Tracks

She knew he was from the wrong side of the tracks. But, honestly, when he gave her that cheeky grin and his eyes went all warm and tender just for her, it was hard to care. It didn’t matter that she was from the best part of town and owned dresses worth more than the entire building the apartment he shared with his family was in, not when she lay in his arms and they spent the night looking up at the stars. She wished, sometimes, that he had been born into her world, but she knew in her heart that he wouldn’t be the same person if he had been. He would be like the other boys, the ones who spoke only of things he derided as frippery and pretended they knew how the world really worked. She didn’t care that he was from the wrong side of the tracks, but her mother and father would. They wanted her to make a society match, to marry for the betterment of the family. But she looked into his dancing eyes and then leaped wholeheartedly into them, drowning in a sea of soft green. They promised things they couldn’t and believed their own lies. The railroad tracks had never seemed all that wide, but they were worlds apart. Two worlds that collided and threatened to keep moving to part again. Until the day she appeared at the door of his apartment with a suitcase in her hand, tears in her eyes, and his child under her heart.

Return to Port

She knew she wasn't supposed to go to the docks. They were a rough and vulgar place, or so her grandmother said. But Sarah Alcott was not content to wait at home when sail had been sighted on the horizon. Not when it could be her father coming home. Her brother, Garret, was as bad but despite being five years her junior, the nine year old was considered fit to venture to the socks on his own. All that meant in reality was that Sarah had long since mastered the cleverer routes to the harbor.
"Back again, Missy?"
Sarah climbed down from the low roof to stand on a barrel beside the start of the wharf.
"I heard there were sails, Jimmy. Help me down?"
The old shoreman gave her his hand and Sarah jumped down, landing on the wood of the dock with a flutter of skirt.
"Your Grandmama is going to be one pleased about this."
"I know, but I promised Papa I'd be waiting for him."
A few of the hands nearby heard and shook their heads sadly. Poor girl. Not a one of them had the heart to remind her that her father, the good Captain Alcott, was more than a year overdue now. The odds of the man returning to his family went down with each day that passed. Jimmy just smiled sadly. He was used to Miss Sarah and her ways.
"Well, come have a seat and practice your knots until the ship comes in."
She climbed up onto a crate and fished two lengths of cord out of the small bag she carried.

The sound of a bell ringing was what broke her concentration. She nearly had the marlinspike hitch mastered. Just a bit more practice and she'd have it for sure.
"They've made port, Miss Sarah, and the gangplank's down."
Scrambling, she slid down in a manner she was quite certain didn't befit a girl of her age and station and she didn't care. Her eyes were only for the ship. It was a smaller vessel than her father's and she sailed under the Union Jack. The Catherine Ann, named for Sarah's mother, was a three masted vessel and this girl was a two. Nevertheless, she waited to see if perhaps the captain had news of a Captain Alcott who sailed under the Stars and Stripes.
The crew began to unload cargo and Sarah could hear the officers organizing the effort. She would have to wait until they disembarked. She watched the crates being brought up out of the hold and wondered what they carried. Maybe spices and dyes like her father so often carried. Or the fancy fabrics her mother liked to buy. Then her gaze settled on something that made her blood run cold and her spirits sink. She remembered when her father had had the figurehead installed on the ship with the same bright gold hair and green eyes her mother had, saying this way his Catherine would always keep watch over him. That way, he would always come home to their children. So why did this strange ship have her Papa's figurehead? Protocol and politeness demanded that she wait and speak to the captain when he'd stepped onto the dock. Protocol be damned, she wanted answers. Hiking up her skirts, she ran up the gangplank before anyone could stop her. When she found the captain, he was on the deck yelling down to someone in the hold.
"Be careful! Dammit, man, we got you this far. Don't die on the steps."
"Excuse me, Captain?"
If the captain was surprised to see a young woman standing on his ship, he hid it well.
"Yes, Miss?"
She took a breath, drawing courage as best she could.
"Captain, I was wondering if you could explain why you have my father's figurehead among your cargo."
She did her best to sound calm and to ignore the wood on wood thumping noise coming up from the hold behind her.
"Your father's, you say? Are you Miss Sarah Alcott, then?"
Her eyes widened as the man smiled.
"He's told me quite a bit about you and your brother."
The thumping came faster now and Sarah whirled around to see the source. Her father, leaning on a crutch and making his way to her as quickly as he could.
"Papa!"
She threw her arms around his waist and he held her tightly.
"I told you I'd be back, little one. It just took me a bit."
"Papa, what happened?"
He shook his head a little.
"We went down in a storm. Luckily for me, I grabbed the figurehead when she broke off and we floated to shore. I think your Mama was watching out for me from Heaven. I broke my leg, but I'm home now."

