Eilish was born on the island of Tír na nÓg on summer solstice nearly 23 years ago as the firstborn of Eiméar and James Dhónaill. Not much is known of her parents, but most probably they came to Asteriana via a portal some years prior to Eilish’s birth. They were a nice and gentle couple who had settled down and founded their home on the island of Tír na nÓg just west of Asteri mainland. Since the green and peaceful island had reminded them of the legends of the mysterious Land of Eternal Youth, it seemed suitable to give the newly found land its name - Tír na nÓg – and the name stuck. Before the Dhónaills arrived the island was used by the Asterians who had a big orchard and a berry patch there. And the Asterians had used the uninhabited island as grassland for sheep who wandered freely around the island all year round, nibbling the grass. So the grass around the cottage was always neatly cut. The kind Asterians had allowed the Dhónaills to settle in there and had given them an old house which Eiméar and James had rebuilt to make a cosy home. The small island was surrounded by the whitest beach imaginable, giving a wonderful contrast to the turquoise water polishing its sands. There was a pine coppice in the northern part of the island, which served well as a shield against the sometimes harsh northern winds, making the hillock with the cottage and the bay the loveliest and warmest place to live in. The ground in the coppice was covered with soft green moss and the most unusual azure rose-like flowers that could be found nowhere else in Asteriana (or probably nowhere else). Eiméar had called them sky-roses in fact.
So little Eilish grew in the most welcoming and friendly environment a child could ever want. It was a peaceful land with a rather mild climate and kind folks. She was much loved by her parents who had all the time in the world for her. But it all changed suddenly in 1995 before Eilish turned 3.
Her family often took her to the coppice with them to pick blueberries or just enjoy a walk between the ruler-straight pines and fern bushes. Eilish would usually amuse herself with stuffing her mouth with blueberries or wild strawberries until she looked like a cute tiny purple troll; or picking sky-roses. On this day in April 1995 there were plenty of spring flowers growing everywhere, so Eilish rejoiced in crouching down and wondering at almost every single one. She introduced all the living things to her toy rabbit Tiddy. She carried the chequered rag toy with her all the time. Everything was so new and exciting for her and her parents’ hearts just melted when they looked at this cute bundle of joy. Never ever had they worried that she would wander off or get lost since the island was small and the coppice even smaller and she could be spotted miles away in her little red dress. Plus the joyful shrills she emitted in every couple of minutes whenever she found something she wanted to share with the world. It was an afternoon like any other and she had just filled her tiny hand with sky-roses when she spotted a huge golden bug on a fern leaf. The bug arranged its wings and then floated lazily onto the next leaf. Eilish followed it with a huge smile in her face. Oblivious of anything around her she just hopped from turf to turf, trying not to lose the golden critter from her sight. Suddenly her feet were caught by a tree root and she fell down, dropping the blue flowers onto the moss. She was not hurt, though a little bit frightened. Eilish stood up and looked around for her parents. But they were nowhere in sight. Slowly she realized that not only weren’t here parents in sight, everything around her suddenly seemed unfamiliar. The sun was gone and the trees around her were not the friendly auburn pines she was used to. It was quite a different forest, much older and somewhat sinister. She looked around, puzzled. First she realized she had lost Tiddy and the rabbit was nowhere around. Her eyes filled with tears as she began to call for her Mom and Dad...
Suddenly it struck Eiméar that it was too quiet around. There were no usual squeals or shrieks of the lively child. Well, she probably has found something extra interesting, she thought to herself, because there just was no way something would have happened to her here. But still, she looked around. Eilish was nowhere to be seen. James hadn’t spotted her either. Both of them called for the little girl who had just minutes ago stood beside them, admiring a strange bug. With time passing their worry grew into panic. They yelled, pleaded, called, asked, looked under every tree and leaf when suddenly James found Tiddy lying near a small fir tree. She would have never gone away without it. Ever.
There was just a small faint streak in the moss, straight as if someone had cut a line in the moss. In fact it was a line. It had been a portal. A temporary portal that had appeared just at the time Eilish stumbled upon a tree root. A portal that had closed just seconds after she slipped through it. She was gone.
Eiméar and James had not much knowledge of the portals between worlds. It is assumed they had come through one themselves, but they probably couldn’t have recognized one if they had come across it. Let alone a faint trace of a portal. They had done everything in their power to find Eilish, but nobody had seen her or heard anything about her fate though after a while one of the Asterians had pointed out the possibility that Eilish might have slipped through a portal. But nobody had ever heard of a portal on Tír na nÓg, let alone knew where it had led to. So Eiméar and James would go to the coppice every day hoping that the portal would appear again so that they could follow their little girl. For one or two most painful years they’d visit the spot without any luck until one day they saw the air flicker and a portal appearing before their eyes. Without much thinking they made the only decision they could in their utter distress – they held hands and stepped through the portal. Little did they know that this portal led to multiple worlds, so they vanished without a trace and no-one has ever heard of them since.
Little Eilish cried inconsolably when she realized she was completely alone in a strange place. There was nothing she could do, being just nearly 3 years old and having had practically no bad experiences in her safe and cosy world. She cried until she grew weary of weeping. Spotting the blue sky-roses on the moss, at least something familiar to hold on to, she picked them up into her sweaty palm and tried to find her way around the strange place. Occasionally calling out for her Mom and Dad she soon reached a small road in the forest. She followed the road for a while until she spotted a small green house, worn with age. She went to the front door and sat down on the rugged stairs. This is where Maria found Eilish, a frightened girl with a tear-streaked face, holding some unusual blue flowers in her hand.
Maria Strand was a kind woman, a little bit over her fifties. She had come from an orphanage and had no children or husband of her own, nor had she any known relatives. But she loved kids and her everyday job was closely related to children. She was a primary school teacher in a local school. She lived at the edge of the town, so that the forest Eilish had come from was practically her back yard.
