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Páisti Avalon

By Brian Ault All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE

Amanda Duncan’s eyes opened wide to take in the bedroom of her two-room apartment just across from the Pier. The new Seattle sun moved slowly over the cheap, hand-me-down furniture from her college graduation and his 20" television. The sunlight gathered on the glossy, colored paper of the Seattle Sounders poster and the frame of portraits of Hunter S. Thompson and Mel Brooks that hung on the walls. The wail of the alarm from Amanda’s iPhone played on, signaling what she believed to be 8:30 A.M. In his mind, she believed it would give her enough time to eat and get dressed before dealing with the worries of the day. A day that weighed heavily in Amanda’s heart: her father’s funeral.

She shoved back the covers and slowly climbed out of bed, wearing an old Gary Payton Sonics jersey from the late-’90s and boxer shorts. Her shaggy dark hair stuck outward on all sides like a wet mop. Every part of her wanted to grab another hour in bed soaking up all those years of happiness he shared with his father. But there would be other days devoted to that. Today was reserved for the cold embrace of reality. Amanda picked up his phone to turn off the alarm and noticed the time looking back at him- 9:30 A.M.

“Oh crap, I’m gonna be late!”

She made a quick dash to grab the suit he had set out to wear to the ceremony, and completed her normal morning routine in half the time. After getting dressed in a simple suit and clip-on tie, she went to the refrigerator and pulled out one of the remaining cinnamon raisin bagels and a can of Coke Zero. As she moved to get his keys, her roommate Gary came walking out from his room chuckling.

“Forgot to set your alarm?”

“No I didn’t,” Amanda replied, giving him the stink-eye with her mouth full of bagel. “Someone thought it’d be funny to set my alarm an hour later than I planned to!”

“What?” Gary smiled coyly as Amanda slipped into her black leather shoes and walked to the door. “I can’t help it if you don’t hide your phone that well.”

Amanda stopped at the door and sighed in frustration. “Dude, today is my dad’s funeral. My brain’s already all over the place right now. I’m really not in the mood for two-bit pranks.”

“Sorry, Mandy,” Gary looked genuinely sorry by his attempted humor. “Just trying to brighten you up is all.”

“I know, I know,” Amanda took another bite out of the bagel he was carrying. “Next time though, kiss your hair goodbye!”

______

The I-5 Expressway heading south from the city was packed with workers heading for the morning shift at the Boeing plant. Amanda groaned aloud from inside his lime green Mini Cooper. She tried changing the radio multiple times for some music to alleviate the sadness nestled inside. A few saints and a couple of Seahawk coaches were cursed by Amanda as she swerved left and right of the Expressway traffic to reach the Forest Lawn Cemetery.

The clock on her car’s dash read 9:59 when she finally caught sight of her father’s funeral procession a couple of blocks away as she parked his car. The parking lot both in front and around the cemetery was packed. Former students and her own extended family had come from all over the West Coast. Groups of people dressed in formal somber black clothes walked toward the main building. The only person who spotted Amanda making her way to the entrance was her cousin Moira, who shook her head as she stopped alongside her.

“What the hell took you so long? You were supposed to meet with the priest an hour ago!”

Amanda shrugged. “Blame my roommate. He screwed with my alarm,” she sidestepped her and reached for the door handle. “At least I didn’t miss the ceremony.”

She opened the door and let Moira enter the packed hall before walking behind her. The great organ played the sweet melody of “Rivers of Babylon,” which echoed through every inch of the hall. The stresses of the past half hour evaporated when Amanda looked out at the room and the casket fifteen short steps from him. She gave cursory greetings to the already seated family members she saw as she went to his seat. Amanda even had a chance to talk things over with a long unseen cousin from Olympia he hadn’t seen in years, which she took to take her mind off of the sorrowful moment. Even if it lasted only a brief moment.

After awhile the song melded with the tears and somber atmosphere of the sad moment to unlock days long past in Amanda’s mind. When she was eight and learned how to ride a bike. When she was eleven and saw her first baseball game at the old Kingdome. When she graduated from college at UW and saw her father with tears in his eyes in the audience only two hours after a Chemo session. And hundreds of other good and bad memories that made the core of their close relationship, which now was coming to an end. The emotion of those memories was too much for Amanda to bottle up. She fell to his knees and wept until Moira lifted her cousin back up to her feet.

“I know,” she said to Amanda as they reached the row of seats reserved for family. “I was the same way when my mother died.”

