Tag Archive: Nathaniel

Surprises Await

“Emery was running late,” Miles said as he followed Morrissey out of the car. “The only thing we got told was the case was weird. What’s going on?”

“According to people who really should know better, a ghost. We’re supposed to investigate the caverns. Apparently people from the rail company have been attacked by person or persons unknown.” Morrissey paused in his recitation when he noticed the boy was no longer following him. He turned back to frown thoughtfully at the younger Ballard. “Miles?”

“Stevrim Caverns? We’re going in there? Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m waiting in the car. Bring me any trace you want identified.” He was pale but otherwise seemed alright as he spun on his heel and all-but-ran back to the waiting vehicles.

“Miles? Miles!” Morrissey called after him. The teen ignored him and just kept going, however. Shaking his head, Morrissey waved a welcoming arm at Emery. Maybe the elder Ballard would be able to explain the younger’s actions.

Emery ran towards where the other forensics wizards were setting up and was surprised to see his brother running the other way. He almost turned and called to the younger boy but Morrissey was waving so fiercely at him, he reconsidered. Instead he ran all the faster to join the supervisor.

“What’s the problem?” Emery asked as he caught up to Morrissey. The rural area they were in, which was surprisingly close to the old Ballard Family homestead, was far from the city but still within their jurisdiction. The forensics team had been called in on what the local people would only describe as a weird case. Emery frowned as he realized where exactly they were. He had a sinking feeling he knew exactly what the case was.

“Supposedly there’s a ghost,” Morrisey explained as they walked toward a rocky outcrop. Emery nodded. He’d heard about the ghost since he was a child. “It started out as things going missing from houses. Then, when the rail company came through, it escalated. As it stands, it’s been attacking anyone who gets close to that cave. The problem is that there’s a new rail that’s supposed to be running right past it so the workers have been attacked. Three people have been hospitalized so far. It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed.”

“So we’re here to… antagonize the local spirit?” Emery asked. He was from this area. Everyone knew the Ghost of Stevrim Caverns was not to be trifled with. “Can’t the rail company just avoid the area?”

“You don’t believe in ghosts surely?” Morrissey said with a teasing note in his voice.

“I grew up near here. I’ve been hearing stories about the Ghost of Stevrim Caverns since I was a small child. Bold kid that I was, I still steered well clear of that place. The old tales would curl your hair, Morrissey. There is no doubt in my mind that there is something odd in that place.” Emery shuddered at the thought of actually entering the cavern to investigate.

“Are you sensing anything?” Morrissey asked.

“Trauma, mental and physical both, but I can’t say whether from the ghost or its victims,” Emery returned.

“Your brother took one look at the place and said he’d wait in the car,” Morrissey said.

“I’m not surprised. He had a bad scare one night while we were returning home. He swore he saw unearthly eyes peering out from the cavern at him. He was only about ten at the time so it pretty well freaked him out,” Emery replied. He gave the elder magician a strained smile and took out his wand. Once his hands touched the wand the vague sense of trauma became much more clear.

“Is the trauma directional?” Morrissey asked. Emery nodded and began walking toward the cavern mouth.

“I assume if I’m supposed to find the ‘ghost’ we’re bringing wardens with us,” Emery murmured. Ordinarily he hated the escort he was forced to continually deal with because of his status as an investigator. Today, however, he would be glad to know there was a person with an actual weapon beyond spells and scurd-flit.

“Here’s Hassett waiting for us,” Morrissey said. “He must have gone ahead to get a briefing from the other wardens.” Hassett wasn’t alone; Franklin, Grant and Everett were all waiting with him. “Emery’s got a bead on him,” Morrissey called to the officers. They nodded and moved into a protective formation around the young wizard.

“The trauma’s getting stronger and not because of proximity. The… ‘ghost’ is scared,” Emery reported as he darted a glance at Hassett.

The lieutenant nodded once and said, “Go easy, guys. We don’t know what he’s capable of and we don’t want to spook him.”

