The Velvet Thorn300
The Velvet Thorn300
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The Velvet ThornA Novel
By Olivia Villa-Real
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Olivia Villa-Real
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe World of the Mystic
It was a warm, spectacular day in spring. A gust of wind, cooled by the fresh waters of the San Francisco Bay, rushed inside the Regina Coeli Cathedral where eager faces awaited the beginning of an ordination ceremony. A flock of men with colorful stoles crowded the entrance of the church to commence a majestic procession toward the altar. Five seminarians in white albs headed the ceremonial march. The middle one raised a huge wooden cross reverently, though his face was steeled by a labored effort to balance it. On either side were acolytes with tall candles, followed by two others who carried religious banners of varied colors.
Ninety-seven priests followed. All robed in white with multicolored stoles, they chanted with the rest of the religious hierarchy. Their voices soared and echoed within the ornate walls of the cathedral, thickening the atmosphere with awe and with a certain mysticism that sent tingles through the spines of all present. The tail end of the procession revealed six ordinands—deacons about to be ordained priests during this momentous ceremony that would bind them in an irrevocable, lifelong commitment to a sacred calling. Derek Lindenberg, a tall Caucasian in his mid-thirties, was with this flock of sheep being herded to their destiny. With dark, wavy hair and broad shoulders lurking beneath his heavy garments, he walked serenely, his green eyes focused on the image of Christ on the cross. His firm countenance spoke volumes of unequivocal resolve.
Escorted by their parents, the ordinands marched in dalmatics of bright red, blue, and yellow. Behind them was the bishop with a miter on his head and a crosier in his hand. He was the head shepherd, herding his faithful flock toward the Lord's sanctuary.
The ordinands continued to march onward—slowly, solemnly, and gravely. Each step was serious, carefully thought out over the past ten years. Their steps thundered in their ears as they approached the altar that patiently waited to receive them into a lifetime of consecrated service to the Lord.
As Derek drew closer, he looked straight ahead, eyes riveted upon the golden chalice of the Holy Eucharist. It beckoned him, and he responded with unparalleled awe and determination. He planted every step so resolutely that it etched upon the marble floor an indelible mark of his commitment. His eagerness escalated, matching the echoes of his footsteps that grew louder and louder, drowning out the pounding of his heart.
The liturgy went on amid the awe-inspiring music. At this point, the ordinands lay themselves face-down before the altar with outstretched arms—a symbol of sacrifice and total submission to God. They remained there for several minutes. Derek felt the cold, marble floor underneath his belly; his weight upon the hard floor made it extremely uncomfortable. But such discomfort dissipated in the hypnotic exchange of chants between a cantor and the holy men, led by the chorus. They were alternately chanting a litany.
"God, the Holy Spirit," the cantor chanted.
"Have mercy on us," the priests responded with the chorus.
"Holy Trinity, One God."
"Have mercy on us."
"We pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ."
"Lord, hear our prayer."
The chanting continued, drawing Derek's spirit into a different realm of reality that felt soothing, ethereal, and filled with joyful peace. He felt the mystical presence of God, which was pervasive, taking full control of his being.
Time slipped away unnoticed because of the solemnity of the moment. Surrounded by the ordinands, the bishop laid his hands over the bread and wine, which he proceeded to transform into the body and blood of Christ. At this moment of reflection, a voice from the choir loft came with such power and intensity that no one would ever imagine it belonged to someone with a tiny, feminine frame. Bella Mariposa, a Filipino woman of delicate beauty in her early thirties, was singing with an angelic presence that matched the sweetness of her voice. Five feet in height, she stood as though her head touched the skies as she sang with all the fervor of her soul. Lost in the mystical experience of the music, she closed the brown, tantalizing eyes that dominated her face.
