Melanie S. Pronia is proud to present

Lillian Lake

Coming in Fall 2015

 

 

Lillian Lake

By, Melanie S. Pronia

 

Prologue

Jacksonville, Florida 1993

 

            On a hot September morning, my life as I knew it, came to a crashing end.  My mother, Grace, sat at the small dinette table in our tiny kitchen and dining room area.  It must have been another rough night for her as I could smell that her coffee cup was filled with wine instead of the typical morning brew.  Her eyes were red, her near black hair disheveled and her shoulders were bent forward in a way that my youthful eyes did not recognize as defeat, but just took for fatigue.  I was seven years old and I had gotten myself up as usual and sat comfortably in front of our small television watching Josie and the Pussycats while eating dry cereal straight out of the box.  I was trying to keep quiet as I knew that my mother was suffering from one of her many headaches.  To the surprise of both me and her, there was a very official sounding knock on the front door of our small single wide trailer.

            “Grace Windsor,” a serious booming voice commanded from the other side of the door, “This is Michael Johnson from the department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.”

            My mother’s eyes flew first to the door and then to me filled with instant fear and panic,             “Sarah,” she whispered while moving to the front door, “go hide under my bed.”  I didn’t understand why she had ordered me to do so, but I was frightened enough to obey without question.

            “Grace, I know you are in there, we can hear you moving around,” barked the ominous voice from the other side of the door as I dashed into the bedroom, shoved a pile of dirty clothes out of the way and slid under the bed, scurrying to the deep center of it.

            I heard the front door unlock and then my mother opening the door.

            “Grace, we have come to remove your daughter, Sarah, from your care” the heavy voice proclaimed with confidence.

            “You will do no such thing,” I heard my mother answer, her reply loud and shrill.

            “Ma’am, we have a court order to take her into our custody.  You do know that at seven years old, Sarah should be in school.”

            “No!  She’s mine!” I could hear a scuffling and hoped that they weren’t hurting my mother but I was too afraid and, I knew, too weak to do anything to help.  “You can’t take Sarah, she is not like the other children!” There were more sounds of movement and the floor of the trailer reflected the intrusion with pounding foot steps shaking it with rattling clarity.

            I didn’t know what my mother meant when she said that I wasn’t like other children.  I had always considered myself pretty normal.  However, I had not spent much time with other kids my own age so I didn’t really have much to go on.  I didn’t have any longer to think about it as I heard my mother howl, in an eerie, shrill voice that chilled me to the bones,

            “No!”

            Quick, heavy foot steps headed my way and before I could even think to react there were soft hands reaching for me under the bed.

            “Found her,” a determined female voice called out.  As I tried vainly to scurry further back, she grabbed my hands and easily dragged me out from the middle of the bed.

            “Sarah,” a set of officious yet concerned brown eyes stared into mine.  “You need to come with me.”

            I didn’t have a choice to argue the matter as her larger hand grabbed my own small trembling hand in a vice grip.  She yanked me passed a tall man wearing an ugly dark blue wind breaker and toward the front door.  I locked eyes with my mother who cried silent tears as she was being held by a silent but very grave looking police officer.

            “Sarah!” My mother cried out, “I love you my baby!” She struggled against the cop, who with little effort, held her cemented in her place.

            “Momma,” I croaked, just then becoming aware that I was crying, too, “Momma, I don’t want to go.”

            “Sarah,” my mother howled and dropped down to her knees, “I’m so sorry, Sarah.”

            What was she sorry for?  I had just a moment to consider, before being scooped down the rickety stairs and straight into the bright sun.  I ducked my eyes away from the vicious sun light and turned to look at my mother who was on her hands and knees on the thread bare living room carpet. 

            “Momma!” I howled miserably.  The tall man with dusky, dark blonde hair and mean eyes, slammed the door to my home behind me before glancing at the woman who was still holding my hand in a solid vice.

            “Put her in your car, that kid stinks,” he said staring at me with eyes full of disdain. 

            “She’s pretty.  A good bath will fix her right up,” the lady answered, her grip finally softening up on my hand while she opened the back door of the green Chevy Lumina sedan.  She turned to me and knelt down in front of me brushing my hair out of my face.

            “Now Sarah, be a good girl and behave and I promise if you do, everything will be alright.”

            From the back seat of the cleanest car I had ever been in, I watch my childhood home become smaller and smaller before we turned the corner and it was completely gone.

 

 

Chapter One

Baltimore, Maryland February 2013

 

            I had had enough!  I stomped on the gas and sped passed a sign that stated:  50 Miles to Alexandria, Virginia.  My brand new, red Dodge Challenger, roared with power as I flew over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and smiled, patting the steering wheel in appreciation.

            “Thanks for the beautiful car, Robert Townsend, you piece of shit.”  I had been robbing Mr. Townsend for the past four weeks, having him withdraw the maximum amount of $250.00 dollars from his ATM every day, and generously deciding to tip me with all of it at my job as a bar maid every evening.  It was the easiest $7000.00 dollars that I had ever made.  Not unlike my mother, I had a shitty employment track record, but occasionally got lucky with a good case working as a private detective.  The work was easy and occasionally fulfilling, all made easier because of my rather unusual abilities. 

            The man in question, Robert Townsend, was the CEO of Sweets & Treats and made a fine living when he wasn’t busy stalking and molesting young girls.  I was sure that his body and suicide note with his confessions would soon be discovered, though no one would care much once it came to light the kind of sick man that he had been.  I was happy to help him end his life and I am sure his many victims would shed no tears over his death.  He had been one of the sickest predators that I had encountered in quite some time having molested over 17 girls at various times of his life.  One victim had been sodomized so violently that he had punctured her intestines with a crow bar ultimately killing her. 

            “Not to worry, sweet Brittany, he is gone now and he can no longer hurt you or anyone else,” I muttered aloud in the darkness of my shiny new sports car.

