With the exception of a section towards the end of this story, all of the events recorded below occurred in one special year. The season and the locales are noted in italics.
Early spring, Barrie, Ontario, Canada:
The first officer on the scene struggled to come up with a reaction.
He thought it wasn’t much of a “scene” per se and there might not have been a crime.
This sort of thing was a common occurrence.
It would have to be checked out, nonetheless.
What a bother on his day off.
What was perhaps most unfortunate was the location. It mattered as much as the event.
The police were always finding abandoned cars. Their hulks were likely to appear almost anywhere.
This time, though, the vehicle in question was a Mercedes C-Class sedan.
Regardless of the year or condition, that wasn’t the kind of automobile that got left behind very often.
Yet there it was, sitting bold as daylight at the back-end and bottom of the quarry.
Anybody could have cut through the chain on the flimsy gate and deposited the car, stolen or otherwise.
Upon reflection, the entrance was still intact when the officer reached the grounds early that morning.
He remembered getting out of his own standard-issue vehicle and using a key on the padlock.
Maybe somebody had found access from an adjoining property. He’d check that out in a minute.
Could it be there was a body in the trunk? Or was the car used for a getaway in a robbery?
It wouldn’t do to get lost in speculation.
He’d start by running the plates. Hopefully, they’d be in the system and the matter would be quickly resolved.
Almost assuredly the location would turn out to be a coincidence.
The gravel pit was used as a police firing range throughout the week.
That’s why the officer was there, to shoot off a few rounds in a spot that was perfectly safe.
On the floor of the quarry, the sandy and stone-pitted walls would absorb any stray bullets.
Late winter, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada:
Maria had been opposed to their planned day of pleasure from the get-go.
Her husband, Lazlo, insisted they needed a break. A drive up to Blue Mountain for eight hours of skiing would be just the ticket to help them unwind.
Being a young mother and taking care of her year-old son, Hector, was exacting a toll on her mood and vitality. She felt she required more rest. Her nerves were frayed from getting up in the middle of the night too often to see to the needs of her young one.
The physical demands of speeding down the slopes might be more than she could manage.
Why had she agreed to such a venture?
She knew very well why. She was crazy in love with Lazlo.
She wanted to do whatever would make Lazlo and Hector happiest.
Lazlo needed company and her attention. Hector could do with a break from her, especially if she was cheerier when she returned to spend her days with him.
She loved Hector to a degree she wouldn’t have thought possible before experiencing childbirth.
She was new to the whole “bonding” thing.
Her own family history was her touchstone and it contained nothing similar to what she was now encountering.
Her heritage was strange and shocking to anyone who was allowed into her world. As far back as there was any recollection in her family, mothers had raised a single daughter in isolation.
There were no boy children and no other siblings.
The family structure was strictly matriarchal. Hers was the only male child in as far back as she had any knowledge.
After considerable contemplation, Maria concluded the reason for her success in bringing Hector into the world was due to Lazlo being the first responsible male parent in an equal period of time.
As dictated by natural circumstances, there must have been “limbs” of fathers on the family tree.
They were as leaves that drop in the fall.
Nobody knew who they were. Or so they claimed. They’d all taken a hike pretty early in the child-bearing process, never mind the rearing phase.
Certainly Maria never met her father. His absence punched a huge hole in her heart. Speculation about what he must have been like haunted her always.
What disturbed her most was the vacuum. She felt it intensely and resolved to never let it be a part of the life of any child she might raise.
Her mother Selena, before she also distanced herself, had never been forthcoming with any background information. Her response was simply to repeat the mantra, “If being brought up by my mother alone was good enough for me, then it’s good enough for you.”
Growing up, Maria spent many sleepless nights crying over the damage to her soul’s fabric.
When she met Lazlo while studying at university, her world inverted. The vertiginous disorientation was delicious.
He made her complete, something she had not imagined could be accomplished.
Lazlo was gorgeous. His slightly Slavic face with angular cheek bones was framed by long flowing black hair. Warm eyes suggested both maturity and sensitivity.
