Chapter 1- The Invite

 

There was a secret meeting tomorrow night and she absolutely had to be there. The invitation had been left on her dining room table the night before, a small calling card with a Raven printed on the front and an address on the back with small words written ‘Be there at 7 p.m.’              

She had been waiting for this moment. Secretly hungering for the day that she would be accepted into the world that she had always felt to be on the fringe of.  She was a small-time writer, a blogger who wrote on the lives of others. She had a small following, but nothing that would get her listed in the Oprah Book Club or talking to Ellen in front of hundreds of adoring fans.                      

She had been writing since she was a young girl.  Half stories and undeveloped characters filled her mind and hundreds of notebooks that she kept hidden in her apartment. Her bookshelves were filled with all the greats. Some she had read, some that she bought because other famous authors had them in their libraries, some she attempted to read but could never understand- like Shakespeare. Some were written by authors whose lives amazed her, and she bought them out of a sense of loyalty but never liked what they wrote. Then there was the handful that she loved like family.  The covers were worn, the pages were tearing, stains of coffee and midnight snacks filled the pages. They were her greatest friends and worst enemies.                                                

She looked at the card again and gently set it back on the table. She needed coffee if she was going to think this through. Her excitement was overwhelming, tingling her fingers and toes.  She felt like she could run a marathon, but knew that was a lie.  Just that morning she ran 3 miles sluggishly and now felt like her knees were rubber and had an un-relentless desire for Ruffle chips and French Onion Dip. She walked to the kitchen, remembering the salad-in-a-bag that she had bought for dinner and instead made a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich to go with her coffee. She just stared at the sandwich – unable to take a bit as she held onto her favorite chipped coffee mug.                                                                                                                                       

Caroline looked around at her small apartment, filled with knick-knacks and haphazard pieces of art.  Pictures and posters of periods of long ago filled her walls.  The furniture was mismatched and eccentric, some pieces bought for comfort and others to inspire the imagination. Her desk was placed in the corner next to a large window and was filled with post-it notes of ideas and timelines, half-filled notebooks were scattered in the drawers. A calendar sat on her desktop as a reminder of what she should be doing with her life, and not necessarily what she wanted to do. A bulky bookshelf dominated a whole wall, filled with the books of her life and some of her greatest memories of achievements.  She did not place them there as a homage to her success, but rather as a reminder that she had so much more to accomplish.                                                                         

She walked to the living room with her cup of coffee and the small notecard.  As she looked out the window, rain began its soft patter of engulfment. There was to be a storm the weatherman predicted, but who took what they said at face value? The rain did soothe her pent-up anxiety as she watched the drops slide down the window panes. She looked down at the card once again while taking a sip of her not-so-warm cup of coffee.                                                                                              

It was a meeting of the greatest literacy minds of the decade and she had been invited.

Caroline had heard of the secret society only through whispers at coffee shops and by the ‘Book Store Book Club.’  A group of women that she had run upon while shopping for a new book to read months ago.  She was never really invited into the group, but she was allowed sometimes to regal them with little funny sayings or short stories if she just happened to be in the area when they meet. The leader of the Book Club was an older woman who was opinionated to the point of rudeness and yet beloved by all.  Caroline thought it was mostly because the other ladies feared her, but then again- she had never been welcomed into the center circle to know what the attraction was.  

“I have it on good authority that I will be receiving my invite anytime now.” Anne had told her friends while they gathered around the electric stone fireplace in the middle of Barnes and Noble.  Anne had been working on a book about immigrants, a highly researched book but dull and uninspiring.

“We all knew that your book was great Anne.” one of the members said as she settled at the table with her Eggnog latte and brownie. Caroline smirked while standing in line to order. Was it great?  Was it a tale of all time to be told?  Something in the back of her mind told Caroline that it was not, but who was she to judge.  Her novels laid in the attic of her computer only dusted off and worked on once in a blue moon.  Caroline knew that she was an emotional writer, jumping from book to book as her mood was dedicated. Her one book that had been published was a bi-product of 3 other books, pieced together like a rag quilt. Its success with the young adults surprised her, and she was struggling to write another for her publisher that was of the same quality.

“Yes, it is great,” Anna replied with that sly smile of hers. “It was a great novel that broke open the doors to the Raven Society.  They should be so lucky as to have one such as me.  Too many writers today focus on the fantasy and not on the ‘how’ we came to be here. I plan on breaching that gap and bring the past to the present.” Caroline felt her face redden with this proclamation, her book was filled with fantasy and magic.  A world far from here, but assessable by a door found only by those who were worthy.

“What is the Raven Society?” asked a young woman with the look of an extremely tired mother of young children.  Caroline’s heart went out to her, she had overheard her order her coffee with 3 extra shots and knew that she was forgoing a much-needed nap to have adult interactions.

