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Authors: Crystal Cierlak

Zoe Thanatos

BOOK: Zoe Thanatos
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ZOE
THANATOS

By Crystal
Cierlak

 

Text
copyright © 2012 Crystal Cierlak

All
Rights Reserved

 

For Jeffrey P.

 

ZOE THANATOS

Text
copyright © 2012 Crystal Cierlak

Part One

Chapter 1:
Strangers on a Boat

Chapter 2:
An Observer

Chapter 3:
The Impossibility of the Life of Anne

Chapter 4:
Honest Conversations

Chapter 5:
Before Sunrise

Chapter 6: A
Foreign Visitor

Chapter 7:
The New Day

Chapter 8: A
Missed Opportunity

Part Two

Chapter 9:
Terra

Chapter 10:
The Queen

Chapter 11:
The Elder

Chapter 12:
A Revelation

Chapter 13:
Two Sets of Gates

Chapter 14:
The Two Nero’s

Chapter 15:
A Secret Meeting

Chapter 16:
A Brief Reunion

Part Three

Chapter 17:
A Forgotten Place

Chapter 18:
The Escape

Chapter 19:
Two Stratons

Chapter 20:
Prisoners and Soldiers

Chapter 21:
The Crown and the Laurel

Chapter 22:
The Standoff

Chapter 23:
The Shape of Things to Come

Chapter 24:
The Family Reunion

 

Part
One

 

Chapter 1: Strangers on a Boat

 

The morning air was chilly for
early June. The fog may have come in overnight and stayed into the morning, but
the promise of sunshine was not lost on Zoe Thanatos as she closed the car door
behind her, remnants of the sun peeking out from behind light grey clouds. From
her place in the parking lot she could see small boats and ships floating in
the water parked in their assigned spots, waiting for their owners to take them
out for a day on the Pacific.

After purchasing a ticket for the
hour and half trip to Santa Cruise Island she noticed a smattering of people
milling about the harbor; a scouting troop of girls yawning as their leader
made an inventory of their belongings, all manner of sleeping bags, fishing and
camping gear. Smaller groupings of tourists were standing around talking
amongst themselves, ready for the adventure that awaited them. She looked
around at all the faces, most of them smiling or otherwise happy, and wondered
what made her so different from them.

It wasn’t her history to be
unhappy. She could recall with ease several instances throughout her life where
she was unequivocally happy and at peace. However, those moments occurred less
often the older she got and by the time she reached her twenty-fourth birthday
one year ago, all happiness had escaped her life completely. She couldn’t stand
the thought of waking up to another day of emptiness.

She made no hurry to board as the
attendants announced the imminent departure of the boat. She held her ticket
and watched as the group of young girls formed a line to board the ship their
excitement growing with each passing minute. She joined at the back of the line
and recalled her first trip to the island just off the coast of Ventura. For hours
she hiked in the hot sun until reaching the top of a cliff with a singularly
stunning view of the Pacific Ocean as it stretched out for miles. It was the
tallest she’d ever stood, and one of the last times she ever smiled so wide it
hurt her face.  She hoped for just an ounce of that feeling.

She gave her ticket to the
attendant and boarded, making her way to the top deck where she could watch the
journey with an uninterrupted view. Twenty minutes later they were off, making
their way through the harbor with ease, out towards the open water of the
Pacific. A quiet stream of chatter flowed around her, but Zoe’s attention remained
on the horizon. The boat gained speed and rode over crests of deep blue waves. The
minutes passed in silence as she stared out towards the unseen chain of Channel
Islands.

“I heard it’s possible we’ll see
dolphins on our way to the island.” Zoe frowned and looked quizzically at the
stranger who interrupted her thoughts. He was a young man and smiled revealing
perfectly straight white teeth. He was tan with a square jaw, eyes bright and
green beneath a thick blanket of lashes, and a crop of chestnut hair. He was
the kind of handsome that was impossibly charming, with a penetrative stare
that must have made many women swoon. She would disappoint him. “It’s true,”
she replied. “And seals. They like to lie out on the buoys.”

“Have you been before?” he asked.
To her surprise he seemed genuinely interested in her, though she suspected it
was nothing more than an attempt to pass the time.

“Once a few years ago. Your first
time?”

“It is. A buddy of mine mentioned
the trails are awesome for hiking and that the views are great. He claimed it
was like being in another world,” he laughed and shook his head in a way that
made her wonder why he even mentioned it to begin with. Zoe searched her
memory, recalling images of the island.

“I can see why your friend would
say that. Though, I don’t have much to compare it to.” Her eyes drifted down to
her clasped hands in her lap. She never travelled too far from home and always
regretted it when the thought came to mind. She had the financial means to go
wherever she pleased but could never commit to traveling. An island thirty
miles off the coast of her hometown was the furthest she had ever gone.

“I’m Evan,” he introduced as his
hand extended toward her. When her eyes met his again she noticed they conveyed
a sense of warmth, a geniality that seemed almost unnatural for a virtual
stranger. Her instinct told her she could trust him; she didn’t listen.

“Anne,” she lied as she shook his
hand. It was a soft hand, she thought, and gentle. The corners of her mouth
picked up. It was the best smile she could manage.

“Very nice to meet you, Anne.” His
eyes took a quick appraisal of her as she had of him, though his examination
felt more personal, as if he could tell more about her from her face than from
her words. “So seals and dolphins? Any chance of seeing a whale?”

She feigned nonchalance. “I imagine
it’s possible.”

