Monday, April 1, 2013

THE TIME IN BETWEEN, 1846-1931: Section 3 (UNEDITED)


If you are just catching up, see the CHAPTERS section to read the Prologue-THE TIME IN BETWEEN, Section 2 before proceeding to reading Section 3. 

Otherwise, read THE TIME IN BETWEEN, 1846-1931: Section 3 from the jump :) 

* Note that there are four sections in THE TIME IN BETWEEN, 1846-1931 and it leads up to PART 2.  Section 4 will be posted shortly.



3
Atlantic Ocean
March of 1866

Since the ship’s maiden voyage in 1856 from a port in Barcelona, Spain, La Suerte had taken many Spanish, French, and Portuguese passengers across the ocean from Europe to the Americas and the night of the Spring Equinox in 1866 was no differet as far as that went.  This voyage had run a smooth course since departing from a Spanish seaport and cut a clean path into the ocean’s current, pushing the undertow aside as she trekked on through the night.  It would be another two weeks at sea before the she would dock at a port in Canada and would arrive there on schedule, so long as the weather remained in everyone’s favor.  One of the shiphands up on deck was a young man by the name of Liam.  The twenty-three year old red-haired Irishman stood at the bow of the ship, looking out to the vast infinity surrounding him.  He had spent many nights at sea since the age of sixteen and enjoyed this night, despite it’s chill.  There was a shift in the air.  Liam knew, as the spring equinox was upon them.  It was a time during the year when veils between worlds were at their thinnest.  A misty, blue haze clouded the air.  It was one of those nights when it seemed every celestial body in the galactic universe was visible to those fortunate enough to be awake on deck.  Light rained down, reflecting off the water which gave the Atlantic a glassy, almost mirror-like appearance.  The shiphands of La Suerte’s nightcrew worked on deck, keeping watch as the other passengers lay asleep in the lower quarters. 

Liam had been a seeker of adventure from the time he was a young boy.  By the age of twelve, he was a child of the streets and would live that way until right before his sixteenth birthday.  Liam had been brought as a baby to an orphanage in Dublin.  From what he had been told, his mother had been a prostitute and his father was one of her fly by night clients.  The only pieces of information about himself that Liam was really certain of were his first name and date of birth.  Liam had no surname or any other blood relatives that he knew of. 
Growing up, Liam had been a rambunctious child and did not take to the rules at the orphanage very well (if he took to them at all).  Getting into trouble was a constant for him and he, as a result, never had luck in the adoption department.  Prospective parents coming to the orphanage were looking for good, obedient children and while Liam had been many things, good and obedient was not in that equation.  As he grew, he became more restless.  In his young mind, Liam viewed the orphanage as being a life of oppression.  More than anything, he wanted to live life by his own rules and at the age of twelve, he ran away from the orphanage. 
Good riddance, wankers! Liam had thought as he happily fled on foot from the orphanage into the night.  He hadn’t considered the possibility that the orphanage may put out a search for him and nor did he care.  All that was important to him at that moment was that he was free.  Free to live as he chose.
Liam traveled throughout Ireland during his early teenage years, working a variety of odd jobs that would often earn him just enough money for a hot supper and a roof over his head for a single night.  The lifestyle offered little stability, but Liam actually preferred it that way. 
A couple weeks shy of turning sixteen, Liam had heard about an opening for shiphands aboard the Emerald Siren as he ate supper in a pub one night.  Liam knew nothing about being a shiphand at the time, but it piqued his interest.  The more he found out about the position, the more it sounded like an occupation he could thrive at.  Liam had gone to see the captain of the Siren the following morning, only to learn that the age limit was sixteen.  Of course, Liam had lied, telling the captain he was already sixteen.  The captain didn’t believe him for a second and finally, Liam relented and told the captain the truth of his age.  But despite Liam’s age and lack of experience on Liam’s end, the captain took a liking to the young man and his enthusiasm for a life at sea and gave Liam one of the available jobs. 

“You’re close enough,” the captain told Liam when the boy revealed his age to the gruff seaman.

Liam would turn sixteen his first day aboard the Emerald Siren.  He had been terribly nervous but elated and was very quick to catch on learning his required tasks.  Liam thrived on the risk of danger and the sense of freedom that came with the job. 

It had been eight years since that first voyage and Liam had advanced to a place he was truly happy at.  He leaned on the bough’s railing, resting his chin on his folded forearms and welcoming the salty sea breeze in his face.  The churning of the ocean’s current pleased his ears. It was peaceful nights such as this one that offered him time to allow his mind to wander.  From his time on the streets up until aquiring his first seaman job aboard the Emerald Siren, Liam hadn’t paid his mother (or the orphanage) a whole lot of mind.  To this day, he had no idea if either of his were alive or dead or even if either of them were still living in Ireland.  He didn’t have knowledge of their identities or of either of their families.  He had heard one particular story at the orphanage that his mother’s body had been racked from syphilis when she had brought him in, thus rendering her unable to properly care for him.  But there had never been any solid evidence to back that claim and it wasn’t until Liam was a little older that he would even begin to give his mother any thought.
