Chapter 1 – (Pages 14-23)
After supper Emma helped wash the dishes while her father swept. When Mr. Franklin retired to the reading room Emma excused herself.
“Good night Father.” Emma bent over Mr. Franklin’s overstuffed chair and kissed his cheek.
“Good night, Darling.” Mr. Franklin lifted his tired gaze and gave her half a smile. Emma climbed the wooden stair case that led to her room. When inside her room she shut the door behind her, pushing a heavy chest against it. Emma slid past the bed and to the window, pulling the shutters open. The moon had already risen, round and bright against a black sky. Emma climbed out, shivering at the cool night breeze. She sat on the roof, staring up at the sky.
“Where are you, Mother?” Emma lowered her head into her knees and cried. “Can you hear me?” She lifted her head and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Are you up there?” Emma looked up at the stars, as if Abigail would respond. She could hear the gurgling stream below, a symphony crickets and frogs, and an owl somewhere in a nearby tree. She pulled out the newspaper from inside her gown and lifted a lantern over it to read. “Sisters, it is time to rise, to give ourselves a voice. Are we not a free people? Why then do we lurk in the shadow of man. Rise I say, and march, speak out and claim what is rightfully yours.” Emma stared at the opening paragraph of Abigail’s article. Who would fight for the women now? Emma stifled a cry. Her eyes burned, her face was puffy and red.
Abigail was a passionate writer. Emma lowered to kiss the words on the paper. “Why did you have to go?” Emma couldn’t stop the tears. She waited outside, until she thought her father had fallen asleep and then climbed back inside. By that time, she had read the article at least a dozen times.
Emma closed the shutters and went to the door, pushing the heavy wooden chest back to its former location next to the bed. She opened the door careful not to make any noise. Sometimes the floor creaked. Emma held her breath, tip toeing down the stair case. Every groan of wood beneath her feet, sounded like a loud siren in her mind. She grabbed her coat hanging on the coat hanger in the parlor and an oil lamp. It would be dark in the barn. She stepped outside, gently closing the door behind her. She could hear Mr. Franklin snoring.
Emma made her way to the barn. Tulip, the old mare was asleep, heaped on a layer of hay that lined the dirt floor. There were crates stacked up next to the stall, Emma placed the lantern on top of a crate and started to pry another one open. Inside there where pictures and linen, clothes the size a small child would wear. A child-sized gown, olive green with little white flowers. A jewelry box filled with pendants and necklaces, cameos, and dangling earrings, rings and bracelets. Emma would take all she could carry. There were letters there too. Was she intruding? Emma couldn’t imagine that her mother would want her to forget these things. To forget her. She tucked the letters and photographs inside her coat and took the jewelry box, the little dress and the linen. Had this been Emma’s? Abigail’s? Emma stared at the little dress in her arms. There was so much she wanted to know, needed to know.
Emma closed the crate shut, she would come back when her father had gone. Emma walked out of the barn and started for the house. It was still night. She went back inside, tip-toeing back up the old stair case, her heart jumping at each sound. Once inside her own room she shoved her treasures into the wooden chest, undressed and crawled into her bed. She flattened the newspaper and folded it in half, hiding it inside her pillow case, she turned the pillow over in her hands and let her head fall into the top side and fell asleep.
* * *
The next day Emma packed her bag taking a picture out of the wooden chest, it was an old one, already fading and torn at the upper left-hand corner. The image tinted a yellow brown showed her mother and father sitting on chairs in the front of their small brick house. Abigail held a small child. Emma wondered if it was her. She tucked the photograph into a deep pocket sewn into her apron for collecting things.
Emma hesitated before mounting the old mare. It was an hour ride on horseback to Aunt Victoria’s house. She hated riding out there, staying with her aunt and her brood. Victoria would put her to work at once, she thought Emma’s love of books and learning was unfounded and frivolous. Emma could already hear her Aunt’s high-pitched voice inside her head. “A girl your age should be more concerned with finding herself a husband, not wasting her time on that,” she’d say, grabbing whatever book Emma had brought with her and tossing it into a trash receptacle. Emma covered her ears as if Victoria had been standing right in front of her. The woman was infuriating.
