Nick Weatherly made his way up Sandpiper Street. It was a damp day, not exactly rainy, but always seeming to be the lightest of mists. It didn’t bother Nick though. Nick swept forward through the morning. His clothes were damp, and his normally wavy hair flattened against his head. It was enough to depress or frustrate anyone, but it would take more than that to reach the part of Nick that cared. This meant more was coming.
It came in the form of a woman. A round, middle-aged woman named Agnes. Whether you could call it just Agnes was another issue. Wherever there was Agnes, there was also Missalia. In this case, Agnes was at Missalia’s shrine, a shrine to a velvet painting, a not too subtle nude of an island woman walking by the stream in the moonlight. It was the kind of velvet painting at home in the double-wide trailer of a perpetual bachelor and “ladies’ man” circa 1973. How this painting came to be the anchor for a nature spirit is one of those turns of fate that would be made significantly duller by explanation.
Missalia’s shrine happened to be where Nick was sweeping. The metal gate leading inside was swinging gently, even without a breeze to credit it with. Nick peeked inside, only to find Agnes standing there, squeezing a bit of blood out of a finger into a small bowl that sat in front of the painting.
Nick knew Agnes, another member of the newly formed Santa Creda Adventurers Guild. Agnes claimed to be a rogue, something Nick had given little enough thought to at the time, just as he had given little thought to Agnes at all. Nick had spent the evening focused on Tilly, the pretty girl who had always smiled at him at the library. The night had not ended well though. From what Nick could tell, Tilly had withdrawn, or perhaps just grown tired of him.
This wasn’t unusual for Nick. Women were often attracted to Nick. He was nice enough looking and had a cozy little house on the beach. It was enough to interest a woman for a night or two, but sooner or later they discovered what Nick already knew. When Nick looked in the mirror, he saw the ghost of himself.
The sweeping helped. He’d been doing it for several months now, and it brought him a sort of peace. It gave him a moment where, with this minor bit of purpose, he could ignore the missing parts, and just try to put one step in front of another. When he was done, he felt that the day he had passed wasn’t entirely wasted and therefore he wasn’t entirely wasted.
Had Nick kept sweeping and ignored the gate, he would have kept moving forward. Whether it would have led anywhere though, who is to say? As it was, Nick was diverted. “Are you all right?” he asked the back of Agnes, who had not stopped or even paused at his approach. Instead, she finished squeezing the last drop out of her finger before turning and looking at Nick.
“Hello Paladin,” she said calmly, “What brings you sniffing around my garden?”
The shrine was surrounded by a garden, lush with anthuriums, hibiscus, calla lilies, and philodendrons. “Is this your garden?” Nick asked.
Agnes smiled. Nick felt off base. She didn’t look too different from the night he met her, but there was something. There was a glow to her, and without her glasses, her eyes seemed to have a deepness to them that he hadn’t noticed before.
“It is,” Agnes said, “And there’s a cost of admission. Are you willing to pay it?”
Nick stared at her without answering. Agnes smiled. She took a step toward him, then another. Nick stood where he was. He tried to think of something to say, a reason to leave, but his brain seemed to have slowed down. She took his right hand in her left and raised it. He watched her do this and told himself that he should go.
“Poor Paladin,” the woman said, “You barely exist.” Agnes let go of his hand and it dropped to his side. He felt rooted and exhausted. “Your blood would be pointless. Somebody already took the piece I need. Still, you’re cute. Where were you when I was looking for a home?”
Nick felt desperate to say something. He wasn’t sure what. Finally, he said, “Can you help?”
Agnes smiled. “Poor cute boy, you need me more than I need you. What good is that?”
Nick felt a pit in his stomach. Something sad that crept all over him.
“Kiss me,” Agnes said.
Nick bent down and kissed her. He felt an odd sort of energy. Her tongue pressed into his mouth and he responded in kind. As they kissed, Nick felt all the sadness disappear out of him. Even the emptiness seemed to abate a bit. Nick wasn’t sure how much time passed, but after some time she pushed him away gently.
