Dreaming Wide Awake (An excerpt)

The soft touch of her hand caressed the back of my neck as I sat upon the bed in the dim light of the evening lamp, a cool breeze coming from the open window, the street noises occasionally echoing in the halls of my room, the dull low rumble of the city layered below. Shivers ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. It was a perfect spring evening with the scent of cross pollination in the air. Budding trees held new shiny leaves just outside the window. She leaned into my naked back and her warmth met mine in perfect contour. She melted into me. I felt the dread of loneliness then. The emptiness of being one, alone, not sharing, no one to care what happens in my world but myself, and sometimes even I don’t care, capitulation being a long tradition running through my life. Scattered pictures of her embrace echoed in the darkness of my dream.

4 out of 4 STARS!

Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Dream State” by Charles R Hinckley.

4 out of 4 stars

When August was almost thirty years of age, he started experiencing intense dreams of people dying. Initially, he merely thought they were nightmares. Then, a dream about the death of a young woman named Emma began repeating. Because they were incredibly vivid and believable, he started looking for the place of her death, discovered it, and later was able to find her. Regrettably, she thought he was creepy and didn’t believe him. Sadly, dreams of her soon stopped because of her murder. This dream was followed by one of a man named Carrillo, who was observed dying from a car accident. August tracked him down; instead of listening and using the information to save himself, Carrillo threatened to injure him. A short time afterward, Carrillo died in the foreseen car accident.

August is tired of no one believing him and being unable to alter the outcome of his dreams. Realizing he possesses an ability for finding people and wanting to utilize his gift constructively, August decides to become a “Psychic Detective.” Subsequently, he places an ad in the paper. His first client is a creepy, morbidly obese hoarder by the name of Frank, who had something tragic happen in his childhood and has been haunted since. He is hoping August can dream about that event and figure out what to do to get his life back on track. Then, Emma’s sister, Carla, requests his help in apprehending Emma’s killer since the police are getting nowhere. Although she is gorgeous and August feels drawn to her, she is not entirely forthcoming with information. With his friend Mill, a retired computer tech millionaire, August begins trying to solve both cases. However, there is a lot more to being a detective than he had realized, including dangerous situations.

At 301 pages, Dream State: The Sleeping Detective Series Book One by Charles R. Hinckley is a thrilling and suspenseful crime novel with aspects of paranormal activity, romance, and humor mixed in. The author’s prose is highly descriptive and easy to understand. Although the first book in the series, it is a standalone novel with the salient points answered satisfactorily by the end. It transports readers into August’s world and holds them captivated as he solves his cases, frequently making rookie mistakes. The suspense represented my favorite aspect of the book as the novel kept me tense and spellbound.

The character development is superb in the novel. Because it is narrated from August’s first-person point of view, we are able to understand his thinking and motives. Although unsure of himself and frequently rushing into things without a clear plan, he has the best of intentions. His loyal friend Mill supports him every step of the way, even being willing to endanger himself; however, this may partially be because he is lonely, bored, and craves excitement. Their humorous repartee lightens the mood.

Because August wasn’t typically given the luxury of knowing the names of the people in his dreams, he assigned them nicknames like “Skateboard Kid” and “Motorcycle Jacket.” Most of the time, these were not disparaging. Frank’s name was known; nonetheless, August nicknamed him “Fat Man,” though not to his face. This was unnecessary and derogatory, and there are people who will be offended by it. It was one of the few things I disliked about the book.

I encountered a few minor grammatical and punctuation errors, which were not distracting; it was most likely professionally edited. Therefore, Dream State: The Sleeping Detective Series Book One achieves a rating of four out of four stars. It doesn’t deserve anything less because it is also intriguing and difficult to put down. It is enthusiastically recommended to readers who enjoy paranormal novels with suspense and mystery. Frequent profanities, some violence, and occasional sex scenes (not overly explicit) are encountered in the story. Subsequently, it is unsuitable for children and sensitive readers.

Dream State

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Island Girl (Part 7) PG 13

 It was mid-tide. The wind was calm and the sky was clearing. Some high thin clouds drifted slowly across the horizon. The nearby island, Crafts Peak, was clearly visible, about two miles directly off shore. He stood on the dock and surveyed his boat. It looked unmolested. He climbed down into the vessel, prepped the engine and it started right away. After letting it idle a few seconds, he killed it and sat back against the seat, closing his eyes. The gentle sway of the boat, the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze, soothed him. The rhythmic slapping of the water against the dock brought him a sense of peace and calm.

Going to the sheriff didn’t hold the same appeal as before. Did he really want to involve himself with this strange girl? Any problems they had was between her and her husband, if he really is her husband. And what of Jack, hovering around them like a fly. Had he really damaged the antenna? The best thing would be to steer clear. He knew she was agitated the first time he’d laid eyes on her, knew she was trouble, snuggling up against him in bed, daring him to make a move on her, it was transparent. She could have accused him of molestation or rape. What’s to stop her from claiming that now? She could be telling her husband lies about him and it would be her word against his. He leaned over the side of the boat and saw a crab scurry into the shadows beneath the dock. It was a reminder to check his traps and reset bait. But first, he’d check the radio.

The hissing static was louder than before. No signals strong enough to dial in, they just weren’t reaching the receiver. He shut off the radio, and walked into the kitchen. He sat at the table and started writing a list of supplies he needed from town. A trip to the mainland took half a day or longer, and he going. The longer he stayed on the island, alone with his thoughts and memories, the more he resented the outside world. Stepping off his boat onto the public dock, going from quiet simplicity to the chaos meant he left himself open to be affected by others. Their lives intersecting with his, no matter how small the consequence, he hated that they could impact him in some way. On the island there was no one to affect him at all. He wasn’t held up in traffic, cut off by someone late for work, didn’t have to stand in line in the stores. He didn’t miss cars, traffic, people, or the internet. The first few weeks on the island, he craved news from the outside world. Along with booze, he missed the internet, using a cell phone, and listening to the nightly news. He craved media interaction, much like a wino craved wine, and came to realize he had an addiction to social media. Now, he saw it as massive waste of time and energy. Another form of impulse control, an overload of information he didn’t need or want or want to need. It was a waste of his time. If he wasn’t pulling traps. Making a fire, cooking, or working with wood, what was he doing? Nothing. He’d been conditioned to the relentless blathering of a tumultuous society. He looked up from his notebook and stared at the bottle of bourbon in the middle of the table. The rich amber color appeared darker in the sparse afternoon light. He thought about the girl and his stomach did a little turn. She’d have him drinking in no time. He’d get a taste for her and when she left, he’d want to drink her out of his head. Her beauty and youth would drive him to drink because he was weak and could never keep her, this he knew. She would become one craving too many. He thought of her lying next to him, warm and naked against his back, feeling her soft breasts against him, smelling her skin, and her hand reaching around for him. His wife interrupted these thoughts, and his stomach turned over again. She was always there, just beneath the surface. Watching from that doomed jet plane, sitting next to his baby girl as they breathed their last, strapped into a tin can full of strangers.   

