All I wanted for my sixteenth birthday was a ticket to the coolest band of the century. Was that too much to ask? All I got was a piece of rock tied onto a leather thong and some crazy story about travelling in time. Ever since I could remember, Mom had told us wild tales of Manitoba’s past. She told each story as though she’d actually been there. Now, she’s claiming all the stories were true, that she had really been transported back to that time by a native shaman whose spirit guide had given her an arrowhead as a talisman that held magic no white person could truly understand – the same bit of stone she had just given me.
She also said that when she performed the withershins ritual she’d met my dad – and he actually supported her claim! Dad said he had inherited the soul of the man Mom fell in love with in the past. He had apparently been dreaming of her so much that when he met Mom for the first time in our century, he felt he knew her. The dreams, he’d said, were actually memories of all the things that his ancestor had done.
I think it’s all just a phony story to keep me from going to the concert. Well, it’s not going to work! I have some money from babysitting. I’ll go buy the ticket myself!
I stuck the arrowhead in my sock drawer.
I could tell by the look on her face that Mom was disappointed in me for not being drawn into her fantasy. Well, I didn’t care. I stormed out of the house, stalking the neighbourhood streets to work off some of my anger and frustration. My ‘Sweet Sixteen’ was supposed to be the best birthday, ever. Instead, all I got was a chunk of rock.
The power walk didn’t work. The heat of the late July sun was making me even hotter under the collar! I needed to vent. I found myself outside my best friend’s door, ringing the bell.
“Hey, Kristen!” Savannah greeted me through the screen door. She unhooked the latch and let me inside. “What’s up, girl? You have a storm cloud over your head the size of Winnipeg!”
She guided me to her bedroom and shut the door, before I spoke.
“It’s my folks,” I said, tears forming in my eyes. “I didn’t get the ticket, like I thought, like I’ve been asking for since the news was out they were coming to town. Instead, they give me a stone and a load of bunk about it being ‘magical’.”
I wiggled my fingers to indicate the quotation marks around the word magical.
“What kind of stone did they give you?” Savannah asked, her eyes lighting up at the idea.
“It looks like an old arrowhead tied to a leather thong. Mom says it transported her back in time where she met the ancestor of my father. The sad thing is, Dad agrees with her!”
“An arrowhead?” Savannah asked. “That is way cool!”
“No it isn’t! It’s lame!”
“Can I see it?”
“I left it at home. Why would I want to wear something so creepy?”
“I don’t think it’s creepy.”
I should have known Savannah would take their side. She’s really been getting into the native spiritual stuff. Mom tried to cram it down my throat as a child, but I’m not a child anymore. Sure it was fun to attend the powwows and watch the hoop dancers, but I don’t really care much about all that now – especially considering that crazy story of Mom’s. She even said she hardly believed the truth of it, in the beginning.
“So, how did this arrowhead transport her back in time? Supposedly,” Savannah added when she saw the look on my face.
“She did something she called the ‘withershins’. She said it refers to a ritual where one runs three times around a church at midnight. The friends she tried it with said they might meet the devil or be transported to the Netherworld. Mom claims that running counter-clockwise sends you back in time, clockwise will bring you back to your own time. Pretty far-fetched, eh?”
“Actually, I have heard of that, some kind of urban legend, but it does sound pretty wild, all right,” Savannah agreed.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a load of bunk,” I pouted.
“Why did she give it to you? The arrowhead, I mean.”
“Mom said she’d had a vision, a dream, where the shaman from the past spoke to her. She told me I should use the talisman to perform the withershins on the night of the Harvest Moon – the full moon in October – the same time she had travelled to the past, twenty-five years ago. She believed there were things I needed to learn, just as she did – that there was another story to be told.”
“I always wondered how she knew so much about that stuff,” Savannah mused.
“Don’t tell me you’re starting to believe all this crap!”
“Well, it makes sense that she learned about the spirituality of the early aboriginal people first hand. What was the reason she told you why she went back in time?”
“Something to do with her ancestors. Before she went back in time, she didn’t know about her First Nations roots. She said she ran away before the shaman had taught her what he felt she needed to learn. When she got home again, she discovered she was Métis. Then she read something in the Archives about the shaman being hanged because the people in the past thought he had killed her when they couldn’t find her after she returned to the present. She went back a second time to save him and stayed because the shaman wouldn’t let her come home until he’d finished teaching her all that stuff.”
