Sunday, December 20, 2015

Festive Spirit Blog Hop, Day 5: More Excerpts from DESCENT

Hi everyone,

Welcome to Day 5 of the #halloweenbloghop.

Today I give you two more excerpts from Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1). At the bottom is not only the link to the other authors involved in this blog hop, but also a rafflecopter giveaway of a signed copy of Descent and a mystery gift. :)


Nicolae’s Escape

Summer of 1844


On their first night in the wilderness, Nicolae and Sebastian hiked without sleep and with little rest. A near twenty-four hours later, the younger one was beyond exhausted, and even Nicolae could no longer deny or suppress his own fatigue.
Relief filled Sebastian as his brother suggested stopping at a discrete cluster of brush for the remainder of the night. The boy gratefully accepted the canteen of water and small piece of bread offered to him. It was then Sebastian decided to prod his brother for answers.
He started by thanking Nicolae again for the drink, food and rest, to which the older one simply responded with a nod. The boy then tried questions, choosing his words as carefully as possible. “Nicolae, why are we leaving?”
Sebastian fixed hopeful eyes on his brother, but Nicolae remained steadfast.
“Sebastian, we have a long way to travel and little time. I wish to be gone from here by daybreak, so you best hurry up and eat if you wish to sleep a little tonight.”
Sebastian’s face fell, though he obeyed his brother. He could sense the older one’s anxiety and knew testing him would not work in anyone's favor.
The little boy quickly ate the rest of his stale bread, willing to let it go for the time being, though he was still intent on finding out what happened. No matter how terrible the truth was, Sebastian preferred knowing instead of being in the dark, as the latter often fueled his already wild imagination.
Eloisa's absence bothered him most of all. Sebastian had a difficult time believing that Nicolae would want to go anywhere without her, especially someplace far like America. The feelings and emotions grown ups developed toward one another was still rather foreign to the boy, but he did understand how much Eloisa meant to his older brother.
Over the passed five years, Sebastian had watched their relationship develop, starting with the longing gazes from afar up to having their first courtships in the presence of an adult chaperone. Before long, the two were sneaking away to be alone together. Alone with no older grown ups to watch them…
Sebastian came to recognize just how serious their relationship was on the afternoon he went in search of Nicolae and came across the couple kissing (on the lips!) behind a large tree near the woods. The young boy was left embarrassed and slightly repulsed; anytime he saw them together afterward, that image taunted him. But seeing his older brother happy was important to him, and eventually he decided that he could live with knowing how the young couple liked to kiss. Sebastian was also very fond of Eloisa, and found her to be kind and very pretty. As her relationship with Nicolae progressed, she became almost like a mother to the boy. Sebastian ended up glad the two had found one another, but then the late night excursions began.
It was just after Christmas of 1842 when the younger boy often found himself waking to the sounds of Nicolae quietly leaving the hut. Sebastian would fall back asleep, only to be awoken again as his brother returned. This carried on into early spring, and Sebastian started noticing drastic changes in his brother’s solemn disposition. He was almost cheerful, a word the child would never think to describe Nicolae as. The couple also seemed to regard one another differently.
The boy had tried fighting his curiosity over Nicolae’s nightly whereabouts; if he and Eloisa were meeting one another, Sebastian knew his brother would not appreciate being spied on. At the time, a nine-year-old Sebastian was starting to question the subject of adult relationships but unsure of how much information he really wanted (especially on topics such as kissing). Eventually, his curiosity won and on a warm, midspring night in 1843, he made the daring decision to follow Nicolae.
