|Awoken, Part 1|
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No infringement is intended in any part by the author, however, the ideas expressed within this story are copyrighted to the author.
|A Heath and Audra Mystery|
"Heath, look at it - isnít this a lovely tent? They must be selling some beautiful things in there. Letís come and see what they have, please?"---Audra grabbed her brother's sleeve as both of them were walking past the large tent with a sign "Ramonaís Antiques" next to it.
It was a late afternoon in Stockton, and not too many people were in the streets. Heath Barkley sighed deeply, seeing how fascinated his sister became, noticing this rather unusually looking store. Heath already regretted that he had agreed to accompany Audra on her trip to the dressmaker. His sister had begged him to do that for her - she needed his honest opinion about the dress that she was going to wear to the party, which their mother and her were organizing a day after tomorrow. Being the only man in a dressmakerís shop, filled with women, giggling at him, Heath felt like an idiot, but a promise was a promise...
"Heath, please!!! I really want to go in there!"--- She pleaded.
"Audra, Iíve been ridiculed for an hour and a half at your dressmakerís, where, by the way, you could have gone on your own without me..."---He started out saying, hoping to talk his sister into going home, but Audra interrupted.
"But I couldnít, Heath. I needed an honest opinion of an experienced gentleman. I couldnít ask Nick, you know how he is...and Jarrod is always busy... I really like Benjamin, and I want to look my prettiest for him."---She answered seriously, looking at her brother, and Heath unwillingly smiled at her sweet explanation. His sister was the most beautiful girl in Stockton, and she was determined to be the most fashionable one as well.
"Audra, this dress was absolutely perfect on you, and I will never believe that you couldnít have been satisfied with an honest opinion of other twenty-five women in there. Now...I am hungry and tired. Letís go home. You can come here tomorrow if you want, but right now I am exhausted."---He protested, taking her hand in his, and pulling her away from the tent.
"Heath, there may be something interesting inside... Donít you see how unusual it looks? It says that they sell antiques there, maybe even some fancy jewelry!"---She begged her brother, looking at the entrance.
"Audra, some other time..."- Heath started out firmly, but he should have known better, who he was dealing with: his sister suddenly pulled her hand back, and started walking towards the tent, never minding his protests.
"Audra!"---Heath called her name, knowing in advance that it was completely useless. This was the last thing that he needed right now - why wasnít his sister listening to him? Why were all women so much into shopping? Couldnít they find some other, possibly more useful ways to spend their time? Stores like that were drawing Audra like magnets, and he didnít have any choice now but follow her.
"Heath, you can wait for me outside if you want, it will only take a minute. Most likely, no other customers are in there, so it shouldnít take too long!"---She addressed him, approaching the tent, and quickly disappearing inside.
"Thatís what scares me,"---Heath muttered to himself, trying to catch up with her. He was tired, desperate to get home, and Audra was plainly ignoring that. Why was his sister so stubborn?
As soon as he walked into the tent, Heath practically bumped into Audra, who was standing at the entrance, looking around this tent with an interest. A long table with various things scattered on it, four large chests at the corners, and several chairs with different kinds of materials were the only furniture inside. There were also several burning candles on the table, creating the aura of mystery and filling the hot air with a specific unfamiliar smell. Heath felt like Audra slowly reached for his hand and gently squeezed it. He looked at her surprised: was she now intimidated?
"Welcome..."--- Suddenly, both he and Audra heard a voice, and a minute later a tall woman, appeared from behind the curtains, which were dividing the tent into two parts; she made several steps forward, and was now standing behind the table.
She looked more than just little strange: her long red hair was very curly and thick, covering her shoulders and even her chest; her clear green eyes were looking at them as if she was expecting something from the visitors, and her face features were very unusual. She looked like a foreigner, and was wearing a long brown dress, resembling a nightgown, with several heavy necklaces and different bracelets. Heath frowned, seeing how wrinkled and thin her hands were, sharply contrasting with her facial flawless skin. It looked as if this womanís body was one hundred years old, but her head was from someone much younger.
"Do you have any necklaces?" - Audra inquired, breaking an uncomfortable silence, and walking towards the table.
"They are on this side of the table, Child."---With her right hand this woman showed to her left, where the variety of different boxes and gemstones were available for selection. Audra quickly approached the table, and Heath followed her, hoping that his sister would make up her mind quickly.
The glitter from the various stones and gems for a moment blinded both of them, but Audra quickly reached out for the necklace with several large pink gems and picked it up. In the shadow of the candles, gemstones seemed as if they were changing their different shades of pink, and even Heath for a moment seemed fascinated. He has never seen stones like that before. Slowly, he reached out and picked up that small jewelry box, decorated with several white gems, but made from a thin crystal glass. Holding it in his hands, Heath was amazed at how light it weighted.
Neither Heath nor Audra noticed that the woman was still looking at them with an interest in her eyes, paying attention to what they were selecting from the assortment of goods that she had on the table. Finally, she seemed to have had enough of watching these brother and sister, and addressed Audra in her monotone voice.
"This isnít your stone, Child."
Woman approached them and reached for a necklace, lying on the side. It consisted of a long gold chain and a bright red stone on it, in the gold setting. Extending it to Audra, she softly advised:
"Garnet will be more fitting, and it will match your new dress perfectly,"---She smiled, looking at that large box, which Heath was carrying under his arm, and a red piece of cloth sticking out of it.
Audra smiled, putting down the pink necklace and taking this new one into her hands, grateful for this womanís advice. It was indeed very beautiful, maybe even more beautiful that the one that she was looking at before; and Audra honestly answered:
"It is so lovely, maíam..."
"Ramona,"---The woman corrected, and looked at Heath with her gentle smile. He was still holding the crystal jewelry box in his hands, looking at the white stones, decorating it. She saw it too many times -- men being dragged inside her tent by their mothers, wives, sisters or fiancées, who then looked even more fascinated with the things that she had to offer than their women.
"This necklace belongs with this jewelry box that your brother is holding. He is your brother, isnít her?"---Woman asked Audra.
"Yes, he is my brother. How did you know?"---Audra said, for a moment forgetting about this beautiful necklace in her hands, but Ramona only nodded.
"Simple guess... I am afraid that I canít sell this necklace to you just by itself. You will have to buy the jewelry box also. I already said that these two pieces belong together."---She explained and Audra took a good look at the crystal box -- Heath was still holding it in his hands, and it indeed looked breathtaking.
"Of course, Ramona... How much will it be?" --Audra said, and hearing this, Heath immediately reached for money in his front pocket, almost dropping the box. The sight of the precious box almost going through his hands, made Ramona jump towards Heath that same instant. Nevertheless, just in time Heath managed to catch it and quickly put it on the table, wondering why his clumsiness prompted such a strange reaction. They were going to pay for it anyway, so what was the big deal?
"My God..."---Woman whispered putting her hands over the box, which was now lying safely on the table, as if making sure that it was still in one piece. She lifted it up and was closely looking for any scratches, hoping that there werenít any...
"I am sorry..."---Heath uttered, catching puzzlement in Audraís eyes: she was also surprised by this womanís reaction.
"Be careful... If you break it...you may anger the spirits..."---Woman said quietly, still looking at this box, and both siblings could hear now that she was talking with a light accent.
Behind her back, Heath caught Audraís eyes and nodded to the door. This lady was obviously, insane and they had to get going. It was getting late, and his sister had found a perfect necklace to go with her dress... Audra nodded back to him, still holding a necklace in her hands, and repeated her question, which wasnít answered, because of the previous commotion:
"How much is it?"
Woman finally put the box on the table and looked at Audra:
Heath quickly counted the money and Ramona took it from him, just as quickly putting them into her pocket.
"If you decide to return it -- I will take it back if only if itís not broken. However, I will not return your money."
"Why should I decide to return it?"---Audra frowned not understanding what the lady meant, and feeling Heath taking her by the hand and slowly leading her away. This woman was without any doubt very strange, but now Audra was simply extending her the common courtesy.
"People usually do..."---Woman smiled again, looking somewhat perplexed at the young people, and strangely leaning her head on the shoulder. Brother and sister quickly exchanged the glances, and Heath was the first to bid their farewell:
"We really should be on our way... Thank you for all your help...Audra, címon!"---He took Audra by the hand after she picked up the jewelry box, and this time firmly led her away. His sister got what she wanted, and he sincerely hoped that they would finally get home.
Once, they left the tent and were now walking towards their buggy, Heath finally let his sisterís hand go and addressed her:
"As a matter of fact -- yes, I am!"---Audra answered not without the notes of sarcasm in her voice, suddenly attempting to put the necklace on, thus handing the jewelry box to Heath.
"Hold it, and donít drop! Have you seen how jumpy this lady became once you let it go?"---Audra uttered, putting the necklace on. She just had to try it on now -- already knowing, how beautiful it will look on her with her knew red dress. This strange woman, Ramona, was right -- it was absolutely perfect for her and on her, making her look mysterious.
Heath got inside the buggy and extended his hand to his sister, honestly observing:
"Sis, it looks pretty on you!"
Audra smiled, taking seat next to him, and getting a jewelry box back from her brotherís hands, answered:
ĎThank you, Heath!"
She felt wonderful wearing it, and she was sure that Benjamin, the young man whom sheís been seeing for two weeks now, would complement her taste at how this necklace was completing her outfit. With a smile on her face Audra put the jewelry box on her knees, and at that same instant, she suddenly felt as it was burning her knees through her dress:
"OUCH!"---She screamed, pushing it back, and at that moment, Heath, who was about to start the horse towards the ranch, caught the box again in the air just in time:
"Now, Sis, you almost dropped it not me! What is it?"---He asked, seeing that she was rubbing her knee.
"It...it burnt me!"---Audra said, looking down, and Heath added:
"Donít be silly. The weather is hot, and if we visit one more store on our way home, than we will start burning. I will put the box on the back seat..."--- Heath said, turning and putting it away, and Audra smiled, finally catching her breath. Perhaps, he was right -- she was feeling something that wasnít there, and in such intense heat it wasnít unusual.