“What an amazing story!” Savannah exclaimed. “And now she teaches Aboriginal Studies at the University of Manitoba!”
“Dad, too, you may recall.”
“That’s right! And he knows all about it because he . . . dreamed it?”
“His dreams are supposed to be the memories of his ancestor, the one Mom claims to have met when she was in the past.”
Telling Savannah the story made me feel a little better, but I didn’t like the way she seemed to be buying into the whole thing. She was supposed to be on my side.
“You really don’t believe this stupid story, do you?” I asked.
“No, of course not! It’s impossible!”
Even though Savannah said the words, I had the feeling she was just humouring me.
Quest For The Dragon’s Heart
Amid terrified screams and the sound of trebuchet-tossed missiles pounding the outer castle walls, Erowyn drew Alise aside and whispered, “You must flee, my darling. You cannot be caught with me. Should the invading army discover you are my wife, you would, most certainly, be tortured or put to death.”
Together they fled down the turret steps to the wine cellar. Erowyn pulled on a torch sconce and one of the racks slid aside, revealing a narrow tunnel that followed the outer walls. Dragging her inside, he closed the secret entrance and led her to the left. When they came to a bend in the tunnel, he paused and activated another hidden latch, which opened a passage leading away from the cellar. From beneath his cloak, he withdrew a bundle of clothes.
“Remove your royal garments and put on these peasant clothes,” he ordered. “You must also remove all your jewellery.”
“Even my wedding rings?” Alise asked tearfully.
“Those bands are your death sentence,” Erowyn confirmed. “You must be strong, stronger than you have ever needed to be. There may be horrific things asked of you but you must comply for the good of the entire country. The invaders are beasts, who have conquered many neighbouring counties, enslaving the people, turning the land to dust as they search for the legendary ‘Conqueror’s Stone’.”
“But we do not have it!” Alise declared. “It has never been in the McLaren’s possession. Why would King Rufus seek it here?”
“He is mad with power and does not care what his actions are doing to the landscape. He does not realize that, soon, all farmland will be destroyed and that, with the coming of the frost cycle, his men – all the people – will starve.”
“What can we do?”
“You are one of the most beautiful women in the country . . .”
“You only say that because you are my husband,” Alise interrupted, playfully tapping the tip of his nose.
“It is the truth,” Erowyn insisted. “Use your beauty as a weapon. With it, you can infiltrate Rufus’ court, discover his intentions and relay them to our armies patrolling the outer borders.”
“You want me to be a spy?”
“In a word, yes,” Erowyn admitted.
“But what if I am forced to . . .” Alise shuddered.
“As repulsive as it is for me to think about such things, I know you are strong enough to survive all things. I know, I was not your first choice for a husband, that there were others on whom you had set your sights, but I believe that, over the past eight years, I have earned your love and respect.”
“My parents made a wonderful match. I could not have asked for a better husband. You were – are – the most gentle and loving man a woman could ever want. And I do love you, with all my heart and soul.”
He embraced her and squeezed tightly as though afraid to let her go. Alise squeezed him with equal fervour, knowing what would be expected of her once she left the safety of his embrace. She would prefer to die than . . . Alise sighed. She grabbed Erowyn’s face and planted a tender kiss on his lips.
Suddenly, the ground above them shook and dirt rained down upon them.
“That strike was too close,” Erowyn muttered. “Darling, you must go. Now. Before the tunnel collapses. I will surrender to Rufus and claim you were killed, so they will not look for you. Please, go now.”
His voice was choked with emotion. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and turned, so she would not see the tears in his eyes. He hurried out, closing the secret entrance behind him. She knew Erowyn would latch the passage so it could not be accessed by intruders, should it be discovered. She had nowhere else to go but forward. Alise stood for a moment, staring at the blank wall, then, as another blast shook her refuge, she scurried to the exit.
