Section 1: History
Section 2: Literature
Section 3: Philosophy
Section 4: Creative
"Whose idea was this, anyway?" Marty gasped as she threw Patrick an accusing look and veered off the woodland trail they were following. There was a felled tree lying, at perfect sitting height, in the underbrush alongside the path, and the sight of it set up a clamor in her tired legs. She sat upon it heavily, with an exaggerated "Oof!" and rubbed her calves. Her jeans felt as if they weighed ten pounds - it'd been chilly when they'd started, but oh, why hadn't she worn walking shorts - and her hair was tangled with god-only-knew-what. She hoped it was just leaves.
"I thought it was both of our ideas, Angel," Patrick answered calmly, as completely unruffled as if he'd just been out for a Sunday stroll. He looked every bit the compleat outdoorsman in his khaki shorts, long-sleeved off-white henley shirt underneath a multi-pocketed vest, and heavy-duty hiking boots. His long autumn-colored hair was pulled back in a ponytail under his cap. Despite the length of the hike they had just finished - a three-hour climb up Llantano Mountain, not exactly Mount Everest, but still... Patrick had barely broken a sweat. "We both wanted to build up a little more stamina, didn't we? Not that I ever thought there was anythin' wrong with yours last night," he smiled devilishly.
Not in the mood for teasing, Marty wanted to throw something at him, but she didn't have the energy. Besides, there was nothing handy to throw... not even a empty beer can in the vicinity. What there was, was probably poison ivy, snakes, or bloodthirsty spiders. "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Marty sulked. "But I'm tired and hot and thirsty, and we've walked all this way, and that just means we'll have to walk all the way back!"
Looking at her woebegone face, Patrick wanted to bolster her spirits, not humor her current sense of defeat. "You know you're bein' a right pain, don't you?" he asked mildly. "We've certainly survived more tryin' ordeals. So let's get a move on."
"No! I just want to sit here for awhile and catch my breath. Enjoy nature. You go on. I'll catch up with you when you're finally exhausted," Marty told him in no uncertain terms. "It's got to happen sooner or later," she added hopefully.
But it really was an inviting landscape surrounding them, Marty realized in belated recognition, glancing around. During their hike, she had been so intent on putting one foot in front of the other fast enough to keep up with Patrick that the scenery had made little impression on her. But now she could raise her eyes to the protective green canopy overhead, enjoy the sense of cool shelter the trees gave her against the bright sunlight beaming through their countless leaves, smile at the squirrel gazing down at her inquisitively from a nearby branch, and try to identify which bird was scolding its mate... much as she herself had just been. Still, underlying the deceptive tranquility, it was obvious that nature was at work all around them, in the watchfulness of the trees, in the hum of the insects, in the distant hoot of an owl and the answering tremor of a woodmouse.
The wildness of the woods called to the wildness that was still in her heart, the wildness that only Patrick could understand and contain when she released it. She hadn't really wanted to come hiking with him today, but maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all, Marty reflected silently.
Patrick watched her just as silently, waiting for her to rest. He wouldn't desert Marty and continue hiking the trail by himself, and she knew it - he was a little perturbed that she would even suggest he do so. Was he being too hard on her? Patrick was an experienced hiker, but she wasn't, and she'd been so busy at the hospital lately, working all hours... he could tell she really didn't want to go hiking with him today. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all, he admitted to himself.
"Why don't you sit down too, Patrick?" Marty asked suddenly, patting the tree trunk beside her. "I'm starting to be glad we came. It's so lovely... it really is. I think I just needed a chance to catch my second breath... once I do, I'll be all right. I'd forgotten how peaceful it is out here... when I was little girl, I used to call this my enchanted forest." She surprised herself with her last words, for a faint memory had just popped unbidden into her head. A wondering smile broke over her face as she tried to bring the memory into focus, but it slipped away.
"Look at me like that, Margaret, and I'm the one who's got to catch his breath," Patrick muttered, sitting beside her. "All right, we can take it easy for awhile. If we sit here so long that it gets dark and we lose our way... it'll be your fault, you know, but no matter what strange things may lurk in these woods at night, I'll still protect you," he added gallantly.
Unbeknownst to him, Patrick's casual words evoked the same long-buried memory for Marty, and when she looked at him in response to them, she seemed to be seeing beyond him, instead of - him, somehow. "Oh, my god, Patrick - I did get lost out here once," she recalled quietly. "And I haven't thought about it for so long - it seems like a dream now. I can't believe you said that."