Amanda was able with Moira’s help to contain the sobbing before she sat down on the hard wooden pew. The priest stepped over to the podium dressed in a white silk robe with a hardbound copy of the Bible in his hand. Oddly enough, the priest resembled his Father, about the same age and appearance, except with a beard and the slightly thicker brunette hair.

The priest cleared his throat and went through the motion of ushering the people still standing to take their seats before beginning. “Good morning. We are gathered here this early spring morning to celebrate the prosperous life of William Mitchell Duncan. Loyal husband, devoted father, a great molder of young minds.”

“All of his life, he devoted himself to two great loves,” the priest continued in a strong, somber voice. “There was his family, and also the glittering shores of Avalon that he spent his entire adult life promoting to the world. To see all the faces that William had affected at one point or another who have gathered here today gives me faith that he spent his time on this earthly plane quite well. I know he is looking down upon us now and smiling as only he could.”

He then turned his gaze in Amanda’s direction. “William’s lovely daughter Amanda will now enlighten us with a Gaelic blessing for the dead. One that I believe was your father’s personal favorite, am I right?”

Amanda stood and nodded, acknowledging the curious looks from her family as she walked up to the podium. She could feel her nerves bubble up as she walked the short distance to the podium.

“Good morning,” Amanda said to the assembled mass as she felt through her pockets for the folded piece of paper which held the blessing. “There was never a moment in my father’s life that I saw him afraid. Even when my mother passed away shortly after I started at UW. I remembered the look on my Dad’s face when he spoke at her funeral in the same spot I am now. He looked like he was dragged through Hell...but he never seemed defeated. He never seemed afraid of what would happen next. Boy, I could use some of that bravery right about now!”

The crowd laughed uneasily. “Right up to the final breath he took,” Amanda continued silently panicking as the blessing eluded her. “He saw the world with the same amount of love and optimism that he had as a kid. I can only hope my final moments are as seamless.”

Then the paper!--hidden deep in her left back trouser pocket. Oh thank Zeus, she thought to herself, uttering a sigh of relief. Amanda took a couple of precious seconds to mentally prepare before she began.

“When your eyes shall be closing/And your mouth shall be opening/And your senses be slipping away,/When your heart shall grow cold/And your limbs be old,/God comfort your soul on that day.” She looked up, and there, at the back of the room stood a beautiful woman watching him.

The woman was a stunning figure, radiating a dual aura of power and beauty. Her red hair was heightened to a fiery red hue by the incandescent lighting. Her warrior physique was wrapped in an elegant golden armor that had a design of two serpents intertwined just below her cleavage. For the first time all day, she felt happy and hopeful. The feeling didn’t last long though before Amanda realized he was making a fool of himself in front of her family.

“Thank you!” Amanda quickly exclaimed with a nervous smile before leaving the podium in embarrassment.

The beautiful Amazonian woman remained in Amanda’s brain as she joined the others in the reception hall for the wake. She assumed that there would be more questions from her family about her behavior on the podium, but they mostly excused it as “a difficulty of losing a father.” Amanda was thankful that she didn’t have to explain the warrior woman to anyone else. That would probably have been enough to send her to a mental institution by sunset. The headline in the Post-Intelligencer seemed to write itself- “Former P-I Staffer Sees Red Headed Amazon, Sent Off to Nut House.”

Moira saw Amanda standing near the punch bowl. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” She replied with semi-confidence, though in her head she was still lost in the proverbial mist. “Of course I am.”

She didn’t appear convinced, evident by Amanda’s eye which was twitching the way it did whenever it lied. “So, what happened during the reading?”

“What are you talking about,” she tried to turn his left side away from her cousin. “It was just stress over losing my dad, that’s all.”

“You know what I’m talking about, Mandy! I haven’t seen you that nervous since you were thirteen and got caught by your Mom buying booze from 7-11.”

Amanda chuckled as she thought about that little snapshot in time. The weight of the moment returned as quickly as it had fled. She took a few steps away from her nosy cousin. “Honestly, Mo, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Moira sighed and shook her head, patting her gently on the back as she stepped closer. “I’m a psychiatric assistant. It can’t be any crazier than the stuff my boss’ clients have said about their lives and habits and dreams.”

“Alright, I’ll tell you,” she closed his eyes and braced herself for her reaction to the tale. “In the middle of the eulogy, I swore I saw a woman in armor staring at me from the end of the hall.”