Power Dynamics

The Patriarch's Ball was upon them. 400 strong, the elite would gather to display their marriage-bait like so many cakes dressed in silks and lace, sending the girls from gilded cage to gilded cage without so much as a by-your-leave. Cora wanted none of it. She was no pretty songbird to be caged, to be sure. Betsy stood nearby, head down and hands clasped before her.
"Miss Cora, your mother was insistent."
Cora turned away from the window and her musings upon the sea and sighed.
"Bess, if she's so insistent on dressing up a doll and sending it off to the ball, then someone ought to tell her to go to the store. I hear they have new ones that walk about and don't talk back."
Bess raised a hand to cover her mouth and tried to hide her giggles as Cora fell into a chair dramatically. Bess let Cora pull her in and smiled sadly.
"Your mother would throw a fit. And we both know where that would lead."
Cora kissed Bess gently on the forehead and sighed, her melancholy returning.
"I wish I could at least pretend it wasn't true for a few hours. But I suppose the dreams would only make the cage worse."
Pulling away, Bess went to the gown on its stand.
"You'll look delightful in this, Cora. I'm jealous of the men you'll dance with tonight."
Cora stood as well and went to stand beside her maid.
"I'll look like an over-decorated pastry and I doubt I'll be able to breathe."
"Will you tell me about it this evening?"
"If I don't fall asleep on my feet, you know I will." Cora brushed her fingers against Bess' hand and smiled. "I will say, if I had a sensible gown and could bring anyone I wished, then I would enjoy spending an evening dancing with you, Bess."
Bess looked down and demurred, a blush on her cheeks.
"I don't know the steps."
"I could teach you."
Bess shook her head less in disagreement than in bemusement.
"Your mother will be looking for you soon, Miss Cora. Let's get you ready."
When the formality returned, Cora's shoulders slumped.
"Only to keep you out of trouble, Bess."

It seemed like forever before Cora returned home sweaty and exhausted, but flushed with excitement.
"You would never guess the gossip, Bess. Scandal positively abounds."
Bess smiled, coming to help her young mistress with her gown.
"Is it political, financial, or social this time?"
"Social." Cora raised her arms to let Bess get to the laces on the side of the corset. "A married man caught with an unmarried girl. Worse yet, he'd been lying to her about the state of his marriage and the state of her future."
Bess paused in her unlacing for a moment.
"That's…cruel of him."
Her tone was soft and surprisingly emotional. Enough that Cora turned to look at her.
"Bess?"
"Miss Cora," Bess paused uncertainly and Cora turned, letting the open corset hang.
"Bess, you don't need to call me Miss. You never have to be that kind of formal when it's just you and me. I love you. You know that."
Bess looked away.
"Do you?"
Cora reached out to pull Bess into her arms and Bess pulled away.
"What's so different between what you say to me and the lies of that gentleman to the young lady? You tell me you love me when you and I both know we have no future together. You have to marry one of the young men of Mrs. Astor's court and I'm nothing but a maid." Bess was crying and she didn't even realize it. “You have to find a husband that suits your station. Even if I were a man, I could never do that and we both know it.”
“And we both know I don't want a husband.”
Cora tried again to gather Bess close to her but Bess was having none of it.
“Do you plan to tell your mother that? Or your father? How do you suppose they would take that news from their eldest daughter? You would end up in a marriage as soon as your mother could arrange it and I would end up on the streets or worse. Women who admit to this kind of thing end up in asylums, Cora.”
Cora’s hands dropped to her sides. Opening and closing her mouth a few times, the words that always came so easily failed her. After a long moment of silence, she spoke uncertainly.
“We could run, live together in freedom.”
“And poverty. You know nothing outside these walls. The best we could hope for would be millwork in Massachusetts.
Cora tried to open her mouth again, tried to protest, but Bess was already working on her laces again.
“Bess?”
For a moment there was only the sound of fabric rustling and quiet concentration.
“Will you be needing anything else before bed, Miss Cora? If not, I’m going to pack this away and start in on the mending.”
Cora felt like there was a chasm stretched between them, one she didn’t understand. And yet, she could the more she thought about it. She hung her head, trying to keep from crying.
“No, Bess. Thank you. I…I think I’m going to turn in early.”
Maybe in the darkness, the realization would hurt less.

