Darci waved the embossed certificate under her sister’s nose. “Don’t you realize it’s a red-letter day? I’m not letting you mess this up.”
Grabbing at the cream-colored document, Kara tried to take it from Darci, and in the brief tug, the paper ripped in two.
“No!” Darci shouted.
Startled at her sister’s vehemence, Kara dropped her half, and Darci snatched it.
“I didn’t mean for it to tear.” Kara regretted that she’d reacted in anger. “But I still don’t like it.”
Darci breathed out slowly. She set the two torn halves on the coffee table, fetched the roll of clear tape, and knelt to patch the rift, all the time ignoring Kara. When she was done, she sat back on her heels and held the certificate up to inspect it.
“It’s still ruined, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m going. You can’t stop me.”
No, she couldn’t, Kara knew. “I just wish you would reconsider.”
“Never,” Darci said, underlining the word with a scowl.
“Ever since Mom died, you’ve been . . . ” Kara tried to put words to her observation. “It’s almost like you have a death wish.”
With her scowl deepening, Darci stood up. She hugged the patched paper, wrapping her arms tightly across it. “Mom would have wanted me to do this. She trusted me—she trusted both of us to do what we were meant to do. For me, this is it.”
Kara pushed away the memories of those last days of their mother’s life, the IV drip of pain medicine, the odor of bleach, the gaunt frame of the woman who’d brought them into the world. What was it Kara was meant to do? She still had no idea at twenty-five, but Darci was different. Three years younger, she burned with a mission.
And to be accepted into the Gloved Force was an achievement few people earned. Kara had been astonished when Darci broke the news. Her sister, a Glover. To learn those secrets . . .
“It’s dangerous.” Kara tried not to sound pathetic. “You’re so young.”
Darci’s face softened. “Life is dangerous. Every single day. You never know which hour will hold your last breath.” She moved across the room to sit next to Kara. Laying the certificate to one side, she picked up Kara’s hand and held it between her own. “If I can do this thing, and I know that I will, and I should die as a consequence, I’ll still be fulfilled.”
Kara saw the steeliness in her sister’s eyes. When did my kid sister grow up? “When do you leave?”
Darci smiled then, accepting Kara’s olive branch. “Monday.”
In five days.
“Let me give you something.” Kara brought back from her bedroom a maroon ring box. She ran a finger over the crushed velvet. “This was Mom’s.”
Darci opened the lid and sucked in a gasp. A slim gold band inlaid with three red sparks.
“Rubies,” Kara said. “‘One for each of us,’ she told me.”
Her sister removed the ring and held it to the light of a lamp, her eyes glistening.
“Mom said to give this to you when you were ready to fledge,” Kara said. “Go fly.”
Malcolm Treadwell stood on the steps outside Saint Dominic’s Church—or rather, what had been Saint Dominic’s—hands in his pockets, rehearsing the words he needed to say. The massive but rotting oak doors weren’t keeping anyone out, least of all the squatters who now occupied the vacant building. But as of Tuesday afternoon, Malcolm owned the property, a landmark structure on the promontory overlooking Keepers Bay.
“Showtime,” he said aloud, nodding at the three security men who waited at the bottom of the steps. With Malcolm in the lead, the four slipped between the doors into the former sanctuary. He had been warned what to expect, but the interior still startled him.
The grandeur of the soaring roof no longer held anyone spellbound. Sections had fallen away, leaving gaps open to the sky. At eye level, many of the pews in the nave had been removed, and floorboards buckled in places. If stained glass had decorated the tall, arched windows, it must have been taken out with the pews, leaving behind dimness from the plywood hammered into place to keep out the weather. The air reeked of campfire smoke overlaid with roasted meat, sweat, and something less welcome. God had left the space to the pigeons and bats—and the squatters, whose make-shift community filled the areas not directly beneath the collapsed roof.
No one had taken up residence in the apse, and Malcolm was glad for that. Not because of any feelings about its sacredness, but because he could stand at the pulpit—assuming it didn’t crumble under his modest weight—and address the throng. Striding purposefully toward the front of the church, he smiled at the few squatters who noticed him.