"I'm sorry, Angel," Patrick apologized quickly, disconcerted by the strange expression on her face. "I was just bein' a bloody smart-ass - I wish I'd known, I -"
"No, I'm glad you did," Marty interrupted, gripping his hand. "It's not a bad memory - in fact, it's a good one, I know it is. But even though it seemed so real to me at the time - now I wonder if I only dreamed it?"
She knew she wasn't making much sense... how could she make it make sense to Patrick, when she wasn't sure of it herself? Marty had had little experience verbalizing her memories. Most of them were painful or frightening. The precious ones she'd learned to hold fiercely to herself, for they meant nothing to anyone else and sharing them only had them returned to her trampled. Now, she had Patrick with whom to banish the bad memories, and share the precious ones - but at times like these she felt like a baby just learning to speak. Although he knew more about her than anyone else in the world, there was still so much he didn't know because she was still learning it herself.
"How could you dream being lost in the woods, Margaret? Either you were or you weren't," Patrick pointed out a bit practically, still worried that whatever Marty was remembering would turn out to be a recollection best left covered by the blanket of time that muffled the past. "Besides, it's not unusual - I was just thinkin' how much these woods remind me of County Kildare. I got lost wanderin' off myself more than once, when I was a lad."
"But that's just it - you were a 'lad.' You had a lot more freedom than I did and you were a lot braver. It was so funny - Aunt Kiki didn't care what I did, but I was afraid to do anything, at least when I was a child. But I would come up here when I could - I was more afraid of her than anything, and this was one place she couldn't be bothered to come, not that she ever looked for me anyway. And my parents used to bring me here for picnics, so after they died I'd pack a sandwich - pretend I was running away to find them - and here I'd come, but it was always alone." Marty's voice trailed off and again, she appeared to be far away. "Well, almost always... ."
"It sounds like a bittersweet memory, Angel," Patrick said softly, taking her hand and holding it between his knees in an unconscious gesture. "You're not alone any more, you know, and - and we'll make our own memories - sweet memories. As sweet as you." When Marty didn't respond to this heartfelt speech, Patrick again felt a qualm. The last two words she'd spoken suddenly echoed in his brain, and he repeated them, involuntarily. "Almost always? Was somebody else here with you, then?"
She hesitated. "No... it - it must have just been a dream, or I made it up and told it to myself so many times I believed it. I had a pretty good imagination. I mean, I had to, because I didn't have many friends, so -"
"Margaret!" Patrick burst out. "You're scarin' me with this! What happened in these woods?"
He cursed himself for the alarm he saw spreading across her face, but he couldn't help himself. He had memories too - and right now he was remembering how he'd chased after Marty in the snow on another part of this mountain, and how she'd run from him, then stopped and turned and screamed at him, "Todd raped me!" and how the tears poured down his own face.
He was always so aware of the sorrow and the pain that she still carried with her - maybe too aware, for he carried much himself - and that might lie just below the surface of even a light-hearted hike. No matter how much he loved her and yearned to protect her. And was it just his imagination, or had the sunlight dimmed?
A crackle of thunder interrupted Patrick mid-thought and halted whatever answer Marty was about to give him.
"Oh, my god!" Margaret breathed, her eyes widening in surprise. "Thunder - this is just like before... "
"Margaret, for god's sake, will you please tell me what the bloody hell you're talkin' about?" Patrick begged. "And please, tell me fast - we've got to see if we can find some shelter." As he spoke, there was another clap of thunder. "Look, I've been caught in my share of bad weather, and I don't mind it, but I've got to get you someplace safe." A strong gust of wind suddenly shuddered the trees all around them, adding to Patrick's anxiety. He stood up, and pulled Marty with him.
Marty, however, seemed to be in her own little world. Ignoring his last sentence and concentrating on his previous one, Marty didn't seem to be very perturbed, only a bit puzzled, as she tried to explain, "Patrick, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, what happened wasn't bad - I mean if it even happened at all - but it's this memory I have, a memory that I'd forgotten all about." Strangely enough, the thunder and the wind didn't bother her - she knew, somehow, that they would be safe. Her calm attitude at last had some effect on Patrick.
"Well, if you can remember whatever it is, you can tell me once we're out of this storm that's brewin' - come on, we've already passed a couple of lodges, maybe we can find another one before it starts gettin' worse," he urged her.
Another strong gust of wind whipped past them. Marty threw her arms around Patrick, holding him close for a moment and gazing into his eyes. Instinctively, his arms closed around her at the same time he wondered what the hell she was doing.
"There is a place nearby," Marty breathed. "I remember that! This is all part of what happened to me before!"
