Closing his eyes at the suggestion of a thought, a ghost, or some Rumpelstiltskin-like creature was the craziest thing Taran had ever done. But it seemed like the only thing he could do. Something had touched Zoe, something she had felt, had known about but didn’t see, and he couldn’t see it either, exactly, but only catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye. It was like a fly that buzzed here and there but without the buzzing sound you could listen for.
The air conditioning hummed away even as the rain pattered outside the still partially open sliding door. It was the first thing Taran saw when he opened his eyes. Zoe’s backyard, while not specifically familiar to him as he’d not been to her family home before, was familiar in the way that all things in Corbin Meadow were familiar. He noticed the tree with the thin leaves, the bushes with the wider green leaves that never turned color. He didn’t know the names but saw them on nearly every street in town. On some streets the bushes were in every yard. They grew too quickly around his home and he had to trim them back regularly.
The rain, too, was comforting, not so much for its normalcy, but because he had seen it raining when he’d arrived at the house. It might have been coming down a little harder but not so much so that he felt as if he’d lost time, a thought that struck fear into his gut.
The sharp smell of vodka as Zoe poured herself a quick shot brought him back to this place in Corbin Meadow. He hadn’t lost time, hadn’t gone to sleep for a hundred years like in those old stories, at least not as far as he could tell. Everything seemed to be the same.
“What was that?” Taran asked.
Zoe offered him a shot.
He shook his head. He was on duty, assuming that he hadn’t gone to sleep for a hundred years just by talking to the creature. Taran didn’t know what to make of his experience. Worse, the thing said he needed to contact his ex and ask her to come back to Corbin Meadow. Like Kay would be open to that. She’d run off as quickly as she could when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to purchase one of the old mansions to the north side of the city where the oldest and richest families lived and, worse, that he was always going to remain a police officer and not run for mayor, at least not in a time frame that she’d decided worked for her.
“Did you see what I saw?” Zoe asked. “That creature?”
“I think so. It reminded me of Rumpelstiltskin or some creature like that.”
“Wasn’t he the guy who could turn straw into gold by spinning?” Zoe had swallowed her vodka and was eyeing the bottle like she was considering another.
Taran shook his head. He was pretty sure that’s who it was but he didn’t want to discuss fairy tales. He wanted to figure out if this had happened for real, because if it had, then he had to figure out whether he ought to do what the thing asked.
“It was so weird,” Zoe said slowly, even as she turned away from him towards the vodka. Taran watched her, in her jeans that fit so cleanly along her hips that made such a perfect curve—hadn’t he read something about some sort of perfect angle for a curve on social media one time? Taran let the thought go, his mind whirling to a dozen different unrelated thoughts, some about Zoe, others about his ex-wife, Kay, and the sinking feeling in his gut, the actual knife-cutting pain that existed there when he thought about her, and the fear that he’d have to call her and say… What exactly would he say?
“I think it said I had to contact my ex,” Taran said.
“Did he use her name?” Zoe asked. “To me he just said ‘he needs to.’ Was that you?”
“He said I needed to contact the one I had loved, which seems to indicate Kay.” The name hurt to speak but he had to.
“He said my life would be forfeit if you didn’t,” Zoe said.
Taran watched Zoe’s face, wondering what she was thinking as she talked about his ex-wife. It had closed off in a way he hadn’t seen before, as if she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself. Had she been a friend of Kay’s that he hadn’t known about? It was possible, what with her being a few years behind them in school. But it seemed unlikely. Zoe didn’t seem like the kind of girl Kay would hang out with.
Zoe, Taran thought, had actually left town on her own and gone after her own life before returning. Kay had wanted to do that. It was the sort of thing that would make Kay dislike Zoe.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. I can’t just call her up and ask her to come back for me. We’re divorced. I think she’s even seeing someone pretty seriously, at least that’s what the gossips say.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Zoe said. “It’s not like we were friends and I could call her…”
Taran waited for her to finish whatever thought she was having but nothing was forthcoming.
“Wasn’t she close to Charlene Winston?” Zoe asked.
“You mean Charlene Zemmerbecken?” Taran corrected.
Zoe shrugged. “She has a sister, Donna?”
Taran nodded. That sounded right.
“Donna’s a friend of mine. Maybe I can talk to her about what happened. See if she can call her sister and have her talk to Kay. Get her to come for a visit. We can talk to her then. Or you can. Or whatever you think is best.”
Taran sighed. The knife eased slightly and then plunged back in and twisted. The idea of someone else calling Kay worked. The idea that he’d still have to talk to her about what happened didn’t work so much.
“Try it. I can’t believe she’d come talk to me if I called her,” Taran said. “And seeing this was a warning, do you suppose that you’d be safer if you left Corbin Meadow?”
Zoe tilted her head, clearly thinking about it for a moment. She sighed. “I don’t know. At least here if my life is forfeit, you’ll be there to investigate no matter how weird it is. If I take off, who will care?”
Chapter 18 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.