  Anne laughed and looked at the young woman as if she was educating a school-age child.  “My dear, the Raven Society is the elite literature group of the ages.  Each member who is asked to join has made a significant contribution to the world of writing.  It is a great honor indeed!  The best part is that each new member assumes the role of one of their favorite literary characters.  It is the final test to being accepted.  Chose unwisely and you will be asked to leave. Chose correctly and your career soars to new heights. I have been narrowing down my list for days now and have settled on three.  Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, or Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility.”                                                                              

The ladies’ all exclaimed over the famous characters that she had chosen, debating on the pros and cons of each one. Caroline silently admitted that they were all good choices, but would never have picked such obvious selections for herself.  As she stood in line, she went over the women who had become important to her over the years. Women who had never existed, but have somehow formed young ladies’ lives through their words.

‘The easiest one for me would be Scarlett O’Hara’, Caroline thought to herself as she ordered her coffee. ‘The other two though?  Who would they be?’                                             

Caroline paid for her coffee and walked to a table not far away from the book club ladies, smiling and acknowledging their presence as she passed by. As the ladies argued over who Anne should identify as Caroline pulled out her notebook of thoughts and started thinking who hers would be.                                                                                                                                           

Months later, staring out the window of her apartment, Caroline still had not decided. She had at first not put a lot of stock into the idea of a secret society.  Those are the things that movies were made of, not reality. However, the idea did make her do her research and she was surprised to learn about groups such as Bohemian Grove whose motto ‘Weaving Spiders come not Here’, from Shakespeare Midsummer Night Dream Act 2, Scene 2.  Societies with names like Skull and Bones that was founded at Yale University based on a German occult society, and the famous Illuminati and Freemasons featured in Dan Brown’s famous worlds of religion and science. The world was shrouded in the mystery of secret societies it seemed, without them truly being secret.               

As her mind ran a million miles an hour, the storm grew with her anxiety over her invitation. It was, ironically, the night of one of the worst storms she had ever experienced. The wind was so fierce that the trees in her backyard bent sideways as if they appeared to be kneeling in prayer. The rain didn’t just hit the windows, it crashed into them. Nature creating noise that evolved into a symphony. The lights flickered throughout the neighborhood as she watched the power of mother nature play out. And then complete darkness. With no power, the night took on a personality that threatened the very boundaries of sanity.                                                                           

She fought back the darkness with a candle and her laptop and settled comfortably on her couch with a throw that her grandmother had made her when she first moved to Boston to become a writer. The colors were blues, greens, and grays…the colors of the sea that her grandmother had loved to live by. She had learned her love of writing along with the backdrop of the sea, creating stories of underwater cities and Gods that protected an underground world that no mortal was allowed to see. Caroline had found comfort in the ever-changing personality of the sea as a child. She would watch it for hours, as the tides came in and left again, in awe that she was never seeing the same ocean.                                                                                                                                           

She had meant to write about the storm, to adapt its nature into a story. Instead, she found herself thinking about the Raven Society meeting. Less than 24 hours until she had to be there. She toyed with the growing list of favorite books and characters.  Her pros and con’s list were pages long, each character’s personality an extension of who she was or what she wanted to be.  She didn’t want to take on the identity of a real writer or real personality, she wanted to take the freedom of possibility. She wanted a character that was a reader, a writer, and a dreamer. As the storm raged in the background and her candle grew smaller, her list was finally down to the last three:

Scarlett O’Hara: Warrior for Love

Scarlett O’Hara, the fictional heroine of her own war. The girl who battled courageously for the right to want a life outwardly impossible to own. A woman who loved on her own terms.

Francine Nolan, The Reader.

Francine Nolan, the fictional girl from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A girl who loved to read, not to just escape the cruelty of living, but because reading defined her. She could no more separate reading from who she was than she could amputate her heart and still exist.

Morpheus, God of Dreams.

Morpheus who she confessed to knowing the least about but needed the most. If you were going to join a secret society, which meant of course, that you were about to open doors that you didn’t even know existed that by golly you better bring along The Dreamer. Seemed as essential as water. If you were going to step into a secret society, you must be accompanied by someone who has great tenacity. Someone who has the strength of character to not question their right to pursue an extravagant life, even when the cupboards are bare and war is in your front yard. And she always wanted to own a beautiful red gown.                                                                        

She fell asleep that night and against the backdrop of a fall storm, wrapped in the comfort of her grandmother’s throw, and dreamt of stepping through the threshold into a world of imagination.

