New Year’s Day, 1793

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I sat back and closed my eyes contentedly, feeling the warmth of the fire on my face, and the brandy warming my insides. My belly was happily full from a good lunch. Life was good.

“Barnabas, are you going to sit there all day?” smiled my mother. She looked at me intently, as she set down a small tray on the side table.  “You look like the cat who has got the cream.”

“I’m happy mother,” I replied simply.

“I’m glad to hear it”, she smiled back at me. “Would there be any particular reason you feel that way?”

“I don’t quite know,” I mused. “ It can’t be just a good dinner,  a warm fire, this brandy-” I looked into the amber liquid and swirled it round in my glass.

I looked up at her earnestly. “I just have a feeling that this will be a good year for us, perhaps the best one we will ever have.”

“Well I hope you are right.”

“How is Father?”

“Oh his cold is still bothering him, but he will recover soon I’m sure. The hot toddy should help.”

“I hope so,” I said, standing up and going to look out of the window. “How beautiful it looks outside, the snow.”

My mother came to stand by my side. We stood in silent companionship looking at the expanse of white that covered the grounds like a blanket.

“How pure it looks,” I said at last, breaking the silence, “almost as though everything is untainted and new, cleansed almost in readiness for the coming new year.”

 

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“You sound almost poetical Barnabas.” My mother took my hand. “I’m so proud of you. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that but I am.”

“Well-” I said, my face flushing at the sound of pride and love in her voice. “I hope I will always make you feel that way, no matter what happens.”

A sudden chill came over me and I shivered, then in one fleeting moment it was gone.

“Come and sit by the fire again Barnabas, you look a little cold.”

I turned away so that she would not see the confusion on my face. I’d been so happy all afternoon and in a mere moment, something I couldn’t explain had come over me, I was not a man given to bouts of melancholy, so it was all the more puzzling to me.

“Yes,” I said, and walked over to my chair and poured more brandy into my glass, and with perfect timing in walked my Aunt Abigail.

“I hope you don’t plan to finish that bottle, and sit there stupefied all afternoon, Barnabas,” she said in a scolding tone.

“Since when have I been a drunkard?” I retorted. “It’s New Year’s Day, and I for one feel like celebrating it in a pleasant manner, with a couple of glasses of brandy by the fireside. I don’t see what is wrong with that.”

“Well you wouldn’t, so I won’t be the one to spell it out.” With that she opened the Bible she more often than not had in her hands.

I sighed, waiting for her to start quoting me chapters about the evil of “strong drink” when the door opened and in flew little Sarah.

315kl“Barnabas, let’s go out and make a snowman! Oh say you will, look I have a carrot for his nose.”

“You will catch a chill,” Aunt Abigail said, “ You don’t want to be in bed with a fever like your father now do you?”

“No I won’t!” Sarah said,” I have my new grey coat, that will keep me warm, and the mittens you knitted for me.”

My mother moved away from the window, and smiled at Sarah. “I don’t see why you can’t go out with Barnabas Sarah, as long as you wrap up warmly. That’s if he wants to go with you.”  With that she looked at me for my assent.

“Of course,” I said graciously, “ Go and get ready Sarah.”

“Oh good!” She said and handed me the carrot. “Now you take care of the snowman’s nose for me until I come back.”

“I will,” I promised, smiling affectionately at her, amused by her excitement.

My aunt made a harrumph sound and I looked over at her sitting there stiffly in her chair.

She  met my gaze, a frown turning her mouth downwards.

“Those eyes of yours will get you into trouble Barnabas, you mark my words.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said puzzled.

367-1If looks could kill Barnabas!” she exclaimed, looking away momentarily then down at the Bible in her lap.

“Now just what are you talking about Abigail?” My mother’s  voice took on a sharp tone.

Abigail had the grace to look a little guilty, but only for a moment. “Well it was the way he looked at me. That expression just popped into my head. I don’t know exactly what I meant by it.”

“And how did I look at you?”

“I don’t wish to discuss it,” she muttered and stood up. “I think I’ll retire to my room for awhile.”

“As you wish. Oh Sarah, you do look nice and warm, here’s your carrot.”

“Have a nice time,” my mother said.