            I was doubly happy that Robert was dead but it had almost come at the price of my own life.  Last night, he had shown up at my apartment with the weapon that I had chosen for him, a Smith & Wesson 9mm, only somehow, my possession hadn’t been nearly as complete as I had thought.  He stood outside my balcony and waved the weapon at me as he pleaded, tears and fatigue washing down the strain of his face.

            “Please,” he had groveled, “please get out of my head!”  He stood up and raged, pointing the gun right at me.  “Leave me alone.” 

            I admit I had panicked a bit.  Two seriously bad things could happen.  One, if he offed himself in front of my apartment, he could be linked to me.  A man shooting himself outside of my home was not something that I could easily cover up.  It would have left a clear connection between him and me.  And two, he could have just as easily killed me instead of killing himself as I had commanded.

            I knew that the first thing I needed to do was contain the noise and ruckus that he was causing.  I communicated straight to his mind,

            “Mr. Townsend, go home, sit in your recliner next to the suicide note that you wrote a few hours ago, put that gun in your mouth and pull the trigger.  It’s that simple. Once you’ve done that, I will leave you alone.”

            I watched him fall to his knees, he shook his head against the words that floated through his mind, and quietly mumbled,

            “I don’t want to die.”

            I watched the tears run down his pathetic, ruddy face and I enjoyed his anguish as I was able to feel it perfectly.

            “Yes you do.  You want to die,” my voice, silent to his ears or anyone else’s, bounced around in his brain. 

            I waited nervously watching him seem to decide.  Finally, slowly, he got back on his feet.  He waved the gun around unintentionally and haphazardly as he brushed the sweat off of his brow and looked at me.  He nodded his head seeming resigned, his tears ceasing,

            “You’re right.  I do want to kill myself.”  He turned and walked toward his black Mercedes.  “Goodbye now.”

            My heart pounded as I watched him get in the car, back out slowly and pull onto the main road.  The moment he was out of sight, I rushed passed the sliding glass doors into my bedroom and collapsed on the bed, my own forehead covered in sweat.  I lie there for just a moment knowing that my work wasn’t done just yet.  I had to finalize his death, and knowing that he was much stronger than most of my past conquests, it was going to take some considerable effort.

            I waited in silence, listening to my own quiet breathing, until finally nearly an hour later that familiar buzz sparked in my ear.  The electric sound of death.  I could feel his pain, his terror and finally his death.  It was hard to take, and harder even still to know that I had caused it.  I reassured myself, the part of me that still occasionally hurt for the perverts and recognized them as still being human, that it had to be done.  He had been a predator, a child murderer, rapist and pedophile, he had no right to live.

 

*

Quantico, Virginia

 

            It was late and he knew he should go home.  The FBI offices were quiet as most of the other agents had left many hours ago.  His wife Amy would either be worried about him or already given up on waiting and gone to bed.  Charles Wise held a picture of the mysterious dark haired woman who wore all black.  He imagined the curves that he knew she kept hidden inside the black trench coat that she seemed to favor so much.  The woman was striking with her heart shaped face, pointy chin, bedroom eyes and the nearly reproachful look that she carried in her fabulous green eyes.  Though the black and white security camera picture did her little justice, Charles knew, as he had seen other photos and had at one time been within speaking distance of her, she still appeared to be very desirable.   

            He ran his thick thumb over the picture and smiled, finally he had gotten lucky.  He had located her in Baltimore and he was going to make his move.  Not only would he blow open and solve several cold cases but he was going to make sure he had her sweating and panting beneath him just as soon as he could.  His dick twitched at the thought as he finally turned off the small desk lamp and headed home to his sleeping wife.

*

 

            It was quarter after three in the morning as I flew past the ‘Welcome to Florida’ sign.  My heart bloomed in my chest at the familiar sight.  Although subconsciously I had known that I was heading to Florida, it wasn’t until that moment that I admitted it to myself.  It was with a nostalgic longing that I noticed the large green sign stating that it was 24 miles until I entered the city of Jacksonville.  I wasn’t going home, I tried hard to convince myself.  I had no home.  There was nothing for me in Jacksonville but horrible memories.  Three weeks after I was removed from my mother’s custody, she had hung herself in the tiny little trailer that I had once called home.  There was no family or friends waiting to welcome me in Jacksonville, or anywhere else for that matter. 

            I pulled into the welcome center and couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful, tall palm trees that swayed gently against the black back drop.  As soon as I stepped out of the car, I happily realized that it was too warm for my heavy black trench coat and quickly stripped it off.  The air here, although still chilly, because it was February and Jax did, unbeknownst to most northerners, get cold after all, smelled different.  The cold was gentler but wetter. 

            It felt good to stretch my legs as I walked into the restroom and then around to the vending machine to browse for something crunchy to munch on.  I tucked a package of salted peanuts into my jacket pocket and opened the bottle of cold Dr. Pepper and walked back to my beautiful red baby.  I quickly headed back onto the highway and surprised myself again by taking the exit that would take me right into downtown Jacksonville.  I was tired and as much as part of me wanted to get out of Jax as soon as possible, the stronger voice told me it was high time to face my past. 

            I spotted the tallest, most brightly lit hotel shining in the center of downtown and decided that I could handle the hauntings of Jacksonville for at least one night.  Pulling out the single luggage bag that I had brought, I walked into the huge hotel lobby and got a room on the highest floor.  A cursory glance out of my lofty window revealed the glimmering Saint John’s River that reflected the blue lights that ran the entire span of the huge Fuller Warner Bridge.  And in the distance, there was the Acosta Bridge with its purple-blue neon tubing that sparkled over the mouth of the river.  The quiet city had not changed too much in the 11 years that I had been away, except for the lovely lighting that the city had added for 2005 Super Bowl, giving the river city a refined, almost enchanting air.  I had forgotten how pretty Jacksonville was at night.

            I turned away from the window and lie down on the bed forcing the stray thoughts from my mind.  It was less than ten minutes later before I was sleeping heavily in the too soft hotel bed.

