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The Cursed Nightjar

by Rebecca A Hyde Gonzales about a month ago in Short Story
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How it Began

The Nightjar and The Souljar

The Nightjar and the Souljar slumber on the hearth of twilight.

No dream, no vision dare summon them from eternal sleep.

A silent shadow stretches forth a hand to touch the soul within.

Awake! Awake!

The world shudders and quakes.

Shattered pieces like stars across the sky.

Alone! Alone!

A single blaze goes speeding, searching for their mate.

The Nightjar and the Souljar no longer bound by fate.

Dawn bursting through shrouds of darkness,

The sleeper, now awake.

Tears flowing freely across time;

Healing the shattered pieces.

A home, her soul to make.

The Nightjar and the Souljar

One lost and alone upon the twilight.

His mate waiting on the horizon of

Time in the home she made.

Part III - Return

The Celebration

Galadriel braced herself against the rolling movement of the earth as her two young daughters peered up at her from under the oak dining table. The door frame creaked and moaned with each rippling shudder and sway. Arwen wrapped her left arm around the leg of the table as she pulled Margaery closer with her right. Almost nose to nose the azure eyes of the eight year-old met the teary seafoam gaze of the younger. Movement subsided; gently moving Galadriel’s skirts like a summer breeze drifting through lush oak canopies.

It seemed that Arwen was always trying to pull her sister in close. Margaery. always resistant. Nowadays, their eyes rarely meet. The measure of their relationship - strained. Waking from the memory of the devastation eight years prior only reinforced their shattered sisterhood.

Arwen wasn’t like any other girl her age. She had gifts, talents, and abilities that surpassed them all. Her mother spent many hours helping hone her abilities and helping her to understand the source. Her father moved the family out of the city and back to the family’s estate to protect Arwen from the negative influences that would seek to exploit her abilities. As far as Arwen knew, she lived a beautiful life in a beautiful place without a care in the world. The protection of her soul seemed absolute and would remain so until her sixteenth birthday. On that day, the secret that her parents had kept would be shared and a new chapter would begin. She would be trained in the healing arts and diplomacy. She would be taught about the other nations and her responsibility to each of them. And most importantly, she would be given the keys to the Souljar. This meant that she would travel back to the city to reside at the institute - the place where it all began.

She knew that it was morning when she woke. The room was dark and the air was still. Dawn was not yet there and the birds had not started their welcoming invocation. She tried to wrap her mind around the images and the messages presented to her while she slept. It seemed familiar in its tenor, the details altered. Maybe it was just more.

The colour of the sky began to slowly fade from midnight blue to deep crimson indicating that the sun was climbing steadily beyond the Eastern Ridge of the Wobath Range. The crisp air stirred for a moment reminding her that the ground outside was covered with snow.

Snow.

Snow.

Cold. Her mind still swirling through all that she dreamt. Was it a dream? Actually, what was it? It was familiar.

The first note of the daily invocations rang through the air and at that moment a real memory flashed through her mind. From so long ago. She was eight and it was her birthday. They lived somewhere else warmer and the air was always sweet with the fragrances of orange blossoms and lavender.

The first rays of morning flashed through the open windows and doors and she remembered…

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, Arwen sat up and rolled out of bed; her bare feet touching the stone floor. This awakened her senses. Her mind sorting out the memory. As she walked across the room to find something to wear from her perfectly organised and colour-coded closet, she realised that she dreamt about the earthquake again. By her count, she had dreamt about the disaster every night for the past week. The significance not apparent. Coincidently, the anniversary of the “Great Quake” fell on her birthday. The first and only time she had had a party was on her eighth birthday. The sky fell that day. Arwen pushed the thoughts back. She didn’t want to think about that day. The day that changed everything…

Arwen stared out the arched window onto the orchard that spanned into the distance. The breeze carried the fragrance of apple blossoms into her room from the solarium where she grew miniature trees. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes, smiling contentedly. The world was at peace.

Her life was beautiful. She loved the life she was living. Opening her eyes, she noticed a nightjar roosting under the shelter of the footbridge leading from the house towards the orchard. She was curious: why could she only see one? - Its mate must be nearby. This one was female, indicated by the small white band along the outer edges of the tail.

[Alternate beginning]

The warm sun and the chilled air brought Arwen to complete awareness of the present and she felt excitement well up from her core as she anticipated seeing her closest friends. The tips of her toes touched the ice-cold stone floor as she rose and turned out of bed in a single fluid motion.

Daemon, peering out from under the chaise longue, greeted Arwen with a long low howl as she moved across the room to the dressing table. Each brush and pin evenly spaced across the smooth cedar top.