___________________________________________________

Caroline’s alarm went off at 4 am as it had for the last 6 years, work week, weekend, or holiday- it did not matter.  She felt as though that magical time between 4:00 am and 6:30 am belong to her alone. She could do whatever she wanted without judgment or interruption.  If she used the time to clean the apartment, she was free to plug in her music and dance away while sweeping and doing the dishes.  If she chose to run on her 7-year-old squeaky treadmill hiding in the back room, no one would make fun of her singing. If she instead used that time to write, her best inspiration would inspire her to create new worlds that only worked in those brief moments before reality woke up.                                                                                                                              

However, today was different.  She had somewhere to be, the nagging feeling of needing to be ready overwhelming her hours before she needed to.  Nevertheless, she still had her schedule to maintain. A set sequence of events that she did every morning in the same exact manner, so as not to anger the spirits of the new day.  There was comfort in knowing exactly what you were going to do every morning. She had once tried to compare it to a religious ceremony or ritual like Catholic mass to a group of friends who rebuffed her for her insensitivity to religions. But Caroline knew- repetitive movements can mean comfort.

4:05 am-Brush your teeth

4:10 am- let Beacon the Corgi out for his morning relief, feed the dog

4:15 am-make coffee

4:20 am- take vitamins, check all living plants in the kitchen and living room to make sure they hadn’t died overnight,

4:25 am- let Beacon the Corgi inside to go back to bed,

4:30-5:00 am-drink coffee and plan the day

5:00 am- decide what was on the plate for the morning warm-up. 

            It was a run morning, and after the storm of last night, she knew that the air would be fresh and clean and the roadways clear of too many people. A small, easy run of 3 miles and she would reward herself with a cup of coffee and doughnut from the next-door pastry shop.  This was a special day.  Regardless of how it played out, she had earned her right to grace the doorstep of the Raven Society, so why couldn’t she also reward herself with a fresh apple fitter?                                

She had mentally chosen her outfit the night prior, settling on what she believed to be a fitting look to a newly published writer.  A pair of new jeans, a black t-shirt, a gray cardigan, and black low-heeled boots.  She attempted to curl her hair, which turned into a disaster as her electrical plugs were worn and outdated, and could not handle the pressure of a modern appliance. She opted for her ‘go-to’ pile of a messy hair bun, hoping to portray an appearance of chic bohemian women. Light makeup because she wasn’t sure how to apply it, and she was ready to go.  By 5:45, she was on her second pot of coffee and was pacing her small, cluttered living room, dodging the haphazard furniture and Beacon the puppy sprawled comfortably in front of the electric fireplace insert.                       

Her notecards of pros and cons laid on the div. stand, placed in such a way that with each of her rounds she could look and consider. She still hadn’t decided.  But it didn’t matter she thought to herself until she got inside and was faced with the actual process of answering.

            “Do you think that they will be dressed in long black robes and Phantom of the Opera masks as we see on Netflix?” she asked Beacon.  “Or will it be a table of members all staring from their platform, taking notes on my presence and answer?”                                                           

Beacon looked up from his early morning naps, watching her as she paced for the 20th time around the couch. He watched her with slight interest as she walked to the coffee pot to refill her mug. 

            “Maybe, it will be a dark castle, like Skull and Bones, or a magically protected castle-like in Harry Potter.  And when I walk in, the candles floating in the air will automatically alight and a sorting hat will be placed on my head as I decide who I want to be.” Caroline took a deep sip of her coffee, warming to the idea of magic wands and instant dinners lining long wooden tables that held 13 different types of coffees and desserts.  She could smell the fire from the library fireplace, crackling merrily as she and her fellow magical writers sat in large comfy chairs while sipping on lovely drinks and discussing old and new novels.                                                                                

She knew that she was going to have to take her mind off this evening if she was going to keep any part of her sanity. She sat at her desk and wrote out her tasks for the day, emails that she needed to return, phone calls that needed to be made, bills that should be paid, and writing that was going to need to get done if she was ever going to publish another book.  She had been working on The Life of Death for ages. It was her first real attempt to write, and while the publisher was sure that it would be a success, she was unable to find the inspiration that she needed to add excitement and thrill to it.  Her characters had come to mean just as much to her as her family, she didn’t want to let them down.  On the other hand, she didn’t want to write them into trouble, pain, or uncertainty.  She felt a protectiveness of them but knew that they needed to live through her words.  She grabbed another cup of coffee and started her day. Before she knew it, it was 6:20 pm.  If she was going to get there on time, she was going to have to leave now. Caroline put on her Tweed jacket, grabbed an umbrella and her purse, and headed for the door.  She turned to look at Beacon, already fast asleep for his second mid-evening nap. 

            “Wish me luck.” She said the Beacon and her home and walked down to the street to start her new journey.

               

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand

George Orwell

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