Terror had pushed her almost to the limits of endurance. Moonlight, barely filtering through the overhead canopy of leaves, cast dark shadows that artfully destroyed her visual perception. The lowest branches of the trees slashed viciously at her face while the undergrowth clawed and scratched her limbs. Blood oozed from dozens of painful scrapes and dripped copiously from a number of deeper cuts. The sounds of pursuit seemed to echo off the forest trees to come at her again from seemingly different directions. Were she not so frightened, she would have understood that her pursuer was having as difficult a time as she, but the knowledge would have provided no comfort. Her ragged gasps for breath mingled with the sounds of pitiful sobbing that only uncontrolled fear for her safety could produce.
Suddenly, she saw light ahead. Expectation that she might find someone to help her buoyed her spirits and gave her new energy. But upon bursting through the outer row of trees that embraced the dense patch of forest, she discovered the light to be just the soft glow of the quarter moon's reflection dancing nonchalantly on the surface of a swiftly moving stream. Almost forty feet of agitated water stood between her and the opposite shore, while black tongues of liquid licked greedily at the bank where she stood. The early spring runoff of melting snow in the nearby mountains had swelled the stream size immensely, making a crossing seem almost impossible. With water overflowing the rocky shoreline that normally bordered the tributary and trees dipping their branches almost to the undulating fluid, there was no easy escape route either left or right.
Another crashing sound behind her brought her head up sharply and reminded her of the imminent danger. Her pursuer had been gaining ground as she stood indecisively on the bank. She could see that the trees on the other side had recently been harvested and knew that if she could make the crossing, the way would be easier. In the moonlight, the terrain ahead looked open and rolling. With no other option, she leapt into the frigid water.
Although the stream rose only to her calves this close to the bank, the power of the flow was incredible. The torrent seemed determined to yank her legs from under her as she struggled to keep her footing on the smooth, slippery rocks. Extending one limb forward, she tried to plant her foot, but the current fought her every movement. The urgency of the situation dictated that she move quickly, but she knew that if she lost her footing, she would be swept downstream to be pummeled viciously against rocky outcroppings and boulders.
She had advanced only a couple of yards when her pursuer burst from the forest. Without stopping to think, he sprang for her back. The impact drove her brutally down into the water, knocking the air from her lungs as his weight crushed her against the bottom. Small rocks and coarse sand ground savagely into her face and limbs. She bucked and flailed, trying to dislodge him, but his weight was too great. Her lungs screamed for precious air, and she desperately needed to get her head above water, but it wasn't to be. The more she struggled, the more she understood the futility.
It was over in another minute. She couldn't hold her breath any longer. Water coursed into her throat, filling her lungs. She stopped thrashing about then, her strength deserting her. She knew her cause was lost. She was dying.
Climbing off her back, her attacker rolled her body over in the shallow water. Although she was unable to move her limbs, her unfocused eyes were open. From just beneath the water she could see her killer's outline against the moon as he dragged her to a tree that had fallen into the stream and then lodged her almost lifeless body beneath the half submerged bole to ensure it wouldn't float downstream and be found. There was no more pain. There was no more sensation at all as the bright moonlight overhead slowly faded to complete darkness.
w w w
Arlene awoke with a start and sat bolt upright among rumpled bedclothes while gulping air into her lungs. She was dripping wet, and her heart was racing. Realizing where she was and that she was safe, she calmed down and let her head droop wearily for a few seconds, then flopped back down onto the bed.
Her pillow, also thoroughly saturated with perspiration, caused her to sit up again immediately. She yanked the pillowcase off and tossed the pillow towards a nearby chair before climbing out of bed. After ensuring that the pillow had landed with the wet side up, she carried the pillowcase to her bathroom, rinsed it out, and draped it over the framework of the tub/shower enclosure.
