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Entry One- Coming Home
A shiver ran through her body. Using her hand as a sun shield, she scanned the area around her. It was awe-inspiring. Words could never quite explain how the sight of miles and miles of grass, heather, and rocks made her feel. It was almost like an out-of-body experience, as she could easily see herself anchored to this cairn while her spirit floated high above. At one point she had stopped coming to the site for fear of disappearing into some fissure into time itself, but the magic of that spot called her in her sleep, and she invariable found herself standing on top of the hill, the chastising wind blowing her clothes and hair, her only company a couple of rabbits and a capercaille.
“What do you want from me?” Her voice rose into the air and was carried in the wind away from her. Did they hear her? Did they know what they were doing to her?
People at work were already whispering behind her back. “There goes the crazy one who takes off in the middle of the day and is gone for hours.” Soon, she would lose her job, and then what would she do? How would she feed herself or pay the rent?
“Who are you? Please leave me alone.” Her only response was the whispering of the wind across the cairn.
She dropped to her knees, the prickly heather and grasses scratching her skin. Beyond caring about her physical comfort, Morag hung her head and cried. Her life had been so normal, so like everybody else’s. That visit to the cairn a month or so ago had changed everything. She didn’t know what made her go there. After all her years of living in the area, she had never once visited the lonely Cairn O’Mount. She had never cared for history or folklore. Her day started with an Egg Macmuffin from the local McDonald’s, closely followed by a big cup of coffee and a short ride to work. Not especially endowed in any set of skills, she had worked as a receptionist in a local hotel for many years now. She was pleasant and comely, and the managers liked having her on the front desk even if she was not particularly efficient at her job. In the evening she normally stopped at the pub next door for a pint with co-workers and once she got home, a little telly and a good night sleep. Until that day…
The earth underneath her rumbled. At first she couldn’t tell whether the noise was coming from the wind or if she had simply imagined it. But the rumbling grew in intensity and soon the soil around her was moving and shaking. Earthquake!
Startled, she jumped to her feet and rotated to take a look around her. The whole cairn seemed to vibrate as if a giant machine was trying to make its way up to the surface. Sure enough, she realized there were rocks emerging from different places around her, laboriously slow, as the earth moaned and groaned, giving birth to these elongated stones. Unsteadily she stood, incapable of moving, swaying along with the earth’s movements and too surprised to be really scared.
She watched as the small rocks turned into giant monoliths arranged in a large circle around her, large and somber, forbidding. The rumbling stopped and in contrast the silence felt almost oppressive. She waited. For what, she couldn’t tell. All she knew was something was about to happen.
The sun was low in the horizon and the shades had grown long and ominous. Morag knew she should be scared, and yet she felt exhilarated. The silence was soon replaced with a whispering of voices. In a crescendo they surrounded her and approached as if closing in on her, fencing her in. Her heart beat faster.
“Come with us, Morag of Skye,” the voices whispered in her ear. How did they know she had been born in the Isle of Skye? Very few people knew this. She had moved into the east coast of Scotland as a bairn and had never gone back.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The thin air made it hard to breathe.
“We’re the Pechs, the guardians of the stones.” To her right, she could now discern a shadowy figure of a male, wavering in the wind like a finger of smoke. “Come with us. We’ve been calling out to you. Why haven’t you come?”
The figure worked itself into a solid body. It was—or looked like—a man. A giant of a man. He must have been just shy of seven feet tall, disheveled brown hair falling into broad, bare shoulders that framed a strong, muscled torso covered in Celtic runes. A kilt of sorts hung low on his hips and thick braies covered the rest of his legs to just below the knee. Had he been a man of flesh and blood, she would have thought him handsome, but this was no ordinary man. His bare feet hovered just above ground as if standing on an invisible platform.
“Why should I come with you?” she asked in a tiny voice.
“You’re one of us Morag of Skye,” he said. “You were put into a human family so you could grow safe from the dangers that lurked in our kingdom.”
“One of you?” She sounded hysterical. “I’m as human as anyone else. You are—not sure what you are, but you’re not human.”
“We were once. We have ascended and are now more than human.” The hauntingly beautiful Pech floated forward toward her. She took a step backwards, suddenly scared of this ethereal creature that claimed kinship with her. “Don’t be afraid. We are not here to hurt you. We come to invite you back. We need you back.”