The day they died, texts from his wife, reminding him of the airline and flight number, were accidentally erased, as he frantically searched for them on his cell phone. He sat in the bar and watched the news as it unfolded. Half drunk, heart pounding, blood flush in his cheeks, the lilting unreality of it tearing through his brain like a buzz saw. They could have been on that flight.

 His hand rested on the kitchen table, inches from the bottle of bourbon, he remembered racing to the airport, his heart pounding as he swerved frantically through stalled traffic. Then he was in the terminal, having no memory of parking or walking the long hallways, like he’d just willed himself in front of the airline spokesperson. She stood straight, staring robotically ahead, not making eye contact, her crisp uniform and red lipstick-stained teeth belying her horrifying message. What could she add that they didn’t already know? The smoldering wreckage was all over the media. He stared at the spokesperson’s mouth as she formed the words, but her message was unintelligible to him. Yards from where they stood, the biggest part of his life lay crushed and burning. How could this happen? Why didn’t he stop her from leaving? She’d been reluctant to go. All he had to do was ask her to stay. But he didn’t.

He moved sluggishly toward the sink. He ran the cool water over his hands. He closed his stinging eyes, and put a cold cloth against his pounding head. No longer caring about his list or the broken antenna, or going to the mainland, he walked slowly to the sofa and stared at the empty fireplace. The black coals and soot mirrored his mood, and deep down, his soul, if he had a soul, charred and blackened by the sin of regret, the sin of waste. He had wasted his life, striving for things. The perfect job, money, more power, that great new car, that corner office, big house. Who cares? What was it all for?

He laid back on the sofa and placed the cloth on his eyelids. His wife and daughter hovered above him, smiling and lovely, their mouths forming silent, familiar adorations. Then they were gone, and he was alone again, deeply, listlessly, alone. A breeze from the open door had swept them away, and chilled him. The chortle of birds outside reminded him of where he was. They bickered, as he faded into deep sleep.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. A dark figure draped in a black hoodie loomed over him. He quickly sat up, and the girl jumped back. They said nothing for a few seconds, each eyeing the other. After his heart slowed, and he was able to determine it was, indeed, the girl who stood before him, he said, “What’s going on?”

“You’ve got to hide me.”

“What happened?”

“I escaped. Please, they’ll kill me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I jumped ship, again. They’ll come for me.”

He sat up. She stepped back into the shadows, her hand quivering in front of her mouth.

“Are you hurt?”

She shook her head no.

“I’ll call the police,” he said.

“No! You can’t do that.”

“Then you’re the one who has to call.”

“I just need to stay for a few hours. I’m so tired.”

“The only place you can go from here is the water or the mainland. The police can protect you.”

She looked toward the front door. Her clothes dripped water onto the floor. He follow her eyes, and realized she was pondering when the bad men might come through his door. He moved to the other side of the room, secured the deadbolt on the door and slammed shut and locked the all windows.

 “Can I start a fire?” She asked, shivering.

“Come,” he said, and walked into the bedroom.

When she entered the room, he tossed clothes at her. She caught the bundle and stared at him.

“Get dressed.”

She stood by the bed, in the darkened room and pulled off her shirt.

“No,” he pointed to the bathroom, “in there.”

 She slowly entered the room, but left the door open. He watched her strip, her naked body gleaming in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows. He walked over to the doorway and watched. She stared innocently back at him.

“Is this what you want?” he asked. “For me to see you?”

“You’re the one looking.”

“You’re not hiding it, are you?”

She smiled and held a tee shirt in front of her breasts, leaving the dark triangle between her legs exposed. He took hold of her wrist and she dropped the shirt. He moved his face close enough to feel her tremble, the smell of smoke and earth coming from her hair. He put his lips to the cool of her neck and kissed her salty skin.  “Is this what you want?” He asked.

She moaned softly.

“What about this?” he asked, and pressed his body to hers, his hands sliding down to her bare bottom. Her tight, goose-pimpled flesh was cool in his hands.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

“I think you do. You know.”

He kissed her deeply, pulling her body into his. He could feel the blood rise to her skin, as the warmth came back into her. She returned his kisses, her mouth hard and cool, lips small and narrow against his. Her breath was clean and warm and fueled his desire for her.

After a minute, she pulled away, but he reached for her again, and held his mouth on hers. Her breath was sweeter than before, her mouth even more responsive.

“No,” she said finally, and pressed her hand forcefully against his chest.

Taking a step back, suddenly feeling her warmth leave him, he wanted more than anything to take her. But he simply smiled and said, “Okay.”

Her light eyes glistened with moisture, revealing perhaps years of loneliness, but they held no fear. Her breathing was rapid. Pink rose in her cheeks. She held a hand demurely over her naked crotch and bent slightly at the knees, trying to hide herself.

“Take a shower,” he said. “You’re salty,”

A slightly surprised expression crossed her face as she placed a hand where he’d kissed her. He turned and shut the door without looking back.

If you like this, check out my novel, Dream State on Kindle and Audible.
https://www.amazon.com/Dream-State-Sleeping-Detective-Book-ebook/dp/B01M5CO8UC/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Island Girl (Part 6)

He stood on the trail and waited for the men to tie up and approach. A tall, lean man, about thirty-five came first, followed by a short, stocky fellow wearing a black leather jacket. The jacket seemed out of place on the Maine coast, more appropriate for a motorcycle. They walked slowly toward him and he decided to meet them before they got too close.

“How do?” he said.

“Fair to middling,” said the tall man. They stopped a few feet from him and looked over his shoulder, to the cottage. The stocky guy seemed agitated and sweaty. He chewed a toothpick, turning it with his tongue until the splintered side hung out, then turned it back again. The tall guy was slick and calm, a wry smile on his face.

“This is private property, I suppose you know?”

“We’re looking for a missing woman. She fell off a boat a few days ago.”

He smiled, and almost laughed at the man’s statement. “A woman fell off a boat? Like a cruise ship, or something? I heard that happens quite a bit.”

“She fell off my trawler.”

“How big is that? A fishing trawler, sport, or what?”

“Sport, I guess. Forty-two foot.”

“Sounds nice. No railings, though, huh?”

