Three characters are connected by their intertwined supernatural experiences, which lead them all to believe that death is not the end of life.
|Publisher:||Emerald Book Company|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
Read an Excerpt
THE SECOND CYCLE
By ALAN RICHARDS
EMERALD BOOK COMPANY
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Most of the people who patronized the Hotel Madeira were older and very wealthy. The staff was accustomed to satisfying the requirements of the demanding. Younger persons who occasionally stayed at the hotel, usually at the expense of their parents, could be particularly difficult. So the politeness and humility of the young woman staying in suite 420 had been unexpected by the staff and much appreciated. She had been alone at the hotel for several days. Today would be her last day.
She sat at the writing table and wrote a note to the housekeeper apologizing for the extra mess. She clipped the last of her money to the note and placed it on one of the several pillows covering the bed. Then, she walked through the open doorway to the outside balcony to wait. Like most days, the sky was cloudless. A straight-line horizon sat at eye level where the sky disappeared behind the sea. It was late afternoon. As the sun began its descent, it illuminated the white sails of distant boats, which appeared still against the backdrop of the blue water. She placed her hands on the balustrade. A gentle breeze stirred the hem of her dress. She closed her eyes and listened for the sea. Fatigue came gradually, almost imperceptively. She turned from the balustrade and lay down on the chaise lounge. The air was warm. As she rested in the quiet, she thought back to when her lover had first brought her to this same room. The memory of that day gave her relief from all the disappointments that had followed.
* * *
Theresa, the housekeeper, wore a perpetual smile, which grew wider when she entered the young woman's room. She first went to the bedroom where she found the note. She marveled at the young woman's thoughtfulness and generosity. She found amusing the reference in the note to the mess. There was so little to clean. She decided to go to the balcony before starting her work. The view was why the hotel patrons willingly paid such a considerable price. Theresa loved that she could partake in such a luxury. She walked onto the balcony and over to the balustrade where the young woman had stood a few hours before. The sun now sat on the horizon. Its descent was easily observable. Much of the beach had disappeared under the high tide. The sea was a sheet of blue with a white ribbon running from the sun's bottom to the shoreline. After several minutes, the thought of responsibility intruded. She turned away from the balustrade, but before taking her first step she was startled by the presence of someone lying on the chaise lounge. Her anxiety was only momentary. Theresa remembered in whose room she was. The young woman would not cause her trouble.
Theresa saw that the young woman was uncovered. The air was turning cooler, so she pulled the afghan from the foot of the chaise up over the young woman's shoulders. She picked up a half-filled water glass from the adjacent table and an empty bottle and cap. She looked more closely at the face of the young woman, placed her hand on the woman's cheek, and then ran for help. But nothing they did brought the young woman back to life.
Chapter Two The walk from Kira's apartment to Hayden Hall would normally take twenty minutes. But she decided to take the parkway, which ran through the middle of campus, even though that would add ten minutes to the trek. Kira loved the parkway from the first time she walked it. It was just over two miles long and filled with hundred-year-old oak trees, now leafless in the late autumn. Along both sides of the parkway sat university buildings, which had been constructed in the mid-1800s of limestone in a neo-Gothic design. Kira had never considered that a university of such prominence was an option. It wasn't an issue of her academic qualifications, but of her family's financial situation. She had planned to enroll in community college and then move on to a state school. But her plan unexpectedly changed a few weeks before her graduation from high school.
During an afternoon English class, she was summoned to the guidance office. She was greeted in the reception area by her counselor, Mrs. Wright. A distinguished-looking, middle-aged man who Kira had never seen before was standing next to her. Although he was smiling, he appeared uncomfortable. After Mrs. Wright escorted them into the privacy of her office, the man told Kira his name was Robert Whitmore and that he worked in the admissions department of the university. He said that he had come to the high school for the specific purpose of meeting with Kira. He explained that one of his responsibilities involved student scholarships. The reason for his visit concerned the Margaret T. Jennings scholarship. Margaret Jennings attended the university from 1920 through 1923, but she died before she graduated. Her parents had established an endowment in memory of their daughter and had funded it with several million dollars. In January of each year, a scholarship was awarded to a graduating female high school student. Kira had been selected, but through his oversight, notification of the scholarship had not been communicated to her. He had been directed by his superior to personally meet with Kira with the hope that she had not already committed to another school. The scholarship imposed one stipulation. During her last semester, she would have to take a class that the scholarship committee would designate. There was little for Kira to think about. She realized that a degree from such a prestigious university would provide her with greater opportunities than a degree from a state school. Much to Mr. Whitmore's relief, she readily accepted. She gave no thought to the stipulation.