She sat on the matching bench and gazed into the mirror hanging low on the wall. How many times she had started her days with the same pair of eyes looking back at her. She knew every expression of emotion. Those eyes could not lie, hide or conceal anything from her.

A red squirrel landed on the windowsill to scold Daemon who slowly emerged from beneath the chaise longue. As she finished pinning the braids and curly tresses, the sounds of the family stirring signalled Sabastian to crawl out from under the covers.

“Seriously, why are you always in my bed?”

Sabastian winked back and extended his front paws. And then in a moment of complete mischief; lept into the air landing with all claws into the thick black winter coat strewn across the floor at the foot of the bed. Daemon yowled and then a battle of claws and fur clouded the room.

After the battle subsided and each opponent in their respective corners, Arwen walked over to the bed to straighten the covers and fluff and place the pillows in the same configuration as the day before and the many days before that. Each pillow had its place and all the embroidery faced out to paint a picture or tell a story to any guest who entered her room.

Yellow beams of light crossed the room from the open window revealing the details of the stone floor. The silvery flecks of granite sparkled and danced reflecting diamonds on the walls.

As Arwen walked from the bed to the wardrobe, flashes of light blinded her momentarily. As she extended her hand to the knob, she heard the soft pad of feline paws hit the floor. She stood examining the choices before her. Sabastian weaved slowly between her legs, flicking his tail against the folds of her nightgown. He began to purr and press his head against her legs hoping for a touch or a scratch from her. Her extended fingers were an invitation and Sabastian stood tall on his hind legs so that his head could reach her fingertips.

The wardrobe exploded with vibrant satin and silk mingled with crushed velvet, wool, and leather. The poppy red day dress was quickly laid out upon the bed as the hunt for the winter white bolero commenced.

“Really!” exclaimed Arwen. Margaery had not returned the sequinned bolero.

“Margaery! Do you still have my cream-colored dress with the jewelled cover?” Arwen asked as she reached the bedroom door across the hall from her room.

Margaery groaned, peering out from beneath her covers. “I don’t know.”

“You borrowed it. Where is it? I hope it’s not on the floor and wrinkled.”

Arwen returned to her room and searched for her second choice. In short order, a plain black high waisted dress lay next to the red dress.

With a deep exhale the search for a third alternative dress resumed. Long delicate fingers passed between each option, separating enough to reveal the details of embroidery and colour.

Another sigh escaped tulip shaped lips as a third option lay across the red and black dresses.

This dress had never been worn. It was a gift from her parents. A symbol of their hopes and dreams for their daughter. Her usual appearance represented the strong will of a tomboy whose companions included cats, dogs, and horses. The fresh cut hay and freshly tilled soil, her favourite perfume.

The cultural refinement and education often felt like shackles. She just preferred the outdoors and the freedom felt while traversing the vast woods and fields that surrounded their home. It was expected that the house of “H” was educated; being trained in the arts, developing skills that would edify the body of The Order. The pursuit of excellence supported by her mother’s reassuring words: “Visualise your success in mastering this skill.” Skill being swapped for other studies like language and talent. Father often spoke of discipline and of self-mastery. Younger siblings played more often and had no cares.

[SEND]

“I don’t know if this is going to work…” Anna sighed deeply as she sent the beginnings of the next part to her publisher. Looking at Missy and Poh: “I know it isn’t writer’s block. It’s just that I don’t have the heart for it anymore.” She thought about the conflicts between winter and spring in her writings. She also considered that Arwen was capable of growing whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. Seasons really weren’t a thing. Especially since Arwen’s family estate was protected by a dome. “Are you ready to go to bed? I am.”

The four-legged fur babies blinked their crystalline eyes and wagged their tails as if to reassure their mom that everything was going to be okay. Anna slowly stood up from her desk and headed towards her room. Missy and Poh beat her to the room and sat patiently just inside the bedroom door, knowing that they would receive a peanut butter doggy treat. Tails began to wag as Anna reached into the cookie jar. Turning towards her loyal companions: “Good girls. Down. Wait.” The usual commands were followed by the two Siberian huskies stretched out across the floor staring at the peanut shaped cookies laying on the floor between their paws. Missy, all white with the exception of her ears that looked like they had been dipped in red paint, along with a single red racing stripe down her spine, would glance up expectantly at Anna waiting for the all clear. Missy’s sister, Poh, dressed formally in a black fur tuxedo, switched between staring at her cookie and that of Missy’s. “Okay.” Both quickly snatched up their cookies, crunching away as Anna slowly undressed and climbed into her bed.

