In the beginning
Dark eyes, black like coal contrast a slim, ivory face. The black of her hair seemed to consume nearby light. Her gossamer robes flowed and floated in and around her as if a part of her, drawing the night near, to become of her. Her appearance was at once startling and amazing. An observer couldn’t tell whether she were an angel sent by God or a demon sent by Satan.
She had been called both.
The fire’s dancing fingers played off the deep ebony of her eyes as she stood before the gathering of forty-odd people, stark white arms raised to a cresting moon.
“Madam Dandelion,” a voice called. “Tell the one of the beginning!”
A request, never a demand.
Her lips, red like blood dripped onto the first snow of winter, hinted a smile. “I shall. I shall tell the story of the beginning of all things and the times to come.” She nodded to approvals as August’s heat lightning danced on the distant horizon behind her. “It seems the gods also approve of this telling tonight!”
Her gathered friends, her co-workers, her family laughed.
“If it pleases my family and the gods, then this is my telling:”
In a time, which was not a time, and in a place not a place, lived a youthful woman. She was a child yet a woman and then not a woman. If we could see her, we’d cry at her beauty and the children would giggle with delight. She sat among the tall pines, danced in the field of flowers and cooled herself in the waters of the lake. Her being was full, yet she felt deep in her heart something was missing.
In this place, not a place, in a time not a time, only day existed, with the bright sun always laughing. This child looked beyond her mountain, saw darkness and didn’t understand what darkness was. She didn’t like the darkness. She raised her hands to the sky and sang a song with no words. The song, full of wonder. In this song and of herself, she pushed back the darkness, creating a world much like hers, but of the darkness, too.
She created a place, which is a place, in a time that is a time. By this act, the universe as we see it came to be, because of her and of her. She watched with wonder and excitement this place of her creation. Watch is all she could do. She was not of this place of her creation.
She is of the place, not a place, in a time that is not a time. Yet, in this place of ours, she saw creatures not unlike herself and not like herself at all. Over the vast time she created, she watched these creatures, generation after generation, stand upright and look toward the stars and beyond. As their minds reached upward, their souls reached inward, both mind and soul growing from the earth that birthed them to be more and more like her.
A time came when she feared these creatures, standing upright and reaching so high. She thought to withdraw her light, allowing all things to return to as they were. She couldn’t because she loved her creation, the place a place in a time a time.
Her love is not like the love we know. Her love is unwashed with matters of the flesh and emotion. Her love is pure and burns with a fire greater than all the stars in the sky. Her love is as the virgin’s love for Mother and Father. Her love asks for nothing and offers nothing, yet this love sustains the place that’s a place, in this time that’s a time.
“What have you done?” Father asked from above.
“I have done nothing.”
“You have and this does not please me.”
“What pleases me should please you. What I have done pleases me.”
Father looked deeply into creation. “This does not please me because they are not like us. There, your light dances with what is not you. The darkness can, and will, climb upon the mountain and take even you into its shadow.”
She saw his wisdom and the truth lying in his words. “Then, I will walk among them. They will see my light.”
“You do not understand what you have done. You do not understand its nature.”
She thought into his words. “If I cannot walk among them, I will send my light among them instead, so they can have a star to guide them and I can learn and understand.”
“Then stop me.”
Father could not stop her because Father’s love for her was pure and offered nothing and demanded nothing, yet his love sustained her.
When we get to the mountain, we must have learned and know love as she knows love, else creation shall end. We must watch carefully those passing through this place a place in a time a time, for those souls she sends among us so we can learn this love.
We, all of us, know this love and we know the light. Yet, we know the darkness, too, because we are both. We are not like her, but we can be like her. We must learn this if we are to free ourselves and free her from what she’s created.
Madam Dandelion’s eyes darkened, painted with the reflection of the bonfire. “And, that is my telling this night.”
Makaila stopped suddenly among the corn, towering over her five-foot four-inch form. She liked the corn, reaching high above her head, surrounding her, holding her in its belly. She lowered herself straight to the ground as if not to disturb the air, sitting on crossed legs. Makaila kept her eyes locked on the tan-red clay of the furrowed earth and the slight movement, just a hint. She then saw the small, perfectly round hole inches from the little creature.