Derek looked at her and felt a quiver in his heart, touched by the ardor of her singing. When Bella opened her eyes, she found a man she did not know gazing at her with such power as to defy the distance between them. Their eyes engaged with pristine innocence and wonder. A current of bewilderment ran down Bella's spine. An enigmatic, powerful force seemed to draw them together. Derek withdrew his eyes and pinned them once again on the holy crucifix hanging on the wall of the sanctuary. His forehead contorted with painfully apparent effort.
As the Holy Mass concluded, the now Reverend Father Derek Lindenberg and the other newly ordained priests made the sign of the cross to bless the entire congregation.
"May Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain with you forever."
"Amen," the congregation responded in unison.
Sounds of revelry erupted as the joyous voices of the choir filled the air.
The cathedral was a paragon of beauty. Close to the altar, a set of tubular crystalline lights hung from the ceiling, radiating a soft glitter that made the altar look like a huge jewel at the center of the church. Toward one side was a massive network of pipes for the grand organ, impressively ornamenting the large corner where it stood.
The pompous sound of trumpets emanated from the huge organ, signaling the recessional march. The drums from an ensemble pounded and stirred great jubilation in the congregation. The emotional and spiritual excitement was uncontainable, requiring everyone to heave a loaded breath every so often to release the tension that had been building up inside. Soon, the recessional ended, and the congregation flowed out of the church. The last sound of revelry faded away as the organ exuded its final note.
An hour had elapsed. The cathedral that had been brimming with exuberance now looked deserted except for the presence of Bella, who was kneeling in a dark, quiet corner of the church, alone, a rosary interwoven among her fingers. She seized each bead with explosive aggression that dissipated in a prayer. Each bead awakened another pain, stashed away in the inner recesses of her mind, locked by a prayer that was supposed to melt away the enduring rebellion that churned inside of her. Nevertheless, try as she might, the thoughts that plagued her mind proved overwhelming. In an effort to subdue her inner turmoil, she clutched and pulled at her rosary, etching upon the back of her left hand a bleeding reminder of a haunting past.
Chapter TwoStruggle for Life
It was twilight of the following day. The dying sun peeked through the gray clouds, tingeing some with a curious lining of golden orange, red, blue, and purple. The sun continued to sink behind the hills, and the skies became increasingly dark and the clouds, heavier.
Beneath these gloomy skies, an airplane was treading its path along the vast take-off lanes of the San Francisco International Airport. It moved slowly, hugging every bit of the runway. The plane emitted a sound that grew faster, stronger, and more deafening as the carrier prepared to depart.
Seconds later, the bulky bird detached itself complainingly from the ground. It folded its claws shortly after take-off and cut through space, disappearing in the clouds that loomed over the horizon.
In the dimly lit cabin of the plane, Derek looked pensively out the window. Next to him was a little Filipino girl, Elaine. Quite timid and seemingly withdrawn at age five, she sat as close as possible to her mother, Lily, whose olive complexion hid the pallor of her skin that would have betrayed her malnourished condition. Deep in thought, Derek was oblivious to their presence. He wondered about his future, the new life he was facing. A shaggy-haired boy, Bob, barely seven, called to his mother from across the aisle, distracting Derek's quiet reflection.
"Mommy, I want to sit next to you," Bob complained. He looked tiny for his age.
"No," little Elaine retorted as her slanting eyes squinted under uneven bangs. Then, snuggling closer to her mother, she purred, "I want to be next to Mommy!" She wrapped her long pigtail around Lily's skinny arm to ensure she wouldn't be separated from her.
"C'mon, sweethearts, don't be that way," Lily reproved her children. "You're a brave boy, Bob. You can handle sitting by yourself."
Hearing this, Derek responded promptly, smiling at Bob. "Well, I guess someone would be mighty happy if I traded places with him. Right, son?"
Bob gasped. He looked at his mother for a sign of approval. Lily looked at Derek who was getting up from his seat.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Lily asked, appreciating the offer, yet somewhat hesitant.
"Oh, no, not at all. It's my pleasure! Now, if you two ladies would excuse me ..." he squeezed past Lily and Elaine and stepped out into the aisle. Then, gesturing to Bob, he said, "Grab it, my boy, before I change my mind!" Bob instantly flew to the empty seat.
