"Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet."
“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.”
— Franklin Thomas
“Discrimination is a horrible reality. People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
— Cael Sheridan
"Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."
— Robert Frost
Addie put her face in her hands, rubbing her tired eyes.
“Recurring ones suck more,” she grumbled and resumed her unskilled search of the internet.
Gritting her teeth at the annoying hum of the old laptop, Addie tapped the keyboard, one finger at a time, thinking the sound might be enough to drive her insane. “Come on, don’t die on me now.” She stroked the lid, the gentle motion softening the hum to a silky purr. “Hmmm, that’s it, hold steady old girl, hold steady,” as if the machine could actually hear her. “Atta girl, I must have a magic touch.” She blew out a puff of air, relieved she wouldn't need to spend her next paycheck on a new computer.
Addie clicked on the top search result, “Dreams and Nightmares, Types of Dreams ...”
With one hand on the mouse and the other massaging her throat, she tried to ease the phantom pain where, just moments ago, it seemed as though someone else’s hands had been. She read the comments on the computer screen.
“When repeated, nightmares are a way for the subconscious to wake up and take notice. Pay attention!”
She sighed. Hugging her knees to her chest, she rocked back and forth, willing the vision and the sensation away, and then sank back against her pillow. Addie glanced around at the familiar and somewhat comforting surroundings of her tiny one-room apartment. She stared at the bare walls and stark beige counter separating the kitchen from the living room, wishing for just a second—one tiny second—that she wasn’t alone as she remembered the horrible dream.
Everyone has nightmares,but night after night? And why were they always the same? The same, except along with each new episode rolled in an additional piece of the story, but they always ended with someone choking her, the face shadowed or masked each time. Similar to a suspenseful horror story where you know the beginning and end, but the middle—the who, the where, and the why—comes in bits and pieces like tiny clues, each new revelation more terrifying than the last.
They seemed so real and drained her energy. She shuddered and read on.
“Recurring dreams show little variation in story or theme.”
“Well, the theme’s the same, but what about the rest ... and the face; why can’t I ever see the face?”
“Dreams may recur because an encounter portrayed in the dream remains unsettled. Once a resolution is recognized, the dreams will stop.”
“Hmmm ... a resolution. Identifying the murdering bastard would help,” she said, the memory of her father’s death forever present in her mind. Always.
She'd been awake for hours, never able to fall back to sleep after a nightmare. Addie rubbed her burning eyes and gingerly pulled herself up from the sofa. Holding her breath, she tiptoed to the kitchen as though the nightmare might gather substance and engulf her any minute. She poured herself another cup of coffee and sighed.
“Get a grip, Addie, it was just a bad dream,” she said, having developed the habit of talking to herself now that she lived alone.
Bad dream my ass. Something evil lurked in those dreams, those nightmares. She trembled a bit remembering the way it took hold and wouldn’t let go, strangling her until she woke up.
She sipped the strong brew while absently massaging her throat, glancing out the window and down at the almost empty parking lot. Her truck sat in its usual spot—alone in the lot—the last of its fellow smog machines. At half past nine in the morning everyone else in the small apartment complex had already left for work, school, or wherever. It looked so lonely—the way she felt now—and that familiar longing for her dad crept over her. Addie was convinced her nightmares had something to do with his recent death.
The eerie wail of the howling wind sent shivers down Addie’s spine. Pulling her jacket sleeves down over the palms of her hands, she gripped the steering wheel to hold it in place. Thank God the heater worked. The vicious cold air outside mixed with the fog floating in from the ocean, enveloping her truck, filling her with an ominous sensation. It swirled its way over the landscape, transforming the spectacular terrain into something unfamiliar. Sinister. The late morning haze shrouded most of the highway, snaking its way through the massive redwoods, stirring visions of her nightmare. The roar of the surf thrashing against the rocks emphasized the menacing force.
She shuddered. Her breath quickened. Hot and tingly blood pulsed through her body, swamping her with a sense of dread. The force strengthened and burned as though her veins were on fire.
Addie inhaled, holding her breath for a few seconds before exhaling. “Deep breaths, Addie, slow, deep breaths,” she whispered as the memory of the horrible nightmare flooded her mind.
She concentrated on her breathing, feeling the rapid beat of her heart, determined to steady her nerves.
