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Saturday, 24 September 2011


About Jeremiah
Jerry Wright is the author of Creepy Pasta for the Soulless, a collection of flash horror fiction, and his short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in the new zombie anthology Unquiet Earth from Static Movement Press.  He lives in California with his wife and seven children.
About Barb
This is Barb Jones’ debut novel for adults, though she’s hard at work on her next book for children.  She lives in Sarasota, Florida, with her loving and supporting family.  She is mother of two small children, who spare her just enough time to write.
About The Book
Amber Stone, once a child prodigy, has just become curator of a special collection of Macedonian artifacts for the Seattle Museum of
Natural History. Chloe, a prodigy of a different sort, holds a position at the museum focusing on tribal art. The two become fast friends, united by Amber's unsettling dreams and Chloe's unorthodox ways of dealing with them. Two strangers arrive in town, bringing with them a prophecy recorded more than three-thousand years ago, a prophecy that places Amber directly in the midst of a battle that has spanned millennia
Prologue: The Prophecy
Sidon, Phoenicia, 1129 B.C.
                Eshmun’azar leaned back in his chair and studied the grey outlines where masonry had covered the open windows of his study.  He watched the candlelight cast shadows on the rock and reached for his little brazier.  The sun hadn’t shone through those windows in eighty-three years.  He lit his incense with one of the candles and sighed.  The child would be here soon, smuggled into port in one of the many ships the small community within these walls controlled through various daylight entities.  Abibaal had been insistent—Eshmunthe child is most certainly the one the stars foretold.  He recalled the look on Abi’s face, excitement.
It was, on reflection, an interesting and rare occurrence.  Prior to that conversation seventeen days ago, he hadn’t seen him excited in more than a century.  In fact, not since Abi’s early days when he was coming into his power had Eshmun seen more than calculation and sober contemplation in his son’s features.  It was a welcome change.    He cupped his hand and drew smoke to his face, inhaling.  The incense, herbs caked in ghee, had come from Crete on one of the boats.  The shipping enterprise had been remarkably successful, not only allowing for discreet movement of goods and persons that suited the community’s particular needs, but also from a monetary standpoint.  Merchants had followed suit, and Sidon was rapidly becoming the most important port in the world.  That was fine with Eshmun’azar.  More shipments made none worthy of special attention.
A knock came at the chamber door.  It was a servant offering refreshment.  He waved him away, “No child, I’ll eat later.”  As the servant turned to leave he added, “But bring a pot of wine and cups.  Abibaal will arrive soon with a guest.  See that he knows where I am.”  The young man bowed and mumbled his understanding and Eshmum was again left alone.  He thought of the girl.  Could it truly be her?  Nearly seven years they had sought for her, this child who would bring a message of great significance.  Great import.  That was the way the astrologer had explained it, import.  He had opened the charts and explained the positions of the stars—a child would bring a message of great import not just for their community, but also for the scores like it that existed throughout the world.
He heard the gates open below and knew that his son had arrived.  It would take a moment to open the carriage, which had been locked securely against the sun.  The servant appeared a moment later with the wine and reported that Abibaal had arrived safely with his guest and would be up presently.  Eshmun took the pot, dipped a cup, and sipped the wine.  His mind was racing and he checked once more that his parchment and quill were ready and the inkpot full.  He drained his cup, wishing not for the first time that wine still affected him and his kind.  Finally, he dipped the cup again and sat in his chair.  It would do no good to let his son see him nervous.
A few moments later, the servant was back.  He announced Abi and opened the door to allow him to enter.  Abi carried the girl in his arms.  She was wrapped in light linen secured by a clasp at her shoulder and a rope at her waist.  “She was in Athens, then?”
“Yes, father.”
“Has she spoken?”
“I have heard her myself, father.  I believe she spoke in the old tongue.”  Abi’s eyes were wide and he couldn’t suppress a smile.  He placed the girl on cushions at the side of the study and stepped back, gesturing for his father to examine her.
Eshmun studied the girl.  She looked about seventeen or eighteen, hair black and curled in the Grecian style.  She was slender, almost waifish.  Her wrap—he was pretty sure the Greeks called it a stola, or perhaps a palla—had bunched at her waist, revealing her legs from ankle to the middle of her thigh.  Her legs were shapely, rising smoothly from ankle to knee to thigh.  He sighed.  The ghosts of memories of the life he left centuries before haunted him more frequently lately.  He looked at her face, the high cheekbones giving way to a smooth jaw line right above…  He stopped, noticing her throat, long and extended as her head reclined over the cushions.  He could hear the blood coursing through the vessels in her neck.
