Excerpts: Dangerous Reflections


CHAPTER 1

 

Alexis Davenport stared out the window, too angry and upset to notice the beauty of the Rocky Mountains flashing by the windows of the blue Chevy S10 Blazer. Her iPod blared at a volume that made her mother, Patricia, cringe.

“I need to make a pit stop. You want anything?” Patricia asked, trying to get her daughter’s attention.

Alex didn’t answer, just turned up the music louder and ignored her mom. She felt a tiny bit guilty when she saw the spasm of hurt pass across her mother’s face. Then the reality of life crashed over her, filling her with anger and resentment, which made it easier to ignore her mother.

She didn’t want to move across the state to start a new life. Life had been good in Longmont. She had friends, a life. When she thought of Cassie and Melissa going shopping for new clothes to start their freshman year without her, tears fell down her cheeks. I won’t have anyone to shop with in stupid Grand Junction.

A movie played in her mind of all the good times she and her two best friends had had that summer: the sleep-overs, the giggling and blushing while they watched Jacob Lawrence take his shirt off in the movie Teen Vampire, the hours spent listening to music and dreaming about what high school would be like.

Their parents called them the Three Musketeers and often teased the girls about being as bad as conjoined triplets.

Not anymore.

Alex did not know how to feel about her father leaving. He hadn’t been around much of her life. And when he was at home, he was drunk, laughing and shouting about the guys down at the auto body shop. On those nights, Alex would escape to her room and lose herself in her history books, ignoring her father’s shouts of “nerd” and “geek” as she padded down the hall.

Alex didn’t care about her mother’s reasons for moving them across the state. As far as she was concerned, her parents needed to grow up and work things out and leave her the hell out of it.

And she certainly didn’t want to live with an aunt she barely knew. She didn’t pretend to understand why her mom and aunt had stopped speaking to one another. One evening, she had overheard her mother and aunt on the phone and she caught something about jealousy and stubbornness, but she had been too busy juggling the stack of books she had checked out from the library to pay much attention.

The thought of her precious books brought up the memory of that horrible day when she had come home from school to find her mom selling their belongings. Alex had thrown her backpack to the ground, and confronted her mom.

“Alex, I have no choice. We have no money for rent and I can’t find work. Your aunt Karen is giving me a job in her store but only if we can get to Grand Junction this weekend.”

“What does that have to do with selling our stuff? My stuff? Don’t you have a bank account or something?” Alex pointed to her beloved bookshelves, her desk, even her bed. She trembled with rage and did not care that she was making the people browsing nearby uncomfortable.

Patricia had turned red at her direct question. “Your dad took all the money when he left.” She finished in a whisper, avoiding the stares of the people browsing through their things.

Alex lost it. She screamed at the people to get the hell away from her stuff. She filled her arms with the familiar knickknacks, reaching down to pick them up as they fell from her over-stuffed grasp.

Her mom had tried to get her to calm down, but Alex wanted to do anything but calm down. Her world was being turned upside down and finding people rummaging through her stuff was too much to bear.

It was her mother finally resorting to grabbing her by the shoulders and forcing Alex to face her that broke through the rage for a brief moment.  “Do you think this is easy for me, young lady? Do you?” Patricia began to cry. “I hate having to go running with my tail between my legs to beg help from my older sister. She always told me Gary was no good and now she gets to say ‘I told you so’. I hate this as much as you do, but we don’t have any choice. It’s either move to Grand Junction or live on the streets.” Patricia’s voice shook with humiliation and rage.

Alex had been angry at her mother, at her father, at the world for being so unfair. She threw the things in her arms to the ground, stalked into the house, packed her things, and draped herself in a shroud of silence. I might have to move but I don’t have to like it.

Alex watched her mom stretch, placing her hands at the small of her back before walking slowly into the Burger King just off I-70. Alex bit her lip as she found she did indeed have to use the restroom. She took out her ear buds and threw the iPod into her purse before opening the Blazer’s heavy door. She winced as her muscles protested, having been in the same position for hours.

The air was crisp, with the feel of fall in the air. A blanket of gold, red, and orange covered the hillsides. Alex loved this time of year, and she stared at the beauty of the changing colors and a feeling of peace came over her.

When she had been little, the family had gone camping a few times in Estes Park. Alex remembered the beauty of the white-topped mountains, the clarity of the lake, the daunting height of the pine trees. She had seen her first deer and caught her first fish, squealing in delight when she pulled the wiggling trout from the icy water. That night, her dad had helped her hold the thin, green stick with a large, fat marshmallow stuffed on the end of it. Alex could still see the fire curling around the marshmallow, turning it a warm, golden brown.

Alex remembered that trip. It was one of the last times the three of them did anything as a family. Her parents had laughed, shared kisses and long hugs, and Alex had thought that life couldn’t possibly get much better.

It wasn’t long after that trip that Gary started going camping with the guys and leaving her and her mom at home. When Patricia would ask if they could tag along, Gary would mumble some excuse about needing some time alone, or that it had been someone else’s idea and it just wouldn’t be right to invite them.

Alex sighed, the happy memory ruined by the intrusion of the changes that had come over her father, changes that seemed to make him drink more and distance himself from his wife and only daughter.

She entered the Burger King and took the door to the left leading to the bathrooms.

“The urge got you too I see. I am going to grab something to eat. Want anything?” Patricia had just come out of the restroom. Her curly brown hair framed her square face. Her eyes looked tired behind her large glasses.

“I’m not hungry.” Alex brushed past her mom.

She grimaced at the condition of the bathroom. Don’t they ever clean in here?

Alex finished quickly and hurried to wash her hands. She gazed at her reflection in the mirror. A blue scrunchy encircled her brownish-blond hair. Small tendrils had come free and framed her square face. Her hazel eyes were bloodshot. She had foregone make-up that morning and her face looked pale. Her father had always teased her about her plain features as well as her lack of a womanly figure.

When Alex would retreat to her room in tears after yet another of Gary’s remarks about her looks, her mother would smooth her hair and say that her father had been kidding, that he really didn’t mean anything by the teasing. She would promise to talk to him and try to get him to stop.

Alex closed her eyes, hating that her mind was dredging up these awful memories.

She finished washing her hands and looked back up at her reflection. Suddenly, the image in the mirror shifted. Alex was no longer looking at her own face.

