Shadow of Time: Visions of the Past - Jen Minkman - ebook
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Hannah and Josh broke up, but the story doesn't end there. When Ben confronts his best friend and asks him why he's treating his sister so badly for no apparent reason, Josh comes clean - and finally tells Hannah the secrets he's been hiding.Together, they embark on a mission to battle the ghosts from his past.Together, will they be strong enough to lift the curse that has plagued Josh for longer than Hannah could ever have imagined..?

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Shadow of Time

Visions of the Past

Jen Minkman

© 2012 by Jen Minkman

Cover design by Clarissa Yeo and Jen Minkman

This book is copyright. Apart from fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without the prior permission of the author. You are welcome to share this book with friends who might like to read it too, however.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

1821- 1871

1910 – 1943

6.

7.

8.

9.

Acknowledgements

1.

––––––––

She didn’t feel better.

All morning, Hannah stayed in bed, staring at the ceiling. The weather outside was beautiful, and birds were singing close to her window. It was strange how everything around her just went on like nothing had changed, while she seemed to be frozen in time.

She listlessly threw on some clothes after Emily finally knocked on her door to get her out of there, and walked into the kitchen, waving at Amber and Ivy sitting at the table.

“Tea?” Amber offered, pointing at a pot of green tea in front of her.

Hannah nodded. She poured herself a mug, staring thoughtlessly at the rings in the wood of the table.

“Hey.” Emily scooted closer and put her hand on Hannah’s. “Are you feeling a bit better?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.” The tiniest hint of a smile creased her lips.

“Would you like some breakfast?” Ivy pushed a plate with some pancakes toward her.

Hannah shook her head. “Not hungry,” she mumbled.

“When was the last time you ate something?” Emily asked in a mother-hen voice.

Hannah thought back. The last thing she remembered eating was a granola bar she’d had in the car on their way to Lower Antelope Canyon. She shrugged. “Dunno. I don’t want anything.”

Emily pulled the plate closer and started to cut the pancakes into pieces. “At least have a few bites,” she almost begged. “Ben said we should feed you.”

Hannah heard the shower turn off in the bathroom, and knew Ben would come back to the kitchen in a minute. Of course she didn’t want to worry him, so she reluctantly forced herself to eat some morsels as a poor excuse for a late breakfast.

Pancakes. The last time she’d had pancakes was when Josh had made them.

When Ben was done showering and stepped into the kitchen in clean clothes, she’d managed to eat half a pancake.

“I’m going to pack,” she said, giving him a half-smile.

In her bedroom, Hannah haphazardly tossed some clothes into her duffel bag, her gaze lingering on the dreamcatcher above her bed. She wasn’t sure she wanted to bring it with her on the trip. Part of her wanted to dream of Josh again, so she wouldn’t feel so alone.

Heaving a sigh, she zipped up her bag and left the dreamcatcher hanging above her bed. Then, she slogged to the bathroom to grab her toothbrush, shampoo and a few towels.

Ben was drinking coffee at the counter when she came back into the kitchen. “How are you?” he said.

Hannah quietly leaned against him, settling into his arm around her shoulders.

“Lousy,” she mumbled.

“Just take it easy today.”

When Hannah got outside and put her bag in the Chevy, Paul and Sarah eyed her with pity, so they’d obviously heard about what had happened. The Greenes were busy stuffing bags into the trunk of their station wagon.

Josh was probably on his way to Tuba City by now. Maybe that’s why he needed space. To hook up with all those nice Navajo girls his own age on campus.

Hannah bit her lip to stop herself from crying again. This was stupid. He wasn’t worth agonizing over if he treated her like this.

Ben had offered to drive, so after a few more minutes, they drove off in his car, following the Greenes. The radio blared an eighties tune. Slowly but surely, Hannah relaxed in her seat and managed to un-hunch her shoulders and neck, the sun touching her face.

The medicine pouch rested on the skin between her breasts. She’d put it around her neck again, the memory of the creepy girls at the beach still fresh in her mind.

