Swinging on a Star (Part 1 of 2)

“Would you like to swing on a star

Carry moonbeams home in a jar

And be better off than you are

Or would you rather be a mule . . .”

Those old forgotten lyrics came sneaking back into my head as I sat on the hill down below the old farmhouse where I grew up so may years ago. ‘Swinging on   a Star’ by Bing Crosby was my mother’s favorite song. I remember how she would hum the melody or sometimes sing the lyrics when she thought no one was listening while she cooked, did laundry, gardened and did all the other chores around the house and farm to keep my father and the hired man fed and in clean clothes. But that was a long time ago.

Dusk was settling in after a normal hot sultry July day in northeast Iowa. No breeze to ruffle even the lightest of leaves, frogs were singing down in the valley by the spring fed farm pond. Mosquitos hadn’t yet come out or else hadn’t found me yet. A humid mist rose from the valley floor. It was an evening that brought back those childhood memories from what some might call the ‘good times’ but only remembering the good times means we had put the bad times away. 

Now were sad times. I had just buried my mother that morning. Dad preceded her by six years. She was a tough one, eighty-nine years old, only just going down hill in the last few months. She had a good life. As an only child born late in her life, I now had to consider an eight hundred acre farm I had just inherited.

I was leaning against the old oak tree where my long ago rotted away swing rope once hung from a high branch. My dad made the swing for me, a single thirty foot piece of hay rope with a wooden two by four for a seat. I loved to come up here and swing. There was a flat spot on the hill by where the tree stood. I was able to walk up to where the hill again began to ascend towards our house, straddle the rope and, with my legs straight out so I wouldn’t hit the ground, I was able to sail out into space like I was flying. With only the one rope in the center, I was able to go backwards and sideways and spin in space. It made me feel alive and free, like I could do anything: have adventures like Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, Captain Ahab or Ishmael, or the western heroes of Zane Grey’s many books.

However, my life turned out to be less than adventurous, now an account executive with an advertising agency where I coddled and sold advertising to untrusting business men and women who never seemed to be satisfied with the outcome of any ad campaigns the agency ran for them, no matter how successful they were. I was good at what I did and made decent money, had a nice condo overlooking a park in Cedar Rapids which I bought after my divorce when I lost the house to my ex-wife. She and her new husband live there now with our two kids, both now in high school, who I get to see one awkward weekend a month. Ten years and I haven’t found anyone to be serious about. Mainly because I’m not really looking.

I brought my mind back to the present, settling back into the woodland sounds and smells. I heard a train whistle about a mile away going up along the Mississippi, the big engines working hard. I remembered how hearing those trains heard through my open bedroom windows during the summers, before we had air conditioning, ow they  always made me feel lonely, like I needed to be, or be going, somewhere, maybe somewhere out west where there was the purple sage and wide open spaces of Zane Grey novels.

I used to love these summer days and nights of soft summer air, always wanting them to go on forever. No school and freedom. Free run of 800 acres, about a third in hilly woodlands with the remaining hill tops in crops. I would roam through the woods, climb the bluffs, sometimes finding arrow heads and other treasures, now all packed away in the attic of the farmhouse along with all my other old things my mother kept. 

After supper some nights I would come down and play on the swing. One night I remember a particularly bright moon rise. I was on my swing going so high I thought if I let go at just the right time I might fly all the way through space and time and land on the moon like the astronauts did fifteen years ago in 1969. Maybe higher, maybe even to the stars.

A female voice jolted me back to the present, “Travis, your guests are getting ready to leave. You might want to go back up the house and say good-byes.”

I turned to the voice and saw Molly Ann Parker standing in the shadows. Molly Ann and I grew up together. Her parent’s farm was close by and we’d play together on Saturdays during the school year and roam the woods together during the summers. We were inseparable until freshman year in high school when she decided she didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. She found new friends and she began avoiding me. Lost and alone, I finally started hanging out with some guys from school. Then in junior year, my best friend Carl started dating her. After that, he wasn’t my best friend anymore. They ended up getting married right after high school because Molly Ann was pregnant. 

