Authors: Meredith Allard
I am looking lovingly into the eyes of a man, though I cannot see his face because it is featureless, like a blank slate. We are standing in front of a wooden house with narrow clapboards, and there are diamond-paned casement windows and a steep pitched roof with two gables pointing at the laughing, hidden moon. I am certain I hear someone singing sweet nothings to us from the sky. From the light of the few jewel stars I can see the halo of his hair, like the halo of an angel, and even if I cannot see his eyes I know they look at me, into me. I stand on my toes, he is much taller than me, and I point up my face and he kisses me. As the warmth of his lips melts into mine, making me weak from the inside out, I feel my knees give from the thrilling lightness his touch brings. I know the face I cannot see is beautiful, like the lips I feel. His hands press me into him, clutching me closer, closer, unwilling to let me go. I grip him with equal strength, wishing he would carry me inside, yet I cannot bring myself to break our embrace.
“I shall never leave you ever,” he whispers in my ear. I promise him the same.
I do not know how I have been so fortunate to have this man in my life, but here he is, before me, wanting me. I am overcome with the joy of him.
Sarah Alexander didn’t know what was waiting for her in Salem, Massachusetts. She had moved there to escape the smog and the smugness of Los Angeles, craving the dulcet tones of a small town, seeking a less complicated life. Her first hint of the supernatural world came the day she moved into her rented brick house near the historic part of town, close to the museums about the witch trial days, not far from the easy, wind-blown bay. As the heavy-set men hauled her furniture inside, her landlady leaned close and told her to beware.
“If you hear sounds in the night it’s ghosts,” the landlady whispered, glancing around to be sure no one, human or shadow, could hear. “The spirits of the innocent victims of the witch hunts still haunt us. I can feel them stirring now. God rest them.”
Sarah didn’t know what to say. She had never been warned about ghosts before. The landlady peered at her, squinting to see her better.
“You’re a pretty girl,” the old woman said. “Such dark curls you have.” She still spoke as if she were telling a secret, and Sarah had to strain to hear. “You’re from California?”
“I moved there after I got married,” Sarah said.
“Where’s your husband?”
“I’m divorced now.”
“And your family is here?”
“In Boston. I wanted to live close to my family, but I didn’t want to move back to the city. I’ve always wanted to visit Salem, so I thought I’d live here awhile.”
The landlady nodded. “Boston,” she said. “Some victims of the witch trials were jailed in Boston.”
The landlady was so bent and weak looking, her fragile face lined like tree rings, that Sarah thought the old woman had experienced the hysteria in Salem during the seventeenth century. But that was silly, Sarah reminded herself. The Salem Witch Trials happened over three hundred years ago. There was no one alive now who had experienced that terror first hand. Sarah wanted to tell the landlady how she believed she had an ancestor who died as a victim of the witch hunts, but she didn’t say anything then.
“Yes, they’re here,” the landlady said, staring with time-faded eyes at the air above their heads, as if she saw something no one else could see. “Beware, Sarah. The ghosts are here. And they always come out at night.”
The landlady shook as if she were cold, though it was early autumn and summer humidity still flushed the air. When Sarah put her arm around the old woman to comfort her, she felt her skin spark like static. She rubbed her hands together, feeling the numbness even after the old woman pulled away.
“It’s all right,” Sarah said. “I won’t be frightened by paranormal beings. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
The landlady laughed. “Salem may cure you of that.”
For a moment Sarah wondered if she made a mistake moving there, but she decided she wouldn’t let a superstitious old woman scare her away. She thought about her new job in the library at Salem State College—Humanities I liaison, go-to person for English studies, well worth the move across the country. She saw the tree-lined, old-fashioned neighborhood and the comforting sky. She heard the lull of bird songs and the distant whisper of the sea kissing the shore. She felt a rising tranquility, like the tide of the ocean waves at noon, wash over her. It was a contentment she had never known before, not in Boston, never in Los Angeles. She was fascinated by Salem, looking forward to knowing it better, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, whatever may come.
Sarah’s first days in the library were hectic since it was the start of an autumn term. She spent her shifts on the main floor, an open, industrial-style space of bright lights, overhead beams, and windows that let in white from the sun and green from the trees abundant everywhere on campus. Across from the librarians’s desk, a combined circulation and reference area, was a lounge of comfortable chairs in soothing grays and blues where some students socialized using their inside voices while others stalked like eagle-eyed hunters, searching the stacks or the databases.
By Wednesday afternoon, as she saw the short-tempered rain clouds march across the Salem sky, Sarah thought she would have to buy a car soon. After driving and dodging in nail-biting Los Angeles traffic for ten years, she liked the freedom of walking the quiet roads from home to work, watching in wonder as the leaves turned from summer green to an autumn fade of red, rust, and gold. But she had been living in the sunshine on the west coast for ten years, and she had forgotten about the sudden anger of New England thunderstorms. They could appear just like that, a crack of noise overhead, then a gray flannel blanket covered the sky as fast as you could blink your eyes, water splashing all around, wetting you when you did not want to be wet, and she was caught unprepared. She held out her hand and shook her head when she felt the drops splash her palm. Jennifer Mandel’s voice sang out behind her.
“Need a lift?”
Sarah wiped her palm on her skirt, grateful once again for Jennifer’s assistance. Jennifer had been the head librarian at the college for five years, and she had taken Sarah under her wing, showing her where everything was, introducing her to the rest of the staff, answering her questions. There was something almost odd about Jennifer’s intuition—she always seemed to know when Sarah needed her, like a clairvoyant magic trick. They sprinted to the parking lot, trying to avoid the sudden splats of rain soaking their thin blouses through, and they clambered into Jennifer’s white Toyota, laughing like schoolgirls jumping in puddles. Jennifer drove the curve around Loring Avenue to Lafayette Street, the main road to and from the college.
“Where were you before you came here?” Jennifer asked. “You’re obviously not used to the rain.”
“I worked at UCLA.”
“A small town like Salem must seem dreary after living in the big city.”
Sarah looked at Jennifer, saw the compassion in her eyes, the understanding smile, so she said just enough to make herself understood. “I’m recently divorced.”
Jennifer held up her hand. “You don’t need to explain. I have two ex-husbands myself.”
They drove quietly, letting the sound of the car’s accelerator and the rain tapping the windshield fill the space. As Sarah watched the small-town scene drift past, she thought it might not be so bad to drive in Salem. Everything back east, the roads, the shops, the homes, was built on an old-time scale, narrower and smaller than they were out west. But here people slowed when you wanted to merge into their lane and they stopped at stop signs, so different from L.A. where they’d run you over sooner than let you pass.
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow night?” Jennifer asked. “We’re having a get-together at my mother’s shop.” She leaned closer to Sarah and whispered though they were alone in the car. “I should probably tell you, and I’ll understand if you think this is too weird, but my mother and I are witches.”
Sarah studied Jennifer, her hazel eyes, her long auburn hair, her friendly smile. “You don’t look like a witch,” she said.
“You mean the kind with black hair and a nose wart? The kind that fly around on broomsticks? Not that kind of witch.”
“You mean you’re Wiccan?”
“Yes, I practice the Wiccan religion, among other things. I’m the high priestess of my coven. I’m also licensed to perform weddings here in Massachusetts, in case you ever need someone to preside over a wedding for you.”
Sarah laughed. “I just got divorced. I won’t be getting married again any time soon.” She paused to watch the drizzle slip and slide on the windows. “I’m surprised there really are witches in Salem.”
“Ironic, isn’t it? The city known for hanging witches is now a haven for mystics.” Jennifer shook her head, her expression tight. “Is this too much information? I don’t usually tell someone a few days after I’ve met her that I’m Wiccan, but you have a positive energy. You don’t seem like someone who’s going to assume I’m a Satanist who loves human sacrifices.”
“I don’t mind. I’m just surprised. I’ve never known a witch before.”
“There are all sorts of interesting people you could meet around here.” Jennifer nudged Sarah with her elbow. “So will you come tomorrow night?”
“I don’t know, Jennifer.”
“You don’t need to participate in the rituals. Come make some friends. I think you’ll like the other witches in my coven. They’re good people.”
A Wiccan ceremony did sound odd, Sarah thought, but she had always been fascinated by different religions and cultures. Librarians had to keep learning—a healthy curiosity was a job necessity. And it would be nice to know some people in Salem, even if they were witches.
As they continued down Lafayette Street, Sarah saw the sign for Pioneer Village and she added it to her mental to-do list. “I haven’t had a chance to see much of this part of town since I’ve been here,” she said.
“How about a quick tour then?”
“What about the rain?”
Jennifer turned right down Derby Street. “I’ve lived here my whole life. A little water doesn’t bother me.”
Jennifer drove down one tree-lined street, then down another street, and another until Sarah didn’t know where she was. Though Witch City was small, Sarah was still learning her way around. She tried to gauge her surroundings and saw the tall, white lines of the Peabody-Essex Museum, then further down was the Hawthorne Hotel. Past that was the brick, colonial-looking Salem Maritime National Historic Site. As she watched the history flip past, like a stack of photographs from time gone by, she noticed a house she thought she knew though she was sure she hadn’t been down that way before. The one that caught her attention had wooden clapboards, diamond-paned casement windows, and two gables on the roof. It was old, though it didn’t seem to be a museum as the other old buildings were.
“What is that house?” she asked. “It looks familiar.”
“James Wentworth lives there.”
“Do you know him?”
Jennifer’s answer was stilted, as if she considered each word, weighed it, measured it, decided yes or no about it, before she let it drop from her lips. “He teaches at the college. He—his family—has owned this house for generations. It’s over three hundred years old, one of the oldest standing homes in Salem.”
Jennifer slowed the car so they could get a better look as she drove past. “Does it still look familiar?” she asked.
“Yes. Even that crooked oak tree in front seems right. I can picture the man I dream about standing in front there kissing me.”
“What dreams?” Jennifer gripped the steering wheel more tightly and her eyes brightened. “My mother’s friend Martha is great at dream interpretation. She’s done a world of good for me.” She winked at Sarah. “And you dream about a man? Is he a good looking man?”
Sarah pulled her arms around her chest, wishing she could take back her casual reference, afraid she had already said too much.
“Do you have a lot of dreams?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. But that was all she could manage. When Jennifer had waited long enough and Sarah had to offer something more, all she could say was, “It’s not a big deal. I just thought I knew the house from somewhere.”
“A lot of houses around here look the same,” Jennifer said.
Sarah looked at the houses, the tall, Federal-style ones, the Victorian ones, the brick ones, the modern-looking ones. Suddenly, as they drove around the green of Salem Common, the rain cleared, the sun brightened, and the clouds flittered away across the bay.
“That must be it,” she said.
She lowered the car window so she could smell the wet air. Though she missed the rain when she lived in Los Angeles, at that moment she was glad to see the serene blue reflection of the northeastern sky again.
They drove the rest of the way in silence.
Thursday night Sarah was slow with her steps, savoring the town. She turned from Washington Street and wandered between Front and Derby, past the old-fashioned Salem Marketplace where people window shopped through the narrow lanes, gazing at the painters and sculptors in Artists Row, imagining what it must have been like living there centuries ago. She continued to the watery expanse of the bay where the breeze blew lazy laps in the water, postcard perfect along the natural coastline beauty. Rising above the water, towering above the sailboats, was the 171-foot-long, three-masted ship theFriendship, an emblem of Salem. She saw the white lighthouse, waiting patiently, beckoning sailors home. She stepped onto Pickering Wharf, a harborside village of gray-blue buildings with white trim, the hubbub of local seafaring activities, and she paused to admire the slick boats parked in neat little rows. She breathed in the wholesome air, exhaled, and relaxed. She felt comfortable, as if she had found a childhood friend after many years. More than anything, she loved the peace she felt. Her thoughts had been congested so long, the ten years she spent in Los Angeles, to be exact, and with every step she took she felt her muddled worries clearing away, lifted from her shoulders by the sauntering wind.
The Witches Lair, Jennifer’s mother’s shop, was located on Pickering Wharf, tucked in alongside the clothing, gift, and antique boutiques. Sarah arrived before everyone else since she was still on an L.A. schedule where you had to leave an hour early to get through the traffic to get anywhere on time. A tinkling bell rang as she pulled open the door, and when she walked into the shop she said hello to the woman behind the counter and glanced around. The Witches Lair was a perfect name for the store since it was stocked with any accoutrement a witch or wizard might need: altar supplies and incense, aromatherapy oils and diffusers, cauldrons and tarot cards, crystals and gems, and books about subjects ranging from the kama sutra to kabbalah and from magick and spells to dream interpretation. It was dark inside, with dim overhead lights and flameless candles in the sconces on the walls, the shadows adding to the mystical ambiance.
Sarah paused by the bookcase, searching the titles. She was intrigued by one, about dream interpretation, and as she scanned the back cover she wondered if the information inside could help her unravel the dreams that plagued her. There were nights when the images were so intense that when she woke up it took some time to distinguish between the scenes in her head and the reality in the world outside. With the book forgotten in her hands, she remembered her latest nightmare, the one that staggered her awake the night before. She was so lost in thought she didn’t notice the older woman beside her.
“Would you like a psychic reading, dear? I can read your palm, or perhaps you’d prefer a tarot card reading?”
“Oh no.” Sarah returned the book to the shelf. “I’m waiting for Jennifer Mandel. We work together at the library and she invited me here tonight.”
The woman clasped her hands together, and she smiled in warm greeting. “You must be Sarah. I’m Olivia Phillips, Jennifer’s mother. Welcome to the Witches Lair.”
Olivia looked like a fortune-telling gypsy with her hoop earrings and peasant-style skirt. Her steel-gray eyes and the wisps of silver in her close-cropped red hair were striking. Sarah and Olivia shook hands, and Sarah gestured at the store around her.
“Your shop is fascinating. I’ve never seen one like it.”
“Shops like these are a dime a dozen around here. Everyone in Salem thinks they’re a psychic or a mystic or touched by the supernatural somehow.” Olivia waved her hand in a firm dismissal of those who would think that way. “Jennifer tells me you’re new to Salem.”
“That’s right.” Sarah began to explain about her divorce, but Olivia held up her hand.
“You don’t need to explain, dear. I have four ex-husbands myself. But why Salem?”
“I’ve always felt drawn here. When I was growing up in Boston I asked my mother to bring me to the Halloween festival, and we lived so close, but somehow we never made it. My mother always had one excuse or other to skip the trip. Just the thought of this place made her shiver.”
“Has your mother ever been here? There’s nothing to be afraid of, at least not for over three hundred years. These days it’s more of a tourist town than anything.”
“I’ve told her that, but she still won’t come. I thought she’d want to know more about our ancestor, but she’s not interested.”
“When I was a girl my great-aunt told us that someone in our family died as a victim of the witch hunts, but my aunt didn’t know anything else about the woman, not even her name. I started working on my family tree when I was in L.A., and I thought if I were here I could do more research at the Danvers Archival Center. At least I’d like to know her name.”
“A mystery to solve. I love it.” Olivia looked at the book Sarah had slipped back onto the shelf. She turned to Sarah, her face fixed, like a detective gathering clues where no one else thought to look. “Jennifer tells me you have dreams.” She took Sarah’s hand and patted it in a motherly way. “Would you like to tell me about them?”
Sarah shook her head. She had never told anyone. Nick, her ex-husband, knew, but only by default. He would yell and bitch and moan whenever she woke screaming in the night, clenching her jaw tight until the bones popped in her ears, her muscles like sailors’s knots. He told her she was weak for giving into the internal heckling, but they were her dreams. She couldn’t control them. They would have their way with her, picking and pulling at her, though she didn’t want them to. Because of Nick’s impatience, and her own disappointment with how easily she was jolted awake by the clear-as-day images, she kept her dreams a secret from everyone else. Instinctively, she felt she could trust Olivia, that Olivia might be someone she could confide in about the teasing games her subconscious liked to play when she was sleeping and defenseless, waking her with nervous, earthquake-like tremors. She had the clothbound notebook where she recorded her dreams there with her in the Witches Lair, in the canvas bag hanging from her shoulder. She could have pulled it out to show Olivia. But she didn’t. She shook her head again.
“Whatever you wish, Sarah. Just remember, I’m here should you change your mind. And my friend Martha, you’ll meet her tonight, is excellent at dream interpretation. She’s an expert at past-life regression as well.”
“You’re very kind, but you don’t need to trouble yourself over it.”
“But dreams are our subconscious whispering truths in our ears, Sarah. You should pay attention. You’d be amazed at what you could learn.”
Olivia gripped Sarah’s hand tighter and led her past the bookcases and displays to four cubby-sized rooms separated from the rest of the store by black velvet curtains.
“Come. I’ll give you a reading for free. Any friend of Jennifer’s is a friend of mine.” Sarah tried to protest, but Olivia wouldn’t be swayed. “Really, dear, everything will be fine. Perhaps I can help you understand your dreams.”
Sarah relented, telling herself she didn’t believe in psychics, extrasensory perception, mysticism, or anything like that, so the reading didn’t matter. And she did like Olivia. There was such unconditional warmth in the older woman’s manner. Besides, in a tarot reading didn’t they just pull three cards from the deck and make guesses about your life based on the pictures? She would humor Olivia, pretend to be startled by the revelations, then join Jennifer and the others.
Olivia pulled aside the curtain to the cubby on the end, fringed with more black velvet. Inside there was only enough space for a small round table covered with white linen and two folding chairs while a candle and spiced incense burned on a shelf. Olivia sat in the chair behind the table and gestured for Sarah to sit across from her. She took Sarah’s hand and looked at her palm.
“Have you had a psychic reading before?”
“Once, when I was in college. I was taking a religious studies class and one of our assignments was to have a psychic reading and write about our experience.”
“And what was your experience?”
“She seemed very young, the psychic, just college age herself, and I wasn’t impressed with her predictions since everything she said was generic and could have applied to anyone.”
Olivia dropped Sarah’s hand to study her. Again, that detective seeking clues look. “What did she say?”
“I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles where my fiancé had a job in the film industry. She told me moving away would be a mistake because L.A. was not my home. She said my husband was not my husband and I was not who I thought I was.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“I’m Sarah Alexander.”
Olivia was in deep thought as she considered.
“Yes, well, let’s see what else we can learn.”
Olivia took Sarah’s hand again and stared deeply into her palm, as if her eyes were x-rays and she could see through the layers of skin past the veins, the blood, and the muscles to the truth within. Her eyelids shuddered as she went into a trance. Her head bobbed in a rocking motion, and she breathed loudly, exhaling from her mouth and wheezing in through her nose. Sarah became nervous when Olivia seemed to expand to twice her size, though it must have been the flickering candlelight playing tricks on her sight.
“Yes,” Olivia said, her voice a whisper. “Yes, I am beginning to see. You are hard to read, there are many layers to you, but I am beginning to see.” She was silent again, though she kept nodding. Sarah’s head began to bob along, like when you’re on a boat and your body sways in time with the rhythm of the waves.
“Who you are is not yourself. The secret to the puzzle is there. The other psychic you saw was very good. Very good. She could see that who you are is not yourself. Yes, I can see that he will find you. He is here and he will find you.”
“Who?” Sarah asked.
“He will. The one who is waiting for you. He has been waiting for you for oh so very long. You will be afraid. He is not what he was. You will find your way home again.”
Sarah tried to pull away, but Olivia kept a tight grasp. Sarah leaned forward, not breathing, struggling to understand what Olivia was saying because her words sounded like they should make sense but they didn’t. Suddenly the black velvet curtains scraped against the rod as they were tossed aside, and Sarah jumped. Jennifer, in a flowing black robe, stood in the fluorescent light shining in from the store, one hand on the curtains, her other hand on her hip.
“Mother! I asked Sarah to come to the Harvest Moon ceremony to introduce her to some people. We’re about to start.”
Olivia pulled away from Sarah, covering her face with her hands until her breathing slowed. The overwhelming psychic who had expanded to twice her size was gone. When she opened her eyes she looked as she did when Sarah first saw her in the store, friendly and motherly. After Olivia composed herself she smiled.
“I’m sorry, Jennifer. I lost track of time.” She stood up from behind the table and pulled the curtain aside for Sarah. “I hope I didn’t frighten you too much, dear. I should have warned you that I go into a trance when I’m in tune with the spirit world.”
“I wasn’t frightened at all,” Sarah lied.
“Good. Now did I say anything that made sense? Sometimes when I’m with the spirits I begin speaking in tongues and no one can understand what I’m saying.”
“She’s a great psychic,” Jennifer said. “Her clients don’t understand her half the time, and she can’t help them because she never remembers what she says.”
“I’m in a trance, dear. What do you remember from your trances?”
“Nothing. Just like you.”
Olivia turned to Sarah. “Did I say anything that helped you understand your dreams?”
“No,” Sarah said. “Nothing.”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps we can try again another time.”
Sarah looked through the store to where the sliding glass door was open. In the courtyard outside she saw a grotto with rose trellises, scented lavender shrubs, and a cherub water fountain spitting in an arc in the air. There was a covered altar set against the brick wall and about twenty people in black robes mingling while drinking tea and eating cakes. Sarah stopped suddenly, her feet leaden, as if there were iron chains around her ankles.
Jennifer grabbed her arm. “What did my mother say to you? Sarah? What did she say?”
Sarah looked at the people in the grotto and realized she didn’t want to go out there.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t feel well. I think I should leave.”
“What did you say to her, Mom?”
“I don’t know, Jennifer. I wish I could remember.”
As Sarah walked home, passing the same historic sights she had seen on the way, she was oblivious to everything but Olivia’s reading. She was unnerved by the whole experience, seeing what had happened to Olivia, hearing that someone, some man, was going to find her. Olivia didn’t say what would happen once she was found, and frightening visions flashed behind her eyes, images of being stalked. Attacked. Or worse. Slowing her steps, forcing herself to think logically, she reminded herself that she didn’t believe in psychics, extrasensory perception, mysticism, or anything like that. She didn’t understand why Olivia’s words struck her so deeply.
Once Sarah was home she was exhausted, though she wasn’t afraid any more. Being away from Olivia, away from the cryptic message, helped her feel better. Sarah knew she wouldn’t be getting another psychic reading any time soon. Olivia brought up too many uncomfortable emotions, and Sarah had moved to Salem seeking peace. She didn’t need the headache of illogical puzzles in her life then.
When she woke up at three a.m., she turned on the light by her bed, grabbed her clothbound notebook and a pen, and wrote about the dream that had tapped her awake. This was a pleasant vision, one she was happy to write down, unlike some of the more frightening nightmares she had been having. It was hard to write those down even with the lights on. But this one she was glad to remember.
I am sitting at a table surrounded by people who look like they should be part of a Thanksgiving Feast tableau with their modest Pilgrim-style clothing, old-fashioned manners, and antiquated way of speaking. There are pumpkins, pies, roasted game birds, and mugs of ale set out on the table. I am included in this gathering, the people seem to know me, and I seem to know them though no one looks familiar—everyone’s face is a blank slate. A girl about ten years old is talking to me like she is my sister perhaps, showing me her cloth doll and telling me how her doll helped with the sewing, the cleaning, and the cooking. She asks what I did that day.