The two men stared at him. Stocky Guy stopped chewing the splintered toothpick and spit it out. Tall Guy’s eyes watered, like he was biting the inside of his cheek and was trying to hide the pain.

“Well, I haven’t heard anything from the coast guard. You called them, right? They usually call me right away, someone falls off a boat around here.”

The stocky guy grunted and spit. “Are we amusing you?”

“What’s that?”

“Are we amusing you in some way or something?”

“No, of course not. It’s just a strange story. Think I’d have heard about a man-overboard situation.”

“Well, we had one. Checking all the islands near the mishap,” Tall Guy said.

“Good plan,” he said. “Where’d you say this happened?”

Tall Guy pointed out at the bay. “A few miles -”

“Who’s the girl?” The stocky one interrupted, and nodded toward the cottage.

 “Well, that’s an interesting question. Seems she fell off a boat a few days ago and doesn’t remember much else. Said somebody was gonna come looking for her. That you?”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Tall Guy asked.

“I just did.”

“Is she all right?”

He was looking for signs of relief or joy, but observed none. “Depends on who’s asking.”

“I’m her husband.” Tall Guy said. “I’m Bill and this is my brother, Jack.” The stocky guy nodded.

“Does she have some sort of medical condition, makes her forget things?”

“No,” Bill said. “Why?”

“Well, she doesn’t seem to know where she came from, or remember anything before the other night.”

Bill shook his head, then glanced at Jack, who just squinted. “We’ll get her to a doctor.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Bill started walking toward the house, but he stepped in from of him. “Why don’t I go talk to her, tell her you’re here and we can go from there?”

“Are you kidding me?” Jack asked.

“What’s going on?” Bill asked.

“Well, she’s a bit skittish since she came on shore. Spooks easily. The shock of seeing you might make her worse.”

“Are you serious?” Bill asked.

“What’s your name, again?” he asked.

“Bill. What’s your name?”

“I’m Garrett.”

“Garrett what?” asked Jack.

Garrett looked at him and then turned toward the cottage. “Wait here. I’ll get Jane,” he said.

“Who’s Jane?” asked Bill.

“Isn’t that her name?”

“No, my girl’s named, Rose. Rose Matheson.”

“Well, maybe two different girls fell overboard. This one’s named Jane.”

Garrett walked up the path toward the cottage. Jack and Bill started to walk with him, but Garrett turned and they stopped. “Just wait here. I’ll see if Jane wants to come see you.”

“If Jane wants to…” mumbled Jack. He took a step closer to Garrett, but Bill grabbed him by the arm.

“Go, go ahead. We’ll wait,” said Bill.

“You sure?” asked Garrett, looking Bill in the eye. Bill looked to the cottage, then back at Garrett and nodded. He turned slowly and walked up the hill.

     She was building a fire when he walked in. On her knees, prodding the kindling with a poker. She didn’t look up when he shut the door. “Those two, they the one’s coming for you?” he asked. She shrugged and said nothing. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” She ignored him, poked at the fire with a piece of kindling. “What happened the other night? Were you trying to escape something? Were you pushed off that boat? What happened, Rose?”

She stood and turned to him. “Don’t call me that.”

“That’s your name isn’t it? Rose. Or are they the liars?” She looked at the window, but he knew she couldn’t see them from where she stood. “Why wasn’t the Coast Guard called?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“They want to come up here, to take you back.”

Foot falls rang hollow on the front porch. She turned quickly toward the sound, her eyes lit like firecrackers.

“This is all pretty dramatic, don’t you think, Jane, Rose or whatever your name is?” She wrapped her arms around herself and stood watching the door.  “Why don’t we all sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk about it?”

“No!”

“Fine, I’ll tell them to go.”

“No,” she said. “I’ll see them. Stay by me.” He nodded and they walked to the door. He could see the men standing on the porch, talking quietly.

“If you don’t want to go, just say so and I’ll tell them to leave.”

She nodded and stood guilelessly in front of the door, waiting for Garret to open it. The men on the porch turned and looked at her as she stepped outside. She let out a little gasp and held her hand to her mouth when she saw Bill. He took hold of her hand and kissed it.

“Rose. Are you okay?”

“Yes.” She flung herself against him and they hugged for a long time. Then she turned to Garrett and smiled. “I’ll go now. Thanks for all your help.”

Garrett was stunned by her quick turnaround. He was sure she would reject Bill and wanted to stay on the island. Then he realized that notion was a fantasy. She had to go. She wasn’t meant for him, no matter how lonely he was or how she made him feel alive again. 

“Don’t forget your clothes,” Garratt said, and walked back into the cottage. He went to the bedroom and gathered her clothes drying in the bathroom, and returned to the porch. Jane was wandering toward where they’d picked the berries, Bill close behind her, apparently pleading his case. Jack stood near the porch and looked up a Garrett.

“What’s going on?” asked Garrett.

“I don’t know,” Jack said, and sat down on the steps.

“Is she all right? I mean, does she have mental problems?” asked Garrett.

Jack turned his head slowly, deliberately and looked at Garrett. “Why would you say something like that?”

“Her memory. She doesn’t seem to recall anything that happened the night she fell overboard. If that’s what happened.”

“She’s fine,” Jack said. He reached out and snatched a piece of tall grass and stuck it in his mouth, gnashing it between his teeth. Bill and Rose stood high up on the path and talked. Jane seemed frightened, forlorn even. She turned to go further down up the path, but Bill took hold of her arm. She lifted it away from him and he grabbed her by the shoulder and spin her around to face him. Garrett walked down the porch steps and started to call her name, when Jack stood and touched his shoulder.

“Let them be,” Jack said.

“Who the hell are you?” Garrett asked, and started to walk toward the couple. Jack stood in Garrett’s path and looked him in the eye.

“She’s his wife,” Jack said.

Garrett stopped dead and watched the couple continue to argue. Then he called out to her. “Jane, are you all right?” They both looked at him, spoke a few more words to each other, then walked back toward the cottage. Garrett held her clothes loosely in his right hand. Bill walked over to him and grabbed the bundle. Garret held on tight.

“Her things.” Bill stared into Garrett’s eyes, almost testing him to do something about it. Garrett let go of the clothes and walked over to her.

“Are you okay?” he asked her. She looked unhappily at him and nodded, but said nothing. “Is this man your husband?” he asked, pointing to Bill. She nodded, yes. “Are you happy to go with him?” She seemed to think for a second, then nodded in the affirmative.

“I’m leaving now,” she said in a robotic tone. “Thanks for all your help. I’m sorry if I’ve been a burden.”

“No, you haven’t been a burden. I’m concerned.”

