Read Yesternight Online

Authors: Cat Winters

Yesternight

BOOK: Yesternight
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Dedication

For Betsy Martin and Kathie Deily, two teachers from my past who

encouraged me to make writing my future

Epigraph

Dreamt I to-day the dream of yesternight,

Sleep ever feigning one evolving theme,—

Of my two lives which should I call the dream?

—George Santayana, “Sonnet V,” 1896

Contents
CHAPTER 1

November 11, 1925

I
disembarked a train at the little log depot at Gordon Bay, Oregon, and a sudden force—a charging bull—immediately slammed me to the ground. Rain pelted my cheeks, my hair, and my clothing, and for a moment I just lay there on the concrete in front of the passenger car, stunned, panting,
drenched
.

Once I gathered my wits enough to realize that gale force winds, and not a bull, were to blame, I rolled onto my hands and knees and pushed myself to my feet. Another blast of cold air smacked me in the face, and the burgundy wool cloche I bought when I first signed on with the Department of Education shot off my head. The poor hat sailed into the distance without ever touching the ground—a stain of red swallowed up by a palette of gray. My short hair slapped at my cheeks and stung my eyes.

The train whistle shrieked through the commotion of the storm, and the porter shut the door behind me. He may have asked if I was all right—he might have been the reason that my bags now sat
three feet away from me on the platform—but the wind and the rain howled across the air and drowned all voices and sense. My only link to civilization on the other side of the mountains clacked away down the tracks to the south.

I grabbed the handles of my traveling bags and used the hundred pounds of dresses and toiletries packed inside to anchor myself against the winds. I then lifted the luggage, as well as my black leather briefcase, and staggered to the shelter of the depot's overhang, but not without skidding to my left as the gales continued to bully me. The soles of my galoshes squeaked and slid against concrete. The town of Gordon Bay itself seemed to be fighting to spit me back out.

Somehow, I lumbered over to the safety of a wall and secured myself against the sturdy logs with my bags still in hand. Despite the woolen gloves shielding my hands, my fingers ached down to the marrow of my bones from the bitter cold and, even worse, from the dampness. Oh, my Lord, that infamous Oregon November dampness—three times worse on the coast than what I experienced in Portland. Rainwater streamed down my face, iced my cheeks, and smeared my lips with the briny taste of the nearby Pacific. I closed my eyes, buried my face against the wall, and endured the wind screaming past my ears.

I believe I may have cried a little. I know I swore,
profusely
, at all of the PhD students—mostly male, of course—who had gotten themselves accepted into toasty, cozy universities, while I was doomed to roam the far reaches of the earth with a briefcase full of intelligence tests. My renowned fearlessness in working with students categorized as “delinquent” or “frightening” failed to transfer into bravery against the elements.

“Miss Lind?” called a man's voice from a distance that sounded to be the opposite end of a tunnel.

Another gust of wind whacked me in the back and pressed my chest against the logs. Rain blew sideways and soaked my shins through the cream-colored stockings that my coat didn't quite cover.

“Miss Lind?” asked the voice again, this time a tad closer.

I raised my head and saw a man in his late twenties or so pushing his way toward me through the storm. He wore a midnight-black coat and a gray fedora, the latter of which sprang off his head and flew into the distance—the same fate as my cloche. His exposed hair, blond, trimmed short in the back with longer strands in the front, fluttered about like rippling blades of grass, but within a mere matter of seconds the rain slicked every lock flat against his scalp.

“Are you Miss Lind?” he called, pulling his coat farther around himself, bending forward to plow through the tempest.

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Welcome to Gordon Bay,” he said, and he smiled. His eyes—either blue or green—smiled, too, and a little dimple appeared above the right side of his mouth and made him look about ten years old, even though he stood close to six feet tall. Rain poured down his face and caused his lashes to stick together. “Here . . .” He offered his right hand. “Let me help you with your bags.”

“Thank you,” I shouted into the wind, “but I think I might need to carry them to keep from blowing away. The storm already knocked me to the ground once.”

“That's our friendly coastal weather for you.”

