Half Moon Chronicles: Legacy
By J. Michael Gonzalez
© 2017 J. Michael Gonzalez, all rights reserved
Cover Design by James, GoOnWrite.com
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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events
portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real
people or events is strictly coincidental.
on the pedestal these words appear:
name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
beside remains. Round the decay
that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
lone and level sands stretch far away
is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”
Milton, Paradise Lost
Knee of the Curve
(Dead Man) Mr. Ford
One: Expected Company
knock finally came, Miles was just finishing his preparations in the
kitchen. He had been expecting his visitor since awakening with a
panicked shout in the predawn hours, sweat-soaked sheets twisted
about his body. The dream had imprisoned him with razor-edged images
of violence and ruin, stubbornly resisting his semi-lucid struggles
to awaken. Though many of the dream’s specific details had
attenuated throughout the afternoon, two images had retained their
dream-like hyperreality, coming into focus as the rest of the dream
faded: yellow eyes glimmering in the foggy gloaming, watching him
through his kitchen window; and the girl, eyes glazed with the
ecstasy of her magic, fire and decay spreading in her wake,
corrupting everything she touched. Though the premonitions had been
coming less frequently of late, this was one of the strongest he
could remember; it filled him with dread, like some monstrous
scorpion clinging to his back, its claws pulling at his thoughts.
work to be done, he thought grimly as the
knock was repeated, a tight lipped smile touching his features as
familiar undercurrents of fear and excitement percolated through him.
briefly settled in his chair at the kitchen table, checking his
preparations, ignoring the twinges in his knees and hips as he sat.
Earlier that afternoon, he had experimented with the placement of the
sword relative to his chair, arranging the furniture and practicing
until he could snatch the scabbarded blade without looking and
execute a left-handed slash over the kitchen table. He had practiced
the move -- ignoring the dull pain in his joints -- until he could
grab the scabbarded blade, draw and cut between ticks of the clock
mounted over the refrigerator behind him. He nodded once in
satisfaction as he scanned the kitchen one last time, his heartbeat
work of a Celestial Advocate is a young man’s work,
he thought, though he still looked forward to sparring with this
adversary. He chuckled at his vanity, knowing it was foolish, but
unable to suppress his anticipatory excitement. He crossed his small,
sparsely furnished living room, unconsciously flexing his hands,
pushing away the dull fibrous pain; nearly six decades of work with
fist, sword, and heavy caliber firearms had taken their toll.
Celestial Advocates have a limited shelf life,
he mused, still an integral part of the
celestial machinery even if they’ve been granted a special place
was a risk answering the door unarmed...but even weakened by age as
he was, an Advocate was never truly weaponless. He paused, one hand
on the doorknob, closing his eyes in concentration as he extended his
senses beyond the door; he sensed darkness (was
it nighttime already?), fog...and his
visitor, standing on the other side of the door. His concentration
deepened as he unconsciously cocked his head to the side (a tremor of
unease passed through him; it wasn’t so long ago that he hadn’t
needed to concentrate at all); he realized he was searching for a
heartbeat which wasn’t there.
nodded as his eyes opened; he had read that part of the premonition
his guest knocked a third time, a mischievous smile began pulling at
the corner of his mouth. He pulled open the front door, revealing a
tall, nondescript man wearing a pea coat -- at least, he would have
appeared nondescript to someone unable to pierce his Glamour.
Miles, he looked like something else entirely.
man favored Miles with a sardonic smile, dipping his head in a nod of
smiled gently back, waiting.
man’s smile became forced as he realized that Miles was waiting for
him to speak, that he wasn’t going to make an invitation until it
was explicitly asked for. It was an absurd and childish power play,
but one which the man was forced to concede.
voice was a pleasant tenor, though his accent was hard to place --
neutral news caster American, perhaps with the slightest hint of
upper class London, “I’ve always wanted to meet you, old man. If
you would be so kind...it would be nice to step in out of the damp.”
smiled graciously, “I’ve prepared some tea; it’s just finishing
man hesitated, frowning slightly, but hid his irritation well, “Tea
would be lovely.” He made no move to enter.
waited a moment longer, fighting to suppress his smirk, then stepped
back, “Then by all means, come in and join me for a cup.”
evil into your home, he thought, always
a tricky prospect. He’ll doubtless leave a token behind...bother.
I become arrogant?, he wondered, a trickle of
doubt pooling in his thoughts.
man made his way through the living room into Miles’ kitchen,
settling at the table at his gesture. His visitor watched patiently
as Miles prepared the tea in silence, long practice lending artistry
to his careful, precise movements. It unnerved Miles to have his
guest almost at his back, though he wasn’t so foolish as to let his
visitor completely out of his sight; he had arranged his kitchen so
he could watch the other out of the corner of his eye with the sword
propped against the granite countertop near his hand. He glanced into
the alcove over the kitchen sink, at the small ‘decorative’
mirror in a stylized brass sun-shaped setting. He smiled faintly at
what he saw there...or didn’t see, really. He had mounted it there
-- thirty years ago? thirty seven? -- after another guest had
unexpectedly tried to kill him; his shoulder still twinged when the
weather turned stormy.
remember your sire,” Miles murmured, wondering how long their
veneer of civility would last.
heard the frown in his guest’s voice, “She
still holds a grudge over your murder of Carbrey.”
emphasis on the pronoun was unmistakeable. Miles suppressed a quiver
of fear, forcing an indifferent shrug as he returned to the table
bearing two glazed cups decorated with white herons taking flight
over a forest pond, “I’ve been abundantly clear about the
boundaries of my domain. Carbrey and his get were trespassing; I
disposed of the invading vermin accordingly. It was fortunate you
weren’t part of the raiding party, Berwyn.”
struggled to hide a smirk as he affected a muddled expression, “...or
Attercop, is it now?”
was childish and mean-spirited, but he couldn’t repress the impish
glee that surged through him; the temptation to goad his visitor was
hard to resist. He struggled not to grin as his visitor became
unnaturally still, his gaze filling with malice. He quickly regained
control, schooling himself back to stillness.
