"...weaves vivid descriptions of the Revolutionary War era.” –IndieReader
Lily Van Der Houghton, a newly licensed physician, is lost and unsettled on which way her life is leading her when she goes hiking to the Jacks River Falls. Lily stumbles through a hole in time and finds herself in 1763. She is not on the trail to the falls anymore but is in Indian Territory in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. To her surprise, Lily learns she has a key role in an ancient Cherokee prophecy. The tribal elders prayed for the right woman to come from Beyond to be Red Moon Woman and the right woman for Marcus McCarron. Lily Van Der Houghton, fresh from the new millennium, is the right woman for the job.
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I always heard not all those who wander are lost. Well, I sure felt lost. Dan and I just broke up. I had not expected the brush-off after six years. A marriage proposal perhaps, but not a breakup. Where was I to go? What was I to do with my life? And would I ever find a place I could call home?
So, I got the bright idea I would hike to the Jacks River Falls. I'd been struggling to decide whether I would go big and join the Marines, like my dad did, or whether I would go a tamer route. Every time I was about to decide to go big, I chickened out. At least, I perceived my reluctance as chickening out. In any case, I was conflicted. Big time.
My name is Lily Van Der Houghton. I am a licensed physician, if I can just make up my mind what kind of medicine has my heart. You see, for more years than I could recall, I knew Emergency Medicine was my calling. My dad might have lived if a decent ER doc had been around when he stepped on that landmine in 'Nam. I understand he was technically an advisor. Not that it matters if he was an advisor or soldier. Dead is dead either way. To imagine that he survived a helicopter crash to step onto a land mine!
But in the past few years, I felt a real draw to Ob-Gyn work. It started with a couple of emergency room deliveries of babies before the moms got upstairs. Then, during my internship, I spent six weeks in Ob-Gyn. Even in the late '90's, moms and babies still died in this country. I always found it pretty shocking that the good old US of A had the highest infant mortality rate of any modern country at that time. That was wrong on so many levels.
I soon had the rep that moms delivered by me never lost their babies and sure as heck never died giving birth. When I went to Duke on my Emergency Med residency, my reputation in birthing babies followed me. After I delivered a half dozen high risk babies in the ER, I was asked to consider changing to Ob-Gyn. I filled in there as much as I could but finished my Emergency Med residency. By then, I delivered 200 babies with no losses. The head of the Ob-Gyn department called me his Golden Girl, and made me promise to give serious consideration to returning that fall to do a second residency in Ob-Gyn. I had to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Ob-Gyn, or ER?
I got hopelessly lost on the Jacks River Trail when I was a kid. I thought I was just gone a couple of hours. Mom swore I was gone a couple of days. I figured Mom was exaggerating. As usual. After all, Mom was always best with guilt and hype.
Over time, I forgot my childish, burning desire to go back up that elusive trail, and to conquer it. Medicine became my everything, my reason for being.
I squared my shoulders. The Jacks River Trail would be the test. If I could handle the Jacks River Trail without getting lost and panicking, much less disappearing for three days, I would figure I was made of the right stuff for the Marines.
Unless, of course, I decided on this trip Ob-Gyn was my true calling.
Two days later, I drove to the trailhead of the Jacks River Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness. I wasn't sure what was going to be the result of this jaunt, but I was more ready for this hike than any I had ever done before — or since, for that matter. I had my compass, water canteen, three days' rations of wilderness provisions, my hammock, matches, my fold down fly rod and reel with a half dozen hand tied lures, and the other hiking essentials Mike, my step-dad, always made sure we took on hikes. I must have checked at least two dozen times to make sure the maps and compass were in my pack. And of course, I had a good knife and a good pistol with a box of fresh ammo. Mike always swore you never went into a wilderness area without both. Too many snakes, he said, of both the human and reptilian persuasion. Being a doctor, I also had a better than average med kit, replete with antibiotic ointment, bandages, and good old Band-aids, as well as with a snake bite kit, allergy meds, antibiotics, blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, and even sutures and needles. Yeah, maybe overkill, but better safe than sorry, right? I had a sketch pad, charcoal, and colored pencils in case I got a wild hair and decided to sketch. I didn't have to worry about keeping up with Mom this trip. I could stop and sketch the flowers. As Mike would have said, don't leave home without 'em.
As it turned out, I was damned glad to have all the stuff I took.
Everything started out fine. It was still pretty cool, and it was a clear, late-spring day. I was off from the trailhead at dawn. This was my chance to grow, to stretch, to push my boundaries. To push out of my comfort zone. I could do this. I was made of the right stuff. I just knew it.
The Jacks River Trail stretches over 16 miles of beautiful rugged and remote paths in the Cohutta Wilderness I loved so much as a kid. The river itself was named for an old Cherokee guide named Jack who used to take people down the trail in the 1800's for a fee. The path winds through a lush, green water-filled route until it tumbles over a rocky outcrop to this gorgeous waterfall I never reached all those years before. I intended to reach the falls this time. You can't camp within 300 yards of the Falls, so I planned to camp out close to it and go back the next day.