As usual, he feigned sleep as the older one exited. After waiting for a short moment, the boy slipped out from his cot. Once outside, he maintained a safe distance from his brother and as suspected, Nicolae was meeting Eloisa. The boy watched the two embrace and exchange quiet words before joining hands and heading into the forest.
Sebastian hesitated and considered returning to the hut, but instead ran toward the woods as fast as his legs could carry him. He tried keeping up with the couple's movement as the forest grew thick and dark around him. At one time, he miscalculated and strayed from the path, but like Nicolae, Sebastian knew the woods fairly well and found his way back to where he needed to be. In the distance, a red and orange glow flickered in a small clearing behind a cluster of trees. Sebastian slowed his steps as he heard the sounds of crackling and snapping.
A fire…
He started creeping toward the area, but stopped as an alarming scenario assaulted him. What if that isn’t Nicolae and Eloisa? What if two evil sorcerers are waiting in there to turn me to stone?
Sebastian’s heart rate quickened, but his fear diminished upon hearing his brother's hushed voice.
“Eloisa…” A slight growl was present in Nicolae's voice.
Sebastian resumed his slow steps toward the clearing as he heard Eloisa's playful giggle.
“Get down here,” Nicolae responded with great ferocity.
Eloisa yelped, a sound that transformed into whimsical laughter.
An owl flew down close to Sebastian's head and startled the boy. He froze before bringing himself to observe the surrounding trees and starry sky. Why am I doing this? Why am I in the woods in the middle of the night and no one knows where I am? As he caught his breath, he heard what sounded like a soft moan within the clearing. Why am I disturbing Nicolae and Eloisa when they want to be alone? They’re probably kissing…
He grimaced at the last thought and started toward the village, but his legs had a mind of their own and instead took him to the clearing. Within the protective circle of trees, Nicolae and Eloisa were by the fire, intertwined in the most intense embrace Sebastian had ever seen them in. Nicolae was seated on the ground with a blanket spread beneath him and wearing only his trousers. Eloisa was in his lap, naked with her legs circled around his waist as she pressed her upper body to his. Their mouths were smashed together, and Sebastian thought they resembled two ravenous animals devouring one another.
As Eloisa tilted her head back and allowed Nicolae to move his mouth down her neck and chest, Sebastian squeezed his eyes shut and turned away from the scene. His face grew as hot as the fire burning beside the young couple, and he willed his feet to run back to the village.
After reaching the hut, he leapt onto his cot, throwing the one blanket he had over his head and tried cleansing his mind of what he had seen. The boy felt ashamed for having seen Eloisa without clothes and feared Nicolae’s anger if he were to ever find out. Sebastian was able to fall back asleep but awoke later as his brother re-entered the hut. The little boy kept his eyes shut as the young man’s light footsteps headed toward his respected cot.
Sebastian had difficulty facing his brother and Eloisa over the days following. But as he thought on it, he came to recognize that the intimacy, love and trust he witnessed between them was actually quite beautiful. While the boy was unable to completely empathize, he had a better understanding for what the couple shared. It also made him question why they felt the need to hide. Why not get married like others their age did?
This same question still ate at Sebastian as he and Nicolae rose to continue their journey the next morning. Night's black veil was lifted, and light filtered in through the trees as the sun rose in the east. Fresh green foliage filled their surroundings, and the shrill screeches of bats and mournful owl calls were replaced by morning birds' songs. For Sebastian, it was a much welcomed change.
Later that evening, the boys stopped for sleep beneath another patch of brush Nicolae had found. Still frightened and confused, Sebastian curled up tightly beside his brother and fell into an uneasy sleep.

