ALMOST finished with the final edit of Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) and decided to share Part 1 as a preview for those who have not previewed it yet. And for those who read an earlier draft, its been edited heavily since then.
Oh yeah, and this part in the book also takes place on the Summer Solstice of 1844. :)
Enjoy and feel free to share!
BOOK ONE, DESCENT
June 20, 1844
The serenity of early evening surrounded Hector as he walked along the shore. He reveled in the ocean’s tide swallowing his bare feet as he headed toward the secluded area pocketed at the other end of the beach. It was a place only he knew of. A place never visited by anyone. Except him and Samuel.
Even at sixteen, Hector thrilled at the idea of a secret retreat that was all his own. Most young men his age were long passed such things, but Hector was not like his peers and finding common ground with someone was rare for him.
He still questioned whether he had found the place or if it had found him. The discovery was made four years ago, just after sunrise on the morning after his twelfth birthday while he walked the coastline. Amidst the exquisite surroundings of sand, water, and endless sky, a large rock cluster Hector never recalled seeing before peeked out from a far corner.
Strange, he had thought, watching the morning tides slap at the formation’s boulders. And here I walk these shores everyday.
Unable to move his gaze, he felt a pull toward the area.
As he observed the mysterious cluster, a sudden low vibration from somewhere deep within the earth trembled beneath his feet. Panic had risen on the initial assumption of an earthquake but as he listened, the rumbling seemed to be a call reaching out to him from beyond the rocks.
Perhaps it was Hector’s fascination with the unknown that piqued his curiosity, or maybe it was the impression that whatever lay beyond the rock formation was indeed calling out to him. Either way, it was enough cause to give in to whatever power beckoned.
He was cautious in his approach, especially when climbing up and over the boulders. Upon reaching the other side, he found himself staring into the mouth of an underground cavern.
His heart palpitated with excitement as he made his way down to the bottom toward the cave's opening. He delighted in the view of the sun’s rays trickling in through the crevices, and ended up spending that entire morning exploring while losing track of time in the process. Five house later, Hector ran home, only to find out his parents had gone searching for him after he failed to show up for breakfast.
Miguel and Inez de Fuentes reprimanded their son for missing not only breakfast with the family, but also the school lessons with his four siblings and their governess. They confined the boy to the house for the remainder of that week.
During that time, Hector dreamt about the cave. In the dreams, he traveled deep into the tunnels and entered worlds that were not his own. He saw people who were unfamiliar to him, but with whom he also felt a kinship; one of those individuals was an American boy his age. At the time, the reasons behind the dreams were lost on him, yet his need to return to the cave had strengthen and he hoped it would still be there after his punishment was over.
At that end of the week, he hurried back, hoping his experience wasn’t something imagined, or an instance in which the cave would appear to him only once. Part of him felt silly for thinking such things, and the coastlines of Mexico had more than their share of glorious caverns, but nothing like this.
Now, four years later, the cave remained a place for Hector to come and be alone to think, read, and watch the ships in the distance sailing toward ports in Mexico and America. It belonged to him; a place only he (and Samuel) knew of. He had come to know and appreciate what it truly was, and through that understanding, a deep bond between Hector and his cave had formed, one he never experienced before with anyone.
Another trait of Hector's was his ability to see and hear things no one else could. This was a talent he kept to himself, despite Mexico's rich spiritual culture. He wasn’t ashamed of being a loner, and treasured his time alone inside the cave (despite having friends his age and getting on well with his siblings). He often joked to himself of wanting to be interred within the formation following his death (whenever that would be). But as he thought on it, he came to realize that was exactly what he wanted.
On this eve in 1844 before Summer’s Solstice, Hector arrived at the rock formation that housed his cavern. Evening tides crashed against the the boulders as he made his way up and over. As usual, the cave’s mouth was open and awaiting him.
Hector smiled, as if greeting an old friend. He then turned to sit on one of the boulders and focused his gaze to the ocean. All of eternity was at his feet and in the distance, a ship sailed out from a port before disappearing into the infinite horizon.
Hector shut his eyes, taking in the sounds of churning waves as he welcomed the salty sea air on his face. He could hear them. The voices. Those from his dreams (including Samuel).
As he allowed their essences to penetrate his being, two boys materialized in front of him. One was about ten or eleven years of age, while the other appeared between eighteen and twenty. They were brothers from a slave village in Romania, and that was all Hector knew. He could see them, running toward a thick, dark forest…
…as a waxing crescent moon provided just enough light in a black, starless sky. It was just after midnight in Transylvania near the Romanian-Hungarian border, and Nicolae Ganoush and his younger brother, Sebastian, were on borrowed time.
The older boy knew a manhunt would ensue, and officials in neighboring countries would be alerted to be on the lookout for “two gypsy slaves” on the run. Anton Alexanderscu would not cease his pursuit until he had the young man’s neck stretched in a hangman’s noose. At nineteen, Nicolae was wanted. For murder and treason.
The boys felt their way through the brush, keeping their steps at an even pace despite Sebastian’s protests, all of which were met with Nicolae ordering him to shut his mouth. As they ventured into the dark forest, the little boy held back tears and did his best at keeping up with his older brother. He hadn’t seen much of Nicolae that evening, and the boy had been long asleep when his brother had barged into the hut and yanked him from his cot. Sebastian immediately noticed the blood on Nicolae and asked his brother for an explanation. Having to leave immediately was the only reply the older one offered.
The younger boy shuddered as ghostly clouds floated passed the moon, their only source of light. To him, they were playing an antagonistic game of taunting them with small amounts of light before enveloping the brothers in darkness.
Nicolae grabbed Sebastian’s hand as they continued deeper into the thick, black brush.