“He feels so… familiar,” Emery murmured. “I’m not usually any good with connectivity and it seems to me that I’ve felt this before.” He led them around a corner and a dimly lit, and very rude, shelter greeted them.

Suddenly a brilliant light flashed and they were blinded. Emery closed his eyes and sat on the ground, trying to make a smaller target of himself. He heard a guttural roar and several outcries from the wardens who’d been protecting him. Soft thuds of bodies hitting the hard earth around him were followed by a larger body landing nearly on top of him.

“Morrissey! Hassett!” Emery yelped. He opened his light-dazzled eyes to find the others all unconscious. An older man was standing about five feet away from him. His hair and beard hung in wild strands all around his head and face. He was frightened and angry but also territorial. Emery dropped his wand and held his hands up in what he hoped was a non-threatening manner. “Alright, just… just relax. I… I’m not armed.”

He swallowed thickly and his breath was coming in short gasps. He could tell the officers and Morrissey weren’t hurt badly but only unconscious. He’d escaped because he’d made himself a small enough target that their attacker had missed him. However, that wouldn’t work a second time. He was relieved to find that it was a human attacker and not a spectral one; but he was still alone in a cave with someone who was most likely not entirely sane.

“I’m Emery. Who’re you?” he asked with a voice that trembled slightly.

“I’m the ghost,” the man replied. Emery was again struck by a sense of familiarity. He’d heard that voice before, though the last time he’d heard it, it had been more refined and less strained.

“D-Dad?” he murmured in wonder. No wonder they hadn’t been able to find their father before their mother’s death. He’d come unhinged and been lost in the hills. “You… you aren’t a ghost. You’re Nathaniel Ballard. You’re a magician, not a ghost.”

The older man roared again and Emery had time to gasp before his world narrowed to a point and darkened.

continued here


Lights, Stars and Snow

Emery loved everything about Christmas, except the fact that Miles wanted to get up extra early. Their father would too, he was sure. He pulled the blankets over his head as the lights in the sitting room came on.

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Nathaniel said as he peeked into the bedroom. “Emery,” he repeated.

Emery moaned and snuggled deeper into his blankets. He was warm, cozy and almost asleep when the light above him popped on. Groaning, he burrowed deeper into his pillows.

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Nathaniel said again. There was a soft giggle from the doorway.

Suddenly the warm and cozy blankets were pulled off of him and as Emery tried to catch them, he felt someone catch his waist. His eyes popped open as he was tickled. Giggling, he tried to glare at his father, who was the one tickling him. “Dad!”

“Merry Christmas, Brother,” Miles said from the doorway. “Are you ready to open presents?”

“Right,” Emery said. He rolled out of bed and grabbed his bathrobe. He tried to shrug into it but lost track of the arm. For a moment he chased the garment around in a circle. Then his brother helped him and guided him out into the sitting room. “It’s still dark out, Mi,” he said as he looked out the window. Then he blinked in shock. “It must have snowed a foot… at least.”

“Two feet,” Nathaniel said, sounding a touch over-cheerful at the prospect. “The snow that started as we were leaving church last night really mounted up. We’re snowed in. Let’s go open some gifts.”

Emery smiled tiredly and followed his father out of the room. His medicine was already waiting for him and he smiled his thanks at Miles as he picked it up. The family headed into the dining room. The tree was piled with gifts and Emery smiled tiredly. “Merry Christmas, Dad. Mery Christmas, Miles.”

“Merry Christmas, Emery,” Miles said. He bounded into the room and grabbed a beaten elf cap. “I’ll give out the gifts,” he exclaimed.

“How about you let me do it this year,” Nathaniel said.

“Right, Dad,” Miles said, handing him the hat. He plopped down on the floor beside his brother and grinned.

“We have to give you yours though,” Emery said. He smiled as his father handed him a wrapped box. He slowly unwrapped the box as Miles tore into a similar one. As the paper was removed a beautifully carved wooden box was revealed. “Is this what I think it is?” he asked.

