In an instant, flames escaped from the confining hearth. Some in the room laughed nervously and moved away. There were sighs as the flames died. Then, without warning, the blaze exploded. The explosion sounded like a thousand hammers pounding wood. A woman whimpered as flames, like glowing tongues, freed themselves from their source in the fireplace and floated through the room. They hovered in the air, causing a woman to shrink back and move to the doors. She pulled on the bolt, trying to slide it. The lock refused. She removed her rings. Perhaps they were preventing her from getting an adequate grip. It made no difference. As the woman began to cry, a man reached over, grasped the knob firmly and pulled. It wouldn’t move.
A parade of flames danced from the rift, moving to a wall of books, illuminating their titles, crawling from volume to volume. A few jumped to the portraits, moving up and down, licking the proud faces.
Satisfied with the success of his magic, Sir Charles began to cry: “We call you! Ehieh, Iod, TetragrammatonElohim, El, Elohim Gibor, Eloah Va-Daath, El Adonai Tzabaoth, ElohimTzabaoth, Shaddai. Ningiszida”! Again he cried, “Ehieh, Iod, Tetragrammaton Elohim, El, ElohimGibor, Eloah Va-Daath, El Adonai Tzabaoth, ElohimTzabaoth, Shaddai. Ningiszida!”
The room became cold, and terrified guests shivered. Someone called for an end to the ceremony. Many crowded the doors while others moved to the windows hidden by heavy drapes. Seeming to come from the fire, a hiss became a low, steady groan, which gave way to a barking laugh.
There came of moment of silence. The terrified guests began to eye escape, some trying the doors until a nibbling, crunching sound began, alternating with angry squeals, as if an army of mice were gnawing on bits of crackers, then turning on each other in rage.
A crow appeared from the shadows. With a shrieking CAW, it dropped down to the table, perched on the edge of the silver dish and pecked at the stones. Its eyes glowing red, the bird waved its head back and forth as it regarded the guests.
Someone shouted, “Break the glass, damn you!” A man struggled to open the windows. He began to pound the glass with a brass candlestick, but the glass remained inviolate. Women were crying. The crow cocked its head to one side and letting out another CAW, it began circling the room.
The Moroccan table trembled, causing the pebbles to rattle in the silver dish. Someone was chuckling, someone with a deep rich voice, who was terribly amused. Pebbles floated out of the bowl and began to strike foreheads, bouncing playfully, striking one and springing to another. Popping sounds sounding like gunfire caused a man to duck. Then an odor, rich with decay seeped into the room.
Discovery became the least of Linda’s fears. She felt an awful dread. Of what she wished for, the most urgent was to run, to burst from her hiding place, cross the room, hurry out the tall doors and into the safety of her mother’s arms. Making an effort to flee, she discovered she was paralyzed. Her muscles were frozen. Unable to blink, she stared at the horror before her. The cabinet door flew off its hinges. As the door hurtled across the room, it struck a woman, her head slammed down and crushed with blood spilling on the polished floor.
Linda’s eyes watered, and tears spilled down her cheeks. The guests, those who were still alive, screamed in pain. A man tripped on the edge of his robe, knocking another man down, into the edge of a table. There was a loud snap as the second man’s neck broke.
One of the young wives struggled to remove her robe, shrieking, “It’s stuck, it’s stuck; someone help me!” Tears trailed Linda’s hands as she watched the woman’s graceful fingers claw the ceremonial robe as it melted. Before she was blinded, Linda saw flames bouncing throughout the room.
There were eyes . . . A mist appeared and took the shape of a yawning mouth. Sir Charles was lifted up, his fat white body exposed; the robe hiked up and covering his face. He bellowed like an old bull led to the slaughter before the fog-mouth swallowed him whole.
Dark. She was floating, not far. She could still hear the faint cries of the guests. She felt something, a being within her, searching . . . for what? Yes, the baby, yes, of course. Magic, she decided as she considered her child, the thing that made her scheme, to punish Matthew, make him pay, as she would pay, and now . . .
