Saturday, May 12, 2012
Saturday's chapter - Dream Weaver Shirley Martin
Gwen Emrys maneuvered her turquoise Saturn through the heavy early morning traffic, headed for her teaching job at a local high school. She drove with her window down, grateful for the light spring breeze that bathed her face and kept her alert. Groggy after another night of troubling dreams, she pressed her hand to her aching head, trying to concentrate on her driving. She wondered why these senseless dreams plagued her sleep, night after night.
A sudden wave of dizziness rattled her. Goose bumps raced along her arms and legs. Without warning, the asphalt road disappeared, and a narrow dirt path through a dense forest replaced it.. Hemmed in on both sides by thick clusters of maples and oaks, the car hugged the road. Fighting for breath, Gwen clenched her hands on the steering wheel. Ahead of her, at the end of the path, loomed a desolate cabin.
From nowhere, fiery arrows rained down on the cabin. Flames leaped from the outside walls, soon engulfing the log house.
Gwen slammed her foot on the brake.
On the edge of her consciousness, she heard a honk, honk, honk, like a loud blaring of horns. Or geese?
Frantic honking jerked her back to reality.
"Hey, lady, where'd you get your license--Walmart's?" His window down, the driver shook his fist at her. "You trying to have an accident?"
Heart pounding, Gwen gazed around her.
She eased into the outside lane, then parked her car near a gas station, waiting for her frantic heartbeat to subside. Her head throbbed, one of her headaches coming on.
Every detail of her dreams returned to haunt her--a lone cabin in the woods and a young man dressed like a colonist.
Other images disturbed her sleep every night, visions of a vast fort and wounded soldiers lying across a battlefield.
She saw destruction...and death.
"What's the matter, Gwen? A headache?"
Gwen dropped her hand from her forehead, aware she needed to perk up before classes began. "I keep thinking about these crazy dreams I have night after night." In the teachers' lounge of the local high school, she tried to relax with a colleague, making the most of the few spare minutes before she headed for her classroom. "Do you ever have recurring dreams?"
"Sure, don't we all. So what are yours?"
Gwen shifted in her chair. "Promise you won't laugh. But I often dream about a lonely cabin in the woods. There's a man--"
"The man of your dreams!"
"Well, he's certainly in just about every one," Gwen said, smiling. "But wait 'til you hear this," she said, reaching for her purse on a nearby table. Digging through her cellphone, compact, lipstick, keys, and all her other paraphernalia, she found what she was looking for. "You know how I enjoy history--well, I teach it--so I sent away for this pamphlet of a restored village several miles east of here. The pamphlet was advertised in a magazine." She handed her the booklet across the table. "Sarah, look at the house on page two. It looks just like the one in my dreams, as crazy as that sounds. I'll tell you something--nothing's going to stop me from visiting the village this Saturday. It's all I've been able to think about. Who knows? Maybe it is the same house."
"You really think so? Well, stranger things have happened."
After Sarah glanced at the pamphlet and handed it back, Gwen returned it to her purse. "So if you don't see me next Monday," she said, "you'll know the man of my dreams swept me off my feet."
* * *
This is it. Recently arrived at the restored village, Gwen drew a deep breath, her befuddled brain confusing dreams and reality. She stared at a log cabin, one of many quaint buildings in this tourist attraction near her hometown. Was this the same cabin that had haunted her for months? Every beat of her heart, every breath, every instinct, told her so.
Gwen carried a page from another pamphlet in her pocket, one that showed a diagram of Fort Pitt. Aware now that her visions lent an urgency to glean as much historical information as possible about this area, she intended to drive to the Fort Pitt Museum, a few miles to the west, after she finished here.
She saw a spreading oak tree a few yards away, and an eerie feeling overtook her. Curious despite her foreboding, she headed in that direction across the dry grass, her steps hesitant. Reaching the tree, she saw the initials CN carved into the bark. She traced the initials with her finger, and visions flooded her mind.
Her face turned hot, then cold. Tremors shook her body. She ran sweaty palms down her long rayon skirt, wondering if her mind was playing tricks.
Chills raced across her arms and legs. Wave after wave of dizziness washed over her. She slipped her bag from her shoulder and dropped it on the ground, happy to be relieved of that encumbrance.
Tingling erupted over every part of her body. Her dizziness swept over her in gigantic waves. A buzzing sounded in her ears. The ground tilted crazily. An uncontrollable force was dragging her down, down, down, and she couldn't fight it.
