She wept as she climbed the hill, clutching her dead babe in her arms.
For the first part of her climb, she was only Angharad the mother, grieving for the stillbirth of the first child she had managed to carry to term. She remembered the crooked arms and legs, the webs between the fingers, the odd, squashed look of the face. If the child had lived, it would have been a horror—but it would have been hers. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the child, but she clung to it, even so.
She wondered if the babies she had lost in the past—those she hadn’t been able to bring to term—would have been as misshapen as this one. Perhaps they were even more so? That thought brought her some peace, strangely enough. If her children were too malformed to survive long enough to be born, then it was better they not live.
And this child? She thought, her tears slackening. Is this child better off dead?
She held on to those questions as she picked her way up the hill for a few moments. Her tears dried on her cheeks and she was able to see the way. Her eyes cleared just in time for her to pay attention as she walked over a pebble-strewn area on the side of the hill. She held the child closer to her breast as she picked her way among the rocks for just a moment, concentrating on the placement of her feet in order to keep herself from falling. But she found the pressure on her swollen breasts was intolerable and she dropped the child down a little bit so she was holding it against her stomach instead of her breast.
The trouble with thinking this malformed child was better off dead, though, she decided—once she had climbed past the pebbles, and she had attention to spare for thinking—was that she would have no more chances to carry Emrys’ babies. Because Emrys was dead, too. And, with that thought, she became Angharad the widow.
She remembered the night she had told him she was pregnant. It had been the night before he left to fight for the High King. She had known she was pregnant for a couple of months, but she hadn’t told Emrys about it. She hadn’t wanted him to be disappointed if she didn’t manage to carry the child to term—as she hadn’t for any of the other five children she had carried.
But on that night, before Emrys left for however long it would take the High King to chase off the invaders, Angharad had decided she would tell him. She was already farther along than she had ever managed to keep a child before. She wasn’t positive she could bring this child to term, but she couldn’t allow him to leave without knowing. So she told him.
Hope warred with despair on his round face after she told him. He sat, silent, expressionless, just looking at her for a moment. Then his slow smile came out, lighting up his face. He didn’t seem able to speak, but he took her hands in his own larger ones and brought them up to his lips. He made love to her very gently and thoroughly that night, and that was the last night she had seen him. The next day, he was gone to the High King.
And yesterday a messenger had come to the village, to tell them of the dead.
I should have expected it, she told herself. How often had she seen the women of her village go into labor when they received bad news? Too often. She should have been prepared—she should not have insisted on going home alone. Perhaps, if she had had help, the child would not have died. Perhaps she would now be giving thanks to the Lady for giving her a living child, instead of taking her dead child to place in the barrow.
But then she remembered the twisted limbs and she sighed. This child would not have survived, even if someone had been there to help her. This child could not have grown up to be a credit to Emrys—or to the Lady. She would have been forced to take a living child up to the barrow and leave it there.
She transitioned slowly into Angharad the Druid as she continued to climb.
“Lady,” she prayed as she walked. “If it is your will that I shall be childless, then so be it. I live at your will.” She stopped climbing for a moment, breathing deeply, clutching her child closer to her breast. She had thought her prayer was done, but she couldn’t help adding, “But I would have liked to teach my daughter all of the wisdom that I learned from my mother and what I have discovered from watching your world.”
She thought that sounded bitter, and she tried to take it back—or to add something else that would have made it sound less petulant. She couldn’t think of anything to add, though—and taking it back would have been less than honest. She only hoped that the Lady would understand. She started climbing once again.
Angharad looked up, trying to gauge how much farther she would have to climb. She was about halfway up to the top. This climb had never been so long, before. Her belly ached with every beat of her heart and she was tired. She realized, quite suddenly, that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning, since before her labor started. She wasn’t sure she would make it to the top or how long it would take. But the thought of stopping—of staying right here at the midpoint of the hill—of waiting until someone from the village realized she was gone, was too much like giving up.
Angharad almost smiled as she realized she was not ready to die yet. The thought made her feel lighter, somehow, stronger. Looking down to watch where she placed her feet, she started walking uphill again. There was no point in stopping now. No one in the village would come up here, even to find her. She could either go all the way to the top—to the barrow—or she could go back to the village.
She managed to think about nothing but where she was placing her feet for the second half of the climb. This was good, as the hill grew much steeper as she neared the top, where the barrow was. She just looked down at the ground before her feet, and decided where to step, until she reached the top.
At the top of the hill, there was a sort of structure—a round stone hut, much like her own hut, only built of great stones instead of sticks and mud. It was a tomb, or a sacred site, built by the people who used to live here—or perhaps by their gods. Her people had moved into the area around the hill and appropriated the places of the gods for their own. That had been before she—Angharad—had been born, but she had heard the stories many times.