Malcolm bounded with a short leap into the altar area, and climbed the three steps to the pulpit. The wooden platform held him with only a few groans, sturdy enough that he could turn his attention to the people scattered below.
“Hello, folks,” he called. His words echoed against the far walls where his security men stood, giving him confidence. “I am Mr. Treadwell, the new owner of this property.” He paused, but no one responded. In fact, aside from several people who stopped what they were doing to listen, the rest of the quasi-residents ignored him.
“We have plans for this old church,” he continued. “It’s to be converted into condos.” Malcolm was proud of the blueprints he’d approved, if not ecstatic about the sizable sum the conversion would cost him. He was especially pleased at the name he had come up with: The Abbey at Dominic’s.
“The work on the structure will begin one month from today.” Again, he paused, waiting for someone, anyone to comment. “That means—”
He was interrupted by several shouts. “We aren’t leaving.” “You’ll have to drag us out.” “This is ours, not yours.”
Malcolm held up a hand for silence, and then plunged ahead, despite continued grumbling. “Ah, no, you see, this property really is mine now. But I can understand that this news is upsetting.” You are squatters, he wanted to say. You have no rights; you are trespassers.
The Realtor had laid out the history of the land, warning that Malcolm might need to bring in law enforcement to evict them. “They’ve set down roots, as odd as that sounds. I’ve heard children have been born there, and even grown up in the time the building has sat idle.”
But Malcolm was a bit of a hotspur at thirty-three. His vision for the old church would prevail, he vowed. In the pulpit, he took a deep breath. He’d always considered himself an unflappable sort, cool as a cucumber, was the saying. That was him.
A man roughly Malcolm’s age hopped into the apse and waited at the base of the pulpit. “Four against fifty; I know which side I’m betting on.” Except for their ages, Malcolm and the man appeared to have nothing in common. Worn, baggy jeans and a flannel shirt, a buzz cut, a broad, clean-shaven face, versus Malcolm in his tan khakis and button-down shirt, trimmed beard, and wavy hair.
Malcolm looked down at the man and then at the far wall, checking that his men were still in place. “You’re the leader here?”
“Maybe.” The man folded his arms. “I’d come down here if I were you. Talk face to face instead of lording it over us all like some rich bastard.” The man chuckled. “But I guess that’s what you are.”
With slow steps, Malcolm descended to the apse and faced the man, who he now realized stood a head taller than himself. He extended his hand. “I’m Malcolm Treadwell.”
“Joshua,” the man said, and surprised Malcolm by accepting the handshake.
“Was that a threat?” Malcolm said, eyeing Joshua now that they were on the same footing. “Before; what you said.”
“You can’t always get your way,” Joshua said. But his words held no malice.
“I call that lose-lose. Your community keeps living in squalor, and I have nothing to rehab.”
Joshua smiled. “We have our principles.”
Malcolm liked Joshua even though his gut advised caution. He didn’t know why exactly, but he trusted him. “So, what do we do? I’ve already spent a lot of money on this rat hole.”
“My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves,” Joshua quoted without hesitation.
“From Matthew, is it not?” Malcolm said. “Don’t ask me for the chapter and verse, but well said, in any case. This was once a house of prayer, but that was long ago.”
“Did your real estate agent tell you about the crypt?” Joshua pointed down at the floor of the apse. “Below us lie the remains of five priests, one of them Old Dominic himself.”
Malcolm mentally flipped through the historical details the Realtor had shared. He didn’t recall any mention of subterranean burial plots. A small graveyard lay adjacent to the church, but Malcolm fully intended to preserve that, even make a short exercise loop around it for those who lived in the condos.
“Dominic was Spanish, I believe,” Malcolm said. “I hardly think the saint would be entombed here, so far from his homeland.”
With a shrug, Joshua turned away. “Believe what you want to believe. But the fact that priests are buried here makes this place sacred even if it’s no longer used as a church.”
“Show me,” Malcolm demanded. His trust in Joshua had evaporated. The money changer accusation hadn’t worked to make him alter his plans, so the next tactic was to scare him with thoughts of vengeful spirits. That wouldn’t work either.