*

 

            After a short flight from Quantico, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland, Charles Wise walked through the Baltimore-Washington International Airport with a purpose.  He had the address on Red Truck Road which was in the historic section of Baltimore gripped tightly in his hand.  A few minutes later in a rented dark blue BMW, he was on his way to finally face the woman that he had been chasing for years.  He smiled as he headed toward the apartment and tapped his wallet that contained his FBI badge smartly.  It’s a win win, he thought to himself nearly laughing out loud.

 

*

 

            I was surprised when I rolled over and glanced at the alarm clock that it was already after ten in the morning.  I lay there for a moment considering my options.  Half of me wanted to get out of Jax as soon as possible, but the stronger part knew that I should at least face some of the memories that had haunted me for so many years.  At just 16 years old, with an early high school diploma in my hand, I had left Jacksonville behind and headed north with only a head full of dreams, both pleasant and nightmarish, that seemed to be on a near constant loop in my head.  I promised myself that I would never come back to my birth place, but there I was lying in a hotel bed in the city that, no matter how far I had run from, managed to still call to me.

            Struggling out of bed, I jumped into a very badly needed hot shower and finally decided that while I knew that I could never make Jacksonville the home that I so badly wanted, there were some places that I must put to rest before moving on.  After a leisurely breakfast of strawberry crepes and strong hot coffee, I found my Challenger waiting for me in the Florida sun and quickly jumped onto I-10.  The highway had been expanded and was under construction yet again, it was a joke around Jacksonville that Interstate Ten would never be complete as the city grew in leaps and bounds. 

            I was both surprised and delighted as the highway overpass curved just about twenty feet around the old school house, Public School #4, alternately called Annie Lytle.  The huge Greek Revival school built in 1917 had been closed and abandoned for as long as I could remember, and yet there she still stood, beautiful and mysterious, keeping silent vigil over the Riverside section of Jacksonville.  The school itself had been the victim of many rumors and of time itself.  She reminded me a bit of myself, lonely and broken.

            As soon as I saw the exit off of I-295 for Blanding Boulevard, my heart beat accelerated.  My first foster home had been in Orange Park, which is a smaller town just south of Jacksonville, and Blanding Boulevard was one of its two main thoroughfares.  I forced myself to merge into the exit lane and drive south on Blanding.  In direct opposition of Jacksonville, Orange Park appeared to have grown by leaps and bounds and the gridlocked traffic had multiplied as well.

            The foster home had been in a neighborhood with streets that were either named after astrology signs or planets.  As a child, I was at first thrilled with the neighborhood with its tall trees and generous sidewalks.  It was much nicer than the trailer park that I was used to with his pot holes, nightly domestic disputes and small yards.  I turned right onto Blairmore Boulevard, not really knowing the way but figuring within a few tries, I should be able to find it.  I passed Aries Drive and kept going.  I knew that the street we lived on was named after a planet and had a small civil war era cemetery on it.  I looked around spotting more streets named after astrology signs and curved back around.  Suddenly, the psyche kicked in as I faced down Neptune Road.  Tightening my fists, I turned onto the pleasant street and soon I was passing a tall, six foot, chain-link fence that I knew contained the Daniel Souter Burial Grounds.  It was a small blue house a few houses passed the cemetery that had been my first foster home.  I pulled over on the opposite side of the street and stared at the house where I had suffered repeated sexual abuse.  My foster mother, Debra, had been very busy with the five foster children she hosted.  Individual time was just an inconvenience and unnecessary burden for her.  Her husband, Joel, however, had instantly announced himself as my friend and showered plenty of attention on me.  He was always giving me small treats like lollipops, crayons and an assortment of other little toys.  It wasn’t long after I had been removed from my mother’s care that Joel asked me if I wanted to see the cemetery.  Having seen dozens of spooky cemeteries on the Scoobie Doo cartoon, I eagerly looked forward to the excursion.  Joel held my hand tightly and casually walked me to the cemetery that didn’t have a lock on the gate back then.  It was quiet and full of trees as we rounded the corner and I saw about 40 white crosses lined up in perfect intervals.  I remember being disappointed and thinking the cemetery didn’t look nearly as interesting as the ones I had seen on the cartoon.  Joel didn’t appear to notice my disappointment and continued to walk me deeper back into the cemetery away from the street and other people.  Although, I really liked Joel, and was unsure of why, I was suddenly frightened.  A look came over Joel’s deep brown eyes.  They darkened, and the man who had been so sweet to me was roughly pushing me onto the ground in front of one of the many white crosses.  I was astonished as he pushed up my skirt and rudely jerked my legs.  I didn’t really know what was happening.  I just knew that it hurt terribly and his weight was crushing me as he grunted and moved.  I was too young to know that I was being raped.  When he was done, he gently stood me back up, smoothed down my skirt and walked me out of the cemetery while whistling a happy tune.

            Joel molested and assaulted me a few more times after that, but I had been moved pretty quickly into another foster home.  I was abused twice more by two more foster father’s over the years but I didn’t tend to stay in the care of any one foster home for very long.  Sometimes it was a year, once two years, but most of the time it was a few months and even rarely just a few weeks.  I wasn’t considered an adoptable child because I had been deemed emotionally aloof, anti-social, of below average intelligence and incommunicative. 

            I didn’t realize that I was crying until a hot tear dropped onto my hand resting on the steering wheel.  Looking at the house once more, I turned the ignition and put the memory of Joel to rest.  I had one more place to visit before heading further south and discovering my new home.  Heading back up Blanding Boulevard, I jumped back onto the highway and took the next exit onto 103rd Street in Jacksonville.  This was a street I knew quite well, as over the years, I had visited my childhood neighborhood before leaving Jax and the state of Florida behind for good.  Or so I thought.  After cruising passed a tall strand of trees with leaves that never changed color, just grayed and fell off, I saw the opening to the old dirt road.  There were five trailers in a cul-de-sac and the one I had taken my first steps in still stood there in testament to stubbornness.  I looked around and slowly brought the car to a stop.  I could not believe the trailer was still there!  It didn’t appear to be fit to live in with its slanted floor and pitted roof.  With caution, I approached the trailer, it appeared to be abandoned.  The concrete steps had long since lost their battle to Mother Nature and time, as they were crumpled and showing rusting rebar.  I looked into the small diamond window and saw my mother was again nursing a morning drink at the tiny dining room table where I had rarely taken my meals.  She was rubbing at her temples and appearing nervous and tired as usual.  My memory of her was so strong that I could even remember the smell of her nicotine filled hugs.  My mother had loved me, she just had too many demons to handle on her own.  Those same psychic demons I had inherited. 

