A Hard Way to Heaven

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Chapter 9

Over the Atlantic

Akir closed the file folder, or jacket on Gordon Macdonald, refreshing himself with the latest information on the family’s tech guru. He reached for his tumbler of whisky, toying with the crystal tumbler. His eyes darted to his men accompanying him on this initial leg to Port Lewis, NY. Reiser was softly snoring, stretched out on one of the leather couches. Raven and Lars were bent over a chess board, heatedly debating Lars current move, and whether it was legal or not. Reiser tossed a pillow at them as their voices magnified, and the argument threatened to intensify above an accepted audio level. Akir inwardly chuckled. The pair should just turn to another form of amusement, something more challenging because more often their matches turned out to be draws. Both were far too intelligent for the game, and its intricate strategies. Akir had long ago stopped playing either of the pair, unable to handle the dejection of losing every single match.

He turned, taking in the azure sky outside his window as the 650ER cruised at 48,000 feet. He was avoiding the material in front of him, or more so his last memories of Macdonald and his girls. A family picture was clipped to the front taken two years ago. His eyes were drawn to Syn, the dark haired lass, recalling with abject clarity the last time he had seen her.

There is always one event in your life that marks the moment you awaken from the innocence of childhood to the truth of adulthood. In his case, it was a cold January day. Even though twenty-one years had passed, the memories were still fresh wounds within his subconscious. Sometimes you just couldn’t eradicate the painful, empty ache of loss. Time isn’t always a healer of open wounds from tragic events out of your control. It is just a balm to sooth the edges of the constant ache. The cold, hard fact was two people he dearly loved had been robbed from his life in one cruel act.

Akir shoved the folder to the side, and rose, finishing the last bit of his whisky, and stepping back to the kitchen area, calling over his shoulder, “I’m hitting one of the beds, wake me up before we are ready to land.” A mumbled ‘aye’ came from someone as he turned his back, refreshing his drink at the kitchen counter. Some of his fellow bràithrean knew of those events, some didn’t. Hell, all of them had cruel initiations into this life; how could they not. The sounds of his bràthair’s arguments receded as he ducked through another door to the bedroom area. He opened one of two doors and sat down on the king size bed, rolling the crystal tumbler in his hands, between his knees, thinking. Had it really been twenty-one years since that fateful day.

He was just eleven years old, and had been in Edinburgh visiting his grandparents, Elsa and Marcus Graham, his mother’s parents. Gordon and his family still lived on the outskirts of Fort William, and had joined his own for a small family reunion. Gordon was his distant cousin on his father’s side, descended through the Macdonald line. Catherine or Kitty had been eight, and her younger sister, Syn, had just turned six. Akir rubbed his face, thinking on his brother Roric. They had been best friends all his life, and he wondered if their father's didn’t orchestrate these meetings, knowing the truth. Roric, their father Lorne, and two elder brothers had traveled over from France. He could see all of them around the large dinner table in light blue dining room.

God, he could recall the color of the walls, the smell of the food his grandmother had cooked the night before, and her famous sweets. Akir finished his whisky and set the tumbler on the rail that ran the side of the airplane and stretched out. His life was taking a toll on him, and he wondered if he could survive if he lost Roric. He wondered how many good years he had left. Not many leuchd-crois lasted into middle age. He drew his arm up over his eyes, closing them. His bràithrean and he were not allowed to marry, have families because of the nature of their jobs. But if he had any say, any opportunity, he would change the rules, toss them out with the trash. He prayed Roric survived, and Dac’s last email had conveyed a glimmer of hope, that the surgery had gone well and William was optimistic. He wondered if they weren’t hiding something from him. Akir swallowed the sudden emotions, starting to shiver, wondering if Roric had died. He inched up the bed, tugged off his shirt, and threw it on the other side of the bed. He pulled the cover over his upper body, and buried his head, praying. Please God, don’t take everyone from me.

Akir closed his eyes, so tired, exhausted. He let the memories slowly emerge, digging deep into his memory banks. He wasn't sure when he fell asleep, unable to distinguish actual thoughts to dreams. They were all around the breakfast table making plans, his father arguing with his grandfather to join them on their hike. His grandfather shaking his head, wanting to stay home for some peace and quiet. The adults assembling backpacks, to head out for an excursion in the local hills, and Arthur’s seat as Akir and his older brothers, Roric and his brothers escorted Catherine and Syn to the cinema to see Mrs. Doubtfire.