After she had washed her face and patted it dry, the tall blonde pushed her shoulder-length hair behind her ears and stared into the mirror. The whites of her cobalt-blue eyes were bloodshot, and her attractive face was haggard and drawn from sleeplessness. Normally by this point in May, her skin tone would be approaching the golden hue of the sun in those final moments before it dropped below the horizon, but she still had the lividness associated with the endurance of a long winter in the northern United States. Months of working in the college library and her dorm room as she prepared term papers and studied for final exams had taken their toll; so it was with great anticipation that she had looked forward to the start of summer vacation and long, lazy days lying on the beach.
But for the past week, Arlene had been having the same nightmare every time she attempted to sleep, day or night. It never varied. Each time, she was racing through unfamiliar woods, frightened half out of her mind until she reached the stream. As she tried to cross, she was caught by her pursuer— and drowned.
Returning to the darkened bedroom in the southeast corner of the manse's second floor, Arlene lowered her overtired body into an antique wingchair by the window. An almost full moon illuminated the rows of flowerbeds meticulously maintained by the small army of groundskeepers she retained to tend the estate grounds surrounding her seventy-room home in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had been enjoying the splendorous panorama since her marriage into the Westfield family in 1884, and the view of the estate's rear gardens never failed to calm her. A cool evening draught from the nearby ocean filled the room, and she could smell the sweet fragrances of fugacious blossoms riding lightly on the salty breeze.
As she nestled into the soft comfort of the familiar chair, she felt sleep tugging at her, but she refused to surrender to it, fearing that the nightmare would surely replay again. She was confident she had never visited the scene of the murder, so the images must be a precognitive vision, which seemed to add a new dimension to her paranormal abilities. Only twenty-one years old, the incredibly wealthy young woman had just completed her third year at Bryn Mawr, but Arlene Catherine Watson had knowledge far beyond her seeming years.
The first light of approaching dawn was visible in the eastern sky when she finally roused herself and walked tiredly to her bathroom to prepare for the new day. An hour later, she entered the small family dining room on the first floor and took her customary place at the table.
Though capable of seating eight comfortably, there were but four chairs around the thick maple table at present. Other chairs, placed discretely around the sides of the room, were always available at a moment's notice. Her older sister, Sarah, had married last year and moved out of the house, and neither her thirteen-year-old brother nor her parents had come down yet. Cook, ever sensitive to sounds in the dining room, appeared at the kitchen door a few minutes later.
“You're down early, dear,” Cook said. “Another bad night?”
Now in her mid-fifties, the short, slightly overweight woman with dusty-brown hair projected a matronly appearance. Working alternately in private homes and restaurants, she had been searching for secure and satisfying employment since her husband of five years had deserted his family after the birth of their second child. With her grown daughters now married and moved away from Massachusetts, she had finally found a position where she was happy. This family had taken a liking to her, and she loved all of them as if they were her own. Her schedule was Thursday through Tuesday, with Wednesdays off, but she had no place else to go— or anywhere she wanted to go— so she prepared all the meals seven days a week. Usually she would spend Wednesday afternoons shopping in town, but she was always home in time to prepare dinner for the family.
“I'm afraid so, Mrs. Brittle.”
“Perhaps you should see a doctor. There must be a reason for all these nightmares.”
“Yes, perhaps I will. I'd like a cup of tea and two buttered slices of whole wheat toast, please.”
“Right away, Miss,” Cook said, allowing the swinging door to close as she stepped back into the enormous kitchen.
The outside wall of the family dining room, like that of the very large, formal dining room on the other side of the kitchen, faced the rising sun. Now well above the horizon, light from the golden orb filled every corner of the room. Completed in 1880 as a home for the wealthy Westfield family, the mansion had deteriorated considerably by the time Arlene inherited it from her great-great-great-grandmother, Amelia Westfield. Although basically protected from the elements, the heat of summer and the cold of winter through more than half a century without occupants had nonetheless taken a toll. But along with the estate, Arlene had inherited a trust fund of enormous wealth that had enabled her to have the mansion fully restored to its original glory.
