Blue and red lights flashed against the pale brick facade of the cozy Pruitt family home. Medics, firemen and policemen rotated in and out of the front door, weaving around the still unpacked moving boxes in the entry way. Each of them stopped at the huddled mass curled up in front of the fireplace. The little girl had finally stopped screaming, but now they couldn’t get more than a few words out of her. They called the girl’s grandmother and now could only wait and try to keep her from seeing anymore than she already had.
No one believed me when I told them that a satyr with blue hair killed my grandmother. They said it was just trauma or post traumatic stress. I guess the idea of a creature out of a perverted storybook stealing the life from my grandmother was too much for them. It should have been too much for me, but I know what I saw. When I told them about how he stole into our house and sucked the very life from her body with his magic flute, I figured that they would have a hard time believing me, but the proof was in her quickly cooling body. Still, when I saw the officers give each other the “look”, I closed my mouth and let them believe what they wanted.
It was the same look the officers gave me when I told them about the ogre and the ice queen who killed my parents and kidnapped my brother when I was 5. I had hoped that at 20 my account of events would be taken a little more seriously. I would have had better luck convincing them that I was Anastasia, the Romanov princess in hiding.
“Don’t you know who that is?” One cop whispered to the other, turning their back to me.
“It’s the little girl from the Pruitt case.” I don’t know if they really thought I couldn’t hear them, or, if I was being honest, whether or not I really cared. When they turned back to me I could see it plastered onto their faces, that look of pity mixed with just a little suspicion.
“Yes,” I blurted, “I’m the Pruitt girl. My parents were slaughtered and my brother was kidnapped and I’m the only who saw them.” I normally wouldn’t have let on that it bothered me, people recognized me from time to time and I’d gotten used to just letting blow over, but I was tired and my grandmother had just been killed and suddenly I was five years old, sitting on the fireplace trying not to stare at the congealing blood that had once belonged to my parents.
The older of the two, Officer Jones, had the decency to look guilty for talking about me behind my back. “Miss Pruitt. I’m sorry for gossiping, but you must admit that it was a most mysterious case and now you’re saying that a man with goat feet killed…”
“And blue hair,” I interrupted. “He also had blue hair and maybe some tattoos. It was dark.”
“...With goat feet, blue hair, and tattoos sucked the life out of your grandmother with a flute and then disappeared without a trace...” Officer Jones stared at me. I know he expected me to recant my statement, expected me to laugh and tell them that I was just overcome with grief or tired or some other logical reason for calling them out for what was so obviously a “heart attack” or a “stroke”, something that would give them the comfort of having something to pity.
“ I know what I saw.”
Someone had brought me a blanket. I was standing in our foyer in my pajamas. I must have looked cold. I was grateful for it; it gave me something wrap around myself and hide behind. “Look, even if you don’t believe me about the goat feet or the flute, the blue hair could mean something right? Someone with blue hair broke into my home and now my Nana is dead. Do you think that’s just a coincidence?”
Officer Jones shared another of those “looks” with his partner; her name tag said “Smithson”. She was young and if I had to guess, I would say that she hadn’t been on the force for more than a few years. “Okay, Miss Pruitt, we’ll look into the break-in and search the area. In the meantime, we need to take your grandmother’s body to the Medical Examiner for cause of death. Is there anyone we can call for you? I d”
I laughed, adding to their opinion of my questionable sanity. “No. There’s no one you can call. You don’t tend to make a lot of friends with a history like mine.” Two medics wheeled a gurney past me and out of the door. The body bag on it was full. The red and blue lights flashed on the black bag making the zipper wink in and out in the night like a star. She always loved making a grand exit. “I’m sorry officers. It’s been a very long night. I’m tired and there are a lot of arrangements that need to be made.”
Officer Jones reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a card. “We understand. We’ll keep you updated on what we find. In the meantime, please take my card. My direct cell phone number is on the back. If you think of anything else or if you need any… erm, resources, let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.” He handed me the card and turned to go.
