Beyond the Storm (9780758276995)

Books by Joseph Pittman
 
 
A Christmas Hope
A Christmas Wish
Tilting at Windmills
When the World Was Small
Legend's End
California Scheming:
A Todd Gleason Crime Novel
London Frog:
A Todd Gleason Crime Novel
The Original Crime, Part One: Remembrance
The Original Crime, Part Two: Retribution
The Original Crime, Part Three: Redemption
BEYOND
the
STORM
JOSEPH PITTMAN
Kensington Books
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
This one's for . . . Eduardo Vazquez, because your smiles are like sunshine
In our lives there is bound to come some pain, surely as there are storms and falling rain; just believe that the one who holds the storms will bring the sun.
—Anonymous
P
ROLOGUE
B
EFORE
T
HEN
She awoke early, but even so the dark eyes of fate saw the arrival of dawn first. Today was the day that had possessed her dreams these many months, and so she awakened with a new sense of purpose, despite the damper of heavy clouds hovering in the low-lying sky. The sun would not embrace her today, like a friend gone missing. Still, her newfound energy could not be diffused. From the bed, she unshackled the imaginary restraints she'd felt encumbered by while under the thick covers. Throwing open the window to a burst of fresh sea air, she felt as though her body was able to take to the wind. All in an effort to be with him.
For this eagerly anticipated reunion, she simply could not wait another minute. Even her mother could barely hold her back, knowing her irrepressible, headstrong daughter would be the first to welcome the mariners back home and to the safety of land. So filled with anxiety was she the night before, this spirited young woman appropriately, uniquely, named Venture had given up on her fitful sleep and set out her clothes for the following day. A beautiful dress hung on the back of the door frame; it was her favorite because it was his favorite. In her waking dreams, she imagined the light breeze catching the flowing fabric, unleashing the flowers from the print, rustling against her skin as she ran down the length of the sandy beach in time to meet the ship, the smile lighting his face when he caught sight of her, surrounded by floating petals of red and purple.
The world, though, in its ever-mysterious ways and confounding contrariness, had plans no one could have foreseen, not even our beautiful, driven Venture, a woman whose heart would not be contained by ordinary bounds of flesh and blood. Her soul had wings. Yet something was different today, a feeling in the cool air that permeated through the walls of the clapboard house. The breeze was far fiercer, as, on this dark morning, a storm raged, ripping at anything not tied down to this land, rippling off the silver sheen of the great lake. A storm like this was one thing that would have stopped most people. But not the woman called Venture.
“She was born with unattainable dreams,” her mother liked to tell anyone who would listen, “and I don't think she's ever truly woken up from them, not from the very moment we welcomed her into this world and she wailed. It's always felt like she was destined for more than the earth can contain.”
The storm today, like Venture, was, indeed, anything but ordinary. Wind howled, nearly bending tree branches midway. Rain lashed the ground, soaking it, swirling around it. Raging water rushed by, gurgling and guzzling all in its path. Later, its deadly swath would tell an angry tale of near-vengeance, of nature's fury unleashed on those unsuspecting of its true power. Even those sensible folks who always thought of themselves prepared for such emergencies were caught unaware, and the devastation they reaped was lived out for years—for some even longer. For a lifetime.
For our Venture and the devoted man she eagerly awaited, they had always envisioned their hopes and their dreams played out differently than others, as though sheer will was enough to achieve life's pinnacle, love. For a time that stretched beyond the limits of what mortals defined the passage of days and months and years, their story would have to wait for one more turn, finally playing out a destiny long thought by others, by them, to be touched by the dust of magic. In truth, all that remained of them was nestled inside a picture frame hung on the wall of the newly rebuilt farmhouse out beyond the coastal village of tiny Danton Hill. As though not only their burned images but their very souls were sealed behind the glass, waiting again for a fierce storm to knock it from its hold, shattering to the floor, releasing them.
 