The strange girl had dark hair in disarray around a very dirty face. Instead of hazel eyes, the girl in the mirror had bright blue eyes and they were as wide as they could possibly go.

The reflection looked strange. It wavered and moved. Like water.

Alex jumped as the door to the restroom opened. A little old lady entered and gave her a suspicious side-ways glance. Alex turned back to the mirror and found her own face in the reflection, her eyes wide and her face as white as a sheet.

I did not just see that other face in the mirror.

She dried her shaking hands and left the bathroom. Patricia was in the Blazer, eating a burger and sipping on a large Coke. Alex tried to shake the image of the girl she had seen in the mirror from her mind as she climbed into the passenger seat.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Alex felt a stab of jealousy as she gazed at the neighborhood her Aunt Karen lived in. All of the houses were enormous, sprawling manses set against the scenic backdrop of the Colorado National Monument. They had impeccable yards and many had heavy wrought iron gates across the drives.

Patricia held a piece of paper and squinted at the street signs, mumbling to herself as she drove slowly down the main road into the neighborhood. She took a left turn and parked the Blazer in front of a large house with a several cars parked in the driveway.

“This is it.”

Alexis took off her seat belt, unable to take her eyes off the enormous house. She walked with her mother to the front door and stood awkwardly, trying to straighten her ragged clothing as her mom rang the doorbell.

A short, stout woman opened the door. “Yes?” She asked in a thick accent.

“I’m Patty, Karen’s sister…”

“Si, si.” This way.” The woman waved them inside. She walked with a short, clipped pace. She led Patricia and Alex to the rear of the house before leading them outside into the biggest backyard Alex had ever seen. It was lush and green, with large cottonwood and elm trees that offered plenty of shade. There were vines of honeysuckle growing up trellises next to the enormous covered back porch. There were dozens of rose bushes spread throughout the yard, their red, orange, and yellow blooms filling the air with their perfume. There was even a fountain and koi fish pond right in the center.

Alex felt the all too familiar jealousy rearing her ugly head. The only thing growing at the tiny house in Longmont was rocks and dandelions. She wondered what the caress of grass on her feet would feel like.

The woman led them to the guesthouse, which sat just to the right of the main house. Alex was stunned to see that it was only a bit smaller than their old house in Longmont.

“This is where you will stay. Miss Karen has it all set up for you. She has to work late so do not wait up for her.” The housekeeper left before Patricia could ask her name.

“Well, that was…odd,” Patricia said.

“That’s just how the rich are Mom. Too busy to even meet their own family.” Alex said, unable to hide the bitterness in her voice.

“Your aunt has a whole store to run. I am sure she would be here if she could,” Patricia sighed. “Let’s just get our things and get settled in.”

Alex dumped her suitcase on the bed of the smallest room in the guesthouse. It had a twin bed, a dresser, and a tiny closet. She yanked her suitcase open and stuffed some of her clothes into the dresser, hanging the rest in the closet.

She opened the first of many boxes containing her beloved books, glad her room had a large set of bookshelves. Instead of the type of books one would expect to find on the shelf of a teenage girl, Alex had dozens and dozens of books on her most favorite thing in the whole world.

History.

She had been a history fanatic since she could remember. Her grandparents had loved to tell her stories of their past: the War, the Great Depression, what life was like for them as they grew up. Alex had absorbed it all like a sponge and demanded more. She had received most of the books as gifts and she looked at them like most girls would look at the latest Twilight novel.

She had books on everything: medieval history, Spanish conquistadors, the Civil War era, Roman Empire, Egyptian pharaohs, WWII and more. Alex had a gift for absorbing anything and everything about history.

Alex took each book out of the box, gazing at the well-worn covers lovingly. When all of the books were nestled in neat rows, Alex sighed and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She was still angry and hurt that she had not been able to bring any of her other belongings. Posters depicting historical events covered the walls of her old room. Her friends teased her, asking why she didn’t have posters of hot guys plastering her walls like other girls her age. Her eyes filled with tears at the unfairness of it all and wished for the hundredth time that they could have stayed in Longmont, and that her dad had stayed, and that her mother could have found work. I hate it here! She rolled over and grabbed her iPod, losing herself in the music blaring from the headphones, and dozed off.

 

***

 

She awoke with a start, momentarily frightened by the strangeness of the room. Her heart slowed down when she remembered that she was in her new room in her aunt’s guesthouse. Alex yawned and went in search of her mother.

She found Patricia sitting on the edge of her bed, holding a picture that the family had taken last Christmas. She was rocking slowly back and forth, tears rolling freely down her cheeks.

“Please God, give me the strength to move on. I need to be strong for Alex. But I don’t know who to be without him.” Patricia sobbed.

Alex ran to her mother, knelt on the floor in front of her, and hugged her tight around the waist. She suddenly felt guilty that she had behaved so badly about the move. She had not realized how hard the decision had been for her mother to make.

“It’s all right, Momma. We’ll be all right.” Alex held tight to her mother, wishing that she could wave a magic wand and make everything fine again. Anger and hatred filled her. How could he have left us?

“I know we will, Lexi. It’ll just take time.” Patricia used the special nickname that she had been calling Alex since she was a baby. She was the only one who ever called her Lexi.

Someone knocked sharply on the door to the guesthouse. They both stood and brushed tears from their faces. Patricia went to answer it.

“Dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes.” The same woman from before was there. She had changed from pleated slacks into a pair of dark blue denim. .After delivering her message she turned and began walking back to the main house.

“Wait! What is your name?” Patricia called out.

“Cecilia. Miss Karen calls me C.C. If you have need of anything, use the intercom in the house and dial 0. That will page me anywhere on the grounds.” She gave them a brief smile before turning toward the main house again.

Alex and Patricia freshened up. They walked arm-in-arm to the main house, something they hadn’t done in some time. Alex couldn’t help but smile as her mom pulled her in for a tight hug.

Karen had not returned from the store, leaving Alex and Patricia to eat alone. Alex caught a whiff of the peppers, onions, and mushrooms, as C.C. expertly stirred the vegetables in the large wok, keeping them from burning. The rich scent of the meat cooking made Alex’s stomach growl. C. C. served them plates heaping with steaming rice and stirfry. Patricia asked her to join them but she declined, saying she needed to work on Miss Karen’s financial documents.