Office Smithson turned back, “I’m sorry about your loss. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now.”
“No. You can’t. Goodnight Officer Smithson.”
When they closed the door behind them, the sudden quiet threatened to swallow me whole. The police had been there for hours. All of the lights had been turned on trying to find the intruder. It was a big house. I went through the motions of locking all of the outside doors and double checking the windows. As I moved through the house, I scanned everything. It all looked exactly as it had when I said good night and left Nana drinking wine and reading a torrid romance novel. Her wine glass still sat on the counter to be washed in the morning. The faintest outline of lipstick along the rim. It felt wrong for everything to be so normal. Something had to be out of place. Something had to be missing or moved. The alternative was that everything everyone had been saying about me behind my back, and sometimes in front of my face, was true: I was crazy.
I left Nana’s room for last. Since they didn’t believe that someone had broken in, they hadn’t officially classified it as a crime scene. I still didn’t want to touch anything in case they changed their minds. If I was being honest with myself, I just didn’t want to go in there.
I hesitated, lingering outside of her door. A chilled breeze from the drafty window wound its way around my bare ankles, sending shivers through my body. The house was old. It had been in our family for as long as I could remember and it was old even before that. It had been updated, but there is only so much weather stripping can fix. Every time I had complained about the drafty windows, Nana would laugh and say that any good house needs a draft or two for character.
I wrapped the blanket tighter around myself. Nana loved anything with “character”. She had enough of it to fill any room she walked into despite her tiny 5’ frame. Now, looking in on the empty bedroom, it felt vast and hollow. I was tempted, for a moment, to yell “hello in there” just to see if I could hear my own voice echo back. A fleeting idea that it might be Nana’s voice that responded almost sent me skittering back to my room.
I took a deep breath. I could smell Nana’s perfume misted through the air, but below that, there was another smell. Something I didn’t recognize. I didn’t think any of the medics or officers wore cologne, but there it was, a musty, wet smell, like tilled mulch and fresh mud.
My stomach flipped and goosebumps broke out over my skin. Maybe it hadn’t been a dream. I pushed open the door to Nana’s room. It was really more of a suite of rooms than just a single bedroom. She said she needed space for all of the things in life that made her most happy. That had often included me sitting cross legged on the floor playing or reading while she got ready for parties or planned galas for her charities. The desk in her sitting room was chaotic and colorful. I could never figure out how she ever found anything in all of it, but she never lost a permission slip, or a phone number. I reached for a picture of the two of us. It was a recent photo from a hike we’d gone on in Edinburgh, but the frame was one I’d made when I was in the first grade. Purple and red painted popsicle sticks with huge fake jewels glued around it. I had been so proud of it. She used it for pictures of us together ever since. My throat tightened and I picked up the picture and hugged the frame to my chest.
Something thumped behind me on the carpet. I spun around, expecting the goat man to be behind me brandishing a weapon, but no one was there. My hair stood on end and I could smell that woodsy smell again, stronger this time. I set the frame down quietly on Nana’s desk. I wanted to keep what element of surprise I had left. I strained my ears listening for the slightest breath or rustle of clothing. I held my breath and tried to turn my focus from my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. I heard nothing.
I walked into the main bedroom, toward the thump that I had heard. A thick book had fallen on the floor. I had no way of knowing if that was what had caused the sound, but I had never seen it before. Nana loved to read before bed and had a vast and eclectic collection of books on her bedside tables. I had given her most of them, but I didn’t recognize this cover. I looked around me again, but didn’t see any signs of another person. I caught my reflection in the dressing table mirror across the room. I looked small with the blanket wrapped around my shoulders. My eyes were wide. Nana would have said I looked haunted. I reached down for the book and heard movement in the bathroom. The door was closed, but someone was in there. I pulled the book and myself under Nana’s bed. It was a high four poster with a long skirt. I slid easily underneath and held my breath.
