by Nancy Lynn


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781468562941
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 04/09/2012
Pages: 190
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)

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By Nancy Lynn


Copyright © 2012 Nancy Lynn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4685-6294-1

Chapter One

Helen Mildred Strums was born at 12:09am on November 1, 1950. When feeling nostalgic her father often told a story of that night, of how Helen, not yet born, seemed to hang on until after midnight before allowing herself to emerge – as if she wanted to make sure she was not a Halloween baby. He made sure everyone understood that his very special daughter, his only child, was born stubborn, insisting from her very birth that things be done her way or no way at all.

Her mother would then quietly make sure everyone knew that Helen was just like her father.

Helen's parents, Dr. Albert Strums and Dr. Olive Carroll-Strums, were academics in the purest sense. Straight out of postgraduate school, they met while applying for positions at Boston College, and once they had both reached tenure, deemed it prudent they marry and settle down. They made themselves a quiet home in on-campus housing, filling the sturdy brick house with an unmatched assortment of cast off furniture, lining the walls with book cases so full of books and knickknacks they seemed ready to topple over at any moment.

They were both 30 when Helen graced them with her presence but for all their book learning, they were completely out of their element when dealing with an infant. Albert taught physics and Olive was a librarian. Olive read all the books she could find on child rearing and Albert was certain that science would provide them with the guidance they needed.

While Albert and Olive loved their daughter with all their hearts, it was Olive's mother, Hattie, and her Aunt Hazel who provided the tender loving care that their academic minds couldn't seem to grasp. Helen's Grandma Hattie and Aunt Hazel told everyone that she got her brains from her parents and her big heart from them.

Helen's parents died tragically in a car accident on an icy patch of road the winter after her 10th birthday. On New Year's Eve 1960, she moved with all her worldly possessions to live with her maternal grandmother and great-aunt. Hattie and Hazel were both war widows, Hazel with no children of her own. They silently promised Albert and Olive they would make sure Helen received the kind of educational support they would want her to have. They promised each other Helen would also learn to be a kind loving woman.

Her new home was familiar to her but different enough from her parents' home to help ease the pain as her young heart healed. Where her parents' home had been full of furniture that others had discarded, her grandmother's home was full of well cared for family antiques.

Just as those who came of age in the '70s and '80s wished they could have been teenage hippies in the '60s, so Hattie and Hazel harkened back to the time of Victorian Romanticism and decor. The walls of their old brick Cape Cod home in Boston's Upper East Side were papered with florals and stripes, each room favoring a different color scheme. The wood of the furniture was polished weekly and the upholstery was rich and cushy. There were treasured knickknacks, books and artwork everywhere with brass and wrought iron lamps to illuminate it all. The only fireplace was in the family room; all the others had been replaced with radiators. There didn't seem to be a chair anywhere that did not invite a body to sit and relax. Well, except in the formal parlor where guests were received. The furniture there was all Eastlake - a style elegant in its wood carvings but austere in that there was very little padding, usually horsehair, under the upholstery and built at sharp right angles with short seats. There was no leaning back or lounging in an Eastlake chair.

Helen's new bedroom was upstairs at the back of the house. It was of a fair size and included a large picture window complete with a padded seat where she could sit and gaze out at the back gardens or curl up with a book, as she preferred. There was even a door that opened onto a small balcony off her end of the hallway; a bit of privacy her grandmother and great-aunt thought she might enjoy. The balcony was decorated with potted plants and flowers, with an eye towards brightening the world of a grieving child.

The old women were gentle and loving in bringing Helen back into the mainstream of life. She was given no choice in attending church every Sunday, but she was allowed to be politely silent and withdrawn. As weeks passed and Helen began to make eye contact with other church goers, her grandmother and aunt enrolled her in Sunday school where she would began making new friends, who in turn helped to draw her out of her shell.

On a shopping trip in late February, Helen asked if they might go to a bookstore and while there, she bought herself a small blank journal. This encouraging sign sent the old women to the local elementary school and the following week, school assignments began arriving at the door of their home. Helen was allowed to complete them on her own schedule but it was soon obvious to everyone that Helen had inherited an exceptional intellect from her parents. And so, after tests were administered and classes discussed, Helen was enrolled that fall in a small private school at a full grade level above the work she had been doing at home. Her advanced curriculum included piano and dance and field trips to all the museums in Boston, her grandmother and aunt happily tagging along as chaperones.

