Jul 11th, 2011 by Barbara






“Shhhh.   We don’t want to wake the dogs.”

Grace gathered the little boy close and whispered a warning close to his ear.  Even in the darkness his blue eyes reflected absolute trust in the slender woman who knelt beside him.  He raised his hand to his mouth and placed a tiny forefinger against his lips.

“Good boy,” Grace whispered again.  Terror, intensified by her love for this four-year-old boy, sent shivers down her spine.  She couldn’t tell which chill was worse, fear of her employer or the sensation of frosted cobblestones against her feet, clad only in thick, cotton stockings.  She would not risk discovery from an accidental tap of her heel.

The quartet of mastiffs could be anywhere on the grounds, for they were free to roam from dusk to dawn. They had become accustomed to Grace, the newest member of the household; but she had never been comfortable around them.  At the moment, she was more concerned that they might wake the master of the house, which scared her more than the dogs’ teeth.  If anything sounded an alarm, they would be the very least danger to her.

Grace lifted the canvas bag that held her shoes, clothing for both of them, as much as she could stuff into it.  Scarcely daring to breathe, she led the boy toward the gatehouse, away from the looming walls of his birthplace, where his mother had died.  She guided him into deeper shadows.  Silver-lined, purple clouds scudded across a half-moon on the early November night.


Grace shuddered.   She wished that she had followed her intuition and run for the nearest exit the first time she met Duncan Lanier. She had allowed her passion for antiques to lure her away from a satisfactory job as aide to the main buyer at one of the most prestigious antique houses in North America. The promise of actually holding, studying and cataloging ancient artifacts captured her fancy more than the monetary offer, which, by her standards, was astronomical. At that time, she had no clue that the job would cost her far more than the salary was worth.

For now, Lanier’s son, Daniel, was all that mattered. The child bore no responsibility for his parentage.  With a great deal of luck, the boy might never have to know that his father was a monster, a butcher who had terrified, mentally tortured and finally murdered his young wife.

The windows in the high turret, as well as those that looked onto the courtyard from the top floor of the castle, remained dark.  The self-proclaimed  captain  resided in those quarters, and he spent part of every day surveying his domain from its highest point.

A chilling wind slithered through the alleyways, gained momentum and propelled Grace and the boy faster than his short legs could carry him.  He stumbled.  Grace shifted the bag to her right shoulder and swept Daniel into her arms.  Small for his age, she could carry him easily enough.  She ran lightly across the tumbled stone blocks, praying that her feet, now numb with cold, would not slip. The cumbersome layers of long skirts made her way more difficult, but they also blocked some of the cold wind from her body.   Lanier’s insanity extended to other areas, some even more bizarre than the period costumes with which he dressed his household.

The moon appeared from behind the clouds, and Grace caught her breath at the sudden corona of light that shimmered along every angle it touched.  She hurried across the picturesque bridge that spanned a wind-whipped stream, ignoring the sound of water as it rushed over large boulders.  At least the bridge took them into deeper shadows, farther away from the stone walls of the sprawling mansion. The gate house had seemed a great distance from the main dwelling, but suddenly there it stood, silent and dark.

“Daniel, can you squeeze between the bars?” Grace whispered.

“Are we playing a game?” he asked.  His eyes glistened in the light of the far-away moon, and his lower lip trembled a bit.  Grace smiled reassuringly.

“Yes, we’re playing a game.  We’re going to hide where no one can find us until the game is over.  OK?”  She forced as much gaiety as possible into her voice.  The boy nodded. Carefully, she pulled the woolen scarf more closely around the little face that looked so trustingly into her eyes.  She brushed a cold tear from his cheek.  He turned toward the twelve-foot-high wrought iron double gate, the only visible entrance to the estate.  No more than five inches apart, the bars themselves were two inches thick, crosshatched with thicker bars.  Daniel’s heavy layers of clothing made the passage difficult.  Grace pushed and tugged the fabric, gently maneuvering until the boy landed on the other side.

They walked together, separated by the gate, to the corner of the tower, where a wide pine tree seemed to grow into the fence that extended for miles around the property.  Silently, Grace blessed the day she had discovered that the tree’s thick branches camouflaged a single missing post from the fence. Still, with the bulk of her clothing and long, wool cape, the ten-inch gap covered with thick branches was nothing short of an obstacle course.