“It’s a wand case! Dad, it’s beautiful! Thanks so much.” He stood and hugged the older man. He hopped back down on the floor and grinned at his brother.

Nathaniel was opening the gift that Emery had chosen for him. He smiled as he drew a new suit jacket out of the box. “What a fine jacket, Emery. Thank you so much.”

Emery grinned. He looked down at the wand case and opened it. It had a fold out panel that gave access to more space for wands deeper inside. “We can fit all our tools in these,” he said softly. “Thanks Dad.”

Nathaniel nodded and smiled as Emery looked outside. The stars were twinkling in the sky. The snow was thick and white on the rolling hills and here and there white globes shined through the darkened street. “It’s beautiful outside.”

“It really is,” Nathaniel said. “We’ve each opened one gift. How about we set this aside and go for a walk.”

“There’s two feet of snow,” Miles said with a giggle.

“And we’re in our pajamas,” Emery added.

“We used to go out every Christmas morning after opening one gift,” Nathaniel said. “Your mother and I, I mean. I want to show you something.”

Miles hopped to his feet and Emery stood more slowly. In moments, they were bundled and out into the predawn light. They were magicians so they didn’t have to trudge through the snow. Nathaniel led the way toward the small copse of trees that wasn’t far from the back of the house.

“Look up,” he said, pointing into the sky. “This is the perfect time to see it. Look just there, that way.”
Emery looked up. Just above the trees he could see a pair of stars that almost seemed like eyes staring down at him. Nathaniel sighed softly. “Even if I didn’t want to admit it, your mother knew she was going to die. She told me that those stars would be her eyes, watching me when she was gone. They rise at nearly dawn.”

“She’s always there, even when we can’t see her,” Emery said softly. “Thanks for sharing it with us, Dad.”

“It’s beautiful here,” Miles said softly. “The snow coating the trees like icing on a gingerbread house.” He smiled and rocked on his heels.

The Crawl of the Dark

Emery woke slowly. The man had brought him to a small motel to rest for the night. Tomorrow, he promised, they would continue with training. Emery dreaded the thought of more training. Sleep had been difficult and not at all restful. He was too tense to sleep. Once he had fallen asleep, though he woke frequently, he couldn’t make himself stir.

It was not until he heard an unearthly scream that he woke fully. He sat up, his breath coming in short pants. He heard the door to the room open and saw the sliver of light from the doorway. A shadow crept through the room toward him. Trauma and anger filtered from it.

“St-stay back,” he hissed, pushing as far back on the bed as he could.

“Emery,” a soft almost familiar voice said. “I’ve come for you.”

Emery closed his eyes and shook his head. Too much had happened since his kidnapping for these to be words of comfort. “No,” he managed. Then arms were gently holding him and he smelled the familiar scent of his father’s aftershave. With a soft sob, he leaned into the older man’s arms. “Dad,” he greeted.

“Emery,” Nathaniel said. “We have to go. They’ll come before the wardens do and we don’t want them to get you. Come on now.” Emery let his father draw him to his feet and guide him out the door, pausing only to slip his shoes on.

“How… how are you here?” Emery asked softly. Last time he’d seen his father, the older man had been in an asylum. “Did they let you out?”

“I escaped, Emery,” Nathaniel said calmly. “You needed help and I knew where you were. It was easier this way than to try and contact your friends and get them to listen to me. Not to worry, I’ll go back as soon as you’re safe.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Emery said softly. He’d suspected for a while that his father wasn’t as crazy as he’d let on, now he was almost certain of it. He briefly wondered what the scream he’d heard earlier was from and where the trauma he still sensed had come from, but he also realized that he was now safe.

Nathaniel returned to the graveside late that same night. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I… will always love you. I’ll watch over our boys, even if they never see me – never know I’m there. I’ll watch over them, just as I watched over you. Good-bye Margery. Some day we’ll see each other again.” He stood and silently left a bouquet of flowers on the top of the headstone before disappearing into the night.

