In Search Of…

The first of November came up all of a sudden. At least it seemed like it to me. I gave the Scoddameyer Ranch the hay bales and pumpkins I used for decorating my front porch

I thought the pumpkins would be OK because I didn’t use candles. I used glow worms and fireflies instead. Neither penetrated the flesh of the gourd or made a home either. They seemed content to find a warm and safe place to be.

 As for the hay bales, I needed something to put my pumpkins on. I didn’t know what to do with them afterwards so I asked around. That’s how they ended up at the Scoddameyer Ranch, and it seemed like the normal thing to do.

Mr. Scarecrow was torn apart and thrown away. None of it could’ve been saved or donated. I thought about making him real, but that would draw too much attention. There’s always next year.

It was a fun time seeing the young ones dressed up. So many different ideas.

After that, came a time for the whole family to come together and feast. Some do have a family while others may not have one. Instead, a group of friends celebrate in the same way. When one had neither, one was not so sure where to go. That was me and Wilfred.

I gathered the mail from the postal box and set them on the counter. I poured myself a Pinot Gris before sorting through them. As expected, most were of no consequence. Either selling me something I didn’t need or making me believe I did something wrong and only they could help. With a flick of my wrist they turned to dust.

That left a reminder that living in this world wasn’t cheap. In amongst them was a letter from a stranger. I opened it up to satisfy my curiosity.

A family wanted to hire me to search for their lost daughter. It seems she had gone to see the Ring of Brodgar and disappeared. They hoped I would be able to find her or at least find out what happened to her.

They would pay for all the expenses including airfare, transportation, food and lodging, and provide me with anything I needed. However, they would not be willing to tell me what they knew. They wanted me to find out if the rumors they heard were true.

I never told anyone here my true nature. For fear of being put away and examined under instruments only scientists would be able to operate. I told people I worked as a private investigator. I even offered to show my license upon request.

“Excuse me, Mistress, but it is time for me to dine,” Wilfred said

I looked down at him. Still a big ball of grey fur. It was easier to show him as a cat rather than a dragon. “In a moment, Wilfred. I have to finish this letter.”

“Oh. Come now. We have lived in this world for at least five decades. Isn’t it time we return to ours?”

“You know better than to ask me that. I suggest you wait or I will turn you into a lizard. The choice is yours.”

He meowed as he walked away.

I put the letter back in the envelope. I finished the wine as I thought about the request. I would need to research the area to find out if there was the possibility of anything magical. Someone may have opened a doorway and forget to close it. If that was the case then it would be easy. If it was something else, then it might be something more difficult. I wouldn’t know until I got there.

They finished by letting me know they booked a flight for me to leave here in two days. It was first class of course. It seemed they had a reputation to protect.

I put the letter back in the envelope while I got Wilfred’s food out. It would give me the opportunity to stretch and to wander around a bit. Get a breath of fresh air, as it were.

“Wilfred, your dinner has been served.”

He ran back to me and meowed before moving over to his food bowl. Gone in two seconds as usual. One might presume I never fed him if they saw this. “The food was adequate. I would prefer fresh salmon next time.”

“Wilfred, I have to leave for a while. Someone needs me to look for their missing daughter. She was supposed to have gone to Scotland and return in a week’s time, but she never returned. I need you to stay here.”

“Very well. I don’t suppose… you could… this once… .”

“No. I won’t return you to your dragon self. Not until you learn the value of life. You know that.”

“I had to ask. It wasn’t that bad.”

I stood up and walked to him. “Not that bad? Not that bad? It is because of you that we are here to begin with. Not a living creature was found in two villages. A child’s favorite pet had disappeared and started looking for it when you were found with it in your mouth. Not that bad you say?”

“I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten all winter. I could always transform to my human self.”

“We tried that. You almost were found out after you had broken the glass door of a pet shop because you were hungry. You will stay in that form until you learn. That’s final.”

He left the front room to return to my bed. I needed to change the sheets anyway.

With him moping and messing on my bed, I went to the library to research the area a bit before I left. Once I got there, I heard all of them cry for my attention.

I found an older woman pushing a book cart around and placing books upon the shelves. She might know where I could find the information I needed.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me where I could found out anything about the Ring of Brodgar.”

She looked at me and smiled. “Oh. Well. I never heard that name before. Would what you’re looking for be fiction or nonfiction.”

“Nonfiction. It’s a ring of stones in Scotland.”

“Oh my. That’s a problem. You see, we don’t have many books on foreign countries. Lucky if we have anything about America. Your best bet would be to go to the university and ask to use their European library. That’s not a guarantee but they might let you.”

“All right. Thank you.” I left the library and did what she said. Lucky for me, everything was within walking distance.

Why was it the places of higher learning here seemed so… what was that for it… well they never appeared to be a university. A place for higher learning. They always seemed so inadequate.

I went into the front building, marked administration, and found a map. The place I needed was out the doors and to the left. I went there and the library the lady mentioned was open.

I heard the voices of the books whisper and the minds of the students concentrate on other things. Unless they were indeed studying the latest concoction for getting wasted, as they said.

I found the section about Scotland and went through each book. None of them had any information on what I was looking for. They had no idea what or who the ring was about to begin with. That meant I had a lot of work to do once I got there.

It came time for me to leave. They provided someone to transport me to the airport. It would’ve been easier for me to transport myself. However, that would’ve brought unnecessary attention towards me. The airport was always so busy with a crowd of people.

Three hours before departure seemed too much, but with everything I had to go through I realized the wisdom of this practice.

They provided me a first class seat. All by myself no less. It was the perfect journey to an unfamiliar destination.

I arrived at the airport and went to the baggage claim area. I didn’t bring anything along, but I needed to see if they provided me with baggage without telling me.

I looked at every tag on every suitcase and they didn’t have my name or the name of my client. I went to the area and walked towards the exit when I saw a saw a sign marked Esma. At least they spelled my name right.

The man holding it couldn’t have been more than sixteen. A mix between whiskers and pimples on his face provided the clues for me. Of course, there was always a chance I was wrong. Not often.

“Yes, I am Esma. You would be?” I smiled.

“Uh. Yeah.” He shrugged. “Oh, and uhm, Scott.” He shrugged again and put down the sign. He dug into his pocket and pulled a key ring. “I’m supposed to take you there. And no, we’re not from here. Long story. Let’s just go.”

I raised my eyebrow at this young lad and followed him all the way to the car. It flet a bit cramped inside, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of my height or it was indeed a small car.

We left the city, and took various roads to arrive at the final destination. We got out of the car and walked the trail.

“Yeah, uhm, look I’m supposed to drop you off. Someone else will be here later. I don’t know. Later.” He left.

Not a very talkative young man.

I looked around at the stones around me. No visible markings although they did have a strange energy around them. It didn’t feel as if the energy came from this area. Maybe someone used these for a ritual or something else magical.

Since nobody was around, I took the opportunity and did some magic work. I put my hand on the one in front of me. “I, Wizardess Esma, am asking for you to speak to me. A young woman was here but had vanished without prior knowledge. Would you know anything?”

The stone opened its eyes. “We have witnessed something otherworldly. A dark force had taken a sun colored woman from here. Destination unknown.” It closed its eyes.

It seemed that particular one was the only one willing to speak. The others never answered. Still nobody there, and with the sun still up, I conjuired a mirror to reflect the prior incident.

It didn’t show anyone, but a mysterious doorway did open and she walked through. It wasn’t revealed if she had any magical ability.

There was the old story of a person without ability to cast spells who happens an old document. They may be able to document and do so out loud. Something magical happens, and out of curiosity, goes on adventure. Often times, it was thought of as an excuse, but as many times it turned out to be true. Could she have happened upon a magical spell and not realize it?

Footfalls came in my direction. I turned to see who it was and an older woman smiled at me. Her steps seemed rather forced. A hard enough step to make an impression on the grass. The narrowed eyes and thin lips were the other clues.

“Ms. Esma, you have been here long enough to take a look around. It is time to come home and make yourself useful.”

I tried every trick I could think of not to change her into something cold and slimy. “Ma’am, my name is Esma. If you are a member of the family that hired me, then you would know the reason why I am here. I am fifty-three years old. Not three.”

“You’ve got a mouth on you. If you want to stay here be my guest. I don’t care. It does get rather cold here at night.”

Maybe, I better go to the house on my own, since this woman may incite an incident. “I will find my own transportation. Thank you. I do have your address.”

“Suit yourself. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

I watched her leave. I don’t blame the daughter for leaving with a relative like that. I know I would be miserable.

Back to the matter at hand, I could sense where the doorway was. Other than that, there was nothing I could find that would indicate any force beyond normal. I had a feeling it was back to that old story.

There was one way to find out though. There was a golden key. Such a thing could open any magical door. However, it would open one door and then would vanish. The only way to keep it from doing so was to be sure it understood it had a purpose. That required a lot of magic and would require me not to use any of my powers until I could replenish.

The sun was about to set and that meant I had to leave. Nobody around still and that gave me the opportunity to transport myself there. While, of course, hoping nobody was around to see me reappear.

An uneventful trip to the residence, as it should be, and I walked up to the house and knocked on their door. A lot of shouting going on. I tried again, and this time, rang the doorbell as well.

“Oh. It’s you. Welcome. Welcome.” A man waved me inside. He closed the door behind me. “We have some food ready to be served. You do eat meat. Yes?”

“That sounds delicious.”

“Excellent. Excellent. Go ahead and get yourself cleaned up. Come back here and we can sit down and talk. Oh, what would you like to drink?”

“Some coffee would be fine. Thank you.”

“Splendid. It’s down the hall. Second door on the left.”

I nodded and proceeded where he told me to. I closed and locked the door behind me. I looked at myself in the mirror and agreed I did look a little rough around the edges. What I got for traveling. Thoughts of me contacting Wilfred did go through my mind. However, in an effort not to draw attention I opted not to do so. The less magic I used the better. I had a feeling I would need it.

When all was done, I returned to the front room and followed the loud conversation. That led me to the kitchen. It seemed one was happier than the other about me being here. They needed ansers and felt I was the only one to get those answers. While the other, voiced that since the missing daughter was a full grown adult, she could pay the consequences of whatever trouble she got herself into.

Oh my black cauldron. Well, I was brought here to find her. Not to negotiate a quarrel.

“Oh. You’re done. Good. Go ahead and find a seat at the table. Sit anywhere. The food will be out in a bit. We are having roasted goose with potatoes and some green vegetables. Your coffee will be out in a bit.”

“All right. I can help. I do know my way around a stove.”

“I’m sure you do. I have everything taken care of though. We’ll be along in a bit.”

I nodded and made my way to the table. The arguing continued and that would’ve been the reason to get me out of the kitchen. It took a little bit, but, the food was brought out and everybody sat down around the table.

We held hands and lowered our heads as we gave thanks for our food. When that was done, everything was passed around until our plates were filled.

“So tell me, who paid for your education?”

“Please, excuse my wife. She must not have slept well,” he said through gritted teeth.

“My name is David McGee. This is my wife Donna and our son Scott.”

“Yo,” Scott said.

“My name is Esma. I was brought here to look for your daughter then. For ease of conversation, what is your daughter’s name?”

“Megan,” Donna said. “I named her.”

I nodded. “When the sun comes up, I will set out to go back to the Ring of Brodgar and continue with my search. It may be a while before you here from my. Don’t panic. I will be back to tell you what I have found out. I cannot guarantee she will agree to come back here. What I can guarantee is bringing her to a location that all of you can meet to talk.”

David nodded, Donna laughed, and Scott shrugged.

“Why not just pick her up and bring her back here. We are paying you, after all.”

“Yes, I do realize that. However, I would guess she is an adult capable of making her own decisions. Therefore, I cannot and will not force her. It is up to her to decide what to do.”

“Fair enough,” David said. “Let me refill your cup.” He stood from the table.

We continued with the rest of the meal with only the noise of eating utensils. After the meal, was as silent as during. It reminded me of those long dinners filled with foreign diplomats. Everybody had something to say, but not a word was muttered.

“Scott, why don’t you escort our guest to her room while your mother and I clean up. Huh?”

Scott smiled. “OK.”

I followed him down the hall. The last room on the left side was appointed as my bedroom it seemed. A small bed with a side table and a drawer set.

“I’ll be right back,” Scott said. He came back a moment later. “I never gave you these.” He set down a box and left the room.

I closed the door and opened the mysterious present. I looked inside to find a lot of books. My guess would be Scott was appointed as their guardian.

There were seventeen plus books in here and all of them had something to say. Maybe the answer to everything lie in these pages. I had to read them all to find out more about this dilemma or was it circumstance. These labels wouldn’t mean anything until I get answers.

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The Test

Well, here we go, rather me, but… . I walked up the stairs and knocked on the door. It seemed strange that somebody would burn a flower smack dab in the middle of the door. Maybe that was because I never saw it before.

The door opened, and I stepped in. The directions said to ring the bell and wait. I found the golden bell, rang it, and put it down. Meanwhile, I looked around the room. The dark wood had a reddish tint to it. The fireplace took up the entire wall, with shelves on either side. They filled all of them with dolls. It felt like they watched me as I moved around.

A big couch sat against the right side of the tremendous fireplace. It looked puffy and comfy to sit on. The deep green gave it an almost cabin-like feel to it.

“Come,” somebody said.

I didn’t have a choice, so I did. I remembered my mother’s lessons. If you want something bad enough, you have to do what they tell you to do.

I kept going until they told me to turn left here. I couldn’t tell anyone if it was a house or a library. All I remembered was the shelves of books as I passed. I heard that sometimes things don’t appear as they seem.

“Come inside the room on the left, close the door, and wait. We will be there.”

I did that. I wanted a place to sit, but I didn’t want to ask. My throat was dry and I could swear that my heart was beating a mile a minute.

Four people appeared from somewhere. People may not appear out of nowhere, but they did. First, I saw floating hooded capes. Then people’s faces appeared after that and I can’t say if it made me feel better.

“You found us, Hildegarde. We have been waiting. While it may seem expected to follow the dominant in a household, what was your choice?”

If I had a choice, I would’ve gone to a university to become a teacher. “I came here to find out more about my mother and my aunt. They always told me stories, and I needed to know more. There were details missing, so I thought I would find out for myself. I asked both of them what this secret society was called, but they never answered. It was only because a few others wanted to know the same thing that I could find out. That’s how I ended up here.”

“That tells us why you found us, not your choice.”

“Oh. Right. I just chose this because to me it seemed interesting. A sort of secret society that exists in plain sight without existing in plain sight.”

“So, would you say curiosity got the best of you?” somebody asked.

“Yes. I suppose.”

“All right. We have a selection process. It is possible that you will not undergo testing. You may or may not be given a secret mission. You may or may not undergo observation. Anything can be used to make our decision and our decision is final. It is only a pass or fail. Do you understand?”

Somehow, that felt an awful lot like finals. “Yes.”

“Good. We will let you know in a fortnight.” With a flash, they disappeared.

Mom always told me, don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to. I kept that in mind when a man that looked half-dead opened the door and pointed the way to the front door.

I heard the door close and kept going. There was only one path that led to the house, and I followed the same path. At least I thought I did, but there weren’t so many trees here before. There was asphalt here, but it changed to dirt and leaves.

A sudden cool breeze blew my hair in my face, as I regretted not bringing a scrunchie with me. I kept going straight hoping to find the main road.

A town was there instead, and maybe they had a phone. I heard Mom yelling at me in my head about coming here, but I concentrated on my current circumstances instead of what I should’ve done.

The buildings had an old feel to them. It could’ve been the peeling paint or the fact that nobody was around. It was hard to explain, but maybe somebody was there.