Over the years, Liam would spend portions of his nights thinking of how his mother could just abandon him.  What kind of a mother could just give up her child?  Perhaps, like him, she didn’t have family.  Perhaps she felt that by handing him over to the orphanage, she was giving him a chance at a better life than what she could give him had she raised him herself.  Or maybe she really was selfish in her reasons for giving him up.  Liam would never know what was going through his mother’s head on that fateful night when she left his life forever.  But the one thing he did know was that in spite of the circumstance, he did manage to have a pretty good life.  Maybe not a very conventional life and probably not one that many people would have chosen.  But it was a life that suited Liam well.  Because of that, he had been able to forgive his mother and let go of any anger and sadness.  In the eight years since his first voyage, Liam had made many friends from several different countries and cultures.  He even picked up a little of the different languages of the people he would encounter.  The beautiful women he and his shipmates would often meet and have encounters with at the various ports were also nothing to compain about.  Overall, Liam enjoyed living on the edge as a fouled mouthed seaman. 

1866 was Liam’s second year aboard La Suerte.  On this voyage, there was one female passenger in particular, a Spanish Romani, whom Liam had grown very fond of.  But this was not a romantic attraction as little Stefania was only ten-years-old.  But thoughout the course of this trip, Liam had come to regard Stefania as a little sister he never had.  Liam chuckled to himself as he recalled the first night he and his shipmates had met the little girl.  Stefania was pretty advanced for her young age and warmed up to Liam and his friends rather quickly as they did to her.  Stefania seemed to be able to get on just fine among the hardened sailors despite her young age.  And the things she would talk of…the stories of her old Gitano village…
Liam’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his friend, Enrique, informing him that the captain requested Liam’s assistance at one of the masts.  After that, Liam, Enrique, and the other shiphands would have their nightly gathering.  The gatherings were times for the shiphands to relax and take a break from the tasks of the day and night. Liam told Enrique that he would be right over. 
There was a small box that sat at Liam’s feet.  The box housed Felix, the little mouse that Stefania had found on the ship and adopted as her pet. 
“I’m sure she’ll be up soon,” Liam said to Felix as bent down to pick up the box.  He could hear the mouse scampering around inside. 
Liam took a final glance out to the horizon and carried Stefania’s precious box as he went to the mast he was needed at.


~~~~~


Stefania was wide awake, her eyes open and staring up at the ceiling as she lay in the lower quarters of the ship with her family.  She was between her two younger siblings.  Stefania’s eight-year-old sister, Tatiana, lay to the left of her while four-year-old Manuel was on her right.  The rhythmic breathing of Tatiana and Manuel was almost in tune with the rocking of the ship which was the cause of a tiny smile spreading across Stefania’s lips.  The ten-year-old girl tried to find pleasure in the small things.  Most of the time, those were the only real pleasure she had.  She was grateful for having met Liam and the other seamen on board their ship.  Liam made her smile and laugh and he was taking care of Felix for her.  Stefania’s tiny smile grew into a much wider one, almost to the point of her having to suppress a giggle that threatened to escape.  As always, she was excited to go up onto the deck and see them all.
Stefania carefully moved little Manuel’s head from her shoulder as she began to sit up.  She froze when the little boy stirred.  But instead of waking, Manuel simply turned over onto his side.  Stefania let out a small, relieved sigh and finished sitting up.  She was facing the rest of the sleeping members of her family.  She couldn’t help the warmth she felt at the site of her parents.  Stefania’s father, Luiz, lay on his back with his arm around her mother, Teresa, who slept with her head on his shoulder.  It was one of those few precious moments for Stefania.  Her parents appeared so relaxed and close to one another, which was quite the opposite of how they were with each other when they were awake. 
Other members of Stefania’s family were two older brothers, sixteen-year-old Sebastian and twelve-year-old Ferdinand.  Sebastian and Ferdinand slept to the right of their parents.  Then to the right of Sebastian and Ferdinand was Stefania’s fifteen-year-old sister, Anabel, who was beside her new husband, twenty-year-old Vlad El-Attrache.  Stefania allowed her dark eyes to roam the lower level of the ship, taking in all the other sleeping passengers.  There were people of all ages and a few different ethnicities.  There were Spanish, French, Portuguese, and even a little of Scottish and Irish.  Some were Romani while others weren’t.  Stefania and her family mainly kept to themselves as most of the other passengers did, but Stefania liked to imagine what some of the other people were like, what their lives were, and sometimes make up stories about what those lives may be.  It helped her to pass time during the day and temporarily block out the tension in her family that only heightened after Olga had disappeared. 
Stefania’s eyes fell back onto her parents and shifted over to her father’s left, the side her mother wasn’t on.  There it was.  His bag.  The bag he apparently had since he was Ferdinand’s age.
