The Calling - Merry's Apprentice

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Chapter 2


MONTH ONE:

A New Home, A New Beginning

_______________________________________

The cemetery in Stonington, Maine was much like any other cemetery, decorated with tombstones, some crypts, statuary, and representations and symbols from several religions, including Christian, Jewish, and even Wicca. The grass was cut clean and neat and had morning dew on it and the trees where slowly changing color, as the leaves were readying to take on the shades of autumn. In many ways it was a nice park with some tombstones, except you had to wear the clothes of mourning instead of play clothes.

I stood solemnly in a new black suit with a crisp, new white shirt, which my aunt ironed for me, and wearing a black tie. I stood staring at the twin empty graves, where my parents’ caskets hung over waiting to be lowered and interred. We were waiting to begin the ceremony.

I was there with my mother’s sister, my only aunt, and her family, which included her husband and four children. Since the night of the accident they had taken care of me with my aunt making all the important arrangements. As my closest living family they tried to provide me solace, though I wasn’t ready yet for solace. I wanted to be sad and to mourn. Standing between the two graves dressed in his priestly vestments with chasuble, alb, and red stole and holding a bible was our local parish priest. Also gathered for the funeral were almost two dozen other people, friends of both my parents, who came to show their respect for the deceased. The only person who wasn’t there yet was my father’s brother, my uncle Kieran McCoul, who according to my parents’ recently read will was now my legal guardian.

It seemed odd to me that I was being placed to live with a man who I had never met. My father talked seldom about his home and family in the mountains of Tennessee, only to say that they were remarkable people who lived a life like none other. I always assumed my father stayed away from them because he had nothing in common with them, except a last name and some DNA. Yet, my uncle was made my guardian and not my aunt. I didn’t understand why and no one had a good enough explanation for me.

“Requiem aeternam dona ei, domine,” the priest intoned in Latin, as he raised his hand in a blessing. “Et lux perpetua ei. Requiesscat in pace. Amen.”

As the priest began to finish up, I noticed a tall man with longish copper colored hair, much like my own hair, as well as my father’s, walking towards the gravesite. His beard was the same color as his hair and he was wearing a rumpled black suit, as if he had been wearing it while driving for an extra long distance. As he was walking closer towards me I knew this was my uncle, a man I had never met before, yet a man who I was now going to live with. Even though I knew this was my parents’ wish, it seemed cruelly unfair to me. I was born and raised in Maine and I wanted to stay here.

“Anima ejus, et animae omnium fidelium, per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen,” the priest finished.

The priest then handed his book of prayers to the altar boy standing beside him and walked over to me. My eyes burned with tears. Instead of offering me words of condolences that I had heard all too often lately and resounded hollowly in my head and heart, Father Morse merely gave me a strong hug then he gently patted my shoulder. I preferred this to any more words I didn’t want to hear. The priest slowly walked away with the altar boy dutifully following him. With that everyone else began to stream away from the gravesite, seeming as if they were at an outdoor concert, which had now ended and they could all go home. I could hear the mumbled conversations and muffled comments as they filtered away. My aunt gave me a kiss on my cheek.

“I see your uncle finally made it here,” she said with more than a little bitterness in her voice. “Well, he could have come on time, but, I guess, better late than never. Small blessings, I guess.”

Although she had four children, the oldest being my age, and her husband was struggling with the lobster fishing business, she was disappointed when someone else was made legal guardian to me. She was sure she was going to be made my guardian. I was disappointed she wasn’t. My aunt Molly couldn’t replace my mother, but she reminded me of her. Molly Carpenter and Moira McCoul looked just like sisters. Both had honey colored hair, crystal blue eyes, and smiles that made you feel loved and secure. The only difference in the appearance between the two was that Molly looked like a portrait of my mother Moira, as done by a painter with merely adequate talent. Moira, my mother, had cleaner, softer, and more pleasing features than her sister.

“We are going to the car now. I need to get back to the house to make sure the guests have plenty to eat, plates to put the food on, and something to drink, so I’ll give you and Kieran time with each other,” she kissed my cheek again. “Show him the way to the house, honey. You’re really a wonderful boy, Sean.”

“Okay, I will,” I replied feeling uncomfortable with her comment.

I didn’t feel like a wonderful boy, though I did feel like a sadly lucky one. I hadn’t mentioned the man in the hooded robe to anyone, especially the police, because I didn’t think they would believe me, but I knew somehow that man was the reason that I was still alive. That man stopped the strange mist, which the police insisted was nothing more than some thick marine layer and that’s all. I was sure of that.

Molly Carpenter shuffled off with her family to prepare for the after funeral gathering at her house. Nearby two burly men with passive expressions masking their faces waited to lower the caskets with an electronic wench into the empty graves then covered them with dirt. They would wait until I had left before doing their work, unless I or someone else gave them permission to get started then and there. Looking up at them, I nodded my head: “You can start now, if you want. You don’t have to wait.”

Their passive faces disappeared replaced by serious ones with a hint of thanks in their eyes. One of them walked over to the casket with my mother in it and pressed the button to begin the process to lower her down into her grave. With an inexorable purpose the casket began slowly to lower. Tears started to burn my eyes once again. I wiped them away with the back of my right hand.

