Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
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Chapter Four
 

The next morning was clear and crisp. Sunrise was over an hour away, but there was already pink on the eastern horizon.

Bridget confiscated Julian’s map and pored over it as the car worked its way through the maze of Dublin’s streets that would take them to the N1 highway. The professor relaxed in the back seat and looked out the front window as if for the first time.

Julian drove slowly at first adjusting to the car’s right hand drive but picked up speed as his confidence increased. Before they reached the road leading up the rugged Irish coast, the professor was snoring peacefully.

“Bridget, I know you grew up in this, what would you call it, vocation? No doubt, you come from a long line of people who do whatever it is that you do, but this is new to me. You talked last night of skills or gifts or talents or whatever. I have no idea what the correct words are to form questions so I apologize in advance.

“Has navigating whatever reality it is you see that I don’t, has this been easy for you? I mean did you learn quickly? God, that sounds stupid.”

“The language is difficult at first, but it comes in time. You have, however made a blunder.” She looked pleased with herself.

“I’ve not even said much. This is depressing.”

“Normally I would let you finish with your questions before I pointed out your error, however, your error is a perfect place to begin.

“You, Julian, made an assumption, namely that I – to use your words – grew up in this vocation. I did not – no one I have ever met did. This is not a family business. As to whether it has been easy; I would have to say it has been decidedly difficult.

“My family had old money, a thing that is rare in Ireland. As a result, I lived in a privileged world of ideas and debate with large doses of esoteric discussion. The Sight ran in the family, but that was never mentioned for reasons I only discovered much later.

“Ultimately, I was sent away to private school and then finishing school.” Bridget smiled and gave Julian a sidelong glance. “So now you know how I came to be so terribly well educated and perfectly charming.” Julian smirked.

“Like you, like all of us actually, I was introduced to this calling, by another. He was older, but I was just twenty. At twenty, thirty seemed ancient.

“He was a family acquaintance and was often introduced as a professor, although no one ever discussed what he taught exactly. There were whispers, however and I found that thrilling. Still, he was always treated with great respect. Again, years later I would understand why.

“He saw something in me. I do not know what it could have been. I was headstrong and willful, pretty and popular, ignorant and arrogant. If ever there was a more lethal cocktail I do not know what it might have been.

“Oddly, my mentor tolerated me and introduced me to the broad metaphysical concepts and I was passed on to a teacher. The family was not pleased by this turn of events. After hushed and often heated discussions with my mentor, my parents became resigned.

“My teacher saw me for what I was and he took a rather stern line with me, though not always stern enough.

“I went at my studies blithely with all the diligence of one learning a few parlor tricks. I did not understand the power, the responsibility, or the consequences of what I was doing. It was all just a lovely game of make-believe.

“Like you, I was told there were those who wished to stop my progress. I thought this wildly romantic and exciting. Because those thoughts filled my head, I had not the time or the capacity to pay attention.

“I think of my mentor and my teacher often. They were both loving and giving men, well schooled in the ways of the real world.” Bridget closed her eyes for a long moment.

“But,” Julian interjected, “it worked out. You learned what you needed to learn and here you are today. Doubtless, you have helped many people.”

She drew a long breath and let it out slowly. “Everything you say is true. It did work out in the end. I did learn what I needed to learn and, as you say, here I am many, many years later having helped a great many people.

Bridget continued. “There is no need to spare me, my dear. You have a good idea where this story leads. You need not know the details. It is enough to say others paid the price for my callow stupidity.

“I was badly injured and my mentor and my teacher, those two remarkable and generous men, are no more because of me. The shame I felt was made far worse knowing they died willingly so that I might not suffer more.

“So when you lightly make mention of this being a fantasy, and you have mentioned it frequently, go easily there. People die in this fairytale and I am sensitive to that.” Her voice was not unkind, but tipped with melancholy. A single tear rolled down her cheek and she did nothing to check its progress. Julian felt ashamed and stupid, awkward and incredibly thoughtless. Julian looked straight ahead and drove.

Bridget took up her story again. “Well, as you say, it worked out. I was not given up on or abandoned. I received a new mentor and in course a new teacher. They did not need to be hard on me. I was harshness personified when it came to dealing with my failings both real and perceived.

