Zoe’s dad had insisted she run errands with him, which meant they’d gone to the grocery and then back home. He’d avoided going to his usual morning coffee meeting with his pals. By afternoon, he was driving Zoe insane and she said she was going into Hickory to do some shopping. In reality she just wanted some space.
The rental car she was using was a small Ford Focus that got decent gas mileage and was comfortable enough, but it wasn’t the Subaru she was used to. The car smelled of harsh industrial cleansers and faintly of chicken, but Zoe wasn’t sure whether that chicken smell was from something she’d eaten in the car or from an earlier renter who had eaten so much that even the cleansers used to freshen the thing couldn’t get the smell out.
She’d set the radio when she’d flown into Charlotte Douglas and started her drive home, but the station didn’t pick up in Corbin Meadow. Not many did. So the static had outdone the music and she’d turned it off. She’d forgotten to set her phone to stream music, leaving her with only road noise. At home, she had satellite radio to listen to.
Sitting in the car in the driveway, Zoe had seen her dad looking out at her, worried. She wondered what he’d do if something did come after her. She was less worried about that now that she was in the car, alone, than she was when she’d gone out with him earlier. She’d jumped at every shadow and perhaps that was why he was being so over protective.
Zoe made her way out of Corbin Meadow, feeling relieved only when she saw the sign that said she had reached Lenoir City limits and was driving past the Evans Funeral home. It wasn’t lost on her that she was relieved to pass a funeral home when she was worried about dying.
Zoe felt like she could breathe easier once she was out of Corbin Meadow, but she still felt that pull, like she was forgetting something she needed to do back there. She felt, she realized, a bit like she was abandoning her dad to his fate. It niggled at her that he could be in danger if she didn’t return at all, though she couldn’t tell if the feeling was one of her Corbin Meadow feelings or if it was a worry born of her generalized anxiety, trying to find something upon which to hang its hat.
She continued winding through Lenoir until she reached Highway 321 which would take her to Hickory. She was about halfway there, the land becoming flatter with every car length, when her phone rang. Zoe had it connected to her Bluetooth so the number showed up on the screen on her dash, but she didn’t recognize it. A name wasn’t attached.
Zoe wondered about answering but decided to give it a try. She’d had radio since reaching Lenoir when she’d turned it back on, but she didn’t know the stations and had something on for company rather than enjoyment. It was, Zoe reflected, much like a lot of her life. She had things for company or for a safe place rather than because she really wanted them. She was a lab tech because it was a secure job, or reasonably so, more than because she loved the work. What she wanted to do, she wasn’t certain.
She hit the answer button to keep her thoughts from going down that road. Who knew what she’d decide while she was running away from the monster under her bed, or, in her case, the one that inhabited her backyard?
“Hello?” She didn’t bother with her name.
“Zoe?” A woman’s voice that she didn’t recognize. Zoe’s heart fluttered.
“This is Kay Pugh,” the other woman said.
Zoe’s heart soared. Yes. Kay had gotten the message.
“Hi. I was hoping to talk to you in town,” Zoe said.
“I’m not sure I can get away,” Kay said. “I really don’t want to go back there. All the memories, as I’m sure you can appreciate.”
“I can,” Zoe said. Where was she going to go with this if Kay wasn’t even open to the possibility of coming back for a short time?
“Good. Then I’m hoping we can do this by phone, just us girls.”
“I think that anything you say, I’d have to report to Chief Rees,” Zoe said carefully, as if she wasn’t aware that that was who Kay didn’t want to talk to.
“I’m sure he’ll want to know it all, in case he missed telling someone what to do,” Kay said. There was a mean edge to her voice that Zoe didn’t like.
She came up to the driveway to a church and she pulled in so she could park and talk more freely. The road noise vanished when she pulled into a spot.
“I just think it would be easier if you came here. I had the oddest experience in my mother’s backyard,” Zoe said.
“That’s where it happened, wasn’t it?” Kay asked. “Your momma dying?”
“Yeah,” Zoe said.
“Maybe you’re sensitive. You know, my momma was like that.”
“Oh, yes. Of course, she was so caught up in the church that she was certain visions and stuff were a trap to unsuspecting souls. She made me promise to never talk to plants or anything!” Kay laughed a little.
Well, this was not going the way Zoe hoped.
“Actually, I thought of you when it happened and was hoping that you could maybe tell me more about the experience, but I think you need to be there,” Zoe said carefully.
Kay sighed. “It’s just so hard. I mean, I was okay there in Corbin Meadow before Momma died, even with Taran, although God bless him, he’s a handful, always thinking he can boss everyone around. But when she died, it was like I was going to be consumed by the place. I was scared of the backyard, for heaven’s sake! I thought I was losing my mind.”
“Sometimes I think that, too.” It was true, Zoe thought. That was the truest thing she’d said to Kay so far. And what was it about the yard? Had Kay seen something?
Kay drew in a breath. “Do you feel it in the backyard, especially?”
“Yeah.” Zoe wasn’t certain what Kay meant but suspected she was particularly susceptible to thinking she was losing her mind there.
“I don’t know,” Kay said, her voice wavering, like she had started down a path to doing something and wasn’t sure she wanted to continue.
“Please. Who else can I talk to?” Zoe pleaded, hated herself for this game but knowing she had to play it out.
There was a sigh on the other end. Zoe felt like she could see Kay thinking, wondering what to do. She wanted to know more about Zoe’s experience, there was something in her voice. She had a suspicion of what had happened but she wasn’t sure how to proceed. Zoe was certain of that. It was like one of her feelings.
“I’m off tomorrow. I’ll ask for a few vacation days to come down. They owe me,” Kay said finally. “I’ll see you then, but you’ll definitely owe me, Zoe Mason-Hyer Parker.”
“Oh, I know that,” Zoe replied, relieved.
They hung up. Already Zoe felt lighter. She wondered what Kay expected from her when she said she’d owe her, but it wasn’t likely to be anything she couldn’t fulfill, at least she hoped not.
Chapter 28 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.