When they finished, Alex placed their dishes in the dishwasher. They had not been able to afford one back home. Washing dishes had been her chore and she had loathed it. She hoped there was a dishwasher in the guesthouse. Hooray for never having to wash dishes again!

“Let’s go hang out at our new house and watch a movie,” Patricia suggested.

Alex thought that sounded like a good idea. “I wish we had some movie junk food…” she began, but was interrupted by C.C., who had come into the kitchen.

“I can show you where Miss Karen keeps her junk food stash,” The woman winked at the pair.  “Miss Karen said that you both are to have the run of the house and grounds. Please, do not feel like strangers here.” C.C. grabbed bags of candy and boxes of caramel corn out of the pantry. She piled the loot in Alex’s arms and opened the back door, bidding them a good night.

Patricia and Alex shared a giggle as they made their way back to the guesthouse. Their living room had a large flat screen TV complete with a Blu-Ray player. There was a shelf with a few dozen movies.

“Let’s watch Time Traveler’s Wife.” Patricia fumbled with the many remote controls until she finally got the movie to come up on the TV screen.

As Alex watched the movie, her mind turned to the strange occurrence in the Burger King bathroom. She tried to shut the thought down but it was relentless. Alex wondered who the girl was, what she had been doing, where she lived. She shook her head. I must have been seeing things.

Her eyes felt heavy. She was exhausted after the long drive and the unpacking. She pulled herself off the chair and kissed her mom good night.

As Alex brushed her teeth, her heart beat faster as she waited for her reflection to shift as it had before. She was relieved when it stayed just plain old her.

She lay in bed, staring at the strange reflections on the unfamiliar walls of her new bedroom, hoping and praying that she and her mom would be able to return home, and she could get back to her life before her parents decided to mess everything up.

It’s not fair!

She fell asleep with the litany playing in her mind like a broken record.

 

***

 

She awoke to the sound of voices coming from the living room. It was her aunt and her mother. Her breath caught in her throat when she realized they were talking about her. She crept to the door and opened it slightly, her ear pressed to the crack.

“She is enrolled at Grand Junction High school. It is best she start on the first day of the year rather than wait. It won’t do her any good to get behind,” Karen said.

“I know,” Patricia sighed. “But she won’t like it.”

“She will make new friends. It will do her good to get back to a normal life and have something else to occupy her thoughts,” Karen said.

Alex’s heart skipped a beat. Her body shook with barely suppressed fury as she pictured them conspiring against her. She did not want to start over at a new high school, where she would not only be a freshman, but the new kid. Her heart raced at the thought of walking through the halls, trying to find her locker and her classes, sitting all alone at lunch.

She crept back to bed and buried her face in her pillow. She hoped they could not hear her crying. She was shaking with anger and apprehension. Dad, why did you have to leave and ruin my life?

CHAPTER 3

 

Alex stepped off the bus, wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans. She took a deep breath and tried her best to look like she belonged. She followed the mass of students filing into the main doors of the high school. She kept her head down, trying to stay out of everyone’s way. She breathed a sigh of relief when she found her locker quickly. Alex fumbled in her pocket for the slip of paper with her combination so she could test the lock. The lock snapped open with an audible click. She quickly closed it again.

Alex found her first classroom without incident and took a seat toward the back. She slid in and tried to be as invisible as possible. She was one of the first ones to arrive and she was glad to see that most of the other students also looked nervous.

One girl chatted with a boy sitting right behind her. She had long blonde hair and playfully wrapped it around her finger as she gazed at the boy. She had on a short denim skirt paired with a slouchy cream sweater belted at her waist. She wore cream-colored knee-high boots. Alex wished she had eyes as blue as hers.

Alex couldn’t see the boy’s face but he wore denim jeans and a Maddison concert T-shirt. She ducked her head and smiled. Maddison was one of her very favorite rock bands.

The classroom was filing up quickly and those students that knew one another greeted each other loudly. Alex kept her eyes on her notebook while she doodled.

“Hi. I’m Jennifer McDonald.”

Alex glanced to her right. She smiled. “Alexis Davenport. Most people call me Alex.”

Jennifer smiled nervously. “I hope we don’t have Mr. Gordon. I hear he’s super hard.” She twirled her brown, curly hair around her fingers.

“I don’t know Mr. Gordon or any of the other teachers. I just moved here,” Alex said.

Jennifer leaned closer. “I hear Mr. Gordon was hired after the last teacher, Mr. Jonas, left town suddenly. There is a rumor that he was in bed with the babysitter and his wife walked in on them.” Her brown eyes sparkled with malicious glee at sharing such juicy news.

Alex did not know what to say. She felt a little uncomfortable, and yet, she leaned closer to hear more of this juicy gossip.

“That’s not what happened! He caught his wife in bed with his daughter’s boyfriend. The cops arrested him because he beat the kid up.” A gangly boy sitting behind Jennifer spoke up. He had freckles and ears much too big for his face.

“Oh, what would you know, Simon? My mom heard it from this lady who knew his wife,” Jennifer retorted.

Simon looked at Alex and rolled his eyes. “Everyone has a different story. He probably just up and left town for no reason.”

His words hit a little too close to home for Alex. Jennifer noticed the change in her demeanor and swatted Simon. “Let’s just drop the subject, shall we?”

Alex smiled gratefully and decided she liked Jennifer. She was about to ask if she would like to sit together at lunch when the teacher walked in.

She was a petite redhead who walked with serious purpose. C.C. walks like that. The teacher took off her coat and turned to the blackboard. She wrote her name in large white letters.

Miss McDaniel.

And below that, English.

“If you’re not supposed to be in English class then you are in the wrong place. Take your schedule to the office and they will fix the mix-up,” Miss McDaniel’s voice rang out, and the classroom slowly grew quiet. “I need volunteers to hand out textbooks.”

Alex glanced at Jennifer who had screwed up her face. The look she gave Alex said so much for an easy first day. Alex bit back a laugh.

The rest of the morning passed quickly. She had American Government, and after that, History. She was looking forward to History class. Alex often daydreamed that she was the curator of a large museum, like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or the Smithsonian. She had been disappointed that neither Simon nor Jennifer had American Government or History with her.