Miles thought, revising his estimate of his
guest’s threat upward as doubt momentarily bubbled back to the
surface. Disposing of him would have been easier if he could have
been taunted into a rage.
old man; I am Archangel now,” his visitor sneered. Miles filled
Archangel’s cup first, disappointed that he’d side-stepped the
gibe before continuing, “The Dark Lady has a long memory, old man.
She won’t forget your slight.”
neither will I’, Miles silently finished
for him. Though his sire’s destruction had freed Archangel -- his
new name symbolic of that release -- Miles had always known
Berwyn...Archangel...would eventually seek him out.
shrugged again, filling his own cup before settling across the small
kitchen table from his guest. He pretended to sip his tea as he
studied the man, noting Archangel’s gaze flicking to the sheathed
sword propped against the granite countertop. Archangel’s lips
tightened in consternation before he could master his countenance,
returning to patient stillness as he reluctantly pulled his gaze away
from the blade.
suppressed a chuckle, No old friend, that’s
not The Sword -- I hid that from you weeks ago. You’re worried that
if you can’t see it, I must have some trick planned.
grinned at his visitor. The weapon leaning against the countertop --
though real enough to kill -- was partially meant as a prop, a
distraction from the Desert Eagle mounted under the table. He doubted
it would destroy Archangel, but half a dozen .50 caliber
silver-tipped slugs would probably ruin his day.
visitor’s frustration momentarily boiled over, “You won’t be
able to hide here in your little ghost town much longer; the world is
changing, old man! The old order is collapsing; something new must
grow in the vacuum!”
grimaced, “And naturally you--“
me the girl!” Archangel interrupted. “We both know she’s
returned to your domain. What will you do when her power manifests?
This little ghost town you’ve made will become the very little eye
of a very big storm. Do you think to stand against the entirety of
the Sundered Havens with your decrepit carcass, old man? Can you even
pass an hour without pissing yourself? Or do you plan to...dispose of
her...when she comes into her power? Murdering your kind has never
been your modus operandi, despite your reputation. Give me the girl,
and you can grow old here in your little graveyard.”
smirked, adding, “Well..older,
at any rate.”
suppressed an inward sigh; another premonition come true -- the
Mortal Heir was in his domain. He had prayed she wasn’t, that she
could be someone else’s problem; he had been so tired, lately. He
wondered, not for the first time, whether Merdathin’s mysterious
visits were somehow related.
pieces fit, he thought, his jaw tightening
with consternation. Merdathin never did anything with a single
purpose in mind. If he ever resurfaced, Miles resolved to ask him
before killing him...even supposing he could
pushed the thought to the back of his mind, irritated at his
wandering focus; he had more pressing matters to consider.
all comes back to the girl, he thought sadly.
He pitied her for the misery and sorrow he foresaw in her future. He
had fought to keep his domain free of monsters like Archangel, but he
knew his visitor was right on both counts: when she came into her
power, she couldn’t be ignored; and Miles wouldn’t murder an
innocent. He shuddered at what her life would become if he allowed
Archangel to take her away. It would be better if she was dead than
to fall into his hands.
the Dark Lady’s, for that matter.
would die to prevent it, he decided -- though he hoped it wouldn’t
come to that.
into his visitor’s eyes, he felt a chill run down his spine, a cold
premonitory prickle that left him sweaty and shaken, wishing he could
handle the loaded Desert Eagle mounted under the table, knowing its
cold solidity, heavy with deadly purpose would bring him comfort; he
was suddenly filled with certainty that the girl was not to be his
task, that his work for the Celestials was almost done; but the way
been prepared, his successor chosen. If his successor should
fail...he shuddered as dream images of fire rose before him; it might
be better if she died in her sleep after all. He suddenly felt small
and exhausted, his mind unfocused in his failing body.
an integral part of the celestial machinery,
he reminded himself bitterly.
if reading his thoughts, Archangel ground his teeth with frustration.
His patient smile returned, becoming predatory as he moistened his
lips with the tea, “It’s almost time, old man.”
stared out the window, taking in the chilly, foggy evening,
suppressing a shiver of fear as he nodded, “Almost. But not
tonight, I think.”
sudden calm descended over his thoughts. He gently placed his tea cup
on the table, his lip curling in response to Archangel’s widening
smile. He heard the faint creak of muscles bunching.
filled the kitchen as Miles pulled the trigger underneath the table,
the percussion splitting his eardrums, jolting his ribcage, making
the teakettle jump on the countertop. Blood splattered the wall
behind Archangel; his agonized bellow shattering the mirror in its
decorative setting as he stumbled backward, his chair slamming into
the wall behind him with a cottony thud! after
the Desert Eagle’s thunder. Miles triggered three more rounds from
under the table, spattering the off-white paint behind Archangel with
overlapping sprays of gore, forcing him back another step.
scabbarded sword was already in his other hand when Archangel roared
again. Miles dropped the pistol as Archangel flipped the table out of
the way, an errant splinter stinging Miles’ neck as it shattered
into kindling. The blade was a silvery blur as he drew and cut to
meet Archangel’s lunge. A fan of blood sprayed across the wall as
Miles felt the tug of razor edged steel pulling deeply through flesh.
Even in his dotage, he was fast, bringing the blade around for a
should have finished it.