“How much did you drain her?”
“Only enough to ensure she would cause no difficulty in the journey, father.”
“What else did you learn of her?  What is her name?”  Eshmun brushed a stray hair from her brow as he spoke.
“She was abandoned as a child.  Evidently, the Greeks do that.  The women at the temple call her Diana.  She’s a mute, except for those times when she speaks the old tongue.  The temple women assumed she was some kind of oracle, but none have been able to divine the language.”  Abi stepped to the wine pot and dipped a cup.
Eshmun considered the girl again.  “When do the trances occur?  Will we have to wait long?”
“I don’t think so, father.  She has yet to be in my presence without going into the trance. “
“Well, then…Let us wake her.”  Eshmun walked back to his desk and lifted his quill.
Abi smiled and walked to the girl.  “It’s time to wake up, Diana,” he said and turned her head so she faced the ceiling.  He brought his hand to his face and bit deeply into his wrist.   Holding her head steady, he positioned his wrist over her mouth and watched as blood dripped over her mouth.  The Greek’s lips parted almost immediately, and her tongue flicked out.  Abi smiled at his father and put his wrist to her lips.  The girl sucked eagerly and moments later, her eyes opened.
Abi withdrew his wrist and looked at her.  The girl sat up on the cushions, frightened.  Her eyes grew wide and she looked around the room nervously.  Then, her eyes rolled backwards into her head until only the whites showed and she began to speak.  It was a harsh, guttural language more animalistic than human, and Eshmun scribbled furiously on the parchment.  She spoke for nearly thirty minutes before he put down his quill.  “Silence her, Abi.”
Abi bent down and grasped her head.  He brought his mouth to her throat and held her tightly as his father watched him feed.  Finally, when her heart had stopped, he stood and wiped his mouth.  Eshmun had finished writing and was reading the words on the scroll.
“Was it the old tongue, father?”
“It was.  It must be her, son. The human tongue should not be able to form some of the words she said.”  Abi scanned the document.  “She said the message twice.  You stopped her as she started a third repetition. “
“Was it as the stargazers said?”
“Oh yes,” Eshmum said, “Of great import.”  He handed the scroll to his son.  Abi took it.  Strange symbols he’d only seen in his father’s old books were written, but at the bottom, Eshmum had translated into Phoenician.  He began to read.
In the hour of the wolf will come the Queen of reconciliation.   In the birth of her death the joining will commence and great will be the hatred of her words…
He looked up.  “Father, what does this mean?”
Eshmun’azar dipped his cup and took a long swallow.  “Keep reading, my son.”
 Chapter One
Amber, New York, Present Day
Amber pulled her hair back, gathering it in a ponytail.  She frowned for a moment as she looked at herself in the mirror.  She didn’t mind her face.  In fact, her face was probably her greatest asset with her high cheekbones, elfish nose, and her deep blue-green eyes.  Her eyes, though, traveled as they always did to the birthmark on the lower left side of the back of her neck.  It was a deep wine-red color and stood out in shocking contrast to her pale skin like a good merlot spilled on perfect linen.  Worse, the shape of the thing was strange, almost like some kind of Cyrillic lettering or Celtic symbolism.  Few people had a chance to see the damn thing as she wore her dark red hair long and flowing over shoulders and back.  Still, on more than one occasion she’d been asked where she got the tattoo and what the symbol meant.
Just last week she met Craig, an ad designer, at the student union pub.  He was at the college performing a guest lecture series and Amber found him charming and eventually invited him home.  He was an aggressive lover and she enjoyed him; but just as her body approached a fever pitch, he commented on how beautiful she was—how beautiful her tattoo was.  Desire drained out of her instantly, and it was almost torture waiting for him to finish and leave.
Amber started to pull the ponytail back out of the hair band but stopped herself, sighed, and stepped away from the mirror.  It was her last chance to run in New York, and she was not going on a run with her hair down.  She sat on the edge of her bed and pulled on her running shoes, lacing them carefully and tightly.  One more run and tomorrow she would be in Seattle.  She stood up and began stretching, reached down to her ankles, gripped them tightly, and felt her calves and thighs gradually loosen.  She straightened her body and caught a glance of her desk.  It was strange to see it bare; although she used it more as an end table than a desk.  The movers would arrive in a few hours to load up all of the possessions she accumulated in college and get them started west.
It was strange to think that school was over.  She’d entered college at sixteen, and Amber had completed a bachelor’s degree in archeology and a master’s degree in cultural anthropology in just over four years.  Her pacing kept her removed from most of the other students and she opted out of consideration as valedictorian, though she would have won.  She picked up her master’s diploma at the dean’s office, shook his hand, and called home.
