Time Travel Romance

Shadow of the Eclipse

By

This book will launch on Jun 16, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Excitement brews in Crossroads for everyone but lawyer, Callum MacGregor. The harvest festival coincides with an eclipse, but a recent breakup leaves him no desire to attend until a visit from his old law partner, Isaac Bingham, drops a bombshell. Twenty years before Cal’s birth, his grandfather, Phillip, extracted a promise. Isaac must get Cal to the festival or the world faces unparalleled disaster. The mystery deepens when Cal learns another person received the same mysterious summons.
After being fired for refusing to cook the books, accountant Meg Adler gets a letter with a job offer from a man named Bingham. She must attend the Crossroads Harvest Festival and meet his representative to discuss details. Meg is leery, but it’s not the end of the world if this doesn’t pan out. Right?
Ancient evil prowls the shadow of the eclipse, and the key to saving the present is in the past. Cal and Meg enter a mystic maze and journey to Babylon, the Dark Ages, and 1906 San Francisco on the trail of magic artifacts lost in the recesses of time. Can they dodge demonic forces, fulfill a dead man’s mission, and discover a new future with each other?

Shadow of the Eclipse

Part I: Penumbra

The scent of fresh blood drifted through the veil,

and the Everdark howled in triumph. At long last, the

proper cosmic forces neared alignment. An eon had

passed since guardians forced the Everdark past the

threshold of the gate and into the void, but this time

nothing barred its entry. No call to arms from the other

side, no warriors to deny access to the feeding grounds.

The Everdark inhaled. Nothing existed beyond the gate

but the sweet aroma of raw meat, stronger with each

breath.

The Everdark paced in front of the gathering mist.

The gate remained out of reach but not for long. Soon,

hot, salty blood would course down its throat once

more, with no god or man to stand in the way. The

guardians had lost the knowledge of the route between

worlds in the annals of time, but not the Everdark. The

delicate crunch of human bones still held a pleasant

memory.

****

“Morning, Cal. Don’t tell me you’re having hot

coffee on a day like this. Is that your superpower? It’s a

bird, it’s a plane, it’s Callum MacGregor drinking

scalding beverages in a single bound.”

Cal wiped a hand across his sweaty brow and

grinned at Joe Mendoza, owner of the Crossroads Inn.

“Iced.” He hefted a bakery bag and shook it. “My

superpower is in the cruller. How’s business?”

“Booked solid.” Joe nodded at his own package.

“Elaina sent me for packets of Amaranth’s special tea

blends. She decided to try an afternoon tea, and it’s

going so well, we may make it permanent. Trust my

wife to seize every business opportunity.”

“Becky asked for a few days off to help you and

Elaina this weekend. You’re not planning to steal my

paralegal permanently are you?”

“Nope. For some reason, Mom enjoys her job. You

must pay her better than I do,” Joe said with a grin. He

shaded his eyes to peer at a sky dotted with a scattering

of wispy clouds. “What do you think of this heat?

Crazy for late October, huh? Amaranth says it’s

because of the eclipse.”

“My professional advice is don’t take anything

seriously said by a middle-aged woman with seven cats

and a fairy figurine collection.”

Joe’s eyes twinkled. “Yesterday, she told Elaina

bad omens are in the clouds.”

“Uh-huh. Eclipses don’t cause heat waves.”

“If you say so, Cal,” he said lightly. “They sure are

good for business though.”

“Eclipses are rare and folks are intrigued. Lucky

for us, the town is in the dead center of the umbra.”

“A year ago, I thought an umbra was a male

umbrella instead of an eclipse’s darkest shadow. Now,

I’m liking it on social media.” Joe gazed at Main Street,

crowded with pedestrians. “Motels and campgrounds

two hundred miles away are full. It was thoughtful of

the eclipse to coincide with Crossroad’s harvest

festival. The grounds don’t open until tomorrow and the

buzz in town is that stores have already broken sales

records. Hey, God,” Joe called to the sky, “if your idea

of evil omens is for everyone to turn an insane profit,

please send more. The chamber of commerce backs you

one hundred percent.”

“Watch what you say, Joe,” said Cal lightly. “You

never know what demons are listening.”

They said goodbye, and Cal walked the block to

his law office. He regarded the shiny brass plaque for

Callum MacGregor, Attorney at Law, with a half-smile

and then paused to take a final look over his shoulder at

Main Street. Long, thin shadows cast by the morning

sun made black hash marks on the sidewalk. Strange to

think in a few days the brightest object in the sky would

disappear for nearly four minutes.

The door was unlocked, and the bells over the jamb

jangled a cheerful welcome. Becky Mendoza looked up

from her desk as she shut off her computer. “Morning,

Cal.”

“Morning. I just saw your son. Why are you here?

You’re supposed to be off today.”

“Well, that’s a lovely greeting to the world’s best

paralegal,” she teased. “I wanted to finish the

Emerson’s paperwork for their closing. It’s done, and

I’m heading out unless you need me for something

else.”

“Nope. Any new appointments?”

“Not for today or the rest of the week. Everyone’s

mind is on the festival except for George Lydecker. He

called and wants to revise his will.”

Cal paused mid-sip and hurriedly gulped the

mouthful of coffee. “Again? He changed it two weeks

ago.” An uneasy suspicion jelled. “Don’t tell me…”

Becky snickered. “He’s cutting out the nephew.”

“He just put Dylan back in,” Cal sputtered. “The

wanker’s only been with him a month. What did he do

this time?”

“Something about the lyrics of his new rock

anthem. I couldn’t quite make out all of it. George’s

sentences run together when he rants, but I believe

Dylan settled on a clever combination of a male body

part, Tantric sexual position, and the name of George’s

mother. I calmed him down long enough to make an

appointment in two weeks.”

“Two weeks, eh?” grunted Cal. “Good. If I’m

lucky, both will have a spontaneous attack of common

sense, and George will cancel. Ever notice how people

like George and Dylan see themselves as put-upon, but

no one else does?”

