EXCERPT: DESCENT (Birthrite Series, 1)
Contributor
Written by
Tiffany Apan
March 2014
Contributor
Written by
Tiffany Apan
March 2014

Excerpt from the first book in my series, due out in May of 2014.

BOOK ONE, DESCENT

PART 1: 

HECTOR’S CAVE

June of 1844

Tuxpan, Mexico

1

The serenity of early evening surrounded Hector as he walked along the shore. He reveled in feeling the ocean’s tide swallowing his bare feet as he headed toward the secluded area pocketed at the other end of the beach. It was a place only he knew of. A place never visited by anyone other than him and Samuel.

Even at sixteen, Hector thrilled at the idea of a secret retreat that was all his own. Most young men his age were long passed such things, but Hector was not like his peers and finding common ground with someone was rare for him.

He still questioned whether he had found the place or if the place had found him. The discovery was made four years ago just after sunrise on the morning after his twelfth birthday while he was walking the coastline. Amidst the exquisite surroundings of sand, water, and endless sky, a large rock cluster that Hector never recalled seeing before sat in a far corner on the coast. 

Strange, he had thought while watching the morning tides slap at the formation’s boulders. How is it I never noticed this before?

Unable to take away his gaze, he felt a draw toward the area. As he stood observing the mysterious cluster, a sudden low vibration from somewhere deep within the earth trembled beneath his feet. Panic had risen within him as he initially assumed an earthquake, but his fear was quickly subsided. The more he listened, the more the rumbling seemed to be a call of something reaching out to him from those rocks.

Perhaps it was Hector’s fascination with the unknown that piqued his curiosity, or maybe it was the impression that whatever lay beyond the rock formation was indeed calling out to him. Either way, it was enough cause for him to give in to whatever power beckoned him. He was cautious in his first approach, especially when climbing up and over the boulders. Upon reaching the other side, he found himself staring into the mouth of an underground cavern.

His heart palpitated with excitement as he made his way down to the bottom. He stood at the cave’s opening, delighting in the view of the sun’s rays trickling in through crevices and had spent that entire morning exploring (and lost track of time in the process). Hector had returned home five hours later to find out that his parents were out searching for him after he failed to show up for breakfast.

Miguel and Inez de Fuentes reprimanded their son for missing not only breakfast with the family, but also the school lessons with his four siblings and their governess. They confined their son to the house for the remainder of that week. During that time, Hector dreamt about the cave.  In these dreams, he traveled deep into the tunnels, being led to worlds that were not his own.  He saw people whom he had never met but felt a certain familiarity with (one of those individuals was an American boy his age he would come to know as Samuel). He didn’t know what the dreams meant at the time, but his need to return to the cave grew in strength, and he hoped it would still be there when he was able to.

Another unique aspect to Hector was his ability to see and hear things that no one else could. This was a talent he kept to himself, aware of the possibility of being rendered insane should anyone find out. 

When his punishment was finally over at the end of that week, he hurried back to the area he had found the cave in, hoping his experience wasn’t something imagined or an instance in which the cave would appear to him only that one time. Part of him felt silly for thinking such things, and the coastlines of Mexico had more than their share of glorious caverns. But this particular cave was…different. Unique.

Now, four years later, it remained a place for Hector to come and be alone, think, read, and watch the ships in the distance sailing toward ports in Mexico and America.  It belonged to him; a place only he (and Samuel) knew of. He had come to know and appreciate what it truly was, and through that understanding, a deep bond between Hector and his cave formed, one he never experienced before with anyone.

Hector wasn’t ashamed of being a loner. He did have friends his age and got on well with his siblings, though he treasured his time alone and was grateful for his cave. He would often joke to himself of wanting to be interred there following his death (whenever that would end up being). But the more he thought on it, the more he realized that that was exactly what he wanted.  Given the circumstances, he wasn’t sure if such a thing would be possible, but if it was, he would see it done.

On this eve before summer’s solstice, Hector arrived at the rock formation that housed his cavern. Evening tides crashed against the bottom of the boulders as he made his way up and over. The cave’s mouth was there, open and waiting for him. Hector smiled, as though he were greeting a close friend. He turned to sit on one of the boulders and focused his gaze to the ocean. All of eternity was at his feet. In the distance, a ship sailed from a port and out to sea before disappearing into the infinite blue.

Hector shut his eyes, taking in the sounds of churning waves as he welcomed the salty sea air on his face. They began coming to him. The voices. Those from his dreams (and Samuel is among them).

He allowed their essences to permeate his being, and two boys began materializing in front of him; one was about ten or eleven years of age and the other appeared to be between eighteen and twenty. They were brothers from a slave village in Romania, and that was all Hector knew of them.

He could see them, running toward a thick, dark forest…

2

…as a pale waxing crescent moon provided just enough light in a black, starless sky. It was just passed midnight in Transylvania near the Romanian-Hungarian border. Nicolae Ganoush and his younger brother, Sebastian, were on borrowed time. The older boy knew a manhunt would ensue, and officials in neighboring countries would be alerted to be on the lookout for “two gypsy slaves.” Anton Alexanderscu would not cease his pursuit until he had the young man’s neck stretched in a hangman’s noose. At nineteen, Nicolae was wanted. For murder and treason.

The boys felt their way through the brush, keeping their steps at an even pace despite Sebastian’s protests (which were met with Nicolae ordering him to shut his mouth). Nicolae’s plan involved traveling into the morning without stopping for sleep until the following night, and even then they could not afford to be still for very long.

Sebastian held back tears as they ventured into the dark forest. The younger boy did his best at keeping up with his older brother and was unaware of the incidents that occurred just moments earlier. He hadn’t seen much of Nicolae that evening, and the boy had been long asleep when Nicolae barged into the hut and yanked him up from his cot. Sebastian immediately noticed the blood on Nicolae, and asked his brother for an explanation to which having to leave immediately was the only reply.

