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My last day on the book tour concludes with one more lovely review. I officially declare it a success with 2874 entries and 15 new reviews. Phew! Thank you, thank you, to all who participated and made it an extraordinary experience. You can still enter the giveaway until Aug. 27. Don’t miss the chance to win a free copy of She Never Got To Say Goodbye or a $25 Amazon gift card.

 

 

Write Well

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I was always an avid reader. Long before I ever considered becoming a writer, I couldn’t understand why some stories put me there in the scene while others felt almost as if parts of the story were dry or missing or undeveloped.

Many of my readers have expressed in their reviews that my stories feel real. That the reader feels as if he/she is right there with my characters. They feel what my characters feel and see what my characters see.

Here is one example from a Goodreads group where I published a short story.

Ica: What a stunning début in WSS! I am very impressed with your skill in building the setting and keeping your reader guessing. Your characterization is delicate and also practical. Raul, Gina, and Joseph’s development was just enough to make the following events believable, but wasn’t excessive.

So what makes good writing?

Here is my humble opinion: Dialog and Description contribute equally to good writing.

Dialog: I believe it’s important for a character to talk naturally, the same way a real person would. However, before you put any words into your character’s mouth, decide and develop a personality for that character. Do you want your character to be strong, in control, weak, pathetic, sarcastic, rude, kind, emotional, straight up evil, etc.? Of course in books, just as in real life, some characters change traits. If, and when that happens, the way he/she talks should also change. Brian Klems and Nancy Kress talk extensively in this article about character personality, change, and motivation so I will not repeat what they say here. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-ways-to-motivate-characters-and-plot

Description: Now let’s talk about the narrative part of the story.

Show the readers everything, tell them nothing. ~ Ernest Hemingway ~

Hemingway refers to this as “reader’s dignity” meaning that the reader should be given respect, trusted to develop a feeling for the meaning behind the action without having the point painfully laid out for him or her.

Sandra Brown, whom I have great respect for and think she is a great editor, once told me that a good story has to have specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

I highly agree with both, Sandra and Hemingway. When you hand an emotion on a platter to your reader, his/her brain goes into a thinking mode instead of a feeling mode, skipping over the emotional part.

Here is an example: It snowed heavily all day. Signs warning of road closure were everywhere. His windshield was frozen, he could no longer see the road, and he feared that in these wintry conditions he might end up in the ditch.   

Clearly, there is a lot of snow on the road, there are signs telling him that the road is or will be closed, and the man is afraid of ending up in an accident. I haven’t painted that wintry picture in the reader’s mind and though he/she knows that my character is afraid, they can’t feel the character’s emotions. I told the story and left no room for emotion or imagination.

Now look at this example: Giant snowflakes continued to drop from the gloomy sky and splattered against the windshield then froze, making it hard for the wipers to keep the windshield clean. Up ahead blinking lights warned of road closures. His were the only tires to blemish the slick, white blanket. Dammit! The last damn thing he needed was to send his car flying off the road. Dry-mouthed, he swallowed hard and gripping the steering wheel firmer he squinted, trying to locate the road.

I still conveyed all the above except that I didn’t tell, I showed the scene. Notice how I painted the picture of my character being afraid, without actually using the word afraid.

With this being said, you can’t show every single scene in your book. Why? Let’s look at the examples above.

I told the scene in 38 words and I showed it in 80. All scenes are relevant to the story or else they should not be there.

Right?

Right.

However, some scenes and moments are more important than others. If you try to paint every scene vividly in the reader’s mind, besides the fact that you’ll have a very, very, long novel on your hands, important scenes that are supposed to stand out will get mingled with all the others. In other words, you will have a novel without any highlights, which will likely leave your readers’ minds the moment they read that last paragraph on that last page.

She Never Got To Say Goodbye

 

 

You asked, I listened. It is now a novel. The new edition is live on Amazon! Suspenseful, romantic and awash in the afterlife thrill, She Never Got To Say Goodbye captures the power of love and friendship.

http://amzn.to/1Lehsqr

 

Excerpt


 

 

Chapter 1

 

Homo-Sapiens—the species of bipedal primates to which modern humans belong, characterized by a larger and well-developed brain capacity. Aiming to achieve the impossible and create the unknown, humans are overridden by emotions…

Bullshit! Olivia ripped, crumpled the piece of paper into a ball and threw it in the trash on top of about twenty others.

She massaged her throbbing temples as she glanced at her textbook. The words seemed to blur together, and her mind rebelled refusing to digest a new brainstorm.

Blinking rapidly she pressed her forehead on the textbook as if trying to imprint it in her memory. She had poured herself into the pages, scoured the book and read it until she felt cross-eyed, but the words merged into nonsense.

She leaned back in her armchair and groaned, glancing at the ceiling. She loved psychology and dissecting the human mind in a given context. Why did she have such a hard time with this report?

She forced her gaze back to the defying book, her thoughts groggy and incoherent. Stifling a yawn she rubbed her bleary eyes and slid a finger over the smooth surface of her iPhone. Her school countdown app indicated that in exactly three hundred nine days, sixteen hours, thirty-one minutes and two seconds, Olivia Jeffries would graduate from UBC Faculty of Law.

“UBC Faculty of Law,” she muttered. A world populated by young people where twenty-eight is practically middle age.

Another groan found its way past her lips. She pushed the chair back, rose to her feet and strode out of the small closet she had converted into an office.

She took a deep breath. The psychology report about human behavior would give her extra credits. Unfortunately, its twisted reality had begun to distort in Olivia’s mind. It challenged the once mundane facts about humans and brought the topic to a turbulent new sphere where even the sense of self, seemed up for grabs.

She moved to the living room and sunk into her soft leather sofa. Worries cluttered her mind, and every one of her muscles felt tight. Her body screamed for her to sprint down the street and loosen her tension. To spend the unexplained energy that kept piling deep within. She turned on her TV and scanned through channels. Her usual calm had been replaced by a carousel of thoughts, each one more worrying than the last. Her mind replayed facts trying to sort through them.

One: she was at the top of her class.

Two: law firms were always on the lookout for good lawyers.

Three: would she be that lawyer—one that every firm wanted?

Her stomach heaved and her knuckles whitened from effort to keep a lid on it, negative thoughts tumbling at an incredible speed.

Up until now she had planned her entire life down to the last detail, but as the first semester approached, her anxiety level rose. In the six hours she spent in her bed, she must have woken at least six times. Just enough to break her sleep into weary chunks.