“The same as I do most days,” I say. “I went to the spring to get water this morn. Then I milked the cows and gathered eggs, and later I shall finish spinning yarn.”
She puckers her adorable cherub-like face. “Did you know I asked Father if I could help him this day?” she asks.
“Aye. I am no longer a babe in long clothes. Now I wear upgrown folks clothes, and I asked Father if I could help with mending the fences and reaping the rye. He said nay! He said I am too small and a girl at that.”
“Father is right,” I say. “You needn’t worry over such things. ‘Tis grueling work. Best to let the men have at it. Besides, the sickle is dangerous. You could lose a finger or even your arm, and I am not enough of a seamstress to sew it back for you.”
“But I want to help! What if the harvest isn’t gathered before the weather turns and we have nothing for winter?”
“That won’t happen,” I say. “Father has always provided well for us, and he shall continue doing so even in this new land we now live in.”
“I shall be the greatest soap maker in the village, and I shall make enough money selling my soaps to buy my own horse and plow. Then Father must let me tend to the upgrown folks work.”
“Shall you make some soap for me? I am in need of it.”
She laughs. “Of course I shall,” she says.
She is a sweet girl, so even tempered for one so young, and she clutches my hand as if she needs my attention more than anything in the world. I am certain now that this must be my sister and I love her for her tenderness.
That is when I notice him. He is sitting across the table from me, down to my right, the man with the halo hair. I cannot see his face, it is a blank slate like the others, but I can tell that he is looking at me, shyly, wanting to speak to me but perhaps it is not appropriate that he does so in this place at this time. I do not think he knows me, or I know him, yet, but I can feel that we want to know each other. I am enchanted.
James Wentworth arrived on the campus of Salem State College a half an hour after dark. He parked his black Ford Explorer in the parking lot off Loring Avenue near the Central Campus and walked past the Admissions Office and the bookstore, stepping out of the way of a student speeding toward the bike path. After he walked into the library he paused by the door to watch the young people studying at the tables, searching the stacks, hunching over the computers, so raw and fresh they still had that new-car smell. They had so much ahead of them, James mused. The world was exciting to them, adventures waiting to be had, dreams to be discovered, loves to be found and lost and lost and found. The students in the library were naïve, yes, but that would be tempered by experience and learning. Some of them thought they already knew everything they would ever need to know, but James had compassion for them. We think we know it all, but we never do, no matter how long we live.
Class that night was lively. These students had opinions and they liked discussing and debating, which kept the energy high. There is no worse class than when there were thirty silent students who wanted nothing more than to listen to the professor speak for fifty minutes and leave. That night’s class was an independent study seminar where the students chose which work of literature they would focus on. Usually, James found, the young people were predictable in their choices—Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain, Thoreau—but that term the students were more creative. One was studying Oscar Wilde’sThe Picture of Dorian Grayabout the cursed man who never ages, a story James thought of often. He was amused by the choice, and curious.
“WhyThe Picture of Dorian Gray?” he asked.
“Staying young forever?” Kendall said. “How cool is that? I mean, don't you want your hair to stay blond, Professor? You want to turn old and gray?”
James shook his head. “On the outside Dorian stayed young-looking and fresh-seeming, but on the inside he became decrepit in ways no one would guess. His physical body didn’t age, but the catch was, as the years passed, he grew more depraved and detached from human decency.” James looked at Kendall, a Junior about twenty years of age, her sandy-brown hair slung back in a ponytail, wearing a blue and orange Salem State College t-shirt with the Viking logo. Her expression hadn’t changed.
“Dorian looked young, Professor Wentworth. Isn’t that all that matters?”
“A youthful appearance is certainly valued in our society, but don’t you think there could be problems always looking the same while you grew in knowledge and experience?”
“But looking young forever would keep me out of the plastic surgeon’s office.”
“Fair enough,” James said.
“I mean, my sister is twenty-five, and she’s already getting Botox.”
James sighed as he surveyed the classroom, admiring the bright, fresh faces, and he wondered how many others were convinced they looked old when they were oh so very young. He scanned the list in his hand and his eyes grew wide. He pressed his wire-rimmed eyeglasses against his nose as he looked at Trisha, sitting front and center, a bright student, one of his hardest workers, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her choice. He wouldn’t have guessed it of her.
“Why did you choose Bram Stoker’sDracula?” he asked.
“Because I love that genre,” Trisha said. “I love the idea that there are supernatural beings so extraordinary out there walking unnoticed among us. Since we’re not looking for them we don’t see them, and when we do see them it might be too late.”
“Do you believe in vampires?” he asked.
“Of course not. That’s silly.”
“Yes,” he said. “That is very silly.”
“Besides, even if there were really vampires no one would believe it. It just doesn’t seem possible.”
“You’re right. Let’s hope we never have to find out.”
Levon Jackson, another bright student, an ice hockey player touted as a potential NHL draft, patted Trisha’s shoulder and shouted a loud “Amen!”
James sat on the edge of the instructor’s desk at the front of the room. Levon was one of his favorites that term, in two of his classes, and the young man so rarely shared without raising his hand. Though James insisted from the first day that students didn’t need to raise their hands, this was college, not kindergarten, Levon was always respectful, polite, waiting for James’s attention before he spoke.
“Amen to what, Levon?” James asked.
“Amen to let’s hope we never have to find out. Who wants to learn there’s some nasty old vamp lurking around somewhere?”
“There’s nothing to find out,” said Jeremy, who had aspirations of doctoral school at Harvard. “Who wants to waste time on make-believe?”
“Vampires could be real,” Kendall said. As other students laughed and hissed, she turned her scrunched face to the class. “Why not? Stranger things have happened.”
“How can something be dead and alive at the same time?” Jeremy asked.
“I’m not saying it’s true,” Kendall said. “I’m just saying it’s possible.”
Levon slapped his large hands over his ears, his palms flat against his head. “I don’t want to hear any more about vampires!” James couldn’t tell if he was joking.
Jeremy smirked. “You must cover your ears a lot, Levon. Everyone everywhere is talking about vampires. Vampire movies. Vampire television shows. Vampire books.” Jeremy’s fingers went to his temples and he shook his head from side to side. “I am so damn sick of vampires.”
James watched his students with a mixture of amusement and caution. He didn't want to stifle the conversation, and he wouldn't quell their questioning, but he didn't like the turn the conversation had taken. Levon turned his desk so he could look Jeremy in the eye. He wasn't intimidating, James noted, only serious.
“My pastor says there are evil spirits, minions of Satan, all around us, especially at night. He says they seek innocent souls to prey on, and if we’re not careful the evil will consume us.” Levon looked around the room, one student at a time, without a hint of sarcasm. “I know there’s evil in the world. Maybe it’s ghosts. Maybe it’s witches. Maybe it’s vampires. Maybe it’s the Devil himself. Whatever it is, I don’t want any part of it, and I don’t want it anywhere near me. Evil like that needs to be destroyed.”
“Do you really believe that?” Jeremy asked.
The students argued amongst each other, some louder than others. They were so caught up in their opinions they didn’t notice as James moved from the desk to the window. He unhooked the latch and pushed the glass up, letting in a cool blast of air, the combined scent of the salty sea and the storm dropping soon. Suddenly the shouting voices stopped. James heard the silence, but he didn’t turn around. He watched the tree leaves sigh and weave from their branches. He watched the moon hanging in wait overhead. He wasn’t trying to be dramatic. He was waiting for the right words to come.
“That could be dangerous,” he said finally, “making judgments and deciding where, or if, others have the right to live.” He was talking to no one in particular, to the windowpane, the trees, the night breeze, his own furrowed brow. “People have lost their lives because of such judgments.”
“What that is, Professor, is a loaf of bullshit,” said Jeremy.
The class laughed.
“It isn’t,” said Levon. “I don’t want anything to do with any vampires. I don’t want to see anything about them. I don’t want to hear anything about them. They’re evil.”
Silence fell over the class again. James turned from the window and saw twenty-five oh so very young faces waiting for him to make sense of it all. That was how class often went. James offered some topic of discussion based on their reading, the students would discuss, or argue, and then James would share some insight that tied the pieces together. Then the students left with some new knowledge that hopefully they’d remember, some lesson they’d carry all their lives, or at least until the next midterm. James wished they would take more responsibility for forming their own opinions, but he was the professor, after all, the one with the college degrees paid to profess his knowledge to classes of impressionable minds. But that night the class had a different feel. He didn't know if the students could sense the shift, but he could. For the first time, he didn’t know what to say.
Timothy Wolfe, a dark-haired, pale-skinned student, stood up in the back of the class, a flash of anger in his black eyes. James gave Timothy a warning glance, but Timothy didn't seem to see him. Rather, James guessed from Timothy’s glint, that he was being ignored.
“Why do you assume vampires are evil?” Timothy asked.
The other students turned around, surprised, as if they had never noticed Timothy before. And they probably hadn’t. He was always so quiet, never answering a question or offering an opinion, staking out his usual seat in the back near the door, bolting as soon as James dismissed them. James stood back, his arms crossed over his chest, watching Timothy’s every move as the boy walked toward Levon, the ice hockey goalie, looking like David challenging Goliath.
“Timothy…” James said, caution in his tone.
Timothy jabbed a frustrated finger in Levon’s direction. “I mean, if vampires were real, which they’re not, but if they were, everyone thinks they’d be evil. But not everyone is the same.”
“There can’t be any such thing as a nice vampire,” Levon said. “They’re bloodthirsty, angry devils who’d suck the life right out of you. Who knows how many people they’d kill. Probably one a night.” Levon stood up, and his athlete’s physique towered above Timothy, who looked too small, too fragile suddenly. “Vampires are the way they are, and they all belong in one category: villain.”
James looked at Levon. For the first time that night he was annoyed with the young man. “You don’t believe that people, human or otherwise, can overcome their violent tendencies?” he asked.
“No matter how much they want to change? No matter how resolved they are? Are we victims of some predetermined destiny? I knew some people who thought that way once. They weren’t a pleasant group to live around.”
“I think if you’re mean you’re mean and if you’re not you’re not.”
“You’ve been watching too many horror movies,” Jeremy said. He didn’t try to hide his disdain. He closed his textbook and shut down his notebook computer. He looked at the time, at the door, at the window. Then he began texting on his cell phone. James didn’t stop him.
“If I knew a hot vampire like Edward or Bill I’d give them as much of my blood as they wanted,” Trisha said. She giggled, and so did the girls sitting next to her. “They could bite me anytime.”
James looked at the clock on the wall. “Time’s up,” he said. “See you next week.”
As the others filtered single file from the classroom, Levon turned to James. “No hard feelings, Doctor Wentworth?”
“Of course not, Levon.”
Levon smiled, a flash of white brilliance, and he extended his hand. James stepped behind the instructor’s desk, sliding his hands into the pockets of his khaki trousers.
“I’m sorry,” James said. “I have a cold and I don’t want you to get sick. You have a big game tomorrow night.”
Levon pointed out his folded arm instead. “All right, elbow bump.”
James laughed, and they touched elbows.
“Good luck tomorrow night,” James said.
“You coming to the game?”
“I’d love to but I can’t. Midterms coming up, you know. Maybe next time.”
“You need to get out more. I never see you out with the other professors, and I never see you around town. You never go to the games. Are you married?”
James was startled by the suddenness of the question, and he tried to set his expression. He didn’t want Levon to see how shocked he was, but the look on Levon’s face told him he had not been quick enough.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Levon said. “I was just wondering if you had anyone waiting for you at home.”
“Too bad. You’re a youngish guy, what, about fifty?”
James shook his head. “You young people think everyone older than you is fifty. I’m thirty, Levon.”
“All right, thirty, even better. From the way the girls giggle about you, you must be okay. They all have a crush on you.”
“They do not.”
“They do.” Levon threw his backpack over one shoulder. “You should find a friend before it’s too late, Doctor Wentworth, you know, a nice lady. That’s all I’m saying.”
James sat on the edge of a student desk, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the young man in front of him.
“You’re right,” James said, laughing, like the fact that he kept so much to himself was the biggest joke in the world. “Not about finding a nice lady. I did that once. I mean about getting to a game. I’ll come soon. I promise.”
Levon seemed satisfied with that answer. As Levon left the classroom, James saw Timothy loitering outside. By the time James stepped over to talk to him, Timothy had disappeared. James looked down the hallway and heard the boy’s quick-time steps crossing the pavement of College Drive. He knew he would have to talk to Timothy about that, again, soon. It didn’t help anything to have him disappearing like a slight-of-hand trick. James went back into the classroom, packed up his book bag, and left campus, not as quickly as Timothy, but fast enough. It had been a long night.
Sarah couldn’t stop thinking about the house she saw when Jennifer drove her home. It didn’t make sense that it should look familiar when it was located on a street she had never been down in a city where she was new, but she was certain it was the one she had seen in her dreams. Since the psychic reading two nights before she felt like she had restless leg syndrome, like she had to keep moving even when she didn’t want to. When she slowed down, even for a moment, odd, unclear thoughts occurred to her, and she didn’t want to try to make sense of them. She wanted to sweep them away, hide them in the closet, forget the reading altogether.
Walking always helped to vent her excess energy, so she decided to take a trip across town to look at the house again. It wasn’t very late, the sun just setting. The gray cloth-like clouds were not in formation yet, still filtering in over the bay. It didn’t look like it would rain for a few hours, so she thought she had enough time to make it there and back before the storm broke. She walked along the same tree-lined route Jennifer had driven, careful with her steps, watching for landmarks like the Hawthorne Hotel and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. She didn’t want to get lost walking home when she was still learning her way.
It was dark by the time she saw the old house waiting stoically along the road, more hidden behind oaks and shrubs than other homes in the neighborhood. Though the others were well lit outdoors, this one stayed dark. She wouldn’t have known it was there if she hadn’t already seen it. There were no lights on inside either, and it looked like no one was home, so she walked onto the lawn and pondered the old wooden structure, wondering what scenes it had seen and what stories it could tell. For such an old house it was well maintained. It looked like other historic buildings in the neighborhood dating from the seventeenth century, only this was no museum as the others were. This was someone’s home.
She thought about the house she left behind in the Hollywood Hills, modern-looking, cookie-cutter, whitewashed stucco, one that looked light and airy on the outside but trembled inside with permanent distress from an unfortunate marriage. The morning before she left for Massachusetts she stood outside and memorized the place where she had lived for ten years, the way it peeked from a catty-corner on the curving road, the feathery bushes on either side, the waving palm trees behind, the border of blue and purple petunias lining the square front yard. As much as she loved the house itself the memories inside were too hard and it had been time to say good-bye. She moved to Salem with the certainty that she needed a fresh start, but now she was confronted with confusing thoughts about an odd psychic reading and a house she thought she knew.
At first glance the seventeenth-century wooden structure seemed dark, heavy, weighted down by an uncertain past. But the longer she studied it the more she decided that it was warmth and nostalgia she felt rather than age and decline. She still didn’t see any movement or hear any sounds coming from inside, so she stepped closer to the front door, inspecting the diamond-paned windows, the wooden slats that made up the exterior walls, the ridge of the shingled roof, the two steep gables pointing upward to the moon in heaven. She walked around to the indented pendill and put her hand on the wood, listening, wondering if she could hear the house explain why it looked familiar to her. Then she stepped closer to the gnarled oak tree, touching the rasping bark, searching for some clue about why she would dream about this house. She watched the ghostly branches stretch toward the sky, each reaching for its own memory from the long history it had seen.
When the front door swung open it creaked and startled her. Though it was dark, Sarah saw a man standing skeleton-still in the shadows. He stared at her, his mouth open as if he were trying to speak though he stayed mute. She tried to make herself disappear behind the oak tree, not wishing to disturb anyone, afraid she had been trespassing. She decided she needed to say something to break the awkward silence.
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to look at the house.”
She began to shiver, not from the nip of the autumn air, but from the feeling that she recognized him. But how could she know someone she hadn’t seen before? What was she supposed to say to him—“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” It was such a bad pick-up line. She couldn’t explain why she thought the man or his house looked familiar, so she decided it would be best if she went home.
“Excuse me,” she said. “I can see I’ve disturbed you. I’ll leave.”
As she turned toward the road she felt his hand on her arm. She didn’t expect him to get to her so quickly from where he stood, and she didn’t understand why he had to grip her so tightly. Finally, she could see him in the slim strings of moonlight, his blond hair, his handsome face. He was intense, needing something, wanting something, but she was afraid to guess what that might be.
He touched his hand to her cheek. “Lizzie. My Lizzie,” he said. “You’ve come home to me.” When Sarah stepped back he moved toward her, closing the space between them. “It’s all right, Elizabeth. Everything is all right now. You’re home.”
“My name is Sarah.”
He didn’t seem to hear her. He kept his hand to her cheek, his skin cool, she thought, like the water at night when she walked near the shore, not cold as much as unheated. He was so taken by staring at her that she thought he must recognize his mistake, but he stayed calm, like mistaking one person for another was something he did every night. As she stared at him she noticed his eyes. In the silver moonlight he looked too pale, but his eyes were darker than a tornado in the night ocean sky. He continued staring at her, intent, desperate, as if he were hoping to see something in her that could not be there. She wanted to run away and not look back, but something kept her there, watching him, curious about him. Drawn to him.
“Are you James Wentworth?” she asked, trying to spark some recognition in him. “Jennifer Mandel said she knows you from the college. We drove past your house and I thought it was interesting so I came back to look. Please, just let me go and I’ll leave.”
There was a flash of light in his stormy night eyes. He let go of her arm and stepped away. “Oh my God,” he said. “Yes, I am James Wentworth. I am so sorry.” He dropped his face into his hands. “Oh my God,” he said again. When he lifted his head he seemed as if nothing strange had passed between them, like a completely different man—rational, composed, thoughtful.
“I can see I’ve frightened you,” James said. “Forgive me. I don’t know what came over me.” He walked closer to her, tentatively, as if he were afraid of scaring her again. He was inspecting her, searching her face, her hair, her hands. He leaned his face over her head, close to her hair, as if he smelled her. And then it started to rain.
“Will you come back?” he asked.
That seemed to be the safest answer. Sarah turned toward the road, and when she looked back he was already by his door, watching her. Some part of her wanted to go back to him, brush his hair from his eyes, ask if he was all right, he seemed so very spent and broken. Then she felt the pull of him, as if he reached inside her and found her innermost secrets, the best and the worst of her, and yet he was still there. There was something in him, some longing, and she scolded herself for wanting to stay and discover its meaning. She needed to be far away from him so she walked, faster and faster, trying not to slip and slide in the slick, wet street, away from the old house from her dreams.
Sarah avoided thinking about the beautiful strange man by the beautiful old house for most of the rest of the weekend. Monday night she was busy in the high-tech room in the library preparing for a seminar about how to access resources from off campus. Jennifer found her while she was setting up the Elmo machine.
“Need help?” Jennifer asked.
“No thanks,” Sarah said. “I’ve got it.”
Jennifer stood silently, watching Sarah fiddle with the wires connecting the Elmo to the projector. With a point, she directed Sarah’s attention through the window that looked into the hallway. Sarah saw Denise, another librarian, straightening her short red dress and smoothing her hair as she walked past. Denise smiled when she saw she was being watched.
“She’s leaving for her date with Wendell,” Jennifer said.
“That can’t be right. Wendell is a student aide.”
Sarah put her hand over her mouth to stop her laughter. “That isn’t funny.”
“I’m surprised none of the students have asked you out, Ms. Alexander.”
“Please.” Sarah used her hand as a stop sign like a police officer directing traffic. “No one is allowed to ask me out right now. Not for at least a year. I’ve decided. I can’t think about another relationship right now.”
“Even if you find someone great?”
Sarah flipped the switch on the Elmo and saw the logo of Salem State College, a blue sketch of theFriendship, on the white screen on the wall. “Not anyone,” Sarah said. “Not now.”
The smile slipped from Jennifer’s face. “That’s too bad,” she said. She adjusted the lens on the projector so the logo was clearer. “So I heard you met James the other night. He teaches English here, did you know that? And he’s cute too.”
“Cute and scary. Maybe not scary. Intense might be a better word.”
“Did he really frighten you?”
Sarah paused, watching the logo on the screen as she considered. “I wasn’t sure if I was more frightened for myself or concerned for him. He seemed more upset than intimidating. He certainly is handsome.” She paused because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to share her next thought. But Jennifer was already her best friend in Salem, so she decided to trust her.
“I think he looks like the man in my dreams. I’ve never seen the man’s face—it’s always in the shadows—but when James first came out of his house I couldn’t see his face either. I don’t know. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Something about being in Witch City, I guess.”
Jennifer watched Sarah with the same detective-like concentration her mother had. Then she turned her attention to the desks scattered haphazardly around the room, straightening them into five neat rows.
Sarah stared at the floor, consumed by thoughts of the other night. Her encounter with James stirred too many emotions at once: fear, concern, sympathy, attraction, but mainly disappointment in herself for finding him alluring at all.
“He was just confused,” she said.
How else could she explain his sudden attachment to her? And as for her just as sudden attachment to him? It was not hard to see where her attraction came from. He was a beautiful-looking man, James Wentworth, and though he looked physically strong, there was some vulnerability there too. How else could he have shown his soul to a stranger? Even after he realized she was not who he thought she was, his soul was still out there, visible, and she felt it reach out and touch her with the aura of its warmth. She could feel it touching her even then.
When Jennifer finished pushing the desks around, she sat on a chair and gave Sarah her full attention. Sarah felt like she was supposed to say something, as if Jennifer wanted something from her. “He mistook me for someone else,” Sarah said. “Elizabeth, he called her. When he realized he made a mistake he apologized.”
“Did he tell you who Elizabeth was?”
Before Sarah could answer, he was there, James, standing outside the door, watching her through the window. His dark eyes were curious, wondering, though less intimidating under his wire-rimmed eyeglasses. She could feel his gaze piercing her as if he were trying to see through her, understand everything about her from the day she was born, through all her years on earth, until that very moment in the library. It was that same sense of being drawn toward him she felt in front of his house. If they hadn’t been standing under the bright fluorescent lights in the library she might have been wary of him again.
He opened the door and walked into the room. “Hello, Sarah,” he said. “Forgive me, I know we haven’t been formally introduced. After the other night, I suppose it’s hardly necessary.”
Jennifer curtseyed to James, one foot behind the other, a caricature of courtesy. “Sarah Alexander, this is James Wentworth, Professor of English at our illustrious institution. Doctor Wentworth, this is Sarah Alexander, your new liaison for Humanities I studies.” She winked at him. “That includes you.”
“Yes, Jennifer, I know. That’s why I came by. I need help locating some sources about John Keats, and I was hoping you could help me, Sarah.”
