"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Sunday, December 30, 2012

5. We Visit Enchantments...continued

     Coffee made, Lily took two large mugs off a shelf, filled them and walked back out to the front of the store. From the entrance, a long counter ran along the right side; a custom job, made by a friend of her grandfather’s shortly before the store opened in the Sixties. She loved the nicks and scratches, the patina of the wood, the sturdy, solid history. At the open end of the counter, forming an L-shaped configuration, Lily had placed an old oak desk she’d found at a thrift store. A little sanding, a bit of stain, and the desk fit in seamlessly with the period of the house. Katy had called it the Bob Marley desk because it looked like something from a classic Dickens novel. Straight-faced, Lily had pointed out she must surely mean Bob Cratchit. After nearly laughing themselves hoarse, there was no way the desk could be called anything other than the Bob Marley.

     Opening the small safe under the register, Lily filled the cash drawer, then settled at her desk and turned on the laptop.  Taking a sip of coffee, she quickly scanned the new emails, printing out nearly a dozen online orders that made a nice start to her day.  Once she was convinced her grandparents hadn’t made a mistake and would want their store back, she'd taken a leap of faith about two years ago, closed for a month, made changes in merchandise, and did some much needed remodeling. Now, looking around at the soft, muted colors on the walls, the gleam of polished wood from the bookshelves, and the randomly placed overstuffed Victorian chairs, tucked into various niches and under windows, Lily smiled contentedly. Enchantments felt warm, comfortable. It was welcoming and peaceful—

     The door burst open, a small woman flying into the room, followed by a flurry of dead leaves blown in on a cold, bitter wind.

     “Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods!” shrieked Katy, dropping her huge, overflowing messenger bag, the local newspaper, and a box of what appeared to be Halloween decorations on the floor. Tossing a bakery sack on the counter, she dashed toward Lily with a wild light in her eyes.

     “What’s happened?” Lily asked. She never knew with Katy. It could be the end of the world, or a shoe sale at Nordstrom’s.

     Katy grabbed Lily’s hands, tugging her out of the chair, then yanking her in circles like a drunken sailor.   Gasping, “I just met the man of my dreams!”   Nearly leaping into Lily's arms, Katy gave her a crushing, impassioned hug.

     Laughing, Lily grabbed her by the shoulders and held her still. Looking down at her best friend’s tiny frame--the difference in their heights an even eight inches--she said quietly, “Deep breath, remove coat, sit down, have coffee.” As Katy opened her mouth, Lily shook her head and firmly turned her toward the extra chair next to the desk. Amused, she listened to Katy’s attempts to breathe as she shut the front door and stooped to gather up all the things dumped on the floor. Tucking the messenger bag and newspaper under the counter, Lily stashed the box behind the desk before resuming her seat.

     Smiling into the animated, though feverishly flushed face of her sole employee and closest friend, Lily waited patiently. Katy was always excitable, exuberant more often than not, but this was extreme, even for her.

     “Okay. I’m calm,” Katy said, breathlessly. “Really, really calm,” her voice trembled over the words.

     “Clearly,” Lily murmured.

     Taking a deep, deep breath, Katy bent over her knees and slowly exhaled. Raising her head, eyes closed, she held her fingers in the classic meditation pose, middle fingers touching thumbs.

     Lily smiled. “Good one, Katy, but you can't sit still long enough to meditate.”

     Opening one eye, Katy held the pose, her grin wide. “Now can I tell you what happened?”

     Before Lily had finished nodding, Katy jumped to her feet. Pacing in front of the desk, she began to talk, faster than Lily would have thought humanly possible.

     “He was gorgeous, the most gorgeous guy ever, and he—no, wait. I should start at the beginning, right? Yes, right, okay, today being Friday I stopped at the University Bakery because they have those yummy apple fritter dealies that we both love.  So, I’m running late because of the Halloween decorations—and btw, we need to get the store decorated today since Samhain is just a week away—anyway, I run into the bakery, order the apple things and as I’m waiting for Inez, you know, the girl with all the piercings, to put them into a bag, she suddenly looks over my shoulder and freezes like a statue. Well, I freak out and don’t want to turn around because what if it’s really bad, like a guy with a gun or a knife or something, but before I can do anything, this voice—“ She stopped to draw breath, then took a long swallow of her coffee.  Her eyes glazed as she said softly, voice tinged with awe, “This low rumble of a voice, like standing too close to the speakers at a concert and feeling the bass in your chest, you know? That rumble says in my ear, ‘Are those as good as they look?’ Ah, gods help me, even if there’d been a machete involved, I wouldn’t have cared.” She gave Lily a distracted look. “So I turned.”  After an audible gulp, she said, “You know how I don't really like tall guys because they always make me feel like a little kid? Okay, I turn around and I’m looking into the guy’s sternum. Seriously, I had to step back to look up at him or I would have fallen over backward. He’s got this beautiful face, like an angel, but not the good kind. Dark hair, dark eyes, these full lips…”  She trailed off for a moment, lost in thought, fingers touching her mouth.  In a near whisper, she stammered, “He was just the most, the most…”

