I had moved into a small residence in Brooklyn Heights. It was my first year of teaching. The block was very attractive, lots of trees and old Brownstone buildings. In the winter, I could smell the fireplaces as I walked home. I’ve always loved the smell of burning wood. It reminds me of comfort and security. It also reminds me of red wine and classical music. I was quite happy back then, evenings by the fire with Chianti and Shubert. Days, I was lucky enough to be pontificating on Greek and Roman Mythology in the Classics department of Brooklyn College, to an enthusiastic group of undergraduates. If I had to describe my life that year, I would say it was somewhere between Norman Rockwell, the illustrator and Woody Allen, the filmmaker.
What I mean to say is that I was young and innocent, finding my way in the world of love and friendship. There is nothing about me that is at all out of the ordinary, but my students liked me, which made me less than pompous. You might notice me in a crowd, with my Farrah Fawcett overbite and my Tilda Swinton androgyny. Then again, you might not. But I was indifferent to flattery and bored by the ordinary. Perhaps that is why unusual things happened to me.
I had an old, faded, yellow Volkswagen in those days. It got me out to the end of Flatbush Avenue, and if I was lucky, I could park within two blocks of the Classics Department. I had moved to Brooklyn from Miami so I didn’t have many friends, at first. But being young and somewhat attractive, my loneliness was not meant to last. It was not long before I had a best friend. Her name was Elizabeth and she had enrolled in my fifth century class on Rome as an adult non-matriculating student. No one I had met thus far interested me as much.
“Fifth century Rome? I have been there,” she said. “Interesting times.”
I thought I had heard her incorrectly. “The fifth century? You’ve been there?”
I dismissed it. That could not be at all what she meant.
Well, as winter turned to spring and spring into summer, Elizabeth and I got to know each other. I found her tales of time travel amusing, but of course, did not believe her farfetched fantasies. I humored her. I liked her very much, though I thought her a bit odd, and I was not shy to tell her that either. When she invited me to her mother- in- law’s garden for lemonade I was curious to accept, for she had told me that her mother- in- law was even odder than she was.
“You write, do you not?” she asked as we paused at her mother- in- law’s front door.
“Well, yes,” I said.
“Annabel Horton would like her tale told,” she said.
I’m sure I looked surprised but in all honesty, I thought little of it.
“Annabel Horton? My mother- in- law?” She appeared to be somewhat annoyed at me for not retaining that information. “She awaits us in the garden.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” I responded.
I was soon to learn that Annabel Horton must surely have invented the word ‘odd’, the word ‘strange’ and the word ‘aberrant’; and she was about on par with Elizabeth when it came to eccentricity.
Despite that, I was intrigued. I was a writer, or at least trying to be. At the time, I was writing a novel about a dysfunctional southern family, much like my own. That summer, I shared many glasses of white wine with Annabel under the shade of a magnificent Oak tree and read her chapters from my book. Maybe that is what bonded us to one another, my writing made her weep, but more importantly, it made her laugh.
“It is harder to make someone laugh than it is to make them cry,” she said.
I agreed. I knew somehow that we were kindred spirits. So I shared with her, that once, when I was a child, I saw a ghost. Annabel was later to tell me that I didn’t see a ghost at all; I saw shadows of time from which life still lingers.
That was something to ponder over, but nothing, of course, to take to heart, or so I thought before…well, before I got to know her better.
One evening, she quite unexpectedly blurted out: light is not the same to me as it is to you.
Elizabeth had joined us that evening and I noticed she was nodding her head.
I smiled, thinking perhaps, that Annabel was a bit myopic.
On another evening, we were alone, Annabel and I. Outside an intimidating storm was raging.
“Come with me,” she said. “We can build a fire.”
She led me into her study. The room was impressive and filled with books.
“There are chambers here,” she said. “They connect time.”
It was then I began to search my mind with an excuse to flee, but she took my hand so quickly.
“So, you like the fifth century?” she asked.
I merely stared at her.
“Rome is beautiful now, though terrifying. Greece may be better.”
I don’t know why I let her lead me through the chamber, but I did, like an innocent lamb. I’ve always had an interest in the paranormal, the occult; and you must understand, I trusted her. Oh, I remember the darkness and the noise, echoes of sound I could not decipher. It came at me right away, consumed me, actually. I remember falling and landing on my feet after a long time, maybe hours, maybe days.
“Will this do?” she said.
I wondered if I had been struck dead. I was staring at the Acropolis, but it was not a relic. It was majestic. It was neoteric.
“Where am I?” I whispered in astonishment.
“Greece,” she said. “Now, down to business.”
She led me off, to an enclave some yards away from where we’d landed.
“They will kill us if they see us. We are not dressed properly. We cannot even pass ourselves off as men in these clothes.” She hid me behind an Olive Tree, whose impressive branches seemed to enfold us.
She handed me a pad and a pen once we were settled and hidden from the people who milled about.
“I am Patience Annabel Horton but I was called by my middle name………..” she began, making herself comfortable on the grass.
I looked at her, not quite sure of what had happened to me. I looked back at the Acropolis.
“Are you getting this?” she asked.
I stared at her in disbelief. How could she be Elizabeth’s mother- in -law, she’s merely a girl, no more than eighteen. I stared at her as if I had never seen her before.
“Write,” she commanded.
How could I be here in fifth century Greece? I stood to my feet and peered beyond the branches of the tree.
She rose quickly and pulled me back. “Time enough for that,” she said. “Now write down all that I tell you.”
And so I did.
Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem: http://www.musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=11&products_id=107
Vera Jane Cook’s first published novel, Dancing Backward in Paradise, won the Eric Hoffer award for publishing excellence, 2007, and the Indie Excellence award for notable new fiction, 2007. Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem, is her first paranormal fiction. It will be followed by Annabel Horton and the Black Witch of Pau, and Annabel Horton and the Devil of Loudon. The Story of Sassy Sweetwater, her second southern fiction novel, will be released on January 20th.