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Chapter 1

How it all began

Belfast, Northern Ireland,

September 15, 2004

From a dark and dingy attic came a cry in a strong Irish accent, "Granddad, look what we found under the floorboards, a package tied up in brown paper. Someone has hidden..."

"What?" The elder dropped his insulation roll and hurried over to the young woman kneeling on the floor.

An excited Shannon Dillon reached down and held up the bound parcel. "Maybe another secret document."

"Give that to me!" said the old man, snatching the parcel. Ethan Dillon hastened to undo the twine. Inside a manila envelope were handwritten pages, parched and brittle. Robert, Shannon's younger brother, stood by with a large flashlight. Ethan Dillon tried to read the contents.

"The ink script is faded and hard to read," he said.

Maybe I can make it out,” said Shannon. “Look, there's C. S. Lewis' name right in the headline!”

Enough," he said and quickly closed the folder. "I need my glasses. Let's go downstairs where the light is better."

At 25 years, Shannon had a slender boyish frame, and though she bore piercings above her left eyebrow, she looked very Irish with her reddish-brown hair that flowed to her shoulders in no particular fashion. Several tattoos graced both her arms.

Shannon was a working girl. Upon finishing a trade school, she worked in customer service at IKEA in Belfast. Robert was a tall and burly lad who pried up the floorboards with a crowbar.

"What is it, Grandfather?" asked Robert with a loud whisper. Ethan had startled them both by frantically ripping the parcel out of Shannon's hands.

You’ve heard about the first C. S. Lewis letters that I found years ago in this very attic before you were born,” he replied. “ It created quite a commotion at the time.”

Shannon smiled. “Yes, we've heard that story many times. Now we’ve found a new discovery. How exciting!

"Let’s take a closer look.”

As Ethan brushed off the soot on the packet, Shannon noticed an embossed emblem of a large rose surrounded by a wreath and pointed arrows. At the bottom was a scroll with words she could not understand.

What's that?” cried Shannon. “I've seen this before, in a book, but where?”

Never mind!” the old man snapped and turned the parcel away so she could not see. “Let’s take a break and go down to the kitchen.” His face looked spooked. Beads of cold sweat appeared on his brow as if he had seen a ghost. He grabbed the stair rail and almost stumbled.

Robert grabbed his grandfather by the arm. “Be careful, granddad. You almost fell.”

I'm okay, my boy. Just help me down the ladder. Right now!

What's the matter, Grandfather?” added Shannon. “You're shaking all over. Should I get your heart pills?”

Ethan gasped and pressed the folder against his chest. “No, I'll be alright. Someone take my arm.”

Robert led his grandfather down the stairs to the kitchen.

"Children, we shouldn't be reading this," he said to Shannon and Robert, who were not kids anymore. "This is forbidden material."

Ethan Dillon was a simple man, a widower for ten years. Wrinkles had donned his aged face with scars covering his hands after many years at the Belfast shipyard. At 83 years, he lived in the same simple house built by his father before he was born. Ethan was not an educated man. His only connection to the literary world of C. S. Lewis was through his father, Kyle Dillon, who long ago had worked as a gardener at the Little Lea, Lewis’s childhood home.

Kyle often mentioned his many cordial contacts with Lewis as a child. But Kyle was just one of several domestic workers at the Lewis estate over the years, so the relationship wasn’t personal. One Lewis biographer suggested that Kyle was the "crusty gardener" mentioned by Lewis in his book The Four Loves.

In 1975, twelve years after Lewis' death, Ethan Dillon had discovered a shoebox hidden in his attic. Inside were twenty personal letters, exchanges between C. S. Lewis and his old friend, Owen Barfield, adding content to their literary debate, the so-called Great War. It was anyone's guess as to how they got there. Kyle Dillon must have stashed them away. Why? No one knew. Kyle lost all contact with C. S. Lewis when his father sent him to a boarding school in 1908. He died before the 1975 discovery, so the answer lay buried with Kyle in his grave.

Ethan did not want to distress his grandchildren with his gloomy mood. "Let's break for something to eat. You two can set the table while I make an important phone call."

Ethan went straight to his study with the document and closed the door. Shannon and Robert shrugged their shoulders and prepared lunch in the kitchen. Robert decked the kitchen table with cheese, bread, and hot coffee, but Shannon waited by the door, hoping to overhear.

"What's going on, Grandfather?" asked Shannon when Ethan sat down at the table. "Why all the secrecy? You look scared." Shannon, older than Robert, was reflective, always asking questions.

