Muckloon Hill, Ireland 1923
Little Neasa, who her family affectionately called Nee, was in the garden taking a solitary lunch under the Blackthorn tree. As far as she knew, they were the only household for leagues that had one prominently displayed in the front of their estate. Her mother, skillful at feigning religious piety outside of the home, had instilled in young Nee a soft and clandestine devotion to the Old Ways and of Druids long passed. They would secretly honor their connection to the land and reverence for the natural world together, with hushed voices in private alcoves. A shared bond between the Moore women.
Her mother was considered unusual by those outside of the family. Never apologetic in her worldview. Hardly submitted, even to her devoted husband. She would loudly express her discontent with the rebels during the Civil War that had ravaged their countryside only a few years earlier. Angry mumblings and violent factions were still cause to be wary for most. But her mother and her father, indeed, all members of the Moore family were too proud for their own good.
Hence, the conspicuous tree in their garden. A theoretical test of sorts her mother used to weed out those who only associated the Blackthorn as belonging to witchcraft and murder and all things excessively macabre. Those who had forgotten all that was once passed down through generational lore.
Once they made their displeasure known, her mother would aggressively, lively with passion, argue the inverse. For she knew, and she taught her daughter, that the Blackthorn is fiercely guarded by fairy folk. Its uses and presence offering tangible proof of the cycle of life and death and protection; its blossoms used in fertility rites and woven into lovely wreaths that would hang above the bed of a bride on her wedding night.
She taught little Nee that when snow blankets the forest floor and all other trees have shed their perennial leaves, the Blackthorn remains, providing a beautiful bloom in an otherwise frozen expanse. A sturdy reminder that time and weather are not the only forces that govern our world.
Nee was taught to recognize, to appreciate, the thick branches that would provide shelter and food to small creatures that would otherwise needlessly suffer the harsh elements of the Irish clime.
Her mother, and now Nee, had always felt a connection to this Blackthorn in particular. Having grown up at Moore Hall, they well knew what others said about the land upon which their ancestors had built the estate centuries before. Town gossip and local legend would recall that George Moore, the long-dead predecessor, chose this site overlooking Lough Carra despite warnings from nearby residents that the land was cursed. Around 400 A.D., the King of Connacht’s Druid, Drithliu, was overrun by his enemies and suffered a violent and tragic death on that very hill. It’s said the stream that flows from Moore Hall to the shores of the Lough is the same meandering course that took Drithliu’s blood upon his death. A final, bloody reclamation.
Long had her mother shared secret stories of the tragic, cursed history of their family. Mysterious and unlucky occurrences that would befall many of the Moore men throughout time. And yet, though rarely spoken aloud, it was common knowledge that none of the women had met such violent fates.
Her mother, ever the believer, had told her about a spirit sent to protect them. Had whispered yarns in her ears while she slept to dream about a fae spirit predestined to protect their women. It had always seemed too fantastical to little Neasa, whose temperament was bending into practical like her father with only a hint of whimsical to be seen from her mother. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe her own mother, but Nee had always been a visual believer. Needed substantial, irrefutable evidence to believe in something wholly.
Once, when she was taken on a trip to see a traveling group of troupers perform, she had walked right up to the flute player and touched the tip of the instrument so she could prove to her senses that what she was hearing was indeed coming from this simple cylindrical device. She could not fathom at the tender age of 6 that a humble note shaped from that flute could make her spine tingle and her eyes water. She had to touch it, had to feel it vibrate under her fingers to truly believe it to be so. She carried this doubt about the world around her always. Was reserved and hesitant until she uncovered the how and the why of a truth. But, once formed, that truth to her became absolute. It was this, her stubborn skepticism about the spiritual world, that led her to believe that her mother was either misinformed or gently deceived by their maternal lineage.
It was midday, by Nee’s estimation. She had just a few more moments to linger outside before she was called back indoors for her daily lessons. Her mind was lazily pondering the subject for a painting she was asked to create. She had a fine eye for lines and shapes and dark colored shades.
She's been distracted, she’d tell herself later, by the way the thick and gnarled branches of the Blackthorn tree danced together creating a complicated pattern of movements. She was already mentally calculating how much grey to add to her precious white paints to create a convincing replica of the peculiar bark when she heard what she thought was a gentle sigh.
It didn’t come from some specific place behind her. Rather, it seemed to be that the air itself, surrounding her and the garden, took a deep, measured breath, then released it all at once. Nee made a full turn, eyes searching, mind alert, but saw nothing out of place. Not so foolish enough to call out, she stood still and took time to steady her racing heart, waiting to hear it again. And, as she stood tall next to her Blackthorn tree, a Spector manifested in front of her.