My uncle silently came up beside me. I stood five feet three inches tall, but I felt small for my age because of my father’s, and now my uncle’s, great size. Kieran McCoul was taller than my father by at least two inches at six foot five inches, but he lacked my father’s solid, muscular frame and presence. When my father Liam McCoul entered a room, the air pressure changed almost as if he was a force of nature. He had a presence about him that drew attention. Kieran made the sign of the cross, as the casket touched the bottom of the grave.

“You’re my uncle, huh?” I said to him.

“I am, Arthur,” he said with a terseness that seemed natural to him.

“I don’t like being called by the name Arthur. I prefer to go by Sean,” I corrected him.

“Really, I see. Arthur’s a good name, but it’s up to you what you want to be called,” my uncle replied then he looked sadly at me. “Well, you look like your father.”

“Uh huh, so people say sometimes, except he was a really big man,” was my reply to my uncle’s observation.

“He was smallish, too, until he had a growth spurt around fourteen. How old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“I expect you’ll do the same as him,” he remarked with warmth, as he remembered his brother as a boy.

“I thought my cousin Fintin...”

“Fintain,” he corrected me.

“Yeah, sure, Fintain. I thought he was coming with you,” I noted, not really knowing what else to say to this stranger I was somehow related to.

“Your cousin Fintain sends his best to you, but I decided to let him stay in school, though I think their teacher intends to delay things a bit for you. I didn’t bring him because I thought we needed some time to get to know each other now that you’ll be living with me. I know this is difficult for you, but it’s for the best,” he said with an accent that had more than a hint of Southerness to it. “Where’s you mother’s kin gone?”

“Back to their house. She told me to show you the way there for food and such.”

“I thought you and I could stay at your parent’s house for a few days then...,” he let the rest of his sentence drift.

Then what? I thought. Then we drive back to your place and I live with you and I leave my home, my friends, my parents, and my whole life.

“I guess we can get going now if you want to,” I suggested.

“I gather it’s time for us to leave. There is no reason to stay here and watch them do their job,” my uncle replied then he walked over to his brother’s grave, squatted down, and grabbed a handful of dirt from the grave with his right hand then he put the dirt in his pants pocket.

I shook my head slightly confused by the action. Why take the dirt? I wanted to ask him, but a combination of stubbornness and unfamiliarity with the man stopped me. My uncle stood up and looked at me.

“Where is your car?” I asked.

“My pickup is over there parked,” he answered, as he pointed to a black, 1992 extended cab Ford pickup.

I sighed, as I realized that a giant chasm of differences separated my uncle and I. I was headed not only into a new state, but I was headed to a foreign country. In silence we walked to the pickup.

************

We stayed three days in the house, barely speaking to each other, as we packed up the house and thirteen years worth of my own and my parents’ things. Kieran needed to ready the house for sale since he had no intention of moving to Maine. It was sad duty deciding which things to throw away, which to give away, and which to bring with me. For me the silence was new. On the whole my personality was usually talkative, as I’d chatter away wth friends and my parents about whatever was on my mind from sports to whatever video games I was currently obsessed with. Long stretches of silence were a natural thing for my uncle, though, so he was unaware that my moody silence wasn’t normal, but a new development. My father, Liam, was a talker, a man who enjoyed conversation and good company, but that didn’t mean that as his son I had to take after him. My uncle easily accepted my silences without wondering if something was wrong.

I overheard a conversation between Molly and Kieran where he told my aunt that he lived near someplace called Watauga Lake near Elizabethton on Roan Mountain, which was part of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, or something like that. I also heard him mention the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, as well as Northeast Tennessee and North Carolina. It all sounded so completely foreign to me, so strange, so far away, that my brain didn’t want to accept that my life was about to change irrevocably and drastically without permission. Maine was my home. It had always been my home. From the beauty of Stonington, which was an old seaport on Penobscot Bay, to Portland, which offered a taste of a real city along with the chance to see the Red Sox double AA team, the Portland Seadogs, and the occasional trips down to Boston for a real Red Sox game; I loved where I lived. I didn’t want to live anywhere else, but where I lived.

Once the house was straightened out, we filled up the bed of the pickup with my belongings that I wanted to take with me. My PlayStation 3, video games, 28 inch flat screen TV and laptop were essentials, as well as clothes and books, but I also wanted to bring my collection of Sideshow Collectibles 12 inch Superhero figures, which included Hellboy, Spiderman, Venom, Ironman in his Mack II suit, Ironman in his Mack III suit, and The Punisher. These were all special gifts that my father bought me for my birthdays. My father told me that imaginary superheroes were symbols, but there were those who were real heroes who had to remain in the shadows, as they protected people. I liked to believe that my father wasn’t just telling me a story. Maybe the man in the robe was a superhero, come out of the shadows?

Once the truckbed was full, my uncle tied a black canvas to the tailgate then stretched it over the things and tied the other end down near the cab. My life was packed up into the back of a pickup truck. It made me feel as if a part of my life was over.

“Good thing I got a long bed truck for all your stuff,” he said when he was done.