It wasn’t really a bed. It was more like a cocoon or a sarcophagus. As she rested her head on the silk pillow, a glass covering rolled overhead, sealing Anna into an anti-gravity chamber. The familiar woosh of air signalled the completion of the hermetic seal and the introduction of an incapacitating agent containing the sweet fragrances of asutra lavender and chamomile. She would sleep weightlessly and painlessly for the next eight hours.

Thanks to Archimedes’ discovery of buoyancy and experiments by Russian physicist Pyotr Kapitza, French physicists of the Twenty-First Century had continued the study of buoyancy and vibration, discovering a new kind of buoyancy that they call "anti-gravity." Published September 2020, in the weekly British scientific journal Nature, these researchers reported that they could create a similar anti-gravity effect for buoyant objects by vibrating and levitating dense liquids in an enclosed glass chamber. This discovery, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, was instrumental in the development of the anti-gravity chamber. Truth be told, the work was so new, that when Anna was in the ICU at St. John’s Regional Medical Centre, the pod was a prototype and Anna was the guinea pig.

The method of sleeping and waking had become a ritual over the past nine months. The “pop” of the hermetic seal and a wash of oxygen began the process each morning. Missy and Poh would gently leap onto the platform as the glass enclosure rolled back, kissing and sniffing Anna’s face until her eyes opened. Most mornings, Anna would say good morning to her babies and roll out of bed.

The room was quiet, except for the gentle hum of the ceiling fan and the recently installed CADR rated High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration system. The morning salutation of “Dick”, the Plymouth Rock rooster, pierced the white noise, alerting the world that a new day was on the cusp between night and day. Anna could feel Missy and Poh pressed up against her, radiating heat across her body. No matter how hard she tried, she could not open her eyes to see or open her mouth to speak. The grey light that penetrated her eyelids indicated that the sun was behind the mountains. When Anna finally opened her eyes, she was confused and was weeping. Pain washed over her. She could feel every pin and rod in her body. And then, she was flooded with the overwhelming pain of grief and betrayal. She had lost so much. She had been robbed. And, she was expected to forgive and forget. For her, the cost was too high. A flood of tears streamed down her face and into her ears as she sobbed uncontrollably. She was broken.

When the sun finally pierced the blinds, she sat up, alerting the other two occupants. Missy and Poh gazed at each other and then at Anna. It seemed that they understood that today was going to be a bad day. They waited for Anna to get dressed and silently followed her down the hall. When they reached the back door, they looked up at Anna as if to ask: Shouldn’t we just stay indoors with you today? Anna turned the knob and opened the door and wished them a fun day, each nodding acceptance as they vanished into the depths of the orchard.

Returning to her room, Anna checked the anti-gravity controls of the Kapitza 2000 anti-gravity pod and the Kapitza structure boosters, making note of the 800 number. She shouldn’t be feeling so much pain. Even though everything looked normal, a phone call for a check-up would be necessary. The house had been retrofitted with additional anti-gravity boosters designed by Kapitza Korp. before she was released from the hospital. These boosters created a barrier from the outside world, allowing her to move about her home without assistance. She had refused in-home care and didn’t want her husband or her children to wait on her as she recovered (if she ever recovered).

[BING]

You have an appointment with Dr. Lundquist at 10:00 a.m. Be sure to step into the scanner an hour before your appointment so that the doctor has time to review your films.

[BING]

Your daughter, Lorina, will be home from college this evening.

[BING]

Your son, Marcus, will be arriving at the airport at 2:00 p.m. Send transport instructions to Syn Valet.

“Thank you, Alexa. Please silence and postpone alerts for the next hour.” Anna walked over to the oak dresser and opened the top drawer, choosing a navy blue top. After closing it, she opened the next drawer and pulled out black slacks.

“Alexa, please start shower at optimal temperature and water flow to massage pattern Delta.”

[BING]

Setting parameters. You may enter in thirty seconds.

While Anna was in the hospital, her husband had begun remodelling their home to accommodate her needs. As a general contractor, he had access to the most recent advancements in smart home technology. Including the new shower. Voice activation through Alexa was the most important component, as Anna had difficulty using her hands and moving about. And waiting was the worst part. U.5 by Moen was the best at the time and only required a few modifications to work with the Kapitza systems.

As she stepped into the shower she turned towards the mirror and examined her bruised and scarred body. She couldn’t tell which scars were from the accident and which were from the countless surgeries. Lowering her head under a warm waterfall she looked down at her feet and toes. The fresh alabaster skin stood out against the crimson nail polish her daughter had applied last weekend. Anna smiled: “The prettiest part of my body.” In her mind: And the only part that doesn’t hurt. Her family would disagree. They would often remark at how fortunate she was that the flames had not touched her face. Nor had it been cut by glass shrapnel. However, Anna could see that the pain, worry, and anxiety had taken its toll, revealing more wrinkles and grey hair.

