Tuesday, 4 September 2012


“Demons” by Heather Frost

Prologue (Part 1)

Patrick O’Donnell
May 10, 1797
Wexford County, Ireland

My lower back was beginning to ache. I’d been hunched over far too long, but I wasn’t about to move just yet. I was finally getting it right. The shading wasn’t too dark around her eyes, and the gentle planes of her small face were sloped almost to perfection.
This in itself would have been reason enough for me not to move. I was a painter—sketching had never come easily to me. When I worked with paints, it required no thought. The canvas called to me, guiding my strokes. The art of drawing was an entirely different experience, however. I would agonize over every line, second-guess every mark I tried to make. Sometimes I enjoyed the challenge, while at other times I had to force myself through every second. Today was surely a mixture of both.
There was another reason I refused to acknowledge the muscles screaming in my body, the reason for my taking up the sketch at all, even though I would have rather spent the day working on the painting of my mother’s garden—a painting I’d started a few days ago. I’d recently finished a painting of my father’s cherished church, where he was the local pastor, and my mother loved it so much that she insisted I immortalize her flowers.
That is how I would have spent the day, had I not remembered the dream.
It was simple, as dreams go. Just a face. At first, I believed it to be pretty, though upon further staring I realized the deeper beauty. Small, delicate, and perhaps more rounded than most people would consider attractive. But there was something so warm, so real about that face. She had a small smile playing about her lips, and her hair was long—a combination of blonde and brown. It looked so soft, and I remember wanting to reach out and touch the subtly waving locks, though I couldn’t. In my dream, I stood frozen. I simply watched her, and although she didn’t seem to notice me, I had a feeling that she knew she was being watched. Her eyes were green at first glance, yet a deeper look revealed thin flecks of gold. It felt like I stared at her all night. Her image was burned into my mind, and I was sure that it would be forever. Still, I was working feverishly to finish this unjust portrayal of her unique beauty. And though it did not capture her completely, my drawing was one of the best sketches I’d ever managed to create.
“My brother, the genius!” a boisterous voice called suddenly, breaking into my thoughts.
I glanced up quickly, my pencil pausing instinctively against the paper. I smiled as I watched my younger brother approach. He had just celebrated his sixteenth birthday two days ago. I would be eighteen soon, but I knew he would still take pleasure in the fact that he was “gaining” on me.
Sean strolled across the yard, stepping through the long green grass with full, leisurely strides. He looked a great deal like me, though many claimed he had inherited more of my mother’s attractive looks. He was certainly the stronger personality between us. Where I was often seen as shy and studious, Sean was always smiling and thoroughly involved. He was the first to begin a dance, and the last to leave any social event. Many praised his quick wit, and he was acutely aware of this admiration. Though I had plenty of reasons to be jealous, I was not. He was my brother, and I loved him. As he loved me.
“Your dedication amazes me,” Sean continued, his hands deep in his pockets. It was the characteristic pose the men of our family took, except he always made it seem natural rather than nervous. “I’ve never finished a thing in my life,” he said with an oddly satisfied grin, jumping easily over the small stream that trickled through our back pasture.
Our modest home of gray stone and brown wood dominated my view, a dirt lane and rolling hills the only other things in sight. It was a backdrop I loved, and one that I often called upon to help fuel my creativity. The old stump that I sat on was at the back edge of our land, though it wasn’t close enough to the rudimentary fence for me to recline against. Nevertheless, sitting here afforded me the most inspirational view, so I suffered through the slight discomfort.
I watched Sean close the remainder of the distance between us, and I finally spoke. “You’ve never regretted that before.”
“Ah, but I don’t regret it now. I merely state fact.” He stooped before me, and I quickly lifted my pencil as he snatched my unfinished drawing away. He brought it closer to his face, so he could inspect it critically. While he did, I stretched my knotted back muscles and flexed my stiff fingers. I didn’t stand, though. I didn’t rush him to speak—I knew he would give his opinion with minimal urging, once he was finished appraising the piece.
