Rural Georgia, 1840. Determined to keep her ancestral lands after her family is forced to march west during the Trail of Tears, a young Cherokee Indian woman finds herself trapped by a brutal white man on her own farmstead. But when Kathryn Spears arrives from the twenty-first century, Amadahy hopes she’s a good spirit sent to help her.
The Going Back Portal is the story of two young women caught in a dangerous confrontation between good and evil where one wrong move could reverberate across generations. Each one falls in love with a man from her own time, but there’s no certainty they’ll survive the savage who’s taken possession of the land and their freedom.
A fast-paced time travel novel filled with compelling characters, including some memorable grandmothers who set the events in motion.
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|Publisher:||Wild Falls Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)|
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There was no denying Nana did sometimes resemble an old Indian woman. She certainly had the high cheek bones and brown eyes. But I stopped believing her tall tales when I was twelve. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I humored her when she said she was one sixteenth Cherokee. Or one thirty-second. Or maybe one sixty-fourth. Her story changed from one telling to the next.
Still, she and I were close. BFFs, you might say. But as I left work that Friday on my way to dinner at Nana's house, Mallory Cleveland, the know-it-all reporter I worked with, gave me no end of grief. As usual.
"When was the last time you had a date?" she said. "I swear, you're sacrificing your love life for your grandma."
In no mood to admit my "love life" was pretty much non-existent, I scooted out the door, not bothering to reply. It's possible my job was part of the problem. Being a producer for an investigative reporter made me skeptical of any guy who came on to me. Not that there were many.
It only took a little over an hour to drive from Atlanta to Athens.
But when I arrived at the familiar brick ranch with the pretty blue hydrangeas out front, only Jeannette's car was in the carport.
I pulled out my phone.
"Nana, where are you?"
"We're at the country cottage, sweetie. Where are you?"
"At your house."
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
I almost blurted that she's the one who invited me for dinner – in Athens – but bit my tongue.
"How about I drive on over?" I said. "I can have supper with you and Jeannette."
"That would be splendid!" She held the phone away from her mouth. "Jeannette! Kathryn's coming for dinner!"
The highway to rural Madison County wound through areas barely touched by the twenty-first century. There were fields, pastures, chicken houses and the occasional rickety outhouse. And my favorite – the circle of ancient oaks surrounding a crumbling chimney, evidence that a farmhouse once stood on that hill where a family had carved out a living.
The red Georgia clay alongside the road was mostly covered with weeds that rippled in my rearview as I zoomed by. Once I crossed the Broad River, I was so far out in the country, it was like driving on a winding road to a bygone era.
Nana's cottage was pale aqua with white shutters. Tall red cannas bordered the front porch and a quaint white picket fence enclosed the small yard. Warm golden light spilled from the windows as I pulled into the gravel driveway. I was relieved I'd made it before dark, having a tendency to get lost in this backwoods area once the sun went down. GPS didn't always know when a road might turn into an abandoned cowpath.
I could hear Gracie, Nana's little Maltese-Poodle, yapping loud enough to wake the dead as I walked up the flagstone path. She quieted down when she saw my face, giving way to a squeal of delight from Nana like it had been a year since my last visit rather than a week.
"Kathryn!" she gushed. "What a pleasant surprise! I didn't know you were coming. You're just in time!"
She hugged me and kissed my cheek as I wondered if she remembered our phone conversation half an hour before.
"Smells heavenly," I said, breathing in the aroma of fresh-baked bread. I turned to Jeannette as she set a bottle of wine on the table.
"You know how to text, right?" she said.
I gave her a guilty look as Gracie sidled up, cuteness personified, angling for a scratch behind the ears. Which I dutifully supplied.
"Hope I didn't put you to too much trouble," I said, giving Jeannette a guilty look.
She reminded me of an attractive middle-aged black actress who regularly picked up Oscar nominations. Her eyes exuded intelligence and humor. She was much more than a live-in companion for Nana and we were lucky to have her.
