Locals call this day Halloween. Ancients referred to it as All Souls’ Night. The ancients would be right. There is at least one soul that roams this town, late at night. A woman, they say, often spotted at the shores of Lake Itasca, her footprints defined in the sandy soil. A ghostly shadow forever etched in the past, playing out in the present. Many say the woman in white is a myth, one that began the century before and belonging to the legend that surrounds Nicolett Cemetery in the small town of Lake Itasca. But life is rarely defined in black and white, is it? It is October 31, 1947, and tonight is not an ordinary Halloween. In the dark of night, soon to be settled in at Nicolett Cemetery, not one, but two souls travel. Through a dimensional portal the timeless soul named Danielle has entered town, joined by her younger brother, Ethan. As with every year, homage will be paid to their mother who was born on this day. A token of love will be placed at the water’s edge. Across dimensions and into a region that lies outside the boundaries of time, a young man will also venture. Although his initial encounter with Danielle is about to take place, this will not be his last. Before the night is through, three purposeful tasks will have been completed by Danielle. ~~~ Brittany, Jay’s younger sister, and he had finished kitchen duty for the night. One more nickel to be added to his allowance stash. He now had enough to 2 buy the new comic book release he had been waiting for at Delaney’s newsstand. Dinner dishes were washed, dried, and stacked back into the cabinets, leaving a spotless kitchen for his mother to destroy at daybreak. Tomorrow night it would be Brittany’s turn to receive the nightly nickel, which made Jay angry since he did the lion’s share of the work. Four years younger than Jay, Brittany, in Jay’s opinion, was spoiled. Jay filled the stainless-steel basket in the percolator to three-quarters full of A&P coffee. Eight tablespoons and one for the pot. A sprinkle of cinnamon was added. Ready to turn on, Jay found the smell of fresh ground coffee intoxicating. At 5:30 a.m. sharp, the pot will spring to life and fill the house with its tantalizing aroma. Amanda, Jay’s mother, insisted he wear a coat when she saw how he was dressed to go trick-or-treating. Warning of falling temperatures, possibly down into the thirties, more layers were needed, she had told him. “But nobody will see my costume,” Jay protested. “What would be the point?” As soon as the words rolled off his tongue, Jay knew he had said the wrong thing. “Sorry, Mother.” He apologized. Once outside, the coat would be easily removed and tossed into the bushes, he figured. Eager to remove his jacket, Jay stepped out onto the porch into the chilly night air. He inhaled deeply, relieved to be breathing in fresh oxygen as opposed to the stale furnace-forced air circulating indoors. His sweaty skin brought on by too many layers of clothing instantly cooled. Glad for the warm days and cool nights of autumn, Jay’s favorite month, October, was coming to an end. The weathered planks beneath his feet moaned from the additional weight. The plan was to meet at the driveway’s end at 6:00 p.m. Glancing at his wristwatch, the time was now 5:47. Thirteen minutes to go … darkness was fast approaching. The storm door latched behind him, punctuated by a click. The slats beneath his feet rocked gently as Jay descended the steps. No 3 homework for two whole days and his chores were complete. Costume preparation hadn’t taken long, dressed as a bum, same as last year, it took little effort to assemble. Shortly, Jay’s best friend and next-door neighbor, Isaac, would join him. A whole new meaning to the expression “neighborhood party” was about to be played out. Tricks on individuals who merited special attention was the plan. Since he first opened his eyes at daybreak, the day had crawled by at a snail’s pace. All Jay needed now was for Isaac to show up to start their escapades. Twilight had captured what was left of the sun’s rays, blanketing the town in a crimson glow which in old sailors’ terms forecasted a beautiful day for November 1, which also happened to be Jay’s birthday. He loved having two special occasions to celebrate back-to-back. For nearly a century, the property on which Jay stood had been part of his family’s heritage. As the eldest son of Clay Chaney, and greatgrandson of Jay Darrel (J. D.) Chaney, this stately home, circa 1866, would be part of Jay’s inheritance. J. D.’s signature artistry was chiseled into every nook and cranny of the house. Although Jay’s great grandfather passed away long before Jay was a proverbial twinkle in his father’s eye, his exemplary reputation remained. Jay’s eyes were drawn to the large harvest moon hanging high in the evening sky. Hidden behind a backdrop of sparse clouds, its radiance was bewitching. Perfect for the task at hand. Gazing up at the moon, Jay’s grip tightened on the crumpled piece of paper held tightly in his hand—ideas he would soon share. If any hitches existed, Isaac would soon point them out. The idea of playing tricks on a few select neighbors had been brought up last July. Jay planted the seed after Isaac had been punished over an incident that involved Mr. Jackson. After Jay made a wise crack 4 about getting even with Jackson, the idea took hold. The more they toyed with how to balance the scales, the better the scheme sounded. Jay knew that horseplay on this scale would certainly bring about serious consequences, but he figured some paybacks were worth the risk. Clay extended no leniency when it came to tomfoolery; thus, their motivation to not get caught was high. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!” Jay reminded Isaac with a snicker. That’s when the stage was set. No way could Jay let himself get in trouble for a second time in one month. He had just been released from a two-week grounding over carelessly decapitating one of Brittany’s dolls. Isaac and he had been tossing the doll over his sister’s head like a football when the accident occurred. They were playing keep-away. All things considered Jay did feel badly about the situation. Jessica was one of Brittany’s favorite dolls, and because of him, Jessica now sat on a shelf with her head safety-pinned to her shoulders. Brittany had tried to snatch the doll from flight. But then Isaac missed one of Jay’s passes, and the doll hit the wall. Hard. Jessica’s head popped off and rolled out into the hallway, instantly catapulting his sister into a royal tizzy fit. He could still hear Brittany wailing as she flew down the stairs clutching Jessica’s head in one hand and her body in the other. “Now look what you’ve gone and done! I’m telling Mom!