After History class, she headed to the cafeteria, getting in line to choose her lunch for the day. The cafeteria filled rapidly with students, most standing awkwardly and looking for an empty seat or someone familiar they could sit with. Alex walked slowly, hoping to find an empty table. She spotted Jennifer who was sitting with a couple of girls. Jennifer waved her over.

“Hi. How was your first morning?” She had pulled her brown hair up into a loose ponytail.

“Good. Yours?” Alex was glad that she had found someone to sit with. She noted that Jennifer had brought her own lunch to school. Alex admitted that Jennifer’s sandwich, yogurt, and small bag of veggies looked much more appetizing than her own lukewarm hotdog and mushy fries.

Jennifer rolled her eyes. “I got stuck with Dwayne as a lab partner in Biology. The guy smells like fish.” She wrinkled her nose.

Jennifer introduced the other girls sitting at the table. Amy was a tiny plump blond with pimples dotting her face. She had merry blue eyes and an infectious laugh. Brittany had short dark hair that she spiked in the latest style and wore the most outrageous outfits that looked like something Madonna wore back in the 80’s. Alex was envious at how oblivious she seemed to the stares from the students walking past.

Alex ate her lunch in silence and listened to the other girls chat about their first classes. They all knew each other from middle school. Nostalgia washed over her, and she wished she could be eating lunch with her old friends. Alex breathed deeply, trying to swallow the lump forming in her throat.

“So where are you from, Alex?” Brittany asked.

“Longmont,” Alex mumbled, unwilling to say more. She was not ready to share too much of herself with these girls.

“Never heard of it,” Brittany tugged her lace gloves and flashed a fake smile. “Well, gotta run.” She took her tray and left.

“Don’t pay attention to her. She’s always cranky,” Jennifer said.

The bell rang and the girls headed off to their first afternoon class. For Alex, this was Biology, her second favorite subject. She felt more at ease in this class and sat in the front row. The same blonde girl from English sat in the very back, playing with her cell phone and popping a giant wad of hot pink gum. She glanced up and saw Alexis looking at her. She sneered and rolled her eyes before returning to her texting.

Alex looked away, blushing. She had not meant to stare, but the girl looked familiar. Alex frowned, trying in vain to figure out where she had seen the girl’s face before.

The classroom filled quickly and soon the seat next to Alex was the only empty one. She felt a little like she had the plague. She sat alone and waited for the teacher to begin class. Suddenly, someone rushed in and sat down next to her. She glanced up and was surprised to see the same boy that was in her first class.

He was the most handsome, adorable boy she had ever seen. He had blonde hair to his shoulders and his eyes were icy blue. He had chiseled features, like something you would see on a movie star. He smiled absently at her as he sat down and took out his notebook. Alex’s heart skipped a beat and her face felt warm. She tried to slow her breathing.

She looked away, blushing again and saw that her hands were shaking. Get a grip Alex. He’s going to think you’re a freak.

The teacher asked the students to take turns introducing themselves. Alex was first to go. Her voice shook as she mumbled her name. She took a deep breath when it was over and glanced at the handsome boy sitting next to her.

“I’m Beau Johnson,” He said, grinning.

Beau. Alex said it in her mind, feeling a little thrill.

She did not remember much of the rest of class. Since she and Beau were sitting next to one another, they ended up being lab partners. Alex was both thrilled and terrified. She didn’t want to do something stupid and make a fool of herself. Oh God! What if I get sick during one of the dissections or something?

Then she had a terrifying thought. What if we have to study the reproductive system? She harbored thoughts of dropping the class until the teacher went over the topics they would cover. She sighed in relief. No reproduction!

The bell rang and she gathered up her notebook and Biology book. She looked for Beau but he was already on his way out the door. The blonde girl stopped right in front of Alex, her hands on her hips.

“Don’t even think of putting the moves on my man just because he was late to class and got stuck sitting next to you.” The girl said curtly, poking her finger at Alex’s chest.

Alex stood in complete shock, unsure of how to react. Beau was the one who had been late to class. Alex thought this bratty girl should be angry with him instead. The other students walked past them, giving the pair a wide berth. Some snickered and Alex heard someone whisper, “I wonder if Catelyn will make her cry?”

Catelyn shot Alex a venomous look before sauntering out.

The blood rushed to Alex’s face and she hurriedly left the classroom, making for the nearest restroom so that she could compose herself before her next class. Alex sat in the stall until her galloping heart slowed. She could not believe that she had not even finished a whole day of school and already someone hated her guts. I hate it here! The usual litany did nothing to make her feel better. Alex doubted her mother would move away just because she had a bad first day of school. She sighed and exited the stall, walking past the mirrors.

She gasped and turned suddenly when she noticed that the reflection change to the same girl she had seen in the Burger King restroom. Alex bit back a whimper of fear and burst out of the restroom, her heart once again thumping in her chest. She wanted to leave but she knew she would be in trouble if she skipped school.

The rest of the day passed in a daze. Alex couldn’t concentrate and found herself becoming more and more frightened of the strange girl in the mirror. Jennifer and Simon were in her Spanish class, the last class of the day. She momentarily forgot all about the girl in the mirror when Jennifer asked about her encounter with Catelyn.

“Catelyn Montgomery is the snootiest, richest girl in the whole school. She thinks she’s hot stuff just because she did a few commercials. Too bad her family had to move here from California.” Jennifer rolled her eyes.

Catelyn is the girl in the JC Penney commercials. Alex groaned. That’s just great. The most popular girl in school hates my guts. She wanted to get on a bus bound for anywhere far from Grand Junction.

“Don’t let her get to you, Alex. Hey, want to get together this weekend? We can work on our English project.”

“Sure.” Alex forced a smile.

Alex, Simon, and Jennifer walked to the buses. Simon and Jennifer got on the same bus. They must live in the same neighborhood or something. Feeling a little lonely, Alex sat down in an empty seat and tried to forget about Catelyn Montgomery and the strange girl who kept appearing in mirrors.

Her mother was not home yet, so Alex sat at the dining room table to finish a short take-home quiz for history. She knew the material without having to use the internet, as the instructor advised.

Alex waited until almost seven o’clock before finally fixing herself a sandwich. She called C.C. from the intercom and was told that both her mother and Karen would be closing the store and not to wait up. She took her sandwich and water to the living room. She aimlessly changed channels, never settling down on one thing for long. She turned off the TV and decided to get ready for bed. I can read the next chapter of history.