In an earlier era, he would have worked with his hands. His teachers had been surprised to discover his abilities in computer programming.
He found employment with one of Toronto’s mid-sized tech firms in software development. He was more accepting of his career path once he realized that what he was doing was the modern equivalent of cabinet making.
Anything related to the outdoors was where Lazlo belonged. He was a marvelous athlete.
Lack of confidence made her sometimes wonder about his love for her, but she had no doubt about the depth of his feelings for Hector.
Just the same, he needed to stretch his muscles too. A late-winter day on the slopes would be restorative.
The hour-and-a-half drive north from Toronto saw them arrive at the base of the ski hill by nine in the morning. The rest of the daylight hours unfolded pretty much as hoped for.
Maria couldn’t help being anxious about how Hector was faring. Lazlo’s parents were looking after him. Phone calls at regular intervals provided reassurance everything was okay.
Lazlo’s parents made the conscious decision to consider her calls cute rather than annoying.
She and Lazlo did have a marvelous time shushing down the intermediate and experienced runs.
The sheer thrill of motion through brisk air helped to clear her mind and her feelings for Lazlo were renewed and strengthened.
By late afternoon, they reached a better perspective on how fortunate their lives were.
She sat out a few of the final descents to allow Lazlo to really let loose. He was having such a great time.
Even at her best, Maria was never free of residual worry. This was no exception.
She was still concerned on several counts. After a day outdoors, both of them were tired.
Lazlo had exerted himself more than she had. Still, he would insist on doing the driving on the way home no matter how exhausted he was.
The weather was about to turn sour. Snow squalls were forecast to blow in off Georgian Bay and Highway 26 out of Collingwood was notorious for white-outs.
There were likely to be stretches of road where one couldn’t see five feet in front of the car. One’s best hope was to follow the tail-lights of another vehicle and hope they knew where they were going.
External environmental issues took a back seat to something else, however.
Maria, like her mother before her, and presumably going back many generations, had premonitions.
She was quite familiar with chills running up and down her spine.
They were visceral. There was little that was logical about them. They arrived and departed at their own sweet pace.
She knew the common phrase about somebody walking over one’s grave. That was a less than adequate description.
It was more like whole disreputable parties were dancing a jig while she was lying immobilized on the ground in the midst of festivities.
So far on this day, they’d managed to have an excellent time without incident.
She was almost sure fate’s benign neglect was about to end.
Mid-spring to mid-summer, Toronto:
The reports came in slowly then started to pile up with greater rapidity.
From mid-spring to late summer, the number of incidents increased exponentially.
Neither the cops nor the media had ever heard of such a thing. Cars and drivers were simply disappearing off the roads.
There would be a welter of twisted metal, followed by a noisy implosion. Then all was gone.
The air would compress and what was formerly visible would disappear.
At first, such supposed occurrences were dismissed as crazy imaginings.
Inconvenient facts began to surface.
Instances of disappearances by family members grew alarmingly. A father, a sister or a friend was driving to work or to the convenience store or to the fitness club and was never heard from again.
Weird wrinkles and surprising impressions forced the authorities to begin taking the matter more seriously.
The vehicles associated with the missing persons began showing up in a worked-out gravel pit on the outskirts of Barrie, north of the Toronto metro area.
They were deposited there any time of the day or night. They appeared as if dropped from the sky. There were no tire tracks marking a drive in from an unexpected direction.
Besides, the quarry walls were too steep to gain access in any manner other than down the one slope carved out of the sides of the pit.
They could be lying on their sides or upside down. The Mercedes was followed several days later by an Explorer, then a Subaru. Pretty soon, the number was up to ten and counting.
BMWs were mixed in with Corollas and Sonatas. Chevies and Fords showed up as well, alongside giant sports utility vehicles.
Once the media got hold of the story, more witnesses came forward.
The first reports were thought to come from the fringe element, people looking to get attention.
With time, an increasing proportion of the people who came forward were well respected professionals.
What they reported seeing was beyond credulity.
