She slid into the abyss and Pippin threw the pebble after her, looked down as if from the top of a well.. She shouted and flailed. The rim of the abyss turned into tatters of cloth that moved briskly to hold her tight. Daylight flooded her vision and a different face stared back at her.
It took a few moments to realize that she had, at last, woken up. It took her a few more minutes to realize her throat was raw.
“Are you alright?” The stranger asked.
Chloe blinked, senses reeling. Something familiar tickled the edges of her memory. Disoriented, she looked around. Trees were all around, the ground rocky and sparse. A crow cried out as it flew over.
The face in front of her was youngish, handsome, familiar.
“John?” She rasped. “Is it…John Biebe?”
He broke into a smile. “Yeah, it’s me. Hullo, Chloe,” he replied with a nod. “Nice of you to show up.”
“I’m not still…this is real, right?” she stammered. “You were expecting me, right?” She was rewarded with a confused glance to a point behind her. Someone behind her, she realized, but she wasn’t ready to turn around to see.
“Well, from the looks of things, you dropped in rather suddenly,” John said and sat back on his heels.
“It feels like I dropped,” Chloe said. “I was expecting to see buildings and an ocean. What am I doing out here in the middle of the woods?” She put her hand to her face to push away what she thought was hair clinging to her face and her palm came away with remnants of the poultice that had been smeared on her forehead. She looked up at John in horror.
“I didn’t do that,” John protested. “Neither did these two,” he added and pointed to space behind her.
Chloe twisted to look and found that two more men were standing behind and to the side, quietly watching. She took a deep breath in shock, for one of them stood ramrod straight, his hair gold and pulled back in a queue. There was no question who he was, even though he wore modern day blue jeans, boots, and long sleeved shirt. Captain Jack Aubrey! He blushed and smiled at her, performed a small bow. Chloe wanted to disappear into the ground. This was not how she imagined meeting her favorite character, much less the Brothers that she’d heard so much about from Tina!
The second was a younger version, nearly a spitting image of John, albeit with hair a bit shorter and wearing more old fashioned clothing: trousers held by braces, as well as the long sleeved shirt and boots, and a flat-crowned Stetson. Chloe felt a wave wash over her, either from deepening embarrassment or some sense that this man was vastly different from the other two. Where Jack bristled with happy energy and John had a more fatherly warmth, a quiet but tough strength emanated this one.
He simply pulled at the brim of his hat and nodded, saying “ma’am.”
She would have pulled the blanket over her head in the hopes they would go away, but John made that impossible.
“Gentlemen, this is Chloe Navratil from San Antonio,” he told the others, unaware of her anxiety. “Tina and I visited her last fall on our vacation. Chloe, may I introduce Captain Jack Aubrey, and our resident preacher, Cort?”
“A pleasure to meet you, I am sure,” Jack said, stepping forward, “and an even greater pleasure to see you recovering.”
The younger, Cort, said, “looks like you took a bad fall.”
“He’s the one who called me to tell me what happened,” John informed her. “They both found you out here. You alright? Can you remember anything?”
Chloe blinked, a little bewildered. Could she? The collection of images was a bit muddled…
“It was raining,” she began. “I left home when it was still sunny, but there was a storm coming down and I was driving around on the backroads. I stopped to think and decide if I should turn back, but when I got back on the road, the rain had arrived and things got slick. I swerved to miss hitting an oncoming car and the next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. I guess I went over the edge of the cliff.” The dream was vague, sitting on the edge of her memory and she faltered, wondering if she should mention it. By the looks on their faces, however, they were primarily concerned that she be whole of body. She flexed her hands and her arms, then shifted her legs. “I don’t seem to be hurt, though. I think I’m okay.”
“Can you stand?”
With John’s help, she rose to her feet. It was then she noticed one of her hands was enclosed around an object. Opening her fist, she found a small round pebble pressed into her palm.
“What’s that?” John asked.
“I don’t know,” Chloe replied, but even as she said it, the strong memory of hobbits made her think twice about letting it fall to the ground. Instead, she put it in her pocket. She’d deal with that later.
“Is it a long way…” she began to ask, as she turned to get a final appraisal of the situation, and stopped short as she saw the ravine just yards away. How could she not go to the edge?