     Lily tried not to laugh. “I think you might have already mentioned that he was ‘the most gorgeous’.”

     “Don’t mock me, Chareau, you haven’t seen this guy.  I’m not even sure he’s human. How could one man be so—”

     “Yeah, yeah, I get it. So, then what happened?”

     Katy laughed with nervous energy.  “He asked me again about the stupid fritters, ordered a dozen—can you imagine? A dozen? Then, while we’re waiting, he asked me my name, was I a student, did I work in the area?” She held up her hands in a stop motion, understanding the look in Lily’s eye. “Trust me, if this guy wants to stalk me, I’m fine with it.  So, after we got our orders, he walked me out to my car, then he did the most amazing thing!” She fanned her hands in front of her face, the tremble back in her voice.

     An odd, uncertain feeling curled through her belly as Lily looked at her best friend, at the luminous shine in her blue eyes, the look on her elven-like face. Katy grabbed her long, chestnut-colored braid, a braid that had hung over her left shoulder since fifth grade, a braid that now hung nearly to her waist in a beautiful, thick rope. Softly, she whispered, “He ran his hand down the length of my braid. He said it felt like the most luxurious cashmere he'd ever caressed.” She swallowed, then dropped into the chair. “I told him I worked here.” She raised her eyes to meet Lily’s frown, wistfully asking, “Do you think the gods date humans?”

     Katy was flighty, yes. Too trusting, always. Fell in love at least three times a week, absolutely. But this was different. And it wasn’t that Katy couldn’t attract a gorgeous guy, she could, and had. The stranger's interest, and her reaction to it, just seemed…off.

     Lily stood and came around her desk. Maybe there was something in the autumn air; hadn’t she herself been off all morning, daydreaming and wandering in the past? Resting a hand on Katy’s shoulder, Lily suddenly found the reason for her unease when their eyes met:  It was the look of utter vulnerability in Katy’s eyes. It was too powerful, too sudden for a chance meeting in a bakery on a blustery Friday morning.  What the hell was going on?

     “Let’s get fresh coffee and have those fritters before we open. We need to decide how we want to decorate for the Halloween party this year.” She gave Katy’s shoulder a comforting squeeze, and said the one thing she knew would divert her friend, “I’m thinking cobwebs. Lots and lots of cobwebs.” She smiled to herself as Katy squealed with delight, chattering about all the places they could hang webs around the store for maximum effect as they walked into the kitchen together.

     “By the way,” Lily asked, “did you get the name of this god-like creature, or were you too busy drooling?”

     Laughing, Katy took two small plates out of a cupboard and placed an apple fritter on each. Sitting at the kitchen table, she said, “Thankfully, he volunteered it, because I’m pretty sure my thinker wasn’t working.”

     As Katy took a large bite of her treat, Lily snorted. She had known Katy since they were ten and was used to the way Katy darted and flitted, paused and sped up while talking. Since eventually everything would come out, she concentrated on her pastry.

     Sure enough, a few moments later after a long heartfelt sigh, Katy said, “Dominick.” She looked at Lily. “Isn’t that just the best name ever?”

     “And does this paragon have a last name, or does he just use the one, like Zeus, or Apollo, or—

     “Shut up!” Katy laughed. “Of course, he has a last name!”

     Again, Lily waited, brow raised in question as she finished eating.

     “Cantrell. His name is Dominic Cantrell.”