The landscape scurried past the car in a blur of red, yellow and brown, the blue sky above seeming almost turquoise.

Just like the bead Josh had given to her.

All afternoon, Hannah sat next to Ben with an artificial hint of a smile plastered on her face so she wouldn’t worry him too much. The slice of pizza Ben had ordered for her at a drive-thru was on a napkin in her lap, and she was chewing on a bit of crust with a face she hoped looked hungry and lively enough.

“How much further?” she inquired.

Ben looked at the map in his lap. “Uhm – I don’t know exactly.”

Hannah stuffed the last bite of pizza in her mouth, crumpled the napkin into a ball and pulled the map toward her. “Let me have a look then.”

She calculated it was still a twenty-mile drive to Chinle, and from there, about seven miles into Canyon de Chelly territory to the campsite where they’d spend the night. The place was close to Spider Rock, its slim spire standing tall in the middle of the canyon.

Ben followed the neighbors’ station wagon taking the exit to Spider Rock Campground. It didn’t take long before they reached the entrance. Paul went into the reception building to announce their arrival and pay for the large hoghan they’d rented.

Hannah smiled as they drove on and the large construction came into sight. It was a beautiful building, made of tree trunks plastered with clay. The location was breathtaking, too. The door, traditionally overlooking the east, offered them a fantastic view of the valley.

She got out of the car and carried her bags to the door. Then, she walked toward the fence near the precipice, her eyes sweeping the canyon.

Ivy settled down next to her. “Isn’t this just beautiful?” she said.

Hannah nodded. “It is.”

“You want to join us for a walk? My parents are too worn out from driving all the way here, so they’re just going to stay here and prepare dinner. Emily and Amber want to take a stroll along the path at the far end of the canyon. We’re going to visit the bottom of the canyon with a guide tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll go ask Ben too.”

Her brother had just locked the car when she approached him. “You tired?” Hannah asked.

“Sort of. Why?”

“You want to join us on a walk?”

“Nah.” He shook his head. “I promised Paul and Sarah I’d help them cook. You go and take a walk with the girls. By the time you get back here, we’ll have a nice meal waiting for all of you.”

Hannah hugged Ben, pressing herself against him with a sigh. “Thanks,” she simply said. “For everything.”

They drove to the end of the road meandering along Canyon de Chelly. Once she was ambling along the edge of the canyon with Emily, Amber and Ivy, Hannah began to feel a bit better, despite everything that had happened yesterday. It was all so quiet, magical and untouched. There were hardly any tourists on the path, and no sound from the modern world could be heard from here – no car engines, no machines, no loud music. It must have been like this hundreds of years ago. The path took them past scraggly trees, big, red rocks, and patches of sand. Every now and then, their walk took them close to the canyon’s edge, and each time it did, the surface dropped away and showed them another magnificent view.

“Come on, let’s check out what’s up there,” Amber called out, pointing at a rock plateau higher up the hill, away from the beaten track. “I bet the view’s fantastic.”

They came across a fork in the road. To the left, the path disappeared into some woodland, and to the right, a narrower track snaked upwards, leading to an outcropping overlooking the entire canyon.

Hannah gingerly took a step forward, suddenly feeling dizzy. She almost lost her balance and bumped into Ivy. “Sorry,” she mumbled, trying to steady herself. She had the sudden urge to run up the hill, even though her wooziness hadn’t gone. Instead, it turned into a strange and urgent feeling of déjà-vu. Every step Hannah took further upward made her surer – she’d seen this all before. She had walked this road before.

Her heart skipped a beat when she finally reached the rocky edge of the precipice at the end of the track. In her run uphill, she’d entirely forgotten about her three friends behind her. Hannah stood on the plateau at the end of the path and stared at the scene completely dumbfounded.

This was the place in her dreams.