“I studied longer than most. You see, I was steeped in anger and bitterness and for that reason, much of what I learned, I had to relearn again and again.

“In time I forgave myself and once I did, my path became easier. I met and married the professor. He is the perfect partner. He saw all my scars, inside and out, but he never asked questions.

“There were many times I wanted to talk with him, to tell him, but he would not have it. He told me my intention in speaking about my past was not to inform him but to punish myself. At some level, he knew, you see. He always does. He can intuitively feel when and what I need and also when I must be reminded of who I am.

“He calls me a wonder, but he is the wonder. We have made a brilliantly happy life together and we are both content and very much in love. I am very lucky, Julian. Love of this kind does not happen often. Remember that. It is something you will have need of in time.”

Many miles later, after the sun had risen over the Irish Sea, Bridget turned to Julian awaiting his question.

“Bridget, I’m afraid. I don’t know why I’m here. Everything I am doing goes counter to what I know. You say things that are nice to hear late at night but which are difficult to believe when the sun comes up. How do I understand any of what is happening? I’m really not cut out for this sort of thing.”

“I would be worried if you did not have these thoughts,” his companion said. “It would tell me you were not taking this business seriously enough,” she said.

Julian asked, “You say I will find a teacher or he will find me. How will I know him?”

“I can only imagine how much you are going to hate this answer. He or she will arrive and you will know. You will have no doubts.”

“Oh, of course,” Julian said with exasperation slithering through his voice. “Why would I think there was going to be a proper answer to that question – to any question? Silly. I am sorry.”

“Do not be cross. It makes me laugh,” Bridget said but then her mood darkened.

“I realize you do not understand much of what I am saying. Please, do not let your lack of immediate understanding cause you to veer dangerously off course. Believe me, I would like to give you a textbook, but none exists or ever will. You must believe this – the truth of what I say will soon be explained. Do you understand?” she asked and looked earnestly at her companion.

“I would like to say I do, but I can’t. I understand the words well enough, but it is as though some sentences lack verbs while others have no subject and none of them have any punctuation. I can feel something, but it makes little sense.”

He stared into the distance as the car’s engine raced nearly as fast as his thoughts. He was afraid to look at the woman beside him. Afraid he would see her angry or discouraged or sad. Then he heard her chuckle softly.

“Dear Julian, I do wish you could see what I see. You are a man faced with an impossible set of circumstances and what is your response? You tell me the truth and worry that you have disappointed me. How marvelous you are.” She reached out and touched his hand as it rested on the steering wheel. The energy that coursed through her to him was mild and this time comforting.

***

A short time later Bridget indicated a side road ahead and asked Julian to turn off. The professor was still sleeping but she got out and asked Julian to stay with the car.

With a near regal carriage, the tall, slight, elegant and wise woman walked slowly into an adjoining field and stood looking into a distant pasture.

Julian watched his companion and realized how attached he had become to her.

For reasons he only dimly understood, his eyes brimmed with tears as he grieved for a life only half lived, a life that was now part of his past. He knew Bridget would not return until he was ready to take the first doubt-filled steps toward his future.

***

He got out of the car and stood looking up the road and away from his friend. His duffle bag lay at his feet. A sea breeze had snaked over a set of low hills and long since dried the tears on his cheeks. Julian did not turn to look. He had neither heard nor seen her, but he knew Bridget was standing just behind him.

“This is where you leave me,” he said softly.

“In a way, yes.” He heard a slight catch in her voice and she continued. “It is very hard, but yes. Not to sound melodramatic, but this is where your road begins, Julian. And for you to start, I must leave you. If it comforts you, know that you and I are connected. In that way I will always be with you.”

“Will I see you again?”

“Yes.” She said it with sincerity and a surety he found comforting. “Reginald will miss your driving and will insist.” Julian smiled.

“Julian, there is something you need to know.” Her voice was a whisper. “I can see none of it clearly, which in itself is worrying. There is something amiss here. I cannot explain it more precisely. What I do know with some precision is that you and your teacher desperately need one another. You can imagine that is not the usual case, but there is something different here. I can only say your teacher needs you.”

