The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale RetoldRegina Doman
Books by Regina Doman
The Fairy Tale Novels
The Shadow of the Bear: A Fairy Tale Retold
Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold
Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold
The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold
Angel in the Waters
Edited by Regina Doman:
Catholic, Reluctantly: John Paul 2 High Book One
by Christian M. Frank
Trespasses Against Us: John Paul 2 High Book Two
By Christian M. Frank
Awakening: A Crossroads in Time Book
By Claudia Cangilla McAdam
Text copyright 2008 by Regina Doman
With the exception of excerpts from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, copyright 1908, 1954 by Charles Schribner’s Sons.
2008 cover design and interior by Regina Doman
P.O. Box 949
Front Royal, Virginia
Printed in the United States of America
To my very own siblings,
Alicia, Martin, David, Jessy,
John, Paul, Maria, Joseph, and Anna
So glad to have all of you.
This one’s for you.
Paul felt a prickle in his spine as he set down his duffle bag at the airstrip. That usually made him think that something significant was going to happen. Most of the time, it was only his imagination, but occasionally, the prickle was right, so he paid attention. For a while, he kept glancing up at the other soldiers, officers, and Middle Eastern allied military that sporadically passed him by, wondering what it could mean.
Maybe he was about to meet someone. His heart skipped a bit eagerly at the thought, though by now—he was twenty-three years old—he had experienced enough heartache to not be completely optimistic. And there didn’t seem to be any winsome girls strolling around the Army base terminal in this Middle Eastern desert. He tried to put the thought aside, but given his personality, he knew it would be difficult to do.
Who knows? Maybe she’s inside the terminal, frustrated that her flight’s gotten delayed, and she’s on her way outside to catch some rays... That elusive she. He shook his head to dispel the thought. Better focus on getting ready for med school in the fall. Only a few more weeks till your tour of duty’s up…only a few more “fews” left to go!
Still, he sighed as he pulled out his flute case. He was settling himself for a long wait. Another military delay meant that their flight wouldn’t be happening for an hour.
He watched the heat shimmering in hypnotic waves over the desert sand as he assembled his slim silver instrument. There weren’t many people outside now—just the other guys in his squad leaning against their bags and dozing off in the hot sunshine, hats over their eyes, earplugs in, listening to music or Armed Forces Radio broadcasts.
One officer was standing a short distance from him, leaning on a railing and staring out at the desert, apparently lost in thought. When Paul began blowing softly into his flute, the officer turned with surprise and smiled—an older man, ruddy-faced, wearing his ACUs, with a black eagle on his uniform, marking him as a full-bird colonel. He listened for a moment, then turned back to the desert and his own solitude, and pulled out his wallet. Paul could tell he was still listening, and encouraged, felt his way through the melody, making it up as he went along.
Then he heard the sound.
He opened his eyes and lowered his flute at the whistling sound starting in the distance. But too quickly he recognized the high-pitched scream.
“Incoming!” he and two other squad members shouted simultaneously. As Paul threw himself face forward on the ground, he barely registered the colonel turning away from the railing as something exploded against the concrete wall of the terminal.
There was a bright light, confusion and pandemonium, but the members of Paul’s squad went into action immediately. Paul, who had been knocked over by the explosion, scrambled to his feet and half-hobbled, half-sprinted to the colonel. The officer was moaning, lying in a twisted position against the wall of the air terminal sprinkled with concrete dust and debris. Paul and another infantryman pulled him back away from the smoking mass the mortar round had left.
“Medic!” the infantryman yelled as the other members of Paul’s squad hurried around him.
“On it!” Paul was already checking the man’s vital signs. The officer was still in obvious pain, clutching his arm and breathing fast. Paul pulled out his medic’s kit and focused on the wounded man. His color was good, he was breathing okay. “What’s your name, sir?”
“Durham. Colonel Robert Durham, Internal Affairs.”
“You in pain?”
“Think I landed on it when I fell,” the man grunted.
Paul did a check of the man’s limbs and quickly discovered that his left arm was indeed broken. “Anything else hurting?” He put on his stethoscope and took a quick listen to the man’s lungs, then tried to ascertain if there were any other injuries.
“Just my arm.”
Paul glanced around. Apparently the colonel was the only victim of the mortar round: everyone else had cleared the vicinity.
“I’m going to try to splint your arm, sir, okay?”
But as soon as he started to lift the arm, the colonel gasped in pain. “Hold on, just a moment, sir,” Paul said, pulling a pen from his pocket. Probing for the right spot, he pressed it gently and firmly in the indentation of the man’s upper ear, an acupressure point for pain. The colonel’s panic seemed to subside. Paul carefully set the broken arm in a splint and wrapped it with an ace bandage.
“My wallet…” the colonel said. “I had it out when I fell…”
Paul glanced around and saw the wallet lying on the ground, its contents scattered around him. Getting to his feet, he retrieved it. “Is this it sir?”
“Yes, it is,” Colonel Durham said, and feebly tried to take it with his good arm.
