The heat! Dear God, the heat!
He tried to move away but it surrounded him, entrapped him. He forced his eyes open and still his body would not obey his commands.
Flames! Taller and wider than he. Waves of heat washed over him, stealing his breath, overpowering and terrorizing him. His mouth and throat were parched, but sweat gathered and ran down his face, his chest. He knew he couldn't survive much longer -- he felt his strength draining away. He could fight no longer.
Then she was there. Her presence called to him, urged him on in his struggle. He stared at her, amazed that someone could brave the fire's heat. In an instant, she stood before him -- her head barely reached his chin. With her head bowed, he could not see her features, only the porcelain translucence of her skin and the flowing black hair.
Look at me, he thought, unable to speak the words.
Her head lifted, revealing to him long lashes matching the black strands of hair and a full, red mouth.
Open your eyes, he pleaded soundlessly, look at me.
Her glowing green eyes startled him. She raised her hands and reached out to touch his face. Their gazes locked as he waited for her touch. A blessed coolness spread through him from her hands, through his head, chest, stomach, limbs. He saw the flames and knew their heat had not lessened. But, he felt only her hands. He allowed her comfort to strengthen him, to remove his pain, to bring forgetfulness.
Then, the glow left her eyes and she stepped away. His stomach clenched in fear of the heat and the pain he faced without her intervention. He tried to reach for her but his body would still not respond. He saw regret in her eyes as she backed away and moved through the flames.
She was gone.
No! his mind screamed.
The loudness of his own cry woke him from the troubled sleep. Douglas lurched up in his bed, entangled in the damp sheets, covered in sweat. Panting, still in the clutches of the fear and pain of the dream, he pushed his hair out of his eyes and pushed the sheets down and off his legs.
He balanced unevenly on those still-shaking legs, dragged his fingers through his sweaty hair and swallowed long and deep trying to clear his clogged throat. Then he made his way to the bathroom, not bothering to turn on a light. He knew from experience that the terror would pass quickly and he would be left with....
He would be left with a vision of a woman, who either saved him or tempted him every night in his sleep. He'd never met her, didn't know her, other than in his dreams.
But, his soul told him they she would alter his life when they met...and they would meet. In turning away from other women, real women in his life, he knew it was just a matter of time before he found the lady with green eyes.
Just a matter of time....
Dunnedin, Scotland. Present-day
"So, have ye come to seek out yer destiny?"
Douglas MacKendimen turned around slowly at the familiar voice. Mairi, fortuneteller extraordinaire, stood before him awaiting his response.
"No, Mairi, I know my destiny." Douglas laughed as the old woman's face tightened with stubbornness. They'd played this game before.
"'Tis coming yer way soon, boy, and ye willna be able to stop it." Mairi wagged a bony finger close to his nose. She clutched her woolen shawl around her stooped body and whispered something he couldn't quite make out.
"What did you say?" Douglas moved closer and bent down nearer to her. "I couldn't make out your last words."
"I said that ye be as stubborn as yer father and mother. Ye tempt the Fates wi' yer cockiness just as they did, so long ago."
"Mairi, please don't start with those tales you told me as a child. They are just stories you made up to keep me interested in coming back here."
Douglas stuck his hands into the pockets of his warm leather jacket. What ever made him come out to the ruins in this weather, at this time of night? And, how did Mairi always know when he was there? His breath curled around him in the cool air.
"Is that what ye believe? Only stories for restless bairns? Och, there will be a reckoning for ye, lad, and it comes to ye soon." Mairi paced now, in front of him, in front of the old stone arch.
Doug ran his fingers through his over-long hair. This trip to Scotland for the family reunion had been a last minute thing for him. He was tired, jet-lagged and exhausted from double shifts at the hospital. He really needed to sleep, not stand here arguing with this distant relative... especially one who should be in her own warm cottage and not exposed to the harsh weather surrounding them.
"Mairi," he started, placing his hands on her frail shoulders and drew her into an embrace. "I will visit you tomorrow and you can tell me those stories again... when I'm awake enough to pay attention." Douglas stepped back and smiled. "Can I walk you back home?"
