Rough Draft is done… Grammar errors checked and corrected(for the most part). Here is a three chapter sample for ya. 🙂
(If you’d like the sample in .pdf or something, let me know.)
Also, if you know how to contact the artist that made the following image, let me know! I want to talk to them about permission to use this as cover art for the ebook! (I have had no luck, though they are on deviantart)
“Morgan! Come on!”
“Comin’, gawd!” Morgan hollered out the window.
She took one more look in the mirror at the small jade green eyes set in a round, freckle dusted face that looked back.
No makeup to sweat off today, she thought.
She grabbed her sling backpack, her companion throughout high school. It held the necessities for the day, a large, plain blue colored towel, some sunblock, another pair of jean shorts and a gray tank top. She opened the door to her room and hurried out of the house.
“I don’t know what takes you so long, girl. Ain’t like you ever put make up on,” said Cassandra, her light brown skin crinkling into a smile that reached her almond shaped brown eyes as Morgan hopped into the passenger seat of the old beat up Ford Escort.
Morgan stuck her tongue out at Cassandra. They had been friends since elementary school, and Cassandra could be relied on to keep her best friend’s sense of propriety in check.
The windows were open on the humid July morning. The air was slightly heavy, but the bright sun and playful clouds that scudded across the sky suggested the day had promise. They turned onto the road to the state forest.
“You gonna drive the boys crazy today, Cass?” Morgan asked, putting her hand out the window to ride the air.
Cassandra rolled her eyes and blew her bangs up with an exasperated blow. “These boys in this podunk county got nothin’ for us. Bunch of damn rednecks gonna be out there this mornin’, you know that. I got no time for them.” She flicked a glance at Morgan.
Morgan’s curly, auburn hair tossed in the wind. “I know, but they’re fun to mess with, aren’t they?” she laughed.
Cassandra nodded and quirked a smile. They came to the little dirt road into the park where several pick-ups were already in place, taking up the tiny parking area that led to the nature trails deeper into the woods. She pulled the car behind a familiar Ford Ranger and the girls looked at each other.
“Guess somebody ain’t getting out without a fight,” Cassandra quipped.
Morgan laughed. “Come on. Stevie and Ray know us. They’ll either come find us or they’ll push the car out of the way.”
Morgan grabbed her pack out of the car and the two of them set off down the trail.
The trees seem happy to see us, Morgan thought.
She patted an old oak tree as they meandered down the path. This place was more home than her house in some ways, these woods as familiar as her bedroom. The sun trickled down through the dense leaves, seeming to almost enhance the humidity as they followed the path that wound along the top of the hill overlooking the river. As they moved deeper down the trail, country music and laughter floated on the breeze.
“Sounds like they started early,” Cassandra said as the light played across her dark features and reflected off her dark, lustrous hair.
“Knowin’ them, they prolly didn’t start a thing. Those boys are fishin’ if they’re breathin’ on a mornin’ like this,” Morgan replied.
Cassandra glanced at Morgan and gestured to the river as she said, “Prolly cold.”
Morgan just smiled as they came to the end of the trees and the short dirt “beach” that surrounded the old tree and the rope that overhung the water. The clear water swirled slowly and invitingly before them, the sun playing across its surface. A fish disturbed the surface briefly, casting a slow ripple toward them.
Morgan shrugged out of her green t-shirt and jean shorts, her light blue bikini revealed underneath. Cassandra took Morgan’s pack and put it near the old bench nearby, putting her own clothes inside. She walked over to the edge of the water.
“You wanna wait or you want to take a swing out there?” she asked.
Morgan looked at the athletic girl in the black swimsuit. “Why don’t you tell me if it’s cold or not?” she said, walking up behind her.
Cassandra whirled around and squawked, “Morgan, don’t you-”
Morgan laughed and pushed her in with a splash.
Cassandra fell into the water, spluttering in mock rage as Morgan climbed the tree to get the rope.
“Get down here so I can drown you, ya squirrel!” Cassandra yelled.
Morgan laughed, and pulled the rope up to herself. She wiggled back down, watching Cassandra carefully to see if she was plotting revenge, but Cassandra just looked at her and swam downstream a few yards.
Morgan backed up the beach, rope in hand. She grabbed as high as she could and jumped, letting the rope carry her out and over the river. She let go and dropped into the water with a mighty splash.
She came out of the water, flipping her hair to get some of the water out. She looked around, treading water. Cassandra wasn’t far away.
“Looks like we got company,” she called to Morgan.
Morgan slowly spun and looked at the beach. No one was standing there, so she swung back and looked quizzically at Cassandra.
“Other side,” Cassandra said.
Morgan looked at the other bank. The river was only fifty feet across, and she was out in the middle. She looked over and saw what looked like a wolf sitting on the bank.
“Is that a coyote or somethin’?” asked Cassandra.
“No,” murmured Morgan. “It’s probably somebody’s dog. Look at the eyes.”
The blue eyes regarded her attentively, as if it had known her for years. Its coat was sleek and its ears were perked toward her. What on earth? Morgan thought as she looked at the animal.
A noise from the nearby woods made them turn. “Mornin’ ladies. How’s the water?” called Jacob, an acquaintance from school. His shirtless, muscled form was the body of a football player, his gray swim trunks hung to his knees. The blond girlfriend with the vacuous smile and impressive chest hung on his arm, as if an expected accessory.
Morgan turned back to look at the other bank, but the animal was gone.
“Nope. I heard about some coyotes in the area awhile back, but nothin about wolves or anything,” said one of the boys.
Morgan was wrapped in her towel, her hair drying in the heat of the day. Cassandra had gone off to another spot down the trail, and there were several people near the swing now. It was a nice day for the now graduated seniors to come to the park and wash away the concerns of the world.
“Maybe it was one of those… what do you call them? Huskies or something?” said another.
Morgan almost regretted bringing it up to Jacob in the first place. Jacob’s popularity was matched by his mouth, and he had made sure to mention the “little girls scared of a wolf in the woods” to the next several people that showed up.
Jacob wasn’t much, as people went, but he was the ‘top dog’ in the athletics of the small community. He played baseball and football, and drew followers like flies. His attendance was guaranteed, as was the fact he’d dominate most of the attention while ignoring those fawning over him. He was splashing at the girl that came with him at the moment.
Morgan thought back over the past year. The ups and downs of a small town. The social dramas that played out were offset by the closeness of everyone knowing each other by name. The graduation a month earlier from the local high school had been short, with only a few over a hundred diplomas being handed out.
Morgan pulled her shirt back on over her swimsuit, took a swig from her drink, and headed up the path in search of Cassandra.
She crossed one of the sturdy little bridges that marked the woods over gullies and creeks that fed their little river. At the end of the bridge was the old birch tree with all the initials carved into it. She smiled as she saw an older one. “J.L. + M. J.” Morgan Johnson sighed and chuckled to herself. My, how people change, she thought.
She continued down the path. It wound beside the small river and was slightly overgrown here. Morgan felt energized by the surrounding flora. The sweet smell of honeysuckle in her nose, the way the moss squished under her toes. The webs that usually crossed the path were all torn out of the way by previous travelers.
She spotted a glint in the leaves, something shiny reflecting a stray sunbeam. Stupid people need to learn where the trash goes, she thought. She reached down and moved the leaves away, only to uncover what appeared to be a necklace.
It was an interesting piece of work, some mix of plastic and silver. Not long, just enough to be a choker. Probably right off the family dollar shelf, she snorted to herself. She put it into her backpack with the intention of either throwing it away or handing it to whoever started looking for a lost necklace.
She continued on, finding Cassandra casting a bobber into the water from a lawn chair. “You want a chair, Morgan?” one of the nearby boys asked, preparing to rise.
“Nah. They bitin’ today, Cass?”
