Smoke rose all around, and I could make out the raucous applause from the audience. My hearing was dulled, but that applause rang true, pushing itself forward through my senses until it sharpened into claps of thunder. My vision was blurred, my head in a fog as a literal cloud of smoke eddied and whirled around me. The ever-unique scent of sulfur and marigold stung my nostrils, and a funny taste stuck in the back of my throat. I clutched the side of my head, my other hand holding me up from where I knelt on a wooden floor.
It happened again, I thought through the noise. That damned oak tree was going to be turned into firewood if I had anything to say about it.
After a few minutes, the cacophony died down. I sat back on my heels, placing my hands on my bare thighs. Looking to my left, I saw dozens of knick-knacks strewn about, boxes piled into stacks, and all of it covered in dust. Puzzles, clothing, and toys were shoved together with dolls, chairs, and a curio cabinet full of german steins. To my right, a large arched window was letting streams of light pierce through the smoke that was near to clearing out.
“Best to get my bearings,” I muttered. I stood up, my bare feet feeling every speck of dirt and dust as I crossed the floor towards the window. I was careful to stand to the side of it, not wanting any eagle eyes to spot me in all my nakedness.
I’d have to remedy that soon.
Outside it looked to be winter. The trees were bare, and there was a sign of snow in the sky full of clouds, off-white and tinged with gray. I had thoughts that it might be December based on decorations I saw lining a house across the street. There were striped plastic candy canes in the lawn and a sparkly, fluffy red garland lined the roof edge. I didn’t see many cars along the street or in the driveways of the other houses, so I assumed it was mid-day.
Not to mention, I was freezing cold. As I looked down, I could swear my toes were beginning to turn purple. I quickly turned around and made my way back to the clothing hanging on an old metal rack standing between some boxes. I began rifling through the clothes, looking for anything suitable to wear. I found a bleached blue-jean dress that was clearly from 1986 and yanked it on over my head. I thought it was stuck on my ever-growing hips, but eventually it gave way. Fortunately, there were also some shoes in the boxes, and I was able to pull on some brown cowboy boots. Not my usual style but I was going for warmth, not fashionability. A brown coat with a fur collar rounded out the look, and I was on my way.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure how far I had traveled.
In fact, I wasn’t sure where I had traveled to.
Was I in a house? I could only guess that much. Twisting my extra long black hair into a ponytail, I tucked it deep into the brown coat. I walked over to the attic door and slowly turned the brass doorknob, desperate not to make a sound. Once it was turned over, I gently pulled on the door to open it, wincing as it made a subtle creaking sound. It opened the rest of the way without making any new sounds, and I walked through the doorway.
A set of stairs led down to a beige carpeted hallway, with several wooden doors lining it. Each door was stained walnut in color and clearly crafted during the 1940s or earlier. I cautiously crept past each one, desperate to avoid disturbing whoever may be on the other side. Who knew what type of person or entity might be just waiting for a noise to wake them or encourage them to come bursting out.
Three-quarters of the way down the hall, another set of stairs became available on my left, so I began to take them down, single step by single step. With each one, I felt the plush carpet give way beneath my boots, the worn soles smooth and slick against the wool fibers. Using a firm grip, I slid my hand periodically down the marred wood railing as I descended, praying I wouldn’t slip.
Once I reached the bottom of that staircase, I found I was on a landing and there was another one down to the main floor. Again, I made my descent until my booted right foot touched the stained and polished wooden first floor. The last stair creaked under my left boot, and I glanced around. Seeing no one, I made my way cautiously to the extra large front door. Giving each direction a quick glance, I yanked the door open and fled through the front doorway and down the stone steps.
Outside, I realized I had traveled to the attic of a tudor-style mansion. But it wasn’t just any mansion. No, this was being used as a monastery, specifically the Holy Order on the Mount.
Monks were certainly the strangest possible witnesses to my rebirth to-date.
I hurried down the walkway to the sidewalk and, after glancing in each direction, headed to my left. I didn’t know where I was, so I was going to find my way to the nearest public place, like a store or a library and see if I could use their phone to call Uncle Bobby to come get me. I was eager to get home.
Walking past a multitude of normal suburban homes, I kept my head down and focused on my breathing and my steps. My toes and legs were ice cold, tendrils of frigid air creeping up my skirt and inside the ankle of each boot. Pulling the coat tighter around my torso, I wrapped my arms around myself, tucking my hands under my arms to keep my fingers warm. After reaching the end of the street, I turned right and headed towards an intersection. Now I had reached a main road and could see the sign of shops ahead. Encouraged, I walked even faster.
