warm, like she had a fever. All of this was impossible, simply impossible.

The attic in the house was a large one with a huge fan atop to keep the items stored safe from the blistering heat of the South in the summertime. When she first moved in, Moira had put a few boxes of her own to the front of the attic, but she had ventured no further into its darkened corners. However, today, she had a different purpose. This was a mission of exploration. She must find out as much as she can about one Jean Soule who passed on months before she ever stepped foot in this house. More than whom he was, she had to confirm who he was not.

Although the attic was lit by a small light bulb at the front, she had brought a flashlight to illuminate its shadowed interior. She shone it along the back walls of the tapering walls and was quickly rewarded. For lodged in a stack, barely perceptible in the ordinary lighting, were indeed several medium-sized cardboard boxes. She walked back towards them, crouching now, because they had been placed in a section where the attic’s ceiling was at its lowest.

She situated herself beside the stack, sitting back on her legs. Pulling one out of the set of four toward her, she noted that it was sealed. Clearly labeled on the top with a thick black marker was the name Jean Soule. She stopped for a moment. Was this indeed an invasion of this poor deceased man’s privacy? Yes, of course it might be, but who would know? She would reseal these boxes, restoring their original condition when she was finished, and her angst would be satisfied. She felt driven, both compelled and desperate. She had to make some sense of her life again or confirm that the progression of her disease was somehow making her lose her mind.

It seemed endless, the time it took for her fingernails to lodge beneath the masking tape and rip it off the box. Then finally, it was open, releasing the musty smell of ink from the packing carton. The items within had been wrapped in newspaper. Quickly and frantically, she began to unfold each item, searching, but also hoping that there was nothing to find. Mostly books — it was filled with a stack of books on philosophy, some written in French, some English. There were books of poetry and even some New Age titles that she recognized. And then, as she reached further in the carton, there was another smaller box at the bottom. She pulled it out with some degree of difficulty, and then took off its lid.

It was filled with papers, letters that she scanned with impatience, and could hardly make sense of because they were in French. Her college French was to say the least rusty. Then lifting up a large stack of documents, she spied something that made her freeze. She remained in the same stunned pose for a moment, motionless, staring at the small item at the bottom of the box.

Ridiculous, her mind told her, just coincidence she whispered shakily to herself. Then her hand reached out tentatively toward it, as though she were about to grasp some unpredictable serpent. Gingerly, she lifted the small notebook out of the black box. Her eyes examined it carefully. It was the same type, but they were common and easy enough to come by. And with a sudden clarity, she realized that her notebook was no longer with her. It had been left in his car, Jean’s car, when they took the drive earlier in the day.

Impulsively, her hands flipped back the cover to the fat little notebook. It only took her a flash of an instant to recognize the handwriting. She dropped it, almost threw it to the floor, as though the contact had burned her. There was no doubt. It was her notebook. Her notebook that she had left in the possession of a man whose name was Jean, who was now dead, had been dead for months, before she ever stepped foot in that park for the first time.

It remained sitting in front of her on the coffee table. She hadn’t reopened the notebook, couldn’t bring herself to. She simply sat waiting. It was late. She had no idea how late. She simply waited, expectantly. He would come and explain all of this somehow. He might well be dead, but that had never stopped him before.

Then suddenly, the phone rang, startling her, shattering the tension that had been building all afternoon. There was no place to hide anymore. She picked up the phone with trembling hands and put the receiver to her ear. She waited, being unable to even speak.

“Moira? Are you there?”

It was he, impossible, but it was, “Yes, I’m here.” She wondered distractedly if she was still breathing.

Silence, and she heard him softly say, “You are upset. You must be calm.”

“Calm? You don’t know what—”

And then he interrupted her, “Would you like to meet me Moira?”

Vaguely, she wondered how this was possible. “Yes, I need to talk to you.”

“Good. There is a Chinese restaurant across the street from your house. Half an hour, will that be enough time?”

She paused. She wouldn’t let her mind acknowledge the fact that she was making a date with some sort of ghost. “Yes, that will be fine.”

“Good and try to relax my darling,” then click. He was gone. He called her my darling. Was she his darling? Her head was spinning. Now somehow her own impending disasters seemed very far away. She tried to concentrate on getting ready, making herself breathe again.

There was a small shopping center directly across the street from her home. She had dressed rather quickly, but also in somewhat of a detached state. She wore a pretty sundress. It was made of a soft, clingy, rayon fabric and imprinted with a design that had struck her as Egyptian-like, silver and black. It was quite becoming on her. And she wondered with distraction, if he would like it. Being attractive to him had somewhere along the way become important to her. There was no denying even in the face of what she suspected, that she was drawn to him, to him as a man. What was happening here, between them, all of it was simply not possible. She pulled on the light cotton sweater that had been his gift to her and stepped into the balmy heat of the New Orleans’ evening.

She stood on the corner in front of her house, waiting for a break in the traffic. The boulevard was incessantly busy. And it was a comfort to her. Absurd as it was, it made her feel connected to living. As the flow of cars briefly ebbed, she stepped onto the asphalt and quickly walked across the street. It smelled strongly of tar, only a week earlier a portion of it had been re-blacktopped. The noise, the smells of the city — all of it connected with her, felt reassuring somehow.

The restaurant that she sought was at the center of the strip mall. She had to walk past a grocery, a hair, salon, a drugstore and dry cleaner before she reached it. But the exercise was welcome to her. It helped distract her very overwrought mind. As she approached, she noted the name of the restaurant on top of the building. The Joy Inn, it made her smile ironically. Was it indeed?

As she pushed open the heavy swinging door and walked inside the dimmed interior, she felt that odd dizziness rush through her body again. Everything around her seemed to swirl momentarily out of focus. Luckily, the chairs in the lobby were in close proximity. She walked toward them and sank down into one. Closing her eyes, she tried to will the disorientation away. Then she felt a hand touch her shoulder, and she looked up into his dark eyes, Jean’s eyes. He sat beside her, “Give it a moment. It will pass.”

He took her hand in his. His flesh was warm. This was no ghost. He was as real as she. And then the dizziness began to ebb away, almost as though he had willed it to. Finally, she was able to straighten up in the chair. He smiled comfortingly, “Better?”

She nodded, “Yes.”

He stood up and with his arm around her gently propelled her to her feet. “Then let’s go. Our table is waiting. I took the liberty of ordering us some hot tea. There’s a chill outside tonight.”

She looked at him quizzically, “What do you mean. It’s absolutely humid. I was just outside.”

“Well Moira, things have changed just a bit.”

She sipped hot tea and sat across from him at a dimly lit table with a dark red tablecloth. At that moment, she couldn’t remember a Chinese restaurant that she’d been at that did not have a dark red tablecloth. With great distraction, she wondered if they all bought them bulk at some tablecloth wholesale outlet. “You’re bothered about something?”

She looked at the handsome man seated across the table from her. “Yes,” she murmured. “Yes, it’s true.”

“And would you like to talk about it now?”

She looked down at her purse that was looped around the side of her chair, and impulsively dug her fingers down beneath its open flap until her hand closed around it. And then she abruptly flopped the notebook down on the table in front of him. He looked down at it, and then up at her, with a blank expression on his face. “It’s your notebook.”

“Yes, it is my notebook,” she stated flatly.

“Is there something you want me to read?”

She shook her head with upset and impatience. There was no delicate way to launch into this. “Don’t you remember? I left it in your car this afternoon, after the library, after the coffee shop, after you told me there was nothing to worry about.”

His fingers lightly brushed across the cover of the notebook. “I see now,” he said quietly.

She waited for elaboration, but he seemed content to wait calmly for her to continue. “Don’t you want to know how I got a hold of it?”

He lifted the small cup of tea to his lips, as though there was no problem here at all, no stress to be concerned with, while she was ready to explode. He quietly put the cup back on its saucer. “First, you need to calm down a bit and then tell me the rest.”

She took a deep breath. Her heart was hammering so painfully against her chest. “I found it in a box, in my attic.” Tears were beginning to spill from her eyes. She couldn’t help it. “The box belonged to a man that has your first name, a man from France who died months ago. I need to know what the hell is going on.”

He leaned back in his chair and sighing deeply. “Yes, I see that you do.” He paused, looking off in the distance as though trying to pull the words from somewhere. “I suppose I’ve been a bit selfish about all of this. I wanted to preserve the fantasy for a while.”

“Fantasy?” She wiped her cheeks. “I don’t understand.”

He spoke with weariness and almost a sadness that she could nearly feel in her own skin. “I knew when I talked to you that something was wrong, but I didn’t know you were already putting it together. But then, why should I be surprised? That you are so intensely intelligent and creative was one of the first things that struck me about you.”

“Putting what together? I don’t know what the hell is going on. These bizarre dreams about us. Damn it, I had just about accepted that along with the deterioration of my body that my mind was going, or maybe it was just a side effect to the pain medication that I’ve been taking. But that’s not it. That’s too easy. Something else is happening.”

“Would it be so much easier for you to accept that you are losing your mind?” He strummed his fingers pensively on that red tablecloth. “You are right. Much more is going on here.”

“Tell me Jean. Who is this Jean Soule, and why was my notebook that I left in your car in his things?”

“I suppose you left it with me at some point Moira, and after I was gone, it was boxed up with the rest of my things.”

Her heart had clutched so tightly at his words that it was painful. “What?” she whispered with desperation. “What are you saying? Your things?”

His hand reached out to grab hers. “Be still. You are much too upset. I can feel it. Please calm down. Truly there is nothing to be frightened of.”

She could feel her breath coming in short stops. She was upset, beyond upset, frantic. “How can I? What are you saying? You, you are Jean Soule. But he’s dead.”

He leaned toward her, “Not so loud my dear. You must be discreet about these truths that most people never allow to touch their lives. The world is a much different place than most perceive it to be.”

She leaned back, forcing herself to control her anxiousness, and dropping the elevated volume of her speech. “Are you saying that you are dead, Jean?”

He smiled with a touch of irony, “Do I look dead?”

“No, you look and feel very alive to me. So, are you saying that Janice Devareaux was mistaken that Jean Soule did not have a coronary and die?”

He looked slightly disturbed, “Ah, it was the heart. I didn’t really know. Well, no, that is true. When it was his time or mine, Jean Soule did make the transition or die if you want to put it that way.”

“What?”

“Moira, there is so much that you just don’t understand my dear. Look around you. How is everyone dressed?”

And then, she did look at the individuals seated at different tables. She was astonished that she hadn’t taken it in before. They were in sweaters and jackets and long pants, definitely cool weather wear. And yet, there she sat in her summery dress with her flats and light sweater draped around her shoulders. She was the oddity here. Then she noticed that he was dressed in a long-sleeved flannel type shirt. Why hadn’t she seen that before? “I was just outside. It’s hot. It’s muggy. What the hell is going on here?”

“Moira, we are in the same place you and I, but we have been travelers. For a while just I and then you. There is a tear here, a tear allowing us to step into each other’s lives and be together.”

“A tear? A tear in what?”

“In time, a rip in time.”

He had walked her back soon after. And she didn’t think of it as hers, because she knew where she was going, at the moment, was not her house. She had told him that she couldn’t eat. He had quickly flagged the waiter and got their check. As they stepped into the night, all the fanciful talk of tears in time was confirmed, although she had hoped it would not be. The night was frozen by the chill of a December breeze. It seemed to pass right through her and freeze her heart with fear. How could all this be? And the worst of it was that she knew she was falling in love with the man who protectively put his arm around her and led her quickly into the warmth of his home. There was no debating that whatever side of this rip they were on, it was his domain now.

He disappeared into the kitchen as she waited calmly by the closed front door. She felt afraid to move, and he quickly reappeared with two brandy glasses partially full of amber-colored liquid. He stopped and looked at her, “That bad?”

“It has all been a bit much.”

“Well, you have been here before, and it was comfortable for you then.”

“You made me dinner.”

“I can again, if you are hungry.”

“No, I’m afraid my appetite has fled for good.”

“Then come sit next to me and have some brandy.” She nodded and sat down on the beige couch, his beige couch. He sat beside her and gently put one of the glasses in her hand. Impulsively, she took a sip that was in hindsight too large. It stung her throat like fire. But the tingling aftermath was pleasant and distracting. “Did I mention how beautiful you look tonight?”

“No, but then there was hardly time. And as it is, I am inappropriately dressed,” she quipped.

“It is somewhat difficult to plan in cases like these.”

“No kidding,” she firmly placed the glass on the coffee table in front of her. “Okay, enough polite chitchat. I want to have all of this explained in a way that my human brain can wrap itself around it.”

He stared at her for a moment and then stood up and walked across the room to the fireplace as though collecting his thoughts before turning to face her. “You know Moira, the first time I saw you was not that day in the park. It was many years ago on that college campus uptown.”

“Tulane?”

“Yes, I think you had just started there, because you seemed quite young. I saw you sitting on the steps outside a building talking to some other students. I watched you for a few minutes, though I am sure you did not realize that I was there. I remember thinking how beautiful you were, so intensely animated and alive. And so, I was very disturbed that first day in the park to see how very tired you seemed, and how very sad.”

“I was dying, I mean I am.”

“And when you say it, that seems like such a terrible thing for you.”

She felt a bit stunned. How did one respond to such a statement? “Isn’t it? The end of life.”

“No, it’s the end of your body’s life. But what is really you, the spirit, goes on to another life.”

“What do you mean, reincarnation?”

“There are many different kinds of life, of living.”

“But Jean, that doesn’t explain all of this.”

He nodded, “Yes, well the point I am making is that I have always known of you. I come from an old family, from an old country who teach the world to its children in a more honest and truer way than is generally known. I was brought up to see clearly and to use all of my senses. You and I, our spirits are linked. Wherever they are living, whatever kind of life, our spirits are linked. They were created together so always wanting and needing to be together.”

Her mind was swirling, “But how?”

“I have always known we would meet, one way or another. It so happened that the paths we led did not allow for it during this lifetime, not in the usual way. But it was necessary that we help each other. I came here, to this place at the end of my life, knowing that here what seemed impossible would become possible.”

“This rip or tear as you call it.”

He sat beside her, “Yes, you see time is not a linear thing as we are taught. It is all happening at once. And here this tear exists. I don’t really know why. Maybe because of the location, the energy of the area. I don’t pretend to understand it all. But I was able to travel through it to what you call your time to meet you. And then I began to pull you back into my time.”

“Why?”

“Because to be blunt, your disease is not so advanced in my time. Frankly, you feel better and can enjoy life more. And that is why I am here, to help you enjoy life, to understand it.”

She stood up shakily, pulling away from him, “I can scarcely take this in.” And then, caught by a new realization and fear she abruptly turned to face him, “But I can tell you that I am not some charity case that you need to care for.”

His face hardened, “Don’t be ridiculous Moira. Do you think I did this just because you are sick, and I feel sorry for you?”

“It crossed my mind.”

“Did you not hear me? What I have done here was not selfless. I have led a very full but also very lonely life. There has been a chasm within me that no one else’s presence could fill.” He crossed to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “I need you. I have worked to try to help this world, but this time, this time with you, is for me as well as you.” He paused and then took a step backward, looking at her intently. “You can feel the truth. That is all it takes to complete this journey.” And then he held out his hands to her.

She could feel the genuineness of his sincerity. It seemed that in this moment a few small steps would start her on an entirely new journey. In many ways, it felt like a leap of faith, but she placed her hands in his, accepting the peace that he offered, content to let it flood her being.

Janice Devereaux walked through the open door of her rental property at the corner of Canal Street and Robert E. Lee. It was a simple, nice home, and it irritated her somewhat that she would soon again be looking for new tenants for it. If she weren’t careful to keep the matters hush hush, she feared that soon the place would soon irrevocably have a macabre reputation attached to it.