She sank into total darkness.
* * *
Gradually returned to consciousness, Gwen considered her dilemma...and gasped. A glance around revealed nothing but wilderness and the cabin in a clearing. Where was the village? What about her purse, with her car keys and wallet?
She gazed around, unsure what to do, where to go for help. Struggling to her feet, she brushed off her skirt, then cautiously approached the house. She peered through the open window, standing to the side so no one would see her while she visually cased the place. A girl couldn't be too careful these days.
A man sitting at a long wooden table read a book, his brow creased in concentration as he turned the pages. The very same man, only this time he was real! What was happening to her? Was she losing her mind?
She guessed he was in his late twenties but couldn't imagine where he'd come from. And why was he dressed in such an old style, with his long white shirt and dark tan pants? Like in her dreams.
By the bright sunlight through the open window, she studied the man's features. The light glinted on his dark, wavy hair, making it appear deep brown one moment, and the next, jet black. He wore his hair long, tied in back. A straight nose, high cheekbones, and a square jaw with a cleft in his chin reminded her of Sir Lawrence Olivier, an English actor she'd seen in a late-night movie on TV.
The man scraped his chair back and stood, heading for a bookcase to return the book, slipping it between several other volumes. At least six feet tall, he was well-built, his muscular thighs encased by leggings that disappeared inside calf-high leather boots. Exuding strength and energy, he reminded Gwen of a tiger. Sleek. Powerful. Sinewy. She wondered how a man who appeared so strong and well-muscled could move with such easy masculine grace.
Gathering her courage, she walked to the open front door, her sandaled feet padding along the rough wooden planks. She needed help. After knocking on the door frame, she waited.
* * *
His medical rounds completed, his fields neglected this one day, Christian sat at his table to study the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, reading an account of smallpox inoculation. He tapped his fingers on the table, his mind on his dream of inoculating the settlers against this dread disease. Just think of his own family...
He gazed off into space, his thoughts going beyond smallpox prevention. If he could be the best doctor in western Pennsylvania, if he could minister to all those who needed medical help, then he could put the past behind him and know he was accomplishing something worthwhile in life.
Suppressing painful memories of his family's deaths, he returned to his reading. After underlining several sentences, he closed the pamphlet and scraped his chair back to return it to his bookcase, tucking it between other medical publications.
"May I come in?"
Christian spun around. What in God's name? Who was this woman who stood at his doorstep, shifting from one foot to the other? Speechless, he stared at her. Why, just look at her gown--surely the most shocking attire he'd ever seen. Long and silky, it skimmed her ankles and clung to every curve of her body, making it obvious she wore no petticoat beneath. And her hair! Flowing, tawny tresses hung wantonly down her back, with not even a cap on her head.
What ailed the lady?
"Sir?" she murmured.
He found his voice, uttering the only question that came to mind. "Madam, are you in need of assistance?"
The young lady stepped across the threshold, hugging her arms. "I...uh, looks like I'm lost."
"Where did you come from?"
"May I come in?" she repeated. At his answering nod, she slowly approached him, a look of bewilderment on her face. “I...uh, I’ll tell you about it in a few minutes, as soon as I get my bearings." She clenched her hands at her sides, her gaze covering the common room.
Who in the world was she? A hundred questions collided in his head while he studied this extraordinary woman making her hesitant way across the floor.
He stared at her long brown hair, tresses that glowed golden by the firelight. She was pretty, aye, but where had she found such odd apparel?
He tried to act nonchalant, as if there was nothing unusual about her visit. Why, yes, strange ladies like this one appeared at his doorstep every day.
"Won't you sit down, madam," he said, holding a chair for her. Her scent, sweet as the forest flowers with a hint of spice, drifted his way and aroused his senses, emotions he'd stifled far too long.
"Now, pray explain how you came to be lost." He folded his arms across his chest. "And I don't believe you spoke your name."
She cleared her throat, an uneasy look in her eyes. "Gwendolyn Emrys," she said in a voice slightly above a whisper. "My friends call me Gwen."
He made a slight bow. "Christian Norgard, at your service."
Though she spoke with an unusual accent, he found her voice pleasing, low and soft with a trace of huskiness. His glance ran over her, from the crown of her lustrous hair, to a well-rounded bosom that thrust against her silky bodice.
Her gaze covered the room. "I've never seen a house like this before...at least, not while I was awake," she said under her breath.
