The Past Calls to Those Who Listen

The Heron

Jean M. Roberts

The past calls to those who dare to listen...
An invitation arrives; Abbey Coote, professor of American Studies, has won an extended stay in a historic B&B, Pine Tree House. The timing is perfect. Abbey is recovering from an accident which left her abusive boyfriend dead and her with little memory of the event. But her idyllic respite soon takes a terrifying turn. While exploring the ancient house, Abbey comes face to face with Mary Foss, a woman dead for 350 years. Through a time/mind interface Abbey experiences the horrors of Mary's life, living at the edge of the civilized world in 1690s New England. As Abbey faces her worst fears, she struggles to free them both from the past.

Book Excerpt or Article

The sun, just set, left a purple glow in the night sky. The first star winked into sight. Mary lowered her head, her eyes surveying the scene before her. She and her neighbors relaxed on crowded benches set around a bonfire. It had been an interminable day of hard work for the community. The men set aside their private labors and raised a new barn for Thomas Drew. The women prepared a feast for all to enjoy. Drew, a decent man, well-respected in the community, repaid his friend’s generosity with casks of sweet wine, ale and cider. Their bellies full of food, well into their cups, all they lacked was a fiddle and a song.

Opposite the fire from her, sat Benjamin. A scant fifteen feet separated them. Might as well be an ocean. She strained to hear his voice, the sound of his laughter, while pretending to ignore him. As if she could. She felt his presence with every fiber of her being.

William perched beside her, stiff with suppressed rage. Although she gave him no cause to fault her own behavior, his cousin’s attendance rankled him, inflaming his jealous demons. To her disgust, he guzzled cup after cup of ale, trying and failing to drown his anger.

Unable to stop herself, Mary snuck an occasional glance at Benjamin, sweeping her gaze over the entire gathering, slowing to a crawl as he came into view. Seated next to him was Sarah Drew. Mary thought her drab, but tonight, with cheeks flushed and sparkling eyes reflecting the firelight, she was almost pretty. It was clear she was intent on holding his attention. Typical, all the unwed girls fancy him.

Mary studied the pair from the corner of her eye. Sarah was wearing a new gown, a deliberate ploy to catch Benjamin’s attention. Her anger flared as she watched them touch their pewter mugs together in a private toast. Jealousy raised its ugly head and she could not summon the will to fight it off. The unwanted emotion rose like bile in her throat. She tasted the bitter ashes of love lost. She sipped her drink. Maybe she should take William’s lead and drown her sorrows in alcohol.

A sharp jab in her ribs startled her. She turned to the right. Rebecca Edgerly waved her cup of cider in Benjamin’s direction. The woman bent and whispered, not wanting William to overhear. “It seems yon Benjamin has caught the eye of the Drew girl. I know her father would be well pleased to see her wed, and Ben is quite the catch.”

Mary grunted in disgust. “Married. To Benjamin. Do not be ridiculous. He sees nothing in her.” She pulled a sour face at her friend.

“Why the mulligrubs?“ Rebecca leaned back and studied Mary’s sullen expression. “Aha. You are jealous.” She hooted in disbelief. “God’s Teeth, woman. You are wedded with a babe in arms. Let him go, he deserves to be happy.”

Mary recoiled at her friend’s accusation. Like a verbal slap, it reddened her cheeks. She stared hard at the girl beside Benjamin, visible through the dancing flames. Sarah’s girlish laughter floated on a light breeze. The sound set Mary’s teeth on edge. “Benjamin means nothing to me. I wish him every happiness”—her lips puckered in distaste—“but not with Sarah Drew.” Shame crashed over her, even as she denied the truth.

Rebecca cackled in response, causing William to lean forward. “What makes you merry, Goody Edgerly? Does my wife’s sharp wit entertain you?”

“Tis naught, Goodman Foss. An amusing quip.” To Mary’s relief, she leapt to her feet, cutting off his reply. “More cider, anyone?” Without waiting for an answer, she rushed to the drinks table.

With the narrowed eye squint of a drunk, William gave Mary a questioning frown. She ignored him, turning to search the crowd for Miriam and spotted her seated beside her mother. Heads bent together, they appeared to be enjoying themselves. Everyone was having a wonderful time, save her and William. Is this to be my life, she mused, staring into the fire. Unhappy and restless she stood, Abraham cradled in her arms. “I am away home. I have a terrible headache, and it’s long past Abraham’s bedtime.” She strode off, not giving William a chance to answer.

The night was soft and warm; a full moon lit her way. Unafraid, Mary made quick progress along the well-trodden path. Silence enveloped her, broken only by the croak of toads and the buzz of nocturnal insects. Pale moonlight reflected off the rippled surface of the river. The tide was in, the water high, and she could smell a faint tang of salt. It was strange how the scent altered as the tidal waters rose and fell in concert with the ocean. Somewhere a dog barked, the distance muffled by the thick humid air.

Once home, she changed Abraham, settled him in his cradle, and rocked him to sleep. His sweet face brought a tender smile to her lips. She bent to place a gentle kiss on his head.

Dressed only in her linen shift, she lay across her bed, mulling over her life and her lingering feelings for Benjamin. She wished he’d move elsewhere, go down to Salem or Boston. William’s jealousy would never abate while he lived in Dover, and the image of her former love courting a woman made her heartsick. Did he not deserve happiness even if it eluded her? She resolved to seal off her heart, pack away her affection for him, make him believe she loved her husband. She prayed for strength.

The squeak of hinges followed by soft footsteps and a swish of skirts alerted her to Miriam’s return. The servant climbed the ladder to the loft, humming a simple tune under her breath. William should stumble in soon, she thought as she surrendered herself to sleep.