Alex brushed her teeth and changed into her PJs. As she was putting her clothes in the hamper, she stopped and stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror hanging on the wall. Alex hated looking at herself in the mirror.

Catelyn’s figure was flawless, while her own was too large in all of the wrong places, and lacking womanly curves. She thought her hips were too wide, her arms were too long, her hands were too large, and her feet were too big. Beau will never notice me with her around. Alex turned this way and that, trying to find some redeeming quality in her reflection, anything that would make Beau notice her but she couldn’t find anything worthwhile staring back at her. She pulled her hair up and tried several poses, even going so far as to pout her lips like she had seen the girls do in fashion magazines. I look ridiculous!

She flung her arms down in disgust, letting her hair fall limply to her shoulders.

Alex gasped as the image in the mirror shifted. Oh God, not again! The same dirty girl was there and her black hair was even more disheveled than last time and looking as though it was falling forward. She had her hands to her mouth and her blue eyes stared into Alex’s hazel ones with alarming intensity.

Why is her hair coming toward the mirror like that? Alex felt like giggling at such a lame question. And why is there blue sky in the background? Alex knew it was the sky because she could see billowy clouds floating by.

She is kneeling on the ground or something. Alex was surprised at how part of her brain seemed to be working on a logical level, while the other was gibbering in terror. The reflection did not seem to be rippling like it had before.

Is this what it feels like to go crazy? She wanted to run but she found herself moving toward the mirror as if her legs had a mind of their own. The girl took her hands from her mouth and reached toward the mirror. Her tears made clean tracks in her dirty face. Alex raised her arm, hand reaching toward the glass. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. Her own voice babbled madly in her mind. Why can’t I stop this?

When their eyes met, a spark of recognition ignited. Even though their features were different, their spirit, their essence was the same. Alex knew this as surely as she knew that the girl in the mirror was kneeling on the ground, hand reaching forward. She lost herself in those blue eyes, eyes that were strange and at the same time as familiar as her own.

Alex’s fingers were mere inches from the mirror. She tried to stop her fingers from moving, but she couldn’t. Something is making this happen! It isn’t me! Her arm shook with tension and tears of frustration and fear poured from her eyes. It was as if someone of immense strength was pulling her arm forward, and she was as powerless as a baby to stop it.

When she touched the glass, it felt wrong. It was squishy and wet, like thickened water. She gasped as she felt a spasm of pain. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. The last thing she remembered seeing before blacking out is the face of the girl in the mirror, her mouth open in her own silent scream.

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Alex opened her eyes, squinting at the brightness. Why did mom turn the light on? She groaned and rolled over, thinking she was going to be burying her head into her pillow and sucked in a breath when her face scraped on hard packed dirt. She slowly pushed up, certain that she would wake up any second now to find herself safe in her own room. She tried to stand but her legs wouldn’t hold her and she collapsed. A wave of nausea struck.

She ran her hands over her rough spun wool dress, and absently noticed that her bare feet were inches from a pond. Alex crawled to the edge of the pond and stared at her reflection in the water.

The face she saw was the strange girl with blue eyes. Alex raised her hand and touched her face.

This has got to be a dream. Alex pinched her calf and winced in pain. This is real. Oh my God this is real! Alex’s throat tightened and she could not draw a breath.

Darkness enveloped her.

 

***

 

Alex awoke with a start and sat up, fumbling and reaching for the lamp on her nightstand. She gave a yelp as she fell out of the bed and onto the hard wooden floor. Wood? My room has carpet. She whimpered in terror as she crawled on the floor in circles, fear taking every coherent thought from her mind.

“Aine, love?” A woman with salt and pepper hair came rushing in, carrying a lamp. Her blue eyes were wide with fright and worry. She knelt next to Alex and tried to put her arms around her, but Alex backed away in terror.

“What’s the fuss?” A man entered in a dirty white frock, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“I think those devil dreams are at her again.”

“Who are you? How did I get here?” Alex’s voice sounded strange to her ears. Why am I speaking with an Irish accent? What is happening? Where am I? She wanted to ask the questions aloud but she could do nothing more than whimper.

“Ach Aine! ‘tis us, Ma and Da! You must have taken a knock to the head. We found you layin’ next to the pond and brought you back here.” The woman gave Alex a helpless look.

Alex allowed the strange woman to help her back into the tiny bed.

“Ach! I thought she was done with those ‘oul dreams.” The man waved his hands and wandered out of the room, muttering to himself.

The woman looked at the man with fear in her eyes. “Aine, you must try to get control of yourself. If word of this gets out the story will grow arms and legs until they say the devil himself comes to meet you every night!”

Alex bit the inside of her cheek to keep from wailing in terror. I have to find my way home!

“You just lie here and close your eyes. The mornin’ will be here soon. Your dad will expect you to do your work, devil dreams or no. Try to sleep.” She kissed Alex on the forehead and for just a moment, Alex could see her mother’s spirit behind the woman’s blue eyes.

Alex nodded, trying to soothe the woman’s fears and even managed to close her eyes, though it frightened her to do so. The woman left the room, taking the lamp with her. Alex had to fight the urge to ask her to please leave it behind to keep the dark at bay.

Get a grip, Alex! You are Alex Davenport and you have recently moved into your aunt’s guesthouse. Alex closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her galloping heart. You are Alex Davenport, and you love history and Beau Johnson. You are Alex Davenport and you hate living in Grand Junction.

So if I am still Alex, then whose body am I in? And why don’t I know a thing about this other girl?

Alex stared at the room, faint moonlight filtering in through cracks in the wall.

This is real, Alex. You gotta deal.

The logical voice in her head helped to calm her down. I must have somehow been transported into this other girl or something.

Aine.

Alex forced herself to say the girl’s name. She must be ready to answer to Aine, not Alex while she was stuck here.

If only I knew where here was!

Alex remembered hearing herself speak in what sounded like an Irish accent. So maybe I’m in Ireland or something.

She lay in bed, trying to work through what had happened. All Alex knew was that she had somehow been transported into this other girl’s body and that she retained all the memories of herself and where she came from. I have to stay calm so I can figure out a way to get back to my own body.

The first rays of sunshine came through the cracks in the walls. She heard movement in the rest of the house and bit her lip. I should get up. I don’t want to make that man angry.

