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Before I Wake

Before I Wake

Seven Steps

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Before I Wake

Seven Steps

Published by: Seven Steps

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

Copyright © 2016 by: Seven Steps Third Edition, 2016

Published in United States of America

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Cover art by SwoonWorthy Book Covers

Table of Contents

 

The Cottage

Playthings

About the Author

Other works by Seven Steps

Keep In Touch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cottage

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Ireland

1798

 

He ran.

Searching voices rose from the chilly fog that misted the countryside. The earthy smell of manure filled his nose, telling him a farm was nearby. The sound of hooves against wet grass beat in time with his heart. Emerald green hills rolled and tumbled through the darkness, dotted here and there with flowers.

The voices grew closer.

A small farm came into view. In the center of it sat a cottage. Silver moonlight washed over its gray stone walls, the rays bleaching the thatched roof white. Off to one side, haystacks kept guard in the night, golden soldiers taller and wider than any man. A large oak tree, taller than any he’d ever seen, grew in the back of the house. Its branches reached at odd angles, like arms ready to grab at the cottage. Holes and notches opened in a eerie mask, complete with eyes, nose, and mouth. The moon shone behind it, giving the tree a menacing appearance. Chills rolled through him at the sight of it.

 A leather satchel banged painfully on his back, the latch barely holding. He pressed a hand to the brass lock. If the maps within the satchel were found, thousands of Irishmen would be as good as dead. The British would seek out and execute anyone he’d ever contacted, including his mother, father, and younger brother, Harry. The thought tore at his heart.

Desperate fear forced his feet forward. Ink black hair clung to his wet brow. The muscles in his legs screamed painfully. He ignored the discomfort. Nothing could be done about it now. If he stopped, he would die.

He reached the haystacks just as the small band of soldiers crested the hill.

“There he is!”

He turned towards the voice.

White and brown horses reared up and whinnied, their rounded flanks shining against the star soaked sky. The red-coated riders zeroed in on him, hate filling their eyes.

“Forward!”

His feet moved again, frantically seeking an escape. Hiding in a haystack was not an option. Nor was the cottage for that matter. If the soldiers suspected he’d taken up shelter in either of them, the farm would be burned, the inhabitants hung.

No, he wouldn’t put anyone else in danger. Enough people had been killed because of him today. His contact in the British camp. The traveling baker who’d brought the maps to him. Aunt Ann who’d sheltered him. They’d slaughtered her while he jumped from the roof, stole one of her horses, and found his way to the country hills, in route to his contact in Aylinborough. Sadness ran through him. Ann was his favorite aunt.

Around him, hills stretched as far as he could see, mocking him. They were open ground. He’d be gunned down before he crested the next one.

There had to be a way out.

Then, a shimmer. Moonlight danced atop a blue ribbon of water.

His prayers were answered.

The horse’s whinnied again before resuming the chase.

Flying forward, he was careful to stay close to the towering piles of hay. The cottage came up on his right. In the window, a candlelit face. Thick brown curls shook as the woman turned to him, her beautiful brown eyes wide as he ran past her window.

Her face lit a spark in him.

His heart knew her name, even as his mind told him he’d never seen the maiden before.

Ashling. Her name is Ashling.

And then, as quickly as she appeared,  she was gone, the shutters of her window hidden by a large haystack.

His heart made a promise to her,

[_I’ll be back for you, Ashling. _]

An open field was all that stood between him and the river. Hope bloomed within his chest.

His mind turned giddy with exhaustion. I’m almost there. Just a bit further.

But he’d been running too long. His legs slowed. His chest tightened. His heart felt as if it would break through his ribs as his feet touched the muddy riverbank.

Just a little further.

A man’s voice, Cockney accent thick, called out, “We’ve got him now, lads!”

The smell of oats, hay, and equestrian sweat surrounded him. A heavy snort wet the back of his neck. A second soldier laden beast pulled up on the left, a third on the right.

Suddenly, his feet were thrown out from under him, caught in a branch risen from the muddy bank. His body pitched forward, his face smacking into the brown clay. Something hard hit his forehead, making his head spin.

Reaching forward, he touched his hand to the icy water. For a moment, he thought he was safe. Then, someone grabbed his legs, pulling him back to the field.

He swore.

Colorful stars clouded his vision with magenta, gold, orange and green.

Save Harry, he prayed. Dear God, please save Harry.

The first strike of the club hit him hard across the gut, draining the last of the air from his lungs.

With his vision gone, he tried to orient himself with sound. He swung his arms wildly, honing in on the sounds of feet that shuffled and dug into the dirt. The soldiers laughed at him as they easily dodged his fist. They rained down more blows on his arms, legs, gut, and face.

His body turned stiff and sore under the assault. Finally, he curled himself into a ball, the knowledge that he was now blind, helpless, and at the mercy of the soldiers dragging icy fingers of terror through him.

“So you thought you could run from us?” The soldier asked, his voice rough.

The blows ended. A rough hand searched his body, while he laid still, waiting for an opportunity to escape or strike. He took comfort in knowing that the satchel was well hidden, buried deep in a haystack.

“Nothing here, sir.”

He tried to lift his head, but the movement sent ripples of pain throughout his body.

“Where is it, you mangy Irish mutt?!” He felt hands grab his ears. Someone snatched his head forward as if they meant to tear it off his shoulders. “Where is the satchel?”

The too quick movement of his head caused his stomach to lurch. He spewed vomit onto what he thought was the soldiers shirt.

The soldier’s roar echoed through the hills.

He felt something come down hard on his leg, shattering it. He screamed.

“Throw him in the river!” The soldier cried. “Let the bloody Irish dog drown.”

Several hands lifted him off the ground. He tried to wriggle his body free, but with his busted leg, and lack of vision, he was powerless.

Then, he was airborne.

There was no ground, just wind and sky.

Maybe God has turned me into a bird. Perhaps he will fly me home? Perhaps he will fly me to Ashling?

The thought lifted his spirits. He flapped his arms once, twice.

Then, the river splashed around him. The current – strong with the melting winter ice – pulled him downstream, and out of the soldiers clutches.

 

***

 

Someone pounded at the window.

Ashling dropped the bread pan she had just pulled from the oven with a small yelp. It clanked against the wood planked floor.

She swore.

 Great. One less thing for dinner.

“Ashling!” Bernie shouted at her through the window.

 She wiped the flour from her hands with the skirt of her apron and pushed the mess of dense, brown curls out of her eyes.

 “Ashling!” More urgent this time. The pounding of her small fists shook the white washed shutters.

Her foot connected with the ruined bread, kicking it, pan and all, across the room. With narrowed eyes and balled fist she glared at her older sister. “You made me spoil the bread!”

 Bernie disappeared from the window, and a moment later burst through the blue, wood paneled door, all wide green eyes and flushed skin.

Ashling forgot the bread. Something was wrong. Something threw Bernie into a panic, and Bernadette ‘Bernie’ McGlowden never panicked.

“You must come quickly!”

Bernie pulled her sister across the field, her long red curls coming undone from their braid. Their feet swept over the grass, still wet with morning dew. They raced past the two cows, the horse stable, and a chaos of panicked clucks that lifted from the chicken coop. They left in their wake a slew of lazy, chewing goats and several families of ducks who’d congregated near the pig trough. Finally, they stopped at what appeared to be a heap of clothes next to a haystack.

