Authors: Heather Killough-Walden
SAM I AM
The October Trilogy, Book One
Dedicated to those who live two lives: The real one.
And that other one.
Thank you to my Facebook peeps for their help in deciding on the cover.
61 A.D. Island of Anglesey, Britain….
Keenan stumbled over something he couldn’t see and pretended not to notice that it was soft enough to give beneath his leather boot. “Faolan, lift her more on your end, son!” He hissed the command to his son, who was carrying Ciara’s legs. Keenan had her shoulders and head and though she was a wee lass, she was nearly a dead weight, and the night was without moon or stars.
The terrain was deadly; it had always been, and the druid elders had long warned against going out on the crags at night without torchlight. But for the angry red glow that emanated from the burning village behind them, there was nothing to guide their desperate escape across the rocks and heather of what had become their final home.
“Hurry, Keenan! We haven’t much time!” Ianna spurred them along from where she raced behind them, her small body wrapped in a cloak of sable, to hide her form from the eagle eyes of the Roman army. They all wore the cloaks, for what good it did them. Keenan was well aware that, before the sun rose on the horizon, the cloaks would become their death shrouds.
“I’m movin’ as fast as ay can!” Keenan hissed back, knowing that it didn’t matter. The night would soon be complete and the door that Ciara had opened several nights ago would remain open. All would be lost if it did. The dead traveled through the door to their new destination, the land that had been ruled by Samhain since time began. But this door worked both ways. If it was not closed and locked by the end of the Harvest, the dead could return through it into the world of the living, and with them, their King.
Ciara was the last of their druid leaders; all others had died on the coast with their soldiers and most of their women. The Roman general Suetonius Paulinus had attacked early in the evening and, though the village had managed to take many of their men down, it had lost in the end.
The women, with their torches and long red hair had fallen beside their mates – and even their children. The druids’ spells had immobilized Paulinus’s army for long enough to maintain a steady line of defense for most of the early evening. But the Romans had adapted quickly – changing their tactics to take down the elders first, before the others, until there were no bards left. And no spells.
And no hope.
It was Aidan, the strongest of the druids, who called out to Keenan, even as he lay dying with his own mortal wounds. He had warned Keenan that the spell had not been completed, and charged him and his son with Ciara’s safety.
She was the one who had started it. Only she could complete it.
Alas, we failed yae
, Keenan thought now, as he tried to block out the sounds of another woman being defiled in the night. They had failed in Aidan’s task. Ciara was struck down with a spear even as they ran; the Romans did not mind killing women and children, and not even from behind. There was no honor in their attack, no honor in these deaths. It was slaughter.
But it was still was up to Ciara to complete the spell. Too much was hanging in the balance.
Keenan glanced down to see Ciara’s closed eyelids flutter. The blood still ran from the wound in her side. It meant her heart still beat. If it weren’t for those signs, he would think her already dead.
Paulinus must be Samhain in disguise to attack on this night, in the midst of Samonois,
Keenan thought as he gritted his teeth and took up the slack when his son tripped and momentarily lost his grip on Ciara’s booted feet. She groaned as her body twisted and a new well of blood appeared beneath her leather tunic.
“Careful, boy!” he hissed.
An arrow split the air somewhere nearby. The sound was unmistakable. Was it an errant shot by a ballista? Or had the Romans discovered their hasty retreat across the unlit crags in the darkness?
Keenan hoped for the former rather than the latter. They had so little time as it was. He and his family were already doomed. His entire village was doomed. There was no hope for them – not now; that was clear.
But if they hurried, if nature was on their side, they might yet save everyone else. Humanity. The future – every child yet unborn would still stand a chance.
“There!” Ianna rushed past them, her long arm pointing toward the entrance to the oak grove where the first part of the rite had been interrupted that morning. “In there! She’ll know what to do then!”
There was no response for that; it was too hopeless to speak on what they were all thinking – that Ciara was too far gone. So none of them said anything. They only moved faster, spurred on by sheer terror and desperation.
Another arrow split the night and following its slicing whiz through the air was the unmistakable thunk of its tip embedding itself into a nearby trunk or chunk of earth.
The spirits take him
, thought Keenan.
Take the bastard Paulinus.
The general and his men meant to wipe the Kelts from existence. And they would no doubt succeed; Anglesey was their final refuge.
Ironically, if Ciara could not close the door that had been opened, it would not only be the druids and their people who suffered an end this night. Before long, the Romans would fall as well, victorious or not.