Every building was empty. No one even greeted me or yelled at me. I learned to trust my gut over the years, and it told me to leave. I couldn’t, though. Something kept me there.

I left town only to find out if they had a sign that had the name of a town written on it. The path here was still the same. Tree-lined pathway with autumn colors and piles of leaves that colored the dirt. Either I was the only stupid one that came in here or the only brave one that dared to come in here. I didn’t know which one yet, although knowing me, it would’ve been the former.

I turned around and almost bumped into someone. “Hi. My name’s Hilde. Sort of old family name. Could you tell me what town this is?”

She laughed. “Hilde? Yes?”

I said that already so I raised my eyebrow.

She shrugged. “I thought I was the only one with a strange name. I got excited when I saw somebody else. My name’s Brunhilde. As for your question, I have no idea.”

“All right. How about if we just find a place to sleep? I think the sun is going to set soon. You wouldn’t know where we could find food?”

I looked at her. Long black hair and pale skin, talk about different shades on one body. Being only four feet ten and a half, everybody else was tall. So I couldn’t say if she was tall or not. What I could say is that she looked pretty fit to me. I only wished I paid more attention to her eyes when she was up close.

“There’s a place up the road a bit. You try to make the place comfortable while I scrounge around for food.” She left me there.

“Brunhilde, where?”

“The place with the only sign on it. Nobody’s there. Just go on in and I will be back.”

I did what she told me to do only because it seemed like the logical thing to do. Also, maybe I didn’t know where to find food. On the other hand, how did she? I walked through this town and none of the buildings had a sign. It could’ve been that I missed one.

The sign read Saloon, and I went in. I heard glasses jiggling and chairs screeching. A few of the tables even moved.

Mom always told me I had an imagination, but I always wondered. I walked up the steps and a woman in a sort of outfit stood in front of me.

She smiled as she grabbed my arm. “There’s a man in the room who may like your style.” She let go.

I didn’t know what she was talking about and went into the first room. Nobody in there and the bed was made. Both were good things. If only the big metal basin was filled, it would’ve been even better. I felt filthy.

The door opened. I turned around, and it was a tall and slender man. OK, everybody was tall, but his head hit the top of the doorway.

“A bit scrawny, ain’tcha? No matter. Just give me what I want.” He undid his belt and had started with his pants.

I had an idea what he was talking about and didn’t feel like finding out if what I thought was right or not. I wished, what’s her name again, would hurry.

I got thrown on the bed and I closed my eyes, expecting that man to handle me.

“Hilde? Hilde? It’s all right now.”

I shook my head and screamed. “No. No. No.”

“Hilde, it’s me. It’s Brunhilde. Now, come on. I brought food.”

Huh? I opened my eyes and put down my hands. “Oh. It’s you. Where did that man go?” I caught a glimpse of red before she brushed her hand over my face.

“What man?” She pointed to the food on the table.

Right. Nobody else saw what I did. “Never mind. What did you find?”

“If you tell me what man, I may be able to help you.”

I lost a lot of friends that way. I ignored her, picked at the offerings, and saw what looked like a sandwich. Another one of Mom’s lessons came to mind. Don’t bite into anything that you didn’t know the origins of.

“Thank you for the food, and I apologize for complaining, but I lost my appetite all of a sudden.” I sat on the edge of the bed, almost too afraid to ask. “Now what?”

“Hildegarde—”

After getting off the bed, I stood in front of the door. “I never told you my name. I only said it was Hilde. How did you know?”

“There’s a lot I do know, and that’s your name. I can’t explain how, though. It gets complicated. Just like you won’t explain what man you saw.”

I swallowed. “Maybe next time. Now what?”

“How about if we relax and find out what happens, then? This place can’t exist forever, especially since it’s not supposed to be here anymore.” She brushed her fingertips on my lips and tilted her head a bit.

I didn’t like the sound of that and kept my trap shut. I left the doorway, but I kept her in my sights. Until she explains herself, I couldn’t let it go.

That food looked too good to pass. It seemed to beckon me, but I needed to resist the temptation. Something about all of this didn’t sit right.

Who was she and where did she find the food? How did she know what my favorites were? How did she know my name? I told no one what my real name was.

When she closed her eyes, I left the room. I tried to be as quiet as I could, but the noise from downstairs canceled that attempt. I stood against the wall and waited a few seconds, but she didn’t come out.

After I left the building, I came back onto the street again. Now the streets seemed busy with horses and people. I wondered if she had anything to do with it or not.

A place down the road was the blacksmith. Across from them was an eatery. Today’s special was meatloaf, according to a lady. Next to them was the General Store, ran by an old man and his wife. If only there was another place to stay until the sun came up high enough for me to see.

On the basis that every town had a church, that’s what I looked for. It was a single building that overlooked a creek. Once over the bridge, I stepped inside and sat down. Maybe they wouldn’t mind me spending a bit of time in here. I lay down and hoped for the best.

The creaking door woke me up. I rushed out before whoever it was asked me a question I couldn’t answer. That and there was business to take care of.

Business taken care of, I went back to town to the entrance to see if maybe things changed. It didn’t. The same road was still there.

“You know, I can not believe that you’re trying to avoid me.”

Uh oh. She found me. I tried to think of the best lie I could think of. “No. No. I just couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to wake you up. That’s all.” Yeah, and you’re the Princess of Prussia.

She laughed. “You don’t lie very well. No matter. We need to get back to the Saloon. I got some more food for you. You must be starving by now.”

“My stomach isn’t feeling very well.” Not a complete lie. “So you just eat and I’ll spend time downstairs. I always wanted to learn how to play poker.” I only needed a minute.

“No. No. Both of us are in this together. I already had my fill besides.” Her eyes twinkled. Another thing on a long list that didn’t fit her. So things went from bizarre to disturbing.

“I need to move around. You know. Exercise and all.”

“Do you expect me to believe that?”

I didn’t think so, but I thought I’d try, anyway. “Look. You don’t have to take care of me. I’m sure whatever this is about will resolve itself. What can go wrong?” Other than everything. “Something’s gotta change. Right?”

Uh oh. She powered herself up by drawing in energy. That and her eyes turned red. I ran into the blacksmith’s and out the back. I hopped over the fence to go somewhere. She found me.

I turned back around and made my way through the blacksmith’s again and into the General Store. There had to be something there to reflect her magic back to her. Either that or jerry-rig something.

She didn’t come in, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t. I needed to hurry to find something. There was a lantern and a tin plate. The tin plate may not reflect enough, but I had to try. She came in as I lit the lantern. I put the tin plate behind it and nothing happened.

She had been staying in the shadows up to this point. So she wasn’t immune to light. At least I hoped. I only needed to find the sun and, at the right angle, no more Brunhilde.

I looked up at the sky and my plan wouldn’t work because the sun was not within the distance I needed.

The church had Bibles. Out of desperation, I went into the church and grabbed one. I never believed it would work, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I started on page one and kept reading until she screamed and fell to the floor. I ran outside and they turned into shadows with red eyes as well. Don’t even get me started with the animals.

Out of pure luck, half the street was covered in shadow and the other half was covered in sunlight. I ran in the sun all the way to the main road. It was still a shadow-covered dirt path. The moans behind me got louder. I assumed they were behind me.

I kept going straight to get to the house. Except it wasn’t there. Things appear and disappear. Well, they weren’t supposed to.

I still had the Bible in my hand and started reading it. Most of the shadows vanished except Brunhilde. She was still there. She screamed a lot, but nothing else happened.

I turned around and ran and somewhere along the way, I dropped the Bible. I couldn’t run fast enough because she caught up to me. A branch broke somewhere, and that got her attention.

I ran past her and into the trees. There had to be a main road. Out of breath and in pain, I couldn’t run anymore. I hid behind a tree to think until I realized how stupid I was.

Shadows didn’t make noise, so how was I supposed to know where she was. Of course, I had to look. OK, on the count of three. One. Two. Three. I looked and nothing was there.

Wait a minute, that was too easy. She wasn’t anywhere around me. If I was her prey, she should’ve been here and not out somewhere. This was too weird.

Each step I took was planned and precise. If by any chance she became one with the trees, I needed to be careful. I made it up a hill and nothing.

Cars zoomed past me. The sun was almost down. Things didn’t add up, but there was no way to figure out what happened or even why.

I sat down against a tree to rest for a bit before calling Aunt Marty. This would be one tale for the ages. I could almost hear it. One day, when I was still in high school—I laughed.

“Oh my God, I have to figure out a way home. I can’t do that if I’m sitting.” I stood up and started walking. Maybe out of some miracle, somebody would feel sorry for me and offer me a ride.

I looked across the street, and there was that house. They had to have communication of one form or another. At the very least, a telephone.

I knocked on the door, and it opened. There wasn’t one in the front room, so I looked for another room. I knocked on the door to find out if anybody was there.

“Yes? Come in.” That voice sounded familiar.

I opened the door and saw her sitting behind a desk. “Who are you, and how did you get here?”

She smiled. “Everything will become apparent, my sweet. Please, you must be exhausted.” She got up and pulled out the guest chair.

Family Treasure

It was August and that meant vacation time. Two weeks of trying to figure out a mysterious message Grandpa left me. He died last year and left me a treasure chest that took the better part of a year to open. Inside were a pair of pirate swords, an eye patch, and a scroll.

I couldn’t tell if the swords or real or fake. With him, I never knew. The eye patch could’ve very well have been bought during Halloween. That left the scroll.

On one side was a map of somewhere on an island in the middle of the Pacific. The other side was a sort of love note. To my sweet little love. May you forever be holding this treasure. That was it.

I went for it because it gave me something to do during my vacation that didn’t involve modern technology. That and I needed a little adventure.

“Hey, P,” Mr. Sommers said. “Don’t tell me you found the Lost Mine.”

I tried to swallow those words that had the potential of getting me fired.

Feebs was almost tolerable. He called me P. “Mr. Sommers, my name is Phoebe.” It was PhoebeMarie, but with him, I had to make things simple for his minuscule brain. “As for the Lost Mine, no I didn’t find it. No, I am not elaborating. If you will excuse me, it is now five-thirty and time for me to go.”

I went into my bottom drawer to get my purse. I reached inside to get my keys. The ends were in his direction. Most men got the hint and walked away from me at that point.

He approached me. “You call yourself a treasure hunter.”

So much for that theory. I poked him with it expecting him to back up. He pushed himself into my keys.

“Bruce, in my office.” His father didn’t look pleased with that iron-clenched jaw moving back and forth. “Now.”

I reached into my drawer and grabbed my purse. With everything off, and my boss’s butt getting chewed, I left.

Friday night meant getting something to relax and have fun. There was a line of restaurants on the way home. The left side of that road was a store, gas station, lumber yard, and a garden center. The places to eat were on the right. All one needed to do was decide what they wanted.

Chinese hot pot, sushi, pizza, burgers, tacos, and liquor store. There was a new gyros place that opened, but I wasn’t in the mood for Greek food. I went to the pizza place to get a meat calzone with plenty of sauce. While that was cooking, I dropped into the liquor store and grabbed myself a beer. As long as I didn’t open it, everything was fine. Of course, following the rules helped.

I made it home, stripped and changed into comfy clothes, and had my dinner. I kept staring at the pirate’s ship in the background.

I didn’t notice the first ten times I read it over, but there were a series of numbers with symbols. After I finished and cleaned up, I input them into the computer. It gave me a location. They were coordinates to a specific place. So all I needed was to look for a way to get there. Later though, my eyes kept closing so I took that as my cue to get to bed.

The next morning, I searched online for a way to get there. It was easier than I thought. Two major airlines flew to an airport that neighbored that spot. Price wasn’t a big deal since the difference was a matter of fifty dollars. The ratings were what helped make that decision for me. That and they had a time slot that fit.

I made a reservation and got packed. I stalled in between as I wondered why grandpa left it to me. Yeah, he traveled a lot and always told stories. I enjoyed them. What kid wouldn’t with tales of love and getting lost with lots of embarrassing stuff in between? I grabbed his picture off the dresser. I cried when I remembered there were no more.

It took all day to get that done. I couldn’t stop looking at his picture. It was the picture he took while trying to take the same trip as Indiana Jones. I laughed so hard when he tried to explain that there was a bit of an age difference, so of course, Dr. Jones was more successful.

Once at the airport, I checked in and dropped off my bag. I skipped breakfast because I woke up late. So a trip to Starbucks was in order. That would satisfy me until I got onto my flight. I had an eight hour nonstop trip ahead of me so I made sure they had food available. That and I checked for Wi-Fi availability. With both done, I was set for an adventure.

Everything had been going well up to a point. Check-in was a breeze. I found my gate. They did not cancel my flight. I got to my seat and a blonde woman sat next to me.

I’ve got nothing against blondes. Some of the most intelligent people I knew had blonde hair. Something else about this woman that sat next to me felt it was her mission to annoy the living hell out of me.

She must’ve caught the attention of someone important because the flight attendants started walking around reassuring everyone that everything would be all right. I must’ve looked pathetic or something. The next thing I knew I was offered a first-class seat. Peace, quiet, and luxury. I couldn’t beat heaven.

After I got off and grabbed my bag, I walked through the airport and waited for a taxi. That taxi took me to a small airport where I could get a flight to where I needed to go. It had six seats in all and that included the flight crew. A fifteen-minute trip later, I made it to my destination.

The airport was nothing more than an awning-covered stand. I wondered if I made a mistake and if I needed to learn a new language. The downside was no Wi-Fi available.

I walked up to the guy at the stand. “Excuse me, my name is Phoebe Baker. I was supposed to come here to find something in a cave.”

He looked up and smiled. “Ms. Baker. Yes. I’m Hughie. That would be my job. If you can wait a few minutes, my relief should be here. Then we could go.”

OK. As long as I get someone and we don’t get lost. He had a bit of an accent but I could still understand him.

My stomach growled, and that was never good. I snatched the sandwich that sat on the stand. It was cold at least and it had cheese. I ate it as fast as I could before anybody returned.

A woman came outside with a thick book in her hand. They talked to each other before he turned to me. “If you would follow me.”

We stopped at a Jeep. No doors or windows and only two seats. We could’ve had to use donkeys instead. I’ve got nothing against that. I didn’t have experience with them would’ve been the only problem.

I felt every bump, rock, hole, and whatever else was on the dirt path that snaked in between tall trees. If I let my imagination get the best of me, they were alive and would reach out to me for a snack.

We stopped when we got to a steep hill. He grabbed my bag and I followed him. That was when we had to take the donkeys because the path from that moment on would’ve been too steep, slippery, and narrow for any vehicle to take.

I got on his back and things were OK. Yeah; I found muscles I never used before but at least he didn’t throw me off. I took advantage when I thought he fell asleep and searched the bags on either side of the saddle. Nothing in them.

Once we reached a cliff, we got off and Hughie handed me my bag. “From this point, you walk to the west until you see a path. Walk down that path until you get to the bottom. The rocks are slippery so be careful. Nobody out here other than you.”

“Wait. You won’t be here? How am I supposed to get back? I’m not staying here forever.”

“OK. OK.” He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. “If you are in a clear spot, push the yellow button and speak. Somebody might hear you. You may not hear them or even be able to talk. There is a chance though.”

It didn’t sound promising, but it was the only chance I had. I looked at it and it was heavy. “Is it waterproof?”

He looked at me. “Questions?”

Right. “I guess not. Thanks.”

He shrugged before he ran away from me and mounted his donkey and grabbed the other one’s reins. I watched him go and wondered about that hotel I made a reservation at. This was not how things were supposed to go. What about food? I had to eat something. How was I going to sleep?

Well, there was still sunlight, so I did what he said. Problem was, I had to figure out what direction to go.