The younger boy shuddered as ghostly clouds floated passed the moon, their only light source. To him, they were playing an antagonistic game of taunting the boys with small amounts of light before enveloping them in darkness. One time and then again.

Nicolae grabbed Sebastian’s hand as they continued deeper into the thick, black brush. 

“Keep close,” the older boy whispered.

They trudged on, hearing only the soft sounds of grass and leaves beneath their boots.  The woods surrounded them, dark and endless. Anything or anyone could hide here.  Hide before they would jump out and eat us!

Sebastian forced the frightening thought from his mind, and the sound of running water brought him a small but instant amount of relief. It signaled their arrival at a creek in a clearing. The flowing water over rocks and branches was a soothing contrast to the heated tension radiating from Nicolae.

The moon emerged from behind the clouds, casting its pale beam onto the patch of land where the boys stood. Sebastian watched his brother remove the bag he had slung across his torso and set it down on the bank. The younger boy was grateful for the stop, however brief it would be. He also hoped Nicolae had food in his bag; the haze of sleep had left him, but the pains of hunger grew.

Nicolae knelt down by the stream and began to roughly scrub at the drying blood on his hands and forearms.

Blood that is still wet…

Sebastian felt the skin on his arms prickle as he watched the dark red liquid leave his brother’s skin and fade into the clear water.  What happened? Why does he have blood all over him? But before the boy’s thoughts could wander any further, the empty pit in his stomach made itself known. He stepped cautiously toward his brother.

“Nicolae…”

“What,” Nicolae replied without looking up. He had removed his bloodstained shirt and was dipping it down into the water.

Sebastian caught hints of his brother’s anxiety as he worked to remove as much of the blood as possible from his clothes and skin. The boy took in a breath and said, “I’m really hungry.”

“Well you’re going to have to wait!” Nicolae growled.

Sebastian flinched at his brother’s angry tone. The hot tears that had been in limbo since being wrenched from sleep moments earlier formed at the rims of his eyes. He turned to face the other direction, not wanting his older brother to see them. All he wanted was a scrap of something to eat and for Nicolae to tell him what was going on.

I am not a silly child! he thought as two tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I am sorry,” the boy heard Nicolae say.

Sebastian wiped his eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand before looking back. In the moonlight, he could see the genuine remorse in Nicolae’s eyes. 

“Look, I will allow you to eat soon. We just need to go a little further while the moon is out and there is still light.”

Sebastian slowly nodded and said, “Thank you.” 

Nicolae gave his brother a sad smile and pulled his damp shirt back on, covering the scars that crossed his upper body.

He got most of the blood out, Sebastian noted, but where did all of it come from?

Nicolae picked up his bag and said, “Come. Just another mile and we will stop to eat. I promise.” 

Sebastian gave his brother a grateful smile, one that Nicolae met with an expression dark and far away. It sent chills across the skin on the little boy’s arms.

Nicolae turned away, carefully slung the bag over his torso, and proceeded walking along side the creek. Sebastian followed, trying keep up with his brother’s quick, long strides.

There was a strange tension present that Sebastian would swear had never been there before. He snuck the occasional glimpse at his brother. What he saw in Nicolae’s eyes troubled him. He saw pain among a mélange other unreadable emotions.

What is it, Nicolae? the boy wanted to say.  Please tell me!  I swear I’ll understand!

He was about to give up attempting to reach his brother when something else suddenly occurred to him.  Eloisa! 

More confusion filled the boy.  Why isn’t she with us?

He turned his eyes up toward his brother, hoping for an answer to at least one question he had. “Where are we going?”

Nicolae hesitated, as if considering how he should answer Sebastian’s question.  Finally, he uttered out, “America.”

Sebastian’s eyes widened.  America?!

He stared at Nicolae, who kept his gaze forward, avoiding eye contact.

Sebastian frowned. “But…what about Eloisa?  Why isn’t she coming with us?” Something definitely was not right. The boy was certain.

Nicolae came to an abrupt halt at the mention of her name. Sebastian thought he could see a glimmer of tears forming at the rims of his brother’s eyes. Nicolae tightly shut them, gripped the strap of his bag and said, “I would rather not speak of her now.”

A pronounced strain filled the voice of the older boy, but before anymore could be said, Nicolae turned and hurried down the bank, leaving Sebastian to once again jog to keep up with him.

Nicolae looks very sad and Eloisa isn’t coming with us…we left so quickly and we are going to America… Nicolae was all bloody…the blood on Nicolae…there was blood on Nicolae and Eloisa is not coming with us…

Chills returned to Sebastian’s skin as possibilities of what might have happened swarmed his mind. He had always had an active imagination, and there were times when the frightful images and scenarios his mind formed seemed almost real. Too real. 

Sebastian was jarred from his thoughts at the nearby sound of a branch snapping. He turned to see that Nicolae had also heard it. He whispered for Sebastian to get behind him and withdrew his dagger from the sheath around his waist; it’s silvery glisten caught in the moonlight. Silver…with red…and what looks like pieces of meat…? Sebastian’s heart raced as his focus fixed on the rusty red chunks that caked the blade. His attention was thwarted when a shadow emerged out of the brush.

The brothers watched with nervous anticipation, but those feelings disintegrated when the shadow (and apparent source of the snapping) was revealed as a deer.

The animal regarded the two boys with large, curious eyes. As Nicolae lowered his dagger, the creature turned and scampered down the bank in the same direction the Ganoush brothers were headed.

Nicolae’s eyes fell to the stains on the dagger’s blade and darted toward his younger brother. Sebastian’s breath caught in his throat as Nicolae’s dark eyes blazed in the moonlight, communicating a silent but blatant warning to not question him any further.