Precious moments passed before Keenan and his son were finally able to lay Ciara down beside the stones that marked the site for this devastatingly important annual ritual.
“Ciara!” Ianna knelt beside the young woman, shaking her gently – but not too gently. Ciara’s eyelids fluttered and opened. Stark gold irises reflected the distant firelight. “You must finish the spell, Ciara!” Ianna pled. Her voice was sheer panic now, sharing in the desperation they each felt.
Ciara closed her eyes and then opened them again, blinking slowly. Her lips were the same pallor as her cheeks, pale and dry. She had once been a very beautiful maiden; sought-after as any lass, with hair the color of polished bronze and a smile that beckoned suitors. But now, she was a shadow of what she had been only that morning.
She would soon be joining Samhain in his realm.
Be that he covets her,
Treat her well, Lord of the Dead, for she dies before her time.
And then Ciara began to whisper. It was nearly inaudible, barely a scratching sound, reminiscent of the leaves that fell beneath the Harvest moon and coated the island ground.
But her companions heard her well enough, and they fell silent and willed her to go on.
The distant night crackled and blazed and screamed and sobbed. Another spear or arrow found purchase somewhere nearby. The air felt thick with fog and smoke, and cold with the chilled spirits of the bansidhe, awakened and angered by their sisters’ cries.
Ciara grimaced and gurgled, blood making its way into her throat, hiccupping her progress in the spell.
And mist began to rise from a grave nearby.
“Och no…” Ianna muttered. She and the others watched with wide eyes, as the dead began to realize that their return path home might no longer be barred. The witch who kept them – the one who could close the door – was dying.
“Ciara!” Faolan dropped to his knees beside Ciara and gently cupped her cheek with his palm. “Finish the spell.” Faolan was only a few years older than Ciara. He had been one of the many men who’d hoped to win her heart one day.
Though they had happened but yesterday, those thoughts and desires seemed years gone now. All that remained was this one thing. This one spell.
It was their final duty to the world and all of life within it. Their people had been charged when time began; entrusted with the guardianship of this portal. It was up to them to keep it closed every year – every Samhain.
They could not fail now.
“We cannot fail, Ciara,” Faolan whispered, his lips now mere inches from her own. She slowly opened her eyes once more and gold irises met green. “Sweet Ciara… p
,” he pleaded. It was all he could really say.
Ciara winced again as what must have been horrid pain lanced through her slender form. But she gritted her teeth and, as the others watched, their expressions lost, she continued to utter the words of the incantation.
Faolan stood and turned to watch as the mists that had begun rising from the graves started to dissipate. She was doing it. Keenan glanced at the rest of the hallowed resting places within their sacred grove – all were settling down once more.
Another spear split the sky. This time, when it landed, accompanying the thunk of purchase was a grunt of pain.
Keenan stopped breathing, his eyes wide, his world tilted on its side as he took in the image of his son with a spear through his young chest.
Faolan looked down at the long piece of wood embedded in his midsection. He could not even fall; the spear’s tip was braced solidly in the earth, holding the young man upright. It was obscene. It was wrong, somehow.
A man ought to at least be able to fall.
Faolan smiled a bemused smile and did not hear the sound of his father bellowing in anguish. Instead, he heard the final words that Ciara whispered as she finished her spell.
Before he closed his own green eyes, he met her honey colored gaze.
And the two of them closed their eyes together.
Logan hurriedly shut her door and pressed her forehead against it. She tried to breathe.
but the sound of something crashing from the first floor made her breath hitch in her throat. Then a door slammed.
Maybe it’s over for now….
A man bellowed with rage and there was another thumping-smashing sound.
That was Taylor’s fist
, she thought.
He’s putting another hole in the wall.
It was a wonder the place didn’t fall down around them all. It was riddled with the fist and shoe-sized holes that her brother had created over the years.
, her mind offered, distractedly.
Her stomach churned as Taylor began swearing downstairs. Logan thought of it as stream-swearing. It was always loud and continuous and vicious.
It sometimes burned her ears. The words came down around her like a storm cloud, portending some kind of doom. She could hear his footsteps now. Her brother was moving quickly through the house, from room to room, like the Minotaur huffing through the Labyrinth.
Logan shuddered. Acid burned her esophagus. A sharp white pain shot from the right side of the back of her head to just behind her right eye.
She pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand and tried, once again, to breathe. Doors opened and were slammed shut again as Taylor made his way through the house, looking for a victim. The reverberations of each door slam went like shock-waves through her body, disturbing her stomach and making her nauseated.
Logan’s heart hammered. It felt relentless in its beating, like drums.
