Days of absence, sad and dreary, clothed in sorrow’s dark array, - days are absent for I am weary; She I love is far away. - Jean Jacques Rousseau
19 July 1690
He came to me following the gloaming hour of a Sunday, God’s day, subsequent to my incarceration. My eyes were sodden with slumber, heart burdened by fear - he appeared that night, silent . . . elusive. At the cusp of my dreams, he offered himself in the form of a god. However, virtuous, he is not.
Nightly we convene within my mind. I am blessed with his furtive visits. I often find myself enquiring, however: Is he not a figment of my imaginings? My answer is always a resounding, no - for he is undeniably something greater.
When I awake at the completion of every night, I am fraught with the tragic mindfulness of what thou hast lost – love, life . . . my enabler for escape. He is then, no longer.
Soon, he returns.
Oh, God - please forgive the sin of thine heart. For I yearn for the constant passion of our love. Without him I am merely the paltry flesh and blood that blankets my bones - absent of a soul.
Am I bewitched? I know not. But if it were not for his love I would be lost forever.
It is mere days before he and I unite as one. Haste I wish him to make. For they are plotting my demise – I am certain of this fact. I harbor no fear though. He guides me, consoles me - promises salvation.
They share no suspicion or knowledge into the truth of our desire, for he hides within my mind.
Faintly, in a delicate slight, I seldom sense a being among the daylight. Is my mind deceiving me? His earthen scent lingers. Could he be of flesh and blood?
Many a time I ask of his origin. Silence he keeps. His lips he seals. Nonetheless, for without the temperate solace of thine glorious stranger I would then be dead within. For that, I am grateful.
I await his return with restless unease. For the storm that is overturning my life has taken on power. We have but no time to spare.
Dense fog saturates the atmosphere, circling with premeditated calculation. Within this non-secular formation, four beings of exceptional power assemble apart from their alliance. The celestial figures hover, suspended where they commence - troubled by the circumstances that force them to gather. A fourth member was inducted to aid in the novice quandary.
Observing from afar, amidst the opposing realms, the entities lay focus on a very specific detail within the ether - Earth. The extrasensory dialogue among the four focused entirely on one of their own desiring a human within this primal plain.
“The mortal girl resides in this land of the Vedas portal.” The eldest launched into the particulars. “He has succeeded in altering the circumstances of her fate, then set forth to initiate a vigil around her, protecting the creature.” Projecting a cognitive image of the minute land surrounded by water into the minds of the others, the elder paused for comment.
The latest of the four took note of the transfer of information. “What attracts him to her?”
“Centuries ago, a human girl sealed a pact with the dark czar, Rahu to punish those that wished for her death.” The second-in-command conferred. “It was this forbidden act of Samsara that brought our fallen brother to her. He failed to execute his orders. Within exile he located her. Our attention was then presented with a new abomination – his insolent lust for her reunification.”
“Furthermore,” the third made certain to note. “He failed to close the portal gateway, allowing for the passage of elementals from other dimensions, disrupting the secured route to Earth.”
“Let us keep on the path of this matter of the girl for the time being.” The eldest redirected.
“What of the human boy I sense coming forth?” proclaimed the second in rank.
“He is being manipulated to offer the girl protection by an unknown source – protection against the fallen one.”
“I see no immediate threat with him,” offered the charge entity. “If that should change, however, turn him against her.”
“And what of the reunification of the split soul?” the newest member reproached after his sudden understanding of what was at stake. “We cannot allow this to be successful. It will release him . . .”
“I KNOW!” slated the elder with a ferocious use of energy. If the human eye were to observe the physical repercussions of his anger it would have resembled that of a supernova.
“What are your wishes, my lord?”
He held his silence to reclaim poise. Before responding, his acuity of the insipid island incited a closer aerial perspective. “Send two soldiers to pose as the victims of her curse. Have them destroy the girl. The fallen one will try to safeguard her at any cost during this abolition.”
“What of our lost brother?”
“He is no longer one of us. He chose his fate. Have them send him to the hollows of Naraka.”
The others went silent
The car ride was long.
Ivey’s legs were antsy, aching to be free of the confines of the Nissan Pathfinder. The three-and-a-half day trek from Colorado to Massachusetts was enough to make her want to scream. She yearned for nothing more than to be done with life on the road. Perhaps by some uncertain means this extensive road-trip is a blessing in disguise. There was no rush to reach the unknown.
