Zoe rode in the passenger seat of Kay’s SUV. It was a nice car with heated cream leather seats, although Zoe hadn’t turned the heat on. It might be October but it wasn’t the time for that, not yet, and, fortunately, the air conditioning worked well, cooling the car down quickly.
Three suitcases were piled in the backseat, which seemed excessive to Zoe because it had sounded like Kay was just there for a day or two. One of the three was fairly large, too, large enough that Zoe could have traveled with it for two weeks, easily. Several bags were piled around the back as well, as if Kay had just grabbed things and stuffed them into the car for her trip.
Kay turned down the radio, playing a top-ten station when they pulled out onto the street. She drove too fast for the narrow streets, much like Zoe had when she first got home. There was something about Corbin Meadow that made you unconsciously slow down when driving.
Of course, Zoe reflected, she probably wouldn’t slow down in that car. Not that it wasn’t nice. Not that seats weren’t pleasant in the way they hugged her back. No, the problem was it smelled like a Chanel factory. Kay didn’t seem to be wearing that much perfume but the car reeked of it.
“You like perfume?” Zoe finally said as they turned down Main Street which would take them to an on-ramp to the main highway.
Kay laughed. “I did. And then I bought some. I had a bunch of stuff in the car that day because I was moving some stuff to a salon and the bag I had packed fell on the bottle and cracked the glass. It didn’t actually spill that much, but in the car, it’s like it’s become exponentially stronger.”
Zoe laughed a little. She watched the town recede in the distance as they hit the highway and the larger stores, the ones that weren’t in downtown Corbin Meadow. A blue county Sheriff SUV sped around them, siren going.
“I wonder what’s happened,” Kay said.
Zoe’s chest tightened, not the usual tightening that might come if you were worried you’d see an accident up ahead, she’d had those. This feeling was darker, like a premonition of something bad. Wherever the sheriff was going, his mission was a bad one, probably a death. This didn’t hit her the way other feelings had hit her. In fact, as soon as the car was out her immediate line of sight, when it turned into the condominium complex on the edge of town, the feeling passed, like a dark cloud had passed over the sun and was gone. Just like that.
“I think someone died,” Zoe said.
“Again?” Kay didn’t ask how she knew. Maybe she had those feelings, too.
Zoe shrugged. “It wasn’t a feeling like I got when Elaine died. I’m not sure why.”
“We’re technically out of town,” Kay laughed. “Do you think it’s safe to talk?”
“I don’t,” Zoe said honestly. Her gut told her they may have been beyond the town limits and into the county, hence the sheriff’s car, but they weren’t outside the influence of those things that were in Corbin Meadow.
“Do you think if I lived here it would be close enough?” Kay asked. “You know, maybe a place in those condos. I remember thinking they looked like they were going to be nice.”
“It seems like it’s at the edge of things, you know? I don’t know what that creature would say.”
Kay said nothing, chewing her lip. They made it to Lenoir soon enough, passing the funeral home that Zoe liked to think guarded the entrance to the town. Kay pulled into the Burger King that wasn’t far up the road, and they sat in the parking lot.
“You hungry?” she asked.
Zoe shook her head.
“I’m not really either. I haven’t eaten all day except for a frappachino when I left this morning, but I just can’t.” Kay sat with her hands on the steering wheel though she’d turned off the car. It was getting warm inside the SUV.
Zoe wanted to lower a window, but she couldn’t. Kay noticed her actions and turned the key, rolling down both windows about half way. It would help but they’d still be warm.
“So you were wondering if you died if that would break the connection,” Zoe said.
“I think I can see him when I’m with you because I’m also ‘of the Blood’ as he says. It’s just too thin for him to use me.”
“That’s what I mean. If I died, it might cut the tie that binds that devil to the town. People would be safe again,” Kay said.
Zoe shook her head. “There’s the problem with you dying, though. The town wasn’t safe when you were gone.”
