Taran pulled up to his house, uncomfortable to be bringing Kay there, to a home he never expected to share with her. It wasn’t up to her typical standards, just an older home on a small lot with a detached garage in the back. It needed work, but he’d gotten it for a song and he’d already done some of the improvements, finding that he enjoyed working with his hands. He often wondered if there was something in the water around Corbin Meadow that made people want to craft things.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t finished the projects that still needed to be done. And the furniture which served him well enough was not the sort of thing he wanted to bring Kay home to. Even if he could forget Kay, he dreaded seeing the same judgement of his poor taste—poor being the keyword—in Zoe’s eyes.
The air was thick with the scents of vanilla and something like honey, which came from one of the low creeping plants edging the yard around the paths that he’d redone early in the spring. It was a pleasant enough smell, especially now that the air wasn’t so still and heavy.
Kay arrived behind him, her SUV smoothly making the turn with a soft purr that Taran could appreciate. She hadn’t had such a nice car when they’d been together. They hadn’t been able to afford it. She was clearly doing well in Virginia.
She paused, sitting in the car, letting Zoe get out first, while she looked at the house, the slightly sagging screen door, the siding that needed repainting, though it didn’t actually need replacing, the cracks in the cement that may or may not be visible in the dark, the slightly overgrown garden. She finally got out and walked back towards Taran, who was parked in front of his garage. His own truck was in the garage and cruiser stayed outside when he brought it home. It wasn’t his for personal use, but he was pretty much always on duty one way or another in a town as small as Corbin Meadow.
The backyard was small, only a patch of lawn and not much else. A few trees, because there were always trees around Corbin Meadow. The oldest of them, an old willow tree, had been taken down when he’d moved in because the roots were reaching the sewer system and the trunk was half rotted. It was a disaster waiting to happen on so many levels. There was still a depression near the garage where the willow had once stood.
“Is there some place to sit?” Kay asked, getting right down to business.
There were a four old plastic Adirondack-style chairs sitting on the back porch. He’d gotten that many because that’s how the used set had come. One was slightly cracked, and Taran guided the two women around that one.
“I was thinking we should also ask the creature for advice or a story about what to tell Sheriff Fellows about the murders,” Zoe said. “To tie up his loose ends, don’t you think?”
Taran nodded. “I’m not sure what he’ll do unless he has a suspect, though.”
“Maybe the creature, Emrys, has an idea.”
Kay and Zoe reached out their hands, each woman grasping the other’s hand. Taran was slower to respond, and Kay slapped his hand slightly when he realized they wanted to hold his hand, too. He scooted his chair closer and held both of them, Kay’s slightly cool and moist. Zoe’s warmer and drier, almost fiery, and she flinched a little when he took it.
“Close your eyes,” Kay ordered.
Taran did so, but not before noticing that the other two had their eyes closed already. Immediately he had a vision of his backyard in more detail than he normally saw in his mind’s eye. The colors were clearer than they were as they sat in the backyard, and there was a sort of ghostly outline of the willow, like it wasn’t completely gone.
In the midst of that was the creature he’d seen briefly when he and Zoe had been in her house. There were other creatures there, near the edges, but he couldn’t make them out.
“I want to you to promise that there will be no more murders when people try to expand the town,” Kay said.
Taran heard her mumbling the words but he also heard them clearly in his mind, like he was remembering something.
“Is that what you wish?” the creature that Zoe had called Emrys asked. He was waiting.
“I wish it.” Kay’s voice was firm, firmer in his imagination than it was in the whisper he heard from her.
“I shall do my best,” Emrys said. “It is part of keeping the town safe that you have wished for before.”
“I wish to have a story I can tell outsiders about the deaths of these people,” Kay said.
“A story?” Emrys said. “Like perhaps a story about a headless horseman? Or a story about elves in the garden?”
“No,” Kay snapped. “I wish a story that will stand up to outside scrutiny, that will mean the sheriff, who is an outsider, will understand and accept.”