“We will!” Sarah almost ran to the door. “Look out the window Mother and you can see us make the snowman.”

“I will darling.”

The snowman proved more difficult to make than we imagined, for our hands got very cold and we had to keep blowing warm air from our mouths every so often to ease the stiffness of our fingers. We soon found out wet gloves were an impediment to snowman creation.

A little bird flew down into one of the low branches in the trees and watched us set the carrot into the snowman’s head.

“Oh the bird must be hungry! Let’s go get him some bread from the kitchen Barnabas.”

If there was one thing above all I loved about my sister it was her inherent kindness, her purity of heart.

“All right, you stay there, I won’t be long,” I promised. “I ‘ll get the buttons in your box for the snowman’s eyes too.”

“Then he will be able to see, won’t he? He can look out at the trees and watch the birds.”

“He will,” I said smiling.

When I returned Sarah was playing her flute and the bird was cocking his head, appearing to be listening to the piping sounds.

“I think you’ve made a new friend Sarah.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do. Now let’s crumble up this bread and put it under his tree.”

As we neared the tree the bird flew up into the next branch watching us, then swooped down to the ground when we moved away.

“Oh he is so hungry Barnabas!”

“I expect he is, with the ground covered by snow, frozen hard with no worms for him to find.”

I took Sarah’s little button box out of my coat pocket and handed it to her. She chose two bright blue buttons for his eyes and I helped her push them into his round face.

“Oh but he has no mouth! What can we make his mouth out of?”

I reached into my pocket again and handed Sarah a piece of thick red thread.

“How about this?”

“Where did you get that?”

I looked down at her and spoke in a hushed conspiratorial tone. “From Aunt Abigail’s sewing box. Now don’t you tell on me! She left it in the drawing room.”

Sarah giggled, enjoying the secret.

“I won’t tell on you.”

We pushed the thread into the snowman’s face and Sarah pulled the thread up at each end.

“Now he’s smiling. That’s better.”

We stood back and looked at our snowman. The being of ice stood there comically, his buttony blue eyes gleaming in the frosty daylight, smiling at us as though he was very glad to have been created.

“I think he’s happy we made him Barnabas.”

“I think he is too. Do you want to give him a name?”

“Adam, like the first man in the Bible.”

“That is blasphemous,” Aunt Abigail said as we came into the drawing room to warm ourselves by the fire and told our mother about our snowman.

“Making snowmen is one thing, but only God gives life and calling a snowman after the first man-”

“Oh Abigail be quiet!” My mother tutted.

“”Well, if I don’t point out their sinful ways who will?” Her voice rose in response to my mother’s annoyance. “ This is a good Christian household, and don’t you forget it.”

“Have you not thought Aunt, that by naming the snowman Adam that we acknowledge God’s creation?” I said in my best soothing and charming manner.

“Well if you put it like that-”

“I do.” I said firmly, “Now let’s not fight on New Year’s day. I want nothing more than peace and happiness in this house.” I smiled at my mother and little Sarah. “And love of course.”

81426771-d990-4484-8fcb-67bf12af3765“You will always have my love,” my mother said warmly.

“And mine too!” Little Sarah hugged me tightly. I wrapped my arms about her warm little body and kissed the top of her head.

“Happy New Year darling,” I said softly into her long brown hair.

Her sweet face lifted up to look into mine. “It will be a happy one won’t it Barnabas?”

“The best,” I said, looking over her head gazing at the snowman stood outside, and watching our bird soar into the sky, his belly full of the bread we had given him. He flew high into the cold still air, and then vanished from my view. I had the  feeling that we would never see him again, which made me feel inexplicably sad. The sun was setting, shadows began to fall around our drawing room and I let go of Sarah in my arms and began the evening ritual of lighting all the candles.

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Ghosts

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I shall never forget meeting her for the first time, her shy smile and light conversation; she was so full of life and promise as many young women are.  Her soft skin glowed with health and youth- how could I ever have known what tragedy would lay before her? That for only a few months after knowing her, loving her, that her life would fade away, as did mine into the darkness, and for thereafter I would know her only as a ghost?

