When someone remembers us, we are immortal.
Andra Watkins writes about memory. She searches history for real people with unresolved deaths. Her characters may still be known today. Or they may have been celebrities in their time.
In her debut novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, Andra created an afterlife story for Meriwether Lewis, captain of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific from 1804 – 1806. A direct descendant of Edward I, his family came to the New World from Wales in the 1600s.
His death at thirty-five is one of America’s great unsolved mysteries. Was it suicide? Or murder? And did his arch enemy from life, General James Wilkinson, have a hand in his demise? Because of the taint of suicide, Lewis’ accomplishments were omitted from United States history textbooks for over 150 years. Andra’s novel gives him another chapter and has been endorsed by the Lewis family as a worthy representation of his character. In To Live Forever, Lewis defeats Wilkinson and forces him to start over on his journey through the afterlife.
In the series’ second installment, Building Castles in the Air: An Afterlife Journey of Theodosia Burr Alston (Fall 2015, Word Hermit Press LLC), Wilkinson battles Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, a man he double-crossed in life. Set in the Hudson Valley during the Cold War, Wilkinson and Theodosia vie for the soul of a West Point Cadet in a race to find an end to their afterlife limbo.
Andra will polish and prepare the third book in Andra’s Lewis trilogy: I Am Number 13: An Afterlife Journey of James Wilkinson during her residency. President Theodore Roosevelt called James Wilkinson the most despicable character is United States history, though he has been forgotten by the authors of United States history texts. He took millions from the Spanish while he was head of the United States Army, and he carried out numerous successful vendettas to oust his enemies from power positions he craved. He deplored Meriwether Lewis.
The following is an excerpt from Andra’s upcoming novel: Building Castles in the Air: An Afterlife Journey of Theodosia Burr Alston
I never feared water. Especially the boiling sea.
Gentle rocking became a constant pitch as we navigated beyond Georgetown Harbor’s sandbar. While seasoned shipmen vomited on deck, I abandoned my stateroom and gripped the railing. The sea sprayed my face and dampened loose chocolate curls, but I didn’t care how unkempt I was. The nascent hours of 1813 promised a hurricane, a circling mass of havoc that would catapult me to a new life. Manhattan, home to my progressive soul, was a sail of five or six days. At the end, I planned a reunion with my father, Aaron Burr. After almost four years of forced separation, I shelved impatient thoughts of out swimming the ship.
Though I believed I could accomplish anything through force of will. Anything except resurrecting my ten-year-old son.
His laughter teased along the rising zephyr, but I plugged my ears and pushed grief aside. Depression wouldn’t repair a living soul I could still save. My sole treasure scratched skin inside my whalebone corset: Instructions, maps and money I assembled through espionage. Feminine wiles. Intellect and intrigue. My collected information would restore my father’s reputation.
It would set us free.
A man’s cough hacked through whitecaps and building wind.
I grabbed the loose ends of my cloak and faced the captain with eyes void of the hope I carried in my core.
A windy growl whipped his leathers, forcing him to shout. “Barometer’s dropping. We can’t outwit this storm. I’m ordering you below. Lash yourself to your berth and ride it out.”
“Remember the last time I booked New York passage on The Patriot? I stood right here during eleven foot swells. I even pitched in when your crew couldn’t take it. But thank you for the warning, Captain.”
“You’re the only woman on this vessel. Fallen, yes. But what can one expect when she supports a national disgrace?”
My fingernails raked a bloody trail across one weathered cheek. Before I plowed the other side, he yanked my flailing arms and locked them behind me. His whisper breathed dead fish entrails and rum into my hairline. “I won’t be responsible to your husband, or worse, your goddamn father, if something happens to you.”
“Don’t you blaspheme my father. I—” I elbowed him in the gut and freed myself of his twisted embrace. He slammed against the deck, sending ripples along the wooden slats. But violence couldn’t fell a seasoned seaman.
Besides, nobody would believe the captain assaulted me. Women were always the instigators. The nature of our sex begged men to misbehave. While he flailed, I cursed being born at the wrong time.
He hauled himself to his feet and sloshed toward me. I didn’t flinch when he backed me into a corner and blocked my escape. “Your father is a traitor. He shot Alexander Hamilton, a man who was a mentor to me.”
“That was an accident. Aaron Burr never meant to hit Hamilton. Everyone knows how inaccurate duelist guns are.”
“But what about his Mexican intrigue, huh? His treason with that rapscallion James Wilkinson? What about that?”
“You know he was acquitted.”
“Only because Thomas Jefferson failed to have him tried twice for the same crime.”
His fingers closed around my neck and blocked air. I flailed against the purple tinge that crept up my cheeks and robbed my brain of oxygen, while he cackled through the shrieking gale.