“Of course,” Sarah said. “Tell me what you need.”
“That’s right,” said Jennifer. “Tell Sarah what you need. Or I can help you if Sarah doesn’t want to. You weren’t very nice to her the other night.”
“I don’t mind,” Sarah said. And she didn’t. Standing next to him, realizing how tall he was, noticing again how strong he seemed, she thought he was easier to be around in the light of the library than in front of his house in the dark and the rain. Jennifer nodded, smiling to herself as if she were in on her own conspiracy.
“I think Sarah has forgiven you for your transgression the other night. Isn’t that right, Sarah?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. “It was all just a misunderstanding.”
“It was,” James said, “but I frightened you and I’m sorry.”
“Sarah is leaving for the night, Professor. Why don’t you walk her home?”
Sarah liked the thought of being escorted by a handsome professor, a scholar of literature no less, but the memory of the other night flashed behind her eyes. She wondered which James would walk her home, the courteous, thoughtful one standing before her or the confused one who made her nervous. She looked at Jennifer, unsure what to say.
“It’s okay,” Jennifer said. “He doesn’t bite.”
James pushed his glasses back on his nose. “No,” he said, “I don’t bite.”
Sarah knew, in her rational mind, that she shouldn’t go anywhere with him after his erratic behavior, but, year or no year since her divorce, she felt drawn to him. She was curious about him more than anything, and this walk could allow her to begin to piece together the puzzle that was James Wentworth.
“All right,” Sarah said.
James smiled. There was something about his smile Sarah loved instantly, as if it were her own smile, and she felt her own joy at seeing it. As they left campus they saw a black and white Salem Police car drive down Lafayette Street. On the doors it said Salem Police, The Witch City, Massachusetts, 1626, and in the center was a silhouette of a witch on a broomstick.
“I can’t believe the witch is still the symbol for Salem,” Sarah said. “EvenThe Salem Newshas a witch as its logo.”
James let out a frustrated sigh. “Witches have become great commercial fodder here. Salem has become something of a gathering place for mystics, and some believe it’s touched by the metaphysical and inhabited by supernatural beings.” He smiled, a flash of amusement across his lips.
“My landlady insists Salem is haunted by ghosts,” Sarah said. “She almost scared me out of living here, and I don’t even believe in ghosts.”
“Salem may change your mind.”
“That’s what she said.”
From Lafayette Street they turned down Derby, then right on Washington Street until they were in the green expanse of Lappin Park. James pointed to a bronze statue sitting center in a paved opening surrounded by well-manicured lawns. “Have you seen that?” he asked.
They walked closer until Sarah saw a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the good witch Samantha on the television showBewitched. The scene showed the show’s logo, Samantha on a broomstick in front of a crescent moon. Sarah walked close enough to touch the smooth bronze.
“I should have brought my camera. I didn’t know I was going sightseeing tonight.”
“We can come back another night,” James said. “What else would you like to see?”
Sarah felt herself blush hot along her jaw. He was already thinking about taking her walking another night, and she was embarrassed at how happy she was to hear it. She chided herself, repeating every reason she had about why she needed to be alone right now. It was too soon after her divorce. She didn’t choose the right men—her marriage was proof enough of that. And this man, James, was beautiful, intelligent, a professor of her favorite subject (studying John Keats, her favorite poet, no less), and yet, as they walked in the cool Salem night, comforted by the sea breeze, he stood a distance away, as if he loved her company but didn’t care much for anything else about her.
She saw him watching her, that curious expression again, so she pulled herself from her reverie and considered what else she wanted to see around town. They were close to her house at Lappin Park—she lived a few blocks down Washington Street, near Essex Street and the Salem Inn—but she wasn’t ready to go home.
“I’ve been wanting to see the Salem Witch Museum,” she said.
James stared at the half-moon in the sky. “The Salem Witch Museum,” he said, as if he had never heard the name before. He stepped closer to her, inspecting her again the way he had in front of his house. She began to think she made a mistake walking home with him after all. She looked around, but there were plenty of people out that autumn night, dining at the restaurants and bars that populated the town. He must have realized he was making her nervous, she thought, because he took a step back, giving her space.
“They close at five,” he said, “but I’d be happy to show you where it is.”
They continued down Church Street, passing the Lyceum Bar and Grill with its brick walls and whitewashed Romanesque arches hanging over the windows, the white-potted topiaries in front. He stopped so she could get a better look.
“There are many people like your landlady who believe ghosts from the witch trials haunt Salem,” he said. “Some believe that Bridget Bishop, one of the first women executed in 1692, haunts this very building.”
Sarah stepped close to the brick wall and touched her hands to the rough exterior. A couple leaving the Lyceum smiled at her as they walked by, and she felt silly, as if they thought she was trying to sense any ghosts in the building. When she felt a spark of static—the same energy she felt when she touched her landlady—she pulled her hands away. She turned to James and he seemed somber, as he had in front of his house. She tried to lighten the mood.
“Do you believe ghosts from the witch trials haunt Salem?” she asked.
She meant to be light, friendly, even a little flirty with the handsome, blond, strong-looking professor. Her resolution to wait had slipped away into the static electricity in her hands. Even though she had said to Jennifer, less than an hour before, that she didn’t want any man asking her out right now. Even though she had reasons not to flirt with any man. But suddenly here was James and all she could think about was how he was looking at her, as if he wanted to know her, or as if he already knew her, she couldn’t tell. She had to admit, though she didn’t want to, that she enjoyed his attention. She enjoyed sightseeing around Salem with him. Something, somewhere deep inside that was not logical, felt as if there were an invisible line reeling from him to her and back again, catching her and holding her to him. It wasn’t a frightening sensation. This was a light, fluttery line, like silk thread.
As he watched her, his expression softened and he relaxed into an easy smile. Taking this as an invitation to come closer, she stepped near him and stood on her toes so she could see into his night-dark eyes, such a contrast to his pale complexion, like a black-white pattern in a painting. He stepped back too quickly, a man-sized jumping bean, and he turned to study the brick arches of the Lyceum as if he had never seen them.
“Yes,” he said finally, “I believe that ghosts from the witch trials haunt Salem. I’ve never been more sure of it.”
He opened his mouth to say more, but he shook his head and walked away at such a fast pace he left Sarah trailing behind. She didn’t mind. She slowed her steps, hoping he’d disappear into the distance so she could slip down Washington Street and find her way home. Alone. She was being too foolish about this man, she decided. He was too unpredictable. Suddenly, he flipped the switch back to bright and slowed his long strides, waiting for her to catch up.
“There I go again,” he said.
Sarah laughed, but it was a nervous laugh, tinged with low, hollow tones.
“Please,” he said. He extended his arm, a courteous gesture from olden days when gentility was the norm, and again, despite her concerns, Sarah felt the invisible pull toward him. She slid her arm through his.
“There’s a whole tourism industry in Salem centered around the metaphysical,” he said, continuing their conversation as if they hadn't suffered an awkward moment. “There are tours guided by parapsychologists that are supposed to highlight places in the city haunted by the supernatural—ghosts, werewolves, vampires.” Sarah saw that amused smile again, though it disappeared quickly. “Have you ever been to Danvers?” Sarah shook her head. “It used to be known as Salem Village, the epicenter of the witch hunt hysteria. There’s a memorial there for the people executed in 1692.”
“I’d like to see that. One of the reasons I came was because I was told I have an ancestor who died here during the witch trials. I wanted to find some information about her.”
James stopped walking. He dropped Sarah’s arm and stepped closer to her. “What was your ancestor’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
He looked disappointed. “Perhaps you’ll discover it through your research.”
He extended his arm again, and again Sarah slid hers through. He slowed his pace, she quickened hers, and they shared a rhythm that matched her fluctuating heartbeat. First too fast, then too slow. It was, come to think of it, a lot like her night with James. First too hot, then too cold. Now it was heating up again. They were already at Salem Common, a nine-acre park used as public land to graze livestock in colonial times. They passed the Salem Visitor’s Center, walked around Washington Square North, and there was the Salem Witch Museum, along with the imposing cloaked statue of Roger Conant, the man who first settled Salem, among America’s oldest towns, in 1626.
The Salem Witch Museum was housed in a tall brick church with two castle-like protrusions on either side, a Gothic arch in the center of the building coming together at a point like two hands praying. Sarah didn't need to turn around to know James was watching her. He stepped so close she could feel him close to her hair. She kept her eyes fixed on the brick exterior of the museum.
“There are other museums around town you should visit if you want to learn about the witch hunts,” he said. “The Witch Dungeon Museum on Lynde Street has actors performing scenes from the transcripts of the trials. There’s a recreation of the dungeons where the accused witches were jailed—dark, horrid, illness-filled, rat-infested places. Abominations.”
Sarah shuddered. She heard his words, they were simple enough, but she hardly understood him, as if he were speaking Russian suddenly, or Vietnamese. Above, the far-reaching sky was clear, no rain, and she realized that the sudden drops of water on her cheeks must have been from her eyes. The immediate emotion startled her. She didn't understand what brought it on. She brushed the wet away with the back of her hand and shook her head, trying to send the oppressiveness away. Then she felt like an ice storm had dropped and she was trapped and shivering. She crossed her arms over her chest in a poor attempt to keep the chill away. She looked around, from side to side and back again, expecting to see a monster jumping out of the shadows—a leering, laughing, pock-faced monster, grabbing her, locking her into heavy, suffocating chains, and dragging her away. She jumped in real fear. James touched her arm, and she backed away as if he were the monster. She didn't recognize him through her hallucinating eyes.
“Stop it!” she yelled. The shadows crept toward her, step by step, finding strength in the laughter of the wind. “Go away!” She held up her fists, the only weapons she had, meager though they were. She was ready to fight back if they tried to take her.
“Sarah?” James put his hands on her shoulders and shook her, gently. “Who needs to stop, Sarah? There’s no one here but me.” He brushed a dark curl from her mouth. He put his arms around her, pulled her close, and rested his chin on top of her head. When she didn't stop shaking, he held her tighter, whispering his sweet, strong voice into her ear, touching her skin with his words.
“It’s all right, Sarah. I’m here. No one is going to hurt you.”
She dropped her face into her hands, forcing herself to breathe slower, mindful of her heartbeat, staying in the fright until she could pull herself out of it. She had become good at pulling herself out of frights whenever she awoke from her nightmares.
She had yelled at James like he was the monster, but he was not the creature in the shadows. He was there helping her, the concern everywhere in the softness in his eyes. Suddenly she realized how he stood around her, his arms a circle keeping her safe inside and whatever it was that had frightened her out. She pushed herself closer to him, not wanting him to let her go. Then, as suddenly as the fear came on, it disappeared. She saw the chain-wielding monster recede with the shadows into the night, and she felt her lungs open and she could breathe again. James must have sensed that she had settled because he became business-like suddenly, dropping his arms and stepping away.
“Let me take you home,” he said. He put a strong hand on the small of her back, guiding her down Washington Square.
They walked silently for some time, and after about a mile Sarah’s muddled mind began to clear. She always felt like she was losing touch with reality when she had those incoherent moments, which were occurring more frequently since moving to Salem. As they walked toward Essex Street, she couldn't make up her mind about him. On the one hand he was so considerate, on the other hand prone to dark moods. She was more confused about him than she was when she left the library. And she had thought she would understand him better from this time alone.
Finally, he asked, “So how do you like living in Salem?”
It took her a moment to find her voice. “I’m getting used to it,” she said. “It’s so different than Los Angeles where everything is going a hundred miles an hour, the people, the cars, the lifestyle. Even Boston, where I’m from, is busier. It’s an adjustment, small town life where it’s quiet and slow. You can hear the birds sing here.”
“Do you like to listen to the birds sing?”
“I do. Sometimes in the morning I make myself some tea and sit on the porch and listen to their songs. I’ve tried to whistle along, but they squawk and fly away. Wait…” Something Jennifer had said was tapping just outside her thoughts. She reached out to touch James’s arm. He didn't pull away. “When you saw me the other night you called me Elizabeth.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Jennifer asked me if I knew who Elizabeth was.” When James stared ahead, not at all forthcoming, she asked, “Who was she?”
Sarah struggled to keep her voice steady. There it was, that thing she sensed all along that must be wrong with him. Of course he didn’t mean anything by his attention. He was being polite. She was new to Salem and he was showing her around. How could I be so foolish, she wondered? How could I mistake simple courtesy for attraction? She wanted to run away and hide behind the plentiful trees, taking her hot pink cheeks with her, not leaving until he was too far to see.
“Not anymore,” he said, shaking his head. “Elizabeth died. It was a long time ago.”
In the softness of his tone, in his stilted words, Sarah could hear his truth. Maybe that was why he was caring one moment and aloof the next. It would explain a lot, his love for his dead wife. But if he still loves Elizabeth, Sarah thought, then there’s no room in his heart for me. Her first instinct had been right, she decided. She had no business being interested in any man right now.
He was going to say something, but by then they were at her house.
“This is me,” she said.
She looked up at James’s face and saw the longing in his eyes, such a contrast to his melancholy. With any other man, that look would have meant he wanted to kiss her. But James didn't kiss her. He stood there, looking into her house through the open door, then looking at her as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t remember the words. Finally, he asked, “Would you like me to come in? I can stay awhile, just to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m all right. It happens sometimes.”
“What happens, Sarah?”
“Nothing. Really, I’m fine.”
Though he didn't look like he wanted to leave, he nodded, said good night, and walked away. She stood outside her door, watching as he continued alone down the dark-night road. As handsome as he was, or as drawn to him as she felt, she did not know what to make of him. Once she was inside she drew a hot bath and lingered in the frothy bubbles. When she went to sleep she hoped for a happy dream. Please God, she thought as she lay her head on the pillow, tonight I need a happy dream.
I am at a wedding. It is a wedding from long ago, centuries past, a simple affair with family and a few close friends. This wedding looks nothing like the elaborate celebrations of today with the white taffeta dresses, multi-layered cakes, and lavishly decorated halls. At this ceremony the Pilgrim-looking guests are smiling, joyful even. Suddenly I realize, as my heart thuds a Baroque tune in my chest, that this must be my wedding. Everyone is beaming at me. My wedding outfit is simple, brown-colored silk, but I feel beautiful. Someone, the groom’s father, is wealthy and has paid for the feast, which everyone is anxiously awaiting. They shan’t be disappointed, the father of the groom says. From an imported punchbowl we shall drink spiced hard cider. We shall eat fish chowder, stewed oysters, parsley-flavored mussels, roasted game birds, red pickled eggs, succotash stew, bearberry jelly, and rye bread. There is maple syrup candy, nutmeats, and Indian pudding, too, he says, with dried plums and West Indian molasses. He smiles at me with the greatest warmth.
“The Indian pudding is always the best part of the meal, Daughter,” he says. “You cannot end a meal without Indian pudding.”
I also have my bride cake, a rich spice cake saturated in brandy and filled with dried fruits and nuts. I think people are happy we are getting married, but they are looking at the table with longing and I can tell by their distracted eyes that they are consumed with gluttonous thoughts of the food.
Finally, I see him, the man I am marrying. He is handsome as always, his fair hair spilling out beneath his hat, and though he is faceless I know he is smiling, happy this day has come. We are married with the beginning wispy traces of winter in the air, after the harvest months when our family and friends from the farms in the village can attend. The magistrate recites the wedding vows, and we say our part. I am wearing the ring my new husband has given me, and he is wearing mine. Rings are not a popular tradition at this time, and many where we live believe adorning oneself in any way is vain and sinful. Still, my new father-in-law has bought the thin bands for us because he wants all to see that his son and I are connected to one another forever.
“The round bands represent eternity,” my new father-in-law says, “and your love will span eternity.” His eyes are brimming with joy for his son and me. I think my new father-in-law is not only rich but also kind. I can see where my husband’s empathy has come from.
“I shall never leave you ever,” I say to my husband. He promises me the same.
I look at him and know he is generous and loving. I know that he would do anything for me, this day and always. I am blessed.
James heard Jennifer’s high-heeled footsteps tip-tap down the hall. Without knocking, she walked into his office, flipped on the lights, and closed the door behind her. He didn’t look up, his pen poised over his notebook, his eyes glued to his book.
“Good evening, Professor. Haven’t seen you in a few nights.”
“Been busy. Midterms coming up, you know.”
“You always have an excuse. You need to get out more.”
He leaned his head against his chair. “People have been saying that a lot to me lately.”
“It’s true. You wall yourself off like you’re a leper or something.”
“Leper?” He mused over the word. “I never thought of it like that, though I suppose it’s not far from the truth.”
“You’re not contagious.”
“I can be.”
Jennifer walked behind his chair and put her hands on his shoulders.
“Fishing for husband number three, I see.” He smiled, somewhere between amused and perturbed, as he shrugged out from under her touch.
“As a matter of fact I am. Are you biting?”
“Me bite? I don’t bite, remember? Besides, I’m too old for you.”
“I’m thirty-four, so I’m older than you.”
“That’s a matter for debate.”
She watched as he pulled his wire-frame eyeglasses from his shirt pocket, and she laughed when he put them on.
“Still going for the Clark Kent/Superman look, I see. I like it. It’s sexy.”
“Actually, I was going for the Professor Henry Jones/Indiana Jones look. I thought it was more appropriate.”
James looked out the window at the heavy night sky, smelling the storm dropping from the east. The dark clouds matched his somber mood and he welcomed the rain. “Thanks for helping me find Amy,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do after Drew moved away. It’s been too long—I can’t go back to doing things the old-fashioned way now.”
“You and my family have known each other too long and you have done too much for us. You know we’ll help you however we can.”
“Your family helped me first. You always leave out that part of the story.”
“We’re just glad you’re back in Salem. You’ve been away too long.”
James still stared outside, lost somewhere in his thoughts. “Are you sure we can trust her?” he asked. “Amy, I mean. I know you wouldn’t have asked her if you didn’t think so, but you can never be too careful.”
“You worry too much, James. I’ve known her family a long time and she’s kept a lot of secrets for me. Her mother is in my coven. Everything is going to be fine.”
Outside the raindrops splattered the window in a pattern of blots like a Rorschach test. He smiled when he realized the pattern he saw was long curls and full lips. Jennifer stood silently, leaning her hip against his desk, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched him.
He looked at the time on his cell phone and saw he had five minutes to get to class. He knew from his haphazard thoughts about Sarah that he would have trouble concentrating on the lecture that night. He stood from his desk and paced the ten short steps of his office, his eyes closed, his mind heavy. Since he walked Sarah home a few nights before he had been struggling to make sense of it all—what he had said, what she had said, what any of it meant, if anything. Yet no matter how hard he tried to understand, everything around him seemed confused. Even the familiar sights in his office, his desk, his computer, his books, looked foreign, like archaeological artifacts uncovered from some long-ago culture.
That beautiful dark-haired, sweet-eyed woman had managed to undo all the careful forgetting he had done. It had taken him years to get to the point where he didn’t walk around feeling weighted down by the past. He had walled himself off from nearly everyone and everything, going from work to home and home to work, except for his occasional clandestine meetings with Amy, keeping busy so he wouldn’t be consumed by his history. Now, since he had seen Sarah, he found himself sorting through the memories because he couldn’t ignore them anymore. They were pinching him, pecking him, forcing him to pay attention. Now, he was flipping through them as though he were pasting them under their proper headings in a scrapbook—scenes he wanted to remember and others that were still too painful. If he were being honest he would admit that the memories were mostly good, only the bad were oh so very bad. He scolded himself for coming back when he should have stayed away. Forever. What was he looking for? His wife hadn’t been there for a long time and she wouldn’t ever be there again. He told himself he should sell the house to the Salem Historical Society and leave. Forever. But he could still feel her in the pots and pans lining the kitchen shelves, in the furnishings in the great room, in their bed. And though he knew he shouldn’t come back to Salem, he did. As long as he felt connected to her there he would return whenever he could. And now there was Sarah, and he didn’t know what to do about her.
He thought about the first moment he saw her. He hadn’t expected anything out of the ordinary that night, but he awoke with a start, pinpointing her quick, light footsteps near his front door. Usually his neighbors stayed away since they thought his wooden gabled house was haunted. And in its way it was. He heard the dry crunch of autumn leaves, so he pulled aside the curtains, raised the blinds, and focused on the shadows outside. When he saw her he thought he was dreaming. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, expecting her specter to vanish, but she was still there. Only she was not a ghost or a phantom meant to haunt him. She was human, and she looked exactly as he remembered with her dark curls, her chocolate-brown eyes, her thoughtful expression, the full lips he wanted to kiss whenever he looked at her…
“She’s so like Elizabeth,” he said.
Jennifer sighed. “I know you miss her, but you need to accept the fact that she’s gone. It’s been a long time.”
James grabbed his keys and his book bag. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “I know this sounds crazy, but it’s her voice, her face, her hair. Everything about her is the same. Even the way she looks at me. And she became so frightened after I told her about the Witch Dungeon Museum.”
“But that’s just it. You keep scaring her. The last thing any girl needs is to have a hungry old fart like you jumping out from the shadows of a creepy house. Or telling scary stories while walking her home in the dark. You need to play nice if you want to get to know her.”
“I’m not hungry, and my house isn’t creepy.”
“But you are old.”
Jennifer walked to the window. She stood there awhile, not speaking, watching the watery Rorschach blots hit and slide from the glass.
“Did Sarah tell you why she wanted to see your house?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“You should ask her.”
“But you know.” James put his hands on Jennifer’s shoulders and turned her to face him. The sound of the rain made a quick-time tapping, matching his impatience for the information he guessed she knew. “Tell me.”
“She said your house looks like the house she’s been dreaming about.”
“She dreams about my house?”
“And a man.”
“What man?” He felt the blood under his skin quicken. “What man, Jennifer?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
James grunted in frustration. He locked his office door, and Jennifer followed him into the hallway. He walked to the elevator, pressed the down button, and waited.
“You should tell her,” Jennifer said.
The elevator dinged, the door opened, and they stepped inside. He waited for the door to close before he spoke.
“I’m not telling her anything. She’s scared enough of me as it is. I don’t think I made a very good first impression. Or a good second impression, for that matter.”
“I’ll talk to her tomorrow,” Jennifer said. “I’ll tell her.”
“No!” He said it with such force the steel elevator walls rattled like an earthquake had shaken Salem. He dropped his voice to a firm whisper. “It’ll frighten her too much, especially after the way I treated her.”
“You should give her more credit than that. I told her I was a witch a few days after I met her and she didn’t mind.”
“You didn’t tell her everything.”
“I told her enough. She needs to know, especially if you want to get to know her.”
“She doesn’t need to know.”
When the doors opened onto the first floor, James brushed past Jennifer, out of the library, across Rainbow Terrace and College Drive to the North Campus where his classes were held in Meier Hall. Somehow, despite his internal turmoil over Sarah, he managed to talk coherently about William Wordsworth and his 1804 poem “Intimations of Immortality.” He was amused by the title, and the theme, that age causes man to lose touch with the divine. He didn’t tell his students how true that might really be.
