What better way to begin a collection of short stories with souls in its title than with a story that conceives the origin of the soul.
Imagine an ethereal tour guide/interpreter imports you to Caelum Salvari, a fantastical, celestial dimension. You’ve been chosen to audit the commencement assembly of supernal beings prior to their spiritual transition to mortal life on Earth. You hear and see, through the interpreter, the Transition Minister’s presentation to the immortal assembly about the complexities and foibles of the human persona. In “Final Instructions before Incarnation,” this conscious-provoking discourse challenges traditional thought about the origin of the soul, the invisible presence that resides in us. You learn truths about the supernal beings that inhabit modern humankind. It challenges notions about whom and what we truly are inside, about the influencers that drive our behavior, and about preexistence and the afterlife.
The Bible story in Genesis about the first two souls on Earth and their expulsion from the garden of Eden is well-known. Ever wonder what Eve might have said to Adam after she ate the forbidden fruit? How about Eve’s conversation with the King of Connivers? Adam and Eve’s fall from grace is retold in two short-short stories. “Eve of the Dragon” is told by the first woman; and the evil reptilian trickster tells his side of the story in “Dragon’s Revenge.”
“Must Have Calla Lilies” addresses a common question about being in love: How do you mend a broken heart? Sethryn Polk’s prepubescent heart is shattered by the death of her grade-school crush. The responsibility she takes on about her part in the tragedy haunts her in adult life and causes her to fear and view romantic involvements as not worth the risk of another heartbreak. Her inner counselor fights against her stubborn, smothering ego, but determines to change her view.
Many people beseech at the boundaries of others’ acceptance their whole lives and never gain it. In “Freed,” Archie Sims struggles to seize the freedom to be authentic, despite scorn from narrow-minded people in his rural town. Will he learn that it’s better to live life on his terms or will he learn too late?
“God Sent a Woman” exhumes the drama between the verses written in the Bible’s book of Judith. The Israelites in Bethulia face a dilemma: submit to slavery under Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Assyrians, or be wiped off the mountain they’ve settled since their exodus out of Egypt. Judith, a mourning widow, puts her life in jeopardy when she leaves Bethulia to present a plan of appeasement to King Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite military brute, Chief General Holofernes. To save her people from annihilation, Judith’s faith in God must not falter.
People spend thousands of dollars on surrogacy for a chance to have a biological child. In “The Godsend,” Laurel and Vance Girard, a middle-aged couple, mourn the recent death of their adult son, their only child, and conclude surrogacy is the answer to fulfill their dream for a grandbaby; or is it?
For our nation’s Intelligence community, the challenge in preventing imminent threats to the lives and liberty of Americans is that it must be successful a hundred percent of the time. “With Conspicuous Fortitude” shines light on the crucial mission that our country’s Law Enforcement and Intelligence organizations are tasked: to find and apprehend plotters and perpetrators of domestic terrorism. This time, the city of Indianapolis is on the terrorists’ docket.
The criminal justice the Mack family deserves goes unfulfilled for three decades. What evidence remains about the forgotten murder of their son, Lincoln Mack? Who’ll come forward and testify that the heinous and far-too-common crime happened? “Dereliction of Justice” tells about the Mack lynching, one of nearly five thousand committed between 1882 and 1968 across the South where Jim Crow injustice had oppressed black citizens since the Civil War ended; an era when white supremacists, like the Ku Klux Klan, went unpunished for this and other violence against black Americans.
“Unintentionally Found” continues the previous despicable story, but through the eyes of the murder victim, Lincoln Mack. This unfortunate, young soul describes his outrage and the horror of being lynched. His introspection during the brutal attack reveals intimate moments in his teenage life, his aspirations, and his last thoughts of the loved ones he leaves behind. The trip through this dark passage in America’s racial history recounts oppressive social prejudices and biased political thinking that twenty-first century white nationalists want our nation to return.
In the short-short story, “Here’s To Renita,” Dex Ephraim, a widower, receives a letter in the mail with a honey-do list of requests from his recent-deceased wife. He ponders whether to follow or ignore his wife’s appeals. The path to a fulfilled life for him and their children depends on his choice.
A prequel to Harris’ previous historical novel, Beneath Every Troublin’ Stone, “The Brooch” is about a hand-crafted cameo that represents a father’s love for his daughter. It embarks on a poignant journey. It crosses an ocean, traverses the centuries by passing through generations of women, and along its way witnesses the racial intolerance that remains in American culture today. Yet the lovely adornment elicits joy, gives solace, and carries the emotional memories of each woman who inherits and wears it.