“George is set in his ways but cut Dylan some

slack. He’s a good kid who’s had a rough time of it. By

the way,” Becky added lightly, “wanker can be

substituted nicely for each of the nouns in the title of

Dylan’s song. Should I suggest it?”

“Please don’t. Anything else?”

“I left letters in your inbox for signatures and a

draft of the ordinance on pole banners the town council

sent for review.”

“Thanks, Becky. You’re the best.”

“I tell you that daily.” She grabbed her purse off

the floor and gazed dreamily out the front window. “It’s

exciting, isn’t it?”

“Yup, the shop owners on Main Street are

celebrating. Joe practically did a backflip.”

“Not just that. Of course, I’m glad for the uptick in

business. Joe and Elaina have barely owned the place a

year, and an inn thrives on repeat customers. Having

Crossroads in the center of the umbra brought great

publicity for the town, and rooms are booked solid for

the next two months. I mean the eclipse. I can’t imagine

what it will feel like when the sky goes black in the

middle of the day.”

“Creepy, I expect. Sunrise and sunset are absolutes.

When something disrupts the cosmic pattern…well, no

wonder ancient civilizations freaked. In parts of the

world, folks believed the moon attacked the sun and

banged pots and pans to frighten it away. To the ancient

Chinese, the moon was a hungry dragon. Warriors shot

cannons and arrows into the air to stop it from

devouring the sun…” Cal shrugged at her amused

expression. “History geek.”

Becky chuckled. “It’s reassuring to know a few

brave souls watch out for the rest of us long enough for

rituals to work their magic. You realize, of course, as a

small-town lawyer, you’re the closest thing we have to

a champion of justice for the common man. Any plans

to shoot at the moon?”

“Planning a quiet day at home with a pair of funky

sunglasses. I’ll watch the eclipse from the backyard in

the comfort of my lawn chair, cold beer in hand if it

stays this hot.”

Becky raised an eyebrow. “You’re not going to the

festival? Everyone in town will be there. According to

George, his corn maze is extra challenging this year.

During a momentary lull in his tirade over Dylan, he

even managed to say he erected a temporary arbor in

the center for those who make it through. Can you

imagine that from George? Local gossip says it’s

Amaranth’s idea.”

“Great. More fairy decor.” Cal shifted on his feet.

“I’d feel weird ambling through a corn maze by myself.

Amaranth can keep the reputation of town eccentric. I

have a business to run.”

Becky patted his arm. “You need to get out more.”

“I date.”

“Not enough. The breakup with Allison was a

while ago.”

“I don’t obsess over Allison. A small town wasn’t

for her, and I was happy in Crossroads from the day I

took over the practice from Isaac Bingham. Her job

offer in Europe triggered the split, but if we were meant

to be together, we’d have found a way.” Becky

regarded him with doubt, and he added, “Canceling the

wedding was for the best. Speaking as a lawyer,

breakups are painful, but divorce is worse and more

expensive.”

Becky put her hands on her hips. “So, dive into the

dating pool before the good ones are taken. Tons of

people will be there, including single ladies, both local

and visitors.”

Not a chance. By the stubborn set to Becky’s

expression, she was primed to argue while he wanted to

drop the subject of dating forever. Cal slid effortlessly

into his appeasing lawyer mode. “I appreciate your

concern and promise to give it some thought.”

“Don’t think too much,” Becky threw over her

shoulder as she headed out the door. “I expect to see

you there.”

Cal sat in his office with the door ajar to listen for

the jangly bells. Not that he expected walk-in traffic

today with everyone’s thoughts on the eclipse. He

finished the cruller, signed the letters in his inbox, and

flipped through the draft ordinance from Crossroads’

town council. His gaze wandered out the window to the

shadows on the sidewalk. Funny, how they appeared

darker than usual today—long, spidery fingers reaching

out to snatch at unsuspecting passersby.

Cal forced his eyes to stay on the page, struggling

to get past the first paragraph. “Pole banner permits,”

he read, “may be issued for the following: public

awareness, charitable fundraising…” His attention

strayed to the window again. Cal drained the last of the

iced coffee and shoved the papers aside. Maybe he

should have added a shot of espresso. His concentration

definitely lagged this morning or was he affected by

burgeoning excitement for the eclipse? It sure shook up

Crossroads. Not enough to please Allison though.

Sweet, sad pain tugged at his heart. They had a

good thing through law school, but truth be told even

then the end was in sight. Allison’s eyes lit up at the

prospect of a future partnership at a big legal firm,

while his glazed over. She voiced support for his

decision to move to Crossroads, but from that moment,

an emotional curtain descended between them. It was

over. They only needed the final goodbye. Her sudden

job opportunity in London made it easy but no less

painful.

Since then, Cal threw himself into his new

responsibilities, but maybe Becky had a point. It might

be time to try again. The jangle of the office bells

startled him.

“Hello?” called a familiar voice from the reception

area. “Anyone home?”

“In here!” Cal jumped from behind the desk and

greeted Isaac Bingham with an outstretched hand.

“Isaac, what a nice surprise. You look great. How’s

retirement?”

Despite the gray hair, the elderly man’s grip was

firm. “No regrets. Plenty of time for fun, and the

grandkids keep me and Julia hopping. We have another

one on the way. You look good, too. No second

thoughts on taking over my practice or putting down

roots in a small town?”

“No complaints of any kind except I have to pop a

few extra-strength aspirin before every appointment

with George Lydecker.”

Isaac’s eyes twinkled. “Trust me, his father was

worse.”

Cal ushered him to the leather armchairs used for

client consultations. “Can I get you some water? I’ve

got bottles in the fridge.”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“I suppose you’re in town for the harvest festival

and the eclipse?”

“Not exactly.” Isaac studied the room with a

pleased expression. “I like what you’ve done here; new

paint, carpet.” He nodded at the laptop on the desk.

“Everything is up to date the way it should be. I’ve

heard fine things about you from others in Crossroads.

Now I see he was right all along, and I left my clients in

good hands. He was always right…” Isaac’s voice

drifted away. He peered out the window with a distant

expression as if captured in a bygone memory.

The clock on the bookcase ticked off the seconds.