            I didn’t want to imagine her hanging there from the exposed wooden beams, dead and bloated, the life leaking away from her body.  It took an adults wisdom to acknowledge her failings as a mother, and still I remember happy times, her warmth and her moments of rare but surprising wisdom. 

            “I’m sorry, Momma,” I whispered, “I’ve been trying to right all of the wrongs and use this gift for good.  But I’m tired.  Tired of moving, of running.  Tired of having no home or anyone to be home with.  Please wish me luck as I am sure I’ll need it to start my new normal life.”  I kissed the palm of my hand and placed it on the dusty diamond window before turning away and leaving Jacksonville for the last time.

 

Chapter Two

 

 

            Charles stood on the outside of the upscale Smithstone apartment community in Baltimore, Maryland.  He looked into the windows of apartment 3B with a scowl pulling down the corners of his lips.  The apartment was empty, completely barren of any traces of its most recent resident.  She had somehow managed to elude him almost as if she had psychically sensed his impending visit.  Only god could possibly know where she had disappeared to.

*

 

            I was careful to avoid continuing south on Interstate 95 as I wanted, needing to avoid the Daytona and Orlando areas.  Not for the typical reasons such as horrendous traffic or lost tourists weaving incoherently in and out of traffic in search of their family destination, but because the Orlando/Daytona metropolitan area had the highest statistical numbers of pedophiles and child predators per capita in the entire United States of America.  I knew I just couldn’t handle another attack now.

            Instead, I chose to explore the western side of the state and decided to get off of the interstate all together so that I was able to see the smaller towns that were interwoven in between the citrus groves and cattle farms.  I was happy as I drove through the rolling hills of Ocala and delightfully surprised at the non-uniform appearance that separated it from the more typical and tropical palm trees and palmetto bushes that seemed to dominate most of the state.

            As much as I was enjoying Ocala, I kept traveling south in search of even warmer climates.  There were a couple of requirements that my new home must have.  They were:  that it must be a small town lacking the rampant pedophiles that easily blend into larger populations.  My new home must be near a sizeable body of water in some form, whether it be fresh, brackish or salt water.  In Florida, finding bodies of water would be easy enough.  The town must also be stately, on the higher end of wages, with a deep sense of history and community so that my shop would flourish.

            When I felt myself getting too warm, I was thrilled to roll down the window and remove my heavy jacket leaving just a simple, long sleeved cotton shirt on beneath it.  The cold of February this far south was already giving away to warmer temperatures and Spring that was beckoning right around the corner.  What a perfect time I had chosen to make my move to Florida and away from the dead cold winter of the north.  I sighed, taking a deep breath, feeling relaxed and comfortable, actually excited about starting my new life and even happier that I had not experienced any attacks in a few weeks.

            I just wanted to set up shop and live my life how I choose, not being bombarded with the troubles of others.  I had to fix myself before I could continue saving others.  I needed a home, a sense of self, a few years of genuine happiness and as much as I didn’t want to admit it, maybe someone of my own to love.  I was tired of being lonely.  While I was neither a virgin nor a prude, I had never made much time for love or relationships in general.  Mainly because I honestly felt that I didn’t have much to offer a romantic partner and I came along with a bag full of issues.  Even platonic relationships were a challenge for me as I found myself barely relating to women my own age.  They seemed to put a lot of stock into sex and love, while my experience and interest had always been minimal.  I didn’t despise sex or find it dirty in any way among two consenting adults.  It didn’t bring flashbacks of my childhood tortures.  I just didn't find that it was really all that remarkable or important.  I laughed out loud when I thought of a typical male’s response to that particular musing, ‘maybe you just haven’t had the right man yet.’  That sentiment was made even funnier, because at least in my case, it might actually be true.

            I glanced at the sun in the afternoon sky, surprised to see that its light was already waning.  A glance at the digital dash told me that it was nearly four in the afternoon.  I wanted to ensure that if I couldn’t find my new town yet, at the very least must find a suitable place to stay before darkness fell.  My attacks were much more likely to occur at night, and in this unfamiliar area, I didn’t want to risk having one while driving.  They leave me pretty incapable of controlling both my body and my mind.  I had learned over the years to sense an attack was coming just seconds before the attack, and how to quickly pull over and put the car in park before the take over.  Rarely was I unable to predict or wrongly predict an impending attack.  It was one of the few inconveniences of my abilities that I had learned how to handle. 

            I stretched my fatigued limbs the same time my stomach growled.  My butt was sore and I needed to at least get something to eat.  Almost as if summoned by my thoughts, to my right was a large oval black sign with elegant white script that was almost Witchy with its sharp points and curves, was coming into view.  The oval was supported by short silver chains that were connected to white stone pillars on both sides.  Welcome to Historic Lillian Lake, Established in 1912.

            “Fancy,” I said softly to myself.