 Ashling blinked hard to clear her vision, blurred from the frantic run and the rising daylight.

She leaned down to inspect the water logged heap of brown and black, her breath still coming in hard.

The pile of clothes shifted. Thick arms wrapped ever tighter around a leather satchel. A man’s face, shockingly blue and trembling, laid with closed eyes, his mouth whispering something Ashling couldn’t understand.

“What’s happened to him?”

Bernie shook her head. Her hands went to her hips as she struggled to catch her breath. “I don’t know. I was feeding the goats when I found him.”

Ashling placed a hand on the man’s forehead, then pulled it away. “He’s freezing. Quickly, help me bring him inside. We have to warm him.”

Bernie took a step back from the body. “What if he’s dangerous?”

“He’s no more dangerous than a wounded goat,” Ashling snapped. “Now help me carry him.”

Stooping, Ashling grabbed the man under his arms. When she touched him, his deep, strained voice began to babble in earnest. She made out something about a map, but everything else seemed to be gibberish.

She looked at her sister.

“A little help?”

Bernie hesitated, shaking her head vigorously. “He’s not well.”

“Aye. That’s why we’re taking him back to the cottage. To help him.”

“I don’t like this. We should leave him here. We could call Father Peter to come for him.”

“The man needs medicine, not prayers.”

Bernie shook her head again, fiddled with her fingers as she did when she was unsure about something.

Ashling’s eyes turned pleading. “Please sister. I can heal him. We can’t leave this poor creature out here to die. It isn’t our way.”

Bernie still didn’t move.

Ashling blew out a breath, pulled the stray hairs from her neck. “This is what father would have wanted. When he was alive, he taught us to help others, didn’t he? What would he say if he knew that this poor man was out here suffering while we stood around him, clucking about like a bunch of hens? I’ll tell you what he’d say. He’d tell us to do what the Good Lord would have done.”

Bernie huffed, “Alright, alright.” She crossed herself. “May the Lord protect us.”

Together, they picked up the man, trying their best to keep from jarring him too much. He moaned when Bernie touched his leg. From the way it hung, Ashling could tell it was broken. His face was blue, his skin cold. They had to act quickly. With small, shuffled steps, they carried, and at times drug him, across the field.

“Who do you think he is?” Ashling asked through harsh breaths.

“A soldier, from the looks of his coat. He must’ve dragged himself as far as he could go, then fainted.”

Ashling thought about the massacres throughout Ireland. British troops burned Irish rebels alive by the dozens when they could catch them. She shivered.

Bernie carefully stepped over a stone. “Are you sure about this? Maybe we should put him back where we found him. He could be dangerous.”

“He’s unconscious, what harm can he do?”

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. He’ll be gone by morning if God wills it. Besides, we could use some excitement around here.”

“I get enough excitement milking the goats, thank you very much.”

The ground inclined, ending the conversation.

Ashling’s lungs burned with exertion. Sweat matted her thick brown hair to her forehead. She tried to blow the wretched curls away to no avail.

The ground evened out again a hundred feet from the cottage’s front door. They passed the distance quickly, finally dropping him onto the table in the kitchen. Bernie sent Ashling to fetch the wood bench from the barn to accommodate his long legs.

Finally, the stranger was moved into a comfortable position, both legs straight before him.

While Bernie wiped down her wet body, and took in a cool drink, Ashling rolled up her sleeves and set to work. The man needed help, and she would see to it that he got it.

He was stripped, his clothes set out to be washed and dried in the sun. Next, they washed him, bandage his wounds and set his leg. Finally, they covered him with every blanket they could spare.

Bernie built the fire until it roared. When it was hot enough, she placed bricks near it. They would be slipped under his blanket for extra warmth later.

“We’ve done all we can,” Bernie finally said, her legs creaking as she sat in a nearby chair. “He’s in the Lord’s hands now.”

“What did you do with the satchel?”

“In the potato cellar.”

“Did you look into it?”

She shook her head. “No. Whatever’s inside is between him and the Lord.”

Ashling nodded. She ran her fingers through his midnight hair, pushing it off his face. The movement came naturally, as if she’d done it before.

The thought nagged at her, and she focused on his face. A beard was starting to shadow his chin, cheeks and throat. His skin was tanned and rough. His lips were chapped, but full.

“Do we know him?” she asked.

“What?”

“He looks familiar.”

Bernie shook her head and set herself to collecting the bloody rags to be washed. “No, I’ve never seen him before.”

“Are you sure? Maybe we’ve seen him in town?”

“I’ve met every man in that town, and this one doesn’t strike me.”

Ashling smiled gently. She angled her head, drinking in the sight of him. “Handsome lad, isn’t he?”

She tried to imagine him awake. He’d tower over her, that was for sure. By the looks of him, he wasn’t more than twenty, same age as her. A lean, hard body and callused hands told her that he was no stranger to hard work. She wondered if he had been a farmer before he became a soldier. Perhaps she knew his father?

The sound of shoveling floated to her ears. She looked towards the window, but no one was there.

Odd.  

“Ashling!”

Ashling snapped to attention.

Bernie was frowning at her. “Please fetch me a bucket of cold water. I’ve asked you three times now.”

 “Yes, of course.”

Taking one last look towards the empty window, Ashling grabbed the water bucket and headed out the back door. She walked around the house once, searching for the source of the sound.

When she arrived again at the door, she laughed shortly, shaking her head at the impossibility of it all. The property was set amongst the hills. No one was around for miles.

Dismissing the strange ache that formed in the pit of her stomach, she kneeled next to the shimmering water that ran beside the cottage. Though the day was warm, chunks of half melted ice bumped against the sides as they floated in the frigid pool. It was a sure sign that Spring had come to warm the land.

Years before, when her mother was heavy with Bernie, Ashling’s father had dug a trench from the river to the front door, lining it with rocks. It was a small gift so that Ashling’s mother wouldn’t have to go quite so far for water. Ashling thanked God for her father’s ingenuity, and his love, whenever she reached a cup or bowl into its gurgling depths.

She wondered how long the stranger had been in the river as she dunked the bucket in the stream and rushed back inside the cottage.

Bernie was still at the strangers side, pity radiating from her emerald eyes. Ashling placed the bucket on a chair, the legs dragging against the floor as she pushed it next to her sister. Bernie plucked a rag from the table near the man’s head. She dipped it into the bucket, squeezed it out with one hand, and placed it on the man’s feverish head. Her lips pouted as she shushed his soft babbles.

“There, there,” she whispered. “Just relax now. You’re in good hands with the McGlowden sisters. We won’t let any harm come to you.”

She cocked her head to the side as she dabbed at the sweat that had begun to line his brow. “What should we do with him?” Bernie asked.

“We can’t do anything until he wakes up.”

“How long do you think that’ll be?”

“A little while, perhaps.”

Ashling’s heart broke a little as she took in the sight of her older sister looking down on this man as if he were a sick child. She wondered if Bernie would get the chance to look at her own children that way.

Perhaps if I marry, she thought, then Bernie wouldn’t have to be so worried about me. She could finally have a family of her own.

