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Shadow in the Reflection
By Joe Niehaus Mary Sikora
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Joe Niehaus and Mary Sikora
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAnne gripped the chair tightly. Even with her eyes closed, she knew her knuckles were white from effort. She breathed deeply, trying to relax. She was fighting this session with Dr. Ambrose.
It wasn't as if she were fighting the hypnosis. Was it? She wondered. She'd done this at least ten times before. The first was the hypnosis to lose weight. That worked. Ambrose knew his stuff.
Two months after the first session, she'd lost the weight she wanted. It was, really, just a matter of getting to her subconscious. Once she could visualize herself 20 pounds thinner, the weight seemed to melt off. She'd cut her calories way down and managed to exercise everyday to an exercise video. It was embarrassingly easy.
After that success, Dr. Ambrose invited her back for more sessions.
"They're free," he'd said, grinning through his disheveled beard. "You're such a good subject."
And so, for the past four months, Anne Prather came to the hypnotist's office every other week. He'd put her under quickly each time. And, each time, he'd work on one of her annoying habits, something she wanted to change. It was amazing. She no longer had the urge to gnaw on the skin around her cuticles when she was concentrating. She became incredibly focused when she faced a deadline at the ad agency where she worked as a senior copy writer. It was astounding how much the two of them had done.
Today, however, was different. Today, the doctor said, he wanted to regress her. To find past lives. From that first suggestion, Anne felt unsettled. It wasn't that she didn't believe in past lives. It wasn't that at all. But no matter how much she thought about it, a feeling of sadness and dread would bubble up within her and she would have to turn her attention to something else to rid herself of it.
Now she was in the chair and Dr. Ambrose was talking softly, just an octave above a whisper.
"Anne," he was saying, "take another deep breath and hold it." She heard him shift in the spartan, straight-backed wooden desk chair he always sat in during a session.
"Okay, now let your breath out slowly. Relax, Anne. Relax. Now take another deep breath. Hold it. That's good, let it out, slowly. Slowly, now."
Anne began to relax. She knew the routine. It always worked. Soon she would feel the tingle in her hands and arms as they lay heavily on the chair. Her eyes would begin to move back and forth beneath the lids. And whatever it was she was there for would become part of her subconscious.
"Anne, we're going to do a general relaxation. Begin with your toes, your feet and relax them. Totally. Now, you're working up to your ankles, your calves, your thighs. Feel the peace in each muscle, each limb. Just relax, relax, now. You are relaxing your abdomen, your chest and shoulders. Do you feel it? It feels so good. So peaceful. Now your head, Anne. Everything, everything, is totally calm and relaxed. From the tip of your toes to the top of your head, you're totally relaxed."
She felt it. No longer did her hands grip the armrests. The feeling of relaxation was as great as always. She felt herself turn inward. She didn't hear Dr. Ambrose push back his chair from the desk and walk over to where she was sitting. At first, she didn't want to react to his next suggestion. She felt so calm.
"Anne, you're going to walk down a tunnel. It is before you. The tunnel is nothing to fear. It is a way to take you back through time. Let's start at the number 50. Each number will take you back further. 50 ... 49 ... 48 ... you feel it. You are strolling back through time. Along the way, you may see little episodes of another life. Another time. Stop only when you wish. 35 ... 34 ... 33 ..."
She began to see images as she walked through the tunnel. None of them made sense and, occasionally, fear touched her. But she kept walking as the doctor directed but also she began to feel a pull, drawing her deeper.
"You're doing fine, Anne. You're almost there. 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1. And now, you've arrived. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Brilliant, almost blinding. Do you see it? When you step through this light, images of a past life will come forward and you will be able to watch what is happening. When you see something of interest, you will be able to talk to me and tell me what it is."
Anne saw the light and went toward it as he'd said. No sooner had she stepped into it, she felt the dread engulf her. She tried to swallow. Her mouth was dry. A tremor whooshed through her body. But she didn't want to awaken. She reached out to touch what suddenly appeared as a movie screen before her. No, it wasn't a screen. She was there.
Her fear dissipated as she became one with her environment. It was warm, probably summer. The sky was a pale blue and cloudless. The pungent odor of horse dung assailed her nostrils and she put her hand to her face to block it.
She tried to focus on the scene before her. Before she could take it all in, she noticed a ragged little man running up to her. He carried a box that looked like marble. No. It was ivory, cut crudely, but the lid of the box fit snugly. The man, wore a rough brown jersey tied with a leather thong. His feet were swathed in cloth, bound with rope. His hair was long and messy. Dirt caked beneath his jagged fingernails. She scrunched her nose. He smelled bad, too.
"What do you see, Anne?" It was Dr. Ambrose, his voice sounded far away like in a tunnel. "Tell me. Do you notice anything you can describe to me?"