Helen's young psyche gradually regained its eagerness for life and on the first anniversary of her parents' death, Helen, Hattie and Hazel watched as a headstone was installed on their grave. It was made of red Italian marble and inscribed in Harrington script lettering: Albert and Olive Strums 1920-1960 We Promise. They each laid a single white rose on the grave. Helen pressed a kiss to each name on the headstone, took a hand of each of her elder companions, turned and walked away. She would miss her parents forever, but somehow understood that life with Albert and Olive was behind her. That she needed to walk forward. Helen held no grudge against her parents for dying and leaving her.

It was this innate ability to handle life ordeals and move on that would prove to be the rock she held onto throughout her life.

Chapter Two

"But A-a-a-auntieeeee! It's my costume!"

"I am sorry my darling, but that skirt is just too short, especially for someone as young as you are." Hattie had nearly fainted on the settee when Helen came downstairs to show them what she'd decided to wear for Halloween. Hazel could barely speak as it was. "What are you supposed to be?"

Helen did a twirl. "A hippie, of course. And it's only hours until I am 13 years old! It's right out of a teen magazine. All the hippest people are wearing this. Isn't it just the coolest?" She spun around again and her grandmother and aunt gasped again at the amount of leg showing.

"Perhaps it isn't all there? Maybe you've left something out?" Hazel desperately tried to think of something they could add to the costume to make it more ... more.

Grandma Hattie found her voice. "You know dear, it's bound to get very cold out tonight. Perhaps you need to put something on your legs to keep your skin warm? Nothing spoils a good time like freezing to death."

Aunt Hazel's head bounced up and down in agreement. "Yes! Let's make your costume more fun! Maybe add your orange striped tights under that skirt. And don't forget a coat. You don't want to catch your death; then you wouldn't be able to enjoy your sleepover party tonight." The suggested tights were heavy cable knit ones and the coat she pulled out of the closet hung to Helen's knees. Both would go a long way towards hiding Helen's budding attributes.

"Aw, that coat is such a downer! Look how big it is on me. Do I have to?" As much as Helen wanted to rebel, she also knew that these sweet old women loved her dearly and only wanted the best for her. She knew that being allowed to have a sleepover party tonight to celebrate her 13th birthday was a big concession on the part of her elders. The noise she and her friends were bound to make would keep them awake all night.

"Please, dearest. And watch your language, won't you? Maybe keep the slang talk as part of your costume? We wouldn't want to offend the neighbors now, would we?"

Some of the cheer went out of Helen's face and the old women instantly felt contrite. Grandma Hattie wrapped her arms around her growing granddaughter and kissed her on the cheek. "There, there. Let's see that smile again. I bet that handsome boy down the street will be waiting for you outside! And don't you worry about the party. We'll have everything set up for a perfectly ghastly time when you get back. Your Aunt has even agreed to set out her old Ouija board so you can tell each other's fortunes!"

Helen cheered at the mention of the boy. And the Ouija board was sure to add a special touch to the party, making her friends just a little bit jealous. Most kids made fun of her for having to live with the 'old ladies'. It would be nice to have them a bit envious of her unusual living arrangements. Helen was hopeful.

"Maybe even the Tarot cards? Maybe you both could dress up like gypsy fortune tellers?"

"We'll see. Now you run upstairs and put on those tights."

Helen dashed up the stairs to do their bidding. Hopefully they wouldn't think of any more rules to impose if she got out of the house quickly.

At the front door handing out candy to the early trick-or-treaters, the old ladies weren't quick enough to squash a hat on Helen's head and smother her with a muffler around her neck.

"Please wear your gloves! They are in the pocket of your coat," was all they could get out as Helen dashed past them to join the group of friends waiting for her on the sidewalk. They turned and looked at each other.

"The board and the cards." Hattie wrung her hands together.

"And on a full moon. Oh my." Hazel shook her head.

The board was set in the middle of the dining table where it could easily be reached by more than one person. It made a wonderful centerpiece for a Halloween birthday table. Guests could put their presents for the birthday girl at one end and the cake could be served from the other. Hazel knew that once the girls started, they would have more fun with the board without her around.

Hattie decided that the cards would be better left in their hiding place. She would claim old age as an excuse for forgetting to put them out. Silly old cards, she would say, just a bunch of nonsense anyway.

But both Hattie and Hazel worried that having Tarot cards and an Ouija board out at the same time on Halloween night, especially since there was a full moon, might invite trouble. And trouble they could do without. Dabbling in what their generation referred to as the occult was just an innocent hobby and nothing more. It had been out of curiosity that they had begun learning how to use the cards and board. Never mind that the board was one of the original ones made in 1890 and that the Tarot cards were said to be even older, or that everything they foretold came true. They were just collectors' items, after all was said and done, trinkets that had caught their fancy years ago one Saturday afternoon at an antique store downtown. They went to church every Sunday, didn't they? There could be no harm in this innocent pastime.

