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          Many years ago, I learned a crucial and valuable lesson. During the course of my life cycle, it became abundantly clear that all of humankind could be classified into three distinct categories. Understanding this concept is of utmost importance.

    The first category is the Sheep. They are the average humans, the majority of the population. Sheep are quite easily influenced, manipulated, or led astray. Day-to-day life simply becomes too distracting to pay attention to the wolves at the gates. It has been argued that perhaps the truth is simply too terrifying to allow acceptance as such. Remaining in their controlled, naïve bubble seems so much simpler than facing the horror of their reality. Who can blame them, really? But the truth remains, those who are caught unaware are always the first to perish. This classification serves as a crucial tool to those who plot against the light, for the Sheep can be controlled and manipulated unknowingly. Sheep are in far greater numbers, their general nature producing a herd mentality, which would stand to gain the most through influence, as laws are generally adapted to suit the needs of the general population. Control the herd, and control the world.

     The second category is the Shepherd. These rare, important people have the best interest of the flock at heart. They fight tooth and nail to protect those close to them, and sometimes, for the greater good of their people. Shepherds are willing to sacrifice themselves, humble and never hesitating to put their life in jeopardy if the cause proves noble. As such, they are always the target of scrutiny, the first to be judged, and sometimes even executed.

    Last, of course, is the Wolf. This classification is highly dangerous, yet somewhat predictable. An instinctive sense of survival is their most notable trait. They generally thrive in groups, but within the pack there are only temporary allegiances, for it is the innate nature of a Wolf to constantly attempt the instinctual rise to alpha state, and never hesitate to kill or destroy anything in their path to power. Even then, the alpha must always be on the lookout for those who intend to take their leadership. Concepts of loyalty or obedience are never more than an illusion—a ruse to climb their way up the proverbial ladder, and nothing more. The defensive strategies of the alpha Wolf are simple: trust no one, and control your pack with brute force and primal fear.

     The three basic classifications of human personality are paramount in human intellect and social standing. A Sheep may confuse itself for a Wolf, or a Shepherd, and when put to the test . . . Lambs to the slaughter. So, where do I stand? This is a complicated question, considering the complications of the life I have led, thus far. After all, I am not proud of what I have done, and I can only hope that the end will somehow justify the means.

     My story began in the year 1871, twenty-nine years before the turn of the century. My name is Meric, and I was born in the fall season, near the rather small county of Warwickshire, England. Having been born into wealth, I had everything a young man could possibly need . . . or so I had thought, in my youth. I was raised on a large estate in the countryside, not far from town. I was home schooled and had not a single friend, so my youth was spent rather lonely, roaming around the surrounding forest with nothing but the flourishing imagination of a young boy to guide me. Fond memories of a carefree youth were of the utmost value, for my care-free days were numbered, and the metaphorical clock was ticking.

    I spent the majority of my time in bed once I reached the tender age of twelve, as a prolonged state of pain would define this period of my youth. I suffered a constant course of acute agony, and just when I thought the pain was about to subside, it would somehow return threefold. The physicians were unable to determine the cause of my condition, but my symptoms were brutal to say the least. My back seemed to take the brunt, every muscle consistently seized, as though I had somehow been dried out internally. It was at this time that the emergence of the Shadow People had begun.

    Dark figures would erratically scurry across the room as I lay alone in my bed. Echoes of whispers would pounce from one corner of the room to the next, shooting chills up my crippled spine. My condition took its toll on my father, who insisted these . . . phenomena were a mere concoction of the mind, concluding that nothing else but severe physical trauma could possibly cause such delusions—the adolescent mind playing tricks on an already vulnerable and extensive imagination. I only knew that when the pain lessened and became somewhat tolerable, the moving shadows would somehow remain. In the dead of night, half-way between dream and reality they thrived, for it was in this state that their features would become much more defined—the only clue that they may have been of human nature. While I attempted to sleep, I would see them surrounding my bed, whispering conspiratorially in a language I could never identify. 

   Where was my mother in all of this? Unfortunately I never knew her. She had died giving birth to me, and though I wasn’t often around other families to compare, I clung to anything remotely maternal in nature. When I was very young, long before I grew ill, I received a mysterious package in the post carrying no identifying card from the sender or return address. It was a simple children’s book that I held very dear to my heart. Reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland before sleeping each night, I visualized her sitting next to me, a blank canvas where a face should have been. In my young mind, I wanted to believe that somehow, the mysterious gift had been sent to me from beyond the grave—a foolish sentiment, I am aware. A heart in constant need of basic nurturing clung desperately to a foolish belief that in some unworldly way, my mother had sent me this novella as an echoing reminder that she stood by my side in my darkest of hours.

    I had once believed that my curious condition was the cause of my father’s neglect. I told myself for years that he simply couldn’t stand to see me suffer, but the terrible truth is . . . he was distant before I grew sick. The closest I had to a friend was my childhood educator; his name was Mordecai. Although he was shorter than average, he was the most meticulous person I had ever met; his flawless attire pressed daily, collars turned down even though we'd never entertain company at our home. Pomade was his main grooming tool, for you would never see a single hair out of place. He seemed to me a master of all subjects, for he taught me everything from math and economics to literature and ancient history. Nothing was ever personal, as he seemed to lack both compassion and general personality. When he spoke, he did so only to teach, and never once did he attempt to connect on an intimate level. What I most remember about him was his eerie habit of glaring at me as I went about my day, as though he were studying my every move in order to report to my father; for they had known one another many years before my birth. I often wondered how anyone could possibly build any sort of relationship with Mordecai, considering his complete lack of character.

    Then again, my father did seem to attract the attention of rather strange and unusual company.