Nicolae quickly removed a cloth from his bag and wiped the blade clean before returning it to the sheath.  He dipped the stained cloth back into the creek, and wrung out the excess liquid before returning it to his bag. Nicolae then nodded to Sebastian, and the boys resumed their quick pace in the direction the deer had gone.

They would barely go another mile before the ghost clouds returned, blocking out the moonlight and leaving the boys in the dark.

Well, at least I can eat now, Sebastian thought.

And Nicolae did let him eat.

3

Hector sensed the anxiety, tension, and fear of the two Roma boys. The older boy’s anguish pulsed through Hector’s veins as did his struggle to put on a brave front for his younger brother. There was a protective nature the older one had toward the younger, a feeling of responsibility for the safety of the little boy. An overpowering sense of loss was also present, one that came with a cold emptiness that threatened to consume the elder of the two.

It was almost too much for Hector to bear, and he was relieved when a bright warmth faded in to replace the oppressive essence of Nicolae Ganoush.

A young Irishman far north of Hector (close to the border of Illinois and the Iowa Territory) excreted anxiety, but it differed from what came out of Nicolae.

It was beautiful early evening on the prairie near the border of Illinois, much like the one Hector simultaneously enjoyed in Mexico…

4

…as eighteen-year-old Jonathan Blake rode his black stallion across the frontier of the American Midwest. Jonathan had finished his day of work for the town Blacksmith who employed him and his father, Charles. He had quickly eaten his supper before excusing himself from the table before so he could retrieve his six-year-old horse, Samson from the family’s barn. His mother, Emma, was slightly taken aback by her son’s sudden departure. The rest of the family had barely finished their own supper, and she still had yet to bring out the blueberry pie she made for dessert. But Charles and Emma granted their eldest son’s request. It had been a longer work day than normal, and Emma knew how much her son loved taking his horse out for long rides before nightfall. 

The Blakes were working class immigrants from Ireland’s Galway area. Charles had brought his wife and (then) two children to America with the intention of obtaining land near the Iowa territory. As Catholics, the family was unable to openly proclaim and practice their faith, and with evidence of a forthcoming plague slowly starting to form throughout the country, Charles and Emma foresaw nothing but more poverty and persecution, not only in their future, but in that of five-year-old Jonathan and two-year-old Brendan. Of course, they knew that America held no guarantees, but both were willing to take a chance for the future of their sons and any other children to be had. With heavy hearts, Charles and Emma made the decision to leave the land of their births.

The Blakes landed at a New Jersey seaport in the autumn of 1832. If one were to ask Jonathan and Brendan of the boat ride from Ireland, neither could recall much. But one memory that Jonathan did have was of getting off the ship as he clutched his father’s hand. His mother held Brendan as she walked beside them.

It was both overwhelming and exciting for little Jonathan as he observed all the other passengers filing off passed him and his family before taking in their new surroundings. He was a curious child, and could hardly get enough of everything happening around him. He was especially in awe of how different the new country seemed from the family’s native Ireland, and even had a few vague recollections of the Immigration building.

Upon their arrival, Charles had only enough money to provide his family with the most basic necessities as they stayed in a hostel in New York City. After struggling to find work, he was finally met with good fortune when James Livingston agreed to hire him at Livingston Publishing.

Within a year of their arrival, Charles and Emma welcomed a daughter, Frances (or “Frankie” as family and friends would call her), into the world. The Blakes were thrilled with the new addition and considered the little girl a wonderful blessing. But with one more mouth to feed, obtaining land out west seemed a far greater challenge than before. There was even consideration of a permanent stay in New York.

Despite the possible setback, the devoutly religious family accepted being thankful for the blessings they did have rather than covet more. Along with having a Catholic parish to attend, the Blakes also found an unlikely friend in the very wealthy James Livingston. James even offered Charles a better paying position shortly after his month-long trial period and helped them with obtaining housing more suitable than the hostel—therefore giving Emma a more comfortable setting when she gave birth to a son named Isaiah three years following.

After five years in New York, the Blakes were able to purchase their land out west.  Rachel, the youngest child of Charles and Emma, was born on the new land.

Eight years had passed since the move to Illinois and began living in the farmhouse that Charles had built with his own hands along with some help from the locals. Jonathan knew had much to be thankful for, including the privilege of riding the open terrain with the late afternoon sun warming him. It was indeed a much loved pastime for Jonathan, despite the risks of the frontier. He had come to know the area well but there was always new uncharted territory to discover, and that was what he enjoyed the most. But on this particular evening, he was returning to a place where, two days ago, he had found what he considered to be a new treasure. The greatest he would ever find.

Be still, my beating heart, he thought as he anticipated the possibility of seeing her again. 

He gently nudged Samson, quickening the horse’s pace.  If there was such a thing as love at first sight, Jonathan had felt it.

“Please, Lord,” he prayed aloud, “let her come back to me…”

He nudged Samson again, hurrying the horse along. Time was not something he could afford to lose.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw the familiar canopy of trees up ahead. The heavily wooded trail seemed almost out of place from its surroundings, which had been what piqued his curiosity in the first place. But after he and Samson turned into the mysterious patch, Jonathan saw the most beautiful girl he ever laid eyes on walking up the trail toward him, singing softly to herself, a sound he would never tire of playing in his mind over and over again.

As a light wind from the east tousled his collar-length dark brown hair, the fantasy of pulling her close to him and kissing her full, lovely mouth played through his mind. His groin tightened as he imagined her warm, honey-colored skin, delicate features, and the petite figure underneath her deer-skin garments.