He could feel her intensity through the pressure of her slight body against his tall strong one, and from the pleading in her eyes for him to not doubt her. "Whatever you say, Angel," Patrick assured her. "If you know where there is a place we can take shelter, lead me to it. I'm right behind you."
The wind began to pick up, and Marty shivered, but it was a physical reaction to the emotional storm raging inside of her, not the actual thunderstorm that threatened. She sensed that the thunderstorm was what was unblocking - unlocking - the memories almost within her grasp. She felt - she knew - that something incredibly significant had happened, was happening, and was about to happen again, and it was so frustrating to have it elude her, because - it didn't just concern her, it somehow concerned Patrick as well.
She broke their embrace and moved ahead of him on the trail, holding out her hand for him to follow her. She was overjoyed when he took it, signifying his faith in her; it resonated throughout her body, sustaining her own strength and resolve.
...Marty sobbed in fear as the sky darkened around her and the trees that had formed the walls of her make-believe playhouse began to shake. The "plates" and "cups" she had painstakingly formed of leaves and carefully arranged on the perfect tree stump table, the small bouquets of wildflowers she had gathered and laid at each place-setting... all were gone in a heedless gust of wind. Any moment, it would start to rain, as promised by the rumble of thunderclaps off in the distance. But she was less afraid of the rain than of the stabs of lightning.
There had to be someplace she could take shelter. But where? Marty was a shy child, and since her parents' deaths, her retreats to the woods had always been solitary. She avoided the signs of habitation; there were campers and hikers and the occupants of vacation cabins nestled in the woods here and there, but they were usually in family groups, reminding her of what she had lost. Some of the families had been friendly with hers, before her parents had died, and the last thing Marty wanted was their looks of pity, so she had tried to forget their very existence. Still, she thought she could recall roughly where at least some cabins were located, and looking up at the threatening sky, which she could barely see between the wind-tossed branches overhead, she made her decision to head for the nearest one... for as much as she dreaded asking for anyone's help, she knew she had to get out of the gathering storm. There should be a shelter off the same trail she had followed to reach her private woodland playhouse, she thought. All she had to do was retrace her steps.
With sudden, heart-stopping brilliance, a bolt of lightning filled Marty's field of vision, and she screamed. Her mind went numb. Blindly, unable to weigh the consequences, she took off like a wild rabbit and scrambled headlong into the deepest part of the woods on this side of Llantano Mountain.
Marty didn't know how long she had been running when she finally began to slow down in exhaustion. In her flight, she had long since lost any sense of direction and she had no idea where she was. She'd simply ran until her legs threatened to buckle under her. There was a stitch in her side and her bare arms and legs were covered with scratches from the underbrush, but she was hardly aware of the discomfort, with the thunder ringing in her ears and the lightning trying to find her among the trees. The rain had begun its assault, too.
A scrap of verse drummed in Marty's mind as incessantly as the rain drummed on the leaves overhead: The rain is falling all around, It falls on field and tree... .
She tried to be brave, she tried to tell herself her parents were looking down on her from heaven and protecting her from any harm, but she had never been so terrified or felt so all alone in her life.
Pushing her way through a snarled overhang of branches blocking her way, keeping her head down until she was well past their grasping fingers, Marty exhaled in relief when she finally looked up again. There, not a hundred feet away from where she stood, across a small - and blessed - clearing, stood a cabin! With the renewed vigor of the thunder at her back, Marty stumbled forward.
It must have been the rain that lent the landscape before her a misty quality, because the dwelling - it didn't look so much like a cabin, as a cottage, since it wasn't made of logs or wood siding as the other cabins Marty was familiar with were; rather its walls were constructed of stone - seemed to subtly shimmer. But amidst the grayness of stone and rain, comforting glows of light shone through the windows - wavy-glassed windows - set on either side of its arched front door. Dimly, Marty wondered if this cottage had always been here and if it had, how had she missed it, and who lived in it. But it was here when she needed it, somebody appeared to be at home inside of it, and that was all that mattered right now.
Another explosion of lightning, and in a mad dash, Marty raced across the clearing, all hesitancy forgotten as her self-preservation instinct kicked in. She pressed herself against the heavy door, raised her fist and pounded as loudly on it as she could manage. When the door opened quickly, it was so unexpected that she lost her balance and fell into the peace and warmth of the room within.
"Oh!" she gasped, feeling like Alice in Wonderland. Instead of landing in a heap on the floor as she expected to, she found herself held in the grasp of a very tall boy who had apparently answered her knock and then been quick enough to catch her mid-descent... who was now looking at her with the same surprise and shock that she felt.
Simultaneously, they asked, "Who are you?"
