Strawberry Moon

Strawberry Moon by K Bryson Perov.  🍓 SYNOPSIS

25 years old. Divorced. No education. No plans. Emma Wilde is jaded, embarrassed, and bitter as hell in Belleville, Kansas. After a year of wearing out her welcome staying with friends and working as many hours as they’d give her at the Best Western, Emma is at her wits end. The divorce is final. It’s over. Daniel is gone. Emma is alone and lost. What’s next? 

Emma’s life then takes an unexpected turn when her parents reveal that they inherited the home and assets of her Aunt Caty when she died over 20 years ago. They’ve been silently sitting on a house in Washington state, and a chunk of money obtained from said-assets, for over 20 years. They’ve waited to mention it until now because, well, Daniel’s an asshole. Always was.

    “If you want it, it’s yours.” 

    And just like that, Emma’s life is on a new path. 

Emma takes the long drive to her “new” house. She sticks the old key into the brass lock but before it turns, finds herself frozen, braced in a vision (or maybe a memory?). Whatever it is, she can’t move, think, hear, or see anything but that moment in her mind. This becomes the first of many visions, as Emma navigates the discoveries that her Aunt Caty was a witch; that she was not killed in an accident as told by newspapers and her parents; that she was murdered by the town’s elite, and that her coven was largely scared out of town or into submission. And the handsome Sheriff, Adam Halliwell, who’s been generously helping Emma acquaint herself with Coupeville? Halliwell. He’s one of them, one of the “elite.” 

Emma wants this new life. She wants peace. She’s even willing to ignore all she’s learned to have it. Family rivalry…old, small-town feuds…not for her; that is, until she’s immediately recognized as a “Wilde” at a Halliwell-family soiree, insulted, and humiliated. For that moment, Emma is taken back to Kansas, the weeks after word spread of Daniel’s wandering tendencies. She’d been humiliated enough. No more.

Fuck Adam. Fuck the Halliwells. There’s a new Wilde in town.

A new coven will be reunited with a new Wilde at it’s helm.

And so it begins…first with glares and gossip, escalating to death threats, violent visits, and vindictive spells. Lines are drawn and a desperate love is tested as this ages-old feud is rekindled.

But this time, the town’s “elites,” the Halliwell’s, will not come out on top.

Stay tuned for chapters!

 

Strawberry Moon

K Bryson Perov

Chapter 1

    Rain drops pelt onto the windshield of my truck. As I pull around the cul-de-sac, I squint to see the numbers on mailboxes. 5176. 5178. Blackness and woods. 5182. Fuck. 5180 is somewhere in that blackhole I passed. I drive on around the circle again. This time I spot the overgrown driveway to what has to be 5180. No mailbox. No sign. I sit there stalling in my truck. Something about driving into complete darkness, alone, in a place I’ve never been…I’m suddenly in a cheap, predictable horror movie. But I just drove over 1700 miles. Obviously, I can’t go back. I flick forward the switch by my steering wheel and my high beams blink on. I turn onto the dark driveway.

    Past the entrance, much of the overgrowth has been mowed down. In my headlights, I see where heavy trucks have left their tracks in the gravel. Rain is pooling in their wide tread marks as my poor truck bobs along the path. I’m sure these tracks are from the army of various workers my Dad hired to tend to the roof and other house issues before I got here. I grin as an image of my Dad in his recliner, where I’m certain he is right now, flicks through my mind. I make a mental note to call them. I’m sure my Mom’s pacing around, anxiously cleaning and recleaning things, awaiting on word that I’ve arrived, that I’m safe. 

    I’m brought back to my present when out of the darkness, I suddenly see it. It’s not as far back as I had expected. Off to the right of the curving drive, a white bungalow-style house, quaint and creepy as hell, is nestled in the trees. In the wind and rain, spindly tree branches scratch the black windows of the second floor. I may very well be possessed or axed upon entering that house, so before we go further, before I brave the rain and step inside my “new” house, let me go back and explain.

    I was 17 when I met Daniel. Here, 8 years later, sitting alone in the rain in my Dad’s beaten up Ranger, 1700 miles from Kansas…I can still vividly imagine the night we met. I can see the Kansas sunset, red and strung out. I can feel that warm, sticky breeze blowing around the hem of my sundress. I can feel the sweat between my thighs and hear the shrill ding, ding, ding! of someone winning at some carnival game nearby. Ashley Pearce, Maggie Anders, Jenna Cottrell and I were in line for fried Twinkies when him and his posse strutted by.

    Daniel usually had this floppy, sandy hair. Sometimes he’d shave it in the summer. That night, he was sporting a freshly-shaved head. He was taller than most of the guys we knew. He had this long tanned forehead and hooked nose. He didn’t look like he belonged in Belleville. On top of being older and out-of-my-league cute, Daniel also had a real job. He worked in his Dad’s insurance firm, a branch of Farmers. He stood there, his Budweiser dripping on his dirty boots, those jesting eyes on me… And then he explained his job as “insurance quotes and some shit like that,” and my teenage self was sold. Daniel Moore…Daniel Moore….Daniel Moore… I was obsessed with that son-of-a-bitch. And wonder of wonders, Daniel Moore wanted me.

    We were rippin’ away at each other’s clothes behind the football bleachers later that night, his cold, condensation-tipped fingers grappling my body, eager the way boys are. He didn’t know I was a virgin. He didn’t ask. But it was so fast, he couldn’t have noticed. “Fuck, that was…wow” he said with this dopey grin he often wore. In my mind’s eye, his eyes are still shining, a bead of sweat running down his bronze face, the pink moon rising through the slats of the bleachers, me self-consciously smoothing out my dress, smearing a trickle of blood between my thighs. I know, real romantic, right?

   Anyway, we dated on and off through a whirl-wind of break ups and make-ups, all young and wild and in love. Skip ahead a bit and Daniel took over his Dad’s firm. After high school I took a few classes at the community college a few towns over, but nothing really stuck. And then after I turned 20, Daniel and I got married. We had our reception in the hall of the fire station and drank that bubbly apple juice from plastic champagne flutes.

    We spent almost 4 years married pretty much just like the years we spent dating; grand fallouts followed by pitiful reunions. Daniel worked, and when he didn’t, it was either video games, the bar, or he’d be sprawled out before whatever game was on tv, his Budweiser sitting by. He’d fondle me, buzzed with those cool finger tips. He never did learn to love like a man, at least not while we were together. It was always a hard, thumping race to the end. We took this 5-day cruise to “reconnect” or whatever. On the 3rd night I caught Daniel jack-rabbit-fucking one of the girls from…well, she worked there, I know that. I immediately recognized his tan butt, that grunting noise he makes, and of course, the condensation-covered Budweiser sitting by. At first I was mad. Furious. Then I was crushed. Really just sad. Then I was embarrassed. Mortified to show my face around Belleville. And then terrified, ‘cause, you know, what the fuck do I do now? But you know what? I wasn’t surprised, not even for a second. Fucking asshole.