Emery slipped out of the boisterous inn where the townsfolk had gathered to reminisce about his mother. He made his way over to the graveside without really meaning to. Looking down at the hard stone that proclaimed his mother’s name, birth date and exact age at death a sob caught in his throat. Throughout the funeral, he had cried silently, restraining himself in the face of his brother’s inconsolable grief. Now he let the tears fall and gave voice to his pent up grief.

He was chilled from the night air by the time his grief had worn itself out. Aching and tired, he pushed himself to his feet. Only then did he spot the bouquet of bluestars, the flower his mother loved so much. He remembered his father giving them to her for every holiday – even Christmas, though they were expensive when not in season.

“Good-bye,” he said, not truly knowing which parent the salutation was meant for as he walked away from the silent stone.

Emery stood listening to the pastor throughout the service. He was quiet, even as tears streamed down his cheeks. Beside him Miles sobbed. Even though they knew this was coming, it was still difficult.

He took Miles’ hand as the congregation stood to follow the casket out to the graveyard that stood in the small churchyard. Emery blinked at the bright sunshine as they exited the building. “It’s such a nice day,” Miles murmured.

“Seems like it should be raining out, doesn’t it?” he murmured back. He smiled tremulously and added, “Mom’s resting now, Miles. She doesn’t have to worry about being sick anymore. And we’ll be fine. We have each other. She knew that.”

“I wish Dad was here,” Miles murmured.

“Me too,” Emery replied, looking away into the garden at the back of the churchyard. There was something hidden in the shadows of the building, but Miles tugged his hand and he followed without seeing clearly what it was.

There in the shadow of the building, Nathaniel stood. Tears were streaming down his cheeks but he knew that his boys would be hurting even more. A part of him longed to go to them. Then he saw a familiar face in the crowd of mourners and melted away, hoping to keep the government agent away from his sons.

Margery lay back in her bed. Over the past few weeks she’d felt weaker and weaker. It had gotten to the point that she could no longer get out of bed. All of her joints ached and her head felt full of fluff.

“How are you feeling?” a familiar voice said.

She looked up to see her husband standing over her. “Tired,” she replied. “Where have you been?”

“You remember those people I told you about?” he said softly. “They were spotted in the village. I… couldn’t risk them finding the boys.”

“I’m glad to see you safe,” she said, taking his hand. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you,” he whispered. He looked down. “Maggie… this illness you have… it’s your aura, falling apart. There’s… not really anything they can do about it, is there?”

“No, darling,” she said. “I’m glad that I got to see you though. Send for the boys. They should be here.”

“I’ll do that,” Nathaniel promised. “Can you hold on until then?”

“Yes,” she said softly. “Tell Emery to see a doctor about his aura. We don’t want it to get to the point that mine did before he finds out.”

“I’ll see to it,” he said. “I… I love you.”

“And I love you,” she murmured. He kissed her gently and then left. Margery closed her eyes. She may be suffering, but at least she got to see Nathaniel one more time.

The house was dark and still when Nathaniel slipped up to the front door. He didn’t know why he was there. It wasn’t safe – for either of them. He should be satisfied watching her as he did their sons. However, even watching her in his mind’s eye, hearing her voice in his mind’s ear, wasn’t enough to satisfy his need to be near her.

He unlocked the door silently with the key. Margery hadn’t moved it from its accustomed place in the hydrangea. Silently, he slipped into the darkened building. He knew the house like he knew the back of his hand, no lights were needed to find his way to their bedroom.

Once there, he eased himself onto the bed, beside her sleeping form. He kissed her cheek, half-hidden by her tumble of blond hair. Without meaning to, his hand went to her hip and he lay down beside her, as he had for the many years that they had been together. He would be gone when she woke in the morning, but he needed this. He needed to be near her, to touch her once again, to smell her sweet aroma. “I miss you,” he whispered into the night.