Her parents—well, her adopted parents, they’d taken her from the orphanage when she was nine—were proud and insisted she drive the three and a half hours north to their farm to celebrate.  There, she suffered through their embraces and the nine-day flow of neighbors with casseroles and cakes, all coming to see the Stone’s girl genius.  They bought a cap and gown and snapped pictures one after another.  No fewer than thirteen boys were introduced or reintroduced, and she politely smiled and laughed on cue.  Twenty-seven meals, and not even one had family alone at the table.  The Smiths for lunch, the Frosts for supper, the Antons for breakfast—a steady stream of family friends and acquaintances came to gawk and to plan her future.
She didn’t mind too much.  Honestly, for the four years she was gone, she’d only visited a few times.  If her mother hadn’t called every Sunday morning, Amber believed they might have talked only once or twice the entire time.  She loved her family—who wouldn’t love a couple who had adopted a nine-year old girl?  Kids at the orphanage called the fourth birthday the “deathday” because the chances of adoption past that age disappeared.  Not the Stones—they had seen Amber helping with the toddlers and insisted on her.  They were good, honest people.  Still, after twelve years and countless evidences of their love and affection; she still felt out of place, like a guest at the house rather than a daughter.
She’d returned home to find mail already waiting for her.  Six schools had already commenced recruitment campaigns to get her into PhD programs; and fourteen unsolicited job offers came within two weeks.  Headhunters called almost hourly until she finally let all of her calls go to voicemail.  In a day, the voicemail was full and she still hadn’t cleared through it.
The Seattle Museum of Science and History approached her a little differently.  An overnight package about the size of a television set arrived just four days ago.  Within, she found a human skull, six crude flint knives, a bag full of pottery shards, and eight clay masks.  An attached letter indicated that the museum had acquired a collection of nearly eighteen thousand pieces from six digs originating in ancient Macedonia.  If she found the task of organizing, cataloguing, and analyzing the collection of any interest, a curator position was available to her.  In addition, the Museum would pay for her tuition, field research requirements, and even her dissertation printing for the PhD program in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, which was prepared to incorporate the curator position into her course of study.  A loft apartment, a museum car, and a staff of five interns rounded out the package.  Inside was a one way plane ticket for a flight out of Kennedy and a $5000 check for moving expenses.
She hadn’t wrestled over the decision.  Grasping the skull and studying the pre-mortem fractures on the anterior half, she had dialed the museum and accepted, but not before negotiating a seven percent higher starting salary, just on principle.  The flight was tonight, at eleven forty-five.  After a quick change in Denver, she’d be in Seattle in time for breakfast.
One more run, then, she thought and opened the door. The air was cool against her neck, and she imagined the wind targeting her birthmark.  She started a slow jog, and then quickly ramped up to a fast run.
Chloe, Yakima, 1993
Chloe held tightly to her mother’s hand and they walked through the pines. She stepped around the occasional drifts of snow that stubbornly refused to melt even now at the end of March.  Six others walked with them, heading deeper into the woods.  Chloe looked at their feet, trying to match the sound of the needles and brush crackling under their boots to each particular step.  She concentrated on the sounds.  When she was satisfied she could identify each of the walkers by the noise of their footsteps, she turned her attention to their breathing.  Her mother was easy, and she recognized the pattern without having to think much about it.
The others took a little work.  The man ahead and to the right breathed shallowly and regularly while the one behind them wheezed a little.  The woman next to her mother breathed purposefully, as though every exhalation resulted from conscious intention.  The others—
“Mommy, stop.”  Her mother looked down at her and Chloe began to tug at her arm pulling her south.  “Come on.”  Her mother looked at the wheezing man, and he nodded; so she allowed Chloe to guide her and the others followed.  In a few minutes, the bubbling of the Yakima River reached Chloe’s ears.  In four or five more, the others heard it as well.  She pulled her mother through a last copse of trees and stood at the bank, staring at the water.
“What is it, Honey?” Chloe’s mother knelt beside her and studied her face.
“The whitefish is about to die.”  Chloe pointed at the water.
“What whitefish, Sweetie?”
“The one right there.”  She was still pointing at the water.  Her mother followed her finger to the water and squinted but couldn’t make out anything below the ripples of the river.
“How is the whitefish going to die, Chloe?”  It was the wheezer. He’d walked up to where the girl and her mother stood on the bank.  He pointed at the water.  “Will another fish come and get it?”
