‘Voices From A Distant Room’

By on May 8, 2020


It’s my pleasure to share with the readers of MyVeronaNJ an excerpt from my latest novel, “Voices from a Distant Room,” which will be published on May 26 by Story Plant. As we all continue to self-quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s my hope that “Voices from a Distant Room” will whisk you far away to a time of magic and romance, and provide several hours of entertainment and well-needed distraction. “Voices from a Distant Room” is quite a departure from my previous books, taking over four years to write. Although it begins with a casual meeting that evolves into a romance, the characters have no idea that not only have they met in past lives, but that deep mysteries, including spirits, ghosts and a murderous demon await them … and not for the first time.

The story opens five millennia ago, when the Callanish Stones were erected on an island in the Outer Hebrides. One afternoon, a boy ventures into a cave and stumbles upon pebbles that, when touched, glow with no light. He brings them to his Shaman, who tells him the stones possess magic, which bodes well for the boy and his future. The Shaman, however, through power and greed, overreaches. Cut to 1973. Cia, a young American woman, meets Will, an artist, supposedly by chance, at an exhibition in London. As a romance blossoms, Cia starts to question muffled whispers, otherworldly occurrences and an ancient Celtic ring that Will wears, one with a stone that not only glows, but sparks blue fire. The mystery intensifies when Will is inexplicably drawn to a stone circle at Callanish, and then to a nearby inn where an impenetrable mist traps them between reality and illusion. Realizing he has questions with no answers, Will finds himself in a struggle with a sinister, ancient entity that threatens his, and Cia’s very existence.

It was still dark when the dream returned. This time Will saw himself standing in a hazy fog in front of the curio shop. As the mist cleared, the door swung open with a distinct snap, waking him with a jolt. Trying to quiet his breathing, he lay still, waiting for the thumping of his heart to subside while trying to quash the surge of images suddenly churning in his mind. When they wouldn’t quit, he gave up any hope of sleep and slipped quietly out of bed. Shrugging on his robe against the pre-dawn chill, he padded upstairs to his studio.

There was a bottle of scotch still sitting on the table in front of the loveseat. While Cia was getting ready the night before, he and Patrick had had a quick drink before leaving to meet his friends. Although the whiskey looked inviting, he sat back and closed his eyes, hoping against hope that he’d fall back to sleep.

 

It was the spring after he had first met Carolyn. He was young, and, thanks to his early success and budding recognition, he was flush with a cocky confidence. He, along with a wide circle of friends, mostly other artists and musicians, lived an anti-establishment, Bohemian lifestyle, believing in freedom in all aspects of their lives. Girls came and went, some with smiles, others tearful that he wouldn’t commit to them. He never imagined that such a thing as falling in love could happen, particularly with such a conservative girl. He likely wouldn’t have rushed to ask her to marry him, but she was about to return home from college for the summer and he was afraid to lose her.

He could never quite recall how he had arrived at the curio shop. Although he had no interest in such places, some instinct compelled him to enter. Inside it was dimly lit and musty with age, and despite having a vague feeling that he should be looking for something, he had no clue to what it could be. At first he didn’t see anything that interested him, not until he was about to leave. As he passed a dusty display case he noticed two unusual rings set with small, dark stones. What stopped him was that even through the cloudy glass, the stones appeared to be glowing. When he asked the proprietor, a white-bearded man with a stoop, if he could see them, the man demurred, saying he had nicer ones. Fascinated by their unusual luminescence he insisted, and, although still appearing reluctant, the old man took them out.

“What are the stones?” Will asked as the man placed them on a scrap of frayed red velvet on the counter.

“Sapphires,” he answered in a weak, breathy voice. “Very ancient and very rare. Stones such as these were said to be found in caves on the western islands of Scotland thousands of years ago. Usually they’re a dull blue, but there are times they shine with an ungodly brightness.” Picking up the rings, he said, “You can see the design is Celtic, an unusual triskele and knot design. Very unusual. In all the years, I’ve only seen one or two like it.”

“I’m not familiar with Celtic rings. Do the symbols have some sort of meaning?”

“Indeed. Rings like this have deep significance. The intertwining of the spirals signifies the ancient trinity of earth, air, and water. As well as life never ending.”

He was taken aback. “Life never ending?”

The man nodded. “That is what the design implies.” He held up the larger ring. “What makes this ring even more unique are the gold strands. As you can see, they are interwoven with some sort of metal that over the years has oxidized to black. Also, the stone is set deep, so it always appears dark.”