“Come on, Tulip.” Emma snapped the reins, the old horse neighed. “We won’t stay long, Father said he’d be back in two weeks’ time,” Emma whispered into the horse’s ear. They road down the familiar path Emma had taken since she was old enough to walk. Emma straightened and took a deep breath. It seemed a shame to waste a beautiful afternoon with Victoria. She would stop and enjoy the forest instead, Victoria would still be there in a couple hours, it would make no difference, she would hardly be missed.
Emma pulled up to her favorite spot. The forest was thickest here. A stream ran behind it. Emma dismounted the mare, patting the side of her neck and offering her an apple. She tied the reins to a tree. Small animals had rooted their way underneath, their trails disappearing into the underbrush. Butterflies and moths fluttered over a fallen carpet of leaves. The scent of green growing things and the rain-soaked earth tickled her nostrils.
She would rest under the great white oak and read a chapter or two of Washington Irving’s tale, Sleepy Hollow before continuing her trip. Emma reclined against the trunk of the tree, pausing to take in the beauty of the forest. The deep creases on the trunk were like the wrinkles of an old sage. Roots from the white oak bulged out of the earth and stretched across the forest floor. The trunk itself, twice the width of a small house seemed to explode out of the ground. Dark brown, thick, with deep patterns in its bark; limbs and branches sprouted out from the upper part of the trunk and shielded small animals. Squirrels ran up and down the tree, gathering food. In the center was an opening, a deep, oddly shaped wedge. Emma gasped, every time she came to tree, it was like seeing it for the first time. She stared at the strange hollow space gawking. Nothing she had ever seen was more intriguing or intricate. Emma patted the old tree, the only thing missing was her mother. That would have made this moment perfect.
Emma opened her book and started to read. She would come more often to the old oak tree now. Come when she was scared, sad, or in pain. Emma laid against the rough ridges of its bark. She felt protected here, safe.
Victoria would never find her here. She decided to climb into the wedge of the tree. She sat cross-legged and peered over the side of the hollow. Sometimes she felt sheepish being here. She was a young woman after all, not a child, and here she was, hiding. Running away. What would her peers think back in England, if they knew? Emma shrugged. She didn’t care, besides they were an ocean away.
Emma breathed heavily. Her mother was dead and Father had stopped talking about her the moment the last shovel of dirt was dropped on top of her cassette. She hated the silence, the distance that had grown between them. Emma unfolded her legs and pulled them up, resting her head on her knees. She sighed, watching an occasional squirrel scramble up the tree. Sometimes she wanted to leave the old homestead, go somewhere far away and never come back. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t leave the old house where her mother had lived and died. She thought of her Father and wondered if he felt the same. Had he forgotten her mother already? Had he stopped loving her? Emma felt her chest tighten. She would never forget Momma, she promised herself, would never stop loving her, and never pretend she hadn’t existed.
The hum of insects lulled her senses, and the drizzle of rain pattering to the dirt floor reminded her it was almost time to leave. By now Victoria would be wondering of her whereabouts. Emma stretched her legs and jumped off the hollow space in the tree. She crouched and gathered her book, she wiped it clean with a cloth and rolled it into the heavy woolen blanket.
“Emma?” She turned at the small voice. It was the youngest of the two girls. She was holding the very candle holder Emma had left by the tree almost seven years ago. The little girl’s face glowed in the dimming light, the skies around them had begun to darken. Big brown eyes as wide as the plates in Emma’s hand. Emma could tell she was scared.
“What happened?” Emma gathered the small child in her arms. The girl pressed her lips together, fighting tears. “Olive?” Emma had named her this because of the color of her skin, softly tanned. Olive pushed Emma’s arms off her.