    I would see Father once every few months, if I was fortunate enough to catch him between excursions. Thomas Vaughn Bishop was never not well dressed—well prepared for any given moment. He was always in control of himself, and everyone around him; but Tom was also a very private man. The little I knew of him was only the little he revealed to me, and no amount of imploring would bring Mordecai to tell me anything of my father or the company he kept. Later, I learned that he dealt in investments and politics throughout the known world and abroad. Protecting and building the family fortune rendered him generally unreachable, for his dealings often took him to the far corners of the world. From Africa to the Americas, he traveled extensively; sending me small trinkets from every settlement in which he rested his head. I would go through my souvenirs when the pain grew too intense to bear. It didn’t do the trick every time, so I would read through Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and picture my mother grasping my hand tightly as I fought through the excruciating agony time and again, alone with no one to comfort.

    After a while, I began to feel most comfortable in the cover of night, for shadows can barely be seen in the dark, and I naturally assumed that they, in return could not see me. My assumption didn’t last long, however. My eventual acceptance of their presence would have me sleeping without lantern light. It was simply easier to pretend they weren’t there when I couldn’t see them. However, I could hide from neither the faint whispers, nor the unsettling sensation of being watched. No matter how much I wished, or how many times I would scream into the darkness, I could feel their eyes upon me—always and evermore.

    This arrangement, along with a terrifying reoccurring dream, resulted in my fear of sleep, and in turn, a case of perpetual insomnia that seemed to seize control of my life. With the lack of restful sleep and an equivocal medical condition, I was a very sickly looking child, according to Mordecai. I was overtly thin, clammy and sweaty, eyes sunken and barely able to walk.

    A significant nightmare took place when I was around fifteen years old. I don’t recall specifics of the strange dream, except the blood red eyes of an unknown man. This nightmare seemed to somehow mark the end of my suffering. From that moment on, my condition began to subside and my body began a long winding journey of reparation. As I healed, I found myself wanting to explore more than ever. The only real positive memory of my childhood finally became a tangible possibility, but I wouldn’t dare roam the forest on my own, for I had no idea when or if my condition would return. Mordecai simply would not accompany, no matter how much I begged. By then I had grown so sick of staring at walls, that I would have done just about anything to escape.

    I eventually found myself venturing into town. Surrounded by normal people, I felt much less hopeless, and the regular outing gave me something to occupy my mind while my body healed, at least well enough before I could wander the forest on my own. Amongst the townsfolk, I met many new faces and found myself conversing with girls for the first time; in fact, I’d found them a bore. Though I would later discover otherwise, my first impression of the feminine gender was not enlightening in the slightest. They were anything but scrappy, but overbearingly posh, not like the boys I had encountered. There seemed no flair for adventure, or anything of interest outside the regular gossip—disappointing to say the least. Literature, at the time would describe them as such, but I never really understood the demeanor of the female until I had witnessed it in person.

    Though there were many physically attractive ladies amongst the populous of Warwickshire, I desired none of them, as they seemed to share the exact same personality, as though they were birthed from the same womb. The feeling seemed to be mutual since I was rather sickly in appearance and somewhat crippled. I don’t think the cane really helped my chances either. Trying to explain that I had developed an unexplainable condition to a girl I had just met wasn’t the ideal conversation starter, and of course everyone had to ask questions. I found it much easier to simply lie about my condition, and would often tell the much more captivating tale of being thrown from my horse in a daring chase rather than divulge the truth.

    It was on my way back from one such town visit when I had first met Jordan. Leisurely driving along the road, I was simply grateful to feel the sun on my face, nothing of consequence on my mind. The motion of the carriage and the casual pace of the horses had a way clearing thought. I could see why my father preferred to be on the move, a natural nomad it would seem. 

    It was the breaking of said clarity of thought—perhaps fated so—when my peripheral sight caught something scurrying within the thick brush alongside the trail. At first glance, I thought it some sort of wild animal. I had never seen anything human move quite so fast. Bringing the carriage to a halt, I caught a slight glimpse of a disheveled, dirt-smudged face vanishing behind the trunk of a maple tree.

    Carefully climbing down from the carriage, I retrieved my cane and limped to the tree line in search of my mysterious quarry.

    ‘Hello, who’s there? I assure you I mean no ill will.’ A moment of silence passed, and I assumed the person had scurried off. Turning my back to the situation, I had reasoned that my body wasn’t exactly in the pinnacle of physical conditions to be trapped in the woods by my lonesome, considering that I couldn’t possibly keep up with whoever it was.


    The light feminine voice carried like a gentle breeze, as though the wind whispered my name with a delicate, child-like tone. Halting immediately, I stood perplexed and rather intrigued. Slowly, I turned toward the forest and ventured inward, ignoring Mordecai’s general warning not to traipse into unknown or concealed areas whilst still recovering.

    As I moved through the brush, the serene presence of nature that surrounded me was almost divine. I had missed the natural world, and could think of no humbleness quite as sublime, no setting I felt more at peace than amidst the innocence of life—that is, until I first laid gaze upon her.

    Far in the distance, I spotted the young girl nestled at the base of a thick oak tree. She knelt among a bed of surprisingly large dandelions as she dug into the ground with her dirty fingers. Her skin was smudged, elbows and knees heavily scarred, each a cherished memento of an unspoken adventure—scars over scars. The dress she wore had been white at some point, but was now torn and stained with dirt, fresh mud and grass. On her feet, a pair of worn out hiking boots a few sizes too large, no doubt a hand-me-down, were clearly designed for a small man. Her long, chestnut brown hair was matted and tangled in parts, which summed with the scuffs and dirt on her face gave the impression of a child raised in the wild.