In the two weeks following, the brothers continued along the creek toward the Wallachian-Transylanian border and Nicolae maintained his stoic silence. One night, Sebastian awoke to find his brother seated on the bank and staring at the night sky. Nicolae was not an easy person to read, but the boy was able to see glints of pain in his brother’s eyes as he sat down next to him.
Sebastian wondered if perhaps Eloisa had left Nicolae for another young man but quickly dismissed the thought. He had seen them together on the day prior to leaving the Alexandru property and the couple seemed as deeply in love as ever, if not more. Though Sebastian did recall overhearing a rather hushed conversation between the two, and would almost swear to hearing the words husband, wife, and little one whispered. This puzzled the boy; as far as he knew, Nicolae and Eloisa were never married. There was also the chilling memory of the time she was badly hurt and Nicolae had disappeared for three days. When I was afraid he was dead…
Sebastian shook away the horrific memory and moved closer to his brother, who gave him a quick glance before returning his gaze to the sky.
Two nights later, they crossed the border into Transylvania. It was that night Sebastian awoke to the sound of a troubled voice. As he came to consciousness, he recognized the voice as his brother's.
The boy rose onto his elbow, and his heart grew heavy as he witnessed a sleeping and tear-stained Nicolae speaking the name of the woman he loved.


Halloween Night, 1931

The Plains Cemetery was located near the center of town, stretching out over a field that led back into the woods. Forest hovered in the background, lining the town and trailing up the hill toward the thicket on the Fleming property. A ten-foot iron gate marked the entrance and a stone wall circled the grounds. Near the woods at the furthest left corner from the last row of tombstones was the care-taker's small pre-Civil War house. At night, the gate was kept locked, but that hardly discouraged the occasional group of youngsters from finding a way to sneak in.
Stories of wandering spirits were numerous. Legend told of James Livingston’s ghost walking the grounds as he watched over the safety of the town and its residents. There were also rumors of the patriarch’s guilt over the fate of his close friends. The tales behind the Flemings were even more unsettling, involving vengeance and despair. According to the lore, Cedric and Margaret hunted for Jared, seeking revenge for ruining their daughter and business. As for Maxine, she searched in eternal anguish for her lost love, Christian Andrews, and their illegitimate child. A hopeless Jared walked the grounds aimlessly, with no place in this life or the hereafter.
Jimmy pulled his Chevy alongside the sidewalk and put it in park nearly a block down the road from the front gates. As the key was pulled from the ignition, the engine faded into silence. The group of six sat cloaked in night’s shadow, watching a veil of dark clouds pass over the waning October moon and form a curtain around its light (just as they had in Wallachia almost one hundred years ago). For that moment, all that was present to each person was the racing of their own pulse as they waited for one of the others to open a car door or speak. Dorothy instinctively leaned against Carl, who placed his arm around her and brought her close.
Finally, Jimmy's voice broke the quiet. “Well, George and Evan loosened a bar in the gate at the back a couple years ago. They snuck in over the summer a few times with Caroline and Bernice to neck...and possibly other things.”
“How morbid," Gail said dryly. "Did they see anything or were they too occupied?”
Jimmy snorted. “My guess would be the latter. Though George claims he heard Maxine whispering next to him and Caroline. Evan also thought he saw a light in one of the windows of the Livingston Mausoleum. But the whispering could have been the wind and the light could have been moonlight reflecting off of something.”
“Yeah,” Carl agreed. “I say we get moving, though. Nothing's going to happen if we're just sitting here.”
The six emerged from the car and headed up the sidewalk until they reached the front entrance. As a light wind rustled the material of their clothing, carrying the fragrance of autumn brush, the clouds moved away from the moon and revealed the cemetery grounds lined with headstones. The kids gazed through the bars and looked toward the caretaker's place of residence. The dark house sat far in the distance, standing among the monuments dedicated to lives no longer existing.
Jimmy motioned for the rest to follow. The group quietly rounded the gate at the right hand side and came to a stop.
“Right beyond there,” Jimmy whispered, pointing to the distant brush lining the night sky.
Carl grinned and Reginald nodded approvingly. The girls looked to one another, and Linda clutched the paper bag holding her candles. She appeared nervous but there was an air of excitement. As long as Jimmy was with her, she would be just fine.
Gail was still hesitant, looking back toward the car before Reginald put an arm around her and gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze.