I loved her in life and I loved her in death, and for many years sought ways to cheat time and to change what I had done, change events: but time was stronger than I, and my enemies used it against me. I could not undo that had been done.

josette's ghost

Many people today do not believe in ghosts; that those who are no longer walking this earth are somehow still alive somewhere, or that their memories somehow haunt the places they loved and can be seen and felt by the living.  

It is my observation that more people experience ghosts than is actually realized; that they do not talk about such experiences for fear of being seen as strange or over imaginative. We often fear what we do not understand. If we see a “ghost” what does it mean to us? Why has this occurred? 

That night in 1967 when I first walked through the doors of the Old House after being freed from my coffin by Willie Loomis my past and future rolled into one.  There was an air of timelessness that washed over me as the cobwebs hung over the windows, the fireplace and the face of my beloved Josette. Through the layers of dust the 18th century was more real to me than the 1960s. At any moment I fancied that I would hear the footsteps of little Sarah running down the stairs calling my name. But she was gone, long gone and another child spoke my name instead.

Barnabas in the Old House

Young David Collins, a strange but astute boy spoke to me of seeing ghosts in the Old House and even believed me to be one at first; he was even disappointed to find out that I was not a ghost…but yet…in a way he was correct.

I was “alive”, yet not truly alive, not only in the physical sense but also in a spiritual sense, for this time I found myself in was not my own. I had broken the laws of nature by my very existence and should have been a jumble of bones in my tomb alongside my family. But here I was, living still, walking in the moonlight  of a night, when most normal people were sleeping in their beds. Perhaps I was a living ghost, for I was consumed with the past, vainly attempting to recreate what I had lost, whom I had loved.

ghosts of the past

My preoccupation with the ghosts of my past led me to attempt to turn a living woman into one, which proved disastrous. In my pain and desperation to regain what I had lost, I  was suffering from what I now believe to be some sort of temporary insanity- I was blind to the depths of the suffering I caused Maggie Evans in my efforts to make her become Josette. I needed her to be Josette- in my anguish all I could see was the resemblance to my lost love and that was enough for me at the time.

To my eternal shame and regret after this vivacious young woman lost part of herself and was taken away by Dr. Woodard to Windcliff, I then turned my attentions to Victoria Winters, whom I had always felt an attraction to from the moment we first met. Her innocence and gentleness charmed me, and we shared an interest in the past and a love of literature.

Barnabas and vicki

Much later on, I told her that loving me would have been the greatest mistake of her life, although I wished that hadn’t been true- for by then I was human once more, with a future I felt I could offer her, (although perhaps an uncertain one) and  found that my chance had been snatched away from me in the guise of Jeff Clarke.

I spoke earlier about how I came to help Vicki and Jeff – in actuality he was Peter Bradford, a man from my century, and a ghost of sorts himself. The irony of my efforts to protect Vicki from the worst parts of myself for so long, fighting against the desires that drew me to her, then the genuine love I felt for her ( finally realizing that she didn’t and would never return my love) was not lost on me when her fate seemed to be to love another ghost.

Vicki slipped into the past to be with Peter and I followed them to ensure that this time they would escape the gallows- my curse had cheated me of Josette, but I resolved not to let Vicki suffer the same fate due to the schemings of the one who had cursed me- enough had suffered due to my wrongdoings. Fortunately I was successful, but I had to hurt other people to do it, which I am ashamed of, but I won’t go into that for now.

I still think about Vicki and her preoccupation with ghosts and the past- she was very much taken with Josette for a time and I used this to my advantage and encouraged it. Was I to blame for her travelling back to 1795? I can say with all certainty that this was her undoing- for there she met Peter Bradford, who despite his love for her ( which I could see was as true as mine for Josette) sealed her fate. She would not be swayed from her determination to leave her own time and join him in the past.  I learned much later on, to my great sorrow, that she and Peter had not had long together- the Leviathans saw to that, or more precisely, Jeb Hawkes. Vicki became a ghost herself- falling from Widows Hill.

I considered travelling back to 1796 again and looking for Vicki to prevent her death, but Eliot Stokes and Julia talked me out of it, pointing out to me the inherent dangers of changing events and the risk to myself.

“We have had enough messing around with time Barnabas!” Eliot stated firmly, “Look how close we came to not getting back to 1971- not to mention the dangers you faced in 1897- leave well enough alone.”