Luiz slept with his left hand resting on the tan, canvas material.  Stefania quietly stood and tiptoed over to the bag.  Taking care to not wake her father, she peered inside.  Sure enough, his box was in there.  Almost every night since the family left their Gitano village, Stefania would look into her father’s bag to see if the box was still there and it always was.  She didn’t know what was inside of it.  In fact, Stefania was the only one of her siblings who really knew of her father’s box, despite the fact that all the children would be present when Teresa would mention it in passing during a fight as Luiz stormed out of the house to go to the tavern in their village.  Stefania couldn’t help her curiosity and the fascination she had with the box.  It seemed to make her father happy, yet sad at the same time while it made her mother upset.  What’s so special about a box—or what’s inside it? 
Stefania had found out about the box two years ago, one night after she and her siblings had gone to bed.  Luiz and Teresa were having yet another yelling match and could easily be heard through the walls in the hut.  Anabel, Stefania, and Tatiana were in their cots trying to block out the sounds of of their parents’ argument and it was assumed that their brothers were all doing the same.  The girls’ bedroom was closer to their parents’ sleeping area, so they were able to hear more of the arguments than their brothers probably could.  But something in particular caught Stefania’s attention, making her get out from her cot and move toward the door…

Stefania tiptoed toward the door of the sleeping area, ignoring the whispered protests coming from Anabel and Tatiana.  There was a sudden silence in the hut as Stefania opened the door a crack and peered out.  She saw her father leave his and her mother’s bedroom, heading to the front door in a state of anger.
“Where the hell are you going?!” Stefania heard her mother yell out from inside their bedroom.  There was a strain in Teresa’s voice indicating tears.
“None of your damn business!” was Luiz’s answer. 
 Stefania watched, flinching backward as Luiz slammed his fist on the table on his way out, causing the table to rattle so hard, she was surprised it didn’t break.  The noise brought two-year-old Manuel out from the bedroom he shared with Sebastian and Ferdinand.
“Manuel!” Stefania whispered as Sebastian and Ferdinand appeared in the dark doorway of their sleeping area.  The four of them watched as their father left the hut, slamming the door behind him.  Little Manuel turned to Stefania.  Confusion was in the two-year-old’s eyes.
“Papa?” the little one asked, pointing toward the door. 
Stefania stepped out to take hold of Manuel as their mother ran out and, threw open the front door.  Teresa screamed out to her husband in a mocking tone, “Why don’t you take your damn box with you?!  I’m sure it will make everything all better!!”
Teresa slammed the door shut as she muttered, “I wish I could just throw that damn box into the swamps.” 
It was then that Teresa noticed her two eldest sons standing in the doorway of their sleeping area.  Manuel was slowly making his way toward his mother with Stefania reaching to take hold of him.  The four of them watched as their mother’s face fell and body shook with the sobs that threatened to break free.
“Will one of you please take the little one?” Teresa managed to force out before running back into her bedroom.
Sebastian came out from the boys’ sleeping room and picked Manuel up.
“Papa…” Manuel said, the confusion still crossing over his face as his older brother carried him back into their bedroom.
Stefania stood for another moment, staring at the front door.  She turned toward the closed door of her parents’ bedroom.  She could hear her mother sobbing through the door.
“Stefania!”
Stefania turned to see Sebastian, gesturing with his head toward the girls’ bedroom as he still held Manuel.  With one last glance in the direction of her parents’ bedroom, Stefania quickly returned to her bedroom where Anabel and Tatiana still cowered in their cots. 
The girls were silent as they listened to their mother’s cries through the wall.  Stefania sat up again, thinking maybe she should go and see if her mother was alright. 
“Stefania!” Anabel whispered with urgency in her voice.
As usual, Stefania ignored the overly cautious Anabel and left the room.  She got to the door of her parent’s bedroom.  She could still hear her mother crying, though the cries were quieter now.  Stefania pushed the door open slightly and stuck her head into the room.  The bedroom of Luiz and Teresa was dark, save for a small candle that burned on the table next to the ratty old bed they shared.  But Stefania also noticed bedding on the floor, indicating that someone had been sleeping there.  Stefania was only a little girl and too young to understand many things that married adults did.  But it still troubled her to think that her parents could hate each other so much that one of them would opt to sleeping on the floor instead of in the bed together.  And then there was her mother.  Teresa lay curled on the bed crying into her pillow.  Stefania stepped in to the room, her stomach jumping with a budding anxiety.  She walked over to her mother and carefully placed a hand on Teresa’s shoulder.  Teresa looked up to see her young daughter in front of her.
“Stefania, why aren’t you asleep?” Teresa asked.
“I wanted to see if you were alright, Mama,” Stefania said.
Teresa sat up and brushed away the tears that stained her face with the sleeve of her blouse.
“I’ll be alright, Stef,” Teresa said gently, “please go back to bed.”
“Yes Mama.”
Stefania turned and began walking back to the room she shared with Anabel and Tatiana.  But she had only gotten to the doorway of her parent’s bedroom when she remembered something she had heard earlier.  She turned back to her mother who was sitting on the edge of the bed and staring blankly at the candle that flickered on the table by the bed.