As she entered the dwelling, she had time to evaluate the two striking individuals that were sitting in her den. One was an older woman, at least five to ten years older than herself, and from the resemblance, she assumed was Moira’s mother. But for her age, she appeared very well-kept, even could be described as casually elegant. She was kneeling over a packing carton on the terrazzo floor. The other was a younger, good-looking man, who was sitting on the couch across from the lady. He was watching her with what could only be described as a deep concern on his face. Janice wondered if this was her son, but then Moira had never mentioned siblings.

Putting on a realtor’s smile, she entered the disturbing circumstance. “Ah, I hope I’m not intruding. I’m Janice Devereaux. I was Moira’s landlady.”

The woman looked up from the packing carton, showing signs of a tear-stained face. “No, not at all,” she said with the grimmest of smiles. “I am Moira’s mother, Christine Redford, and this is my husband Peter. We were just collecting some of her things.”

Janice smiled, realizing that this of course was a stepfather. He was much too young to be anything else. “Yes, well, I know what a difficult time this must be for you. It really came as quite a shock to me. I hadn’t known Moira long, but I was struck by what a truly lovely person she was. And, of course, I had no idea how ill she was.”

The lady stood up, dusting the wrinkle out of what Janice thought were linen pants, very nice taste, obviously expensive. “Well, Moira was very private. She had been in remission for some time, so we didn’t realize, that she had relapsed. It was quite advanced when she did tell us.”

Janice nodded with sympathy, simultaneously scanning what she could see of the dwelling. They hadn’t made much progress. She calculated that it would be at least several days to a week before they had everything out. She murmured, “She was a very friendly young woman, but she did seem to keep to herself, or so the neighbors mentioned. Of course, the lady next door did mention seeing a gentleman here a few times, from a distance of course.”

The lady’s expression seemed to harden a bit. Evidently, she was close-mouthed like her daughter. “Yes, she did have a friend. He was very kind and supportive. I met him often at the hospital.”

Janice smiled again, although her face ached a bit from it. “It’s good she was surrounded by people who cared about her.”

“Yes,” her mother said. “I can truly say she wasn’t afraid at all. At the end, she was just accepting and peaceful.” And then, she reached into the box that she had been packing, pulling out a small notebook. “Even her writings at the end seemed happy. It’s of great comfort to me.”

And then Janice looked at the small fat little notebook, and said absently, “These are popular to have these little books.”

Moira’s mother looked at her with a bit of a puzzled expression at her odd comment. “Yes, I suppose,” she murmured.

And quickly, Janice Devereaux, moving on to other concerns, dismissed the recollection that she had packed one just like it for the previous tenant.

I’m nearly to the end of this book,

And I feel that I should have something strong to say about it all. But I don’t know enough to sum it up, only to comment that I am still on the journey, and content to allow it to unfold.

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

First appeared in Dragonflies Journeys into the Paranormal

A mystical wordsmith entices you into the world of the paranormal with this collection of inspired stories. Each tale takes the journey of the dragonfly imbued with the momentum and energy of change, following a winding and treacherous path that ultimately will lead you to find the truth buried beneath perception. Includes: “The Wizard,” “The Sojourners,” “Late One Night at Berstrum’s Books,” and “The Tear.”

Emma Fallon

“Emma Fallon” is a short story in which a young woman uncovers a terrifying discovery in one of New Orleans’ historical cemeteries. “Emma Fallon” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled The Left Palm And Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural.

Emma Fallon

It bothered her, how misunderstood she felt.  How people, loved ones, friends, and yes even fiancés didn’t get it, didn’t get her.  She sat in the coffee shop, just across the street from the high-walled cemetery. The day was overcast, cloudy — a perfect day for pictures. Her watch read just after ten. The office had been open for about an hour. She’d phoned in sick at work today. A weary sigh traveled up to somewhere around her throat. It was no secret that she had no business begging off work. She actually held several jobs, and it was the morning work as a receptionist in Dr. Clarence Marchand, pediatrician’s office that she called in sick for.  Later in the afternoon would bring her position at the department store at the Mall which stretched into the evening. Then on the weekends, there was the post at the circulation desk of the public library, and of course, there were also her classes. She took night classes several times a week, working toward a business degree — too much on her plate for a single woman of thirty-five with a bad marriage under her belt. Too much particularly since her passion these days was photography.

She’d noted the gates of the Lafayette Cemetery being unchained only moments before by a thin elderly man. She wondered with distraction who worked in a cemetery, and thought to herself cryptically perhaps she should, given her pension for eclectic employment.

“Perhaps you should pick one track and stick with it.”

That would be Peter, Peter Reynolds, and her fiancé of just under two weeks now. He was a doctor that she’d met when he’d come in to fill in for old Dr. Marchand one week. That was the first job, the one she was allegedly sick for today. Peter was younger than she, by nearly four years, and that had kept her from going out with him at first. It was one of those invisible lines she’d established at some indefinable point in her life. But then, he was particularly persistent, and after a while another line was broken.

One of the things she liked most about him was that he was nothing like her first husband, except of course when he made statements like that.

“You sound just like Jack.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to.”

Peter was quick to be sorry. And that was helpful, but she questioned marrying him. And she questioned picking one track for her life, and mostly she questioned the odd restlessness within her that lately seemed to have become a permanent fixture.

Finishing her cup of coffee, she pulled on the very light weight cotton shirt that she’d brought to wear over her sleeveless sweater, just in case it turned out to be chilly this morning. It was late October, almost Halloween in New Orleans, so that made the weather wholly unpredictable. 

The streets around the cemetery were largely unoccupied. It was a Thursday morning, and this was not her section of town. This was the Garden District, a lovely section of the city that drew her and more often than she liked to admit. What made it distinctive was its texture, its antiquated feel, and its removed aura that tended to convince one that it belonged in another place — perhaps another time, wholly separate from anything around it. She’d toyed with the idea of asking Peter if they could move into the area once they were married. After all, what he would make as a pediatrician would far eclipse what she was managing to live on now. Of course, that would mean she would have to go through with the marriage. She was many things but not a gold-digger, not a mercenary. Marriage would have to be real, for love, not convenience, if it were to happen at all.

Her black leather boots clicked hard on the cement pavement as she rounded the corner of the old cemetery.

A breeze blew lightly through her thick blonde hair just as she walked beyond the iron gates that led inside. It was as one would expect and yet not. High trees stretching over tall, granite mausoleums, some in perfect condition while others damaged, weather and time worn as would be expected over the long expanse of time. Leaves crackled, and distantly she smelled the dying embers of a fire. Nervously fingering the small camera case that hung round her neck, she attempted to clear her mind and concentrate. Pictures, pictures, she thought if she could sell some to a local magazine then finally, she might be on the right track.

“Perhaps you should pick one track and stick with it.”

“You sound like Jack.”

“Was that his name? I thought you said Thomas.”

She’d laughed, “No, no you must be mistaken. It was Jack.”

Then he looked at her with eyes that said he wasn’t so sure, but still reassured. “Sorry, didn’t mean to.”

Her feet wandered through their own volition. She’d been here before but never inside. Her ten years in the city, she’d never wanted to come inside before, until now — until this morning after the dreams, dreams of smoke, bitterness in her throat, smells that burned her nostrils like acids. And then she’d awoken, knowing that she must see inside, not wanting, but needing.

The long blue jean skirt that she wore was straight, and now felt a bit confining. She should have worn pants, but she hadn’t. The skirt stopped her from taking the long strides that she was driven to.  Surrounding her, the crypts were large, large tall, rectangular slabs of stone. So similar in construction but the epithets were different, 1800s, early 1900s, children, families — a child struck down by yellow fever. She took out the camera and began to take shots, shots everywhere, scattered, trees, tombs, broken slabs of stone — just randomly shooting, her fingers quaking as she soaked it all in.

What was it?

What was it?

She looked up from behind the lens. Elusive, but powerful, a pull — it bothered her, worse than that was pushing her, stalking her.

She began to move rapidly but randomly down the uneven pathways, between the tombs, reading the inscriptions, looking, feeling, needing frantically something, something that was here. Her hands reached out, strangely, desperately, her fingertips brushing, brushing lightly across the etched words, forgotten names.

This pointless action stretched on and on, for endless minutes. That was until a feeling of foolishness nearly compelled her to stop. But then lightly brushing across a name delicately engraved on a cold, hard slab of rock, she hesitated, then jolted once it was absorbed.

Impossible, she whispered to herself, looking, staring, dumfounded at what she saw. Again, and again, she brushed her fingers along the letters —again and again in disbelief, until her brain soaked in what she was seeing. It was a coincidence, of course, a name a common name, but hers, her name: “Emma Fallon, Died October 20, 1900.”

“Emma, you just called him Jack. His name was Thomas.”

She nodded, her mind, or rather her memory, hazy. Then she murmured, “Thomas Woolery.”

Peter was looking at her oddly, as though she was making no sense, none whatsoever. “Woolery? But your name—”

“Of course,” the fog was beginning to clear now. It must be those pills that he’d prescribed for her, to help her sleep, to help her sleep dreamless sleep. “I went back to my maiden name. Why would I keep his?”

“Of course,” he cut her off. His flat expression told her that he was satisfied. He did have a pragmatic mind, a physician’s mind. Things had to make sense to him. “And Jack?”

She rubbed her temples, trying desperately to clear out the cobwebs. “It was his middle name, Jackson. Sometimes I called him Jack.” She didn’t know why she’d lied. It probably wasn’t at all necessary. But the truth, the truth, would have been less palatable to her young fiancé. She had to make allowances for him. He was young in so many ways. The world to him was what he could touch, see under a microscope, and could be explained. To her, it was something different, filled with half chances, mists, incomplete tasks, fractures — not so certain, not so tangible, and not at all as controllable as he would have liked to think. She didn’t know who Jack was. It wasn’t her ex-husband’s middle name. It wasn’t a name that she was even particularly comfortable uttering. And she had no idea, why for a few moments she was convinced otherwise.  

There was a breeze that brushed by her, and it seemed to whistle, whistle directly into her ears, causing pain. 

There was a distinctive tap, the tap of a boot on the partial cement walkway that ran along the front of the tombs. She closed her eyes shut, still feeling the pain in her ears, her head, fingertips still connecting to the tomb, the tomb of a woman who bore her name, yet died so long ago. And the tapping, light tapping, was only getting closer. She willed her hand to move, to leave its position connecting with the cool granite, but it would not. So instead, she willed the tapping to pass her by. No doubt it was close, as it had grown distinctly louder. But again, averse to her wishes, it did not. It simply stopped. Somewhere along the infrequently trodden pathway, it had simply stopped.

She forced her eyes open. Vision was blurry and distinctly out of focus — no doubt the breeze, the chapping wind that felt as though it had dropped in temperature, sometime during the last several moments. She breathed in deeply, extending her other hand and grasping the first, forcing it away from the inscription. There was no point now, no pictures today, she told herself. Something had gone awry and nothing more was possible now. She turned on her heel to leave but then stopped abruptly, jolted. Only a few yards away he stood, a figure, a man quietly watching her.

She didn’t intend it, but the suddenness, unexpected shock, sent her eyes into direct contact. A man, bearded, fair, her age, perhaps older, in a trench coat standing there. There was no mistake, just watching her directly. She pulled her light shirt around her a bit more closely, dropping her eyes and readying for a quick departure, when his voice abruptly caused her to halt. “I must know before you leave here, if you’re all right.”

Against her volition, his voice sent her eyes upward again, meeting the stranger’s. She realized he’d taken another few steps toward her, and her immediate response was to back away. But there was nowhere to go, behind her was the cold hard surface of Emma Fallon’s tomb. “I’m fine.” There was a perceptible tremor in her voice.

And then he stepped closer, with, she believed, an expression of kindness on his face. She noted for the first time that he was wearing a turtleneck sweater and blue jeans beneath the open trench coat. Odd wardrobe, after all, it was only October. October in New Orleans was not especially cold weather by any means. “Are you sure? You look a bit distressed.”

“No,” and then she shrugged, “that’s not unusual. I usually look distressed.” Impulsively, she’d decided to diffuse the awkwardness by taking on a bit of a flip tone

An amused smile spread across his face, and she thought of Peter and how he was much too literal to appreciate such peculiar moments. “Well, if that’s true, it is unfortunate. A lovely lady like yourself should not be so often upset.” She detected no particular accent, but he did have a specific way of phrasing words that suggested intelligence or perhaps culture.

“I didn’t say I was upset, just that I looked so.”

He nodded, “No, you didn’t say. But it is more than clear that you are.” She hadn’t realized when he’d taken that final step, the one that brought him directly in front of her. The one that enabled him to quietly reach up and graze her cheek with his fingertips, “So pale,” he murmured. “Have you had a fright?”

The sound was loud, loud enough so perhaps he should have heard her heart hammering, hammering in fear, or hammering in surprise, of which she wasn’t at all certain. Details seemed to be becoming blurred. “No, why would you say such a thing?”

And then the smile, a slight smile that traveled up into blue-gray colored eyes. “Because it is clearly written all over you, all over your lovely face. That something terrible has brushed by you.”

She deliberately stepped to the side, since clearly there was no place of escape backwards. “I have to be going,” she managed to get out.

But the stranger’s eyes were no longer on her. They were focused on the tomb that now lay exposed. And to her complete bewilderment, he reached out his hand, almost tenderly brushing the inscription as she had done herself moments before. “Emma Fallon,” it came out in a heavy whisper, his deep voice wrapping around the name in an odd way. And then his eyes were on her, not so kind, not so soft, now remarkably piercing. “Have you heard about Emma Fallon?”

She stood there, struck dumb for a moment, staring at him with puzzlement, “Heard?”

And then he nodded, “Oh yes, so many stories about this young woman. As you can see, she died fairly young.”

For a split second, her heart slammed in her chest. She’d been so captivated by the name that she hadn’t really considered the dates. “Really?” was all she said, feeling in the moment a strange, inexplicable paralysis creeping into her flesh.

“Oh yes, young, but a busy life. Some say she was a mystic,” and then his eyes narrowed as he focused in on her again, “but others not. Others say she was a witch.”

She felt his bold stare and suddenly experienced an odd coursing of strength that seemed to gravitate right up her spine. She straightened up and frowned at him explicitly, “Really? A witch? With a long nose and a black cauldron?”

And then the stranger smiled again, appreciating, she was quite sure, her sudden burst of spunk. “Well, perhaps not exactly that kind of witch, because I have heard that she was quite beautiful.  No, I think more so the kind of witch that casts spells, charms, perhaps beguilements.”

“Sounds lovely,” her voice was dry. She wondered in this odd moment exactly what was going on here. Was this strange man trying to flirt with her or planning a mugging? At this bizarre instant, either scenario seemed plausible.

He dropped his hand from the tomb. “I see you’re not one for fancifulness.”

She folded her arms in front of her, feeling oddly more vulnerable in the wake of that observation. “Well, life doesn’t always leave you enough time for fancifulness.”

A thoughtfulness crossed his somewhat rugged face. It was odd. She couldn’t truly decide if he were handsome or not. There were sharp planes along his cheek bones that defied that description, but there was also an appeal, something dancing at times in his eyes that could only be interpreted as charming. “Pity,” he offered, “when life denies you such enjoyments.”

Again, she felt taken aback by his words. Truly, if it weren’t for his pleasant manner, she would have sworn he was criticizing her. “Well, as I said before, I have to be going.”

“Going where?” he asked softly, but pointedly.

“Work, I’m late for work,” she lied. After all, she had the morning off. She’d called in sick. But the idea of lingering, continuing this very odd conversation, seemed completely intolerable and out of the question.