    You can probably imagine that the last 2 days of our cruise were pretty awkward. Daniel followed me all over the place like this broken record, “we can get through this, Em,” “It was just once,” and my favorite, “fuck, babe, it didn’t mean anything.” We got back on dry land June 2nd. We were back in Belleville June 3rd. I got a lawyer and moved out that day. 

    I moved in with Maggie Anders. She still lives with her parents so technically I was moving in with them. My parents were pretty upset about that but I just could not handle hearing how they always knew Daniel was a smoking sack of shit. So I asked them to give me some space for a while. I’d call them.

    I took all the hours I could at the Best Western, where I worked the front desk. I spent the first few months of our separation working, sleeping, crying, avoiding my parents, and really avoiding all public places. What can I say? Belleville is a small town filled with caddy, gossiping bitches. God, I was so humiliated. Everyone knew.

    It was almost 3 months when my Mom came knocking at the Anders’ house. I was surprised she’d held out so long. And honestly, I was happy to see her. I held myself together when she hugged me; focused on not crying, not falling apart in my Mother’s arms, and instead focused on her feel, her smell. It hadn’t changed. My Mom’s warm embrace took me back to crock pot recipes, her endlessly burning sugary-scented candles, my worn bean bag in our wood-paneled basement, and there’s always a touch of this faint, sterile scent, like the church social hall. 

    When we talked on the Anders’ plastic porch furniture, her words washed over me. I just listened as she told about Dad, his health and his doctor, the house, her new van, the church, Peggy Sanders who is not tithing properly…on and on in her way, and yet different. It occurred to me that while her topics of discussion are what they’d always been, she was talking to me in this premeditated way; so unlike my Mom. I realized then that she’s chattering away about all these things but in her mind, in her heart, they’re other things. “Whys” and worries and wants, all pertaining to me and Daniel and my life…but she just went on and on about all this trivial shit, not wanting to scare me off. My heart ached for my Mom’s house, cooking, her flippant mannerisms and righteous opinions. And so when she insisted that I “at least come for dinner,” I agreed. Right up until she was pulling out of the Anders’ short drive in her new Dodge minivan I waited for that dreaded “I told you so.” But it never came. It turns out that my parents will surprise me a lot over the coming months, this moment being the first. 

    Another two weeks passed before I got around to that dinner. I was too busy…working, crying, sleeping, wallowing, wearing out my welcome with the Anders. I don’t know…I both craved and resented the idea of being at my parent’s house, being back in my old room. Maybe it was the fear of that “I told you so” just hanging in the air even if no one uttered the words. Maybe it was the fear that if I stepped back into that safe place, I’d never muster up the courage to leave again, maybe it’s the endless string of gossip that’s always passing through with my Mom, fear of knowing what’s being said about me. I don’t know. But in any case, 2 weeks passed and on a cool Sunday night, I was parking my Dad’s old, blue Ranger behind my Mom’s shining silver van. Our brown, brick 2-story looked the same as ever. The lawn was neat and short. The flower beds were cleaned out and a neat row of squared off bushes lined the underside of the windows. My Dad’s American flag was hoisted up on it’s pole above the front door. It’s way too big for the house, but hey, he’s proud. I stepped onto the stoop at the side door. One of my Mom’s decorative flags, stuck in a pot of soil, flapped lightly with the breeze. She changes it with the seasons and sometimes her moods…things like “Let is Snow,” “Fall is Here,” “Spring is in the Air,” “Sprung for Spring.” That last one has a big Easter Bunny on it. Daniel always found that one amusing. The current flag of choice has a Bible verse scripted across a bright sunset. “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” Psalms 34:19. I’m certain my Mom put that one up just for me. Typical. Then I stood there on the stoop for a good minute before deciding that knocking would be weird.

    “Hello?!” I shouted as I opened the door. I was met first by the roaring crowd from the tv, and second by my Mother. 

    “Emma! Honey, hi. Here, give me your coat. I’ll put it up in your room for you.” She ran up the stairs with my coat and purse before I could object.

“Harold…Harrrrrrold!” She bellowed as she bounced up the stairs, way too adroit for a woman of her roundness. And suddenly I was back in time; a teenager again, late for school, my Mom hollering just that way up the stairs “Emma! Get up! Right now Emma…Emma, right now….there’re Pop Tarts in the toaster.” And then the side door would slam shut, I’d here the roar of our old van, it’s loud squeal as she pulled out the driveway, and I’d be left in silence.

    The toilet flushing upstairs pulled me back. Then a series of profanity preceded the heavy steps of my father on the stairs.

    “Well hey there Emma W.” he chuckled as he flicked my name tag.

“Long time, no see, kid,” he went on briskly and gave me a thump on the back. This is about the extent of my Dad’s display of affection. They’ve clearly been missing me. 

    “Hi Dad,” I smiled and embraced him in our half-hug. I missed him too. 

    “Em, sit down, I’ll get you some tea,” my Mom buzzed by. Again, before I could respond she’s in her kitchen clanking glasses together, filling them with ice and tea from that same old yellow, plastic pitcher. She poured three tall, icy glasses and set them before spots at our dining table. My dad also disappeared into the kitchen and when he reappeared it was with a giant bag of Doritos. 

    “These are new,” he looked at me seriously and plopped down in the chair beside me. 

“Garlic Parmesan…tasty as hell.” He offered me the opened bag and the smell of imitation garlic wafted into my face.

    “No thanks, dad” I said and sipped my tea. 

    “Here, take some,” persistent, he laid the bag between us. 

    “Harold, we’re having dinner in minutes, put the chips away. Doctor Luske said you shouldn’t be eating those things anyway…” my Mother admonished from the kitchen.

    “What the fuck does he know,” my Dad replied, popping one in his mouth.

    Yep, I am definitely home.

     Over dinner, it was more of what I’d seen when my Mom visited the Anders; all the normal trivial bits and bobs of their lives, on and on, masking questions and thoughts and who-knows-what-else beneath that. But I just went along with it. Mom’s crock pot meat balls were as tasty as ever. Buttery sweet potatoes, creamed corn, those little Dough-Boy biscuits. A very welcome change from the junk-food or no-food way of life I’d adopted. I ate and ate, and then filled up my plate for thirds as they droned on and on. I ignored the pleased way my Mom piled sweet potatoes on my plate, obviously having noticed that my already slender frame was even bonier than usual. Honestly, the way they just totally skirted the whole divorced/living with Maggie/Daniel issues was admirable. And surprising.