    Cautiously, I approached. Instead of fleeing as I had expected, she looked up and beamed at my presence, as though she had been waiting for me. As she did, I noticed a unique feature I’d never seen before. She had one bright green eye and the other as blue as the deep sky. Getting a good look at her features, I thought it a shame she kept herself so messy, for she was a breathtakingly beautiful child, most certainly not taken seriously due to her physical appearance. However, it wasn’t long before I discovered she didn’t really have any friends, not unlike myself.

    Gesturing me to sit, she proceeded to place her finger over her lips before I had the chance to counter. I carefully knelt beside her, putting all of my weight on my cane as I cautiously pressed a knee into the grass, not bothered in the slightest of staining my lavish attire, and too intrigued to care. She took my free arm and extended it toward her. Then her dirty fingers gently opened my hand and placed a small seed in the center of my palm.

    ‘What is this?’ I chuckled under my breath, but she would not answer.

   She gently closed my fingers around the seed. Strangely, I heard the rustle of leaves above my head and a warm and brilliant ray of sunlight beamed through the canopy high above us, shining solely upon my hand. Within my loose fist, I felt a slight tingling sensation followed by a light tickle, which provoked an uncontrollable urge to smile. My eyes widened in wonder as I witnessed tiny plant roots push their way from between my fingers, twisting and coiling over the tiny blonde hairs on my knuckles.

    ‘How are you doing this?’

    Opening my hand she removed the root, placed it lovingly within the small hole she had dug with her fingers, and began covering it with dirt. This was the very first time she had spoken to me; profound words of the utmost vitality and deep-seeded meaning—words I would scarcely forget.

    ‘Greatness, both positive or otherwise must be nurtured. Anyone can plant a seed, Meric . . .’ As the sunbeam somehow moved on its own, then expanded, the plant grew faster than I would ever had thought possible. I watched, mesmerized, as finally, vibrant red petals formed a beautiful rose which blossomed in the sunlight. ‘. . . but it takes a caring and maternal hand to allow it to bloom, so that we may bask in its beauty and wonder.’

    Hers was a sacred magic, wondrous to behold, as pure as the driven snow.

    She had captured my full attention, there was no denying. There was something about her that pulled at my heart, far beyond her strange ability. Perhaps it was her thin, slight frame and overall look of lacking proper care that urged a need to make up for it. I didn’t even care how she knew my name. In that moment, we became friends and had remained so for all of my living days.

    I soon discovered she was gifted in other ways. Just like a child’s fairy tale, all manner of woodland creatures would somehow flock to her. I was astounded the first time I witnessed the unexplained phenomena. Wild creatures would approach her with absolutely no fear, as though they counted her amongst their own. It was a beautiful but sometimes annoying trait, seeing as she would sometimes be too distracted playing with chipmunks to keep basic conversation. 

    The more my body healed, the more oft I found myself in the forest with Jordan, no longer alone in my passion for discovery and the thrill of exploration. Mordecai knew little of my new friend, which was my preference. Whenever there was the slightest inquiry, I would divulge only what he need know: that she was capable of summoning help if my condition would take a turn for the worst, and nothing more. He and my father had coached me well in the areas of privacy and purposeful concealment, the misleading turn of phrase when it mattered most.

    We would venture out and about, remaining for as long as the daylight permitted, and after a while I realized that I had stopped seeing the Shadow People altogether. Miraculously, I hadn’t even noticed their absence, as I found myself too exhausted by the time the sun went down, and generally drifted right to sleep rather than tossing and turning—too terrified for a simple nights rest. Perhaps they were still there, but I paid them no heed.

    It was the first summer in years I truly felt free, but the newly rejuvenated liberation would not linger for long. Looking back, I was thankful that we had that one summer season, before the winter rendered the landscape bare, thick with snow and bitterly cold. And so, I once again found myself indoors, depressed and haunted by shadows.

    Christmas of 1887 was unlike any that I could recall. Normally Mordecai and I would set up the decorations and spend Christmas Eve in relative silence, but this year was different. I met for the first time a cousin I didn’t even know I had. His name was Edward, his relation to the Bishop dynasty unmistakable, as like my father and myself, he had pitch black eyes—pupils non-existent in appearance. This was a distinct feature that all of us Bishops possessed. He was a few years older than I, and though he was not exceedingly tall, he had a few inches on me. His complexion was fair; his wide face emphasizing his short, dark hair. Edward was a fashionable man of high stature, and he carried himself in a manner that showed the world he knew it, more in relation of mannerism and composure that of my father than I.

    For the first time since I could remember, Thomas Vaughn Bishop returned from his excursions to spend the holidays with his family, more so for Edward’s sake than my own, I surmised. Though not much was said between the four of us that season, it was close enough to a real family Christmas for me, as I had no comparison beyond literature. Any presence beyond Mordecai’s blank and emotionless demeanor was a pleasant upgrade. My only gift beyond mementos from abroad that year was a newly published book by an upcoming author by the name of A. Conan Doyle, the title “A Study in Scarlet” featured a rather interesting character; a detective named Sherlock Holmes and his faithfully observant understudy, Dr. Watson. Such literature was usually shunned in our home, fiction yielding little purpose as far as my father was concerned. So, it was with great refresh that I was allowed to veer outside the practical, and allow my imagination to flourish.

    ‘I thought fiction and fantasy was a waste of my intellect?’ I asked him Christmas morning. As Father sipped his brandy in his armchair, he considered his only son.

    ‘My views on the subject have not wavered, young man. However, Doyle is a friend, and his work comes highly recommended, and certainly not without purpose.’

    ‘How so? What purpose does this book fulfill?’