The next night James found Sarah in the library, huddled over one of the study desks, a stack of books beside her. She was so intent on her reading she didn’t notice him when he pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Hello, Sarah,” he said.
Her head jerked up and her mouth opened. As he looked at her lips all he could think about was how much he wanted to kiss her, but she didn’t look like she wanted to be kissed just then. He pressed the idea aside, though he didn’t want to.
“Jennifer can help you,” she said, turning back to her book. “I’m on my break.”
“I don’t need help. I just wanted to say hello.”
Sarah smiled. It was the same smile he remembered, full, soft, joyful. Again, those lips. She leaned back in her chair and watched him, studying him, as if she were trying to decide which James she was going to see that night, the calm, courteous one or the one who jumped out from the shadows. Her face softened and she didn’t seem annoyed, so he hoped she had settled on the first possibility.
“Hello,” she said.
“What are you reading?”
Her hand went to her cheek and she shook her head. “About the Salem Witch Trials. They really were dreadful, weren’t they?”
He glanced at the book over her shoulder. “I know a lot about that time. Let me help you.”
She looked at him, her chocolate-brown eyes taut in concentration, staring into his, as if she were trying to see his whole truth. But he didn’t want her to see his whole truth. He wanted to be near her too much. He had to strike a balance, appearing available without giving everything away. He didn’t want her to run from him.
“All right,” she said.
He picked a book from the stack and flipped through the pages. “Why don’t you start by telling me what you already know.”
“I’ve only just started reading. I know they were about false accusations.”
“Madness. The Salem Witch Trials were about madness.”
His fists clenched and his jaw tightened. He made a conscious effort to relax his muscles so he wouldn’t appear tense and make her nervous again. He reminded himself to breathe.
“Madness can take many forms,” he said, “and each one stems from fear. Madness implies that things are abnormal, and if things are abnormal then you cannot predict what will happen no matter how hard you try. When madness consumes everyone everywhere there is nowhere to go to find sanity.”
He looked at her, worried about her reaction, afraid again he had said too much, but she didn’t seem concerned. Instead, he thought he saw a glimmer of something long forgotten in her dark, wondering eyes. Or perhaps he only wanted to see it there.
“But how did they start?” She leaned toward him, and he had to struggle to stay focused while enveloped in her sweet scent—strawberries and cream. He couldn’t get close enough. He pulled his chair forward until it was touching hers, and he turned his head so his mouth was near her ear. He could have sat that way all night. If only they were talking about something else. But he had offered the information, and she wanted to know, so he was compelled to tell her.
“During the 1630s over fifteen thousand Puritans journeyed from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a time known as the Great Migration. The Puritans who settled Salem were a stern, sober, complicated people who believed in conformity, the Bible, and God, in that order. When they brought their strict Calvinist religion to the colonies they also brought their hatred for witches. They believed in original sin, certain they were born sinful, and they were consumed with worry over the state of their souls. They believed in Predestination, where God decided if you were saved or damned before you were born. Their only hope was to live a pious life and pray that God’s decision would swing their way in the end. It was troublesome for them, not knowing if they were saved. When Judgment Day came they wanted eternal salvation as a reward for their earthly toil and trouble. It was hard to live here…” He waited for the words to straighten themselves out in his mind. “It was hard for those who didn’t share their strict religious views.”
Sarah sat upright, her hands in her lap, her breath coming in shallow bursts. She looked like a child enthralled by a bedtime story. He was distracted by a consuming waft of strawberries and cream, and he leaned even closer.
“But the accusations.” She stuttered her words, as if she couldn’t articulate her thoughts. “How can people turn on each other that way?”
“The madness began the way all madness begins, with something unsettling that needs explanation. Samuel Parris’s parishioners were unhappy with him as the minister of the church in Salem Village, and they refused to pay their local taxes, the funds from which he received his salary. Suddenly he was giving sermons citing how the Devil was infecting Salem, telling everyone they must pray for an end to the evil here. Around this time his nine-year-old daughter, Betty, with her cousin, Abigail Williams, and her friend, Ann Putnam, spent their days listening to mystic-filled tales told by Tituba, a slave the Parrises brought with them from Barbados. Tituba told the girls about witchery, fortune-telling, and magic spells, and afterwards the girls had convulsive fits. The only diagnosis the doctor offered was witchcraft.”
“The girls must have been playing a joke,” Sarah said. “Or maybe they were put up to it by Parris himself. After all, he was probably afraid of losing his job.”
“The girls were coerced into naming their demonic tormentors, and they named women who were outcasts, women who didn’t fit into the norms of Salem society. Women who posed a threat to the Puritan demand for conformity. They named Sarah Good, a lame, homeless woman who begged door-to-door with her children. If she were refused alms she’d leave muttering what some called a curse, and her curses were blamed for the death of some livestock one year. They named Sarah Osburn, who married her servant and didn’t attend church, scandalous behaviors then. They also named Tituba herself. After Parris whipped her, a torn, bleeding Tituba confessed to being a witch.”
“I read about that.” Sarah took a book from the stack, flipped to the index, then turned the page and pointed to the passage. “‘The Devil came to me and bid me serve him,’ Tituba said.”
James nodded. “Tituba spoke of demon creatures, black cats, green dogs, pewter-colored birds, and a white-haired man, a master wizard who made her sign the devil’s book in her own blood. She said there were undiscovered witches lurking about whose sole goal was to destroy God-fearing people. Then the girls, Betty, Abigail, and Ann, began accusing others of being witches, and many applauded them. It was up to the good people of Salem to destroy the witches because their souls wouldn’t be safe until Satan was defeated, they said. God must triumph here. After all, battles with the natives raged just miles away, and many lived in fear of an attack. There had been a smallpox epidemic a while before. God must be angry with us, they said. It’s our independent spirit He’s angry with. We are to be good. We are to conform and to follow. The accusations unleashed hysteria, which became fear, which became paranoia. That was the true madness, there, in the witch hunts. People began to accuse others of witchcraft because they didn’t like them, because they wanted attention, because they wanted retribution for some slight they felt, because they wanted the land the accused lived on, just because…”
He couldn’t go on. Speaking about it felt uncomfortable, painful, like old clothes too small to fit, but you lay on the bed, zipper up anyway, and walk around with a pinching ache. He had to shake himself back into that moment in the library with Sarah. He stood up, walked to the stacks, pulled a few random volumes off the shelves, flipped through them, put them back. He turned to Sarah, saw her waiting, her face soft, her smile easy. He could have looked at her all night.
“There you are, Sarah!”
Jennifer came around the corner, and when she saw Sarah and James together she smiled that conspiratorial grin that was becoming her trademark. “I didn’t mean to disturb you two. I’ve been waiting to go on my break, but I couldn’t go until you came back, Sarah.”
“I’m sorry, Jen. James was telling me about the Salem Witch Trials and I lost track of time.”
Jennifer turned to James. “Was he?”
James ignored Jennifer. He gathered Sarah’s stack of books and walked her to the librarians’s desk, setting the books on the shelf where she pointed. When he saw the time he realized he didn’t want to leave.
“I have to go to class,” he said. “Will you be here after?”
“I work until closing tonight,” Sarah said.
“See you later then?”
He waited. He thought it took her longer than it should have to answer. Finally, she smiled.
“Yes. See you later.”
He left the library feeling lighter than he had in oh so many years. He hoped, as they talked, that he felt Sarah softening toward him. He had to remember to keep control. Always keep control. He was determined. Sarah would not know. When you have a secret to keep, you must keep it. There is no other way.
After his first class that night he saw Timothy waiting for him. Timothy was leaning against the back wall with his arms crossed over his chest, waiting while James finished writing the assignment for his next class on the whiteboard. James didn't know what to do about the boy who looked too young to be in college. So far, Timothy had managed to avoid attention because he stayed so quiet. But that night he looked upset, and James braced himself.
“What is it, Timothy? Having problems with your paper onGreat Expectations?”
Timothy shook his head, the frustration obvious in his close-pulled lips and flat-black eyes. He paced the room. “Silly? Is that always going to be everyone’s reaction? Or evil? Or villains?”
“Are you still thinking about that?”
“I’m tired of having to hide.”
James watched the students in the hallway wandering past the open door. “You have to be more careful than that,” he said. “I have another class coming in. Besides, you should be less afraid of what people are saying and more afraid of what they’re doing.”
“But we’re real. We’re more real because we last forever.”
“Forever is a long time. It’s a difficult concept for people who have only decades, perhaps a century at best.”
“But that doesn’t make us silly.”
“No, it doesn’t make us silly, but people aren’t ready to know. Bad things happen when people are confronted with things they don’t understand.”
“So we have to keep hiding?”
“Yes, for the foreseeable future we have to keep hiding.”
James had seen that sour expression before. They had had that conversation countless times.
“Timothy, the only certainly I have ever had in this existence is the need to keep moving. I look like I’m thirty so I can settle somewhere for maybe ten years since I might be able to pass for a young-looking forty, but then it’s time for me to leave.”
“That’s my point. I like living here and I don’t want to move. It’s not fair to Howard to have to leave because of me.”
“Howard knew what he was getting into when he became your guardian, and he loves you for who you are the way you love him for who he is no matter what night of the month it is. I’ve found it’s best to move on before anyone notices anything odd about me and pulls together an angry mob to chase me away with torches and pitchforks.”
“People don’t use torches and pitchforks any more.”
“I know. These days their weapons are more far-reaching and dangerous. You don’t know how people can overreact when they don’t understand something. You haven’t lived it like I have.”
“You’ve been shuffling from here to there and back again for so long. Aren’t you sick of it?”
“Yes, but it can’t be helped. That’s the way it needs to be.”
Timothy huffed and left at a flash, slamming the door so hard it nearly swung off its hinges. The students walking into the room hardly seemed to notice, and James taught his next class, which went by in a blur. When his last class was over he made his way back to the library, up to his office to grab a pen and some papers that needed grading, then down to the main floor. He stepped out of the elevator, smelled the air, and caught her scent. Strawberries and cream. He went around to the stacks and saw her, Sarah, pulling books from a wheelie cart, checking Dewey decimal numbers on the spines, sliding them into their slots on the shelves. Her eyes brightened when she saw him. He hoped that meant she was happy to see him.
“Hello again,” she said.
“Have you read more about the witch trials?” he asked.
“I haven’t had time. How was class?”
“It was…interesting.” He wouldn’t tell her how he hardly remembered his classes because he was too consumed by thoughts of her. He certainly wouldn’t tell her about Timothy’s angst. He chose a desk nearby, sat down, and spread his papers out in front of him. He picked one from the pile and began reading and making comments in the margins.
She peered over his shoulder to see what he was doing. “Wouldn’t you rather work in your office?” she asked.
“I prefer working down here sometimes. During the night it can seem like everyone in Salem is sleeping, and I like that even after dark the library bustles with energy. There’s life in here.”
“There’s life in here during the day too. You should try it some time.”
“Perhaps I should.”
He glanced across to the opposite end of the library where Jennifer stamped books behind the librarians’s desk. As she worked, a man James didn’t recognize waited to speak to her. He was a short, nervous-looking fellow in a suit and tie, uncomfortably formal among the relaxed young college crowd wearing t-shirts and blue jeans, even more formal than the professors who were also mostly the t-shirt and blue jeans type.
“Excuse me,” the man said. He handed her a business card which she looked over.
“Can I help you, Mr. Hempel?” she asked.
“I’m looking for a professor named Wentworth. I was just by his office and one of his students said she saw him in here. Is he around somewhere?”
“Is there a problem?”
James looked away, not wanting Sarah, the man, or anyone else noticing that he could understand their conversation though he was too far away. He didn’t know the man and couldn’t guess what he might want, though he felt some foreboding at the man’s sudden intrusion into his private world. James watched Sarah, who had turned back to shelving books, and he hoped she would finish soon.
“Nothing like that,” the man said. “I’m writing an article for theSalem Newsand I wanted to ask him a few questions. Just looking for a source.”
“That’s Professor Wentworth across there,” Jennifer said. “The blond man in the blue shirt wearing glasses.”
James resumed writing, his gaze focused on the paper. He didn’t turn around when he heard heavy, plodding footsteps behind him.
“Professor Wentworth? James Wentworth?”
James looked at the man. “Yes?” he said.
The man handed him a business card that readKenneth Hempel, Staff Writer, The Salem News.
“How do you do, Professor. I wanted to ask a few questions for an article I’m writing. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all. Please,” James gestured to an empty chair beside him, “sit down. What is your article about?”
“Supernatural happenings in Salem.”
James laughed. “That’s not particularly original, is it, Mr. Hempel? Supernatural happenings in Salem have been a topic of discussion for over three hundred years.”
“But I have a unique angle. The stories I’m going to be telling are true.”
James pushed his glasses back on his nose. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can help you. I teach literature. I can tell you anything you want to know about Dickens and Shakespeare, even Jane Austen or John Keats, but I’m afraid the supernatural is not my sphere. I’d be happy to help you get in touch with one of the religious studies professors here.”
“It isn’t specifically the supernatural I’m interested in. It’s vampires.”
James glanced at Sarah, who was whispering to a student. She didn’t seem to notice them. He was grateful to the student and hoped the young man had a complicated question that would keep her busy awhile. At that moment, he wished, more than anything, that she would leave for the other side of the library, or home.
“That’s right. I understand you know a lot about vampires.”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“A trusted source.”
James studied the reporter, his hands forming a triangle under his chin. He had to appear nonchalant, like this inquisition was the most natural conversation in the world.
“Well,” he said, “I can discuss Bram Stoker’sDraculawith you if you like. There’s certainly a lot of vampire literature out there. Some of the books aren’t half bad, even if it’s not my favorite genre.”
“I’m not interested in literary vampires, Professor. I’m interested in real vampires that walk the streets right here in Salem and probably all over the world.”
James tried to see beneath the lines in the reporter’s face, lines so deeply ingrained it was as if every smile the man ever had was forced across his lips. When James didn’t see any clues there he wished he could read the man’s mind. He pushed his glasses against his nose as he considered his reply.
“Vampires aren’t real,” he said. “They’re legends, figments of people’s dark imaginations.”
“But you’re wrong, Professor. Vampires are fact, not fiction. I’m sure of it.”
“In that case you might want to try the Supernatural Tour here in Salem. I haven’t taken it myself, too scary for me, but it’s supposed to go around the creepy corners of town searching for ghosts and talking about vampire folklore, explaining how early New England settlers tried to stop the undead from haunting them. They say people run screaming from it because they’re so scared. Seems to be just what you’re looking for. Maybe you’ll see a real vampire.”
“Maybe I will. So you’re new to Salem?”
James heard the rattling of the wheels as Sarah pushed the book cart to the shelf directly behind him. She didn’t seem to be listening, busy as she was, but he wasn’t sure. He had to fight the urge to grab Hempel by the neck with his teeth and dump him out the window. Instead, he answered the reporter’s questions as quickly as he could, hoping that the nuisance would then leave him alone. Forever would be nice.
“You could say that,” James said.
“Where were you before you came here?”
“Were you with family?”
“I have friends there.”
“How long were you there?”
“A few years.”
“And you went to Harvard, is that correct?”
Hempel nodded as he took a pen from his briefcase, pulled out a yellow legal pad, and jotted some notes. “When did you graduate? You look rather young to be such a distinguished professor.”
James looked at Sarah, who had stopped working and was now watching them through the open slot on the shelf. How much she had heard, he couldn’t guess from her blank expression. From the corner of his eye he saw Hempel watching him watch Sarah, and the reporter jotted something on his notepad.
“I don’t know how distinguished I am,” James said. “I teach at a small state college.”
“But you also have a degree from Cambridge. Didn’t you teach there as well?”
“I’m hardly the only person to ever have the name James Wentworth.” It wasn’t the greatest comeback, but James was at a loss, concerned about what this man knew.
“But you do have a degree from Cambridge, and you have taught there.”
James let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve never been to England, so I’ve never been to Cambridge. I’m sorry, but is your article about vampires or about me?”
Hempel stood up and extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, Professor. We’ll talk again.”
James shook his head. “I have a cold. I don’t want to get you sick.”
“It’s all right,” Hempel said, keeping his hand out. “I have a cold too.”
James didn’t want to be more conspicuous, so he shook the reporter’s hand as quickly as he could. But the man wouldn’t let go. Hempel pulled James’s fingers close to his face and inspected them as if he had never seen another man’s hand before.
“You should put some gloves on, Professor. You’re cold as the dead.”
Kenneth Hempel smiled as he left.
When the reporter disappeared past the metal detectors, Sarah walked to James. He braced himself, concerned about what she might have overheard.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Someone from the newspaper. He wanted some information for an article he’s writing, but I wasn’t able to help him.”
Sarah looked in the direction Hempel had gone. “He seemed kind of creepy.”
James laughed. “I thought so too.”
He said good night to Sarah and went up to his office, giving Hempel time to leave campus. He didn’t want to run into the reporter on his way home. As he sat at his desk he worried about what the reporter would do if he knew the truth. And he worried about how Sarah would feel if she knew. But more than Kenneth Hempel, even more than Sarah, he was troubled by the madness he knew would infect everyone everywhere if his secret went public. If make-believe suddenly became real-life. When the library was deserted and everyone else had gone home, when the campus was dark and the parking lot empty, when a hint of dawn glowed the thinnest ribbon of gold on the horizon, James made his way home alone and anxious in the darkness.
Two weeks later it was Halloween, the most important holiday in Salem, a month-long celebration. The streets were closed to motor traffic, and James had to walk around the barriers to find his way to Pickering Wharf and the Witches Lair. When he passed The House of the Seven Gables he saw an audience watching a reenactment of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story. He passed a pumpkin festival where small children held their oddly carved treasures over their heads, and he shook his head in amusement when he saw a walking tour, a class on how to hunt for ghosts and vampires. He passed that group quickly, not wishing to be bagged as a prized game that night. The smell of sweet and salt—candied apples, sugar-spun cotton candy, popcorn, and the sea—filled the air. He enjoyed being outside in the crisp autumn night, watching the children point and laugh and eat and run while a parade of witches, ghouls, and superheroes roamed the roads. He knew the Witches Lair would be open late. It was a good time for sales, Jennifer had told him, since the tourists get bored when everything else around town closes at five. But James didn’t care anything about the tourists or the costumes or the sales at the Witches Lair. He knew Sarah would be there. He was going to see Sarah.
Once at the shop he walked inside, glanced around for Jennifer, then sat behind the counter. He watched the people stream in and out, smiled at the happy children, flipped through some books on casting spells. He spotted Olivia, dressed as Raggedy Ann and moving around helping customers. Then he saw the silver crosses displayed in a basket by the cash register. He picked one up and held it close to his face. He was still studying it when Jennifer tip-tapped behind him.
“You mean the crosses don’t work? I thought I could finally do away with you.”
“You’re thinking about werewolves. Or maybe that’s silver bullets with werewolves. Most of it is such nonsense.” He shook his head as he looked at Jennifer. “You’re dressed as Glinda the Good Witch? I’m not sure you picked the right costume. I was thinking more like the Wicked Witch of the West for you.”
Jennifer curtseyed, touching her star wand to her gold crown. Her iridescent pink dress was so wide at the waist she hardly fit behind the counter.
“Oh no, Professor. There are only good witches in Salem. And I’m at your service. I’ll grant you three wishes.”
“I don’t think you could grant my wishes. They’re beyond even your magical capacity to help.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that.”
“Who do you think I am, Dorothy from Kansas?”
Jennifer pointed her wand at the door. “I guess that makes Timothy Toto.”
James watched Timothy walk into the store. The boy looked pleased with himself as he stopped in front of the counter and threw his black cape behind his shoulders. From his tuxedo shirt to his black shoes, his brown hair run through with black dye, red streaks dripping from his lips, there was no mistaking his costume.
“You’re dressed as Dracula?” James asked.
Timothy flashed his fake fangs. “What do you think?”
“I think you’ve lost your mind.”
“It’s not very original,” said Jennifer.
“Not any less original than your costume,” Timothy said. “Come on you two—it’s the one night a year I can be proud of what I am and show the whole world. I’m a vampire, everyone! A real live vampire!”
The customers walking by, an older couple wearing orange ‘This is My Costume’ t-shirts, probably tourists, their cameras giving them away, looked nervously at Timothy and stepped aside to study the prayer beads. They only looked back once to see what the vampire boy was doing.
“Where’s your costume, James?” Timothy gestured at James’s street clothes, his gray argyle sweater, blue jeans, black Converse shoes. “It’s Halloween. You’re supposed to dress up.”
“I’m a little old for dressing up.”
Suddenly James smelled it, the fresh human blood, and he sniffed the air to center in on the source. He was afraid the temptation of oozing human blood would be too much for Timothy, who was still new to that life. Then he leaned close to the boy’s face and barked in frustration. The blood was dripping from the sides of Timothy’s mouth as part of his costume.
“You have human blood on your face?” James whispered.
Timothy shrugged. “It was all I had.”
James grabbed the collar of Timothy’s shiny black cape and pulled him close. “Go wash that off before someone sees it’s human blood. Are you trying to get caught?”
“Relax, James. I’m having some fun. You should try it some time.”
Timothy wiped the blood from the sides of his mouth with his hand and licked his fingers. He laughed as he left the store.
James turned to Jennifer. “You said you’d grant me three wishes. Can you make Timothy disappear?”
“Sorry. I’m only allowed to use my spells for good.”
James looked around at the faces, some painted, some masked, all smiling, laughing, happy with the sugar-induced candy high. He walked to the door, propped open by a black cauldron smoking from the dry ice inside, and peered up and down the wharf.
“She’ll be here,” Jennifer said.
He walked back into the store, heading for his place behind the counter where he had a clear view of everyone coming and going. He wanted a whiff of strawberries and cream as soon as Sarah stepped onto the wharf. He wanted to see her face as soon as she arrived at the shop. Instead, he heard the heavy, plodding footsteps he recognized from the library, and he knew Kenneth Hempel stood behind him. He tried to silently will the reporter to go away and leave him alone, forever, but Hempel still stood there. Jennifer nodded when she saw the reporter in her mother’s store.
“Good evening, Mr. Hempel,” she said. “Welcome to the Witches Lair. I see we have yet another Dracula here this evening. Have you come to suck my blood?”
“Good evening, Miss…?”
“Mandel. Jennifer Mandel.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Mandel. And Professor, how unexpected to see you here this evening. Not in costume I see.”
James turned to face the reporter. “Not this year, I’m afraid. I like your costume though. There have certainly been a lot of Draculas here tonight.”
“I’m not Dracula. I’m Van Helsing.” Hempel grabbed at his belt and unsheathed a wooden cross that had been whittled into a stake. He held it an inch from James’s face. “Van Helsing the Vampire Slayer.”