"Homemade bread was our project today," she said. "I heated up some soup to go with it and Edie tossed a salad. Nothing fancy."
Nana could hardly wait till we were seated to tell me about a new neighbor. Which surprised me considering how remote the cottage was.
"She's a Cherokee Indian woman," she explained. "Hardly more than a girl, really. She and her husband live in a little house deep in the woods. It's down the hill behind my cottage, beside the river. And they have a cute little baby!"
I squinted at Jeannette for confirmation. She responded with a tiny shrug.
"But she has a terrible limp," Nana continued. "One leg is shorter than the other."
"A Cherokee family is living on your property?"
"I don't mind. They're nice people. But they're poor. I don't think they even have running water. She was washing laundry in the river."
"When did you visit her?" I asked, unable to hide my concern.
"Last Sunday when we were here."
"How do you know they're Cherokee Indians?"
"She told me so. She also used some words I didn't understand when she was talking to the baby."
"Maybe they were habla-ing Español?" Jeannette said.
"She wasn't speaking Spanish," Nana replied. "I know what Español sounds like."
"Did you walk down to the river with her?" I asked Jeannette.
"She was puttering around outside while I ran the vacuum," she replied. "I gave her a small basket and suggested she pick some plums from those old bushes at the edge of the yard."
Now it was her turn to look guilty.
I took a sip of wine as I imagined Nana in the woods by herself. What if those people were on meth? Or strung out on opioids? What if they followed her home and broke into the cottage looking for something to steal? Even if they were regular folks camping in the forest, what if a wild animal attacked her? I knew for a fact that black bears roamed the rural areas of northeast Georgia. Sometimes they even showed up in the Atlanta suburbs.
"Goodness, I was fine," Nana protested, apparently reading my thoughts. "It's just that my grandmother's been on my mind lately, and I remembered there were some old fig bushes where her house used to be. I thought it would be fun to make fig preserves like Grandma used to make."
Jeannette looked at the ceiling in a Lord-help-me kind of way.
"I know some people think it's old-fashioned," Nana said, "but the neighborly thing to do is for all three of us to pay Forest Water a visit."
"Isn't that a lovely name? We can walk down there right now so I can introduce you."
She pushed her chair back from the table and stood up as though we should follow her out the door.
"It's almost dark, Nana. How about we go in the morning?"
She eyed the front window, noticing dusk had settled, then sat down again.
"Did I ever tell you about that passenger who put his hand on my fanny on a flight to Madrid?" she said suddenly. "He squeezed my derriere and gave me such a lecherous grin! The nerve! Of course, times were different back then. If I had a nickel for every time a man touched my behind while I was a stewardess, I could've bought myself a week at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps! Not to mention all the times I was propositioned."
"You were one hot babe!" I teased.
She fluffed her hair like an old movie star in reply.
"And the uniforms we wore," she said. "They were baby blue with matching pillbox hats. So pretty. But we had to watch what we ate. Couldn't gain a pound or they'd fire us. Too bad I had to retire so young. Stewardesses couldn't gain weight, they couldn't be married and they couldn't be over thirty!"
"Unbridled sexism," I muttered.
When we finished eating, the three of us cleared the table, Nana having moved on to regaling us with stories about her second career as an elementary school teacher.
"That's the best age," she said. "I don't like it when they get all hormone-y."
She chuckled as she headed off to brush her teeth, her little black furball trotting along behind.
"I take it she invited you to dinner and forgot to tell me," Jeannette whispered.
"Yeah. She said to come to the Athens house."
"You're sure you have my cell number?" she said.
"You're right. My fault. I'll keep you posted from now on. But, honestly, I'm not sure this cottage is the best place for her, isolated as it is."
"That's above my pay grade," she replied, loading bowls into the dishwasher.
"I need to call my mom. I keep telling her she should come for a visit and she keeps saying she will when she can find the time."