She squatted down, blinking her eyes in disbelief. Her eyes roamed the valley below, the shape of the rocks, the hill sloping down behind her. It was beyond doubt – this was where the skinwalkers had cornered her, their faces morphing into something demonic. This was the wind-swept place where she had almost plunged to her death in order to escape them. This was where she’d broken up with Josh in her dream.

Behind her, Emily, Amber and Ivy had caught up with her, taking in the stunning view in awe.

“Catching a breather?” Emily asked, looking at Hannah still squatting down. “No surprise there. I thought you were trying to set an Olympic record running up this hill.”

Hannah nodded absently, still panting. What a discovery. So her dreams really weren’t just dreams after all. Amber’s theory was correct.

“What’s up?” Amber said, sitting down next to her.

Hannah bit her lip. “I know this place.”

Amber frowned at her, non-plussed, then caught on. “Wait a minute. You mean – from your dreams?”

Hannah nodded silently, a sudden tear running down her cheek. She didn’t understand. If this place was real – if she somehow had visions of a past where Josh and she had shared a life together, why was it all over between them? It wasn’t fair. He belonged with her. She could feel it in every fiber of her being.

“That is so bizarre,” Amber whispered. “So you’ve really been here before?”

Hannah nodded. Looking around, she tried to search for more clues. Close to the edge of the precipice, there was an old, gnarly tree. In a flash, Hannah remembered a smaller, younger tree being there in her dreams. It was all too remarkable to be a coincidence. She had to talk to Josh about it. Finally tell him about the dreams she’d had.

But by now, it was too late. What was she supposed to say to him? That she had this hinky dream thing going on in which they were lovers in a past life? If all was correct, she had broken up with him last time. Maybe he was subconsciously scared to get hurt again. Heck, for all she knew it was a conscious thing. Perhaps he was having the same weird dreams about her.

No – Josh wouldn’t want to talk about it, because he’d clearly said it was all going too fast for him. Suggesting they had a century-old history together would crank up the pace to lightning speed in no time.

When the girls finally made their way back to the hoghan, Hannah was still mulling things over in her head. She passed Ben frying potato slices in a pan on a gas stove without a word. Sensing her distress, he dropped his spatula and followed her into the hoghan.

It was light inside, thanks to the fire burning in the middle of the building. Someone had put her bag on top of one of the mattresses on the left. Her sleeping bag had been unpacked and unrolled.

“I unpacked some of your stuff.” Ben put an arm around her. “I couldn’t find your dreamcatcher, though.”

“I didn’t take it,” Hannah replied softly. “I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.”

Ben flopped down on his own mattress with a solemn face, patting the space next to him. Hannah obliged, looking at him with a question in her eyes. “If you want to get out of St. Mary’s Port for a while, just holler,” he said seriously. “Go visit mom. Take a cheap flight to Alaska and stay with Aunt Beth for a while.”

Hannah swallowed her tears back. Damn, Ben was just way too sweet. “No – no, of course not,” she stuttered. “I’m not going to abandon you.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

Ben didn’t look convinced. “Well, okay. If you say so.”

That night, Hannah sat with the others until the sun set. The few lanterns on the rickety table next to the hoghan lit up the dark, illuminating Em and Amber’s happy, smiling faces. Hannah quietly observed the happy couple, and just for a minute, she wished the ground would swallow her up and spit her out again in a place where she could forget Josh and her had ever been that happy.

The following morning, Hannah woke up with a nagging headache. As she stretched her arms, she stared at the fire still burning in the middle of the hoghan. The other mattresses were empty, and one glance at her cell phone told her why – it was almost eleven o’clock.

Stuffing the medicine pouch into the pocket of her PJs, she dragged herself to the campsite shower facilities. As the hot water hit her face and warmed her body, Hannah thought back to her strange meeting at the beach – those three creepy girls, and the way they’d laughed at her. Something had been profoundly wrong about the whole encounter, she could sense it. Clearly, the curse hadn’t left her yet and the medicine bundle wasn’t powerful enough. She should ask Emily for more help – provided her friend was capable of offering more help. Most likely, Sani would have to step in. Trying to lift the curse would help to distract her from the break-up with Josh, moreover.