Many of the incidents occurred so quickly it was nearly impossible to obtain an accurate record of the event.
One witness reported seeing a car deliberately and thoughtlessly run a red light. At the next intersection, another vehicle came out of nowhere, rammed into it and both vehicles ceased to exist.
In another instance, two cars were stopped side-by-side at a red light. At a break in the traffic, the one in the outside lane lunged forward into the intersection and made a right-hand turn in front of the other car.
Cursing the illegal move, the stationary driver hit the horn and kept his eyes on the rogue vehicle as it sped off up the street.
After proceeding about 300 yards in a northerly direction, an amazing and frightening thing happened.
Another vehicle suddenly appeared as if by magic heading south and crashed directly into the offender.
Instantly, both vehicles were swallowed up in a sphere of emptiness.
The affair was over in a fraction of a second and there was no evidence of it ever having happened.
Time and again such odd circumstances made their way onto police blotters. Their frequency increased as the weather grew warmer.
Everyone was at a loss to explain what was happening.
Odder details were soon to emerge.
Late winter, between Collingwood and Toronto:
Lazlo and Maria decided to forego the best part of any ski trip, the end-of-day beer or hot chocolate in the lodge. Maria, especially, was anxious to get on the road and start the drive home.
They chose some snacks in the canteen and walked to the parking lot.
They climbed into Lazlo’s Jeep YJ and fastened their seat belts. Lazlo kept his vintage carriage for its off-road capabilities and, frankly, for its modest machismo.
They set off on their return journey as the sun was settling down for a night’s rest.
They managed to navigate snow-blown Highway 26 to Stayner and proceeded south along twisty and hilly Airport Road back to Toronto.
A lovely scenic route in summer, Airport Road’s coiling and circuitous trail through precipitous hills and valleys made it dangerous in winter.
Thick flakes were settling on the windshield and the wipers struggled to keep up.
Sight-lines were limited in all directions.
The driving was tense and made worse by the early darkness at that time of year.
The four-wheel drive helped a bit but the bigger problem was visibility.
A car sneaked up behind them and barely appeared in the rear-view mirror.
Lazlo, paying heed to the slippery conditions on an approaching downgrade, maintained his cautious driving. That wouldn’t prove good enough.
The blocky object from behind suddenly swung alongside and tried to pass.
The unknown driver lost control on the icy road and sideswiped them.
Next thing Maria and Lazlo knew, they were headed for the road’s edge. A steep descent into a gully was inevitable.
The Jeep tried to stay glued to the road but it soon lost traction, slipped past the shoulder and rolled down the embankment. A yawning slope gobbled them up.
The car turned over once, twice, three times as it gave in to gravity.
When it came to a stop, Lazlo was unconscious. Maria was alert, but her head was killing her. The pain was awesome. The rest of her body seemed okay.
She felt her scalp and detected a bloody laceration just below her hair line on the right side. She’d presumably hit her head on the inside of the passenger window.
The early model YJ wasn’t equipped with air bags.
She managed to retrieve her cell phone. It had been thrown from her purse and lay on the dashboard, which was now at her feet.
She dialed 911 and let the phone’s GPS system do the heavy work.
In the horrible weather, it took forty minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Maria kept drifting in and out of awareness. That would continue for the next several hours.
Paramedics managed to extricate Lazlo and Maria and transport them back up the hill. Placed gingerly on gurneys, they were moved inside the ambulance.
The whole ensemble headed off with lights flashing and siren blaring. The nearest hospital with an emergency ward was in Newmarket.
When they reached their destination, Lazlo was the first to be off-loaded.
Once she was sure Lazlo had been properly taken care of, Maria retreated into a deep slumber.
Later that night she staggered around the acute care unit and worried about her future.
The details of their predicament gradually came into focus. Lazlo was in a coma, leaving Maria at loose ends. She had no idea what she would do.
His recovery took precedence, but she couldn’t take up residence in the hospital.
She’d have to find an outlet for her nervous energy.