Emrys was silent. A smile that Taran did not like flashed across his face multiple times but then he paused. “You have tried to be so careful, so I will clarify this wish. First, I can grant that. Kelvin White works at the specialty nursery in Raleigh. He visits his mother here regularly and can be placed here on each day of the murders because his mother calls him when she’s upset. The trowel will tie him there. The sheriff you wish to lie to would believe because the man is not white. Do you wish me to create a story about him?”
“No,” Zoe said firmly.
Emrys didn’t look at her.
“Can you do a story like that about someone who is dead?” Kay asked, picking up.
Taran thought that was a better idea.
“It would be possible that Kelvin would die in a traffic accident on his next visit to his mother,” Emrys suggested.
“I don’t want you to kill someone to grant my wish,” Kay said. This time it was a louder whisper, her voice less firm in Taran’s mind, almost tearful.
“Is there someone here who is close to death anyway who could have committed the murders?” Zoe asked. Her voice was soft, a whisper in his ear in the real world. In his mind’s world, where this seemed to be happening, it was like a soft breeze in the wind. No wonder Emrys ignored her.
Kay, however, heard. “I wish that you make a story about someone who will die in the next few weeks anyway, without your interference.”
Emrys sighed, thinking. “And the person must have been physically able to commit the crime?”
“Yes,” Kay said.
There was a long silence. Emrys seemed to fade in and out of existence. Then he smiled and glanced at Taran, the filed teeth suddenly gleaming. “Your father’s heart is not well.”
“My father?” Kay asked.
Emrys looked back at her. “No, his father. The Rees man. His heart fails him and his spirit is not long for this world. A week. Maybe two.”
Kay sighed. Taran didn’t look at her, his heart hammering. His father was going to die? Was the creature accurate?
“Are you sure?” Kay asked finally.
“Of all the people in Corbin Meadow that may die, his death is the most certain, though now that you know and there are, perhaps, medical treatments that could save him, it changes the probabilities,” Emrys said. His eyes glanced from Kay to Taran. Taran wanted to look at Kay, beg her not to say yes, but he didn’t speak. He wasn’t sure if he could, his tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth stuck to the roof of it.
“Who is the next most certain to die?” Zoe asked.
When Emrys ignored her, Kay repeated the question.
“The man you know as Frank Nilsson has a tumor in his liver that is growing rapidly. He may or may not already know. There are strange smells on him as if he’s taking medication. He probably won’t live too much longer, a few months, perhaps, unless he is taking medication and that helps him. If he were pushed or fell, he might die sooner.”
Taran felt as if his heart were bursting. If he hadn’t known, he could have lost his father and then, still raw from that death, he’d have lost Frank, a man who had been his boss and mentor.
But Frank. Frank who knew something wasn’t quite right and had refused to have the sheriffs in the first time, he would understand why, wouldn’t he? It would be easy to make it all fit. Too easy. Too neat. Taran wondered if the creature had named his father first to make sure they were willing to use Frank.
“I wish that this man could die a peaceful death that doesn’t cause him pain, after he has learned of his cancer, and he will be the prime suspect for the murders, though he will die too soon to have his guilt proved,” Kay said quietly and with dignity.
Kay had always liked Frank. She was probably reeling from the revelations every bit as much as Taran. Zoe was the only one who didn’t know the men as well, though she would know of them, probably had her own stories about talking to them, things they did to help her.
“Your wish,” Emrys said smiling, his teeth gleaming.
Kay’s hand fell from his. Taran reached to find it again, but then everything in his mind’s eye went black. The creature was gone, the ghostly willow was gone, the perfectly formed image of his yard was just not there. Taran tried to resurrect the picture but he couldn’t. He finally opened his eyes.
Kay was doubled over in the chair, as well as anyone could in the angled things, and she was beginning to sob. Zoe was patting her, carefully removing her hand and moving closer to Kay. Taran wanted to help, in fact he wanted to sob himself, but he didn’t know how. Instead he got up and walked to the edge of the yard, looking out at it, wondering how the creatures existed at all.
Chapter 45 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.