She cocked her head and gave him an inquisitive look. “Oh,” she said. Before he could say anything more, Bill took her arm and steered her toward the path leading to the dock. She turned and looked toward Garrett, a faint smile pulling up the corners of her mouth, then she turned away, her hair blowing the breeze. Jack followed dutifully behind, holding her clothes under his arm.           

     Garrett watched the strangers take her onto the small boat and push off from the dock. They made the rookie mistake of not starting the outboard until they were clear of shore, and the boat started to drift in the current. Bill pushed off a large rock while Jack yanked on the outboard starter rope. Garrett would have been amused, had the circumstance not been so unsettling. The engine finally cranked up in a fit of blue smoke and the boat roared off.

He stood at the top of the trail, watching until they were out of sight, then turned and walked back to the cottage.

 Suddenly, he felt alone, and small, unsettled even. He looked up at the cottage, framed against the tumultuous cloud formations running across the sky, and he wished for his wife. She would have made the cottage a home. As he measured his loneliness against the promise off what could have been, he noticed something looked askew. The cottage profile was different. Then he realized the antenna for his CB radio wasn’t where it should be.  

He walked to the side of the cottage and stood staring at the broken antenna. It was severely bent down in the middle, the tip touched the ground. There were no broken branches or any indication of what may have brought it down. He’d been through worse storms than the one last night, and the antenna had weathered well. Then he noticed marks on the side of the antenna. They were laid in black, and appeared to be finger prints made with tar. Upon further inspection, he realized the tar he’d laid down at the base of the antenna had been disturbed by someone’s hand and that hand had brought down his antenna. Garrett looked out at the bay to see if any boats loitered off shore, but saw none.

 The violation of his equipment sent a jolt of anger through him. Jack, the round little man, had done this while he’d been in the house talking to the girl. How had he done it so quietly? He remembered seeing a bit of black on Jack’s shirt. Garret had thought it paint stains. Now he knew, the tar had come off the antenna and onto Jack’s hand. The proof was in front of him. On the ground near the antenna, in a tall patch of grass, he found a log and realized it was used to leverage the antenna back into a fold. He was flush with anger as he carried the log to the woodshed and dumped back it inside.

After retrieving a roll of scotch tape from the cottage, he stood by the antenna and pulled two pieces from the dispenser and sealed them together, making a wider strip. Pressing the tape onto the fingerprint, he carefully lifted it from the aluminum tube. Holding the tape up to the sky, he saw they were a good, clean set of prints. He placed two more strips of tape over the sticky fingerprint and sealed it tight. He tucked the tape into his wallet. Inspecting the wires running from the antenna to the cottage, he found a cut line. The wire was cut cleanly, probably with a sharp knife. Garrett began to worry about Jane.

Taking the ends of the wire in hand, he pulled out his pocket knife and carefully cut back the plastic casing surrounding the ends. Once clear of the lining, he twisted the wires back together in a kind of braid that he hoped would hold until he could pull a new wire. He decided to go into town and get a new aluminum pole for the antenna, and perhaps take a ride to the sheriff’s office to see about a missing girl and the two men. No doubt, Jack and Bill were not their real names, just as Rose was probably not her real name.

Looking back on what had happened in the last twenty-four-hours, he began to wonder how any of it could be believed. A beautiful girl shows up, wet, afraid, suffering from amnesia, cuddles with him in his bed. Two bad men come to fetch her, and damage his equipment when he’s not looking. It was crazy. But it was real. He had the proof. Perhaps, he’d take that to the sheriff’s office. He looked down at his boat tied to the dock and wondered if they had done anything to the engine.

Remember the Sea

An excerpt from Dark Genius (Unpublished manuscript)

The last time Harper went out to Stone’s Island was in August, some years ago. He couldn’t remember exactly how old they were, or what year it was, but they’d gotten hold of Uncle Jim’s 15-foot Boston Whaler and headed out to explore the island. They discovered a cove on the lee side of Stone’s and pulled her up onto the rocks. Deciding to take a closer look at the estate, they walked along the rocky shore and discovered in the tide pools the headless carcass of a harbor seal, rotting in the morning sun. Instead of going to the house as planned, they took the carcass back to the boat and headed out into the shallows.

     They hooked the carcass onto a drop line, cast it out, and let it sit on the bottom. After a few minutes they pulled it up, and with it came a mass of frenzied, feeding sharks. The sharks swarmed and dove and bit at the meat, breaking the surface as they gorged. Jimmy stood in the boat and smacked the bloody water with an oar, trying to bean one of the sharks. He frantically smacked the water over and over, but failed to hit anything. The spray got into their eyes and ran down their faces into their mouths. Harper remembered the taste of the salty red water and, even now, it turned his stomach.

     Jimmy stood on the bow, feet wide apart, rocking the small boat back and forth, forcing the weight of his whole body with each push, laughing uncontrollably, until they started to take on water. Waves slapped up, into the boat. Bits of seal gut came aboard with each wave. The sharks circled and bit at the meat, swarming in a frenzy. Harper held on to the side of the boat, overcome by fits of uncontrolled laughter as it bobbed up and down, shark fins rising up, teeth mashing the seal flesh. Jimmy became brazen by Harper’s response, rollicking with laughter at his mad game, forcing the boat closer to the water with each push. Jimmy suddenly fell out of the boat, and into the churning sea. Harper had seen Jimmy swim fast before, but he practically leaped back into the boat. The image of a shark grazing Jimmy’s leg as he swam, the black shadow surging forward from the depths, was etched in Harper’s memory.

     Harper fell to the floor of the Whaler, holding his stomach; the cold water and uncontrolled laughter caused him to pee in his pants. Watching from the floor of the boat, his body drenched in remnants of seal guts, seawater and urine, looking into Jimmy’s wild eyes, he knew; He knew Jim had fallen overboard on purpose. Had carried the little adventure as far as it could go. It struck Harper as such an obtuse thing to do, and he couldn’t understand why Jimmy always went too far.

Island Girl Mystery/ Romance (part 5 rated PG17)

He was awakened by movement and lay silently in bed trying listen. The room was pitch black. He realized it was the slight sway of the bed that had awakened him. She was getting in beside him. He cleared his throat, and said softly, “Hello?” She slipped under the covers and laid down next to him, her hip and legs touching his.

“Jane?”

“It’s okay,” she said, gently patting his arm. “It will be good now.”

She adjusted herself, then didn’t move. He lay quietly, feeling her body heat and listening to her gentle breathing. After a minute, he started to get up, but she held onto his arm and he lay back.

“Don’t,” she whispered.

“But, I –”

“Shhhh,” she said. “I’m almost asleep.”

