Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First Rewrite/Second Draft: THE TIME IN BETWEEN, 1846-1931 (*In It's Entirety*)

As it was with the Prologue, the second draft/first rewrite of THE TIME IN BETWEEN, 1846-1931 offers alot more detail that may assist better in reading the future installments of the first draft.  So here it is in it's entirety.

And after I get some sustenance, I'll be getting the next chapter of the first draft Book 1 up.

Also, I posted some unedited, in no particular order excerpts from Book 2!  Check them out here if you haven't yet.


Illinois-Iowa Territory Border
United States

Kimimela was wrenched from her sleep.  She sat up in bed, pressing her palms against the cool sheets that were spread over the goose feathered mattress as she tried to calm her now rapid breathing and heartrate.  She let out a breath and pushed back a few strands of her hair that were matted to her face by the beads of sweat across on her forehead.  Kimimela had seen them again, having seen the two young women repeatedly over the passed three months after she had gone to sleep.
As Kimimela’s nerves began to calm, she turned her gaze over to her husband, Jonathan, who lay asleep in bed next to her.  His bare chest moved with the rhythm of his breathing.  A small smile played across Kimimela’s lips.  Watching her husband in a peaceful sleep was enough to take away any fear she had after awaking from…whatever it was that was occurring while she slept.
“I don’t know what I would do without you right now,” she whispered to Jonathan.  Just seeing him was enough to make any darkness in her world appear brighter.  She thought of waking him.  It would be nice to have him holding her right now and feeling his lips on her hair.  There were a few nights in the beginning of those last three months when she did wake him because the dreams (or were they simply dreams?) were so vivid and terrifying.  Of course, Jonathan would take her into his arms without asking any questions as she came down from her near catatonic state of anxiety that followed the dreams.  He would sit with her through the night, too worried about her to fall back asleep even if he had to get up early for work or some other business that needed tending to.  There were also some nights when Jonathan’s comforting would turn into a lot more, which would definitely take away any initial fear or anxiety she felt.
Kimimela wanted so much to hear Jonathan’s voice comforting her at that moment and to have him bring her close to him.  But she hesitated when she remembered how his worrying for her had escalated when they had discovered her pregnancy a month ago.
I can’t keep doing this to him, she thought.  We’re going to have plenty of sleepless nights when the little one comes.
Kimimela placed a hand on her stomach, which was still flat as she hadn’t begun to show yet.  According to her symptoms, she was about three months along, being two months when she and Jonathan knew for sure.
…and these…dreams...started probably at around the time we conceived…
Kimimela made the decision to not wake Jonathan that time.
“Just sleep peacefully tonight, my love,” she whispered as she brought her fingertips to stroke the side of his face.  Jonathan stirred, but did not awaken and at that moment, that was something that Kimimela was relieved for.  They had been married for a little over a year at that time and the child that Kimimela was currently carrying would be their first.  Kimimela turned her head and looked toward the window at the waxing moon that peered in through the small opening in the curtains.  She sat thinking of the last two years since she had met Jonathan.  He had given her so many firsts.  He had been the first boy she truly fell in love with, the first to kiss her, the first to intimately touch her, and—after they had gotten married—the first to be with her as a lover.  Images of their wedding night began to flood back to her:  the first time seeing Jonathan naked and having him look at her without clothing with the combination of love and lust in his eyes, him touching and kissing her body…
Kimimela looked back down toward the hand on her stomach, thinking of how just on the other side, a child was growing.  One that was half of her and half of Jonathan.  She remembered her first time meeting Jonathan and seeing him ride Samson along her favorite secluded trail.  Kimimela had ventured out by herself that day, something she did often despite her father’s warnings of wandering alone on the frontier.  She had discovered that area one day during the spring of her thirteenth year.  The second she had taken that first step onto that small pocket of a wooded trail, she felt home, like she was supposed to be there and once she had found that special area, she wanted to return everyday.  The trail delighted her and she fell in love with the peace and serenity it offered.  It was her escape from her village and from the world, becoming her private and special place.  She was the only one who knew of it and she had never seen so much as another human footprint upon the path.  Which was why she was shocked and slightly dismayed on that day in June of 1844 when she saw someone coming toward her, down the trail on a large, black horse.   
Two days prior to 1844’s Summer Solstice, Kimimela had gone out on as she would have any other day.  There was something different about the air and the Earth’s energy that morning and it was strong enough to give her skin chills, despite the warm, late summer afternoon.  She didn’t know why, but she felt as though something was urging her to the trail, practically hurrying her along.  Kimimela had arrived at the trail, feeling as happy to see it as ever, though it seemed different that day.  The feelings she had puzzeled her, but she chose to keep her mind on the fact that she was here, at her special place, where nothing could go wrong or hurt her.
Kimimela had entered the trail, walking slowly and taking in her surroundings.  She began singing to herself, a Sioux love song that she knew from her village.  The choice of song was unexpected and surprised her, but she went with it, singing as the breeze moved through the thick strands of her hair.  She had stopped short as her small state of paradise was intererrupted by her noticing that she was not alone on the trail.  She froze at the site of the black horse and the strong young man who rode it.  That was the first time that Jonathan and Kimimela had laid eyes on one another.  She remembered taking in his slightly suntanned skin that was fairer than hers and his thick, wavy, dark brown hair that ended just above his shirt collar.  But what really caught Kimimela were his grayish-blue eyes.  They were the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen on anyone. 
Kimimela stood planted on the trail, watching as Jonathan brought his horse to a halt.  Despite finding him to be incredibly handsome, she felt angry with him for invading her beautiful place.  Then she was frightened.  She had never been this close to a white man before and her first impulse had been to run away, back to her village.  But she remained planted as her legs failed to move. 
Kimimela had tried hard to keep her body from shaking as she refused to show this young white man any fear.  Even if his intention was to hurt or kill her, she wouldn’t back down without some form of a fighting chance.  She knew that some whitefolk did treat American natives with kindness while others did not.  She had stood, hoping and praying to all spirits that this young man was among the former. 
As she watched Jonathan dismount Samson, her stomach seemed to be doing somersaults and when he began walking toward her, she felt as thought it were plunging down to her knees.  Kimimela stood, trying to keep her breathing as calm and still as she could.  And then she got a better look at his eyes.  It was his eyes that captivated her that day.  Part of that was because she had never known anyone with eyes of the same color or even anything similar.  Unlike her father and some of the other men in her village, Kimimela had never interacted with anyone outside of her village until that first afternoon with Jonathan Blake. 
Aside from their fascinating color, Kimimela noticed something else about the young man’s eyes.  There was a gentlness and warmth that was reflected.  He was not regarding her as someone who had wanted to do her harm.  Kimimela looked up into them and felt as though she were peering right into Jonathan’s soul.  She could tell he was very open and was the type to wear his heart on his sleeve.  A very genuine person with a big, open heart.  This put her at ease and she could also hear the elements humming around her as though they were also trying to assure her that she needn’t worry about this young man.  But when Jonathan had gotten close enough to be able to speak to her, Kimimela’s initial fear took over, causing her to flee the trail and return to her village as quickly as her legs would carry her.
One could say that Kimimela had also fallen in love with Jonathan that first day, but that wouldn’t prevent her from staying put in her village over the next two days.  She walked around in a state of confusion as she was unable to erase her meeting with Jonathan from her mind.  She could feel her strong feelings for the young man growing the more she thought about him which led to feelings of shame.  Then, she would be ashamed for feeling ashamed in the first place.  Kimimela couldn’t deny that the idea of falling for a white man scared her.  What if others in her village found out?  What if her father found out?  How would they all react?  Would she be austrocized?  Kimimela’s father, Howahkan, respected man in their village.  He was a medicine man and known for being very reasonable.  But it was still expected for his daughter to eventually marry a young brave, whether he would be someone from her village and tribe or another.  Kimimela had heard of instances where a member of a native tribe would marry a white man or woman.  Sometimes those instances would turn out well and, at times, not so well.  Even so, it was strongly encouraged to marry within the tribe or at least the race.
Kimimela had gone for those two days without telling anyone of her encounter with Jonathan.  She even kept it from her best friend, Chante, and actually managed to elude her all-too-curious little sister, Mapiyah.  Barely a second went by without Jonathan being on Kimimela’s mind.  She could tell that Chante and Mapiyah both noticed that something was weighing heavily on Kimimela.  Kimimela found ways to elude them, but she knew she couldn’t do that for long.
There was part of Kimimela that was angry with Jonathan for invading what she saw as being her own special place and angry that she met him and angry that she was going through all of this anxiety in the first place.  She wondered if he had returned to the trail, searching for her again.  Part of her wanted to return and see if he had as part of her did want to see him again.  But it also saddened her to think that she may have lost her favorite place.  Kimimela lay awake that night with images of Jonathan on his horse playing though her mind.  She saw his grayish-blue eyes, regarding her in a way that made her unafraid of being with him.  She was unable to control her fascination with him and the gentleness in his eyes was enough to make her heart melt.  Then something else occurred to her.  She remembered how he hadn’t persued her when she ran from him.  There had been plenty of opportunity for him to do her harm if that had been his intention.  Kimimela also felt slightly disappointed that he hadn’t tried to run after her.
That following morning, Kimimela could feel the Earth’s elements reacting urgently around her.
Go back to the trail, they were telling her and that was all they would say.  And that evening, she decided to make an attempt at returning to her beloved trail.  She couldn’t deny hoping to being led to cross paths again with the young man, but there was half of her hoping that he would not return and she would just be able to return to the life she knew in her village.  Kimimela thought of how complicated things could possibly become if she and the young man were to end up taking a mutual liking to one another.  But in the end, she decided to follow where the elements were taking her.  And as childish as it probably seemed, Kimimela considered the trail to be her place and if her own father couldn’t prevent her from being there, she certainly wasn’t going to let some young man she hardly knew do it either.  As far as Kimimela was concerned, she had been there first.
Would you never be able to share it, though? the elements had asked her.  It then hit Kimimela that she was sixteen.  Her days of being a child were drawing to a close and marriage would be something not too far on the horizon for her.  Her older brother, Chayton had just gotten married to a woman from another village.  Kimimela knew that once Chayton had a wife, she and her twin brother, Sunkwa, weren’t too far behind. 
Kimimela’s heart pounded as she returned to the wooded trail, entering it with her light steps barely making a sound.  Her parents had been right to give her a name that meant ‘butterfly’ in the Sioux language as she had a soft but swift movement to her and this was especially true anytime she was running.  Kimimela valued the freedom she felt when exploring the open plains and the many hidden jems of the Illinois-Iowa Territory border (a past-time that she would soon find she had in common with Jonathan). 
Kimimela wouldn’t need to venture too far into the trail before she would see the same young man coming toward her on his horse again.  Her steps ceased and her heart beat faster as she saw the large, black horse coming toward her.  It was as though they had entered the trail at the same time from the opposite ends.  Kimimela stood watching, this time determined to resist the impulse she had to run away.  She mustered every ounce of courage in her being and as they had only three days ago, the elements urged her along.  Kimimela continued to walk up the trail toward him.  As they got closer to one another, she could see that his eyes were fixated on her with that same warm, gentle, expression combined with some anticipation and relief. 
They stopped within inches of one another and Kimimela was close enough to pet his horse.  By that time, her heart had been pounding so hard she thought it was going to burst out of her chest.  Then, Jonathan smiled warmly at her and she remembered his words to her that day:

“Please don’t run from me, love.  I’m a man of honor and I mean you no harm.”

