Two Weeks in January by Barry B. Wright

Part One: Sheila

“I just don’t get it.”

I remember thinking those very words, hours, maybe minutes, maybe even seconds after I first met her. I was engaged at the time and comfortably secure in the direction my world was heading. But, unbeknown to me, I was about to learn an important life lesson.

This story begins two years before I met her because, as it turned out, I had to meet someone else first.

After I graduated from high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. My dad had died two years earlier after a lengthy illness and, quite honestly, there wasn’t a lot of money. My mom worked for Murray Printing and I worked part-time packing groceries for customers at Loblaw’s.

By the end of that first summer after graduating from high school, I had managed to land a full-time job working for Canadian Kodak. How that came about surprises me to this day because the Company was known to rarely hire outside the family members of their employees. During my first year there, I was trained on five different jobs. The one job I enjoyed most was working in the Film Processing Department in the testing lab alongside an ex-vet, Gord Kee, who trained me. Fondly, I can still smell his steaks cooking on the hot-plate every Friday evening during cleanup.

I had better not digress too much here except to say that Gord was an endearing individual whose wife worked on the same floor as us except in Film Finishing. I mention this in passing because the person I was to eventually meet also worked there during the summer while a student. Her father, I learned later, was the superintendent of Film Emulsion located in a different building.

One day, I met a student who was on his work term from the University of Waterloo. His program rotated through four months of study and four months of job experience until graduation, roughly five years. During our conversations, I learned that University of Waterloo was the pioneer for this Co-Op program in Ontario. Based on his description, I liked ‘the sound’ of the University. So that got me thinking. Until then I had only considered University of Toronto. Since I had had extensive training at Kodak I thought I would have a secure money source between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. And, if I majored in chemistry, all indicators pointed to Kodak hiring me full-time after graduation. I thought my future was securely fixed. So, I applied to their Science Program and forewent the Co-Op program.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned. Helen Keller had it right when she said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

My choice, and circumstances outside my control, sent me along a different path.

During my first year at the University of Waterloo, and I must admit largely due to my instructor, Peter Brillinger, I discovered that I preferred to study mathematics. To all you ‘ughers’ reading this, mathematics is quite a creative field. Really! Anyway, what can I say? I’m a nerd and damn proud of it. The other drawing card for my decision was the newly constructed Faculty of Mathematics, fondly known as the Fortress or The Stanton Building (after one of its founders). It was the very first in Canada. Graduates would receive the unique degree of Bachelor of Mathematics. That uniqueness clinched my decision to transfer from the Faculty of Science to Mathematics.

My choice was not well received in the Testing Department at Kodak. Also, unexpectedly, Union negotiations with Kodak changed everything for students. How you may ask? It meant that all students would not be considered for employment until sometime in July (much too late for students like me) and there would be a dearth of overtime. Needless-to-say with that new information I had to change gears quickly.

I don’t remember how it all came about but I landed a position working for Loblaw’s between school terms at their egg packing warehouse at the bottom of Bathurst Street, near the waterfront. Part of my job was to ensure there were no broken eggs in the carton before packing them; if the egg carton had been compromised I removed it and placed the unbroken eggs into a new carton. Egg cartons which passed inspection were then packed in a box ready for shipping. In a nutshell (or should I say, “an egg shell?”) the job was super boring. I was the only guy, youngster, and a pampered one at that, on the line. To break the tedium, I would from time to time let the cartons jam on the conveyor belt so that I could dive in for the rescue. Most times my ‘egg carton rescues’ were successful. But when they weren’t…well…to everyone’s chagrin, the machine had to be stopped to clean up the mess.

The Floor Manager, Bob, was a tall, lean, discerning Eastern European. His eyes had a tendency to send well-deserved butterflies into a frantic frenzy in my tummy. Though I could not have used the descriptive then I would describe his eyes now as ‘Putin eyes.’ There was no hiding anything from him. He knew exactly what I had been up to. Unobtrusively, he pulled me aside to have a chat. I neither remember him ever raising his voice in anger nor mincing his words. Stern, his message was clear and succinct. Though the women on the line reminded more of my mother, he always referred to them as ‘his girls.’

“The girls’ livelihood depends on that line running,” I remember him saying. “Most are the only breadwinners for their family. There’s a quota set every day that must be met. Too many missed quotas mean someone on the line loses their job.”

His pinching words had severely bruised my conscience. Simply put, I felt terrible. And, he knew it.