"I suppose, you are right."---She echoed her thoughts, and added.
"Now, Big Brother, letís go home. I canít wait to hear what Mother says, when she sees it!"
"Sorry that we are late!"- Audra announced, entering the dining room with Heath several steps behind her, taking off his cowboy hat.
Victoria Barkley, and her sons, Jarrod and Nick were sitting at the dinner table, at once turning their heads to Heath and Audra, now walking into the room and heading towards their places at the dinner table. They were absent for several hours in this heat, and now both of them looked very tired, but unlike Heath who seemed rather gloomy, Audra was widely smiling.
"Mother, the dress is absolutely beautiful! You were so right to suggest that particular style, and the color is just amazing. I just canít wait for you to see it!"---Audra blurted out, unfolding a napkin and putting it on her knees.
"I can guess that, dear, since you are practically glowing. How was your trip to the dressmaker?" -- Victoria asked, noticing how exhausted both of her children looked.
"We spent three hours at the dressmakerís. It took her an hour and a half to finish sewing up the laces, and another hour and a half to... What?"---Audra started out slowly, but immediately frowned, seeing how Heath, who was sitting direct opposite from her, suddenly shook his head.
Noticing the smirk on her Brother Nickís face and the way Jarrod and Victoria were trying to hide their smiles, Audra realized what she has done, suddenly, putting a hand over her mouth, but it was too late.
"WE?"---Nick turned to Heath, on the verge of laughter, and Audraís belated explanation wasnít much of help:
"Oh... I meant that I spent... I meant... Oh, Heath, I am sorry..."---She looked at her brother, feeling so incredibly bad for breaking her word, and hoping that he knew that she didnít mean to do it. Heath, of all people, agreed to go there with her on one condition that nobody would find out about it, and just now she completely blew it.
"Thanks a lot, Sis,"---Heath muttered, taking a sip of cold water from the glass, already knowing what remarks were going to follow from the brother, sitting next to him. He didnít have to wait for too long:
"So, Heath, how was the experience? Did you get a dress also?"---Nick, sarcastically asked, grinning at him, but Audra, feeling incredibly guilty jumped in at her brotherís defense.
"Shut up, Nick! As a matter of fact..."---She started out angrily in a loud voice, only to be interrupted by her mother.
"Now, Audra, calm down... I am sure that it was a huge sacrifice on Heathís part, and I applaud him for that. To be honest, even I cannot sit through these endless fittings and last minute fixes..."---Victoria winked at Heath, and he silently moved his lips, saying Ďthank youí. Before Nick or Jarrod could go any further humiliating her youngest son, Victoria Barkley continued.
"What is it you are wearing, dear? Very pretty necklace,"---She glanced at her daughter, remembering that she hasnít seen a necklace so beautiful and delicate in Audraís collection of jewelry.
"Do you like it, Mother? It isnít a ruby - itís a garnet, and there is also a very beautiful jewelry box that goes with it. Heath, show them!"---Audra asked, and Heath reached for the crystal box still in the pocket of his jacket, moments later getting it out.
"Mother, believe it or not, I found it in the antique shop, the strangest place..."---Audra explained, seeing that all eyes at the table were now fixated on the jewelry box, so shiny and glittering that it was drawing all the attention.
"Why...the strangest?"---Nick finally asked, taking the box in his hands, and looking at the stones decorating it, as Heath answered this time.
"The store where we got this jewelry box from, is run by a strange woman, but the things that she has there are so beautiful, Nick, even I couldnít take my eyes off some of them."-He confessed.
"Do you know what the name of that place is? It actually, sounds rather unusual..."---Jarrod addressed Heath.
"Ramonaís Antiques"...right, Audra? I havenít seen it before in Stockton. It looks like the lady, who owns it moves quite a bit, since the store itself is a tent. She sure looked odd..."---Heath explained, and Audra joined in.
"This woman, Ramona, mentioned something about spirits, and there were candles everywhere in that shop of hers, and the strangest smell... I wanted to stay longer and pick out some other things, but Heath, practically, dragged me out of there."---Audra complained, making a grimace at her blond brother.
"After all those hours at the dressmaker I had a full right to do that, Sis!"---Heath defended his actions, and when Audra was almost ready to voice her objections, Jarrod slowly uttered, looking at both of them.
"Did you say that her name was Ramona?"---Jarrod frowned thinking that it was ringing a bell in his mind, but he couldnít remember where he heard it.
"Yes. I thought that she was Irish, because her hair was very long, red and curly, but her accent wasnít European ..."---Audra tried to help out, forgetting all about Heathís teasing, and Jarrod suddenly remembering, exclaimed.
"Of course - Ramona Santiago... Thatís her name, if we are talking about the same person. She fits this description, and she used to run the store just like the one you described. Did she seem strange to you in some peculiar way?"---Jarrod asked, happy that he recalled this womanís name. He had been an attorney in so many cases for the past years that sometimes he was forgetting the names associated with them, but this one was different...
"Strange? We thought that she was insane -- her manner to talk, to treat the objects -- she was actually talking to this jewelry box after I almost dropped it... Do you know her?"---Heath asked, seeing that Nick finally put the box down on the table.
"I came across her case couple of times. My friend was her attorney, appointed by the state of California, and it was around the time, when I visited him in San Jose. Anyhow...this was certainly one interesting trial,"---Jarrod said, taking a sip of water.
"What do you mean by interesting?"---Victoria asked, noticing that her children seemed to be very interested in the history of this unknown woman.
"I donít remember all the details, but a lot of people were waiting outside the courtroom, which was also filled with people. I went there couple times to see her testimony: this Ramona was quite a character then, trying to prove that she did nothing wrong. I donít remember exactly, what were those accusations. Though, the crowds outside the courtroom were sure that she was a witch...."
"A witch?"---Nick interrupted, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh...I donít think that she was a witch, and she denied it. She was a very strange person,"---Jarrod shook his head, and continued.
"Although, really strange things were happening in the places, where she used to live... Nobody ever died but several people, living next to her tent ended up in asylums, claiming that they saw ghosts going through their rooms at night, heard voices and saw things that were not there... Eventually, people refused having her around, and itís interesting that she should come here... I donít think that she is a threat to anybody, but she is definitely not stable,"---Jarrod finished, remembering this, perhaps, the strangest case that he has witnessed
"Was she found guilty?"---Audra asked, with her eyes wide opened, fascinated with the story. Could that strange lady really be a witch?
"In witchcraft? Of course, not...the case was dismissed. This whole thing seemed rather amusing to me at the time, totally blown out the proportion. Though, people became very upset once they found out, and she had to leave. It was about two years ago, and I am surprised that she stayed in California,"---Jarrod finished, getting up from the table.
"Now, family, if you will excuse me -- I have some work to do in the library. Audra, I agree with the rest - your jewelry looks beautiful on you,"---He winked at his sister leaving the dining room, and Nick was the next one to get up.
"Heath, you wanna join the poker game? Men have decided to get together after the dinner."---Nick suggested, straightening out his black leather jacket.
"Count me out, Brother Nick,"---Heath answered also rising, and added.
"Thank you for a wonderful dinner, Mother. Nick, I am tired like hell -- I think that I will check in early today. Itís 9 already..."
"Good night, dear,"---Victoria smiled at Heath, hoping that he would get some rest, because he really looked like he needed it.
"Good night, Mother... Audra..."---Heath addressed both women, walking towards Nick, who was waiting for him at the door.
"Heath, thank you for coming with me!"---Audra called, and Heath answered, turning to her with a smile:
"Donít mention it..."
Once both men disappeared behind the door, Audra looked at her mother, who was still finishing her tea, and asked quietly:
"Mother, do you believe in witches?"
At first, Victoria Barkley thought that her daughter was joking, but seeing how puzzled Audra looked, she now hoped that she could joke it off:
"Is your next question going to be about Santa Claus?"
"I am serious. Do you?"---Audra insisted, somehow feeling very uneasy about Jarrodís explanations and his remembrance of this strange sales woman.
"Audra, weíve been all over this, when you were six! I thought that it was much harder than that to frighten you, but it turns out that right after your brother mentions some old silly story, you become all shaky about it. Jarrod confirmed that the lady was strange, and I suggest that you stop thinking about it..." -- Victoria said, getting up and putting the napkin on the table. Then she quickly walked past her daughter, who was still looking mysteriously into space:
"Darling, finish it up, so that I can see how your new dress looks on you and, please, untwist your necklace! It doesnít look pretty this way -- long chain doesnít mean that you can twirl it like that around you neck. I will be waiting for you in the living room."
With these words Victoria Barkley walked out of the room in a fast pace, leaving Audra sitting alone at the table, and staring at her long necklace. The chain, holding the large garnet was indeed twisted as if someone has spent several minutes twirling it around, and Audra slowly reached for it... She couldnít speak and was only looking at it bewildered: it wasnít making any sense, because this same chain was untwisted, when she and her brother joined their family for dinner, and Audra hasnít touched it since...hapter 3
After taking her necklace off and putting it inside the jewelry box standing on the table, Audra Barkley slowly walked across the room towards her bed. It was well past the midnight, and she just finished decorating the hall with various bright ribbons and ornaments, trying to make it look more colorful. The party itself was scheduled for the day after tomorrow, and with her motherís active help and suggestions - Audra was doing her best, making sure that everything looked just perfect.
She glanced at the crystal jewelry box, so shiny and glittering even at the night light of a candle, and frowned, thinking about what happened to her right after dinner. She hasnít told her mother about the necklace twisted around her neck, not wanting to get another lecture... Victoria Barkley was the most understanding person she knew, always a voice of reason, and as much as she wished, Audra just couldnít confess to her about how strange sheís been feeling this evening. Right after her brotherís story, there suddenly was this uneasiness in the air, and a weird sense that someone has been watching her from the distance... Audra quietly sat down on her bed, and with her hand straightened out the cover:
"Maybe, I was so busy listening to Jarrodís story that I twisted this necklace myself? I could have done that..."---She wondered for a moment, but then shook her head in despair. This just wasnít possible, because she remembered clearly her hands on the table in front of her all the time, not even remotely close to her necklace... Feeling the cold fear inside of her, Audra shivered, trying to make it go away:
"Thereís got to be some explanation for all of that, and Mother is absolutely right: I am not a child to believe in things like ghosts or witches or monsters living in my room... Tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I bet that I will not even remember any of it!"---Audra thought, suddenly feeling so much more comfortable with herself, knowing that now she was prepared to go to sleep.