As I cowered behind the lace bed skirt, I was overcome with a terrible sense of deja vu. I had been five at the time, but even now, there were shadows that lingered. Things that crept in at the corners of my mind and kept me from sleeping. Mostly, it was the sounds of my parents screaming and Baxter calling for help.
It had happened not too long after bedtime. Mother had put us down for the night in our bedroom. I think they had tried putting us in separate rooms, but we couldn’t stand to be out of eyesight of each other. Mother tucked each of us into our toddler beds; mine with purple unicorn sheets and Baxter’s with Batman prints. She pulled the covers up around our shoulders, ran her soft hand through our hair, placed a gentle kiss on each of our foreheads and reminded us that she loved us endlessly and to please stay in bed this time instead of playing. Mother flipped the switch leaving only the glow of the small night light to keep away the monsters.
It had gotten harder, over the years, to remember Mother’s face. The pictures that Nana kept helped, but my memories continued to fade like photographs in the sun. It was her voice that I remembered most, her voice and the way that she always smelled very faintly of lilacs. Mother used to sing to us almost every night. She had a seemingly endless supply of lullabies at her command.
After Mother left and closed the door, Baxter and I bolted up in our beds and started to plan that night’s game. I wanted to play the story game; where we would take turns telling a story sentence by sentence. Inevitably, Baxter would make a character fart or I would forget the name we’d picked and change it to “Count Boogerface” and we’d dissolve into giggles that would have one or both of our parents coming in to put us back to bed. I loved that game and usually Baxter was all for it, but that night he wanted to play Hide and Seek. I was never very good at finding a hiding place where he wouldn’t find me. Our room wasn’t that big and we didn’t dare leave it to find a better spot somewhere else in the house in case they were found out.
But Baxter insisted. He said he was getting too old to play silly story games, which implied that, with only a few minutes between us, so was I. Reluctantly, I agreed to play Hide and Seek. Baxter insisted again that I be the one to hide and he seek me out. I knew that it was because he could always find me. He covered his face with his chubby little hands and started to count in a whisper. We had just learned to count to 10 so it sometimes took him a while to remember to put the numbers in the right order. Even still, I knew I didn’t have much time. There were some boxes in the closet, but I knew that they would be the first place that Baxter looked. I almost picked them anyway just to get the game over with, but then I had an idea to hide in the most obvious place. I slid out from the under the covers as silently as I could, quietly mouthing the numbers along with Baxter. He was stuck on 6. He always got stuck on 6. I slid under the frame of my bed. Even as small as I was at the time, it was still a tight squeeze. I moved back against the corner of the room as quickly as I could, putting the clothes and toys in front of me to disguise my path. I heard Baxter reaching the end of his count when the shouting started.
Mother and Father didn’t fight very often so the harsh sounds tore through our small house. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I could hear the voices clearly through the vent just near my head, I might have come out of hiding. As it was, I stayed still to listen and that was what saved my life.
It wasn’t just Mother and Father, there were other voices. A woman’s voice and a man that I didn’t recognize. They were looking for someone. Both Mother and Father insisted that they didn’t know what these strangers were talking about, but to please quiet their voices. That’s when Mother screamed. I was frozen. I called out to my brother. “Baxter, what’s happening? Why is Mother screaming?”
“Shhh. Cass, stay there! I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Bax, you need to hide, get under here with me.”
“There’s not enough room.”
It had been too dark to see if Baxter had actually tried to get under the small bed, but I could hear him moving the boxes in the closet and knew that’s where he was going. I could still hear Mother sobbing below. The woman said something too quiet for me to hear. Mother said nothing. I heard another cry and then more nothing. Not even Mother’s sobbing.
I pushed myself farther into the corner as the two strangers crashed into our room.
“Find the brats.” The woman’s voice was cold and hard.
“Are you sure this is the right place? The two downstairs didn't seem like they knew anything.” The man’s voice was thick and slow like he was trying to speak through syrup.
“Of course I’m sure, you idiot. These whelps are the key to our victory.” I could hear furniture being upended and felt my bed shake as someone tore off the bedding. I squeezed my eyes shut and crossing my fingers that they wouldn’t lift the thin mattress.
