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Prologue

 

Imagīne  / [em-uh-jīn] (long second i; rhymes with Clementine.)

 

noun

 

  1. The fruit of the imagination; the materialization of things imagined.

  2. A land, light-years away, between heaven and nirvana, filled with infinite wonders and endless possibilities. Accessible only by imagining and dreaming.

g second i; rhymes with Clementine.)

Chapter 1

Fateful Beginnings

 

Germany, 1920

 

The midwife and her son scrambled about the pitch-black room, groping countertops and foraging through cupboards. Their clanking and clamoring were accompanied by a rhythmic plopping of rainwater into metal buckets—landmines that tripped the duo during their blind search.

“Find them,” prodded a tyrannical voice from the darkness.

The two searchers’ hearts leapt. The startled midwife slipped on the slick wooden planks, twisting her knee. She winced but did not dare cry out. Instead, she carried on her frenzied search with pursed lips and a limp.

Nearby, on a bed drenched with sweat, rainwater, and amniotic fluid, a teenage mother-to-be made no such attempt to cover up her pain. Instead, Ravinia let out a guttural scream as a contraction seized her from within. Writhing in agony, the young girl swung one leg off the bed, a first, irrational step in a doomed plot to use the invisibility of darkness to escape her captor. Next, she would hoist herself to her feet and run. As soon as this contraction released her.

A symphonic crash of pots and pans on the other side of the room gave her a few seconds of noise disruption, concealing her grunting and moaning as she hurled her other leg off the bed and sat up. Her heart surged with hope. But in the next moment, hope was stripped away as a flicker of light robbed her of the cloak of invisibility. Ravinia sunk back into bed and shielded her eyes from the light source.

In the middle of the room, the midwife stood motionless, holding a single, glowing, match-tip flame between her fingers. She scarcely breathed as she guarded the precious fire with a cupped hand.

“Grab a candle!” barked the tyrant.

The midwife’s son darted to a nearby shelf, grabbed a candlestick, and crossed to meet his mother’s dwindling flame. As the fire transferred from match-tip to candlewick, the pair exhaled and lit three more candles and a lantern.

The tyrant crept from the shadows into the yellow glow like a monster emerging from his lair. A cropped, toothbrush bristle mustache began bobbing atop his chalky, cracked lips as he carried on blathering instructions to the midwife, as he had been doing before the electricity went out.

The teenage girl pressed her pillow against her ears and clenched her eyes shut. Tears slid along curls of frost-blonde hair and down her pale, forlorn cheeks. “God, no!” she pled in tandem with the next contraction. But her pleas to escape this fate were futile. It was too late—too late to scream, too late to run, too late to rescue the baby in her belly from being born the child of a monster. Too damn late.

The midwife limped to Ravinia’s bedside with a stack of towels, fumbling to make ready the birthing area.

“I’ll be leaving shortly,” the chalky lips blabbed, “I’m giving a speech in Munich next week and will be traveling for some time after that. I’ll be in touch. I want to know the moment the child is weaned.” A fiendish smile lifted the mustache, and the monster cut his eyes to Ravinia. “I want to make another one.”

“Noooo!” Ravinia howled.

The midwife nodded. “Yes, Herr Wolf.”

 

Imagīne, The Amazon Rainforest, South America, 1998

 

Great Green Macaws sang brightly in the top of the Almendro trees, fluffing their feathers in a springtime mating ritual. Rays of sunshine striped their bodies and turned their black eyes into onyx gemstones. Mrs. Snow observed the birds’ antics through high-powered binoculars from the third story balcony of her riverside villa in the Amazonian Rainforest.

The forest was filled with rare and beautiful creatures, and Mrs. Snow was no exception. Her long, flowing, white-blonde hair crowned her graceful body like the crest of a cockatoo, and flawless, lily-petal-skin stretched over her high cheekbones and delicate nose concealing at least twenty of her fifty years.

Watching the Macaws was part of Mrs. Snow’s daily routine. Although the birds were all green, she could identify them by their unique features and personalities. She had named each one accordingly. Kratos was the largest and most respected among the flock, with an impressive wingspan of one-hundred-and-thirty-eight centimeters. Mrs. Snow grinned as he picked an almond from the tree, cracked it open, and shared it with his mate, Verida.

“Buenos Días!” a boisterous voice sang out. Grace, a curvy, bubbly, Columbian—also Mrs. Snow’s assistant and best friend—bounced onto the balcony. “I bring gifts,” she said, plopping the morning paper and a stack of files onto the coffee table and whisking up a plate with a half-eaten pastry on it. “You didn’t like your croissant?”

Without bothering to look up, Mrs. Snow knew Grace had both a disapproving grimace and a fist planted on her plump hip. “I liked it fine,” said Mrs. Snow. “I am not hungry.”

Grace shook her head. “You eat like those birds.”

“Not true. I never eat bugs.”

Grace threw her hands in the air. “Ay yi yi!”

Mrs. Snow smiled, shedding her binoculars and turning her attention to the files. “Who do we have today?”

“Teacher, doctor, scientist … the usual mix,” said Grace. “My favorites are on top.”

Mrs. Snow twirled her shiny locks into a bun and fastened them neatly with pink, jeweled hair sticks. Thumbing through the first file, she asked, “Why is your favorite always the guy with bulging biceps and a charming smile?”

“How else am I going to find a husband in the jungle?”

Gathering the breakfast dishes, Grace headed for the door, “I almost forgot,” she said, swinging back around, “Micah’s going to be a few minutes late to the meeting. He’s watching the levitation exhibition in the Blue Zone. Grace shivered, “I’m keeping my distance. That stuff’s spooky! Black magic!”

“Grace, you’re so squeamish. You know there’s a logical, scientific explanation behind everything we do here.”

“I don’t care. People floating in midair is spooky!”

Mrs. Snow looked down at her watch and frowned. “Shoot. Looks like I’m going to miss it too ….”

As Grace scurried away, Mrs. Snow sank into her chair with the fresh stack of potential clients—potential lottery winners, per se. Who would she hand the winning ticket to today? The elusive invitation to Imagīne.

 

Germany, 1920

 

Ravinia clutched the sheets and screamed. The contractions were now coming every three minutes. The midwife drew near to check her progress, and Ravinia grabbed her sleeve, her turquoise eyes blazing with madness, “Don’t give him my baby!”

 

The Rainforest, South America, 1919

 

The fair, sixteen-year-old had been innocent and trusting when Herr Wolf arrived in the jungle and wafted into her village one spring day. Ravinia, like the rest of the Kebre tribe, had been instantly spellbound by the charismatic stranger with dark hair and exotic clothing. Like a vapor, he had materialized, and the usual measures taken to expel intruders were inexplicably ignored. Instead, the elders welcomed Herr Wolf in, making him the first outsider allowed into the Kebre village ever. The leaders’ uncanny acceptance of Herr Wolf was a resounding stamp of approval on Ravinia’s young mind.

The Kebre tribe was one of only a handful of peoples left on earth who lived in total isolation from the rest of civilization. Except for an equally reclusive neighboring tribe to their east, they had made no contact with other humans. Though they were aware other people were out there—scouts had been sent for hundreds of miles in every direction, and many settlements had been discovered—no interactions had been permitted, until Herr Wolf.

Because of their reclusiveness, the Kebre had evolved unique physical characteristics. Their hair was platinum blonde silk, their eyes, turquoise crystals, and their skin glowing alabaster. They were slender and tall—the women averaging 5’9” and the men 6’2”—living obelisks.