It didn’t matter.
Snaking through the rift they discover the treasure in the girl’s womb. The baby’s umbilical cord shakes and invisible whiskers erupt along the placenta, which begins to undulate like a gentle tide. As if welcoming a guest, the baby nods, and the tendrils of energy become colored threads. The threads become like yarn around a kitten, but instead it is the yarn that plays. It winds around the child, and then there’s a stinger piercing the tiny heart and brain. Like a needle, it stitches and weaves in and out, binding the child to another world.
There is a port; an outstation exists. The port secured, it lies snug within the child, a secret base in a foreign land. They reveled in the pain and blood, but the carnage at hand was but a taste. As the feeding ended, questions buzzed along the healing breach. The next rift, when would it be? How many times would the rift disappear before it stayed? Much was revealed in the wall’s timeline, but not the most important question. When would they feast forever?
In the meantime, there was the child.
Linda followed the sinewy being, its long fingers outstretched and groping as it found the tiny human curled within her. The yellow flames in its eyes detached and clung to red claws as they trailed wisps like maypole ribbons. The creature began to dance. The baby’s eyes followed the swirl of ribbons. The creature was whispering something in her child’s unformed ear. The baby rocked its head and waved its stubby arms and legs. She struggled to get closer. What was it saying that stirred her child? She knew the baby wanted to detach and leave her. Linda wished it could leave; she would let it go.
But her baby stayed, for a while.
November 6, 1885
The train lurched and hissed, and Rebecca watched for the tavern. She would see it soon, the sign “Ram’s Head.” Though it was early in the day, there would be comings and goings of men through the pub’s door. Those without work, their shoulders rounded and hands stuffed deep into pockets, crept in and emerged, unchanged hours later. Clouds of steam rising in the cold air obscured everything but the dark movement of scattered figures, people waiting to greet the train from London. She saw the shake of a horse’s head before she saw the wagon.
Where was the “Ram’s Head”? It was her only memory from the day she left. Pints, singing, darts, an occasional fight, the “Ram’s Head” was where her brothers spent so many hours, hours not in the mine. It wasn’t a place for a young girl, they said. Go home now or we’ll tell. The mine took them when the cage fell, and she swore she’d never come back. There was nowhere to go now but Aberdare.
Early in their journey, Linda’s whispered pleas, “N-n-n-ooo . . . ” had resulted in the migration of fellow passengers to other cars. Mother and daughter rode alone, the rows of empty seats rattling as Rebecca traveled the path she vowed to leave behind. As the train pulled in, her mother peered through the window, and Linda lay stretched across her mother’s lap.
Clouds threatened a storm as Rebecca searched for the “Ram’s Head,” and found her father instead. His cap pulled down, hiding his face, but she knew the faded coat; she had mended it countless times. There were two older men; she recognized them, acquaintances of her father’s. They were certainly not friends; her father tolerated little that would pass for friendship. The men nodded as they boarded the train and found the women alone. One carried Linda and the other, luggage to her father’s wagon. She trembled as she followed them. It had been fifteen years.
Her father, his tall frame bent from years of shoeing horses, stood quietly. His eyes were distant. He loaded their belongings next to his limp granddaughter. “Your hair—it’s white,” she said. His brows still showed red as they hung low over his brown eyes.
He climbed onto the wagon, and in his high-pitched, graveled voice, a voice grim and cold with disappointment, he said, “Let’s get her home while there’s no rain.”
He drove the wagon to the modest house where she was born, and she looked for familiar faces. A few appeared; a playmate she barely recognized waved shyly. Most avoided her glance or stared in curiosity, hoping for a glimpse of Linda. The wagon swayed and bumped along the uneven road, but Linda remained unaware, caught deep in whatever dream held her. As the horse drew them near the small cottage, Rebecca’s only thought was that it needed paint; the white was peeling, the wood underneath revealed.
