Upon hearing the thud, I rushed to Lenora’s side to check her. Experiencing firsthand the death of her family and finally hearing the words from Gunther was just too much of a shock for her system to handle this night. I did a levitation charm to get her to her bedroom where I could make her more comfortable. After that, it didn’t take me long to settle her onto her bed. Her eyes fluttered, opened, and then found mine. I reached for her hand and squeezed it.
“Mathilda,” she whispered in a desperate tone. “Is it true? I felt it, saw it, experienced it, but it has to be a dream. Tell me I’m only having a nightmare and Linc will be beside me in bed in the morning. Tell me my little boy is safe.”
If there was ever a time my heart ever shattered, it was now. Hearing Lenora clinging to a last shred of hope and knowing I had to be the final piece to destroy it hurt more than I can possibly express. I couldn’t lie to this poor woman though. She needed to know the truth so she wouldn’t hold onto a fantasy and to be able to allow herself to grieve. I also knew she’d be facing the darkest hours, days, and months of her life. She was alone now except for me, and I would be there for her to the best of my ability.
I bit my lip and heaved a deep, regretful sigh. “Sweetheart, this isn’t a dream. It’s true. Linc and Landon are gone. I’m so sorry, darling, so damned sorry.”
She let out a tremulous sigh and tears cascaded down her cheeks. I didn’t think the poor girl had anything left to cry, but apparently, I was wrong. I held her close and felt my own tears coming. I felt Linc and Landon’s loss but in a very different way than Lenora. It was still painful nonetheless, and seeing Lenora so broken only added more. There weren’t too many times in my life where I felt helpless and at a loss, but this was definitely one of them. I’d just have to wing it and take each day as it came. I’d have to clamp down on my own grief for the time being so I could take care of Lenora adequately.
I eased her back against the pillows and kissed her forehead. “Lenora, I’m going to get you something to help you sleep. You’re exhausted, and you’re going to need your strength over the next few days.” The only response from her was more tears.
I summoned my bag from downstairs and rummaged through it. I found the Flask of Sleep and uncorked the vial. I supported her and held the vial to her lips, and she drank it without arguing. I held her hand and sang softly to her while the elixir started to do its work. When Lenora relaxed into deep sleep, I dried the tears on her cheeks, and left to once again consult Gunther. I needed to know exactly what happened.
Lincoln and Landon’s Last Moments
“Wow, Dad! This is awesome!” Landon said as he rubbed his hands together. “I can’t wait to get up in the air.”Lincoln laughed as Landon skipped alongside him as they boarded the plane. “Well, one thing’s for sure. Your mother and Mathilda will be glad they missed this. Knowing the flight’s been delayed would have really peeved them off.”
“Yeah, I know,” Landon grinned. “Too bad Kyle couldn’t come.”
“I know how disappointed you were when Kyle got the flu the other day and couldn’t come with us after all. I’m sure he’ll get to come next time,” Lincoln said.
Landon sighed, then shrugged. “We’ll just have to bring him back some really cool stuff. Can I have the window seat?”
Landon was enthralled with everything. He grinned at his dad as they strapped themselves in for the ride. “I wish we could have talked to Ma one more time before we had to turn off the phone.”
“Me too. but she was still having dinner and speaking at that time. If I know your Ma, she’ll be there in our room by the time you wake up in the morning.”
“Yep,” Landon grinned. “I can’t wait.”
The flight took off without incident, and Landon chatted excitedly to Lincoln about how small everything looked from way up. “It’s kind of like that model of San Francisco we built together, isn’t it, Dad?”
“I suppose it is,” Lincoln agreed.
The flight went along smoothly for the first two hours, but then, engine failure would seal the fate of everyone aboard Sim Airlines Flight 1489. As the plane lost altitude, the cabin became depressurized, and the oxygen masks descended. As prescribed in the safety video, Lincoln got his mask on first and turned to help Landon. However, Landon already had his in place and reached for Lincoln’s hand.