Arlene had wanted the house to appear as it had when first built, so after every square inch of the interior had been photographed and molds made of the original plasterwork, the interior was quite literally gutted. The upstairs floors had begun to sag— badly in some places— and the electrical wiring and plumbing was hopelessly out of date. The architects she'd hired had suggested the house be torn down and rebuilt, but she couldn't bear that, so instead they came up with a plan whereby all the interior walls and floors would be removed and a steel I-beam skeleton erected inside the house. After the ironwork was completed, exterior walls insulated, floors replaced, and the framework of the interior walls erected, the electricians and plumbers had gone to work.
With the interior walls plumbed and electrified, the master woodworkers, plaster craftsmen, and stonemasons could work their magic. They did such a wonderful job restoring the interior to match its original appearance that no one would ever know the house had been gutted. They used as much of the original marble and wood as they had been able to salvage and replaced what couldn't be used by meticulously matching the color and grain.
When the multiyear project was finished, the first floor of the magnificent mansion looked every bit as wonderful as when it was built in the nineteenth century, and it now it had the advantages of modern wiring, plumbing, and insulation. The kitchen included all the modern conveniences found in a new home, but efforts had been made to have the decor blend with the rest of the house as much as possible. The exterior stainless steel surfaces of the massive refrigerators and freezers had even been sheathed in real oak so they'd resemble antique iceboxes.
Whereas the first floor had been rebuilt to precisely match the original plans, the layout of the upper two floors had, by necessity, been completely redesigned. Each bedroom now included large walk-in closets to replace the former chifforobes, and modern replica plumbing fixtures had been installed in the bathrooms in place of the deteriorated antique plumbing. An elevator had also been added, which gave access to the three lower floors and the basement. The mechanical room had been housed within the fourth floor garret so it couldn't be seen from outside, but this meant that fourth-floor access was walkup only. The furniture in the house was mostly all original. It had been stripped, repaired where necessary, refinished, and reupholstered to appear as it had when new. Upon entering the house, a person would almost swear they had stepped back in time.
Arlene's father, originally opposed to spending the small fortune the restoration of the estate would require, reluctantly came around when it was completed. Arlene had clearly stated her intention to occupy the mansion, and her father finally agreed to sell the family home and move the rest of the family to the estate. But he steadfastly refused to take money from Arlene and continued to work fulltime as an Information Technology Specialist. Of course, he did accept the occasional presents Arlene bestowed, such as the new luxury car each fall. The millions that the restoration work gobbled up had made a sizable dent in Arlene's trust fund, but she felt the work was worth every penny, and the enormity of the remaining monetary balance, which continued to grow due to careful investing, meant she would never have to worry about money for the rest of her life. Amelia Westfield's amazing insight into future events had allowed her to invest wisely and pass the proceeds onto her former/latter self.
Arlene's dad— hurrying as always in the morning— rushed into the dining room, dropped his briefcase on the table, and immediately headed for the kitchen door, uttering a quick, “Morning, honey,” to his daughter. With a job that kept him sitting in an office most of the day, her father had been putting on weight during the past decade, and he now tipped the scales at just over 210. This was all the more noticeable because he was only of average height. Arlene may have inherited the auburn hair color she had recently surrendered to become a blonde and the deep azure color of her eyes from her father, but her svelte figure surely came from her mother.
Cook had her father's travel mug of coffee—light and sweet—already prepared, and he plucked it gingerly from her hands with wide smile and a “Thank you, Mrs. Brittle,” then turned and hurried back through the door. “See you tonight, baby,” he said to his daughter as he grabbed at the handle of his briefcase and rushed out again, probably never hearing her say, “Bye, Daddy.” The dining room was much too far from the front drive for Arlene to hear his car as he gunned the engine and flew down the driveway towards the estate's front gate.