Jeannette knew how I felt about my mother's absence. It would be one thing if she were a few states away. Moving to Hong Kong meant she was on the other side of the world. I was pretty much on my own handling whatever came up. Well, me and Jeannette.
* * *
After coffee and a bowl of oatmeal the next morning, the three of us set off through the woods. The early June foliage was beginning to darken from brilliant spring green to the deeper verdant green of summer.
A jeering squawk drew our eyes to a branch above us and we watched as a stunning blue jay dive-bombed a smaller brown bird.
"Blue Jays may be pretty," said Nana, "but they're too much like school yard bullies for my taste."
Jeannette and I both laughed. Nana was not amused.
I'd only come this way a couple of times when I was growing up and didn't remember how far it was. Which alarmed me once again that she'd walked it by herself. It was a twenty-five minute hike before we finally heard the rush of the Broad River.
We found ourselves in a sizable clearing, now in the process of being gradually erased as saplings stretched toward the sun. The land sloped sharply toward the riverbank with noticeable terracing where I assumed crops had once been planted. On a hill to the right, rotten boards littered the ground. But there were no people and no building in sight.
"This is where Grandma lived," Nana said. "The house sat right here." She gestured toward the dark lumber. "She died when I was ten. Nobody wanted the house because it didn't have electricity this far from the road, so they hauled off most of the wood. After a while, the trail got overgrown and you could hardly find it anymore."
A fleeting expression of sadness crossed her face.
"This way," she said, perking up as she moved carefully beyond the blackened planks.
Instead of following, we watched as she made her way gingerly around a patch of sun-dappled fig bushes as tall as she was.
Nana looked every bit of her eighty-four years, with short white hair, a lovely wrinkled face, glasses that were only a decade out of fashion, and liver spots on her bony hands.
"Yoo-hoo!" she sang out. "Forest Water, where are you?" Jeannette and I exchanged a concerned glance before turning toward the river so Nana wouldn't hear us.
"Edie was talking about her new Cherokee friends while you were in the shower this morning," Jeannette said. "She thinks we should take them a chicken casserole to welcome them to the neighborhood."
"I think my mother's going to have to find time in her busy schedule to fly home, whether she likes it or not," I whispered.
My eyes settled on the river as it flowed over rocky shoals midstream. Muddy from recent rains, the current was swift, flanked by a wall of green on the opposite bank, untouched by modern development. One of the last free-flowing rivers in Georgia, the water shimmered in the morning sun.
"Mom always says I'm exaggerating.
I'm sending her an email right now."
I tapped away on my phone as Jeannette meandered along the riverbank, taking in the view. Engrossed in laying out my concerns in the email, I nearly dropped my phone when a high-pitched scream shattered the tranquility of the abandoned farmstead. I spun around to see Nana stumbling toward me, her eyes filled with anguish.
"Nana, are you all right?"
"Oh dear, oh dear!" she cried, opening her hand to reveal a half-eaten fig.
"He slapped her." She looked behind her as though expecting someone to be there.
"Who slapped ..."
"A horrible, horrible man," she said, voice quivering. "We've got to help her."
"Are you talking about the Cherokee woman?"
"We should call the police!" she said.
"Everything's going to be all right," I said, then turned to Jeannette as she hurried toward us.
"You take her back to the house. She might like a cup of tea."
"You come too, Kathryn," Nana said. "He might be dangerous."
"I've got my pepper spray," I lied. "I'll join you in a few minutes."
She handed me the mangled fig as Jeannette took her arm. I watched them retreat slowly up the hill, disappearing into the trees. By the look in her eyes, Jeannette was thinking the same thing I was. Nana hadn't been tested yet for Alzheimer's, but the time had come. One of the symptoms was delusions. That call to my mother would have to be sooner, rather than later.
I moved closer to where Nana had her episode. Fig trees had apparently been planted along the perimeter of the old house. You could see the outline by where they still grew.