Sharp pine needles stabbed her face as she sought a way through the heavy limbs.  She pulled at the resin-y branches, finally managing to shove her canvas bag onto the other side. The long, clumsy skirts caught on the limbs.  By the time she shoved her way through, her hands and face bore several scratches; and the layers of fabric in her skirts were ripped and torn.

“Daniel?”  Darker clouds covered the moon.  The forested side of the heavy gate blocked out even a sliver of sky. Grace knew a moment’s panic before she felt the small body lean against her.

“It’s dark, Miss Grace,” he whimpered.  “I’m scared.”  Grace knelt, gathered him into her arms and hugged him before she opened the bag and removed the heavy shoes.   She pulled them onto her feet and tied the laces then slung the bag over her head and across her shoulder.  “Come on.”  Daniel raised his arms, and Grace lifted him, holding him tightly, his head tucked against her shoulder.

“Don’t be afraid,” she told him.  “I won’t let anything hurt you.  We’re going to be fine, but we have a long way to go on our adventure!”  She prayed that the threatened  rain and possible snow would hold off, and Grace Ellis took her first steps toward an uncertain destination.  Her only goal at the moment was to travel as far up the mountain as possible before dawn.  She could hope for no more than five hours to put  distance between them and Daniel’s father. Beyond that, she had nothing but hope.

Grace walked as fast as she could along the paved switchbacks that led down to the secondary road.  Small as he was, in sleep Daniel seemed much heavier than when she had first cradled him against her shoulder.  It took close to an hour for her to reach the end of the driveway. Her arms trembled with the boys weight, and her legs began to cramp from the nearly constant downhill pace.

In spite of her resolve not to stop, she leaned against one of the stone pillars that supported the gate across the estate’s access road.  She drew the hood of her cape forward as far as possible, trying to shield the sleeping child from the cold drizzle, which seemed just short of becoming sleet.

As soon as she could breathe easier, she resumed her journey, choosing to travel northward, a higher elevation, instead of taking the more obvious way south to the nearest town. She felt that Lanier would more likely look for them there.

Although Grace’s decision to leave this particular night had been spontaneous, she had planned the escape for weeks.  Her bag contained as many items as possible to thwart Lanier’s pursuit of them.  On the chance that he would use the dogs, she had taken big can of red pepper from the overflowing pantries adjacent to the kitchens. She had read that pepper could interfere with dogs’ ability to follow a scent.   She hoped it was true. During one of her rare trips to Seeburg, the first town south of the estate, she had bought two warm outfits for Daniel, who had never worn anything more modern than early nineteenth century.

She had bought denims, a couple of warm flannel shirts, thermal underwear, Sherpa-lined coat and boots, imagining how normal the boy would look in them.  She had stuffed the warmest clothing she owned into the bag, as well as small packs of food, from beef jerky to cardboard juice containers for Daniel.

Another hour passed before Grace found the overgrown track she had discovered on her last outing, back in mid-September.  On that day, she  had not intended to stray so far along the two-laned public road, but the barely discernible path that led upward intrigued her.  Overgrown with Colorado’s natural blue spruce,  Grace had picked her way carefully among the various-sized rocks and boulders.  When she had spotted the tip of a weather-beaten roof, her love of all things ancient kicked in; she knew she had to explore it.

The abandoned cabin, once occupied by a miner, or possibly a trapper, was now her destination, her first stop in this improbable mission to save  a boy she had known for only six months. Carefully, she placed Daniel under the shelter of an overhanging rock before she drew the can of pepper from her bag.  She scattered the fiery powder liberally along the brush beside the road and several feet along the track, not knowing if it would cover their tracks.

That done, she gathered Daniel into her arms again and began another long climb upward toward the cabin.  Another two hours later, numb from exhaustion and cold, she nearly stumbled into the side of the weathered walls.  A gray dawn was just appearing above the mountain ridges, and the first flakes of threatened snow appeared.

By the time Grace and Daniel entered the rickety building, the flakes were larger.  Quickly, Grace peeled away Daniel’s sodden clothing and dressed him in layers of warm, dry garments she had chosen for him.  He moved as she told him, but scarcely opened his eyes.  She placed him upon a cot that had been built into a corner and covered him with the sherpa coat.  He turned into its warmth and slept instantly.

Shivering, Grace changed into thin thermal underwear and all the other garments she could pull around her body.  She shoved a rough-wood table against the door and secured the boarded windows before she curled around Daniel on the cot.  She drew her familiar down coat over the two of them; and within moments, she was asleep.

…To Be Continued