Lost Girls

Peter had told Wendy that girls didn’t get to Neverland nearly as often, they simply didn’t get lost like boys did. And he was right. And he was wrong. Baby girls don’t get lost. It’s the older ones who sometimes find themselves straying. It starts when they put their hair up and let their skirts down. Some of those young women find themselves walking down the roads they were forbidden to tread, dreaming the dreams they were told to never have. Sometimes, these young women puzzle out which is the second star to the right and sometimes they go back to help the lost girls left behind.

Meredith wouldn’t say she was lost, though her parents certainly would have if anyone had asked them. She hadn’t felt lost since the day years ago when she had first climbed aboard the ship that had appeared at her window and the Captain had promised her she was safe. Now, she fished in the pocket of her trousers and pulled out a silver compass. With luck, tonight the lady moon would guide them to another lost girl so they could bring her home. The needle spun for a moment as she laid it level in her palm and then pointed steadfastly. With a smile, Meredith nodded and shouted back.
“Captain! She shows due west.”
The Captain was a tall woman with wild curls, bold manners, and a fierce protective streak when it came to her crew. She smiled now at Meredith and turned to the woman who stood at the helm.
“We chase the setting sun, then. Merry, keep us on course.”

Susan had done everything right. She had put up her hair and let down her skirts. She had discovered makeup and boys and followed all the rules. The problem was simple. She wasn’t happy. She was cold and confused and distant. Sitting up at night in her room, Susan read by the light of a single candle. Or at least she had been until she heard the knock on her window. She held her candle with care as she opened the window onto the strange scene that met her. A ship hung in the air by her window and a person leaned over the rail to smile at her. The impossible ship was one thing, but the person was entirely another. They had short hair, cut nearly like Susan’s elder brother had just gotten his for military service, and wore a white shirt and trousers. Despite all that, Susan was utterly certain that this stranger was a woman.
“So, you’re the new lost girl.”
The woman reached out a hand to Susan with a wry smile on her face.
“Blow out your candle, but you can bring the book.”
For a moment, Susan hesitated. None of this was possible. Something, though, in that woman’s eyes drew her. Then the words truly sunk in.
“I’m not lost. I suspect you may be since your boat is in the air and not the sea.”
The woman laughed and leaped over the rail to climb in Susan’s window.
“The whole crew’s lost. And we’re not. And the lady moon sent us here to find you.” The woman showed Susan a silver compass which pointed inexorably at her no matter how she moved. “Which means you’re one of us. I’m Meredith, by the way. First mate.”
“I’m Susan. And I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you’re going on about. I’m not lost, regardless of what the moon may or may not have told you.”
Meredith tucked the compass back in her pocket and sat perched on the windowsill.
“Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in the life they have lined up for you? Like maybe you want to be someone other than a daughter and then a wife and then a mother? Like maybe you don’t want to be kissing boys?”
Susan’s head snapped up and her voice was shaky when she spoke again.
“How can you know that?”
“Because I was like you when the Captain came for me.” Meredith ducked back out the window, holding her hand out. “Come on, Susan. Come be a lost girl and find yourself.”
Susan only spared a brief glance backward before blowing out her candle and reaching for Meredith’s hand.
“I don’t have to wear trousers, do I?”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Meredith helped her over the rail and they stood together on the deck as the ship turned towards the second star to the right. Susan watched as the lights of her childhood home vanished behind them, turning away when she could only see darkness below her. Then she reached for Meredith’s hand.
“Will you help me? Until I know the ship and the crew and how things are?”
She added the second part in a rush, a blush coloring her cheeks. Meredith smiled and kissed Susan lightly on the cheek.
“Gladly.”
The moon gilded the ship and the women who crewed her silver as they journeyed through the night, and she smiled. Another of her daughters had made her way home.