West was the direction of the setting sun. The last I looked at the clock it was the afternoon. So if I headed towards the sun then that should be in the right direction. I walked in the other direction and nothing was there other than more cliff.

I went back to the path with trees, sticks, rocks, and animals I couldn’t name on both sides of me and in my way. I reached the beach and took a big breath in and out.

A man sat in a chair on the beach. I wondered if he needed some company. He might have the info I needed.

I walked around to get a better look and it was a skeleton. I screamed. Oh, my God. Somebody has been out here too long. Somebody wanted to play a rotten trick on me. I never thought Grandpa had that kind of humor.

Deep breath in and out. I looked at it again, and once I got past the ew factor, a scroll stuck out from his pelvic region. I didn’t want to think about what it looked like but memories of Grandpa’s sense of humor came to mind. I had to love the man.

Willemina, if you found this scroll congrats. It went on from there and finished by telling me to go into the cave. Follow the path and it would lead to a treasure no one had ever seen. There was only one path.

“But Grandpa.” I groaned. “OK. All right. Fine. Send me on a no-end-in-sight adventure why don’t you.”

“Excuse me, George. The unknown awaits.” I didn’t think I lost my mind. On the other hand, I was following a dead man and even talked to one.

I looked around the cave and nothing noteworthy there. I went in and expected pitch-black surroundings, but as soon as I stepped in, torches lit as I passed by them. I didn’t think too much about it and kept moving.

Grandpa was right. There was only one path, at least the one lit by torches, and then I came to a door. I turned the knob, and it opened. As soon as it did, the room lit up.

I must’ve tripped a chemical reaction or something. It was a room filled with artifacts, gold, and jewels.

I was never one to cuss, but holy fuckin’ shit. All of this. It couldn’t have been real. No one could amass anything like this.

I found another room filled with books. Wall to wall, from ceiling to floor filled with leather-bound volumes. All of them filled with Grandpa’s notes. I knew his handwriting, and he wrote them. That made me think that all of this had the genuine possibility of being the most valuable gathering of everything.

I only took a quick glance to find out who wrote them. I didn’t read everything until that realization and grabbed one of them.

All this time, I thought he made up those stories. He didn’t. They happened.

He labeled all of them. The Treasure of the Lost Mine. The Royal Chest of the Spanish Armada. I had a lot of reading to do. The only problem was what to do with all of it.

I looked at the books again and found one that didn’t fit. It was smaller, and rather than being red, it was green.

To my adventurer, read the binding. It was his last words to me and how much he enjoyed our time together. I never cried this much.

“Oh, Grandpa. I love you, you crazy old man.”

“I know. I know. I love you.”

I screamed again. It couldn’t have been. I buried him last year at the local cemetery with that stupid eyepatch he insisted on wearing everywhere he went.

I turned around. “No. It can’t be. You’re… you’re… .”

“Dead? It’s OK. You can say it. I have little time, so I’ll get to the point. I created this getaway with all of this because I knew you would cherish it. I never cared about politics that’s why I never offered it to any museum. All I ask is that you use it how you see fit. It will always be here. If you need a couple coins, go ahead. All of this is yours.” He vanished.

I watched a little TV, and they always had a scene where one person had their back turned until somebody cocked their gun. That famous clicking noise, well that happened to me. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. All this time I thought I had a healthy heart until this point in time.

“Well, well, well. So that old coot wasn’t senial after all.” Hughie laughed. “I’ve been here multiple times and nothing ever happened until now. The one with the magic touch.” He waved his gun towards the door.

That was when I remembered the walkie-talkie he gave me. He also told me there was always a chance. “Someone. If anyone is out there. 9-1-1.”

Hughie laughed, and that worried me. “Oops. No batteries.”

I threw the walkie-talkie at him but he jumped out of the way before it hit him. What was I going to do? He had a gun. I ended up bumping into something, and out of habit, I apologized for hitting it.

Not a second after that, the ground shook. I didn’t notice any volcanoes in the area, so it couldn’t have been an earthquake. An angry god maybe because I was the stupid one for doing this.

Things shot up from the ground. They were covered to the point I couldn’t tell if they were men or women, black or white, or even human. They beheaded Hughie and his companion. As soon as that was done, they vanished below ground again.

The sight of Hughie’s open eyes staring at me made me do a quick step as I screamed and ran out of there. I collapsed to the ground. I needed to calm down.

Grandpa never told me about any of this. If he was still alive, I would’ve used those swords on him. My heart beat normal again and I regained my breath. “Oh my God.”

I found the will to stand up and get back in there. I located the thing I bumped into. It looked like a seal to something. I couldn’t decipher the writing, but my guess would be a secret society. I still had a bit of battery left on my phone and I took a picture for later.

I got a glimpse of another head and screamed as I ran out. Too much went on at once and I wasn’t sure if I could take much more.

I went back to George and buried him. That was easy. I borrowed his hat and whatever was wrapped around him and sat there. I didn’t think they were infested, but I needed to relax to figure out what to do.

It wouldn’t take long to get dark. Maybe at sunrise, I could find out if there were people here. The sound of the waves somewhat soothed me. I could relax.

The warmth of the sun on my back felt so good. With that, came the realization the sun came up. George’s mound was still there when I looked over. I covered it with the blanket and put his hat on top of it. I hoped he knew I was grateful.

It seemed to take longer going up rather than coming down. Once I was there, I went to the other side of the cliff and I found a group of people. If the cars were any sign, I hit civilization.

Strange how Hughie never mentioned it. If he did, I wouldn’t have been able to find the treasure room.

Through a series of rollovers and falls, I made it down the cliff. I left my bag on the other side but I didn’t want to go over there and go get it. I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything. Up and over back I went to get my bag. Have I mentioned how much I hated this vacation? Whose idea was it anyway?

Between getting something to eat and finding a place to get cleaned up I felt so much better. One of them was nice enough to take me back to the major airport in the area. Of course, I owed him big time for that. He refused, but I took down enough info to give him whatever the going rate was.

The plane wasn’t scheduled to be there for a couple hours. I took that time to think about what happened. My problem was, I didn’t know what to think. So much happened all at once.

My mind kept spinning without an end. Three questions came to mind, and the more I thought about them, the more muddled they became. I had no answer.

Gella’s Tears

The eternal day started with a meeting that nobody was prepared for, and ended with another meeting over dinner that threatened to put me to sleep in my rice pilaf. I didn’t have time to be sympathetic. This was the business of money and it had no empathy. I had more important things to worry about. Such as raising the profit another ten percent this quarter.

After a morning shower, things were better. After that, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the Starbucks up the street. I didn’t need filler. Plain ol’ black cup of java always did it for me.

When I got home, a man stood in front of my door. “You would be Sabella Joseph? Yes?”

“Depends on who’s asking.”

He carried a cane and had on this floor-length robe. “I am a messenger here to give you this.” He held out a box. “Inside, you will find the answers you seek. Be they imaginable or not believable, that is up to you to decide.”

I looked at it and wondered if it was a Jack-In-a-Box thing. It didn’t explode and nothing out of the ordinary happened. It sat there. That was it.

I grabbed it. “Thanks. Now what?”

“It will provide the answers you seek.” He left my door and walked up the sidewalk. When he did that, he disappeared. Not all at once, but a little at a time. Freaky.

“I’m a businesswoman. I have spent a lot of time and effort into building my business. This would only be a waste of my valuable time.” I brought it inside with me, intending to throw it away. Something made me hold on to it. A voice or something. I had work to do, so I went to my computer and started working on that with that box in the trash in the kitchen.

I had already gone over the quarter report and the idea draft for the summer get-together when that box wiggled in front of me. I could’ve sworn I left it behind. It somehow ended up in my office.

I looked at it again, and about to put it down, it shook. The lock took a bit of work to open, but it did and a golden pearl necklace was inside. Pearls weren’t that valuable and so easy to fake. The give away was the gold color. I dropped it in the trash and the box too.

If anybody told me a necklace came up and put itself around their neck, I would’ve thought they were on drugs. That’s what happened to me. It put itself around my neck.

It didn’t choke me, but when I searched for a clasp, I didn’t feel any. I went to my bathroom mirror and turned it around to find nothing. As in nonexistent.

I pulled on it to break it, but it only stretched as far as I could stretch. How do I take it off?

An image showed itself in the mirror. “Oh, my oh my. Calm down, Sabella. I am the host of the box and am here to teach you about the history you do not know. I can only show you some things, not everything. When you are ready to learn the rest, you will. Let me take you on a journey. Let’s start from the very beginning.”

Before I had a chance to speak, I ended up someplace else. “Where di—” That wasn’t my voice. I searched for a mirror and found one against the other wall. I was a tall woman with shoulder-length black hair. Some said I could be on a basketball team because I was that tall.

The woman that looked back at me was a woman with long blonde hair and I had to say short. What happened? Where did I end up?

The door opened. I could’ve asked where I was, but whoever inhabited this body spoke first. “Father. I was getting ready. Are you in need?”

“Oh. Come, come, Sprog.” He smiled. “Your promised one will be here soon, will be soon. Do not fret until then. I already have the guards on special alert for anyone who does not belong here.” He cupped her cheek. “You see, you and I have different ideas. I want this to be a fruitful joining while you simply want… uh… well, you know.”

“I hate him. He has no regard for anybody else other than himself. I do not bark on command. I am not a precious doll.”

Which him did he mention? I lost track already.

“You are anything I say you are.”

She smiled. “What do you get out of this? Answer me that. New land? New women to join your harem? Somebody else to make a deal with to get—”

He slapped her across her face. “Enough. Do not make me hurt you. You do what I say and everything will be splendid. You go against and well, let me say your demise may not be as sweet as you imagined. I suggest you bathe to erase that odoriferous aroma from you.”

“I die and then you take your next daughter and do the same thing you are doing to me. In case you need a reminder, promised arrangements are no longer done. It never led to anything.”

“Oh, I will do what I feel must be done. Don’t make me hurt you. Scars are so difficult to erase.” He let go and left the room.

I wanted to run after him and use that Jujitsu training I learned. I tried to make her go but I couldn’t. She stood there for a few minutes until she leaped from her window. She turned into a dog and ran over some hills. After that time, I had a horrible itch on my belly. Nothing I could do about that.except hope I didn’t end up with fleas.

We kept running until we got to a river. She transformed back into herself and whistled. Out came a man that was a lot like herself. Baggy clothes made of some sort of thin material with a lot of holes in it. Reddish blonde hair, blue eyes, not that much taller than her, and he smiled. They grasped each other and held on for a long while. It wasn’t uncomfortable. I never did hug anyone because nobody hugged me, so in that way it was awkward. I guessed that wasn’t the him she mentioned.

“Dillion,” she said, as she kissed his hand. “I missed you. Did you travel well?”

“Yes, my sweet Gella. I did. I missed you. We have to leave now. If we don’t, we will never be able to be together.”

“I know. I know. The promised one will be here in a short while. I have to get cleaned up.” She bit her lip. Her thoughts got more prominent. Something about-he was the only one and this would be the last time. What was she talking about?

He grabbed her shoulders. “Your father is not realistic. If we leave now then, he would not be able to find us. You know he would never reach outside of this land.”

“Even so, Dillion, he would not stop until he held your head in his hand. Laugh as he did so.”              

Dear God, her father was a monster. A male chauvinistic monster that needed to hurt.

She didn’t want to tell him she risked coming here, but he needed to know. She transformed with tears in her eyes and returned to the castle.

A hot and fragrant bath waited for her and she climbed in, intending to stay in as long as she could. The rose petals were a nice touch. A servant came in, nervous I thought, at the way she closed the door while trying to look through the crack she left.

“M’lady. Your father’s guest is here. They expect you this night. To dine with them. Your father ordered the best wine, the best game, the best of everything to cheer him on with. This would be your—”

A man walked in. Tall, dark, and ugly. He reeked too. I could tell he wore silk, or something similar. Gold jewelry as well. That stuff couldn’t override the horrible body odor. If his smell overrode the perfume emanating from this bath, he smelled that bad.

He climbed in without permission and the look on his face told me what he had in mind. It wasn’t good. This had to be the him she mentioned.

She didn’t want to, but she had to. She knew where to stroke and where to rub. What words to say and how they were supposed to be said. Everything her mother taught her what to do to please such a man. All to keep him from inflicting too much pain.

“That’s just a taste. I hope you enjoyed.” He smiled and laughed buck naked when he left.

A sponge flew, and water bombed the wall. I could only hope things would get better. I still didn’t know who she was or why I was there.

When she left the bath, a golden tear dropped from her eye. It turned into a pearl. She held it and put it into a pouch. She gave the pouch to the servant as the servant grabbed it and nodded.

Two other women came in to put a dress on her. Things were a little uncomfortable from the encounter. Meanwhile, thoughts of torture and deceit ran through her mind. It seemed to calm her down a little. She went from wanting to kill to thoughts of maiming.

Putting on those clothes was difficult. She winced and yelped multiple times during the process. The two idiots left the room when she waved her hand toward the door.

She looked at herself in the mirror. “How do I say I am with child? How do I hide it when it makes itself known? I hope that this is a love package from Dillion and not that monster.”

When she cried again, the same thing happened. Golden pearls appeared in her hands. They were put away in a hidden pocket in her skirt. With the way she was crying, I expected a boatload of those things.

I didn’t know who my father was, but I hoped not that sonofabitch. I tried to convey warm thoughts and at least give her the imagery of being held. It had to have worked. She looked in the mirror and smiled. Out of the room and down the hallway, to the dining room, where everybody waited.

When she finished eating, her father, and her fiance had an idiot contest. Who could drink and eat more as well as ye ol’ arm wrestling contest. I had to sit there and watch. She wanted to leave to get to Dillion and accept his offer. She kept looking at the guards around the room and thought that she would be dead if she ever left.

Everybody left as the sun rose, about time, and left the dining room. She knew what that meant and wondered if she could kill him or put him in so much pain he wouldn’t be able to follow her. The idea was OK but the success rate of that I didn’t think was that high. She sighed.

It didn’t take him long to pass out. He climbed in and fell asleep on top of her. She couldn’t move because if she did, that would mean torture. She didn’t sleep at all that night for a lot of different reasons. The least of which he never did clean himself up.

About the middle of the day, he crawled off and got off the bed buck naked. “Am I gorgeous?”

Oh God, gag me.

“Simply handsome.” Until he left the room, she smiled as best she could. She counted until twenty and opened the door. She ripped off the clothes and gave it to the servant. “There’s more in the pocket.” The servant handed her a bucket of water and a sponge. Then the servant ran away but came back a moment later with clothes.

She scrubbed herself red. Her skin pulsed when she finished. She put her clothes on and had thoughts of Dillion on her mind. It calmed her down to a point, at least until he came back. I couldn’t take it anymore. I still didn’t know how she could.

“Come. Follow,” the man said. “We will join Father.”

Yes, master. OK, master. I tried to think those thoughts with a hint of sarcasm. It must’ve worked, because she laughed.

Again with the dining hall. No wonder Father was a bit thick around the middle. She sat down and looked at her plate. Not that the food was bad. She knew the cook and knew where they got the food. It was that she couldn’t eat because she felt sick.

“So, Sprog, did you enjoy yourself? Nothing like a real man letting himself—”

“Father, my name is Gella. Yet you continue to call me Sprog.” She didn’t want to hear the rest of what her father had to say. It had the chance to sound so animalistic, for the lack of a better expression. “As for last night, the promised one fell asleep. When the promised one woke up, he just left. Did not ask about anything.” How’s that for your future son-in-law?

“I have so many things to take care of, silly things slip my mind,” the promised one said.