At twelve o’clock sharp, a Navajo guide showed up at their hoghan, driving an enormous Jeep. As they drove off down the bumpy road toward the valley, Hannah leaned into Emily and whispered, “I had this panic attack the other day, Em. I think I should ask Sani for more advice.”

Emily gave her a look of concern. “You get all the bad luck at once, don’t you? Well, you should come down to Naabi’aani tomorrow then. Nick’s coming too. He asked me if we could both take a critical look at his dissertation. Afterwards, you can go see Sani.”

Hannah swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. “But – he might be there tomorrow,” she objected in a small voice.

Emily looked at her with pity in her eyes. “Honey, I know. But you’ll have to face Josh at some point.” Grabbing Hannah’s hand, she continued: “And I’ll support you. I’ll be there all the way.”

“Thanks, Em.”

Hannah leaned back in her seat and stared out the window. The drive into the canyon took them past scraggly trees and bushes, fields of tall grass and red rocks. Their guide parked the Jeep close to a natural hole in the rocks called ‘The Window’ by the locals. Ivy and Sarah took out their cameras to snap pictures, while the guide gave them some background information about life in the canyon in past and present times.

“When the soldiers of the United States invaded this canyon in 1864, it was a refuge for Diné people fleeing from Mexican oppression in the south. The people believed this canyon would protect them because it had always been a sacred place,” he told them.

Hannah’s heart skipped a beat. So this canyon had been a safe haven for Navajo people running away from Mexicans. Maybe she’d come to this canyon in her past life to keep safe?

“The Americans ended the peaceful existence of the canyon dwellers when they used the scorched-earth policy to drive them out,” the guide continued. “They killed all the livestock, burned the fields and cut down the peach trees growing throughout the valley. There was nothing left for the people but to surrender before winter came to strike them with famine. They were sent to Fort Defiance, and from there, they were forced to march to Fort Sumner, where the Americans had created a reservation for them.”

“But – that’s more than three hundred miles away,” Ivy gasped.

“It is. That’s why our history calls it The Long Walk.”

“White people have been so cruel in the past,” Amber said quietly. She shivered, looking around the valley with sad eyes.

Emily put an arm around her shoulders. “Good thing there are really sweet ones, nowadays,” she mumbled, giving Amber a quick kiss on the cheek.

When the Jeep dropped them off at the hoghan, it was already half past two.

“Shall I drive back?” Hannah offered when Ben got the car keys from his pocket.

“You want to?”

Hannah nodded silently. If she drove, she’d stay focused on the road and her mind wouldn’t wander. She’d texted Nick an hour ago to tell him she’d meet up with him in Naabi’aani tomorrow. She’d also told him she and Josh had broken up. His astounded reaction to the news had made her rack her brain once more – if everyone around them thought she and Josh were so good together, then why didn’t Josh think so himself?

Ben cleared his throat. “So, if you want to drive, you’re going to have to get behind the wheel.”

She woke up again. “Yeah. Sure. Sorry.”

“You still want to go to the funfair on Saturday?” he asked cautiously, as they left the campsite, following the station wagon. Saturday evening would be the opening night for the funfair in Page, and they’d agreed to meet up there with a bunch of people, Josh included.

“Sure, why not? I haven’t done anything wrong, right?” Hannah doggedly kept her eyes on the road in front of them.

“No – you haven’t,” Ben said, his voice taut.

“Well, Josh hasn’t, either,” Hannah mumbled.

“I don’t agree.”

“Look.” She turned in her seat to look at Ben. “He’s just been honest about his feelings. If he doesn’t want me, he doesn’t want me. Nothing will change that.”

Ben frowned. “But, Han... ” he tried again.

“No, Ben. No buts.” She sighed when she saw the hurt look on his face. “Just – don’t. Don’t interfere. Don’t ask him to explain himself. If he doesn’t want me anymore, then it’s his loss,” she declared, with all the dignity she could manage.