“That should help you a bit,” Agnes said, “But you owe me now.”
Nick stumbled over his words, asking, “Can I see you again?”
Agnes laughed. “You’ll see me again, but trust me, you’ll talk yourself out of me in no time. Besides, I know you want the little cutie. Don’t go telling her about this now. I don’t need news getting out that I’m kissing boys in my garden.”
“I’m twenty-nine,” he said, regretting the words as soon as he said them.
“Yes, you are,” she said as if praising a puppy. “Keep my secret Paladin. Go sweep your sidewalks. Don’t forget you agreed to help clear out my house.”
Agnes walked out of the garden and Nick stared after her. He looked at the velvet painting and the fixed smile of the island girl. Nick stood there for another minute before he willed his feet to start moving. He grabbed his broom and started sweeping. He felt the damp spit of the rain. He felt an ache in his muscles that he was unaware of before. He felt angry, and he had no idea why or what he was angry about.
Attendance at the Weatherly family Sunday dinner was, if not obligatory, strongly encouraged. Thankfully, the event was only monthly, not weekly, always scheduled for the first Sunday of the month. When Sheriff Dwight was still alive, it had taken place at his large, Santa Fe home in the foothills. Nick had liked that house. It had an indoor swimming pool, and swimming gave him an excuse to avoid a lot of interactions.
Now the dinners were held at a house on the cliffs owned by his Uncle Carlos. The views there were spectacular, but that was about the end of the appeal for Nick. There was no pool, and the cliffside had no swimmable beach access. There was a hot tub but taking advantage of that meant sitting with some of the older, more opinionated members of the clan.
Nick had dutifully attended the family dinners for ten straight years, ever since the death of his parents. Nick had been due to leave Santa Creda, having graduated from high school with high grades and solid test scores, he had been accepted at NYU and had been looking forward to a return to the city of his youth. His parent’s boat had disappeared in July that year, and for three months there was no news. By the time the bodies had been recovered, the school year had started, and Nick no longer cared about leaving.
Nick liked the back porch. The view was nice and the breeze off the ocean was pleasant. It generally meant spending time with his cousin Carey because Carey went out there to vape. Carey wasn’t at the top of the Weatherly heap, but he was respectable. In his late thirties, Carey owned a used car dealership. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was enough. Carey was married, but his wife Cassandra did not attend often, showing up only for the major functions. It was what was known as a smart marriage in the family. This meant that it merged finances with another wealthy family. More importantly, it gave both partners the freedom to discreetly explore relationships that would not have been approved of.
“You still a street sweeper?” Carey asked.
“Sidewalks actually,” Nick said. “They’ve got a truck that does the streets.”
“Ahhh,” Carey said, “I must have been confused.”
“It happens,” Nick said.
“You can come work at the lot,” Carey said, “Show up when you like, maybe sell a few cars, it’s got to be better than breaking your back on the street.”
“Sidewalk,” Nick said. “Thanks for the offer. I’m fine though.”
“Let me know,” Carey said.
The obligatory conversation ended, and the two of them sat staring out into the distance. Nick had sat staring at this view many a time, but it was different today. He could see the lights playing with each other along the edge of the cliff. This was new. Before that moment in the garden, he couldn’t really see the things that were around him, but now he saw the lights, the sprites, the spirits, at play around him.
Nick knew better than to talk about this. He knew better than to respond at all, at least in front of people he didn’t trust, and there was no one in his family that he trusted. His uncle Dwight had been a good guy. He might have understood, but since Dwight’s passing, he had learned to keep his thoughts close.
There were three lights, each semi-distinct. The smallest one, purple, resembled a rabbit. It hopped and jumped and chased the other lights. The next one was larger and blue. It looked like a small child and seemed to play with the rabbit. The largest one was the least distinct. It was hazy and almost looked like a cloud. It wasn’t as active but seemed to move toward wherever the other two lights ended up.