    ‘A keen eye for noticing what others overlook, boy. You would do well to observe the practices of one Sherlock Holmes. Such skills are priceless if mastered.’

    He did not reveal much, but one thing was abundant in clarity: my father wanted me to pay heed to my surroundings—to learn how to read between the lines of any given situation. Of course, I wouldn’t quite comprehend this meaning until much later, after his untimely death—but I’ll get to that soon enough.

    Edward had come to stay with us due to a recent death in the family. His father had died of cancer of the tongue, his mother committed to a psychiatric hospital only a few short months following her husband’s demise. Their only son was an odd sort of fellow, there was no doubt. My cousin’s humor did not match mine at all, but over the following months, post arrival, I had reluctantly come to learn the disturbing reasoning behind his cold and distant demeanor—a posh and condescending poise no more than a veil to mask his palpably abusive upbringing.

    Edward’s parents were unusual to say the least. His father—who shared his Christian name—had been a member of an unorthodox denomination of faith, both private and claimed independent of the papacy. The Plymouth Brethren were a well established branch of Catholicism, seeming overly strict and cold, both in faith and practice, as they evidently didn’t seem to know—or perhaps chose to ignore—where the line between discipline and abuse truly lye.

    Once I had learned the details of his parent’s association with this sect, I came to understand that life in Edward’s family home was anything but normal. I had reached the conclusion that the only thing worse than having a neglectful or absentee father, was having a father like Edward’s. He had experienced neither a real Christmas, nor birthday celebrations of any kind. Gifts of any nature were strictly illicit, as they were considered attachments to the sin of physical want. Absolutely no visits from friends were allowed, and perhaps worst of all, the prohibition of any and all emotion.

    The strict doctrines of the Plymouth Brethren were not only enforced within the household, but outside their walls as well. Edward’s private school was owned, operated and maintained by the Brethren, and under the rule of a sadistic headmaster, the boy was no stranger to the lashes of the birch rod.

    I remember asking him about the abuse that went on at his school, but Edward would simply shrug his shoulders at the thought, as though it hadn’t bothered him at all. To the contrary, he would confess he never felt the lashes in any painful sense, but rather extracted a twisted sense of enjoyment from his punishment. This was nothing of which his parents had not been aware, and in his mother’s final days of sanity, she had declared that if the punishments regularly enforced upon her son were cruel in any way, then the severity of the sentence must have accordingly matched the severity of the crime.

    Her callous philosophy was the reason Edward had outright loathed his mother. When he spoke of her, she was often referred to as a witch of sorts—a sinister hag whose sole purpose of existence was to make her son’s life as miserable as humanly possible. The feeling was obviously mutual—she would commonly refer to her only son as the Antichrist of the apocalypse, and given her extensive knowledge of the Catholic faith, she would not have used this term lightly.

    My father viewed his sister’s opinions as the lunatic rantings of a woman gone mad; driven to insanity with the loss of an overbearingly strict husband and an inability to control her rebellious teenage son. So, it was with great empathy that Edward was welcome at our estate.

    When the move was made permanent, Edward found a sense of liberation in his study, for he was an obvious scholar. At home, he had studied the Bible and not much else, but upon his arrival at the Bishop manor, he was free to learn and read whatever he wished, though like my father, he found little use for fiction.

    Edward was rarely seen without some sort of literature on his person. During the few months I had spent in his presence, I learned many things regarding his unusual personality. He seemed to have little to no respect for anyone who couldn’t further his social status, with the exception of myself. There were times when he seemed a typical teen, but these moments were temporary and fleeting, the human aspect of him vanishing just as fast as it appeared; surfacing only when speaking of his father and the manner in which he was raised. After getting as close as we could without breaking through any of his emotional barriers, I found myself somewhat content with having someone to talk to when I wasn’t out and about with Jordan.

    As Edward showed no interest in what typical boys were generally concerned, it was difficult to carry a conversation with him. He called it maturity—I called it a Bishop characteristic; as in many ways he was like my father with his aloof disposition. I commonly felt out of place when the three of us were together. I often wondered what caused the men in my family to be so distant; so cold toward their fellow man. At least with my cousin hanging around the house on a regular basis, however distant, I had another friend other than Jordan . . . or so I thought.

    The development of my relationship with Edward ended almost as quickly as it began when my father insisted on taking Edward along with him on his extended excursions. I was just about fully healed and in better shape than ever, after all. And so I wondered often what made my cousin so special—so important that he be chosen, and I so easily cast aside, by my own flesh and blood no less—left behind and forgotten in my seclusion.

    With Tom and Edward out of the picture, it was once again just Mordecai and I to maintain the household, and as time passed I found myself spending more and more time with Jordan.

    Our relationship was a well-kept secret. Jordan was an orphan raised at St. Mary’s Orphanage situated just inside the town limits. Her low society status was the sole purpose for which I decided to keep the specifics of her upbringing undisclosed, for my father would surely disapprove of our rapport, and I would be compelled to sever any and all social ties with my young friend. At the time, I wholly enjoyed living a separate life from that of my snobbish household and emotionally distant family. One seemed innately dead, void of life at times, while the other was abundant in spirit, and undoubtedly alive—teeming with constant adventure.

    Spring was a time of renewal, the leaves bright and youthful, serving as a profound metaphor—a joyous poem in declaration of our happiness. We spent the warm days swimming and exploring old ruins of abandoned estates nestled deep in the surrounding countryside of Warwickshire, rummaging through discarded belongings, and creating our own stories of the purpose of each discovery. Some were left behind and forgotten, much like myself. Trinkets that were once cherished, perhaps even loved, too much of a burden to be crated before a move, yet found a home in solidarity amongst the elements of nature. The irony was too obvious to be ignored.