A noise outside woke her. She reached across the bed, surprised to find it cold and empty. William was not home. Was it him, locked out by Miriam, believing him inside? The sound repeated, louder this time, not a knock, more a dull thud, followed by a ghostly wail. Mary, wrapped in a shawl, stood undecided in the hall, unsure if she should investigate. A third thud rattled the oak timbers, much to the delight of the offender who chortled at his deeds.

Annoyed, Mary yanked open the door and peered outside. Several good-sized river stones lay on the doorstep. She frowned at their appearance. Why the devil is someone throwing rocks at my house? She scanned the yard and spotted a figure huddled by the pine tree at the corner of the building. Mary grabbed a stout stick, propped against the wall, and brandished it before her. “Be off, you drunken fool, whoever you are.”

Her tormentor emitted a high-pitched wail, imitating a demon spirit, then brayed, finding amusement in the jest. “’Tis me, the Lithobolia of Great Island, come to throw stones at your house.” The voice, though disguised, was male. He howled again.

“Well, you can take your rocks, you rouge, devil or not, and get you gone from my door.” She shouted at the fellow, perturbed at his foolishness. “Lithobolia indeed.” She bent and picked up one of the offending objects and hurled it at him. He scoffed at her poor aim. “I will not miss a second time.” She stooped to retrieve a larger rock.

“Who is there?” Miriam called from her bed. “Shall I come down?”

Mary turned her head and shushed her. “Quiet, you will wake the baby. Naught but a drunken hooligan from the party, playing a prank.”

Barefoot, she crossed the threshold and eased the door shut. The air was cool, and she shivered in her thin linen shift. She wrapped her arms across her chest and took a nervous step. Her white blond hair swirled unbound about her body, a wraith in the moonlight. She heard a loud sigh. As her assailant stepped from behind the tree, silvery beams revealed his identity. Benjamin. He laughed again when he saw her shocked face. Her stomach flip-flopped, and she struggled to maintain her composure. For the first time since his return from the dead, they were alone. Emotions fought for dominance; anger won out.

“Tis not funny, you wicked man. Scaring two defenseless women.”

An upper window creaked open; Miriam, a flickering candle in her hand, peeked out. “Are you all right, Mary? Should I raise the alarm?”

Mary motioned for Benjamin to withdraw into the shadows. “All is well, Miriam. Return to bed. I will deal with this fool and send him on his way.”

Miriam frowned but did as she was bid. With quick steps, Benjamin closed the distance between them. The odor of smoke wafted off his clothes, his breath smelled of rum. He stopped before her, swaying side to side. “I’m here to inform you, your husband drank himself into a right stupor and will spend the night in Drew’s new barn.”

Hands on hips, she hissed at him. “And you, you are just drunk enough to come tattle on him, to his poor wife.” She took a breath and without thought vented her fears. “Should you not be with your sweetheart, your Sarah Drew?”

He stepped closer. She did not retreat as he approached. He raised a tentative hand, reached out and ran his fingers through the length of her loose tresses. A trembling smile ghosted his lips, his expression pensive and sad. His eyes, dark and unreadable in the dim light, caught and held hers. “She is not my Sarah Drew.”

Putting a hand on either shoulder, he pulled her into him, then wound her in a tight embrace. His face buried in her hair, he took a deep breath, as if to inhale her very essence. A shudder ran through his body. His voice broke as he whispered to her. “You are my soul, my world, my reason for existence. There is none but you. God help me.”

Pain sliced through her, tearing at her heart. Benjamin slipped to his knees, his arms wrapped tight around her hips. She held his head against her abdomen and rocked him while he sobbed. His shoulders convulsed as he released months of pent-up grief. “I dream of his death, Mary.” Tears stained his cheeks as he lifted his distraught face to hers. “At night, I lay in bed, tortured by visions of him with you. I cannot sleep. I pray he sickens and dies or some great calamity befalls him, so I might reclaim you. What have I become, Mary? I am half a man. I am naught without you.”

She knelt and joined him on the ground. Her resolve forgotten, her heart ached for him. “As I am half a woman, my love, my only love.”

He kissed her, hard and desperate. “I will have you, my beloved, here and now.” He pressed her backward to the damp earth.

Her brain warned her to stop, this was wrong, but she did not care, she would yield to his desire. Mary returned his fevered kisses with abandon, not minding if Miriam or some neighbor stumbling home from the party witnessed them. She shivered as his warm hands moved across her body, sliding inside her shift. His fingers set her naked skin on fire. Nerves tingled in anticipation, overwhelmed by her passion for this man.

“No stop, we can’t do this. Stop!”

Confused, she clung to him as he wretched away. “Benjamin, my love, do not pull away, we have waited so long, and William shall never know. I want you, Benjamin, please.”

“Abbey, It’s Jeremiah. I’m not Benjamin. You’re not Mary. Wake up, Abbey, wake up.”

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Jeanie Roberts, a proud mixture of English Puritan Great Migration Ancestors and Irish Immigrants, makes her home outside of Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas, Houston with a BSN. Following in her father’s footsteps, Jeanie served in the United States Air Force and married an Air Force pilot. After touring around the world, her family settled in Texas, where she worked as a Nurse Administrator for a non-profit. She has one son, a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Jeanie divides her time between writing, family history/genealogy and traveling. She is currently working on her fifth novel. When not writing novels, Jeanie reviews books on her blog, The Book’s Delight, researches and posts about her ancestors on her blog, The Family Connection, and investigates mythical Native American Ancestry on her blog, Indian Reservations.

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