Maria crouched down at the bewildered girl, trying to learn who she is and where she had come from. She soon got the feeling that Eilish didn’t understand a word she was saying. But when Eilish suddenly burst into tears, sobbing, "I want my Mommy!” Maria realized she was speaking English. She tried again, speaking to her softly in her mother tongue. Eilish seemed to relax a bit, but it was still very difficult to get some information from her. She found out her name was Eilish and that she was lost. And she had lost someone named Tiddy. And that was about it. Maria gently persuaded the girl to join her in the house, so that she can give her something to eat. Eilish hadn’t learned about not trusting strangers, so she silently followed Maria in the house. Furthermore, there was in fact something mother-like in Maria, so she instinctively felt she could trust her. After having eaten the exhausted girl happily gave in to dreams in Maria’s bed.
Maria did everything in her power to find Eilish’s parents. Weeks and months of gruelling search, visiting the police, social workers, tens of officials and so on. During this time she grew really fond of the mysterious girl and she of her. Eilish held on to her whenever they met and she rarely opened up to anyone else. It touched Maria deeply to see such kind of affection. She hadn’t thought of having kids of her own since she was alone, but after all this time with Eilish she felt that no way she would let her disappear into the "system” or end up in an orphanage like she had. So she applied to become Eilish’s foster parent until her real parents are found.
She took the best care of Eilish. Since the name sounded too foreign and she wanted her to feel comfortable around there, she began to call her Elise and taught her her own mother tongue – Estonian. When weeks and months passed and nobody came for Eilish, Maria began to feel more and more like Eilish’s true mother and she sometimes even spoiled her too much, fearing that one day someone would come and take her away. Even if it were her real parents, the thought of leaving her became harder and harder to bear.
So Eilish grew in a loving family of one – Maria. They didn’t have much – the house they lived in was rugged and old and they never could afford anything fancy – but Eilish always had the most important thing she needed: lots of love. So in time she became a happy and loving girl who had enormous amounts of fantasy. But there was always something otherworldly about her – she had the habit of speaking to and caring for all the living beings – plants, animals, birds, small children. And they seemed to respond her with such trust that it amazed Maria every time she saw her. For example her two timid cats were usually afraid of everyone and fled every time they heard someone coming, but when Eilish was around they would just curl up in her lap and purr like tiny tractors. Once Maria caught Eilish feeding a bunch of sparrows from her hand. The usually cautious birds fearlessly sat on her arm and fought chirpingly for the seeds in her palm. And the plants Eilish took care of blossomed like no other. The same was with small children – Eilish seemed to have almost magical effect on them – they tended to cling onto her, talk to her with uttermost trust or stop crying whenever she approached them. But at the same time she seemed to grow very silent and withdrawn with other adults or children of her own age. She just didn’t seem to "speak their language”. In the kindergarten she always preferred to be around smaller children and take care of them – to the joy of the teachers she handled all their troubles with amazing ease. She was always like an older sister to them, telling them stories, playing with them and when necessary, wipe their tears and console them. But as soon as she had to be around girls or boys at her own age, she seemed like another person – quiet, withdrawn, timid. But she wasn’t concerned about not being very sociable around her peers and adults at all when she was still small – she had the beautiful nature around her – hundreds of trees to talk to, tens of birds to sing to, cats and dogs to have long conversations with, smaller "siblings” to take care of. She made up amazing worlds in her mind and just rejoiced in everything around her. The other people in town soon realized the little "forest girl” was a little different from any other children they had seen, but they just shook their heads with friendly bewilderment. It all seemed so wonderful until she had to go to school.
There she was forced to be around people of her own age, day after day. First she tried to share her fantasies with them, tried to involve them in her games, tried to befriend them. At first it went pretty well, but after a couple of years when someone caught her tending a withered plant in the school hall and softly whispering words of solace to the poor flower, the things started to go bad. The other children just couldn’t understand her attitude. At first they were just confused, but sadly, in children’s case, confusion can sometimes turn into ostracising and this is exactly what happened. They never really meant to be mean, but it just turned out that way. Soon poor Eilish got to know painfully what bullying means and what it means to have no friends at all. She started to come home with eyes red from crying, with dirty clothes or even with bruises (though that seldom happened). Maria was very concerned about all of this. Though she worked in the same school, she usually didn’t see what happened and thus couldn’t do much since Eilish never told on anyone. Occasionally, when things got too bad, she would go and talk to the teacher of her class, but that usually made things worse. Being a "teacher’s child” is never easy. Once, when she came home with severely burnt hair, Maria even considered taking her to another school, but this would have meant taking her to another town. So Eilish tried to act brave and kept more and more inside her. She just tried to ignore her classmates, though it was hard most of the times. She learned to swallow her tears or cry when nobody was looking. When things got really nasty, she would come home and complain to Tiddy (yes, she had named one of the kittens Tiddy, though she didn’t really remember why she had chosen this name). Tiddy, a beautiful and peaceful tabby, always listened to her with her head tilted as if she had understood her words. Maybe she did.
Things got a little bit easier when she was 11 and Ruth joined her class. She was a merry girl, but as she was of Lebanese origin from her father’s side, she looked somewhat darker and different from the other, mostly blond and pale kids, and that was enough to push her away. But Eilish gladly welcomed her and they became best friends for years. They would roam around the woods for hours until Maria had to gently scold them about forgetting the time.
Ruth had actually been born in Lebanon. Her Estonian mother had been working there and fell in love with a local man. Soon they got married and Ruth was born. Until she became 10 they had lived in Lebanon. So Ruth perfectly understood Eilish’s feelings of being in a foreign land. Though Eilish didn’t remember almost anything of Tír na nÓg, she sometimes had dreams of the place and her parents. And she always felt that she is not from this world. And how right she was, yet not even knowing it! But the stories she made up, unknowingly contained a lot from Asteriana, from her past. So she and Ruth would create their own worlds – drawing zillions of pictures of cute little islands with tons of cedar trees and palms, the latter reminding Ruth of her homeland. Then they would pretend they were some ridiculously rich princesses who can conjure things. So in Eilish’s little room in the attic or in Ruth’s porch they would talk for hours, wishing themselves away from the everyday turmoil. They grew very close in time and always stood for each other whenever needed.