    Like most dinners throughout my up-bringing, the after-dinner activities took place like clockwork. The meal finished, my Dad relocated to his recliner to catch up on the game before coffee. Mom and I cleared the table. I offered to take coffee duty as she rinsed dishes and began loading the dishwasher. I leant against the counter, half watching my Mother at work but mostly in a daze, listening. The gurgling and dripping of the coffee mate behind me, the rinsing and clinking of dishes as they were stacked in the dishwasher. The gentle thud of cabinets opening and shutting as she stacked dessert plates and set out mugs, and creamer, and her little watermelon-shaped basket of Splendas, the roar from the tv and deep authoritative speakers on headsets discussing plays and players…the noises of my life. I felt like my inner world just paused and for the first time since I walked in on Daniel and that girl from somewhere, I could breath. Like really, deeply breath.

    “Emma…Emma, honey?”

    “Yes!” I burst, snapping back to reality. Luckily my Mom doesn’t notice things like this. 

    “Will you grab the Cool Whip?”

    “Sure,” I moved toward the fridge and pulled out the new container. I peeled off the plastic band and delivered it to the table. 

    I poured three hot cups of decaf and set the pot on a ratty, multicolored pot-holder I made in middle school. And just in time, as the last spoon was being set by the last dessert plate, Dad turns down the game and returns to his spot at the head of our table. 

    I sit too, but this time I can feel building tension. They have things to say, and now it’s time. They saved the best for last. 

    “Em, honey, we’re glad your here. Your room is ready if you decide to stay here a while…” My Mom began to speak and I knew that all the things they’d been holding back were coming.

    “Ok Mom, thanks,” I replied and held out my plate for pie. 

   We all took bites in silence.

    “Pass the cream, will ya’ Bev?” Dad points.

    She does silently.

    “The Splenda is here,” Mom motioned to the watermelon basket by the pie. 

    We chew and sip in silence, my parents’ minds working, me waiting.

    “Is this from Miss Dixon?” Dad asks uninterested. And Mom responds, filling the silence like she does.

    “Hm mh, she’s making pies for people most days of the week now. The Morrisen’s said her coconut cream is just…” And my mother went on about Miss Dixon’s blossoming pie business while I focused on my own slice and coffee.

    “Can I have the cream Dad?” He hands it to me with a grunt.

    I drop in a line of cream and watch it swirl. Then I tilt the creamer and another dribble interrupts and begins a swirl of it’s own.

    “…the pecan is nice too…but I prefer that one more…”

    At the touch of my spoon, the creamer clouds in my cup disperse. It’s the wind in a spooky children’s book…animals in the sky…the moon….ha, a strawberry, and then it’s gone and I’m looking into a cup of solid light brown coffee. 

    The room’s gone quiet again. 

    “Well, we have something else to talk to you about, Em,” my Dad picked up the conversation.  Here it comes. I laid down my fork, bracing myself for awkwardness and anger.

“Your Aunt Caty…do you remember her?” My Dad asks.

“My sister? She was raised by my Dad up in Washington…a little place on the water there…she had a little shop…” What is he talking about?

    “Um…no. Did I meet her?” I’m totally confused. What could this stranger have to do with Daniel or my royally fucked-up life?

    “You did, but you were little…I don’t know, how old would you say Em’ was, Bev?” Dad asked and Mom looked at me with pursed lips, as if I were actually shrinking back to that age right before her eyes. She tapped her fork on the side of her plate as she thought. 

    “Boy, you would of been 4…maybe 5. You were 7 when the accident happened.” Her eyes returned to her fork and then into the pie crust left on her plate.

    “I remember there was an accident. You guys went away, left me with Gran,” I recalled, still unsure what this had to do with anything, but having clear memories of Gran’s house, Gran’s candy jar full of Werther’s, Gran’s doilies. 

    “Huh, right, right,” my Dad seemed to think for a second, his pie-laden fork hovering before his mouth. He took the bite, thought-heavy, and then he went on, talking out of the side of his full mouth. 

“Well, Em, your Aunt Caty had a house and a shop. In her will she left her business to a friend. But the building where the shop is and the house, she left those things to us.” The room went quiet for a second as they simultaneously decided to sip their coffees.

“We didn’t change anything. The house is in bad shape, but I’ve already made some calls and I’ve got some estimates for you…we could fix that…” my Dad went on as he set his mug alongside his pie plate. I stared at them, baffled. 

“We’ve been collecting rent from that building of hers for 18 years. We haven’t spent a dime of it. We thought you might need it someday.” My Dad looked suddenly sad. Old. My Mom’s chair squealed as she got up and retrieved an old Mickey Mouse folder from the counter. Without meeting my eyes, she hands it across the table and sits back gingerly in her seat.

    “Honey, we’ve been keeping the house and money for you to have, to sell, or do what you want with eventually,” my Mom picked up and went on.

“We didn’t tell you before…” She paused.

    “Because of Daniel,” this time I picked up the conversation. They glanced at each other and then me in an almost sheepish way. 

    “We just didn’t trust that son-of-a-bitch,” my Dad went on. He stabbed the last bite of his pie violently. 

    “I know you don’t want to talk about Daniel or the divorce or why you won’t stay here with us,” My Mom’s eyes shined, her hands twining in her lap nervously. Were the dams to my Mom’s questions finally breaking?

    “We’re not here to tell you we told you so,” my Dad interjected, shooting my Mom the side-eye. They’d clearly talked about this. 

    “Oh, no honey, of course not…” there’s another silence for a simultaneous coffee break,

“But we really did tell…”

    “Damn it, Bev! What’d we talk about?” My Dad intervened before she could get the words out.

    “It’s ok,” I stopped them both in their tracks. My Mom sat back in her seat, offended. It faded quickly like it always does.

“Daniel’s an asshole. He always was. And you were right to sit on this,” I said as I motioned awkwardly to the unopened Mickey folder beside me.

    After a moment of acknowledged nodding, coffee-sipping, and pie crumb scraping, my Dad pointed to the folder.

    “Open it up Em.”

    I pushed my empty pie plate aside and pulled the folder before me. I cracked it open and, without even knowing what’s what, began thumbing through the wad of old contracts and house plans wedged behind Mickey and his friends.

    “It’s the deeds and a whole bunch of other documents you’ll need if…well, there’s also a picture of the house in there somewhere.” 

    I thumbed on until I found an old, yellowed building plan. An old-time triangular house. Small. Porches. White. In this picture, all trim and bright, it was charming.

    “Now Em, remember it’s been a long time since this picture was taken. But, like I said, I made some phone calls, and uh…we can fix it up a bit. The estimates are on that sheet there,” my Dad says as he points to a sheet of ripped notebook paper, his messy writing down the page.

“And behind it is a recent bank statement of the rent we’ve accumulated from the shop,” he motioned to a mass of stapled papers behind it. 

“I guess what we’re trying to say…” my Dad became visibly stuck.