    We danced and played among the trees as we frequently spoke of past memories. Months would go by without word from my father or Edward. They would return only for a few weeks and set off again for increasingly longer duration. Months turned to years, and I was getting quite used to the routine, until one day they had returned, and suddenly realized I had stepped over the threshold of childish youth, and into adulthood; a feat my cousin had long since reached.

    Everything was so very different. The pair of them were suddenly intruding on my life, an area in which I felt they had no business to prod. Other than the ever-lurking presence of Mordecai, I had spent many happy seasons at home, alone in my studies. Jordan had brought nothing but positivity to my life and the abruptly negative presence of my father and cousin felt almost foreign.

    I wanted no part in their cosmopolitan pessimism; for I felt I had grown far beyond their games of social stature and high pedestals.

    I spent the entirety of the night of their return arguing with my father, a screaming match I would never forget. Word had reached his ear that I was spending time with an orphan girl, no doubt slipped from the surely reptilian tongue of my seemingly soulless chaperone.

     Mordecai: evermore the relentless, snitching thorn in my side.

    Tom was livid, to say the least. Hours stretched by as he raged on about how I was too good for her, and how our upstanding, worldly kind shant meddle with those of such poor social quality—this from someone who hadn’t even bothered a request to meet her.

    ‘You don’t even know her!’ I yelled in her defense, at the peak of the heated argument.

    ‘I don’t need to know her, Meric! These paupers are all the same; ever snarling after that which they couldn’t possibly earn, nor understand. The last thing we need is a diluting of our bloodline, simply because you lack the confidence to court a proper lady.’

    ‘She’s a friend, father. I’m allowed to have friends, am I not?’

    ‘For now! Next thing I know, she’ll be swelled with your bastards seed in her poverty-stricken womb. How could a Bishop dare show his face in the public eye with such shame besmirched upon our good name?’

    ‘If you knew her, you would not say such ghastly things, father.’

    ‘Neither do I want to know the little harlot.’

    Upon such a repugnant insult, I straightened my posture, fists balled at my side and ready to defend her honor, innocent and pure as it were.

    ‘Know your place, boy, and you best remove that obstinate gleam in your eyes, lest I do it for you.’ his spine straightened, and only then did I realize just how intimidating he could be when his stature was threatened. ‘You are forbidden to see her again, you hear me?’

    ‘I hear you.’ I replied, jaw clenched in anger. ‘I hear the words of a blind old fool, ignorant and terrified of how others will see him.’

    Standing up to my father was out of my character. Though I’m sure it hurt him more than I, as I could see the hurt in his eyes, this was the first and only time I was physically reprimanded. He was so used to seeing me as this fragile thing, I don’t think he ever thought himself capable of causing me strife in such ways. Whether I was in the wrong or not was debatable depending on perspective, I suppose. Nevertheless, there was a lingering bitterness that would echo through our remaining time together, which was unfortunately not very long.

    Despite Edward’s assurance that it was for my own good, I suddenly realized just how alike they truly were. Rather than argue my point to win over their ignorance, it was simply easier to let them be who they needed to be. For the first time in my life, I found myself counting the days until they would once again leave on one of their business excursions, that I may be free to live my life as I saw fit.

    Unfortunately, my counting came to an end rather quickly, just not in the form I had expected.

    Edward informed me later that night that we were to travel to Whitechapel the day after next to attend one of my father’s infamous richest-snobs-in-the-world dinner parties. Though I wanted to fight to stay behind, I feared Tom would lash out in my noncompliance. Considering that the outing was to only last a few days, I let it be. Upon my submission, I was ordered to venture into town with Edward to purchase new dress robes for the occasion, as I had outgrown my more expensive attire.

    Travelling into town by horseback, I shifted restlessly to get comfortable and feared that if the horses were spooked in any way I could fall from my saddle, and in turn worsen my recovery, or what little remained of it. I had just gotten used to not requiring a cane to get around, and what remained of my limp was hardly noticeable. It looked as though the strange and excruciating medical anomaly never even happened, thought the mental scars would never truly heal.

    As we traveled, I kept a lookout for any sign of Jordan. I knew that a confrontation between her and Edward would be disastrous, to say the least. Arriving at the local clothier, we tied our horses off and headed toward the front door. I took one last glance over my shoulder, and having seen no sign of her, I breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the shop.

    ‘We should have ordered you something from Paris.’ He grimaced, straightening the collar of the umpteenth shirt I had tried on, not one satisfactory to Edward’s impossibly high standards. ‘Slim pickings amongst the commoners, I’m afraid. But seeing as we hadn’t the foresight to predict the spontaneity of your invitation, I suppose these will have to do.’

    He spoke above his normal volume of voice to ensure that the shopkeeper would overhear as we sorted through his selection of what I considered to be more than adequate robes.

    I stood agitated and uncomfortable before a dressing mirror, the memory of my disciplinary beating still fresh in my mind as Edward continued to insult the shopkeeper. I took a moment to compose myself, taking a good, long look at my reflection. For the first time in a long while, I was pleased with what I saw. My eyes weren’t nearly as sunken as they had once been, and I looked relatively healthy. My skin had rejuvenated back to a smooth, healthy tan, but my long blonde hair looked very out of place while wearing the dress robes. It appeared as though I had taken on some of Jordan’s physical characteristics. Nevertheless, it was clear the sickly boy had grown to a healthy man, strong and confident. I barely recognized myself, in all honesty.

    ‘What would you do without me?’ Edward queried as he tied back my hair.

