King of the Dark Mountain

King of the Dark Mountain

       By Galili Black

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

For Taliesin

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 by Galili Black

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2014

 

Cast Iron Press
472 Price Lane
Irvington, Kentucky 40146

 

Chapter One

 

 

The Appalachian Trail is a two thousand mile corridor of green light, and Eleana was halfway through it when the light went dark. She fell to her knees, as her twenty pound pack slid off. The particular stretch of the trail she had been trudging through since near daylight was canopied in poplar branches. They arched gracefully over her head and had made her feel slightly less worn thin. She had spent most of her life among vast groves of trees. First as a child growing up near a national forest; and then later, in her travels, she had always gravitated to areas with plenty of trees.

Suddenly, their reassuring presence was drained away from the scene, as well as the filtered sunlight. Darkness enveloped her, and she wondered in a detached way if she was fainting. She had just enough time to recognize the calmness as the kind that comes immediately before terror, but before it could dissolve into that, she was unconscious.

When she awoke, greenness had returned to the world. She stared through the canopy above to where daylight still showed. Someone spoke her name. A face appeared in front of her. Incredibly,it was someone she knew. “Ted?” she asked in wonder
.
He turned briefly away and spoke to someone and then he extended his hand. She took it and got uncertainly to her feet. “I think I must have fainted,” she said, embarrassed by the Victorian connotations of the word.

He nodded and put a jacket around her. “I know it can have that effect on some people. I’m terribly sorry, but we had to find you quickly and it was the only way.” His words made no sense to her. She shook her head to clear her thoughts; a few tangled curls fell in front of her face and made her look childlike. His voice became soothing, as though she really were a child. “When you’ve had a chance to rest, I’ll explain everything.”

“I don’t need to rest. I have to make twenty miles by nightfall.” The sound of her own voice sounded timorous and strange in her ears.

“Ellie, I need your help. I’m afraid it’s quite an emergency, you’ll have to finish your trek at some other time.” She started to protest and he threw up his hands and shook them plaintively. “I know it’s devastating. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is such a long cherished dream of yours. But I’m afraid I desperately need your help and it can’t wait.”

The emotional tone of his voice and his expression brought her suddenly into a state of deep sobriety and clear headedness. She looked earnestly into his eyes. “It has something to do with your work in Ireland, doesn’t it?”

He nodded, “Yes, I always thought it meant something really important, but really I had no idea it was as monumental as it’s turned out to be. Anyway, my vehicle’s parked a little ways over the ridge. I’m taking you to my house and on the way, I’ll explain everything.” She looked quizzically at the two men standing behind Ted. They reminded her of secret service agents. “These gentlemen are here to assist us in any way possible.”

She nodded and looked at the ground.

Ted spoke to the men, and they disappeared over the hillside in front of them. Ellie followed Ted after them, feeling both a sense of dread and a strange sense of comfort.

It had been several years since she had seen him. Once she had been his personal assistant, before that his student. He was a professor of Celtic studies and had used his knowledge of ancient Ireland to write a series of popular books on the subject.

She had spent her nineteenth summer taking her first course under him. Most of her time was spent in the ruins of an Irish monastery, transcribing notes regarding some signs left on stones by the early Irish folk. Ted’s theories regarding the culture were considered a little outside the conventions of academia, but not to the point where he was denied tenure. However, once that was secured, he gave up academic life. With the money from the fantastical Irish novels, he had resigned and taken a long world tour with his wife, Irena. Ellie had tagged along for a while as a paid assistant, but gradually drifted off to travel on her own. After the tour, she hadn’t heard much from him.

During the current adventure, memories of her time in Ireland nearly a decade before kept intruding. Perhaps it was the effect of spending eight hours or more a day moving through the green tunnel that brought up the Irish scenes. She particularly recalled the way everything around the abandoned monastery seemed drawn from a hidden source and presented to the mind like a picture. At the time she had ascribed the effect to her imagination but now she thought it meant something more than that.

As a young undergraduate she was struggling to keep her mind secured firmly under the yoke of scholarly inquiry, but given the beautiful romantic surroundings of the monastic ruins perched on the edge of the sea, she found it difficult. Added to this distraction were the attentions of a young Irish student, who had his countrymen’s renowned gift for charm. The way he spoke reminded her of the sea and ancient ships and so after a time he seemed more like a type than a man to her.

An evening came when she stood beside Aaron, with the shadows long from the arched remains of the abbey, and she felt that he was only a replica of some ideal. His hand felt icy in hers and she found a way to withdraw hers and insert it under the arm of the big hand-knitted sweater he had given her. The subterfuge did not work, and he said, “Ellie, I will come to America someday. Maybe by then …” his voice trailed off and he turned to look at the sea. In a moment, he walked away and she made no effort to see him before he left the excavation site for good the following day.

Occasionally thoughts of him crossed her mind and she wondered if he would make good on his promise to come to America. She doubted it, but did not become involved with anyone else for some time. Instead she traveled to other sites in the world where she hoped to find the numinous quality she had discovered in Ireland. In the back of her mind, during all those years of searching had been a sense that if she stumbled into the right place somewhere, somehow she would uncover something of monumental importance. This thought reminded her of what Ted had just said about not realizing how important his work had turned out to be.

She studied his face, as they were now inside the vehicle and headed towards New Hampshire she supposed. Was it all somehow connected? Had his long years of poring over cryptic symbols left on stones amounted to something more than just a lucrative second career as a popular novelist? She opened her mouth and almost asked a question, but at that moment Ted slammed on his brakes. A good sized moose was frozen in front of them. It remained for a moment, its giant muzzle seeming to fill up the windshield; then slowly it ambled off. She exchanged a look with Ted and then burst out laughing. 