“Everything will be okay,” she encouraged herself.

Will it? Her pessimism resurfaced, firing a new tense feeling in the pit of her stomach. She could feel tension racing through the air loading it with static and blasting her face with its intense breath.

She needed fresh air and dinner out with a friend seemed like the perfect solution. She clicked the OFF button on the remote, then grabbing her phone from the coffee table, she dialed Debbie’s number.

The call went straight to her voicemail, and Olivia saw no point in leaving a message. When Debbie’s phone was off, a new flavor of the week dominated her time.

Olivia knew that Debbie ticked more than enough boxes to qualify for the town tramp cliché, but she also knew that Debbie was sweet, friendly, and reliable, and that made her Olivia’s best friend.

So what if Debbie doesn’t want to settle?

Olivia shrugged in response to her thought, and a new stomach throb brought her back to her own anxieties. Maybe eating alone was not a bad idea. It would give her time to reflect on her unfounded worries. It might even put the edgy feeling out of her mind.

She pondered for a moment, then decided on Ol’Mama’s bar and grill. Private, serene, and relaxing—the perfect place for quiet thoughts. With the decision settled, she grabbed her purse and left in a hurry.

Outside, she sucked the air in as if it was something new, something that she experienced for the first time. The fragrance of summer grasses and flowers had never been so apparent to her before, but now they jumped at her like cake commercials at someone on a diet.

 

Chapter 2

 

The restaurant’s hostess, dressed in a close-fitting, low-cut, black and white uniform drawing the costumers’ eyes to her chest, greeted Olivia with a practiced smile then asked her if she had anyone joining her. At Olivia’s negative response, the hostess guided her to a table.

Once seated, the hostess handed Olivia the menu and gave her a new quick smile, then asked, “Can I get you anything?”

Olivia returned the smile. “Just some water for now; thank you.”

The hostess nodded, the same practiced smile animating her face, then left to get the glass of water.

Olivia’s attention turned to the menu but as she scrolled through it, a distinct feeling of eyes watching her, drew her gaze to the table next to her right. A dark-skinned, dark-haired, smoking hot, young man, stared straight at her. He did not even seem embarrassed at getting caught staring.

Olivia gave him a faint smile and continued reading her menu but a moment later, a man cleared his throat beside her.

She lifted her eyes toward the man towering above her, wearing a designer shirt that fit snuggly over firm muscles. Taken by surprise, she realized that he was none other than the daring man who had watched her mere moments before. She wrenched her eyes away from his chest and continued to explore upward. His hard jaw showcased firm and inviting lips curved into a hint of a smile that made him look ferociously sexy. Their eyes remained locked, as his gleaming blue eyes, framed by long, dark eyelashes held her captive, unable to look away.

“Hi, I’m Brandon,” he said bowing his head slightly. Then, he loosened his tie with one hand and the corners of his mouth slanted into a deeper smile.

Olivia’s sudden and unsolicited body response to his intense gaze left her breathless and unable to form a coherent thought.

Brandon must have noticed her stunned reaction because he smiled and added: “I could throw in a cheesy line, but I hate cheesy lines. I also hate to eat alone.” He paused for a moment then somewhat stumbled over his words. “Um… would you be so kind to join me?”

Hoping to regain her composure, she squared her shoulders and inhaled deeply, trying to hide the obvious.

“What makes you think I am not expecting company?” she asked, attempting to mask her instant attraction to him.

He scratched his eyebrow and simpered. “Forgive me, but I couldn’t help overhearing when you asked for a table for one.”

Olivia never liked pushy men, but she had a strong feeling she would have no problem liking this pushy man. She raised an eyebrow and teased. “Still… What makes you think I want company?”

“Oh…” He sighed, making no effort to hide his disappointment. For a brief moment, an unidentified emotion flickered through his eyes. “In that case, I am sorry to have bothered you.” He bowed, and then walking backward to his table.

Olivia watched him and smiled. He resembled a guilty-faced dog looking for a place to hide.

“Wait! All right; come join me,” she kept an authoritarian tone.

He raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Well, do you want to join me, or would you prefer that I beg?”

He smiled and in two strides, he stood beside Olivia. “I would never…” He brushed an airy wave. “Never mind,” he said and took a seat on the opposite side of her table. “Let’s start over. My name is Brandon Olson. I’m thirty-five, a lawyer, and single,” he said, offering a smooth-skinned, perfectly manicured hand, over the table.

She smiled, shaking his hand warmly with the proper amount of squeeze and eye contact. Then she raised her eyebrows slightly, as she shook her head with amusement. “Oh, wow! A lot of information in one sentence. Pleased to meet you, Brandon. I’m Olivia Jeffries. So tell me, does this line work on every woman?”

He cocked his brows in surprise. “What line?”

“You know—” She paused and locked eyes with him. “The ‘I don’t like cheesy lines,’” her hand waved back and forth through the air between them. “…thing.”

He nodded once. “Aah, that. You may not believe me, but I’ve never done this before.” When Olivia bit back a laugh, he added, “I’m serious. Listen, I didn’t lie to you when I told you I don’t like eating alone. I don’t. I always have lunch or dinner with a friend or colleague.”

Olivia smiled but did not contradict him.

“So tell me, Olivia Jeffries, what do you do? I mean… when you’re not attracting complete strangers to have dinner with?”

Olivia could not help but love his crafty sense of humor. “I’m a…” She paused.

Although her parents helped her financially and her tuition fees were paid primarily by awards and grants, over the summer she held two jobs saving enough to pay for her own apartment. A legal secretary by day and a waitress by night, every day, she only had twenty minutes to change her office appearance to a more liberal look depicting her night job. Twenty minutes to trade her office suit for an all-black mini-dress that hardly covered anything; to switch her bra for a padded push-up; to remove her hardly-there day makeup, reapply it in glitzy colors then sweep her hair up into a more sophisticated-looking up-do. Twenty minutes for one last look in the mirror, grab her car keys, and dash out the door. It would be past midnight when she’d come home dead-tired and smothered in cigarette smoke. Although Brandon didn’t need all that information. Of that, she was sure.

She cleared her throat. “I wanna be a lawyer.”

Brandon’s eyes widened excitingly, and then he spoke a little too loud. “Are you toying with me? Seriously… you’re a lawyer…”

“No. I said, I wanna be a lawyer. Last year… UBC.”