They stood awhile together lost in their respective thoughts. Bridget Bragonier drew a breath, let it out slowly and said, “It is time, Julian.” She took his hand in hers and closed her eyes. The current that passed through her burned and affirmed and calmed him.

“You know,” Julian said with a tightness in his throat. “I don’t believe any of this. I’m just looking for a nice quiet place, someplace where people won’t bother me and I can gather myself.”

Bridget smiled and shook her head. “Yes, the improbable is always possible if that makes you feel better.”

Julian picked up his duffle bag and took his first steps. His world had changed, had shifted. He did not look back at his friend, could not look back – at anything ever again.

Chapter Five
 

He walked for several miles, but the sun and the bite of the sea breeze made the walking easy. At the crest of a high hill, Julian saw a small village in the distance. Heather and laurel grew in abundance along the road leading down to it and the countryside’s countless shades of green were shocking. Each pasture had its own version and vied in unruly competition with its neighbors.

The rich odor of wet grass, leaves and heavy black soil was oddly comforting. He moved along at a steady pace, hurrying neither his arrival nor his departure.

He entered the village well before noon. A squat building that looked newly minted rose up on his right flanked by a small pond. The sign above the front door marked it as the police station with the Gaelic words Garda Síochána. A short distance beyond, Julian noticed that the main portion of the town began.

The central dirt road became broader and was lined with clapboard storefronts. It was a place unencumbered by city planning or urban development specialists. The buildings were of strangely similar construction, but style was another matter altogether.

A stark white building rose up on Julian's right. No name or number marked the building, but there was no mistaking what it was. A large golden caduceus was painted on the front window. Julian was familiar with the medical symbol, but the intertwined snakes on this one seemed somehow more aggressive than the benign versions he had seen before.

Across the dusty road and opposite the doctor’s office was O’Gavagan’s Pub. Julian tried the door. Locked. Next to the pub was Flynn’s General Store, also shuttered and locked. On the other side of the street, next to a repair shop, was an institution painted all in black called Mulherin’s Pub. Again, locked.

Julian noted movement in a shop marked Apothecary next to Flynn’s Store. He opened the door, walked in and the tinkle of a small bell announced his arrival. He heard hushed voices from the back of the store and two women of identical appearance made their way through a curtained doorway behind the counter.

Both women were dressed in long black skirts and short black jackets, over dazzling white blouses. Each wore her hair in an identical bun arrangement and each had a small silver watch pinned to the left breast of her jacket. They were as old as you would expect people dressed in such a way to be. They looked at Julian and smiled without warmth, but with a great deal of interest.

Julian trotted out his most winning smile and asked, “I was wondering if there was a boarding house or inn here in town or if you ladies would know of anyone who might rent me a room.”

“Oi’m sure we wouldn’t know of such things,” one of the twins sniffed.

“Oi suppose you could ask the Lord Mayor,” the other added. “Although finding him and finding him sober may be two different things Oi’m sure,” the first one noted curtly.

Julian smiled his thanks and backed out the door. Next to the apothecary was another pub bringing the total to three, two of which were called O’Gavagan's. A livestock feed store rounded out the commercial section of town.

The rest of the village was a jumble of houses with brightly painted doors, thatched roofs and much that needed repair. A shutter on this property hung at an acute angle, a fence on that one had grown tired and lay down in the street. The owners of these houses seemed to believe that, as with anything in life, something should always be just a bit out of place. Nothing had a right to be perfect.

Children playing in their respective yards and the main road stopped and stood in stunned silence at the sight of Julian.

Children had never been his strong suit. He always felt benign disregard was the best policy when dealing with them. For their part, the village children could not help but scrutinize his every move as Julian worked his way up the street.

He navigated the main thoroughfare and then followed some of the small lanes. A curtain would move in the breeze, a door would squeal on its hinges. All the while the children continued to follow this new specimen at a safe distance. At the far end of the village stood a Catholic church and standing adjacent was a rectory, another small attractive home and the village school.

The church seemed slight in size but sturdy in construction. The native stone of the structure rose from the ground and launched a stately spire ending in a heavy belfry. The building was laid out in the cruciform shape prescribed for Catholic churches of the era.

