By Melyssa Williams
By all accounts – at least as well as I can say – I am 18 years old, but I think I could be as old as 20 … or even as young as 16.
I have slept and woken in so many different eras now. This time I am in America, in the twenty-first-century. This is a difficult time to be Lost.
My name is Sonnet Gray and I was born in 1737. My mother was born nearly one-hundred-fifty years after that. My father? He was born in 1174. We are Lost, like our ancestors were before us, and like our children will be, too. Me, I remember nothing of the eighteenth century; at least not during the time of my birth, or during the first four years of my life. I do recall visiting it briefly again, but it never felt like home to me. No place ever does. Even so, I hated it worse than any others, and couldn’t wait to leave. It reminded me too horribly of my sister whom we had left behind. Each time I saw a babe in white lace I thought of Rose, and each time I saw a young beautiful woman with light blue eyes, I startled, thinking could it be Rose? I wondered if she lived her whole life in that century, while her mother and father and sister had been forced to move on. I wonder that still. But before I even had another birthday, we were lost again, my father and me.
My mother, shaken with sorrow and drunk with sadness, had not made it even a month after we left baby Rose. Desperate to find her, and sick with the guilt she could not rid herself of, she neither ate nor slept until she was a hollow wraith of a woman, empty and void. It doesn’t seem as though I should remember her at all, yet I do. A bit. She was a vague, shadowy woman with yellow hair and a listless voice. I don’t remember Rose very well; I mostly have Dad’s tales in lieu of my own recollections. I do know she had flaxen hair – golden like our mother’s – and that her eyes were like mine: a disconcerting light blue (also from our mother). While I am taller than average with long legs and arms, Dad said Rose was a tiny thing, bird-like. She was three years old and I four the night we disappeared and she stayed behind. It was the first leaving we had been subjected to since her birth and no one could have predicted that she wouldn’t possess the same ability her family did. She wasn’t the first, I suppose, who was left behind in our strange, cursed way, and there are always whispers as to why some cannot wake in different centuries the way their families can. Half siblings for instance, rarely have enough magic (for lack of a better word) in their blood to accomplish it. The sickly … well, perhaps. There have been cases of the ill or very old and frail being left behind. Likely we will never know what happened that night; we only know that we woke up in Italy in the 1500s and Rose had not passed through time with us. Mother grieved and grieved for two weeks, either sitting motionless in one position for frightening amounts of time, or pacing, agitated and restless outside in the sun. When she grew tired of grieving, she combed her hair, put on a cornflower blue dress that my father had stolen for her, and calmly walked off a cliff.
My father started drinking heavily that night, and he has not stopped since.
The first few months here were frustrating for me. I arrived in this century for the first time and found it incredibly fast-paced and overwhelming, noisy and confusing. Everyone had gadgets pressed to their ears and they drove cars instead of walking. I had never seen automobiles before, but of course I had heard of them through people who had traveled much further in time than I had. I found out quickly enough that I need papers to identify myself if I wanted a job, a house, anything. A mutual friend of a quickly made acquaintance – who was shady to say the least – stole an identity for me that came with a number. He said it was a social security number, and everyone had one. I didn’t like being assigned a number, it seemed a trick, but we needed to get a place to live. It was winter; Dad was sick again and so was Prue. So, for several months I became Emily Winn. I told people that I preferred to go by my middle name, Sonnet, so I could hold onto some semblance of myself.
Finding a job was not easy, but I have become accustomed to that problem whenever and wherever we go. The Lost cannot take much of anything, aside from their fellow Lost family and whatever they are holding in their hands when they pass on, so I have learned to rely solely on music to provide me with an income. I have a low, throaty voice that serves me well for singing and I find using it to be a pleasure that each and every century will stop and listen to. This decade proved hardest, but I secured a job at a coffee shop that has live music and poetry on the weekends. The wages and tips are enough to feed me and Dad and to keep him in cigars and alcohol. There is no need for other things and no need to save because the expression ‘you can’t take it with you’ is never truer than when you are Lost. I always sew extra money into my nightgown hems so that I am not destitute when we pass on again, but it rarely helps. If you are suddenly living in ninth century Germany, no one is going to recognize your $50 American bill anyway.