After we said our tearful goodbyes, I sat beside him as our trip to Tennessee began. I had charged up my white Darth Vader PSP and brought several games with me into the cab of the truck. My backpack was with me, as I kept a supply of games a couple fantasy novels in it. While my uncle drove, I mindlessly played Patapon. It was going to be a twenty-one hour drive from his current home to his future one according to my uncle, and he told me that we were going to only stop for fuel, bathroom breaks, and food. I didn’t argue with him. Sitting in a pickup or sitting in a motel room with him, it all seemed the same to me.

Once the long drive began Kieran put a tape, not a DVD but a cassette tape, into his built-in cassette player and started playing some music. I recognized the instruments, such as mandolin, acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass, but Bluegrass music, as he called it, was far from a music style I had ever listened to. A thin, tangy male voice began to sing.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Del McCourt,” Kieran answered with a hint of surprise in his tone that I didn’t know who Del McCourt was.

“Never heard of him.”

“You don’t listen to Bluegrass?”

“No, I don’t really listen to country music,” I monosyllabiclly answered amazed that I even had to listen to this music.

“Your father didn’t listen to it at all?” he asked me.

“Maybe when he was alone, maybe, but when he was with Ma and me, he let us choose the music we listened to,” I told him.

“This is music based somewhat on your roots, Sean,” my uncle began to explain. “Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and even some English folk music mixed up with jazz and blues and became Bluegrass. You see there were quite a few Scots-Irish immigrants and Welsh in the Appalachia in the old days. The Scots-Irish came early and the Welsh followed later when the mining of the mountains began.”

“I didn’t know that,” was all that I had say to this subject, which didn’t interest me.

“There are more than just those with Celtic blood, of course. You have those with German descent, Swiss, Native American, African, and a real interesting mix of African, European, and Native American called Melungeons, too. Some of them look almost as if they’re Turkish. They are a fascinating people, real spiritual, too. People don’t realize just how diverse and interesting our part of the world is, which all things considered, is a good thing I guess. I think you’ll like where we are going, if you give it a chance. We have our secrets, as you’ll find out. Ancient secrets not meant to be shared with those who are not part of our clan. But you are one of us, aren’t you?”

I had the feeling this was the most my uncle had spoken in a very long time. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, nor did I really care to understand. Ancient secrets? Yeah, I bet they had ancient secrets. One of the secrets must be how to make moonshine, or catch a catfish, I thought. I decided to say nothing and allow my silence to be interpreted by my uncle anyway he wanted to interpret it.

“Not as many Native Americans around now, though there is one tribe, well not really a tribe as they are recognized as their own tribe that is very interesting: the Yuchi. Many of the remaining Yuchi are considered citizens of the Shawnee and the Sauk and Fox. But don’t be fooled, they are their own people and an important spiritual people, too. They are a people with some interesting myths, like why the cedar tree is red. It was because they killed an evil wizard, who was attacking the tribe, by cutting off his head, yet his head didn’t die. The Unknown, who is a mysterious being who came down to earth to help them defeat this wizard, told them to tie the head to a cedar tree. They did so and the head finally died and the blood from the head turned the cedar red. The Unknown. Funny if you think about it, of course, you wouldn’t know why the Unknown is funny, would you?” Kieran told me, as he took his silence as interest in the topic.

Molly’s husband was a quiet man, so I had some experience with quiet men who started to talk a lot. All you had to do was get Jim talking about baseball or lobster fishing and he’d go off on long tangents, as my mother called them. Like many men who were quiet by nature, when Kieran got started talking about something, his sentences became mazes of thoughts and information, which you had to follow. I let him wander and sat pretending to listen.

The truck passed through the foliage of New England, which was filled with leaves of different sizes changing colors from green to flaming orange, mottled brown, and bright yellow. Massachusetts soon became Rhode Island, which soon became Connecticut, and the last bits of New England were soon gone. We were traveling in almost a straight line from Maine to Tennessee. After Connecticut came New York State then we would be hitting Pennsylvania followed by Virginia and eventually our destination of Tennessee.

“So, other than Sean, what do you like to be called?” Kieran asked me as we reached the New York Border.

“Just Sean. That’s all.”

“Your father didn’t give you a nickname? He sure loved to give nicknames as a kid.”

“Yeah, he gave me one” I reluctantly answered.

“What was it?” my uncle asked with great interest.

“I don’t know.”

“Of course, you know what it is. He gave it to you. Please, tell me. My brother called me Kay instead of Kieran. Everybody who still knows me well calls me Kay to this day because of him. I expect you’ll call me Kay once you get used to me well enough.”

“Bear. He called me Bear,” I softly told him.

“Of course, he did,” he said with a self-satisfied smile. “Your father was a traditionalist deep down, even though he pretended not to be.”

“What do you mean by of course he did?” I asked him.

“Arthur, well, it means bear in Welsh.”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied.

“You haven’t learned much Celtic history, have you?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“They’ll be a chance for to learn later,” Kieran said with a smile then went back into his silent world.