Despite the arrangement of her marriage, Alise loved Erowyn more than life itself. She had led him to believe, at first, that there were other men she fancied but, in truth, she had convinced her parents that a match to Erowyn would be in everyone’s best interest. Fortunately, they had agreed with her. She prayed Rufus would spare her husband’s life, but feared the ruthless leader would take too much pleasure in putting him to death – after subjecting him to torture, of course, in his insane search for a myth.
It was with a heavy heart that Alise arrived at the staircase leading to the surface on the other side of the moat. She shoved through the brambles covering the tunnel opening. Thorns caught and ripped her dress and cloak, slashing through to her skin, but she finally managed to slip, unnoticed, into the night.
Island of the Stars
The pilot of the DC 3 cargo plane was frantic, fighting the sudden appearance of a severe storm system. Gale-force winds tossed the heavy craft around like a ping pong ball. Jagged flashes of light ripped the black clouds apart. Rain streamed across the windows, making it impossible to see a thing beyond the wings. The pilots attempted to descend below the cloud cover.
The twenty-two people on board had started from Tahiti two hours ago, destined for a small island to the east where a developer was building an exclusive resort. Most were part of the excavation crew returning from leave, but also included were two cooks, a doctoer, a nurse, the architect and the manager representing the hotel owner.
The construction firm’s engineer and co-owner, Alexander Stern, peered through the bleary window to his left as shards of light slashed through the dark wall of cotton surrounding the plane. The fearful wrenching in his gut was replaced by a horrific shudder at the sight of one such lightning bolt striking the engine on the left wing. The sparks begat a fire. Fierce orange flames defied the rain.
An air traffic controller in the tower near Papeete, Tahiti, called to his supervisor.
“We’ve lost them, sir. Here are their last known co-ordinates. They were caught in the storm and cannot relay anything more specific. Their instruments were knocked out by lightning and they’re flying by the seat of their pants. Our radar is no longer tracking them. They’re either flying too low, or they’ve already crashed somewhere.”
“We can’t send out any rescue teams until this storm breaks. Keep trying to contact them. If they’re lucky, they’ll have found a place to set down and we’ll find them when the storm’s over. If not, Moonstar Construction is out an excavation team and equipment.”
The floor of the small bungalow trembled slightly as though a large truck rumbled down the street. Sabrina expected the sensation to cease, but it only increased in intensity until the dishes in the china cabinet began chattering. A picture bounced off the wall, its glass fracturing into a spider web of cracks that splayed across her family. Sabrina’s body began to shake and her arms windmilled to maintain her balance. She teetered towards the doorway in the living room, gripping its frame to keep from falling. A vase shimmied across the dining table and smashed to the floor. From the kitchen came the sounds of dishes shattering as they tumbled from the counter.
Sabrina silently cursed her older brother for being right. He had warned them all about the dangers of residing on the west coast, saying that ‘The Big One’ was just around the corner and would submerge most of the western coastline. She had scoffed, certain nothing like that would happen in her lifetime. Nevertheless, when her father was offered a promotion with a parent company in British Columbia, she and her parents chose a new home on the outskirts of Vancouver, nestled up against the foothills, hoping they would be relatively safe in the event of a major quake. However, as of late, the tremors had become more frequent, bringing fearful truth to her brother’s words.
The rest of Sabrina’s family refused to leave, though. They all preferred the temperate, albeit damper, winter weather; with much less snow to shovel. Sabrina did not miss the thirty below temperatures that used to chill her to the bone while she was growing up in the keystone province. The majesty of the mountains and the tart salt air had drawn them all from the prairies, and Sabrina was determined not to allow a few earth shakes to drive them from the beauty of this place. Besides, her Dad loved his new job and she had made some terrific friends at school. She wanted to stick around another year so they could all graduate together.
Abruptly the quake stopped and Sabrina sighed her relief. She wandered through the lavish four-bedroom home to assess the damage, picking up shards of glass and china as she went. Fortunately, there was no apparent damage to the actual structure of the house. There were only a few items that had broken, nothing that was irreplaceable.
Just then, the phone rang.
“Sabrina?” her mother’s voice asked on the other end of the line. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” she answered. “A little shaken, that’s all. A few things got broken.”
“Things can always be replaced. People can’t,” her mother said. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
Suddenly, Sabrina heard a scratching and whining at the back door. Her heart nearly burst. How could she have forgotten about her darling Sheltie?