            I didn’t even think about it as I made the quick right turn and entered the scenic southern town that would have made a beautiful post card photo.  A large brick Colonial court house loomed handsomely just ahead but taking vocal point, to my right, was a blue glimmering lake with a small sign marking it as, Lillian Lake, apparently the town’s namesake.  The lake was a good size and had a large wooden dock upon which sat two inviting, dark green, Adirondack chairs that looked out over the water.  The opposite side of the water had another dock that mirrored the one I was currently driving past.  I nearly gushed at the historic splendor and grace of the town, which on another small sign, listed the population at just over 4500.  Once I had passed the court house, I drove onto Eden Street which looked like the main drag and had a sophisticated yet eclectic mix of store fronts.  There was the typical pharmacy, an older era theater that was still open with a working marquee, an ice cream shop, a dress shop, and to my delighted surprise, there was no sign of an antique shop.  I was only driving the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour when I slammed on my breaks.  There, in dark mahogany glory, was an empty store with a ‘For Lease’ sign hanging in the window of the front door.  I glanced more carefully at the sign, Matthew’s Reality and started to jot down the number when a glance further up the street revealed the reality office and saved me the trouble of writing the telephone number down.

            I pulled the car into one of the slanted parking spaces outside the realtor’s office and was happy to finally get out.  I stretched again and looked around; delighted with everything that came into view.  An older man with a bright red cane nodded and smiled at me before slowly ambling passed.  I stepped onto the curbed sidewalk and glanced at the perfectly manicured flower beds that seemed to defy winter.  There was a graceful iron and wooden bench in front of the small reality office.  This town was pretty friendly; it must definitely have something to offer.

            I stepped into the real estate office where a very pretty blonde receptionist looked up instantly from her computer and smiled.

            “Hi, I’m Tessa,” she offered, standing up, “how may I help you?”  Her smile was bright and warm as she approached.  A pale yellow halter dress clung to her petite curves and she had an air about her that was gentle yet aloof.

            “Hi Tessa, my name is Sarah Windsor, and I am interested in the shop at 280 Eden Street,” I pointed down the road indicating the direction.

            “Oh yes, the old sewing shop.  Let me get Rebecca for you, she is handling the lease for that property.  Please have a seat,” she indicated the cozy high back chairs near the large window that looked out onto the street.

            I really didn’t feel like sitting any more so I just stood near the chairs and looked out at what I was seriously considering making my new home.  While I had the opportunity, I closed my eyes and extended my psychic feelers.  The energy was surprisingly light with little influences of anything either positive or negative.  I thought that was a bit odd.  Historic places usually have a decent mix of energies.  This energy seemed almost flat, bereft of any of the usual energies.  It was probably because I was just so tired.  I needed to see about this lease, get some food into me and find a place to stay for the night.  

            “Sarah,” I heard my name being called out followed by quickly approaching footsteps.  “Rebecca can see you now, if you’ll just follow me,”.  I was surprised that Tessa didn’t have the typical sweet southern accent of most southerners, but I had little time to think more on it as she escorted me into a very opulently decorated office, and there sitting at a huge captain’s desk, was a squat brunette.

            “I’m Rebecca Matthews, please have a seat,” she said without standing up.  The woman’s eyes looked me over curiously with a near snobbery attitude that caught me a bit off guard. 

            “What brings you to our lovely little town?”  While the question was asked in a pleasant southern accent, the look in Rebecca’s eyes was predatory.

            I sighed inwardly, I didn’t really want to go into a long pitch or feel the need to explain myself, then I quickly reminded myself that I was in a small town and people were bound to be a bit nosey.

            “Well I am looking to settle down and I like what I see in Lillian Lake,” I answered honestly.

            “I see,” she leaned back appearing to be unsaited by my answer, “well, we do love our lovely little town.”  I instantly noticed a surprising possessiveness in her wording and manner.

            I bit the inside of my lip, not in the mood for games,

            “I am really interested in knowing the terms and cost of the lease for 280 Eden Street and I would love to be able to view it.”

            Rebecca stood up and grabbed a lovely purple jacket before snatching up a ring of keys, “Well let’s walk down there so that you can see it.”  She toddled around the desk, placing a hand on her huge, pregnant belly, “I could use the walk anyway, my back is killing me,” she placed a hand on the small of her back and smiled softly.

            I abruptly felt sorry for the negative impression I had instantly formed about her.

            “Thank you very much,” I pushed out a warm smile, “I would appreciate that.” 

            The walk to the store was short and quiet.  Rebecca deftly turned her key in the lock and opened the door letting me step through first.  I was instantly struck with an overwhelming sense of comfort.  The store was the perfect size and layout.  It had two huge display bay windows with a wonderful single level shelf built right into them.  The floors, though dusty, were tile in an alternating classic black and white pattern.  The walls were a rich mahogany with a wonderful wainscoting lending the smell of fine, rich wood to the air.  A counter that matched the mahogany décor with a dark green marble top sat in the far back corner of the store.  Rebecca waddled around me and started to walk further into the store.

            “There is a back room that is large enough for storage, a separate small office and it has a private bathroom.”

            I silently followed her.  I was so excited that I had to stop myself from skipping.  This place was perfect!  The office area was just big enough for what I needed and the private bathroom would make my life so much easier. 

            “How much,” I blurted out quickly, despising my lack of control.

            “$1500 a month, for the first year, after that we would renegotiate.”

            I swallowed nervously, the price was right, the store seemed perfect, and the town was lovely.

            “Where do I sign?”

            Rebecca laughed sharply.

"Well, first we need to run a credit check and get some paper work taken care of.”

 

*

 

            An hour later, I had the keys to the store in my hand and I am sure the huge smile on my face looked goofy, but I didn’t care.  I was really doing it! I was finally going to open the shop that I had always wanted, saved for, collected for, and dreamed about for so many years.  I was rebuilding my life and making a home.

            I was also starving, my stomach bluntly reminded me.  The sky was now fully dark but the shopping area of Lillian Lake was well lit and had a decent amount of pedestrians walking to and from the various shops.  There was a small delicatessen a few store fronts away from the reality office.  After a quick glance both ways, I darted across the street to Daily’s Deli.  A sandwich sounded wonderful!

            When I stepped into the deli, I was surprised to see Tessa standing in line and talking warmly to the elderly, silver haired lady who manned the counter.  They both glanced at my intrusion and Tessa warmly smiled. 

