HOUNDSTOOTHE 1.5 - Funerals and funnel cake: part two
Houndstoothe 1.5: Funerals and Funnel Cakes PART TWO
This episode is brought to you by my patrons, Adam, Amanda, Andy, Kimberly, Sam, and Vazgen.
The part of the window cat, or Window, is once again played by our neighbor’s cat, whose name I do not know but who is always welcome in our yard.
DR. BRUCE’S HOUSE: The Stewards
The Stewards, though privy to strange things happening in Houndstoothe, were each surprised when they opened their mouths and spat out sparkling heaps of goo.
They’d spent the entire night before watching Ellis’s collection of Cheers VHS tapes. Since the cell tower was out, their Netflix account wasn’t working.
Ellis’s goo landed in his popcorn. Lois’s landed on the coffee table. Bruce wasn’t fast enough to do anything but spit his out on his shirt.
Ellis stared at his popcorn for a moment, then leveled an icy, cutting stare in Bruce’s direction. Lois poked hers with her fingernail.
“Bruce,” Ellis snapped. “You said the meteorite was nothing.”
“It was,” Bruce protested. “I swear.”
“It can’t have been! We just spat up soul phlegm!”
“And so did everyone else in Houndstoothe,” Lois said, poking hers again.
Ellis placed his popcorn bowl on the coffee table and stood up. “You just glanced at the meteorite and left,” he said.
Bruce sighed and started rubbing the phlegm off his shirt. “I had just gotten called in to the hospital, if you’ll remember, and I had to be sure I got there in time. Honestly, this is all your fault, Ellis.”
“It’s not,” Ellis said, flatly. “We all agreed that it was your responsibility to check. Didn’t we, Lois?”
Lois stared at the soul phlegm on the coffee table. “Where is it?” she asked, looking up. “Is it still in the road? Is it safe? What if something – someone – kidnapped it?”
Bruce stood up, still trying to rub the phlegm off his shirt.
His colleagues both advanced toward him with their arms crossed. Ellis pushed up his glasses and cocked an eyebrow.
“Do you know what will happen if we screw this up?” he demanded.
Bruce shrugged, peeling a strip of particularly glittery, sticky mucus off his shirt front. “I suppose we might get fired,” he said.
“That’s now how it works!” Ellis hissed. “We won’t get fired, we’ll get reassigned. To somewhere terrible. They might send us to Texas, Bruce. Or Florida. And it’ll be all your fault!”
Bruce held up both hands. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought it was just a regular meteorite. I was under a great deal of stress because I had to go to work and if you’ll remember, you both railroaded me into going alone because you didn’t want to stop playing go-fish either.”
Lois sighed and lifted a finger. “Okay. It was our responsibility too. We have to find the meteorite and see if its incubating yet. And…” she trailed off, frowning.
“What?” Bruce asked.
Lois looked a little sick. “If it’s from home – and it clearly is – they must’ve sent it for a reason. My darlings…” she trailed off, looking between Ellis and Bruce. “I don’t think that was a normal lightning storm. I think we fudged up.”
“It’s not fudged, dear, it’s fuc –“ Ellis began, but Bruce gasped suddenly, throwing his hands to his face.
“The town is awake! We did fudge up!”
Lois grabbed a pair of yellow crocs from the floor and slipped them on. “Bruce, you check the forest and the outskirts of town. Ellis, I’ll take East and you can take West. We’ve got to figure out where the meteorite is.”
Ellis cast a last withering glare at Bruce and then followed Lois. Bruce sighed and grabbed his coat, absent-mindedly picking at the glittering snot on his shirt. It was going to be quite a long day.
THE BLAIRE HOUSE: Bill
Early that afternoon, Bill settled down at the kitchen table with the typewriter. He’d been writing notes for his new novel every night before bed, and he had enough now that he couldn’t put off starting anymore. Plus, he had a deadline. But he hated typing with one hand. He missed writing with pencils and his nice fountain pens, or even the ballpoint pens he kept for emergencies.
He couldn’t concentrate, though. He’d showered and shaved after Rosemary and Agnes left that morning, and he’d cut himself several times. He still had little pieces of toilet paper stuck to his chin and cheeks. He stirred his coffee – it’d be his last cup of the day, so he was determined to enjoy it – and reluctantly began typing out a sentence.
Meeting the devil was just as scary as everyone had said it would be.
Bill sucked on his teeth and stared at the sentence. He hated it. His motivation and excitement from that morning were gone – and so was the taste of funnel cake.
The front door squeaked open and a few moments later, Agnes bustled in and dumped an armload of groceries on the table.
“We’re going to a wake,” she announced.
“It’s for Joe. The wake is at Lincoln’s, and we’re going to go help.”
“Why do I have to go? I didn’t know this kid,” Bill said. His stomach churned – the thought of dead kids made him sick, nausea pitching in his stomach.
I’ve already been to an awful funeral this year. My ex-wife’s.
“Ugh. Bill. You live in Houndstoothe now. You need to start acting like it.”
Bill set down his coffee and stood up to help Agnes unpack the grocery bags. “Are you cooking?”
“Yes, I’m going to make spaghetti and banana bread for the wake.”
Bill chewed on his lip and started pulling things out of the bags, one at a time. “Just because I live here doesn’t mean I have to go. I don’t have to become a country bumpkin.”
Bill thought of the moment he’d gotten the phone call about Kat’s wreck.
Is this William Blaire?
Bill. But yeah.
I’m sorry to deliver this news, but your ex-wife has been in a car wreck.
And Bill kept waiting for the worst – the added thing, the thing that would actually ruin his life because his whole life was about taking care of his kid, and if his kid was dead, well. Literally nothing could be worse than that.
Agnes rolled her eyes and swung her silver hair over her shoulder.
“It’s not being a country bumpkin to go help people when they’re sad.”
Bill sighed and reached for another bag. As he picked it up, the plastic split open and several cans of tomato sauce fell with heavy clangs and rolled off the table. Bill winced.
“Doesn’t everyone still think we’re the devil’s minions or something?”
Agnes frowned and crawled under the table after one of the cans. “I don’t think anyone has ever thought that.”
“Oh, they have too! When you were little, the neighbors were always getting in fights with Mom and Grandad about it.”
Agnes snorted. “Really?”
“Yes! They thought Grandad was hexing their roses. They wouldn’t let me play with their son for like two years, which was awful, because he had all the Star Wars action figures that I didn’t have.”
“Was that the Millers? Next door?” Agnes asked, coming out from under the table. She set two cans of tomato sauce down on the tabletop and pushed herself up.