Just then, John Simmons, one of the stewards, walked by on his way to the back of the plane. In white uniform, he looked amazingly fit for a man in his fifties, his gray hair hidden beneath his flat-top aviation cap.
"Hi, there, Father Derek!" Simmons greeted Derek.
"Hi, Uncle John!" Derek responded and, as John got closer, leaned forward to engage him in conversation. "Did you know that I have known your chief of airline security, Paul Myers, for the past seven years?"
"How did that happen?" John inquired, surprised.
"Well, they belong to the Holy Trinity Parish, where his boys attended school. In fact, they were members of the youth group that I directed for five years as a seminarian."
"Really?" John replied.
"Yes. I was so surprised when I ran into him during his break. He invited me into his office, and I managed to visit with him before I boarded the plane."
"Great! So, did you tell him about your ordination?"
"I sure did, and he was very happy," Derek concluded. John drew closer to him in an aside.
"Still can't get used to calling you 'Father,'" John whispered and then moved on, laughing. Derek smiled.
Lily overheard the conversation. Unable to resist, she inquired, "You're a Catholic priest, Father ...?"
"Derek. Derek Lindenberg. I was just ordained yesterday."
"Oh, is that right!" Lily replied. A big smile lit up her face.
"Yes, and now I'm going to the Holy Savior Church in Hollywood where I've been assigned."
"The Holy Savior Church!" Lily exclaimed. "That's our parish. We live on the same block as the church!"
"You're kidding. What a coincidence! What's your name?" Derek inquired.
"Lily ... Lily Pineda, Father, and these are my children, Bob and Elaine."
"I'm so glad to meet you all. I really lucked out today, didn't I?" Derek said, delighted. "So, you can tell me a lot about the parish then?"
"Of course, Father. But I hope you will not regret your first assignment as a priest," Lily said. "There is nothing beautiful about our neighborhood. Most of the people are poor, and the area is overwhelmed by drugs and prostitution."
"It looks like I will have plenty of challenges," Derek responded.
Absorbed in the conversation, he was not aware that Bella was sitting next to him. Wearing a scarf that covered her face, she managed to obscure a troubled spirit. Immersed in her lonely thoughts, she leaned despondently against the window, her lifeless gaze cast outside as tears stealthily welled from behind her dark glasses. As her thoughts rode on the clouds, she was transported back to a painful reality. Images took shape from the inner recesses of her mind. She saw her wedding, ten years ago, to a young man, Daniel Miranda.
This beautiful image did not stay long enough for her to recapture its sweetness; it was abruptly changed to that of Daniel with another woman. Teardrops punctuated the taunting flashes of her past that emerged intermittently between the clouds. Then, the image of her son Anthony appeared. His frail body was trembling as he cried and pleaded with his father, Daniel, who was whipping him with a belt. This image was so vivid in Bella's recollection that Anthony's voice echoed in the chambers of her mind. This was too difficult for her to contain.
"No!" she almost screamed, squirming from her seat.
That interrupted Derek's conversation with Lily. He noticed her for the first time.
"Are you all right?" he asked Bella.
Bella's thoughts instantly receded into the dim corners of her mind.
"I'm okay," she responded, looking away.
Just then, a chime rang, followed by an announcement from the cabin.
"We are now approaching the Los Angeles International Airport. It is 8:15 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time. The temperature is seventy-one degrees. We'll be landing in approximately fifteen minutes. Despite some dark clouds, it's still a beautiful spring evening. Enjoy your stay in Los Angeles, and thank you for flying National Airways."
The "Fasten Seatbelts" sign lit up.
Bella looked out the window as the plane began to descend. The aerial view of Los Angeles was magnificent at nighttime. The lights glittered like precious jewels against a dark background, forming a mosaic of sparkling colors. Streets were mapped out by chains of lights that divided many areas into square blocks, delicately rimmed with brilliant beads of bright yellow and neon blue.