“Don’t move,” Paul said. “Let me put it back together for you.” He replaced the ID cards, money, and photographs. There was a prayer card with a wooden cross glued to it, and Paul brushed the debris off it and gave it a quick kiss of reverence before replacing it.
“You a Christian, corporal?” the colonel asked.
“Yup. Catholic, actually,” Paul said.
“Hmph,” the colonel said. He tried to look up. “They doing a QRF?”
Paul glanced around. One member of the squad was busy calling in a 9-line MEDIVAC report for the colonel’s injury, and his squad leader was organizing the other members. “Yes sir, looks like they’re going to go check out the fence line to see if they can get a shot at the OPFOR who shot off that round.”
“Hope we get them before they hit us again,” the colonel said, twisting around.
“Hope so too, sir. Just relax. We’ll get you transport out of here.” Paul decided to keep the colonel conscious and relaxed as long as possible. “Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, are these all your kids?”
The officer glanced up at the photo Paul was holding. “They are now,” he said. “Plus two more, both boys. That’s our wedding photo. Sallie and I each brought six kids into the marriage.”
“Six kids—each?” Paul looked closely at the photo and counted. In the photo, Colonel Durham stood next to a woman in a simple white dress, and two rows of six girls flanked them. “Twelve?”
The colonel cocked his head. “It’s a bit unusual,” he said. “My first wife died in a car accident. About a year later, our c
hurch was raising money for a woman whose husband died in a construction accident. She had six daughters too. That struck me, so I asked our pastor if he could put me in touch with her. Five years ago, we were married.”
“Wow,” Paul said. “What a great story! My own parents have eight kids. Trying to fit eight kids into a split-level growing up was uh—an experience! But fourteen: that must be crazy! But fun,” he added.
“Well, it’s definitely crazy,” the colonel admitted with a sigh.
At last Paul spotted a medic humvee coming towards them and breathed a sigh of relief. Paul’s squad sergeant was hurrying over to him.
The colonel didn’t answer, but Paul answered for him, “A broken arm, but I think he’s okay otherwise.”
“I meant you, corporal.”
Paul blinked and looked down. There was blood spreading over his pants leg, and he was suddenly aware of a throbbing pain in his thigh. His adrenaline rush must have masked it. “Uh, yeah, I guess I’ll need some treatment.”
“Where’s your flute, corporal?”
Paul, who had been dozing in his hospital bed, woke up with a start to find the colonel staring down at him, grinning, his arm in a sling. He returned the smile a bit faintly.
“I’m not sure, actually. I think my squad leader got my stuff,” Paul said, trying to sit up.
“At ease, soldier. I just wanted to come by and see the medic who helped get me through that close call. God bless you,” he shook his head. “They said you took some shrapnel to the leg.”
“Yeah, but they think I’ll be all right.” Paul said. “Lucky it missed the joint. If I can rest through the spring, I’ll be fine by the summer.”
“They sending you back stateside?”
“Yes sir. My tour of duty was almost up. And you?”
“I’m thinking it’s time for me to take the early retirement option.” The colonel laughed and sat down in the chair by Paul’s bed. “So where’d you learn to play the flute?”
“Oh, in college. A few friends and I had a juggling group. We used to go to festivals to juggle, and I learned so that I had something to play along in the background.”
“Sounds like a fun job.”
“It was, actually. If I recoup all right, I’m going to do some more of that this summer.”
“Now,” the colonel said in a fatherly tone, “I hope the army’s preparing you to do more than just juggle.”
“Well, I do acrobatics and aikido as well.” Paul couldn’t help saying. He grinned. “Sorry, that was a joke. No, juggling’s just a hobby. Actually, the Army’s paying for me to go to medical school. I’ll start in the fall.”
“Oh, really? Good for you. But if you’re pre-med, I’m surprised they didn’t place you in a medical core.”
“Well, I sort of liked being in a squad, you know? A bit more action. Plus my specialty is emergency medicine.”
“I can say you did a good job there. By the way, what was that you were doing in my ear that stopped the pain?”
“Acupressure points. I’ve been interested in acupuncture and Eastern medicine since high school. I’d like to get training in Eastern and Western medicine and use both in my practice.”
“Some would say there are profound differences between the two systems that make them incompatible,” the man said cautiously.
Paul shrugged. “I just don’t buy the whole Eastern versus Western divide. Human beings live in both places, and they all need healing.”
“Hmph,” the colonel said, “Well, that’s an interesting take on things. I wish you well in your recovery. Hope your folks weren’t too worried about you when they heard about your injury.”
“They’re glad I’m all right. And your family, sir?”
“Sallie thinks it’s God intervening on her behalf to get me back home to Maryland. I’ve been saying for the last couple years that I needed to stay stateside for a while. Our girls are mostly teenagers by now, and it’s probably better if I’m there to help out with the parenting.” He looked a bit gloomy.
“Sounds like a big job, handling a dozen teenagers,” Paul said, since the man had fallen silent.
“It is. You know, teenaged girls. Typical.” He changed the subject. “So, are you going to juggle at any festivals this summer?”