A short distance away were more bushes with big, fuzzy leaves and dark fruit about the size of a golf ball. I walked over to take a look and discovered the same thing. The bushes defined the outer edge of a smaller structure that once stood here – this one about the size of a metal shed for storing a lawn mower. The flat area between the two buildings must've been a garden. Squinting in the sunshine, I could make out the eroded furrows.
A light breeze rustled the leaves above me. Together with the whoosh of the river, it was like phantom voices whispering in my ear. Which made the hairs stand up on my arms. No wonder Nana was having delusions. I could almost feel a presence, myself.
I studied the outline of the smaller building. Along the back, a rusted hinge lay half buried in leaves and pine straw next to several smooth river rocks. Nudging the ground cover with my toe, I discovered small animal bones, colored beads and feathers. There must've been a door here. I was about to drop the half-eaten fig and step inside the boundary when it occurred to me that Nana was chewing it when she had her hallucination or whatever it was. Opening my hand, my eyes took in the pink, seedy flesh inside thick brownish-purple skin. Could the fruit have triggered it?
Determined to find out, I popped it in my mouth and crossed the invisible threshold. An old-timey sweet flavor hit my taste buds as a loud buzzing filled my ears. I closed my eyes, my head swimming. When I opened them, I was inside a small hut. Staring at me was a pair of intense dark eyes belonging to a young woman seated on what looked like an Indian blanket, nursing a baby.CHAPTER 2
She was younger than me with lustrous black hair plaited into a thick braid hanging down the front of a simple grey farm dress. There was an angry red welt on one cheek and a sheen of sweat on her face. In her arms she cradled a plump, dark-haired baby at her breast.
Unconventionally beautiful, her piercing eyes transfixed me.
I tried to imagine how I appeared to her. My brown hair was loose on my shoulders and I suddenly felt naked in my tan shorts, white top and hiking sandals.
Why couldn't this little shack be seen from outside? I'd read about scientists developing real-life invisibility cloaks. But it wasn't logical that such a device would be draped over a primitive wooden hut in the Georgia countryside.
Just as I was about to speak, a man's voice shouted in the distance causing us both to tense. She lifted a shawl folded beside her, tossing it to me, gesturing for me to cover myself with it.
"If you don't come out, I'm coming in!" the man thundered.
She raised her hand warning me to be silent. It took a great deal of effort for her to rise from the blanket and step outside, still holding the baby protectively in her arms. A severe limp caused her to rock from side to side. Nana was right – one of her legs was shorter than the other. Much shorter.
Her words were too soft for me to make out, but his reply was not.
"You gonna do your wifely duty, you understand me? I'm tired of you hiding in that damn shack."
She replied with a calm voice.
"One more night!" he said. "You better be back in my bed tomorrow night, y'hear? You're my squaw and don't you forget it."
There was grumbling as he walked away.
She waited a moment before re-entering the hut, holding her hand up again, cautioning me to hold my tongue. She spoke gently to the baby in a language I didn't understand.
Lowering herself slowly onto the blanket, she observed me for a moment before speaking, her voice low.
"You must leave. It is not safe."
She spoke precisely, as though she were a foreigner who learned English in a classroom. But there was no trace of an accent. Her manner was that of a young woman wise beyond her years.
"Are you Forest Water?" I whispered.
She nodded, a hint of surprise in her expression.
"Was that your husband?" I said.
Her answer was a tired sigh.
"Were you visited by a white-haired woman a few minutes ago?"
"I warned Old Grandmother to stay away. You must also."
She laid the baby on the blanket, got to her feet and pushed a narrow door open at the back of the hut where I'd first entered. She slipped outside, returning with a fig in her hand.
"You must eat this and travel through the doorway," she said, placing it in my hand.
"I have so many questions."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Going Back Portal"
Copyright © 2019 Connie Lacy.
Excerpted by permission of Wild Falls Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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