It always begins the same. The dock stretches out from your feet across the glassy water, no ripple or wave to disturb its surface. Above you the sky remains a perfect mirror of what lies beneath the docks, dark and infinite. Beyond, there are mountains, maybe, shapes that rise from the horizon like the prows of static ships. It is calming here, unnaturally so. You cannot feel wind upon your skin or the kiss of sea-salt on your cheek. Perhaps it is because this dream is recurring, but you feel as though you’ve been here before, stood where you now stand and looked out at the same scene. Ahead of you, a figure stands forlornly, silhouetted against the harsher colors of sky and sea. It, like you, does not seem to move. For a moment you hold a dreadful sort of communion with this phantom, can feel its sorrow and, perhaps most disturbing, the underlying current of rage…pure fury. You cannot speak to it, scarcely have time to. It steps forward over the open water, as if expecting the dock to stretch beneath it. You almost think it’s going to walk across the air, but the foot dips low, the body pitches forward, and the figure is lost to the placid water without a ripple. But there is a moment, a single glimpse of something beneath the still surface. And when you wake, cold sweat beading your forehead, you can never remember what it was…only that it felt familiar, terrifying, and that it was looking at you. Chapter 1: Hoarfrost and Holly You take the highway through the mountain, cut stone and snowcapped peaks pressing urgently against a stormy sky. The road is meticulously plowed, snow piled up along the shoulder to prevent busy travelers from careening over the guard rail. There is familiarity here, in the cold mountain air, the way your vehicle hugs the turns of the road, like navigating the back of a serpent. Mapquest can only take you so far, and service on your smart phone is never consistent. You take the Exit 43 turnoff and keep left, following a white-slick road south. Your road companions, smoke spewing machines all heading for different destinations, do not accompany you here. For a time, you travel alone. Pine trees crowd along your journey, opening like verdant curtains to show a nestled cabin or farm before closing again. You find yourself slowing, despite the preparations you took for this trip, snow tires struggling against the heavy drifts. Furrow marks of those who came before you lead the way onward, but at this point you need no direction. As you continue, you find yourself thinking back to when you moved from this place, the little paradise in the mountains. Much like before, your attempts to clearly remember your past is shrouded in doubt and incomplete recollections. Something about Sanctuary kept your memories when you left, tucking them away as if to preserve your echo even when your voice was gone. It’s always frustrating to try to remember. It feels like your thoughts are incomplete, that some things are clearer than others and only when you think about THIS place, only when you try to remember. It begins to snow, a light dusting on the trail you left behind and it continues as you crest the lip of the valley, looking down into the quiet place of your childhood. Sanctuary, Colorado. Church bells echo across the roofs and along the icy streets, piercing your eardrums with painful nostalgia. As you slide over the edge and down the road into town, you promise yourself that you’re only here for the night and tomorrow, the service, the burial. The envelope, open, sits on the seat beside you or tucked closely on your person, its careful calligraphy branded on your mind. “My Dear Friend, It troubles me to tell you this, but your former caretaker, David Ashburn, died suddenly of a stroke. Efforts to revive him were regrettably unsuccessful and so, in accordance with his will and last wishes, I would like to request your immediate return to Sanctuary in order to receive his inheritance and attend his funeral. Failure to arrive will forfeit the property left to you and so, for his sake, and the sake of what he left you, I implore your hasty arrival. The Funeral is scheduled for December 15th, more than adequate time for your journey. I apologize for inconveniencing you in any way with such little warning, but we were equally caught off-guard. That said, we are eager to welcome sons and daughters of Sanctuary home. We promise to make the visit short, but enjoyable. Enclosed you will find a key to David’s manor, you remember the place, and a room will be made up for you by the time you arrive. Again, I cannot express how sorry I am to deliver this news so suddenly. You are in my prayers for safe travel and I look forward to seeing you again, Sincerely Robert Daske Mayor of Sanctuary Behind you, the grey sky grows darker and the snow comes down harder. The houses blur together into wood and snow, color and whiteness, but some instinctual force guides your vehicle into the Our Lady of Sanctuary parking lot. The bells continue tolling, an invitation…or a warning. But you’ve come this far. Note clasped, you step out into the snow and make your way to the door. It springs open at your touch, eagerly, suddenly. As if awaiting your presence.