“Mom, I gotta go get Shelby. She was outside when it happened. She’s probably scared to death.”
“All right, then,” he mother replied. “Your Dad and I are just about to pick up the twins from Cub Scouts, then we’ll be on our way home. You go take care of Shelby.”
Sabrina hung up the phone and flung open the back door. Shelby bounded into her waiting arms.
“Sorry, Shelby,” she murmured, stroking her pet’s long silky fur. “I forgot about you in the all commotion. You must be beside yourself! I’ll make it up to you. Let’s go for a walk.”
At her final word the tiny collie pricked up her ears and headed for the closet where her owner kept the leash. Sabrina smiled and latched the leather strap to Shelby’s collar. Stuffing a rubber glove and a plastic bag into her jacket pocket, she stepped into the twilight, her pet squeezing between her legs and the doorframe to scurry outside.
People were still bustling around the normally quiet neighbourhood, checking the aftermath of the quake. Questioning a few of her neighbours, Sabrina discovered that only minor damages had occurred to them as well and she breathed easier. She walked more confidently to the wooded area nearby, a cool evening breeze caressing her face.
Shelby strained at her leash, urging her mistress to walk a little faster. Something seemed to be calling to her and Sabrina knew the Sheltie would not want to miss the opportunity for a chase. Finally, they reached the path and Sabrina leaned down to release her pet, knowing the animal would return after leaving her mark in all the usual places, and hoping there would not be too much of a mess to clean up afterwards. Shelby hesitated for a moment, glancing up at Sabrina as though she needed her mistress to follow this time. The small collie nipped at her ankle, pulling at the hem of her jeans. Sabrina was puzzled by the uncharacteristic behaviour.
“What is it, girl? What’s got your fur in a frenzy tonight?”
The dog’s only reply was to tug harder at her pant leg.
“Alright! Alright, I’m coming!”
With a shrug, Sabrina stepped hesitantly into the woods behind the agitated animal. Darkness surrounded her and it took a moment for Sabrina’s eyes to adjust. Moonlight filtered through the tree branches, illuminating patches of the path up ahead. Shelby barked sharply for Sabrina to hurry. They tripped along the gravel path for several yards, before Shelby dashed into the underbrush. Sabrina peered into blackness. All she could see were Shelby’s eyes, two glowing orbs staring at her a foot above the mossy forest floor.
“I’m not going in there,” Sabrina stated, hands on her hips. “You might be able to see where you’re going, but I can’t.”
Shelby cocked her head to one side and whined. She looked off in the direction she wanted to go, then back at her owner. Another whine and Sabrina conceded. Sweeping aside a low branch, she placed her foot gingerly over a shrub by the edge of the path, stepping into the gloom. Shelby darted away, again, convinced her mistress would tag along after her.
Stumbling over an exposed root, Sabrina tried grabbing onto a mossy tree trunk. Her hand met a cool, slimy surface and she cursed her pet under her breath.
Suddenly, she heard a yelp, then silence.
“Shelby? Shelby!” she called, her voice rising in panic.
Sabrina ran in the direction of the yelp, dodging tree branches and thorn bushes. Next thing she knew, she was hurtling through space, landing with considerable force. The wind was knocked out of her. Her head swam dizzyingly and it took a few moments to catch her breath. Rolling over to a sitting position, she felt herself all over and was surprised to find there were no serious injuries. She had a slight bump on the head and a bruise on her arm, but that was all. She had been fortunate that the ground on which she had fallen was relatively soft. Her major problem seemed to be her sight. She worried that her fall had jarred her so severely that she had been blinded. To test that theory, she fumbled for her watch and pressed the tiny button. When she saw the luminous green glow of the numbers, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Blinking several times, she tried forcing her eyes to adjust to the incredible blackness around her. She looked overhead to find the moon, but there was no light above her. She tried to stand, her hands spread wide, hoping to feel something with which to guide herself out of this place. She rose unsteadily, unable to balance. With nothing to focus on, she could not tell if she was upright, or upside down.
Something brushed past her leg and she screamed. Her voice sounded strangely muffled, as though she was in a soundproofed room. Her heart pounded and she felt on the verge of hysteria. A whining to her left made her turn – slowly, in order to maintain her fragile equilibrium.
