For many, the loss of their parents is the worst tragedy they could imagine. But for sisters Aria and Renee, the horror has just begun. Their father has died suddenly-some say, suspiciously-and the mad mob that surrounds their home is bloodthirsty for justice. The girls watch in horror as they family is torn apart and turned to ash. The girls glee into the night, heartbroken and alone to seek out a new life.
But fate delivers them into a strange and tense town that most avoid at all costs. The citizens are welcoming enough, but they practice witchcraft. In their new home, the girls soon learn more about their own pasts and family than they are prepared to handle. And soon, they attract a frightening enemy.
Guided by new friends and a spirit that refuses to move on, Aria and Renee face the most difficult challenge of their young lives. The future of their new home is in peril. Do they stay and fight-even if they may lose their own lives-or do they run again in search of a safety that may not exist anywhere for them?
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ALL THE RED ROSES
By KATT CLOUATRE
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Katt Clouatre
All right reserved.
"Father?" I called for him. If he did not wake soon he would be late for work. "Father?" I cracked his door open, hearing the sound of Mother scrambling eggs and setting out glasses of juice and milk. I let the heavy door swing wide. Father lay in bed as still as an infant. He did not move, not to roll over, or mumble at me ... He didn't even breathe. I went up to his bedside shyly. He lie on his back, eyes closed and face lose. I touched his chest and cried out, "Mother, Mother!" My eyes were already burning.
My father's chest did not move with the air that should have been coming and going from his lungs. He should have been hot under the sheets but he was becoming cold without my mother's presence to keep him warm. His young heart should have beat strongly beneath his skin but there wasn't even a stutter. "What's wrong, Renee?"
"Father," I sobbed, "won't wake up!" I wouldn't admit to myself that he had been lost to us.
My mother put a soft hand on her husband, "Joseph?" he did not answer. My mother's eyes grew teary and she showed me out of the room. "Make sure your sister eats her breakfast. I'll be right back. I'm going to get Mr. and Mrs. de Rosnel." I sat at the table and pushed a plate of eggs to Aria. I knew Mr. de Rosnel was a doctor. Father was ill ... Father was dead. I also knew that the doctor's wife was Mother's closest friend. She would be there for Mother when the news was officially confirmed.
"What's going on, Reenie?" Aria called me by my nickname. She only called me Renee when she was serious. "Why is Mother so upset? Where's Father? he'll be late for work." She sipped at her orange juice and picked at her eggs.
"Mother is fine," I lied. "It's only her allergies again. Father won't be going to work today. He's too tired." My voice sounded stiff and automatic.
Mr. de Rosnel walked through the door and headed straight to Father's room. His wife and Mother followed him. "It'll be okay," she soothed my mother. She seemed to be the only thing keeping Mother from falling to pieces in front of us.
"What's wrong, Reenie?" Aria's voice was full of urgency now. She knew something was up when I didn't answer. "Renee!" she slammed her hand down on the table.
As I started to cry, she shook her head in denial and sprang from her chair, trying to run for Father's room. But I caught her, not wanting her to see him. "No!" she screamed, attracting the neighbors. "No, no, no!" I collapsed to the floor with her, crying out the tears that wouldn't stop—the tears that we couldn't stop. I heard Mother weeping then. Mr. de Rosnel walked by us slowly, looking down, not knowing what to say. He went out the door and explained to the crowd of people what tragedy had caused women to cry out as we had. I got up and walked away from all of the whispering and murmuring. I lay on the bed with Mother and Aria joined us.
Mother, in her pale blue gown, was draped across her late lover. As far as I knew Father and Mother had been in love since their times at school. We, in our pink and yellow gowns, lay next to her sobbing body. The bright colors blurred in my teary vision and Mrs. de Rosnel left the room, allowing us to mourn in private. No matter how bright our dresses were, they could not decorate my father's death. They became reminders of our distant happiness, like flowers upon a grave.