Nick had adjusted to the fact that he was, if not the black sheep, the lost sheep. The over senior set clicked their tongues and talked about what a pity it was and about his potential. Nick tried to be pleasant about such things. He had never seen himself as having a particularly high amount of potential. In high school he had done well, but not spectacularly. He had been on the swim team but hadn’t been the best or even second-best swimmer. His grades were good, but no one mistook him for a genius, just a reasonably bright kid who took the time to do his homework.
Had he made it to NYU, Nick would have majored in business, and eventually returned to Santa Creda to run a car dealership or gym or something equally profitable but non-essential. At some point, he would have probably run for the city council or the county supervisors, or some such thing because if you were an attractive male Weatherly, that was what you were expected to do. None of it was a terrible fate, but it was fair to say that of all the things Nick mourned, being a career Weatherly was not one of them.
“You ever get the urge to walk off that cliff?” Carey asked. He said it calmly.
Nick took a moment, then said, “Not really,” Nick answered, “I just get the urge to disappear. I think about getting on that bus that shows up once a day and going someplace no one would care about or even think about, just some bland little town in northern Nevada with a casino and a church on the same block. I’d live in a little house next to the town pool and every night I’d go get dinner at the Chinese buffet. I’d have a yard with real grass that I can never keep green because it’s too dry and the wrong kind of soil.”
“That’s what you dream of?” Carey asked. “It sounds miserable.”
“Why do you think I stay?” Nick responded.
Carey laughed, and the laugh turned into a cough. “Thanks,” he said, “I feel better about my life now.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Nick answered.
He got up and walked to the cliff’s edge, standing next to the lights, which now played around him. He looked down at the waves crashing into the rocks. He had thought about the cliffs, but Nick had known better than to say that. After a while, he turned around. Dinner was ready.
The house had a very large table, but not large enough for all the sundry Weatherly family members. Nick usually avoided eating at the table, and that day was no different. He got his food, lamb chops, roasted mushrooms, and grilled asparagus, then headed back out to the porch. This time, Carey was nowhere to be seen, but he found himself sitting next to Fallon. Fallon was his cousin and was finishing up her senior year in high school.
Nick resisted the urge to ask if she had gotten off the waitlist at Stanford. If she was sitting out here, she had probably not, and didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, he asked, “You got any plans for summer?”
Fallon smiled a strained smile and said, “I get to go on a cruise… to Alaska… with my mom.
Nick chuckled. “So much more fun than that Atlantis Resort you thought you wanted to go to. I mean, what teenage girl doesn’t want to spend her summer exploring a frozen landscape.”
“Mom informed me that we’ll be in international waters, so I can drink. Because drinking with my Mom sounds like a real treat.”
“Maybe you can go clubbing with your Mom too,” Nick said.
Fallon made a face. “You want to come?” Fallon asked. “I could probably talk Mom into that. She likes you more than most. She told me Dad liked you too.”
“She’s not here is she?” Nick said. Fallon’s mother had been Dwight’s second wife.
“No. Mom had a much more important engagement at home watching TV.”
Nick nodded. “Well, I appreciate the offer, but I stay away from boats.”
“It’s a ship,” Fallon said, “There will probably be a thousand people on it, maybe more. I can talk her into it. You’ve always been nice…” Her voice trailed off.
Nick tried not to picture whatever microaggressions the rest of the family had inflicted on Shelby Weatherly, Fallon’s mother. There had been rumors of an affair, but as far as he knew, there was no proof of anything. Nick only knew what he had seen, which was that Shelby was at worst a bit of a social climber and a bit of a drinker. For a Weatherly, these were far from unusual traits. When the complaints came about Shelby dating again, it had been well over a year since Dwight had died, but apparently, that was still too soon as far as the family was concerned.