If only I could get her to throw a punch.

She stood up. “If you will excuse me, I have some things that must be done.”

She left the room and almost ran outside the door. Yup. She was pregnant because I didn’t think it was the food. That would’ve meant that her father would be sick as well. If the food was bad, he wouldn’t have sat at the table the morning after.

She stood up and looked around. Stable hands were working with horses. The guards were exercising in the yard. The servants were doing their thing as well. Nobody was around to stop her from escaping. Yet, she didn’t. She returned to her room and lay down on the bed.

The servant returned to the room with a mug in her hand. “This will help.” She held up the mug.

She took the mug and drank the contents. Her stomach felt better. At least it wasn’t queasy anymore.

“Ma’am.” She bowed her head. “I found all the golden pearls you left in your skirt. I gave them to a jewel merchant. He looked at them and told me he would take care of them. They were too precious to leave them alone. He will return as soon as he is done.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the servant said. “There is another group of visitors that will be here. I must clean the guest wing. Call me and I will come. Remember, Ma’am, remember the secret passageways.” The servant almost ran out of the room.

Secret passageways? I heard about them. She went to a large wardrobe and opened the door. A slight push on the clothes to put them aside. A push here, a slide there, and two kicks later, the back opened.

Oh, that secret passageway. She did the reverse to close it. If my guess was right, she smiled as another plan came to her head.

Her stomach settled in an instant at that point. A few strokes with a hairbrush later, and she made her way to the guest wing. A woman in her position would need to see to the guest’s needs. At least provide the image that she will fill that role.

I loved this woman.

They were Father’s guests. All of them were big men with small heads. I laughed at that thought. I had to remember that one.

With that chore fulfilled, she returned to her room to sleep that night. The Promised One never showed. She thought he had plans that included other people. It didn’t matter as long as he wasn’t there.

Father never made it a point to be up so early in the morning, or in the morning at all. She used that to her advantage to find her servant. Her servant was in the laundry hall, walking around in the bathing tub.

“Ma’am.” She stepped out and reached into a pocket. “The jewel merchant found me and gave this to me.” She brought out the same wooden box I got. “Her strung the pearls. He said, ‘The pearls were too precious not to be shown.’ All of them are here.” She put the box in her hand.

She nodded. “Thank you. I will never forget all that you have done.”

The servant looked towards the door and stepped back inside as quick as she could.

Gella put them in her pocket when she heard footsteps.

She took off her shoes with plans to use the secret tunnels as her escape route. As she left the grounds, she became a dog. She had to keep going to reach Dillion.

She looked up as she came down a hill and stopped. Dillion hung from the tree, beaten, torn, and left in pieces. They found and killed him.

She felt a rope around her neck and that was when I returned to my home. I looked in the mirror again. It took a good long minute to realize that the sonofabitch was my father. Not Dillion.

The necklace was still around my neck. I rubbed it and hoped a genie would appear. Nothing happened.

Gella had to have been my mother. I felt tears run down my cheek. I cried for the first time. “These aren’t fake. They were created out of pain and a longing.” I felt bad at that point for not being able to cherish them like I should have from the beginning.

Action and Consequence

I opened my mirror to be sure everything was perfect, not that I ever had anything to worry about. I was born perfect. Anyway, I had to check out the rumor that new people were arriving. In my territory. How dare they? Didn’t they know they needed my permission? I could kill the principal for allowing this. No matter, I’d get to that later.

Oh, that must be them. Both were rather tall. Maybe even taller than me, which, of course, was impossible. Hairstyle was loose and layered, which was so yesterday. They wore a black and white pinstriped shirt dress with Greek sandals. Only I could pull off that look. How dare they copy me?

An old lady was with them when they walked away from the Administration Building. So the rumor must be true. That might pose a threat to my existence.

Why should I even worry? Although I still needed to inspect them. Since they didn’t pass, they needed to be eliminated on a permanent basis. Yes, it had to be so. Yes, indeed.

I slept through the entire morning as usual and didn’t miss a thing. With a few well-placed brainiacs in the room, I had it under control. The teachers never knew. Even if they did, there was nothing they could do about it. My parents supplied them with the funds they needed for whatever they needed. If I got expelled, there goes their funding and it would be their fault and not mine.

The sweet Little Miss Princess over there. Too golden-haired, too short, and too popular. Why did she have to be here? She would ruin everything. With her around, my brilliant plan to get rid of the newcomers would fail. I. Never. Fail.

The last three-day holiday was right around the corner. A perfect opportunity to get rid of them. Somebody always died for one reason or another. They would be the ones to appear on the morning news. Three teens drowned to death in big and bold black letters. I would get so much attention for eliminating them. Everybody would be so thankful.

On my way out the door the next morning, mother dearest called me. She too needed to die, but that would be much later. After graduation sounded good.

Mother approached me. “Oh, Estelle dear. I will be there to pick you up. I will bring along with me a change of clothes so you can change in the car. There is a very important woman I need to meet. Yes, I expect you to be there. Do not keep me waiting.”

“But Mother. Not even a little?” I pouted. Someone is important if I said they were important.

“Do you expect me to believe this act about you being sweet and innocent?” She laughed. “You have privileges only because your father insists on it. In case a plan emerges into your rodent sized head about getting rid of us, always remember, your father and I are ten steps ahead of you. Three o’clock at the front gates. If you’re late, there will be consequences. Understood?”

“But Mommy… .” I pouted again. She had to fall at some point.

She walked up to me face to face. “Am I understood?”

“Fine. Three o’clock then. Ta ta, Mother dearest.” You will be eliminated earlier than planned. You are the one with the rodent-sized brain.

She turned around and left.

I went to school and continued to sleep until lunch. There was a quiz in that boring class that talked about nonexistent people. What was it? Some sort of history or something. The brainiacs took care of that for me. I expected to get an A average for graduation. Nothing less would do.

The real competition would be God himself. Oh, and Little Miss Angel came into the cafeteria at last. I needed to stretch my legs. She stepped over them.

One of the old lady watchers came to me. “You really shouldn’t do that. You could trip someone. On purpose or not really doesn’t matter.” The hag left.

The bell rang, and I had other classes to sleep through.

The last bell rang, and Mother Dearest was supposed to pick me up. I would tell her that—

“Let’s go,” Mother said. “Now.”

I turned around and stood there. She would not tell me what to do. I didn’t need to follow the rules. They were below me. I needed to inspect my nails.

She left me alone. Perfect. On my way to find out what that waste of oxygen was up to one of our minions picked me up.

Once I was put down, I had something to say. “You will be eliminated, you old hag.”

“Is that all? I thought you would be more original by now. You’ve been saying the same thing for years. One grows rather bored with hearing the same thing time after time. Get in the car.”

Of course, I didn’t move unless I needed to. The next thing I knew, she pushed me into the car. I picked up the phone to dial… what was that number again? It started with a nine or something.

“In case you didn’t know, the number would be to your father. Get dressed. We don’t have a lot of time.”

“I refuse to follow you.”

“I suggest you do get dressed.”

“Mother, you are the one that needs a miracle. I have always been positively perfect.”

“You do need a miracle if you expect to graduate this year. You really can’t get any lower than straight Fs. So yes, you need to get dressed. This would be your last chance.”

“I think you’re confused with somebody else. I am so intelligent. They don’t have a score any more perfect than an A. Are you really getting that old?”

“Are you really that stupid? I get daily reports about your performance. All of them tell the same thing. The only reason you’re still enrolled is because it isn’t the last day yet. Then you will find out what your destiny holds. I really do suggest you put those pants on.”

How could she know? Nobody was supposed to know. I’ll blow up the entire school for defying their leader.

We continued up the road alongside a river. That wouldn’t be the one that led to Mirror Lake, would it? What a perfect spot. This trip might turn out to be worthwhile after all.

The minion helped Mother out of the car, but not me. Too bad the minion left before I could get rid of the nuisance.

“Arabella, thank you for meeting me,” Mother said, as she left me.

“These are my twin daughters, Seren and Vesper. Girls, why don’t you stay here and socialize while we talk. Be back in one hour.”

“All right,” one of them said. “Meggie will be here too.”

“Fine. Fine,” Arabella said. “Just be back in one hour.”

The adults walked away, which left me with these two. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to end my misery. The green rocks and clear rushing water would provide the perfect area to make it all seem like an accident.

That couldn’t be her. That was Meggie. The sweet Little Miss Princess who I’ve been trying to get rid of. That was her? Well, then all my dreams and wishes would come true.

“Sorry. So sorry.” She came closer. “Vesper and Seren.” She hugged them both. “It’s been a while since we spent any time together. It’s good we’ll be in the same school again. How’ve you been?”

I tuned out the rest of the conversation. It was so stupid. Why would I even bother?

I went over to the board with the layout of the property on it. Up the hill was where it should be done. No body has ever been recovered.

Maybe if I pretended to trip, I could push all of them into the water. They would drown and die. I would be happy. That plan was so brilliant. It couldn’t be more brilliant.

“You know what would be fantastic,” I said, as I tried not to throw up. “What would be so super fantastic would be a picture by the water here.”

“Yeah. OK.” Meggie walked over. “We could take a selfie and exchange it.”

I made sure to get in the middle. I had enough arm’s length to pull all of them in. We got by the water’s edge and I pulled them in. I grabbed onto a branch at the last minute so I wouldn’t fall in. I thought my luck ran out when the patrol came by.

Of course, they would only bring validity to my story. “Oh, you have to help us. You have to. They’ll drown.”

One of them got on the radio and said a bunch of things to someone else. A man in uniform turned towards me. “Don’t worry. We’ll get them at the bottom. It’s calm now. It doesn’t really flow like it does at the beginning of spring. They’ll be OK. They may be a little cold, though.”

“Oh. Thank you. Thank you for your help.” It was a beautiful plan to get rid of them. Why couldn’t they die?

About that time that old woman and Mother came back. “The ranger came to get us,” Arabella said. “The girls are expert swimmers, so this wouldn’t have been a problem for them.”

Mother walked to me step by step with a smile on her face. “It is lucky for you they did not die as you had planned.”

I looked at her, shocked she knew.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t know? Now I know you’re stupid.” She walked away.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Maybe if I pretended to faint. I smiled when I heard someone call for help.

Someone put something under my nose. Ew. Get that away from me. The only thing I should smell is the most expensive perfume made for me. “What—”

“You can open your eyes now,” Mother said. “Everybody’s gone. Get up and get in the car. That is, unless you want to walk all the way. The choice is yours.” Mother walked away from me. I hated it. I should be able to wish everybody was gone. Why couldn’t people die? Nobody else was as superior as me.

I got in the car all right. Mother sat there playing with her device. She turned it off and turned towards me. “Your plan to drown the girls failed. All of them survived. Next time you plan to drown someone, double-check a few facts first. They were trained in water rescue.”

It didn’t matter.

“Right now, however, we will meet your father at his office. From there, we will meet with the girls again. However, I can’t guarantee how well you will be received. Especially after what you pulled.”

They better have what I demand. The food must be of the most excellent quality. I deserve nothing less.

We parked underground with everybody else. Did I look like everybody else?

“Get out of the car or you will be pulled out of the car. It won’t be me that would be embarrassed.”

Hmph. As if. I raised my nose at her and got out of the car. I turned my back on her.

I heard her walk away. From me. How dare she? She was my minion. She was supposed to ask me for permission. Grrr. How rude.

“Charles pushed the elevator button already, Estelle. You better run.”

I stood there and waited. When those doors close, I could go back home and find someone to eliminate those three.

The elevator doors opened, they stepped inside, and the doors closed.

Perfect. I turned around and left the building. Wait. Why are the gates closed? They were not supposed to be closed.

I walked up to the guard and knocked on his window.

“Yeah?” He turned towards me. “What do you need?”

“Can’t you see I need to leave?”

He laughed. “This entry is for automobiles only. The entry and exit for people would be back in the direction you came. Turn right and follow the exit signs.”

“Why do I have to walk all the way back? Can’t you see me? Didn’t I tell you I need to leave? Are you that stupid?:

He raised his eyebrow at me. Too bad I didn’t have any of my minions to eliminate him.

“I only work here, ma’am. I cannot let you go through this gate. Those are the rules. I’m only here until a new unit gets installed in a couple of days. Then everything will be electronic. In the meantime, turn around and walk all the way until you get to the exit sign. Big, huge red letters. Can’t miss it. Follow the arrow to turn right. You will come to a door. Open the door and you can walk through. OK?”

I turned my back on him. He was the one that was rude. I had to walk all the way back from where I came. Why doesn’t anyone know how important I am? Why is it I had to follow the

rules?

“It’s about time,” Mother said as she leaned against the wall. “You better move before your father gets down here. He hasn’t had a good morning.”

I stood so close I could see all that trashy make-up she insisted on wearing. “Why is it I have to follow the rules when I don’t believe I have to?”

The elevator door dinged and out stepped Father. He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. When the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and he pulled me all the way into his office.

My hired brainiacs stood in the office along with those other girls I tried to drown. All of them looked at me.

Meggie stepped forward. “In case you don’t recognize anyone here, my name is Megan van Middleburg. Only a select group of people can call me Meggie. These four people here are the ones you copy from. You will hear from them later. Vesper and Seren are newcomers whom you also pulled into the water along with myself. Their mother is also the head of the school board committee. Lucky for you, we know how to swim, use our brains, and therefore could rescue ourselves from the river.”

A bald old man in a cheap grey suit stepped out. “I’m Mr. van Middleburg. Your school principal. We were supposed to meet first thing in the morn. I thought it best to confront the one who tried to hurt these girls. I am also here to inform you that you will not be graduating this year. As a matter of fact, we have expelled you. What that means is you can no longer attend Angel’s Academy for Girls. The board and I feel your actions are inexcusable. Your parents and I have discussed this at length. They will talk it over with you when we are done here.” He turned his head. “Come along, Meggie. It’s time for us to go.”

Megan stepped out and walked by the old man. They left the office. The other girls stood there and crossed their arms over their chests.

Father turned towards all of them. “Girls, could you do me a favor? I’ll call you later to confront Estelle about what she’s done. Meanwhile, the three of us need to talk. OK?”

The Newcomers and the Brainiacs left the office. They closed the door so it wouldn’t make a sound. Ha! The only thing that mattered was that everybody that didn’t matter left. It. Was. About Damn. Time. “Now that—”

Mother grabbed my shoulders and pushed me into a chair. “Sit there.” She turned around towards Father. “Now, do you see how she is?”

“I am sorry, sweetheart. She was my daughter and this old man wanted to believe. Forgive me this?” He held out his arms.

“Oh. All right. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about this. Is the doctor ready?”

“Wait, a minute. What—” I stood.

“You will sit down and keep your trap shut. Do you hear me?” I couldn’t believe Father yelled at me. How dare he?

“I don’t have to do what anybody says. I’m leaving.” I stood up from the chair.

Mother got in front of me. “You leave? Fine. You get in trouble? We won’t bail you out. You turn homeless? Oh well. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, if you get sick, there might be a free clinic that might have a qualified doctor.”

“Rules are for everybody else, not me.” I stomped my foot. “I don’t have to do what anybody else says. If something goes wrong, it’s all your fault and not mine.”

“You will stop screaming,” Father said. “And Dr. Osbert is waiting.” He came towards me and stood on the other side of me. “Eins. Zwei. Drei.” He nodded.

“Hup,” Mother said, as they picked me up. I tried to kick them but it didn’t work. They handed me off to their minion.

“Charles, would you take her down to Dr. Osbert for us, please?” Mother asked. “We would appreciate it.”