Kimimela had been caught off guard by the sudden term of endearment.  After all, this was only their second time meeting and they didn’t know each other.  At all.  But there was another trait of his that deepened her infatuation with him and made her stay that time.  His Irish brogue.  Hearing his voice had the same affect on her that his eyes had.  The gentility that was so prominent in both was enough to tell her that he really was an honest man of his word. 
Kimimela had drawn in a breath.  She knew enough English to be able to communicate with him and she would hear herself telling him her name.  Then she would learn his name.  Jonathan.  They didn’t say much to one another that day, but simply spent that late afternoon walking together—with Samson trailing behind Jonathan—and took in one another’s company.  Samson had also taken very well to Kimimela and allowed her to pet him a few times that day.  She could feel Jonathan’s eyes on her, regarding her soft treatment toward the five-year-old horse he had received on his thirteenth birthday when the black stallion was only a colt of a couple months.  Kimimela had learned that Jonathan had cared for the stallion as it grew up on the Blakes’ property with the other animals.
That second time meeting would be enough for Jonathan and Kimimela to return the following day and almost every day after that.  They would meet up with one another during the weekdays after Jonathan would be done with work.  On Saturdays, the two would choose a time during the day depending on the day’s schedules and on Sundays, their meeting time would always be sometime after the Blakes were finished with Sunday Mass.  Following their meetings together, Jonathan would always see Kimimela back to her village while maintaining a safe enough distance where he was out of site from anyone.  He would always make sure that Kimimela had entered her village before returning home for the evening. 
Over the course of those following two months, Jonathan and Kimimela would grow to enjoy the company of one another more than anyone else’s.  Jonathan had held Kimimela’s hand as they walked the trail together on the third day they had met (after Jonathan had very bashfully asked for her permission to do so).  During that first month, Kimimela also began to ride Samson with Jonathan.  She would sit in front of him, resting her back against his chest.  His arms would be around her as he held onto the reigns and it would be after one of those rides, before they parted ways for that mid-July evening, that Jonathan would kiss Kimimela for the first time. 
Jonathan had dismounted Samson and then made sure that she was safely off, as he had always done when Kimimela began riding Samson.  They had stood facing one another in an area near her village as they told one another goodnight and made plans to see eachother the following day.  Their goodbye seemed to last longer than usual this time and Kimimela saw that Jonathan’s eyes were more intense than they had been before.  Kimimela stood as if hypnotized while Jonathan slowly brought a hand up to the side of her face, lightly stroking it before bringing it down to cup her chin.  She nearly lost all breath in her body when she saw Jonathan’s face tilt ever-so-slightly and move in closer to hers.  She wondered if she would be waking from a wonderful dream as Jonathan brushed her lips with his.  The kiss itself was rather chaste, but it was enough to make Kimimela’s body quiver and leave her yearning for more.  She then felt his mouth brush her earlobe before he whispered, “I love you.  I’m falling so deeply in love with you, Kimimela.  Each time I see you it’s more than the last.”
For a moment, Kimimela found herself unable to move, her limbs frozen to her side.  But then, as though a touch of warm sunlight had come to melt the last layers of ice from a stem that had been unable to move, Kimimela responded to Jonathan’s kiss and declaration of love by embracing him, wrapping her arms around his firm waist. 
“I love you too, Jonathan,” she had said.
A surprised and relieved Jonathan brought his arms to hold Kimimela before lifting her chin again to give her a more passionate kiss, to which Kimimela responded with great enthusiasm. 
That first kiss would evolve into embraces that were even more heated, lighting the flame of desire inside of Kimimela that no one else ever had.  There were times she could feel Jonathan becoming aroused behind the material of his trousers and she would feel a rush toward her lower abdomen as he would gently nip at her lower lip with his teeth before trailing his own lips along the side of her face and down to her neck.  As his hands roamed her back and hips, Kimimela would feel sensations that would almost be her undoing if Jonathan didn’t stop.  And neither ever wanted to. 
There was one afternoon when they almost gave into one another.  Jonathan had been kissing her deeply, his tongue exploring the inside of her mouth and she had gotten to returning the act to him.  It was the most intense they had ever been with eachother and it had gotten to where their bodies were molding into one another so much that it was only their clothing that prevented Jonathan from entering Kimimela that very moment.  They both had wanted to remove their clothes and give themselves to one another and Jonathan had responded to that by unbuttoning the top half of his shirt, giving Kimimela a small glimpse at the muscle definition in his chest.  She responded by pressing her lips to the exposed area of his body and heard him cry out in response.  He had brought a hand to cup her breast when she saw the eyes of her father, brothers, and late mother in her mind.  That was when she begged Jonathan to stop, which he did despite what he was feeling at that moment. 
“What’s the matter, love?” he had asked her. 
“My family…” was all she needed to say for Jonathan to understand and come out from the animalistic lust he was feeling.
The only barrier that stood between the relationship of Jonathan and Kimimela coming to full blossom was that of not knowing how either of their families would react to their relationship and fear of the worst.  The possibility of their families forbidding them to see one another weighed heavily on Jonathan and Kimimela.  Jonathan had also told Kimimela that she had been right to stop him from going any further with her that day.
“I would never be able to forgive myself if I caused you any disgrace with your father and those in your village,” he had told her.
There had been a moment when their fear had caused them to consider running away together to avoid having to face any potential issues with their families.  But Jonathan and Kimimela both had close ties family ties and both wanted their relationship blessed by them.  They had both decided to inform their families and leave running away to be together as a last resort.  Either way, they were going to be with eachother.  Fate had brought them both to the person who was supposed to be their mate through life.  They both felt it and were not about to be torn apart.  In their meetings together, Jonathan and Kimimela began trying to come up with how they would approach their families.  They had a couple ideas, but it would turn out that none of them would be used. 
It was late August of that summer of 1844 and Jonathan had been taking Kimimela out on Samson.  They had been a little more daring that afternoon, venturing away from the secluded trail, but still taking care to make sure they weren’t seen by anyone.  Little did they know that Jonathan’s thirteen-year-old sister, Frankie, and fifteen-year-old brother, Brendan, had gone out to search for their older brother.  Brendan and Frankie had decided that they needed Jonathan’s help with fixing something that had broken in Isaiah’s treehouse.  It would take more searching than Brendan and Frankie would have thought, but the two siblings would find Jonathan at the edge of the secluded trail.  They would also be shocked to find their older brother in a passionate liplock with a native girl as Samson stood tied to the side of a tree.
Brendan and Frankie had fled back to the house to wait for Jonathan and bombarded their older brother with questions and accusations when he returned home.  Knowing that it was only a matter of time before their parents knew the truth, Jonathan begged his two younger siblings to let him be the one to tell them the news.
“Are you in love with that Indian girl?” Frankie had demanded, trotting behind Jonathan as he retreated to the washroom before dinner that night.
“Can you say that a little louder?  I don’t think everybody in town heard you,” Jonathan replied.
“Well are you?  Do you think you’re going to marry her?” Frankie asked, dropping her voice down to a loud whisper.
“Right now, that is none of your business,” Jonathan had replied as she shut the door in the face of his younger sister, leaving her to huff and toss her dark braids as she marched down to the dinner table.
Jonathan’s stomach was in knots as he sat down with the rest of the family that evening.  After his father asked the blessing, Frankie didn’t care to waste any time before she sweetly asked her brother, “Jonathan, don’t you have something to tell mum and dad?”
Jonathan felt his heart stop as he tried to maintain control over the situation.  He heard Frankie let out a yelp when Brendan kicked her under the table. 
“Brendan, don’t kick your sister,” Emma scolded.
“But mum,” Brendan protested.
“Brendan, it’s alright,” Jonathan said then he drew in a breath.  “Actually…I do have something to tell you all…”
Jonathan watched Charles, Emma, and the two youngest Blakes, Isaiah and Rachel, turned their attention toward Jonathan.  He drew in a breath.  It was now or never.
“I’ve met a girl,” Jonathan finally said.  “Someone I care for very much.”
Emma joyfully dropped her fork to her plate and said, “Jonathan!  That’s wonderful!”
“Indeed,” Charles replied with a smile, raising his glass toward his son.  “Where did you meet her and when do we get to meet the lucky lass?”
“Well…” Jonathan began slowly, but before he was able to even consider what he was going to say next, Frankie interrupted him.
“You’d have to go to one of the Indian villages to meet her,” she chirped.  “Brendan and I saw them kissing just—OW!”  Frankie let out another yelp as Brendan kicked her under the table for the second time.
“Brendan!” Emma exclaimed.  “One more time and you’re going to your room.”
“But mum!” Brendan began to protest, but backed down when Emma gave him one of her stern looks.  “Yes, mum,” Brendan muttered and continued eating his meal in silence.
Emma turned to look at Jonathan who sat staring at his plate, hearing his blood rushing in his ears and feeling as though the entire world had just been pulled out from under him.
“Jonathan…” Emma gently implored him.
“Son, is what Frankie just said true?” Charles asked frowning at Jonathan from the head of the table.
“Actually, I’d like to be excused if I may,” Jonathan said as he angrily dropped his napkin onto his plate and got up from his seat.
“Jonathan!” Emma called, but her oldest child had already stormed out of the dining area and was on his way up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Nice going,” Brendan said to Frankie as they heard Jonathan’s door close and rest of the family was left in a stunned silence.
Later that evening, Emma ascended the stairs, carrying Jonathan’s dinner on a tray.  She knocked on his bedroom door and opened it to find her son seated in a chair by the window, staring out to the night sky.
“You barely touched your dinner,” Emma said.  “Of course, we wouldn’t want you to go hungry.”
Jonathan murmured a ‘thanks’ and Emma set the tray down on her son’s nightstand.  She then sat down on the bed to face him.  Mother and son were silent as Jonathan continued to stare out the window.
“So what is her name?” Emma asked.
Jonathan looked at his mother and gave her a small, sad smile before answering, “Kimimela.  It means ‘butterfly’ in the Sioux language.  That’s what tribe she is from.  But her grandmother was Ojibwe.”
“I see,” Emma said.  “How old is she?”
“Sixteen,” Jonathan said as he turned back to face the window.
Emma nodded and said, “Does her family know?”
Jonathan shook his head.  Emma sensed her son’s growing sadness and touched his arm with a comforting hand.  “Tell me how you met her.”
Jonathan turned back to her.  “I was riding Samson and saw her walking along a trail two months ago.  She was kind to Samson and he took well to her.  She’s a sweet, beautiful girl.  We’ve seen eachother almost everyday.”
“And you love her?” Emma asked.
Jonathan nodded before saying, “Very much.  I’ve never felt this way toward anyone.  And I was planning to tell you and dad.  But, as you saw, Frankie took it upon herself to tell you first.”
Emma watched her son roll his eyes as he spoke Frankie’s name.  “You’re sister loves you, Jonathan,” she said.  “Remember when she began walking and wouldn’t stop following you around?”
“Well, she still hasn’t stopped,” Jonathan said and Emma chuckled.  “I know, mum,” he continued.  “I love her too.  I just wish she would have let me tell you.  I was trying to wait for a moment when I could sit you and dad down.”
“Why?  Do you not think we’d approve?”
Jonathan shrugged.  “To be honest, I don’t know.  I mean I would hope so.  A lot of people wouldn’t take very kindly to that sort of thing, you know?”
Emma paused, taking in her son’s troubled expression before saying, “Well, I can’t speak for any of our other friends, but your dad and I would love to meet her.” 
“Really?  You would?”
Emma nodded, “He and I talked after everyone was excused from dinner and we both decided that we would love for you to bring her by.”
“You mean that?” Jonathan asked, still in a state of slight disbelief.
“Jonathan,” Emma began, “perhaps you were too young to remember.  After all, you and Brendan were still practically babies when we came over from Ireland.  But your father faced a lot of discrimination against him when he was looking for work to support us.  There are still a lot of Irishfolk coming over who still face much of that.  In the cities, many put signs in their windows stating that Irish need not apply.  James Livingston was the first person to take a chance on your father and he also faced a lot of criticism for hiring an Irishman, your father, straight off the boat.” 
“That is right,” Jonathan said.  “I’d forgotten about how dad had come to work for Mr. Livingston.”
“So believe it or not,” Emma continued, “we understand how it is to be the focus of prejudiced views.”
Jonathan sighed.  “I’m sorry, mum.”
“Besides,” Emma said, “your father and I do want to meet the young woman who has stolen our eldest son’s heart.”
“Thank you,” Jonathan said as a relieved smile.
“I love you, Jonathan.”
“I love you too, mum.”
Emma embraced her son and said, “Now eat your dinner before it gets cold again.”
“I will,” Jonathan promised.  After a pause, he said, “Well, now I’m going to have to tell Kimimela that you all know about us.  And I suppose that means I’m also going to have to jump the hurdle of meeting her father soon.  But I guess I did know that this day had to come eventually.”
Emma began to reply to her son, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. 
“May I come in?” a timid voice asked from the other side.  It was Frankie.
“Talk to your sister,” Emma said.
“I will,” Jonathan said.  And then he called to the door, “Yes, come in, Frankie.”
The door opened slowly and Frankie slowly peered her head in.  Emma left her two children, reminding Frankie to brush her teeth before turning in to bed.
After Emma shut the door, Frankie stood by the door staring at her brother.
“It’s alright, Frankie,” Jonathan said as he patted the area of his bed that his mother just sat on.  Frankie walked over to the bed.  She was dressed in her nightgown with her hair in their usual long, dark braids.  She regarded Jonathan with her large, blue eyes and she had a light sprinkle of freckles across her nose and cheeks.  Frankie sat on the bed and stared at the floor.
“Please don’t hate me,” were the first words to come from the thirteen-year-old’s mouth.
“You never have to worry about that, Frankie,” Jonathan gently replied.
Frankie turned her eyes upward to look at him.  “You mean that?”
Jonathan couldn’t help laughing a little when he said, “Of course.”
“I’m sorry,” Frankie said.
“Hey, we all mess up,” Jonathan replied.
“I want to meet her,” Frankie said.  “She seems…interesting.  Plus, I’ve never met an actual Indian before.”
“Well, she’s not much different from you or I,” Jonathan said.  “Her family just has some different customs from ours.”
“She’s very pretty,” Frankie said.
Jonathan smiled and nodded in agreement. “She is.  Thank you.”
“I didn’t mean to blurt it out to mum and dad.  But I was very happy for you.  Honest!  But I’m also worried about you.  Not everyone likes the Indians.  I’ve heard some people say things.  Bad things.”
“I know,” Jonathan said, “and I appreciate your concern for me, Frankie.  Really.”
“But I know that there are also people who don’t mind them.  So maybe those will be the ones who won’t mind if you marry that girl.  I just want you to be happy, Jonathan.  You’re my brother and I love you.  I don’t want people saying bad things about you.”
Jonathan looked at Frankie and said, “I love you too, Frankie.  I don’t want people saying bad things about me either and especially not of Kimimela.  But, people are going to talk no matter what and we can’t live our lives worrying about what other people think.  Because when you do that, you’ll never be happy.  You understand what I’m saying?”
Frankie nodded.  “I think so.”
Then, Jonathan remembered something his mother had told him earlier and said, “You know Mr. Livingston?”
Frankie nodded.  “Of course.”
“Well, you weren’t even born when this happened.  But when dad, mum, Brendan, and myself came here from Ireland, nobody but Mr. Livingston wanted to hire dad.”
“But dad’s such a hard worker!” Frankie said, frowning.
“He is,” Jonathan said, “but you know how you said that some people don’t like the Indians?  Well, some people didn’t like us Irish either and still don’t.”
“Why?” Frankie asked.
Jonathan shrugged.  “Who knows.  But there were people in Mr. Livingston’s circle who didn’t like that he gave dad work.  Now, what would have happened if Mr. Livingston had listened to them?”
A far away look formed in Frankie’s eyes.  “I think I understand what you are saying,” she said.
“Frankie, I know that Kimimela and I are going to have challenges and she does too.  But we’re not going to allow that to prevent ourselves from being with eachother.  I love her and she loves me.  And sometimes, you have to take risks to be with the one you love.”
Frankie nodded, understanding, and said, “So how do you say her name?”
Jonathan smiled, “Kimimela.”
“Kimimela,” Frankie repeated.  “I’ll have to remember that for when she comes to visit.  What does her name mean?”
“Oh!  That’s pretty.”
There was a silent pause before Frankie said, “Have you met her family yet?”
“No.  Not yet,” Jonathan replied.
“Well, I hope they like you.  I’m sure they will.”
“I hope so, too,” Jonathan replied as a wave of realization washed over him that meeting Kimimela’s father was looming only a small distance ahead of him.
Before heading to bed, Frankie hugged Jonathan and said, “I love you.  I hope you and Kimimela will be very happy.  Actually, I know you will.”
“Thanks, Frankie,” Jonathan said, returning his sister’s embrace.  “I love you, too.”
When Frankie exited the room, Jonathan began to eat the food that his mother brought for him as he thought of what lay ahead for him and Kimimela.  And for some reason, it made him remember something else. 
Jonathan would tell Kimimela all of what had occurred with his family that following day along with something else.  Jonathan would tell her of what he saw on that first day that he turned onto the trail.  The day that the Earth would turn on it’s axis during that summer of 1844.  The experience he had while, unbeknownst to him, Nicolae Ganoush, James Livingston, Samual Livingston, and Hector de Fuentes were having theirs.  Kimimela didn’t quite understand what any of Jonathan’s vision had to do with their relationship and neither did Jonathan, though they would come to understand years later when their youngest child, a daughter named Willow, would turn two.
In the meantime, Kimimela was thrilled with the fact that Jonathan’s family was willing to meet her, but she still had to inform her father and before any meeting could be set up between Kimimela and the Blakes, Howahkan had to give his approval.
Like his father before him, Howahkan was highly regarded and respected as their village’s medicine man.  Howahkan’s wife—the mother of Kimimela and her siblings—had passed on three years prior.  Kimimela had sat down with her father that night after dinner.  He seemed to express interest when Kimimela mentioned that she had met a young man she had grown quite fond of.  It seemed to be going well until Howahkan questioned his daughter of the identiy of the young brave who had captured his daughter’s heart, Kimimela had burst into tears.  A puzzeled Howahkan tried to get her to calm down and tell him what could possibly be wrong.  His concern for his daughter led him to having a vision of a pair of grayish-blue eyes.  It was then he immediately understood what was going on.
Howahkan was silent as his daughters sobs began to quiet down.
“What’s this young man’s name?” he finally asked her.
Kimimela hesitated.  She knew by her father’s tone that he had figured out what was going on.  She answered, “Jonathan.  Jonathan Blake.”
Howahkan sat in silence again.  He did have reservations about his daughter being with a white man.  But he could see how troubled his daughter was and could tell that Kimimela obviously cared for this young man.  Howahkan then informed his daughter that he would be willing to meet Jonathan, but couldn’t make promises. 
The meeting between Howahkan and Jonathan was set for that following Sunday evening after dinner.  Charles had offered to accompany his son, but Jonathan had insisted that it was best he go alone.  Kimimela met Jonathan at the entrance of her village.  She was accompanied by her older brother, Chayton, who was Jonathan’s age, and her twin brother, Sunkwa.  She watched, her heart picking up it’s pace, as she saw Jonathan approaching the village on Samson.
Jonathan and Kimimela gave one another brief, loving glances as Jonathan dismounted Samson.  Chayton looked from his sister to Jonathan before politely greeting Kimimela’s love interest.  Sunkwa also greeted Jonathan and Jonathan returned the greeting.  Sunkwa took care of getting Samson settled in and Jonathan seemed relieved of the fact that Samson seemed to take to Kimimela’s twin brother rather well.  Chayton then beckoned for Jonathan to follow him.  Jonathan gave Kimimela a nervous, but hopeful, smile before he began to walk beside Chayton.  Kimimela returned his smile and could only stand and watch as her brother took the man she loved to the hut where Howahkan waited.  Jonathan turned his head back to look at her, his lips turning up in a reassuring smile before he would mouth ‘I love you’ to her.  Kimimela felt tears burn in her eyes as Jonathan disappeared toward the hut.  She knew that her father was a fair man, but the meeting between him and Jonathan still had potential to go either way.  She barely noticed that her little sister, Mahpiya, had come to stand beside her.
Kimimela’s best friend, Chante, waited with Kimimela and Mahpiya a few feet away from the hut that Howahkan and Jonathan were in.  Nearly an hour had passed and Kimimela was become more anxious with each minute that would pass.  Chante tried to reassure her friend by telling her that Howahkan would likely have been done with Jonathan much sooner if he disapproved.  Kimimela kept her eyes on the hut as she hoped that her friend was right.  Finally, the door to the hut opened and Kimimela began to feel the world around her spinning and her legs threatened to cave in beneath her.  But Chante grabbed her arm, stabling her as she watched with anticipation as her father and Jonathan emerged.  Kimimela saw Jonathan, he wore a smile, beaming from ear to ear.  She then looked at her father, whose expression was that of someone pleased.  Kimimela stood in disbelief.  Could it be true?  Did her father give his approval or was she just simply seeing what she wanted to?  Kimimela’s question was answered when Jonathan ran toward her and scooped her up in a joyful embraced.  She could see her father, watching them.  Howahkan and Kimimela caught one another’s gaze and he nodded to his daughter, confirming that he did, in fact, give his approval.  Kimimela returned Jonathan’s embrace and neither of them cared if they were making spectacles of themselves in front of the other villagers.  Howahkan stood, watching his daughter and the man she loved.  Seeing her this happy, he knew that he made the right choice and he found Jonathan to be a good man. 
Jonathan and Kimimela had gone for a walk together later after Jonathan had promised Howahkan that he would have his daughter back at a decent time.  They had gone to the trail that they met on, where Jonathan gave her a full, passionate kiss.  A weight had been lifted from them and they both felt free to openly love eachother.  As the sun set in the west, Jonathan made a formal marriage proposal to Kimimela.  Elated, Kimimela accepted, watching as Jonathan slipped what he called the Claddagh ring onto the ring finger of her left hand while still down on one knee.  After returning home, Jonathan told his relieved and joyous family the news of Kimimela’s father’s approval along with his recent betrothal to her.
That following Friday evening, Kimimela had gone to meet the rest of the Blake family.  Charles and Emma made it a point to be very open and welcoming toward her as was Brendan.  Frankie was sheepish, but Kimimela was able to put the younger girl at ease and the two them got on well.  Jonathan’s youngest siblings, eleven-year-old Isaiah and seven-year-old Rachel, were friendly but regarded Jonathan’s new fiancée curiously.  On the Sunday night of that same weekend, Howahkan, Chayton, Sunkwa, and Mahpiya had gone to have dinner at the Blakes’ house.  Sunkwa and Brendan ended up becoming friends that night and Isaiah tagged along when Brendan took Sunkwa out to the barn where the family’s horses were kept.  Rachel and Mahpiya were the same age and went off to play together.  Both families had given their blessing over the union of Jonathan and Kimimela and it meant a lot to them to see their families getting on as well as they were.
The wedding was set for April of 1845 and the intention was to combine the Sioux and Ojibwe traditions of Kimimela’s family with the Catholic faith practiced by the Blakes.  Another hurdle that had to be jumped over was Kimimela needing to accept the Catholic faith as her own.  It was difficult for her as she held the Ojibwe and Sioux traditions she had grown up with.  But Jonathan put her at ease when he suggested that they resolve it by her becoming affiliated with the church, but that he wouldn’t have any problems with her keeping what she had grown up with.  Any children they had would be taught both faiths.
The wedding day of Jonathan and Kimimela approached quickly and it was also the day Kimimela had met James Livingston of New York.  She had heard a lot about the Livingston family and knew that he one of the Blakes’ closest friends along with being among the founders of the small New York town, Plains.  James had attended with his wife, Samantha, whom Kimimela found to be a very lovely and refined lady.  James’s three sons, Jesse, Samuel, and Lawrence, where also in attendance.  Jesse Livingston was the same age as Chayton and Jonathan.  Jonathan was thrilled to see his childhood friend who had also brought his new fiancée, Heather.  Jonathan, Kimimela, and the rest of the Blake family would attend Jesse and Heather’s wedding the following year. 
As Jonathan and Jesse had, Brendan Blake and Samuel Livingston had also played together as boys and Sunkwa quickly joined their group at the wedding.  Isaiah and Lawrence were also the same age and grateful to have eachother so they wouldn’t have to hang around with the girls.  It was noticed that Frankie had taken a liking to Samuel and she wasn’t shy when it came to showing it.  Samuel, on the other hand, seemed less than thrilled and the entire scenario amused Brendan and Sunkwa.  The wedding was a nice sized event and seemed to go off without any problems between the Blakes’ friends and those from Kimimela’s family and village.
Kimimela learned that James Livingston was a stern but generous man as he showed his generousity in the wedding gift he had given to Jonathan and Kimimela.  James had given the newly married couple the remaining amount of money they needed to build their new home on the property that Jonathan’s father had set aside for them.  This eliminated the need to take out a loan with the bank for the remaining amount, which was a burden that Jonathan and Kimimela anticipated facing.  They knew that some in the banking system would not react well to them as a married couple.  James had relieved them of that potential burden along with allowing Jonathan and Kimimela’s house to be finished in time for the winter that year.
As wonderful as their wedding day had been, it was the wedding night that Jonathan and Kimimela anticipated.  Charles had gotten a room for his son and new wife at one of the more elegant hotels in the town to stay at over the first three days of their married life.  Memories of the wedding night came back on Kimimela again as she sat in bed next to Jonathan asleep beside her.  She remembered his eyes on her as the last shred of her clothing had been removed and the way her heart pounded in her chest as she looked at Jonathan’s unclothed body for the first time.  She remembered them moving together on top of the bed and their skin to skin contact.  She remembered the way Jonathan had stimulated the most sensitive areas of her body, getting her ready for the consummation of their union.  She remembered the gentle way he entered her, causing her only a brief pinch of pain before he would begin to slowly thrust and gradually pick up pace.  The climax was unlike anything she had ever experienced and having that moment with Jonathan made it all the more meaningful.
Following the three days spent in the hotel, Jonathan and Kimimela would live for a short time with the Blakes as the final installments where being put in their new house.  While Kimimela loved Jonathan’s family, she and Jonathan were happy to be able to officially move into their new home.  They were especially grateful for the house when Kimimela was found out to be pregnant. 
Hard to believe it’s been over two years already since we met, Kimimela thought as she quietly got out of bed and went to the window.  She pushed the curtain aside and looke out at the flat grounds that stretched out beneath the night sky.  She could see Charles and Emma’s house far across the field.  The house was dark and highlighted by the light from the moon.  Kimimela was grateful to live not only close to Charles, Emma, and the rest of the Blake family, but also to the village she grew up in.  Kimimela was also glad to have Jonathan with her on nights like this, even if he was not awake.  Just having him near her gave her more than enough comfort.
Kimimela thought of those in her village and wondered if her father or anyone else had shared her experience.  Earlier that day, she had felt a low vibration beneath the earth.  She had been hanging clothes to dry on the line when she felt it.  Kimimela had stopped and closed her eyes to see if the elements would show her anything.  She had been taken across the ocean to a nighttime field.  It was near a lake and the ground pulsed under the moonlight as droplets of blood fell onto the grass.  The blood was immediately absorbed into the soil and a loud, otherworldly roar released into the air from beneath the earth (the cause of the low vibration I felt?). 
Kimimela would find out the source of the blood droplets after she had gone to sleep that night.  The dream would be a montage of scenes, each barely lasting longer than a second.  Kimimela would see a younger girl—maybe a couple years younger than she was—slice her palm with a dagger, wearing a rather pained expression as the blood seeped out of her palm.  There was an air of innocence to the girl, though she was undressed when she did this.  There was also another presence with the girl, though Kimimela couldn’t see who or what it was. 
There was also another girl whom Kimimela saw.  This other girl was a couple years older, maybe around twenty and had a slightly darker coloring of hair and skin tone than the girl who had been letting her blood onto the ground.  The second girl was tall and had a very graceful frame, where the first girl, the one spilling her blood onto the ground, was shorter with a rounder face and fuller bosom.  Both girls were equally beautiful, though in different ways.
Kimimela saw pieces of the life that the second young woman had lived.  She worked in a large, stone castle as a house servant and had met a cruel and gruesome end.  Kimimela could feel the pain and terror the young woman experienced in her final moments.  She saw the second young woman’s lover and husband, who had been brought to the brink of madness when he found her in the state she was left in.  Kimimela saw the bloodspill that the young woman endured at the time of her death and the bloodspill her husband caused in a rage of vengeance.  Then she saw the first girl again, this time in her village.  Kimimela could hear the voices that spoke to the first girl, but couldn’t quite make out what was being said.  It was after that Kimimela had awoken.
Kimimela knew that it wasn’t all that uncommon for an expecting woman to have strange dreams.  According to the town doctor, odd dreams were about as common as unusual food combination cravings and morning sickness.  While the dreams began occurring at the time she and Jonathan coneived, there was something about these dreams and the people she saw in them that made her believe that there was more to them than a symptom of pregnancy.  Kimimela let the curtain fall shut and made her way back to the bed.  She climbed back in, under the covers and huddled close to Jonathan who, in his sleep, put an arm around her and brought her close to him.  Howahkan would be visiting them that morning and she planned to ask her father his opinion of the dreams.  With that, Kimimela drifted to sleep.  She wouldn’t remember anything about the dream she would have this second time, other than briefly seeing twin baby boys, one with dark hair and the other with tufts of blond hair.  She also saw a young boy, no older than age ten or eleven, running out of a building and screaming in terror.  Kimimela wouldn’t recall much, except that the boy resembled Jonathan.


