The Seventh Layer
New Adult Scifi/Paranormal
(Released – August 17, 2012)
As if growing up Amish wasn't hard enough, Sarah Miller receives information just before her eighteenth birthday about a childhood she can't remember. Accompanied by long lost friends and a few unlikely relatives, Sarah learns of her supernatural destiny and the race to piece together the jigsaw of her life begins. Amidst the whirlwind of unanswered questions, one stands prominent: will the world meet the foreshadowing doom that lingers in the near future, or will Sarah complete the puzzle in time to save her people and ensure the continuance of mankind?
Somewhere amidst her forty-hour job and playtime with her three-year-old, Rachel finds time to walk the streets of worlds only existing on manmade paper. She resides in small college town Northwestern Nebraska with her young son, just across town from her parents. She enjoys socializing with adults, sipping strawberry wine, and head banging to music that doesn't carry a beat worth the effort of rock star hair slinging.
Prologue & Chapter 1 (also available on Wattpad and Scribd)
It crept down the window like an epileptic spider, jittering from side to side, pausing ever so slightly before continuing its descent.
It always fascinated me. I often sat on my bed at night watching it shatter against my window, then travel slowly out of sight, dancing a sorrowful waltz with the low light coming from the oil lamp on my bedside table. It mattered little if I had to be up at dawn to start my daily chores with Sister. Nothing truly mattered when it rained.
“Sarah, is everything alright?” Mother stood in my bedroom doorway. She was a plain woman, light brown hair lacking radiance, dull gray eyes, and thin pale lips that almost matched the color of her near-white skin. Her cheekbones curved high beneath her eyes, the lines sharp. Almost too sharp, almost masculine. But she was a kind, gentle woman. No one could deny her that. “Sarah,” she said again when I didn’t reply right away. I looked over my shoulder at her then, grinning briefly.
“Everything is fine, Mother. I was simply admiring the rain.” She smiled, but there was a flash of sadness in her eyes. I knew that sadness, but we never spoke of such things. Sadness in our community was often seen as a weakness of faith. Mother sat next to me on the edge of my bed. She smoothed down her skirt until it lay perfectly across her thin frame. Folding her hands in her lap, she let out a soft sigh.
“It is a beautiful sight to behold,” she said quietly, gazing out the window. When she turned to me again, her eyes were brimmed with tears. I hugged her quickly, letting her cry silently into my hair. Three days left. That’s all we had. When she finally pulled away, she dabbed lightly at her eyes and nose with the cotton handkerchief she always carried tucked in her sleeve.
“I will always remember you,” I said just above a whisper before laying a chaste kiss atop her hand. “Though I know you’ll all forget me, in time.” She started to shake her head, but she knew it was true. No one remembered, the human mind was too simple to comprehend it. I had begun to notice just over the last week that people in the community were already beginning to forget. Mainly just the ones I wasn’t in contact with everyday, but they were forgetting just the same. It seemed strange to a point. They were all I had known for the last ten years. How could anyone be in your life for so long and so quickly forget who you were entirely? Yet, somehow I knew and understood it. No one ever had to explain it to me, I just knew.
Mother tucked a strand of hair that had fallen out of my braid behind my ear. Her hand cupped my cheek, warm against my skin. I watched her study my face, trying to memorize it before kissing my forehead and leaving my room. I stared at the empty doorway, my heart heavy. Three more days.
Just three more days.
“I had the dream again,” I told Sister as we scrubbed the kitchen floor.
“It’s so strange to me that you dream so much, Sarah.” Her tone was almost spiteful, maybe even jealous. I’d noticed over the years that either no one spoke of their dreams, or no one really dreamed. I was never really sure which was more accurate. She shook her head at herself. “I apologize. Perhaps I’m not as prepared for you to leave us as I’d convinced myself I was.”
“Sister,” I paused my work to sit back on my heels and look at her. She turned her youthful face to me, looking me straight on with those enchanting brown eyes. “Sister, I can’t imagine it’s easy for anyone to be prepared for what is to come this new moon. How can you, knowing they will use meidung so that no one suspects? That is not a simple slap on the wrist, Sister. I know I can never come back, and it’s not because of meidung. But it seems to give this whole situation a certain omen, does it not?” Her face was dark as she shook her head.
“The Devil’s work, they will say. Cast you out like a rabid dog. Why can we not just say you left of your own volition? Is that not satisfactory? It would be truth! I do not condone this lying for you, but the elders say that God will forgive us.” I smiled then. She had been born into the community and raised according to their beliefs. Not everyone understood why meidung was going to be enforced, not truly. Sister was still young at the ripe age of sixteen. And she was female. Two strikes against her in the community, which meant she was only told that which was required of her to know.
I went back to scrubbing the floor, falling into the silence that awaited us. It welcomed me, embracing me like a long lost child come home. It was short lived. Sister was never comfortable in such an embrace.