“Ashling, are you listening?” Bernie said. “What has gotten into you today? I swear your head is in the clouds.”

“Yes, sorry Bernie. I guess I’m just worn out from all the excitement.”

Bernie frowned, shook her head, and turned back to the patient. “I said that he must be with the rebels. I took a look at his clothes. They were worn, old. If he were a Brit, he’d have a better quality of garment, something red I think.”

Ashling shrugged as Bernie continued,

“I don’t think it’s wise to keep him here.” She turned her frowning face to Ashling. “What if the Brits come looking for him? They’ll kill us and burn the farm.”

Ashling crossed herself. “Mary, Peter and Joseph, we cannot think of that now. Hopefully, he’ll be awake by morning, and we can send him on his way.”

The thought saddened Ashling a bit. She didn’t want the stranger to go, but she didn’t understand why.

“Aye. Hopefully.” Bernie threw the rag back in the bucket and wiped her hands on her skirt. “I’m going to work in the garden. Keep an eye out. If you hear anyone coming, put him in the potato cellar.”

Ashling nodded and watched as her sister moved to the front door.

“Finish dinner while I’m out,” she threw over her red freckled shoulder. “And don’t spoil any more bread!” 

She watched Bernie grab her basket of gardening tools and make her way to the garden. The sun moved higher in the sky. They’d have to work quickly to complete their chores before it set.

She turned back to the stove, and her ruined pan of bread against the wall. Focusing on the tasks ahead, she picked up the pan, and threw the ruined bread into the fire, a small smile on her face. This stranger’s arrival shook up her ordinary life, and she was glad for it. She reached for the broom that stood on the stone wall next to the back door and began to sweep the crumbs and chunks of bread into a pile.

Farm life was difficult and isolated. Her and Bernie rarely left the property, save for once a month when they went into town to sell fruits and vegetables from the garden. Next month they’d have several horses to sell, and judging from mild winter, they’d have a few baby cows, goats, and chickens as well. Money would be a lot less tight, and she thanked the Lord for it.

She absently thought of buying a new dress, and chuckled at the absurdity of it. What’s the use of a new dress if no one but Bernie would see her in it?

Moving back into the house, she drug one of the rickety, old, wood chairs from the near the table to in front of the hearth. Flat stones between two wooden planks served as a shelf. She reached onto it, and pulled out a mixing bowl. She’d need more dough.

Ashling looked forward to her trips to town. Her and Bernie would wake up early, and set out before sunrise, their cart filled with their wares, their hearts filled with anticipation. After a twelve hour trip, they would tumble out of the old cart, and onto the doorstep of their aunt Maori. Ashling loved the old, gentle, doting woman. Maori was her mother’s twin sister, and Ashling found it comforting to look into her grey eyes and remember her mother, if only for a moment.

For three days they would sell and exchange their wares to the locals. For three nights, Maori would parade man after man in front of them in hopes that one of her nieces might secure a husband.

Husband. The word sent tiny flutters of sadness through Ashling’s heart. Not so much for herself, but for Bernie. Exactly five different men had proposed to Bernie since their father died, and Bernie had turned down every one of them. When Ashling would ask why, Bernie would give her a watery smile and hug her tight. In her tender years, Ashling never understood the gesture. But, as she grew older, the meaning became clear.

It was because of Ashling. Bernie refused to abandon her sister. No matter how much they bickered and squabbled, they would never leave each other alone. Not even for the security of a marriage. Not even for their own happiness. They would need to marry together, or not marry at all.

Ashling turned to the stranger. Hope rose in her. Perhaps he would bring change to their lives. Maybe, if Ashling minded her manners, he could be convinced to…

She didn’t allow herself to complete the thought.

No, she thought. He’ll be gone by tomorrow and our lives will go back to the way they were. He’ll be gone tomorrow.

She punched the dough a few more times, sending flour flying through the room.

He’ll be gone tomorrow.

***

 

“There’s nothing more we can do about him tonight, Ashling, now come to bed. God willing, he’ll be up and gone by morning.”

Dinner had long past when Bernie stood in the doorway to her room, night dress reaching the ground, irritation coloring her eyes.

“I’ll stay with him for a few more minutes.” Ashling placed a hand on the stranger’s chest. They’d redressed him a few minutes prior. She felt the ropes of thick muscle beneath his thin shirt. A bubble of pleasure floated through her. 

 Bernie’s eyebrows angled in suspicion.

 “For what purpose? He’s been asleep for hours.”

“In case he wakes up.”

 Her pale lips pressed together. “Five minutes,” she said firmly. “Then you get to bed. I can’t be expected to do all the chores around here while you sit and stare at him.”

 “Aye.”

“Five minutes, Ashling.”

“Aye, sister.” Ashling turned sharp eyes to her older sibling.

Scowling, Bernie relented, leaving Ashling with her patient.

He had gotten his color back, but his adventure in the river had weakened him. Feverish sweat poured off of him, though the fire was barely enough to ward off the outside chill.

Ashling pulled a blanket close around her. There was something about this man that called her to his side. A strange force that made her want to lock their hands together and never let go. She wondered who he was. Where was he was from? What happened to him? Was he a belligerent lad, proud and tempestuous? Was he gentle, kind, with a soft touch? The bubble of pleasure grew in her, and she bit her lip. Was he married? Did he have children?

She reached forward and ran a hand down his too warm face.

His skin had turned a deep shade of crimson as he boiled with fever. His sleep turned restless, and he groaned.

Unable to leave his side, Ashling suffered with him. She collected water from the stream and wiped his face and body. She told him stories that her mother had told her as a child. She imagined that, somehow, he heard her and was comforted. She mixed a brew of herbs and pressed it to his tongue to help him rest and break the fever.

All through the night she sat beside him while he sweated and moaned and screamed in his sleep. She prayed to God to heal him, to put his soul at peace.

Even as he quaked with fever, Ashling felt the nagging thought that she knew this man. She felt it ever since they’d drug him across their threshold. There was something about him. She couldn’t quite put it into words, but her heart seemed to understand it completely.

The constant question lingered in the back of her mind.

Who is this man?

The sun had just peeked through the hills when, suddenly, the stranger awoke. She’d been dabbing his forehead with a cold cloth when he looked at her, his coal-black eyes wild and red-rimmed. He grabbed her hands and pulled her to him.

 Ashling gasped, too shocked to pull away from his iron grip, to enthralled by his sharp gaze to look away.

 “Ashling,[_” _]he whispered, his voice deep and dry. Recognition softened his features. He brushed a curl away, his lips forming something close to a smile.

“My Ashling.”

And then, he collapsed back onto the table, dragged again into a restless, feverish sleep.

Though freed from his grip, Ashling didn’t move.

He said my name, she thought. [_How could he know my name? I’ve never seen this man before in my life. _]

She moved slowly, hovering over his now still body, studying his tanned face.

The feeling she’d seen this man before, touched this man before, rose sharply within her. Her heart told her that this was no stranger though her mind screamed that she was mistaken.

Curiosity peaked, she reached for a bowl of water and a straight razor, sharpening it on a strip of leather near the sink.

 “Goodness, child, what are you doing?” Bernie demanded. With one hand she held her blanket closed over her, with the other she rubbed the sleep from her eye.