He put a hand to my back and helped to coax me away from the log wall. I didn't even realize I needed any coaxing until I took my first step and found my heart racing.

“Come along,” he said. “I'll help you.”

I felt like a toddler learning how to walk again, my steps heavy and ungainly, my torso tipped forward while my backside stuck out behind me. I wore eye makeup and suddenly realized that ghoulish dark lines probably streaked my face.

A black car—enclosed, and with lovely rain-proof windows—sat at the nearby curb, but the task of plodding toward it through the winds felt like a ten-mile journey, underwater, while cloaked in chains.

“I don't think we've formally introduced ourselves,” I said with an attempt at a lighthearted tone, although the storm whipped my words over my shoulder and carried them away as briskly as it had stolen our hats.

“How's that?” asked the fellow, leaning his head toward mine.

“We didn't formally introduce ourselves.”

He clasped me against his side as another arctic blast tried to shove us off our feet. “I'm Michael O'Daire.”

“And I'm Alice Lind. It's nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“They told me I was to meet a Mr. O'Daire,” I said, “and I actually worried I wouldn't be able to tell which fellow you were in the crowd of people at the depot.”

He laughed with a sound that cracked across the air. “There's never a crowd at this depot from September to June.
Never.

We reached the car, and Mr. O'Daire leaned forward and used both of his gloved hands to pry open his passenger-side door for me. He succeeded in the endeavor, and rain showered against the front seat's leather, forming a small puddle. I plopped myself down
with a splash and sighed in relief when he shut the door against the commotion outside. He then opened a back door and tossed my bags onto the seat behind me.

“Thank you,” I called over my shoulder, but he closed that door and sprinted around to the driver's side without hearing me.

I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered inside my red winter coat. An agonizing chill throbbed deep within my bones and numbed my ears and hands.

My companion jumped into the seat beside me, slammed his door shut, and yanked off his sopping-wet gloves. The wind rocked the vehicle back and forth, and the rain beat against the windshield in an unyielding rhythm. If the town of Gordon Bay rose up before us, I could not see it through the deluge.

A cylindrical object of some sort soared into view.

“What's that?” I asked, and the object smacked the glass in front of me so hard, I jumped and screamed.

“A bucket,” said Mr. O'Daire, and we whipped our heads over our shoulders and watched the projectile blow away behind us.

“Good Lord.” I shifted back around in the seat. “Is the weather always this temperamental on the coast in the fall?”

“This is a particularly devilish storm.”

“I hope it's not a bad omen for my arrival.”

He chuckled. “I doubt it. But I think, if you don't mind”—he combed both of his hands through his hair, splattering water across his coat—“I'll wait a few minutes before driving through this mess. The worst might pass in a few minutes.”

“That's fine with me.” I hugged my arms around my middle and slouched down in the seat.

“Here . . .” He swiveled around and half-crawled into the backseat with his rear end jutting into the air beside me. It was a fine rear end—trim and well-shaped—but, still, I turned my face away.

“I think I might have a blanket,” he said, his voice a little muffled.

“You don't need to—”

“Already got it.” He dropped back down in the seat with a
thump
. “Please, warm yourself up. What a rotten way for a town to greet a lady.”

He handed me a plaid blanket with fuzzy green fabric hairs sticking up all over the place. The thing reminded me of a mangy old mutt that my sisters and I once tried to convince our parents to take in when I was seven or eight.

“Thank you.” I tucked the blanket around my shoulders and arms. The fabric scratched at the bottom of my chin and smelled a little musty, but it, indeed, thawed the chill. “Much better.”

“You're welcome.” He relaxed against the seat, and we both stared out at the rain that hammered away at the windshield as though fighting to break through the glass.

“So”—Mr. O'Daire drew in a long breath—“you're a psychiatrist?”

“Psychologist,” I corrected him. “School psychologist. It's a relatively new position in the fields of both education and psychology.”

“And you travel around, administering . . .
tests
?”

I met his eyes, unsure what his emphasis on that last word implied. “Yes.”

“Hmm.” He nodded in a noncommittal way and rubbed his lips together.