To be continued . . .

Library of the Occult (Final)

Six months later, Emma walked proudly across the stage to receive her PhD in Historical Studies from Harvard University. Her dissertation had received high praise from her graduate committee. Her major professor was urging her to expand it into a book. Her family was in the audience and after the ceremony they all hovered around in the lobby of the auditorium congratulating her and chatting. 

She noticed a well dressed handsome young man standing outside the circle of her well wishers trying to catch her eye. After things were quieting down with her family, he again caught her eye. He looked strangely familiar, but she couldn’t place him. She excused herself and went to where he was standing. Her grooup moved on outside.

“Do I know you?” she asked.

“I am so sorry to intrude” he said with a formal British accent and voice she vaguely recognized from her trip six months ago.

He continued, “I was impelled to come to your ceremony and congratulate you on your great success. I am truly honored to be here, albeit, a gate crasher.

“You did not answer my question,” she said with an edge to her voice.

“Ah, yes, where are my manners, but I am reluctant to tell you. You may not readily accept what I have to tell you, but please, my name is Smythe. Alexander Smythe, but please, Alex will do just fine.”

She sucked in a breath, “So you’re Mr. Smythe’s son?”

“No, I am the son of Ronald Smythe.”

Her eyes popped wide open and she brought a hand to her mouth as she exclaimed more loudly than she intended, “NO! You’re not! NO! Surely you’re not! You’re not the gentleman I met six months ago, not THE Alexander Smythe?!” Surely you . . . NO . . . it’s not possible!” 

Her thoughts flew back to the library and manuscripts about aging spells and Sylvester Arnon. It all came together. She felt unsteady and put her other hand against the wall for support. He quickly grabbed her and helped her to steady herself.

“I’m so sorry to spring this on you like this.”

She took two deep breaths, “It’s okay. This can’t be true. I’m okay now. This isn’t true.” She slowly regained her equilibrium. “I’m okay now, I think. You can let go.” He released his hold and stood back.

“Ah, I’m sorry, but, yes it is. Those documents you gave me on the aging spells, they were thankfully what I needed. I, with the help of some of my comrades of course, managed to reverse the spell. The Mr. Arnon you met at the library was responsible for casting that spell upon me, causing me to age almost overnight into an eighty-five year old man.”

He continued by saying that Arnon had been disgraced, banned from the library, and shunned by anyone who knew him. He had disappeared and he was rumored to be in India where he had entered a Buddhist monastery.

He continued his story, “Six weeks ago several other of the select library members and myself found the secret passageway you told me about. With further investigation, we discovered yet another hidden chamber you missed containing many other such ancient parchments with similar spells and alchemy. Arnon must have discovered it never telling anyone. All those documents all have now all been sealed away in a completely secure vault while they are being studied by some occult scholars. They shall never see the light of day and will be never again used for such treachery.”

She sank back into a bench taking some deep breaths and several moments to process all she had just heard. He saw her dismay and said, “My sincere apologies for causing you any unwarranted distress on this illustrious day. I wanted to come to congratulate your success and give you a gift. I am happy I was of service in your accomplishment.”

“No. No, it’s okay. It’s just that, I don’t know. My studies of the occult have always been with the idea that this stuff was no more than wishful thinking and mythology.”

“Ah, far from mythology, dear Emma. It is all quite real. I again apologize for taking from your family and friends and all this. I should leave now.”

She was confused and she wanted to talk more with this man. “No. Please. Come and join us. We are going for a celebration dinner and party. Please come. I want to talk more with you about, well, everything. It’s a lot for me to process. It was good of you to remember and to come today. How did you know? Get in?”

“Let’s just say I know people who know people. Oh, I almost forgot. Here is a present for you. Please wait until later to open it,” as he handed her a tightly sealed envelope. “Are you sure I won’t be an inconvenience?”