            Nancy, this is Sarah Windsor, she just leased the old sewing shop.  Sarah this is Nancy, owner of Daily’s and a Lillian Lake native. 

            Nancy walked over to me and smiled warmly, offering me her plump hand.

            “Actually, my family goes all the way back to the days of Eden Lake, long before it was incorporated as Lillian Lake.  It’s a pleasure to meet you Sarah.  Are you hungry?”

            “My pleasure, Nancy, and yes, I am starving.  What’s good to eat?”

            To that, they both answered,

            “Everything!”

            I settled on pastrami on toasted rye with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, with a kosher pickle and a side of ruffled potato chips.  It was incredible!  As I was taking a second bite of my heavenly sandwich, Tessa approached me with a small white bag clenched in her hand.  I glanced up surprised, with a mouth full of sandwich, my eyes searching hers.

            “May I?” she asked indicating the open chair across from me.

            Unable to chew and swallow fast enough, I waved my hand at the chair and nodded warmly.  She smiled and sat down across from me, crossing her legs and neatly, nearly methodically, laying out her own dinner.

            “So, Sarah, what brings you to our charming little town?”

            I wiped my mouth clean, momentarily startled by the sarcasm that weighed down her words.  I searched her eyes rapidly trying to sense whether she was friend or foe, and while still uncertain, answered with,

            “I needed a change.  This town seems like exactly what I am looking for.”

            Tessa bit back a laugh.  I was starting to become a bit guarded by her presumed lack of friendliness.  She must have noticed the look in my eyes as she leaned in closer and lowered her voice.

            “This town may seem perfect, but looks are deceiving, just be careful.”  With that, she was quickly packing back up her egg salad sandwich.  “I have to go pick up my little girl, Lexi,” her face softened instantly at the name, “her grandmother babysits her and hates to be kept waiting.”  She jerked her purse strap over her shoulder and smiled softly, placing her hand over mine, “just be careful, Sarah,” and with that she turned her back and left the small deli and me in total confusion.

            Having lost the rest of my appetite, I wrapped up my own dinner to go and started thinking about where I would stay for the night.  With a suggestion from Nancy, I headed to the Gray Swan Inn which reflected its name as it was a graceful gray Tudor style home.  I took a nice long shower before crawling nervously into the clean, comfortable bed.  If there was any history of child pedophilia in town, I would know it by morning and I had already signed a year long lease for my antique shop.  I tried hard to shut off all of my thoughts for the night as I knew I had a very long day ahead of me tomorrow.

 

*

 

             I nearly sprang out of bed the next morning with happiness and determination.  I dug through my small suit case and the smile rapidly dropped off of my face.  It contained a black formal suit, a heavy gray sweater, a wine red v-neck long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of light blue jeans that had probably been worn a year or so too long.  I knew that my day would be spent house hunting, making phone calls and cleaning up my new shop, so there was really no need to dress to impress, but I sure would have liked to.  I sighed as I realized that I needed to add clothes shopping to my to do list and then jut as quickly, smiled when I thought of all of the shoes that I would need to buy.  Having lived a very transient life for the past ten years, I didn’t have many possessions.  I had learned how to travel light, renting the necessary furniture and giving away armfuls of clothing to the Goodwill.  Instead, I had a very sizable savings account and three storage units brimming with various antiques that were carefully packed in cardboard boxes.  I shrugged into my ancient, but comfortable snug jeans and the red t-shirt before heading out. 

            My first order of business was to find a house to rent.  I was so sick of living in apartments that even if Lillian Lake had an abundance of them, which it turns out it did not, I still wanted to rent a house, something that I could really turn into a home.  I stopped by the real estate office and Tessa was kind enough to print me up a meager list of all of the available homes in my price range with detailed directions to each.  The first house was red and looked more like a barn than a home.  I quickly scratched it off my list, and moved on to the next house.  The next house on the list was a Pepto-Bismol pink clapboard house that was a bit too dilapidated for me no matter how good the price was.  I was starting to get a bit frustrated as I drove to the third house located on Windy Oaks Avenue.  This house was set back a good bit from the road.  I drove down the narrow dirt driveway, straining my eyes for a house that I knew should be visible by then when the trees opened just a bit and stood in a near perfect circle, as if in a protective stance around an adorable blue cottage with a white picket fence, white shutters and trim.  It was gorgeous with its small but welcoming front porch that was just large enough for a bench swing and maybe one other chair.  I happily imagined myself relaxing there after a long day of work.  There were wooden flower beds that were currently full of yellowing and dead weeds, but I imagined them in the coming spring blooming with various colored roses and smiling sun flowers that I would plant with my own hands.  I knew I was being capricious, so quickly falling in love with the charming little cottage, but I disregarded that fact while I quickly dialed Rebecca’s phone number so that I could take a look at the inside.  She assured me that she would be there in about twenty minutes and to make myself comfortable and look around.

            When her car finally pulled up, I had to stop myself from all but pouncing on the heavily pregnant woman with enthusiasm.  I couldn’t wait to get inside!  A glimpse through the multi-paned windows had revealed hardwood floors, an open, airy kitchen and a sturdy wooden staircase that rushed up to the second floor.  The cottage was even furnished which I would need until I bought my own furnishing to adjust to my taste. 

            Rebecca opened the door and let me enter first.  The second I crossed the threshold, I knew, I just knew that this little house was meant to be mine.  Although the furnishings in the living room were a little too country and western for my taste, the four poster bed with a brand new mattress in the master bedroom was spectacular and the small dinette table in the kitchen would work just fine for me.  It took me less time to sign the lease for the cottage than it had for my shop since the credit report and extensive background check had already been done yesterday.  Even though I had about a million additional things to do, I was still delighted!  Everything seemed to be coming together so perfectly! 

            My first stop was to the post office to put in a change of address.  While standing in line I received a few curious stares but I just smiled in a friendly way to all of my new neighbors.  When it was finally my turn at the counter, the post man smiled pleasantly, a name tag stated that his name was Dean and he had gorgeous dancing eyes with a flirty smile.  He looked me up and down slowly before glancing at the change of address form.

