Now I fully understood. "After the screams she appears at the railing and falls to her death in front of anyone who's in this room," I breathed.
I tried the doors again, in case the handles had become frozen or something. But as soon as my hands touched them a voice behind me spoke.
"I'm afraid his lordship locked them, Miss. And he has the only keys."
I'd love to say I wasn't spooked and kept my cool, but... I jumped and whirled around, before catching myself. There before me was a man in his late 40's I'd guess, and in keeping with the theme of evening, he was dressed in the livery of a 19th century servant. He had a kind face and a gentle, if somewhat sad smile.
"But don't worry, I'm sure we can find another way out so you can join the others at the chapel," he continued and pulled out an old pocket watch. "Although, I see we should be quick. You don't want to be here... I mean missing mass. The chapel is always beautifully done up at this time of year."
Me being me, I immediately caught that little hesitation and said innocently. "Is it? Well, that sounds wonderful. We can go together. I'm not sure I could find it in the dark by myself."
"Oh, you'll find it all right," the man replied, but a little too quickly. "I have duties to perform before everyone returns."
"I see," I nodded and started to follow him through the foyer. "Will you be checking on the little boy upstairs?" I asked, remembering my little friend with the cold.
The man suddenly stopped. Then without turning to look at me he said, "Little boy? Upstairs?"
"Yes, I met him when I was looking for a place to hide while we played Sardines. His name is Reginald."
This time the man's shoulders slumped visibly as he bowed his head. "You were in the old playroom," he murmured, "And he's still there... I had so hoped..." His words trailed off but I was certain I caught the words "poor boy."
At the same time I felt a chill race down my spine. I know many people use that phrase to describe an uneasy feeling, but in my case it usually meant I was picking up on the fact that things were not what they seemed. I took a step closer to the man and asked very gently, "What's wrong with him? He told me he had a cold, but there's more to it. Isn't there?"
The man nodded. "I'm afraid so. The poor child has had that cold a very long time."
Nathan has told me more than once that he believes I have psychic powers and... maybe I do. I'm not sure. I personally believe that I'm just more sensitive to things that others miss. I admit, there was that one time in Germany where we'd come across the site of where a concentration camp had stood, although there was nothing to mark it had ever been there. And I do have dreams every so often, some of which come true or seem to act as a warning, but it's not like I can control any of this. It just happens. But right now that chill down my spine was telling me that my 'sensitivity' was acting up again, and I wanted to know more. "He's not alive, is he?" I whispered.
My guide nodded sadly. "It happened on Christmas Eve, many years ago. During the reign of Good Queen Victoria."
"How sick was he?" I asked shaking my head.
"Oh, that isn't what killed him," the man told me. "It was his sister. She killed him, in that very room."
Reginald's words, "She's mad at me. Or at least, it seems like she's always mad at me..." suddenly echoed inside my head. "Why?" I asked, "Did she hate him that much?"
"Oh, no," my companion replied, shaking his head seriously. "No, they were quite devoted to each other. It was..." again he trailed off.
"Please, Mr....," I paused and silently cursed myself for not having asked the man his name. This made twice I'd done that in one night.
Luckily, he wasn't bothered. Instead he gave me a smile and said, "Billings, Miss. Arthur Billings. I've served both his lordship and his father before him."
"A pleasure to meet you Mr. Billings," I told him and meant it. He seemed so nice. "I'm Lisa, I'm here with my parents and Nathan Steward. Would you please tell me what happened?"
He seemed to think it over, saying, "You're with Master Nathan? He's come back, then?" Finally , he nodded. "Come let's sit, and I'll tell what I can." With that he led me back to the Great Hall.
As we walked, I kept thinking, 'First Reginald, now Mr. Billings... Nathan must be trying to find a way to end the haunting. But why? And what happened with the sister and Nathan?' I had so many questions. Luckily, I was about to get all the answers, or so I thought.
"It all started in the summer of the same year that the tragedy happened. Miss Madeleine had met and fallen for a young man she'd met in London. At first everything seemed innocent and proper enough, but then whispers about the young man reached his lordship's ears. It seems just the year before the fellow had been engaged to another young woman, who shortly after their engagement took ill and passed away."