It was much like I remembered. Old growth hemlocks standing side by side with conifers, pines, and younger deciduous trees. The forest floor was rich with ferns, vibrant colored mushrooms, and wildflowers.
I crossed a small creek at just under a mile, the first and easiest of the water crossings I would see. The trail then descended towards the junction of the Jacks River and Bear Branch. I was impressed with the wild rhododendrons thriving in this lush setting. I was exhilarated by the scents of flora and fauna combined with the roar of the rushing river as it cascaded over bouldered river beds. I crossed the Bear Branch a half mile further and another small tributary right after that. I knew to keep track of my mileage because it was easy to get lost here. At 2.25 miles, the trail led straight into the river, the first of many places where it is easy to lose the path due to the heavy vegetation. I knew to be careful of the trail markers as well as slipping on the algae-covered creek rocks. It was not a beginner-friendly trail by any stretch of the imagination. No wonder my folks wouldn't let me come until I had a good bit of hiking experience. Heck, no wonder Mom freaked out so bad when I disappeared for 3 days!
The trail meandered along beside the river before crossing it again almost 2 miles further down. The river was deeper here. I had been warned to exercise care with that crossing. A solo hiker was believed to have been washed away there some years before. Her body was never found. That's one of the hazards of tackling a trail like this alone. I did not intend to wake up dead tomorrow, drowned in the Jacks River.
After that crossing, the trail began to climb in elevation as it ascended through a fracture in a large rock outcrop. The trail descended again, with the river meandering below the trail. I passed through a sharp switchback and then descended to waterfalls at just past 3 miles. The valley was filled with boulders and wide, smooth outcrops, with the Jacks River rushing over the rocky landscape in swift moving whitewater. A little further, I crossed again, and caught some sunlight and a gorgeous mountain view where I stopped and sketched for a while before passing more waterfalls. There is a sharp rise of the gorge's walls as the trail arcs westbound, reaching yet another crossing of the river at 4.6 miles.
I was almost to the falls by nine that morning. The meadow where I got lost when I was a kid was just before me. I stopped again and sketched the sunlight bouncing off the greens and golds of the late summer morning, as mesmerized by the sight as I had been all those years before.
So why did I feel so nervous at the thought of crossing the meadow?
I took a big breath, and I started across it. Wouldn't you just know I'd lose my balance and roll about 150 yards before I could catch myself? Smooth move, Lil! What was it about this spot that I always fall here? Heart pounding, ears ringing, I got back on the trail, and soon found myself at the renowned Jacks River Falls.
The falls were awesome. The day had warmed up, so I slipped off my pants and shirt to do some yoga stretches before I dove into the icy cold, green waters below the falls. I was clad in what Mom would have called an itty-bitty, teeny-weeny bikini. If you got it, flaunt it, I always say. After about a half hour, I pulled myself up on the flat rocks. I intended to enjoy the sun awhile before I would head towards the beech bottom trail, where I planned to set up camp for the night. Piece of cake, I thought, as I dozed lying there in the sun.
Until I heard the scream.
The doctor in me woke up right away at the sound of the childish voice in distress. I raised up, and saw a little kid floundering in the water. I swam the area just a little while ago. I knew the water was 8 to 10 feet deep here, far too deep for a child who looked to be no more than 3 or maybe 4. I rose up, dove into the cold waters, gasping as the cold water hit me again like icy shards of glass piercing my skin. Despite the shock of cold, I managed to swim to the struggling child. The boy began to fight me as I tried to catch him. I smacked him hard to get him to stop struggling and held him in a dead man's hold as I swam back to the shore. He lay deathly still as I pulled his limp, small form out of the water.
"Shit, kid, don't you dare die on me now," I said as I slapped him on the back, hard, two or three times, and then rolled him over to begin CPR. Five compressions and breaths later, the boy took a great, ragged breath, and then began coughing and vomiting up water.
About that time, I realized a woman had run up beside me. Two men were coming up behind her. I started to fuss at them for allowing the child to be near the river alone, and then my words froze in my mouth. I managed one word. "Ginny."
"You returned. And you came in time to save my child." She clasped me close, hugging me tight to her deerskin dress as she sobbed in relief.
I looked back, and saw the tall, dark, and handsome man who called himself Shadow Wolf when I was a child. I blinked and shook my head. I could not comprehend how these people looked the same after all this time.
"Three years, my Ginny Blue Eyes. I told you Lily would return in time."
I frowned as my eyes narrowed. "But ..." I began.
Wolf motioned for me with a motion my Daddy Mike had used to signal me to be quiet. "Later."
About then, the tall, fair-haired man standing behind Wolf spoke, his voice raging with apparent righteous indignation. He jerked his buckskin shirt over his head and thrust it toward me. "Jaysus, woman! Have ye no shred o' common decency? Cover yourself!"
I was totally thrown by the beguiling Irish accent as the handsome devil continued to thrust his shirt at me. I turned to him, grinning, sure he was joking, until I saw his shocked face, eyes wide, horrified by my appearance.