What? Christian drew up a chair across from her and sat down, leaning forward on the table. "Are you from Philadelphia, madam? Frankly, I don't understand how you came to be lost. You're not from around these parts, that much I know."
"Not from Philadelphia...but I..." She opened her mouth, then shut it again, giving another perplexed glance around the cabin. "Your wife--"
"No wife. I live alone." Nor was he ready to marry. His profession gave him but little time for courting the ladies. Despite his shock, he remembered his manners. "May I offer you tea, Miss Emrys?" Where was this lady's family or husband? And when would she explain how she had gone astray? In his medical practice, Christian had learned patience long ago. He knew better than to rush her, assuming she'd explain her dilemma betimes.
She threw him a hopeful look. "How about a Coke?"
Christian blinked his eyes. "I beg your pardon?"
"Never mind, tea sounds good." She fidgeted in her chair, speaking in a strained voice. "Looks as if I've interrupted your meal."
He made a negligent gesture and rose to take two earthenware mugs from the mantel, then set them on the table. "I'm happy to share with you." He lifted an iron kettle from the fireplace and poured the steaming brew.
"Bohea tea." He eased the mug toward her. "'Twill help you feel better, I doubt not." He reclaimed his chair and gave her a thoughtful look, still wondering where she hailed from. After slicing the loaf of bread with his barlow knife, he placed a piece on the pewter plate.
"Injun bread, madam? 'Tis very good, made from rye and corn meal."
She reached for the tea. "No thanks, I'm not hungry." Her hand shook, the tea spilling down the side. She set the mug on the table with a soft thud. "You want to know where I'm from."
"An understatement, Miss Emrys." Aware of his tense muscles, he stretched his legs out under the table. He raised the mug to his mouth and took a cautious sip of the piping hot brew.
"I--I don't know how to explain. I don't even understand how I came to be here." She pressed her hand to her head, her face pinched with anguish. "I honestly don't know!"
Christian raised his eyebrows and sipped his tea, more confused than before. Memory loss. In the early days of his practice, he'd known a woman with this very problem. Might this young lady be suffering from such an affliction? Poor lady! If only he could help her.
"Madam, have you had a bad fall recently?"
"As a matter of fact, no." The lady twisted her fingers together. "You'll never believe me, but I want to tell you...” She paused, her glance shifting to the stone fireplace, then back to him. "I want to tell you..."
"And I'm eager to hear. Enlighten me, pray." He drummed his fingers on the table a few times, then stopped, reminding himself he must project a calm demeanor for the woman's sake, if not for his own. A dying ember in the fireplace hissed and sparked, sounding like thunder in the quiet of the room. He toyed with his pewter mug and gave her a long, level look, determined not to let her seductive charms distract him. "You were saying, madam?"
"Well, I..." She ran a hand through her thick mass of hair. "It's no use. You'll never believe me."
"You already said that, Miss Emrys."
"Yes, well..." The young lady looked down at her hands, then raised troubled eyes to his. "I...I was visiting a restored village and--"
"Pardon me, madam, the nearest village is Fort Pitt, miles to the west."
"Well, I was at a restored village, and somehow," she said in a shaky voice, "somehow I ended up here, in the middle of a forest." She leaned forward, her hands resting on the table. Such pretty, well-groomed hands she had, the fingers slender, her skin smooth. This lady was definitely not a servant.
"Just tell me one thing," she said. "What's today's date?"
"The date is the third of May, Miss Emrys."
"And the year?" she asked with a wary look.
"The year? Madam, this is 1762." Why didn't she know that?
"Seventeen sixty-two?" She jerked in her chair, a fearful look on her face. "Oh, no, it can't be," she whispered.
Christian strove for patience, increasingly convinced the lady had maggots in her head. "Nor am I jesting. I assure you it is 1762."
"Uh, uh. Don't expect me to believe that." She spoke with bravado, but her face held a look of doubt.
"'Tis true, madam." He looked into her eyes, unable to discern if they were blue or green in the shifting light, but clearly the prettiest he'd ever seen. Disregarding her charms, he persisted. "Pray tell me your purpose for being in these parts, since it's obvious you don't belong here." She must be a lunatic, Christian thought as he wondered how she'd escaped her keepers. More than anything, he wanted to help her, but oftimes this malady defied a cure.
"You've got that right! I don't belong here!" She took a deep breath. "And I don't know why I'm here, Mr. Norgard. Like I said, I was with a group of tourists, visiting a restored village, and--"
"Miss Emrys, you are speaking nonsense."