When she wasn’t looking in on Lazlo, she spent most of her time over the next several weeks driving around Toronto, trying to make sense of everything that had happened.
Her fury with the other driver on that terrible night grew with each passing day. Of course, he or she would never been found or identified. Maria was sure of that.
After the passage of a sufficient period of time, an idea started to take shape in her mind.
It was partly based on what she’d been through, but also inspired by what she was seeing daily on the streets of the city.
It was time for her to take charge again.
Mid-spring to mid-summer, Toronto:
“So what happened when the Suburban disappeared?”
A reporter was interviewing anyone and everyone with first-hand knowledge of the strange events.
It was best to talk to those who had been in the vicinity as soon afterwards as possible.
“It wasn’t just that it disappeared. It was what else occurred,” said the shaken subject. “I could hardly believe it because the vehicle that T-boned the Suburban was an ambulance.”
“An ambulance? Are you sure?”
“Well, you see, that’s the thing. You would think an ambulance would be easy to identify. And I have no doubt that’s what it was. But…”
“What’s the matter? Why are you hesitating?”
“It was covered in snow. In the middle of summer. In this heat wave. Ambulances are white to begin with. So it wasn’t a sure thing.”
“Please go on.”
“You could barely detect the red and blue lights flashing from under a frosty coating.”
In a variety of forms, with different elements receiving greater or lesser emphasis, this was a conversation that was repeated many times that summer.
Still, there was consistency on a couple of points. The unfortunate casualty had recently engaged in errant driving behavior. And beyond reasonable expectations, the avenging agent was a vehicle with health-care pretensions.
The most amazing occurrence was when a milk truck disappeared, sort of.
The cab at the front end was completely gone after the collision, but only half of the tanker section behind it was sucked into the vortex. The slash across the back portion left the insides exposed and vulnerable.
Immense volumes of milk flowed onto the road and across onrushing traffic in both directions.
Media outlets and Twitter streams had a field day with the news.
“Cats Meow all over North York” was the least of the witticisms.
Speculation over what might happen next led to suggestions that challenged good taste.
Any number of otherwise sensible individuals urged whomever or whatever was responsible for the incidents to take into account the city’s often-disappointed sports fanatics.
Give them a break, it was suggested. Free “suds” would help heal their wounds.
Beer truck drivers were not amused.
A spokesperson on their behalf wrote an open letter assuring everyone they were among the best drivers on the road.
What about the cube rigs bearing freshly baked donuts to fast food outlets?
According to the quickly stale joke, there were many sightings of such vehicles being given a police escort.
Other categories of transport that soon picked up a motorcade were delivery services carrying goods to big-box furniture outlets.
No doubt, there were those among the worthy citizenry who hoped things would break in their favor and they’d be able to pick up a wide-screen TV or other high-end appliance gratis.
The more important issue of careless and illegal driving practices got lost in the merriment for a while.
Mid-spring to mid-summer, Toronto:
“What happened? What am I doing here?” Those were the typical first questions.
“Do you remember anything?” she’d ask in return.
“Yes, I remember cruising along like normal and suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, seeing an ambulance pop up from nowhere. A second later, it crashed into me.”
“We’re riding in an ambulance,” she’d point out.
“Really?” He or she would look around and notice the rear compartment. Dollies, trays and medical supplies confirmed the fact. “You came to get me?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty confused. Why am I riding in the front with you, instead of in the back?”
“Think harder.” There was an edge to her voice.
Depending on the time of day, if the reflected sun or a set of headlights caught the angle just right, the victim would catch a glimpse of the four inch gash in Maria’s temple.
It was an ugly mess – blood, brain matter and shards of bare bone. Few were unmoved by the sight.
“Holy crap! What’s that? Are you okay?”
That was a positive step. Anytime one of the victims expressed an interest in someone besides themselves, the odds in their favor improved.
Maria sensed she was doing the Lord’s work. The people she’d been choosing for special attention were almost always narcissists to an abnormal degree.