Chapter Two: Leaving
started her long journey home from her friend Angela's place early on
a Sunday morning-- well before the sun began to rise. Angela hadn't
been awake to see Nicolette out the door, which suited Nicolette just
fine; seeing her friend’s relief at her departure would have been
hard to bear. Her presence at Angela's house had made Angela nervous.
She was probably worried that Nicolette would ask to spend another
night, and another after that, and so on until either Nicolette
brought the cops down on her, or she had to kick out her unwelcome
roommate. Just thinking about it made Nicolette want to sigh. She
wasn't like that anymore, if she ever really had been; her memories
of her time with Angela as her friend were pretty hazy. Nicolette had
genuinely wanted to spend exactly one night, just long enough to make
a couple of phone calls and have somewhere warm to sleep afterward.
She had a schedule to keep, a journey that she’d been planning for
the last two and a half years.
it was finally starting.
journey had truly started with the click of the door latch behind
her; Nicolette suspected that no amount of knocking would have
brought Angela to the door once that lock clicked shut. She sighed, a
little hurt not to be trusted, but aware that perhaps the suspicion
wasn't wholly unjustified...but for all the wrong reasons. Still, it
had been great to sleep indoors in a bed; it beat sleeping in the bus
terminal or wandering around downtown until it was time to go.
you, Angie," she murmured into the chill predawn silence, her
throat aching with emotion, "you came through for me.”
the best way she could repay her friend would be to leave without
fuss, she turned and began her walk to the corner where she intended
to catch a bus downtown. She felt giddy as she stepped down from the
front porch to the walkway, then through the flaking wooden gate to
the sidewalk. It was exciting; she was moving from the known to the
unknown, feeling a little bit like old Bilbo after he had been
dragged from his comfortable and predictable hole. The Road goes ever
on and all that.
was truly leaving. That in itself was a victory worth celebrating.
had little hope that her reception at the end of her journey would be
a warm one; at this point she was hoping for a quiet, unnoticed
arrival and a little breathing room to begin rebuilding. The bus
arrived on time, roaring and wheezing down the somnolent city street,
its noise and stink magnified by the slightly hazy stillness. She
stepped aboard, pausing to study the sleepy people on the bus, most
of them likely on their way home from late shifts or Los Angeles
nightlife, wanting only to find cool sheets and a warm blanket.
unkindly, the bus driver tapped the fare-box, "Gotta pay to
quietly dropped in the requisite change and wandered down the aisle,
stumbling slightly as the bus lurched back into motion. She sat on
the left side of the bus, sliding all the way to the window. She
watched the city shudder past, hands folded patiently in her lap,
unconsciously fiddling with the coil of wire wrapped around her ring
stepped off the bus downtown, barely noticing the sleepy urban
landscape surrounding her; its novelty had long ago ceased to
register. It was just scenery, now -- hopefully just bad memories she
could start working to forget in an hour or so. Suppressing a shiver
in the chill pre-dawn, Nicolette walked the quarter mile to the
Megabus terminal. The man in the ticketing window glanced at her id,
accepted her cash, and gave her a ticket for the 6am North Bound
Shuttle. Nicolette hadn't really expected any trouble, but she
dreaded being recognized or having to explain where she’d been the
last three years. He barely even noticed the blonde-haired, dark-eyed
girl. To him, she was just another traveler with her own reasons for
leaving the city anonymously on the cheap.
bus was a long, blue animal with darkened windows, giving her the
impression of an elderly man wearing wraparound sunglasses. It spoke
to her of safety, anonymity, and travel under the radar. Her
nervousness eased as the bus began to board moments after she
finished her business. She took a seat on the lower level, near the
back. She didn’t have any baggage to check.
the clothes I'm wearing, she thought, the
contents of my pockets, and the bitter cup I’ve been given to drink
spirits were pretty low, but she was leaving Los Angeles behind. She
cast her mind back over the long boredom, back through all the
humiliations and indignities moving to LA had necessitated, her
regret and loneliness and doubt...and couldn't come up with a single
thing she had done that she felt proud of in this city. The one thing
she had no doubts about, though, was her initial decision to leave
Half Moon Bay and disappear into the depths of Los Angeles, like a
cockroach fleeing the kitchen light.
least I escaped from Mother, she thought,
caught in the familiar dull ache of paired guilt and relief.
drops of blood, spattered on ugly yellow linoleum...waiting for the
bus while the unseasonably warm sun beat down on her
shoulders...rumble of the bus making her head feel as though it was
going to split apart...guilt, despair, crushing self-hatred)
blinked rapidly at the ugly memory, forcing it down before it could
fully blossom in her mind's eye.
things first, she thought.
now, seven years after her escape, two years after her mother had
died, Nicolette still felt guilt and a sense of failure. She could
never shake the feeling that she could have tried just a little bit
harder, that perhaps there was some kind of effort threshold and if
she had just managed to cross it, everything might have come out
okay. She knew that was fallacious, that her childish need for
approval was hard-wired into her brain, that it would take years to
fully exorcise that feeling, but knowing the truth did little to
assuage her guilt. She still felt as though she’d somehow failed.
a shuddering roar, the Megabus came to life, grumbling resentfully at
the lightening cityscape. She waited for the vibration to change into
a rumble as the bus slipped into gear.
it put on its traveling shoes, she thought
with a slight smile, feeling impatience and anticipation begin to
rise past her depression.
a little dance, sing a little song, get the heck out tonight,
she thought, suddenly nervous. She wondered if this was how Orpheus
must have felt when the gates of Hades opened.
difference between you and me, Orph old pal,
she thought, is that if I turn around and LA
disappears, good riddance.
course, LA bore more resemblance to Hades than Eurydice in her heart.