“Mama…” Stefania said.
“Yes,” Teresa answered without taking her eyes from the candle’s small flame.
“Why did you call Papa by another name?”
Teresa’s head snapped in the direction where Stefania stood. 
“What did you say?” Teresa asked.  There was something about her mother’s tone that made Stefania uneasy.
“I heard you call Papa by another name.  You called him Nicolae.  Why did you call him that?  That isn’t his name, is it?”
In the shadows of the room, Teresa’s eyes glistened with the tears that had fallen from her eyes moments ago.  They were like two shiny black onyx stones.  Stefania stood with her heart pounding as her mother regarded her with those eyes.  For a second, it looked as though Teresa’s face had transformed into a face that Stefania did not recognize.  But the shadows in the dim light of the candle were dancing over her mother’s features, distorting them.  The black, onyx eyes were gone and her broken down mother was who sat in front of her.
“No, Stefania,” Teresa said with her voice shaking, “you might have just heard wrong.  Or maybe I was so upset that perhaps I did call him by the wrong name.”
Stefania watched as her mother gave her a reassuring smile.  But there was something far back in Teresa’s eyes that told Stefania that there was more to everything than what she was being told.  But Stefania gave her mother a small smile and said, “Alright, Mama.”
Teresa drew in a breath and said, “Now please, go back to your room and go to sleep.  I’m very tired.”
“Yes Mama,” Stefania said and turned to head back to her room.  As she shut the door, she caught a glimpse of her mother sitting in the shadows facing the candle and it’s buring flame again.  There was something about the scene that disturbed little Stefania causing chills to prickle her scalp.  She shut the door quickly and hurried back to her room.  Tatiana had already fallen asleep but Anabel sat upright in her cot, a look of alarm on her face as Stefania re-entered the room.  Anabel watched as her younger sister made her way silently back to her cot and climbed back in, pulling the blanket up to her chin.
“Is Mama alright?” Stefania heard her sister ask.
“Yes,” Stefania answered simply.  She lay with her back to her older sister.  She could hear Anabel lying back down, the bedding of the older girl’s cot shifting as Anabel readjusted the blankets as she made herself comfortable. 
Stefania was still wide awake when Anabel had fallen asleep.  She didn’t know what time it was, but it felt as though hours had passed.  She sat when she head someone coming in through the front door.  The dim light of an oil lamp being lit appeared in through the bottom of the door and Stefania could hear footsteps followed by the sound of a chair scraping on the wood floor.  Stefania knew her father had returned home.  She could tell by the heaviness of the footsteps as his steps were often heavier after he had been out for a night of drinking.
Stefania looked over at her two sisters and neither had been disturbed.  She quietly got out of bed, tiptoeing to the door, and opened it a crack. She could see her father sitting at the small table (the same one he had taken his anger out on a few hours ago) with an oil lamp in front of him.  His downward gaze was on an object that sat in front of him on the table.  Stefania was unable to see what the object was as her father’s arms were circled protectively around it, as though he were afraid someone was going to come by and take it from him.  Stefania pushed the door open a little more and as she did, Luiz (or Nicolae?) looked up to see his young daughter standing there staring at him.  The girl took a step back, cowering by the door.  Her father had never physically hit Stefania, her siblings, or their mother, but he to say he was very intimidating when he was angry with someone was an understatement.  But all he did this time was return his daughter’s stare with sad, dark eyes.  The father and daughter regarded one another for a moment before Stefania worked up the courage to slowly approach him.  The closer Stefania got to her father, the more she could see that he had been crying.  It was the first time she had seen her father even remotely close to tears and it would be another sixteen years before she would see such a thing again. 
Stefania studied her father’s face for a moment before she moved to crawl into her father’s lap and she was surprised when he allowed her to do so.  As she settled herself, Stefania could smell the alcohol her father had consumed.  She leaned her head against her father’s shoulder and he surprised her again by placing an arm around her.  It was then that she was also able to get a better look at the object her father guarded.  It was a box.  A locked wooden box.  She wanted to ask him what was in the box, but something told her that doing so may not be the best move at this time.
Instead, she asked, “Are you alright, Papa?”  Her father’s rough, calloused hands began lightly stroking her hair.  He was silent for a moment and Stefania could feel the heavy sorrow that he carried with him.  The sorrow that was eating him alive.
“I haven’t been alright for a long, long time…” her father finally said, “it was all taken away…everything gets taken away…”
His voice trailed off.  His speech was lucid despite the fact that he obviously wasn’t sober.  Her father drank a lot but managed to hold his alcohol rather well despite his more slender build.
Stefania lifted her head to see her father staring at the box.  His face was aged and his black hair was peppered with gray strands.  Luiz appeared about ten years older than his thirty-nine years, though he was still quite handsome.  But it was when the light of the oil lamp hit his features at a certain angle that Stefania was able to see a ghost of the young man her father had once been.  She wondered how her father had been as a young man and if there was ever a time when he and her mother loved each other.  Stefania also wondered what her father meant by everything being taken away.  What made her father become the way he is?