“I see,” he responded, again softly. It was odd how the tone of his voice had become so quiet, soothing, almost wrapping around her, when he spoke. “Did I tell you how Emma Fallon died?” Again, a breeze seemed to blow near them, the temperature dropping perceptively, or perhaps it hadn’t. Perhaps, it was simply all in her mind. She was realizing now, recognizing in this moment, in this foreboding little place, that she shouldn’t be here — that all of this was possibly a terrible mistake. She said nothing but took a step backward, feeling her booted leg again brush up against the last resting place of Emma Fallon. “It was an unfortunate end, you see. But many said she deserved her fate.  I don’t know if that’s true. What do you think? Does anyone really deserve to die, or to die the way she did?”

“I need to leave now,” she murmured, leaning against the tomb, the cold hard surface of the tomb.

“Yes, I know,” bending in so close to her that she could feel his warm breath. “But first, I’ll tell you how she died.” His eyes widened, and she could feel their glare like a tangible stab holding her in place. “You see, her husband murdered her.” He lifted his hands in the air in front of her, his strong, long, capable hands. And then he continued in a heavy whisper. “He killed her for betraying him with another man. Witch or not, sorceress or not, she couldn’t stop him.”

Her vision began to blur before her, a swirl, as she felt his hands go lightly around her throat. “As you can well imagine Emma, he strangled her, completely, and without hesitation crushed the life out of her.”  She didn’t know if he’d tightened his grip, or what caused all reality to spin, and then abruptly disappear into blackness.

“You don’t talk about him much.”

“Who?”

Peter frowned a bit, and again she questioned the reasons that they were together. It was not the first time that she thought perhaps it was convenience, timing, weakness. And as a person she found him, well, to put it nicely, not formidable. Not like, “Your first husband, Thomas Woolery.”

It took a moment for her consciousness to absorb that name. It was there, certainly well-placed in her memory, attached to some face that now seemed to be fading with each passing instant. “It was so long ago.”

Again, confusion, and then suspicion passing across his still youthful features. “How long?”

She shrugged, “I don’t remember exactly, years. I’ve lived here in the city alone for years.”

His brown eyes narrowed, “But you’ve only been working with Dr. Marchand for a few months. What did you do before that?”

She’d smiled, trying to smooth things as was her strength in this relationship. “Peter, why all these questions? If you had doubts about me, shouldn’t you have considered that before we got engaged?”

“Why are you so secretive?” he’d asked.

It bothered her, irritated her, actually, all the probing. She had answers, neat little answers tucked away in a file in her mind somewhere for such occasions, but now it seemed like such an effort to get to them. “Look, I’m just not feeling well, a headache. How about we do this another time?”

And then he nodded, said sorry, and dropped it. Like she knew he would. And a day passed and another with no more inquiries, and then there was this day.

She awoke to dimness, to flickering shadows on a white brick wall, and to a chill so powerful that it felt indeed as though the season had changed. Her head throbbed as she sat up on the short pink satin settee. A heavy knitted, ecru colored afghan was tightly wrapped around her.

She glanced about trying to somehow absorb what she was seeing — another chair, small table, bookshelf all light in color, and the fireplace across from her — the only light in the room.

For a moment, she wondered if she were dead. If, indeed, she had been murdered by the stranger in the cemetery, but then she dismissed the possibility. It was a nice room, but there had to be more substance to heaven than a pleasant room. “What makes you think you’re bound for heaven?”

The voice behind her was startling. She pulled the cover more closely to her, briefly fearing that she’d been kidnapped and that there were more horrors to come. Then, as he rounded the small couch, he commented dryly, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Without giving her a glance, he crossed to the fireplace, squatting down in front of it, stoking the flames. He’d divested himself of the trench coat and pushed up the sleeves of his navy-colored turtleneck. It was a striking shade against his light-colored hair. He turned to her suddenly, shooting her a wry glance. “Are you reading my mind?” she murmured absently.

“Wouldn’t be the first time, love,” he shot back returning his attention to the fireplace. Her head began to throb and her vision to swirl a bit. “Concentrate Emma, you must anchor yourself here.”

He was now standing in front of the fireplace, poker in his hand, staring at her with a palpable intensity. She straightened up with an unexpected burst of extreme irritation. “What the hell are you talking about?”

And then he smiled, dropping the dark silver poker down to the brick surrounding the fireplace. “That’s better. Use your anger. It will help you regain your place.”

She flung the blanket off her, standing up. “Are you out of your mind? What does that mean, my place? Who are you?”

He stood before her quietly, moving no closer, no laughter in his eyes now, charm all dropped away, rather perfectly unvarnished. “That’s a very good question Emma. Who am I, who indeed?”

Again, the swirl in her head, voices, phantoms, images melting away in the dim firelight. “How do you know my name?”

A slight smile, “Emma? Emma Fallon, same as the woman on the tomb, same as the witch, the sorceress.”

She felt shaky again, losing ground, as if the breath had been just knocked out of her. “She died young. Her husband murdered her,” she rambled, grasping, grasping for anything.

He shrugged, issuing a quick laugh, “Yes, well, I’m sure he would have liked to, from time to time. But then again, it wasn’t an untroubled road for either of them.  You see, they didn’t make it easy on each other.”

She breathed in deeply, again feeling the swirl in her head, but trying to ignore it. She picked up the woven afghan from the sofa and wrapped it around her shoulders. “It’s cold in here.”

He nodded, “Yes, can’t be helped. But there is the fire.”

There was a trembling going on inside her, in her mind, in her heart, and throughout the layers of memory that were peeling away. “I need to go home.”

“Yes, of course you do Emma.  But what you need to decide is where exactly home is.”

She looked up at him with confusion, feeling acutely not for the first time, but for the first acknowledged time, the feeling of familiarity that accompanied this individual. “I have to go home to Peter.”

“Really?” he said with exaggerated emphasis. His face hardened perceptibly at the mention of her young fiancé’s name. “Really Emma? And what exactly sort of life do you think you’ll have with young Peter?”

“Uncomplicated.” The answer slipped out before there was thought.

And he laughed in response, “Yes, well, that’s true enough.” And then he moved closer to her. “It would be uncomplicated, but for a woman like you wouldn’t that be—” and then he brushed her cheek lightly with the back of his fingertips. “Dull?” he whispered.

She looked at him squarely, feeling an odd mix of being compelled and irritated at the same time.  “Who are you?” she asked directly and with no hesitation this time.

“Time to remember Emma,” he coaxed softly with that voice, that tone, that compelling, soothing intonation, “remember your first husband.”

“Thomas,” she murmured feeling mesmerized, “Thomas Woolery.”

He sighed with a bit of exasperation. “Thomas Woolery was my tailor.” Then with a steely voice he commanded, “Remember Emma.”

And then, it came with almost an audible crack, although it was all in her mind. There was a deluge, a flood of color, sounds of music, laughter, dresses of satins, and muslins that cascaded across the floor. And him, his eyes, blue-gray colored. “Jack,” she expelled in a gasp.

“Good girl.”

Then she turned to him with a feeling of genuine anger that exploded like a volcano, “You bastard!”

He smiled broadly, laughing, “Ah huh, remember too much I see.”

She felt the power of who she was course through her body once more and felt more than inclined to slam him with anything she could put her hands on. “How dare you!”

“You said you wanted time apart.”

“I meant I wanted to go to the country, not to another century.”

“How is the future my love? Is it a brave new world? Is it that much better without me around?”

She dropped the blanket on the floor and crossed to the fireplace, resting her hand on its walnut colored mantle. “Simpler Jack, so much simpler.”

He frowned. Evidently, she’d made a direct hit. “And that is so much better?”

She reveled in the freedom that was coursing through her now. How confining it was not to truly be oneself. “Did you miss me at all?” she asked a little kindlier than he deserved.

There was no smile, but the lights had returned, the dancing lights in his eyes. “If I hadn’t, I would have left you there. With your young baby doctor.”

She smiled, now beginning to feel the slightest degree of validation, “He’s a pediatrician, and you’re jealous.”

“I didn’t expect you to take up with the first silly bloke that approached you.”

She looked away, “It’s your own fault. You made me forget everything, planted all those silly, false memories. I should have known. Couldn’t you have made my past a bit more exciting?”

“Then you would have never wanted to come home,” he stated flatly.

And she crossed her arms, truly beginning to absorb the enormity of what her dear, loving, alchemist of a husband had done. “I didn’t say I wanted to.” He moved in front of her, slowly placing his hands on either side of her face. “Trying to strangle me again?” she whispered.

 “Wouldn’t dream of it dearest. Come home with me. I’m tired of all of this. I need you.”

“And?” she waited expectantly.

With emphasis he capitulated, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have sent you away. I just wanted or rather hoped it would help you appreciate more what we have.”

She looked away, but he gently tilted her face back to him, “That was a nasty touch, the tombstone Jack,” she murmured.

He nodded, “Trying to jolt your memories. I suppose in hindsight it was a bit extreme. But be honest Emma, do you really prefer the future?”

She shook her head reluctantly, “No, not really. It’s a lot of work. But at least I had the vote there.”

He smiled with genuine appreciation, “Yes, well, give it time.”

Her husband pulled her closely into a warm embrace, and she knew that this time the wild swirl around them would be the one that took them home.

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

  Just when all seems well and quiet, when all becomes comfortable and predictable then reality bends. Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life fractures 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.

The Lost Soul

This short story, “The Lost Soul,” originally appeared in Travels into the Breach: Accounts of a Reclusive Mystic. The story introduces Malachi McKellan and his spirit guide Simon Tull, a pair of unconventional detectives who specialize in psychic attacks. Hope you enjoy!!

The Lost Soul

It’s painful, perhaps too painful at times to be alive. In fact, at times he felt drenched in it. Odd how negativity so completely drowns out gentler emotions — love, hope, even joy.

The fear feels like a raging animal filled with pain and madness, desperate to alleviate it, somehow, any way possible.

He breathed in sharply, the emotion clinging acutely somewhere around his spine, specifically the lower back region. The solar plexus was usually where the more primal emotions were housed though he felt it everywhere.

Whoever said emotions weren’t physical, well, was more than mistaken. The intensity of it made him ill.

He walked into the hallway of the apartment building. The ceiling was high, the floor a black and white terrazzo pattern — small blocks — rather nonde­script, the doorways painted white, wooden.

Again, there was a wave of that intense emotion punching into his gut. How could anyone bear to live here?

“Numbness,” his companion commented to him. He glanced next to him, a tall stately, ebony skinned young man dressed in his 19th century English garb. Simon Tull was his sometime companion and his full-time spirit guide. He would see him, normally, when he traveled astrally – whether in dreams or as now on an excursion, an out of body excursion.

He was Malachi McKellan – primarily an esoteric author but from time to time a sort of paranormal investigator. He was in his mid-60s and was feeling more often than not that he was getting too old for this business. “One would have to be pretty numb to ignore this level of emotional disturbance.”

“Most people achieve a cultivated numbness, dismissive of their own feelings, or rather worse attrib­uting them to incorrect sources.”

Another wave of fear hit him acutely right in the middle of his stomach. It was true that if he didn’t understand this intense emotion did not belong to him that it would be extraordinarily disturbing to his peace of mind. He tried to clear his thoughts, separating himself from the unchecked negativity. But it was challenging. The place was thick with the cobwebs of unfiltered emotion. “It’s difficult,” he murmured.

“Yes, of course,” Simon grimaced; continuing to walk beside him but letting Malachi take the lead. Simon never relinquished his role as a mentor, or perhaps more aptly put guide. These exercises, though often disguised to help others, were still his learning ground. Simon’s function was to nudge him, at times strenuously nudge him, in the right direction, and also in the direction of Malachi’s personal evolution.

He stopped near the end of the long hallway staring at a wooden door — one with a bold number eleven painted in black on its white surface. “Still alive?” he asked.

“Unknown,” Simon answered.

And quite jarringly, even for those operating from the astral plane, the door flew open. Malachi stumbled backward a bit at the force of the action. In addition to the jolt of his sudden appearance, the man now before them was perfectly frightening. He was a young man, early twenties, skinny, grizzled, unshaven, eyes wide with terror, face with a nearly yellow pallor. But it was the blood that was so evident, still running from the slashes he’d made on his wrists — some dried, caked on his clothing, but most still fresh dripping out of the wounds.

“Are you the paramedics?” His voice rasped with fear. “I called days ago,” and then he frantically clutched his wounds. “I can’t get it to stop bleeding.”

Malachi took in a breath that felt like a knife of pain in his stomach. No, this one was definitely not alive, and that would make it much more complicated. “How long?” he murmured to Simon.

“About half a century,” he answered softly, clearly not trying to further agitate the monstrously agitated young man.

Good Lord, imagine being trapped in your own psychodrama for half a century.

Two days earlier

“It’s an older building, right on St. Charles Avenue. I’ve no idea how long it’s been there.”

Malachi sipped his blueberry tea. It was purported to be good for his nerves, though at the moment he couldn’t really attest to that. He’d been stuck somewhere deeply in the abyss of writer’s block when Adele Blanchard had dropped by unexpectedly to jar him further off course or perhaps just distract him a bit from his intended purpose.

“And your friend who looked at an apartment there, did she find something somewhere else?”

Adele seemed to perceptively bristle, straightening up in the rattan chair across from him on his screen porch. “Well yes, she found a lovely place off of Henry Clay Avenue, but it’s more than clear something is very wrong in that apartment building.”

He nodded, noting her blueberry tea still remained untouched on the glass coffee table in front of her. “You went there?”

“I was curious.”

He put his mug down and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment. “You were able to go inside?”

“Yes, I called, told them I wanted to look at the place.”

“To rent for yourself?”

“Well yes Malachi, otherwise —”

“Otherwise they wouldn’t have let you in.” He opened his eyes, feeling a dull throbbing somewhere in the middle of his forehead now.

“There is something very wrong there,” she muttered.

“No doubt, clearly you lost quite a bit of energy.”

“Do you think so?”

He shrugged. “Tell me what you felt.”

“Let’s see. The place was large, two-bedroom, high ceilings but window units. Not so unusual for an older building.”

He could concretely see the place in his mind as she described it. Quite unconsciously, it seemed that she was somewhat adept at transferring visual images. “No Adele, please, how did you feel there?”

“Oh yes of course, well it did feel cold, oddly cold since it was such a warm day outside.”

He could sense within the image the cold spots she’d felt. “What else?”

“I—” and she hesitated, shifting a bit in her seat, “I felt strange as though it was difficult to breathe.”

It was clear that she’d tapped into others’ emotions there — powerful, tangible, negative emotions that translated physically. “You know you really shouldn’t seek these places out.”

“I thought you’d want to know Malachi. You know you’re very gifted with these sorts of things. Maybe you could do something to help there.”

“Not everything can be helped. Sometimes you have to simply let things be what they are,” he commented, perhaps a tad too dryly as he sipped his tea.

She did look a bit stunned, surprisingly as though he’d reached out and slapped her across the face. “But you’ve been given such abilities Malachi. I truly believe you should use them.”

He leaned back in his chair with no comment. How could he possibly explain this to her? Somewhere along the way his optimism and belief that he could fix and help every situation had dissipated. It had evolved into a sort of world-weary acceptance that every soul was involved in its own self-created drama, and yes at times its self-created hell. And the truth was that there was very little on the whole that he could do to make much of a dent in the misery in this world.

“You must understand, Adele, that acceptance is often a vital part of life. People choose their own paths for varied amounts of reasons, not the least of which is learning. We should invariably spend much less time judging what is good or bad but rather accept. We must allow others to go through life their own way, instead of trying to force what we believe should happen upon them.”

She sat up even more straightly, though he had not believed that was possible. Bristling further, yes perhaps that was an apt description here. “Malachi, what are you here to learn yourself, if you don’t even try?”

He sipped his tea because it had cooled off enough to do so, and he sipped his tea because he did not know how to answer her. When should one accept and when should one attempt to be of help? That was the question he had never quite found a proper answer to.

Over the next day and a half Malachi sunk himself into his writing. Through his books, this was a tangible way he could help people, educate them about the spiritual nature of existence. But it was rough going. There was no easy flow to his thoughts, nor any adhesiveness to his concentration. There was an impediment. And though he did not actively seek it out, he knew without question Simon would tell him that this was a message from the spiritual realm. It was telling him that he was ignoring a pressing matter.