The warm water soothed the aggravated scars that stretched across her body and the pulsing motion slowed the steady throbbing of her broken bones. Fifteen minutes of calming and soothing relief - fifteen minutes that allowed her to raise her arms and hands up to her scalp. Fifteen minutes to wash away the oil and old skin. Fifteen minutes to be alone. Fifteen minutes to remember and to relive. Fifteen minutes to be angry. Fifteen minutes to sob. Fifteen minutes to just… wish for release. The warm water slowly changed to a warm lavender current of air, drying her body and hair. As the last droplet of water evaporated, Anna stepped out of the shower and looked into the mirror once more. The usually enraged scars, glowed a baby pink.

July 31 (nine months earlier)

“I’m coming home.”

“Why? What happened?”

“It was awful. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You drove up to see your dad. Were you able to see him?”

“I’m not wanted.”

“You shouldn’t let your sisters push you away. He is your dad too.”

“I know. But I can’t do it any more. Can I talk to Lorina, real quick?”

“Mom?”

“Yes, baby. I’m here.”

“I heard dad. Are you coming home?”

“Yes, and I need you to do some things for me.”

“Okay.”

“Please log on to my computer and disable all social media platforms. I don’t want my siblings trying to get a hold of me. Or my mother. I have already put my phone on Do Not Disturb. Only you and Dad will be able to reach me.”

“Mom, what happened?”

“So much. It was awful. I will explain everything when I get home. Oh, and one more thing - I want you to take my phone and keep it when I get home.”

“Mom, are you sure you should be driving?”

“I will be fine and I will call every two hours and I will stop regularly to stretch.”

“Please be careful.”

“I will, and I will talk to you soon.”

[ASCENDING TONES]

“Hello?”

“Hi, Babe. How’s it going?”

“I just got out of the shower.”

“Is your doctor’s appointment today?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like me to conference in?”

“You can if you like.”

“I will join the call. Hey, when the kids get in tonight, do you want to go to dinner?”

“Let’s see how I am feeling when you get home.”

“Okay. Sounds good. I will see you at your doctor’s appointment.”

“Bye.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

“Bye.”

Anna took another look in the mirror and then stepped into the scanner. Detecting her presence, it began to hum and emit different colours of light. After a couple of minutes the scan was complete. The advancements in whole body scans remained surprising to Anna. She used to be a peripheral vascular technician at the county hospital. That was years before she even met her husband. At that time the ultrasound machines only took black and white images of the veins and arteries. These images had to be processed just like the films from x-ray machines. Now, it seemed that everything was in colour and in 3D. The most remarkable thing about these new body scanners was their ability to do the work of both an MRI and a CT.

Scan complete. Anna stepped out. Scan sent.

Anna reached into a basket on the wall, retrieving clean underwear and began to dress. As each foot was inserted into the legs of her black slacks she could feel the snug magnetic support growing from her ankles to her waist. It was like putting on gloves. The slacks were designed to support her broken body and to relieve pain at the injury sites. They would also make it possible for her to walk if she went outside. The same sensations occurred as she inserted her hands into the sleeves of her blouse. She would remain upright. The clothes gave Anna some semblance of normalcy and made it possible for her to avoid pitying gazes, when in public. No one would ever know how badly broken she was. Her clothes, a camouflage of the truth.

Truth. She had spent so much time denying the truth. Even her writing was a mask for what was really going on. Her stories were just a shadow of reality - a reality that had been dressed up and made palatable. What she really wanted to do was to scream at the top of her lungs and to tell the entire world that things were horrible. Human beings were selfish and deceitful. She was held together by magnets. She was a sleeping volcano that could erupt into a million fragments. She was a fault buried beneath the earth’s crust. One slight movement, and the quake would open a cavern to its molten core.

[BING]

Incoming video call from Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

“Hello Pelman.”

“Anna, what is wrong with you? You promised me more than a half-assed start…”

“I’m sorry, Pel…”

“Sorry?”

“I know. My heart isn’t in it.”

“Well, you better get it back in it.”

“Can I call you later? I have a doctor’s appointment in a few minutes?”

“Sure. I know things have been rough. But your fans… I want… I’m sorry Anna… Call me later.”

“I will. I promise.”

Looking down at her toes, Anna smiled again. So pretty. Rumbling began in the pit of her stomach. I should probably eat, she thought.