The following morning, Howahkan paid Kimimela and Jonathan a visit as promised.  He came with some herbs and medicines he had mixed together to aid his daughter through her pregnancy.  Charles and Emma had also stopped over and the six of them ended up having an enjoyable visit with Kimimela’s dreams hardly being a thought.
After Charles and Emma had left, Kimimela told her father about what she had seen the night before, from the two young women to the little boy who resembled Jonathan.  Jonathan sat, holding Kimimela’s hand and listening intently.
“That sounds like someone making a blood oath to the spirits,” Howahkan said after Kimimela had told him about the young girl letting out her blood onto the soil.  Kimimela noted the look of concern on her father’s face as he made the statement.
After hearing the rest of what Kimimela had experienced, Howakhan suggested that he smudge her and Jonathan’s house.  Neither Jonathan nor Kimimela objected.  Howahkan carried a burning cedar, sage, and weatgrass bundle through the house reciting a prayer to cleanse and protect.  Howahkan also prayed over the dreamcatcher that Kimimela kept over her and Jonathan’s bed.  He told Jonathan and Kimimela that he would be making one for the baby when he or she arrived.  Howakhan believed that there were times when the dreamscape was more than events taking place inside an individual’s head.  They had meanings and were not to be taken lightly.  It was also possible for one’s soul to enter another plain and have the ability to do things it couldn’t while in a physical body. 
“Sleep is as close to a physical death as one can get,” Howahkan had once told Kimimela.  She would never forget her father’s eyes when he left her and Jonathan that evening, simply telling her and Jonathan, “Be careful.” 
Kimimela felt chilled and hugged her arms around her body.  Jonathan responded by wrapping his arms around his wife as they bid Howahkan goodnight.  They watched as the medicine man headed back toward the village, cloaked in the red light of the sunset.  Kimimela wondered about the women, the young boy, and the two babies she had seen during her sleep the night before.  Her father’s words of warning hit her again.
Be careful.
Chills crawled over her skin and that was one of the many moments that she was grateful to have Jonathan with her.

Saxony, Prussia
Plains, NY, United States

The Nathaniel Fleming Manor and Orphanage was opened to the public in the summer of 1845, two months following the wedding of Jonathan and Kimimela Blake.  That was also when Nicolae Ganoush was traipsing through Europe alone, without his brother, and trusting no one.  When the orphanage opened, Nicolae had been sitting in a pub near Prussia, one of the few times he dared appear in public (this was also a year prior to his fateful meeting with Teresa and almost a year after Sebastian had disappeared).  And that day, he just really needed a drink. 
Not many paid mind to the gypsy seated in a dark corner of the pub as he drank down the quart of German beer that he had just enough money for.  It was good beer, Nicolae thought, probably the best he ever had.  He sat in the darkest corner of the pub, observing the patrons and looking forward to fall asleep as that was when Eloisa would come to him.
Nicolae couldn’t help being amused by a thought.  What would these people think if I were to tell them that I still have relations with my dead wife’s ghost and that her ashes come everywhere with me?  Sometimes, I even talk to her ashes.  They’d probably think him mad, he knew.  They’d probably find the closest asylum and put him in there.  And you know what?  That would be fine.  I’d be perfectly alright with that.  As long as I can still be with my Eloisa…she is much more than just a ghost.
Nicolae sat thinking these things and sending the beer down his throat and into the dark pit of his stomach.  He could feel the dark liquid beginning to seep into his veins and another thought occurred to him.  He had heard news earlier that day of Lucinda Alexanderescu getting married. 
Oh, the poor bastard…God bless you. Cheers to you and your lovely bride, Nicolae thought as he gave the poor fool getting married to the late Dimitri’s younger sister a small toast with his beer mug before sending more of the alcoholic beverage down into his liver.  At the very moment that Cedric and Margaret Fleming opened their orphanage with James Livingston present, Nicolae Ganoush sat in a pub, half a world away, looking at the patrons who had no idea that they were so close to Dimitri Alexanderescu’s killer.  A killer who, at that moment, had no regrets for what he had done.  Nicolae would remember what Dimitri’s onyx-like eyes looked like when the last drops of life drained from him.  He would remember the almost insane rush of power he felt as he looked over Dimitri’s lifeless body laying almost in pieces upon the bloodsoaked sheets when Nicolae had was through with him.  The blood turned the white sheets red, as it ran over the entire king-sized bed…
Nicolae chuckled to himself.  I really should write that down and go down in history with all the great poets.
Nicolae took another swig of his beer, satisfied that he had overpowered Dimitri and that he had made Anton Alexanderescu’s heir feel fear.  That he bled him of nearly every drop in his body.  Nicolae imagined that they must have had quite a time piecing Dimitri’s torso and limbs together for the funeral service.  Dimitri’s funeral service…his glorious funeral service.  And what did they intend to do with my sweet, gentle Eloisa who would never hurt anyone?  Throw her to the scavengers like those others likely did to my mother and father.  That’s what they were going to do!
The thought angered Nicolae to the point of once again, sending him close to the brink of insanity.  Perhaps it would be better if I just allowed my mind to just slowly go mad…
But his hand found the box that contained Eloisa’s remains and he changed his mind.  If he couldn’t be with her in life, he would be with her in death.  And that wouldn’t happen if they took him to an asylum.  They would take his personal effects, including the box with his wife’s ashes.  They would probably lock it away in a storage room somewhere or just scatter them at their own discretion.  And then when Nicolae died, they would bury his body in a field with an unmarked grave. 
Nicolae made a decision as he rose from his seat, leaving a small tip for the bartender beside his empty glass.  He slipped into the men’s washroom and drained the liquid content from his system and into the porcelain bowl.  Nicolae then walked passed the patrons and out of the pub.  As he walked out to the sidewalk beneath the dark sky, he vaguely wondered if the mattress on which he and Eloisa became man and wife still sat in the toolshed or if anyone had ever moved it.


At the moment that Nicolae made a decision that would go on to shape the rest of his life, Cedric and Margaret Fleming officially opened their orphanage and moved with their daughter, Maxine, into the upper quarters of the main building, where they would live as they ran the business.  The Flemings had sold the three story home in which their son, Nathaniel, had passed away just shy of his twelvth birthday.  The family was anticipating having a new start and Cedric had put the inheritance his father had left him into the project after putting aside what would be left to Maxine.  With the help of their good friend, James Livingston, the idea had been able to come into full fruition.