“Shaving him,” Ashling replied matter-of-factly.

“Why in heaven would you be doing that?”

“He woke up.”

“He woke up?”

“Yes, and he grabbed me and said, uh, that he knew me.”

She walked over to the stranger and wet his face with the water from her bowl.

“He grabbed you?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Ashling this has gone far enough. You go on to bed. This stranger has brought nothing but trouble to this house. You leave me all the chores while you wait by his bedside and now you’re shaving him? I don’t know what to think.”

“Then don’t think on it at all.”

Bernie gasped. “Now look here, Ashling-”

“I need to see his face.”

“See his face?” Bernie whispered to herself.

Ashling didn’t respond, focused only on passing the blade over the stranger’s weathered cheek in the rising sunlight.

Bernie sighed and disappeared into her room to get ready for the day.

Once his face was shaved and scrubbed, Ashling held the candle close to him, tracing her fingers over his features. They lightly trailed over his eyes, his straight nose, his lip.

His lips, she thought. His lips remind me of something.

Suddenly, a powerful vision pushed through her mind. Her locked in his arms, hands tangled in his midnight hair. His mouth moved down the columns of her throat, and she breathed his name.

 Liam.

As quickly as it arose, the image faded.

She stumbled backwards. Knocking over the chair she’d been sitting in, she tumbled to the floor in a heap of skirt.

No, it’s not possible. How could I know that? How could I know his name? Who is this man?

***

 

Ashling didn’t remember sleeping. She remembered blinking though. Yes, she had blinked, and when her eyes opened, it was nearly noon.

She stretched and rose from the floor.

How did I get here? She wondered.

The last thing she remembered was the vision of her and the stranger. The memory heated her cheeks, sent tingles through her body.

She heard the distinct sound of a shovel digging into the ground. She ran to the door and flung it open.

Bernie was far afield, moving in and out of the barn, heavy buckets of carrots and oats at her side. Aside from her, no one else was around for miles.

Behind her, the stranger stirred. He turned on his side, sucking in a harsh breath as his weight fell onto his splinted leg. The pain forced him back onto his back. He ran a hand through his coal black hair with a groan.

Ashling didn’t breathe as he slowly propped himself up on his elbows, and scanned the small, simple room. Finally his gaze fell on her.

The sun’s rays lost themselves in the inky black depths of his eyes, making them shimmer like stars. His black hair covered half his face, giving him a dangerous, predatory look. Now sitting up, he filled the room with the heavy, musky presence only a man could bring. The table creaked under the shift in his weight.

Ashling’s mind went wild.

He’d make strong sons.

The thought made her blush, and she raised a hand to one, reddened cheek.

He cleared his throat, snapping her back to reality as he gave way to a lung rattling cough.

Shook from her admiration of his beautiful form, she ran to the water bucket, and filled him a cup of cool water. He drank it in a single gulp and held it out to her. “More.”

Her feet rooted to the ground.

He shook the cup at her. “More.”

She didn’t move. This was it. She’d finally know who this stranger was. She would finally get the answer her heart had been craving since she pulled him from the haystack.

She straightened her back, poked out her chin. “My questions first. Who are you? What is your name?”

His brows knit together, his discomfort visible on his face.

“Liam.”

Her heart hammered in her chest. So she had been right. But how?

Filling the cup again, she held it to her breast, and turned to him.

“Liam what?”

He held out a shaky arm for the cup.

“Liam McGunntry.”

She whispered his name as she handed him the water. He took it, draining the contents in a gulp.

“Why were you in our haystacks, Liam McGunntry?”

“Are you questioning me for the British?” he asked. His tone teased rather than accused.

“This is an Irish house, lad, and you’ll do well to remember it. Now, why were you in our haystacks?”

A small smile danced on his lips before he chased it away.

She wished it would come again.

“Will I get another cup of water for my answer?” He asked.

“You’ll get that and more. Bread. Perhaps cheese if you are polite about it.”

His gaze leisurely moved from her eyes, down her slim body, and back again. She shivered under his inspection.

“Would you give me your name first, lass?”

“My rules, Mr. McGunntry. No man has ruled this cottage since my father died and I won’t start having you rule it now.”

Liam’s eyebrow shot up, the small smile returning, broadening. “Very well,” he said, his voice softening. He seemed to relax a bit as Ashling cut hunks of bread and cheese for him. She held it close to her, and out of his reach.

“Now, why were you in our haystacks, Liam McGunntry?”

“I was…” His eyes went wide, and darted around the room. “My satchel. Where is my satchel?”

“Hidden.”

“Where?”

“In the cellar.”

His hand laid on his belly as he let out a breath of relief. “Thank God for you, lass. You don’t know the good that you have done.”

She nodded. “You’re welcome.” She looked at the bread and cheese in her hand and handed them to him.

He took them gratefully, chomping into them hungrily. In seconds they were gone. He licked the salt from his lips.

Ashling examined the man on the table.

“I must tell you that it is only me and my sister here, Liam McGunntry. I trust that you will not harm us.”

He shook his head. “I swear that I will do no harm to you. Nor your sister.”

“Can I trust you, Liam?” she asked.

“With your life, lass. As I have trusted you with mine.”

She saw the truth in his eyes.

“I believe you, Liam.”

She eased a bit, the tension releasing from her shoulders.

“Do I get more bread and cheese now that I have your trust, lass?”

“I know that you’re hungry, and I will feed you. But first you must tell me why you are here. Does it have to do with your satchel?”

“It would be much too dangerous if you knew who I was,” he said. “The last woman who knew…” He dropped his eyes, tried to climb down off the table. “I promised that I would not harm you, and I meant it. I have to go.”

She ran to him, shoving him back.

“No, you mustn’t!”

Something flared between them, but it was gone too quickly to explain.

“I have to leave. If they find me here, or think that I’ve been here, they’ll kill you and your sister.”

“Who will?”

“The British.”

“The Brit-” It all snapped into place. The satchel, his fear, his condition. “You’re a spy.” The words came out in a single breath.

He looked away from her, his eyes coming to rest on the door, “I have to go.”

“But you can’t walk. Your leg is broken. It will take several weeks to heal.”

“I don’t have that long.”

Her mind knew that he was right. If he was a spy, he couldn’t stay. Her heart, however, said something entirely different.

She looked down at his leg, gingerly placing a hand on the wooden splints that held it in place.

The flaring came again. She looked up to find his eyes blazing into hers.

She didn’t look away as his eyes devoured hers. His gaze swept over her face, fell to her lips, studying them. She stood up straight, and turned away.

“At least let me feed you first before you go. You can’t ride in your condition, but you are free to use our cart and horse, and I can give you father’s old clothes.”

She heard the table creak as he shimmied back into place and cleared his throat.

“I can’t take those things from you.”

“How can you say that with your leg in its condition?”

“I’ve survived up until now. I’m sure that I can do it a few more days.”

She imagined him dragging himself through the hills. The thought brought tears to her eyes.

She wiped them away.

“Look at me, lass.”

She turned again toward him, his eyes furrowing as they took in her tears.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m a soldier. I will survive.”

“How do you know?”