"I'm speaking the truth, damn it!"
"Madam, please!" Despite her unladylike language, Christian struggled against an attraction for this strange woman who'd appeared out of nowhere. 'Struth, she was lovely, but he needed all his faculties to deal with her. What an odd manner of speech she employed, like nothing he'd ever heard. No matter, he liked the fresh, clean look of her pretty face, with its dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks, her flashing her eyes, as if he should dare question her.
"Tell me something," he said. "How did you arrive at my doorstep?"
"I told you, I was at a restored village in the year two-thousand and three--"
"Two-thousand and three!"
"Right! The twenty-first century."
His eyes raked her with cool appraisal. "Don't play me for a fool. You appear at my house in strange circumstances, certainly. You give me some outlandish story about a restored village--whatever that means--in 2003. And you expect me to believe your tale?"
"I don't care what you believe. I'm telling the truth!" She reached into her pocket and drew out a handkerchief. A paper fell to the floor.
Christian bent to retrieve the paper, stunned to see it revealed a diagram of Fort Pitt, every angle, every bastion of the six-sided fort. My God, now it all made sense! On his most recent trip to the fort, he'd heard talk of a spy, someone passing information to the French. Several important papers were missing from the commandant's desk.
He slapped the paper on the table. "How did you come by this diagram of Fort Pitt?"
She fluttered her fingers. "Oh, that! I was reading about the fort, and I intended to visit the place, if I can ever find my way out of this forest."
"Madam, you are either a skilled liar or--"
"I'm not lying!"
"--or you have a fanciful imagination."
"Wrong on both counts." She blew out a long breath. "Listen--I was visiting a restored village, and since I had an interest in the fort, also, I wanted to go there and study it, too." She reached for the diagram and returned it to her pocket. "So you see--a perfectly innocent explanation. I don't know why you don't believe me."
"Because what you say defies logic." He sighed. "We shall dismiss the question for now."
"For now," he repeated. "Those are the operative words." She must be the spy, he fretted, wanting to deny the truth that stared him in the face. Could a lovely lady such as she betray her country? he wondered, willing to give her the benefit of the doubt but finding scant reason to believe her. If found guilty of treason, she would suffer a horrible fate. A vision of her writhing at the stake sent chills over his body, and he shook inwardly, as if he could feel the flames.
The lady rose from her chair to pace the floor, arms folded across her chest as she threw puzzled looks about the room. With her gaze on him, she tapped her fingers on her arms, then stared at the fireplace, her eyes drifting upward to study the dried vegetables that hung from the ceiling. She glanced his way again, looking more bewildered than ever.
Christian observed her shapely figure, too well aware there were limits to how much self-imposed loneliness a man could bear.
Several silent moments passed, then she smiled, a slow, satisfied smile, like a fox who's just discovered the hen house. "Would you mind if I stay here?"
"Just for tonight?" she asked, her gaze straying to the stairs that led to the loft.
"You can't be serious, madam. I am a bachelor. Surely you can see such an arrangement would be unacceptable." His mind raced; he must end this stalemate. He came to a decision, one he hoped would prove satisfactory for everyone. "I know a family you can stay with--the Chamberlains, a few miles from here."
She ran her hands down her hips, apprehension seeping into her voice. "No, I can't risk leaving this area. I need to stay here, Mr. Norgard," she said, rapping her knuckles on the table, "even if I sleep on the floor."
"Although the notion is not without its appeal, I cannot allow it." A lady wouldn't dream of such a thing. "Far better for you to stay with my friends. Best we start soon. 'Twill take a while to reach their house. And we can discuss your, uh, disorientation along the way. I'll do whatever I can to help you. As a doctor--"
Her jaw dropped. "You're a doctor?"
"Look, Mr., uh, Dr. Norgard, I have to stay right here. Don't you see? That way, I'll be in the exact place I was before I...uh, ended up in your cabin."
"Your suggestion is scandalous, Miss Emrys. Only think of your reputation." Could she be one of the many doxies who plied their wares at Fort Pitt? Might she, indeed, be the traitor? His stomach roiled with anxiety as he sought to deny his suspicions.
She placed her hands on her hips, a look of challenge in her eyes. "Like I said, just for this one night."
"Miss Emrys, no properly reared young lady would even suggest such a thing. Besides, people oftimes visit me unexpectedly. You must stay elsewhere."
