Kate tracks down her mother's friend and obtain's her mother's journal. She has every intention of going to the "arc", through which her mother had gone when she became forever young...
"Don't do it, Kate. Don't go. I know you'll regret it the rest of your life, just as Mom did."
"You don't even know just exactly what it was she did, Stacy."
"I know she did something, went somewhere—where it was, I don't know. You're going to contact her friend Emmy for that reason, aren't you, to ask her where Mom went? She's the key to it all."
"You guessed it?"
"Yes. Your eyes lit up when I told you Mom's friend Emmy had moved back to San Diego from Pittsburg."
"Kate—it's—unnatural. No one had a mom like we did when we grew up. She never aged beyond twenty-five or thirty even though she was in her sixties."
"She did after sixty," Kate responded.
"Yes after sixty. Whatever potion she took wore off at that age."
"You think she took some potion?"
"Yes. And I think she went back and got whoever it was that gave her that magic potion to give her the antidote or something so she could age naturally."
"And then she died a few years after. I wish she hadn't gone, Stacy," Kate said. "She wouldn't have died if she had. She would still be with us."
"She was never completely happy after Dad died, Kate, you know it. She wanted it that way. Whatever she took, she was sorry she had and then had it reversed."
Stacy sighed. "I know. It's all too confusing to understand," then thinking for a few moments she added, "Listen Kate I have to hang up. I have to go pick up Rob at the station. I'm sorry we won't be able to see you this summer. It's so difficult for Rob and me to combine our vacation time this year but maybe you could come to New York instead. You know that Jilly adores you. She keeps asking when Auntie is coming to see her."
"Fat chance me getting there, Stacey, even on a burro. Our hours at work were cut because of this frickin’ recession. I wouldn't dare leave on vacation. I might not find I have a job when I get back, even if I could scrape up the small fortune it now takes to board a plane. Next they'll be charging us for wearing shoes!"
"Maybe you should just move to New York and be near us. You know how I miss you," Stacey pressed.
"And leave this blessed California sun, not a chance!"
"Well, tell me how your meeting with Emmy goes and don't do anything rash. Just as soon as you know something, anything, call me. Remember, it doesn't cost you anything to call long distance in your cell."
"I know. I'll call you as soon as I can.
* * *
"And you don't know what happened after she got off the bus, Mrs. Wildean?" asked Kate of her mom's friend, Emmy.
"Call me Emmy, Kate. Umm, I suppose I do, in a way."
"What do you mean, Emmy?"
"Well, your mom sent me a journal, shortly before she died. I opened the package itself but I didn't open the journal—I was…afraid."
"I don't know…I guess I was afraid if I read the journal I would be tempted. I almost did—open it, I mean—many times. But then I would remember. I knew it had something to do with that night when your mom got off the bus. I knew—well, the photos she sent, even though she made certain they were taken from a distance, she still looked in her twenties—never aged. Later on, with the new technology, I was able to zoom in on the photos—and confirmed what I had always suspected. That she hadn’t aged since that day."
"Are you still afraid you would be tempted—even now?"
"Yes—I'm still afraid. I still would not read it, Kate. Here it is. You can have it on one condition, that you don't open it or read it here and that you don't tell me any of its contents."
"I promise," said Kate, taking the diary that Emmy handed her and holding it gingerly, as if it would break. She shook her head. She was dying to read it!
"How did Mom act the next day, Emmy—can you tell me that, at least?"
"Yes. She—well, she acted strange. I left San Diego about six months later but if you asked me what the difference was I would say that she was in a sort of magic mist."
"But Dad didn't see that magic mist when he married her—I don't think. He never mentioned anything like that to us."
"It may have disappeared by the time she met him," said Emmy and asked, "Why do you want to know about it, Kate—it's dangerous stuff. Aren't you afraid?"
"I guess I should be, but I'm not, Emmy. I suppose you would understand if you knew a little about me. I went through some harrowing times a few months ago. My—my husband Stan…we had been married for two years…well, he…I found him with a friend of mine.
“I really don't want to go into all that but I'll just shorten it by saying I've been divorced for six months now and I'm just pulled toward this in a very strange way. I just feel I have to go there—to the same place Mom went. I feel I have to go through what she went through when she went there."
"It's dangerous," Emmy said. "Please don't do it, Kate. I could never bring myself to destroy the journal because if your mom gave it to me it was for a reason. But I still think it would be better if I had. I’m afraid of it."