Morag took another step backwards. “Why? Assuming I believe you, why do you need me back now? I am twenty-two years old and I have never heard from you. What makes you come now?”
Whispering voices claimed her ears again. She had the clear notion that there was a discussion taking place. One she was not a part of. The handsome Pech in front of her closed his eyes as if listening in.
“The Elders say I’m allowed to share with you,” he announced, opening his eyes and staring at her.
She felt his stare go through her into the deepest parts of her heart and soul. For a moment she recognized him, but she could not name him.
“You are my betrothed, sweet Morag. You were born a princess of the fae and betrothed to me, prince Cinead of the Pechs. There were those who would see that you didn’t live long enough to join our two families through marriage. So the Elders made the decision to hide you amongst the humans until such time as you were old enough to marry me.”
“What makes you think those who wanted me dead won’t kill me now?” she asked, a sliver of lost memories coming to assail her. “And what makes you think I want to marry you at all?”
“Those who wanted you dead have met their fates. The road is clear.” Morag found her heart melting as he spoke, lulled by his deep baritone voice, smooth and rich all at once. “You are, of course, free to choose. However, our hearts have been calling to each other for years now. I am incomplete without you and you will also always be, without me by your side.”
Morag thought of the times she had felt empty. Her life seemingly aimless and lonely. She had often wondered what she was here for. Everyone has a role, and yet she could never find hers. Lonely nights and long days were the constants in her unremarkable life. Was it possible that her lackluster life was so because she didn’t belong in the world of the humans?
“If I go with you and I don’t like it there—wherever it is you dwell—can I come back?” she asked, taking a step forward.
The formidable male who claimed to be her betrothed smiled for the first time and offered her his hands. “I give you my word, my love. Should you choose not to marry me, I will bring you back and return you to your human life. On my word.”
Hesitantly, she took his hand. His skin was soft and almost immaterial, but warm. The touch made her tingle as if a tiny electric current had just gone through her. Cinead pulled her closer to him until their bodies were touching. With his long tattooed arms, he cocooned her against him, his body heat radiating comfort and familiarity.
The Pech’s feet touched the ground by hers, and bending down, he covered her lips with his in a gentle kiss. Pinned to his chest, she could feel his heart beat against her, and it felt right. She remembered now. She was finally home.
Entry Two- No Help in the Truth
The night was brilliant and clear with deep, sharp shadows thrown by the moonlight. A gloved man opened the sliding door of the van, from the inside, and kicked her. The woman fell out on the ground with a thud. Lucy began her muffled crying again.
There were no sounds of traffic, but her sobs were nearly drowned out by the chirping crickets and croaking frogs.
As predicted, the solstice moon of June 21st was bright on the gravel road. It was two tracks of sandy gravel with a strip of grass between. It led directly to a massive wooden fence with a sign that read, “NO TRESPASSING – Violators will be Prosecuted.”
He produced a beautiful knife almost out of nowhere and cut the duct tape that bound her knees and ankles. It cut the bonds like a scalpel.
He dragged her to her feet by her hair. Her crying increased. He saw that she was having a difficult time breathing through the duct tape, tears and snot as he pressed her against the side of the van with his body. With her hands still duct-taped together behind her back, she was helpless.
He wanted her to calm down. He showed her the knife. She stilled. “I am going to take the tape off your mouth. If you scream, no one will hear you. You know screaming will do no good here. You know where we are.” He said.
He delighted in the way she looked around with panicked eyes, realization dawning where they were.
He ripped the duct tape off her mouth. She gasped for air but didn’t scream.
“Michael, why are you doing this? I thought we were friends.” She was trying to reason with him as he dragged her by the arm, up the trail around the massive fence and the boulders behind it, and into the woods.
“We are far more than friends, Lucy,” he said. “You’re the one who started it. You flirted with me that first night at the coffee shop. You’re the one who showed me this place on that lovely Sunday afternoon hike. You’re the one who showed me this knife.”
He held up the long dagger. It gleamed in the moonlight as he looked at it. The blade was double-edged, and the handle ornately carved with symbols he didn’t recognize.
“It’s just an old knife that has been in my family for generations. Take it if you want it. I won’t call the police. I know this is a misunderstanding or some bad joke. Please.” She fell to her knees in the wet grass, and he pulled her up by the hair as she sobbed, “Please, please…” over and over.