Shortly after cleaning up the mess which I created, the egg department closed for an hour’s lunch.

Guilt ridden, I felt a great need for privacy to wallow in my embarrassment. But, here is where logic somehow got misplaced. I trudged off, lunch bag in hand, to the least likely place to get it, the lunchroom four floors above my work area.

I must add that before the summer was finished Bob and I often played chess during lunchtime breaks. During those special moments, he chatted about his homeland, Poland, and his studies to become a medical doctor. When he immigrated to Canada his medical degree was not recognized; with no money and a family to support, his life took him to this place. What amazed me was he held no discernible bitterness. His focus was on his son and daughter and helping them to achieve goals that he was prevented from reaching.

Why I decided to go the lunchroom on that day of all days, I did not have a clue. Perhaps I thought I could hide in one of its dark corner pockets that did not exist. Whatever the reason, it all came down to feeling sorry for myself.

Behind the lunch counter was a very attractive young girl taking orders. I had never seen her before. She had full lips and, according to regulation, her auburn hair was contained in a netted hat. As I remember it, her welcoming demeanor and smile added sunshine to the day.

My decision to dissolve into a corner quickly dissipated. I glanced around for the nearest receptacle and, finding one, I surreptitiously dropped my lunch bag into it before joining the line to place my order.

Mired in what felt like thick molasses, me, time, and the others trudged forward. Friendly chatter made it bearable. Most of it, though, was directed at her. “How are you doin’, Sheila?” “Hey, Sheila, have you heard this joke?” And on it would go. At least now I knew her name.

When I arrived to place my order, I was speechless. Words on a dove, so to speak, that had flown the coop. I’m sure I must have had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

I glanced quickly at the menu on the wall behind her and ordered a lettuce-cheese-tomato sandwich, exactly what I had just thrown out.

By the time she had made my sandwich and I had paid her, I had learned through my awkward attempt at casual conversation that she was a student at the University of Toronto, studying History.

Unfortunately, time does fly and this was no exception. My hour had come and gone. After a quick goodbye and glancing back to ensure she didn’t see me, the sandwich she had made joined my lunch bag as I rushed pass the receptacle.

Breathless, I arrived at my position on the assembly line before the bell rang to herald start-up in the Egg Department.

Careful not to become overly consumed with my thoughts, I schemed how I was going to meet Sheila again.

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Sunnyvale by Barry B. Wright

sunnyvale

Prologue

Darkness surrounds him and lies deeply within him. Tonight, his approach to her bedroom window is stealthier than his previous visits. Because he has killed, the community has become alerted to his presence but they do not know who he is.

He draws closer to her home. Her lover’s car is parked in the drive. The light in the bedroom turns off. Satisfyingly, he nods. Soon they will leave. He glances at his watch. For once, they are on time.

The evil within him enhances and distorts his motivations. He neither understands why he does what he does nor does he care nor feel compelled to change its outcome.

The face of his previous lover swept across the desert he called a mind. Disappointed, he thought he had completely purged her from his life. No harm was meant when he had locked her in his basement. To him, she was a delicate and beautiful butterfly that needed his love and protection. But, he had been wrong again. Like all the others, her lies and mean-spirited ways had shone through. He had no choice. His hand followed the scar she had gifted him along his jaw line. He had tried. But, she had refused his love. Killing her, then, became easy and right. He took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Now he had a new lover to watch over.

Cautiously, he approached the bedroom window. Like so many times before, this choice for his new love had left it open. The ambience of her bedroom was his eye candy. The perfume permeating the air was a gratifying delight, a banquet of celebration to her existence. This time he knew he had chosen correctly. He smiled to himself. Never since he had begun his “nightly visitations” long ago, and he had visited many bedrooms even while they slept, had he felt so strongly about someone.

His earlier voyeurisms of her led him to the correct dresser drawer. Opening it, he scooped up its contents and drank in her essence. Undergarments, closest to her skin, created sensual images of him peeling them off her. The thought of tasting her made him hard as his excitement grew to a feverish pitch.

A car door slammed. He froze. His heart-beat slammed against his chest. He took the trophies he wanted and carefully returned the rest. She must not know that he was there. Surreptitiously, he slipped across her room to the open window to make his escape.

He heard their angry voices surfing the warm night air. Then, there was silence.