He never looked in her direction, nor did he glance at Linda. Her dead mother had been the only link between them. Rebecca and her blacksmith father were strangers, but she had no one else, nor did Linda.
He carried Linda into the dingy bedroom of Rebecca’s childhood. Placing her on the narrow bed, the blankets thick with dust and neglect, he told her, “There’s soup for the both of you. I expect you to earn your keep.” With those words, he left.
Even in Aberdare, people had heard. Twenty people, including Lord Towning, died that night; all but Sir Charles had burned, their robes melted onto their charred bodies. Sir Charles had bled to death, his body discovered on the Moroccan table. The silver bowl was wedged between his legs. When the resistant doors suddenly opened for the bewildered servants, other than the charred corpses, they revealed no evidence of fire or intruders.
While her father sheltered his widowed daughter and her child, Rebecca earned their keep by taking in laundry. It wasn’t long before Linda’s pregnancy was obvious. Wincing at his scorn, she was relieved when he didn’t turn them out.
Months passed, uneventful but for the sleeping girl’s changing body.
At times, Rebecca thought Linda was coming back. The girl’s dark eyes would dart back and forth, her expression frantic. It was the whispered word repeated—No—no-no-no-no-no-no . . . that frightened Rebecca.
As she awaited the birth of her grandchild, she bathed and fed Linda, who was helpless as a newborn. “Do you think she can hear me?” Rebecca was hopeful.
“I don’t have any idea, perhaps,” the midwife answered. She leaned over and studied her patient’s placid face. “Linda, dear, Linda. Listen to me, the baby’s coming. Do you hear me, girl? Your baby, it’s coming soon.” The midwife put her ear near the girl’s slack mouth.
The figure in the bed lay unmoving, her eyes closed. The hair that grew on what was left of Linda’s scalp was still a glorious auburn. It hung in thin patches not covered by the scars. On Linda’s face were few scars, but her complexion had a grayish cast. Rebecca comforted herself by thinking it was better than the charred black it had been.
“Oh dear, oh my dear . . . ” The midwife frowned as she listened to Linda’s heart. She tucked clean rags and towels under her patient, replacing those that were blood soaked. She sighed, “Your girl is dying.”
Staring at the bloodstained rags, Rebecca felt nothing. Is this how it is, she wondered. Is this how you get through the loss of a child?
The baby slipped out and into the midwife’s gnarled hands. Linda’s eyes sprang open and rolled back. The woman wrapped the new baby boy in a blanket as Rebecca stroked her daughter’s face, and holding her daughter’s dead hand, she sang a lullaby.
The midwife tapped Rebecca’s shoulder. “You have a grandson; hold him now.”
Taking the small bundle, Rebecca slid her index finger between the soft folds of the blanket, uncovering the baby’s face. Revulsion overwhelmed her as the infant’s eyes, yellow and cold, stared back.
Three days later Rebecca found an old woman willing to take her grandson, named Bernard, to a London orphanage. She hoped he would die there, but she doubted he would. The child had a way of making his needs met. She wanted him far away while he was small and weak, while her mind still belonged to her.
Nine years passed. Linda rested in the ground next to the two uncles she never met. Rebecca lived in the cottage alone, her stern father dead from a cancer that took his dignity along with his life. The post had arrived the day before. As she sat rocking, her body aching from scrubbing and ironing the laundry of single men and the well-to-do, she opened an envelope marked: St. Stephen’s Home for Orphans. He’s dead, she thought, hoped—please, I can’t . . .
Someone had sent a newspaper clipping detailing the murder of Mrs. Rita Croft and the disappearance of Crispin Baker, known as Professor Theosopho, a self-proclaimed psychic. Police were questioning guests at a fundraiser held for the benefit of an orphanage, and attended by Mrs. Croft and the Professor. The name circled, it was the same orphanage where her grandson had been taken.
The note enclosed with the clipping said, “He’s missing. Say a prayer that he stays lost.” That night, Rebecca prayed that her grandson stayed lost forever.