    ‘I hate dressing fancy.’ I tugged on my collar and watched Edward inspecting my reflection in the mirror.

    ‘A bath and a shave and I dare say that you might indeed pass as a gentleman, if you can manage to keep your less than pertinent mannerisms at bay.’

    ‘You do realize you hurt people by speaking so disrespectfully, yet you have the audacity to speak of my manners?’

    ‘I’m afraid I lack the ability to care, cousin. I haven’t the time to consider anyone but myself.’ He sighed, indifferent.

   ‘Clearly. You could have defended me back at the house, you know. Why do I get the feeling that you simply go along with everything my father says? Whatever happened to having your brother's back?’

    ‘We mustn’t keep up pretenses, Meric. We are not brothers—we are cousins, as you well know; and while we’re on the subject, I see no reason why one’s blood relations should determine one’s perspective, though I am rather fond of our little talks.’

    I guess this was the closest to a touching moment I could expect from such a cruel-minded individual. In a hurry to speed up the process, I agreed to Edward’s choice of dress and began changing back into my comfortable clothes. Suddenly, the ringing of a bell alerted there was another customer in the shop. Peering through the thin slats of the change room doors, I could see Jordan surveying the shop in search of me, and my heart skipped a beat. Fortunately, she hadn’t yet roamed about the forest, and lacked her usual dirt smudges, her dress still white, thankfully not a single stain.

    As Edward stood at the counter, holding a bank note, he caught a glance of her and his expression turned sickly. At her cleanliest, she was still considered less than worthy, speaking volumes of his character, as far as I was concerned.

    Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and hoped that she would not spot me, but recognizing my clothes hanging over the door, she made her way to the changing booths.

    ‘Meric, might I have a word?’ Her high-pitched voice sounded slightly worrisome, but she had no idea why I had been so worried.

    ‘Not now, Jordan,’ I whispered through gritted teeth, ‘Edward is at the counter. Hurry back out before he sees . . .’ but it was too late.

    ‘So, you’re the little mud pie my cousin has been gallivanting around with in my absence?’ His less than impressed eyes scanned her from head to toe, then back to her chest. ‘Not a bad set on her, Meric, but I’m afraid she’s got a bit of wear and tear.’

    ‘Edward, hold your tongue!’ My stern tone wasn’t something he was accustomed to hearing, but rather than creating a confrontation, he simply smiled haughtily and bowed out of the conversation, but I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.

    ‘Word has reached me that your father has forbade you to speak to me.’

    ‘Well, they won’t be around for much longer, I assure you. After this trip to Whitechapel, I’m sure they’ll be on their way again, and out of my hair. I’ll speak with you then.’

    ‘The hell you will!’ Edward had obviously been eavesdropping, even from the beginning of the conversation. ‘You know damn well what will happen if you continue seeing her. Your father warned you—’

    ‘To hell with my father and his rules.’ I stood firm, but Edward seemed overly offended.

    ‘You will not speak of your own blood in such ways, most certainly not in view of the public eye. Might I remind you of just how speedily word can travel in such a small town.’ Turning to Jordan, Edward tossed a coin to the floor with the utmost arrogance. ‘There, now be on your way. I’m sure that’ll do for a bath and a meal.’ His tone could not have been more offensive if he tried.

     Jordan’s jaw was dropped, not quite processing just how rude a boy he truly was.

    ‘Run along now—don’t you have begging to do—’ Jordan raised her hand to slap him, but Edward, clearly accustomed to insulting the opposite gender, anticipated the strike and caught her by the wrist.

    ‘Come now; we mustn’t act like animals. Although, sauntering into a men’s establishment does speak volumes. She’s a feisty one, Meric—’ Catching her other hand in mid-swing, his eyes suddenly turned sinister. With a sharp twist of her arms, he forced her to the floor, a malevolent grin forming as the shop seemed to darken in contrast.

    ‘Blood and shit do not mix, you filth. He’s too good for you. Now, crawl back to whatever shite hole from whence you came.’

    Jordan trembled as I pushed him away from her. Suddenly, he snapped out of his mood as he became aware that others had entered the shop and our conversation was no longer private. As I helped her up, he cleared his throat and straightened his collar.

    ‘These are private matters, and we will address them as such.’ He condescendingly whispered even though it was clearly his own behavior that was drawing attention.

    ‘Then I suggest you keep your nose out of my business whilst we finish our conversation.’ I insisted, still flabbergasted and wide-eyed at the manner in which he spoke to my dearest friend. With a menacing look, he ducked away, pretending quite obviously that he wasn’t associated with either of us and proceeded to sneak out the door.

    ‘I . . . I’m sorry. Usually, he’s not so—’

    ‘Evil?’ Her shocked expression did not waver. ‘There’s something very wrong with that boy, Meric—something . . . unnatural.’

    ‘Well, if you understood his upbringing, then maybe you would see . . .’ I saw the hurt in her eyes and stopped myself from continuing. ‘I shouldn’t be defending him.’ I sighed. ‘I shall deal with him later. In the meantime, I’ll only be gone a couple days, so we can finish this conversation then. Might I suggest using the rear exit?’

      ‘Don’t go, Meric—please!’

    ‘What are you talking about?’ I inquired with a slight chuckle, as I was convinced she wasn’t quite serious. ‘I fear you will not return to Warwickshire if you leave. Please stay?’ Unsure of what to make of her request, I lowered my gaze.

    ‘My father is quite insistent. I’m afraid he’s in no mood to be trifled with.’ Turning, I lifted my shirt and showed her the fresh lashes still lifted and swollen from my flesh. She gasped, holding her hand to her lips.

    ‘What did you do to deserve such punishment?’

