Great news! I officially published my second book, ‘The Keeper’s Realm.’ It has yet to make it through the premium catalog on Smashwords, and knowing my luck there will be errors that will need to be corrected, but nothing too bad yet.
You can purchase it currently on Amazon and Smashwords. In a matter of days (if all goes well and my hours spent following the Smashwords Style Guide were not in vain), it should be available on most Ebook reading devices.
I promised a preview chapter, so here it is for all to see. I hope you enjoy!!
THE KEEPER’S REALM
I couldn’t tell you when I first started seeing Damien. As far as I know, it could have been since I was a baby. But I know when I first started remembering his face. I must have been in my own bed by then, and not in a cradle, because I think he would come at night and sit next to me. I would always feel the edge of my bed bend a little, like someone had sat just at the foot of it. Often I could feel someone stroking my hair, like a father would his child. Sometimes I would wake up frightened, and an imprint would be on my blanket, proving that someone had been sitting there.
At first I thought it was my mom or my dad, coming in to check on me. Parents do that a lot when you are young, I think. They come in just to feel your chest to make sure you are breathing, like the only time they cannot protect you is when they are asleep.
And yet, the way Damien moved was so different from my mom or dad. I could tell the difference between his footsteps and my dad’s just as soon as he entered the hall. Even though I was half asleep, knowing someone was coming to watch over me didn’t scare me. There was something else, something caring and nostalgic about it, like it was a ritual. And he always came after my parents went to sleep.
After mom died, the cancer finally taking her from me and dad, Damien started coming nearly every night. He didn’t say a word sometimes. He simply lay beside me. I could feel the heat coming from his body, warming me from the chilly English air from the draft in my bedroom window.
He knew just how to sit next to me without waking me. He knew how to give me glimpses of his form or even his face without giving me the entire picture. He didn’t have that teen heart throb face. It was manlier. There wasn’t a mark on him. He was bronzed and toned. His hair was so black that I often couldn’t see it through the darkness of my room. And his eyes pierced right through me, like he knew me. Every part of me was something he was familiar with.
One night I thought I heard him whispering in my ear, thinking that I was fast asleep. He said we would be together one day, and that I only need wait. It would be a long wait, and I would not see him as often, but I would endure.
I woke up on a few occasions thinking that it had been a dream. He wasn’t really there. Once I even thought that I might have a guardian angel looking after me.
I was only half right. He wasn’t an angel, but he was a guardian… of sorts. And he would always be there to safeguard me.
I open my eyes slowly, not sure of what I would see. The air around me was still laden with thick pressure. It embraced me, but it felt more like it was trapping me. I refused to move my hands from my ears. My body ached from the tight ball I had locked myself in for what had felt like hours.
I wanted to uncurl my stiffening legs, but I wouldn’t allow myself to the privilege. The noise was deafening. My small hands tried to stop the penetrating screech of bullets exploding from the guns. Cannons were firing everywhere. And the cries of angry men and others laying on the ground in agony invaded every sense that I had.
I remember running to hide between two pillared rocks. I cradled myself and tried to stop the tears from staining the new dress my dad bought me. I knew he would be upset if it got dirty so soon. Then I nearly started laughing at the fact that such a thought would cross my mind in that moment.
“It’s his fault. It was a bad idea to come here. I told dad it was a bad idea,” I whimpered. I kept trying to justify it. We had to be there for his job. And I knew it. Just like we had to be at all the other historical sites in previous years. But as my every sense grew dull and my hearing drained from my ears, the overpowering sound of gunfire mercilessly harassing them, I found myself blaming him.
Once I finally realized that night had fallen and the noise that tortured me was gone, I laid my arms on my knees. I allowed myself to fall onto the ground and let everything go quiet. The guns had stopped firing. The men had stopped screaming. There was only the sound of a breeze flowing through the nearby trees. The field only feet away was empty and the harsh heat had been replaced with the intrusive night air. A sudden chill ran through my limbs and gave me prickly bumps all over my skin. I knew once goosebumps took over that I would have a hard time getting warm again. But the alternative of standing to see if everything had stopped was too risky. I tried running my hands down my legs and rubbing them to keep warm, but to no avail. I wondered for a brief moment if anyone would find me there. I was not well hidden. Finding a great hiding place was not my goal. I just wanted to find somewhere that protected me from bullets flying everywhere and men running at each other with deadly weapons.