"How tragic," I remarked, watching the storyteller closely. Although his countenance (I picked up this word recently from being here in England) was flat, I could hear the slightest touch of bitterness in his tone. Clearly, there was more behind this part of the story, but I kept quiet as he continued.
"Indeed it was," Billings nodded solemnly, "Anyway, his lordship began having second thoughts about the relationship which led to a number of disagreements with his daughter. The girl was eager to get engaged, but his lordship refused to supply a dowry until his worries were put to rest. Things continued this way throughout the summer and into the Autumn, when the lord and lady were both killed in a carriage accident. Apparently, the horses became spooked and bolted for reasons that remained a 'mystery'."
I felt my eyebrows shoot up at that. "What about the driver? What did he have to say about what happened?"
The narrator smiled. "You have an keen mind," he told me, then continued. "Unfortunately, the driver was also killed in the crash. Being on the outside of the carriage he suffered many injuries, especially about the head. But there were a couple of things that bothered his lordship's brother, Sir Peter, who was also a magistrate. Something about the injury did not fit with the rest of the man's injuries."
"What were they?" I asked leaning forward.
"Well," Mr. Billings began, "The man had been thrown from the coach, yet there were bloodstains on the driver's seat..."
"Which meant he'd been injured before the carriage crashed," I finished, as my brain went into overdrive. He had mentioned the horses had been spooked, so what could spook a horse? "Someone shot the driver, knowing the sound would spook the horses and there'd be no one to try and reign them in."
Mr. Billings nodded, "Those were Sir Peter's very thoughts. Unfortunately, with no witnesses, there was no way to prove what happened. The horses' could've been spooked by wolves or some other predator, and the man could've hit his head against a low branch as he tried to regain control of the animals. In the end, the inquest concluded death by misadventure."
I shook my head. "That's ridiculous. Clearly, someone wanted the parents out of the way. All you have to do is follow the money and..."
A horrid thought suddenly came to me, and it must have shown on my face for the storyteller added, "Mind you, Miss Madeleine and her brother were here at the manor when the incident occurred. They were both quite devastated when their uncle told them what had happened. It was especially hard for the boy, since he was the male heir, the title of Lord, along with the manor and its lands came to him. However, due to his young age, their uncle took charge of overseeing things until the boy became of age. And before you ask, Sir Peter was quite a wealthy man with cons holdings of his own, so he had no reason to want anything to happen to his brother and sister-in-law."
Nodding I stared into the flames of the fireplace, as my mind began working through everything I'd just been told. From what I could see, the only other person who might wants the parents out of the way would be Madeleine's suitor. But with the title and everything going to her brother, how could he gain from their deaths. Suddenly my mind went back to Reginald telling me about his sister arguing with their uncle, and quickly put two and two together. "Let me guess, Madeleine started appealing to her uncle to allow her to get engaged. Which would mean a dowry would have to be supplied for her."
My host nodded.
Sighing I fell back into the wing-backed chair I was sitting on. "And of course, he refused because his brother had no doubt told him about the rumors involving her young man."
"Actually, Sir Peter was one of the people who brought those reports it to his brother's attention," Billings corrected me.
I blew out a breath. "Wow! And when she found that out, she started appealing to her brother to talk to their uncle override his uncle."
"She did indeed," Billings replied. "Unfortunately, with Reginald being so young, he simply told the young lord his father had concerns about the match without going into details. And that was enough for the young lad and he did not press the issue further, thus making his sister even more angry with the boy." Here the storyteller paused and stared into the fire.
I didn't say anything at first, because I was starting to compare my own situation to Madeleine's. I had been in love with Nathan for years, but was always told I had to wait until I was older before he'd consider the idea. Well, I was 20 now, and still he was making me wait. But I was willing to, whereas Madeleine... what had her situation been?
I gave him a warm smile and said, "I thought I was the one who was supposed to be hiding."
He pulled the blanket down to get a better look at me, and I saw he was wearing clothing much like the costume my brother had on downstairs. He had blond curly hair and a round tear-streaked face. I quickly pulled out a handkerchief from my sleeve (her ladyship had told me it was proper to have one on hand) and gave his face a quick cleaning while assuring him everything was going to be all right. That was when I noticed his skin was quite cold. "Oooo... you're frozen, come on. Let's get closer to the fire," I insisted and helped move him, blanket and all, closer to the fireplace.