“I don’t think there's anyone in here.” The man’s voice was deep and thick, like he was trying to speak from inside a vat of molasses. Sirens whined faintly and started to grow louder. Mother and Father must have called the police.
“God’s hell! That bitch must have gotten word to the peacemakers. We’re running out of time.” The sounds of destruction became more frantic. I could hear the closet door being opened. Baxter screamed when they tore the boxes away.
“I got one, Commander.” Baxter’s breath was ragged and I could hear him struggling.
“That will have to do. We have to get back through the door, it’s starting to close.” There was more shuffling.
“Cassidy! Help me!” Baxter cried, his voice getting more and more distant. I was still frozen. By the time I had screwed up enough courage, the two attackers were gone. So was Baxter.
I pulled myself through the wreckage of our room and tiptoed downstairs. As I rounded the corner to the living room I could see the shapes of my parents lying on the floor. Puddles of blood were seeping into the carpet, but it was still fresh enough that it shined in the lamplight. Mother had to have been the one to call the police. It looked like she had pulled herself to the phone and dialed 911. Her hand was still resting on the receiver and her body trailed limp behind her. I know I started screaming. I don’t remember when I stopped.
Here I was again crouching under a bed holding my breath and waiting for someone to find me. My throat ached with the need to sob, but I could still hear someone in Nana’s room, rifling through her things. A bottle of perfume thunked to the floor. The stopper popped out and the perfume spilling into the thick carpeting with slow glugs. Joy was Nana’s favorite scent.
I chanced a peek from under the bed skirt after a few seconds of silence. I was met with a pair of cloven hooves. Hooves! I wasn’t crazy and it wasn’t a dream and things suddenly got a lot scarier. The satyr started muttering.
“I’m running out of time. I have to find it before the door closes and then it won’t open again for another blasted week.” He started to pace, his hooves tripping left and right. The breeze from his pacing wafted. I couldn’t know for sure, but I had a strong feeling that what he was looking for was currently clasped tightly in my hands. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to imagine myself as being invisible or a statue or camoflaged like a chameleon. As much as I would like to tell you that any of these things happened, they didn’t. Goatman was reaching down to grab the hem of the bedskirt. I could see his, surprisingly immaculate nails. I couldn’t breathe, all I could do was watch in, what felt like, slow motion. Then I was saved by the bell. Literally, the doorbell chimed through the house echoing in the deep dongs that Nana had called “impressive”.
“Gods be damned! I don’t have time for this.” He moved away from the bed, probably toward the window to see who was at the door. He was still. I started to count the seconds. 1...2...3...4
“Go away Peacemaker”
“Stuff it. I’ll just have to come back. If Eventide wants the damned thing so bad, she can just wait for it.”
The doorbell gonged again. In, what I can only describe as, a quick trot, the goatman left. I waited another few seconds and slowly made my way out from under the bed. He was nowhere to be seen. I spun in a circle looking for his exit. I ran into the hallway and down the front stairs. Everything was how I’d left it. Goatman was gone. I opened the door just in time to see Officer Jones turning away.
“He was here!” I blurted.
Officer Jones whipped around and starred at me open mouthed. “The intruder came back?” He pushed past me into the house. He had already drawn his billy club. He was scanning the foyer and the attached rooms.
“Yes,” I panted. Somehow having someone else here to witness it was making me panic. “I think he was looking for something. I.. I hid under Nana’s bed.” I was still clutching the book. It didn’t occur to me to share my suspicions that the book had been what Goaty Mcbluehair was after.
Officer jones started to do a sweep of the first floor. I had seen him do this when I first told them that someone had broken in. I followed behind, knowing somehow that he wouldn’t find anything out of place. “Did you get another look at him?”
