Chapter One, Part 1

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WE HAD PERFORMED the cleansing ritual every year for a century now. Dreading the emotional trauma and physical pain that awaited, the four of us sat alone in our rooms contemplating what was about to happen. As the clock struck eight, I lifted the hood of my lily-white robe and placed it over my head. I would be the first to enter.

The living room was barren of furniture and all evidence of the holiday removed. The heavy velvet drapes were drawn tightly across the windows and layers of white, gauzy linen covered the walls. Rows of black tapers suspended in tiered brass candelabras lined the room. Now visible, inlaid in the hardwood floor was a large compass rose. Around it in concentric circles, 100 tiny red votive candles flickered, separated by four passageways to the points. At the center of the symbol stood a tall Carrara pedestal and font. Chiseled into the cold, hard stone, Les Dames Blanches danced around the base, their pale beauty hypnotic, and thrilling.

As the sky seeped to a dark indigo, a shallow pool of water appeared inside the basin, lapping and swirling around the edges. The water churned and began to glow. Caught in the liquid snare, the luminescence coalesced into a thin shaft of light. The silvery beam intensified and expanded, climbing upward to the ceiling, rising beyond the chamber into the heavens. Now a beacon of light it beckoned to the spirits of the night. They came to us as they always did, hoping to claim what they had so long been denied. Released within the confines of the room they cast their terrifying silhouettes across the walls in frantic turbulence, dancing to a haunted beat, rhythmic and mesmerizing, like a primitive pagan ritual. Their high-pitched screams echoed in our ears but fell deaf to those of the mortal world. The hour was nearly upon us, and the air was thick with despair.

I summoned the others. "Children of the night, I call to you to join in our communion." With arms outstretch and hands supine, I waited.

Three robed, hooded figures glided into the room and took their positions. "We are here to join you mother in our communion," they answered as they raised their arms and laid them wrist over wrist, forming a four-pointed star.

"We join together tonight in mourning and in celebration of this 100th anniversary of our death and rebirth. From darkness there was light. We come together to remember, to seal the union we have been blessed and cursed with. To draw rejuvenating blood from the eternal fountain of life. To strengthen our bonds and bodies. To ask for mercy on our souls. Children, open your minds and join me."

Four minds became one, and a veil fell over our eyes. To the silent screams of the spirits the memories began to come, merging perspectives into one all-seeing, shared experience...

***

It was Christmas Eve, 1908. Samuel worked late into the evening closing down the office with his new employee Erdo Speyer. A European immigrant, Erdo arrived in New York City the previous month on the SS Lucania from Liverpool. Sam hired the man and found a place for him to live when he realized Erdo was alone and destitute. Recognizing the bounty of our blessings, Sam took pity on Erdo and invited him to join us this holiday evening.

The girls and I eagerly awaited the men's arrival. Emily entered the kitchen holding her favorite doll and singing "The First Noel" practicing for her solo at this evening's midnight mass. With one foot in the door of womanhood, Emily fought the tide, preferring to remain in a young girl's world. She looked pretty in her red ruffled dress and white collar, with her long blond hair curled in ringlets down her back. We had just finished making cookies and little puffs of flour powdered her china doll face. 

Margaret was in the kitchen too. At the age of eighteen, she, on the other hand, had rushed into adulthood and embraced it, along with the new ideology of women's rights. Like other young women of the time, her attitudes and beliefs were evident in her refusal to wear the traditional, uncomfortable corsets of the day, associating them with the restrictive social system. Instead, she elected to wear a long, simple skirt and tailored shirt that was fast becoming the uniform of the modern woman. Sam would be disappointed to see her dressed like this for Christmas, but I understood. It was her way of making a statement.

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