Not when it’s glowing. “That ring is very dramatic. The other less so.”

“That is because the smaller ring is woven of pure gold.”

Looking around, Will was sure the shop was just as dim as when he’d entered. There was no reason for the stones to be glittering, even more so than when he’d first noticed them.

The old man looked uncomfortable. “Sir, I don’t think you’ll find these to your taste. Allow me to show you some others.”

“I’m not so sure. Can you tell me anything more about them?”

With a deep sigh, he said, “Only that they were found at an ancient henge. A ditch that surrounds a stone circle. Not Stonehenge. That was looted centuries ago. The story is that a farmer plowing not far from the ruins of a stone circle on the west coast of Wales saw something shining, and, to his surprise, he picked up a handful of odd-looking dark stones. When he brushed off the dirt, the stones appeared to have an unusual radiance. After digging further, he found the rings.”

“How long ago?” he asked, more curious than ever.

“Sometime early in the last century, I believe. That these were found in the ground is unusual.”

“Why was it unusual?”

The man paused, as though suddenly distracted. “Sorry, sir. What?”

Becoming impatient, Will shook his head. “Do you have any more rings like this?”

“No, sir. There may be others, but I have only these. It’s possible these sapphires were looted over a thousand years ago by Viking raiders sailing south through the islands of the Outer Hebrides. The rings, in contrast, were likely crafted only a few centuries ago from gold and silver that washed up on the coast, most likely from one of the mercantile ships that plied the coastline in the 1600s and 1700s. There are still sunken galleons off the coast of Wales that were known to have carried precious metals and gemstones. These came to me from . . .” Once again looking confused, he glanced down at the rings. “Strange, I suddenly can’t seem to remember. No matter. It’ll come to me, I’m sure.” He looked at Will. “Really, young man, I think if you are looking for a ring for your sweetheart, these are a bit coarse. Let me show you some others. Also antiques, but much finer.”

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“Please. I want to see these.” With obvious reluctance, the old man dropped them in his hand. He was surprised they felt so heavy, and warm. Maybe from having been in the old man’s hand.

“Allow me to show you something unusual about them.” He held out his hand, and Will put the rings back in his palm. “Look closely. Do you see how they fit together? They are different sizes and yet they interlock with a barely perceptible notch. I believe these were crafted for a man and a woman who would be forever entwined. Celtic rings such as these were thought to have mystical powers. But, come along. Let me show you some nicer ones.”

“Mystical powers?”

“So it is told.”

He was doubtful. “What sort of mystical powers?”

“I know very little,” he answered, placing them back on the velvet cloth. “It’s said that when these kinds of rings, with this particular sapphire, are passed from a man to a woman they create an unbreakable bond, one that is meant to last forever.” He looked up, a smile creasing his solemn demeanor. “Not so great in this world of divorce, eh?”

“How much do you want for them?”

His brief smile reverted to a frown. “I don’t think you should take them. You’re a young man who must have many ladies in your life. You would have to be sure that whomever you choose to give the other ring to will be your soulmate, your true love, not of the moment, but forever.” The old man stared at Will, his eyes deep black pools, his voice a coarse whisper. “You must understand that once given, you cannot take the ring back. You are bound forever. Until death and beyond.”

Feeling a chill, Will looked at the man with narrowed eyes. “What does that mean?”

“Just what I said. I can tell you nothing more than what the legends say. These rings are meant to fit two people destined to be together for all time.”

With intrigue overcoming an innate sense of foreboding, Will picked up the rings. He knew he should leave, but the longer he held them the more they appeared to glow as though releasing a spark from a fire deep within. “Can I try the larger one on? If it doesn’t fit, there’s no more discussion.”

The man hesitated. “That is so.”

The ring slid easily on the third finger of his right hand. “Perfect,” he said. “What if the smaller ring doesn’t fit my fiancée?”

“Once you leave here these rings belong to you. You must take care, for you cannot return them. To give the other to the wrong person would be foolhardy. There may be dire consequences if you ignore my warning.”

“Dire, such as death?”

The man held out his hand. “Please, sir. Listen to me. It’s probably best to leave them here. You’re the first to enquire about them in decades. In truth, I’ve never seen them glow like this. They are showing you their power. Be warned.”