Before the orphanage was even a thought, Cedric and Margaret had lived just outside the city of New York, not too far from the Livingston’s home in the city.  The Flemings had lived a quiet and relatively happy life despite the fact that they were unable to have children.  In 1830, they adopted a baby boy they named Nathaniel Cedric and doted on the little boy as he grew.  Four years later, they adopted another baby, this one being a girl they named Maxine Rosalind.  Cedric and Margaret would settle with their two children near the city of New York as James Livingston and other founders would begin building the town of Plains.  Cedric and Margaret were considering purchasing a piece of land out there after James had shown them the developing town and the plot of land on which he was building his family’s holiday home.  But the seemingly good fortune of the Flemings took a downward turn when Nathaniel was stricken with a severe case of scarlet fever.  The boy would last a little over a month before succumbing to the disease in the early spring of 1842 as Nicolae and Eloisa were in the throws of their romantic relationship over in Romania.
Cedric tried his best to be strong for the grieving Margaret.  James and Samantha, of course, tried to also reassure their friends that they could call on them whenever they needed to. 
“We don’t care what time of night or day it is,” Samantha had said.
There was one evening that early summer following Nathanial’s death when Cedric had confided in James, telling him of how Margaret seemed nealy incapable of living in the house that Nathaniel had died in. 
“She can’t even walk passed his bedroom,” Cedric said, sitting across from James on the back porch of the Livingston home.  Cedric also told James that he had even caught little Maxine in her room talking to an imaginary playmate named “Nathaniel.”
“And it hasn’t been only once that this happened,” Cedric said.  “I’ve caught her doing this three times already!”
James thought for a moment before answering.  “Well Cedric, I hardly think that’s anything to be concerned about at this moment,” James said, trying to reassure his friend, “my guess is that it is merely Maxine’s way of coping with her brother being gone.”
“Yes, I agree,” Cedric replied, “but I’m also afraid for Margaret.  And I feel terrible because the first time I saw Maxine talking to this imaginary playmate, I scolded her, forbidding her to ever do it again.  The look on my little girl’s face when I yelled at her…”  Cedric’s voice trailed off as he swallowed back the lump forming in his throat before saying, “The last thing I want is for Maxine to feel cut off from her mother and I.  Especially at this time.”
James looked at his friend and then turned his gaze out to the field that stretched out behind their house, staring at the empty guest house where he and Samantha had allowed the Blakes to live during their time in New York.  Even though, at that time, it had been five years since Charles had been able to get his land out near the Iowa Territory, it was still odd for James not seeing the Blake children outside, running around and playing near the house.  He recalled his own three boys begging him and Samantha to allow them to run across the yard to the guest house so they could play with Jonathan, Brendan, and Isaiah.  There had even been times when Cedric and Margaret would bring little Nathaniel over and he would normally tag along with Lawrence and Isaiah.  Meanwhile, Frankie would come over and help Margaret with baby Maxine.  James wistfully smiled at the memories before turning back to Cedric.
“Well,” James began, “perhaps this imaginary playmate phase just needs to run it’s course.  Surely, as time passes, she’ll grow out of it.  In fact, such things are not uncommon at all for children.”
Cedric sighed before saying, “Yes, I know.  But Margaret, my poor wife, she’s been so terribly fragile as of late and if she were to hear Maxine…I mean…I told Maxine to not do such things around her mother, and so far she’s listened.  But I still…I feel…”
Cedric paused, his face reflecting a mind deep in thought and trying to figure out how to form the sentences that would let James know what he had been thinking.
“You feel what?” James inquired. “Go on.”
Finally, Cedric said, “I feel we need to sell the house.  Margaret even said to me last night that living in there has become almost unbearable for her.”
“I see,” James said, “well, where were you thinking of moving to?”
“That’s what I wanted to speak with you about.  You know how Margaret and I had been talking of purchasing land out in Plains for a second home?”
“Well, I’ve been considering making a more permanent arrangement instead of it just being a holiday or weekend home.  I was wondering what type of land is available at the moment out there.  Of course, I need to be mindful of how I would approach Margaret with the idea.  But I do feel it will help in all of us being able to move on.  Start over.”
“Hmm.”  James thought for a moment, recalling the stretches of land that were available for purchase.  That was when his thoughts then fell upon the stretch of wooded area at the top of a hill.  James couldn’t explain why, but he felt as though that was the land to show Cedric.
“There is one plot in particular I can show you,” James said, “It is still wooded, but it might be what you are looking for.  I do need to venture out to Plains tomorrow morning.  If you think Margaret would be well, you are more than welcome to accompany me.”
Cedric had gone with James that following morning while Samantha stayed with Margaret and Maxine at the Fleming home.  Samantha and Margaret had tea and brunch as Maxine wandered about the house with her dolls, and play teaset before eventually heading outside. 
There was a moment during the visit when Samantha glimpsed out the window that looked out to the backyard and saw Maxine seated on the swing that hung from the branch of a large oak in the Fleming’s backyard.  Samantha smiled at the site of the little girl playing, but as she watched more closely, it appeared as though Maxine were carrying a conversation with someone next to the swing, despite her being the only one in the yard. 
Samanth felt chills creep up her arm.  Her husband had told her of Maxine’s having an imaginary friend named “Nathaniel” and Cedric’s personal dilemma over allowing Maxine to do such a thing.  Having had experience with children, Samantha knew that Maxine was not the only child to ever have an imaginary friend.  In fact, when the Blakes had lived in their guest house, little Frankie talked to her dolls as though they were real children.  And why not?  At the time, she was the only girl among a group of six boys living on the same property and it was obvious that Frankie felt left out a lot of the time. 
So why should Maxine be any different?  James is right.  This is simply her way of coping with her brother’s death.
Samantha watched the little girl for another minute before joining Margaret in the other room and dismissed the incident as being a child playing pretend games, as children often did.
Meanwhile in the developing town of Plains, James had taken Cedric to see the land on top of the hill.  Cedric immediately fell in love with the view as one was able to see the land stretching out into the horizon.  The vastness of the Appalachian Mountains in the distance made Cedric temporarily forget his sorrow, making him feel on top of the world.  He felt complete here.  He felt happy.  He immediately told James that he was interested in the land, though he would have to discuss it with Margaret.  James and Cedric spent the rest of the day walking about the property as Cedric made tentative plans on which area of the land they would clear out to build their new home on.  James then took Cedric to see his own holiday home and the library James had founded and overseen as it was built.  To Cedric, it was the beginning of a new life.  He felt as though he belonged on that property.  That somehow, it was meant for him, Margaret, and Maxine.
That following month, the clearing out of some of the brush on the Fleming’s newly purchased land had begun and Cedric had shown James the blueprints for the new home he was going to build.  But everything would change when one afternoon as James sat in his office at Livingston Publishing eating his lunch, Cedric burst into the room, apologizing to James for the intrusion before informing his friend that he had a slight change of plan for the property and a wonderful idea.  James frowned but listened intently as Cedric told him of the plans to, instead, build an orphanage at the top of the hill.
“Margaret, Maxine, and I would still live there, of course,” Cedric said, “but we would live there as Margaret and I would run the business.”
James sat back in his chair, unable to help feeling slightly jarred by Cedric’s new idea.  He had never known Cedric to be frivolous, but James couldn’t help questioning his friend’s intentions.
“And you have discussed this with Margaret?” James asked.
“Yes,” Cedric said.
“And she is for it?”
“Yes, James.”
James took a sip of his tea before saying to his friend, “Cedric, you know I trust your judgement and competance.  But I want you to be certain that you and Margaret are set to run a business.  You’ve seen how much work I do running Livingston Publishing and even the Plains Library.”
“Yes, I know,” Cedric said, “but Margaret and I have discussed it and while we know it will be a lot of work, I think it will help all of us to do something in Nathanial’s memory.  You see, the most wonderful happiness Margaret and I found was through our two adopted children and if we can bring that same happiness to other parents in Margaret’s and my situation, as well as children as precious as Nathaniel and Maxine are to us, well…I think Margaret and I have found purpose again.  And there aren’t any orphanages in or close to the Plains area.”
James leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk and studying his friend.  He could see how passionate and serious about this idea Cedric was, but he was talking of taking on a rather hefty endeavor. 
After a brief consideration, James said, “Well you know I will help you in any way I can.  If this is what you really intend to do.  But I really think we should sit down and begin to carefully plan.  The property is yours so you may do what you wish with it.  But there is much to do in an endeavor such as the one you are speaking of.”

The plans for the orphanage began that following week and were finalized by Christmas of 1842.  Cedric and Margaret had called it their greatest Christmas present ever.  Construction began that following spring and would be finished by early summer of 1844, right before Nicolae would leave Romania and Jonathan would have his first encounter with Kimimela. 
Trees were cleared for the main building meant to house the children and another building was to be for the dining hall, classrooms, and living quarters for class instructors.  A small building was built halfway down the hill toward the entrance which would serve as a security building.  Other rooms in the main building included a chapel on the second floor and the fifth floor which was to be the living quarters of Cedric, Margaret, and Maxine Fleming.  Another area was cleared out to serve as a play area with swings, a sliding board, and other things one would expect to entertain a child.  Cedric and Margaret had chosen to name the establishment after their late son, Nathaniel.
The orphanage was at the top of the hill and could be seen from a distance by the Plains residents.  James had been pleased that he had helped Cedric and Margaret and the incident that had occurred in room 410 had become a passing memory, though he was still troubled by it.  James would try to not allow that to show.  How could he tell Samantha what he had seen?  He would keep it to himself, wanting to believe that it was nothing more than evening shadows combined with working too hard.  He would be relieved when the next two years would pass without incident.
Over the following two years, Cedric and Margaret had managed to successfully run their business and Maxine even seemed to adjust very well.  According to Cedric, her imaginary playmate, “Nathaniel”, had also become a distant memory.  The Livingstons and the Flemings would all attend the wedding of Jonathan and Kimimela Blake, leaving one of the board members of the orphanage to run the business while they were away.  In May of 1846, James and Samantha would also see their eldest, Jesse, get married to his fiancée, Heather.  It would also be another chance to get together with the Blakes again.

Now on this late evening in July of 1846 while Nicolae had his fateful encounter with Teresa, James sat in the library of his family’s home in New York City reading a letter from Charles Blake.  Charles had happily written James with the news of Kimimela’s pregnancy.  I become a grandfather in a matter of a few months, the letter had stated.  James smiled and shook his head.  “I probably won’t be too far behind you, old friend,” he said, thinking of the newly married Jesse and Heather. 
James looked up from the letter as memories of ten-year-old Jonathan and Jesse running around playing boys’ games with Brendan and Samuel in the yard out back filled his mind.  Seems like only yesterday…how the time flies.
James let out a heavy sigh as he folded the letter and placed it under a paperweight on his desk.  The paperweight had the Nathaniel Fleming Orphanage inscription in it and was in the shape of the stone sign that sat at the bottom of the hill at the entrance leading up to the property.  The paperweights had been among the items given to the administrators and others who had helped see the orphanage into fruition. 
James stood up from his desk chair, rubbing his face with his hands.
Time to retire, he thought.
Samantha had long since gone up to bed and James decided that he would inform her of Charles’s news in the morning.  James put out the lamps and exited the library.  The house was dark and quiet as his wife and sons were all asleep and the servants were in their living quarters.  James carried a small, lit candle as he headed to the stairs that would take him to the master bedroom he and Samantha shared.  But as he began to ascend the stairs, three small, sudden taps came from the other side of the front door, nearly causing James to drop his candle. 
Tap tap tap.
James took his pocketwatch out.
Twelve o’clock.  Who the devil could that be at this hour?
James was returning his watch to his pocket when he heard the tap tap tap again.  It was then an image of the dark-haired girl he had seen in the room at the orphanage passed through his mind.  He shut the unpleasant memory from his mind and headed toward the door.  James pushed the drape of one of the windows at the sides of the front door, peering out to see who was at his home at such a late hour.  But he couldn’t see anyone and his front porch appeared to be empty.
Well, whatever they needed, perhaps they’ll come calling again tomorrow, James thought.  He began to turn back toward the steps when he heard it again.
Tap tap tap.
James’s head snapped back around, looking back at the front door. 
Tap tap tap.  It was more insistant this time.
James took swift steps toward the door.  “Yes,” he said, “can I help you?”
There was a muffled sound from behind the door that sounded like a voice.
“I’m sorry I can’t understand you,” James replied. “Who is this?”
The muffled voice continued.  James put his ear more close to the door.  The more he listened, the more it sounded as if the voice was saying ‘I’m cold.’
James pulled the curtain that covered the window to the right of the front door, peering out again.  But the voice had stopped and the porch still appeared to be empty.
James returned the curtain to covering the window.
The three light taps had been replaced by three harsh bangs, causing the otherwise sturdy front door to rattle.  James angrily stalked to the door, reaching for the latch.
“What the HELL—
James heard a soft voice behind him.  He stopped and turned around to see his youngest son, fourteen-year-old Lawrence, at the top of the stairs peering down at him.  The boy’s face was dimly lit by the small oil lamp he carried.  There was something almost ghastly about the way the light of the lamp hit Lawrence’s face.  For some reason, this caused James to remember that night in room 410 at the orphanage prior to it’s opening.  He saw the dark-haired young woman again and Maxine finding him in the room in the middle of some sort of anxiety attack.  The shadows cast across Lawrence’s face by the light of the lamp made James remember the way Maxine’s eyes seemed to glow by the light of her lamp and the sunset outside… 
Stop.  It’s only my son…and Maxine is nothing more than a young girl.
“Lawrence…” James said collecting himself. “Please.  Go back to bed.”
“Yes father,” Lawrence said. 
James watched as his son turned to head back to his bedroom.  But the boy paused, turned back to his father and said, “Is everything alright?”
James drew in a breath and replied, “Yes.  Yes, Lawrence…now please, go back to bed.”
But the boy looked back at his father.  In the dim light, James could see tears welling in the troubled eyes of his son.
“Lawrence,” James said, “what is it?”
The boy shook his head with his eyes shut tightly.  “Nothing.”
“Son,” James said making his way up the stairs to Lawrence, “please tell me.  What is it?  Do you feel ill?”
“No,” Lawrence finally managed to say before bringing his hand to his eyes.  James was next to his son on the steps and managed to get the boy to sit down.  Lawrence’s quiet sobbing died down after a few minutes.
“Please don’t tell Jesse and Samuel,” Lawrence said, his voice still wavering from the sobs.
James smiled at his son and said, “What, that you were crying just now?”
Lawrence nodded.
“Don’t worry,” James responded, “it will be our secret.  Now, what’s troubling you?”
“I had a dream,” Lawrence began, “but it seemed so real that I actually went and looked into your and mother’s room.  I saw you weren’t there, so I came to see if you were down here.”
“Well son, why don’t you tell me what happened?”
The hair on James’s arms would rise as Lawrence would go on to explain what had frightened him so.  “I saw you, father,” the boy began.  “You were sitting at your desk in the library reading a letter from Mr. Blake.”  Lawrence then paused before saying, “Jonathan and his wife are expecting a baby, aren’t they?”
James could feel his heart nearly stopping at his son’s inquiry.  But he managed to collect himself enough to utter out, “Yes…they are…but don’t tell anyone just yet.”
Lawrence nodded and continued.  “Well, you put the letter under the paperweight that Mr. Fleming gave you before you put out the lamps and began to come upstairs.  That was when…”  Lawrence’s voice trailed off and the boy’s eyes grew wide and filled with terror before he choked out, “I saw you die, father.  I saw you answer the door to Nathanial Fleming.  He was knocking on the door and when you opened it, he killed you!”