“Alexa, what is on the menu today?”

[BING]

Scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and an everything bagel with cream cheese and avocado slices.

“Thank you, Alexa.”

[BING]

Breakfast will be on the table in five minutes.

Anna, now in the living room, decided that she had some time to take care of a few things and replayed the messages from earlier.

“Alexa, please send a message to Lorina asking her what she would like for dinner tonight.”

[BING]

Complete.

“Alexa, thank you. Will you please send instructions to Syn Valet to pick Marcus up from the airport at 2:00 p.m. and to use the red Chrysler Transport?”

[BING]

Complete.

Anna turned on her computer and began scrolling through messages, stopping at one from her baby sister, Elaina. She stared at the subject line: Family Reunion: July 15 - July 18. Anna got up and walked away.

[BING]

Dr. Davin Lundquist is waiting on Video 1.

[BING]

Victor has just arrived.

“Good morning Dr. Lundquist, my husband is also on the call.”

“Good morning Mrs.Grey. How are you doing?”

“This morning was a little rough, but I’m doing okay.”

“Good, good… I have reviewed your films and would like to go over them with you and Mr. Grey. I have enabled the holo so that you can see what I am seeing.”

“Okay.”

“We will start with your organs. You will be pleased to know that your liver, spleen and kidneys have recovered nicely. We need to keep an eye on your heart as you seem to be experiencing some arrhythmia… muscle tissue … strengthening exercises … possible grafts … no residual brain damage.” The myriad of issues seemed to be the same with every appointment and Anna would tune out or only half listen. A new dimension to her personality. “Lastly, I have taken a really close look at the damage to your spine. It appears that your spinal injury has progressed. Or rather, the healing has stopped and we are beginning to see deterioration. The main injury used to be isolated to L4 and L5, however, S1 has been affected. If you look at the hologram you will see that L4-5 has a circumferential disc bulge. Severe ligamentum flavum thickening and degenerative facet arthropathy. Severe spinal canal stenosis. Mild left neural foraminal narrowing. L5-S1: Circumferential disc bulge asymmetric to the right. Mild degenerative facet arthropathy. No spinal canal stenosis. Minimal right neural foraminal narrowing.” Dr. Lundquist paused for a moment to be sure that Anna understood the condition of her back. Anna meekly smiled and Dr. Lundquist continued: “I recommend an epidural and home exercise prior to surgery. If you haven’t yet, you may begin to experience some nerve pain.”

Anna nodded, but didn’t answer. When she was laying in bed that morning she had pain all over. However, she had new pain. It was like a line of fire travelling from her hip down her leg with the most intense heat on the left side of her foot. She had also experienced an icy fire centred at her core that radiated out, filling her torso.

“Dr. Lundquist, if Anna has been isolated in an anti-gravity pod every night and stays at home, how is it that she is not healing?”

“Mr. Grey, there might be some other issues that are preventing her spine from healing. It could be that the healing nanites need to be replaced. In order to heal broken bones or teeth, nanites have to take the calcium from your existing bones. So we may need to make some changes to your diet. We should increase your intake of foods rich in calcium, such as milk. Your healing nanites are currently set to manual - which means they are activated through your mind. We may need to set the nanites to auto, allowing them to work while you are sleeping. We may need to do some screenings, tests, and scans. That is, if you feel up to it, Anna.”

“Davin, I don’t know what I want anymore.” Anna stared down at the floor and began to cry. It seemed as though that the price she had to pay was greater than she could bear. Her mind returned to the past and the events, leading her to this moment.

July 16 (nine and a half months earlier)

Anna sat next to her father’s bed as he lay sleeping. She had been warned by her sister, LeAnn, that he was really tired and that he should be left alone. She didn’t care. She was the oldest and she needed to spend time with her dad, whether he was asleep or not. Besides, the whole entire family had gathered to celebrate his 79th birthday and each of her siblings had spent countless hours by his side before she arrived. Of all the children, she should have been given priority. She lived over 1000 miles away and it took her an entire day to travel to her parents’ home. Everyone else lived locally.

Her father slowly opened his eyes and smiled at Anna and then placed his hand in hers. She knew, in that moment, that he wanted her there. The cancer that ravaged his body had taken away his voice and he could only express himself through his eyes and gestures. Anna’s heart was breaking and she longed to hear his voice. The voice that read her bedtime stories when she was little. The voice that sang songs. The voice that instructed. The voice that soothed any pain. Looking down at their hands, she remembered all the times that he had picked her up and carried her to bed. She remembered working on cars with him. And she remembered weeding the garden with him every summer. She held back the tears and smiled back at him. This memory was the most important to her because she knew that he loved her and without words they said their goodbyes. But she wasn’t ready to say goodbye. She wanted more time. She had so much she wanted to share with him. That night, after the birthday celebration, Anna expressed to Victor that she needed to return as soon as possible. Victor had agreed, and said that he would help her get back.