So, he took a drive in his sky-blue sedan. It was late May, and the humidity of the summer was already beginning to devour the New Orleans’ landscape. At this point, all he could hope for was a strong thunderstorm to temporarily blot out some of the heat.

It bothered him, or rather Adele bothered him — her optimism, her naïveté so to speak. Perhaps it had begun to overwhelm him, too much pain traveling to places and seeing things with a decidedly unique view that most people would never be conscious of.

He found it necessary to insulate himself from becoming too involved, not unlike a doctor who had to become detached to the suffering of their patients in order, well, not to absolutely drown in it. But how much was too much detachment? Was he slowly losing his humanity? And as Adele had suggested, what indeed was he here to learn?

As he drove past the palatial homes on St. Charles Avenue, he forced himself to put aside all of these cryptic self-reflecting considerations and obtain a clear mind. Such circular distractions could be of no help now.

He slowed his car as he approached the building. Adele had succinctly described its location before leaving. No matter what he’d said, she hadn’t given up on him. He breathed in deeply, focusing on receiving impressions much as a blank slate.

But at least a block and a half before he came to the structure, it made its presence known with a stabbing pain directly in the middle of his forehead. The sensation was not so very unlike someone taking a rather sharp and pointy knitting needle and plunging it directly through the skin on that spot.

And as he actively drove by, it intensified quite decidedly. His breathing became labored, his skin clammy. He was more than sure anyone else experiencing these symptoms might surmise they were having a heart attack or stroke. But Malachi knew differently. He knew the symptoms of a spiritual attack. Nearly as though something had reached outward and struck at him directly.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been down that street, but I’ve never felt this magnitude of negative energy there before.”

“Sometimes these things are cloaked, perhaps mostly confined to the interior of the structure itself.” Simon didn’t always have all the answers, or if he did, he didn’t always disclose them promptly. Malachi had noticed since their earliest association, which had actually been when he was a young teenager that Simon Tull preferred for Malachi to puzzle out his own answers. A good tactic for a spirit guide, he supposed.

“Adele, Adele came into direct contact with the place. I suppose she might have functioned as a kind of conduit or even magnifier for me.”

“Could be,” Simon murmured, pacing in front of the fireplace of the mountainside cottage, actually the cottage that existed somewhere in a deeper level of Malachi’s consciousness. It was a place where he and Simon would extensively hash out some of his dilemmas. And always here it seemed to be perpetual November, something that suited him quite well. “That is possible. Adele Blanchard is quite a sensitive, untapped as that may be.”

Well he did agree with Simon on that count. Although she liked to assume the façade of a bit of an eccentric, she did have an uncanny way of getting to the heart of the matter. “She was adamant about that place. That something was very problematic there.”

Simon had stopped his pacing and was eyeing him curiously. “And you resisted her prodding?”

“Yes, I suppose I did. New Orleans is filled with all manner of psychic activities, divergent energies, problem spots if you will. How in the world does one know when to step in, and when to leave well enough alone?”

Simon leaned back against the redwood mantle of the fireplace, seemingly lost in thought. “Well I can tell you my friend it isn’t an analytical decision. At times, you must act because there will be no peace within you if you do not.”

When Malachi was nine, nearing ten as he recalled, though granted the recollection was not as crisp and jarring as it had been when he was younger, he and his family vacationed in a charming sort of beach house along the coast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. His father’s work, consulting on engineering projects, actually had the small family rather mobile in those days. For him, it meant roots that were transferable, certainly not firmly grounded and a younger sister as his one true friend.

But this summer had promised to relieve them all of some of the vexation and turmoil of their transient lifestyle. At least, that was the hope.

Cosmetically, and from old family photos that he’d acquired upon his mother’s death, he recalled the house as being quite lovely. Just a half dozen yards from the beach proper, white wood, spacious rooms, a long screen porch at the front, and a winding stairwell leading to the second-floor bedrooms.

Of course, even at nine, though he was not yet under the tutelage of his good and faithful mentor, one Simon Tull, Malachi had a radar for unusual phenomena. Even before he crossed the threshold of the house, he knew that something was wrong.

And on the third night of the occupation of their new residence, Malachi found out in particular what it was.

He kept his window open at night, allowing the sea breeze to fill his room. The white sheers fluttered as the illumination from the moon gave a tinge of variation to the darkened room.

Perhaps he’d been dreaming, but he awoke to the sound of rustling, movement.

It startled him, the figure standing at the window. He was only nine, but then reason stepped in. Perhaps it was his mother or sister. But no, his sister was not of a taller stature than him and his mother, while a lovely woman, was well into her late thirties. This young lady in the long white nightgown was also not a blond. Her hair was long and dark, dark like the shadows covering her.

His heart was pounding with fear as his analytical side concluded that this indeed was an intruder. “What do you want?” He called out in the steadiest voice he could pull out of his nine-year-old arsenal.

It was moments before he was acknowledged, but she did slowly turn toward him. Granted, the light was dim but even, so he marked the extreme pallor of her skin, not so different from the color of her nightgown, nor the long rope hanging loosely around her neck. It was a noose.

But even with the ugly swollen welts around her throat the most horrible thing was her eyes. They were so wide, so terror filled that he could feel her horror, her fear hitting him tangibly in the gut. He was a boy, not given to panic, but he was more than sure he screamed.

Of course, when all was said and done, his rescuers, his parents, attributed the episode to a bad dream. But he knew without question that it had not been.

“Suicides are a difficult lot,” Simon had pronounced rather emphatically some years later. “Unfortunately, of course depending on the mitigating circumstances, they often bear the fate of a murderer.”

Malachi did remember being somewhat befuddled at that proclamation. “That sounds a bit harsh.”

“From a certain point of view by killing our body, we are murdering ourselves. Do we have the right to destroy the physical vessel that houses the spirit, any more than another has the right to destroy that vessel?”

“Yes, within suicide we are only causing harm to ourselves. And I’d imagine someone who does it is just looking for an escape from pain,” Malachi argued.

“Pain perhaps their spirit has chosen to learn from.”

“All in all, it still seems a bit harsh.”

“Well judge it as you may my friend. It does, however, hurl the one who does it into a rather protracted period of chaos, a fugue if you will. That can last for some time, until they can acknowledge and take responsibility for what they’ve done. Only then can healing begin. That young woman you saw had been trapped in her own psychodrama for over a hundred years in your estimation of time.”

“My estimation of time?”

“Another discussion Malachi, but the truth is that in attempting to escape pain a suicide actually only inflicts more pain on themselves, self-created as it is.”

Malachi took in the pitiful creature before him, feeling a curious case of déjà vu. He had all the hallmarks of a suicide trapped between realities that had been quite unconsciously haunting this old apartment building for some time. But nonetheless something about this just didn’t quite sit right with him.

He turned to Simon. “He can’t be responsible for all the negative energy in this place.”

Simon shrugged a bit expressionless. “Doubtful that he could be, more of a symptom I’d imagine — though no doubt he has fed into the overall complexity of the situation.”

He turned back to the fellow in question who seemed to be eyeing both he and Simon with growing agitation. “Yes, of course we called,” he tried to say as pleasantly as he could manage. “But you really need to calm yourself.”

His eyes widened in undeniable terror. “Look at my arms,” he said holding them out in front of him. “They won’t stop bleeding. No matter what I do, they just won’t stop.”

“Yes, perhaps you just need a bit of a rest.” He glanced inside the apartment becoming aware of a rather pungent smell emanating from the interior. “What did you say your name is again friend?” he asked.

The poor unfortunate glanced to Simon then back to him suspiciously. “My name? Why do you need my name?”

“Don’t push,” Simon murmured.

He was right. Malachi could feel it acutely — the sheer horror and panic emanating from this lost soul — something that he found oddly disproportionate, because clearly it wasn’t all self- generated. Something or someone wanted to keep this one in a perpetual heightened state of anxiety. But why?

“Draining,” Simon answered as though Malachi had spoken his thoughts aloud, but then again it was true in this astral state that thoughts were more permeable, more accessible than normal. “Such a height­ened level of upset makes energy draining much more easily accomplished.”

Of course, that was true, and in the psychic or dare he say spiritual realm, energy was a commodity much sought after. It was more precious than gold to those who understood its real power — the life force: a force that under the right conditions could be stolen from unsuspecting victims.

“So, he is not the source,” Malachi concluded. The young man was glaring at both of them wide-eyed and utterly panicked, responding as though what they were saying was complete gibberish. And he supposed, considering his realm of experience that their conversa­tion probably was.

“No, as I said a symptom or if you’d rather a victim.”

Malachi stepped back from this pitiful individual trying to obtain enough distance so that he could focus again on his surroundings. “There isn’t a great deal that can be drained from an individual such as this caught between existences. Most of his energy is gone.”

“Yes,” Simon standing beside him again. “Unless, he can be used as a tool, help create an atmosphere of anxiety in this place.”

“To help facilitate the draining of the living,” he finished Simon’s thought. “But if he’s been here over fifty years, what exactly is forcing him to stay.”

“Something else,” Simon murmured. “Something confusing him, suppressing him, using him for its own ends.”

Hearing is an odd thing in the astral realm. Sometimes it functions like a thought in one’s mind, and sometimes it is something quite physical akin to the sensation in the physical world. Malachi was more than certain that in that moment he heard a heavy foot fall behind them.

Fifty-two years ago

“Your sister is in trouble.”

He frowned. He was thirteen and heavily enmeshed in a new science fiction release. And at that point he hadn’t really decided whether or not Simon Tull was real or just a figment of his overactive imagination.

But there he stood, big as life, in the middle of his bedroom, two o’clock in the morning while Malachi lie huddled in his bed holding a flashlight reading his new book. Perhaps he wasn’t really reading. Perhaps Simon Tull was part of a dream within which Malachi was reading his book, though quite honestly that seemed a little thin.

So, he put down the paper back and quite dryly commented, “Am I my sister’s keeper?”

The tall dark fellow glared at him a bit. “Are you daft lad? To sit up on your high horse and quote the Bible at me as if you even understand what it means.”

He shrunk a bit beneath the covers. The stern British tone disturbed him. “I don’t know what you expect me to do.”

“I expect you to help young man. You’re very gifted, and I expect you not to just sit on all that talent and piss it away.”

He sat up in the bed though feeling a bit of outrage making the hairs rise on the back of his neck. “I’m only thirteen. What do you expect you ridiculous ghost?”

And then his face broke into a wide smile. “That’s better. Now get out of your bed, and let’s see about your sister.”

He was dressed in a t-shirt and pajama pants with no socks, of which he was acutely aware as his bare feet hit the cool wooden floor. “What’s wrong with her anyway?” He didn’t actually care for his sister just now at this stage of their lives. She was a pest, a pesky ten-year-old who always wanted to be in his business. She hadn’t always been that way. His mother claimed it was a phase, a phase that in his estimation was going on entirely too long.

“Come with me,” the tall lanky, fellow com­manded. He’d actually talked to him only maybe one or two times before, but he was always dressed the same, that old-fashioned gray tweed suit. Awfully dressy for Malachi’s boyhood bedroom he thought.

Evangeline or Evie as was her nickname slept across the hall, door always opened because she was afraid of the dark. Simon Tull stopped short before they entered the room putting his hand out in front of Malachi. “Now lad, you might find this a bit upsetting at first. Keep your wits about you. That’s the only way you’ll be of any use to Evangeline.”

He yawned, wishing now he could just return to his bed. “Fine,” he muttered.

Simon Tull stepped back allowing Malachi to enter first. But he didn’t get far. In fact, he didn’t get much more than two feet in the room.

Evangeline was there, seemingly asleep in her white metal daybed. The shocking thing, though, was that she wasn’t alone. There was something with her, bent over her, something dark, darkish green and moist. It seemed humanoid in some respects but with abnormally long slimy wet arms and scaly skin. It moved or slithered a bit over her, then pulled its misshapen head up and turned to them. He didn’t know if it had eyes. All he could see was a round hole where a mouth should be and long silvery teeth.

“It’s a monster,” he choked out.

“Calm down Malachi. You won’t be of any use so upset.”

“What’s it doing to her?”

“Draining energy, I’d imagine. Most children have a natural immunity to that sort of thing, but there is something about Evangeline that makes her vulnera­ble.”

Its arms sort of unwound and slithered over his sister, almost as though it were making some sort of claim. “Why is it so hideous?”

“I think it’s the only way your mind can translate it to your brain. It’s a low one, a sub parasite sort of creature. Looks like a monster to you because it lives on such a base plane of existence.”

“What does it want?”

“What we all want deep down to have a better life, to evolve, acknowledged or not. It feels that if it can absorb Evangeline’s pure energy it will gain strength, feel better.”

“You said she’s vulnerable.”

“She’s an empath. A pension for psychic abilities seems to run in your family. It must have approached her as something else — perhaps.”

“An imaginary friend,” Malachi completed the thought dubiously. She had rattled on and on about her imaginary friend. What was it? A koala or panda? Much to his chagrin, he couldn’t recall.

“Yes, yes and she’s a lonely little girl, happy for company.”

“But this thing?”

“Well she doesn’t see it as you do.”

“So, monsters are real then?”

Simon Tull shrugged a bit. “There are all kinds of monsters in the world Malachi. But what’s clear is that we need to get rid of it, before it makes her too weak and open to all sorts of other attacks.”

“How do we do that?”

He smiled rather warmly given their situation. “That’s where you come in.”

Malachi stood quietly within the halls of the Napoleon Apartment complex on St. Charles Avenue. It was difficult to think here, difficult to center himself as he was overcome with waves of disturbing concentra­tions of low frequency emotions. Fear was paramount, anxiety of all sorts, panic, paranoia, and anger — fierce strands of anger always the stalwart companion of fear.

“Focus Malachi,” Simon’s voice from now or perhaps long ago. “Fill yourself with calm, with peace, with love for your sister.”

He remembered it from the past. “The feeders don’t know what to do with those emotions. It confounds them, then it terrifies them.”

He heard the movement behind him — the rustling. “Can you see it yet?” Malachi asked.

“Yes,” Simon said quite solemnly. “This one has grown strong here — feeding for so long.”

“What can I do against that?”

“It thrives on fear young Master McKellan, on all the base emotions. Even its appearance to you inspires this. So, you cannot give it what it wants, instead give it what it does not want.”

Slowly, he opened his eyes. It was in front of him now, moving, rasping as it moved. It had a huge misshapen head, long twisted arms not unlike mangled and brittle tree branches. The eyes were red, a glowing indication of its energy frequency, and the skin the palest white. There were clothes as well; tattered torn clothing suggesting that it had attempted to emulate human wardrobe. Is that what it aspired to, evolving to their level?

There were beings in the world who masqueraded as people, usually existing on the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder. Base creatures still functioning largely as parasites, bent on exploiting what is worst in the human condition. Perhaps in all its energy accumulation that was its ultimate goal.

“Possibly,” Simon muttered, acknowledging Malachi’s thoughts in his clipped British accent. “This whole place has functioned as a power charging station for this thing for decades.”

It moved or slithered perhaps was the proper description. “I don’t think it likes me,” he remarked. His skin felt hot. It wanted a way in, but his determination and focus were resisting it.

“We need to kick it out,” Simon said rather placidly.

“How do we get rid of it?” He said a bit breathlessly. That’s what it felt like being near the creature. That he was wholly out of breath.

“Be calm Malachi. Do not be afraid of what you see. It’s much more afraid of you, than you are of it.”

“How can that be?” asking a bit in disbelief.

“Because it feels your strength, the positive energy of your character, your energy, that is death to it.”

“I’m not that positive.”

“Do you want to hurt anyone?”

“No, of course not.”

“Do you wish to help people?”

“Yes, that’s what is right.”