Robert was excited. “Wow, did you call the BBC, Grandfather? Maybe we’ll be on TV!”

Ethan waved off the barrage of questions with his hand. The grandchildren had to wait for the old man to sip his coffee and munch on his meal. "You two weren't born when I found that box of C. S. Lewis's letters. But you've heard of them."

"Grandfather, you've told us that story at least a hundred times," laughed Robert. "Did you telephone The Belfast Telegraph? We could be celebrities!"

No, I called Queens College here in Belfast. A group called the Oxford Scholars have an office there. It was they who took the first batch of letters years back. I wanted them to come again tonight, but no one was available until early tomorrow morning. So that's it."

"Aw, how boring," replied Robert, slouching his burly shoulders. Unlike his sister, he was not the serious type. For him, this was potential fame and adventure.

"And…," added Ethan, sheepishly, "we've got strict orders not to tell anyone else."

What? Why all the secrecy? What’s there to conceal?” asked Shannon.

I’m not sure, but this Queens College fellow got very anxious on hearing about the folder's emblem.”

"What emblem?" asked Robert, still upset about not getting on the nightly news. "I didn't see anything."

"Well, I did," said Shannon, turning to her grandfather with a shrill voice. "And I saw that you were trying to hide it from me. I'm sure I've seen it before."

Ethan stuttered, "Nonsense, Shannon. Don’t worry. Why don't we finish insulating the attic? With extra effort, we can finish before bedtime. What do you say?"

Shannon saw her grandfather's discomfort and did not want to press him. The two were complete opposites. Though the Dillon family were sincere Catholics, they had divided sympathies regarding the partisan conflicts in the land. Like his father before him, Ethan was more cordial to the Protestant majority in light of his father's employment at the Lewis estate, a Protestant family of note. Ethan's ties to the Lewis name became closer after the 1975 attic discovery.

On the other hand, Shannon and her father, Ryan, were more radical. They sympathized with the Catholic separatists and had ties with the Irish Republican Army. Ryan had even fought in the Belfast Riots of 1969 up to the Good Friday Peace Accord in 1998, when he renounced all violence. Thus, Shannon was too young to be directly involved in the Troubles. Still, she was among the few girls ever to have received IRA militia training in Derry and was a true partisan. Robert was more neutral, if not apathetic, to the whole conflict. His passion was rugby.

They all agreed to drop the subject and finish insulating the attic. Once again, the three climbed the steep stairway up to the loft. Ethan tried to be upbeat by chatting with Robert about rugby league statistics. Shannon, however, kept to her thoughts. She recalled an old, tattered book she found in her grandfather's library when she was little. Its title was Rosicrucian Wizards, and inside, an eerie drawing had startled her. It was the same emblem she saw on the newly discovered documents. Shannon would have long forgotten the picture had it not been for the harsh reaction after showing it to her grandfather.

Give me that,” Ethan had snarled and ripped the book from the girl’s hands. “Have you been snooping in my wardrobe and through my private things? Shame on you!”

No, Grandfather,” cried Shannon. “I found the book in your library. You always let me look there.”

"Shannon, my dear, forgive me. But this book should not be there for a young child to see. I'm sorry. It is dangerous, from the Occult and the devil. Now promise me to forget what you have just seen."

Shannon loved her grandfather, who was the kindest man she ever knew. Yet, he never seemed so frightened and with eyes so filled with horror. Just what it was, she did not know, but the entire affair was very spooky.

Thank God, we’re finished,” exclaimed Ethan a few hours later as they installed the last piece of insulation and refastened the floorboards in their proper place. “Let’s clean up, and I’ll rustle up another bite to eat before you leave for home.”

It was night, and the fried sausages that Ethan had prepared, were delicious. Shannon was about to ask him more about the emblem when a pair of headlights flashed through the window across the kitchen wall. Soon came a knock at the door.

"Who could it be at this late hour?" asked Ethan and walked over to the door. He loosened the latch, and two men in dark suits stood on the back porch.

"Is there anything I can do for you, gentlemen? Perhaps you are lost?"

"No, sir, Mr. Dillon. We're from Queens College and have come to pick up the folder with the files. May we please come in?"

Ethan looked suspicious. “Are you sure? The Oxford Group said that we….

"Don't let them in, Grandfather," interrupted Shannon.

Chapter 2


"Please, Mr. Dillon, we apologize for the plans change, and we understand your concern."

