While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments.
What can I say about “Kismet” that hasn’t been said? You can read all about the story’s different incarnations in earlier blog posts.
Here, the story takes place in the past as far back as 1981 and as recent as 2006. A diary from the past warns Addison Taylor about her future. However, it is Christmas and she is too busy with her recent marriage and problems at work to worry about a book whose author is certainly delusional. But when she and her husband hike Myers Ridge, the diary’s warnings become real. Will she and her husband change the past to protect their future together?
“Kismet” is the fourth story installment of the Ridgewood Chronicles and The Green Crystal Stories—eerie tales set in and around the town of Ridgewood, PA.
“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells
Prologue: February 27, 1981
Nine-year-old Sara Holcomb stood behind the wheelchair and with small fingers, worked braids in the woman’s long red hair.
“Don’t move, Jane,” she said. “I’m almost done.”
Slumped in her oversized chair, Jane Doe stared ahead, out through the large bay window at an early spring storm settling over Ridgewood. Beyond the snow-patched sloping lawn that ran a short soggy distance to a large black iron fence and busy street, cars and yellow school buses sloshed past, while kids in winter coats scurried around — and sometimes through — puddles of slush on their way to school. How she wished to be outdoors among them, to share their camaraderie, and not imprisoned to a wheelchair and this enormous Victorian house called Holcomb Manor.
Since her arrival three months ago, Jonathan Holcomb’s staff brought her here every morning to watch the traffic. Nurse Rachel hoped it would help bring back memories of her past and fill an empty mind that had become a blank slate. She was supposed to write down anything that looked familiar in the small but fat blue diary she held in her lap. But nothing about Holcomb Manor or its busy street looked familiar.
She tried with difficulty to remember something — anything — before awakening at the clinical research hospital in Philadelphia for coma patients. All she knew about herself — little as it was — had come the day she arrived here, from Jonathan Holcomb, a self-made millionaire from Pittsburgh who owned Holcomb Plastics located in several cities and towns in Pennsylvania.
“I like the Mayberry picturesqueness of Ridgewood over the other places I call home,” he had told her that day at his big shiny desk in his library.
He was a cigar-smoking, black-haired man in his early forties with smartly styled wavy hair. He had worn a shiny suit as dark as his steel-blue eyes that day, and a red silk tie that glistened bright against a white shirt.
“It was a Sunday, April, back in ’71. I was hiking Myers Ridge, looking for arrowheads and whatnot.” He smiled. “I’m an aggregator … a collector. Numismatist and philatelist, mostly.”
He spoke with an even, soothing voice while he gestured with clean white hands with manicured nails. Large gold rings on both hands suggested that he had attended several universities. Jane wondered why she associated the rings with academia.
“That’s when I found you unconscious and near death at the bottom of a ravine. Your legs were broken, so I fashioned a stretcher with my jacket and got you to my car where I drove you to the hospital. You were nearly ten years in a coma while the authorities tried to find out who you are. You had no identification.”
At this point, Jonathan paused and appeared to look at her the way an appreciator of art would appraise a valuable piece. Then he frowned, as though discovering a flaw. “Oddly,” he said, “your fingerprints have revealed nothing. You’re a living Jane Doe, which is why I call you Jane. No family has ever been found … that’s why the hospital released you to my care.”
He had never said I own you that day, and he didn’t have to. As long as she remained anonymous, she was his to have and to own.
The memory retreated. Outside, a sprinkling rain threatened to wash away the remaining snow. Beyond the fence, three redheaded girls in winter dress dashed along the sidewalk. Every weekday morning, she watched for the girls. They were probably sisters and, as her caregiver, Nurse Rachel had explained, on their way to school.
She wondered about her own childhood, and wondered if she had any siblings. If so, had any of them been as delightful as the youngest who always stopped at the fence and made faces at her?
She looked forward to making faces back at the girl until both broke out in laughter. The older girls never joined in. They were around Sara’s age, but Sara did not know them. She was homeschooled, after all.
Today the youngest hurried by, which saddened Jane. She withheld the sudden urge to weep. She would have time to cry later, alone in her bedroom.