Bill bent and peered under the table. He remembered there being three cans. “Oh hey. There’s another one. Under that chair,” he pointed.
Agnes sighed and crawled back under.
“I think it was the Millers,” Bill said, standing back up. He gathered an armful of refrigerated things and carried them into the kitchen.
“They still live there,” Agnes said, emerging with the other can.
“Will they be at the wake?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
Bill came back to the table and grabbed a jug of milk and a carton of orange juice and tucked them against his chest so he could walk them back to the fridge.
“Why are you going to the wake?”
“Because it’s for Joe. I saw him almost every day this summer. Such a sweet kid. And I told Lincoln I’d help,” Agnes said.
“There it is,” Bill said. “Ha!”
Agnes raised an eyebrow and followed him to the fridge. “I think you should come.”
“To help clean up after. You can throw away trash and move chairs with your good arm.”
Bill opened the fridge and started shoving things aside to make room. “And there’s the rest of it,” he said. He snorted. “Fine. I’ll come. I’m assuming there will be lots of free food there and that I can eat some.”
“Of course,” Agnes said. “Lots of free food.”
The front door opened again and slammed. Bill gasped and grabbed Agnes’s shoulder with his good arm. “Oh no,” he whispered.
“It was Rosemary’s first day of school. I can’t go.”
Agnes bit her lip and narrowed her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Bill said. “I can’t. I’ve gotta do something nice with her – first days of high school are a big deal. Don’t you remember?”
“I’m not that old,” Agnes hissed.
“Okay then! Well, I can’t leave her here all alone to go to a wake. I have to do Dad things.”
Agnes sighed. “All right.”
“Go to where?” Rosemary asked, walking in.
“A wake, for Joe Darby,” Agnes answered. She walked back over the kitchen table and collected the dented cans to put away.
“Yeah, I thought we could stay in, maybe watch a movie, order pizza? And you can tell how your first day went,” Bill said. He watched as Rosemary set her backpack down on the floor and went to the coffee pot. He was drinking the last cup. She glanced back at him and her eyes flickered to the mug on the table, but she didn’t say anything. She just pulled the coffee out of the pantry and started a new pot.
“Let’s go to the wake with Aunt Agnes,” she said.
“You don’t have to call me Aunt, you know,” Agnes said.
Bill blinked. “What? Why?”
“Because it makes me feel old, Bill,” Agnes said.
“Not you,” he said.
Rosemary shrugged. “Because it’s… nice.” She didn’t look up. “We’ve barely left the house since we got here.”
Bill snorted. “We can go to a pizza place, Rose. Or to a movie. There’s other things we could do to get out of the house besides go to a wake.”
Rosemary turned around and leaned on the counter. The coffee pot started to gurgle.
“You can’t drive,” she reminded him. “And the jeep isn’t fixed yet, anyway.”
Bill opened his mouth to argue, but Agnes beat him.
“I know wakes aren’t fun, but there will be lots of locals there and the food will be great. I think it’d be lovely if we all go together as a family.”
“Yeah, Dad. It’ll be nice,” Rosemary said. She turned away to get a mug out of the cabinet and started dressing it with sugar and cinnamon.
“I don’t get you guys. Wakes aren’t fun, and we didn’t know this kid! Rosemary, honey – are you sure you feel up to it?”
Rosemary wrinkled her nose. “You’re being weird. Let’s just go.”
“So it’s settled!” Agnes interrupted. “Take the toilet paper off your face before leave, Bill.” She patted his cheek.
Rosemary silently poured a cup of coffee and raised her eyebrows at Bill as she passed and picked up her backpack. Bill leaned around the corner to make sure she was out of earshot.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
Agnes poured herself a cup of coffee and opened a bag of chocolate covered pretzels. “What are you talking about?”
“She just lost her mom.”
Agnes lifted the corner of her mouth and held out the pretzel bag. Bill took one.
“I know you worry about her,” Agnes said. “But she seemed like she wanted to go. Isn’t that nice to see? Trust her to know what she can handle, Bill. Trust her.”
“I just feel like a funeral-y setting could be, like, upsetting.”
“Nobody’s funeral is going to be as triggering as her mom’s,” Agnes said, flatly.
Bill popped the pretzel in his mouth and rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s just a kid.”
Agnes shrugged. “She’s not going to be a kid for much longer, Bill. She just lost her mom.” She raised her eyebrows and handed Bill the bag of pretzels. “It’s just a wake. I think it’ll be okay.”
Bill sighed and held the pretzels against his chest with his sling so he could get out a handful. “I hope so, Aggie.”
EXACT LOCATION UNKNOWN – HOUNDSTOOTHEISH: Joe
“You have to eat something,” Lincoln said.
Except it wasn’t Lincoln at all, not Joe’s Lincoln. The lady in front of Joe was wearing earrings, and lipstick, and she was staring him down in a way that reminded Joe distinctly of moms. Joe walked a circle around the dining room, probably for the twentieth time, tugging anxiously on his hair. “I thought I was home,” he said.
He stopped and sat down, then stood up again.
“I know. You said that,” Lincoln said. She always jerked her head when she talked, and her eyebrows were constantly raised. Maybe that was what made Joe feel like he was talking to a mom.
Joe took another lap around the diner, bumping chairs. “First I was dead, then I wasn’t dead, then I was home, and now I’m in 1987?!” He stopped when he knocked a chair over and picked it up, intending to put it back, then he held it in front of himself and shook it at Lincoln.
“Is this some… some elaborate joke? Did Russell do this? This isn’t really 1987….”
“Wait, who’s Russell?”
“Oh. Clark Darby has two sons?”
“It wasn’t on purpose. We’re twins.” Joe shook the chair. “What is happening to me?!”
“Okay, honey, listen. If you’re really from – when did you say it was? 2019?”
Joe hesitated, then nodded.
“Okay, 2019 – geez – then some weird things are happening to you, and you need to eat something. Trust me.”
“I just want to go home,” Joe whispered.
“Well, after you eat maybe we can make sense of what’s happening to you. But you’re not the most coherent kid ever, and I know you’re hungry, so. You want a burger?”
Joe hesitated, then nodded and lowered the chair.
Lincoln sighed – she seemed relieved. “Okay,” she said. “Sit down.”
Joe took a deep breath and nodded.
Lincoln headed for the kitchen and was halfway through the door before Joe said, “Wait!”
She poked her head back out, gold earrings swinging.
Joe winced apologetically. “I’m a vegetarian.”
Lincoln stared at him for a moment. “Portobello burger?”
Joe nodded, blushing. “Thank you.”
“Sit down,” Lincoln said, then disappeared into the kitchen.