Cassandra looked over at her. “Not yet, but we’ll see. Tired of swimming?”
Morgan shrugged. “Just a break.” She looked at the people arrayed on the shore, all of them her age, and plenty of Real Tree camo and boots in evidence. She wrinkled her nose as she saw one of the boys spit into a Coke can.
“God’s country, ain’t it?” said one of the boys, shifting his large frame in the folding chair.
“More like the land that time forgot,” sighed Cassandra.
The boy looked over at them, his small, close set eyes shining with false wonder. “What’re y’all complainin’ about? Y’all are headed off to college in the fall and away from us country hicks, aintcha?”
A petite blonde in jean cut-offs and red button down shirt pursed her lips and wrinkled her freckle-dusted nose. She muttered, “Ain’t nothin’ I want from the city.”
The boy looked at her and snorted. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, Suze. I hear you got a job at the grocery store as a cashier, didn’t you? When do ya start?”
Morgan smiled, looking away. These were the people she had known for as long as she could remember. Soft-spoken country boys and loud-mouthed country girls. Most would remain here all of their lives, living in the moment and dealing with life as it came.
Cassandra was heading to Richmond, she’d already chosen to go to a local college. Morgan had to meet with a recruiter from another college, but would probably join Cass at the one she had picked. Their interests were different, Cassandra aiming to become a model. Morgan had no interest in ‘showing off’ as she thought of it, but hadn’t really decided what she wanted to do. This was home. Not just the locality, not just the community and its people. She needed trees and moving water, the sound of crickets and frogs at dusk in the summer, changing seasons, and the stark landscape of winter experienced quiet enough to hear the snow settle in when it visited.
Morgan moved to stand by the water. She looked out over it and took a deep breath. Home, she thought.
Cassandra squawked, her bobber dropping below the water, then moving against the current. She wound the line in, then played it out, letting the fish tire before pulling it in. She started to wind it in, and Morgan moved up the edge of the water to give her space.
One of the boys reached for a net that laid beside his chair, when his own pole bent. “Hot damn!” he hollered.
He started to work his catch in, standing up to work it closer to the bank, when Suze’s rod bent.
“Lord have mercy!” she yelled, dropping the pole. She swooped a hand down, catching it before it got far, and started working her own catch.
Morgan tried to get out of the way, but every time she moved, someone’s pole bent and she had to move again. People were cursing at snarled lines, each other, and the fish that had decided to jump on eight people’s hooks at once.
Things quickly settled down, several fish escaping, but three nice spot were dropped in the nearby bucket of water along with a small trout, caught by none other than Cassandra.
When people settled back down, one of the boys called out to Morgan, “Hey, girl. Come over here, would ya? Seems like you draw fish like shit draws flies!” Several people guffawed.
Morgan just stuck her tongue out at the boy. Cassandra looked over at her.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many fish catch at the same time. Wish I’d known you’d draw ’em like that,” she murmured.
“I didn’t do nothin’. It’s all just a coincidence,” Morgan replied. “I think I’m gonna go have another swing. Don’t empty the river of fish would ya? It’d upset the balance.”
Cassandra looked at her curiously. “The balance? What are you talkin’ about?” she asked.
Morgan paused. “You know, I don’t know. Prolly just somethin’ I heard on TV or somethin’,” she said.
“You watchin’ that tree-huggin’ stuff when I’m not around or something? Next I hear you’ll be up at the reservation hoppin’ around a fire,” Cassandra joked.
A tanned boy with jet black hair and dark eyes bristled. “We don’t hop around fires, stupid,” he said.
“Aw, come on, Joe. Lighten up. I was just jokin’ and you know it,” Cassandra replied.
Joe grumbled for a moment and spit into his can.
“Come on with me, Cass,” Morgan said, putting her hand on Cassandra’s shoulder.
Cassandra sighed. “All right, all right. I’m comin’.” She stood up. “Y’all are welcome for the fish,” she said to Suze, handing over the rod.
Suze grunted dismissively. Joe looked over at them and said, “Y’all come on back if you want to catch more. We got a grill in the pickup, gonna cook ’em up in awhile. Y’all are welcome.”
Cassandra and Morgan looked at each other. “We’ll see. Thanks!” she said as they started off.
The two girls walked back down the path.
“You remember when you and Jacob…” started Cassandra as they came to the old birch.
“Oh hush. We were just kids. What about you and Joe?” replied Morgan.
Cassandra started to respond, when something moved at her foot. “SNAKE!” she breathed, freezing.
Morgan looked at the long black form inches from Cassandra’s foot. It seemed to be just as frozen as she was, the skin moving as it bunched and unbunched its form.
“Breathe, Cass. It’s probably more scared of you than you are of it,” she whispered.
“I can’t look, is it gone yet?” Cassandra whispered back.
“Cass. It’s just a black snake. It’s lookin’ for lunch. Just step back and it’ll go on,” Morgan said.
“It’s gonna bite me, Morgan. I had a dream about this!” Cassandra said.
Morgan shook her head. She grabbed a stick, breaking off a couple of branches to form a joint. She walked on light feet up to it placing the junction behind the head. Its body thrashed to get away and she moved the stick, the long form quickly disappearing into the woods.
“It’s gone, Cass,” she whispered.
Cassandra turned and embraced her tightly. “I HATE snakes,” she said.
Morgan disengaged from her. “It’s okay, now, though. Come on, let’s go swim with everybody,” she said.
Cassandra took a breath and they headed across the bridge.
“You girls back to see me?” asked Jacob as they stepped from the treeline.
The girls looked at him. “Oh Jacob, of course! You’re the best thing around here for miles,” deadpanned Morgan.
Cassandra snorted. “Jacob, what are you doing after this? Nobody has heard a thing about you and college and such,” she said.
Jacob shrugged. “Think I’m goin’ to go keep workin’ with my old man. He’s doin’ pretty good with the floorin’ business,” he replied.
The blonde haired girl in a short sundress stalked up and jumped on Jacob’s back. “Carry me!” she laughed. He laughed and started off down the trail.
Cassandra turned to Morgan. “How long before she’s pregnant?” she asked quietly with a raised eyebrow.
Morgan laughed. They pulled off their t-shirts again and got in line for the swing.
“Lord, am I tired!” Cassandra exclaimed.
Morgan turned as she toweled off. She looked at Cassandra. “Well, you want to eat some fish?” Morgan asked.
“Nah. I’m feelin’ some subs or somethin’. Besides, you’re startin’ to turn red,” Cassandra replied.
“Crap! I forgot to put on sunblock!” said Morgan.
“No help for it now. Come on, let’s get out of here,” said Cassandra, handing Morgan her shirt.
They started up the path. Morgan was tired and wet, but happy. As they approached the last bridge they stopped and looked around.
“You gonna miss comin’ out here?” asked Cassandra.
“Yeah,” replied Morgan. She put her hand on an old oak and thought, Take care old fella.
Cassandra turned to look at her. Morgan’s hair caught in a brief breeze as a few small white butterflies flew around her.
“Okay, nature girl. Come on,” she said.
Morgan opened her eyes, feeling revitalized. She smiled at her friend. Together, they set off up the path and over the bridge. The boards creaked as they crossed. They walked slowly in silence, lost in thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow.
A breeze brushed Morgan’s face. She looked around, feeling so many things. She was attached to this place, these woods. A creek trickled beneath them as cardinals and jays flew in the trees nearby.
“What a place. If I move from this county, I hope to find another one as close to the same as I can,” said Morgan.
Cassandra laughed. “I like it and all, but I can do without the damned snakes,” said Cassandra.
Morgan chuckled. They stopped at the middle of the bridge. “What on earth did snakes ever do to you?” Morgan asked.
Cassandra looked at her. “I’ve always been scared of ’em. My Momma always said they had the souls of demons, the devil being the serpent and all,” she said in a serious tone.