Cal cleared his throat. “Isaac?”

“Forgive me.” Isaac shook his head with a laugh.

“You must think I’m a crazy old coot. I came back to

see you. I have something I’ve waited a long time to

deliver.”

Cal raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” Isaac reached into

his pocket and handed him a voucher for a free funnel

cake on the first day of the harvest festival. Cal’s

confusion deepened. “Um, thanks, but I wasn’t

planning to go—”

“I also bring a message. Strange,” Isaac murmured

with a half-smile. “I imagined this conversation many

times over the years but now don’t know where to

begin.” He cocked his head and gave Cal an appraising

look. “Have you ever heard of the Lux Foundation?”

“Sure,” said Cal. “I wouldn’t be in Crossroads

without it. After two years in the Army, I used the GI

Bill to pay for college, but the Lux Foundation awarded

me an additional scholarship and then another to law

school after I graduated. The money covered every

expense and when I passed the bar, the foundation

provided a grant contingent on moving to a rural

community. I hadn’t considered a place like Crossroads

before then. I got offers from big city law firms, but the

idea of being my own boss suddenly appealed to me.

Without the grant, I never would have come here;

probably never even knew Crossroads existed.”

“Do you remember applying for the scholarships or

the grant?”

“Well, no,” said Cal, “but I filled out dozens of

financial aid packages, and heard the grant was from an

anonymous donor. What’s this about?”

“You never applied for anything from the Lux

Foundation. Phillip Bingham was my grandfather and

the founder. I’m on the board now. He died a long time

ago, but earmarked funds for your education and the

grant. He’s the reason I approached you to take over my

practice.”

Cal blinked. Isaac’s grandfather? “I don’t

understand. Why did he care about me?”

“I don’t know, but that’s not the strangest part.”

Isaac leaned forward. “The meeting with my

grandfather to discuss your future took place thirty

years before you were born.”

Cal’s mouth dropped open. “It’s not possible. My

parents hadn’t even met.”

“Hard to take in, right?” Isaac chuckled. “Me, too.

I remember that conversation as if it was yesterday. I

was the youngest grandchild, and we had a special

bond. The day after passing the bar, he called me to his

office and offered money to start my own practice if I

did it in Crossroads. I had never heard of the place but

was grateful and had no urge to live in a big city.”

Isaac shifted in his chair. “Then he asked me to

make a promise and keep it secret. ‘Swear, Isaac,’ he

said, ‘on pain of death, for that’s what we face if the

vow is broken.’ I was shaken, to say the least, but

Phillip Bingham was the kindest, most generous man

I’d ever known. He never asked for favors lightly, so I

agreed. Then he proceeded to fill me in on Callum

MacGregor; birthdate, parents’ names, college, the

necessary facts to keep track over the years. Although,

he was adamant that I maintain physical distance.”

Cal gaped at him in disbelief. “The heat…maybe I

should call someone.”

“I don’t have sunstroke, Cal, and this isn’t a joke.

He set aside money not to interfere with your life, but to

smooth the rough patches with scholarships and the

grant. He also told me to offer my practice in

Crossroads as soon as you passed the bar. He said I’d

be ready for retirement by then, and you’d be a damn

good lawyer and jump at the chance to come here.”

Isaac chuckled. “He was right about that, too.”

Cal sagged into the seat cushion. “This is crazy.

How?”

Isaac said, “He knew the eclipse occurred this year.

He gave me the date and said Crossroads was in the

umbra. Your attendance at the harvest festival had

paramount importance.”

“Let me get this straight,” sputtered Cal. “A man

died before I was born but predicted my life. He paid

for my law degree and smoothed the way to Crossroads

for the sole purpose of going to a town party where I eat

a funnel cake and wander aimlessly through a corn

maze.”

“Yes.”

“That’s insane.”

“No argument, counselor, but the story gets better.

Callum MacGregor wasn’t the only not-yet-born person

my grandfather needed to attend the Crossroads Harvest

Festival.”

****

So intent on the computer monitor, Meg didn’t hear

the footsteps behind her. She jumped as Chloe dropped

a carton of folders in her inbox. “What’s this stuff?”

Meg asked.

“New accounts.”

She peered at the names and her jaw tightened.

“Those are old accounts and they’re yours.”

Chloe held out her hand and spread her fingers

wide, examining the new French manicure. The odor of

fresh nail polish wafted in the air. “I don’t have time.

Carter assigned me to a special project.”

“Uh-huh.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Her voice

dripped icicles.

“Nothing.”

Chloe motioned to Carter Landon’s door. “You

forgot to sign the expenditures report. He wants to see

you.”

“I didn’t forget I—” Chloe paid no attention. She

flounced back to her desk and settled into the new

ergonomically designed chair; leather upholstery, super

expensive. Meg didn’t have to ask the price. She

already knew right down to the penny and sales tax,

along with the cost of the bouquet of roses that

appeared on Chloe’s desk once a week.

Meg poked her head into the office of the Director

of Purchasing and Control. “You want to see me?”

“Shut the door and take a seat. The expenditures

report needs your signature.” He handed her a file.

Meg flipped through the papers and a knot formed

in her stomach. Landon hadn’t made any of the

requested changes. “I explained to you, I can’t sign off

when unauthorized expenditures appear on the

company credit card.”

“The expenditures were authorized by me.”

“I found a weekly charge at a manicure salon and a

flower shop listed under Miscellaneous Office

Supplies.”

“If management wishes to treat an employee for

exceptional service,” he said coolly, “that’s none of

your concern.”

Exceptional service? That’s a new phrase for

banging the boss. “The card also had a trip to Las

Vegas last month; two round-trip plane tickets, hotel

accommodations—”

“Business conference. I took my wife.”

Sure you did. “As I explained, I need receipts and a

conference program—”

“As I explained, I must have thrown them out.” His

words were cold and brittle, and the knot in her

stomach tightened.

“That’s not the only discrepancy.” Meg

straightened her shoulders. “I can’t sign this. My name

is on the report. I’m responsible to company

headquarters for its accuracy.”