“Keep close,” the older brother whispered.
The woods surrounded them, dark and endless as they trudged on, hearing only the soft grass and earth beneath their boots.
Anything or anyone could hide here. Hide before they would jump out and eat us!
Sebastian forced away the frightening thought as the sound of running water brought him small, instant relief. They had arrived at a creek in a clearing. The flowing water over rocks and branches was a soothing contrast to the heated tension radiating from Nicolae.
The moon emerged from behind the clouds, casting its pale beam onto the patch of land on which the boys stood. Sebastian watched his brother remove the bag slung across his torso and set it on the bank. The younger boy was grateful for the stop, however brief it would be. He also hoped Nicolae had food in his bag; the haze of sleep had left, but the pains of hunger grew.
Nicolae knelt by the stream and roughly scrubbed at the drying blood on his hands and forearms.
Blood that is still wet… Sebastian felt the skin on his arms prickle as he watched dark red liquid leave his brother’s skin and fade into the clear water.
What happened? Why is he all bloody...? But before the boy’s thoughts could wander any further, the empty pit in his stomach made itself known.
He stepped cautiously toward his brother. “Nicolae…”
“What,” Nicolae replied without looking up. He removed his bloodstained shirt and dipped it into the water.
Sebastian caught hints of anxiety on his brother's face as he worked to remove as much of the blood as possible from his clothes and skin. “I’m really hungry.”
“Well you’re going to have to wait!” Nicolae growled.
Sebastian flinched at his brother’s angry tone. The hot tears that had been in limbo since he was wrenched from sleep moments earlier formed at the rims of his eyes. He turned to face the other direction, not wanting his older brother to see them. All he wanted was a scrap of something to eat and for Nicolae to tell him what was going on.
I am not a silly child, Sebastian thought as two tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I am sorry,” Nicolae said.
Sebastian wiped his eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand before looking back. In the moonlight, he could see the genuine remorse in Nicolae’s eyes.
“Look, I will allow you to eat soon. We just need to go a little further while the moon is out and there is still light.”
Sebastian slowly nodded and said, “Thank you.”
Nicolae gave his brother a sad smile and pulled his damp shirt back on, covering the scars that crossed his upper body.
He got most of the blood out, Sebastian noted, but where did all of it come from?
Nicolae picked up his bag and said, “Come. Just another mile and we will stop to eat. I promise.”
Sebastian gave his brother a grateful smile, one that Nicolae met with an expression that was dark and far away. It sent chills across the little boy’s arms.
Nicolae turned away, carefully slung the bag back over his torso and proceeded walking along side the creek. Sebastian followed, trying keep up with his brother’s quick, long strides.
There was a strange, new tension present. As Sebastian snuck the occasional glimpse at his brother, he saw pain, among a mélange of other unreadable emotions and it troubled him greatly.
What is it, Nicolae? the boy wanted to say. Please tell me! I swear I’ll understand!
He was about to give up attempting to reach his brother when another thought suddenly occurred to him. Eloisa! More confusion filled the boy. Why isn’t she with us?
He turned his eyes up toward his brother, hoping for an answer to at least one burning question.
“Where are we going?” Sebastian asked.
Nicolae hesitated, as if considering the best way of answering the question. Finally, he uttered out, “America.”
Sebastian’s eyes widened. America? He stared at Nicolae, who avoided and eye contact.
The boy frowned. “But…what about Eloisa? Is she not coming with us?”
At the mention of her name, Nicolae came to an abrupt halt, and Sebastian thought he could see a glimmer of tears at the rims of his brother’s eyes.
Nicolae shut them tightly while gripping the strap of his bag. “I would rather not speak of her now.”
A pronounced strain filled the voice of the older brother, but before anymore questions could be asked, Nicolae hurried down the bank, leaving Sebastian to once again jog to keep up with him.
Nicolae looks very sad and Eloisa isn’t coming with us…we left so quickly and we are going to America… Nicolae was all bloody…the blood on Nicolae…there was blood on Nicolae, and Eloisa is not coming with us…
Chills rose once again on Sebastian’s skin as possibilities of what might have happened swarmed his mind. His imagination had always been an active one, and there were times his mind conjured images and scenarios that were quite frightening and almost too real.
A branch snapped nearby, jarring Sebastian from his thoughts. Nicolae also heard it, and whispered for his brother to get behind him as he withdrew his dagger from the sheath hanging from his belt.
The silvery blade glistened in the moonlight. Silver…with red…and what looks like pieces of meat…?
Sebastian’s heart raced as he focused on the rusty red chunks caking the blade. His attention was thwarted as a shadow emerged from the brush.
The brothers watched with nervous anticipation, but those feelings disintegrated when the shadow - and apparent source of the snapping - was revealed as a deer.
The animal regarded the two boys with large, curious eyes. As Nicolae lowered his dagger, the creature turned and scampered down the bank, in the same direction the Ganoush brothers were headed.
Nicolae’s eyes fell to the stains on the dagger’s blade before they darted to the younger brother. Sebastian’s breath caught in his throat as Nicolae’s dark eyes blazed in the moonlight, communicating a silent though blatant warning to not question him any further. The young man then quickly removed a cloth from his bag and wiped the blade clean before returning it to the sheath. He dipped the stained cloth into the creek, and wrung out the excess liquid before returning it to his bag.
After a nod to Sebastian, the boys resumed their quick pace in the direction the deer had gone. They would go barely another mile before the ghost clouds returned, shrouding the moon and leaving the boys in darkness.
Sebastian sighed. Well, at least I can eat now...
And Nicolae did let him eat.