"Cover yourself, woman!" he repeated, as he thrust the buckskin shirt at me again, while trying to keep his eyes averted from me.
"It's just a swim suit, for heaven's sake. Not like I was breaking the law skinny dipping. Besides, I saved the kid's life!" I exclaimed, my hands fisted on my hips, and my feet braced. My lips narrowed into a defensive snarl. I must have looked like I was ready for a fight, with my curly red hair standing out wild all around me. Why on earth was this man was dressed in buckskins, of all things? And then, the thought slipped from my mind as my eyes moved down his long, lean muscular body, golden brown from the sun. Oh, My Freaking God! Look at that twelve pack! Be still, my beating heart! Shut up, Lil, and smile nice for the handsome man!
Ginny slipped an arm around my shoulders. "Yes, you did, and thank you very much for rescuing our son! Come, let's fetch your things. We've some ways to go to get to our village."
Tall, blonde and sexy just stood there, not quite sure if he would glower or leer. I pulled his shirt over my head, rubbing the buckskin between my thumb and fingers as I inhaled his scent.
"Jeez," I snorted, "you'd think he never saw a woman in a bikini before."
Wolf and Ginny laughed, as if at some secret unknown to the tall man and me. Ginny lifted a finger to her lips. "A bikini, hmm? No, I imagine our Marcus never saw such a garment before. I'll explain. Later."
For once in my life, I kept my mouth shut until we reached the summer house.
"Okay, so what's going on? I remember when I met you before like it was yesterday."
Oh, my God, Becky. The memories were like I was right back there. Everything was just as I remembered it. It had been eighteen years, and these people looked the same. How on earth?
We sat in her mud and daube summer house, little more than a hut, where Ginny nursed her fat toddler. "You must remember: This is not the same world it was this morning when you headed up the river."
I tilted my head at her. "I realize several hours have passed."
She shook her head as if impatient with me. "No, Lily, you do not understand. What year was it when you started down the trail this morning?"
I frowned as I narrowed my eyes at her. "What an odd question. It was 2000. The new millennium, they say. You know that."
Ginny smiled and tossed her head. "The new millennium? Interesting. Here, it is the old millennium, 1763. We moved here three years ago under the treaty resulting from what they called the French and Indian Wars. Others called it the Seven Year War. We met you here then."
I felt my cheeks pale. I held my hands close to my body so she would not notice they began to tremble. "That's ... that's not possible."
She smiled again as the men walked in. "Marcus, what year did they sign the treaty to send the Cherokee out here?"
He never looked up. "Three years ago, in 1760. Why?"
For the second time in my life, and the second time that day, I bit my tongue and remained silent. Of course, I had no idea what to say right then.
Could it be possible I traveled back in time? And not just once, but twice?
I could still remember it like it was yesterday.
I met them the first time when I was ten years old. My family were hiking in the Cohutta Wilderness. Daddy Mike said I was old enough to go up the Jacks River Trail all the way to the springs beyond the falls. It would be a hard hike for a little kid, and Mom and Daddy Mike made me wait until I was ten to tackle it. The plan was we would hike to the springs the first day, spend the night nearby, and come back the next day after swimming along the way. We had been on a lot of shorter hikes that year. This would have been the longest hike of the summer. It was just before school would start up again for the new year.
"Just remember to keep up with us, Lily," my step-dad said for the umpteenth time. "No wandering off by yourself. If you get lost up here, you might not get back. I'd hate to lose you up here in the mountains, kiddo," the gruff Marine said as he ruffled my unruly copper-colored curls.
I fought back laughing. I got separated from my family for about 20 minutes on our first hike, and Mom would never let Daddy Mike live it down they forgot me on the High Ridge Road while I sat sketching the mountain view.
Mom and Mike had been married as long as I could remember. My real dad died when I was three years old, weeks before the evacuation of Saigon. Mike was his best friend, and he brought Mom some of Daddy's things back after my Dad died when he stepped on an IED in a rice paddy. I don't remember my real Dad, but I treasure a photo of him holding me when I was a baby. It is always in my wallet. I heard Mom and Daddy Mike talk about him throughout my childhood.
As usual, the beauty of the Cohutta Wilderness enraptured me. Even though I knew I wasn't supposed to dawdle and I sure wasn't supposed to wander off the trail, I couldn't resist. I stopped to see the baby woodchucks, and again to gather leaves I had not seen before. As I glanced up, I frowned. I realized I had pulled another Lily. My folks hadn't realized I lagged behind. I couldn't see them anymore even though I could still hear Mom laughing at something Mike said. My eyes narrowed, as I assessed the terrain. I could cut right across the meadow, and Mom would never realize I got left behind again. I squared my shoulders, and started off sprinting across the meadow, my steps resolute and confident.
And then, everything went haywire. A loud noise roared, knocking me to my knees. I shut my eyes tight and covered my ears as the noise increased to become so loud I figured this was what my real dad's helicopter must have sounded like.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Home to McCarron' Corner: Lily's Story"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon K. Middleton.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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