“Do you want to help your sister?”

He focused on her, seeing her toss and turn in her sleep and seeing that thing near her. “Yes, of course I do.”

“Then use all your concentration Malachi and surround her in white light, a protective cocoon that this thing cannot breach.”

He stood there concentrating, reaching deeply into his imagination. There is a power in creativity. He remembered that from somewhere.

He could see the light all around Evie now like a white glistening bubble surrounding her. He could feel peace, love, and a calmness that he could not remember truly ever tapping into before.

This will be your life — the voices whispered to him. You will help others and battle what seeks to attack.

It rasped and moved as though it had been hit by something. “That’s good Malachi. It drains through the eyes.”

He zeroed in on the glowing red eyes, targeting and sending forth a pure belt of energy. It tumbled backward slithering.

“It’s strong, and it’s been here too long. Remove its focus.”

The frightened figure was crouching down a bit near his doorway, but whether or not he could actually see the thing was unknown. Malachi reached out for a name. “Henry,” he called out. “It’s time to move on.”

He felt the initial rush of Henry’s fear but tried to steady it with his own energy. “Come Henry, it’s time to end the pain you’ve been living in and move on where there is help for you.”

“No, no, I can’t leave. It’s not safe.”

The thing rasped in anger, but Malachi ignored it. “Henry, you aren’t safe here,” he said as compassionately as he could muster. There had been many times during his life, when he’d been called upon to help a spirit cross over who had lost their way. It was essential to be firm but comforting with them. They must feel your resolve but not be too afraid of you to trust. “Henry, you are being used, used to hurt others. Calm yourself and feel the truth in my words.” He projected a powerful shower of energy in Henry’s direction. He tried to help him sort past the fear that paralyzed him in order to hear the truth.

“I — I can’t.”

“Henry, they’re waiting for you, the ones who love you.” He could feel them just beyond the veil, just into the light. There was now the passageway to them opening in that dusky hallway where they all stood. They had tried for so long to reach out to him, but all their efforts had been muffled by the hunger of the thing still rasping behind them.

Henry rushed toward him. That was the key. He felt the tiny flower of hope in him. “My mother.”

“Yes Henry, she wants to see you again, but you must go to her.”

He stopped in front of Malachi. Beside him the thing writhed, reaching out its gnarled limbs toward Henry. Once it made contact, Henry flinched but didn’t seem to see it.

“I can’t,” he muttered again, his energy being tapped by the beast. Malachi focused his energy toward it again, and it rasped painfully, breaking the contact. “You must. You cannot stay here any longer. It isn’t safe.”

“I don’t know.”

Malachi could feel his confusion. He’d been trapped here for so long, literally preyed on until he had so little will of his own left. “Henry, she needs you.” He had to try to reach him. He looked up confused. “Your mother needs you. Won’t you go to her and help her?”

Henry looked around with an alertness in his eyes that Malachi hadn’t seen before.

“Behind us,” Simon said.

Malachi turned as he saw the tunnel of white beginning to open. He had to push his advantage. “Can’t you hear her now Henry?”

The tall gaunt man shuffled closer, and Malachi stepped back so he could see the tunnel. “That’s where she is,” he compelled. “Henry, you must go quickly.” But he was wavering, Henry glanced around with confusion. The thing made a sudden lurch toward him, but Simon jumped between them intercepting the contact.

“Go Henry. Run. She needs you.”

The lost soul hesitated but only for a moment. Then, with an unexpected sprint that Malachi was amazed he even had within the emaciated body, he leapt toward the tunnel that seemed to immediately seal itself behind him.

“Good,” Simon said breathing deeply with marked fatigue. “That will make this much easier.”

“What do I do?” He whispered, literally shaken to the core for the first time he could really remember in his thirteen years on this earth.

“Focus, envelope Evie in the white light, restore the natural barrier that she should have to this kind of attack.”

He tried. He focused with everything he had in him. His imagination was strong. It had always been that way, but it undeniably felt different this time. It pooled into a place of visualization where he could literally feel power in the form of energy flowing out of him. The thing moved, glided perhaps around the outer perimeter of the bubble he’d placed around his sister. It was trying to reestablish contact but seemingly unable to puncture the protection he’d placed around her. “Now strengthen it,” Simon Tull’s voice was calm but exacting.

He focused strength into the bubble and almost instantly the creature reacted — howling in some disturbing, indistinctive voice. Malachi could see liquid oozing out of it, ugly black seepage as though it had been wounded.

“What now?” He yelled to Simon because everything felt louder, as though a powerful storm was whipping around them all.

“Holdfast boy, continue,” he commanded.

He focused, focused acutely until his head ached, his body stiffened with discomfort, and his vision began to spin. But he held on with the determination born of his innate stubbornness. He wasn’t one to give way. It wasn’t in his nature.

The thing continued to ooze in more places and twist in horrible unnatural contortions. “Good Malachi,” he heard Simon’s voice but couldn’t see him. The storm was too loud. All he could see was the thing twisting and howling and Evie thrashing about in her frilly rose-colored nightgown as though she were trapped in some horrific nightmare.

He knew that he had to end this. His knees were trembling violently, and he wouldn’t last much longer.

Malachi focused one last ditch effort and sent every ounce of strength that he had left into the white bubble around his sister.

It landed powerfully, something like a mad surge of electricity. He saw the thing fling back violently against the far wall of the bedroom. It hit like an explosion, then broke into pieces with a fierce pop before it dispersed into a shimmery black dust that dissipated in the air.

He was breathing heavily, feeling as though he couldn’t get any air. “Did we kill it?” He rasped to Simon who was now standing to the right of him.

“Nothing ever really dies,” he said a bit solemnly. “But it’s changed into something else, perhaps a bit less virulent. I don’t see it returning.”

Malachi wanted to cheer, claim some sort of victory, but instead the shakiness overtook him as he sunk to his knees. “What’s wrong with me?” he murmured, feeling the peculiar pressure of Simon’s hand on his shoulder, given that he believed he was a ghost.

“You’re dangerously low on energy now Malachi. You must rest. You saved your sister my boy, be happy.”

It moved and rasped in confusion in the hallway. “Henry was its conduit, its bridge to draining the living here. Now it’s disconnected from its energy source.”

Malachi nodded. He could feel that. Simon’s words were accurate. But he could also feel that the thing was very old, and it would be difficult to dislodge it from its current residence. “If we leave it here, will it simply diminish over time?” Malachi asked.

“Hard to say,” Simon said grimly. “I don’t think we’re equipped as of now to drive it off. It’s too entrenched.”

Malachi felt a heaviness inside his heart. It bothered him to acquiesce to the reality that some things were beyond him. Some things he couldn’t resolve neatly. “I suppose we could do damage control. Keep an eye from time to time to make sure that it’s not exploiting some other lost soul as it did to Henry.”

“Yes, I suppose,” Simon said dryly. “Better if the place could be leveled in the earth and scorched.”

Malachi laughed a bit, “Yes, in a perfect world my friend, in a perfect world.”

Copyright © 2018 by Evelyn Klebert

First appeared in Travels into the Breach: Accounts of a Reclusive Mystic

At first glance, his life seems quiet, serene, and even uneventful. Malachi McKellan, a 65 five year old widower and author of esoteric books, lives largely as a recluse in a house situated just off the banks of Bayou St. John in New Orleans. But unbeknownst to most, he is also a bit of a detective, a specific kind of detective whose specialty is psychic attacks. Alongside his lifelong companion and spirit guide Simon Tull, a nineteenth century, twenty something English gent, Malachi battles the unseen, and is an unacknowledged hero to the most vulnerable – most of the population who have no idea what is really happening beneath the surface of the world in which they live.

In this collection of adventures, Malachi McKellan and Simon Tull wage war against the most insidious elements of the paranormal. In “The Three,” Malachi and Simon come to the aid of a young woman being victimized by a group of dark witches. An old apartment building is the scene of an unimaginable battle against monstrous forces in “The Lost Soul.” Malachi and Simon find themselves strategizing against a psychic vampire in “Obsession,” and “The Hotel” turns back time to the 1980’s where Malachi confronts a demonic spirit. In “Between,” a past life is revisited as Malachi attempts to rescue a beloved sister from committing her existence to vengeance, and “The Wedding” takes a personal turn when Malachi must confront painful truths while endeavoring to protect his niece from a potentially devastating union.

Travel into the Breach with a pair of paranormal warriors who choose to confront overwhelming forces on a battlefield unsuspected by most.

Late One Night at Berstrums Books

I am posting this spooky short story, “Late One Night at Berstrums Books,” which first appeared in a collection called Dragonflies: Journeys into the Paranormal. This story is a bit on the lighter side inspired by my time working in retail. Hope you enjoy!!

Late One Night at Berstrums Books . . .

Miranda Shangle nervously clicked her well-manicured nails on the counter at Berstrums Books. It was the checkout counter, and it was well piled with books: books to receive; books to shelve; books to return. There was a hefty bit of work to do, but she didn’t care, not one bit. She was merely content to leave all in chaos, if she could just leave and get dressed up for her sorority’s Halloween party. But it was at least an hour until she got off, and the minutes were dragging by like heavy iron weights shackled to her shoulders.

She was alone, and that in itself pissed her off enormously. No, she hadn’t called in sick to work, but what raised her hackles even more was that she hadn’t thought of it. Damn, so closing the place would take at least another 45 minutes on her own, or maybe thirty if she started early. She clicked the heel of her black boots with irritation on the floor and checked her watch again. It had become a ritual — at least every five minutes.

She sighed deeply. She could shelve the books piled up on the rolling cart near the counter. That would certainly fill the time, but she didn’t want to. She just wanted desperately and unequivocally to be somewhere else.

Out of nowhere, she heard a rustle somewhere toward the back of the bookstore. She glanced toward the entrance, no one lurking at the Mall entrance. They must have slipped by while she was busy bemoaning her miserable fate. She glanced closely at her long black nails. She had painted them this way particularly for this evening. But crap, the end of one was chipped now, an obvious white crack along the flawless sheen of black. Well, maybe before the party, she could do a quick repair, if she ever got out of here.

She glanced up again down the long central aisle. There was a flutter of movement rounding a corner, and then it was gone. Hmm, what to do now, try to put away some paperback romances that were bound not to fit on the shelf or harass a customer with Berstrums uniquely ineffective selling formula, AIE—approach, inquire, and execute.

She swirled her longish black, broomstick skirt around the corner of the cabinet and proceeded down the aisle, peaking around while inconspicuously trying to locate the customer. There was only one, that much she knew. Working here over many months and many long hours had enabled her to pinpoint the level of activity of solo customers or plural ones. Without question, her keen sense of hearing had identified this one as a solo flyer.

She turned a corner and spotted the individual in question. It was a man, although her view was curiously of his backside. He was facing one of the walls — his hands up, sort of grasping the bookshelf, and his head bent.  She didn’t know if he was sick, or just a bit strange. From what she could make out, from her obstructed viewpoint, he seemed well dressed, a nice dark suit, and his hair a light shade of blond.

She wondered with disinterested distraction how in the world the clever executives of Berstrums expected her to execute the selling formula in this particular situation. Oh well, who cared anyway, she had time to kill.

With exaggeration, she cleared her throat to let him know that he was not alone. The man in question hunched his shoulders, lowered, and straightened them. Then, with deliberation, he withdrew his hands slowly from their odd grasping position on the shelves.

As he deliberately turned to face her, her breath caught a bit, not at the face, although it was unique, but at something else that lie somewhere in the vicinity of his chest area, held by a long thick silver chain. It looked to be a brilliant shining medallion, made entirely of silver, and inscribed with symbols that she found oddly painful to behold. She pulled up her eyes to his. He was quietly staring at her with a pair of disturbingly pale, blue eyes.

She breathed in and then forced the words outward, “What can I help you find tonight?”

The pale eyes in the nearly flawlessly, sculpted face widened, and he began to laugh at her, loudly.

Heat rose to her face, and her voice took on a steely, but still polite, quality. “Is something funny?”

He frowned and rubbed his chin, which although aesthetically appealing, she was quite sure hadn’t been shaved for several days. Oddly though, it didn’t diminish his appeal. He exuded a sort of a Dungeons and Dragons kind of sexiness—something you didn’t run across often, if ever, in Central Virginia. “Are you heer alone Madam?” 

With strenuous effort, she tried to resume her breathing. A million red flags had just appeared before her eyes, and somewhere in the process her heart had jolted with a nasty bump of fear. Mentally, she tried to remember the number for Mall security. Damn, it was back at the desk. If she could just finesse out of this, she could be there in several quick strides.

She smiled prettily, although she knew her lipstick was overly dark in anticipation of the Halloween party, and probably not appealing to most normal individuals. “Oh no, my co-worker should be back any minute. You might have seen him in the Mall, tall guy named John. I mean really tall, probably seven feet.”

Deliberately, she took a step backward. He eyed her with the stare of a policeman who was trying to ferret out the truth from a suspect. Regrettably, that unfortunate drug thing last month at the frat house had put her up close and personal with a few of them, but this guy was no cop. Maybe, he was going to his own Halloween party. “Vere are you going?” What was with that weird accent?

“Um, I have some work to get to unless there’s some book I can help you find.”

He smiled in an eerie way that only increased her agitation. His hands had drifted to the medallion around his neck. Again, her eyes were compulsively drawn to its brightness. It actually made her eyes sting as it caught the light in different ways. “I am looking for something in particular.” She heard his voice, but her eyes remained riveted on the medallion. She tried but it was impossible to make herself look away. The metal changed from silver to white, and the engravings seemed to move, mutate into varying shapes. But they couldn’t really be doing that, could they? He was closer to her now, right in front of her, but it was impossible for her to look away. His voice sounded raspy in her ears, his accent scraping like broken glass. “I don’t have zee time to waste. You are alone here.”

Her head had begun throbbing. His voice sounded so loud. “I’m waiting to close the store. I have too—” And her voice drifted off somewhere. The silver medallion was filling her vision now, sucking her into it. She was falling, tumbling away, far away. And then she felt two hands roughly grab her arms and shake her violently. “Come on,” again she was roughly shaken, “Come back.”

With no strength left, she fell down to her knees. Her stomach flipped violently with nausea, and her vision continued to swirl. But it was gone, the medallion. He’d put it away. She felt him wrap his arms just under her ribs. Then, again she felt his powerful strength as he pulled her to her feet. He grabbed a handful of her hair, actually yanking her head back by it. “I told zyou. I don’t have time for thiz now.”

She stared into the pale blue eyes, finding nothing but coldness there. And then she gathered what miniscule strength was in her and abruptly slammed him in the knees with the hard toe of her boot.

Caught off guard, he grunted and loosened his hold just long enough for Miranda to wrench away and race down the aisle toward the Mall door. Just as she reached the front desk, she stopped short at the entrance.

There was someone standing there or rather something. Two robed figures stood just outside the door with hands outstretched. But what was so shocking was that where their faces should be, she could only see darkness and glowing yellow eyes. Maybe, it was a costume. She hoped desperately. But the growing horror deep inside her told her something else.

She opened her mouth to scream, but a mere fraction of a second before the sound came out, a hand clamped over her mouth as he yanked her backward against the wall of his chest. He continued to hold her with unyielding strength, dragging her back to behind the desk, while she made muffled sounds of panic against his hand. “Now,” he rasped, “Close zee door now. Zey can’t come in yet, not yet.”

Slowly, he removed his hand over her mouth and with terror she stared at him, “Please let me go. Just, just—” she stammered.

“Close zee door now Miranda.” Her eyes widened. How did he know? And then she glanced down at her nametag. Shit, that was pretty obvious.

She reached for the key on the wall with trembling fingers, preparing to turn it to bring down the steel gate that covered the entrance way. But then she glanced up at the clock. It was five until nine. Where had the time slipped to? She glanced at him shakily. He had his hands on her shoulders. “I’m not supposed to close until nine,” she whispered.