They believed they were the only ones with a right to the road. Everyone else was an obstacle that should know enough to get out of the way.
They were the ones who would lay on the horn at every opportunity, scaring and distracting other drivers, who would then be startled into making dumb mistakes.
Lacking even a minimum of good manners and courtesy, they would cut somebody else off, who would then be rear-ended by a third party.
She targeted the irritably impatient; the red-light runners; the ones who played chicken with pedestrians – in short, those who were the real hazards and didn’t even know it.
The ones for whom the ultimate repercussions would always land on someone else, not them.
She didn’t care how big the vehicle was. It was easier when she went after a Neon or a Focus. But as she’d shown with the milk truck, nothing was beyond her ambition.
But there were limits to the radius of the destruction she could cause.
She did try to go easier on people whose livelihoods depended on mobility.
She realized cab drivers, the cops and a few other professions occasionally had to stretch the rules if they were to accomplish what needed doing.
Slowly it would dawn on Maria’s passenger that something extraordinary was taking place.
Immediately after her arranged collisions, Maria would be able to keep other specters on her astral plane for a short time.
That’s when she got to talk with them, to feel out their motivations and gain insight into their underlying characters.
Purely physical items had to be disposed of. Hence the practice of depositing spent vehicles in the quarry she’d once spotted on a fun jaunt to Wasaga Beach.
“Why do you have the heater on? How can you stand wearing that ski jacket? Why am I riding shotgun?”
The conversation would begin on that note. If it progressed and expanded further, to enquire into her welfare or what the people left behind were doing, so much the better for her “guests”.
If not, too bad for their sakes. She’d shed few tears.
Eventually the presence beside her would fade. Maria wasn’t sure where her passengers went when they left her company.
She suspected they appeared in front of an adjudicator for final assessment before being assigned to heaven or hell.
It was her one remaining pleasure, to think she might be driving a phantom courthouse on the road to judgment.
Lazlo’s thoughts had been floating, drifting, oscillating and vaporizing for what seemed forever.
Images came and went, the fog thickened and thinned and he felt secure wherever it was he was being confined.
Maria was often present in his ethereal world. His love for her had become part of his essence. There could be no separation as long as he was breathing.
Caught up in her orbit, he did sometimes feel he was becoming insubstantial.
He’d insisted on the ski trip partly to establish his individuality.
See how well that had worked out.
He knew he was broken.
“Such a shame. There’s nothing more that can be done. He’s being moved to a palliative care facility to ease his final days.”
Lazlo didn’t recognize the voice.
He willed himself back into the perpetual darkness.
The next time he gained murky sentience, he experienced a soothing sense of motion.
He was in a vehicle moving along at a measured pace. He imagined opening his eyes.
Strobing red, amber and blue lights gave his position away. He was in an ambulance, securely strapped on a stretcher.
Standing next to him, being jostled by the sway of the vehicle, was Maria.
She looked as beautiful as ever. She was still wearing the same clothes he’d seen her in on their last day together. A toque was pulled down nearly to her eyes.
“How are you doing?” she asked softly, stroking his forehead and speaking with a caring inflexion in her voice.
“Not so good.” Lazlo’s eyes welled up with tears. “I’m sorry,” he finally managed to say.
“About the ski trip. Not keeping the Jeep on the road. The wreck. All of it.”
“Oh Lazlo, none of it was your fault. It was all a matter of timing. Some jackass drove us off the road. There was nothing you could have done about it.”
They were both quiet for a minute, appreciating each other’s company.
Lazlo was first to resume the conversation. “I’m being taken away from you and Hector and I don’t want to go. You’ll have to be both mother and father to our son.”
“That’s not acceptable,” said Maria.
Lazlo turned his head away in obvious distress.
“What’s wrong with me?” he finally asked.
“You’ve been in a coma ever since the car accident. That was four months ago.”
Lazlo looked even more upset than earlier.
“You’re the one who has to shape up,” she said more firmly. “I know you’ll do a great job raising Hector.”
“What are you talking about?” he said.