Makaila didn’t know crayfish existed until she came to stay on her great uncle’s farm. Her first reaction was surprise, which sent her running from the field. She thought the rocks moved or worse: she was hallucinating. When her flight brought her clear of the corn, she turned back. After giving thought to rocks moving without an applied force, she concluded this was not reasonable, thus hallucinations. She stood on the grassy slope trying to see beyond reality, shivering in the warm sun. Clenching her fists, she held the tears back.
A hand, strong from a lifetime of farm work, cupped her shoulder. “Problem, Makaila?” Joseph Carleton peered across the corn trying to see what Makaila saw.
She took a deep breath and fell against the man’s shoulder, still watching the field from the protection of his strength. “I’m losing it again, Pops.”
“I don’t really believe you lost it before.” With his left hand, Joseph removed his blue pinstriped engineer’s cap, ran his fingers over his thinning hair and tucked his cap back on his head. “Tell me what you saw?”
“Rocks. The rocks disappear.”
He squinted to the sky and then looked down on the sun bleached wicker head.
“The rocks disappear, ah?”
“But, they can’t!” She stamped her foot. “They can’t!”
Joseph held tighter. “Now, now. Maybe they aren’t rocks at all?”
“Not rocks?” Tension drained from her shoulders, the shivering stopped. She looked up into the tanned, wrinkled and round face. “Not rocks?”
He let out a passionate little giggle, a giggle few men could get away with. “No sense getting yourself all upset thinking something fantastic until you look all around you, yes?”
Makaila, growing up, didn’t know she had a Great Uncle Joseph or any other extended relatives. Her parents lived isolated from family.
“Get dressed. You’re being released.” The director dropped the clipboard on the bed. “I think it’s a huge mistake, mind you, but I really have no choice.”
Makaila watched his eyes and face. She knew he was scared, but she didn’t know of what. “I’m not going home.” She meant the statement as a question.
She considered what her response should be and made calculations knowing the director watched her every move. “Why can’t I go home?” She feigned a whine. “I miss them.”
“We decided it was best you stay some place else for a while.”
She knew he lied. All Makaila cared about was getting out. She didn’t care where. Anywhere away from the small pale green room with one small window high off the ground would do. The room, more like a prison, where the unspeakable visits as the world sleeps. She wanted to ask how long she’d been in, deciding not to.
In a small cardboard box with her name scribbled carelessly on the side, her sneakers and blue denim dress were returned laundered, the dress still dark with bloodstains. The dress, now much too small for her, had to do. Makaila didn’t ask what happened to her coat, underwear and socks. The director, like an automaton, led her to the front door and a waiting ambulance.
Without ceremony, he received a signature from the driver, took a copy of the form for himself and walked away, effectively erasing any evidence of Makaila’s stay. Just inside the glass doors, he glanced back. “Judge Bosch be damned. And, I didn’t have to bother Harshaw.”
Just out of view of the hospital, the driver pulled off the road. “This is going to be a long drive. Maybe ten hours and I’m going straight through. I really hate to do this. I have my instructions.”
For just under ten hours, Makaila lie staring at the ceiling, listening to the hum of tires on pavement while strapped to the bunk. She drifted in and out of a restless sleep, patiently waiting to feel grass under her feet and sky above her head. A hard turn and gravel kicking up in the wheel wells brought her to consciousness.
Joseph stood from his rocking chair on the wraparound porch of the old farmhouse as the ambulance jolted to a stop in the circular driveway, raising a haze of dust in the calm evening air.
“Joseph Carleton?” The driver climbed from the vehicle. “I have a delivery for you.”
The driver swung open the backdoor and scrambled in as Joseph came around. The younger man quickly undid the straps and dragged Makaila like a crate of oranges out the opening. She looked like Harry Houdini ready to perform an escape trick.
“What the heck? Get her out of that this minute!”
“Regrettable, agreed. I had no choice. Please sign here.” He produced a clipboard, still holding Makaila by the back of the neck like a kitten.
“Fiddlesticks!” Joseph scribbled quickly on the paper. “Now get her out of this!” He pulled at the restraints.
The courier worked quickly and efficiently on the straps, apologized again, and then wished Makaila well, adding a nod.
“Thanks for the ride.”