And then she felt his breath in her ear. “I don’t think your going to have any other customers tonight Miranda.” Even his breath seemed strange to her, not exactly icy, but not warm either.

She nodded shakily in acknowledgement and turned the key. The steel gate came down in front of the hooded figures. But they made no movement, just remained standing outside. “What are they?” Her voice seemed to be quaking to match her insides.

He removed his hands from her, and she was grateful, although it felt like her knees were going to buckle. “I am a bit surprised you can zee them at all. Not everyone can, you must have zome sight.”

He walked from behind the center to the center of the aisle, and then closed his eyes, touching his forehead with his fingertips. She looked him over carefully. He didn’t seem like a criminal, not that she’d had much exposure to any. Rowdy drunken frat guys yes, but not criminals. He was disheveled from their tussle, but in a weird way it seemed to suit him. He was definitely older than she, at least by a decade, but exactly what his age was seemed impossible to determine. And then, in the midst of her mental inventory of the stranger, she thought about the back door. How stupid, of course! Empowered by this new idea, she straightened up and started to edge from behind the counter. His eyes flew open immediately at the movement. “There are some at the back door too, and yez they will harm anyone leaving this place.”

“Why, why would they want to harm me? I’m just a college kid who works in a bookstore.”

His eyes were focused on her again in that unnerving, penetrative way. “You must help me find it.”

“Find what?” With clueless exasperation.

“Find zee book.”

Her eyes got very large, “A book? All this is about some book?”

“Not zome book, a very important, ancient book.”

“Well, just tell me the title, and I’ll look it up.”

A smile flickered across his pale lips, “If only it was that zimple, it’z hidden and it’z here. And if we don’t find it very soon,” his gaze flicker in the direction of the creatures at the front of the store, “We are going to have company.”

She couldn’t still the trembling in her hands as she counted out the bills from the cash register. “Three hundred and sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two.”

“Aren’t you finished with that rubbish?” He called somewhere from the vicinity of the middle of the bookstore.

“Look, if I ever get out of this, I would like to have a job to come back too,” she grumbled with agitation.

“You are wasting precious time.”

Again, her hands were shaking as she filled out the deposit slips for the bank. He was standing beside her. He seemed to walk around nearly silently. But she could feel him next to her, although she hadn’t looked up. “I’m almost done. Why aren’t you looking for your book?”

Closing off the bank bag, she put it in the safe and closed it. As she headed to the computer, there he was, standing in her way. “If you don’t let me finish, I won’t be able to help.”

With a look of impatience, he stepped aside as she punched the final closing codes into the machine. Well, that was done. She clicked her nails nervously on the counter. “Now I can figure out from here pretty much where anything is shelved in the store. If you could give me some idea what sort of book—” Her eyes drifted up to meet his.

“I told you. It iz hidden.”

He was right beside her, too close. This very dangerous man was way too close. She could actually feel a heat emanating from his body. Well, at least he wasn’t some kind of walking corpse. Her mind had spun out several horrific theories since his arrival. “What does that mean, hidden?” She whirled to face him seized by a sudden fury at all the drama that had been dropped on her. “And for that matter, what the hell or who the hell are you? Is this some sort of elaborate gag? Am I being punked?”

His expression was very cool, “What does thiz mean punked?”

She sighed painfully. No, this was not a setup, by now that would be obvious. So, what did that leave, insanity on his part? But then that wouldn’t explain the creatures outside. “You’ve got to understand how bizarre this is from my viewpoint. I mean you drop out of nowhere and lay some weird story on me about a book.”

As quickly as she’d begun, he grabbed her shoulders and spun her around to face the front of the store. His voice was like a hot rasp, and his hands pinched her in their rough, reckless grip. “Do you still zee them,” he whispered.

There they were as clear as day, but now more, three standing out in the corridor of the Mall. “Yes,” she whimpered.

“They’re hungry,” his breath was hot on her neck.

“Hungry?” she questioned with terror.

“Hungry for souls Miranda. So, let’s not zpend precious time on theatrics.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

Again, he turned her to face him this time. “I need you to find the book. It’s blocked from me, but you have a zight. I felt it the moment I came near thiz place. I knew it waz here, and that you were here to guard over it.”

She yanked herself out of his grasp, not an easy accomplishment considering his determination. “Do you have any idea how insane that is? Do you know who I am? I’m a Fine Arts major, barely maintaining a 3.0 average. I live in an apartment with two other girls and am very close to getting kicked out of my sorority because I’m nearly broke. That makes me a screw-up and definitely not the guardian of some ancient and mystical book.”

He quietly had taken in her emotional explosion. And then smiled in a way that caused a strange fluttering in her stomach. “Well Miranda, I zee you have no idea who you are. But I don’t have a lot of time.” And then he stepped in close to her, putting his hands on either side of her face, and in the next moment crushing his mouth against hers in a passionate kiss.

It was dizzying, smothering, and there was a swirl of colors everywhere around her — and then a powerful pain in her head that made her collapse in his arms.

It glowed in her mind like a beacon. But it was encased in something else, a dark envelope, another magic, but she could clearly see through it. Her eyes flickered open. Her legs covered by her black broomstick skirt lay sprawled out on the floor of the central aisle of the bookstore with the top half of her body resting against the kneeling man. “Did you zee it?” He asked quietly.

His arms felt strange around her, as though they were encasing her in some deep hypnotic dream. “I saw it.”

“Can you find it?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know. What did you do to me?” she whispered.

He lightly tapped her forehead with his fingers, “I opened your eye here.”

She touched her forehead. It was tingling. For the second time tonight, her stomach flipped a bit with nausea. She was definitely going to heave. “I feel sick.”

“That iz natural. It will pass.” And then he pushed his hands underneath her arms and hauled her to her feet. Everything was spinning. “Now focus. Find zee book.”

Her head continued to spin wildly, making it nearly impossible to focus on anything. This couldn’t really be happening. It had to be a bad dream. His voice harsh in her ear, “Miranda you must assert some control, focus now!”

“Leave me alone, you son of a bitch,” she managed with difficulty to get out.

He chuckled, “Good, uze your anger.”

“I’d like to use it on you. I don’t even know who you are. You could be some awful demon from hell using me to get a hold of this book.”

He removed his hands from around her waist where he’d been supporting her. She still felt dizzy but could manage to stand on her own now.  Her vision was still spotty, but she was beginning to see more clearly. He was standing a few feet away, his back to her. “I’m not a demon.” He stated flatly.

“Oh good, well I believe that.”

He spun around, “You’re too young to be so jaded.”

“I’m too young for a lot of things.”

With a look of determined impatience, he suddenly took off his suit jacket and dropped it to the floor, and then pulled out his black shirt, and started unbuttoning it. Her mouth dropped open a bit, “What are you doing?”

He said nothing, just continued to unbutton his shirt. “I, I don’t know what you think you’re doing but I,” she stammered. And then he pulled open his shirt to bare his chest. She gasped. There were marks drawn there, as well as deep red scars raised on the flesh. “Oh God, what happened to you?”

He smiled grimly as he grabbed her hand, “Many battles, many, many trials — zpread out your fingers,” his voice was soft but steely in its command.

She did as he asked, and then he took her hand and placed it right on his heart area. “Now close your eyes Miranda and feel the truth.” The hand that he still held on his chest was shaking, “Sssshhhh,” he murmured, “feel.”

In her mind, she could see the book shining like a white beacon, and he was there too, holding it — dressed in a long white tunic with a huge red cross on it, an ornate sword at his side. Everywhere there was light, everywhere. And he stretched his hands outward, toward her. Her eyes snapped open, “Godfrey,” she whispered for no reason that she could fathom.

He smiled, still holding her hand firmly against his chest. “Good.”

Her voice was quaking, “I don’t know how I knew that.”

He pushed her hand away and began to rebutton his shirt, “There will be time for that later, if we get out of thiz. Now,” his face had hardened again in that back to business look, “the book.”

She nodded, “Well, maybe we could look in New Age.” As she started off in that direction, he grabbed her abruptly, but not quite as rough as before, pulling her back against him.

“No Miranda, you can’t find it that way. You must uze your sight.”

 “How?” Was all she could manage to say.

“See inside your mind. Let it guide you.”

His hands were still on her shoulders, firmly holding her still. Whoever he was, this bizarre man who was effectively turning her young existence into chaos, was just centimeters away from being desperate. Not truly expecting to see anything, but more than happy to oblige at the moment, given her predicament, Miranda closed her eyes. She could easily envision the bookstore in her mind, but what was odd was that she could actually see something glowing toward the back of the store. A broad smile broke across her face, “I think I can actually see it.”

“Good,” his voice was low and steely, and he hadn’t made a move toward releasing her.

She felt nearly gleeful now. Maybe this nightmare was somewhere close to being over. “Let’s go get it.” With joy, she opened her eyes, and then a wild scream rose somewhere out of the depths of her being. With his characteristic timing, he slapped his hand over her mouth just moments before she could utter a sound. She struggled against him wildly, yelping against his hand.

His voice was eerily calm, more soothing than it had been the whole night, “I know, I know. It’s not as bad as you think.”

Eyes wide with horror, she bit his hand, and he finally removed it. “Oh my God, oh my God, they’re everywhere. Where did they come from? Oh my God.”

“Be calm Miranda. They’re not nearly as dangerous as what liez outside.”

“Are you crazy? They’re awful, snakes and ugly birds and things that look like that Blob from that old horror movie.” Her eyes couldn’t seem take in all the movement—slithering things around her, on the floor, perched on the bookshelves, creatures, sub-human creatures that looked like they were straight out of some low budget horror flick.

His hands tightened on her arms, “You have to get hold.”

“What, what,” she whispered in a mindless panic. It felt like all the breath had left her reed thin body. God, she wished now she’d eaten a bigger lunch.

“It’z your sight. It’z gone a bit overboard. Theze thingz will fade away again soon enough.”

“But what are they?”

He shrugged, “Many have been here all along. Creaturez, parasites really, hanging between dimensionz, taking the energy of those who are unaware of them. Thiz place has been going down for a while. I’m zurprized you haven’t felt it.”

She was trying to mentally slow her panicked breathing. “I, I don’t know. Maybe I have. I’ve been feeling numb to everything.”

“Curiouz thing this numbnezz. It makes you very complacent.”

She kept shaking her head in disbelief. “But there’s so many of them, slimy thingz everywhere.”

“Well yez, I’m sure zome have been sent as an impediment.”

“To stop us?”

“Yes now, zee book Miranda.”

“How can I with all this stuff?”

“You can because you have to.” She felt him wrap his arms completely around her. In a way it was calming. In a way it was not.  “Now again, where iz it?”

She tried to block out the slithering and waddling horrors around her and focus. Again, toward the back of the store, she could see a distant glow. “I think it’s back there,” she gestured in the general direction.

“Show me.”

“I can’t.  I’ll have to walk through all that stuff.”

With a distinct frown, he brought out the large silver medallion that had so mesmerized her earlier. He held it out with his hands and murmured something harshly in a foreign language. The gaggle of creatures before them instantly began to scurry away. “Wow,” she murmured. “Can you part the Red Sea with that?”

With flourish, he indicated the path that was now clear for her. “The book please, unlezz you want them to return.”

When she was a little girl, she used to play a game with her friends. An item would be hidden, and as she drew closer to it, they would say warmer or colder if she went in the wrong direction. Late tonight, in the unimaginable circumstance that she had unwittingly become captured in, this memory suddenly became concretely relevant. She could not see the book that Godfrey, whoever he was, deemed so critical to their survival, but she could certainly and without equivocation feel it—feel its warmth.

She took a step forward, and an iciness covered her fingertips that were stretched out awkwardly. She stepped backward, and a lovely sheen of warmth, as though she were gently holding her hand near a warm crackling fireplace, replaced the previous sensation.

“I think I’m getting close.”

“Good, hurry,” there was a new quality in his voice that concerned her. She brought her head upwards, but harshly he commanded. “Don’t look up Miranda, only focus on the book.”

She didn’t question further but was taken by the horrifying thought that time had run out. Again, she followed the fleeting glow of warmth that was their only trail to salvation.

She stepped directly in front of the history section, and it was as though she were suddenly bathed in a glow of tingling energy — a bit like after she used her loofah sponge to exfoliate during a shower.

Her eyes quickly scanned through the titles hoping to find a clue. Directly behind her, Godfrey’s voice, “You can’t find it that way. Feel Miranda.”

Shakily, she outstretched her fingertips before her, brushing against the titles. And then she stopped. It burnt like fire. It actually hurt, but there was no inflammation, no redness about her fingertips. There was, however, unquestionably pain. She reached out and grabbed the book, turning quickly to look at the title and read it aloud, The Women Behind the American Revolution.

He was beside her, “Ah huh, clever, evidently a book that would rarely, if ever, be sold.”

She frowned, “Not true, that’s very popular,” she lied.

“Here,” she made a motion to hand it to him, but he stepped back.

“No, it’s not for me to open.”

She looked at him with confusion and then with horror as she saw what was just beyond him. The figures from the Mall, the ones with the glowing eyes, were standing just behind him. “Oh no, they’ve gotten in.”

He stared at her very calmly, not even acknowledging what she’d said. “It is for you to open the book Miranda. You are its guardian. Now uze its power.”

She looked down at the volume in her hands. What moments before had been The Women Behind the Revolution was a huge oversized book, looking like an ancient sort of manuscript with crumbling pages, “Uze itz power,” he repeated.

She opened it with some difficultly, as the palms of her hands continued to burn against its heavily textured surface. And in an instant, the fiery brightness that poured forth from it seemed to envelope everything around them.       

“Are you going to class?”

She blinked her eyes open in the semi-darkness of the room. “What?” Her throat felt scratchy and wasn’t functioning normally.

“I said, are you going to class today? You’ve already missed a lot. You might not want to cut again.” Miranda focused in on the concerned looking face of her roommate Sarah. Sarah with her huge blue eyes and kinkily permed blond hair always looked angelically concerned about something.

“Umm,” she rubbed her head. That hurt too. Everything seemed more than a bit hazy. Especially the part about how she got into her bed. “What day is it?”

With a crease on her smooth forehead, Sarah frowned at her. “You don’t remember anything do you?”

“I, uhh, not sure. What anything are we talking about?”

She sighed deeply. “Last night at the Phi Kappa party. Jessie said you drank a lot. I don’t know even what time you guys got in. It might have been hours ago.”

She sat up as best she could manage. She was wearing a t-shirt and pair of pajama pants. That was normal, but where was, “Godfrey?” she whispered.

Sarah kind of cocked her head in a confused look. “That’s a weird name. Is that some guy you met at the party?”

Miranda struggled to piece things together, but her memories, her jagged fantastical memories, in no way jived with Sarah’s report of last night’s activities. Maybe it was all an alcohol-induced delusion. That seemed as probable as anything else.

“Look, if you want a ride to class you better get dressed quick. We have a test in Psych.”

Her eyes widened in horror, “No way.”

Sarah abruptly pulled back the covers on the bed to facilitate a quick exit for Miranda. “Yes, but I don’t think it will be hard. I hope it won’t.”

Some thirty minutes and a strong cup of coffee later, they were walking into the large mini auditorium of Psychology 201 class. As they took their seats on the third row, Miranda tried to concentrate on the concrete things before her, like her pencils, the cute guy on the second row, and the test she was likely to fail. Rather than those intangible things like magical books, and foreign wizard-type fellows who kissed passionately and dragged her about a lot.

She glanced up as she heard Sarah whispering to a girl seated on the other side of her. She thought she might be from her sorority, but she had no idea. She hadn’t spent much time with them lately. Nudging Sarah, she asked, “What’s up?”

Sarah responded blandly, “It looks like you lucked out. No test.”

She yawned, suddenly wondering why she dragged herself out of bed. “Why?”