He followed Joshua through a narrow door alongside the apse and down a steep flight of steps. By the glow of Joshua’s flashlight and Malcolm’s slim phone, they entered a cramped passageway that smelled of moldering earth and that lay deeply silent.
“They’re here?” Malcolm asked. In this tiny space, the bones of those who had brought spiritual comfort to their flock?
“Yes, they’re all here,” Joshua said. “I’m going to switch off the light. You do the same.”
Malcolm’s men could provide no assistance if this were a trap. His hands became damp with the thought. “I think I’ve seen enough.”
Joshua turned to Malcolm. “If I wanted to hurt you, we would have stopped you upside before you’d gone fifty yards.” His flashlight blinked off.
Malcolm fumbled with his phone, almost dropping it, and also shut off its beam.
The sudden blackness made the space in which they stood shrink until Malcolm felt smothered. The wheezing sound he heard was himself. And just like that he was six years old, locked in his aunt’s closet, punishment for breaking her prized, blown-glass owl on purpose when she wouldn’t let him watch Heroes. It had been just as dark and stifling, at least to his childhood self.
You can’t always get your way, she’d yelled through closet door as he howled in rage.
“She hated me,” Malcolm said. “Because she had to babysit me while my mother worked.”
That was well before he’d raised himself up, far beyond his aunt’s meager station. Until he was finally a rich bastard lording it over them all.
Joshua flicked his flashlight on again. “Sometimes I see a faint glimmer in here, and I think it’s Old Dom himself. Doesn’t look like he’s going to show today. We can go back upside.”
As the two men climbed the steps to the main church floor, Malcolm revised the blueprints in his head. He stopped Joshua when they emerged from the doorway.
“The condos,” he said. “I’ve been thinking. Let’s talk about making sure everyone here has a unit, if they want one. We’ll figure out a way to deal with the rent.”
And deep in the crypt a glimmer of light—maybe Old Dominic and maybe not—flickered and fluttered in the earthy darkness.
Bethany opened the milk jug to douse her morning cereal and almost gagged. “Sour already?” She’d just bought the jug three days before. She poured the liquid down the sink, rinsed the plastic container and placed it in the recycling bin.
Now what? She couldn’t eat her frosted o’s dry. With a frown, she pulled the orange juice from the fridge and tipped the carton over the oats. That would have to do. She was already running late.
She sighed, realizing she’d have to drink her coffee black. Damn the grocery for not pulling expired product from the dairy case.
Opening the fridge once more to put the orange juice back, she stopped. The milk jug was on the top shelf again, just as if she hadn’t yet touched it. What the heck? And the eggs were leaking from their carton. When she opened the lid, she saw that eight out of the dozen had cracked.
Bethany shook her head as though to clear it. If this was a dream, it was remarkably vivid.
The clock in the kitchen read ten forty-five, and she blinked in puzzlement. How had two hours passed since she walked into the room to make herself breakfast? And if it was now two hours later than she thought, that meant she was very late for work. Mr. Davidson needed the last quarter’s numbers for his meeting with the board—exactly thirty minutes ago. She’d promised to have them on his desk when he walked in at nine thirty.
She shivered, picturing his grimace when he realized her report was missing. Her day would last well into the evening, as she tried to make amends.
Thumbing through her phone’s contacts, she looked in vain for Davidson’s number to text him her apologies. But although she ran through the list several times, it wasn’t there.
She dumped the cereal in the trash, unplugged the coffee maker, and grabbed a power bar. She would clean up the eggs later. There was a Starbucks on the way to the office. If the line wasn’t long, she might only be fifty minutes late to work.
At the school crossing several blocks from her apartment, Bethany groaned. Her lateness put her at the busiest time for the kindergarten start. A crossing guard held up traffic as the minutes ticked by, and Bethany’s blood pressure hit boiling.
“Just let me get to work!” she shouted to the world.
When the vehicles could finally move forward, Bethany honked at the driver ahead of her to hurry his pace. She turned the corner at Larch to reach the Starbucks and braked. The street looked different. Much different. Instead of a row of small retail businesses, the block was one large building, three stories high, with a shiny blue brick facade.