    ‘Nothing of consequence; the matter is closed, that’s what counts.’ I lied, not having the heart to reveal that defending her honor had been the cause. ‘We’ll talk when I return.’

    She nodded, lowering her eyes and turning toward the rear of the store, taking my advice to avoid another encounter with Edward.     

    ‘I will return, Jordan. You have my word.’

    She nodded again, not quite believing my genuine word as she hung her head low and vacated the store. Once the newly purchased robes were secured in my saddle bag, Edward and I headed home. We had barely traveled a furlough when my anger got the better of me, and I couldn’t help but lash out at the source.

    ‘Next time I want your opinion, I will bloody well ask for it!’

   ‘Will you put your selfish needs behind you? We have made quite the name for ourselves in this town, and we will not have you dragging that name through the mud by fraternizing with the help.’

    ‘First of all, you’re not even a Bishop, so your name is not on the line, get it straight. And second, I believe it is up to me—and me alone to decide what to do with my own damn legacy, and despite your narrow mindset when it comes to anything you deem beneath you, you could at least have the decency to respect my choices.’

    ‘My mother is your father’s sister; she changed her last name when she wed. I am as much a Bishop as you are, Meric. You haven’t been helping build the family fortune the last few years, as I have. We are building a brand, can you not see? Your father has spent his entire career securing a vast fortune, shaking hands with all who would advance our goals, flourishing a dynasty for you, Cousin!’

    ‘For me?’ I scoffed.

    ‘You really are thick at times, I swear it.’ He shook his head. ‘If not for you, then who? What possible reason would he have to keep building his fortune? He already has more than enough to retire many times over.’

    ‘I would think he would leave his fortune to you, the clear favorite.’ I shrugged my shoulders.

    ‘The business world is cold and merciless. I am rightly suited for it, I’m sure you can agree. That is the potential he sees in me, where my own father left me penniless, out of options and cursed to the workhouses, like your little side piece.’

     ‘She’s not—’

    ‘Then you have the sheer audacity to tell him to go to hell, in public no less? All the man ever did to you was secure a future of limitless possibility.’

    ‘I—I guess I never really thought of it that way. I mean, how could I when neither of you will speak to me in such terms?’

    ‘I thought it common knowledge, as does your father. He sees a bright future, where I push the numbers, and you wreak the benefits. All you have to do is shut up and do what is requested of you, and the world will be handed over on a silver platter.

    ‘Now, put yourself in his shoes for a brief moment. You spend your life providing the best possible future for your only son, and not only does he not appreciate it, but naively cannot see when an outsider threatens to rob you blind.’

    ‘She has no interest in my money, Edward.’

    ‘This is not about the girl, if you’d take your mind off her for three seconds. This about what you show the world—how you present yourself.’

    ‘What does appearance have to do with anything?’

    ‘Appearance is everything, Meric. People can only possibly know what you show them, and right now, you are telling your father that you care not for his efforts, and are willing to throw it all away for your self-proclaimed nobility and a piece of poverty-stricken booty. The specifics of your relationship with the girl are irrelevant, because this is what you are showing him. Then you call him an ignorant and blind man—someone who’s literally traveled the world and has seen just about everything it has to offer. Then you’re all shocked that he was forced to discipline you. If it were me I would have used a club.’ He laughed.

    Then, as his thoughts seemed to wander, a more serious demeanor seized his eyes, a brief moment of sadness that turned the mood of the conversation from anger to empathy.

    ‘If it were my father . . . he probably would have killed me.’ A slight glistening suddenly formed over his eyes, but only a moment, the closest to actual human emotion Edward had ever revealed. In that moment, I thought perhaps he wasn’t as cold-blooded as he led on. ‘Though, I do applaud your rebellious spirit, make no mistake,’ He cleared his throat. ‘I dare say you are coming along nicely.’ He managed a smirk trying to pull the thoughts of his sadistic father from his mind.

     A moment of silence lingered as my thoughts grew heavy. Perhaps I was being unreasonable, I tried to reason.

    ‘Tell me something: have you even considered what would happen to your little friend if you push this too far? Do you not realize that your father is quite ready to have her moved to another orphanage, clear across the country—that he has the power and wealth to make that happen? Now, he is giving you the benefit of the doubt, I suggest you do not take that for granted.’

   Hearing the potential plans that Father had for Jordan, I suddenly grew aware of just how well connected Tom Vaughn Bishop truly was. A simple telegram and a donation could move my only real friend far from my reach. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and attempted to put behind me the insulting manner in which he had treated my closest friend, and the heated debate that followed.

    ‘You are of high class, cousin. You have a vast family fortune awaiting you, you are young, and you carry the Bishop’s dashing good looks. You could have your pick of the litter in this town, if you so desired. Why settle for a future streetwalker?’ 

    ‘You really are a horses ass.’ I remarked with a more playful note. 

    Straightening his collar jauntily, he stretched his spine in an elegant manner. 

    ‘Perhaps . . . but, a horse’s ass with style, nonetheless.’ He winked, and slicked back his hair. ‘Now cheer up. I have some good news that will help make you forget all about . . . what’s-her-notch.’


    ‘Who?’ he looked puzzled. 

    ‘She has a name, Edward. And we’re simply friends; is that not allowed?’ 

    Rolling his eyes he cut me off, knowing full well his news would distract my thoughts. 

    ‘Lewis Carroll will be attending the party in Whitechapel.’ 

    The statement was certainly unexpected, and instantly quieted all past aggression. 

    ‘The Lewis Carroll?’ I asked in disbelief. 

   ‘I don’t know why you get so excited about Carroll. There will be other famed writers at the party—authors who are much more distinguished and talented.’