I opened my mouth to answer. Yes, I had. I had been close enough to Nana’s killer to smell the earthy scent of his skin. I would have to confirm that he had goat feet. “No.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I was hiding. I did hear his voice though. He said something about someone named Eventide. I think he may have been hired to steal something of my grandmother’s.” Nana was obscenely wealthy, not that it kept her from rubbing elbows with everyone from the man who grouted our tub to the Duchess of Windsor. She used her money and her connections wisely, but she didn’t think it made her better than anyone. She used to say that she was a conduit for good and that attracted money to help others. Her sense of altruism didn’t mean she wasn’t also a hedonist at heart. She loved lavish parties, rich food, and expensive jewelry and perfumes. It wasn’t a stretch to assume that someone had come to the house with the intention to steal one of Nana’s more expensive pieces.
“What did your grandmother have in the house?”
“Well the pricier stuff is in the safe deposit box at the bank. She had some jewlery here, of course, silver, some pretty rare first edition books in the library… erm, a lot of the artwork is valuable… I just can’t imagine that any of this… this… stuff is worth killing my Nana who was one of the kindest people in the world. If this Eventide wanted something that badly, they could have just asked for it and she would have probably given it to them!” I couldn’t help it. The stress of the evening and the adrenaline of the past few minutes tore open the numb barrier I had been relying on to get me through the night. A flood of grief raged through me and before I knew it, I was picking up ornaments on the side tables and throwing them at the nearest wall. I screamed to the ceiling, “Is this what you wanted, you asshole? Well it’s broken now! What about this priceless piece?” I chucked to toward the fireplace, missing the grate, but hitting the mantle square on. “Oops! Guess you can’t sell that you bastard piece of shit!” I felt Officer Jones’ arms squeeze me from behind, pinning my hands to my chest. The book still clasped in one and Nana’s angel in the other. With my arms pinned like that, those feelings had nowhere to go. I screamed wordlessly to the ceiling and went limp.
I looked around at the pieces of pottery and clock parts strewn about the lavishly decorated room. By sheer luck of birth I had been given everything money could buy. Everything I had broken could be replaced if I chose. But I would smash everything in that house to have my family back. The anger dissipated and all that was left were the sobs. Big wracking sobs that shook my body. Office Jones managed to get me to a couch that hadn’t been covered in debris. “Well if the perpetrator hadn’t left before, I don’t doubt he has now.” This only made me cry harder.
“Hush now. Would your Nana want you behave this way?”
I was five years old again. I took a deep breath and shook my head. Officer Jones went to the bar and unstoppered a decanter of whiskey. I watched hiccuping as he poured me a healthy draught. He was right, I needed a drink. I took it, surprised to see how badly my hands were shaking. Half of it went down in my first swallow. That was the thing about expensive whiskey, it was very easy to drink.
“What’s your name? Someone who has witnessed what you just did should be called by their first name.”
“Hello George, I’m Cassidy Pruitt, walking tragedy and living embodiment embodiment of PTSD.” I finished the drink and tossed the glass. I watched him flinch. “Sorry.”
“Listen, Miss Pruitt…”
“Cassidy, I don’t get to call you George unless you call me Cassidy. It’s only fair.”
“Cassidy, I believe that there was a prowler in your home tonight.”
“I believe there was a prowler in your home tonight and I believe that, that prowler frightened your grandmother while looking for something and it caused her to have some kind of attack. She was 80 and as spunky as the society pages say she was, she was still an old lady.”
“She wasn’t weak.”
“Be that as it may, there were no signs of a violent death. Now, I don’t think that your grandmother would approve of you breaking everything in the house and screaming loud enough to wake the dead.” George flinched, “Poor choice of words.”
“I get it. Your right. She would have absolutely hated that tantrum. She always wanted me to find the brighter side of life.” I cleared my throat, “So George Jones… wait a minute, is that really your name?”
George chuckled, “I’m afraid so.”
“I’m so sorry.”
George’s chuckle turned into a full on laugh. As he laughed I couldn’t help but smile myself. He was older, greying at the temples. He looked like someone’s dad. He was about the same age as my dad would have been.