He was slightly surprised at the affect this young woman had on him. As a young man of eighteen, he had begun to seek out a potential wife to court. There were plenty of girls in the town and neighboring areas whom Jonathan found to be quite beautiful and very charming. He also was never without a shortage of girls vying for his attention, but none had ever made him feel the way she had made him feel…

Jonathan pulled on the reigns, slowing Samson to a halt in front of the young woman. She had ceased her singing, and regarded him with dark, inquiring eyes. His heart pounded as he allowed his gaze to slowly travel from her moccassained feet to her silky mane of black hair. She appeared a couple of years younger than he was, possibly sixteen years of age, and Jonathan figured her to be from the nearby Dakota Sioux tribe.

I have never seen such beauty before, he thought.

Jonathan observed his surroundings. He understood the frontier held potential dangers, but somehow, he felt he was safe here. In an attempt to put her at ease, he masked his own nerves and offered her a friendly smile that was met with apprehensiveness.

“Please, lass,” he said. “My intention is not to hurt you.”

The girl remained silent but did relax her stance.

He slowly dismounted Samson and hooked the horse’s reigns to a strong branch on the closest tree. When he turned back to her, their eyes locked—her near black to his grayish-blue. The evening’s light wind carried some strands of her hair. Jonathan could feel the world around him fading until he only existed with her on that covered path. As his took him toward her, visions of them together in a paradise with no barriers between them burned his mind’s eye.

Can I take you away to find the Garden of Eden? To find our Heaven together? he thought.

She stood frozen in her place as he closed the distance between them. Jonathan stood before her, the two of them close to touching as he struggled with the urge to lift her up into his arms and claim her lips.

He drew in a breath and opened his mouth to speak again, but before he was able to say another word, she jumped back and ran down the trail.

“Please! Don’t run away,” he called after her, but she had already disappeared from the path into the field she came from, leaving Jonathan alone on the trail with Samson.

A strong wanting to go after her pulsed in every fiber of his being, but he was able to resist. Questions of whether the incident had been imagined or if the lovely young girl had been nothing more than an angel sent from Heaven for only a torturous minute permeated him. He moved with heavy steps down in the direction she had gone, staring out to the field she had run in to…

Jonathan had returned to the trail over the two evenings following his encounter with the young Sioux woman.

I have to see her again…that is not a girl one can just forget. Perhaps this time I can somehow convince her to not run away again.

He waited for her each time until dark, only to return home without any appearance of her and an overwhelming emptiness inside. Even Samson seemed to feel his master’s disappointment; the stallion’s steps had slowed, dragging as Jonathan rode him back to the barn.

Jonathan had spent those two nights lying in bed, staring out at the stars in the sky as he imagined her asleep in her village.

“I hope your dreams tonight are sweet ones,” he whispered, wondering if somehow his message would find its way to her. And that I am with you there, he wanted to add but stopped himself, not wanting to try his luck.

His own mind drifted over to the wooded path, where he saw himself laying with her, holding her to him as they drifted into sleep. He felt her sweet, soft breath on his chest. Their bodies were intertwined, their bare skin touching after knowing one another in the most intimate way one could know a lover. In his mind, she had given him the most precious gift a woman could give to a man, and he hoped that, somehow, he would be that man for her. He knew his desire to court and marry a Native girl came with risks, but they were risks he was willing to take.

On this eve of the summer solstice, he returned for a third attempt. He rode Samson over to the trail, infatuated and unaware of two Roma boys on the other side of the world. Unaware that Nicolae Ganoush—a young man only a year older than he was—and his brother Sebastian—the same age as Jonathan’s own brother, Isaiah—ran through a dark forest with barely anything to their names. As they stopped at the creek so Nicolae could wash away the blood that covered him, Jonathan halted Samson at the trail and surveyed the area for the girl of his desire. He nudged Samson down the path as the Ganoush boys followed the creek toward the Romanian-Hungarian border. The three each had a purpose for their movement.

Nicolae and Sebastian increased their pace along the creek as Jonathan slowed Samson while watching for the one who had captured his heart. Samson was brought to another halt as Nicolae stopped to give Sebastian the food break he had promised. As the former Rom slaves took that brief, sweet moment to eat some stale bread and drink a little water from Nicolae’s flask, the Irishman from the American Midwest felt his heart leap when he saw her. She had returned and was walking up the path, singing softly to herself as she had been doing two days prior. The girl stopped midway when she noticed him, but then continued to where he and Samson waited for her.

“Come to me, my sweet lass,” he whispered. “You have no need to be afraid of me.”

She arrived where he was, standing in front of him as he offered a warm (though nervous) smile.

“Hello,” he said.

The girl winced a little, and he almost expected her to run away again. But her lips turned up into a shy smile, a site Jonathan melted at. He watched her lift a small hand to pet Samson and wondered what it would be like to have that hand touching him.

He drew in a breath and dismounted the stallion, as he had done two evenings ago. The girl paused, her eyes darting back up to him.

“Please do not run away, my love.” The words poured out from Jonathan like a gushing waterfall. “I am a man of honor and I mean you no harm.”

The girl’s eyebrows rose and Jonathan cringed at the recognition of calling her ‘his love’ when he had no right to do so. Panic rose from his core as he feared offending her.

His heart was pounding as he anticipated her turning to leave him for good this time. But the girl rested her facial muscles, and brought the hand she used to pet Samson to the center of her chest.

“Kimimela,” she said, her voice echoing the light breeze that flowed around them.

Jonathan swallowed and took a tentative step toward her. “Is that who you are, lass?”

The girl studied him as one trying to comprehend words. He was aware that the Native tribes had their own languages and wondered if she was able to understand him at all.

Finally (and to his relief), the girl nodded.

“Kimimela…” he repeated. “That is your name.”

She nodded again, this time with more confidence.

He let out the breath he had been holding. “My name is Jonathan.”

“Jonathan?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said as a wide smile spread over his lips.

Kimimela turned her eyes toward the ground. “I like your voice,” she said, and peered back up at him.

Jonathan felt his cheeks flush at her compliment of his Irish brogue. He cleared his throat and asked her, “Would you like to walk with me, Kimimela?”