A Thousand Deaths

“I daren’t stay long. I just had to see you.”
Elizabeth’s hands trembled just slightly as she spoke, her eyes downcast. Lady Lillian reached out one hand to seize the hands of her former maid.
“Lizzie, dearest Lizzie. You know what Father said he would do if you returned.”
There was fear in her eyes and tender concern in her words, but Elizabeth just smiled.
“I care not. I would die a thousand deaths if it meant I could see you the once more. And someday, your father will not be able to come between us.” She hesitated a moment. “You could leave with me, Lillian.”
A sharp intake of breath. Lillian squeezed Elizabeth’s hand tightly.
“You don’t know what you’re saying. What that would cause. Father would never allow it.”
“Then don’t ask for permission. Or forgiveness. I will always love you, Lillian. The question is whether or not that would be enough for you to give up all of this.”
She gestured broadly as the country estate and swept her hand out to take in the tennis courts and gardens and even Lillian’s clothing. For a long moment, Lady Lillian looked away. Her eyes took in every piece of this world that was all she had ever known. Finally, she took a step towards Elizabeth.
“Only but let me fetch clothing that will go unnoticed in the city and we will be away.”
Lillian pulled Elizabeth into her arms and kissed her gently. Someway nearby they heard the baying of hunting hounds and the young women sprang apart.
“I will wait for you after dark, Lillian. By the old apple tree.”
With one last lingering handclasp, they parted with dreams and hopes and fears rich in their minds.

Thirteenth 

Mother Leeds bore thirteen children in her day. Thirteen who were all sired by her husband and born in the home of her own mother. Twelve healthy boys and girls, and a devil. That was what everyone said down in the Pine Barrens and that was the truth of the matter as well. What they didn’t know was how much Mother Leeds loved her devil-child. Thirteenth he may have been, but he brought something none of the other twelve had: power. He wasn’t enough mouth to feed, he was a beast who hunted from birth and sometimes left a meal for the rest of his family. He was a phantom that stalked the nights and protected them from those who would do harm to a poor family. And when Mother Leeds breathed her last breath to become as much a legend as her demon son, he was there. Just outside the house, he stood and watched through the windows. And he’s still out there, the Leeds Devil is, watching over his family and scaring the locals away from his hunting grounds.

Father

The boy sat at the base of the mountain and watched the eagles flying overhead. He wished one of them would come down to speak to him, but they never did.

“Who is my father?”
His mother laughed and pointed to the sky.
“See the eagle that flies there? Once, years ago, an eagle swooped down and carried me off. He is your father.”

The boy stood at the edge of the field, watching the cattle. There was a lone bull in the distance, large and proud. The boy wished the bull would come and speak with him, but he never did.

“Who is my father? Is he really an eagle, Mother?”
She had lifted him up to see over the fence.
“Do you see the bull in the field, my son? Once, long ago, a bull carried me off on his back and I stayed with him for many nights. He is your father.”

Mother and son lay together in the field, watching the clouds soar by.
“Mother, how can my father be an eagle and a bull at the same time? Who is he really?”
She pulled her little boy close and pointed at the sweeping expanse of blue.
“Your father is the sky, little one. And like the clouds, he can change his shape.”
“Will I ever get to meet him?”
“Someday. But he watches you every day. You can be certain of that.”