Authors: Kate Sparkes
opyright 2016 Kate
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Cover art by JM Rising Horse Creations
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, or places, events, and locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
First edition, June 2016
Thanks for holding my hand, talking me down off of ledges, and understanding all of the hard parts of this job.
a dark and stormy night…” Such a cliché, and not the way to begin a proper story. But the fact remains that it was both dark and stormy on the night I returned to my hometown—an ominous beginning, if you believe in that sort of thing.
And I truly did.
The rabbit’s foot hanging from my rearview mirror swung in crazy arcs as Gladys, a Volkswagen outdated enough to have earned a proper old dame moniker, bounced over the potholes I couldn’t avoid at the end of the causeway. It had been a harsh winter this year. I knew this because my mother’s daily demotivational emails kept me on top of all the Fairbrook gossip during my years away. She had, however, neglected to remind me of how the local crews didn’t bother to fix anything at this end of the island until it was time to prepare for tourist season. Small town charm was a bankable commodity only from June to November. The rest of the year, the island curled up in curmudgeonly isolation in a sheltered spot off the northern shore of Newfoundland, secure in the knowledge that those seeking the illusion of a simpler lifestyle would return in the summer to spread their dollars and snap their photos.
I took the rabbit’s foot down and tossed it on the passenger seat. Not a cheap trinket, that. This was the real deal—left hind foot, shot by a cross-eyed man in a cemetery. The lucky limb (
Not so lucky for the rabbit,
I reflected) landed on the leather cover of my Filofax. They might have seemed like an odd pairing to some. My perfectly organized life, planned to the hour and plotted years ahead, versus the implication that fate and bad luck could screw it all up at any moment. But the thing is, both are about control. Why would I worry about my detailed plans and then run the risk of them being derailed because I walked under a ladder?
Plans. Fail-safes. Lucky charms. It’s all superstition, when you think about it. All ways to make us feel better about the future when in reality we have so little control. Lack of control made me jittery. I grabbed onto it where I could.
I squinted through early spring rain that Gladys’s windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with. Coming at night had been a stupid idea.
But then, I hadn’t planned to come back to Fairbrook at all. My sneakers had left tread-marks on the road as I tore out of town after graduation, and by October I’d lost touch with everyone from high school. I had cared for my friends on the island, as they had for me, but the larger world beckoned some of us. I’d planned a successful academic career that would finally make my parents proud, followed by… Well, I’d never really decided that, but I knew it didn’t involve Fairbrook. I went to school, I did well, and I even allowed a boyfriend to worm his way into my life on the basis of common interests, a promising future, and crazy attraction.
And then I got sick and took a year off, not in any position to care that doing so would mean I had to start paying off my student loans. I’d hopped from job to meaningless job, struggling to make ends meet, telling my parents that everything was fine so I wouldn’t have to hear the sighs and the
why didn’t you
s and the
I told you that you would never
s. Those lies fell apart when Jake and I broke up and I lost my home. I’d managed to set myself up in a short-term rental for a few months, but money quickly ran short.
I tried to put a positive spin on things, but I knew my mother had seen through it when she mentioned that Uncle Harry needed someone to manage the dairy bar. The seasonal job with great pay and solid benefits was mine for the taking.
I took it. Where else was I going to go?
The best laid plans, and all that.
Maybe it will be fine
, I told myself, ignoring the churning of my stomach as my headlights picked out the big “WELCOME TO FAIRBROOK” sign.
Work here for the summer, take long-distance courses over the winter, get out again when things look brighter.
I knew it was bullshit. You can’t escape a town like Fairbrook without a certain amount of momentum. I had big scholarships when I blew out of there the first time, and even bigger plans. I was dragging my ass back on a quarter tank of gas, a load of debt, and a heart that probably resembled the dented cans on the discount shelf at McMurtry’s Grocery.
I could live without Jake. It was my shattered confidence that had me wondering where I’d find the will to leave again.
The road improved as it wound through the old forest. It was skeletal-looking now, but it would have been a breathtaking view back in the autumn, when the last of the sightseers camped or lodged their way through and tagged their works #Fairbrook #fall #BimbleIsland #AweInspiring and, I assumed, #PayAttentionToMe. I knew they had, because I’d heard all about the town meeting regarding which hashtags to encourage and the ensuing confusion over what the hell these “hashbag” things were, anyway.
Fairbrook. A nice place to visit, but God, I did not want to live there.
Gladys picked up speed as I shifted gears. Not too fast, not too high. Jake had never liked the old girl. But then, he’d never bothered to learn to drive standard. I should have taken that as a sign.