Her face brightened as she nodded. “What is your horse’s name?” she asked as Jonathan took hold of the stallion’s reigns.

“Samson,” he replied.

“Han, khola Samson,” she said soothingly while patting the horse’s nose.

Jonathan watched his horse respond favorably to the gesture. He had no understanding for what she just said, but to him it was among the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard.

His heart raced as he watched Kimimela and Samson interact with one another. He could tell Samson was already fond of her.

When she pulled her hand away, he asked, “Forgive me, but may I ask what you said to him?”

“I told him hello,” she replied. “And I called him a friend.”

Jonathan and Kimimela gazed at each other for another moment before walking side by side with Samson trailing behind them. Of all the things Jonathan was thankful for, meeting her was among those he treasured most.

While Jonathan Blake became a young man wanted by a girl with whom he would share a great love, Nicolae was a man wanted by the Romanian Law Enforcement. And the love that would develop between Jonathan and Kimimela was one that Nicolae had once shared with a young woman called Eloisa. Now a distant memory.

5

The attraction between the Irishman and the American Native girl was evident in their nervous conversation and glances at one another as they walked together down the secluded path.

Secluded…just like my cave…Hector thought.

He could faintly hear the pleasant sounds of their voices as Jonathan resisted his longing to hold her hand. All initial unease between the two had evaporated.

A casual onlooker might guess the couple had known one another for far longer than two days; they seemed destined for one another...

The image of Jonathan and Kimimela left Hector and in their place, a quaint American town in New York appeared. A place Hector knew. Samuel’s family stayed here on holidays...

6

Plains, New York, United States

The Livingstons were among the oldest, most prominent families and founders of the American Union, having made a permanent settlement during the mid 18th century. Some had contributed to drafting the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and were among the first in the aristocracy of the Colonies, owning large portions of the land surrounding the Hudson River. Many in the Livingston bloodline held prominent positions in politics, including those of Chancellor and mayor. Others practiced law as highly respected lawyers and judges. It was typical for a Livingston to follow in the footsteps of the predecessors, but James Henry Livingston would be among those paving a slightly different direction with his inheritance. 

James was born in America during the first colonizing. As a boy, he was taught by private tutors along with his five siblings (as blue-blood children typically were). Most of these school lessons left a young James fighting to stay awake, though he did excel in Science and Literature, two subjects he developed a strong passion for over the years.

In his teens, he attended a prestigious secondary school before being accepted at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusets. At the request of his parents, an eighteen-year-old James took on a major in Business Law.

He did well in his studies, despite the major not being his preference. Being a Livingston came with the high societal expectations. During his second semester, he pledged the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. The organization had a placed emphasis in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and therefore allowed James an outlet to indulge in his true passions.

In his final year at the University, fate smiled favorably on him when he met eighteen-year-old Samantha Jo DeWitt at a party hosted by his fraternity. Like the Livingstons, the DeWitts were part of high society and had ancestry in England and Holland. Samantha’s parents had given James their approval of his courting their daughter, and so he remained in Cambridge for the year following his graduation in order to pursue the relationship. On Christmas of 1816, a twenty-two year old James formally proposed marriage to a nineteen-year-old Samantha with Lord DeWitt’s blessing. The wedding was set for the summer of 1818 and shortly after, the newlyweds moved to New York where James began practicing law.

The first few years were filled with futile attempts for children, but in the spring of 1825 James gave up practicing Law and opened Livingston Publishing as Samantha gave birth to their eldest son, Jesse Robert Livingston. Three years later, another named Samuel James was born.

Livingston Publishing’s main offices were in New York City, and a branch in the recently founded town of Plains was in progress and just short of an hour from the city.  As one of the town’s founder’s, James oversaw building the town hall, a schoolhouse, and other key establishments in the area. The project he favored most was the new library. The Plains Public Library opened to the public in 1832, the same year of the Blakes’ arrival in America.

Four years later, Lawrence Henry Livingston had entered the world as the youngest child of James and Samantha. In the year of the youngest Livingston’s birth, James had reserved land in the new Plains for building his family a holiday-weekend home. The two-story house was built on the large field that stretched back toward forestland and covered the Appalachian Mountains expanding into the Northeastern part of Pennsylvania. Over the years, James and his family had found it to be a peaceful retreat from the city. They traveled out there often, occasionally inviting along friends such as the Blakes and Flemings.

As Hector concentrated, he saw Samuel’s father seated in a carriage that headed toward the house in Plains. James’s forty-nine years had been very kind to him. His face was only slightly aged with fine lines that creased his eyes and mouth.  His forehead and brow had furrowed expression lines that distinguished him, and the faintest touches of gray peppered his reddish-brown hair. Even the younger women were attracted to him, and a few brazen ones had made suggestive advances in hopes that he would take her as his mistress. Such a practice was not uncommon among many men of James’s pedigree, but he was an exception to the rule of his boorish peers and chose to keep his devotion to his wife. Though he did love having Samantha’s company, he also enjoyed the occasional solitary carriage ride.

On this particular evening following a rather stressful work week, James traveled out from the city alone and savoring the silence. The portfolio case in his lap contained paperwork he considered urgent, concerning new growths within Livingston Publishing, additions to the library, funding for the orphanage that his good friends Cedric and Margaret Fleming were building, and a letter to one of his dearest of friends, Charles Blake. 

His mind wandered, lulled by the rhythm of the horse’s hooves clomping on the road as it pulled the carriage. Every so often, the call of a crow or nighthawk from somewhere in the distance could be heard. It all had a near hypnotic effect on him…

“Sir?”

James wrenched to attention, finding the carriage at a stand-still in front of the holiday house. The coachman, Bradley, stood holding the carriage door open as he awaited James’s exit.

“Oh…my apologies, Bradley,” James said. “Do allow me a second.”