N.B.  Changed Jude's name to Dominic.  I couldn't stop thinking about that Beatles song, so I went back through my character notes and there it was: the name I'd initially picked in the first place.  So thanks Robbie, but please, no more song titles...I can't make it better.  ;D

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

4. We Visit Enchantments...

     Lily Donovan Chareau closed the door to her third-floor suite and headed down the staircase to the main floor, where her bookstore, Enchantments, was located. She loved the soft quiet of the old Victorian house in the early mornings, before customers, delivery people, and her one employee, Katy Montgomery, arrived.

     Pausing for a moment, she gazed at the multitude of family pictures crowding the wall in a long chronology, her grandparents at the top, followed by her parents, then ending at the second-floor landing with herself, from childhood to the last one taken a few years ago where she stood between her grandparents on the wide front porch, all smiles, arms tangled around each other, the deed to the bookstore--rolled and tied with a bright red ribbon—clutched tight in her hand.

     Her eyes ran down the line of photos. She loved seeing her grandparents in their so-called “wild years,” though as far as she could tell, smiling at the most recent picture in front of their home in Ireland, not much had changed over the years. Her grandmother, Grace, gray-blond hair brushing her shoulders, had always worn long, flowing gypsy skirts and bright, blousy tops; her grandfather, Mickey, said Grace would forever be a hippie chick. In this latest picture, the two were smiling at each other with such happiness, their love utterly transparent. Lily touched the glass, her finger tracing their faces, missing them so much since their move to Ireland three years ago.

     Moving down several more steps, she looked at her parents. Her mother, standing in the middle of a vast field of tall, vividly golden sunflowers, hand on the crown of her large straw hat, head thrown back, face to the sun, a few shining strands of hair blowing across her laughing face. Lily knew the exact sound of that exuberant laugh. Her father, Jean Michel, loved nothing more than taking spontaneous photos of his family, but especially of his wife. Lily had inherited the rich shade of blond hair from both her mother and grandmother, though the glints of deep red came from Ireland; the rich amber-brown of her eyes and her height—just shy of six feet—were her father’s gifts.

     In another photo, her mother held an enormous sunflower head, standing next to her father in the doorway of a stone villa, both smiling broadly into the camera. Lily remembered taking that picture of her parents, and though she had trouble swallowing around the lump in her throat, she also couldn't stop the smile. She’d spent her childhood in that house, run wild through the acres of sunflowers on the family estate every summer. Missing her family was a painful ache in her heart. With a soft touch to their smiling faces as well, Lily sighed, then continued downstairs, ignoring the photos of herself that cascaded along the wall in a pictorial waterfall of her life.

     As she did every morning, Lily stopped on the small landing at the bottom of the dark, polished oak staircase and surveyed the bookstore. From where she stood, her view encompassed most of the main floor, except for the kitchen to her right behind swinging doors and the bathroom tucked beneath the stairs.  She glanced down at the floor. When she was very young, visiting her grandparents, she used to swan down the grand staircase like a princess, her grandfather solemnly bowing at the bottom, her grandmother tossing handfuls of fairy dust— glitter and confetti—making such a wonderful mess that to this day, if the light was just right, little sparks of color still shimmered between the cracks of the floorboards.

     Though not today. In the sullen gloom of an overcast fall morning in Seattle, there wasn’t enough light filtering through the windows to dispel the shadows, let alone see fairy dust. For some reason that thought made a shiver run down Lily’s spine. What was the matter with her today? Usually she stood on the landing admiring the mellow shine of the old floors, the prism of colors that danced around the room from the many beveled windows. She loved stepping into the broad rainbow bands that stretched across the floor from the two long panes in the double doors at the front of the store. Instead, today everything felt dreary and flat.