“Maddie says Professor McCauley has been replaced.”

“Replaced?”

“Yeah, he took a sudden leave of absence.”

“In the middle of the semester?”

“Apparently,” she shrugged looking disinterested. There was a consensus that Professor McAuley wasn’t particularly inspiring.

And then they heard a muffled but conspicuous tapping toward the front of the classroom. Her eyes swept up to the large blackboard behind the podium. A man stood there tapping a ruler softly but continuously on the board. Her breath caught for a moment. And then he turned around with a rather large smile on his face.

“Now that I have your attention. I’d like to introduce myself. I am Professor McAuley’s replacement, Professor Chaney. To most of you I am a stranger, but I do zee a few familiar faces.”

A shiver traveled up her spine as his cool blue eyes locked on her momentarily.

He continued, “The first thing you should know about this class is that you should leave preconceptions behind and understand that nothing, truly nothing, iz as it appears.”

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

First appeared in Dragonflies: Journeys into the Paranormal

A mystical wordsmith entices you into the world of the paranormal with this collection of inspired stories. Each tale takes the journey of the dragonfly imbued with the momentum and energy of change, following a winding and treacherous path that ultimately will lead you to find the truth buried beneath perception. Includes: “The Wizard,” “The Sojourners,” “Late One Night at Berstrum’s Books,” and “The Tear.”

What is Circumspect? by Sophie Wilde

This story is entitled, “What is Circumspect? by Sophie Wilde.” For around a year, my family and I lived in a century old farmhouse on the coast of Virginia. I’ve tapped that experience many times as inspiration for my writing. This story is one example. Hope you enjoy!!

What is Circumspect? by Sophie Wilde.

“Hmm,” she murmured aloud, ever so lightly tapping her fingertips to the keyboard — lightly tapping but not really making contact, not really allowing thoughts to mesh with concrete word.

“Deep sigh,” she expounded again, aloud. For this had become a habit, there was no one to listen.

October 2:

Here I am alone on the very second day of the experiment. The first day didn’t count. It was too busy stocking up on eatables from the grocery, eatables for a month. One-month alone Sophie Wilde, with no human contact except a fifteen-minute conversation every night with your editor on Skype.

She stopped typing,

And again, whose brilliant idea was this?

Oh yes that’s right, mine or was it his?. Restlessly, she strummed her fingers across the keyboard as if it were some kind of piano. The house around her creaked. It was windy. It was October in a hundred-year-old farmhouse on the coast of Virginia, and its walls creaked. Its doors creaked. Not much in the house didn’t creak.

Evening 8:30 PM on the dot:

“How was your first night Sophie?”

His name was Stephen, Stephen Archer, and he smiled broadly. He was youngish, divorced guy, about fortyish, five to seven years older than she, and not bad looking. Although until just this moment, she hadn’t taken the time to notice.

“You are paying me for this? And it’s the second night.”

“You bet baby, any insightful observations or just vacant ramblings on your first night alone?”

That’s right. He always called her baby. That’s why she hadn’t noticed if he were good looking.

“Second night Stephen.”

He nodded, grinned, and took a sip from a beer bottle. Damn, she hadn’t bought beer, but wine yes, wine and a bottle of bourbon.

“So, you’re all stocked up sweetheart.”

She sighed, “Yeah,” she thought across so many hundreds of miles he might not be so irritating. “Yeah, all snug as a bug Stephen.”

Midnight or so,

She was keeping a journal beside her bed, the old-fashioned kind with pen and paper. She’d moved into the house, completely furnished. It was an old farmhouse that Stephen Archer had rented for her from just a photo off the internet. She still remembered clearly that curious conversation some months ago in his Richmond office.

“So, do you think solitude makes people crazy?”

She looked at him quizzically, although over time she’d come to feel she really didn’t look at him at all. “Depends on the person, depends on the solitude,” she delivered rather slowly and decisively. In dealing with men, particularly in the workplace, she’d found it imperative to be exact and never hesitate, otherwise they would intuit it as some sort of softness.

He stared at her keenly for a moment as though considering, but she tried not to notice too much. She’d made a practice of never looking at him too closely. “So, Sophie Wilde, I’ve come up with an idea, if you’re not too faint of heart to give it a try.”

She frowned, faint of heart? Clearly, he was trying to push her buttons.

“What idea?” she said curtly, but with enough off-handedness to make it clear that she didn’t expect too much.

He smiled again, and she did happen to catch his expression this time. He seemed amused, sort of like the cat that had the mouse exactly where it wanted it. “Halloween’s coming up. How about I stick you in some old isolated farmhouse near the Rappahannock for the month? You keep to yourself, completely, and send me an interesting column at the end of each week.”

“You’re kidding,” she said blandly.

He nodded, “Hey, if you’re concerned I could send Sam or one of the other boys.”

He did know how to push her buttons. “But what if there’s just nothing interesting to report?”

“Well then, it’s a little getaway for you on my dime. And no TV or radio.”

And in addition, no shopping or visits to any stores. That’s why the big stock up, just nothing but her and the house. Of course, walks were allowed but no visiting. She’d just be the eccentric recluse that moved into the neighborhood for a month. 

She stared despondently at the blank page. She should write something, record something, but she’d never been particularly big on diaries.

I don’t like my room.

She scribbled down with irritation. The master bedroom on the second floor was filled with antique cherry wood furniture, and the other two bedrooms were completely empty. So much for being furnished, and she used that word loosely. So, she’d designated one empty room as her yoga room, and the other had yet to be labeled. But she’d brought her sheets and satin comforter from home, her apartment in Richmond. They lent comfort. They connected her to what she really was.

Third Day

She walked through the graveyard at dusk. There was actually a graveyard not far from her house behind an old Baptist church. She expected that for the most part it would be quiet and unoccupied.

Does solitude drive people crazy?

It was a question that she turned over in her mind as she watched the light slowly eek out of the cloudy sky overhead. She’d wrapped herself in a crocheted black shawl that she’d inherited from her grandmother upon her death. Her sisters had wanted jewelry and china, and she had wanted the shawl. It felt like her grandmother, carried her stillness.

She walked on, the earth beneath her feet crunching with the leaves that had already begun to fall. “How did you get here Sophie Wilde?” She whispered to herself.

A breeze cascaded through her blonde hair that she’d pulled up into a loose bun. And then she stopped — just a few yards away there was a man kneeling near one of the graves. He seemed consumed with his own thoughts and hadn’t even looked up to note her approach. So as quietly as she could, she turned, starting to head in the other direction.

“Please don’t leave.”

She froze in her steps. Remember, remember reclusive, she turned around slowly. He was standing up now — an odd looking fellow, long brown hair just past his shoulders, dressed in strange attire, some sort of suit, but clearly antiquated. “I didn’t want to disturb you,” she called out.

He began to walk toward her, and she felt a nervousness flutter up to her heart. Was this visiting — a random conversation at dusk in a cemetery? He had longish black hair, a beard and mustache, not clean-cut like Stephen Archer, although somehow neat in its flamboyance. “Disturb me?” he smiled, pausing just a few feet away from her. “There isn’t much here, except you and your thoughts. It’s refreshing to see another face.”

She pulled her grandmother’s shawl more tightly about her, feeling a chill pass through her in the night air.

“I was just taking a walk.”

“You live in the old Greenwall house.”

“Um, you mean the farmhouse.”

“Yes, just down the road.”

“I didn’t know it had a name. I’m only there for a month. In fact, I should get back.”

He nodded, glancing around them, “Perhaps you should. It’s getting late Miss—”

He waited. He was waiting for her name. And she wondered if she should give it. For things tended to change once you gave a name. “Sophie Wilde.”

“Yes, Sophie Wilde, just so you know it isn’t wise to be about at night here. The land is still untamed. I’ll walk you home.”

She felt trapped. She was breaking the rules but how could she refuse, how indeed?

Evening, 8:30 PM

“How you holding up princess?”

Stephen Archer was munching on a bag of potato chips. He was probably working late to meet a deadline. Just that possibility reminded her of how she ached to be back in the city. “Nothing much to report.”

He glanced up from something on his desk that he was examining while waiting for an answer.

“Really? Nothing? Hmm, this could all be a bust.”

“Yes, it could be an entire waste of time.” It hadn’t even crossed her mind to tell him about the man that she’d met in the cemetery, the man who’d walked her home at a brisk pace, the man whose name she hadn’t even asked for, and he hadn’t offered. While of course, he had hers.

“Well, I expect some creativity this weekend, for your column.”

“I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”

He grinned, although she felt keenly his mind was elsewhere. “I’m counting on it.”

Seventh Day

Life has settled into a maudlin routine. And tonight, her column was due. So, she’d decided on the topic of memory — memory and how it fills the spaces when so many aspects of life become empty.

She had avoided going out after her last encounter, except for quick walks thoroughly up and down the road in front of the farmhouse. It was odd, for much of the day a quiet road; and then once and awhile vehicles, mostly trucks bent on arriving at some other destination, came zooming down it as such a pace that someone could be easily killed if they took a false step. Clearly, this wasn’t a destination, just a space that people hurriedly passed through.

Memory — back to topic.

The largely empty farmhouse held several rooms upstairs. The one designated for yoga held The Engagement.

That particular bundle of memories had taken up approximately three years of her life around the age of twenty-five. There were two years of courtship, one of engagement, and its aftermath.

Of course, it wasn’t something that would be spoken about in her column. It was just the idea that memories in solitude take on a larger shape, begin to breathe, and walk like living things. Was this madness? Was this the beginning of madness or just the natural order of life? Where there is space, it will be filled with something. The absence of living makes room for the past to live again.

That was good. She’d use that.

8:30 evening:

She emailed her column earlier in the afternoon and rewarded herself afterwards with a walk in the cemetery. It was close to dusk, but this time it was empty. She passed the grave where he’d been standing, the odd gentleman in the antiquated clothes.

The inscription read: Amelia Lecord, died 1937, perhaps an ancestor.

“Hmm, some strange introspection Sophie Wilde, are you sure you’re doing all right there?”

She wrapped her grandmother’s shawl more tightly around her. There was a chill in the house tonight. “You didn’t like it?”

“No, it was genius. You should write a book. Why don’t you spend your time writing a book?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“You know, you should. You run very deep. There’s a market for that out there.”

She smiled, but it was all fatigue.

She entered the room, The Engagement room, just to look and see what was still there. As she walked within in her mind, like a broad expanding canvas, she could see the lovely house, the Victorian house they’d picked out for the reception. It would be decorated with violets and pale pink roses. “Will your fiancé be joining you today?”

She walked the room, seeing in her imagination what it would have looked like; how it would have smelled, fragrances.

It was cruel of her to come here, to come here, to put herself through this. But she wanted to just touch the texture of her dream before it was taken.

“No, he won’t be.”

And then she’d turned and left without a word. And called later and cancelled everything.

The following evening at 8:30 PM

“I never asked you Sophie. How come you’re not married or claimed?”

“That’s personal.”

“I suppose but given this odd arrangement of ours I thought we could share a bit.”

She looked at him, his face, his expression, placid, calm, and unreadable. “I was engaged. It fell apart.”

He nodded, “He cheated on you?”

Her eyes widened. How could he— “Why would you say that?”

“You know, it’s funny. I have a barometer for people. And you, you’re very mistrustful. Something must have made you that way.”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Tenth Day

She’d thrown a blanket across the wooden floor of the second room. There was something fascinating about an empty room, even devoid of draperies — just silent, open, echoing. She sat cross-legged at the center of the room. She’d already spoken to Stephen that evening. It was clear that he was anxious to go. He had dialed in from home, probably on his way out to meet someone, maybe a date, maybe a group of friends. There were a few friends she had left behind, some family. Told them all she was going into seclusion for a month, and they’d accepted it more readily than she’d expected.

“Perhaps, you should take some time to re-evaluate your life Sophie, what you really want. I think you’ve been in a rut for a while.”

That was her mother. Her mother had applauded the break-up of her engagement, but somewhere along the way had decided the road to liberty was being in a rut.

She closed her eyes and breathed, breathed deeply, clearing away the rubbish — only allowing her mind to soak up what was around her. And then in the distance, she heard it, a strange tapping from downstairs. She opened her eyes, staring at the doorway. Maybe it was a branch rubbing the house somewhere. It was a windy night. So, she waited, and it continued.

She stood up and headed down the steep stairs of the Greenwall house. The staircase in itself was horrible, horribly steep. At the top you could see your way straight down. A fall, a misstep, would be damaging. She made her way down carefully, tentatively, expecting all will be resolved by the time she was finished. But as her bare feet touched on the first floor of the house, she recognized what is was. Knocking, someone was knocking at the front double doors.

They were two white, slim wooden doors, side by side that led onto a screen porch at the front of the house. A screen porch that she wasn’t at all sure she had locked up tonight. She might not have. She couldn’t remember.

Again, the knocking and it jolted her. She was alone here, alone in the house, in this place, this quiet deserted place.

And then a pause at the door. She breathed deeply, waiting, silently. She wouldn’t answer, and they would go away.

She stood frozen behind the double doors waiting, waiting.

Then quietly but strongly, “Sophie, Sophie Wilde, I’ve come to check on you. A storm is coming.”

It was him. She recognized his voice, the man from the cemetery. “I’m all right.” She spoke through the door. “You don’t need to worry.”

There was quiet. Maybe he’d left, moved on. But then again, “It’s all right Sophie. It’s all right to let me in you know. I won’t hurt you.”

Her hand brushed the door. Two minds, the city girl, would be insane to let anyone in now, and the other — the one caving to the solitude, caving inwardly, collapsing. “I can’t now. Thanks for the warning.”

“Take out your candles and your flashlights. You may lose your lights.”

Her heart was hammering, with fright, with confusion. “Thanks, I will.

And then she heard the quick slam of the screen door on the porch as he left. She should go out and lock it, but she wouldn’t. She pulled a chair in front of the doors that lie in the slender hallway. She would sleep in the living room tonight, on the sofa with candles and flashlights.

Eleventh Day

She walked around the house at mid-morning to inspect if there was any damage. Power had gone off from around midnight until five or so in the morning. As she walked around the house, she picked up stray branches that had been downed here and there. She wore short boots that crunched in the mass of fallen leaves. It didn’t seem too terrible. There was some stray debris on the roof but not enough to cause serious concern.

As she turned the corner of the property, she saw him approaching across the field. The man from the cemetery dressed just the same as the first time she’d met him. There was enough time for her to retreat into the house. It would be rude, but it would maintain her contractual isolation. But she didn’t. She stood there, branch still in hand, and waited.

“Sophie Wilde I’m glad to see you braved the storm well,” he said as he crossed the final distance between them.

“Yes, it wasn’t too bad, although I lost power.”

He stopped in front of her, maybe a yard’s distance between them. He was actually in the same clothes, that short leather burgundy-colored jacket, but antiquated in style, dark pants, and white shirt. “I do want to apologize. I think I frightened you at your door last night.”

She smiled, “Yes a bit. I’m a city girl. You can’t be too cautious.”

He nodded, “Yes, and you are in the house alone, a vulnerable position to be in.” She glanced away feeling uncomfortable at his odd comment. It was kindly meant though.

She turned back to him suddenly struck by a thought. “You know, I don’t even know your name.”

“No, I suppose we haven’t been properly introduced. But perhaps if you’re kind enough to offer me a cup of coffee, we can remedy that.”

There was a heavy wooden table in the dining room, a very rustic piece in the style of a long picnic table made out of dark wood. Sophie had served the coffee there and perched on one side on its long bench while Mr. Joshua Thorn was on the other. Odd, in the daylight hours, she felt no trepidation about inviting him in. But last night, well then it had been inconceivable. “I see, so you write for this newspaper in the city,” he inquired.

“Yes, for about five years now. While I’m here, I send in a column at the end of each week. It was my editor’s idea.”

“And I’m here now helping you break the rules.”