“Think of something else,” she demanded and glanced down at her camera and tripod. She’d remembered to bring them along today, hoping the sun would come out so she could go to the cliffs during her afternoon break, still determined to decorate her bare apartment walls with pictures of the giant waves crashing against the massive rocks. She grimaced, leaning forward to peek at the sky, perturbed the sun wasn’t going to cooperate.
Addie turned her concentration back to the road. One wrong turn could be fatal if her truck were to swerve and go over the cliff. Her new truck—well, new to her anyway—was sturdy and powerful, exuding confidence and strength, the exact attributes Addie needed at the moment.
She absently tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “Another cloudy day. I should have taken pictures during the summer months, like any other normal person.” She glanced up at the sky again before bringing her eyes back to the road.
That’s when she saw him standing in the center of the highway.
She screamed, grasped the wheel with both hands, and steered to the right. The truck lurched. Her camera and tripod clunked against the passenger door and then fell to the floor. Addie tried to straighten the wheel, but the gravel on the side of the road sent the wheels spinning toward the ditch. She slammed on the brakes, skidding several feet before finally stopping inches from a very steep slope.
“Oh, God … did I hit him?” She’d heard a thump against the truck. “I must have hit him.”
Her hands shook. In fact, her entire body trembled with fear. Forcing her uncooperative limbs to move, Addie shoved open the heavy truck door, held on to support her quivering body, and stepped out. Her rubbery legs buckled under her as the fierce wind blew her jacket open. Steadying herself, she used both hands to keep it closed and crept to the back of the truck, scanned the area, but saw no one. Not even a hint of a body.
She called out. “Hello? Sir, are you all right?”
No one answered. The silence was disturbing, as if something sucked all evidence of life out of the area, leaving nothing behind except the sound of the wind rustling through dead leaves and the surf pounding against the rocks below. Still holding her jacket closed, she sprinted to the other side of the truck, but there was no trace of the guy.
Her stomach knotted. Her eyes fell upon the dents and scratches on the front fender. She studied them for a few seconds, but it was impossible to tell if there was any new damage. Just last week she’d miscalculated a turn and scraped the fender against the dumpster at work.
Keeping her jacket closed with one hand, she held her long dark hair back from her eyes with the other and searched the area the best she could. She didn’t see anyone.
“Where did he go?” She ran back to her truck, pulled herself up onto the seat, and quickly shut the door. Her hands shook as she pushed down on the locks, and for a moment, she just sat, frozen.
“No one was there.” Her eyebrows tightened and tears stung her eyes. Certain there was nothing to do, Addie glanced down the highway before slowly easing the truck back onto the road. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other fumbling with her seatbelt, she glanced in the rear view mirror. Addie let out a long, uneasy breath, and managed to relax some, but questioned her sanity. Was she seeing things? No, she saw him. Why was he standing in the middle of the road, and how did he just vanish? Where had he come from? She hadn’t seen a car parked anywhere and knew this stretch of the road. There wasn’t a house or any other building around for at least a quarter of a mile.
Addie tried to picture his face after only a brief glimpse of the guy. He wasn’t someone she recognized. He wore a tattered black leather coat that hung down to his thighs and his thick black hair, falling just inches above his shoulders, blew around his face. Any more detail was impossible to recall. The idea of a man standing in the middle of the road and then just vanishing was absurd, but she had seen someone and the whole experience frightened her. She considered the possibility that it was a ghost, but he’d looked so real. Then again, she had never seen a ghost before, so how would she know what a ghost really looked like? No, no, the ghost theory didn’t cut it. He had been real.
She needed a distraction, something to take her mind off the man, and out of habit, pushed the power button on the radio before remembering it stopped working during an electrical storm a week ago. Frustrated, she banged the top of the dashboard with her fist. The veins in her fingers burned and as she opened her hand, tiny sparks shot forth from her fingertips.
“Ouch!” She shook her hand as the radio crackled for a few seconds then began to play. Perplexed, Addie glanced at her hand as though it belonged to someone else and then back at the radio again. She shrugged, deciding the jolt from the sudden stop somehow jarred the wires. In an effort to calm down, she sang along with the radio, her voice timid. Every now and then, she glanced in the rear view mirror as if the man were somehow running behind her. She couldn’t help wondering how he materialized out of nowhere, and then ... poof, just vanished. Was he a figment of her imagination?
The song changed, luring her back to reality. She glanced at her watch. She was late for work, and Gerry, her boss, would be livid.