“I’m heading up to Santa Barbara to
go whale watching tomorrow. I’m sort of creating my own road trip, going up the
coast beach by beach.” There was an inherent excitement in everything he talked
about, his whole face moving as he spoke. His eyes widened and eyebrows arched
as he talked about the boardwalk in Santa Monica, his mouth curling into a
smile as he recalled driving up Pacific Coast Highway. His recollections were
so clear it was as though he was reliving each experience. Zoe listened with
interest as he laid out his plan to go up the coast from Santa Barbara to San
Luis Obispo. By the time he reached San Francisco, Zoe realized it was not her
interest that kept her listening, but her envy. Having lived her entire life at
or around the beach made her familiar and jaded with its inherent charms. He
had something to look forward to and she couldn’t recall the last time she felt
the same way.

“At some point I’d love to go all
the way up to Oregon and Washington and take in the entire coast.” It wasn’t
until he finished speaking that she realized she had been staring at him, her
thoughts eclipsed by his enthusiasm and warmth, her eyes unable to look away
from the dimples that puckered his cheeks when he smiled. For a fraction of a
moment she was unburdened by her own life and caught up in his, imagining tents
perched on the beach at Refugio, the great monolith embedded in the shore off
Morro Bay, and the salt water taffy she’d risk a cavity for from a small shop
along the boardwalk.

The moment passed and she was
transported back to her own reality, the confining plastic chair beneath her a
fitting allegory for her own discontent. She tried to think of something to say
to excuse her staring, but found she had nothing to say.

“All right folks! If you want to
take a look out to the left you’ll see a pod of dolphins out in the distance,”
the captain announced over the loudspeaker. Zoe blinked and took a deep breath,
her thoughts detaching from the handsome stranger and his plans. She followed
the group of heads turning out to the open sea where a school of dolphins,
fifteen to twenty in total, were taking turns leaping out of the water. In two
enthusiastic steps Evan was standing with his hands on the railing leaning over
it boat to get better view. He was as excited as any kid. Around her other boat
patrons watched gleefully, expressions of awe in their faces. She was the only
one seated . Maybe to someone who had never been to the beach a dolphin was
somewhat of a novelty, but for her they were just another bit of charm she
failed to be dazzled by.

“Come on, Anne! You’ve got to see
this!” Evan exclaimed, looking at her as though something truly wonderful were
happening. As Zoe approached the railing Evan stepped aside to make room for
her; it was a sight to see. Even the dolphins looked happy and carefree, which
only served to pointedly drive home the fact that she was anything but. Not for
lack of trying.

The truth of the matter was that the
trip wasn’t Zoe’s first attempt to rectify her problem with happiness. She’d
tried cute animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo, roller coasters at Six Flags, wine
tasting in Solvang, traveling up and down the same one hundred miles of
California to find something that would bring her even a modicum of happiness.
Nothing ever did.

“We don’t have anything like this
back home,” Evan mused to himself. He turned to face Zoe and the dimples
deepened as his cheeks filled with delight.

“It’s great,” she tried. When he
turned his face away to look again at the dolphin spectacle she thought she’d
managed to convince him.

Minutes later the captain pointed to
the dozens of seals lying like fat babies on red buoys, others just floating
around in the water without a care in the world. Zoe took the few steps back to
her seat, clasped her hands together in her lap, and watched her boat
companions as they laughed and talked. She spotted Evan conversing with other
boat riders and decided that was the end of that.

The boat docked at the port and Zoe
casually looked around for Evan, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Just as well
,
she thought. After climbing from the boat to the dock and a brief orientation
from the guide, Zoe set up to make the trek up to Potato Harbor.

People broke off into groups and
went their separate ways, some staying on the beach for kayaking, others
heading for various hiking trails. The morning fog had burned off and the sky started
to warm. She applied sun block and took a quick sip from a water bottle before,
hoisting her backpack over her shoulder and heading towards the trail.

Alone with her thoughts she made
her way along the path in no particular rush. The path was covered in brown
grass and green trees, and set against an unimpeded crystal blue sky. She
couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place in the world. Having grown up the coast
in Santa Barbara, Zoe was used to the particular colors of the sky in all
various stages of transition. She would often find herself, stuck somewhere
along Highway 101 and notice the sky take on a bewildering shade of golden
violet. The sky would glow with the last remnants of sunlight, twilight
permeating through the last remaining strands of gold. When it rained the sky was
slate with green trees and grass breaking up the monochrome. She didn’t need to
travel anywhere else to know she already lived in the most beautiful place on
Earth.

She knew there were places in the
world where the sky was painted with more than one shade of blue, where sunsets
created rainbows, and the dusk looked magical. Far off places that carried
stories and mythologies dating back thousands of years, with monuments erected
in their honor, some crumbling under the weight of time. She’d never even seen
snow. A year ago she would have planned to go somewhere. Santa Cruz Island was
the only plan she’d made.

Not much planning had been
required. There were no living relatives, no friends or pets, only
acquaintances and neighbors. She wouldn’t leave anyone behind. Before leaving
for the harbor that morning she’d remembered to turn off the circuit box and
leave a simple note, a quick goodbye to whomever found what was left of her
belongings. The note was an afterthought, a courtesy so that the authorities
would not suspect foul play. No, it would be a simple open-and-shut case with a
clear message left behind: ‘
I’m gone, and I’m not coming back.’

BOOK: Zoe Thanatos
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