“You’ve never been religious, Cass. Who’re you kiddin’?” asked Morgan.
Cassandra leaned forward against the rail. “Nah, not since you’ve known me, I guess. When I was little, we used to go to church with my grandma and such, but when she died we just sorta gave it up.”
Morgan looked at her. “What do you think, Cass. Is there more to the world than what we see? Is there a God and a Devil? Or is this it?”
“I don’t know. Truth be told, I don’t know how much I’d even want to know if there was more to it than all this. Life’s complicated as it is, without somebody else messin’ with it,” Cassandra said. “What about you, Morgan? Oh, I know, all those books you read and shows you watch. Bet you think there’s a sparkly-assed vampire behind every tree waitin’ to sweep you off your feet.”
Morgan chuckled. “No, I don’t want any sparkly-assed vampires!” Morgan paused, then continued, “I don’t know, though. I mean, don’t you… feel things when you’re here?”
Cassandra looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Feel things? Yeah, like I need a shower.” she said.
“Nonono… Like, we’re being watched by the trees and animals. They know we’re here, you know?” Morgan said.
Cassandra shrugged. “Not really. You’re the one wantin’ to come out here and talk to the woods and all that,”, she chuckled, “ unless you’re meetin’ Jacob out here and not tellin’ nobody.”
Morgan squawked this time, “That fool is so full of himself. He thinks his ass really does sparkle, I bet!”
They both laughed. Morgan turned away from the railing, plucking a couple of honeysuckle flowers from a nearby tree. She handed one to Cassandra.
“A toast to friends, Cass,” she said, pulling the dew covered bit from the flower and putting it in her mouth, savoring the sweetness.
Cass pulled hers out, put it in her mouth, and looked over Morgan’s shoulder. “Your friend is back,” she said, motioning behind Morgan.
Morgan turned and looked. There, just up the hill was the animal from before, resting under a holly bush.
“Does it have a collar?” she said. “Maybe it’s one of those huskies and it’s lost.”
Cassandra looked and shook her head. “That ain’t no dog, girl. Let’s go.”
Morgan started to protest, but Cassandra had started walking.
“Cass! Wait up!” Morgan called.
They walked along in silence for awhile, eventually coming close enough to the car lot to smell fish being grilled and hear the others’ laughter.
“What’d you mean by that?” said Morgan, finally.
Cassandra shrugged. “It ain’t nobody’s dog and ain’t worth worryin’ about, right? You’d be the first to say we should leave it alone.”
Morgan nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. C’mon. Race me to the car?”
“I ain’t racin’ you, not in these woods anyway. You want a race, I’ll see you on the track,” Cassandra said. Cassandra had recently secured an athletic scholarship for placing second in the state women’s hundred meter hurdles. She was taking no chances.
They got to the lot. When they saw how full it was, Morgan started looking to see if they were stuck for the duration.
“Have a little faith, girlfriend,” said Cassandra as they got to her small car.
Morgan got in, the door squeaking as it closed with a thump. Cassandra put it in gear and snuck it between several other vehicles, making it almost to the road.
“You’ll never make it, there’s Josie’s car right in the way,” Morgan said, pointing to a new Elantra hanging half into the entrance.
“Girl never could drive,” Cassandra sniffed. “Hold on, Morgan.”
Morgan started to turn to look at her, but Cassandra had the car moving already. Morgan closed her eyes and felt the car rock violently. She heard and felt a bump, and then the tires were softly turning on the road.
“Told you I got skills,” murmured Cassandra.
Morgan laughed. “You sure you want to go into modelling? You can ‘mud’ with the best of them,” she said.
“Lord, no. You think I’d be caught dead at one of those things?” Cassandra said with a shudder.
They arrived and ordered subs from the local Subway. They paid and sat down in a booth by the door, Morgan sipping a coke.
“What’s that?” Cassandra asked.
“What’s what?” said Morgan, looking around.
Cassandra pointed at the pocket of Morgan’s shorts. A bit of the necklace hung out.
“I found it by the path earlier,” she said, gently pulling it out. “I figured it might be somebody’s or somethin’, so I figured I’d hold onto it ’til I get home.”
She held it between them so Cassandra could see it. As she looked at it, Morgan opened it and put it around her own neck.
“Little tight, ain’t it?” Cassandra said, “Never thought you were into silver chokers.”
“What do you think?” asked Morgan.
“Let me hook it for ya, and I’ll tell you,” she replied.
Morgan bent her neck down so that Cassandra could close the hasp. It went together with a peculiar click, and Morgan felt a little tingle.
“Did you feel that?” she asked, looking at Cassandra.
“Feel what?” Cassandra replied. “Damn, girl, looks good on ya!” she exclaimed.
Morgan reached up and touched the metal. It felt… different. She could barely feel it on her neck at all, but it definitely felt like metal links to her fingers.
She shrugged. “I’ll wear it around, maybe somebody will recognize it.”
Cassandra nodded. They finished their subs and headed out to the car.
“You comin’ in, Cass?” Morgan asked when they reached her house.
“Sure,” Cassandra said, “You got anything for that sunburn? I’ll help ya with it.”
“I’m not sure, we’ll have to look,” said Morgan. “The ‘rents won’t be home ’til later on, so unless I call mom, we’re on our own.”
They headed up to the house, Morgan opening the door. Cassandra had been here numerous times over their friendship. A picture of the two of them hung in the living room among the family pictures with the words ‘best friends’ stenciled on the border of the frame.
They headed to Morgan’s parents’ room where all the medicine was kept. Morgan’s mom was well known as the neighborhood’s major source for childhood first aid, but she wasn’t exactly known for her organizational skills.
They took out the ‘first aid bag’ from under the bed and started going through it.
“How does your mom find anything in this?” asked Cassandra.
They felt around amongst Dora and Spongebob band-aids for bottles of lotion. “Got it!” said Morgan, finally.
Cassandra followed her to the kitchen. Morgan turned her back to Cassandra and pulled her shirt over her head.
Cassandra paused. “Well, I guess I musta been wrong,” she said, puzzled.
“What do you mean?” Morgan asked.
“You’d think that, with your pale-ass skin you’d be red as a beet,” Cassandra replied.
“So it’s not bad, then?” said Morgan.
“Not bad? It ain’t there no more!” Cassandra exclaimed.
Morgan pulled her shirt the rest of the way off, covered only by her bikini top. She looked down at her chest. Her skin had some freckles, but it was its normal pale self. She shrugged, pulling her shirt back on.
“That’s good, I hate sunburns and always seem to get ’em,” she said.
Cassandra laughed. “You remember that cook-out at my house a few years ago? You were there, like twenty minutes with your parents,” she said.
Morgan nodded. “Yep. That day sucked.” She went over to the cabinet and got two glasses down. “I burned fast that day,” she murmured.
Cassandra paused, thinking. “Maybe you bein’ under the water helped your skin,” she said.
“Maybe,” Morgan said. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out the iced tea. She poured them both a glass.
“Then again, maybe a sparkly assed vampire cast a spell on me!” Morgan laughed.
Cassandra snorted and took a drink. They stood in the kitchen for a bit, sipping their drinks.
“When you going to decide about colleges?” Cassandra asked.
Morgan sighed. “I have one more appointment in a week with a recruiter from some out of state fancy-dancy school. I promised to hold off on any decisions ’til then,” Morgan said.
Cassandra looked at her with her head cocked. “Dontcha want to stay with me?” she asked in a little girl voice.
Morgan laughed. “Don’t you have to go home or something?” she asked.
The wolf padded quietly through the woods. Its ears twitched at the sound of the door to Morgan’s house closing. It walked up to the edge of the trees, watching the two have a brief embrace. With solemn eyes, it watched Cassandra get into her car, wave, and with a sputter, drive away.