Cael Sheridan stepped out from behind a thicket of Manzanita bushes and onto the highway. He looked left then right, and proceeded to walk along the side of the road, a bit more cautious of oncoming traffic than he’d been a few minutes earlier. She’d nearly run him over. He knew it had been careless of him to be in the middle of the road, but from what he’d remembered, there usually wasn’t much traffic on this stretch of highway, especially this time of year.
It had been several years since he’d been back to Whisper Cape, though he sensed not much had changed. The narrow highway was completely deserted other than the one truck. The swirling wind stung clear down to his bones. He pulled up the frayed collar of his coat and frowned as the loose strands of fabric tickled his chin. Glancing down the side of the cliff, he paused to admire the roaring surf crashing against the rocks.
“Ah, still breathtaking.” He smiled, then breathed in, as the cool moist air filled his lungs. He reveled in the fresh ocean breeze with the faint taste of salt in the air.
Yes! I love this coast.
Taking in another deep breath, and suffering the bite of the wind, he continued walking.
He hadn’t meant to frighten the woman in the truck, but hadn’t wanted to die either. So, he did what came naturally to him and disappeared.
Hiking along the road, Cael willed his thoughts back to business. He was tracking a killer on a hunch—a hunch leading to the sister of his friend, his mentor, Ristéard. Soon after Ristéard’s death, his sister left New York and moved out west to Oregon. Cael’s gut warned him the murdering monster, known as Eidolon, might have followed her. Cael was certain Eidolon hadn’t found what he’d been looking for when he slaughtered Ristéard. Eidolon was sinister and deranged. Cael knew he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. He enjoyed the walk into town, but picked up the pace, hoping he’d arrived in time.
When Addie arrived at the Cliff Hanger, the place was already resonating with sounds of chatter and laughter from customers enjoying a mid-day brew or a warm bowl of chowder. The small bar and grill sat nestled in a grove of tall trees high on the cliff overlooking the Oregon coastline, boasting one of the best ocean views for miles around. The attractive little restaurant offered a touch of class while keeping the cozy feel of a neighborhood bar.
Sneaking in the back door, Addie heard Gerry's barrage of profanity over the clatter of dishes and babbling customers. He was, as usual, in the kitchen swearing at Jared, one of the chefs. Gerry, a stickler for punctuality, would be furious with her. He not only owned the Cliff Hanger Bar and Grill, he cohabited with her Aunt Maia, a pleasant enough arrangement for them. They always seemed so much in love, but Addie thought Gerry overstepped his duties of faux-uncle a bit too often.
She reached for her apron hanging on a hook behind the kitchen door, desperately hoping they wouldn’t notice her creeping in.
“There you are,” Gerry bellowed, grabbing her arm and turning her to face him. “Addison MacKenna, do you know what time it is?”
She flinched when Gerry called her Addison. The only one who ever called her Addison was her father and the memory tugged at her heart like a boat anchored to the bottom of the ocean.
“Where have you been? You know, there are plenty of bonny young women around this town that would love to have your job.” Gerry’s voice crooned with a hint of a Scottish lilt, which intensified when he was upset. “Don’t think for one second that I wouldn’t ... what?” All at once, his expression changed to shocked concern as he noticed the terror in her eyes. “Addie, what’s wrong? What happened?”
God, she wished her emotions weren’t so transparent around him, but she had to admit the experience had been so frightening she probably looked like a scared rabbit. She could feel her bones secretly shaking under her skin. “Please, Gerry, I know I’m late, but I had, ah ... um ... an accident with my truck.”
“An accident? Are you hurt?” He placed his hands on her shoulders and eyed her up and down as if checking her over for some sign of bruising or cuts.
For a few seconds Addie just stood there stunned by his reaction, holding her breath.
“Breathe,” he ordered, still holding on to her shoulders.
She let out a long puff of air. “No, no, I’m okay, I didn’t hit anything, but ... I almost did ... a man. I had to swerve to miss him and almost ran my truck off the cliff.”
“You almost hit a man? Where? Is he okay?”