The primary rub was probably money. Nick didn’t have the details, but he was sure Shelby had gotten more than anybody thought she deserved. Nick knew all about this sort of jealousy, having been the recipient of similar judgments.
More people came out, and his conversation with Fallon ended by necessity. He picked at his food, but none of it appealed to him. After a while, he said his goodbyes. He walked to the cliff again and stared out at the water below, then he headed to his car.
After he left the family dinner, Nick decided to go for a drive. At first, he drove aimlessly, up one street then down the next, but then he got it in his head to just leave town. not forever, but just for a few days. As soon as he got the idea, the rational part of his brain started throwing up roadblocks. He hadn’t packed any clothes. He was supposed to work in the morning. He’d been up all day. He should go to sleep first.
Nick thought his way around the obstacles. He could always buy some clothes. He technically hadn’t taken a day off since he started, and no one was paying attention anyway. It was only eight. He could get to the Interstate in two to three hours. There were hotels there. At least there used to be.
Nick did force himself to stop and fill up his tank at the last gas station in town. Inside the convenience store, he picked up some snacks, a couple of bottles of water, and an overpriced toiletry kit. He even bought up a sweat jacket that said, Santa Creda in cheap red and gold lettering across the chest. Before he left, he stopped at their ATM and pulled out $200.
Nick got back on the road. Soon the lights of the city were glowing in the background and the road was dark. Occasionally a car would pass on the other side of the road, but there were no headlights behind him or taillights in front. The road up the mountain was narrow and curvy. At first, Nick was playing music, but then he turned it off so that he could concentrate. The curves were one issue, but the tricks of the light, or spirits, or whatever they were, also distracted. There would be nothing for a minute or two, but then something would dart out, or seem to. Or he’d see something moving through the trees. It made driving difficult.
The further he got out of town though, the less frequent the occurrences were. He was near the top of the mountain when he saw what he thought was a shooting star. The streak hit the side of a rock face about 50 yards in front of him. Whatever it was bounced off the rock slope and tumbled down the slope, crashing through a tree to finally land in the middle of the road along with rocks of varying sizes.
Nick slowed down and approached slowly, trying to be sure no more rocks would fall. To his surprise, a man stood up. He was smallish, with coppery skin and black hair. He seemed to be brushing himself off, which was pointless because he was both naked and covered with blood. There was a pullout close to the man, so Nick pulled over and parked. He got out and approached the man.
“Are you OK?” He asked.
The man looked at him for a moment as if trying to figure out what he said. Nick repeated, “Are you OK?”
The man coughed, sand and pebbles seemed to come out. He started to fall over, and Nick grabbed him and held him up. He was unsteady for a few moments, but then seemed to get his strength back. Eventually, he spoke. “Am I anywhere close to Santa Creda?” he asked.
It wasn’t the response Nick was expecting, but he pointed in the general direction and said, A Down at the bottom of the mountain.
The man nodded. “I guess I should start walking,” he said. The man literally began to walk in that direction down the road, but Nick stopped him.
“I can take you,” Nick said, “I think you need to get to a hospital.” As he talked, Nick picked up one of the larger rocks that had fallen in the road and moved it to the side. The man, seeing what Nick was doing, began to help. Some of the rocks were quite large, and Nick was surprised at how easily the little man was able to pick them up and toss them to the side. Once the rock had been cleared from the road, Nick went back to his car. He grabbed his new sweatshirt from the car and handed it to the man, who put it on without comment. The shirt, an extra-large, thankfully hung down to the smaller man’s knees.
Once they were in the car, Nick handed the man one of his bottles of water. The man looked at it blankly for a moment, then seemed to figure it out, unscrewing the top and taking a long drink. “Thank you.”
“What happened?” Nick asked as they pulled onto the road.
After considering for a moment the man answered. “Family issue. I made someone mad.”