“I’ll be leaving pretty soon and you’ll have to snap out of it. It’s time for you to pick up your life again and let me get on with whatever awaits me.”
“What have you been doing all this time?”
Her response was submerged in layers of irony, reflection and remorse. “I’ve been cruising around in this ambulance, having all sorts of adventures.”
Letting his insecurities show, he asked “Do you have a partner?”
“Sometimes. Depends. No-one permanent. Mostly it’s just me. I’ve been on a mission.”
“What about now? If you’re here talking with me, who’s behind the wheel?”
Maria gave him a lopsided grin that tried to gloss over her sadness.
“You, Lazlo. You’re the one who’s driving. You just don’t realize it yet.”
As always happened at this time of the afternoon, Selena was sitting at the kitchen table, quietly vocalizing dissatisfaction with her marriage and her surroundings.
Her audience was a glass of amber liquid in her right hand.
Her usual practice of downing a cocktail at three in the afternoon served to relieve her gloom for only a brief time.
The soothing fluid did offer a relaxing distraction from her mostly unreserved disappointment in life’s circumstances.
To all appearances, she was one of thousands of snowbirds who had relocated to Florida in order to escape Canada’s harsh winters.
That was far from being the full story.
She’d actually severed her roots to give Maria a chance.
She was locked in a loveless marriage to Manny, many years her senior.
There was one benefit only. It served to lessen the psychic power that otherwise would have ensnared and tempted her daughter.
By distancing herself from Maria’s affairs, she’d muted their otherworldly connection.
The matriarchal relationship in their family was cumulative. The more the generations stuck together, the greater the transcendent force they could generate.
The women in her line had come to fully understand what they were doing. They all had daughters with partners they didn’t love.
There was one extraordinary reason for taking such a path.
The fathers, good or bad, would immediately disappear.
Not disappear as in abandonment.
No, after performing their seminal duties, at the moment of conception, they would actually vanish.
As if into a vacuum.
It was important to maintain an emotional distance from their mates.
Selena, unlike her mother and grandmother, kept this knowledge from her own daughter, Maria.
She hoped with all the remnants of her good intentions that Maria would be able to break away from the cycle.
As part of this overall strategy, she’d used the excuse of marrying Manny to put 2,000 miles distance between them.
Never mind what the cost was in terms of her own well-being.
She abandoned Maria to save her. It wasn’t really so inexplicable.
She understood Maria would probably hate her for what she’d done.
So far, her plan had met with success.
Maria was the first in an endless string trailing backwards who had an acknowledged lover.
A year before, Selena received a phone call informing her that Maria had given birth. The call came from none other than Lazlo, her son-in-law.
His presence at the other end of the line was both a shock and proof of fortune’s shifting prospects.
No-one could possibly understand the delight Selena had taken in hearing his voice.
Lazlo and Maria were parents of a beautiful baby boy they had decided to name Hector.
This truly was a miracle. And not just on a metaphysical level.
Maria, by now, must have learned a crucial detail. Any gynecologist would have informed her.
According to accepted medical understanding, she couldn’t conceive a child in the natural way.
The women in their family all had constricted fallopian tubes.
The birth of Hector must have been achieved through in vitro fertilization.
The fact that one female child came along in each generation was due to an implicit pact.
Unhappiness in love was the currency they paid.
Who would agree to such a price?
A woman who wanted a child badly enough, that’s who.
They would each couple with an unknown who would cease to exist.
Had modern science changed this dynamic?
It appeared a breakthrough was possible.
Selena sincerely hoped so. She was beyond happy for Maria’s sake.
So this was how Selena occupied her days. She would imagine her daughter’s wonderful life and re-live the difficult choices she herself had made.
She needed to reinforce in her own mind that the sacrifices had all been worthwhile.
Tranquility, partly poured from a bottle, was the most she could hope for.
That’s when she received another phone call from her former home-land.
This time, it was of an entirely different nature.
She answered the ringtone. Her daughter’s mother-in-law was on the other end of the line.
She was about to be told the worst possible news a parent can ever receive.