Morgan stood on the front porch for a moment, looking around the neighborhood for a moment. She looked at the trees around the house, her eyes seeming to meet the wolf’s. The wolf stayed very still, barely breathing.
Morgan’s eyes traveled on. She gave out a sigh, turned and went back in the house.
The wolf settled its head on its paws and rested, eyes closed, listening carefully to the world around it.
Morgan looked up from the book she was reading at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. She pushed the curtain aside and saw the headlights of the silver LeSabre her dad had purchased. The horn honked, breaking the silence of the evening.
She went to the door, and her dad was standing out of the car, briefcase in hand, looking into the darkening woods.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, Dad?” she called.
“I thought I saw something, I think I scared it off, but wanted to be sure is all,” he replied, closing the car door and starting towards the house.
Morgan looked toward the woods and saw nothing. “Yeah, I doubt any raccoon or possum is going to stick around to deal with you,” she said.
Her dad chuckled. He stepped up the couple of steps to the porch and kissed her on the forehead as he passed to get into the house. She followed him in, and with a last glance toward the darkening sky, she closed the door.
Louis Johnson was aging well, his business suit fit him well and he wasn’t developing the noticeable paunch that tends to come with later middle age. He set down his briefcase and paused to clean his glasses.
“How was your day, hon?” he asked.
“It was good. The swimmin’ hole was kind of packed, but me and Cass had a good time,” she replied. “How about yours, Dad?”
He shrugged. “Aother day, another dollar, right? Same old office politics, same complaining people.”
She walked up and put a hand on his shoulder. “Poor old man. Maybe you should just retire and we’ll find you a nice nursing home with some pretty nurses.”
“No thanks, I plan on torturing your mom with having to change my depends, thank you very much,” They both laughed. He was a couple of decades from any real thought of retirement.
Louis had been working in management for a local company for ten years now, and was quite competent at his job. His patience and friendliness with even the most angry employee usually defused any situations that arose, and the people he supervised were not only competent themselves, but probably more loyal to him than to the company.
He picked up his briefcase. “Would you start some spaghetti for dinner? Your mom should be home in a few.”
“Sure thing,” she said, turning toward the kitchen cabinet and pulling out a pot.
He closed the door and she heard the shower start to run. She filled the pot halfway with water and set it on the burner of the stove. She added some salt to the water and then headed into the living room to grab the book she had been reading.
As she picked up the book, the front door opened and in stepped her mom.
Morgan stood and smiled. “Hi, Mom. How was your day?”
Her mom was still in her white labcoat from work. She was an LPN at a pediatrician’s office in the city, and it usually wore her down a bit.
“Oh, I’m fine. I just look forward to a nice, hot shower,” she started for the bedroom and paused. “Is your dad in the shower already?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Morgan said, heading back to the kitchen.
Morgan’s mom shook her head. “If I get a cold shower that man is going to pay.”
Morgan watched her go into the bedroom. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. Her mom, Cynthia, talked a good fight, but she would do anything in the world for Louis.
As Morgan waited for the water to come to a boil, she thought about her childhood in this house. Her parents had always been gently mocking towards each other, it was their way of showing they loved each other. They had always made her feel safe and secure, never particularly overbearing, and always encouraging her to do well in whatever she chose to pursue.
She got out a pan to cook the meat for the spaghetti and went to the refrigerator to get the meat. The door popped open for a second. Her mom came out and said, “I’ll cook the meat tonight, dear. I have to wait for your dad, anyway.”
Morgan nodded in thanks and sat down at the kitchen table. She put her book down and looked at her mom, changed into her “house clothes” of pajama pants and a tee shirt. Cynthia was a bit younger than her dad, but not by much. Neither one of them worried too much about appearances when at home. Her figure had held up well, over the years, her only real nod to vanity was the occasional coloring of her hair, which was a dark red at the moment.
“How was your day?” her mom asked.
“Me and Cass went to the swimmin’ hole with a bunch of other people from school. We had a good time,” she said, “even though I had to save Cass from a black snake.”
Her mom looked at her while she turned the mix of hamburger and sausage in the pan. “A snake? Did you kill it?”
Morgan shook her head. “No, it wasn’t really hurtin’ anyone, just scared Cass is all. It was on the trail and she almost stepped on it.”
Her mom shuddered. “I hate snakes, especially ones that sneak up on people like that.” Her mom turned back to stirring the meat. “Any cute boys out there?”
“Nope, just local boys. You’re not marryin’ me off that easy, mom.” Morgan said.
Morgan’s dad came out of the bedroom just then, in blue jeans and a blue tee shirt. His hair still looked slightly damp. “You don’t need to worry about boys right now anyway, Morgan. There’ll be plenty of them at college.”
Morgan stuck her tongue out at him.
“Maybe you should have kissed the snake, maybe it was a handsome prince,” he joked, sitting down at the table.
Cynthia and Morgan both said, “That’s gross!” Louis chuckled.
“Why don’t you get the pasta out and stop offering your relationship advice, Louis?” Cynthia said, winking at Morgan.
Louis got up and walked over to Cynthia. He gave her a quick kiss and then got out the spaghetti noodles. The water was bubbling happily nearby, so he opened the box and dumped the noodles in.
“How was your day, sweetheart?” Louis asked Cynthia.
Morgan watched them for a moment smiling internally. I hope I find a love like that someday.
“Oh, you know, honey. Kids snottin’ all over the place, school physicals, all that. Sharon is pregnant and needs me to cover for her next week when she goes to the obstetrician. I swear, what that girl is thinking staying with that useless fella.” Cynthia shook her head.
Louis smiled at her. “I’m sure she’s just trying to do what is right for her, babe.”
Cynthia stirred the pasta and looked at Morgan. “You had better not come tellin’ me you’re pregnant until after you get married.”
Morgan laughed. “I have no time for THAT, mom.”
Louis cleared his throat. “Have you decided on college yet, Morgan?” he asked, deftly changing the subject.
“No, not yet.” Morgan said. “I still have to meet with an advisor from that school that offered me the other scholarship.”
“Oh yeah? When is that?” Cynthia asked.
“Next week sometime,” Morgan said.
Cynthia nodded. “Well, you’ll need to make a decision pretty quick, then. Isn’t VCU still waiting to hear something final from you?”
“Yeah, but mom… It’s in the city and spread all over.” Morgan said.
Louis and Cynthia looked at each other. “Well, whatever you choose to do, we’ll support you,” Louis said.
Morgan nodded. “Yeah. Cass is going to VCU. She wants me to go there, too.”
“Honey, strain these noodles out for me,” Cynthia said to Louis.
Louis got out the colander and put it in the sink. He picked up the pot and poured it into the colander, running some cold water on the noodles as steam blew all around him. He dumped the noodles back into the pot and put it on the stove, turning off the burner. Cynthia grabbed the pot and moved it off the burner.
“It’s still hot, you know,” she said.
Louis kissed the top of her head. “Just keepin’ you on your toes, babe.”
Morgan took a bite of spaghetti, savoring the simple flavor of Prego and a hint of sausage.
Louis leaned back in his chair. “Where’d you get that necklace, Morgan? Is it new?”
Morgan set her fork down and put her fingers on the necklace. “I found it beside the trail today. I forgot that I even had it on.”
Cynthia squinted at it. “It looks cute on you, Morgan. I hope it doesn’t turn your neck green or something, it looks cheap.”
Morgan shrugged. “I don’t know, Cass said it looked good on me when I put it on at Subway. I think it’s some kind of steel with shiny plastic or something.”
Louis squinted as he looked at it. “It might be one of those new ones with the fiber optics I’ve seen around. Does it have a battery or anything?”
Morgan shook her head. “If it did, it wasn’t with it. I’ll probably throw it away or lose it,” she chuckled.
