Just to recap – I had a naked woman standing in my family’s grave plot two nights ago, staring up at my window and snarling. And today, during an act of desperation, I went to research my family history at the dinky library. Found nothing, of course – oh, except for Damon, my ex-boyfriend who is suddenly hot.
Oh, did I forget to mention Damon’s eyes are glowing, his skin is sallow, and his teeth are pointed?
Needless to say, I got the hell out of that library and away from Damon. I struggled with my cell phone while zooming through the thankfully deserted streets of Isla Paradiso. I managed to call up the number I needed without looking down at my phone more than five seconds.
“Sheriff Quezada,” was the answer. His harried voice sounded like music to my ears.
“Sheriff, it’s Layla Derelict. I’m coming to the station – please meet me outside.” I hung up while he sputtered.
Quezada was already standing outside of the front door of the precinct, looking a little more than annoyed. I didn’t let him get a word in – with him, you could never tell if he was going to get up and walk away before hearing you through.
“Damon Jones. I saw him and he was creepy and threatening me.”
The Sheriff narrowed his eyes. “Damon Jones?”
I nodded, trying to catch my breath. Everything was catching up with me at once – the fear and the nerves… I was ready to say to hell with the farm and just leave. “He showed up at the library and told me ‘they had been waiting for me.’ But his eyes were glowing and his teeth were pointy…” I realized how stupid I sounded right then and my voice died, my mouth hanging open dumbly.
“Look, kid,” he said, rolling his eyes (yeah, he actually called me a kid. He couldn’t be that much older than me!). “This isn’t some book. This isn’t a movie. This is a really retarded way to get attention. Instead of coming up with this wild shit about some guy on the missing persons list-”
“Missing persons?” I repeated numbly. “But he and I… I knew him since we were kids! He’s… missing?”
The Sheriff looked a little sheepish now. “Yes, he was reported missing by his wife three years ago – about a month after they got married.”
The look on my face must have said exactly what I was feeling. He calmed and his tone got softer. “Maybe he just looked like your friend. It’s possible. We’ve seen weird things around these parts. All the tourists-”
“What if it is him?” I asked, my voice cracking. “He knows my house, he knows everything about me. What if he disappeared because he fell in with some gang? How am I going to be safe when he said they expected me to come back?”
“Stay in town today,” he said simply, though I did sense a sudden compassion to his tone. “I’ll look into this – I’ll check out some footage at the library and try to catch something about this guy. I’ll make some calls, too. Then I’ll get back in touch with you, okay? No matter what.”
I hate to say I was skeptical that he would actually get back in touch with me, but I took a leap of faith and decided to trust his handsome, broody face. His face seemed honest. His face seemed like the face of a good cop.
“Whatever you say,” I sighed and turned to leave. I expected him to say something else, but he didn’t. I got back onto my motorcycle and turned, meeting his eyes with mine again. He was always watching, always aware. I wasn’t sure if I liked that he scrutinized me so much, or if I hated it.
I decided not to think about that. Instead I headed to the corner bistro and had a light lunch on their patio, people-watching.
When people-watching failed to entertain me, I joined a mixology class. The only other student was a colossal flirt and spent most of the time watching the ladies who walked by the outdoor ‘classroom.’
When I asked him about the huge white leather boots he was wearing, he said they were a statement of his personal ‘art.’ It was sad to think he might be the most normal part of my entire week.
After the class, I found myself drawn to the massive, multi-million dollar resort I almost managed. I was so close to accepting it. So close to closing the job of a lifetime.
And I turned all of this down; the glistening pool, the sand beaches, the snow-birds flocking to the warm weather and crystalline waters. I turned it all down for creepy exes and horse manure.
God damn lizard brain. Why did it have to muck up everything?
I made it back home around ten. I spent hours wandering the town and stopping into restaurants and stores. I spent more money than I should and even invested in new deck furniture, which I was told would be delivered tomorrow morning. I figured spending a few thousand now would mean a better investment when it came time to sell the damn place.
My phone rang just as I closed the door. I answered it, hearing the Sheriff’s velvety voice. “Lalya, where are you?” There was an undercurrent of worry in his tone.
