Freebie Friday Chapter 37

Cover of Souls Lost, a dark, moody image of trees and a single light on a house

On Fridays I’m sharing a chapter a week from one of my books. The first book is Souls Lost. If you wish to purchase it to read faster, you can find it at your favorite retailer. Find chapter 1 here.

The Fisher house was catty corner behind the Hyer’s, but that didn’t mean it was particularly close. While there were areas in Corbin Meadow where neighbors might stand out in their backyards chatting with the person behind them, the lots in this part of town started getting progressively larger. When Taran took the road that wound down to the right, he drove down a hill that curved away from the Hyer home and then, where the incline flattened out, he took a right. It was known in the office as “the curve” because so many accidents happened there.

Corbin Meadow officers patrolled a lot of roads in the area. As a rural town, the footprint was larger geographically than it was in population, which meant there were many curved roads. For one to stand out as “the curve” said something. The trees near the roadside didn’t help, shading the pavement almost all day, which meant that when it iced up, it never melted. There was the added issue of visibility when someone needed to make a left turn onto the road from the one Taran had just turned down. Drivers often took their life into their hands the way people barreled around the curve, flying down the incline.

The city council often talked about doing something about “the curve”, but nothing ever seemed to happen. A traffic light had been proposed but there was no money in the budget. A stop sign had been there at one time, but it had been knocked over one too many times by a driver failing to stop that the town had given in and taken it down. Too expensive to replace.

The latest suggestion was one of the roundabout things that they had in the cities now. Taran hoped that didn’t go through because he’d be the one who had to explain to folks what exactly the roundabout was and why it was there. Half the drivers would probably forget and try and go straight, flying over any raised curbs or landscaping to get to the other side. If the driver was drunk, chances were the car would flip over. At night a wreck might not be found for hours, which didn’t bode well for the driver.

Taran sighed, glad the side road, at least, was quiet. Mrs. Fisher lived on the second house on the right. The first house was nothing more than an old single-wide trailer on a plot of land owned by Harlan Dicky. Dicky’d been there forever and used to have a cow that he’d milk every morning. Someone had complained a little too long and loudly, and when his last milk cow had stopped producing, the town council had refused to allow him to keep another one. Now, Taran heard, Dicky was petitioning for goats. The council would probably have to allow it as there were several backyard goats on one-acre plots on the other side of town.

The Fisher house was set back on a long concrete drive that curved around three trees strategically placed to minimize the view of the house from the road. The total lot was over an acre and the house was sprawling though still small compared to the McMansions that went up in some places. It was originally built in the sixties, a split-level thing with lots of angles and windows, designed by an architect who admired Frank Lloyd Wright but didn’t have the talent to emulate him.

The Fishers had purchased the thing about twenty years ago and had changed things inside, updating them from the earlier look, but the outside was still dark brown, brass, and glass. The flower beds around the front of the house were overgrown but in an English cottage garden sort of way that made them rather welcoming. Even that late in the year, there was a floral smell in the air and Taran thought the buzz he heard was from a lone bee that was filling up on a late-blooming flower that hadn’t been destroyed in the storm.

Behind the house were trees. Lots of trees. In fact, it looked like a forest back there. The trees seemed less imposing from the Hyer side of the copse because the hill rose up so sharply between the two homes, plus the Hyers had a backyard that held the encroaching mini-forest at bay and created perspective. No such thing existed with the Fisher home where trees grew practically up to the foundation.

Taran walked down the narrow flagstone path, stepping over a blue green stem of a plant, careful not to crush it, and then stood on the covered stoop. He rang the bell. There were windows on either side of the carved wooden door. No fancy panthers here, just plain wooden squares. The door was painted a dull avocado green, probably done when that was a fashionable color and never changed.

Taran heard someone walking quickly to answer the bell. The door opened—there was no screen—and Mrs. Fisher stood there looking worried. Her hair was too black for a woman of her age, really a woman of any age, and appropriate only for those who were going for a Goth look. The lines on her face had multiplied since the last time Taran had been out to investigate a noise.