That was when he gave me a great big smile and said, "You're very kind. Who are you? Are you a fairy?"
I laughed. "No, and I'm not an angel either," I told him. "My name is Lisa, I'm staying here with my parents and my godfather, Nathan Steward."
Immediately, my new friend perked up. "Nathan? He's here? He's all right?"
"Of course. He's the main reason his lordship invited us to come stay," I replied. "Why wouldn't he be all right?"
The boy's face clouded over as said, "He... had an accident last time. My sister..." here he began to sneeze and fall into a coughing fit.
I gave him my handkerchief and let him blow his nose. "Oh, you poor thing, you have a cold don't you?"
Well, that explained why he was up here all by himself. Especially as it had occurred to me that I hadn't seen him downstairs earlier. Still, someone should have been keeping him company, instead of leaving him all by himself up in this old room. "Are your parent's downstairs at the party?"
My young friend shook his head, "They're dead. My uncle is watching over me and my sister. She's a grown up, like you."
I had to laugh at that. Both my parents and Nathan would tell me that I was all grown up one moment, and would then turn around and start treating me like a kid the next. Go figure.
Anyway, things were beginning to make more sense to me now. No doubt he had come with his Lordship's many siblings. Still, it seemed odd to leave the little fellow all on his own up here. Then again, there were other children to watch over downstairs, and I didn't doubt one of his many cousins were coming to check on him regularly. Probably, one or more of them had been up here with him when the call to start the games went out, and they went downstairs while he took a nap up here. This made sense, since I did find him under a blanket.
Then I smiled thinking that once the others found my 'hidden' location in here, we'd have a lot of company. Still a part of me began to wonder what he'd meant about Nathan having an 'accident' last time.
Just then the boy leaned up against me and I held him tight. He seemed much more relaxed now, and was smiling more, so I chose not to ask about what happened. Besides, I'd seen Nathan bounce back from injuries before. Hell, he'd even recovered from being decapitated just a few years ago. So I had little doubt that whatever had happened had seemed more terrifying to my young friend than it really had been.
I could hear the sounds of my 'pursuers' echoing through the mansion, through the door to the room, and quickly excused myself to close it. After all, I didn't want to make it too easy for them. Then I went back to the fireplace and wrapped the boy in my arms. He hugged me back as we gazed at the fire together.
"My sister and I used to sit before the fire like this for many an hour," he sighed wistfully.
I frowned. "Let me guess, she felt she was too grown up to do it anymore?" I asked, suspecting she didn't have as much time for her little brother these days. Especially if she was in her late teens as I was guessing from his earlier comparison of her and me. No doubt she was more into going to malls or raves these days.
"Oh, no," he told me. "She's mad at me. Or at, it seems like she's always mad at me."
My frown deepened. "Really? Did you break something of hers, or get her in trouble somehow?"
He shook his head. "Not to my knowledge."
I rested my chin on his head, thinking. "Is this a recent thing?"
The boy nodded. "It started shortly after our parents died."
I mentally nodded. Losing both your parents could lead to the children either becoming closer than ever, or tear them apart. Especially in the case of the older children, who may suddenly feel like a great burden of responsibility has been thrust upon them. They may feel obligated to grow up faster and would either rise up to the challenge, or feel overwhelmed or even cheated of their youthful pleasures and become resentful. Still, he'd said their uncle was watching over them. Could there be some resentment on that front from his sister? Did she want to be the grownup only to find her brother was turning more and more to their uncle? It was hard to say, and having just met my little friend, I didn't think it was right to pry too deeply. Instead, I asked a totally different question.
"I just realize, I never asked you your name?" I remarked, giving him an embarrassed look.
"Reginald," he smiled back. "Thank you for being so kind to me, Lisa."
"I do my best," I told him.
From beyond the closed door, I could hear the others calling my name, but I didn't want to leave Reginald, even for a moment. For some strange reason, I was feeling more and more protective of him. Like something would happen if I did leave his side, even for the slightest second. So I didn't respond and spent the next half hour talking with Reginald.