“That’s great. I knew as soon as you walked in that you and I have something in common,” he added keenly as if Olivia’s remark held no essence.

“Ah-huh… You knew, didn’t you?” Olivia’s words dripped with sarcasm.

“And I was right,” he added.

She grinned amused by his boyish, casual demeanor. “I guess you were.”

“So what do you plan to do after you graduate?”

“Look for work.”

“I could’ve guessed that, but what I meant was, do you have any particular law firm in mind?”

“No. Not really. I’ll start researching this year. To be completely honest, I have high expectations. I don’t want to have a job just for the sake of having a job. I want to look for a firm where there is room to grow.”

She paused when she saw Brandon’s brows rise. “I’m not deluding myself,” she chided.

Brandon opened his mouth to respond, but her palm went up, halting the words on his lips.

“I am well aware of how newbies get treated in general. I know the opaque rules that confuse most young graduates, but I also know that if I showcase my potential, those best positioned will take notice,” she concluded. Then, grasping that she may have sounded conceited, she smiled. “I mean without crossing that fine line between assertive and ambitious, and precocious and annoying.”

“Absolutely. I like that attitude. I bet you won’t have a problem finding the job of your dreams.”

She simpered. “Call me crazy, but I envision the day when I become partner… or even a judge.”

Brandon’s smile and words halted on his lips when a tall waiter came to take their orders.

The waiter offered a quick smile before pulling a small notepad and a pen from his pocket. “Good evening. My name is Jeff. I’ll be your server. Are you ready to order?”

“Yes,” Brandon and Olivia replied at the same time.

“Ladies first…” Brandon said, gesturing toward Olivia.

“I’ll have pork chops with roasted potatoes and garden salad,” Olivia decided.

“What kind of dressing on your salad?” the waiter asked while scribbling the order furiously onto his notepad.

“Ranch.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Just water. Thank you.”

The waiter faced Brandon. “What about you, sir?”

“I’ll have what she has and…” The waiter stood stiff as Brandon perused the wine list. “And a glass of Chardonnay,” Brandon said at last.

“Very well…” the waiter beamed with the enthusiasm of someone new to the job and then departed for the kitchen.

“I love their pork chops,” said Brandon.

Olivia nodded. “Do you come here often?”

“Almost every other day for lunch. I work just across the street, so it’s also conveniently close.”

“Where do you work?”

“At Binder and Associates. I started working there when I finished school. I stuck around and recently I made partner.”

They kept the conversation going, shifting from one topic to the next with ease. The only interruption came when their server brought their food and drinks or swooped in to collect the finished meals and empty glasses.

Although they had just met, to the untrained eye, they seemed as if they had known each other forever.

As they enjoyed their dessert, they shared stories of their families. Brandon detailed how his father raised him and his brother after their mother passed away in a terrible car crash when Brandon was only eight-years-old. He recalled his father’s last failed attempt at a new relationship.

“He then gave up on having a love life and dedicated his life to raising us.” Brandon paused then sighed. “My father passed away recently,” he concluded.

“Oh, that’s terrible. I’m very sorry.” Instinctively, Olivia covered Brandon’s hand with hers.

“Thank you. I miss him. He was a great father to me and Adrian.”

“I can’t imagine not having my parents around,” she said, slowly retracting her hand.

“Are you close?”

“Yeah; very. They live in North Vancouver, and I talk to them daily.”

Alerted by a slight movement, or perhaps a sound, Olivia felt a new pair of eyes on her. Whatever the reason, she turned toward the source of her unexplained warning and looked. A beautiful brunette sitting at a table alone came into Olivia’s view.

Busted! Olivia sneered with amusement, holding the young woman’s gaze long enough to know that Brandon, not her, had been the object of the woman’s stare.

The brunette turned her head the other way. Too late, Olivia mocked just as Brandon gasped. Olivia shifted her attention back to him. He had apparently followed Olivia’s gaze.

“Do you know her?”

“Unfortunately. She’s kind of… I don’t know how to put it. I dated her a few times about a year ago, and since then, I seem to run into her often.”

“Are you serious? She’s not one of those dangerous psychos who can’t take rejection, is she?” Olivia asked, and then grinned slightly.

“Oh no, no. Nothing like that. She’s well-educated. I think she finished or is about to finish Med School. She’s just… there, wherever I go. Weird.” Brandon brushed an airy wave—a clear indication that he did not want to talk about it anymore.

Brandon paid for their dinner and insisted that they see each other again, and Olivia did not hesitate to give him her number.

As they walked past the brunette’s table, Brandon nodded once. Their eyes met, and she smiled and nodded in return.

A hint of possessiveness nudged at Olivia’s senses, taking her by surprise. What was the matter with her? This was so unlike her. She was not a jealous person, not to mention that she just met this guy. She continued lecturing herself as Brandon walked her to her car and made small talk along the way.

They arrived to her car, she turned to face him and to thank him for a pleasant evening. Her self-lecturing didn’t seem to work because she was now focusing at how his designer suit hugged his muscular figure. She then shifted her gaze slowly upward until their eyes met. The churns of emotions burning in his eyes made her gasp.

He opened her car door and for a brief moment, rested his hand on her shoulder. Then, his hand slid down her arm, slowly, gently, its slow movement sending bolts of electricity down her spine. Sensing his gaze on her face as distinctive as a physical touch, she glanced back into his captivating eyes.

He leaned down and rested his forehead against hers, and Olivia watched breathlessly as his blue eyes studied hers, shining with mischief and silent intensity.

His warm breath caressed her face. She closed her eyes in anticipation but stifled a surprised gasp as his soft lips finally seized hers. Though her body flushed with heat, she savored his lips and the quickening of his breath that matched her own.

The kiss obliterated her every thought. Her mind felt locked into the present as the worries of the day evaporated like the sun-kissed morning dew.

Though the soft caress of his hand against her skin took her breath away, the kiss held a promise of much more to come.

Brandon drew away before the rush of bliss enveloped her, but that didn’t prevent her from wanting nothing more than to see this man again.

 

Chapter 3

 

When possessing the kind of looks that stopped women in their tracks, a man had to be aware of his blessings and Brandon was no stranger to that. From an early age, he understood the impact he had on girls, but in spite all the openings that came his way, he was never interested in casual flings. As he grew older, he appreciated women who valued genuineness and meaningful conversation over lipstick and high heels.