“Of course, Master Livingston,” the coachman replied.

As James rose, a sudden wave of nausea passed through him.

Concern filled Bradley’s bluish-green eyes. “Forgive me for asking, but are you quite well, sir?”

James looked at the young, light-haired man and said, “Yes. Yes, Bradley…I am quite all right, thank you. I suppose the carriage ride caused me to drift a little.” He shook away the last of his dreamstate and exited the carriage.

“My lord,” Bradley said with a small bow as James’s boots landed on the dirt road in front of the house. 

James responded with a clipped nod. “Safe travels back. I shall require a carriage to the city on the morrow’s evening. Seven ‘o’ clock, to be precise.”

“Yes, Master Livingston,” Bradley replied. “Will there be anything else before my departure?”

“No. Thank you, Bradley. You are relieved for the night. The lady of the house and the boys have our servants in the home should they be in need of anything.”

“Very well then, my lord. I shall return at your requested time on the morrow. Have a pleasant night, Master Livingston,” Bradley said, and returned to the carriage.

James stood at the side of the road, gazing at the top window of the dark two-story house as Bradley and the carriage faded down the road. The still quiet of this area always left him in awe—and, as of recent, unnerved.

A breeze traveling west lifted his cloak as he started up the pathway to the front door.  He had only gone halfway when he felt the need to stop and observe his surroundings.  James looked ahead, squinting while studying the distant woods. An offsetting feeling crawled in through him, one he recognized. It was a creeping feeling that he was not alone, the feeling he was being watched by someone he could not see but could certainly see him.

He was jolted when, in his periphery, a small figure ran across the field toward the woods. He turned quickly in the respected direction, hoping to perhaps see one of the local children, but the field lay open and empty. 

James let out a breath and began massaging his temples. Perhaps I do need a holiday. A real one…

The still quiet was interrupted by a mournful howling from a place far off in the woods. James froze, as it was unlike anything he ever heard. He hurried up the remainder of the path, making certain his key was ready to unlock the door. As he shut himself inside, he felt great relief. He regained his composure, grateful no one was around to see how anxious he was, and lit the oil lamps in the foyer and sitting room. His study was on the second floor, and he made his way up.

James entered the room and placed his portfolio on top of the desk. He removed the documents, organizing them into neat piles, and sat down ready to focus his mind on work, starting with the Fleming Orphanage. He took up his pen and began reading over one of the forms. Only a few sentences in, the paper’s lettering started to blur. James attempted to ignore it, but the harder he tried pushing through, the more bothersome it was. He gave when the pains of a severe headache took over.

James slammed his pen down and brought his hands to his face, waiting for the throbbing to subside. When the pain had dulled a little, he lifted his head and shifted his eyes over to the liquor cabinet.

A drink…he thought. I could use a drink.  Yes.  Perhaps that will help…

He rose from his chair, grasping the edge of the desk, and slowly walked to the cabinet. He took out a bottle of brandy with an appropriate glass, and poured in the dark liquid. He swirled it absently before taking a first sip. Under normal circumstances, this would have been enough to relieve any discomfort, but nothing could erase her from his mind.  The image of the young girl he had encountered only a week ago was seared into his mind. 

Now, James Livingston was a man one would consider reasonable and logical (a sane man). While he attended the Presbyterian church with his wife and sons every Sunday, a passion for science—along with being a self-proclaimed Agnostic—compelled James to seek out explanations viable to him, and hardly entertained much outside what was able to be seen, heard, and felt by the five physical senses. Therefore, one can only imagine the pains he was taking to attempt an explanation for what he had seen up at the Nathaniel Fleming Orphanage property a week ago. The property was not far from the Livingston vacation home, and he was considering going up there.

To show I am not going mad…that there is reasonable cause for what I saw in that room…

In the dim light of the study, he raised the glass to his lips, once again taking the sweet, warm liquid into his mouth. As the brandy trickled down his throat, his thoughts went to her.  The small, dark-haired girl. 

A week prior to this night, James and Samantha had gone with Cedric, Margaret, and the Flemngs’ ten-year-old daughter, Maxine, to the property after having dined together. James was quite fond of the Flemings, knowing Cedric since their days as schoolmates and fraternity brothers at Harvard. Despite being four years apart, the two became fast friends and remained so ever since.

Cedric and Margaret began their courtship in secondary school and were married following Cedric’s graduation. Afterward, they moved into a house in New York, not far from the Livingstons. To James and Samantha, the Flemings were neighbors and friends, extending their help in any way possible, including with the orphanage Cedric and Margaret were opening. James had been up to the property a few times to oversee the progress. Seeing Cedric and Margaret in such good spirits made the project worthwhile. The tragic death of their young son, Nathaniel, five years ago had had a devastating affect on them, and the construction of the orphanage, along with their daughter Maxine, seemed to give them a sense of purpose again.

That previous Friday, Cedric had wanted to show James one of the newly finished buildings meant to house the kitchen, dining hall, some classrooms, a small library (that Cedric insisted on naming after James), and dormrooms for the class instructors. The kitchen and dining hall were on the first floor with the classrooms and library on the second. The third and fourth floors held rooms and living quarters for the class instructors living on the property during the schoolyear.  It was almost complete, only in need of furnishing…

Upon their arrival that evening after a dinner at the country club both families were members of, James had wanted to have a look around on the building’s floors. He excused himself, leaving Samantha, Cedric, and Margaret to finish their coffee in the dining hall. Little Maxine ate a bowl of ice cream, appearing restless and bored as the adults engaged in seemingly endless chatter about a wonderful, young, twenty-five-year-old school instructor by the name of Christian Andrews who would be teaching English at the orphanage. With a lantern in hand, James started up the stairs.