I soon learned that he and his sister had been quite a bit closer than I'd originally thought, even after their parents accident. But then they began to drift apart. His sister, Madeleine, began having fights with their uncle. Exactly what these arguments had been about, Reginald did not know at first. But then, Madeleine had appealed to him to talk with their uncle about their mother's jewelry and how it should be hers by right, to do with as she pleased.
Something about the way she'd spoken to him had been worrying, so he'd asked if she had planned to sell them. At that point she'd raised her voice and began scolding him for such horrid thoughts and how he was sounding just like their uncle. From then on things between them began to deteriorate. Several times she'd called him weak and foolish because by rights he was the rightful heir. He was now the lord and their uncle was only acting as a guardian until he came of age. She told him how he needed to grow up and take charge, that she needed his support but he was too cowardly or ungrateful to help her.
I felt my grip tighten on him as he spoke, wishing I could do something to help. But then he told me how Madeleine had become nicer again recently. She'd even apologized for saying such hurtful things. Perhaps it was the season that had made her more thoughtful, and yet... somehow he was a little afraid of her.
Upon hearing that, I said reassuringly, "Let me talk to her, and to your uncle. I'm pretty good at judging people. I might even get your sister to open up and tell me what's really been going on."
A look of relief swept over Reginald's face, then quickly vanished by one of alarm. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Nathan tried to talk to her and..."
"And that's when he had that 'accident' you mentioned earlier," I finished for him. "She got a little violent with him?"
My young friend simply nodded, but there was a haunted look in his eyes which worried me. Still, I couldn't let things stand the way they were. A part of me kept thinking about my own little brother, Geoffrey and how important he was to me, in spite of occasionally being a pest and a brat. But if we had lost our parents like Reginald and his sister had, I'd be an overly protective mother-hen as well as a big sister to him. I had no idea how good I'd be as a 'mother' figure for him, in fact I'd probably make a lot of mistakes, but I'd still love him no matter what. And I had no doubt Madeleine loved her brother still as well.
And as for getting rough with Nathan, he'd never mentioned the incident to me or my parents. So it couldn't have been that bad. Perhaps, what Madeleine had been resentful of yet another man trying to tell her what to do, like her uncle had apparently been doing.
"I think Madeleine might actually appreciate talking to someone her own age who's a big sister like her," I told Reginald. "And if things do get a little out of hand, Nathan and parents are here and they always watch out for me. Especially if I tell them the situation before I approach your sister."
That seemed to reassure him as he smiled and let me put him in a chair near the fire. I made sure he was bundled up, and got him to promise not to go anywhere till I got back. After giving me his word he kissed me on the cheek and said, "You're so nice. I think Madeleine might listen to you. You treat me the way she used to, and I very much wish for things to be like this again between us."
"I'll do my best," I assured him and left the room. As I passed through the adjoining room and into the hallway, I realized I didn't hear any of my 'pursuers' calling out my name. Assuming that they'd given up and had gone back to the party I quickly made my way downstairs.
When I reached the second floor, I realized that everything had gone quiet. There were no sounds coming the main hall downstairs where the party had been taking place. "This isn't good," I told myself and hurried down the rest of the way. Upon reaching the bottom the silence was even more obvious than before. The only sound I could hear was the crackling of the fire from the other side of the doors to the hall, which were now closed.
Feeling more than a little anxious I went to the doors and opened them. The hall was completely empty. The decorations, the tables covered in food and drink, were all still there. And I noted that a considerable number of presents had been added underneath the tree, and the fire was still burning in the fireplace, but aside from me there seemed to be not another soul in the place.
Then I remembered his lordship had mentioned holding mass over at the chapel on the grounds. No doubt that was where everyone had gone off to. Still, it was strange that no one had come looking for me... oh! That was why people had been calling my name earlier. They hadn't been trying to trick me into revealing myself, they had wanted to tell me to come to the chapel with them.
Feeling more than a little foolish, I headed for the front doors. I grabbed a heavy woolen cloak that went with my outfit and tried the doors. They were locked!
TO BE CONTINUED...