Addie was tongue-tied, not sure what to say. The sounds of the small bar and grill became unusually deafening and swirled in her head. The customers’ chatter, the music from the jukebox, the clang of dishes in the kitchen, the swoosh of water spraying in the dishwasher all clouded her thoughts. Her head spun from the sounds, the room felt as if it were closing in on her, and she had trouble getting a grip on reality. The experience had been so frightening yet so unbelievable, like another bad dream. If she were to tell Gerry she didn’t know if the man was okay, he would think she was irresponsible. If she told him the man vanished, he would think she was crazy.
“He seemed to be okay. He didn’t have any trouble getting around.” A half-truth, she figured, was better than an all out lie.
“Okay, then, and you’re not hurt?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said, straightening her spine.
Gerry’s face softened in relief as he released her and stepped back. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore and moved away from him. Trying to sound cool and collected, she added, “I’m a grown woman and I can take care of myself. You needn’t get so worked up about things.”
Addie knew Gerry to be a caring man. A bit over-protective, but caring none-the-less. Gerry Briden was a tall, handsome man of thirty-nine, thirteen years her senior—a detail he sometimes liked to affirm, thinking it gave him the right to treat her as though she were a child. He swept his hand through his short, dark, wavy hair, and bulging ridges protruded from under his rolled-up sleeves. Addie thought that Gerry proved her aunt had impeccable taste in men.
He stood with his hands on his hips, his concern settling into impatience. His full-lipped mouth curved up on the right side when he spoke, accentuating his subtle Scottish accent, which Addie knew many women found irresistible. “Well then, if you’re okay, pull yourself together now and get to work. We have a bloody busy afternoon yet. Rob was in here earlier and said he saw a tour bus headed this way while he was on his morning patrol. Those people are going to be thirsty and hungry.”
She heard the irritation in his voice and winced.
Tour buses always brought in a couple dozen hungry and thirsty tourists. The last thing Addie needed was a bus full of people. God, why this morning of all mornings, when I have so much on my mind?
She thought of Rob, the chief of police, then of the man she may have hit, and in her mind, saw him lying on the side of the road, dead. She wondered if the chief would soon discover a body somewhere along the highway while he was on patrol.
“Rob ... Chief Thompson was here? When?” How could she have been so stupid? She really hadn’t checked the side of the road very well. Her breath caught in her throat as she thought of the man bleeding to death in a ditch somewhere, unable to answer when she called out to him. She just left him there, helpless. She froze, staring at Gerry, unable to hide the horror on her face.
“Come on now, you’ve never let a bus full of tourists get to you before. What’s really going on?” Gerry threw a dirty bar rag into the bin, retrieved a clean one from the shelf behind him and looked at her with a bemused expression. “Have you had another nightmare then?”
“Yes!” she wanted to scream but, “No,” she lied, considering that the whole morning had been one long, continual nightmare. She wanted to tell him about the man disappearing into thin air, but then thought it sounded too crazy. Maybe she did just imagine him, or maybe he had been part of her nightmare. Maybe.
“Um ... nothing’s going on. I’m just tired and the idea of a full bus, well, I guess I’d better get busy.” Addie grabbed a wet rag, wiped up some beer spills from the bar and tried to shake the image of a dead man on the side of the road from her mind.
“Good, we don’t have time for fucking around today.” Gerry turned to pick up a case of beer, then proceeded to stock the mini fridge in the bar area.
It was all so ridiculous. The man must have been a figment of her imagination, a manifestation from her nightmare. No one could just disappear, and she convinced herself that if the man had been real, and in fact hurt, he would have been there when she got out of the truck.
Addie tiptoed by the kitchen, located beside the back door and behind the bar. The room, newly outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, emitted a silvery shine. Jared poked his head out the door as she passed.
“Hey Addie,” he chuckled, looking relieved to have Gerry pick on her for a while instead of him.
“Morning, Jared,” she mumbled. God, please don’t make me have to talk to him. On top of everything else, dealing with Jared right now would just be too cruel.
“Addie, wait,” Jared called after her. “There’s a bunch of us getting together for a campfire tomorrow night at the beach, would you like to come?”
Jared had asked her out before, but she’d always managed to come up with an excuse. He stood there—bar rag slung over his shoulder, his curly-blond hair hanging over his forehead—looking hopeful. He had a nice face, nice body ... well, great body, Addie corrected, but she always thought of him more as a friend and didn’t want to start a relationship with a coworker. Besides, she’d felt there was something between Jared and her friend Darcy, one of the waitresses, although they both denied it whenever she asked them.