“Company headquarters didn’t hire you. I did.”

Landon leaned forward, bearing down on his knuckles

in a dominance display, like a great ape that happened

to favor three-piece suits. “Let me give you some

advice, Meg. Think of this office as my team. Players

who support Team Landon are well-rewarded. Call it a

signing bonus. They become MVPs and sent to the

majors. Those who don’t, never get to bat.” He handed

her a pen. “Be a team player, Meg. As long as the

proper signatures are in place, headquarters doesn’t care

about the report. In the overall scheme of things, it’s

only a little money and after all, it isn’t yours.”

It isn’t yours either. Your wife’s family owns the

firm. She stared at the pen and then placed it on top of

the file and slid both across the desk. “It’s not my

money, but it’s my reputation on the line.”

Landon’s eyes narrowed. “I’m very disappointed in

you, Meg, but I can’t have an employee in the office

refuse to play on Team Landon. Your services are no

longer needed here. You’re fired.” Red-faced, Meg

jumped from the chair. She flung open the door and

stormed from his office. “Don’t expect to have an easy

time finding a new job in this town!” Landon bellowed

from his desk. “Word gets around when you’re not a

team player.”

Meg dumped the box of new files from the inbox

on the floor, ignoring the startled expressions of her

coworkers and the smirk from Chloe. She threw a few

personal items inside and hurried away, cheeks burning

as hushed whispers followed her out the door.

Twenty minutes later, Meg was in her apartment

lobby. A man from a courier service stood near the

stairwell, peering at the time display on his cell phone.

Must be nice to be paid by the hour. Meg brushed past

and went upstairs to her apartment. She set the box on

the couch and paced the floor, fists clenching and

unclenching. She should have told off Landon as soon

as he fired her. Dirty, rotten SOB. She should have

wiped that smirk off his face.

Meg pulled up short. Her eyes narrowed and she

peered at the laptop on the desk. Surely, the first thing

Landon did after firing her was to call IT and reset the

passwords, especially the one that accessed accounting

data. Of course, it was Wednesday afternoon when

Landon always seemed preoccupied. Could it be

because the charge card showed receipts for two

dinners at Renaldo’s Ristorante Italiano every

Wednesday for the past month? The same night Chloe

claimed to work late, yet, her inbox was as full as ever

Thursday morning.

Her fingers froze on the keyboard. This wasn’t like

her. She took a steadying breath. “Geez, don’t get your

panties in a twist. You’re not raffling off state secrets

on the dark web. Skedaddle in there and don’t get

nabbed.” She logged into the site and snickered when it

opened immediately. Meg pulled up the digital copy of

the expenditures report, highlighting the most

interesting items. She retrieved Mrs. Landon’s email

address from her contact list. Nice of Landon to have

thrown an office party at their big, swanky lake house

on Labor Day weekend and have his wife handle the

RSVPs. Meg composed a note to Mrs. Landon,

explaining she needed the receipts from their recent trip

to Las Vegas.

Mr. Landon can’t find the paperwork but told me

you went with him. Please ignore the charges for

flowers and manicures. Mr. Landon said they were gifts

for a staff member as a thank you for services rendered.

That goes for the dinners at Renaldo’s on Wednesday

nights as well.

She attached the file. “Chill, girl. You’re almost

home.” Landon’s lake house had been chock full of

pricey furnishings. Meg wondered idly how many he’d

get in the divorce. Probably squat. His wife’s cousin

attended the party and Meg recalled she was a pit bull

divorce attorney.

She hit send and raised her arms. “Booyah!”

The enjoyable glow that came from sticking it to a

loathsome human being faded. Meg logged out of the

company website for good and sat back in the chair

with a sigh. Unemployed again. The job had come

along at the end of a long tiring search. Finding work

had never been easy. Prospects panned out, one good

job lost to corporate downsizing, another to mergers.

Then a succession of employers with Landon’s scruples

who expected her to use creative accounting skills to

cover their lies. She quit them, hunted for others. How

long before potential employers eyed the job hopping

on her résumé and refused to even grant an interview?

Rotten luck seemed to dog her footsteps with half her

life after college spent chasing a paycheck. Now the

search had to begin once more.

Why was she a magnet for corporate malfeasance?

Meg closed the laptop. Landon wasn’t apt to give a

glowing reference, and local employers would expect

her to explain why she left a well-paying job. Would

they believe her? Landon was sure to invent a story to

cover his butt. Maybe it was time to try her luck in a

new city—again.

Meg jumped at a knock on the door. The courier

from the lobby handed her a large envelope. “I have a

delivery for Meg Adler.”

She grimaced. Severance papers so soon? Landon

didn’t waste any time. He probably suspected her

answer and had them ready to go this morning. She

scrawled her signature on his tablet.

He cleared his throat. “They sure were specific.”

Meg blinked. “What?”

“The sender. I had orders to deliver the package at

exactly 3:57 p.m. today and had to adjust my whole

route.”

“Oh, uh, sorry.”

“No big deal, just wondering why so dead set on

the time.”

Meg gazed at the return address, bemused. The

Lux Foundation? “Beats me.”

She shut the door and plopped on the couch,

shoving aside the box of odds and ends from the office.

Her brows knit together in a puzzled frown. “What’s

the Lux Foundation?” She snorted. “If they want money

from me, they’re in for crushing disappointment.”

Meg ripped open the package and spilled the

contents onto her lap; a voucher for a free funnel cake

on opening day at something called the Crossroads

Harvest Festival, a pamphlet for the Crossroads Inn,

and a sealed envelope. Written on the front was her

name in a series of decorative calligraphic swirls. Meg

fingered the envelope, heavyweight vellum with an

ivory tint, hinting at both age and quality. “Who uses

antique paper?” she murmured, frown deepening. “Let

alone writes letters anymore in fancy longhand.”

She pried up the flap with a fingernail and removed

a folded sheet of the same antique vellum. At the top

was The Lux Foundation embossed in gold.