The gentle patter of falling rain was the only sound now. Occasionally, a drop tapped against the window, like a finger flexing against the glass. Her breathing was deep and regular. He closed his eyes, feeling his body melt into hers. She was small next to him, frail almost, and very hot. He was tempted to slide closer for the heat, but didn’t move. It had been a while since he’d been sober and in bed with a woman. He thought how he may get excited in spite of himself and would want to do something with her. Moving closer would feel like heaven. Then he thought of his wife and how her body felt next to his. This girl’s body was different, smaller. Maybe she was warmer than his wife. He thought about the many times his wife would climb on top of him, in the morning just after waking up, and he would melt into her. She would ride him and always climaxed very easily, she would be right there with him. She had learned how to do that for herself, she had told him, and he was happy for that.

     The girl moved, and the bed swayed a bit. He lay still, not wanting to encourage contact while he was thinking of his wife. Cheating was something he’d never done, and now he felt like a cheater, because he wanted the girl. Her warmth next to him lit a fire he thought was dead. Desire is something for lovers, not drunken fools. The whiskey came into his thoughts and he saw himself taking a huge swallow of the cold sting, savoring it as it burned his throat and warmed his stomach. A wave of unsteadiness washed over him, as if he had actually taken that drink. Then he realized avoiding bad feelings was what brought the thoughts of drinking. Taking a deep breath, he tried to relax, and push the taste of whiskey from his mind.

     Her smell came to him, and he could discern the salty sweetness of her skin. He moved further away from her, and thought he might finally drift off, when she came closer and cuddled up to his backside. His eyes popped open and his heart raced, but he didn’t move. She melted into his back and he could feel her soft breath against his neck. He thought about how it would be if she reached for him. He could feel himself growing, and wanted her to take hold while he thought about her scent, and the softness of her body. After a few minutes of being still, his thoughts shifted to his life and his family, then about his drinking and his writing. He wanted to start a new novel, now that the drinking was at bay. Perhaps the girl would inspire some ideas. Perhaps she was the beginning of a new story. Soon, he felt the weight of his fatigued body, and let his muscles relax. He stopped thinking about writing and the girl and listened to the steady drop of rain outside his window, and soon drifted off into a deep sleep.

     In the morning he was alone in the bed. Light streamed in through the windows, which he never bother to curtain. He could hear the gentle splashing of water coming from the kitchen. He slid into his mocks and T-shirt and walked to the door and peered into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, bare chested, dabbing herself with a wet towel. She wore her jeans, and nothing else. Her back was well contoured and muscled, her youthful skin slightly tanned. She turned and saw him looking at her, but didn’t stop washing.

“I have a shower. The rain barrel should be full after yesterday,” he said.

“You have a rain barrel?”

“Yes, it’s mounted on the roof. It feeds down into the shower.”

“I didn’t notice,” she said, and turned to him, exposing herself. Her breasts were firm, small and white. Tan lines marked her bathing top. Water glistened off her upper neck and ran down onto her waist. He smiled and turned to go back into the bedroom.

He sat on the bed while he dressed, slipped on his mocs and walked to the door. She was already standing there waiting for him.

“I wouldn’t mind a shower, actually,” she said.

“In there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. “It’s small and the water kind of trickles out, but it works. You’re welcome to it.” She walked in past him, her eye on the bathroom door.

“Keep in mind, it may be cold, though. No water heater.”

She turned to him. “Why don’t you have a water heater? You have gas, don’t you?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t want to lug it all the way from the mainland, I guess.”

She said, “Cold showers come in handy, here on the island?”

He smiled. She turned and walked into the bathroom.

In the kitchen, he made pancakes from flour, eggs, milk, salt and baking powder. He added some vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. He fried bacon and eggs-over-easy in the big skillet. When he was done cooking, he stacked the pancakes on a large platter and placed it on the kitchen table. He didn’t have any maple syrup, so he put honey and powdered sugar on the table. When the eggs and bacon were cooked, he placed them on a separate plate, and put that down on the table. The coffee percolated and was strong, the way he liked it.

When he finally sat down at the table, she appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. She was fully dressed in her own clothes and held a towel to dry her hair. “Wow,” she said, looking at the food. She sat at the table, the towel wrapped around her neck, and reached for the pancakes. “I can’t believe you made these,” she said. “Do you have any strawberries?” He saw a youthfulness in her manner that he hadn’t seen before. She was from a different generation. She probably saw him as an old man. And he thought he was too old for her, maybe. But why would he think such things now?

“No strawberries. But if you want, blackberries grow on the island. Up on the ridge, just over there.” He pointed to the door. “We can hunt for some later.”

“You’re a forager, huh?”

“Not really.”

She slapped a few pancakes onto her plate and added powdered sugar, then poured herself a cup of the steaming coffee. He was pleased she ate so well and liked his coffee. He took a few pancakes and ate them with bacon and the eggs, runny on his plate. 

When they were done eating, they sat quietly for a few moments. Birds chirped in the front yard. He got up and opened the door. After listening to the birds and the gentle calling of gulls at the shore, he said, “So, these people coming to get you, you think they’ll be here soon?”

“No,” she said, and got up to look out the front door. “I don’t think anyone is coming.”

“Oh? That’s not what you said last night.”

“I feel a lot better today.”

“That’s good, but how does that change anything?”

She looked away. “You’re a good cook.”

“Sometimes, when I try.”

“I can see that. I try and things suck. They never pan out.” She leaned on the doorframe, still listening to the birds. “Do you think that’s where the expression pan-out comes from? From cooking?”

“I don’t know.”

“Or gold diggers?” she laughed.

“From prospectors, maybe.”

She turned to him and smiled. “That’s what I meant. Or the movies. Don’t movie cameras pan out?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to know what we’re going to do with you. See how that pans out.”

She held onto the door frame and swung back and forth, like a child. “Oh, clever. How many ways can we use that expression? How about if I pan over here and go out the door?”

She walked outside. He followed her onto the porch. She stared at the trail leading to the center of the island. “That’s the way, right? Up that hill?” She pointed.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s get some.”

“What?”

“Blackberries. Show me where they are.”

“They’re all over. You just go out and find them.”

“What if I pick something poisonous and eat it? What then?”

“Then…I don’t know. You get sick and die, I guess.”

“Great! Remind me not to eat poison with you around. Show me where they are.”

She walked toward to trail, then stopped and looked at him. “Come on. You have to stop me from eating poison berries.” She put her hands to her throat and made a gagging sound.

“Wait,” he said, and went back into the cottage. He returned carrying a small bucket.

“Oh, we’re gonna get a lot them,” she said.