As I approached the buildings lining the main road, I appreciated the quaint look of the shops. Varying from single to three-stories in height, each had large display windows, awnings, and 1950s-style light-up signs. The buildings themselves were brick, with individual windows dotting the second stories. Some shops were painted white and some were natural red. The vintage nature of everything was like a throwback to a bygone era, when small towns were filled with white picket fences and neighbors would stop by to borrow cups of sugar.
Would I be safe here?
I found the nearest shop and stepped inside, an overhead bell jingling as I crossed the threshold. Inside I was surrounded by tchotchkes and bric-a-brac, having clearly stepped into a shop that catered to tourists or people eager to spend their hard earned money on needless things. Numerous Christmas decorations were everywhere, with everything from candy canes to nativity scenes on the shelves. Clothing racks with winter ponchos and wraps were plentiful, and the scent of pine and cinnamon filled the space.
I made my way to the back of the shop and found a petite, white-haired woman dressed in a pink cardigan behind the shop counter. Her eyes sparkled a rich brown like velvet chocolate. Her smile was disarming, and I immediately found myself smiling in return.
“Hi dear. Can I help you?”
“Yes, please. Do you happen to have a phone I could use?”
“Local or long-distance, dear?”
“Err…long distance. Probably…”
She eyed me for a minute, then smiled. “Okay, dear. Wait here.” She disappeared behind some saloon doors for a moment before returning with a cordless phone in hand. “Here you are. Just press this button, and you’ll be on your way.”
As I took the phone from her, I smiled again. “Thank you so much, Mrs…?”
“Jacobs. Lydia Jacobs.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Jacobs.” I started to walk away and thought better of it. Quickly I turned around and mumbled. “I’m Mabel.”
“Mabel, you say? I haven’t heard that name in a long time! It’s nice to meet you, Mabel.”
I nodded and turned back around to walk towards the far side of the shop. Dialing quickly, I held the phone up to my right ear, clutching the device with both hands. Please pick up, please pick up…
“Oh, thank God.”
“May? Is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Where are you? Are you hurt?” His voice grew faint for a minute. “The area code says 802.” Then louder still, it came back. “What is that? Vermont?”
“Is it? I don’t know. I just know I’m freezing cold here!”
“Are you safe?”
“Yes, I think so. I found some clothes–”
“You were born naked?”
“–in the monastery–”
“–and now I’m in a town nearby.”
“Crazier and crazier. I say again, where are you?”
“Let me ask Lydia.”
“Who the hell is Lydia?”
Holding the phone at my side, I walked back to the counter and cleared my throat. “Excuse me? Um, Mrs. Jacobs?”
“Please. Call me, Lydia, dear.”
“Oh, thank you. Lydia, can you tell me what town this is?”
“Why this is Brattleboro!”
“Vermont, dear.” She angled her head sharply to the side. “Do you need some help? Should I call the police?”
“Oh no, I’m fine. I just got turned around.”
Lydia nodded, and I returned to my spot on the far side of the shop. “You were right, Uncle Bobby. I’m in Vermont.”
I heard keys jangling. “I’ll come get you.”
“Oh no. I think I’ll be alright. It was probably my time to move on.”
Uncle Bobby was still and quiet on the other end of the line.
“Don’t get emotional on me, now. You knew that I had a purpose, a reason for being there when you found me.”
He remained quiet.
“I helped you. Now I need to help someone else.”
“Yeah, I know. I just… I was hoping you would stay longer.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “I’ve… I’ve been lonely, dammit, and it’s been nice having you around.”
“I understand, because I have been, too. But I think it’s time for you to get out there, Uncle Bobby. It’s been too long, and you have so much to offer.”
He sighed. “You know, I knew you were going to say that, sugar.”
We stayed silent, each of us holding onto each other from afar and not knowing how to part. After a minute, I broke that silence, knowing we would simply stay that way forever if I didn’t. I sighed, then spoke softly.
“Maybe I can come visit you in another month or two? Would that be alright?”
“Oh, honey. You are always welcome. Always.”
“That makes my heart happy. Truly, it does.”
“Ok, darlin’. Are you sure there’s nothin’ you need?”
“Nope. I’ll make due.”
“Okay. Well…” Uncle Bobby exhaled gruffly. “You’ve got my number, May. Call me anytime. And I mean that! Call me whenever. I’ll be here.”