Joseph and Makaila watched the ambulance’s taillights melt into the darkness back down the lane. Makaila turned to the older man, reached up and put a finger to his lips. “Please, don’t say anything. I need a few minutes.”
He nodded blankly at his great-niece as she walked twenty feet further away from the house, fell to the ground on her back and stared at the stars like she never saw stars before. She cleared her mind like flushing a toilet. In moments, she felt reborn with the past placed far away.
She gained her feet, returning. “Hi. I’m Makaila Marie Carleton.” She smiled with a slight tilt of the head.
Joseph offered his hand. “You can call me Pops, everyone seems to. Welcome to our home, your home for as long as it’s needed.” He didn’t shake her hand, simply holding it. “I’ll bet you’re hungry, yes?”
She met his pale brown eyes with her bright blue orbs. “I’d like to pee, and you bet I’m hungry. They’ve been making me live on something like mush for-ever!”
He laughed a real laugh, a laugh like she’d not heard in a long time. “Of course, you can pee.” He put an arm around her shoulder, steering her toward the house. “And, you’re on a farm. One thing we got is plenty to eat!”
She was warmed in trust, something life taught her to ignore. She watched Joseph’s face and eyes. He was genuinely angry with the ambulance driver. He actually cared what would happen next. If he fooled her, which she didn’t discount, he was good.
They came up the steps.
“This is Ma. No time for pleasantries! We have to pee!”
Marcy smiled, chuckling. “Well, we all do now and then, don’t we?”
What a relief.
Makaila unlocked the control on her body. She learned to control her bodily functions hours upon hours tied to a bed, day after day. Sitting alone in a room with the door closed, on a toilet without someone staring at her was a nice feeling.
Makaila tried to remember the last time she was free, the last time she wasn’t either tied up or stared at, and couldn’t. She wanted to simply sit alone in the small bathroom for hours following the little chickens, cows and sheep designs on the wallpaper. She knew the two strangers expected something from her. She wasn’t sure what they wanted or expected. She was free and going to stay free.
Opening the door, she emptied her lungs, pleased no one hovered at the opening.
“We’re in here, dear.”
She followed Marcy’s voice, finding her new keepers at a large oak table in a spacious dining room.
Marcy ushered Makaila over with a bird-like hand fluttering in the air. Marcy’s gray hair hung in a single braid down her back, which made her seem older than her sixty years. She felt Makaila’s hair between her fingers. “Didn’t they wash your hair? When’s the last time you had your hair washed?”
Makaila looked toward the rich pine floor. “I don’t remember, sorry.”
Marcy raised Makaila’s face with a hand to her chin. “Don’t be sorry, dear. It’s okay. Then is then and this is now.” Marcy presented a heavy wool nightgown from the back of a chair. “You can change into this if you like.”
Without a thought, Makaila unbuttoned the front of her denim dress and let it fall to the floor as natural as spring rain, exposing her nakedness. As she took the nightgown, she surveyed the two faces, which showed surprise. She’d made a mistake, not eight minutes in the door. She quickly wrestled into the new garb and sat hard onto a chair, looking at the table. “Sorry.”
Joseph’s eyes showed rage.
Marcy smiled warmly, gently shaking Makaila’s arm. “It’s okay! Don’t be sorry.” Marcy raised Makaila’s face again. “Makaila, it’s okay.”
Makaila searched the face carefully for hints of deceit, finding none. She wondered whether the incident would be written in a notebook somewhere, used as evidence against her.
“You’re hungry. What would you like?” Marcy rolled her eyes. “Some eggs, bacon, toast, maybe some sausage? We have some corn-fed steaks around here. Potatoes, corn, string beans?”
Makaila looked at her great aunt with sad blue eyes from under her brow. “Okay.”
Joseph laughed his rich, deep, real laugh. “Ma, I think anything you put in front of her she’ll eat! Just watch your hands!”
Mesmerized, Makaila was infected. She smiled, then giggled and finally laughed. Unguarded with the release of tension, Makaila said around her laughs: “That story’s not true, you know.”
Marcy left for the adjoining kitchen as Joseph sighed. “What story?”
Makaila froze. She made her second mistake. Replaying the past few minutes in her head, she realized Joseph made a joke. She watched the probing eyes across the table and made some calculations. She tried her smile with a tilt of her head. “What did they tell you about me?”