She did return. She didn’t get to say goodbye. She was forbidden to see her father. Her siblings told her that she was not wanted. They said horrible things to her. She cried for a whole day and then she drove home.

July 31 (nine months earlier)

Anna said goodbye to her husband and daughter before hanging up. Accelerating to 75 miles per hour, Anna set the cruise control and turned on her music app so that she could listen to music as she headed south on the I15. Her mind rehearsed the events of the previous day and night. Her siblings had conspired to exile her and to make it very clear that she was considered an interloper. Anna’s heart began to ache as she recalled hearing her own words parroted back to her. Wells had repeated comments she had made to her baby sister, Elaina, in confidence. The betrayal was so brutal. She and Elaina had been in each other’s confidence since she could remember. Elaina had looked away when Anna searched her eyes for any evidence of malice. LeAnn had brought up old wounds that Anna had spent years trying to reconcile. There was so much anger and hatred in LeAnn’s seafoam green eyes. Whereas, Gabriel’s expression was of surprise. It seemed that he had no idea that his fellow cohorts were out for blood. And Marie had sat looking smug as she agreed with everything that LeAnn and Wells had shared with the group. Anna was sobbing. Her chest heaving over the strain of the overwhelming emotion. Suddenly, Anna felt her body lunging. Clash of metal and shattering glass rang through the air. Searing pain raced through her body and then nothing.

The next day, the headlines read:

Deadly dust storm another reminder of extreme heat and drought scorching West.

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City issued multiple “significant weather” advisories in a series of tweets for central Utah, warning of the potential for half-inch sized hail, heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 55 mph in Millard and Sevier counties.

Those strong winds whipped up dust in central Utah and then the unthinkable happened: Eight people died in chain-reaction collisions on I-15 involving at least 20 vehicles. Another 10 were injured, some critically.

The next day, August 1, her father died.

While waiting for Syn Valet to return from the airport with her son, Anna sat down at the computer to write. It was difficult. The events of the past year resurfaced as patchy memories. Some commingled with ideas for her novel. She wanted to write the truth of the past year, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone. She wanted to make the offenders and contributors to her pain and loss, pay. But she wanted to honour her father. So she wrote of the events metaphorically, adding fantasy and magic. Depicting the real evils in fictitious villains and devastating natural disasters. Even the environmental dome that covered the city in her novel, was a representation of the anti-gravity field that surrounded her home. It was both a protection and a prison. A reminder of great loss.

Scene of the Earthquake / the shattered Nightjar - (will add this later)

If only they had listened to the warnings. If only he had been able to abate the disaster until after his daughter was of age. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of specialists, engineers, and scientists, the entire world would have been destroyed. The question now was how were they going to piece the world back together? Elrond knew what needed to be done and he had the power to make it happen. However, he did not have the skill or the gifts to execute the plan that had been put in place centuries ago. Rules had been broken to ensure that this plan could move forward. His family and that of his wife had blended together. There were others of different sects that had done the same. Eventually they would be able to blend all four. But they had to wait.

[BING]

Incoming video call from Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

“Hello Pelman.”

“Hello Anna. I thought I would call… you know…”

“Pelman, it’s okay. I was about to call you. I am sitting at my computer right now trying to hash out the story. And, you know me, I have to get everything just right.”

“Anna, I have been thinking about your story and everything that you have been through and thought that maybe you would like to take a break.”

“What? Wait. I am not ready to give up on this story. I have things I want to say. I have an idea and want to know what you think. Would you like to hear my ideas?”

“Sure.”

“Well, as you know, the main character is quite complex and in this novel I wanted to share the infrastructure of the society, or rather the government, and maybe a closer examination of her father and how close they are.”

“Okay…”

“It is important to understand the political infrastructure. The dynamics of which are the cause of a geological disturbance. An earthquake that causes the planet to crack apart, changing the view of the night sky for many of the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. There is also a class system that has caused unrest in the region. The main character, Arwen, is the solution to the current environmental and social issues.”

“And?”

“There is an old world government that is controlled by the elite, designated by a rigid class system. This class system prohibits certain marital alliances. Certain races are designated for certain professions. There are individuals who oppose these designations, including the main character’s father who has elite status and has a great deal of power in the government as well as in society. This man has the ability to make changes - yet he knows that these changes can not occur until his daughter reaches adulthood. His daughter has special gifts that will enable this needed change.”