    This was indeed exciting news, and I was not going to allow Edward’s sour attitude dampen my spirit about the endeavor. The author of my favorite childhood literary piece would be attending the event; the one book that somehow connected me to a maternal ghost, and equally fictional, I was sure. I knew the story so well, I could recite it like clockwork, blindfolded and half asleep. I knew that meeting the famous author would solve no mystery, specifically as to whom had mailed the book to me all those years ago, but I was thrilled nonetheless. 

    ‘And how is it, exactly, that my father just happens to know these people?’

    ‘He is member of the Order.’ 

    ‘I’m sorry . . . the Order?’ 

    ‘The Order of the Golden Dawn. You weren’t supposed to know of its existence for a few years, but seeing as you have compelled your father to bring you along in an attempt to keep you from that orphan wench, I suppose there’s no harm in revealing what you will discover soon enough.’ 

    ‘What is it exactly, a famous people’s club?’

    ‘Something like that.’ Edward shifted in his seat. ‘It is an exclusive and covert organization. The existence of the Order has remained a secret for generations, and must remain so. Virtually anyone of note in England is a member, either directly or through association.’

    Although I was unsure of what I was getting myself into, my excitement built with the prospect of meeting Lewis Carroll.

    When we returned home and entered the front door, we couldn’t help but overhear a heated argument that was taking place in my father’s study. Strange as there was no carriage waiting in the wraparound drive. Curious as to what was going on, I paused at the bottom of the stairs, trying to listen to the conversation.

    ‘Who’s he arguing with?’ the voice sounded raspy and congested, haughty with a bitterly hateful tone.

    ‘I haven’t the foggiest. Perhaps it’s something in the water.’ He smiled.

    Approaching the stairs to hear more clear, Edward seized my arm, warning me not to proceed any farther.

    ‘I suggest you keep to yourself, Meric. Your father’s business is his own.’

    A door abruptly swung open, slamming hard against the wall when the argument carried out into the second floor hallway. We could clearly see the upstairs foyer, and I was surprised to see that my father appeared rather unkempt. His hair was messy and his collar loose. He had never looked so flustered, not even during the previous night’s screaming match. Whoever this person was, they had really gotten to him. As a dark figure turned the corner and became visible, my lungs suddenly felt as though they were collapsing, and I held my chest, breathing steadily as I tried to calm my nerves.

    ‘What the hell is that thing?’

    ‘I suggest you keep your distance, cousin. You want no part in this, trust me.’ His worrisome glare was genuinely protective, which only disturbed me further.

    A hunchbacked old hag turned her gaze from atop the stairs, staring directly at me through a black, lacy veil, covering her ghostly complexion. Behind the veil were furious blackened eyes—that was all there was to them; no iris, no whites, just utter blackness. Her face was pale and gaunt, sagging and loose. She inspected the two boys at the base of the stairs for only a moment, and then turned to resume her argument with my father.

    Her voice was much more masculine than I had expected; it was a deep raspy voice that sounded as though she had a serious lung infection.

    ‘D’Onston has called the Order out. I care not for the condition of your weakling son. You have had more than enough time for preparation. The ritual will not be postponed any longer.’

    ‘You will hold your tongue in the presence of my family, hag!’ With my father’s demand, she seemingly grew taller, as though she could lose her hunch at will, merely by straightening her posture, which gained her a good eight inches by doing so. Approaching him, she bore her teeth like a beast, snarling at his face as though she were threatening to bite his head off.  Unexpectedly, my father yielded as I stood frozen in fear—voice caught in my throat. Though he would not be moved, his repulsed glare moved from her.

    ‘I will be there as soon as possible. Surely, it wouldn’t have killed him to wait until the morrow.’

    As the hag turned, she descended the staircase, and I instinctively backed away behind a conjoining wall, noticing the eerie manner in which she moved, gliding down the stairs as though she had no feet beneath her black robes. My father followed her down and stopped at the front door to personally escort her out.

    ‘And tell D’Onston to keep his scum away from my family!’

   Cackling loudly, the front door opened, the knob turning of its own accord. Then, she glided out of the house like a malevolent spirit, leaving a trail of despair thick in the air behind her. I stretched my neck to witness her leave, needing affirmation that she was indeed gone, but the ghostly hag had somehow vanished out of sight—seemingly consumed by the sunlight itself. A small cloud of black smoke blew on the breeze and into the house. My father approached the door, waving the mysterious cloud back outside as if it repulsed him to his core.

    The door was slammed shut, so hard I thought the glass panes within would shatter. Father engaged the lock, leaned his back against its wooden surface, and hung his head in both relief and frustration.

    ‘Meric, come out where I can see you, boy.’

    Stepping into the foyer, I noted the expression of dismay upon his face. He dabbed the sweat from his brow and addressed us both with a note of worry in his voice.

    ‘Listen to me carefully, boys. Time is of the essence. You must pack your things quickly and meet me out front in no less than five minutes. We leave for Whitechapel immediately.’

    ‘But father, who was that—’

    ‘Never mind that. The time for childish grievance has passed. You are a man now, and as such, I implore you to trust me, and do what is requested of you.’  

     I gulped, apprehensive and fearful. Edward had already gone, not hesitating.

     ‘I—I’m sorry for . . . I mean, I didn’t mean to . . .’ My voice was caught behind my tongue, but I wanted to apologize for what I said the other night. Though I couldn’t find the words, he seemed to already know.

    ‘I know, son. No words spoken in anger are permanent among family.’ He grasped my upper arm and glared into my glistening eyes. ‘But this is a conversation for another time. For now, we best get a move on.’ He checked his pocket watch. ‘Better make that four minutes.’

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