Joseph sat back. “They told me what sounded like a bunch of fiddlesticks and a pile of horse hockey.” He leaned his elbows on the table, placing his chin in his hands. “Psychobabble. I didn’t give it any mind.”
Carefully watching his face, Makaila judged the statement true. “You do know what I did, don’t you?”
“No.” Joseph didn’t hesitate. “I know what people say you did. None of the stories agree by the way, so no. I really got the impression that none of them cared a lick about you or even knew who I was.” He smiled. “I figure if someday you want to tell me, you will. If not, you won’t. All that doesn’t matter.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It doesn’t?”
“Nope. Not a lick. You’re family. That matters. You’re in trouble. That matters. You need a hand – this hand. That matters.” He placed his hand, palm up, extended across the table. “And, here it is. No questions asked.”
Makaila hesitated briefly, placing her hand over the large, calloused hand. “I guess we’re going to be buds?”
“We’re going to try real hard, Makaila. We’re going to work this thing out. I’ve yet to find anything in this world that can’t be beat if we throw hard work at it.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll find a way.”
Makaila took her hand back with a guarded smile as Marcy sat hot chocolate and a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, home fries and three biscuits before her. “If you eat all this and want more, I can fix it up.” She disappeared back into the kitchen. When Marcy returned with silverware, she found Makaila shoveling food in her mouth with both hands as if someone was going to take her plate.
Marcy set the utensils on the table without a word, retaking her chair.
Makaila looked at the silverware and then at Marcy and Joseph in turn. She emptied her hands onto her plate and wiped them on the nightgown. “Sorry.” She fumbled with the fork and counted mistake number three.
Marcy looked at Joseph with tears in her eyes.
“Don’t be sorry, Makaila.” Joseph took a turn. “Really. And, take your time. You can take all night and the rest of the day to eat that if you wish. And, you can have more if you want.”
She slowed the pace, savoring each flavor. “I wasn’t allowed forks and stuff,” she said with a mouth full of egg.
Marcy placed a hand on Makaila’s arm again. “I can’t imagine what it was like.”
“I can.” Joseph stared at Makaila, not seeing her in the moment. His awareness snapped back. “POW.”
Makaila gave a short, understanding nod. The three fell quiet as Makaila cleaned the plate, doing her best to eat slowly and remembering how to use a fork.
“More?” Marcy stood.
Makaila looked up. “My stomach’s cool, but my mouth says bring it on so I think I’m okay for now.” She nodded. “Thanks lots. That was the best food I think I ever – ever put in my mouth!”
Marcy smiled. “You are more than welcome.”
Far in the darkness of the house, a grandfather clock played the prelude and finished with eleven slow, deep chimes. Joseph glanced at his watch. “It’s late.
Are you tired?”
Makaila stretched the stiffness from her muscles. “Not really. If it’s okay, I’d really like to ask some stupid questions so long as you’re not going to hold them against me.”
Marcy offered some wisdom. “The only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.”
“What do you mean: hold them against you?” Joseph straightened on his chair.
“You can be perfectly honest. Everything you say and do will be kept among the three of us.”
Makaila leaned her head on her hand while stirring the hot chocolate with her finger. She pondered where to draw the line. The last time someone said: you can trust me, cost her more than a human being should pay. She calculated how fast to dance, outcomes and eventualities. Makaila didn’t know what the rules were or even who made the rules.
She didn’t know, nor had she heard of these two people claiming to be relatives. Makaila had no way to confirm the truth of the claim. Yet, the subtle body movements of these two people told her they were tentative and unsure, which certainly didn’t mean deceit.
Makaila wasn’t about to be candid because, in general, those around her proved to have too much arbitrary power over her. She needed a test and she needed a good one. “Can I make a phone call?” She locked with Joseph’s eyes.
Joseph looked at his watch again and back to Makaila. “It’s kinda late.”
The clock sang eleven o’clock and the darkness told her it was night. Eleven o’clock could or could not be considered kinda late. She countered the argument. “Not for who I want to call.” She held his eyes, analyzing every abstruse muscle movement of his face.
