Ula, page 1part #1 of Born of Shadows Series
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Born of Shadows Book 1
by J.R. Erickson
Copyright © 2017 J.R. Erickson
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Abby turned the wheel and pointed her small Cavalier down her Aunt Sydney’s long, wooded driveway, relieved to be done with the drive, but terrified at what lay ahead. Had she really just abandoned her entire life?
She could smell Lake Michigan before she saw it - like liquid earth filling the car. The sun pierced the windshield and splashed a metallic glare into her eyes. She lifted a hand to shield her face, but caught it midway as an unfamiliar shape emerged from the brilliance. The shape, a narrow black car, was parked in the small circular drive near Sydney's house, but the trunk stood open.
The driveway should have been empty. Abby had chosen her Aunt Sydney’s home largely for that reason. Sydney mostly lived with Rod, her young lover, recently turned husband, in his studio apartment downtown. The couple had booked a trip to the Cayman Islands, and Abby had intended to leave Nick (and her life) when Sydney returned so that she would have a confidante. But that morning, after Nick had loaded his golf clubs and pecked her quickly on the forehead, Abby had heard a voice in her mind say, “Go.” She did not question it. She packed a duffel bag, hit the ATM for cash and fled.
It was not exactly an impulsive decision, but one that had been months in the making. Abby had tried to snuff it out, justify her unhappiness as lack of job satisfaction, or hormones out of whack. But in the end, desperation always won, and that morning Abby had felt desperate. So desperate that she did not say goodbye to her parents, specifically her mother, who would most likely implode at the news. Nor did she call her boss, return her library books or even change the kitty litter.
Now, four hours after her departure, she was already facing a kink in her poorly executed plan.
The screen door on the back of the house swung open. Her eyes followed the line of a man’s foot and then his leg. The stranger did not look much older than Abby’s own twenty-three years. Dark curls fell over his tan face, obscuring his eyes and nose. She could see his lips, swollen and red, sunburned. He wore a Pink Floyd t-shirt and blue shorts that stopped just above his knee. He was barefoot and carrying a cardboard box, the lid taped shut with a thick line of duct tape.
Abby thought to back out of the driveway and go, but where?
She started to shift the car in reverse, silently whispering a plea that the stranger would not hear the crunch of gravel beneath her wheels. He did. He looked up and then stumbled, nearly dropping his box.
Abby squinted at him; he’d moved into the sun and looked large and shadowy. He was waving.
“Shit,” she whispered.
Forcing a calm that she did not feel, she pressed her foot on the gas, and the Cavalier shot forward, too hard. The stranger jumped back and flattened himself against his car.
“Sorry,” Abby called out her window, parking next to him. “Sorry,” she said again, climbing out and getting a better look.
His blue eyes studied her face, surprised, but a smile cracked his lips.
“Abby?” he asked.
She searched for his face in her internal Rolodex, but came up empty.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” She held up a hand to block the sun.
“No, you don’t, actually.” He cocked his head to one side and held out his hand. “I’m Sebastian. I know you because Sydney keeps about a billion pictures of you in there.” He jerked his head toward the house.
Abby nodded and shook his hand. Sydney did have a thing about taking photos. In fact, the hallway that led up the main stairwell was a giant mosaic of Abby. There were pictures of her birth, her childhood and her awkward adolescence. Sydney had spent an entire summer cutting and pasting the photos on her wall, against the wishes of her then husband, Harold, who by that time had lost all favor with his wild wife.
“I loved the potty training one,” Sebastian laughed. “You looked very determined.”
Abby blushed, but did not turn away. She felt vaguely suspicious of Sebastian.
“How do you know Sydney, then?” she asked, a bit hostile.
He set the box in his trunk, closed the lid and balanced his hip on the edge.
“Well.” He brushed a hand through his black curls. “My grandmother knew your grandmother.”
Abby scrunched her face. “Grandma Arlene?”
Abby barely remembered her Grandma Arlene. The woman had only visited her twice as a child because she traveled the world, much to the resentment of her daughter Becky, Abby’s mom. Sydney talked of her often, envied her really, but Abby knew her mostly through photos and stories. She had died when Abby was only five.
“Yeah.” Sebastian nodded. “Arlene and my grandmother were good friends. My mom, Julia, was a childhood friend of Sydney’s. I think she knew your mom, too. Becky, right?”
Abby nodded. His discussion of her family tree made him significantly less threatening.
“Yes, Becky,” Abby said, ignoring the guilt that flamed at her mother’s name. “But I don’t think I’ve ever met your mom.”
“My mom passed away quite a few years ago.”
Abby grimaced and inwardly chastised herself.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No apologies.” Sebastian held up a hand to silence her. “It’s only logical that you would ask. Anyway,” he continued, “I’ve been visiting Sydney on and off since I was about three.”