“You better not be! You better be out and about!”
“I love you, Uncle Bobby.”
He was silent except for what I was sure was a sniffle, then he replied. “Yeah. I love you, too, girl.”
“Alright. I’m gonna get off this poor woman’s phone and see if I can’t find somewhere to stay the night.”
“Remember. I mean it. If you need anything at all, holler at me.”
With that, we said our goodbyes, and I hung up with the man who had been sheltering me the last four months. I looked down at the phone in my hand and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. I was on my own again.
Then I shook it off and turned around, marching back to Mrs. Lydia’s counter. “Hi again!”
“Yes, dear. Did you reach your friend?”
“Yes! Thank you so much for letting me use the phone. I’m very appreciative.”
“You’re very welcome.”
I glanced around and acted conspiratorial. “You wouldn’t want to help me with something else, would you?”
One eyebrow popped up on her wizened, rosy-cheeked face. “Such as?”
“Do you know of anywhere that I could stay the night?”
Lydia pulled back, shocked. I quickly added, “Not that I’m homeless. No, ma’am. I’m simply new in town and looking for a place to stay until I can get my feet under me.”
“First you need to call someone. Then you ask me where you are. Now you’re telling me you’ve got nowhere to stay?”
Sheepishly, I nodded. “That is about the gist of it.”
Lydia slapped her hand down on the counter. “Well that settles it. You’re going to stay with me tonight.”
“Oh no. No, Lydia, I couldn’t possibly.”
“No, my mind is made up.” She began closing out the register, despite it clearly being the late afternoon. “You’re going to come home with me, and I’m going to fix you a nice dinner.” She turned back to me and sized me up. “From the looks of things, I’d say you’re in need of some meat on your bones.”
I blushed. I never thought of myself as thin. If anything, I figured I could lose some weight! My hips were definitely “good for birthing”, as the old wives’ tales would say. But here I was, getting scolded and being told what to do by this little old lady in front of me. It was humbling.
“Are you absolutely sure, Lydia? I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Nonsense, dear. And besides, since Alexander died, it’s been too quiet in the house. I would love some company.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I’m positive, sweetheart.”
And with that, Lydia put on her coat, collected her purse, and came around the counter. Taking my right arm, we walked toward the front door. I pulled the door open, and she ushered me through, turning back to lock the door. When she turned back to me, a huge grin was on her face, and I noticed a dimple on her right cheek.
“Come on then, dear. Let’s get you some decent clothes and a good meal.”
* * *
Some time later, we had ransacked the clothing shop down the block and rode in Lydia’s Honda CR-V to a house just several streets away to the north, opposite of the direction of the monastery. Lydia’s craftsman-style bungalow was painted green, with white trim and black shutters. A wrap-around porch accentuated the front of the house with a lovely set of chairs, large verdant bushes dotting the corners.
I helped her inside with the packages, then found myself chopping vegetables as she prepared a nice beef stew. Once it was bubbling, she poured us each a cup of coffee. Soon after, I found myself wandering around her home’s first floor.
Her furniture was unsurprisingly antique. A large, plush couch was in the middle of the living room with a television placed to the left of the large stone fireplace. Dark blue wallpaper with white, red, and green flowers dotted with gold lined the walls, and I felt like I was in a house from the roaring twenties. The darkly stained oak floors creaked beneath my feet with each step I took.
It was getting close to supper time, and I had stepped out to admire the streetside view. Suddenly the decor switched on, and the colorful lights lining her porch sparkled in the moonlight. Realizing my jaw had dropped open, I closed my mouth and walked over to one of the chairs. Slowly settling in, I clutched my cup of coffee with both hands, letting the heat warm my fingers. I sighed and watched as my breath drifted away.
Tomorrow, I would have to find work. I couldn’t live off Lydia’s hospitality. It felt wrong to me, like I was taking advantage of her. Hell, one night felt like a lifetime to me.
Maybe it was a lifetime.
Ever since I was cursed with this…gift…I had been traveling all across these United States. It wasn’t like I didn’t want it. I had asked for it, after all. I was simply trying to make the most of it, helping people and seeing all the places I hadn’t been able to see up to that point. Kind of like that movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”. Or was it a book? I don’t remember. I just know that it felt like my time to do something with myself, for myself.
Besides, what would you do with seven lives?