“I have to,” he sighed. “When I passed by here the other night, I saw you in the window. You were reading. I remember the way the candle lit your face, the way you looked at me. I promised myself that I would be back for you. I made that promise once, and I’m making it again. I’ll be back for you, Ashling.”

She nearly dropped the bowl of soup she’d been holding.

“How do you know my name?” She asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know. How do you know mine?”

She frowned, handed him a bowl of soup. His eyes held hers for a beat too long.

“How did you know that I-”

“When I said it, you didn’t look surprised. You looked like you were expecting it to be so. I don’t know how, Ashling, but something tells me I need to be here, besides you. I won’t argue with it. Will you?”

She put her hand to her coloring cheek, and watched as he put the bowl to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers. She found it hard to breathe.

He finished the soup, wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. His eyes fell closed, a deep frown settling on his face. When he opened them again, he shook himself and focused firmly on the broom across the room.

“Is something wrong?” She asked.

“No. Just…”

She took a deep breath. “Did you see me?” She asked. “Did you see us?”

He nodded slowly, confusion clouding his face.

“What did you see?”

He gently took her hand and placed it on his cheek, his eyes intent on hers.

Her body felt as if it had absorbed his fever.

“This.” He led her to his lips and kissed her.  

Her heart pounded. Her world collapsed, zeroed in until there was just them, just this moment in time. She leaned into him, and he pressed the kiss deeper, incinerating every thought and doubt. She wrapped her arms around his waist.

He felt right, brightening up her ordinary world like a shooting star on the darkest of nights.

He took her hand in his, kissed her palm, her wrist.

“Liam,” she whispered.

His breath was warm against her fingers. “How could I forget you, my Ashling?”

Her world turned to fire. Her body tightened. Her lips ached for his to return to them.

“Liam,” she whispered. “Oh how I’ve missed you.”

 A scream.

“Ashling!”

The door flung open. Soldiers swarmed into the room like locusts.

“He’s here!” one of them shouted.

“Bring him out.” The order came from outside the door.

 Liam struggled to get up from the table. His leg collapsed under his weight when it hit the floor. He crumbled to the ground, screaming in agony.

The soldiers grabbed him under the arms and dragged him out.

“Run, Ashling!”

“Liam!” She threw herself at the officer who held him, fist pounding wildly on his back. “Let him go, you brute!”

A large, calloused hand shoved her to the ground. She hit her head hard against the table and groaned as the pain shot through her body.

She forced herself to rise through the pain, and stumbled out of the cottage. She had to find Bernie. She had to help Liam.

Bernie stood just outside the door, her hands tied behind her back. A red nosed soldier stood guard next to her.  

“Let go of my sister!” Ashling screamed.

“Run, Ashling!” Bernie cried.

Another soldier came up from behind and grabbed her. Her arms twisted painfully behind her back. She watched in wide-eyed horror as a torch arched through the air and landed on top of her thatched roof.

“NO!” Ashling screamed.

“This is what happens when you harbor rebel spies,” he growled.

Tears of outrage burned her eyes.[_ My home. My mother’s things. My father’s memories._]

The soldier spun her around, until she faced the tall oak tree out back. A rope hung from a low hanging branch. Liam’s head was being forced into it. He precariously balanced one leg on a small stool.

“Liam no!” she cried.

A bearded soldier stood in front of him. The marks on the shoulders of his red coat told of his authority.

“Liam McGunntry, you are called forth on charges of spying and sedition against the crown. This is your last chance. Where is the satchel with the maps?”

Liam spat in the soldier’s face.

“Ireland will never again stand for British rule!”

The soldier wiped at his face, and glared at Liam hatefully.

“Then, before God and the King, you are sentence to execution by hanging.”

Ashling screamed.

Liam’s eyes searched for hers. For a moment time stood still. There was only them, no longer strangers, but souls intertwined for eternity.

“Ashling!” Liam called.

She found no breath to answer. His eyes turned pleading.

“Find me in heaven.”

 The Captain kicked out the stool from beneath him. Liam’s body swung wildly, his legs kicking, struggling to find solid ground. His face and neck turned purple as he choked.

Ashling let out a blood-curdling wail before a heavy hand struck the back of her head. The world started to tilt, spin and fade.

Her legs buckled. She fell to her knees.

“No!” Bernie cried. “No! Let me go! Ashling!”

Ashling hit the soft grass, her heart shattered. She wanted to cry, to scream, but her tongue felt like iron in her mouth.

He was gone.

Her head throbbed violently as if it was splitting open.

He was gone.

“Ashling!” Bernie called. “Ashling!”

The sound seemed to come from underwater, like she was drowning. It was all so far away. So distant.

Peace filled the last moment of her consciousness.

In heaven, Liam. In heaven.

With one last, valiant effort, with the last of her breath, she cried out his name, screamed it so that God and the angels could hear who she was meant for. So that they knew that it was Liam. It had always been Liam.

Then…

“Ashling? Ashling, are you okay?”

A voice in her ear. Someone was shaking her.

“Ashling. Ashling, wake up!”

Suddenly alert, Ashling shot up, her body covered in a dripping layer of icy sweat.

Bernie stood beside her, looking annoyed and a little worried.

But no, not Bernie. This woman possessed her sister’s face, but not her clothes. She was dressed in a pink t-shirt and matching pink shorts.

“Are you okay? You were screaming.”

Ashling’s body felt heavy, and oddly detached, as if her body was here, but her mind was someplace far away.

“Bernie?”

“I’m here, babe.” Bernie’s eyes narrowed in concern. “Are you okay?”

Ashling looked around her.

The shelves in her tiny dorm room were heavy with books and magazines. Her laptop was on, the light from the screen glaring brightly. Her phone glowed too.

Confusion made her head ache.

This was real.

This was her life.

It all came back to her in a single, powerful wave.

She was a college student. This was her dorm. Bernie was her roommate. This was real. Her mind screamed at her. This, this is real.

And yet, the other world seemed real too. She still smelled the hay and the grass of her small farm. Felt the warmth of the fire in the hearth. Felt the heat of his eyes as they bore into hers and he sang her name: Ashling.

Bernie shook her head, her eyes glazed with confusion. “Ash, I’m going back to bed. You had a nightmare. Why don’t you get some sleep, hun.”

“It was a dream?”

Bernie nodded.

“But that means that Liam…”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Bernie asked.

 Ashling gasped.

Liam.

He was an illusion, never really there at all. And yet, he felt so real.

The room began to spin, the walls pressing in on her. She had to get out. She had to escape. She jumped from her bed, snatched the door open, and ran down the hallway.

“Ashling, where are you going?”

She didn’t reply.

Gone. It’s all gone, her heart told her.

It was never really there, her mind reasoned.

The urge to beat her fist against something, to scream and cry until exhaustion overtook her was strong.

He’s gone.

Head throbbing, she threw open the doors and plopped down on the steps of the dorm. She dropped her head into her hands. The tears came hard and fast in the chilly Spring air, a soft breeze cutting through her powder blue t-shirt and shorts.

Her mind battled with itself as it tried to sort out dream from reality.

It felt so real, she thought. How could he have felt so real?

A car parked near the door, its lights bouncing off of the windows of the building.

