- Holidays and Celebrations
House On The Hill - Part V
(continuing from Part IV)
NIGHTMARE - OR NOT?
Now Mark feels as though he is in another world, dizzy and unsure of any of it, a stranger in a stranger-than-life scenario.
Is this HIS nightmare, he wonders, thinking back to those moments during the night when she awakened him, - moments he had thought could be dismissed as simply overflow from a dismal nightmare she was having? What was all that - really? He'd felt so much better the next morning with Nancy back to normal and that frantic night behind them. Now - this? He's still not even sure it is real.
But what did he miss, he wonders? Something that might have prevented all this? He goes over it all in his head, which is splitting, rehashing the astounding events of that night in his mind, - over and over, trying to make sense of it, just to get any kind of equilibrium restored. He feels as though the entire General Store were whirling through space, rushing headlong toward some distant galaxy with the entire town aboard.
"I must get ahold of myself!" He looks at Nancy, knowing with every fiber of his being that he must rally for her sake. Nightmare or not - he must try to think as clearly as possible. She needs him! And -"Oh," he thinks once more, "I need her!" She looks so small and alone.
He recalls that after he and Joe rushed to Mr. Stamps' general store and got inside they found a dazed Mr. Stamps holding that dreadful-looking note written on some kind of brittle old vellum-type paper in a calligraphy styled handwriting. He remembers that he approached the man with a sense of ease which puzzles him now. He marvels at the clarity of recalling such insubstantial details which normally would have been subordinate to his prime focus on the "meat of it": - What did the note say? Who sent it? What's the significance for all these people and himself? He would normally barely have noticed on what kind of paper it was written. He must have been out of it! But maybe it's significant, like a clue.
His mind struggles back to the present and what has just actually happened - or so he thinks. He checks the surroundings to make sure but there's almost a nausea in his stomach, his head is reeling so. The only other experience to compare with it was having a brain concussion in college, playing football, with his mind drifting in and out of reality.
This entire scene could be torn from a page out of a tale of Merlin in the Magic Forest, although one would not then expect all these everyday townsfolk even to be there, in a fairy tale. And - they are here, are real, he tells himself. He knows that they are because they parted to let him through to where Mr. Stamps stood with Nancy perched nearby on some makeshift seat, as though in some strange dream. - Is it one? What else would they be doing here like this? It's so silly.
He blinks his eyes as though that might clear up all the fuzzy absurdity and contorted confusion. Oh! To be able to set the clock back a day!
He tries again to think. OK, there is thiis note. It's been unfolded and read. I need to read it for myself. There are too many loose interpretations circulating around here. There has to be a real explanation. Maybe it's to be found in the message.
His head still hurts but he feels it's starting to click on again.
Taking the missive from Mr. Stamps, who hardly notices, so spaced out is he, Mark slumped onto his knees beside Nancy to read it. She merely continued to gaze into space, seeming as totally absent from the scene as he was - finally - beginning to totally experience it as real. But it seemed as though she didn't even see the note - nor indeed, - her husband.
I mustn't panic, he thinks. One thing at a time Let me see, what does this note say?
He stared at it: Loosely, the message was that "someone has entered the inner sanctum and now the payment for the debt or debts for a life or lives has been contracted and will soon be settled, in our good time. All that remains are the final details and the collection of the debt. Stand by." It seems to imply someone wrote it and to carry great portent, though it seems to TELL or SAY almost nothing. There's no real "meat" on that to attempt to decipher. WHO did write it and when? Who delivered it to this post office, - and why? So much for answers, he thinks.
If only Nancy could explain, could help him comprehend.
He looked at the note and back at Nancy. She is here, but nowhere near here. He wonders if HE is here.
He gawks at this mystifying note with its cryptic message and antiquated penmanship, unlike any he's ever seen except perhaps in ancient history textbook illustrations.
Surprising, he thinks, that I can even decipher it, yet - I could. How is this possible?
In fact, it seems the most real thing in the place, in spite of its puzzling veiled message which communicates no meaning to him. What does it MEAN? Can Nancy possibly explain? Is she coming back to him? Ever? How would he LIVE if she didn't?