“But maybe my blood anchors him here to this plane, or whatever. He seemed to think that he had more power in the town when I was there. I’m not sure I understand it.”
“I know I don’t,” Zoe said quietly. “But here’s the thing. There were those other creatures who were killing people. They tried to kill me. In fact, my arm still burns like a bitch, although I think it’s fading a little. If you died, would that leave the rest of us at their mercy? I don’t get how that works.”
Kay shook her head. “I had to ask. I mean, if I could sacrifice myself and save the town, I would.”
“I don’t think you’re being asked to do that. You could just keep talking to this creature and make sure he keeps the town safe. Granted, you’re stuck living in Corbin Meadow, but it’s not the worst place. And you do hair. Last I checked there wasn’t anyone good. Grace still does it, but most of her clients are old enough to be our grandmothers.”
Kay laughed a little. “I think Charlene’s grandmother goes to her, but that’s only because she doesn’t want to drive into Lenoir to find someone else. I think they’re building one of those walk-in salons in the commercial center we passed. I looked into it because even though I had to leave, was glad to leave, I missed this place. I even missed Taran a little, although he drove me nuts.”
Zoe smiled. She felt uncomfortable talking about Taran with his ex-wife, although why she should didn’t make any sense to her. It wasn’t like they were dating or anything. They were just friends, and he seemed to care that she might be next on the list of people to be killed.
“They don’t like bringing in people,” Kay said. “Maybe it dilutes their power.”
“He said something about that,” Zoe agreed. “And those were the major types of things that were getting people killed.”
“I wonder if I can wish that Emrys makes sure they don’t kill anyone and then you could start working on making sure more people came to the town,” Kay said. “We could work together to break this influence.”
Zoe nodded. She wanted to build up the town largely because she thought it would be good for the people there, bring in a better economy, which was likely something she’d gotten from her mother, not because they needed to destroy something special about Corbin Meadow. However, if that was the way Kay wanted to look at it, well, that was Kay.
“Do you think it’s safe for you to do that?” Zoe asked. “I mean, not just for your soul, but could they try and hurt you, too?”
Kay shook her head. “Didn’t you hear Emrys? I am of the Blood, or whatever, and they can’t touch me, even if he isn’t directly protecting me. But your blood wasn’t strong enough.”
“You had to ask Emrys to protect me and then they couldn’t touch me. Like you make him stronger. Do you make them weaker?”
Kay shrugged. “I’d like to think that my dying would kill them all.”
“Emrys talked about us as mortals. Does that mean they aren’t mortal and can’t die?” Zoe was musing aloud, trying to parse what she’d learned, force it into something that made sense.
“We need to know more,” Kay said. “We don’t know enough about these things to know how to bargain or what’s good. For now, they aren’t hurting you, but I need to make sure they don’t hurt anyone else. And I need to learn more about them.”
“I don’t even know what they are,” Zoe said. “Where would we start asking?”
Kay pulled out her phone and started punching buttons on it. Zoe waited. She had her phone, too, and began doing her own searches, bizarre things like “are goblins real?” and then she tried gnomes. So far as Google was concerned, the answer was mostly no.
“There’s a professor at Redwellyn College just over the border in Tennessee, outside Johnson City,” Kay said. “It’s got a fairly large paranormal program, with a bunch of different focuses including one that studies folk creatures and the reality behind legends.”
“Like those creatures,” Zoe said.
Kay nodded. “Want to take a road trip?”
“It’s late. We should go back and I can pack up a bag,” Zoe said. “And I can tell my father where I’m going. He’ll probably be relieved that I’m getting out of town.”
“Great. That way if it gets late or if Professor Newton isn’t in, we can find a hotel and spend the night.”
Zoe had to pause a moment to try and catch up with Kay’s train of thought. Clearly Newton was the professor that had the expertise closest to what they needed. Before she could ask for more information before agreeing, Kay had turned the car around to head back into town.
Chapter 41 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.