Joe sank into a booth and bounced his leg. He felt like he’d had a gallon of black coffee – but also like he could sleep for a million years.
LINCOLN’S DINER: Russell
Russell heard nothing at the funeral. All he could think about was how Joe had been there, at the funeral home. One moment he looked up and saw his brother, wearing the same clothes that the Sheriff had brought back, with his stupid mullet and his glasses, and the next, he flickered out of existence. Russell hated the mullet. It wasn’t quite Billy Ray Cyrus, but he looked like a character in a John Carpenter movie, which Joe thought was the coolest thing. It embarrassed Russell that someone walking around with his face had a mullet and thought it was cool.
Russell sat through the memorial service and the graveside glassy-eyed, working it over in his head.
I’m hallucinating. I’m tired. I forgot to eat breakfast. I had too much coffee… I’m hallucinating.
This was his favorite explanation. It made the most sense, and it was easiest for him to believe. Except Window – he’d started thinking of the Window Cat as Window – had walked over to Joe and rubbed on his ankles.
And Joe bent down to touch her, rub her ears, and Russell had watched as he ran his hand over her forehead and pushed her ears back to scratch right in front of them.
Of course, there were other options.
Joe’s ghost, checking in to make sure Russell was feeding his cat. It’d be just like Joe to have unfinished business about the well-being of another creature.
Russell wasn’t sure that he believed in ghosts, but he was beginning to see questioning evidence.
Or, maybe Joe was still alive…somehow…in spirit. But that made even less sense than his other two ideas. He’d seen his brother’s body. So had dozens of other people.
Would you listen to yourself? Russell smacked his forehead. He needed to eat. He felt light-headed and tired – definitely the next step was eating.
Russell looked up. He didn’t remember getting in the car, but that’s where he was, and Clark was trying to get his attention.
“What?” Russell asked.
“Are you okay?” Clark asked. He was leaning toward the back from the driver’s seat. Lillian’s eyes were tired, but clear. She was leaning against the seat, watching Russell with the corner of her mouth lifted in a sad smile. Russell glanced between the two of them.
“Just hungry,” he said, at last.
“Well, that’s why we’re here,” Clark said. “To eat.”
“Don’t call me Rusty,” Russell said, climbing out of the car. He saw Clark’s face fall, but he didn’t care. He went to the door and let himself into Lincoln’s.
There were already lots of people milling around, uncovering dishes laid out on the bar. Lincoln had pulled all the bar chairs to the side so the bar could serve as a buffet.
He was wearing a dark blue dress shirt and slacks. Russell couldn’t remember ever seeing Lincoln in anything but jeans and an apron. In the winter he wore flannels, but the rest of the year he had on a white or gray undershirt or henley. It was weird to see him all dressed up. Russell stepped around a group from the Knitting Rebellion and walked up to the bar. His stomach growled and a wave of light-headedness hit him. The bell over the door rang – Russell glanced behind and saw Agnes Blaire walking in with an older guy and that new girl he’d seen the other night.
Russell turned and saw Sheriff Granger standing there. She was dressed up too, in a black pantsuit. Russell almost didn’t recognize her without the hat and badge.
“Sheriff Granger,” he mumbled. He grabbed a dinner roll and tore a chunk off. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she said. “Um… listen, I never found Joe’s glasses. I’m sorry. Normally, I wouldn’t bring it up here, but. You seemed awfully worried about it.”
Russell frowned and nodded. “You looked in the woods and everything?”
The sheriff nodded. “I checked the woods and the mortuary. I even asked Grey and he said he didn’t have them – he did say he had some other things of Joe’s, and promised to bring them by.”
“Oh.” Russell nodded.
Granger lifted the corner of her mouth in a sad smile and gripped Russell’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Russell. About the glasses and your loss.”
Russell nodded. “Thank you.”
The sheriff left Russell at the buffet line. Russell waited until she’d walked away then shoved the dinner roll in his mouth, still holding the little torn off bite in his fist. He glanced over at Clark and Lillian – they were talking to the Hunters. Russell noticed Pat standing by the jukebox and waved. He’d never been close to Pat, but he was one of Joe’s friends.
Russell turned – Lincoln was leaning on the counter.
“Yeah,” Russell nodded, around the roll. He held up a finger apologetically and swallowed. “Yes.”
Lincoln cleared his throat. “Feel free to step into the kitchen if you need a break. And don’t eat that corn casserole. It has celery in it.”
Russell snorted. “Okay. Thanks.”
Lincoln nodded and then turned, pushed through the double doors, and went back to the kitchen.
Russell shoved the rest of the roll in his mouth and filled his plate with things he recognized – mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, smothered pork chops. He got a bowl of salad after Lincoln confirmed it was one of his salads, and a piece of chocolate pie. Then he found a corner booth and sat down alone.
If Joe’s glasses aren’t in the woods, the library, the mortuary, or the casket, then where the hell are they?
EXACT LOCATION UNKNOWN – HOUNDSTOOTHEISH: Joe
Lincoln made Joe a portobello mushroom burger, a plate of fries, and a peanut butter milkshake. She sat across from him in the booth and watched him scarf it down, occasionally taking a fry for herself, and when his plate was clean, she pushed a piece of blueberry pie across the table.
“Thanks,” Joe said, around a mouthful.
“So,” she said. She folded her hands in front of her. “Here’s what I don’t understand.”
Joe glanced up at her but kept working on the pie.
Lincoln held up her hand. “You said that you were dead, but then you weren’t.”
Lincoln leaned on her fist. “What’s that about?”
Joe got a sip of his milkshake. “Well – the first time I woke up… I was in the woods. There were stars everywhere, and some of them were… me. Like they were part of me. A weird cowboy guy said I was dead. Or almost dead. Something like that.”
Lincoln frowned. “A weird cowboy guy,” she said.
Joe shrugged. “he had a hat and a horse named Widow.”
Lincoln raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “Okay. And then?”
Joe sighed and leaned back. “I saw a girl… and then I got hit by lightning again and I woke up in the woods, but I guess it was…. Now. 1987. Not 2019.”
Lincoln nodded and tapped the table with her finger. “Huh,” she said.
Joe poked at the rest of his pie. “What’s happening to me?”
Lincoln stared out the window, her eyes a million worlds away. She glanced back at him, her earrings swinging and glinting in the dim light of the diner. “I have a few ideas,” she said.
Lincoln frowned and watched him. “It’s not good news.”
“You are dead.”
Joe glanced down at himself. Same as I ever was.
“But,” Lincoln continued, “It seems that you’re trapped in a time bubble.”