Cynthia looked at Louis. “She gets that from you. You remember when you lost my tennis bracelet?”
Louis sighed. “Yes, dear.”
Morgan laughed. This was an old wound that Cynthia brought up from time to time. The bracelet had been lost around the time that Morgan was born.
“Can you blame me, though? Morgan was so sick at the time, we were in a foreign country, I was kind of distracted,” Louis said.
“Do you have any idea how much it was worth? Especially with the charms. Eighteen years, Louis, and you have yet to replace it,” Cynthia said archly.
“I’ll work on that, dear,” Louis said.
Like she doesn’t have enough jewelry now. Morgan had seen all of the presents Louis had purchased since then, and knew their was a mint in jewelry in a lock box that Cynthia only wore upon request.
“So, what are you guys going to do while I’m at college? Going to party like it’s ninety-nine?” Morgan said to break the tension.
Louis stood and stacked the plates together, putting the forks on the top plate. He walked over to the dishwasher and stuck them in.
Cynthia said, “Nope. I suspect that things won’t change much in our routines.”
“Maybe we could ‘break in’ the kitchen table finally,” Louis said.
Morgan blushed. “DAD!”
Cynthia got up. “Dirty old man,” she said to him, kissing him on the cheek.
Morgan stepped outside, closing off the sound of her dad watching television. He insisted on watching the news for an hour every night, something that her mother abhorred. Her mother was in the shower, though, and would probably lay down on the couch and read when she came out.
Morgan breathed the humid night air. She sat down on the porch and watched the fireflies dance around the front yard. A bat flew over, grabbing one for a snack.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she looked up at the stars. Here in the country, they stood out as if someone had speckled the night sky with diamonds. She picked out Orion’s belt and the big and little dipper. There was only a sliver of a crescent moon out, but it was early and the faint light of the milky way didn’t really stand out.
Morgan had spent some of her youth thinking about astronomy and astrology. Anything to do with the stars, she had read at one point or another. She imagined herself reaching out and plucking one off the black sheet of the sky and holding it in her hand.
She snorted. Those little girl dreams of fairies and such needed to be put by the wayside. Magic was a nice idea and all, but college papers didn’t get written by wishful thinking or mumbled incantations.
She sighed. Growing up sucks.
Her fingers idly went to the necklace, twisting the strand in her fingertips. It didn’t feel like plastic or anything, but more like a pearl. If it was pearl, she knew better than to throw it away, although she had never heard of a “pearl coating” on a necklace.
Morgan stood up. The night was very warm, and the humidity was almost oppressive. Morgan stretched languidly, putting her hands behind her neck and felt the odd clasp of the necklace.
It felt like there was an intricacy to the clasp that she didn’t understand. She started to undo the clasp and stopped.
Her skin goosed up. She looked out into the darkness of the woods, straining her ears. She listened like that, waiting to hear the sounds of the woods tell her what was nearby.
“Whip-whippoorwill!” came a cry from above, making her start.
Morgan chuckled at herself. Some country girl you are, jumping at shadows and scared by a whippoorwill.
She took one more look around at the woods. Nothing stirred, the sounds of the frogs and cricket beginning to chirp from the nearby creek was all she heard.
She opened the front door and stepped inside. She paused and turned the knob on the deadbolt, locking the door.
The wolf watched the girl in the starlight. He hadn’t moved a muscle when the car horn had sounded, being familiar with such things, and knowing that any motion would draw Louis’ attention at the time.
The wolf had gotten up as the two had gone inside, and moved around to the back of the house. He had listened as Cynthia’s sporty sedan had driven up and how she had cursed at a bug as she got out and went inside the house as well. After he watched them have dinner, he moved out to the other side of the house away from the driveway to wait.
Now, the girl stood up from the porch and stretched. The wolf tensed, as it seemed like she might remove the necklace, and emitted an almost inaudible whine.
The girl tensed for a moment, and looked around. As her eyes came near him, he became very still. A whippoorwill called from a nearby tree, startling the girl.
The wolf waited. The girl looked around again, cocking her head, seeming to listen to the night. She turned and went back in the house, the deadbolt’s click loud in his ears.
The wolf trotted across the yard, a black shape moving in the black night, he was invisible. He sniffed at the cars and the driveway, moved to the woods nearby, and found a vantage point where he could see the driveway, the house, and the country road.
He laid his head down on his paws, and listened to the night. Occasionally a car would drive past, and he’d raise his head attentively until it passed, resting again when the taillights disappeared.
The moon had risen late, giving the barest hint of light. The wolf heard another car coming down the road, music thumping from its speakers.
The wolf picked up his head, watching the car move slowly down the road. It seemed to slow as it approached the driveway, and the wolf gave a low growl.
The car did not stop, passing the driveway. The wolf noted that the car was unusual, an older model, not new like the more common cars, or even as new as the dilapidated vehicles that sometimes traveled these back country roads. This one looked almost new, lights shining on the inside as if there was a light show to match the music.
The curved features of the car spoke of a time long since past. The motor throbbed, as if restrained.
The car continued up the road, accelerating with a roar as it passed him.
The wolf let out another growl, and rested his head back on his paws.
Morgan went into her room. She got out her sketchbook, and looked at the drawings. She had always enjoyed drawing fantastic landscapes and people, as if she was reaching out to memories that weren’t her own.
She knew that it would always be just a hobby. She enjoyed the drawing, and was better than most, but not good enough to do it professionally. She reached for her pencils and there was a knock on her door.
“Come in!” she called, closing her sketchbook and stuffing it between the mattress and box spring.
Cynthia walked in. She wrinkled her nose at the clothes on the floor near the laundry basket, but said nothing. She sat down beside Morgan and put her arm around her.
“Excited about school?” Cynthia asked.
Morgan paused, thinking. “I don’t know, mom. I guess,” she said.
Cynthia put an arm around her shoulders. “I know how confusing it can be, how scary sometimes,” she said.
Morgan smiled. “Thanks, mom. I think the hardest part will be going away from everything I have ever known, you know?”
“I know,” her mom replied. “But, you can always go to a college close to home. Have you decided on a major?”
“No, not yet. Not for sure, anyway,” Morgan said.
Cynthia smiled at her. “Are you leaning toward anything?”
Morgan stood up, pacing. “I just don’t know. The problem isn’t that I don’t know what I want to do, but that I want to do so many things. I hate to just pick one.”
Cynthia stood and put her hands on Morgan’s shoulders. “Take your time, sweetie. Life moves along at its own pace and I think you have time,” she looked her in the eyes, “Just remember, though, that not making a decision can lead to things being decided for you by life happening, ok?”
Morgan hugged Cynthia gently. She stepped back and said, “I know. I’ll settle on one after this meeting. VCU is sounding better all the time, and if nothing else, I can always transfer later if I need to, right?”
Cynthia rubbed her back. “That’s my girl.”
They stood in silence for a moment. Then Cynthia said, “Well, I’m going to go see if I can drag your dad to bed. You going to sleep soon?”
“Yeah, prolly so,” Morgan replied.
Cynthia stepped out the door. You can always depend on mom for these hallmark moments.
Morgan snorted at herself. She turned off the light and went to her window that overlooked the front yard. The sliver of moonlight cast barely visible shadows on the woods and yard. The slow moving headlights of a car passed by on the road out front, giving her a glimpse into the trees.
That couldn’t be…
She saw a canine form out near the road on the edge of the trees. The car passed on, and it was invisible again.
She chuckled to herself and got into bed.
The man looked into the mirror, the slow-swirling a signal that the scry was complete. He turned to his helper. “Ovid, any news?”
The misshapen little creature shook his head. “No, master. Not yet.”
The man walked away from the mirror, buttoning the cuffs on his dress shirt. He grabbed his suit coat and pulled it on. A cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He flipped it open with one hand, the other hand slicking back his moussed blond hair.
