Smoothing out her plain dress, Nora looked into the mirror. Her small, calloused hands and stern face gave proof of the toils she had experienced in her nineteen years. Her blue eyes, however, shone brightly with curiosity and mischief. She quickly pinned up her long, hazelnut brown hair and grabbed a shawl. The town festival for the start of autumn was held tonight, and she didn’t plan on missing out, even if it she would lose a few work hours. Slipping on her mother’s bracelet, Nora sighed, gently touching the hand carved beads her father crafted—an engagement gift. Her mind raced back to that night—eight years earlier.
Her parents had long since retired and their home was so quiet and calm. Clutching her small doll, eleven-year-old Nora slept peacefully in the small room at the front of the house. Tucked under a warm blanket and breathing softly, she dreamed of horses galloping in an open field at sunrise. She was riding one herself as her parents stood in the doorway of their home, smiling and waving. The sky clouded suddenly, however, and the horses neighed fiercely, rearing up on their hind legs as their eyes flashed with fury. Thundering hooves echoed through her mind—the other horses had turned and were fleeing something. What?
Nora awoke with a sharp gasp and sat up quickly. Shivering slightly, she listened. The dream was over, but the whinnying did not cease. Grabbing her doll, she scuttled to the window and watched in fearful uncertainty. Men dressed in black sackcloth and carrying torches emerged from the dark forest on sleek horses. Pulling the horses’ reigns, they came to a halt in front of the house. Her eyes shifted from the face of one dark figure to another until she came across a boy several years older than herself. His expressionless face stared into her own, making her uncomfortable and even more afraid of the strangers. Two large men, dismounting and striding forward, distracted Nora, however, and alarmed her of an approaching danger. She sprinted to her parents’ bedroom. “Momma! Papa!” She cried desperately, barely able to make her voice heard as she shook them out of their deep sleep.
Opening their eyes to Nora’s anxious face and hearing the fierce horses’ neighing outside, they understood what was happening. Springing out bed, her father rushed out of the room. “Nora, go! Hide! Now!” her mother ordered, voice escalating as she spoke.
Nora’s hesitance and confusion wouldn’t allow her to move, though. “Momma! Why!”
“Go!” her mother frantically shrieked, turning as she rushed from the room to give the final instruction.
Though frightened, Nora obeyed, bolting to the back of the house. Opening the wooden door quietly, she stepped into the cold night air, her bare foot touching the frosted ground. But she didn’t run. She couldn’t. Crouching down against the chilled clay wall beside the door, she waited. Trembling, she heard the front door open and close loudly. Heart fluttering rapidly, she listened. Seconds later, tables and chairs were thrown into pieces and her mother screamed. There was shouting. Deep voiced went back and forth—arguing. Pulling her knees up to her chin, Nora buried her head in them. “Go away, go away,” she silently cried, mouthing the words slowly.
Moments later she heard someone leave, slamming the door roughly. As the horses galloped away, an eerie silence quickly enveloped her. She waited, but her parents never came for her. They didn’t light a candle or fire. She couldn’t hear her father’s deep, reassuring voice. Her mother didn’t come for her. Slowly standing, Nora leaned against the wall, weak with fear. She could practically hear her own heartbeat. She was afraid to go inside; a terrifying curiosity led her hand to the door, though. The creak sent chills down her spine as she pulled it open. Timidly stepping into the kitchen, she saw them. She saw them.
Nora shuddered and pulled herself away from the memory. It haunted her every day. She could see them almost every night. Why her parents had been so brutally killed and who had committed the crime was a mystery to her, though. Questions constantly filled her head about what really happened that night. But she had no hope of ever knowing. Longing for her mother’s sweet embrace and father’s wise words, she choked tears back and wrapped a shawl around her tightly, setting out.
Sitting in the shadows, William looked at each pretty face that entered the room. He didn’t see her. Sighing, he reviewed his plan—what to do and say…how to explain. If I explain…if she even comes. He doubted that she would recognize him, though.
For eight years his conscience burdened him with the thought of the scared little girl peeking through the window—her distinct nose, fair complexion, brown hair, and wild eyes. She couldn’t have been older than twelve. He had accompanied his father that night, knowing what would happen; but he didn’t care—until he saw her face. What happened to her he never knew—until several days ago. Walking through town, he caught sight of a girl who resembled her. He followed the young woman, studying her features as she went about her business. She had the same wild eyes and brown hair. It was her. She looked well…though perhaps too thin…and tired. He needed to be sure she was well off. He felt so responsible for that night. How had she survived even survived? His father had typically been so thorough in…those jobs. What did she do? I’ll just make sure she’s okay…
Stepping into the crowded room, Nora smiled. The building was warm and cheerful. The merry faces about her almost made her laugh for joy. Tonight would be a night free of pain or memories. She would enjoy this moment. The gaiety of the evening made her steps lighter and heart beat faster—and her worries really did disappear. As she scanned the crowd, she came upon several familiar faces, friends and neighbors. Greeting them all, she draped her shawl over the back of a chair and took a seat, gazing upon the lively couples who danced.
As the song ended, Nora pushed away from the table and scanned the room for the dessert table, but she caught sight of a young man in the shadows. Her smile slowly faded and eyebrows furrowed as she leaned forward only slightly. She wished he would move forward, only slightly. Something about the silhouette of his face struck a chord in her heart and mind. A memory. A memory that she couldn’t quite identify. But as he shifted his body and the light touched his face, the breath left Nora’s lungs and she couldn’t force her eyes off of him. It was him—that boy. His were the same eyes that he had stared at her through the window eight years ago. The eyes that made her flee to her parents’ bedroom.
And then he looked up. He saw her. His eyes stared into her own. But she didn’t move. Neither moved, but they both remembered.