Abruptly, the bus lurched into gear and began to slide along the
curb, making the turn into traffic after pausing at the light. Her
spirits rose as she realized it was finally beginning to happen --
she was finally leaving LA -- with luck, never to return.
you never left Harlan alive, Patty, she
thought, but I sure as hell am leaving LA
alive. Damaged, maybe. Battered, definitely. But alive.
had escaped; for now that was enough.
hour later, as the sun rose over the mountains, the bus was climbing
the long slope into the Grapevine on the 5N. Soon it would descend
into the sere Central Valley, laboring its way back up the state to
the South Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, one more stop on her way
to the coast -- to Half Moon Bay.
home, she hoped, her eyes filling with unshed
sat, her face turned to the window, her hands in her lap, calmly
watching the landscape as the bus slowly but inexorably put the miles
behind it. Her plan was finally in motion, but for the moment there
was nothing for her to do but wait.
IT was a
little after 3 in the afternoon when the bus crested a rise and began
its descent through the verdant coastal mountains. She was finally in
the home stretch after almost ten hours on the road. It had started
with the downtown bus to the Megabus station early that morning in
Los Angeles. After almost six hours cruising up the 5, she had
dismounted in San Jose, already feeling weary, but still with nearly
5 hours of travel to go. It was the first time she’d set foot in
the San Francisco Bay Area since she’d left...escaped...deserted.
She frowned at her inability to decide what words described her
departure from Half Moon Bay, her birth place. Most of Daniel's
family was probably still there, though she knew her own father and
siblings had left shortly after her mother died two years ago. The
thought that she might be in such close proximity to her second
family (and Daniel!) left her simultaneously giddy with anticipation
and nauseous with dread. Most of the probable outcomes were likely
bad ones, but the giddiness just wouldn’t close up shop and go
that afternoon the Megabus had dropped her off in the San Jose
station where she’d walked across the platform and caught Caltrain
-- light rail -- up the Peninsula. She had almost made it across the
platform before being stopped by a middle aged man in an expensive
suit asking her to autograph his pocket silk. The intensity of his
grey-eyed stare had unnerved her, but he seemed friendly enough. She
was surprised by the dull ache in her chest as she watched him
quickly hurry away from her, as if afraid of being seen with her.
least he said ‘thank you’, she mused,
forcing herself to feel bitter amusement at his furtive retreat in
lieu of hurt shame. Almost 4 years since she’d last been in front
of a camera, and fans still recognized her. She sighed, hoping Half
Moon Bay would give her more anonymity than Los Angeles had.
the time the train boarded, she had shaken if off. She had long ago
learned how to compartmentalize chance meetings like that. There was
a time when she would have been thrilled by the encounter, pleased to
have been recognized by a stranger...
found a seat on the upper level, her curiosity driving her to seek a
broader view for the trip back. She had rarely traveled this far from
the coast in her youth (though some might call 24 youthful, she
certainly didn’t feel very youthful after 6 hours on Megabus!).
Nicolette tried comparing her memories of the South Bay and Silicon
Valley to her memories from her previous trip, but couldn’t really
find many differences.
course, when you’re concussed and blinded by tears for half the
trip, it’s hard to make a really meaningful comparison,
she thought, feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted.
guess coming home was bound to dig up things that I’d worked hard
to bury, she thought. I
feel like some kind of cut-rate paleontologist, digging through
layers of bad decisions and unlucky breaks. A real paleontologist
finds bones, she thought. What
will I find? Will the bones just be a dry, fossilized record of past
mistakes, or are they going to be the festering remains of my life in
Half Moon Bay, holding records of pain and sorrow still unresolved?
her throat began to tighten, she abandoned the absurd line of
thought. If she kept flogging herself with her regrets, her return
journey would be just as heart-breaking as her outbound one had been.
least then my memories would have symmetry,
she thought ruefully.
stared out the window as the train rode its tracks through the heart
of Silicon Valley. She knew it was supposed to be an ‘Economic
Powerhouse’, driving the economy of the state and possibly even the
nation. To her it mostly looked like freeways, low boring buildings,
and trees tamed to the urban environment. For such an important
place, it looked plain and uninteresting, like a strip mall, but
without any shopfronts or eye-catching marquees. It depressed her,
and she was glad when the light rail ride ended near the shopping
mall. She glanced westward toward the mountains, seeing flows of grey
mist beginning to pour between the peaks, a slow motion wave drifting
down the green, forested slopes.
Moon Bay is just the other side of those mountains, she
thought. Where Daniel probably is, the
thought arising before she could stop it. She had a brief memory of
his brown eyes twinkling with amusement, a smile pulling at the
corner of his lips. Guilt and betrayal surged through her,
momentarily overpowering the hopeful longing accompanying the memory.
Angrily, she pushed the memory down, but knowing she was so close to
her destination got her feet moving. From the mall, she caught the
294, almost the last leg of the journey. The 294 went west into the
mountains, passing over the Crystal Springs Reservoir, a lake nestled
in a valley between green, forested mountains. It was beautiful as it
caught the afternoon sunlight, but she was exhausted, barely able to
summon enough interest for more than a cursory glance at the long
water in its forested valley.
need to call Ramona, she thought, her
exhaustion unable to completely blunt her fear and anxiety. She
wanted to discretely suss out Daniel through his mother, and to
shook her head, suspecting that running away had probably hurt Ramona
almost as much as Daniel. She didn’t think Ramona would be happy to
hear from her.
she thought, tamping down a brief spasm of
paired guilt and worry.
the 294 crested the low coastal mountains and began the long descent
on the other side, her earlier giddiness resurfaced along with dread.