     Attempting to shrug off her mood, Lily grabbed a dust cloth from a cupboard under the stairs and settled into her usual routine, dusting and straightening her way around the book shelves. This morning however, hard as she tried to ignore them, nostalgia and melancholy rode her shoulders, determined to bring her down.  As she worked, Lily let her mind wander to her family, looking for the comfort they always gave her...
     When her grandmother, Grace, was twenty, she decided to postpone college for a year and travel. With a small backpack, her passport and a Michelin guide to Europe, she left her bewildered parents and set out to see the world. Six months later, in a boisterous pub in Dublin, she met Mickey Donovan. At the end of the week, unable to let her go, Mickey bought himself a backpack; together they traveled Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean. Two years later, happily working at a small lavender farm in France, Grace and Mickey married, and that very night their daughter Helene was born.
     Undaunted by parenthood, convinced it takes a village to raise a child, the Donovans continued their nomadic lifestyle until Helene was nearly six. Agreeing it was time to settle down, they returned to Grace's roots, finding a home and their place in the world in a ramshackle old Victorian house on the edge of the vibrant, bustling university district in Seattle. Within a year, the two lower floors had been remodeled into a new age shop with books, crystals, tarot cards, incense, wands and whatnots. Mickey completely gutted and rebuilt the entire third floor, transforming it into a spacious three-bedroom, two-bath suite, with an open-plan great room, gourmet kitchen and spectacular views from every window.
     Oddly, the child of nomads had no inclination whatsoever to travel. Helene had no desire for a quest, no urgency pulling her toward adventure; she was content with her classes at the university and her job at the bookstore. Worried their daughter wasn’t showing any interest in broadening her horizons, Grace and Mickey gave her an open-ended airline ticket for her graduation gift, and after careful deliberation, Helene chose to return to France, to see her old childhood friends, visit the lavender farm where she’d been born.
     One day, nearly a month after arriving in France, Helene was riding her bike from the home of a close family friend to the local village, when she was run off the road by a small Citroen, spewing clouds of exhaust as the driver careened around a blind corner. Swerving to avoid a collision, she landed in the ditch, the front wheel of the bike spinning wildly near her head.
     The car screeched to a halt, and a very large man somehow unfolded himself from the tight confines of the tiny vehicle and rushed toward her, waving his hands and spouting a string of apologies in rapid-fire French. Unhurt, Helene relaxed in the ditch and watched with amusement as he snatched handfuls of thick, unruly dark hair in his agitation. As she admired his broad shoulders, his long-legged strides, she wondered just how long it was going to take before he helped her out of the ditch. When he continued to pace back and forth, feverishly muttering, she started to laugh. At the sound—deep, rich, deliciously intoxicating--the man stopped abruptly, staring in bemused wonder at the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Smiling, Helene raised a hand, expecting to be pulled to her feet. Without hesitation, he lifted her out of the ditch and straight into his arms. It was a running joke in the family that he still hadn’t set her down.
     Jean Michel Chareau owned one of the largest sunflower farms in southeast France. Helene and Jean Michel were married two weeks later, and not quite a year after that, Lily was born.
     Shaking her head out of the past, Lily tossed the dust cloth back in the cupboard and made her way to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Glancing at the large clock that hung over the front doors, she realized with a start that while tripping down Memory Lane, she’d lost nearly half an hour. Was it the weather making her feel so morose, unsettled? Her mother and grandmother had long found love by Lily’s age; maybe looking at the photos, daydreaming, made her realize she couldn’t even remember the last time she'd been on a date.

     She sighed. Just her luck, Cupid seemed to have skipped a generation.

-----to be continued-----

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2 & 3. We Meet Daniel Valentine...

     2.  We Meet Daniel Valentine...

     With his back pressed into the cold marble, Daniel waited in the shadowed niche for the head librarian to finish his work. Deacon had been overseeing the Library of Souls for centuries, and his routine seldom varied.
     On an unimaginable scale, the Library of Souls contained the knowledge of all human experience; every thought, word and deed throughout time was recorded in each individual's book.  Daniel’s eyes wandered upward, following the tall, marble columns that held floor upon floor as they rose until the topmost were swallowed in the mists.
     Catching movement from the corner of his eye, Daniel lowered his gaze from the lofty heights and focused on the large, circular counter in the middle of the room. Standing outside the waist-high circle, Deacon was carefully wiping a large stack of crystal cards with a soft cloth as he walked slowly around the counter, gently inserting each sparkling card into a slot.  Daniel knew they acted as the earthly equivalent of a library card:  A person wanting to view their book, took a card, pressed their thumb against the small crystal screen, and the precise location of the book—floor, aisle, shelf—appeared.  The card was then inserted back into a slot, and the book made its way from the stacks into the person’s hand.  It was a flawless system.  One that made Daniel move restlessly, his nerves dancing with unease.  He wanted this over with, one way or the other.
     Just when he thought Deacon was finished, a woman appeared and hesitantly stood at the entrance, her head tipped back as she read the words carved into the marble over the high, wide arch, a look of awe and trepidation on her face:  ~ All That Is ~ Has Been ~ Will Be ~ 