The anxiety, tension, and fear of the two Roma boys reverberated inside Hector. Anguish from the older boy pulsed, as did his struggle to maintain a brave front for his younger brother. There was also a protectiveness toward the younger, and a sense of responsibility for the little boy's safety.
An overpowering sense of loss was also present, as was a cold emptiness that threatened to consume the elder of the two.
It was almost too much for Hector to handle, and he was relieved when a bright warmth faded in to replace the oppressing essence of Nicolae Ganoush.
A young Irishman far north of Hector near the border of Illinois and Iowa Territory also excreted anxiety, but it differed from what came out of Nicolae...
...It was a beautiful early evening on the prairie, much like the one Hector was enjoying in Mexico…
…as eighteen-year-old Jonathan Blake rode his black stallion, Samson, across the American Midwest's frontier. After finishing his day of work for the town Blacksmith (who employed him and his father, Charles), he quickly ate his supper before excusing himself to retrieve his six-year-old horse from the family’s barn.
His mother, Emma, was slightly taken aback by her son’s sudden departure; the rest of the family had barely finished their own supper, and she still had yet to bring out the strawberry pie she made for dessert. But Charles and Emma granted their eldest son’s request. It had been a longer work day than normal, and Emma knew how much her son loved taking his horse out for long rides before nightfall.
The Blakes were working class immigrants from Ireland’s Galway area. Charles had brought his wife and (then) two children to America with the intention of obtaining land near the Iowa territory. As Catholics, the family was unable to openly proclaim and practice their faith, and with evidence of a forthcoming plague starting to slowly spread through the country, Charles and Emma foresaw nothing but more poverty and persecution in not only their future, but in those of a barely five-year-old Jonathan and two-year-old Brendan.
Of course, they knew America held no guarantees, but both were willing to take a chance for the future of their sons and any other children to be had. Thus with heavy hearts, Charles and Emma made the decision to leave the land of their births and eventually landed at a New Jersey seaport in the autumn of 1832.
If one were to ask Jonathan and Brendan of the boat ride from Ireland, neither would recall much. But one memory Jonathan did have was of getting off the ship while clutching his father’s hand, and seeing his mother holding Brendan as she walked beside them.
Taking in the new surroundings as the other passengers filed passed was overwhelming and exciting for little Jonathan. He was a curious child, and could hardly get enough of everything happening around him. The new country seemed so different from his native Ireland, and he wanted to see it all. Therefore, he was terribly bored and restless while waiting for his father to handle affairs in the Immigration building.
Upon their arrival, Charles had only enough money to provide his family with the most basic necessities inside a New York City hostel. After struggling to find work, he was finally met with good fortune when James Livingston agreed to hire him at Livingston Publishing.
Within a year, Frances Deirdre (or “Frankie" as family and friends would call her) came into the world as the family's newest member. The Blakes considered the baby girl a wonderful blessing, but with one more mouth to feed, obtaining land out west seemed a far greater challenge than before.
Consideration of a permanent stay in New York had crossed the minds and discussions between Charles and Emma. Despite the possible setback, the devoutly religious family opted for being thankful for the blessings they did have rather than covet more.
The Blakes also found an unlikely friend in the very wealthy James Livingston, who had offered Charles a better paying position shortly following his month-long trial period. In addition, James helped the family in obtaining a house more suitable than the hostel, therefore giving Emma a more comfortable setting when she gave birth to a son named Isaiah three years following.
After five years in New York, the Blakes were able to purchase their land out west, and little Rachel was born inside the farmhouse Charles built with his own hands.
Eight years had now passed since the move to Illinois, and Jonathan had much to be thankful for, including the privilege of riding the open terrain in the warmth of a late afternoon sun. Despite the risks of the frontier, it was indeed a much loved pastime. He had come to know the area well, but there was always new uncharted territory to discover, which was what he enjoyed the most.
On this particular evening, he was returning to a place where two days ago, he found what he considered a new treasure. The greatest he would ever find.
Be still, my beating heart, he thought, anticipating the possibility of seeing her again. If there was such a thing as love at first sight, Jonathan was feeling it.
He gently nudged Samson, quickening the horse’s pace.
“Please, Lord,” Jonathan prayed aloud. “Have her return to me…”
He nudged Samson again, hurrying the horse along. Time was not something he could afford to lose.
His heart skipped a beat as the familiar canopy of trees came into view. The heavily wooded trail seemed almost out of place from its surroundings, which had piqued his curiosity in the first place, two days prior. After turning Samson into the mysterious patch, Jonathan had seen the most beautiful girl he ever laid eyes on. She was walking up the trail facing him while singing softly to herself, a sound he would never tire of playing over again in his mind.
As a light wind from the east tousled his dark brown collar-length hair, a fantasy of pulling her close to him and kissing her full, lovely mouth filled him. His groin tightened as he imagined her warm, honey brown skin, delicate features, and the petite figure underneath her deer-skin garments.
He was slightly surprised at the affect this young woman had on him. As a young man of eighteen, he recently started seeking out a potential wife to court, and there were plenty of girls in the town and neighboring areas whom Jonathan found quite beautiful and very charming. He also was never without several girls vying for his attention, but none ever made him feel the way this young woman had two days ago…
Jonathan pulled on the reigns, slowing Samson to a halt just in front of her. She ceased her singing, and regarded him with dark, inquiring eyes. His heart pounded as his gaze traveled from her moccassained feet to her long, silky mane of black hair. She appeared a couple of years younger than he, possibly sixteen years of age, and Jonathan immediately figured her to be from the nearby Sioux village.
I have never seen such beauty before, he thought.
He observed his surroundings, as the frontier held many potential dangers. But somehow, he felt he was safe inside this patch of trees.
