To read Part 13, click here. All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

Hamburgers sizzled on the backyard grill. The roses hadn’t yet overgrown the garden bench this year, but they were on the verge of reasserting their claim. For now, her daughter sat comfortably on the bench, with the Goldendoodle puppy in her lap. In a far corner, the bright green leaves of a Japanese maple cascaded over mossy stones like a galaxy of tiny stars.

Japanese maple leaves in sunlight.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“Mom, I’m feeling so blessed to be here with you and Dad today. Traveling abroad last month was fun, and I’m very glad to have had the chance, but there’s nothing like coming home. Happy birthday, Mom!”

She was just about to answer when the beautiful sunlit garden suddenly went dim. The breath she had just taken swirled dizzily through her, and she struggled to stay upright.

“Mom? Mom!”

The panicked shout sounded very far away as she fell.

Her own voice crying out was the next thing she heard. “No!”

Ina woke abruptly, her heart thudding. It wasn’t totally dark in the dormitory—a faint gleam under the door told her that the hallway torches had been lit, which meant that it was not long before dawn. Soon Petra’s raven would caw, telling the women it was time to rise for their morning meditations.

In the next bed, Phoenix stirred sleepily. “You’re all right, Ina. Whatever you were dreaming, it wasn’t real.”

“No.” The word came raggedly, in a half-sob. “No, I’m not all right. And it was real—it was!”

She had thrown her feet over the edge of the bed and made her way to the door, still in her nightdress, before she gave a moment’s thought to what she was doing. The stone floor of the hallway felt cold under her bare feet, but she wasn’t about to go back for her slippers. Without a conscious plan, she made her way through the familiar passages toward the meditation room.

Candles burned softly in wall sconces, their herbal scent filling the room. Mother Ocean sat cross-legged on a cushion beside the wall, with two other women close by. Although Ina’s bare feet made no sound as she crossed the smooth floor, Mother Ocean’s eyes opened with no apparent surprise, as if Ina’s arrival had long been anticipated.

The meditators always observed strict silence, but Ina had a strong feeling that wouldn’t be the only rule she was about to break.

“You tore me away from a loving family and home.” After nearly a year, the words finally came to her, certain and precise like a string of hard, polished stones. “Why?”

Mother Ocean got to her feet, slowly, with one wrinkled hand on the wall for balance. She did not dispute the accusation as she looked up to meet Ina’s gaze.

“Walk with me, Ina.”

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