Elizabeth liked her name. She liked all her names. Elizabeth Anne Margaret Gardener. Elizabeth was very strict. No one called her “Liz,” or “Ellie-Anne,” at least not more than once.

Elizabeth was outwardly serious and even more grave on the inside. She was 11, independent and self-assured. Her looks were striking. She had black hair, light auburn eyes and skin so pale that she looked like she was covered in baby powder. She was waif-like and slender and always dressed in dark, draping sweaters and skirts that covered her from the sun and shielded her from the eyes of the world.

Her parents moved a lot. Elizabeth was an only child and was used to it. For the first time that she could remember she was secretly excited about moving into the big house in the mountains. She loved the towering new house. The rounded spires were full of dusty passageways and littered with random junk and artifacts from past residents.

The purple and gold Victorian house near Tabernash felt just right.

She had no need for cheerleaders, jocks, Facebook, false friends or boys.

She adored her purple room on the second floor of this old house. She could close the door and play with Alsatia all afternoon. When the heavy door shut the two of them could do whatever they wanted.

Her room was Elizabeth’s refuge. When she originally toured the house with her mom and dad she gave her approval, insisting on moving into the round room at the top of the spiral stairs. She loved the heavy purple curtains and the deep shag purple rug. It was all so English and civilized.

This room was special. She could feel it. She added her own antique touches to her room with things she found in the crawlspaces: heavy brass lamps, an ornate desk, quilted pillows and a gauzy canopy over her bed. Her parents even let her use candles.

Elizabeth did not resist going to a new school. The few new classmates she did have mostly left her alone. They may have even been a little bit scared. Elizabeth had a way of not looking at someone from under her dark black tangles that kept them away.

Elizabeth spent her days in class dreaming up new scenarios for her and Alsatia. She was a distracted student, to put it nicely. The teacher didn’t mind. Elizabeth didn’t cause trouble. Quite the opposite. She practically melted into the desk on the back row. After school she ran the whole way home from the bus stop, a good half mile up a winding uphill dirt driveway. The house was up on the hill and very quiet and isolated.

Alsatia was her new best friend. Elizabeth found her in a cubbyhole in the wardrobe. Someone had gone to great lengths to hide this treasure from inquisitive grownups. Alsatia was a very old Victorian porcelain doll. She had a tattered purple hooded cloak, very pale skin and penetrating golden eyes, the right one was cracked and glinted in the lamplight.

Elizabeth wasn’t looking for friends. She had new ones.

Alsatia had introduced her to the most interesting friends a girl like Elizabeth could have. Sure it was risky meeting them in the cemetery in the dark on a crisp October night but Elizabeth was led to the slanting tombstones under the watchful eye of her musty companion.

Elizabeth wasn’t surprised in the least when the little pale doll winked its shattered right eye, turned its little head slightly and whispered in a tiny high voice, “do you want to meet my friends, Elizabeth?”

“Why, yes I would,” Elizabeth said, slowly winking back when she said the word, “I.”


The stairs creaked and complained when she went up to her room but getting out of the house undetected would not be a problem. Alsatia showed her the way. Whoever had lived in her room before her had devised a rope ladder that draped out the window along the edge of the chimney, out of sight of the road and any windows in the house.

The night that Elizabeth went to meet Alsatia’s friends she had to wait a long time. Her mother was already a popular socialite in the bustling communities of Tabernash and Parshall and she was “out with the girls.”

Mom always insisted on kissing her goodnight. So Elizabeth waited under the covers in her bedclothes, pretending to read until her mom tucked her in at 10:06. Right next to her head was the porcelain doll, the right eye down in a sleepy wink, hiding the glittering crack.

Her mother seemed a little concerned that Elizabeth was playing with a doll again but she didn’t say anything this time. Elizabeth felt different and special inside and her mom let her be herself.

What her mother didn’t know was that this would be the last time she would ever tuck her daughter into bed. But Elizabeth knew.

Her mother was still in her coat and the air around her smelled like the outside when she swept into the room. Her mother was tall with silver hair and a stunning angular face. The men in town looked at her like a shiny object that they’d like to touch. Elizabeth hated the men and would glare at them from under her dark bangs.

Elizabeth’s mother sat on the side of the bed and brushed her daughter’s hair aside with a long, thin, cool hand.

“Are you sleepy, dear?” she asked, looking lovingly into her daughter’s eyes, which shined like gold pools in the moonlight.

“Yes, mom. Goodnight,” she lied, pretending to yawn.

“I love you, sweetheart,” her mother said, planting a cool kiss on her forehead.

“You too, mom.”

Elizabeth pulled the covers up around her neck and rolled onto her side and spooned up to Alsatia. Her mother closed the door gently behind her. The door closed with a decisive and reassuring clunk as the latch closed her in.

After her mom creaked down the stairs Elizabeth tiptoed to the wardrobe, put on her longest purple sweater and scooped up the doll whose eyes were now both wide open. An ancient oak tree shrouded the secret exit out of her bedroom window. Ten steps down the Rapunzel ladder and she was in the side yard, out through the hedge and onto the hidden path through the trees. The abandoned graveyard was a brisk ten minute walk down a seldom-used, dark, moon-dappled path.

Her soft slippers made almost no sound on the leafy walkway. Alsatia hugged Elizabeth’s tiny frame under the sweater as they swished through the dark. There wasn’t an ounce of fear in Elizabeth’s heart. She trusted Alsatia implicitly.

Once they went through the broken iron gate in the graveyard, Elizabeth pulled out the doll so she could whisper directions. They walked past crumbling headstones and wooden crosses marking the final resting place for long-gone and mostly forgotten Fraser Valley settlers. Leaves rustled in the aspen and cottonwood trees. Alsatia directed Elizabeth through a slight opening in a curtain of weeping willow boughs into a perfectly round, open space lit by shimmering candles.

A group of about twenty were gathered. They wore identical purple, hooded cloaks, like ancient monastics from far away. They all had gold eyes, black hair and pale, pale skin. Looking closely she noticed all of them had a slightly upturned droll mouth like her doll and they all had a shining crack in their right eyes.

They softly sang a tune that she’d heard Alsatia sing so many times. She knew it by heart and fell in with the others, singing softly. Secretly. The melody was in the key of F minor, funereal, slow and dirge-like with long slow notes at the end of the phrases.

“Gaheeda gomlin djinluuuuuuuu,” she whispered with the group.

Some would find this a dreadful sound but Elizabeth liked it and sang the strange and foreign phrases with reverence and conviction.

“Saaashu gha gha djin luuuuuu.”

After a long, long time of singing and shuffling about the space, the group started filing out of the enclosure. The leader held back the curtain of leaves and stared deeply into Elizabeth’s eyes which glowed like the others in the candlelight. The leader was smiling.

It was time for Elizabeth to decide.

The others had all gone and still the leader waited patiently, her long pale wrist sticking out like a scarecrow from her heavy, draping sleeve. She looked a lot like a grown up version of her doll, which Elizabeth noticed was no longer in her arms.

The figure beckoned to Elizabeth.

“My name is Alsatia. You are welcome with us.”

Without hesitation, Elizabeth ducked into the curtain of leaves. As she pushed toward the light the heavy branches and leaves brushed her hair, face and clothes. After what seemed like hours she emerged from the thicket of willow branches. Alsatia and the others were waiting for her, smiling.

The leader put a hooded cloak over her head.

Elizabeth was delighted at how comfortable and beautiful it was. It was like something she’d never take off as long as she lived.

And she never did.