    “If you want to get away, maybe go to school, a new start…you’re really too young to be so….well…” My Mom began. And in an act I knew was uncomfortable for her, she finally looked up to my eyes and held them seriously. “Baby, you’ve got to move on. A new place, even if it’s just for a while, might help with that…”

    I sat amazed at my parents. For my Dad especially, there was no place but Belleville.

    “If you want it, it’s yours.” My Dad finished. They both sat back cupping their mugs, the air simultaneously full of relief and nervous energy. The house was still as we all drank quietly. I helped myself to a second piece of pie as I fingered through the pages, having no clue what most of them were. I could start over. No Daniel. No Belleville. Just…just be something else. What would I be? What would I do? Water…a little place on the water. I like that, I thought to myself as I stumbled onto another building diagram, this one outlining where the lake comes up behind the house, and what I assumed were it’s various depths. 

    “Yeah…yeah…I need this,” I said finally and they both looked at me, their eyes glazed.

“Maybe I can stay with you until I leave?” Neither spoke but my Mom nodded and turned her wet eyes away from me. My Dad nodded too and then abruptly left the table. He rocked quietly in his recliner the rest of the evening, watching the game with unseeing, shining eyes. 

    Even now, months later, I’m surprised by my parents. They had wanted me to settle there. Work there. Breed there. And bring them grand babies to play with and drink tea on the porch with, together until we all die. And they’re not wrong in wanting what they want, but to see that maybe I needed something else? I didn’t know they had that in them.

    For those last months in Belleville, I lived in my old bedroom and kept up with my hours at the Best Western. I sat with my Mom and Dad on the porch and drank tea right up through Halloween. I wore a witches hat with my mom and handed out candy to the neighbor kids. I helped with the turkey on Thanksgiving. By helped, I mean I stood there and drank coffee. And I ate it, of course. I went to Christmas Eve service with my parents and sang those carols by candle light. I even continued to go to church with my parents followed by the ritual dinner at the Golden Corral with all those biddies who gossiped about me. I even gasped in shock when they whispered to me, “Did you hear about Andy and Quinn’s girl? Knocked up by the JV football coach! Oh bless me…”. 

    On a cold Tuesday in January I went over the list I’d made with my Dad- “Things to do before move” was scrawly across the top in his hand. Aunt C’s accounts that had been transferred to them were now mine. My divorce was final. A whole slew of house issues I didn’t understand were listed, most with a sloppy line scrawled through. A new list of things to do once I get there had been begun on the back of this one. My name was mine again. Emma Caterina Wilde. Then I became Emma Moore. And now I’m Wilde again. I know it’s just a name. But it’s my name.

    I quit my job at the Best Western with a few weeks to pack and hang around. I’d made myself so busy these months, that I hadn’t really thought of what I’d do once I got there. I figured I’d have my work in making this house my own. Then maybe I’d go back to school? I don’t know…school never did feel quite right for me. With the money left from the rent, I could start some sort of business…but what? I sat with my pencil and a blank page with the intent to think, to list what I could do, what I liked, etc. And you know, I just got nothing? Nothing. You don’t know who you are, I heard a voice in my head say. I’ve heard this voice before. I ignore it. I’ll figure out what to do with myself later. The day before I was to leave, my parents added me to their cell phone plan and my Dad came home with this little, purple flip phone. 

    “Its not one of those fancy fruity phones…” my Dad explained.

    “Fruity phones?” I had no clue what he was talking about.

     “Yeah, whatever it is, the one with the fruit. This should do you just fine for a while anyhow. You can keep in touch until the house line works. Let us know where you are on the road there, you know, things like that…” He trails off.

    Then I realized that me meant iphones. The apple. I embraced my Dad in a tight half-hug. He just grinned and grunted, and gave a hefty thump to my back.

    I’d flipped open my Mickey folder a thousand times to peek at the house, to imagine it, see myself there. It was mine. Only mine. 

    The morning of my departure came. We had a big breakfast at Denny’s. After a lot of back thumping and a tearful goodbye with my Mom, I was off. It was a crazy liberating feeling; free and dangerous and new and real and fresh.… And as I rolled out of town, my bags in the bed of the truck, I passed the Farmers office where Daniel works. He was getting out of his car for work. So I laid on the horn as I sped by and scared the shit out of him. A fitting goodbye, I’d say. 

    That brings us here. To me, Emma Wilde, sitting in the dark, in front of my terrifying new house. Needless to say, the dark place I’m arriving to now is not what I had been dreaming about those last months in Belleville. I pull up along it and brake my ranger before a detached shed, or garage, or something. Whatever it is, it’s as creepy as the house. My eyes travel window to window before I finally turn off the engine. I leave my headlights on as I dig through my purse using the mag-lite on my key ring to search for the house key. My hand finds the old brass key and before I have time to think, I make myself move. My opening truck door shatters the silence with a long, groaning screech. I let it hang open as I jog across the beams of my headlights, eyeing the woods behind me. Tiny glowing lights peep through trees here and there. Neighbors; that makes me feel a little better, a little braver. The door on the side of the house sits primly atop a concrete stoop. The stoop is littered with dirty boot prints, another sign of the many workers who’ve been in and out of this house. The breeze moves and for the first time I hear the gentle lapping of water on land, the lake. Behind me the trees and greenery move. The scent of honeysuckle meets my nostrils. It’s February. Cold. Honeysuckle? I breath it in deep and then without ado, I open the screen door. Another fucking screech, like some giant nail against the chalky night. I thrust my key into the storm-door’s lock. It turns smoothly, worn, as if happy to be home. I clutch the cold, brass knob and turn. As the door squeals inward, I feel a shock, a warmth growing in the knob, into my hand as darkness from inside falls out. And before I can fathom what’s happening, I’m overcome, surrounded by noise and light. The door falls open before me. But it’s not the same door I was just standing before. Before me now is a doorway trimmed by clean, white siding. There’s flowers by the stoop. There’s a welcome mat with the picture of a cat on it. And before me standing in the opened doorway, light and warmth and the scent of honeysuckle pouring out around her, is a woman. Small, looking up at her, I take in her petite frame and short curly hair, and those cunning, kind eyes taking me in.

    “Emma! You can not be Emma…the Emma I’m waiting on is a baby,” She leans down and looks seriously into my eyes.

    I giggle and look back at my parents who are making their way to us, pulling rolling luggage behind.

    “Hi there Sis,” I hear my Dad say.

    “I’ve just baked a batch of pretzel chip cookies,” the woman whispers to me as she stands again to her full height.

“I thought I was going to have to eat them all by myself…” She gives me a questioning look.

     This tiny version of me is suddenly ecstatic.

    “I can help! Mommy, can I help?” I squeal. I run past the woman I now know is my Aunt Caty, hearing hugs and greetings behind me, following the scent of warm cookies.