On August 15, two events of particular significance occurred in Toronto. One was of a private nature. The other had a notable public aspect.
Shortly after noon, Lazlo Gramlich’s eyes began to flicker. By three that afternoon, he’d emerged from his coma.
The morning of that day was also the last recorded instance of the mysterious roadway incidents.
Going forward, there were no more reports of cars simply disappearing to show up later at the bottom of a gravel pit.
Families were no longer being ripped apart by the loss of a loved one at the whim of some entity with revenge in mind.
Normal serendipity returned to exact its toll on the roads with its usual random carelessness.
Myriad fears of the possible repercussions from driving selfishly were quickly forgotten.
In little time, the level of civility on the roads returned to its former disgraceful state.
Why should Toronto be different than any other large urban center on earth?
Some drivers did retain a certain amount of consideration for others sharing the streets. It would awaken whenever an ambulance passed by.
In his hospital room, Lazlo was visited by his parents who were stunned by his recovery.
The prognosis was for a long difficult path back to normalcy.
He had to be informed about the loss of Maria.
The psychological toll was worse than the physical suffering he’d been through. After all, he hadn’t been aware of the pain so far. Now he was facing an almost insurmountable emotional hurdle.
The next day, when his parents returned, they brought Hector with them.
A rainy day in his heart was interrupted by a full-on blast of sunshine. Hector’s serious countenance, dominated by Maria’s lamplight eyes, stirred Lazlo to a new resolve.
It would be difficult, but Lazlo thought maybe he really could survive this trial by fire.
For his wife and his son, he’d give it his best shot.
Middle Ages, Spain:
In A.D. 999, in a backwater region of north-central Spain, the country-side had already suffered through centuries of strife between the local Christian population and the uninvited Moors.
A local peasant woman acquired notoriety by staying ahead of the warring factions that were killing and thieving throughout the region.
She lived alone in a hut on a hillside that was blanketed by a covering of scruffy trees.
Others were willing to contribute coinage towards her solitary lifestyle in order to gain her help in all manner of day-to-day affairs.
They also pitched special requests of a more delicate and insistent nature.
In matters of what the heart seeks or avarice compels, she had two specialties.
She could provide potions to guarantee love.
Or poisons to remove obstructions to happiness.
Her skill in the practical sciences made her a local celebrity.
Her own personal history was a conundrum. She’d grown up a wild child.
Her mother was a local girl, but her father was a marauder. That was the mythology.
Nobody knew whether or not her parents’ union had been consensual or violent.
The father never made a public appearance and the mother died four-and-a-half years after childbirth.
Sadly, the mother was felled during one of the periodic visitations of the Black Death that added to the general misery of everyone living in the age.
The quick wits of the young child were all that kept her alive. She found bare sustenance through scavenging, stealing and stocking-up on local market day.
Her criminal antics, as she grew older, became more of a general nuisance and she was driven from the town. Best to leave before more serious steps were taken to punish her.
Establishing residence in a hovel outside the small local community, she embraced the world’s oldest profession and regular visits from a long list of local men kept her in comfortable cash.
She quickly discovered that wasn’t enough to keep her sharp mind engaged.
An intuitive grasp of frayed emotions and a willingness to attempt trial and error with the local vegetation added to her knowledge in ways the more conservative townsfolk couldn’t match.
She became an expert in mixing herbs and forest fauna to produce strange and powerful effects when imbibed.
Conjuring and tricks of magic were gradually added to her repertoire, as were apparent acts of legerdemain and sleights of hand that may or may not have been fake.
A confluence of extraordinary events left a gateway in her sub-conscious unlatched.
The enabling elements were superstition, a violent clash of religious beliefs, oppression by the nobles, the risk of imminent death from the plague and one other circumstance unique to her situation.
She felt a profound sense of isolation.
Alone in the bush, there were days when she was sure her human core was dissipating.
That whatever she was doing was imbued with emptiness.
It was inevitable her inner feelings would ultimately give expression to an outward effect.