"Uh, uh. I'm not moving from this area, I'll tell you that right now. If you want me out of your house, I'll stay outside."
Christian spoke with patience, more convinced with each minute that this lady was the world's most imaginative liar. Logic ruled his mind, always had. And now, she insisted she came from the future. Had her wits gone wanting? More likely, she had devised this weird tale to mask her real reason for her presence in this area--espionage.
"Miss Emrys, I do see you need assistance, and I want to help you. 'Tis why I suggested you stay with my friends, at least for this night. Certainly, 'twould be better than sleeping outside, which I wouldn't permit. You'd surely catch a chill." Besides, if anyone could handle this lady, it was Daniel Chamberlain, a most capable fellow. "The best answer, I believe, is for you to lodge with another family."
"You don't understand! I have to get back home. And I don't need your permission to sleep outside," she cried, turning and rushing for the door.
"Just you wait!" With quick strides, Christian blocked the doorway, speaking slowly and distinctly. "Miss Emrys, I already said I want to help you. Now, pray permit me to take you to my friends. I assure you, I won't be far away."
She glared at him. What was going through her mind? Mayhap devising some scheme to obstruct him? Madam, don't even try it. God, he prayed, please don't let this woman be a traitor to her country.
Excitement warred with Christian's sense of reason as he looked into her eyes, such vibrant eyes that now appeared blue by the light streaming through the open door. Up close, her scent tantalized him, and he had to control himself not to draw her even closer. How easy it would be to lose himself in those expressive eyes, to forget his responsibility in the alluring curves of her body, to let her soft voice and provocative smile sway him from his course. What kind of a doctor would he be, if he could not even remember his professional duty when confronted with the tempting charms of this lovely woman?
He must think clearly. "Can I trust you to wait here whilst I fetch my horse and--"
"No! If you'd rather, just give me a blanket, and I can sleep on the floor." She nodded toward the open door. "Or I can go outside, as long as I'm next to your cabin. But please, don't make me leave your place."
"But you can't--"
Aware she was fast losing control, he fought for composure. "Very well, I don't want to argue anymore. You may use my bed, and I'll sleep on the floor." He pointed his finger at her. "But tomorrow, we leave for the Chamberlains."
A slow smile spread across her face. "Thanks a lot, Dr. Norgard, but I can sleep on the floor. You don't have to--"
"Miss Emrys, pray don't try my patience."
* * *
Unable to see a thing in the black loft, Gwen shivered from the frosty night air, trying to convince herself she'd be back in her own neighborhood tomorrow. Night sounds reverberated through the forest. Crickets chirped and frogs croaked. A wolf howled in the distance, sending a chill along her spine.
No way would she put her fate in Christian Norgard's hands, even if he was a doctor. She'd relied on herself long enough, and she could do it now, too.
After all that had happened within the last few years, this was too much. She still hadn't recovered from her parents' murder a couple of years before. Then her sister Melissa's husband had died of cancer. Only a few months ago, her boyfriend, Matt, had ditched her for another woman. Now this!
A little serenity in her life--was that asking too much? For someone who'd always enjoyed excitement and a good time, now she wanted nothing but peace and quiet, no complications. But she was afraid she wouldn't get her wish.
Besides, other people depended on her. She'd always considered herself a responsible person, able to handle her own problems and willing to help others.
Take her teaching job, for instance. Although those kids could be hellraisers at times, she enjoyed her position at the local high school, teaching American history. She had to get back to those kids, back to her job!
As sponsor for the History Club, she got a big kick out of mingling with young people, and she liked to think those students needed her. Gwen thought of Elaine, a shy, friendless girl whose mother was an alcoholic. Poor kid, who always took her troubles to her--Gwen--because no one else cared. And what about Joey, whose two older brothers were honor roll students? That was a tough act for Joey to follow, this teenager who barely made passing grades.
Most important, she had to return to her widowed younger sister, Melissa, and Melissa's three-year old, Zachary. Her closest relatives, she missed them already. She missed holding Zachary on her lap, reading him stories. She remembered his sweet smile and quick laugh, his talkativeness when he got excited. How could she bear being away from him?
This is all some crazy quirk in time, she fretted as she pulled the woolen blanket up to her chin. She turned onto her side and closed her eyes, willing sleep to come, although one question after another kept her awake.
Could this really be 1762? she wondered, desperate to deny the fix she was in. The whole idea was too weird to even think about, and this trip just one more thing to prevent her from getting her life back on an even keel.
But if it was 1762, what then?