Ethan invited them in, but something was wrong. Shannon knew the likes of literary types. In 1993 she met a real scholar, Simon Magister, who hoped in vain to find more hidden manuscripts. As a twelve-year-old, she had helped him ransack Grandfather’s attic. These men, however, were not like Simon or even her school teachers. They had common Belfast accents and looked like Mormon missionaries.

We weren’t expecting you before tomorrow morning,” said Ethan.

They laughed nervously, “Yes, but the truth is we are researchers from the Scholar’s Group at Oxford, attending a C. S. Lewis symposium at Queen's University. We were resting at our hotel when the folks at Queens asked us to pick up your amazing discovery. We are so excited."

How do we know you’re not lying?” snapped Shannon.

"I suggest you stay out of this, girl," scowled one. “What's with all the punkish clothes? Are you a lesbian?

Goth, how disgusting,said another, turning to Ethan. "Mr. Dillon, I promise the documents will be safe and secure at Queens College. Call them tomorrow; you'll see.” He looked at his watch. “We must catch a plane back to London tonight, Mr. Dillon, and we don't want to miss our flight. So now, please, without further ado, get the documents and hand them over."

"That's no way to talk to my grandfather," cried Shannon. "Don't do it. They're not from Queens College but are working-class factory trash. I can tell by their accents." Shannon then pointed to the studs on her leather jacket. “If you don't like how I look, screw you.”

Ethan rubbed his hands across his face in deliberation. "Settle down, Shannon. Don't make things worse." He turned to the intruders, "Do you have any identification?"

"Please, sir, C. S. Lewis’s legacy is in danger. We are the ones who can protect his memory, and there’s no time to lose. Do it for your father, Kyle Dillon."

Something was amiss. “Gentlemen, before I give you anything, let me try calling the college.”

The visitors hemmed and hawed, to which Ethan replied, "I'm sorry. If you have nothing more to say or show, please go."

"You tell 'em, Granddad," gloated Shannon as Ethan went to the kitchen sink and began washing dishes as if the intruders weren't there.

The one nodded to the other. "Let's go." The two men left and slammed the door. Again light beams flashed across the wall as the vehicle drove away.

"Thank God, they're gone," said a worried Ethan as he locked the door. "My dears, this document is in danger and can't stay here. Robert, get your car keys. We'll drive the parcel somewhere else for safekeeping and deliver them to Queens College ourselves in the morning. Shannon, turn off all the lights and lock the front door. Come, children, make haste."

Shannon was about to leave the kitchen when she heard a rumbling outside on the porch. Suddenly, a heavy boot bashed open the locked door as three hooded men rushed in, armed with automatic pistols. Two men tackled Robert and wrestled his hefty body to the floor. One grabbed the young man's hair and jerked up his head with a pistol barrel pressed against his temple.

Then a fourth masked man dressed in a seedy-looking suit came through the door. He shouted at the old man with an American accent. "Ethan, this is your last chance." He pointed the barrel of his pistol at the old man. "Get the document right now, or your grandson is dead, and we can kill the skinny girl with the tattoos, too, if you want."

The American wasn't there the first time, and he was, no doubt, the leader. Shannon raised her hands high and stepped back against the wall without notice.

"Do what they say, Grandfather," said Shannon. "They mean it. Don't let them kill Robert. Get the folder right now." Her petite frame made her seem less threatening and allowed her to inch her way sideways toward the hallway door.

"You had better listen to your little emo-queen," said one as he pointed his gun at Shannon.

Ethan was shaking. “It’s stashed under a pile of papers in the top desk drawer… in my study.”

"You guys stay here while I go with the old man," said the American as he jammed the pistol barrel against the back of Ethan's head. "And no foolishness or I'll shoot." His eyes glistened with hate through the narrow openings of his ski mask.

Ethan and the American left the kitchen. Shannon stared at poor Robert in agony of having a gunpoint pressed against his head while the third guarded the door.

"Just lie still, and you won't die," said the gunman to Robert in a soft, frightened voice. "As soon as we get the documents, we're out of here." Shannon recognized his Belfast accent as one who had been there the first time. His shirt was drenched with sweat, and his hand was shaking. With her paramilitary training, she could see that he had never killed a man before and did not want Robert to be his first. Any mistakes he made could be her chance to act.

Oh no, Grandfather keeps a loaded pistol in the desk drawer, where the documents lay. Please God, she prayed, don't let him do anything foolish.

