But whatever Comtosook was to tourists, it was Eli's home. It had been, forever. He imagined it always would be. Of course, as one of the two full-time police officers in the town, he understood that what the tourists saw was an illusion. Eli had learned long ago that you can stare right at something and not see what lies beneath the surface.
He drove along Cemetery Road, his usual patrol haunt on nights such as this, when the moon was as beaded and yellow as a hawk's eye. Although the windows were rolled down, there wasn't much of a breeze; and Eli's short black hair was damp at the nape of his neck. Even Watson, his bloodhound, was panting in the seat beside him.
Old headstones listed like tired foot soldiers. In the left corner of the cemetery, near the beech tree, was Comtosook's oddest gravestone.
winnie sparks, it read. born 1835. died 1901. died 1911.
Legend had it that the irritable old woman's funeral procession had been en route to the cemetery when the horses reared and her coffin fell out of the wagon. As it popped open, Winnie sat up and climbed out, spitting mad. Ten years later when she died -- again -- her long-suffering husband hammered 150 nails to seal the lid of the coffin, just as a precaution.
Whether it was true or not didn't much matter to Eli. But the local teens seemed to think that Winnie's inability to stay dead was good enough reason to bring six-packs and pot to the cemetery. Eli unfolded his long body from the truck. "You coming?" he said to the dog, which flopped down on the seat in response. Shaking his head, Eli slipped through the cemetery until he reached Winnie's grave, where four kids too wasted to hear his footsteps were huddled around the blue-fingered flame of a Sterno burner.
"Boo," Eli said flatly.
"It's the cops!"
"Damn!" There was a scuffle of sneakers, the ping of bottles clinking together as the teens scrambled to get away. Eli could have had them at any moment, of course; he chose to let them off this time. He turned the beam of his flashlight onto the last of the retreating figures, then swung it down toward the mess. They left behind a faint cloud of sweet smoke and two perfectly good unopened bottles of Rolling Rock that Eli could make use of when he went off duty.
Bending down, he pulled a dandelion from the base of Winnie's headstone. As if the motion had dislodged it, a word rolled into his mind: chibaiak...ghosts. His grandmother's language, which burned on Eli's tongue like a peppermint. "No such thing," he said aloud, and walked back to the car to see what else this night might hold in store.
Shelby Wakeman had awakened exhausted after a full day's sleep. She'd been having that dream again, the one where Ethan was standing beside her in an airport, and then she turned around to find that he'd disappeared. Frantic, she'd run from terminal to terminal looking for him, until at last she flew out a door onto the tarmac and found her nine-year-old standing in the path of an incoming jet.
It terrified her, no matter how often Shelby told herself that this would never happen -- she'd never be in an airport with Ethan in the middle of the day, much less lose sight of him. But what frightened her most was that image of her son standing with his arms outstretched, his buttermilk face lifted up to the sun.
"Earth to Mom...hello?"
"Sorry." Shelby smiled. "Just daydreaming."
Ethan finished rinsing his plate and setting it into the dishwasher. "Do you think it's still daydreaming if you do it at night?" Before she could answer, he grabbed his skateboard, as much an appendage as any of his limbs. "Meet you out there?"
She nodded, and watched Ethan explode into the front yard. No matter how many times she told him to be quiet -- at 4 a.m., most people were asleep, not racing around on skateboards -- Ethan usually forgot, and Shelby usually didn't have the heart to remind him.
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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