Dear Meg,

The Lux Foundation is always on the hunt for

people of exceptional character and abilities. I would

like to discuss an employment opportunity in

Crossroads that will not only be challenging, but also

in society’s best interest. Unfortunately, this is a limited

time offer, and I’m unable to see you in person. I’ve

taken the liberty of making a reservation under your

name at the Crossroads Inn, all expenses paid, of

course. Check in Thursday afternoon, and my

representative will meet you Friday morning on the

grounds of the harvest festival to present the

particulars.

With fondest regards, Phillip Bingham.

****

Cal gawked at Isaac. “What do you mean you can’t

tell me?”

“Sorry, Cal,” said Isaac. “My grandfather’s

instructions were specific. You will meet this person on

Friday morning at the harvest festival, but I can’t give

you a name.”

Cal narrowed his eyes. “Can’t or won’t.”

“I’m afraid it’s all I can say at the moment. I will

add that my grandfather’s intentions weren’t meant to

drive you crazy, although, you may believe that’s the

case. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is he didn’t wish

to affect outcomes.”

“What outcomes?” demanded Cal.

“He didn’t go into detail but insisted events must

proceed in a particular order that I had to maintain at all

costs. He was adamant. No deviation was part of the

promise I made to him.” A smile tugged at Isaac’s lips.

“I’m almost in the dark as much as you. I have to admit,

I’m eager for the end of this weekend. Whatever

mission my grandfather devised for you and this other

person has to conclude successfully by then.”

Cal snorted. “Do I sense an ‘or else’?”

“Let’s hope not.” A hint of apprehension flashed

across the elderly man’s face, and Cal shivered with an

unexplained chill. He opened his mouth to speak, but

Isaac jumped in. “Phillip Bingham was a man of

exceptional character with a strong personal code of

moral justice. He never lied or broke his word. Can I

count on you to help me fulfill the final promise to my

grandfather?”

Cal raised his hands in surrender. “Why not? I

suppose the only way to find out what this insanity

means is to go through with it. Good thing I didn’t

make other plans for the weekend.”

Isaac rose from the chair, beaming a smile.

“Excellent. Thank you for humoring an old man—two

of them, if you count Phillip Bingham. Now, I must go.

It’s wonderful to see you again, Cal.”

“You, too.” They shook hands, and Cal escorted

him to the door. “You dropped a bombshell today,

Isaac, that’s for damn sure.”

“Not an easy thing to do at my age. Nice to hear

I’ve still got the stuff.”

As Isaac stepped over the threshold, Cal pulled him

back. “Does this other person have my name or

description?”

“No.”

“The festival is spread out. Where do we meet?”

Isaac remained silent, and Cal blew out an exasperated

breath. “So, tomorrow morning two strangers wander

the grounds on the off-chance they bump into each

other and spontaneously realize they were both

summoned by a dead man for the same mysterious

reason—which you refuse to explain. Meanwhile, let’s

have funnel cake.”

Isaac flashed a wily grin. “Like what you’ve done

with the place, Cal. Keep up the good work.”

Cal shut the door and leaned against the wall,

shaking his head. No use in even pretending to work

today. Not after that conversation. He pulled a sheet of

paper from Becky’s printer and wrote, Closed for the

festival. Back on Monday. He taped the sign to the

window, turned off the lights, and locked the door

behind him.

Cal walked home and changed from his

suit and tie into jeans and a T-shirt. He switched on the

TV. Local news reports held nothing but talk of the

upcoming eclipse. He switched off the TV, picked up a

computer tablet, and tried to concentrate on the Middle

Ages history book he downloaded a few days ago. Cal

had gotten to the halfway point, enjoying the author’s

colorful descriptions of a world long gone. But after

five attempts to plow through the next chapter on

Germany, he tossed the tablet aside.

The day dragged on and the antsy need to move

suddenly captured his legs. He wandered through town,

dodging pedestrians on the sidewalk, catching snatches

of their excited chatter on the coming eclipse. Was one

of them his mysterious contact? He peered into the

faces of passing strangers searching for a clue, but not a

flicker of recognition came his way.

Cal’s path detoured to the edge of town and the

festival grounds abutting the Lydecker farm. Harvest

committee volunteers put on the finishing touches.

They erected booths and tents days ago. Parking lots

were defined, the play area awaited the first child,

everything prepared for Friday’s crowds. “And

somewhere in that mess,” Cal muttered, “I’m supposed

to find you.”

He skirted the festival site and reached the corn

maze. Despite the recent heat wave, George’s crop

thrived, and the stalks towered overhead. The entrance

was roped off, but Cal could see into the maze to the

point where the path branched left and right. Most

people being right-handed naturally turned to the right,

an almost instinctive reaction. A breeze gusted through

the fields, rustling the golden tassels.

To the left.

“What?” Cal spun in a half-circle, but no one was

there. “Great,” he snorted, “now you’re hearing things.”

The urge to keep moving disappeared, so Cal

turned toward town. He crossed the street and ambled

past the Crossroads Inn, owned by Becky’s son Joe and

his wife, Elaina. No wonder they were booked solid, the

location was prime. Guests had an unimpeded view of

both the festival activities and the cornfield. Cal

stopped to wait for a car to pull into the inn’s guest

parking. The driver was a woman in her twenties with

her hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Hope you have a

reservation,” he said to himself, “or you’ll be sleeping

in the corn maze.”

****

Before Meg left Thursday morning, she considered

the sweater. The weather had been unseasonably warm,

but country nights could be cool, and Crossroads was

far from the big city. She tossed the sweater on top of

the other clothing and zipped the suitcase shut. Her

hand froze on the grip. “This is crazy, the least rational

decision you have ever made. The Crossroads Inn is

probably a front for a cult of serial killers.”

Maybe not, though, and she certainly needed the

job. Suspicious after reading the letter yesterday, Meg

immediately called the number on the pamphlet to

verify the reservation. A cheerful woman named Becky

answered and assured her everything was in order and

the room would be ready on Thursday. Meg then

checked the inn’s website. Nicely designed, the pictures

of the accommodations overflowed with charm. Plenty

of five-star reviews, too, from happy guests.