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. In response, his mother’s standard line was delivered. “Wait till your father gets home, young man!” Jay’s watch indicated it was 6:18. He glared at his friend’s house, annoyed. Not the first or the last time to be in this situation. Jay took in the dark, wispy clouds overhead, moving without form, across an ebony sky. The brisk night air confirmed what was predicted on the radio at breakfast. A cold front was expected to swoop down from Canada overnight. Brutal temperatures would trail. Possibly snow by morning. 5 A strong feeling of déjà vu washed over Jay. Strangely, he felt as if he’d been here before, standing in this exact spot, waiting for Isaac. Two long-tailed meteorites jetted across the starlit sky, disappearing into blackness. From the back pages of his mind, a picture began to take shape. There was an odd sense of familiarity to the scene. Jay stared at the pinpricked canopy of stars twinkling overhead, cradling a vast universe of secrets. For some strange reason, it felt like he was staring up at the night sky from another vantage point. Not Lake Itasca. Something in the darkness told Jay to take a closer look. Without understanding why, his gaze was diverted from the night sky to the woods behind his house. For reasons he couldn’t explain, Jay pondered an unanswerable question: once written in the stars, can destiny be changed? It struck him it was better not to know. The Earth seemed to stand still while a memory slipped through his fingers. Whatever it was, the image had tucked itself just out of reach. In that moment, some invisible force put motion back into play and Jay heard crickets chirping, loudly. An avalanche of kids had mysteriously appeared out of nowhere, where only moments before, the streets had been bare. “Where did all these people come from?” Jay asked curiously. The night felt out of kilter. When he withdrew his watch from his trousers, his heart skipped a beat. “That’s not possible!” he exclaimed. The time read 6:49. A thirty-one-minute block of time was missing. It was like he had slipped into a time warp. He looked up at the stars, confused as to what had taken place. Extraordinary events were yet to unfold. And, had Jay peered a little closer, lingered a little longer, he would have seen that something was … written in the stars. Jay assumed his overactive imagination was to blame. It often strayed when boredom took hold. As Jay reflected on how to explain what he had experienced, Loki, the local feral cat, came trotting across the yard purring like a freight train when he saw Jay. 6 Often, Jay sat on the porch in anticipation of Loki’s arrival. Normally, he’d scratch Loki’s little head and ears and give him some tidbits from the dinner table, but not tonight. Loki waited, stretching his neck to make it easier for Jay to perform his duty. But when Loki pushed a little too aggressively into Jay’s calf, Jay booted him in the juniper bush. A pang of guilt washed over Jay. Why did I do that? I really look forward to seeing Loki. He whistled for the cat to come back, but Loki didn’t respond. So, he tossed a handful of pea-sized gravel at the area, intending to coax Loki out of hiding, but that didn’t work either. Loki was gone. Then the moment he was convinced that he had seen the cat scamper between his house and Isaac’s, Jay’s attention came to a halt. He saw a bazaar mist seeping out from under the barn behind the house. Curiosity drew him to investigate. The night had become unsettling. Ever since he first stepped outside, he couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong. Stop imagining things! he scolded himself. Self-talk was working fine until, in his peripheral vision, he saw a dark, shadowy figure standing no more than thirty feet away. Jay felt it unlikely that his dad would be in the barn at this late hour. He glanced up front, wanting to make sure Isaac hadn’t shown. When he turned back, he was relieved to find the shadowy figure had vanished. His attention was drawn once again to the thin, blue mist. Taking a visual assessment of the familiar grounds, Jay noticed the barn’s two adjoining doors, which he was positive he’d fastened before dinner, stood ajar. They were jutted out slightly, only six to eight inches, but open, nonetheless. Jay distinctly recalled battening down the hatches, a chore performed nightly. A heavy iron rod, hand forged with his great grandfather’s initials, had been slipped through the latch before dinner. Once upon a time it had been J. D.’s responsibility, now the job belonged to Jay. 7 Where is the rod? he thought. His stomach knotted. Jay’s rational mind knew the difference between daydreaming and reality. Has someone broken in? he worried. Frightened at the prospect of an intruder, Jay searched the grounds for sole marks but saw nothing. Then the rod he was searching for was located to the left of the doors, brought into view by an incandescent beam shining down from a lamp centered between the doors. Many years ago, Jay’s grandmother Mott had persuaded him that he possessed a unique trait, a gift of sensing irregularities in nature. Tonight would suggest that Jay’s grandmother was right. This morning at dawn, before putting his feet to the floor, Jay had a feeling he couldn’t quite put a finger on. He convinced himself that the sensation was nothing more than jitters over what he was planning later that evening. Instead of giving credence to the awareness gnawing at him all day, Jay went on about his business, not allowing himself to consider the possibility that a strange vibe was in the air. He did exactly what Mott had advised him not to do. He tried to rationalize his apprehension. Old man Jackson is at fault, he told himself. That cantankerous buffoon. Number one on our trick list for good reason. But now he wasn’t so sure. His grandmother had imparted one valuable lesson. Strong feelings have meaning. Like now. It was nothing that could be seen or touched but was there all the same. A strange energy hung in the air; of that, Jay was certain. Mott had taught him not to dismiss strong feelings but that was exactly what he had done. Standing outside the barn, Jay prepared to go inside, against his better judgment.