“They’re easy to catch.”

The sun peeked out from clouds, illuminating the bay in bright slips of silver and blue. The wind gusted sharply and cut through the trees clinging to scourged shoreline. Cool air rippled across the bay. The few remaining storm-clouds moved quickly across the sky, as if they in a hurry to get somewhere.

The interior of the island held onto coalescing moisture and heated by the sun. Foliage surrounding the trail released warm vapor into the air. They walked further away from the shore, and the air was still and dense, with fragrances from the plant life. Northern Bayberry bushes gave off a surprisingly strong scent. She broke a small sprig if it off in her hand and smelled her fingers. The sounds of the bay were muffled. The dirt trail that was well worn near the house, quickly diminished as they walked farther into the field. Soon, tall grass and bushes caressed their legs as they walked.

The island was only a mile long and about a half mile wide. The center held tall pine trees that through many seasons, produced thick needle beds and was well shaded by the tall trees. On the outskirts of the woods, partially hidden in the tall grass, they found blackberry bushes.

“So many!” The girl said, with delight, and started to eat the berries.

“Wait. We should wash them first,” he said.

She popped another one into her mouth and laughed. “They’re ripe and delicious.”

They quickly filled the small bucket to half way. “That’s enough” he said. “We can make blackberry pancakes.”

“Or something else,” she said, smiling.

“You don’t like my pancakes?”

“Is that all you make?”

“Of course not,” he said, feigning annoyance. “You saw me eat lobster and corn.”

“Oh, yeah.” She tilted her head and looked at him. “I forgot. When was that?”

He frowned. “You don’t remember?”

“I’m not sure.” She placed a few berries in the bucket and suddenly looked lost, like she was remembering or daydreaming. He saw this and made light of the situation.

“I bet I can beat you back to the cottage,” he said, and started walking quickly back down the path.

“Hey,” she yelled, and laughed and ran after him.

He had seen the small boat approaching the dock as they rounded the corner, closer to the cottage. A ten or twelve-foot whaler outboard. Two men in the craft. The girl didn’t see the boat, and he decided not to say anything. They entered the cottage and he placed the bucket in the sink.

“Why don’t you wash those and I’ll be right back,” he said.

“Where are you going?”

“Down to the dock. I need to check a crab trap. Maybe we can make crab cakes.”

“Blackberry crab cakes,” she said smiling, then frowned. “Sounds awful.”

He was halfway to the dock when he turned and saw her behind him, standing at the trail-head. When the two men climbed out of the boat, she ran back to the cottage.

Island Girl (Part 4) Mystery/Romance

The dim light of day blackened under a bruised sky. Clouds swirled and clashed, rumbling the heavens. He sat at the kitchen table and slowly shuffled a deck of cards in the soft light from a kerosene lamp. She emerged from the bedroom, wearing his loose fitting clothes and holding another lamp. She sat down across from him, placing the lamp between them. She looked softer, more approachable, in the dim light. Almost cuddly, he thought, wearing the extra-large clothing.

 “Do you play?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know if you play cards?”

“What game?”

“How about Tell?”

“I don’t know that game.”

“It’s easy.” He placed the deck in front of her. “Deal.”

“How many?”

“As many as you want?”

“That’s a weird way to start.”

“There are no rules to this game.” They stared into each other’s eyes for moment. He smiled, daring the butterflies in his stomach to take flight.

“I’ll take as many as I can get, then,” she said.

“Good choice.”

She picked up the cards and dealt the entire deck. “This is like War,” she said.

“How so?”

“Dealing the whole deck.”

He gathered his cards and said, “We throw down the cards one at a time. You can throw them down from anywhere in your hand. But, you can’t change your throw.”

She turned over her top card, revealing the jack of hearts, then threw it down. He threw down the ace of spades. “I win,” he said. “Now, you must tell me something about yourself. Something I don’t know already, which is almost everything.”

“I just tell you something, you don’t ask?”

“No, that would be truth or dare, wouldn’t it?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t either.” He gently tapped her wrist. “Tell.”

She sat back, pulling her hand away from his, thinking of something to say, then leaned forward. “I was born in another state.”

“That’s too vague.”

“I was born…” She placed a finger to her forehead and said, “In a place far from here.”

“Still too vague, but I’ll let it pass.”

He threw down his top card, the jack of spades. She threw down the ten of hearts.

“You win again. Are you going to win all the hands? I bet you are. I bet these cards are rigged.”

“You dealt them.”

“But you shuffled them.”

They stared at each other. The wind slapped the side of the cottage and she turned toward the rattling windows. Heavy rain pummeled the tin roof. Shadow silhouettes came in through the windows and danced across the floor, looking like animals invading the house. “Storm’s peaking now,” he said. “It will calm down soon.” He took her deck and pulled a card from the middle of the pile. It was two of clubs. He pulled another card from the deck, four of clubs. Finally, he pulled the ace of hearts from her deck. “There, you see? You have an ace.”

“Now, you tell me something,” she said.

“All right. I was born here, on this island.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true. I was born here during a bad storm, just like tonight. My parents were here for the day, but got stuck in the squall. In the middle of the night, my mother went into labor and had me right here, on this table. I was a week early.”

She leaned back and laughed. “This table?”

“I swear.” He held up a hand and they laughed.

She ran her fingers along the top of the table, feeling the raw edges of the wood. “You know what I think? I think you cheat at this game, and I think you lie”.

He stared at her, not liking being called a liar, then smiled. “Your turn.”

“Okay. All right. Let’s play,” she said, shuffling her hand.

“You know you can’t re-shuffle. Once it’s set, that’s it.”

“You cheat. I cheat. It’s the rule. Rule number one.”

“Oh, is it now?” he asked. “Go ahead, throw down.”

She tossed a card from the bottom of the deck. It was the queen of clubs. He tossed the king of clubs. She took a deep breath and looked up at the celling in exasperation. The wind threw rain loudly across the roof, seeming to reflect her response.

“Tell me something good, this time. Something I want to know,” he said. “Like, your name.”

A small tree branch hit against the side of the cottage. The slight pink hue drained from her cheeks. She got up and looked out the window. After a few moments, she turned to him and said, “They’ll be coming for me soon.”

“Will they?”

“Yes.”

“Who’s coming?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Can’t or won’t? I deserve to know what’s going on.”

“You’ll know. You’ll know when they come.” She walked to the fireplace and sat on the sofa. He shuffled the cards a few more times. “I’m playing as your proxy. You’re getting your ass kicked. Tell me your name.”

“Jane.”

He smiled. “Jane. Jane what?”

“Just plain Jane.”

“Plain Jane, from Pudden Tane?”