“I think you’re right George, I think I may have just scared him off. I’m sure he won’t come back again tonight. I should let you get home to your family.” I stood up and walked him back to the front door. “Listen, I never thanked you for showing up the way you did, that guy could have found me under the bed. Why did you come back?”
George turned around on the wide stoop. “There was something we found around the back of the property and I wanted to let you know. You don’t have any animals on this property do you?”
“No, Nana loved them, but she was incredibly allergic. Couldn’t even get within 10 feet of most animals, why?”
“We found several tracks around the house.”
“What kind of tracks?”
“Well, they appear to be, that is, our crime scene analyst thinks they’re goat prints.”
The blood drained from my face.
“I’m sure it’s nothing Miss Cassidy. Probably just one of your neighbors’ goats got out and was exploring your garden. Perhaps you saw it and in the heat of the moment, your mind combined the blue haired man and the goat.”
“Possibly. Thank you.”
“Good night, George. Get home safe.” I slowly closed the front door and deliberately locked the deadbolt, the door knob and the chain. I engaged the bolt locks in the floor for extra measure. I picked up the blanket that had fallen sometime before my melt down and wrapped it around me and the book again. I avoided the sitting room. I would take care of that later, and I headed up to my bedroom to curl into a ball on my bed, jumping at every unusual sound and fitfully trying to fall asleep.
He would be back in a week.
The next few days were a blur of funeral arrangements and surprise visits from Nana’s friends. Each brought a gift basket. I guess that’s the new trend for the grieving. There was on from Nana’s game night friends that included homemade cookies and a deck of playing cards for if I wanted to brush up on my solitaire. The ones from the wealthier set were filled with spa masks and self help books. At last count, there were 23 baskets in all, they may have multiplied. I would never be in need of a summer sausage or a pot of spicy mustard for as long as I lived, which, let’s face it, may not be past a week. I didn’t know what I would ever do with that many baskets.
I notified my advisor at University that I wanted to take a temporary leave and have the rest of the semester to figure everything out. He replied with a condolence email and let me know that it was too far into the semester for me to save my grades. What acquaintances I had made in school checked in on social media.
The medical examiner had completed her autopsy and had declared it official that Nana had died of a heart attack. Office Jones had stopped by to personally had me the report. What it actually said was “Pulmonary arrhythmic infarction caused by natural causes.” Essentially, her heart just stopped beating. I didn’t argue, but I didn’t think that it was at all natural for anyone’s heart to just stop beating.
Nana had very specific wishes for her funeral service. Our family attourney was also a lifelong friend of Nana’s and while the official reading of the will wouldn’t happen until after the funeral, Mortimer helped arrange some of the more elaborate elements.
“Did she really say that she wanted to be proceeded into the church by a member of the Royal Family?”
“How will that even be possible.”
“According to Olivia, they had an agreement.”
“I don’t even know how I’m supposed to reach the Duchess of Windsor.” I certainly didn’t have her number in my mobile.
“I’ll take care of that. It’s not the first time I’ve handled their communication.”
“Nana lived an interesting life didn’t she Mort?”
“Very much Miss Cassidy. Now she mentions here that she would like to give everyone attending the funeral a gift. She would like them placed under the seats like Oprah.”
I sighed. Of course she did. Nana loved surprises. “She doesn’t want to give them all a new car does she?”
Mortimer had the decency to look embarrassed. “Yes. A customized toy car under each seat.”
I started to giggle and I couldn’t stop. I could just imagine the level of glee something like that would bring her. “Let’s do it then.”
The nights were harder. During the day there were lists upon lists of things to do, to take care of, but at night, the house felt cold and empty. I also didn’t know exactly when Nana’s killer was going to be back. He said, “at least a week”. That gave her a little bit of time to sort things out, but how do you protect yourself against someone who’s not supposed to exist? Who can suck the life out of you with a magic flute. I also wasn’t sure exactly what he’d been after.