Her key entered the front lock as her lover’s vehicle drove off. The quickness of her step surprised him when suddenly her bedroom door swung open. Her cellphone rang. And she turned away to answer it. If she hadn’t done that her fate would have been sealed. She would have clearly seen him captured in the wedge of light.

He did not want to kill her. That would shatter his dreams of being her lover. But, he was fully prepared to act on life’s unexpected twists and turns. Tying the length of her pantyhose in a knot, he stepped back into the darkness of the room and waited to discover her fate.

Her tone told him who she was talking to on the phone. And, he hated him intensely. A car horn beeped in her drive. The light in the living room turned off. Her key in the front door told him she had left.

For a while he lay on her bed in his imaginary world drinking in the smell of her undergarments, his trophies from this visit.

When he closed the window to her bedroom and climbed the fence into the field behind her property, he had made his decision.

Tomorrow, he thought, I will begin tomorrow.

The Water Falls by Barry B. Wright

waterfalls-in-the-woodsThunder! The storm clouds gather.

A grosbeak valiantly circles overhead.

When this journey began, my hope was painted against an azure sky when the sun was high and the scent of pine and meadow flowers copiously filled the air.

Many times I have stood at the forest’s edge and let the sweetness and magic of its promise draw me in.

But, today, I hear distant drums heralding a coming storm, it marches across the glen. Have I languished too long? Will my peaceful tranquility feel the coldness of its blade?

My pace quickens, not outward but inward to the sanctuary of the camaraderie of the woods.

Briefly, the path is sprinkled with dabbled sunlight that spotlights a yellow-black spider spinning its web between milkweeds.  An arduous task filled with purpose and hope in advance of the storm.

An ozone scent slides into me. I inhale deeply. In the innocence of my youth, I celebrated the normalcy of its breath but now I only feel sadness and fear.

The die is cast. How long will it last? While the once proud Northern Holy Fern, Walking Fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort Fern and orchids are compelled to hide in its inky bloom.

The gentle breeze lulled my senses; illusions in sunshine blinded my ears while my mind chose what was and not what is among my peers.

Tree trunks cry out; their struggle barely audible above the bellowing noise of the angry wind; their limbs scratch furiously at the sky; strongly with purpose they fight against their bully.

My hypothalamus drives me in earnest to my haven hidden in the hollow round the bend. The tumultuous journey of a storyteller, its story not easily told, arrived long before I was born. I had to see beyond its beauty and be disposed to undertake a promise never to refrain from learning its message riding full rein.

Everything begins one day, that’s just the way it is. Where it starts is rarely where it is. Tomorrow bleeds into tomorrow. If you take notice, pay attention, bear witness and commit, today does not have to be a cellophane footnote as part of the compass in your kit. Choices form the North Star to the future that fits.

Unimaginable yesterdays brought me to the rock where I sit. Before me the stalwart waterfall’s music flows. Though its majestic structure may have been decreed, adjudicated and arranged by forces beyond its control, its conclusion has not been clinched.

Voices and outstretched hands not emptied of hope ride with anguished arrow to my home.

And the falling water asks me as it has done so many times before: Will you stand against the storm?

Joan Sledge: The Mucky Duck by Barry B. Wright

mucky-duck

V

Ouch! It was totally unexpected. Her home form lockers should not have been anywhere near mine. Yet, there she was, five lockers down from me. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be an ugly school year.

She smiled. I smiled back. She spoke to me but I neither remember what she said nor what I said to her. The exchange was cordial enough but awkward, similar to strangers forced together in a social setting out of their control. But, we were far from being strangers. Or was I wrong?

When Chris was present, he became the center of Joan’s attention.  As for me, I became nothing more than cellophane. I did not exist. Passing each other in the hall, as we frequently did each school day, I wondered: Do you know I’m there?

Growing up is darn right painful.

My feet dragged academically. Hurt had turned into anger. I had become consumed with thoughts of revenge. I found no solace in my brother Ron’s carelessly doted out wisdom: “Suck it up buttercup…plenty more yet to come.” Did he not know I felt diminished? That my heart was broken? That my life was in tatters?

Did Joan even care about the depths of my despair?

I’ve been told too often that time reveals all to those who are patient. But, I’m a kid. Isn’t that in part why I’m called a kid and not an adult? Being patient takes the fun out of things. Doesn’t it? Hmm…I felt as if I had followed the rabbit down the hole into a scary horror show of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being late for a very important date escapes me because my life was at a standstill.

Life is full of surprises.