How the ensuing tragedy happened would become the stuff of lore, of sadness, the memory left to only one living soul.
How their ending—at least for now—came about, you had to go back to that rain-soaked morning, when not even the blinding wind could hold her feet to the ground.
Venture awakened with what should have been the sun but instead heard the sound of rain beating against her window. For a time, as she placed the delicate material of her beloved dress against her soft skin, the floral print highlighting her auburn locks, nothing could dampen her mood, certainly not some summer storm. Too filled with the future was she, that not even her gut registered the notion that something could possibly go wrong today. A ship on the high seas, really just the Great Lake known as Ontario that loomed above Danton Hill, she never feared for its safety, knowing its crew was the very best the sea had to offer. They could handle anything Mother Nature could dish out, so went her thinking, and as such the only concern that dwelled within her was not being the first to the beach. She had to be the first to catch sight of the giant mast as it crested over the horizon.
Ignoring the pleas of her mother, whom she thought worried enough for the both of them about unnecessary dangers, she took to the nearby beach with the easy grace of the youth. Bare feet padded against grainy sand, her dress whipping in the wind just as she'd envisioned. Rain pelted at her skin, but it was less nature's deterrent than a cold shock of life enlivening her on the inside. As she circled around a windblown dune, Venture moved to the edge of the water, where angry waves crashed at her ankles. She screamed out in delight as the seasonably warm loam washed over her, enjoying the fury dancing all around her.
The gray pallor of the sky kept the horizon at bay. Venture gazed out as far as she could, and for thirty minutes, more, she still could not see any sign of the
Promenade
, the vessel in which her true love had left aboard nearly nine months ago. No mast emerged through the fog, no billowing sails waved to her in greeting. By now she wasn't alone. Other women—mothers, wives, clapping children—of the village's seafaring heroes had joined her in anticipation of their triumphant return, rich with the spoils of the ocean. The century had turned while these men had been gone, and while industrial revolution was all the rage in the big cities, a quiet place such as Danton Hill still clung to a past that honored the land, the sea, the sky, a connection more in line with written history than unfounded future.
“Perhaps we have come on the incorrect day, or the weather has kept them anchored offshore somewhere,” spoke Anna Revere, a young woman who had once been widowed by the sea and now awaited the return of the new man who had spun her heart into gold. Venture didn't blame Anna for her pessimism, and managed a wan smile as she embraced the stalwart woman. “No, I feel it, deep inside me. The ship may be just beyond our sight now, but it is closer in our heart.”
“You love him so, ” Anna said, more a whisper than words.
Still, Venture heard them and nodded, a smile widening her porcelain features. Then she said, because she could rarely keep silent, “Oh yes, I do, and he adores me so. He'd walk the ends of the earth to find me.”
Anna's reply was strange, eerie. “You make it sound like you're going somewhere. You, Venture Mercer, you could never leave behind Danton Hill.”
Venture moved forward, oblivious to the words . . . to the idea that swirled around her in the consuming wind. Wandering far down the beach and away from the other women, she never let her gaze stray from the water. She watched as the ripples came in, only to be swept out by the strong tide, following their path until they dissipated beneath the surface.
A speck of light suddenly hit her eyes, causing her heart to skip a beat.
“They're here, out there . . . I see a light. The flickering light he promised.”
Indeed, the man she loved had sworn that upon their return he would flash a beam three times toward the land. The first signal was meant to alert them of their imminent landing, the second issued as confirmation that it wasn't a trick of the sun. The third flash was meant only for Venture, a light filled with love. A childlike Venture danced at the edge of the water, waiting for him to fulfill his promise. A flash came, then another flash, finally a third. She knew it was him, that he had come back for her. Indeed, a promise made, a promise kept.
At the far edge of the beach where the residents of Danton Hill stood was a long, rocky pier that stretched deep into the waters, nearly a half mile out. On days when sunshine beamed down and the summer breeze drew numerous beachcombers, the Point, as they referred to it, was a popular meeting place. Today, with the wind as fierce as it was and the water crashing high over the jagged rocks, only the foolish and in love would dare venture out. But, of course, this is where a woman whose dreams often overrode reality was drawn to, and, of course, with a name like Venture it was as though destiny was calling her.