Abby nodded and remembered something. Sydney had once shown her a photo of two little kids; both had black curls and bright blue eyes. She called them something, but Abby could not remember what. Her special children maybe?
“As for why I’m here now,” Sebastian went on, “I just got back from Panama and Sydney said that her house was vacant, so…”
“Oh,” Abby said, flustered. Now where was she going to stay?
“But, hey, there’s plenty of room. I’m in the guest room, and Sydney’s room is open.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Abby looked back down the driveway.
She didn’t have extra money for a hotel room, and she really wanted to be on the lake.
“Please?” Sebastian asked kindly. “It would actually be nice to have some company.”
“Okay,” she said quickly, overriding her natural inclination to say, “No.”
She shook her head.
“I only have a duffel bag, pretty easy to carry myself.”
She opened the passenger door, pulled it out and slung it over her shoulder.
“So, why were you in Panama?”
“Well, it’s a long story, but I’ve spent most of the last year traveling. Just trying to…find things.”
He scratched his arm, and when his t-shirt lifted, Abby saw a tattoo on his bicep – it looked like initials.
“What kinds of things?” she asked, carrying her bag to the house.
He followed her, but stopped short of the door.
“Life. Trying to find out about life.”
He didn’t say more, and Abby sensed that he didn’t want to talk. She smiled and walked inside.
* * * *
Sydney threw her head back and laughed from the stomach, bent over as Rod modeled his new cut-off shorts. ‘Nut-cutters,' he called them.
She could almost see his pubic hair, ‘almost’ being the operative word, since he intended to pack and wear them on their upcoming trip to the Cayman Islands.
“And I want you to wear this.” He skipped across the loft, stopping before Sydney who lay sprawled on their enormous round bed, a wet towel bunched at her waist.
Rod held up a thong bikini, a red one that he’d purchased the previous week at an expensive lingerie store.
She rolled her eyes and leaned back on her elbows.
“Aren’t my boobs a bit saggy for that thing?” she joked, secretly wondering if they were. She had just turned fifty, after all. Her days of smooth, creamy skin had given way to the overly soft pools of flesh that she spent hours in the gym attempting to mold into place.
“Baby, you got the best boobs around.” Rod leaned in and kissed her, jumping away when she tried to grab the bikini out of his hand.
He stuffed the bikini in her suitcase and continued pillaging the closet for their vacation wardrobe.
Sydney usually stayed in Trager during the summer. Northern Michigan peaked during June, July and August, but this year she looked forward to a break from the tourist-clogged town. When Rod had found cheap plane tickets online, she’d jumped at the chance. Cayman Islands, all-inclusive for two weeks? “Hell, yeah,” she’d said.
Since the previous year, when Sydney moved into Rod’s place, a newly built downtown loft, she'd started noticing the tourists more. Her home, a spacious Cape Cod located on a strip of woods jutting into Lake Michigan, was very private, and for years Sydney knew the tourists only as the sounds of their motor homes ambling by. Now she saw them up close and personal every day. Whether she and Rod were running downstairs for a coffee or walking to the nearby grocery, the-out-of-towners clogged the space. The homemade donuts disappeared from the café each day by nine am, and Sydney hated to wake up before ten. She despised popping in to the party store to buy toothpaste and waiting fifteen minutes behind vacationers loaded down with aloe vera gel and fudge. But she had promised herself that she would give Rod’s loft a chance and not just run home to her lakefront paradise that Rod insisted was too isolated.
Rod slipped off his jean shorts and slid into a pair of white linen pants - modeling them in front of the full-length mirror that leaned along a brick wall. He looked good, too good, and Sydney smiled at her good fortune. Well, really, fortune had nothing to do with it. When Sydney wanted something, she got it. Not because she was a bulldozer either. The world just seemed to shift for her. It had always been that way. When she was a child, she needed only to think of things, and they would miraculously appear. Not money or toys or anything of that sort, but images and people.
During the summer of her twelfth birthday, Sydney’s sister Becky went to summer camp. Sydney had been elated, originally, but two days into their separation, she missed her terribly. She had no one to scavenge the woods with. That night, Sydney’s parents received a call that Becky had poison ivy and had to come home. It might have been a coincidence, but Sydney knew better. She just had a way of making things happen.
Rod went into the bathroom to gather toiletries. Sydney had met Rod two years earlier. Met him after she imagined him. It was summer, and she and Harold, her then husband, were having a pool built at their Lake Michigan home. During the winter, she and Harold lived in a spacious house in Grand Rapids that Sydney loathed. It was too big, too clean and too white. Every one of Harold’s stockbroker friends had one just like it. They also each owned their very own skinny, blond wife. Sydney failed at all wifely expectations, but Harold, quite frankly, just failed. Workaholic did not a husband make, so when Sydney started dreaming about a young, handsome man to steal her away from her wealthy, boring life, Rod simply appeared.