“Well it sounds like you got things under control. How about you send me a couple chapters by the end of next week?”

“I can do that.”

“Well, have a great weekend and enjoy your kids.”

“Thanks Pel! Bye.”

Anna sat staring at her computer screen. Her mind began to wander back to the time spent with her dad. She got up from the desk and walked over to the mantle. Next to the picture of her dad was a cedar box in which she kept momentos. She carefully picked it up and sat down on the sofa, wrapping herself in the cobalt blue sherpa Lorina had given her.

“Alexa, please turn on the fireplace, low fire. Please play my dad’s favourite song.”

Almost heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, growin' like a breeze

Tears began to stream down her face. Oh, how she missed her father. Opening the cedar box, she began looking at pictures her mother had saved. Her favourite was of her as a baby climbing into her father’s lap as he played the guitar. The next one was of her sitting on the guitar, resting on her father’s lap. Both pictures, showing off her father’s beautiful beaming smile. Again, she knew she was loved.

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

Beneath the pictures of her and her dad was a yellowed envelope with her name scribbled in blue ink by her father’s hand. Raising the flap, she removed the note inside and smiled:

I knew you would be out in the garden today,

so I picked up some new tools and

sent them home to you.

Love,

Dad.

She continued to leaf through the items in the box and at the very bottom she uncovered a journal her father had given her to write her poems in. She flipped through the pages remembering the moments when she wrote each one - growing sadder and sadder. The last poem she wrote was the day she was told her father had died. All the pain of that loss flooded her soul and she felt like she would explode. Every word in the last poem expressing the exquisite pain that lingered even in this moment:

UNREQUITED

If it exists; it remains out of reach.

Dodging, twisting, racing, shrinking away

I had it once upon a time - true love.

Or so I thought - ripping, shredding, tearing

It left me - completely. Alone in the dark.

Believing once of Faith, Hope, Charity, Love

Virtues often lauded within sacred text.

A knight in shining armour - no, mercenary

With twin rapiers strapped across his back

My virtues stripped and laid bare - sprawling - lifeless -

Left for dead.

Stretched across the un-sodden earth;

Naked

Ashamed

Alone

And he with his unsheathed,

bloody rapiers; thrusting; carving away pieces

Taking what he owned.

Festering - fibrous cancer - all that remains

Broken - battered - beaten - barren - betrayed.

Faith: belief or trust in the unseen -

trusting love exists.

Without my shade - the rapier’s senseless sacrifice -

My compass lost -

True love out of reach - the rapier’s cost.

Broken; soul to soul, I heard your voice - a plea

An echo of my own - kindred spirit - unknown

A seed planted - kindness sprouted

An echo back to me.

What was it that you said? Or was it how you said it?

Feelings long buried sprung up - reaching - grasping

Rootless - shrivelling away.

Oh troubled heart - not free to love another

Tethered to lovelessness - longing to break free.

My soul, trapped in its cage of bones

Fingers clasped tightly - ribs aching, cracking.

Lungs restricted; laboured breathing - shaking.

You looked at me - my heart leaping from sorrow into hope

dragged back down

The pit - so dark - so isolated - lost - alone.

You draw near - I hear the ebb and flow of your breath

Your warm embrace imagined; my head resting on your chest.

You speak - I watch - curious - lips; are they soft?

Your tenderness; your caress - my broken heart - beating.

I sit staring at the rapiers on the wall - sheathed -

There they remain.

Afraid to pass them and cross the threshold

To the freedom and release;

out there; somewhere.

You, the beacon, in the darkness, leading me,

Beaconing me - shackled where I stand

And you - out of reach.

Imagined - your touch, your caress, your embrace.

Iron chains; in your place

And you - unaware.

Holding my shade.

So with the dagger drawn from between my breasts

With a single cut - I remove the pain -

rising away on ethereal wings;

Yet, you remain.

Another cut - fueled passion; flames and dies -

ash and cinder scattered across the night skies.

Yet, you remain.

Once more - grasping; your lips and hands out of reach -

cherry blossoms flung away

Yet, you remain.

Cold, unyielding steel against my flesh

A sigh escapes my untouched lips - a whispered “please”

Acquiesced, relinquished life.

Still, you remain.

I marvel at the gaping wounds, where flesh and sinew meet

Crimson beads, slowly rising

Tears flowing - washing - welling up

Love’s well-spring overflowing;

You remain.

You, my soulmate - never knowing;

Cradling my shade.

I retrace each cut a little deeper -

a little longer - stinging. Hoping to cut it all away.