“Not at all. You will be very welcome.” She took him back to her group and introduced him only as the man who was instrumental to her finalizing her thesis.

Later that night, alone in her apartment, she opened his envelope. Along with a thank-you/congratulation note, he saw a cash transfer into her bank account of $1,000,000. Her breath csught in disbelief and she fell into a chair stunned, dropping the envelope and note, immobile for several minutes. Shakily, she managed to get to her computer to check her bank balance which was $1,0409,767.39. It took her a long time for her heart to quit pounding. Some time later she was calmed enough to make a cup of chamomile tea fall into a deep sleep, waking in the morning still in disbelief.

* * *

Emma had invited Alex to meet the next morning for breakfast at a small cafe close to her apartment by the Harvard campus. Instead of his formal tailored suit, he was in sneakers, jeans, and a light v-necked sweater, his once feeble body looking strong and fit. He really is handsome, giving him a once over. 

Once seated and their order taken, Emma first thanked him for his thoughtfulness and then adamantly refused the money.  

Alex would not hear of it, “You were paramount in giving me my life back, for actually saving my life, restoring me to my youth. That is a small token of my appreciation. My gratefulness is beyond anything I could ever offer you.”

She considered this and nodded her head in defeat. Then she had nothing but questions which rolled out non-stop. 

“Whoa,” he said, “one at a time. I shall start at the beginning.” He went on to tell how his and Arnon’s great grandfathers were best of friends growing up. The practice of the magical and alchemical arts had been practiced by both families for many generations. His family had accumulated great wealth over the years from world wide business interests which Alex was now the only remaining heir to and solely in charge of managing. The families had remained close until Alex’s great grandfather, Reginald, wrote his book, “Full Moon Rituals”. Sylvester Arnon then claimed, without any merit, that it was his research on this very topic and Reginald had stolen all his work for his own purpose and had the book published. That incident caused a break in the relationships with the families and they became enemies, the feud carrying through until present day. 

Sylvester Arnon took it upon himself to settle the score once and for all when he discovered the manuscripts containing the ‘aging spells’. He successfully performed the spell, sending Alex into rapid aging from a vital twenty-eight year old to someone well into his eighties or beyond. Thankfully the spell slowed incrementally as the aging process increased or he would have been dead some time ago. Emma, of course had found the manuscripts and Alex and his friends were able to reverse the process. The whole ordeal had taken a toll on him from which he was almost now fully recovered. 

Their food had arrived. “That is it all in a nutshell. What you consider to be myth is something that is quite real and not to be taken lightly. Please, now let us enjoy our food.”

“If course.”

As they quietly ate for a few minutes, she noticed him stealing glances at her, making her smile inside.

She interrupted between bites, “I should tell you I’ll be heading back to England next month for a more extended stay. I’ve been granted a post-doctoral position at Cambridge for at least a year. So we’ll sort of be neighbors.”

“How perfectly wonderful, Emma. Congratulations. May I call upon you for a dinner sometime? We must exchange our contact information.”

Her heart skipped a beat, “Sure. I’ll be looking forward to it.”

“Meantime, I will be spending at a week here in your lovely city and I would be so happy if you would be my tour guide, but only if you are free to do so,” he said, taking a bite of sausage and egg.

“Of course I would. I’d be honored, but only a week? There’s a lot to see and enjoy here,” she said.

“Of course. I could certainly extend my visit, to see everything you might want to show me, if you so wish,” his smile brightening with anticipation.

“Sounds good,” she said with an even bigger smile.

Library of the Occult (Part 7)

She said good-bye and clicked off. Still hanging on to her cell, considering his offer. She had all she needed for her missing chapter to her thesis, mainly due to the kindness of this man. He said his life depended on it these translations? Surely she could stay a little longer since he had promised to pay for her whole time here. He seemed sincere and, hopefully, honest. She would have plenty of time to finish her thesis now since she had what she needed for her final chapter. She wanted to check out the extent of what would be needed for the translations so she emailed the photos from her phone to herself so they would be on her laptop and easier to work with. She skimmed them and decided two, maybe three days tops. He said he’d pay me. Handsomely? Sure. Why not. 