I have to stop him
, she thought.
Before he finds James again. I’m the only one he listens to
With something akin to hopeless but hasty resignation, Logan reached for the handle of the door and yanked it open.
* * * *
Meagan Stone gazed, almost unseeing, at the calendar that sprang up on the LCD screen of her cell phone. The first of October marked a full moon. The thirty-first was to be a blue moon, and rare in its own right. However, it was especially important during October. This was Samonois, the month of the Seed Fall. Everything changed now.
With a shakiness that she had been trying to squelch all morning long, Meagan took a deep breath and let it out in a trembling sigh. Then she sneezed and her skin broke out in goose bumps.
, she thought distractedly. She felt a strange chill and shivered, for the most part ignoring it. When it passed, she looked back at her phone and pinched the bridge of her nose. She was getting a headache.
Tonight was the big night. October first. It was her night to prove that she had earned her rightful place in the grove.
An October with a blue moon was especially symbolic. Meagan wasn’t certain what the implications were, exactly. In fact, so much of the druidic Celtic tradition had been destroyed by Roman historians long ago, that no one in her Grove could say for sure what the blue moon at this time signified.
So, erring on the side of caution, they’d forced Meagan to practice her wording more than they would normally do. And a few of them suggested that she didn’t do it at all. Some of the elders had heartily requested that they perform the ritual instead. They were more experienced and this was too important.
However, it was Meagan’s right to do the spell this night. She was of age. And a deal was a deal, even if it was with the forces of nature themselves. She was the one the Seer in their group had foretold to do the spell this night, so she was the one who would do it.
And it was as simple as that.
She had been practicing for months –
even. She was lucky; she had a good support group, and very good friends who, if they found out about what she was, would most likely think it was something to be proud of rather than afraid or ashamed of.
Still, she never talked about it. Just in case.
There had been countless times that she had been tempted to at least tell Logan. Logan was a writer. In Meagan’s belief system, that made her a bard. And she was a good one. Bards had long been considered brethren, special and sacred, druids in their own rights, with magical powers of their own kind.
And Logan didn’t even know it.
If Meagan was going to confide in anyone, it would have been her. But rather than chance the repercussions of her secret getting out too far, she remained quiet about it and figured – if it is meant to be discovered, then it will be.
She sneezed again and pulled a tissue from her pocket.
Tonight, Katelyn wanted Meagan and Logan to go to her house for a study session. Of course, it wasn’t going to happen. Not for Meagan anyway. And she needed to come up with a viable excuse before the bell rang or Katelyn would assume that she was either coming – or didn’t
to come, and that would just hurt her feelings.
“I’m having a family night,” she muttered to herself as she wiped her nose and then stuffed her books into her locker. She pulled out what she would need for fourth period. She had French with Katelyn fourth period. “That sounds good. Mom and dad want us to play board games or something,” she nodded to herself. That would work. Blame it on the parents.
Meagan turned to see the very blond head of Katelyn Shanks, one of her two best friends, bobbing toward her as quickly as it could through the crowded halls. “Megs, help me! I didn’t do the homework for today! I totally spaced it!” Kate breathed as she managed to push up to Meagan’s locker. Her hazel eyes were wide and glittered with that mild form of terror a student experiences in the midst of unfinished assignments or pop quizzes.
“Here, take this,” Meagan pulled a sheet out of her three ring binder and handed it to Katelyn. “I took an extra one when she was handing them out.” She always did this, as Katelyn was in the habit of losing them or leaving them at home and Meagan knew that if their situations were reversed, Katelyn would do the same for her.
Besides, Katelyn was pretty good at French. She just wasn’t good at homework.
“So, are you coming over tonight?” Katelyn asked as she plastered the yellow hand out to the face of the locker next to Meagan’s and pulled the pen from behind her ear.
Meagan shut her locker and scrambled the combination. “I can’t,” she said. “It’s family night. My mom and dad want us to play board games. You know – Clue, Monopoly, that kind of thing.”
Katelyn looked disappointed, and, once more, Meagan was tempted to tell one of her friends the truth. But the second bell soon rang and the two girls slid into their seats and before long the teacher was talking and Meagan was saved from saying anything further at all.
Logan had already missed the first two classes of the day. She’d had to threaten to call the cops again to get Taylor to put down the gun and back away from her mom. The cops had been out to their house so many times at this point, it was a regular stop for them.
And Logan’s dad had long since put most of his weapons in a safe. But he left one out, loaded, and hidden, its location known only to Logan and her mother in case someone broke in while he was gone and threatened them.