“You’re in a time bubble. Outside of the linear sequence of events that you were apart of in life, you’re now in a bubble which reflects whatever time or space that you happen to be drifting past. You’re in a bubble that was made moments before your death.”
Joe picked at the pie and the shoved the whole crust in his mouth, rather than find something else to say.
Lincoln watched him take in this information and pulled a lipstick out of one of the myriad pockets on her shirt and refreshed it without using a mirror. Joe felt like she could see right through him, down to his very soul.
“What does that mean?” he asked, finally.
“What do you think it means?”
Joe lifted the corner of his mouth and sipped his milkshake. “I don’t know what any of it means,” he murmured. “I just want to get back home.”
“Well, there’s no guarantee of that,” she said. There was a mug in front of her, with a blackberry tea bag in it. She dunked the tea bag a few times and then took it out and looked up at Joe.
So that’s it, he thought. I’m toast.
“That doesn’t mean there’s no hope, though,” she said.
Joe crossed his arms over his chest, placing his palms flat on his ribs. He hadn’t noticed before how sore they were. Like they’d all sustained fractures and were being held together with glue.
“Are you a mom?” he asked. He glanced up at her. A little v had formed between her eyebrows. “You remind me of one.” She didn’t remind him of Lillian. Lillian wasn’t very perceptive, not since Clark left for good. She was too tired.
“Not anymore,” Lincoln said, after a moment.
Joe looked down at his hands as she got up from the booth.
“If you can get out of this time bubble,” she said, walking behind the counter, “you might be able to slip around that moment. Have it stitched up. You’ll need a witch to do it, maybe a Blaire. It’ll just be a little pocket of alternate time, a bad dream you had once.”
“That’s not how time works,” Joe muttered. “Is it?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because of… movies….”
“Because of Back to the Future,” Lincoln interrupted. “I’m so tired of that damn movie. It’s been the only thing playing at the theater for two years and now everyone – your Dad especially – thinks they’re an expert on time travel.” She came back around the counter with a mug of coffee and handed it to Joe. He shook the last few lumps of ice cream and cool whip into it and stirred. He usually didn’t drink dairy, but he wasn’t sure that almond milk existed in 1987, and he already felt bad for asking for a special burger. At least she’d put peanut butter in it. He wasn’t sure if he could drink a milkshake by itself – he’d had a bad reaction to vanilla milkshakes the night Clark left.
“Don’t worry about how it’s going to work for now,” Lincoln said, sitting back down. She sipped her tea and cupped her hands around it. Her lipstick was brownish red, like cinnamon, but it didn’t leave a smudge on the mug. Joe wondered if it was a secret power that some ladies had, or maybe just a Lincoln perk.
“How do you know so much about this stuff?” Joe asked. “Is it a Lincoln thing?”
Lincolns always seemed to know what to do, or say… not that they were perfect, but Joe’s Lincoln always seemed to know what he needed.
“A ‘Lincoln thing,’” Lincoln repeated. “I guess you could say that’s the main reason. But Houndstoothe has been sort of a magnet for paranormal, supernatural, and otherworldly events since the beginning of time. That’s why there are Lincolns here. To keep an eye on things.”
Joe blinked. “Houndstoothe?”
“I guess things are quieter in – when did you say you were from? 2019?”
Lincoln narrowed her eyes. “Interesting. So it’s more normal then. Maybe it worked….”
Joe sighed and leaned back in the booth, but for a moment, the diner faded to black. Joe gripped the edge of the table.
But he couldn’t see her or hear her. Instead, he saw Russell, sitting with the cat that came in the window. He was dressed in a suit and wearing Joe’s tie….
Joe had a dim sensation of his feet moving forward and of his body swaying as he walked forward, past a row of dark green bushes with red berries on them. His brother was sitting on a bench with his head in his hands. For a moment, it seemed to Joe that Russell had aged five, ten, twenty years without him; he looked so much like their father in that moment, a perfect Americana picture of someone carrying the weight of the world. Russell looked like a man.
“Russell?” he called.
The window cat was winding around Russell’s ankle, like his very own shadow, made of stripes and ribbon. When the cat saw Joe, she trotted over and wound around Joe’s ankles, and Joe, for a moment, felt physically present. He could feel the sun on his neck, the breeze ruffling his hair. He bent and rubbed the cat’s ears.
Russell looked up. His face was red. The illusion of his brother grown up disappeared. And the steadiness of his own physical presence was gone.
“Joe?” Russell jumped up. “Joe?!”
Russell was running toward him… Joe’s fingers tightened. He meant for it to be into fists, but he was still gripping the table in Lincoln’s diner – he remembered, now.
“Joseph Michael Darby!”
He’d never heard Russell use his full name before. But he heard it now, even as he slipped away. He also couldn’t remember the last time he heard Russell cry, and he hated the sound of it.
Back in the diner. Lincoln’s hand was over his, rubbing his knuckles gently with her thumb. Just like a Mom.
“I saw my brother,” Joe gasped. “I have to get home. I think he thinks I’m dead, he… he was hurting. I have to go.”
Joe stood up, pulling away from Lincoln.
“We haven’t figured out how you can go, yet,” she reminded him.
“I can’t be dead. Russell needs me. Mom needs me. I have to go back.” Joe grabbed his hair and ran his fingers through it, frantically, and began walking back and forth. “How did I do that? I just… I just went back, so there’s got to be a way to go back and stay.” His mind raced with his feet. Where did he know those bushes from?
The funeral home.
A new thought blossomed inside him with every step.
“Well, your soul is splintered,” Lincoln said, matter-of-factly. “There’s probably little slivers of you all over the ethers experiencing moments and thoughts that you can’t quite see. That was just a bigger part of you.”
Joe sat down again, this time at a table across from the booth. “Because I died?”
Lincoln smiled sadly and leaned on her hand. “No. Dying is what returns all those parts together. That’s the idea, anyway. Your soul splinters when you’re born, the first and greatest trauma of your life, and then you spend your entire time on earth solving the puzzle of you. It’s probably because you haven’t died yet that you’re experiencing these things.”
Joe pulled his knees to his chest. “How do I get home?”
“Well,” Lincoln said. “Tell me more a bout that girl you saw.”
“The one when I saw the Rider?” Joe asked.
Lincoln nodded. Joe opened his mouth to explain, thinking of her. He remembered that her dark hair swung in waves, just beneath her chin, and she had yellow-checked vans. And the crayons…
Joe reached into his pocket and found them, still there. He took them out. He turned them over in his hands, noting that they were the same length as the cigarette he’d smoked behind school a few months ago, when Dorothy offered him one, and he’d hated the way it felt, billowing into his lungs and burning them. He thought about countless hours as a child when he’d filled pages upon pages with the scribbles of his mind, filled them with colors and lines, sometimes scenes he imagined from his favorite books, sometimes just exploring how the wax layered itself.
