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(from my waiting-to-be-edited manuscript… This takes place on Halloween Night)

 

Scene 38 — The Bonfire

bonfire-31

Claire wished her father had come. She had felt such a connection with him in the library this morning. She was ready for that. Had wanted it all her life. But still he was holding himself back from her. In time, she told herself, as she walked among the revelers at the festival. In time we’ll be a real family. Truthfully she would rather not have come herself. Given her nightmares, hanging around a huge bonfire was really the last place she wanted to be. But she had promised Brenna she’d come.

Claire guessed nearly everyone in Dunhaven had come to the bonfire. There were booths selling freshly-made bread and preserves canned from the fruit harvest. Children bobbed for apples and ran around wearing odd costumes, pretending to be returning ancestors from the otherworld.

For adults there were women who foretold the future using hazelnuts, a traditional symbol of wisdom. And on a table set very near the yet-to-be-lit bonfire were stacks of notepaper for people to write down three wishes for the next year they hoped would come true — or three bad habits they wanted to be rid of. When the fire was lit, these notes would be rolled up, tied with ribbon, and thrown into the flames, their ashes rising to the heavens where God would hear and answer.

Kiran was there peddling food and drink. It must have taken him all afternoon to set up his booth and cart the casks out. Mary Kathleen was running back and forth from the Fox & Hound kitchen keeping him well supplied in meat pies and other pastries. He offered Claire a free drink as she passed by.

“I have hard cider and regular cider,” he said, “Take your pick.”

Claire declined for the moment and continued her wanderings. She had ridden into town with Michael and Rebecca. Across the green she could see them talking with neighbors and others from the village. Somewhere over the din musicians were playing tin whistles and uilleann pipes.

She hadn’t wanted to come. The idea of hanging around the big blaze was not at all appealing to her given her fear of fire. Except for that, she couldn’t find a good reason to stay away. She greeted Sybil and her husband who roamed the green arm-in-arm, and was finally able to meet Brenna’s fiance, Brian O’Connor. It was a bitter-sweet meeting given what she now knew about the curse.

The sun had faded and the moon was beginning to rise, and so were the expectations of the merrymakers. At last she saw Father Patrick take his place by the tall pile of kindling-topped wood heaped up in the clearing in the middle of the village square, a blazing torch held high in the air. People everywhere stopped what they were doing and turned to hear what the priest had to say.

“Welcome, one and all! Please join me in sharing the traditional Samhain blessing.”

The crowd quieted, and as many who knew it said the words along with the priest.

“May the ancestors deliver blessings on you and yours… May the new year bear great fruits for you… May your granted wishes be as many as the seeds in a pomegranate… May the slide into darkness bring you light… May the memories of what has been keep you strong for what is to be… And may this Samhain cleanse your heart, your soul, and your mind!”

With that, Father Patrick tossed the torch into the middle of the pile, and within only moments the wood was ablaze with hot, white and blue light.

“Come one and all! Let us rekindle our hearts and hearths as we rekindle our community. Come and take your light.”

Claire couldn’t help but admire Father Patrick. He was quite a showman standing there calling down unity on the village. And he seemed to have his finger on the pulse of what they needed to draw them together. Winters were hard here in the north, or so she’d heard. They needed to be able to depend on one another. She could understand now why Michael had said this was his favorite part of the festivities.

She pondered what the priest had said about unity and community, and wondered for the first time if the old gypsy had been right. Was it destiny that had brought her here? Was it time for the curse to be put to an end? And were she and Kiran the ones who had to make it happen?

Claire was standing back a safe distance from the fire when she felt his arms around her waist.

“There you are! Been looking all over for you.”

Claire turned in his arms and stared into his deep blue eyes. There was no where else in the world she wanted to be but here with him. He said nothing, surprised by her intensity. Here was a man who was not afraid to let her be who she was. To let her take the lead. She knew in that moment that she loved him. Maybe she always had from the time she was a little girl. She didn’t say anything, just slid her arms around his neck and laid her head on this shoulder.

This, thought Nathan, is the thing I love most about us together. We don’t need a lot of fancy words. We know each other that well though we know each other so little. How is that possible?

Over his shoulder Claire watched Kiran going about his business, Mary Kathleen buzzing around him like a little bee. Even as she took refuge from the week’s turmoil in Nathan’s arms, her mind played with the thought of finding the book and what would have to happen if she did. There was only one answer to it. She would have to marry Kiran. IF, that is, he were willing. And Nathan? What of the life she had begun to envision with him?

Across the clearing Kiran saw her looking his way and winked at her.

Nathan never heard her sob, but he felt the tears. He pulled her away and looked at her closely.

“Whatever’s wrong, Claire? Are you unwell?”

