Tuesday, March 18, 2008
'NEATH HALLOWED HALLS AND IVIED WALLS by Maureen McMahon
An Excerpt From: 'NEATH HALLOWED HALLS AND IVIED WALLS
Copyright © MAUREEN MCMAHON, 2008
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
"Stacey, do you have any idea how Professor Donalson died?"
I sat down on a wicker chair nearby. "He...well... Didn't they tell you?"
"No. My mother called and said someone from Harvard contacted the house. She sounded upset but she wouldn't go into detail-said she didn't want to run up the phone bill."
I smiled to myself. Peter's mother never changed, even though she probably had enough money at her disposal to buy the phone company outright.
"There's a police investigation into his death," I said, "but it appears it was suicide. He was found in his car in the garage with a hose from the exhaust...you get the picture." I shuddered.
I could tell Peter was shocked too. Such an act seemed totally unexpected and out of character for the jolly, fun-loving history professor we'd both come to know and respect during our college years.
"I wonder what could have driven him to..." Peter's voice seemed even more distant and withdrawn and I clutched the phone tighter, itching to reach out and take his hand.
"Try not to think about it," I said. "We'll find out more at the funeral. Until then, there's no point in brooding. These things happen. Sometimes we just have to accept it."
The desperate, pleading eyes in the sunken face of a dying Afghani mother suddenly filled my vision. I remembered how she held her arms out for her baby. The baby was being removed to a shelter by international medical aid. The mother would remain in the broken-down, dirt-floored hut. She didn't have long. I wanted to grab the baby from the nurse and place it in those skeletal outstretched arms but instead I just backed away, afraid and uncertain.
The sudden, unexpected power of the flashback knocked the wind out of me and I had to bend over and draw deep breaths, holding the phone in my other hand so Peter wouldn't hear. Finally, I put the receiver back to my ear.
"What's wrong?" His voice was urgent, knowing.
"Nothing." It was just too complicated to explain and frankly I felt too shaken by the experience to talk about it yet. "I'd better go," I said. "I've got to get this last article in today if I'm going to meet you by Friday."
"You know how much I've missed you?"
I smiled and sighed. "Yes. Yes, I do-as much as I've missed you. But Friday's only two days away."
"Yes. Two days." He let out his breath audibly.
"See you Friday."
"See you then."
I replaced the phone on its hook on the wall and turned to look out the kitchen window at the Manhattan skyline. It was sunny but cool, with a cloud haze moving in.
A crow landed on the black balustrade of the balcony, tilting its head this way and that as it eyed me through the closed sliding door. Suddenly it let out a piercing squawk, lifted its wings and flew directly into the glass pane of the door. The sickening crack as it hit the window made me cry out in shock, the impact leaving a stain of blood and down on the glass.
I was out the door in an instant but there was nothing I could do. The bird's neck was broken and it lay in a messy heap of feathers on the concrete balcony. I squatted down and reached out a tentative hand. Its breast was still warm but its eye, a mustard-yellow, stared sightlessly up at me. For no reason I could logically name, I drew my hand quickly away, shivering-overwhelmed by a feeling of mortal dread.
If you like this sample excerpt, you can read all five stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.