He looked up at Lincoln, but she was far away.
“Lincoln!” he called.
But he was slip-slip-slipping away. He threw his hand forward, thinking if he could grab her hand or grab a table, he could pull himself back, but he was holding the crayons in his hand, and one of them slipped through his fingers. A surge of panic coursed through his body – he didn’t want to lose what she’d given him. It seemed important, somehow, but now the orange crayon was gone, and he was left with the red one and the gray one, and he was hurtling through a tunnel of stars and a valley of darkness and he saw the ropes of lightning spiraling out of the void, looking for him.
LINCOLN’S DINER: Rosemary
Rosemary’s stomach churned when they walked into Lincoln’s. Seeing a group of strangers milling around in dark clothing and talking in hushed voices was too familiar.
But Bill was watching her like a hawk, so she straightened her shoulders and walked over to the bar to set down the banana bread that Agnes had made.
The bar was already crowded with food. Rosemary recognized a few pie plates and cake stands native to Lincoln’s, and as she set down the banana bread, he came out with two huge cookie sheets of crispy potato wedges and set them on the other end, by the dinner rolls.
Everything else looked homemade. There was no end to Pyrex and Tupperware, most of it open. Only half of it looked appetizing, if that. Rosemary uncovered the banana bread and placed the foil beneath the pan, then turned to survey the diner.
After navigating a dozen terrible social situations at school all day, what was one more?
She found who she was looking for almost immediately – Russell. He was talking to a woman in a pantsuit and mutilating a dinner roll.
“Sheriff Granger,” Russell said. “Hi.”
Rosemary turned away and started mindlessly rearranging the desserts. She’d seen lots of people do that at her mother’s wake.
“Hi,” the woman said. “Um… listen, I never found Joe’s glasses. I’m sorry. Normally I wouldn’t bring it up here but you seemed awfully worried about it.”
Rosemary’s heart began beating in protest.
His glasses. She reached into her pocket and wrapped her fingers around them. Without thinking, she took them out and looked at them – a million times she must’ve done this, checking to see if they were really physical, tangible, if she could really touch them. They always had been and still were.
Hurriedly, Rosemary stuffed them back in her pocket and glanced over her shoulder. The sheriff had put her hand on Russell’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Russell. About the glasses and your loss.”
Russell nodded. “Thank you.”
Rosemary bit her lip and eased away from the bar, over to a corner booth. She looked around for Bill and Agnes and saw Agnes flittering around the room, giving people cups of ice and pointing out a cooler of drinks. Bill had been cornered by an old lady. Rosemary bit her lip and pressed closer to the window.
What do I do?
Whether or not Joe was still alive, she did have his glasses, and Russell deserved to have those back. But how did she explain where she’d gotten them?
Maybe she wouldn’t have to explain. Bill claimed that everyone in Houndstoothe knew the Blaires were witches – maybe Rosemary could chalk it up to some kind of magical coincidence. And since she was a Blaire, Russell would believe her.
Pat slid into the booth across the table. “Hi,” he said.
Rosemary blinked. “…Hey.”
“You know Joe?” Pat asked. He jerked his chin up, almost defiantly.
“Uh…” Rosemary bit her lip, then pointed to Agnes. “My aunt does. Did.”
Pat followed her finger and the crease in his forehead smoothed out. “Oh! I didn’t know she was your aunt. She’s cool. She helps me find good books at the library.”
Rosemary crossed her arms over her chest. “Were you and Joe close?”
Pat chewed on the inside of his cheek and squirmed. The year between them seemed like a long one; he squirmed and moved without any kind of self-consciousness, just the awareness that movement was a good cure for boredom or discomfort. Rosemary tried not to breathe when she thought people were watching her.
“Yeah,” Pat said finally. “He was my best friend.”
“I’m sorry,” Rosemary said, quietly.
Pat shrugged. “Everyone is.”
Rosemary cleared her throat, scanning the room for Russell and Bill. Russell had made his way to a corner booth on the opposite side of the diner. Bill was trapped by the old lady.
“What was he like?” Rosemary asked.
Pat shrugged. “Quiet. We liked all the same books. And he was starting to get into pencils.”
Rosemary nodded, glancing at Bill again.
“Is your family really paranormal?” Pat asked.
“Uh….” Rosemary winced. “Paranormal?”
“Yeah. I know a lot of people say your family can do magic and stuff, but what they really mean is paranormal.”
Rosemary cleared her throat again. “Why the distinction?”
“Because it’s not like your eyes glow when you do things – there’s no glitter when you make weird things happen.” Pat paused. “Right?”
Rosemary snorted. “No. There’s no glitter.”
Pat nodded and looked at his hands.
Rosemary tried to think of something else to say – though she hadn’t really thought about the possibility of making friends in Houndstoothe, she liked Pat. It was nice that he’d already accepted her – he wasn’t checking her first-day-of-school outfit against his own, wasn’t intimidated that she was in physics, and was nice enough to give Rosemary a good pencil. The age difference made it easier for her to relax. She didn’t feel like she had to pretend to be a grown-up around Pat.
“I like that pencil,” Rosemary said. “I used it in my other classes.”
Pat brightened. “Really?”
“Yeah. It’s like writing with butter.”
Pat beamed. “Yes. You get it.”
Rosemary laughed and looked down at the tabletop.
Pat was saying something to her, but his voice sounded far away. She looked up. She saw him… but he was fading and growing smaller.
“I have some other ones – let me show you, these ones are cool….”
“Pat?” she tried to say, but she was hurtling away from him. Her heard raced. “Pat?” But he couldn’t hear her – or if he could, she couldn’t hear him. She couldn’t even see him anymore.
The hurtling sensation stopped. Rosemary gripped the table. Still in the diner. But it was dark, and empty. The overhead lights were off. Just the green glow of the Lincoln’s Diner sign outside and the jukebox light filled the café floor. The combination of green and blue and white made it seem like the diner was in a space port somewhere far away.
Rosemary stood up cautiously. “Hello?”
Someone stood up from another booth, suddenly – how could she have missed someone sitting there? It was a woman, watching her intently.
Rosemary flinched and stared back.
“You must be the girl,” said the woman. She wore an apron, a multi-colored plaid shirt, and gold earrings. Her short red hair swung around her chin, and she looked Rosemary up and down. She put her hand on her hip. When she moved, jewelry clicked and jingled.
“You don’t have much time, I’ll bet,” she said. “I’m Lincoln McCallister. I preside in 1987.”