I cocked my head at him. “Do you work for the schoolhouse here in Gordon Bay, Mr. O'Daire?”

“No, I'm the proprietor of a local hotel.”

“How, then, did you get this glamorous task of fetching me from the depot in a typhoon?”

He smiled, but not with as much vigor as before. “I volunteered. My daughter attends the school, and the schoolteacher is her aunt from her mother's side.”

“Well, thank you for not leaving me to flounder about on my own. Your kindness is much appreciated.” I wriggled my shoulders to keep the blanket from slipping. “Did Miss Simpkin tell the parents I'd be coming?”

“It's not a secret that you're here, is it?”

“Not at all. I'm here to help the children. I'll be using a measurement called the Stanford–Binet Scale.”

“An intelligence test?”

“Yes.” I shivered again—from the cold, not the tests. “If I find students who are unable to thrive in their current environment, then I'll confer with Miss Simpkin and the Department of Education about the possibility of creating a special school—or at least a separate classroom—to meet the needs of the struggling children.”

“The feebleminded children, you mean?”

“Oh, I'm not fond of that particular term, but, yes, I'm here to identify children who are inclined to repeat the same grade levels, some of them doing so year after year. It's a widespread problem that the state is striving to fix.”

“What about other types of children?” Mr. O'Daire returned
his gaze to the windshield and the rain. “Others who are smart, but still . . .” He ran his tongue along the inside of his right cheek.

I waited for him to continue, for I had learned not to feed people words. It tainted the thoughts they were attempting to decipher and articulate. I peeled my wet gloves off my hands while he excavated the right phrase himself.

He wiped water off his brow with the back of his right index finger. “Children who are
different
.”

“Ah, well, I'll also be evaluating students for hearing, vision, and speech deficiencies, and a physician will be coming to Gordon Bay—”

“That's not quite what I meant about different.”

I shook out the discarded gloves and again waited for him to elaborate.

He grabbed hold of the steering wheel. “Have you ever dealt with children who defy explanation, Miss Lind? Children who unsettle adults?”

I tried to swallow, but my throat muscles tightened. I would not have been the “troubled child” expert sitting in that automobile in Gordon Bay—I would never have gone into the field of psychology to begin with—if I myself had not unsettled adults as a young girl. Naturally, I didn't mention such a thing.

“Actually,” I said, “I've become rather famous in Oregon for my ability to work with challenging pupils. In fact, I hope to devote the rest of my life to unlocking the mysteries of the minds of haunted children.”

“‘Haunted'—that's certainly a way of putting it.” Mr. O'Daire's fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “Have you ever exam
ined a student whose problems seemed . . . illogical? Or, well, quite frankly . . . supernatural?”

“I have, indeed,” I answered without hesitation. “I've tackled a case of a supposed demon possession.”

“Really?”

“Yes. The poor child, as I discovered, had suffered from abuse, which led to that upsetting situation. I've also worked with several children who've claimed to have experienced ghosts and monsters, but most of them were coping with bereavement, or were influenced by superstitious families.”

“You don't believe in ghosts or demons yourself, then?”

“No.” I smiled. “I don't. In my experience, supernatural entities say more about the people believing in them than they do about the mysteries of the afterlife. Haunted
people
are far more predominant—more interesting—than genuine haunted houses, despite what the recent fashion for séances might suggest.”

Mr. O'Daire drummed his thumbs against the steering wheel's leather and clenched his jaw. The rain softened, as though sitting back to allow him to speak—to turn those fidgety movements into words.

And yet his tongue remained silent.

“As a parent,” I said, “do you have a concern about one of the children here in Gordon Bay?”

He peeked at me from the corner of his eye. “How old are you, Miss Lind?”

“Old enough to hold a master's degree from the University of Oregon, Mr. O'Daire.”

He smiled and nodded, as though appreciating the straightforward zing of my retort. He couldn't have known how much that
question grated; how many fellow graduate students had called me “girly” and “kiddo,” making me feel like a child who only pretended to understand psychology.

BOOK: Yesternight
8.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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