I could still smell everything. Bodies quickly decayed in the summer heat, even though summer had been gone for months. Gunpowder grew stronger in the air and I remember coughing at one point as though it were clouding everything around me.
My hearing was still dull when they found me. I would venture to say that was why it took them so long. It had to be at least 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Sirens wailed in the distance and men walked about yelling my name. They had sent a search party looking for me. I knew at that point that dad wouldn’t be as angry about the dress, and angrier at me. This was the third time in less than two years that I had simply disappeared when I was meant to stay close by.
To be fair, I tried telling him. I told him that these places scared me and that I wanted to leave. I even tried convincing him that I would rather that he went back into teaching and didn’t perform field work anymore. But his studies required him to always be at these places of “historical interest” for various reasons. And I knew he loved it. But how was I supposed to tell him and make him understand? I knew that I was “just a kid”, only ten years old, and that his friends would tell him to send me to a doctor. The same had happened to a friend of mine because her parents thought she was too “hyper”. What was he going to make of it when I told him that I was seeing people who weren’t there? Or worse, that I was witnessing everything that had happened to them?
I still wasn’t sure at that time what I was seeing. Only that it was terrifying. I knew from sitting at my dad’s lectures on the days where he couldn’t find a sitter that Gettysburg was a bad place. Battles had been fought there and a lot of young men died. That was reason enough for me to not want to go. But my dad’s paper on historical renenactments from Rome’s Colosseum had been such a success that he wanted to write another on more American historical renenactments.
I don’t remember seeing the face of the man who found me right away. He lifted me from the ground and held me tight in his arms. I wanted to reach around and grab him, but I was too chilled. Someone nearby wrapped me in a warmed blanket as they walked away from where I was hiding. They yelled out to someone down the field, but I couldn’t understand what it was. I felt like my ears were still rattling from the sound of exploding gunpowder.
I closed my eyes until we reached the others. I heard my dad rush up to me and try to take me into his arms, but the man holding me insisted that he get inside the ambulance with me. They placed me on a gurney and wrapped another warm blanket on top of me. I could barely feel anything except the heavy fabric weighing down my small body into the thin padding under me. My dad stroked my head and called my name, but somehow I couldn’t respond. I just felt tired, like everything was slipping away right before me. Someone had a flashlight in my eyes and continued calling my name.
“She’s coming around; we need to get her hydrated,” said a woman hanging over me. I felt a small prick in my arm as my dad held my other hand, an IV no doubt. I had seen them given to my mom plenty of times when she got sick. He kept trying to talk to me but I could barely understand him. I drifted to sleep and allowed everything to become blurred before me. But the images quickly returned with a vengeance.
As I lay there, allowing sleep to consume me, I thought back on how I got to this point yet again. Dad had wanted to see the Gettysburg battle reenactments earlier that year, so he scheduled for us to make the trip. He was in the audience taking notes and watching along the sidelines. I watched beside him, but I was getting a bit chilled as the day winded down. He gave me his keys and said to go to the car and get his jacket to put on.
Count on me to be the one person there to get cold even when it was only a moderate temperature outside.
I was trying to find dad again in crowd, no easy task. I guess when you are still a small kid, the height of all adults begin to look alike from the waist down. But for some reason, I couldn’t find him. I walked around and paced the sidelines looking for him, figuring that he was probably doing the same for me since I had taken too long to get the jacket and come back. I headed back for the car, thinking that he might have gone there to look for me by his truck. But I never made it. It happened this time just like it did all the others. I was just walking and I stepped into something. Everything around me changed and turned blurry, like I was in a tunnel of some sort. And when I took a step out, I tried looking around for where I was. By that time, everything around me had changed for the worse. Men were charging for one another in the very field I was standing in. They had their muskets and bayonets pointed in my general direction, but aimed at each other. Men were already bleeding on the ground. And when I looked down at my shoes, they were drenched with blood. There was an entire stream cascading through the grass near the dozens that lay lifeless before me.
The sound of canon fire made me instantly grab for my ears to muffle the noise. It was a cracking unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life. All the gunfire instantly resulted in a gut wrenching cry followed by a man falling to the ground just feet from me. I looked all around me and saw nothing but vengeful or dying faces.
I ran to where I thought the audience sideline would be. I had to have gotten caught in the middle of the reenactment by accident or taken a wrong turn. But when I tripped on a man lying on the ground screaming, I realized that this was not like the other times. I was in the middle of something I couldn’t explain and couldn’t escape.