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 different 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 its 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 ever so lightly.  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.  As an infant, Liam was brought 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.  There was 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 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 gruff sea captain told Liam when the boy revealed his true age.  And Liam would turn sixteen on the first day he was 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 was now 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 moments 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 parents were alive or dead or if they were even still 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.  It wasn’t until Liam’s twentieth birthday that he would even begin to give his mother any thought.
Over the last three 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 pick himself up and have a pretty good life.  Maybe not a very conventional life and probably not one 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 he had been carrying.
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 take to bed 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 Akatsatov was only ten-years-old.  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.  Her 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 always tried to find pleasure in the small things and most of the time, that was 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 rose to sitting.  She was facing the rest of the sleeping members of her family and she felt her heart warm 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, one of those small, simple pleasures.  Her parents appeared so relaxed and close with one another.  This was the opposite of how they were with each other while awake.  Stefania, sighed and forced herself to not think about that and instead focused on what was happening at that moment.  Other members of the family were her two older brothers, sixteen-year-old Sebastian and twelve-year-old Ferdinand.  Sebastian and Ferdinand slept to the right of Luiz and Teresa.  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 those things.  It helped her to pass time during the day and temporarily block out the tension in her family that only heightened after little 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 village in Spain, 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 left the house to go drink at the tavern in their village.  After that, Stefania couldn’t help her curiosity and the fascination she had with the square, wooden object.  It seemed to make her father happy, yet sad at the same time and it made her mother upset.  What’s so special about a box—or what’s inside of 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 their parents’ latest fight and it was assumed that the boys were all doing the same in their room.
The girls’ bedroom was closer to their parents’ sleeping area, so they were able to hear more of what was being said than their brothers probably could.  The girls were able to hear a lot through the walls.  They could hear the words that Luiz and Teresa would hurl at one another during their fights.  Other times, they would hear what sounding like their parents’ bed creaking rhythmically accompanied by a lot of moaning (this was something Anabel understood better than the two younger girls), but that was much fewer and far between.  Usually, it was the fighting that the children heard.
Stefania had begun to put the pillow over her head in an attempt to silence the shouting voices of her parents.  But she paused when something caught her attention.  It was enough for her to want to get out from her cot and move toward the door…
Stefania had 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 goddamn business!” Luiz yelled back.
Stefania flinched backward as Luiz slammed his fist on the table on his way out, causing the table to rattle so hard that 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 piece of shit thing 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 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.  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 in bed?” 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 appeared almost black, like two shiny black onyx stones.  Stefania stood with her heart pounding as her mother regarded her with those eyes.  For a second, it seemed as though Teresa’s face had transformed into one that Stefania did not recognize.  The shadows in the dim light of the candle were dancing over her mother’s features, distorting them.  Then as quickly as they appeared, 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 perhaps I was so upset that maybe I did call him by the wrong name.”
Stefania watched as her mother forced a reassuring smile.  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 relented and simply said, “Alright, Mama.”
Teresa drew in a breath and gave her daughter a satisfied nod. “Very good baby,” Teresa 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 later when Anabel had fallen asleep.  She didn’t know what time it was, but it felt as though many hours had passed.  Stefania sat up when she heard the sounds of 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 getting drunk at the tavern.
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.  It appeared as though he were afraid that 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 and fearing her father’s reaction.  Luiz had never physically hit Stefania, her siblings, or their mother, but he to say he was intimidating when he was angry with someone was an understatement.  Stefania froze, anticipating her father hollering at her for being out of bed this late at night.  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 ever 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 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 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 in the back of her mind told her that doing so may not be wise 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, Stefania…” her father finally said, “it was all taken away…everything gets taken away…”
His voice trailed off.  His speech was clear despite his not being sober.  Luiz drank a lot but managed to hold his alcohol rather well despite his lean 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-seven years, though he was still quite handsome and 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 when he was younger 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 was?
“Why?” she asked him, “what do you mean, papa?”
Luiz looked at his small, curious daughter.  She thought he was going to give her an answer, but 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 let out a soft gasp as she put her arms around him. 
“Goodnight, Papa,” Stefania said sadly and climbed down from Luiz’s lap.  She had wanted to finish with ‘I love you’ but couldn’t bring her mouth to form the words.  It then dawned on her that in her eight years alive, she had never heard her father speak those words to her.
Stefania’s 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 as 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 now stood, two years, later on a ship, 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:
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…right after I saw 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 had seen it walking around near door of her parents’ room in the hut.  It had stopped, seeming to notice Stefania’s ability to see it and in response, it vanished as though it had stepped 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. 
“It 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 her baby sister’s 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 sound of their mother’s agonizing screams.  The two girls had rushed 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 that Stefania couldn’t quite place, though she would understand years later.  Stefania also thought she could hear her mother say “it’s all my fault” but she wasn’t entirely sure if she had actually heard her mother say it or if she had misheard.
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.
Why won’t you comfort mama? Stefania wondered, watching as her father seemed to distance himself even more from her hurting mother. 
The search for Olga was still happening as the evening fell upon the village.  Anabel and Stefania ended up making supper for the family, though her father had gone out to the tavern again.  Teresa remained sitting with her arms around the cradle and and her dark eyes staring at the floor.  Stefania had fixed a plate for her mother, setting it in front the cradle.  Teresa thanked her daughter but barely touched the food.  Stefania was deeply troubled by all that was happening around her and it wasn’t just Olga disappearing.  It was the way her baby sister seemed to vanish without so much of a trace.  And there was something else; something that Stefania felt.  A shift in the air.  Everything suddenly seemed so much darker, gloomier as though a stormcloud had materialized over their hut and decided to stay there.  Stefania’s ten-year-old mind tried to make sense of it all but the more she tried, the more confusing it all became.
The search for Olga would continue everyday over the next week, but the little one would not be found.  In an act of desperation, some of the men in the village had 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 one of them had taken the little one,” Stefania overheard someone in the village say about the officials and others outside of their village.  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 any sounds that might be associated with 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 (it does seem rather silly when you think about it, doesn’t it?).
Over the course of the next few days, Teresa had managed ressume her tasks wife and mother, though her movement was slow and mechanical.  During that time, Stefania looked after Tatiana and Manuel.  Anabel tried to help, but seemed to be just as shaken as their mother.  Anabel and mama are a lot alike…
Later that evening, when everyone else had gone outside leaving Stefania alone in the hut, she ceased cleaning the dinner plates and went over to the cradle.  She stood at the foot of it, staring down into it’s bed as though she were looking down into the jaws of some ferocious, wild animal.
“Where’s Olga?” she demanded, as though she were expecting it to answer.
The cradle sat with its bed now resembling a gaping maw, ready to devour any unsuspecting creature that may venture too close to it.  It remained silent, refusing to be intimidated by a little girl and harbored the secret that danced around it engulfed in a fog that no one would be able to see though.  And the mysteries were far from over.
That following Saturday evening would release the looming stormcloud onto Stefania and her siblings.  In the early evening, Teresa had gone to get Anabel from the hut she shared with Vlad, bringing her to sit in the girls’ bedroom with Stefania, Tatiana, and little Manuel.  It was there that Teresa would reveal to them of plans to leave their village that very night.
“We’re Leaving?!” Anabel exclaimed with wide-eyes.
“Keep your voice quiet,” their mother hushed.
“But why,” Anabel asked, 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 question her any further.  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 with round eyes.
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 that night after midnight and took the most minimal amount of belongings (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, though it still seemed to the children of Luiz and Teresa that their mother also knew more than she was telling them. 
Stefania had given the cradle a final glance before departing with her family.  The wooden object stood silent, taunting the little girl one last time.
As Stefania turned away to head outside where her family waited, she heard a creak behind her.  She turned toward the diretion it came from and ended up facing the cradle the cradle again.  It seemed closer, as thought it had moved on its own, ever so slightly, closer to where Stefania stood.  As Stefania stood, trying to come up with a logical reason for the cradle appearing to have moved from its place, the temperature in the room dropped, prickling Stefania’s skin with chills.  That was when the cradle began to rock.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Side to side in a smooth, hypnotic movement.
A scream lodged itself in Stefania’s throat as her arm reached to slam the door her parents’ old bedroom.  She couldn’t get out of the hut that was no longer her home quickly enough.  As the family quietly left their village, Stefania took one last look back at the hut.  Perhaps it was the moonlight, but Stefania thought she could see a soft glow coming through one of the windows and a dark figure moving around inside.

Stefania looked toward the stairwell leading up to the ship’s deck.  She felt suffocated by the bad memories and needed to get out and away from her family for a while.  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.  They would sing songs and make her laugh. 
Stefania tiptoed over to the stairwell and, when she got to the bottom stp, ran up, eager to get away from the still looming stormcloud.
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 the second mother to her siblings she had become.
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 and welcoming them into her core.  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, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Sirius.  One of the few times her father had spent any amount time with her was during a starry night, two days following the departure from their village.  It was a rare, happy moment for Stefania as he allowed her to sit on his knee while he helped her see some of the star constellations that his own father had shown him.  Stefania could see the far off look her father had as he briefly mentioned his own father, Stefania’s grandfather.
“What was his name?” she had asked.
Her father had looked down at her intently as though he were deciding whether or not he should answer her question.  After a few seconds of silence, he finally answered, “Luiz.”
Stefania felt as though thousands of needles pierced her insides as she heard that answer.  She swallowed before saying, “He had your name, papa?”
Stefania felt her father tense up at her question.  His eyes shifted away so Stefania was unable to look into them.  Stefania kept staring intently at her father who continued to avoid her gaze.  Finally, he looked at her and said, “Yes.  He did.”
“What happened to him?” Stefania asked.
She watched, almost frightened, as her father’s eyes darkened.  Was he going to holler at her?  Give her a swat?  But he didn’t do either of those things.  Instead, he answered, “He died.  When I was a little boy.  I was Tatiana’s age, in fact.”
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.  The image she was able to conjur very much opposed the stern and reserved man that he now was.  Stefania took in her father’s sad expression.
“I’m sorry, papa,” she said.
Luiz shrugged, keeping his gaze straight ahead.  “It happens,” he replied.  Stefania was quiet after that as something inside told her to not question her father any further.  Instead she rested her head on his shoulder and as he had done two years ago while he sat staring at his box, he placed an arm around his daughter, a move that brought tears to sting the rims of her eyes.  Ever since that night two years ago, a barrier seemed to break between Stefania and her father.  While they far from had the ideal, loving relationship of what would be expected between a father and daughter, she felt as though he had somehow let her in somewhere he never allowed anyone to be.
Stefania had sat that way with her father until her mother arrived to tell them that it was time for sleep.  They were spending the night at a room in the upstairs of a tavern and Stefania was sitting with her father on the balcony that stuck out from their room.  Stefania obeyed her mother, sliding off of her father’s lap and heading back in toward the area she was sharing with Tatiana and Manuel.  What would happen next struck Stefania as being stranger than any cryptic conversation her father would have with her.  After Stefania had left Luiz to himself out on the balcony, her mother called to her and motioned for her to step out into the hall.  Stefania did as Teresa told her, and they went out into the hall. 
Stefania watched, bewildered as her mother shut the door behind them.  Then, Teresa turned to her daughter.  After having gave birth to several children by her current age of thirty-three, Teresa had some extra padding on her body that wasn’t there when she was younger, though she was far from what one would consider being large.  Her face was still fairly youthful, save for some lines around her eyes and across her forehead.  Her dark hair still hung down to her waste with only a couple strands of gray throughout.  Teresa regarded her daughter, crossing her arms over her full breasts, which were heavier as she had still been nursing Olga at the time of the baby’s disappearance.  Then, in a calm voice that chilled Stefania for reasons she didn’t understand at the moment, Teresa asked, “What was your father saying to you?”
The simple question caught Stefania off-guard.  Why did her mother want to know?  Why did she care?  Stefania looked at the floor, frowning at her mother’s inquiry.
“Stefania, don’t look away from me.  I asked you a question.”
Stefania’s head snapped back up.  The calmness of Teresa’s tone remained, but her eyes told another story.  There was an urgency to them…and anger?
Stefania struggled to find her voice and then answere, “He was showing me the constellations.  Just like his papa did with him.”
Teresa’s eyes narrowed as she took in what her daughter told her.  Then she said, “What else?”
“Nothing, mama,” Stefania stammered.  She could feel her heart pound under her mother’s dark gaze.  Teresa seemed to be looking through her daughter, trying to detect the smallest shred of dishonesty.
“Stefania, baby, you’re not being truthful with me,” Teresa said softly, her voice barely above a whisper.
“But I am, mama,” Stefania said, maintaining her composure.
“I don’t think so,” Teresa replied.  “Remember what we said about children who lie to their parents?”
Stefania felt a sudden anger boil up inside of her.  She wanted to scream, Then why don’t YOU tell the truth, mama!  Tell me the real reason why you lied to me about calling papa Nicolae!  That moment she had just spent with her father out on the balcony was enough to convince Stefania even more that there was something to her mother’s name slip.
“I know your father blames me for what happened to Olga,” Teresa said suddenly with her eyes flashing.  “He blames me for everything.”
“What are you talking about, mama?”
“Just know that if he tells you anything about me, it’s a lie.  Remember that Stefania.  Will you remember that?”
Stefania looked up at her mother, stunned and unable to speak.  She was jolted from that when Teresa grabbed her roughly by the shoulders.  “Answer me, Stefania!”
“Yes, Mama,” Stefania said.  “I promise.”
Teresa studied her frightened daughter and loosened the grip on Stefania’s shoulders.  “Good girl,” she said, returning to her calm tone.
Teresa and Stefania stood, gazing at one another, not as though they were mother and daughter, but almost as rivals.  Stefania had never felt more scared of her mother than she had at that moment.  Once again, the shadows in the dimly lit hall played over Teresa’s features, distorting them into a face that wasn’t hers.  Finally, Stefania spoke up.
“May I go to bed now, Mama?” she asked.
Teresa regarded her daughter with eyes that seemed to darken (and glisten).  But she nodded, excusing her daughter from the hallway.
Stefania had just put her hand on the knob when her mother stopped her again.
Stefania turned to see her mother giving her an almost knowing look.  “Yes, Mama?”
“If you see your father with his box again, let me know.”
Stefania’s eyes widened as her mother gave her a small smile.
“Goodnight, Mama,” Stefania said and quickly retreated back into the room leaving Teresa standing in the hall.  Luiz had stayed out on the balcony for a little while longer before retreating into bed.  Stefania had awoken, sometime in the early morning to her mother re-entering the room.  Perhaps it was the moonlight still present in the sky, but when Stefania opened one of her eyes, she could see that Teresa’s eyes appeared to almost be glowing.  She also moved in a fashion that appeared to almost be floating…
Stefania shook the terrifying memory from her mind, refusing to believe that her mother’s glowing eyes and floating movement was anything other than something of a dream. 
After they had boarded the ship, Liam would show Stefania even more star constellations and would also 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 turned 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. 
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 also 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 Luiz (or Nicolae?) 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 green 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?  Felix is rather anxious to see you.”
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 that horrid object, 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?  And then some of the behaviors of her parents still bothered her.
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, its 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.   