Nathan wasn't kidding about this being an old-fashion Christmas. Green garland was hanging from the staircases, the walls, you name it. And the table in the dining room looked like a Hollywood set. There was plum pudding, oysters, pies, potatoes, fruits stacked up like pyramids, sweetbreads, the list goes on and on. We even had chestnuts roasting in the fireplace.
It's become one of my favorite places to sit near. It's huge affair, with ornately decorated tiles in the firebox area, as well as a beautifully carved stone mantel with intricate pillars leading up to it. There are a couple of wingback chairs set in front of all this, and that's where I could be found whenever I'd come in from outside. Sometimes Nathan sits with me, not that I've seen all that much of him since our arrival. He seems to come and go on 'business', supposedly it has to do with a book or two he's researching, but I've seen him talking with his Lordship from the windows now and then. I don't have the nerve to ask our host what they're talking about, and I haven't been able to get Nathan alone long enough to get the story out of him.
Anyway, getting back to the holiday decorations, we finally come to the tree itself. It is huge, and because Nathan is around, the tree stands in a huge pot of soil. Like everything else in this great place, it too has decked out in classic Victorian style, with ribbons, flowers, small toys, sweets, fruits, crackers (Christmas ones, not the kind you eat), and ornaments made of paper and glass some of which are at least 100 years old.
Tonight, being Christmas Eve, the Lord and Lady of the manor hosted a huge gathering of family and a few friends (namely us). And in keeping with the old-fashion theme, everyone was dressed in clothing from the before 1900. Naturally, me being into Goth clothing, I should have fit in easily. But most of my outfits were too bright and modern. Luckily, her Ladyship led me to the uppermost level of the mansion where they had a host of outfits for me and my family. I settled on a green velvet with white trim and hints of deep red. My parents and our hosts were delighted at my choice and I couldn't get over how well it fit me.
Mom and Dad looked smashing in Edwardian garb and my little brother Geoffrey looked adorable in his "Little Lord Fauntleroy" outfit. Even if he didn't think it was all that great. Of Nathan there was no sign, although he had promised to be around. I asked Dad what was going on and he assured me Nathan was on important business, but would definitely be showing up before the evening was out. Before I could ask him any more, he announced it was time for us all to join the festivities downstairs.
Let me tell you, I had no idea what a crowd awaited us down there. His Lordship insisted he had only invited family, but he neglected to mention there would be several generations. His five siblings had brought their spouses and they in turn had brought their children (numbering anywhere from 4-6) per household. And their ages ranged from younger than Geoffrey to those my age and a little older. So I didn't wind up being the oldest when it came to playing some games I'd never heard of before. Oh I was familiar with Charades, and Blind Man's Buff (or Blind Man's Bluff as it's sometimes called). But there were more games I'd never heard of before that go all the way back to the 1800's. Up Jenkins, Find the Thimble (for the younger ones), Snapdragon (which involves flaming brandy and raisins in a shallow bowl).
Shadow Buff was completely new to me, but Isabella proved quite good at it and I soon caught on and found it to be quite a bit of fun However, when it came to playing "Sardines" that's when the night took a spooky turn for me.
Now for those of you not familiar with Sardines, it's like a reverse hide and seek game. Instead of everyone hiding while one person counts, only a single person goes into hiding and the rest of the people count. When they are done counting, they all spread out and try to find the person who hid. However, if they find that person, instead of calling out to everyone, the seeker joins the hidden person in their hiding spot. This continues until all the seekers have found the location and have the person who hid in that spot, until they're all packed in like... you guessed it... sardines.
Being a newcomer to the festivities, I got to be the first person who had to hide. I was told I could go anywhere inside the mansion, which gave me a lot of possibilities. And me being me, I immediately gravitated upstairs to where I'd found my lovely dress for the evening.
Soon I found myself on the top floor looking down a long corridor of doors. Most of these had been living quarters for servants, but according to our hosts no one had used them for years. Which was why several of them were now being used as storage space, including the room where I had found my dress. When I was in there earlier, I'd spotted a door peeking out from behind some tall boxes. No doubt it was a closet and would make for an excellent hiding spot. While allowing room for the others to join in when they found me, without making any of us feel too claustrophobic. Or so I hoped.