She looked at the little man before her. He was smiling.
"There is a man," she said. "He looks as if he might be a slave or servant. He is poorly dressed and he's handing me something. It's in a box. It's like, he's giving me a gift."
"Look around you, Anne. Is there anything else happening now?" The doctor's voice seemed farther away now. She shivered. She raised her gaze above the slave and saw a large stone building behind him. A castle. Oh, this was like something out of a movie. She realized now that she was in the courtyard. Horses were being walked back and forth. In one corner of the yard more men, looking like the one who stood before her now, were loading the horses with huge bundles.
"They are preparing for a trip," she said to the doctor.
"Who is preparing for a trip?" He asked, his voice stronger now.
"The men. They are not of my family. They are Saxons. It is easy to tell the difference. We are Britons. These men are rough looking and they speak a strange language. We are not like this. We are more like the Romans. We are civilized and clean."
"Anne," Dr. Ambrose said. There was a hint of urgency in his voice. "Anne, where are you now?"
She hesitated. She didn't want to share this with him. It was fascinating. It belonged only to her. She sensed she was about to go on a long journey with these grimy men. She could hardly understand what they were saying and she walked closer to hear them. The little man before her trod backwards to accommodate her. He was still smiling as he reached to give her the ivory box.
Finally, he halted, forcing her to stop. He motioned for her to open it. She complied, lifting the lid. Inside, the box was lined in a dingy yellow velvet cloth. Nestled in the center was a small wooden amulet. She recognized it. It was a crude carving of the Medusa with snakes wrapping around her head. It was said that whoever gazed upon Medusa's face would turn to stone. Anne gasped.
Then she realized this wasn't a curse. The little man was giving her a good luck charm for the trip she was about to take. Why would a slave give her something so meaningful? She looked at him closely. His light brown hair almost obscured the green eyes that looked at her so hopefully. He was still smiling broadly, revealing the spaces where there had once been teeth. Where there were teeth, they were blackened. She fought the urge to turn away in disgust. This man meant well.
"It is to protect you on your path," he said to her.
She bowed to her admirer. He returned the bow, turned and ran. She again tried to move toward the group of Saxons who appeared to be packing her things.
Anne recognized the name. It was hers. She turned to see a large gray-haired man approach her from behind. He was handsome. He, like the slave, was dressed in a cloth jersey but beneath it were leggings. The belt around his waist was made of three leather straps cinched with a bronze buckle. Hanging from the belt was a simple sword the man seemed to wear as a natural part of his clothing. His shoes were of a soft leather, but strapped as the slave's. There was an assuredness about him that made her want to reach out for safety.
"Anya!" The man called, moving faster. "Anya, you must come and say good-bye to your mother and brothers before you depart. They fret because they have worry of raiders we have heard about along the way."
Anne heard herself speak.
She was startled. This man was her father!
"What do you see now, Anne?" Dr. Ambrose was talking to her again. There was something different about his voice. She could almost hear some anxiety where there had been calm before.
"It's my father," she said. "He is very handsome and I feel a great love for him. He wants me to say good-bye to my family. I must be going with the Saxons and they are worried about some raiders."
"Anne," Dr. Ambrose sounded upset. "Anne, I am going to count to five and when I get to the number 5, I want you to take a deep breath, let it out slowly and you will become fully awake, fully alert just as you were before the session. You will feel rested, like you had a long afternoon nap. All right, Anne, time to come back to me here and now, right here in this room. 1 ... 2 ... 4 ... and 5."
She resented leaving the courtyard where so many fascinating things were happening. She was irritated with the doctor and, surprising herself, she told him.
"Forgive me," he said as he walked back to his chair and sat down. He propped his elbows on the desk and folded his hands beneath his chin. He closed his eyes.
"Anne, I have never regressed a patient as far back as I have you," he said. "I was, to be honest, a little apprehensive about the situation. You seemed so involved with the scene you were seeing in your mind that I wanted to place some control on how far it would go. This is a therapy we are taught to use, but it is used in patients who are having trouble with things going on in this lifetime. That's not the case with you and I think we should proceed cautiously."
She sat upright. Her anger was still with her. Even though she had experienced anxiety in the courtyard, he had no right to end something so good. It was as if she was finding herself for the first time.
"I didn't see the harm," she said. "It could have gone further."
"I felt I had to."
"But, if this was a past life, I want to know more about it. There was an awful lot going on back there. I want more."
Dr. Ambrose smiled. He liked her feisty attitude.
"You must remember," he said "these images may be a past life. There is no proof to determine if it was or not. But, tell me about your experience. You can remember everything you saw. How did you know they were Saxons and you a Briton? What were they wearing? What was your father wearing? Why were you nervous? I do have a list of questions. Tell me."
"Only if you promise to take me back again."