In the last throes of consciousness, I glimpsed salvation. A wall of water leaped into the ship and crashed into the captain, seconds before it engulfed me. I clawed living liquid as it hurled me against a wall.
Were three Captains a trick of the storm? Or the echo of brain smashing into skull? I blinked through my saltwater baptism, pulled myself to stand and dragged my sodden skirts along the slick floor. The ship pitched again and bowled me toward the vanquished man.
And pain. My right shoulder sizzled between muscle and bone as I careened along the deck and smacked into the railing. Chinese fireworks crackled through my sight lines. The captain pinned me to the deck and spat over the building crescendo of wetness and wind.
“Your father is a murderer and a traitor, Mrs. Alston. If he found a ride back from England, if he’s in New York when we get there, I hope—”
“What? What do you hope?”
“I hope he’s in a box. In a hole. In the goddamn ground.”
He grimaced when the full force of my boot met his groin. I rolled along wet planks to an open passageway with two flight options: One toward the ship’s bow; the other a splintered
ladder that led below deck. His muscles strained shredded sleeves when he sat up and glared at me. “People disappear at sea, Mrs. Alston. I wouldn’t want you to join those statistics.”
I hugged the railing and scanned the rollicking skyline. I would not lose my father. A murderous ship’s captain wouldn’t stand in my way. I, Theodosia Burr Alston, would perish if Aaron Burr no longer occupied my side of the scrim.
While the captain righted himself, I unbuttoned my boot. The blade of my pearl handled dagger pressed a chill between my fingers. Still, I wished I could stop and draw a picture of the captain’s terrorized face when he saw me poised to cleave his head like a melon.
Before I flung the weapon, I was leveled by another wall of water. I planted my feet and surfed its suffocating assault. On the other side, I sputtered into open air in time to hear a shout from the lookout.
“Ship to starboard! Ship to starboard! We’re being rammed! Brace yourselves for collision!”
A thud levitated the ship above the water and dropped it into a churning whirlpool. Rope scissored my hands as rain lashed my face. We spun.
I closed my eyes and wondered whether I was experiencing death. If in its throes, we drilled ever downward to the earth’s center, beyond the furthest star, like my great-grandfather Jonathan Edwards used to pound from every pulpit. I scoffed at his mythical notions of heaven and hell, the saved and the damned.
Until my ten-year-old son’s chest finished its rattle and I closed his eyes myself. If I could see those eyes alight again, I’d believe any fairy tale. But not before I hand-delivered the keys to restoring Aaron Burr’s reputation, to elevating him to the exalted position he deserved.
I peeled my hands from the rail and rebuked the sea, much like my grandfather claimed Jesus once did on the Sea of Galilee. Miracles were for the weak. Determination and persistence would yield my everything.
“Theodosia Burr. Our espîes said you were aquî.”
My attacker’s was haloed by the sun’s disc, masking his Latin face as rough hands ripped my shoulder seams, tore my sleeves. When I wheeled to knife my attacker, I careened into a bayonet. It sliced my bodice below my breasts. Raindrops and gore soaked my palms as I fought to hold myself together, to keep my blood from sullying affidavits and cash I gathered for almost four years. Maybe a small ransom could save me.
“I have money. I can pay—”
“Sî. Señor Wilkinson said to be aware of your trickery. La palabra falsa. Bastardo Burr’s daughter has inviting lips, but they stream a sewer of lies.”
My extremities tingled, choked by my ebbing blood supply. I ground my teeth and spat a pink wad into his inky whiskers. The Spaniard pinned my bloody arms behind me and laughed as my insides stretched toward the deck, tangled in wads of soiled banknotes and handwriting.
“We’re here to intercept your cache. What we can salvage, anyway. It’ll go to New York, but Wilkinson’ll be the beneficiary. He’ll use the fruits of your espionage to succeed where your father failed. And when he sees your blood, he’ll know we destroyed Aaron Burr’s little coño.”
I squinted to see the face of Death, my hands gooey with life blood. His teeth flashed through a snarl. “Sharks, they like their meat bloody.”
I didn’t have time to wonder when the storm ceased, where the marauders originated, what happened to the crew. Death picked me up and heaved me over the railing, into water I claimed not to fear. It slid over my head and embraced me in a bloody cloud.
When I surrendered, a substance older than Time powered into my lungs. Currents teased me toward a glowing orb of light. I stretched into its fiery heat, closed my eyes and rode the wake of a shark’s fin.
What was Death?
An unanswerable philosophical question I pondered in the months after my son left me. Would I really see him again? Could I be reunited with my father somewhere?
As flesh tore from bone, Death betrayed the unanswerable.
I would’ve preferred Hell.