Eventually, our friends and relatives removed us from the body and took the shell that was father away. They would prepare him for the funeral. Already people were curious of how he died so suddenly ... and we could not give an answer. We didn't know. All we knew was that the man of my mother's life—and Aria's and mine—was gone, and he was not coming back.
We cursed God and his ways. We cursed ourselves for no reason. We cursed Father for leaving us. At last we lay quiet and still, void of all emotion, taking refuge in our numbness.
That evening people came to our door once again, disregarding common courtesy. They asked us how a man like my father could have died. We still had no answer for them.
"We've seen your brews!"
"We've seen your potions!"
"A witch, you are!"
"How cruel, to poison a man like Joseph!"
We shook our heads, "No, no. No such thing has occurred. We loved him." But the people had loved him too. They did not listen; they held us back as they took my mother by her hair and dragged her away as they shouted impossible accusations. Our restrainers left us to join the crowd that was starting a fire ever so eagerly beneath our mother's bound feet. I could see the ropes that held her wrists and ankles were far too tight and cut into her fair skin.
We cloaked ourselves and ran to the crowd, but could not penetrate it. There was nothing we could have done for her. We couldn't even cry out to her. The people that did cry out were punished. "Sarah—" someone was bludgeoned in the head as she called out to my mother. "No!" someone was choked. The brave fools that tried to go to her were beaten down quickly and killed, leaving only the vile murderers behind.
My mother cried out as they lit the pile of dry wood on which she stood, "No, I'm no witch, please! Please!" her screeches pierced the coming night and made birds fly from their nesting spots. "God, oh dear God, help me!" dogs barked on their chains; cats screeched and hissed in the back allies. "My children, no! Please, they need their mother! Please ..." the heat of the fire was beginning to overwhelm her. That's when the flames began to lick at her feet. She tilted her head to the sky and groaned. Tears spilt down her ashen cheeks. She struggled against her bindings, causing the skin to break more and blood to slip across her fingers. All the while our old friends cheered on her agony.
They wanted her yells; they wanted her pain. They wanted her blood to boil and spill across the streets and bathe the town in a sinful red. The flames trickled up to blacken her legs and burnt her dress. She sobbed and screamed and choked. All Aria and I could do was watch. We knew we couldn't try to help her in anyway, but we couldn't take our eyes away from her death scene either. The fire sizzled her gorgeous brown hair and crept further up her body. Her face looked to the sky once more. But she did not yell, she did not beg. Our mother did not cry or plead.
Our mother looked to the heavens. The stars seemed brighter and closer and the moonlight cooled her face. Her eyes grew wide and clear. I know in my heart that she saw something that night, and I knew God was waiting at the gates for her along with Father. Slowly, her eyes rolled back and closed. Her chin fell to rest on her chest and finally her face was peaceful even as the fire caught hold of it and turned it forever black. Our mother's body was scorched and falling away; her clothes burned and clung to her body. Her prized hair was gone and the smell coming from her searing flesh was horrific. And still she was beautiful. No matter what those people did to her, that last bit that was left of her was not our mother. Mother was whole and well, resting somewhere where the light was warm and soft. She was safe.
My sister and I ran to our home, not knowing that it would be the last time it would ever be our home. We heard people coming about, "Kill the children! They have magic in their blood, too!" Aria and I looked at each other for an instant, all hope of crying through the night and having someone soothe us evaporated with the torch light that was nearing our home. All hope was lost with the insanity that overcame our town. We packed our bags hurriedly. I ran to father's room and threw all of his hard-earned money into a bag of dresses and then to the back of our home.
The first of the torches had been thrown into our home.
The first of the people were about to come through the front door.
With only precious seconds to spare Aria and I retreated out a back window. We ran, not knowing where we were going or where we would end up. At last we reached the harbor where a single ship was about to set out to sea. We ran towards it without thinking. Thinking would have only been a waste of time, it was our only chance.