            “Oh, you’re moving into the old Chester house, nice place, kinda out there in the middle of nowhere though,” he remarked.

            “It should be nice and quiet,” I smiled back at him, untypical of my usual reserved behavior, I added, “I also rented the sewing shop on Eden street for my antique store.”

            “Oh antiques, huh? Nice.” Although the ‘I am available and interested’ smile on his face suggested more than a professional interest, the gold band on his left hand stated otherwise. 

            “Yep,” I answered shortly, I didn’t need some pissed off wife angrily scorning me while I was still new in town.

            My next stop was at Fara’s, a clothing boutique that promised to make you look polished and in style.  I picked out a few light sweaters, slacks in various colors that crowded the darker end of the hue spectrum, some lovely blouses, a few summer dresses and two business dresses, along with three skirts and two hand bags.  It was a good start, but I still needed panties, bras, socks, and other accessories.  And shoes, I mustn’t forget about all of the fabulous shoes that I would be forced to buy.  Two stops later, I had all of the clothes items I needed for now.  I then went into Gilmore’s Appliances and Repair and ordered a used washer and dryer to be delivered that afternoon to my new cottage.  As soon as they were set up, I could wash the new bed sheets and dark red comforter that I had just purchased.  After working in my store ridding it free of dirt and dust, I would sleep well in my new home. 

 

*

 

            My store was gorgeous!  It smelled of lemon Pledge and Pinesol as it gleamed like an as of yet undiscovered jewel.  I had put in the necessary phone calls to have my antiques shipped from my three separate storage spaces and they should be arriving in about three days.  The next few days would be spent setting up my cottage and fashioning tasteful displays for the store.  I stood up from the floor, more tired than I had felt in quite some time and as much as I didn’t want to leave the perfection of the shop, I knew that it was time to get some dinner and head home for the evening. 

            Not feeling particularly adventurous enough to find a different place to eat at the moment, I quickly ducked into Daily’s Deli and glanced at the menu.  Nancy offered me a welcoming smile as she prodded over,

            “Back for more?” she asked in a friendly, conversational tone.

            “Yes,” I smiled back warmly, “I’m famished!”

            “What ya in the mood for this evening?”

            “Oh, I don’t know, I am too hungry to think.”

            “Well,” Nancy elongated, “may I suggest the Matthew’s Ham?  It’s locally produced and owned by the very same Matthew’s family who settled at Lillian Lake.”

            “If it’s that good, a ham and Swiss sandwich with some spicy mustard sounds wonderful right about now,” I answered with my belly growling in anticipation.

            “One ham and Swiss coming right up!” Nancy walked away and proceeded to assemble the largest ham sandwich I had ever seen.  It looked so good, that although I really wanted to get home, I decided to eat it all right then and there.  Nancy was right, it was the best ham sandwich I’d ever had.

            As I left Daily’s I heard the spritely, spirited up temple sound of Celtic music.  I knew I needed to get home, but I just couldn’t ignore that fine music pouring out onto the main strip.  It was coming from a pool hall called O’Bryan’s – Rack Your Balls.  I entered, and to my delight, it had low intimate lighting, several green billiard tables and a live band called, Spade McQuade and the Allstars, playing their hearts out on a small stage.  I snuggled up to the bar and decided an Irish beer would go wonderfully with the Celtic music.  Halfway through my beer, the band broke for a break and the lowered lights brightened.  A dark haired man with sexy facial hair but a mean look in his eyes was staring at me.  He might be fun to play with, I considered for a moment, but I was too tired for head games and looked away. 

            “Hey, Terry,” a short, but burly man approached mean eyes, “you wanna rack or want me to?”  Terry glanced away from me reluctantly, he scowled at the other man, “you rack,” and turned his eyes back towards me.  I could smell trouble on him from a mile away and decided to finish up my beer and head home.

            A few hours later I was lying in my adorable cottage on freshly washed, high-thread count sheets feeling very satisfied and accomplished.  I closed my eyes and smiled, hoping that sleep would be gentle and kind.  Everything seemed to be going so well. 

 

Chapter Three

 

            I woke up shivering and reached for my thick comforter.  It wasn’t there.  As I slowly regained waking consciousness, I realized that I was wet.  Something was wrong.  I wasn’t in my bed. 

            I looked around, hearing water swish beneath me, both surprised and horrified to see the near full moon shining over me.  I was outside.  I quickly sat up, my hair heavy and dripping with water.  My clothes were completely soaked and I was in some sort of shallow body of water.  Jumping up to my feet quickly, I fought to gain steady ground in the mud at my feet.  My heart started to pound.  Where was I and how had I gotten there? 

            Huge Spanish moss draped cypress trees lined the shore against the dark sky.  I was in a swamp and apparently, I hoped, or thought I should hope, that I was completely alone.  I hurried on to the shore, my clothes clinging to my cold skin.  Closing my eyes tightly, I nearly started to cry but forced myself to hold it together long enough to sort through my options.  Now was not the time to panic.

            I was in a strange town, waking up in a swamp, who knew how far from my home.  I had no idea even what direction my home was.  I started walking perpendicular from the shore line hoping that it would eventually open up to something less formidable than the dark swamp with its heavy night sounds and cold water. 

            The only logical conclusion that I could come up with was that I had had a psychic attack.  Only that didn’t make much sense either because I always remembered my psychic attacks and never totally lost myself during them.  I always knew subconsciously that someone else, a young, scared child, had invaded me and that, even as horrifying as it might be, it would be over pretty quickly.  My head was pounding as I rubbed at it and I couldn’t remember the possession that had over taken me, but I knew that familiar sense of fear and desperation.  A child had found me and needed to be heard. 

            What I didn’t understand was how that child had controlled me so completely that it had led me to the swamp and wiped out any memory of it or the control of my mind.  It was in that moment that I heard the chilling cackle of an owl and began a quick run to what I hoped was civilization. 