They didn’t talk about Josh anymore during the rest of the trip home.

The next day, Hannah drove to the reservation in her Datsun, Ben sitting next to her. The sky was overcast, and she’d put up the roof of the car just in case. The weather report said it would rain in the afternoon. Hannah clenched her jaw and slowed down a little bit after passing LeChee. They were getting closer. Her stomach churned like she was on her way to the dentist for a horrible root canal treatment.

Em was right. She’d have to face Josh at some point. Of course, Emily had things easy – she was on cloud nine with Amber.

When Emily’s hoghan came into view, Hannah honked her horn to announce their arrival, then got out of the car with leaden steps. Emily and Nick emerged from the house a few moments later.

“Hey, you,” Nick said warmly, bear-hugging her. “How are you holding up?”

Nick’s obvious concern had an adverse effect on her – the tears she’d tried to push away for the past two days suddenly welled up. Quickly, Hannah took a step back. “I’m okay.”

“Hey, Han,” Emily said, pulling her a bit away from the rest. “Sani can see you later.”

“Oh, good,” Hannah said with a faint smile.

They all sat down outside around a simple cooking grill where Emily was roasting some yucca. Nick handed Hannah the rough draft of his dissertation.

“Have a look whenever you feel like it,” he said with a wink.

Hannah smiled. “I’ll try my best.”

As she was reading the first couple of pages, Emily passed her a cup of strong coffee. “He’s not here,” she mumbled under her breath. “I don’t know if that’s a relief or not, but I thought I’d better tell you straight away.”

Hannah gaped at Emily. Mostly, she was surprised. “So where is he?”

“According to Sani, he’ll be back on Saturday,” Emily replied. “He said Josh was doing something for him that couldn’t wait.”

And again, it was Sani coming between her and Josh. Of course, Josh hadn’t declined when the old hataalii needed his help. No, he was running errands for Sani again like a proper lackey. Hannah grumbled inwardly.

“So, he has time to see you this afternoon,” Emily went on, a bit taken aback by the look in Hannah’s eyes. “Around three o’clock?”

“Fine.” Hannah hunched over Nick’s draft and didn’t look back up until she’d read the whole thing. Just as she was sipping her second cup of coffee, Amber and Ivy were dropped off by their dad.

“So, where is he?” Ivy cut to the chase, sitting down next to Hannah.

“Not here,” Hannah replied curtly. “Gone all day.”

Ivy pulled a face. “Crap.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.”

Hannah abruptly got up and made her way to the toilet building next to the hoghan. Inside, she ran cold water over her wrists and tried to cool down. And calm down, moreover. What was she supposed to tell Sani when she saw him? She wanted him to help her, but she didn’t want him to blab about her problems to Josh. Which was inevitable. They were, like, best hataalii-buddies.

Hannah turned off the faucet and walked back outside, lost in thought. Nick looked up from the notes she’d scribbled on his draft when she sat down next to him. “So, seriously. How are you feeling?” he asked quietly.

“What do you think?”

“Sad. Confused. Angry.”

Hannah winced when he rattled off his analysis. “Pretty much. Oh, well – Josh is busy with lots of things. He probably already forgot about me.” Her voice cracked.

Nick’s eyebrows traveled north. “Oh, cut it out. That’s about as probable as fluorescent hip-hop pants ever coming back into fashion.”

Hannah stifled a nervous chuckle. “Geez, Nick. Don’t try to cheer me up.” She stared at her hands. “There’s no reason to.”

“See what tomorrow brings. I heard you guys are going to the funfair?”

She nodded. “I’m going to have such a good time,” she replied sourly.

Nick shrugged. “He’ll talk to you about his decision at some point. It’s not like him at all to be this nasty.”

Wasn’t it? No matter how nice Josh might seem, he still kept people at arm’s length, plus he was unpredictable. And yet, she hoped Nick was right. At least it would give her some closure if Josh explained to her why he’d decided to shut her out for good.