This time, Angharad did not walk around the structure, as she usually did—she was too tired to follow the ritual so precisely—she just went to the doorway and knelt before it. She laid her burden down on the bare stone before the entrance so that she could wrap the cloths more tightly around it.
“Little one,” she said softly, addressing the baby. “I will leave you inside the door to the underworld. I cannot take you there, for I am alive, and it is forbidden. You must seek out your father, so that he may protect you.”
Then she lifted the little bundle again and stepped inside the doorway, to set it down just inside and to one side. As her head passed in—as she set her child within the doorway—she heard a baby crying. She gasped and snatched the little bundle back up, moving a little bit forward into the hut. She couldn’t feel any movement and the skin was icy cold when she unwrapped it. It was too dark to see, but she was sure this child couldn’t be making any noise.
Besides, now that she was standing inside the doorway, she realized that the cries were coming from farther inside the stone structure. She didn’t have a torch or candle or any other form of light. Although the sun was high, the stone roof kept the sun out and it was dark inside the hut. She couldn’t see farther than a couple of feet inside.
But she could still hear the cries. It sounded as if they were coming from behind a wall—as if there were another room in the hut. But there was no other room. She had seen the layout of the hut before, when she had brought fire with her for her sacrifices, or when the sun shone exactly on the doorway. There was only one room, and it was fairly small. There was no wall to hide a child behind.
She pulled her head out of the hut to see if, maybe, the child was outside. To see if she could hear better when her ears were outside the hut. Maybe the child was behind the hut. She hadn’t walked around it, as she usually did. If a child had been there, she wouldn’t have seen it, because she hadn’t walked around.
But the sound almost disappeared when her head was not inside. It sounded as if it were coming from inside the hut. She knelt there, her own child still clutched in her arms, suddenly afraid.
Then the crying faltered. She imagined this child—alone, frightened, hungry and cold—left inside the barrow for whatever reason. She could not leave it there. She took in a deep breath, bent down to kiss her own child on its forehead, then moved inside the doorway of the barrow. She laid her child next to the door—as she had planned to do when she came up here—and she moved farther into the barrow.
She could tell she was coming closer to where the live infant lay, because the crying was louder now, although it did not seem any stronger—in fact, it seemed to be growing weaker the longer she listened. She felt her way along inside the hut, listening to the child cry. When she reached the back wall, she felt along to the side, closer to the cries she heard.
Finally, as she inched her way along the back wall, she felt cloth beneath her leg. She stopped. The cries were weaker, but they were coming from right beside her. She reached down to feel what might be there. She felt cloth, first, then her fingers touched a warm face—a face with tears on it. She felt the child’s face turning toward her fingers, taking one of her fingers in its mouth and sucking. It was a strong suck. The child could live, if she took it out of this place of the dead.
She bowed her head and spoke to her goddess. “Lady,” she said, out loud. “Have you given me this child to replace my own?”
There was no answer—but, then, she hadn’t been expecting one. There was only the child, sucking at her finger, trying to find some sustenance. She felt a tear from her own eye fall onto her hand. She lifted up this strange child, stood up, and walked toward the door, toward the light. The child started crying again as soon as Angharad took her finger out of its mouth.
When Angharad walked out of the hut, into the light, she felt as if she and the child had been born a second time. This is my child, she thought. Because she had brought it out from the Earth’s womb, this child was hers as surely as if she had born it herself.
She sat down with the baby, just outside of the doorway, bared her left breast and brought the child’s face to it. The child sucked hungrily. Angharad felt part of her soul being sucked out along with her milk. She felt the child grow stronger as she sucked. She felt herself begin to smile as she looked down at this helpless thing she held against her.
Only then did she see the cloth the baby was wrapped in. It wasn’t the coarse wool she had wrapped her own dead babe in. It was finer than anything she had seen before—finer than the cloth that made up the archdruid’s raiment. It was a shiny gold in color, and she might have thought it was made of that metal if she could not feel that it was soft, like the lamb’s wool she sheered in the spring, like the undercoat of the lambs.
She opened the blanket as the baby sucked, expecting it to be naked underneath. But she found that it had clothing on under the blanket. The clothing had been sewn, it seemed, just for the baby. There was a tunic of a bright purple color—like the violets that starred the grass in the spring. And there were some sort of stockings or hose, lighter than the tunic but still purple, encasing the little legs and holding the diaper in place. When the hands came free, Angharad could see little mitts on them and there were booties on the feet.
Angharad stared in wonder at the child. She had never seen an infant dressed like this before. She had never seen anyone dressed like this. Where on Earth would a child wear such clothing? She asked herself.