She inhaled deeply, bending over and blowing out the candle, standing next to her on the nightstand. Then Audra took her sleepers off, feeling how her feet touch the cold floor, giving her goose bumps. When she turned her head to the window, now ready to get under the covers, what she suddenly saw outside of it made her froze...
A woman, dressed in white with a long dark hair, covering her shoulders, was directly looking at Audra. Her face seemed just as white as her gown, her mouth was slightly open and her dark lips were moving, as if she was trying to say something to Audra, still perplexed and staring at her with the eyes widely opened. The woman in white seemed to be slowly approaching the window, getting closer and closer...and then, suddenly with her hand in a wide sleeve she made a gesture, inviting Audra to join her...
Few seconds passed at most, but they seemed to Audra Barkley, paralyzed with fear and unable to move, as an eternity. However, as soon as she saw this gesture, directed towards her and the woman slowly approaching, yet still outside, as quickly as she could, Audra jumped off her bed and started running towards the door, never minding the cold floor and forgetting her robe... She needed to get out of her bedroom before this creature could come any closer.
Once in the corridor, Audra, still unable to scream or speak, raced towards her motherís room, following the first instinct in her heart, but stopped halfway: what was she going to tell her? She couldnít go in there...not after the conversation that they had right after dinner. How would she tell Victoria Barkley that there was a ghost right outside her window? Audra looked to her right: this was the Heathís room -- they spent all day together, and if he doesnít believe her now, then nobody ever will. As these thoughts were crossing her mind, suddenly, the door of her bedroom at the end of this long corridor, the bedroom that she just came from, was suddenly shut as if someone has slammed it with all the force, and not waiting any longer Audra rushed into her brotherís room.
As soon as she entered, closing the door behind her, she headed towards the bed, where Heath was sleeping, and started shaking him gently, trying to wake him up. That thing was still out there, maybe behind her, and she was incredibly frightened:
"Heath...Heath! Wake up! Heath, please, wake up!"---She yelled, looking back, making sure that the door was indeed closed.
Heath, sleepy and not understanding, what was happening, finally opened his eyes, slowing awakening from his dream and now looking at his frightened sister:
"What...whatís happening? What time is it?"
"Heath...Heath, there is a lady...there is a woman in my room! I think that she is a ghost..."---Audra whispered loudly, trying to control her emotions, but she was visibly shaken.
Heath tried to open his eyes, still not sure in what exactly has been going on, and sat down on his bed. His sister was in her nightgown, and kept turning around as if she was afraid that someone has been following her. Has he heard her correctly? A ghost?
"What did you just say?"---Heath asked, trying to look normal, but it was hard to keep his eyes from closing -- this was a very long day for him, and it looked now that he wasnít going to get a goodnight rest either.
"There is a ghost, right outside my window... It just slammed the door of my bedroom!"
"Audra, I am tired... If this is one of your jokes..."---Heath muttered, turning away from his sister towards the wall, and pulling the cover up to his ears. This was one very long and exhausting day for him, and he wasnít interested to see what his sister was up to now.
"Heath...Heath!"---Audra shook his shoulder, pleading.
"I am not crazy: I saw it -- the woman outside my window standing and staring at me. Heath, I am so scared. You must believe me!"---She whispered with her voice breaking.
Heath turned to her, hearing a desperate notes in his sisterís voice: Audra was visibly upset, all shaky and trying hard to hold it together. Seeing so much fear in her eyes, Heath was now realizing that she wasnít pulling a prank on him, still...what she was saying just didnít sound normal.
"Did Nick send you in here?"---He was still trying to come up with some explanation for his sisterís unusual nervousness and such odd behavior.
"Why donít you believe me? She was there, Heath, right outside my window, and then...then she started approaching as if she wanted to... Oh, Heath, she is out there! She is in my room!"---Audra almost screamed, and Heath, seeing that she wasnít kidding, now tried to calm her down, slowly getting up.
"Audra, calm down or you will wake up the house. Now...youíre saying that someone was outside your window. Do you mean that someone was standing on the ground under your bedroom window?"---He hoped to get a clear answer from her. This could have been some neighbor or some girl...
"No! Heath, she was right outside, not on the ground!"---Audra shook her head, looking at him.
"Audra, you bedroom is on the second floor..."---Heath slowly said.
"You think that I donít know that? It wasnít a dream or a vision -- she was there...Heath, the necklace and that woman in the tent-- Jarrod said that she was a witch! Heath, we must return it..."---Audra was almost crying now, and Heath saw that she was terrified.
"Now, calm down... Let me go in there and check..."---He suggested, but she interrupted.
"No! I am not staying here by myself!"---She shook her head in despair, with her hands trembling, and after seeing the uncertain look in her brotherís eyes, quietly whispered:
"You donít believe me, do you?"
"Audra, I do, but... Sometimes people may see things that are not there, and that doesnít mean that you are crazy or anything. Itís been a long day for all of us - you and Mother were so busy with all the preparations for the party. Now...letís go there and see if this...this thing is still there."---He suggested, seeing that slowly she was calming down.
Audra was looking at her brother, understanding that he had a point. There werenít any witches in their house, and she knew it... Heath was right again, and she just panicked. What if this woman was a vision or a product of her imagination? She felt different after finding out about the life of this sales woman, this Ramona... But why was it so real? Why could she still see it in her mind?
"Heath..."---Audra whispered, knowing that she just couldnít go back there, not even with him and not this night.
"What?"---Heath frowned, still feeling her cold trembling hands on his.
"I didnít imagine this... She was right there staring at me!"---Audra looked at her brother, barely controlling her voice, and Heath got closer to her asking softly.
"All right... My room is exactly like yours only at this side of the house. Both our windows have a view to the garden. Audra, pretend that this is your room, okay?"---He tried his best to sound reasonable and calm, so that she could believe that whatever she saw wasnít really there.
Audra nodded, wiping off the sweat from her forehead, as Heath continued.
"Now... If this is your room, then your bed is right by that wall over there, where my table is, and your closet is where we are right now. Show me from here, where did you see this person?"
Audra moved her hand to her left, as both she and Heath were now looking at the window, exactly like the one in her room, except that the curtains on its both sides were longer and from the different material. Finally, she pointed with her finger directly at the middle of it:
Suddenly, right after these words were spoken, both curtains left and right drew into each other, as if someone standing there had released the strings that were holding them apart, and even after the window was completely covered, the curtains still seemed to be moving....
Heath, was now staring at them, not believing in what had just happened, and feeling how Audra leaned towards him, whispering:
"Do you believe me now?"hapter 4
The jewelry box is broken, and its pieces are scattered everywhere around him... Glass is all over the floor, covering it completely, and it is impossible not to step on it...but where is this necklace? Where is this darn necklace? Why doesnít he see it anywhere in these splinters? He is looking everywhere, and still it is not among the broken glass, nor is it under it. It is hard to move, but he has to find this necklace, and make sure that it is in one piece... Heís just got to find it...
Heath Barkley turned his head on the pillow, slowly opening his eyes to the daylight, and realizing that the agony of his search was just a dream that seemed more like a nightmare. He was now lying on the small couch, standing next to his bed, so hard and bumpy that no wonder his dream wasnít pleasant...
Audra was sitting at his side, gently shaking his shoulder, looking relieved that he had finally opened his eyes:
"Are you all right? You were looking for something in your sleep..."
He smiled at Audra, slowly getting up, and feeling so numb in every part of his body: he and his sister stayed up almost all night, just after she rushed into his room, telling him that there was a ghost outside her window. She was scared, refusing to go back to her bedroom, pleading with him to believe her, and he didnít have a nerve to object... Soon both of them witnessed something strange happening with the curtains in his room, and after that he suggested that she would try to get some rest on his bed, whereas he would take his place on the couch. He hoped that morning would put some light on what has been going on, and he was sure that there would be some very good explanation for all of this.
Heath, now sitting on the couch, saw his sister taking a place next to him, and finally looked at the window - curtains were still drawn in, and he knew for sure that Audra hasnít touched them. After they stopped moving as if some wind was making doing that, he and his sister were sitting on the bed next to each other, and Heath tried his best to calm her down, not so sure that he fully believed in what he was saying... When he saw her falling asleep just couple hours later - the exhaustion of one long day and a strange night finally took over.
"Are you up already? Itís still early..."---Heath muttered, turning to her. His body was aching badly, after spending the few hours of his sleep in this extremely uncomfortable position on the couch.
"Heath, letís go and return it."---Audra said quietly, not looking at her brother and also not moving. She looked just as tired as he did, and yet she sounded very determined.
"You mean...the jewelry?"
Audra nodded, glancing at him, as Heath slowly responded:
"It goes so well with your new dress, and we donít know for sure what it was..."
His sister didnít answer, as she kept staring at him, and in her eyes Heath could see that Audra was certain that this jewelry was just the cause of these strange events...curtains movements at least. Should he tell her about his dream? It seemed so real, and Heath still felt the despair, realizing that the box was broken... What could it mean...and for that matter, why did it have to mean anything? There was nothing wrong with his sisterís new jewels, and Heath had to try to make her understand, that these were only their fears.
"Audra, listen to me: I am not saying that everything that happened last night wasnít real...I know what we saw, but if we think about it now...it could have been a wind or something..."
"Your window was closed, and what about that woman?"---Audra didnít let him finish, knowing exactly where her brother was going with this. Heath couldnít deny this now, not after this horrible frightening night!