Dorothy stared intently at the forest, not really knowing what she was looking for. As a passing breeze stirred, she would swear the trees were whispering and moving toward her. As it was on the night of the dance, she could hear almost every sound produced by the forest, along with her heart pumping and blood rushing throughout her body. Suddenly, it all seemed to close in, and she found herself floating toward the treetops and falling backward into the branches...
“Dorothy!” A distant, but urgent voice called to her.
Dorothy’s limbs stiffened as a pair of branches caught her. All she could see was trees and sky. When she looked down, her heart stopped at seeing the ground at least thirty feet below. Then she was dropped, falling passed the veil that shrouded her until she hit the ground with a hard thud. The voice calling to her was close now, almost right beside her ear.
Fear gripped her as she opened her eyes. When her vision cleared, Carl's eyes were what she saw first. He was on the ground, holding her up from the dry grass.
“Honey, I'm right here," he was saying.
Carl was holding me…not the trees… Dorothy relaxed, feeling small relief but still in a state of confusion. “What happened…?” she asked. The rest of her friends hovered overhead, regarding her with bewildered, concerned expressions.
“Babe, that’s what I was going to ask you,” Carl said. “You took off running toward the woods, then tripped and fell backwards. Thankfully I caught you in time.”
Dorothy craned her head back to observe the woods and sure enough, the trees were quite close, but still and silent. Her surroundings were spinning again and a familiar magnetic surge pulsed through her blood.
“Dorothy!” Carl's voice echoed as though it were miles away.
Her being floated as the moon fell toward her (or she was flying up to it?). She was among stars, their dust twinkling and gliding about. The moon was farther ahead and absolutely magnificent to behold. There was no memory or concept of time. Here, she felt at peace and wanted to stay. But that familiar voice kept calling to her. An urgent voice belonging to someone she deeply cared for...
She fell toward Earth, landing with great force as gravity and awareness permeated her. As she pried her eyes open, Carl still cradled her, shielding her with his arms. A pained groan escaped her mouth and she buried her face in his jacket.
“Baby,” he said, “what's going on?”
She closed her eyes, trying to remember what just had happened but recalled only seeing light...light surrounded by a lot of darkness… "I'm fine. Just dizzy..."
“Honey, if you want, we could leave," Carl said. "We don’t have to do this.” He looked to the rest of the group. “Right?”
They all nodded assuringly.
Dorothy struggled to sit up. “No. No, I think I'll be all right. Really.”
“Are you sure?” Jimmy asked. “I can drive you home. It’s not a big deal.”
“Yeah, you took quite a fall,” Reginald added.
“No, please,” Dorothy insisted. “I’ll feel even worse if I spoil everyone's fun.”
Before anyone could reply, Gail pointed toward the caretaker's house. “You guys, look,” she whispered.
All eyes widened as light filled windows of the old shack.
Jimmy gestured with his head. "The woods!"
Carl scooped Dorothy up and carried her as he and everyone else ran toward the trees. The kids entered the edge of the forest just before the caretaker opened his front door a few yards away. Their hearts were pounding as the older man stepped out onto the porch and started surveying the grounds. While he was at too far a distance for the kids to see his face, suspicion radiated from him.
The group stood at the edge of the gate, each trying to be still while catching their breaths. Dorothy leaned on Carl, but was almost able to stand on her own. After what seemed like an eternity, the caretaker finally retreated into his house and the windows darkened.
“Alright,” Jimmy said, “if we're going in, we have to do it now.”
“Are you sure you’re all right, Dorothy?” Linda asked.
Dorothy looked to Carl and each of her friends before nodding.
“Are you sure?” Carl asked.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Dorothy said. “Now let’s go before the caretaker changes his mind and comes out again.”
With that, Jimmy took hold of an iron bar, twisting it until it loosened out from the gate. He glanced at the caretaker’s now completely darkened house before he slid through and reached back toward Linda. After she was in, Reginald and Gail followed, leaving Dorothy and Carl as the last ones on the outside.
Carl gently squeezed her shoulders. “You don’t have to do this, baby. We can always go back to the car and wait for the others.”
Dorothy shook her head, and looked into her boyfriend's eyes. “I want to do this.”
He gave her a slight smile and stepped aside. As she went through, her body froze when his hand lightly touched the small of her back, bringing back a memory of their first real date together.
After everyone made it in, Jimmy handed the bar to Carl, who replaced it loosely enough so leaving (or escaping) would not be a struggle.
“Where to first?” Carl whispered, turning back to the group.
“How about the Fleming plot,” Jimmy suggested.
The six ran the short distance to the first rows of tombstones while keeping noise to a minimum and an eye on the caretaker’s house. They weaved through the grave markers until their destination was reached. Beneath a large, stone platform that bore a towering replica of St. Michael the Archangel were the graves of Cedric, Margaret, Maxine, and Nathaniel.
The kids were silent as they read the inscriptions of names and dates:


Cedric Marcus
February 1800-October 1867

Margaret Louise
November 1804-October 1867

Nathaniel Cedric
May 1830-April 1842

Maxine Rosalind
June 1832- October 1894

Linda shivered and Jimmy embraced her. "Where's Jared?" she asked.
“He was buried a couple plots down,” Reginald replied.
Carl broke away from the group and headed down the row of tombstones. “Right here,” he said, stopping at a much smaller headstone.
Dorothy ran over, followed by the other four. When she stopped beside Carl, he took her hand and laced his fingers through hers. The other four ceased their steps and stood around Jared’s simple memorial.

Jared Ethan Fleming
April 1825-October 1880

"He really was the black sheep," Gail said. Her eyes turned toward the Livingston Mausoleum several feet away. “I wonder what’s in the journals that Livingston’s family decided to keep. What made them decide to keep certain ones while others were allowed for display?”
“Good question,” Dorothy replied. She felt Carl unlace his fingers from her hand and wrap his arms around her shoulders.
Sighing, she leaned into him and allowed her gaze to rest on the rather large stone monument in which Samantha Jo DeWitt Livingston was the first to be interred, followed by her husband a near decade later. All three of their sons and their sons’ wives were also there, along with a few grandchildren. 
“Should I set up my candles?” Linda asked, rummaging through her bag.
She felt her boyfriend tense as he gently took hold of her wrist.
“Hold on, babe,” he whispered, and held up an index finger for all to be silent.
All eyes widened as footsteps were heard crunching over leaves on the drying grass, drawing dangerously close. Then, a beam from a flashlight floated across the headstones.
The caretaker, Carl mouthed.
The alarmed expressions of the girls silently questioned. Jimmy looked to Carl and Reginald before gesturing with his head toward the fence. The boys led their girlfriends through the rows of tombstones, being mindful of their steps as the caretaker’s continued across the grounds and heading toward them.
Finally, the kids approached the last row of headstones, though distance from the gate seemed much farther than before. Each could feel his or her pulse as the caretaker drew near.
“Let’s make a run for it,” Carl whispered. “He can't do anything once we're out."
(Hopefully he doesn't have a loaded shotgun...)
Jimmy nodded in agreement and everyone took a stance, preparing to run toward the loosened bar in the gate. Carl looked to them and mouthed now before they all broke into a run.
Carl and Dorothy were the first to reach the gate. He pried the loose bar out, allowing the girls and the other two boys through first. Once his friends were safely out, Carl quickly slipped through and replaced the bar.
Everyone held on to one another as they moved toward the edge of the woods and ran until reaching Jimmy's car. By then, their tense silence transformed into peels of thrilled laughter echoing into the night.
The kids leaned against the vehicle, catching their breath while reliving the moment in the cemetery.
Reginald grinned widely. “That was close!”
“What do you think he would have done if he caught us?” Linda asked.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy said, placing a hand on his girlfriend’s waist. “But I say your séance would have a much better shot at the old orphanage.”
“Agreed,” Carl added.
Dorothy made eye contact with Gail who gave her a wry smile.
“Come on Gail, admit it was fun,” Linda said, grasping Jimmy’s arm.
“A little,” Gail replied, trying to hide her amusement.
“More than a little,” Reginald said, wrapping his arms around her waist.
Gail relented and embraced his shoulders. “Alright, it was fun.”
Reginald responded by kissing the right side of her face.
“In that case,” Carl said, “I say we let the fun continue. To Fleming Orphange we go.”
“I second that notion,” Jimmy replied.
The six resumed their places inside the Chevy and Jimmy started the engine. "And now, 'ze second part of our tour,” he said, imitating Bela Lugosi.
“Yes, ‘ve continue on to Fleming Orphanage where ‘ze demons 'vait to drink your blood,” Carl added, speaking with the same Lugosi-as-Dracula accent.
The other four laughed as Jimmy pulled the car out to the road and turned it in the direction of the orphanage. They were so engrossed that none noticed the caretaker standing at the entrance, peering through the gate and watching the black 1930 Chevrolet pass him by. He was a rather gruff, elderly man who mainly kept to himself. His occupation allowed a private existence and a roof over his head. He had everything he needed.
Seeing the six kids scramble frantically through the gate had given him a great deal of entertainment. He had a way of knowing when meddling trespassers would sneak in to make mischief, indulge in secret rendez vous, or whatever the young ones did these days. After the Kolinski and Frasier boys managed to pry a bar in the gate loose, he considered fixing it but in the end decided it wasn't necessary.
As Jimmy’s car faded down the road, the man turned and headed back into the field of tombstones. Only a light jacket shielded him against the cold as leaves and drying grass crunched beneath his boots. His flashlight was shut off. The moon was bright enough, and he knew these grounds like the back of his hand. The flashlight had simply been used to make those kids squirm a little.
The caretaker stopped at the Fleming plot and gazed at St. Michael's frozen stare. A smile appeared across his bristled, unshaven face before he started heading toward his small house at the farthest corner of the cemetery. As he passed the Livingston Mausoleum, his eyes narrowed and he gazed up at the moon.


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