He slumps with his head between his hands, letting the note drift out of his hands to the floor. Tears have started to cloud his vision so he doesn't even notice..
The next day. . .
Nancy is still glazed and does not speak. She has been brought to the council hall in hopes of telling them something - anything.
She stares out of the window and across at the Court House. Only when Justin is brought to her does she show signs of response. She opens her arms to him and he slips into them where he is hugged and held close.
No words are uttered. It is as if the two of them share clarity beyond the moment.
It is only when Terrance taps her on her arm that she release her embrace.
Mark knows it is up to him to try to break into her reverie, if they are ever to learn what only she must know. He tries to sound calm - for her sake, though his heart is racing and he feels overwhelmed. But he summons as steady and normal a voice as he can.
“Nancy, - darling, can you tell me what happened? Did you go into the House as you mentioned you might be considering?”
She turned to him, merely staring, although there almost seemed to be a mischievous slight half-smile playing about her mouth and a challenging little twinkle lighting her eyes before she languidly turned back toward the window and resumed blankly staring out, as though time had stood still.
Not sure whether to feel encouraged or to feel all hopes dashed, Mark thought, somewhat optimistically, "At least she’s coherent. It must be a traumatic shock of some sort, surely temporary." Looking at her, though, he knew it was just as likely whisltlng in the graveyard.
Summoning back his courage, hoping to sound normal, still pressed to learn something - anything at all! - about this bizarre chain of events, maintaining his calm, measured everyday tone and choice of words, - as though this were a normal event in a normal day for them, - Mark continued:
“Dearest, there was a somewhat unintelligible note delivered to the Post Office here earlier, saying that someone had entered the House and mentioning something about a debt for a life being settled. Sounded a bit puzzling to me. I was wondering, - I don’t suppose that in your recent travels, you might have learned any explanation of that mysterious message?”
He felt rather proud of carrying off that delivery, especially feeling no such calmness or casualness.
But again, she merely turned her silent gaze on him. He felt stripped of his pretense and exposed by its intensity, but decided he needed to try both to maintain the casual approach and to continue to attempt to put her at ease and to try somehow to shift the onus of conversation onto his wife, whom he felt he hardly knew at this moment. But she was the only source of any information right then, as well. It was tearing him apart inside.
He wondered who was this unworldly creature sitting calmly in their midst while he and all the others were beset with panic? She even looked different, he thought. More - timeless, less trivial, not that Nancy had ever been trivial, but as she was now, he could not even imagine her gushing or guffawing or any of the percussive expressions she sometimes practiced.
He kept reminding himself that this was “HIS” own spontaneous Nancy and to think of how earnestly he wanted to make her feel comfortable enough to come back to them, to talk to him about what had transpired; and even more earnestly, he passionately needed to know that she herself was all right and would be all right after this bizarre moment blew over, if it ever did!
He only hoped that it had not been his adamant negative response to her feeling she must go up there which had pushed her over the edge to go! He would never be able to forgive himself, if so! Never.
No question about it, this wasn’t a precedented situation. For once, he had no smooth response or well-organized resolution at easy reach, no logic which covered the gaps, and no certainty of - anything!
He felt helpless - no, almost useless. Yet he knew that this was as crucial as it gets for him to keep his wits and also to be most sensitive to Nancy’s responses - if or when she became able to communicate. He could not even let himself think of how empty it would be in this world without her.
What he did know was that Spooltown had to know just what had happened up there. Everyone now had to know why this was happening to them.
After all - it IS the Spooltown folks who are 'TO WHOM IT WAS CONCERNED". He did not have the privilege of thinking only of himself, no matter how desperately he HAD TO KNOW what had happened to his beloved in the past twenty four hours.
So probably the hardest possible assignment for him: he wouldhave to be patient, give her time and let her set her own pace.
He kind of laughed to himself, thinking that. Didn't she usually pretty much - do just that?
An enormous feeling of love for his Nancy engulfs him.
Nancy has relaxed and regained her voice; however, she is not fully “herself", Mark thinks as he straightens her pillows and sets a breakfast tray on her lap. This is in the category of “breakfast in bed” rather than caring for an invalid, however. He’s pampered her as much as he knows how and she has relaxed that horrible state of paralysis which gripped her seven endless days ago. She hasn’t yet recalled what she experienced or else has not come to grips with facing or reportng it to him.