I expected a jibe of some kind, but instead his voice was mildly surprised. “This is good, Patrick.” He paused, then added playfully, “What is it supposed to be?”
I frowned at him, and he laughed as he caught sight of my face. “Merely teasing you, big brother. Really, it’s quite good. Who is she?”
He returned the thin book that held my drawings, and as I took it back I quickly ran my eyes analytically over the sketch. “I don’t know. I saw her face in a dream.”
“She’s pretty.”
“Yes,” I whispered, gazing into her eyes. “She is.”
He cocked his head, coming around me to look at the sketch over my shoulder. “You know, she’s almost familiar.”
I glanced over at him, interested. “Are you sure?”
His brow furrowed in thought, eyes drawn to her face. “Yes. Still,
I can’t imagine where I might have seen her. Surely not your dreams, though.”
We shared a quick laugh at the absurdity of that thought, and then Sean slapped a hand against my shoulder, pulling me out of my thoughts before I could become submerged again.
He knew me well.
“Mother wishes you to come inside.” His blue eyes—an exact repetition of mine—grew knowing. “Sarah McKenna came to call on her, and we’re to entertain her until mother can finish listening to Father’s preparatory sermon.”
I hesitated, my eyes darting back to the page in front of me. “I’m nearly done.”
Sean sighed loudly. “Patrick, you are the epitome of hopeless. You are aware that Mother arranged this for your benefit, surely?”
My brow furrowed in confusion. “But Sarah called on mother.”
“Diabolical, isn’t she?”
“Who? Mother or Sarah?”
Sean shrugged. “Both?”
I chuckled with him, scooping up my work under one arm so we could walk together back to the house.
Sarah McKenna waited in the small parlor. She was wearing a nice dress of pleasant blue, and her red curly hair caught my artistic eye as it always did. The color was just so bright, so vivid. It was piled carefully on her head, in a way only a woman could accomplish. She was sitting near the window, thumbing through one of Father’s philosophy books. She looked up as we entered, and a smile spread across her face. She was my same age, our birthdays mere weeks apart. We had played together as children, and she had teased me through adolescence. And now as we approached adulthood, she always seemed to find an excuse to visit my parents. Her eyes were a beautiful blue, and her face was pale and lightly freckled. Her face was very feminine, and somehow managed to be smoothly angular.
She was perhaps the most beautiful woman in the province; she knew this, sometimes to her detriment. Still, though her quick tongue could often get her into trouble, her dazzling eyes always seemed to repair any damage.
She laid the book aside and stood. “The O’Donnell brothers. What a pleasure.”
“The pleasure is strictly ours,” Sean rejoined at once, offering a quick bow.
I added my own nod and a not so graceful, “Good day, Miss McKenna.”
She smiled at me and then noticed the brown leather book under my arm. “Your drawings. Have I interrupted the master at work?”
“You flatter me,” I said honestly, following her glance to my book.
“May I see your newest masterpiece?”
“If you wish.”
She smiled. “I do.”
I shifted the book to her hands, and she opened it to the last drawing in the sketchbook—almost in the exact middle. I watched her face as she studied my drawing, and I felt my stomach tighten when she frowned. Sean stood next to me, silently watching this exchange. I was grateful that he didn’t leave, because I knew that I’d soon run out of things to say to her; his wit would come into play beautifully, as it always did. Finally, Sarah looked up at me, her eyes impressed. “You’ve improved. The last sketch of yours I saw was . . .”
“Horrible beyond comprehension?” Sean supplied, his tone exceedingly helpful.
I sent a warning glance toward him, but Sarah was laughing lightly.
“It wasn’t like your paintings,” she admitted. “However, this . . . You have captured emotion. Except it is almost a nameless one. Who is she? And what is she thinking that creates that smile and so captures your attention?” She shook her head lightly. “Whatever it is, I would certainly like to learn it.”
I nearly blushed but somehow managed to keep calm. “I don’t know who she is. And what she is thinking . . .” I shrugged slowly. “Perhaps I’ll never know.”
Sarah smiled at me. “Why, Patrick, you speak so mysteriously.”
“I don’t mean to.”
Sean grunted. “Of course he does. Miss McKenna, he is just so superior, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is.” Watching the way her eyes drifted back toward me—so intently, so easily—I suddenly realized a startling truth. Sarah McKenna was genuinely taken with me.
Perhaps even more startling, I realized in that moment that I might genuinely be taken with her.

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