Kate shrugged. "I’m not afraid, Emmy, not even a tiny bit. Isn’t that weird? I’ve always felt I had something to do and it was in relation to my mom—where she went to that changed her life. I just feel I have to, for some strange reason. Does that make sense?"
"I have to do it. Anyway, I’m grateful you kept the journal. I can’t wait to read it.”
* * *
Once she reached home and had settled in with a glass of wine in her tiny living-room, Kate opened her mom's diary. She felt strange warmth emanating from the book, as though it would suddenly catch fire all by itself.
She opened it to the first page and began to read. After a few moments she breathed out a long sigh, for she felt like she had stopped breathing while she read.
It all had to do with the arc.
She read for a few minutes, devouring the pages. The "arc" was made of light and it had several colors but violet was the predominant color, though it was not in the form of a rainbow but, rather, as a canopy arc. In other words, you stood under it. Or rather, her mom had stood under it, led there by Madame Xalia. Madame Xalia, however, had not stood under the arc with Kate's mom and the whole thing had lasted only a few seconds.
The arc could grant you the magic to be forever young by standing under it. You would be surrounded by the magic mist throughout your life. At first, it would be a little obvious to discerning people; then the mist would not be seen by anyone.
Once you stood under it you could not reverse the effect—only a few people could. Her mom had been one of the few. That was why Emmy had seen a mist around her that she accurately classified as a magic mist.
Kate shivered and continued reading. She could hear her mom’s voice as she read.
"I had no memory of the arc even though Madame Xalia had told me she was taking me to the arc. When we entered the strange place that was dark and boarded up, a blaze of light shot out at me as I entered the dark room and that was all I could remember.
“Then shortly after I went there the second time, to ask Madame Xalia to reverse the process, I had a dream and it was as though I had gone again there to the same place where the arc was and this time I went consciously through the same process. When Madame Xalia placed me under the arc and moved back it was not a blurred blaze of light but I could now see the arc's shape and the colors—mostly purple shades and some pinks and golds.
"I suppose I should have let this die out with me, yet I feel this pull—as though I should not destroy the journal, that I should leave it behind as part of my history.
Kate sighed and closing the journal carefully, sat
back and closed her eyes.
She still had time to not do it. Her mother had not had that choice because she had been under the "spell" of wanting to look young for as long as she could manage it. That was not an unreasonable wish at the time, yet her mom had rushed into it in a reckless way, without thought of the consequences.
Kate opened the book again and read further:
"When I saw the psychic’s place from the bus, I felt a compulsion to get off the bus!I cannot explain the feeling but it was as though I had no control over my actions. I remember that Emmy was very alarmed at how I suddenly got up from my seat in the bus. I told her I was getting off. I don't know what would have happened to Emmy if she had insisted on getting off with me and if what happened would have happened to her. I'll never know. But I’m glad she didn't get off the bus when I did. Her life was normal and mine wasn't. It's as simple as that. And that's why I'm giving this diary to her rather than to my two daughters. I know her and I know that even if she should read it she would not be influenced or "pulled" by it. She is a practical soul and not given to what she calls "such nonsense." Dear Emmy.
“There’s a lot of danger in magic and her attitude toward it protects her from it. I, on the other hand, was drawn toward it and it changed my life.
Kate closed the book again and decided to take a walk on the beach, to clear her head. She lived just a couple of blocks from the beach in a tiny studio condo in Imperial Beach. She preferred to have less space and access to the sea than to have a bigger place away from the sea, for she couldn't stay away from the sea for long.
She put on her sneakers and grabbed her windbreaker for it was a bit chilly out and she walked the two blocks to the water's edge, increasing her walk to a brisk step. She felt the sand under each step and after a while she took off her windbreaker and tied it around her waist. It was always that way. As soon as she warmed up from the walk the light hooded jacket stifled her.
There were a few people here and there on the beach but too few to make it seem crowded. Kate loved the rustic solitude of this beach and felt a proprietary pride in it. The air smelled strong of the sea and the lacy rushing surf made her sigh with joy. There was nothing she loved better in this world than to walk along the water’s edge.
She reached the pier and went under the long pier with its heavy black pillars and felt pride in it. Then she continued on along the sand dunes toward where the sea joined the sloughs. A few pelicans and gulls shrieked overhead and the sun shown through a few clouds. Sandpipers skipped away from her as she walked close to the water and she stepped over broken sea shells.
Kate would swiftly move away when a wave got too close, so that she wouldn’t get her tennis shoes wet.