“…1987?” Rosemary gasped, looking around.
“Are you looking for Joe?”
Rosemary shrugged. “I just seem to find him a lot….”
“He mentioned,” Lincoln said.
“Was he here? Is he here?” Rosemary asked.
“He just… um. Left. I think you’ll be able to find him again. You might even be able to bring him home.”
“How?” Rosemary asked immediately. “How do I bring him home?”
“Keep the connection, and make home as bright as you can,” Lincoln said. “Don’t waste time… I don’t know how long the bubble will hold.”
“Oh dear….” Lincoln whispered. “There’s so much more I wanted to tell you. Ugh. Find the Lincoln of 2019, they should be able to help you.”
“But I – “ Rosemary began, and then she felt herself hurtling forward. Her stomach stirred and she tasted mint chocolate chip ice cream in the back of her throat. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips together. When she felt the stillness settle over, she opened her eyes.
Pencils and silverware were floating around her. Pat was staring, mouth open.
“Oh!” Rosemary gasped. The pencils and silverware clattered on the table. One of the pencils rolled off the table and Pat dived to get it, gaping at her.
“Paranormal,” he whispered.
Rosemary glanced around the diner, cheeks burning. Had someone seen? No one seemed to be watching her – but then she caught sight of Bill. He was staring at her over the old lady’s head.
Rosemary bit her lip and looked back at Pat. He raised his eyebrows, watching her.
You might be able to bring him home.
Rosemary took a deep breath. She couldn’t believe she was about to say the next thing.
“What if I told you I’ve been having dreams about Joe for a week, before I even heard about him. And they started the night before he died?” Rosemary asked.
Pat leaned on his elbows. His eyes were wide and bright – they reminded Rosemary of Bill’s, when hew as telling a story. Except Pat was listening.
Rosemary leaned across the table. “What if I told you that I might be able to bring him home?”
Pat chewed on the inside of his cheek.
“That’s crazy,” he said.
“I know,” Rosemary whispered. She glanced up. Bill was still watching her, but he didn’t seem to be able to get away from the old lady.
Rosemary bit her lip. “I’ll tell you everything, but if I’m right, he might have another chance. That doesn’t happen for everyone.”
Three pencils were clutched in Pat’s fingers. He let go of them, letting them roll across the table toward Rosemary. She got the impression that this was his version of a mic drop.
“I think I believe you,” he said.
Rosemary glanced at Bill and stood up. “Outside,” she said.
DR. BRUCE’S HOUSE: The Stewards
Bruce spent the entire day looking for the meteorite, with no luck – and he knew exactly what the problem was. It had imprinted. Which meant he was in big trouble.
He heard a ringing of bells in his mind and shook his head to clear them.
“Don’t ring so loud,” he grumbled.
Lois’s voice filled his mind. “Everyone spat up soul phlegm, just like I said,” she said. “I haven’t been able to find it.”
Bruce collapsed into his recliner and grabbed the popcorn bowl from that morning and shoved a handful of it into his mouth, then spat it out. It was Ellis’s popcorn bowl, so his soul phlegm was still crusted on the kernels.
“We have another problem,” he said, choking.
He could hear the bristle in Lois’s voice when she answered. “Another problem?”
“Well,” he said. He picked up a different bowl of popcorn, checking it for vomit, then grabbed another handful. “The town is awake. So… she is awake.”
“Ah. Yes, that could be a problem,” Lois sighed. “Have you heard from Ellis?”
“Not yet,” Bruce said. He looked down at the popcorn, sadly. He wasn’t sure if this was a feature of his make and model or if he’d been on earth too long, but stress-eating didn’t make him feel better.
“Maybe she’s not awake yet,” Lois said hopefully. “Maybe we can settle this all down before things get too bad.”
“She’s awake,” Bruce said. “I saw pawprints in the woods.”
“A fox?” Lois asked, still hopeful.
“No. They were the size of my head. It’s her. She’s up.”
“Fudge,” Lois snapped savagely. “Bruce – this wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Bruce sighed and set the popcorn down. “It was always going to happen again, Lois. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a Lincoln in the diner. It’s been thirty years since the last disturbance. It’s about time we had a breach.”
“What do we do?”
“Besides finding the meteorite, nothing. This is Lincoln’s responsibility.”
“What if he doesn’t know?” Lois said. “McCallister was the last one to actually do anything. No one else has dealt with anything like this since she retired.”
“He has everything he needs,” Bruce reminded her. “He’s just a little slow on the uptake.”
A shrill bell rang in Bruce’s mind again. Lois groaned – it must have rung in her head, too. Ellis’s voice echoed through their minds.
“I can’t find it,” he said. “Did you two find it?”
“No,” Lois said.
“That means it has already imprinted,” Bruce said. “That means someone did kidnap it and that someone is going to… hatch it. Ugh.”
“Who?!” Ellis demanded. “Who has it?!”
Bruce sighed and rubbed his face. Then he stopped.
“I think I know,” he said. “At least, I have an idea. Take a break, my dears.” He shook his head, clearing the bells and the voices of his colleagues, and then stood up and grabbed another handful of popcorn before he headed out the door.
LINCOLN’S DINER: Rosemary
“Even for a paranormal person, this is weird,” Pat said.
Rosemary sighed. “I know.”
Pat narrowed his eyes. “What if you’re just crazy?”
Wordlessly, Rosemary handed Pat the glasses. Pat took them and turned them over in his hands, pausing and examining the band-aid.
“Shit,” he said. “This is real. This is heavy.” He collapsed beside Rosemary. “How does he seem? When you see him?”
Rosemary took a deep breath. “Scared.”
“That sucks,” Pat mumbled.
Pat held the glasses up. “So who else knows?”
Pat looked over at her. “No one? You haven’t told the rest of your paranormal family?”
“I don’t think ‘paranormal’ is working,” Rosemary said. “Maybe think of a different word.”
“We’ve gotta tell somebody,” Pat said. “Maybe we can help him.”
“We?” Rosemary asked.
Pat looked over at her and blinked. His freckles popped in the late afternoon sun, and his sandy curls reminded Rosemary of a hobbit. “Well, yeah,” Pat said. “Joe is my friend. And so are you.”
Rosemary chewed on her lip and looked away. “I don’t know who to tell,” she said.
“Russell,” Pat said, immediately.
“What if I’m wrong?”
“What if you’re not?” Pat asked.
Rosemary shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t just come out and say it. Especially not here. Not at the wake.”
“We’ll leave him a note,” Pat said. He held up a pencil.
Rosemary sighed. “Fine. I guess… we should leave him the note and the glasses.”