As the other passengers started to cry and scream, Landon held tightly to his father’s hand. Father and son weren’t among the screamers, but their eyes were wide with fear at the realization that this could turn into a life threatening situation very quickly.
“Do you suppose they can get the plane going again?” Landon asked, his voice sounding muffled from the mask.
“I sure hope so, son. This isn’t exactly how I thought our trip would start off.” Lincoln tried to make light of it to keep Landon from becoming more frightened than he already was.
“Gosh, me either,” Landon said, taking a peek through the window. The plane was falling fast, and a large body of water was rising up to meet them. “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, Landon, so very, very much.” Lincoln wrapped his arms around his son and held him tight.
“Brace! Brace for impact! Heads down! Stay down!” a flight crew member commanded.
“Landon, get down!” Lincoln said briskly as he helped his son get into a bracing position. “Get your head as close as you can to the back of the seat in front of you.” Both of them hunched over as far as they could and clamped their hands over the backs of their heads.
“Dad, I’m scared. I’m so scared.” Big tears fell from Landon’s eyes. All he wanted right now was for him and his dad to be away from here. He wanted his Aunt Mathilda, but most of all, he wanted his mother. He wished with all his heart that it was just a dream and that his mother would come to comfort him as she always did. He wanted to feel her arms around him and hear her singing to him in her soft Irish lilt he loved so much.
He remembered having an assignment in school where his teacher made him write a short story. His turned out to be a bit longer than the teacher had specified, but he’d wanted to get it just right. It was about a beautiful queen he’d named Lenora after his mother. She’d had her little prince taken away by an evil demon and had to go rescue him. She conjured deadly poisoned apples to throw at the evil demon, she fought with a fiery sword, but mostly, she could wound the demon with her beautiful singing voice. In the end, she killed the evil demon with a strong, loud high note and then took her little prince home where she gave him all the chocolate ice cream he wanted. It was such a cheesy thing, and he hadn’t thought about it since he’d written it in second grade. His Ma had loved it though and got rather soppy when he’d named the queen after her. He knew he was too old and smart for such stories now, but that didn’t stop him from wanting his mother.
“So am I, son. So am I,” Lincoln said, bringing Landon back from his thoughts.
“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” Landon asked tearfully.
“I…I don’t know, Landon, but…I think so.” For a split second, Lincoln thought of lying to Landon and telling him they’d be fine, but this was no time for dishonesty. If they were going to die, he couldn’t go to his maker with a lie being one of the last things on his tongue.
“Ma. She won’t understand. Dad, I want to be with Ma. I’m so scared,” Landon choked out. He wanted to be with his mother, but now, his thoughts shifted to wanting to comfort her. He knew now she couldn’t rescue him and that he would never see her again until she came to where dead people went. Lenora was foremost in his mind, but all the images he now saw of her were ones of her crying for him. His own tears intensified, and he squeezed his eyes shut to try to block it out. He hated seeing his Ma cry.
A sob tore from Lincoln. “So do I, son. I want more than anything for us to be with your Ma where it’s safe. In time, she will understand. We have to believe that right now. All we can do now is try to make her feel our love.” What Lincoln wanted more than ever now was to hold his beautiful Lenora and kiss her warm lips. His fingers longed to stroke the soft golden strands of her hair and to see her loving blue eyes twinkle at him. He wanted to shield her from the pain he knew she would be feeling and to tell her it was going to be all right.
“Dad, I can feel her,” Landon said. “She’s here beside us, and she’s crying. Can’t you feel her?”“
Yes,” said Lincoln without hesitation. He could feel his Lenora beside them, and the anguish and despair was enough to crush him before the plane had a chance to.
“I love you, Ma. You’re the best mom ever. I don’t want to leave you. Wherever we are, I’ll wait for you,” Landon sobbed. “Please don’t cry, Ma.”
“I love you, Lenora. I’ll love you always. Don’t ever forget that,” Lincoln said, concentrating all the love he felt for his wife. “Landon, I love you, son.”
“Love you too, Dad,” Landon replied.