His mother was smiling as she bundled him up in a new jumper for the cold January wind that howled against the house. Kitty and Syn, holding hands skipping along the sidewalk in front of him as he talked to Roric. He had raced ahead, challenging his brother, daring him to a rase. They had broken through the girls, laughing as their brother’s scolded them. They ran around them, and then back to the other lads. Everyone laughing, challenging each other, chasing, running around the trees, through the grass. They were energized by bucket loads of popcorn, soda and boxes of sweets.

Ten year Akir ran up to his Grandfather's four door silver Audi in the driveway, ran his hand along the clean lines. He smiled at Roric, seeing them both in the front seat, turning the wheel, pretending to be Formula One racecar drivers. The laughter.

Syn was tugging Kitty into the house, saw them running up the three steps, and looking over their shoulders, waving them on. Together, they had pushed the front door open. His subconscious rewound that moment, and his mind registered the door ajar. Everything slowed. The girls, their long hair sashaying back and forth as they climbed the stairs, and Kitty looking back over her shoulder, calling for Roric, for him. Syn laughing, grasping her sister's hand, tugging her inside. Roric reaching out trying to catch Kitty's long, blond hair.

Akir was right behind Roric, pushing the door open even more. He felt hands on his shoulder, his neck as he saw something red painted on the walls. Someone called out for Kitty and Syn, frantically calling them back. Roric grabbed by his older brother Angus tussling with him, holding him back, and hissing for him to wait. Roric turning, pushing through his brothers, gagging, vomit projecting from his mouth as he stumbled down the stairs. A high pitch scream turned his head, and Kitty running from the front room, pushing at him trying to escape. He stepped into the front room, his ears ringing.

His grandmother was on the couch, savagely stabbed, her throat cut. Her blue eyes open, and vacant. Akir shoved off the hand on his arm, pleading at his ear, to come outside, but he had jerked his arm away. He rushed his grandfather laying prostrate on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Artair's voice at his ear, grabbing his arm, dragging across the floor him streaking blood across the wooden floor. Akir's arm was free, and crawled up onto his knees, right before Syn.

She was standing there frozen, her indigo eyes wide with fear. She was quaking, her eyes darting around, her mouth agape, breathing quickly trying to scream or speak. He wasn’t sure, and turned around his eyes following her line of sight. He saw the words on the wall written in blood, the horrific symbol. He moved, wrapping an arm around Syn's waist, and lifting her, carrying her out of the room. Akir was on the front yard, holding onto Syn, hugging her enfolded in his brother's arms trying to speak, mumbling. The arms of his new jumper, his hands, and his pants were bloody.

The garage was cold, and little light filtered in through the one window. It was getting dark as they huddled together hiding. The voices of his older brothers talking, figuring out what to do. The sight of guns in Artair's and James's hand. The sound of his parents, frantically calling for them. The new faces appearing, dragging them out of the garage, wrapping blankets about their shoulders, their small bodies. Syn screaming for him as she was being carried away, reaching out, her fingers barely brushing his as he reached for her. The hard slam of a car door, the sound of the motor, and the mad dash into the night, escaping.

Akir woke with a start, breathing heavy. He rolled out of bed, and stumbled to the bathroom as the vivid images of his dream remained fixed in his mind. Even now his stomach clenched with the memories, the abject fear, and anger. Akir turned on the small faucets, and filled his cupped hands with cold water. He splashed his face several times, the image of him reaching out for Syn as she screamed for him. He hadn't remembered that part before, or that the front door of his grandparents home had been ajar. He cursed, and washed his face again. That was the first time he had witnessed the depravity of his enemy, and their want to see his family erased from the face of the earth.

The following year he started attending a private school, and learning how to be a leuchd-crois, the personal guard of the family. He had vowed to be the best one that they had had since the son of Lucian Macleod had made his own promise before his father, and his brother. He looked at his reflection in the mirror, and mumbled the oath, gaining some control of his emotions. The words grounded him, “That from this day forth I pledge my life, body and soul to the keeping of the clan. To the protection of its Laird, it's Màthair, it's oighre and taniste. To my Athair, to my Màthair, my bràithrean and sisters to my kith and kin. I am leuchd-crois.”

There was a knock on the door, and Reiser called from behind the wood, “Akir we are approaching Port Lewis.”

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