Ruth was a great support to Eilish when at the age of 14 she learned she had a severe heart condition. Her "weak heart” as the doctors sometimes put it, would let her live most of the time without any medicines, but she was supposed to lead a stress-free and quiet life. But to her uttermost grief Eilish also learned that she could never have children on her own – pregnancy would have most likely been fatal for her. So she had soon decided that since she can’t have a child of her own, she would take care of other people’s children – work in a daycare or become a teacher like her step-mom or find another way to work with kids. Ruth and Eilish would sometimes "adopt” some of Maria’s pupils – they helped them with their studies and stood up for them when they ended up in trouble. They especially grew fond of a little blond girl – Mia, who was always struggling with math and got scolded at home every time she brought home another bad grade. They would invent some math-related games for her or just help her study. She was actually the reason Eilish would take up recorder lessons. Her doctor had advised her to play a wind instrument to train her lungs and thus improve her heart’s oxygen exchange. Mia had taken on lessons a year before and needed someone to practice together with. So Eilish happily joined the classes and even though she strongly persisted every time she was asked to perform solo, she was a quick learner and loved to play on her own. She gladly performed to Ruth, Mia or Maria, and to all her cats and other living non-human beings who would wish to listen. She also loved to sing and though she never dared to do it in front of anyone, the forest would often hear her soft angelic voice singing various kinds of songs. She had a natural talent and had she been less shy she might have even become famous. But this wasn’t her ambition.
Just before Ruth and Eilish were about to begin their 12th year at school, Ruth’s family suddenly had to go back to Lebanon as her grandmother fell ill and needed their constant care. This strongly broke Eilish’s heart, though she continued to write to Ruth and she to her. But their correspondence slowly grew more infrequent. In a couple of years Eilish learned that Ruth had married and their correspondence was soon reduced to sending Christmas cards and birthday greetings. But before that happened Eilish still had to face her last year in high school and Ruth’s correspondence still helped her a great deal.
In high school people seemed to have forgotten about Eilish most of the time. There was no poking, no pushing or nudging, no stealing her things, but still there was subdued whispering and derogatory stares. And no friends. Eilish suffered the loss of her only friend greatly. Now there was practically no person she could talk to. Though she trusted her mother Maria with everything, she didn’t have the heart to cry on her shoulder every time – she just didn’t want her to worry too much. Every time she felt anxious or depressed she would go to the forest behind her home. There she would talk to the trees, greet the newborn plants, sing or play the recorder. The forest patch always felt friendly and calming, and it somehow seemed to draw her in, as if she belonged there. In a way she did.
After Ruth left Eilish withdrew even more, she even communicated less with the "adopted” children from Maria’s class. Anyway, Mia and some other "adoptees” had already grown to be rebellious teens with boys and parties in their mind, so they didn’t need such fostering any more. There had been some new kids, since Maria had a new primary class, but the bonds never grew as tight as with the first ones. So Eilish spent most of the time alone these days. In summer she had turned 18 and faced the constant teasing of her classmates for not having a boyfriend or a special someone. This seemed to be a big issue in her class. Even those who didn’t date, made up stories of special someones or at least discussed the topic of desirable males every possible moment they could. But Eilish just couldn’t relate to the topic – boys were just off her interest at the time. Not that there was anything wrong with her as a girl, but the few lads in her class just didn’t attract or interest her anyhow. In fact they had liked Eilish in the primary school with her being pretty, modest and kind to everybody, but their way of showing their affection – spitting paper bullets into her long hair – just didn’t impress her. Later on they had lost most of their interest when she didn’t go along with their attempts of chatting up with her. Besides, she just was too different from a regular teenager. Never had she attended any parties or outings with the class, so she just estranged from her class. But there was prom coming in the end of the last school year and something that happened there, shattered her fragile soul and heart into so tiny pieces that it seemed irreparable for good...
This is actually when Eilish first saw Andrew as well, but she didn’t know it until much later.
The girls in her class had gotten into their heads to play a prank on Eilish. It actually started as an innocent joke, nothing cruel. It was in time it turned out to be really mean. One of the girls had an older brother who was working as a journalist and was exceptionally good with words. So they asked him to write a love letter to Eilish. They told the unsuspecting brother that they just wanted to cheer Eilish up since she had no special someone. They pretended to care for her and be her best friends who were sincerely concerned for her. The brother was a compassionate person, so he agreed to it. He got some information about Eilish from his sister, thus he knew what he should write to actually attract her attention. So just before Christmas he wrote a fictitious love letter allegedly from a fellow student in her school. Though he gave no hints of who this might be, he made it quite clear in her letter that one of the boys among the graduates had grown fond of her. Sadly, Eilish couldn’t suspect anything and was deeply touched by the mysterious letter. It had come like a very special Christmas gift. Especially since it was nothing too pushy or mawkish – it was more of an invitation to become friends. After all, the author of the letters was a kind man and didn’t suspect that his friendly words were actually a beginning of a mean joke. He just meant to make a lonely girl feel better. He didn’t even expect Eilish to write back at first, but she did – she felt it was much easier to put her thoughts onto paper without actually facing the person she was writing to. And she was desperate for a friend. So the correspondence continued and in quite a short time Eilish had completely fallen for her mysterious schoolmate. And, in fact, she really did cheer up – she went to school with joy, knowing (or rather, assuming) that there was someone special who would actually like her just as she is and who really seemed to understand her. The girls in her class saw her walking around with an occasional "Cloud 9 smile” on her face and tried to lure her into revealing who the special someone was. She would just blush and smile shyly, but say nothing. Naturally they knew all about the "mysterious lover” and behind her back they would just laugh at her naivete. Though there was in fact nothing naive about falling in love with someone who had been so kind to her in his words at least.