Her mind had recently become besieged by opposing forces. Uncertain if relocating would release her of her inherent anxieties, Ivey Hammond found that the caustic sprain between not wanting to leave her friends, and wanting to leave her past was more formidable than she would like.
Which is more favorable to my sanity? She begged for the likely fickle answer.
Her scouring eyes maintained their severe scrutiny over the alien landscape smearing past the passenger window.
The trees were unusual – stout and cramped . . . ghastly.
The architecture of the houses was peculiar – symmetrical and simple . . . boring. Hell, even the roads were a different color and distinction. What next? Miserly
people? Narcissistic drivers? Ivey was far from optimistic.
She slumped back against the car seat, brooding - her tense hands white-knuckled a water bottle.
“A penny for your thoughts?” her father chimed from behind the wheel, glancing back with an amiable ruddiness.
“I’m so done with riding in this car.” She forged a smile.
“You never were one for long rides,” her mother snorted playfully from the front passenger seat.
Ivey didn’t respond to either of them. She was sure if she did it wouldn’t sound polite. Her knotted thoughts were unfairly influencing her mood.
Continuing with her morose gaze upon the landscape to avoid further small talk, she plugged her ears with the tiny speakerphones of her iPod, hitting play. There was still another two hours left in the car. In the meantime, all she wanted was to drown-out the fear of not knowing what unpleasantry waits in her new hometown.
Even the heavy rock music that she favored wasn’t deflecting her intruding bitter thoughts.
Her parent’s decision to live in Willows, MA came about with breakneck speed, suddenly and without warning. And before she could pry her lips with a protest, junior year at Loveland High was history; the Pathfinder was kissing the asphalt of the open road - with U-Haul in tow - and they were making for the Atlantic Coast. Not to mention, she was being stripped of completing her final year of school in the town where she grew up.
Who starts their senior year at a new school? Nobody!
There was little choice. Ivey’s father was bullied into a job transfer at the publishing company where he’d been an editor for ten years. It was either take the transfer, or be laid-off. The company’s sister office in Ipswich, MA had an opportunity for a promotion with a considerable pay increase, making little sense – leave, but oh, here’s a salary upgrade for your troubles?
Then again, maybe this ill-timed twist of fate made perfect sense.
Six months prior to Merrill being advised to relocate, Ivey and her parents had received an unforeseen inheritance from her mother’s side of the family. Lauren’s grandmother, who lived in Willows with no other kin to speak of, left both her home and bookstore to them. The excessive gift couldn’t have presented itself at a more opportune time.
“The last time I saw Grandma Olivia was when I was a teenager.” Lauren muddled after hearing the news. “Why would she leave everything to me?”
“You and Ivey are the last living members of the Crane family.” Merrill said.
Her parents wished to liquidate the bequeathed assets with no intention of moving to Massachusetts. But when news of Merrill’s proviso rippled into their lives, having delayed in proffering a realtor to sell the Willows real-estate proved advantageous.
At seventeen Ivey wasn’t quite so eager to up and leave her life as Lauren and Merrill were. There were no back-springs or cartwheels coming from her. Logically, separating from her friends and everything that defined her was unthinkable. Prudent enough to grasp the precariousness of their situation, she did however understand that inevitably she would have to accept the fact that the move was inescapable.
Starting a new life in a strange town though, on what is quite literally the edge of the earth, far from where she had comfortably existed, really blows.
Skipping through her playlist for something distracting – Flyleaf always worked – she released her finger.
Relentless hills rolled alongside acres of deciduous forest – so damn confining.
Claustrophobia creeped together with Ivey’s growing concerns, reducing, casting a melting-pot of panic potpourri as she neared their destination.
Farms were sprouting every few miles. Trees forced their ever lingering presence upon her.
Trees . . . trees, and more . . . trees.
The highway zigzagged and curved like a snake through the green clouds of a billowing ash, oak, and maple forest. The rollercoaster ride was making her nauseous. She forced her eyes closed, lolling her head to the opposing side of her window scenery.
“Oh, please let me warn them – don’t you come here, don’t bring anyone here.” The doleful lyrics were making her feel worse.