Alex stood slowly, weak from exhaustion and fear, and looked around the meager room. Her bed was so small her feet hung off the end if she lay flat on her back. There was a small chest at the foot of the bed for her clothing. There were no windows or decorations adorning the pale wood walls.

She took a breath to steady her shaking hands and galloping heart and opened the door. The smell of cooking pork assailed her nostrils. Her belly gave a loud rumble and she wondered exactly how long it had been since she had eaten. The woman was dressed in a drab brown dress and her hair was a rat’s nest. She turned when she heard Alex emerge and gave her a small smile.

“You’d best be about your duties. The egg basket is there by the door. Breakfast will be on the table by the time you’re done.” The woman turned back to the hearth.

Alex found the basket near the door and left, wondering how one was to go about collecting eggs. She had never even seen it done before. The panic rose in her once again and tears of frustration began to fall. What in the world am I doing here?

The sky was a pale blue, but she could see thunderheads building far off in the distance. There was a small barn to the left and chickens ran freely about the yard, which was enclosed by low stone walls. Other than their meager farm, there was nothing to be seen save for rolling hills of emerald green.

Alex walked to the wall. She was surprised to find herself moving with confidence to the hens sitting on their nests. The lazy birds barely moved as she reached beneath them to find the warm eggs underneath.

I must have some of this girl’s memories or something. How else would I know how to collect eggs? So why don’t I know anything else about this girl?

She brought the nearly full basket into the house and set them on the table. The woman came to inspect them.

“There’s good laying this year. We have enough to take to town to sell,” She beamed at Alex, who blushed at the praise. “Come, Aine. It is time to eat. We must be off to town soon.”

Alex sat down and the woman brought her a plate with cooked pork and some sort of tubers. She wolfed the food down so quickly she barely tasted it, which surprised her. Normally, Alex was a fussy eater and preferred to eat fish and chicken as opposed to red meat. When it came to vegetables, Alex would just as soon not even see them on her plate. Maybe I am eating with the other girl’s appetite.

“Where is Da?”

“He’s out plowing. We won’t be seein’ him till after dark. Now, get yer good shoes on. We need to get on the road. The market will be black with people today.”

Alex found her shoes in her room tucked neatly under her bed. She found wool stockings in her chest. The shoes were heavy and rough. I bet I get a blister walking in these things. Alex hoped the town was not far.

As the pair walked down the dirt road, she had time to think about her situation. She wondered if the other girl was in her body back home, trying to make sense of where she was and all of the strange new things. Alex wondered why she was here and how she was going to get back home. A wave of sadness washed over her. She did not want to spend the rest of her life as some dirty peasant. She wanted to finish high school, go to college, and eventually become the curator of the Smithsonian. What did I do to deserve this?

They reached the town just before midday. It was loud, dirty, and stinky. In short time, Alex’s shoes were covered in mud and filth. Her stomach heaved every time she took a breath. The air was a mix of cooking food, rotting food, and human and animal waste that she was certain was adding to the muddy mess of the road.

“Is somethin’ the matter, Aine?” The woman asked, seeing Alex put her hand to her nose.

Alex pulled her hand quickly from her face and shook her head. She tried to smile but she was afraid it only came out as a grimace.

“Ailbe! How are you this fine mornin’?” A buxom woman wearing a dirty green dress waved to the pair. She carried a basket of eggs, resting it on one of her ample hips.

Ailbe. Alex had been too afraid to ask what the woman’s name was. I wonder what Aine’s father’s name is?

“Ach, Aine! You found a husband yet, girl? My Conor is of an age to marry and he has an eye for you. He should be returning from Dublin in a few days.” The woman gave Alex a wink. Alex was too stunned to do more than stammer and blush.

This girl can’t be more than fourteen. Alex recalled that in the past, girls often married very soon after their first monthly cycle. She shuddered and hoped that she could find a way back home before she found herself married. She was very inexperienced when it came to boys and could not bear the thought of being married to one. The idea of having to perform wifely duties was enough to make her want to run screaming in the other direction.

The woman mentioned Dublin. I must be in Ireland. She couldn’t think of a way of asking the year without sounding like a lunatic, so she held her tongue, and vowed to pay attention to what people said to see if she could puzzle it out.

“I think my Aine has an eye for Conor as well. Does the boy need a kick in the arse before he asks for her hand?”

The woman laughed. “Aye, he needs a kick in the arse alright. I will be giving it to him as soon as he returns.”

Ailbe gave the woman a pat on the arm and a wink. “We better be sayin’ good day to you. I want to be getting back to the farm before Oran returns from the fields.”

Oran. Alex now knew the name of Aine’s father.

Ailbe and Alex made their way to the market where Ailbe sold the eggs in the basket and pocketed the copper pieces. The walk back was uncomfortable for Alex. Ailbe chatted of Conor’s manly build and his strength. “He is a grand man, Aine. He will give you many strong sons.”

Alex did not want to speak of Conor’s manly form, nor did she want to talk about the prospect of babies. I have to get out of here. She wondered if she should try to find the pond again. Perhaps she would be able to return home. I have to try.

The thunderheads that Alex had seen that morning were building overhead. The ominous rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.

“We best hurry. Or we will be soaked to the skin. That rain doesn’t look soft.” Ailbe hiked up her skirts and began a slow jog. Alex followed suit, wondering if the woman meant to run all the way back to the family farm.

Alex was surprised at her ease of maintaining the pace. She had never been athletic and had never run further than a few hundred yards, and yet she kept pace without breaking a sweat. She felt a small surge of pride at her strength and attributed it to the girl whose place she had taken. She probably runs a lot.

The pair arrived at the farm just as huge raindrops began to fall. Alex went to the barn, driven by knowledge the other girl possessed, and found a pitchfork against one wall. She grabbed it and began pulling the horse dung from their rudimentary stalls and into the middle of the barn. When she had it all in a large pile, she pushed it out the door.

When she finished, she stood in the doorway of the barn, her skin pebbling in the cool air. Her breath misted. She looked around her and found herself strangely at peace. The countryside was lush and green, and the low-lying clouds obscured the hills nearby. The mist that descended on the area made the tiny farm seem even more remote.