In an attempt to put her at ease, he masked his own nerves, offering her a friendly smile that was met with a look of apprehension.
“Please, lass,” he said. “My intention is not to hurt you.”
The girl relaxed her stance, but remained silent.
He slowly dismounted and hooked Samson’s reigns to a strong branch on the closest tree. As he turned back to face her, their eyes locked—her near black to his grayish-blue.
The evening’s light wind carried strands of her hair, and Jonathan could feel the world around him fading until he only existed with her on that covered path. As his feet took him toward her, visions of them together in a paradise with no physical or emotional barriers between them burned his mind’s eye.
Can I take you away to find the Garden of Eden? To find our Heaven together? he desparately wanted to ask her.
She stood frozen in her place as he closed the distance between them.
The two were close to touching as he struggled with the urge to lift her into his arms and claim her lips.
He drew in a breath and opened his mouth to speak again, but before he was able to, she jumped back and ran toward the other end of the trail.
“Please! Don’t run away,” he called after her, but she had already disappeared into the outside field, leaving Jonathan alone on the trail with Samson.
A strong wanting to run after her pulsed in his every fiber, but he resisted. Instead, he moved with heavy steps down the path, staring out to the field she had run to…
Over the next two evenings, Jonathan had returned to the trail. Each time, he waited for her until dark and when she did not show, he returned home feeling overwhelming emptiness. Questions of whether the incident had been imagined or if the lovely young girl had been nothing more than an angel sent from Heaven for only a torturous minute taunted him. Even Samson seemed to sense his master's disappointment. The stallion's steps had slowed, dragging as Jonathan rode him back to the barn.
Jonathan had spent those last two nights lying in bed, staring out at the stars as he imagined her asleep in her village.
“I hope your dreams tonight are sweet ones, my wee lass,” he whispered, wondering if somehow his message would reach her. And I hope I am with you there, he wanted to add but stopped himself, not wanting to try his luck.
Then his own mind would wander to the wooded path, where he saw himself lying with her, holding her to his heart while drifting into sleep. He could feel her soft, sweet breath on his chest as their bodies were intertwined, bare skin upon bare skin after knowing one another in the most intimate way possible. In his mind, she gave him the most precious gift a woman could give to a man. He hoped that somehow, he could be that man for her.
He had considered the many risks that accompanied his desire to court and marry a Native girl, should it come to that. But all were risks he was willing to take.
On this eve of the summer solstice, he had returned for a third attempt.
He rode Samson toward the trail, unaware of two young Rom on the other side of the world. Unaware of Nicolae Ganoush—a young man only a year older than he—and his brother Sebastian—the same age as Jonathan’s own brother, Isaiah—running through a dark forest with hardly any possessions to their names. As they stopped at the creek so Nicolae could wash away the blood covering him, Jonathan halted Samson at the trail and surveyed the area for the girl of his desire. The Irishman nudged Samson down the path as the Ganoush boys followed the creek toward the Romanian-Hungarian border.
The three each with a purpose for their movement. As Nicolae and Sebastian increased their pace along the creek, Jonathan slowed Samson and kept watch for the one who held his heart. When the former Rom slaves took that brief, sweet moment to eat some stale bread and drink a little water from Nicolae’s flask, the Irishman from the American Midwest felt his heart leap when he saw her.
His heart thudded rapidly as the girl walked up the path toward him, singing softly to herself as she had two days prior. About midway, she noticed him and ceased her steps.
“Come to me, my sweet lass,” he whispered. “You have no need to be afraid of me.”
As if having heard him, she continued up to where Jonathan and Samson waited for her. As she arrived in front of him, he offered her a warm - though nervous - smile.
“Hello,” he said.
The girl winced slightly, and he almost expected her to run away again. After a pause, her lips turned up into a shy smile, a site Jonathan melted at. He watched as she lifted a small hand to pet Samson and wondered what it would be like to have that hand touching him.
He drew in a breath and as he had done two evenings ago, dismounted the stallion.
The girl froze, her eyes darting back up to him, and words poured out from Jonathan like a gushing waterfall.
“Please do not run away, my love. I am a man of honor and I mean you no harm.”
The girl’s eyebrows shot up, and Jonathan cringed upon recognizing that he had called her ‘his love’ when he had no right to do so. He feared having offended her and anticipated her leaving him for good this time.
The two regarded one another for another moment before the girl's face relaxed. Then she brought the hand used to pet Samson to the center of her chest.
“Kimimela,” she said. Her voice seemed to echo the light breeze flowing around them.
Jonathan swallowed and took a tentative step forward. “Is that who you are, lass?”
She studied him as one trying to comprehend words. He was aware of the Native tribes having their own languages and wondered if she was able to understand him at all.
Finally (to his relief), the girl nodded.
“Kimimela…” he repeated. “That is your name?”
She nodded again, this time with more confidence.
He exhaled the breath he was holding. “My name is Jonathan.”
“Yes,” he said, a wide smile spreading over his lips.
Kimimela lowered her eyes. “I like your voice,” she said, and peered back up at him.
Jonathan cheeks flushed at her compliment of his Irish brogue. He cleared his throat and asked, “Would you give me the honor of walking beside you, Kimimela?”
She nodded, her eyes brightening, and Jonathan fought to contain himself as he took hold of his stallion's reigns.
“What is your horse’s name?” she asked.
“Han, khola Samson,” she said soothingly while patting the horse’s nose.
Jonathan watched Samson respond favorably. The young man had no understanding for what she said, but to him it was among the most beautiful sounds he ever heard.
His heart raced as he watched Kimimela and Samson interact with one another. Samson was already fond of her, he could tell.