“Of course,” he said, as he bowed. He picked me up and put me over his shoulder. He laughed. “You think you can hurt me? My nephew kicks harder than you. And he’s three. Oh, and thanks for massaging my back.” He kept laughing.

Someone parked a small white thing with four wheels in front of the elevator. The minion put me inside. “Here she is, doctor. She’s all yours.”

“Thank you. I will take care of her from here.” The door closed.

I screamed and kicked him.

“We will go somewhere to work out why you feel the way you do.”

“This is kidnapping.”

“You can scream all you like. I don’t mind. Your parents signed you over to me already. So I suggest you sit back and enjoy the ride.”

The House Is Alive

Things sort of got turned upside down since the pandemic hit. I didn’t so much lose my job as they told me there was nothing I could do. If I had other skills such as answering the telephone or typing, then they could keep me. Otherwise, it would be best to find other means.

It was an office complex that kept food on my plate and gave me the ability to drive a car. I worked in the mailroom. It didn’t satisfy any need I had other than that. I had dreams of doing something more physical.

I wanted construction. It’s what Dad did, what Grandpa did, and so on down the line. Mom did the catering, Aunt Doris and Aunt Ethel cleaned houses, and Grandma stitched anything that needed to be stitched.

Me? I was supposed to fall in line with the women, but I couldn’t thread a needle for the life of me. That little thread never got into that little hole. I burned water more times than I dared to count.

If it wasn’t for the microwave, I’d starve. Dad worked in a construction company, and that’s what I wanted to do.

I had a vision of owning a construction company. With Dad’s help, I thought we could be on top. It meant a lot of hard work, but I believed we could make it work.

So when an opportunity to redevelop an area came up, I jumped at the opportunity. With Dad’s and Grandpa’s help, we could do it. An application needed to be filled out and submitted with detailed plans along with one thousand dollars to buy the property. If approved, then a lending company would donate one hundred and fifty thousand dollars as the funds to buy materials and hire the necessary subcontractors. The winner would then have the opportunity to create their own construction business. The money from the sale of the house would go to a veteran’s non-profit.

Everybody would win. It was a great idea.

I went to the designated area and had flashbacks. The area used to house those that worked in an iron factory. After World War II, the factory got shut down. A dairy company then bought it, but after so many disasters, they pulled out along with the population that used to live in this area. Somebody bought up the area and do something with it.

The houses had peeling paint, holes in the porch, broken windows, graffiti, and dead animals. All of them could be demolished and rebuilt again. However, that would take more time and money than what was given.

The one I wanted was the one with the porch swing. It seemed to be the most intact, meaning that if I dared to walk on the floor, a hole wouldn’t appear out of nowhere. I gathered up the money and did the paperwork. We were approved. From that point forward, we had seven weeks.

That was a lot to accomplish in seven weeks.

We worked night, day, and weekends on that house. Thank God Mom provided food. My aunts volunteered to do any cleaning that needed to be done and that helped a lot. Grandma, being Grandma, made sure all of us had clean clothes every day.

We gutted it. That way, we could see what was underneath and talk about what needed fixing. Which was everything.

We didn’t get outside yet, so that meant the swing was still intact. As a test, I put a full tool box on it and it didn’t fall. It stayed put. I sat down with the intention of it only being for a few minutes.

“I hope you like it here,” a girl said. “It’s an old thing. Needs a group of peeps to keep it.”

What? I did not know what she was talking about. I didn’t even know how she got here. “Uh. I just sat down here to rest a little. Your parents might miss you.”

“Na. Dad still at work. Mama went to town to get some stuff. Probably a sack of taters or some rat poison. The baby died last night. Dad burried it in the backyard before he gone to work this mornin’.”

Oh, my god. Why does this child sound so cold? As if nothing happened. “I gotta get back. It was nice meeting you.” If I had a dollar, I would’ve given it to her, but I didn’t think to bring my wallet.

I walked a few steps away when I realized she could help us by picking up the trash. That would help. I turned around to talk to her about it but she disappeared. Maybe she left, and I didn’t realize it.

It was about the middle of talking about whom to hire to do the electrical when something crashed. Aunt Doris and Aunt Ethel went home to take care of their families. Grandma went home for the day. That left Dad, Grandpa, and me standing around a table to work out the kitchen.

Dad went out back, Grandpa stayed inside, while I went out front to see what happened. The swing was still there. No new holes in the porch. So the only thing I could think of was the fireplace was falling apart. It had been doing that every day since we got here. We were going to demolish it anyway and put in a new one.

Dad and I found Grandpa in the future kitchen. He kneeled on the floor with a coin in his hand. “This is a 1932 penny. Not shiny, but it doesn’t have any holes in it. This house must be about that old. They say a found penny brings good luck. I’ll put it in my pocket.” He checked his watch. “It’s best we get goin’. The open style kitchen would help to sell it to the new buyers. So we’ll go for that. I still don’t like the idea of the bleach white cabinets, with the bleach white countertop, and bleach white walls. This ain’t a hospital. It’s a house. I say we use wood for the cabinets and keep them that way. We just use a lighter wood. That would be best, I think.” He stood up with a lot of moaning and groaning. ”Tomorrow at nine. Night and God bless.” He ambled out the door.

The house was too small to have walls other than in the bedrooms and the bathroom. Leave everything else open. A more modern style. I heard that moan and raised him two yawns when I finished that thought. It sure felt good, though. “So tomorrow at nine?” I said through another.

“I hear ya. Light wooded cabinets are fine. We still need to work on the layout, though. Maybe Dad is tired, so his mind couldn’t function.” He laughed. “I knew I got it from someone. Night kiddo. Take care of yourself.” He kissed my forehead.

Kiddo? I wasn’t a kiddo. I was twenty-eight.

Since everybody else left, I might as well, too. I needed a shower, some food, and some sleep in that order. “Good night, house. See you in the morning. We’ll take care of the rest later. Night.”

I always thought people might see me as being crazy for talking to a building. I might be, but I had a reason. A house that sits deteriorates quicker than one that’s being lived in. Since we broke it down to bare bones, it had to feel something. Didn’t it?

On the way home, I dropped into a burger place and grabbed a cheeseburger and a Coke. Maybe the caffeine and the sugar would help to give me enough oomph to make it to the door, or maybe to the shower. Whatever.

The following days were coming along. We finished the kitchen with Grandpa’s insistence that the sink be in front of the window. Why? Because that’s where Grandma likes it. We shrugged and moved along to the family room.

I didn’t see the girl during that time. There were only about three weeks left. We took alternating naps to get the place ready for inspection and for sale.

With about a week left, we started work on the outside.

Dad wanted the front porch to be more than a front porch. He envisioned a screened-in porch. I had to say goodbye to the porch swing. I liked that swing because I could sit on it. It also felt like it belonged.

That was when things sort of went crazy. Walls would collapse. Holes in the floor would appear out of nowhere. Windows would shatter and millions of tiny pieces of glass would fall to the floor. These were brand new. We didn’t install them that long ago.

Dad almost got his head smashed by a flying hammer. I told him I didn’t do it. We had our differences, yeah but, that didn’t mean I wanted to kill him.

Grandpa had chest pains. He said it didn’t feel like a horse. It felt more like an elephant. Grandpa was a healthy man. Grandma made sure he took his vitamins, drank plenty of water, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They walked for an hour everyday plus construction. Yet he was complaining of chest pains.

A box of nails marching on the floor. Then somehow coming into formation to build a wall in the middle of the air. I ducked for my life as they came right at me. I heard them slam into the wall behind me.

Dad came running in and he yelled about me being reckless. I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to nail myself to the wall. Of course, he thought I did it to get attention.

That was when I had second thoughts about this project. Last-minute fixes coming up was to be expected. That’s how things worked sometimes.

Between the deadline and finishing the house, along with Dad’s and Grandpa’s issues, I started to have second thoughts about all of this. Maybe my dream of owning my company wasn’t going to happen.

Dad left after the nail incident. He was angry with his stiff jaw, even though he said he was fine. Of course I didn’t believe it but it’s not like I wanted us to be together at that moment either.

I took on the front porch by myself. The project had to be completed. Even if we don’t win this thing. We could look back on it with thoughts of it being an honest day’s work.

I took down the swing, but instead of getting rid of it, I thought of redoing it with new boards and fresh paint. The sun was about to set and that meant getting out the lanterns. I couldn’t work in the dark.

“All right, house. What do you think? We got the cement poured early in the project and that’s why it’s hard now. That way, we don’t worry about falling through the holes.” I laughed. “Tomorrow, hopefully, Dad will be here to do the backyard. That’s always been his thing. While he’s doing that, I’m going to go to a sort of rummage store. They have a whole lot of stuff to choose from. Most for free if you know how to refinish it. Then, you’ll be beautiful. Oh wait, I have to install the screens, so you’ll have a screened-in porch. Yeah. OK.”

I got the screens from someone’s trash. They weren’t broken beyond repair and only torn around the edges. I worked on that until I couldn’t work anymore. Someone I knew worked with glass. I hoped I could talk to him about of the possibility of getting windows to fit in over the screen at a reasonable price. There were piles of red brick scattered around the property. Most were in good shape and maybe there was enough to provide a finishing touch.

After a good night’s sleep and a hot shower, I returned the next day. Dad was in the back doing the backyard. He started pouring the cement for the backyard when something came right at him. I grabbed the closest thing I could, which was the trashcan lid, to stop it. It worked and Dad didn’t look up. Of course, my arm hurt, but at least Dad would be OK.

“Morning, Dad.” I waved.

“Morning, Pipsqueak.” He smiled.

Yeah. Things were OK. I shook my head and went around to find Grandpa.

The kitchen was finished, and that led out to the family room. It was an open area instead of the closed off option, which might’ve made the space feel smaller. After looking at the completed area, it looked better than I thought it would.

Grandpa was finishing the floor tiles in the bathroom. We agreed it wasn’t big enough to have two bedrooms. So we arranged the floor plans to have a master bedroom with a connecting bathroom and a small office space.

“Morning, Grandpa.”

“Morning. Got my coffee?”

“You didn’t order any.”

“I coulda sworn I did. All right. When I finish up here, I’ll go out and get some.”

“Just be careful.”

“Always.”

I made my way to the front, and it looked gorgeous. The red brick would show it off. Be something different to sort of glam up the space.

“All right, House. I’m going to put up the brick. While that’s sitting, I’m going to redo the swing. Not get rid of it, no no. Redo it and put it back up. Then there will be a nice sitting corner, I think. You’ll love it.”

I spent the entire morning doing that. Thank God Mom came by with food. I was starved by then. Outside the house, I sat on a tree stump and looked at it. I stood up and took a couple of steps back and smiled. “Now, you look fantastic.”

I spent the rest of the day picking up. My aunts agreed to come by and clean it up before we go back and tell them it’s done. Of course, we needed to get the inspection paperwork in before doing that.

Everybody else had gone home while I stayed and sorted through the paperwork.

“So. You done now?”

That voice sounded familiar. I looked to my right, and that girl reappeared. “Hi. You need something?”

“Nah. Just sittin’. I got worrisome when this chair was gone. I got angry.”

“Dad wanted to get rid of it. I didn’t. I just took it apart, got some fresh supplies, and redid it. There was a picture in my head of the perfect front porch. All I needed were the parts. The house supplied the rest.”

“You done good then. You gonna be here?”

“Uh.” This conversation went from typical to creepy. “What do you mean?”

“Gonna live here?”

All the time that we had been talking, she looked at the ground. I didn’t mind that much. Lots of people do that, including me. When she looked at me there were no eyes where there should have been.

I got up and made my way towards the door. “We just rebuilt it. We don’t have plans to live in it. There’s some paperwork to finish before submitting it to the county office. They’ll put it up for sale. That’s how this works.”

“I see.” She stood up and walked to me. “So you tore me up and put me back together ‘cause you felt like it?”

I gulped. That was when what she said penetrated my brain. Tore her up and put her—she’s the house. “No no. House, listen to me. We didn’t tear you up because we were mean. We tore you up and put you back together to give you another life. So that you can feel useful again. That’s why we did it. You got tired of sitting here and doing nothing. Right? Well, this will give you another life.”

“I suppose. You better be right ‘bout this. I know who you are and how to find you.”

“All I can say is it might not happen right away. It will happen, but it will take time. You look beautiful now. Right? The factories are gone, but I know there’s a company that’s going to come in. Someone will take care of you when that happens. It will take time.”

The girl blinked, turned around, and went inside. When she did that, I collapsed on the floor. I looked over at the swing and remembered that the paperwork still needed to be finished. I stood up and walked over.

The paperwork was completed and stacked on the table. “Thank you.” I grabbed all of it and locked the place before I left.

I turned it in and needed to wait six to eight weeks for approval. After that, another two weeks before they made a decision.

Those six to eight weeks felt like sixty to eighty years before I got a letter telling me they approved. It only took another two days before another letter came telling me they had plans to put it up for sale. It seems that I was the only one that finished. Two other groups tried and left after the first day.

Rumor went around that two other groups couldn’t finish because their tools kept disappearing. They ran out of money before completion. They left.

Another group didn’t finish because the general contractor got nailed to the wall. The others in the company ran out and left everything behind. None of them got over the vision of seeing their boss in that state.

It seemed I was the only one that finished and they had plans to make my house a showpiece of what the future might hold. I had no idea any of that happened. I only knew there were two other groups.

When I told Dad, he laughed. Grandpa gave his usual yup and went back to reading the paper. Neither helped, not that I was looking for it.

I went back to the historical society and looked up the area. Nothing happened there that I didn’t already know. So how did those houses become possessed? There were always people coming in and out. Maybe one of them did some horrible things, and we suffered for it?

It didn’t take any time at all before they sold the house. It seemed the CEO of a new incoming company loved it. Couldn’t pass it up because of the screened-in porch. So House could feel useful again. It still made me wonder about the other two.

Border Bridge

I stood against the wall to wait to be called. There were four others that waited with me. This would take me to the other side of the island. Away from Queen Natalia. With the money I could make doing this, I could get a bath, a bed to sleep in for the night, a hearty meal, and some new clothes. How? That was easy. This was the place people went to if they wanted to become an oarsman.

The promised pay would be somewhere between five and forty grammas of gold, depending on the location, length of the journey, the captain, and a bunch of other factors. People left after punching a hole in the wall or after a celebratory yell.

My time came. I had to remember to stay with the rhythm of the drum. That was important. After that, it was a mind game of convincing your body it wasn’t done yet.

I breathed a sigh of relief when it was a simple, steady rhythm. Back and forth, to and fro, back and forth, to and fro until they stopped. Then I had to pull a barrel from one end of the room to the other. It felt like they filled it with dirt or sand. It didn’t slosh around any. The last test I almost laughed at. I had to run up and down a set of stairs until they called time.

My body started to wear out as my legs got tired and my feet ached. I could do anything as long as I set my mind to it. I did that.

I was never so glad when they blew that whistle. “All right. That’s enough.”

I thanked any deity that looked over me.

The man stared at the paper in front of him. “For being so small, I didn’t expect you to last this long. A woman would’ve quit when asked to pull the barrel. You kept going and then some.” He looked up with a smile. At least I thought it was, but it was hard to tell through that big bushy face hair he had. I used to call it a bear’s face. “I have two options. One fit for a woman. It’s short. Not a lot of work. It’ll pay enough to get some beauty supplies. The other is longer, thereby being harder with a majority man crew. There will be a stench and a lot of sweat. So which is it?”

I should’ve expected this. “What’s the pay for each?”

“Oh. All right. The first will pay fifteen and the second forty. No negotiations.”

I had no plans for coming back here. Chances were my betrothed’s mother would still look for me if I came back. So that left the first choice. “I’ll take the first offer. I don’t need to come back here.”