Sydney had already been considering leaving Harold. She simply wasn’t the type to stick around and kick a dead horse, but when Harold proposed an indoor pool for their summer home, she became so distracted with the preparations that she put her divorce plans on hold. Then Rod arrived one morning, pool plans in hand, his red mesh shorts barely hiding his gray boxer briefs. Sydney knew him instantly, she’d been dreaming of him for weeks.
Within three days, she and Rod were having sex in the bow of her Mastercraft, and within a month, she’d left Harold and moved to Trager City to pursue her affair full time. Harold, true to his indifferent nature in all matters but financial, barely blinked an eye. When she had told him that she wanted a divorce – he nodded, scratched his chin and said, “Well, it does look like GE’s going up…” And that had been that.
“Hey, Abby’s gonna meet Sebastian.”
“Shit,” Sydney muttered, looking at the clock. She had forgotten that Sebastian was staying at the house.
“Maybe they’ll get it on, and she’ll dump that square, Rick.”
* * * *
That evening, Abby sat Indian style on Sydney’s bed and stared out the wide window at the lake. Twilight textured the sky, and the clouds had divided into frothy layers of pink and blue. The sun, a red glare, slipped below the humid veil of Lake Michigan and disappeared.
Sebastian was gone, citing a desperate need for internet access, and Abby wandered Sydney’s house like a lost soldier. Nothing much had changed in the years since Sydney and Harold bought the summer retreat, but everything felt different. Of course, the house had changed a bit when Sydney left Harold for Rod, but that had been two years ago and had nothing to do with the strangeness that Abby felt walking along the house’s familiar corridors. Abby looked at photos and furniture with new eyes. For the previous two years, everything was filtered through the lens of Nick and Abby. What do Nick and Abby like to eat – drink – do? Abby and Nick even visited Sydney a few times at the lake house. The first visit ended badly when Nick refused to go in the water because the PGA tour was on. The second trip involved Nick’s incessant complaints about the heat, the fish flies and Rod’s clothing choices. Abby vowed that she would never bring him back.
She walked up and down the steps, admiring the carpet, the lamps and the wine. The smell of knotty pine brought back childhood memories, so she retired to Sydney’s room to pilfer through old shoeboxes of pictures. In a DKNY box, she found the photo of the two curly haired kids. She now felt sure that Sebastian stared out from the Polaroid, his blue eyes mischievous, a black curl cutting down his forehead. The other child, a girl, looked younger than Sebastian. She wore a black and purple striped one-piece, and her freshly tanned skin turned her blue eyes into shining marbles.
In another box, she found a picture of herself and Nick, taken the previous summer. They were standing on Sydney’s dock, holding hands, but her body was turned away and his smile was tight and angry. She studied her long, frizzy waves, short now, and wished she had not taken Nick’s advice to cut it. She reached a hand up and felt the tips, already fraying to split ends. Short hair made her heart shaped face look too wide, she thought, but knew
Abby’s cell phone vibrated, and she glanced down – her mother. Her mom had called three times. Nick had called seventeen times. She didn’t answer, but leaned her head back on a pillow and squeezed her eyes closed. Fear leapt through her veins like fire, and only deep breaths and strong rationalizations kept her from picking up the phone.
Her mother wouldn’t understand. How could Abby tell her that she wanted out of the guilt trips and the mood swings and the never ending expectations that her mom had placed upon her as long as Abby could remember? How could she tell her boyfriend that she hated the monotony of their life together. She hated the critical comments he made when she folded the shirts without ironing them first or left a coffee mug in the sink. Several days before, Abby had suddenly realized that Nick and her mother were very much alike. They loved control. She made it easy for them. A lifelong pleaser, she wanted everyone to be happy, unfortunately she rarely considered herself in that equation.
It was amazing how the unknown could cause physical distress. Abby was in no imminent danger. Her decision to flee did not destine her for failure or unhappiness or pain. But still the stress seeped out from her brain and made each muscle taut like she might have to spring from the bed at any moment and run to freedom.
She returned the boxes to the closet and slipped on a long t-shirt, climbing into Sydney’s bed. Outside, the hazy August day kept the mercury climbing, but Abby shivered beneath the heavy comforter.
In the morning, Abby tried not to wake Sebastian. In her socked feet, she slid from the bottom stair, through the lower level hall and into the living room.
Sebastian lay open mouthed on the couch, a soft snore trembling his lower lip. His right leg dangled from the red suede sofa, and his Pink Floyd t-shirt was twisted around his waist, revealing a thin trail of black hair from his navel into his jeans.
She crept past him, stepping over his discarded tennis shoes and around the pile of blankets he’d thrown off during the night.
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