Daniel slumped. He knew from experience that Deacon loved nothing more than showing a new visitor how the Library worked.   When he turned to welcome the woman, Daniel silently slid down the wall and sat on the floor.  Resting against the cool marble, he pulled his legs up, and dangled his wrists over his bent knees.  Closing his eyes, melding deeper into the shadows, the deep drone of Deacon’s voice and the quiet, nervous questions from the woman drifted into the background as his mind raced.
Gods, he didn’t have time for this delay. He’d planned the theft precisely for the moment there wasn’t a librarian on duty. His stomach clenched at what he was about to do. If he were caught, there was no telling what would happen to him—though he still wasn’t sure he could actually steal the book in the first place.  The one immutable rule of the Library was that only the soul belonging to the book could retrieve it.  Cantrell, however, had assured him it was possible and had supposedly given him the means to do it.
The Cantrells. His fists bunched, knuckles white as he pictured the man, and that fateful night. Oh, how he wanted to wipe the sanctimonious sneer off the bastard’s face. And after cramming those too-white teeth down his throat, Daniel would do the same to that arrogant prick he called his son. He hung his head, breathed deep, flexed the stiffness from his fingers, but the anger refused to let go.  He was fucked no matter how things went down, and couldn’t help thinking that maybe it really was true that the road to Hell was paved with good intentions.
How had it come to this—this very moment in time—and being blackmailed into attempting something so spectacularly stupid it boggled the mind?


Daniel’s origins were mysterious.  He’d been left on the doorstep of the Holy Innocents Children’s Home on a dark, storm-tossed San Francisco night. Sister Mary Anthony kept saying she heard a baby crying, though the other sisters said it was just the wind. It was Sister Mary Margaret who finally went to the door and found the poor baby, soaked through his thin blanket, shivering with cold and screaming with hunger and outrage.
The entire household went into action to help the poor lost lamb. Even Mother Superior helped by heating towels in the oven to quickly warm the near-frozen babe.  Much later, washed, warm, fed and asleep next to the large kitchen stove, the ten sisters of the Holy Order of the Blessed Virgin, circled the crib and marveled at the baby's black hair and long limbs, the deep indent in his chin, and though now his eyes were closed, they had been a mesmerizing shade of dark green with amber flecks, very unusual for a newborn.  Sister Mary Agnes murmured, “He’ll be breaking hearts, this one will.” The other nine nodded solemnly in agreement.
Searching for a name, the sisters debated the merits of several saints, then decided on one that seemed to fit.  As they contemplated a surname, the clock struck midnight, and Sister Mary Margaret said, “It’s now St. Valentine’s Day, sisters.” They looked at her, then at Daniel. Mother Superior murmured, “Daniel Valentine. It’s good. And surely being named for two saints will give him a better chance then he’s had so far.”
When he was seven, and another boy who had been close to him was adopted, Daniel locked himself in the attic and decided never to come out again. While the sisters scoured the house, the grounds, the neighborhood, searching frantically for their missing child, Daniel went on his first flight.
Tired, hungry, exhausted from crying, feeling lost and alone, Daniel rolled into a ball on the attic floor and fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke, he found himself flying, surrounded by a multitude of ribbons in more colors than he had ever imagined.  Exuberant, he stretched out his arms like Superman and zoomed between them, and when he occasionally brushed against a strand, a picture would burst into his mind, sometimes making sense, often not. It would be many years before he understood what that meant.
But on that day of his first journey, he just laughed and flew, until hearing a bellow, he looked down, and realized there was a cold, deep darkness below that made him anxious and fearful. Faltering, he lost altitude, and creatures with red eyes and long claws reached up for him. Screaming in terror, he would have fallen into their grasp, but a tall, strong man swooped out of the mists, gathered him close and flew him away from the growling, hissing nightmares.
 [**There was a glitch somehow, somewhere, and Part 3 vanished off the blog.  I have rewritten and reposted it here though for continuity I had to attach it to Part 2, which makes this section very long to read.  Hopefully, dear reader, you won't fall asleep before you reach the end.**]

3.  We Meet Daniel Valentine...continued
Settling on a bench that seemed to float in the air, the man asked Daniel his name, then told the boy he was called Taurin. After solemnly shaking hands, Taurin told Daniel he must never go away from the light, or fly over the darkness again. Still frightened, Daniel nodded, then quietly asked, "Is this a dream?"