    Just as I’m closing in on a plate piled high, my world moves. With a thunderous echoing roar, the night has returned. My head throbs, and my dizzy mind reals as I blink my eyes. I’m on my hands and knees on the stoop. The still, dark night is all around me again, the tiny lights of neighbor’s are in the trees, the water somewhere nearby in the darkness. The breeze. The honeysuckle is thick on the air; intoxicatingly so. And before me the door is opened wide, the inside dark. What the fuck was that?

 

Chapter 2

    I didn’t go inside. I’m chicken shit, I know. Instead I crawled on my hands and knees off of the stoop. I sat on the dirt driveway with my back to the Ranger’s tire and stared into the black doorway. How could a place that once housed someone so vibrant, warm, bright…how could it be so deeply dark? Feeling dizzy and sick, I dragged myself around to the driver’s side, climbed behind the wheel, slammed the door shut, and locked my doors. I pulled out of the drive, and stopped just before you pass through the mess of green and branches onto the road. I could just see the side of the white house down the lane. I checked again that the locks were pushed down and then laid my sweat-beaded head against the cool, worn leather of the steering wheel. I close my eyes and breath in a long, steady stream.

    What the hell was that? A vision? A memory? No. You’re dehydrated. Hungry. My stomach voices a long groan. That’s it. Feeling too sick to move, too tired to find a drive-thru, I push my bags across the seat, pull the hood of my coat over my head, and lie down. I sleep right there in my new driveway.

     My eyes flutter open to orange streaks across a violet sky, a frigid truck, and a tap, tap, tap on my window. My stomach twists; hungry. I feel around the floor of my truck for a water bottle I vaguely remember pushing off the seat. When I find it I lean on my elbow, eyes squeezed shut against the light, and drain every last drop. 

    Tap, tap, tap, “Mam?” I shoot around, water dripping down my chin. There on the other side of my window, a uniformed officer is peering in at me. Fuck. I bolt upright, wipe my face on the green sleeve of my coat and yank the lock up. With a screech, my truck door is open and I’m clumsily climbing out.

     “Sorry to wake you,” the uniform smirks. No, he’s not. 

“Miss Wilde, I presume?”

    I nod, “Yeah…that’s me.” God, my head hurts.

“Is there a problem?”

    “No. I’m Officer Halliwell. We received a concerned call this morning from a Harold Wilde?”

    “Oh shit. Yeah…” They’re probably worried sick.

“That’s my Dad. I meant to call, tell them I’m here, but my phone died. I’ll charge it once I’m inside,” I bumble on as I pat down my coat, the side and back pockets of my jeans, feeling for the phone. I have no clue where the damn thing went. It was in my pocket…I got here…I fell.… 

    “Here,” the officer pulls out a sleek iphone, a “fruity phone.” He unlocks it and hands it to me.

“Call your Dad.” he leans back against my truck’s bed. Apparently I have no say.

    “It’s ok. I’ll call later,” I hand it back and brush away a wave of hair that keeps falling past my eye. He takes it, for a second I think we’re done here, and then he hands it back, my parent’s home number now pulled up on the keypad.

    “Call your Dad,” he says again, still leaning against my truck.

    He’s not going to go away until I do, so I take the phone and pace away from the uniform. I gaze down the lane at my house as the phone rings. Last night I didn’t notice the yard. In the chilly morning dew, the scene its eery and grey. With the overgrown lawn and spindly, crooked trees, it’s really the perfect setting for his house. 

    “Officer Halliwell, Did you find her? Em should’ve b…”

    “Dad, it’s me,” I interrupt, my eyes still hovering over my landscape.

    “Oh,” he sighs audibly. “Ok. Christ, Em. You gave your Mom and I a scare. You know how she gets. There’s not a speck of dust in this whole damn place…”

    I chuckle and I feel him relax on the other end.

    “So, where’s Mom?”

    “There’s something at the church today. She wasn’t going, but then she made some of those little BBQ weiners in her crock pot. So she took ‘em on down to the social hall.”

    “Oh, ok. Well, I’m here. Sorry about my phone. I’ll charge it as soon as I’m inside.”

    “You’re not inside? Well where the hell are you?”

    “I think the officer needs his phone back,” I glance back at the unconcerned uniform. 

“I’ll tell you everything later.”

    “Alright, be careful Em’.

    “Ok, Dad, tell Mom…”

    “Hey Em’, put that Alan back on.”

    “Alan?”

    “Yeah, Em’, the officer, put him back on.”

    “Ok, bye Dad.” 

    I turn and hand the phone back over to the officer.

    “He wants to talk to you,” I say as I hand off the device.

    Perplexed lines appear between the officer’s eyes. He takes off his hat and tucks it under his arm as he brings the fruity phone to his ear. His disheveled auburn hair catches the morning sun. God I must look like trash. He turns away and I take the moment to check myself out in the truck window. My floppy bun is hanging off the side of my head like a turd, a wavy bunch of my coarse hair falling around my face. I pull it out and attempt to fashion a new messy bun. Then I rub the crusty bits from my eyes and straighten my baggy, misshapen coat. It’s not a great improvement, but oh well. 

    “Sure thing Mr. Wilde…no, that’s not a problem at all,” I hear the Officer saying as he turns back in my direction. His eyes flick up to me, then past me and hover over the house, concerned lines between his heavy brows.

In another second, the fruity phone is tucked away.

    “You got here last night?” He asks as he strides up to me, his eyes still on the house at my back. 

    “Yep.” I shove my hands into my pockets. Ah, my keys, good to know where they are. 

    “But you slept out here?” His gaze turns to me.

    I think about how to explain that for a second.

    “Yeah. It was really….” I search for any worthy reason “…dark.” Is that really the best you could come up with? I feel my face pink as he observes me. 

    He nods, turning his hat between his palms.

    “Right. I’m sure it was. Well, I’m going to need to take a look around the place before I go,” he turns smoothly and paces back towards the road.

“You lead the way?” He disappears through the jungle at the end of my drive before I can even respond. Bossy prick.

    I park my truck in the same spot as the night before and climb out. The officer’s cruiser, with giant letters spelling out “Coupeville Sheriff” along it’s side, pulls up just as I spot my purple flip phone on the stoop. I pick it up and slide it into my coat pocket as if nothing happened. Then I walk right on through the left-open kitchen door, into that dark house, as if it’s my own.