So you can imagine my surprise at finding, not a closet, but a very large room with a roaring fire in a good-sized fireplace crackling away behind a screen. Glancing around the room I saw there were a couple of desks off in the corner, while the rest of the room had shelves for books and a number of children's toys. Most of those seemed to be antiques, but in good condition overall. There was a rocking horse that had clearly seen a lot of use, but also a lot of love as well. I could easily picture a child hugging that wooden neck with the real horsehair mane.
Then it hit me. Of course, a governess would have a room connected with one like this. No doubt the room I'd found my dress had been her bedroom, and this was the schoolroom where she would teach and play with the children in her care. But who was using it these days? And why was there a fire in the fireplace?
My curiosity was in overdrive at this point, so I began to explore every inch of my surroundings. There was an old sofa, whose back was facing me, near the fireplace. As I drew nearer I heard a small cough coming from the other side of it. Immediately, my sisterly instincts kicked in and I went over to have a look. I found a small boy, curled up on the sofa with an old blanket covering most of him. Had I not spotted his eyes peeking out, I would've totally missed him.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Christmas in England, how much cooler can you get than that? Answer... you find yourself in the middle of something that could've come straight out of a gothic novel. I swear, I'll never be able to listen to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" the same way, after tonight.
Here, let me explain...
It all started about a week ago, when Nathan told my parents that he had been invited to stay with some of his 'Extended Family' over in England and that a private jet had already been set up for when the time came to go. Naturally, I was pretty bummed out upon hearing this.
Still I couldn’t be mad at Nathan. We weren’t the only part of his “Extended” family, and there are others all over the country, and in other countries, who love him as much as we do. So it would only be natural for some of them to want him to come and spend the holidays with them once in a while. Plus, his sister Isabella was already in England awaiting her brother’s arrival.
I had just resigned myself to not seeing him on Christmas morning, when he dropped another bomb on us by saying, “Oh, did I mention all of you are invited to join me?”
At first my parents were a little unsure, but when he told them the festivities would be taking place in an old manor house and that the hosts liked to have an old-fashioned Christmas, they were hooked.
As I quickly learned on our arrival, the manor is over 200 years old and has been owned by the family that whole time. Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, the current master of manor is a member of the House of Lords. So you can imagine how important keeping the manor as well as the old Christmas traditions alive, is very important. And I for one don't blame them. This place is amazing. While it has all the modern conveniences, you still feel like you just stepped into a Jane Austen novel. Family portraits, a gallery, silk wallpaper, marble columns, grand staircase, a ballroom, a drawing room, the list goes on and on. I got lost at least twice in the first couple of days. So did my mother. We wound up bumping into each other and asking if each other knew the way out. LOL!
The main hall is huge, with tall windows going practically up to the ceiling (which is at least two to three stories tall). It also has the most impressive fireplace I've ever seen. It's huge affair, with ornately decorated tiles in the firebox area, as well as a beautifully carved stone mantel with intricate pillars leading up to it. There are a couple of wingback chairs set in front of all this, and that's where I could be found whenever I'd come in from outside. Sometimes Nathan sits with me, not that I've seen all that much of him since our arrival. He seems to come and go on 'business', supposedly it has to do with a book or two he's researching, but I've seen him talking with his Lordship from the windows now and then. I don't have the nerve to ask our host what they're talking about, and I haven't been able to get Nathan alone long enough to get the story out of him. But clearly, something is up... not that it was any of my business. That is, until tonight.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me get back to the decorations and preparations that led up to the event's of tonight, Christmas Eve...
TO BE CONTINUED...
As it turned out, Nathan and I returned to the studio the next evening and indeed the piece was finished. Mind you, we still had to spend most of the night allowing the kiln to cool down before we dared remove my precious art piece from within. I'm pleased to say, it came out perfectly. It was everything I wanted it to be.
"It's beautiful," Nathan told me inside our shared space.
"I wouldn't have been able to finish it without your help," I replied. "I wish I could thank you properly..."
"How do you mean?" he replied curiously.
"You know, giving you a huge hug and all that," I told him, shrugging our shoulders.
Next thing I knew we were face to face again, inside his mind once more. We were surrounded by fleeting images of his memories again, and this time I caught a few glimpses of our working on my sculpture.
Meanwhile, Nathan opened his arms and I quickly did the same.