With nothing to do but listen to music I didn’t really like, play my PSP, or look at the darkening horizon and scenery slowly being taken over falling shadows, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. Between the motion of the truck and the creeping feeling of disconnection I felt, sleep seemed like a good idea to me.

************

Tennessee, at least the part of the state we were driving through, was dominated by the color green and, of course, mountains. Maine was green, but it also had the ocean, and the Smoky Mountains and the rest of them almost shamed the mountains we had seen in Maine. Here in Tennessee so far all I saw was nature, long, long stretches of uninterrupted nature, with the occasional dots of civilization in the forms of homes or small towns. My uncle told me that we weren’t far from a place called Elizabethton, Tennessee, which meant that it wasn’t too long before we arrived home. Home, I thought when he said the word, what an odd word to apply to any place around here. Home was more than a place to live it was a place where you belonged. I wasn’t sure I’d ever belong here.

“I need to stop in Elizabethton for a moment then we’ll continue on to home,” Kieran said.

“Okay,” I mumbled my reply.

When we entered Elizabethton, Tennessee with its short, quaint buildings and houses, I was sure now I had come to foreign territory. The people looked like regular people, but they didn’t dress, walk, talk, or seem like the people I was used to in Stonington. In Maine the clothes were mainly from L.L. Bean, but here the clothes were John Deere and Bass Pro. The truck turned onto Elk Avenue and we drove for a few blocks until Kieran parked outside of a place called Bede’s General Store.

“Be right back with a surprise that’ll make your mouth water,” he said then he got out and hustled into the store.

I stared at the people of Elizabethton. Several of the women smiled at me, as if they knew me, while a few of the boys my own age glowered at me as if I didn’t belong there. I couldn’t help buy think of Portland, and the Seadogs and begin to wonder if there was either a Double AA or even just an A baseball team around here. The Red Sox and Patriots were obsessions to my dad and I. We watched as many baseball games as we could together and never missed a Pats game on TV. Just thinking about such things made me miss my father and my mother, who always made us sandwiches for the games.

Carrying a large, brown, paper bag, Kieran returned to the truck. He got in and placed the bag in between himself and me. I was slightly curious what was in the bag.

“Bede is a wise old man, who is still a great hunter. There are some freshly cut venison steaks in there for us to eat tonight and I mean they are good eatin’,” Kieran told me. “So, what do you think of Elizabethton?”

“Kind of surprising that people wear baseball caps, more than cowboy hats around here. I thought they’d be more cowboy hats being worn by people in these parts,” I said to make conversation.

Kieran laughed: “This is Northeast Tennessee not Texas, Sean. Anyway, people love their NASCAR and hunting here, so they wear the hats with their logos. We are almost home.”

“Yeah,” was my blank response.

Kieran started the truck up and drove. He turned onto W. Lynn Avenue then he drove down and turned onto Broad Street, which he took straight out of Elizabethton. Even though I wasn’t looking forward to arriving at my so-called new home, I felt a bubble of nervousness in my stomach. This was the place where I was going to be stuck living at until further notice.

As promised the drive to my uncle’s home was a short distance. In a fairly deserted part of Watauga Lake, and a less than thirty-minute drive to Elizabethton, Tennessee, he pulled down a dirt road to his house. Situated about forty feet back from the lake, the house was the most unique one I had ever seen in my life. Starting out as a commonplace two story A frame, the house had been contorted, expanded, and redesigned until it was now a sand colored, Byzantine in complexity, four floors, with probably at least seven bedrooms. There was a large barn beside it on the right side and another small barn on the left side of the home. Both the house and the larger barn had solar panels on their roofs collecting energy. On the front porch there stood a sandy haired almost six foot tall, broad shouldered boy with a pug nose and a lopsided grin wearing jeans, jeans shirt, and work boots. Standing along side him there was a petite, no taller than five foot with short and spiky, flaming red haired girl. She had a face that was both elfin and beautiful at the same time and she wore faded overalls, a white t-shirt, and hiking boots.

“I see Fintain and Branwyn are here to welcome you. They’ll be your schoolmates in the barn,” Kieran stated.

“Barn? School?”

“Yeah, you’ll be home-schooled in the barn with Branwyn, Fintain, and a few other very special kids. Don’t worry about it. Your teacher will be the smartest man you’ll ever meet in your life. There is nothing he doesn’t know. Your education is very important.”

“Sure, right. The smartest man in a barn,” I said sarcastically, as I opened the door and got out of the truck.

“Fintain McCoul, have you been behaving yourself while I was gone on family business?” Kieran called out to my cousin, as he got out of the truck.

While uncle and cousin greeted each other, I stared at the girl. I noticed that her eyes were green and her lips, which appeared red even without makeup, had a devilish smile playing on them.

“Been acting the best I can,” Fintain answered.

“You can do better than that, son,” Kieran said as his son came down off the porch and he gave his father a hug.

“Lucan is in the house cleaning up and fussin’ about as always,” Fintain told my uncle.

“He’s worst than a woman when it comes to fussing with things,” Kieran said then he handed Fintain the bag of steaks.

“He said he wanted have Arthur’s room perfect for him when he got here. He wanted him to feel welcomed and all.”