She was, in many ways, ahead of her time.
She knew the local authorities considered her evil.
From her perspective, she was applying her skills to right wrongs.
She had to assume her clients were picking appropriate targets for retaliation.
As a result of her ministrations, some individuals did end up getting hurt or paying the ultimate price.
The way she saw it, they probably deserved it anyway. Everybody’s guilty of something.
She was merely culling the herd. She knew she was doing the Lord’s work.
Unconventional as her life might be, there was one unforgettable night when she realized her talent had crossed over from being grounded in reality to taking flight into the spiritual.
One of the itinerant workers who occasionally showed up in the region to help at harvest time came knocking at her door.
Word among his fellow workers was that a certain amount of produce might be bartered in exchange for the “favors” of a forest-dwelling “nymph”.
All he’d have to do was follow a partly hidden and meandering path to her abode and make his presence known.
Having upped her skill level through multiple experiences, she was able to take a good deal of pleasure in what they were soon doing on her well-worn mattress of straw.
So much so, in fact, she felt a mysterious click at the moment of climax she’d never known before.
It was wonderful and could only augur something both special and meant to be.
Only a moment before, the good farmer on top of her had issued a sigh of pleasure upon blessed release.
That’s when it happened. Before withdrawing and in the final stages of bliss, he simply disappeared.
He vanished. He was no longer there.
She’d experienced the sudden departure of a suitor or two before, but nothing like this.
It was terrifying. She bolted upright and thrashed her arms back and forth in the submissive air. She was hoping to obtain some clue as to what had occurred.
Her composure only returned when she realized no-one was ever likely to associate her with the missing farm-hand.
As long as the stranger hadn’t mentioned to anyone where he was going that night.
Would anyone even care enough about the man to inquire into his absence?
Probably not. His kind were notorious for taking off at a whim.
She was feeling better as the possibilities played out in her mind.
Even if there was a death, there was no body to be exhumed or examined.
Maybe he was the magician, not her, though she sensed that wasn’t the case.
There had been nothing extraordinary to note in his presence. He was simply someone trying to get by in whatever manner he could.
She’d have to endure a few anxious days, but that was something she could manage. She was tough and resourceful. She wouldn’t let this mystery bring her down.
The first Selena, as her descendents came to call her, had only limited exposure to the Bible.
Nevertheless, there was one character she’d found profoundly sympathetic and loving, Jesus’ mother Maria.
She’d long thought that if she were ever to have a girl child, that’s what she’d name her.
She’d teach that child all she knew about the “enlightened” arts.
In these perilous times, she’d also emphasize how important it was to stay clear of the affairs of men.
In nine months’ time, she was delighted to put her dream into effect.
Overjoyed about the wonderful news concerning their son, Lazlo’s parents were also exhausted.
They took Hector back to their house to settle in for a night of watching television and napping in twin easy chairs.
Their grandson was put to bed at 7 p.m.
As Hector was being tucked in, his ‘nana commented for the hundredth time on how unfortunate it was he still hadn’t learned to walk. She wondered aloud if there something wrong with him. Perhaps he was upset about something?
“Of course I am,” gurgled Hector, employing his own version of baby talk. “It was great to see my dad again but, DUH, I’m still missing my mother!” How could it not be obvious?
Alone in the dark, he lay quietly playing with his fingers. After a while, he grew restless and pulled himself upright to look around.
His eyes adjusted to the dim light originating from the hallway on the other side of the closed door. His grandmother had forgotten to put his favorite stuffed toy, Dino the dinosaur, within easy reach.
“Well, that’s a bother,” he thought.
From a squatting position, he levitated his twenty pounds straight up, scooted sideways over the vertical bars of the crib and flew in an arc to the far corner of the room where Dino was nestled against a grey and pink Igor of Winnie the Pooh renown.
Once he had his closest buddy in his arms, he floated back into bed.
Now he could be content until the sandman came to escort him into slumber.
He already knew life was going to be a struggle.
Still, if he put his mind to it, maybe he could get what he wanted.