"Okay," I said aloud, "First I'm going to place the sculpture inside the kiln and set it to just under 200 degrees." As I/we spoke, I did exactly that. Opening up the kiln and then ever so carefully placed my masterwork inside. Then I proceeded to set the kiln in motion.
"How long will this take?" Brian asked curiously.
"Possibly, until morning or noon," I answered, and proceeded to settle down on the couch Brian had been sleeping on earlier.
"And then it will be finished?" asked Nathan through our shared mouth.
"No, that's when I HOPE it will be dry and safe enough to proceed with the actual firing schedule I mentioned before," I answered.
I suddenly felt a sense of unease inside. "Nathan?" I asked mentally.
"Someone needs to be here the whole time, and I didn't bring anything I might need," he answered.
"Yeah," we shook our head, "I hadn't anticipated such an eventuality."
"Oh dear..." I murmured aloud, which caught Brian's attention and told him the situation.
He smiled and assured us that a call to Jack would take care of that problem in no time.
Still Nathan seemed uneasy. After a bit of mental urging he told me what was bothering him. "I've never had someone inside my head when I've had to satisfy my 'needs'. I was figuring on having you back in your own body before it became a necessity."
Now, I understood. But if we were to dry my sculpture in the kiln, I needed to be here. Especially if I wanted it to be ready on time.
Taking over the mouth again I said, "Brian please make the call so we can have everything Nathan needs while he and I finish my sculpt."
Inside our head I heard Nathan saying, "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," I replied. "You've done so much already, the least I can do is not let you be deprived of what you need."
"You do realize that when I 'drink'..."
"Yeah, I get that. I'm just going to tell myself we're drinking a Bloody Mary." To my relief, he didn't argue. Which is good because I then thought about the literal version of the drink I'd mentioned, I began to get uneasy myself.So together we settled in on the couch, while Brian called the hospital. About half an hour later, Dr. Jack showed up with what Nathan needed, as well as some regular food.
The four of us sat and ate (well three actually ate), but still I got to enjoy experiencing how Nathan's sense of smell and taste worked. He's got much more acute senses on both those fronts, than I had expected. Of course, when it came to what he really needed, I went to my 'Happy Place' inside our shared head. Although I have to admit, I did kind of take notice of what the blood tasted like and how his body reacted to it. I can sympathize with how taking in blood is not something that is 'optional' for him. But I won't go into that, it's not my place to go there.
But afterwards, 'we' felt much better and after shooing Brian and Dr. Jack to their respective homes, Nathan and I began the long 'firing'. We passed the time sharing thoughts and life experiences. Too numerous and private to share here. Then after morning came and I was convinced the clay was dry enough, we fired the kiln up to a proper level to finish what I had started.
These next hours would be crucial and we'd have to watch the piece as carefully as possible. I had noticed that during the drying, I could actually hear some of the moisture escaping the clay inside the kiln through Nathan's ears. I found this very reassuring. It meant that if any cracking began to take place during the final firing, we'd hear it and could take action.
After setting things in motion, we began the last stage of our vigil. To pass the time I convinced Nathan to pull out some of the clay here in the studio and we began working with it. It was kind of fun to experience with him the joy of going from doubtful about his ability to create with clay to enthusiastic. It took me back to my first time working with the creative process in three dimensions.
Of course we kept an eye on how the firing process was coming along as we passed the hours. I thought heard a pop at one point, which turned out to have come from outside. Damn his hearing could be a little too good. When evening came, we started to let the kiln and it's precious content cool down. I knew at this point there was nothing else we could do and let Nathan know.
"In that case, I think we should let you get back to your body for the night," he replied.
The next thing I knew I was staring up at the ceiling of my hospital room. A moment later, Dr. Jack's smiling visage came into view.
"Welcome back," he smiled, "Blink once for yes and twice for no. Everything go okay?"
I responded as he instructed.
"So it's all done?"
I blinked twice and spent the next ten minutes answering his questions. By the time we finished he had a pretty good understanding of where things stood. "I see," he nodded, "So Nathan will be taking you back again tomorrow. I'll make sure you're still undisturbed, aside from the staff again. Hopefully, tomorrow will be it."
So did I....
TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT TIME...