Seventy-four years after it happened, four of those lives were gone, with just three remaining. Call me a vampire if you want, but Mabel Levesque was no creature of the night. I didn’t need to drink blood to maintain this longevity. I wasn’t a cat, either; although some might say I came with claws. I was merely a regular girl who was cursed by the Fae. Nothing crazy, right?
Now I was sipping coffee in Brattleboro, Vermont on the porch of Lydia Jacobs, waiting for beef stew to be ready, and hoping for a goodnight’s sleep. I always seemed to find my way into fortunate situations, and this seemed to be another one. Despite my curse, I was lucky in this respect.
I took another sip of my coffee and sighed. It was beautiful here. The view from Lydia’s front porch was peaceful and calming, especially in the subtle glow of the porch lights. The moon was shining brightly that evening and a multitude of stars twinkled in the darkening sky.
I stood up and quietly walked to the front door to go inside. There I found Lydia standing at the kitchen island, pouring over a photo album while sipping her coffee. I walked up beside her, and she turned to give me a soft smile.
“This was my Alexander.” She tapped on a black and white photograph of a very handsome young man in a sailor’s military uniform. “He was a gunner’s mate onboard the USS O’Bannon during the Korean War. He took such pride in his work: never missed a day, always worked hard… He received a commendation during his career for his selflessness, too. He saved another sailor who fell overboard during a fight.”
“Oh yes! He jumped right in, despite the battle going on around them.”
“He saved that poor man and went right back to fighting. That was just who he was. Dedicated and determined.” She sighed. “He would have been 89 today.”
“Oh I’m so sorry, Lydia.” I was quiet for a moment before asking, “Did he die in the war?”
“Oh no, dear. He had a heart attack a few years ago.” She turned from me back to the album. “But it still hurts.”
“I’m sure of that. You clearly miss him.”
Lydia continued to stare at the photos of her husband, a sniffle escaping her once. Then suddenly she stood up straight and wiped her eyes. She looked up at me and grinned a large and happy grin. “Are you ready for dinner? I think the stew has simmered long enough.”
“Wonderful. I’ll show you where the silverware is, and you can set the table while I spoon out some bowls for us.”
Before I knew it, we were sitting down at her quaint kitchen table eating delightful beef stew filled with starchy potatoes, sweet carrots, and tasty onions. The rich taste of the sauce along with the flavorful garlic, rosemary, and thyme had me “oohing” and “ahhing” over the bowl, and it was all warming my belly within minutes. In short time, I was leaning back in my chair and listening to Lydia tell me stories about Brattleboro and her life there.
Later that evening, Lydia showed me her spare bedroom upstairs. Filled with trinkets from antique shops and the war, it had the feeling of being in a museum. A set of wooden oars were on the wall, along with an American flag in a glass case. There was a red and white quilt over the bed, with luxurious plaid flannel sheets to snuggle into. A small christmas tree with warm white lights stood in the corner of the room, topped with a shining brass star.
I thanked Lydia for her hospitality and closed the door to the room. Making my way to the packages, I pulled out a set of pajamas, with a button down top and matching pants. A pair of fluffy, cream-colored fleece socks went on my feet.
Properly attired, I crept back out of the room and went into the bathroom to washup. I splashed some water on my face and looked back at myself. My usually red lips were more pink, barely standing out against my pale white skin. My dark green eyes were tinged red from having been awake into the wee hours. I rubbed my cheeks and tucked my hair back behind my ears.
“You’re going to be alright, Levesque. Everything will be alright. Tomorrow you’ll find a job and somewhere more permanent to stay.” I nodded to myself. “Welcome to your new home.”
Sometimes you just had to give yourself a pep talk.
When I was done, I silently went back to the spare room and gently shut the door. I hopped into bed and pulled the covers up to just beneath my chin, relishing the heavy weight of the quilt and the softness of the fleece. The moon hung in the sky, just beneath the roofline, and its light filled me with hope. Before long I felt myself growing sleepy. I closed my eyes and dreamed of brilliant shooting stars rushing through the night’s darkness.
* * *
From within the darkness, something watched Mabel “May” Levesque. Something with bright golden glowing eyes, sparkling wings, and brilliant white blonde hair. It smiled and giggled, passing judgement on her day, and feeling quite pleased with itself. It fluttered its wings and sparkled like a well-cut diamond before flying over to land on the night stand next to where she slept. About the size of a lunar moth, it crept forward and swept a hand across her forehead, moving a few strands of hair away from her eyebrows and placing a gentle kiss there…
A kiss in the shape of an acorn.