“He prefers Sean to Arthur,” Kieran corrected Fintain then he motioned towards me.

“Sean, this is my son Fintain,” he stated then he waved at the girl, “and that is Branwyn Fey.”

“Hey, Sean,” she greeted him. It was odd but I could have sworn there was a hint of music in her voice.

“Sean, not Arthur, huh?” grumbled Fintain. “I like Arthur better than Sean. It’s a great name.”

“Then change your name to Arthur when you get older, if you like the name so much,” I snapped at him.

I didn’t mean to sound so sarcastic, but a feeling of defensiveness had overcome the second I saw my new home. Without meaning to it reminded me of everything I had lost.

Fintain’s face blanched at the comment, which I guess hurt his feelings, while an amused grin appeared on Kieran’s face: “Now you sound a little bit more like my brother. He had a tongue that could cut you to the quick when he was in the mood. I swear there was some whip to his tongue.”

Just then Lucan, an older man with a long salt and pepper hair, a weathered and wrinkled face and a body that looked as if it had seen a many a hard day’s work, came down from the porch and he walked over to me and offered his right hand. I saw that the man was only a few inches taller than me. Without even exchanging words, I knew that I’d like Lucan. It was just a feeling. He felt comfortable to me.

“A warrior always offers his sword hand to a fellow warrior to show that he is unarmed,” Lucan said to me.

Feeling awkward by the greeting I shook his hand. It was a hard, strong grip that made my fingers numb for a moment. Lucan smiled at me: “The name is Lucan Xavier Athol and I am at your service. Anything you need or want, you just ask me. Just keep it within reason.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Sean has some adjusting to do to our way of life here, Lucan,” Kieran warned him in a friendly tone.

“No, problem, Kay. Merry called. He said that he’d delay restarting school for a few more days in order to give Sean time to adjust to his new surroundings.”

“Sounds good to me, right, kids?” Kieran said to Branwyn and Fintain, who didn’t look too happy at the news.

“I guess we need him to adjust to things. He’ll just slow us down for now, anyhow,” Branwyn said sarcastically, as I guess she did’t like how I had treated Fintain.

“What do you mean by that?” I asked defensively.

“I mean that you aren’t on our level yet, Boston. You are behind us in a great many things,” she goaded me.

“I’m not from Boston. I’m from Maine and the name is Sean. And what level are you on - advanced banjo, red neck?” I asked knowing that my education was better than average.

“You have no idea what level we are on, but you will know soon. Anyway, I’d be a hillbilly not a red neck. Get your insults right,” she chided me then she walked over to Fintain. “Come on, Fin, let’s help Sean here move his stuff into the house.”

“Sure, Bran.”

Kieran walked over to me and looked me straight in the eyes: “Your father called you Bear. I think you are going to have to live up to that particular nickname, so when you growl at someone you better be willing to bare your teeth along with the growl because they shoot bears around here and stuff them. Or maybe you can learn not to growl so easily, unless you are ready to bare your teeth. Maybe you should get to know the people around here before you growl at them. You can take my advice or leave it. It’s up to you. I am a believer in learning by one’s mistakes.”

“You know that I’ve never gone hunting in my life, so I know nothing about bears,” I told my uncle.

“How about fishin’? Have you ever gone fishin’?”

“Yeah, I’ve gone fishing. I kind of like fishing, especially when I went with my dad.”

“Well, that’s a start, isn’t it? Consider hunting to be fishing except on land and with a weapon that goes bang instead of a fishin’ pole,” he laughed then he walked over to help bring my stuff into the house.

For no reason in particular I fumed for a moment. I didn’t want to get into an argument with this Branwyn and her attitude towards me, but I couldn’t help it. Anyway, there was something about her, something that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. It was not a bad uncomfortable, just uncomfortable, and I didn’t like that.

**************

The house was a maze of rooms. Some were empty, except for a few boxes, and most were filled with eclectic furniture from handmade wooden furniture to tub chairs that looked like they had been made from barrels. My new room was on the first floor in the back near the kitchen. My uncle gave me this room I presume because he thought there was less chance for me to get lost trying to find it, plus it had a private bathroom. He wanted me to have enough space to adjust to my new life here without feeling cramped. The bedroom was large by my usual standard, a good 19x19 in size, which was more the size of my parents’ old bedroom.

The day after I arrived, Kieran put a shelf in my bedroom for my collectibles then he and Fintain carried several bookcases into the room for my books, then he and Fintain brought in a desk and a chair, so that I could use my laptop in my room. Add a short table for my television and Playstation console, and the room was livable. It was so livable I spent most of my time in the room only coming out for meals and stretching my legs. Keiran would not let me take a walk around the lake alone and always had to have either Lucan or Kieran with me when I wanted to explore the area. They made me feel as if they didn’t trust me, as if I’d get lost walking three feet away from the house.

By Thursday night, the night before my home-schooling started, I found I couldn’t sleep, so wearing just a pair of sweat pants and a light robe I opened the bedroom door then patted the walls blindly in the kitchen looking for the light switch. I found the switch and turned on the lights. Although I couldn’t sleep, I did find that I had an appetite to eat something. Strolling over to the refrigerator, I opened it and started searching for a post midnight snack.