The water was close, so very close now. “Lenora!” Lincoln breathed his wife’s name an instant before the impact sent him into the next world.
“Oh, Ma!” Landon said at the same time before the black abyss opened its arms to him.
Although I knew it was going to be torturous to see, I knew I needed Gunther to show me everything. Lenora would have questions, and I felt I needed to be the one to answer them. I had no doubt that police or representatives from some government agency would come and inform her of the crash, but often times, they lacked the compassion needed for a situation of this magnitude. I understood they had a job to do and had to remain somewhat aloof, but I didn’t want Lenora to be treated like that. I realize I’m not exactly the best person to speak of compassion, but when it comes to Lenora, my normal demeanor simply takes a powder.
The next few days were some of the most terrible ones I’d ever had, but it was much worse for Lenora. As expected, we were visited by two men in uniform who informed her of the crash and that all lives were lost. I kept her close beside me and did most of the talking because she wasn’t in any shape to think coherently. She was in a haze of pain and anguish, and I kept her in varying degrees of sedation with calming potions and spells.
I made the funeral arrangements for Lenora and took her to the morgue where her husband and son lay. Their necks had been broken in the crash, and they’d suffered internal injuries. However, there was no fire, mainly due to the impact being on water. At least that was one saving grace, and Lenora wouldn’t have to view charred, unrecognizable remains. Even so, it was horrible.
Lenora sobbed her broken heart out against Lincoln’s still, lifeless chest and begged Ariadne to bring him back to her. “Oh, Linc, my love! I can’t do this without you. How the hell am I supposed to live without you?” Her entire frame heaved with unrestrained sobs as she rubbed Linc’s hands and called his name over and over. It was nearly my undoing when she whispered into the shell of Linc’s ear, “I always prayed that I would die first because I knew I couldn’t take it if you went first. Oh, Linc…my love…my darling…Linc!”
“I will always love you…forever and ever.” She kissed his face softly, stroked his cheek, then lay his hand over his stomach. She wept unabashedly as she recited a blessing in Gaelic, asking the spirits to guide him to paradise so he could reunite with Liam and other relatives that had been lost.
Lenora gave a strangled cry when she looked upon Landon and then gathered him in her arms to rock him. I stepped back to give her some privacy, but the scene that played out before me will be forever etched in my mind. “Landon, my angel,” she crooned as she stroked his hair. She kissed him and sang him all the little lullabies she’d ever sung to him during his life, lullabies he would no longer hear.
“He’s so cold,” she whispered. “I need to warm him.”
“Sweetheart, he’s gone,” I said, coming back to her side.
“No! No, he can’t be. He’s asleep. See how peaceful he looks? He always looks like that when he’s asleep,” she said. “He’ll wake up as soon as he’s warm and knows he’s safe. He’ll come back to me.”
“Darling, there’s nothing more you can do for Landon now. He’s…” I choked on a sob. “He’s with the angels now.”
“He was so scared. He was so scared but mostly for me. He said I wouldn’t understand. How can I understand and how can I ever forgive myself? I let them go! I let them go when they should have been with me. They should have been with me. Oh, merciful heaven, this is all my fault!”
The words she cried out hit me like a cement truck. Not only did this poor woman experience their deaths but she was blaming herself for them. “Lenora, this was not your fault. It just happened. Nobody could have predicted this.” I squeezed her shoulder and rubbed her back. “Linc and Landon wouldn’t want you blaming yourself. All they wanted was for you to know they loved you with every fiber of their beings and for you to be all right.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be all right again,” she sobbed. “How can I live a life without Linc? How can I put him in the ground and never see him again? And my baby! Oh, Ariadne, not my baby too!”
I didn’t know what else to say. All I could do was rub her back while she cradled Landon’s lifeless form against her chest. Tears slid down my cheeks, and I covered Landon’s little hand with my own. “Auntie Mathilda will always love you,” I whispered. I said my own goodbyes to Lincoln and then went back to Lenora’s side. “Darling, there’s nothing more you can do here, and you’ll only make yourself ill. Let me take you home.”