            I ran so hard and fast, that my heart was pounding and I nearly missed the narrow two lane road as I stumbled onto it, the asphalt tearing into my bare feet.  The location of a road reassured me only a bit as I didn’t know which direction I should walk and I was chilled to the bone in my thin, silk pajamas, that I am sure in their wet state, were quite revealing.  My nipples were poking stubbornly against the soft fabric.  I quickly admonished myself;  it’s not as if there was anyone to see me.  It might be helpful if there were.  I was lost and cold and scared.  More scared than I had been in a very long time, and I didn’t like it.

            I saw a pair of head lights quickly coming up behind me.  I quickly considered, friend or foe, putting out my psychic feelers.  Harmless—was the reading that came back.  I turned to face the approaching vehicle and waved my arms wildly.  The black, half size pick up truck nearly skidded to a stop screeching loudly in the quiet night. 

            A nervous looking blonde man hopped out of the driver’s seat and quickly jogged over to me.  His eyes burned brightly as he appeared both concerned and nervous.

            “Are you okay?” his own accelerated heart beat was reflected in his voice.

            I swallowed the lump in my throat,

            “Yes, I am just very cold and confused.”

            His sweet blue eyes looked over me with true concern.

            “What are you doing out here?”  He looked me up and down, his eyes running over my breasts quickly, he glanced up trying to conceal the blush that brightened his face.  “And why are you wet?  Did you go swimming?”

            Swimming, yes, but of course in February.  I thought a midnight swim just sounded delightful.  I just couldn’t resist.

            “No, I wasn’t swim---I don’t know how I got here.  I think I sleep walked and fell into the water.”

            “My god, let’s get you into the truck and warm you up,” he put his arm gently across my shoulders.  I hadn’t known that I was shivering until I felt my body connect with his.  “Here, go ahead and hop in.” he nearly pushed me into the truck.  “I keep a blanket in the tool box in the back, let me grab that.”  He closed the door softly on me and walked around the truck.  A few moments later he was getting into the driver’s side of the truck and gently placing a blanket around my shoulders.  “I am sorry, it might not be very clean, I usually place it on the grass, but it should help you warm up.”  His huge eyes took me in again, a million questions fighting to be asked.

            “Where am I taking you,” my benefactor asked me softly.

            “Home, only I am not sure which direction that is.”

            He gave me an odd look, but didn’t respond.

            “I just moved here,” I said in way of explanation.

            “Okay, well where do you live?”

            “I have rented a house on Windy Oaks.  Do you know where that is?” I asked, hoping that he did. 

            He smiled, his face seeming to relax with some sense of control of the situation.

            “Yes I do.  It’s not far from where I live and where I was going when I spotted you standing on the side of the road.”

            “Oh, thank god,” I answered softly.

            He glanced at me and awkwardly offered his hand,

            “I am Kevin, by the way, Kevin Klauss.”

            “Sarah Windsor, and thank you Kevin for picking me up.”

            He chuckled,

            “Well its not every day that you see a soaking wet, near naked woman, walking along the street after midnight in the winter.”  As soon as he said the words, I saw him swallow in regret. 

            “Yeah,” I sighed in embarrassment.  “I am just as puzzled as you as to how I got here, but thank you for rescuing me,” I finished dryly. 

            “You’re just lucky that Greta didn’t get you!”  He said attempting to sound conspiritual. 

            “Oh yeah?  Who’s Greta?”

            He chuckled with a nice, deep laugh and I realized that I really enjoyed his lyrical voice.

            “Oh, she’s the spooky old lady who lives out in Eden Swamp, that’s where you were.  She’s harmless really, but some of the town’s folk are afraid of her.  She’s a bit odd and likes to keep to herself, but you know how people are.”

            “Yes, I do,” I shivered against the blanket finally starting to let myself relax a bit.

            “Almost there,” Kevin spoke softly.

            I sat back and watched my little cottage come into view.  I really had not walked very far, but it was still a good mile from my house.

            “I wish I had some brandy,” I muttered.

            “I do,” Kevin piped up, “I live right around the corner from you, I could go grab it and bring it to you,” he offered sweetly.

            I couldn’t help but smile at his sincerity,

            “Oh, you’re sweet, but I think a hot shower will do me just as well.”

            I saw the instant rejection in his face.

            “Maybe another time though, I would like to get to know some people here.”

            Kevin rolled softly into my driveway, coming to a quick stop behind my Dodge Challenger. 

            “Well next time you’re downtown, stop by and visit me in the tall building behind the court house.  I am the local historian.”

            “Oh, a historian?  I would like that!  I just rented out a little shop on the main drag to sell antiques.” 

            “Nice, I’ll have to stop by and check it out,” he answered sincerely.

            “Well,” I shrugged out of the blanket and started to hand it to him, “do you want me to wash this and then get it back to you?”

            “No, that’s okay.”

            “Well thank you, Kevin,” I opened the truck door and stepped out.

            “You’re very welcome, Sarah, go get dry and warm and try not to sleep walk anymore, this town has its share of oddities.”  He smiled and waved and I shut the door. 

            After I had taken a very long, very hot shower, I wished I had taken Kevin up on that brandy.  I didn’t really care too much for brandy, but it sure would have been nice to dull my rising hysteria.  How the hell had I ended up in Eden Swamp?  And whom had invaded my body?  I let the single tear that ran from my eye, roll down my cheek.  I guess maybe Lillian Lake was the perfect town after all.

            I lie in bed afraid to fall back asleep.  I didn’t know if this attack would be a one time event or not, but I knew that I had never been so frightened or clueless by one.  I had nothing to go on, but that the swamp must be the scene of some crime committed against a child.  The name Greta popped into my mind, maybe she was someone worth talking to and it didn’t hurt that Kevin was a historian. 

            I grimaced knowing that I had my work cut out for me.  “Damn it!” I hissed into the silence of the room.  “Will I ever be able to rest?”

 

 

 

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