One look at Olivia was all it took to know that her intelligence exceeded her beauty. The approval playing on her face before she could hide it left no doubt in his mind that she appreciated the same things.

That was not to say she was all brains and no beauty. Brown hair cascading down her shoulders, green eyes full of mixed expressions and framed by velvety eyelashes, and a curvy figure, complemented well her tanned and impeccable complexion. A sculptor could not have fashioned her dangerously inviting lips and delicate nose any better. Though it was her nonchalance to her beauty that made her irresistible to both genders; men desired her, and women sought her friendship.

From the moment he laid eyes on her, Brandon simply knew they were made for each other. They had been dating for close to ten months, and her constant crisp attitude felt refreshing, but now he wanted more. There was no doubt in his mind that she had fallen in love with him as he had with her, but as her finals approached he had sensed her anxiety.

Propped against his car, Brandon’s brain tingled with emotions. He knew a smirk played at the corner of his lips, but he couldn’t help it.

The heat of the day had faded to a comforting warmth and any minute now Olivia would walk through that door.

One second passed.

Two, then three.

Remorse and guilt hit him like a sledgehammer and burned like fire in his mind and throat. He had taken a lot of Olivia’s time without even thinking how stressful it must’ve been for her, but he intended to change that tonight. Tonight, it would be just for her.

He watched her come out of her building and the vision of her held him spellbound—dark hair cascading down her shoulders in waves, her usual, enticing smile, animating her face.

One step.

Two steps.

Three steps.

His heart raced echoing with each beat. Buh-bum. Buh-bum. Buh-bum.

“Hey, handsome,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek.

He seized her hand and guided her toward the passenger door. “Come on. I’d like to show you something.”

“Erm… Don’t forget I still have to study,” she whined.

He stopped and faced her. Then gently pressing a finger on her lips, he hushed her. When her eyes widened with surprise, he slowly replaced it with his own lips in a gentle yet passionate kiss as an overwhelming feeling of lust took over his body. He moved his hand from her cheek to the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her long hair, lightly pulling her into him thus adding more pressure to their lips.

God, he wanted her more than ever. He loosened his grip, smiling his charming smile, and she took a deep breath as if trying to refill her lungs.

“Your beaming smile leaves me breathless.”

He put his arm around her as his smile widened.

“Is that right? Let’s go then.”

They climbed into Brandon’s car, and he wound to the right toward West Georgia Street.

“Where are you taking me?” she inquired when they passed Stanley Park, Lions Gate Bridge and got on ramp Trans Canada Hwy.

Brandon smiled. “You’ll see.”

Brandon pulled onto the first viewpoint of Cypress Bowl Road and eased the car into a parking space then grabbed Olivia’s hand.

“Come.”

The faint lingering lilac sky slowly faded into the shadows of Cypress Mountain. The shimmering sparkles of stars silhouetted into the darkness as a trembling gush of wind drifted softly across the skyline.

She seemed somewhat hesitant. “What are we doing here?”

“Come. Let me show you something.”

She followed him suspiciously out of the car, and to the edge of the parkade overlooking the ocean and the city.

The blinding city lights bounced off the water and gradually subsided, filling the inky sky with a pleasant serenity. The slight breeze spread a strong scent of pine, adding another level of enjoyment and heightening the pleasure of the moment. The scenery seemed surreal. Breathtaking.

“Wow!” Olivia exclaimed. “I grew up in this town, but I never knew this beauty existed.”

Brandon watched the frail night light reflect in her eyes. Sensing his gaze, she turned her head and their eyes met. Hers seemed filled with a mixture of happiness and endless questions. He swooped in and captured her full lips into a slow and passionate kiss.

He released his grip but continued to hold her gaze.

Her eyes raked across his face glistening with each move, and then she raised a suspicious eyebrow. “What are you up to?”

Like a waterfall, strands of hair tumbled down her shoulders and the breeze whipped them back tidying the curls into waves.

He wrapped his arm around her. “There comes a time to unwind the tenseness and rigidness of our fragile bones, and this is it,” he said with a hint of mystery in his voice. He then pulled a small box from his pocket and dropped to one knee. Looking up into her eyes, he flipped open the lid, exposing the treasure hidden inside.

“From the day I met you, I knew you were the one for me and I knew this day would come. We are each other’s center of the universe. We are relaxed in each other’s company. Till death do us part doesn’t sound right to me. You are my soul mate. I want us to be together in this life and beyond. I can’t promise you a bumpless road, but I promise to love you, comfort you, encourage you, laugh with you, cry with you, and cherish you for all eternity.” He paused to take a breath.

“Olivia Jeffries, will you be my wife?”

Olivia widened her eyes as unfamiliar emotions overwhelmed her. Most days she could think of nothing else but him, and now he waited for her answer but she couldn’t find her voice as ecstasy filled her airways. She offered him her hand so he could slide the ring onto her finger, then opened and closed her mouth repeatedly before she could finally squeal a yes.

He stood up and gently cupped her jaw as he tipped her face to his. “I love you, Liv.”

She took a deep breath and leaned into him. “I love you too.”

He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her as a ragged breath brushed against her face. Then drawing her tight against his chest, he kissed her sweetly. The world stood still, but her body trembled, and it wasn’t from the cold.

He stroked her hair then whispered in her ear, “You wanna go?”

She looked up at him. “Let’s stay a little longer. It’s very peaceful here.”

The Curse

Death is a natural thing—as natural as birth. At least that was what everyone wanted to believe. But who could accept that? What was natural about burying a loved one six feet under the ground? What about when losing someone under unexplained circumstances?

Mournful souls had gathered for a final goodbye as dark, gray heavens wept a silent rain. Time itself stood still. There were no smiles, only grief that hung in the air like a thick blanket.

The rain cooled the pain that had settled in the pit of Adrian’s stomach. With unfocused eyes, he stared as the coffin that contained his mother’s lifeless body, slowly descended into the cold, hard ground.

At least her suffering had ended. Now his was just beginning.

He shook his head, attempting to come out of the darkness that was his new life. A new life—first without his father, and now without his mother.

He shivered, not from the cold, but because he did not know how to mourn the loss of his mother.

He glanced at his grandmother standing next to him with her arm wrapped around him like a warm, comforting blanket. Worry lines had formed around her brown eyes, making her look way older than she was.

