Alice at heart, p.1
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       Alice At Heart, p.1

           Deborah Smith
 
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Alice At Heart


  Alice At Heart

  Smith, Deborah

  BelleBooks (2011)

  Tags: FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporary

  FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporaryttt

  * * *

  * * *

  This morning I stood naked beside the icy waters of Lake Riley, high in the Appalachians of north Georgia, above the fall line where the tame Atlanta winters end and the freezing wild mountain winters begin. A mile away, in my dead mother’s hometown, Riley, people were just breaking the ice on their gravel roads and barnyards and church lots and sidewalks, stomping the mountain bedrock before little stores with mom-and-pop names, most of which belong to heavy-footed Rileys. But there I was, alone as always, Odd Alice, the daughter of a reckless young mother and an unknown father who passed along some very strange traits. I had slipped out to the lake from my secluded cabin for my morning swim, stripping off my dowdy denim, doing the impossible.

  It is February, with a high of about twenty-five degrees, and the lake has an apron of ice like the white iris on a dark eye, narrowing my peculiar view of the deep world beneath. Not that that scares me. The water is the only element in my life I never fear. I stood there in the cold dawn as usual, not even shivering.

  As I stretched and filled my body with frigid air, I looked out over the icy mountain world and heard a thin trickle of sound stroking the frosty branches of tall fir trees so far around a bend in the lake my ears shouldn’t be able to recognize it if I were like anyone else. The sound was a child screaming. And then I heard a splash.

  I may be a freak or a monster—some unnatural quirk of nature too odd for normal people to accept or for anyone to love—but I couldn’t let a child drown just to keep my secrets. So there I went, into the cold, safe water, deep into the heart of the lake, faster than anyone imagines a person can swim, fluting the currents with the iridescent webbing between my bare toes, able to go farther, deeper, quicker, and for much, much longer in that netherworld than any human being possibly can.

  We are all bodies of water, guarding the mystery of our depths, but some of us have more to guard than others. I’ve never known quite who I am, but worse than that, I’ve never known quite what I am.

  And after today, I won’t be the only person asking that question.

  “The truth, my dear, is far more complex than you’ve ever imagined—and far more wonderful.” Lilith went on in her lovely voice, telling me that she and her sisters—my half-sisters, if I believed her—come from one of the barrier islands off Georgia’s coast, a small isle named Sainte’s Point. She said it has been owned by Bonavendiers since the late 1700s. “Our ancestor was a French privateer,” Lilith said.

  “A pirate,” redheaded Pearl interjected eagerly.

  Lilith silenced her with a stern glance. “A privateer in service to the American revolutionary government. He fought off a British warship that threatened an American village on the mainland. After the war—in return for his service—President Washington deeded him the small island across the cove from that grateful village. Our ancestor named the island Sainte’s Point. He settled there quite happily, bringing with him a quite remarkable wife.”

  “And she is responsible for the very special circumstances that have existed in all her Bonavendier descendents ever since,” Pearl put in, shaking an elegant, webbed foot for mysterious emphasis. “Because she was a . . . ”

  “Shhh.” Dark-haired Mara hissed at her.

  Pearl’s eyes widened. She huffed.

  Lilith gave both women a rebuking stare. They lowered their eyes. Lilith looked at me again. “Our family has so much lovely history to tell—so many traditions, so many proud memories. But, you, of course, simply need to know your own history at the moment.”

  I took a deep breath. “If I do believe you, then tell me this much. What kind of monsters are we?”

  Pearl sputtered. “Monsters? Monsters?”

  “How dare you,” Mara hissed. “You weakling. You . . . you pretender.”

  Lilith inhaled sharply. “Say no more, either of you.”

  “But we’re not monsters,” Pearl cried, her expression wounded.

  “Pearl, say no—”

  “We’re mermaids!”

  Alice at Heart

  By

  Deborah Smith

  BelleBooks, Inc.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead,) events or locations is entirely coincidental.

  BelleBooks, Inc.

  PO BOX 300921

  Memphis, TN 38130

  Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

  ISBN: 978-1-935661-10-8

  Copyright 2002 © by Deborah Smith

  Printed and bound in the United States of America.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers. You can contact us at the address above or at [email protected]

  Cover design: Martha Crockett

  Interior Design: Hank Smith

  Photo Credits:

  Maxfield Parrish “Stars” 1926, Private Collection

  Photo from the archives of Alma Gilbert, Cornish, NH

  :Mah-01:

  Table of Contents

  Dedication

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  16

  17

  18

  19

  20

  21

  22

  23

  24

  25

  26

  27

  A Note From Lilith Bonavendier

  The Legend Of Ta-Mera

  Notes

  Addendum

  Clans of the Water People

  Dedication

  This book is for Hank, Mother, and Alba (aka “She Who Lives By The Sea.”)

  And for Oscar, my dear old friend.

  Water is life, water is love, water is the womb.