Marty was the first to break free from the unexpected and accidental embrace she found herself in. She had seldom been touched, deliberately or otherwise, since her parents had died, and her initial reaction was to shake off any contact. She backed away instinctively, towards the door, her blue eyes wide with shock, unable to focus on her surroundings.
Not only was this somewhat peculiar... house, cottage, whatever it was... unfamiliar to her, but she sensed something even stranger about it now that she was inside of it. . Just as the its exterior had, the interior seemed to - to shimmer, somehow... to not seem solid. Marty didn't feel afraid of it, exactly, or fearful of the boy facing her, who was solid enough and staring at her open-mouthed surprise. But she did feel disoriented. Was this anything like the way Lucy Pevensy felt after pushing through the row of winter coats hanging in the wardrobe in the Professor's house and finding herself in a different world? Marty wondered fleetingly. Was time the same here, or had it stopped? Or was it faster? And then she realized she was being silly... fanciful, her Aunt Kiki would call it.
Finally, the boy spoke again when she didn't. "Who are you?" he repeated curiously.
"Lucy," Marty replied, almost without thinking. She'd been well-drilled, after her parents died, by Aunt Kiki, - who was, ostensibly, her guardian; certainly the guardian of her fortune - on revealing her last name because of the dangers of kidnapping that might imperil such the well-known heiress to the Saybrooke millions. But never before had Marty blurted out any other than her own first name.
Belatedly remembering some of her manners (also well-drilled into her), despite her unease, she added, "I'm sorry for barging in. I - I didn't mean to."
He shrugged. "Well, I opened the door for you, aye? I thought I heard some footsteps and - "
"Aye?" Marty repeated, thinking that along with everything else that didn't make sense, he talked funny, but keeping her opinion to herself. She thought only pirates used words like "aye."
"Aye - uh - yeah. Yes," he replied.
"Thank you," she answered politely, imperceptibly edging towards the door. "For opening the door for me, I mean, and letting me in. But I think... maybe... I ought to go now."
He stared at her. "Are you mad? It's still rainin' - you'll catch your death!" he protested. "What were you doin' out in this nasty bit of weather, anyway, a wee thing like you?"
The kindness underlying the roughness of his funny-sounding voice made tears sting Marty's eyes momentarily. It had been a long time, too, since anyone had expressed any genuine concern for her welfare. She began to explain, hoping that he wouldn't conclude she was stupid, "I was in the woods, playing, and I didn't know it was supposed to rain. When it started to thunder and lightening I got scared, so I ran, and then I - I got lost, and I saw this house."
"Lost? You're not from around here then? Ah, that explains why you - ," the boy said, almost as if he were speaking to himself.
"Explains why I what?" Marty asked worriedly. Was she doing something wrong?
Talk funny, he added silently. But he was too innately diplomatic to say it aloud. What he did say out loud was, " - seemed so afraid. You don't have to be, you know. Nobody lives here."
"Nobody lives here?" she was terribly puzzled. "But - don't you - ?"
The boy gave a shout of laughter. "Me? Are you wantin' to know if I live here? In this place?"
Mystified, Marty could only stare at him. "If you don't live here, then how did you get in? Should we even be here? Won't we get in trouble?" She knew she must sound like a 'fraidy-cat - especially to a great boy like this one - but really, nothing he'd said so far had lessened any of her apprehensions. In fact, it had only increased them.
"Jesus, Joseph and Mary!" he scoffed. "I'm sorry, but if you don't ask more bloody questions than any girl I've ever - "
Marty gasped. "I'm sorry - but I just don't understand and I don't want to get in trouble! Maybe I should just leave - "
"Wait, Lucy, please," he interrupted. "Look, I said I was sorry, didn't I? Please come in and wait at least until the rain stops?" He stepped aside, indicating the fire blazing merrily in the grate across the room. "See, I don't even know you were comin' but I made it all nice for you. And you'll just lose your way again if you leave now." Ordinarily he didn't have much use for girls, except occasionally his sister, but for some reason he felt protective of this one. She seemed lost in more ways than one; he wondered if she was quite right in the head. He wondered if he were, as well. Otherwise he would be shooing her away, wouldn't he? - not encouraging her to stay... rain or no rain.
Marty hesitated. The fire was cheerful. Even though the scene still appeared a little indistinct to her, no matter how hard she squinted her eyes, at the same time it seemed to draw her subtly into its warmth. The few furnishings that caught her eye looked old and nondescript to her, almost colorless, as did the walls and even the scatter rug she glanced at her feet, but there was an overstuffed sofa across the room, and a large pillow beside which was a small stack of books topped by a spiral-bound notebook rested before the hearth. She really did not want to return outside to the storm and the wind, which she could hear still howling past the windows.