We hid beneath deck and behind the crew's food, having to cup our hands over our mouths as men passed by us without notice. When we knew we were safely away from home we peaked out a crack of the wood of the ship. the fire light had reached the shore but no one seemed to shout for the boat to return. I let out a huge breath and cried silently. I knew we had just made the luckiest break of our life, but the way I could not help but see it then was the exact opposite.
Being burned would have been relatively quick. If we were discovered by the men a number of things could have happened. If we ate too much of their food they would have found us. If we were seen or heard or left a trail they would have found us. We could have been tossed into the icy black waters and left to drown slowly or die from exhaustion by trying to reach the shore. They could have killed us there on deck or used us as a punching bag. We could have become their little women pets and could have been subjected to any of their wishes.
At that point, I wished we had burnt with our mother.
The air was cold and the waters even more so, a slow, chill grave if we were caught. The sky out was a hazy orange lit by the evening sun, and clouds were hardly to be seen. I wanted to see the full of the sky more than anything in the world. I wanted to feel the warmth on my skin and have the sun's light fill me. I wanted nothing more than to hold the sun as I used to pretend I could. I wanted to stand on the very tips of my toes and raise my fingers to the heavens just to touch it.
Through another crack in the wood of the ship the land was getting ever nearer, our escape growing ever closer. The island grew out of the fog and shadows like an old memory.
I remembered the land from which I fled. The green fields and wooden houses that used to seem so sweet fell away from my mind. The kind smiles of my friends and family faded into darkness. Those happy memories had been replaced with nightmares of fire, death, and twisted faces. The people I once loved murdered my mother. Father had died. They had stripped everything from us. Those wretched people couldn't accept that another man, young and healthy and so in love, had passed without any reason. He'd not been murdered, nor had they found any trace of disease. So they called my mother a witch and claimed that she killed him while he slept. The events were still unfathomable to me.
As we sailed we'd seen hungry, green-eyed sea serpents and blue-eyed mermaids tempting the men to go to them and drown in the deep waters. There were huge man-eating fish that swam about the boat, too. We'd seen all of our childhood tales in that great sea while in hiding from the men on board, and we had agreed that we would trade them all for the stories of pixies and wood nymphs if we had the chance.
At times the silence and darkness we hid in were unbearable and I would've given anything to drown in that freezing ocean. I would have thrust myself into the dark waters and breathe in the salty water as if it were the most wonderful thing in the world. The only thing that kept me was Aria.
She was so young and scared and to leave her completely alone in this world would be absolutely cruel. So I stayed and now as we docked I could almost smell the fresh air, feel the solid earth beneath my booted feet. I could feel Aria squirming beside me, waiting to see the faces of people and hear any chat other than that of fish and water and women.
We longed to see the moon and the stars. We longed to see their silvery light on our skin and feel the cool breeze rustle our hair; hopefully it wouldn't be a breeze that smelled of sea salt.
"Be patient, Aria," I whispered. "We must wait 'til dark. If we leave now we'll be seen and this would all be for nothing."
She sighed so eager to be rid of the horrid smell of fish, eggs, pickles, and salted meats. "Where do you suppose we are, Reenie? We must be far away from Mar by now." I knew she was right. We had scratched lines into the ship's wood so we could keep track of the days, but we had to move our hiding place and lost count.
"I don't know. Wherever we are it has to be better. We'll make it better. As soon as we get out of here we'll rent a room with father's money and eat." My mouth watered for Mother's homemade cherry pie, roast beef, and mashed potatoes.
For the past month and more we had been forced to scavenge on fish and pickles and some of whatever we could get our hungry hands on. We lived like rats to go unnoticed.
We watched as the sky grew darker with every passing minute and when it was finally black with only the stars and moon above I crawled above deck first to check if anyone was still aboard. No one was and I knew all the men must be at a saloon drinking the past weeks ... or months away. For the first time the deck was quiet of shouts and orders. There were no heavy footfalls and no pipe smoke.