She smiled at his disarming frankness, being a bit astonished at how refreshing it was to talk to someone face to face. “Well, the rules were a bit opaque, and I consider them open to interpretation.”

He was an unusual man, Joshua Thorn. He had pulled his long hair back today in a ponytail — a style that oddly seemed to suit him. He wore a beard and mustache, but it was well-kept, keeping with that out of synch aura that he seemed to project. “I’m sorry. Where do you live exactly?” she asked.

“Not very far. I have a place on the other side of the cemetery.”

“Well, I appreciate the warning last night. I hope you weren’t insulted by my reaction.”

He smiled again, as though he somehow found her amusing, “It was natural Sophie Wilde. Now let me ask you. Are you planning to tell your editor friend about me?”

She sipped her coffee, not really having considered that possibility at all. “I don’t know.”

Eleventh Day — later

Journal Entry

Secrets — The Nature of and Purpose of:

She was only halfway into the month and had already broken the cardinal rule. No relationships with the outside world. She was ostensibly not in too deep not to turn around and establish boundaries.

“Why don’t you grace me with your presence tonight? I’ll fix you an early dinner at my house?”

It was difficult to tell him no. He was charming, so charming in that old-world way of his, so mannered, so compelling. She’d paused in her writing. How long had it been since she’d actually been attracted to a man? Not since her debacle of an engagement. She’d closed herself off, just as she was in this house — sealed off from life.

But he was here too in her isolation, a breath of hope. Why shouldn’t she?

“I can’t,” she’d answered.

And then he smiled, as though it was not unexpected. “I see Sophie Wilde, the rules. You’re breaking them but not too much.”

She nodded, “Yes, not too much.”

She dropped the pen. She hated writing by hand.

And then he’d said something else, something unnerving. “So, I wonder if there is another storm tonight, and I come by knocking again, if you’ll abide my entrance or not.”

It was an uncomfortable, awkward moment. She was not at all sure what he meant, if it was in innocence or if it was not innocent at all. So, she hadn’t answered. And then he’d left. He must have left, although strangely now she didn’t remember him leaving. She wasn’t sleeping well, not well at all. It must be that.

8:30 P.M.

“I’m beginning to believe this was a mistake.”

She stared at the screen a bit blankly. Her thoughts were elsewhere. She thought about the unnamed room upstairs — the other was The Engagement but that one, maybe that one was Secrets.

“Sophie,” his voice was louder, more emphatic. She surfaced from her thoughts.

“Yes, sorry Stephen.”

“I said this might be a mistake.”

She stared at him a bit more blankly, feeling a pull elsewhere again. “Why would you say that?”

“You are being careful? Locking doors and such?”

A slight chill crossed the threshold, crossed and prickled her skin. “Yes, of course, why are you asking?”

“I don’t want to worry you, but I believe it’s best to be aware. There have been some deaths, a few miles away from you, closer to the town.”

She straightened up, fear suddenly bringing her back in connection to the present. “You mean murders?”

He frowned. Was that such a difficult question? “Hard to say yet. There has been no cause of death found, just two people. One in a field and one in their house, dead — inexplicably. Do you want to call this off?”

She thought about her room upstairs, just named Secrets, as of yet unexplored — tantalizing. Did she want to call this off? “Not yet Stephen, not just yet.”

Oct. 13

Journal Entry:

Yesterday, it rained, and I spent much of the day sleeping. Strange, for no reason I seemed abnormally tired. I tried to consider what Stephen had said, about the deaths in the area, but for some reason I feel disconnected to it. Rather, it doesn’t feel at all real to me. This solitude has touched me in a strange way, as though I’m a fraction of a step apart, somewhere else from everyone and everything else.

“Do you believe in other dimensions?”

Joshua Thorn smiled with amusement at her. It was nearing dusk, and on impulse she’d decided to take a walk in the cemetery. The weather had dipped a bit, the wind blowing more brutal. And she wasn’t at all surprised to find him there, almost as though he expected her. “Other dimensions, Sophie Wilde. Now that’s a question. I believe some of us live out of step with everyone else, if that’s what you mean.”

“Some of us?” She asked with curiosity.

“Yes,” he nodded. “I include myself in that assessment. Now whether you join me in that grouping is something you might need to decide.”

8:30 PM

“What do you think of me?”

Stephen Archer looked at bit surprised. It wasn’t her nature to engage him in any manner that was remotely personal. “In what respect?”

“In any respect that comes to mind.”

He frowned. He was suspicious, cautious, expecting traps where there may be none. “I think you are an amazing writer. You should write a book.”

“Really? That’s what you think about when you look at me.”

He leaned back in his leather swivel chair. He was at the office, late again. And oddly enough, she wondered why this evening. “Oh, when I look at you? When I look at you Sophie Wilde, I think you’re beautiful with your blonde hair, and gray eyes and lovely body. And I always wonder why you are alone. Then when you speak I understand why.”

“What does that mean?”

He laughed, “That’s it. The aura you give off. The I’ll rip to pieces aura if you get too close.”

She stood there staring at the screen with her mouth open. She shouldn’t have drunk a second glass of wine at dinner. She shouldn’t have let Joshua Thorn kiss her goodnight after he walked her home. That was why she panicked. That was why she wanted to connect to her world again through Stephen, and ill-advisedly stumbled through this door. “I don’t do that,” she whispered.

He wasn’t smiling now, just staring at her intensely. “Are you ready to come back yet Sophie?”

“I don’t know,” she murmured.

Oct. 14: Column Day

She was spending the morning doing yoga in the room of Secrets. She still had no earthly clue why she called it that or if she should continue doing so. The other room — the Engagement Room — she simply had begun to avoid, as though it were tainted somehow. Strange, how an imaginary abstract label could become so tangible to the mind.

She cleared her thoughts, breathing deeply, and closing her eyes. She sat on a mat that she’d unrolled in the middle of the room with her legs crossed. “Are you ready to come back yet Sophie?” the question still hung in the air, floating about. Was she? And if she wasn’t, why not? Was this solitude beginning to get comfortable for her? All this reflection, the inner ramblings — in some respect did she prefer being cut off from the mainstream of life?

She breathed in deeply and then exhaled.

“All worthy questions, Sophie Wilde.”

Slowly, she opened her eyes to see Joshua Thorn standing in the doorway of her room.

She felt stunned, confused. “How did you get in?”

“The front door,” he murmured. “You left it open.”

Her mind went blank. That didn’t seem likely. He walked through the doorway and began to circle the room. “I was wondering why you call this the room of Secrets. It’s fairly empty just now.”

“I—I’m not sure.”

He continued to look around as he slowly circled her along the walls, near the long window covered by white gauzy shears. “It seems an odd designation. Secrets take up space and time and energy. Perhaps you were thinking of keeping secrets here.”

“I don’t know. But you’re one.”

And then he stopped circling and turned to her, “I am one of your secrets? That’s right. I am the broken rule.”

Her heart was beating madly with fear in her chest. “Why are you here?”

He smiled for the first time since he entered the room. “To tell you there’s a full moon out tonight. And everything tends to change with the full moon.”

She opened her eyes again, and the room was empty. The first thing she did was go downstairs to check the front door. She turned its knob, and it opened easily onto the screen porch. It was windy outside, and the door there flapped violently ajar in the breeze.

Imagination: The Role of Imagination as It Usurps Memory

She was convinced of it or rather convinced herself of it. The idea that memory, which once had dominance, was now supplanted by imagination—that thing that expands and fills the vacant spaces.

She wrote all morning, expanding her theory until she beat it succinctly into the proper volume of a column. She actually thought it was quite good. And sometime around 1:00 in the afternoon, after she’d emailed it to Stephen Archer, she had time to sit down and really consider what had happened.

How Joshua Thorn had entered her house through a door she’d known to be locked, soundlessly ascended to the second floor of her old horrible creaky house, and almost vanished from her sight. Although in all fairness to what was plausible, he hadn’t vanished in front of her, just when she’d turned away or closed her eyes. She couldn’t absolutely remember.

So, had he, had he been here at all or as her column suggested been an amplified product of her foolishly indulged imagination? And tracking on that thread had she met him at all or was he a figment simply dreamed up to keep her company in her solitude?

She sipped the cup of tea, blueberry tea, that she’d brewed just fifteen minutes earlier.

If indeed she were to dream up a man to keep her company, what would his attributes be?

Charming? – Yes

Comforting? – Perhaps

Handsome? – Yes, but not in a safe way, in an unusual way

Dangerous? – In some respects, but certainly not to her personally

Mysterious? — She paused. Perhaps she was onto something here. Mysterious absolutely. Someone to stimulate her mind. Who had said that — a woman had to first be seduced in her mind and then her body? It was blank, perhaps it had been her. Did Joshua Thorn fit the bill? Yes, he did, which was horribly upsetting. Because if she had simply made him up then, as Stephen Archer had indicated, solitude does indeed induce madness.

So, she would do the only thing she could. Wait for tonight, wait and see if there is a full moon, then she will know that the information he gave her was accurate. And he was real.

8:30 PM

“Well, I give it to you Sophie, that was a thought-provoking article,” and then he hesitated.

She had decided to wait until after their conversation to go out, to go out and look for Joshua’s full moon.

“Well, I’m glad you liked it.”

“Liked it? I was riveted. But I have to tell you that I’ve decided to pull the plug on this experiment.”

She felt stunned, as though he’d reached through the screen and physically slapped her across the face. “You what?”

His face looked very solemn, grim if you like. An expression she rarely remembered seeing on the face of Stephen Archer. “I want you to pack up and be out of there in the morning.”

“Why? I thought you liked the columns.”

“I do. They’re brilliant. But my gut tells me something is very wrong with you.”

She couldn’t think, and all she could think was the work she’d done. The rooms upstairs, The Engagement, and Secrets, which still had to be unraveled. The weaving she’d done here with her mind; the reality she’d created. It was a web, a massive web that she couldn’t just walk away from. She shook her head, “No, no, I’m not ready.”

“Sophie,” he leaned into the screen. His voice was different now, not hard, not biting, but soft, concerned. “It’s time to come back Sophie.”

She shook her head turning off the monitor, and then the computer. She rose from her laptop, as though she were in shell shock. And then she picked up the sweater that she had laid across the table and put it on. She wouldn’t deal with this now. She would go outside to see if it was a full moon.

“It isn’t wise to be about at night here. The land is still untamed.”

Joshua’s words when they first met, but she would just slip out for a few moments, not long at all. Just to see. It might well be her last chance to see. She walked through the front double doors of the house out onto the screen porch. The sky was pitch black, almost, except for the dim light of a few stray stars. She couldn’t tell from here, not from the porch, whether or not the moon was full. So, with shaky fingers she unhooked the latch to the door and stepped out into the night. The air smelt strange, of burning leaves. She moved around the side of the house, and in the distance could see a soft glow. Overhead, it was cloudy. So, she walked further toward the light, toward the direction of the cemetery. The burning smell got stronger, and the leaves crunched beneath her boots. She continued to look upward. If she saw it, the moon, she would return home. In the distance, the light continued to glow but fluctuating. The truth seeped in. It was a bonfire. She stopped walking, and in the night sky, covered beneath the shifting, mutating clouds she finally saw the moon—the full moon.

“You see, I told you.”

She heard the movement behind her, though moments earlier it hadn’t been. “What else did I say?” his voice almost in a rasp in her ears.

“Everything tends to change with the full moon.”

She wasn’t sure, wasn’t at all sure that she wasn’t speaking to herself. And then, she felt the pressure of his hands on her shoulders and his warm breath on her neck. “Yes, yes it does. And now I’ll show you why it’s the room of Secrets.”

And the flames that moments before were miles away seemed to be just in front of her eyes.

“Do you think I can take her home soon?”

The doctor looked up from his desk into Mr. Archer’s eyes. He certainly didn’t want to give him false hope, but there was reason to be optimistic. The new drug had roused his wife out of her catatonic state. He stood up, trying to rationalize a way to walk the tightrope between hope and reality. “Mr. Archer, Sophie has made great strides, but she also has created a sort of alternate reality—a bridge if you will, between where she’s been existing and your world. It may take some time before she entirely comes back to us.”

“So, what do I do in the meantime Dr. Thorn?”

He shrugged, “Honestly, play along. Be comforting and play along. By the way, she’s decided I’m some sort of supernatural werewolf creature.”

Stephen Archer frowned, “And me?”

“Still her boss, some sort of newspaper editor. But she’s knows you told her it’s time to go home.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“Yes, in a way it’s encouraging. Your wishes have made some impact on her reality.”

“You know she was a brilliant writer, before the accident.”

“Clearly, it’s her imagination that has kept her from, well, falling apart. As I said play along.”

Stephen Archer nodded, then left the office heading down the hall to his wife’s room.

The rest of the night was a blur. Somehow, she had returned to her house. Well, the Greenwall house. She couldn’t be at all sure now where home was. Joshua Thorn had brought her into the night, near the wild erupting bonfire. And she’d seen the others dancing with abandon beneath the full moon, writhing and mutating beneath the flickering shadows. And Joshua Thorn had beckoned her, enticed her to join them. But she’d pulled away, running through the darkness in terror, and hearing him, chasing her, him, and then the hot fetid breath of an animal.

Somehow, she’d gotten back into the old house sobbing, blocking the doors. She’d spent the night in terror on the sofa downstairs, not truly getting any sleep until the dawn came creeping through the thin drapes.

She heard a tapping at the door. It was early. She checked her watch, just after seven. She hesitated. It could be Joshua, and he would drag her back into the darkness. So, she just waited, silently hoping whoever it was would just leave, just go away.

“Sophie,” she heard a voice through the door.

She shivered. Someone was calling her, but it wasn’t Joshua. She rose from the sofa and moved slowly toward the front hallway. Again, a pounding on the screen door. What if it was a trick? What if it was Joshua? He might kill her this time. He might be responsible for the deaths of all those other people — the ones who were just found dead, no reason, just stopped living. Why would someone do that, just stop living for no reason as though they’d simply had enough of this world, as though it were just too difficult or too painful to go on?

And then she heard a crash and she lurched back in fear. Whoever it was had kicked the screen door in. She turned and leapt toward the stairs frantically, as she heard another crash as the intruder barreled through the double doors that she’d blocked with a chair. She bolted into the room of Secrets, to its center. And sat on the floor with her knees drawn up to her, ducking her head so she couldn’t see. If she didn’t look, they wouldn’t be real, imagination, just imagination.

She heard the creak of the door but kept her head bent down. Perhaps, she had created it all, perhaps the moon hadn’t been full, or perhaps she had made it so.

“Sophie,” a voice said softly. “I told you it was time to leave.”

She was crying, crying with fear. All her things, all the things she had created here to keep her safe and warm, where would they go when she was gone?

“Sophie,” Stephen’s voice beside her now. He was kneeling beside her.

“But there are two more columns to finish.”

He lightly touched her hair. “I know. If you’re not ready, I’ll stay here with you until you’re done.”

She looked up into his face, the tears still pouring down her cheeks. “You would do that for me?”

He smiled, taking her hand in his. “I would do anything for you.”

Copyright © 2019 by Evelyn Klebert

First Appeared in White Harbor Road

White Harbor Road is the last stop where life’s burdens and hardships evolve into something unexpected. In this collection of short stories Evelyn Klebert takes us to a paranormal place of healing and transformation. In “White Harbor Road” a woman seeking escape from her life meets a mysterious stranger who has been awaiting her appearance for years. “What is Circumspect by Sophie Wilde” is the tale of a writer in self-imposed exile who stumbles across an unexpected horror in a small town. A discontented wife finds solace in the company of an enigmatic Englishman in “A Few Moments With a Stranger.” “The Lake” finds a young woman in the aftermath of a broken engagement rediscovering her worth through the eyes of a horror writer, and a chronically ill woman finds new beginnings as her path crosses a man with an other-worldly secret in “The Tear.”