The Lux Foundation was also legit. Meg stayed up

late Wednesday doing her homework, and the online

research led to the conclusion it was a respected

charitable organization without a smidgen of scandal to

taint decades of operation. Because it was privately

funded, few details were available on internal

operations. The website didn’t list much besides several

current projects, and she didn’t find a single mention of

Phillip Bingham. Nevertheless, legit charity review

sites gave it the highest marks and gushing praise. By

every account, the Lux Foundation was completely,

totally, and one hundred percent honest, so well-run as

to be a model for others. An organization where number

crunchers didn’t manipulate funds for personal gain but

used them to help people and better society. The kind of

place she always hoped to work.

What the hell did they want with her?

One way to find out. Meg hefted the suitcase.

“Rationality be damned.”

The sun barely peeked over the horizon as Meg

started the car. She had mapped the route on the GPS.

The drive was nearly five hundred miles, and her plan

to arrive late that afternoon required an early start. By

midday, Meg was far from the city and stopped to eat a

quick picnic lunch. The weather was warm, and she tied

her hair in a ponytail to keep it off her neck.

The noon hour passed, and the sun began the slow

descent toward the horizon. The landscape changed to

wooded rolling hills awash with vibrant autumn colors.

After another two hours, Meg left the interstate for a

county highway. Every hotel at the bottom of the exit

ramp sported a neon No Vacancy sign. Tidy farms

sprouted along the road. Finally, she reached

Crossroads’ town limits. She drove at a crawl on Main

Street where hordes of pedestrians spilled over the

sidewalks in a human tide. An overhead banner

proclaimed Harvest Festival, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

The Crossroads Inn was on the other side of town

across from the fairgrounds and a large cornfield. Meg

parked the car in the lot and grabbed her suitcase from

the backseat.

“I’ll get that.” A man bounded down the stairs. “I

saw you pull in. I’m Joe Mendoza. You must be Meg

Adler. We’re expecting you.” He took the suitcase and

led her to the front desk and then introduced his mother,

Becky, and wife, Elaina.

“Oh, yes,” Becky said cheerfully. “We spoke on

the phone. It’s nice to meet you. The room is ready.

Breakfast is included and served in the dining room.”

“You have a table reserved for dinner at six

tonight,” added Elaina. “It’s paid for, too.”

“By Phillip Bingham?” asked Meg.

“Phillip? Don’t recall anyone in the Bingham

family named Phillip.” Elaina slid across a guest

register and handed Meg a pen. “Please sign right

there…Isaac Bingham made the reservation a year ago.

Are you a family friend?”

Meg froze, pen poised over the register. “A year

ago?”

“Yes, right after Joe and I opened the inn. It was

our first reservation, and a good thing, too. We’re

booked solid for the festival and the eclipse. We’ve

been turning people away for months.”

Meg stared at her. “Eclipse?” Elaina’s words didn’t

sink in.

“Aren’t you in town to see it?” said Joe with

surprise. “A total solar eclipse coincides with the

Crossroads Harvest Festival this year.”

“No, I saw news reports on the eclipse, of course,

but didn’t realize this was the right spot, and I’m

actually here on business…” Stop babbling. Meg

scrawled her signature and gawked at Elaina. “Mr.

Bingham made the reservation over a year ago. You’re

positive?”

“Yes, right before he left town.”

Meg’s voice dropped and she leaned forward. “Is

he…is he strange?”

Elaina exchanged puzzled looks with the others

and Becky jumped in. “Not in the least. Isaac is a lovely

man. He had a law practice. I’m a paralegal and used to

work for him before he retired. Haven’t you met?”

“No, there was this letter and a meeting, but I don’t

know who…at the festival…funnel cake…” Geez, stop

babbling already. “Um, the key?” Meg added weakly.

Elaina handed the key to her husband. “Joe will

take the luggage and show you to the room.”

Meg turned away with the definite impression a

mental message flashed between the two women. The

details weren’t hard to guess.

Elaina: The only strange person around these parts

is this chick.

Becky: Bless her soul, I hope she remembered to

pack her medication.

Joe escorted Meg to the top floor. He unlocked the

door, set the suitcase inside, and handed her the key.

“You have the largest suite with the best view. If you

need anything, please don’t hesitate to tell me or one of

the staff.”

“Thank you. So, when is the eclipse?”

“Sunday at noon. You’re staying, aren’t you?”

“I’m not certain. It depends on how my meeting

goes. By any chance, did Mr. Bingham leave a message

for me?”

“No, sorry,” he said. “Hope your business keeps

you around to see the eclipse. You don’t have to check

out until Monday, and it would be a shame to miss it.

When will any of us get the chance to be in the middle

of something as strange as this again?”

“It’s something strange, for sure,” said Meg dryly.

Joe shut the door as he left. Meg surveyed the

suite, and her nervous hesitancy evaporated as fast as an

ice cube on a hot plate. “Wow. If this is corporate

headquarters for a cult, sign me up.”

Cozy oozed from every corner. The room had a

quirky shape with odd angles, befitting an old inn.

Against one wall was a large antique brass bed covered

with a quilt. Meg sat on the mattress and gave an

experimental bounce. A wide grin erupted across her

face. The super cushy mattress certainly exceeded her

modern standards of comfort. Tucked into an alcove

were a loveseat, two armchairs, and a coffee table. Oil

paintings as well as watercolors decorated the walls

while a cherry sideboard held a vase of fresh flowers, a

coffee maker, packets of teas, and a plate of sugar

cookies. Their sweet vanilla scent perfumed the air

better than any artificial freshener. The bathroom even

had a clawfoot tub along with a large marble-tiled

shower.

French doors to a balcony let in fading autumn

light. Meg swung open the doors and stepped past a

pair of rocking chairs, leaning her elbows on the railing.

Across the road were the festival grounds, nestled

against the entrance to a cornfield maze. Meg squinted.

Some kind of structure stood in the middle. She

wondered idly if she could determine the correct path

through the maze from her vantage point, but the wind

gusted and the waving, twisting stalks obscured the

route.