    Like the small girl in my (vision? memory? hunger strike?) experience last night, I’m in the tiny kitchen. Only this version, while still cozy with it’s daffodil-colored cabinets, retro green fridge, and floral wallpaper, smells of mold and earth instead of pretzel-chip cookies. A round wooden table at it’s center is covered in a thick layer of dust, it’s mismatched chairs all layered from years of abandonment. My eyes move to the linoleum floors, creamy ivory and peach colored squares, some visible in the treads of boot prints. The counter to my left runs along the wall. Two cabinets hang, separated by a window looking out toward our cars. On the perpendicular wall, the counter continues around the room, hinged by a corner unit in that daffodil yellow. Two more cabinets are separated by a window to the back, a cruddy once-white sink sets below the window’s sill. In the corner to the right of the sink sets a petite mod-green refrigerator. My parents have one just like it in our basement. It’s usually filled with sodas, beer, extra stuff, platters and cookies and sweets during the holidays, the freezer stuffed with Lean Cuisines that will be there until the end of time. A finger of light fights in through the dirty window panes, falls across the table, and through one of two archways in the inner walls of the room. I follow the arm of light through the arch to my right and find myself in what appears to be a dining room. There’s a hearth to my right on the outside wall. Nothing in the fireplace but blackness, the mantle lined with burnt-down pink candles. Ahead of me, a long table and then several tall, windowed doors that open onto the porch at the front of the house. The long table is littered with newspapers, magazines, and more candles, most in white, pink and reds colors, all almost entirely burnt-down, lining the entire spine of the table. It’s all coated in a thick layer of dust. Atop this, the workers have left behind a fresh layer of trash in the form of food wrappers, Gatorade bottles, soda cans, and even a few tiny bottles of whiskey. Under my own sneakers I see the prints of boots going in every direction across old wood floors. I follow a set of large boot prints around the table, past the hearth, to the French doors. Every pane is dust-covered. I use my finger and draw a star on a musty square. An arm of light leaks in.
         “Miss Wilde, I’m going to check things out upstairs,” Officer Halliwell says as he passes by. I nod idly. I’d totally forgotten he was there. I hear his boots as he climbs the stairs. Meanwhile I follow other boot prints to the other rooms on the first floor. I pass by the front foyer and stairwell, on down a short hall. On the right, there’s a small bathroom with an old washer and dryer. Then a room that I assume is actually meant to be the dining room but is largely empty; tall windows laden with tattered lacy curtains line the walls. In the corner, a wooden rocker sets caddy-corned, with what appears to be a balled up quilt in it’s seat. I shudder to think what’s made it’s home in that after all these years. Against another wall, one of those old, foldable card tables stands alone and empty. With the tall windows, the uneven squeaky boards beneath my feet, and the sparse, crappy furniture, this room looks like something straight out of a horror movie. The hall ends with a windowed door that leads out onto the back porch. Opposite these rooms is the other arched way into the kitchen, the green fridge immediately at my right. A pile of metal and lace on the floor suggests that the windowed back door was also adorned with lacy, white curtains, but didn’t stand the test of time like the others. I wipe clean one dirty pane and peer through. I scan the wood of the porch, the overgrown lawn, the lake quietly set beyond my yard, some woman scouring the lake’s edges, the overgrown trees reaching up and over my property. My heart blooms at the new landscape. My eyes flit back to the woman, a neighbor I assume. It’s not far to the lake and yet I can’t seem to catch a sharp look at her. It’s as if the light, the reflections in the lake, continuously distort and dismember her as soon as I think I can catch her face.

    “Everything is clear,” Officer Halliwell is suddenly behind me.

    “Jesus, you scared me.” I glance back and then return to the window. I hear the man apologizing but I can’t acknowledge it. She’s gone. I scan the yard and the lake front. Gone. 

    “Miss Wilde, everything ok?” 

    “Yeah…” I pull myself away from the window, feeling suddenly confused…suddenly a little crazy.

“Sorry…I saw someone down by the lake. But now I can’t find them. I just…it’s nothing.”

    Halliwell motions me aside. When he yanks the door open, it protests loudly, screeching through the frigid morning silence. As we step out onto the porch, first him and then me, the planks below us groan dangerously.

    “Where?” He asks.

    “She was there. By the dock.” I point before us.

     The officer squints into the morning light. It catches that auburn hair again; shiny, messy, soft. I’m suddenly aware that he’s left his hat behind this time.

    “There is no dock…”

    “What? No, there is,” I push around him to point it out. 

“It’s there,” I’m pointing straight out over the lake.…to nothing. Just water. 

“There is no…” my eyes scan the entire way across my yard where the water meets the land, and then back again. 

“There is no dock.” I feel my face heat.

“Wow, I am so…sorry. I must…I guess I’m just tired…”

    “You did drive a long way…and sleep in your truck.” I feel the officer’s eyes on the side of my head, my face. But I can’t take my eyes off the water.

“I’m going to take a walk out by your bank and make sure there’s no one around. We’ll talk when I get back.”

    Before I can even digest the officer’s words, he’s halfway to the water. I turn and traipse into the house. I make my way through the arch, past the green fridge, on around the kitchen table, towards my truck to find my phone charger. Nearly at the door, I topple over the stack of my bags. It’s all here; my 2 suitcases, purse, the random garbage bags of clothes and towels I hauled in the bed of my truck. I rustle through my purse until I spot the grey charging cord and string it out from the contents of my bag. I plug into a socket over the counter and wait for the tiny battery symbol to blink. Then I turn my attention back to the heap of luggage. Officer Halliwell must have brought them in. Wow, he’s quick. Eyeing my things I’m suddenly feeling pressed. If the upstairs of this place is anything like the downstairs, I can’t live here, not now. Where would I go? How do I make this place livable? Fuck, where would I even start? My eyes roam out over the long dining table and it’s vast mess, to the musty windows, rodent eaten and tattered curtains. I’m lost in thoughts when Officer Halliwell’s steps announce his coming. He strides up the stairs, across the short porch. The door squeals and he’s here in my dank kitchen. He lays both hands on the back of a chair, unbothered by the dust.

    “I didn’t see anyone. There’re some woods between you and your neighbors too so…Anyway, your Dad wanted me to check the house for intruders and that the work that’s supposed to be done is done. I’m not equipped to check on electrical, roofing, jobs with the water and gas supply here, the insulation…there’s a lot your Dad had going on here. I suspect he forgot about all this,” the officer motioned around the room, “all this is still here.” He pauses and looks around the place, hands back to the chair, eyes over the long table I’d just mused over. 

“I know someone who can check on the work your Dad already had done,” Halliwell goes on, seemingly to himself.

“You’re going to need help cleaning this place out,” he turns his eyes toward me.

“Do you have somewhere to stay for a while?”

    “For a while?” I feel my chest rising and falling.

“No. I have this place. This is it… I have to make this place livable…”

    “Well, you can’t live here like it is…” his voices sort of trails off. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a wallet and card.

“Look, call me when you decide what you want to do. I can help you get situated somewhere and maybe help you out with this place,” he hands the card across the table. 

    Feeling suddenly unreasonably pissed, I reach out and snap the card from his hand.

    “Thanks, I will,” I say and I turn my attention to the writing on the card.

    “It has my number at the station, my cell phone, my name of course. I know some guys who are always looking for clean-up work like this.” 

    “Adam,” I read aloud from the card. I look up to find his eyes on mine. Dark, solid, chestnut brown. Oops. Shit. I didn’t mean to read aloud.