When she pulled her hand away, Jonathan said, “Forgive me, but may I ask what you said to him?”
“I told him hello,” she replied. “And I called him a friend.”
Jonathan and Kimimela held their gaze for another moment before starting to walk side by side, with Samson trailing behind them. Of all the blessings Jonathan was thankful for, meeting her was among those he treasured most.
While Jonathan Blake became a young man wanted by a girl with whom he would share a great love, Nicolae was a man wanted by Romanian Law Enforcement. The love that would develop between Jonathan and Kimimela was one that Nicolae once shared with a young woman called Eloisa.
A woman and a love who was a distant memory.
The attraction between the Irishman and the American Native girl was evident in their nervous conversation and glances at one another as they walked the secluded path.
Secluded…like my cave…Hector thought.
He could faintly hear their pleasant conversation as Jonathan resisted his longing to take her hand. All initial unease between the two was evaporating, so much that a casual onlooker might guess the couple had been courting for far longer than a day.
In an instant, the image of Jonathan and Kimimela left Hector and in their place appeared a quaint American town in New York. A place Hector knew.
Where Samuel’s family stays on holidays...
Plains, New York, United States
The Livingstons were among the oldest, most prominent families of the American Union. With their origins in Scotland, the family settled in America near the Hudson River during the seventeenth century and gained tremendous wealth through the fur trade. From there, many in the bloodline held prominent political positions, including chancellors, mayors, judges, and highly respected lawyers.
In the eighteenth century, Robert R. Livingston was a contributor to drafting the Declaration of Independence, and the family became one of the first in American aristocracy, owning large portions of the land surrounding the Hudson.
In 1794, James Henry Robert Livingston was brought into the world on a late summer night in July. As a boy, he and his five siblings were schooled privately by tutors. While most of the lessons left a young James fighting to stay awake, he did excel in Science and Literature, two subjects for which he quickly discovered a passion.
For a Livingston, following in the footsteps of the predecessors was not only typical but expected. James, however, would be among those paving a slightly different direction with his inheritance.
In his teens, he attended a prestigious secondary school before being accepted to Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusettes. He did well in his studies, and during his second semester, he was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an honors organization with emphasis in Liberal Arts and Sciences with literature as a pillar, thus allowing James an outlet for his true passions.
In his final year at the college, fate smiled on him when he met eighteen-year-old Samantha Jo DeWitt at a party hosted by his fraternity. Samantha’s parents had given James their approval in courting their daughter, and in the year following his graduation, he remained in Cambridge to persue the relationship.
On Christmas Even in 1816 (with Lord DeWitt's blessing), a twenty-two-year-old James offered nineteen-year-old Samantha a formal marriage proposal. The wedding was set for the summer of 1818 and shortly after, the newlyweds settled in Cambridge as James worked toward a Masters Degree while also enjoying his employment at the college's printing press despite hardly needing the money. But as it was expected of him, he moved Samantha to New York where he started practicing law after recieving his secondary degree.
The first few years were filled with futile attempts for children, but in the spring of 1825, Samantha gave birth to a son they called Jesse Robert Livingston. That same year, James took a chance and gave up his law practice, opening Livingston Publishing. The company's offices were located in the city, only a block from the home he shared with his wife and newborn son.
Three years later, Samuel James was born, and a new branch of Livingston Publishing was in development in the newly founded town of Plains, just short of an hour from the city. As one of the founders, James oversaw building the town hall, a schoolhouse, and other key establishments in the area. The project he favored most was the new library, and Plains Public Library opened to the public in 1832.
Four years later, Lawrence Henry Livingston entered the world as the youngest child of James and Samantha. In the year of the youngest Livingston’s birth, James reserved land in the new Plains for building his family a holiday-weekend home. The two-story house was on a large field that stretched back toward forestland covering the mountains that expanded into Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Over the years, it became a peaceful retreat for James and his family. They traveled out there often, occasionally inviting along the Blakes and the Flemings.
As Hector concentrated, he could see Samuel’s father seated in a carriage headed toward that very house. James’s forty-nine years had been kind to him, only slightly aging his face with fine lines that creased his eyes and mouth. Furrow indentations distinguished his forehead and brow, and the faintest touch of gray peppered his reddish-brown hair. Even young women found him attractive, and a few brazen ones made suggestive advances in hopes of being taken as his mistress, a practice not uncommon among men of James’s pedigree. But he was an exception to his philandering peers and chose to keep his devotion with his wife.
Though he loved Samantha’s company, the occasional solitary carriage ride was a welcomed luxury. This particular evening followed a rather stressful work week and James savored the silence while traveling from the city alone. The portfolio case in his lap contained important paperwork that concerned new growths within Livingston Publishing, the library, and the orphanage of his good friends Cedric and Margaret Fleming. Last but definitely not least was a letter to his dear friend, Charles Blake, that needed finishing.
The rhythm of the horse's hooves clomping on the road as it pulled the carriage lulled him. Every so often, the distant call of a crow or nighthawk was heard as the Flemings' orphanage trickled into his mind's eye…
James jolted to attention. The carriage was at a stand-still in front of the house, and the coachman, Bradley, awaited his employer's exit while holding the carriage door open.
“Oh…my apologies, Bradley. Do allow me a moment.”
“Of course, Master Livingston,” the coachman replied.
A sudden wave of nausea passed through James as he attempted to stand.
Concern filled Bradley’s bluish-green eyes. “Forgive me for asking, but are you well, sir?”
James regarded the young, light-haired man. “Yes. Yes, Bradley…I am quite all right, thank you. I suppose the carriage ride caused me to drift a little.” He shook away the last of his dreamstate, regained his composure, and exited the carriage.