Quebec, Montreal, Canada
Plains, NY 1867-1931

La Suerte had reached the Canadian port in early April of 1866.  Within the following month, Nicolae (or Luiz as he was known to everyone), Teresa, their children, and son-in-law would be settled among a cluster of small Rom villages off the coast.  The house they lived in was only a slight upgrade from the huts they had lived in back in Europe (in both Romania and Spain), but it did provide a little more room for the family. 
Nicolae lived in the house with Teresa and their children Sebastian, Ferdinand, Stefania, Tatiana, and Manuel.  Anabel and her husband Vlad lived in a smaller house, next door.  Within six months of their settling in Quebec, Anabel would discover that she was pregnant with her and Vlad’s first child.
As the months passed, the family prepared for the new arrival.  As for Nicolae, what would normally be a time of joy for a prospective first-time grandfather turned into a time of deep depression and loathing.  He would feign a smile when in the company of family and friends.  The nights he would go to the local pub and drink would often be mistaken by his peers for a celebratory instead of a man drowning in sorrow.  As Nicolae saw it, everything was a lie.  His life, his marriage—which he saw as not only a lie but also a colossal and cruel joke—was nothing short of a sham.  With each passing day, he found it increasingy difficult to pretend as though nothing was wrong.
There is a lot wrong…more than anyone can ever know. 
Nicolae had gotten to where he could barely stand to look at Teresa.  He had begun his marriage to Teresa with a sense of responsibility and an obligation to do what was honorable.  He was confused over how he had seen Eloisa during his first sexual encounter with Teresa and Eloisa seemed to have left him after that.  Nicolae had never felt so alone and abandoned than he had at the realization that his beloved first wife was no longer returning to him.  During that time, Teresa had become a comfort to him and while he knew he could never love her the way he had Eloisa, he felt a responsibility to her, especially when he discovered that she was carrying his child.  Nicolae would continue having relations with Teresa, though it would never be the same as it was with Eloisa.  Anytime he was with Teresa, Nicolae would hope that Eloisa would somehow appear beneath him.  Somehow, Teresa would later find that out and it would be then that Nicolae would discover the truth of who the woman carrying his child really was and what she had done. 
Teresa’s first pregnancy had been a difficult one and instead of going to a seaport, they ended up settling in the Rom village in Spain and lived there up until little Olga’s disappearance.  While Nicolae did have love for the children, he couldn’t help the fact that when he looked at them, he not only saw himself but her.  Teresa.  The woman who had driven the final nail into his coffin. 
To him, the children were a taunting reminder of what could and should have been and ended up not being.  He had wanted very much to be a father to the child he had made with Eloisa.  Any child they would have had together would have been a result of their union and love.  With Teresa, that was not the case.  His children with Teresa had each been the result of deception and the dark truth that had been the cause of their ending up together.  But Nicolae also felt a tremendous amount of guilt for the times he had resented his children and now forthcoming grandchild.  There was part of him that knew it wasn’t fair to take his anger at Teresa out on them.  They were children and had no control over how they had come into the world.  They hadn’t done anything wrong.  They weren’t responsible for Teresa’s actions.  Nicolae sat thinking of all these very things in the toolshed that was behind the small house near the Canadian coast.  It was close to midnight in March of 1867 and Anabel was in her ninth month and was likely to give birth at anytime.
Nicolae listened to the rush of the ocean’s night tides in not so far off distance.  He listened to the ocean that, a year ago, he had finally crossed after setting out from Romania twenty-three years ago.  He thought of all he had lost in that time: first his parents, then his siblings, then Eloisa, then Sebastian.  Then in Spain, he lost Eloisa for a second time before losing what last sense of pride and freedom he had left.  In many ways, he never really left Romania, or it never left him. 
Nicolae had insisted on giving his eldest son the name of his lost brother and his eldest daughter, his mother’s name.  Even the name he had used over the passed two decades, Luiz Akatsatov, had been his father’s first name and the surname had it’s origins in Moldova, the birthplace of his mother.  As for Eloisa, Nicolae’s love for her was still strong even if she no longer loved him.  He kept her ashes with him and intended on doing so until his death.  And his death, Nicolae decided, would be that very night.
In the dim light of the shed, Nicolae turned his gaze upward to where he had secured the noose he had knotted out of rope.  His workshed provided just enough room for a person his height to hang.  He looked at the stool underneath the noose as he clutched the box with Eloisa’s ashes tightly.  Nicolae had carried that box with him since the age of nineteen and now at forty-two, it would all finally end with him being with the only woman he could ever love, the only one who had ever made him feel complete.
There was a cliff not too far from the house that dropped down into a query of rocks by the ocean’s edge.  Nicolae had considered this as an option, as he could jump from the cliff holding Eloisa’s ashes.  But the more he thought about it, the more he felt the way he was doing it was the better way to go.  The workshed reminded him of Eloisa and the nights they had snuck away to be together in the toolshed back in their slave village in Romania.  He wanted his final moments to be reliving his time with Eloisa in anticipation of finally being able to be with her again forever.  Nicolae hoped that his eldest son would be able to fulfill his final request of scattering his and Eloisa’s ashes together on the Atlantic Ocean (something he had written in the suicide note that he had in his pocket).
So long as Teresa doesn’t sabatoge it…and who knows what she’s capable of. 
The sweet, though mildly irritating girl he had met in Aragon, Spain was gone, though she was brilliant when it came to putting up a front for the neighbors.  Nicolae stared at the door, thinking that perhaps his original idea of throwing himself off the cliff would be the better way to go.  He could just leave his note, throw himself into the Atlantic as he held Eloisa’s ashes and allow the seawater to fill his lungs until he was no longer on this plain.
A small chuckle escaped Nicolae.  It was odd how he had left Romania to escape slavery.  Yet, here he was still, in a way, a slave.  He was not Nicolae Ganoush to anyone but himself (and sometimes, not even himself).  As far as those who knew him now were concerned, Nicolae Ganoush, his family, his past, where he had come from, none of it existed.
All a lie…
When Nicolae had killed Dimitri, Domn Anton Alexanderescu had wanted Nicolae hanged.  Hanged or beheaded.  Now, here he was, considering dying in a method that the Domn would have liked to have seen him die.
The Domn…
Nicolae couldn’t help wondering at that moment what became of the Domn and his wife, Elsa over the years.  The last he had heard about the Alexanderescu family was when he was passing through Prussia and he had heard the news of Lucinda getting married to the son of a Hungarian noble family.  Nicolae hadn’t heard anything about the Domn or Elsa passing away, though that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened.
Trying to imagine Lucinda as a woman his age (only two years younger than Nicolae was) with a husband, children, and possibly even grandchildren proved quite difficult as all Nicolae thought of when he thought of Lucinda (other than her piece of shit brother) was the spoiled little brat who had gotten her hair pulled out by none other than Eloisa.  Yes, Nicolae did remember his first time meeting Eloisa when they were still children rather fondly. 
Nicolae closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall holding the box containing the remains of Eloisa to his chest.  An image of the two of them washed over him with the sound of an incoming wave.  They were on the mattress inside the shed back in Romania.  Nicolae was seated with Eloisa in his lap and her legs were wrapped around him.  Both were naked and vulnerable.  It was beautiful.  Honest.  There were no barriers between them, physical or emotional as they clinged to one another.  Nicolae’s head rested on Eloisa’s chest, hearing and feeling her heartbeat before he turned to kiss the valley between her breasts.
At that moment, Nicolae lost it as the tears began to spill from his eyes.  All the sadness, emotional pain, and anger that he harbored had finally burst through the walls of the fortress he had built around him over the years.  Eloisa had been Nicolae’s last real stability and when she died, his brother Sebastian had kept from completely going over the edge.  But then Sebastian disappeared and while Nicolae had been able to contain himself from going completely mad, everything he had lived for was gone.  All he had left were the nights Eloisa had come to him while he slept and Teresa had taken those away.  The nights Nicolae had spent with Eloisa after her death gradually grew more far between as he was close to Aragon.  He would see Eloisa, but it was different.  She was different.  It was almost as though she knew what was to come.  Now, it had been two decades since he had seen Eloisa and over those last two decades, many were the late nights when Nicolae would just sit with the box of her ashes hoping that somehow, that would make her come to him.  But it never happened.  He had lost her.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as his body shook from his sobs, “I’m so sorry…”
Nicolae even doubted that Eloisa would be waiting for him on the other side (wherever that may be).  He wondered about his parents and siblings.  He didn’t even know which of his brothers and sisters were still alive or which ones had passed on.  And Sebastian.  In Nicolae’s mind, Sebastian was still only eleven years old as the boy was when he vanished.  And then his youngest child, Olga, had disappeared. 
Just like Sebastian. 
Over the years, Nicolae had tried to maybe find some form of clue in the incident with the cloaked figure, the dark labyrinth with a demonic version of Sebastian, and being taken to the year 1956.  But the more he tried to get some reason and logic out of it, the more confused he became.  All he knew at that moment was that he wanted to see Eloisa and the rest of the family he had lost.  The family that had been forgotten and never existed as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
The letter Nicolae had in his pocket explained everythinng and while didn’t care if Teresa understood, he hoped his children would.
Nicolae’s crying had ceased and now he sat with his eyes still shut, knowing that it was almost time. 
Eloisa, my love.  I’m coming.  Please be there when I do…
As Nicolae began to relax, accepting his fate and what he was going to do, he had the feeling that he was not alone in the workshed.  He felt a presence entering the room and sitting beside him.  A familiar presence.
“Nicolae,” a voice whispered.
Nicolae froze, feeling his heart nearly stop at the familiar voice.  It can’t be…oh God, it can’t…  He slowly opened his eyes and there she was, sitting beside him.  He stared in disbelief.  “Eloisa…”
“Yes, my love,” she said. “It’s me.”
Nicolae’s first impulse was to throw his arms around her and never let go, but he stopped, remembering the times Teresa had deceived him.
“Please…it’s really you…?” Nicolae said, studying her face, her eyes, for any sign that it was really her and not a glamour of Teresa’s.
“It is,” she said bringing her hand to touch the side of his careworn face.  There was something in Eloisa’s touch that he had forgotten.  Something that wasn’t there with Teresa, even when she was at her most convincing.
Nicolae looked into Eloisa’s eyes, heard her voice, felt her touch, and it all came back to him.  The genuine nature of his first wife and the love that she had for him was all still there and had never died.  She was here after all these years.  He had gotten older and physically aged, but she was still eighteen-years-old and as beautiful as he remembered her.