That warmth was familiar. It had been there his entire life. While growing up, he was surrounded by people who adored him. If he closed his eyes, images assembled in his mind, but his mother was not in them—not that he could remember. After his father’s death, she just hadn’t known what to do with him though he knew she loved him. Too bad, his mother was gone before he knew what her love felt like.

“No matter what happens, just know that I will always love you,” his mother had told him, only weeks before her death. He had believed her.

His mother’s story had begun the year before.

No. According to his grandmother, Elena’s story began twelve years before.

***

The beginning was filled with happiness—happiness that George and Elena brought to each other’s lives. Even though they could’ve easily afforded a place of their own, they preferred to live with George’s parents for practical reasons.

Adrian was born shortly after they got married, and their babysitter—George’s mother—was within arm’s reach twenty-four hours. That way, they both could continue to work full time.

George was full of life and always smiling. Elena bragged how beautiful it was to have a husband who was always happy, his cheerfulness, infectious.

Life was good. Everyone was happy. And then tragedy struck. George was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.

“It’s treatable,” his doctor said. “Surgery is the primary treatment for stage-three colon cancer. It usually involves a bowel resection to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue on each side of the tumor.”

The doctor had made it sound as if it was a simple procedure. Only it wasn’t.

Throughout the anesthetic administrations, George’s airway was supposed to be protected and guaranteed by inserting an endotracheal tube into his trachea. Instead, the tube was placed in his esophagus, and oxygen was not delivered to his lungs. After a brief period without oxygen, he suffered a cardiac arrest. George paid the price for that human error, with his life, leaving behind his beloved wife and one-year-old son, Adrian.

***

Elena understood. At least that was what everyone believed. Being understanding was her job.

Only two years before, over a span of six months, she had helped bring a baby boy into the world, was the maid of honor at his parents’ wedding, and then stood by their deathbeds when they were involved in a horrific car crash that killed all three.

She understood that death was part of life. It was part of her nursing job, but that was easy to understand. That was her job and death happened to other people.

This was different. George was her husband, and Elena hated God for taking him from her.

She and Adrian continued to live in the house with her in-laws, but part of her was buried with her husband. She simply did not know how to live without him.

Slowly, she withdrew into her own little shell that was her world. She had never planned to live as a recluse. To not want to see or talk to anyone for days at a time, but then she had never expected to be a widow before she reached thirty, either.

Days became weeks, weeks became months, and months became years. Elena quit being a mother to her son, and Roman and Carolina—George’s parents—became instant parents to Adrian.

***

Nine years later…

Elena had gotten on with her life, the way everyone told her she should. She slept. Ate. Woke up every morning and went to work. She hadn’t the inclination to do more. The pain had stopped. Or maybe it had just morphed into numbness, but one thing was clear. She still grieved, still pulled out memories and spun them around in her tormented mind, trying to relieve the happy days with her husband.

She watched Carolina dunk then stir the tea bag in her cup of steaming water. Her mother-in-law’s unfocused eyes told Elena that something preoccupied her mind.

“Elena, I’ve meant to speak to you,” Carolina said, at last.

Elena sipped from her own cup and shrugged, somewhat puzzled by Carolina’s profound tone. “Okay…”

Before marrying George, Elena hadn’t known what love was. She had never met her father, and her mother never wanted her. She had been raised by her grandmother, who was nothing more than a presence in Elena’s life. She had never hugged her or kissed her, or show her any affection. Marrying George and being part of his family, was the closest she had ever come to feel a parent’s love.

“How are you?” Carolina asked, keeping the same intense tone.

Elena raised an eyebrow. “Fine…”

“I mean—really. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. Why?” She knew it was a lie, but, unfortunately, it was necessary.

“Honey… you are not fine. It’s been nine years since your husband died, and you are still grieving.”

“So? He was my husband. I loved him.”

“I understand that. I do. I am his mother, and I loved him too. I also know that George loved you more than anything, but this is not what he would’ve wanted for you.” Carolina gently covered Elena’s hand with hers. “Elena, you are so young. You have your whole life ahead of you. You need to live your life.”

“What are you saying? I am living my life… the only way I know how,” Elena said bowing her head.

Without warning, Carolina opened her arms and pulled Elena into a firm hug. When she drew back, tears shimmered in her eyes. “That is exactly what I am talking about, Elena. You made a choice to live your life in a shell, and this isn’t good.”

Elena caught herself wriggling her hands—her favorite nervous gesture—and stopped. “I did not make this choice, Mom. God made this choice for me. I chose to marry; I chose to have a child with the man I loved, but I did not choose this.

Carolina blinked furiously trying to keep the tears from spilling. “I am so sorry, honey. I wish you did not have to go through all this. We don’t know why things happen the way they do, but you are young, you are beautiful, and your son needs a father figure. George is not coming back, and I know he would’ve wanted you and Adrian to be happy. Go out. Start dating, and start living your life. You deserve to be happy.”

“I am happy. And Adrian has Dad as a father figure. We could not ask for more.”

“Oh, honey. I am delighted that you trust Roman to be a father figure for Adrian.” She gave Elena’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Roman and I are not going anywhere. We will always be here for Adrian and you. But I want you to have someone in your life. You should not let what happened to George stop you from living.”

Carolina’s words ended in a gut-wrenching reality settling somewhere deep into Elena’s mind. She nodded in agreement only because she had no good argument to counter Carolina’s claim. Except for the ticking of the antique grandfather clock in the far corner, a heavy silence hovered in the air.

***

Elena forced a smile, but it felt stiff and unnatural. At Carolina’s persistence, she had agreed to go on her first date with Adam—a local man, also a member of Carolina’s church.

What am I doing? Why did I let Carolina talk me into this? Elena thought, accepting Adam’s outstretched arm.

She expected anger to rise, but none did, and her doubts soon disappeared when she discovered that she enjoyed his company. They were very different from one another, yet she felt attracted to him from the moment she saw him. She was a pessimist; he was an optimist. She was shy; he was not. He liked company; she was a loner.

I used to like company before… she stilled her thoughts. I shouldn’t go there.

***

Her fingers toyed with her ring and the diamond glinted in the morning sun. After everything that had happened, Elena thought that she would never love again. To her surprise, her first date with Adam had led to another and soon, Elena found herself falling in love with him. He was good to her, and he adored Adrian.