After seven long years away, it was hard not to react to all the
possible scenarios she’d imagined, both good and bad. The bus
traveled through tamed pine forest, passing long stretches of
wildness, interspersed with dirt roads winding back up into the woods
marked by mail boxes.
was once again settled on the left side of the bus, resting her head
against the window, enjoying the vibration though the cold glass. She
watched for familiar sites or places that she might have visited
(with Daniel!, her
mind unhelpfully supplied before she could stop it). The bus wheezed
to the top, then began the long roll down the switchback, where it
passed the invisible but intuitively felt border between The
Wilderness and The Town. She watched, her throat tight.
the bus finished the lower half of the switchback and climbed a short
hill, she waited in anticipation, watching for the Christmas tree
farms: long orderly rows of cultivated pine trees of various ages,
types, and sizes. It was one of the things that identified the border
of Half Moon Bay for her.
the road wound past the trees and through the horticulturists’
alley, her eyes did fill with tears as she unconsciously pressed her
palm against the window. She watched the figure of a rusted red
tyrannosaurus rex as the bus drove past it. It was a huge iron
sculpture, purposefully made to rust and gain texture and character
in the North Coast air. It stood as a sign for passerby, to attract
the interest of tourists and to mark a small collective of produce
and souvenir shops, marking the eastern edge of the city.
she murmured huskily, a name she had bestowed on the monster during
Beverly Willards’ sixth birthday party. The kids had started a game
which involved fighting the attacking monster, but when Nicolette had
first laid eyes on it, she had immediately dubbed it ‘Clifford’
after said big red dog and set herself to defend him against his
vicious, soulless attackers (i.e., her classmates). Daniel had wanted
to be one of the knights slaying the dragon, but Nicolette had forced
him to stand with her and defend him. By the end of the party (or at
least, when the parents had realized the children were all but
playing in traffic), all the kids had switched sides and were
defending the fearsome, rusting monster from The Poachers (at the
time, Nicolette hadn’t known what the word meant, only that it
signified bad people that hurt animals). Even then, she thought, she
had loved Daniel, albeit in the uncomplicated way of a child. He was
her knight, her protector, her best friend...eventually, almost her
watched, her heart beating faster as the bus topped a small rise, the
trees drawing apart like a curtain framing the road; the ocean came
into view, a grey somnolent expanse, extending all the way to the
pale glimmering line underneath the early evening fog. Her breath
caught, as the mystery and majesty of the ocean filled her with a
momentary rush of anticipation. The bus approached a busy
intersection, then wheezed its way over to the side of the road.
People -- mostly kids coming from the mall -- stood up and began
filing off the bus onto the sidewalk. She took a deep breath, then
forced herself to her feet, a strange mix of excitement and dread
roiling about in her stomach. She descended the steep steps, then
took the last long step down, meeting the gray, chilly afternoon. Out
on the coast, the high-altitude fog tended to roll in early. It was
going to be a damp evening.
watched as the bus roared away, its passengers dispersing toward the
mini-mall parking lot, or to the crosswalk across the main avenue.
She was left alone at the bus stop. She still had to finish some last
minute business, eventually to return and wait for one more bus to
take her to Montara, a small suburb about 6 miles north up the 1 --
the Pacific Coast Highway. Angela had made the reservation at the
lighthouse hostel for her the month before. Her excitement slowly
drained out of her, leaving only dread, and a dreary sort of
was home, had come full circle. She’d left to escape this place,
running blindly, only caring that she was getting out.
here I am, she thought, feeling as though
she’d once again run away from an impossible situation in Los
Angeles. She sighed deeply as she settled onto the bench, feeling
thoroughly defeated. Soon, she’d have to start confronting the
wreckage of her first failed escape, but for the moment, she was
thankful that there were other more pressing matters that demanded
her attention -- starting with getting to the Lighthouse and maybe
calling Ramona to get his contact info; the number she had didn't
seem to work any more.
home, Nikki, she thought bitterly. When she
had left Half Moon Bay seven years before, she’d thought she could
never feel more thoroughly beaten, beaten by the exigencies of her
life and the consequences of her decisions.
she had thought wrong; that realization stung her eyes and the back
of her throat.
Chapter Four: Time
later, Nikki sat in a small, claustrophobic office, blinking rapidly
from the eye-watering stench of dust, industrial cleaning fluid, and
aftershave. In an effort to distract herself from her burning
sinuses, she let her gaze wander, soaking up myriad tiny details
hoping to gain insight into the character of the man sitting across
the cluttered desk from her. Her gaze fell on the plaque on his desk,
a simple triangular wooden block with a plastic name plate, reading
Agent Diego Garcia, she mentally added. Her
parole agent. She studied him as he sifted through the pile of
paperwork on his desk, an open folder sitting in a little cleared
space on his blotter as paperwork, keyboard, mouse, pens, pencils,
paperclips -- general chaos -- threatened to cross the little cleared
semi-circle. She frowned, wondering at the implied metaphor: her life
surrounded by chaos, with only the smallest of artificial buffer
zones for protection. She shook her head, pushing the thought out of
her mind as she sought distractions to keep the thought from creeping
back in. She looked up at the wall behind him, studying the line of
framed degrees on display, along with several citations of merit.
of Arts, Psychology, UC Berkeley.
of Arts, Criminal Justice, UC Berkeley.
of Science, Criminology, University of Pennsylvania.
swallowed hard, momentarily overawed, “He must have wanted to be a
parole guy since high school,” she murmured, then froze when he
looked up. “Sorry, I was just looking at your wall -- at your
pictures -- degrees on your wall, and was just” babbling
like an idiot “thinking out loud.”
coughed, blood rushing to her face, “Maybe a little too loud.”
smiled absently as he looked back down, his scrutiny of her paperwork
leaving her feeling as though she was suffering through a
particularly thorough doctor’s exam. She wanted to simultaneously
check the buttons on her blouse and take a very long, very hot
shower. He was swarthy, middle aged but fit -- perhaps a little bit
too sedentary for his own good. His black hair was cut short, though
it was starting to go prematurely white; perhaps the contrast made
the white more visible. He was only average height, but somewhat
muscular and broad shouldered, his blue chambray work shirt pulling
ever so slightly tight over his shoulders.