“Why?” she asked him, “what do you mean, papa?”
Luiz looked at his small, curious daughter.  She thought he was going to answer her, but then he seemed to change his mind and instead, closed his eyes, shook his head slowly, and said, “Don’t concern yourself with that, Stefania.  You best get back to bed.”
Stefania and her father shared another brief gaze and what she saw in his eyes was enough to make her want to cry for him. 
She swallowed back the lump that formed in her throat before she said, “Yes, Papa.”
Stefania looked into her father’s eyes one more time before giving him a tender kiss on his cheek.  She could feel her father tense and heard him gasp softy as she put her arms around him. 
“Goodnight, Papa,” Stefania said sadly and climbed down from Luiz’s lap. 
Her bare feet padded across the floor and before she re-entered her bedroom, she looked back to where her father was.  He sat, hunched over the box with his face in his hands.  Tears burned Stefania’s eyes and she quickly entered her room, shutting the door behind her, the pain and sorrow she saw in her father began to overwhelm her.  The little girl dragged her small body back into her cot and buried her face in her blanket as the tears spilled from her eyes.

Stefania stood watching her sleeping father, thinking of how this was the most peaceful she had seen him.  She loved her father and her mother.  She wished her parents wouldn’t yell at one another, her father wouldn’t hit walls and tables, her mother wouldn’t cry all the time, and her parents always showed love to Stefania and her siblings.  But Stefania was also bothered with the thought of her father not even being who she had alwys known him to be.  She always knew her father as a man named Luiz.  Everyone called him that. 
I don’t care what mother said…I know I heard her call you by another name…
The incident had somehow either slipped by her siblings or if the others had heard, they chose to ignore and forget about it.  But Stefania couldn’t ignore or forget and the name burned itself into her memory:
Nicolae…
Why did it bother her so?  After all, it was just a name and whether his name was Luiz or Nicolae, he was still her father.  The father she loved.  But if Nicolae was his real name, why did he change it?  And why had her mother looked into her eyes that night and lied to her, especially after telling Stefania and her siblings to never tell lies…
And now little Olga is gone…vanished without a trace…gone from us forever…the shadowman…
She shivered thinking about the shadowman and the terrible memory of the morning ten month old Olga had vanished. 
Stefania was five years old the first time she saw the shadowman.  She saw it walking around near door of her parents’ room in the hut.  It seemed to notice Stefania’s being able to see it and step behind an invisible curtain.  When Stefania had run to tell her mother about what she had seen, she saw a fear in her mother’s eyes that was never seen before or again after that. 

“I was your imagination, Stefania,” Teresa told her daughter before turning her attention back to making supper, “now do not speak of that again.  To me or to anyone.  Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mama,” a puzzeled little Stefania said.   

Stefania did as she was told, but always wondered why her mother didn’t want her to speak of it.  Stefania would continue seeing the shadowman on occasion.  She tried to ask it a few times who it was and what it wanted, but the shadow figure would never answer her. 
She had seen the shadowman lurking in a corner of her parents’ room by Olga’s cradle on the night before the little one would disappear.  There had also been a strange, dark halo surrounding the cradle.  Stefania remembered her frustration that night as she wanted to point the halo out to everyone, but obliged to her mother’s stern warning. 
The halo had had a hypnotic effect on Stefania, drawing her toward the wooden object.  As Stefania stood before the cradle, unable to take her eyes away from it, the aura grew darker, appearing as a thick, black smoke with a horrible stench that Stefania did not recognize. 
Stefania and Tatiana had awoken the following morning to hearing their mother’s agonizing screams.  The two girls had rushed out from their room and into their parents’ room.  Sebastian, Ferdinand, and Manuel were also there.  The children looked on in horror as Teresa lay collapsed on top of the now empty cradle sobbing hysterically.  Stefania turned her gaze toward her father, who was standing silently over the cradle and looking at his wife with an unreadable expression.  Stefania also thought she could hear her mother say “it’s all my fault” but she couldn’t be sure. 
Sebastian and Ferdinand had immediately run of the hut and next door to where Vlad and Anabel lived.  Anabel came over to the hut while Vlad joined Sebastian and Ferdinand in beginning a search party for Olga.  The entire village had been notified of Olga’s disappearance by the late morning and the men had gone out in search of the baby while the women came over to the hut look after Teresa.  While Luiz did help search, his contribution seemed almost half-hearted to Stefania.  There was even a time she had caught her father glaring at her mother. 
Olga had still not been found by the time evening had fallen upon the village.  Anabel and Stefania made supper for the family, though her father had gone out to the tavern again.  Teresa was sitting with her arms around the cradle and staring at the floor.  Stefania had fixed a plate for her mother, setting it in front the cradle where Teresa sat.  Teresa thanked her daughter but barely touched the food.