Can teenage love bloom after forty-years? In “Unexplored Crush,” the social mores of the 1970s nixes the relationship between Ken Wilhelm and Odelia Dunham, two high-schoolers. They graduate, an ocean parts them, and so they journey separately through their adult lives. A chance midlife encounter reconnects them; however, a tragic accident threatens the renewed opportunity to kindle their high school infatuation.
In an anthology where the soul is the theme, an essay on love demands its place. Our world’s airwaves are saturated with reports of people inflicting pain and suffering on one another. So common is the upward trend of intolerance and hate, we ask in our collective bewilderment what is love and where can we find it? Supported by Scripture, “Love Energy” answers those questions and suggests what it will take to reverse hate’s disheartening trend and build hope for humanity.
“The First Christmas” retells the two-millennial story of Jesus’ birth from a unique perspective. It gives voices to the band of sheep herders that the angel of God chose to announce the miraculous birth of Christ. Shiloh, a shepherd boy, his father Arcturus, and fellow herders go to Bethlehem to find the newborn Savior. When astrologers from the East meet the shepherds, Shiloh is the perfect person to take them to honor the Christ child. Shiloh learns the meaning and magnitude of God’s gift to humankind.
Now, for your reading pleasure, an excerpt from “The Brooch.”
You are bound to a family that loves you no matter what you aspire to do.
—Papá Savatier, French jeweler
SYRAC– USE, NEW YORK, 1955
“HOW MAY I HELP YOU, MADAM?”
“Can you tell me anything about this brooch and how old it is?” Mrs. Tulley asked the antique jewelry appraiser.
After she agreed to the price of the appraisal and the research, the jeweler reached for his loupe. He held the brooch up to the light, described the brooch while he examined it; then he returned it to her.
“Do you think it’s an antique?”
“Oh, it’s an antique all right, Mrs. Tulley.”
He let Bernice peer through his loupe. He pointed out three jewelers’ marks. France is probably the country of origin. I’ll need to prepare an inquiry to determine the brooch’s age.
The appraiser took several photographs of the brooch and its markings. He mailed the photos and a query letter to his contact in Paris, France.
Mrs. Tulley eagerly waited for a reply. Six months later, her daily anticipation had long subsided when the appraiser telephoned and asked her to come to the jewelry store. He’d gotten interesting history about her brooch.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” the appraiser said as Mrs. Tulley arrived, “but these matters can take time. I have the Paris report.”
The appraiser read a paragraph in the researcher’s findings:
“According to historians of the Royal Jewels Collection in Paris, the brooch was created for Prince Aristide of Nancy for his bride, Lady Duchamps. The Prince and his family were beheaded in 1792 during the French Revolution. Insurgents stole a trove of royal jewelry from their residence. They divided the jewels and sold the precious metals and gems in the underground market. Historians believe this brooch is part of that trove.”
The appraiser’s eyes rose above his rimless glasses. “How about that, Mrs. Tulley?”
“My goodness! The stories are true! The brooch is connected to French royalty. And the Prince was beheaded? Oh, my God!”
“Yes, ma’am. But it’s rare for a piece of jewelry to be connected to the Royal Jewels. How’d you come by it?”
“A woman my grandmother worked for gave it to her. How it got to America, I wish I knew that story. If only the brooch could talk.”
Of all the generations of women who’ve owned the brooch, it has endured longer. Only the angels of time can divine a fuller story about its journey.
As if he hadn’t seen her in a century, Prince Aristide of Nancy embraced Mireille Voclain and planted on her a deep and long kiss.
It was the pre-revolutionary era of France near the end of the eighteenth century. On that September evening in 1770, the Prince had watched his lady-love Mireille dance her opening chainés to her finale pas de bourrées on the stage at the famous Paris Opéra.
Mireille had spotted Aristide in his customary seat in the opera box. In his gaze, she could’ve leaped across the stage like a deer frolics through a meadow, if it weren’t for the hindrance of her calf-length, pannier skirt. Her opening turns, however, spun like pinwheels and her finale leaps floated across the stage like leaves carried by autumn breezes.
When their lips parted, Mireille latched her dressing room door. The auburn, bachelor prince might carry on a dalliance with any woman he pleased, but a premiere ballerina must be discreet to avoid a scandal.
“Mon amour—my love—you were exquisite, like a butterfly on the wing. The audience loved you,” said Prince Aristide.
Mireille stepped out of the hoops that gave her muslin skirt structure, yet hampered her freedom to raise her legs farther than six inches above the stage. A coquettish smile animated her face.
“Aristide, what’s behind your back?”
“What?” he teased. “This little thing?” Before her, he dangled a black velvet drawstring pouch.