She shut off the music. It was hopeless - no matter the song, one way or another, the lyrics brought her back to her confliction.
Her attention shot back to the images projecting past the window: The lush forest felt like a mob of encroaching sloths ready to pummel her into a slow, drawn-out death. No longer were there the patches of the conversant, soaring evergreens that rendered a sense of freedom to admire the vast sky and majestic Rockies. In their place was a blob of impenetrable green, keeping her captive, restrained.
Lauren’s smiling eyes peered around the upholstered seat at her daughter. “Did you get a chance to finish reading Atlas Shrugged?”
Snapping out of her reverie, Ivey focused on her mother’s genial face. “Uh, I’m about halfway through that monstrosity. I think I get the whole “objectivism” message.”
Lauren shifted her torso to face forward. “I wasn’t sure if you’d like it or not. I read it in college. I enjoyed Ayn Rand’s philosophy on happiness as a moral purpose – it makes perfect sense.”
Her father snorted. “Sure, if you’re living in a black and white world. The problem with Rand’s reoccurring theme of a laissez-faire social infrastructure is . . .”
Ivey pulled away from her parent’s impending literary debate - common dialogue in the Hammond household. Not up for the long, drawn-out analysis of the two opposing sides of her parent’s perspectives, she fell back into oblivion.
More of an insightful adult than her age professed, Ivey could’ve easily offered a strong perspective to her parent’s ensuing discussion, but for the moment, she just wanted to numb-out and ponder nothing requiring any real thought.
The emerald-green highway signs were too intermittent to hold her attention. And town names like Tyringham and Blandford did nothing to stimulate her imagination. The rolling hills of Western Mass seemed endless - a perpetual cordon of lush trees closing in on her.
A welcomed break in the endless blanket of green, revealed a small restaurant on the side of the highway. She’d been cramped for three hours and was in dire straits for a restorative stretch. Her stomach moaned a somber tune, alerting her of its need for sustenance.
“We’re stopping for lunch.” Merrill switched the car to the slow lane.
They pulled into a dirt parking-lot. A one-level farmhouse turned restaurant greeted them: sided with chocolate-stained shingles narrowing the already tiny windows its front door appeared to be plucked from the forest – weather beaten boards forged together to form a rectangle then crudely hinged to the entranceway.
Upon entering she took in the small, dimly lit dining-room with its décor resembling that of an old public house: dark wood paneling, brass candle sconces crowning every booth, and a large stone fireplace in the far wall – nothing like the restaurants she was used to back west.
Ivey and her parents were soon seated by a hostess who resembled the furnishings – lowly and elemental. They sat at a booth.
“Isn’t this charming?” Lauren cooed in a delighted tone.
“I think it’s all original.” Merrill said with head rubbernecking, taking in the architecture. “Late nineteenth century, I believe.”
Ivey cringed at their enthusiasm.
There were only two other patrons in the dining area - an elderly couple who appeared to be arguing over what the white haired man was allowed to order from the menu.
French onion soup, Rueben on rye, pigs in a blanket, what? Where are the salads and wraps? Ivey huffed over the neglect in healthy options.
They ordered then ate with haste.
When the check arrived, she set off to take advantage of potentially the last bathroom break for the next couple of hours. Her father was pushing for an arrival time of four o’clock at the house, before the movers showed. Merrill was even anal retentive enough to schedule stops for bathroom and food breaks. All within the trip-roster that he felt so compelled to construct on his iPhone.
The ladies-room of the pub was floor to ceiling pine shingles. Ivey felt like she was entering a sauna, only there were two stalls where the lounge benches would be. The confined space was stuffy, stinking of disinfectant.
Lifting an arm to part a stall door, she hesitated in mid-reach. An isolated, cold mist engulfed her bare flesh. Retracting with a reflexive jerk, the daunting sensation was unsettling.
Rubbing her arm to rid the death-like chill, her attention was then detained by an intrusive scent. Earthy, potent, she was certain it was sandalwood. Was it the décor?
Surveying the trim of the floor and ceiling, seeking air vents that might attribute to the immediate drop in temperature, Ivey cased a baseboard heater. Prompting a few paces to see if cold air was shooting from its slots, her fingers fanned the stagnant air above it.