As James stared at the wooden stake he wondered if he would have to kill Hempel right there in front of everyone in the store. If it came to a test of strength between Hempel and James, James would win. That was one of the first lessons he learned on his earliest hunts—he had the oppressive power to overwhelm his prey. After a tense moment, James realized that Hempel didn’t intend to pierce him that night, at least not with the stake.
“A rather convincing costume, Professor Wentworth, don’t you think?”
James kept his eyes on the stake as he spoke. “I believe you’re referring to Buffy.”
“Buffy is known as a vampire slayer. Van Helsing is known as a vampire hunter. Even so…”
“But aren’t they the same thing?” Hempel’s brow furrowed as he considered. “Come to think of it, hunting and slaying are not the same thing. You don’t need to do one to do the other. Doctor Van Helsing was very methodical in the way he hunted Count Dracula, wasn’t he? He gathered the evidence and considered the facts before he made his plans to uncover his prey. He even followed the wicked vampire back to his home to capture him, though he left the actual slaying of the cursed monster to others more capable of such things. Yes, I am Van Helsing after all.”
James knew Hempel wasn’t entirely right about Van Helsing, but he didn’t dare say so. The reporter stepped closer and smiled the same self-satisfied grin James had seen in the library. “You see,” Hempel said, “you needn’t fear me, Professor. I don’t want to slay vampires. I want to hunt them, flush them out into the open. People need to be warned because some of them are a danger to humanity. But you’re right—I am more of a hunter than a slayer. Thank you for clarifying that point.”
Jennifer walked around the counter and put her arm around Hempel’s shoulders.
“If you’ll follow me, Doctor Van Helsing, I believe I may be able to find a vampire or two for you around the shop. You won’t need to do much hunting tonight.”
She led him to a group of small children, each dressed as a ghost, a witch, or a vampire, and the children laughed when they saw the man with a wooden stake at his side. Hempel seemed charmed by them.
“My children are getting into their costumes so they can go trick-or-treating tonight,” he said. “I’m on my way home now to escort them around town.”
He pretended to chase the children through the store as they squealed with delight, and suddenly the stake he carried looked more like a toy than a weapon capable of killing someone in the store. Push a wooden stake against a man and he’ll laugh because it won’t hurt. The worst a human would suffer is an annoying splinter beneath the skin. Push a wooden stake against James and witness the blood-splattered gore one expects from the special effects of a low-budget horror film. At least that’s what James had been told. He had never seen it himself, and he hoped he never would.
James watched Hempel as he played with the laughing children, and he was sad that, for some reason unknown to him, the reporter had taken it upon himself to expose James’s well-guarded secret. Hempel seemed like a nice enough fellow, a family man who might not be a bad person exactly but someone with a serious vendetta. James was concerned about what Hempel knew, but he didn’t pursue it any further that night with the Halloween-costumed crowds streaming in and out. He wanted the problem to disappear.
He saw Jennifer watching Hempel and recognized her petulant face, the one that let everyone know she was agitated. The more she watched Hempel the more set her features became. When Hempel turned away, she snapped her fingers and the potion bottles shattered into glass and dust. The reporter glanced nervously around to see what had happened.
“I thought you had to wiggle your nose to do that,” James whispered.
“That’s on television.”
From across the shop Olivia grunted in frustration. Unhappy at her daughter’s blatant display of witchiness, her arms were crossed over her chest while her fingers tapped an agitated tune—the perfect picture of a perturbed mother. Jennifer shrugged.
Hempel, visibly upset by the exploding bottles, said good night as he walked to the door. Jennifer escorted him, her arm around his shoulders, smiling to his face.
“Good night,” she said, brushing the bottle dust from his cape. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know how that happened.”
She stood by the smoking cauldron, watching until he was gone. When he was safely down the wharf, she joined James by the counter.
“He needs to be turned into a toad,” she said, “or a rat.”
“You said you could only use your spells for good.”
“It would be a good thing to make that odious little man run through the sewers for the rest of his life. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. He didn’t touch me.”
“So that one isn’t a legend.”
“That one isn’t a legend.”
“You can be killed by a wooden stake?”
“But you live in a wood house.”
“I live in it, Jen, I’m not being pierced by it. If I were pierced by the wood that would be a different story.”
“My blood would gush where the stake pierced me, and I could die from the loss of blood alone. Or it could make me too weak to fight, and if I were weak and someone decapitated me…”
“All right, James, enough.” Jennifer held her hand to her mouth and squeezed her eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m making the horror movie I’m seeing in my mind disappear.” When she settled herself, she asked, “What do you think Hempel wants?”
“To be the one who uncovers the undead in Witch City. What recognition he would receive if he were the first to prove that such beings exist. Good enough for the Pulitzer Prize.”
“I think you should talk to him,” Timothy said. The boy had come back into the store without his cape, his shirtsleeves rolled up, his face still streaked with blood. “I think I should talk to him. I want to tell him the truth.”
“You will do no such thing,” James said. “It’s too dangerous.”
Timothy’s dilated-black eyes widened. “I don’t think it would be as bad as you think. I think people would understand.”
James scoffed aloud. “You think people would understand? I can tell you a story about how little people understand.”
Timothy could be a foolish boy, and the foolish are the first to act foolhardy. James knew Timothy was young, especially for their kind, but the boy was stubborn in his wish to be free of hiding and James needed to make him see the dangerous road he wanted to travel. Timothy would unleash not his own personal freedom but havoc and fear, leaving destruction and desperation behind. He had to understand.
James grabbed Timothy’s collar and dragged him to the storage room. When they were alone inside, James threw the boy with more strength than he intended and Timothy crashed into the shelves of candles and incense, knocking everything to the floor with a thud that sounded like it would reverberate across Massachusetts. It took every ounce of restraint James had within him to not tear Timothy limb from limb. He was so angry he was tempted to find the Doctor Van Helsing wandering the streets of Salem and borrow his stake. That is all it would take, one push of the wood into Timothy’s preternatural skin and the promise of immortality would be gone in an instant. James struggled to settle himself, to count to twenty, to think about happier days, to find compassion for the boy who only wanted to be free of hiding every night forever. Finally, James was calm enough to speak.
“People will not understand. You will start a vampire hunt if you confess to Kenneth Hempel.”
“You’re so old fashioned. You think it’s still the seventeenth century, but things are different now. You don’t know anything about people today.”
James sat on an overturned shelf and wondered how to explain what he knew to the stubborn boy.
“Listen to me, Timothy. You and I and the others like us, we’re not the only ones of our kind. As long as there are some who hunt we can never be out in the open. As long as there are some people need to fear, then all of us must hide. If they think one of us is evil, then they’ll think all of us are evil, just like Levon said. And how can we convince them otherwise? Once people make up their minds about something it’s almost impossible to make them think differently.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is. People think in stereotypes. They don’t see shades of gray. They see extremes, black or white, yes or no, right or wrong, hero or villain. And they’ll do whatever they need to do to prove that they’re right even if they’re wrong. People don’t like to be wrong. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand, and they won’t understand us. I hardly understand us and I’ve been this way a long time. Far longer than you. I’ve seen things you cannot begin to imagine. Do you have any idea how many people have suffered because of the madness of a few? There was suffering right here in Salem.”
Timothy stood up from the scattered mess. He picked the coin belts up from the floor, folded them, and put them back on the only shelf left standing. “Are you talking about the Salem Witch Trials?” he asked.
“Your wife died then, didn’t she?”
“Was she one of the people who were hanged?”
As much as James didn’t want to dwell on those memories, he felt he had no choice. Timothy needed to know the consequences of madness.
“No,” James said. “She died in jail before she went to trial. They postponed her trial twice. At the time I thought the later court dates would help because there were several women from the village willing to testify against her and swear that our unborn baby was the spawn of Satan. I was naïve about human nature then. I thought if I could speak to them I could help them see the error of their lies and convince them to speak the truth about my wife. Yet even after I pleaded with them they insisted they had seen Elizabeth consorting with the Devil. I was terrified. I knew that if my wife were convicted of witchcraft she would be hung, and I took no comfort knowing that the magistrates would stay her execution until after our baby was born. They said they were forbidden to harm the innocent unborn child.” James laughed a wicked laugh. “They didn’t want to harm an innocent baby, but they had no qualms harming an innocent woman. After Elizabeth was arrested they kept her in irons in a rat-infested dungeon, and there she died. The last time I saw her was the day she was arrested.”
“Were you turned then?”
James felt the weight of his creation story heavy on his shoulders. For each of their kind, their creation story wasn’t mythic or grand. It wasn’t a holiday to celebrate, like a birthday or an anniversary. James didn’t eat cake and burn candles to commemorate it. It was the tale of the night he died—one of the hardest parts to remember.
“No,” he said. “I wasn’t turned when she was arrested. I wasn’t turned until after she had been in jail a fortnight, I mean, about two weeks. She never knew me this way.”
“Who turned you?”
“I don’t know. I can remember his face, but I never knew his name. I haven’t seen him since.”
James paced the storage room, jogging himself into remembering the scene. Some memories were so difficult to see clearly, either because he couldn’t or didn’t want to. It was so long ago.
“After Elizabeth was arrested I’d go to the jail where she was being held. I pleaded with the magistrates in charge of the trials, self-important imbeciles who were pleased that now everyone would see the power they could wield. I tried to explain how it was all a mistake. My wife had no marks on her that would identify her as a witch. She never conjured spirits. She never sent her specter to harm anyone. I tried to find out who had accused her, but no one would answer me. They said it would all come out at her trial. They said there were even more witnesses than I knew of to corroborate the accusations. What other witnesses, I asked? But no one would say.
“They tried to confiscate everything we owned as they had done to others who were accused, but my father said it was his property so they left us our house and everything in it. People we knew signed their names to a petition stating they had never seen my wife in any act of witchcraft and we were faithful members of the church. But someone had accused her, someone weak and petty, and then others, women she considered her friends, people she trusted and loved, began corroborating the lies. Yes, they saw her use spells, they said. Yes, they saw her specter doing harm to others or consorting with Satan in the night.”
“Who accused her?” Timothy asked. “Who would do such a thing?”
“I heard whisperings that it was her sister-in-law, her brother’s wife, who made the first claims against her. She was an unpretty woman, her sister-in-law, bloated, spotted, and pale, with strings of black hair that flew out from under her white cap. The gray, swollen bags beneath her eyes held years of untold scorn, or an excess of ale. I knew she was jealous because Elizabeth was happy with me while she was unhappily married to Elizabeth’s stubborn, overbearing brother. I suspected it was true, that she was the one who made the first claims, but I never knew for certain. Then Elizabeth was moved to the jail in Boston.”
“Because the jail in Salem was overflowing with accused witches. I began staying in Boston and sitting outside the jail. Some nights I even fell asleep there. I just wanted to be close to her. I knew she was suffering and I wanted her to know I was there. Then people began whispering about me, saying I must be possessed since I wasn’t acting like myself. But I didn’t care. Every day I asked anyone I could find if he could help me. The magistrates and the reverends, the constable and the townsfolk stepped past me like I wasn’t there, a specter myself, and I knew I was putting myself in more jeopardy of being accused. But I had to help my wife.”
“Is that when you were turned?”
Timothy was leaning toward James, hanging on his words, as if he were fascinated hearing about the life of another of his kind, as if he had never heard another’s creation story before.
“It was August 1692,” James said. “One night past midnight I was sitting outside the jail, and a man in a black cloak stopped to stare at me. When I saw the amused smile on his lips I thought he recognized me from somewhere. He stared until I was unnerved, like I was being watched by the evil specter himself, the master wizard everyone in Salem was determined to find. It was an odd sensation, the prickly way your foot feels when it falls asleep, but I decided there was no reason to be concerned. He was a strong-looking figure, but he didn’t seem to be carrying a weapon of any kind. He stepped even closer, still inspecting me.
“‘Is your wife in there?’ he asked, nodding at the jail.
“‘Aye,’ I said.
“‘I can help you,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’
“I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t know how he might help me, but I didn’t care. I would have followed him anywhere and back again if it would help me help my wife. He led me to a quiet corner of town. All the bantering noises and jostling crowds from the day had cleared away, and there was no one else around. Houses were dark. The sky was dark. I don’t remember even the light of one star to help me see what was coming. The only sounds were the ripple of the wind and the exhalation of my own breath.
“‘You shall thank me later,’ the man said, that amused smile still lingering. He stepped so close I could smell the blood on him. I tried to run, but his claw-like grasp was too strong. His long face became a mask of gruesome evil as he gripped his teeth into my neck the way a pit bull will latch its jaws onto its victim and shake and shake and not let go. That’s all I remember. I woke up later. I don’t know how much later—hours, days, weeks.
“You know what it’s like. Everything was nothing. When I woke up I was alone inside an abandoned house, poked awake by the streams of moonlight peering in through the mud-caked window. Once I was awake I could feel my human body dying, and I didn’t understand the ultrasensory perception I suddenly had. I was crazed with hunger, and it was only instinct that told me how to feed myself. It took some time to realize that I was unnatural somehow, but I didn’t know what I was and I was frightened of myself. There was no one to teach me how to live this way because whoever turned me had disappeared.”
“He left you alone the way the one who turned me left me alone,” Timothy said. “That’s when Howard found me.”
“That’s right. He didn’t even stay around until I woke up. I had to figure everything out for myself.
“Then a few nights after I regained consciousness I remembered Elizabeth. Can you imagine—I had to remember my wife. I tried to go out to the jail during the day and was flattened by the agony of standing in the sun and I ran back inside and hid away from the light. The next night as soon as I felt strong enough I made my way back. By then I knew I had gained extraordinary hunter’s skills and I was determined to break Elizabeth free and escape with her somewhere far from Salem.
“When I arrived at the jail the first person I saw was an ornery old woman wearing rags and missing her front teeth. She recognized me when I didn’t recognize her. Perhaps I had seen her before, but I was so crazed from the change that nothing I saw made any sense.
“‘I want to see my wife,’ I demanded. ‘Bring her to me.’ My voice sounded strange to my ears, as if I were growling.
“‘You’re late aren’t you,’ said the old woman. ‘You haven’t been here for some time. Figured you’d returned to Salem and heard the news by now.’ She grinned because she knew what she had to say would crush me. She seemed to enjoy my impending heartbreak.
“‘Where is my wife? Bring her to me!’”
“‘You know I can’t bring her to you. She’s a prisoner. Besides, she’s dead isn’t she. Died yesterday. She was dropped in the common grave this morning.’
“My heart had already stopped beating before that night. When I woke up alone in the abandoned house I felt my heart race to an abnormally fast rate, and then like a wind-up clock whose time is up it ticked slower and slower until it stopped completely. Then, when my heartbeat was gone, I stopped breathing. For nights I sat alone, huddled with my knees to my chest, waiting to feel my consciousness slip away along with my missing heartbeat but it never did, and in my lifeless way I stayed alive. Then when that haggard old woman told me so cruelly that Elizabeth died I felt my life cease again, only this time with a painful slice of recognition that I would never see my wife again. I felt like the old woman ripped me in half with a blunt butcher’s knife, and I couldn’t hide my sorrow. It was the first time I cried since I was turned and I didn’t realize that blood was flowing down my cheeks as freely as if someone cut a human’s artery over my head and let it bleed over my face. The old woman’s eyes grew wide as she watched the red stream from me, and she backed toward the wall making the sign of the cross.
“‘Tis true then,’ she hissed, her face flashing with false piety. ‘Everyone says you’re a demon and now I see ‘tis true. You’re bleeding from your eyes and only demons bleed from their eyes. And if you’re a demon then she was too.’ She made the sign of the cross again. ‘I knew that one was a demon. I could see it in her couldn’t I. Demon!’
“I felt myself flush with a heat-filled fury. I flew to the old woman and pressed her skull into the wall, leaving a ring of blood where her head had been. I was ready to crush her. She tried to struggle against me, but she was no match for my new strength.
“‘My wife was no demon,’ I said. I made no attempt to hide the thunder in my voice.
“‘But you are,’ she said. She spit her words in my face. ‘You’re bloodstained and white as a specter and cold as the dead. You are the work of the Devil. Be gone, Demon! Even God cannot help you now, son of Satan!’
“‘I may be a demon,’ I said, ‘and God may not be able to help me now, but He cannot help you either.’
“I bent to tear her throat but I heard voices outside the jail and I didn’t want to be seen. I knew I couldn’t let others know what I was. I let the old woman go and left at a flash, hiding until a man arrived to relieve her from her duties. Once she was outside she glanced around and shivered as she pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders though it was August and hot even at that late hour. I don’t know if she saw me jump out from the shadows as she passed me. She never screamed. I grabbed her, dragged her away, and fed from her until she was dry inside. I was more brutal than I needed to be. Even after she lay dead I broke her bones and tore her flesh and took my frenzy out on her corpse. I didn’t know how else to handle my heartbreak then. To this day I wonder if I could have saved my wife. Perhaps if I had arrived at the jail sooner I could have escaped with her somewhere and helped her get the medical treatment she needed.”
“Medical treatment was pretty primitive in the seventeenth century,” Timothy said.
“Then maybe I could have turned her and she would still be here with me today.”
“Did you know how to turn someone then? You were new to this life yourself.”
“Then how could you have turned her?”
“I don’t know. There must have been something I could have done.”
“I don’t think you should blame yourself, James. I don’t see how you could have helped.” Timothy thought a moment. “It must have been hell for you in those days.”
“Even worse than the hell of being turned against my will was the hell of losing my wife. It’s terrifying to know you’re telling the truth and no one believes you. How do you convince people when they won’t be convinced?”
“But didn’t the accused victims have trials? Didn’t they get a chance to prove their innocence?”
James laughed another wicked laugh. “The trials were a mockery of justice. Elizabeth never had her day in court, but if she had I would have tried to convince her to plead guilty. Those who were charged and still living were the ones who would plead guilty to witchcraft, while those who were executed wouldn’t plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. By the autumn of 1692, more than one hundred people were charged with witchcraft and imprisoned.”
“I never knew so many people were victims of the witch trials.”
“Twenty-seven people died. Some were executed, and some died in jail like Elizabeth. Our friend was crushed to death for two days under the weight of man-sized stones.”
James stopped pacing. He looked at Timothy, saw the boy’s folded hands, his bowed head, and thought he had shared too much. But Timothy needed to know the danger a new hunt could bring.
“I’m sorry, James. I didn’t know.”
“Of course, those who were hung as witches weren’t witches at all while the real demons ran around turning unsuspecting victims. People were so busy pointing fingers at each other they missed what they were looking for when it was right in front of them.”
“Do you think we’re demons?”
James considered his answer. If he said no, we’re not demons at all, he would have been lying. He didn’t know how else to explain how they stayed the same despite the passing years, how they were alive when their bodies were dead, why they craved blood. Yet if James said yes, of course we’re demons, Timothy would have stopped listening. So he compromised.
“I think some are demons, and others, like us, try to exist as humanly as we can. It’s up to us to decide which way we’re going to go.”
“Humans can be demons too.”
“You’re right. I think humans are afraid to consider the existence of our kind because they fear the violence we might do. But I’m more afraid of humans because of the violence I’ve seen from them. That’s why we have to stay undercover. Not everyone is ready for us.”
“I understand,” Timothy said. “You’re afraid they’re going to do what they did to Elizabeth, accuse innocent people. Or worse.”
“I don’t want to see another hunt. Living through the witch hunt was hard enough.”
“Don’t worry, James. I won’t talk to the reporter. I won’t tell anyone.”
Even the little bit he had described to Timothy didn’t come close to explaining the horror of it all, but he couldn’t speak about it any more that night. They straightened up the mess in the storage room, pulled up the shelves, stretched out the dents, and placed the incense and candles into some semblance of order. They tried to make it look like they had never been there, but James was afraid that when Olivia looked around everything would be wrong. And then, without another word, Timothy left looking as spent as James felt.
When James walked into the hub of the store Jennifer nodded at him. He thought she heard the crash in the storage room, and he was going to tell her he would pay for any damage. She pointed at the door instead.
“I told you she’d be here,” she said. “There’s your girl.”
James saw her through the window. Sarah. Sweet Sarah. Beautiful Sarah. The girl who looked like his Lizzie Sarah. She was shivering from the cold autumn wind, but she smiled shyly when she saw him. He greeted her at the door.
“Please,” he said, extending his arm in that old-world gesture. He led her outside where it was cold, but there was a food stand a few steps away and he bought her some hot chocolate. She offered him some, which he politely declined, and they walked to the edge of the wharf where they could see the bay riding out to the Atlantic Ocean. They stood close to each other, Sarah sipping from her styrofoam cup, watching the smooth water lap like a kitten’s tongue at the edge of the shore. He wanted to reach out to her, touch her dark hair, bury his nose in her sweet scent, kiss her forehead, ask her how she was feeling. Was she still frightened by the awful vision she saw when he walked her home? There was so much he wanted to ask her. But since there were so many questions he wouldn’t answer about himself, he felt selfish for wanting to peel away the layers of Sarah Alexander. But he couldn’t stop his need to know her. She was so like his Lizzie.
Across the wharf James saw Jocelyn and Steve Endecott, dressed for Halloween as Sonny and Cher. As they walked to him he saw their surprise to find him there, standing next to a woman, a beautiful woman at that. When Sarah wasn’t looking, Jocelyn nudged him, but he was too embarrassed to answer her unasked questions. Then Sarah saw some people she knew from the college, other professors James wasn’t acquainted with, so she walked across to talk to them. Jocelyn nudged James again.
“She seems nice, James. Human too.” She stroked Steve’s cheek and he smiled. “There’s something irresistible about humans, isn’t there?”
James looked to see where Sarah was, still talking to the professors. She couldn’t hear them from where she stood.
“She doesn’t know,” he said.
“She doesn’t know?” Jocelyn couldn’t hide her surprise. “You need to tell her, James. It’s not going to be good if she finds out by accident.”
Steve nodded in agreement. “She might be afraid at first, God knows I was, but if she’s the one for you then she’ll handle it. If you care about each other you’ll find a way to make it work.” He smiled lovingly at Jocelyn. “Like we do.”
“You sound like Jennifer,” James said.
“Jennifer is usually right about these things,” Jocelyn said. “Here she comes.”
In a moment Sarah was back beside them. Jocelyn and Steve made their excuses and continued down the wharf, Jocelyn’s white go-go boots snapping on the floor, her beaded sixties-style dress swaying behind her. She flipped her long black wig over her shoulder and gave James a meaningful look as she walked away.
He looked at the sky and sighed. It was getting late for Sarah.
“May I escort you home?” he asked.
He offered his arm, which she accepted without hesitation.
“Take me to the House of the Seven Gables,” she said. “It’s near your house, isn’t it?”
“Are you certain?” He didn’t want a repeat of her terror from the night when he had only mentioned the Witch Dungeon Museum.
“I want to see it.”