A few months before, a film company had come here to make a movie. She had hated to see their cameras and film crews everywhere but she knew it was good for Imperial Beach and anyway, it would last only a few months. They brought in money to the few restaurants on Seacoast Drive. But then they had made the small town seem seedy by photographing only run-down houses and cheap storefronts. She was glad the movie never made it to the screen, for she had never seen it advertised.
Yes. No matter how much she thought about it she knew that in the end she would go because otherwise she would wonder about it all her life and regret not having gone.
Tomorrow was her birthday. Tomorrow she would be thirty years old, the same age that her mother was when she had gone…
* * *
Kate got up next day with a strange feeling of premonition. It was Saturday.
She would goto the psychic’s place. Emmy had told her exactly where her mother had gotten off the bus. She would take the bus rather than go there in her car because she wanted to do everything in the same way her mother had done it.
Kate’s hair was a rich chestnut, like her mother’s. And it was long and straight. Everyone else in her family was fair-haired, including her Dad, Stacy and five year old Jilly. Jilly had the same shade of blue eyes as Kate, a sea green.
She sighed, smiled and nodded her head with determination. She would call Stacey and tell her all about it when she came back. She walked into a deli on Seacoast Drive and bought a corned beef sandwich, a small salad and a bottle of orange juice for her supper. She didn’t know if she would get a meal in that magic place beyond the arc so it was better not to go there on an empty stomach.
After her shower Kate brushed her hair and put on makeup and tangerine gloss. She put on jeans and a navy blue sweater and tied on her sneakers. She decided against taking a purse. Instead she put her money, credit card and ID in her back pocket and zipped it shut. She didn’t want to take a purse and then forget it somewhere in that strange place her mother had gone to and where she was going to go now.
She boarded the bus line Emmy had told her to and sat back on the plastic covered blue seat with a deep feeling of premonition. The bus was almost empty but began to pick up more and more people as it wound through the streets.
Her mother had mentioned that the smell of exhaust fumes from large buses always reminded her of that day…
She began to get a bit unnerved as the bus neared the place. Emmy had told her to look out the window so she would not miss the place. She was momentarily distracted by a small commotion inside the bus. A woman had dropped her purse and the contents had spilled on the floor of the bus. Several people were helping her to gather her belongings.
The woman who had dropped her purse had finished gathering her stuff and now closed her red, fringed purse…
Kate stared at the purse and then at the woman. She looked very familiar with her sallow skin and heavily made up dark eyes. She was wearing a long black skirt and a green and red blouse and there was a scarf around her head where her parted black hair could be seen.
“You’re going to miss it—pull the cord!” the woman said to Kate and pointed out the window.
Kate saw a sign that said, “Psychic.” She quickly pulled the cord as s shiver of fear shot through her. That woman—how had she known?
Kate turned around to look at her again but she was not anywhere in the bus. How could she have gotten off the bus while it was rushing through the street with its doors closed?
Kate got off when the bus came to a heavy lumbering stop, feeling strange and apprehensive.
She looked down the street and saw the same woman she had seen in the bus walking briskly down the street ahead of her and toward the place with the Psychic sign.
When had that strange woman gotten off the bus? Kate was sure she had not seen her get off and yet, there she was, ahead of her, as if leading the way!
Then the woman stopped and waited for Kate to catch up with her.
“You almost missed the stop!” she said in a scolding way.
“Sorry,” Kate said automatically. Here she was apologizing to a woman she had never seen in her life before and yet…she had known about her. Kate was certain this was the same woman her mother had mentioned in her journal.
This was Madame Xalia!
They reached the same shabby storefront her mom had described. And by the door was an old man, the same old man her mom had written about, too!
Madame Xalia said nothing to the old man as she dug out a key from her fringed purse and opened the door.
A thrill of excitement invaded every cell in Kate’s body. She was here, inside that weird room her mother had described in her journal. The Coors neon sign was there, still casting an eerie blue light on the small room that contained a bookcase with ancient leather-bound books, a small heavily carved dark table and two ancient high-backed chairs.
“We haven’t much time,” Madame Xalia said as she consulted an ancient book, in her scolding voice. “You should have come sooner. We only have a few minutes before .”
“But it’s only six—”
“Hush!” Madame Xalia ordered. “It’s another time frame in the arc.”
“Come, let’s go.”
“Quiet! You mustn’t speak. Just do as I say!”
“Ah—alright,” Kate said, in a low voice, so that it wouldn’t be classified as ‘speaking.’
Kate followed Madame Xalia down the street. Although it was only six, as Kate had started to say, the street was completely empty. Not even the old man was around. It was an area comprised mostly of closed up factories and boarded-up business fronts, yet there were a few businesses scattered among the closed factories: a tire repair shop, a beauty parlor and a small Mexican restaurant. They were all closed and Kate felt that it was because it was not six but almost in Madame Xalia’s world.
