Eva woke up sore and cold in the same spot she fell asleep: behind a large log in the forest. The multi-colored soft leaves made for a nice bed, but she was hungry and weak from battling the mutants the night before.
Ahead in the distance, she heard voices. And she smelled baking bread. She got up, quickly looked around, and headed towards the cabin she oddly didn’t see last night.
What you need is not what you seek whispered an old woman’s brittle voice. Find me. Eva quietly acknowledged the voice, and continued to the cabin.
Upon opening the door, Eva looked around. It was a cozy, popular restaurant/bar. Every table was full. A family of four was in the corner booth, a toddler played peek-a-boo with his mother. A few hunters in full camouflage gathered at another table, their bows propped against the table. There was one seat left near the bar and Eva took it. She plopped her backpack next to her. A middle-aged barmaid came over, wiped her hands on her apron and said, “She’s waiting for you. Go on over and sit with her, and I’ll bring you some food and drink. You look hungry.” And with that the barmaid left.
Eva sat down at the back table with the cloaked figure previously unnoticed. The figure removed her cloak hood, “You’ve traveled far, my dear, as have I. We were meant to meet now and not before. I have something you need, but it is not what you seek.” The waitress bought over a plate of steaming scrambled eggs, bacon, and a fresh biscuit, with a side of pancakes and maple syrup. She also placed down a glass of orange juice and coffee. “Eat and drink,” the old woman continued, “And take this key.”
Eva held out her hand and looked at the old woman for the first time. She looked familiar. “Don’t I know you?” Eva questioned. “There is something about you…”. The old woman smiled, touched Eva’s shoulder, and said, “Remember me. I am you, and you, I. Unlock the door, and find what you do not need.” And with that, she vanished. Only the key remained. Eva slipped the key in her backpack.
Full and refreshed, and now on a new mission, Eva chose the trail through the forest that led to Mirror Lake where her friends were. She took out the key and examined it. It was old and made of wood, like the metal skeleton keys that fit in those old-fashioned doors. “This really is old-school, but sure I’ll play along,” she mused. Turning the key over, she noticed a blue sapphire gem in the shape of a tree.
She ran a little ways down the well-worn path feeling free. She stopped in a random spot and lay down on her back to look up at the sky. As a child, she loved looking up at the shapes of the clouds. She imagined rabbits and dinosaurs and heads of dogs in those clouds. This sky was different though. It was fragmented; large jagged shards of red, black, and green punctured the blue. Clouds in this sky were not white, but dingy gray and decayed green puffs that floated across the broken heavens. It was beautiful, in a dark, deathly kind of way.
The virus changed everything. It made her life go upside down. Her grandmother died two weeks ago, in a nursing home, alone. The last time Eva saw her grandmother was 15 years ago, in Germany. She was old, even then. She made cookies for Eva, big, soft, molasses cookies with a raisin in the middle, and told her that good things always happen to those who hold onto hope. Eva remembered she’d look at her with soft, hazel eyes, and she remembered the necklace she wore. It was blue with diamonds, in the shape of a tree….. “OH!! I know where the door is!”
“Eva!” her mother yelled while rapping loudly on the closed door. “Eva! We need to go now! Get your mask. I have your suitcase. We can’t be late for the plane to Germany. Eva!! Do you hear me?”
“I’ve gotta find a save spot for the game, and I’ll be right there!” Eva yelled back. She took off the VR headset and shut the console off.
There, on the floor, next to the console, was a sapphire necklace in the shape of a tree.
Researching ancestors sometimes leads to brick walls, so that’s when imagination takes over.
The iron-mining industry boomed from 1860 to 1870 in Black Brook allowing the Allen family to move up in the world. In 1865, just as the Civil War ended, Franklin Allen bought a small one-acre farm that sidled up to a crook in the stream called Black Brook. Not too far from the house, the brook pooled where an adult could wade in waist high. Franklin, Dinah, and their five children lived in the newly built two-story farmhouse with a large front porch on which Franklin liked to take his Sunday afternoon nap. “It’s God’s day to rest, so it may as well be mine too!” he’d often say.
The first floor had a large kitchen with a new cast-iron potbellied stove that had a fire burning in it year round; a dining room and parlor; even two closets, one upstairs and one down, and a cold pantry that eventually would house an ice-box; and on the land was an outhouse, a shed for the chickens, and a small barn for the one horse. A 20-foot by 20-foot vegetable garden was ploughed on the east side of the horse barn. This was quite a big step up from the small rented house they had in the early ‘60s. Franklin enjoyed the prosperity; after all, he knew he deserved it.
The morning before Ruby gave birth, Franklin took his two sons into the big town of Plattsburgh to get their portait taken and to get the week’s supplies from the J & J Rogers’ company store. He got a bonus slip and some cash from the iron company, the same company that built and owned the store, and this weekend was a good time to go, as Dinah told him Ruby was close. Now, two days later, he was back home.
“Ruby, stay here and keep the baby quiet,” Dinah whispered to Ruby who was nursing the baby on the cot in the kitchen. Dinah went into the dining room to meet the boys and told them to leave the wares on the dining room table. She’d bring the supplies to the pantry. “Esther! Elizabeth! Come and help your brothers bring supplies into the house.”