"It's a deal. It's just that I want to be very careful on how we do this. And, I want to record everything you see and hear."
He watched her relax again and settle back into the chair. She was peculiarly pretty, he thought. Almost delicate, now that she'd lost her weight. Her features were small, her dark brown eyes large and flashing. While her long black hair had almost a bluish cast, her skin was surprisingly light. He almost laughed aloud at her new show of spirit when he'd brought her back from wherever it was she'd gone.
She began to recall all that she'd seen and heard. When she left, he was surprised to note he had filled a whole 90-minute tape.
He glanced down at his calendar. They had agreed on four more sessions together, all of them this week. He loosened his tie, pulled the cufflinks from his highly starched shirt and pushed his sleeves above his elbows.
He rewound the tape and put his earphones on. He turned on his computer and brought up his word processing program. Starting with a new file he began to write.
Chapter TwoGregory Ambrose sat back in his straight-back chair and stared at the computer screen before him. Nothing he'd written so far had an ending and the words on the screen suddenly made little sense.
He pulled at his beard, a habit since his early twenties, soon after he'd graduated from college and allowed the first straggly hairs to grow during his summer vacation.
By fall, just before he started his first classes as a graduate student, his beard had filled in nicely. As a teaching assistant in the department of psychology, he thought it gave him and edge and distinction over the fresh-scrubbed freshmen who looked to him for knowledge.
He never shaved his face again. Now, at forty, he realized he never would. As gray hairs began to show amongst the blonde, Ambrose had finally come into his maturity. His psychiatric practice was solid and he finally found the time to experiment with varying forms of hypnosis. He had remained single, but continued to search for the woman he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Even so, he was content.
Now, as he tried to write, he rubbed his stiff whiskers between his thumb and forefinger. The habit helped him think.
And Anne Prather had given his plenty to think about. Her story of the young Briton girl among the Saxons in England was a powerful one. Ambrose had regressed her twice, and the second session had produced such an outpouring of emotion, both doctor and client decided there was much to be done.
But something else had entered into the equation. Ambrose had begun losing sleep after the second session. Every night he was awakened by strange dreams he couldn't interpret.
The dreams always had the same beginning. A wizened old man dressed in furs and shod in strapped leather thongs, would come to him and begin talking. Much of his conversation seemed to be entreaties to Ambrose to listen to him. But he always forced himself awake when it came to that.
What worried him most was the gnawing fear that it was all somehow connected to Anne and her story. He was afraid the research he'd been conducting—because of her—on the Vikings and England was interfering with what he'd really meat to do.
He decided to put the project down for a few weeks and concentrate on something else. He picked up the phone to call Anne. He would tell her, he thought, that something had come up and there would be no appointments for a month.
When her phone began to ring, Gregory Ambrose inexplicably hung up.
Chapter ThreeSubstance and shadow are how legends are forged. Each myth from the beginning of time starts with something of substance and shadow fills the rest. Through the ages the deeds of others have been told in this fashion. You see, I was there and I saw it happen. The story of Hrothgar has its substance and the only shadow comes from the evil that haunted him.
It was during a time of survival for mankind where weakness meant death and only the strong made the rules. He was born during the darkness of the new moon, fathered by a Viking Chieftain, raised in the North country. He was brought up in the ways of the Vikings.
Named after a warrior who had served his father and died a warrior's death, Hrothgar seemed destined from the beginning. The warrior for whom he had been named was lifted by the Valkries to the great halls of Valhalla, where all Vikings who died in battle went—the banquet hall where gods and warriors prepared for the final battle with the forces of darkness.
His father was Rognvald the Wise, Chieftain of the Norwegian province called the Vestfold, the richest of all the provinces and most sought after. Rognvald was called "the Wise" because of his success in leading raiding parties that added to the wealth of his lands. As his fame spread, so too, did the fear of his raiding parties.
On one of his raids, Rognvald and his crew ventured deep into the Rhine River Valley. There, in the fertile soil of Germany, in a small village surrounding a monastery, Hrothgar's mother was captured. The gold and silver inside the church was the prize Rognvald sought and brought his men there like bees to honey.
While he and his band sacked the village, Rognvald's eyes fell upon the young woman. Knowing he must have her for his own, he kicked open the door of a shed where she'd fled the violence. All Rognvald saw was the prize of a lifetime. She, however, shook with fear at the sight of the fierce warrior. Ah, he was, too. He always took great pains to make himself look savage before a battle to set fear in his enemies. On several raids, he'd set his hair on fire as he'd done this very night. Before she could utter a scream, he grabbed her and carried her back to his longship oblivious to the chaos around him.
Excerpted from Shadow in the Reflection by Joe Niehaus Mary Sikora Copyright © 2012 by Joe Niehaus and Mary Sikora. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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