The pines cleared, and the darkness of the forest gave way to a bright, moonlit clearing. The grass grew very thick and tall here, almost to his chest.
Ten yards into the clearing he saw what he was looking for. The vast circle of stones.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this place ever since you brought me here.” He eagerly moved her toward the center of the circle. “Ever since you sat with me on that flat stone. In the center. You blind, ignorant bitch! You talked about coming back and having a picnic here and maybe more. You talked about how easy it would be to hide in the tall grass.” He grabbed her by the throat and stopped. “You even talked about how no one could ever hear us.”
He pushed her into the center of the circle, close to a massive table of stone. “You had no idea that the stains on this rock were probably from sacrifices. Stupid whore! You didn’t know that I was looking for a place just like this my entire life.”
Her crying had stopped. He didn’t notice that the sounds of the summer crickets and frogs had also stopped. There was only the breeze whispering through the tall grass.
Just before they reached the slab, she fell again, flat on her face, making him lose his grip on her arm. He gave her a swift kick to the ribs, and she curled up into the fetal position. It took a bit longer this time to get her to her feet.
When he stood, he failed to notice that there were a hundred or so black-robed and hooded figures now standing surrounding them in the stone circle. Once he did see them, he didn’t have time to react before the darts entered his thighs and buttocks.
All control of his body was lost almost instantly, and he slumped to the ground. He looked up at Lucy, who was silhouetted by the full moon behind her. A hooded figure came up behind her and cut the duct tape from her hands. The sound of it was like a clap of thunder to his ears. Soon he was surrounded by cloaked figures in a tight, claustrophobic ring.
Hands gently lifted him high. He was buoyed up until all he could see was a moon so bright he couldn’t see the stars.
The hands slowly lowered him onto the slab. He lay spread-eagle on the stone. Then the whispers begin their questions. Whispers, like the wind in the grass, forming words.
“Has he come to this place on this night of his own accord?” whispered a hundred voices in unison.
A single voice responded, “Yes. Of his own accord.” It was Lucy.
“Did he come to this place seeking to find death here?”
“Yes. Seeking death.”
“Did he carry the blade?”
“It is so very thirsty. It carried him.”
“On this rarest of nights, the sun will rise and find the world in greater balance.”
“Tell him. So he might know.”
Lucy came into his field of vision then. “Well, Michael, I need to tell you that I wasn’t stupid at all. I picked you specifically, you overconfident fool. You should’ve known. You’re not that attractive. You see, I’m actually a police detective.” She leaned over him, looking directly into his eyes, “And I had a copy of your file. I saw the photos of the things you’d done. The horrors you committed. The slick ways to escape arrest. Twelve murders in twelve states. Suspected in eleven more. Changing the details, but it was always a knife, always slow.” She held the knife up in front of his eyes. It pulsed with a light from within. “I only had to let you hold it for a few minutes, and I knew that you would feel its thirst. I knew that it would whisper to you. It wanted you.” She bent down close to his face. His eyes were open and staring. “It’s a relic of power, and it drinks evil from the world. You won’t be raping and killing anyone else.”
“Will he descend with truth in his ears?” whispered the voices.
“Truth is the greatest burden when there is no help in the truth,” Lucy replied in ritual.
A robed figure stepped up and held a large carved stone bowl aloft. Light shone through it to form arcane symbols on his face.
Michael felt a momentary sting on the left side of his neck.
The bowl was lowered to a nook on the edge of the slab. His blood flowed freely in pulsing spurts from his jugular vein and flowed down in what was a distinct channel carved into the rock. The blood flowed eagerly and finally into the bowl.
Michael watched as the hooded figures crowded around to watch him die. Lucy placed her finger in the bowl. One by one, she touched a dot of his blood to the wrist of each of their left hands. He felt his legs and arms grow cold as his body stopped supplying his extremities with blood in a last-ditch effort to keep his brain alive. The last figure disappeared, and all he could hear was the wind in the grass. All he could see was Lucy’s eyes glowing in her silhouette.