“Anything good in there to eat?” asked a strong male voice.

I turned to see it was Lucan: “Can’t sleep and I got kind of hungry.”

“Don’t blame you. I get peckish late at night, too,” he said and he walked over to the refrigerator.

Reaching past me, he grabbed with his left hand a plate that was covered by tin foil and then with his right hand he grabbed the glass container of milk. He left me at the refrigerator door then he walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. With flair he removed the tin foil exposing ten cold, pieces of homemade fried chicken. I saw the chicken and joined him at the table.

“I remember your father at your age. He was small, too, but he developed a hearty appetite and within six months had shot up seven inches. After that he only grew a few more inches. Big men run in your family, Sean,” Lucan told me.

I picked up a chicken leg and took a bite: “You knew my father well?”

“Yeah, sure. He was a real scrapper. When he put his mind to it, well, no one beat him in a fight, fair or unfair, or anything else. He was always at his most determined when he thought people doubted him. It got so you knew not to doubt him.”

“Really,” I said finishing off my chicken leg then grabbing a breast.

“Really,” Lucan answered me then he got up and went over to the counter and got us each a glass.

He returned to the table and poured us each a large glass of cold milk. “I thought he was going to be the one.”

“The one? What one?”

“Oh, you’ll find out about that stuff when the time is right. Don’t worry about it for now. So tomorrow you start school with Merry and your new schoolmates.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.

“Merry will love teachin’ you.”

“Why?”

“Why? Well, um, because I can tell that you have great potential and Merry loves to find unique ways to bring out people’s potential.”

“Great potential,” I repeated then I drank some of the ice-cold milk. “My father told me in the SUV right before he died that I had a destiny. I didn’t believe him. I thought those were just words he was saying to me to make me feel less useless, less wrong for not dying with them. A destiny? I don’t even know what it means to have a destiny.”

“Why is that?”

“Because to have a destiny you must be special somehow, talented at something, and I couldn’t even save my parents when I wanted to and they needed me to,” I admitted.

For the first time since my parents’ death I was finally telling someone how I felt about what had happened and it was this new stranger in my life. Yet, I felt very comfortable with this stranger.

“Tell me all about it. I’m here to listen,” Lucan gently said to me.

“I don’t know...it sounds crazy, but we were attacked by this strange mist. The police said it was my imagination, or survivor’s guilt or something like that, but I swear this mist attacked us. I don’t know how, but it did. It surrounded our SUV and pushed it around, banged it up then it sort of picked up the SUV and tossed it at the trees. For some reason, my seat buckle came off and the door opened and I went flying out of the Trailblazer before it crashed into the trees. I wasn’t even badly hurt. I thought I was, but a good night’s sleep and I was not even hurting that much. I didn’t even have that many bruises the next day. It was really weird, like out of a movie or a comic book.”

“You’re at that age,” Lucan said to me.

“What age?”

“Age when some young boys’ bodies begin to mature in all things, you know puberty and such, except you being you, it is a bit more than that. Your body can take a beatin’ better than most I should think.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked Lucan with great interest.

“Hard to explain, at least, it’s hard for me to explain. I’m not really a man of words, more of a man of action in my time. Merry will explain it to you when he thinks it is the right time for you to fully understand. He’ll eventually explain everything to you. Merry is that kind of man.”

“I should have died with my parents that night, Lucan. I would have died because the mist was coming for me, but then something really strange happened,” I stopped speaking, as I thought of the man in the robe.

“What happened, Sean? Go on tell me. I know you don’t know me real well, but you can trust me and I can see you got something stuck inside of you that needs to come out. What you tell me will stay with me. I’m a natural born listener, who can keep a secret better than the average man.”

“Well, it sounds even stranger than the mist, but there was more that that. You see, this man in a black robe appeared out of nowhere. I didn’t really see him clearly, just his robe and his right hand. I never told this to anyone, especially after they told me that the mist was my imagination, but this man suddenly appeared out of nowhere and frightened the mist off just by raising his hand against it. I passed out after that because I was pretty banged up,” I explained.

“Sounds ’bout right,” Lucan said then he took a sip of his own milk. “Your father was right about you, Sean. You do have a destiny. Remember that and don’t doubt it because it ain’t no use to doubt such things. Just be determined like your father used to be.”

“But I couldn’t save my parents,” I said, as I felt the tears once again start to burn my eyes. “Destiny? My destiny should be to protect the people I love. What good is it to have a destiny if you can’t save someone you love.”

“Yeah, that is a pain in the butt, isn’t it? But destinies come to you when they are ready not when you want. It ain’t fair but it is what it is, Bear,” Lucan said.

Suddenly, I smiled at the sound of that nickname: “You called me Bear. Did Kieran tell you that my father used to call me Bear?”

“Nay, Kay didn’t mention that to me.”

“Then why did you call me, Bear?”

“You remind me of a young cub about to become a big rip roarin’ bear. Do you mind if I call you Bear?”

“Naw, I don’t mind that at all.”