But gradually he is able to surmise a few facts from the little she reveals. It seems that the House is under control of entities, call them spirits, call them ghosts, she isn’t sure. They are not visible so much as overwhelming in their presence. They are - beyond a doubt - they ARE.
They have observed the community and nurtured an offense for about a half a century or more, beginning with some manner of sin or altercation, - perhaps committed unwittingly, but still offensive to them, - by two young siblings who demonstrated a growing illegitimate feeling for one another. Its rapid progress down that illegitimate path had prompted their parents to block the progress and thus to prevent a major moral debacle by seeing fit to separate them before real damage was done. In the spiritual universe, however, intent and motivation are the prime standards by which both actual and merely "thought" deeds are measured.
These thought-deeds by the young people had measured too offensive on the scales to be overlooked, they had judged, but had suspended the final punishment for all these many years, awaiting acknowledgement or an entree for righting the wrong to be administered.
This is clear cut: The offense must be paid for - in order to settle the ransom of their family, its progeny and even of the entire town. The spirits or powers - whatever, whoever they are - Nancy cannot even try to define them but she is certain that they demand it, no more, no less - have spoken. How this debt is to be paid, she has not been told.
That there has been no overture from the humans in its regard all this half-century, - and the spirits do not take initiatives upon themselves without being called in, - simply meant that the ransom would be met arbitrarily if no one stepped forward in time. While they are timeless, humans are not. So it was imperative for it to crystallize within a half-century - for best results. Details were not provided except that humans are to be allowed free will and free rein, and are not to be herded or controlled in order to extract penance or remorse. Otherwise, everything would be in vain.
But in the absense of genuine spontaneous - real - remorse and/or voluntary penance, the inevitable consequences of sin would occur. To say that the spirits are trying to prevent that dreadful outcome would be stretching it. What they have been hoping for is that the humans WILL step forward and do the right thing.
So this has been one of those cases in which the spirits awaited the appearance of a Sensitive human to respond to the tentacles of Light before they were withdrawn and all involved would have to be forever forfeited. This Sensitive would have to be in the lineage, besides, although Nancy had no idea she was a Sensitive, nor did she have any idea that she was in the lineage. Her role in it was, to her, as inexplicable as it must seem to Mark.
Unbeknownst to her, though, her qualifications were pristine, and, most importantly of all, she did respond to an opening summons, to which she had been fully free to heed or not.
And she had heeded.
Spooltown waits in animated suspension.
It can almost hear itself breathing. . . .
Eventually this further knowledge is revealed through Nancy, though she barely knew how or when it was delivered to her consciousness, though she has an impression of another vellum note, seen only by her in her awareness. She reports:
In order to right the wrong, one or more living representatives from the lineage of each of the sinful young siblings, - from among only representatives now living in Spooltown, must be willing to exchange his or her life for that of a member of the other’s living lineage, all of whom must qualify in every respect, both to save that member and for the welfare of the town.
In the boy’s lineage, there are are only two qualifying members still living, both males. In the girl’s lineage there are also only two qualifying direct members living here now, both females.
That’s all Nancy knows. She’s uncertain who the offenders were or who these representatives are, but was assured that they each would be given the chance to elect to rise to their roles of champions and martyrs in order to save one of the other four and to do each of their parts in restoring Spooltown to what it might have been. The outline was dispassionate and non-negotiable sounding, Nancy thought. But admittedly, she was still numb from the entire ordeal thus far!
She has no idea why SHE was chosen to receive and deliver this message. But she is sure that her middle-of-the-night “calling” was unmistakeable and if she had missed it, ignored it, refused it, she felt just as sure that the consequences would have been astronomically worse than whatever lies in store for them all as it stands now.
The spirits assured her that they have all the time in the world, and will not be hurried. Nor will they be delayed when they are ready to act. Our choices are limited at this point, she reported to Mark. “They” want to see every sign of sincerity and genuine willingness from the “representatives” to give their own lives in order that others might live and thrive. It’s a payment for past offenses from relatives and the “lineages” must be purified of such tendencies. She is simply reporting what she learned, she concludes.