“Venture, dear . . . not today,” her mother called out.
“The sea, Venture, it's a cruel lover,” spoke Anna, scandalous words at the time but true nonetheless, based on her experience.
Neither woman could stop the headstrong Venture as she lifted the hem of her lovely dress and stepped up on the rocky point. Carefully weaving her way along rocks slippery from the water, damp from the driving rain, Venture made her way along the long, narrow path. Ten feet, then twenty, and before long she imagined she was closer to the ship's bow than she was to the land, like she was offering herself up to either, and whichever first claimed her, won.
Wiping the rain from her eyes, she surged forward, nearly losing her footing on the rocks beneath her. With no rails to steady her purchase, Venture had to rely on her agility, and only at the last second did she manage to right herself. Just then a high wave crashed over her, and she realized—perhaps for the first time—that she had gone out too far. Had she fallen earlier, the wave would have doused her, nearly pulled her to the water.
About to turn back, that's when she caught her first glimpse of the billowing white sails. She would recognize the
Promenade
's wooden façade anywhere; she'd watched it sail from her childhood days, when her father would venture yearly to the seas. Across the great lake and up the seaway, finally emerging into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. That's where she got her spirited name, a girl born with her father's sense of wanderlust. And then the man who'd won her heart had also taken to a life at sea, determined to prove his worth and assure doubters that he could forge a good life for them. He would be back for months now, through the cold months, before duty called him back.
“I knew you'd come back for me,” Venture spoke aloud, her words drowned by the wind.
Nature has a way of playing by its own rules, though, and today, as the rain fell and the wind whistled and the mist rumbled over the surface, there would come no exception to this hardened lesson. Crashing waves continued to implode against the rocky pier, which Venture continued to ignore, walking farther out, farther still, until she reached the end of the Point. She waved wildly, her arms outstretched like tree branches as she tried to catch the attention of the seafarers. For the first time, fear came over her, as she suddenly noticed she had run out of space—all that separated her from her man were the foamy whitecaps of the water. Behind her, the shore was gone, lost in the rolling fog. As she turned back, another wave crashed again, loud, angry . . . wanting. It washed completely over Venture, knocking her down. She felt pain as a rock sliced into her side. A second wave followed in close pursuit, pulling at her, like it sought her, and only her. To take her in its embrace. And it did.
Between the wind and the fog, the rain, the fury of all that surrounded them, no one saw what would happen next. Even days later, even after weeks and the years had slipped by, the story of that day would never change. The perilous sea had claimed their precious Venture, as she was never seen again after taking to those treacherous rocks. Her all-consuming love could not have waited a minute longer, to do so would have gone against her own nature. That wasn't who Venture was, and to those who thrived on such stories, such legends of loves found and loves lost, there was no better testament that destiny had a power all its own.
 
One person who firmly believed in destiny's curse was the soon-to-be brokenhearted man who'd returned home from the sea on board the
Promenade,
knowing all along his beautiful Venture, she who would have filled his heart and defined his life, was there waiting for him. They would meet on the beach as prearranged and they would embrace. He would swing her around, and together they would dance to silent music that existed solely between them. But when the ship came ashore and the men disembarked, only this man found his arms empty, and days later too, as he sat by the shore still. He wept at all he'd lost.
Life sends secret messages, their truths revealed only if your heart understood the coded language. For a man who sailed by the light of the stars, he knew there were mystical forces out there, hidden sometimes by clouds, revealing themselves only when you opened your soul to such notions. That one starry night, three nights since his Venture had left for some other plane, some other place in this world, a piece of her magically found its way to him.
From the water he pulled the billowy object, taking it into his large, calloused hands.
And despite the ache felt deep in his heart, he grinned, because here was proof that she had adored him. The dress that had dazzled him, one that had initially drawn him to her spirit and enabled him to see far within her soul, she had indeed worn it on the day he'd come back. Now, even though Venture herself was gone, here was the dress washing ashore, and he knew, instinctively, that they would meet again. This was a clue, a hint from beyond.

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