The answer seemed very inadequate, but Nick was getting stuck on something else. There was something strange about his voice that Nick couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t an accent. His voice was just familiar.
“It looked like you literally fell from the sky.”
“Did it?” The man said. “Weird.”
Nick glanced at his hand and realized he had some blood on it. He pulled a tissue out of the center console and wiped it off. The man looked at him with concern. “Did you get my blood on you?” he asked, with just a note of panic in his voice.
“Apparently,” Nick said, now a little concerned himself. “Just on my hand though. Are you sick or something?”
“I’m not sick.” The man answered. “I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Now my brain is playing tricks on me,” Nick said. “I feel like my hand is tingling.”
“The human brain is a weird thing,” The man said. “You’re fine. I just… feel bad I got blood on you.”
“What’s your name by the way?” Nick asked.
Again, the man seemed to consider the question. Nick was starting to worry that the guy had brain damage, although his head looked fine. Most of the blood seemed to have been on his back.
“My name is complicated,” the man said. “You can call me… Ray.”
“Ok, Ray. You can call me Nick.”
“Right,” Ray said, “Nick Weatherly, son of Francisco Weatherly.”
Now Nick was feeling unsettled, but he kept his voice calm. “Did you know my father?”
“Yes,” Ray said, “I met him the last time I was in Santa Creda, but that was a different age. We had some dealings.” He paused. “Sorry about what happened to him.”
Ray put a hand on Nick’s shoulder. Nick was about to ask another question, but then the question fell out of his mind. Nick felt calm now. He didn’t feel like talking. They drove in silence until they hit the outskirts of town. Once they were in town the man asked him to pull over in front of a roadside motel. “Do you happen to have any money?” The man asked. “I’ll pay you back of course. I always take care of these things. Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out the $200 he’d gotten out of the ATM. He also gestured toward the bag in the back seat with the snacks and toiletry kit.
“You talk like I talk,” Nick said as the man was gathering the things.
“Yes.” The man said. “I noticed the same thing. Trust me, I will repay you. You’ll see me again.”
Nick watched the man walk to the night window of the hotel. After a couple of minutes, Nick pulled back onto the road. He drove back to his house. His hopes of leaving town seemed like a distant joke, but he wasn’t happy to be going home either. He felt a tingling in his hand, where the blood had been. He noticed a similar tingling on his left side, and looking down, he noticed some blood had gotten onto his shirt there.
Nick drove home. Once he got there, he stripped down and put his clothes from that night into the wash. He took a long shower and laid down on his bed. It was just after midnight. He couldn’t sleep though. He stared at the ceiling for an hour, his brain replaying the events. “I should have asked…” and a dozen questions came to mind. In his memories, the man glowed a low blue glow. He didn’t notice it at the time, but he was sure of it now. He was something, Nick realized, but he had no idea what. All he knew was that he had felt guided. He wasn’t even sure now whether he had ever really intended to leave, or if he was just running an errand. He thought about Agnes and his conversation with her.
Nick got up and went to his parent’s bedroom. He rarely went in there. It was clean but musty. Nick laid down on his parent’s bed and was asleep almost instantly. He didn’t get up until the next afternoon. When he did, he stood up and looked around the bedroom. The light through the curtains shuddered into the room, causing a gloom even in the afternoon sun. For eleven years the room had stayed virtually unchanged. Now, looking around, Nick felt uneasy.
He walked out of the room. He made himself a quick sandwich, then he posted an online ad offering a free bedroom set. Within two hours he was helping a friendly father load his long-bed pickup truck. Just like that, the room was mostly empty. It took him another hour to clean out the remaining things in the bedroom and master bath. He took every item out of the room, including the curtains.
Nick was the first to arrive at the house on Finch Avenue. it was easy enough to spot. There was a long green dumpster out front. Even Agnes had not yet arrived. She pulled up just as he was getting out of his car.
