Read The Divided Child Online

Authors: Ekaterine Nikas

The Divided Child

 

 

 

 

 

THE DIVIDED CHILD

 

 

Chapter One

 

           
It's
hard to remember a place you've never been.

           
But
when the turquoise sea darkened, and the oncoming storm filled the sky with
clouds -- obscuring the brilliant sunlight for which Greece is famous, I stared
down from the wall of Corfu's Old Fortress at a scene suddenly familiar.

           
A
curving bay of steel-blue water.
 
Cream-colored buildings rising gracefully above a grey stone
escarpment.
 
A verdant swath of
trees draped around the town like a necklace, and a veil of grey clouds
darkening toward the horizon to match the sea.
 
All that was missing was the frame.

           
As
a girl, I'd often gazed up at the small watercolor hanging above my bed,
dreaming of adventure and faraway lands.
 
Some days I’d wander the twisting streets searching for pirates.
 
Other days I'd dive into the cool water
of the bay and emerge from the surf with arms full of treasure.
 
And sometimes, when I was feeling
especially brave, I’d board one of the brightly painted ships anchored in the
harbor and sail off in search of my father, a wanderer lost on his journey
home.

           
The
memory made my throat ache.

           
I
contemplated the view.
 
It had
changed remarkably little in twenty-eight years.
 
My parents had been to Greece only once -- on their
honeymoon.
  
I was born nine
months later, and my grandfather considered it an established fact and a point
of great honor that I'd been conceived on Greek soil.
 
Perhaps that's why the picture had been hung in my room, though
I can't say for sure.
 
Mother never
talked about it.
 
I was fifteen
before I knew it had been painted by my father.

           
My
reminiscences were interrupted by a sudden spate of German.
 
Two tourists, a blond man and a blonder
young woman, walked hand-in-hand past where I sat on the crumbling wall.
 
He offered me a brief nod, she a
cursory smile, before their attention snapped back to each other.
 
I watched them climb out of sight,
their feet scrunching on the loose gravel, and felt -- with relief -- the past
recede.

           
I
stood up and dusted off my pants, reminding myself this was a vacation, not a
wake.
 
A cold gust of wind whipped
by, causing me to shiver.
 
The
clouds overhead had grown darker.
 
It was time to leave, before this unexpected May rainstorm did more than
just threaten.
 
I hesitated, then
turned to go.

           
Fate
is a strange thing.
 
The ancient
Greeks believed a person’s destiny was a thread to be spun, measured, and cut
at whim by the gods.
 
Yet we don’t
live in isolation; our fates are woven together.
 
And sometimes a single act -- a small tug on a delicate line
-- can pull the weave apart.
 
If
I’d just gone back to my hotel that morning and forgotten my father’s painting
come to life, things would have turned out differently.
 
But I, like Orpheus, could not resist
temptation.
 
I looked back, anxious
for one last glimpse of that scene from my childhood, and inadvertently I
started the whole bloody pattern unraveling.

           
I
don’t remember how the letter got into my hands.
 
I must have disinterred it from its resting place in my
wallet, but I did so mechanically, without conscious thought.
 
One minute I was staring at the view,
the next my eyes were fixed on a single blue sheet, worn and creased from
countless readings.

 

Christine,

           
I
don't know how to make this clear without just coming out and saying it.
 
I don’t want to see you again.
 
Difficult as it may be for you to
accept, you're no longer a part of my life.
 
You're a grown woman now.
 
It's high time you forget the past and get on with creating
a life of your own.

                                                           
Angus

 

           
I
stared down at the signature.
 
Angus.
 
Strange how he’d
never wanted us to call him anything else, almost as if by refusing the title
of father he could avoid its reality.
 
Yet names don’t matter to children; when he’d gone, the hurt had been
the same.
 
I crumpled the letter,
angry that reading it had somehow made me feel a child again.
 
Against my will, I began to cry in
small, hiccuping bursts.

           
A
gull keened loudly overhead, mocking me.
 
I sent the tightly wadded letter sailing over the wall and out of sight,
and for a moment felt a profound sense of relief.
 
Then depression returned, hastened no doubt by the darkening
sky.
 
I turned away and for the
second time prepared to leave.

           
"Excuse
me --"

           
I
spun around.
 
The voice had seemed
to come from directly behind me, but behind me was only the wall and empty
air.
 
I looked left and right.
 
Nobody.
 
My heart began to beat faster.

           
"Down
here."

           
The
voice was high and sweet.
 
I felt
rather sheepish as I moved toward the wall and looked down.
 
A young boy, perhaps nine or ten, stood
looking up at me from moss-covered steps some fifteen feet below.
 
He had brown hair and pale skin and
green eyes which curved down at the outside corners.
 
His expression was solemn for a boy his age, like a grave little
owl.

           
"Sorry.
 
Did I frighten you?"
 
His proper British enunciation added to
his strange grown-up air.

           
"It's
all right,” I said.
 
“I'll
recover."

           
He
regarded me closely.
 
"Care to
have my handkerchief?"

           
"That
obvious, eh?" I pulled a Kleenex from my purse and blotted my eyes.

