I think that Libby’s hypnotism never wore off. I continued having the strangest dreams, and random sights and sounds kept popping up in my head after that night. It got so bad that I could hardly sleep some nights. Flashes of a churning stream. A wide field. A broad forest, its floor teeming with berry bushes. These images just keep flashing through my dreams, and then just like that, they’d be gone, giving way to another. There was nothing tangible, nowhere to step through and explore, just a split second image to taunt me. But one thing that kept repeating itself was the image of Mama’s face in the door of that little log cabin. Her face was ravaged with pain, red and puffy from crying, and her hair was a mess. Her hair was never a mess now. And then something new, that emerged in a vivid dream: the name James.
If I was braver – or stupider – I may have asked Mama about him. James, I mean. But her face in my dreams was one I did not want to bring to reality. So I said nothing.
I asked Ellie about these things – after all, she recognized that song, but that seemed to be the only memory on her part. She was just as confused and intrigued in all these things as I was, but I guess a year made a big difference, because she had no memories of before like I did.
So you can guess what I did to retreat from these haunting dreams. I returned to the television, the computer and loud music. I had to drown out the fiddle, the crying, the tune of Wayfaring Stranger, even my sisters’ laughter.
Mama and Papa noticed the change in me, but neither of them really said anything. Every once in a while Mama would ask if I was okay, but I always said I was. How could I confide in them? I couldn’t bear to have that worried look cross their face again.
Dr. Wolf kept coming around every once in a while. He’d bring the latest movies and even video games to our doorstep. Mama again sent her disapproval by her look, but my sisters rushed to the door whenever he came around. It was almost as if he wanted to remove us from our past, or the way of life Mama would have us live in her home. She looked defeated each time he came, too. Defeated, and sad. These were the times I wanted to return again to the old days, but every time I thought about them, the flashbacks and tinges of pain returned. So I escaped to this new world of contrived happiness. But the moment I unplugged, it returned. All I wanted to do was try to forget this big mystery of where we came from, but it always had its ways of resurfacing again. There really was no escape.
As I went through high school, I found myself dealing with terrible mixed emotions at the prospect of leaving home for college. Part of me wanted to get away and be my own person, away from the reminders of the past. Still part of me wished to stay here and forever be Mama’s little girl, even with all the mystery and feelings of wonder and pain – it was comfortable at home. There was one time every year where I could feel little and carefree again. That was Christmas. And so the Christmas of my senior year was very much awaited, though bittersweet, as I knew it would be my last year at home.
The day turned out to be near perfect. We’d gone to a beautiful, peaceful candlelit Christmas Eve service at our church the night before, and woke up to several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground in the morning. Mama had long since decreed that there was to be no technology on Christmas day, and this one rule had remained steadfast in our family.
It was a tradition in our house that we were not allowed to go downstairs until we heard Papa play his fiddle. And once the melody of O Come all ye Faithful came drifting up the stairs, all of our doors flung open and we stampeded out in our pajamas.
We rounded the corner into the kitchen, where Papa winked at us and continued his playing. Mama turned round from the griddle, where she was flipping pancakes.
“Good morning, lovelies,” she said sweetly.
“There come my chickens!” hollered Papa, setting his fiddle down at the end of the song. We all ran up and gave him big bear hugs. A flashback of all of us about two and a half feet shorter popped into my head, and I smiled. Christmas always had a way of bringing out the best in us.
“Bacon’s on the counter, and I am taking orders for eggs now!” called Mama. “Make your mark!” She set out a little notepad with all different types of eggs listed for us to tally up our orders. “One catch – you gotta help cook them!”
A half groan came out from each of us, but we soon stopped. We all helped on Christmas.
“Play another song, Papa,” begged Jackie. “Pleeeeease.”
Papa nodded and thought for a minute. Then he picked up his fiddle and started playing Away in a Manger, and eyeing Mama. That was her favorite Christmas song. I glanced at her. She was smiling a kind of smile I hadn’t seen in a long while.
The day passed without event, just a simple, old-fashioned Christmas, as Papa called it. We opened presents at the foot of our enormous tree, ate our dinner, and then feasted on the pumpkin and sweet potato pies Mama had made. Later, the Ameses came over to play card games and we had a jolly old time. It was truly one of the best times I can remember having with my family.
But even though we all realized that we had the most fun when we were just spending time together and helping out around the house, the TVs and computers were all switched on again the next day.
Before I knew it, it was time to head off to college. The hardest part was leaving my sisters – especially Ellie, even though I knew it’d only be another year before she joined me. Libby stayed at home, going to a school in
. As for me, I was off to Indianapolis Indiana University
in southern .
It was a brand new world for me. Indiana
Olive Yancey was my roommate. If my parents weren’t already shaken at moving me down to college, they were shaken after having met Olive.