Will shook his head. This was 1958, not the dark ages. “All I’m asking is if the ring doesn’t fit, can it be made smaller?”

“As I just told you, it will only fit the one who is fated to be bound to you through time.” His voice had reverted to a strained rasp.

Fated? Through time? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Although he had listened closely to the man’s stories and warnings, they still made no sense to him. It was possible he was just trying, for whatever reason, to scare him off or, more likely, convince him to look at more expensive rings. Nevertheless, he said he wanted to buy them.

The man hesitated, as if still unsure. “May I ask your name?”

“My name is Will.”

The old man closed his eyes, muttering his name over and over as if waiting for some sort of sign. With a sigh and a brief nod, he retreated to a deeply shadowed corner.

Will glanced around, thinking he heard someone whispering, or perhaps it was just the old man talking to himself.

The old man returned holding a small, black lacquered box lined in faded red velvet. “These stones were likely taken from a cave in the time of the ancients, when spirits ruled the earth. Now that they have come into the light and shown themselves to you, you must respect their power.” His voice was deep with concern. “Heed my words.”

“We didn’t discuss price.”

The man handed him the box. “There is no price, Mr. Will. These rings are now yours.”

Puzzled, he asked, “Are you sure? Why would you just give them to me?”

“I believe they’ve been waiting for you. Take them and take care.”

Whatever peculiar notions the old man had about spirits and power was fine with him. “Thank you. I will,” he said, sliding the ring on his finger. It still felt unnaturally warm and when he looked down at the smaller ring it appeared to glow even more brightly in its tattered velvet-lined box. As he walked to the door, he again heard the soft yet distinct sound of whispers. When he looked back, the man was gone.

 

A sudden noise jolted him from his half-dream. It was Cia calling up to him. Moving slowly, he walked to the top of the stairs. “Go back to bed, luv. I couldn’t sleep and came up here. I’ll be down soon.”

“Are you sure? You sound strange.”

“I’m fine. This happens sometimes. Not to worry. Go back to sleep.”

“All right.” He heard her yawn. “If you’re sure.”

This time when he sat down on the loveseat, he poured a short drink, thinking it would, perhaps, deaden the memories.

 

As soon as he returned home from the shop, he rang Carolyn, asking her to meet him the next evening in Hyde Park. With her hand in his, they walked along the Serpentine until he found an unoccupied bench. As the western sky became pink with the setting sun, he asked her to marry him. She was overjoyed, and with many kisses said she would.

When he took out the ring, Carolyn stared at it as though fascinated. “It’s so unusual. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Holding it up, she smiled. “I’m sure all my friends will be jealous. What’s the stone?”

“A very ancient sapphire,” he said, removing his ring and joining the notches as the old man had shown him. “Look how yours and mine fit together. It’s said they create a bond that lasts forever.”

Although she smiled, he wasn’t sure she fully understood the significance of what he had said. Neither did I, at least not then.

As he slid the gold ring on her finger she frowned. “It’s too big,” she said, her eyes misty with disappointment. “And why does it feel so warm?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they retain heat from our hands. No worries. I’ll have it made smaller,” he said, thinking if the old man wouldn’t do it, he’d find a jeweler who would. Throwing her arms around him, Carolyn made him promise to bring it to Edinburgh in two weeks. In the last glow of twilight, she said they could announce their engagement then.

 

It was two days later when he returned to the antiques shop. The door was ajar, and inside he saw two men talking quietly with an elderly woman who appeared to be grief-stricken.

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“Who’re you?” one of the men asked, his tone abrupt.

“Will Jamieson. I bought two rings here a few days ago. Is the proprietor here?”

With a brief glance at the woman, the man walked Will back toward the door. In a low voice, he said, “Only in spirit, I’m afraid. He passed yesterday. Is there a problem?”

“Not really. I wanted to see if he could make one a bit smaller.” He looked back at the woman who was holding a damp, stained handkerchief to red-rimmed eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

With a look of curiosity, she approached him. “Please. May I see the ring?” Will held out the box, which she took and opened carefully. Shaking her head, she murmured, “Where’s the other?”

When he held out his hand, she shuddered. “He shouldn’t have sold you these. He knew better. They were meant to remain here where they could cause no harm.”

“I didn’t buy them. When I offered, he gave them to me.”

“That may even be worse.”

“What are you saying?”

“He didn’t tell you?”

“He only said they would create an unbreakable bond between me and the girl I love.”