Stokes

“He’s right Barnabas,” Julia said, “You can’t save everybody, and it was Vicki’s choice to go back with Peter.”

I paced the room anxiously then went to stand in front of the fireplace, leaning on the mantle.

“I know that! But I can’t help feeling responsible-”

“Oh Barnabas,” Julia sighed, “When will you stop doing this to yourself?”

“Doing what?” I said, turning round and giving her a warning look. Eliot looked at me then Julia curiously.

“You know what,” she replied quietly. Then to my relief she changed the subject, asking Eliot if he had read some medical journal she had lent him. I walked away and sat in my chair and stared into the fire, as images of so many I had loved and lost haunted me.  

“You make the past so beautiful,” Vicki sighed to me her eyes shining wistfully.

“ Don’t leave me Barnabas..” Josette sighed.

“ Barnabas don’t turn away from me..” begged Roxanne.

“Barnabas….Barnabas?” I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was jolted into the present by Julia looking down at me with a concerned look.

“Where’s Eliot?” I asked.

“He left, as he has a lecture to prepare for.” Julia smiled.

I hadn’t even noticed he was gone, so far away I had been.

I stood up and realized that now at this very moment at least, there were no ghosts, just the present – in the form of Julia. She at least had never been a ghost to me- dear Julia, always loyal, by my side since I had known her; even when going into the past with me, she had always been of the present.

“Are you- are you alright Barnabas?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “I was just thinking about the past, but perhaps now I must think of the present.”

“Yes, the past always gets you melancholy,” she said pointedly.

“It’s a curious thing to be out of time,” I told her, “I should have died almost two hundred years ago, but here I am. Was this meant to be, like it was for Vicki to leave her own time?”

“I don’t know Barnabas,” Julia said, “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

I thought about Quentin, perhaps he felt the same confusion and disorientation I often felt. I made a mental note to ask him one evening.

I sat down in my chair again, suddenly feeling tired.

Julia

 

“You look exhausted Barnabas, why don’t you get some rest?” Julia suggested.

She started opening her bag and I knew what that meant.

“No, I don’t want a sedative!”

She pursed her mouth and gave me a guilty look, knowing that I knew her only too well. She had the good grace not to try to deny it.

“Well, it’s getting late, I’ll be going back to Collinwood. Goodnight then Barnabas.”

“Goodnight,” I said. “I’ll be over tomorrow. I shall see you then.”

Sensitive to my need to be alone, knowing me as well as I knew her, she quietly left me sitting by my fireside, alone but for  the ghosts that were as much a part of the Old House as the very bricks, wood and stone that formed its very foundations.

In the old house

I sat silently in contemplation- I could never forget those I had loved and lost, to do so felt like I was not honouring how I had came to be in this time- they were part of my life, my story, but I also came to realize that my story was still yet to continue; this time not with ghosts of the past, but with the living, the people I knew and loved right this moment. There were many new stories awaiting.

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Belonging

Barnabas in Collinwood

 

Each one of us has the desire to belong; not only to somebody, but somewhere. Our sense of self can be determined from where we came from, and perhaps where we are going. In modern times many people do not reside in the family home, the place they were born in – but another place, and sometimes not even in the same country they originated from.

I am sure you have all heard the “There’s no place like home,” which suggests that home for us is a safe place, one that brings us fond memories.  I awoke in 1967 in the same place- Collinwood, but in a different time from the one I came from, and in a sense I was no longer “at home”. When you have lived a life as long as mine, and travelled through different time periods, home takes on a different meaning.

I was essentially orphaned, for my family were long dead and I found myself with people who bore my name- Collins, but they were strangers to me. So, I invented the story that I was a distant cousin from England- in order to account for my sudden arrival that would not raise too many questions. I was at once a stranger to them, but also a member of the family. Eventually I became part of their family, and loved them dearly.

I needed to belong to them, and them to me, even though I could not tell them the truth of my origins- that I was their ancestor and belonged in Collinwood as much as they did, if not more so.