Meg arched her back and stretched. Sitting in a car

for hours left her muscles in knots. A stroll outside

before dinner was just the ticket. She grabbed the sugar

cookies off the plate and nibbled on them as she crossed

the street. The main gate to the harvest festival was

roped off and the entrance to the parking lot blocked

with barrels. Most of the workers must have either gone

home or to dinner.

Without people, the harvest festival grounds had an

eerie silence—a ghost town preparing for a celebration.

What do the dead celebrate? mused Meg. Were they

envious of this world; bound to it, yet always apart?

Maybe ghosts needed the living. Without people, the

dead had no one to resent. Perhaps, the only thing a

wandering spirit could hope for then was the end of

days and nothing left to mourn.

Meg strolled past rows of corn and stopped at the

entrance to the maze. Stalks reached high overhead,

intercepting the last rays of the sun. In the murky halflight,

their shadows intertwined and stretched as if to

swallow the field, the harvest festival, and then the

town.

“What secrets are you hiding?” she murmured.

A breeze kicked up a pile of dried leaves at her

feet. The stalks swayed together in a whispery chorus, a

muted conversation not quite audible to human ears.

Despite the heat, Meg shivered and headed back to the

inn where cheerful lights and tantalizing aromas

beckoned her inside. She enjoyed an excellent dinner

and added an extra-large tip to the paid-in-full check,

courtesy of the enigmatic Isaac Bingham and his

apparently imaginary relative, Phillip.

Meg returned to her room, made a cup of herbal

tea, and took it to a rocking chair on the balcony. She

settled down and sipped her drink, idly swaying to and

fro. Stars twinkled in the velvety black sky. Across the

road, the Crossroads Harvest Festival stood poised,

awaiting Friday’s crowds.

An air of excited anticipation filled her. Who

would she meet at the festival? What was this

mysterious offer in society’s best interest? Who talked

like that to describe a simple employment opportunity

for a number cruncher? Her gaze drifted once more to

the corn maze, but the pitch-black field revealed none

of its secrets.

****

On Friday morning, Cal headed for the festival

grounds, forcing his steps to maintain a brisk pace

instead of breaking into a run. He hadn’t slept well,

mulling over Isaac’s strange story most of the night.

How could a person who died years before his birth

have intimate details of his life, and why the interest in

Cal MacGregor? The only logical conclusion was that

Isaac was a liar and fed him a big chunk of baloney.

Logical, yes, but that didn’t jibe with the kind, honest,

caring, man he knew and respected.

As opening time neared, Cal’s excitement grew.

Even if this turned out to be nothing more than a

twisted joke, he wanted the punchline. He approached

the Crossroads Inn and a young woman with hair pulled

back in a ponytail bounded down the steps and joined

the crowd streaming toward the fairgrounds. “Glad you

didn’t have to sleep in the corn maze,” he said to

himself.

Cal waited with burgeoning impatience through the

blah-blah-blah speeches from town officials. He idly

scanned the audience and spotted Ponytail again. She

was by herself, shuffling back and forth on her feet.

Unconsciously, he smiled. Ponytail appeared as

impatient for the grounds to open as him. Finally, the

last speaker walked to the podium, an astronomer from

the state university. He was mercifully brief and invited

people to stop by a booth to ask questions about the

eclipse and pick up free viewing sunglasses.

“Remember,” he added, “never peer directly at the

eclipse without them. We’ll have a screen for our

telescope to project the big event. Meanwhile, at night

you can watch the stars. The eclipse will be

unforgettable, so keep your fingers crossed for

cloudless skies on Sunday.”

The festival opened. Cal walked past a few booths

and then stopped short with a rueful shake of his head.

Now what? Where was he supposed to go? Who was he

supposed to find? He wandered aimlessly by games of

chance, agriculture and livestock displays, and craft

items for sale before his nose drew him to the heavy

scent of fried food. He used the voucher for a funnel

cake. The girl with the ponytail was there, too, at the

back of the line. She rose on tiptoes, neck craning to

search the crowd. She must have gotten separated from

her friends.

Cal ambled past the last row of booths, nibbling the

funnel cake. Its pillowy sweetness did nothing to quell

the irritation rising with every step. He was hot and

exasperated, Isaac’s bizarre mission sounded crazier by

the second. What the hell am I doing here? I have no

idea who I’m supposed to find. This is pointless. Go

home. He made an abrupt about-face and nearly

smacked into Amaranth Goldstein. She stood

motionless with her index fingers pressed to the sides of

her temples.

“Oh, hi, Amaranth.” Cal quickly licked his fingers

and brushed a crumb of powdered sugar off his shirt.

“Didn’t see you there. Enjoying the festival?”

Her face lit up. “Immensely. The metaphysical

vibrations are screaming. Can you feel them?”

“Sorry, no.”

“That’s too bad, but some of us are more sensitive

to elements from beyond the earthly plane than others.

George’s corn maze is throbbing with intense psychic

fluctuations. The members in the chat room disagree,

but I say they’re every bit as powerful as the Astra

Noctis in 1906.”

“The what?”

“Astra Noctis—the rare time when the planetary

confluences fall into proper celestial alignment and

thins the boundary between our world and the other

realms. Of course, that didn’t coincide with an eclipse,

so it wasn’t nearly as powerful as the one will be on

Sunday. Even so, I urged everyone in the chat room to

stay on high alert.” She glared in the direction of the

corn maze. “I told George, and he only snorted at me.”

With a great deal of effort, Cal didn’t snicker. “I’m

sure the confluences will work themselves out.”

“Oh, no, they never do. Not without help.”

Amaranth grabbed his arm. “Everyone must be on

guard against the confluence. What if the veil thins

beyond renewal? Who around here is prepared for

that?”

“I’m not sure,” he said, wondering how to politely

make a break for it and still retain her as a client.

“Exactly. No one is, but even that woman at the

entrance to the maze agreed they were particularly

strong.”

I’ll bet she did, and I’ll bet she didn’t roll her eyes

until after you left.

“I hoped to have Summer spread the word, but she

seems to have disappeared. Will you mention it to

people?”