At three o’clock, Hannah made her way to Sani’s hoghan. Emily walked her to the hataalii’s house, built on a little hill just outside the village.

“Good luck,” she said, squeezing Hannah’s hand for a second.

“Wait.” Hannah suddenly got nervous. “Shouldn’t I pay him, or something?”

“No worries. See you later.”

Hannah stared at her friend walking down the hill before turning toward the hoghan. The exterior was covered in clay, and the entrance was covered by a hand-woven blanket in bright colors. She walked a few steps, whistling a tune to alert Sani to her arrival.

The blanket was pushed aside, and Sani’s face appeared around the corner. “Come in,” he said warmly, beckoning her. “Wóshdéé’.”

“Ahe’hee.” She stepped inside.

The middle of the building held a fire. A white handprint made with corn pollen showed on the walls of the hoghan in each of the four cardinal directions. A buckskin was on the floor. Sani sat down on it, legs crossed, gesturing for Hannah to do the same.

She inhaled the scent of the incense he was burning. “Juniper berries,” he said with a smile, when he saw her trying to place the scent.

Hannah met his gaze, suddenly feeling shy. The way Sani looked at her didn’t make her uncomfortable, but it was clear he was seeing right through her. She wouldn’t be able to lie to this medicine man. Quite frankly, she didn’t want to. Against all odds, she liked him. He seemed sympathetic, warm and caring.

“How can I help you, shitsói, my grandchild?” Sani asked softly.

“I am ... ” Hannah choked on the words. She didn’t know where to start. No doubt this man had heard skinwalker stories before, but not likely coming from the mouth of a biligaana.

Then again, she hadn’t gone to all the trouble of consulting Sani only to back out now. “I’m cursed,” she whispered. “There are monsters after me.”

Sani slowly nodded, taking a prayer stick from the jish lying on the floor. He waved it in each cardinal direction. “What kind of monsters, shitsói?”

Hannah fell silent, her heart rate spiking. “They’re yenaldlooshi. Chindi. Witches. Three of them. They appear to me as shadows without a face, with red, glowing eyes. Like coyotes. Or like common people. They can shapeshift, taking any form they want. They haunt my dreams.” She started to stutter in her rush to get things out. “Emily tried to help me, but it’s not enough.” She started to cry softly.

The hataalii eyed her solemnly. “Are you this sad just because of those skinwalkers, grandchild?”

Hannah felt busted. She’d been right about Sani being able to see right through her. “No. I’m not just sad because of this curse. It’s just – I’ve been ... ” She hesitated. Would this Navajo elder know the meaning of the English word ‘dumped’?

“You feel abandoned,” he supplied.

She nodded in silence.

He inched toward her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You have not been abandoned.”

“What – what do you mean?” she stuttered. Of course she had. Josh had callously ditched her and decided to take a Long Walk all by himself.

Sani didn’t reply, but stared into the dancing flames in the fireplace as if in a trance. When he finally spoke, his words upset Hannah.

“I cannot help you,” he said.

“What? Why not?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“Because your problem is far more complicated than meets the eye.” Sani rooted around in a ceramic pot behind him, pulling out a medicine pouch. Handing it over to her, he said: “You can carry this with you to protect yourself. It contains more powerful medicine than the one you’re carrying now.”

How did he know that? Hannah unwittingly put her hand on the bundle she’d tied around her waist, hidden under the fabric of her loose pants.

“However, it will not be a lasting solution for the curse,” Sani warned. “I can’t help you with everything you have in your heart.”

“So is there no one who can help me?” She bit her lip. This wasn’t looking good. Sani was probably going to tell her she had to travel to the other side of the reservation and shell out thousands of dollars for another hataalii powerful enough to help her, judging by the weary look on his face.

“Yes,” he nodded. “There is.”

When he didn’t volunteer more information, she urged, “So, who?”