He tightened his arm around hers. “This way,” he said.
As they continued away from the bay, down Congress Street, then Derby, he could see her watching him. He wondered if it was obvious by looking at him that he was an entirely different creature than her. Jennifer took great joy teasing him about wearing glasses when he didn’t need them, but there was a reason behind the Clark Kent disguise. He had been nearsighted and wore glasses when he was alive—they called them spectacles then. After he was turned his blue eyes turned black, the pupils fully dilated, like someone had used a black marker to shade his irises. The contrast between his nighttime eyes, ghostly pallor, and fair hair was jarring. He noticed people’s confusion, their eyes darting between his hair and his eyes, and he thought from their puzzled expressions that they were wondering why his eyes were so dark when the rest of him was so light. He wore the glasses to minimize the contrast, and it worked well enough. People no longer stared at him like he was a Picasso painting, his facial features too far to the right or misplaced on a diagonal somehow.
Sarah was still watching him, which made him more concerned about what she saw. Would she still smile when she saw me if she knew the truth, he wondered? He knew he needed to tell her, but he couldn’t bring himself to say the words. He didn’t want to lose the opportunity to know her because she was afraid of what he had become.
They walked in silence until she asked, “Are you feeling all right? You look pale.”
“It wasn’t a very good night. Until now. My night is much better now.”
She blushed hot along her jaw, the pink a sharp contrast to her peach-like complexion. Just like Elizabeth. James couldn’t believe that the beautiful woman walking beside him was so like his wife, though everything except logic told him she was. But he would have to deal with the logistics of that mystery another night. For now, he was happy to be near her however he could.
From Derby Street they headed back toward the bay. He could hear the sleepy waves nudging the shore, whispering like close friends. When they turned down Turner Street they saw it—The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion. It was a grand looking home, similar to James’s, only this was larger, with five more gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his novel inspired by the old house, called it rusty and wooden. It didn’t look very rusty, though it was very wooden. In front was a manicured lawn with precisely trimmed bushes, and on top was the clustered chimney Hawthorne described. The story reenactments had long since ended, but James and Sarah walked as close as they could.
“It’s beautiful,” Sarah said.
James sighed. That had been Elizabeth’s reaction the first time she saw their two-gabled house after it was finished. But that must be a coincidence, he thought. Thinking the house was beautiful would be anyone’s reaction upon first seeing it. He let Sarah look around, not saying anything, letting her see.
“I only see five gables,” she said.
“The other two are around back. Come here.”
He took her arm and walked her to the Colonial Revival Garden where the salty air mixed with the scent of lilacs. They saw the rose trellises, a border of honeysuckle shrubs, delphiniums, and sweet Williams, a splattering of pastels like a Monet garden painting with pinks, blues, white, and dashes of yellow and lavender. It was late autumn, Halloween night, but some blooms were hanging on until the winter cold shriveled them away.
“Those are many of the same flowers you would have seen here in the seventeenth century,” he said. “The house was built in 1668. It’s the oldest mansion around here.”
“Older than your house?”
“By twenty-three years.”
He pointed out the Nathaniel Hawthorne House on the grounds of the mansion. “The author Nathaniel Hawthorne was born there,” he said. “They moved the house so it would be on this property. His ancestor, John Hathorne, was one of the magistrates who presided over the witch trials. Nathaniel added the w to Hawthorne because he didn’t want to be too closely connected to his ancestor. I don’t blame him. John Hathorne was a self-righteous, pompous imbecile who cared nothing about justice, only his own reputation.”
James struggled to keep his voice even, light. He wouldn’t be carried off on a tangent remembering the past and forgetting that Sarah was beside him, there in the twenty-first century, not the seventeenth. He would stay in the moment, talk about events from that time as if he were a tour guide with the privilege of showing this beautiful woman with the dark curls and full lips around Salem, and he would do his job well. Sarah wouldn’t be sorry she spent this time with him. After all, he had nothing to be gloomy about. Sarah didn’t seem to have an adverse reaction to the house. She had asked to see it. She was reading about the Salem Witch Trials because she had a desire to know more. And he would help her learn, just as he promised.
“You should also see Witch House, which belonged to Jonathan Corwin, another magistrate at the witch trials. There’s also the New England Pirate Museum. That’s not about the witch trials, but it has a recreation of a dockside village and pirate ship.”
“I didn’t know pirates were important here. Whenever I think of Salem all I think about are witches.”
“Will you take me to Witch House?” she asked. She put her fist by her mouth to stifle a yawn, and they both laughed.
“Yes, but another night. Now I’m taking you home.”
It was a farther walk from the House of the Seven Gables to Sarah’s place. James held his hand to the small of her back and gently pressed her forward. He wanted to take her hand. They were so near his house, he could bring her home, kiss her everywhere, her lips, her hands, her neck. Everywhere. He could carry her to bed. With Sarah so near, he felt that everything would be all right again. He wouldn’t be alone anymore. He thought, from her closeness as she walked, from the way she glanced shyly at him, the way she smiled at him, that she was thinking the same thing. But none of that intimacy was possible unless she knew the truth. He was weakening from his determination to keep his secret from her, caught up in whiffs of strawberries and cream. He hadn’t felt alive in oh so very long. He thought perhaps he should just tell her. Would she even believe him? She might not mind. Or she might mind very much. But the more he considered it the more he decided he was not willing to take that chance. He didn’t want to lose this time with her, chaste as they were forced to be. The more he knew Sarah, the more he needed to be near her however he could. If his only role was to be her tour guide around Salem, he would accept the job gladly.
He walked Sarah to her door, kissed the top of her hair, and though he wanted to stay enveloped in her sweet scent until dawn, he went home, keeping his secret safe another night.
After Halloween James began taking Sarah home. At first they walked, but then the New England nor’easters began striking with more frequency and it became too cold, too wet, or too icy, at least for someone who had been living on the west coast in the sun for so long.
During a particularly fierce November storm, Sarah walked away from the library pulling her scarf tighter around her neck and her wool hat closer over her ears. She was shivering, and she felt her jaw tighten and her teeth click. She turned to see James slow his step so he could follow beside her.
“Still no car?”
No matter how close she pulled her heavy coat around her throat she wasn’t warm enough. He pointed toward the parking lot off Loring Avenue.
“Would you like a ride home?”
Sarah looked in the direction he pointed. She felt like she did that night in the library when he first offered to walk her home, unsure what to say. Since Halloween he had been very friendly, very calm. Not one melancholy moment, no jumping out from the shadows. She stopped counting the months since her divorce. She was tired of following an arbitrary rule she set up for the sole purpose of making herself more miserable. If she wanted to try things out with a nice man, then why shouldn’t she? Where did she get the one year rule from anyway? If anything, James had been too gentlemanly with her, keeping his hands to himself even when she didn’t want him to.
“I don’t bite, remember?”
With his hand on her lower back, he escorted her past the library and the dining hall, around the recital hall and the bookstore to the parking lot. He opened the passenger’s door to his Explorer and buckled her in.
He got into the car, started the engine, and pulled onto Lafayette Street, then left on New Derby, right onto Washington, and a final left onto Essex near the Salem Inn. Sarah was pleased with herself because she finally, after more than two months, felt she knew the ins and outs of Salem, the byways and side roads that made navigating the small town easier. When you’re walking and it’s cold, you want to know the quickest possible way around.
James stopped in front of Sarah’s house and parked by the curb. She didn’t want him to leave, so she started asking him about himself, hoping he would stay.
“How long have you been a professor?” she asked.
He laughed. “This is my first year at Salem State College.”
“Have you taught anywhere else?”
“University of Washington Seattle, Northwestern University.” He stopped, opened his mouth as if he wanted to say more, but didn’t. Sarah stared ahead watching the rain hit the windshield in angry splats, listening to the rattling of the wind. She wanted to ask him what he was thinking, but then she thought she might not want to know. He didn’t seem threatening, upset, or even melancholy. Just quiet. Then he said, “Jennifer told me you’re divorced.”
Sarah exhaled. She had asked him questions so she could spend more time with him. She didn’t mean to have to talk about herself.
“Yes,” she said, “that’s true.”
“I know it’s none of my business, but if you don’t mind telling me, what happened?”
She could have given him a superficial answer. She could have said we grew apart, or we were young, or I didn’t know better. But, sitting next to him in the car, encased together against whatever was happening in the world outside, she felt close to him. She wanted to feel even closer to him, and she wanted him to feel even closer to her, so she spoke from her heart.
“The day after I graduated from Boston University I married a man I was never sure I loved, and I stayed married to him for ten years. I can remember watching him at our wedding, waiting at the end of the aisle in his black tuxedo and red carnation, and I knew even then, in the space of a hesitation, as if someone hit pause on a videotape, that he wasn’t the one for me.”
“But you married him anyway.”
“It sounds foolish now, I guess, but the invitations had been sent out, the cake was decorated, the guests were waiting, and it seemed like the thing to do, an expected rite of passage into adulthood.”
“Your intuition was right.”
“Too right. I don’t think my ex-husband wanted the divorce, but I had to leave. I felt stifled in my marriage, like I had been wearing my shoes on the wrong feet so long my legs became bowed. Now that I’m living here, free from the stranglehold, I feel like I’m finally stretching up straight again, like I’m standing as tall as I should.”
“I understand what you mean.” Again, he looked like he would say more, but he didn’t.
Sarah looked at her cat sitting in the window. “I should probably go inside,” she said. She didn’t want to go inside. She wanted to talk to him, see him smile, listen to him laugh. She felt like she should be there beside him, and she felt the light, fairy-like thread wrapping itself around them. But James didn’t ask her to stay. He opened her car door and escorted her to her door. Standing close together, she wanted him to kiss her lips, but she accepted a kiss on top of her head instead. It wasn’t what she wanted, but it would do. For now.
After that night she began looking for him everywhere, on the streets, in the shops, on campus. She watched for him to come through the door past the metal detectors into the library, hoping to see him come out of the elevator from his office, giddy while she wondered when she might see him again. She felt the way she did when she had her first crush when she was thirteen, not knowing what to do with the nervous energy she felt like champagne bubbles beneath her skin. She felt silly to be so infatuated with a man like that, especially so soon after her divorce. She had thought that part would stay dormant for some time. James had changed everything. She still had her concerns about him, he could be so distant at times, but she couldn't deny that he was always on her mind.
One afternoon while Sarah was on her break, Jennifer walked up from behind and saw her writing in her clothbound notebook. When she shut it suddenly, Jennifer winked at her.
“I bet you’re scribbling ‘Mrs. James Wentworth’ in that notebook. That’s why you don’t want me to see it.”
Sarah laughed as if that was the silliest thing she ever heard. She wouldn’t admit, even to Jennifer, that she had thought about doing exactly that during dull moments in the library, something she did in high school with the name of boys she liked.
James had awakened feelings in her that she had never known before. Unlike her friends, she had never been the kind to spend her life seeking romance. She had never been one to jump from man to man trying to find it the way others did. She thought romance only gave you unrealistic expectations, and what’s the point of expectations when you can’t achieve them? She had never known much romance in her life, not with boyfriends, certainly not with her ex-husband. And when she looked at her friends’s lives, she didn’t see much romance there, either. Women love the fairy tale, she thought. They love the idea of the Romantic Hero with his unbuttoned shirt, his well-muscled chest heaving, the woman, who they imagine to be themselves, kneeling beside him, her dress this side of ravaged, revealing a bare shoulder here, a well-toned leg there, her billowy hair tossing in the breeze, her mouth an open O of ecstasy. But Sarah was too practical to retreat into imaginary worlds.
Now, here was James Wentworth. Tall, gold hair, handsome in a manly way, a smile that, when he smiled, could clear away a stubborn storm hovering over the bay. His eyes were so dark, and where at first she found them intense, now she saw his kindness, his concern. Yet, though they spent hours together, he had never said anything that made her think he wanted more from their relationship. The way it was then, with him extending his arm, sometimes kissing the top of her hair, not even holding hands, seemed to be the way it was going to stay. So it was just as she always knew: romances, where the hero sweeps the woman off her feet, carries her to bed in the heat of passion because they can’t restrain themselves any longer, were a fantasy.
Sarah shook herself from the reverie that thinking of James had brought on. Jennifer smiled at her.
“I was writing about the dream I had last night,” Sarah said.
Jennifer stepped closer. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, but if you want to confide in someone, you can talk to me. Maybe I can help.”
Sarah nodded her thanks. She was so busy the rest of the afternoon she was surprised hours later when she saw the threatening darkness outside. The wind picked up, the trees rattled, the leaves whistled, and she dreaded walking home in that weather. Maybe she would have to buy a car after all. Then she saw Jennifer looking toward the door.
“There he is. Your professor.”
Sarah thought she saw James nod, but he was too far to hear. He stepped into the elevator and disappeared, a hint of a smile still lingering on his lips. Something about the way Jennifer watched him made Sarah pause.
“You can tell me the truth, I don’t care, but…do you like James?”
“Of course I like James. We’ve been friends forever.”
“No, I mean, do youlikeJames?”
Jennifer shook her head, waving her hand in front of her face as if she were swatting a fly. She dropped into the swivel chair in front of the computer and clicked around in the card catalog. “Nothing like that. He’s an old family friend. I mean anoldfamily friend.”
“He’s not that old. He’s about my age.”
Jennifer laughed. “You like him too. Only I think you like him a little differently than I do.”
“I don’t think he feels the same way about me.”
Jennifer spun around on her chair, startling Sarah with the suddenness. “What makes you think that?” she asked.
“We’ve never been on a date. He’s never asked me out to dinner, a movie, even for coffee. Sometimes I think he’s interested—something about the way he looks at me. When he kisses the top of my head I think there might be something more between us, but then he turns away and goes home. We’ve never even held hands. If he was interested he would have asked me out by now.”
“He’s kind of old fashioned.”
“What do you mean?”
“In older days when a young man was interested in a young woman they wouldn’t go out on dates like we do now. He’d visit her family, make small talk with the father, compliment the mother, have dinner with the family. Whatever time he had with his intended, the only way they could get to know each other was in front of everyone. He’s just trying to get to know you without pressuring you. He’s really quite a gentleman if you think about it.”
“That’s sweet, and odd, I think.”
“It’s a very old fashioned way of doing things.”
“I didn’t know there were still men who thought that way.”
Sarah sighed. She gathered her loose hair and lifted it off the back of her neck, waving it to fan her flushed skin. The heat in the library must be on high, she thought.
“I don’t know what to think,” she said. “In so many ways he’s almost too perfect. No man can be so amazing without having some fatal flaw. Tell me the truth—is he really some axe-wielding homicidal maniac when no one’s looking?”
Jennifer laughed. “Of course not!” she said. But there was something in the way she swung back to her work, checking the bar codes on a stack of books as if that were the most pressing thing in the world, that made Sarah wonder if he really was a homicidal maniac after all. Sarah laughed at her own paranoia, thinking she must have been watching too many scary movies on television.
Suddenly he was there, James, leaning against the librarians’s desk, taking her breath away. When she saw him, the angelic smile, the gold hair, the black eyes that should have looked like voids but looked instead like darkness reaching for the light, all her worries melted away.
“Hi, Sarah,” he said.
“Hello to you too, Doctor Wentworth,” said Jennifer. “Isn't this your night off?”
“It is, but the weather’s pretty ugly out there. I thought Sarah might like a ride home.”
“I’d love a ride home,” Sarah said. She glanced at the clock on the wall and saw she had another half hour on her shift.
“Go,” Jennifer said. “It’s a quiet night. I’ll take care of closing.” She pushed Sarah out from behind the desk. “See you tomorrow.”
When James parked in front of Sarah’s house she felt brave and invited him in. At first she was sure she made a mistake. He had such a strange expression as he looked first at her house, then at her. He looked concerned, she thought, or confused, and he took too long before answering.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” She didn’t want to sound hurt by his lack of enthusiasm. “I just thought you’d like some coffee. It’s getting cold in the car.”
“Yes,” he said finally, “I’d love to come in.”
When they were in the house Sarah went into the kitchen and brewed some coffee. James went straight to the bookcase to see what books she had, and then he looked around at her furniture, simple and modern, and said hello to her cat Tillie. Tillie had quite a reaction. She spit, hissed, and leapt to her feet, and if she had a tail it would have ballooned in fear. She looked like a picture of a witch’s cat on Halloween, her black fur sticking out in every direction. She ran to hide under the bed.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “She doesn’t usually act like that.”
“Cats tend to have trouble with strangers.”
He picked up the book Sarah left on the glass end table. “Persuasionby Jane Austen,” he said. “One of my favorites.”
“It’s one of my favorites too. I’m reading it for the fourth time.” As she rinsed out the coffee grinder it occurred to her. “How funny,” she said. “You have the same last name as Anne Elliot’s love, Captain Wentworth.”
James sat on the sofa and looked at her. “Yes, there is quite a coincidence there.”
“Persuasionis such a romantic story, isn’t it?” she said. “I love how Anne Elliot falls in love with Frederick Wentworth, but she’s persuaded by her family that he isn’t good enough and she breaks off her engagement from him. Years later he confesses that he still loves her, she admits she still loves him, and they come together again. It’s one of my favorite endings.”
She thought he was going to say something, but he stayed silent, staring at her.
“How lucky they were,” she said, “to have a second chance at love. Not many people get that.”
“I think everyone wishes they could have a second chance with the one they love,” James said. His voice was small.
She got their coffees and hovered near the sofa. She was enjoying their time together and didn’t want to scare him away. He seemed so pensive since they talked aboutPersuasion. She decided to sit on the sofa beside him, close but not so close. He sat his coffee on the glass table while she sipped from her mug.
They spent the next hour talking about Jane Austen, and James knew so much about her, even her personal life, almost, Sarah thought, as if he had known her. He knew what she liked to eat, how she spent her days when she wasn’t writing, whom she visited, whom she loved. It was late and Sarah was tired, but she had that schoolgirl crush feeling overpowering her again and she didn’t want him to leave. She thought she should get herself more coffee—a caffeine boost was just what she needed. She reached for James’s mug and realized he hadn’t touched it.
“You didn’t drink your coffee.”
“Actually, I don’t care for coffee. I just wanted to spend more time with you. But I’ll get you another cup since you look like you’re about to fall asleep on me.”
He went into the kitchen and she heard him rattling with the coffee pot, pouring the liquid into her cup. She was tired, it was late for her, so she put her head against the sofa and closed her eyes. She would rest until he came back. She was glad he didn’t want to leave.
She must have fallen asleep. When she woke up she was in her bed, still dressed, covered with her blankets. Through the curtains she could see the pink sun peeking awake in the fading night sky. It was dark in the bedroom, but she could see James’s shadow by the door.
Instantly he was by her side.
“What is it, Sarah? Are you all right?”
“Are you leaving?”
“I have to leave. But I’ll see you tonight. If you’d like that.”
He kissed the top of her head, through the thickness of her hair, then left, shutting the door behind him. She thought she must have been dreaming. If only he would kiss her somewhere besides the top of her head. She didn’t know if she answered him before she fell asleep again.
I am in the kitchen cooking supper, stirring a pottage in the cauldron in the hearth. My husband comes in and sits at our table, and he watches as my hands land in fists behind my hips as they try to support the weight of my aching back and bulging belly. Although I cannot see his face in the shadows I can feel the agitation in the air. He puts his arms around me and holds me to him longer than usual, as though he does not want to let go, as though he wants to keep me safe. As though he wants to make everything wrong go away so we would always be as we were at that moment, content in our lives together. As I pull away I sense something in his manner and I look at him carefully.
“What troubles you?” I ask.
He seems to wonder how to tell me. Then he says, “They’ve arrested Rebecca.”
“Aye. They’ve arrested her for a witch.”
I am stunned, as though I have been shot by a native’s poison-touched arrow. I step away from him and my mind feels muddled. I wish I had not heard what he said. I feel my hands flutter around me as though I am trying to capture some words that might make the nonsense make sense. “Of course she is no witch,” I say. “Someone must speak for her. They must know she is no witch.”
“They should know, but they don’t. She’s been accused so she’s been arrested.”
“Who would accuse her?” I can hear the near-hysteria in my own voice. “Who would accuse someone as good as our Rebecca of such a crime?”
“The afflicted girls,” my husband says.
The sense of anguish is too much and I look at the pots and pans lining the shelves on the wall, the scrubbed vegetables on the table, the cauldron in the hearth. I can tell he is as pained by the news as I am and I wish he had not told me just so I would not have to feel the way he feels then.
“I’m certain she’ll be cleared at her trial,” he says. “All the evidence shall come out then.”
“The false evidence,” I say, “from those horrid girls. You know as well as I how rarely anyone is ever found innocent at their trials no matter how innocent they may be.”
I am at a loss for what to say and my hands continue to flutter at my sides. After struggling to hold back my tears I turn back to the pottage in the cauldron and stir some more, only now my stirring is agitated, as if I am trying to vent the frustration I suddenly feel.
“I think we should go back to England.” My husband says the words quickly, as if he has to say them before he changes his mind. “My father said he would pay for our voyage and give us money enough to get settled and assist me in starting a business there. Or, if we decide to go to Cambridge, he shall assist us while I continue at university.”
His face is still a blank slate. I cannot tell if the idea of returning to England pleases him or not. I wipe my hands on the rag on the table and walk to him.
“I thought you were happy here,” I say.
“I was. I am. But I don’t understand what’s happening. I don’t understand how someone like Rebecca could be arrested. I don’t know the facts from all the cases, and I don’t know that all the people accused are innocent. Perhaps there are such things as specters and other unnatural beings. I know nothing of the supernatural world. But I know that some of the accused are innocent, and as long as innocent people are condemned then Salem is not a safe place to live.”
I stare at the woven rug beneath my feet while I consider. My hands go instinctively to the bump where our baby waits.
“If we leave on the next crossing I’d give birth on the ship,” I say. “Those ships are horrid enough. They’re overcrowded and the food is barely edible and the air is foul. There’s so much death. I saw two newborns and so many others die on my voyage here.” I walk to my husband and stroke the worried crease between his eyes. “Let us wait until the baby is a few months old and we know she’s healthy. If things are still difficult then, we’ll leave.”
He takes my hand and kisses it. He seems relieved that at least we have a plan, a way away from the hysteria. Patience, our helping-girl, comes silently into the room and giggles when we kiss. Then a dawning crosses as a smile on his lips.
“She?” he asks.
“Aye. I’m hoping for a girl so I think of her as she. We’ll call her Grace. Though I’m certain you wish for a son.”
“I wish for a healthy child who shall not have to live in fear.”
I smooth the crease that sits stubbornly in lingering concern on his forehead and he seems better. For that moment I allow myself to believe that everything will be all right, but I am anxious.