During her time with the IRA, she had gone through paramilitary training and was up-to-date on the latest weaponry. She was a trained killer but had never seen action because the Peace Agreement was in effect by the time she came of age. She imagined herself ably mowing down these thugs with an AK-47 assault rifle. But this was fantasy. In reality, she was powerless and soon might die.

Ethan and the masked American reentered the kitchen. "We've got what we came for, boys," he said while waving the documents. He gave them to the gunman by the door. "Take this out to the car and guard them with your life!" Then, to the others, he said, "Tie up the old man and the girl with tape just like we planned. And then we're out of here. Don’t hurt them."

Shannon sighed. Thank God we’re not going to die. Her back was now against the hallway door.

The document bearer had to pass by Grandfather on his way out the door and carelessly turned his back to Ethan, who, like a fool, drew his pistol and shot the carrier in his back shoulder. He cried out in pain and fell to the floor.

"Oh no!" shouted Shannon as the American quickly reacted and sprayed the room with rapid fire. A bullet pierced Ethan's head, splattering blood against the wall.

"Damn!" cried the American. "This has gone to hell. Now we'll have to kill the two kids. Go ahead and shoot the boy."

The Belfast man standing over Robert pointed his assault pistol at Robert's temple. He was not much older than Robert and might have even known him. His hand was shaking so much that he could not pull the trigger.

"Shoot him, you coward,” ordered the American, “in the head. Now!"

But the young man remained frozen.

"You idiot! Must I do everything?" The American walked over to the boy, pointed his pistol at the back of Robert's head, and fired. With a single bullet, Robert was dead.

Shannon shrieked in terror and leaned against the hallway door. Her elbow pressed the latch down just as the American was about to shoot. The door swung open as Shannon fell backward and fled down the hallway to the cellar door. She scrambled down the stairs without turning on the light.

Find that little emo-bitch and kill her!” cried the American.

The cowardly gunman followed through the open door leading to the cellar. Below it was pitch dark as he crept down the rickety stairs, desperately looking for a light switch.

Shannon and Robert used to play hide-and-seek as youngsters here, so she knew her way around in the dark. By the time the gunman turned on a dim light, Shannon had climbed into an empty potato bin, a dusty hideout with a hatch leading outside to the garden.

The footsteps of another were coming down the stairs. "Where is she?" the American shouted. "That scrawny runt got away! She's hiding down here somewhere."

Through the slots of the potato bin, Shannon watched as gunmen crouched around, looking behind grandmother's old washing machine. Indeed, the man from Belfast must have known about empty potato bins, yet he walked by without inspection.

The smell of musty potatoes evoked childhood memories as Shannon prepared her next move. The American approached the bin.

"Hey, bring your flashlight. The Gothic girl must be in here." He peered deep into the potato bin. Their eyes met.

The American grinned, "You're about to die, tootsie!"

Quick, the trapdoor. Shannon reached up and pressed against its rusty hinges as her shoulder crashed through the swinging hatch. Her nimble body leaped through and rolled onto the grass outside.

Pang! Pang! Pang! The American had climbed into the bin and shot wildly into the night, but Shannon had safely made it to the orchard. She had escaped – unlike her dear brother and grandfather, who lay dead on the kitchen floor.

It was quiet for a while, and then, from her hiding place in the dark, Shannon watched as two silhouettes carried an inert body of a man out of the kitchen. He appeared alive as they helped him climb into their van and drive off. Standing alone was the shadow of a man she knew to be the American. In one hand, he held a package, indeed the document discovered in her grandfather's attic. If only she had a rifle, a quick pull of the trigger would have shot him dead. 

So why was he still here? She heard loud noises as a black helicopter swooped down and landed. It was quite unlike those used by the British military. Someone jumped out and helped the American get on board. Then, very quickly, it took off again and disappeared into the night.

Though trained in the military arts, Shannon had never killed before. With peace in Northern Ireland, she had no mortal enemy -- until this night, as if something seemed to snap as vengeance entered her being. Those green eyes peering through the slots in the potato bin had been etched in her mind. Shannon crossed herself and said a prayer for the dead. She then made a pack with herself, before God -- to avenge the deaths of her kin. Wherever that American would find himself next, Shannon would track him down and kill him.

Author's note:

What you have just read functions as a kind of  necessary setting the stage. The real story, the adventuters of Simon and Shannon, begin the these next chapters.

Go on to read Sample 2: Simon Meets Shannon  (5500 words)