She called him back, “Sorry to bother you again, Mr. Smythe, but you said you’d pay my expenses plus pay me handsomely. Exactly how handsomely are you thinking.”

He laughed, “I appreciate your candor, Miss Morgan. The translations and manuscripts would be worth,” he paused, “would 50,000 U.S. dollars be adequate compensation for your troubles?”

She gasped, “Oh no! No! That is far too much.”

“My dear Miss Morgan, what this would mean to me is priceless. Covering your expenses plus $50,000 is the least I can do. It shall give you some spending money to tide you over. I can certainly afford it for this service you are performing for me. You have no idea. I will do a wire transfer or a check as you prefer. I shall do it straightaway. Do you have your bank’s routing number and your account number? There are pen and paper right here on my side table”

She was speechless. He was serious. That’s more money than she ever had in her life. She swallowed, dug in her bag for her bank card and gave what he would need for the transfer. He could drain her account with this information but there was no money in it anyway. Her voice was trembling, “This should do it for the wire transfer, if you are truly serious.”

“I am deadly serious my dera girl. I shall do the transfer immediately. Check your account in about an hour. Please keep track of your expenses, including your airfare, and I shall compensate you when you give me that amount. Thank you again. I must go now. I am supposed to be resting,” he finished with a chuckle and clicked off.

Emma called the airline and was able to change her flight for four days from now to be safe.

She got out her laptop, pencil and notepad and went to work. She was able to isolate the block prints and printed them in the hotel business suite. 

An hour later, curious, she checked her bank account and it showed a deposit of $50,000. My god, he trusts me to do this for him and not just disappear. Who is this man?

She worked long into the night, calling out for food. After a restless sleep she had a continental breakfast from the hotel and several cups of coffee. By 6:00 that night she had finished translations of what she considered to be something that made absolutely no sense to her whatsoever but she was sure of her work. With a sigh of accomplishment, she called Mr. Smythe to tell him the news and she’d drop the translations off at the hospital in the morning. He was elated but he was presently being released from his ‘confinement’ as he called it.

He asked, “Where are you staying? I shall send a car for you at 10:00 tomorrow morning.”

“Might I ask where I’ll be taken?”

“Of course. Of course.” He gave her the address of his home.

She gave him her address and they disconnected, she with a sigh of relief, but not without a knot of anxiety in her gut. She looked up his address and it was an estate on the edge of London. What was she dealing with here? There is this Mr. Smythe, then that crazy man, secret passages, manuscripts of spells. She went to the mini bar and got three bottles of wine and ran a hot tub to soak in and gather her thoughts. After another dinner of fish and chips and two pints, she fell into a restless sleep.

10:00 next morning she was nervously waiting in front of the hotel when a Rolls Royce pulled up. A skeletal man in a chauffeur’s uniform got out and approached her, “Would you be Miss Morgan?”

“Yes. That’s me.”

“My name is Jeffers. Mr. Smythe sends his apologies for not meeting you in person, but he has been strictly ordered to rest. You appear to be prepared to go then.”

Jeffers took her bags. She took a breath and got into the luxurious car. 

“Please help yourself to the tea and pastries she had already seen spread before her. I shall get you champagne if you so wish.”

“No champagne, thank you. Tea will be fine.”

“As you wish, Miss.”

She tried to relax into the plush seat, but was so filled with apprehension, she couldn’t touch either the pastries or tea.

After around a forty-fiveminute drive under ominous cloudy skies that threatened rain, Jeffers turned into a driveway, stopped in front of a large iron gate, and punched in a code. The gates swung open slowly to reveal a tree lined drive to a magnificent house, somewhere between a medieval castle and a small hotel.