"Audra, there are no such things as ghosts..."---Heath tried to go on proving his point, only to be interrupted by his sister again.
"Several hours ago you thought differently!"---She insisted.
Heath looked at her, slowly deciding to give up: he was tired, and if she wanted to do that, then he would go along with her decision.
"All right..."---Heath said, getting up.
"Will you go and get dressed? I will meet you downstairs in a few minutes. Try to be quick -- weíd better come back before breakfast... Audra, what is it?"---Heath rose from the bed, not feeling in any way rested, when he saw her shaking his head. What was it now?
"Heath, I am afraid to go there..."
"For heavenís sake, Audra - in the daylight?"---Heath sounded rude, but this was beginning to irritate him.
Audra exhaled, biting her lips: she wasnít a child, and she couldnít have had Heath, following her everywhere for the rest of the day. Finally, she nodded, walking towards the door:
"I will be ready in a few minutes."
As soon as she walked out, Heath took off his shirt, reaching for a fresh one lying on the chair, next to his bed, and started putting it on, then he picked up his boots. Inside, he still felt a little embarrassed about what had happened last night, admitting to himself that Audraís behavior was excusable, whereas his wasnít... He should have approached the window and see why the curtains were moving... It could have gotten opened.
Heath looked up, now with his boots on and walked towards the window. Slowly he drew the curtains apart, and the bright sunlight blinded him, making it difficult to see anything for a moment. Window was indeed close, and a moment later, he reached for the right rope of one of the curtains. When Heath finally found it, hanging lose at the side, it felt very different in his hand, and he stepped aside, taking a good look at it: it was twisted...
Frowning, Heath started untwisting it, not knowing how in the world this could have happened, and reached for the second rope from the other curtain. It was also twisted... Both these ropes were made of several soft strings, and were now twirled in such a strange way that it wasnít making any sense to him or whatsoever. Heath sighed, slowly untwisting the first rope, when a terrifying scream filled the house. Was it Audraís voice? Was it her?
Heath practically raced towards the door, then out into the corridor and towards his sisterís bedroom as fast as he could, praying that she was all right. As soon as he ran into her room, he stopped, seeing Audra, sitting squatted on the floor, surrounded by the broken glass. He had seen it somewhere, this same glass... He had seen this happening before it had happened, but where?
Quickly, he walked towards her, as she was staring at the floor, holding several pieces in her left hand, and something else in the other hand.
"Audra, what happened? Are you hurt?"
She didnít answer, still looking at the floor, but both her hands were shaking.
"Audra, what is it?"---Heath insisted, forgetting all about the broken glass.
His sister suddenly looked up at him and Heath could see that she was crying:
"Heath, I...I reached for the hairbrush and touched the...the box with my elbow, and it fell..."
Heath glanced at the floor seeing that these were the pieces from that jewelry box, finally realizing that he saw this in his dream, just when Audra had woken him up. He shook his head, trying to think logically.
"Audra, are you hurt? Why did you scream?
She frowned, wiping off her tears and uttered:
"You! Just now... Thatís why I ran all the way here."---Heath explained, not noticing any bruises on her hands or arms, and also seeing that she was holding a necklace in her other hand.
"I didnít scream, Heath..."---Audra calmly replied, slowly putting this garnet necklace on the broken glass.
"Audra, I heard you screaming..."---Heath insisted, but his sister interrupted him.
He looked at her eyes, noticing how unusually pale her face was: did she see this lady again? She was now staring at this necklace in front on her on the floor, and its red large stone was sharply contrasting with the color of her skin. Was he hearing things now? If this wasnít his sister screaming, then who was it?
"Why are you looking at this necklace like that?"---Heath asked.
"Heath, I put it in the jewelry box last night, before I went to bed. When I came in - it was lying on my bed."---She whispered, finally looking at her big brother, and in her tired eyes Heath could read terror.
"Are you absolutely sure?"---He demanded, picking up the necklace, as she quietly responded.
"Heath, this thing is still in here, maybe looking at us..."
Once in his hands, Heath suddenly felt short of breath, staring at this jewelry. It was twisted, just like the ropes, which were holding the curtains in his room. What all of this could mean? Did his sister do this?
"Did you twist it?"---He finally asked, not recognizing his own voice.
Audra shook her head, without saying a word.hapter 5
"Are we there yet?"
Audraís voice reached Heath, as they were riding in their buggy towards Stockton. It was still very early in the morning, and the road seemed empty, with few other people riding past them occasionally in the direction of the city. Heath glanced at her, sitting next to him on the front seat, and calmly replied.
"Couple more miles..."
He didnít know why they were doing this: Audra insisted on going back to this tent, and hasnít said much to him since they left the house. It was seven oíclock in the morning, and Heath hoped that they would be back at the ranch before breakfast, hopefully, in nicer moods, so that the rest of the family wouldnít suspect anything. What was there to suspect? In the light of the day, Heath was now absolutely sure that whatever they witnessed last night was their imaginations, though Audra has obviously seemed to be thinking differently.
Heath stealthily looked at her with a corner of his eye, frowning: she was clutching the small green bag with her both hands, as if she was afraid that it would fall down. He could see that his sister felt guilty and uneasy after breaking the jewelry box, while she was trying to brush her hair, but no matter how hard he tried to convince her that there was nothing wrong with their house, still she felt that they needed to return the necklace that was still in one piece.
Heath, looked ahead, noticing the familiar tent, and the thoughts that he was trying to avoid all this morning were again coming back:
"If it wasnít Audra, who screamed then who was it? This was a womanís voice, and I just assumed that it was hers, but now that I think of it... It was so loud, and yet neither Mother nor Jarrod nor Nick, reacted. If they had heard it then they would have come to Audraís room for sure, just like I did. I probably heard it at that same moment, when the box hit the floor and fell apart...but what really bothers me is all that twisting that was happening -- it looks like someone has been doing this on purpose..."
Heath was so lost in his thoughts again, that this time Audra, gently shaking his arm brought him back to reality, as she pointed with her hand towards the tent, which was now rather close to them, and exclaimed:
Heath stopped the buggy, taking a good look: the tent could be seen very clearly from where they were right now, and the first odd thing that he noticed was that its color and letters on the sign "Ramonaís Antiques" were illegible. What were they supposed to do if this woman left the town? He couldnít care less, but Audra would probably get upset.
"Do you think that she isnít there? It looks empty from here."
Heath heard his sisterís voice, echoing his own thoughts and shrugged, still staring at the tent:
"Let me check it, just to make sure that nobodyís inside: give me this bag with the necklace, and I will leave it there...or maybe we will be able to find someone who can return this to her..."---Heath started, looking at his sister, but she didnít let him finish.
"Heath, look...there is somebody!"
Heath looked up, immediately noticing a woman in a long dress of a very light color, very unclear from the distance, leaving the tent and walking towards them. As she was getting closer, both siblings could see that this wasnít that crazy old redhead, who sold them the jewels last evening. This woman was very young, was probably in her late teens or early twenties, wearing rather old-fashioned white dress with many unnecessary shabby laces, as she kept walking towards them with her long dark hair flying in the wind.
"Give me the bag, and stay here. I will ask her what is going on,"---Heath quickly said to his sister, jumping on the ground and taking the small green bag from her. He was determined now to put a stop to all of this.
Heath walked around the buggy to the side where Audra was sitting, as he noticed right away that the young girl still kept approaching, as if she knew that both he and his sister had ridden all the way down here just to meet the owner of the tent. He attempted to make several steps towards her, when she was rather close, but all of a sudden, the young woman raised her right hand, gesturing him to stand still.
Heath stopped, being just several feet away both from the buggy and from the stranger; and looked at this young girl more carefully, as she also stopped. There was something unusual about her, not just this ugly old dress...something just didnít seem quite right with her eyes, and Heath couldnít figure out if she was looking at him or through him.
"My sister and I came to see..."---Heath started, but the young woman powerfully interrupted, answering his unasked question.
"Ramona is not here."---She said simply.
"We bought something from her yesterday, and we would like to return it. My sister changed her mind about this jewelry,"---Heath hurried to say, afraid of being interrupted again, as he was getting the garnet necklace out of the bag.
"Unfortunately, the jewelry box broke down, but hereís the necklace -- we donít want any money back for it. Can you give this to her?"---Heath asked, extending her the necklace.
There was a short pause, as this woman hasnít even glanced at the necklace, still looking at Heath as if she was studying his every mimic:
"I will keep it,"---Young girl said, taking the jewelry from him, not touching his hand, and turning away, ready to walk away.
Heath frowned, not quite understanding why she was so unfriendly or what her words could possibly mean. He and Audra wanted to get rid off this necklace, and it didnít really matter to them who would keep it, but why did she seem so mystic about it? Heath, seeing her leaving, was now almost ready to turn back and go to the buggy, when suddenly he saw this young woman stopping and looking over her left shoulder.
This time Heath was sure that she was looking past him, and as he turned back to see, who she was staring at, he noticed Audra, quite perplexed on the front seat of their buggy, also looking at this stranger... What was happening? Why did this girl stopped to look at Audra? Did his sister know her from somewhere?
A second later, a woman turned back, resuming her slow walk towards the tent, and determined to get things straight, Heath walked towards the buggy and addressed Audra, who was still looking at the disappearing figure.
"Why was she staring at you like that? Have you met before?"
Slowly, Audra shook her head.
"No, I didnít...but she looks familiar."
"Well...we returned this darn thing, are you happy now?"---He smiled at her, relieved that this business with the necklace was finally over, and catching his sisterís smile, Heath walked towards the other side of the buggy, quickly got inside and reached for the reins.
Minutes passed, as brother and sister have been riding back home in a complete silence, and even though, he was supposed to feel much better about it, Heath didnít think that them returning the necklace has made any difference, instead he still felt sort of funny about the whole incident:
"Why didnít I ask this girlís name? She looked rather strange, but maybe she needed some help..." -- He thought, but it was too late to go back if they still wanted to be at the ranch before breakfast, and he wasnít sure if he wanted to go back there: there was something odd about this young woman, something that he wasnít able to put his finger on.
