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A Seagull Screams Behind Her

Excerpt from “Just Holler Bloody Murder”:

A seagull screams behind her. A wave crashes behind the dunes to her right as she turns away from the door. The spit of land between Lake Timicau on her left and the beach to her right is probably no more than five hundred feet wide.

Unexpectedly, the hair at the back of her neck tingles. Something–or someone–is watching her. A panther in the woods? A dolphin fishing the lake waters at the end of the dock? The prickling intensifies and spreads to the hair on her arms. She tries to swallow but finds it difficult. She spins away from the lake back to the two hollow-eyed windows on either side of the front door. Something moves behind the left one just as she turns. Or does she just imagine it? She steps closer to the window, tries to peer into the house, but the glass, pitted from sand and coated white with salt from sea spray, makes it impossible.

Callahan feels rooted in place as she examines the door. Two double bolt latches on the outside of the door, important for securing it in high winds, are always kept locked, but today neither is engaged. She reaches for the rusty door handle, gritty in her hand, and turns it. It moves reluctantly, sand in its works providing scratchy resistance, but the door doesn’t open. She puts a shoulder to the wood, twisting the knob as she throws her weight forward against the door. It doesn’t budge, almost as if it’s locked from the inside. She tries the maneuver again and, then, again, her sense of urgency rising as she becomes more convinced that there’s someone inside the shed. The door groans. A screw falls out of a top hinge, but still it won’t open.

Callahan stops short, her left shoulder going numb.

What am I doing? If someone’s hiding in there, do I really want to get in? She thinks of JP, of Juby T. Roy, even of Ruby. Not one of them would she want to face alone on this isolated spit of land.

Her breath becomes shallow, the pounding of her pulse rising in her ears. She’s suddenly very ready to leave, almost panicky in her urge to flee. But she forces herself to pause. For reasons she can’t explain, she takes the time to refasten both of the exterior bolts. Only after sliding the protesting cold metal of each across the door into its metal slot on the weathered gray frame, does she give herself permission to run.

And run she does, her rubber sandals slapping the mud as she fights for balance, slipping and tripping erratically back to the golf cart, a sense of self-preservation now propelling her away from the place. When she reaches the cart, she throws herself onto the seat, gasping in relief, and floors the accelerator pedal. She is aware–not for the first time– that it’s impossible to make a golf cart go fast. I might be better off if I just ran.

But her sandals aren’t running shoes, and she’d have to come back sometime to get the cart, so she stays in the cart.

It isn’t until Callahan finds herself deep in The Hundred Acre Woods and nearing the osprey’s platform that her breathing grows normal and the frantic pounding in her chest recedes. She reaches for her coffee cup and takes a drink. Thanks to the insulation, the coffee’s still warm. She drains the cup, keeping the accelerator pedal pushed to the floor. The rickety cart rattling along is reassuringly cheery now. But she can’t relax, can’t shake the feeling that she was in real danger on Ruby’s porch.

Maybe Pepper’s right. There is something frightening happening on Timicau Island.

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