“Shash.”

Hannah stared at Sani all bug-eyed. “Josh?!”

“Yes. Your brother’s friend.”

Oh no. This was not happening. Sani couldn’t be serious. She’d have to beg for help from a guy who’d dumped her out of nowhere. And Sani dared to claim she hadn’t been abandoned? She had never felt more alone and deserted in her entire life.

“That – can’t be,” she faltered.

“I have told you all I have to say,” Sani replied, smiling at her. “Hágoónee. Goodbye, shitsói.”

She scrambled to her feet, the new medicine bundle in her hand. “Ahe’hee,” she said, trying to sound grateful. She wasn’t exactly angry with Sani, even if he was basically throwing her out all ‘polite-medicine-man’style. She was just angry with the world for doing this to her.

With an infuriated swipe of her arm, she pushed aside the blanket in front of the entrance and stood there fuming, blinking against the bright sunlight, before stomping off to Emily’s hoghan. She’d had it with this stupid curse, this place, these people. Most of all, she’d had it with Josh and his side-kick Sani. All she wanted was to floor her car out of this godforsaken village, drive back home and wallow in self-pity for the rest of the day. Hole up in her bedroom with an irresponsibly big tub of Ben and Jerry’s and her iPod blasting death metal at maximum volume.

With a face like thunder, she got back to Em’s place, making a beeline for her brother. “I’m going home,” she announced. “I have a headache.”

Ben looked up at her face and shrugged, apparently deciding there was no use trying to convince her otherwise. “Drive safe, okay?” he only said.

“I will.” Hannah bit her lip. Why did she even want to get out of this place so badly? Here they were, all the people who cared about her, who wanted to support her – and she couldn’t get out of this ‘friends-stick-together’ powwow fast enough.

Tears burned in her eyes. Hannah quickly grabbed her bag, turning around and bolting for her car. With screeching tires, she tore off in the direction of St. Mary’s Port.

By the time the first houses of the village came into view, she’d somewhat calmed down. After parking the Datsun on the main street, she ducked into Safeway to get herself some chips, ice-cream and pizza. Fortunately, Paul and Sarah were not around when she got back at the log cabin. The last thing she wanted right now was to exchange pleasantries with her neighbors.

As she sat down on the porch steps and spooned up a few chunks of cookie dough from her ice-cream tub, Hannah started to go over the conversation with Sani in her head. What had he made of her visit? Surely he must know why she was sad. After all, Josh told him everything, so he probably hadn’t left out an important event like breaking up with her.

Would Sani betray her trust and tell Josh about the curse? Not likely. She sensed he could be trusted, even though he had this mysteriously close link with Josh. Sani couldn’t be blamed for that – she had just hopelessly fallen in love with a guy who kept secrets he wasn’t willing to share.

2.

––––––––

“So. Where and when are we meeting up today?” Hannah asked Ben, sitting at the table and flipping through a magazine in feigned nonchalance. It was almost noon, and she’d just rolled out of bed. She’d stayed up late last night to wait for Ben and the others to come back from Naabi’aani. Not least of all because she’d dreaded going to sleep and dreaming about things she’d pushed far away. When she’d crawled into bed at two in the morning, she had been upset and angry, mostly, and she still was. Of course, Josh had the right to break things off, but he could have at least tried to be less of an asshole about it. As for today, her mind was set – when Josh showed up, she wasn’t going to pay any special attention to him. After all, her life had been just fine before she’d met him. It was not the end of the world.

“Josh called me from his aunt’s place.” Ben gauged Hannah’s reaction. “He said he’d be here at three.”

“Uh-huh,” Hannah responded blankly, pretending to be engrossed in her magazine. “And Yazzie?”

“He has to finish up some things at the store first. We’ll meet him at the fairground. The funfair officially opens at eight.”

“Good.”

“Maybe we can go out for dinner beforehand?” Ben suggested.

“Sure,” Hannah muttered.

“We don’t have to,” Ben backpedalled.