The school year trudged on and so did I. Then one day Joan approached me out of the blue. I was dumbstruck. Blood coursed through my veins so quickly that words were washed cleanout of my brain. I could only listen. During those precious moments together space and time stood still. There were no recriminations, no rancor, only clarity. By the time she had said what she wanted to say, I knew there was nothing I needed to add. A quick reminisce drew laughter and we parted as friends.

Though she was with Chris, a quick glance and a knowing smile as we passed in the hall, assured me that she knew I was there. I still loved her; I guess that was the saddest part: loving someone who used to love you.

Two weeks later, everything changed.

I had just exited Sam’s, the neighborhood variety store, when I noticed Joan walking toward me. Her head was slung low. I called out to her and waited. She barely glanced up as she scurried by me. “Joan,” I called out. “Are you okay? What’s the…?” She had already disappeared down the walkway at the side of the strip mall.

Why did I not follow her? It’s something I’ve always regretted.

Toward the end of the week I went around to her house. There was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. And the house was empty.

I never saw her again.

Time passed like tumbling tumbleweed in a strong northwest wind.

I had become an adult. I now could vote.

As a sophomore at a prestigious university, I had become, according to my parents, the proverbial know-it-all. I’m sure they would have frowned on my regular late night debates over pizza and beer. My defense: it was a yummy experience for fertile minds that provided fresh perspectives and clarity to the world’s problems. The debates were coed. Now that would have raised an eyebrow or two in my family. Mum’s the word was decided by me right from the start especially since I was interested in one of the participants. As of late, my active participation in the learning experience had waned. It leaned toward more lascivious endeavors. My daily state of being groggy and bleary eyed did not add to my hopes of remaining on the Dean’s List.

The lecture I was trying to follow was exceedingly boring. The professor contributed greatly to lulling my brain to sleep. The attention span of a gnat had suddenly become my norm. Not good, when the content of the class—thermodynamics—was a must go to in order to achieve my degree in chemical engineering. Glancing around the hall it was easy to deduce that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. But that was scant solace.

I took in a deep breath and attempted to refocus when a ball of paper ricocheted off my head, landing on the floor at my feet. A quick scan of the lecture hall turned up empty-handed. Bending down, I picked up the paper-shot and unfolded it. A drawing of a female stick-figure and the words “Do you remember me?” was scrawled on it. I must admit, it did not ring a bell. I took a cursory glance around the hall. There was no obvious source of the projectile. Unable to stifle a yawn or two, my attention refocused on the chalkboard several rows down.

Another balled-up paper careened off my head and onto the floor. But it disappeared from view under the feet of the exiting mass of people at the end of the lecture.

Gathering my textbook and binder, I began the steep climb to the exit. In the very back row, in the middle, a very attractive girl smiled at me. She beckoned me to join her.

I sat on the seat beside her. Though there was a familiarity about her, facial recognition eluded me.  “Do I know you? I have a sense that we have met before.”  The corner of her lip curled up slightly but she did not reply. There was playfulness in her eyes that could not go unnoticed. I held up the crumpled paper. “Was that you?”

She nodded. “Not a bad shot…eh? The second one would have solved the mystery I can see swimming around in your head. Though the student stampede may have put you in danger,” she chortled. “Put that down to bad timing on my part…like… in Mister Roberts’s class.”

That hint hit my memory banks like a lead balloon. “Alison!? Gee…It’s great to see you…but…but…”

“If your jaw drops any lower you’re going to hurt yourself.” She glanced at her watch. “When’s your next class?”

“Who cares…the rest of the day’s yours. Lunch? It’s on me.”

“Well, when you put that way…You got a place in mind?”

“The Mucky Duck.”

I’m not big on nostalgia but our walk across campus to the pub was most pleasant. When she mentioned Joan’s name my ears perked up. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Joan somehow got lost in the many twists and turns of Alison’s catch up tales.

As we sat across from each other waiting for lunch and nursing our drafts, I brought up Joan’s name again. I learned that she and her dad had moved to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly she and Alison had corresponded by letter for a short time.

“Do you still write each other?” I asked, hopefully.

She stared at me long and hard, took a swig of her draft and cleared her throat. “She stopped writing after… the baby was born.”

I could feel my whole body deflate like a punctured inner tube. The pain on my face must have been obvious because Allison hesitantly continued.

“Chris Brannon…as you knew at the time …Well…She was head over heels in love with him…and…She trusted him implicitly. Misplaced trust…” She took in a deep breath. “It’s the only kind way I can describe it.”