Maybe the Starbucks was on another street. She tried to remember, turning left, then right, on a meandering route in search of coffee. No Starbucks. No buildings that looked familiar. And, in fact, where was her office? When she reached Main and Oak, the correct intersection, the four corners held a gas station, a fast food restaurant, an empty lot, and a lawyer’s office.
Now completely confused, she pulled into the gas station and parked. She was thirty-one years old. This can’t be dementia.
Bethany walked into the small convenience store that was part of the gas station. When she asked for directions to Tanner Industries, the cashier gave her a blank look.
“I’ve never heard of it,” he said.
“But …” Bethany started. It should be right here, she almost said. Instead, she muttered to him, “I must have the address wrong.”
Back in her car, Bethany tried to come up with an explanation that made sense. She couldn’t go to the police—there had been no crime committed other than robbing her of her reality. She could go back home, assuming her home was still there. Or maybe to the ER, and tell them that something was wrong with her brain.
Her phone buzzed, making her jump. It was Mr. Davidson.
“Is everything okay?” he asked. “We were expecting you by now.”
Bethany ran through several responses, but they all seemed inadequate. “I’m so sorry, I’ve overslept,” she lied. “I’m on my way.” Another lie, more or less.
Her boss was quiet for a moment. “We’ll talk when you get here.”
With her head beginning to throb from the absurdity of her situation, Bethany started up her car and pulled out of the gas station. Where to? Back home to the sour milk and cracked eggs? Down the road to search for an office that seemed to have moved?
The ramp to the interstate was three blocks down. It beckoned to her. She again pictured Mr. Davidson’s face, his eyes narrowed at her, his mouth turned down. Truthfully, she’d never liked him—or the job.
Bethany flicked on her turn signal and slid onto the onramp. A new reality required a new approach to life. Somewhere out there, she might find the answer.
The full moon is my favorite lunar phase. Not because it helps me see better in the darkness—that’s never been a problem. It’s because moonlight infuses the evening with a special glow. It makes me swagger, and maybe take more chances than I should.
On this particular full moon, I am out and about by twelve-thirty; leggings, gray tunic, sensible shoes, my hair knotted atop my head. I think I look sleek like a cat without the whiskers or tail. Some accuse me of walking the streets, but that’s not why I’m out here. It’s hunger, really.
Nostalgia makes me head up Rush Avenue this night. I have memories of sweet drafts, sparkling with life. Ripe pickings, with little danger of getting caught. Part of me says to walk on by and follow my usual routine: Never the same place twice. With the full moon lighting the way, I am more visible than on other nights.
“Hey, girl,” a late stroller shouts from the other side of the deserted street. I ignore him. That is my first mistake. I’m not the only one dressed for inconspicuousness this night.
Another man materializes on my right. A big, muscular fellow, dressed in black.
“Why such a hurry?” he says, but softly, intently. He drifts closer to me, and during that action, I am aware that the late stroller has moved across the street toward me. I am flanked.
I should run—I could easily leave them behind—but the hunger emerges, as it always does when beating hearts are within range. I decide to see what happens if I stay. That is my second mistake.
“The place three doors up has a broken latch on a rear window,” I say. “Easy to enter and look around, if that’s why you’re out here.”
“Maybe,” the big guy says. “And maybe we’re here because we’re looking for someone like you.” His hand grabs my arm, and I can smell tobacco and sweat on him.
The late stroller takes my other arm, but his grip is lighter. He’s shorter, slimmer than the big guy. And his breath as he leans in tells me he’s been drinking. Maybe this duo isn’t out to make a quick buck on stolen goods.
“Nice night for a drive, Matt, don’t you think?” the late stroller says to the big guy as he leers at me. “Especially with the little lady here?”
Matt, the big guy, agrees by laughing, more of a guffaw, and grips my arm more tightly, as though I’ve made any move to get away.
Their car could be any parked along this quiet city block. I have a few seconds to decide on a plan, but I’m distracted by their closeness. Their pulses beat against my arms; even through the tunic’s sleeves I feel them and my hunger surfaces again.
I could sink my teeth into Matt’s hand, but his friend might be strong enough to pull me off.
I know how to avoid a third mistake. Moving swiftly, I bite deep, and the reaction is predictable. Matt yelps, letting go of me. I turn just as fast to the other man and draw blood.