“Michael, you never had a chance. This Relic has been in my family for over a hundred generations. When it becomes thirsty, it gets what it wants.” She held the bowl, now filled with his blood, in one hand and the dagger in the other. She dipped the blade into the blood, and he saw the bowl begin to drain as if the knife sucked it up through a straw. “You should know one more thing. Hell is not fire and pain. It is cold and blackness. No light, no sound, no feeling except unbearable cold. For all eternity. You will be alone and aware in your mind. Without even the company of a coffin lid for you to scratch bloody.”
She couldn’t hear his mental scream as she turned away, but she knew it was there. The bowl emptied and the light went out of his eyes.
Lucy could hear the tractor engine getting louder as it came closer to them. As she approached the only figure remaining in the circle of stones, the figure lowered her hood.
“Hi, mom,” Lucy said. ”How’d I do?”
“You did very well. The Order will be pleased.” The blood had stopped dripping. “What was that I heard about hell at the end? A bit of over-acted perhaps.”
“I just wanted him to die in fear. This guy was a real asshole.”
Entry Three- The Field of Standing Stones
A wounded soldier was limping across a green field from two enemy soldiers who were shooting at him. He was heavily bleeding on his arms, legs and chest. As the enemy was getting closer, he tried to fire back, but he was out of bullets. He saw a line of standing stones, and limped towards them hoping that the stones could shield the enemy fire. He got past the line of stones, and he started running but stopped. He looked back and saw that the two men were gone. He looked at himself and saw that he was no longer wounded. There was no blood anywhere on his body. His uniform had no holes. He looked at the line of standing stones looking at the ones on the left and the ones on the right. Then he looked at the field on the other side and the field on his side. It was all green. He turned and walked away.
It was extremely cold. The snow was falling hard, and it was getting deep. He was all bundled up from head to foot trudging as hard as he could through the deep snow. The winds were battering him in every direction, but he pressed forward. Then, in an instant, he was on a green field. He was very delusional. He looked around and saw nothing but green grass, but then he saw a line of standing stones. He walked between the stones, and, in an instant, he was in an extreme snowstorm. He stepped back and found himself in a green field. He took off his hat and coat as he was getting warm. He looked around, and he moved on.
A kid was running across an open grassy field as he was trying to escape from three bullies who had beaten him up. The bullies were getting closer, but he ran as fast as he could. He ran through a line of standing stones, and he gained super powers. The three bullies ran towards him, but he turned towards them. With his laser eyes he vaporized the first bully. The other two stopped. They looked at him, and they stepped closer to him. He blew cold air on another bully, and he was incased in a block of ice. The last remaining bully was stunned. He charged him, but punched the bully so hard that he flew so far away. He crossed his arms and knew he was now safe.
A woman was walking across a field coated in thick mud. There was mud in her hair, mud on her face, mud covering her torn dress and on her arms. Mud was covering her arms, fingers, legs, and it was thick between her toes. She saw a line of standing stones and thought that it was interesting how the stones were aligned. She walked through the stones, and an instant feeling came upon her. She felt different. She looked at her hands and saw that they were clean. She saw her arms. She saw herself wearing a white laced dress. She felt her hair, and it felt so clean. She looked down at her feet. All the mud was gone. She wiggled her toes. She rubbed her feet on the grass. She looked at the line of standing stones. She sensed that there was a magic within them. From there, she continued on her merry way.
Entry Four- The Last Chance Picnic
There are places on Earth where time feels less settled. It’s constant for the most part, but then at given any moment, a light breeze stirs it into the air like grains of pollen that swirl and come together until you can almost see a faint green cloud before they scatter again. Avebury was one those places. Misshapen stone monoliths rose from the earth in a pattern too even to have been wrought by nature, and too abstract to reveal their ancient purpose. A dense, spring green carpet cushioned the steps of modern visitors who came to wander and wonder.
Blades of grass prickled my legs through the picnic blanket as James and I ate the sandwiches I’d packed for today’s excursion. We didn’t speak while we ate. After twenty years of marriage, it should have been a companionable silence, but it wasn’t. It was the strained kind. The kind when you worry whether you’re chewing too loudly. When you don’t know where to rest your eyes and find yourself brushing invisible bread crumbs off the blanket just for somewhere to look. When you want to tell a lonely chirping starling to hush because his call only accentuates the absence of conversation that used to come so easily.