"You're a strange one," he commented, watching her concentrate in silence as she pondered what she should do. "By the time you make up your mind to stay or go, the sun'll be shinin' again."
The twinkle in his eye told her that he was only teasing. The twinkle was very vivid.
"You're sure it's all right?" Marty asked anxiously.
"Sure it is. I told you, nobody comes here. Well, I do, but my da would whip me if he knew I did. But he'll never know," he answered breezily.
So he was an intruder, too? But the pillow, the books - if they belonged to him, he was certainly making himself at home here, Marty reflected. And if he didn't get in trouble for it - maybe it would be all right for her to stay, too, then. Her curiosity about him was aroused now, and she decided to try another question. Taking a deep breath, she ventured, "Why do you come here?"
The twinkle in the boy's eye dimmed a bit. "It's my get-away," he replied almost challengingly.
Marty was the one person who understood the need for a get-away, so at least that statement made perfect sense to her. This place would be a wonderful get-away, if she could only find it again! But still... "How do you keep anybody else from coming here?" Marty persisted.
"Oh, that's easy," he grinned. "It's haunted."
H-h-h-haunted?" Marty stammered, her voice catching in her throat. Just then, a boom of thunder so loud it rattled the window panes made her nearly jump out of her skin. She screamed and, deserted by any rational thought, scrambled wildly for the door. She would rather take her chances outside with nature. Flinging the door wide, however, brought her up short, when an impenetrable sheet of water streamed down inches from her nose.
"Wait! What are you doing? Oh, bloody hell!" The boy sounded exasperated, as Marty's momentary pause at the door allowed him to grasp her arm none too gently and yank her back inside the room. "Are you daft?"
"Let me go!" Marty struggled frantically. "I'm afraid of ghosts!"
He shook his head impatiently at her. "I didn't say there were ghosts here, I said it was haunted."
"That's the same thing!" she insisted, looking back over her shoulder at the downpour visible through the open door. "Let go of me - I don't want to stay here any more, I'm scared!" Tears filled her eyes. It seemed like hours ago that she had been playing in the woods, in the peaceful little make-believe world that was hers only so rarely. Now she was in a nightmare, trapped between a raging storm and a haunted house, with a strange boy who talked funny and wouldn't let her go. At that moment, she actually wished her Aunt Kiki would appear... Aunt Kiki might be scary herself, but at least she wasn't supernatural.
"I'm tellin' you there's a lot more to be scared of out there than in here," And with that, the boy swung the door shut with a resounding thud. As her frightened gaze followed the door, he added reassuringly, "It's not locked, I didn't lock it. You can leave if you get too scared, OK? But I shouldn't let the rain come drivin' in."
"B-b-but - "
"Look, if there were ghosts here, I wouldn't be here, would I?" he interrupted reasonably.
" - you said it was haunted. And - and - it does feel kind of funny in here," Marty nevertheless continued, looking around with some dread, still envisioning a ghost family somewhere in residence. But he looked so calm, so normal, with that glint of humor in his eyes, that Marty began to calm down a little despite her fright. And the glow from the hearth, warm and steady, also would seem to belie any lingering phantoms. Although she still felt so strange, her heartbeat begin to return to its normal rate of speed. "Then why did you say it was haunted?" she demanded.
He released her arm. "Well, it's been here a long, long time," he told her. "So people say it's haunted. It keeps 'em away, so that's all I care about. How was I t'know you'd really think it had ghosts? Besides, a place doesn't have to have ghosts to be haunted."
Her eyes opened wide. "What do you mean? How can it be haunted if it doesn't have ghosts?"
"What a lot of questions. Do you really want to know?" he asked curiously.
"It's a long story. I brought along some tea in a flask. D'you want some?"
"Tea? You mean like a tea party?" Marty asked, brightening, remembering her recently aborted one, and momentarily forgetting ghosts.
"Somethin' like that," he shrugged. "I have some chocolate biscuits too. D'you want one?"
Marty realized how hungry she was. She had never seen a chocolate biscuit before, but she was willing to try one. Eagerly, she answered, "I'd love one."
"Then you won't try to run away while it's still rainin' out?" he asked, cocking his head.
"No, I won't, unless... ," she hesitated, reluctant to give up that option on the off chance he was wrong about there being no ghosts, especially in the face of his still claiming the place to be haunted.
"Unless - ?" he prompted.
All at once, Marty felt foolish for behaving like such a baby. "Nothing," she muttered.