Suddenly, Audra turned her head, looking back at the road behind them, and Heath could sense that something has been troubling her right this minute, yet she was just as quite as before. Was she thinking what he was thinking, that they should have asked this girlís name?
"I hope that we can make it home before eight, or else we will have a difficult time explaining everybody where we were. Little Sister, you seem to be so lost in your thoughts. Why are you looking back?"---Heath asked, not taking his eyes off the road, hoping to break this uncomfortable haunting silence between them. The problem was solved, then why wasnít Audra satisfied?
"Heath, this is she!"---Heath heard his sisterís words, and something in the tone of her voice told him to slow down.
"What are you talking about?"---He frowned, trying to stop the horse, and noticing with a corner of his eye his sister turning to him.
"The woman that I saw last night outside my window... This young girl, the one who took the necklace from you-- it was she! She was looking at me like that, and I didnít know why... Oh, Heath -- this was the ghost..."---Audra whispered putting a hand over her mouth and looking at her brother with her eyes wide opened. Was she going insane? She was no longer sure...
"Thatís it!"---Heath finally stopped the horse, and sharply turning to her took her hands in his, looking straight into her eyes. He had to stop this, and he had to stop this now -- he had enough of this nonsense, and he could no longer see how close to her heart his sister was taking all of this crap.
"Audra, listen to me! You wanted to bring the necklace back, because you thought that something was haunting it, right? We did this..."---Heath started, but Audra shook her head, interrupting:
"The jewelry box, Heath... Itís broken now; and that means that itís not over, even though, I threw away the pieces -- it is still not over..."---Audra protested loudly, and Heath could see how frightened she was.
"Audra, I said listen to me! There are no things like ghosts, and you should get this out of your head once and for all. Itís done. Itís over. I suggest that you forget about this, and start thinking about tomorrow party. I donít want to hear about this anymore, you hear? The necklace is out of the house, and the jewelry box is in the trash can, now if you donít have any other topics for discussion, then I suggest that we keep riding home in silence. I donít mean to be rough, Sis, but itís over, and you have to understand this!"
Heath finished his last sentence in a softer voice, releasing her hands and picking up the reins. He was tired hearing about her suspicions, and Audra knew this now. It was getting closer to eight oíclock, and they had to hurry now, if they still wanted to get to the ranch before breakfast.hapter 6
Nick Barkley put the large chest down, letting Heath open it, and lowered next to his brother on the floor. This evening Audra has asked them to look for some ornaments for her upcoming party, which she was certain, she put in one of the chests in the attic, but so far theyíve been quite unsuccessful in trying to locate them. Thick dust from the shelves and the chests was filling the air, making it at times difficult for both brothers to breath, and two candles on the small old table near by were providing just enough light to see what was inside these boxes.
"Thatís the last one. I sure hope that these decorations are in here, because if they are not, then Audra will just have to learn how to do without them,"---Nick announced, making himself comfortable on the floor, while Heath was opening chestís dust covered top.
"Actually, itís not so bad, Nick. I now get a rare chance to took at all that junk that were collecting in your childhood."---Heath assessed.
"What do you call junk, Boy?"---Nick loudly interrupted, looking very offended as he proceeded:
"Are you referring to the collection of my wooden soldiers?"
"And your collection of Indian feathers, and your collection of toy guns, and..."---Heath smiled, taking out some green shirt with a matching hat from this chest, and finished:
"...your Robin Hood costume!"
Now Heath was barely able to keep a straight face, imagining Nick as a boy running and yelling around the house in this old green clothes, probably sewed by their mother, but his brother quickly cut in, taking this costume away from Heath:
"Let me tell ya, Heath: one day my son will get this collection of wooden soldiers, and he will make your son jealous with my collection of guns, and..."---Nick kept on saying, when Heath interrupted, tightening his lips, which were unwillingly melting in a wide smile.
"Whatever you say, Robin,"
Nick was almost ready to throw his own comment at Heathís sarcastic remark, when both brothers saw their sister entering the attic and addressing them.
"How is it going? Do you need my help?"
"This is the last box, Audra, and it looks like that there are some old books in there and nothing else...Oh...and of course, Nickís Robin Hood costume. Boy howdy, Sis, you should have seen him a minute ago, when I got it out -- he looked so proud!"
"One more word from you, and..."---Nick warned, putting his costume on the bottom of the other empty chest, standing next to him, but once again Audraís comment saved Heath from their verbal fight:
"Mother asked Jarrod to ride with her to Stockton -- she has to buy some candlesticks. Dinner is on the table, in case two of you decide to have something to eat."---Audra announced, approaching and also smiling at Nick clutching his costume, as Heath winked to her.
"Sorry, Audra, but those ornaments that you are looking for are not here. Are you sure that you put them in one of those chests?"---He inquired, looking at the books, which Nick kept taking out of the box, after safely hiding his costume from their eyes.
"I donít know, Heath, I thought that I put them in here after the last party this April. Hm..."---Audra also lowered on the floor by her brothers.
"Wait a minute, something is in here!"---Nick addressed both of his siblings, with his right hand still inside the box, and a minute later finally getting out the small heart-shaped object with a pencil sticking through it.
"Look at this Heath, this used to be Audraís, and you will leave my Robin Hood costume alone, when you know what she and her friends did with this thing."---Nick said.
"Oh My God..."---Audra slowly reached for this object, taking it from Nickís hands and quietly uttered:
"I completely forgot that it was in here..."---She was now turning it around in her hands, dusting it off with the end of her sleeve.
"What is it?"---Heath asked with interest, not knowing what to think: he hadnít seen anything like this anywhere before, and wasnít sure, what Nick meant, but his brother didnít let him guess for too long.
"Donít know what it is? I donít blame ya, brother. About ten years ago, our Audra and her crazy friends would get together right here, in the attic, and using this thing will start communicating with the people from Beyond."---Nick explained, laughing.
"What?"---Heath frowned, when he heard Nickís explanation, noticing how carefully Audra was holding this object in her hands, not reacting in any way to Nickís sarcasm.
"Mother told us not to joke about this, but it was impossible. Can you believe that the girls are willing to do something so incredibly stupid just to have fun? This is beyond me..."---Nick confessed, but before he could finish, Audra looked at Heath, and quickly started saying:
"Heath, I completely forgot that I had it. If we..."---She looked Nick, with some suspicion in her blue eyes. What will he think of her, when she tells him? Will he also say that she imagined all this or maybe...he will believe her? Audra was willing to take the risk.
"If all three of us try communicating with this woman, we may know who she is and what she wants! Heath, this will prove that I am not crazy, and that she is still here...somehow, I just know it. What do you say?í
Staring at her, pleading with him, Heath shook his head in response:
"Audra, I am sick of hearing about it! There was no woman on the first place, and there is no ghost in here, and I refuse to even discuss..."---Heath started out passionately, but catching the strange words, Nick interfered.
"A ghost? Will somebody, please, explain me what the hell are you talking about?"
He saw how Heath was staring at their sister, and how worried she suddenly looked. Nick had no idea, what two of them were discussing, and whatever it was it sounded as an absurd. This time, Heath calmly answered:
"Nick, remember the jewelry that Audra bought, the box and the red necklace, which she was wearing last night?"---Feeling so uneasy about this whole thing, Heath asked the question, hoping that Nick wouldnít laugh right away. Why did Audra mention this to Nick? Now both of them were going to be very embarrassed...
Nick nodded, and Heath went on.
"You may also remember that Jarrod said that the woman, who sold these things to us was accused in a witchcraft... Anyhow, this has gotten into Audraís head, and last night, when she went to bed she imagined that there was a ghost outside her window..."---Heath couldnít finish, as Audra sharply cut in.
"I didnít imagine this, Heath. Why donít you believe me? What about the curtains drawing all by themselves, and necklace and ropes twisting on all their own?"---She demanded, no longer controlling her voice.
"How did you know about the ropes?"---Heath frowned: he didnít tell her about the ropes in his room, just like he didnít tell her about his strange dream, and he had no idea, how she knew about these ropes unless...she was the one who twirled them.
"Ropes in my room -- they were twisted, and last night after the dinner the necklace was also twirled around my neck, and if you donít believe me, you may ask Mother, because she saw it, and I...I didnít touch it..."---Audra was almost hysterical now, and Nick getting closer to her attempted to calm her down -- whatever this was, it didnít seem amusing to him, not after his sister reacting so emotionally.
"Calm down, Audra... Whatever youíve just mentioned thereís got to be some explanation."---He suggested.
"There isnít any, Nick."---Heath replied, after his sisterís explanation, knowing that Audra wasnít the one, who had done this.
"It doesnít make any sense...all of this... Jewelry box broke down this morning, and she thinks that it will cause only more trouble. We went back there to the tent, where we got it from, and returned it, but Audra is still unhappy,"---Heath finished, also looking at their sister, who was now staring at the floor with Nickís arm around her. Heath decided not to mention Audraís suspicions about that young girl being the ghost, hoping that they would change the subject.
"Heath...Nick... I know how all of this sounds, and I donít blame Nick that he doesnít believe me, because you, Heath, had witnessed all of this, and you still donít think that it was for real, but this may convince you!"---She looked at her brothers, putting this object on the floor in front of them.
"Please, please...letís try it out. I need to do this to know for sure that it is gone, if it is gone..."
"Oh, common..."---Nick shook her gently, as if he was trying to assure her that it wasnít worth worrying about, and continued:
"Sometimes we forget what we do, and it doesnít mean that someone else is doing things for us, and we may even imagine something that is not there. For example, this morning I had a wonderful dream -- a girl, a beautiful girl, was sitting on my bed holding my hand. I opened my eyes and I saw her, but she was gone with a blink of an eye. Now...you donít hear me saying that she was a ghost -- I am sure that I dreamed it..."---Nick couldnít finish, when he saw Audra quickly asking him.
"How did she look like?"
"Audra, thatís not the point..."---He tried to protest.