She had silently admitted that although Adrian loved his grandfather, like most ten-year-old boys, he needed a father figure who had the same level of energy as him, and Adam was it. And when Adam showed up at her house early in the morning and asked her to marry him, she did not hesitate.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Yes, I’ll gladly marry you,” she said, and Adam had slipped the ring on her finger then they kissed again. “But now I must go to work,” she added breaking the kiss.

Yanking her purse, she sprinted to the bus station.

A smile lit up her face as she waited for the bus, still admiring her ring when a young gypsy appeared out of nowhere. She hummed and pirouetted, holding her long dress with one hand and extending her other arm in mid-air as if dancing with an unseen partner. She approached Elena.

“I suggest you leave Adam alone,” the young gypsy whispered to Elena while taking another spin in front of her.

Elena was sure she didn’t know the young woman. “What?” she frowned, startled by the girl’s words.

The gypsy took another spin, obviously not in a hurry to answer Elena’s question. “You heard me,” she said at last. Marry him, and you’ll live to regret it,” the gypsy threatened, this time, a notch louder.

Elena opened her mouth to reply, but the young woman disappeared around the corner as fast as she had appeared.

The bus came and soon Elena forgot about the gypsy’s threat.

***

Adam finished shipping some livestock and arrived home late to find his wife and stepson playing in the kitchen with a big black cat.

“And who is this?” Adam asked jovially.

Once Elena and Adam got married, she and Adrian had moved into Adam’s farmhouse. Everyone, including Roman and Carolina, who had remained a big part of Elena’s new family, had been pleased that Elena had sprung back to life, and she had brought with her the perfect father for Adrian. She was happier than she’d been in a long time as she eased back into her parenting duties.

“This is our new family addition. She’s our cat,” said Elena, giving Adam a welcome home hug and kiss. “She appeared at the door and wanted to come in. I asked around, but none of our neighbors has a missing cat, so I guess she’s ours.”

“Can we keep her? Please?” Adrian pleaded.

Adam bent down and scratched the cat under her chin. She purred and stretched.

“Well, okay then. I guess we have a cat,” he said, taking his usual seat at the dinner table. The cat leaped on Adam’s lap. “You are a very nice kitty,” Adam said to the cat and she purred loudly.

“Adam,” Elena said. She sounded more worried than she intended, and Adam turned to look at her. “The neighbors acted rather odd when I told them about the cat. They seemed to think she is a witch. They told me to get rid of her.”

“Mom, those are fantasies you find in books. Right, Adam?”

“A witch?” Adam asked, and laughed heartily. “Are you a witch, little cat?”

The cat yawned and stretched on Adam’s lap.

“She said, no,” Adam said and continued to laugh at his self-crafted wit as Adrian joined in. Reluctantly, Elena laughed with them. It seemed such a ludicrous notion she regretted voicing it aloud.

***

The days had become shorter as winter approached, and it was almost dark by the time Elena returned from work. From the bus station, she hurried down the road hoping to get home before dark since she had not brought a flashlight with her. She rounded a corner and saw a group of black cats standing in the middle of the road. They were nearly invisible in the growing dark.

As Elena drew nearer, one cat called her name. She stopped and frowned. That was impossible.

I must be hallucinating, she thought.

Then the cat called out again, “Elena, we don’t want to harm you, but we will if we have to.”

Elena’s mouth dropped open in shock. She shook her head hard, not believing her ears. How ridiculous, she thought. Cats don’t talk. She sidestepped around them and hurried past the little group, deliberately looking the other way. A dog’s bark echoed in the thick nightly air, seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere all at the same time.

Suddenly, a small black cat jumped from the group and stood directly in front of her. Elena stopped and looked down at its large green eyes that glowed in the fading light.

“I have a message for you,” the cat said. “Leave Adam, or you’ll live to regret it.” Then, the cat stalked passed her and joined the other cats grouped in the middle of the road.

“What if I don’t want to?” Elena raised her chin in defiance. She couldn’t believe that she was actually arguing with a cat.

The cats murmured among themselves. “That’s what his previous fiancée said,” said another cat.

“I hope she’s not that stupid. Elvira would never let her have him,” said another.

“Who’s Elvira?” asked Elena.

“You don’t know?” asked one cat, standing on two paws.

“Tell her,” said another. “She has the right to know.”

“Know what?” asked Elena, gradually mystified by her motivation to listen to a bunch of cats.

“Elvira is your cat. She’s close by and watching you. She’s always close by, and she’s always watching. She’s been in love with Adam since… forever,” said another cat with a smirk. “They are destined to be together, you see? Elvira warned his fiancée, but she wouldn’t listen, so she got rid of her. Puff! And she was gone. Just like that.”

“This is crazy,” Elena said. I can’t believe I’m talking with a bunch of cats.

She shook her head and hurried away as fast as she could. In the las few months, their stray cat had become an essential part of their household. She would purr them awake each morning, and would beg for milk when George brought in the morning’s milking. She followed Elena around supervising her housework in the afternoons and sat by the fire at night while they read to Adrian. But to think that her cat was in love with Adam, was crazy.

The cats shouted behind her. “You better listen!”

Around her, the world got darker and a veil of silence descended as the cats’ words started to sink in.

Adam’s fiancée?

She vaguely recalled the story. Adam had been engaged once, and on his wedding day, his bride-to-be had left him at the altar—not a word, not a reason. Nothing.

He had tried to find her, but his search and the search from the local police turned out nothing. The woman had disappeared without a trace, and no one, not even her family had ever heard from her again.

Elena silently admitted that the young woman’s disappearance was bizarre. But the cats’ story seemed unbelievable. That could not be true.

Could it?

Elena forced herself to walk even faster trying to get as far away as she could from the talking cats. Not that she believed the cats had spoken. It was all a strange hallucination brought on by too much work, but it was creepy, so she did not stop until she reached the safety of her porch.

She paused to catch her breath but did not want to explain to Adam that she was seeing and hearing impossible things. When her breathing calmed and she felt sufficiently composed, she went into the house and tried to act normal. But not before she locked the door behind her.

A trickle of paranoia can’t hurt.

The cat greeted her narrowing her eyes and looking at her suspiciously. She twitched her tail, and a window flew open with a bang. The cat leaped through it and disappeared into the night.

Alerted by the commotion Adam came into the room. “What was that?”

“Wind gust opened a window,” Elena lied. “Adam, do you believe in—” she stopped in mid-sentence knowing how stupid it sounded even to her own ears.