“Thanks,” I say and motion with the card.

“and thanks for grabbing my bags,” I include as he makes his way toward the door.

    He turns back with a wry grin.

    “I was going to get them. You beat me to it.”

    “Ok,” Ok, weird sense of humor? I decide to ignore this. 

“I’ll call my Dad and figure out what to do next.”

    “So will I,” he paces back to his car. 

“I told your Dad I’d call him after I checked the place out.”

    I can’t help but laugh. “Of course, that sounds like my Dad.”

   

    As Officer Halliwell disappears through the jungle at the end of my driveway I peer down at the card in my hand. Adam Halliwell. I tuck the card into my coat pocket and cross my arms to trap in some warmth. Then I turn my attention back to the house. What now? Christ, where do I even start?

    I decide that first and foremost, I need to actually make my way through the whole house. Despite the cold outside, I leave the kitchen door hanging open. I plod back through the archway to the long dining table, past it to the house’s main entrance. The front door of the house is trimmed by tall windows that, if not caked with dirt, dust, and cobwebs, might be pretty. I move to make a little light portal on one. I trace another star on the dusty pane and watch as the sun’s rays wiggle through. Behind me there’s a stairwell with a heavy, dark banister. I follow Officer Halliwell’s boot prints up the first short flight, around a landing where a small window sheds a tiniest glimmer over the dark wood, then around and up the remainder to the second floor. To my immediate left there’s a rectangular room. This would be the bit that juts out over the front porch. It’s a long, slender room. The front wall is lined with windows, the middle one tall and peaked, all looking out over the wild, front lawn. Long, low shelves underlie the windows, and atop the shelves, creating a sort of window-seat, are dusty, plush pillows of floral and pastel designs, little plates bunched with burnt-down pink candles, an ash tray with several half-smoked cigarettes, and a clear blue wine glass, with red rings stained in it’s base. At one end of the skinny room is a plush chair of a busy, floral pattern, like the cushions. It’s quilt lies across it’s back, just where it’d been left. At the foot of the chair there’s a mug left behind, it’s tea bag still dangling by the handle, and a sewing box, brimming and messy, a long measuring tape hap-hazardously strewn out across the floor. On the other end of the room there’s a mannequin, several stacked boxes that, from their protruding bits, suggest more sewing supplies, and a bolt of this gauzy fabric leaning in the corner. Between the two ends of the room there are several mismatched chairs strewn about.

    I lean down and grasp a small snow globe from the shelf. It’s red and inside there’s a dolphin leaping through a hoop. Glitter falls around when I move it. Scrawled with a thick black marker on it’s base is “Cali. 1994.” Besides this and an ivory, ceramic statue of a busty, nude woman, the shelves are all books and photos. Most titles are related to cooking, gardening, sewing, and a few travel guides. I can’t help but chuckle when I come across two whole shelves lined with those risqué romance novels, all adorned with hulk-ish half-naked men, with flowing hair and a woman draped over his shoulders.

    I scan the unfamiliar faces in the old framed photos that break up messy stacks of books. Aunt Caty’s face is as it was in my experience; triangular, pretty. In one photo, she’s young with long, wild, curling hair surrounded by a group of other young, pretty girls. There’s another of her and an older man. A friend? A professor maybe? Who knows. I move on to one of a chubby, blonde baby and a chubbier, blonder toddler. I immediately recognize my father in that pink-faced toddler. I gingerly wipe dust off the glass with my thumb as breath catches in my chest. I stand and reluctantly move out into the hall and through the next door on the left. It’s the bathroom. Gross, tattered towels hang in a neat line. Aunt C’s cup, toothbrush, washes and ointments, an old Crest toothpaste, peony-scented lotion, bathmats…this smell of decay and chemicals. The last two rooms are the same. One is an outdoor room with pierced and worn screens, pepto-pink iron furniture, sprawling dead foliage and cracked flower pots. 

    At the end of the hall, under a peaked window looking out over the yard and the lake, there’s a small table with scrolled feet and a marble top, regal and out of place here. A phone and lamp set atop it. I flick the switch and it doesn’t respond. Buy light bulbs. And lamps, I make a mental note. This place alone? in the dark? No, thank you.

    I turn and make my way into the last room, the most unsettling by far, my Aunt’s bedroom. It’s a long rectangular room. Windows look out over the drive and out back towards the lake. The slim-planked wooden floors bumpily run under my feet as they do throughout all of the house, except for the linoleumed kitchen and bathrooms. For some reason I feel less grounded here…an energy…a secret….I suddenly feel as if I’m trespassing and the sheepish child living deep inside of me wants to flee and hide and blame someone for something. Instead I stand still and eye the scene before me. There’s a bed set at the end of the rectangle, neatly made and topped with a dusty, tattered quilt. It’s brass, queen-sized frame has been dulled by years of settling dust. Above it, an empty nail atop a discolored square suggests where a picture had hung. On one side of the bed, there’s a small table; brass and light wood, with a glass top. A magazine who’s cover has since been eaten sits atop it, and a green wind-up alarm clock atop that, beside a lamp who’s shiny base has also been dulled through the years. There’s a spot on the wall that’s been recently closed and caulked by the looks of it, this bright splotch harsh against the faded peachy, textured walls. On the opposite side of the bed, there’s an old wooden chair. Under it, a worn pair of white slide-in shoes. One even has a sock floppily hanging out of it. My heart quickens and I want to leave, but I don’t. My eyes move past the bed, the empty nail, the bedside arrangements and the shoes. The windows that look over the drive, as those behind me, are draped with long gauzy curtains, almost entirely disintegrated. A long, low dresser sits neatly between the two driveway-side windows, a round mirror hanging above it’s center. An assortment of things are left waiting for Aunt C to return; a deodorant still sitting upright, a bottle of vibrant red nail polish, a tube of lip stick, and more framed photos in which I only recognize Aunt’s C’s fox-like features. I glance up into the mirror and notice behind me an ajar sliding door. Inside I can spot neatly hanging garments, a night gown, folded blankets and sweaters up top, shoes lined up at the floor. My stomach tenses. My gaze moves to my face. Yikes. My mousey brown hair is in this fuzzy heap on top of my head. Exhausted, my fair skin appears pale, and the triangular shape of my face now just looks gaunt and angular. In my slightly blood-shot, tawny eyes, I suddenly see her. The wide-set gaze, the pink pout, the shape of my jawline, the long bridge of her nose… my heart beat quickens and goose bumps crawl up my arms as I’m suddenly unsure if it’s really me staring back at all. Enough. I turn on my heel and bee-line down the hall. In my kitchen, I yank my phone out of the charger and the charger out of the wall. I’m starving. Dehydrated. That’s why I’m acting and feeling nuts. Or maybe… “shut the fuck up” I whisper aloud as my inner voice suggests there’s more than my crazy at work here.