"Nick, how did she look like?"
"I donít know..."---Nick shrugged, meeting Heathís eyes: his younger brother was right -- their sister did have a problem, and it wasnít a laughable matter.
"White dress...long dark hair...something around her neck...some necklace or chain..."---Nick uttered, frowning, and as he said this, Audra exclaimed.
"This is her, Heath! Nick, we didnít see any necklace around her neck..."---She started, but Heath questioned her.
Never minding his question, Audra went on with her own questions for Nick:
"When did you see?"
"Audra, you start worrying me. You must understand that..."
"When did you see her, Nick?"---She insisted, looking at him with her eyes wide opened.
"I donít know...when I woke up, around eight oíclock this morning. I woke up late... Audra, you really should..."---He started out again, but this time Audra turned to Heath, passionately continuing:
"You see, Heath -- I was right! It was that girl -- we were at the tent at seven this morning, where you returned the necklace, and she appeared to Nick with this necklace. If you want any additional proof, we must try making her talk to us... Heath, please!"---She was now almost crying, not even noticing that her words had really alerted her brothers. She wasnít crazy, and she could prove this to them!
"Audra, you should hear yourself now...maybe, it is better if you go and lie down,"---Heath hoped to sound calm, but both he and Nick were now panicking. She wasnít going insane, was she?
Seeing that they didnít believe her, Audra took a deep breath, hoping to suppress this fear, which was almost making her shake, and pleaded with them one more time:
"Heath... Nick... I beg you: letís try it out, and if it doesnít respond, then I promise that I will reconsider everything and will take my words back, but I need to know for sure. Please!"
Nick and Heath exchanged glances again, both scared for their sister, and not knowing what to do. This seemed very important to Audra, who seemed to believe in this will all her heart, and if they try it and nothing happens then she promises reconsider. Seeing Nick slowly nodding, Heath exhaled, saying:
"All right, we will do it."
Audra smiled gratefully, quickly reaching for the piece of paper lying on the table next to her, and put it on the floor in front of them. She then placed the object on top of it, so that the end of the pencil was touching it, and made sure that the heart-shaped surface was moving freely on two casters:
"It has to be in the middle, so...Nick, stay where you are, and, Heath, get closer to us, and please, blow out the candle. We will need just one of them, so that we can read the messages."---She said calmly.
Heath did what she asked him to, and the room with one burning candle immediately got darker. He then got closer to Nick and Audra, so that three of them were now forming a circle with this wooden object in the middle, placed on the paper.
"I feel like an idiot..."---Heath muttered, looking at it.
"Join the club..."---Nick answered, noticing how serious their sister seemed, still adjusting the object. Thank God, Mother and Jarrod werenít in here to see them like this. This situation would have seemed rather amusing if their sister hasnít been taking it so seriously, but all of them will laugh about it afterwards.
"Now, put your hands over it, so that your fingers can touch it slightly, and donít try to move it..."
Both Nick and Heath did this, praying inside that this would end soon, since both of them had more important things to do, and the only reason, why they were doing this was to assure their sister that there wasnít anything wrong with their house.
"What is the name of this thing?"---Nick asked quietly, hoping to release the tension.
"Planchette."---Audra calmly answered.hapter 7
"Are you ready?"---Audra made sure that the planchette was stable, and that the graphite end of the pencil, touching the paper, was able to move freely with this wooden circle. Never in her life did she think that one day she would be spending time at this planchette with her brothers.
"Audra, do you really think that this is going to work?"---Heath glanced at his sister, slightly coughing and hoping to hide his smile. Three of them looked rather silly, sitting in the circle like this with a planchette in the middle. Heath was sure that Nick would back him up on that, and he didnít have to wait for too long.
"The door is open, little sister. Should I close it or is this some kind of a signal for wondering spirit to come inside?"---Nick suggested chuckling, determined to have some fun.
Now with both of her brothers, trying so hard not to burst out into laughter, but still keeping their fingers on the planchette, Audra did her best to ignore their comments. At least, they didnít call her crazy, but seemed to be taking this whole situation rather lightly... She looked at Heath seriously, sensing it in her heart that this time he will believe her, even if Nick doesnít. Something was telling her that this time her brother will be convinced.
Catching a harsh glance from Audra, Heath simply looked down at the floor, hiding his smile for his sisterís sake, but Nick was still unstoppable, determined to make the best out of their ordeals.
"Maybe we ought to put out some milk and cookies at the door to welcome the ghost. Audra, do you by any chance know the kind of cookies she likes? Chocolate?"---He inquired with a serious expression on his face, and at his brotherís latest remark, Heath unable to hold his hands still any longer, pulled them back, laughing.
"Will you shut up, Nick?"
Audra addressed him loudly, and the minute these words were pronounced, the door of the attic closed by itself, as if someone from the corridor had slammed it with a full force.
"What was that?"---Audra whispered, looking at Heath, and that same moment the board under her and Nickís hands sharply moved.
"Nicely done, little sister...do you really think that we will buy it?" --Nick suggested, keeping his fingers down and glancing at Audra, suspecting that she was the one moving the planchette on the casters. He looked back at the door, not finding an explanation on who had closed it, and then at Heath, who had finally put his hands over the planchette with a puzzled expression on his face. Audraís next remark didnít help much:
"I am not moving it, Nick. It closed the door, and it is in here!"-She said with a trembling voice, looking at the paper, as the flat planchette kept going back and forward.
Audra remembered suddenly how she played this same game once with her close friends, but usually at the time one of the girls was always cheating by making the planchette move, whereas now both her and her brothersí fingers were barely touching its surface. There was absolutely no way that any of them were making it move so sharply and on purpose...
Heath leaned forward, taking a look at the paper, and sensing how heavy the air in this small room suddenly seemed: it was as though, someone else was there among them, not only moving this darn thing, but also making it difficult for them to breathe. His sister was leaning on his shoulder a little, and Heath could feel how unusually strained her body was. He could also see how Nick kept staring at this heart-shaped object with an interest in his hazel eyes. Was his brother beginning to accept the idea that someone else was actually moving the flat board?
"What is your name?"- Audra was the first one to react, asking the question loudly.
"Oh, common... Do you really expect me to believe that this thing is going to tell us that?"---Nick started out, ready to give them a piece of his mind, but neither his brother nor sister reacted to his remark, as he suddenly felt that instead of moving back and forward, the planchette started slowly going aside, then up...as if it was indeed spelling something.
"Heath...Heath, from your side it is easier to read."---Audra whispered with her voice still trembling. She was unable to see the letters from where she was sitting. Of course, she could easily lean forward and read them, but the fear of the board moving on its own was stopping her from doing that.
"It is difficult...Hm..."---Heath released his hands, and got even lower, now almost touching the floor with his upper body, trying to see the letters being spelled out one by one...
"The first one is "A"...then itís "B", I think... Audra, itís very illegible and too blur... Yes, it looks like "B". The third one is..."
"Probably, "C"... Audra, did you call us up here to recite the alphabet?"---Nick added sarcastically, assured that his sister was the one moving the board, but as his words were in the air, the planchette suddenly swung so sharply that his sister lost touch of it.
"Nick, I was not moving it, and you mustnít joke about it, in its presence..."---She tried to warn him, but he interrupted.
"Once I figure out how you managed to shut the door from here, I am out of this room!"---He pronounced, and at that same minute perplexed looked at Audra: she was now trying to help Heath to figure out the third letter, the one that he joked about-- Nick was the only one with his fingers on the planchette not forcing it in any way, and it was moving...
"It looks "I" or "T"... It is very unclear... So we have "ABI" or "ABT"... Does it tell you anything?"---Heath addressed his sister, and Audra only shook her head.
She was annoyed with Nick, interrupting right in the middle, so that they have only managed to get three letters. Suddenly, she felt calm and composed, determined to go through with this, inside very different from that hysterical girl minutes ago, when she was talking her brothers into participating.
"This isnít logical -- who the hell is moving it? Audra do you have strings attached or... Whoa..."---Nick started complaining, as Audra also put her hands over the board, but he couldnít finish, as the planchette again turned sharply. It wasnít making any sense to Nick, and by the expression on Heathís face, he saw that Heath was beginning to believe that all this was for real.
"Why are you here?"---Audra asked loudly, looking down at the flat surface and hoping that the answer from the paper will be clearer this time.
"I wish I knew why I am here. How long are we going to stay in this dusty room?"---Nick answered irritably, hoping to release the tension, which he felt was also beginning to build up in his system, and as the board again started slowly moving under his and his sisterís fingers, Nick could clearly see that Audra wasnít the one moving it -- the tips of her fingers were barely touching its surface.
"Audra, I canít read it..."---Heath muttered, looking down and trying hard to understand what was now appearing on the paper in front of him, and with her hands still on the board, Audra also leaned forward, trying to see the letters from the other side, forgetting all about her fears -- she had to find out the truth.
"Heath, letters are upside down! I can read them -- move here!"---She said, realizing that one long word was slowly appearing on the paper right in front of her eyes, and Heath moved at her side, spelling it out:
"N...E...C...K...L...A...C...E"---He whispered, spelling each letter as it was appearing on the paper, and raised his head, now looking at his sisterís eyes:
"It says "NECKLACE"... Audra, you were right!"---Heathís eyes met Audraís, and even though, she was incredibly frightened, she managed a weak smile. Finally, Heath believed her, and she needed his support now more than anything! She wasnít crazy after all!
Nick looked at both of them skeptically and added:
"While two of you keep reminiscing something what you saw or witnessed, I am for one determined to find out the fraud. This thing cannot move by itself, and..."---He protested, but Heath stopped him this time.
"Nick, please, later..."---He sounded serious.
"Donít tell me that you now believe in this nonsense?"---Nick never minded his brotherís request, but Audraís next question wasnít addressed to him.
"Who are you?"
"You already asked this,"---Nick remarked sarcastically, seeing that the planchette again started moving under his fingers.