Jeffers stopped the car at the front entrance and opened her door, escorting her to a large formidable front door, quickly opened by a somewhat fleshy middle aged severe looking woman in a maid’s uniform. Taking Emma’s bag from Jeffers said, “Miss Morgan, I am Miss Grant. I shall take you to the study. Please follow me.”

Emma followed two paces behind down a parquet floored hallway. She was awed by the luxurious magnificence of the house. Paintings, sculptures, and the required suits of old armor, lined the hall. She was directed into the study, a dark paneled room with a large orderly desk, plush leather chairs, thick carpet, and copious bookshelves filled with leather bound volumes. Where there weren’t bookshelves, there was expensive looking artwork. Tall windows flooded the room with the pending storm. A bolt of lightening flashed. A roll of thunder followed. Two bouquets of flowers brightened the room, giving the room a sweet fragrance and some relaxation to Emma. Miss Grant showed her to a seat with a side table set with more tea and small sandwiches. She was so nervous now she couldn’t bear to even look at food.

A moment later, Mr. Smythe slowly entered the room from another door. She arose to greet him but he motioned her to stay seated. He looked more pale and wan than when they had first met only a few days ago. 

“Miss Morgan, I am so happy you came. Thank you. I owe you a deep gratitude.” He sat slowly and carefully into a chair opposite her. 

His fragile presence quickly dissipated her fears. “I’m happy to be of service, Mr. Smythe. And please call me Emma.”

“Ah yes, formalities. Please call me Alexander or Alex will do just fine. You said you made the translations?” he asked eagerly.

“Yes, yes. I printed copies for you of both the original Latin and the translations along with enlarged images of the block prints. It should all be there,” as she handed him a sheaf of paper.

“Splendid. Splendid.” He quickly went through the papers. When he was finished, she noticed his lips quivering, tears forming in his eyes. He quickly looked away shaking his head as though trying to shake away his emotions. Regaining his composure, he turned back to her and said with a quivering voice, his eyes shining with moisture, “This is it. This is what I have been searching for. Perfect. Thank you Miss, I mean Emma. I cannot express my gratitude for what you have done for me.”

“I’m happy this is what you wanted. And thank you for your generosity. This was all was quite an adventure, quite an adventure.”

“Yes, quite an adventure indeed. Now, Emma, do you have your receipts so I may cover them as I promised?”

“I forgot to bring them, but may I email them to you?”

“Of course, Here is my card with my contact information. And, please do, at your earliest convenience. Now, I would love to stay and chat, however, I think my doctor was quite serious about me needing rest. I must lie down and read this treasure you have found. If this works as it should, you have truly saved this old man. Miss Grant will be showing you out. Jeffers will return you to your hotel. If you will please excuse me now.” 

He slowly and unsteadily arose from the chair. She quickly got up to help, but he waved her off. “I am fine.” He stood before her, looked deeply into her eyes. She looked back and for a moment, got a glimpse of the handsome man he must have been in his youth. 

“Oh, one more thing, Emma, I talked to Miss Pritchard today and she said that Mr. Arnon had been hospitalized after an incident at the library. Would you happen to know anything about that? Something about a ‘she devil from hell’,” he asked with a smirk.

“Me? No. Of course not. Why would you think that?” she answered all too hastily.

Now his smirk had turned into a broad grin. “Just asking. Thank you again, Emma.” His look was with a tenderness that made her melt a bit inside. They shook hands, he turned and went back through the door he had entered from . She was quickly snagged by Miss Grant who escorted her out to the front door where Jeffers awaited.

To be Continued . . .

Library of the Occult (Part 6)

In the morning she felt like a new person, wondering about how to kill time until her early evening flight home the next day. After a continental breakfast and two cups of rich coffee at the hotel, the day before came tumbling back to her and she began to worry about that man. Deep down she felt a little sorry that she might have done more injury to him than just breaking his nose. She got out her cell and called the library.

