Somewhere in the haze of trying to reach the elusive man with black hair and blue-green eyes, I heard a distant sound. At first, it seemed to be just a part of my nonsensical dreams, but the sound got louder until it crept into my consciousness. I sat up and blinked the sleep from my eyes, wondering what was happening. Everyone was racing toward the stairs like stampeding cattle. I shook my head to get the fog out, and threw off the covers. I had to be there to catch the first glimpse with everyone else. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around my cotton nightgown, throwing modesty and propriety aside.
I ran to the upper deck in anticipation and searched for a spot to look over the rail. There were too many people and no room. I looked around for a MacKeighry, but they had all been swallowed by the frenetic crowd at the rails. I spotted an empty barrel by one of the mastheads, so I climbed on top of it to peer over heads, not caring that my blanket had fallen somewhere on deck. No one cared. I was not the only half-clad person caught up in the excitement.
What was before me was greatly unexpected. The land stretched out farther than the eye could see, but it held an odd, brownish hue. I sighed in disappointment. There were no emerald fields, as I had been accustomed to at home. I had never seen such dull landscape. Even the ancient town where we embarked on the ship in France had been prettier than this. Everyone onboard shouted and applauded, happy to be in this vast, new country, but I didn’t join in the revelry. This new land, no matter how promising, meant the end of my relationship with Finn, and, therefore, the end of all happiness.
As we made our way into the New Orleans harbor, there were tall weeds along the marshy land, and a boy ran along on shore, waving to our ship. I’d never seen a person with such exotic skin. It was the color of milk chocolate, and his eyes were big, brown saucers. His white smile showed missing teeth. Behind him was a dilapidated house that was probably once magnificent but now was overgrown with weeds and thick vines. Half of it had been burned. Faint whispers of a way of life before the Civil War came through with the breeze, but they were nothing more than old, unspoken secrets of days gone. The thick air felt almost menacing. There was something else in the air, too. This place was filled with mystery, and I was intrigued, in spite of longing for Ireland and Finn.
As the Belle Asisse got closer to the harbor, the water became murky brown from the runoff of the bustling harbor. And the buildings got bigger, although they appeared to be thrown together with a piece of plywood and some bricks. Everywhere people, mostly men, ran around, carrying various goods to load ships. The site swirled before my eyes. I started to fall off the barrel. Then everything went black.
All I could see through the fog in my head was a pair of seawater-colored eyes. They seemed to be watching over me. I wanted to reach up to the face that held those eyes, but I didn’t have the strength. It would be such comfort to feel his cheek upon mine. Noises all around scratched at my brain. Every time the blackness threatened to engulf me, he’d shake me until my head cleared somewhat. It was infuriating! All I wanted was the deep, endless sleep, but he wouldn’t let it happen.
“Please, leave me alone,” I cried, but my voice didn’t come out correctly, and no one heard me.
There was light overhead, a blinding, scorching light. My head felt heavy and achy.
I didn’t know how long I had been delirious, although later I’d hear that it had been a few days. Just when I felt too weak, and the darkness came close to overtaking me, I awoke. The buzzing of a fly near my ear helped me focus on something tangible while I looked around at my new surroundings. I swatted the fly away, then sat up and blinked.
The bright sunlight shined through white sheets draped over a few carefully placed logs of wood. They were actually big twigs, I realized as I looked around the makeshift tent. I was on a cot, dressed in my linen nightgown with only a sheet to cover me. Sweat dripped down the back of my neck. I tried to swallow but had no luck with a throat so dry. I carefully put my feet on the ground.
“Maeve, darling,” Ma said as she came into the tent. She grabbed me just as I was about to fall on my face. “You’re awake! Oh, thank the Lord!” She hugged me for a moment and then helped me back to the cot.
“What happened?” I managed to ask between cracked lips.
She put her hand to my forehead and smiled. “We’re not really sure. You suddenly fell ill, but you didn’t have a fever, so I had hope. You were in a deep sleep and didn’t want to come out of it. Perhaps a touch of influenza.” Her beautiful face turned to a worried frown. “But it doesn’t matter now. You’re awake.”
It hadn’t been the flu, but I didn’t want to tell Ma that. My body, and my spirit, had rebelled at this new life, this new set of rules restricting me from seeing Finn. Quite simply, my body had gone through withdrawal. Finn had once warned me that humans could inhale radiant dust by being around someone like him regularly, and that could lead to hallucinations and, even, madness. He’d also warned that I’d have to go through an illness to get over my physical addiction if we were ever parted. But I’d never believed him. Until now.
I wondered if waking up meant I wouldn’t miss him so much.
I looked around the small tent, seeing our things and travel cases piled high between blankets on the ground. I was on the only cot. “Are we in Kansas?”
“No, my dear. We’re still at the harbor, waiting to board a river boat to St. Louis.”
“We’re in America?”
“Yes,” Ma said with a smile. “We’ve had our papers signed and are official residents.”
“Where is he? I thought I saw him.”
Ma frowned again but then tried to cover it with a smile. “Your father isn’t here. He’s meeting us in St. Louis, where we’ll take the train to Kansas.”
I furrowed my brows. Finn had been at my side, pushing me to wake up and rejoin the world. “No, I wasn’t talking about Da. Where is Finn? I know he’s here.”
The smile faded from my mother’s face, and she put down my hand she had been holding. Her eyebrows went up in a determined arch. “He’d better not be, young lady! I will hear no more of your leprechaun. I’ve told you, he is not allowed to come with us to Kansas, and I will no longer indulge your relationship with him.”
“But. . .”
“No, Maeve. Do not speak to me of him again. Ever!” Ma stood and put both hands on her hips. “Enough. I’ve had enough of it!”
I took a deep breath and looked away, knowing her will was probably as strong as Finn’s. They both seemed to want the same thing, the end of our relationship, which meant the end of my world. There was no hope of an interesting life in this new land, not without him. Little did I know how wrong that assumption was. But at that moment, I felt retched.
Later that evening, after having a few hours to drink some broth, regain some of my strength, and get dressed, I ventured outside the tent. The air was cooler than it had been that afternoon but still thick with moisture. A constant hum of crickets and other creatures could be heard over the bustling community of immigrants. I didn’t want to think about what was creating such a noise in the swampland beyond the campfires, so instead I focused on the activity in front of me. Laughter, music, children shrieking with delight, and loud voices with all sorts of accents drifted toward me.
I strolled around the campsite, taking in the sights, wondering where all the MacKeighrys had gone. I almost stumbled over a woman so black she blended into the night sky. She sat on a rock, holding what looked to be homemade dolls.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said as I corrected my direction.
A deep chuckle came from her withered mouth. “Ooowee! No one has eva’ called me ‘ma’am’ before, Sugar Plum. At least no one of yo’ color.” She smiled up at me, showing off the whitest,
straightest teeth I had ever seen. Pieces of gray hair peeked out of the bandana wound around her head. “Do you want one of my dolls?”
She held it out to me to the point I had to look at it or be rude.
“No, thank you,” I said as I backed away, suddenly sensing something dark in the crudely constructed cloth and yarn doll.
“I can put a spell on the man o’ yo’ dreams with it. He’ll never cheat or leave you.”
“Yes, but can you make a magical being stay by my side forever?”
She put her head back and heartily laughed. “Oh no, child. Nothin’ can control something magical.”
I sighed as I walked away, hearing her laughter at my back. At least the people of this new land didn’t deny the existence of magic, I thought with a small measure of hope.
I started back toward the tent but then heard familiar voices raised in anger, so I turned toward that instead.
“No, it is absolutely out of the question,” I heard Ma say.
“I’m eighteen. I can do what I want. I’m not a child!” Gavin said much too quickly.
“Then stop acting like one,” Michael said, as he pointed his finger in Gavin’s face. Not something I would ever dare to do.
I could feel the anger in the air around them. They all turned as I arrived at where they stood, slightly away from the main campfire.
“Go away, Maeve. This isn’t your concern,” Michael said through clenched teeth.
“Get that finger out of my face, or I’ll break it,” Gavin said. His cold stare was convincing enough to make Michael put his hand down.
I searched Ma’s eyes for a reason for this rift, but she looked away as tears fell down her cheeks. “Gavin has decided to leave us.”
“What?” The astonishment came through in my voice. I noticed Michael’s hands open and close in a fist. I looked at Gavin, wondering what had happened. He had always been the rebel, but it had never gone this far before.
“Seems our brother here thinks life as a gambler in New Orleans will get him what he wants,” Michael said.
“It’s better than being a farmer. Besides, it’s my gambling wins that got everyone a passage on that river boat. You’d all be stuck in in this stinky campsite if it weren’t for me,” Gavin said, slapping his hands to his chest. “Once again, we have to pick up slack for Da’s shortcomings and
find money somehow. I’m tired of it! I’ve done my part for you all. Now, I’m gonna make it the way I want.”
“That’s not true! Da sent the money to get us to Kansas,” I exclaimed. Why would Gavin say such a thing? Da would never leave his family stranded in a strange country. But then the three of them turned and stared at me as if I were a child.
“As I said, Maeve, this is none of your concern,” Michael said with a nod toward our tent, dismissing me.
“No,” Ma said. “This is her concern as one of the older children. It’s time she knew the truth.”
I looked at my mother with confusion.
“Your father had only enough money for our steerage across the ocean.”
“But. . .” I couldn’t think of what to say. “You brought us all this way without knowing what would happen? How were you planning to get us all to Kansas?”
Ma bit her lip, and Michael’s head sunk a little bit.
“I knew I’d figure something out by the time we landed,” she said.
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to; I came to the rescue,” Gavin chimed in a factual manner. “Why do you think I played cards on the ship so much? And now, I’m buying my freedom with your passage up river. I’ll telegraph Da that you’re on your way, so he can meet you. Then I’m off the hook.” His words weren’t said in anger or desperation, which made them seem final.
Ma began to shake, and Michael just stood there nodding his head and looking into the distance.
“Gavin? What are you doing?” I asked, stepping closer to him. I seemed to be the only one able to form words at the moment. I couldn’t imagine life without him. We were only thirteen months apart and had spent our entire lives as co-conspirators.
“What I want to do, for the first time in my life. This land is full of promises. Anything is possible.” Gavin’s voice held persuasive excitement. “And I want more than being a farmer for the rest of my life. You could come with me, if you want to?”
“Come with you? Where?”
A flash of sadness crossed Gavin’s handsome face, but then it was gone. “I’ll see you at the boat landing in the morning,” he said to Ma. “Get to the pier for the River Queen by dawn. I’ve heard they’ve overbooked the boat, so anyone showing up late might not make it on. Get there early, and I’ll make sure you get private quarters. The captain owes me some money, so he promised me that.” He walked away and headed out of the campsite.
My mouth fell open. I couldn’t imagine the MacKeighry family without Gavin’s wit and quick thinking. While Michael was the older, more serious brother, Gavin was the one who managed to get
the impossible done, no matter how much scheming and manipulating he had to do. Da was a dreamer, so Michael and Gavin had been the caretakers of our large, and somewhat unusual, family. I looked at Michael and wondered how he’d ever manage without his second in command, and how I’d manage without my closest brother – the one who never judged me.
“We won’t speak of this again, especially around the boys,” Ma said. “If anyone asks, Gavin is staying behind to make sure our papers are in order and will be joining us later.”
Near the Wild by Maureen WillettPublication Date: June 15, 2015
eBook; 229 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
COWBOYS AND LEPRECHAUNS. Both occupy Maeve MacKeighry’s world in 1870, and she must decide which will win her heart. Leprechauns are feared, even in Ireland, but that doesn’t prevent Maeve from striking up a friendship with one who lives near her village. But once Maeve becomes a young woman, the local villagers start to gossip, especially since the MacKeighrys are known to practice magic in their home. It’s just for entertainment, but the town folk don’t see it that way. Rather than be outcasts, the MacKeighrys set off to America to homestead in Kansas, vowing to leave their magical ways and friends behind. Little do they know that Maeve’s friend follows and protects them on their journey.
The MacKeighrys encounter many adventures along the way to Kansas, only to find a simple sod house on their new farm at the end of the journey. The untamed land offers a fresh start for the family, as well as two very interesting men who both compete for Maeve’s attention. Pretty young women in a wild western town are a rarity. But can she forget her magical friend, and turn her attention to two of the most interesting men she has ever met? Perhaps cowboys and outlaws have a certain charm that a leprechaun doesn’t, after all.
Most of the novel takes place in Kansas in 1870 and is based on my family’s history. The idea of the MacKeighry’s sod house came from the home of my great grandfather. I was lucky enough to visit it as a teenager before the house was destroyed. One of the characters, Nikki Fuerst, is based on an ancestor, a prince from Austria who was disinherited for marrying a commoner and sent off to America. Stories I’ve been told my entire life about my family’s history and traditions, such as levitating tables, are included in Near The Wild.
Maureen Willett is a writer of fiction that pushes the boundaries of established genres. Her stories mostly come from her own family legends that have been passed down through generations, but then she tops them off with a twist of faery dust and angel wings. But at the core of each story are great characters in very human conflicts that anyone will find compelling. Each novel is crafted as an experience that will take readers beyond their day-to-day lives, incorporating themes of time travel, reincarnation, and magic. She is a former journalist, public relations professional, and media marketing specialist. Maureen lives in Hawaii with her family and walks the white-sand beaches of Oahu each day to get her inspiration for writing.
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