The headlights found more signs. The Old Brook Inn, Nana’s Nook (
Home-Cooked meals, Seafood our specialty!!
), Barb’s B&B. All hand-painted, all homey and quaint, just like Fairbrook was supposed to be, at least when it had its tourist-welcoming makeup on. I paid no attention to the wave of nausea that came at the sight of the Walsh’s Dairy sign.
It’s going to be great,
I promised myself for the hundred-and-twelfth time that day.
You have a plan. You have a promising future ahead of you. You have—
Gladys hit a bump, and the rabbit foot slid to the floor.
I finished sheepishly. I knew it was silly. I didn’t care. It made me feel better.
And helping Uncle Harry out should be great karma, or something. And maybe—
I never got to the maybe. A dark shape moved at the edge of my light. I slammed on the brakes as a mostly grown moose darted into the road and then froze, bright eyes staring at me. Gladys spun sideways, and I fought the urge to wrench the wheel back around. Cold coffee soaked my jeans as the paper cup next to me spilled and my bags tumbled in the back seat.
The car stopped, engine stalling as the moose trotted off into the forest, his path illuminated by my lights.
I cranked the window down, too flustered to think straight. “Thanks, asshole!” I bellowed after the retreating rump. A face full of blowing rain was my only answer. I grumbled to myself as I rolled the window up and pushed my thick hair into place behind my ears.
After some gentle coaxing, Gladys agreed to restart. We made it half a kilometre down the road before the engine light blinked to life.
“No. Not now. Just a little more.” My parents lived at the far end of the island, through town and past the farms.
The engine coughed and clunked, but kept running.
“Gladys. Save your hysterics for when we stop. I’m begging you.”
“Really? After everything we’ve been through together?”
She didn’t answer.
“Crooked old bitch.”
I had to keep going. No one would be along until morning, and maybe not even then. I’d feel silly calling for a taxi at this hour, though I would if I absolutely had to. There was no way I was calling my parents. I eased the car over the bumps without slowing down too much, dodging potholes when I could.
I waited to see the lights outside of Wood’s Service Station, but the place was dark when we rounded the corner.
I thought. No point keeping things open late at this time of year. If I recalled correctly, Jimmy Wood was running the place now. He’d been in my class. Excessively popular, very big-fish-tiny-pond, with fantastic college prospects. Nice to everyone in public, but kind of a presumptuous dick if he got a girl alone. He’d made sure everyone knew what a prude I was when I rejected him in eleventh grade. Three months later, he’d knocked up Jenny Goss. No one had batted an eye, save for the blue-haired ladies of the local church women’s guild. It was just how things went in Fairbrook. Kind of a local tradition. One in every class.
I considered stopping to knock at the door of the two-storey house behind the service station, but all of the lights were out. I gritted my teeth and urged Gladys over the next hill.
The first lights we reached shone bright and warm against the dark, but they weren’t exactly a welcoming sight. Old-fashioned lanterns illuminated the wide porch of the Old Brook Inn, a place of local legend. Tourists always heard the pleasant stories about the seasonal workers who had once been housed in the massive structure, the fire that later destroyed the mill, and the way the other townsfolk cared for the workers afterward. They heard about the fairy rings that still appeared every so often on the lawn, and the local story about the little girl who saw the wee fairies dancing on summer nights.
They didn’t hear the darker legends. They knew how many lives were lost in the fire, but not the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fire itself. No one talked about the string of suicides that occurred at the inn not long after, or the ghosts that were supposed to haunt the halls.
Or how the little fairy girl went mad before she turned ten, babbling on about monsters and devils, screaming in her sleep.
I shivered and pulled into the roundabout driveway.
Any port in a storm,
I told myself. The outside lights were on, so maybe Mr. or Mrs. James was still awake. If not, I’d be in for a tongue-lashing the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since our graduation party, when the innkeepers realized we were all wandering the halls looking for ghosts, scaring the crap out of each other with squeaky floorboards and flickering lights.
Gladys coughed and swooned into silence as she rolled into the empty parking lot, her mental and physical breakdown apparently complete.
Guess that decision’s made then.
I fished my rabbit’s foot out from under the seat, stuffed my planner into my purse, and located my overnight bag in the back seat.
I was soaked and shivering by the time I reached the door, but seriously considered spending the night on the porch rather than invoking the wrath of Mr. James. The man had devil eyes, my grandmother had once said, and a temper to match.
Maybe I’d count as a tourist now. He’d always been nice to them.
I tried the door and found it locked. The knocker, an old brass thing cast in the shape of a grotesquely squashed fairy face, was heavier than I expected. I rapped three times, and waited.