They reached a boarded up storefront where Madame Xalia stopped. She reached into her fringed purse and took out a key which with which she opened the door.
A blaze of light, so sudden and strong from inside the place made Kate stand still, in shock. Madame Xalia reached for Kate’s hand and dragged her in. Kate almost fell backward.
“There’s the arc. We barely made it in time! Now listen carefully. Once you’re there you must contact the other one who will help you save one life. You must each save one life—the stranger and you. Then you will be free to return. The other person will also be free to return to where he wants to go. You understand that?”
“I—yes. I think. But how will I know the other person—will there be a sign?” Kate was in such a panic now that she was trembling all over.
“The sign will be a tiny mark, the size of a small birthmark. Look at underside of your wrist,” ordered Madame Xalia. What do you see there?”
Kate looked at the underside of her wrist and almost jumped, so startled she was to see an imprint of a double circle with a heart in the middle. Was it a tattoo?
“The other person will have the same thing. Understand?”
“Ye—es,” Kate said. What had she gotten herself into?
“Who are you? Are you directing this?”
“Oh no,” Madame Xalia said with a short laugh and a half smile. “What a thing to say! I’m only servant in the great cause. It’s the council that decides and even they just do as the Group asks them to do.”
“That’s just a name we have for them for lack of any other. If you ask me they're just a group of witches and they make themselves feel important by not assigning a name to themselves, that way they promote a mystique around themselves. But at least they do good work, saving lives and such.
“I can’t talk anymore,” she added. "You ask too many questions."
Madame Xalia pushed Kate in, letting go of Kate’s hand as she did so.
Kate was now under the arc canopy and she began to walk slowly forward. Madame Xalia was now nowhere in sight. A shudder of fear went through Kate’s body.
What was going to happen to her? Where was she going?
She continued walking under the long canopy of light as if driven. She tried to force herself to stop and found she couldn’t. She had no control over her feet!
“You have to spend some time in another place, for now,” a voice that was hollowed by an echo said to her.
Kate looked around to see where the strange voice came from butr but there was no one in the arc but she.
“After that you will be allowed to return to your own time. Remember everything Madame Xalia told you, Kate. Once you save a person you will be free to return."
“Where?” she asked.
Kate reached the end of the canopy of rainbow-colored lights, ‘the arc,’ and her breath left her as her last step was as if she had stepped off a cliff.
* * *
She was falling—going through air in a dizzy alarming way.
Was she going to die? No one can survive a fall off a cliff like that!
Then suddenly her feet struck ground—or something, for her free fall came to a sudden unexpected stop.
Kate touched herself all over to see if she was harmed and realized she was completely naked! How could she have survived that awful fall without hurting herself?
Kate looked around. The area was as normal as any she had known before going to Madame Xalia’s. It was a pretty meadow. Wildflowers were everywhere and the sky was blue, with puffy white clouds here and there. The air was fragrant with pine, laurel and grass and— something else—farm animals?
Yes. There was a cacophony of farm smells. Was she near a farm? But how could she arrive in that place completely naked? She looked around and saw that there was a tree that had large leaves.
“Hello Eve!” she said as she started cutting off a pile of large leaves. Pretty soon she had a whole stack of them. The leaves had long stems and by making a tiny hole in the place where each stem grew and forcing a leaf through it, pretty soon she had made herself a skirt of leaves. Next, she made a halter in the same way. It was a very fragile dress but at least it covered her enough so that she could get some clothes without alarming anyone.
“Thank you, Mamma,” she said under her breath. Her mom had taught her to sew as a six-year-old and the fundamentals could be carried to forming material with leaves and fashioning them into a halter and skirt.
Once she had finished her attire, Kate started to walk toward the farm smells and she soon found a rugged country lane. The lane would surely lead to the farm and to people that would direct her to a bus station, so that she could get back home.
Then she remembered that the ‘Voice’ had said that she must save a life before she could return to her time and that she must contact the other person who would help her do this.
What did that mean?
With a start Kate saw that there was someone walking ahead of her, in the lane. She called out to the person. As she neared she saw that it was a man. The man turned around, sensing her presence and she called out to him.
“Hi—I’m lost, sir. Is there a town nearby?”
“You’re about seven miles from Salem—er— miss,” he answered, looking her over. The man stared at Kate’s leaf dress.