“I can’t leave them here,” she sobbed. “They need me.”
“No, sweetheart. There’s nothing more you can do for them. You have to take care of yourself now.” I don’t know how many times I said those words, but Lenora finally let me help her lay Landon’s body back on the bed. I put my arm around her waist and guided her away from that den of death and drove her home.
The funeral, like any funeral, was a sad affair. Lenora received many condolences, hugs, and much love, but I don’t think a lot of it registered. She was barely keeping it together, and I was worried for her health. She didn’t have the desire to eat, and when I was able to get something down her, most of it came back up. She was losing weight at a rapid pace, and most of her day was spent crying. One morning, I found her at the table with her phone. She was listening over and over to the voicemail Lincoln had left her before he and Landon boarded the plane. “I needed to hear their voices,” she said.
I sat beside her and took her hand. “They loved you so much, Lenora. Never forget that.”
“If only I’d had my phone turned on. I would have talked to them and convinced them to go home and let us teleport them the next day. If I’d turned my phone on, none of this would be happening right now.” Fat tears rolled down her cheeks as she sobbed out her grief and displaced guilt.
“Oh, Lenora,” I said, gently taking the phone from her and laying it on the table. “You know Landon would have talked you out of that. He wanted to have that plane ride, no matter what.”
“And look where it got him,” she sobbed. “He’s gone because I wasn’t there to stop him. They’re both gone because I wasn’t there. I…wasn’t…there.” She laid her head on her arms and cried Lincoln and Landon’s names over and over. “Linc, my love, I’m so sorry…so sorry. Landon…forgive me…forgive me.”
Over the next few days, I knew I was right to be concerned for Lenora’s health. I noticed her breathing grew heavier, and when I checked her pulse, I discovered her heart was throwing PVC’s. The extra heartbeats clued me in that she was on the verge of a relapse from the illness she’d suffered as a teenager. I’d warned Liam that it could return if she suffered a severe emotional shock. Well, this was about as severe and emotional as it got.
One morning, I found her in the living room, her hands over her ears as though she were constantly accosted with some noise at an unbearable decibel level. I rushed to her and took her in my arms. “Lenora, talk to me. What is it, child?”
“I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t erase it. I keep hearing and feeling them die. I try to reach for them, but I can’t get to them. I can’t reach them.” I held her tight as she broke. I noticed her lungs sounded wet as she gasped in air. If this went on much longer, I knew she wouldn’t be long for this world.
More times than I care to think of, I found Lenora in tears in various places. She’d sometimes be sitting on the floor with a faraway, devastated look on her face or on her knees begging Ariadne to return Linc and Landon to her. I had to get her out of here. This house held too many memories for her, and in her vulnerable state, they would consume her rather than comfort. I sat holding her after one such episode and finally voiced my concerns. “Lenora, I think it’s best you move in with me for a while. It’s not good for you to be here, and I’m worried about your physical health. You’re not doing well, child, not at all, and you’ve got me very worried.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for, Lenora. I’m telling you this because I love you and want to see you well again,” I explained.
“I love you too,” she said, then produced a heavy cough I didn’t like. “I don’t know how you put up with me. I’m a hot mess, and quite honestly, I do feel like hell.”
“It’s that old curse. You know, the one that made you so ill those many years ago,” I said.
“That was when I found out I was a witch,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied, smoothing her hair. “That combined with your emotional state is wearing you down. I want to take you home with me so I can take care of you better. You won’t get better if you stay here.”
She pulled back to look sadly into my face. “I’m not sure I want to get better. I…I don’t think I have the strength. All I want is to be with them. If I can’t have them here where I am, I want to go to them.”
Each word was like a bullet to my heart. This wasn’t news to me, for I knew she felt this way. However, hearing it spoken aloud made it crystal clear. A cold chill passed through my soul and caused a shudder to run through me. I tightened my arms around her, willing her to want to stay with me. “I know it seems hopeless right now, but you will find that inner strength you need to go on. Your grandfather always said it was there, and he was a very wise man. You know this to be true. One day, my child, you will find the strength.”