“In what?”

“Never mind, it’s stupid.”

Settling both hands on her shoulders, he said, “No. Tell me. You sound concerned.”

“It’s nothing, really. Just a crazy thought about Armageddon,” she lied again.

“Oh, honey. The world will not end. And if it does, you and I will survive,” Adam assured her, wrapping his arms around his wife and planting a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Elena faked a smile in her husband’s embrace, but her mind was elsewhere.

***

The phone chimed, startling Elena. She dashed across the room and answered, expecting her doctor’s call. The night she had encountered the talking cats, Elena had gone to bed with a terrible headache. From then on, her headaches had progressed to horrifying migraines, and when a month had passed and her headaches worsened, she had consulted her doctor.

“Hi Elena, this is Dr. Tonil.” Her doctor’s voice scratched through the line when she answered. Elena shivered slightly. “Elena, I have some good news,” he added.

Elena waited for him to continue.

“You’re pregnant.” The silence at Elena’s end prompted the doctor to recap. “You’re going to have a baby; aren’t you excited?” A trace of impatience touched his voice.

From a mirror on the wall, Elena’s own image squinted back at her. Her face was pale, her brown hair a tangled mess and the dark shadows beneath her eyes suggested she hadn’t slept in days.

Pregnant? “Yeah… yeah. Of course I am,” Elena said, trying to absorb the doctor’s words.

“We need to make an appointment for another consultation, now that we may have found the source of your headaches,” said the doctor.

“Okay. I’ll call you. Thank you,” Elena said, and absent-mindedly ended the conversation.

“What?” Adam wanted to know.

She looked into his gaze for a reaction. “I’m pregnant,” she said. He didn’t have children, and he and Elena had not discussed having children, so she was unsure about his reaction.

Adam took another step toward her, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with passion. God works in mysterious ways,” Adam said, clearly pleased by the unexpected news.

***

Elena twitched at a searing headache, fighting another revolt at the same time. Extreme morning sickness had forced Adam to rush her to the hospital.

“Everything will be okay, sweetheart,” Adam assured her.

Tests had been done but except for some hormonal deficiency, mother and baby were fine. In spite of the positive results, Elena’s headaches had amplified, but her doctor hadn’t been too concerned and prescribed hormone replacements.

Now her headaches had increased to an unbearable level and Elena had to go back to him. Something seemed off. Her extreme morning sickness indicated increased levels of estrogen and progesterone and contradicted the lab’s results and the doctor’s theory that she had a hormonal deficiency.

“Promise me,” she said through teary eyes.

Adam took her hand in his and kissed it gently, attempting a smile. “I promise,” he echoed softly.

But as they would soon find out, that was one promise he wouldn’t be able to keep because shortly after she arrived at the hospital, she miscarried.

“You promised… you promised that everything will be fine!” she cried out.

***

Her words still went through Adam like bullets. Naturally, Elena and Adam were both devastated by the miscarriage, but Elena seem less able to handle it. An innate alarm raked over her family when her inexplicable weight loss persisted, and she slowly went back to her after-George-shell. She had been in and out of the hospital and more blood and other tests were done, but they turned out nothing. According to the tests, Elena had a clean bill of health, yet she was getting visibly weaker and sicker.

Adam studied her. She lied on her hospital bed, pale and still. Like death. Awake or sleeping, she looked the same.

Fighting back tears, his eyes shifted from Roman to Carolina, to the doctor, to the nurse, hoping someone, anyone, would give him the answers he looked for. No one could.

He followed the doctor out into the hallway. “Tell me her chances,” Adam demanded.

“Adam—” The doctor started to say something, but Adam held up a staying palm.

“Give me a number,” he insisted. Something he could hang his faith on. Otherwise, his hopes were not worth a damn; no better than a child’s wish for a unicorn. We couldn’t find one, dear. Was that what the doctor was telling him?

The doctor pushed his hands into the pockets of his white coat and shook his head. Adam pressed. “Sixty-forty? Eighty-twenty? One out of ten? One out of a hundred?”

He was beginning to sound hysterical, but he knew the doctor understood. They all did. His wife was dying, and no one knew why. He looked over his shoulder at Roman, who had followed him out of Elena’s room, and had now placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder. It took all of his self-control to resist jerking free of him.

The doctor’s eyes met his. “It’s hard to say in cases like this. We don’t know what’s wrong with her.”

There are no other cases like this! Adam wanted to scream at him. This is my wife. Instead, he calmly said, “So we just sit and watch her expire?”

The doctor sighed. Adam took the sigh as a yes and looked up towards the heavens.

How about this, God?

God, however, had given up listening to Adam a long time ago. No doubt because he had stopped praying to God. But now he didn’t care if faith no greater than a grain could move mountains. The mountains could stay put. All he asked for was the life of his wife. So what prayer hadn’t been good enough? His heartbeat slowed. Time stopped. He exhaled. His shoulders slumped.

Feeling a small hand on his arm, he jerked. “Adam, is my mom gonna die?”

Adam’s face tightened into a frown. He closed his eyes fighting back tears. He wished he could lie and say that he wouldn’t let that happen, but Adrian was a smart boy. Instead, Adam took a deep breath and said, “I wish I could answer that, but I don’t know, Adrian.” He placed his hands on Adrian’s shoulders and looking him in the eyes, he said, “But what I do know is that I’ll do everything in my power not to let that happen. I promise you. Okay?”

“Okay,” Adrian said, his voice a mere whisper.

Adam patted Adrian on his shoulder then ruffled his hair. “I got some stuff to do, so go home with Grandpa, and I’ll come to pick you up when I’m done; okay?”

Adrian nodded, and Adam walked down the open staircase from the second floor. Freed from the calm layer surrounding his wife’s bedside, the feelings of anger, the gleaming sense of frustration, returned. It was something more than the celestial injustice. It was his stand-point. Up until then he’d fuelled Elena with love, but now she had fallen into a stage where he could no longer reach her. Faced with a wife who did nothing, he felt he had nothing more to give, except fulfilling his parental responsibilities toward Adrian.

***

“Good morning, Adam,” said Father Isaia.

“Good morning, Father. Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

By now Adam’s anger and frustration had morphed into downright fear. Elena’s headaches had progressed to seizures, then to hallucinations. She began to hear voices which told her that she was damned and that she should kill herself. Various doctors had determined that she suffered from postpartum depression and was considering suicide.