Ashling stood, wrapped her arms around herself, and began to walk as a gaggle of rowdy students jumped from the car. One of them called to her. She didn’t turn around. She picked up her pace as a stronger breeze blew. The cold seemed to touch her soul. Goose bumps ran over her body in prickling waves.

She shook her head, anxious to clear it of the disturbing dream.

The wind blew stronger, and she looked up. She saw it.

The tree, the great oak that killed her beloved.

Sitting with his back against the tree, was a man. His raven hair and midnight eyes were unmistakable.

Her heart pounded, her breath stolen by the impossible vision before her.

It can’t be, she thought. He was just a dream.

She took a tentative step forward.

“Liam?” she whispered.

The breeze carried her small voice to him, depositing the gift into his ears. He turned to her, his eyes growing wide in awe.

“Ashling?”

 

 

PLAYTHINGS

A Brief Thriller

They stood in the produce aisle at Brown’s Grocery Store.

Samantha Patterson gave her husband, Guy, a sultry smile. “I’ll meet you by the cereal,” she said. Her gaze roamed over him, from his black curly hair, to the way his lean, six foot tall figure towered over her. Even after ten years together, he still was the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on.

Guy pulled her close, his dark eyes warming before he stole a kiss.

She indulged him for a moment before pulling away, looking sheepishly at the clerk behind the customer service desk. The young, pink haired girl glanced at them over electric blue, horn-rimmed glasses before turning her attention back to her cell phone.

“Don’t get lost,” he said, giving her another peck on the lips. “I don’t want to have to come find you.”

She threw her arms over his shoulders, pulling him closer.

“And what if I do?” she purred.

“Well,” he placed his hands on her hips. “I’ll have to punish you.”

One of her eyebrows rose. “And how do you plan on doing that?”

His lips moved close to her ear, “One word. Dishes.”

She jumped back, hitting him playfully on the shoulder.

“All the dishes,” he said with a playful grin.

“You always get me,” she pouted.

He chuckled. “You’re so easy to get.”

In a flash, his face turning serious. All the teasing in his eyes suddenly vanished.

A feeling of painful butterflies burst within Samantha’s gut. She felt as if she were going up a roller coaster. She could almost hear the clicking of the tracks, could feel the anticipation of the drop. Attempting to shake the disturbing feeling, she refocused on her husband. His tense brows and tight mouth didn’t reassure her. In fact, it set her even more on edge.

The mood changed so quickly and unexpectedly that her breath caught in her throat, leaving Samantha reeling. She glanced again at the girl behind the customer service desk. This time, the girl didn’t acknowledge her.

Guy opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, then closed it again.

A beat passed.

[_Why does this feel like goodbye? _]Samantha wondered.

When she spoke again, Samantha’s voice came out strangled. “I’ll meet you in the cereal aisle,” she said, her voice soft.

His adams apple bobbed, then he nodded.

An uncomfortable laugh escaped her lips.

“Hey,” she said, her voice a little stronger. “I’ll meet you in the cereal aisle.”

He nodded again, blinking rapidly as if he were trying to clear his vision. “Yeah. Two minutes?”

“Two minutes.”

“Okay.”

She shook her head, wondered what had gotten into them, and walked away, her heart sinking with every step.

Get it together girl.

The feeling of foreboding lingered. Unable to shake it, she tried to turn her attention to the problem at hand. The animal crackers. They had promised their daughter, Emily, that they would have animal crackers when they picked her up from daycare.

Even now, she could hear Emily’s small, high voice ringing in her head.

Not the red ones. The pink ones with the icing.

Samantha smiled. Her daughter inherited her tanned skin and brown eyes from her mother, but her forceful personality and the birthmark on her right shoulder she’d gotten from her father. Together, the three of them formed a tight, happy unit, and Samantha thanked God for her small family each and every day.

The lights overhead flickered as Samantha walked down the aisle. She barely noticed, her attention focused on the missing animal crackers.

[Where could they be? _]Samantha wondered. _I could have sworn they were right here last week.

She looked up and down the aisle for someone with a yellow shirt and blue apron who could help her.

The aisle was empty.

[_Odd for this time of day, _]she thought. Usually at four in the afternoon the supermarket was packed with mothers trying to get last minute groceries for dinner.

Where is everyone?

The icy fingers of fear slid up her back, and she forced breath in through her nose.

[Stop being silly, _]she chided herself. _Just grab something and get out of here. This place is giving me the creeps today.

Picking up the Teddy Grahams, and steeling herself for Emily’s wrath, she marched toward the cereal aisle.

The thought of seeing Guy again buoyed her, and she picked up her pace. Guy was her rock, and the one person she knew who would comfort her against the strange feelings that suddenly terrorized her. His presence would be all the calm she needed.

Sweat beads formed on the back of her neck. Without stopping, she pulled her dark, kinky hair up into a ponytail using the pink hair tie she usually wore around her wrist.

She swore she could almost smell the heat seeping in from the outside. Is the store getting warmer? Why would they turn off the air conditioner in the middle of July?

After fluffing her ponytail a bit, she continued on towards the cereal aisle to meet back up with Guy.

The store was quiet. Too quiet. No crying babies, no ding of the cash register, no one talking loudly on their cell phone, no carts banging their way up the aisles. The only sound seemed to come from her flip flops smacking against the tiled floor.

Where is everyone? she wondered.

She turned down the cereal aisle. It was empty.

Where is Guy?

Something pricked at the back of her mind, a brief feeling of terror tightening her belly. She tried to hold onto it, to understand why she was suddenly so afraid. But the thought passed as quickly as it arrived, leaving only feelings of confusion and dread.

[_He’s probably picking up another wire for something or other, _]she told herself. Guy was always wandering off. She usually found him buzzing around the electronics aisle. Her fear turned into playful annoyance as she quickly made her way to electronics. She glanced up and down each aisle as she passed.

They were all empty.

She turned up the aisle marked electronics.

There was no one there.

Swearing under her breath, she walked towards the pink haired girl behind the customer service desk, her annoyance and fear growing with every step.

The girl greeted her by looking up from her cell phone. She chewed her gum with a certain severity, her tongue moving the green glob from one side of her mouth to the other. She reminded Samantha of a cow chewing cud.

“I need to page my husband,” Samantha said.

The girl popped her gum. “What’s his name?”

“Guy Patterson.”

Pressed a long blue fingernail to the intercom, the girl spoke into the small microphone. “Guy Patterson please come to the customer service desk. Guy Patterson, your party is waiting for you.”

Samantha sighed, pulled out her phone, and waited.

He’ll be here, she assured herself. He’ll be here.

She got to the bottom of her Facebook feed and looked at the clock on the wall. Two minutes had passed. He still hadn’t shown up. The dread grew stronger in her belly.

Where is he?

The clerk’s attention was fully on her now, one brows pushing upward in question. “Do you want me to page him again?”

“No, thanks.” With a tight smile, Samantha left the cookies at the desk and headed out the door.

Maybe he’s waiting for me at the car.

Stepping outside, she froze.

The parking lot was empty, all except for her black Honda Civic. There was no one around, most notably not her husband.

Her lungs constricted slightly as panic started to set in.

Where is everyone? Where is Guy?

“Guy!” She called out, looking around the perimeter of the parking lot. “Hello?”