The book sat on my night table. I hadn’t been able to give more than a cursory look and didn’t see anything particular special. It looked like one of Nana’s first editions, but it wasn’t a title I recognized. Destiny’s Door by someone named Julius Portnoy. I hadn’t read it, but I’d given it a good shake to make sure there were no valuable documents tucked inside and I’d given the pages a quick flip to make sure there were no hidden compartments. There was nothing to suggest that there was anything unusually special about this book, but still, something kept nibbling at the back of my mind and my gut told me that this was what the goat footed man was after.
Nana had died on a Saturday. By Wednesday, the bulk of the preparations were finished. The Duchess of Windsor sent over a lovely basket with expensive chocolates and Nana’s favorite perfume along with a note saying how honored she would be to lead the procession into the church for services.The chocolate was delicious.
I had managed to make myself a dinner of salad and gift basket goodies. It wasn’t 4 star, but it was more than I’d done for my stomach in days. I brought the book with me and sat at the kitchen counter. It seemed wrong to sit at the dining table when it was only me. It just felt like a lie.
It was a beautiful book. The tooled leather was stained an emerald green with black embossed lettering and scroll work. I took a closer look and it actually depicted a tiny scene. A small group of people was standing in front of an open doorway. It was hard to tell if they were coming or going. Through the open door it looked like a castle. Something about the image felt so familiar. A pang of homesickness ran through me. But I was already home. I told myself that I was missing Nana and in missing Nana I was also missing my mother, father, and Baxter. All throughout high school I used to imagine what Baxter would be like. They never found a body and a part of me always believed that he was still alive somewhere. One of the therapists I had called it a twin connection. That was before we had all given up home that he would ever be found.
I cut off a piece of one of the summer sausages. It was greasy and salty and not much else, but it was food and I hadn’t had nearly enough of that lately. I chased it down with a sip of wine and opened the front cover. The thick cover pages were hand painted. I had seen similar front pages in the first edition shops Nana had frequented. She had loved books of all kinds, but old ones were her favorite. I leaned down and inhaled. The paper smelled just a little musty and faintly of vanilla.
When I first inspected the book I gently ran my fingernail under the edge of the end papers to see if there was anything hidden. The glue held tight and I didn’t want to risk destroying something so beautiful. A thick creamy page followed. There was nothing on it so I flipped to the next page. The title flowed across the page in gorgeous script. I had done some Googling, but couldn’t find any mention of a Julius Portnoy beyond a music philosopher who published in the 60’s. This book was much older than that. There was no copywrite page. There was a dedication. It looked like it had been handwritten. A one of a kind original perhaps?
To my children, my children’s children, and all that follow. Destiny is not always easy and it is not always wanted, but it is inescapable. Do the most with it and know that courage and love will take you just as far as you want to go.
It was a curious inscription. During one of Nana’s spontaneous adventures, she had insisted that we get matching tattoos. On the inside of my left wrist, was a small key hole with the word courage underneath an on the inside of my right was a small key with the word love underneath. She had gotten hers to mirror mine so that if she were to hold my hand each lock would have a key. At the time I had thought it a little crazy, especially at her age, but I loved the meaning behind it. Perhaps this Julius Portnoy was a distant relative and courage and love were some kind of family motto. It was a comforting thought. I ate a fork-full of salad and turned the page.
I stayed up the rest of night absorbed in the story of a family from some faraway land called Anderton. They were a royal family caught up in a revolution led by a power hungry and cruel general. The family had been betrayed by the snake in the grass and the king was slaughtered in front of his family. The king’s brother, wife and children were able to escape through a portal to another world. It was a harrowing tale and in my worn emotional state I couldn’t help but grieve with this family that had lost so much. It read like a fantasy novel, but something about it seemed so familiar. The little girl in the story was my favorite. She was spunky and fierce. She was brave and never stopped being kind. She reminded me so much of Nana.
I turned the last page and blearily looked around the room. The sun was starting to bleed color back into the sky. There was still so much left to do. So much to plan and sort. I yawned as I mentally added things to my todo list. I left the dishes on the counter for later, grabbed the book and headed up to my bed to try to find oblivion in sleep.