"Come in then, and let's sit by the fire," he said tactfully, motioning to where his belongings were already gathered. She then noticed a thermos bottle and a paper bag among them. They crossed the room, Marty following close behind him, and he pulled a pillow from the sofa and placed it on the floor for her. "There, you'll be nice and cozy, won't you? You can dry off a bit in front of the fire, too," he said, thinking that it was a bit nice to have company for a change, even an peculiar one like this. "'Ever the rain - the rain and the wind! Come, hunch with me over the fire... ,'" he added softly.
Marty sat cross-legged on the pillow he provided, trying to ignore her lingering nervousness. He was nice, very nice after all, even if he had frightened her earlier, she told herself resolutely. She accepted the cup of tea he handed her, while he took a swallow straight from the thermos. Then he opened the paper bag with a rustle and withdrew a package of cookies wrapped in waxed paper. He unwrapped it and offered them to her. Confused - she'd thought he'd said "biscuits," and was expecting something unfamiliar, but these were just plain chocolate cookies - Marty thanked him, took one, and bit into it.
Even she had to admit this was turning out to be much better than the tea party she'd had planned. She'd worked so hard to make it nice before the wind destroyed her efforts, but she'd only had pretend food to serve on her leafy plates. Next time, she reflected, she'd bring her own food.
After she ate the cookie Marty sipped her tea. It tasted a lot stronger than the tea she was allowed to have and it made her grimace, but she was afraid he would think she was rude if she didn't drink it and, truthfully, she was afraid she had already made a bad enough first impression. It was embarrassing to remember how she had bolted at the mere mention of ghosts. Of course, that was before she'd been invited to join his tea party, and things always seemed brighter on a full stomach. At least that was what her father used to say...
"You're not sayin' much," the boy commented after he ate three cookies to her one. "Feelin' better?"
"Yes, thank you," Marty said hastily, remembering her manners. "Thank you for the tea. It was, er, delicious."
He looked at her askance. "You're a strange one all right."
"That isn't very nice," Marty sniffed. "I don't think I'm strange." I think you're strange, she added silently, but knew it wasn't polite to insult one's host. Still, it was just as impolite to insult one's guests. Didn't he know that?
"Ahh, I'm just havin' a bit of fun with' ya, Lucy," he said apologetically. "But y'know what?"
"I like strange people. They're more interesting," he grinned. "And I like havin' a guest." He held out the package of cookies to her, and Marty took another one.
He had an attractive grin and Marty couldn't help but return it and feel a little ashamed of her uncomplimentary thoughts. She supposed there was no harm in his teasing and, after all, he had made her welcome... even though, in the back of her mind, the conviction still lingered that this was all very strange. And he didn't seem like the kind of boy Aunt Kiki would approve of or allow her to have for a friend - Marty could see that his clothes were rough and he needed a haircut, in addition to the funny way he talked. But somehow, she felt a growing sense of companionship with him. She decided to ask another question.
"I've never seen a house like this before. I didn't even know it was here," she said. "You said no one lives here, but if no one lives here, who keeps it clean?" Somehow, she knew that he didn't.
"I don't really know," he answered slowly, a faraway expression in his eyes.
"But you said nobody but you comes here so - ," Marty shivered.
"They don't - nobody in the village will come here, I'm the only one. If I make a fire I clean up after myself when I go, but other than that it's always the same when I come back the next time." For the first time he seemed less than sure of himself.
Marty realized that this made no more sense to him than it did to her, but that he had not given it much thought before she'd pointed it out. She shifted uncomfortably.
He noticed, and quickly added, as if to reassure himself as much as Marty, "I mean, like, it's old, and they do say it's haunted, but I don't think it is. Not really by ghosts, y'know. It's just... lonely. It's like it's - it's caught in time somehow." God, he thought, she'll think I'm daft for talking like this. He had never tried to put his feelings about the house into words before and it was more difficult than he expected.
"Lonely? You mean a house can be lonely too? Like people?" she questioned in surprise.
"Well, I suppose so. I mean... maybe it's waitin' for the people who used to live here to come back to it. So nothin' in it ever changes."
"But they're - they're dead, aren't they?" Marty breathed, looking around. If they hadn't come back, they had to be, didn't they?... like her mother and father. "Who used to live here?" The house seemed to be listening. Or was it just her imagination?
He looked embarrassed. "They say it was a couple who ran away to be together. She was rich and he was poor, so this was all they could afford... there are different tales about what happened after that. Some say her father forced her to go back with him. Others say there was a fight, and her father killed her husband. Some say it was the other way 'round. Some say she came back and died having their baby... I guess nobody really knows, after all this time."