First of all, it took us a while to even find my dorm building. But once we did, we had to lug all of my things up three flights of stairs and down a long hall before finally reaching my room. Then we walked in to Olive. She had her back turned when we approached the door way, and all we saw was her standing on a chair posting old black-and-white photos to the wall. My father looked like he was about to have a spell.
“Oh, hello!” Her voice certainly matched her appearance, small and rather high – almost squeaky. She hopped down from her chair and approached us.
“How do you do,” mumbled Papa, still eyeing the photos on the wall. There were handwritten family trees extending over the photos, many of which were edged in the old tintype frames.
“You must excuse me, sir,” said the freckled blonde. “I’ve only just begun in genealogy, but I find it completely fascinating. Of course, I’ve only researched my mother’s side. But I’m about to begin on my father’s.” Her eyes and smile widened with each excited word.
Papa looked at her incredulously, not saying a word.
“Oh, dear. I’m very sorry. My name is Olive Yancey.” She extended her hand.
Mama’s face turned suddenly pale, her jaw dropping.
“Mr. Fox,” Papa only said idly, shaking her hand. But his wife’s face suddenly caught his attention and he started. “I’m sorry. D-did you say Yancey?” His voice sounded shaky.
My face must have taken quite a turn at that. What was this about? We hadn’t even moved from the doorway and already there was a mystery. Again.
“Yes, sir. But I haven’t a clue about that family. You see, my father died when I was very young. I only know they’re from the area – haven’t much more of a clue on them.” She suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, no. I’ve done it again. I’m sorry.”
Mama’s face lightened up. “Oh, it’s alright, dear,” she said, smiling. “I’m Evelyn, and this is our daughter, Maddie. She’s your roommate.”
“Well, hi.” Olive extended her hand again, and shook mine heartily. “It’s nice to meet you. I haven’t chosen a bed, and we can move these around if you want. I don’t care.” Her voice had a hint of a southern accent.
There was a lot to be done. We needed to unpack things, set up things, and move around things. But Mama, strangely, was continuously drawn to the photos on the wall, which drew Olive over to tell her about them, Papa to complaining that there was still much to do, and me to want to curl up in a ball in the corner. I was relieved when they finally left, even after bidding Mama a tearful goodbye.
Olive flopped down on her bed, which was now the bottom bunk, and mine the top. It was quite a haul to get up there, but I preferred it. It had a nice view out our window, which looked out upon the beautiful rolling hills of southern
. I lay there gazing out the window
until Olive’s head popped out from underneath me. Indiana
“So. I hardly know yew.” Definitely a southern accent. “Where are ya from?”
That’s a loaded question, I thought to myself. “I grew up in Noblesville,” I replied. “Just north of
“Oh, sure. I know where Noblesville is. I think I have some family up there.”
“Where are you from?”
Olive laughed. “That’s a loaded question.”
I chuckled. “Funny. I thought the same thing when you asked me.”
Olive suddenly slid out of her bed and into her bean bag chair on the floor. “You did? Kay, I want to hear more about your family, then.”
“You didn’t tell me about yours!”
“Oh, I didn’t, did I?” She laughed silently. “Well, I was born up here, in
, but my dad died when I was only
two. So my mom took me and moved down to a little town in Bloomington to live with her parents. That’s
where I grew up.” Kentucky
“A little town called Middlesboro. It’s right near the
“Oh, definitely,” I said. “Why’d you want to come up here, then?”
“I just wanted to go to where my dad was from,” she said, shrugging. “He left me lots of letters and journals and things – since he knew he was going to die. He had cancer. So I just wanted to go somewhere where I’d be near to him.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to lose Papa.
“It’s alright. Another reason I came up here is because I know his grandma still lives around here somewhere. I’d like to meet her.”
“Well, maybe we can work on findin’ her,” I said. “I’ve got some family research to do in my time down here too.”
“Oh, do ya? Yeah, tell me more about yours.”
Well, I told her everything. I’m not sure why I felt I could open up just like that to her, but it was almost as if I’d found another long lost sister. Olive sat there on her bean bag chair motionless, wide-eyed, listening to every detail. When I could think of nothing more to say, I took a deep breath and flopped back onto my pillow.
“So, yeah. That’s – that’s it.” I chuckled. “Told ya it was a loaded question.”
“Well, first of all, your family sounds pretty cool,” Olive said, grinning, her green eyes sparkling. “I want to go see your mom’s garden. Second of all – do you think the Yancey family may play some part in this whole drama of yours?”
I thought for a moment. Drama was a great word to describe my “mystery.” But the way my parents reacted when they heard the name Yancey, and the way Mama kept looking at the pictures certainly lent themselves to that possibility.
“Yes,” I replied. “I think you may be onto something.”
“What are we? Nancy Drew?”
I thought for a moment again. Then: “Yes. I think you may be onto something,” I repeated, and we had a pretty good laugh.
Feedback? I edited a bunch out of the first two chapters about the food and whatnot, should I edit more out of the backstory or does it progress okay as it is? The meat of the story is about to begin. Thoughts?