The spring and also the prom were approaching fast. The tedious winter was turning into vivid spring – the whole nature began to change its garments to blossoming green. It was the most beautiful time of the year. And it was also the time Eilish’s letters to her Mr. X (as the author of the letters had called himself) grew more intimate. Soon the author felt that the things were getting out of hand and what had started out as an innocent experiment, had turned into a beautiful love from a kind and sensitive girl. He actually had grown rather fond of her himself, though he didn’t have any romantic feelings for her. So he felt it would be wrong to further encourage her feelings. So he proposed he would write a good-bye letter where he would tell her about his sudden departure and just leave it there. But his sister and her friends had come up with another plan that involved the forthcoming prom. So they accepted his idea, let him write the final letter, but never sent it. (Until now they had been the ones delivering the letters and receiving the answers, so they naturally knew exactly what was written in those letters.) Instead they wrote a letter of their own. It was rather a brief one, typed, not to raise suspicion with the difference in writing style. It simply kindly asked Eilish to be his date at the prom...
Night before the prom Eilish was so excited she could hardly sleep. She had naturally written about Mr. X to Ruth and they had had the most thrilling correspondence about her mysterious admirer. They had several ideas of who this might be, but none of her schoolmates seemed to fit into the picture. It was even more exciting that way. But both Ruth and she had agreed that she should make the most of this prom and even if the things don’t turn out to be as romantic as she probably hoped, she would at least meet a wonderful friend. So Eilish was truly elated and Maria naturally cheered for her. She had seen Eilish going to school reluctantly every morning for years and breaking her heart for Ruth’s departure. So Eilish’s joy of finding her love passed on to Maria as well. She hadn’t had a prom or a boyfriend, so in a way through Eilish she could experience the feeling of romance as well. They had bought her the most beautiful dress they could afford – it wasn’t all that fancy, but it brought out all the gentle features of the delicate girl. So at the prom evening she stood in the middle of the room, twirling in her long turquoise dress, smiling as widely as she could. It seemed she had never been happier...
The lights of the schoolhouse seemed like sparkling stars, there was the most romantic fragrance in the air, every sound around her seemed like music. She was happy. She was so in love. They had agreed to meet in her class – so it would be more intimate and in a way safer. With her heart pounding she stepped into the hall, came to the class and with shaking hand opened the door...
It took her several seconds to realize the horror she was facing. There was something that looked like a hideous, clumsily made scarecrow arranged in front of the blackboard, so it was the first thing she saw when she stepped in. There was a printed picture of a prince with a nauseously slushy face taped onto the monster’s head and a sloppily made golden crown jammed onto its deformed head. A big signboard hung onto its neck said: "Eilish’s prince, Mr. X”. She stared at this abomination with horror, unable to move. Only then she began to perceive the surroundings. There was the whole bunch of her classmates standing around the disfiguration of a prince, all laughing. Slowly she started to discern their words being thrown at her:
"This is your prince, forest girl!” "Haha, did you ever think someone would fall in love with YOU!” "What an idiot!” Trying to ridicule her more, they yelled out lines from her letters she had sent to Mr. X with such affection. They made everything sound like a mockery, twisting her gentle feelings horribly around, mutilating everything that had been dear to her.
Not knowing how, she ran out of the schoolhouse with tears uncontrollably flowing from her eyes, and dashed randomly into the darkness. There was so much pain in her that her fragile heart just gave in and she fell, losing her consciousness. No one knows how much time had passed when she opened her eyes again. She felt the coolness of the grass at her cheek, but the rest of it was all blurry. She probably came around for just a few seconds, but there was something (or rather someone) she saw that she never could forget, though she put it down to hallucinating, since she was in enormous pain and not fully conscious at the time. She was laying in the grass on her side, trying to distinguish hazy shapes in the darkness when everything suddenly flooded in bright light. She got a glimpse of someone looking directly into her eyes, smiling tenderly, yet somewhat sadly. Then she passed out again.
She woke up in a hospital. The first person she saw was Maria, sitting beside her, holding her hand. She smiled faintly when she saw Eilish coming around. "You gave me quite a fright, my dear,” she silently said. Her heart had indeed failed so that she had been just an inch from death. Enough to look him into the eye. (Or so she thought).
She had to stay in the hospital for another month and recover at home for another. She never went to school again, because by the time she was well enough to leave the house, it was already nearly summertime and the school was over. Maria had arranged so that the she could give the final exams in private. She was a bright student so she effortlessly passed them all. With her being a teacher Maria was able to arrange all the other things as well so that Eilish never had to face any of her classmates again. But something in the girl was so irreversibly damaged that she never was quite the same again.
She became awfully silent and rarely talked to anyone besides Maria (or the nature and animals around her home). She couldn’t smile for months and Maria often heard subdued sobbing coming from her room in the attic. She seemed to have completely lost her trust in human beings and even the sight of another human being (with a few exceptions) caused her to flee in fear. Slowly she recovered to some extent, but the painful sadness and fear seemed to still float around her. Maria watched all this with genuine concern, but felt she could do nothing but continue loving her.
May-be it was Maria’s worry for Eilish that took a huge part of her away as well. She herself was already nearly 70 and had decided to retire when Eilish graduated. On one hand she had been teaching for nearly 50 years and had grown weary, on the other hand she felt she had to be there to support Eilish who now had to face life. There was no way Eilish would go to study in a university in such a state so she decided to find a job that would allow her to live and work at home, staying with her elderly stepmother. She was lucky enough to find a job she could do at home. A local company hired her to input data into the computer and she could do it anywhere. In addition to this she sometimes typed in the manuscripts for a publishing office and helped the neighbour’s kids with their studies. Sometimes she babysat the kids of Maria’s friends and former pupils (she had been highly respected and loved as a teacher). Since she was a very kind person, and also very correct and thorough in everything she did, she never actually ran out of work. The income was never much, but enough to take care of all her needs.