“What is it?” he said into the phone by way of greeting.
“I sensed nothing, master. It is as if she vanished,” came a rasping voice.
“The house hasn’t moved. Stay on it and keep tabs on her,” the man said into the phone.
“Your will, master,” came the voice.
The man put the phone back into his pocket. He grabbed the ebony cane from beside the door and prepared to leave.
Ovid’s tiny humanoid form trembled. “All is prepared, master.”
The man smiled. “Good. I’ll see you here next week, then, Ovid. Hopefully there will be nothing more to be concerned with.”
The man brushed invisible debris from the well muscled chest and arms, evident even through the suit. He raised the cane as if in salute to Ovid, and was gone with a thunderclap.
Ovid slowly lowered himself to the floor. The chain from his ankle clinked as he moved over to the bowl of water and his bed of straw. He picked up the bowl, large eyes closing as he drank deeply.
He laid down on the bed, the straw poking him through the fabric of his hand-sewn clothes.
He closed his eyes, imagining different places, finally settling on the image of Amberlin Tol and the streets he had grown up in. The memories of the place were not the happiest, but the beauty of the city calmed him, and he drifted into a deep, healing sleep.
Morgan woke the morning of her appointment to the smell of bacon frying. Shouldn’t they be at work? she wondered.
She eased herself out of bed, glancing out the window. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was a majestic blue. The leaves of the trees rustled with the breeze as if in greeting.
A day filled with promise.
She took a quick look in the mirror, her soft round face sprinkled with a light spray of freckles. Her jade green eyes peeked from behind her hair, tight auburn curls that bounced playfully as she shook her head.
She tossed on some jean shorts and a green tee shirt and opened her door, seeking out the heady aroma of bacon frying.
“Good morning, Morgan!” called Cynthia over her shoulder as Morgan entered the kitchen.
“What are you doing home, Mom?” asked Morgan.
Cynthia pulled the bacon from the greasy pan, still bubbling with heat. She placed the bacon on a plate with eggs and shredded hash browns and brought it over to the table, motioning for Morgan to sit.
“Well,” Cynthia began, grabbing her own plate with one hand and two cups with the other, “I took the day off to be with my daughter. Is that so wrong?” She winked at Morgan.
Morgan laughed, “Poor Mom, worried about your baby bird leaving the nest?”
Cynthia took a bite of a strip of bacon. She swallowed and said, “So what if I am?”
Morgan reached over and rubbed her mom’s back. “You know I’m not going to the moon, right? I won’t be far, no matter where I go to school.”
Cynthia picked up the carafe of orange juice that was on the table, and filled the two glasses. Pushing one to Morgan, she said, “True, but there is a difference between a phone call and being able to come find you for a hug.”
Morgan shook her head and took a bite of the scrambled egg. She savored the flavor of the egg and cheese and hint of pepper that seemed to resonate through her mind as part of all that was home.
Cynthia watched her for a moment, smiled gently, and said, “How about we go out and do something today before your appointment with that fella? Where did you say he was from?”
Morgan swallowed and scooped up some hash browns with her fork. “Some place in England or something. The University of Cambridge?”
Cynthia took a sip of orange juice. She watched her daughter put the hash brown in her mouth and wrinkle her nose briefly, and then grab the ketchup. “That sure is a long way away, what are you going to tell him?”
I haven’t even heard what he has to say, yet… geez. “Not sure yet, but I’ll listen to what he says. You know they are one of the top schools in the world, right?” Morgan said. She shook the squeeze bottle of ketchup and squirted a healthy amount onto the hash browns, and mixed them thoroughly.
Cynthia looked out the window. “I know, I looked them up. It’s funny, though. It’s like the place you were born is calling out to you or something.” She sighed, “I s’pose we’ll survive if you choose to go there, but I’m not going to claim to be excited about it.”
Morgan thought on that for a moment. She had been born in England, during a long visit there by her parents. She had been born prematurely, and had been sick for some time. Somehow, miraculously, she had gone from generally unwell to a model of health overnight, a story still discussed by her parents with wonder.
“I dunno, mom. I might have been born there, but this has always, will always, be home to me, ya know?” Morgan said around a mouthful of food.
Cynthia’s mouth twitched playfully. “If you go over there, we’ll have to see about getting you some lessons about talking with your mouth full,” she chided.
Morgan rolled her eyes. “Yes, mum. Anything you say, mum,” she said, badly mangling an English accent.
They both chuckled. Cynthia sighed and stood up, stretching. She patted Morgan’s shoulder. “Can’t have that, Morgan. If you lose your southern accent, your dad might disown us both.”
Morgan laughed. “Yeah, I’d need an English to Southern Country American translator to survive.”
Cynthia smiled and headed for her room. “Well, I’m going to get dressed. Hurry up and eat and get dressed. Don’t forget to put your dishes in the washer, ok?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Morgan replied, with a playful salute.
Morgan finished her food and scraped the remains into the trash. She cleared the table, giving the dishes a quick rinse under the faucet, and put them in the dishwasher.
She opened the back door, looking out into the day, checking the temperature. It seemed mild, but Virginia in July meant that it would be hot and humid by noon.
As she turned to go back inside, she thought she heard a sound from down in the woods, like a dog yipping. Could’ve been anything, she thought, going back inside and closing the door.
The wolf lapped at the water of the creek. There was still one car at the house, which would be the mother’s. The air this morning wasn’t stifling, and he enjoyed the bit of breeze coming across the cool water, ruffling his coat.
He looked up, sensing a change. He looked around, but saw nothing but woods in the morning. He turned his head, letting his sensitive ears and nose try to catch whatever may be causing the disturbance. Nothing.
Hear me… a voice whispered in his mind.
The wolf yipped, then growled quietly. Why do you come here, shade? He thought back, watching all around him with every sense on edge.
Shades were not to be trifled with. Errand-runners for the greater powers that were generally associated with darkness and evil, the wolf knew that unless he saw it coming, he was in danger.
Be not afraid, for I bear a message from the Bendith Y Mamau. Came the icy thought.
And what, prithee, do I owe the honor of such a message? the wolf returned, spotting a shadow of a tree that moved against the wind. He looked at it closely, barely able to make out the slightly visible darkness of the ethereal being.
They call upon you for a council. The shade whispered in his mind.
The wolf sniffed the air. And what of these? He asked looking pointedly up toward the house.
They will be safe enough until you return on the morrow, came the thought.
The wolf sighed, inwardly. Return to your master, shade. I shall arrive by the evening feast. Begone, for I travel.
The shade faded and was gone. With a look over his shoulder, the wolf set off at a lope, the trees a blur as he passed.
Morgan waved to her mother as she backed the car out of the driveway and turned to go west down the country road.
She had enjoyed her day spent with her mom. They had explored the local Wal-mart and Target, looking for deals to be had on cute shoes and outfits. Her mom had splurged, getting Morgan a green and white printed sundress and a pair of sandals that she had insisted Morgan try on.
Morgan chuckled at her mother’s comment, “You look like a lily ready to be given in love.”
that woman has the soul of a poet, she thought.
Turning west onto state route 360, she passed through the local stoplight that marked ‘town’ and continued on down the blacktop of the divided highway. The country had grown since she was a child, and boasted several small strip malls scattered seemingly at random, but it was still a sleepy community of farmers and people who traveled the half-hour to work in Richmond.
She maintained a reasonable speed, her mother’s car seeming almost disappointed as she punched the cruise control button. She had gotten a traffic ticket in the county once when she was sixteen, and while she had only gotten a warning, the constant community reminders by those she knew were more than enough to make her maintain a reasonable speed.
That’d be perfect, ol’ Freddy or Jimmy talkin’ to dad over mornin’ coffee at the gas station about my drivin’, she thought.