had the sudden urge to scatter his paperclips on the floor, or run
her fingers through his hair. She fought to suppress nervous giggles
at the mental image of Agent Garcia’s hair standing at all angles,
struggling to keep her composure at the inappropriate absurdity of
the thought. She desperately wanted to break the feeling of solemnity
the whole proceeding had, to mitigate the fear engendered by that
solemnity. Anything to make Garcia seem more human and
less...institutional. It was that last which filled her with fear --
the idea that he was merely an instrument of an institution which
regarded her as insignificant; she was just a thing to be shuffled
back and forth and discarded with unthinking indifference should
circumstances beyond her control warrant it, like a bent paperclip
shuffled from one end of the desk to the other until it was finally
tossed in the wastebasket when it became a nuisance. Only in her
case, it was back to prison instead of the wastebasket...though she
supposed one could argue there wasn’t much difference.
folded her hands in her lap to keep them from visibly shaking, her
earlier nervous mischief gone.
watched his lips moving as he subvocalized some of the paperwork he
was reading. She was momentarily fascinated by the way his
pencil-thin mustache seemed to exaggerate the movement of his lips.
She briefly wondered whether his lips would be soft or if his
mustache would tickle. Whether he’d be fun to kiss.
Nikki, she thought, he’s
old enough to be your father! Down
shook her head, forcibly pushing the thought away, painfully
conscious that her desperation to humanize P.O. Garcia drove the
inappropriateness of her thoughts. She doubted he saw her as anything
other than an inconvenience; something to be managed, perhaps, but
never quite making the transition from something
Unfortunately, once acknowledged, the thought stubbornly refused to
go away. She found herself wondering what she would do if he made an
advance, if allowing it would help her or hurt her.
took a deep breath, forcing her fear back as she realized she was
seriously debating whether she would be willing to prostitute herself
to stay out of prison. So far, Garcia had given no indication he was
that kind of man.
It go, she told herself, you’re
borrowing trouble. The only thing going on here is that you’re
scared spitless and writing horror stories for yourself as a result.
nodded as if unconsciously agreeing with her thoughts, then closed
the folder resting in its little window of calm, “Let’s talk
about you and your situation. You’ve reviewed the terms of your
parole?” He paused long enough for her to nod before continuing,
“Good. I see some really promising things in your file -- things
which I don’t see often; you joined a substance abuse program, you
sought out counseling, you got your GED and managed to get an AS
degree as well.”
nodded absently as he continued, “That takes hard work and
sat back, surprised at the implied compliment, listening for a ‘but’
in his words; she was disconcerted when she couldn’t find one. He
studied her expressionlessly, watching the emotions playing across
her countenance, “That’s a good foundation we can build on, see
if we can set you up to get through your time on paper as painlessly
nodded, studying him, wondering what his angle was. She felt a weary
sort of surprise as she realized that it might just be possible his
intentions could be trusted, that his interests and hers might
smiled, despite puzzled lines appearing on his forehead, “You seem
nodded, suddenly finding speech eluding her.
Cooper -- may I call you Nicolette?”
is fine,” she murmured hoarsely.
young, intelligent, a hard worker -- you have all the tools necessary
to succeed. We just...”
voice trailed away as the impact of his words registered. He wondered
if Miss Cooper’s tears were a good sign or a bad one.
good sign, he decided, as he offered her the tissue box which
normally lived on his desk. It wasn’t common that his clients
reacted so emotionally, but he liked to be prepared. Of course,
Nicolette Cooper wasn’t very representative of the type of clients
that he usually saw -- he could probably count the number that had
earned Associate’s Degrees while incarcerated on his hands with
fingers left over. He waited patiently for Nikki to regain her
smiled apologetically, crumpling a damp tissue in her hand,
embarrassed at her display of emotion. The tension and fear had been
building since her release; by the time she knocked on his door, her
composure had been paper thin.
conversation she’d had with Daniel’s mother, Ramona, hadn’t
helped, she reflected ruefully; two days later, she still felt
bruised and torn from their exchange. The bitter knowledge that
Ramona’s anger was at least partly justified had left her feeling
stripped bare and defenseless against her words.
going to make this right, she thought,
determinedly pushing aside her discouragement. I
don’t know how, yet...but I will.
met Garcia’s measuring gaze with a tremulous, embarrassed smile.
sorry,” she finally continued, “It’s been a trying couple of
nodded sympathetically, giving her a moment to regain her composure
before continuing. He became businesslike and professional as he
caught her eyes with his own, “Let’s talk about your living
arrangements. I spoke with your father, and it sounds like he wants
to help out.”
nodded, struggling with her conflicting feelings; gratitude that she
would have her own place to stay, frustration that she should need
her father’s help, rage and disappointment that he would take the
easy way out and buy her off despite her earlier refusal of his help,
pain at his implicit rejection.
like Dad, she thought bitterly, always
good at finding the middle ground between his obligations with a
minimum of personal involvement. And he says I’m not a good
influence?, she thought indignantly, her pain
and wounded pride competing for space in her emotional landscape.
Where were you when Mother was being insane?
What were you doing when your eldest daughter ran away from home to
get away from that lunatic? How does taking the brunt of Mother’s
insane plans and abuse for seventeen years make me a bad influence?
motherfucker, she thought, feeling her
resentful rage rise up. He probably paid for
Bea and Stuart’s college. What help do I get from my ‘family’?