The search for Olga would continue everyday over the next week, but the little one remained missing.  In an act of desperation, some of the men in the viilage had even tried to ask the Spanish officials for help.  But as far as the Spanish officials were concerned, they had better things to do than search for a Gitano baby.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the ones that took the little one,” Stefania had overheard someone in the village say of the officials.  The simple and logical explanation would be that someone had broken into the hut and took the baby.  But there wasn’t any sign of forced entry and no one in the family had awoken from the sound of a break in.  Stefania wanted to tell everyone about the shadowman and halo she had seen the night before, but fear of how her family and the rest of her village would react would keep the girl silent.
Teresa had managed ressume her tasks wife and mother after a week.  During that time, Stefania had looked after Tatiana and Manuel.  Anabel tried to help, but seemed to be as shaken as their mother.
Later that evening, when everyone else was outside of the hut, Stefania had gone over to the cradle, standing at the foot of it.

“Where’s Olga?” she demanded, as though she were expecting it to answer.

The cradle sat there, it’s bed now resembling a gaping maw ready to devour any unsuspecting creature that may venture too close to it.  It sat silent, harboring it’s secret and refusing to share what it knew. 
The following Saturday evening would bring even more confusion when Teresa would gather her remaining daughters and little Manuel together and announce to them that they would be leaving their village that very night.

“Leaving?!” Anabel exclaimed with wide-eyes.
“Keep your voice quiet,” their mother hushed.
“But why,” Anabel said, her voice much quieter, “where are we going?”
“It’s what your father wants,” Teresa answered, “he, Vlad, and your brothers are already making the preparations.  We will be going to a port to board a ship for the Americas.  America or Canada.  Whichever is available first.”
“But shouldn’t we stay and look for Olga?” Anabel asked. 
“You’re father wants to leave,” Teresa stated.
“But why?” Tatiana asked.
“Just do as he says,” Teresa responded, “take very little with you.  Only take what we need.  And do not say a word to anyone.”
Teresa left the room before anyone else could ask any more questions.  The three sisters looked at one another as though each were hoping that one of the others offered an answer to what was going on.  Little Manuel sat on the floor, staring up at his sisters.  Finally, Anabel spoke up.  “Stefania, why don’t you help Tatiana and Manuel.  I suppose I have to go pack for Vlad and myself.  I’ll try and come back as soon as I can to help you.”
Stefania nodded and Anabel left the room.  She heard her older sister leaving the hut without saying anything to their mother.

The family left in the middle of the night and took the most minimal amount of belongings.  Of course, the cradle was left behind.  There was still alarm and confusion over the abrupt and secretive nature of their departure, but the family did as the patriarch told them to without question. 
Stefania had given the cradle a final glance before departing with her family.  The silent, wooden object returned Stefania’s stare, taunting the little girl one last time.  As Stefania turned away to join her family outside, she heard a creak behind her.  She turned back to the cradle.  It appeared to have moved from it’s place and, ever so slightly, closer to where Stefania stood.  There was a chill in the room and the cradle began to rock.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Stefania stifled a scream, slammed the door to her parents’ old bedroom and hurried out the front door.  As the family quietly left their village, Stefania turned to look back at the hut.  Perhaps it was the moonlight, but Stefania thought she could see a soft glow coming from the window of what was formerly her parents’ bedroom and a dark figure moving around inside.

Stefania looked toward the stairwell leading up to the ship’s deck.  She needed to get out.  She needed to get up to the deck and breathe the salty sea air and see the ocean lit up under a blanket of stars.  She needed to be around Liam and all of the seamen up on deck. 
Stefania snuck over to the stairwell and ran up, eager to get away from the awful memories even if it was only for a little while.  The air above was chilly, but it felt good to breathe in after being down in the stuffy basement of the ship.  Stefania had made a nighttime ritual of wandering around their place of shelter late at night.  She would wait until everyone was asleep and then go on her adventures.  Late night was her favorite time to be awake.  It was a time she could have the world to herself and be free of any troubles with her family or anything else.  It was a chance for her to be a little girl instead of a guardian to her siblings. 
Stefania stood up on the deck, her face turned to the sky.  The blanket of stardust gave everything the appearance of being a magical kingdom, a fairyland.  She marveled at the blue glow the large moon offered, illuminating her already bronzed skin.  The sea air ruffled the wavy, black hair she had inherited from her father.  Stefania drank in her surroundings listening to the sounds of the sea foam and the ocean’s currents.  She bounded over to the barrel of ale by the deck’s wall, jumping up to stand on the barrel and look over the rail and out to the ocean that passed them by.