The familiar voice of Miss Pritchard answered, “Library of the Occult. How may I help you?”

“Hi, Miss Pritchard, This is Emma Morgan from yesterday. Remember me?”

“Of course, of course. Oh my dear girl, I must apologize for leaving you locked in that room.” she said with a much friendlier tone than the day before. “Mr. Smythe took ill and we had to rush him to the hospital. I wanted to return to release you but Mr. Smythe has no one else so I felt I should be with him until he was settled. Then when I returned and scurried up to open the door for you I found that dreadful Sylvester Arnon on the floor laying in his blood and vomit. He was moaning something about a she-devil-from-hell. I again called for an ambulance, making sure to direct them to another hospital other than where Mr. Smythe was residing. Such a disturbing day. Oh my. They are arch enemies you know.”

“No, I had no idea,” Emma was able to interject.

“No. Of course, my dear. How could you. Did Mr. Arnon release you?”

“Yes, he did. The poor man. What happened to him?” she asked, over- feigning any knowledge.

“I have no idea. I thought you might know something,” she said, her voice rising into a question like she already knew the answer, like Emma’s mother did when she was being naughty. “Whatever did happen to him, he would most certainly deserve it. He is a truly wretched man. He is beyond arrogant, thinking he is so much superior to any other mortal, claiming he is a warlock of highest order. It is rumored he practices the ‘dark arts’. Are you sure you know nothing, maybe about some ‘she devil’?”

“No. Oh no. He opened the door and I left,” she answered, again overdoing her feigned innocence.

“I’m sure you don’t,” she said with a slight chuckle. “Thank you my dear girl. I’m not sure how you did what you did, but my lips shan’t ever mutter not another word of this event. My lips are sealed.”

Emma could almost see her doing the ‘zipper’ thing across her lips.

“Miss Morgan, You should call Mr. Smythe. He was quite worried about you, leaving you like he did. It would make him feel much better if he heard from you.”

“I’d be happy to. Can I contact him at the hospital?”

“Most certainly,” and she gave Emma a number to call and the location.

They said their good-byes and Emma called the hospital and was connected to his room. He picked up.

“Hello, Mr. Smythe. This is Emma Morgan. We met yesterday at the library and you let me in to that restricted room to research a book for my dissertation.”

“Of course I remember you my dear girl. I apologize for taking ill and leaving you locked in there. I do hope Miss Pritchard found you well.”

I am really tired of being called ‘dear girl’. “Well, it’s a long story, Sir.”

“ I have nothing but time stuck in this infernal hospital. Doctors say I must stay for observation. However, I must say, no one seems to be doing much observing. So please, continue and relate your story.”

She told him the saga of her day, leaving out any mention of Sylvester Arnon, not disputing his idea that Miss Pritchard had been the one to let her out of the room. On a roll, she told him about the secret panel and subsequently discovering the manuscripts. When she mentioned the titles, she heard him suck in a deep breath.

“Oh, dear Miss Morgan, could you please bring those over to me? It would be such a favor. Truly it would.”

“I left them undisturbed. They were very old fragile parchment. But I took photos of them thinking I might translate them someday.”

“You could translate them? Could you do it straightaway?”

“It might take a while and my flight out is tomorrow. I don’t think I have the time. Maybe when I get back home and finish my thesis.”

“If you would do so now, I will compensate you handsomely for your services. I shall also pay all expenses you incur from your stay. Knowing the contents of these is extremely important to me. Extremely important! I beg of you, my dear Miss Morgan to indulge me. My life depends on it.”

She heard panic in his voice. “I’ll have to think about it. I’ll take a look and see what would be involved. Some of these old manuscripts are easier than others to translate. Can I call you back?”

“Of course. Of course,” he replied breathlessly. “Please consider my offer. It is of utmost importance to me. I will be waiting to hear from you. Thank you. You have no idea how important these manuscripts are to me.”

To be Continued . . .