Today’s Story Monday is part 3 in my Oracle tale. You can read part 2 in last week’s post The Visitor. Enjoy!
Junction Pass was something of idyllic tales to Aimee’s eyes. A serpentine river wound through medows thick with lush, green grass and wildflowers. Squat stone homes mixed with log cabins on both sides of the river and up the low slopes of the mountains. Packed earth served for narrow streets where horse drawn buggies and waggons meandered here and there with no ambition.
Aimee passed through the village’s market. Only a single dry goods store neighbored by a lonely doctor’s office, sawmill, schoolhouse, and post office sufficed as the market.
Where would the hotel be? She looked to the far end, near the limit of the village boundary, and saw a lone building. It was unlike any other building in Junction Pass tat she could see. Tall, two-story, woodframe and plank instead of logs or stone.
The clop of hooves on well traveled ground neared her and made her stop, but she kept her eyes on the hotel. The hooves stopped only feet from her. A snort and blow from the horse and Aimee finally turned to look.
A tall man sat in the saddle of a roan quarter horse.He wore blue denim jeans caked with mud and grass, a white button up shirt in a state related to the pants, a long tan duster, black snakeskin boots, and an old fashioned stetson. She had forgotten how many in the western territories still held to the ancient myths of the land. His face was not unkind, but hard beneath a thick red beard and mustache.
Aimee closed her eyes and the man swam in her mind. She smiled. “Hello, Sheriff Connor.”
“So,” he spoke in a deep, craggy voice like the words physically hurt him. “You’re here for her, aren’t you?”
“Do I get to say goodbye?”
“We don’t know yet if she will choose to come with me. If she does, I do not steal away in secret.”
He snorted. “She’ll choose. I have no doubt about it. She’s known you’d come one day. I warn you. The people here don’t take to strangers. Especially the doom callers, as they call you. One night, Oracle. That’s all I can give you.”
“That will be enough.”
“How’s McLellan? I knew him once. Long time ago. Liked him.”
Aimee looked back from where she came and a sharp and heavy pang filled her chest. “There is ever only one Oracle.”
The sheriff didn’t say anything. There wasn’t anything he could say. Aimee turned toward the hotel again and started walking.
“Will I ever see her again?” he called after Aimee.
“That is her choice. I teach, but I do not dictate her life. That is for her and for The One.”
He didn’t follow her, nor did he leave. Aimee could feel his eyes on her as she walked the entire way to the hotel. It was understandable. She wondered how long her own mother and father watched for her return. One day she would make it home. If there was still a home to go to. If the darkness hadn’t already consumed it.
The door to the hotel was light cedar, but stiff. It was a misuse of power, Aimee could hear McLellan scold her now, but she was never the reserved kind. She placed a finger on the hinges and all corrosion fell away. The door opened with ease.
A young woman sat by the hearth of a gentle fire on the far right. There were few furnishings in the one large room that opened before Aimee. Only a handful of tables clustered the far corner on the left side of the room, away from the fire. A set of stairs climbed to an open landing that ran the length of the room. Three doors lined the back of it. A large iron pot was suspended above the fire by an iron bar that reached from side to side in the firebox. Two plush, ornate chairs sat on either side of the hearth, and the young woman occupied one while engrossed in a large book.
There was no bell or any indication that the door had opened. The young woman did not look up from her book, and Aimee did not see it necessary to interrupt. She walked with soundless steps to the empty chair near the hearth and sat. It was a few minutes before the silence was broken.
“I’m already making a bad impression, aren’t I?” the woman asked.
“I knew you were here. Knew it for a couple of days, now. I’m so flustered and I don’t know what to think. Excited, yes, but scared. I guess that’s why I’ve tried to bury myself in books. Have been at least.”
Aimee smiled. “You are already more in tune than I was when first approached so long ago, Lauren.”
Lauren lowered the book. A pretty girl, Aimee thought. No more than fifteen, as she was when she began. Almond shaped eyes with a light brown and deep red hair. She had a soft look. One of many tears, but many joys too. Her hands were calloused from the long days of hard work, though not only here at the hotel. There weren’t enough visitors to Junction Pass to warrant such labor. No, this was the work of love and devotion to a father who gave everything back to his treasured daughter.
“I must continue my journey in the morning.”
“So soon?” Lauren stood, dropped her book in the chair, and wiped her hands over the rough, beige apron again and again. She looked toward the door and bit her lip, though Aimee could see that she did not realize she did either.
“Go to him. If you choose, I will see you tomorrow. If not, then I bid you all the blessings of the One on you and your father.”
Lauren rushed to the door. She stopped, looked once at Aimee. Her eyes shone with excitement, trepidation, and all the mixed emotions Aimee could remember from her own first encounter. With a quick curtsey, Lauren vanished out the door.
“This was better than I could have wanted”, Aimee thought. “Praise to the One. He moved before I did.”
A creek of old boards came from upstairs. Aimee closed her eyes and sighed. Things would not be as simple as she had hoped after all.
“Don’t know how you did it, witch, but you ain’t welcome here,” growled a deep voice. A man stepped out from the middle room onto the landing.
“I will be gone by morning, Donovan.”
He stopped with his hands gripped on the railing. Silence. His breathing was labored. Scared.
“That won’t work with me, witch,” he said with a small stutter.
“Not much does, Donovan.”
All the man’s hatred and fear flooded her mind. Death. So much death around him. The hooded ones. Of course. The hooded ones when he was just a child. They took his sister.
“I wear no hood, Donovan.” Aimee stood and slowly turned in a circle to show the man her simple black linen dress and cloak. No hood. She would never wear a hood. Only those who served the darkness wore a hood. She wondered how much more this town had suffered under their hands.
“Hood or no, you’re a witch. Same as all them. You’re not welcome, even one night.”
He stood for a long time without moving, but finally gained enough strength to descend the stairs and walk to her with slow, deliberate steps. Aimee knew that they were half for intimidation, half because his instinct was to run from her.
Tall. At least twice her height. Broad shouldered and built like the mountains around them. He was a strong man with a lot of pain. Aimee didn’t want to cause him any more pain, but she would do what she needed if it came to that.
Donovan stopped just feet from her. “You’re pretty,” he mumbled. It was involuntary, she knew, and he tried to hide he had said it. “You gonna steal Lauren from us, now? That you’re plan? First my sister and all the rest of ’em. Now the Sheriff’s daughter?”
“I wear no hood, Donovan. I steal no one. She will come only if she chooses.”
“After you weave you’re little magic on her.”
“I weave no magic, Donovan. I am an Oracle, nothing more.”
His thoughts were hitting her mind rapidly now. So much fear and hatred. Dangerous thoughts. Thoughts that she had to push away. Thoughts of darkness and violation. This would not be a man she could open to truth. Her only hope was that the fear would be stronger than the hate and he would leave. If not, she would put him down.
“You are all the same. You can’t leave good folks alone. Come in here and talk about your monsters to scare us, then you take everything away!” He roared now.
Aimee sighed. Fear would not win the battle tonight.
“How ’bout I take everything away from you!” He lunged at her.
Aimee held up one hand. He leaned in to throw himself on her and bowl her to the floor. One finger touched his forehead, and he dropped. Motionless, but still alive. She closed her eyes and breathed out a long breath to expel his thoughts. She felt dirty. The remnants of his intentions clung to her like muck that filled every pore. Tears slipped down her cheeks.
She didn’t let it control her this time. McLellan would have been proud of her. Still, it wasn’t so easy to cleanse from such thoughts. Aimee gripped Donovan by the back of his shirt and dragged him out the door and let him roll away on the ground. She went back inside and bolted the door.
Then, she wept.
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