For a year or two everything seemed to go pretty well. Maria still did some tutoring work in the school, but mostly stayed at home. In time passing Eilish grew a little bit happier and sometimes even seemed like her old cheerful and dreamy self. The painful memories never completely went away, but somehow the sharpness of the horrors grew softer in time. But there was another deep distress she had to come through yet.
The winter of 2014 was extra harsh. It was snowing so much that Eilish had to shovel the passages around her house every day so that they could get out of the house and move around. Often it was almost impossible to open the door in the morning because it had snowed so much. Tiddy (who was now an elderly madam, not a kitten anymore) and 2 other cats rarely stepped outside and preferred to sleep through their days, lazily sprawling on the heated oven. It was so cold outside that Eilish sometimes had to make the fire twice a day. But in a way she liked winter. She liked the cosy days, sitting in front of the crackling oven, Maria knitting and she playing the recorder or having jolly conversations about whatnot. Or drinking cocoa. Oh, those sweet days! If she had known what would come she would have wished the winter never ended...
Maria had lately started to complain headaches. She blamed it on the dark winter. "It is so dark every day like in the middle-ages,” she jokingly used to say. But the pain in her head seemed to take the turn for the worse when the spring approached and the sunlight poured through the small kitchen window, making everything glow. Then Maria would scold the too bright light for making her vision blurry. But soon she had to realize it was not just darkness or light that had caused her troubles and she reluctantly went to see the doctor.
The words "malignant tumour in the optic tectum” resounded long in Maria’s ears. There was nothing they could do, it was inoperable, they had told her. She had may-be a year, may-be even less. They could probably lengthen her life by a month or two with a lengthy and exhausting treatment, but that was it. In fact one of the doctors had actually suggested her to stay at home where she could be surrounded by people she loved, instead of withering away in an anonymous hospital. She had a lot to think of. First of all of Eilish.
Eilish actually proved to be much stronger than Maria had feared. May-be the girl was just suppressing her own feelings to give her all the support she needed. Eilish just told her she would be with her till the end, no matter whether she decided to spend her last months in a hospital or at home with her. She would give her the best care and all her love like Maria had always given her.
Eilish proved once again to be a wonderful caretaker. She made her mother’s life as comfortable as she could and offered her all the time she could. She was glad she could work at home so she could always be beside her mother. Sometimes it seemed Eilish could read Maria’s mind, because she often had the exact words Maria needed to hear, and she knew without saying what Maria wished. These days Eilish became an active visitor of the library to bring the most wonderful pieces of literature to Maria and read them to her since she soon couldn’t do it herself anymore. Eilish would cook and clean around the house. She would sing and tell the stories. She would even overcome her fear of strangers and communicate with Maria’s friends to invite them over as much as she could. She did everything in her power to make her mother’s last months memorable.
In May 2015 almost a year had passed from the terrible news and Maria had become so sick she barely could walk or talk. The petite girl showed unusual strength in walking her around or doing any heavy jobs needed in the house. Luckily the neighbouring woman was there to help when Maria needed lifting or carrying. But everything else was on Eilish’s shoulders. She had borrowed a wheelchair from the hospital and took Maria to walks outside as much as she could. She really wanted her not to miss spring, although Maria’s vision was almost gone by then. When the final day came the cherries were in full bloom and the whole yard was covered with white petals so it looked like snow. She even called it "cherry-blossom snow”. One day she would write a book with this title, she had once thought. Eilish wheeled Maria around the small yard, letting the cherry blossoms softly fall on Maria’s hair and clothes. The sun was shining brightly and it was unusually warm. Maria then asked Eilish to take her back in, she was getting very tired.
Eilish gently helped her get into her bed and lulled her to sleep like she had often done before during the past year. She adjusted her blanket and stayed beside her, watching her fall asleep. Maria softly whispered, "My dear beloved girl, I so love you!” before closing her eyes and giving in to restless dreams. Eilish knelt down in front of her bed and leaned her head on the soft blanket. The warmth of the day, the singing of the birds, the soft silence in the house soon sent her to brief sleep as well. She was suddenly woken by a feeling of strange presence. A presence of someone in the room. She opened her eyes, but saw no-one. It had grown darker outside, the sun had hidden behind gray clouds and she could hear soft rain dripping against the window. Maria mumbled something in her dreams. "Mom? Are you awake?” Eilish gently asked, but she gave no answer, just sighed briefly. Eilish gently squeezed her hand and suddenly it seemed the sun had come out again. The soft golden light filled the room and it grew awfully silent. "It is time!” she heard a tender voice beside her mother’s bed. Then she saw Maria smile. And yet again for a split second she saw the same gentle eyes and the same wistful smile as years before. Before she could get a good glimpse, the vision was gone. And so was Maria. Her body just lay there and she looked more peaceful than ever before...
So many people had come to see her off, there were so many who had loved her, there were also many to help Eilish to go through the most difficult parts of it. It had all been so beautiful, yet so painful. But she had all the reasons to be thankful for having known Maria.
It was just after the funeral when she slowly began to realize that she was completely alone now. On the first week some of Maria’s friends had helped her arrange all the necessary things, but then it grew awfully silent. She had no relatives since Maria had been an orphan. And she had no friends here – Ruth had married in Lebanon a couple of years ago and already had her first child, their correspondence had grown really sparse though Eilish often thought of Ruth. She felt so lost, so alone... There was nobody to stroke her hair or give her a hug or just be with her in her grief. She just didn’t know what to do. She wished someone would come for her. May-be it would be the mysterious stranger that had made Maria smile on her last moment or had smiled at her when her own heart had failed her. Who was he???
Maria had not been a religious woman, though she had had all the qualities of a true Christian. It was the times she had been born and raised in – these times did everything to discourage any faith and it wore onto her as well. Yet she had sometimes said that there really must be someone “up there”. But that was it. So Eilish’s God had also always been “up there”, away from everyday troubles, unreachable. There had been nobody to introduce her to the real living God. She had in fact read some Bible stories, but they were just fairy-tale like stories from the distant history, nothing more. Sometimes Eilish actually turned to God and spoke to him, but it was more of a philosophical monologue than a real prayer. There were a couple of churches in her home town, but since she didn’t know anybody from the congregations and she was too shy to step into the church herself, she never really had attended any services or spoken with anyone about God. So her knowledge about God, Heaven, angels and in fact everything Christian was more than vague. She was prepared to believe in fairies and elves rather than God and angels. But still the appearance of the being of light puzzled her greatly. She just couldn’t explain it.