“Yes, actually,” Paul said. “My friends are all trying to hold down real jobs now, so I’m the only one left who can still do it. And the organizers at the Bayside Colonial Festival in Maryland wanted me to come back. So that’s where I’ll be going.”
“Bayside, Maryland?” The colonel looked surprised. “That’s our town!”
“Really?” Paul said. “Great little town. Right on the Chesapeake Bay, too.”
The colonel beamed as he stood up. “It is a great town,” he said, pulling a card out of his wallet. “Look us up when you get there and come visit.”
“Thanks! I’ll look forward to it.” Paul took the card.
Rachel Durham heard the voice distantly, but it was still far enough away to ignore. She had time. Chances were that Sallie would find another sister to help before thinking to call her oldest stepdaughter again.
So Rachel continued to lean out of the kitchen door and look down the lawn over the trees sloping to the bay. Soon the night would come. The wind was making flurries of ripples on the water, and the summer sunset was simmering off in the west, leaving a streak of pink like a road that seemed to be beckoning her to follow.
If only I could run away right now, she thought. The breeze was alluring, refreshing, and inside the house was stale and stifling, even in the air conditioning. She wanted to run through the woods and go down to the water, just to sit on a rock out in the bay. Just a taste of freedom…
She whirled around. “What?”
The kitchen door slapped shut behind her, trapping her back in the light and noise and routine of the household. “Look at Jabez!” The sound of Sallie’s voice cut through her senses as Rachel’s eyes adjusted to the brightness of the kitchen. Her stepmother, thin blond hair falling out of a ponytail, was pointing into the pantry with one hand like a condemning Old Testament prophet. Her other hand was clutching a basket full of laundry.
Rolling her eyes, Rachel looked into the pantry, and then grimaced. Eighteen-month old Jabez was sitting on the floor, with one chubby hand poked shoulder deep into a container of bread flour. Hearing his name, he raised his eyes, puckered over with brown stubs of eyebrow. His baby mouth was a round O. “Am I not supposed to be doing this?” his gaze clearly said.
“Please get him cleaned up!” Sallie said brusquely. “And finish the kitchen.”
“The kitchen is finished!” Rachel said incredulously, looking around at the enormous room with its historical stone fireplace and newly-installed cabinets and appliances. The dishes were drip-drying on the countertop, while her sisters busied themselves with a few final chores.
“Why weren’t you girls watching Jabez?” Sallie retorted, instead of apologizing.
“Maybe because we were too busy doing the kitchen,” Rachel muttered, throwing down her towel and leaning down to get her baby brother. Sallie exited the kitchen, calling for the twins to come and get the laundry.
“Bad baby,” Rachel pronounced, prying Jabez’s hands gently off the flour container and tucking him under her arm like a sack. The pantry was a mess, but, she decided, that wasn’t her problem. She was the oldest sister in the house: she could delegate.
Since seventeen-year-old Miriam, the second-in-command, was drying dishes, and Liddy and Becca were sweeping the floors, Rachel made up her mind that cleaning up the pantry was Prisca’s job. But the fifteen-year old sister was nowhere to be seen. Prisca’s goofing off, as usual.
Gritting her teeth, Rachel tried to diffuse her irritation by talking to Jabez. “Bad boy, bad boy,” she chanted as she dusted him off, and he chuckled at her. She pressed a small kiss on his head,
and he gleefully shoved both fists into her face, exuberantly careless in his affection. She sighed, appreciating his small-scale male energy in a house with so many girls.
“Got to put you to bed,” Rachel said, putting him under her arm again. “And find the slacker.”
She caught sight of herself in the mirror over the sideboard and half-smiled. She had skin with a touch of olive, mahogany hair and bright blue-green eyes she was quite proud of. Rachel Durham was attractive, and she knew it.
Whooshing a laughing Jabez along in her arms, she turned a corner to look into the side parlor. Her youngest sister Debbie was vacuuming, but no sign of Prisca. She turned another corner to go check the library. Sometimes Rachel was happy to be living in a rambling historical house, but at times like this, she wished there were less nooks and crannies where siblings skipping chores could hide.
Jabez was getting heavy, and he was about to start whining. Looking around for someone to take him, Rachel spotted Cheryl in the downstairs bathroom, leaning against the side of the shower wall, almost hidden by the curtain.
Her oldest stepsister was supposed to be cleaning, but Rachel guessed, from the bend of her head and the light glinting off her glasses, that she was reading a book. Cheryl was six months younger, and very different from Rachel: a nervous, insecure, dreamy type who was chronically disorganized.
Rachel’s policy was to use a soft touch when it came to Sallie’s daughters. In their blended family, there were enough problems without looking for more. Keeping her mouth shut, Rachel walked past the bathroom, getting more and more irritated with Prisca every moment.
Moving Jabez onto her shoulders, Rachel hurried up the steps to the girls’ bedroom on the top floor. “Pris—CA!” she bellowed.
Her fifteen-year-old sister was crouched over on the lower bunk of her bed, reading a magazine, which she immediately rolled over to hide. “What?” Prisca said defensively.
“The kitchen floor’s not mopped,” Rachel said.