I focused on the stones and watched the grains of time swirl and blur, spread and coalesce. Twenty years. Twenty years of coming together, making a family, and building memories. Twenty years to forget why we came together and what we still have to hold us that way now that the children are grown and gone. Twenty years that are everything to me, but nothing to these stones, just a speck of dust in the air, a fleeting moment that twirls in the breeze and then is gone, blended with thousands of other fleeting moments.
“Looks like we may get a storm.” James’ voice interrupted my maudlin reverie. The wind chased my thoughts across the long grass as I glanced toward the heavy clouds. The air smelled damp and fresh, a prescient aroma of rain not yet fallen on earth. “Maybe we should pack up.”
When I lowered my gaze from the sky, my eyes met his. I saw his question lingering there. In his voice, it wasn’t just his question, it was the question. The question that sent us on this whole trip in search of an answer. Should we pack it in? Throw our hands up and say, ‘Well, we had a good run, but it’s over now,’ or is there a chance we could pull through this and somehow come out of it still together? The question laced itself through everything James said or asked these days.
Maybe he heard it in my voice too. “Why don’t we take one more stroll around the stones before we head to the car?”
James nodded and together, working silently, we tidied our picnic supplies into the basket and walked toward the stones. James carried the basket in one hand while his empty hand hung limply at his side next to me. My hand stayed by my side, prickling with uncertainty. Do I take his? Will he take mine? Or do we not do that anymore? At some point, we’d stopped being that couple that held each other’s hands as we walked. Instead, we were always holding little hands between us. When the little hands grew too big to be held, ours didn’t find each other’s again. Once more, the soft breeze ruffled the grass and sent grains of our past eddying around our uncertain present.
“It’s amazing these stones still stand, even when the weather has worn them away.” James’ tone wasn’t a question, but still I heard one.
I appraised the nearest stone, focusing on the narrow base where it disappeared into the ground. “I suppose, over time, they’ve settled too deeply into the earth move.”
James made thoughtful noise, a quiet “hmm” that was neither here nor there, and studied the base of the rock as though an answer might be buried there too.
A cool droplet of water landed on my arm, followed by another. I glanced over at James and noticed dark spots on his light blue shirt where the drops had fallen on him. Maybe we should have packed it in after all.
The rain began in earnest. No gradual build-up, no slow escalation. The skies simply opened and dumped their contents as we turned toward the car. We took one look at each other and started to run. James’ hand found mine as we hurried. Maybe he was worried he’d slip on the wet grass. Maybe he was worried I would. Maybe it was more than that. We ran hand in hand like children through the downpour until James stopped, pulling me to a halt.
He dropped the basket and bent over. At first, I feared he was having a heart attack or hurt somehow. What had we been thinking running like that? But then I heard it. James’ laughter. A familiar sound I’d almost forgotten and it was contagious. The laughter bubbled up out of me as I joined him bent over in the rain, hands on knees, laughing uncontrollably. I didn’t even know why we were laughing, but it felt so good I didn’t want to stop.
I wiped water away from my eyes. Rain or tears, from laughing or crying, I didn’t know. “We’re soaked to the bone!”
James stood as his laugh settled. “Do you remember that night in college?”
“When we got caught in a storm on the yard and ran all the way back to my dorm?” We were so young, so unburdened by the staggering weight of life.
He stepped toward me and looked at me, really looked at me. “I thought you were so beautiful that night.” I heard the question again.
“I was drenched,” I said, my laugh light as nerves tickled the edges of it.
“You were still beautiful. Just as you are now, Emily.” His hand cupped my cheek. It wasn’t the cheek of a twenty-year-old anymore, but there was truth in his eyes. Somehow, when he looked at me, he could still see the girl I was in the woman I’d aged into.
“James….” I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but it didn’t matter. James kissed me right there in the pouring rain. He was cautious at first, the question lacing itself through his kiss, but then more sure, as though he’d found my answer.
When he pulled away, I searched his eyes for the confirmation I needed. It was there, along with so much more. He pulled me into a fierce hug. As I squeezed him back, a sob escaped me, fleeing my body and taking with it the possibility of what almost was. I held my husband and looked through the rain at the stones around us, watching time swirl and fall away, our past scattering and coming together, forming a tenuous cloud that looked like our future, in an ancient place where time felt less settled than ought to be.by