“Right. Take a seat until we’re done.”

I found a seat in the back and felt all eyes on me. Before all of this, I expected it. After a hasty retreat, I did a lot of things to not look like a woman. It took shaving my head, letting my facial hair grow, not wearing any scented oils, and wearing pants instead of skirts to do it. It has worked so far. I realized it wouldn’t work forever, but for now, it did. I was thankful for that.

This experience brought a question to my mind. After everybody finished, I went up to the examiner and waited for him to look at me. “What made you think I’m a woman?”

He laughed. “You think you’re the only one?” He stood and left.

I followed the others to a bunkhouse not that far from the main building. Two beds on top of each other, a single sheet of linen, and a flour sack as a pillow to lie on. A locked box at the foot of the beds I assumed to put any personal possessions inside of.

The examiner entered the building and whistled. Of course, it got everybody’s attention. “We leave here at sunup. If you’re not on board at that time, tough. You missed it. You get paid when we arrive at our destination. Not before. You will get paid in full. If you would like to stay, then talk to me at that time. I suggest getting some sleep instead of gambling or going on a drinking binge. Sun up, people.” He left.

I got the bottom bunk against the far wall with nobody on top. At times like these, I missed my feather-filled mattress with the finest of silks as my sheets. These so-called beds had to be filled with rocks. The flour sack was a flour sack. Nothing in it. I put my hands under my head and tried to close my eyes.

May any deity watch over me. Please make me deaf and unable to smell.

Of course, that brief prayer didn’t work. The worst night I’ve had yet. I thought the first night away from the castle was horrible.

With no place to go, I stepped outside for some fresh air. The rotten fish smell was a lot better.

I sat on the docks and watched the sun go up. Of course, I would suffer for it later, but I couldn’t do anything about it at that moment.

I looked for the guy and found him in front of a boat. I sat and waited a few steps away. He must’ve seen me because he waved me over. “You are going to find a hatch. It should be open. Climb down the steps and keep going until you find the oar room. Since you’re new, I’m going to put you in the back. These are three-man oars. That is where you will sit. Now git.”

I understood everything he said. I only wished he didn’t put me next to someone with more muscle than brain and didn’t smell. Of course, anybody would smell after this. Maybe the tiny port would allow for some air to come through.

I went all the way down and found a seat in the back. The tiny port was only big enough to allow the oar to go through. Oh boy. Well, I took a deep breath and hoped for the best.

It seemed everybody arrived at the last minute. Every one of them with enormous arms and chest muscles, no hair, and grunted.

The first that sat on the edge of the bench was the leader. He had the weight and muscle to work the oar, while the others supported him. The drum may set the rhythm, but it was the leader that set the pace.

Knowing that, I made it a point to be sure I kept up. I couldn’t say it was easy, it was anything but, but not that bad either.

I was never so glad to pull into port. Every muscle in my body screamed. It was at that time I wished I paid more attention to my magic lessons. Then I could float out instead of trying to convince my feet to move. Not that it would do me any good since I lost my magic.

I waited for everybody to leave because I knew I would be slow. I even waited for the drum man to go up. He and I went back and forth with the you go first argument. I gave in and went ahead.

I started laughing because, on the way up, he kept pace.

“Left. Right. Left. Right,” he said.

I turned around and thanked him. I needed that laugh.

The guy that hired us stood by the plank with bags in his hand. He handed one out to each of us. When I got mine, I looked inside. Gold coins and not nuggets like I expected.

Each coin weighed one gramma. Since there were fifteen coins, that meant I got the promised amount. I went out to look for a bathhouse. Sure enough, it was a few steps away.

Nothing was as glamorous as seeing a hot body of water with which I could scrape the filth off me with. It could’ve been in my head, but I felt lighter after scrubbing myself raw.

The local inn next door had one room available, and I took it. Of course, they offered me a shave, but I declined. I got used to that beard. It has served me well.

The mattress smelled, and it was hard, but neither of that mattered. It wasn’t the bunkhouse. I fell asleep right away.

I had enough to pay for one night, and that was what I got. A new set of clothes was what I had enough for. I planned on a pair of pants and a nice shirt. It didn’t need to be silk. It needed to be made to last, however.

A shop down the road a bit had what I needed. They even gave me new stockings and string to hold them up with. I felt brand new again.

The only thing left was to find out how to prove I didn’t kill my betrothed. One minute we were making love, the next I got picked up and thrown into a cell. One guard came back to tell me I was charged with murder. I got out, thanks to a straw cart, and have been trying to hide for over two seasons now.

I washed my old clothes as best I could and gave them to a young girl on the streets. She said nothing. She only nodded and ran.

I had a lot of forest ahead of me. Her guards took Mother and Father to Serpent Isle on the charge of wrong teachings to an innocent. It wasn’t a high charge, but Queen Natalia bought the arbitrator to decide in her favor. That meant they would need to stay there until otherwise decided.

I left the village and walked away to the forest up ahead. Something should be in there where I could sit and think. If I was honest with myself, I was tired. In more ways than one.

I learned early on that there were noises in the forest. Most couldn’t be explained. The noises I heard at that moment seemed different. I could’ve sworn that something panted as they followed me.

Most animals stayed away. I was a stranger and strangers meant something might happen. This one kept following me, though.

I bent over and picked up a branch. It took my entire hand to grab a hold of it. I stepped around a tree and readied a swing.

When it stopped, I swung and hit something. I watched it drop, and it transformed from a wolf to a naked woman. Someone sent a tracker after me. My guess would be she did.

While it was down, I ran away as best I could. I couldn’t jump high enough to reach the branches. If I could, I would’ve swung from them instead.

Between the fallen trees, bushes that grew in the middle of my path, and deep holes, I thought I made it out all right. A cave up ahead would provide enough shelter for me to hide.

“So there you are,” she said.

Uh oh. I straightened up and turned around. For all the trees, that woman was tall. I gulped and waved. She found clothes to dress herself with.

“You must be Princess Phoebe.”

I nodded.

“The one accused of murder.”

“I did not murder anyone. Somebody else did.”

“Do you have proof?”

“Did Queen Natalia give you anything that says I did?”

“I cannot name the one that brought your attention to me.”

I laughed. “So she paid you enough to buy your own island if you don’t mention her name. So, since she paid for you, and you found me, that must mean you’re going to shackle me.”

I presented both wrists. “Go ahead.”

She held the shackles in her hand.

“You don’t know? Well, I would educate you, however, it would be best to do that with the documents in hand.”

“That would be if you had the papers.” She smiled.

I saw her smile and gave her one of my own. “I have documentation that supports my story. As well as documents to prove my parents’ and the go-between’s validity. She has nothing except a lot of money to pay people to decide in her favor. With her son being married to me, she loses power, thereby loses the throne. He gains power and sits on that big and ugly gold-trimmed red velvet chair should the marriage occur.”

“And?”

“And that would be all for now. As I said, everything would be clearer with the proper documents in hand.”

She sat there and looked at me. “I am going to build a fire. You move, I kill you.”

“Where would I go?”

She disappeared for a while but returned with an arm full of wood. Once the wood was arranged, she got a flint and stone, and flames appeared.

I still wondered if she was going to put the shackles on me. That and the fact that, unless I missed my guess, we passed the bridge that marked the border between the queen’s territory and my family’s. Whoever this woman was, she couldn’t bring me in unless I volunteered.

The flames showed her hair. It was shiny and black. I missed mine. Last night I dreamed of a time of long gowns and table long feasts. A time that would never come. Not anymore now that I was found.

Forest sounds and the crackling of the fire were all that were heard. She left again but brought back a couple of stripped animals. I guessed they were once forest hares, judging by the legs.

“She promised me ten kilos of gold when I brought you in. Paid in full when I returned. You could be lying. Somehow though, there is a sense of truth in what you say.”

“Also keep in mind, you cannot arrest me since we are in my family’s territory.”

She laughed. “You are wrong.”

“Let me guess. She gave you a map that marked her territory but failed to show a bridge. She might’ve even told you that when you bring me in, she would divide her massive territory with you.”

“She did.” She looked at me.

“And you checked with the territory office to be sure of her claim.”

“I didn’t think it was necessary.”

“So greed blinded you.”

“Seems like it.”

“I’m going to lie down here and try to get some sleep. I’ll still be here in the morning. Should I lie, I have nothing to gain.

I didn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t. Too many thoughts in my mind about what sort of execution she would hand out when I showed. All of my papers were back at the castle. They were hidden, and I hoped not found.

I could tell the sun rose, although it didn’t make that much of a difference. I could only tell that because I saw it in between the trees. What little I could see of it.

I got up to find a bush. When I came back, she sat in front of the fire with fish roasting above.

“My name is Otana, by the way. I have a reputation to protect. Part of the reputation involves bringing people to justice. Getting what they deserve. I don’t play the part of a fool well at all. She played me for one. So did you. I have no proof to say you didn’t. So what I think we should do is get you back to get your proof before I bring you to her. That way, I can decide on my own who is lying and who needs to pay.”

“The castle should not be too far away. Once we get back to the bridge, I would be better able to tell where we are versus the location of the castle.”

She handed me a fish, and I took it. I couldn’t help but stare at the eyes. They said the eyes hold vital foods for anyone who needs to survive in the wild. I was never sure I was that desperate, however. I stuck to the rest of it.

After we ate, I helped to douse the fire before we moved on. Somehow, the distance always seemed shorter going downhill than it did up. Either that or we took a different, shorter route.

“That is the bridge over there. The queen was supposed to finish her end. Therefore, marking the union with a public structure. However, she never did and always had an excuse. Anyway, my castle should be right behind us.” I turned and surveyed the area to be sure. Sure enough, I saw it in the distance. “There. That structure over there. I bet she paid off the soldiers to leave the castle to be open to thieves.”

Otana laughed. “That she did. I thought it was an old ruin. Nothing was left. Even the pots were taken.”

I started walking ahead with thoughts of Queen Natalia screaming in agony. It gave me more energy. I was a precious little princess. I should never have such thoughts. Nobody had their magic taken away. Nobody had their life looked after with a sword. No one had their life questioned with such scrutiny. What right do they have to tell me how I should think or what thoughts should go through my head?

Should I trust Otana and that she will not kill me? Should I follow this through even though it could mean my death? This wasn’t supposed to be complicated.

What we needed I buried in the stables. Not too many people were willing to go there to get anything. After that, I hoped things would return to normal. Mother and Father free to rebuild. Queen Natalia dethroned and set for execution.

After Graduation…

It was graduation day and I was so psyched up about it. Done with school and done with everything that involved childhood. I could take a year off before ever looking at a textbook again.

Then my joy turned to disbelief. I only laughed because it was either that or screaming.

“Daughter,” Dad said. “I have been charged with giving you a lecture about the next phase of your life.”

Why did Dad always have to sound so formal?

“After this, we will no longer be responsible for you. Whatever consequences come as a result of your actions, you will face on your own. Of course, we will be here to see you graduate, but after this, we expect for you to leave by the end of summer. Goodbye.” He turned and left.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I turned on my left side. I turned on my right side. I ended up on my back wondering what would happen if I came home with Prince Charming. It wasn’t even that time of the month. Before the sun popped up, I went downstairs and left the house. Maybe a walk would help.

It seemed a little too quiet since people were still sleeping. No dogs barking or cats hissing. Birds made themselves known, but that was about it.

I found my way to the cafe and applied for a job. The lady at the front counter saw me and nodded. She patted a space at the far end of the counter. “I put you over here so he can’t see you,” she whispered as she pointed to the cook. She came back with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. A glass of OJ on top of that. “I know, hon. I know.”

I ate that and it felt good. About to leave, she tugged on my finger. “Can you start tomorrow? It’s dish washing. If you don’t have a problem getting dirty and wet you got the job.”

“I’ll take it. Thank you.”

“Wait a week before you say that.” She laughed. “Eight in the morning.”

I nodded.

“Dress accordingly.”

“Got it.” I left in a better mood than when I came in. I was relishing in the sunlight so much I wasn’t paying attention and bumped into someone. “Oh. I’m sorry. You OK?”

“I’m—Gisa?” She said something in a language I didn’t recognize.

“Hey. Que pasa?”

“Oh. I apologize.” She covered her mouth and shook her head. It was hard to see behind her dark sunglasses. The loose long dark hair shone like glass. I’d kill for hair like that. The dark suit not so much. I could never dress up. The walking stick with the glass bauble on top was something I never seen before.

“You just look like someone I used to know.” She took off her sunglasses and came closer to me. “Something happened. Didn’t it? Talk to me little elf. Come on. It’s Myaire.”

I had no idea what happened but I went with my gut. My gut told me she wasn’t bad. Maybe a little weird, not that everyone was sane, but not bad.

“It’s nothing and I’m not that little. Keep in mind not everyone is what six, six-one.”

She smiled. “I can’t help if you don’t tell me. You used to be able to—just tell me.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing.”

She cupped my cheek. Not sure what that was supposed to do but she did it. I watched her as she tilted her head.

I held up my hands. “OK. All right. Fine. Just don’t come back at me with a sledgehammer.”

She straightened up. “A what? Why?”

I told her what happened. She growled before she walked into the cafe. She came back a moment later and took my hand.

“You always had such cold hands. OK, Gisa. I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

I started to get used to that name. “It’s Emmersette.”

“OK. Emmersette, I need you to do a few things for me. I’m going to tell you what I can do and I’m going to trust it to stay with you only.”

“What does that mean?”

“Uh… right. That means not to say anything. Do not tell anyone what I am about to say or show you.”

Visions of mass murders and a room full of torture stuff came to mind.

She laughed. “You do have an imagination. Nothing like that. I promise.”

How did she know? “Oh. Kay.”

Her long legs carried her at a faster rate. I had to double-time it to catch up.

We ended up in that abandoned factory that the city was supposed to demolish. “A little bit of history before we go in. Before WWII, it was a milk factory. At the start of WWII, it turned into a gunpowder factory and went out of business when the war stopped. Due to the large homeless population that took over, the city turned reluctant to the idea of getting rid of it. They needed to rethink the original plans.”

She looked at me. “I had no idea. Every time I came nobody was here. Who would’ve thought it turned into living quarters.” We walked a few steps into a large area. It smelled and on top of that, the building creaked, groaned, and smashed. Other noises came from somewhere in the darkness. Maybe they were rats or stray cats. “While I can’t show you everything, I will show enough for you to understand. No, I can’t show you who Gisa was.” She swallowed hard. “Not yet.”

“All. Right.”

Between the dancing trash and the talking building, I got the idea that she wasn’t normal. Of course, I had to be sure. “Yeah. I get it. You’re a magician. All of this could’ve been staged.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe to show off.”

“There are a lot of ways to show off, Emmersette. Spending needless energy to do so would not be one of them.” She waved her hand in front of a wall.

I saw images of me when I was a junior. The spikey hairstyle that Mom insisted I get rid of because it wasn’t even human. I had it for one year for that reason alone.

Then it turned to me and Becky Thompson. We knew each other because of math. I was never sure about how Becky felt, but I knew how I felt. I wanted to find out what the draw was between two women.

After school, we went out to the parking lot dumpster. There was a side that nobody could see. We didn’t do anything but kiss each other. That was it. We left each other and never talked about it.

“All right. All right. Just shut if off.” Something fell somewhere. It made me stop yelling. “I never told anyone about that. How did you know?” I went right up to her face and looked her as straight in the eyes as I could. Even though she had about a foot on me.

“I got that memory from you. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It is natural to wonder. You investigated. You came up with your own conclusion. Didn’t you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She didn’t need to know the details. “I’ll make you a deal. I don’t brag about you. You don’t say anything about this.” How dare she?