It was a cool day, with the temperature hovering in the high fifties, and the morning clouds had not yet burned off. Nick had worn a light blue jacket over his red t-shirt. He wore blue jeans and high-top sneakers.
Nick went around to his trunk and pulled out his broom and his trash spear. He also grabbed a multitool and slid it into his pocket and added a bottle of water to a little handmade holster he attached to his pants.
“I was hoping you’d come,” Agnes said when she got out of the car. She moved slowly, and with some effort. “You look like the sort of boy who can keep going all day.”
Nick thought about the moment in the garden. There was no glow to Agnes now. She looked, as she had often looked, unremarkable. “No problem,” Nick said, “I have no plans.” He was wary of her bringing up their last meeting, but she seemed to have other concerns.
They walked up to the house together and Agnes opened the door. “It’s going to look pretty bad,” she said, “None of this was my mess. The fellow I inherited this from was a hoarder, to put it simply. If you see something of real value, let me know, but otherwise, just take it to the bin. I don’t care about papers, knickknacks, pictures, mementos. Furniture too, although you may need some help with that. If there’s something you want to keep and it isn’t worth thousands of dollars, just grab it. My goal is to have this place empty. I have no sentimental attachment to anything. I just want the house, and I want it quickly. My lease is up at the end of the month.
“Was this a family member who died?”
“The only family I have is an aunt in Paramus,” Agnes said. “We aren’t fond of each other.”
“I thought I heard Aadi call you cousin at the SCAG meeting.”
Agnes laughed. “Aadi defines cousin differently than I do.”
The house was a virtual dragon’s cave, with little pathways through towers of things. Some of it was well-organized, but other areas were more haphazard, as whoever lived here got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things. Agnes gave him a tour. It wasn’t a large house. Besides the front room, there was a large kitchen, the main bedroom, and a smaller bedroom, plus one bathroom. the house seemed smaller to Nick than he had expected, but he told himself that it might look bigger empty.
Nick started in the front room, figuring it was best to do the closest room to the dumpster first. There were stacks of newspapers, magazines, books, and mail. Nick worked for about a half-hour straight without a break and had made a substantial clear spot by the time Happy showed up.
Nick was grateful for Happy’s arrival. After a second tour, in which Happy requested that they put any clothes out on the lawn so he could go through them, the two of them got to work. Since Happy was older, Nick was a little concerned about his stamina. His fears were unfounded. Happy moved, if anything, faster than Nick did. At the end of another half-hour, they had cleared out the front room and were ready to start on the main bedroom.
Almost nothing in the front room was worth keeping. If there were treasures to be had, they were not to be found there. Nick wasn’t overly concerned with treasure, but he was shocked at how much space had been taken up by things with no clear value. On the plus side, he had feared finding rotting food or something equally unpleasant, but the living room, at least, was just full, not gross.
The main bedroom had not apparently been used for sleeping, at least not recently. There was a twin bed, but even it was sagging under the weight of stacks of stuff. This room was, at least, pleasing to Happy. He came across a stack of shirts. They were rock tour shirts, mostly from the eighties, for bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, U2, The Police, Styx, The Who, and some lesser-known bands. Happy said they would fetch a good price on eBay or Etsy and called them the shirts of his youth. “I saw the Police in 1982 in Phoenix. I was thirteen. It was my second concert.”
Nick had never been to what he would consider a concert. He’d seen bands in bars, and a couple of times on the beach, but Santa Creda was too small and remote to attract the sort of acts that these t-shirts belonged to, even thirty or forty years past their prime. Happy also found a stack of Gitano jeans, which apparently was also a big deal in the eighties. All of these were in pristine condition and sealed in plastic. Happy took them directly to his car.
They were about halfway through clearing the bedroom when Tilly arrived. Tilly was dressed as casually as Nick had ever seen her, in jeans and a light blue t-shirt. Claiming that three people in the same room were too many, she said she would start by looking for the special disposal items. “I’ll check the sinks and everything. Cleansers, oils, and such need to be taken to ESS, and if there’s any non-expired food, I’ll take it by the women’s shelter.” No one argued with her.