“Good, I’m glad. How about you drink up your milk and try to get some sleep. I know Merry and he will want to work your brain tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I replied then I drained my glass of milk. Suddenly, I felt tired and was ready to go to bed.

“Don’t worry too much about those things. Be it school or whatever, you’ll get the answers you’re looking for in time. Just be patient and trust the right people,” Lucan advised me.

“Thanks for listening,” I said.

“My pleasure, Bear. I’m here if you need to talk again,” Lucan replied.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, as I went back into my room.

*************

The morning came too soon and too brightly, as the sun shined through my window because I forgot to put down the shade. I hustled out of bed, got dressed in a pair of faded jeans, a hoodie that had its arms cut short and was ripped a little around the collar then I slipped on my trainers. Taking my left hand and combing through my hair in an attempt to brush it, I opened the bedroom door to see that a mug of still hot coffee, several homemade still warm plain doughnuts, and a large glass of orange juice was awaiting me. I wolfed down the two doughnuts first then I drained the glass of orange juice down his throat, and finally I drank some of the coffee, which was too strong for my taste. My mother drank an Italian roast coffee, which she bought from a local coffee shop. This coffee tasted as if a single mug could keep you up for days. With a shiver I hustled out through the kitchens backdoor and ran to the big red barn.

Built into the large, locked doors of the barn was another smaller door, which had a doorknob. I turned the doorknob and opened the door and entered my new schoolroom. Much to my surprise, I saw a state of the art schoolroom with central heating and air conditioning and much more. The stalls were removed with the walls painted a light blue, and the rafter also had desks set up for private study. Aside from my fellow students, there were several tables with laptops on them, a large flat screen television, which was hooked up to an Internet, as well as books, CDs, and other teaching tools. In all honesty, I expected farm tools, a chalkboard, and crayons. This was a surprise, the first of many. I ran to one of the tables, which had two people sitting at it, and I sat down a few seats from them.

At the front of this room stood a tall man, an inch or so shorter than Kieran, with a neatly trimmed white goatee and short, well groomed white hair that had a single black streak of hair on the right side above the ear, and gold rimmed glasses sitting on a long Romanesque nose and with dark, almost black, eyes staring out at me. He was dressed in loose, wrinkled chinos, with loafers, a slightly wrinkled white Oxford shirt, and a corduroy jacket with suede elbow patches. Though he had a sense of age about him, I was uncertain just how old he really was because he also had an aura of youthfulness about him, also.

“Good morrow, Arthur Sean McCoul. You are welcome to my class,” the man said in a clipped English accent, “I am Merry Wyllit, your teacher.”

“Um, Hi,” I replied.

“No, I am not. I can’t abide any stimulants, as they dull the senses and the mental acuity. Did you mean to say hello to me?”

“Yes, I meant hello,” I said hesitantly.

“You will find that I respond to proper English not the mishmash that is spoken far too often here with its slang, colloquialisms, and short cut grammar. All of it hurts my ears,” he told me. “Now as this is your first day, I shall have your classmates introduce themselves to you. At the end of this, you will introduce yourself to them. It is only the polite thing to do and I expect politeness. How does that sound?”

“It sounds like an idea,” I said.

“No, it was a statement of intention. Putting up the concept for discussion that if we closed our eyes tightly that we would cease to be here, as living is nothing more than a dream is an idea. A discussion, by the way, influenced by Edgar Allen Poe.”

“Well, it sounds like a good one to me,” I mumbled, causing several of my new classmates to titter.

“You have a sense of humor. That will serve you well in the days to come, as I see how much you do and do not know and how much work you have ahead of yourself,” Merry told me. “Now, Fintain, please begin, as you are on home ground.”

Fintain stood up: “Fintain McCoul. I’m fourteen and considered a strong warrior...”

“Fintain,” interrupted Merry Wyllit, “please keep the details of your schooling and such simple. Pretend you are visiting a local school and introducing yourself. All right.”

“Sure. Well, I like competing in the Highland games and my best subject is...”

“You don’t really have a best subject, Fintain, though I have tried to entice you to expand your interests beyond sports and games,” Merry interrupted him, “but you try, which I respect greatly.”

He sat down. Next one to stand was Branwyn: “Branwyn Eve Fey. I’m thirteen. I’m gifted at certain things which I won’t discuss now,” she started to say then she offered a sly smile to Merry and continued, “I like to dance. It’s a Fey...Um, family thing. Dancing is fun. But I also like to wrestle and foot race. My best subject is literature, especially folk stories where, as Merry can tell, great truths actually exist.”

“Thank you for the lesson, Branwyn,” Merry chided her.

Branwyn sat down. Sitting beside her was a dark haired young man with a handsome face and dark blue eyes. He stood up, but kept his face turned down and staring at the table, as if he was shy: “My name is Lance François Lake. I’m thirteen and enjoy most everything I learn. I especially like nature, spending time camping and such. I feel comfortable out in nature.”

Lance sat down. The next to stand up was a goodlooking boy with long golden hair: “Hi, Sean. I’m Wayne Fergus Morgan. I think home-schooling along with every thing here is the bestest thing in the world...”

“Wayne. Bestest may be, like funnest, an acceptable term for this age of technological literacy and intellectual illiteracy, but it is not acceptable here with me,” warmed Merry.