In the Night Sky

Emery looked outside the window of the room that he and his brother shared. His brother had felt him coming – had felt the excitement that Emery felt to be outdoors, he’d said. He’d felt the birds as their wings were chopped off as a dim echo in his own shoulders. Was Miles right? Were they gifted like their father? Did they have more than conventional magic?
He looked up at the sky, so full of stars. Somewhere, under those same stars, was their father. Emery felt sure he had the answers to his questions. If only the man hadn’t disappeared just as their more unusual gifts were emerging.
Far away, in the cave system known as the Stevrim Caverns, Nathaniel watched his son gaze up at the stars. Miles and Emery had his gifts, as he feared they might. Off-magic, and all that came with it, had been inherited by his children. He prayed as he looked up at the stars that his sons would fare better than he had. He prayed that they would never come to know the pain and anguish that had caused him to leave his family rather than face it again.

Nathaniel watched as his sons entered the Academy grounds and went to their dorm room to unpack. Then he turned his attention to his wife. He could see she missed him and sighed at the thought of bringing her pain. Then his attention turned to the strangers that had come to town.

They were just what he suspected they had been. When they encountered the wardens assigned to find him, out came the badges that he remembered. He closed his eyes as the memories flooded back.

“Please, please, make it stop,” Nathaniel moaned, curled on his side in a fetal position. He was only partially acting. Over the course of the days and weeks that the men had held him, forcing him to watch, to see things, his will to live had slowly worn down.

Now he was a shadow of his former self. “I said to build up his gifts, not break him. What can we do with a clairvoyant that can’t see anything but death? We need him so we can watch our enemies, not so he can see commoners killing each other over a new pair of shoes. Dispose of him.” The man stalked out of the room, slamming the door as he left.

The underlings looked at each other, perplexed and not quite sure how to proceed. Their hesitation was all that Nathaniel needed. The man who’d left had been a mage and strong in illusory off-magic. These two were nothing more than hired hands.

When they finally recovered enough to make their way to Nathaniel’s side, the man was driving away in his expensive car. All at once, Nathaniel surged to his feet, catching both men on their chests with the heels of his hands. The toppled and he spun to verify that they would not be pursuing him.

One was hardly conscious while the other gasped for his breath, but struggled to rise. Nathaniel kicked him in the chin and then dashed from the room. The small building had held only the three of them and he made good his escape in a short order.

He traveled from town to town for some time, always wary of the government agents who’d wanted to exploit his gifts. Less than a month later, he stopped at an inn and happened to look in the mirror. His once golden hair had faded to a stark white and he smirked. The men who’d captured him would be a little more hard pressed to find him now. It was soon after that that he met Margery.

Now the men were back. Somehow they’d tracked him down. Rather than bring danger to his family, Nathaniel had fled. He pushed away the feelings of hopelessness and steeled himself to being a spectator in his life. It was the only way to freedom.

Nathaniel slipped quietly out of the bed and dressed, careful not to wake his wife. He wanted to leave a note, explaining what was going on but feared that the men would somehow see it and trace him.

Instead the only note he left said, “I won’t be far away. I love you all.” He left the note on the kitchen counter where Margery would find it. He sighed as he thought of how she would feel when she woke and found him gone.

He hoped that they wouldn’t hate him. He hoped the boys would enjoy school. He closed his eyes, fighting the urge to peek in on his sons. Finally he gave in and peeked into the room where they slept.

Miles was snuggled beneath his quilts, sleeping soundly. Emery, however, looked up drowsily as he opened the door. “It’s alright,” he whispered. “Just go back to sleep.”

Emery nodded and snuggled down into his own quilts. Nathaniel backed out of the room and silently walked out of the house. He hoped the boys would be able to keep Margery happy, even though he knew he was causing all of them pain.

“Good bye,” he whispered as he set off down the road.

Monica Ferris

an author with many hats

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