Pressed against the skin - I drive the silver blade - leaving its white shadow.

Releasing; lifting - flesh falling away - beautiful scarlet lines revealed -

All that remains.

Muscles contracting and veins weeping

Through blinding tears I see.

You remain:

Forbidden, unrequited, my love.

My Shade.

“Mom. I’m home.” Marcus’s deep voice rumbled softly as he knelt close to his sleeping mother, taking her hand in his own. Anna opened her eyes and smiled up at her son. He was the spitting image of her father. They shared the same eyes, nose and chin. Their smiles were identical and even the thick crazy windblown hair.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. A little tired, I guess.”

“Would you like me to get you anything?”

“Shouldn’t that be the question I ask my son, who has travelled from Versailles to see his mother?”

“Mom, I am here for you.”

“I know.”

“Would you like to go for a walk? It is really nice outside and it will give you a chance to stretch your legs.”

“That sounds nice.”

Anna and Marcus headed out the back door to the orchard and within moments Missy and Poh came dashing up to say hello. Taking Marcus’s arm, Anna led her companions into “The Woods” - a name she had given her orchard. The trees were lush and dense. The further they walked from the house, Anna could feel her magnetic attire vibrate, working to keep her upright. Marcus turned and looked at his mother: “Is that vibration coming from you?”

“Yes, it is.” Anna smiled and started to laugh.

“Does it hurt?”

“No. It is quite comfortable. It is also quite soothing - I really like it.” After a pause: “A simple pleasure.”

“So, Lorina is coming home tonight, too?”

“Yes. Dad and I thought it would be nice to have a little family time.” Anna became thoughtfully quiet.

“Okay. Is there anything that you would like to do?”

“No. Just spend time with my kids.” They both stopped, turning to look at each other.

“Mom, you know I love you.”

“I know, son.”

“Lorina and Dad love you too.”

“I know.”

“Mom,” Marcus took in a deep breath and continued: “I am a little worried. When I walked through the door you were laying so still, and I… Mom…”

“It’s okay, Marcus. I’m not going anywhere.” Anna squeezed her son’s hand and continued walking through her orchard. “Hey, did I ever tell you why I planted all of these trees?”

“No. But I know that you love trees and that almost all of your stories have detailed passages of orchards, forests, and clearings.”

“Your grandfather would take me camping every summer. There was one camp ground that was thousands of acres with rolling hills, streams, ravenes, oaks and pines. The western border was outlined by a river that ran icy cold all year round. I wrote about it many years ago.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“This orchard is named after a short story I had entered in a contest - which I won. Anna paused and looked at her son, who was beaming. “I was thinking about some of my old stories and poems and I was wondering if you would go through them and organise them? I would like to have them printed and bound with illustrations.”

“Wow! That sounds cool.”

“I want you to illustrate the book.”

“I would be honoured.”

“When we get back to the house I will show you where everything is.”

“Sounds good.”

Fast approaching footsteps interrupted the conversation. Anna and Marcus turned to see Victor and Lorina coming up the path towards them. In moments, the four of them stood together laughing and hugging each other. It was, during this warm embrace, that Anna realised how important her family was and asked if they could return to the house .

“Alexa, please initiate a video call to Elaina Deck.” Anna waited as the screen pulsed.

“Hello?” a gasp followed by a long pause. A gaping mouth expressed: “Oh my! I’m so glad you called. I have really missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

“I am so sorry for my part. I want you to know how ashamed I feel. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“There is so much I want to share with you. Josh has a girlfriend and he is taking her …”

All my memories gather 'round her

Miner's lady, stranger to blue water

Dark and dusty, painted on the sky

Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home...

I hear her voice in the mornin' hour, she calls me

The radio reminds me of my home far away

Drivin' down the road, I get a feelin'

That I should've been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home…

Take Me Home, Country Roads - Song by John Denver

beep beep beep beep beep beep beep

ALEXA: Halo secure. beep Vitals normal and steady. beep beep

DR. LUNDQUIST: Thank you . beep Begin infusion and activate nanites.

beep beep beep beep beep beep beep

The party had been a great diversion for Arwen. She could enjoy the company of friends and not worry about what was coming next. Her mother hand hinted that there would be a conversation after the party. Even though she didn’t know the reason for this meeting, she knew that it would be serious because her mother had made a point that the conversation would occur after the last guest had left for the evening………..

Short Story

About the author

Rebecca A Hyde Gonzales

I started writing when I was about eight years old. I love to read and I also love to create. As a writer and an artist, I want to share the things that I have learned and experienced. Genres: Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and history.

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