Nick and Tilly had exchanged a couple of text messages since the first night of SCAG, but when he had asked if she wanted to get dinner, she had put him off saying she was too busy. Nick hadn’t texted since. He knew she might have been busy, even very busy, considering her situation, but Nick felt like she knew how to get in touch if things changed, and he assumed things would not change.
Once they finished the second room, Happy was finally ready for a break. Nick was surprised at how much energy he still had but agreed to stop for a bit since Agnes had just shown up with the promised pizza and soda. Agnes had saved a couple of chairs and set them up in the living room. She and Happy both took advantage of them. Nick sat on the floor and Tilly eventually joined him, sitting closer than he had expected.
“Is everybody excited about the trip to Herald Rock?” Happy asked.
Agnes gave a little snort. “I’m not walking fifteen miles to see a ghost town. Isn’t that right?”
No one was sure who the question was posed to, so no one answered. “How about the two of you?” Happy asked. “I hope you’re going.”
“I’m going,” Nick said. “I’ve always wanted to see it.”
Tilly seemed to think about it for a moment but finally said, “I think I can go. The library move has been crazy, but I could use a break.”
“I thought you were bowing out,” Nick said.
“I keep trying to,” Tilly answered, “But the city is actually moving quickly, plus two of the librarians have already given notice. One found a new job and the other decided to retire. I agreed to stay another week, but then we’re just going to close the doors.”
“That’s right,” Agnes said. “You run August House, don’t you?”
“For the moment,” Tilly said, “I’d hoped to put off closing, but we never had a huge staff and…” Tilly’s voice trailed off. Nick put his hand gently on hers but said nothing. After a few moments she said, “I’ll need a distraction, so yes, I’ll go.”
“Good for you,” Agnes said, “You guys should share a tent.”
Tilly said nothing to this, and the silence stretched out for a bit, as they all munched on their pizza. Eventually Happy said, “It’s a pretty walk, especially this time a year. I go up there every couple of months. There are lots of discarded treasures too if you know where to look.”
“Any squatters?” Nick asked.
“I saw some the first couple of times I was up there. They were living out of the old hotel, but I did the walk back in November and the place was empty as far as I could tell. It was mainly just cats.”
“Cats?” Agnes asked.
“Absolutely. If there are any real full-time residents of that town, it’s a couple of dozen feral cats. I’m sure there were rats and mice there too, at least until the cats got to working on it.”
“That should be interesting,” Nick said.
They finished up their food and got back to work. Marshall and Catrin showed up a few minutes later, and with that many people, the main bedroom and the second bedroom only took another hour and a half. Tilly left at one point, running the oils and chemicals to the ESS for disposal. By the time she returned, Happy had headed out, filling a basket on the back of his ATV with the clothes he had claimed. Together, the remaining team cleared out the kitchen. Nick grabbed his broom and started sweeping out the rooms.
Tilly walked around, looking at the walls and squinting. Finally, she stopped in the hallway and said, “Is there a closet or storeroom in the back or something with an outside entrance?”
Agnes answered, “No, just the sliding glass doors in the kitchen.”
Tilly nodded. She started feeling around the walls, first in the hallway, and then in the second bedroom. “I think there’s another room.”
Nick put down his broom. He looked at the walls and nodded. He went up to a section and gave it a hard push. Something clicked, and then a door popped out. Nick pulled it the rest of the way open.
“Secret room,” Nick said. “Now this is getting…”
Nick didn’t get a chance to finish the sentence. He saw purple, an angry red purple. He felt something smash into him, or more appropriately, smash through him. Then he felt himself explode. Surprisingly though, despite exploding, he was still there. He was staring at the ceiling and people were around him. He saw Jack.
“Is it time?” Nick asked.