“Rosemary,” Pat said.
She looked up at him. He lifted the corner of his mouth. “I believe you.”
LINCOLN’S DINER: Russell
A few people stopped by Russell’s booth to offer their condolences. Russell accepted them and kept eating; that was the easiest way to make them go away and the only thing he had the energy to do. After the Hofsteads came over hugged him for five minutes, he slipped out of his booth and went for seconds. When he came back, there was a folded piece of paper on the table and Joe’s glasses sitting on top of it.
Russell stared at it for a second, then glanced around the room. He didn’t see anyone that looked suspicious. He slid into the booth quickly, swiping the glasses off the tabletop and turning toward the window so no one else would see them.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he turned them over and opened the stems. The Star Wars band-aid. The stupid band-aid. Joe had accidentally set a stack of books on top his glasses one morning when he was running behind, and scatter-brained, and the stem cracked. Instead of taking them to get them fixed, he’d just patched it with this band-aid because he couldn’t find any tape.
Russell quickly pocketed the glasses and opened the piece of paper.
My name is Rosemary Blaire. A week ago, I had a dream about Joe and somehow… I got these glasses. I know it doesn’t make any sense. I know it sounds crazy. But I’ve been dreaming about him ever since and I think there might be a way to bring him back. If even a small part of you believes me, let’s meet at the corner of Catclaw and Hemlock Highway at 7. It’s close to my aunt’s house.
P.S. Russell, this is Pat. I believe her. I’ll help.
Russell’s heart pounded and blood roared in his hears. The tears in his eyes slipped down his cheeks. Slowly he crumpled the paper in his hand. It crackled like a little fire.
How could anyone toy with him like this, on the day they put Joe’s body in the ground?
But the glasses.
There’s no way, Russell thought.
But the glasses were in his pocket. The Star Wars band-aid was on the stem.
Russell turned to the window, and there Window was, curled up on a table outside. Her golden eyes opened to little slits, and her irises dilated as she focused on Russell.
Whispers from Russell’s childhood tickled his mind, about the Blaire’s ancestors being witches. About how cats were to be treated well. About how Lincolns were stalwart guardians of the town. He’d always known Houndstoothe was weird, but that was just the thing. He knew it was weird. He felt out of place. Everyone in Houndstoothe acted like the weird was normal, like it was special, like it was to be revered, while Russell looked for the man behind the curtain and everyone told him that the man didn’t exist.
Russell had been choking on smoke from the gaslighting his whole life, and what killed him was that Joe was part of it – Joe took it all in stride. Joe believed everything. Joe believed in fairy tales. Joe talked about Lincoln like he was Obi-Wan Kenobi.
All the while, Russell dreamed of going somewhere else, of joining the real world.
Somewhere he would always be “Russell” and never “Rusty.” Somewhere he could be “Russell,” not “Russell-and-Joe.”
But now that his brother had been ripped away from him, as much as he wanted to get out of Houndstoothe, he also wanted Joe back. He wanted to be “Russell-and-Joe” again.
What if this was real?
He’d seen Joe, clear as crystal, as real as Window. He’d heard Joe’s voice.
Russell bit his lip and looked back at Pat – what a dumb kid. A surge of resentment filled Russell’s stomach. Pat was always around Joe, and Russell didn’t get it. Pat was still basically a little kid, and Joe treated him like a best friend. When Russell asked about it, Joe always said, “He is my friend, Russell.”
Pat was leaning out of the booth, waiting for Russell to see him. Russell felt instantly guilty when he saw Pat’s face.
There was a girl with Pat – the new girl that Russell had seen with Agnes Blaire the day he came in. The day they found out Joe was dead. She was there with Pat, watching Russell.
Pat raised his eyebrows and held up a thumbs up, his mouth turned down in a questioning expression.
Russell bit his lip, glancing at the girl again. Rosemary. She just watched, her eyebrows barely knitted together in a micro-frown.
Are you in? Pat mouthed.
Russell chewed on his tongue for a moment, using it to focus his mind, to keep the tears in check. He remembered the strange feeling that’d overcome him that morning. What if you could save him? And he thought of Zombie-Joe in all the dreams that’d haunted him the last few nights, shuffling toward Russell, cursed to eternal unrest because Russell gave up on him. Russell squeezed his eyes shut, then nodded.
Pat grinned and clumsily saluted, knocking the pencil behind his ear to the floor. Russell sat back in his booth, heart pounding. He read over the note again, then put his hand in his pocket and ran his finger along the frames of Joe’s glasses.
EXACT LOCATION UNKNOWN – HOUNDSTOOTHEISH: Joe
The void was soft and malleable and there was no gravity there. Joe breathed deep the air, and in it he smelled rain, and grass. He tasted something harsh, and bitter – it reminded him of alcohol. Almost tasteless, but it made him feel like he’d just tasted distilled fire.
He didn’t know whether his eyes were closed or open – he only saw darkness.
Out of the darkness came the strikes, flashes, and strokes. White and blue fire channeled into streams of energy.
His sense of time was gone.
For a while, he didn’t mind. Time wasn’t important. Even getting home wasn’t important. The flashes weren’t just some soulless element. They were curious about him, they wanted to touch him, and know his thoughts, hear the things that made him Joe.
The flashes of light, the white and blue fire, the strikes – these had come to keep him company. They knew that darkness was troubling, to some. They had known so many, in the eons.
And then the snap. The red. Joe could see it, he couldn’t say that it was dark, exactly – after all, it had a color – but when he saw it he felt that all the light around him dimmed, that this red snap was trying to take all their essence from them.
The way the light was moving, it looked like a curtain. Joe watched Psycho from the darkness of a hallway when his parents thought he was asleep. Ever since, he had been terrified to take a shower with the curtain closed. He could force himself to do it now, but for years he would just let water splatter all over the bathroom tiles.
He felt something horrible on the other side of that curtain. He knew it couldn’t get out without his help, and that it would trick him if it had to. He knew he had to stop it, at any cost, he knew it with a spiritual sense he did not yet understand.
But he was just a boy. Just a human. The red snap passed through him, taking a heartbeat, a breath, part of the spark that made up Joe, and a little piece of the red snap skipped the bubble and made it into linear time.
THE DARBY HOUSE: Russell
Russell slipped out through his window, and the cat followed him. He’d seen his father walk to Lillian’s room after dinner, and his stomach churned at the thought. He couldn’t imagine letting Clark back into their lives with any permanence. He couldn’t imagine the two of them, Clark and Lillian, fixing anything.
Window kept pace with him, trotting along beside him with her tail in the air, her eyes hollow little lamps in the darkness.