“They’re not as plentiful as they once were. Poor beasts are getting eaten alive by the infernal ticks they say. Terrible, but I hate coming across them on the road ways.”

“I’ve never actually seen one before. It was huge,” she said wide-eyed with wonder.

“Well,” he said putting the truck back in gear, “Let’s hope you won’t see another until we’re safe at home. Guess our friends will get there a little sooner than us. That’s alright; we won’t be too far behind them.”

She smiled, nodded and leaned her head against the window of the truck. She supposed he meant the government agents or whatever they were. They had been in sight of them in a similar vehicle until the moose incident. “How is Irena?”

“Fine, she takes little excursions. Mostly on her own these days. Unfortunately, I’ve been caught up in this project I’m about to describe to you.”

“No, I’m too tired to listen right now. I need rest, then you can tell me everything,” she yawned and closed her eyes.

“Yes, you’ve been on that trek for how long?”

“Three months, eleven days, began right after Easter, intended to go all the way. Hez tried to talk me out of it; you know how protective he is.”

“Go ahead and rest. Probably it will be best if I give you the whole spiel in my library complete with diagrams and sky charts, the whole razzle-dazzle to make it all clear,” he added. She was already drifting into sleep and did not answer.

 

*

 

Hezekiah McCane had gotten up even earlier than usual to tend to his garden. He had watched the sun rise above the hill where many of his relatives on his mother’s side were buried. As a boy, he had wandered up there often with his sister, Ellie. In the evening after such excursions, they would ask their grandmother about the people buried there. She knew all the family lore, though it wasn’t even her side of the family. Her folks were buried far away in a different county. At least it had seemed far away as a boy, but now he smiled at the thought, realizing it was just the next county over. 

As a young woman she had come to the little house where she had ended up raising two generations of kids. She didn’t speak much about her childhood, and from that Hez surmised it hadn’t been very good. This thought reminded him of his father, who had disappeared along with his mother when he was young. He wondered for the millionth time if that event was linked to something in Gran’s past. She had been a good surrogate parent, the best he and Ellie believed, so how could she have raised such a worthless son? He felt the color rise to his cheeks; but anger was quickly followed by guilt. Gran had never allowed him or Ellie to say anything disrespectful of their parents, though she never tried to explain their abandonment either.

After the sun was a little higher in the sky, he grabbed his hoe and began to work among the rows of vegetables. This year the corn wasn’t looking very good, but the tomatoes were fine. They would be ready for harvesting soon. He had planted enough for him and Ellie, with some left over to donate to the food bank run by Gran’s church. It was one way he honored her memory. “I’d be a lot more honored if you attended services.” He dropped his hoe, because the sound of Gran’s voice had been so clear.

“Boy, you been out here on your own too long,” he said out loud. He went inside the house and drank a full glass of water. He looked around the little kitchen. Everything was in order the way Gran always kept it. He had made a deliberate effort to keep everything the same since she passed; but it wasn’t the same room at all. Except for the butcher block table to replace the old Formica table top, none of the furniture or appliances was different. It should’ve felt the same, but despite all his efforts, it was a different room. People took more than their living presence with them when they passed, he reckoned.

He sighed and reflected on hearing the sound of her voice. He had always heard and seen things that most people either didn’t or chose to ignore. He knew it was the same with Ellie though they rarely talked about it. Sometimes he thought they’d developed those abilities when they were still living with their parents. His memories of that time were jumbled, chaotic but punctuated throughout with an underlying terror. Maybe he had started listening to those other voices and seeing other rooms in order to escape from the persistent tension of waiting for something terrible to happen.

He remembered one event where he and Ellie were hiding under the bed while their parents were screaming at each other in the next room. The two of them began to talk together in unison, the way twins alone are able to do. In his memory, the chanting or whatever it was created streams of light and made the sounds of shattering glass and shouting fade away. It felt like they were floating in some beautiful place, no longer trapped and hiding. The peacefulness of that rescue from within was connected to being able to hear and see what wasn’t apparent to most, he believed.

He walked over and stared at a little black and white picture hanging beside the refrigerator. It showed his parents standing arm in arm. His dad was quite a bit taller than his mother, fair and lean while his mother was rounder with heavy dark curls like Ellie. They were both smiling. His father’s earnest smile and white shirt, made dazzling by the sunlight always took his breath away, and made him want to cry.

He had thought about taking it down after Gran’s passing, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. She had put it there for a reason, for a warning he thought. He reckoned they were drunks or drug addicts or both, he didn’t know exactly. He just remembered the day they left him and Ellie with Gran. She had taken him and Ellie under her arms and said not a word to her son or his wife.

They had gotten back into their old Ford Escort and kicked up a lot of dust on the gravel road on their way out. They were headed for Florida, but how they arrived or whatever became of them, he did not know. He and Ellie had made several attempts to try to track them, but hadn’t been able to. All they had was an address in Miami from fifteen years past dredged up after many hours of searching online. His second wife had wanted him to try again, in a last ditch effort to save their marriage. She thought the key to his inability to open up to her lay in the abandonment by his parents. He thought she was right, but before much could be done on the matter, she threw up her hands and walked out of his life. He sighed again.

He took another sip of the water that came from a deep well. Above the well, grew an old cedar tree and that gave it a sweeter taste he thought. Cedar was close to his heart. He made little heart shaped boxes from the wood and once had even made a great chest for Gran when he was in high school. He hated shop class for the stupid posturing teacher, but he appreciated what it taught him in the way of working with wood and other materials. That knowledge had led to a fairly lucrative career as a carpenter.

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