Heather surrounded the lower portion of the building and drifted away to a lush lawn sculpted and maintained with care. St. Michael’s – Mass Daily a sign proclaimed. Julian smiled thinking in a village of this size anyone who did not know the name of the church or that mass was a daily event would, in all likelihood, be going to hell anyway. Julian had been a Catholic at one time. He understood these things.

He tried the front door to the church and found that it moved on well-oiled hinges. He knew the children would not follow and he wanted to sit and collect his thoughts. The door closed behind him and he was enveloped by the darkness of the vestibule. The rich smell of incense and old wood filled the air.

Out of habit, he dipped his finger tips into the holy water font, crossed himself and made his way to the far end of the back pew, genuflected and took a seat. Old habits die hard and some never really die at all, but simply sleep.

The air was still and cool. A candle burned in the sanctuary. Dozens of votive candles burned in front of two plaster saints, one on either side of the transept behind the altar rail. In one niche stood a rather martial looking St. Michael Archangel, patron saint of the church; in the other stood the statue of the Virgin Mary looking kind, thoughtful and a bit sad as always.

The sights, the smells, the pervasive silence all seemed familiar to him even though he hadn’t been in a church for over twenty years. He smiled as he looked at the altar steps and remembered his days as an altar boy. Fragments of Latin returned to him.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…

He had heard nothing, seen nothing. He had no reason to feel he was anything but alone, but Julian felt a presence nearby. Consternation twisted his features as he tried to stop himself from saying, “Reading minds, Father?” Julian said it softly. This church inspired a soft tone. He turned and found an old, wizened priest looking at him with a knowing smile.

“Ach, nothin’ of the sort. A stranger sitting in church with a smile so serene as to make the angels envious – ah, now there is a man who is remembering a part of his past with fondness.”

“It’s true. I was remembering and it was with fondness and, yes, it was a very long time ago,” Julian said. “It was not my intention to intrude.”

“Intrude in the house of God is it? Nothing could be less likely.”

Julian rose and with an outstretched hand approached the priest. “My name is Julian Blessing.”

The old priest took the offered hand in his and with remarkable strength greeted Julian. “Oi don’t recall a family of Blessings around here, but then Oi am a relative newcomer. Oi only arrived in 1960.”

“My people aren’t Irish, Father.”

“It is none of my business, and feel free to tell me if Oi’m being meddlesome, but what brings you to our village? It can’t be the wonders that are St. Michael’s Church.”

“Oh, I’m just taking a walking tour of this part of Ireland.” Julian knew the priest saw that for the lie it was. Julian tried to recover by handing the priest his map. “I’m headed here,” indicating a spot.

The priest’s smile started at the eyes and infected his entire face. “Walkin’ tour of Ireland, is it? Is that a fact? If you are headed for that wee ink spot on your map, then Oi welcome you to Cappel Vale and to St. Michael’s. My name is Father Fahey. You have arrived, son.”

“Are you sure, Father? This is it?” Julian didn’t mean to sound incredulous.

“Mr. Blessing, is it Glocca Morra you were expectin’? In that case, Oi would suggest you get your good self a new map or some strong drink. Sadly, we are all that you’ll find under that little fly speck for miles in every direction.”

“Father, honestly…”

“Honesty, is it? Now wouldn’t that be a grand place to start – for a change.” The old priest’s eyes were alive with mischief, he had Julian on the ropes, and both men knew it.

“No really Father, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I just had that map and that spot. I had no idea what I would find here.”

“Ah, well then, you’ll be a happy man indeed because you have found nothing in particular. We pride ourselves on that actually. We have an overabundance of nothing. In fact we’re thinking about exporting it to the wider world.”

Julian determined this was a line of conversation that was going to lead him nowhere worthwhile. He changed the subject. “There are very few people on the street, Father. In fact I didn’t see anyone except the children.”

“Most of the men are off to the fields,” the priest continued smoothly. “The women are making themselves busy inside before noon Mass and the little ones are nearly always left to their own devices to cause what devilment they may.

“Have no fear though. The entire village knows you’re here. Jungle drums, you know,” and the priest winked conspiratorially.