Stefania looked up to the sky again, seeing the constellations Orion and Sirius.  One of the few times her father had spent any time with her was a starry night after they had left their village.  He had helped her to see some of the star constellations his own father had showed him.  Stefania tried to imagine her father as a little boy, looking up to the sky with excitement as his father taught him about the stars.  After they had boarded the ship, Liam would show Stefania even more star constellations and would even tell her the stories behind them and the mythical creatures that made their liknesses.  Liam would even tell Stefania to make up her own story and tell it to him next time they would see one another and Liam would also make up his own.  Sometimes they were silly and sometimes they were about magic and adventure.  Stefania wanted to share the stories with Tatiana and Manuel.  But she knew if she did, her mother would want to know where she heard them.  Stefania feared her parents would be angry with her if they found out where she had been going at night since they had boarded the ship.  Liam and the seamen had been her solace and had shown her friendship that she never knew could exist.  It gave her sense of hope that there were good people in the world and it helped her with leaving behind the hard times they had faced in Europe.  It was when she met Liam that she was able to finally confide in someone.  She even told him about the shadowman and the dark halo she had seen before Olga had disappeared.  Stefania wasn’t sure if Liam actually believed her, but he did listen to what she had to say and didn’t tell her to stop talking about it and that it was only her imagination the way her mother had. 
Stefania back toward the horizon they were leaving behind.  It was hard to fathom that far beyond that was the Spanish seaport from which they begun their journey across the sea.
Stefania slipped her hand into her apron pocket, her hand closing over the wooden rosary that had been given to her by a nun in a convent they had stayed at after their departure from their village.  She also had a small Bible in the bag she had with her.  The nun had taught her to properly pray the Rosary and it had given Stefania a lot of comfort.  Comfort she and her family greatly needed. 
Stefania’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of laughter down at the other end of the ship.  Her heart leapt with joy. 
Liam! 
But her thoughts returned to Vlad and Anabel, asleep together with the rest of the family in the lower quarters.  The move had been difficult for Anabel.  The move wasn’t easy for Stefania either and she had to keep an eye on Tatiana who was rather fragile.  Then there was Vlad.  Stefania didn’t have any reason to dislike Anabel’s husband, but he seemed rather stern and serious for someone his age.  He was certainly different from Liam and even different from her father.  Stefania had known her father to be a stern man, but there was a cold demeanor to Vlad that even her father didn’t have.
The voices of Liam and some of the other seamen continued to float back to where Stefania stood.  She remembered the first time she had met Liam.  It was the evening she and her family were boarding the ship.  Stefania had been observing her surroundings as she walked holding Manuel’s hand.  Her eyes happened to fall onto Liam.  He was a very handsome man with red hair, emerald eyes, and fair skin.  She was fascinated by his looks which where quite different from the Romani she had grown up with.  Liam had caught site of her staring at him as she walked with her little brother to the entrance of the ship.  Liam responded by giving the young girl a smile and wink.  Stefania quickly looked away, embarrassed that she had been caught by him and fearing that her mother-and possibly even Anabel-would harshly scold her for staring at this young man.  But Liam would soon become one of Stefania’s dearest and most unforgettable friends. 
Stefania would speak for the first time to Liam that very night after boarding the ship. She had been eager to go exploring around the ship.  The first time she had gone up to the deck alone was so exhilarating for the little girl. 

Stefania stood in awe of the mast and sails and their enormous size.  Everything was so much bigger at night than it had during the day.  Stefania wandered around, taking in the salty sea air for the first time.  She jumped up onto a barrel of ale to look out at the vast horizon.  Excitement overcame fear as she looked out to the where the ocean ended and the sky began. 
She had been looking out for about a minute of two when she felt a movement at her feet.  Stefania looked down to see a small, white mouse.  It was looking up at her, it’s nose and whiskers twitching, causing Stefania to laugh.  She couldn’t remember the last time she really laughed.  She stooped down to pick it up.  The mouse hesitated before deciding to take a chance and crawl into the little girl’s open hands.  Stefania’s laughing continued as the mouse ran up and along her arm.
“I’ll call you Felix,” she told the animal. 
The mouse found an area on Stefania’s shoulder to perch on.  Stefania resumed her exploring of the ship with her new companion.  She wandered toward the front bow of the ship when she heard voices talking and laughing nearby.  Male voices.  Her heart picked up it’s pace at the thought of strange, grown men nearby.  Her first impulse was to return to the ship’s lower quarters with her family.  What if her mother and father would wake and come looking for her?  But once again, fascination and curiousity overrode fear.
Stefania followed the voices to the front end of the ship and hid behind a mast as she beheld a group of seamen sitting around the light of a lantern, enjoying the beautiful night on the Atlantic.  She noticed the handsome, red-haired young man she had seen earlier among them.  The men were all drinking ale and amusing one another with conversation, jokes, and song.  Stefania wanted to get a closer look at them.  She crept toward them, taking care to remain cloaked in the shadows.  Felix brought his nose to Stefania’s cheek.
“We have to be quiet,” she whispered to the mouse and crept up a little closer. 
She was so intent on keeping her attention on the men that she did not see the box of citrus fruit in her path.  She tripped on the box, knocking it over and spilling it’s content of limes and lemons onto the floor of the deck.  The incident had given Felix a fright, causing the little mouse to jump from her shoulder.