The problem, he knew, was that with the trees around, anyone could come through. Teenagers often used it when they were walking because it was a good shortcut and had plenty of places to hang out and do things they didn’t want to get caught doing. The same trees lined the edge of Harlan Dicky’s property, and Taran hoped the man got his goats and found a nice cranky one. It’d cut down on the number of calls he got from Mrs. Fisher who had the hearing of a particularly nervous bat.

“Finally,” she said.

Taran stepped in, offering no excuse. Excuses didn’t work with Mrs. Fisher. Once he’d been down on an accident on the highway and she’d snapped at him to stop making excuses when he’d said he had people who might be in trouble. As always, she smelled overpoweringly of gardenias.

“You saw something moving through the copse?” Taran asked.

“And it came back!” Mrs. Fisher said. “I thought I saw a shadow up there and then I called. I went back to the window and was looking out and a few minutes later I saw a shadow come back through. I think it went that way.” She pointed vaguely.

Mrs. Fisher had led him through the entry way, past a kitchen on the right, in the front of the house to a large room that was clearly the heart of the home. The ceiling raised to a peak and the wall was all windows, though why anyone would want a view of nothing but trees, Taran wasn’t certain. The windows weren’t updated either, given the heat in that room. A large fan turned so far above his head he hardly felt the movement of air.

A beige sectional that was clearly new sat in the center of the room facing a fireplace which held a television over it. Two club chairs faced out towards the windows, each with a small round table. One held a tea cup, the dark water long gone cold.

Taran looked to the right where she seemed to have pointed, towards the Dicky land.

“And then what?” he asked. He was making notes. If he didn’t, she’d accuse him of not caring. This was one time when he did care. She might shed some light on what was happening with Zoe, which in turn might help him solve the murders, at least in his own mind.

“Then nothing! I mean, I didn’t go out and follow it. But it was just a shadow. It wasn’t the teenagers who are always cutting through here. This was something different. I thought at first it might be an animal but it seemed to walk upright, though it crept the way an animal does.” She seemed at a loss for what to say.

Taran waited, watching her.

“It seemed like it was going towards the homes up the hill,” she said finally. “And then it got closer and sat there for I don’t know how long. It left a few minutes ago.”

“What exactly left?” Taran asked.

“Whatever was making the shadow,” Mrs. Fisher explained. She did her best to look down her nose, but she was short and her height made that movement difficult for her.

“But you didn’t see what it was?” Taran pressed. “You only saw its shadow?”

She nodded, looking a little bit sad.

“So you could have seen the trees moving in a breeze?” Taran asked, making to close the notebook. He didn’t believe that for one second.

Mrs. Fisher narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you start with me, Taran Rees. I’ve lived in this town long enough to remember you when you were one of the kids running through those trees, hiding out with your friends. What I saw wasn’t a tree blowing in the breeze.” She crossed her arms in front of herself.

Taran stepped back, leaned against the end of the sectional, and waited for her to go on. He didn’t have to wait long.

“There’s something there. I saw it. And I can’t help but worry that I might be the next victim of that killer.”

“Stay inside,” Taran said. “When you go out, don’t go out in the back. Elaine had a small yard, so it’s not like the killer is using the trees to hide in. Even if your husband is gone, Harlan is nearly always home and almost always out on his patio.”

Mr. Fisher was known for his long golfing treks. He preferred to golf Myrtle Beach and went there frequently. He took his wife once each year. The rest of the time he went alone. When he was in town, he was often down in Hickory, golfing there.

Mrs. Fisher nodded.

“Call us. If you feel you’re in immediate danger and need to flee, either drive out or run over to Harlan’s, worst case, you understand?”

“I wish this house had a safe room but those weren’t done back when we bought,” she said.

Taran nodded, sympathetic but thinking that it was nice to have lived in a time when you didn’t have to have a fortress inside your house, just in case.

Chapter 38 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.

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