  —Lilith Bonavendier, Fables of the Water People

  1

  The Old Ones are all wayward women with tales behind them, you might say—luring ordinary men to mate and meander and occasionally drown. Those Old Ones give us, their Halfling descendents, a lurid reputation but also great charm, and we had best remember to use both wisely. By nature, you see, we are very hard to believe in, but very easy to love.

  —Lilith

  This morning I stood naked beside the icy waters of LakeRiley, high in the

  Appalachians of north Georgia, above the fall line where the tame Atlanta winters end and the freezing wild mountain winters begin. A mile away, in my dead mother’s hometown, Riley, people were just breaking the ice on their gravel roads and barnyards and church lots and sidewalks, stomping the mountain bedrock before little stores with mom-and-pop names, most of which belong to heavy-footed Rileys. But there I was, alone as always, Odd Alice, the daughter of a reckless young mother and an unknown father who passed along some very strange traits. I had slipped out to the lake from my secluded cabin for my morning swim, stripping off my dowdy denim, doing the impossible.

  It is February, with a high of about twenty-five degrees, and the lake has an apron of ice like the white iris on a dark eye, narrowing my
peculiar view of the deep world beneath. Not that that scares me. The water is the only element in my life I never fear. I stood there in the cold dawn as usual, not even shivering.

  As I stretched and filled my body with frigid air, I looked out over the icy mountain world and heard a thin trickle of sound stroking the frosty branches of tall fir trees so far around a bend in the lake my ears shouldn’t be able to recognize it if I were like anyone else. The sound was a child screaming. And then I heard a splash.

  I may be a freak or a monster—some unnatural quirk of nature too odd for normal people to accept or for anyone to love—but I couldn’t let a child drown just to keep my secrets. So there I went, into the cold, safe water, deep into the heart of the lake, faster than anyone imagines a person can swim, fluting the currents with the iridescent webbing between my bare toes, able to go farther, deeper, quicker, and for much, much longer in that netherworld than any human being possibly can.

  We are all bodies of water, guarding the mystery of our depths, but some of us have more to guard than others. I’ve never known quite who I am, but worse than that, I’ve never known quite what I am.

  And after today, I won’t be the only person asking that question.

  Griffin Randolph fought panic in deep water. In the vast, dark ocean off the coast of a Spanish fishing village, he touched one hand to a small tattoo on his left forearm, where a naked woman held a dolphin in her arms. Now I’ll find out which one owns my soul.

  As a scuba tank hissed its last minutes of oxygen into his lungs, he once again aimed a cutting torch at the shelving that had collapsed around the legs of his nervous diver, an Italian nicknamed Riz. Griffin and the diver were deep inside the cavernous hold of a sunken American cargo ship named the Excalibur. During World War II, the Excalibur had ferried ammunition to allied warships off the coast of North Africa until a German submarine torpedoed it. Alongside Griffin and the trapped diver were stacked hundreds of gunnery shells, each as thick as a man’s forearm, all nearly a half-century old, threatening to tumble to the bottom of the ship’s hull.

  No problemo, Griffin’s head diver, Enrique, had proclaimed when they first surveyed the ammunition. Old and wet. Not going to cause us any trouble. Griffin had agreed until he surveyed the dive on this last day and the storage shelving collapsed on Riz. As the crew worked methodically to free him, Griffin discreetly picked up one of the precariously balanced shells.

  The old missile spoke to him, just as he feared it would.

  Death.

  The sensation—which he often felt in the water, but never revealed to anyone— was like hearing a silent song, or feeling a song, the vibrations of sound waves or the tingle of static electricity, only multiplied and softened. In every instance where some object spoke to him, Griffin felt an almost orgasmic shiver, the stroking of an unseen and dangerous hand. Along with that sensation always came knowledge. And this time that knowledge made Griffin’s blood freeze.

  This shell, or one of its brethren, would kill them all.

  Riz’s dazed eyes begged him to hurry. The rest of Griffin’s six-man team huddled on the surface aboard the deck of the Sea She, Griffin’s massive boat, whose high-tech, state-of-the-art computers and dredges and sonar and satellite tracking systems had helped locate some of the world’s most famous undersea treasure wrecks. Absolutely goddamned worthless for saving a man’s life, Griffin admitted.

  He strained to see through the fierce light spewing from his cutting torch in the dark Mediterranean water. The torch finally burned through a thick steel cable, and he began prying the tangled shelving apart with hands too large and brutal for the bourbon-and-magnolias Southern aristocracy that had birthed him amid the wealth of coastal Georgia thirty-nine years earlier.

  Riz kicked and struggled. Griffin’s muscles burned as he strained to separate the shelving, his gaze always going back to the shells, hundreds of them, ready to fall. All it would take was the right one, just one. Finally, he eased Riz free. The diver’s face relaxed into smiling eyes. Griffin squeezed his shoulder, tugged on the guideline attached to a harness, and instantly Riz began to fly upwards through the water, pulled by a powerful electric wench. The shelving shuddered and gave a soft, wrenching groan. A half-century after men had died inside its steel sanctuary, the Excalibur would close like a flower over what remained.