Russell immediately regretted leaving his jacket behind. He’d thrown on a t-shirt and a flannel of Joe’s, but it wasn’t summer anymore; even without at breeze, Russell felt himself trying to shrink closer to the warmth of the fabric, felt his skin prickling, and he started to shiver.
As he turned down Sycamore Street, it became something more than cold. All the streetlamps were dim. He could still see light glowing within their glass shells, but the glow didn’t even give off a halo. As he walked, he watched as all of them flickered and dissolved into perfect empty blackness.
He walked a little faster, and his teeth started chattering. He paused. Window was staring down Sycamore, unmoving. The hollow flicker of her pupils reminded Russell of the jawas in Star Wars.
“What are you doing?” Russell whispered. Slowly, her back arched and the ridge of fur along her spine stood up. Russell rubbed the back of his neck. “Come on, girl,” he whispered. “Ma’am. Let’s go.”
She opened her mouth and yowled. Her fangs were the brightest thing on the street, little slivers of pale gold.
Russell had heard cats yowl before, but this was different. Window seemed twice as big with her hackles raised and her mouth open. Her gaze was on something behind him.
Russell gulped and slowly turned, rationalizing the fear away. There’s probably a big dog over there or something, he thought.
But he didn’t see one. He didn’t see anything. Window paused her yowling for a moment. Russell could see his breath clouding up in front of him. All he could hear was his chattering teeth. And then, all at once, every animal in the neighborhood started to howl.
Russell flinched and shuffled backward. He’d never heard so many awful sounds at once in his whole life. Barking, howling, yowling, growling – he could even hear a goat somewhere, bleating madly. He didn’t even have time to think about how it was weird that there was a goat in the city.
“Window, let’s go,” he gasped. He stumbled backward and grabbed her from the ground. Her claws were all the way out and she struggled against him at first, but Russell held on tight and started running. “We’ll take Hawkins Avenue instead,” he gasped. “Shit!”
THE BLAIRE HOUSE: Rosemary
Rosemary stepped outside while Bill and Agnes argued over dinner. She knew their arguing should probably make her uncomfortable; after all, she’d watched arguing turn into divorce with Bill and Kat. It was different with Agnes, though, since she was Bill’s sister, and Rosemary had heard enough arguing to tell the fundamental difference between the two kinds. When Bill and Kat fought, it was laced with contempt and resentment. There was none of that when Bill and Agnes nipped at each other. They just sounded like kids. Kids that would murder to keep anything from happening to the other.
Too bad Mom and Dad didn’t stay in love long enough for me to have a little brother or sister, Rosemary thought.
She wrapped her cardigan around her ribs and hugged herself as she walked to the end of the lane. What if he doesn’t come?
But he would. If someone had slipped Rosemary a note saying they could talk to her dead mother, she wouldn’t have been able to resist. Besides, she’d seen the look on his face.
He believed her.
At least, he wanted to.
Pat said he wouldn’t be able to get out of dinner that night, but made Rosemary promise to set up a library meet-up with Russell, Pat, and herself the next day. Rosemary reluctantly promised to do her best.
As she headed down the sidewalk, a breezeful of flame-colored leaves danced across her path. She liked fall. Not as much as she liked winter, but this part of the season was nice, when the leaves were still warm and bright like a Crayola box and not brown and dead.
Another gust of wind rushed down the path, this one much colder. It went right through Rosemary and she shuddered. There was a strange smell in the breeze, of cold dirt and decay.
A chorus of raucous animal noises sounded suddenly, led by a blood-chilling howl. Rosemary stopped and turned in a circle. It sounded like it was coming from the right – the same way she’d turn to go to Lincoln’s.
She kept walking, keeping her pace fast, until she reached the end of the block. She stood under the streetlamp and waited, listening to the barking and bleating and yowling. After a few minutes, she saw Russell turn onto the main highway, at a jog. A cat was loping along beside him.
A dizziness came over her, and she swayed in place. She held out a hand, searching for the streetlamp to steady herself, but before she could center her weight in her feet, everything around her swirled together. Then it was gone.
She saw Joe in a dark place, surrounded by bolts of electric energy. The lightning that stayed. Then something red rushed at him, through him, and a surge of raw terror starting in her toes and traveling up to her throat ran through her.
“Are you okay?”
Rosemary could still only see dark. She smelled something cold and rotting in the air, and she heard a deep gravel-like noise. At first, she thought it was just a noise – a truck or something. But there was a rhythm to it. Something repetitive, something with intent.
A loud pop split the night air and Rosemary flinched back to reality – to her reality. Russell stood close to her – very close.
She stepped back instinctively. He’d been gripping her shoulder, keeping her from falling, but she managed to steady herself when he let go.
“I just saw him,” she whispered. God, I hope he believes me.
“Just now?” He sounded excited. He believed her.
Rosemary nodded and looked up at Russell. The world around her steadied. “Yeah,” she said.
The sound of animals crying was fading.
She tilted her head back to see Russell better – he and Joe were both several inches taller than her. She was surprised to see how different their eyes were.
Joe’s eyes were always wide. Full of wonder, full of fear. He wasn’t guarded. He was curious.
Russell’s were stony and fixed. He was curious too, but Rosemary could see the caution there. He was inquisitive, seeking answers, confirming suspicions – that was why he was here. Maybe he didn’t believe her – maybe he just wanted to get to the bottom of it, one way or the other.
Even in the dark, Rosemary could just see a pale blue rim around his irises – contacts.
Russell pulled the glasses out of his pocket, his fingers careful but tight around them.
“We need to talk,” he said.
Russell bit his lower lip – maybe he was nervous too. A high-pitched whistle split the air. Rosemary felt a whole shiver pass through her spine as goosebumps popped up on her arms. The streetlight above them abruptly went out.
“I think something’s here,” Rosemary said, hugging herself.
The cat with Russell yowled and curled into a lower-case N.
“Let’s get out of here,” Russell said. “Lincoln’s?”
“My aunt’s backyard is closer,” Rosemary said.
“Okay,” Russell said quickly.
The three of them practically galloped back to Agnes’s house, running from the feeling they all had.
No matter. Something had blown in and it wasn’t in a hurry.
A wolf’s howl split the night. Lonely, determined, warning. This is my town.
Still, the night stayed cold.
Another big THANK YOU to my patrons and readers. Your support means the world. As previously stated, the part of the unnamed window cat is played by our neighbor's cat, whose name I do not know. Like the window cat, she (honestly could be a he, I do not know) is very good at going into houses where she doesn't live. New cat characters will start appearing again next episode - for episodes four and five, Window just wouldn't go away. <3