“I’m fine. Really. I think the week is just catching up with me. You must admit it hasn’t been one of your typical weeks…”

Nathan ran his fingers through her reddish-brown hair.

“No, but then you’re not a typical woman, either.”

She tried to smile, but all she could feel was sadness inside.

“Nathan!”

A man in a pair of coveralls was hurrying across the green in their direction, waving his arms to get Nathan’s attention.

“Nathan! Thank goodness I found you. Donagh was running around out in the field with a stupid mask on and stumbled into the dry creek bed. I think he may have broken his ankle. Can you come?’”

Nathan looked apologetically at Claire.

“Go on,” she said, giving him a little push. “I’m not going anywhere.”

He kissed her full on the mouth while the man looked on with a half-drunk grin, then the two men hurried across the green.

Claire was shivering. Her jacket had not afforded her much protection from the cold. Several feet away was an old stone bench, vacant, and closer to the fire, but far enough away to suit her. She settled herself on the hard seat which was surprisingly warm from the heat. After a few moments her shivering subsided and she began to feel weary as she stared into the fire’s glow. She thought about what she had prayed at the old church that morning. A prayer that Alana Petrovna would somehow tell her where the book was hidden — if it still existed at all.

Even as the thought left her mind, her vision began to smear, and suddenly she was watching another blaze. She was inside the old church, standing by the altar, as rafters above cracked and popped and gave way. She saw Alana lying at the top of the stairs. A beam had caught her as she’d tried to flee. It knocked her to the floor and pinned her there across her chest.

“Mamie!”

The voice came out of nowhere. Then she saw young Cara Petrovna dodging falling debris, hopping over chunks of charred stone. She knelt beside her mother and tried to push the smoldering rafter off her. She couldn’t make it move. Alana could see there was nothing to be done. She grabbed the girl’s hand and calmed her tears.

“Cara, you must help me.”

“I can’t, I can’t! I can’t get it off.”

“No, no. Daughter listen to me. I cannot be saved, but there is something else you must do.”

And from beneath the loose cape that she wore she pulled an old book.

Claire was wide awake then. This was not one of the waking dreams she’d been having. Brenna had said that Samhain was the one night of the year when the veil between worlds was the thinnest. Alana was allowing her to see what had happened in the church. And she had it! Alana had the book!

“Quickly now,” the woman said to her daughter. “You mustn’t let your grandmother see you. Wrap this in your cloak and…”

Though the rest of the conversation was lost to Claire over the snapping and crackling of the quickly-spreading fire, she saw Cara take the book and wrap it in her own thread-bare cape. She didn’t want to leave. They were arguing. Her mother was pushing at her to run, to leave the building. “Go, go!” Her lips formed the word, the sound was lost.

It was then another piece of crossbeam dislodged from the ceiling and fell hitting Alana on the head then sliding halfway down the crypt stairs. Claire could see the light go out of Alana’s eyes. Claire was relieved that Alana’s death had been quick. She could imagine the horror of being burned alive. Cara knelt beside her mother for a few more moments then rose, cradling the book in her arms. But instead of running out of the burning building, the girl ran down into the crypt.

Her vision began to blur again, but not before she saw Alana’s hand open and something silver fall out. Damian’s earring, the very one Claire was wearing, was lying on the floor beside his mother. Someone must have found it when they found her body and returned it to the family.

So Alana had come to her after all. And though she hadn’t shown her where in the crypt the book was, at least now Claire knew the book still existed.

But the fire was not done with her, for she suddenly found her four-year-old self standing in front of that big Samhain bonfire in the gypsy camp all those years ago. She watched the colors leap in the flames, she heard the woman asking her the questions then repeating the chant over and over. Finally she saw the chain and earring being dangled in front of her and she reached to take it in her hand. But just as she did she looked up at the woman. The burning of the little piece of metal faded away as Claire stared into the face of a young Marie Hearne. So it had been Marie who had placed the spell on her as a child.

Claire could feel the fire taking her. Transfixed, she stood and began to inch her way closer to the blaze, hands reaching for the charm she saw dangling there. She was growing hotter and hotter when all at once someone jerked her around and pulled her stumbling away from the heat. Kiran had seen her stand and walk toward the fire. He knew she was in a trance.

She clutched his shirt and waited for her senses to clear.

“My God! Thank you.” She clung to him, her pulse racing, sweat dampening her hair.

Kiran held her close, cooing in her ear.

“It’s okay. The vision has passed.”

Standing at the Fox & Hound booth selling hard cider and pies, Mary Kathleen was fit to be tied as Kiran took Claire in his arms in front of God and everyone.

Claire pulled away and looked up at him.

“What did you see?” he asked, not expecting her next words.

“Your grandmother. I saw your grandmother. I must find her. Help me find her, please!”

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