I ran to the woods in the distance and ducked as I heard bullets flying inches from me. One was so close that my dress wafted from the drastic speed of a bullet grazing the cotton fabric. I swore at one point that one had grazed my leg, but it was cut by pieces of blown apart trees sprawled across the grass.
When I saw the rocks, I climbed to get between them, thinking that they might allow me some protection from the flying debris or the bullets. I never knew trees could literally explode until I saw the magnitude of power canons possessed.
When we arrived at the hospital, I felt myself coming to. My dad was still hovering over me, giving the paramedic our health insurance information while still looking for some sign in my eyes that I was okay.
I didn’t know how to explain to him what was happening to me. And that this was the third time it had occurred. I had stepped into something, or somewhere. I tried to think of how to describe it without him thinking I needed doctors. But I couldn’t come up with one. I would just have to endure the grounding that would inevitably follow from wondering off and getting myself lost, yet again. The police had already labeled me as a “runner,” or a kid that had a tendency to disappear whenever the mood struck me.
“Mr. Drakes?” A man appeared from behind the curtain to our small hospital room.
“Yes, I never learned your name,” my dad said. He let go of me to shake the man’s hand. I could hardly make out his appearance as my vision was still blurred, but he was taller than my dad. Black hair and blue eyes, and he stood with the kind of confidence I had only seen from men of authority.
“Kavanagh, I’m Damien Kavanagh. I’m a ranger here in a nearby area. We were the first to be alerted of your daughter’s disappearance.”
It was him. The man I thought was only in my dreams. The heart monitor I was on must have jumped because they both turned to look at me. I feigned my moment of shock as a chill and grabbed onto my blanket a bit tighter.
My dad came over to me and tucked the blanket around me so there were no air pockets. I tried my best to look a bit out of it. To be fair, I was a bit out of it. But seeing Damien standing there snapped me back into reality.
“I can’t thank you enough for finding her. The doctor said things could have been worse if she had been out there any longer. But we got her warm.”
Dad moved back to talk to the ‘ranger.’ I didn’t move or even try to speak. I just looked at Damien with prying eyes. His face had never been this clear to me. I could see every feature.
“That’s good to hear. I’m sure it frightened her as much as it did you, sir.” Damien had the self-assurance that you only see in officials or police. He fit the roll of a ranger well.
“I don’t know. This isn’t the first time she has simply wondered off.”
“You know kids, they see something, they wonder away. And with these woods, everything looks the same very quick.”
“I just don’t know how to keep her close anymore. I told her to go to the car, which was only twenty feet away. And your mind instantly begins to think of the worst. Kidnapping or something… but she just wonders into the most obscure places and stays there paralyzed for hours.”
I could hear my dad’s frustration growing. We would undoubtedly be having a discussion about this for months to come.
“Go easy on her this time. I have a feeling she may have suffered enough. The prospect of freezing to death can definitely scare a child straight.”
“Maybe. I mean, hopefully. But this isn’t the first time.”
“What do you mean?” asked the ranger.
“She does this all the time, walks off and goes missing for hours. And while we were overseas no less.”
Damien looked at me and smiled, seeing that I was gazing at him.
“Why were you overseas?”
“Her mother was English. She passed last year. That’s why we moved back to the states.”
I hated the fact that Dad brought up mom to someone who was a complete stranger to him, even though I figured that Damien already knew about mom. Dad barely spoke of her with me, even when I really wanted him to. But he was willing to bring it up with this guy? I could tell that something about the ranger made dad feel comfortable. I had learned really quick not to mention mom when things got bad or when dad was emotional. You never feel so small as when you make a fully grown man cry.
“Why don’t you go downstairs and get some coffee or something to eat. I will watch over her for a few minutes. Looks like you could use a pick up,” said the ranger.
It was true. My dad was beginning to droop a bit. I could tell from his posture.
“Alright, yeah. She probably needs to eat something anyway. I’ll go see what they have. Thank you, Mr. Kavanagh.”
“Please sir, it’s Damien,” he said before firmly gripping my dad’s hand again. Dad took one final look at me before he left, making sure that I was okay. Guilt inevitably followed after I disappeared yet again for the third time. I was all he had left now, and I felt like I risked breaking his heart all over again.