    "In a way," the man replied. His eyes searched Daniel's, then he said softly, "You must be very special to be able to sit here, talking to me." He smiled at Daniel's confusion, patting him gently on the leg. "It's a rare gift, boy, but never mind that now. When you're older, things will make more sense." Taurin leaned closer. "Until then, remember to stay away from the dark."

    Daniel opened his mouth to ask another question, but suddenly cried out at a sharp, painful tug in his belly. "Daniel, see that bright silver cord?" Taurin pointed to the shining band that emerged from Daniel’s abdomen. Noticing it for the first time, he yelled, frantic to wrench it out.

    "NO!" the man shouted, slapping the boy's hands away. Another tug and Daniel moaned, clutching his stomach.

    "What is it?" he cried. "Take it out!"

    Taurin knelt in front of him and calmly murmured, "Listen to me carefully." When their eyes met, he said, "That silver cord is the life line that connects you to your sleeping body." He smiled at the slight frown on the boy's face. "Look around, see all the other colored ribbons?"

    Daniel raised his head and watched the shifting rise and fall of myriad glowing threads…and abruptly made the connection in his mind. Wide-eyed, he said, "Those are people? Dreaming?"

    Taurin nodded. "Some are dreaming, others are being born, or coming home." He brushed a lock of hair off Daniel's forehead. "To go home, all you need to do is think it, and you'll be there." Taurin stood, "Someone is trying to wake you. They must be very worried. You need to go." He hesitated for a moment, not sure how much the boy would understand. "Next time you come here, you must be more careful, and you shouldn't come at all unless you have a safe place to sleep undisturbed. Can you do that?"

    Daniel looked up at the tall, imposing man. In a small, uncertain voice, he said, "I don’t know. I live with ten sisters."

    The man raised a brow, a small smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. "That’s a lot of sisters. Maybe you should wait to go traveling until you’re a bit older. Sisters can be very nosy."

    Before another word could be exchanged, Daniel felt the strongest pull yet and was jerked off the bench to his knees. "I want to go home," he cried. Closing his eyes, arms wrapped tight around his waist, he repeated the words, over and over.

    At the sound of several familiar voices, Daniel slowly opened his eyes. He was back in the attic, and all the sisters, including Mother Superior, surrounded him on the floor in various stages of panic. "By all the saints in Heaven, lad, what happened?" she demanded. "We couldn’t wake you, then you started writhing and moaning. We thought you were dying!"

    Daniel didn’t know what to say, or how to explain where he’d been, what he’d seen. Instinctively, he knew not to tell a room full of nuns that he’d been flying through another world with a mysterious silver ribbon attached to his belly. Confused, scared, too young yet to what had just happened to him, Daniel did the only thing a small boy could do under the circumstances. He burst into loud, wrenching sobs.

    Much later, after being tucked warmly into bed with a tray of soup, toast, and a dish of Sister Mary Raphael’s apple crumble, Sister Mary Margaret came quietly into his room and sat on the edge of the bed. Of all the nuns, she was the closest to him, the one he secretly thought of as his mother. There was no lying to her.

    "What really happened, my boy?"

    So, he told her everything, even the scary parts with the cold darkness and the bad creatures with red eyes and sharp claws. He answered her as best he could when she questioned him in depth about the man who had helped him. Then they sat in silence for a time, Sister Mary staring off into the distance with a frown of concentration, while Daniel scraped the last of the apples out of his bowl. Finally, she slapped both hands down on her knees and stood with a rustle of long black skirts. Leaning over to kiss Daniel’s brow, she admonished, "No more flying off until I've had some time to think this through, Daniel." She lifted the tray off his lap, and he scooted under the bed covers, yawning widely.

    "I’ll try." He looked up at her. "But I don’t know how I did it, so I don’t know how not to do it." He yawned again, then murmured, "But I’ll try." Sister Mary watched him for the few moments it took for him to fall asleep, thoughts racing through her mind. There must be a way to protect her wee boy, and by all that was holy, she would find it.

    The years passed. Daniel went from a precocious child, to an inquisitive youngster, growing into an intelligent if unruly teenager. Sister Mary Margaret, true to her word, found books and articles on astral projection, soul travel, spirit journeys. She kept Daniel's secret, deciding early on that whatever this strange talent was, there had to be a purpose behind it. God works in mysterious ways, after all.

    Over time, through trial and error, and his insatiable curiosity, Daniel developed a broad knowledge and understanding of the Ethereal; he learned how to protect himself, learned who and what to avoid, he even spent time with Taurin, who taught him many things.