The cool air brushed my face and the small breeze played with my long brown hair. Aria came on deck and seemed to almost cry when she saw the open space. We had both grown a little claustrophobic in the cramp spaces below deck.
"Let's get our things and leave. Be very quiet, we're not safe yet." so we did. When we scurried away from the ship we worried of how we would look in public. Our dresses were stained, torn and crumpled. I knew Aria's face was sallow and pale and I could only imagine what mine looked like. Our hair was tangled and our boots were dirty. We would look like horrid savages to all the suited men and silk-dressed women that rode in vehicles while we walked the streets in peasant-like wardrobe. We didn't even have a rag to clean our faces or a hat to cover them.
We would, without a doubt, be the laughing stocks of the city.
Chapter ThreeNew Beginning
We came upon the lantern lit road and were awed to fit right in. The men wore trousers and suspenders with un-tucked, dirtied shirts. Their shoes were hardly more than shreds; their face hair grew unnoticed and they looked hard worked.
The women's dresses were as ours now looked: old, frayed and long used. Many wore hats upon their heads and mended shoes upon their feet. And their carriages! they didn't roll on their own! they were hooked up to huge groomed horses trotting to their destination; the ride looked quite bumpy and I pitied the one who had to clean the streets of what those horses left behind. Even the fine people that owned the carriages were dressed in plain suits and mere cotton dresses. They talked to the peasant folk as if they were all friends! No one noticed how odd this was and I didn't dare say a word.
No one looked at us suspiciously, not even with our carried bags and tired conditions. Most of the people here seemed to be tired and some carried their own bags in one direction or another. Most of those with bags went to a large wooden and stone building wedged between two others. There was no hanging sign or label on the wall. There were hardly any signs to be seen at all. No cafes or theaters were noted. There wasn't even a sign that welcomed new comers into the city.
We followed a middle-aged man to the inn. It looked very humble but once inside it was a sort of heaven. No, there weren't gracious furnishings, crystal chandeliers, or expensive rugs. There weren't butlers in every corner or classical music being played in a corner.
It was still the best I could've dreamed for.
A great fire burned in a stone fireplace, warming the rooms and my weary bones. The chairs and tables were all wooden but looked fairly comfortable and candles and lanterns hung from the walls. There were many people talking, laughing and drinking in the small friendly room. A smell of pork and something else drifted to my defrosting nose. I was trying to figure out what the smell could be when a young maid came up to us. Her smile was bright and joyful. "Are you here to stay the night?" her accent was strange and unplaceable.
"Yes. How much are the rooms?" I asked ready to pull out a handful of coins as I had seen Father do many times.
"Oh, you must not be from around here! I didn't think I recognized you," she giggled. "The rooms are 89 cent a night. If you want one of the really nice ones it's a little more. I think they're a dollar and 89 cent." I felt my eyes grow wide at their prices. "What's wrong?"
"Where we come from the rooms are quite a bit pricier. We'll take one of the cheaper ones, thank you." I handed her the few coins and she showed us to our room on the second floor. "Where is the bathing area?"
"All you do is heat up a bucket of water over the fire and poor it in the tub in the other little room. If you need some help carrying the bucket—'cause they get a little heavy—just find me and I can help you out. My name's Barbara," the girl added.
Excerpted from ALL THE RED ROSES by KATT CLOUATRE Copyright © 2012 by Katt Clouatre. 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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Table of Contents
Dreams and Dreamers....................39
Parades of Fate and Confusion....................57
Walks and Revelations....................63
seeing Is Believing....................73
Pain Behind the Masks....................91
A Happy Moment....................103
Hide and Seek....................107
Lessons and Observations....................115
Visions and Sorrows....................125
Finding and Facing....................133
Then and Now....................141
The Human Threat....................167
Must Be Strong....................177
Fear and Faith....................189