    Safe in the seat of my truck I breath in and out. The cold air feels sharp in my lungs, but it feels good…vital…real. I shove down the lock by my elbow and lean back into my seat, scooching down into my oversized coat, shoving my hands into its deep pockets. My eyes scan my yard, my crappy garage/shed, the strange mess of foliage behind it where I assume Aunt C once kept a garden. In the distance, out across the lake, I see an island cropping up and on either sides of it, a few random boats bob in the cold February sunshine. Far off to the left I can make out a large white structure and what I assume are lines of boats. Mindlessly I just take it all in; the houses rimming the lake, the deep green woods of the tiny island, the dark, peaceful water, the dock, the shore, the grass…but there is no dock, remember? “There is no dock,” I hear myself whisper and my eyes shoot back to where they’d just been. There is no dock. “There is no dock,” I say louder this time. “Fuck.” I turn the key and my truck roars to life. 

“There is no dock,” I assure myself again as I back out of my drive. “You’re exhausted. You’re starving. You’re dehydrated,” I go on as I shift into drive and peel around the cul-de-sac. I need food and I need a plan. 

 

Chapter 3

        In the cold February air, Lillian Benham walks the same path she has for years. Usually it would be littered with folks jogging, walking their dogs, others going to work, but it’s too early even for them. The sun has yet to rise, but Lillian couldn’t wait any longer. Mindlessly, her feet carry her around the lake, right at Heathen’s Peer, down the alley until she finds herself face-to-face with Annie’s old red Volvo. Feeling tired and chilled from the inside-out, Lillian climbs the rickety iron stairs up to the 2nd-floor apartment Annie and Joe share. Her eyes on the tips of her brown lace-up boots, the lacy tops of her socks sticking out, Lillian hears the door above her squeal open. She feels Joe’s concerned eyes on her tilted head. 

    “Hey,” Lillian says as she lifts her gaze, trying to be chipper. 

    “Hey yourself,” Joe retorts and grins warmly, ushering her friend into the small, warm apartment. 

“Here, give me your stuff,” Joe goes on as she shuts the door behind them. “Annie’s making coffee.” Lillian hands off her red, wooly coat and her striped, knit scarf. Static zaps her pale cheek as she pulls the scarf over her head. She makes her way toward the kitchen.

    “Coffee’s coming,” Annie chimes from the kitchen. Lillian sighs with relief.

    “Hey. And yes, coffee, please,” Lillian responds as she plops down at the table, into one of their mismatched chairs. Joe and Annie begin their morning dance. Joe passes by, a hand to Annie’s waist, a kiss to the cheek, Joe’s intense bright gaze meets with Annie’s soft, knowing eyes. Joe’s presence is one of strength and protection. Smart and fiery, she’s a witch not to be fucked with. Annie is warm, soft…strong, but of a different nature all together. Joe is the fire that burns through the wood that stands in her way, Annie the stream that gently flows around and through her obstacles. And here, with this powerful duo, Lillian’s two best friends, she is home. Everything is ok. 

    Annie plucks three mugs out of the dish dryer. Joe pours espresso from the stovetop maker. Annie tops each off with boiling water from the kettle. Joe brings the coffees, Annie grabs the milk and sugar. Feeling change on the air, Lillian enjoys the moment with her friends, her coven, as it is now. The mugs set on the worn, black table top, the skinny carton of milk, the bowl of brown sugar cubes, the random stack of receipts and paperwork sprawled across the middle of the table, pay stubs from the shop the three witches run together. Home. 

    “Are you hungry, Lil’?”Joe asks hovering over the chair to Lillian’s left. Her intense green eyes pull at her.

     “I’m ok. I only need….” Lillian reaches forward and pulls a steaming cup her way, “this,” Lil’ grins and Joe visibly relaxes to see her friend smile. 

    Rich. Intense. Strong. Coffee, just as it should be. Today Lillian takes hers black, needing to be jolted, grounded, to feel awake. 

    Joe sits and takes her own cup, adding milk and stirring it quietly. Annie joins last. She sits gingerly and pulls the third mug her way. Without a word they all sip and bask in the brief morning bliss. The run is rising, rays peaking in through the window at the end of the kitchen, almost reaching their table. 

    “So…” Joe begins, her eyes flicking up to Lillian.

  “Rough night?” 

    Annie’s eyes land on her too. They wait patiently. 

    “Yeah….last night. I had this…” Lillian pauses, unsure how to explain. She drinks her coffee. “I don’t know what it was….it was like a vision. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t mine.” 

     “It wasn’t yours?” Joe reiterates.

    “No…” Lillian stops again. Imagining the dark, the gagging, she lets her mug rest on the table, her hands suddenly unsteady.

    “Babe,” Annie rises and slides into the chair next to her, taking Lillian’s hands in her own.

“Tell us what happened. Don’t worry about your words…”

    “Ok…” Lillian begins after a deep breath. “I woke up late last night. At least I think it was late, I don’t know what time. It was raining, I know that. But when I woke up, it wasn’t my room. It was…I mean, I was in my apartment, in my bed. But all I saw was black. Darkness. It was as if there was this blanket over me that blotted everything out but I couldn’t see or feel it,” Lillian felt her insides cool, her forehead heat. 

“Everything was gone. My windows…my world. And then it was as if I was moving. Something was moving me. In space, but maybe in time too? It was as if I had no weight and no ties to the earth. And there was this smell…so strong. I was gagging and choking.”

    “Something was choking you?” Annie intercepts.

    “Did you feel it? Did you feel hands or anything?” Joe asks.

    “No, no, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t a person or even a thing.” Lillian pauses again, her thoughts a murky mess. 

    “Ok….” Joe pressed her on.

    “It was a smell. But it was so thick. Intoxicating. I couldn’t breath. I felt like I was actually choking on it….Honeysuckle.”

    “Honeysuckle,” Annie said mostly to herself.

    “Yeah…it was honeysuckle. And I felt as if I landed on something. Like my face hit something cold. Rock or cement. And then, I thought I was dying, like I just couldn’t breath. And it moved me again. And then suddenly I was back in my room. I opened my eyes and…”

    “You opened your eyes? Were your eyes shut through all of this?” Joe asks.

    “Um, no. I don’t think so. But I know I shut them when I was moving because it felt so sickening.”

    “But you were in your bed all this time, you weren’t actually moving? And when your eyes were open, it was black?” Annie adds.

    “Yes. And yes.” 

    “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?” Joe asks, speculative.

    “It wasn’t a dream. I’m telling you…”

    “How are you sure? How do you know it wasn’t a dream?” Joe presses.

    “It wasn’t a fucking dream, Joe. Because I was there. I felt it. It was real. She is real… I think it was her. Our fourth.”

    The room fell silent as they all took this in.

“She’s here. And she’s powerful.”

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