“It’s all right. I only needed to prove to you what I can do. I will not tell a soul either living or dead. That is a promise. You know that. Huh?” She cupped my cheek.

I wasn’t sure what to think about that. I put it in the back of my mind to think over later.

 She grabbed my hand as we walked outside. “In order for you to work for me, I need you in a place that I have ready access to. That is a bit of a distance away. It does come with furniture and modern living standards. Apart from that, you need to do some shopping for your own clothes and whatever else you may need. Pass that expense onto me and you will be rewarded for it. In the end I am paying for it, so yes, I expect the best. You will work reasonable hours. Meaning from sunrise to sunset. No earlier. No later, unless otherwise necessary. You set the days. Anything else, we will talk about. Questions?”

“Pay? Healthcare?”

“Ah yes. I am sorry. I seemed to have forgotten that. How does two thousand five hundred every fortnight plus expenses sound? As for healthcare, if you are in a state that is beyond my skill I will take care of it.”

“Wait. What’s a fortnight?” Is that even a word?

“It is a period of fourteen days.”

Holy cow. Two times twenty-five hundred means five thousand. That’s… that’s twelve times five which is… sixty thousand a year plus expenses for only a high school graduate? There’s gotta be a catch.

“No catch, darling. I believe in paying people so they can live without having to worry between comfort and health.”

“Yeah but. Yeah but. Sixty thousand a year? I don’t mean to be a pain but… .”

“I promise.” She smiled and patted my hand.

The last thing I noticed was the smell of bread when we passed the bakery. Then somehow we ended up in a parking garage. Nobody better ask me how we got there. I wouldn’t know how to explain.

For some reason, I expected a stretch limo. The silver long car made anyone dream that there was a superstar inside with a handful of his or her closest friends riding along. Instead, we ended up at a blue Porsche. We got in and then pulled out of the garage.

At some point, we ended up at a red brick building. I thought the cobblestone street was cute. Even better was the planter of flowers with a tree in the middle.

The building had three windows across and five high. The forest green door had to be the front door. The white trim made it look cute. I pictured gargoyles sitting on top. I loved that cartoon when I was a kid.

“Well, this building is yours to manage. I own it. You manage it. That means that if there’s anything that has to do with it, you need to let me know before making a decision on your own. There are five people that live in here currently. You need to be responsible enough to be sure to manage the necessary expenses. Yes, I am working on an electronic payment system, however, for now, it needs to be done by hand.”

“OK. Do I get a place here? Or?”

“Oh, of course. Yours is on the fifth floor. There is an elevator on the main floor. Simply turn left. The mailroom is to the right side. The laundry room is a little further down the hall on the left. Everything is marked.” She held out her hand.

I looked at the two sets of keys. I wondered if this was a test or something, so I only picked the one that wasn’t marked, Porsche.

“The other one too.”

Huh?

“You are not that old.” She laughed and opened my hand to put the other keys inside. “You are adorable, Gisa. You always have been.”

I looked at the two sets of keys and remembered what the car felt like. I wished my mouth would remember how to work. About the only thing I did was stare at the keys.

“It is unfortunate that I have to go. I must meet someone detestable.” She growled like a cat. “Tomorrow, you will go shopping. Try to find colors of the season. They must appear professional. Skirt or pants I leave up to you.”

“Oh. Right. OK. Uh… dinner in an hour?” Where did that come from?

“I cannot. My time will be taken up. Perhaps another time.” She cupped my cheek before she left.

I turned around to look at my car. My brand new Porsche.

I went back to take a look at it one more time. I couldn’t believe it was mine. About the only thing I ever drove was Mom’s Ford.

My new Porsche had an automatic transmission, which was good. A car like that costs a bunch. Oh my God, it had to be a dream.

After I stopped drooling, I looked around to find a secure spot. As luck had it, there was a guarded parking garage across the street. Move the car over there, do whatever it was I had to do to be I could leave it there, and be able to sleep.

Getting in wasn’t a problem. Pull up to the machine, get the ticket, watch the gate open, and go in. No expected paperwork to fill out. The only problem was finding a space. I ended up finding a space on the second floor. I had to remember green B16 Row 2. I made sure to lock the car before I left. Signs everywhere that warned of people watching you. I almost laughed at that.

I returned to the building to realize I needed to go back home. After I got the car back, I returned home. I took a breath in and out to ready myself for whatever came.

I had other priorities so I ignored my stomach monster. Whoever Gisa was, I counted on her to get me through this. I had a chance to think about the situation and it sounded too good to be true. It did happen though.

I knocked on the door and Dad answered. “Why are you here?”

OK. Here we go. “It’s good seeing you too. If I could come in?” Remain nice and calm. Nice and calm will always win. Yeah right, I was an elf in real life.

I planted my feet and folded my hands in front of me as well as trying to smile. “I am only here to give you an update. I found a job working as Myaire’s right hand. Yes, I know who she is.” Althought, it took me a while to remember.

“You only have a high school education. No skills. No advanced training.” She laughed. “We’re not stupid you know.”

“No. I never said you were. She spotted me right outside the cafe after I went in to fill out an application. She came back out and told me I worked for her from that moment forward.”

Both laughed. Dad snorted. “You mean to tell me that only the most prestigious woman in this community hired you? She has more style than that. How much did she pay you to tell us this? What did you take?”

I should’ve known. “Yes, she did hire me. I don’t even know why I bothered to come here. As for the last question, I refuse to dignify that with an answer.”

I watched the both of them and they continued to stare at each other.

“I see. In that case, we’re done then. Goodbye.” Mom opened the door. “I guess you have nothing to explain. We’re done.”

Dad stood there. No expression.

I got back in the car and made the long trip back wondering about the whole thing. No apologies. No attempts at an explanation. That was it. Did they even care?

I only had to be sure where I was going. There were some spots I remembered seeing and used those as my markers. Sure enough, I found it without getting lost.

My stomach growled again. I closed my eyes in an attempt to hold back the tears long enough to get something to eat. Down the street from the building, there was a food store. Fresh produce out front with other things inside that needed to be refrigerated.

I grabbed an apple, a small loaf of bread, and an assortment of lunch meats. I tried not to look at the man for fear my tears would start rolling. He put a cup in my hand when I left.

For the sake of wearing myself out to be too tired to feel anything, I walked up the steps and counted them. I counted one hundred and five steps to get up to the fifth floor. Another few to get to my place.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed the key. A big gold key with a five engraved on it. I unlocked the door and holy cow it was gorgeous. She said it was furnished but I didn’t expect any of this.

The back wall was one big window. That’s where the light came from. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. The wall behind the two-seater sofa was forest green. The sofa had a velvet touch and the cushions were soft. The tan color was nice.

The glass table in the middle would break next week though. An open shelf unit had several spots with books and a spot in the middle with a TV. Behind that was something brick-colored. I went to take a look and my mouth dropped open.

A mattress on the floor. A nightstand on the side with a clock. A dresser against the far wall. By that was the bathroom with a shower stall. I went downstairs again, and it was a closet.

Wall-to-wall shelves, a spot in the middle with a table, and a secure spot I assumed for jewels. All of this was mine. Of course, I had to work for her, but this was mine.

OK, Tomorrow I had to do some serious shopping. A lot of stuff to get.

I put the food on a counter. There was a desk in the kitchen by the fridge. A telephone and a charging station but no router. At least I didn’t see any. That was when I found a note in the drawer. Electronic tablet and WiFi router would be delivered in the morning. Wow.

I went back to the sofa and sat. My day started something awful, but in the end, it turned out all right. I may get in over my head, but I could manage.

I went back to get the bag. I ripped the bread apart and ate the lunch meat along with it. The cup had coffee in it. On the side someone wrote, coffee made everything better. I laughed.

After a few minutes, some things came to mind. I had to remember to tell her that my name was Emmersette. Gisa was a nice name but not mine. I could tell she loved her an awful lot.

I noticed on the main floor of the building there was no pictures. Even the boring ones with a tree in the middle would help. Get back to her on that.

Here it was. An assistant to an important woman. She gave me an opportunity and I accepted.

Thank you, to whoever listened. I raised my cup. “Cheers.”

The Mistress and The Servant

However unusual it was, a day with nothing to do, did happen.  All too happy to enjoy the day, I got the servants’ boat to use for a little while. This bit of freedom would never last long.  

The boat did not belong to the King, because it was rather plain looking, and the fact it did not present well with visible patches. The staff kept it to use on their own time and would fix it as the need arose. 

After asking around, I took the boat out to the lake.  The sun was bright that day. The long cold nights with snow- and ice-covered land did indeed melt. Perfect day to enjoy. 

I pushed it out far enough so I could still get in without getting too wet. At last, in the middle of the water and all around were trees. As green as could be. They seemed to have grown during the winter season as they poked the clouds. They somehow looked taller than I remembered. If I looked to my left, a cliff stretched over the water. Two people were on it, but too far away to recognize who they were. 

The birds sang their song. A bright tune. Maybe happy that the dark grey skies came to an end at last. 

I turned around when something splashed. I rowed over as fast as I could to take a look. I didn’t want to grab their hair. I knew that pain and I knew it well. I tapped instead and didn’t get a response. I reached into the water and felt for a chin that I could maybe tip up and out.  

I did that and found out it was the king’s daughter. Everybody knew her sculpted face with long raven hair. Why would she end up in the water though? That was a question only she could answer. The better question was how to get her out? 

She had a shirt on, so I used that to tug her along while I made it to shore. It was a long and slow trip back but for the lack of a better idea… . 

I dragged her up the shore and rested her against a boulder. After catching my breath, I patted her cheek. No response yet, so I tried a little harder. “Mistress. Mistress.” I sat back and waited after I heard a groan.  

She turned and looked at me. I knew those eyes as I had seen them pointed at me as she yelled for not doing things as she told me to do them. Some said they were eyes of her mother. Those of us who have been around her for a long time called them evil eyes. 

“You.” She reached back and tried to push off the ground but sat back down again. She turned towards me again. Strange how her eyes turned white. “Someone on my staff tried to get rid of me. I need you to get me a serum. Something to dull the effects until I can get to an apothecary.” 

“Mistress, I need to know what it was.” 

“Isn’t there a general dulling serum?” 

“No such thing exists.” 

She looked at me as her eyes turned black. “How would you know? You’re one of the mindless ones.” 

I gritted my teeth. I would carry that label forever since my prior owner made that lie known. “I am not mindless. If I was you would not be here. Early in my life, I did serve someone who spent their days and nights mixing serums. He would always laugh when someone asked for such a thing. There was no remedy like that.” 

She closed her eyes and groaned. “All right then. Is there anything you can recommend?” 

“If you can describe to me the smell or taste, I could come up with something that might help. I am in no way trained, but I do know a few things.” 

“Clear liquid, like water. Bitter with a slight flower taste. The most awful thing I ever tasted.” 

It sounded familiar. “It didn’t smell like anything at first, but the more you drank it the more a sort of a pungent odor became known?” 

“Yes. You know the remedy?” 

“Yes. However, the ingredients are not here. They would be in the mountains above. It would take time. I’m not sure how much time you have.” 

She gave me a sideways glance and laughed. “Oh, the irony.” She laughed again. “OK then. You better get moving. I’m not going anywhere. If I die in the meanwhile, then maybe the animals here would make a meal out of me.” 

“Mistress?” 

“Go. Go. Go on now. The sooner you leave the sooner you can get back.” 

“Yes, Mistress.” 

“We will talk more when you return.” She waved me away. 

I may have had strong feelings that pointed to hate, but she needed mercy at that moment. So, I went. 

I knew the trail I needed to take. It would be easier if I had an animal underneath me, but they would need care that I couldn’t spare the time to do. Maybe someone wouldn’t mind a stranger riding with them. 

As luck had it, a family filled a wagon with their goods to go up the same trail I needed to take. I could ride with them as long as I promised to look after their children. I did that and it made the trip a lot easier. 

We parted ways at the first village we came to. I needed to go up farther, but thanks to them, it wouldn’t be such a long way. Taking care of their children wasn’t so bad. The baby needed her mother’s attention, but the older ones I amused with stories and games. 

At the top of the hill, there was a body of water. A river from the sounds of it. Perfect for what I needed. This particular plant grew in rushing cold water. The roots and the stems had something in it that could neutralize what the Mistress took. It tasted awful and felt even worse in the mouth. It did work though. 

After I gathered some, the way back was easier because it was downhill. The sun had set for the night and that meant I couldn’t go anywhere until the sun rose again. With the plants in my hands, I lay down under a tree for the night. Not so cold and the ground was dry. 

Why was it, I had the awful luck of the sun rays poking me when it rose? I couldn’t linger anyway. I needed to get back. 

I was familiar with the flora around the area and picked some wild berries as I went along. It wasn’t much but it could sustain until I got back. Maybe a few extra to help chase away the bad flavor of the roots. 

Once I made it back to the lake, I found her again still leaning up against the rock. I shook her shoulder to get her attention. 

“I thought you forgot about me.” She laughed and opened her eyes. 

“What I am about to give you will taste bad and feel even worse in the mouth. But it must be done. It’s best to eat rather than drink anything I could derive from the plants. It works better that way.” 

She gave me a sideways glance. This time her eyes turned grey. “Oh, dragon’s breath. I think the last time I heard that was when father tried to get me to eat something the hunter’s brought in. He didn’t even know what it was. He wanted me to eat it to tell him about it.” She held out her hand. “I survived that so I’m sure I can survive this.” 

“Yes, Mistress.” She held out her hand. 

I put the roots in her hand and watched as she ate them. She kept making faces as she chewed on them. A hard swallow later she looked at me. “Tell me that was all I had to take.” 

“Yes, Mistress.” 

“Good. I think there’s something you didn’t tell—” She turned around to the other side and threw up.  

That was when I left her to find something to use as a water vessel. Something kept hitting my leg. I looked down and found a cup. It looked like one of the kids’ cups. One of them must’ve tied it on me when I was playing with them. 

I untied it and used that to get some water. When I got back, I put the cup in her hand. “Drink this.” 

“If this is more of what I ate, I will see to it you get the same for the rest of your life.” 

“It is water.” 

She drank the water and held out the cup. Somehow the berries didn’t get squashed at all along my journey. I put them in the cup and gave it back to her. “I hope these will help.” 

She grabbed the cup and put it up to her mouth. She chewed. “These are good. Where did you find these?” 

“Along the same trail as I found the roots.” 

“Won’t Father be surprised when I show up.” She laughed. “Give me a little bit of time before we head back. There’s something I need to do yet.” 

I looked over toward the lake and noticed the sky. “It won’t take long before the sun sets for the day. We can make the trip in the morning. It will give the roots time to work.” 

She nodded before her head dropped back. I didn’t have any blankets with me, but the dry leaves might work well enough to keep the chill air off her body. I piled them on top her as much as I could before I went back to the water.  

Between a rock and a stick, I was able to make myself a spear. It took a bit, but I did catch some fish. I remembered trying to eat raw fish when I was younger. There was something about it that repulsed me. Having remembered that, I took the time and effort to start a fire to cook the fish. 

I left the innards by the lake for some of the small animals to take. I hoped that would be enough for them to stay away from us. I cooked two. One to have now and one to give her in the morning. I only had a fresh leaf to wrap it in to keep for the night. 

Cooking done, I put aside the morning meal and doused the fire. I put my hand on her leg to check her body temperature and she wasn’t cold. I lay down next to her to get a little sleep. 

As expected, the sun poked me in the eyes. I got up and ran to the bushes. After that, I got the fish and put it in my lap when I woke her up. 

“Let me guess. It’s time to behead the prisoners?” 