Alex took a deep breath of the fresh, clean air. It reminded her of the air in the mountains back home. She had always enjoyed spending time there. It was easy for her to lose herself while picturing what life must have been like for the first person to set foot in the Rocky Mountains. Alex tried to visualize what the mountains must have looked like, how harsh and treacherous the conditions were without the use of modern-day conveniences like vehicles, hotels, and Starbucks. She found it ironic that here she was actually experiencing a piece of history, something any historian would love to do, and all she wanted was to return home.

The man, Oran, was barely visible coming down off one of the large hills, heading for the barn. Alex heard him calling out to the horses, urging them to move quickly so they could get out of the rain.

Alex ran for the house to help Ailbe get supper ready. Oran would be drenched and tired and no doubt wanting his dinner hot and ready when he came in out of the rain.

“Did you get the barn cleaned then?” Ailbe asked Alex as she came rushing through the door.

“Yes, Ma. Da is coming in.”

“We better see to getting supper on the table then.” Ailbe bent over the hearth to stir the large cast iron kettle.

Again, as if moving by some instinct, Alex walked over to the small brick oven, grabbed a piece of cloth, and gently removed a loaf of bread. She breathed deeply, her mouth watering. She was ravenous after the long day.

Oran burst through the door, soaked to the skin. Ailbe fussed over him, urging him to get out of the wet clothes.

Oran looked at Alex. “Did you muck the stalls?”

Alex nodded. “Just now finished.”

He grunted and looked almost displeased that she had finished her work. He ordered Ailbe to get him a plate ready and he went and sat at the table.

Alex bit her lip, feeling extremely uncomfortable. She sat down at her place at the table, keeping her head down, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. She was surprised at how similar it felt to dinners when her father was still around. He was either angry and sullen, or drunk and boisterous, either of which made meal times an uncomfortable affair. She would eat as quickly as possible so that she could be excused.

Ailbe brought two plates with roasted chicken and potatoes. After a brief prayer thanking God for the food before them, Oran tore into his food without a word to his wife. Alex forced herself to eat, even though her appetite seemed to have disappeared. She quietly took her plate and washed it in the small wooden basin that held water from the pond.

She went to her room and closed the door, letting out a sigh of relief. She hated being in tense situations. She never seemed to know how to diffuse them or how to react. She hoped the new day would give her some free time to walk down to the pond. I want to go home.

She changed into a scratchy shift and lay down in the tiny bed, pulling the blanket up to her chin. The falling rain and the rolling thunder calmed her nerves.

Alex filled her mind with thoughts of home as the gentle noise of the rain soothed her to sleep

 

CHAPTER 5

 

Alex hurried through her morning chores and ran to the pond just to the north of the small farmhouse. She frowned as she surveyed the pond, trying to find the exact spot where she fainted.

I’m pretty sure this is it. She got down on her hands and knees and held her breath as she leaned forward to peer into the water. Alex studied her reflection, amazed at how similar and yet how different she and Aine were. Their faces were the same shape, and their hair was the same length, though Aine’s was much darker than Alex’s. I wish I had eyes as blue as hers.

Alex stared hard at her reflection, willing the image in the water to shift so that her own face stared back but the water stayed calm and still. She sighed and stood up, tears welling behind her eyes. What if I get trapped here forever?

Her thoughts were interrupted by shouting coming from the house. Oran was bringing one of the horses from the barn, and tying his old, rusty sword to the saddle. He wore a boiled leather vest over his shirt. Ailbe wrung her hands. She saw Aine and beckoned to her.

“The Vikings have landed in Dublin. The High King has called the men and boys to fight.”

Alex knew she must be somewhere in the 10th century, or perhaps a little later. She was frightened at the possibility of the coming battle. Her desire to return home was stronger than ever, though she felt a little guilty at wanting the other girl to come back and perhaps lose her life or be taken prisoner.

Oran mounted and rode off without looking back at his wife and daughter. For Alex, this reminded her of her own father leaving on the motorcycle. She hugged Ailbe and cried along with her as they watched him ride off over the rolling green hills.

They sat by the hearth, neither one saying anything. Alex tried to picture herself living out the rest of her days in this time period and could not do so. She missed her iPod, TV, comfortable clothing, running water. She sighed and scratched her legs, which were covered in a layer of hair.  I miss hot water and my razor most of all.

As if reading her mind, Ailbe stood and suggested that they take advantage of the sunny day to bathe in the pond. Alex wrinkled her nose at the thought of bathing in the dirty water. Why couldn’t I have come back in time to a castle that has a bathhouse?

Alex sucked in a breath as she plunged into the freezing cold water. Ailbe handed her the soft cake of soap and Alex hurriedly lathered her hands and began to scrub her hair. She shivered uncontrollably and was certain that her lips must be blue. After they finished, she and Ailbe hurried from the water, teeth chattering. The sun felt good on her bare skin, but Alex wished for a nice, fluffy Egyptian cotton towel.

Alex followed Ailbe’s lead and put her clean clothing on over her damp skin. It was extremely uncomfortable to be dressing with their skin still wet. Alex sat on a rock and waited for Ailbe to finish pulling an antler comb through her salt and pepper hair.

As Alex sat and yanked the comb through her tangled hair, a horse and rider came galloping over the hills, heading straight for the house.

“Looks like Conor is stoppin’ by to see you.” Ailbe said with a smirk.

Alex’s stomach filled with butterflies, and she and hurriedly finished combing her hair as they walked back to the house. Even though she did not intend to marry this boy, she found herself trying to smooth her dark wavy hair and dust off her simple dress. You may not be marrying him, but Aine most certainly is.

As they got closer to the house, Alex was shocked to see the horse’s sides lathered in sweat. Conor yelled for them in the house. He came running out the front door, looking frantically left and right.

“Conor! What’s the problem, boy? I thought you would be on the road to Dublin to join the High King’s army,” Ailbe said.

He spun around and Alex got her first look at the boy Aine was supposed to marry. He was tall, with light skin and dark hair and eyes such a dark blue they were almost black. Alex’s breath left in a rush. As soon as their eyes met, she felt as if she had known this boy her whole life, as if he already knew her deepest secrets and darkest fears. She was drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

“The Vikings have attacked and I had to leave,” He took something out of his saddlebag. “I need you to take this and hide it. I will ride off and draw off those that are following me. Please do as I say. Do it quickly.” Conor handed the bundle to Alex. As their hands touched, Alex thought her heart would burst. She could tell by the look on Conor’s face that he had felt something too.