           
He
shook his head.
 
"I heard you
crying."

           
"I
was remembering something sad, that’s all,” I murmured, embarrassed this young
stranger had been a witness to my weeping.

           
He
looked up at me with sympathetic eyes.
 
Something in the look made my lip tremble dangerously.
 
Time to change the subject.

           
"How
did you get down there, anyway?" I demanded in a firmer tone.
 
I peered to the right where the stone
steps rose up and disappeared behind a curve in the wall.
 
He didn't answer, so I circled around
and found the archway where the steps began.
 
It was barred with a locked metal gate, and there was a sign
warning in Greek: "
KINDUNOS!
 
MUN ELATE
!" "DANGER!
DO NOT ENTER!"
 
Craning to see
around a large, ferny plant, I could see the reason for the sign.
 
Descending steeply about fifty feet,
the steps led down to a flat balcony of rock.
 
Beyond that, there was no railing or parapet, only a cliff which
dropped several hundred feet to the sea.

           
I
ran back to warn him, but when I leaned over the wall, he was gone.
 
The mossy step he'd been standing on
was empty.
 
I retreated backwards,
trying to think of a rational explanation, but frightening mental images of the
boy tumbling into the sea kept pushing rationality aside.

           
The
tap on my arm made me jump.
 
I
whirled around to find him looking up at me, his green eyes quite
innocent.
 
"
How
--"

           
He
smiled and for a moment was transformed from sad owl to mischievous elf.
 
"There's a secret passage.
 
Care to see it?"

           
"I
think so.
 
It's about to
rain."

           
As
heavy drops began to pelt our faces, he took my hand and led me across the
gravel to a cobblestone road which led downward toward the castle's base.
 
His secret passage -- a narrow tunnel
from the interior of the fortress out to the battlements -- proved an excellent
shelter from what turned out to be a very brief downpour.
 
When we emerged out onto the flat
balcony of rock I'd seen before, it was puddled with water, but the rain had
diminished to a mere drizzle.

           
"Lucky
I met up with you,” I remarked.

           
"Happy
to be of service."
 
He flashed
a grin that sent his eyebrows adorably askew.
 
"Oh, that reminds me!"
 
He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out something
blue and crumpled.
 
"The
reason I called up to you.
 
You
dropped this."

           
He
held it out to me.
 
It was the
discarded letter.
 
I snatched it
from his hand, shoving it quickly back into my purse.

           
His
grin began to fade.
 
"I saw
the writing,” he said.
 
“I thought
it might be important."

           
"
No
."
 
My sharp tone caused what was left of his
smile to disappear.
 
"Look,
I’ve got to get going,” I said.
 
"Goodbye."

           
"Goodbye,"
he echoed softly.

           
I
started to leave.
 
He made no move
to follow.
 
"You will be
careful out here, won't you?" I asked, suddenly anxious about leaving him
there alone.
 
He nodded, but I
realized halfway through the tunnel I couldn't just walk away.
 
He'd probably be fine, but I had to be
sure. I turned and went back.
 
"It's none of my business, but does your family know you're
here?"
 
For a moment he looked
defiant, then slowly he shook his head.
 
That did it.
 
Now I was
stuck.
 
"What hotel are they
at?" I asked reluctantly.

           
"We're
not staying at a hotel.
 
We have a
house north of town.”
 
He flashed
me a worried look.
 
“You’re not
going to tell them I was here, are you?"

           
"No,"
I admitted, "not if you don't want me to.
 
But I can't in good conscience leave you to wander around
here by yourself, either.
 
It’s not
safe.
 
Perhaps I should put you in
a taxi home."

           
"But
I can't leave yet!” he exclaimed, his voice high with chagrin.
 
“I'll be careful, I promise!”

           
I
frowned.
 
It wasn’t really my place
to tell the poor kid what to do, but I felt a nagging sense of disquiet at
leaving him on his own.
 
The mental
image of him tumbling over that cliff had been a little too vivid.
 

           
“Please,
I just want to stay another hour or so.
 
An hour won't hurt anything, will it?"
 
His voice had turned coaxing.

           
"An
hour, eh?"
 
I glanced at my
watch.
 
It was only a little after
nine.
 
"Sounds okay to me.
 
Now that the rain’s over, maybe I’ll tag
along."

           
He
hesitated for a moment, then gave a small shrug.
 
"I suppose that would be all right."

           
I
sighed.
 
So much for reverse
psychology.
 
"Great.
 
My name’s Christine, by the way.
 
Christine Stewart.”
 
I held out my hand.

           
After
another moment’s hesitation he took it. "I’m Michael Redfield."

           
"Well,
Michael, what would you like to do now?"

           
He
didn't answer.

           
"How
about taking me on a tour of this place?
 
You seem to know quite a bit about it."

Other books
Redemption Street by Reed Farrel Coleman
The Trojan Horse by Hammond Innes
The Replacement Wife by Caitlin Crews
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke
Becky's Terrible Term by Holly Webb
Come Into Darkness by Russell, Daniel I.
Pathfinder by Julie Bertagna