The next night James arrived at the library with a smile. Every night he was arriving with a smile. Sarah wanted to think she was the reason for his happiness, though she wasn’t sure. He hadn’t said so in words. But James said a lot without words. He could be so quiet at times, content merely being there. Sometimes, when Sarah was working, checking the databases or helping students or professors, James would sit nearby and watch her. He didn’t pretend to have a task at the computer. He didn’t pretend to correct papers. He watched her and he didn’t seem to mind if everyone saw him.
A week later at closing time he found her near the librarians’s desk and presented her with a book, a well-kept older edition from days when bookbinding was an art. She turned it over in her hands, feeling the indentation of the title on the cover:Several Poems Compiled With Great Variety of Wit and Learningby Anne Bradstreet. Sarah was touched by his thoughtfulness. As much as she loved to read, no one had ever given her poetry before.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’ve never read Anne Bradstreet. It seems appropriate, reading her in Salem. She lived here during colonial times, didn’t she?”
“For a while, and not very well, I’m afraid. The Bradstreets lived with Anne’s family, the Dudleys, in a sparse house with barely the basic necessities. In winter they all lived in one room, the only one with heat. She was the first woman published in colonial America, and it’s rumored that King George III had a volume of her poetry in his collection.” James looked at the book, then at Sarah. He stared at her so hard it was as if she could feel his hands on her shoulders pushing her somewhere, toward something. But where?
He opened the book to the page he tabbed with a sticky note. “She wrote one of my favorite poems—‘To My Dear and Loving Husband.’ He closed the book and pressed it into her hands.
“I’m not familiar with it,” Sarah said. James cleared his throat before he began:
“If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can…”
Sarah clutched the thin volume close to her chest, staring at the librarians’s desk, hard, as if the formica top were speaking to her, whispering the answer to a long-held question. She heard words, phrases, echoing from somewhere. She wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t like being haunted or chased or dragged away by chains. It was as if she suddenly remembered something she had forgotten. She said:
“…Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.”
James bowed his head, looking first at the floor under his feet, then at Sarah. She had never seen such a strong-looking man seem so vulnerable, as if he held his heart out to her in his hands, as if his heart was hers for the taking.
“I thought you weren’t familiar with the poem, Sarah.” His voice was gentle, barely audible above the whispers in the library.
Sarah shook her head. “I’m not.”
Neither Sarah nor James said much as he drove her home. They were parked in front of her house before she realized where they were. As the car clicked off, he turned to her with such need in his eyes that Sarah felt her heart stutter. She and James had shared something special in the library when she recited the lines from the seventeenth century love poem from a brilliant colonial woman to her dear and loving husband. How had she recited a poem she was sure she never read? Had she read it in college, in an early American literature class, and she had forgotten about it? Even if she did, college was so long ago, and she certainly hadn’t read it since. But somehow she knew the poem. It had been stored away in her somewhere. When she looked into James’s night-dark eyes she could feel that invisible, thread-thin line again, catching them up, pulling them close, not letting them go.
She had been so sure he felt the same way when their eyes locked. He smiled, as if he found something he had forgotten he needed, and the smile hadn’t left his face. Until now. Instead of kissing her, grabbing her, carrying her to her bed as she wanted him to, all he said was, “Let me walk you to your door. I don’t want anyone to steal you.”
In front of her house, he kissed the top of her head and turned to leave. But she did not want a kiss on top of her head. She wanted more. She followed him out to the street, and when they reached his car she walked close and pointed her face up the way she pointed her face up to the man in her dreams before he kissed her. She wanted James to kiss her. She wanted him to stay all night and make love to her.
She was ready to finally feel his lips against hers, but when all she felt was air she opened her eyes and realized, with a painful punch, that he didn’t feel the same way. She saw a stormy blankness in his nighttime eyes that told her he wasn’t interested. He stood there, frozen, a look of real pain in his eyes as he searched her face, looking for his wife perhaps, or looking as if he had been mortally wounded by her desire for him. Without saying a word, without looking back, he jumped into his car and drove away.
Sarah walked into the house and stared, at the wall, at the blank screen of the television, at her cat, at the cream-colored wall. When the phone rang she was only half surprised to hear Olivia’s motherly voice at the other end of the line.
“How have you been, dear? I haven’t seen you since Halloween, and I hardly had a chance to say hello, I was so busy with the customers.”
Sarah tried to be brave. She tried to keep the tears away. What did she have to cry about? James had never made any promises, never even kissed her on the lips. Just the idea of kissing her sent him speeding away, his car brakes screeching on the pavement. Yet no matter how hard she squeezed her eyes, no matter how fast she waved her open hand in front of her nose, she couldn’t stop the internal thunderstorm from pouring like rain down her face.
“What is it, dear? You can tell me.”
“James? Jennifer said you two left the library looking very happy.”
Sarah wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I was hoping we had a chance, but it isn’t going to happen. I tried to kiss him, but he ran like he couldn’t get away fast enough. I don’t think he’s over his wife, and if he’s not over her then he’s not ready to move on. There’s no room in his heart for me.”
After an unsure pause, Sarah decided to share some interesting information she received via e-mail that morning. At the time, she sent a terse reply to her friend and deleted the message. Now, after James had run away, leaving her lonely and confused, she gave more importance to the news.
“I heard from my friend in L.A. She said my ex-husband misses me.”
Olivia sighed. “What do you mean?”
“She said he’s been asking about me. She said he’s been upset since she told him I was becoming friendly with a good-looking English professor. He told her he misses me and he’s thinking about coming to Salem to visit. He told her he wants me back.”
“You can’t go back to him, Sarah. You remember how unhappy you were.”
“I know I can’t go back to him.”
Sarah’s voice cracked as she said it, and she wondered if it were true. Could she go back to her ex-husband? Before that night she would have said there was no way she would leave Salem and James for a husband she wasn’t happy with. But now, in the aftermath of a bewildered James, the thought of returning to Los Angeles wasn’t as ridiculous as it might have seemed even an hour before. Sleeping had become all but impossible in Salem. Her dreams were more frequent and frightening since she moved there. In Los Angeles they had been a nuisance. In Salem they were relentless. Her hands continued shaking for hours after she was jolted awake by tremors, her anxieties fragile until morning though she turned on the lights and rationalized the fear away by telling herself that nothing she saw was real. She was awake now and everything was fine. They weren’t simply haphazard, fluid scenes, these dreams, detached from reality. They were tangible, linear. Clear. Somewhere, deep in the hidden maze of her soul, she knew there was some misunderstood truth there, and she wanted to make sense of what was happening to her. The more she read about the Salem Witch Trials, the more she recognized the imagery in her dreams. It made no sense that she should dream about a woman from that time. Was she dreaming about her ancestor? She didn’t know.
She was tempted to finally confide in Olivia. Maybe she had nothing to lose by bringing her clothbound notebook to the Witches Lair and letting her Wiccan friends take a look. Maybe between them they could make the disjointed pieces fit. And didn’t Olivia say her friend was good at dream interpretation?
Olivia sighed. “Did you tell your ex-husband you won’t be getting back together?” she asked.
“I haven’t spoken to him since I left Los Angeles. I e-mailed my friend to tell her I couldn’t go back to him. She said she knew, but she wanted me to know I had options.”
“Things don’t always happen when we want them to, but everything will come together when it’s time. Trust that, Sarah.”
“Thank you, Olivia.”
“Anytime, dear. Call me anytime.”
Sarah hung up the phone more confused than she was before.
It was a slow night in the library since classes had stopped for winter break. There were a few lingering students, some who needed an extension on their final papers or semester exams, others lounging in the chairs by the windows reading, an instructor or two researching information. Sarah had the night off. Jennifer was seated behind the librarians’s desk helping students. James was working at a computer terminal, keeping most of his attention on his work while Kenneth Hempel whispered to Jeremy, James’s student, a few tables away. James had some warning that Hempel would be there since he had seen the reporter get out of his green Buick in the parking lot off Loring Avenue. He even made note of the license plate number in case he needed to recognize the car again. That night in the library Hempel wasn’t hiding the fact that he was asking about James—he was doing it in front of James’s face. As Jeremy answered his questions, Hempel nodded and jotted notes onto his yellow legal pad. But James was too far for human ears to hear, and they were whispering close to each other, so he had to pretend he didn’t know what they were saying. It was better if he ignored them anyway. Besides, the young man sounded more annoyed by Hempel than intrigued.
“That’s right,” Jeremy said. “I only see Professor Wentworth at night, but that’s because he teaches night classes. Why would anyone be here when they didn’t have to be? I hate that I have to be here now. Asshole philosophy professor failed me and I have to retake the final exam.”
James smiled to himself as he realized that Hempel couldn’t have picked a less helpful source than Jeremy. Hempel spoke to three other students that night, as well as a librarian James didn’t know by name. She was the mathematics liaison, he thought. She couldn’t have much information to share, so he wasn’t concerned. Without looking, he sensed Hempel glancing at him, but he wouldn’t be deterred from his work. He left the computer terminal and wandered into the stacks, searching for the book he needed. He wouldn’t be run out of his own library by that daft little man. When he heard Hempel’s heavy, plodding footsteps, he braced himself.
“Good evening, Professor Wentworth.”
James slid the book back into its slot on the shelf. He didn’t turn around.
“Hello, Mr. Hempel.”
He pulled another book, checked the index, turned to the page he needed. When Hempel didn’t leave, James continued to work, hoping the reporter would get the hint. Or perhaps Jennifer would snap her fingers and bring the stacks crashing down around them.
“Reading about Keats, I see. Have I told you I was an English major in college?”
“Surprisingly, no. When I was a young man I had aspirations to write books. I wanted to be like Bram Stoker and bring the world’s attention to the vengeful, violent monsters lurking unseen in the dark. Stoker did that so well, didn’t he?”
“Draculais a novel, Mr. Hempel.”
“Perhaps. But all fiction has some element of truth.”
James looked around, saw them alone in the stacks, it was close to closing, and he wondered if anyone would notice if he ripped into the reporter’s throat, sucked the man dry, and discarded his corpse in the bushes beside the parking lot. Perhaps the garbage bins would be better. The bay. Yes, the bay would be perfect. Hempel’s body would wash away into the Atlantic Ocean and no one would be the wiser. Would anyone notice if Kenneth Hempel was missing? He was such an innocuous little fellow. But then James remembered Hempel mentioning a family in the Witches Lair on Halloween, and he heard Jennifer speaking to a student by the librarians’s desk, so they weren’t alone. He knew he had to drop his idea, though he liked it very much.
“I’m actually not here to visit with you tonight, Professor, as much as I enjoy your company. I’m looking for one of the librarians. Dark hair, lovely smile. What is her name?”
James cleared his throat. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” He couldn’t control the gruffness in his voice.
“The students seem to think you know her very well. Miss Alexander, is it?”
“If you know her name, then why are you asking me?”
Hempel smiled at James’s curt response, as if that were exactly the reaction he wanted. “I just wanted to ask her a few questions. I didn’t see her around tonight, and I thought you might know where she was. When you’re a professional journalist you have to cover all angles of your story. I’m sure you understand.”
James turned back to the book in his hand, though the sentences hardly made sense to him. The words scattered into letters and the letters spread across the pages like spilled alphabet soup.
“I don’t know where she is,” he said.
“I’ll have to come back another time. Good night, Professor.”
James tried to go back to work, but he couldn’t concentrate. Now he was concerned that Hempel would involve Sarah in his quest. James remembered suddenly what it felt like to be hunted—trapped, searching frantically for a way out, hoping your captor wouldn’t end you right there. The recollection of being the weaker one shocked him. He hadn’t felt the torment of being the hunted since the Salem Witch Trials. His Elizabeth had died in the trap. Now, Hempel was reveling in his role as the hunter, piecing together a plot meant to ambush James into confessing his truth. The witch hunters had done something similar over three centuries before—only they tried to force their victims into confessing a truth that wasn’t true. But Hempel would be disappointed. He wouldn’t succeed in his quest. Not if James could help it. James considered following Hempel to his green Buick in the parking lot, but he shook his head, forcing himself to stop thinking that way. As much as he enjoyed the idea of making the reporter disappear, he knew that wasn’t a practical solution to his problem. He turned his thoughts to a far more pleasant topic.
The rest of his nights looked pale compared to the sharp contrast of color he saw when he was with her. He knew he hurt her when he didn’t kiss her. It hurt him, too, because he had been wanting to kiss those lips for oh so many years. He dreamed of it every day. But standing in front of her house that night he couldn’t do it. She looked exactly as Elizabeth used to, dressed in modern clothes, perhaps, her dark curls loose and uncovered. She even stood on her toes and pointed her chin up waiting for his lips to touch hers, just as Elizabeth had. Still, in that moment he was more sad than happy to see her that way. He didn’t know who he was going to kiss, Elizabeth or Sarah, and he was afraid his confusion would be too obvious. He didn’t want to hurt Sarah because she thought he only wanted her because she reminded him of Lizzie. And besides, before there could be physical contact between them, lips on lips, skin on skin, she needed to know the truth. He was angry with himself for keeping his secret from her so long, and he was upset that his inability to tell her had kept them apart. He didn’t want to be apart from her anymore. He would tell her.
How long he stood in the stacks, staring at the same page in the book he held forgotten in his hand, musing over Sarah, he didn’t know. Suddenly he heard Jennifer say his name. He looked at her through the space between the stacks and saw her speaking into the telephone receiver as if she were talking to someone on another line.
“James, if you can hear me nod your head.” He nodded, but he turned his eyes to the book as if he were reading. “Hempel left the library a while ago, but I don’t want anyone to see me talking to you right now. It turns out he’s been snooping around campus all day, trying to get someone in the office to give him copies of the transcripts from your degrees, trying to find where else you’ve taught, where else you’ve lived.”
James walked from the stacks and sat in a chair further from the librarians’s desk. He turned the pages of the book he held and waited for more.
“He’s been asking your students if they know any personal information about you, who your friends are, your family, if anyone knows where you are when you’re not on campus. And there's something else. My mother talked to Sarah. I know what happened.” She stopped, perhaps waiting for some response, but James didn’t move. “Did you know her ex-husband wants her back?”
He faced Jennifer, the surprise obvious in his wide eyes and open mouth. Anyone could have seen them communicating from too far across the library, even Kenneth Hempel, but James was stunned and his defenses were down and he was hearing too well in public.
Jennifer hissed into the phone. “Turn around!” When he looked away, his eyes unfocused on the pages of the book, she continued. “She found out her ex-husband asks about her, and he told a friend he wants her back. I thought you should know.”
That was the moment when James learned about another kind of madness, the kind you feel when you’ve been unwilling to tell the woman you love your truth and then you lose her to someone else’s waiting arms. The madness he knew centuries before belonged to others, but this time the madness was his own. He felt Sarah slipping from his grasp because of the wall he kept between them. He was making the decision to keep her in the dark regarding his secret as if she were a child, too immature to handle such sensitive information. That wouldn’t do. There were no more questions in his mind—he had to tell her the truth so she could decide for herself. She had a right to know. Would she want to be with him the way he was? He couldn't say. She might think it’s madness, this bizarre story he was going to tell her, which is how any reasonable person would respond. She might not mind. Or she might mind very much and run in fear, leaving him alone once more. He didn’t know if he could stand the loneliness again. But he had to tell her. That night. He felt Jennifer’s questioning eyes on him as he disappeared into the elevator up to the third floor. He had to consider the consequences of what he was going to do.
At first Sarah thought Jennifer was mocking her, or maybe recording their conversation on the camera on her cell phone to post on the Internet, the video of the gullible girl talked into believing in something she shouldn’t believe in.
As soon as Jennifer walked into her house, Sarah sensed something was wrong. Jennifer sat on the sofa, petting the cat, avoiding Sarah’s gaze.
“What is it, Jennifer?”
“James is going to kill me. He doesn’t know I’m here.”
Sarah sucked in her breath. “Why doesn’t he know you’re here?”
“I knew you had to know and he didn’t say he was going to tell you so I thought I should tell you, but I know he’s going to be upset because he didn’t tell me I could tell you and…”
Sarah held up her hand. “Please, Jen. What do you want?”
“I want you to believe me.”
“What do you want me to believe?”
Jennifer paced to the window, pulled aside the blinds, and looked out as if she could see something lingering across the clear, cold winter night.
“Do you believe there are things out there that are real but defy any sensible explanation? Do you believe in things you can’t necessarily understand, things like supernatural powers?”
“Like ghosts? I don’t believe in ghosts. Why? Are we going on a ghost hunt?”
Jennifer sat back on the sofa, intent on the cat’s black fur, smoothing it down the cat’s back. “What do you know about vampires?” She turned to see Sarah’s response.
“Vampires?” Sarah laughed. “I guess I know as much as anyone else. They come out at night. They attack people and drink their blood. People like to watch movies and read books about them. Why?”
“First of all, you can’t believe everything you read. A lot of it is hearsay—folktales from centuries ago.” Jennifer thought for a moment. “Do you think they could be real? Vampires, I mean.”
“It doesn’t seem likely that vampires are real. There’s so much about them that doesn’t make sense. How can something come back from the dead?”
“I know it doesn’t sound logical. It even sounds silly if you think about it. But did you ever think you might actually know a vampire?”
Sarah was ready to call in the joke, but Jennifer was so serious Sarah couldn’t smile about it any more.
“Are you trying to tell me you’re a vampire? I thought you said you’re a witch.”
Sarah jumped when the banging struck her door. The thuds were awful, threatening, and Sarah thought she saw the leering, laughing, pock-faced monster leap out at her from the shadows, iron chains in hand, ready to bind her and drag her away. When she saw James through the window she relaxed, but only until she heard his frustration.
“Jennifer!” he yelled.
Sarah opened the door and he brushed past her with barely restrained fury.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. “What gives you the right…”
Jennifer shrugged as if there were no problem, everything was fine. “You weren’t going to tell her and she has the right to know.”
“I was going to tell her! I was coming over here to tell her!”
Jennifer backed out the open door. “I’m sorry, James. I was only trying to help.”
“I’ve been taking care of myself for over three hundred years. I don’t need your help.”
“Very good, then. I’ll leave.” She smiled at James. “Now no biting tonight, Professor, or you’ll hear from me tomorrow.”
“That’s not funny.” He slammed the door behind her.
Sarah sat on the couch, her head in her hands.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?”
James sat next to her. She thought, as she looked into his night-dark eyes, that she had never seen anyone look so serious, not even at an unexpected funeral.
“I am a vampire.”
Sarah laughed. Another joke. All right. She had a sense of humor. She would go along.
“Vampires don’t exist. They’re legends and nonsense.”
“I’m real, Sarah. Most humans think we don’t exist, yet you only have to look around during the dark night hours to discover us everywhere. We’re ghost-skinned, black-eyed, and dead to the touch, but otherwise we seem the same as you. After all, we were human once. We’re everywhere you are, we do everything you do—we walk, we sleep, we drink, we love. Forever.”
Sarah shuddered. She realized, despite all of her reasoning and logic, that he was telling the truth. It was absurd, but she believed him.
She was afraid to look at him. “That’s impossible,” she said, unable to accept the fact that she believed him. “I think I would have noticed something like that about someone I’ve been spending so much time with.”
“I decided a long time ago to integrate myself into society as well as I can. But there are differences. I can’t go out during the day so I go out at night. And my human body is dead.”
“No one’s perfect, Sarah.”
He fiddled with his eyeglasses, a curious gesture from a man who was supposed to be immortal.
“I’ve never heard of a near-sighted vampire before.”
James laughed. He sounded relieved. He took the glasses off and waved them in the air. “They’re just glass. They help me blend in better.” He folded the frames and slid them into his shirt pocket.
“This is ridiculous,” Sarah said.
“I know, but it’s true.”
He took her hand, the first time he touched her skin. She shuddered as she noticed the dead-blue undertone to his pale complexion, the flat blackness of his eyes without his glasses. Suddenly, she realized that, though he had placed her hand on his chest beneath his button-down shirt, there was nothing there. No warmth. No breath. No heartbeat. Nothing.
It wasn’t a joke anymore. She leapt off the sofa, away from him. She struggled to stay calm though she wanted to hide behind silver or garlic or brandish a wooden stake.
“Don’t you think that’s something you should have told me sooner?” she said.
“I would never hurt anyone—I’m past all that—but I would certainly never hurt you.” He smiled in a strained attempt at lightening the mood. “I’m harmless, like a trained tiger.”
“Some tigers will forget their training and attack using their instincts.”
“I don’t forget my training.”
He looked at her, through her, as if he wanted to see what she was thinking, as if he wanted to know her heart. Would she be afraid of him now that she knew the truth, his eyes seemed to ask? At that moment she didn’t know. She didn’t know what to say. She stayed back, away from him, watching him. She looked out the window, trying to see what Jennifer had been staring at with such intensity, but all she saw was bare-branched, snow-covered trees and the shimmer of crystalline ice reflecting on the road.
“I think you need to leave,” she said.
“You need to leave.”
He stood up and hesitated, as if he wanted to go to her. But Sarah held her arms tight around her chest, her hands around her neck, wondering if he was going to bare his fangs, spring on her, grab her in some preternatural lock, and drink her blood for dessert. She didn’t want him anywhere near her.
He paused with his hand on the knob. “Will I see you soon?” he asked.
“I don’t think so.”
He opened the door and stepped into the frigid winter night. “Let me know when you’re ready to talk,” he said. And then he went away.
Sarah sat on the sofa, struggling to clear her head enough to have a coherent thought. Nothing made sense. Language had lost its meaning. It was all gibberish and nonsensical syllables and half-used sounds. Knowledge evaporated into useless ideas. After an hour of emptiness, she gave up. She double-checked her windows and doors, making sure they were locked, before she went to sleep.
I am standing in front of a tree. The tree is scarred, hunched, ugly, not beautiful like other trees because this tree knows its sinister purpose. There are twisted ropes swinging from the strongest branch, ropes meant to hang the five women waiting there. The women are numb and resolute, confused and terrified. They should not be here. They have committed no crime. They know this is the last sight they shall see, a riled, jeering crowd that cheers for their executions, happy to see the convicted witches go back Satan’s way. But these women are innocent and they shan’t confess to a crime they didn’t commit because they are afraid of the damnation of their souls. They believe there shall be no peace for them in the next life if they admit to being demons in this one. They are praying for some release from this nightmare, for forgiveness for their trespasses, for eternal salvation. The one standing before the hempen skeleton rope is frail but firm in her stance. She shall not be afraid. The reverend, with his God-fearing way, asks her one last time to confess. The woman has already seen her young daughters caught up in the madness of the witch hunts and she shall not be swayed.
“I am no more a witch than you are a wizard,” she says, “and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink.”
I am dumbfounded watching this horror. The accusations are foolish. Everyone must know this. But when times are hard even the most conscientious people have a life-preserving instinct. They shall point at others first so others do not point at them. One of the women waiting to die is an elderly, sickly woman I know as a neighbor and love as a friend, a good woman who should have never seen this gruesome day.