"I amna ready to go back." Mairi's voice trembled as she answered. Was she cold or frightened, he wondered. He knew she was stubborn -- if she said she wasn't ready, she wouldn't go home yet. "But, ye should come to me in the morn, afore the noon meal. I have something to tell ye, lad."
Douglas kissed the waxen cheek she offered and nodded at her in farewell. He'd taken a few steps when he turned back to ask if there were any messages for his parents -- something Mairi always gave him to carry to the 'new' castle.
The arch stood alone, moonlight reflecting off the sharper edges and cascading over its curve to the barren rocky ground around it. Smaller boulders lay on the ground some distance away but the arch dominated the landscape. And there was no sign of Mairi.
Douglas blinked a few times and squinted into the moonlit night, looking for some sign of the old woman. But there was none. She'd disappeared into the mist-filled night without a trace... again.
One day, maybe even during their chat tomorrow, he would gather up his nerve to ask how she did that. For now, the heat and comfort of the clan's manor house called undeniably to him.
"Dr. MacKendimen, it's good to see you, sir." The butler closed the thick oak door behind Douglas and reached out to take Doug's jacket as he removed it. "I'm afraid the family has retired for the night."
"That's fine, Mr. Parker, I'll see them in the morning. Do you have me in my regular room then?" Parker was the epitome of an efficient butler, managing the entire MacKendimen household and making it look easy. In all his years of visiting the ancestral home of the MacKendimens nothing...no one...ever frazzled Parker.
"Just Parker, sir. And yes, the corner room in the back on the second floor," Parker nodded in the direction of that room as he hung Douglas' jacket in the hall closet. "Breakfast will be informal and begin at 7, sir."
"Good night then, Mr. Parker."
"And a good night to you, too, Dr. MacKendimen." Douglas noticed the small wink as the older man turned and left the hallway.
With each step on the creaking wooden stairs leading up to the second floor, the weight of his exhaustion grew. By the time he reached the assigned room, Douglas knew he would be asleep before his head hit the pillow.
"No, please, help me..." He forced the words out of his constricting throat, the pain of the scream waking him.
Gasping for air, Douglas sat up and threw off the covers. The coolness of the room made his sweat even more uncomfortable. The quiet knock at the door gave him something to focus on until the terror seeped away.
"Douglas? Are you okay?" His mother's whisper seem to echo across the stillness of the room as he tried to calm his ragged breathing.
"Yes, Mom, I'm fine." Knowing she would not leave until she assured herself by seeing his condition, Douglas grabbed his robe from the foot of the bed and threw it on. Moving quickly to the door, he turned the knob and eased it open a crack.
"I heard you as I went by," she said, pushing the door open and entering the room. "Do the dreams still come?"
By the time Douglas turned to face her, his mother Maggie MacKendimen had taken a seat on his bed. "I'm just over-tired, Mom. I'll see you in the morning." He opened the door and gestured for her to leave.
"You may as well close the door, Doug. I'm not leaving." She sat staring at him from across the room and he knew he'd lost the battle. She was already in mother- mode and wouldn't leave until... well, until she was satisfied with his answers. He really didn't need this.
"Tell me about them. Are they as frequent as last year?"
"They come and go, Mom, as you should know." He looked pointedly at the door but it did no good. He didn't want to talk about the dreams, or how frequent and strong they'd really become. "Now, I'd like to go to bed, if you don't mind?"
"If you'd answer my questions, rather than try to evade them, we could both go back to bed." Her cut-to-the-chase attitude shouldn't surprise him; his mother always preferred the short, concise version to the long, flowery one.
He dragged his hand over his face and through his hair. Could he tell her? What would her reaction be to the power and clarity of the dreams? Maybe his workload at the hospital was the cause -- too many over-nighters and too many weekends could do this to a person. Right?
She must have sensed his reluctance to reveal details for she rose and approached him where he stood at the door. Stepping closer and rising up, she took his head in her hands, pulled his face to hers and kissed his forehead. If only that were all it took to banish the dreams and the sense of disorientation they brought with them and left behind.
"I try to remember that you're an adult and a 'doctor', but the sounds I heard from the hall scared me, Doug. I'll wait until you're ready to tell me. Good night."
He turned the knob and pulled the heavy wooden door open. Without another glance, his mother walked out. Her acquiescence didn't fool him -- she would have the truth from him and on her own schedule.
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