So after Maria’s death Eilish was left with no mother, no relatives, no faith, no hope. She felt so strongly that she didn’t belong here, but there was nowhere else to go. So in this particular afternoon in late May she just picked up her recorder, wrapped her into her big white crocheted shawl (it had belonged to her mother Maria and it made her feel as if she was still there, with her) and headed to the forest patch she had grown so fond of in years.
Little did she know that this was the beginning of the most beautiful journey for her. She had just thought that the walk would take her mind off her loss – walking and singing and playing her recorder had always had calming effect on her. She stepped silently on the moss, her bare feet made almost no sound at all (yes, she enjoyed walking barefoot, even in the forest, she liked to feel the soft ground beneath her feet). The birds were loudly chirping as if trying to outdo each other. The soft afternoon light gilded the forest, lighting up the fragile spiderwebs between the trees. The air smelled sweet and fresh, but for a moment her nose caught a trifle of saltiness in it. The nearest sea was about 200 miles away, so it must have been just wishful thinking. Eilish loved the sea, even before she actually saw it on this Earth. Every time she and Maria had gone to the seaside (they had tried to do it at least a couple of times each summer) she had just stood there in the sand, in awe, watching the waves wash the shores. It was as if she tried to remember something...
She bent her head to look into the bright sky when she suddenly heard faint bleating. It sounded like a sheep but as far as she knew there were none around. So she curiously moved towards the sound until something she saw made her stop instantly. She just stared at the two tall pine trees, or rather between them. She saw a forest there as well, but it was a much different one. Like someone had cut out a picture of a another forest and pasted it between the trees. Her curiosity prevailed her and she stepped closer, still hearing the faint bleating and smelling the salty humid air coming from the apparition. She was a cautious girl, but something in the vision was drawing her nearer with such a force that she couldn’t resist it. And when she saw small blue rose-like flowers growing in the moss, she just ran towards them, forgetting any cautiousness.
“The sky-roses!” she exclaimed! These were the only signs of her origins – she had appeared before Maria’s door, clutching the blue flowers tightly in her hand. Maria had dried and kept one of these, just hoping that this would one day lead Eilish home. She crouched down and a faint trace of remembrance swept across her face. “Sky-roses,” she muttered again and picked up one of the delicate flowers to look at it closely. “How weird!” She was genuinely puzzled because as far as she knew this kind of flowers grew nowhere on Earth. Maria as a primary school teacher knew plants well and she had done a thorough research to find out the origin of the flowers. But without any luck. She only had the name Eilish had given her at the age of three. But now there was the whole forest full of them!
She rose on her feet to take a better look at this strange world. It was so calm, quiet and beautiful. The air smelled fresh, there was a sense of intactness in this nature. She felt as if she was the first one ever to step into this forest. Then she looked back to see where she had come from. To her fright, there was nothing to be seen but the same calm pine coppice. The portal had closed on her once more. She took a couple of steps back just to find herself on the other side of the two tall pines where the portal once was. But she was still there, in the new world. There was just a straight line in the moss, straight as a ruler. But she really didn’t know what to make of it. She slightly panicked. But the novelty of everything around her and the curiosity soon quieted the panic down. After all, there wasn’t really anything to leave behind...
So she decided to explore the newly-found world. She adjusted the shawl, clutched the recorder tightly in her hand and went towards the light and bleating (which had now grown louder). Soon she came out of the coppice and found herself looking down at the most marvellous island she’d ever set her eyes on. There were green pastures with neatly nibbled grass and not very far from her a flock of white sheep lazily resting on the grass. And the island was surrounded by the deep blue sea – like the one she had sometimes seen on the travel agency brochures. The white sands on the shore looked almost snow-like. And then she saw a small cottage huddled on a hillock not too far from her. There were tens of fruit trees around it, all in full blossom, just like the ones she had left behind. She just couldn’t stop staring. She felt like there was supposed to be something she has forgotten and now has to remember. But as desperately as she tried, she couldn’t quite get the hold of it.
So Eilish just walked towards the cottage, hoping to get some answers. As she approached, she saw that there was a fence around the house, but what once might have been a flower garden was now terribly overgrown. Though everything around the fence was neat and tidy, but probably the sheep were responsible for that. The cottage itself looked abandoned. It was something very very familiar in that picture – Eilish really began to have a feeling that she has been there before. There were flickers of memories... or dreams... “There should be a well in front of the house,” she suddenly thought and decided to test her theory. As soon as she turned around the corner of the house, she saw that everything there looked very much abandoned as well. But indeed, in the midst of the weed field there was a well. She made her way through the overgrown grass and went to the well to look inside.
“It is a well of wishes!” she suddenly heard a voice in her memories. Somebody had told this to her eons ago, somebody very kind and lovely. Somebody who she had long dreamed of when she was a kid. Could it be... She shook her head and looked at her reflection in the bottom of the well. There was still water in it. And a bucket was left beside the well, turned upside down. She drew some water from the well – it was so clear! She tasted it and it was truly the best water she had ever had. Eilish looked around. Everything seemed so eerily familiar. She strained her mind to remember, but there were just faint flickers of dream-like visions.
“I have been here... But why? And when?” she questioned herself. She closed her eyes and suddenly had a clearer vision of a beautiful neat flower-garden with white and yellow and red tulips growing in the corner of the yard. And then another vision of a small stream of water flowing through the garden... and her playing on a bridge with a toy boat... She gasped. Then she heard the sound of water flowing. There indeed was a stream. And a small bridge going over it, though the white paint had long ago peeled off, leaving the bridge gray and bleached. She knelt on the bridge for a moment, touching the stream with her hand. It was cool, yet soft.