“Father, I was wondering if you would know of a boarding house or someone who would rent me a room for a few days. The ladies at the pharmacy, sorry, apothecary, said I should find the Lord Mayor, but I thought you might know of something.”

“Lord Mayor is it! That’s rich. No one can say the Hackett sisters don’t have a sense of humor for all their craziness. Lord Mayor! Now that is choice.

“Thomas Cahill is marginally the mayor of our little village. He has the job because no one else would do it and now he can’t get rid of it. He votes against himself every election, but it does him little good so he has embraced his fate. He would be the first to tell you that his is an awesome responsibility, which is why he is usually taken with the drink.

“Still, Oi suppose if anyone would know of a suitable place it would be our good Mayor.

“Follow the main road until you come to the first house. There you will find the Hagan. She will know where our Mr. Cahill is to be found. If you value your life, however, don’t mention that ‘Lord Mayor’ business or that you talked to me.

“Is that the time? Oi must get ready for Mass. Feel free to attend, Mr. Blessing. You can even keep this last seat in the last pew. God can see you just fine even there.”

“That is very kind of you, Father. Perhaps another time.”

“Perhaps,” the priest said and his face ignited into another smile as though he knew a secret that Julian would tumble to in time.

“By the way, Father, who is the Hagan?”

“Oh, that you’ll learn soon enough, and may God have mercy on your soul” said the priest as he scuttled away.

***

At the first house he came to, peat smoke curled from the chimney and Julian felt that this indicated a social call would not be ill timed. He approached the door of a small tidy home. As he walked up the fieldstone path, he noted that some of almost everything was growing in the yard. All the other houses and businesses he had passed had window boxes. Many had lush vegetable gardens, but this was an unconditional riot of vegetation.

Julian set his shoulders, dropped his duffle bag beside him and straightened his jacket. Taking a breath, he knocked. His simple knock on a rustic door opened the gates of hell.

The door fired open and before him stood an older woman whose eyes, pale gray and hard, burned into him. It was difficult to determine the precise age of the householder.

‘Older’ was all that would fill the bill. The curtains were drawn and a layer of thin smoke floated on the air inside the house obscuring all and giving an ominous aspect to everything within.

“Good morning, Ma’am. I thought you might be able to direct me to Mr. Cahill.”

“Liar!” she snarled, as she looked Julian up and down. The croak of her voice was like a rifle shot and her features were as sharp as her voice and as penetrating as her eyes.

“Sorry?”

“Indeed you are. You are also a liar. That nasty little priest told you to come see ‘the Hagan’. Don’t lie to me again or I’ll cuff you on the ear hole, ya eejit!”

“Well, I suppose that is what he said, but he didn’t say it unkindly,” was all Julian could muster.

“It is my hope that the gods save us from all priests. Yes, and other eejits!” the Hagan exclaimed.

“Yes, well anyway, I was told the Mayor would be able to direct me to some type of lodging…”

“You saw the barracks house as you entered the village this morning.” It wasn’t a question and neither was her knowledge of Julian’s movements since entering Cappel Vale.

“Barracks house?” Julian asked as he tried to translate the word into something he recognized. He received a withering look for his efforts.

“The building that says Garda, ya eejit!”

“Oh Garda – the Police Station. I see, yes.”

“And I see you are a bit thick headed. Go there and stay. The Mayor will be along.”

Hell’s gate closed in Julian’s face. He was glad she was gone and with the fear she would return still roaring in his ears, he made his way to the police station to await the Lord Mayor’s pleasure.

Perhaps the station was far enough away from the Hagan and its walls thick enough and its Gardaí beefy enough to afford him some protection from her, but he doubted that sort of safety existed anywhere on earth.

As he walked toward the police station Julian tried desperately to convince himself of something. The last thing he wanted to acknowledge was the first thing that came to mind. “No, it couldn’t be. Not possible. No one could be that unlucky. Nah, I’m just tired. It’s been an emotional day. Yeah, something like that,” Julian thought to himself.

***

The police station was the sturdiest building in Cappel Vale. Solid, square, and made of a gray-green stone, it was of obvious government design. The words Garda Síochána were picked out in gold on a finely finished board painted black. A flagstone path led to the building’s only door.

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
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