As it had happened earlier, every emotion Nicolae had harbored came out of him.  He threw his arms around Eloisa.  She felt real!  She was real!  He was really holding her again and she was holding him.
“My Eloisa!” he sobbed into her shoulder.
“It’s alright, my Nicolae,” she soothed.  “I’m here.”
“Oh God.  My love, why did you leave me?!”
Eloisa tightened her embrace around him.  They sat that way, Eloisa holding Nicolae as he shed his tears.  He found comfort in her the way he had back in Romania.  They were reunited, holding one another for a while longer before pulling apart and looking at each other, taking one another in.  Then a thought occurred to Nicolae.  “Am I dead?” he asked her.
“No,” Eloisa answered.  Nicolae looked into Eloisa’s eyes.  He noticed sadness in the way she looked at him.  “Nicolae, what happened to you?” she asked.
Her question cut through him. “I got old,” he stammered.
Eloisa sighed and shook her head.  “That’s not what I mean and you know it.”
Nicolae lowered his eyes to the floor, suddenly feeling shame as he saw Eloisa look up at the noose.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” Eloisa asked.
Nicolae was quiet for another moment.  There was so much he wanted to say. “Eloisa… can’t live without you,” he said, “I tried and I can’t do it anymore…please…just let me come with you.  After I lost my family, you and Sebastian were all I had left.  I have nothing here anymore.”
“What about your children?” Eloisa said.
Nicolae shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Whenever I look at them, I’m reminded of what happened…of what Teresa did…especially after I told her more than once to please respect my boundaries!  And did she do that?  No!  She lied to me!  What little I had left she took away!”  Nicolae paused, trying to control the anger he felt brewing before he said, “I don’t even have my name anymore.  I hardly even know what’s real and what isn’t.  You know, the other day I was thinking of my brothers and sisters and I couldn’t even remember some of their names!  It’s all getting lost…all of it…”
Nicolae brought his hands to his face as more tears began to spill out.  Eloisa brought a comforting hand to his shoulder as Nicolae continued, “And my daughter, Anabel, is about to have a baby and the lies will continue.  Another generation and the lies will continue.  I often with that after Sebastian disappeared…that I would have just gone back to Romania and turned myself in.”
“But you didn’t,” Eloisa said.  Nicolae turned his gaze back to her.
“Your children are beautiful,” Eloisa said, “just like their father.  Your granddaughter will be too.”
“My granddaughter?”
Eloisa nodded.  “Yes.  Anabel’s having a girl.  And they all need you.  Whether or not you believe that.  Or want to.”
Nicolae sighed.  “It’s just that…when I think of what could have been…I just…wish it were our children and granddaughter instead of…”  Nicolae’s voice trailed off.
“Nicolae, you know I wanted that too,” Eloisa said.  “A life with you was all I wanted.  But Nicolae, the children are not to blame for Teresa’s actions.  I know you know that.”
And Nicolae knew she was right.
“I couldn’t leave Teresa when I found out that she was carrying my child…” Nicolae said.
“I wouldn’t have expected you to,” Eloisa said, “because that’s not the man I fell in love with.”
“That night…Eloisa…I thought it was you!  Honest to God I did!”
“I know.”
Nicolae let out a sigh of relief.  “I was afraid you were angry with me for betraying you.”
“I know it wasn’t your fault.”
“Why did you leave?  Twenty three years!”
Eloisa looked down and then intently back into Nicolae’s eyes.  Nicolae could see that she was trying to find the right words to answering his question.
“Nicolae…there is far more to the world around us than any of us know or realize.”  She paused and said with a hint of a tear in her voice, “If I could have come to you I would have.  I worry about you, Nicolae.  I know you’re not in a good place and maybe that’s partially my fault.  Maybe I held on too long to where it became impossible for you to move on and be happy again.”
Nicolae shook his head, beginning to protest.  Eloisa gently put her fingers to his lips as she continued.  “This may not be easy for you to hear, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it through that night alive.”
Nicolae paused, unsure of whether or not he wanted to hear what came next.  But maybe knowing will help…maybe that was part of the problem…a voice in the back of his mind told him.  Nicolae braced himself and asked, “Eloisa, what happened that night?”
Eloisa lowered her eyes to the floor.  Nicolae could tell that this wasn’t easy for her either, but maybe it was what they both needed.
“After I was taken to the room Dimitri had wanted to keep me in, I was tied to the bed.  At his orders, of course.  I’ll spare you the details of what he did to me and I don’t even want to name those actions either.  But there was one thing that he wanted to do that…well it was out of the question that I wasn’t going to allow him to do it.  So I fought him and I don’t think I need to say that he did not take that very well.”
Nicolae sat listening and was beginning to feel physically ill over what Eloisa was telling him.  He remembered the first time he had tried to comfort Eloisa after Dimitri’s first assault on her (and after the first time I attempted to kill him). 
Eloisa continued.  “He began beating me.  Torturing me.  He kept telling me that this was an example of any punishments I would receive if I defied him again.  Then he wanted to do something that…I was afraid would hurt the baby.  I wasn’t even thinking of any consequence at the time…I just blurted out for him to please not hurt my baby…”  Eloisa’s voice trailed off and her eyes closed at the horrific memory.  Nicolae placed his hands on her shoulders and brought her close to him.  Her head was on his chest when she resumed telling him what had happened to her.
“I knew that after I said that…that it was all over.  I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was going to kill me.”
“I’ve never forgiven myself for failing to save you that night,” Nicolae said.  “For not being able to get to you in time when I swore I would always protect you.”
Eloisa pulled away and looked back into his eyes.  “Nicolae, you shouldn’t blame yourself.  There was nothing you could have done.  They had you restrained and it was the two of us against several of the Domn’s guards.”
“You didn’t deserve what happened to you.  Our child didn’t deserve it.”  Then a thought occurred to Nicolae. “Eloisa.  Our child.  Do you know what it was?  Is he…or she with you?”
Eloisa gave him a sad smile.  “She.”
Nicolae felt his heart begin to fill up with happiness at finding out that Eloisa had been carrying his daughter.  But that evaporated when he saw the look in her eyes and he knew.  Their daughter was not with her.
“Why?” Nicolae asked.
“I don’t know,” Eloisa said.  Then Nicolae remembered the state Eloisa was in when he found her and forced the image from his mind.
“You were too good for what Dimitri wanted of you,” he said.  “And as for him, please tell me that he’s roasting in the lowest level of hell right now.”
“I can’t,” Eloisa said.
“Well there has to be a way to find out what happened to our daughter.  There has to be some way the three of us can be together again.”
Eloisa gave Nicolae a tentative glance before she said, “Nicolae, I can only tell you have to continue to be here…”
“For just a while longer.”
Nicolae sighed.  “I don’t know if I can.”
“I know you can,” Eloisa said. “Nicolae, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be making it out of the castle alive, my last thoughts were of you.  I prayed that if there was no hope for me and our child, that you would at least be able to find happiness again, wherever that would be.  You have no idea how badly it hurts me…” Eloisa’s voice choked off in a sob before she was able to regain her composure and continue.  “It hurts me deeply to see you in so much pain.  It was hard for me to stay away too, as I’m sure you know.  It still is.  I love you, Nicolae.  And no matter how it may seem, I’m never far from you.”
“Eloisa,” Nicolae said, “I want so much to be with you.  How can I continue on with Teresa?  To say she’s crazy is an understatement.  She’s…evil.”
“That’s why your children and granddaughter need you now.  You’re stronger than you think.  That is the Nicolae I fell in love with.  I think that’s why you did continue on even after all that has happened to you.”
Nicolae was silent as he took in Eloisa’s words.  It was true.  He had every chance in the world to end it and yet, here he was.  There was also something in Eloisa’s tone that made Nicolae think that she meant more than him just being a present father in his children’s lives.  Her eyes told him that too.
Nicolae’s thoughts went to Andreas, his and Teresa’s first son and child who had died shortly after birth.  And then Olga, her disappearance still held so many unanswered questions and somehow, Nicolae knew that it all came back to Teresa and what she had done that moonlit night two decades ago.   
“Nicolae,” Eloisa said, “one other thing I can tell you is that when it is your time, I’ll be there.”
“Really?” Nicolae asked.
“Yes, really.”
Nicolae thought of Eloisa’s words from earlier: There is far more to the world around us than any of us know or realize.  When one looked at it that way, everything made a little more sense.  Everything from Eloisa being with him even after her death, the adventure with the cloaked figure, being taken to the year 1956 for a short time, even Sebastian’s disappearance made a little more sense and a little easier to deal with, though not a whole lot.  But what he did know was that he needed to stop running away from it all.  He needed to be a father.  He needed to be a grandfather.  Whatever Teresa had become, he needed to be there to somehow counter that.  There was a seriousness to Eloisa’s expression that told that him that while she didn’t have all the answers, it was still imperitive that he listen to her.
Nicolae looked into Eloisa’s eyes, gently taking her face in his hands. “I love you, Eloisa.  Only you.”
“I love you too, Nicolae,” she said, “and you’re still as handsome as you were when we were together back in Romania.”
“Well, I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor,” Nicolae said with a small smirk.
 “I mean it, Nicolae!” Eloisa said with a laugh.  How he missed her laugh.
They were both silent then for a moment before Nicolae said, “Thank you.”
Eloisa didn’t have to ask ‘what for.’  She knew what he meant.  She also knew it was time to leave him, but not before saying, “Please look after your children.  Promise me.”
“I will,” Nicolae said, “I promise.”  He looked over Eloisa, taking in her supple, graceful figure and recalling the nights with her over two decades ago.  A feeling of love and desire stirred inside of him, something he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Eloisa…” he said.  He was hesitant, as he didn’t know how Eloisa would react to him propositioning her in that way.  They were part of two different worlds now with Nicolae being significantly older and whether he wanted to acknowledge it or not, he was currently still married to Teresa.
Try as he might, Nicolae found it impossible to fight what he was feeling for Eloisa at that moment.  He wanted her in his arms again in a skin to skin embrace.  He wanted her soothing touch on the old whiplashing scars that still covered his back and chest.  He wanted to bring her to a state of blissful ecstasy the way he had year ago.  What he wanted was to feel that love he had been without, one last time.
“Eloisa,” he began again, “I know I’m not the young man I was when we were in Romania--”
“Yes you are,” she said before she leaned in and kissed him.  Nicolae was taken by surprise before he began to return her passionate gesture.  To Eloisa, he was still Nicolae, the young man she fell in love with.  Neither of them needed to say another word to eachother and Eloisa allowed Nicolae to bring his lips down to her neck and along her collarbone, welcoming every touch from his trembling fingers and lips.
“Nicolae!” Eloisa cried, as she had done so many times in the past and tightened her embrace around him.  That cry had been both of their undoing, breaking down any lingering hesitation that may have been left before completely succumbing to one another.  After that, it was as though no time had ever passed.  For the first time in twenty three years, Nicolae felt the same happiness he had known with Eloisa in Romania, as though they had both been transported back to the toolshed that had been their sanctuary, their Garden of Eden. 
It wasn’t long before all clothing was cast aside and they stopped for a moment to take one another in.  Looking down at Eloisa’s naked form would alone have been enough to send Nicolae to that wonderful plain of euphoria.  He did feel a little self-concious of his own body, which had aged, but had a good amount of lean muscle mass and agility despite years of self-abuse.  Nicolae still worried that Eloisa would be disappointed or even repulsed once she had gotten a look at him, but what he saw in her eyes was love.  Love accompanied with desire.
Nicolae closed his eyes as Eloisa lightly ran her fingers over his chest.
“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered and leaned down to kiss her again, parting her lips with his tongue as he hungrily explored her mouth before moving on to the rest of her body, worshipping it the way he had the night he became her husband.  Eloisa’s cries echoed in his ears as they moved together on the wooden floor (amidst the throws of ecstacy, Nicolae barely noticed that his knees didn’t agree with him as they had two decades ago).  He got her ready for him, stimulating her in ways that he remembered her enjoying.  When it was time, Nicolae slid into her Eloisa with a slow, but smooth, thrust.  A groan left his mouth as he also heard a pleasured moan from Eloisa.
Nicolae paused and looked down at the woman who had been his world since he was eight-years-old.  She was looking back at him with tears filling her eyes.  He took a moment to enjoy the feeling of being inside her again.  Eloisa wrapped her legs around his waist, allowing him in as deep as he was able to go.  She clutched his shoulders, her fingers finding two of his scars.  Nicolae began to slowly move as he tried to steady his body from shaking.  Eloisa moved with him as he gradually picked up his pace as the ocean’s waves continued churning and splashing against the rocks nearby.
As a fairly large tidal wave hit the rocks in the very query that Nicolae that considered taking his life in with a loud crash, Nicolae hit his climax, calling out the name of the only woman he had ever loved.
They lay on the floor of the shed in their aftermath, Nicolae on his back with his arms around Eloisa, who lay with her head on his chest.  Every so often, she would lift her head to lightly brush one of his scars with her lips.
After a few more moments of lying like that, Eloisa picked her head up and looked into Nicolae’s eyes.  “I have to leave soon,” she said with a touch of regret in her voice.
Nicolae swallowed before bringing a hand up to cup the side of her face.  “I know,” he said.
“But we have many times like this to look forward to,” she said.
Nicolae smiled and lifted himself to kiss her forehead.  For that moment, he really was that same young man with Eloisa in Romania.
“I’d love to go swimming with you now in the ocean,” Nicolae said.  “There’s no one on the beach right now, so we can go as we are.” 
Nicolae flinched when he felt a cool liquid rush by, enveloping him and Eloisa.  He then realized that they were now lying on the beach, underneath the starry sky.  In the starlight, he could see Eloisa grinning down at him.
“Hey,” he said, “did you…?
Eloisa’s grin widened until she let out a giggle.
“You really are too much,” Nicolae said as he brought himself up to kiss her. The tides continued to flow in around Nicolae and Eloisa as they gave one another an emotional farewell that would have to last them for another ten years.  Then, they were back in the workshed, dressed and embracing for what would be the last time that night.
“Just remember,” Eloisa said, “no matter how it may seem, I’m never far from you.  And we will be together again when the time is right.  That, I can promise you.”
“Please wait for me,” Nicolae said, not wanting to let her go.
They held their embrace for as long as they possibly could, each one taking the other in and when they parted, Nicolae and Eloisa would gaze into the other’s eyes before she would be gone.
His Eloisa was gone again, but this time, instead of feeling empty, he felt complete and a sense of reassurance.  Eloisa had returned to him briefly to once again, give him what he needed.  Nicolae smiled at the realization and stood up. 
We’ll be together when the time is right.  That, I can promise you.  I’m never far from you.  Her words echoed back to him.
Nicolae looked once more at the stool and noose and removed them from where he had placed them.  He unknotted the rope and carrying his box with Eloisa’s ashes, he walked back down to the ocean’s shore and threw the rope into the ocean.  He then sat with the box as he watched the rope drift out to sea and smiled at what he had just experienced.  It was then he remembered the suicide letter he had in his pocket.  Nicolae took it out and unfolded it, reading over what he had written.  He thought about tearing it up and throwing it into the ocean with the rope, but decided to keep the letter.  The truth was the truth and that he couldn’t throw away.  He wouldn’t throw it away, though it would be almost another decade before he would break the truth, all of it, to one of his children.
Nicolae still sat along the shore, with one hand on the box of ashes and the other clutching the letter that held the truth, when the sunrise began to show itself over the horizon.  He wondered if there were sunrises where Eloisa was and if so, if she was watching it the way he was.  Nicolae knew that there would come a day when he would be able to find out and that if there were sunrises there, he and Eloisa had an eternity to share it.  He wondered if there were rules in the afterlife.  Eloisa had felt like a flesh and blood human being.  Can a ghost materialize themselves that way or do you get some kind of new physical body on the other side?
Nicolae remembered the urgent warning in Eloisa’s eyes.  He thought of Andreas and Olga and how he hadn’t been able to protect them.  He thought of the daughter he would have had with Eloisa, had she lived.  Nicolae had wanted to be a present father to his and Eloisa’s child.  He had spent much of his childhood without parents and at the time he found out Eloisa was pregnant, Nicolae had wanted to make sure that no child of his would ever feel neglected.  He and Eloisa were to share the parenting responsibilities.  But now, here he was, neglecting his children.  Nicolae knew that Eloisa was right in that his children were not responsible for their mother’s actions and with each year passing, leaving her alone with them would likely prove disasterous.
There is far more to the world around us than any of us know or realize.
The more he thought about it, the more it all began to hit him and make complete sense.  And knowing that Eloisa wasn’t far from him and that he had an eternity of being with her to look forward made the darkness in Nicolae brighten.  The only thing that really bothered him now was the whereabouts of his and Eloisa’s daughter and what it would take to bring her to them.
As the sun’s rays began to rise, Nicolae tightened his grip on the box and said, “Thank you, my love.  I’m sure it won’t be too much longer before I’ll be seeing you again.”  And he was right.