“Um, okay.” Cal gently removed her arm and

nodded over his shoulder. “I’ll go that way and you go

the other. We’ll cover more ground.”

Amaranth beamed Cal such an air of gratitude guilt

washed through him. It didn’t last long as she hurried

off without hesitation in the opposite direction. Cal

skirted a booth and ducked out of sight before

Amaranth circled back again. Straight ahead were rows

of lush green corn, and Cal picked up the pace. The one

place in the harvest festival he was sure not to run into

Amaranth and her lunatic ideas was the maze. She had

already covered that section.

As Cal neared the field, he heard muffled squeals

of laughter and shuffling footsteps. The stalks rustled

but grew so close together he couldn’t make out the

shapes of any people.

“Not that way!” laughed a girl. “You’re running us

in circles.”

“I told you, I know where I’m going. Hey—wait

up.”

She laughed again. “Gotta catch me.”

The voices died away, but they sounded

suspiciously like Dylan Lydecker and Summer,

Amaranth’s daughter. Cal wondered idly if Dylan’s

appearance in his uncle’s maze meant a change in his

rock song’s lyrics. If so, he had to credit Dylan with

more sense than he thought possible or maybe it was

Summer’s steadying influence. While Dylan seemed to

flounder since he moved here, Summer had already

planned to attend the local college’s agricultural

program after graduation in the spring, and she was

certainly pretty enough to draw any young man’s

attention.

Cal stopped short. The young woman with the

ponytail was at the entrance to the maze. Was she the

one Amaranth approached? She stood by herself,

studying a group of people leaving the exit. Cal

watched her, curiosity rising. Who comes to a harvest

festival alone—except an idiot like me on a wild goose

chase?

He froze. It couldn’t be. Cal walked up to her, and

she eyed him with clear anticipation. “Excuse me, are

you by any chance waiting for someone…” He rubbed

the nape of his neck. “I can’t figure out how to say this

and not sound crazy.”

Her eyes widened. “Someone I don’t know?”

He grinned and held out his hand. “Callum

MacGregor, call me Cal.”

“Megan Adler—Meg.” She shook his hand. The

warmth of her skin pressed against his brought a

pleasant tingling sensation.

“So, Cal,” Meg said. “Why meet here? What does

this festival have to do with a job?” She flashed a

cheeky grin. “I should warn you I don’t work the carny

circuit.”

A job? An uneasy sensation settled in his gut. “I’ve

no idea. I thought you knew why we were here.”

“Me?” Meg pulled back her hand and color rose to

her cheeks. “What is this? Some kind of sick joke?

Who does this Phillip Bingham think he is, anyway?”

Cal gaped at her. “Phillip Bingham contacted you?

Not Isaac?”

“I got a letter from him with a vague employment

offer from the Lux Foundation along with an invitation

to attend the Crossroads Harvest Festival.” She

wrinkled her brow. “It was a funny kind of letter on

really old paper. The room at the inn was paid for by a

man named Isaac Bingham, and I needed a job, so I

figured what the hell. The instructions said a person

would find me here to discuss the details. I assume that

is you.” Her voice tightened in anger. “Is Phillip

Bingham the town lunatic?”

“No, but I’m sorry to tell you he’s very much

dead.” Cal gave her a recap of his meeting with Isaac.

As Meg listened, her eyes widened in

astonishment. “Phillip Bingham died decades ago?

How could he know I’d lose my job this week and be

desperate enough to jump at this crazy offer?”

Cal ran a hand through his hair. “How did he know

either of us would even be born?”

Meg took a wary step back. “I’m not sure I believe

you.”

“I’m not sure I believe it myself. Listen, do you

want to go somewhere and talk? Try to figure this out?

I’ll call Isaac, tell him we found each other, and

demand an explanation.”

Meg cocked her head toward the entrance of the

corn maze. “Do you hear that? Someone called for

help.”

“Probably lost in the maze. George made it extra

challenging this year.”

“No, it’s different.” She sucked in a breath. “M-my

name—I swear I heard my name.”

A gust of wind rippled the stalks. They bent toward

the entrance, fluttery hands beckoning them inside. Cal

strained to hear past the whispery rustle of the leaves.

Almost as if they were voices…

“I’ll check it out,” he said. “Maybe someone fell

and got hurt. Wait here—”

“Not a chance.” Meg bolted into the maze, and Cal

ran after her. They came to the first intersection, and

she skidded to a halt. “Which way?”

“Left,” Cal said without hesitation.

They dashed deeper into the field, now left, now

right, now straight ahead. With each step, Cal’s path

became surer as if something pulled him with an

invisible cord.

Meg puffed beside him. “How do you know which

way to go?”

“I-I can’t explain it.”

With every breath, the air around Cal became

hotter and more oppressive, pressing on his shoulders

like a stifling blanket. Humidity dropped to nothing.

Beads of sweat on his brow evaporated. Cal licked his

dry, cracked lips and grimaced at the gritty feel of sand

on his tongue.

Sand in a corn maze?

They turned a corner and stumbled into a clearing.

In the center was an arbor that arched over a circle of

flagstones on the ground. A glowing flame hovered

above the stones, suspended in midair. Meg and Cal

exchanged dumbfounded looks and stepped forward.

The clarion note of a distant horn sounded a soldier’s

call to action. A surge of adrenaline flooded Cal’s

veins. He hadn’t felt like this since his days on patrol

with the Army. Unconsciously, Cal’s hand went to his

hip, reaching for the sword. He stared at his empty

hand. Sword?

The flame grew larger and brighter, shooting

through the arbor into the heavens.

“Cal!” Meg’s voice sounded very far away.

“I’m here!” Cal reached for her, but the flame

blinded him, blotting out the maze, blotting out the sun.





blotting out the world.

Nothing remained but the roar of the cheering

crowd.

About the author

I write fantasy and science fiction adventures with humor and a little romance because life is dull without them. I don’t write either sexy naughty bits or gore so your mama would approve, but do add a touch of cheeky sass so maybe she wouldn’t. view profile

Published on May 06, 2020

Published by The Wild Rose Press

90000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Time Travel Romance

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