  Griffin eased out of the tomblike hull, feeling the ship’s sinister memories, the hum of its ghosts inside him, the hum of his own ghosts, too. The Excalibur was just waiting for him to move. No, it wasn’t the ship waiting. It was the ocean. Always waiting for him to make one wrong move.

  Test me, Griffin told the invisible forces. He surged upward, exiting the hull with a speed and grace that always astonished people when they saw him swim, even when he was hampered by scuba gear. He shrugged off his tank, spit out the mouthpiece, then ripped the mask from his eyes. He propelled himself toward the light, dozens of feet above him.

  In the depths of the Excalibur, one shell tumbled from the shelving. It pirouetted downward through the dark water, almost beautiful in its heavy grace. It struck the hull’s bottom with a muted clang, its voice the last ringing of any bell for the lost ship.

  And it exploded.

  The world erupted in billowing, churning chaos. Griffin felt a giant hand slap him from below, then sweep around him, squeezing him between invisible forces. The ocean, which had always been a living monster to him, pressed him in its jaws. Pain shot through his body; his eardrums ruptured. His wet suit tore and then his skin as fragments of the Excalibur’s hull sliced him. The explosive concussion slammed into his brain. He went limp and floated, filling the water with his blood.

  He opened his eyes, dreaming of death.

  You have life inside you that you’ve never used. Breathe. A voice. Feminine, quiet, strong. She hummed a rhythmic song to him, a stunning vibration of emotion that made the deadly shell pale in comparison.

  Griffin struggled. Can’t. No one can. Can’t breathe.

  You can. Try.

  He fed on her passion and suddenly his lungs expanded, he expelled the water from his throat, and somehow, life bloomed into blood-red oxygen inside him. The mystery, the knowledge of a miracle, increased with the darkening of his brain, softened only by the stranger’s unbelievable voice.

  Who are you?

  Just Alice.

  She was gone. He made himself remember, as darkness surrounded him fully, that he was breathing because of an extraordinary illusion named Alice, singing to him beneath the bloody water.

  I’ve never had a vision before and never wanted to. But there he was, vivid in my mind’s eye, floating in front of me as if he really existed. He was clothed in a diver’s wet suit, torn and bloody. His dark eyes, half-open and dreaming of death, were set in a handsome, determined face. He gagged and fought. I felt his pain, his fear, his confusion. Yet I knew he could live if he wanted to. You have breath inside you that you’ve never used, I sang to him. Breathe.

  He looked straight at me, and a kind of wonder appeared on his face, infusing him. He understood. Who are you?

  Just Alice.

  And amazingly, he smiled.

  I blinked and he was gone. I was alone again in the freezing, black water at the bottom of the LakeRiley dam. Then my hand closed around a little girl’s soft arm. By the time I reached her, she had sunk, unconscious, into a grotesque underwater landscape of junked cars and appliances and huge, tickling catfish. The temperature slowed her heart and respiration, making her as quiet as a hibernating animal, prolonging her life, saving her from any serious, permanent effects.

  She did not know she was drowning, I think. I carried her to the shallows. Her parents screamed when they saw us. Two local paramedics and several of our county sheriff’s deputies began yelling.

  At me.

  “I found her—” I started nervously, but then they were all over me. The men snatched the child away and threw a blanket around her as I huddled in the lake with my arms crossed over
my breasts. Then they dragged me out and covered me, too.

  “What the hell were you doing out here, Alice?” yelled one of the deputies, a Riley cousin of mine.

  How could I possibly explain? I lay there on the ground, hugging the blanket over me, and said nothing. In the water, I came alive. On land, I tried very hard to be invisible.

  At the moment, I wished I were dead.

  2

  Water People say the earth formed as an afterthought inside the glorious depths of great seas, hardening like the dull, dry pit of a luscious fruit.

  —Lilith

  Two hundred miles southeast of LakeRiley, the Bonavendier sisters of Sainte’s Point Island, Georgia, were already as much legend as fact. They were rarely seen outside the ethereal borders of their moss-draped barrier island or the beautiful little coastal village, Bellemeade, across from it. It was said that all three were older than sixty, yet all resembled beautiful young women. It was said when they were truly young they’d suffered terrible tragedies out in the world and had returned to the island, vowing never to leave again. It was said they’d secluded themselves even more after murdering Undiline McEvers Randolph—their own distant cousin from Scotland—and her blue-blooded Georgia husband, Porter Randolph, of the Randolph Shipping dynasty. But that had been nearly thirty-five years ago, and who knew what was truth and what was gossip anymore?

  The accepted facts were these: The Bonavendier sisters owned Sainte’s Point Island and most of Bellemeade, culturing the tiny village like a pearl: the shops exquisite, the bay front inn, WaterLilies, a place of true charm, the marina across from main street a perfect combination of hardworking fishing boats and exotic little yachts. People swore that a kind of enchantment came over them when they visited the town, and they gazed across Bellemeade Bay with wistful envy at the island, which made a faint strip of wooded magic on the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. Look toward the other side of the world, people said, and you’ll see Bonavendiers.

 
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