“Fuck,” he cries. And I am free once more.
Just as predictable is their rage. No longer am I a target for their lust: They must hurt me because I have hurt them. But I am quick, and did I tell you that I think just as quickly?
Matt rushes me, but I sidestep, and his momentum barrels himself into his friend. They both go down, the friend striking his head on a concrete trash receptacle. He twitches a few times and lies still.
Pushing back to his feet, Matt readies for another assault and then slows. He stares at me. I nod. The venom in my bite has flushed through him.
“What are you?” he says, but the anger that drove him to action a moment ago has dissipated.
I smile. “Give me your hand.” Without hesitation, he complies, and I drink. I’ve had better, but this will do. He watches me, his eyes blinking languidly. “That’s enough for now,” I say. Placing my palm on his wound, the bite seals immediately.
“That was . . . nice,” he says.
“That’s what they all say.” I reach up and gently touch his cheek, his lips. “Sorry about your friend.”
He shakes his head. “Not really a friend. More of a jerk.” He seems unsure of what to do next. “Will I see you again?”
“I should think so,” I say. And then, because I’m fast, I’m gone before he sees where I’m headed, even under a full moon.
I botched it.
I am swimming back to the pier where I somersaulted off moments ago. Three people wait for me: Tunis, Vi, and Wally. They could have followed me into the water, but my stumble as I approached the pier’s edge must have spooked them. I was all arms and legs desperately searching for balance.
“Super bad,” Wally yells as I pull myself from the foaming breakers. “No points for you.”
Tunis and Vi giggle. They are sisters. Wally is my brother, who takes on the role of my tormentor whenever our parents are not present. Which is now. We are all four at the pier hoping to catch sight of the phosphorescence that will add a ghostly aura to the waters of the bay once the sky darkens.
But jumping off the pier comes first. Each turn into the water gets graded by a secret system that only Wally knows. My score almost never approaches his, just like my height is always three inches less, and my age is two years behind.
I walk back out on the wooden pier, listening to the creak of my weight on the planks, the slosh of the waves beneath me, and the call of the gulls overhead. It is the finest part of summer vacation, hanging out on the pier, waiting for the night.
“Eeew,” Vi says, pointing at my leg. “Eye worms.” Tunis does a fake scream and runs to the far edge of the pier.
I pluck off the tendrils clinging to my right leg. “It’s just a jellyfish.”
“Fish puke,” Wally corrects. “Only you would find it.”
Straightening back up, I adjust my suit and stride to the end of the pier. It’s thirty feet out—I’ve paced it. This time, as I near the edge, someone dashes past me and cannonballs into the water with a whoop.
Tunis and Vi applaud Wally’s sloppy but cool exit. “Five,” they say, each holding up a hand with five outstretched fingers.
I stick my tongue out. “Show off,” I shout at my brother.
When I look at the sisters, they take a step back. Have I scared them? They are new this year to our strand of Carolina beach.
“You go,” they say, almost in unison. They aren’t twins, but they could be, so alike they move and smile and talk. So immature at seven and eight to my eleven years.
“Follow me,” I command, and retreat several feet from the jump-off to get a running start. Rising on my toes, I pause to let the ocean breeze ruffle the edges of my still-damp hair, and I drink in its salty nip. I could stand here forever, but my audience is waiting.
“Ya – hoo,” I cry, sprinting. I make a perfect, magnificent arc and knife into the bay. When I surface, treading water in the deep drop-off, the sisters are not applauding. That was at least an eight, I think. Instead, they are pointing. At me. Wally is back on the beach, headed toward the pier.
A fat moon is rising at the edge of the world, where the sea ends. What do the girls want? Then I look at the water, the swells lifting me gently in the fast-approaching darkness. I am engulfed in a glowing blue—not only the water that surrounds me, but my hair, my skin, is tinged with an otherworldly color.
Wally has walked to the edge of the pier and stands with Vi and Tunis. They all stare at me.
“She’s queen of the blues,” my brother finally says, laughing, and with another whoop, joins me in the water.
I savor the title. It’s the closest thing to a compliment he’s given me in the last two weeks.
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