She rolled her eyes in irritation with herself. It’s nothing.
For the final encroaching hour, with the north shore in their sites, Ivey felt like a nap. The scenery was boring - trees were again seizing the sights.
Before dozing, her thoughts streamed to the odd sensation in the bathroom. An unsavory residue lingered over her.
Ignore it, and it’ll go away.
Brian woke that morning feeling edgy, like something huge was going to happen any second – something dreadful. The lack of control into a potential disaster made him anxious.
He’d eaten a large breakfast so the jitters weren’t from hunger. And the tension couldn’t be the result of pent-up energy, because he went for a run that morning.
What the hell is my problem, then? He vexed.
Was he getting sick? He hoped not. Summer had just begun. The end of another school year was upon him. He was psyched to break free and submerge into some serious R&R. Between finals and training for the regional cross-country championship, he was ready to take things light. Being laid-up on the coach because of a stupid cold wasn’t his idea of relaxing.
“Yo, Brian – let’s do this!” His audacious friend, Pete called from a Miata.
Brian waved from the confines of his car, parked in the driveway of his house. He’d been rummaging through the backseat for climbing shoes. Finally spotting the bright-yellow swede beneath his raincoat, he snatched them up then jogged to Pete’s impatient, idling convertible.
His friend coaxed him into going to the rock-wall gym when all Brian was seeking to do that afternoon was lounge by his pool. Pete had a talent for manipulation though – he offered to pay and drive. So whether it was bribery or Pete’s uncanny influence over people, Brian agreed to the invite, mainly to shut him up. If he had refused, Pete would inevitably rag him a pussy the entire summer.
“Dude – you look wired.” The lanky blond noted Brian’s edgy appeal.
Flashing Pete a soulful glance, Brian wasn’t up for going into the depths of his bizarre mood, especially with a friend who probably wouldn’t care.
He changed the subject. “Which rock gym are we going to?”
Pete accelerated down Route 128 like his life depended on it, tailgating and weaving through traffic. It was road-ragers like him that gave all Bay State drivers the disreputable prestige of Masshole.
“Rock Hard in Peabody is the closest.” Pete turned to Brian, never pulling back to face the priority of the road.
“Eyes forward, lunatic!” Brian yelled, half-serious in his hysteria.
Pete ignored his friend’s demand, adjusting his eyes back to the windshield as if there was nothing wrong with his driving etiquette.
“Remember,” Pete blathered back to the topic of their destination. “This gym offers indoor and outdoor climbing. I say we stick to the walls outside. Then we’ll get to see the chicks in sports bras.”
Brian wasn’t offering much in the way of attention. A low ringing erupted in his ears, and was gradually increasing in momentum. With his head propped on a palm resting against the window, Brian found himself cringing over the gushing wind and intense sunlight severing his eyesight. He’d wished Pete hadn’t opened the convertible top.
An unnatural hammering seemed to pummel his head. It was as if all his senses were being temporarily blocked. Too distracted by the anomaly to make heads or tails, he forced his brow to a sharp ripple to nullify the pain.
“Dude, you’re not going all soft on me, are ya?” Pete’s salty pitch jolted Brian back to consciousness.
In an instant, the buzzing in his head and blinding landscape crashed into extinction. His hearing and sight were no longer besieged by some unknown cause.
“What?” Brian’s confusion meant nothing to Pete’s dire observation skills. “What did you say?”
“Girls, man. What else do I talk about? What are you no longer interested in scoring?”
Brian snorted. “When have I ever been as desperate as you?”
While Pete recoiled like an imbecile laughing-hyena over this zinger, calling him short-bus in retaliation, Brian quickly attempted to make some kind of sense of what just messed with him.
Was he having some kind of seizure? A stroke? Probably not – he’d never been diagnosed an epileptic, and he was too young to be stroking.
Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night. His mind continued to muse. He felt too high-strung to be tired.
Finally he chalked it up as a fluke. After climbing for an hour he’d have wasted any possible excess energy, and would be back to normal.
But the gnawing feeling that he might be wrong on all accounts, sloshed in his stomach like sour milk. Because of this relentless uncertainty, he constantly peered over his shoulder, jolted when loud noises hit, and remained completely distracted – anxiously anticipating some freak event to blast out of nowhere.
But nothing ever did.