They convinced themselves not to worry as they generously passed out candy at the door, delighting the children by cackling like old witches as they walked back to the sidewalk.

At just past 9pm, when the trick-or-treaters had dwindled to almost nothing, the cake was set out and final touches put on the party decorations. During the course of the evening, parents of the six friends who would be spending the night had brought sleeping bags and overnight bags for their daughters and helped the old women push the furniture in the family room against the walls to make room for the girls who would be sleeping on the floor. Parents made sure to leave their phone numbers just in case and one anxious mother left instructions for her daughter's asthma medication. Party snacks for the night were set out on the kitchen counters.

It was all for naught.

At 9:30pm, Helen charged in the front door, crying like her life was ending; she ran to her room and slammed the door, locking it. Hattie and Helen had just made their way to the bottom of the staircase to see what all the commotion was about when all of Helen's girlfriends came in the front door, all talking at the same time to see if Helen was okay, a couple of them crying as hard as Helen was.

"Girls, please! We cannot help if we don't understand what has happened! One at a time now, tell us. Saundra, you go first."

"We didn't see until it was too late." Saundra spoke around her own tears and did her best to explain, wringing her hands with worry. "She had her coat on most of the time so we couldn't see it start. It was Billy who saw and all he did was laugh! Stupid boy! I am never going to talk to him again."

The other girls all voiced their agreement, vowing to banish this Billy person out of their lives forever.

Hattie put her hands on Saundra's shoulders and turned her back to face her.

"Saw what, dear?"

Saundra thought it was perfectly obvious what. "The blood. You know, her period?"

"Oh, my Lord." Hattie held her hand to her mouth as she climbed the stairs and went to soothe her precious granddaughter.

Hazel held her hand over her heart as she herded the girls into the family room to gather their things and call their parents from the kitchen phone. Keeping an eye on the girls until they had all been picked up, she put away the food so it wouldn't spoil, deciding she could worry about everything else in the morning. Hattie called down the back kitchen stairs for a pot of chamomile tea with honey and a plate of ginger cookies.

While Helen showered herself, Hattie took the soiled clothes, put them in a plastic trash sack and put it in the trash can in the alleyway, wind howling around her as she went. There would be no wearing those clothes ever again. They would just bring back unwanted memories.

Once Helen was settled into bed, swaddled in flannel and buried under quilts, Hattie and Hazel took up their knitting and needles and settled into chairs around Helen's bed. They would not be leaving Helen alone tonight, but as it would be awhile before they themselves were calmed down enough to sleep, they felt the need for the comfort their handwork gave them.

At 12:09am, the morning of Helen's 13th birthday, no one was witness to the Ouija board's foretelling. No one saw it move to the letters F I R E. The coat Helen had been wearing, tossed carelessly over the newel post of the kitchen staircase, fluttered as if a breeze came through the closed and locked back door. The dark shape of a man manifested, inviting himself in. He moved to the hiding place of the Tarot cards and, using his considerable ancient energy, opened the drawer and lifted them out. Then, moving from room to room until he found one he was comfortable in, he made himself at home. He placed the cards on the coffee table before him, cut the cards once and turned over the top card. Chanting his ancient spells, he attached himself to the parlor, vowing not to leave until the work set before him ages ago was done.

At 3am, the first dream was given. He was sorry that it would be such a horrible dream, but she needed to understand. As is often the case, a girl's powers are triggered when she enters the red cycle of her life. His only real regret was that it had taken so many years for the perfect timing of this event to arrive, asking his mother for forgiveness as he cast the dream spell.

In the village clearing the October night sky was darkening. She knew it would only get darker, a new moon shone light only upon the soul. The shadows of the woods surrounding the village grew long and a lone wolf howled in the distance. The afternoon wind died and the frost bound air held its breath. The water of the loch, on whose shores the village was built, glazed silent and flat, mirroring the darkness above it. The only road out of town was void of travelers.

Tonight was the new moon. And tonight was the night the village priest had chosen to punish her.

She was dressed only in her oldest threadbare shift, a piece of homespun wool she had made herself many years ago. There were no coverings on her feet. Her hair hung unbound, straight and long almost to her knees. It was white now, no longer the beautiful yellow it had been in her youth. She tried to smile, but her hands were bound too tightly behind her and the people encircling the fire pit saw only a grimace. They retreated behind the stones of the circle, well beyond the fire pit.


Excerpted from Passages by Nancy Lynn Copyright © 2012 by Nancy Lynn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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