Over in the states, the year 1867 was two years post Civil War and the country was still settling into the aftermath.  Slavery had been abolished in the United States, just soon after Romani slavery had also met its end in Europe.  In their village in Canada, Anabel had given birth to a baby girl named Tsura, the first grandchild of Nicolae and Teresa.  Cedric and Margaret Fleming had been successfully running Nathaniel Fleming Orphanage for over two decades.  The manor’s beautiful, Victorian era buildings sat in the patch of clearing amidst the woodland at the top of the hill, visible to the townfolk of Plains.  Many of saw the Fleming’s property as a great asset to the town and James Livingston continued to remain an active member of the Board of Directors, keeping his promise of assisting Cedric and Margaret in anyway he could, even after his retirement from running Livingston Publishing.
By now, James was in his early seventies and Samantha had passed away five years earlier in 1862 at the age of sixty-two.  She was enterred in a mausolieum that James had built on a plot he had reserved for him and his family when the Plains Cemetery had been established.  Following Samantha’s passing, James had decided that it was officially time to retire from running Livingston Publishing, leaving it to his three sons, all of whom still lived in New York with their wives and children.  James’s second son, Samuel, had been the most enthusiastic about inheriting the company and had been the one to take over many of James’s tasks in running Livingston Publishing and the Library.  Jesse, the eldest, had a better mind for accounting and worked in the company’s accounting department and Lawrence was a creative writer and even had a few of his own works published under the name L.H. Livingston.  Jesse and his wife Heather were also expecting their first grandchild and the first great-grandchild for James and his late wife. 
The Livingstons had also kept in regular touch with the Blakes over the years.  Charles Blake had passed away at the age of 55 a little over a decade ago.  James, Samantha, and the rest of the Livingston family had attended the wake and burial, expressing his condolences to Emma, the Blake children and grandchildren.  Charles and Emma had had ten grandchildren at the time of Charles’s death.  Five of those children had belonged to Jonathan and Kimimela: their eldest son, Chaska, was was nine and their second, a son named Charles (named after his grandfather) was seven.  Following them was five-year-old Gerard and then two-year-old Maya.  Kimimela held her youngest at the service, three-month-old Willow.  Kimimela was twenty-seven and Jonathan was nearing thirty.  Rachel, the youngest child of Charles and Emma, was now nineteen and stood with her fiancé, knowing that she would not have her father to walk her down the isle on her wedding day.  Kimimela’s family, including her father, were also in attendance.
James Livingston had been one of a few individuals asked to give a eulogy for Charles.  In his eulogy, James recalled the day Charles had come into his Publishing Company, begging him for work as he had just arrived from Ireland with his wife and two small boys.  Despite the vocal doubts of those in James’s staff on hiring the Irishman, James had ended up deciding to give Charles a chance and offer him a month’s trial, which Charles had accepted with enthusiasm. 
“Anyone who has a problem with the way I run my business is free to seek employment elsewhere,” James had said to the protesting members of his staff.  After that, no one had argued, though Charles wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms at first.
James didn’t quite know what it was about Charles that he initially liked.  Perhaps it was the fact that Charles had two sons who were almost the exact ages of James’s own boys. But James would never regret giving Charles a chance and he would soon learn that the Irishman was one of the hardest workers he had ever seen.  Any task Charles was given, he would give his all to regardless of how minor the task at hand seemed.
When Charles’s month long trial was over, James had asked him if was able to read.  Charles said he was only able to read a little, but would be willing to learn what he couldn’t do.  And he did so he could perform the filing job James had offered him. 
“Charles had been working for me for nearly a year,” James continued.  “One day, I pulled him aside and asked him where he and his family had been living.  I had heard that his wife, Emma, was carrying little Frankie at the time.  Charles answered me saying that they were living in a hostile with many others who had just come over.  I went home that night, and after discussing it with Samantha, I offered Charles and his family housing in the guest house that sits in the back of my New York City home.  I think he thought I was joking at first because he gave me a very peculiar look after I made the offer.  He then asked me how much rent would.  I told him none.  He and his family could live there while he saved his money for the land out west.  First, Charles tried to politely refuse my offer, but then when I reminded him that it would be much better living conditions for his wife and children than a hostile.  Well, Charles insisted that I at least let him pay me some amount of rent.  He said it wouldn’t be honest any other way.  At the time and for years, Charles and I laughed about it, but it also told what kind of a man he was.  A man of integrity.  Something that he had passed on to his fine sons and lovely daughter.”
James struggled to hold back his emotions when he concluded.  “I was proud to Charles, both as a worker and as a friend.  He taught me that amidst of all the scoundrels and con artists, there is also that man, that diamond in the rough, who demonstrates his character with a sense of responsibility and integrity.  Men who value their work and family.  Men who are just good, honest men who count their blessings everyday.  The world needs more like Charles.  Let us celebrate his life and take away from it…how we can be a person that everyone should strive to be.”  James finished by turning to the body of his friend who was laid out in the casket and through the lump that was rising in his throat said, “Godspeed, old friend.”
James had gone to Illinois to say goodbye to his friend, a friend he would greatly miss.  But it was Emma who also impressed him in the way she held her family together during a most difficult time.  James and Emma would continue the tradition of letter writing that Charles and James originally had.  They would write about what was happening in their area, their children and grandchildren.  James and Emma would find even more common ground with one another after the death of James’s beloved Samantha.  They had both lost the person they loved and now lived in an empty house with all their children grown and moved out.  They found communication with one another comforting.  James found Emma to be a truly amazing woman, reminding him in some ways of his Samantha.  Now, James enjoyed a quiet, retired life, with his only work being the occasional board meeting for the library and the Fleming orphanage.
The year 1867 would also be the thirteenth year of Maxine Fleming being a classroom instructor there.  Maxine had taken the position of an English instructor when she was 20 years old and seemed to thoroughly enjoy teaching the children had taken to living in her dormroom rather well.  She had lived out the rest of her childhood in the upper living quarters of the main building with her parents.  At eighteen, she became an assistant classroom instructor to Christian Andrews, who the English instructor at that time. 
Christian was a man in his early thirties, married, and with two children.  He lived off of the property in a house with his family, but it was rumored among the orphanage staff that Christian and Maxine had taken a liking to one another.  Cedric and Margaret had had concerns about this and expressed their objection to her becoming involved with a member of the staff who was also married with a family.  But as these things sometimes happen, the warnings went ignored. 
It wasn’t long before Christian was responding to Maxine’s charms and the two began seeing eachother before and after school hours, trying to be as descreet as possible, and Christian telling his wife the old excuse of having to work late.  Of course, the entire incident dismayed Cedric and Margaret.
“I raised to be a respectable young lady,” Margaret had told her daughter, “not some married man’s mistress!”
“Mother, he’s not happy with his wife,” Maxine protested.  “He’s going to divorce her.  He told me he would!”
Christian had been Maxine’s first lover, so of course, the young woman was smitten.
The love affair between Christian Andrews and Maxine Fleming would carry on for over a year until they would all discover that Maxine was pregnant.  Cedric and Margaret loved their daughter, but these were times when such an occurance would potentially cause a scandal and possibly even ruin the family and the business.  A deal between the Flemings and the Andrews was secretly made for Christian’s family to take his and Maxine’s child.  Christian’s wife would take on the façade of being pregnant and Maxine would be sent to be with relatives until the child was born. 
Even James Livingston was unaware of it all until some time after when Cedric had confided in him.  Cedric couldn’t help not feeling right about giving up his granddaughter to the Andrews famly (who had moved up to Vermont after the birth) even if it was for the better.  He was concerned about the affect the ordeal had had on Maxine, but she seemed to return from the incident rather well as she threw herself into her studies in becoming an instructor, which she did excel at.  But Maxine’s illegitimate pregnancy wouldn’t be the only trouble that Cedric and Margaret’s orphanage would face.
The orphanage was, overall, a safe haven for children who had become wards of the state and the Flemings had aided in many successful adoptions.  But every so often, there would be a child who would go missing, never to be seen or heard from.  While these occurances were very few and far between, they were terribly disturbing and upsetting to Cedric and Margaret as they strived to provide a safe haven for these children.
The other troubling thing was that according to testimonies from some of the other children, the child in question would seem to have just vanished.  There one minute, and gone the next.  The authorities would work with the Flemings in searching for the missing child and finding any possible culprits.  But the child in question would never be returned, seen, or heard from again. 
“Keep in mind that sometimes children do just run away,” a detective had told Cedric and Margaret after one incident.
It was obvious he was merely trying to make the Flemings feel better, but it wasn’t any use.  Cedric and Margaret didn’t like the thought of any child missing whether that child left at their own free will or against their will. 
There had been one case when a shred of a bloody, piece of clothing had been found in the woods not too far from the orphanage.  Of course a police search was conducted, but in those days, there was only so much the investigators were able to do and eventually the case went cold.  The police had chalked it up to being an unfortunate child who had wandered into the woods and likely came face to face with a hungry animal. 
Cedric and Margaret would implement more security and the following years would occur without incident until October 31, 1867 when Cedric and Margaret would be found dead in their living quarters. 
The coroner who had overseen the Flemings’ corpses had been unable to find the cause of death and ended up pronouncing it as natural causes.  Cedric and Margaret where well into their sixties and such a thing was not uncommon.  But one thing that the coroner had found—information that was also withheld from the news periodicals—were the odd scratches on the bodies of Margaret and Cedric.  Cedric and Margaret Fleming were buried in Plains Cemetery alongside of their adopted son, Nathaniel, whose body they had had moved to their purchased plot when they had set up residence in Plains.
The deaths of Cedric and Margaret would be very disturbing to James.  He had gone to see the coroner, who was reluctant to tell him anything at first, but eventually broke down and told James about the scratches.
“Animal scratches?” James had asked frowning.
The coroner shook his head and said, “Honestly, I couldn’t even begin to tell you.  I hadn’t seen anything like them before in my years of doing what I do.”
Although it was against the code of ethics in his profession, the coroner had given James his report on the Fleming deaths.  Later that night, James sat in his study, comparing the report given to the newspapers verses what the real report was.
I hadn’t seen anything like them…
In that moment, James recalled the ordeal with seeing the dark-haired girl fixing herself a noose that he had seen prior to the orphanage opening, and then what his son, Lawrence, had told him about the dream he had had about Nathaniel Fleming.
I saw Nathaniel Fleming kill you!
The more James sat and thought about everything, the more Charles Blake’s death also seemed to be more than what had been officially reported.  Charles had died falling from the roof of a barn that he was repairing for his neighbor, Greg Jackson.  While such things do happen and would normall be an open and shut case, James vaguely recalled Emma mentioning that Greg’s twelve-year-old son, Phillip, swore that he saw someone else up on the roof with Charles in the minutes before his fall.  He didn’t know who it was, the boy had said.  He couldn’t even remember what the other man had looked like.  But, the Phillip had added, he looked like he was floating and he was right behind Mr. Blake.  No one else, including Phillip’s father, had seen anyone else that day with Charles.  Greg had also scolded his son for saying such things.
“The Blakes are going through enough without you making up stories,” Greg had told him.
“I’m not making it up!” Phillip had protested.
“That is enough!” Greg exclaimed.  “I don’t want you ever saying such a thing again!”
And Phillip would obey his father.
Then there was little Willow Blake.  Vanished.  Gone at the age of two.
How could I have forgotten…? James wondered to himself.  The youngest child of Jonathan and Kimimela had disappeared ten years ago, two years after Charles’s death.  Kimimela had gone to wake her daughter in the morning only to find her missing.
James remembered Emma’s distressed wire as she feared for her little granddaughter.  He had tried to comfort Emma, telling her that everything would be alright and that he was certain the girl would be found.  But even at that time, something made James uneasy about the incident.
When the police had questioned Jonathan and Kimimela, they had asked if Willow—who had been walking since the previous year—had any history with sleepwalking.  Kimimela felt her stomach wrench at the question, though she wouldn’t understand why.  It was a simple enough question and fairly plausible.
Jonathan wore a grave expression as he slowly shook his head and said, “No.  No, I don’t think so.”
Kimimela’s father, Howahkan, had still been alive at the time and he had gone to see his daughter and her husband.  Howahkan was able to sense the little girl.  “She’s around here,” he had said of his granddaughter.  The conjoined families had searched the area for the girl, only to come up empty despite Howahkan’s being able to sense her presence.  Later on after the other four children had gone up to bed, Howahkan had asked Jonathan and Kimimela if there was anything that might have seemed out of place prior to Willow’s disappearance.  Kimimela frowned as she remembered something.  Howahkan and Jonathan both regarded her curiously as Kimimela recalled a few times in the last two weeks when she had gone to get Willow out of bed.  Willow had been talking in full sentences for about as long as she had begun to walk.  The little girl had told her mother several times in the last two weeks that she had just been ‘in the clouds.’  Kimimela didn’t think much of it until that moment when the little girl was missing.
“That was what I saw the first day we spoke to eachother on the trail.  Remember?” Jonathan had reminded her.
That was true.  Before he had turned onto the trail that day, Jonathan had seen clouds.  Nothing but sky and clouds around him.
“Perhaps that was a warning,” Howahkan suggested.  He had promised Jonathan and Kimimela that he would continue trying to locate Willow.  The following morning, Howahkan had passed away.  Another loss for Jonathan and Kimimela.
A headstone for little Willow had been placed on the Blakes’ property in the area Charles had been buried in.  There was no grave for Willow as there wasn’t a body found.  Only a stone that read:

Willow Mitena Blake
“Our beautiful little angel”
James shook his head as he recalled the tragedies that had befallen the Blakes, all in such a short period of time.  He remembered the brief flash he had seen that evening in 1844 in his holiday home.  The night before he would alter his Will to include the Blakes.  He had seen her again.  That same dark-haired girl.  She had been playing the piano, a familiar piece by the composer, Paganini. 
As James turned his eyes back down to the documents regarding the Fleming deaths, he thought he could hear the notes to the song playing on a piano, somewhere far away.  He removed his reading spectacles and rubbed his temples, trying to make the sound leave him.  But the more he tried to rid himself of the song, the louder it seemed to play until it was almost as though someone were sitting in that very same room with him, playing on a piano.  The song continued to fill the air and he could feel the emotion being pounded into the keys.  He noticed the chills that covered him and remembered what he had thought that night at the orphanage in the center room on the fourth floor (room number 410).
No logic…none at all…
James looked around as he felt the presence of someone enter his study.  But when he looked up, no one was there and the music had stopped.  The house was silent around him.  Empty and silent.


Cedric and Margaret Fleming’s orphanage would remain open thanks to Maxine.  The now thirty-four year old woman would recover well from the deaths of her parents and would also bring in her cousin and Cedric’s nephew, Jared Fleming, to help her with continuing the business. 
In 1868, James would retire from being on the board, though he extended his help to Jared and Maxine if they would need it.  James would never share this with anyone, but he didn’t take very well to Jared.  There really wasn’t anything specific that James could point at, but there was something about Jared that didn’t sit very well with James.  Of course, there was the rumor among staff members that Jared and Maxine had been more than just business partners to one another, but James was bored with gossip at that point.  The final year of James’s life would be quiet other than gatherings with friends and family with the occasional visit out to see Emma and the other Blakes still living on the property Charles had bought.
On a summer night in June of 1870, James would put his head down on the desk in his study after reading a letter from Emma Blake, shut his eyes and never wake again.  He would be found a day later by his two eldest sons. 

James’s funeral had been a large affair with many politicians, artists, and others of importance in society in attendance, each remembering James for the work he had done for the state of New York and the small town of Plains.  What would have been the most important to James thought, would have been knowing that Emma Blake, her children, grandchildren, and new great-grandchildren had been at his service followed by their pleasant shock when they discovered what James had left for their family in his Will.  Following his funeral service, James had been interred alongside Samantha and a statue of him had been built in front of the Plains Library in his honor, stating him as a founder of the town.
Emma Blake would go to be with Charles in the year 1875 at the age of seventy-one.  Emma would pass away, surrounded by her family inside her her Illinois home.  Over in Canada, only a month later, Nicolae Ganoush would collapse right before his heart would stop beating at age fifty-one.  His final resting place would be the Atlantic Ocean as one of Nicolae’s children would see that he got his final wish of having his ashes scattered there with Eloisa’s.  Nicolae Ganoush, known as Luiz Akatzatov, had left behind Teresa, their seven children, and thirteen grandchildren.  He was finally happy again.  Finally back with his Eloisa.

As for the Fleming Orphanage, Jared and Maxine would run it together for another ten years until the night of All Hallow’s Eve in 1880 when Jared would be found hanging by his neck in the fifth floor of the main building.  He had been living in the same quarters that his aunt and uncle had lived in and it had been rumored that although Maxine had kept her school instructor’s dormroom, she actually lived up with Jared most of the time.  
On the night of Jared’s death, Maxine had been found wandering the grounds claiming to have seen her brother Nathaniel. 
“He had the Devil’s eyes!” she was rambling, “he was asking me to let him in!” 
Maxine was taken to a sanitarium further upstate and was reportedly going on about how the town of Plains was cursed and built near a hellmouth. 
The rest of the Fleming kin thought it best to close the orphanage down.  There had been one scandal too many and sponsors were threatening to pull their funding.  So it was done and the remaining children were moved around to other orphanages around the state. 

When the news of Jared’s apparent suicide and Maxine’s rantings had hit the newspapers, many assumed the story to be nothing more than a case of people who succumbed to the effects of alcohol (as Jared and Maxine were both known to have been quite the lushes at parties and events) and the pressures of running a business that proved to be more difficult than originally thought.  But what the papers didn’t report was that Jared’s body had been terribly mutilated.  The coroner knew the wounds on Jared’s body had not been self-inflicted like his father before him had been mystified by the small scratches on the bodies of Cedric and Margaret, this coroner found the mutilation on Jared’s body to not be like anything he had seen in the few years he had been practicing.  
Jared was quietly buried in Plains Cemetery along with his Uncle Cedric, Aunt Margaret, and his cousin Nathaniel.  Fleming Manor was officially shut down in the spring of 1881, close to what would have been it’s 35th year open.  
The buildings would sit empty over the years and what was once considered an asset for the town was now a gloomy eyesore.  Maxine would live out her final days in the sanitarium.  She would be found floating facedown in a bathtub at the age of 60.  Her body would be moved back to Plains where she would be buried with the rest of her family.


The years would pass and the people of Plains would eventually resume their quiet lives.  The Fleming’s property would go up for sale again, but by the the time a recession would hit the United States followed by the Great Depression in the 1929, the land didn’t hold the value it once had.  Of course, the local folklore didn’t do much to help matters.  The more superstitious did believe that the land up on the hill was cursed and refused to go near it.  Maxine’s original statements of the area being near or on top of a hellmouth remained.  Some who claimed to be mediums preferred to call it a wormhole that was a direct pathway to other dimensions.  Then there were the claims of the strange and unusual sightings, including those who said that they had seen the ghosts of Nathaniel, Maxine, Cedric and Margaret along with seeing Jared’s silhouette hanging in the fifth floor window of the main building.  Some even claimed to see the spirits of the children who had gone missing and had heard whispering coming from the trees at night and shadows lurking in the trees.  Maybe it was the dark cloud cast upon the state of New York and the rest of the country before and during the Depression, but the stories were many. 
Others laughed the stories off as being ghost stories used to take people’s minds off of the hard times of the recession and Depression and would dismiss the whispers as simply being the wind and the shadows as being either woodland animals or just some local kids messing around. 
There would be the occasional group of teens who would sneak up the hill late at night, daring a member of their group to stay for at least an hour on the floor of the main building where Cedric, Margaret, and Jared Fleming had met their end.  Sometimes they would enter the buildings in groups, breaking open the doors, or forcing open a window, running around and scaring each other.  Some would even find their way to some of the old rooms and end up giving into teenaged desires in one of the old bedrooms.  There would be one such outing on Halloween of 1931 that would begin as a fun night of mischief for a group of six friends but would hardly go as any of them would plan or expect it to.  And that would only be the beginning.

As for Jonathan and Kimimela Blake, they would both be live to see the turn of the 20th century (as Jesse, Samuel, and Lawrence Livingston and their wives all would).  Jonathan would pass away at the age of 79 in the year 1906.  Kimimela would follow him three years later in 1909 at the age of 80. 
Kimimela’s passing would occur in the same way her mother-in-law’s had, in the home she and Jonathan had built after they had gotten married, which was partially maded possible by James Livingston.  She was surrounded by her and Jonathan’s children, grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren.  As the shadow of death covered her physical being, Kimimela saw scenes from her entire life, from her birth in her Sioux village, to her first meeting with Jonathan, to their wedding, and the births of all their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Then she saw him.  She saw Jonathan, sitting on top of Samson, waiting for her at the end of a trail.  One that was very similar to the trail they had met on.
Kimimela felt as though she were floating.  She saw her body below her lying still on the bed.  She saw her children and grandchildren surrounding her and she felt their sorrow.  She saw eighteen-year-old Matthew and how handsome he had become…so much like Jonathan at his age.  She saw Ronald and his lovely wife, Eunice, holding their first born son, Chayton, with her left arm while she made the Catholic sign of the holy cross with her right.  Then, she heard his voice call to her.  Jonathan’s voice.  Suddenly, she was enveloped by a warm light and taken to the edge of a trail, the one that resembled the place she met Jonathan at.  Kimimela looked ahead to see Jonathan and Samson, still waiting for her at the other end.  Jonathan was a young man of eighteen, the way he was when she met him.  Kimimela looked down at herself, realizing that her body had been restored to it’s youth.
She ran up the path toward Jonathan and Samson.  She could feel the presence of her father and mother nearby.
They’re here too!
When Kimimela approached the end of the path she stopped to pet Samson.
“I’ve missed you!” she said to the black stallion.  Samson bucked his head, as if he were greeting her, welcoming her home.
Kimimela looked up as Jonathan was dismounting Samson.  She looked into the grayish-blue eyes she adored and Jonathan scooped her up in a passionate embrace as he had done the evening Howahkan had given the union of Jonathan and Kimimela his blessing.
“I’ve been waiting for you, my love,” Jonathan whispered to her in his beautiful Irish brogue.  He helped her get up onto Samson before getting on behind her and taking hold of the reigns.
Jonathan gave Samson a gentle nudge and the three of them turned out onto a field.  Just up ahead, Howahkan and his wife waited and the presences of Charles and Emma Blake were not far away either.  She was home again.


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