“Um, sure,” she said and turned to walk behind the bar. He’d caught her off guard, damn it, and she hadn’t been quick enough to come up with a good excuse on the spot.
He beamed, his face a mixture of shock and excitement. “Really ...? Sweet. I’ll pick you up around seven. Dress warm—even though we’ll have a fire, it’s still going to be frigid down there.”
She paused for a moment, searching for the right words, not wanting to hurt his feelings. It was weird enough to go with him to a campfire—a campfire with other people—quite another to be picked up by him, too much like an actual date as far as she was concerned.
“Why don’t we just leave from here? Then we can use my truck and you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving,” she said, pleased with her quick thinking.
Jared frowned down at the grill as he fiddled with something in a pan, and tucked a blond curl, which was forever falling out, back under his cap. “Oh. Ah … yeah, sure, if that’s what you want.”
Something brushed Addie’s arm and she turned to see Darcy, her best friend, standing with her arms crossed and tapping her right shoe.
“What's taking so long with my order?”
“Working on it, Double D,” Jared snapped back at her.
“You’re going to the campfire tomorrow night, right?” Addie said, turning to Darcy with a pleading smile as she fastened her black apron around her waist, wrapping the long ties around twice so the bow wouldn’t hang down to her knees. Then she slipped behind the bar. “The three of us can all ride down together. There’s plenty of room for our beach chairs and the truck has a comfy back seat.”
Jared frowned. “Yeah, just what we need. Sure, Double D, come along; we could always use a third wheel.”
Addie cringed. The term ‘Double D’ not only referred to the name, Darcy Delacroix, but also to Darcy’s bust size. She knew, without a doubt, that Darcy absolutely, unequivocally, detested the label and Addie never wanted to be in the line of fire when Darcy caught someone using it.
“Shut up, Jared,” Darcy scowled. “Unlike you, Jared Kane, I never have any problem getting dates, you worm. Go on now,” she gestured with her fingers toward the kitchen, “slither back into your little hole and stop calling me Double D, or I’ll rip your tongue out.”
Addie was sure Jared felt the sting from Darcy’s glare as he slunk back into the kitchen. Darcy followed Addie out to the bar and set her tray down on the long L-shaped, walnut counter. The fifteen cushy stools around it would soon fill up once the tour bus arrived, as would the six tables along the front windows. They always went first, leaving the four square tables in the middle of the room unoccupied, except for busy days like today. Darcy gave Addie the drink order she needed for her table, but as Addie turned to fix the cocktails, Darcy caught her by the arm.
“Maybe you should just tell him you’re not interested, since he’s too dense to understand subtle rejection. Then you wouldn’t have to play these silly games. He’s a grown man, he can take it.”
Addie glanced back in Jared’s direction to make sure he wasn’t listening. “Yeah, well, silly to you. I’m not as cold-hearted. I’ll handle it my way, thank you very much.”
“Suit yourself. Hey, tell me about this guy you almost hit. Who was he?” Darcy picked up a cherry and plopped it into the glass Addie just filled with Coke and placed it alongside the pint of draft on her tray.
“Oh, um, I don’t know, I don’t think he’s from around here. I’ve never seen the guy before and he left before I could check on him.” Addie winced as the words slipped past her lips and hoped Darcy hadn’t caught them, knowing she’d probably think she was crazy. How could a guy just vanish anyway? She really wished she could get the image of that man out of her head.
Addie wanted to confide in Darcy since she was Addie’s closest friend—actually, the only friend she had made since she’d moved to Whisper Cape. It wasn’t easy for Addie to make friends. She’d spent most of her life moving from city to city every year and learned early on it was better not to get too close and risk the heartbreak of having to say goodbye.
Darcy was gregarious and candid and Addie found her amusing and fun. She was also very attractive and had a great following of the opposite sex. Her dark hair, short and straight, spiked out at one side in a stylish manner fitting her slender face and making her huge blue eyes seem even larger. Darcy was the one Addie trusted most to confide in about any of her problems, but this time she felt it best to keep the bizarre event to herself.
“Well, whoever he was, I’m sure he’s glad you didn’t hit him.”
“Yeah, me too,” Addie mumbled, relieved when Darcy hadn’t noticed the slip about the guy leaving before she could check on him. Her stomach was still in knots as she replayed the event in her mind and considered the possibility that the whole experience was a remnant of her nightmares. People didn’t just disappear. Did they?