Arlene was still sipping at her tea when her mother came down for breakfast a half-hour later. Having worked as a bookkeeper until Arlene received her inheritance, Mrs. Watson had left her job of eight years with no regrets after they sold their former house and the family no longer had an acute need for the extra income. She would probably enjoy a leisurely breakfast this morning and then prepare for her normal weekday activities— a round of golf at the club (more as a form of exercise than any particular passion for the game), and then an afternoon of bridge at a friend's house. An inch shorter than Arlene, her mother's blond hair and hazel eyes might have previously kept strangers from speculating they were mother and daughter when out together. But with Arlene's change of hair color during her junior year in college, the facial similarities between mother and daughter had become much more obvious.
Passing behind Arlene, Mrs. Watson bent and kissed her daughter on the top of her head. “Good morning, dear.”
“Good morning, Momma.”
Moving around the table, her mother took her usual place at the table opposite Arlene. “You look terrible. That awful nightmare again?”
“Yes. And when I awoke, I sat up until sunrise.”
“It's time to do something, dear. You have to seek medical help.”
“The nightmare is significant, Momma. I know it is. I don't recognize anything in it, but it must be a warning. I just don't know if it's something that will happen to me in the future, or something that's happened in the past.”
“Maybe it's a scene you saw in a movie or television program that just keeps playing over and over. You know, like when you can't get a tune out of your head.”
“No, it's real. I know it is. I just don't know what it means— yet.”
“Well, today's Friday. If you're not able to get a full night's sleep free from nightmares by Monday morning, we're going to the hospital to consult with somebody about sleep aids.”
Arlene smiled weakly. “Okay, Momma.”
Her father didn't accept Arlene's paranormal abilities as genuine and was always looking for more rational explanations for the visions she had and the things she knew, but her mother seemed to only make a pretense of not believing. Arlene thought her mother had at least a limited paranormal ability, although she would never admit it, not even to Arlene.
Hearing their voices, Cook appeared at the door to take Mrs. Watson's breakfast order.
Not long after Arlene's mother left for the club, a new silver Saab arrived at the estate's gates and buzzed for entry. Mrs. Caruthers, having opened the front gate so the vehicle could enter the grounds, waited patiently at the front door. As the Saab screeched to a stop, two giggling young women jumped out and hurried up the steps of the portico. Mrs. Caruthers had intended to show them to the small parlor just off the large foyer where they could wait until Miss Arlene came down, but as soon as they learned that she was in her bedroom, they stepped past the housekeeper and bounded up the wide marble staircase that led to the second floor, ignoring Mrs. Caruthers' appeals to stop.
Originally retained as a part-time bookkeeper to help track the bills and make payments to contractors while the mansion was being restored, Arlene had asked Mrs. Caruthers to stay on as housekeeper when the work was completed. The sixty-year-old woman, whose once black hair was now mostly grey, appeared at first to be someone's sweet grandmother, but she had a sharp mind and could be all business when required. Barely topping five feet, she never let her height stop her from speaking her mind when she knew she was right.
Mrs. Caruthers scowled, snorted quietly, and returned to supervising the maids who were presently cleaning the downstairs rooms. Both young visitors were well known to her and intimately familiar with the house, but she always expected more maturity from them.
“Ar!” the girls shouted as they entered the bedroom.
“Be right out,” Arlene shouted back from her bathroom. Emerging a few seconds later, she squealed joyfully and ran towards the two girls, who likewise squealed and ran to meet her halfway. They, along with Megan Kearney, had grown up together and been best friends since entering kindergarten, but they hadn't seen one another since spring break. After a few seconds of hugging, Arlene took a step back and said, “You both look great. Erin, your skin has completely cleared up now. And I love your new hairstyle.”
Erin McDonald smiled widely and said, “Finally. I still have to watch the chocolate though.” For most of her teenage years, Erin's otherwise pretty face had been covered with acne, and her mousy brown hair had been cut to conceal as much of her cheeks as possible. Her new hairdo, replete with highlights, proudly swept her hair back and away from her face. Like Arlene, the young woman was in her third year of college. She hoped to become a pediatrician one day, and her grades were more than adequate to achieve that goal.