Something was wrong. She needed to see somebody, anybody. There had to be someone left in the world besides her and the clerk.

She breathed deep.

It’s fine. Just relax. It’s fine.

Pulling out her cell phone, she pressed the number two key on the keypad, speed dialing Guy’s number. It rang twice. Then, a voice:

“Hel-,”

“Where are you?” she demanded.

“Hello? Who is this?”

“It’s me. Where are you? I’m at the car.”

“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number.” Click.

Samantha’s looked at the phone in disbelief. That was not her husband’s voice.

What is going on?

She dialed Guy’s number slowly, carefully, and waited while it rang. It went straight to voicemail.

“Hi, you’ve reached the number of Donald Sanitario. I’m not able to get to the phone right now but please leave…”

Aghast, she lowered the phone from her ear. Confusion, and worry fought for dominance.

Wrong number? Guy has had the same number for eleven years. It couldn’t be the wrong number. Someone’s playing a prank on me, she thought. They have to be.

When she didn’t see any cameras, cars, or people for that matter, she looked at her phone again. She scrolled down to contacts and looked for her husband’s name.

It wasn’t there.

[Impossible, _] she thought. _I just called it.

She turned her phone off, then on again. She looked in her contacts list as sweat pooled on her brow.

All of her contacts had disappeared.

What’s wrong with my phone? Where are all of my numbers? Where is Guy?

Fighting to keep calm, she jogged back into the store and up to the customer service desk.

She ignored the clerk rolling her eyes at her.

“Miss, I’m sorry,” Samantha said, fighting to stay calm. “I’m not trying to be weird or anything, but I came in with my husband and now he’s gone.”

The clerk blinked.“I didn’t see you come in with anybody.”

Samantha paused. She cocked her head and stared at the clerk. “What?”

“I didn’t see you come in with anybody.”

“Well, you were looking at your phone-”

“No. I saw you come in. You weren’t with anyone.”

It felt as if the wind was knocked out of her, and she placed a hand on the counter to keep from toppling over. For a fleeting second, she wondered if she was crazy. Then she laughed a bit louder then she should have, attempting to reconcile the disaster that this day had turned into.

This is ridiculous. She was on her phone. Of course she didn’t see me come in.

She pasted a warm smile on her glossed lips and clasped her hands in front of her.

 “My phone’s not working. May I try the store phone, please?”

“I’m sorry. We’re not allowed to let customers use the phone. Did you check outside?”

“Yes I checked outside,” she said shortly. She swallowed. She shouldn’t be mean to this poor girl. She was just trying to help. Taking a deep breath, she tried to slow her racing heart. “He’s not outside. No one is outside.”

The girl nodded. Her face was a mix of sympathy and humor. “Are you sure?”

“I’m not crazy,” Samantha said quickly. “I walked in with my husband. Now, he’s gone. He’s not in the parking lot. There’s nobody around. I just need to use your phone because my phone is not working. Can you please just-”

The girl shook her head incredulously as Samantha spoke.

Samantha bit the inside of her cheek to keep from swearing.

“Fine!” It came out snarkier than she wanted it to but she didn’t care. She felt a headache beginning to form in the back of her head. This day was turning into a nightmare.

Marching back into the summer heat, Samantha searched her purse for her car keys.

If Guy wants to play games, he can walk home.

Her hand roamed through her purse for several seconds before she realized that her keys were missing as well.

“Really!” She roared, stomping her foot against the baking pavement. “You really took my keys?”

“Excuse me. Can I help you?” A tall, stocky man with a beard, neatly trimmed hair and glasses was staring at her.

[_Where did he come from? _]She looked around the parking lot. It was still empty, and she was sure that this chunky man was not fast enough to have reached her so quickly. The store front’s were at least a minute walk from the parking lot.

How long have I been looking for my keys?

Samantha huffed, though a small part of her was glad to see another person besides the store clerk. “No, you can’t.”

“Well, then I’m going to need to get into my car.”

She frowned. “What are you talking about? This is my car.”

He looked at her as if she had sprouted a second head.

Why is everyone looking at me like I’m a crazy person?

The man elbowed past her, opened the car door, and promptly turned the car on.

“Hey!” she screamed. “Hey, this is my car!”

“You’re nuts, lady,” the man cried, throwing the car into reverse and backing out of the spot.

“Hey!” Samantha cut him off and blocked his way forward. “This is my car! You can’t steal my car!”

“Get out of the way lady or I’ll run you over!”

 “Get out of my car!”

“It’s my car, you psycho!”

“I’m not letting you steal my car!” She climbed onto the hood and glared at him.

“I’m calling the cops!”

“Call the cops! I’m not letting you take my car!”

He pulled out a cell phone and within a minute, a squad car pulled up.

How did they get here so fast?

“What seems to be the problem here?” The short, balding officer’s name tag read GLENN.

“She won’t let me leave!” the man cried.

“It’s my car!” she screamed back.

Samantha climbed off the hood of the car, her sweat leaving a film on the hood. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d ever been so hot.

The officer looked from her, to the man, and back again.

“I’m going to need to see the registration on the car and both of your licenses.”

Samantha handed over her drivers’ license.

The bearded man leaned over the passenger side seat, took the registration out of the glove compartment, and handed it, along with his license, to the officer.

The policeman carefully examined the documents, then raised an eyebrow at Samantha.

[_ This has to be my car. I’m not crazy. I would know my own car. It’s the only car here, and Emily’s car seat is in the- _]

Her mind reeled. There was no car seat. In fact, none of Emily’s book or toys cluttered the backseat. They had all been replaced by a jumble of papers.

Samantha’s eyes grew wide and she stood in stunned silence. Was this not her car? She was sure she parked here. But where were Emily’s things?

She looked down at the license plate. It was not as she remembered. Her knees wobbled and she leaned against the police car, suddenly feeling faint.

“Ma’am, please step over here.” The officer handed back her driver’s license and ushered her toward his police car. A tear dripped down Samantha’s cheek as she watched her car screech out of the parking lot.

What’s going on? This man has my keys and now he’s leaving with my car. But it’s not my car.

“Officer, I can explain. You see my husband-”

Samantha looked down at her driver’s license and stared at it in horror. It had her maiden name on it and it was from a different state. She couldn’t breathe.

“Samantha Samuels?” he asked.

“Samuels is my maiden name,” she whispered.

“Where is your driver’s license with your married name and current address?”

“I don’t know.” She put a hand over her trembling lips and looked around.

This can’t be. It just can’t-

“Is this your current address?”

“No. I live right up the road.”

He paused, obviously debating what to say next.

“Ma’am, I’m going to ask that you sit in the car while I check this out.”

“But I have to pick up my daughter from daycare and my hus-”

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to sit in the car.”

She saw his thick brows scrunch together as he stared at her under the boiling sun.

He doesn’t believe me. He thinks I’m crazy. I’m not crazy!

She took a deep breath, nodded and sat in the back of the police car as the officer fed her information into a radio.

A daze settled over her.

What happened?

She thought back on her seemingly ordinary day. She’d woken up. Her small family had eaten breakfast together. Emily had spilled her cereal and Guy vacuumed it up. Samantha cleaned up the dishes. They’d dropped off Emily at daycare. Guy called out of work so that the two of them could spend the day together. They’d gone to pick up Emily’s animal crackers and a few other groceries. He kissed her in front of the service desk. She still remembered the feel of his lips, slightly dry. Then they parted and…he was gone.