"Audra, it gives different letters this time: B...A...R...K..."---Heath was spelling, and after seeing the rest of the letters looked at his siblings, completely confused. He couldnít believe his eyes, as he slowly whispered.
His sister frowned, leaning forward again, and making sure that Heath didnít make a mistake. No, he was correct: the word, written on the paper was "BARKLEY". Audra also froze, staring at it in disbelief.
"For heavenís sake..."---Nick started out impatiently, seeing how unusually pale his sister and brotherís faces were, only to be interrupted by Heathís question this time.
"What is your first name?"
The planchette was moving again, and this time it was moving faster than usual, and Nick with a grimace on his face was now trying to look, what letters were being spelled, but it was hard to see them from where he was sitting.
"It makes sense now -- these are the first letters that we got..."---Heath exclaimed, and Audra whispered:
"What do you mean?"
"A...B...I...G...A...I...L...it says "ABIGAIL". Do we have any relative with the name of Abigail Barkley?"---Heath slowly asked, looking at his siblings, and the sudden change of expression on Nickís face left him puzzled. His brother now looked astonished, as if he had seen this spirit itself in front of him.
"Nick, whatís wrong?"---Audra whispered, also noticing how her brotherís expression had changed.
"Let me tell ya whatís wrong! Iíve stayed in here long enough!"---Nick Barkley announced quickly, taking his fingers off the board and rising up.
"I have more important things to do in my free time than to sit here, and imagine that someone is sending me messages."---He said in his usual loud voice, addressing his siblings.
"Is there Abigail Barkley in our family?"---Audra asked, sensing that something about Nickís reaction just wasnít right. He seated through this session for so long, when he could have easily walked out much earlier, but why now? Why did he talk as if he was protecting himself from them?
"Is there someone with this name among our relatives?"---Heath frowned: Nickís reaction seemed very odd to him also. He knew his brother long enough to recognize, when something was bothering him, and this was one of those time.
Nick looked at both of them, smirking:
"No. There is no woman with such name in our family, and both of you know it. I suggest for the two of you to grow up... Planchette...Damn it!"
With these words, Nick started walking towards the door, determined to get out of here as fast as he could, and hopefully, get a gasp of fresh air. The air inside the room seemed to be strangling him.
"Nick!"---Heath tried to stop his brother, beginning to rise, but Audra interfered.
"Let him go, Heath, we can talk about this later... We must finish with this!"---She pleaded, just when the door behind Nick closed, with her hands still over the planchette.
Heath silently nodded, prompting the next question:
"All right... Are you still here?"
No response followed, and Audra tried this time:
"Abigail, are you still here?"
The planchette didnít move, and understanding that the spirit left them, probably after Nick storming out like that, Audra turned to Heath:
"Itís gone... Heath, what are we going to do?"
"We will have to find out who this Abigail is...or was."---Heath said slowly, and it looked as if he was trying hard to make up his mind about something. He then glanced at his sister, still staring at the planchette and suggested:
"Címon, Audra... She mentioned the necklace -- letís go and see that woman, the one who sold it to us. She may know about her."---Heath quickly got on his feet, extending his hand to his sister.
"You mean Ramona?"---Audra asked, getting up and seeing Heath nodding, quickly added:
"You are right! It is almost 10 oíclock, but we must find out if she can help us!"
Heath bended, quickly blowing out the only candle in the room, and both of them quickly walked towards the door:
"Heath,"---Audra suddenly stopped, gently squeezing his hand, and whispered:
Heath grinned at her in his so familiar manner, quietly saying:
"Any time, Sis..."
Nick wiped off the sweat from his forehead and quickly walked towards the window. He saw his brother and his sister practically running out of the house, and riding away. They didnít see him, and he couldnít have faced them now. How was it possible? He didnít believe in these things, but how was it possible that the name of this woman, who has done so much evil, suddenly appeared on that piece of paper? He scratched his head, walking towards the fireplace and leaning against the wall:
"It was her... Audra was right -- it was her sitting at my bed, when I woke up. Over the years, I had forgotten her face. How in the world could this happen?"
Nick exhaled deeply, suddenly hearing voices in the hall, and as he looked up he saw his mother and Jarrod, both coming towards him:
"Nick, so good that you are still up... Jarrod and I saw two people riding away from the ranch in the distance. They looked like Heath and Audra. Was it them? Where were they going?"---Victoria Barkley asked, approaching her son.
Nick looked at her, grateful that she and Jarrod were here -- after all, three of them shared this awful secret, and it wasnít just Nick now, who had to make any decisions about what to do next:
"Mother... Jarrod... I think that we may have a problem..."hapter 8
Victoria Barkley frowned, seeing the seriousness and concern, with which Nick was looking at her and Jarrod. Was there any connection between the problem he mentioned and two of her youngest children leaving the house so late in the evening? In her heart, she suddenly felt that something out of ordinary has happened, while she and Jarrod were in Stockton.
"What problem are you talking about, Nick?" --Jarrod asked standing at his motherís side, and also feeling that news, whatever they were couldnít be good.
Nick glanced at them, knowing that after he pronounces this name -- the peace in their family will again be shattered.
"Abigail."---He said quietly, looking at his mother and brother, and waiting for their reactions, and he didnít have to wait for too long.
Immediately, Victoriaís face expression changed, as if she had suddenly, heard something so horrible and so far beyond any comprehension, that it completely rocked her universe. Jarrod was also startled, staring at his brother; and Nick knew that now he would have one heck of a time, explaining them what had really happened in the attic.
"Nick, I thought that we decided never to mention this womanís name. Whatís got into you?"---Jarrod was the first one to react in a very hoarse voice, after seeing how his motherís face changed, when she heard this name. He had also expected his brother to say something...something but this.
"Whatís got into me? I am answering motherís question: Heath and Audra...they know,"---Nick explained, understanding that all three of them would have to talk about this problem now after years of silence.
"Why did you tell them?"---Victoriaís voice was almost unrecognizable as she questioned her middle son. This was their familyís troubled past, something that she had never hoped would ever come up again in any conversation, so why did her son break the promise that he has given to her years ago?
"I didnít tell them, Mother. You are never going to believe how they found out..."---Nick started out saying, but Jarrod abruptly cut him off.
"There is no way, they could have found out about that, unless someone had told them! You gave us your word, Nick, that you would never mention this womanís name or her past. You gave it to us and to our father..."---He insisted.
"I did, Jarrod, and I kept it!"---Nick hit the table with his fist. He was telling them the truth, feeling that now he was losing his temper, still they didnít believe him.
"Why?"---Victoria whispered, leaning against the wall, and both her sons could suddenly see her hands shaking.
"Mother, I still remember what happened, and I would have never told this to them, but Audra insisted that there was a spirit in the house, telling her things, and she used this thing...this planchette to communicate with it! It wrote down the name, this same name..."---Nick made an attempt to explain, but Jarrod fiercely interrupted him.
"Do you know what you are talking about, Nick? Planchette is a toy -- kids use it to scare each other to death. You, Heath and Audra are adult people!"
"I know that, Jarrod. Imagine me sitting up there with them, while this womanís name was appearing on the paper. I wasnít moving the board to make it happen!"---He insisted.
"It doesnít make sense, Nick! I t doesnít make any sense -- there are no ghosts in house, not hers and not anybody elseís."---Jarrod protested angrily, not accepting his brotherís explanation.
"I know that it doesnít make any sense, but what do you want me to do?"---Nick fired back, furious that he didnít have any better proof for what has happened.
"Admit, that you have told them!"---Jarrod raised his voice.
"I just explained to you that I didnít!"--- Nick uttered through his teeth.
"Thatís a lie!" -- Jarrod yelled, convinced that his brother wasnít telling them the whole truth.
"Please, stop arguing... This will not help,"---Victoria, who until then was standing quietly aside, suddenly interfered, stepping in between her sons. The last thing that she needed right now was a fight, and especially at the time, when they had to be supportive of each other more than ever before. Both Jarrod and Nick could see how difficult it was for their mother to act calm, and that inside she was anything but...
"What do they know about her?"---Victoria Barkley turned to Nick.
"Her name."---Nick answered simply. What else could he tell them?
"Where did they go?"---Jarrod insisted in a calmer voice.
"I donít know -- this whole thing shook me up, and I simply stormed out of the room. They left soon afterwards. Maybe, it will be better if we tell them?"---He asked with some hope in his voice. It wasnít his idea to keep it a secret on the first place.
"No!"---Victoria answered, looking straight at him.
"But what if they find out?"
"They canít find out: your father destroyed everything, reminding us about her. This was very hard for him to do, but he had done it, and this is the end of the story! There is no need to bring it up again!"---She explained.
"But, Mother, they are grown ups, and both of them have a right to know about her, and Audra, especially! She was too young to remember..."---Nick objected, trying to make his point.
"Listen to me, Nick. That woman had nearly destroyed my family. I almost lost you and your sister...itís a miracle that both of you are alive, and I am not going to go through this again!"---Victoria said with determination in her voice.
"Mother, but they know..."---Nick tried to protest.
"Her name? That is all -- thereís nothing else to know! I will talk to them, when they come back, and will tell them that there was never anybody with such name in our family. Your father, two of you and I have decided that this would never be brought up again in this house or anywhere else for that matter. Do you understand?"---Victoriaís voice was breaking now, but she was still in control.
"Mother, calm down, if this is the way you want it to be..."---Jarrod started, putting his arm around her, but Victoria pulled back, angry with God for letting this re-enter their lives, and disturb so painfully achieved peace.
"This is a way it is. Iíve been living in fear for the past 20 years that somehow, you or Nick will bring it up, or your sister will suddenly remember... There is no need for Heath to know anything that has happened either. You and Nick were old enough to be told the truth at the time, and letís leave it at that."