“Shelby?” she whispered.
The dog returned her call with a muted whimper. Sabrina dropped to her knees and crawled towards the sound. Soon, she felt a cold nose on her cheek and a wet tongue.
“I’m happy to find you too, girl,” Sabrina said softly. “Where do you suppose we are, huh?”
She slid her hand over the slight body that quivered with fear. She tried to reassure her pet, scratching her forehead, behind her ear. Judging by Shelby’s actions, Sabrina realized that her pet could see no better than she. Holding the dog tightly, she tried desperately to pierce the darkness with her usually good eyes. She could not remember ever finding herself in such total blackness before this. Often she would manoeuvre around her house without bothering to turn on a light and could manage as well as any blind person, knowing every nook and cranny. Even then, there was always some identifiable shape or shadow, however faint it may be. Here, there was nothing, like being in a void that no light could penetrate.
An indeterminable length of time passed as Sabrina tried to figure out what to do. Finally, she fumbled with Shelby’s collar, hooking the leash back on so they wouldn’t lose each other again. Then, she crept on hands and knees, hoping she was heading back in the direction they had come. Her knees began to ache and Sabrina contemplated trying to stand again. The ground felt soft and crumbly, but relatively level, so she made the attempt. She managed better this time and eased along, holding one hand in front of her, in case she met with an obstacle. With her other hand looped through the leash’s handle, she spread it out to the side to help with balance.
Sabrina felt the reluctant tug of the leash as Shelby shuffled along behind her, occasionally bumping her calf with her snout. Their quiet footfalls were the only sounds she heard. Time was impossible to gauge without looking at her watch. Although it had been only forty minutes, it seemed as though they had been walking for hours, meeting nothing, touching nothing. Then, quite abruptly, her fingertips met with a damp crumbly surface like the ground beneath her feet. Using both hands, she explored the size of the obstruction. She followed the surface to the ground, determining it must be a wall. The question was, which direction would lead her out of here? She crouched beside her pet, rubbing her soft underbelly.
“What do you think, girl? Which way?”
She heard Shelby snuffling and felt her nose waving in the air. Shelby pulled Sabrina to the left.
“Ok. Left it is.”
With fingertips guiding her along the wall, she relied on the dog’s instinct to find the way home. Suddenly, her hand met with a cold hard surface and red light suffused the void. Startled, she jerked her hand away from the wall. Blackness engulfed her once more. Slowly, Sabrina reached for the wall again, but felt only the earthen surface. She slid her hand along the wall, searching for the object she had felt imbedded there. When she finally found it, a red glow illuminated the area, once again.
Without removing her hand from the object this time, Sabrina took in her surroundings. She found herself in a massive underground passage hollowed out of what appeared to be soft dirt. The passageway curved out of sight in both directions. Studying the object her hand encountered, she found it to be a shiny red stone sunk into the passage wall. Experimentally, she took her hand off the stone. Darkness descended. Touching the stone, the odd light returned like being in a photography darkroom that was illuminated by a single red bulb. Similar stones glowed up and down the wall at varying levels, but they were only noticeable when Sabrina touched the stone under her hand. The opposite wall was equally adorned.
The stone was unlike any sort of light switch Sabrina had ever seen before and, noticing Shelby’s lack of reaction, assumed the dog was unaffected by the glow. The miniature collie still sniffed the air as though she could not see a thing. On a hunch, Sabrina dug her fingernails into the dirt around the stone. She managed to pry it loose and held it in the palm of her hand. It was about the size of a nectarine, its multi-faceted surface uneven, like an uncut ruby. Bending down on one knee, she placed the stone to the dog’s body. Shelby started, then glanced about, blinking. She looked up at Sabrina with a silly dog-grin and began nuzzling her owner’s neck.
Sabrina scooped the dog into her arms and rose, making sure the stone was in contact with both of them. She did not know why it should be, but the stone gave them the ability to see in the dark, like a soldier with night-vision goggles. In this manner, they continued along the passage, wondering whether they would ever find their way out of this weird underground world.
Sabrina stopped still when, from around the bend, came the eerie sounds of voices, heavy footsteps, rattling chains, moans and groans.
Not friendly sounds…