Into the end of summer, of childhood. Of life.
There the world was alive with sound, water and insects and small night creatures. The light came in thinning ribbons through the canopy of tupelo and cypress with its dripping moss. Here magnolia blossoms grew fat with a perfume high and sweet. The way to the clearing was second nature to her. This meeting place, this secret place, was well tended, guarded, and loved.
As the first to arrive, she took old twigs and stubby branches from the stockpile of wood and set to making a fire. The smoke discouraged mosquitoes, but she scratched idly at bites already dotting her legs and arms.
She settled down to wait with a cookie and her Coke.
As time passed her eyes drooped, and the music of the marsh lulled her. The fire ate through the thin scraps of wood, then settled down to a simmer. Drifting, she rested her cheek on her updrawn knees.
At first the rustling was just part of her dream of dodging down twisting Paris streets to evade the wicked Russian spy. But the snap of a twig underfoot had her head jerking up and the sleep clearing from her eyes. The wide grin came first, but she quickly shifted into the stern professional expression of a top secret agent.
There was silence in the marsh but for the monotonous buzz of insects and the faint crackle of a fire dying.
She scrambled to her feet, the flashlight cocked in her hand like a gun. Password! she called again and aimed the short beam of light.
But now the rustle came from behind her, so she whirled, heart leaping, beam dancing in nervous jerks. Fear, something so rarely tasted in eight short years, slicked hot and burning in her throat.
Come on, cut it out. You're not scaring me.
A sound from the left, deliberate, taunting. As the next snake of fear curled in her gut she took a step in retreat.
And heard the laughter, soft, panting, close.
Running now, running through thick shadows and jumping light. Terror so sharp in the throat that it slices screams before they can escape. Footsteps pounding behind her. Fast, too fast, and too close. Something hits her from behind. Bright pain in her back that vibrates down to the soles of her feet. The jolt of bone and breath as she falls hard to the ground. Air rushes out of her lungs in a sob as the weight of him pins her down. She smells sweat and whiskey.
She screams now, one long cry of desperation, and calls out for her friend.
Tory! Tory, help me!
And the woman trapped inside the dead child weeps.
When Tory came back to herself she was lying on the flagstones of her patio, wearing only a nightshirt already soaked through from the thin spring rain. Her face was wet, and she tasted the salt of her own tears.
Screams echoed in her head, but she didn't know if they were her own or those of the child she couldn't forget.
Shivering, she rolled onto her back so the rain could cool her cheeks and wash the tears away. The episodes-spells, her mother always called them-often left her weak and queasy. There had been a time she'd been able to fight them off before they swamped her. It had either been that or the shocking sting of her father's belt.
I'll whip the devil out of you, girl.
To Hannibal Bodeen, the devil was everywhere; in every fear and temptation lurked the hand of Satan. And he'd done his best to drive that wickedness out of his only child.
At the moment, with the sickness circling in her belly, Tory wished he'd managed it.
It amazed her that for a space of years she'd actually embraced what was in her, had explored it, used it, even celebrated it. A legacy, her grandmother had told her. The sight. The shining. A gift of the blood through the blood.
But there was Hope. More and more there was Hope, and those flashes of her childhood friend's memories hurt her heart. And frightened her.
From Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts. (c) January, 2000, Nora Roberts used by permission.
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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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