In Dreams Begin: Excerpt


from Chapter 5:
They But Thrust Their Buried Men
Back in the Human Mind Again
Berkley Books, November 2010

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As children, Maud and Ida had walked thus, deliberate and slow, down Donnybrook Road, both of them shaking, although only Maud with fear. Arm in trembling arm again now, through the dark October graves, toward Georges’s tomb, Ida still needed to caution herself against skipping in her first giddy moment since arriving in France almost a month ago. The country irritated her, the rigorous attention the nation paid to beauty, the constant wine in small glasses, and how at home Maud was within it.

Ever the hostess—ever the French hostess, for all her Irish color—Maud had brought red wine and flowers to the crypt. Ida, always more practical, carried candles, blankets, and lap rugs. Maud unlocked the metal doors of Georges’s little memorial chapel, and Ida stepped into its dark of underground smells and windless cold.

Ida dropped the furs in a corner while Maud cursed benignly, burning matches, unable to make the flame stick to the candle wicks. If they lived together and entertained, they would bustle about thus, in friendly silence, preparing for their guests. But tonight only Lucien was expected, he and whatever spirits came, invited or otherwise. Ida tore the bloom from one of Maud’s flowers and scattered the petals over the altar. “Why don’t you let me light the candles, darling?” she suggested.

Maud leaned her back against the cold and unadorned stone wall. “Ida . . .”

“I know.” Ida kept her smile sympathetic, and took the matches from Maud’s ghost-white fingers. “Pour the wine.”

“Ida, I don’t think I can do what I . . .”

“Go ahead and have yourself a glassful, dear. We have more than enough for our communion.”

Maud took glasses from the wooden crate they had provisioned over several trips to the little mausoleum. Ida lit the candles, humming to herself. Maud already had a reputation for pleasant evening gatherings, but Ida would raise the tone of the soirées. She and Maud would talk Art and God with their guests, not only politics. The tomb’s rich, under-earth smell of graveworms and mushrooms crept over Ida. Maud had been too frightened of tonight to eat, but when they entertained together, Cook would serve duck in whiskey sauce, or salmon with morels.

The candles blazed like a birthday cake, dancing in the drafts admitted through the glassless windows and the open grate in the door. Possibly too from the colder metal doors in the cold stone floor. Maud sat on the provisions box, wordlessly taking her wine like the poison or medicine it was. “Did you want some, Ida?”

“No.”

“He will be here soon.”

“Yes, I should think so.” Ida stood over Maud, strong and unafraid, behind Maud’s sloping, robed shoulders. In Paris, Halloween festivities would be mocking the rites and devils Ida and Maud hoped to make real tonight, in the little village of Samois. Through the provincial streets to its tiny cemetery, Maud had walked, a priestess or a secret witch cloaked and hooded with Ida, her familiar bird, wing-in-elbow beside her. But inside Georges’s little burial chapel, Maud shrunk to an Irish crone, her ritual robes a weathered shawl wrapped over curling shoulders and the hollowed-out hole where her heart had been, and Ida, her carrion bird behind her.

She plucked the pins from Maud’s hair. “Let’s prepare you,” she whispered.

Maud did not move while Ida’s pecking fingers unwound the braided skeins of rust and shadow. It slithered free over Maud’s shoulders, and she absently pushed back the strands snaking into her face. She caught Ida’s hand in an icy grip. “Ida, I’m frightened.”

Maud choked on the blood-scraped whisper, but Ida had heard, and her smile broke like a towering thundercloud. Maud’s deathbed promise to her father broken—to never be afraid of anything, not even death—and Ida here beside her. She sank down beside Maud’s shuddering shoulders and wrapped her robe-winged arms around them. “Shhh,” she murmured, cheek in flowing hair, lips to sunken throat. “You must master your fear. There is no other way.”

In Dreams Begin >

Skyler White writes angels and scientists, demons and revolutionaries, secret societies and sacred sex to play in the places where myth and modernity tangle.

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Represented by Waxman Leavell Literary Agency