“Then… Chris… was the father?”  I reluctantly asked.

“One day while she and Chris were at Ted Lacey’s…No…She… never knew who the father was from that day. Her father, wanting to protect her, pulled up stakes and took her with him. He had a sister who lived outside of Montreal.”

We sat in silence for what for me felt like an eternity.

Finally, I asked: “Does she still live there?” When my meal was placed in front of me, I had lost my appetite.

Alison’s gaze skirted away from me. I could see that a teardrop had formed at the corner of her eye. She pushed her plate aside and reached across the table to hold my hands. Her grasp tightened. Her words did not come easily; they carried much pain. “About a year after the baby was born, I received a letter from her father. In it, I was informed that …she…had committed suicide.”

When Alison and I parted, it was dusk. We promised to see each other again.

Beside the entrance to my residence was a small copse of trees. Standing in front of them was a young girl smiling and waving at me. She was radiant and beautiful. She appeared to shimmer from the overhead light above the door. My pace picked up from a lumbering gait. But, by the time I got there, she was gone. I could have sworn it was Joan.

AIDAN: Through the Mist by Barry B. Wright

warrior-2-by-wang-lingChapter One

It is I who is to blame. AYOH, the land of my ancestors, burns. Screams of my subjects still assail my ears. Their ghosts continue to ride the late night air. I am haunted by their unyielding reach.

I can see the fear in Ennea’s face through my tear filled eyes. She cradles Alyakim, our daughter. Between us, wrapped in the hide of the Great Olaffub are the few possessions we had time to gather.  My spear and knife lie easily within reach.

Since the moon first awoke, Eoz, my faithful servant, and I have paddled. Its yellow globe travels to its resting place under the sky. Our journey is guided by THRON, the brightest star in the heavens.  Behind us, the night is clear and crisp, the water still. Ahead, a strange mist rises like a wall; I can hear its energy within.

I have travelled in this direction because of stories my father, Suesdama, related to me in my youth and also from the teachings of the Wise Men.  The survival of our bloodline depends on me. It may be our only hope.

The spirit of my father lies strong within me. I wear his ring.

Why had I not listened to the Wise Men of my kingdom? Their tubes with glass at either end had seen IT coming. But, IT’s Ambassador, Ikkin, had already spun his sorcery. I began to see conspiracies where there were none. Ikkin’s tongue and mind, well oiled in deceit, had blinded me and I did not seek counsel, where I always have, with the Wise Men of my realm.

The army of IT arrived without mercy. Their machinery of war was like nothing ever seen before. And, like a scythe through a wheat field, their armies laid waste to the land.

The suns Gorbut and Siotra passed over head 30 times before the city walls fell. Traitors within our ranks betrayed us.

Pleas from the living and the dying torment me. They have become nightmares haunting my existence, tearing my heart and soul apart.

I must save what I can.

The boat cleaves the low lying thick curtain of mist.

To ward off the chill, I wrapped myself in a blanket my wife, Eanne, had made for me. I cannot help but feel a growing foreboding as the icy coldness of the mist digs its tentacles in deeper. And I dare myself to confront the shadow-ghosts in its midst.

Above, THRON remained visible to reassuringly point the way.

My troubled thoughts consume me; I am unaware that time has slipped into another dimension.

The water became angry. I fell back in the canoe as its speed picked up. “Eanne!” I shouted, alarmed for her safety. But she had already prepared. Noticing the increased energy of the water, she had secured herself and Alyakim and our meager belongings in the boat.

Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, the water’s fury pounced upon us. It scooped in, clawing at us, trying to rip us from the bowels of our boat. Eoz and I struggled to keep our boat afloat and away from smashing against the menacing rocky shoreline. The roar was deafening. Focused, we did not feel the pain our efforts must have inflicted. I have no idea how long this lasted. For us, time had become immeasurable.

Without warning, our canoe shot out of the mist and into surreal tranquility. Nothing moved but us. We floated upon an oasis of quietude.

Once Eanne assured me that all was well, Eoz and I laid our paddles across the canoe and rested.

The water gently lapped against our hull. Its regularity was soothing and hypnotizing. Unaware that we had fallen asleep, our boat drifted.

When we awoke, night’s curtain was beginning to draw open to the day. In one horizon the brow of the sun, Gorbut, painted the sky in rainbow while in the other, Siotra had not yet awakened.