Chloe reached out and took the man’s hand, still pointing, and lifted it up, pushing it as far as her reach allowed.  “The sky will kill it.”
The man looked up and studied the sky for a while then turned his attention on Chloe’s mother.  “Marlene, I’m just not sure.  She feels intently, I know that.  Still, it’s not just…what?  What is it?”
Marlene’s eyes had grown wide and she stared at the sky.  “Look, Tom.”
He looked up.  It was an eagle, and it circled above the river.  Suddenly, it dove; and Tom gasped at the speed of the thing.  In only a second or so, it was flying back upward, a whitefish in its talons.
He looked at Chloe.  “You were right, she has the Sight.”
Michael, Brussels, Present Day
Michael rested his head against the velvet of the coffin and sighed as it was closed.  The flight from Brussels would arrive in London in just over three hours and from there he would travel to New York.  His agents in America had already completed construction of suitable dwellings in Hartford, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Seattle, and it was time for him to leave Europe.  Not forever—no, nothing could keep him from Bruges, though the city was little more than an amusement park now.  Still, he knew the quest was reaching its fruition, and he knew that he would find the Queen on the other side of the Atlantic.
It had been good to see Kabos again despite the old one’s constant retelling of stories heard thousands of times and his insistence on reciting all of the joys that modern day Bruges had replaced with ills.  “The finest restaurants serve tripe for the tourists, now.  There has been no good food in Flanders for four hundred years.”
“Do you still eat, then, Kabos?” Michael had asked the question with a sly smirk, but Kabos missed the sarcasm and continued.
“I tell you, Machiel, there is not a chef left in Flanders!  Bruges is dead.  Did I tell you I saw a child ask her mother if Gruuthuse was where Belle and the Beast lived?”  He had.  He’d told that story to Michael when he’d visited nearly a decade earlier.  “There is nothing left in this place for you.  Go ahead to America.  Find your Queen.  Soon, I think I shall climb to—“
“Shall climb to the top of the Halletoren and greet the sunrise.”  Michael had chuckled.  “Don’t you think that’s too Flemish?  I mean, even for you.”
“Machiel, sometimes you try—“
“What was it Longfellow wrote?  In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown; Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o'er the town.  There must be a better place to die.”
“Why must youth constantly mock age?”  Kabos had shook his head, and then brightened.  “Do you know, I was there when he saw the bell tower?  Longfellow, I mean.  He was still mourning the death of his wife, a lovely girl.  She died in childbirth, I think.  I actually considered feeding on him, so sad was he.  But as I came behind him, I heard him forming those words.  Machiel, I think there may be nothing so profound as the sound of a poet forming verse.”
“Perhaps, Kabos.  Why do you call me young?  I think next month I shall be three centuries old.  We are both relics, now.”
“Bah!  I was fifty-two when I left my life for this, and that was three hundred years before you, a whelp, were born.  You have never lost that youth.  I think should you live a thousand more years you will still be young.”
The two men had sat in Kabos’ parlor, a soft room, lushly decorated with ornate furniture he’d acquired over the years. A soft knock and a shy servant reminded Michael of his flight and Kabos had hugged him warmly before he stepped into the car.  Michael was leaving Bruges, again.
In a half hour, the plane would lift off, and in two hours the sun would rise.  Michael closed his eyes and thought about New York.  He’d been there once with Kabos, at the turn of the century, but that was it.  Outside of that and an unconscious trip to Panama in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, he’d not crossed into what he still considered the New World.  He sighed.
Machiel.  Francis will ensure your transfer in London, and Marcus has already made arrangements for New York.  Kabos’ voice sounded softly in Michael’s head.  Has your plane left?
Not yet, but I hear the engines have started, and—Michael stopped mid-thought. Kabos, will I hear you in America?  Can we speak, well, this, so far from each other?
Oh, I have communicated with many in America, my child.  Still, you and I will not speak.  I do go to Halltoren this morning, Machiel, and I will greet the sun.  Michael was silent.  Six hundred and seventy years, Machiel.  It is too long for a man, and no matter what I have become, I was born a man.  I will greet the sun and die in Flanders.
Father, please! Even in thought, Michael’s voice was plaintive.  There is too much I must learn from you, too much I must know. 
There is nothing left to teach you.  Sleep now, and remember.  You must be strong for your journey.  Michael felt his eyelids grow heavy.  Kabos had done this before, when Michael was new—when he still called himself Machiel and still thought of himself as Flemish.  Michael felt calmness replace anxiety as he fell into slumber.  Then, as promised, the remembrance came and Michael’s grief left him and let the images wash over him.

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