She heard the sound again. Less a sigh, and more a soft ripping noise. Like an actual tear in the fabric of her dimension. There was a slight familiarity about the woman that appeared to Nee. An awareness that felt, inexplicably, hereditary. The prominent brow and gently sloping nose. The fierce, green eyes and red brown hair. They stared at each other for the space of a few breaths. The interloper, waiting. Nee, observing and cataloguing every piece of the experience to recall at another time.
The woman looked behind her, to a place that Nee could not see behind the blur of her outline. She turned back with an urgency not there moments before.
“Quickly,” she pressed. “You must go back inside. Warn your family and run downhill to the lake. Hide in the marshes of Lough Carra until it’s over. They will not be swayed. They will not be turned around.”
She made urgent shooing motions in Nee’s direction. Caught again between practicality and the need to tangibly possess the knowledge she needed to assess her situation properly, she could hear the faint thundering of horses hooves beyond the hill. As one, they looked towards the approaching clamor.
“Who are they?” Nee whispered to her apparition. Her first words aloud.
“Anti-treaty forces. The rebels. They’re here for your father. They will not show you mercy. Quickly! RUN!”
Nee took off, hiking up her skirts and taking the cobbled path back to the door of the estate. A terror she’d never known took hold of her then and propelled her forward. Hair undone and streaming behind her, she wildly ran through the house and alerted her family as quickly as possible. Her mother, with bag already in hand as if she’d known what was coming, grabbed her hand and more nimbly than she’d expect of a woman her age, made a course for the small, limestone cave that they sometimes used to store their small fishing boats.
Sadly, and yet unsurprisingly, her father Maurice stayed behind to defend their great and stately home. There was simply not enough time to plead with him to come, to convince him to heed an otherworldly warning that had given them the gift of time to escape.
What was left of Nee’s family quietly wept, as they watched through cracks in the rocks, all their worldly possessions erupt in an angry blaze. Their familial home was burning to the ground, their patriarch with it.
Nee squeezed her eyes shut as she heard the splintering of wood and the crackles of flames destroying all she’d ever known. She jumped when the stained-glass windows reached enough pressure to explode from the inside and rain down upon the cobble path. As day turned into night, she stepped out of the cave, safe from the rebels as they had accomplished what they set out to do. Her eyes were drawn to the gentle hill, where an eerie red river of wine from her family’s cellar was carving a path into the lake, staining the ground in inky, dark shadows. How interesting it would be to paint this shade, she supposed.
Her mind thought back to Drithliu, and the imagery of his death felt distressingly relevant. Her eyes, tender from crying, looked up at her beloved, ancestral home. There was naught to be done about the fire. The entire structure was collapsing in on itself and burning the surroundings. Arms hugging her center, she looked towards the Blackthorn tree, still standing proud, with ash and embers showering her branches. Her dark fruit still visible in the fading light. And next to the tree, watching as the manor burned, she was there.
Muckloon Hill, Ireland, Now
Katherine’s infamous colcannon soup sat bubbling away on the stove. The heady mix of cabbage, onions and potatoes permeated the cramped kitchen of her double wide. She liked to have a hearty meal prepared for after. Knowing how much energy she’d expend for this particular trip was daunting, if she was honest with herself. Best to be prepared though. She sighed.
She’d been preparing for this moment for quite some time. Since acutely acknowledging the Gift, as her mother called it, she’d dreamt of the scenes that had played out before she was born time and time again. Imagined and reimagined and shaped towards the future in which she currently resided.
Having “a touch of the fae” was quietly her favorite thing about herself. She’d never told anyone outside of her own family. This was a secret to be kept. A power that could shape events past and future. Only the most humble, it seemed, were bestowed its greatest ability.
Katherine was able to move through moments in time where the barrier between existences, usually unyielding, would bend and expand just for her, all existing simultaneously. This intentional slippage, stretching her corporeal self into precise instances, guided by her gifted premonitions, was her purpose. She knew this with an absolute certainty.
Now, a daughter’s daughter, she had spent many a long night studying her family’s history with fervor. Dedicated her passions to finding the girls, forgotten by history, that were unwittingly brought into tragedy simply by the circumstances of their birth.
Knowing it was time to finally break through the nearly transparent thread of her very fate, she gathered her nerve and her warmest jacket, slipped on her shoes, and walked up the hill to the dilapidated shell of her ancestral home, Moore Hall.
There, amongst the ruins, knotted and bent but still resilient and proud, stood the Blackthorn tree. She breathed a sigh into the air. A call to the void to open, just a crack, for her to reach through and ultimately save herself...