Thunder sounded and the skylight outdoors darkened. Anxiety practically danced across her back, which made her shiver and tremble. Sudden flashes of lightning made her yelp and press the diary against her useless knees.
Pain stung the back of her head.
“Ouch,” she said. “That pulls.”
“All done,” Sara said triumphantly. She clapped her hands, which startled Jane. Then she shoved a small mirror into Jane’s hands.
Jane glanced at the unfamiliar image and wondered who the person in the mirror really was and why she was crippled. Every morning after Sara put in the braids and every night when Rachel undid them, she looked at those frightened green eyes and wondered whose they were.
She loathed the mirror that showed her as a haggard individual with sunken eyes surrounded by protruding cheekbones on a sickly thin face. Her pale skin made her crimson hair look that much brighter and redder. She shut her eyes to the haunting image and prayed to remember — demanded that God make her remember — who she was. Only by knowing, could she escape this place.
“I don’t like my hair long,” she decided.
“Is that a memory, Jane? Did you just remember something?” Sara sounded excited.
“I don’t know.” Jane handed Sara the mirror. “I suddenly wished I were a blonde, like you.”
Sara put the brush and rubber bands away in a small music box and snapped the lid closed before the waltz could start playing. “Ask Rachel and see if she’ll take you to the beauty salon in town. They sometimes have specials for old people.”
A tall, stout woman bustled into the room. Her white nylons made sandpaper noises. A nametag pinned to her white nurses’ uniform read RACHEL. “Finish getting ready for your trip, Sara,” she said. “Miss Johnson just pulled in the drive. I’ll take Miss Jane to the day room.”
“Where’s Sara going?” Jane asked.
“I’m going to New York City to see how they print and publish books,” Sara said before she skipped from the room.
“Miss Johnson, her teacher, owns a bookstore,” Rachel explained. “Sara chose author and book publisher as possible career choices for when she gets older. Mr. Jonathan was going to take her, but business has kept him away.”
Rachel pushed Jane across the manor’s grand hall to a cage-type elevator. From there, Jane watched one of the housekeepers answer the door. Miss Johnson folded away her umbrella, removed her coat and gave it to the olive-skin housekeeper, then hurried toward the library where Sara waited. When she passed Jane and Rachel waiting for the elevator, she ushered a friendly good morning to them.
A strong sense of familiarity jolted Jane and caused her to cry out. Dizziness overwhelmed her. A picture appeared in her mind. Miss Johnson sat in a dusty room, drinking tea and looking many years older, but still with her hair pulled in a bun.
She wondered and waited for more. But the image vanished as she heard Miss Johnson apologize for frightening her and Rachel saying it was okay. When her vision cleared of its smoky darkness, Rachel peered at her.
“Time for your medicine,” the nurse said and pulled the wheelchair into the elevator. When the gate closed and the platform began its slow ascent, Rachel asked, “Have you written in your book today, Miss Jane?”
Jane shook her head while the floor rumbled. It sounded like thunder and it did not help ease her anxiety.
“You need to write,” Rachel said. “Writing will help you remember.”
“Yes. I want to remember.”
The gate opened and Rachel wheeled Jane to a large, oak paneled room where tables, shelves, and a cabinet TV lined the walls.
“Why does Mr. Jonathan live in such a big house?” Jane said.
“This was his parents’ home.” Rachel parked Jane in front of a table stacked with magazines and boxes of jigsaw puzzles. “He grew up here, alone … no siblings, just like Sara.”
“What happened to his wife?”
“Mr. Jonathan never married.”
“Then how is Sara related?”
“Adopted. She was a sick child near death’s door. That’s why he hired me, to make her well.” Rachel picked up Jane’s diary. “And that’s what I intend to do with you, too.”
“Will Mr. Jonathan be back soon? There’s much I wish to ask him about the day he found me.”
“He may be another week. Right now he’s in Germany, taking care of business for the plastics plant he owns there.” Rachel opened the diary to a fresh page, unclipped a pen from the book’s front cover and handed it to Jane. “Whatever you remember, no matter how small, write it down,” she said. “I’ll be back with your medicine.” She turned and left.
Feeling alone and small in the large, dark room where thunder rumbled outdoors, Jane drew a large question mark on the blank page and waited for a memory to slip from the prison in her mind.