Excited, she grabbed it, loosened the strings, and retrieved the brooch. Perplexed, she stared in recognition of it. Oh, mon Dieu—oh, my God, Papá’s brooch? Does Aristide know?
In her stupor, Mireille recalled her disappointment when Papá told her days ago: I’m so sorry my sweet daughter. A customer admired the brooch. He wanted it for his lady and said nothing else will do. Monsieur Moreau demanded that I offer it for sale. I had no choice. It brought a good profit, though. I promise I’ll create another for you, just like it.
She realized Papá’s customer was Prince Aristide and it would’ve been bad business to refuse the Prince.
The brooch warmed in her hand, imbued with her papá’s love, overlaid with the heartfelt sentiments of her lover prince. Her dance-fatigued legs strained under the sudden surprise. Mireille plopped on the chaise. Overjoyed by the brooch’s miraculous return, she wiped away tears before they spilled.
“Oh, ma chérie—my sweetheart.” Forlorn by her emotion, Aristide knelt at her feet. “I’d hoped you’d like it,” he said in a regretful tone.
“J’aime ça—I do like it.” Mireille’s finger twirled the bewitching auburn curl that spiraled over his regal, furrowed brow.
Aristide untied the ribbons around her ankles to her ballet slippers and began, “Last week I visited Moreau’s Bijouterie as it was about to close.” He stroked Mireille’s feet and caressed her aching toes. “I browsed the fine jewelry there, but found nothing right. Luckily, in the apprentice corner, a Creole man polished this marvelous cameo.” Aristide kneaded her strained arches and calves. “I’d never seen another like this one, carved in silhouette; and the pearls that encircled the cameo made it extra special.” Mireille dared not divulge the serendipity of his gift. “I made the proprietor a handsome offer and bought it that evening.”
“Merci beaucoup—thank you so much. I love it!”
Melted by his thoughtfulness, Mireille bound him in her arms, admired his hazel eyes, and kissed her sweet prince. She let Aristide untie her corset and remove her stockings; and then she submitted to him—body and soul.
THE SURNAME VOCLAIN, Mireille’s stage name, kept her acquaintances unaware of her relationship to the Creole jeweler apprentice, as she chanced to keep her place in the ballet troupe and the acceptance of her audience. Apprentices with her papá’s skills were hard to find, so Monsieur Moreau went along with the scheme. Her romance with the Prince and her celebrity depended on her passing for white.
In 1752 when Mireille was three, her papá and mamá, free persons of color, accompanied their widowed employer, André Moreau, back home to France. They were his Creole house servants in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, later renamed Haiti. For the past eighteen years, her papá was an apprentice jeweler at Moreau’s Bijouterie in Paris.
Mireille often begged her papá to create her a pendant to wear and he’d promised, but the Bijouterie kept him burdened with work. It seemed he could never find enough time until he decided not to let anything keep him from it. His daughter was about to reach a significant milestone in her life. At Christmas, in 1769, Mireille and her papá met at a clandestine location.
“Mireille, I have an early Christmas present for you.”
Papá gave his daughter the folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket.
“Ah, what’s this, Papá?”
“It’s for you, ma jolie fille—my beautiful daughter. Unfold it and see!”
“It’s a sketch for a brooch.” Her eyes probed him. “Pour moi—for me?”
“Oui! Yes, for you! For your twenty-first birthday.”
Papá described the sketched brooch in detail and promised to finish it in time for her birthday the following September.
“Oh, Papá, the design is magnifique!
That January, Papá began to create the brooch. He chose from the variety of shells, pearls, and other precious items he’d collected and held dear from their old island home.
Papá spent his free hours over the next nine months crafting the brooch. He selected the pen shell, dark as dusk, to carve a cameo in the profile likeness of his grandmother, the Mandinka house girl of a white French planter: his grandfather. He inlayed the charcoal cameo in a panel of mother of pearl and affixed it on top of the setting’s gold back plate.
For the setting, he’d retooled one of the gold bangles his grandmother gave him before she died. Around the setting’s circumference, about the dimensions of a chicken egg, he soldered tiny gold posts into place. By hand, he bored holes into white pearls, twenty-one for each of Mireille’s years, and mounted them on the posts.
It was the pièce de résistance that awarded his daughter’s success on the ballet stage. It symbolized his support for her dream and for doing what was needed to become a ballet dancer in white French society. Yet, Papá also created the brooch to remind Mireille that she descends from the resilient and kindhearted Mandinka woman portrayed in the cameo.
“You are bound to a family that loves you no matter what you aspire to do,” he often reminded her.
Papá finished the brooch a week before Mireille’s birthday. One last polishing had remained and he intended to finish it the evening Prince Aristide walked in the Bijouterie at closing.