They must await the next instructions.
Mark is stunned. He hardly knows whether this is the raving of a mad woman or truth. Being a practical man, he grapples with the notion of the latter, but knowing his beloved wife, it’s almost as incredible to even consider the former! Somehow what she’s reported has some far-off ring of truth.
“So, dear, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?”
“We will be given our instructions, Mark.” was her simple reply.
And indeed, they were given them. In due time, in due time. . . .
Sue Foster Reece was one of the representatives of the young miscreant female’s lineage on the distaff side and she, herself, Sue’s daughter, - Nancy Reece Newsome, was the other. Dear Mary Beth Briggs Foster, no longer living to know of these developments or to participate in this sentence, was the miscreant female whose love for her brother and his for her, had provoked this recompense.
Old Terrance Briggs and his grandson, Justin, were the two male representatives on that side, although Terrance himself had been the actual young miscreant male. His son, James, would have qualified had he not already paid a greater and more final price.
Only Mary Beth and Terrance themselves knew or would ever know what wrong was done, - or if any was. In fact only Terrance was alive to know who they had been.
The “mere appearance of wrong” or the growing conditions for it have consequences in certain situations of the heart, it is said. Sue, Nancy and Justin knew none of the details, nor would they ever KNOW, though sensitivity may have filled in some blanks for them. Indeed, the names of the original miscreants were not revealed to them. All they knew now was that it was a serious charge and a more serous sentence, it was in their direct lineage and though they were not those “guilty” of the charge, they were being handed the sentence to respond to from their own hearts and consciences.
So now it remained but for these four to decide who would volunteer in order to save, not his or her own life, nor even that of one of his or her own closest relative’s, but to choose one of the representatives on the opposite side to willingly trade his or her own life to save. There was a sort of “Blind Justice” ring to it. They were not amused but humbled.
IF each of all four are "paid for" by the willingness of one-each of the others, all the debts will be paid simultaneously. It is simple. It is also profound.
Human justice lags far behind in its efforts. Only when Solomon settled the question of which mother deserved to keep the baby both women claimed has a human been known to even approach the level of justice of this small example.
Their decisions and votes would be final. But who among them could possibly choose to save his or her own life at the expense of someone else? Yet the difficulty arose in that each one of them had to cast one vote to save someone from among the properly qualified representatives from the other side of the lineage, not his or her own. And the temptation would still be to choose the most endearing one of those of the other lineage. Someone could be left out.
It was not only blind justice, but required a near-blindness in making such a choice! It strained every natural impulse, and in addition, of course - they would not know whom of the four each other would be voting to save. The entire heavy burden was upon each and every one of them. And unless all four were voted safe, everyone would be in jeopardy and all four could conceivably be sacrificed as ransom! It required more than kindness or even selflessness.
It called for a kind of super-human discretion, wisdom and true compassion, touched by a light of pure inspiration. And all of it done under heavy duress without really being assured of ever knowing the outcome. Yes, justice would be served - and served up by the species of miscreants themselves.
The ballots were totally secret. Each ballot was to be placed in a sealed envelope and deposited in the House’s mailbox, among the cobwebs. No one of them dared to look at any others’, on the penalty of instant “elimination” with all the retribution deserved to be lavished on the town and all its people. This was an "only chance" for redemption from what otherwise would be a certain punishment.
On the reckoning day, each of the four cast his and her vote.
Then they returned to their homes to await the verdict from the House - or from whomever was up there. They and all of Spooltown were in that suspended animation they were becoming more and more accustomed to experiencing!
They could hardly imagine how it would end . . . .
Hours ticked by. No one died. An almost palatable community sigh of relief arose! But caution prevailed. . .
Still, as the day wore on, cautiously a "true value" sense of jubilation gathered and soon was permeating the very air without restraint!!
The entire setting began to glow with a shimmering iridescence!
Grass began to sprout where there had been rocky soil!
Each of the four had fully offered his or her own life in exchange for one of the others, and no one was left out!
Nancy, for Terrance.
Sue for Justin.