    It was on one of his journeys, when he was seventeen and accidentally got entangled in another life thread for a few moments, that he discovered he could actually see into a person’s mind with absolute clarity. Shocked, he drew back sharply, but not before gathering that a valuable artifact was going to be stolen from a museum exhibition. The thread dissolved before Daniel could get more details, and though he searched vigilantly over the next several nights for the thief’s distinctive thread, he didn’t find it.

    When headlines screamed of the theft a few months later, he made a decision that would change the course of his life. Recognizing his inexperience, Daniel spent the next ten years learning, experimenting, honing and refining his skills. He became adept at identifying the meaning behind specific colored bands: Greed had a nasty twinge of pea soup awash in pond scum; murder was a black, undulating band of sticky tar; thievery was greasy red, streaked with a diseased feverish yellow.

    And then, for the next eight, Daniel Valentine became the thief who stole from thieves.

    He took a singular delight in stealing what had been stolen, particularly when so often the crimes were committed by the wealthy, or at their instigation. Like a phantom Robin Hood, he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Anonymously, he funded charities, helped the needy, and often gave to the Holy Order of the Blessed Virgin for his sisters. He was comfortable with his choices, and whether that meant he was justifying his actions, or kidding himself that he was any better than the people he stole from, he didn't really care. What he did care about was messing with the well-heeled criminals, and making a difference for the less fortunate. Because no matter what anyone else thought, his intentions were good—

    His head snapped back as if he’d been struck, bringing him out of his reverie. Intentions were worthless now. Heart racing with a bitter fury, Daniel stared out of the shadows with glittering eyes as he envisioned the whole structure of his life, his purpose, collapsing at his feet, because everything had changed when he’d been snared by the Cantrells.

    With no sign of Deacon, Daniel slowly got to his feet. He was running out of time, with options few on the ground. He had to get this over with, one way or the other.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

1. Library of Souls -- It Begins...

     Heaven. Valhalla. Olympus. Elysian Fields. As many names throughout history for the great unknown as there have been cultures to conceive them; concepts born from hazy recollection, drifting like smoke in the subconscious, names meant to banish the darkness.
     In the Ethereal--a boundless dimension beyond our own where these names are born, and rituals are brought to life from twisted imaginings--there are realms that indeed resemble mankind's vision of Hell.  Escape is rare in these malevolent territories, and though redemption is still possible, not many of the truly damned are interested.
     But there is also light across the great vastness.  Seven planes rise like islands in the jewel-colored mists, softly merging into the one above as darkness is left behind. Each tier leads ever higher, ever brighter, toward the glowing beacon of the sixth plane--the Library of Souls--where the journey of every life is written.
     And weaving in a kaleidoscopic display of colors beyond description, a vast array of shimmering, gossamer threads undulate between the levels, each strand tethering soul to earthly body as the conscious mind relaxes its grip, freeing the spirit within.
     Arcadia. Shangri-La. Nirvana. Tir na nÒg. Beyond the Veil. As many names throughout history for the great unknown as there have been cultures to conceive them.  Throughout time, from all corners of the globe, across all customs and folkways, regardless of faith, dogma or creed, there has been awareness.
     Why do we share these fanciful imaginings of other realms? How can such diverse philosophies have common ground in such a nebulous concept?
     Because we dream.
     Whenever we sleep, as part of our psychic makeup, we dream. And in the dreaming, we travel, loosening the mental bonds, soaring in the familiar, limitless cosmos of our true home, though when we awaken, memory begins to blur, our minds regain control, assuring us that it was...just a dream.
     Some, however, can travel at will in lucid dreaming or deep meditation, remembering their experiences, while others--exceptional ones--have the innate ability to enter the Ethereal with just the desire to do so. Asleep or awake, fully conscious and with deliberate choice, this unique minority can see the multitude of colorful threads that twine through time and space, connecting the dreamer to their reality on earth.  These extraordinary few can traverse all the accessible astral levels, stay in shadow or become corporeal, speak to others or remain in silent observation.
     But there is one who can do much more, one who can follow threads to people and places in real time, can discern variations in the rainbow-hued colors of each life thread, distinguish light from dark, innocence from evil.  With the slightest caress of the thin, vibrating thread this traveler can sense, in acute detail, the innermost thoughts of the dreamer.
     His name is Daniel Valentine.