The Lost stick together and as everyone knows, misery loves company. No one wants to be lonely. It is a comfort to go through our trials together. Also, no one fully understands what we go through. We keep to groups; too large of a group and of course we are far too conspicuous, so most of us keep ourselves at fewer than ten. Our group now is eight (though we may take on others as time goes by) and we are noticeable enough as it is. Somehow, through fate or just dumb luck, we managed to get one drunk storyteller who is also my father, a married couple, old Prue who has to be at least a hundred years old and serves as everyone grandmother, a pair of elderly bachelors, and Israel Rhode, who is several inches over six feet tall, black as night, and completely unforgettable. For the past several years this is my family.
Together, we speak almost every language you could think of. I myself speak five, and can hobble along well enough in four more. When you live in as many places as we do, you pick languages up quickly. Each other are all we have, really and truly. We are not immortal, though legends may say we are, and no one knows whether the Lost age differently than the rest of mankind. There are different thoughts and no one agrees. One man might say he fell asleep clean shaven and woke the next morning in a different time and space with a full beard, but I haven’t seen it myself.
I have wondered about a man I’ve seen at the coffee shop; he gives me the feeling that he is keeping an eye on me. Since there is nothing remarkable about me (my boss tells me if it weren’t for my voice and the way I froth milk he never would have hired me), I can only assume he is Lost and looking for others to be with. It’s common for our type to land in similar places, in similar decades, narrowly missing each other, but sometimes even perfectly together. It’s as though whatever pulls us on, whatever fingers our marionette strings, has a specific goal in mind but does not share it.
He is a man or nearly so, young and tall and aimless looking. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s the same: he looks as though he went out to fetch the morning paper and the door slammed and locked behind him. His hair is a bit too long and his face is on the scruffy side of smooth. He wears glasses when he reads the paper but takes them off to pinch the bridge of his nose when he drinks his coffee. He sits at the bar and pretends not to stare at me. This isn’t an attractive description, but he’s an attractive man (or he just a boy?) in an unkempt, confused looking way. I’m sure he isn’t staring to start something romantic … not with me. If it was love at first sight he was looking for, he’d be much more apt to turn his owlish eyes towards my coworker, Penny, who is far more beautiful and alluring than I am. Of course she’s terrible at frothing milk and her poetry is a thing of horrible legend, but men rarely find that a suitable turn off. No, this particular man keeps his eyes on me and I am unsure as to why. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like being uncomfortable.
So, tonight, I accused him of staring.
“It’s your coffee,” he replies, wistfully. “You make it so strong I can’t blink or focus my eyes. Your fault.”
“I make it the way I was trained to make it,” I answer, primly. “If you aren’t manly enough for it, I could make you some warm milk.”
He looks wounded and takes a big chug of his coffee, swallowing slowly and pointedly.
“Well, anyway,” I continue, wiping an imaginary spot on the counter with my dishtowel, “it’s rude to stare and you’re always staring at me. You should stare at Penny; she’s just started her new poem on stage.”
“I’d rather drink warm milk,” he shudders. “Will it be about goats and chocolate again?”
I pause in my buffing of the counter. “I think that one was supposed to be a metaphor.”
“Really? I don’t need to know what for. Anyway, I didn’t mean to stare at you. I’m lost in thought.”
“Constantly?” I am skeptical. “You’re constantly lost in thought? That’s a lot of thinking. You should give it a rest. Maybe switch to decaf.” I offer some from the pot behind me. I know my conversation is inane, but I am no good at conversation with handsome boys. I am in over my head.
“Pointless. Boring. Sleep inducing. Like warm milk. Or Penny’s poetry.”