I situated her on the sofa with pillows behind her back and a couple of blankets covering her. Lenora was constantly cold and was too weak to stand or sit for any long period of time. I wanted to teleport her to my house, but I didn’t dare to in her weakened condition. Instead, I rented a van to drive the five hours it would take to get us to Moonlight Falls.
“Sorry to be so much trouble,” Lenora said as I got her situated. I’d done a spell to rearrange the back so Lenora could travel comfortably. I made one of the seats into a little bed so she could rest.
“You’re no trouble,” I said, squeezing her hand and kissing her cheek. I tucked some blankets around her and strapped her in. “Just rest. We’ll be there before you know it.”
Lenora slept for most of the trip, only waking when I stopped for coffee. It was dark when we arrived in Moonlight Falls, and Lenora didn’t wake again until I roused her after I parked the van in the driveway. “Lenora, sweetheart, we’re here. Let’s get you inside,” I said, gently shaking her shoulder.
“What time is it?” she asked groggily.
“Wow, was I out of it!” she said, blinking up at me.
“You needed the rest. Now, let’s get you inside. Are you hungry?”
She shook her head and I smiled sadly at her. Food definitely wasn’t something she was thinking about. “OK then. Let’s get you do bed.”
After I helped her inside, she turned and put her arms around me. “I was thinking about something just now,” she said.
“Something nice, I hope,” I said.
“Partly,” she said, then produced a wet cough.
“I don’t like that cough,” I said worriedly.
Lenora just held me tighter and kissed my cheek. I knew she didn’t want me worrying about her, but I couldn’t help it. “It was about us,” she said, continuing her thought. “I suppose when it comes down to it, you’ll be the only one in my life who will never, ever leave me. That is, unless you get tired of my shenanigans.”
“Oh, Lenora…Lenora,” I crooned, my voice breaking with emotion. “I’ll never get tired of you or any shenanigans. I’ll never leave you. I can’t, and I won’t.”
“I’m so glad,” she whispered. “It’s just…well, everyone else I’ve ever loved has ended up dead except you.” She let out a watery chuckle. “I feel as though I’m jinxed.”
“You’re not jinxed,” I said, feeling my heart squeeze. “You’ve just had more than your share of tragedy, and I’m so sorry for it. As for me, as I said, I can’t leave you. I won’t die. You know that. Besides that, I don’t ever want to leave you.” What I didn’t voice was that I was afraid she’d leave me.
“I love you so much, Mathilda. I know I don’t tell you that often enough, but it’s true,” she said.
“Oh, darling, I know you love me. You show it every day. I suppose now, both of us are just a couple of lonely old souls who need each other, huh?”
She nodded and held me even closer. I rubbed her back and sang softly. “You and me against the world. Sometimes it feels like you and me against the world. When all the others turn their backs and walk away, you can count on me to stay…” Lenora cried on my shoulder as I held her and sang. By the time I led her upstairs to put her to bed, she was limp with exhaustion, and my own nerves were on edge. I was losing her, I knew it. The harder I tried to keep her with me, the more she drifted from me. The cold hand of fear now seemed to be a permanent fixture around my heart.
I checked on Lenora every hour and didn’t like what I saw. Her condition was worsening, and I knew the curse had her in its grasp once again.
Lenora got up to go to the bathroom the next morning, but she never made it back to bed on her own two feet. I came out of the kitchen and found her passed out on the floor. “Lenora!” I gasped. I checked her pulse and found she was having more irregular heartbeats. Her breathing came at a great effort, and she had a raging fever.
“Oh, Lenora!” I pulled her into my arms and felt my composure go completely. This was finally my undoing. For the first time in hundreds and hundreds of years, I was just a mother terrified for her sick daughter. Oh, I hadn’t given birth to her or even adopted her legally, but that didn’t make me love her any less. I buried my face in her hair, held her tight, and just cried her name repeatedly. She had lost so much and now I was losing her. She was dying right in front of me, and I didn’t know how to stop it.