Gently, while the child still sucked at her nipple, she pulled down the hose and the diaper to see if it was a boy or a girl. A girl. A perfect child, without a mark on her. Angharad’s tears came more quickly as she sat, looking at the perfectly formed infant in her arms.
After a moment, she was able to control her tears and her voice. “Thank you, Lady,” she said, very softly, looking out at the midmorning sunlight. Then she looked down again at the child, who let go of her nipple at that moment and looked up at Angharad. “I shall call her Rhiannon.” The child seemed to smile suddenly, looking up at Angharad with eyes as violet as the sky at sunset. Angharad went on speaking to the Lady, although she was looking down at the child. “Because she came out of the barrow.”
Last Stop in Brooklyn is the third murder mystery in a series by Lawrence H. Levy. They are set in New York before the turn of the 20th century, and the detective is female named Mary Handley.
In this story, the main mystery is a series of murders that seem to be a continuation of Jack the Ripper’s work—prostitutes are murdered and mutilated on the anniversaries of Jack’s kills. And someone seems to be trying to cover up for the murderer, since each case has been sealed shortly after the investigation began. Mary is approached by the brother of a man who has been convicted of the first prostitute murder to clear his name.
There are other things going on, as well, however. An anarchist sets off a suicide bomb in a wealthy industrialist’s office, injuring the industrialist and killing at least one person other than the bomber. The husband of one of Mary Handley’s friends seems to be having an affair with the wife of the son of one of Mary’s mother’s friends. An employee who was injured in the bombing tries to sue the industrialist. A policeman is in the pay of the industrialist.
These are all interesting pieces to the mystery, and I was looking forward to the way that Levy would connect all of them. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. It seemed to me that the murderer would have to be someone important in the city, someone who would have a police officer on his payroll, because the files were all sealed. That was important in the story—someone was sealing all of the files on dead prostitutes before the killer was found.
But, when we found out who the killer was, he had no apparent connection with anyone in the police force. He was not connected in any apparent way with the wealthy industrialist who was such a large part of the story. He was not connected in any way with Mary’s friend, her husband, or the woman he was supposedly having an affair with. So, these were two different stories: the murder of the prostitutes and the problems of the wealthy industrialist. What connection did they have with each other? Nothing was shown.
All in all, I was quite disappointed with this story.
Skullduggery, a novel of piracy in the New World by Robert Frusolone, makes an interesting read. From the Bahamas to Virginia, this book gives a fascinating look at the people and landscapes that made up the New World before the American Revolution. Grayson Fallon, as protagonist, captured my interest at once and kept it for the entirety of the novel.
The story begins when a man wakes up on a desert island, surrounded by bodies, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He is picked up by a ship and he learns that his name is Grayson Fallon and he is a pirate. The name seems right to him, but the idea that he might be a pirate does not. So, he starts a voyage to discover the truth.
I only had one major problem with the way this story is constructed. That problem is that the author writes from too many points of view, diluting the sympathy the reader should have for the main character. We learn about the main character and his situation from the outside—which would be fine, but the main character should be learning these things. Grayson Fallon has amnesia, so he doesn’t know any of the things we are seeing from the outside.
However, the scenery is well-drawn and consistent. I found it fascinating to walk through the towns of Virginia in the 18th century. And the ships they had at the time were described very well. The author gives an excellent taste of the times.
I was also very interested in the tale of what happened to Grayson Fallon, how he was lost, and how he found himself. There was enough suspense in that story that I felt I had to keep reading until I found out what would happen.
Finally, Robert Frusolone managed to pull together all of the strings at the end of the novel. There were no questions that were not answered at the end. I believe this is the most important thing. It made the novel a satisfying experience.
I went to look at Yerkes Cemetery, today. It is at 8 mile rd and Meadowbrook in Northville.
It is a little cemetery--the smallest one I have yet visited. It almost seems like a family cemetery. Although there are other names on some of the stones, by far the most common name in the cemetery is Yerkes. I took pictures of eight separate monuments with the name Yerkes.
Some of the stones are fairly old--some of them are falling down.
But other stones have been repaired or replaced, so someone is clearly taking care of the cemetery.
I had written, in the 'Coming Soon' section of this website, that I would be submitting two stories to an anthology that is being called The Lost Door. I did submit one story to that collection, and it was accepted for publication. It will be coming out sometime in August, and I am very excited about it. I am also interested to read the other stories. It sounds like this collection will be outstanding, even by Zimbell House standards.
I had been planning to submit a second story to the same anthology, but after I had written it, I realized that my second story would not fit. The Lost Door is an anthology about Doors. The Door should be an important part of the story, almost another character. That is not the case in this story. The Door--a portajohn, in this case--is important, but it does not figure greatly after the first quarter of the story.
So, I have decided to offer it here:
Cat and Mouse