Damien watched me as he waited for the nurse to leave. When she did, he closed the curtain gently and walked over to me. Even a kid of my age could see how handsome he was. He was unlike any other man I had seen before, clearly still young, perhaps in his early late twenties, but strong. His features were sharp and chiseled like something from an ancient sculpture. His eyes seemed to look straight through me with concern and empathy. His hand reached forth and touched my forehead. He took a stray hair from my face and brushed it back and kept his hand there.
“It’s best to keep it all to yourself for now, Ashlyn. Your father wouldn’t understand. No one here will, especially the doctors. Tell him you got lost trying to find the gentleman giving out water to the crowd. You were thirsty and needed a drink, nothing more.”
I tried to find my voice, but I could tell it was going to come out croaky and weird. “Who are you?” was all I could manage to say. I may have known that he was literally the man of my dreams, but I still had no true idea of who he was.
“We met before, don’t you remember? I was in Rome when you were lost in the Colosseum and in England when you disappeared near Stonehenge. I found you. I will always find you.”
‘That was him?’ I thought. I had no idea. I was too young to remember his face from those incidents, but the visions of what happened in those places was still carved in my memory. He had been there during my other disappearing acts.
“How do you always know where I am?” I asked.
“It’s my job to know. I am always nearby.” He stroked my hair gently and looked at me with such sincerity. There was something so heartfelt in his words. They were kind, not threatening.
“What happened to me? Why does this keep happening?” I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes. But part of me couldn’t stand to cry in front of him. As scared as I still was from what had happened, I tried to keep calm. He definitely made it easier.
“It will all make sense in a few years. I will show you everything. All you need to know now is that you were never in any real danger. I know it feels like you were. And it feels as though you are there and seeing everything as it happens, but you have not travelled back in time, so to speak. You are witnessing it. Only special people can do this.”
“But I could feel everything shaking from the canons,” I said weakly.
“Because you are seeing it through the memories of others. You feel what they felt. It can be overwhelming. But never fear it. You are not in danger. Just stay in place. Remain still, and in time you will come back to where you were. If you move around, you will never find the portal to come home.”
Without knowing for certain who this man was, I could sense that I met him before. And he knew me better than I knew him. I was aware right then and there that any other boy I met would find it difficult to measure up to the man standing above me. I became breathless at the sight of him, but somehow it was soothing. He took his hand to my shoulder and rubbed it gently, comforting me.
“You are what we call a ‘Keeper,’ Ashlyn. It’s something very rare and special. You will grow to understand it as you get older. I will find you and help you. But until then, when this happens, remember to stay still. Don’t move. If you do, you will lose track of where you entered. In a few minutes you will return to where you were and everything will be alright again. If you stray from that spot, you will get stuck, sometimes for hours.”
“I don’t want it to happen again,” I said. The idea of it happening yet again was more frightening than when it had actually occurred.
“I know. I am working with other Keepers to insure that it doesn’t. Soon your father will be offered at permanent job at a top university. Don’t go anywhere with him that involves field work.”
“But I’m just a kid. I have to go where my dad goes. I don’t have a choice.”
“Yes, but not in field work. Areas of previous historical happenings are often too overpowering for Keepers to handle. We will work toward that one day.”
I couldn’t think of any other questions for him. And somehow I knew that I wouldn’t be able to understand. He told me how to handle it until later, which was enough for now. And knowing that I wouldn’t be forced to go anywhere else that I didn’t want to was comforting all the same.
My hearing must have started returning with full force some time before then, because I could hear my dad’s footsteps coming back down the hospital hallway. Damien stepped back and stood against the wall. The instant his hand left my shoulder I felt the discomfort inside my stomach return.
I was more prepared to lie to my dad than I was to accept that I would have to face more incidents like this in the future.
“She’s been asking for you,” said Damien. “I’ll leave you two alone.”
“Thanks for watching her for a minute.”
I watched as he walked away. As he left I felt the images of what I had seen that day come back with perfect clarity. The young men on the ground in the battlefield had barely been older than I was. I could smell the rot of bodies and the gunpowder permeating the air in the small hospital room. I don’t know if it was the realization of everything that had taken place or if it was the sight of Damien leaving. But I knew then that I would never feel completely safe without him there. He calmed me from the moment I saw him. And watching him walk away from me, not knowing when I would see him again, was something I never wanted to experience again.
I remember starting to tear after he was gone. My dad thought that I was overwhelmed by everything. And I was. In truth, I knew then that I didn’t want to wait for Damien to find me again. I wanted him near me.