The metal eagle continued to descend until it finally lowered its claws to touch the ground. The ride grew rough for everyone—quite a change from being cuddled in mid-air.
The momentum of the landing allowed but a swift greeting to the first stretch of runway; however, as the inertia died down, the big bird was gradually able to greet every inch of the remaining runway. The engine snorted heavily, engaging the brakes for a slower speed. Then, it made its turn toward its usual arrival gate.
At this point, Lily felt a severe, sharp pain in her stomach. Overwhelmed by discomfort, she promptly got up, disregarding the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign. Fighting a nausea she hardly could contain, she briefly instructed her son in broken speech, "I have to go. Take care of your sister, Bob. I'll be right back!" She rushed toward the restroom in back of the plane, large droplets of sweat breaking on her forehead.
As the plane was scaling the familiar grounds, its pilot, Harry Fleischman, noticed another plane that had popped out of the darkness. His eyes bolted out of their sockets as he realized that it was moving toward them at takeoff speed!
"We're still on the runway. What's he doing? He'll kill us all!" Fleischman yelled out in horror.
"Get off! Get off!" shouted his copilot. With trained reflexes, Fleischman cranked his clutches, floored the accelerator, and veered toward the green shoulder of the runway. A desperate race to safety! But before he could clear the path, the other plane, a Dutch aircraft, whipped through the short distance and struck with a crashing blow. Bang! One of its wheels zipped through the tail tip of the National Airways jetliner, igniting sparks that lingered on the belly of the newly refueled Dutch liner, until it erupted in a meteoric blaze in the dark, shooting straight down in a thundering explosion. Fragments of burning metal boomeranged in all directions, and red-orange flames crackled in the midst of volumes of black smoke. Soon, the smell of melting metal, mixed with that of burning flesh, filled the air.
Excerpted from The Velvet Thorn by Olivia Villa-Real Copyright © 2011 by Olivia Villa-Real. 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
ContentsChapter One The World of the Mystic....................1
Chapter Two Struggle for Life....................5
Chapter Three Crushed....................13
Chapter Four Splinters of the Heart....................20
Chapter Five The Confession....................29
Chapter Six The Blossoming of Friendship....................35
Chapter Seven Mangled Hopes....................47
Chapter Eight The Gift of Life....................52
Chapter Nine The Dawning of Intimacy....................58
Chapter Ten Reveries....................67
Chapter Eleven Polarities....................74
Chapter Twelve A Dewdrop on the Desert....................82
Chapter Thirteen In Quiet Bondage....................90
Chapter Fourteen Mercurial Moods....................95
Chapter Fifteen Fingers of Fate....................99
Chapter Sixteen Borrowed Moments of Joy....................105
Chapter Seventeen Pride and Passion....................111
Chapter Eighteen The Twilight of Love....................120
Chapter Nineteen Glow Forever, Ember....................127
Chapter Twenty There's No Turning Back....................133
Chapter Twenty-One Emotional Roller Coaster....................138
Chapter Twenty-Two Comfort Zone....................148
Chapter Twenty-Three Look Homeward, Angel....................155
Chapter Twenty-Four Glitters on a Faded Carpet....................161
Chapter Twenty-Five Vestiges of the Past....................170
Chapter Twenty-Six The Crossroad....................180
Chapter Twenty-Seven Tender Impasse....................193
Chapter Twenty-Eight The Last Cup....................198
Chapter Twenty-Nine The Untrodden Path....................203
Chapter Thirty The Towering Inferno....................214
Chapter Thirty-One The Grapes of Agony....................224
Chapter Thirty-Two Black Veil over Tinseled Lights....................237
Chapter Thirty-Three The Foreboding....................245
Chapter Thirty-Four Gone with the Wind....................257
Chapter Thirty-Five Mystic Deliverance....................263
Chapter Thirty-Six Sublimity and Ecstasy....................267
Chapter Thirty-Seven First Rainbow of Spring....................276