There had obviously no-one been in this place for years, since all the paths leading to the house were seriously overgrown and the house itself seemed somewhat sad and tired. There was once much joy, Eilish thought. It was a happy place... She made her way to the nearest window and looked inside. There was not much to be seen from outside, so she decided to try the door. It was unlocked. In fact, there was no lock on the door at all. The door opened with a small squeak. Yet that sound alone was so familiar... “Please, don’t squeak the door, dear! Jimmy, you promised to oil it a week ago!” Again some voices from the past. Her past?
The air inside smelled frowzy and there was a considerable amount of dust everywhere. When she stepped in, the dust rose up and the particles danced drowsily in the golden evening sun. “Hey! Is anyone in here?” she called out, yet not expecting an answer. It just seemed a polite thing to do. She didn’t want to trespass. Despite the dust everything was quite in order. There were just bits here and there that indicated that people, who had lived here, had thought they would just leave for a while, not disappear for good – there was an open book on the kitchen table, a row of socks still hanging above the stove, two bowls (now empty) set on the floor for a pet (deciding from the size of it, a cat or a smaller dog), a jacket thrown casually on the back of a chair. Who were these people? What happened to them? Why do I remember this place? There were so many questions in Eilish’s mind.
She walked around the house. It seemed so cosy. If she ever would have a home on her own, it would be just like this, she thought. It was just so... homelike. She sighed. Then she spotted a photograph on the mantelpiece in the living-room. It was covered with a thick layer of dust, just like everything else. She gave it a strong blow. All this dust made her sneeze, but then she looked at the photo. It was a colour photograph of a beautiful blond woman, a kind-looking man, and of... her!!! There was no doubt about it! She cried out in shock. It couldn’t be, could it? She sunk into the couch and felt it was way too much to take in at once. The memories from a distant past suddenly came flooding in and she just burst into tears.
She just wept and wept and wept. But there was a feeling of liberation in her cry, a feeling of a heavy load being lifted off her shoulders. She had come home. Her real home. Though Maria had given her the best home she could ever want, she always felt she doesn’t really belong into this world. But here she somehow felt she is safe. Forever.
After a while Eilish calmed down a bit. She went out, washed her face and decided to fix up this place a little. She could deal with all this dust later, first of all she decided to open all the windows to let in the fresh spring air. Then she went through the kitchen to find whether there is something left she could eat, or rather, throw away. If her parents (oh, it was so great to call them that!) had left in a hurry there must be some food rotting or moulding somewhere. What she didn’t know is that years ago some of the kind villagers who kept their sheep and orchard on the island, had in fact come into the house and cleaned away the pantry since it soon started to smell awfully. And they just didn’t want the owners to come back to a house that smelled like a garbage bin or something worse. This was indeed a very considerate thing to do. But the last time anyone was in the house was more than a decade ago. The house had been left intact ever since. May-be the villagers wanted the inhabitants to find the house exactly as they had left it and didn’t want to interfere more than absolutely necessary. The garden had to be started over anyway, so they let it be as well. Keeping other people’s house tidy wasn’t asked of them either. So the house just stood there waiting for someone to come.
Eilish found really nothing besides a metal box containing something that remotely looked and smelled like tea (or was it just her imagination). Since there was nothing to eat she thought to give this tea a try. There was a small stove beside the larger one, which probably was meant for quickly heating the water, the kettle was still on it, though most of the water in it had vaporised. So she made fire (there was a pile of firewood ready beside the stove) and cooked some water. The tea practically had no more taste, but it was somehow comforting to sit there in the porch and sip tea watching the sun slowly going down into the blue sea.
All this experience had exhausted Eilish, so she decided to find a place to sleep before it went completely dark. There was a bedroom just beside the living room and she had seen a large bed there (and a small one beside it, probably hers). She decided to clean up the bed (again, the dust) and thought she would try to figure out everything else the next day. But as soon as she took the pillow to beat the dust out of it, she saw a small blue chequered toy rabbit under it. She took it into her hand. “Tiddy,” she whispered. “You are Tiddy. My Tiddy!” She gave another sigh, trying to hold back tears. But as soon as she had managed to tidy up the bed and curl herself up between the linen, she felt the tears flowing again. She took hold of Tiddy and cried herself to sleep. The morning found her clutching to a rugged toy, curled up in her parents’ bed, sleeping in fact more peacefully than she had in years.
She was woken by the first sunrays that shone through the bedroom window. It took her some time to realize where she was, but as soon as she remembered, she smiled. Everything was so quiet, she only heard some birds chirping happily on the trees around the house. Since she had no watch (and all the clocks in the house had stopped a long ago) she had no idea how long she had slept or what the time was. She assumed it is still early in the morning since the sun was quite low. But she decided to wake up anyway and try to find out more about the place.
She made herself another tasteless tea and picked some dandelion leaves to suppress her hunger – at her other home she had often gnawed on the bitter leaves, because Maria had always told her how many vitamins they contain. Maria actually could make a fine dandelion salad, though as a child, Eilish hadn’t been too fond of eating it. But now she really had no choice. She wished she were a sheep because there was plenty of juicy grass around. But the thought of taking a bite herself wasn’t too appetizing. To wash down the bitter dandelion taste she went to the stream and drank from it. The calmness of the nature, the delicate dew on the leaves where the sun hadn’t reached them, the singing of the birds inspired her so much that she decided to answer it somehow. She took her recorder, sat on the bench in front of the house and began to play.
Andrew had just returned from an assignment on Earth and it was still too early to go to Willowveil. So he decided to take a walk and surprise his beloved ones with a beautiful bouquet of blooming cherry branches. These would certainly look nice on the kitchen table, he thought. And he knew exactly where to get a perfect bunch. There were beautiful cherry trees on the uninhabited islet west of Asteri mainland. The Asterians wouldn’t probably mind if he took a branch or two. He will be gentle with the trees. So he set off to the island.