"So they're both... dead?" Marty persisted, wondering why she had never heard this story before. Although her parents had not approved of spreading gossip, Aunt Kiki and her friends enjoyed talking about everyone. But then, if it had happened a long, long time ago...
"They must be dead, so they can't come back, but maybe the house doesn't know that. So it's here for anybody else who needs it - for me when I need a bit of solitude to do my readin' and writin' and... it was here for you too when you needed a place to go to, to get out of the rain... ," he replied thoughtfully.
Marty was silent at this. Was that why she had never seen - or heard of - the house before today -because she hadn't needed it until then? Or was there another reason? She was too confused right now to reason it out further. And the warmth of the fire and her full stomach were conspiring to make her feel sleepy.
He continued, "Whatever happened to them, if they loved each other and they loved the house, it's still waitin' for them to come back and find it just as it was," his voice finally trailed off for a moment.
They stared at each other.
This time he said it aloud. "That sounds thick, doesn't it."
"It sounds like it's magic," Marty whispered.
"Magic?" he repeated, looking pensive. "I dunno, maybe... maybe it fits better t'say it's magic than t'say it's haunted. For one thing," he then grinned at Marty's rapt face, "Sayin' it's magic doesn't seem to scare you the way sayin' it's haunted did."
"But... do you think they can ever know the house is waiting for them to come back anyway? It's too sad to think it's waiting for them if they can't! Do you think they're together someplace else?" Marty asked anxiously, ignoring his gentle gibe.
"Do you have a reason for askin'?" he teased, not understanding her urgency. "You're a bit young to be lookin' for a lost lover yourself then, aren't you, Lucy?" When Marty's body turned rigid and her face paled at his question, he immediately regretted his words. "I'm sorry," he apologized hastily, "I didn't mean to really upset you - I'm used to my mates givin' as good as they get... ." He looked at her contritely, wishing she weren't so bloody sensitive.
"It's just - my - my just parents died - and I wish - ," her voice quivered and her head drooped for a moment. She was trying so hard to make sense out of things but she was already so confused, and so tired. Within her restricted field of vision, Marty saw his outstretched hand reaching towards her, as if in repentance, and she instinctively reached out and gripped it with hers, until she found her voice again.
"I wish they could come back, even though I don't think they were ever here. If they came back they wouldn't really be ghosts, they'd be real, wouldn't they? I mean, they wouldn't be dead, they'd be alive again, wouldn't they?" Marty's words rushed over each other in a torrent.
At the patient but puzzled look on his face, she wanted to cry out in frustration, because she couldn't express all the questions she had in a way he could understand, and besides, she knew in her heart that her questions had no answers - no one could answer them, not even this boy who seemed to have an answer for everything else. When she raised her eyes to his face again, he appeared even more bewildered then she felt. But she could feel his sympathy in the warm clasp of his hand and that was deeper than words.
"You've got me beat," he shook his head. "I don't know. But Jesus, Joseph and Mary, I'm sorry about your parents, Lucy. May they take wing with the angels."
The simple words relaxed her somewhat. "I guess I'm being silly... I just wish I could see them again. I miss them so much," she sighed. "But they weren't separated like the couple you said lived here. So they wouldn't need to find each other."
"Well, you can come here anytime you want and think about them, anyway, and you can tell me about them, too," he comforted her awkwardly. He didn't know what else to say, and he was grateful that she didn't seem to expect him to say much, because for once, words failed him.
But Marty found them welcome comfort, and suddenly felt guilty for not telling him her real name; he still thought that her name was Lucy. If they were going to be friends, and she felt that they were now, she had to admit her deceit and tell him who she was. She realized too that he had yet to tell her his name, nor did she know where he lived. Before she left, she decided, she would make sure to learn who he was and where she could find him. And maybe she should leave soon - the storm seemed to have passed over, but she sensed that shadows were gathering outside. Marty knew she must find her way home before the afternoon began to mellow into dusk.
She opened her mouth to tell him she must go, but first they had to exchange names and addresses, just as a clap of thunder shook the house with a roar. Oh, no - it wasn't that the day slipping away even faster than she'd thought - another storm was brewing! Following close behind the explosive sound was a ferocious burst of lightning, so loud and so bright that its loudness and brightness seemed to fill the room until there was room for nothing else.
The last thing Marty was aware of was the hand holding hers ...
"It's here! I can't believe it! It's here!" Marty exulted, stopping in her tracks so abruptly that the front of Patrick collided with the back of her. "Oh my God... "
"Bloody hell, Angel, don't stop now!" he swore against her hair. He couldn't see anything. "I'm gettin' wet here!"