I did not mean to see this. I was out walking, trying to find some coolness somewhere, some sea breeze near the shore to settle my sweating skin because it is a sweltering, humid summer day when the air is heavy enough to hold in my hands. It is hard, doing everything for two. I walked far from the shore, and now I am here. I do not want to see this terrible scene but I cannot make myself walk away. The actions are unreal, the women unbearable to watch, but I cannot turn my head. Can no one help them, I wonder in the screaming of my mind? Can no one speak for them? I feel nauseous and do not know if it is the heat or my child or the horror.
“They’re hanging her!” I say. I can hear the terror in my own voice. I see my friend praying as she waits for the realization of her own mortality. Then I feel a gentle hand on my arm.
“Come,” he says.
I look up at him and though I cannot see his face I know he looks at me with great concern.
He puts his hand on the small of my back as he nudges me forward, and finally I am leaving. As I walk away I can hear the slap as the woman is pushed, the snap of her neck as she dangles—a slow, strangling, torturous death. I try to keep my weeping to myself and I hope she does not suffer long. I am crying, but he continues nudging me gently forward, ever so gently. Instinctively, my hand reaches for my stomach, bulging clearly now, and I worry what a world I am bringing this child into, a world where innocent women are hanged from the false accusations of others. Is there no reason here? Maybe my husband is right. Maybe we should leave this place. I am afraid.
The next day Sarah could think in words again, and soon she molded those words into sentences. In the morning she did nothing but jot notes about her dream into her journal. She forgot to eat. In the afternoon she opened her door, grabbed the newspaper from her lawn, and opened to the classified section. There were some nice used cars available for not a lot of money. She could afford a nice used car. She looked at the time and sighed, dreading the library. James would be there since he had class that night, and she thought of calling in sick. But Jennifer would know why, and she didn’t want them to know how upset she was. She would be brave, go to work, ignore James if he was there, ignore Jennifer as much as she could, and go home. Alone.
When she arrived at the library she realized how much she didn’t want to run into James or Jennifer. Instead of working on the main floor, she switched with another librarian and spent the evening in the annex, located between the Central and North campuses. She liked it in there. Quieter than the main floor, the students in the annex were focused on their studies instead of socializing and they were a pleasure to work with. Sarah thought she would ask Jennifer to place her there permanently.
Halfway through her shift, she saw Jennifer wheeling a book cart into the room. Sarah moved behind the computer screen, hoping Jennifer wouldn’t see her. She didn’t hide well enough, and Jennifer stopped in front of her. Sarah nodded in greeting and returned to work. Jennifer looked around, then leaned close to Sarah and whispered.
“I’ve known James my whole life. My mother has known him her whole life. We’re both still around to talk about it.” When Sarah didn’t look up, Jennifer sighed. “He’s known my family for generations. He’s helped us in ways you can’t begin to imagine.”
Sarah still couldn’t look at her. She felt like she had been played for a fool by the two people she trusted most. Here she had spent countless hours with James, and it had never once occurred to her that he was anything other than what he seemed to be. He had oddities, certainly, but everyone does. Being odd doesn’t make someone unhuman. She was upset with him for hiding his secret, but she was mad at Jennifer too. Someone should have told her sooner. Someone should have given her the option to choose who, or what, she spent her time with.
“Do you need something, Jennifer?”
Sarah kept her voice pleasant. After all, Jennifer was the head librarian and her boss. She had to remain professional, but she didn’t feel like chitchatting. She wanted Jennifer to go away.
Jennifer pointed to the book cart. “I need you to deliver these to Meier Hall.”
Sarah recognized the books. She had ordered them herself. “I can’t bring those. They’re for James.”
Before Sarah could protest, Jennifer was gone. Sarah fumed as she stared at the cart. There was no reason she had to be the one to bring those books to James. There were two other librarians on duty that night. Besides, his office was on the third floor of the main library building. Why did Jennifer wheel the book cart to the annex, then send her across campus to deliver books that could have been sent up in the elevator? Jennifer wanted her to see James. That was the only explanation.
Sarah stayed behind the librarians’s desk, ignoring the cart, helping students, scanning barcodes. She wouldn’t deliver the books. Why should she? She didn’t want to see James. She had no reason to see him. But she didn’t want to be weak, either. If she didn’t go she would show them that she was afraid, and she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. She had fought through fear before. When she left a bad marriage that had been part of her entire adult life. When she had nightmares and pulled herself out of the frights. She wasn’t going to let some vampire professor and his Wiccan friend scare her out of something as simple as a book delivery. She brought books to professors around campus all the time, she thought. This was part of her job.
The distance from the annex to Meier Hall seemed further when pushing a heavy book cart with wobbly wheels. She cursed Jennifer under her breath as she stumbled past Rainbow Terrace and the residence hall, across College Drive, around the campus center and the tennis courts, until she reached the School of Arts and Sciences. She wheeled the books into the building, checking room numbers as she went. When she turned the corner she heard James’s voice coming from the classroom at the end of the corridor, the door propped open by a chair. She stopped, surprised by the warmth she felt at the sound. She didn’t want to feel warmth for him. She pushed the cart down the hall slowly, trying to silence the squealing of the wheels. Then she heard laughter coming from the classroom, and she was curious. She wanted to peek around the open door, but she didn’t want to be seen. She sat in a lounge chair in the hall, close enough to hear but far enough to stay hidden.
“That’s not what it was called, Doctor Wentworth,” she heard a young woman say.
“It is,” James said. “I’m not taking any credit for it, but the name of the house was Wentworth Place. It was owned by Keats’s friend Charles Armitage Brown, on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Brown said that Keats wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in that very house in the garden under a mulberry tree.”
“That was in the 1800s,” another young woman said. “It’s not like Professor Wentworth could have been there.”
“Of course I wasn’t there.” Sarah heard James’s amused undertone as he continued. “The co-owner of Wentworth Place, a man named Dilke, insisted that Keats didn’t write the poem at the house at all, and the story that he did was pure delusion on Brown’s part.”
“So who was right?” a male student asked.
“Who knows?” James said. “No one wrote Keats’s biography when he was alive. After he died people tried to piece bits of his life together to form some kind of narrative, but memory is a funny thing. We remember what we want to remember and leave the rest out. Two people can experience the same event at the same time and have completely different memories of it. Which one is right?”
“I think the nightingale is right,” the male student said.
James laughed with the class. “Very funny, Levon,” he said.
“Seriously,” Levon continued, “that was some nightingale. Keats made it seem like that bird’s song could send you spinning into an acid trip or something.”
“I don’t think they used acid in the nineteenth century,” James said. “Opium was more like it, but you’re on the right track. What in the poem makes you link the nightingale’s song to a drug?”
“It’s right here,” Levon said. “‘That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim.’”
“Very good,” James said. “Yes? Crystal?”
“I don’t like this poem. It seems like it’s going to be a sweet tribute to the nightingale’s song, but really it’s about death and dying.”
“It’s about immortality,” said another male student. “It’s about removing the line between life and death.”
From the hallway Sarah heard the pause in James’s voice. “What makes you say that, Greg?” he asked.
“Starting on Line 61: ‘Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down…’”
“He’s talking about the line between reality and fantasy,” said Crystal. “He’s not saying that death is a good thing. He’s saying he can’t tell.”
“I don’t get it,” said another male voice.
“I know the old-time language can be confusing,” James said, “but stick with it, Pete. It’ll make sense soon.”
Then Levon’s voice: “Doctor Wentworth?”
There was a pause, then James said, “Yes, Levon, go ahead. Good luck tonight.”
“Are you coming? You promised you were coming.”
Another pause. “I’ll do my best,” James said.
Levon burst out of the room with such speed he didn’t see Sarah sitting in the hallway. He tripped over the book cart and pressed his heavy hands onto Sarah’s shoulders as he struggled to stay upright.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he said as he sprinted down the hall and disappeared out the side exit. Sarah noticed that he was wearing his blue and orange ice hockey jersey. That’s right, she thought, tonight’s a big game against Bowdoin.
Back in the classroom, the conversation continued.
“Professor Wentworth, is Keats saying death is a good thing or a bad thing?”
“What do you think, Amy?”
“I think he’s saying that since he’s heard the bird’s song and it was so beautiful he feels like he can die now. He’s experienced the most beautiful thing there is. He doesn’t seem afraid to die, though, almost like he welcomes it. Or like he thinks there’s no difference between life and death. That’s crazy.”
Sarah needed to see James’s face. She wanted to see the man, the…man she had dismissed from her life the night before. Is this who she was afraid of, the English professor who spoke to his students with such patience, the one who gave her gifts of poetry, the one who wouldn’t let her leave the library alone at night, the one who wouldn’t leave her side without kissing the top of her head? She stood up, pushed the book cart forward, and stood in the open doorway. A few students noticed her, but they didn’t seem concerned to see a librarian with a cartful of books. She watched James as he sat on the edge of the instructor’s desk, his arms crossed casually in front of his chest, his eyes on the linoleum floor as he considered his words. An expression of such thoughtfulness. Sarah knew suddenly that her idea of a romantic hero wasn’t a warrior or a superhero. He was intelligent and contemplative. Kind. Caring. Like James.
Finally, James said, “What if there isn’t the line in the sand between life and death we insist on drawing there? What if what waits for us on the other side isn’t better or worse than what we have now? Just different? What if we can transcend life and death to a limbo world between, and find as much joy in the next life as we can in this one…?”
“Do you really think we can find joy after we’re dead, Professor?”
James saw Sarah standing in the doorway.
“I do,” he said.
He stared at her until everyone in the class turned to see where he was looking. A few students snickered, snapping him from his reverie.
“All right, everyone,” he said. “See you next week.”
The students grabbed their laptops and their backpacks and filed out the door. A few greeted Sarah when they passed her. When the room was empty, Sarah stepped inside and waited. She wasn’t afraid of him, not anymore, but she wasn’t sure he wanted to see her. She had dismissed him so rudely the night before. Not that she didn’t have her reasons. Though she hoped he understood, she wouldn’t blame him if he never wanted to talk to her again.
James watched her, the same intense gaze he always had with her. He walked to the book cart and asked, “Are these for me?” Sarah nodded. “Thank you,” he said, glancing at the titles. “These are exactly what I needed. But you didn’t need to drag them across campus. You could have sent them up to my office from the main floor.”
Sarah felt her cheeks blush hot. She hadn’t wanted to bring James the books, and now there was nowhere else she’d rather be than in that classroom beside him.
“Jennifer told me I needed to bring them to you,” she said.
He shook his head. “Jennifer. That doesn’t surprise me.”
“She is my boss.”
“I think bossy is the word. Perhaps meddling is more like it.”
He checked the time on the clock on the wall. “I have to go,” he said. “I told Levon I’d try to make it to the game tonight.”
Sarah had to hide her disappointment. She was hoping he’d be so glad to see her he’d sweep her into his arms and carry her back to his wooden gabled house, or at least hold her close awhile. She sighed when she realized he wasn’t thinking any such thing. He was standing away from her, his hands in the pockets of his gray trousers, his eyes on the books on the cart.
“I’ll bring these back to your office,” she said.
“Absolutely not. You had no business bringing them out here in the first place.”
He walked back to the instructor’s desk, grabbed his book bag, and turned out the lights. In the hallway, he took possession of the cart and wheeled it out the door.
“Were you going to the game?” he asked.
“I was thinking about it.” Actually, she had no such thought. She couldn’t care less about ice hockey, but if James was going then she wanted to go too.
“I’d be happy to escort you. If you’d like that.” He grimaced, a flash of concern in his night-dark eyes. “I understand if you don’t want to be anywhere near me, Sarah. I don’t think I would want to be anywhere near me if I were you. I know I should have told you sooner. I didn’t keep it from you because I didn’t trust you. I kept it from you because I knew you would be afraid. Who wouldn’t be?”
Sarah put her hand over his as he wheeled the cart across College Drive. He stopped at her touch, and she didn’t pull away from his lifeless skin. It didn’t feel odd. It felt…like James. “I don’t think anyone who talks about the Romantic poets the way you do could hurt anyone,” she said. “I’m glad Jennifer sent me tonight.”
As they walked they glanced shyly at each other, like teenagers with a crush. Then he stopped, stacked the books on the bottom shelf of the cart, and patted the top shelf. “Hop on,” he said.
Sarah shook her head. “I could barely push the cart with just the books.”
“I think I can handle it.”
He picked her up as if she weighed no more than a porcelain doll, then sat her on top of the cart. He pushed her forward, onto the green near the residence hall, past the annex to the main library building. He wasn’t running, but he moved quickly, and Sarah felt her heart race and her breath quicken. She felt like she did when she was a girl and she went on the roller coasters at Great Adventure, the adrenaline rushing, feeling alive. Students and professors waved and laughed as they rushed by, and they were at the library too soon. She hadn’t felt such child-like glee for years. James stopped the cart, lifted her from the shelf, and placed her gently on the ground. They took the elevator to the third floor where he put the books into his office, and they left the empty cart on the main floor.
They walked hand in hand to the O’Keefe Center, to Rockett Arena where the game had already started. Sarah stopped short when she saw the “Sold Out” signs displayed in the box office windows, but James led her toward the turnstile.
“Levon gave me tickets,” he said.
“Hey, Doctor Wentworth,” the usher said. “Your seats are down front.”
They walked into an electric atmosphere of blue and orange, and shouts of “Vikings!” or “Defense!” bounced off the walls back at the spectators like yodels down a mountain range. As she looked around, Sarah saw nearly an equal number of Bowdoin supporters in their white hoodies with their school’s polar bear logo. The score was tied, 2-2, and Sarah saw Levon, the Viking goalie, set in concentration as the puck flew his way.
The game passed in a blur for Sarah. Every once in a while, if the crowd screamed loudly enough, she would check the score, but otherwise she was consumed by James. He cheered as loudly as anyone, cursed a bad call, shouted encouragement for Levon. When Levon blocked a potential Bowdoin winning goal, James stood up and shouted, “That’s my boy!” Sarah smiled whenever a student recognized him and gave him the hi sign or shouted “How ya doin’ Professor?” or “Hey Doctor Wentworth! Don’t usually see you at the games!”
The Vikings scored again in the fourth quarter, and they won 3-2. The cheers in the arena echoed so loudly Sarah had to cover her ears to stop the ringing. Levon skated past to the locker room, and he stopped when he saw them.
“Doctor Wentworth, you made it!” He pointed his chin in Sarah’s direction. “I saw you earlier. You were waiting for the professor in the hall.”
Sarah felt her cheeks blush hot. “I had some books for him.”
“That’s right. I remember tripping over the cart.” Levon grinned. “You’re the Humanities librarian.”
“She’s a nice lady, Doctor Wentworth.”
“Yes, she is,” James said.
Levon looked at Sarah, still grinning. “I’m glad you’re hanging out with the professor. I’ve been telling him he needs a friend…”
“Good night, Levon.”
Levon laughed at the professor’s terse dismissal as he skated away.
After the crowd cleared, James took Sarah’s hand and led her back to the library. It was dark, Jennifer had closed for the night, so Sarah used her keys to let them in. She flipped on the lights of the main floor, and suddenly they were alone inside. James sat in a chair by one of the computer terminals, and he logged into his account and typed something into the keyboard. Sarah walked over to him, as close as she dared. She wanted to brush his gold hair from his eyes. She wanted to kiss him, but she wouldn’t pressure him again. He took his glasses off and slid them into his shirt pocket, and she was glad he felt comfortable enough to put his disguise away, meager as it was.
“Look at this,” he said. He turned the monitor so Sarah could see what he had pulled up—information about the year 1662.
“The year I was born.”
She leaned over his shoulder so she could see the screen clearly. He leaned toward her, his hair touching her cheek.
“You’re three hundred and forty-nine years old,” she said. He nodded. “You look good for your age.”
He laughed, though the amusement became a sigh. He took Sarah’s hand and held onto it. She didn’t want him to let go. He brought her around the chair and she sat on his lap. She leaned into him, her back against his chest.
“Immortality sounds like a gift, doesn’t it?” He spoke softly, whispering in her ear. “Never growing old or feeble. Never ailing, never dying. But my nights became monotonous. I had to find a way to give meaning to my time, so I began teaching. It’s an odd job for me, I suppose, but then any job besides Grim Reaper might seem odd for one of my kind. I enjoy sharing the knowledge I’ve gained, and since so few people know what I am, no one questions me. I’m virtually undetectable in this world.”
“Where were you born?”
“London. I moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with my father, John, who made his fortune as a merchant. We both wanted a fresh start after my mother died, and we were intrigued by the untapped opportunities in the New World. We knew of the seaport here and the possibilities of making more money in the merchant trade, so we immigrated.”
“Did you meet your wife here or in London?”
James paused, and she turned her head so she could see his face. His brow was furrowed, his eyes closed as he rested his head against the chair. He seemed to wonder how to say what he needed to say.
“I met my wife here, through friends of the family, over supper one evening. She died too young. Many people died young in the seventeenth century, but she didn’t die from illness or childbirth as so many did then. She died for all the wrong reasons.”
Something James said made Sarah pause, something tugged at the edges of her memory, but she didn’t try to make sense of it then. She was just happy to be near him.
“You must have had a fascinating life,” she said.
He looked sad as he nodded. As Sarah sat on his lap, feeling his strength envelope her, part of her, her logical mind, began to balk against the supernatural hocus pocus. Though she had felt his unbeating chest, he was so human in every other way. How could this young-looking man have been born during colonial times? How could he be dead but alive, talking to her, stroking her hair? She touched her hand to his cheek, felt the lifelessness there, and she was reminded that the hocus pocus was true. Silently to herself, she tried to list all the changes that had happened over the last three hundred years.
“It must be jarring to you, the passage of time,” she said. “Like that old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
“It can be quite a shock sometimes to remember it’s the twenty-first century and not the seventeenth, though human nature hasn’t changed much in all that time. Apart from the new-fangled technology, what people want from their lives has remained essentially the same. They want their basic needs met. They want security. They want to know they matter.”
Again, Sarah thought of James’s wife. She remembered his reaction the first time he saw her the night she went to look at his house.
“When you saw me the first time, you thought I was your wife even though she died over three hundred years ago?”
“Do you still think I look like her?”
He spoke quickly, as if he needed to change the subject. “I’m sure it’s hard for a human to accept the fact that my kind exists. There are probably around a million in all, more in Salem as well. Timothy, for example.”
Sarah had seen the pale-faced, dark-eyed, dark-haired boy following James around the library like a faithful puppy with his tongue out and his tail wagging. Whenever she saw the boy she thought he seemed too young to be in college.
“And Jocelyn. You met her on Halloween. She was dressed as Cher.”
“Jocelyn and Steve are vampires?”
“Not Steve. Just Jocelyn.”
“A vampire married to a human?”
James shrugged but he smiled. “It happens,” he said.
“It must be hard for a human to be married to a vampire.”
“Jocelyn and Steve seem to manage. They’re one of the happiest couples I know.”
James paused and his face softened as he watched her. She wanted to love the way he was looking at her, but she couldn’t help wondering who it was he looked at with such tenderness, the memory of his wife Elizabeth or her. She wanted to believe he saw her since she was the one sitting on his lap, but then she remembered what happened the other night, the coldness between them when all she wanted was to be closer to him. She shuddered at the memory of the way he jumped into his car and sped away.
“I suppose it depends on how different the human is willing for her life to be,” he said, his voice trailing away with the thought.
“I didn’t know about you until last night. You don’t seem that different.”
“But I am. I’ve become better at hiding it over the years. For one thing, we’re on different schedules. Most of life happens during the day while I’m sleeping. And I drink blood, Sarah. I need blood to survive.”
“That is different.”
“There’s also the fear factor. Some people might be too nervous about the fact that their significant other drinks blood. She might be afraid her vampire would suddenly decide he’s hungry one night and start feeding on the closest human he can find.”
“And you’re dead?”
He shook his head again. Of everything Sarah had learned about him, that fact amazed her the most. How can a body function without a heartbeat? Even a vampire body. Especially a vampire body. Looking at him as he held himself so still, she wanted to reach out, pull him even closer, run her fingers through his hair. He was the bigger, stronger one by far, yet something about him looked so vulnerable then. But instead of grabbing him, she reached out her hand and touched his chest where his heart should be. The nothing that had frightened her so much the night before, no rise and fall of air, no pounding life rhythm, now seemed merely an interesting fact about James. She looked into his night-dark eyes and saw a faint smile, maybe one he didn’t intend for her to see. With a little more courage brought on by his smile, she pressed her ear where her hand had been. She could have stayed that way all night. Then she felt his chin on top of her head. His head felt heavy, but the pressure felt right. She stayed there longer than it took to hear the hollow silence inside his chest.
“Still nothing,” she said.
“How does the blood you drink flow through your body if your heart doesn’t pump?”
“I don’t know.”
She raised her head from his chest and looked him in the eye.
“Tell me about Elizabeth.”
He shook his head. “Another time.”
“Tell me anything. Tell me about the day you met.”
James closed his eyes again. He stayed that way so long Sarah thought he fell asleep. When he opened his eyes to look at her, she thought he seemed far away, as if he had traveled back in time. When he spoke his voice sounded different, like an actor in a Shakespearean play. He smiled as he thought of that long-ago day.
“I remember how my heart danced dizzying circles the first time I saw her over the supper table where my father and I were gathered with friends. Her family was new to the Massachusetts Bay Colony having just arrived from England.”
“What year was it?”
He thought a moment. “1691. From the moment I saw her I knew I had never seen anyone as beautiful. She was talking to her younger sister in a sweet, motherly way, and I might not have been there at all for all that she noticed me. When she finally looked around the table and saw me gazing at her, our eyes met and I knew instantly she was the one for me. It came as no surprise that other young men had noticed her. I didn’t think I had a chance to win her hand. Surely she could find someone better than me, I thought, but she was always on my mind.
“My father, ever my friend and protector, noticed how distracted I was and how gammy, how clumsy, I had become. I was tripping all over myself, knocking everything over, unable to concentrate at my work. There was a particularly embarrassing incident one afternoon when I spilled hot coffee over a potential buyer. My father had found a new supplier for the beans and he was hoping this man, Mr. Smithers, would purchase most, if not all, of our product.
“‘James,’ my father called, ‘bring Mr. Smithers some of that coffee I brewed this morn. He should taste how warming and delicious the drink is for himself.’ Though I was standing but a foot away I hardly heard him.
“‘Aye?’ I said.
“‘The coffee, Son.’
“‘Coffee?’ I answered.
“‘Aye, James. Coffee.’
“I rushed to the tea service, an expensive set my father had imported from somewhere exotic, and I clanged around until I fit the right top onto the right pot. My father and Mr. Smithers watched with amused grins. I tripped over I-didn’t-know-what as I brought the tea service to the table, and I knocked into a chair and the pot fell over, spilling hot liquid all over Mr. Smithers, down his white linen shirt and white stockings. Mr. Smithers, as if nothing strange had happened, touched his fingertips to the puddle on his breeches and put his hand to his mouth.