None of this makes any sense!

The officer turned back to her. “Ma’am, it seems that you’re a missing person. Your parents will be picking you up at the station in a couple of hours. How’d you get all the way up here?”

Samantha sputtered, “What?”

“You’re from Virginia. You’ve been missing for three days. How’d you get to Washington D.C.? Did you take the train? Bus?”

“I haven’t lived in Virginia in ten years.”

“Not according to your parents. They said that you live with them and that you’re on medication. Do you have your medication, ma’am?”

“I’m not on any medication. All I have is my purse and my shopping list.” She pulled her shopping list out of her pocket and handed it to the officer.

He looked at it for a second before turning back toward her with pursed lips and raised eyebrows.

“Ma’am, this is a blank sheet of paper. I’m going to ask you to stay in the car. I’ll bring you down to the station.”

Samantha looked at the paper as if it were a poisonous snake. The officer dropped it into her lap. She suddenly felt nauseous. “The station?”

“The police station. It’s just down the road there.”

“Police station? No, I can’t go. I have to get my daughter from daycare.”

“What daycare is your daughter in, Ma’am?”

“Sweet Smiles daycare on High Borough Road.”

“There is no High Borough Road around here, Ma’am.”

“But there is. Here, call them.”

She dialed the number that she knew by heart and handed him the phone. He squinted at her.

“This number is disconnected, Ma’am.”

“No, it can’t be. Then, where’s Emily? Where’s Guy? Where is my family?”

“Your family is coming to get you. We’re going down to the station now. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

He climbed in the car and locked the doors as Samantha’s eyes burned with tears.

This was crazy. She had to get to her daughter. She had to find Guy. They’d be worried by now.

This can’t be happening!

Minutes later, they rolled to a stop in front of the police station and the officer climbed out. No other officers arrived or left. In fact, the station looked deserted.

“Ma’am,” he said, holding out his hand to help her.

She looked into his eyes. There was a sad sympathy there as she put her hand in his.

“This is a mistake,” she said, her voice small.

He led her through the heavy blue doors of the police station. No one else seemed to be around.

She felt like she was gliding through a dream.

“I don’t know where my driver’s license is or where my keys are, but I can assure you that I have a husband and daughter and that I live in this state. My daughter is in daycare and needs to be picked up. I was grocery shopping with my husband and then he was gone. I don’t know where he went. And that man has my car!”

“Ma’am, I am going to ask you to sit in here and wait for your parents to arrive.”

Samantha looked up. She was in front of an empty holding cell.

“But I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“I know, ma’am. It’s just a precaution.”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong. Please call my husband. Please!”

“Ma’am.” He ushered her into the cell and closed the door.

She placed her hands against the bars and looked down at her left hand. Her ring was gone.

Tears flowed down her dark cheeks and she rubbed the spot where her ring should have been. She held her hand to her chest, and sat down on a nearby bench. Putting her hands over her face, she let her tears pool in her palms.

How did this happen?

As the hours passed, her shock morphed first into panic, then rage. Anger swelled at Guy for playing such a cruel trick, at the man who stole her car right out from under her, at the police officer who wouldn’t believe her and especially at the girl in the grocery store, whom she was sure was a party to all of this.

She threw herself against the bars, screaming that someone call her husband, the daycare, anyone.

The policeman who had brought her in was nowhere to be found. No one else appeared.

For hours she raised a racket, raging and pleading for someone to pay attention to her until, finally, she spotted her parents walking toward her, escorted by the police officer. Their worn faces were painted in relief.

“Sammy, dear!” Her mother cried. “We were so worried!”

“Worried? Tell them who I am, mother!”

“Our daughter is very sick,” her father told the officer. “We have her medication. Once she takes that she should be fine.”

“Medication?”

“Samantha, you’ve been missing for almost three days. We had no idea where you were. We were so worried!”

“What are you talking about!” Samantha cried, her hoarse voice choked with tears. “What are you saying! I live here! I have a husband and a daughter. You were at my wedding. I have a job and a car and friends. I need to get to Emily. I need to find Guy. Tell them who I am!”

“We’ll take it from here, sir,” her father said sadly.

The officer nodded and opened the cell door. Her mother tried hugging her, but Samantha pushed her away.

“This is crazy! I want to go home!”

“We are going home, Samantha,” her mother said. “Back to Paddlebrook, Virginia. Just take your pill and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’m not taking any pill. I need to get to Emily. I need to find Guy. Something’s happened to him, I know it.”

“There is no Guy or Emily, Samantha. They’re all in your mind!”

She shook her head in disbelief. Her chest felt as if it would explode from fury at any given moment. “No! No, stop it! You’re making me crazy!” Samantha grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled it with a scream. “You’re both making me crazy!”

Arms wrapped tight around her body. Her father forced her mouth open, shoved in a small, chalky pill and poured so much water down her throat that she had no choice but to swallow.

No! No, this can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him.

Tall, midnight hair, dark brows and a five o’clock shadow around his luscious, wide mouth. His wild coal black eyes and Romanesque nose. That well built body that gave her so much pleasure.

He was struggling against the officers. They were dragging him into a cell. When they turned around, they looked exactly like the officer who had brought her in earlier, with the same sweaty balding heads and thick brows. On their name tags was written one word, GLENN.

Samantha’s mind went blank, her vision fogged.

The man’s focus locked with hers, widening in surprise. “Samantha?”

Her mother was laying on top of her, holding her in an unbreakable grip.

“I told you!” the man screamed. “There she is. That’s my wife! I told you!”

He was screaming her name.

“Samantha! Samantha, where’s Emily? What’s going on?”

She tried to reach out for him, but her arms and legs felt like iron.

She rapidly blinked her eyes, trying to force the fuzzy world back into clarity. Instead, it slowed faded, and only one thought floated onto the black pool of her memory before the darkness overtook her.

Guy!

 

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About The Author

Encouraged to write by a close family friend at the age of ten, Seven has written hundreds of full length novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. After sharing a few of them with a friend, she started on the road to becoming an indie author.

Seven Steps lives in Connecticut with her sweet cat, a handsome husband, and a beautiful daughter. When not busy writing, she enjoys reading, styling natural hair, and travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Works By

Seven Steps

The Slave Planet

The Last Rock King (coming soon)

The Slave Planet 2 (coming soon)

 

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Email:

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Before I Wake

In the spirit of The Twilight Zone, Unsolved Mysteries, and the X Files, Before I Wake contains two haunting love stories with a mind blowing endings that will leave you with one simple question: Was It Real? The Cottage Ashling's quiet farm life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting when a handsome stranger, bloodied and unconscious, appears next to a haystack. When he awakens, her world will never be the same again. The Playthings People are disappearing by the second, including Samantha Patterson's husband. As her world shifts around her, Samantha questions everything that she knows is real. Her husband, her child, her life... was it all just a dream?

  • ISBN: 9781311168207
  • Author: Seven Steps
  • Published: 2016-05-01 21:50:09
  • Words: 11956
Before I Wake Before I Wake