THERE WASN’T A WAY TO TELL ARISTIDE that he’d bought the brooch her papá had created for her and also keep her truth a secret.
After their passionate coupling, Aristide left Mireille’s dressing room and she resumed her post-performance routine. She pulled back her wavy, ebony tresses and wiped off the pale stage makeup and revealed a creamy, almond complexion beneath.
“Coming, almost done,” she answered the night watchman through the door. She finished and scurried home to her attic studio apartment.
In months after the amorous evening with Aristide, Mireille no longer fit her costumes. She was pregnant. She informed Aristide about his child and accepted that the pregnancy would end their affair. Mireille left the ballet company. With no income, she moved back to the servants’ quarters with her parents in the Moreau home above the Bijouterie. Mireille couldn’t hide her Creole origins anymore and reassumed her family surname: Savatier.
Despite the revelations, Aristide loved Mireille, but his parents forbid marriage outside royalty; and if her mixed-race had become known, the idea of marriage to her would’ve made his parents feebleminded with outrage. Aristide’s devotion and financial support were what he could give Mireille and his child, if not his name or his royal status.
In summer 1771, Mireille gave birth to a daughter with auburn ringlets and hazel eyes. She named her Cosette.
Prince Aristide, a year later, married Lady Duchamps. He fathered more children, a son and two daughters.
Cosette’s grandfather tried to fill the void, but she missed the love she may have gotten from a devoted father, so she set on a precocious and rebellious course to find a substitute. At sixteen, in year 1787, her promiscuity made Mireille a grandmother of an infant girl named Bijou. Cosette wasn’t sure which lover had fathered her daughter. Bijou’s locks, however, were also auburn and her eyes, hazel.
IN 1789, PARISIAN MALCONTENTS REVOLTED against the French monarchy. To arm themselves, rebels of the Popular Party broke into the Bastille fortress prison, set free King Louis XVI’s political enemies, and seized the huge cache of gunpowder, ammunition, and weapons. The French Revolution ensued.
One night in 1792 during the murderous months called the Reign of Terror, Prince Aristide’s carriage rode into a bloody melee between the Revolutionaries and the Royal Army. The insurgents dragged the Prince from the carriage and accused him of supporting counterrevolutionaries. They detained him.
Earlier that evening, fewer than twenty minutes before, Mireille had parted Aristide’s company. Walking home after the rendezvous, a stray gunshot from the street fighting gravely injured her. She didn’t recover. Mireille was age forty-three.
That same night, the revolutionaries guillotined Prince Aristide and his family.
COSETTE WAS AGE TWENTY-ONE when her mother died. The sudden-ness of it devastated her. Memories of insolence toward her mother struck her with regret. A large trunk that belonged to Mireille beckoned her. She found comfort among her mother’s possessions. She opened it. The black velvet draw-string pouch lay on top. Oh, Mamá … your beautiful cameo, she recollected.
Also inside the trunk were several old costumes, ballet slippers, and letters written on fine linen papers bundled with colorful silk ribbons tied in bows. Cosette tried on her mother’s ballet slippers and opened one of the letters. Prince Aristide had designed a secret liaison with Mireille. He wrote of his love for her mother and for ma jolie fille—my beautiful daughter. “That’s me!” Ah! It all makes sense! The letter helped Cosette put the years-long puzzle together. Prince Aristide was my father!
Cosette thought of the times, as a small child, when she and her mother met with the Prince. Before the Revolution, it used to be correct to admire and give respect to royalty. Prince Aristide and his family had fascinated Cosette in her teenage years. Her mother called him a “friend.” She dissolved in sorrow that she never got to know him as her father. After more thought, she thanked God her mother and father kept her a secret. The secret saved her from the guillotine.
AFTER KING LOUIS XVI WAS GUILLOTINED for treason in January 1793, Cosette decided to leave her illegitimate status and her country behind for a fresh start. In early August, Cosette packed Mireille’s trunk for herself and six-year-old Bijou and left Paris. Ten days of arduous travel by coach brought them to Port Le Havre on the west coast of France.
Mireille’s letters from Prince Aristide, which Cosette brought in the trunk, had contained cash her mother saved. The chaos spawned by the Revolution, however, had devalued the currency and Cosette worried at how little remained after she bought their passage fare to America; and after she met the unexpected expense of the required personal bedding for the voyage. Though it hurt her to part with it, Cosette sold her mother’s cameo brooch for extra money to insure a good start in America. She added the cash to her leftover wad of savings and secured it against her body.