Terrance for Sue.
Justin for Nancy.
It was an unbroken chain, though they hadn’t - couldn't have - planned it or coordinated it.
If anyone HAD been left out, - which might have occurred if one person had received two votes, - the sentence would have had to be implemented, immediately and without further mercy.
But that did NOT happen. It was a “save”. The best of emotions and motives had prevailed to restore the family and the town! Unselfish love and self-forgetfulness, guided by blind inspiration had guided each of four hands as they wrote one name on one ballot and placed it in among the cobwebs, which no longer looked menacing. Each truly had given fully and freely, expecting nothing in return but possible honorable, vindicated death. Each wanted only to know in his or her heart - what to do and to do it joyfully without hesitation.
And they had known and they did it.
Even the clouds parted in those old blank memories about what had happened for Nancy and Justin when the spirits first let them sense “who they were” and gave them the choice to live up to their callings. Now they understood that their “accidents” on the playground were the precise moments when each was selected to fulfill this destiny and to lead in the restoration of the family and the town.
The merry-go-round had been the site of an angelic “council meeting” to bring each of them into “the fold” for the unfolding of the master plan in its own time.
The town began to thrive. The Council set up carpentry crews to restore the House until it became “Spooltown House”, furnished out of the goodness of the hearts of townsfolk and even folks in neighboring towns and villages and on farms. Auntie’s loveliest things which had been stored away since her and Mary Beth’s passing, were now brought out and sent to Spooltown House to help bring it back to its former luster and glory. Her beautiful fans and china ware, her paintings, leather-bound books, - even her personal perfume bottles, along with all the other lovely objects were made available to grace the tables, shelves, walls and dressing tables of Spooltown House.
It was to be a living museum, an art gallery, a tribute to the goodness and endurance of its soul and its people.
The initial shock of the experience sent Mark and Nancy into seclusion, where, it’s rumored, they’ve written a series of books about their incredible experiences, fictionalized, of course. They had seen the chance to help, knowing not how vitally they would be able to help. It remained for them to “await further orders”, if any would be sent, and to immortalize the most incredible journey either of them had ever envisioned their “missionary” intention launching for them.
Now it's been reported, Nancy has launched a new career, writing children's fairy tales, filled with fairy godmothers and magic princes, and even sometimes, a magic carpet which carries the princess to a higher plane where she can do good helping all her subjects. With new technology, the books come with their own music which plays ethereal strains or rambunctious ditties to suit the action of the tales. Mark has even discovered a talent for sketching and has illustrated a few of the fairy tales for his beloved wife.
Terrance Briggs lived just long enough to see the magnificent transformation his Justin had wrought in order to restore not only Spooltown House itself, but to bring new life throughout the entire town, turning it into a showplace, a commercial success and source of joy and hope for its own faithful residents and the many visitors and tourists who continuously amble and play among its simple majesties. .
Best if all, Terrance finally could hear his talented grandson play an original piece composed in tribute to his beloved grandfather and the great-aunt he had never had the privilege of knowing. He played the rhapsody in a private drawing-room concert for Terrance and a small audience of intimates on the magnificent grand piano which had been donated to Spooltown House by the Music College at Nathyncity, where Justin Briggs is a distinguished Professor.
Before this special concert, Terrance had never 'heard' his grandson play on any instrument except the make-believe piano he made for him out of barn benches.
He wept when his ears actually heard the melodic strains of "Love Fulfilled: A Rhapsody for Terrance and Mary Beth".
Sue and her Bryan Reece are doddering old folks now, but they still hold forth with the other old-timers at the get togethers on Friday nights, where they talk about the old times and the miracle that LOVE created in their town and they often hum the strains of Justin's Rhapsody.
If any negative exists here now, it is, perhaps, that Justin never married and Nancy never gave birth. The Briggs family line will die when Justin dies. Occasionally it occurs to them that the spirits did exact a price for the suspicion of guilt in that earlier generation, though the present generation proved itself pure.
It was love that caused the suspicion and love that set it aright.
Copyright © Nellieanna H. Hay, 2010. All Rights Reserved. Kindly do not copy, in whole or in part, without express permission.
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