Suddenly, she felt sorry for her brother. He was trying so hard, but he didn’t know how to handle the situation any more than she did. Going all grumpy on Ben wasn’t helping anyone. The person responsible for her dark mood wasn’t even here yet.

“Sounds like a good idea,” she said, smiling up at him. “Where shall we go?”

“Let’s have a look around once we get there.” He turned back to the stove to stir his scrambled eggs. “You want some?”

Hannah sighed. She hadn’t had a decent bite of food after the ice cream last night. She still wasn’t really hungry. Okay, Josh had broken her heart, but at least she’d also broken an all-time personal record in losing weight. Eat that for breakfast, Dr. Atkins.

“Yeah, sure,” she replied flatly.

After breakfast, Hannah took her time in the bathroom, running a hot shower for herself that warmed her entire body. It wouldn’t take the chill out of her bones, nor would it wash away all the cold memories she had of her last afternoon with Josh, but it somehow comforted her.

Hannah wiped some tears from her eyes, dried off and padded to her bedroom. She purposefully picked a colorful, flowery summer dress to wear so she’d seem happier.

Just as she was done applying her make-up, she heard a motorcycle outside. Hannah froze, staring at herself in the mirror in full-fledged panic. Her hand flailed toward her bag to dig up her cell phone. Two o’clock. Shoot – he was too early.

Hannah silently cursed herself for taking a shower lasting long enough to irrigate the entire Sahara. She’d wanted to get away to the beach and give Ben the chance to chat with Josh in peace and quiet first, without her sitting by staring daggers at him. That plan just went out the window.

Ben knocked on her door. “Han? He’s already here.”

Hannah opened her door reluctantly. “I know.”

Heart pounding in her chest, she shuffled into the kitchen as Ben stepped out onto the porch.

“Hey, Josh,” he called out, his voice artificially bright.

Hannah gingerly stepped back when Josh’s gaze drifted to the kitchen door. He must have felt the weight of her stare.

With her last bit of strength she breathed in and out, straightening her back and pasting a fake smile on her face like a façade as she stepped outside. She could do this.

“Hi, Josh,” she said in such a composed tone that she baffled herself.

Josh’s eyes lingered on her ‘you-cannot-hurt-me’ mask. “Hey, Hannah,” he replied, forcing a smile.

She cringed. He couldn’t even genuinely smile at her. And the way he said her name – it was so cold and distant she might as well have been on the moon instead of the porch. His eyes betrayed nothing of what was going on inside his head. It was like staring at a blank wall.

Hannah quickly looked away and pointedly sat down at the table. The beach could wait. He was not going to chase her away that easily.

Ben and Josh walked up the steps. “I’m going to grab a drink,” Ben mumbled, inching toward the door.

“Bring me a bottle of water, okay?” Hannah said feebly. She hoped Josh would follow Ben into the kitchen, but he didn’t. Feeling sick to her stomach, she watched him as he sank into the chair across from her. Two strangers wearing masks stared at each other over the table.

“So, how are you?” he finally asked.

How did he think she was doing? “I’m fine,” she replied stiffly.

Josh nodded. “Have you ... ” he started out and paused, giving her an insecure look.

“Have I what?” she whispered. The wall suddenly seemed to crumble.

“Have you had any nightmares recently?” Avoiding her eyes, he kept his gaze on the lantern on the table in front of him.

“No, not really,” she managed to croak out.

Ben came back from the kitchen with drinks for all of them. “So how was Tuba City?” he asked Josh, clearly trying to ignore the awkwardness between them.

“It was fine. I checked out a couple rooms on campus. Picked up some readers to flip through at home before classes start. And how was Canyon de Chelly?”

“Fine,” Ben replied. The word ‘fine’ was starting to lose all significance due to their combined lacklustreness. “We had nice weather, did one of those shake-and-bake tours through the canyon, stayed in a hoghan. The works.”

Josh smiled flatly. “Which campsite?”