“Yes, that’s right. I was born here, on the kitchen table.”

 “Tell me Jane, who’s coming for you, should I be worried?” Rain gusts rattled the large windows on the windward side of the house. Gusts pelted the tin roof more loudly than before. “Is it the boogeyman? Should I be afraid?”

She looked at the ceiling.

“It’s the roof,” he said, raising his voice over the din. “It’s tin.”

She walked back to the kitchen table, took the cards from his hand, and threw down the joker.

“What does that mean?” She asked.

“It means you lose. You have to tell me your story, who you are, everything. I’m afraid I’m headed for trouble having you here, with people coming to get you. I want to know what’s coming.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“That’s right, you don’t know, do you? Well, we have that in common, Jane.”

“Look, I don’t remember my name, or anything else, is that so hard for you to understand?”

“I’m a little thick. He’s thick-headed, they used to say about me.” He stood up. “They called me Rocky because of it. My head’s like granite.”

“I can’t say.”

“Why? Why can’t you?”

A thunder clap shook the hill. Lightening lit up the sky. The trees surrounding the cottage swayed violently. She ran into his arms, resting her head on his chest, and sobbed. He gently patted her back. “It’s okay. You’re all right. You’re safe here.”

“Help me,” she said, softly, and buried her head into his chest. They stood like that for a while, until she stopped shaking, then he pulled himself away from her, and held her in front of him. She looked down at the floor.

“I won’t let anyone hurt you, if that’s what you mean. Not in my home.”

“It won’t matter. They’ll come and…” She looked up suddenly, as if remembering something, then backed away from him.

“What?” he asked.

Another violent thunderclap rattled the cottage. She backed away further, looking frighteningly up at the skylight, as if somehow the lightning would illuminate her through the glass, and give away her secrets. After the rumbling thunder sounded, she walked slowly to the sofa, her hands clasped in front of her chest. She laid down and buried her head in the pillow.

Growing exasperated, he walked over and stood in front of the fire. They listened to the storm and the wind. After a few minutes, she looked up from the pillow.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“That’s a tough way to be. Nervous like that. You should relax.”

She smiled. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” They watched the fire for a few minutes, then he said, “I’ll make up the couch. You can stay in the bedroom for the night.”

“No, I want to stay near the fire.”

“Okay, if that’s what you want, but the sofa’s not very comfortable after a while. The cushions are old and – ”

“No, this is good. I’ll be good, here.”

He looked at the decanter of whiskey on the mantelpiece and said, “Do you want a drink?” She stared at him, but said nothing. “There’s whiskey, if you want.”

 “Do you want some?” she asked.

There was nothing he wanted more than to pour himself a glass of the aged Kentucky Bourbon. He wanted to smell it, to see it pour over ice and savor its cool bite. He wanted its warmth in is belly, the gentle fire that ran through his guts and calmed him, the fast lift of the alcohol running through him and making his blood hot, energized and crazy. Right now, those old feelings felt fresh and exciting, wrapped in fancy new paper and sitting in a box under the tree. He thought of how after having a few, the whiskey would start to go down like water, and he’d go into a blackout and say and do things, and not remember most of what happened, and regret it all the next day. Then he remembered the puking, the pain in his gut, the hangover headaches and dizziness, his injured and sore body, and not being able to walk a straight line. How his words would come out so slurred, he’d have to think of them as he spoke. He didn’t miss the hangover or waking up in the strange doorways, or the doctors, with their curt manners, telling him he was killing himself, but he liked having the whiskey near, and looking at it in the fine decanter.

“It’s for guests,” he said, and turned and walked to the bedroom to get blankets and sheets.

     After they made up the couch, they locked eyes for a moment and his stomach turned over again. He thought of what it would be like to be with her, then pushed it out of his mind. She smiled, but he couldn’t bring himself to smile back.

“I hope you’re comfortable,” he said.

“I’ll hang my clothes in front of the fire, if that’s all right. They should be dry by morning.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Good idea.”

The wind died down, and a steady rain tapped on the roof. The only illumination came from the fireplace, and a kerosene lamp by the sofa. In the kitchen, he took the other lamp and walked into the bedroom. He turned and looked in her direction, but saw only the couch where she lay, and beyond that the clothes hanging from the fireplace screen. He wondered what time it was. It felt very late, but he sensed that it was still relatively early. It didn’t matter. They were both tired.

“Good night,” he said.

“Good night,” she answered, her small voice barely audible.

He turned and shut the door.

2

Island Girl (part 3) A mystery Romance

He laid down, half expecting his daughter to stand next to him and touch her fingers to his eyelids the way she so often did when he napped and wanted to wake him. Her light brown hair was so very fine, he used to tell her, because the angles had found it on the breath of whispers in God’s ear, and they’d snatched it away as it fell from heaven and weaved it onto her head. She’d hold her head in her hands and in a knowing, skeptical tone, scold him. “Daddy!” He’d touch her nose with a finger and hold her close, and they’d sit quietly for a few seconds, then he’d catch her eye and wink, and smile at her and her blue eyes would grow huge for a second and she’d beam at him, taking in a deep breath and releasing it with a sigh. Her small fingers were perfectly formed, but slightly pudgy, as she held them over his eyes, and he’d quickly snap at them, pretending to bite her hand, and they’d laugh. But she did not come to wake him. She would never come again. The pain of that realization sat upon his sternum like a dead weight, a rock pressing against his heart, unable to be dislodged. He crossed his hands over his chest and fell into a deep sleep.

     She stood at the end of the sofa, gazing into the fire. The youthfulness of her face was illuminated in yellow and orange hues. He watched her for a moment, not completely sure he wasn’t dreaming. The fire popped and an errant piece of char hit the fire screen. Startled, she turned to him and he smiled. They locked eyes for a second, her opal-light irises instantly captivating. Her hair and clothes were soaked and she dripped water onto the floor.

“You decided not to leave, then?” he said.

“It’s raining.”

“I noticed.” He sat up. The wind and rain buffeted the cottage, making the fire feel all the more pleasant. She stared at the burning wood and said nothing. He got up slowly, watching her and the fire, then went to the kitchen and poured water into a glass and brought it to her. “How’s your headache?” he asked.  She took the glass and sipped, but said nothing. “I have a shortwave radio,” he said. “Cell phones are spotty, and may not work. Is there someone we need to call?”