Dinah smelled the cigar smoke before he opened the front door. “I’m changing outta my good clothes before unloading the wagon. Wait’ll you see what I got, Dinah! The boys had a good time in the city.” He let the brand new screen door slam behind him. “Frank and Lyman, start unloading, eh?” he called over his shoulder. Then upstairs he went.
Frankie entered first, his arms filled with flour sacks and cans. “Ma, we brought you some jams, crackers, flour, and sugar! Rogers’ store got in a new shipment, and ‘ol Mr. Disco gave us a good price for the eggs and potatoes we brought him.” He gave his mother a brushed kiss on her cheek as he passed her into the kitchen, completely ignoring her earlier request. Lyman was right behind him, uttering a smooth “Hey, Ma” on his way past. The family got busy putting away the supplies and chatting. They all ignored Ruby and the baby.
Dressed in his faded corderoy overalls and clean white shirt, Franklin came back downstairs and went straight to the outside to the wagon and unhitched the horse. He did some more chores outside and talked with his sons until dinnertime.
Dinah, Esther, and Elizabeth set the table in the dining room. Cloth napkins were out, dishes of hot beef stew and fresh rolls were plated for each person. In the middle of the table, a plate of steaming trout and carrots served as the centerpiece. The Allens weren’t an overly religious weekly church-going family, but Dinah made sure everyone said a quick “Thank you, Lord, for providing for us” before anyone took a bite of food. One chair, Ruby’s, was moved away from the table and placed off to the side against the pale pink painted wall.
“Elizabeth, I brought you some ribbons. Don’t go losing them at school now. And, Esther, I brought you some calico for you to make a new skirt. How is Mr. Mooney feeling? Shame ‘bout his lame leg.” Franklin glanced up at both daughters around the table as he said her name, guaging the response. In the kitchen, the baby started mewling. Franklin continued, “That Mooney boy gets a pension from being hurt in the War. Don’t do anything stupid to muck it all up, hear? So ya won’t bring shame on my good name, unlike some in this house.” The baby’s cries were getting louder.
“I’ll get some more rolls.” Dinah went into the kitchen.
In the humid June air, the kitchen was hot and sticky. The sun was still up, so the kerosene lamp in the middle of the table was unlit. The one window near the back door was open, but the heat from the stove mixed with the humidity made breathing difficult. The evening sunrays bathed the half-swaddled squirming crying newborn in the bed. Ruby wasn’t in the room, and the back door was slightly ajar.
Dinah picked up the baby. With her left hand on the back of the baby’s neck and the right holding her bottom, she walked to the empty outhouse. No Ruby. She looked in the barn. No Ruby. “Where can that girl have gone?” Dinah went back to the kitchen and lay the baby, who had gone back to sleep, back down in the middle of the bed, out of the sunlight.
“Franklin! Ruby’s gone! You and the boys need to go find her. Girls, go see if she’s with Aunt Mary next door.” The tension in Dinah’s voice woke the newborn back up.
Franklin scooped more carrots onto his plate, not bothering to look up. “I’m not done with dinner, and I’m not going to look for nobody tonight.” He stopped talking to pull a fishbone from his mouth, and then pierced Dinah with his steel grey eyes: “If Miss Queen Ruby wishes to run away, good riddance. Damn tramp is dead to me anyway. And make that bastard stop crying!”
All but Franklin and Frankie got up from the table. Frankie was the mirror image of his father. He was tall, lanky, could flash a winning thin-lipped smile at will, and a mop of sandy-brown curly hair topped his chiseled face. “Can you pass the water pitcher, Pa?”
Lyman found Ruby, clad in a corset, white cotton poplin skirt, lying down, face up, her long brown hair bobbing around her in the middle of the brook. Her good shoes were side by side in the grass next to the brook. “It’s not any of my funeral what you’re doing here, but Ma’s worried sick about you. Get up.”
“I want to die.”
“Oh, bull. Get up.” Stepping on the few large rocks not under water, Lyman made his way out to Ruby, standing over her. Lyman had black eyes like his mother. There was a softness to them, that belied his words. Ruby grasped his proffered calloused hand. She stood up and fell into her brother’s arms and hugged him. They sat down at the edge of the brook, her head on his shoulder. “I don’t want it. I can’t stand looking at it. I didn’t think this could happen.” She sobbed into Lymans shoulder. “What am I going to do now?”
The sun was going down, and because it was so humid, the mosquitos were out in full force. Some crickets were chirping in the distance. The brook gurgled as it rushed over rocks and some trout of frog blooped in and out of the water. Lightning bugs flickered around Lyman and Ruby as they sat there. A few crows flew overhead, caw-cawing to each other. Swatting his neck for the tenth time, Lyman uttered, “Ruby, we have to go back now.”
Ruby stayed in the kitchen for the next few weeks until one day her cousins came over to say good-bye. They were moving to Williamsburgh, a town about 10 miles away. Seeing her chance to get away, Ruby packed her best dresses, her ribbons, plaited her hair, and donned her prized Dolly Varden hat, and left in the wagon with them going north. That was the last time Lenora saw her mother, not that she remembered it.
From that day on Dinah became Lenora’s substitute mother. Every night, Dinah would rock Lenora to sleep softly singing the same song: