A Haunting of the Heart

by Glori

Disclaimer: I still don't own them but if Josiah ever came to visit me I wouldn't mind keeping him :) Notes: This is in answer to Mel's Halloween Challenge on the Belle's List.

Feedback is greatly welcomed.

Josiah Sanchez made his way from Vista City back to Four Corners slowly. The visit with his sister had been another disappointment in a long string of disappointments.

When he had received the telegram almost two weeks ago from the Mother Superior of the convent where Hannah was cared for, it had sounded hopeful, so he hastily prepared for the trip. He was met there by the doctor in charge of Hannah's treatment, along with Mother Superior and another nun.

The doctor had told Josiah that his sister showed signs of coming out of the safe world she had created for herself. He was in hopes that Josiah's presence would help Hannah climb out, and back into reality.

After a meal and a brief rest, while they waited for Hannah to awaken from her nap, Josiah visited his sister. The visit went very well and they talked of many things from their childhood.

The doctor and the nuns met with Josiah afterward and it was decided that Josiah should stay and continue to help his sister as much as possible. He readily agreed.

A place was found for him to rest and, over the next week or so, he made daily visits to talk with Hannah. Some days her thoughts were filled with the past and other days she was making plans for the future. Josiah was greatly encouraged, but then it happened.

They were taking a walk in the garden that was attached to the convent when a drunken young man burst in upon them. He grabbed Hannah and kissed her passionately. Josiah pulled him off his frightened sister and punched him in the jaw, knocking him unconscious. The drunken young man fell in a heap at Hannah's feet. She looked down at him, screamed and collapsed.

Josiah scooped her up in his arms and hastily carried her back into the convent. The doctor was summoned. When Hannah awoke, she was catatonic. She had retreated back into her little world and noone could reach her.

After assuring Josiah that he had NOT caused this regression, the doctor had suggested that Josiah return to Four Corners until a way could be found to reach the terrified woman.

And so, Josiah began the long journey home. He was in hopes of reaching Four Corners in time for Halloween. He loved to see the children dressed up and he always had a special treat for all those who stopped at the church - popcorn balls, all gooey and sticky with caramel and peanuts. The children in Four Corners (and many of the adults as well) loved Josiah's popcorn balls.

Dusk was gathering and Josiah had just decided to seek shelter for the night when a fierce rainstorm descended upon him. The wind howled and lashed at his clothes, almost as if trying to strip him naked. The rain, mixed with hail, beat at him in sheets. Thunder rumbled and roared like a great, unseen beast seeking its prey. Lightning split the sky and caused the landscape to take on an eerie, unearthly appearance.

During one particularly bright flash of lightning, Josiah spotted a building ahead in the distance. It was about a quarter of a mile away, but Josiah knew that once he reached it, he could have shelter from the storm. He urged his horse forward as quickly as possible. It didn't take much, the horse wanted to be warm and dry, too.

Upon reaching the building, Josiah discovered that it was an abandoned barn. Rain was pouring through a section of it, but Josiah managed to find two dry stalls - one for him, the other for his horse. He scouted around and found a small amount of grain and several bales of sweet hay. Breaking open the bales, Josiah scattered hay in the dry stalls. Enough to make comfortable beds for them both. What was left over, he set aside for his horse to eat. Then, he prepared his horse for the night by drying him off and brushing his coat.

Not finding water in the barn, Josiah realized that there had to be a well or spring nearby. So he went back out into the storm in search of it. The only thing he had to hold the water was his canteen, so he was forced to make many trips back and forth to get the water needed for himself and his horse.

By the time he had brought in enough water to last them, he was so exhausted that he simply laid down on the hay and fell deeply asleep. He slept fitfully, being startled awake several times by loud claps of thunder.

The storm raged on throughout the night and most of the next day. About sunset it finally quit, but the area around the barn had become a quagmire of mud with deep puddles of standing water. Josiah decided to stay one more night. Hopefully, things would dry up during the night, maybe enough for them to leave without his horse slipping on the mud and hurting himself.

In the wee, small hours of the night Josiah caught a chill and by morning he was running a raging fever. He could not get warm, nor could he stay awake. So he slept on. And on. And on.

Josiah was startled awake by a hand on his forehead. He opened blue eyes still bright with fever and gazed upon a girl. No, she was a woman probably 20 or 21 years old. She was dressed in butter yellow with a matching ribbon tied around her long bright auburn tresses. Her face was lovely and she was curvaceous and amply proportioned. But for all that, her most striking feature was her eyes. They were like twin emeralds set in her face. Josiah could not tear his eyes away.

She was kneeling beside him, smiling at him. She had brought a basin of cool water and a cloth, with which she proceeded to bathe the sweat from his face and neck.

He protested weakly, but she shushed him in a soft, sweet voice. Josiah could not understand where she had come from, but she halted his every attempt to speak.

When she had finished bathing him, she applied a mustard and herb plaster to his broad chest and raised his head so she could feed him broth and bread.

He was still in the barn, but it looked new and he heard the sounds of other animals in it - horses, cows, pigs, cats. Outside he could hear chickens clucking and dogs barking. Did he dream that the barn was abandoned? Or was he dreaming now?

Before he could start questioning the young lady, she spoke. "I'm very glad to see you finally awake again. Your fever was so high, I was afeared that you would die on me. But with the careful tendin' to ya that I've been doin', I think you'll pull through. Now, handsome stranger, tell me your name. Mine is Moira O'Bryan and this is me barn that you be in." She spoke with a charming Irish lilt in her voice and Josiah was instantly enchanted.

The big preacher opened his mouth to answer her, but he could only croak. He swallowed several times, then cleared his throat and replied. "My name is Josiah Sanchez and I live in Four Corners. I took shelter here from the rainstorm, then I got sick. That's all I remember, until now."

Josiah noticed a large oblong basket near the woman when it suddenly began rocking. Then a baby's thin wail pierced the air. Turning to the basket, the young woman picked up the baby and began soothing it. Turning back to Josiah, she spoke again. "And this be me daughter, Deirdre, puttin' up such a fuss. I'll be tendin' ya down here so that Padraic, my husband, doesn't get upset. He's a very jealous man. You rest now and I'll check on ya again after lunch. I put a jug of cool water and a tin cup beside ya."

With that, the young mother picked up the basket and left the barn. She returned faithfully several times daily for the next several days, until Josiah was well again and ready to move on.

As he prepared to resume his journey, Moira came down to the barn carrying a bundle wrapped in a green gingham cloth. Handing the bundle up to Josiah as he sat astride his horse, the young mother spoke. "I put together some food for your journey. Take care of yourself, Josiah Sanchez, and God Speed."

Josiah smiled down at the lovely young woman. "You take care of yourself, ma'am, and your little girl, too. Thank you for your help. If you hadn't been here, I might have died. If you ever come to Four Corners, please look me up." With that, he tipped his hat and turned his horse for home, leaving his heart behind in the young woman's care.

Josiah arrived back in Four Corners without further incident and life resumed its normal course, that is until Josiah saw a sign in the window of Sloane's Bakery advertising 'authentic Irish soda bread'. Remembering how good the loaf Moira O'Bryan had sent with him had been, he ventured into the bakery to try some.

He was greeted by a young woman of perhaps 17 or 18 with her waist-length chocolate brown hair done up in a braid down her back. Her eyes were green - bright green, like twin emeralds. She smiled at him and softly asked, "May I help ya with somethin', sir?" in a voice that carried a sweet Irish lilt.

Josiah was taken aback and fumbled for words. Finally, he managed to ask, "Are you new here? I don't recall seeing you here before."

The young woman looked up at him and smiled again. "Yes, I arrived last week from the orphanage over in Cedar Ridge. I'm 18 now and they said I could make my own way in the world. I came to Four Corners to find someone my Ma knew when I was just a babe. His name is Josiah Sanchez. Be you he?"

"Yes, I'm Josiah Sanchez. How did I know your mother? What's your name?" The preacher didn't recall ever seeing her before and a eerie shiver ran up his spine.

"My ma cared for you when you were sick with a fever. It was shortly after that that Pa killed her and then himself in a jealous rage. We had no family, so I was sent to the orphanage in Cedar Ridge. My name is Deirdre O'Bryan, me Ma was Moira."


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