A bribe to stay away.
knew it was irrational, but she felt as though she was getting more
support from a man who was likely more interested in sending her back
to prison. How messed up is that?,
she thought, her lip curling in a snarl.
was startled when Garcia spoke, then a little embarrassed as she
wondered what her expression must look like...and how long he’d
been studying her, “Nikki... For now, let’s take advantage of the
offer. It’s a really good place to start rebuilding; finding work
is going to be tough -- with your work history, morality clauses are
going to present some serious obstacles in addition to your parole,
and your father’s help can give us more time. We can discuss
alternative arrangements once you’ve had time to get settled.”
he promoted when she didn’t immediately answer.
to keep her lips from trembling, she nodded, not trusting her voice.
I’ll visit and do a walk through once you move in.”
sighed, resentfully wishing her father spent more time talking with
her than her parole officer.
added, “They’re doing some renovations at the cottage, so...”
nodded, “Your father mentioned that. We can work out intermediate
arrangements, but we need to get you out of the hostel; it’s not a
great place for you. Let’s go over your release plan...”
Chapter Five: Art
studied the mass of copper wire on the work table before him. He
flipped back the polarized face shield to get a clearer view of the
piece. His studio was chilly, the air almost cool enough to turn his
breath to mist. Thankfully, the heavy, long sleeved jacket which
protected him from welding spatter kept him warm while he worked. The
piece had started life as a car radio which he had mounted on a steel
plate. He had subsequently added bits of wire bent into long curving
organic shapes, then mixed in other metallic wrack. As it neared
completion, it became suggestive of the ocean floor and graceful
rhythmic movement. Daniel liked the juxtaposition of life and
movement with bits of static and inflexible metal.
had pulled the radio from a Pick-n-Pull some weeks before while
scouting for a new project car that he and his brother could work on.
He had spotted it while walking between rows of discarded, rusting
vehicles, half pulled out of the dash console of an old and decaying
Mustang, the exposed wiring suggestive of an internal organ brutally
avulsed from the car’s insides. The mental image had left him
nauseous and shaky, heart hammering in his chest as he struggled with
the need to escape from a threat which rationally he knew didn't
he struggled to get his breathing under control, his VA therapist's
words had come back to him, a calming mantra smoothing over the
turbulent seethe of his emotions, seeding his imagination to
incorporate the experience into his art. He had forced himself pull
it free, working patiently and methodically, the physical activity
calming him further, the seeds of his creativity already germinating.
That had been more than a month ago; it had been gathering dust in
the back of his workshop since then, little more than a nascent idea
which had been momentarily forgotten.
frowned, trying to recall what had drawn his attention back to it,
had made the idea alive in his imagination once more. He sat back,
his tools forgotten as he traced the creative thread through his
afternoon until the dream from the night before surfaced,
dream-memories of light and water filling his mind...
the setting sun broke apart into a dazzling display of sparkles
scattered over the surface of the ocean. It was still too bright to
look at directly, but if Daniel tilted his head slightly, his
polarized sunglasses revealed very faint bands of color streaking
wide swathes of the ocean around the dazzling display. There was a
chilly wind blowing in off the ocean, bringing with it the smell of
brine and the occasional hint of salt mist as the waves shattered
themselves against the rocks into sprays of white foam. The day was
extraordinarily clear, with only the faintest hint of haze far out
over the water. He and Nicolette sat on a misshapen boulder, a
quarter of a mile from the concrete and steel stairway which led from
the cliff tops down onto the beach. They had walked as far as they
reasonably could, seeking some measure of solitude from the other
beachgoers. Most were tourists staying at the Ritz a little ways up
the coast. Only a very small handful were out in the ocean -- the Bay
Area coastal waters were far too chilly for casual beachgoers.
boulder they sat on was oddly shaped, only passably suitable for a
lengthy stay. He had willingly volunteered the flatter portion of
their stony perch for Nicolette’s use, valiantly sitting on the
oddly shaped side. They had been sitting for the better part of half
an hour, mostly in silence as they watched the sun set. The muscles
of his left leg were on fire -- the oddly shaped perch forced him to
rely on his left leg to keep his balance.
sighed as she abruptly pointed beyond the breaking waves. He
squinted, making out several dark points just beyond the rough,
disturbed foam, arrowing left to right. When he didn’t immediately
reply, she dropped her arm and exclaimed, “Sea otters!”
could hear the smile of pleasure in her voice, bringing an answering
smile in response. Unconsciously, he tightened his arm around her
shoulders, pulling her closer. He was rewarded when Nicolette snaked
her left arm around his back, feeling immediate warmth from her skin
through his t-shirt. Her resultant sigh of contentment made the
chilly air and burning pain of his left thigh seem almost immaterial
(not to mention the resultant fight to keep from shivering -- he’d
loaned her his jacket when she started shivering; while he didn’t
exactly regret giving it up, he was definitely feeling the cooling
evening air through his t-shirt).
broke into his reverie, “You’re really hurting, aren’t you?”
chuckled, having long since habituated himself to her uncanny ability
to deduce the bent of his thoughts, “Nah. Just trying to figure out
what color you’d call that -- out there, on the edges.”
frowned as he pulled back, reading her expression as he challenged,
“That’s...not even a color.”
watched as the corner of her mouth pulled up into a smile, “According
to Mary Kay, it is.”
your nail polish?”
couldn’t keep from laughing, then laughing harder when she pinched
his side with her nails, making him jump with surprise. He chuckled
good-naturedly, “Ordinarily I’d make you pay for that, but I’m
enjoying this sunset too much."
watched in contented silence, listening to the thunder of breaking
waves. He watched as Nicolette smiled when a particularly big wave
broke, the vibrations of its passing felt through the sand underfoot.