“And Renee, you look great also,” Arlene said. “Of course, you always look great.”
Renee Dennis, twenty-one now like the other two young women, had always been the most attractive of the quartet while they were growing up and definitely retained that distinction now. The five-foot, seven-inch blonde, with jade-green eyes, perfect smile, soft, lush lips, and a curvaceous body, practically had to beat the boys off with a stick while in high school. If she had one serious failing, it was her mouth. She often said what she thought before thinking about the possible repercussions of her words. And her penchant for making facetious remarks often kept people from taking her very seriously.
“I see you've decided to join us blondes” Renee said.
“Yes, I have.” she said with a smile, then added, “It's always worked for you, so I decided to give it a try. I felt it might be a nice change from my auburn color.”
“It does looks great, Ar— but you don't. What's wrong? Man troubles?”
Arlene grinned. “As if that could be a problem. No, I haven't found anyone yet who could hold a candle to my Jeremy. Perhaps I never will.”
“You have to forget Jeremy and move on,” Erin said. “He died in 1937. You had fifty-three wonderful years together, but it's time to find another love.”
“You're one to talk. Have you forgotten Donald, or your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren?”
“I didn't mean forget, exactly. I'll never forget a husband I loved with all my heart for half a century, or our progeny, but these twenty-one-year-old bodies have definite physical needs. I once thought I'd be so busy with my schoolwork and then with a job that I'd be content just having fond memories of my past life. But I've come to realize during the past several years that I was very wrong. I'll never forget Donald, but I need to find a man to share this lifetime with. And it's not like I'd be cheating on him or anything. He passed on more than seventy years ago.”
“I suppose you're right,” Arlene said. “During the past few years I've felt incredibly lonely at times.”
“Is that why you look so awful?” Renee asked. “You're lonely?”
“No, that's not it. I've been having a recurring nightmare every time I try to sleep. I wake up soaked with perspiration, and then I'm afraid to go to sleep again.”
“Tell us about it,” Erin said.
After Arlene had related the dream, Renee asked, “Do you think it's a premonition?”
“I don't know. I only know it's significant.”
“Have you consulted the cards?” Erin asked, referring to Arlene's psychic connection with the spirit world and her talents with a tarot deck.
“Of course. But the answers are always ambiguous.”
“Uh oh,” Renee said. “I'm getting that funny feeling again. The last time you started getting ambiguous answers from the cards, we all wound up in 1883, in other people's bodies.”
“Oh, Renee, you loved it,” Arlene said, grinning.
“Don't pay any attention to her,” Erin said. “Like us, she wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world. So what do the cards say about the murder?”
“I asked them if I was involved, and they said yes. So I asked them if I was the victim, and they said no. So then I asked them if I was the killer.”
“The killer?” Erin echoed. “That's absurd. You don't even like to kill houseflies. In high school biology you refused to dissect the frog, accepting a failing grade for that lab exercise instead.”
“I had to ask,” Arlene said. “I can't see either the victim or the killer in the dream. Anyway, the cards said no. So how else can I be involved if I'm not the victim or the killer?”
“You don't think that you…” Erin said, her voicing trailing off.
“I honestly don't know,” Arlene said, instantly picking up on Erin's thought. “I suppose it's possible that the answers from the cards could still be considered accurate if only my soul was inside the murdered woman.”
“Well, I for one am comfortable right here,” Renee said. “I have one more year of college to get my BS degree in chemical engineering and then another to get my Masters. I don't want to visit the past again before then. So if some spirit suggests they send us to another era, I hope you'll decline this time, or at least delay it.”
“We weren't exactly offered a choice the last time,” Arlene said.
“Yeah, but we were only sixteen then and your powers hadn't fully developed. Now you can see them coming.”
“Unless they're trying to conceal themselves from me.”
“You didn't recognize the place at all?” Erin asked.
“No. I'm sure I've never been there before.”