The test came. “Dr. Charles Zogg.” Dr. Charles Zogg had been her therapist for the past three years and grew to be much more than a therapist. He was the only person Makaila trusted. She felt he was the only person capable of fully understanding her. He was the only person she knew who didn’t betray her in one way or another, but for maybe her brother. She hadn’t heard Zogg’s voice since before the day she was arrested even though, at first, she asked repeatedly for him.
Joseph let out a long sigh, looked at his wife and then back to Makaila. “I have been given instructions. I got a note somewhere here.” He scratched his chin and then ran his palm from his forehead to the back of his scalp. “That under no circumstances should you be allowed to speak to Dr. Zogg. Not that we’ve been given direct instructions. No one’s said anything that even made much sense in this matter but for the lawyer.”
Test failed. Makaila didn’t let her subtle body betray her. She began to calculate her survival plan, which might or might not mean the death of Ma and Pops. She needed more information.
Joseph ran his palm over his head again as if the action would bring an answer to the surface. “However, we have no reason to believe the people who gave us those instructions have anything close to your best interest in mind. Matter-of-fact, they’ve demonstrated differently, in my opinion.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s a short file.” He continued as if to himself: “Those book-worshiping eggheads think just because we’re farmers and have dirty hands, they’re so much smarter than us. I know when someone means to do harm to someone without reading all those books of theirs.”
Makaila remained unmoved. “So I can call him? Now?”
Joseph dropped his palm on the table. “Absolutely! If that’s what you really want or need to do, then you do it!”
Test passed. Calling Chuck can wait. It might be a long conversation. She relaxed into her thoughts and ordered her questions. “What month is this?”
“Why, it’s May. The sixth of May.” Joseph leaned forward a bit. “You don’t want to call?”
“Day of the week? Told you I had some really stupid questions.”
“It’s Tuesday,” Marcy offered.
“Tuesday, May sixth – nineteen ninety-nine.” Makaila stated the date as if planting a flag in the ground. She watched the ceiling. “It’s only been eighteen months.” She paused. “Where am I?”
“On our farm, close to the center of the state of Ohio.” Joseph answered as completely and accurately as he could, guessing at the information his great-niece was looking for.
“Who holds my legal guardianship?”
“Your parents, of course,” Marcy answered without hesitation.
Makaila expected that answer. “Are you one hundred percent sure?”
Joseph ran his hand over his head again. “No, we’re not. We’ve just assumed as much. I never asked.”
Marcy put a hand on Makaila’s arm again. “If not your parents, then who?”
“More like what, not whom.” She needed to know who pulled the strings of her life. “This’ll be a matter of public record. We can find out. Might even be in the papers you signed to accept me. If you want to keep me here because I’m so cute and adorable, we’re going to have to know who can yank me outta here.”
Joseph looked at his wife. “Never thought of that.” His eyes went wide. “I thought once we got you here, it would be up to the three of us.”
“Think again. I don’t care what stories you heard or what you think. You really have no idea what I’ve been through.”
Joseph’s eyes watered, looking into the soft white face of the child. “Understood. And, you can understand this.” He took his wife’s hand. “Not while we have breath.”
Dismissing the vow as close to meaningless, Makaila pressed on. “Why am I here?”
Joseph answered quickly. “Because we thought it was wrong for you to be where you were. It just wasn’t right.” Joseph heard Makaila was bright, he hadn’t guessed just how bright. He was spellbound by the interrogation coming from the thirteen-year-old. He understood why she could instill such fear in so many people.
“That’s the short answer.” Makaila finished her hot chocolate. “Any chance of getting some coffee? It’s a passion of mine and it’s been so long, I can’t remember what it tastes like.” She waved her cup. “Please. I really need to understand the long answer.”
With a nod from Joseph, Marcy left for the kitchen. He ran his hand over his scalp again and rolled his eyes. “I’m your father’s-father’s brother.”
“My great uncle.” Makaila pulled her feet onto the chair to get comfortable for a long story. She nodded with her chin on her knees.
“We get a family newsletter about once every two months, but it’s not really news. More like gossip. Everyone who gets the letter, just about, will let your Aunt Harriet, my cousin, know news in and about the family by phone, letter or who-knows-what. She types it up and sends it to family.”
Makaila bit her lip with a nod. “I think I’ve seen one of them.”
“Musta been a while ago. Your dad had a falling out with his dad and kinda withdrew from the family. Years ago. Gossips have their ways and your story hit the letter with no details at all and not even your name. Ma and I were concerned. Made some calls, wrote some letters and hit some walls.