Kira hadn't thought about the scholarship stipulation since starting school. She was reminded of her obligation by a letter she had recently received from Mr. Whitmore. She had not heard from him since their meeting in the guidance counselor's office four years prior.
Dear Ms. Blakely,
I am most happy to be writing you concerning the terms of your scholarship. My letter means that you have successfully completed your studies and will soon begin what I am sure will be a very fulfilling career. There is but one task remaining-the class you are required to take by the terms of your scholarship. It will begin on October 15. You are to report to room 300 in Hayden Hall at 4:00 pm. I'm sure you will find your final assignment to be a fitting conclusion to your undergraduate experience.
Wishing you well, R. Whitmore
Kira had never been to Hayden Hall before. When she arrived at room 300, she was puzzled. It was not a classroom but the office of a Dr. Charles Brennan. Kira walked down the hallway to see whether she could find a classroom, but she discovered that there weren't any classrooms on the third floor. She returned to room 300, hesitated a moment, and then knocked on the door. When no one answered, she knocked a second time. Again no answer. Just as she turned to leave, the door opened.
"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you knock. Please come in. I assume you are Ms. Blakely. I've been expecting you. I'm Charles Brennan."
As he spoke, Dr. Brennan moved from the middle of the doorway and extended his right arm toward Kira and his left toward the room inside. He smiled as he gestured. His manner was unhurried. Kira did not immediately answer. She was distracted by Dr. Brennan's eyes; they were so bright they sparkled. They caused Kira to maintain eye contact longer than would be considered polite. She became conscious of her stare and of Dr. Brennan waiting for her to respond. She could feel the flush of embarrassment spreading across her face.
"Yes, Dr. Brennan," she answered haltingly. "I'm Kira Blakely. I wasn't sure if I was at the right place."
When Kira entered the room, she was immediately impressed. It was nothing like the offices of other faculty members she had visited. Those other offices were small and functional rooms just large enough for a desk, a few chairs, shelving for books, and cabinets for storage. Most were personalized with the typical certificates of achievement, or photographs of family and places of personal significance. Sometimes there was a piece of inexpensive artwork. In contrast, Dr. Brennan's office would rival the studies that Kira imagined would be found in the finer homes of Beacon Hill. The room was very large, with a high plaster ceiling. It was windowless. Soft lighting was provided by two floor lamps and a table lamp. Three walls were paneled in mahogany. The fourth wall was covered by books from floor to ceiling. A massive old desk covered with papers sat in front of the wall of books. Opposite the desk was a stone fireplace. A fire was burning. Lying on the floor close to the heat of the fireplace was a pair of sleeping dogs. The floor was covered with the largest Oriental rug Kira had ever seen. She didn't know anything about Dr. Brennan, but she concluded that he had to be a person of prominence within the university. She followed him to the fireplace where there were two wingback chairs. He invited Kira to sit. As she did, one of the dogs got up and came to her. The dog sat down and put his nose on her lap. Kira stroked the top of the dog's head.
"That's Mac," said Dr. Brennan. "The lazy one still sleeping is his brother, Baxter."
"They're beautiful. What kind of dogs are they?"
"They're Gordon Setters. When they were younger, the whole building would have known of your arrival. They would have been at the door before your first knock, barking like hell. I'm quite sure their hearing is still good. I think they've just decided that they've worked long enough and I should answer the door myself."
Kira's momentary discomfort disappeared. Dr. Brennan continued.
"I try to bring them with me as often as I can. I don't know how much longer I'll have them. They're almost thirteen, which is old for the breed. I hate to even think about it."
"It's nice that the university lets you bring them into the building," said Kira.
Dr. Brennan smiled slightly.
"Well, they don't do it to be nice. They do it because they confuse liberalism with indulgence. That's a characteristic of academia. So I guess I'm taking advantage of an institutional character flaw."
Kira studied Dr. Brennan as he spoke. He had a full head of white hair, slightly long and combed back in a casual style. He had a handsome, somewhat rugged-looking face. It was well-lined, like the face of an outdoorsman. He was tall and slender, with the physique of a younger man. Kira guessed that he was somewhere around fifty years old. He was actually sixty-four. He was wearing an old pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt with the cuffs turned over and above his wrists. He wore no jewelry, not even a watch. When Dr. Brennan spoke of the university's character flaw, he did so without sounding derisive. It was obviously amusing to him in the same way a trick successfully pulled off on friends is. Kira could discern no sign of pretense.