“No.” 

“It’s time to poison the kitchen staff?” 

“No.” 

“It’s time to kill the horses so we can get new ones?” 

“No. It’s time to eat. I cooked a fish yesterday so you can eat it before we leave. It should still be all right.” 

“There goes my amusement.” She reached out her hand.  

I have it to her. She opened her eyes and they were blue. The river roots worked. They did their job. So, all we had to do was get back to the castle. 

I left her to look around and find someone to take us to the castle. It was fine by myself, but with the Mistress, she would demand a better means of transport. 

“So, what are we looking for?” 

I turned around and looked up. For some reason, I forgot how tall she was. “I was looking for someone to take you back to the castle. I can walk back but you must need something to take you.” 

“Since you are walking so can I. Let’s go.” 

She was the Mistress so I had to do what she told me to do. It was an uphill journey and I thought that since she was well enough to stand then she would should be well enough to walk. 

We passed through the village and onto the trail between the trees of the apple orchard. The leaves started to grow back so it shouldn’t be too long before they fruit. I saw the familiar smoke as it made its way up the chimney. It came from the cooking fires of the kitchen.  

I stopped and turned around before we entered through the back. “Mistress, I hope you are well.” I bowed. “I wish you much peace.” I watched the ground to see her leave. Then I could stand. With the guards around, I needed to be careful. 

“You can stand up you know.” 

“The guards will know.” 

“Guards. Shmards. I know the lot of them and all of them owe me something. So stand up straight.” 

I did that and expected to hear the alert horns. They did sound. It didn’t take long before they arrived.  

“Let me take care of this. This I can do.” She turned towards the guards. “Oh, let me see. The five of you in the back.” 

I heard clanking, which could’ve been their feet coming together.  

“The bunch of you go and find the king’s advisor. Put him in holding. Lock and secure the area before you leave. Let him stand there. Do not pay any attention to him. When you are done, start a hot bath for me would you? My unexpected journey made me need one. No, I’m not asking.” 

They ran away from the area. 

“The bunch of you in the front. Each one of you had something to do with my unexpected trip away. I never forgive. All of you lost your rank and privilege and will have living nightmares. Let me explain. You will have a nightmare. That is not a matter of if but a matter of when. You will stay in that nightmare until your demise.” She waved her hand in front of all of them and they lost their armor.  

I tried everything in me to keep from laughing. The one time I dared to look up and it happened to be that time. 

“Why are you sorry excuses still standing there?” 

They side-stepped away from the area. I looked back down when she came back towards me.  

“And you my little servant. I need you to do me one last favor. I know where he got the herb that he gave me. That leaves you to get the herb you gave me. That leaves you to go get it. In the meanwhile, I will let my dear Father know what happened.” She bent down and kissed my cheek. “Now shoo.” 

“Uh… Mistress?” 

“Later. Those awful things now.” 

I nodded and ran up to go get some. They were never hard to find. All one needed to do was look for a river. The only thing that mattered was using them before they dried up. Without water, they tended to do that in a hurry. 

On the way back, I made a detour to go back to the lake to get the boat. Lucky for me it was still there. I put the boat back where I found it. I grabbed the plants from the bottom of the boat before leaving to give them to the Mistress. 

I bumped into someone. Without looking, I bowed. “So sorry for being thoughtless and rude.” 

“I wondered what kept you. If you told me about the boat, I would have sent someone to get it. Besides that, that boat isn’t worth saving.” 

“It is all we have, Mistress.” 

“We’ll talk about that later. The herb?” She held out her hand. 

I gave them to her and went about my afternoon duties. The animals were kept in the back part of the lot. Far enough away so that it didn’t matter which way the wind blew, the king wouldn’t be able to notice their presence. I went to clean up after them and to be sure they were fed. 

On my way back to the cooking area, I received word that the King’s advisor’s assistant needed my attention. No time to clean up, I rushed to his room on the other side of castle. The corner most room with no sun. It was always shady whenever he sent for me. 

When I arrived, I crouched down on the floor. “You sent for me, Master.” 

“Well. Well. Well. The little bag of nothing saved the dear princess. Her father’s daughter. The one who was destined to take the crown.” He grabbed my hair and lifted me up. “That golden crown of jewels belonged to no one but my master.” He threw me down on the floor. “That concoction was supposed to put her to sleep. While a gentle push would land her in the water where she would drown. The poor father would be so stricken with grief that his little girl perished. He would be so vulnerable to any suggestions made to him. It would’ve been so easy.” 

So it wasn’t the advisor like Mistress thought. What now? Would he end my life? 

“You are looking rather fat. I like my servants small and skinny.” He came towards me and ripped off the clothes I wore. I tried to cover myself but he grabbed my arms before I could. That was when he looked down and laughed. “You’re with child. My child. If anybody found out—” 

He threw me down on the floor. I grabbed my clothes and put them on. I looked around for a way out. I had no idea why because I knew there was no way out. He stood in front of the door. 

He talked to someone, too quiet for me to hear. When he finished, he slammed the door. He came over and grabbed me. We left the room with my arm grasped in his hand. 

I dared to look around and recognized the route we took. It was to the bottoms. A place that was dark, damp, and disgusting. A place where they put people to be forgotten. 

Nothing lived down here. If they did, their inner most persons would not live for long. Trapped in darkness and despair.  

All the way back and as far down as this passageway got, was a holding area. It was a dungeon a long time back. No one told the king about it so we thought nobody knew. Somehow though, this man found it and brought me there. 

No light. No persons. No hope. The last place anyone would be put and expected to survive. 

I was put somewhere and pushed inside before I heard the gate close. That was it. My life came to an end. 

The Rose Box

Bridget traced the wooden flower on top of the box. Tears flowed down her cheeks as the banging got louder. Something had to have exploded. Maybe an outer wall had fallen.

Rats left traces of their existence by the holes in the walls. She still didn’t know how they did it, but they managed to go through rock. One hole seemed to be the right size to make it fit. She pushed it inside as deep as it would go. She thought she had hidden it where no one could find it. With the surrounding rubble, a couple stones in front of the hole, they would never think to look in the wall. It would be too obvious and they would never fall for it.

Soldiers outside banged on the door. “Come out, oh Mistress of the Castle. Come out now and maybe we will go easy on you.”

“No. I won’t.” There had to be a place where she could hide. The bookcase fell and all the books had scattered around the floor. If she could crawl over and pile the books on herself, they might leave and never find her. On the other hand, they might get bored and further their search for the Rose Box.

The door fell. Three smiling soldiers stood in the doorway, arms at the ready. One stepped forward and grabbed her chin. He pushed his lips on hers and squeezed so hard she felt pain and not satisfaction. “Ha.” He laughed. “More to follow.” He put chains on her wrists and pulled her behind him.

Everybody left the room, she guessed from the footfalls. She thanked whoever would bother to listen.

The last thing she wanted would be for them to find it. She would go through hell in both body and soul before allowing anyone to search for it. He threw her up on a tall black horse and he sat behind her.

Her body ached, hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink for days. She wouldn’t dare complain. Not that he would care.

She bounced along as she felt droplets from something. She could only imagine what. Not being able to turn her head, only allowed for her imagination to take over. Back to his camp where he would have his way with her.

She wanted to save herself for the one that would take her heart if that was ever possible. They stopped at last.

“Bridget, oh Bridget, oh apple of my eye,” he said, as he grabbed her chin, “won’t you pleasure me as only you would dream.”

She gathered whatever energy she had and spit in his face. “Never, to the likes of you. I would rather scream bloody murder while being eaten by a dragon.”

He grabbed something on the other side of his body before turning away. Someone must’ve called his name. She heard someone call out Commander Mortimer. That name sounded familiar but she couldn’t place it.

Hands and feet tied, tired, and in pain, didn’t allow for a quick escape. However, maybe with a little effort, she might be able to. Rodents were always hungry. Everybody knew that. The trick was to attract them with the right treat.

Sweetness lingered in the air, among other odors, so she expected the cooking area to be nearby. They might have the right treat.

Either nobody expected her to be able to do anything, or they forgot about her, she was left behind where she was dumped. No guard or even the occasional taunt. Strange.

She didn’t question it, and used that to her advantage. Commander Mortimer didn’t come back yet, so she scooted towards the sound and smell of cooking. The pain started again. She tried to convince herself that the trick to not feeling any pain, was to not mind the pain. It worked up to a point, but something must have broken because it was beyond any mind trick she could think of.

The kitchen staff was often too busy to pay attention to anything else. Honey jar on a table. The perfect bait to lure the only animal with a mouth strong enough to go through stone.

It took a few bumps but she was able to coat enough of the rope and her body for her plan to work. She made it outside and encountered something she should’ve thought of. Tiny bitey little creatures started crawling all over her and around the areas honey had poured onto. It made things beyond uncomfortable.

By the sound of it, a water stream was nearby. A quick roll, or maybe two or three, and she made into the river. A fist-sized mound surfaced as she splashed hard enough to get them off her. She stopped as she hoped nobody heard her.

She didn’t hear anything or anyone. A sharp rock by the water’s edge gave her another way to become unbound. She rung herself out as best she could. At least to the point she couldn’t track water.

She knew how to ride, but any loss of the horses would be noticed. Her only choice was to go on foot. That was when she heard the call out to find her. Out of choices, she grabbed a horse, hopped on, and hoped for the best.

 She knew the direction she had to go. It was only a matter of getting there. The horse would tire soon. It ran long and hard to camp. She stopped by a boulder and climbed down.              

After a pat, the horse trotted away. She still needed a way to get back. Unless she took to the trees. The only problem with that was her dress was too long. It would get caught on the branches.

 It had already been torn and ripped in a lot of pieces. Using that as her guide, she took an already present tear and ripped as much of her skirt as she could. Wrap around a high branch, they would never know unless they looked up. By that time, she would be on her way back to the castle.

 She flew from branch to branch using the techniques she learned as a child. It was fun back then. Necessary now. Who would’ve—that was it. Commander Mortimer was the one who taught her battle skills. He would know everything she would need to do to get back there.

The one thing he hated her doing because he couldn’t, was that she had the ability to form wings. It came from her mother who taught her everything she needed to know.               

Once transformed, things were easier. She flew high enough that she could remain undetected. Of course, doing so took a lot of energy to accomplish. She didn’t have a long way to go.

Once she reached her destination, she transformed back and ran through the halls. Old clothes scattered the halls so she took what she could and put them on. Better than going around naked.

Back to the room, back to the hole and pushed aside the rubble she opened the box. As expected, everything was there for her to take the crown. Mother’s flower, a letter describing the one to take the crown, and another letter to dictate who would be giving orders.

All were necessary documents in order for her to take her mother’s place. That was why she guarded the box. It held her future.

She closed and locked the box before she left the room. The counsel was being held in the mountains above with the religious order for safety. They hadn’t reached the castle yet. They would’ve stormed in like they did the last time. They were never subtle.

It would take the time she didn’t have to get up there. She didn’t have a choice. Do or die. There were trees along the way so they would provide cover.

She rested along the way up. Strange Commander Mortimer hadn’t reached the castle yet. It made her wonder if they took over the religious order. That meant the cousel would be compromised.

Her mother once told her, only in cases of extreme emergency, could she act alone. Either the council had been captured or compromised. There were no guards left. No guards were left and there was a possibility that the council had been compromised. She had to act alone.

Box in hand, she did the last thing she hoped she had to do to save her home. Her father hired the best people he could to teach her weaponry, fighting, horseback riding, and enemy identification. Her mother taught her how to use the gift she had been given to her advantage.

She disrobed and transformed. She flew up to the sky, and with every ounce of will, she summoned all the animals. Turn against their knowledge and use that to destroy the ones who took advantage.

She couldn’t keep it up for long. There was still lingering pain and exhaustion played a role in her ability to carry out her wishes. She had to come down from the sky and put the clothes back on. She hoped it was enough.

Something cold and wet woke her up. After a couple blinks, she realized it was the horse she rode earlier. Somehow it found her, It seemed to like the offered nose rub.

About a moment later, she stood and watched as the horse walked away. She still needed to see if everything or everyone was all right. It didn’t take long to reach her destination.

Flying insects all over the place. She could not only hear them but see them as well. The vast majority of them seemed to have centered around the back building. Out of curiosity, she walked in that direction.

She stopped in the doorway. She forced a swallow as she saw bugs crawling over the bodies against the back wall. Wood burrowing bugs still crawled over the remains of a wooden door. Against the back wall of the room, the counsel huddled together.

One of them stepped out in front of the others. “Bridget. Our savior. Have you come for us?”

“Yes. I have. I take command of this kingdom as the former queen had wished.” She patted around herself and realized she must’ve left the box back at the castle.

“Do you have the box?”

Bridget nodded. She wondered how he knew. Mother told no one but the next in line. “We must move quickly.”

She jogged ahead of the counsel as she celebrated for going downhill. Commander Mortimer still hadn’t shown yet. It made her wonder.

She remembered the path she took and used it the same way as she looked for the box. There it was against the tree. She picked it up, opened it up, and presented it to them.

The one council member picked up the contents and stepped out front again. “Everything is here as described. You are now our leader until you have met your demise.”

She heard that phrase before. “You were the one. You were the one that convinced Commander Mortimer to get rid of me.”

The council member smiled. “You do not believe that a woman could rule over a kingdom. It takes skill and knowledge. Something only a man is capable of. Your father was too weak. I had to choose.” He held up the box. “Now that I have this, there is nothing to say a woman will wear the crown.”

She heard squeaking from somewhere. Maybe a rodent made the noise, but whatever it was, there were more urgent matters at hand.

A line of giant rats came towards them. The council members in the back screamed as the rats crawled over them. They stopped when they reached the traitor. He screamed as they chewed. She turned her head. She couldn’t watch. No matter the reason why his heart turned black, he didn’t deserve this kind of suffering.

“M’lady. It is I. Uh… they have… devoured everything. Have left. M’lady?”

She opened her eyes and blinked. Nothing was left but cloth and bone. Uhg. She shook her head. She straightened herself up and nodded. “Do me a favor would you? Find someone who would be willing to clean up this mess. I have to go find Mortimer.”

“Of course, M’lady.” The surviving council members bowed.

She watched them bow and wondered who they were bowing to. She didn’t deserve it. She could’ve done something to stop the rats but didn’t. She caused his demise.

The local villagers came to help clean and bring in the day’s harvest to help feed their new ruler. It had been a good fortnight since all of that happened.

She did find Mortimer and the rest of his army. They were trampled to death. She didn’t need to find out by what when she saw a horseshoe by one of the bodies.

Death by fighting or other means, it didn’t matter. Not any more. She dug thirteen holes to put the bodies in. They were not gravesites. That would mean a marker of some sort which also meant somebody cared. They were dead body holes.

A lot of work still needed to be done on the castle. The villagers were willing to help make everything right again. On the outside, everything would look as it should.

On the inside though, a black hole existed in Bridget’s heart as she wondered if she was indeed responsible for everybody’s death. Did they have to die that way? Was there another choice? What about their families? What would she tell them?

Those questions and more lingered in the back of her mind. She took a deep breath and painted a smile on her face as she left her room. The emotions that surrounded her were anything but happy. Hence the painted smile.

She left the room as horns announced her arrival. She sat down as she wished her mother’s shoulder was there to lean against. She almost laughed out loud as she remembered what her mother told her once. “Bridget, I have just finished the beginning of your entry into the darkest period of your life. I hope beyond all hope you do not find out what that means.”

 Oh, Mother. I found out. A scent carried by a slight breeze made her turn her head. She expected to see Mother and that she did. Mother’s spirit would always linger as long as Bridget remembered love.