“Then why are you here? I’m sure he explained that they cannot be returned.” Her voice had become harsh.

“I don’t want to return them. Only to have one made smaller.”

She backed away, her hands raised as if warding off evil spirits. “No. Impossible. It cannot be done. He didn’t tell you that the ring will fit one and only one person in this life?”

“Yes. He did. I want to give this ring to the girl I intend to marry.”

Before he could respond, she moved back into the shadows.

“Please go. Those rings have brought us to this grief. It was after my husband gave them to you that he died.”

“I’m sorry. I had no idea,” he said, looking at her with questions in his eyes. He saw her hesitate before taking a step closer.

“Just before dawn he said he heard voices. When he went to investigate, he tripped and fell down the stairs.” After dabbing at more tears running down her cheeks, she looked at him with narrowed eyes. “It was no accident. We’ve lived here for fifty years and he knew every millimeter of this house.” With a look of scorn, she pointed. “It’s those rings that did it. Now they are yours. Take them and leave. You have been warned.” Her voice was sharp, accusative.

“Warned? I’m sorry, I still don’t understand.”

The woman shook her head. “He didn’t tell you all of it, did he? The stones in those rings have now become part of you. When they were here they were safe in their case. No one even remembered they existed.” She closed her eyes and took a breath. “But they forced themselves into the light, and with their power they lured you inside where you could see them. Once you walked out that door, they took on your life. They feel your emotions, your deepest longings and fears, and they watch as though they have eyes. They are your spirits now, and it’s possible they will lead you to great success as well as deep grief. It will be how you live your life that will determine your fate. Make your choices wisely and with care. And most of all, be cautious about whom you love. These are jealous spirits, and the smaller ring is meant to fit only one. She will be the one you have known before, but not in this life. She is your eternal soul mate, and in each life you must find one another again. Take care, young man. You must not displease the spirits.”

Will looked at her as though she was mad. “What sort of fantasy is this? Spirits? Eternal soul mates? All I want is to make one ring smaller.”

The bigger man stepped in. “Please go. We’re well rid of those spirit stones.”

There was no choice, and he left in confusion. On the way to his flat, he found himself on an unfamiliar street. Looking at his watch, he realized he’d been walking aimlessly for hours while replaying the strange conversation over and over. About to turn back, he noticed a jewelry store and decided to go in. Compared to the curio shop, the place looked pristine, with gold necklaces, bracelets, and rings shining through well-tended cases.

The man behind the counter, preoccupied with polishing a silver bracelet, offered what could have been taken for a smile. “Can I help you, sir?”

Feeling optimistic, Will withdrew the gold ring from its velvet bed. “I’m hoping you can. I’d like to have this ring made smaller.”

The man glanced at the ring, then back at Will, his eyes widening in shock. “No. I cannot touch that. No one can. It must be left as is.”

“Why?” he asked, now even more perplexed.

“Where is the matching ring?”

When he held out his hand, the man backed away. “I’ve seen stones like this before. They bode ill for anyone who touches them. Please, take your rings and leave.”

“What’s wrong with them?” Will asked, trying to elicit another response to a story that continued to sound too outrageous to be true.

“Wherever you got these, they must have told you of the danger. It may be the twentieth century, but there are some things that cannot be explained. Those sapphires are one them. They are said to be spawned by the devil himself.”

With a sigh, Will put the box with the gold ring back in his pocket. “I’m sorry. To me, they’re just unusual rings. That’s why I bought . . .” He stopped, suddenly aware that what he was about to say wasn’t true: he hadn’t purchased the rings, the old man had given them to him. What had he said? And his wife, as well? That they were now his and could not be returned or altered. Why was it that he kept forgetting? He glanced back at the man. “This is just a myth. You’re certain there’s no one who can resize this ring?”

The man’s glance wavered for a second before he shook his head. It was enough, and Will regarded him with narrowed eyes.

“What is it? There is someone, isn’t there?”

Stepping back, the man put his hands up as though in fear. “No. No one will touch them.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am very sure.”

Marcia GlosterAfter graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in the 1960s, Marcia Gloster built a career in New York City as an award-winning book designer and art director. Her first book, “31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction”, was published in 2014. Her novel “I Love You Today,” was published in 2017. She has one daughter and lives in New York City and Verona, New Jersey, with her husband, James Ammeen. “Voices from a Distant Room” can be ordered from Amazon or B&N.

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