"This is quite an office, Dr. Brennan. Did they give you this instead of a living wage?"
"No," said a bemused Brennan. "I've never been offered a living wage. As far as this office, as soon as it became available, my colleagues in the department began to lobby our chairman Dr. Nyland for it. No one has less patience for such matters than Dr. Nyland. The office was the subject of spirited conversation during one of our department meetings. Dr. Nyland listened to all the grousing for about one minute and then ended the discussion by announcing that the office had been given to me. I hadn't asked for it, and Dr. Nyland hadn't said anything to me about it. I've been regarded with envy and suspicion ever since."
Kira laughed. She had already decided she liked him. She looked across the room at the books which filled the wall.
"Have you read all of those books, Dr. Brennan?"
Brennan turned his head to look at his library.
"Yes, I have. Every one of them."
He returned his attention to Kira.
"I'm embarrassed to admit that," he continued. "Those prove how little else I do. You can't read all that and still have time for other things."
"Well, if there are other things that you want to do, there's still plenty of time to do them," noted Kira.
"Maybe," replied Brennan. "But there's no guarantee on how much time we have."
"All the more reason not to procrastinate," suggested Kira.
Brennan decided that he was going to enjoy working with his new student.
"Dr. Brennan, I can't tell from looking at your library what you teach. There seems to be a little bit of everything."
"I have a doctorate in both philosophy and history," he explained.
"Is that what the class is about? They didn't tell me anything except for the time and place."
"There really isn't a class. You're my only student. They didn't tell me much either, but apparently they told me a little more than they told you. Several weeks ago I received this letter from the university informing me that I was to see that you completed this assignment."
Dr. Brennan handed Kira an envelope. Kira removed a sheet of folded paper from the unsealed envelope and read to herself. She looked up at Dr. Brennan.
"Have you read this?"
"Yes, I read it."
"So what exactly am I supposed to do?" asked Kira.
"You're to answer the question," replied Dr. Brennan.
"If I give you my answer right now, is the class over?" Kira joked.
"Yes, I suppose so," replied Brennan.
Kira thought for a moment.
"Is there only one right answer?" she asked.
"I think that's for you to decide."
Kira was perplexed.
"Aren't you the one who's going to decide if my answer's right?"
"I'm the one who's going to decide whether the reasons for your answer are good ones," clarified Brennan. "That's probably why I was picked."
"What do you mean?" Kira asked.
"Because as a historian and a philosopher, I'm uniquely qualified to determine whether an answer to the unanswerable is the right answer."
Kira gave him a look that told him she wanted further explanation.
"History and philosophy both share the same purpose-to provide answers. History and philosophy also share the same characteristic. It's impossible to disprove the accuracy of a historian's or a philosopher's answers. Mostly, what they have to say is all supposition, which they construct out of fragments of information."
"Then why bother looking for answers?" asked Kira.
"If nothing else, it provides a great many people with employment. And it also provides great conversational filler at faculty social events."
"This assignment is one sentence long," noted Kira. "How long is the paper to be?"
"As long as it takes to answer the question."
"That's good. I hate arbitrariness."
"There won't be any regularly scheduled time for us to meet," said Brennan. "I'd like to get together next week after you've had some time to think about the assignment."
"That would be fine."
Kira got up to leave.
"I think there's only one right answer to the question," she said.
"So do I," agreed Brennan.
"And you know what it is," suggested Kira.
"Well, if I say that I do, how could you prove that I don't?"
"I couldn't, I guess." Then Kira added with a smile, "And I guess the same is true about the answer I give you."
Chapter Three Kira returned to the apartment later than she had anticipated. The shower was running. She went into the bedroom, quietly undressed, and entered the adjacent bathroom. She could see Peter through the clear glass door of the shower. He was facing away from her. Kira opened the door and walked up to him. She put her arms around his waist and pressed her breasts against his back. She moved her right hand down his stomach until she found Peter's erect penis and then wrapped her hand around it.
"Give me any explanation you want for this, just as long as I'm somehow involved in your story."
"No problem," replied Peter. "Just tell me who you are."
Kira squeezed her hand a little as she spoke.
"That's a pretty risky response for a person in your position."
"I'm hoping that injury to this part of my body would be as big a concern for you as it would for me."
Peter tried to turn as he spoke, expecting Kira to release him, but she didn't.
"No, no," Kira said as she held firm. "I told you that you needed to give me an explanation. You won't be freed until I get one."
Excerpted from THE SECOND CYCLE by ALAN RICHARDS Copyright © 2009 by Alan Richards. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.