He was surprised at the sudden surge of emotion he felt as he studied
her profile, her hand tightening unconsciously on his thigh as she
intuitively sensed his emotion.
you here it wouldn’t...” his voice trailed off as he struggled to
smile faded as she heard the change in timbre in his voice.
you being maudlin?” she asked, a slight quiver in her voice giving
the lie to her teasing.
don’t even know what maudlin
means!” she countered.
does it mean, then?”
means you’re talking too much!”
smirked, “What are you going to do about it?”
leaned in and kissed her, enjoying her little sigh of pleasure as she
leaned into him, his arm tightening in response. Her lipgloss tasted
faintly sweet, but beyond that, he could taste and smell her, which
excited him more. She made another small murmur in her throat as they
briefly lost track of time.
he finally pulled away an eternity later, she breathlessly murmured,
“You have such a way with words.”
know,” he responded, a little breathless himself but struggling to
sat in silence, watching as the sun’s lower edge reached the water,
igniting the surface of the ocean into myriad diamonds and citrons.
wouldn’t be here without you...there just wouldn’t be much point.
I mean...with everything that's happened...whatever happens...”
brow furrowed as he heard the throb of strong emotion in her voice, a
sudden nameless unease sweeping through him, his grip tightening in
response, “Nikki, do you know how much I love you?”
sighed, several moments passing as she waited for her voice to
return, “I think I do, yeah. I love you, Daniel. And thank you.”
unconsciously pulled away again, surprised to see her eyes filled
with unshed tears, “For what?”
response, she stared blindly out over the water, watching as the last
fiery rim of the sun began easing below the distant ocean horizon,
watching the light dimming, “For being like the rocks out in the
hesitated before attempting to introduce a little levity, “Wet?”
shook her head, ignoring the humor in his tone, her gaze still
abstracted, “For being impervious to my bullshit, like the rocks
way out there in the ocean don’t even notice the waves.”
sat in silence for a time, watching the sun dip below the horizon.
struggled to find something to say in response, unsure where the
emotion was coming from, his wordless unease swelling.
punched him lightly in his ribs, then laughed at his confused
expression, “C’mon. It’s cold...and if your leg doesn’t stop
shaking, I’m going to start feeling seasick.”
years ago, he thought, Almost
to the day. He shook his head in irritation
that the calculation still came to him so effortlessly.
she know?, he wondered. Had
she already decided she was going to leave?
moment passed as he replayed the memory, analyzing it, searching for
answers...as if he hadn't been replaying it fruitlessly for years. He
shook his head, It just doesn't make any
pushed the memory aside.
is pointless, he decided, my
mind just isn’t in it today.
losing himself in the creative process -- exploring the memories and
feelings of his time in Afghanistan with something creative -- was
something that just happened. Today, though...from his first moment
of waking his day had drifted by, his hours filled with nameless
anticipation. He felt as though something around him had inexplicably
shifted, that the changed landscape threatened to bring alien
stimuli, things that he wasn’t yet equipped to handle. It left him
on edge, impatient. Daniel accepted that change was an inevitable
part of life, but throughout his life, he’d found that change and
disaster were inextricably linked -- the bigger the change, the
greater the likelihood those changes were catastrophic; his father’s
dying, Nikki leaving, Daniel enlisting in the Army...Afghanistan.
sighed, deciding this line of thought wasn’t helping. He began
putting everything away; perhaps tomorrow would be better.
Dane arrived, Daniel had been sitting idle for nearly half an hour,
pensive and unsettled. Dane glanced around Daniel's small workshop;
it was little more than a rectangular, concrete-floored storage unit.
Daniel had gone to great lengths to convert it to a comfortable
creative space with the addition of shelves and storage space for his
tools, a long workbench covered with metal shavings and sawdust --
not to mention several projects in various stages of completion. He
had even added a small refrigerator filled with beer and snacks. Dane
leaned around the open doorway, finding Daniel sitting with a beer in
his hands, clearly lost in thought. He hesitated, taking a moment to
assess Daniel's mood. They had an implicit understanding -- Dane was
always welcome (Dane owned the storage unit, after all), but Daniel
reserved the right to ignore him if he was working on a project. A
slow smile spread across his features as he studied Daniel, bringing
a twinkle to his brown eyes.
looked up, startled. Dane grinned, his perfectly even, white teeth
contrasting with his carefully maintained tan. He projected an air of
easy-going indolence, but Daniel knew that his happy indifference was
an affectation hiding his driven, hard working character. Dane was
almost painfully earnest in his desire to be liked, though he had an
innate charisma that made it easy to like him. Daniel suspected Dane
had been something of a player before he’d met Shelly; he had
probably snared her with his boyish good looks and easy-going charm,
but Daniel suspected Dane was the one more firmly caught.
chuckled, shaking his head, “Just not feeling it tonight.”
smile became slightly forced as he hesitated, then shook his head.
“No. We texted a couple times today, but I think she
was more worried about me than...” he trailed off, unsure how to
finish. Carla had been the latest in his long line of failed
relationships. They had been close, often thinking on the same
wavelength, sometimes able to complete each other’s sentences (like
he and Nikki used to). But for all the implied closeness and
intimacy, they had also reinforced each other in less constructive
ways. His temper had always been a bit of a wild card, but since he’d
left the Army, it had seemed much closer to the surface, something he
was constantly struggling to manage. With Carla, he often felt out of
control, frustratingly at the mercy of his emotions. She had always
seemed darkly gleeful when she could goad him until he lost it,
especially when he turned his rage on her. Though their fights were
legendary, they seemed to end up in the bedroom more often than not.
had been his longest relationship since (Nikki left) high school, and
probably the most intense, but their mutually reinforced pathos often
left him feeling sick and helpless in the aftermath of their
lovemaking. That had been their pattern for the majority of their
relationship, their dark chemistry shared almost from the moment they
met after a show at the Cobra Room.