“Tell me again about the dream, Sarah. I think I need a distraction this day.” I studied her for a moment. She looked very much like all the other women in the community. Her usual white blouse was fastened up to her neck, the long sleeves shoved to her elbows to avoid the soapy water. Her black cotton skirt billowed down to her ankles even as she knelt on all fours on the floor. Her black bonnet helped tame the runaway strands of her blacker hair, the rest trailed down to the small of her back in a tight braid. She was slightly rounder than the other women, full of hips and breast. Many whispered behind her back that she was the Devil incarnate, come to tempt all of the men into transgression. I knew she’d simply been better blessed, radiated upon by someone watching over. She puffed a strand of that obsidian silk out of her vision, glancing in my direction.
“It was no different than it has ever been. I stood in an open meadow. Larger than any meadow I have ever seen, covered in the brightest wildflowers, as if they’d been freshly painted on canvas. There was nothing else in sight, just meadow and wildflower and clear blue sky. The sky was cloudless, all except that one cloud just above me. It cut out most of the sunlight, leaving the world in a gray haze. Everything seemed totally gray, lifeless. Until I laid eyes on the wildflowers again. There was a loud sound overhead, like thunder clapping. The air itself became thick, so thick it seemed I could spoon it up and eat it. Then I looked up at that one lonely cloud and it split in two. Only it wasn’t a separation of cloud, but an opening. Like a door to somewhere else, Heaven maybe? And there I saw a face, shining at me. So bright was that smile, like sunlight after a spring rain. And a hand descended, coming toward me, growing larger and larger the closer it came. I felt warmth radiating down upon me. Such heavy warmth, it made me feel disoriented. Like how Mother describes the men from the city after they’ve left a brewery. The meadow vanishes and I am wrapped in white light. I smell spices and fermented grapes. Wine perhaps. And smoked meats, such wondrous aromas! But I cannot see past the blinding light. In the distance are voices and laughter…and music. I’ve never known such joyous music! I feel my body rising from the earth, toward where I had last seen that singular cloud. And in a heartbeat, I am surrounded by the blackness of my bedroom, only my racing heartbeat to accompany me.”
Sister had stopped scrubbing, her bristle brush soaking in the sudsy water pail. She gazed at me with dreamy eyes just as though she were witnessing the dream for herself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mother walk into the house, dirt dusting the hem of her skirt and tipping the toes of her shoes. She tramped across the nearly clean kitchen floor, purposely stomping dirt where we’d just scrubbed. ‘Twas our punishment for stopping before the chore was fulfilled. Sister shot me an apologetic look. I simply smiled at her.
I don’t remember much of my young childhood. I can recall vague details of things Sister and I did together, but everything seems to begin around the age of nine. Mother says something traumatic must have happened that no one is aware of, and it’s an instinctual defense mechanism that my mind has been using all these years to protect me. I don’t know about all that, I’m no brain doctor. I do, however, have dreams about things that are unrealistic. Sure, I suppose anyone who dreams can have an imagination wild enough to conjure up some fairly ridiculous things. My dreams, however, are too real to me. I can feel everything as if it were flesh and bone, and I can see more clearly in dreamland than I seem to while I’m awake. When I was younger, I tried explaining them to Mother, but she’d laugh until she cried, and then I’d cry because she was laughing. I learned very quickly not to divulge too much to anyone after that.
When I started dreaming of the face in the cloud, I had to tell someone. Sister seemed to be the only one willing to listen, regardless of whether or not she believed it could be real. She’d tell me more often than not that maybe it was a sign that God himself was going to bless me. Somehow I knew that God, her god, wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.
It seemed so strange that I felt no connection to the god that everyone worshiped. The one everyone in the community said was the one and only god. It never felt right to me, but I knew better than to verbalize my feelings. Feelings in general, not just sadness, were frowned upon. Feelings meant a detachment from God. Detachment meant rebellion. Rebellion was a sin; one of the darker transgressions, and punishment tended to match the level of sin.
When I turned fourteen, Mother had a heart-to-heart talk with me. At first, I thought it was going to be the birds and the bees conversation that I’d heard the older girls whisper about. Instead, it was to inform me that I was not her blood. Mother was not my mother. When I was eight years of age, a very old, very crippled woman had knocked on Mother’s door. She said nothing at all, simply handed Mother the end of a rope that had been tied around my neck like a leash, then turned and disappeared.
Back then, Father was still alive. I don’t remember anything about him, and only know his face from the few framed pictures of him that remained in the house. All I know about Father is that he never seemed to smile, he was a very handsome man, though he would’ve looked better with a beard, and Sister was a spitting image of him.
As difficult as it was at first, I accepted the news with grace. In a sense, it was a relief to know that I’d not been born into the community. It had never felt like home to me, nor was it reality. I appreciated that they had taken me in under no known circumstances of my past, but they lived in a very strange world all of their own creation and I knew deep down that it would never be home. Many things quickly fell into place then. I finally understood why it secretly bothered me that Sister’s hair was black as coal and mine was the color of wildfire as it licked through a dying forest; why she had silky chocolate morsels for eyes and mine were the oddest shade of purple-blue. We were opposites, Sister and I, but she had always been my best friend.