The morning dew was still covering the grasslands and the sheep had gathered to one spot to keep each other warm should it get chilly at night. Andrew saw the sun hanging low over the mainland and heard a nightingale singing somewhere nearby. It was so peaceful. But as he headed towards the orchard in the middle of the island, he heard something else as well. Somebody was playing a flute – it sounded beautiful and soothing. Somebody was playing an Irish melody – dreamy and somewhat sad. It must be one of the Asterians, Andrew thought. As they are here it would probably be polite to ask permission to take a branch. So he came nearer to the abandoned cottage where the sound came from.
When he was near enough to see the player, he noticed it was a young fair-haired girl. She didn’t seem familiar but from such a distance it was difficult to distinguish her features. But as he walked nearer and was about to greet the girl, she suddenly jumped up, startled, and dashed around the corner. Andrew wondered if he was the one to startle her and felt somewhat guilty. So he decided to find her and apologize.
Eilish enjoyed the morning sun stroking her cheeks and bare feet. She closed her eyes while playing and just let the music flow through her. “The Last Rose of Summer” was one of her favourites – she liked to sing it as well when nobody was listening. It seemed that this kind of music was just created for this island, this place. She opened her eyes to look at the rising sun again. Suddenly she saw a figure approaching over the pasture. She could only make out a shadow against the sunlight, but it was enough to make her panic. There was supposed to be nobody around... Oh... She just instinctively jumped up and ran behind the house... It was her house, but at this moment she felt like a trespasser. So she frantically tried to find a place to hide, at the same time feeling slightly stupid for her timidity. The woodpile in the corner of the yard seemed like a perfect place. She managed to squeeze her small body behind the pile, but also managed to bark her hand badly in the process. Holding her bleeding hand, and her breath, she tried to be as silent as she could, even though it seemed to her that the pounding of her heart could be heard miles away.
Andrew came to the garden and looked around. There seemed to be no-one there.
“Hallo! Is anyone here?” he called.
But nobody answered. Suddenly he heard subdued sneezing from behind a large woodpile near the fence. He couldn’t help but smile. Was someone playing hide-and-seek with him? A child perhaps? This girl seemed to be quite small after all. He slowly approached the pile.
“Hey!” he said softly. “Please don’t be afraid! I am Andrew.”
He peeked behind the woodpile. What he saw genuinely surprised him. He saw two large blue eyes staring at him with utter disbelief. It was not the fear he had sometimes seen in people’s eyes when he was revealed as an angel of death. It was just... disbelief... As if she had never seen another human being before.
For a split second Andrew looked at Eilish, trying to figure her out, and then smiled at her tenderly. He reached out his hand, saying: “Please, come out! I won’t hurt you!” Then he saw her barked hand and added, “And let me look at your hand. It’s bleeding.”
“I-it is just a scratch,” the girl finally stuttered so silently that it sounded more like a wind passing by. But she slowly crawled out nevertheless. Then she took another brief look at Andrew. “You!” she simply stated after a while. There was some recognition in her eyes. “It was you!”
Andrew nodded. “Yes.”
“But... I mean...you...” she stumbled upon her words. “Are you death?” she suddenly managed to burst out. Realizing the gravity of her question, she blushed and looked away, embarrassed.
Andrew slightly tilted his head. “Well, no. I just help people to... get to the other side. I am an angel of death.”
“Did you come for me?” Eilish silently asked and it sounded as if she had been waiting for it.
“No,” answered Andrew with a bright smile. “I live here when I’m not in Heaven or doing work on Earth. But please, let me look at your hand!” he insisted. Eilish was so lost that she couldn’t know what else to say. She just stood there, shivering, trying to figure out whether she should run away or follow the stranger. Something in her told that she could trust the man. So she let Andrew lead her to the kitchen.
Andrew helped Eilish to clean and tie the wound. She let it all happen, still shivering with confusion. There was nobody in this world left to take care of her and standing on her own seemed so terribly difficult for her at the moment. She really was lost in every possible way. And yet there was something calming in the tender stranger. So she tried to do her best to answer his kindness. At least she would not run away again.
“How did you end up here?” Andrew inquired.
“I just... went for a walk... in the forest... and I ... saw the sky-roses and... somehow came to this island. I don’t know how,” Eilish sighed.
“Yes, the little blue flowers growing in the forest here. I... I... had some with me... when Maria found me... and...” She paused for a while, feeling that tears filled her eyes when she thought about her stepmother.
“It’s OK,” Andrew said gently.
Eilish tried to continue talking, though with obvious difficulties. “She took me in... when I was three... and my parents... I... I... never knew them... And there was a photo in this house... of me... and I thought that... I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” She couldn’t take it anymore. Covering her eyes, she just let the tears fall over her face. Andrew wasn’t too sure what to do with the frightened girl, because he seldom had seen anyone so fragile and shy. It almost felt touching her would break her. So he just gently stroked her hair.
“Don’t worry about that. Just take your time. It’s OK. You can talk about it later.”
After a while Eilish managed to calm down a bit. She nodded, wiping away her tears. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I’m just so lost... I don’t even know where I am... Or who I am...”
“Everything is going to be all right. You are in... Asteriana (the name Dyeland would have probably confused Eilish more at this time, Andrew thought) and the people here are all very friendly. You’ll meet them soon. And get to know this place. But now you must be hungry, I bet there is nothing in the house to eat.”
“I... I had some tea... and I ate some dandelion leaves,” Eilish muttered.
Andrew burst out laughing. “Dandelion leaves! My goodness! You surely need a decent breakfast!” He looked at Eilish’s bare feet. “Grab your shoes and I will take you to JenniAnn. You’ll love her. And she makes excellent breakfast.”
“I don’t have any shoes...” Eilish said, blushing again.
“Oh, you remind me of my friend, Monica. She likes to walk barefoot as well. You would like her. Don’t worry about the shoes, though, I’m sure we will find something for you.”
Graphics courtesy of www.aon-celtic.com