For the next few months, she was in and out of different hospitals and treatment centers, but her medication only made her hallucinations worse.

After the family had decided to bring her home for good, Carolina suggested bringing a priest to pray over Elena, and with no other available options, Adam had agreed.

Anything, if it can help, he’d thought so they had called Father Isaia.

“Oh, no worries. I wish it were under different circumstances,” Father Isaia said, breaking into Adam’s thick thoughts. “How is she?” he asked, as he began to prepare for his prayer.

“Not good. I’m scared, Father,” Adam said, a sense of panic rising within him.

Father Isaia took Adam’s hand in his. “I know you are, son. Put your trust in God.” Adam nodded and Father Isaia patted Adam on his shoulder then went back to his ritual. “Where is she?” he asked once he finished.

“She’s upstairs. She was unable to get up in the last couple of days.”

Roman and Carolina arrived, and they all headed toward Elena’s bedroom. A loud rumble from Elena’s room halted the somber procession half-way up the stairs. Adam shifted his gaze from Roman to Carolina then ran, taking the steps two at a time, his footsteps pounding loudly on the hardwood steps. It only took him a few strides to enter Elena’s room. She was sprawled face-down beside her bed.

“Elena!” he screamed.

“Mmmm,” she moaned as Adam picked her up.

“For heaven’s sake, what were you trying to do?”

“I… was… thirsty.” Elena struggled to speak, pausing after each word. She looked tired and thin. Her nightgown clung to her as if she was a coat hanger. Adam lifted her effortlessly and placed her on her bed while the others stood by the door.

“Okay. Okay. I’ll bring you a glass of water. Father Isaia is here,” Adam said, nodding toward where Father Isaia stood.

“Nooo…” Elena moaned again, with her eyes half closed.

Father Isaia approached and gently touched her hand. “Good morning Elena. How do you feel?”

She turned her head and looked the other way. Ignoring her non-response, Father Isaia said a prayer and completed the blessing by a triple sprinkling with Holy Water. “Elena is blessed by the sprinkling of this Holy Water. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

Elena pulled the covers over her head, but Father Isaia gently pulled the covers back. He gave her Holy Water to drink. She refused. He tried again. “Just a sip,” he said, softly.

Elena’s eyes became hollow as she seemed to intercept an invisible something. Feelings of terror and sadness filled the air. Father Isaia dipped his hand in the Holy Water and brushed it over Elena’s face.

“NOOOO!” Elena roared suddenly from the top of her lungs, prompting Father Isaia to jolt back. Her voice chilled the room. It bared a striking resemblance to a growl. The darkness surrounding her chased away the last sliver of light and Elena looked like a mound of dark matter with a distorted face, in the middle of her bed.

“What happened?” Adam came back running into the room when he heard the unearthly roar. Elena’s deformed face looked back at them. Adam’s jaw dropped. “What the—”

Father Isaia said another quick prayer and left the room, visibly disturbed by the sight. Adam followed him down the stairs. “What was that?”

“Son, you need an Exorcist,” said Father Isaia.

“A what?” Adam asked, not because he didn’t know what an Exorcist was, but because he was shocked to hear the priest suggest that his wife was possessed. He understood perfectly what Father Isaia had said, but reality felt distant… like it was happening to someone else.

***

“What is happening to me?” Elena asked in a lucid moment while examining her scratched arms.

Adam could not answer that. No one could. Since Father Isaia’s visit, Elena’s situation had worsened rapidly. Sometimes she screamed for hours. Tearing off her clothes, attacking whoever came in her room or crawling under her bed and refusing to come out, had become regular occurrences.

She exchanged a worried look with Adam when she suddenly seemed to remember something. “The young gypsy from the bus station and the group of cats,” she murmured.

“What?” Adam had no idea what she meant.

She tried to explain that the gypsy and the cats were witches and that they put a curse her.

Another hallucination, Adam decided silently.

“It has to be that,” she insisted, ignoring her husband’s silence. “They warned me. Our cat has not returned since that night. What if she is Elvira? The cats told me that she’s always close by.”

Adam looked in dismay at his wife. He didn’t believe in such things. But what if… If good exists, then evil must exist too.

“I want to call Carolina and Roman,” Elena said suddenly.

***

“But an exorcist? Aren’t we ahead of ourselves, here?” Roman’s tone sounded raspy.

After some debate, they had all agreed that something was out of the ordinary, but an exorcist? None of them were prepared for that kind of intervention. Silence hovered heavy above them. Carolina spoke cutting into the uneasy moment. “Roman might be right. If she thinks she’s cursed, perhaps more prayer will take care of that.”

“What do you suggest?” Adam had been trying to deal with the situation but frankly, he was running out of options.

“Let’s take Elena to the monastery. More prayer can’t hurt her.”

Without further debate, they hauled her in Adam’s SUV, which was big enough for all of them. The short drive was uneventful but a hysterical, evil laugh really, erupted from Elena’s chest at the sight of priests and crosses, and it lasted for the duration of the prayer.

“This is more serious than I thought. We shouldn’t be playing around with whatever this is. We have to agree that this is more than any of us could handle?” said Carolina.

Not having another family of his own, Adam had come to rely on Roman and Carolina just as much as Elena had once. Now Elena had reached a point where nothing seemed to matter to her because her lucid moments seemed few and far in between. “What do you suggest we do?” Adam asked unfocused.

Carolina looked down as if ashamed of what she was about to say. “Father Isaia told us to bring in an Exorcist.”

***

The Exorcist had arrived a few days later, but not surprisingly, he did nothing to help Elena. She had growled at him. Then she began to laugh her usual cynical laughter when he started commanding the demon to be silent in the name of Jesus Christ. She had roared and struggled and spat in everyone’s faces. It had taken four men to hold her down, but the exorcist had left apologizing for not being able to do anything for her.

In another lucid moment, Elena had forced herself to fast, believing that it would rid her of her curse. In a last attempt, Adam brought in an old woman who claimed to be familiar with witchcraft. “A black magic curse was placed on Elena—one that can only be lifted by the one who placed it,” the woman advised in a remorseful tone. “I suggest you find the gypsy,” she said firmly.

Following the woman’s advice, Adam had tried desperately to find the gypsy girl. He’d spent days and nights looking for her, but it was all in vain. His stomach had tied into one big knot when he found Elena unresponsive. Dead in her sleep.