Morgan reflected on growing up in the country as she passed out of King William and into Hanover, over the little bridge and onto Broaddus’ Flats. The wide open farms around her seeming to droop with the oppressive heat and humidity of the late afternoon. She turned the AC up a notch and drove on.
She passed through the more substantial suburb of Mechanicsville, another sprawl of fast food outlets and strip malls. The Wal-mart she and her mother had visited slipping by on her right.
She drove up to Laburnum Avenue, turning right and driving past the racetrack. It was basically deserted, NASCAR having been and gone in the spring, not to return until the fall. Even so, the roar of the engines seemed to hover in the air over the area, like a ghost of past and future events.
She thought back to her one date with Jacob to a race at the short track years ago. The screaming of the engines preventing any real conversation, it was still a good time, but one she knew had taught her many things about herself. Jacob’s inept attempt to ‘put the moves’ on her after the race, causing her to get home late and angry had taught her much as well.
I ain’t nobody’s property but my own, she thought to herself, the personal mantra that had come from that time.
She shook her head, putting those thoughts aside. She turned left onto Boulevard, and headed through ‘the REAL city’ as she thought of it. Townhouses slid by as the car crawled from stoplight to stoplight, most of them empty, awaiting the influx of students for VCU in the fall.
She smiled as she caught sight of the fountain in Byrd park, a few older men on crates sitting around the concrete shored-pond with fishing poles. I wonder if they ever catch anything worth having, she thought.
She finally reached her destination, Maymont. She pulled into the gravel parking lot, selecting a space. The sounds of the goats and sheep at the petting zoo coming to her as she opened her door. The heat had eased in the latter part of the day, but the humidity still took her breath away.
She looked around for the guy from the university she was supposed to meet. She walked toward the beginning of the concreted path and saw a tall man with angular features and slicked back blonde hair. Well-dressed in a white suit pants and a pale blue short-sleeved collared shirt. The face sporting the Ray-Ban sunglasses was almost regal as it appeared to be waiting to come to life, bored and resting.
He turned to look at her, and his face split with a smile, white teeth shining in the bright sun. “You must be Morgan,” he said, taking off his sunglasses to reveal round, pale blue eyes. His bicep noticeably flexed as he moved his arm.
Sure is easy on the eyes, Morgan thought to herself, wonder if they grow ’em all like that in England…
She smiled at him and reached out her hand. “I sure am. You’re Simon, right?”
His large hand enveloped hers. Morgan had never considered herself ‘dainty’ or ‘petite’ by any means, but this man made her reconsider. He was easily six foot four and two-hundred-fifty pounds of well built man.
“Well, I’m glad you chose this as a place to meet, Morgan. Let’s go for a walk, shall we?” he said, smiling and offering his arm.
She walked up and placed her hand in the crook of his elbow with a little smile. “Let’s shall,” she said sweetly.
They walked around the petting zoo, avoiding the horde of children that seemed to be everywhere, bursting with unrestrained energy. They walked quietly, watching parents try to corral children as they tossed feed from a coin-operated machine to the chickens and goats in pens near the small building.
They passed a quarter-horse in a pasture, and Morgan said, “Handsome old fella, ain’t he?”
Simon nodded, glancing at the animal. “Do you like horses?”
Morgan shrugged. “I always thought they were beautiful animals, but I never rode one,” she chuckled. “I’d prolly fall off.”
Simon laughed. “You know, it’s funny how different the language we call English is from one place to another.”
Morgan raised an eyebrow and said, “You makin’ fun of how I talk?”
“Not at all…” Simon chuckled, then composed himself. “I ask for one favor, though.”
They paused at a tee intersection in the paths, in front of a small rock. They turned onto the left path, as a child ran up and jumped on the rock triumphantly. They shared a laugh as a mother called the child back to eat a popsicle purchased from a wheeled cart.
“You were sayin’”, Morgan said.
“Ah, yes. Would you do me one favor, Morgan?” asked Simon.
“Sure thing,” she said, guiding them down the path.
They stopped in front of the Ornithary, looking at the exotic species of birds. Simon turned to her and paused. He looked at her and said, “Would you say probably for me?”
“Prolly? Why?”, said Morgan, and then laughed. “I know, it’s just how we country folks tend to pronounce things.”
Simon laughed. “Thank goodness. I feared you may need to take a class to cure you of a speech impediment.”
Morgan’s smile stayed on her face as she thought, arrogant, aren’t we? Aloud, she said, “Well, I think I’ll be able to manage to ‘speak correctly enough to get by’, even at your school,” enunciating precisely for him.
Simon shook his head. “Come with me, I believe there are benches up the hill from here overlooking a waterfall. We could talk about Cambridge there.”
She allowed him to lead them on up the hill, passing the Maymont mansion and the trellised path that every local girl wished would be the spot she’d say her vows someday. They found a small bench down some steps, and sat at opposite ends. The waterfall was not overly loud here, but the breeze that came off of it was wonderful. They couldn’t see the fall itself from where they sat, but they could watch the water rush towards it before disappearing over the edge with a sound like a crescendo of distant thunder.
She turned to Simon, who seemed satisfied to sit and watch the water through his sunglasses. “So, tell me about the University of Cambridge. You mentioned that I was accepted, but why should I go to England for school?”
“England is the home you never knew, Morgan. Stonehenge is there, history stretching back to the Roman days,” Simon paused, examining her face for a reaction.
Morgan felt herself pale slightly. There’s no way he could know… could he?
“History is great and all, but I don’t know what you mean by it bein’ ‘home’. That’s about thirty miles east of here where all the trees know my name, thank you very much,” she said.
A cloud passed over Simon’s face but was gone as quickly as it arrived. “I simply mean that it is the land you, your entire country, it all originates from there.”
“Hmph,” said Morgan. “As I recall, mentioning history, that we had to fight like hell to become our own nation because of y’all and your kings and such.”
Simon chuckled. “You Americans and your notions. You would think that your rebe… ah.. ‘War of independence’ happened just recently.”
“I take it you thought the yearly fireworks on the fourth are just a sign of our quaint notions?” Morgan said in a voice that dripped honey.
Simon raised his hands. “I yield, Lady. I was not trying to offend you in any way.”
Morgan chuckled now. “It’s fine, I suspect anyone deserves to make a fool of themselves occasionally.”
Simon smiled, “Ah, yes. Well, let me try to lay this out for you another way, milady.”
Morgan wrinkled her nose, “Go ahead, but I’m just plain folks, so you can stop with the fancy talk.”
Simon took off his sunglasses and looked at the water rushing by. The sun had dropped behind the nearby mansion and the temperature dropped rapidly as they passed into shade.
He looked at her and leaned close to her for a moment, “I saw your transcript, and your photo, and I’d like to invite you to come visit one of our colleges.”
Morgan saw an earnest look in his eyes, that seemed to cover something else. She looked at him curiously, and said, “You? Like, you personally?”
Simon looked away. “Yes, I did. I saw your application, and it was apparent that it was one of many, but your earnest essay about your artwork got my attention. You have a passion, a power that would truly find a home there.”
Simon looked back at her again, his eyes hooded and soft. His eyes on hers, he murmured, “I would love to have such a beauty as yourself upon my arm there as well.”
Morgan’s brow furrowed. Her thoughts seemed to go in a hundred different directions at once. What had started as an innocent meeting about a possible college had decidedly become something else.
Decisively, Morgan stood up. “Maymont will be closing soon, and I’d like to have a look at the Oriental Garden before I go.”
Simon smiled and stood. “Then I shall accompany you, if you’ll allow it.”
Morgan sighed inwardly. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts, to extricate herself from this bizarre situation, but… He is a pretty thing…
She forced a smile. “All right, come on then,” she said, and turned to walk down the path.