As she finished, saying these words, Victoria quickly walked past her sons, towards the stairs. She had to be alone right now, until Heath and Audra come back from wherever they went to. How could they find out? Why? Why was she being punished for this again after all these years? As much as she wanted, she could never forget, what Abigail had done to her family, neither could Tom nor Jarrod...and even Nick has still, probably, remembered the agony of those few days. In Victoria Barkleyís memory this was the most frightening thing that has ever happened to her, because it involved her defenseless children. She could never forgive herself for not recognizing the signs earlier, and for making her little ones go through that ordeal. Thank God, Audra was too young to remember Abigail, and now more than ever, Victoria was determined to keep it in the past.
Never in her life was she so terrified, the way she was that awful night, which she so unsuccessfully tried to erase from her memory. Never could she forget that trip to New Orleans, which was supposed to be such a happy occasion for her and her husbandís 18th wedding anniversary, when she and Tom with seventeen-year-old Jarrod, returned to their hotel suite from the party, only to find their youngest son, seriously injured and their baby daughter gone... Nick, ten at the time, unconscious was lying on the floor in the pool of blood... Victoria still remembered seeing her child like that, thinking that he was dead, and Audra, almost three, was simply nowhere to be found. Earlier that fatal night, Abigail had volunteered to baby-sit, begging Tom and Victoria to give her another chance...hapter 9
Heath quickly jumped off his Charger, noticing that his sister was already ahead of him, on the ground and tying her horse to the post. It was about eleven oíclock in the evening, and both of them were in Stockton, right in front of that same tent, where they went just this morning to return the necklace.
"Do you think that she is inside? The tent looks rather dark from here,"---Audra asked Heath, when they started walking towards it in a fast pace.
"Letís hope that she is still up,"---Heath uttered, as they approached the tent, and before any of them could say anything else, the womanís voice from the inside invited brother and sister to enter:
Heath and Audra exchanged glances, relieved that someone was in there, but feeling rather uneasy about this whole thing. Slowly Heath entered, with Audra just several steps behind him, and both siblings stopped at the door, just like they had done, when they came here for the first time. They saw that same woman, Ramona Santiago, in a very long robe, standing several feet away from the door, leaning on the table and with a candle in her right hand. Her long red hair was tied on the back, and it looked as if she was not in any way surprised at seeing the Barkleys that late at night in the tent, where she lived and worked from.
"I knew that you would be back,"---She said in her hoarse voice, putting the candle on the table and walking towards the large chest.
"We came in here this morning to return the necklace. There was a young woman, who took it from us. Did she give it back to you?"---Heath said, and at seeing Ramona, nodding stopped -- she obviously knew everything about it.
"Here it is,"---She took the necklace out of the pocket of her robe and extended it to Audra.
"This belongs to you, Child, and you must take good care of it."---Ramona advised, waiting for the young woman to take the jewelry from her hands, but Audra shook her head instead.
"I donít want it. It is cursed..."
The woman smiled at Audraís comment, putting the necklace in front of her visitors on the table, and slowly lowered down on the chest next to it. She was always amazed at how differently people treated her every time, when they saw her. This young man and his sister have probably thought that she was crazy, when they bought that necklace from her yesterday, and right now, they were probably guessing about her identity, catching her every word.
"Child, I presume that Abigail visited you?"---Ramona inquired about something that was already very obvious to her.
"That is why we are here. Can you tell us who this woman is? My sister insists that she was the one who took the necklace from me,"---Heath answered instead of Audra, hoping that this woman wouldnít laugh in his face. He was already having second thoughts about their visit, but it was important to his sister, and he promised to be there for her.
Ramona glanced at Heath, looking rather nervous and answered in her calm way:
"Yes, this was her -- I found the necklace at my door steps this morning. You do know her name, young man, so you must be aware who she is."
"Does she want to harm us?"---Audra asked spontaneously, fearing the worst.
"She loves you very much and she is a part of your family."---Ramona said, now looking directly at Audra, and being stared at with her piercing eyes, it took all Audraís courage to continue their conversation.
"Our older brother told us that there was never anybody with such name in our family."---She added, also feeling very uncomfortable in this small closed space, wondering now why she hadnít noticed this before, when they were in here that last time.
Ramona smiled again, looking at Audra, but it wasnít a kind smile:
"I canít help you with that. This is something that you have to find out for yourself. Necklace may help."
"What do you mean? This necklace and a jewelry box, which I broke..."--- Audra frowned, hearing her last comment, but couldnít finish her thought, as this strange woman interrupted her.
"I know that you broke it, and thatís why I canít take it back... You are now the ones who must help her to find peace, and not me. You should be thankful that she is not angry with you for breaking her box,"---Ramona explained, reaching for a glass of water standing on the table, and taking a sip from it.
"Her box?"---Heath asked, feeling how slowly Audra took his hand in hers. He wasnít sure anymore, what else they would hear from this lady. This all seemed like a bad and a very strange dream.
"It used to be Abigailís. I put a spell on it..."
"Spell?"---Heath asked again, feeling that he was no longer surprised to hear anything.
"Are you a witch?"---Audra frowned, asking what was on her mind.
Ramona laughed loudly, getting up: if it wasnít so late, she would have found this whole thing rather amusing, but she had to get to bed.
"A witch? Is it because I know how to put a spell on objects to keep spirits calm and happy or is it because I know how to communicate with them? Let me tell you something, young people: your relative is disturbed. It has awoken, and it cannot find peace. Truth must to be told. Child, you may not leave the necklace with me, but even if you do - I doubt that this will take away your fears. You know who she is."
"Will you please stop saying that? Iíve been Barkley all my life, and I have never heard about any Abigail!"---Audra answered, furious at this woman telling her what she did and didnít know.
"Audra, calm down."---Heath managed to control his own irritation, not letting it get to him in front of a stranger. Things that were being said werenít helping or making any sense to him whatsoever, but they needed to get as much information out of this woman as possible.
"When have we awoken her?"
"The minute your sister has put the necklace on."---Ramona explained.
"Why did you sell it to us if you knew it was cursed?"---Heath asked.
"This necklace belongs to your sister, and I couldnít sell it to anybody else. It was luck that you have found me, before I could find you. Just like Abigail, Child, you look wonderful wearing it. It may help you to find out the truth, and she wants you to have it."
"If this was all she wanted, then why she appeared to us? Why did strange things started happening in our house?"---Audra asked, looking on the necklace, which still lying on the table.
"Child, you had second thoughts about keeping it, and it angered her. This necklace and the box were her gifts to you, but you broke one and rejected another."
Audra looked at Ramona, and asked her with determination in her voice
"What if decide not to accept this gift? Can you...can you tell her to go away?"
Ramona laughed hoarsely, looking at this scared girl and shook her head.
"Spirits are not puppets on the strings. I canít tell her to go away, and if I want to talk to her -- this is up to Abigail to show up. People on this side have been cursing her long enough, people of your kin, but you are her chance for redemption... If you take this necklace, it will protect you, and you may just help her soul to find peace."
Audra felt the goose bumps on her body, and whispered to Heath.
"What do you think? Should I take it?"
Heath swallowed hard, looking at her. What did he think? At this moment, he thought that he had gone insane himself. What was he doing in this tent, talking to this witch or whatever she called herself? All this mysticism and Ramonaís unclear answers about thing that he and Audra were asking her were beginning to drive him crazy.
"Audra, you have to make this choice, not me."---Heath answered, looking at his sister, and not knowing what else he could say.
Audra kept staring at the necklace, with all kind of thoughts going through her head. Ramona said that Abigail didnít want to hurt them in any way, and that she loved them. She wasnít angry, because of a broken box, but why was she restless? How could they help her soul to find peace?
"All right,"---Audra uttered, slowly reaching for the necklace and taking it in her hands. If Abigail was indeed one of the Barkleys, then her jewelry had to stay in the family.
"Child, I can see so much of her in you. She would have been very proud,"---Ramona announced, and taking the candle in her hands, started walking away towards the door in the middle of the tent.
As they saw her leaving them, neither Heath nor Audra were able to say anything to stop her, understanding inside that she wasnít going to tell them anything to clarify things that have already been said. Finally, when they could only see her silhouette through the tentís drapes, Audra whispered to her brother.
"Heath, itís no use. We may just as well go home and ask Mother or Jarrod. If Nick doesnít know who she is, maybe they do?"---She suggested.
"You are right. Letís get out of here."---Heath said, quickly turning away and leading his sister out of the tent. He wanted to get out of there just as much as she did, and thinking that they still had to ride all the way to the ranch wasnít a pleasant one at this time of night.
Once outside and several feet away from the tent, Audra stopped, looking back at it with puzzlement and slowly uttered:
"And we thought that she was crazy... Things that she said..."
"If this woman isnít crazy, Audra, then somebody has got to know something about this Abigail Barkley."---Heath reasonably suggested.
"Heath, why was she singling me out all the time? She said that it was my necklace, and that Abigail wanted me to have it... Do you think that I could have had any connection to this Abigail?"---Audra asked her brother something that was brothering her, when they were slowly walking away, towards their horses.
"I donít know. Do you remember anybody under with this name from your childhood, maybe?"---Heath shrugged.
"No."---Audra shook here head, touching the necklace around her neck and trying very hard to remember. She was positive that nobody under this name ever crossed her path, but why was her heart telling her different things.
Seeing so much confusion on her face, Heath squeezed his sisterís hand, stopping:
"Well, this lady says that all Abigail wanted was for you to have the necklace. Maybe all that twisting, and door shutting and curtains moving were her ways to express the anger with you for wanting to return it, and now that you are wearing it, she may just leave us alone. Little sister, there is no need for Mother or our brothers to hide things from us if she was indeed a part of our family. Maybe, she wasnít a close relative, someone Nick simply couldnít know about, when we asked him?"---He suggested.
"Then why did he get so angry? Remember?"---Audra insisted, still seeing Nickís furious face and that fire in his eyes.
Heath looked at his sister, and quietly said:
"Why donít we go home? Tomorrow is the party, and Mother is probably, worried sick about us absent for so long. We can have a talk with her, because if anyone can help us with any of this it is her, and she never lied to us."
Audra smiled, nodding, as they were approaching their horses, and answered.
"All right, Big Brother, letís go home."