Conor broke contact and walked over to his exhausted mount. He yelled and slapped the animal on the rump, sending it running. Conor gave Alex one last longing glance before he loped off toward the west, going the opposite direction as the horse.

“What did he give you Aine?”

Ailbe’s words brought Alex back to reality. She unwrapped the object and sucked in a breath.

It was the Book of Kells.

 

* * *

 

Alex slowly caressed the manuscript and could not believe she was holding the actual Book of Kells. She had done a report on the holy book in 7th grade. Alex opened the book and almost cried when she saw the elaborate folios depicting various scenes from the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. She ran her fingers lovingly across the pages, laughing in delight.

“Why would he give us this?” Ailbe’s face was white with fear. “If we are caught with this holy book, the Vikings will kill us for sure.”

Alex turned to Ailbe, her heart racing. “Do you have any books that are the same size?”

Ailbe frowned. “We do have one that is maybe a little larger. Why?”

“Show me.” Alex ran to the house, hoping she had enough time.

Ailbe ran to the rickety shelf and took down a book with a thread-bare cloth cover. She handed it to Alex who promptly ripped the cover off.

“Aine! What in the name of Jesus and his blessed mother are you doing?” Ailbe asked.

Alex did not answer. Instead, she took the Book of Kells, and with a heavy heart, ripped the cover off. Ailbe put her hands to her mouth in horror as some of the folios came off with the covers.

“Aine! What have you done? God will surely punish you for destroying the sacred book.”

“I am saving the sacred book. We have to hide it.” Alex took the cover and folios from the Book of Kells and tossed them into the hearth where they quickly caught fire.

“Someone is coming. Whatever you’re up to, do it fast, girl,” Ailbe said.

Alex heard the sound of horses and whimpered in terror. She grabbed the old covers and placed them around the folios from the Book. Her hands shook as she placed it back on the shelf.  

Just then, the door burst open and a tall, muscular Viking warrior walked in, his face covered in a red beard. The man’s eyes roamed the large central room.

“We are looking for a young man who rode this way. Where did he go?”

“We don’t know any…”Ailbe began, but the man calmly picked her up by the throat and slammed her against the wall, cutting off her words. He turned his flat gaze to Alex.

“Where is the young man that passed this way?”

Alex felt evil pouring off the man and backed away. When he squeezed Ailbe’s throat tighter, Alex pointed a shaking hand to the east, hoping that her actions would bring Conor no harm. But she couldn’t take a chance lying to the big man and having him kill Ailbe.

The man dropped Ailbe and left without another word. Alex walked to the door and saw the man examine the ground and order his men to follow the tracks the horse had left behind. Alex sighed in relief, glad they had not been able to pick up Conor’s footprints.

Ailbe rubbed her throat, which was now red and raw. “God bless your thinkin’ brain, girl. Now I suppose it will be up to us to keep it safe?”

“Until it can be brought once again out into the open, it must be kept hidden. Come dark, we will need to dig a hole and bury it.” Alex was glad she was such a history fanatic. She remembered from her school report that the Book had been found buried in the ground with no covers.

Alex felt that what she had done had been the right thing to do. She couldn’t explain the feeling, only that she knew, deep down, that the Book of Kells was safe.

After a supper of cold chicken, Alex went to her room and changed into her shift. She wondered if she would see Conor again. I hope the Vikings don’t find out he tricked them.

 

* * *

 

Late that night, by the light of the moon, Alex and her mother took the sacred Book, covered it in burlap, and crept to the barn. Alex padded quietly to the far wall, whispering soothing words to the livestock as they began moving about. Alex’s heart pounded in fear. If the Vikings returned, they would be caught with the Book, and killed.

Alex grabbed the crude spade and ran back out of the barn. Her mother stood frozen in place, holding the Book tight against her chest. They ran to the outer edges of the family’s farm. Alex found a shallow ditch nearby and began to dig. She didn’t need to go very deep; just deep enough to bury the Book and hide it from prying eyes.

Ailbe and Alex shared a glass of warm milk to sooth their shattered nerves. Both expected the Vikings to come riding up any moment with Conor as their prisoner, demanding to know the whereabouts of the Book of Kells.

“We best be gettin’ to our beds.” Ailbe bid Alex a good night.

Alex didn’t bother to change out of her clothes. She lay in the bed, tense and terrified, listening for the sound of hoof beats or voices. She was certain she would not be able to sleep, but in a few short minutes, her eyes closed and she fell into a deep sleep.

 

* * *

 

She awoke standing next to the pond. The full moon shone like a giant spotlight on the water. She knelt and leaned over, watching as her reflection shifted to that of her familiar face framed by blondish brown hair. She reached forward, gasping at the sharp pain as her hand touched the water’s surface.

 

* * *

Alex sucked in a breath, determined to stay conscious. She coughed and her breath hitched in her chest. Spots danced before her eyes. Alex stumbled out of her room, sobbing in relief to see the somewhat familiar layout of the guesthouse. The house was shrouded in darkness. Alex wondered how long she had been gone.

She frantically searched for her mother, and was devastated to find her gone. She must be in the main house.

Alex ran to the intercom and dialed 0. She breathed a sigh of relief when C.C. answered.

“C.C.! It’s Alex. Tell mom I’m okay.”

“Miss Alex? Your mother has not returned from work yet. She and Miss Karen have to close the store tonight.” She paused. “Are you all right?”

Alex mumbled something unintelligible into the phone and hung up. She ran to the computer and checked the date: September 29, 2010.

Alex sat down hard, completely stunned. I’ve only been gone a few minutes! She found that almost impossible to believe. She wandered back to her room, trying to grasp all that had happened. Although it was still early, Alex got into her pajamas and got ready for bed. She lay there in bed, heart hammering in her chest, wondering if she was losing her mind.

Alex debated watching TV and waiting for her mom to get home. She jumped at each noise, and was too scared to look out the window, fearing she would see the Viking standing there, battle ax raised, ready to chop her head off.

Get a grip, Alex! There’s no damn Viking standing outside. He’s in Ireland where he belongs.

She closed her eyes and prayed that she wouldn’t be  taking  any more crazy trips back in time.

 

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