“My lord,” Bradley said with a small bow as James’s boots landed on the dirt road in front of the house.
James responded with a clipped nod. “Safe travels home. I shall require a carriage to the city on the morrow’s evening. Seven ‘o’ clock, to be precise.”
“Yes, Master Livingston,” Bradley replied. “Will there be anything more before I depart?”
“No. Thank you, Bradley. You are relieved for the night. The lady of the house and the boys have our servants in the home, should they be in need of anything.”
“Very well then, my lord. I shall return at your requested time on the morrow. Have a pleasant night, Master Livingston.” Bradley gave another small bow and returned to his place at the front of the carriage.
As the sound of the horse's hooves faded toward the city, James stood gazing at the topmost window on the dark two-story house. The still quiet of this area always left him in awe—and, as of recent, unnerved.
A breeze traveling west lifted his cloak as he started up the pathway toward the front door. He made it only halfway when he felt an ominous chill creep over him. James paused, squinting while studying the woods up ahead. In his right peripheral vision, a small figure ran across the field, passing the house and heading toward the woods. He turned quickly in the direction, hoping to perhaps see one of the local children, but the field was open and empty.
James let out a breath and massaged his temples. Perhaps I do need a holiday. A real one…
A sudden mournful howling flowed from somewhere in the mountainous brush. Wrenched from his thoughts, he hurried up the remainder of the path, making certain his key was ready to unlock the door. As he shut himself inside, he felt great relief, regaining his composure enough to light oil lamps in the foyer and sitting room. Grateful that no one was around to witness his anxiety, he made his way up the stairs toward his study.
Before placing his portfolio case on the desk, he lit an end table candle and the oil lamp on his desk. He removed the documents, organizing them into neat piles before sitting down to focus his mind on work. He took up his pen and started reading over a form concerning the Fleming Orphanage.
A few sentences in, the paper’s lettering began to blur. James attempted to ignore it, but the harder he tried pushing through, the more bothersome it became. A throbbing materialized in his head and then increased.
James slammed down his pen and brought his hands to his face, waiting for the pain to subside. When it had dulled a little, he lifted his head and shifted his eyes toward the liquor cabinet.
A drink…I could use a drink. Yes. Perhaps that will help…
Grasping the edge of the desk, he rose from his chair and slowly walked to the cabinet. He took out a bottle of brandy with an appropriate glass, poured in the dark liquid and absently swirled it before taking a first sip.
Under regular circumstances, this would have been enough to relieve any discomfort, but the image of the young lady he encountered a week ago was forever seared in his mind.
Now, James Livingston was a man whom many would consider reasonable. Logical. (Sane)
While he attended the Presbyterian church with his wife and sons every Sunday, a passion for science along with being a self-proclaimed Agnostic compelled James to seek out explanations to satisfy his logic, and hardly entertained much outside of what could be seen, heard, and felt with the five physical senses. Therefore, one could only imagine the pains he was taking to explain what he saw at the Nathaniel Fleming Orphanage. The property was not far from the Livingston vacation home, and he considered heading over.
I am not going mad…there is reasonable cause for what I saw in that room…
In the dim light of the study, he raised the glass to his lips again, taking in the sweet, warm liquid to his mouth. As the brandy trickled down his throat, his thoughts returned to the small, dark-haired young woman.
On the Friday prior to this night, James and Samantha went with Cedric, Margaret, and little Maxine Fleming to the property after dining together. James was quite fond of the Flemings, having known Cedric since their days as schoolmates and fraternity brothers at Harvard. Despite being three years apart, the two became fast friends and remained so ever since.
Cedric and Margaret's courtship had started in secondary school, and following Cedric's graduation, the two married. Afterward, they took residence in a New York house not far from the Livingstons. To James and Samantha, the Flemings were not only neighbors but friends, and extended their help in any way possible, including with the orphanage.
James had been up to the property a few times to oversee the progress, seeing Cedric and Margaret in such good spirits made the project worthwhile for him. The tragic death of their young son, Nathaniel, five years prior had devastated them, and the construction of the orphanage, along with having their daughter Maxine, seemed to breathe new life into the couple.
On that night, Cedric had wanted to show James a newly finished building meant to house the kitchen, dining hall, some classrooms, a small library (that Cedric insisted on naming after James), and dormrooms for class instructors intending to live on the property during the schoolyear. The kitchen and dining hall were on the first floor with the classrooms and library on the second. The third and fourth floors held rooms and living quarters. It was almost complete, and only needed furnishing and a few utilities.
Upon their arrival after dinner at the country club, James expressed interest in having a look around the building. After Cedric gave him a lantern, James excused himself and left his old college friend in the dining hall with Samantha and Margaret to finish their coffee. Ten-year-old Maxine ate a bowl of ice cream, appearing restless and bored as the adults engaged in seeming endless chatter of a wonderful, young twenty-five-year-old Engish instructor by the name of Christian Andrews just recently hired.
With a lantern in hand, James started up the stairs...
...faintly hearing the voices of the other three as he peered into each room on the second and third floors. Satisfied with what he saw, he ascended to the fourth floor and repeated the routine until reaching the room toward the end of the hall.
He stepped inside the empty room, observing the window ahead of him, then the bookshelves built into the wall, the mirror just above the sink, and the closet. As James was turning to leave, the lantern's flame flickered out.
Puzzled, he looked back toward the shut and latched window before. He surveyed the area for a possible draft and ended up dismissing the incident as a case of the lantern simply running out of oil. James decided to return to the first floor, figuring he had seen all he needed to. The evening shadow cloaked the corridor, but enough light was still streaming through the windows. I just need to proceed with caution, especially in the stairwell…
Upon reaching the doorway, he felt a tiny tremor that was immediately followed by low rumbling beneath the floorboards.