“Come,” She said, pulling Emma’s hand. Together they walked to the tree. The opening widened, bark fell away, exposing a bright shiny light, like one would see at the end of a tunnel. Olive walked into the opening. “Come,” she said again, only much louder now, her head poking out. Emma followed. Weatherworn stone pillars erupted from the earth, faceless marble statues stood in rows underneath a half-crumbled building. The roof was caved in, weighed down by heavy tree limbs and vines. There was a long path that continued for miles, and on either side, blurred windows the size of a small house, behind each a different scene, a whole world. It was day time in this place. The light was brilliant, a warm sun shone over them. In Emma’s world it had been raining, and almost dusk. Emma looked back, heart fluttering. The gap closed shut.
Wind rustled through the leaves. Emma could still hear the humming of dragonflies on the outside of the tree, in her own world, birds splashing in the stream behind them, outside. “What is this place?” she asked.
“It’s where we live, Mystery and I.”
“You live here?” Emma looked around her. The smells of moist dirt and dead leaves lingered. Emma’s world was just inches away. Emma saw Mystery emerge from behind a block of cracked stone. She smiled. Mystery had long wavy brown hair that fell over her shoulders and eyes the color of honey. She wore a green dress, like the one Abigail had in the trunk by her bed, and brown boots.
“I knew you’d come,” Mystery said. Emma extended her hand. Mystery smiled taking her hand.
“What’s in there?” Emma stared at the windows on either side of the path.
“History.” Mystery responded.
“History?” Emma inched closer, her hands pressed to the outside panel, she peered inside the closest window.
The girl nodded, her lips tightened. “It doesn’t look good.”
Emma recognized Roman statues and buildings, ancient relics, and people dressed in roman gowns and armor.
“How is this possible?”
“We are in the space between worlds,” Mystery said, her voice almost a whisper.
Mystery’s explanation did little to describe what was happening. Emma frowned.
“Do you live here alone? Are there others?” Emma asked looking around for some sign of life other than their own.
“There are others, children like us,” Mystery said. “We live in the village. She pointed past the rows of windows.
“Why are you here?” Emma stared at the rolling hills in the distance, she could see roof-tops.
Olive shrugged, she grasped Emma’s hand.
“Our lives were cut short, we have unfished business.” Mystery continued, “we’ve been here a long time.”
“Yes. Before we were born we had a mission to fulfill, but our lives did not unfold as we had anticipated.” Mystery spoke with the wisdom of an old woman.
“Why did you bring me here?” Emma looked at the two, confused.
“You are our sister, our blood.” Mystery confirmed what Emma had always believed.
Emma’s heart swelled. She felt happier than she had been since her mother died. Their mother. She wondered if they knew, if she should tell them, but she thought better of it.
“You are the only one that can make the history stop spinning.” Olive’s small hand patted the window in front of her. Lava and flames spun like a hurricane on the other side of the window. Bright red and orange flashed in front of them, lapping at the window like waves crashing against rocks. People screamed. Ancient buildings disintegrated, and people turned to ash and stone. A couple clung to one another, the woman hiding her face in her lover’s chest, before the lava consumed them and hardened into stone. The sky had grown heavy with ash, a bright orange sun dangled above a curtain of black smoke.
Emma gasped in horror. “What’s happening?”
“Their city is dying, and so are they.” Mystery said.
Nothing made sense. Emma looked about her, the path and windows, different periods in time.
“So what do we do?” Emma asked, guessing at what the answer might be.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Mystery inched closer, pulling Emma by the hand.
“Go inside!” Olive blurted out. “We have to go inside.” Her bottom lip quivered.
“But what can we do?” Emma looked alarmed.
“Fix it,” Mystery said.
“That’s insane, we can’t just jump inside. We can’t change what’s happened.”
“What if we can?” Olive lifted her gaze, her big brown eyes stared back at Emma.
“We can’t move on until we finish our unfinished business.”
Emma looked uncertain, wasn’t even sure any of this was real. Maybe she was still outside, huddled against the tree, reading her book, and this was just a dream. Yes, she was probably dreaming. That would explain everything.