The wolf followed the path, hoping there was a good reason for this interruption. He took his charge seriously, and walking away from the people he watched was not something he did lightly.
The path led to a clearing, which had a ring of small white mushrooms in a perfect circle in the center. The day wore on, and he hurried toward the ring, anxious to get back.
As he drew near, a flash of light burst in the center of the ring.
The wolf recoiled from it, surprised. He didn’t believe in coincidence and went into a crouch, baring his teeth and growling.
Before him hovered a wisp, a being of light and energy with life only long enough to complete one purpose. It pulsed suddenly, a female voice, ancient and full of wisdom emanating from it, “There is no meeting. You were not summoned. Betrayal is at hand. Return!”
The wisp vanished, dissipating into nothingness.
The wolf turned and ran, back the way he had come.
Morgan watched the koi meander through the water in the Oriental Garden. She always loved this place, coming here to think many times in her life, sometimes alone, sometimes with family or friends. It was a tranquil place, an escape.
She sighed. Her discomfort with Simon was growing, but she didn’t want to be impolite. She tried to find some of that tranquility, but it escaped her. She could feel him watching her, not far away.
Finally, she turned to him. “Listen, I appreciate the offer, really, but it’s a little weird. I think I’m going to need more time to think about it.”
Simon nodded, looking over her head. “Very well,” he said. “Come, I’ll escort you back to the parking lot,” he said, somewhat stiffly.
They walked together in silence, the sun slipping lower below the trees. Morgan examined herself internally, trying to see if she was taking the whole situation wrong, or was acting poorly. Finding nothing, she shrugged.
As they passed the horse again, it nickered to them, and then trotted off. Morgan found her voice and said, “It’s all just… too surreal.”
Simon walked on, “Why do you say that?” he asked.
Morgan thought about the best way to put it, finally saying, “Well, it’s like a fairy tale or something, a handsome guy shows up and asks to whisk you away to a foreign land for an adventure and…”
They reached the parking lot and Simon turned. He looked into her eyes and smiled. “What, you don’t like fairy tales?” he chided.
Morgan ran one hand through her curls and said, “It depends on the fairy tale. I don’t want to go through hell to get to heaven if I don’t have to, and that’s how most of those things turn out.”
She paused, deciding she had to leap one way or another. “I think I’m going to have to pass on this,” she said, finally.
Simon nodded with understanding. “That’s fine, my dear. If you ever need anything, you know how to contact me.”
Morgan smiled, relieved at his response. “I do. I’ll catch up with you in email. Good luck with your other prospects!” she said, forcing her legs to remain at an easy walk as she headed for the car.
Simon stood, watching her, still smiling. He gave an easy wave as she got into her mother’s car. The engine sprang to life and she adjusted the rear view mirror. The choker caught her eye for a moment as she did so, seeming to lightly gleam of its own accord.
She backed out of the parking place and turned out of the parking lot, passing the fountain and the now forgotten crates on the concrete shoreline as she headed for home.
Ovid came awake abruptly as the sound of his master arriving exploded into the room.
His master seemed to hesitate before the window, looking out at the solemn moon. The lights of life glistened in the dark below the window, but he seemed not to notice.
Ovid stood, the chain clinking as he stepped to the place his master wished him to stand.
“Ovid,” his master said quietly.
“Master?” Ovid replied.
His master turned around and fixed him with a baleful glare. He dropped the Ray-Ban sunglasses on the floor and deliberately and slowly crushed them under his foot.
“I thought you said that this would work, that her mind would be open to me,” Simon grated.
“It should have worked, master. It really should have,” Ovid’s voice trembled.
“It’s fine, Ovid,” Simon said calmly. He smiled at the wrinkled gnome. He walked towards him casually, “Things don’t always work out the best possible way, do they?”
Ovid relaxed. “The best laid plans sometimes go awry, master.”
Simon nodded, smiling. He stopped in front of Ovid, towering over him. He chuckled.
Ovid, not sure of what to do, smiled up at him.
Simon lashed out with his foot, catching Ovid in the face. Ovid, weighing only a dozen pounds and not much larger than a cat, sailed into the air, caught at the end of his chain, and smashed back to the hard stone floor.
Simon bent down, reached his hand out and laid it on the still form. He closed his eyes for a moment and Ovid’s chest heaved. The gnome coughed.
“No, Ovid, you do not get to die today.” Simon said, walking away. Ovid stood and limped back to his appointed spot.
Simon turned back to him with a smile. “Don’t worry, Ovid. I always have other plans in reserve.”
Ovid stood, stoically. A drop of blood dripped slowly from his ear.
Morgan turned off of Laburnum and headed down 360.
As she headed down the road, she thought, Well, mom will be relieved. She chuckled to herself.
She saw Wal-mart come up on the left, and decided spontaneously to stop. I’ll get mom and dad a nice card to let them know.
She got out of the car and walked inside, heading for the greeting card aisle and began to peruse the selection.
Even a wolf has limits to its endurance.
The wolf sat down before trying to cross the highway. It was a challenge to cross on foot under any circumstances, and he needed to rest and watch for the right moment. The last thing he needed was a group of hunters scouring the woods for the ‘dangerous wolf’.
His breathing calmed, he saw no traffic in sight. He dashed across to run back to the house. He prayed that he would get there and nothing would be amiss.
He had been set the charge of watching these people almost two decades ago, and he believed he had done well. Nothing that he hadn’t been able to run off had arrived to bother them, and he had watched as their child had grown.
Years spent, following her from a distance, just out of her sight but close enough to respond to any sign of distress, she had been his only charge.
The weakness was always the home, the place she rested. The family was a secondary concern, but necessary for her as a child, and so he watched them all.
The trees blurred as he sped through the woods, a well-designed and efficient killing machine. He could best anything in this world that threatened them, so long as he was there to keep it outside.
Morgan settled on a blank card and selected a pen. The card had a picture from an old television show of a female genie. Inside, she wrote, “Your wish is granted. I love you! -Morgan”.
She could almost see her mom’s face as she handed it to her.
Not having had dinner yet, Morgan went back to the deli section, selecting a pre-made turkey and swiss sandwich on a sub roll. She knew it wouldn’t be the best thing in the world, and probably a tad stale, but it would fill the void until she could get home and talk with her parents.
She headed up to the register. There weren’t many people in the store, compared to usual, but there was, as always, a line. She patiently waited her turn, making faces at a toddler who watched her with large eyes from the seat of a shopping cart.
Finally, it was her turn. She exchanged pleasantries with the cashier, paid for her things, and went back out to the parking lot, getting in the car.
She started it up, and she touched her neck where the choker sat. It was cool on her fingertips. She adjusted the mirror to look at it on her neck.
Must have been the sunlight earlier, she thought, seeing it sitting against her neck with no signs of doing anything unusual.
She pulled out of the lot, turned left, and passed back through Mechanicsville. She turned up the radio and began to eat her sandwich.
Cynthia smiled at Louis. “Should we get out of bed and wait for Morgan?” she asked.
Louis smiled back at her, tracing a finger along her bare shoulder. “No, let’s let her think she woke us up,” he said.
Cynthia yawned and rolled over, enjoying the feeling of his arm draping over her side, his other arm slipping under her pillow. “Might be no thinkin’ to it, hon.”
Louis mumbled, “Yeah.” He yawned and whispered, “I love you.”
Cynthia smiled, closing her eyes. “I love you, too.”
The wolf came along the road that led to the house. He could just see the driveway in the distance. Nothing seemed amiss, so he allowed himself to slow to a trot.
Suddenly, he saw brake lights as a car pulled out of the driveway. Its curved shape gleaming in the moonlight. With a roar, it took off down the road.
The wolf howled as an explosion ripped across the darkening sky.
(end of sample)
Please, let me know what you think, etc. I haven’t written any dustcover summary or anything yet, but I will soon.