Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
Chapter One: The Ghost of an Angel
The grey gloom of the Winter months had once more been supplanted by the glorious greens of Spring in the rolling hills of the Allegheny National Forest. A southbound Greyhound bus, having blown a tire, sat on the shoulder of the road while it's human passengers used the unexpected break to stretch their legs and admire the scenic beauty. One of the transport's rodent passengers took the unexpected break as a sign to strike out in a new direction. Since his near miraculous rescue from a swollen stream years before he had been making the most of his second chance at life, and a once homebound mouse was seeking out the world's wonders and grand adventure. Donning his trench coat and slinging his backpack over his shoulder he headed off into the trees.
It wasn't long after the traveler had lost sight of the Greyhound that a light rain began to fall. At the outset the leaves above him were an adequate shield against the incoming fluid projectiles, but he could tell from the clouds and the encroaching darkness that reinforcements wouldn't be long in coming and that more substantial cover would be needed. Emerging from a line of shrubs the wandering mouse spied the crumbling foundations of human structures. Once proud buildings that had once defied the elements had been reduced to stone lined depressions in the earth. Amongst the rubble he could see young children, a mixture of mice and squirrels, scrambling for their homes as their mothers called them in from the increasingly inclement weather. A query to one of the passing youngsters directed him to the ‘Kummon Inn'.
The traveler soon located the inn, which was not difficult as it was contained within one of the few human built structures that still retained much of it's above ground nature. Ducking into an entry framed by the foundation stones, he made his way down a set of stairs to a broad hall. Tables of various sizes were arrayed throughout, accompanied by weary travelers and locals having chosen to dine out. A chipmunk lass soon arrived to take his order. Desiring to experience the local fare, he asked her suggestion, which she cheerfully offered. Satisfied with the lady's selection, the traveler sat back and awaited his meal.
The rain began to fall with increased force without, causing more rodents to seek the immediate shelter of the inn, some the traveler even recognized from his time aboard the Greyhound. Many would have found the rhythmic cadence of the rain soothing or even romantic. The traveling mouse had done so once, but matters beyond his control had changed that forever and the unease the sound brought only helped to exaggerate the time it was taking for his meal to arrive. As the time passed, more arrivals filled the hall. He watched as his waitress, her coworkers and apparently even the innkeeper go from table to table trying to keep on top of the crowd.
The traveler kept his eyes on the entry as more patrons arrived. He was wondering about the ability of the hall to keep out the runoff when out of the corner of his eye he spied sudden movement. "Sorry this took so long," a female voice explained, startling the hungry traveler by it's apparent proximity. Turning back towards the table he was greeted by a plate of warm food. "We're getting so many people all of a sudden and on top of that the stove gave out for a moment."
Looking up towards his hostess the traveling mouse verified what his ears had told him, that this wasn't the chipmunk that had taken his order. The brown mouse beside him had long black hair whose streaks of grey told of her advancing maturity. There was something vaguely familiar about the lady but it wasn't something he could place, that is until he met her eyes. He had only seen eyes of such brilliant crystal blue once before, and the rain pounding in the background sent a chill through him, it was as if he was seeing a ghost... the ghost of an angel.
Seeing the somewhat puzzled expression on the patron's face, the lady inquired, "Are you ok?"
The tone of her voice and the hint of concern was all it took to complete the illusion. His chill grew until he could swear he could feel the frigid grip of Titus Creek once more. He remembered gazing limply up into the steel grey sky, taking note of every detail, not knowing why he was doing something so trivial if his end was so near. Then there was the shadow off to the side, despite his curiosity he couldn't bring himself to turn his head to see more... the clouds would be the last thing he saw. But something happened. He was aware of his body being jerked about in the water, there was something or somebody clinging to his side. The icy water grabbed at him, almost as if it was unwilling to relinquish it's victim. However, he felt the waters fall away from his sides to be replaced by the muddy earth beneath him. Into his field of view moved a female whose black hair was only slightly greying, she was quite beautiful and, given the circumstances, seemed like an angel. "Are you ok?" she asked.
He was told later he slurred out the question, "Who... you?"
"Amanda," his rescuer replied cheerfully, "Hawkfeather."
Bringing himself back to the present, the traveler finally answered the question he'd been asked after his food had been brought to him, "Oh, I'm fine. It's just that you remind me of someone I used to know." He couldn't hold back asking a certain question in return, "What's your name?"
What's your name? Those were the first words the matron could remember clearly as her mind drifted back through time. She remembered pain. Every part of her body seemed to ache, her left shoulder possessing a searing, screaming pain. She could see strange figures hovering nearby while others further off hurried back and forth. There was nothing sinister about their presence and she seemed to recall having heard some expressing deep concern for her well being. One of them asked gently, "What's your name?"
She remembered drawling out something equivalent to, "Namezamanza."
"Sounded like she said ‘Name's Samantha'," another voice intoned.
"Is your name ‘Samantha'?" the first voice inquired clearly.
Another voice, quite authoritative, soon joined the other two, "Please, this poor woman is in no condition to be badgered with questions! We can get her name and start looking for any family later, when she's stronger."
Family. The very mention of the word caused her to try to bring up names or faces... but none surfaced. For that matter, neither could she bring up her own name. The pain was bad, but what entered her mind, or more specifically what didn't, felt even worse. But that was the past, and she had pressing matters in the present. What was her name? "Samantha," she answered the traveler, "Grant." She soon queried back, "Why do you want to know?"
"It's just that you look so much like someone I used to know," the traveler answered, "By the way, my name's Cadence Coldwater, but everybody just calls me Dennis."
"Nice to meet you," Samantha replied. "Was this person an old flame?" she asked, supposing that might be the cause of his unusual behavior towards her.
"Hardly," Dennis laughed disarmingly, "She was someone who pulled me from a rain gorged stream some years ago, I was told she was lost later that day in the river down stream trying to rescue others."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Samantha responded, "She sounds like she was a good person."
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