Cosette and Bijou embarked the vessel. She’d booked the tween-deck—the eight-foot high space, nearly the vessel’s length, between the cabins above and the cargo hold below. Behind curtains, each end accommodated a primitive, non-gender toilet—pine boards nailed in place and a hole cut out above a chamber bucket.
Down the hull’s length on each side were double-decked, rough-hewed platform bunks for sleeping. The middle aisle allowed two people to pass each other, if they turned sideways. Cosette and Bijou were assigned a four-person bunk on top, which they shared with two women.
Sanitary conditions among the passengers deteriorated immediately after they left Port Le Havre beginning with seasickness, then respiratory and intestinal illnesses, followed by disease, lice, and rats. Most passengers were driven to constant prayer or regret.
Cosette’s fare included rations of stale biscuits, salted meat, and foul water to cook oatmeal over a flame and to steep tea. The passengers contracted to indenture themselves to wealthy colonists, who’d pay their passage fares upon arrival, got less than full rations.
The eight-week voyage across the Atlantic in mid-August was hellish. The repurposed cargo vessel was hot, humid, and cramped for the two-hundred-plus passengers. Privacy amongst men and women was non-existent. Life-experience taught Cosette that some men were depraved of morals, so she clung to Bijou.
The second week on open seas, Cosette and Bijou met a couple named Bourdillon on the top deck where everyone sought ocean air and sun. They befriended each other.
“Whew! Last night’s storm was wicked, wasn’t it?” said Cosette.
“Oui. How’d you and little Bijou fare?” asked Madame Bourdillon.
“We were getting by until the Captain ordered the air vents shut because the winds drove the seawater through them. The tween-deck got pitch black and it smelled worse than Paris sewers.”
“You and Bijou can visit us anytime,” said Madame Bourdillon. Her well-heeled husband afforded cabin passage, so they enjoyed lots of sunlight and privacy, though the stench below crept into the cabins, too.
“Oui, I’ll do so often,” said Cosette, worried for her Bijou. She was happy for the chance to shield her daughter from the rampant sickness in the tween-deck.
Midway through the journey, Cosette’s motherly instincts led her to bring Bijou to the Bourdillons’ cabin.
“Madame Bourdillon, can you please take care of Bijou for a day or two? I’m not well.”
“Of course, we’d love to.”
Cosette coaxed Bijou to Madame Bourdillon’s side. She handed over a leather satchel and Bijou’s rations.
“Merci beaucoup, Madame,” she repeated with teary resignation. She slipped Madame Bourdillon her wad of cash and whispered, “Please hold this for me. Thieves are robbing the sick.”
“I promise. Bijou will be safe with us.”
Cosette swept Bijou in her arms. “Don’t give Madame Bourdillon any trouble, you hear?” She hid her sobs from Bijou and hurried to get beyond range of her daughter’s wails.
Ten days later, the Bourdillons received the notice. Cosette Savatier, age twenty-two, had joined other unfortunate passengers ushered by the cruelties of croup, pox, or dysentery to their “final peace.” Every day of the voyage, the dead—most were women and children—and their bedding were dropped overboard for a watery burial.
The trip across ocean purgatory ended at Port Charleston, South Carolina in mid-October, 1793. That same month in France, ten months after her husband King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette also met the guillotine for the crime of high treason.
The Bourdillons had three reasons to celebrate: they disembarked in South Carolina alive; Monsieur Bourdillon kept his promise to reach America before their next wedding anniversary; and they’d gained a daughter to give their surname.
Monsieur Bourdillon sneaked behind his wife, covered her eyes with his palm and said, “Hold out your hand.” She giggled and complied. He placed a gift in it and said, “Happy Tenth Anniversary, Madame Bourdillon!”
They had landed in Charleston a week before. Amid the busyness of settling into their temporary abode, she wondered how Monsieur Bourdillon found time to buy her a gift. Her wonder turned to delight.
“Pour moi—for me?”
“Oui, mon cher—yes, my dear.”
With giddy anticipation, Madame Bourdillon upended its pouch and a piece of jewelry shimmied into her hand.
“It’s beautiful … so unusual.”
She admired it. It beguiled her curiosity about its creator.
“Look, Bijou. How do like my new brooch?”
“C’est la broche de maman!—that’s Mamá’s brooch!” Bijou pointed and screamed to hysterics. “Is Mamá here? We left Mamá on the boat!” and she crumbled in tears. “Where’s Mamá? Mamá!” she repeated.
The Bourdillons were dumbfounded. Bijou was adamant that Monsieur Bourdillon’s anniversary gift had belonged to her mother.
“Where’d you buy this?” asked Madame.
The end of the excerpt from “The Brooch.”
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