I smile in spite of myself. Penny is sweet but it’s a pleasant change to be ranked higher somehow. I have no delusions about myself; I am tall and skinny, with dark, nondescript hair that neither curls nor straightens properly. My light ice blue eyes might be fascinating, but are probably just creepy. I’ve been told by modern girls that I have a horrific sense of fashion (evidently t-shirts with kitty cats are not haute couture). And I have the inability to come up with witty responses to conversations from the opposite sex. I’m a ‘keeper,’ I overheard someone say dryly once. I was unfamiliar with the modern expression, but I gathered it was no compliment.
“Actually, I’m only scoping you out because of your grandma,” he continues, sipping.
“Prue?” I blink, not sure whether to be disappointed or wary with the change of subject.
“Elderly woman with an accent? Dispenses cryptic advice with her food?” He asks.
“Well, yes, that’s Prue. Where did you meet her? And why are you scoping out my grandma anyway?” I wonder if he knows my father as well. Prue and Dad sell Cajun/Irish/Southern/Italian food from a cart several blocks away. Prue is an excellent cook, but between her fiery take-no-prisoners personality and her heavy accent, not to mention a tendency to swear at customers, she and Dad don’t pull in much income. Dad himself is a bit useless, truth be told, and he’s most always drunk. He doesn’t exactly pull in the customers either. Although Prue’s cooking is honestly amazing, they won’t be featured in any upcoming restaurant reviews, at least not favorable ones.
“She made me this really spicy gumbo and pasta thing. It may or may not have been alligator.”
“So?” I snap. “Don’t go back if you didn’t like it. And it’s not illegal to cook with if that’s what you’re getting at.” Worse than that though, is a worry my Dad may have picked his pocket.
He glares at me and appears insulted. “What are you talking about? I loved it. I love her. I asked her to marry me and she hit me with her rice spoon. If it’s illegal to cook with alligator, I’ll cheerfully hide Gramma in my house from the authorities. I was actually hoping to get her to talk to me: I’m a photographer and I’d love a picture of her.”
“Oh. Well, you can ask, but she’ll probably turn you down.” Prue doesn’t like photos. Most of the Lost don’t. We’re timeless enough without photographic evidence.
“I did, but she started waving her spoon at me again and I got scared. I guess I was hoping you’d butter her up for me? I’m a decent photographer, I promise. You can see my work if you like. These are all recent and from the area.” He pulls out a folder with several sheets of photos.
In spite of myself and the fact that I should be refilling coffee right now, I leaf through them politely. They are quite good, at least to my untrained eye. I see a young boy that I recognize from the street where I live. The photographer has captured his mischievous grin and his missing front teeth perfectly. He poses in a cocky way for the camera. There are a couple of teenagers holding up a large fish, grinning and looking deliciously sunburned and young. A woman nuzzling a tiny baby … I think I’ve seen her as well, only she was pregnant the last time she was in the coffee shop. Another: a girl, around my age or younger, leaning against a tree, her skirt billowing back against her knees, her arms crossed. She doesn’t know she’s being photographed. Her feet are bare and her hair long and straight. She looks like a fairytale princess. She is small and delicate like a hummingbird.
I think it is my sister.
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I highly recommend Shadows Gray as a thought-provoking read. It’s one of those books that stays with you in your mind long after you’ve put it down. I bought this for a plane ride and for the first time in my life, I was disappointed that the plane ride was too short.
Each of the book’s characters are deftly crafted with the intricacy and charm of an old-fashioned pocket watch. They are flawed, idiosyncratic, funny, unpredictable and tragic. Her prose is full of evocative imagery, historical fact, whimsical fantasy, humor and wit.
This one is one that gets into your head and dreams! Intricate mystery story that captures the emotions and thoughts of the main character perfectly. Many interesting characters with depth who you will love in spite of their flaws. But mostly… Creepy, exciting, fascinating ending!
This book took hold of me so much that I couldn’t stop until I finished it. The writer’s plot is different, with the characters real and likeable. The concept of jumping from time to time left me wondering where next? And the final actions of everyone was really unexpected. I found myself muttering Oh no! at the conclusion. There is another book coming in this series and I am eagerly waiting for it to come out. It is definitely on my gotta-have-it list.