She walked to the kitchen and placed the empty glass on the counter, then sat in the old, creaky chair at the head of the table and stared down at her clasped hands. She shivered from the cold. He saw she was dripping water onto his chair and floor. “I have some dry things you can wear,” he said, and walked into the bedroom. He lit a lamp, then opened his bureau and found a navy blue sweatshirt and pants and thick cotton socks. When he turned, he was surprised to find her standing in the doorway, staring at him. She had removed her sweatshirt and now wore only a tee shirt and skin tight, very wet jeans. The low backlight accentuated the curve of her hips, thighs and well-rounded calf muscles.  “I’ll leave these here.” He placed the clothes on his bed and turned to her. “You can change,” he started to say, but she was gone.

He found her looking out a kitchen window. Shrubs and trees wiped wildly in the squall. Rain pelted the cottage in violent waves. “I left the dry clothes in there for you. Feel free to…” She turned toward him, and her slight smile stopped him in mid-sentence. She was more beautiful than any woman he’d ever seen. A flutter grew in his stomach and for an instant, he felt tongue tied, something he’d never suffered before. Feeling momentarily inept in front of her, but quickly regaining his senses, he turned away from her gaze. “You can go in there,” he said, pointing at the bedroom. When he finally turned back to look, she was walking toward the room and quickly disappeared inside. “Bring the lamp out when you come,” he said.

Island Girl

cabin

ONE

Sprawled at his bare feet, a green canvas bag holding captive two large lobsters. They scuttled about, armor clacking the skiff. He didn’t particularly like the taste. He loved being out on the boat, the feeling of floating on the tide, looking into the shallows, seeing crab and small fish roaming among the barnacled rocks. Pulling pots by hand and rowing was good exercise. He loved the smell of the bay, the shore at low tide, the complex aroma of living Earth.

The wind kicked up from the east as he maneuvered the skiff in toward shore. The island foliage tossed uneasily, fighting the stiff breeze. Choppy waves riled the skiff. He pulled the boat onshore and tied it down, when he saw her. Something out the corner of his eye. Just a splash of red, but the color was bright enough for him to realize it was not a natural color for the island. He thought for a moment he was seeing things from his imagination. The red of blood. The color he was sure covered his wife and daughter. The horror of imaging how they looked after the crash. His imagination often took him there, to that scene on the tarmac. The horror of it sinking into his bones, like cool water floating down in layers, to the bottom of his soul.

The crimson flashes moved inland, up beyond the tall grass on the hill, beyond the slink weed bushes on the rocky trail leading away from the cottage. He reached the trail head, but saw no more signs of her. A slight breeze rustled the bushes behind him. He started and turned quickly, scanning the bushes, the trees and grass beyond, but he saw nothing. A bird landed on a tree nearby and he smiled. His mind was playing tricks. His only visitor was a black bird with a red patch. Red winged black birds were uncommon on the island and probably the reason it caught his attention. Crows and seagulls ruled the rock. Just last night, a small murder of American crows appeared near the cottage, their loud cawing and iridescent feathers unmistakable in the craggy pines.

He lit the outdoor roasting fire. After he’d cooked and eaten the lobster, he sat, satiated, under the canopy of stars. Cool air wrapped around him like damp sheets. He sat on the hard flat rock, shaped like a stool, and stared into the fire. Clumps of smoky seaweed, still oozing dampness, wheezed and popped in the heat, and gave off sour smoke.

When the season was right, he’d roast corn on the cob with the lobster, but often he couldn’t finish the meals. His appetite would wane as he drifted into bad memories. The burial, the condolences, the sad offerings, the blur of black clothing, pale skin and muted whispers, and the sorrowful moans. The preacher’s caw echoing into incoherent rants. Words popping out, such as “life,” “death” and “meaning,” but his voice was more like the wind and rain and provided no comfort. Rituals. Other people’s thoughts held no meaning. Grief lived in his chest like a knot of angry crabs, the weight of it strangling and gnawing on the flesh of his heart, and because of it, his appetite was gone. He ate what little he could of the rich lobster meat and threw the rest back into the fire. He held a bottle of bourbon on his lap, running his fingers down the smooth glass. But, he knew he wouldn’t drink. Not at that moment, but soon maybe, and it would start all over again.

A twig snapped and he looked up. Just off the trail, someone standing in the shadows, but he tried not to stare. He held a smoldering twig in his hand and watched the glowing tip turn to ash, occasionally looking up and scanning the trees and bushes, trying to snatch a glimpse of the stranger. After seeing the outline of shoulder-length hair and just enough facial features to decipher them as feminine, he thought it might be a young woman. Thick hair, perhaps, covered the side of her face. He saw these things in dark outline, never catching any detail. And her footfall was light, not like a man. He was quietly amused by his silent watcher, and wondered if she was a perhaps a child, or a teenager who’d run away from home. Then he realized he should speak and see what kind of trouble she might bring. How could she be anything but trouble? “Come in out of the dark,” he said, placing the tip of the smoldering stick back into the fire. “I won’t bite you.” He sensed her there, standing still in the shadows. He resumed holding the burning stick, until the flame diminished into a small glowing point. There was no sound, other than the occasional breeze.

As night closed in around him and the air cooled, a chill covered him like a damp whisper, and he decided to go in. He stood and looked at the area where he’d last seen her outline and said, “I’m going in now. I’ll leave a blanket on the porch. It gets cold.” He stared into the blackness and laughed to himself for thinking it was somebody. If it had been a girl, she would have talked to him by now. And if she had talked to him and had come inside, what trouble would she bring? He didn’t need it. He was alone with his own troubles. That was enough, and they were all he could handle.

He went inside the cabin and built a fire. When the logs caught, and the flames licked a good size log, he pushed the sofa up close to the hearth and sat. If it was a girl out there, he thought, somebody would be looking for her. She could be a runaway or hiding from the law or bad men, a bad marriage. But these were just ideas. It had been a black bird with a red patch on its wings. Nothing more.

Time passed and heaviness woke him. He roused and checked the fire and found no flames.  The room was cold. He looked out the window toward the fire pit. There was nothing to see. He lit a kerosene lamp and went to the bedroom.

His shadow cast on the ceiling from the lamp, as he adjusted himself under the covers. His own dark outline brought to mind the crows outside the cottage. About two weeks earlier, they’d come and stayed the night in the pines, cawing and squawking into the early hours of the morning. A murder of crows, holding court. What had they said to each other? Had it had been an omen. The figure in shadows popped into his head. Perhaps it really was a girl. He turned down the lamp and pulled the cold covers up to his chin. He turned over, and a whisper came to him. A gentle tingle in his ear. He wasn’t sure what it said, but the voice was that of his wife. Perhaps she was standing beside him now, watching over him. He opened his eyes and saw nothing, then yawned and closed them again. He inhaled deeply and sighed out the words, “Goodnight, my love.”

To Be Cont’d…

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