“An earthquake? Here?”
The quaking grew stronger, and his immediate thought was of getting down to Samantha. He made it to the hall, but was jolted back into the room. Grasping the door frame, he struggled at maintaing focus on making his way downstairs when suddenly, all was still again.
As James breathed a relieved sigh, the room's temperature dropped and the aroma of tobacco permeated the air. Despite years of spending Wednesday evenings in the cigar filled gentlemen’s club, the odor overwhelmed him to the point of choking. As the veil of smoke lifted, deafening, unearthly, and ghoulish sounds he could not even begin to place assaulted him.
“What the devil…?" He gritted his teeth and pressed his hands to his ears.
Shapes materialized as he turned to face the room's interior. Shapes of bed and a desk.
James shut his eyes tightly, thinking that surely this was the evening shadows playing tricks with his eyes after a small earthquake. Finally, the ghastly noise faded.
James counted to ten, released his ears, and opened his eyes. He expected an empty room to be in front of him but instead, he was in the center of one completely furnished. There wasn't time to observe it all, because that was when he saw her.
Despite the minimal light, James was able to make her age out to be twenty years of age. Her long, black hair matched her clothing. His heart beat rapidly as she stood on a chair securing a hangman’s noose twisted out of red bed sheets to a hook on the ceiling.
James stepped toward her, pausing at the desk where he placed his hand on the surface and nearly fell over when it went right through.
An electrical current pulsed through him as he recollected his equilibrium. He continued toward the girl and came to a stop beside her as she finished securing the noose.
She stared at it with blank eyes, and her face was stained with drying tears. Her face was slightly gaunt, and he could see her delicate chin, the shadows under her eyes, and the hollowness in her cheeks.
When he reached out to touch her arm, his hand went through her and a sudden wave of sadness joined the electrical pulse. Sadness, anger, anxiety, and a desire to end it all took over and nearly paralyzing him. But then their eyes met, though she did not appear to see him. Her eyes told a story of who she was and all she had been through. James saw everything, from the young woman’s birth up until that moment prior to her self-inflicted death.
He slowly shake his head. “No…”
The girl returned her gaze to the noose and place her hands where her neck was to go.
He struggled to move his legs. “Please, stop!”
She placed the noose around her neck and stepped down from the chair.
As her small body suspended in mid air, James finally broke free of whatever restrained him. He lunged forward to grab her, hoping to save her before it was too late, but the girl disappeared.
James crashed into the wall before turning to find himself alone in an empty room. Hints of oppression remained, causing him to collapse into sobbing. He lowered his hands to his knees, staring at the floor and wiping away the tears streaming to his chin. His eye caught the broken lantern on the floor caught his eye. He knelt to retrieve the shattered remains and thought of the others on the first floor. Surely they would all be wondering what was keeping him.
Holding the pieces of the broken lantern, he rose to standing and used the final remnants of daylight to check his reflection in the mirror above the sink.
As he turned to exit the room, his movement was arrested upon seeing a small figure in his path.
“Maxine! Good heavens, I did not hear you come in!”
The little girl held her own lantern. “Sorry. It was boring downstairs, so Momma and Daddy said I could come find you.”
James forced a smile. “Well, I thank you, Maxine. That was quite a little earthquake we had, was it not?”
Maxine raised an eyebrow. “What earthquake?”
James's stomach drop. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. I am likely just exhausted. Please, just run along and tell your parents and my wife that I am headed back down.”
“Alright, Mr. Livingston."
James waited for Maxine to leave the room, but she remained staring up at him, narrowing her icy blue eyes and moving them between his face and the broken lantern he held.
“Are you well, Mr. Livingston?” she asked.
James’s eyes widened, and for a reason he couldn’t place, chills rose on his skin. Maxine regarded him in a rather shrewd manner for someone her age, as though she were able to read his very thoughts.
James cleared his throat. “Yes. Yes, Maxine…I am. Run along and tell your parents and my wife that I am on my way.”
Without another word, the little girl headed toward the hall. But instead of exiting as expected, she paused in the doorway and turned back to face him.
“Mr. Livingston,” she said, “your lantern is broken. How will you see down the stairs? There is no light in the stairwells yet, you know.”
James looked down at the broken lantern he held. “Why, you are correct. I suppose I am right behind you.”
The child appeared pleased with herself as James followed her out of the room.
The two walked side by side toward the door leading to the stairwell, and James could once again feel her eyes on him. He looked down and offered the girl a quick smile.
“Mr. Livingston,” she said.
“Why were you crying?”
He stopped. “I beg your pardon?”
“I heard you crying.”
James avoided her stare. “I was not. Perhaps you were hearing things. Let us return to your parents and my wife now, shall we?”
“I was not hearing things,” she said, her tone defensive and harsh. “I heard you.”
His heart started racing. “I was choking. Perhaps that is what you heard.”
“What would you possibly be choking on?”
“Look, it does not matter!” James tried controlling his rising anxiety. "Let us just return to the dining hall.”
He turned the knob on the stairwell door, feeling absurd for arguing with a ten-year-old. As he stepped through the doorway, Maxine spoke again.
“You saw her, did you not?”
James tensed. “Who?”
“The crazy girl. The witch who lives in Room 410.”
James’s eyes widened and a sick feeling entered his stomach. He turned around to see Maxine's unwavering stare.
“Her ghost lives in the room, you know,” she whispered. “I also have dreams about her. Don’t tell momma and daddy, now. They don't know.”