“Sorry. I’m thirteen, too, and I like a lot of things. It’s hard to pick just one. Like I just got a PSP and I like playing games and...yeah, um, my best subject is geography,” he finished.

“Really, Mister Morgan, geography,” Merry intoned with great suspicion.

“Okay, maybe not geography. I like maps,” he said then sat down.

Seated beside Wayne was a boy who looked similar to him, but whose hair was more dirtyblond than golden. He stood up: “I’m Garth Boru Morgan. I’m thirteen and Wayne’s identical twin. We kind of do everything together, even though we don’t really like the same things. Um, I like reading and my best subject is history.”

Garth sat down. At the table where I sat a young girl, who looked to be quiet by nature, stood up. I stared at her, as she had long brown hair with warm brown eyes and gave off an aura that made me feel protective of her. She spoke in a soft voice: “My name is Etain Gwendolyn Roy. I’m fourteen. My best subject is poetry and, well...”

“You’re good at every subject, Etain,” Fintain called out and she blushed with modesty.

“I like doing many things. I don’t really have a favorite pastime, except maybe to go horseback riding. I like that,” she said then she sat down.

The boy, who sat beside Etain, looked athletic and sinewy with long mousy brown hair and a square jaw. His mature appearance belied his actual age. He stood up: “I’m Benedict Vernon Wise. I’m fourteen and I also like the Highland games, a real lot, too. My best subject is...the Highland games, though Merry thinks I’m better at other things.”

“Mr. Wise, you know you are gifted at certain things. Very gifted. I do not allow people to waste their gifts, as they are not given out lightly,” Merry stated.

Everyone laughed. Benedict sat glumly down. I was the next one to introduce themselves to the class. Although I felt silly doing this, I stood up and then I scanned each and every face. My father told me to always make sure you made eye contact with those you were talking to. I stopped with meeting Merry’s eyes. Much to Sean’s surprise, Merry had a twinkle in them and he smiled at me. I spoke up: “I am Arthur...”

When I said the name Arthur several of them seemed to almost jump out of their chairs with the sound of my first name. I ignored this then I saw that Etain, Benedict, Garth, and Wayne now looked at me differently, as if I had announced that I had two heads.

“...Sean McCoul. I am thirteen. I like reading and gaming and baseball and football. I cheer for the Red Sox and New England Patriots. Um, my best subject is English and,” I paused. “That’s all.”

I sat down. Merry moved to the front of the class and cleared his throat.

“We are missing one student. Cedric Strong. I’m not sure what his middle name is, but I like to think that it is laggard. He has a cold. I guess I can tell you something about him. Cedric is fourteen. It appears his favorite pastime is not doing his homework and his best subject is lollygagging. There, the class is introduced,” Merry enlightened. “Until further notice once our formal classes are done for the day, Garth, Wayne, Lance, and Fintain should meet with Lucan, who will put you through your paces. Etain, Benedict, Branwyn shall meet up with Morgana, and she will have activities for you. I shall be giving Sean my own special attention for the next month or so. We have no time to waste in this school. Now, today our first lesson will be Literature. We shall begin reading Canterbury Tales in its original Old English.”

I sighed. Canterbury Tales in Old English, I couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t going to be a class. It was going to be a form of punishment. Here I was in a barn, a hi-tech barn, being taught by a snotty Englishman. So this was my new school. I missed Maine. This school was not what I had in mind. I missed my parents.

“So if there aren’t any further questions, I will read the opening to you in its proper tongue then we will analyze it and learn it, Merry said.

“Merry, I have a question,” said Branwyn.

“Oh, joy, I had a feeling that you would, Branwyn, as you seem to be in a gadfly mood,” Merry responded, “What is it?”

“Well, since we have certain activities that our new classmate can’t participate in...”

“Can’t participate in yet,” Merry corrected her.

“Can’t participate in yet, is our training going to suffer because of him?”

I glared over at her and she glared back at me. For a long moment we continued to stare into each other’s eyes until anger and arrogance melted away and we replaced it with staring at each other and seeing something more than an adversary. For a moment I thought I saw her blush, as my own cheeks felt a little hot.

“You know that your training will continue. I am not the only one around here who can oversee your growth,” Merry said, “but I am glad that you care so much about your training that you took this time to point out to our new student that he is lagging behind you. I would like to remind you that our new student has a potential that may exceed your own.”

“Yes, Merry,” she answered him softly, as she had been censured and put in her place. But there was more, too. She was embarrassed by her own behavior. Branwyn glanced at me out of the corner of her eye.

I don’t know what she saw, but I knew what I felt: annoyed and sour. I had been through a great deal recently and the last thing I wanted was to have to prove myself to these strangers.

I stared at the top of the table in front of me. This Merry thinks I have some kind of potential, just like my father thought, I mused. Yet, my father always taught me to look at myself and be honest: Don’t think yourself greater or worse than whom you really are. Well, when I looked in the mirror recently I saw a boy who couldn’t help his parents and greatly missed them. Where was the potential there? Honesty told me to doubt what this Merry saw in me.

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