Moira studied Amanda’s eyes for a couple of seconds. She looked sane, she sounded rational. It didn’t seem like she was lying to her. “Uh-huh...did her name happen to be Xena?”

Amanda didn’t share her cousin’s sense of levity. “I’m serious! I can’t get her out of mind, and I don’t even know her name.”

Moira saw then that her cousin was smitten by this woman, whoever she was. It was a pleasant sight thought, especially after everything that had happened with She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. “You could always check out near the lobby. Maybe she’s still hanging around there.”

Amanda gave Moira a hug and went back inside the memorial hall to look again for the flame-haired beauty. The odds of success were slim, but something deep inside urged her forward if only to find out once and for all the identity of this mystery woman.

The lobby outside the hall was mostly silent as she searched around where she thought she had seen her before. The only audible noise she heard was from the other room where friends and family regaled each other with tales of his dad’s life. After thirty minutes of searching Amanda was no closer to finding out the woman’s identity than she was when she began. Exasperated, she on a nearby chair, ready to excuse the event as sadness-fueled madness. Suddenly, she could feel something graze his right shoe.

A discarded program probably. Amanda reached for the object and found it wasn’t a program. It was a small note card, four inches wide by a millimeter thick. There was a message written across it which read: “When the clock strikes 5, thus begins your second life.”

_______

On the drive back home, Amanda contemplated the meaning behind the phrase on the note card. She figured it was taken from an old fortune cookie that someone thought was profound and wanted to save for future reference. A part of her thought it may be more than that. To take her mind off of it, Amanda turned on the radio and searched for any decent music on. With each successive station, she couldn’t find anything that did the trick. It was the same case for awhile until she reached the local public radio station in the middle of a news break.

“In International news, a large meteor crash landed last night in the Chelsea section of London. No injuries or fatalities were reported according to Sky News, though a crowd of onlookers have gathered at the impact site on--”

Must have been an awesome explosion, Amanda thought as she rode back up I-5 on her way home. It seemed weird that there weren’t any deaths though. She guessed that it was just a fluke of nature and changed to the Alternative station. The soothing sounds of the Nirvana classic “Lake of Fire” provided the soundtrack for his remaining time on the road.

It was 1:30 in the afternoon when she returned exhausted to the apartment. She tossed her keys and the note card on the tile countertop before moving over to the couch. As her tired bones hit the couch’s leather cushion, Gary entered dressed in his work clothes from the cafe at the Market.

“’Sup my chica,” he asked Amanda, moving towards the refrigerator. “How was the funeral?”

“It was nice,” Amanda yawned as he turned on the TV. “I mean, outside of my mental cock-up.”

“That sucks!” Gary laughed as he pulled bread and turkey meat from the refrigerator for his sandwich.

“Tell me about it! At least I saw a beautiful woman there.”

Gary stopped making the sandwich and looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. “What did she look like?”

Amanda took off her suit coat and got more comfortable on the couch as he spoke. “Well built, stunning, skin and hair as smooth as a baby’s butt, decked out in golden body armor. She was basically a red-haired Wonder Woman.”

“There’s a good mental image for later tonight,” Gary said with a chuckle as he returned to making his sandwich. “Did you get a name or at least a phone number from this mystery woman?”

“No, I didn’t say a word,” Amanda replied shaking his head. “All I found was a note card.”

Gary walked over and picked the card up for a better look. “‘When the clock strikes 5, thus begins your second life’...sounds like fun!”

“That’s not the kind of fun it’s referring to,” Amanda said turning back around on the couch to face him as the TV played in the background. “At least I don’t think so anyhow.”

“Are you sure it came from this woman,” Gary asked Amanda curiously. “Maybe it’s some fortune cookie saying.”

“It’s possible,” Amanda replied. “But I have this feeling inside that it is her somehow.”

Gary chuckled, tossing the card back on the countertop and walked back over to his sandwich. He glanced at his watch and stepped to the door with sandwich in hand. “Well, I gotta split. My lunch break’s almost over. Peace!”

“Peace!” She flashed back to Gary as the door closed and he moved around to face the TV, took off her shoes and lounged out as the glare of cable news played.

They were at that moment reporting the same mysterious meteor crash in London that she heard about on the radio. The images of the crater and the fiery aftermath provided a new way of viewing what she thought was a distant moment. She was amazed that all of the buildings in its immediate vicinity were still standing. The only destruction the cameras had shown was to the resulting blacktop that looked like it was torn apart by a construction crew. You would think more people would have died if it really was a meteor, she thought watching the footage.

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