It may surprise you to know that despite all the terrible things that had happened at Collinwood, I felt a deep connection to it, and many years before my curse was placed upon me I had spent many happy times at The Old House where I was born. Of course we did not call it the Old House back then, it was simply Collinwood, and when the larger mansion was built we called it the New House for a time until my family moved there.

The Old House was to be given to me and Josette for our new home after our marriage, but that was never to be, and I found myself instead living there in a marriage I was forced into by the threat of the murder of my little sister Sarah.

Old House

A house is much more than bricks and mortar, more than shelter; it holds our dreams, reflects who we are, and in some ways reflects back at us what we long to be. It can become a symbol of love, hate, take on our name or even be a place of menace and foreboding. Collinwood was all these things and more besides.  It had a kind of presence to it, which was noticed by everyone who came to live there; it changed people- nobody was ever the same once they had been touched by the spirit of Collinwood.

Collinwoodnight

The Collins families down the centuries had all shown an unusual relationship to  the mansion- fighting for ownership, at times willing to commit murder in order to possess it. I often wondered if the house was possessing them rather than them possessing it. What was it about this house that brought out the worst in those who bore the name Collins? I do admit however, that it wasn’t only those named Collins who also were so affected- Gregory Trask in 1897 was so powerfully led by his desire to own Collinwood that he murdered his own wife and, contrary to what his Christian faith taught him, enlisted the help of the black magician Evan Hanley in order to do it.

What drives us to seek this sense of belonging so strongly? In some people the need to belong is less to do with a physical home, but an identification with others they share kinship with. Magda and Sandor Rakosi, the gypsies who lived at The Old House in 1897 were such people. They were travellers, never settling in one place for long, and whilst glad of the shelter the Old House gave them, they had no attachment to it, nor sought it. Their sense of belonging was with their people. In some ways I admired this in them, for they had less to fight about, and Magda and Sandor had a better relationship than those at Collinwood did. When Sandor died I understood Magda’s loss far more than she ever realized- even though I never told her just how much I understood. For the woman I was meant to belong to- Josette- would never be mine, nor me hers.

I speak of “belonging” not in the sense of possession- for we can truly never own another person, and if we seek to possess another only disaster can follow, as I found out and became what I am now. I shall not go into that now, however, but perhaps another time.

The belonging we feel towards  another comes from a sense of sharing, knowing that the other person understands us and accepts us for who we truly are, and brings out the best that is within us.

“What is love but sharing?” Roxanne asked me once, and I found out that she was correct. I was for a time afraid to share what I am with her, and despite her courage and willingness to love me, I felt only fear.

We should never be afraid to love, to belong, to find out who we are, even if it means taking risks, and many risks I have indeed taken- and many of them brought me a lot of trouble.

Elizabeth Collins was one of the most accepting members of my new Collins family, and despite this was not that agreeable at first at my request to live at the Old House. Fortunately for me I was able to persuade her that I could restore it to its former glory. I could not explain fully to her of course why I needed to do this; and it was not only for the reason that I needed a safe place to hide my coffin; but I needed to feel that I had come home.

My heart ached when I first opened the door to my childhood home.

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The air of desolation hit me as the Old House mourned with me- it felt as lonely and bereft as I did. Under the layers of dust and cobwebs the sweet voice of Josette echoed in my ears and heart. Her portrait hung over the fireplace just where I had hung it in 1795 all those years ago, and I felt a strange sense of the past and present mingling. I felt disorientated- almost 200 years had passed since I had hung her portrait there and gazed at her beautiful face, and my wife had been angry that the one I loved would look down upon us, ever present, a shadow reminding us of how we had caused her death. It felt only hours away rather than over a century away.

“Josette…Josette…why won’t you come to me?” I begged as I stood looking at her portrait in 1967. Young David Collins had told me he had seen her ghost many times when playing in the parlor, and he was distressed when he told me that since I had arrived Josette had gone. I once more belonged to the Old House, and would make it my home for the next few years, but Josette did not belong to it; only on a few more occasions did she return from the grave to help me, out of her love for me when I needed her most.

The Old House became my sanctuary, a place of secrets, both of heart and mind. Alone of a night with only my memories as company, I sat by the fire, reliving what I had done, wondering how I could have done things better, my eyes warmed by the flames of my desires, my love, my pain.

Barnabas by the fire

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