Six months ago, I had received a letter from a small corporation in California that claimed to have known my biological father. My first instinct was to burn the letter and run from the unknown. After much discussion, Mother convinced me that it couldn’t hurt to write back. I couldn’t remember my past so if it was just a hoax, I wouldn’t really be losing anything. When another letter came, hand written by someone within the company, I knew I had to collect more information. It wasn’t the detail given in the letter of my life before the community that convinced me to inquire, but more the penmanship of the individual who wrote the letter. It was strangely familiar to me, along with the name signed at the bottom. Ambrose Alcina. My stomach flipped excitedly when I read it over and over, memorizing the way each letter sensually curved out, like a woman’s bosom straining against the fabric of her gown. They say you can profile someone just on their handwriting. I knew nothing about profiling, but I did know one thing. This man, whoever he was, knew his way into a woman's heart.
For the next several months, Mr. Alcina and I continued to correspond through our letters. He seemed genuinely interested in my life and was humored by the news that I'd been raised these last ten years by an Amish community in Southern Nebraska. Humored, but not surprised. It even seemed like old news when I'd informed him that I couldn't remember any part of my life before or even up to coming to the community.
The last letter I received, around three months ago, requested that I contact him on the telephone. After several weeks of begging and extra chores, Mother finally conceded and I ran two miles to the closest telephone shanty.
“Cartwright and Hankins,” a pleasant greeting rang through. I'd never had the opportunity to learn telephone etiquette, but I'd always assumed it was no different than daily conversation. You just had to visualize the face you were addressing.
“Yes, good day ma'am, would Mr. Ambrose Alcina be available, please.” I hadn't fully caught my breath, but managed to sound quite pleasant, even to myself.
“May I ask who's inquiring?” Her voice was similar to the sing-song of the American Redstart birds in the early morning. Maybe not quite as high in pitch, but just as pleasantly chirpy.
“Yes ma'am, my name is Sarah Miller. Mr. Alcina had requested I call, but I've been...indisposed until now.” I wasn't entirely sure that was a truthful enough answer, but then I'd never been known for always telling the truth.
“Please hold.” There was a strange series of clicking sounds before soft violins commenced playing. My breathing finally evened out and I'd almost forgotten that I was on hold until the music abruptly ended.
“Ambrose speaking.” His voice was like silk lightly rippling over smooth stones. He carried a light accent, though I was not familiar with any of them to make any kind of educated guess of its origin.
“Good day Mr. Alcina, it's Sarah.” There was a quiet pause. “Sarah Miller? From Pawnee County, Nebraska. You'd requested I call, sir. I apologize for not –”
“Sarah, yes! Forgive me, it's been several weeks since our last correspondence. I'd almost given up hope.” It was almost like he was singing me a lullaby. Such richness in his tone, deep and luscious. My body warmed through all the way down to my toes.
“Yes, I apologize for the delay. Mother was extraordinarily difficult on the matter.” I heard him chuckle lightly. It occurred to me then that even his voice was familiar to me. Why did I feel like I knew this man? And why did it feel like it was a deeper knowledge than just friends or acquaintances?
“Sarah, I must discuss something of great importance with you.” He sounded suddenly very serious.
“Yes, of course. Anything you'd like.” My pulse stepped up a notch.
“Sarah...” he hesitated. “Sarah, your eighteenth birthday is approaching, is it not?”
“Yes sir, in three months time. To the day, in fact.” There was a hushed rustling on the other end of the phone. I pictured him shifting in his seat.
“Yes indeed, during the new moon. Sarah, I realize that what I'm about to say to you will come as a bit of a shock, but I need you to listen closely and I pray that you can understand in full how serious this is.” I struggled to find my reply. His tone was so somber, it almost scared me. What could be so distressing? “Sarah, are you still there?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Alcina. I'm sorry, I'm just a bit confused. What is it that has you so sedate?”
“Sarah, listen closely. Please, please listen and understand.” That last part he said so quietly, it sounded more like a prayer to himself than anything directed toward me. “There is no time for explanations. On the morning of your birthday, you will be approached by a man by the name of Nicoli. He is a beast of a man, but he is for your protection...and transportation.” My head immediately whirled out of control. Protection and transportation? Protection from whom? From what? And where might I be going? Was it dangerous? Could I even trust this man I was speaking to? How did I know this Nicoli individual was safe? So many questions and an inoperable tongue. “Sarah?” Ambrose almost sounded as frightened as I felt.
“Why?” was all I could muster. My thoughts were so chaotic, it was nearly impossible to send one little thought out to make my mouth work.
“There is no time for explanations. Go back to your home and prepare. Speak to no one outside of your community. Mention this to no one you do not trust completely. Three months, and I will explain everything. I give you my word.” The line died before I could utter even a squeak.