“I’m at home,” I replied slowly. “I just got in. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s safe,” he replied. I imagined him running a hand over his face. “Stay inside, lock your doors and windows. Gather up whatever you need for a few days, I’m coming by to pick you up.”
“No buts, Layla. I’ll tell you more when I get you somewhere else. Got it?”
The line went dead. The bastard hung up on me!
Just as I was putting my phone back in my pocket, it lit up and beeped at me. Probably the Sheriff texting an apology.
Then it beeped again.
I swallowed, glancing down at the display. There were five messages in total, all from the numbers I kept getting calls from through the week. The first four said the same thing.
Welcome home, Layla. We’ve been expecting you.
The fifth said:
Come out back. We brought a present.
I’m not sure what possessed me to start walking to the back of the house, through the hallway that ran lengthwise through the bottom floor. I’m not sure why I unlocked and opened the back door. I have always been one of those people who, in horror movies, advocates staying in a safe spot until help comes. I swear up and down I would never go into the basement alone, or up into the attic to investigate a noise.
So why is it that now, now that I am in a situation… I choose the option that means potential harm?
God damn lizard brain.
I saw the back of Damon’s head and my heart couldn’t decide whether to tear in two from fear or leap with relief. It was only Damon. Damon would never hurt me. The other man, though…
The pair turned, as one, and the man with Damon smiled. He was a plain man, mid forties, who dressed as if he didn’t know what century he was in. His smile was affable, though, and my heart stopped pounding quite so loudly.
“Layla,” he greeted gently, stepping closer. “I’m sorry for all of this obnoxious dramatic flair. I have admonished Damon. I don’t blame you for being scared, dear. There is a lot going on around you that your grandmother, sadly, kept you from.”
“What?” I asked, feeling stupid.
“Forgive my manners,” he chuckled. “My name is Jeremie. Jeremie Oakes. I believe your grandmother might have mentioned me?”
“No, I don’t think-” I paused, synapses firing in my brain. A random memory, from when I was very small, flitted across my consciousness. My grandmother was holding me in her lap, brushing out my long golden curls that she said looked just like my mother’s. I had to be five or six, no older.
And there was a man with raven-dark hair smiling in his affable way at me.
“I knew you,” I whispered. “You were here. In the house. You helped with the horses.”
“Not just the horses, dear.”
“There is magic on this land, Layla,” Damon spoke up, his motions quick and jittery, as if he was having to hold himself in check from the sheer amount of energy he wanted to expend. “Everything here is touched by it – the horses, the house, the family plot – the people tied to it. And it’s all thanks to Jeremie. He offered us all so much. Life, even. He can give life where once it was death.”
I looked over at Jeremie, my throat tight. Give life? What in the hell…
“We have a gift for you,” Jeremie said softly. “We, as in, the people of my… family. We have taken great interest in you and, as such, did not harm the farm’s blessed nature, or magic, as Damon so basely calls it. Even when your grandmother left the fold, we did not lash out for respect of you.”
“We will talk more about that later,” Jeremie chuckled. The sound was soothing. It made my head foggy. “Look to your family plot, dear. Your present has come very far to be here with you.”
I didn’t want to look but I had to. Through the murk of falling night, I saw golden hair and pale skin. The woman was hunched over in front of a grave – one of the graves grandmother never told me about. There were more tombstones in our plot than could be from our family, and all of them were blank.
“Go to her,” Damon urged, his cool fingers pressing against my arm.
The walk into the family plot was longer than it had ever been. The woman’s hair and the keening, soft cries that left her lips as I approached… they were all so familiar. I knew who she was even before she turned. My heart knew, and that’s why it felt like it was breaking in two.
She turned, her glassy eyes shining like flashlights in the night. Her skin was sallow and I knew it would be cold, just like Damon’s. Her face was like looking into a mirror; she was me, just aged and sad.
“My little girl is all grown up,” she whispered softly and, before I could understand she had moved, I was in her arms and her tears were wetting my face. My hands fell to her waist uselessly and awkwardly.
Here was the mother I had prayed for. The mother I dreamed about. Only she seemed like a husk, not a real person.
As she pulled away, I saw something like life flicker behind her lantern-eyes. Something afraid. “Don’t trust anyone,” she whispered, so softly I barely caught it. “Not even me.”