“My truck…” she gasped. Tears fogged her vision. It lay like a crumpled beast on its back, wheels twisted, a door torn off its hinges. Her suitcase lay on a ledge nearby. Disbelief turned into anger: how could she have been so stupid? She should have stayed home and waited.
“Miss Navratil,” she heard Jack rumble, as he stepped to the rim beside her. “Mister Cort has offered to make his way down to recover your things. He is a prodigious climber. I have seen him take to the shrouds aboard the Surprise with the agility of a monkey.”
“Only because that monkey had drunk a bottle of Jack’s port and temporarily lost his better judgement,” Cort added, to her other side, causing Jack to laugh. He had a coil of rope and a harness with him. “We’ll get your trunk,” he added, reassuringly. Chloe could scarcely look at him, self conscious. “I’ll even try to reach inside the carriage and…”
“No.” She cut him off and had to take a deep breath: her heart started racing because he was near. His gaze was direct, almost intense, and there was steel behind his softer expression. He was a bit mesmerizing compared to Jack. “Don’t try. That’s too dangerous. The suitcase is fine, for now. I didn’t bring much else, anyway.”
“What if it rains before we get back out here?” John asked her. “There isn’t anything inside that would be ruined?”
“If you see my purse. I’ll need my ID,” Chloe submitted to the logic and watched as Jack helped Cort set up the anchor for the rope, then lower the younger Brother down into the crevice.
“Well, I called up to the house, told Tina what happened,” John announced as they watched. “She’s anxious to have you there at the house. You’ll have to forgive her if she seems a bit scattered, though. They’re working on last minute plans for our festival this weekend. Oh, and she’s going to call on Dr. Anthony to check you out since we don’t know if you’ve had a concussion or not.”
“My head doesn’t hurt,” Chloe replied. It was true. In spite of the confusion and the gunk caked on her face and arms, she felt stronger by the minute. “But I would so love a bath right now.”
“You’ll have all that and more, once we get you to our house.”
“Is the road nearby?” Chloe asked, wondering how long it would take and if they were going to be encountering other people on the way.
“What road?” John asked.
“Well, I fell off the highway, right? It’s up there…” Chloe pointed to the far side of the ridge and stopped. “Isn’t it?”
“I guarantee you, there’s no road up there,” Cort replied as he harnessed himself into the rappel straps. “Okay, I’m goin’ down.”
She watched Cort slowly make his way down to the ledge and wrap a line around the suitcase, but her thoughts were haunted by ghost images of the accident. The emotion that sprung up at the sight of the vehicle, crumpled and prone like a broken bird, surprised and embarrassed her. She’d somehow slipped free of the damage to herself, and for that she was grateful, but the aftermath would still hurt. She was financially strapped and would have more difficulty finding a replacement car, as the truck was sure to be totaled…if it was ever recovered. How does one explain to the insurance company that her transportation was wedged in a ravine in the middle of Brigadoon? It was nothing more than a bitter testament to impulse now.
She couldn’t look anymore. She felt water at her eyelids again and turned away, forced herself to not cry. The UTV sat a few feet away and Chloe made a bee-line for it, slid into the passenger seat. With a few deep breaths, she brought the tears under control. She hated crying in front of people, especially when they were being so nice.
Not much later, she heard Cort declare that the suitcase had been saved and John was free to go, then heard John load it onto the little open bed at the back of the mule. She jumped a little when Cort appeared at her side.
“I got your purse, too,” he told her and handed it to her. “Have to say, your carriage is pretty well demolished, but I’m sure Colin’s going to want to try and fix it anyway. Colin’s our resident mechanic and he loves a challenge. Hey…you alright?” He asked. His eyes were so compassionate and voice so gentle, Chloe found herself meeting his gaze without difficulty.
“I’m fine,” she replied, perhaps a little too brightly. “I’m sorry I’m forgetting my manners. Thank you. Thank you all ,” she added, including Jack and John as they came up behind Cort. “I don’t know what you were doing before you found me, but I’m glad y’all did.”
“I do hope you will feel welcome here,” Jack replied. “Dr. Anthony is the very man of medic for you.”
“Settle in and don’t let the place overwhelm you,” Cort told her with a grin as John clambered back into the driver’s seat and started the engine. “We’ll tell the others what happened,” he added, to John. “I don’t think it’s going to be difficult getting them back, but it might be evening before its all done.”
“From your lips to God’s ears, preacher,” John intoned and they took off.