“I don’t know how or why, but a lawyer contacted us. He must have danced naked under the full moon and sacrificed the right animals because, here you are.” Joseph laughed. “He was really a godsend because we had no idea what to do.”
“Why did you even care?” Makaila shifted on her chair.
Marcy placed a mug in front of her.
Makaila held her hand up to stop the conversation. She closed her eyes, inhaling the rich aroma of the coffee. With a sweep of her arms, her hands came to the mug and moved the mug to her lips. With wide eyes, she proclaimed: “There is a God!” She nodded to Joseph. “Why did you even care?”
Joseph smiled, understanding the joy of simple pleasures sometimes denied. “I told you already.”
Makaila looked toward the ceiling. “Because I’m family and I’m in trouble?”
“I don’t understand.”
He leaned on his elbows. “Then just accept it for the moment and trust understanding will come.”
“I’m not sure I can trust anything for now.” She squirmed again on her chair.
Joseph smiled. “All you really need to do for the moment is relax. If you have no more questions, Ma and I are going to get some sleep. We’re farmers and you’ll find out soon that means it’s well past our bedtime.” Joseph stood. “Your room’s at the top of the steps. Ours is right there.” He pointed to a door a few feet off the adjoining living room. “If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to come right in and wake us up.”
Makaila felt she must have betrayed her surprise.
Joseph added with a laugh: “No, we don’t have locks on the doors.”
Her new caretakers left her alone at the table with her thoughts.
“You are a crayfish.” Makaila nodded to the creature on the clay two feet in front of her. “You’re not a rock that disappears.” She watched the crayfish watching her. “You’re like this crab that lives in fresh water so there’s like mud not too far down, huh?” The crayfish didn’t answer. She was glad for small favors. “I’ve seen you guys in the creek but didn’t realize you’d be like in the cornfield.” Makaila nodded twice, firmly, to the crustacean. “And, you’re just as scared of me as I was scared of you!” She reached for the crayfish. The lobster-like creature moved so quickly into its hole, it seemed to disappear.
Over the next hour, Makaila sat on the clay pondering the crayfish, watching its head peek out the hole and disappear again. She wondered why the creature would be afraid of her and wondered what that fear felt like. “What does a crayfish think about, if a crayfish thinks at all?”
The farm was a different world. Makaila could imagine the farm a different planet. They didn’t have television or Internet access. They had one old radio, a small county newspaper, which came once a week by mail, the nearest neighbor was two miles north and the house was so far off the road, when a car was heard, the beat of gravel meant a visitor. At night, the air came alive with the sound of insects and the sky radiated a canopy enriched with stars like she had never seen before.
Standing, she checked the late August sun’s location, reached out and carefully snapped off an ear of corn. With her back to the slope and the house, she continued on her way, letting the firm kernels burst sweetness in her mouth. When she first arrived on the farm, the cornstalks barely reached her knee. She was amazed watching the stalks race toward the sky. She saw corn in cans and even on the ear, boiled in a pot of water or wrapped in tin foil and placed on a grill. She never imagined where corn actually came from. Corn was a living thing coming from the dirt under her feet and the efforts of people like her great uncle. In a limited way, the field, which she watched each day while drinking her first cup of coffee in the dimness of early morning, was brought forth by her efforts, too.
Tasting the corn was like tasting her life and the lives of Pops and Ma. In her mind, her life and the life of the corn started at much the same time. She knew she had a life before she was pulled from the ambulance and she knew someday she must turn around and face that life. She also knew as she moved quickly toward the creek, she didn’t need think about it.
Makaila pulled her shoes off, sat on a grassy overhang and dropped her feet into the cool water. She watched the minnows, sunfish, crayfish and occasional small snake in the water. In the distant background, she listened to the tractor far off. She knew Pops was cutting the south field and by the sound, she followed him in her mind. With her eyes closed, she could see Pops and the pattern he cut.
Then, the tractor’s engine puttered once and fell silent.
Makaila put her mind around the missing sound of the distant engine, imagining why Pops would stop. She grabbed her shoes and set out at a dead run across the creek and through the woods. She could think of no reason for him to cease his work. When she broke the woods, she saw the reason.