The voices of Cedric, Margaret, and Samantha were heard faintly as he spent a considerable amount of time on the second and third floors, peering into all the rooms and feeling quite pleased about agreeing to help sponsor the orphanage. He then went up to the fourth floor, repeating the routine of looking into the rooms and finally coming to room 410 in the middle of the hall. As he was turning to leave the room and head on to the next, the flame in his lantern flickered out. He looked toward the window, expecting to see it open thus making way for a draft.

It was shut and latched.

Strange, he thought, surveying the room in an attempt to place the draft, but there was no sign of any opening.

James dismissed it, thinking perhaps the lantern had simply run out of oil. He decided to return to the first floor, figuring he had seen all he needed to.

The fourth floor was cloaked in evening shadow, but enough light still streamed in through the windows for James to make his way back down the hall. I just need to be cautious in the stairwell…

Upon reaching the doorway, he felt a small vibration, followed by low rumbling beneath the floorboards.

“An earthquake?  Here?”

His immediate thought was of getting down to Samantha. He made it out to the hall, but the rumbling grew stronger. It was enough for him to stumble backward into the room, grasping the door frame as he tried to focus on how he was going to make his way downstairs. As he struggled, the temperature in the room cooled and the air inside thinned. As the quaking stilled, a new scent filled the area.

Tobacco?

Despite his years of spending Wednesday evenings in the cigar filled gentlemen’s club, the odor overwhelmed James to the point of choking. As the veil of tobacco smoke lifted, deafening, unearthly, and ghoulish sounds he could not even begin to place assaulted his ears.

“What the devil…?” he demanded through gritted teeth, pressing his hands over his ears.

He turned around to see shapes materializing, shapes of a bed and a desk.

James shut his eyes tightly, thinking surely this was the evening shadows playing tricks with his eyes in the midst of a small earthquake. Finally, the ghastly sounds faded out along with the tobacco smoke and the quaking in the floor.

James counted to ten and opened his eyes, expecting to see an empty room. But instead, he stood in the center of one completely furnished.  He didn’t have much time to observe everything, because that was when he saw her. The light in the room was still minimal, but there she was, clear as day. She appeared to be about twenty years of age and wore dark clothing to match her hair.

His heart rate was rapid as he watched her, standing on a chair as she secured a hangman’s noose twisted out of red bed sheets to a hook on the ceiling.

James took a step closer, attempting to get a better look at her. He paused at the desk, placing his hand on the surface and nearly falling over when his hand went through it.  As he recollected himself, an electric current pulsed in his veins. He continued over to the girl and stopped right beside her as she finished securing the noose.  She stared at it with blank eyes and a stain from a single tear was on her left cheek. Her face was on the gaunt side, appearing as someone who wasn’t eating regular meals. He could see her delicate chin, the shadows under her eyes, and hollow cheeks.

James reached out to touch her arm and his hand—as it had with the desk—went right through her. A sudden wave of sadness joined the electrical pulse. Sadness, anger, anxiety, and a desire to end it all took over his being, nearly paralyzing him. But the moment in which their eyes would meet would have the most lasting affect on him.

She was looking directly at him without seeing him. Her eyes told a story of who she was and what happened to her. James saw everything, from the young woman’s birth up until that moment prior to her self-inflicted death.

“No…” he uttered out, slowly shaking his head.

He struggled to move his legs as the girl turned back to the noose, placing her hands where her neck was to go.

“No! Please, stop!” he managed to lurch out as she placed it around her neck and stepped down from the chair, suspending her small body in mid air.

James was finally able to break free of whatever had been restraining him and lunged forward to grab her. He hoped to save her before it was too late. But the girl evaporated, along with the chair, bed, desk, and all other present objects. James ran into the wall before turning to find himself alone again in an empty room. The oppressiveness he felt only seconds ago overtook him, causing him to collapse into sobbing. He lowered his hands to his knees, staring at the floor while wiping away tears that made their way down to his chin. The broken lantern on the floor caught his eye, and he knelt to pick up the shattered remains. He tried to place exactly when he had dropped it (during that earthquake, most likely…), and thought of the others down on the first floor. He questioned how long he had been in Room 410; surely they would all be wondering what was keeping him.  How much can one possibly blather on about a new school instructor? He was also certain the earthquake was felt by them, it had to have been. But there was something inside James suggesting otherwise…

He rose back to a standing position, holding the pieces of the broken lantern. He used the final remnants of daylight to check his reflection in the mirror above the sink and turned to exit the room. His steps arrested when a small, glowing figure stood in front of him.

James started backward, but stopped at recognizing little Maxine Fleming.

“Maxine!” he exclaimed. “Good heavens, I did not hear you come in!”

“Sorry,” the little girl answered, holding her own lit lantern in front of her. The light radiating from the lantern combined with trickling rays of the setting sun gave her blonde hair a reddish tint. “It was getting boring downstairs, so Momma and Daddy said I could come up and find you.”

James forced a smile at the ten-year-old. “Well, thank you Maxine. That was quite a little earthquake we had, was it not?”

Maxine raised an eyebrow. “What earthquake?”

James felt his stomach drop to the floor. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. I am likely just exhausted. Please, just run along and let your parents and my wife know that I am headed back downstairs.”

“Alright, Mr. Livingston,” she said.

James waited for Maxine to leave the room, but she stood in front of him, narrowing her icy blue eyes as she studied his face and then the broken lantern he held. She turned her gaze back up to him in a rather peculiar stare, as though she could see right through him. “Are you well, Mr. Livingston?” she asked. 

James’s eyes widened at the question. For a reason he couldn’t place, chills began rising on his skin. Maxine regarded him rather shrewdly for someone her age, which James quickly dismissed as being the terrible effect her brother’s death had had on her.

He cleared his throat and said, “Yes.  Yes, Maxine…I am.  Run along and tell your parents and my wife that I am on my way back downstairs.”