“I—my clothes were stolen,” Kate said by way of explanation of her biblical attire. That was technically true , because she hadn't donated her clothes to anyone. “Do you think you could lend me some clothes—a dress—a pair of pants—anything?”
“Pants?” He asked, zeroing in on the only word that seemed not to fit with the place. His clothes were certainly not 21st Cent., Kate realized.
“A gown or skirt?” Kate asked.
“I saw a few pieces of clothing in a trunk at the house. They
might be able to be of use to you.”
“Oh, thank you so much!” Kate asked and then, “Do you live in a town?”
“No—a farm. But there’s a small village nearby. Not much. A few houses, a church and a general store. It’s called High Wells. It’s the nearest village to Salem.”
He seemed not to be able to take his eyes off her leaf dress. “I’m coming back from that place.”
“Salem,” Kate said aghast—“you don’t mean, like, Salem, Massachusetts, do you?”
“Yes. That’s what I mean.” There was a puzzled look in his eyes.
“You’re not from around here?”
“No. I’m—not—that is—I came from a place…” Kate stopped herself. She didn’t know how she had gotten to Salem, Massachusetts. It was not too smart to give out information about her before she got her bearings about the place.
“Is your farm nearby?” she asked.
“The farm’s half a mile from here,” he answered as he began to walk back and now Kate saw that he had a one-horse cart on the lane that Kate had not seen before because of the curve on the road and bushes that blocked the view. There were some supplies on the cart.
“How did you get here?” he asked. Kate saw that he was a very nice-looking young man. His arms were strong and wide-set. He looked like he did a lot of physical work wherever he lived. He had dark hair the color of shiny dark swirling chocolate, and sky-blue eyes that contrasted nicely with his tanned skin.
The driver seat was wide, enough for two people.
“Were you going back to your—er—farm?” She asked, avoiding his question.
“Yes. I was picking blueberries and blackberries but I’ve already filled the baskets.”
“Does the farm belong to you?”
“No, I’m just managing it—uh—for a while.”
“Is that close to—Salem?”
“It’s about two miles.”
“Do you think you could take me up to Salem? I could pay you,” Kate said, then realized she had lost her clothes, along with her ID and money. Maybe she could work at the farm for a couple of days, milking cows or something.
“Not today, I can’t. We’re going to bury a neighbor today. But tomorrow I would, if you can wait.”
“But where would I stay until tomorrow? Are there other people living in your farm—women?”
“No. But I could ask Aunt Tilly to come. She was coming tomorrow but I can ask her to come down today. Her house is just half a mile from uh—mine. I’ll drop you off at my farm and continue on to her house and pick her up. I’m sure she won’t mind coming a day earlier for the funeral.
Kate’s mind had zeroed in on the second ‘uh—,’ hesitation, and she hardly heard his next words. Why had he said it in that way? Was it because he was only managing the farm? It really didn’t seem it was because of it.
And something else, too: she didn’t fit in this time and community. But he didn’t, either! Kate had great intuition and she just knew this as a fact.
“So your aunt…”
“She’s not really my aunt, everyone calls her Aunt Tilly. She’s Jeremy’s wife, the man we’re going to bury.
“Oh. Alright,” Kate said, happy that she had a means to go to Salem. What she was going to do in Salem she had no idea. Maybe she could catch a plane there and return to San Diego if that were possible.
“I’ll get you the clothes so you can change when we get there. You can wait in the cart if you want. You can’t wear that—those leaves around Aunt Tilly,” the young man said and asked, “What’s your name, miss?”
“Kate…” Kate realized she couldn’t remember her last name! But apparently the young man didn’t mind.
“I’m Carter Wellright.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Wellright,” said Kate as he helped her up to the cart bench.
“Women don’t wear leaf dresses around here?” Kate asked with a smile
“Not since Eve,” He returned the smile and Kate felt it was one of the nicest smiles she had ever seen in a man.
“Well, it won’t matter much that people around here don’t wear leaf dresses, since I’m catching a plane in Salem. Is this an Amish community?” She would probably have to beg for money at the airport to gather enough for the airfare.
Apparently the magic arc Madame Xalia had directed her had sent her to another part of the country.
“Amish? No," he replied. "What did you say about a—a—was it a ‘plane’ you said you were going to catch?”
“What’s that?” he asked as he tugged at the reins and the horse started off at a leisurely walk.”
A strange feeling went through Kate’s body.
“What year is this, Mr. Wellright?”
“Year—you don’t know the year you live in?”
“Please. I—I bumped my head.”
Kate grabbed the bench for support as she felt herself swaying.