“Did you see any distinguishing landmarks, like towering buildings or bridges?” Renee asked.
“No, nothing. Just woods and then a stream.”
“There must be something that distinguishes that place from a hundred thousand others like it,” Erin said. “What kinds of trees were in the forest?”
“I don't know. I guess there were a lot of pines.” Closing her eyes, Arlene breathed in deeply and said, “I can smell their sap if I close my eyes. It was too dark to really identify anything else, except— the fallen tree used to prevent my body from floating downstream had what looked liked sycamore leaves.”
“Keep your eyes closed and move to the stream,” Renee said. “You said the trees on the other side of the stream had been harvested. Is there any large equipment in evidence?”
“No. All I see are low tree stumps. There's almost no undergrowth. Wait, there's a sign on the other bank.”
“Focus on that,” Erin said. “Can you see what it says?”
“It's just a 'No Trespassing' sign, barely readable in the moonlight.”
“Read it to us,” Renee said, “everything you can see.”
“No Hunting, Fishing, or Trespassing. Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association.”
“That's it,” Renee said. “Now you know where it happens.”
“But how can we locate what sounds like an obscure social group?” Erin asked.
“Just check the internet. They'll probably have a website or something.”
Arlene opened her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. “It's worth a try,” she said as she moved towards the computer on her desk. Calling up a search engine, she entered the name and clicked the 'go' icon. The search only took a few seconds but didn't produce any results, except offers to buy a Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association at Amazon and numerous other internet retailers.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Let me try,” Renee said. “I know this great search engine. It taps into all the other major search engines and always finds something.”
After some twenty seconds, Renee's search yielded the same ridiculous results as Arlene's search. In the absence of any solid leads, search engines usually tried to have the user click on links that took them to a retailer because the search engine provider got paid for every click-through.
“I can't believe it,” Renee said. “I always get something.”
“It's possible it doesn't exist yet,” Erin offered.
“Or maybe,” Arlene speculated, “it doesn't exist anymore and was simply gone before the internet got popular, so they never had a website or anyone talking about it online.”
“Well, like you said, it was worth a try,” Erin said.
“There's one more thing I can try,” Arlene said as she picked up the phone and entered a speed-dial number. A couple of seconds later she said, “Daddy? Can you do me a huge favor? Would you search your sources for any references to the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association? That's G-L-E-N-N D-O-W-N-S… Thank you, Daddy, you're a dear. Call me back if you find anything. I love you.”
“What makes you think he'll have any more luck than we did?” Erin asked after Arlene had hung up the phone.
“His IT company is tied into all kinds of special databases around the world. If the Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association has existed during the past fifty years, he'll find a record of them.”
“Glenn Downs is sort of a funny name for a place with forests,” Erin said as they waited. “Doesn't 'downs' mean 'a rocky, treeless highland with limited soil?'“
“Maybe it will be a rocky, treeless highland with limited soil now that all the trees have been cut down,” Renee quipped. “Besides, you can't always expect logic from a bunch of liquored up, overgrown boys with deadly toys.”
Arlene reached for the phone as it rang and picked up the receiver. “Hello?— Oh hi, Daddy— You did? That was fast— Okay, I've got it. New York State. What county?— Isn't that in the Adirondacks? Okay, thanks Daddy. I love you. I'll see you tonight.”
The other girls looked at Arlene questioningly as she hung up the phone.
“The Glenn Downs Sportsman's Association was incorporated in New York State as a non-profit organization thirty-eight years ago. It was dissolved about ten years ago.”
“Ten years ago?” Renee asked. “In your dream, what kind of shape was the sign in?”
“It looked almost new,” Arlene replied.
“That means the dream is about something that has already occurred.”
“Or will occur sometime in the past,” Arlene said.
“Don't start that time paradox stuff again,” Renee said.
“What now?” Erin asked.
“I'm going to send an email to the sheriff's office in the county where the Glenn Downs Sportsman Association was located and inquire about my murder.”