James found himself unable to respond as a wide grin spread over Maxine's face. He nearly jumped backward when she giggled, a move that would have sent him falling down the stairs.
“Come on, Mr. Livingston!” Her blonde curls bounced as she pushed passed him, practically skipping as the two descended the stairs.
In the end, both returned to the dining hall, acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had occured.
James also noted the surprisingly minimal amount of damage caused by the earthquake. Actually, there was none at all…
He swirled the last drops of his beverage as little Maxine’s words echoed back to him.
"You saw her…the crazy girl…"
Almost every night that week, the image of the dark-haired young woman hanging by her neck was present in his dreams. Each time, he felt her inner torment before waking in a cold sweat, and would then feel even worse if he woke Samantha. While she expressed her concern, she never forced him to talk if he did not wish to, and for this, he was relieved.
James shook his head and finished off the brandy, welcoming the burn in the lining of his esophagus. He poured another glass and glanced his desk.
Perhaps it is best I leave business with the orphanage until morning.
Part of him felt foolish for such thoughts, but he opted to work on the letter to Charles Blake instead. Finishing the letter did help in calming his nerves and also brought to mind another important document kept in the safe at his home in the city. It was his Last Will and Testament, and James's lawyer was scheduled over that Sunday evening to aid in some important changes being made within the document.
After finishing Charles’s letter, he folded it, placed it in the envelope and into his portfolio case. He began turning his attention toward papework regarding the library when a shadow outside his study froze his movement. The door was opened a sliver, through which he could see a shape moving passed the room.
James's heart lurched into his throat, as he knew Samantha and the boys would have made their presence knowing by knocking on the study door or calling up to him. His mind returned to seeing a small figure running toward the woods hours earlier. The one that seemed to disappear when I turned toward it...
Shoving back the thought, he reached into his pocket and fished out his keys. Finding the one he needed, he unlocked the bottom desk drawer where his loaded pistol was kept inside a locked box.
He took up the firearm and quietly proceeded toward the study door, nudging it open to peer down the corridor. The figure was nowhere to be seen, but a door to one of the rooms at the end of the hall was ajar.
James frowned, certain that the door was closed upon his arrival. Armed with his pistol, he crept toward the room.
A soft glow from inside illuminated the doorway, and he could hear movement. Drawing in a breath, he peered in. A figure draped in shadows stood at the far end of the room at the dresser near the closet.
Without another thought, he kicked in the door. “WHO GOES THERE?” he yelled, pointing his pistol.
“Master Livingston, please!” a voice cried.
James lowered his weapon. “Winifred?”
“Yes, Master Livingston.” The woman of African descent turned to face him. She was the Livingstons’ housekeeper at their holiday home and came over once a week to ensure the house was kept clean and orderly.
He let out an exasperated sigh. “Good God, woman! What the hell are you doing sneaking around in here?”
“I am sorry! I thought I left my reading spectacles in here earlier today. I let myself in with my key and saw that lamps were lit, so I called out to let you know I was here. You didn’t answer, so I figured you were occupied…again, I apologize…”
“Winifred, it’s all right,” he said quickly. “I supposed I was so engrossed in my work that I must not have heard you. I apologize as well for my outburst.”
Winifred nodded and made her way passed James.
At the top of the stairwell, she paused and turned to face her employer. “Master Livingston, if I may be so bold…please. Get some rest. You do not look well.”
James stared at the middle-aged woman, and gave her a faint smile before waving her dismissal.
“I will let myself out,” she continued. “My son Daniel is waiting for me out on the front steps. Have a good night, sir. And please, do get some rest. I shall return middle of next week, as usual.”
James braced himself against the wall as he heard the housekeeper leave out the front door. He wondered how he hadn't heard her call to him.
Then, he had a thought. One that amused him so much he burst into laughter. Winifred is the third this week to suggest my not being well. First little Maxine, then Bradley, and now Winifred… James leaned his head back and raised his eyes toward the ceiling. His thoughts returned to the dark-haired girl at the Fleming property.
“Her ghost lives in that room.”
So much about that made no sense at all. For the first time in his life, James felt alarmingly helpless.
“Perhaps I’m not well…perhaps I never will be again...”
...Samuel’s father was not insane. Hector had seen that same dark-haired girl on several occasions. He tried delving deeper into James’s mind, but was instead taken to the Livingston home in New York City.
Samuel was sitting upright in his bed reading a book. Hector tried focusing in on the title, but was unable to make it out.
Like Hector, Samuel was a loner. The two boys had met a year ago while Hector explored a new area inside the cave. He was startled to see the bewildered New York boy with blue eyes and reddish-brown hair step out from inside a crevice. Thankfully, the two were able to communicate, as Samuel and his brothers were well-educated in several languages, including Spanish.
Samuel very much resembled his father as did his older brother Jesse, though the latter had hair a few shades darker. Lawrence, the youngest, resembled his mother with fair hair, though all three boys shared their father’s eyes.
As Hector sat facing the ocean, he tried strengthening his focus on Samuel, hoping that his friend would receive the message and come over to the cave. But before Hector could even begin channeling his energy, a low rumble vibrated beneath the rocks at the ocean's floor and was also felt by four other individuals in Romania and America.
In that moment, Hector de Fuentes, Nicolae Ganoush, Jonathan Blake, James Livingston and Samuel Livingston would have visions apart from the world any of them dwelled in, but would hold great significance for all. Neither would last for longer than a second, but each would lead to the heightening of each man’s five senses and the igniting of the sixth. Veils between worlds thinned as the Earth tilted toward the sun on its axis, and another step was taken toward what had long been predestined.
And Hector was the thread that bound them.
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