“Yes sir,” she said.                                                           

The little girl headed toward the hall, but instead of leaving, she paused in the doorway and turned back to face him. “Mr. Livingston,” she said, “your lantern is broken.  How will you see down the stairs? No light has been installed in the stairwells yet, you know.”

James looked down at the broken lantern in his hands and said, “Why, you are correct, Maxine. I suppose I am right behind you.”

The little girl looked pleased with herself as James followed her out of the room.

As the two walked side by side toward the door leading into the stairwell, James could feel her eyes on him once again.  He looked down and offered the girl a quick smile. 

“Mr. Livingston,” she said.                                                                                                    

“Yes, Maxine.”

“Why were you crying?”

He stopped.  “I beg your pardon?”

“I heard you crying.”

James avoided her stare. “I was not.  Perhaps you were hearing things.  Let us return to your parents and my wife, shall we?”

“I was not hearing things,” she said, her tone defensive and harsh.  “I heard you.”

“I was choking on something.” His heart was racing all over again. “Perhaps that is what you heard.”

“What would you possibly have been choking on?”

“Look, it does not matter,” James said, trying to control his rising anxiety.  “Let us just return to the dining hall.”

He turned the knob on the stairwell door, feeling absurd for arguing with a ten-year-old. He was stepping into the stairwell when he heard Maxine say,“You saw her, did you not?”

James tensed. “Who?”

“The crazy girl,” she said. “The witch who lives in 410.”

James’s eyes widened and a sick feeling entered his stomach. He turned to see Maxine staring unwaveringly at him.

“Her ghost lives in the room, you know,” she whispered. “Momma and daddy don’t know.  I also have dreams about her.  Don’t tell momma and daddy, now.”

James could only stare down at Maxine.

She giggled. “Come on, Mr. Livingston,” she said, pushing passed him into the stairwell.

The two descended the stairs with Maxine practically skipping ahead of him. Both had returned to the dining hall, acting as though nothing out of the ordinary happened. James also noted the lack of damage left over from the earthquake. Actually, there had been none at all…

He swirled the last drops of the brandy in the glass as little Maxine’s words echoed back to him.

You saw her…the crazy girl…

The image of the dark-haired girl hanging by her neck had been present in his dreams almost every night that week. Each time, he would feel her torment and anguish before waking up in a cold sweat (and then feel even worse if he ended up waking Samantha).

James shook his head and finished off the brandy, allowing it to burn the lining of his throat. He welcomed the sensation and poured another glass to take back to his desk. 

Perhaps it is best I leave business with the orphanage until morning.

Part of him felt foolish for having such thoughts, but he decided to take out the letter to Charles Blake. Finishing the letter did help with calming his nerves, and it brought the other important document that was in the safe back at his home in New York to mind. His Last Will and Testament. James was having his lawyer over that Sunday evening to aid in some important changes he was making.

After finishing Charles’s letter, he folded it, placed it in an envelope, stamped it, and put it into his portfolio case as something completed. He was turning his attention back to his other paperwork when something else caught in his periphery. The door to his study was opened a sliver; through the small opening, he could see a shadow passing by his study.

James felt his heart lurch into his throat, knowing that Samantha and the boys would have knocked on the door to make their presence. His mind shifted over to the small figure he had seen running toward the woods hours earlier. He reached into his pocket and fished out his keys, finding the one he needed, and unlocked the bottom desk drawer where he kept his loaded pistol inside a lock box.

He took up the firearm, proceeding with caution toward the study door. He nudged it open and peered down the corridor in the direction the shadow moved. The figure was nowhere to be seen, but a door to one of the rooms at the end of the hall was ajar.

James frowned, certain that door was closed upon his arrival. 

Armed with his pistol, he made his way down toward the room. A soft glow from inside the room illuminated the doorway. He could hear movement from inside, confirming he was not alone in the house.

Drawing in a breath, he peered in. A figure draped in shadows near the dresser stood at the far end of the room near the closet. Without another thought, he kicked in the door and pointed his pistol in the figure’s direction. “WHO GOES THERE?!”

“Master Livingston, please!” a voice cried.

James lowered his pistol.  “Winifred?”

“Yes, Master Livingston,” the woman replied, turning around. Winifred was the Livingstons’ housekeeper at their holiday home. She lived nearby and came over once a week to clean and make sure the home was in order.

He let out an exasperated sigh. “Good God, woman! What the hell are you doing sneaking around in here?”

“I am sorry,” she protested. “I thought I left my reading spectacles in here earlier today. I let myself in with my key and saw lamps lit, so I called out to let you know I was here. You didn’t answer, so I figured you were occupied…I…I am sorry…”

“Winifred, it’s all right,” he said quickly. “I supposed I was so engrossed in my work I must not have heard you. I apologize for my outburst.”

Winifred nodded and made her way passed James toward the stairwell. At the top step, she paused and turned back to face her employer. “Master Livingston, if I may be so bold…please. Get some rest. You do not look well.”

James stared at the middle-aged woman of African descent, and gave her a faint smile before waving her dismissal.

“I will let myself out,” she said. “My son Daniel is waiting for me out on the front steps. Have a good night, sir. And please, do get some rest. I shall return middle of next week, as usual.”

James braced his back against the wall as he heard her leave out the front door. He still wondered how he had not heard her call to him. Then something else seeped into his mind. A thought that amused him so much he burst into laughter. Winifred is the third this week to make the suggestion of my not being well. First little Maxine, then Bradley, and now Winifred…

James leaned his head back and raised his eyes toward the ceiling. His thoughts returned to the small dark-haired girl at the Fleming property. A young lady he witnessed taking her own life.

“Her ghost lives in that room.” So much about that made absolutely no sense. For the first time in his life, James felt dangerously helpless.

“Perhaps I’m not well…perhaps I never will be again.”

7

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