“Felix!” Stefania cried getting down on all fours to chase after the mouse that scuttled amongst the scattered fruit.  But Stefania froze when she realized that she had now given herself away.  Feeling her blood racing and her breath quicken, she was paralyzed with fear as the men had all ceased their banter and turned their heads to see the small girl staring back at them. 
Stefania feared what the men would do to her and to Felix.  But then, they all began to smile at her and shout to her what sounded like greetings.  She was able to understand those of them that spoke Spanish (she was able to understand Spanish and the Romani language those in her village had spoken).  She then saw the man with the red hair get up and walk toward the spilled box of fruit and gently pick up Felix.  Stefania stared up at him in amazement as he brought the mouse back to her.  He knelt down to her level with Felix squirming in his hands and offered her a warm smile. 
I think you lost this, lass,” he said. 
Stefania didn’t understand his words, but the warmth in his voice along with his kindness toward Felix put her at ease.  She smiled back at him as he placed Felix back into her hands.  The mouse crawled back up to it’s original place on her shoulder.  The other men began to beckon her to come join them. 
“You’re more than welcome, lass,” the red-haired young man said.
Stefania looked to the men and then to the young man who had helped Felix.  She didn’t understand his language, but his tone put her at ease.  Stefania nodded and slowly followed him back to the group where he made a place for her next to him.
“And what’s your name?”  the young man asked her after they had sat down. 
Stefania had frowned and shook her head, letting the young man know she didn’t understand him.  She then heard one of the Spanish seamen repeat the question in his native tongue. 
“Stefania,” she answered slowly. 
The men all gave her warm smiles and greetings and the red-haired young man introduced himself as Liam.  Liam also surprised her by speaking to her in Spanish.
“And what is your friend’s name?” Liam had asked referring to the mouse on her shoulder.
“Felix,” she answered.

Stefania had been introduced to all of Liam’s friends that night and it had been the first of many nights where she would sit up on the deck with them.   They would sometimes give her ale and whiskey to stay warm, but always took care to only give Stefania a few small sips.  Stefania was also fast to pick up a little of the English that Liam spoke.
Liam and his friends had become an extended family to Stefania and they all had a soft spot for the little girl.  They taught her many songs, most of them sea shanties.  Stefania’s favorite was a song about figuring what to do about a drunken sailor.  It always made her laugh when Liam and the other men would sing it.  Stefania also learned a little of Liam’s reading and writing abilities and she wanted to learn even more.  Liam had an old book about the myths and legends of the sea he had stolen from his orphanage when he was a boy, not much older than Stefania.  He also offered to keep Felix safe for her in his quarters until nightfall when she would join them on deck.

Stefania sighed as she the thought of the ship arriving at the Canadian port in what would be a short time.  Her family would be starting over again in a new country.  What awaited them in Canada?  She knew she would miss Liam and the other seamen very much.  Especially Liam.  He was the best friend she ever had and they had all been her only real friends.  She clutched her bible and rosary as she looked ahead in the direction that the ship was taking them in.  Having to leave Liam and her other friends was not something she wanted to think about now with everything else that loomed over her and her family.  But her spirits were lifted when she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“Hello, lass.”
Stefania turned around to see Liam standing there, giving her his usual warm, friendly smile. 
“Hello, Liam,” Stefania answered, returning the smile.
“We are all over on the other side of the ship if you want to join us,” Liam told her in Spanish.
“Thank you,” Stefania said, “I will.  Can we sing the Drunken Sailor song?”
“Most definitely,” Liam said with a smile, “so we’ll be seeing you soon?”
Stefania nodded with enthusiasm.  Liam winked at her and turned to walk back over to the other end of the ship.
Stefania watched Liam walking back to where his comrades were before turning her gaze back to the ocean.  The rocking of the ship on the waters gave her a brief reminder of the cradle.  She was thankful that she and her family were far away from the cradle, but the nature of her family’s departure still bothered her.  And why hadn’t they at least stayed a little longer to search for Olga before leaving?
Stefania placed both of her hands around her small Bible and rosary.  She then shut her eyes and said a prayer of protection over her family, Liam, the other seamen, and Olga.  When she was finished, Stefania crossed herself, opened her eyes, and took one last look over the rail and into the ocean’s depths.  The marine underworld stretched below the ship and embodied a mirage of secrets.  The disappearance of Olga had become one of the mysteries that would remain with Stefania and her family.  The disappearance of her baby sister and their sudden departure from the only home Stefania knew had taught the ten-year-old that life was filled with uncertainties and one of those uncertainties was the future of her family.  But Stefania was willing to forget that for a little while.  She jumped down from the barrel and headed over to where Liam, Felix, and the other seamen where to sing sea shanties and talk of the constellations, the sea, it’s creatures, and the legends.  It would get her through another night.

La Suerte was the only stability for her passengers with the infinite unknown all around them, as the waters of the sea, the world below the surface, and the sky that stretched beyond the horizon with the ocean’s waters represented the unknown future they were all headed toward.  The vastness of the ocean and the skies were synonymous with the limitless possibilities and dangers that potentially awaited those aboard the ship.    

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