I was troubled.

“Is there something wrong, Neas?” my wife, Ennea, asked. She held our child closer to her bosum.

“THORN should be there,” I replied, pointing to its region in the sky. “It has gone…disappeared.”

“Master! Land!” Eoz yelled. His voice echoed many times before it fell into an eerie silence.

Dipping our paddles into the water, we moved tentatively forward.

Gold colored pebbles below the water’s surface scratched against the hull as we slid into shore. Eoz and I immediately jumped into the water and pulled the canoe onto higher ground.

Eoz deposited Ennea and Alyakim onto the sandy portion of the shore and watched as Neas and his family advanced to the edge of the jewel-toned arboretum that stretched full up the slope in front of them. Ensuring that our boat was secured, Eoz lingered awhile, attracted by the gold colored stone. Crouching down, he scooped some into his hand to examine them. It was then he realized they were shells not stones. An odor of putrefied flesh simmered above his collection. The longer he held them the more offensive the smell. He tried to wash them off. Some shells fell away while the others closest to his skin resisted, fixed in place by fleshy extrusions. Their size expanded as they began to crawl up his arm.

“MASTER! HELP ME!” he screamed.

Knife drawn, I turned back. Reaching across the divide that separated sand from stone, I pulled Eoz across to me. The flesh eating shells fell away and became rocks at his feet. Magically, Eoz’s bloodied arm transitioned to normal.

“What is this place?” Eoz whispered, examining his arm and hand in disbelief.

In light of what had just occurred, I could find nothing reassuring to say to Eoz. I too was thunderstruck. My teachings had not prepared me for this.

“Listen,” I said.

“I wish I could. My heart is still pounding heavily in my ears.” replied Eoz.

“There is no sound. It’s as if nature has been swallowed up.” I grasped my spear tightly and moved in front of my child and wife. Turning to Eanne, I said: “Stay behind me. Eoz will protect you. We must move carefully forward.”

I had barely begun my upward climb when an arrow slammed into the tree beside me. Then another arrow implanted itself at the very edge of my toe.

“I have come in peace. I am the son of Suedama. I seek Aidan.” My voice echoed and repeated several times before diminishing to the silence of infinity.

The air was sweet and refreshing.

We waited.

Silence hung like a heavy wet blanket upon the forest.

When the voice spoke, it carried wisdom and strength.

“I know who you are. And why you have come. Our Teachers told us of your coming long before you were born. Our past, present and future are now joined as one. Turn and observe the mist on the lake. You have not come alone.”

Warriors of IT emerged in three strange, long craft. They hovered above the water’s surface. Suddenly, the water below them bubbled to frenzy then rose and separated. When the water began to settle the craft were gone. Only frothy burps marked their grave-site until its surface shone like glass again.

“More will arrive soon. You must follow me.”

“But, where are you?” I asked.

Giggling erupted around us. But I saw nothing. It sounded like mischievous children at play.

“WE encircle you but, I am here.”

A figure wrapped in a hooded skin stepped out several paces ahead of me and waved us forward. “You must hurry. Time is of the essence.”

Could it be? I thought

Cautiously, our spears at the ready, Eoz and I moved forward. Eanne with Alyakim remained at my back.

When the hood dropped back, the large hazel eyes that met us were warm, inviting and filled with strength and determination. I detected not a hint of malice from her. At her midriff she wore a wide black leather belt; its buckle was the largest and strangest looking buckle I had ever seen.

She pointed to two slots on the buckle. “Neas insert your father’s ring into this slot and turn to the right.”

“How do you know my name?” To say I was astonished that she knew my name did not do justice to my present state of mind especially when I noticed she wore a ring similar to mine. “Who are you?”

Briefly, her gaze cut through me. I sensed her power. She was examining my soul. Our minds were locked in battle until she let go.

Finally, she said: “Patience is a virtue. All will be known in its proper time.” Then she continued in earnest. “We must leave this location immediately.”

I became convinced she had a window into the future.

She inserted her ring into the slot on her buckle and waited for me to do the same in the other slot. “Neas, it is time. Trust your instincts.”

I inserted my ring and turned it to the right as she had instructed and watched as she turned hers to the left.

“Hold hands tightly and breathe in unison with me,” she instructed. “Our circle must not be broken.”

“Where are we going?” I asked

“To the Land of WE,” she replied.

“WE?”

In the blink of an eye, my world transformed.