A/N: This is the prologue to a new story I am working on. I welcome constructive comments from readers. Please let me know if anything doesn’t flow well or if there are any problems you see. I appreciate your help.

Prologue

The darkening sun settled below the horizon and the surrounding hills, which were once rosy golden with the sun’s fury, now sank into the purple blue shadows of night. The stately old Romanov mansion sat atop the highest hill in the tiny town of Silver City, which was actually part of a larger city, though the citizens would never admit it. All that could be seen of the house from the road were the two gables on either side of the roof. The rest of the house was hidden from view by the thick growth of trees that framed each edge of the property along the road, and a high stone wall that surrounded the grounds immediately around the place. The tall, forbidding wrought iron gate creaked on its hinges between two crumbling stone columns, and the gravel drive meandered way back through the trees and disappeared from sight about halfway to the house. The part of the house that anyone could see seemed well kept, but it almost seemed to have an invisible shield around it that would not allow anyone to enter there. Almost.

For you see, this house was no ordinary house. Families had come and gone over the years, most of them progeny of the Romanovs, but some family friends as well. Visitors came and went from the old house, and it was even rented a time or two. That was before the house had burned some years back, and now it simply lay in ruins. This house had many secrets, like old houses do, and some battle scars too. Many of the folks in the town below claimed to have, in their youth, been guests of one Romanov or the other, and to have stayed in the house with the family. None of them would talk about their experiences in the house, but none of them could be persuaded to return either.

The groundskeeper was an old shriveled little man, skeletally thin, who looked in danger of being blown away by a puff of wind. He resembled a large, upright turtle. Not being blessed with much of a neck, all he could do was move his head from side to side in an arc when he wanted to look around. The strange thing about the gatekeeper is that no one ever saw him in town. He never went into town for supplies, he never even left the property to visit a restaurant or tavern in the tiny town below. In fact, the only glimpses folks got of him were in passing, when he passed near enough to the gate while mowing grass or pruning flowers. That was the only way they knew he was real, and not just some story made up next to the bonfire, to scare the kids.

The dusky sky had reached that delightfully white time after twilight and before nightfall. This is the time of changing, the time outside of time, when lines are blurred, when boundaries grow ever thinner and thinner, and some with the power in such things can see through to that other world. Some with the power to do so can even step from the realm of that world into this one, and vice versa. One must be careful to return before the time of changing ends, and time begins again, or else risk being stranded somewhere one might not wish to be. No one really knew what would happen if one got stranded, and no one really wanted to find out.

Good Dr. Romanov was one such man, or so it was rumoured anyway. He was an ageless figure, overly tall and overly thin, with the look of one who was slightly ill, as though he’d not completely grown into his body or else suffered long years of malnutrition. He wobbled slightly when he walked, although there was no evident explanation for this. His demeanor was slightly careworn, and his clothing smelled of dark, dank places, and mothballs. Indeed, there were small patches in places where the moths had eaten through various pieces of clothing upon his person. His face was creased with worry lines, though he did not act old, but his warm brown eyes blazed with the knowledge of things and places no one else would ever see. His expression rarely changed, and he never smiled, as though he had forgotten how to work the muscles that would cause the deed to happen.

People generally fear that which they do not understand, and so, Dr. Romanov was often seen walking through town at nightfall, a solitary figure in a long, black cloak. He carried an old fashioned medical bag with him wherever he went, a testament to his chosen profession. As far as anyone knew, he had no patients, so what he carried in the bag was a mystery, like most things about him. People could often be seen crossing to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. For his part, Dr. Romanov wished the world at large no harm; in fact, he had dedicated his life to trying to help people. He simply chose to meet the world on his own terms. He tried to help where he could, and otherwise just wished to be left alone.

As far as the folks in the village below were concerned, leaving him alone was all right by them. In fact, most of the parents forbade their children to play anywhere in the vicinity of the old house, going so far as to tell them the house was inhabited by ghosts, in order to keep them away from it. Children, being what they are, were more curious about the house than frightened by it, and their parents dire warnings of ghosts just made them want to play around the old house even more.  An old, winding road ran up the hill in front of the house and drew on a little further along to the top of the hill.  It became a sort of gathering place where whispered conferences were held about the strangeness of the house and its elusive inhabitants before they zoomed down the hill, racing their friends until the house was out of sight once more.

On the evening that our story begins, we find Dr. Romanov seated in his library, in front of a tall cabinet with darkened glass doors. The library was hidden between several other rooms in the house, and a visitor would never know it existed unless they were invited to enter. Dr. Romanov warmed his feet in front of the fire, sipping something in a mug on the desk in front of him while he did so, and perusing the papers he was holding in his hand thoughtfully. Though the room appeared empty except for him, he was talking to someone.

“Yes, yes, I realize that we need someone new. Time draws short. It will not be long before she comes again, and we must be ready to face her.”

He paused, as if listening for a response, still deeply absorbed in his thoughts. Then, he spoke again. “It’s not so easy anymore. The stories scare them. The stories and the cloak. Yes, I know that both are necessary…” He stopped talking again, and sat still, now reading the papers in front of him in earnest. When he spoke again, his voice was grave, and yet, there was a question there as well. “Well, did you have a suggestion for who we need to bring in?” He suddenly grew rigid, and sat on the very edge of his chair, staring at the glass in the door, and holding onto the desk with white knuckles, as though it was the only thing keeping him up off of the floor. He shuddered, and without warning, he reached forward, grasped the key sticking out of the drawer below the glass doors, and turned it. Then, he opened the drawer and withdrew the file that lay in the bottom.

He rose and paced rapidly over to the window, where he stood staring out onto the sprawling grounds below, his back to the desk and the cabinet, as though he cannot stand to look at them. This time when he spoke, he did so very softly.

“Kathleen McCullough—why she’s just a child. We can’t. It wouldn’t be right…No. There’s always a choice.” He was silent for a long time, hoping somehow he had misunderstood, had heard wrong, and running rapidly through the other choices in his head. Finally, he said, “If we must, we must.”

Truth is not a finite thing; some feel that there is one truth to any matter, and all else is falsehood.  Others can only be convinced of the truth after seeing what they call proof.  If, as I said before, truth is not a finite thing, then time and space are even less so.  One moment time crawls or hobbles along, and the next it flies as fleet as gentle Mercury, with no set or stable pattern.  Sometimes, past becomes present, and present becomes past, and space thins to the point where those who have studied such things can pass between worlds.

“Yes, I agree, her quiet nature is a virtue,” said Dr. Romanov.  “It will take ears to hear what needs to be said.  And so, it begins again.  Let us prepare, old friend.” He covered himself with the cloak and awaited the inevitable thinning.

 

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