Logan could understand that. She really could.
But Taylor was not a stupid young man. Disturbed, definitely. Troubled, absolutely. But not stupid. When he set about trying to find something, he usually found it. And he’d found the gun behind the fluorescent light cover in the garage that morning.
Fortunately, he hadn’t been so far gone that he couldn’t listen to reason.
Logan was used to talking her brother down. She was the only one he ever listened to – when he listened to anyone at all. Sometimes even
couldn’t get through to him, and those were very bad days indeed.
Now, however, the morning was more or less over, Taylor was passed out on three Ativan, and all Logan could really think about was how she’d missed the first two classes of the day.
Not that she minded missing the
one all that much, but the second was one of her favorites. It was an elective, for one thing, and that alone made it worth going to most of the time. But, more importantly – Dominic Maldovan was in that class.
Well, not exactly
Her class was choir and his was advanced guitar, but they were held in the same drama department at the same time and there was nothing between them to keep her from surreptitiously glancing at him except the thick glass window of the sound room.
Logan had lived in her small town for a long time – too long, by her book. But in all of the years she’d spent there, she had only ever had a crush on one boy. And that crush, she had suffered since the fourth grade.
She remembered her first meeting with Dom as if it was yesterday. She’d been running on the torn asphalt and gravel playground, trying to escape some kid who liked tagging the girls because they were slower.
Logan had never been one to give up easily, so she had run with all of her might, and when she’d run out of space to go straight, she’d made a hard right. The kid leapt, tagging her hard in the back and knocking her off balance. She lunged forward and hit the ground at a roll, scraping up everything from her shoulders on down.
The first person in the world to be at her side on that playground was Dominic Maldovan. She had looked up, through a tilted world of blurred shock and pain, and Dominic had been there, dressed in a leather jacket, even at his age. Even in the fourth grade.
He had reached down and offered her his hand.
She’d taken it. He walked her to the nurse’s office, right up to the door, and didn’t leave until the nurse closed it between them.
It was strange, but in the years following that day, he never spoke to Logan. Not really. He would occasionally say “hi,” or nod in that rocker-like way he always did. He would smile at her, sort of lopsided and gorgeous, over his broad, leather-encased shoulder.
And she would duck her head and hide her eyes and dream at night about the young man in the black leather jacket with eyes like flinted jade and hair the color of raven’s wings.
He was the only boy she had ever crushed on; the only one she thought even remotely appealing or attractive. Maybe her standards were too high. Or maybe she had no interest in dating someone she didn’t feel was worth it, just for the sake of dating. It wasn’t her thing. She could take boys or leave them. It didn’t really matter. Life was complicated enough for her as it was.
But Dominic gave her hope. He was, to her, a glimpse of what might be if the world looked the way it would have looked if
had painted it.
had written its story.
It would be so beautiful – and its men would wear black leather jackets.
Of course, she wasn’t alone in her opinion of Dominic Maldovan. Practically every girl in the school had a thing for him. It was hard not to. He was so tall, he stood at least a head above most of the other boys in the school. He played guitar as if he’d been born with a pick between his thumb and forefinger. He even had a band – and they were good. But most of all, when Dominic looked at you, with those piercing green eyes of his, he really
at you – as if he were truly
That was rare for boys.
And it drove Logan slightly mad. It was the stuff of dreams; it was definitely the stuff of
dreams. And she’d missed him this morning because her brother had gone ballistic. Literally.
With a heavy sigh and a heart that felt equally heavy, Logan shut her locker door and turned to peer down the empty hallway. Her mother had made excuses for her, as usual. It was nothing new, and embarrassing as it was, Logan was used to the principal simply nodding at her as she walked through the school’s front door two hours late.
The one good thing that came of it was that she could take her time sorting herself out before she went to third period. She was already late. She was already behind. She may as well stand there and breathe and
before she was shoved head-long into what was left of another stressful high school day.
The silence in the halls was so very rare. To Logan, when she stood still and alone in the hallway between classes or after school, she felt as if she’d entered some kind of movie or book or even a dream. It was surreal to hear the echoes of the twelve hundred students who had traversed the hall only moments ago – but stare down its length and see nothing but rows and rows of lockers and a few pieces of careless trash.
It was like living in a ghost story. She expected to catch a glimpse of some student body president from the past, outlined in white transparency, with holes where his eyes had once been.
But that was just Logan. That was the way her mind worked.
It kept her sane when Taylor sent someone to the emergency room or her mother began to slur her speech or her father had one of his bad days.