"Sorry!" she laughed, running the rest of the way to the front door, Patrick close behind her.
It was here. The cottage. The shelter she remembered. The shelter everyone told her she had merely dreamed all those years ago, after the search party had found her that night wandering a surprising distance away from the remains of her lonely outdoor tea party on Llantano Mountain. She'd been drenched and incoherent, and they'd ascribed it to fright and shock. Somehow she had survived the violent thunderstorms that had pounded the area, so if she believed she had survived it by having tea and cookies with a strange boy in a disappearing cottage where they all knew no cottage existed, then they humored her by saying she had dreamed it and it had just seemed very real to her. That was a good compromise between letting her think that the impossible had happened and telling her that they thought she was making it up. Nobody else believed her story for an instant. Houses didn't just appear - and disappear - in a bolt of lightening.
No, things like that simply didn't happen. And afterwards, Aunt Kiki sent Marty to a child psychiatrist for a couple of sessions. Then, she had forgotten all about it; none of her friends could say she had shirked her duty, in fact, she basked in their praise, which was the real reason she'd bothered - she didn't want anything to affect her status as Marty's guardian, and it might have seemed a bit irresponsible to let the tiresome child go roaming the wilderness in the first place.
So, unable to withstand the assault, Marty herself had eventually forgotten the experience, at least in her head. But somehow her heart had never forgotten... deep within her core, the memory was still there like a perfect rose shielded by a crystal dome, buried in an arid desert, awaiting the healing winds of time to shift the sands hiding it from view... from consciousness.
And as she turned her head back to look at Patrick, Marty could almost see the sands shift and swirl away like golden glitter in the silvery rain. The puzzled look on his face, the feel of her hand in hers... the sound of his Ireland-accented voice... ohmigod... ohmigod. She had seen it, felt it, heard it all before, in this little house, out of place, out of time. But she didn't say anything as the gooseflesh raised on her arms... she couldn't.
The doorknob turned easily in her grasp - as she'd know it would - and she walked into the room through the open door. Inside, the cottage was the same as she remembered, except there was no boy there, waiting to shelter and tease. The hearth was cold and there were no other signs of habitation. But the strange slight shimmer in the air, the welcoming - that was still there.
"Margaret - what is this - some kind of bloody joke?" Patrick demanded uneasily. Bloody hell, he marveled. How in the world - ?
"I - I'm not sure what it is," Marty said softly. "I think - you know better than I do?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd say - this is the place I used to come when I was a lad - for a bit of readin' and writin' - but it's in Ireland, Margaret!" Patrick looked around him in wonder. "Isn't it?"
"Patrick, I think maybe... it's wherever you - or I - needed it to be," she answered slowly.
"You're playin' tricks on me. Please tell me you're playin' tricks on me, Margaret," Patrick begged, in one last attempt to solve this mystery with a simple solution. But he knew it wasn't that simple, for there was no way anyone could have duplicated his boyhood refuge, least of all Margaret - he had never mentioned the place to her, and he had kept it secret from everyone else at the time. That hadn't been difficult, because the cottage had the reputation for being haunted anyway. He couldn't recall ever seeing another soul there, except... the little girl who said her name was Lucy... but he remembered the wild storm that had blown her onto the doorstep, and her fear, and he wondered now if she'd made the name up.
She had vanished as unexpectedly as she'd arrived... Patrick was never quite sure what had happened; one moment it seemed she was there and the next moment she was gone, like the ghosts she was so afraid of at first. He'd even run out into the storm to search for her, to no avail, and his inability to find her had somehow always nagged at him. . .
Then he knew too. Jesus, Joseph and Mary.
Patrick and Margaret locked eyes. Hers filled with tears. "I don't know how or why, but we've been here together before, Patrick," she whispered. "Both of us. A long time ago. You remember it too, don't you?"
"Angel," he said hoarsely. "You were Lucy."
"Yes, after Lucy in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," she replied. "Because that's who I felt like. I was going to tell you my real name and then ask for yours before I had to go, because I never knew it, but I guess that last bolt of lightning broke the - the spell. It catapulted me back to wherever I was supposed to be at the time - even if it wasn't where I wanted to be."
"And another storm kept you on Inish Crag," Patrick added quietly. "And now this one has brought us back here, together."
"We've come full circle, haven't we?" Marty asked.
"So what happens when this storm is over? Where will we be, Angel?" Patrick asked curiously. He didn't really care - as long as he was with Margaret. And he knew he would be, forever.
"I think we'll be where we're supposed to be, Patrick."
They moved towards each other in the fullness of their hearts.
"Together," they said.